Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mari Naomi Debuts Cartoonists of Color Database

Comics creator Mari Naomi officially debuted her Cartoonists of Color Database, a resource that's been sorely needed.

Sorted alphabetically as well as sub-divided into LGBTQ creators of color as well as non-male creators of color (and yay for Mari for not making that "women" because not all of us fall into "male" or "female" buckets). There's also a list for non-traditional cartoonists of color as well.

How was a person included? Here's Mari's explanation from her FAQ:

What is a Cartoonist of Color?
Cartoonists of Color (CoC) is a play off of the acronym "PoC." PoC stands for "person of color." A PoC is anyone who identifies as non-Caucasian (non-white). On this list, you'll find comics creators of various ethnicities: African American, Korean Canadian, Indian Singaporian, Turkish American, Iranian British, Japanese American and so many more.
And of course, for the people who are completely clueless and don't get why this matters, Mari doesn't bother engaging in a long debate. The question of why is answered with a short and sweet:
Why a Cartoonists of Color Database? For visibility. For academia. For inspiration. For community building.
A brilliant answer.

The FAQ discusses why the information is still incomplete, how fast it grew (leading her to despair at the comment "What POC cartoonists?"), and how to contribute, either with information or by kicking a few dollars her way.

I am so happy that Mari has done this. It's an invaluable resource and tool, both as a reviewer/researcher and a person who always wants to investigate and find new creators who may interest me. I hope that this project continues and that maybe she can even get some help with indexing. (It would be great to be able to do something like, "Search for Mini-Comics creators identifying as Asian-American, for example.)

No matter what, this is a project that deserves attention and support. I hope you'll check it out and spread the word!

Rose City Roll Call: Jamie S. Rich and Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks

Rose City Roll Call! Cambot! Gypsy! Tom Servo! Croooooow! Periscope! Dark Horse! Kurt Busiek! Ooooooooooonnnnni! It's another Panel Patter feature on creators and publishers who will be at Rose City Comic Con! You can find all our features for the show right here!

Written by Jamie S. Rich
Illustrated by Dan Christensen
Published by Oni Press

Jamie S. Rich is an extremely talented writer who was also working at Oni Press back when I first started discovering comics that didn't involve superheroes, though I didn't really take note of that at the time. So it's no shock that I'm a big fan of his writing, whether it was one of 2013's best books, A Boy and A Girl (review here), one of 2014's best books, Madame Frankenstein, or one of his more recent books, Archie Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, which shows that even when he's got multiple irons in the fire, Jamie is at the top of his creative game right now, with no signs of slowing down.

The thing about Jamie's work is that while they're fun on a conceptual level-like the idea of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Frankenstein, high school age witches using their powers in ways you'd imagine a teen might, or what happens when you try to replace your superhero sister-every one of Rich's stories are character-driven. No matter how much else is going on, we really get to know the people in Jamie's worlds. Regardless of their powers, they're still human at heart, with real feelings, hopes, dreams, and failures. Seeing them strive is what makes the comics work.

The other thing I know about Jamie is his ability to collaborate and team with his artists. Both from interviewing Jamie (along with artist Megan Leavens, which you can read here), casual conversations, and looking carefully at his body of work, you can tell that there's far more going on than writer scripts, artist draws. Perhaps it's from his his time on the editorial side, but there's a flow in Jamie's comics that shows how much in sync the creators are together.

In Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, both of these elements are on display from the very first pages. The story of a hypnotist who is so good he can get inside the mind of a cat (a funny joke that Rich later uses to turn felines into a Greek Chorus warning Archer of impending mistakes), Archer finds he's been deceiving himself, playing a dangerous game that leads to murder, with him as the prime suspect.

What starts off as a fairly straightforward noir story with a man caught up in a set of crimes he didn't commit and a woman with looks that can kill quickly morphs and changes into a plot where reality is questioned at every turn of the page and even when it finishes we aren't 100% sure of the truth of the ending. The saying about making your bed and the having to lie in fits well here. Archer may seems like a stand up guy with a stand up act, but though not a magician, swallowing the reality of his situation is going to require magic.

It's an absolutely brilliant transition that only works because of how well the script, plot, and art come together. There are several times where the dialogue works best because of the scene being depicted, such as when we get a visual representation of the effect of Archer's hypnotism. In another case, we see it as work by having the panel become a jigsaw puzzle from which pieces are slowly removed. Even when it's no so dramatic, Christensen is able to deftly move from scene to scene effortlessly, allowing Rich to jump his way across Archer's present and the shaky memories of his past. If he had to slow down to keep the reader informed, the surprise reveals would never work. We have to be just a bit confused, but not to the point of giving up. Rich and Christensen walk that tightrope carefully, and make it across to the ending, which finishes this story but allows for more work in the future.

Christensen isn't just good at the high concept work, however. Creating in black and white, which is appropriate for this noir tale without an exact setting (I'd place it in the 40s myself but it really is left up to you, with no obvious signs of modernity or historical clues), he does a solid job of letting light and shadow color the reader's perceptions. It's not easy to do this in an age where Photoshop and digital coloring effects tend to dominate, but I came away impressed with how the grey tones, whites, and blacks allow us to know just when we're supposed to see things in focus and when they are to be blurred. 

The overall linework is very crisp, too, with a lot of small, angular strokes that make things feel stark, yet at the same time provide a lot of background detail. Christensen doesn't overdo it, either. There are no stray marks or other things that might add an element of grunge. The art style feels very clean to me, and I really like how that set the tone for the story. Despite the ambiguities of the plot and characters, what we see is in sharp relief.

That's also true of Rich's scripting. Even though we quickly learn everything isn't as it seems, there's no attempts to obscure the truth via dialogue. Characters don't speak in riddles--they speak their minds. Or, put another way, they speak what's on the mind they wish to share. It's what's not said, rather than what's mashed under paragraphs of words, that tell the true story--or at least the one we believe to be true, filtered through Archer's increasingly unreliable world view.

It's a very human approach, one that fits Jamie's style of writing and the stories he likes to tell. Archer thinks he knows himself and how he got here, but when you can convince yourself of something like "you no longer wish to smoke" what other traits will you remove? And what happens when you cut too much? It's the key question of Archer Coe, and what makes it so good.

If you enjoy character-driven stories that tend to have a sense of mystery to them, Jamie S. Rich is a can't miss stop on your Rose City agenda. Can't make Rose City? You can find him on the web here.

Time for the Rose City Roll Call!

I've been very lucky for the past few years to live in Baltimore, where it was easy to get to comics shows, and I had two of the best, Baltimore Comic-Con (more on that show later this week) and the Small Press Expo, right nearby.

Unfortunately, I can't make it to either of those shows, but luckily, there's a relative newcomer, the Rose City Comic Con, here to help me enjoy hanging out with creators as big as Kurt Busiek right down to up and coming folk like Periscope Studio's Ben Dewey, who is about to hit it BIG, unless I am very much mistaken.

Held on September 20th and 21st this year at the Oregon Convention Center just across the river from Downtown Portland, Rose City Comic Con impressed me last year when I attended back when I was a guest to Portland and not a resident. There were a few glitches, but when I learned it was the first time they'd had it at a major-league sized venue, I really couldn't believe it.

Though, as with most Comic Cons these days, Rose City has a heavy media focus, there's still an amazing murderer's row of creators who will be there, because Portland and vicinity is such a hotbed of comics (and a great place to live). Whether it's the names you'll see on the guest list or folks hanging out in Artist's Alley, there's so much to see you'll easily hit your comic-buying budget in no time. And that's okay, because the Panels this year are even better than last year, when they were pretty damned good.

As we do with other shows, Rose City is getting its own focus, which we're calling Rose City Roll Call.* Some creators will be at both SPX and Rose City, and we'll note that accordingly. Look for the first Rose City Feature a bit later today, when we lead off with Jamie S. Rich! When the first feature is live, you can see all the Roll Calls at this link.

Of the Panel Patter crew, Rob McMonigal (aka me) will be at Rose City at least on Saturday. Hope to see you there!

SPX Spotlight 2014: Two New Comics from Box Brown

Welcome to another entry in the 2014 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, Panel Patter will be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at one of the best conventions, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of Panel Patter's spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

New Physics by Box Brown
Yeah Dude Comics
Number 2 by Box Brown
Retrofit Comics

Here at Panel Patter we've enjoyed the group of Yeah Dude Comics mini-comics that were funded via a Kickstarter. We're also fans of Box Brown's work, so put the two together? We had to take a look.

In New Physics Brown looks at a future where social media reaches it's natural conclusion. In this story (set in the future), Vern is a proponent of the New Physics which appears to be some combination of a drug, science and a religion. As part of this you seem to inhale it. Vern quickly amasses many followers as you see many people sharing his words and message on social media. Soon he's amassed millions of followers and has gathered them together to experience the power of the New Physics. All the while we see various people sharing the message of the New Physics through social media. Eventually Vern decides to "up the dose" of the New Physics that his followers are inhaling, and while this is not without some risk and tragedy for the participants, the publicity and attention are only a positive for Vern and the New Physics.

   This is a beautiful, insightful short comic. If you spend a lot of time on social media, you're likely to cringe a little (which is an indicator that satire or social commentary has hit the mark).  The futuristic, science-fiction overlay of the story provides just a little bit of distance, so it's easier to see the sort of banalities that Vern's followers spout in various social media platforms. The art here is wonderfully evocative, and if (like me) you're only really familiar with Brown's work from Andre the Giant, you'll see here that his work is much more design-influenced in this story, with a lot of futuristic shapes and design overlays.  It's also a clever conceit of the story that all of the future-people wear these helmets that deliver all of their media content, along with the New Physics (which is an inhalant). This is a great mini-comic, well worth picking up.

Brown recently also published Number 2 as part of his Retrofit line of comics. (There will be a Retrofit Spotlight soon.)  In this issue he tells 2 insightful stories, both with a distinct air of loneliness to them.

The first story is called SK8R H8R, and follows a woman named Rose as she's drunkenly skateboarding home (and bemoaning this fact, given that she is 33). First she makes a stop at White Castle for some food, and then, much to her chagrin, she runs into a guy named Bob, a local eccentric (with mental health issues) who always seems to give her a hard time. Bob starts talking to her and following her. Rose gives Bob her food, hoping this will placate him, but this only has the opposite effect. He goes chasing after her, but eventually he trips and falls. Rose gets away, but not without a lecture from the local police about skating drunkenly.

The second story (called Elroy Mirrors' Big Score) concerns (not surprisingly) Elroy, a documentary filmmaker. The story covers a few days in his life (while his wife is away) as he's interviewed for a podcast, follows film-specific media and other social media obsessively (and harbors resentment at all of the attention his friend and fellow filmmaker Keren is getting). He plays video games, works on his documentary, and begrudgingly takes a gig helping out another filmmaker with lighting work for that person's documentary. During the course of this story, we see Elroy's disdain and judgments towards the subjects of these films, and at the suck-ups on social media who aren't sucking up to him enough. At the end of the story we see him in bed, with his dog, talking to his wife. Naturally she asks about Keren.

These are both excellent short stories. By contrast to New Physics, both of these stories are black & white, but Brown brings a great deal of creative, design, layout and visual narrative skill to both of these stories. Both stories seem to be dealing with people who aren't entirely happy about how their lives have turned out (a fertile ground for storytelling). The approach is different though, as SK8R H8R tells a much more narrow story about a specific episode in Rose's life. However, just a few quick points (she's 33, riding a skateboard home drunk, and stopping at White Castle) give the reader something of a picture into her life and the bad day she's having.

By contrast, Elroy Mirrors' Big Score accomplishes a great deal in 30-something pages. I don't know if there's any biographical element in this, but it feels very emotionally honest look at the life of a working creator. Elroy seems to be working successfully at his craft (he's being interviewed by podcasts and gets some attention as a filmmaker), but the truth is that in any endeavor (creative or not) there's always going to be someone who gets more attention and has more success than you do. 

A lot of us probably spend more time than we should not appreciating what we have, and instead obsessing over the attention that others are receiving. Brown also focuses in Elroy Mirrors' Big Score on the role of social media and the way it pervades our lives and sense of self. These stories have a "warmer," less angular feel to them visually than New Physics (probably because they take place in the present day) but particularly in Elroy Mirrors' Big Score Brown uses some ambitious sequential storyteling. During the course of the story, we see the actual blogs and social sites that Elroy follows (along with snippets of texts between him and others), and then at some point we see an entire page where he imagines 2 different blogs he could start, complete with comment sections (with some terrific, spot-on humor in those comments sections). 

These are all great books; Brown is a talented, insightful creator and these are short stories but full of ambitious ideas. If you see Brown in person at SPX, or want to order them online, New Physics and Number 2 are well worth a look.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

SPX Spotlight 2014: J.T. Yost and Birdcage Bottom Books

Welcome to another entry in the 2014 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, Panel Patter will be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at one of the best conventions, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of Panel Patter's spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Whether it's adapting his dreams (often featuring Snoop Dog), creating stories for unrelated pieces of ephemera, or coming up with some strange little bits of fiction, mini-comics creator and publisher J.T. Yost is someone who's new to me but fits right in with the style, concept, and artwork of many of the folks we feature here on Panel Patter.

Mr. Yost's possibly best known for the Snoop Dog dream comics, which definitely stand out, given their use of the iconic imagery from Charles Schulz's Peanuts. It's a great, eye-catching visual, even if the dreams themselves don't have much to do with Charlie Brown and company.

In two collections, the first which deals exclusively with Snoop Dog Dreams (in which he's everything from a pal on a trampoline to an art teacher), and the second that branches out to other dreams, Yost shows just how ridiculous dream logic can be yet by playing the artwork straight, he also lets us experience the dream as he felt it--with everything real and perfectly normal. There's no exaggerations or bubbles or other things we typically associate with dream drawings.

It's an interesting approach, but it works well. With Yost's ability to set the background of the dreams and characters who look like their real-life counterparts, changing only as the dream changes them (like Snoop getting a Richard Pryor moustache for no good reason), it's a lot of fun to get inside the creator's head--literally--and see what's on his mind.

If you're wondering why the creator dreams of Snoop, by the way, we get the details at the end of the first mini. Young J.T. had a friend who took him to a party, and with the exception of getting into Snoop's music, it didn't go so well. It left an indelible impression that created a lot of dreams over time. (I can relate to this, as I often as a child found myself dreaming up scenarios in which I had a more caring father who acted like me.)

In addition to the dream work, Yost also created a series where he imagines stories based on found writings, gathered by himself and others. He uses them as a spring board to tell a story that we eventually come to realize is interlocked in the Losers Weepers series. It's such a great concept--how often do we come across things and wonder where they came from? A note left on a bus seat, a piece of paper with the words "I luv you" on it, the "you took my bike" poster up on the utility pole--we encounter them every day. Yost takes a bunch of these, completely unrelated objects, and turns them into a really depressing narrative with characters so bad he actually has a disclaimer on the work!

It's justified, because one of the found objects, which appear to be song lyrics or a poem that would make the brashest, homophobic sailor blush, is brutal to read. In the context of the character Yost uses for this one, though, it fits perfectly. Later, a disturbed child is crafted to incorporate a great essay he found in a trash bin, while a prison letter thickens the plot. All the while, Yost sets the stage by giving us background images that are detailed enough to create a world, something we also see in the dream comics and in his short work.

No matter what the comic, Yost has a good sense of timing and what the best image is to draw for the story he wishes to tell. The dream sequences focus on Yost's dream self and Snoop Dog, for example. The Losers Weepers settings are commonplace areas--a grocery store, a club, a slightly disheveled home--with the characters moving around in them. I really like that key idea, too--moving. They don't just talk at each other, spouting the lines from the objects. They're sitting at tables, cleaning out cabinets, or acting out in ways certain to get them in trouble. The reader's eye is always on the move, with plenty to focus on. It's good work, and I'm glad to have a chance to read some of it in time to recommend it to those headed to SPX this year.

Yost isn't just a creator, however. Like Box Brown, Neil Brideaux, and others, he also publishes some other folks, too. He's published several anthologies, including Cringe, which features Jeffrey Brown, Cara Bean, Box Brown, and many others as well as Digestate that has Sam Henderson, Kevin Canon, L. Nichols, and Josh Bayer, just to name a few. Loud Comix is a series of minis mixing music and comics, something anyone who's a fan of Ken Eppstein should definitely check out. Hopefully, there will be some reviews of these comics coming up in the near future.

If you're looking for some innovative comics ideas done well, check out Yost and see what you think. I bet you'll be happy with what you find. I know I was!

Can't make SPX? Find J.T. Yost here on the web.

Friday, August 29, 2014

SPX Spotlight 2014: Alec Longstreth Intro-View

Welcome to another entry in the 2014 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, Panel Patter will be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at one of the best conventions, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of Panel Patter's spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Another of Guy's SPX intro-views!

One of the people I am most excited to meet at this year’s SPX is one of my favorite creators, Alec Longstreth. Alec has spent the last 12 years writing Phase 7, a minicomic series full of short stories (and one long one), autobiography, sketchbook tidbits, and general reflection on life that is always beautiful and inspiring. This year, he released the hardcover collection of Basewood, a book that took over ten years to write and draw, and easily the best graphic novel I have read this year. And, as an added bonus, he just released Phase 7 #020, all about the making of Basewood which includes a rock opera adaption (that you can listen to for free on Bandcamp). I got to ask Alec a couple of questions as a warm up and preview for SPX.

Guy Thomas: What are your favorite comics to read?

Alec Longstreth: For the last couple of years I have really enjoyed tracking down and reading Carl Barks's entire body of "Disney Duck" work (over 6,000 pages of comics!).  I read those stories as a kid and really enjoyed them, but rereading them now, as a cartoonist, I can really appreciate the craft that went into them.  In my opinion, Carl Barks is the greatest cartoonist that ever lived.  Thank god Fantagraphics is finally getting his work back into print in the United States.  I hope they can make it through all 30 volumes without any problems.

Thomas: What are you working on right now?

Longstreth: I'm currently wrapping up issue 19 of my minicomic, Phase 7.  It's the third part of an autobiographical trilogy I'm calling "Weezer Fan" all about my favorite band.  In part one I fell in love with Weezer's music.  In part two I went to my first ever rock concert, to see Weezer in 1997. In part three I eventually end up working for the band, to draw some tour posters.  I get to go backstage and pour my heart out in Rivers Cuomo's face, which was a pretty important moment in my life.  I'm working my fingers to the bone trying to get this book done for SPX.  If the timing works out, hopefully I'll have it at the show!

Thomas: What can we expect to see from you at SPX?

Longstreth: I'll have copies of my 216-page, hardback graphic novel Basewood as well as Phase 7 #020, which is a companion volume to Basewood.  It's got a 44-page "Making of Basewood" section and also a rock opera reinterpretation of Basewood which I wrote with my extremely talented composer friend Andy Hentz.  It comes with a CD of the album (as well as a digital download code) and all the lyrics!  I'll also have the Weezer Fan issues of Phase 7, and six issues of Drop Target, a pinball fanzine that I co-publish with my buddy Jon Chad. Issue six, the "Design" issue, is hot off the press!  Lastly, I'll have some copies of my wife Claire's zine Terrible Movie Nights.

Look forward to a longer interview with Alec Longstreth after SPX, right here on Panel Patter!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

SPX Spotlight 2014: Tom Scioli and Transformers vs. GI Joe #1 and #2

Welcome to another entry in the 2014 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, Panel Patter will be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at one of the best conventions, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of Panel Patter's spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Transformers vs. GI Joe #1 and #2
Written by Tom Scioli and John Barber
Art, Colors and Lettering by Tom Scioli
Production by Chris Mowry
IDW Publishing

Comics based on licensed properties are like the Rodney Dangerfield of comic books. They seem to be the frequent target of certain outspoken comics publishers, and don't get as much respect or critical acclaim (notwithstanding the fact that people love comics such as those based on My Little Pony, Star Wars, and many others). But as you can see from this new limited series, in the hands of a talented creator like Tom Scioli, any premise can be made to work, creating a series that makes for an unlikely-but highly recommended-SPX Spotlight.

I'd love to tell you that my very first comics were some groundbreaking Alan Moore book or some rare underground indie book that was a critical darling, but they weren't. The first comics I ever loved reading were Transformers and GI Joe (tied in with toys and TV shows) and Secret Wars (a story written to sell toys). But here's the thing - as an 8 year old, all I wanted were fun comics with cool action, and these comics delivered that in great measure. More importantly, they got me into reading (all sorts of) comics.

When I heard Tom Scioli was going to be working on a Transformers vs. GI Joe comic book, I knew I had to take a look. You (hopefully) know Scioli from his work on Gødland and American Barbarian. If not, know that Scioli is a master of Kirby/Starlin-style science fiction and superheroic craziness; Gødland is an homage to cosmic comics such as The Eternals or the Fourth World, and American Barbarian feels sort of like Kamandi crossed with Captain America, where the main villain has tanks (yes, actual tanks) for his feet. I wondered what it would be like for him to bring his unique design sensibility to licensed properties such as Transformers and GI Joe. I needn't have worried. Transformers vs. GI Joe (story by Scioli and John Barber, art by Scioli) is a gorgeous, intricately detailed, action-packed comic that has 8-year old me doing back-flips. There's an aspect of nostalgia here, but in just a few issues Scioli creates a unique aesthetic for this book which is completely engaging.

The story starts with a #0 issue (from Free Comic Book Day) which is available on ComiXology. That issue begins with Decepticon Starscream (the one who was always trying to overthrow Megatron) chasing Bumblebee (the little cute one) from their home planet of Cybertron all the way to Earth. They land in the middle of a firefight between GI Joe and Cobra; during the course of that firefight the Cobra Commander (with the mirror mask) shoots Snake Eyes (badass ninja guy, never takes off his mask).

Issue #1 begins with General Flagg (one of the leaders of GI Joe, who feels like a character right out of Dr. Strangelove or Apocalypse Now) visiting Snake Eyes who has been living alone in the woods since he was injured in the fight with Cobra. The story then jumps to a (extremely entertaining) battle between the Joes and Cobra in the middle of downtown Springfield USA. The Cobra leaders make their escape and talk of their plans for the coming darkness. The Joes return to their secret base, where they discuss what appears to be an asteroid on a possible collision course with Earth. The object is transmitting its true name - Cybertron!

The Joes remember their brief initial encounter with the robots, and plan to roll out the "welcome mat" to the invaders, and the story next moves to the top secret location known as "Area Zero" where the Joes have (without exactly knowing what they are) displayed the Autobot and Decpticon symbols.  Three ships (who we know to be Soundwave, Shockwave and Starscream) land, and the Joes provide a friendly greeting but (not surprisingly) things go south quickly, as fighting ensues. Thankfully, GI Joe has a plan which involves a giant space laser (named the "Colton Bolt" after General Joe Colton, the legendary founder of GI Joe). This helps them overcome the Decpticons, and by the end of the first issue a group of Joes make their way to Cybertron aboard their shuttle, to take the fight to the robots.

Issue #2 begins with the Joes that have made it to Cybertron. They detonate "green bombs" that immediately cover the ancient Autobot capital of Iacon with plants. They then take the fight to Trypticon (which is, of course, the capital of the Decepticon empire and also transforms into a giant dinosaur), and engage the Decepticons in battle. They hold their own, even when the Constructicons show up and turn into Devastator (which some of us really wish we had had as a kid).  Some of the Joes are captured by the Decpticons but ultimately freed by clever deception by the Autobots (and taken as the Autobots' hostages, since from the Autobots' perspective they appear to be a hostile invading force), and the other Joes (who've set themselves up in now-grassy Iacon) snag themselves a prisoner of their own, the Autobot Wheeljack.

In case you haven't guessed, this comic is an absolute blast. Barber and Scioli bring a lot of fun, silliness and humor to the story, while still respecting the source material. You can enjoy this book ironically or nostalgically, or you can appreciate it without any irony whatsoever. The story is straightforward - robots and humans meet, and combat, hijinks and misunderstandings ensue.  Also, rest assured, if you haven't read any other Transfomers or GI Joe comics, you'll be able to follow along, as this exists outside of regular continuity for either comic. There isn't a a great deal about any of the characters that you'll learn (this is not a deep psychologial exploration of the horrors of war), but the dialogue between and among all the characters is fun, engaging, and completely in keeping with the tone of the story.

There are so many little and big things that that the creative team do here to make this an interesting reading experience. While the book is printed on glossy high quality paper, there's a weathered quality to the which makes this seem like more of an artifact (it might actually work well if printed on newsprint a la MindMGMT). The entire design of the book feels much more "indie" than is typical for a comic based on either of these properties, so credit is due to IDW for giving the creative team the flexibility to make this book look the way they want it to look.

The art in this book is (and should be) a huge draw for any reader. Scioli does incredibly detailed work in this comic (each has his own distinctive style, but I'm reminded a little of the work of Ed Piskor and James Stokoe in addition to the Kirby and Starlin influences), and each page conveys dynamic action and motion, particularly in the second issue which is almost entirely chase and fight sequences. While less directly Kirby-inspired than his work on Gødland, there are still some similar elements  such as use of the "Kirby crackle". The art has an overall stylized, retro look to it that is unlike most other books you'll read based on toys and cartoons; it's not specifically retro to the 80's, it just has this feeling like it's something you discovered from a long time ago.

Scioli's line work is, unlike many other artists that have worked on these books, not attempting to be "realistic" or modern in its rendering.  There are some pages where the Joes and the Transformers look (and are presumably intended to look) like action figures, and the line work, coloring and lettering all have a less-than-perfect, self-made quality to them which is surprising in the best possible way.

For example, in one case the coloring of the words extends slightly outside the lines, but this works in that circumstance (a character gets shot) because it accentuates the shock of that character getting wounded. The letters here are genuinely delightful (and are really part of the art of the story), as there are number of big, colorful sequences that are there to punctuate an action sequence or a dramatic moment. The coloring is similarly thoughtful, as it's vivid, detailed and dynamic, but also feels "weathered".

More generally, the book is filled with terrific details such as where each time you see a character for the first time, there's a graphic that looks like the back on an action figure box which provides some "fact" about that particular character like "Gung Ho: Beware His Spicy Cajun Gumbo" or "Wheeljack: Near-Infinite Curiosity". You hope that at some point they'll list the power levels of the character (strength, endurance, intelligence, etc.).

The level of detail and thoughtfulness in this book makes it feel like a labor of love. Transformers vs. GI Joe is the ridiculously fun, terrifically illustrated, totally crazy robot vs. soldier book that was missing from your life. Give it a look.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Written and drawn by Jeff Lemire
Colored by Jose Villarrubia
PUblished by Vertigo

Jeff Lemire's Trillium is an odd book. When released as eight single issues, Lemire's played with the shape and form of a 20 page comic to tell the distinct stories of two time-and-space lost lovers. She's from the far future and he's from the early 20th century and they meet somewhere in the middle. The first issue was a flipbook, with both characters' stories meeting in the middle just as they met in the story. Another issue features the pages broken in half, with the top half telling Nika's story and the bottom half telling William's. Built around the trappings of a science fiction story, Lemire writes and draws a love story. After past stories of mortality and loss (The Essex County cycle,) fathers and sons (The Underwater Welder,) and even lost and abandoned children (Sweet Tooth,) Lemire now shows his romantic side in a love story that spans more than galaxies and centuries. It spans pages and panels that have infinite space between them.

The trillium flower is what joins these two lovers across the ages. They both find huge beds of the flowers by ancient temples, she in a far future temple guarded by aliens on a distant planet and he in 1920 by a temple near the Amazon. All of this is set against the background of war happening in each time period. These are all elements that Lemire introduces to Nika and William’s lives that feel like they should be more important than they ever end up being. They color and shape the characters’ worlds but they never develop into anything other than a ticking clock that the characters are racing against. As Nika tries to save the last of humanity in the future from the anonymous Caul, Lemire never builds this this into anything more than a faceless enemy that may as well be the plague or something else.

The true story here is about these lovers and the struggles that they have to go through in order to find each other. The larger historical or political backdrops of these struggles hardly matter at all. Wrapped up in this paper thin science fiction story, Lemire tries to write this story of two lovers and the way that they world fights to keep them apart. The components of their lives and their struggles gives us some idea of where these characters are coming from but even that feels inconsequential to the way that Lemire tells this story.

 More than their separate worlds keeping them apart, it’s the story itself that is the key antagonist pushing Nika and William apart at every opportunity. It is Lemire that is far more dangerous and destructive to their love than any alien invasion or posttraumatic stress disorder is. Lemire as artist is the force that’s keeping them apart as he manipulates whole chapters of this book as narrative labyrinths solely designed to keep the two lovers apart. It’s not fate; it’s not destiny; it’s plot and narrative that drives all of the tension in Trillium as Lemire pulls out storytelling trick after storytelling trick just to keep propelling the characters toward some final conflict.

With his thin-lined, sad-sack art and his and Jose Villarrubia’s tender watercolors, Lemire’s storytelling becomes the trickster in this story, giving Nika and William moments of quiet discovery together before turning whole worlds upside down and planting each in the other’s life. That’s the force of the storytelling here. It’s not the enemies in the various wars that upend Nika and William’s lives. It’s the mysterious macguffin, this trillium flower. It’s never touched on or examined to find out what exactly the flower is. The temples, the aliens who guard it, the effects of eating it are just dressing in Lemire’s books. They are the tools of the writer to tell a story that needs a conflict. Any fictional conflict that Lemire sets up in this book cannot be as fascinating and intriguing as the way that Lemire creates conflict through how he tells the story.

The ultimate struggle in Jeff Lemire’s Trillium isn’t with outer space aliens or Amazonian natives. There is not any drama in the love story of Nika and William. The obstacles that Lemire confronts them with on their journeys are not anything meaningful or truly challenging for the characters or for the readers. All of these are props that Lemire moves around as he plays with the shape and form of his story. The way he builds the pages, keeping the characters apart even as their stories collide, merge and separate is far more nerve wracking than anything in the story. That’s what keeps you turning the pages of this book, waiting to see how Lemire uses his pages and his chapters to create a story of two lovers, kept apart by forces outside of themselves. Usually those forces are parental or societal. In Trillium, those forces are author and structure.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

SPX Spotlight 2014: Distance Mover by Patrick Kyle

Welcome to another entry in the 2014 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, Panel Patter will be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at one of the best conventions, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of Panel Patter's spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Written and Illustrated by Patrick Kyle
Published by Koyama Press

Distance Mover is a science fiction story of travel and adventure. More specifically, it is the story of Mr. Earth, an elemental guardian being who travels all around the world (or many worlds) in his ship, the Distance Mover. This is a thoughtful, fun story with an art style completely different from most anything I've previously read.

While traveling in the Distance Mover, Mr. Earth comes to a village and observes archaic rituals such as "boulder pushing" and "stick bending." There he meets an artist named Mendel, whom he invites to travel with him in his Distance Mover. Their first stop is the city of Toh Ruylth, a highly sophisticated place where citizens leave their bodies in order to travel to work. The guardians of the city first refuse access to the city to Mendel (as he is a Groundling) so Mr. Earth and Mendel decide to sneak in (specifically to get into an art exhibition).

Unfortunately they are detected and imprisoned. One of the scientists of Toh Ruylth (Yurrik Huron, a former student of Mr. Earth) decides to investigate the Distance Mover; by the time Mr. Earth and Mendel make it to the Distance Mover, Huron has taken it for himself in his plan to become the new Mr. Earth. Mendel and Mr. Earth make their way to underground catacombs where they encounter some of the people of Toh Ruylth who are not part of the aggressive current leadership. Mr. Earth reaches out to the Distance Mover (to which he has a connection) and he and Mendel leave behind the rebels who are captured by the leadership. When they return, because of the speed at which the Diatance Mover was traveling, hundreds of years have gone by and the people of Toh Ruylth have evolved into a whole different form of life, as they exist as part of a larger consciousness. 

Mr. Earth returns Mendel to his village, and they intend to travel more. However, the ship is diverted to Mr. Earth's home. The other "Misters" (Mr. Sea, Mr. Sky, Mr. Magma) need to speak with Mr. Earth, as they're unhappy with his intervention into the affairs of the "lower" people for whom he is simply supposed to act as guardian. They give him a mission (and an ultimatum, not to disappoint them) to infiltrate a new civilization and stop whatever's blocking their ability to monitor that civilization (but don't allow Mendel to accompany him). When they believe Mr. Earth has left, they throw Mendel into a dungeon and plan to erase his memory. However, Mr. Earth frees Mendel and they investigate what's going on; it appears that the new civilization is an aggressive ooze that has he ability to impersonate beings such as Mr. Sea (who's been replaced), and to infiltrate computer systems. Mr. Earth leads the ooze away and eventually appears to make the ultimate sacrifice to stop it. Mendel awakens and he's back in his Groundling village. Time passes, he works on his art, and he wonders whether Mr. Earth will ever return. He eventually finds an envelope in his pocket with the location of the Distance Mover. It's clear that Mendel is going to head off and have adventures of his own. Perhaps someday he'll get will see Mr. Earth again.

This is an entertaining, interesting science-fiction story, in the tradition of Dr. Who and other stories about advanced being traveling from world to world (or place to place); the story also reminded me of Star Trek episodes where the crew would encounter some less advanced civilization and inevitably break the Prime Directive. It's got explorations of different sorts of societies, time travel, and shape changers.

The story is told in sequentially but each page is essentially one large panel; each panel might have some dialogue, or might be more abstract. The art style is highly stylized and the line work is deceptively simple; while Kyle does not include backgrounds and the art is pretty minimalist, each page moves the story along and is very effective in conveying a sense of "otherworldly-ness". While the characters designs are relatively simple (and there is limited amounts of shading), the book is full of psychedelic scenes and creative flourishes that add to the sci-fi feel of it.  Each character is portrayed distinctively as well, and in certain situations the characters change shape as part of the story, but not so much that a reader can't follow what's going on. The dialogue throughout the story is relatively earnest and straightforward; sarcasm and irony aren't really expressed through the dialogue, but those elements come through plot points in the story (as when the other Mister elementals mock the Distance Mover as a mode of travel, when their own vehicle is not appreciably better).

There were some pretty insightful moments in the story, as when Mr. Earth first goes to visit the Groundlings' village and expresses judgment as to how they still engage in what he sees as archaic rituals (boulder rolling, stick bending). We see Mr. Earth's more judgmental nature at the beginning (as he is ostensibly a "superior" being), but he learns over the course of the story, as he befriends Mendel (from the "primitive" Groundling village). Mendel becomes his close friend, confidant and (maybe?) successor. Mendel also grows and learns over the course of the story, as he had previously never ventured beyond the confines of his village; by the end of the story he's become someone very different, as he desires to explore and see as much of the world as he can. Each of the main characters experience real growth, and this is movingly rendered by Kyle.   

For a fun, very different sort of science fiction experience, give Distance Mover a look.

Photographs courtesy of Jessica Fortner.