October 31, 2010

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My Favorite Horror Comics

Wrapping up the 10 Days of Halloween Horror! You can see the rest here and here.

Though I tend to be a pretty big fan of horror manga, I find that I'm far less attached to horror comics. I recently gave up on Essential Werewolf by Night, for example, because it was just so overwrought with angst and filled with unremarkable villains that I kept finding myself bored about halfway through each issue. Maybe it's because of the tradition of the comics code or maybe it's just that I didn't read any of the horror series when I was younger, but I find most of the 1970s horror boring.

I do like what little of the pre-code or early code horror I've read, but those collections rarely show up in the library and are often extremely expensive. I didn't finish Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives Volume 1 just yet, but man Ditko packs more interest in 5 pages than Marvel was doing in 20 in those 70s horror retreads.

As a result, this list is shorter than you'd expect it to be. I'd love recommendations for horror comics that I might like, both old and new.

I mentioned in the manga list that I find that horror is a tricky thing to get right and that personal taste varies widely. Some of you reading this might be quite fond of the Marvel horror line. I'm not impressed so far. On the other hand, while I can't get enough of the Goon, his crude nature likely turns quite a few readers off. As with the manga list, this is a very personal set of opinions and yours may not be the same as mine.

But hey, why not have a look and see for yourself, eh? Either way, HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

I read this book before I was doing reviews, but one of my favorites is a Roy Thomas-Dick Giordano collaboration that almost never got finished. Their adaptation of Dracula is a stunning work that is hands-down one of the best adaptations I've read in comics form of anything. Thomas does his spectacular job of turning a novel into a comic and Giordano's visuals bring the story to life, being just shadowy enough to capture the mood while not distorting the action. I'm sure this is out of print, but for fans of the classic monsters and comics, this is very much worth finding and owning. I'm glad I stumbled into one a few years ago.

You don't have to be Marvel, DC, or any other big publisher to make a good horror comic. Rafer Roberts' Plastic Farm is a perfect example of this. He's crafted an epic story involving a cast of creepy, interlocking characters who you'd never want to meet in a darkened alley. A set of seemingly unrelated incidents blend together as the narrators draw you further into a world of madness. With Roberts at the helm, a vast crew of artists tell the tales, many of which are just unpleasant enough to get under your skin. This is well worth taking a flier on, as I never miss a chance to mention.

I don't think it needs any help from me, but I'll make a pitch for Robert Kirkman's Walking Dead, something I've read but haven't taken the time to give a comprehensive review. I've only written down thoughts about Volume 1, and so much has happened that I'm almost afraid to look and see how wrong I was. The series starts out pretty slow and follows almost stereotypical zombie story lines. I was just about to give up when Kirkman managed to kick me in the teeth at the end of the first book. While using a lot of familiar ideas, Kirkman finds ways to bring a fresh angle to the proceedings, not the least of which is to show that in reality, all the things that keep people alive in zombie movies/books shouldn't work out as well as they often do. He's not afraid to kill people or make life worse for the characters, and I greatly appreciate it. If you haven't read it yet, give the books a shot before the TV series starts. Just be warned that Walking Dead is about the bloodiest comic book I've ever read.

Should Neil Gaiman's Sandman be on a list of favorite horror comics? Well, here it is! Though Gaiman used all kinds of stories to weave some amazing tales over the years, there was definitely no shortage of horror elements, whether in small doses or entire arcs. The Corinthian's tale is something that still brings chills when I think about it. Gaiman's dealings with hell also fit the horror theme, as does the opening storyline with Dr. Destiny, the most hero-centric of the Sandman tales. I always point back to Sandman for those who aren't enamored with Gaiman, because while he does repeat themes often, Sandman is where he did it best.

Hell is also the setting for a lot of Alan Grant's run on The Demon. These are not the best comics in the world, feature entirely too much of Lobo, and suffer from some of the 1990s problems of a lot of comics of their time frame. However, Grant's use of Etrigan's rhymes are clever, the artwork is often of a very high quality, and I love the ties back to Merlin. I don't think they ever put any of these comics out in trade, so you'll have to find them in back issue bins. Try a few and see what you think.

Dark Horse has a good eye for horror, as their manga line shows. So it's no surprise they've got the last two spots on my list. First up is the before-mentioned Goon, by Eric Powell. I've read everything released in trade form, and Powell's foul-mouthed gangster is easily the guy having the most fun of all the horror characters on this list, at least for most of the run of the series. The Goon takes all the things we use in horror comics and throws them on their ear, usually in the grossest way possible. It's a lot of fun if you don't get sickened easily. I wish the lighthearted tone had stuck with this series from beginning to end, but even with that minor gripe, it's still one of my favorites.

Rounding out our list is Hellboy, Mike Mignola's irreverent demon child who turns against his path to aid the mortal world against all things supernatural. One could make an argument that Hellboy enjoys his life more than the Goon, but that's a debate for another day. Mignola mixes his stark use of black and shadow with the bright red protagonist to create stunning visuals that for the most part carry on even when Mignola is only the writer. He draws on all sorts of occult, mystic, and folklore sources to keep Hellboy (and his friends in the BPRD) as busy as possible. The story and art alone would sell me, but to top it off, Mignola's scripts are witty and clever, filled with a lot of great dialog that ranges from the serious to Hellboy's desire to "screw it" and just kill the bad guys. If I could only recommend one thing on this list, it would be Hellboy. I'm even springing for the fancy editions, I like this series so much.

That's it for this year. See you next October for more Halloween fun!
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Monster Party Fun Time!

Part of the 10 Days of Halloween Horror! You can see the rest here and here.

Written by Zan Czyzewski
Illustrated by Zan Czyzewski
Self-Published

Wrapping up the multiple horror-themed mini-comics I profiled here for Halloween 2010 is this little collection of things by Zan Czyzewski. A big fan of H.P. Lovecraft, Czyzewski's main story features a bored girl who decides to dabble in the occult, with comic results. Soon she's dealing with an elder god that's more of a bore than a terror, as it proceeds to wreck the house Cat-in-the-Hat style. She can unsummon the creature, but who's going to clean up the mess? The whole thing is done in only a few pages, but it's a funny story that doesn't take the source material too seriously.

The rest of the mini features some diary comics and a one-page description of an idea trying to fight against the power of a video game--and losing.

All of the stories and strips feature rounded artwork that would work perfectly in a children's book and nothing in the comic is inappropriate for a younger audience. Overall, it's a cute mini that shows off Czyzewski's art talents in a variety of formats. You can see more about Ms. Czyzewski at her website.

October 30, 2010

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My Favorite Horror Mangas

Part of the 10 Days of Halloween Horror! You can see the rest here and here.

Some people only read horror-themed works in the month of October. I like to read them year-round. This is a roundup of some of my favorite horror mangas. I'm sure there's lots out there I've never come across, so please feel free to give me some recommendations in the comments!

Horror manga is interesting to me because there is a far lower level of censorship in Japan (if you can even say they have one at all). Even when you account for the fact that American manga companies are not going to pick the weirdest things and bring them over, the level of graphic horror can be shocking sometimes.

I find that horror is a tricky thing to get right and that personal taste varies widely. For example, I bet Cat-Eyed Boy would make the list for a lot of manga bloggers I know, but I found the protagonist annoying and the stories pedestrian. So these are obviously very personal favorites and your taste in terror might be quite different from mine.

I tend to like my horror with a touch of either black comedy or deep psychological underpinnings. In fact, some of the titles on my list might not even pass the horror test for other readers. I'm not a big fan of splatter-filled pages, but I'm not squeamish, either. Give me a reason for all the blood and I'll gladly buy in to what you're selling.

So with that in mind, let's take a look at some of my favorites...if you dare!

Rumiko Takahashi is probably best known for Ranma 1/2, but she's also quite good at telling a comical horror story, or even a darker tale or three. I doubt if you can find the anthology of her short stories anywhere (Rumic World/Rumic Theater), but when I read them in my early days of manga I remember being impressed by her ability to create horrific scenes as easily as she did the farcical world of Ranma 1/2. However, it's easy enough to see her blend the two ideas in Inuyasha, which is quite easy to find in any bookstore and most libraries. I haven't gotten around to finishing up this one, but I was quickly drawn to the usual cute relationship dynamics pairs with some really gruesome creatures. Definitely worth looking up.

I don't remember how or why I decided to start reading Mail, but I am very glad I did. Dark Horse is an underrated manga publisher in my opinion, and their horror manga selections are top notch. Mail is a series by Housui Yamazaki, who draws a series we'll talk about a little later. It has a Rod Serling-like protagonist who introduces almost every chapter and then proceeds to participate in the drama. Well drawn and with stories that are pretty good, my only reservation is that it peters out a bit towards the end. Not sure about the availability on this one.

Availability is a common theme on this list, I'm afraid, as The Drifting Classroom has evaded my grasp, though I admit it's partly because I don't want to just drop the money on Amazon. Big on psychological horror, this series by Kazuo Umezu features a classroom that separates from current reality and a boy who feels the pain of fighting with his mother just before tragedy strikes. Umezu's plotting and pacing is pitch-perfect. One of these days, I'm going to save up and finish off this one. It's well worth reading, if you can find it.

Lots of folks would agree that Parasyte is another nifty horror series. An alien race invades Japan, some of whom bond with humans in order to feed. The results are mixed as not all humans are taken over properly. The manga focuses on one such human, who has the alien host in his hand. Maturity, morality, and the desire to survive combine with some good use of horror tropes to make this an enjoyable (and still available) series.

People seem to be in less agreement about After School Nightmare. Written and illustrated by Setona Mizushiro, the series is about a boy who also has female characteristics. He's not ready to deal with this, but a special class forces him to whether he wants this or not, as he's thrown into a nightmare world where students compete violently with each other in order to graduate. The story on the surface seems to be a rejection of femininity, but I think we're supposed to see that the mental torture our protagonist faces is all because he won't accept that it's okay to be feminine. Your mileage may vary, but I dig the creepy vibes throughout this series that, because it's from Go Comi!, is probably not one you'll find anywhere.

Mushishi was another Manga Movable Feast choice, and its horror is definitely more muted than the others on the list. A John Constantine-like figure goes about the country dealing with beings called mushi, who tend to make a mess of the lives of the humans with which they interact. Not a lot happens in these stories--certainly nothing on an epic scale of violence--but it still fits the horror profile. I enjoyed the changing nature of the each story, as the mushi come in widely varying forms. This set of books is not for those who like fast-paced tales, however, so please be aware of that before you pick it up. This is more for those who can appreciate the pacing of 19th century literature.

Speaking of 19th century literature, Lament of the Lamb could easily be a manga written by Edgar Allan Poe. Kei Toume presents a family haunted by the curse of vampirism, but instead of making them stalkers of the night as we've seen everywhere, this family relies on blood transfusions and medicine to beat back a terrible fate. Brother and sister, long separated, cannot live without each other, it seems, as they slowly collapse into worse states. With parts of the story that remind me of the Fall of the House of Usher, this is another series that goes a bit slowly but is worth the waiting. Toume's art is striking for most of the series, almost sketch-like at times but capturing the feel of the characters perfectly. If you can find this one, go for it. I think almost anyone would like it.

If I had to pick a favorite amongst these favorites. it might be the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. Illustrated by Housui Yamazaki from Mail and written by Eiji Otsuka, this is the ongoing story of five college kids with no job prospects who come together to use their special talents to do delivery jobs for the dead. It's part black comedy, part social commentary, and good, with a cast of interesting and offbeat characters who frequently are more interested in getting money for food than doing the right thing (though they always manage to do the latter). This manga is notable for being a horror manga that works well for people who aren't fans of the genre.

I hope you find a manga or two in this list that tickles your terror bone, whether it's for creepy alien, dead bodies, or slow psychological horror. Don't be afraid to read them in months other than October, either. Their quality doesn't change just because the holiday does. Enjoy!

October 27, 2010

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Happy Birthday, Panel Patter!

It's so hard to believe, but Panel Patter is 2 years old today!

Though I've been writing reviews since 2006, I didn't get serious about it until I started this blog (and later, its less-used companion blog, The Book Stew), where I'd have more control over the look and feel of the reviews, as well as a place that was devoted solely to writing the reviews themselves.

It's been a wonderful experience overall, and I've met so many wonderful people since I started life here as a serious reviewer, both other reviewers, some publishing folks, and even a few creators who've said kind things about my reviews.

I don't do this to get free books. If someone thinks enough of what I do to give me their work to review, I'm happy to take it. But that's not--and should never be--the reason to have a review blog. I do this because I like talking about comics of all kinds, from the cape comics I still read here and there to manga/manhwa, to independent publishings to mini comics and zines. All have their own unique appeal to me, and though I could probably find a better niche in the blogging world by specializing, I like being free to talk about whatever comics strike my fancy.

Two years ago, I started by posting about Eric Powell's great series, The Goon. I'm almost afraid to look at that review, because of how much my writing style has changed. I've read and reviewed hundreds of comics since then, most of them good and a few of them bad. I've tried to talk about most of them here, and I hope what I've said has helped you when you want new material to read.

It's been a great past few years. I can't wait to see what the next year brings, as my reading taste continues to adjust and change. Why don't you come along for the ride and join me?

October 25, 2010

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Coexistence

Part of the 10 Days of Halloween Horror! You can see the rest here and here.

Written by Slawomir Mrozek
Adapted by Matt Dembicki
Illustrated by Matt Dembicki
Self-Published

I don't think I realized how many comics by Matt Dembicki I actually had until I pulled them out to read them after enjoying his Xoc series so much. I also didn't realize how many of them have a Halloween feel to them until I started looking at my stacks for things to review as part of this special series of reviews and posts.

In this mini, Dembicki uses a sketchy, shadowy style (the cover to the left is a pretty good representation of the interior contents, though with more use of gray tones) to adapt a short story by Mrozek about the subtle ways in which we can be corrupted.

An honest vicar is faced with the prospect of the devil, smiling politely, invading his home. Knowing that the devil brings evil wherever he goes, the vicar considers throwing him out. But if he keeps him at his home, others are spared. What to do, what to do? With the devil seemingly content to just chill, the vicar thinks he is safe. But the devil is a crafty creature, as the vicar will soon find out!

I'm not familiar at all with Mrozek as a writer, but this story is excellent and makes me want to seek out more of his stories. It's a simple tale that, in Dembicki's hands, moves quickly but with just enough pacing that the climax of the story hits you right in the face. I love how this story ends, and even though I find it unlikely that you'll be able to get a copy of this mini, I don't want to spoil it just in case you do.

Part of why this one works so well is Dembicki's framing. The panels have borders but they're wavering, just like the vicar's mind. Each picture has its own place, but seems like it could at end time bleed into the other images. Everything feels old and corrupted. His devil has such a simple-minded look, which is perfect for the story, while the vicar looks increasingly harried. You can tell that Dembicki is making the story his own, even as he uses the ideas from Mrozek. It's a great match.

This is a wonderful mini-comic that's short but well worth the reading. Try to get a copy if you can. It's arguably my favorite of the Dembicki minis that I own.

October 24, 2010

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This is Me Trying to Carve a Pumpkin

The Ten Days of Halloween Horror continue! You can see the rest here and here.


















From the the incredibly cute webcomic Gronk.
Katie Cook provides the all-too-true art.

I am terrible at carving pumpkins to the point that I haven't even tried in years. My teeth were rounded, not sharp. My eyes looked like they came from a demented laboratory and I almost always cut eyebrows that looked like Groucho Marx on acid. They usually ended up collapsing under the weight of carving. I can't think of a single year where any pumpkin I carved managed to make it to Halloween itself.

The worst, however, was when I came entirely too early to a Halloween party of a girl I liked and later dated. I asked if I could help set up since I was awkwardly early. They said sure...carve a pumpkin!

I did my best, and they were nice enough to even use the pumpkin later. But man, did it stick out like a sore thumb. You can ask me to do a lot of things for Halloween, but don't ask me to carve the pumpkin.
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Fashion Parade!

Part of the 10 Days of Halloween Horror! You can see the rest here and here.

Written by Anne Thalheimer
Illustrated by Anne Thalheimer
Self-Published

I love Halloween, which I guess is no surprise given that I am doing a whole theme week of Halloween posts. One of my favorite parts of Halloween is dressing up, and not just in something you can get from a costume store, either.

That's why this mini-comic was so much fun for me, as Anne draws some of the costumes she's worn or seen in the past. There's some fairly standard, like Pipi Longstocking, a ghost, and an elf, but when you see not one but two Courtney Love costumes, you know you're involved with a person who takes costuming seriously. Heck, there's even a Sandman/Lucifer reference in here, which I greatly appreciated.

Anne is best known as the writer of the long-running zine Booty, and those familiar with her sketchings in those works will instantly recognize her style here. She'll never win a great artist award, but I found each of these costumes easy to figure out. Combined with witty editorial commentary, there's plenty in here for any fan of October 31st to enjoy.

I don't know if this one is still available anymore or not. If you happen to see it somewhere, be sure to grab a copy. You might even get an inspiration for a costume or two!

October 23, 2010

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Twilight Zone: Walking Distance

Part of the 10 Days of Halloween Horror! You can see the rest here and here.

Written by Rod Serling
Adapted by Mark Kneece
Illustrated by Dove McHargue
Walker & Company

You know the old saying about how you can't go home again? Well, for one busy man that has one bad car breakdown, the saying may not in fact be true. Especially if he's within walking distance of...The Twilight Zone.

I hadn't picked one of these books up for awhile, though I've been a big fan of the others in the series. Writer Mark Kneece adapts this comic from Serling's script, and plays it extremely faithfully. In the case of this slow-moving look back, that actually becomes a bit of a problem. Walking Distance is an exercise in the quiet mix of regret and nostalgia that we all have for the days we didn't appreciate enough, and as a comic the tale just falls a bit flat.

We see the busy man go back to a time when life was simpler for him, amongst dime desserts and etching your name into a piece of wood. Our protagonist finds himself longing to try and get his child-self to enjoy his life while he still can, before things get too complicated to see even the little pleasures that life gives.

At the same time, however, he is a stranger to this world, unrecognizable to anyone, even his parents. His presence brings problems, ones that might even be life-threatening. However, there's just no punch to the story. McHargue plays it extremely straight, without adding any additional levels of creepiness (a man talking to strange boys and chasing them) or extreme danger, even in the few action scenes.

It's the first time in this series where I felt like nothing quite clicked to make this an adaptation worth reading. The story itself may have been close to Serling's heart (according to Kneece), but as an episode on the printed page, it just doesn't have the strong visual appeal that Monsters are Due on Maple Street or Deaths-Head Revistited. These comics work better when there is a lot of dramatic tension in the original episode, and in Kneece's hands Walking Distance just doesn't have that feel to it.

If you're new to the Twilight Zone comics series, don't make this one your first pick. If you are as big a fan of the Twilight Zone as I am, however, it's definitely worth a read just to see how well Kneece can faithfully adapt Serling's vision. In this case, I just wish he and McHargue had gone "off book" a bit more to really bring this slow-moving stor a bit of life.

October 22, 2010

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Monstacity

The Ten Days of Halloween Horror Continues! You can see the rest here and here.

Written by Matt Dembicki
Illustrated by Steve Loya
Self-Published

Monstracity is Dembicki and Loya's love letter to the b-movies of the 1950s that featured terrible horrors, often crafted as quickly and cheaply as possible. Add in some Japanese nods here and there, and you've got the basic premise of this comic, which does an amazing job of using all original monsters in the work.

Dembecki hits all the right notes in his script, beginning with a tone that is just as pretentious as a narrator in a Coleman Francis film. It's somber and slow moving and given to over-description, because that's what they used to do in horror films. The plot is almost non-existent, and the creatures end up acting in ways that may not make logical sense for them but builds the story's action. We even get the typical monster-movie ending that doesn't make a lot of sense if you take five minutes to consider it.

In another situation, this might be a problem, but it's clear that Dembicki is going for the homage, and anyone with a passing familiarity with B-horror films will pick up on what he's doing and appreciate his skills in recreating a movie style that's just about as extinct as the idea of putting actors in plastic costumes.

Dembecki's script is drawn to movie-monster perfection by Loya. His Monsters look improbable, but match their brief origin stories very well. You can see the influences of old movies in his designs, but none of them are pale copies. They stomp, ooze, and destroy each page they occupy, and even get into an epic battle that leaves me with only one wish--that it was a bit longer.

As a horror movie junkie (I'll even watch most bad old horror movies), I had a great time with this comic. It's a little old now, so I'm not sure if you can find a copy anywhere. If you do see it, make sure this one gets purchased for the horror fan in your life. They'll thank you for it.
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10 Days of Halloween Horror!

So big, you'll find it on TWO blogs!
A crossover classic with The Book Stew!

It's my favorite time of the year, Halloween! You can have Christmas's jolly red fat guy--the only red suit I want to see is on a devil. A roasting fire better be burning a witch at the stake. Forget four calling birds--give me screeching ravens!

I love the horror genre, from comics to movies to books, and I can't wait for October to arrive every year so that I can share that love with others who only look at the darker side of fiction during this month where Fall really gets into gear.

Time to celebrate with 10 days of reviews relating to comics and books with a horror theme, some looks back at my favorite horror comics and books, and whatever else I can think of to fill this space with as much holiday cheer as I can. Don't be a bit surprised to find

Now be prepared to spend some terrifying days here at Panel Patter and also The Book Stew, as we look for skeletons in the closet, ghosts in the shadows, and poltergeists within the panels! Enjoy your time...while you're still alive.

MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHahahahahahahahaaa......

Ahem.

Look for new posts every day with some creepy comics and books that I don't recommend reading at night. Don't forget to share your own favorites with me. The scarier, the better!

Have a great 10 days of Halloween Horror, and I'll see you over on the other side....

[Great drawing of Vincent Price by Cowboy Lucas. Check out his DeviantART page. There's lots of cool stuff on there. Dr. Frankenstein shot from the classic Karloff version.]

October 21, 2010

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Dragon Puncher

Written by James Kochalka
Illustrated by James Kochalka
Top Shelf

I don't often read children's books because I don't have any kids and they're often skewed too young for me to enjoy them. However, when the author is James Kochalka, any comic is worth reading. Add on the idea of a cat in a giant suit that punches dragons, and you had me at "cat in a giant suit."

The story itself is a fairly familiar one. A tough hero (the kitty-cat dragon puncher) meets up with a weaker adventurer that he feels is inferior. The brash and pompous-talking puncher wants nothing to do with the smaller, human-faced Spoony-E, who hits things with his spoon. (See this is why I love Kochalka so much. That's a simple concept that's not only funny but would appeal to any child who ever used his imagination on ordinary things. I know *I* was that child, and I bet a lot of you were, too.)

When we finally face the rather Elfen dragon, our gruff hero cannot stop him alone. Will Spoony-E save the day or are they both destined to be dragon food? I'm sure you know the answer, but I'll leave it out anyway.

There's an enjoyable good versus evil story here, but Kochalka also gives it just a subtle hint of morality, as the dragon puncher must reluctantly accept help and we see the value of Spoony-E never giving up. Neither concept is thrown in a young child's face, which I think is part of why this book works so well.

Dragon Puncher also features Kochalka's positive philosophy front and center (Spoony-E is relentlessly cheerful) mixed with some good verbal gags. "I got drooled!" is sure to be a part of any child's vocabulary after reading the book, while adults and slightly older children will snicker at the times when sarcasm creeps in to the edges of the narrative.

Artistically, this is a bit of a change mixed with the familiar for Kochalka. All of the backgrounds are real photos, with his signature curvy lines and primitive artwork over the top of the pictures. Each face on the characters is a real one: Kochalka's cat for the puncher, his son Eli (at 3) for Spoony-E, and Kochalka himself, in a set of great mug shots, as the evil dragon. The effect is both cool and a bit disconcerting at first. However, once you get into the feel of the book, the intense contrast between Kochalka's art and the photographs lessens. I really liked how his art pops out at you from the green grass and blue sky in the photographs, and Spandy, Eli, and the author have more facial range than Kochalka's pen. This book is definitely worth a look for fans of Kochalka's other work just to see how it plays out against a photorealistic backdrop.

I had a wonderful time reading Dragon Puncher, and I'd definitely recommend it without hesitation to any parent or library. Kochalka is a man who leaves any place a little bit brighter than when he left it due to his personal outlook and that carries right into this book. Kids could use that positive influence and sense of wonder in their life. I think some adults could use a dose of this book, too.

October 19, 2010

October 18, 2010

October 17, 2010

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Richmond Zinefest 2010

Convention season is sadly winding down for Erica and I, as we once again got stuck in DC traffic but still made it in plenty of time to enjoy the company of friends and community of the Richmond Zinefest. This was our third year at the zinefest, and our second time at the Gay Community Center.

One of the sad things for me about the Richmond Zinefest is that it seems to have a hard time finding just the right venue. I did not care for last year's location due to its cramped quarters and multiple levels, but it was right in Richmond. As you can see below, the Community Center is nice and big, giving room for lots of people and conversation. It also rocks an amazing disco ball.
The trouble is, it's not near anything, so you have to know there's a zinefest going on in order to walk in and participate. The center's thrift store adds some traffic, but you have to be in the know in order to go, as it were. I really wish there was a place for the fest that had the one-floor stylings of the center and the proximity to people of the other place.

If I had to go for one or the other though, it would be the Community Center. It's a nice space with clean bathrooms, a solid parking lot, and I know the money is going to a good purpose.
The show itself still managed to get a lot of traffic despite being off the beaten path. Black Light Diner distro had a very strong day, both in sales and conversation. (I am finally getting the hang of working a table in aid of my wife, I think!) It was good to see Nicole from Click Clack Distro, even better to not see Microcosm, and I was able to chat with the folks from I Love Bad Movies and Matt Dembicki.

I was a big fan of I Love Bad Movies #1, and am delighted to know that it's now in its third issue. Look for a review soon. Dembicki also had a new mini comic, about the Brewmaster's Castle in Washington, DC. This is a collaboration again, and the work is just as good as all of Matt's other books I've read so far. Definitely grab either of these books if you find them.

My only disappointment is that there were less zines and mini-comics in general and a lot more books or informational booths. I didn't pick much up at the fest at all, and these fests are times when I want to find new artists or writers. There were a lot of things people had clearly worked hard on, they just weren't in my circle of interest. That's no offense to them--it's just a matter of personal taste.

Actually, I lied. There were two disappointments. This awesome game wasn't running:



Tell me you don't want to drive to Richmond and play this game. Go on and try!

All in all, Richmond is always a fun trip, and I'm glad we went down, even if that drive kills me every time, no matter where I'm starting from. I'm hopeful that next year, there'll be a few more mini-comic creators to peruse and a few more personal zines that catch my fancy. Now to brace myself for that awful drive back...

October 14, 2010

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Digital Manga and Tokyopop Team Up

I don't normally pass along anything that comes as part of a press release, but this one really intrigues me, and I wanted to make a few comments on it.

Digital Manga
just sent out a press release announcing that they are teaming up with Tokyopop to offer some of Tokyopop's BLU line on EManga.com. EManga is an online site that already offers quite as bit of manga from Digital Manga's various imprints. There will be 12 titles to start, each priced at $5.99, significantly lower than BLU's $13.99 paper price point.

Per the press release, the initial titles include: Liberty Liberty! by Hinako Takanaga, Calling by Miu Otsuki, Croquis by Hinako Takanaga, Cute Devil by Hiro Madarame, Isle of Forbidden Love by Duo Brand, Blood Honey by Sakyou Yozakura, Love Knot by Lemon Ichijo, Madness volumes 1 & 2 by Kairi Shimotsuki, Scarlet by Hiro Madarame, Secretary’s Love by Tohko Akiba and Stray Cat by Halco.

I think this is an absolutely brilliant move. Tokyopop gets a chance to test the waters of taking some of their comics online, and does it with an imprint that publishes Yaoi, already a popular offering on EManga. They don't have to establish an internet presence, because Digital Manga already has one that works. Plus, if this goes well for both parties, Tokyopop can start adding other titles to the mix from their main line, matching up with the Digital Manga imprint offering that are not Yaoi.

The only downside to EManga is that you must be connected to the internet to view the comics, but that doesn't seem to hurt the existing comics and is unlikely to deter folks already comfortable with reading things like webcomics. Because EManga uses Adobe, it does knock out Ipad folks, at least for now. That's about the only drawback I can see from this deal, however.

The price seems about right to me, though since I'm not a huge fan of Yaoi, it's unlikely I personally would pay six dollars to read the BLU comics. Start adding Tokyopop's back catalog on the other hand, and now we're talking. It's one reason I'm really hoping this pairing works out, because there's a lot of Tokyopop comics I'd hesitate on for $11, but would grab for $6, even if I can only read them online. After all, in this day and age of wireless, it's rare for me to be in a place that doesn't have internet access.

I'll be curious to see how this works out for Tokyopop and Digital Manga. From the outside looking in, I think it's a win-win proposition that shows companies within the manga world can work together to put together a legal online product. I'm sure that's part of the goal here, and I support it 100%. For Yaoi fans---what do you think of this deal? Are you excited at the idea of getting more online manga, or will you wait for a different digital format? Let me know!

Disclosure: Information used in this article comes courtesy of Digital Manga.

October 10, 2010

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Philly Zinefest 2010

Erica and I took an almost unplanned visit to the Phily Zinefest today, taking advantage of our new proximity to run up and run back. We'd had a very good time last year, so it was nice to make a return visit.
This was the view from our table. Erica's Black Light Diner distro was representing the mini-comic scene, and was one of the man distros at the fest. Some of the others were Click Clack Distro, twelveohtwo, Things You Say, and Parcell Press. It seemed like there were more distros than last year, but I wasn't keeping strict track.

This was taken towards the end of the day, but as you can see, there was still a lot going on. The fest was pretty busy all afternoon, and the traffic was a mix of college kids, fellow zinesters, and some random folks who just came by because it was a chance to find out what a zine was. It looked like folks were buying things, too, or trading them or what have you, which is always a good thing.

For our part, we picked up mostly new issues of the zines we already knew, as well as a few new personal zines and mini-comics to try. I didn't realize just how many we'd gotten until it was time to pack them up.

All too soon, it was time to get a cheesesteak and head for home. The drive is a lot easier now that we're on the east coast, but it's still never fun. If there's a zinefest going on anywhere near you, be sure to stop by. You're sure to find some great zines and comics to try. I know we always do. Next stop? Richmond, on the 16th, for the Richmond Zine Fest. See some of you soon!

October 9, 2010

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Series Review: Some Thoughts on Scott Pilgrim

Written by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Illustrated by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Oni Press

In honor of the final book coming out and also the (sadly under-appreciated) movie, I opted to re-read the entire Scott Pilgrim series a little while ago, finishing it off by reading the final book in the series.

I'd read the first three books in 2007 (review of vol 1, review of vol 2, review of vol 3) and books four and five in 2009. I'm not a person that generally re-reads that often, but this was a chance to see how the series worked as an overall concept, and not just in pieces.

Overall, I'd have to say I liked the movie a bit better, especially as the series progresses. There's general madcap insanity on display in the first few volumes, with Scott living out his life in a world heavily influenced by video games and other parts of geek culture and slacker 20-somethingness that I can appreciate, even if I never lived it myself when I was in my 20s. Scott isn't a good person, but you can relate to him. His over-the-top adventures distract you from the fact that at heart a total loser that tends to be bad to the people around him, especially the women.

As the series progresses, however, Scott starts to look within himself, and it frankly bogs the books down. There are still crazy adventures with the exes, but as the title moves more into a relationship comic, with more real feelings being tossed around, Scott's actions are more glaring and his dealings with the women in his life in particular look boorish rather than the cute mistakes of a loser.

By both the end of the book and the movie, Scott is not a person you can sympathize with, but at least in the movie, it feels like he's learned his lesson. I'm not sure you can say that about the Scott in the book.

In addition, the movie script keeps the zaniness and impossible fight scenes going, right up to a final climax. Book Six's finale just kind of moves on, leaving all the silliness behind. I think I understand the reasoning behind this--Scott must mature in order to grow--but I can get that in any other relationship comic (and trust me, I read my share). What I liked about the Scott Pilgrim series was that it was a funny storyline using video games and relationships in a way that built from insane battle to insane battle. The further we move away from this idea, the less appeal the series had for me.

This is not to say I didn't like the series, because I did. O'Malley created an awesome world where your enemies could turn into coins, and how could anyone not like that? He uses tricks from manga, without having the book feel like it's a shonen adventure. We get editorial boxes, arrows, things like the pee meter, and other little touches that make the books worth reading for these tricks alone. His settings fit the cast well--small bars for small bands, coffee shops, CD stores, and apartments that change furnishings and residents seemingly at will. Despite the video game elements, we're meant to recognize these dives, and most people who are under 40 should have no trouble doing so easily. O'Malley manages this without even really doing a lot of technical drawing, especially in the first few books, where the art is really raw.

From Niles to Knives to Kim, Scott's supporting cast could easily handle their own books, even if I agree with O'Malley that it's time to give them a rest. Niles' sarcasm and Kim's anger both strike out at the world around them, as well as Scott's actions, giving the reader commentary on the terrible way Scott is leading his life. In fact, Kim is probably the best person in the book,a s the anger hides a personality that really cares for Scott, despite all his faults. She even lies for him, when he is at his most vulnerable.

My only issue with the characters is that because there were so many of them and O'Malley's art skills are not focused on differentiation, it often was difficult for me to keep them apart. I'd have preferred it if he had spent some time giving specific clothing or other way to tell them apart. (Hey, it worked for Peanuts.) The trouble with having such a great supporting cast is that they're a lot more interesting than Scott as we move along. Scott starts shedding the parts of him that make him quirky, as he matures, and that means he increasingly looks like a jerk surrounded by good people who should just leave him to suffer the consequences of his actions. That's not what happens, and it makes it a little hard to swallow the ending.

In the end, I think that may be the biggest fault in the structure of the series. Scott and Ramona are our focal characters, but neither are people you'd want to be around for any length of time. Scott's a two-timer that never pays for being one by losing anything other than some of his youthful ignorance. That's just not enough. Ramona, meanwhile, is the girl we're focusing on, but she's got her own baggage that doesn't lend her to being someone to admire. She can travel at will, but I still feel like she'll use that power to run away, again and again. Both learn to be better people, but I just don't feel like they suffered enough in the process.

Is that asking a bit too much from a comedy? Probably, but by the time we get to book five, there's so little comedy left that I start thinking of the series as being more of a drama, and I'm looking for that fifth act understanding that just never comes, at least for me.

Overall, I really liked Scott Pilgrim, and would definitely recommend both the series and the books to others. I just wish O'Malley had stayed with the loose premise rather than trying to make it more serious. (I wonder if O'Malley's aging as the book moved along had something to do with it.) We all need fun in our lives, and the first four books of Scott Pilgrim were a lot of fun. I'd have loved to see more of that spirit in all six books.

Still, it's impressive that O'Malley found a way to close Scott Pilgrim in a way that actually ends the series. You can read the 6 books and feel like you've gotten a complete story. There's no need to add endless spinoffs and sequels. We've had our look at Scott Pilgrim's life, and now we all move on. And just like real life, things didn't go quite as I think some of us expected. Maybe that was O'Malley's point after all, and if so, he makes that point nicely.

Ultimately, Scott Pilgrim is a snapshot into what it was like to be born somewhere in the Carter-Reagan years, and I think future generations will see it that way. We could all do a lot worse than have O'Malley as our voice.
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BB Wolf and the Three LPs

Written by JD Arnold
Illustrated by Rich Koslowski
Top Shelf

BB Wolf has the blues, and he's got it bad. Music is the only thing he has left, and even that's about to be taken away. Like many others who sing songs of regret and loss, Wolf has a story to tell, and he's going to sing it out one last time, even if no one is listening. This, in brief, is his tale:

The world is a hard place for a wolf. Trying hard to stay alive in a world of pigs who hate and fear him, Wolf's only consolations are his music, his whiskey, and his family. Though he'd probably not admit it, the latter is the one most important to him. It's a rotten life, but Wolf deals with it--until the pigs want his land.

When the Pigs use legal trickery, Wolf and his friends fight back. At first it seems like the wolves might win, but in the end, the Pigs have the power--and the willingness to do terrible things--to get their way. With nothing left to lose, BB Wolf takes matters into his own hands. Forced to take revenge the only way he knows how, Wolf works his way through a system rotten to its core, vowing to blow it down.

The bulk of the book explores BB Wolf's attempts to get at the root of the Littlepig family, encountering all the problems that a minority figure with no resources might have and showing what happens when you push a man, er, wolf, too far, their only recourse is to strike back. Arnold cleverly uses the original story turned on its ear to show just how horrible life can be for the powerless and oppressed, and it works perfectly.

I had the pleasure of briefly speaking to Mr. Arnold when I picked up this book at the Baltimore Comi-Con. He described the book as having a condemnation of racism, but that really didn't process for me until I started reading the book. I'd never in a million years think of using the story of the Big Bad Wolf as a way to show the plight of African Americans in the early 20th Century, many of whom would have been seen as being as undesirable as as wolf in the land of pigs.

There is no mistaking the allegory Arnold is going for. The Pigs are white landowners still smarting from the ending of the slavery system, using their positions of power to abuse and manipulate African Americans. This is only reinforced by references to the PPP and discussion of keeping the wolves away from the pig population. There's even the racism-within-racism where some pigs are better than others. The justice system is run by pigs, and the church goes along, in the name of peace. Wolf is chastised for not repenting of his sins, when all he did was fight back when his family was ruined. There's even a historical note in the back that mirrors the plight of African Americans trying to find their own history, buried in the lies written by the white press.

In some hands, this would not have worked at all. I tend to be a bit leery of message stories like this, but Arnold avoids the traps primarily by making his purpose loud and clear. This is not a thinly-veiled commentary, but an open condemnation. Using the Wolf as the victim, Arnold shows that what we are led to believe is not always the truth. That's the message this book sends to its readers, and whether or not you are receptive to it might just say something about you personally.

This book clearly has its roots in a healthy dose of research. Wolf's story takes him to East St. Louis, through wolf mobs controlled by pig interests, shows shady dealings, and even that racism was not confined solely to the south. All the while, he sings the blues, a musical style that links directly to the painful past that the wolves/African Americans share. It's constructed so well from start to finish, and I'd love to see more work from Arnold in the future.

Part of BB Wolf's excellence comes from Koslowski, who uses his greyscale tones to good effect in this story of desperation, greed, and loss. Everything has a bit of grime to it, and everyone is grizzled and weathered, particularly the wolves. The settings are dingy, almost falling in as you turn the page, yet they have a level of detail that captures the time period perfectly.

The best part of his art, however, are the characters. Each wolf has their own, distinctive look, fitting their roles in the story. The pigs look evil from the word go, but even they are easily told apart. Despite dealing with animals, Koslowski finds a way to make their faces feel genuine emotion, from joy to rage to despair to pain. He changes angles, bares teeth, shifts body position, and any number of other tricks to keep us involved in the action. These are living, breathing characters acting out a tragedy before the reader's eye. Because we feel like these animals are people, when we come to the violent parts of the book, the reader is actually shocked by the murders, even as we sympathize with them.

BB Wolf and the 3 LPs is a stunning work of political commentary that tells its story so effectively it overcomes the problems anthropomorphic comics often face, all without feeling ham-handed. Arnold and Koslowski have taken the re-imagined fairy tale to new heights with this book. It tells a great story, makes you think, and keeps you lingering over its pages. I can't ask for anything else in a comic, and neither should you. This one gets my highest possible recommendation, and definitely makes my favorites list for 2010.

October 8, 2010

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Panel Patter at Poopsheet: Chickenbot's Odd Jobs #1

Oh man! This comic was so good it's not even funny. One of the best mini-comics I've read this year, combining a Hellboy-like sense of the sarcastic with everyone's hatred of temp jobs!

If you look at nothing else I've written at Poopsheet, check out this review of Chickenbot's Odd Jobs #1 by Eric H. Trust me, it's worth it!

October 7, 2010

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Panel Patter at Poopsheet: Bacalaito #1

I'm at it again over at Poopsheet, talking briefly about the appeal of mini-comics and then about Bacalaito #1 by a person I think goes by Cocor.

The comic is based around an extended joke and literal dumpster-diving and has a strong cartoony vibe going on in the illustration.

You can find my review here
. Check it out!

October 3, 2010

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Three Mini-Comics by JP Coovert

All comics have these credits:
Written by JP Coovert
Illustrated by JP Coovert
One Percent Press

Continuing my run through some of the mini-comics I have but didn't read as soon as I got them, here are three by JP Coovert, who is part of the artists participating in One Percent Press.

Adrift, shown to the left, is a nearly wordless story narrating the tale of a man lost at sea. He's in deadly danger as the various creatures that populate the vast oceans vie for supremacy. Can our poor castaway find anyone to help him in time? His salvation may come from an unlikely source.

Coovert's story is a simple one, but his expressive characters give this an interesting edge that it might not otherwise have. The artistic style borrows heavily from Craig Thompson, but that's not a bad thing. This mini does a good job of showing what you can do with a comic of this size and style.
Simple Routines #11 is Coovert's ongoing diary comic. Covering the fall and winter of 2008-09, there are 23 four-panel comics, each of which cover a moment in Coovert's life.

These comics are much simpler and basic in style than Adrift (or Rematch, below). Instead of the flowing lines of the other comics (and cover), the insides feature much more angular work. It's a bit of a jarring change if you are reading these books together, as I was.

Coovert's personal strips all tend to the positive, even when things aren't going quite as well as he'd like (mostly in relation to having a job). As a result, there seems to be a layer between artist and reader, creating a distance that I think hurts a diary strip of this nature.


Rematch returns to the Thompson style that worked well for me in Adrift. Another flowing male character rockets into space in order to challenge for a ping-pong ball belt against an alien of unknown origin. When the alien refuses to give up when he's beaten fair and square, the book turns into a brawl on the moon.

Yes, this is a book about a ping-pong match that turns into a moon-based fight. And oh yeah, the fight involves robots. How cool is that?

This was my favorite of the three comics, showing a good artistic range for Coovert within a consistent style. There's even an experimental two-page spread during the game that was particularly nifty and shows that mini-comics can do interesting things with page layouts, too.

Overall, I think Coovert has a lot going on in his comics that make him someone you should definitely check out, if you like fun, upbeat stories with flowing lines that never seem to come to an angle. I'd say start with Rematch and go from there. You can check out Coovert's work (and the rest of One Percent Press) here.
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Sketchbook Comix 1 and 2

Written by Anthony Woodward
Illustrated by Anthony Woodward
Self-Published

I don't remember exactly how I found out about Woodward's diary mini-comics, but since I am a fan of the format, whoever turned me on to them didn't exactly have a hard sell.

These two collections date back to 2008, when Woodward was looking to go to Canada, presumably for a fresh start. As things progress across the comics, however, not all goes as Woodward hopes. The country itself is pretty good to him and his family, as they go on trips into the countryside and enjoy the culture and medical wonders of Canada.

There's one big problem, however--Woodward can't get a job, and the stress of what will happen next as time goes on lurks under even the happy times that Woodward portrays in his panels.

In the end, a tough decision must be made, and Woodward does his best to show the pain inherent in the decision. Canada was nice, but as the second mini ends, it's time to go back to Australia. The experiment is over, at least for now.

In an introduction to the first collection, Woodward describes the genesis of these comics, initially as a way to pass the time and eventually as a creative output in its own right. He does a really nice job of avoiding the biggest mistake of diary comics--keeping things interesting.

While the struggles to put a new life together in Canada dominate, we also get strips about picking up new art supplies or indulging in Woodward's pet obsession, UFOs. Little details, such as complaining about the New York Times Crossword having too many American clues also pepper the pages. One of my favorites is when Woodward wishes he could draw during a concert but knows it's considered rude to do so. I feel exactly the same way, though in my case, it's writing.

Woodward's art style is pretty typical of the person making a diary comic. His characters are easily recognizable, and a lot of everyday objects dominate. He's on a level that's higher than Kochalka and Brown, but below the technical level of most Oni Press artists who work in similar personal-style comics.

Engaging, funny, and just a bit heart-breaking as things gets harder for Woodward and his family, these comics are a very good example of the autobiographical mini that uses diary strips to tell the story. I'd definitely recommend these comics to others, and since Woodward has an Etsy site, that's easy for me to do. Check a few out and see what you think.
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Webcomic I Like: AmazingSuperPowers

Despite spending a lot of time on the internet (though a bit less these days), I never really had a strong attraction to webcomics. This year, I've made a point of changing that, and have found so many comics that are great fun to read. This is another entry in my series of reviews, in no particular order, of webcomics I like.

With a name like AmazingSuperPowers, you'd think this comic might either be an ongoing strip about a hero or making fun of the heroic genre. That's not actually the case, but don't be disappointed. AmazingSuperPowers is a gag strip with wicked sense of humor that tends to find he worst in people or situations and show them to their audience.

Updated twice a week on Monday and Thursday by Matt and Tony (the only names they give out), each comic usually one-shots its way from a reasonable start to a horrible finish. Take this one, which starts on a serious note and ends with a comment that probably is truer than we'd care to admit. You might think of fireworks quite differently after this comic.

There are a few that deal with powers, of course, such as the problems X-Ray glasses might cause or even a James Bond riff on a multi-comic day.

The comic below is a good representation of AmazingSuperPowers:

Personally, I find that joke funny, because it's lampooning the sentimental folks who think anone else care about their relationship. Your mileage may vary, but be aware that this kind of joke is primarily what AmazingSuperPowers does.

In a world where things are often taken too seriously, AmazingSuperPowers certainly keeps a jaded eye out there to find the worst in all of us, from cops to best friends. I always look forward to this one every week, but then again, I'm the guy who rooted against E.T. when I was four.

AmazingSuperPowers lets me indulge in a little laughter at being a terrible person, which I think we all need. If you think you need it, too, give this one a try. Just remember: It's okay to read this stuff, but don't act on it. After all, you don't want to end up like these guys.