August 15, 2017

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Catch it at the Comic Shop August 16th, 2017

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

Scott's Picks:

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

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

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

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

James' Picks: 

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

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

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

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

Rob's Picks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who in the medium of comics inspires you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look at this cover! What happened to cool covers?

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

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

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

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

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


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

August 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 8, 2017

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Catch it at the Comic Shop August 9th, 2017

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

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

Rob's Picks:

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

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

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

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

James' Picks:

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

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

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

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

Scott's Picks:

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

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

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

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

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

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #39 (Grumpy Cat/Garfield #1 by Mark Evanier, Steve Uy and Tom Napolitano)

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

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

The suspension of disbelief is one of the most critical states of minds that a writer needs to evoke. Every story can be broken down into its constituent parts if you try hard enough, but when the creators are able to switch that part of your brain off just for a second, the experience becomes that much richer; the approach, however, is wholly dependent on the style of the story.

For dramatic pieces, the story and the motivations of the characters need to maintain a logical through-line from beginning to end. With comedic pieces, such as this one, there is very little that's off-limits as long it’s entertaining - a point that Evanier and Uy completely understand. The incredulity of this series smacks you in the face during the very first scene and you never want it to stop.

Grumpy Cat/Garfield follows both of the titular characters as they begin a collision course following a misbegotten scientific venture that plans to convert all of the impassive cats of the world into the most loyal of household pets: dogs. Joined by their respective partners in crime, Pokey the kitten and Odie the puppy, the two crotchety felines find themselves against insurmountable odds.

As that plot summary might imply, this is a comic that knows precisely what it is and what it’s trying to be. From the slimy villain ranting maniacally on national television about his cat-conversion ray to the far-too-appropriately named spies Slither and Snoop, there is no component of this issue that isn’t positively delightful. No worlds will be shattered and no secret wars will be fought, but we’re all going to have a jolly old time.

The two main characters themselves are given equal panel time, which will delight fans of both properties. The parallels between the two are drawn explicitly in the caption boxes that frame the story, but also implicitly in the layout of the pages. At the beginning of the issue, the pages are consistently split in half vertically and the character's respective story unfolds in real time with the other's. This gives both sets of fans the perfect way in to the other side of the crossover, making this an ideal jumping on point for anyone.

Although if you don’t know who Garfield is then I’m very worried for you.

While the ridiculousness is inherent to the story being told here, the book does well at maintaining its sense of internal consistency. Napolitano sets out the rules of the world from the very beginning, making it clear that the only times that we see words coming from these characters’ mouths are when the humans aren’t around and, otherwise, the monologues sit snugly within thought balloons. It’s a detail that a younger audience won’t pick up on, but will stand out like a sore thumb to an attentive reader.

Uy’s simple, yet expressive, style works well to set the tone of the story and completes the package to make this issue feel so resolutely like a cartoon. His depiction of Garfield leans into the character’s unsettlingly anthropomorphic side, giving us a few panels where, if you couldn’t see the face, you might think that you were looking at a round, very orange, human being which, we can all agree, we already get enough of. However, in this context, it only serves to make the character stand out from his quadrupedal counterpart.

The Grumpy Cat and Pokey in this issue are similarly recognisable, with Uy encouraging the dichotomy between the two characters; the all-consuming enthusiasm Uy writes all over Pokey’s face makes him the person who the reader immediately becomes the most concerned for. There are moments when Grumpy’s unrepentant rejection of Pokey’s admiration borders on the cruel, but there’s a resilience in both the art and the writing that you know that he’s never going to stay down for long.

There is a level of acceptance that you start with when you begin reading a story about two cartoon cats. By leaning into that in both the art and the writing, you come away from this issue ready for more. I might recommend waiting until the complete collection is released, as the overall plot progression has not been the most significant, but this is a book that I heartily recommend, if only to see what happens when the two titans finally clash.
Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at or head over to check out the podcast that I co-host You Know What I Like...? on SoundCloud.

August 7, 2017

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Digging into Digital: Humble Bundle Has Your Fantagraphics Needs

There's a new Comics Humble Bundle, and it's a good one--A Best of Fantagraphics set! It's been a few years since Fanta went digital, and I'm not sure enough people know that, which is why I wanted to highlight this bundle in particular. (I'm a big fan of the Humble Comics Bundles in general, and you should totally get on their list so you know what they're up to.)

As per usual, Humble offers three tiers: $1, $8, and $15, in this case, and some of the money goes to charity, either the default one or a different charity of your choosing. Fanta really picked a great group in each tier, and even just 100 pennies will net you some amazing books.

Here's my favorites from the $1.00 tier:

Love and Rockets Vol 4 -- It's the Hall of Fame Hernandez Brothers. The first issue of the latest incarnation is yours, for far less than you could get it anywhere, digitally or otherwise. That alone should make this a no-brainer.

Krazy and Ignatz 1916-1918 -- Have you ever wondered what the best newspaper comic of the early years is? Well, it's this one! George Herriman, an African American, gives you the ongoing story of a brick-wielding mouse and the cat who loves him. Brilliant and heartbreaking, I love this strip to death. Find out why for only $1.00

Buddy Does Seattle -- Even though I'm a socialist and he's a libertarian, I really enjoy Peter Bagge's work. His perspective on politics and mine don't match at all, but he's generally suspicious of the world around him, and that's where we find common ground. He'll show you the worst of the world, and we need that. His lines flow all over, and so do the insults. This one might offend some folks, as he can sometimes be problematic, even if you like his work, which I do, while acknowledging his issues.

Let's Move up to $8.00, if you're so inclined:

Hip Hop Family Tree Vol 1 -- Ed Piskor's love letter to his favorite genre of music, researched carefully and done in the style of Marvel Saga, begins here. Even if you aren't into Hip Hop, it's a great historical work with some amazing artistic choices.

Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam -- Simon Hanselman continues the adventures of his characters as the life life in a style that's probably best viewed from a comic. One of the creators working today that embodies the spirit of comix past.

The Love Bunglers -- Jaime Hernandez takes on one of the iconic Love and Rockets characters in a spin-off. (I'll admit I haven't read this one yet, so I'm looking forward to it. But given the author, I'm totally okay with promoting it, sight unseen!)

Werewolves of Montpellier -- Jason is one of my favorite creators of all time, with his ability to make his characters so relateable, while placing them in odd circumstances, like "I Killed Adoph Hitler." As he ages, Jason gets ever more philosophical in his subjects, and this is no exception. If you've never read Jason, you're in for a treat.

Violenzia and Other Deadly Amusements -- I don't know when I first read Richard Sala, but his horror work immediately hooked me. This is a collection of his shorter pieces, and his watercolor work here is second to none. (At least I believe it to be watercolor, I haven't asked him if he uses a style similar to Colleen Coover or not.) He's able to make his women attractive but give them lots of agency, a rare talent. In a tough competition, this is my favorite of the books in this tier.

Got $15? Here's my picks at the top:

Complete Peanuts 1950-1952 -- If I need to tell you why this is a good collection, you must be VERY new to comics. See where Schulz began, and look at how much early Charlie Brown resembles Calvin instead of the lovable loser he'd become.

Fante Bukowski -- The first volume of Panel Pal Noah Van Sciver's series of books about a loser who fancies himself a misunderstood misogynist author is well worth your time. Noah is one of the best at taking toxic masculinity and turning it against itself, and this is his magnum opus in that regard.

I hope you'll pick this up, if you enjoy reading digital comics. No matter what level you choose, you'll find lots of great indie work that'll keep you swiping for hours. You can purchase the Fantagraphics Humble Bundle here.

August 4, 2017

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One Man, Two Worlds-- a review of Matt Kindt and David Rubín's Ether: Death of the Last Golden Blaze

Boone Dias is an addict. When he’s on a high, he’s bright and alert. He looks like Indiana Jones or John Wayne at their best and most heroic. But when he’s crashing, all of that goes away and he looks like a destitute man who has lost everything. Matt Kindt and David Rubín’s Ether Volume 1: Death of the Last Golden Blaze shows us a man who lives in two worlds, one’s that’s cruelly real and another that’s deceptively fantastic.

Rubín’s otherworldly Ether is the world of a fantasy picture book. It’s full of fantastic beasts, magic, and imagination. It’s easy to understand Boone’s attraction to this world because it looks so much better than anything that we would call “the real world.” The Ether is a world of imagination that Kindt and Rubín fill with wonder and awe. And while it’s a place of danger as well, that danger is colored by the whimsy of the magic that fills every corner.

Contrast that to when Boone has to return to the real world (and the creators give him a wonderful reason why he can’t just stay in his blissful fantasy world,) Rubín draws a dingy world that Kindt fills with heartbreak and shirked responsibilities. While in his own mind Boone may want to think of himself as a hero or at least a good man, the reality that he so callously and recklessly abandons begs to differ. Boone daily faces the decision to live in a fantasy world or the real world and he repeatedly chooses the fantasy over reality.

But how can you blame him? There’s one really quiet visual cue that Rubín uses repeatedly that’s easy to miss but really highlights the differences between Boone’s choices. When showing Boone in the present day in our world, Rubín draws solid borders around the panels while the panels in the Ether don’t have those boundaries as the colors bleed to the end of the panel. It’s a small thing and really isn’t all that noticeable. And it would be easy to say that a panel in this comic is just a panel whether or not there’s a black line around the image but it’s such a strong indication of the differences between the two worlds that Boone has to regularly choose between. 

The symbolism here is that there are no limits in the world of the Ether while the real world is a constrained existence, bound by almost arbitrary rules. So why wouldn’t any of us be like Boone and want to spend every moment we could in this imaginary world? And it’s not just that there are no bounds in the Ether but that there’s no end to the possibilities of that world either. Kindt and Rubín metaphorically draw a line between these two worlds which, while danger and mystery exist in both, give Boone the ability to be the adventurous hero in one and a ragged deadbeat in the other. It’s the same man in both but the world helps define him to himself and his loved ones.

While Ether Volume 1 is wrapped up in a murder mystery wrapper, the heart of Kindt and Rubín’s story is this tug-of-war between these two worlds for Boone’s soul. While the mystery drives the plot, Kindt’s writing, like so much of his writing, is about what this man is willing to give up in pursuit of something else. Think about the world of Mind Mgmt where so much of the story is about conflicting desires between people but this book is about the conflicting desires of these locations and their pull on our hero. And part of that conflict is having to struggle with the unheroic sacrifices that Boone makes to be in the world that he wants to be in.

The picture book magic that Kindt and Rubín display in Ether Volume 1: Death of the Last Golden Blaze is pretty and seductive. For the reader and for Boone, we’d rather spend our time in a world of magic and imaginary creatures to escape from the real world and the weight of everyday life. Kindt and Rubín’s Boone is a character that’s easy to both deplore and to understand. When you realize what his escapades into the Ether really cost him, it’s shocking to think of what a man would give up to pursue an imaginary dream. But it’s easy to understand the allure and the power of that dream to overwhelm his senses and to give him a high that he otherwise wouldn’t have.