August 21, 2017

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Dad Comics and Matt Wagner's Mage: The Hero Denied #1

Mage: The Hero Denied #1
Written and drawn by Matt Wagner
Colored by Brennan Wagner
Lettered by Dave Lanphear
Published by Image Comics

Mage: The Hero Denied #1 opens up paying tribute to the very first issue of Mage back in the 1980s. But instead of walking down a city street and encountering a bum, Kevin Matchstick is now strolling through a park, trying to catch up with his young son Hugo. It’s weird seeing our Kevin Matchstick as a family man. I mean, he started out a bit of a loner in the eighties, walking down a street one night before meeting some street vagrant who would end up changing his life. Since then, we’ve seen Kevin make all kinds of allies and friends on his journey. We’ve seen him be a fighter, a warrior, and even a leader but this is the first time we’re seeing him be a father. Instead of singing “Teenage Rebel! Rule! Rule! Rule!,” this older man is now singing “My spirit gets soooo downhearted… sometiiimes.”

Part of this weirdness admittedly is my own relationship with Kevin Matchstick and Matt Wagner. I came to Mage through the collected version of Grendel: Devil By the Deed and the Pander Bros. issues of the first Grendel full-color series. Most of the first Mage series was done and I think I only ever bought the last two issues of it off of the new comics rack. Everything else was from back issue diving. But in one form or another (ah, those Starblaze/Donning editions that I still worry about falling apart every time I open them,) Mage: The Hero Discovered has been in every house and apartment I’ve lived in for the past 30 years. It’s one of those formative books to a young Scott Cederlund. The second series isn’t nearly as burned into my brain but it still ranks up there as some of my favorite comics because of character and creator.

So, I was just a young man, a bit younger and maybe not as cynical as Wagner was when he introduced Kevin Matchstick to the world. When Mage: The Hero Defined came out, I was married and trying to figure out things like responsibility and purpose in life. It’s probably a bit nerdy to say but I feel like I can trace my life along the run of these 30 or so issues. So now it’s 2017, I’m still married, have a son and a house in the ‘burbs. Until recently, life seemed pretty good and safe out here in the western suburbs of Chicago but now the world seems to be going mad and this once safe world is now pretty threatening. Funny how once again in Mage: The Hero Denied #1 that fiction seems to be an eerie mirror of reality. 

Walking through that park, singing Elvis Costello's “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” Matchstick seems to be enjoying the idyllic state of his life even as he’s aware of the constant and looming danger. That’s the weird state that seems to be becoming the norm lately-- looking for peace while knowing that the world around us is tuned for war. Brennan Wagner’s colors reflect this dichotomy of nature and destruction as his father’s story treats the violent world as a monster-filled allegory. The monsters in Matchstick’s world are quite literally monsters, things that have stepped out of a nightmare and try to take us down every day.

But Matchstick doesn’t flinch from these fights. Stepping into the mystic realm to battle, Matchstick recognizes his foes for what they are; a mere diversion. “Your master must be kinda desperate. Sending the likes of you against me,” he chides them. This fight isn’t so much the war but a skirmish or maybe even an opening salvo. It’s an indication to Matchstick that the safety and peace that he thought he had isn’t quite as secure as he hoped.

More so than in the previous 0 issue (reviewed here,) Wagner lets us know what this story is going to be. It’s not about the warrior but it’s about the family man, the father who has to think about his wife, son, and daughter. That was the lesson that Matchstick had to learn in the last series; to think and make decisions with other people in mind. As this Matchstick is about 10 years older, those lessons have become his normal, everyday thoughts and responsibilities.

Wagner’s original story hit me all those years ago because it was about this weird, superhero-ish rebellion of our hero as he discovers that there is more in the world than were dreamt of in his philosophies. The second series didn’t have that same effect on me but maybe I was a bit too close to Kevin Matchstick to see the story that Wagner was actually telling. But right out of the gate, Mage: The Hero Denied #1 takes me right back to that first series, only 30 years later. Once again, it’s easy to project myself onto Matt Wagner’s own semi-autobiographical avatar and instinctively understand where Wagner and Matchstick are coming from.

August 20, 2017

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Sparkler Monthly Kickstarter Needs a Final Spark

It's hard to believe that Sparkler Magazine is entering its fifth year. It seems like only yesterday that I was giving readers an overview of the site, but it turns out that was back in 2014! Wow!

At that time, Sparkler was about a year old and looking to get to 200 members via subscriptions. Now, as with most publishers, they use a Kickstarter model. Unfortunately, this version of the Kickstarter is coming up a bit short. With only about 2 days left as of this writing, Sparkler is still a little over $5,000 short of its $25,000 funding goal for a new year of issues. Given how important I think Sparkler's role in the comics world is, I wanted to give them a push here at the end and make sure Panel Patter readers were both reminded that Sparkler exists and also to encourage you to back their Kickstarter, if possible.

Why do I think Sparkler is important in comics? It's right here in their mission statement:
The primary audience for Sparkler Monthly is girls and women aged 15 and up, or anyone interested in the rough ballpark of Female Gaze. Our four founders and most of our staff identify as female and are committed to promoting inclusive, fem-positive, and ridiculously fun content. We welcome creators of any gender and are particularly interested in entertaining, engrossing stories that tap into the variety and diversity of fandom.
Unfortunately, no matter how much better things get, there's still entirely too many comics out there that focus on the male gaze, even if they're telling a story that's got a positive vibe to it and/or strong female characters. Sparkler makes a point of ensuring that their content avoids this problem.

Sparkler's content is OEL manga, primarily, reminding me quite a bit of the best of Tokyopop's material before it imploded. However, Sparkler is far more than just comics. It's an entire smorgasbord of content types, providing content for an English-reading audience that is probably more typical for fans of Japanese comics in their original language. That includes comics, light novels, and even audio dramas, the latter of which really impressed me with its content quality. All of this is in the realm of shojo/josei, making it the perfect thing for those who are looking for English-language work that's in the same vein as publications in translation from Viz and Vertical, among others.

There are now 24(!) series on the comics page, 4 audio dramas (plus an RPG and podcast), and 6 light novels, along with a short story section. It's a lot of content, and while most of it is free already, the only way that this content can continue is to have financial backing. Sparkler prides itself on paying its creators an advance(!!) and working with professional editors to get content that is just as good as what you'd find from the biggest names.

Some of the series currently running include (all info from the Kickstarter Page)
Old friends reunite to deal with a literal demon from their childhood in Yellow Hearts, the LGBT+ fantasy by Keezy Young.  
Eli & Viv's gorgeous romantic mystery Heart of Gold will pull you into its dramatic exploration of faith, love, and lies.  
In Knights-Errant, the LGBT+ war drama by Jennifer Doyle, revenge is all fun and games until someone loses a limb(s).  
In Decoy and Retrofit, Bell and Hazel's sci-fi boy's love light novel, post-apocalyptic survival gets complicated with the arrival of a childhood friend, an ice cream truck, and a whole lot of guns.  
Why commune with the deceased when you can commune with some coffee (or booze)? Unfortunately for Cailen, ghostly trouble finds her whether she likes it or not in the light novel series Dead Endings, written by Jessica Chavez and illustrated by Irene Flores.
 So what do you get with a paid membership to Sparkler? Here's their explanation:
The vast majority of Sparkler’s series are free to read on our site, with new comic pages posted on a weekly update schedule. Paying Sparkler Members don’t need to wait for new pages, though - they get monthly DRM-free downloads of all new pages weeks or even months before they’re released online, as well as special bonuses to download to their computers and e-readers. With a paid membership, you help support the creators of our stories and get to keep your downloads forever.

We have two types of memberships depending on the Sparkler experience you want:
Normal: Get DRM-free downloads of the current issue(s) a month or more before the pages are available online, all Member Exclusives (21 and counting!), and early releases of the Sparkler Podcast. See all downloads here!
VIP: Everything in the normal membership, plus series-specific ebooks of everything running in the magazine (so you don't miss a back chapter), plus our entire steamy Cherry Bomb line recommended for ages 17+. See all downloads here!
As a final note, if you're already a subscriber, backing the Kickstarter extends your membership. A nice touch for those who already support Sparkler, but want to do a little more, especially since Sparkler plans to cease publication if the Kickstarter fails.

So what are the rewards? Well, most of them, quite naturally revolve around membership, including getting a full year of the access above for $50, which is cheaper than subscribing on the website. You can also back getting downloads of year one for $35, pick up certain trades in digital or paper form, and of course, go into higher, combo levels if your budget allows.

Again, as I write this, Sparkler's a little behind the 8-ball. It's had an amazing run filling content you can't get elsewhere, and doing it in such a way that the creators get paid. If you like shojo and haven't checked out Sparkler yet, take a moment to browse the free material. There's quite a bit! Then come back to their Kickstarter page and pledge. Let's get this one over the finish line and keep good comics coming out on a regular basis.

August 19, 2017

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Why Supporting Good Comics Matters: Mech Cadet Yu Promoted to Ongoing Series

Here at Panel Patter, we believe strongly in promoting good comics and, just as importantly, good comic book creators. With so many options out there, taking time to hate-read things makes no sense to us as a general rule. (Though we're only human--sometime we do it, too.)

But there's a larger factor at play. Comics are a business. If a comic doesn't make money, it won't continue, no matter how good it is. Even though comics fans and creators are tied more closely than ever before, thanks to Kickstarter, Patreon, and other systems of funding, people ultimately vote with their wallets, deciding which projects keep going, and which ones don't.

Unless you're a mega-rich comics fan, you have a budget. Which means that every dollar you spend to complain about Comic A after reading it, that means Good Comic B you might like better isn't getting enough support. Worse, if comic A's creator is a jerk, you're keeping them employed.

I can't tell you how much that annoys me personally. I've seen it for decades now. Which brings me to the absolutely delightful news I just got in my inbox, namely that strong support for Greg Pak and Takeshi Miyazawa's new comic from Boom! Studios, Mech Cadet Yu, was just promoted from a limited series into an ongoing.

Here's some of the text of the press release from Boom!:
August 19, 2017 (Los Angeles, Calif.)  – After selling out the week of release at the distributor level (copies may still be available at local comic shops) and drawing rave reviews from all corners, BOOM! Studios is excited to announce that the MECH CADET YU limited series has been upgraded to an ongoing series. 
The superstar dream team of writer Greg Pak (Hulk, Weapon X) and artist Takeshi Miyazawa (Ms. Marvel, Runaways) reunited to deliver the story of Stanford Yu, a young janitor who is unexpectedly chosen to join the sacred ranks of the mech cadets at Sky Corps Academy. Once a year, giant robots from outer space come to Earth to bond with the cadets to defend the world from terrifying aliens known as the Sharg. After he unintentionally bonds with his robot, Yu is thrown into training, hoping to prove he is worthy of being there at all.   
“I’m hugely thrilled and so grateful to all of the readers, reviewers, and retailers who showed the first issue so much love and spread the word about the book,” says Pak. “That kind of word-of-mouth means all the world to an underdog book about an underdog hero and his underdog robot, so thank you so much! None of this would have happened without you, and we're doing our best to make every issue the best and most fun it can  possibly be.”
“I feel like we would just be getting on our two feet with the first four issues, so it’s going to be amazing to see where the story goes and watch Stanford and Co. face bigger threats and become even bigger heroes,” adds Miyazawa. “Stanford has come such a long way already. I hope everyone keeps rooting for the kid!”
I couldn't be happier about this announcement and it's why I'm posting about it. This is exactly what we need to be doing as a comics community. Greg Pak is not only an amazing writer (I loved his work on Hulk and Herc), he's also an activist, working hard to use his status as a well-known creator to bring attention to causes that are trying to make the world a better place. He's extremely talented and a good person. Greg acknowledges the challenges faced by people of color in comics (he's Korean American), and does his best to elevate voices on a regular basis.

Greg and his comics are exactly what we need to be rallying around. Announcements like this give me hope that we're slowly moving in the right direction.

Mech Cadet Yu issue #1 is out now, and issue #2 comes out September 13th. You can pre-order it now at your local comic shop or digital device, and I highly recommend you do!

August 18, 2017

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Juggalos and Bricks (Weekend Pattering for August 18th, 2017)


Young Romance #103 (December, 1959), pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

Previously on Panel Patter

Cover of the Next Week

Javier Pulido is a fantastic artist. I love how in this variant cover to Josie and the Pussycats #9 that the leopard print is the filling the negative space.This is the type of cover that if I saw it on the comic racks, I'd stop and just stare at it for a while.  But thanks to the magic of the internet, I can just look at it on my computer screen.  That's the same thing, isn't it?

This and That

*** SPX Ignatz Award nominees: Books tackling bigotry top ‘the Spirit Awards of comics’ (Comics Riffs)-- Micahel Cavna has the rundown of this year's Ignatz nominees, the small press awards that are part of SPX weekend, which is just about a month away.
“This year, we had nearly 600 submissions, which is pretty incredible,” Ignatz director Dan Stafford tells The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs. “About one-third of the print submissions are self-published work, which shows the vibrancy and strength of the indie comics community.”
There are some great comics nominated this year but, as these kinds of nominations always do, this list reminds me that I've got a pretty hefty and constantly growing to-read pile of comics.  

*** Pro-Trump Rally Set to Clash with Juggalo March in Washington, D.C. in September (Metal Sucks)-- So September 16th will see small press cartoonists, alt-right wingers and Juggalo's all converging on Washington DC.
Also scheduled to storm the National Mall that day is the Juggalo March, a collective of I.C.P. fans seeking equal treatment, which we first reported on here last summer. The Juggalo March “aims to bring national attention to the ongoing discrimination and profiling that Juggalos continue to be subjected to following the group’s inclusion in the U.S. Department of Justice’s 2011 National Gang Task Force report.” Which is a ludicrous classification, to be sure: while we may enjoy making fun of ICP and their fans, they’re not inherently bad people.
Can you just imagine what that would be like?  I kind of think it would be like The Odd Couple to the millionth power.

*** Comics (Critics) Should Be Decent: Yet Another Discourse About Discourse (Loser City)-- I always enjoy a good discussion on criticism and Nick Hanover and Kim O'Connor provide the latest discussion.  
Kim: One of the first comics pieces I wrote was about the anxiety of coming correct, which I see as a balance of interrogating yourself and the trying to muster the confidence you’re talking about. Confidence is seen as an asset in white men in comics crit; in the rest of us, it’s framed as irrational or aggressive, so coming correct can be harder to calibrate. The spirit of real criticism requires doubt more than conviction or certainty. And I guess there’s a vulnerability to that project that Comics as we know it not only fails to inspire, but also actively seeks to destroy. I don’t get around to as much of the pure comics crit (as opposed to toxic culture stuff) as I’d like because I feel like my role is to stand up to that in my own small way, writing about the people who are pissing in the talent pool. You’re on a wholly different path, nurturing new talent. People see those strategies as, like, spiritually opposed…but we’re both working toward the same thing. Not that I’m holding myself up as some paragon of do-gooding in The Community (lol); I’m just leveraging my bad personality to fight fire with fire. Work with what you got.

Current Mood

August 15, 2017

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Catch it at the Comic Shop August 16th, 2017

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates this picks three single issues and one trade for your consideration, with a little bit about why we like it.

Scott's Picks:

Mage: The Hero Denied by Matt Wagner, Published by Image Comics.  
Wagner is one of those creators that I'm an unapologetic fanboy about (and, yes, I'm one of those still waiting for him to return to The Aerialist) and the real first issue of this series starts asking all of those old questions again.  I plan to have a full review of this up later this week but if you've been waiting for this third volume of Wagner's semi-autobiographical series to begin, this issue demonstrates just how personal this story is for Wagner as Matchstick has to protect his family.  So that makes the colors by Wagner's son Brennan Wagner that much more special.

Southern Bastards #17 by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour, Published by Image Comics.
In some future history of Image Comics, Aaron and Latour's Southern Bastards may just be considered one of the companies' greatest books of this decade.  Especially in this 2017 political environment.  I want to say that they continue to make Coach Boss a sympathetic villain but let's just face it, he's simply a villain.  After this past weekend, it's harder to read this book other than as some kind of indictment not just of the south but of our country that lets these crimes and hatred continue without calling them out for what they are.

Dark Nights Metal #1 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, Published by DC Comics.
I know that there are all kinds of spoilers out there right now about this comic but I'm trying to avoid them all.  I was about to click on a link last night that promised a last-page shocker but I stopped myself and showed some restraint which is something I hardly ever do when spoilers are involved.  Don't click on any of them.  Wait until Wednesday to find out what's going on with this comic.  If it's half as nuts as those prologue books were, this is going to be some kind of trip.

Sh*t My President Says by Shannon Wheeler, Published by IDW.
I don't know what more to say about this book other than point out this attack on a black CEO that resigned from one of Trump's worthless commissions.
That gets to be one of the tweets that Wheeler gets to include in the inevitable second volume of this book.  Remember, we're just over 200 days into a 1,460 Presidential term.  There's only more of this to come.

James' Picks: 

Sexcastle by Kyle Starks, Published by Image Comics.
Sexcastle is the baddest dude ever. Do not mess with that guy. Seriously, he knows a lot of ways to kill you. Are you a fan of 80's action movies (any answer other than yes is unacceptable)? If so you should absolutely pick up Sexcastle from Kyle Starks. It's an outrageous, hilarious, ultra-violent homage to over-the-top 80's action from Arnold, Sly, and a zillion other movies (Image Comics is releasing a new edition of the book). Stark's deceptively simple style works perfectly here, as he's a master of quick sequential storytelling. He's also really hilarious. I highly recommend this one.

Divinity #0 by Matt Kindt and Renato Guedes, Published by Valiant Comics.
Valiant has put out some terrific comics since it started up again in 2012, and if you've been interested in learning more about the Valiant universe, Divinity #0 seems like a terrific way to get started. Divinity is a super-powered being in the Valiant universe, and his stories (also written by Matt Kindt) are some of my favorite comics from Valiant. He's a weird, interesting character - a Cosmonaut who went into deep space and came back fundamentally changed. He's sort of like Doctor Manhattan, but with more clothes and nicer. Anyway, this issue promises a tour of the current Valiant universe through Divinity's eyes, and should be worth a look.

Silver Surfer #13 by Dan Slott, Mike Allred and Laura Allred, Published by Marvel Comics.
The Slott/Allred run on Silver Surfer is coming to a close soon, and I'm really going to miss it. It may eventually end up being on of my all-time favorite comics. I just love everything about it. The Allreds' art is more gorgeous than I've ever seen it, and that's saying a lot. And they and writer Dan Slott are telling a funny, thoughtful, sweet, romantic story about love and loss and exploration. It's worth your time to go back and read this one from the beginning, it's worth it.

Southern Bastards #17 by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour, Published by Image Comics.
Southern Bastards is a story full of complex, terrible people. There are no cheap and easy villains in this story. Their complexity may explain why they're terrible but it in no way excuses it. This is an absolutely compelling story that really gets into the dirt and grime of people living in a small town in Alabama where football and organized crime are king. Latour's stylized, beautifully ugly art perfectly tells the story, and this really does feel like it's created and illustrated by people who know what they're talking about when it comes to Southern culture.

Rob's Picks:

Spy Seal #1 by Rich Tommaso. Published  by Image Comics.
Quietly one of my favorite creators, Rich's work usually features human characters looking sharp as he shows off his spectacular page layout chops and love of good old pulp crime. This time, he's moved into the animal kingdom, with Spy Seal, a book that returns to his thriller themes but adds a new dimension, playing with matching animals to their characteristics in a noir world where every step is treacherous. Yes, others have done this quite a bit, but they aren't Rich. If you like his work or the idea of using animals to demonstrate human vices, give this one a look.

Haunted Horror #29 by Various Creators. Reprinted by IDW.
Anyone who reads Panel Patter knows my love for horror, and while sometimes these comics are horrific for entirely unintentional reasons, I love it whenever there's a new issue of this series, which digs deep into the many comics that featured anthology horror. They'll never be as good as the EC books, but they sure are interesting, especially when you look and see a creator name you know, like Mike Esposito, pop up out of nowhere, spilling bloody corpses at you. It's very much niche, but if you love old-school, free-wheeling comics, understand you'll hit at least one racist clunker, and want some obscure horror, this book's for you.

Adventure Time Comics #14 by Various Creators. Published by Boom! Studios.
I love that after the success of the variant covers (ugh, but yeah, they were awesome) and backup stories, Boom! and Nick got together and put out this comic, which lets creators run amok in the Adventure Time world. This time around, Fred Van Lente heads the show, along with Steve Seeley and several others I'm not familiar with by name. Each issue features shorts by iconic folks having entirely too much fun, and if you enjoy the show, indie comics, and/or the main Adventure Time title, give this one a try this week.

Fantasy Sports 3 by Sam Bosma. Published by Nobrow.
My trade pick is a layup, if you'll pardon the pun (or even if you don't), as Sam Bosma returns with a third volume of his unbelievably fun series that mixes magic with physical exertion. Bosma's style incorporates some of the best artistic tricks from manga while not feeling like he's trying to copy shojo whole cloth. It's very free-flowing and almost explodes across the page. I love this series so very much, in which an enthusiastic young character partners with a bombastic older character, periodically clashing with each other while trying to stop the bad guys. Amazingly, the bad guys all want to play sports, from basketball to volley ball to...oh my god, this time it's MINI GOLF. Hold on, if you need me I'll be at the comic store camping out to pick this up tomorrow.
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All-Ages or Small-Ages #40 (Zeros #1 by Martin Eden)

See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as these, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

When a creator is heavily influenced by a piece of media, something will inevitably creep its way into the work that they produce. Whether it’s the surname of the original creator or the more blatant direct rip-offs produced by Robert E. Howard at the beginning of his Conan the Barbarian work, the through-line is always interesting to unpack; the aspects that remain and the ones that are cast to the wayside reveal a lot.

Zeros sets up a status quo where there is a school that teaches its super-powered population how to function in the real world. While the parallels to Marvel's marvellous mutants are plain even from that initial description, creator Martin Eden inserts a twist that keeps the concept feeling fresh. The series follows those who haven't received powers, the titular Zeros, as they struggle to find a place for themselves in a world that appears to have left them behind.

Although this book is definitely still finding its legs, there is already a distinct effort to give this fledgling world a depth that implies it has existed before what we see on the first page. Characters move in the background that are unremarked on, without descending into the distracting efforts of shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation, inviting you to ask questions about them and drawing you deeper into the rich narrative of the universe.

Martin Eden is a creator that thrives on adding ancillary details to panels for the keen-eyed. This might be the subtle demonstration of a secondary character's power, or a portrait of a certain telekinetic that makes the connection to the X-Men even stronger, but it demonstrates an attention to detail that makes a book more suited to multiple re-reads.

There's a palpable energy in this book that begins to swell as soon as the large group of Zeros gather in the classroom. The considerable cast bounce off each other effectively and the quick language and switching perspectives create the impression of a hectic classroom; the specific dynamics between students are yet to emerge due to the perhaps oversized set of characters, but the degree of youth and enthusiasm really bleeds through.

There is a slight lack of nuance in the facial expressions, preventing the book from landing in the realm of reality. Fortunately, the power sets, the energy projection and the youthful characters make it clear that Eden isn't trying to achieve that. The extremity of emotions feeds into the sense that these are young people who don't know how to control their emotions and that they are experiencing the madness for the very first time.

In terms of the language of the book, it's clear that this has been written with a younger audience in mind. The style of narration makes the book feel like a bed-time story being read, creating the image in your head of a parent reading this alongside their child and allowing them to marvel at the accompanying pictures. Eden takes the time to explicitly define terms like "mental abilities", which would be necessary for some audiences, but makes it clear who is supposed to be reading this book.

Zeros drips with comic history and influence, but manages to do enough to permit the book to stand on its own and, given time, will allow it to evolve into something unique. While there is a complexity to the understanding of the cast, the language makes this a book that children will be able to more effortlessly relate to. There are rough edges to the plot progression and the art, sure, but there is no doubt that Martin Eden has a future in the world of comic book creation.

Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me:

August 14, 2017

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Interview with Spenser Starke (Roots #1 by Spenser Starke and Ryan Richmond)

Spenser Starke is most widely known from his time spent editing in the twilight years of the well-loved, fan-favourite YouTube channel SourceFed. Ever since the channel's untimely demise in March 2017, Starke teamed up with fellow refugees Luis Gonzalez and Starline Hodge to create the inspirational, yet down-to-earth, podcast known as We Stayed Late.

Quickly building up a dedicated community, Spenser Starke now strikes out into uncharted territory, working with artist Ryan Richmond to mash together the majesty of the fantastical with the obscene allure of classic body horror.

Spenser Starke sat down and talked with us about his influences, the childhood nightmare that brought him all this way and the benefits behind being adaptive in your selected medium. 

You can find a pre-order link for Roots over on Spenser's site: Embryo Studios.

Panel Patter: What’s the story of Roots and where did it originate?

Spenser Starke: Roots follows the story of a young girl, Fable, who awakens growing from the ground, feet rooted into the earth, in a new world unlike anything she’s ever known. Cut off of her stalk and taken into civilization, she quickly finds herself in the middle of an ancient battle to save the people she loves on Earth.

The story actually comes from a nightmare I had as a child, where I would wake up, like our protagonist, surrounded by an entire field of bodies with my feet and back attached by roots to the ground below. That image stuck with me for years because of how evocative it was. 

I ended up writing the first iteration of this story in college as a screenplay. It was developed over the course of my four years there alongside my good friend, Christina Michaels, who helped me to further discover the world these characters inhabit. However, due to the massive budget the film would require, it made sense to shift the medium to a comic, because it would allow me to create the world exactly the way I saw it in my head.

Will our protagonist, Fable, gather a supporting cast or is the focus purely placed on her?

Starke: She finds a quick comrade in Edwin, her harvester, and will certainly pick up more of a supporting cast along the way, but the story will primarily revolve around her. Avoiding spoilers, for a very specific reason, she will become a key to the battle that is being waged in this world.

The first page of the issue unsettles you with its layout and repetition of panels throwing you off balance. How much of the layout of this page was dictated by you and how much was from the artist? How does that translate into the rest of the book?

Starke: Well, first off, my artist Ryan Richmond is absolutely incredible, so a LOT of the brilliant stuff happening in the panel layouts comes from him. 

Being his first comic, right out of the gate he started using the medium in a fascinating and unique way. The script itself had very little specific panel direction; it read a lot like a film script, which is unconventional for a comic book, but knowing Ryan’s creativity, I didn’t want him to feel constrained or controlled by the words there. 

The aesthetic of the book is already a combination of fantasy and horror. With the core concept revolving around plants emerging from human skin, how far do you intend to lean into the body horror aspect?

Starke: There is a sort of beauty in the horror of Roots, and that’s something we definitely embraced early on. The idea of a field of bodies all growing across the land like crops is both morbid and awe-inspiring to me, and I wanted to capture the fear and wonder of this new world through Fable’s eyes in this first issue. 

There is a bigger, more important story at play here that will unravel over the next few issues, and the comic will not specifically focus on body horror during that journey, but we certainly don’t plan to shy away from it, as it is a major part of the way this world functions.

What do you see in this book’s future? Is it a miniseries or an ongoing?

Starke: It’s definitely a limited series; Fable’s story has a beginning and an end. 

How many issues or volumes are between those two points is not set in stone yet, though.

What do you see as the overarching theme of the series?

Starke: We only see hints of it in this first issue, but selflessness, being brave in the face of adversity and sacrificing yourself to protect the people you care about the most will weave in and out of the series pretty consistently. 

Fable will have to make some hard decisions in the next few issues as she comes to terms with the world she is in.

You’ve described the book as a combination of Lord of the Rings and Alice in Wonderland. Which aspects of both do you draw inspiration from?

Starke: Tolkien’s world-building is unparalleled, so as I started to craft the world for this story, I drew on a lot of what he did. I often felt like I just needed to get out of the way so that the world could create itself, and just do my best to capture it as it presented itself to me.

In doing this, I really tried to channel Tolkien’s attention to detail and his preciseness. I have pages and pages of notes, for example, focused on how the bodies in this world actually function, down to what we would call the subatomic level. 

As far as Wonderland is concerned, it's not quite apparent from this first issue, but this story gets more heady and meta as the story unravels. Alice’s experience in a place so far outside of the laws and rules of her own world definitely influenced the way I approached the narrative. I grew up with Alice in Wonderland, and sort of feel like my childhood fascination with the world itself probably takes some blame for the nightmare this story found its roots in.

Although you have previous experience in editing and directing, this is your first foray into writing comic books. What draws you to the medium?

Starke: I have been writing stories since the moment I was able to write at all, so narrative is my lifeblood. Comics have the ability to tell these stories in an incredibly visual way, so with a world of this scope and with the specificity of what I wanted to be able to create, it was the best medium for the job. I constantly ask myself what medium the stories I am writing are best suited for, and whichever they seem to lend themselves to, I explore. 

For example, I have a screenplay I wrote a few years ago that I absolutely love and that got shopped around for a while, but it was too expensive for anyone to pick up, so it just became the basis of a new card game called Planetborne that is coming out in September. 

I don’t like being constrained by the idea of mediums, so I’m willing to play with whatever feels like it fits the story best.

Who in the medium of comics inspires you?

Starke: My biggest heroes in the medium are without a doubt Brian K. Vaughan and Jeff Lemire. Not only are they brilliant writers and storytellers, but their books are so incredibly accessible. 

I always feel like they are in total control of the medium they are using, never fighting against it or trying to make it something it’s not; it feels so effortless.

Everyone has a story of the first comic book that got them addicted to the medium. What’s yours?

Starke: Lemire’s Descender series is what got me into the medium. I bought the first volume at an Image booth during a convention, and I was hooked. 

Vaughan’s Runaways, Rick Remender’s Black Science, and Giovanni Gualdoni & Gabriele Clima’s Ring of the Seven Worlds were also huge traction points for me along the way.

You can pre-order Spenser's comic Roots over on his website, Embryo Studios. It launches on Saturday 2nd September, alongside the aforementioned card game Planetborne at Long Beach Comic Con. If you're there, drop by and pick up a copy and pick Spenser's brain about this book; you won't regret it.

The Best Comics You Can't Own #1 (Subterranean Number Three by Sean Knickerbocker, Alex Bullett, and Andrew Greenstone)

    This weeks comic and the first ever review of Best Comics You Can’t Own is a sweet book from the vaults of self publishing history called Subterranean Number Three. Subterranean was a 55 page over sized 8.5x11 book with a beautiful screen printed cover. Unlike most self published books I have from this time it feels heavy and substantial in the hands. It was a three man anthology by Sean Knickerbocker, Alex Bullett, and Andrew Greenstone.

Look at this cover! What happened to cool covers?

    I got a copy of this while all three of them were at The Center for Cartoon Studies co-habitating in an apartment they called Danger Mansion. (Sean was the only one at the school in an official capacity.) When this book came out I thought they were the coolest people in spitting distance of the school. All of their comics felt genuinely cool in a place where I was surrounded by work that was over processed and intellectual. Nothing felt stupid, but it felt very raw and natural. I wanted to be just like these guys when I hit my stride.

    The book starts with a silent comic by Sean called Hunters and Gatherers. For a silent comic not about physical gags it is incredibly clear. The characters are a much more stripped down version of the way they draw now in their comic series Rust Belt, but has a more urgent look that reminds me of Brian Ralph’s Daybreak. That said I think every comic made in 2011 looked like Brian Ralph could have been involved. SPX was panels of square blocky limbs as far as the eye could see. The comic is pretty simple just dealing with a brief interaction between a Hunter and a Gatherer that reads as a non preachy examination of how different types of people fulfill their needs. Pretty sweet.

    Alex Bullett’s Magik School is a fun little story that seems to be about two henchmen trying their best to please their pants less boss by going to murder someone for an unspecified reason. The way everyone is designed in inventive and wreaks of cool. The big dumb character in the main duo doesn’t look like any comics character I have seen before, but should be a staple “shape” if anyone is looking for cool things to swipe. I really like the different characters and how they interact in the space. I think the crudeness of the drawing really adds to the story, and it is definitely the funniest thing in here.

    Andrew Greenstone’s Pizza Vampire is the personal highlight of the book. Nobody uses a brush like Andrew, and nobody does self doubt comics like Andrew. Andrew’s worlds feel genuinely lived in and lush. The story is about a guy who went to school to become a Vampire and doesn’t feel like he is really following that passion now that he is out and wasting away at a job they don’t enjoy. I am pretty sure I have seen several iterations of this same story in different forms over the years as recently as 2016. Hopefully self doubt will lose and we can get a proper full length Pizza Vampire book at some point.

    I really wish there were more anthologies like this. Just a few close friends teaming up to make something really cool. I don’t even read anthologies anymore because they all feel like impersonal random assortments of whoever responded to a tweet calling for submissions. But this book has so much personality, and the three people in it are clearly part of a secret group trying to take on the world. It just feels really good. I like it.


Got a hot tip on a cool out of print comic that is a gem or would embarrass an award winning cartoonist? Point me to the scoop on twitter at @pleasekeepwarm! You can also see all of Michael Sweater's other stuff at-

August 10, 2017

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You should go to Boston Comic-Con August 11-13, 2017

I'm very excited for this year's Boston Comic Con. It's the 10th anniversary of the show and the way in which it's grown has been really remarkable for me to see. I'm not sure if I went to the very first one, but I first remember attending Boston Comic Con in a cramped basement conference space. Suffice it to say, they've come a long way. It's now run by Fan Expo, this year they're expecting upwards of 50,000 people, and it's moving this year to the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC), the largest convention space in Boston.

A number of prominent writers (Tom King, Peter Tomasi, Joshua Williamson, Ivan Brandon, Meredith Finch) and artists (Greg Capullo, Ming Doyle, David Finch, Joelle Jones, Steve Lieber,  Joe Quinones, Adam Hughes) will be there, among many others.  There will also be a strong showing from independent and up-and-coming creators such as Matthew Rosenberg, Tana Ford, Amy Chu, and many others.  There's a huge artists alley area, so make sure to wander over and look around, you never know what unexpected cool comic you might find. Comic conventions are an amazing opportunity to meet and talk to writers and artists who create the comics you love, and to support them by buying directly from them.

There's a great, wide selection of panels and other events including anime screenings, speed dating, cosplay discussion, drawing instruction, celebrity Q&A, sketch duels, and more.  I'm particularly interested in the comics-related panels such as the Image Comics and MICE (Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo) panels on Sunday.

If you're a fan of celebrity guests (I'm not particularly, but I know I'm probably in the minority on that point),  there's lots to choose from, like Stan Lee, Karen Gillan, Kevin Smith, John Barrowman, Eliza Dushku, Tim Curry, Ming-Na Wen and others who'll be available for photos and autographs.

Boston always has a strong selection of retailers selling older comics, cheap trades and other merchandise (you'll definitely see me looking for half-price trades).  I'm curious to see how the new space will be laid out. I'm sure that in this larger space, things will feel more spacious and there will be an even greater variety of retailers, artists, writers and more.

The Boston Comic-Con runs from August 11-13, 2017 at the BCEC. Maybe I'll see you there!

August 8, 2017

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Catch it at the Comic Shop August 9th, 2017

[Here's a new feature we're trying out! Hope you enjoy!]

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates this picks three single issues and one trade for your consideration, with a little bit about why we like it.

Rob's Picks:

My Pretty Vampire by Katie Skelly, Published by Fantagraphics.  I love Katie Skelly's linework, which flows across the page, making her the perfect artist to work on comics with a sexual feel to them. This time, it's a woman who's been turned into a vampire who wants to get out from her brother's controlling shadow. I've been looking forward to this collection for some time, which I plan to get at her signing here in Portland in a few weeks. But you should get it now!

Popeye Classics #61 by Bud Sagendorf, Published by IDW.  I had no idea how good these classic Popeye stories were until I started reading them thanks to this series by IDW. Sagendorf's Popeye is a sitcom dad, playing perfect straight man while insane things happen around him. Oh, and of course, he eats his spinach to save the day, but the fun here is often seeing Popeye's reactions to the things that interrupt his quiet day. Sometimes these comics have problematic themes or portrayals, so be aware, but overall, these are often a highlight of my reading month.

Wicked + Devine #30 by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matt Wilson. Published by Image.  If you haven't read this series yet, make sure you go back and do so. But this story about a once-in-a-generation group who literally burn out instead of fading away continues to be one of the best ongoings out there.

Groo: Play of the Gods #2 by Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier. Published by Dark Horse.  It's amazing to me that we still get Groo comics, not that I'm complaining! As the series goes on, Aragones' art doesn't miss a beat, as he draws more details into one panel than most artists do in an entire comic, while still "drawing funny" as Sergio puts it. Evanier's scripts can sometimes get a little preachy, but in 2017, that's just what we need. Enjoy stupidity with social satire in this latest series from the long-standing (long-suffering?) creative pair.

James' Picks:

Kill or be Killed Vol. 2 by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser, published by Image.  If a book is written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Sean Phillips, then it's definitely worth a look. Those two have been telling great stories together for years now, and Elizabeth Breitweiser (on colors) has been a terrific addition. Kill or be Killed is a story about violence and revenge and feels like a critique of vigilantism itself. Plus there may be supernatural elements involved. It's a gorgeous read, and everything this team does is worth a look.

Mister Miracle #1 by Tom King and Mitch Gerads, published by DC Comics.  Tom King has certainly made a splash in comics the past few years.  With Vision, The Sheriff of Babylon and Omega Men, King has created some thoughtful and memorable books along with some artists doing stunning work. King has reteamed with his Sheriff of Babylon partner Mitch Gerads on a new book about Mister Miracle. I've always enjoyed the character of Mister Miracle and the New Gods generally, even in spite of (or maybe because of) the way their weirdness doesn't quite fit in the DC Universe.  From everything I've read and heard in interviews, King and Gerads have brought their A-game; this feels like it's going to be something special.

Redlands #1 from Jordie Bellaire, Vanesa Del Rey and Clayton Cowles, published by Image Comics.  I'm not a huge horror fan, but I am a huge Jordie Bellaire fan. She's a fantastic, versatile colorist and therefore a fantastic artist and storyteller. Seriously, go back and read Zero. Bellaire colors every issue and completely changes her style to suit the artist and mood of the issue. I'm always interested to see artists in one area branch out and try other areas, so I'm curious how a story written by Bellaire will feel. She's got a great partner in Vanesa Del Rey who in Zero and Scarlet Witch has shown herself to be a terrifically moody, atmospheric artist who can do scary and weird.

Low #19 from Rick Remender, Greg Tocchini and Dave McCaig, published by Image Comics.  If you're not reading Low this issue is probably not the best way to catch up. But if you're not reading Low you definitely should be.  This gorgeous underwater futuristic story tells the story of the dying remnants of humanity attempting to eke out an existence underwater and hold on to some sort of hope even though all their circumstances are dark and seem pretty hopeless. But it's a great, weird, engaging read, with stunning dramatic, complex, sexy and widescreen art from Greg Tocchini, with correspondingly vivid colors from Dave McCaig. Low's a great read.

Scott's Picks:

Mister Miracle #1 by Tom King and Mitch Gerads, published by DC Comics.
  James has already recommended this but this has been one of my most eagerly anticipated superhero comics of this year.  Kirby?  Check.  Mister Miracle?  Check?  The writer of 2016's The Vision?  Check.  The creative team behind The Sheriff of Babylon?  Well, I think you get it.  And I have no idea where this preview leads but I want to find out.

Shadows On the Grave #7 by Richard Corben, published by Dark Horse Comics.  This is one of those series that I'm sadly behind on but I'm more than thrilled that the 71-year-old cartoonist is still cranking these out.  This one-man anthology is pure Corben horror and that's basically its own brand of horror.

And for the first of these "Catch it..." posts, I'm going to break the rules and throw in two collections.

Behaving Madly by various, compiled by Ger Apeldoorn Craig Yoe and published by IDW.  After the success of Mad Magazine back in 1954, everyone tried to get in on the humor mag business.  This new book from Yoe! Books collects a number of those stories.  So in here, you get to see Jack Kirby, Ross Andru, Steve Ditko and trying their hand at Mad-like stories.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Artisan Edition by Peter Eastman and Kevin Laird, published by IDW Publishing.  For those of you like me who can't afford those big, deluxe artist editions, IDW has their little brother, the Artisan Edition.  This series has reprinted in more affordable books scans of the original work of Jack Kirby, Wally Wood and Dave Stevens.  It sounds like this edition only collects the first issue plus other miscellaneous pieces but it's been a long time since I read any TMNT (I can still remember buying the 3rd printing of the first issue from a shop in Worth, IL) so I'm looking forward to just drinking in Laird's artwork.