Monday, July 28, 2014

Above the Dreamless Dead

Poems and Writings by: Rupert Brooke, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, Robert Graves, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Francis Edward Ledwidge, Patrick MacGill, Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg, Siegfried Sassoon, Osbert Sitwell, Charles Sorley, and Edward Thomas
Adaptations by: Hannah Berry, Stephen R. Bissette, Eddie Campbell, Lilli Carre, Liesbeth De Stercke, Hunt Emerson, Garth Ennis, Simon Gane, Sarah Glidden, Isabel Greenberg, Sammy Harkham, David Hitchcock, Kevin Huizenga, Kathryn Immonon, Stuart Immonen, Peter Kuper, James Lloyd, Pat Mills, Anders Nilsen, Danica Novgorodoff, Luke Pearson, George Pratt, Carol Tyler, and Phil Winslade
Edited by Chris Duffy
Published by First Second

The often-overlooked World War I is given voice through an adaptation of trench poetry by a stellar group of comics creators in this new anthology from First Second, edited by Chris Duffy. The experiences of those who were there and wrote about the trauma, reflections, or ways to deal with massive amounts of tedium, terror, and death are brought to life for the reader in a variety of ways, all of which are respectful to the source material.

As I wrote in my introduction to today's feature, the First World War is a neglected part of history, due in large part to the fact that World War II eclipsed it in the eyes of so many, given the large volume of survivors who came back from Europe and Asia and formed the backbone of America's middle class. However, even in Europe, this war doesn't seem to have the prominence of the latter conflict.

But just because it gets less page time in history books doesn't meant that the level of sacrifice, pain, and loss were any easier on those who participated. Many wrote about their experiences, and those writings are used here to form the stories each creator or creative team works on in their adaptations. They've come to be called the "Trench Poets" because of their shared war duties, but they were a group of people as diverse as those who illustrated the works here. As editor Chris Duffy notes, "Some of the Trench Poets were friends, but on the whole they came from many classes, had different educational backgrounds, wrote in a variety of styles, and held different religious and political beliefs."

Those differences play out across the pages here, as we go from the ribald solders' songs (all of which are illustrated to great comedic effect by Hunt Emerson) to accounts of being on the front lines to reflections on home or trying to deal with the war's aftermath. There's also an amazing matching of comics creator to prose piece here, which is either a credit to Duffy or a strong understanding by those involved at taking on a work that speaks to their strengths as an artist. It's also very impressive that while each creator's style shines through, whether it's Simon Gane's grimy detail or the stark lines of Stuart Immonen, at no time does it feel like they are running roughshod on the text. Each shows the respect they have for the Trench Poets and what they represent to their generation and to history.

As with any anthology, it's impossible to cover every entry without being pedantic. These are some of the adaptations that I thought were particularly powerful, in order of their appearance in the book:
  •  Luke Pearson opens with an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Channel Firing, making great use of black and white space to draw attention to the visuals presented. Opening with a church and graveyard in silhouette that is brought into the light by a crack of lightning, the rest of the poem follows along with pictures that rely on heavy blacks or whites, like dirt around bleached skulls. Dead bodies and graves repeat across the pages, setting a tone for the rest of the adaptations to come.
  • Kevin Huizenga is perhaps best-known for his depiction of the everyman in his Glen Ganges series, and that makes him a great choice to depict the regular solder in the poem All the Hills and Vales Along by Charles Sorley. Alternating between men on the march and nature scenes that belie a sense of death, the images become more severe until we reach the climax, where we we pan out to the Earth itself, the final resting place of the dead.
  • Eddie Campbell's adaptation is hidden within dark shadows, using white lines on black and gray to illustrate part of Patrick MacGill's Great Push. Even the lettering is in white ink rather than the traditional black, putting the reader off-guard. The slightly abstract and shaky lines of Campbell make the whole thing feel almost ghostly and unreal, especially when he sticks on the image of a dead man hanging from barbed wire, something soldiers certainly saw regularly. The overall effect here is striking and was one of the best in the collection.
  • Hannah Berry opts to avoid direct focus on the main character of Edward Thomas's The Private, instead showing parts of his pre and post war lives, with only one panel giving us an idea of his face, partially obscured in the grey background. It works for a poem about a person barely known in life and buried somewhere unmarked in death.
  • Working in the same stark style that he's used on other projects with Kathryn Immonen, Stuart Immonen's lines in an adaptation of I Looked Up from My Writing by Thomas Hardy contrasts against much of what has come before by making white the primary color instead of black or gray. They also are perhaps the most liberal in working with the material, going for a theme instead of literal interpretation. Picking certain words to highlight on, the pair pick odd angles to provide the perspective, such as going from looking at the moon to the moon looking back at the observer. A ship heads for the rocks, soldiers on a train are smiling all the way to death, and a horse slowly drowns as the words of poem come to a close.
  • In using drawings of memorials to both World War I and World War II, Simon Gane emphasizes the bitter prophecy of Osbert Sitwell's The Next War, which features words that continue to haunt, as we watch sons and daughters grow up to keep fighting the conflicts of their parents and grandparents while the same powers look on. Gane's art technique is amazing here, because his weathered look with extra lines makes the monuments appear to be slowly decaying. Brilliant work.
  • James Lloyd's adaptation of Repression of War Experience by Sigfried Sassoon owes a lot to Will Eisner, as the images blend across the page without strict panel boundaries. Words and images mix to form a complex whole that depicts a soldier haunted by the images of war that will never leave him, no matter what he tries to do. Lloyd writes a brief afterward, drawing attention to the fact that those who lose a limb get a purple heart, but those who lost their soul in wars right up to this very day and are emotionally broken are shunned and shunted off to the sidelines. So very true, and a great way to link the past to the present.
  • Carol Tyler takes on another poem that deals with the aftermath of war, this time written by Robert Graves. She shows a man who is broken by age but still has memories of who he-and his lost friend-once were. It's very understated, but when we see the man turn young again as he looks out the window, the weight of the work comes crashing down on the reader.
Like Duffy himself admits at the start of the book, I, too, am woefully unfamiliar with body of literature, and I say that as a former English Major. A work like Above the Dreamless Dead is important because, when done right, it gives readers a chance to sample that which they might not otherwise seek out, because someone they know is involved. Someone looking for more Campbell or Ennis might pick this up, and learn a part of history they'd previously been unaware of, and maybe even seek out more from the original writers after finishing the anthology.

Even if they don't, or even if you are more familiar with the Trench Poets than I was, Above the Dreamless Dead is a great anthology series and well worth picking up when it is available.

First Second Focuses on First World War

It's hard to believe, but we have arrived at the 100th Anniversary of the start of World War I, what was once called The World War, because no one wanted to admit that there would be future bloody struggles involving countries and troops all across the globe.

Sadly, though we do not currently have another global-level conflict looming, war is still with us, just scattered about in pockets that flare up, die down, and flare up again, to the point that even a person as politically aware as myself cannot keep up with all of them.

That's why it's so important to never forget the wars that have come before, but it's also why it's so easy to do so. Because it solved almost nothing and because of the closer proximity of World War II, the First World War often is something people (especially in the United States) are vaguely aware of, but pay little attention to.

First Second is trying to do something to change that, with Above the Dreamless Dead, an anthology of war poetry that's been adapted by a stellar lineup of comics creators, including Eddie Campbell, Carol Tyler, Simon Gane, the Immonens, Kevin Huizenga, and more.

Today on Panel Patter, we'll be featuring a review of the new anthology, edited by Chris Duffy, along with an interview with several of the creators involved in the book. Please keep an eye out for those later today, and for more information about World War I and its Centennial, please have a look at this website, which is dedicated to the objective of commemorating this horrible conflict.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Infallible Vol 1 by Fred Noland

Written and Illustrated by Fred Noland
Self-Published

A part of the dark history of the political nature of the Papacy comes to illustrated light in this non-fiction mini-comic by Fred Noland, featuring well-researched facts with references.

I'll mention early on here that I'm an ex-Catholic*, and that it's really amazing just how hard it is for the Church to square all of this. While it's not common knowledge, if you do any digging (and apparently in the case of one poor, dead Pontiff, the early Church did quite a bit of digging), you find these sad tales of petty jealousy and naked power grabs. So it's not like it's kept in the dark. It's like internet comments you wish you'd never said--they exist if someone cares to look, and everyone has them.

So whenever you stop to wonder just how the same Cardinals that picked Benedict XII can also pick Pope Francis or how it's possible that in the space of three Pontiffs, the stance of the Church can change twice on the nature of other faiths, just remember that this problem isn't new.

It's been an issue in the Church going back to the fight that, sadly, Paul and his ultra-misogynists won. When dealing with religion, there's huge amounts of political power to be reaped, and no matter how much we'd like to think otherwise, religious figures aren't free from that temptation, especially given the vast wealth and power concentrated in Rome.

If you can look on it with your history/political science hat on instead of your faith, the back story of the Papacy is downright fascinating. There's stuff that happened during several reigns that would make J.R.R. Martin blush and cause his editor to tell him it wasn't realistic. Noland takes this fertile material and, presenting it straight with no embellishments, turns in great work.

Opening with with a Pontiff from the 5th Century (who was tossed into Hell by Dante, apparently for heresy), Noland begins with rather tame portraits of the Popes in question, with text boxes explaining their various sins. They are slightly caricatured in nature, with bodies that aren't quite proportional, with a focus on the heads and petering out** to spindly legs. He puts them in detailed, period accurate clothing, giving a strong sense of grounding for the material to come.

Once we get to the years 872-965, things begin to heat up. The illustrations start to show the cruelty of the time period, depicting poisonings, whippings, and, the worst of all, desecration of a corpse.

It's that latter story that takes up the most space of any tale, because it's fascinatingly morbid. During the so-called Cadaver Synod, Pope Formosus's body was exhumed and--get this--actually put on trial--by his successor, who propped the corpse up in a chair and demanded it answer the charges brought against it!
The body was used and abused, all of which is carefully depicted by Noland as he narrates the gruesome story. He never stoops to sensationalism, with flies and retching (both of which make perfect sense) being the only embellishments. Noland lets the horror of the story repel the reader--it doesn't need any help, beyond showing just how awful this all is in ways that a straight textbook never could.

Unfortunately for Formosus, yet another Pope (Sergius III) later dug him up and had his head chopped off, because I guess it wasn't enough to be a Pope who got run out of town once and had an illegitimate child who later became Pope, too--he had to ensure he added borderline necromancy to the deal.

Well, at least he won't be forgotten!

The various misdeeds continue across the pages, with Noland providing illustrations that highlight the worst deeds, all without doing it in such a way that feels like torture porn. His characters remain just a bit too cartoon-like to really sink the knife in, and for some, that might be a problem. It's one thing to draw a man running away from Rome with a bag of money, but a Warner Brothers-like look of pain for a castrated Deacon could rub some the wrong way.

It didn't bother me, because the point here, at least in how I read it, is that Noland wants to illustrate the larger-than-life, truth is stranger than fiction nature of these acts. The best way to do so in a visual medium like a mini-comic is to take the images and give them a bit of punch and edginess. The alternative, drawing in a sober manner with blood flowing across the page might be more accurate, but it's in bad taste. Ironically, making the drawings a bit more light-hearted, Cartoon History of the World-style, is what hooks the reader in and gives the entry point to what's usually presented as dull history.

Infallible ends with a quote about Popes getting to make doctrine for their followers, a hollow comment in light of all that he's shown the reader, allowing the hypocrisy inherent in the idea that one man makes God's Law to really hit home. He also provides references for the details, should anyone care to read more. Overall, it's a great package missing just one thing--Volume 2.

This is not the book for everyone, but I enjoyed it a lot. You can find out more about Noland at his website, where you can also buy a copy of Infallible and read sample pages.

*But not a bitter one, I loved most of the priests I interacted with, actually, and never had an issues despite being a young boy often alone with them. It's just that my faith moved and evolved down a different path. If you're a fervent Catholic, that's great. And maybe, just maybe, this isn't the mini--or review--for you.

**No pun intended. But if you'd like to think I was riffing on the idea of St. Peter, the first Pope, go right ahead.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Comixology Holds Sales, Including another Indie-Driven Bundle

Fresh off its news that a nice chunk of its books will be DRM-free and downloadable, Comixology has collected a big chunk of sales timed during the San Diego Comic-Con and featuring two of the publishers involved in the new program.

A total of 8 big sales are running right now, including a Batman binge, Zenoscope's Grimm Fairy Tales, and a discount on certain Viz books.

I'd like to highlight four of the things available, which I think match up most closely with what we've been focusing on here at Panel Patter. (Right now, I'm so far behind on my manga reading that I don't think I could accurately talk about a Viz sale, sadly.)

First up is the 45 cents (yes, I said 45 CENTS, as is 1 quarter, 1 dime, 1 nickel and 5 pennies) trade of the day, which is the Hernandez Brothers' Love and Rockets New Stories Volume 1, from Fantagraphics. That's an insane savings, as the trade normally costs eight bucks. If you haven't had the chance to read any of the Love and Rockets material, here's a chance to try it on the cheap! But you need to act fast--this sale ends today, July 25th, at 11:59pm EST.

Next is a new bundle of 100 Comixology Submit titles for only $10! While I can't swear for sure that it's all new books from the last bundle I encouraged you to purchase, a quick glance makes me pretty sure that's true. At worst, it might be a duplicate or two. Still, getting 100 indie comics for only $10, making them TEN CENTS EACH means digital folks who like to read books that aren't from the major indies should have a field day finding new favorites.

Included in this bundle are:
  • Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales, edited by Kel McDonald and a great anthology I never got a chance to review for the sight. That's worth the $10 alone.
  • Rex Zombie Killer, about a pack of animals trying to survive in an zombie apocalypse, which proves that not all zombie stories are played out.
  • When I was a Mall Model by Panel Patter Pal Monica Gallagher
  • The Lizard Laughed by another PP Pal, Banner-maker Noah Van Sciver
  • Wolves from Becky Cloonan, who is finally getting the recognition she deserves (I'm just annoyed it takes being on Batman to do it.)
  • ReincarNATE #1 from PP Pal, Michael Moreci and co.
  • Merrick the Sensational Elephantman #1, which James Kaplan reviewed recently
  • Aw Yeah Comics! #1
 A chance to pick up those books (and a bunch more that are sure to be good, too!) is not to be missed. If you do nothing else from the sales this weekend, grab this one. There's nothing better than getting to experiment. At 10 cents a comic? It's downright criminal to pass. You should get on this one before July 27th at 11pm EST, when the sale ends.

Top Shelf, one of the DRM-free publishers, is also holding sales, both in bundle form (including a "get everything for $150" deal) and separately. The sale also runs through 11pm EST on the 27th of July.

Items of note include:
  • Eddie Campbell's underrated Baccus series
  • A bunch of Alan Moore, for those who like his most recent work
  • All of James Kochalka's American Elf diaries for just $9.99
  • All of Double Barrell for just $5.99
 Top Shelf is one of my favorite publishers, so you really rarely go wrong with them. This sale is a good chance to dive in and enjoy some great indie comics.

Last but not least is an Image Comics Sale. This one focuses on the top Image titles, which means it's a chance to catch up if you didn't jump on from the start. Remember that Image, too, is DRM-free and download-friendly now. Running through 11pm EST on July 28th, the sale includes deals on collections and single issues (as well as an all-in-one bundle) on the following books:
  • Saga
  • Pretty Deadly
  • Lazarus
  • Manhattan Projects
  • Rat Queens
  • East of West
  • Sex Criminals
  • Zero
  • Nowhere Men
All in all, there's a ton of good books available for you to completely blow your budget on. Have fun, and enjoy this comics windfall. No matter which of these deals you take part in, you're getting quality work from a diverse range of talents, both known and new!

Recommendations for the Fantagraphics Annual Not-at-Comic-Con Sale

For the 4th straight year, Fantagraphics is holding a 20% off sale on their entire catalog for those folks who aren't attending Comic-Con.* It's a great chance to pick up books both old and new from one of the best of the indie publishers.

The sale runs until Midnight Pacific time on Sunday, July 27th and is good for 20% everything on the website, with no restrictions, which is a nice touch, but typical of the classy publisher.

You can use the code  FANTACON714 at checkout to get the discount.

For the purpose of this post, I'll be concentrating on their newer releases. If you want to dig deeper, feel free to have a look at what the Panel Patter team has said about older Fanta books here. Generally speaking, the publisher has someone for anyone interested in comics, whether it's classic newspaper strips reprinted in a high-quality manner, heartfelt memoirs, old EC work getting a collected edition, or some of the rawest comics work you'll see on a printed page. They are a vast and varied company, so do have a look.

Now for the recommendations:

21: The Story of Roberto Clemente is a great fit for the baseball fan in your life, as the pioneering Latin American superstar's life gets a profile in a new, softcover edition.
Buddy Buys a Dump is the third volume of Peter Bagge's long-running series of a man who allows for a cynical look at life has a title that refers to something you'd never expect. Bagge's possibly the best misanthrope in comics!
Cannon is a Wally Wood solo effort featuring spies and sex. Really all you need to know.
Cosplayers features 2 cosplayers who decide to make a movie. Dash Shaw plays with the fans in the first of two comics, both of which are on the site.
Creeping Death from Neptune The Life and Comics of Basil Wolvertin Vol 1 collects this eccentric creator's works along with biographical information. Fans of the old, pre-code comics definitely will love this.
Ditko Kirby Wood is an homage by Sergio Ponchione to three of the best to ever draw.
Hip Hop Family Tree Vol 2 by Ed Piskor is set to hit the streets in September but you can pre-order it now for a discount. A detailed, methodical but fun tribute to the world of hip-hip, Piskor's series is really amazing.
Love and Rockets New Stories 7. Do I have to explain why?
Run Like Crazy Run Like Hell by Jacques Tardi and Jean-Patrick Manchette is described as a noir thriller. Given the team involved, this looks like it will be quite good.
Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen is Dylan Horrocks' first new graphic novel since Hicksville. It's another playing with the role of creator and creation, it looks like, and I can't wait to read it.
Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol 1, now in softcover. Ditko's earliest comics work all reproduced for you in a legal (i.e. rights properly acquired) edition.
Tales Designed to Thrizzle Vol 1 by Michael Kupperman also gets the softcover treatment. Read one of the best satirists in comics do his thing on short, sometime micro-flash sized concepts. Highly recommended!
4-volume set of EC Hardcovers: If you can afford it and love old EC comics as much as I do, this is the collection to grab. 4 books together, featuring Wally Wood, Jack David, Al Williamson, and more.
Wandering Son, the manga dealing with transgender issues, is up to Volume 6, with a seventh on the way.
Young Romance 2: The Early Simon and Kirby Romance Comics is sure to be a winner, looking at the kind of stories you don't normally associate with the folks behind Captain America.

I could easily have listed another 15 comics, or even 150, if I was so inclined. Fantagraphics is one of the best in the business. Don't believe me? Take advantage of the sale and find out!

*I guess you can still order if you're attending Comic-Con, but good luck getting the wireless to work, from what I understand.

La Quinta Camera

Written and Illustrated by Natsume Ono
Published by Viz

An Italian man with a room to spare takes in a variety of people over time in addition to his regular renters in a slice of life series that shows the roommates interacting and growing over time in this collection of webcomics from Natsume Ono.

I don't know that I've read a Japanese webcomic in translation before, so that makes this one notable to me. It's nice to see Viz using the Signature Line for a book like this one, even though I'm a bit late to the party in reading it. The label is a great fit for something like this, the early work of a now-popular creator.

La Quinta Camera was the series that put Ono on the map, and it's easy to see why. Her ability to weave characters in and out of the narrative, tell stories that could easily be about someone you know, and yet still give a feeling of place (the book is set in Italy, after all) and comparison between cultures (Japan vs Italy in terms of Christmas, for example) all shine here. The American is a total stereotype, but it's nice to see the US on the receiving end of a trope for a change.

The dialogue here is perfectly natural, allowing readers to get to know the characters well. Each has their own voice, so that even when limitations in the art make it more difficult to tell people apart, it's not hard to know who is speaking. (A tip of the cap to translator Joe Yamazaki for retaining that feeling.) By far the best part of the story is the natural linking of the stories, like when Charlotte (the opening focal character) loses her bag in a stranger's car, he turns up as one of the house mates. In another case, a random trip puts Al back in territory he'd rather forget. In clumsier hands that might feel too convenient, but Ono is already skilled at finding ways to do this so convincingly it's like finding out someone you know is actually Facebook friends with someone who has an unexpected connection to another of your friends.

I'm not sure how this was originally serialized on the web, but here it's gathered into traditional manga-style chapters, with "bonus" material at the end. Each of these moves linearly through time, skipping across various roommates and focusing on key times for the characters. The feeling is not unlike a movie about relationships, and thanks to the work Ono does in the opening chapter, you want to find out more about Charlotte, Al, Massimo, and the rest.

Artistically, this is also very different, in terms of most manga I've read. In fact, the next time someone says, "All manga looks alike" (which makes my skin crawl), I'm going to find a copy of this, show them a few pages, then hit them over the head with a Tezuka omnibus for good measure. The linework here still retains some essence of the things we think of as traditional manga art, like triangle chins or thin bodies, but the ways in which those concepts are presented are very different. In fact, the word that comes to mind for me with this is almost geometric. The characters, their surroundings, and everything else are angular, with the exception of the wide, expressive eyes.

Like many of the indie books I read, there's not a lot going on in the way of backgrounds. Ono chooses to focus squarely on her characters, leaving some panels without anything other than white or shaded tones. In a story about Italy, that's a bit disappointing, to be honest, but she makes up for it with her dialogue. The panel layouts are often quite packed, filling the page from top to bottom with characters and word balloons. This means that when there is white space/street scenes/etc., they have a real impact, serving as pauses in the narrative. Overall, the art won't be to everyone's taste, but it works for what Ono is trying to do.

La Quinta Camera is a cute one-and-done book showing the early development of Ono as she learns her craft. It's a good fit for fans seeking out more of her work and those who enjoy relationship-driven, everyday life comics.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Digging into Digital: Comixology Partners with 5 Publishers to Go DRM-Free

So your mileage may vary, but for me, this is the announcement of the show from San Diego Comic-Con, pretty much no matter what else gets announced.

Comixology has partnered with five publishers to go DRM-Free, allowing users to download PDF or CBZ copies of the comics they purchased.

Tip of the cap over to Heidi MacDonald and the folks at The Beat for breaking this one. You can read Heidi's article about it here.

So as of right this very second, you can download copies of any Dynamite, Image, Monkeybrain, Thrillbent, or Top Shelf books that you've already purchased. That's pretty amazing. It's one thing to announce this--it's another to not only announce it, but have it ready to go and working as soon as it's announced.

Before writing this up, I took some time to experiment. I downloaded an Image book, a Top Shelf book, and a Monkeybrain book to PDF format, and my God, they look amazing. While they lack the guided view technology, of course, I had no problem reading them on my PC as PDFs, the same way I might for a digital comp copy.

The way to do this is incredibly simple: You go to "my books," then "my backups," then download the books you want in the format of your choice. Notable is that it does state "last downloaded" and  tracks downloaded vs non-downloaded books. Right now, that's hella convenient, but it also means it's coded so that eventually, they can restrict number of downloads if a publisher wants to go down that road.

This is nothing but good news. First of all, it means the people who keep complaining that Comixology is evil because they force people to use DRM and "What if this one dollar comic I bought and read and will never read again is removed?" straw man arguments against the company can be put to rest once and for all. Are all comics on the system DRM free yet? No, and I'm sure that's going to be the next refuge of the "I hate Digital Comics and Comixology" crowd. But now it's clear the company--possibly because of the "evil Amazon" connection--is cool with DRM-free.

The second piece of good news is that while this is only five companies right now, the rest of the mid-majors won't be far behind. I can't see IDW or Boom! sitting back and letting these other companies get the windfall from those who were waiting for DRM-free. They'll be there, soon. Similarly, smaller folks, who generally take their lead from the mid-majors, are likely to join in as well, for the same reason.

If any of those publishers are reading this and might be leery of doing DRM-free because of piracy, please remember this piece of advice from a friend of mine, who works within the comics industry: "The person illegally downloading your book? They were never going to pay for the damned thing anyway."

What you will gain are people who want to make the transition to digital but also want to "own" their copy, because it's important to them. Now you can get the best of both worlds--be on the best digital comics platform AND give folks a way to download your books DRM-free, if they want to.

Obviously, as both a comics fan and a digital advocate, I hope that as many companies as possible start using this new option at Comixology. But personal bias aside, I think it's a smart move to get in on this while you're still able to be one of the few pubs doing it and not part of the crowd. It's a great point of separation.

Three final thoughts on the ramifications of this, not in any particular order:

1) When will Marvel and DC bow to the pressure and go DRM-free? They have to eventually, it's only a matter of time, and the one who goes first gets bragging rights. In fact, if I were in charge at either company, I'd be begging to announce it this weekend, to totally scoop the other guy. Don't believe me that they will? Look at how the pair have embraced digital at all, after initially being shackled to the comic book stores. It will happen. If not this year, then sometime in 2015.

2) Is this another move towards pulling away from Apple? Look, Amazon wants people buying their Fire tablets. They now have the single best digital-comics reading company out there in their stable. If people can download their books from the website and then port them to their iPad or iPhone, how long is it going to be before Amazon gets the bright idea to make the software Fire-only? Not saying they will or should do that. But now you can do it without hurting your existing customers, because their books would still be available, just not as conveniently. Something to ponder, I think.

3) Your move, Dark Horse. Dark Horse had the chance to be a big player outside Comixology's orbit by offering new digital comics day and date for $1.99 instead of cover price. Retailers whined, and the company blinked--something I still think was a big mistake. If they don't make themselves DRM-free ASAP, the veritable indie is about to do themselves further harm in the expanding digital market. They should have done this as soon as Image did, but waited. Now, if they wait too much longer--or don't go DRM-free at all, they really risk hurting themselves in terms of market share.

No matter what happens, I'll be keeping my eyes peeled. This is the next step in the digital comics revolution, one that offers nothing but positives for readers, publishers, and Comixology itself.

Fearful Hunter by Jon Macy

Written and Illustrated by Jon Macy
Published by Northwest Press

[Editor's Note: This book is NSFW, so that means the review responds accordingly. You've been warned. -RobM]
 
"I wanted to...only [draw] my favorite thing[s]: trees, punk boys, pick-up trucks, werewolves, and naked Druids in the woods." I remember Jon Macy's promise from his introduction, while I scroll past tree spirits, birds, and the silhouette of two people kissing. I interpret them as men because, similar to Macy, "I grew up watching love stories by straight people. Like a foreign film, I would translate it in my head to make it queer." And his graphic novel, Fearful Hunter, does not make me do the work.

The first of four chapters opens with a split page. The top panel overlooks cliffs, a small town, and a looming mountain. In the bottom panel, an ominous voice directs a muscled man, dressed only in antlers and a beaded cloak. 

"Are you ready for your final lesson, Oisin? Then cast the spell of seeking." Through this spell, Oisin discovers a gruff, hairy man, sleeping naked in the woods. But, before their lips can touch, Oisin disappears and the other man wakes up.

Oisin's mentor, Tavius--the ominous voice, whose body is composed of rippling abs, bulging pecs, and two plump asscheeks that wouldn't look out of place in a fruitbowl--warns Oisin that for a Druid, true love can only be found with an Ally, a god of nature. Macy illustrates this union through several panels of earthy tentacle porn that I reread several times--strictly for review purposes.

I want to note that though I may describe certain scenes with raunchy or comical terms, I do not do so to devalue them. Macy states in his introduction that he "wanted to include sex" because "it's important to have sex portrayed in a sexual relationship" and "that when we sanitize our love stories, we are telling the world and ourselves that there is something wrong with queer sex." 

Fearful Hunter does not fear sex--sex in all it's wet, sticky, kinky, intimate glory. When Tavius' Ally wraps its god-tentacles around around his cock and balls, when cum shoots into Tavius' mouth until it overflows as if from a fountain, perfect pleasure shows in the his eyes and the lines of his face. The sex is plot relevant but also, well, sexy.

And I can't believe I'm going to say this, but Oisin looks even more delicious when he pulls on a hoodie and low-rise jeans for his trip into town. As a Druid, the residents look upon him as out of place, which I cannot help but align with the same feeling queer people often have in non-queer spaces.

Oisin takes refuge in an underground concert, populated with pretty punk boys of the magical and queer varieties. A werefox, Shea, offers to find the Druid's one-true-love (Uh oh, isn't that supposed to be an Ally? Drama!), but Oisin says he can do it himself. Enter: Byron, the werewolf from Oisin's earlier spell. The one he almost kissed.

Werewolves, like penguins, are adorable and mate for life. Since Druids apparently have the opposite reputation, Byron refuses Oisin's initial advances. Macy recounts the earlier dream not only with words, but sincere expressions on Byron's behalf that make me want to shout, "That face!" Body of a wolf, heart of a penguin; I refuse to think of him any other way.

Their sex leaves scratches and bite marks on Oisin's back and content exhaustion on their faces. But, in the last frame of the chapter, Tavius looks upon the sleeping couple. He wants Byron. Oisin wants Byron. I kind of want Byron, too, so I feel his pain. There's only one wolf-heart to go around, god dammit.

As the story continues, we are torn between Oisin's spiritual pursuits toward Druidship and his longing for Byron. Thanks to Macy's intricate details--hundreds of tiny leaves, blades of grass, veiny roots, and old ringed trees--Oisin is shown to truly live as part of the forest, not against it. The setting is not a cheap green screen, it is another character, another lover, Byron's competition.

But the werewolf is not cast only as the mysterious love interest. In a horrifying flashback, we learn that baby-Byron could not kill a rabbit when his mentor demanded he demanded it. Even pages past the the panel, I cannot forget the image of Byron attempting to kill the rabbit by hitting it with a rock. The first blow does not finish the job and the animal looks up at the young wolf with a pained face.

"He's still alive. I'm just hurting him! What do I do? He hates me!!!" young Byron cries.

The older wolf ends it, biting the rabbit's neck. "Your name will be Fearful Hunter."

The third chapter, titled "Filthy Beasts," reveals the remaining Druid-drama. The Master Druid wants Oisin to ally with the mountain god in order that he may control them in a way that sounds less like an alliance and more like a dictatorship. Tavius is willing to help--as long as he gets Byron, as a reward.

I won't spoil the ending--sorry! I will say that Fearful Hunter is the well-balanced breakfast of queer fiction with earthy, psychedelic illustrations. Macy doesn't shy away from sex--not by a longcock--but he also doesn't shy away from a plot. In his introduction, he states that this book was born from the Proposition 8 decision and it shows. Fearful Hunter is as Macy hopes: "...a story that give[s] others the tools to understand us."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dynamite Gets Rights to The Spirit

  In a press release that came out just a few minutes ago, publisher Dynamite Entertainment dropped a huge announcement that serves as a capstone of sorts to all of the licensing work they've been doing over the course of 2014.

Dynamite has gotten the rights to none other than Will Eisner's Spirit.

Obviously, the timing here is perfect, given the Eisner Awards will be given out at San Diego Comic-Con this weekend. But anytime you announce you have the rights to use one of the most iconic figures among people who know comics, timed to the character's 75th anniversary, it's going to be big news.

From the Press Release:
"We are thrilled that Will Eisner's The Spirit has found a new home with Dynamite Entertainment," state Nancy and Carl Gropper of the Eisner estate in a joint announcement.  "At Dynamite, The Spirit will be joining many iconic heroes including Flash Gordon, The Shadow, The Green Hornet, The Lone Ranger, Zorro, and others. Will Eisner created The Spirit in 1940 as a syndicated seven-page newspaper supplement, where The Spirit fought the villains of Central City weekly until 1952.  We're hoping to see Dynamite's new comics of The Spirit surpass the circulation of the Will Eisner's original series."
 This is, frankly, incredibly good news. DC Comics didn't seem to know what to do with Eisner's creation, especially after Darwyn Cooke moved on to doing Parker adaptations instead. At Dynamite, Denny Colt joins The Shadow, Green Hornet, Lone Ranger, and many, many other pulp-adventure heroes. While not all of these books have been to my taste, it's clear Dynamite understands and appreciates how to market these books. With creators like Jeff Parker on Flash Gordon and Ron Marz coming to John Carter, they also do a great job of matching the material with someone able to best write it.

Dynamite's fan-level excitement comes through on the release:
 "Bringing The Spirit to Dynamite is a dream come true.  Actually, that's not a strong enough sentiment.  It's a lifelong dream come true," says Nick Barrucci, CEO and Publisher of Dynamite Entertainment. "The Spirit is one of comicdom's greatest characters, and has stood the test of time for nearly 75 years.  Will is one of the greats, and his influence as a storyteller is incredible.  I've loved all of Will's work from The Spirit to his graphic novels from A Contract with God to The Dreamer, and his entire body of work.  This is a huge responsibility that we've undertaken as there have been some great creators involved in The Spirit throughout the seven decades of his career. I'm honored that Carl and Nancy feel that we are up to the task, and have entrusted us to publish The Spirit, especially beginning at such a landmark year - his 75th Anniversary.  I believe that, with our proven track record for high-quality pulp comics by incredible talents (like Matt Wagner, Garth Ennis, and Kevin Smith), the addition of The Spirit to our line of classic adventure titles is a major win for longtime fans of Will Eisner's original crime fighter.  I cannot emphasize enough how important publishing The Spirit is to us."
Look at that last sentence: "I cannot emphasize enough how important publishing The Spirit is to us." Do you really think it was ever important to DC Comics to get The Spirit in front of new fans? Maybe in theory, but it never showed in practice. If I remember right their last attempt had an old-school Batman heading the line of titles. That should tell you everything.

There is no word on a creative team yet--I'm sure that will either come later at SDCC or in some exclusive article, but I trust them to find the right people for the job. I'd love to see some female creators involved, partly because I don't think Denny Colt has ever had one and partly because Eisner's misogyny needs addressed, and I don't know that male writer or artist will be willing to do that, or see its importance.

Also not noted is who has the right to re-publish Eisner's Spirit books. Those were only available in expensive DC archives. I'd love to see new, affordable editions.

No matter what, this is great news, and I eagerly look forward to finding a "coming soon" notice for an all-new Spirit #1. Anyone who is a long-time fan of the character should be as well.

Black Market (1 of 4)

Black Market (1 of 4)
Written by Frank Barbiere
Illustrated by Victor Santos, Adam Metcalfe and Ed Dukeshire
Boom! Studios

If you poke at some of the concepts behind superheroes, they start to seem ridiculous, and I don't mean the teleportation, flying and super-strength. No, the troubling idea about superheroes is that they are fundamentally selfish. If Reed Richards is the world's smartest man and can create all manner of amazing inventions and technology, why doesn't he share it with the world? If Wolverine (up until recently) has a healing factor that enables him to quickly bounce back from even the most ridiculous, grotesque injuries, you don't think millions of burn victims around the world might be interested in something like that?  No, even though they work to protect humanity, superheroes and their villainous counterparts are engaged in colossal battles to which ordinary people are incidental. They put themselves above the regular people of the world in a way that is fundamentally selfish, and it would be understandable for people to resent them.

Black Market is a crime story set in a world of superheroes, where people decide that it's time to make the superheroes share their gifts, like it or not. This is a strong first issue with solid characterization and beautiful art from Victor Santos.  In this world, masked vigilantes emerged a number of years ago.  The fought crime, and helped improve society. Eventually they were replaced by "the Supers" who had massive powers and virtually wiped out crime. The story begins with a fire at an apartment building and a Super named Hotspot who comes to the rescue; several men (including a man named Raymond) have used the fire to lure the hero in and capture him.  The story moves back a number of months and shows us Raymond's life. He's preparing bodies at a funeral home, but used to be a medical examiner for the police until something called "Ultra". It's clear Raymond has a difficult life, as he's unhappy with his job and is caring for his wife who has MS.

Ray's visited by his brother Denny, whom Ray greets with a punch in the face.  It seems Denny was somehow responsible for "Ultra" which cost Ray his job. But Denny's got money for Ray, and a way to make up to Ray what Denny has cost him. Denny has gotten involved with a company called Biochem that's using Super-DNA in order to create a miracle cure for diseases (including MS). Jumping back to the present day, Ray and Denny and their large associate Albert are making a run for their laboratory (in a stolen ambulance) when they're stopped by some cops whom Denny and Albert deal with violently. They make their way back to the lab, where Ray sets up Hotspot so the others can extract his blood. Back when Denny approached Ray about this plan, he promised Ray that they were the good guys and that no one was going to get hurt. However, at the end of this story, that's clearly not the case.

This is a strong first issue with a solid hook. While taking place in a world full of superheroes, this is not a story about Supers; it's a story about people who take matters in their own hands because they don't want to feel like ants in a world full of giants. This story fits in well with other stories in this subgenre, such as Incognito and Sleeper from the team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, both of which also explore the underbelly of a world of super-powered people. Frank Barbiere has started to carve out an interesting comics resume of ethically murky, desperate characters such as in Five Ghosts where his protagonist is a shady treasure hunter/thief who's motivated to save his sister's life, and The White Suits centered on a group of Cold War-era assassins and the people out to stop them (and who'll use any means to do so). Ray here is a similarly compromised protagonist; all he wants to do his save his wife, the next thing you know he's trapping and experimenting on superheroes, and evading law enforcement.  His internal narration is effective and he's a sympathetic character, so it's not hard to see how he would come to be in his current situation.

This story is aided tremendously by very strong art from Santos; while the art is distinctive, there's a definite Darwyn Cooke influence in the character designs and facial expressions, and in the crime setting of the book also evokes Michael Avon Oeming.  His stylized take works well for both super-powered heroics and for scenes of darkness and violence.  Santos makes effective use of panel layout such as in the above page where the focus is generally on Ray's head, but Santos uses smaller panels within and between the larger ones to show us the gritty details of Ray's work.  These panels-within-panels are used periodically throughout the story to show action or movement, and are a creative use of space on the page. The facial acting and body language between characters is nicely executed here; while done in an exaggerated, stylized way, the characters' emotions (particularly Ray's very mixed feelings towards his brother) are effectively conveyed

The color choices from Adam Metcalfe also present an interesting contrast. This is a world of crime and darkness and people making bad choices; for a story such as this one might expect a muted color palate (such as that in Incognito or other crime-noir stories). However, it's also a world full of people who can fly and burst into flames, and so the coloring in this story conveys that vibrant world and all of its contrasts.

There's a lot of places this story can go, from Ray's evolution, to his history with his brother, to more background on who the Supers are and where they came from. If you're a fan of dark, interesting takes on the superhero genre, Black Market is worth a look.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Neil Brideau Opens Comics Distro, Radiator Comics

Chicago-area mini-comics creator Neil Brideau has opened a new comics distro, and it's already filled with some of the creators covered here on Panel Patter, offering a way for readers to pick up books that aren't always easily available.

Called Radiator Comics, Neil gives the following as the site's mission statement:

Radiator Comics distributes, produces, and promotes small press and self-published comics that focus on self-expression and storytelling.
At the core of its mission is a commitment to increasing the population of comic book readers, providing support to comic book makers to create the best work they possibly can, and to fairly compensate those creators for their work.
Radiator’s primary focus is distributing minicomics created by excellent comics makers who are passionate about strong storytelling. Our secondary focus is publishing comics by up-and-coming comics makers who excite us. Radiator Comics is dedicated to encouraging and expanding a community of unique voices from diverse backgrounds, brought together by a passion for story, art, and self-publishing.
This is excellent news. Though there are more conventions than ever before, the expense of traveling to and from often is prohibitive, and some areas only have a few shows that are practical for people to drive to, if they even have a car. It's not always practical for a person to go to SPX or APE or CAKE, and even if you do, some really strong books may not be available to you, because they're regional. Distros like this one allow people to pick up things that interest them and have them delivered right to their door.

Obviously, I'm a big fan of getting mini-comics in to more people's hands, so I'm very happy to see Neil begin this project. It's not easy to run a distro, trust me, and it's really a thankless task. Any time Neil spends on this is time he's not working on his own comics, which any creator will tell you is a big sacrifice. And don't even start on the idea of profit--no Ferengi is going to be caught dead running one of these things.

The distro already has over 80 items ready for sale at its opening. They include work from PP favorites Brideau, Sarah Becan, Cara Bean, John Porcellino, Ramsey Bayer, and Liz Price. There is a great mix of male and female creators in the opening line-up, which is also nice to see. Brideau has the distro open  for those who work in mini-comics and are interested in having their work sold through him.

Neil is no stranger to comics and business, working for Quimby's Bookstore and helping to co-found the Chicago Zine Fest and later was part of the group that put together CAKE. He knows what he's doing and you can tell that from the site itself, which is clean and crisp, with strong visuals, an organized layout and nothing cute or artsy about the design. (I really hate that. You want me to buy? Then make it easy for me to see what I'm doing.)

Panel Patter wishes Neil luck on this endeavor. When you want to scratch your mini-comics itch, have a look at Radiator Comics and see if there's something you might like. Odds are, the answer is yes.

Gyakushu by Dan Hipp

 And now for something a little more obscure...



Written and Illustrated by Dan Hipp
Published by Tokyopop
Available on Comixology
 
Odds are Gyakushu, pronouced "Gahhh-Phhbbbblll'tttishu'paphfooie", is probably something that you've never seen or heard of before.  And that's a shame because it's definitely something that your eyes need to be bathed in.

You need to prepare your eyeballs and let them drink in the awesome goodness that is Dan Hipp's GYAKUSHU!

At its core, Gyakushu is a take on a classic kung-fu fantasy style mash-up revenge tale.  It would sit nicely beside some of my personal favorite revenge flicks such as Kill Bill Vols 1&2, Oldboy, Memento, and The Outlaw Josey Wales, but what sets Gyakushu apart, aside from the horrible name which I've already made fun of (and can't seem to stop doing), is the shear confidence and master-class artwork dropped onto the page like a slap in the face from Dan Hipp.

I just can't stop looking at it.  Staring at it.  Living inside those panels.  They're so full of drama and emotional resonance and balls-to-the-wall action that they're impossible to just breeze by them.  You want to spend time with them, to make yourself slow down and appreciate just what you're seeing, and not rush to the end like the average comic.  The art is nearly perfect.  Usually I could nit-pick something about an artist's work like any other jerk, and say there is something they do that I'd prefer that they give up immediately (like Skottie Young drawing super babies), but there is absolutely nothing art-wise that Hipp does that doesn't strike me as brilliant in this work.

Hipp's style is definitely manga influenced but I would say it is equally influenced by cartoon/anime/cell animations.  It just seems an inch away from popping off the page and coming to life as animation.  It's begging for it, really.

gr_gyakushu_00.jpg
Hipp isn't your typical comic book artist, his style is so dissimilar to just about everyone else out there working that I can't think of a mainstream comic he'd likely fit on without mass fanboy suicide, but I'm sure he would crush whatever character or characters anyone gave to him. I'd pay my $3.99 to see this guy draw Sonic Adventures if that's what he wanted. That being said, I would definitely prefer Hipp do something that was creator-owned and original, something like Gyakushu, something straight out of his noggin with no filter. And... maybe a Spider-Man one-shot.
I first came upon Hipp and Mark Andrew Smith’s Amazing Joy Buzzards graphic novel one day at my LCS, killing time, and very quickly decided I had to have it.  To this day I don’t remember much about the story in Joy Buzzards, aside from a Yeti joke, but I DO remember the art.  So one of the first creators I searched for when I started a Comixology account was Hipp, one of my favorite artists for books I might not be familiar with.  Turns out this was immensely easier than diving into comic book back issue boxes.
The action delivered in this book is wicked, intense, and will leave you breathless.  It will drag you in, and not let you go until you wanna dress your head in bandages like the main protagonist and carry a sword down to the Quick-E-Mart on the corner just looking for trouble. The main character, and all the characters for that matter, look amazing - with an extra heaping of badassery poured into the bandaged protagonist. He's equal parts thief, samurai, ninja, and The Man With No Name. He is the ultimate anti-hero, a thief who was disfigured and left for dead, his family murdered, and one who only craves revenge.
The dialogue however, is greatly lacking. Sometimes when characters speak they just come off as very two-dimensional tropes. I actually prefer it when the characters don't talk in this book. I only say this because it's kind of jarring at first, but either Hipp gets better at it as the three volumes come to a close, or by that time you're just desensitized to it. Either way, it feels like he gets better as it goes on, and that's all that counts in my opinion. The real draw here is the art.
The villains are very cookie-cutter, faceless ninja types but they're completely forgivable as encounters with these guys lead to kick-ass action sequences. I suppose there's an analogy to be made between Gyakushu and popcorn action movies, although not the horrible shakey-cam visual abortions that are becoming vogue. I mean good popcorn flicks like The Raid or Pitch Black. Something you can just sit back and experience. And there is nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with this book either.
As far as I'm concerned, this book is a classic.
Give it a try! As of this time it's only $5.99 for the first volume on Comixology and it seems like the only place you can actually get the 3rd volume, which never saw print and was released as a digital exclusive. If digital isn't your thing then the first two volumes are very easy to find via Amazon or eBay and the prices for them are very similar to the digital versions. Personally, I read it digitally on an iPad and it was an excellent experience.
So check it out, and let me know what you think!  
Am I way off? Is it better than I said? I want to know!
'Til next time!
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Monday, July 21, 2014

Rob Kirby Interviews Kevin Czapiewski


Rob Kirby Interviews Kevin Czapiewski



Back in the day, when I drew a biweekly comic strip that I self-syndicated for gay and alternative newspapers (remember those?), I would occasionally receive letters from aspiring young cartoonists. They would ask first and foremost How Do I Get Started? followed by Do You Have Any Advice For Me As a Beginner? The first advice I would always impart was simply this: Do It Because You Love It - with the underlying message being Don’t Expect To Strike It Rich. Some appreciated my words of caution/wisdom, while others - the ones that wanted/expected to strike it rich - did not.

Twenty nine year-old, 6'4 Kevin Czapiewski (pronounced “Chappy-esky”), a talented artist and self-described “Comics Mom,” is one of those creators who is clearly in the game out of love: love for process of creating art, love for the network of friends, colleagues and collaborators that inevitably and thrillingly spring forth from that creation, love for the medium itself. From his home base of Cleveland, Ohio, he has built up an impressive resume of art comics and fantasy comics, and with some of those aforementioned friends and colleagues birthed the PUPPYTEETH anthology, of which the fourth issue has recently been released. His output is so varied I wanted to talk to him to get all those disparate art-threads into an orderly shape in my head. Kevin, or Czap (pronounce it “Chap” or, if you’re weird like me, enjoy reading it sometimes as “Cee-Zap”) was gracious enough to email-answer my questions over several busy weeks from late June to early July, the results of which are transcribed below.

Rob Kirby: Every cartoonist has an “Origins of” story. Can you tell us yours?

Kevin Czapiewski: I’m originally from Northern Virginia, just across the river from DC, nuclear family including an older brother (2 years). Cartooning was always a pretty naturalized obsession for both my brother and I, with drawing being an obvious extension. My brother Matt, for most of my teenage years, was the trailblazer, introducing me to most of what I still find valuable, especially punk and zines (DIY) in high school. Other good examples of this are when I contributed strips to his high school zine and did guest strips for his webcomic in the early 2000s.
I decided to go to art school in Cleveland, literally because the school mailed me a cool brochure. During my second year (basically an extended freshman year for a 5 year program), I had a painting elective that introduced my small class to really exciting contemporary art - so for the next couple of years I made room-sized art pieces and minimal sculptures. The Painting department at the time was as media-unspecific as you could get, and emphasized critical thinking and practice over most everything else, so that’s the major I chose.
Almost immediately after graduating, I got myself into a terrible, terrible marriage that taught me a whole lot of things by the time I got out of it - the love of dogs, how to love and respect yourself, how to fit into small spaces, how to drive a car, near-undying patience, how to not make excuses and actually DO something if you want it done and, ultimately, if I wanted to make comics I couldn’t waste any more time. (Also of note - we had our honeymoon at San Diego Comic Con [thanks Aunt Ann!], my first convention, and being totally immersed in comics like that was like an awakening.)
By the end of summer 2010, the marriage was over and I was living on my own, feeling better than I have in maybe my entire life. I had a full time job; but/so I threw myself into comics pretty earnestly right away and I’ve barely slowed down much since. And now I’m here - fresh as a lily.

Kirby: Can you tell me any specific comics and/or creators that you found particularly influential? Do you see yourself as being part of any particular school of alt-comics? What is your niche, if you indeed have one?

Czap: I was big into Uncanny X-Men during my teen years, mostly because of Joe Madureira and then Chris Bachalo, who I copied a lot while learning to draw. Bill Watterson - not just his drawing, but also the essays included in the Calvin & Hobbes 10th Anniversary book that introduced me to concepts like a comic strip and its author having integrity, the whole concept of panel layout, etc. Discovering Chris Ware in college was a big deal but Kevin Huizenga’s “The Sunset” from Gloriana was a game-changer for me. Driven By Lemons by Josh Cotter was also big. From Hell.

More recently, I learn the most from contemporaries like Eleanor Davis, Jeremy Sorese, Sophia Foster-Dimino, Inės Estrada, Patrick Kyle, Sophie Yanow (the list goes on forever)... I’ve also been really influenced by Francophone artists for some reason – Vincent Giard especially, Julie Delporte, Julie Doucet, to a slightly lesser extent European cartoonists like Christophe Blain, Blutch, and Manuele Fior.

Of course I’m influenced by a lot outside of comics too, particularly music. Musicians and songwriters like Joanna Newsom, Joni Mitchell, Fela Kuti, Meredith Graves and Catherine Irwin are huge for me - not just in what they write but how they use the timing and quality of their singing to convey meaning - something I’m always trying to capture in comics.



I’m particularly bad at identifying any school I may or may not be a part of – I don’t have a good sense of what my work looks like “in the wild.” Beyond that, maybe my interests are so all over the place that I don’t have a single definable style. Maybe I do though? That said, I feel an affinity to the circle of people making comics as poetry. Warren Craghead, Derik Badman, Jason Overby, Aidan Koch, Oliver East, Simon Moreton, and on. I can’t presume to say I’m a part of that group, but that’s where my sympathies lie. I think I straddle a lot of lines. My closest peers are people like L Nichols, Cathy G Johnson, Darryl Ayo, Kat Verhoeven, Jessi Zabarsky, Georgia Webber, Liz Suburbia, and my brother Matt - all of whom I’m largely influenced by as well.



Kirby: A well-known cartoonist once remarked that she always most appreciates comics by people who are artists first and cartoonists second.  If you had to describe yourself as an artist first or cartoonist first, which would you instinctively choose and why? 

Czap: This reminds me of the BCGF when Scott Longo (who edits the Sonatina anthology) went around asking people whether they called themselves artists or cartoonists. I ultimately said “cartoonist,” but it’s a trickier question than it seems. I don’t see the two as opposing or even separate designations - “cartoonist” is really just a subcategory of “artist” (all cartoonists are artists, but not all artists are cartoonists). I could say I’m a cartoonist because I actively use the style and language of cartooning most of the time (though not always). I don’t believe there’s anything that inherently ties cartooning to comics outside of its particular history. My ideal answer would be a third option - “comics artist” - but so far that hasn’t been widely adopted. [Sidenote: as I was answering this question, a conversation started on twitter about what we call ourselves - the verdict seems to be that “artist” is still too pretentious.]
“Artist” is really just a neutral job that doesn’t say anything about the quality of the work. There do, however, seem to be qualities shared by artists of any medium that make the work stronger/better/more interesting - such as integrity to the work (with a lack of preciousness) and exploring culture/history with a critical toolset. Those are the qualities I'm after, anyway.

Kirby: I wish I’d seen that conversation! I personally call myself either a cartoonist or creator and I’m happy with that designation, but the push pull of that conversation always fascinates me. Anyway, I wanted to ask you about art and community, as you strike me as a creator for whom community building is particularly important. I’m thinking specifically about the PUPPYTEETH anthology. Can you tell us about that? 

Czap: Ha, yeah I mean, when it comes down to it, I don’t really care what I get called. It’s interesting to think about, but in practice I’d rather worry about something else. Anyway.

You’re right; community is a really big thing for me. It’s a huge, passionate subject, not easy to find a way into a response. PUPPYTEETH… When I graduated college I seemed to be the only one who stayed in town - everyone I knew had moved away and I didn’t have a support group in place. It was really lonely while at the same time my enthusiasm and ambition for making comics felt like it was burning me up. I was doing anything I could to actively engage in Comics, but it felt like square one.

Luckily I had reconnected with my high school friend Liz Suburbia, who was posting amazing comics on Livejournal. I floated the idea of doing a group anthology together. Liz came up with the name. We got all the cartoonists we knew (mostly people I had met at college) to be in the first PUPPYTEETH, which we took to give away at SPX. Doing an anthology at such an early stage of your career is kind of like going on a long trip - it’s generally more efficient to carpool with a bunch of friends rather than drive alone. Assuming you’re all chipping in for gas, it’s cheaper for everyone involved, the trip will probably be more fun since they’re people you like, and the best part - you all get to the destination together!

It’s open to change as we all move forward, but PUPPYTEETH to this point has generally been at least partially an excuse to get more work out of these great people I know, who might not otherwise put a lot of work out. With the slight exception of the newest issue, number four, it’s been the same core group, expanding as I meet more people who seem to fit with the whole idea. I’m not sure there’s really much unique about the backstory or the concept as far as anthologies go, but for me it’s always been about the specific people. There’s no theme or anything, it’s just a community I believe in and love doing their best work at a given moment.




Kirby: I take it then that PUPPYTEETH is strictly curated? (BTW, I love your carpool/anthology analogy – so true!) How much of an editorial hand do you have in the specific content? Do you have folks submit ideas or do you take more of a carte blanche approach? 

Czap: That’s right; it’s always been curated. Not much of an editorial hand at all, really. It’s all carte blanche - what I say each time to the contributors is basically “I asked you to do this because I love your work and I believe in you.” I ask them to believe in themselves too and to do work that they’re really proud of.  I make myself available to help in any capacity the artist may want, either offering support or talking through the process if they’re having some trouble, but more often than not my editorial hand is in putting the book together.
 
Of course, the editor role is something that I’m still learning to do as I go along, so each installment has been a chance to improve. With this most recent issue, a lot more thought went into whom specifically to invite, how those different approaches would work together, etc. Since I’m interested in so many different kinds of comics, that gets reflected in what kind of work gets included in PUPPYTEETH.

Kirby: I really identify with that editing approach, that’s how I operate myself. So, will you tell us a little bit about the stories in the new issue? 

Czap:  Sure - The book starts out with a piece from Jenn Lisa, an artist I met at our local Genghis Con over a year ago. Her comic in PUPPYTEETH is drawn on post-it notes, a grid of 4 to a page, in marker and ballpoint pen. It’s a kind of surreal comic, where this unwanted baby is suddenly thrust into the life of a young woman on a picnic. The storytelling is very minimal, which I like, and I think the drawings are just gorgeous, some great imagery.

Jess Wheelock and Jon Gott are both close friends from college, two of the most brilliant people I know. Jess contributed amazing comics to the first two issues of PUPPYTEETH, but wasn’t able to be in the third one. This comic is just as touching and fantastically executed. It’s a story about a young woman who works at Applebee’s, where her only real companion is a piece of restaurant decor (a talking carousel horse). They share a pact to escape the restaurant and lead the lives they’ve always dreamed of - except real life is usually more complicated.

Jon is coming from outside of comics, so I was really interested in how he came to this project. The piece is the result of visiting and researching a number of bridges around Cleveland, remnants of which show up as photographs collaged together with research documents. We only see fragments and scraps of this information, but put together and in the context of the other comics in the issue, we get the sense of a larger history.

Paula Almeida is a Portuguese artist who’s been going to school in Brazil - I discovered her work on Tumblr and been a big fan for a while. Her story is pretty fast-paced - it’s a futuristic Sci-Fi take on colonial conquest, mostly told from the vantage point of this immature, selfish princess who seems to be in love with her brother. Things get trippy when there’s an assassination attempt…

And then Laura Knetzger. Laura’s this great source of energy and strength in the comics realm. Here she’s got another of her customarily moving comics - she starts off by fantasizing about society collapsing and getting the chance to start over. She follows this daydream through its presumed logical implications, like needing to build shelter, grow food on her own, raise the children of passing travelers, eventually forget how to draw, etc.

Kirby: Can you tell us what comics or other artwork you're working on currently?

Czap: I’ve got a couple different things going. I draw a webcomic called Project: Ballad. It’s about a group of video game fans who find themselves transported to what is possibly the fictional world of their favorite video game series, and their friends still in our world trying to bring them back. We’re into Chapter Two of the thing and at the time of writing this just passed the 120-page mark, with many more to come.

I’ve also been working on a series of comics that I’m going to collect in a new book sometime next year, called Fütchi Perf. The uniting thread will be they all take place in a future utopian version of Cleveland, OH. I’m pretty excited to get this finished and out there - it’s been a couple of years since my last collection Birthday Surprise, and I’m approaching this as being more of a cohesive album. All the mini comics I’ve made in the past year or two are from this project.



Kirby: Totally random stupid question time! Kevin Czapiewski, what is your favorite ridiculously bad pop song?

Czap: The first song I thought of was “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone,” by Paula Cole. I loved it as a kid, but to be honest I haven’t listened to it in years. Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night,” however, is still in the regular rotation.

Kirby: Tell us the expos and small press comics shows where you’ll be tabling in the second half of 2014?

Czap: I’m especially excited to be tabling at the first ever RIPE in Providence, RI this August. Really impressed with the crew putting that together (full disclosure - my partner is an organizer). I am also extremely touched and lucky to have been invited back to SPX this year. I applied to CAB, but I’ve never gotten into that show, so we’ll see. Either way, I plan on being there to hang out in some capacity. And then of course right after Thanksgiving here in Cleveland we’ll be having our 6th annual Genghis Con, which I help organize. Looking forward to building on last year’s successful show. And that’s it until next year!

Kirby: Last one! Please tell us anything else we need to know, including your contact info.

Czap: I feel like I covered everything! There’s always a myriad of places to see the things I’m involved in - my portfolio website is kevinczap.com, my online store is czapbooks.bigcartel.com (where you can buy my own work as well as PUPPYTEETH and comics by Liz Suburbia, Jessi Zabarsky, Liz Valasco, Dale O’Flaherty and more). The webcomic is at projectballad.com. I use twitter a lot, @kevinczap, my tumblr’s at kevinczap.tumblr.com. For Genghis Con stuff, I run the social media stuff, so follow our tumblr (genghisconcleveland.tumblr.com, twitter @thegenghiscon, and Facebook (facebook.com/genghisconcleveland, the GC website is thegenghiscon.com. I think there’s more, but this should be more than enough for anybody.

Kirby: Thanks once more to Czap for the interview! Until next month's interview, stay well and read lots of comics and make some too.


Images, top to bottom: 1. Mr. Czap himself; 2. a panel from Fütchi Perf; 3. excerpt from A Lesson in Survival; 4. Excerpt from He Fought Like a Little Tiger in a Trap by Kevin Czapiewski and Cathy G Johnson; 5. Cover of issue #4 of PUPPYTEETH; 6. Page from an untitled story in PUPPYTEETH #4 by Jess Wheelock; All images © by Kevin Czap unless otherwise noted. 7. Excerpt from Project: Ballad. Project: Ballad is Michael Peterson/Kevin Czapiewski, licensed under Creative Commons