Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Rose City Roll Call 2014: Dark Horse Comics

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

For long-time mid-major publisher Dark Horse Comics, Rose City Comic Con is a "home show" because they are located just south of Stumptown in the nearby suburb of Milwaukee. As such, it's a major show for them, which means lots of Dark Horse products and of course, as many folks as they can manage actually at the show.

If you have been reading comics for as long as I have, the name Dark Horse is often the third name you think of in terms of single-issues, right after the Big Two. We live in an amazing time right now, when there are no less than at least five other mid-major publishers (depending on how you calculate it, that number can be a bit larger or smaller), but none of the rest would likely be here if it wasn't for Mike Richardson and the rest showing the way. While others lost steam, Dark Horse kept right on going, mixing manga and licensed work into their flagship titles, and giving us amazing creator-owned work, from Concrete to Usagi Yojimbo to The Goon, many of which are still going strong today.

While things are a bit transitional for Dark Horse right now, as they simultaneously ramp up and wind down their long-time association with Star Wars, there's an amazing amount of quality books coming out every month from the publisher.

I have a feeling I'll miss a few of the things Dark Horse is doing for Rose City, but here's at least a partial list of things to look for:

If you're in town early, Dark Horse's retail arm, Things from Another World, is holding a pre-show party at their Broadway location in Portland, Oregon, on Friday, September 19th. Set to go from 7pm to 10pm, it's open to anyone (not just badge holders) and you can exchange your ticket for a badge that night, and avoid the wait! You'll also get to see the Stumptown Comic Awards, which should be a ton of fun, as the quality of the nominees was amazing. (I hope you voted!)

A sampling of things to do there include:
* Free beer from Hop Valley Brewing Co. (those 21+)
* Complimentary burgers, dogs, and sides (veggie/vegan options, too)
* Music by Kielen King
* Prizes from TFAW, Dark Horse ComicsGround Kontrol Classic Arcade,CenterplateGuardian GamesBilly Galaxy vintage toys & collectibles and more!
 At the show itself, Dark Horse is involved in several panels. They have creators all over the place, so I'm only including the ones that are heavy on the publisher's content:


Spotlight: Alex Maleev (Panel Room 7, 11AM)

Alex Maleev, best known for multiple collaborations with Brian Michael Bendis for Marvel comics, is returning to the world of Mike Mignola's Hellboy this fall. In December, Dark Horse will launch Hellboy and the BPRD, Maleev's first work on the beloved beast of the apocalypse since 2003's Still Born from the anthology series, Hellboy: Weird Tales. Join us for an exclusive first look at the upcoming series, as well as a career-spanning discussion.

Demented Heroes: The Dark Side of Superhero Comics (Panel Room 2, 2PM)

While film may favor the classic definition of capes and cowls, many of today's comics continue to push the definition of "hero." Some of the industry's biggest and brightest have taken the superhero concept and turned it on it's head. Many creating characters and worlds that revel in a much darker vision high powered heroes and villains, making it hard to draw the line of who the reader should be rooting for. Join us for a discussion on the darker take on costumed characters with writers Tim Seeley (Sundowners), Jai Nitz (Dream Thief), and writer/artist Mike Oeming (The Victories), moderated by Dark Horse Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Panel (Panel Room 1, 3PM)

The heart of the Scooby gang and one of the most powerful big bads join forces for a panel guaranteed to slay the audience. Join Nicholas Brendon (Xander Harris), and Clare Kramer (Glory) as they give you all the details and answer every question about working on one of the greatest shows in pop culture. Moderated by the editor-in-chief of Dark Horse Comics, Scott Allie.

Baron and Rude: 30 years on Nexus (Panel Room 6, 3PM)

Join Mike Baron and Steve Rude, award-winning writer and artist on the long-running comic series Nexus. After 3 decades and 3 publishers , the creators reveal for the first time the behind-the-scenes trials involved in creating such an enduring book.

A Universe of Terror Drawn to One Panel: Prometheus, Aliens, Predator and Beyond! (Panel Room 2, 5PM)

Nearly 30 years ago, Dark Horse rewrote the rules of licensed comics with the release of Aliens, continuing the story lines of Ridley Scott's iconic film franchise! Predator and the iconic crossover Aliens Vs. Predator followed, with each series practically outselling the last. Now, the publisher partners with 20th Century Fox again, to bring sci fi epic Prometheus to comics! As we are just under two months away from the launch of the ambitious and highly anticipated crossover, Fire and Stone, join Dark Horse editor-in-chief Scott Allie, writers Paul Tobin (Prometheus), Joshua Williamson (Predator), Christopher Sebela (Aliens Vs. Predator), and the Aliens team of Chris Roberson and Patric Reynolds, of just what's in store for this grand universe!


Dark Horse Manga: An Afternoon with Carl Horn (Panel Room 2, 12PM)

Dark Horse's history with Japanese comics can be traced back to the company's earliest years, with a legacy that includes such legendary series as Oh My Goddess, Lone Wolf & Cub, Berserk, and many more! Now the publisher continues to publish some of the industry's bestselling titles like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Oreimo, and the works of the creative powerhouse, CLAMP. Join Dark Horse's resident manga guru and editor extraordinaire, Carl Horn, for a look at the past, present and future of manga at Dark Horse!

Spotlight: Matt Wagner (Panel Room 7, 1PM)

Writer/artist Matt Wagner began his career in 1982 with the publication of his most well known character, Grendel. Since that time, in addition to his own creations, he has lent has talents to the likes of such notable characters as Batman and The Shadow, along with many others, and is currently pitting Grendel against the latter in an upcoming series co-published by Dark Horse and Dynamite Entertainment. Join us for a look back at Wagner's storied career, as well as current and future projects.

Spotlight: Ethan Nicolle (Panel Room 7, 3PM)

Ethan Nicolle is one part of the dynamic duo that brought you the hit comic series, Axe Cop, and most recently an animated series. Sit in on this already legendary panel that is all about the world he and his little brother made. If you're lucky you'll even get to ask some questions.

And here's the list of signings for Dark Horse, fresh from the source:
Below are featured comics and the writers and/or artists who will be signing them. Free comics, prints, or posters will be available at each signing while supplies last. Comics will also be available for sale, availability pending.

10:00 a.m.–10:50 a.m.  NEVERBOY Tyler Jenkins, Kelly Fitzpatrick
11:00 a.m.–11:50 a.m.  THE VICTORIES Michael Avon Oeming
12:00 p.m.–12:50 p.m. NEXUS Mike Baron, Steve Rude
1:00 p.m.–1:50 p.m.  HELLBOY AND THE B.P.R.D. Alex Maleev
2:00 p.m.–2:50 p.m.  POP Jason Copland
3:00 p.m.–3:50 p.m.  STAR WARS Jeremy Barlow (Darth Maul), Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman (Legacy)
4:00 p.m.–4:50 p.m.  DREAM THIEF Jai Nitz

5:00 p.m.–5:50 p.m.  SUNDOWNERS Tim Seeley
                                  LADY KILLER JoĆ«lle Jones, Jamie S. Rich
6:00 p.m.–6:50 p.m. FIRE AND STONE Chris Roberson and Patric Reynolds (Aliens), Joshua Williamson (Predator), Christopher Sebela (Alien vs. Predator), Paul Tobin (Prometheus)
6:00 p.m.–6:50 p.m.  BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER Nicholas Brendon*
*This is a ticketed event. Only Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics or materials provided by Dark Horse Comics, please. Two items per person. No photos. Wristbands will be distributed on Saturday at show opening at the Dark Horse booth.

10:00 a.m.–10:50 a.m. PROJECT BLACK SKY Joshua Williamson (Captain Midnight), Christopher Sebela (Ghost)
11:00 a.m.–11:50 a.m.  EMILY AND THE STRANGERS Cat Farris

12:00 p.m.–12:50 p.m. TERMINATOR SALVATION Pete Woods
                                     TREKKER Ron Randall
1:00 p.m.–1:50 p.m.  CONAN RED SONJA Jim Zub
                                   BAD HOUSES Sara Ryan    
2:00 p.m.–2:50 p.m.  BANDETTE Paul Tobin, Colleen Coover
                                  PLANTS VS. ZOMBIES Paul Tobin, Ron Chan
3:00 p.m.–3:50 p.m.  GRENDEL VS. THE SHADOW Matt Wagner, Brennan Wagner
                                  FEAR AGENT Tony Moore
                                  DREAM THIEF Jai Nitz

Listing all the creators with Dark Horse ties would be nearly impossible, but make sure you check out their table, because they'll have a signing schedule and a metric ton of Dark Horse Books ready for you to pick up and enjoy. From manga to all-ages to some comics that put the Dark in Dark Horse, there's going to be something you'll like. Check them out this weekend at Rose City!

Not gonna be at Rose City? Dark Horse's website is here.

Friday, September 12, 2014

SPX Spotlight 2014: The Cartozia Tales Gang (Bellwood, Cates, Cheng, McGinty, Vaughn, and Wenthe)

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

It's hard to believe it's been a year since Cartozia Tales was wrapping up its Kickstarter around the time of the Small Press Expo! One of the best all-ages comics to show up recently in my experience, I've spoken about Cartozia several times (Issue 1, Issue 2, and Issue 3), so I won't duplicate it here.

For those unfamiliar and click-adverse, Cartozia Tales is an ambitious shared-world anthology based around the concept of maps and cartography. Each character in Cartozia is searching or exploring, in their own way. What makes this anthology unique is that the creators divide the map into nine sections and each issue, the core creators swap areas, meaning that a story started by one person gets continued by the next and so on. In addition, each issue has two guest creators who also work within the map space.

The guest list has been stellar, including Dylan Horrocks, frequent SPX-attendee/exhibitor James Kochalka, Kevin Cannon, and Adam Koford.

At SPX, several of the "Cartozia Tales Gang" will be there. They'll be happy to sell you what's left of issue one, as well as issues 2, 3, and 4. If you're smart, though, you'll pick up a full subscription, because Cartozia is awesome.

In addition to the back issues, the Cartozia Team has worked tirelessly to be prepared to have a HUGE SPX, so they'll also be bringing brand new issues 5 and 6! These are so new, I haven't even read them yet!

While unfortunately, not everyone from Cartozia could make SPX (maybe they can try next year, to celebrate the completion of issue ten). many of them will be at SPX this year:

  • Isaac Cates, the main face of Cartozia Tales, also creates Satisfactory Comics, which he may have on hand for the show.
  • Mike Wenthe is Isaac's frequent collaborator, and while not listed, according to Isaac, he'll be on hand.
  • Lupi McGinty does not have a comic for sale to my knowledge, but her illustrations are gorgeous and if available, you should pick one up or see if she'll do a commission.
  • Shawn Cheng will also be at the show, but I am not sure what he's bringing because I forgot to ask!
  • Jen Vaughn is part of the marketing team supreme at Fantagraphics Books. She usually makes the flight across the country to sell you some amazing comics, so if she is at the Fanta booth (you can't miss that amazing splash of pink in her hair), make sure you say hi. Jen has some digital work available at Monkeybrain, but I don't think she has a physical book (yet).
  • Lucy Bellwood is also coming cross-country, just for you at SPX! We'll be giving her a Rose City Roll Call next week. At SPX, you'll find her new book Down to the Seas Again, about her trip on the Charles W. Morgan, a wooden ship built in 1841! She may also have copies of her travelogue about the Grand Canyon, Grand Adventure, and nautical nuggets in her informational series Baggywrinkles.

The Cartozia booth is a must-visit spot at SPX! Make sure you get an issue on Saturday, then go subscribe on Sunday!

Can't make SPX? Find Cartozia on the web here.

SPX Spotlight 2014: Dre Grigoropol's Mighty Minis

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

There's nothing like getting to do something for the first time as a creator, and when you can debut it at SPX, that's all the better!

Dre Grigoropol is no stranger to the mini-comic world, as both a creator and a member of the comics press. But now she's done something new--a self-published full color comic!

Called Lupa Cachula's Life: Showing Stamna, it's 16 pages and looks absolutely gorgeous. Dre's style really pops against color backgrounds, which are vivid and eye-catching.

In addition to her new book, Dre will also have Dee's Dream: Novice Songwriter, which collects stories from her ongoing webcomic. It's the story of an alternative band and their experiences (Dee also plays music, as is common in alt comics), and was published earlier this year.

In addition, Dre will have some of her older work, Don't Mayo Hate, which is 64 pages(!) and takes the reader back into high school, a 24 hour comic She Magazine about a budding photographer, and Blueberry Boy of Ashbury Park, which Dre worked on with Bryan G. Brown, who will also be at SPX.

Dre's also in my favorite tabloid anthology, Magic Bullet, which should be available around the show and at the DC Conspiracy booth as well as the 5th issue of Dirty Diamonds, who will have a table at SPX as well (and are really awesome people you should check out, too).

This year, Dre will be tabling with Maggie Lynn and Lizzie Solomon, two comics creators Dre met at the Pittsburgh Zine Fair. I don't know them personally, but if they're from the Pittsburgh area, they're probably cool, too!

Can't make SPX? You can find Dre on the web here.

SPX Special: ComiXology Offers a Small Press Bundle!

SPX Special: ComiXology Offers a Small Press Bundle!

Just for this weekend in honor of SPX 2014, Comixology is offering a small press bundle which includes 82(!) digital comics for $10.00. Given our love for small press comics (check out all of our coverage here), we'd encourage you to run (or, the equivalent when you're at your computer or tablet or phone) to Comixology and take advantage of this fantastic offer. 

There are so many great works included in this offer, it's an embarrassment of riches. A few highlights include Head Lopper by Andrew Maclean, Number 1 by Box Brown, a number of issues of M3 by Erica Schultz and Vicente Alcazar, The Unauthorized Biography of Winston Churchill: A Documentary #1 by Erica Schultz and Claire Connelly, 1999 by Noah Van Sciver, Space Pyrates by Matthew Hoddy and Caitlin Major, and many, many others. 

Even if you'll be planning on picking up every single one of these books at SPX (I hope you brought an extra suitcase!), this is a great opportunity to get a huge number of small press comics in digital format.

SPX Spotlight 2014: Noah Van Sciver is Everywhere (and that's a good thing!)

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

It feels weird writing up a spotlight for Noah and not talking about a new issue of Blammo, but there's enough good things from one of my favorite one-man anthologists going around this year, that it more than makes up for the lack of a new entry in the series.

It's actually Erica who wrote up the first-ever post here about Noah (you can find it here), but we're both big fans of the Denver-based creator with the brother who draws stuff for DC Comics.* Noah also designed the Panel Patter banner, and trust me, he wasn't given much to work with (I believe my entire guidance was "Make sure it features the name, beyond that, it's up to you."), so that's all him!

As a creator, Noah is at his best when he's writing about characters who aren't quite at their peak for some reason, Maybe it's their own self-doubt (as is the case of young Abraham Lincoln in The Hypo, which Fantagraphics might have at their table if Noah doesn't), their destructive nature (as we often see in Blammo protagonists), or because something is set against them (again, a common feature of Blammo stories). Noah is able to take broken people and make them so human that you can understand them, even if they go off in directions that are unpleasant or unforgivable.

Speaking of Blammo, one of the ways you can get some Noah Van Sciver goodness in your life is by picking up a collection of stories from the anthology series, Youth is Wasted, published by AdHouse Books. Chris should have them, if Noah doesn't. Gathering together mostly the more recent work, it's a great way to catch up on some of the amazing solo work Noah's done in the past few years, along with some older stuff that was still re-publishable. (Sadly, he's sold off too many old originals to reprint the strips.)

Looking for something newer? Well, unfortunately I wasn't able to get my copy of Slow Graffiti in time to do a review, but Noah calls it items culled from his sketchbook, which means that it's drawings and shorts, some of which I've seen from time to time when he's posted them online. He'll have these for a limited time at his table, as it's a one-time only print run of 200. If you're a fan of Van Sciver, you'd better act fast to pick up this one.

Meanwhile, Noah was also a part of the first Oily bundle in 2014 with The Lizard Laughed, about a man seeking out the father who wasn't a part of his life. When he finds him, the dad has a completely separate world and the grown child is left wondering why he was left out of it. Full of purposefully awkward moments and a climax in which the son must make a choice whether or not to change both their lives forever, it's a textbook Noah Van Sciver story, with two broken people trying to see if their lives can be patched or not. If you are a fan of his Blammo work, make sure you try to get this one from Chuck or Noah, if they have a copy.

Last but certainly not least, Noah also recently took to trying his hand at diary comics. Published by 2D Cloud, I Don't Hate Your Guts shows Noah working at Panera and Kilgore, starting a new relationship, and of course, reading/drawing comics. Drawn between the end of February and into March, the mini covers Van Sciver's life in 9-panel grids for the most part, with Noah moving across them scene to scene.

These are not as technically brilliant as the detailed, intricate linework we're used to from Noah, because of their daily nature, so it's down to the basic elements, with coloring that does more with shade than in capturing things as they actually look. What they lack in terms of art is more than made up for in getting to see Noah's life as he sees it, whether it's quality time with his cat, arguing at work, or just walking around. (I should also note that Noah working in quick lines is still better drawn than a ton of mini-comics I've read over the years.)

It's really hard to read some parts of I Don't Hate Your Guts, not because it's a bad comic, but because I consider Noah a friend, and seeing him struggle or talk about how he's only fulfilled by creating but he has to work to survive (something that's true for so many of us) really cuts to the quick. I want to reach through the page and sympathize, even if there's nothing I can do. But that's what makes for the best auto-biographical comics, right? Ones that make that close connection?

Noah is up for another Ignatz this year, for Blammo 8, and I really hope he wins. I'm pissed I won't be there to vote, but if you are going to be at SPX on Saturday, I urge you to check the box next to his name. There's a ton of great creators on the ballot this year, but Noah's one of the best and is worthy of your consideration and vote.

As you can see from this write-up, there are many ways to start reading or pick up the latest Noah Van Sciver book. He's a truly talented guy, and worth your time and $$ at the show this year.

Can't be at SPX? You can find Noah on the web here.

*Though they couldn't be more different, both do a great job with their chosen style of comics. If you pick up one of Ethan's books, you'll note the high quality of the work, in terms of superhero style. He just finished a digital-to-print Wonder Woman story with Gail Simone, and it was stellar, of course.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

SPX Spotlight 2014: Alternative Comics is in Full Swing

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

Once upon a time, Alternative Comics was an amazing publisher. Then, sadly, it had to stop producing new books. Enter Marc Arsenault, the new publisher of Alternative Comics, who took over in 2012 and by 2013 had Alternative Comics at SPX with a set of strong titles and plans to match.

Now it's 2014, and Marc and Alternative Comics are kicking ass and taking names, with both print and digital offerings that put them on par with similar publishers, and I couldn't be happier about that. We are seeing some really strong small/micro press publishers right now, as the market grows for quality independent comics. As with Annie at Koyama or Box at Retrofit, Marc's taste in terms of creators and books is top-notch, and he's able to find both well-known names and those you may be less familiar with under the Alternative Comics banner.

And if Marc did nothing else for me, I will never stop thanking him for bringing Sam Henderson and the amazing Magic Whistle series to my attention. Sam was at SPX 2013, and while he sadly won't be able to make the show this time around (neither will I), you definitely should make sure that at least one of the comics you buy from Marc at the Alternative table is an issue (or three) of Magic Whistle.

What you will find at the Alternative table this year is a lot of fun. In addition to some of his back titles, Marc will have a new book from SPX guest Derf Backderf, who is part of the Alt Weekly focus this year. They're also planning a get together for Big Feminist Butt, as contributors Gabrielle Bell, Mari Naomi , Emily Flake, and MK Reed will all be at the show. Alternative will be hanging with the folks from Kilgore, which means you can also meet Noah Van Sciver, who has a digital comic out with Alternative right now. And Malachi Ward, whose book Ritual Three: Vile Decay I reviewed here will also be in attendance.

Though I was unable to read everything in time to do some full reviews in advance of SPX, here are some previews for you of the latest from Alternative Comics.

If you've ever read an alt-weekly on the East Coast (and perhaps elsewhere, too), you've likely run into Derf Backderf's comics, which often hang out towards the back of those free papers, with the adult classifieds and the obscure concert listings. He's finally out of the game, and it's time to collect some of his "True Stories" entries, starting with more recent strips in Volume 1. Derf takes actual events he's witnessed, like a man arguing against drinking "A-RAB-ian coffee" or putting a to-go pizza on top of his baby cradle (with baby on board) or discussions with all kinds of people on the street, whether they're "bums" or Bible-thumpers. Drawn in Derf's square-character style, with flat jaws and oversized heads and clothing that exaggerates everything about his subjects, this one is going to be a treat to read, and is probably my #1 recommendation from Alternative that's new to the show.

Now mind you, that's a tough call, because there's also Steve Lafler's Death in Oaxaca, a book that Panel Pal Ken Eppstein actually said he'd travel to California just to pick up. Luckily for you, all you have to do is go to SPX. This is one of those books that's incredibly strange, incredibly odd, and incredibly good. A man moves to run away from things, but finds you can't escape Death--but you can jam with him while he plays the harp and you strum a guitar. Also featuring a woman who wants to be a super hero, and a vampire, along with a mystery about the main man's past, all wrapped up into one fun package.

Andy Ristaino’s Night of the Living Vidiots was one of my picks when I previewed the Fall books from Alternative, and now that I've had a chance to read some of it, it's everything I hoped it would be. Ristaino's linework is a bit like what you'd see in NBM's Dungeon series, right down to the tight panels and color scheme. This is a collection of shorter works that are pretty darn insane, like a one-page comic about a pitcher of beer who helps others underage drink or a man playing a gigantic game of poker with cars for cards against a foe for the fate of humanity (hint: not the best plan). Anyone who likes well-drawn absurd tales should have fun with this one.

Alternative Comics is a great publisher, and I really hope you'll stop by the table at SPX. If you like high quality work in a variety of styles, with a definite edge towards humor/weird/strange stuff, Marc's your guy, and Alternative is your publisher. Go see for yourself!

Can't make SPX? The Alternative Comics website is here.

SPX Elsewhere: Rob Clough and Rich Barrett Share Their Selections

We here at Panel Patter are always eager to see what our friends who write about comics are saying about SPX! Here's two of them that you should definitely check out!

First up is Rob Clough, who annually makes a list of creators to look for at SPX, which is probably a lot saner than attempting to write 30+ entries individually. He's listed 17 Creators and Publishers to See at SPX 2014, and the list is, of course, stellar.

After noting that some folks are perennial must-visits (including Panel Patter friends Noah Van Sciver, Koyama Press, 2D Cloud, and others), he speaks briefly about many others, some of whom we featured this year and some who I hope to look into myself later.

Among those listed: Mari Naomi, Sophie Yanow, the Study Group folks, and more.

Check out Rob's excellent selections (and his high-quality blog) here.

When you're done with Rob's look, make sure you check out former Panel Patter SPX Spotlight creator Rich Barrett, who runs his own site, Mental Floss. Rich created his own list of books to seek out at SPX, and as with Rob's list, it's got some familiar names--and some I need to find.

Among those on Rich's imaginary shopping list are Sam Alden, Cathy G. Johnson, John Martz, and of course, Mari Naomi, who I think is on everyone's list (and for good reason!).

Check out Rich's quality picks (and his own strong blogging work) here.

Enjoy as we approach SPX! Only a few more days! Yikes!

SPX Spotlight 2014: Mari Naomi and Dragon's Breath and Other True Stories

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

After spending some time in the world of YA, it's time to turn to arguably my first love in terms of the indie comics world, autobiographical comics.

Though I did not start following her work until a few years ago, Mari Naomi quickly moved into my must-read pile when I started reading her short and honest stories when prepping for the first time she was under the SPX Spotlight.

It's actually those stories, originally appearing on TheRumpus.net, which make up the bulk of the comics collected here, in which Mari weaves in and out of her life, talking about her friendships, relationships, family, and anything else that comes to mind that might be interesting to her readers.

That last point--interesting--is in the eye of the reader, of course, but I think she succeeds overwhelmingly (there are over 350 pages of comics in here, after all) in choosing parts of her life that readers can connect to, even if their personal life path was nowhere near as varied as her's. For example, the opening comic, Dragon's Breath, is about how she loved so much about her grandfather, whether it was blowing smoke in her face or fighting against a doctor's prognosis. But after he passes on, she learns so many things about him that make a completely different picture: He beat his wife and opposed her father's marriage to Mari's Japanese mother.

Which is the true grandfather? Mari's not sure, just as I'm not sure which version of my grandmother I'll remember--the vile, cruel drunk who manipulated my mother nearly to the grave or the woman who took me downtown, considered me her own son, and never failed to protect me when I most needed it against my own parents? I don't know, and neither does Mari.

That's what makes an autobiographical comic stand above the rest--the fact that you can immediately connect. When you combine it with Mari's illustrations, which range from making her grandfather a benevolent dragon, a spiral-eyed racist, and a sitcom pop-pop alongside versions of herself that go from cute child to mature adult to a slowly dying kid that ends up as nothing but a skull, the effect is so powerful as to almost cause a physical reaction.

Different comics in Dragon's Breath will cause different reactions depending on your experience, but it's bound to touch you somewhere. Maybe it's when a young Mari doesn't understand why a snake in the house has to be killed, or the moment when she realizes she doesn't have to obey her parents in everything they wish her to do (a lesson that would significantly impact on her in her teens), or dealing with the neighbors when a relationship is doing downhill to the point of shouting. Perhaps all of those will register with you. It's amazing how many of Mari's stories have echoes I could easily understand, despite the fact that we led very different life paths, with the exception of both being queer.

Dragon's Breath itself move roughly chronologically through Mari's life, starting with stories of her childhood and progressing to just a few years ago. Time bounces around a bit, and the comics themselves were not written in this order. That means a 2011-written story might appear after one from 2012. For a different creator, this might be a bit jarring, but Mari's style shifts based on the story (one is done on a black page with white linework, for example), so it's not as noticeable.

One of the things I really like about Mari's work as an autbio author is that she does change things up on a regular basis. While I enjoy the work of others, their static style means that a heartbreaking moment and a silly one can get the same panel layouts or visuals. Mari has a very different approach. Her pages can be heavily text-based, if she needs to explain things. Want to show emotional distance? She'll put barely anything on the page, leaving the white space to enhance the feeling. If the story requires a lot of sequential work, she'll give us panels. Need a more shifting, open narrative? That's easily accomplished as well. It reminds me a lot of Anne Thalheimer or the limited work I've read of John Porcellino, where there's no set form to how the comic has to look.

Before I finish, I want to touch briefly on the art itself. I love the fact that Mari works hard to make herself look different as times goes on (presumably to match the way she appeared during those times). She also does a great job with contextualizing her stories. While she is more than willing to use white space for effect, we also get details that range from a vision of a cave to what it's like to encounter someone in an odd place, or show a tree she associates strongly with a memory. We really get a good picture of what she's thinking of when we shares her memories.

Make sure that you stop and see Mari, she'll likely be at the 2D Cloud table, and may have her 2012 book about her romantic life, Kiss and Tell, around, too.

Can't make SPX? You can find Mari on the web here.

Ales Kot Offers Zero #9 for Free Until September 12th

In order to help generate interest for the release of the second volume of stories, the creator and writer of Image Comics' Zero, Ales Kot, announced on his Tumblr that Issue #9 will be free until September 12th.

Here's what he had to say about it:

In advance of the second collection dropping in two days, we decided to share what we do for free, and therefore we present chapter nine.
Chapter nine is, as all other chapters so far, self-contained and simultaneously an important part of the larger whole. It’s set in 1993 Bosnia. It is, at least to me, the saddest issue of them all, and there’s a rather haunted quality to it. 

Kot describes Zero  as "What would happen if James Bond really existed?" and then took a really dark turn, and that's a pretty good description of a story that runs back and forth across time and uses a ton of talented creators in collaboration with Kot.

Both Panel Patter's own James Kaplan (review here) and my Newsarama boss and friend, David Pepose (single issue review here) are big fans of Zero, so if you haven't had a chance to check this one out, why not go to the link and sample issue 9 to see for yourself?

SPX Spotlight 2014: Whit Taylor Interviews Carey Pietsch

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

Carey Pietsch is a Philly-based cartoonist with an academic background in cognitive science and psychology. Interestingly, it wasn't until after she graduated college that she started to focus more intently on comics, going to night school to build a foundation in studio art. She now balances comics with her psych-related day job, self-publishing minicomics and showcasing her work in Terrestrial, Hana Doki Kira, Dirty Diamonds, and Secret Prison. She has also done artwork for backup shorts in Adventure Time, Bravest Warriors, and Regular Show.

My first exposure to Carey's work was the charming Snapdragon Queen, a classic yet forward-thinking fairytale that in some ways turns the story of Sleeping Beauty upside down and Keepsakes, a tale of two sisters dealing with the loss of relative who stumble upon a family secret that leads them down a magical wormhole that they wouldn't have expected. Her new comic Rift will be debuting at SPX (and it's a really fun read). What stands out to me about her work are her strong and diverse female characters, her knack for keeping fantasy whimsical, and her appeal to young adult readers.

I decided to check in with Carey and ask her about her work.

Whit: How did you get into making comics?

Carey: I've always, always been deep into storytelling and writing, but it took me a little longer to find my way to comics. For a long time, drawing and cartooning was just a thing I did on the side; I messed around with a few projects that went nowhere in high school, kept sketchbooks, and drew incessantly when I was supposed to be doing other things. But I'd internalized this messed-up view of drawing as an inborn talent, when in fact it's absolutely not; it's a learned and practiced and fought-for skill like many others. It took me ages to get past that and start putting work out in the world. I did a silly little weekly comic in my college newspaper my senior year, and it was hard, but it also let me start to recognize that comics were something I desperately wanted to keep around in my life. So when I graduated, I looked for a city with a lot of accessible art classes, and stumbled my way into Philly. Philly Comix Jam folks were so supportive when I was just starting out-- drawing low-pressure shorts with them let me begin to build a toolkit I could use in my own, longer work as well. The Drink & Draw Like a Lady pre-MOCCA event was really important in starting to connect me with a larger comics community, as was volunteering at SPX a few years ago. SPX 2013 was my first foray into tabling at shows further afield than Philly, and I'm really excited to go back this year. 

Whit: You have a knack for merging the fantastical and magical with the real world. What inspires you to tell these types of stories?

Carey: For me, bringing a fantastic element into the story is helpful in creating danger and conflict that makes sense within the framing of the world, but also leaves part of your brain free to focus more on the interpersonal elements of that conflict. In a more selfish sense, I love the feeling of discovery and exploration of new spaces that comes from reading a story with a magical, otherworldly side to it. And the sense of wonder that comes from the worldbuilding of bringing these smaller magical elements together-- starting to put together a picture of How It Works. A lot of my favorite stories growing up (and now, really!) had a little bit of magic to them, but were primarily about the people in that world and the relationships between them; that's the balance I'm enjoying working with and writing in now, too. I'm hoping for a little bit of suspension of disbelief for the otherworldly elements, but aiming to keep it all together with an emotional, personal anchor that's the heart of the story. 

Whit: How did you develop your art style? What tools do you use?

Carey: I think my approach or style is very much still a work in progress. The tools and methods I've been exposed to and actively experimented with have had a huge influence in the way I work. I took a life painting course at Community College Philly where I was working only with black and white acrylics that got me very interested in big, blocky, dramatic shapes of light and shadow, and messing with gouache in my sketchbooks is a fun way to try that kind of large-shape approach to color. Most of my finished color work is done in photoshop right now, working with custom brushes and scanned textures to try to get a little more of a visible hand into it. And on inks, I jump around between scanned brush pen-work and digital brushes. I'm still on a wacom tablet at this point, and while I've been using it for years, there's always this weird disconnect between what your hand is doing and what pops up on screen. I'd love to work on a tablet monitor someday.

I've been moving towards figures that are a little more cartoony and stylized; I really like playing with the exaggerated emotions and body language/ acting they allow for.  And I'm definitely very influenced by a lot of cartoons, anime, and animation in general-- I'm a sucker for saturated, bright and candy-coated colors. 

Whit: One thing I've noticed about your comics are your strong female characters. I think this should be the case, especially if you are a female writer, but do you think about this deliberately when developing your characters? Do you consider yourself to be a feminist cartoonist? 

Carey: That's absolutely always on my mind when writing. And I do consider myself a feminist cartoonist. For me, that means doing my best to write characters and stories with empathy and care, and trying to expand beyond mainstream, well-traveled narratives where the characters who get to act with agency and be fully-realized people are often limited to a very narrow set. And as someone carrying a substantial amount of privilege, it also means a lot of listening to and reading the stories of people whose experiences differ from my own, people whose races and genders and  sexual orientations and classes and ability and health are vastly under-represented in media and in the set of comic creators. It's an area I genuinely have a lot of work to do in, but also not one I ever want to stop working on and learning more about. And there are so many really thoughtful people talking about it! I know Shing Yin Kohr and Taneka Stotts are starting up a site focused on intersectional feminist comics criticism, and I'm really looking forward to reading their work. Because stories matter, representation matters, and the conversations we have about stories and the ways they fit into or challenge existing cultural narratives are incredibly important.

Whit: What projects are up next for you?

Carey: Right now, I'm working on finishing scripts for a few other Keepsakes stories-- about the teens working in animal control, about Tiffany & Elena, about the kids at the vet's office in the first book. I'm really excited about using this loosely-connected story format as a way to explore and expand on a bunch of different characters. I'm also working on finishing up two short stories for upcoming anthologies, Then It Was Dark and Blood Root. They both have horror/ supernatural elements to them, and it's been surprisingly fun for me to try that out. And finally, I'm tackling writing and drawing a bunch of one-page backup comics for BOOM!, and it's been a really neat challenge to make something that compact still be cohesive and fun.

In between all that, I've been picking at bits and pieces of another short comic called Fledgling, about a kid who's been held as a diplomatic hostage and the knight-errant golem who breaks her out, and the total lack of trust between the two. I'm aiming to have that at MOCCA next year. 

And I'm about to start working on a larger project that I'm completely over the moon about, and really looking forward to actually talking about in a few months :)

Want to check out Carey's work? Stop by her table at SPX (E12B)!

SPX Spotlight 2014: Nathan Fox, Jim Rugg, and Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers #1 and #2

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

Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers #1 and #2
Written by Joe Casey
Illustrated by Nathan Fox, Jim Rugg, Ulises Farinas and Michel Fiffe
Colors by Brad Simpson
Letters by Simon Bowland
Dynamite Entertainment

Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers is the mind-blowing, crazy science fiction, creative reinterpretation of a late-era Jack Kirby comic that you didn't know you needed. Joe Casey and a first-rate artistic team have, in the first two issues of the book, crafted a weird, visually stunning, highly compelling story.  Without hewing too close to Kirby's style, this book is a great homage to Kirby's big, adventurous spirit.

The story begins in space as the Dreadnought: Tiger is under attack by the fearsome Mekkanos (who are themselves controlled by a figure called Blackmass). The Dreadnought is led by Captain Victory, of the Galactic Rangers. Ranger captains are so important that their bodies are cloned so that if one of them should fall in battle, their consciousness can be immediately transferred to a new body. This is dramatically illustrated by a flashback showing when Major Klavus (Victory's second in command) kills Captain Victory in order to initiate the very first mind transfer (talk about a rough day - "what'd you do today, honey?" "I died").

During the attack by the Mekkanos, Captain Victory is killed. The transfer is initiated to a new clone body. However, the healthy clone bodies that were available were also destroyed. The only bodies that managed to survive we're jettisoned in pods into space. One of those was still growing, and one of those was severely damaged. By the end of the first issue, we see where both bodies have gone. The pod containing the damaged clone makes it's way to a run-down planet full of scavengers and Junkers (think, Tattooine), and the pod containing the younger body makes it's way to what appears to be 1970's New York City. Young Captain Victory escapes from the hospital where he was initially brought, and is taken in by a man who is looking out for the neighborhood (and looks a lot like Shaft).

The second issue follows the remaining crew of the Dreadnought: Tiger as they attempt to piece together what happened to the clone bodies, and where the jettisoned clones actually went. Young Captain Victory (who has taken to calling himself "Victor") has made some new friends, and runs afoul of a local gang known as the Drones. Meanwhile, scarred, damaged Captain Victory went into a bar, beat the hell out of a bunch of aliens there, and appears to be scavenging parts to build something. All the while, he's bring followed by two chatty aliens (who look a little like Jawas from Star Wars) who're trying to figure out what this guy is doing. 

Joe Casey knows his way around Kirby-inspired comics, as demonstrated by his book Godland. That book, gorgeously illustrated by Tom Scioli, felt more like a direct homage to crazy cosmic Kirby stories. This book is also big, bold and exciting, but feels more like an homage in spirit to Kirby's work, while still being a creative reinterpretation.  This comic is big and bombastic, with over-the-top (in a good way, like the band Muse) narration and dialogue. It throws the reader right into the story, and dares you to catch up.

This comic pays worthy tribute to Kirby's skill as a visual storyteller with the work of four diverse, dynamic artists.  Nathan Fox handles the majority of the art in each issue, and he has an incredibly exciting, expressive art style, such as is shown in this dramatic two-page spread, where Fox sets the dramatic sight of a starship under attack with the words of destruction (FIRE, KILL, etc.) and shows other scenes of violence and battle taking place within the sequence. The colors from Brad Simpson are explosively bright, and really help to convey the crazy, alien, sci-fi nature of the story.

Each of the artists contributes something different here. Both Jim Rugg (in issue 1) and Michel Fiffe (in issue 2) illustrate sequences that take place in the past; the art change here doesn't feel like a distraction (or look like a fill-in); instead it feels like a clear indicator to the reader that something has changed. In issue 1, Rugg dramatically illustrates the first time that Captain Victory dies, at the hands of Major Klavus himself. In issue 2, Fiffe shows a waking dream/memory of young Victor, as he remembers being a Ranger trainee and how he pretended to go along with a planned coup in order to learn of the treachery, and then led the charge to take down the attempted traitors.Each of Rugg and Fiffe bring a different feel to the past. Ulises Farinas brings his own style to a psychedelic two-page sequence, which is simultaneously dreamlike, upbeat and sinister.

Casey has taken an interesting approach in helping the reader get to know Captain Victory. After only the first few pages of the first issue, the mature, adult Captain Victory doesn't exist at all, except in flashback. What we have instead are two completely different clones whose activities we follow - one, while damaged, is attempting to piece his life together and achieve answers (while speaking an inexplicable language). The other clone, young Victor, has shown an instinct towards justice and standing up to bullies, but he's just a kid, and not necessarily in possession of great foresight. Through these flawed clones we begin to get an insight into who Victory is, which is capably aided by the flashbacks.  But the ostensible protagonist is not truly himself, and not at his best. So Casey has turned the focus on the crew of the Dreadnought: Tiger, and on the friends, mentors and strange followers that the two clones have picked up. As these characters attempt to solve the mysteries surrounding what happened to Captain Victory (or who he is), the reader will unravel these mysteries as well.

For a dramatic, surprising, explosively fun sci-fi comic, Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers is well worth a look.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

SPX Spotlight/Rose City Roll Call 2014: Top Shelf Books

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

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

Like Fantagraphics, Top Shelf is one of the anchors of any Small Press Expo, and of course is also one of the publishers we've written about extensively. You can find all of the Top Shelf entries here.

As with the best of the small presses, Top Shelf has a little bit to offer everyone. They are some of the best at doing all-ages comics, with James Kochalka's Johnny Boo and Dragon Puncher, Andy Runton's Owly, and non-series work from Jess Smart Smiley and Rob Harrell, just to name a few.

At the other extreme, they're the current publishing home of Alan Moore, who continues his League work there, along with other projects. They'll print comics from other countries (a few years ago, they had an "invasion" of Swedish creators), have been the indie starting place for creators currently making it in the superhero world (Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt, and Robert Venditti, for example), and also published Eddie Campbell, the Immonens, and more.

It was Top Shelf that got me into autobiographical comics, with Kochalka's American Elf and the various books from Jeffrey Brown setting my personal standard for the genre.

There's so much good to say about Top Shelf, and you're sure to find something you'll like when you visit them at either the Small Press Expo or Rose City Comic Con. For this spotlight, let's concentrate on the books that are new this year:

If you've been trade-waiting Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's Century, the time is now. Taking his literary team across the 20th Century, Moore gives things his unique perspective and allows the story to be a background for his own commentary on where the world went in the past 100 years. Anyone who reads Alan Moore knows how good he is at creating analogues to real life and intertwining events into his story. Meanwhile, O'Neill's stark, angular lines and brilliant colors make for a demented canvas to linger over, as he matches Moore's words with his visuals. Though not my favorite work from Moore, it's amazing to see what he's done with the concept. (And don't forget, Moore was doing this years before everyone and their brother dug up literary characters to play with.)

Another "before it was cool" example of using literary figures in modern fiction is Van Jensen and Dusty Higgins' Pinocchio Vampire Slayer in which the main character lies to create wooden stakes, which he uses to do the killing. I read this when it was originally published, and I really liked the idea, though it did lose a bit of steam for me in the middle. This is an omnibus edition collecting the entire story, which was originally a Slave Labor Graphics release. Anyone who enjoys the literary updates or mash-ups and didn't read this already should do so. It's not dense and layered like Moore's interpretations, but it is a lot of fun.

Speaking of fun, we already profiled Eric Orchard's Maddy Kettle (review here), so I won't belabor a description here. It's the story of a determined girl going after the witch who transformed her parents. The plot is very solid, the illustrations are distinctive and unique (and My God, the cross-hatching), and it's the first book of a longer story that still tells a complete tale within its pages.

Obviously, we're big fans of Liz Prince here at Panel Patter. The Tomboy author also has a new collection at Top Shelf, Alone Forever, which collects her webcomic into a book. A series of shorts that range from comic-strip style 3-panel gags to longer entries, Liz gives it her usual unvarnished approach, ability to change up the visuals as necessary, and really has her acid wit turned on high for many of the panels. A few recurring gags, including vicious heart candy ("At least you're not Liz Prince" says one), talking to her cats, and her blunts style feature prominently. If you're looking for the next thing to read after Tomboy, this is a good place to start.

Make sure you stop by and see Top Shelf at the shows. They'll have these four books, along with copies of some of the other things I mentioned above, because they do an awesome job of keeping books in print. Quality always deserves to be appreciated!

Can't make SPX? Not running to Rose City? There's no better time to check out Top Shelf. You can find their website here, and through September 26th, they're running their annual sale! You can get a lot of books for half off and some hidden gems for only $1 and $3! Check it out!

SPX Spotlight 2014: The Iranian Metamorphosis by Mana Neyestani

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

The Iranian Metamorphosis
Written and Drawn by Mana Neyestani
Published by Uncivilized Books

It’s amazing to think of the damage that one small, seemingly inconsequential drawing can accomplish.

In 2006, working for the children’s page of the Iranian national newspaper, cartoonist Mana Neyestani drew a cartoon of a child smashing a cockroach. In his book The Iranian Metamorphosis, Neyestani depicts this act of creation as an off-hand joke as he was “thinking what sort of crap I could heap on Sohelil, my ten year old cartoon character.” Sending a cockroach after the boy was his best idea that day. Neyestani thought it was a funny gag, drew the strip and sent it off to his editor to be published. That cockroach would end up having its own life, one beyond anything Neyestani could ever have imagined. In the cartoon, the cockroach said one word, “namana.” Neyestani threw it in as a nonsense word, something for the cockroach to say without any real meaning or value. That word would end up landing Neyestani in prison and to becoming a fugitive from his own country.

The Iranian Metamorphosis looks back on Neyestani’s life after than comic was published. Since the day he discovered that there were protests and riots because certain ethnic groups considered "namana" a slur against them, the Iranian government persecuted Neyestani and his editor. The fine line that Neyestani tries to walk in his book is exploring whether he was the cause of the protests or was he just the final spark that blew the powder keg. But his primary focus is his own survival. Held indefinitely and moved from one prison cell to another, the cartoonist was questioned about the activities of other cartoonists he knew at the newspaper. When he was finally temporarily released from prison, Neyestani and his wife knew that their lives in Iran would never be safe and began trying to make plans to escape from their homeland.

This book opens up different parts of the world to us. It's hard to imagine any cartoonist in the United States being jailed because of his art but as soon as it is explained to Neyestani what his nonsense word means to different ethnic groups, he immediately had a sense of the danger that we was in. The fear of jail, of torture and of being killed wasn't a distant concept for him. A concept like "freedom of the press" doesn't mean as much in other parts of the world and Neyestani's story demonstrates that. And it isn't even so much freedom of the press as it is freedom from being scared of the ruling powers. Without even understanding everything that he did, Neyestani feared for his life because he knew he would be punished for it by his government.

Imagine Charles Schultz or Bill Watterson having to live with that kind of fear? More than just losing a job, Neyestani feared for his life. That's the environment that people in other parts of the world live everyday with. Neyestani knew that he could just be swept into the system forever, losing his wife and his life because of a (to him) meaningless cartoon. From what he shows us in this book, his Sohelil isn't that different than Charlie Brown or Calvin. That's the kind of strip that caused all of the trouble in his life-- a simple children's cartoon trying to get a boy into trouble. Just as he takes us around the world, Neyestani takes us into his life, one that ends up being so different and more dangerous than anything we can imagine experiencing just because of a cartoon.

While Neyestani's experiences feel so foreign and dangerous, the way he tells the story is very human and relatable. With his black and white artwork and universal cartooning, Neyestani brings us into the story as the images don't make this just an Iranian story but a very human story. You can find interviews with Neyestani on Youtube and when you see him, you can see his relationship to his cartoon self, but there's not a lot to visually distinguish that this story takes place on the other side of the world. Neyestani has an open art style where nationality doesn't exist as much as the universality of the human appearance does. With that universality, Neyestani opens up his story so it's just not a story about the Iranian experience but it becomes a story about persecution that could be happening as close as the block over as it is around the world.

What The Iranian Metamorphosis demonstrates is the power of the cartoon. It's not something that we think of all that often. Our reviews and critiques mostly boil down to "buy it" or "don't buy it." We reduce the word and the image down to commodity and forget about the power that it really has. Cartooning works because of the ways it can succinctly and immediately communicate, whether consciously or subconsciously. Here's an example where the power of art surprised everyone, including the creator. Neyestani was making a joke on a deadline. To him there was nothing political or subversive about it. But the art that he created lived beyond him. It became larger than him, larger than the Iranian government and larger than any intent behind the cartoon. It became its own thing beyond just lines on a page. Art can inspire and it can destroy and, inadvertently, Neyestani was able to do both with a cartoon about a boy and a cockroach.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Velvet Volume 1

Written by Ed Brubaker
Line Art by Steve Epting
Color Art by Elizabeth Breitweiser
Published by Image Comics

Spy deaths are no surprise, but when a top agent is murdered, the evidence points to the department's reliable secretary. But Velvet is more than just a file clerk, and soon she'll need all her talents to stay alive and prove her innocence in this thriller that takes a new angle on a familiar theme.

It's a little weird to be writing about Brubaker without artist Sean Phillips, but in this case, it's the veteran writer's Captain America partner who is on art duties. That makes sense, given the content. While Philips is perfect for dark, noir-like stories, Epting's slick linework makes him a better fit for a spy book set across the decades following the Cold War.

Velvet starts as a pastiche of James Bond and other similar stories, with Velvet taking on the role of Moneypenny, the attractive but (relatively speaking) older woman in the spy life. She supports those who live lives of espionage and is trusted without question. Extremely smart, she immediately begins to question the death of the agent, and soon is trying to figure out what's gone wrong, which naturally ends up making her look guilty.

It's at that point that we learn Velvet is far more than she appeared at the start of the first issue--she's a retired agent, and she won't just allow herself to be framed.

From there, we discover that Velvet is a former spy who gave up the game for very personal reasons that turn out to be closely tied to the events of the start of the story. She has contacts across Europe, muscle memory that kicks in as she goes, and a determination that won't let her give up until she finds out who the real killer is--or dies trying. We even see that, not unlike her male contemporaries, Velvet has used her charms to get what she wants, which I thought was a nice touch. She makes mistakes, of course, including a few that make her current "mission" that much harder, but as with most spy heroes, she's able to overcome them to remain on top.

Whether or not she can keep up the pace running both towards and against her former handlers remains to be seen, but it's a lot of fun to watch Brubaker use a woman in the starring role here. Generally speaking, including a lot of Brubaker's own crime work, this would be a man's role--framed for a murder, fighting to stay alive, being badass against the odds. The fact that Velvet is a woman--and about a 40-something woman at that--makes this one stand out. Velvet would be a fun, well plotted story even if it was, say, Vander, but the fact that there's a woman in the lead role changes thing in subtle ways to enhance the story.

And I think that's the really notable part about this one. While Brubaker clearly adjusts things to fit his female protagonist, there's never any lengthy, story-slowing monologues about how different she is, or how unfair her life is, or how they don't treat her equally. Velvet wasn't pushed out of spying--she chose to move behind a desk. Everyone involved knows this, and so they know she's as dangerous as any male agent. How she gets past security or her decision to permit a female source one extra moment with her family may vary from what a man might do, but there's no handicapping or worse, pandering.

Velvet is a spy, fighting for her life. That's the point, that's the plot, and there'll be no distractions from it. It's the perfect way to make a typically male-dominated genre more inclusive. Just write the story with the character of your choice and go. Don't try to save the world or "fix" the problems of the past or, worst, of all, have your characters talk about how it needed fixed. Tell a good story, and people will follow. Trust in your readers, and watch them enjoy your new take.

Speaking of watching, it's really fun to see Epting working with Brubaker again. While I had some issues with the portrayal of Cap in their run, I loved the art from start to finish. Epting is the master of detail, and no matter where (or what time) in the world Brubaker sends Velvet, he's up to the task of building the visuals that set the stage. If we need a shadowy office where spies talk about their work, Epting gives us a briefing room with layered tiers of chairs, windows with shuddered blinds, and even wood paneling that's right out of a 1960s decorating catalog. Want to go to a masquerade party? Epting will give you so many costumes you'll almost forget to notice that he's detailed the Monaco skyline to mirror its combination of old and new architecture.

It's a lot of fun to watch just how detailed Epting can get. His style is very realistic, but it never feels photo-referenced. These look and move like people who could step out of the page (and likely kill you), and if you are so inclined, you can count the stitches on the clothing or note the individual hairs in a person's head. At the same time, he can still use shadow to create mood, obscuring when needed or burying those details with the help of colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser. She does an excellent job of complementing Epting's work, not trying to fight it. It would have been easy to make things generically dark, but she uses different tones to make changes in lighting without obliterating what we're supposed to see.

The layouts, too, are very strong. Epting's ability to give a character's face just the right look to go along with Brubaker's dialogue or find just the right scene to place underneath a caption box (such as showing Velvet exercising while thinking in the boxes) do a lot to propel the story. The montages work to show the passage of time, and panel borders are flexible when needed. Action scenes are easy to follow, which is nice, and some of the decisions in terms of the reader's eye really made me stand up and take notice. Something as basic as using her approach to demonstrate she's slipped off her shoes shows care is taken to think about how best to represent the events. Heck, even the obligatory nudity (this is a spy story, after all) is done in such a way that it feels organic. That's where a lesser artist can easily go wrong.

Velvet is a great spy story from one of the best crime comics writers. With the use of a woman as a protagonist and an artist who knows how to get the most out of his pages, it's a highly recommended tale that's just now starting into its second arc. I can't wait to see what's next.

Velvet Volume 1 is available now. Issue 6 came out in July, and issue 7 is due in your favorite comic store or digital device tomorrow.

SPX Spotlight 2014: Fantagraphics Books

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

I can't imagine SPX without Fantagraphics, and I'm sure the feeling is mutual between the show organizers and the publisher. Year and and year out, Fantagraphics has been publishing some of the best alternative comix, classic comics, and award-winning comics all under one roof. Whether it's getting the rights to Peanuts (their year by year collections are almost at the end of the run), being the home of Johnny Ryan's raw drawings, or where people go when they want the best work from the Hernandez Brothers, Fantagraphics is the place to be.

I've spent a lot of time talking about Fantagraphics, and I don't know if there's anything new I can really add in terms of describing the publisher. They have a place in the indie comics canon, and to some degree, have probably shaped it significantly, between being the publishers of The Comics Journal and being the home of a good chunk of Daniel Clowes, Robert Crumb, Bill Griffith, and so many others.

Everything we've done about Fantagraphics at Panel Patter should be contained here. For the purposes of this spotlight, since I recently highlighted their newer books here, I'll focus on the books from those who should be at SPX this year:

Ed Piskor's Hip Hop Family Tree Vol 1 is nominated for an Ignatz, and deservedly so, because it was awesome. I expect that Hip Hop Family Tree Vol 2, which was just released, will also be extremely popular. Though I've not had a chance to read the second book yet, I expect it will be similar to the first as a meticulously researched, respectfully drawn book from a person who is a genuine fan of the music. What could easily have been a jokey, loose narrative is instead quite serious, looking at the history of hip hop music as important to record and relate to the reader. For the second book, only the years 1981-1983 are covered, which is said to include "including hits like Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock,” Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message,” and the movie Wildstyle, plus RUN-DMC, NWA, The Beastie Boys & more."

Eleanor Davis is one of those creators that all my other creator friends talk about. I'm still waiting to get my copy of her new book, How to Be Happy, which is currently sold out online. I expect they'll have a few copies held back for the show, but if you want one, make sure you get there early on Saturday! Davis' work is in a variety of mediums and genres, ranging from beautiful full-color work that bursts across the page to basic pen and ink lines that recall Anders Nilsen. It's unusual for me recommend a creator's work without being more familiar myself, but I feel confident that those who love the craft of comics will enjoy Davis.

Mexahex by Simon Hanselmann sounds absolutely amazing. It's described as follows: "Megg is a depressed, drug-addicted witch. Mogg is her black cat. Their friend, Owl, is an anthropomorphized owl. They hang out a lot with Werewolf Jones. This may sound like a pure stoner comedy, but it transcends the genre: these characters struggle unsuccessfully to come to grips with their depression, drug use, sexuality, poverty, lack of work, lack of ambition, and their complex feelings about each other in ways that have made Megg and Mogg sensations on Hanselmann's Girl Mountain Tumblr." Collected for the first time in print form, this one looks like it has a lot of depth.

If you are at all aware of Drew Friedman's work, you know that he does amazing portrait work. This time, he's taking and looking inward at the comics community with Heroes of the Comics: Portraits of the Legends of Comic Books. Featuring about 75 portraits of industry legends, such as Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, as well as some creators you may not be as familiar with, Friedman puts a face to many of the names we bandy about on a daily basis.

In addition to these books, Fantagraphics always brings a long a healthy supply of its reprints. I mentioned Peanuts above, but they also do Prince Valiant, Uncle Scrooge, and Mickey Mouse, for those who enjoy strips going back decades.

Move a little closer, and you get to the amazing EC Library work. I've read the Johnny Craig, Al Williamson, and Joe Orlando books, and the quality of the reprint work is amazing. Any one of those is highly recommended, and I've been told by friends the Severin war edition is the best of the set. And of course, there's the Ditko Archives (volume one is now out in softcover), the Bill Everett Archives, and more!

When you go to SPX, don't forget to stop at the Fantagraphics table. Just make sure you bring your money with you. Fortunately, they take credit cards!

Can't make SPX? Here's the Fantagraphics website.