June 30, 2011

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What I'd Do with a DC Reboot (A Review of Batman King Tut's Tomb)

Written by Nunzio DeFilippis, J. M. DeMatteis, and Gerry Conway
Illustrated by Jose Garcia-Lopez and others
DC

I admit that I have been extremely disappointed at the news coming out of the DC kinda-sorta reboot. Most notably, I'm bothered by the fact that the stories aren't even going to be significantly altered, except in places where the story is so broken as to need repair.

While some titles might be user-friendly, such as the new JLA title, most seem to be lost in strange quasi-status quo where Tim Drake was always associated with Batman but now he's not. Is a new reader going to care? It seems more complex than it needs to be.

Anyway, it got me thinking about what I might do if I were telling stories in the new DC Universe, or at least asking for stories from my writers. And the answer is, what I would do looks an awful lot like this set of three issues from Batman Confidential.

We start with a newbie-friendly plot: Someone is using an Egyptian theme to carry out their crimes and those crimes come with riddles attached. Who uses riddles as their MO? The Riddler, of course! Is he behind this new crime wave? Or will Batman need to team up with a member of his rogue's gallery to catch a new killer on the loose? Which is better, the devil you know or the devil you don't? The answer might just kill the Caped Crusader!

What does it take to be able to enjoy this story? Not a lot. You need to know Batman. You need to know the Riddler likes riddles, but if you don't know that, it's in the story for you. Might help to understand the basics of Arkham Asylum and Batman's relationship with the police, but again, it's not crucial. This is an entry level story that gives a casual fan exactly what they need. I can hand this one to my mother and she'll be right on board. I could give it to a friend who wants to see what a superhero comic is, and they'll be able to see it in action, with no baggage.

That doesn't mean the story is bad or simplistic, either. The plot takes several twists and turns and leads Batman on a merry chase, where even his detective skills are found to be lacking. Bats must fight and think his way through the story and make choices he'd rather avoid in order to bring the killer to justice. This is a very good Batman story, if you like your Batman as a thinker and a brawler, not just the latter. We rarely see that these days, and it was nice to have a modern story showing Batman is not just a great fighter, he's also the Dark Knight Detective.

Also, while this story was about as all-ages as a Batman tale gets these days outside of the Brave and the Bold, there's no shortage of death or violence, including a person getting their eyes gouged out. The big difference here is that it's tastefully done, makes sense within the context of the story, and does not leave the reader questioning whether the parties involved in the making of the comic should be evaluated for anti-social tendencies.

This latter attribute is due in no small part to the presence of legendary artist Jose Garcia-Lopez, who draws the hell out of this comic. Garcia-Lopez puts on a clinic here, from page layouts to little details, like the look on Riddler's face as he has what is arguably the adventure of a lifetime or Batman's puzzlement at being alive by the end of the story. It's these small details that so many modern superhero artists are lacking these days, in among the splash pages and explosions and desire to shock with piles and piles of gore.

Of course, this is exactly the type of comic Dan Didio and Geoff Johns don't like to write, as they prefer to play with toys with long, complicated continuity. That's fine for people who have a stake in these old ideas, but it's not the way to grow an audience. This comic collection is, because it even throws in some old Garcia-Lopez one-shot stories that show off his art chops.

So yeah, if I were running DC post-reboot, I'd be asking for at least half of the many, many Batman comics to look like this one, while still doing some heavy-continuity stories for those who like that sort of thing. There's room for both, but I don't see how messing with continuity while keeping it there makes either casual fans or hard-core comic collectors happy.

But hey, I don't get the big bucks, so what do I know? I know that this collection is pretty cool, and I highly recommend it for fans of Batman, Riddler, Garcia-Lopez, and good storytelling. This is the best Batman story I've read in a good, long time. It's a shame it looks like we won't be seeing anything like this anytime soon from DC.

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Three Mini-Comics from Gray Gunter and Company

A Brief History of the Grand Canyon
Written by Gray Gunter and Chris Hammer
Illustrated by Ryan Estrada
Self-Published

Other People You May Know
Written by Gray Gunter
Illustrated by Gray Gunter, Thor Fjalarsson, and Zach Basset
Self-Published

Sad Little Stories: My ABCs
Written by Gray Gunter
Illustrated by John Campbell, Kurt Wood, Ryan Estrada, and Nick Edwards
Self-Published

It's time to start reviewing the things I picked up at Heroes this year, and what better to lead off with than this set of stories from Gray Gunter and people he knows. Gunter is exactly the type of person I was seeking out at Heroes--a creator whose stuff might not make it up to the East Coast.

A Brief History of the Grand Canyon was described by Gunter as "the worst Wikipedia entry ever" and that's a pretty accurate description. It's also incredibly funny, featuring two rich magnates who are imaginary but aren't all that far from the 19th century barons we all know and loathe. They come together to make the Grand Canyon in a fit of drunken hilarity, complete with a cameo from a golem and Teddy Roosevelt. The jokes are well timed and drawn quite well by Estrada. I'd love to see more tall tales in this vein from Gunter. There's many an American landmark waiting to be skewered like this. It's by far the best of the bunch.

Other People You May Know is a set of five short stories, three of which are illustrated by Gunter and two have guest-artists. Gunter's written and drawn contributions are mostly gag strips which are not as clever as the idea of Grand Canyon. His third story is more serious, but overall, I think he works better with an artistic collaborator. The final story, Storyteller, is the best of the bunch here. A young man comes home only to find his father making him to be more than he is. Their struggle over the idea of success is quite well done, and I like the panel presentations of Bassett. Overall, however, this was the weakest of the three.

The last of this trio is Sad Little Stories: My ABCs, which feature small vignettes about things Gunter either did or overheard while in Atlanta, Boston, and Columbia. They're mostly illustrated notebook items, without a lot of expansion. It's part diary strip, part fictional story, and it's a bit strange because Gunter himself is not doing the art, as is usual with this sort of idea. The Atlanta bits with John Campbell are the best, as his just-above-stick-figure art somehow makes the ridiculous ideas seem perfectly normal. I also enjoyed the closing story, a tale of embarrassment on a car pooling trip to a wedding. I can totally see that happening to me, even if I rarely wear open-toed shoes these days.

Gunter is definitely a talented storyteller and I would pick up more of his work if I found it at a show sometime. I'd like to see him concentrate on making the stories longer, as I think the shorter efforts were the weakest ones in the two anthologies. If you are a fan of parodies, definitely grab A Brief History of the Grand Canyon, and if there's a few extra dollars in your wallet, see what else Gunter has to offer. This is definitely a mini-comics creator to watch, because I could easily see more stories like his collaboration with Estrada and Hammer turned into a cool indie comic book. Time will tell, and I know I'll be watching.

June 29, 2011

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Digging into Digital Special: Digital Manga Publishing Partners with IDW on eManga

Digital Manga Publishing announced today that they had formed their first partnership with a company publishing Western style comics, IDW, to put IDW's comics on their eManga digital comics platform.

The partnership is effective immediately and starts with 21 titles from IDW's vast catalog of original and licensed works. Digital readers can go right over to eManga and begin using their points system to view IDW comics on the Adobe-based cloud system that Digital Manga Publishing employs for their own manga titles. According to their press release, there will be a price adjustment from the original paper versions, though it appears to not quite be the unofficial industry standard of half off the paper price: "Originally sold as comics and as a full graphic novels with an average price ranging from $3.99 to $19.99 in print, IDW’s titles will be available on eManga.com varying from $1.99 to $14.99."

Points are a penny each if you buy 1000 at a time, with a slight additional charge for less and a slight discount if bought in larger quantities.

Digital Manga states that their reason for doing this is to try and attract crossover readership in both directions, which makes perfect sense, and they end their release by extending a hand to other publishers in both the manga and non-manga comics world: "Digital Manga invites partnerships with other manga and American publishers to showcase their titles to eManga’s online storefront. If interested please contact (e-mail address) for inquires."

I have to admit, this one caught me by surprise a little bit. IDW is already on arguably the two biggest names in digital comics at this time, Comixology and Graphicly. I did a little checking, and while IDW has a completely different set of comics on Comixology (it's Transformers central but I was unable to find any other IDW comics on their roster unless they're through Apple), there is some overlap between Graphicly and eManga. It seems like IDW is trying hard not to compete against themselves, as the overlap between Comixology and Graphicly is minimal as well. I'm also kinda sad to see that IDW, like Marvel and Viz, make digital comics available to those with Apple-related products but not the vast majority of the computer-smart phone world. (We're out there, and we have money, too, you know!)

It would be really interesting if someone with ties to IDW could talk to them about their digital strategy or point me towards something that already exists. It looks like there is master plan in place, and if so, I think it makes sense for IDW. Why put all your eggs in one basket, and why make those baskets fight for market share when you can get a little bit from each of them?

I do think it's a bit strange that IDW is not advertising their new partnership as of yet. Wednesday is traditionally "buy Western comics" day, so I would think IDW would want to tout this new avenue a bit more. This is definitely bigger news for Digital Manga than IDW, but I do scratch my head a bit at the fact that IDW is lacking any information on this deal while touting their new comics, including what's available digitally from Apple and on Android phones.

As far as the comics selected for eManga goes, I think they make a lot of sense. There's the Astro Boy adaptations, which is a no-brainer, but I also think leaning heavily on familiar licences makes a lot of sense. Manga readers probably know Star Trek, Dr. Who, and similar properties, so why not let them see what they look like as comics? The same goes for just about anything relating to zombies and vampires. I love the addition of Locke and Key, which can serve as a nice bridge into IDW's original properties.

Overall, this is a win for everyone involved. Readers get more comics on their computer, for prices that reflect the rest of the industry. Digital Manga gets a foothold in the Western Comics community and a partnership that hopefully will be a lot more stable than their one with Tokyopop. IDW spreads their name to another platform and possibly a new group of readers, if they can match the right comics up to eManga's current readership. I'd love to see more of these kinds of deals in the future as the comics industry moves slowly into the digital age.

June 26, 2011

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Sunday Readings 6-26-2011

Here are some things I found interesting for your Sunday reading pleasure...

Let's lead off with a tribute to the ALA Conference, courtesy of Nedroid. (Nedroid is a great webcomic, by the way, and one you should be reading.)

In other news this weekend, Peter Falk, one of my favorite actors, passed away on Friday. Dave Wachter painted this awesome tribute to Falk's most famous character in honor of his passing.

Oh! Just one more thing. Wachter also did a nifty set of Batman villains.

Staying with Batman for a minute, Tintin Pantoja was taking sketch requests, and did this hysterical Nightwing parody for me. She's promised me another one sometime later, and I can't wait. This reminds me of something Marvel might have used as a one-page filler back in the day, if they ran Batman.

And because he's my favorite in the Bat-verse, here's more Dick Grayson goodness. Meanwhile, Chandra Free's late-night brain explains why you shouldn't invite Superman out for breakfast.

I admit I'm rather jaded on the whole DC "reboot that's not" thing, mostly because I'm not the audience DC is looking for. Here's Dave Carter's look at the books, however, and which ones he's probably going to buy. Any way you slice it, that's a lot of comics to be buying in a month. I just don't see how DC can keep that propped up, month in and month out for long.

Want to get new readers for your comic books? Chris Sims argues Marvel and DC need to start offering free webcomics as in-continuity loss leaders. Wasn't that sort of what My Space Dark Horse Presents was? Anyone know if those comics drew traffic to the paper books?

Meanwhile, a Wired article written by someone with an extremely limited knowledge of comics trying to say digital comics are good and the future. Or maybe they're not. Or maybe they'll kill paper comics. Or maybe not. I mean, is this what passes for print journalism these days? I wouldn't know, because I use this crazy thing called the internet. Why do magazines do this? Would it be too hard to find a good comics blogger and give them a few hundred dollars to write a quality piece? I mean, how hard would it be to find Johanna Draper Carson, Chris Sims, Brian Hibbs, or any number of well-known writers, and ask them to elaborate on things they've already written for free on their own sites? Sigh.

On a happier note, Robot 6 reminds us that no matter how bad the Simpsons TV show gets, their comics are still just as good as ever. Can you imagine the Easter Eggs in a Zander Canon Simpsons comic? Is it September yet?


Lastly, congratulations to everyone in New York who is now able to assert their right to be married to the person of their choice and make them their legal life partner. (If that bothers you, I'm so sorry for your lack of openness to love in the world, and I hope you change your mind in time.) While there are plenty of obvious drawings out there about this, I rather like Pantoja's choice. Who better to represent Might Marvel's New York than its two urban protectors? Good for you New York!
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Digging into Digital Special: Comixology Wonder Woman Sale

Welcome to a special edition of Digging into Digital. While it's completely inexplicable (except as perhaps a "Sorry, we know Diana should have gotten the next movie!"), DC is running a Wonder Woman sale on Comixology that ends today. Since I've probably read more Wonder Woman than the average comic fan, I thought I would give some pointers to the curious.

I agree with Johanna Draper Carson that some of the choices are a bit odd but good comics are good comics, even if the feature character isn't front and center. (I think she's right that easy access to digital copies was key.) Absolutely no one will hear me complain if they put JLI comics on sale on a Batman weekend. (And if you complain, I'm telling J'ohnn you stole all his Oreos.)

There is one telling omission (no Artemis as Wonder Woman that I can find) and one glaring omission (Byrne's overlooked but quite good run). The former occurred when everyone felt that existing heroes needed to be replaced for a time because it worked so well with Superman (see Az-Bats, Fantastic Four with Doom's son and then a rotating cast in replace of Reed Richards, the Clone Saga, and others if you must) and for reasons I forget, Diana loses her place as Wonder Woman. Probably not something DC wants to emphasize, given the desire to turn back the clock as much as possible.

We are of course back to status quo shortly before John Byrne takes over and writes arguably his last best non-nostalgia stories. Byrne's run included some nice tweaks at DC's expense, including using Doomsday and yet another return for Barry Allen, long before Johns did that non-ironically. We get a great supporting cast, including Cassie's first(?) appearance as Wonder Girl and Byrne emphasizes Diana's links to her Greek Heritage. It was all very well done, and worth seeking out, but given that I believe Byrne and DC still hate each other, it's unlikely to go digital anytime soon.

But this is not a time to talk about what's excluded, let's look at what you can get, instead, all for less than 100 Lincoln coins...

Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier. This is arguably the oddest of the choices, as I always think of this as being more Hal Jordan's comic than anything else. Reminding me quite a bit of an old Justice League of America comic that features a "lost adventure" of the League long before its formation, Cooke uses his 1960s animation style to bring darn near everyone in the DC canon together for a grand adventure that only a large gathering of heroes can handle. If you are at all a fan of Cooke and haven't read this, grab it now. You can't beat the price. I'd be getting this, except I opted to pull the trigger on the Absolute Edition, because I love Cooke.

Matt Wagner has spent some time creating early adventures of Batman, all of which are quite a bit of fun. Trinity is his examination of when Batman started hanging out with Superman and Wonder Woman. This is another one of those series that might have gone under the radar for Wagner fans because of the subject material, but I own the paper copies, and I like it quite a bit.

Wanna see what happens when Warren Ellis turns his own toys into evil so severe that only a trio of brave people can hope to stop them? Then JLA/Planetary is for you. I've re-read that story about half a dozen times, and it never gets old. Look for the little Easter Eggs that litter the pages of this so far out of continuity it couldn't make it back with a map story and enjoy Ellis at his best. A steal at 99 cents.

George Perez's Wonder Woman Run (Volume 2, issues 1-24). I've read almost all of this part of the series, and it's rock solid. The picture I used above is Perez's cover to issue one, and the drawings inside are just as good if not better. A lot of Perez's ideas have been ret-conned over the years, but I think they hold up pretty well. Plus you get one of the best artists in comics drawing pages upon pages of Greek architecture in his nearly inimitable style. If you don't want to drop over 20 bucks at a clip, get the first seven issues, where Perez sets the new continuity up that lasted for quite a bit of time.

Those are the ones I'd grab if I didn't own them already. For my part, I'm headed into the early days of Wonder Woman, to see what her Golden Age was like. These get a sight unseen recommendation, because cheap Golden Age comics are always worth seeing, just to know that once upon a time, almost anything was possible on the page. That's a lesson it would take decades to re-learn.

If you get any of these on my recommendation, I hope you like them! Remember, the sale ends today, so if you're going to grab any of these, do it soon.

June 24, 2011

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Digging into Digital: World of Webcomics

Believe it or not, there was a time in my life where I basically read no webcomics. Despite their existence for as long as I've been on the web, I wasn't all that interested in reading images on a screen, primarily because I had dial-up internet until essentially 2007.

Yes, I was the guy still trying to nurse his modem long after it made any sense to do so. Ironic, given my general love of technology and pathetic given I had ample opportunity to add DSL just about anytime I wanted to once it came out. Please keep the laughter to a minimum as I continue.

Sure, I knew they existed, and even read a few here and there. I'm pretty sure Sinfest was one of them, and I think Diesel Sweeties, too. If it wasn't that comic, it was one with a similar look to it. Eventually, I fell out of the habit and only read comics when I was linked to them, primarily by my friend Noah.

I started reading them again, slowly but surely, around the time I started up Panel Patter. Starting in late 2009 and continuing into 2010, I made a point of reading them, and featuring them in an ongoing feature called "Webcomic I Like." Slowly but surely, the number of webcomics I read has increased.

I didn't realize how much it had increased until I started thinking about why my reading list was so light for June, despite the fact that I felt like I was still reading a lot of comics. The answer is that I *am* reading a fair number of comics--they're just webcomics, which I don't tend to track.

As I've slowly moved towards reading more things digitally and spending more time talking to other webcomics folks on Twitter (or at least following along with their feed), I keep collecting new webcomics to try. I don't keep every one on my feeds, but I do tend to give all of the ones I hear of at least a trial run. (The big advantage to webcomics is that anyone can do it. The big disadvantage to webcomics is that anyone can do it.) After awhile, that's a lot of webcomics, and no matter how quickly you can read, keeping up with them can easily zap hours of reading time.

Not that it's a bad thing. Many of the webcomics I read are just as good if not better than things I've also read in print. I don't consider it wasted time at all. I'm always excited for new Cleopatra in Spaaaace! or Wondermark or Bug or Atomic Laundromat or Gronk or Awesome Hospital or any of the large quantity of webcomics that I read on a regular basis. (Sorry if I didn't name-check you, I just rattled these off the top of my head.)

When I start to read the well over fifty webcomic feeds I have on my list, which does not include the sketchblogs like Comic Twart, Project Rooftop, Covered, and others of that ilk, the World of Webcomics can turn into just as much of a timesink as that other WoW that involves killing elves and trolls and stuff--except that I think webcomics are a heck of a lot more entertaining!

Now, not all of those feeds are active. I tend to keep them on if I liked the comic, hoping something new will show. But as more and more artists take their wares to the web, I could easily see my webcomic reading going into three digits. After all, I've stated that my primary goal is to read more good comics. If they're happening online instead of through a print publisher, why should I care? It's reading for pleasure, regardless of the medium, and best of all, it's free (though I try to buy things from creators I like or get a sketch or something). Why is there a nagging concern that I am reading too many webcomics?

I guess part of me likes to track things, and since reading webcomics wasn't a big part of my reading, I didn't care much. But now that I've started to notice that I am reading more of them and taking more of my reading time each evening to catch up on my favorites, the fact that there's nothing really physical to track is bothering me a bit. How do you know how much you are reading in the webcomics world? Track individual strips? Track number of comics you subscribe to? Tally up the chapters? I can't think of a good system, and I am betting most people just don't care. Heck, I don't think *I* should care, but the part of me obsessed with knowing my reading habits just won't let this go.

When you join World of Warcraft, they give you a set of rules. There are no rules in the World of Webcomics. That's definitely a large part of its appeal, both to creators and to readers. I think as we move into a different world for all involved, there's going to be a need to re-examine some of the ideas we take for granted, or at least I need to do that. I've never put much stock in page counts, going back to when kids in summer reading club used to beat me because they'd read Berenstein Bears and I was reading American Civil War biographies. Now maybe it's time to worry less about how much I am reading and just read.

The World of Webcomics is a new paradigm that I think is really starting to change things. I feel glad to be a part of it now, before it becomes the defacto way new, cool artists bring their skills to the public. I think I need to just relax a bit, and see where this new world takes me. Erica will tell you I sometimes overthink things. That's probably the case here. If for some reason you aren't reading webcomics right now, try some of the one I linked to above. You're definitely in for a great ride!

How many webcomics do you follow? Do you track them? How? Let's talk about this world of webcomics together in the comments. I'm especially interested to hear from those who either work in webcomics or primarily read webcomics.

June 21, 2011

Year of Takahashi is on Hiatus

Hey all,

I am currently having difficulty getting certain out of print Takahashi volumes, which I was not anticipating, since it's not like they're all that old or from a dead publisher.

I could just start off on InuYasha, but I'd rather finish Ranma and hit up Mermaid Saga and Rumic World first. We'll see.

Anyway, thanks for all the support and I hope to pick this up again soon in a few weeks, book supply willing.

Thanks for being along for the ride, and Year of... will return soon if all goes well.

-Rob

June 19, 2011

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Sunday Readings 6-19-2011

Good Morning, and Happy Father's Day! Here are some links for your down time on this holiday Sunday...

I think this might be the most accurate portrayal of Namor from a body language perspective that I've ever seen, from Aviv Itzcovitz.

And this might be the most fun re-imagining I've seen yet on those blogs that give artists a chance to re-do classic work.

Leah Palmer Preiss has my favorite Animal Alphabet entry this week. Love the link between the animal and the letter. And how did I go so long without knowing someone is drawing the Supreme Court as animals?

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about my comics reading habits. This is an older article discussing sales chart data and how much Marvel and DC dominate it. Are their single-issue comics really that much better? What if everyone who complained about things the big two did dropped one comic each from those companies and picked up 2 indie comics to replace it? I wonder how that would change things. Might need to talk more about this another time.


On the subject of good comics, here's yet another older piece, where Brigid Alverson interviews Jim Ottoviani, which long-time readers know is a man who does great historical biography comics, with just a hint of embellishment. If you've been scared away by terrible Bluewater books, try Ottoviani's instead, and see what a good bio comic can look like.

Brigid also has a roundup of manga news for MTV Geek, which is also worth checking out.

Finally, courtesy of David Brothers, this link is for my friends Noah and Seth: An extremely awesome customized pinball table.

What are you reading about online this Sunday?

June 17, 2011

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Digging Into Digital: Two from 4 Star Studios (Horror DF #1 and Sci-Fi DF #1)

Sci-Fi Double Feature
Written by Josh Emmons and Robbi Rodriguez
Illustrated by Joe Song and Robbi Rodriguez
4 Star Studios

Horror Double Feature
Written by B. Clay Moore and Sean K. Dove
Illustrated by Ryan Browne and Sean K. Dove
4 Star Studios

The folks who created Action Double Feature are back with new stories in two other genres in this digital anthology comics. Trying to bring some of the old magic of superhero-style comics in a new manner, 4 Star Studios presents short stories with all new characters by varied creative teams. It's a great premise, and is only 99 cents an issue, so I am always up for seeing what they have to offer. Moving further away from capes-inspired work, these two issues are even better than their predecessor was, and I enjoyed that one.

First up is the sci-fi issue, featuring a lead story that, like Jeffrey Brown's Incredible Change-Bots, skewers the Transformers in loving (if a bit more heavy-handed) fashion. Our "heroes" are mad because 80s television is denied them, so they come to earth expecting to need to aid fellow robots. About as useful as an 8-track tape at first, these unlikely anachronisms just might save the day. Emmons and Song wrap all of it in a comic framing device that has perfect (if a bit predictable) timing. This story was a lot of fun, if a bit rough around the edges.

The second sci-fi story was a bit harder to get behind the concept. A reality-hopping character apparently steals from other dimensions, but we don't get a lot about what or why. Instead, Rodriguez goes for cool visuals, including some panel manipulation. This one probably needs some time to build. Maybe we'll see more intriguing things in issue two.

Horror Double Feature reaches right into the Kirby-Ditko-Ayers-and Others playbook, bringing us big bad monsters of unusual size and magical incantations to defeat horrors unspeakable. I will admit that of the three 4 Star books, this one is my favorite, but I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I love the horror genre, especially big old monsters. So basically, they went and made a comic just for me. (Not true, but it would be kinda awesome.)

Moore and Browne set up a pair of monster hunters who work together in an irreverent manner to take down creatures that don't belong in the world of humanity. In this case, it's an oversized orange gargantuan with a slight resemblance to a familiar clobberer who holds a secret that could lead to some very interesting stories. The pacing and action here is perfect for the genre, and I can't wait to read more.

If your taste for horror runs to a more literary bent, Sean K. Dove has a character for you. Evoking Dr. Strange and Ditko's world of the mystical, a young college student in the land of Lovecraft must stave off the horrors of the Elder Gods, who are none too happy about it, while also trying to keep up his social life. Like the Moore story above, I definitely want to see more of Kid Chtulhu, though I wonder if the Lovecraft Estate might have other ideas. There's a lot of appeal in a teen mystic who seems to revel in his powers, so I hope this one continues as well.

Available for both the Ipad and those of us who don't eat at Jobs' Apple via PDF, these Double Feature comics are only 99 cents and pack every bit as much punch as more expensive digital cousins from better-known publishers. Plus, they're yours to keep, if that matters in your purchasing decisions. You can pick them up here, and I highly recommend that you do!

June 15, 2011

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Baltimore Volume 1: The Plague Ships

Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Illustrated by Ben Stenbeck
Dark Horse

In the waning days of the Great War, a plague has overtaken Europe, putting the petty affairs of government on the back burner while communities struggle to survive. Making matters worse, other evils seem to have come out of the woodwork to threaten humanity's tenuous hold on the earth. Vampires lurk on the corner every night, waiting to victimize any foolish enough to show their faces.

It is a world of terror and horror, and only one man, Lord Henry Baltimore, may be able to stop it. Chased by personal demons far worse than those around him in the real world, Baltimore is on a quest to kill the vampire he holds responsible for everything. Can he manage it, with the help of a young girl seeking a better life? Or will the ghoulish remains of the original war take his life and place Baltimore in a watery grave? Before he can kill the vampire, Baltimore must face the terror of the Plague Ship.

Long-time readers of Panel Patter know that I am a big fan of Mike Mignola and Dark Horse's horror comics, so this book was an easy match for me. After almost twenty years of working with Hellboy and other stories, Mignola has a strong feel for how to balance story with suspense and time out his climactic scenes to get just the right amount of drama from them. That's definitely the case here, as Baltimore's action rises and falls like the tide around him for much of the book. Though obviously part of a longer story, volume one feels complete in and of itself. While it leaves a reader wanting more, which is always a good thing, Mignola and Golden are careful not to leave things too open ended. You can read Volume One and feel secure in the knowledge that you have finished one chronicle in a longer journey, not just part one of an epic. I tend to get a bit frustrated when longer series don't make it possible to enjoy the work in sections, so I greatly appreciate the way Baltimore is set up. I hope the future volumes carry on in this way.

Baltimore's story does echo with some familiar tones to those who are fans of the horror genre. There's the need for world-building, of course, and because we started in the middle, a slightly contrived scene is created so that Lord Baltimore can tell his origin. However, Mignola and Golden did a good job here of making a main character who doesn't fit the traditional vampire hunter mold. I really like the idea that Baltimore is set up to be an agent of Heaven, but it is not something he embraces. This is a key difference from most of these stories. Baltimore is not on a quest to save the world--he just wants to kill the monster that ruined his life. While I am sure that things will be far more complicated than this, it's a great take on the idea. At some point Baltimore will find he cannot escape his fate, and how he reacts to that knowledge will definitely drive the story into directions that will either break Baltimore or save his soul. Knowing Mignola, it could go either way.

Without giving away too much of the plot, I also liked how Baltimore is not set up as a character we are supposed to like and relate to. He is a hard man whose own decisions might have led him down this path. (You can be the judge of that when you read the book. I have my own ideas, but to speak of them would completely spoil the story.) As a result, he is not met with aid and comfort within this world, making his quest all the harder. To know the story of Lord Baltimore is to recoil in horror, to have nightmares, and to pray it never happens to you. That's the key to a good modern horror story, and the Mignola-Golden team nails it from beginning to end.

Ben Stenbeck's art does a good job of contributing to the creepy, depressing feel of the narrative in Baltimore. He's definitely inspired by the work of Mignola, but doesn't slavishly copy it. Stenbeck relies less on use of black space than Mignola, for instance, and while both have a very similar basic style, Stenbeck's characters are not quite as crisp. I like his monster designs, especially for the undead soldiers that come towards the end and make for a great climactic battle scene, and the sketchbook at the end shows how hard he worked on putting them together. It's easy for me to tell that we are in the time period of World War I, and yet I also got the impression that things had changed, which is a tricky balance that Stenbeck handles well. My only quibble with Stenbeck is his penchant for drawing his characters with blank faces. Every time we got to one of those heads that lacked even basic features, I was thrown out of the story just a bit. If there's one thing I would change in Baltimore, it would be for Stenbeck to define his characters more or use less distant shots to avoid the empty faces.

Baltimore Volume 1: The Plague Ships is a great addition to Dark Horse's horror comics line. It's a desperate world with no clear winners and seemingly insurmountable odds for the protagonist. The plotting is excellent and the story blends familiar horror tropes with new takes on typical ideas. I definitely want to read more, and I'm sure any fan of horror comics or Mike Mignola will feel the same way after reading it. You can check out a short preview from here. My guess is you'll be out to your comic book store to find the rest.

NOTE: Dark Horse was kind enough to provide a digital copy for me to review.

June 12, 2011

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Sunday Readings 6-12-11

Happy Sunday! Here are some links for your Sunday reading pleasure, all centered around folks from Heroes Con.

I finally got to meet Ben Towle at Heroes after talking to him frequently on Twitter. Here's a sample of Ben's work, complete with a theme (and a food item) close to my heart.

Ben is the mind behind the Animal Alphabet, which has reached J. This was my favorite of that letter.

The Inimitable Chris Sims was also at Heroes. Check out the awesome Jack Kirby themed sketches he got at the convention.

Daniel Govar of the comic Azure posted these redesigns for the New Mutants just before coming down to Heroes. I'm not a huge fan of the characters, but I love the conceptual work Govar does here.

Another cool guy from Artist's Alley, Joe Carroll, gives a robot a tattoo.


Enjoy your Sunday!

June 11, 2011

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Dark Rain A New Orleans Story

Written by Mat Johnson
Illustrated by Simon Gane
Vertigo

Dabny is a good man who makes a mistake and pays big for it. Emmit is not nearly as good a person, and he makes a mistake, too. Through circumstance, they both end up at the same halfway house. Dabny works hard to try and repair his life. Emmit dreams of revenge. When Hurricane Katrina presents an opportunity to score big, and Dabny's chances at regaining his life start to peter out, the two form an unlikely alliance to get back at forces that have hurt them over the years. But with the flood waters rising and private security companies enforcing their own brand of justice, this job will be anything but a Big Easy score. Can Emmit and Dabny survive? Come on down into the mire that America would rather forget and see what it takes to survive.

Though set in the modern era just a bit after the horrible Katrina tragedy, this book very much has a noir feel to it. Johnson writes a story of desperation, with characters who may have some honor left, but their general goodwill has been broken out of them. They'll do what they have to in order to make it in the world, because the usual rules don't apply to them anymore--or worse, those same rules have screwed them over so far there's no turning back.

Take Dabny, for instance. Here's a man who makes one mistake, and he's caught. Meanwhile, his old military bosses are cleaning up doing pseudo-legal work as security--basically keeping stuff safe for property owners while desperate people are squeezed into shelters. His ex won't cut him a break and very few people will help an ex-con, even one with his unique maritime talents. This caper is his only chance.

Emmit is less honorable, but you can still see how he ends up in the predicament he's in. For him, this caper is about revenge, but he's too impotent personally to enact it. So he tries to talk his way into a big score, and ends up getting into further and further trouble. Emmit can only hope to live on the backs of others, and until he runs into Dabny, his chances of ever seeing success are slim. We all know Emmit's fate, but Johnson does a great job of setting up and executing the drama.

On a larger scale, there are hundreds of side cast members in this story who represent the many, many people who were abandoned by their own country on the day Katrina happened. Taxpayers, homeowners, Americans--the whole dream might as well be a farce for them. Johnson weaves scenes of their desperation and dashed hopes in and out of the story of Dabny and Emmit, pausing just long enough for us to see what we as a nation did to these people but never so long as to turn the story into a ham-handed message book. The message is loud and clear with only a few vingettes, a tribute to Johnson's tight plotting and Gane's illustrations.

Though I was well aware of how badly things were handled in Katrina, seeing it on the page in the form of a graphic novel really sends the message home. Scenes like the one where the suburban police refuse to allow the homeless and overcrowded evacuees show the cruelty of humanity in a country that's supposed to be a beacon to the world. Pages where the flood rushes into a house or people cry desperately to be saved from the tops of buildings tug at the heart of the reader because we know it actually happened.

This may be a fictional story, but the background is all too real.

What really makes this all work, however, is that Johnson and Gane weave all this into the primary story. All of the horror of Katrina is exposed without any of it feeling gratuitous. Our characters move around this world so we can see the problems of the flooding, but the flooding gives the plot its central idea--the heist of a bank that's underwater. I'm really impressed by how well it all fits in, and I definitely want to seek out more of Johnson's work.

If there's one problem with Dark Rain, it's that the downward course of the narrative doesn't stay down from beginning to end. Without giving away the ending, I will say I was a bit disappointed that things turn out better than they should, given the feel of the book. But there are a lot worse sins than giving your book a note of hope--especially since Dabny in particular represents the voice of those who were silenced in the wake of the flood. Like New Orleans itself, these characters will struggle to the end to make their lives better.

I thought Dark Rain was an excellent morality play that doesn't preach so much as show the bald facts. As long as you are not the type of person who thinks we should let our fellow countrymen die in the face of adversity, you should find a lot to like about this noirish story. It's yet another quality book from Vertigo, showing they can do more than just traditional comics. Grab this one if you can, it's well worth it.
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Quick Hits: Cat Paradise Volume 4

Written by Yuji Iwahara
Illustrated by Yuji Iwahara
Yen Press

It's time to start the battle! As the barrier finally opens, the defenders of Matabi Academy must desperately find a way to stop the Spirit Animals from destroying humanity. But how can they do that when there's dissension in the ranks? Learn the secret history of the banning of the Spirit Animals and prepare for the final fight in...Cat Paradise.

After getting steadily better, this volume takes a major turn for the worse. The plot is muddied more than a river after a rainfall and by the end, I wasn't able to tell exactly what was going on. There's some pointless fighting thrown into the mix and Iwahara's artwork has far too many inks on it, giving the whole thing an extremely claustrophobic feel that doesn't help the story any.

The Spirit Animals we see here are pretty cool, but abilities are being added to characters at the drop of a hat and the protagonist, Yumi, is basically a non-entity in this one, which is a major mistake. Why did we look at all this from her perspective if she's not going to be a player in the final drama? Yumi's just not interesting enough to care about if she can't participate. We get more of her backstory, but it felt shoehorned. There's already infodumps aplenty, and the ones with the Spirit Animals are far more interesting.

If Cat Paradise had more than one volume to go, I'd have given up by now, but there's only one more, so I'll see it to its end. Unless volume five is amazing, however, you can give this series a pass. There's a lot of manga out there and I don't see the need to take time to read this one, even if it's short.

June 10, 2011

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Digging Into Digital: More Free Comics at Comixology (Box 13, Intrepid Escapegoat, Imaginary Boys)

Digging into Digital is where I talk about comics from an online perspective. Last week, I looked at three issue one comics that were available as free samples on Comixology. Once of the nice things about the digital comics world is that creators can opt to give out some of their material for free, in the hopes that you might be interested in more. Today, I'm going to look at three more.

As I mentioned before, I think this is a great use of the potential of digital comics. Give me a sample to hook me, and then charge a nominal fee to continue. (99 cents is the sweet spot for this, but even two dollars isn't bad, but then you have to be really good.) Now let's get to my thoughts on these three samples. Will I opt to digitally dine again on Box 13, Intrepid Escapegoat, and Imaginary Boys?

Box 13 #1 (of a 113 page Graphic Novel): Dan Holliday is a book author who has dedicated his life to uncovering the secrets of MKULTRA. The thing is, those secrets may very well involve him as well! This first issue by David Gallaher(writer) and Steve Ellis(artist) is very much a set-up for a larger, longer story, ending on one heck of a cliffhanger which definitely encourages anyone interested to pony up the $5.00 to read the rest of the story in a collected digital edition. For some reason, the sequel is entirely free. Not quite sure I understand the logic there. The art is quite sharp, but the sample itself is really small. I wish there had been more available to see if I care about Holliday and his world. Will I keep reading? Maybe, but this one is not a high priority for me.

The Intrepid Escapegoat #1 (ongoing, I believe): Written and Illustrated by Brian Smith, this cleverly named comic is an all ages story featuring a goat that has Houdini-like abilities and supernatural adventures, which is of course not very Houdini-like. In this introductory story, the Escapegoat faces betrayal at the hands of his snake assistant, battles ancient Egyptian curses, and manages to team up with the reincarnation of Isis, who is a petulant child with magical powers. A solid romp from beginning to end, I was completely entertained, even if there were some clunky moments and a few cliched ideas here and there. Will I keep reading? At the right price, no question, but I worry this is more likely to be a more expensive download, if it's available at all. As of this writing, there is no issue 2 on Comixology. Worth grabbing issue one, however, regardless, especially if there's a young reader in your house.

Imaginary Boys #1 (ongoing, 4 issues so far): Written and Illustrated by Carlos Lopez Bermudez. Another of the Zuda comics ends up here, this time a work from an international artist, Mr. Bermudez. A young girl who dies finds out that there's no one path to heaven, and there are plenty of people who'd like to get a fresh young soul. This issue sets up the world and the premise quite well, and give strong hints that all is not as it seems, an idea that isn't new, of course, but to me leads to good storytelling. I love the quirky art on this one, and battles with saints and demons always appeals to me, especially when they are this self-aware. As far as I know this is an active comic, or at least has more to post, as the most recent issue just went up a few weeks ago. Will I keep reading? Definitely. This was the best of the three comics I reviewed today.

What have you sampled digitally recently, either on Comixology or elsewhere? Tell me about it so I can check it out! Also, if you have a comic that you're producing digitally, please get in touch. I'd be happy to check it out here in Digging into Digital!

June 9, 2011

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My Heroes Con 2011 Purchases

At left is a picture of my Heroes Con purchases from Saturday, the only day I was at the show. I concentrated on minis, as you can no doubt tell.

Here's a complete rundown, in no particular order.

Books

Centifolia 1 and 2, with slip cover, by Stuart Immonen
Skullkickers Volume 1 by Jim Zubb, Edwin Huang, and Chris Stevens
Beards of Our Forefathers by David Malki!

Mini-Comic Anthologies

FLUKE 2009 by Various
FLUKE 2010 by Various
FLUKE 2011 by Various
Dollar Bin Anthology 2 by Various
Dollar Bin Anthology 3 by Various
Dollar Bin Anthology 4 by Various
Sketch Charlotte by Various

Mini-Comic Madness

Snooker by Ben Towle
Rockall A Selkie Story by Amelia Onorato
The Apocrapha of Amelia by Amelia Onorato
Stickybeak by Ben Juers
Zig Zag Mish Mash by J. Chris Campbell
Fantastic Tales of the Unknown #0 by Chris Gervais
Snow by Night Chapter 1 by Eric Menge and Brittany Michel
Destiny of the Dragon Prologue by Troy Hasbrouk and Rob Porter
Dave Hendrick's Short Shark Schlock by Various
Dharbin 1-2 Collected Edition by Dustin Harbin
Animal Control Special Creatures Unit by Rob Anderson, Leandro Panganiban, and Steve Bird
Rex Zombie Killer 0 by Rob Anderson and DaFu Yu
Lincoln Franklin Ghost Hunters MMXLL Book 1 by Jesse H Mead and Jacob Montgomery
Lincoln Franklin Ghost Hunters MMXLL Book 2 by Jesse H Mead and Jacob Montgomery
Lincoln Franklin Ghost Hunters MMXLL Book 3 by Jesse H Mead and Jacob Montgomery
Silver Comics #1 by Various
Unstoppable Tough Girl 1 by Bryan Mon and Merrill Hagan
The Clairvoyant by Peppermint Monster
A Brief History of the Grand Canyon by Ryan Estrada, Gray Gunter, and Chris Hammer
Sad Little Stories: My ABCs by Gray Gunter, John Campbell, Kurt Wood, Ryan Estrada, and Nick Edwards
Other People You May Know by Gray Gunter, Thor Fjalarsson, and Zach Bassett
Wolves by Becky Cloonan
#Rockingsohard by Shannon Smith
Brush and Pen by Shannon Smith
Miriam Issue 1 by Rich Tommaso
Monster Movie Manual by Keith Yonai

Whew! That's a lot of comics! Guess I've got my reading work cut out for me! Oh the torture, I tell you!!!

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Necromicon

Written by William Messner-Loebs
Illustrated by Andrew Ritchie
Boom! Studios

Henry, a foreign exchange student at Miskatonic University finds it rather hard going until his Arabian heritage is useful in translating a particular book called the Necronomicon for a cabal of people who think there are secrets to be had that man was not meant to know--but should.

As our young hero is drawn further into this world of sheer horror, he has only two true friends: a jock with an eye for adventure and a young Jewish woman who is both intelligent and beautiful--and in love with the jock. Can the three of thme decipher the mysteries of the strange book before monsters take over all of Miskatonic--and perhaps the world?

I picked up Boom!'s Cthuhlu Tales not all that long ago, and liked it well enough to give one of their other Mythos books a try. This was the one on the library shelf and looked like it didn't require reading any past books in the world that Boom! has created. I remembered Messner-Loebs as being a solid writer as well, so this looked to be as good as any a place to jump on board and see if I wanted to go back and start reading the others.

If they are anything as good as Necronomicon, I am totally hooked.

Despite being hamstrung a bit by the artwork of Ritchie, whose character designs tend to be both distorted and blob-like, Messner-Loeb's story is quite solid. We meet a narrator who seems sane enough and grounded by his father and his faith. As time goes on, however, the corruption of the Necronomicon and the Elder Gods falls upon him, so that by the end, we can easily question the soundness of his thinking, a key element for the plot to work for the reader.

I also like the way that Messner-Loebs cleverly uses the racism and bigotry of the era to solidly place this story within its time period and make the characters far more likely to do bad and/or stupid things. While it may be off-putting for some to read some of the dialog, keep in mind that we're talking about a time period when such comments were openly expressed (instead of being covertly hidden) and such feelings would definitely impact on how these characters interact with each other. I give him a lot of credit for recognizing that and making it part of the story.

While there is certainly a lot of horror, death, and madness within Necronomicon, it is also at heart a book about the friendship of Henry, Maxie, and Rachel. None of them quite fit in this world, and as a result, they are drawn together but cannot escape the reality of the times or the insanity of the Necronomicon and everything surrounding it. In the end, it basically breaks them, and even the survivors are forever changed, forever reminded of the terrible nature of the Mythos world.

That, I think, is what makes Necronomicon better than some other Mythos-based stories I've read. We certain are there for the Lovecraftian elements, but they don't exist in a vacuum. Messner-Loebs uses them as a base and tells a good story. Sometimes I think writers think anything can be cool if you add an Elder God or two, but that's not true at all. You have to make people care about those who are caught in the deadly web of despair and deceit. Messner-Loebs gets that, and it shows.

As I mentioned above, I really do wish I liked the art better on this one. Ritchie's work is too formless for my taste, taking emotion and thrill out of the book. He looks like he's going for a bit of a Mignola vibe, but the results are off, as though the Hellboy creator's inks got caught in the rain. Maybe Ritchie draws like that here to give a sense of decay, but I wasn't able to get into it at all. That was especially a shame when we dealt with the horrors of the worlds of the Elder Gods. So much potential muddied up by vague renderings! I'm hoping for better in other Mythos books.

Necronomicon was one of the best horror books I've read in awhile, and I'm definitely looking forward to more. I can't speak for its faithfulness to the Mythos proper, which believe it or not I've never actually read. As a story however, despite some art issues, this book is really, really good. If you are a fan of creepy comics, put this one on your list. You won't regret it--except perhaps in your nightmares...

June 6, 2011

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Twin Spica Volume 1

Written by Kou Yaginuma
Illustrated by Kou Yaginuma
Vertical

Imagine a world in which Japan is a major player in the world of space exploration. Now imagine a horrible tragedy befalls their program, making the Challenger explosion look like a fender bender. This is the world in which Asumi lives, yet there is still hope for those, like her, who want to explore the stars. A new space program is beginning, but getting into it will be tougher than she can imagine and involves bringing up parts of her past that Asumi may not even be aware of. Join us on a voyage of discovery that is...Twin Spica.

I think Vertical might have the corner on the market on manga that is seinen but doesn't feel like the seinen we usually see in an English translation. This is the story of a girl facing her fears and dealing with the jealousies and friendships involved in being a teenager, which is usually more shojo fare. However you want to slice the marketing, this is a very good manga that captured my interesting right away.

From the first moment we meet Asumi, the reader knows she has a problem. Since this is set in the real world, a girl who talks to a humanoid lion is no ordinary girl. (The secret behind the lion is a clever one, and I won't reveal it here.) She's far more determined than the usual schoolgirl heroine (a reason why this is for an older audience, perhaps?) and refuses to let anything stop her from achieving her goal. Asumi's probably too small, possibly too weak, and has a definite psychological issue, but yet I can't help but believe that she's going to find a way to reach her goal. Whether reaching it will satisfy some of her demons is another story entirely.

Despite the somewhat lighthearted nature of the story so far (a teen overcoming obstacles to make it in the world), there are definitely some dark undercurrents that give the story depth. Yaginuma's characters are complex, with problems that lurk just below the surface, waiting to come out. Asumi's companions are flawed, and those flaws will either help the space mission--or doom it to yet another failure, like the one that came before.

There is a lot of setup in this first volume, so it's hard to tell quite where the story is going. Vertical includes two short stories that follow the same concept, but I don't think either is a real blueprint for where we are going. I loved the first pilot story, which I think is one of the better short stories I've read in a manga collection. The second is a nice variation on a ghost story, with Asumi caught between the worlds of the living and the dead. Both show that Yaginuma's plotting ability is quite strong, so we as readers should be in for a treat in the longer story.

One of the things I really liked about this first volume is Yaginuma's use of camera angles when drawing. Some manga stories are pitched pretty straightforward, with a static view of the action. Instead of this, Yaginuma keeps his figures on edge, tilting the viewer's eye by positioning the bodies in such a way that there is a lot more implied movement and stress. Though the drawings are clearly in the style of manga we've come to expect from Japan, their placement and use is more varied than I tend to see in the Japanese comics that I read.

I'm not trying to read a lot of new manga series this year since I have so many to complete right now. Twin Spica, however, is well worth adding to the list. With complex characters, excellent art, and a compelling story about the desire to reach your dreams no matter what the cost, Twin Spica is a must read for both manga fans and those who still look up at the night sky with a sense of wonder. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more.

June 5, 2011

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Some Heroes 2011 Suggestions for Day Three

Greetings from Charlotte! I had a wonderful time at Heroes Con yesterday, and if I had more money in my comics budget, I'd come back and buy more! Thanks to everyone involved for a wonderful time.

I'll be doing a longer report later, but before I hit the road, I wanted to highlight a few things that I think folks should do/buy if they will be at Heroes today. And really, if you are within a short drive of Charlotte and you are a comics fan, get down here and spend your Sunday afternoon with some of the best people in the industry.

Get some sketches! I never did a lot with sketches until this year, and now that I've started, I'm totally hooked. If you want to go upscale, you can get plenty of sketches from the biggest names in comics this weekend. Prefer (as I do) to generally stay small press? Just about anyone with a mini-comic is willing to take five minutes to doodle something for you. Either way, you're sure to be entertained and come home with great memories and conversation.

Sit in on the webcomics panels. My biggest regret is that I won't get to stay for the webcomic panels being held today, but the alternative is getting home sometime around "Oh God I have to work Monday o'clock" so I am doing the sensible thing and going home. However, if you are at Heroes today, please listen to everyone from Chris Sims to Joey Weiser talk about the craft of webcomics.

Grab fliers from the webcomics folks. Speaking of webcomics, there are quite a few people at Heroes this weekend who are working hard to display their work on the web. While you might not be sure enough about a particular webcomic to buy things from them today (but you should if you can or it looks cool!), most of them have fliers for their comics that you can take with you and check out later. I've found plenty of great comics that way that are now regulars in my RSS feed.

Pick up some mini-comics anthologies. There are several good candidates here, and all of them are very affordable. Mini-comic anthologies are a great way to test the waters and see if you like these really, really small press efforts. My personal recommendations this year based on my purchases yesterday are the FLUKE anthologies and the Dollar Bin anthologies. They contain a wide variety of styles to let you see what these under-the-radar folks can do. Some of them are even at the show, so if you want more, you can find them!

Take 20 bucks and take a chance. Budget twenty dollars today to use to buy stuff that looks interesting but isn't in your comfort zone. Maybe it's a sketchbook. Maybe it's a kid's book, to see what all-ages is all about. Maybe it's to get a sketch. Maybe it's a mini-comic with a hand-drawn cover. For some of you, that means buying an Image book. Whatever it is, do it! Live a little! Experience unfamiliar comics--you might just find something you'll come to love.

Heroes is a wonderful show. Whatever you do, you'll have a blast. Enjoy your Sunday, and hopefully, I'll see you all next year!

June 3, 2011

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Digging Into Digital: Exploring Free Comics at Comixology (Days Missing, Devil's Wake, Dogs of Mars)

Welcome to the first Digging into Digital post! Digging into Digital is where I talk about comics from an online perspective. Today I'm going to look at three issues that are available for free at Comixology. Once of the nice things about the digital comics world is that creators can opt to give out some of their material for free, in the hopes that you might be interested in more.

I am exactly the type of person this approach appeals to. Give me a chance to see if I like what you do, and I guarantee you that if I do, I'll start handing you money. I have had a great time reading these and picking which ones I want to keep reading. (Hint: 99 cents is a big incentive to keep me reading.) Without further ado, here are three that I sampled, and my thoughts.

Days Missing 1 (of 5). Written by Phil Hester, Illustrated by Frazier Irving. Archaia. From what I understand, this is Archaia's first Comixology offering. The premise is that a being of power watches over the earth, making subtle changes over the course of a day, but leaving no trace of his existence. In this issue, our mysterious stranger helps find a cure for a deadly pandemic and learns that even those with great power must deal with loss. It's a cool concept, but Hester over-writes the story, being needlessly morose and placing entirely too many monologues into almost every panel. Will I keep reading? Probably not. Just a bit too heavy-handed for me, despite the neat idea.

Devil's Wake 1 (of 3). Written and Illustrated by Dean Hsieh. Zuda. It looks like a lot of Zuda comics (and Zuda pitches) ended up on Comixology, which makes perfect sense. Omaha is a monster bounty hunter in a world that's gone to hell. She's just trying to eek out an existence, but in this kill or be killed world, no one can be trusted. Will she find help or harm? Can even her sword-swinging skills save her when it seems monsters aren't the one ones without humanity? This would normally not be my cup of tea, but Hsieh's artwork is quite good, and I like the main character Omaha enough that I care about how she fares in this bleak world where no one seems to have retained any sense of dignity. It helps a lot that the series is both short and finished. Will I keep reading? I'm willing to pay to finish Omaha's story.

Dogs of Mars 1 (ongoing). Written by Tony Trov, Christian Weiser, and Johnny Zito. Illustrated by Paul Maybury. Self-Published. Why do people keep trying to explore Mars in comic books? Don't they know by now it's only going to lead to danger? This sci-fi horror comic from the prolific Trov and Zito team is mostly set-up for a larger plot, as we meet characters, realize something's not right, and disaster strikes. The story itself is not the most original, but I liked the dialog, the way the characters are not meant to be inherently good, and the fact that there's a good chance the monsters are going to win. Will I keep reading? I wish I knew what the end point was on this, but yeah, I'll be back for more.

Read any good free samples I should try? Have some thoughts on these after reading them? Drop me a comment!

June 2, 2011

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Heroes 2011 Preview: Creators You Should Visit

So after a lot of thinking back and forth, I finally decided this week that I am going to go to Heroes, which I hear tell is one of the best comic shows on the east coast. This will be my first trip there, so I don't have a lot of advice for anyone new in terms of how best to enjoy the show. It's being held in Charlotte, North Caroline from June 3rd to the 5th, and if you like comics (and why are you reading this if you don't like comics?), then you should probably go!

While I don't know the show itself, I am very familiar with some of the creators who will be there, and as a service to those who want to seek out good comics that might otherwise fall under the radar, here's a handy guide to help you. My apologies in advance to anyone I missed--there's just so many good comics to be had this weekend that I'm bound to overlook a few here in the mix.

Without further ado, here's a sampling of creators to find when you make it to Charlotte this weekend:

Carolyn Belefski won't be at the show in person, but she has an an entry in the Dollar Bin Anthology 4. Carolyn runs the Curls webcomic and I've previously reviewed these three anthologies in which she was a part.

Evan Dorkin is one of the brains behind the cool Beasts of Burden series, which is one of the few talking animals-in-a-human-world comics I actually like. I just picked up the new hardcover, and I can't wait to read it. Definitely a person you want to say hello to at Heroes.

Dustin Harbin was, I think, the first person who I supported a Kickstarter project for. Harbin made a beautiful Sunday Comics-like creation with the funds, and I got a cool sketch out of the deal. He's got a new collection ready for Heroes. No reviews on Panel Patter just yet, but he's a cool guy and you should go see what he has to offer.

Dusty Higgins and Van Jenson from the excellent Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer will also be in town, so if you have no yet picked up their book (shame on you), now's the time to do it at the show! I will be grabbing the sequel, if they have it.

Roger Langridge has done the best job, hands down, with the Muppets since the death of Jim Henson. He's off the book now, but the man has so many other sides to his creative personality. Go see what he's up to, particularly his new Snark book from Kaboom!

Mike Maihack, the creator behind Cleopatra in Spaaaace!, will be on hand along with some of his web-comicing friends. I've been a Cleopatra reader since the start, and he's liable to have a book or so available to help you get started with the series.

David Malki! and Wondermark probably don't need me to promote them, but I will anyway. I love the quirky combination of 19th Century-style art and 21st Century-style problems. Yes, you can read all of Wondermark on the internet for free, but the book collections have nifty extras!

Paul Maybury is the illustrator of Dogs of Mars, a new comic I picked up on Comixology. There's a brief review of it tomorrow here on Panel Patter, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he has going on at Heroes this weekend.

Mike Norton does nice superhero work for DC and Marvel, but I know him as the guy doing the webcomic Battlepug, which is a rather twisted story that as of yet, does not significantly involve pugs but does involve homicidal seals. Either way, he's another person worth checking out.

Jeff Parker is one of the nicest guys working in superhero comics, and he has great non-capes projects as well. Criminally underrated in my opinion, he's also a great conversationalist at shows. Here's my Underground review, which I named my best comic of 2010.

Jim Rugg hails from my old neck of the woods, Pittsburgh, but if you don't like Pittsburgh, don't hold that against him. Rugg is probably best known (and rightfully so) for Afrodesiac, but he's also the guy who worked on Street Angel, a personal favorite, as well as the Plain Janes series from late, lamented Minx.

Ben Towle is not only a fine conversationalist on Twitter, he's a fine cartoonist as well. I loved an early work of his, Farewell, Georgia, and I'm looking forward to seeing what else I can get from him at the show. Please note he's doing 1980s Marvel-DC sketches on request. Make him use those reference books!

Joey Weiser was one of the first indie creators whose work I really got into. His work has an all-ages feel to it, and that's not a bad thing at all because the stories work on multiple levels. He'll have the remaining Mermin's on hand, along with other things. Perhaps Cavemen in Space or even the Ride Home.

These are just some of the folks who will be at Heroes this weekend. I'm looking forward to seeing them at the show and catching up while I give them some well-deserved cash and spend time finding new artists to rave about here on Panel Patter. If you're near the Charlotte area, why don't you join me?
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Nana Volumes 10 and 11

Written by Ai Yazawa
Illustrated by Ai Yazawa
Viz

Kaboom! The Japanese tabloids hit the big time as the secret links between Blast and Trapnest are revealed to the public at last--well, some of them, anyway. How will both bands handle the fallout? Meanwhile, Nana K deals with her new life as the soon-to-be wife of a famous singer and ponders the path her life has taken. With so much going on in Trapnest's world, does Takumi have anytime for his new family?

There's hardly enough time to consider anything, however, as both bands rush to deal with the new situations these revelations placed them in. Blast must now sink or swim in the cutthroat world of the music industry while Trapnest tries not to be caught up in the tidal wave the Nana O-Ren relationship created. Bonds between lovers grow tighter--but are they stretched to the breaking point? It's all happening so fast in the world of...Nana.

I have to admit, these are the first two volumes of this series that I actually did not care for at all. Despite the whirlwind pace at which the characters move, it felt like almost nothing happened. Nana O and Ren can't live without each other, but Nana O also misses Nana K. Nana K thinks she's making a life for herself, but she's really just allowing others to make choices for her--a story we've seen a lot of at this point. It just feels entirely too familiar to me, and not in a good way. While there are definitely good little elements to be had here and there, it's just not adding up in these two trades.

I've mentioned before that the appeal of this series is to see what happens when people make bad decisions in their lives. Just like when my friends and I were younger, the Nanas and their friends act on emotion and what seems like a good idea at the time. To make that work, though, we need cause and effect. Right now, the story seems stuck on "cause" mode. I'm ready for one of the bands to tank at the record store or have a breakup or a drug overdose--something, anything, to get to the effects the actions of the past few volumes have set in motion.

For me, these two volumes were stuck too far in the minutia of the lives of the characters. Takumi meets Nana K's family, but nothing really dramatic happens. Both bands are booked to do the same show on the same night, and while offstage there is some drama, it's the same kind of drama we've had before. Nothing earth-shattering goes on at the show itself. We needed something, anything to happen, to break this stillness that's set into the manga.

Even the introduction of new characters hasn't helped all that much. Two "older" women vie for the affections of Nabu, but it feels more like they are shoe-horned into the plot. The road managers for the bands are funny, but they aren't going to cause dramatic change, either. It's like Yazawa has built all this setup and isn't sure when to light the fuse. Obviously, I'll find out when she determines the time is right, but I am desperately hoping its soon.

Nana has been one of my favorite long-running mangas, but it's wearing out a bit. When you're starting to hope the joke plot of the bonus page (a locked room murder) happens in the real story just so there would be some action, that's a problem. I'll see what the next few volumes bring, but my confidence in this one is fading. Hopefully that will change with volumes 12 and 13.

June 1, 2011

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52 Pick Up: Some Thoughts on DC's Announced Changes

There’s nothing more fun (fun being a relative word here) than logging onto Twitter, seeing an almost unbelievable announcement, and having the words, “DC just did what now?” leave your lips, making those around you wonder just what it is you’re talking about.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only person to have this experience at some point yesterday, when the news leaked that DC comics is doing two major things as students begin their return to school: Re-numbering all their comics to number one and becoming the first major comics publisher to go to a simultaneous digital and physical copy release for their comics line.

Some folks are really upset about the first part of this announcement, but that’s a tempest in a teapot. Comics are re-numbered all the time, and other than making for confusing organization of long boxes (more on long boxes and their plethora of disadvantages momentarily), is not really an issue at all. DC might very well go back to original numbering, ala Marvel, and honestly the only folks who will care are a few purists who really need to get a life. Given all of the changes to characters from Aquaman to Zatanna over the years at DC, arguing for a historic legacy that goes back to the 1940s is just silly. These are not your great-grandfather’s comics, and pretending they are by sharing a numbering scheme is wishful thinking and misplaced anger. Unless, of course, you want to give Batman his gun back and turn Superman into a really, really powerful kangaroo. (Both of these would be better ideas than Azrael and Electric Superman, come to think of it…)

So if you’re looking to me for thoughts on the re-numbering, you’ve come to the wrong place.

What the new number ones do imply, however, is that DC is starting over with the characters and giving readers a chance to jump on. This may not end up being entirely the case, but I can’t help but think it’s part of the grand scheme of things. Number ones are always a chance to try again, and here DC is going with 52 first issues.

If I trusted DC to do this right, I’d be excited. I know there are plenty of people who like these iconic characters (or perhaps know them from their cartoon counterparts which are sadly being written far better than the comics they sprung from) who, like me, more or less jumped off the DC bandwagon years ago and might be inclined to jump back on now that things are looking to have a fresh start.

It’s hard not to see that Lee JLA, with Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg (I’d have preferred J’ohnn, but I understand why Cyborg is a better choice), and not feel a rush. THAT is the Justice League of America, just as the Avengers need Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man in order to truly feel like an Avengers comic. It would be awesome if DC’s restart of their titles also meant a chance for old readers to come back and see stories that are, in the words of one of my twitter friends, actually fun and heroic while new readers saw a version of these characters that was more in line with Batman: The Brave and the Bold than something more closely resembling a torture fetish magazine.

There’s only one problem: Look at who is putting this all together. I’m afraid I don’t have any confidence that Geoff Johns, who writes really good comic books that I personally don’t much like, is capable of doing anything other than the string of hyper-violent, splash-page filled comics that he’s been bringing to the DC world for almost a decade now.

As I told someone else recently, I’d be a lot happier about these changes if the people who were going to take over in September weren’t the same old crew. I like Grant Morrison, but I don’t care for comic after comic where villains eat faces or lobotomize their victims and I especially don’t like it when it’s Batman in the title role. Dark stories are fine, but make them good dark stories. Johns turned the Green Lanterns into militarized killers, making them the fascists that Oliver Queen always said they were. Along the way, he gave us characters who vomit blood. This is not good storytelling, but this is the man entrusted to reboot DC comics. You’ll excuse me if this part of the plan doesn’t fill me with confidence.

Once in a while, darkness and violence are needed. Put in the right context (Brubaker’s Sleeper or Waid’s Irredeemable or Vertigo’s DC’s Constantine) it works just fine. But we’ve seen so much of this senseless violence from DC (and Marvel) that I’m just tired of it. Ripping off limbs and threatening to do physical harm to female characters is the new Kryptonite. It’s an idea that’s so played that all but the most hard-core fanboys roll their eyes at it, when they aren’t outright disgusted.

I read plenty of violent comics, dark comics, mature comics, whatever you want to call them. What they share in common, however, is the quality of the storytelling. Messner-Loebs does a great job with Boom!’s Lovecraft world. There’s all sorts of violence and gore, but it aids the story. It’s not there to shock, it’s there to reinforce the narrative. That’s a difference I don’t think Johns and his ilk at DC can make, and that’s going to harm this reboot. Robert Kirkman can go from ripping out eyeballs in Walking Dead to slaughtering planets in Invincible to the cutest all-ages material like Super Dinosaur. I don’t think DC’s main set of writers can do that.

I really wish we would see a new set of writers coming on board with this change. It’s time to stop the one-upmanship of gore and violence and shock. This reboot is a chance to try telling stories, and whether they’re violent or all-ages, I want them to appeal to more than the small, roughly 50,000 or so people who keep asking for more of the same. With Johns at the head of the wheel, I don’t see this happening. I don’t think these new number one issues will give us a way to get new readers. I’d love to be proven wrong.

The biggest change, however, is the move to same-day digital. This is the one where DC brings the elephant in from the living room and dumps it on the head of single-issue comics retailers. As if the idea of 52 first issues is not daunting enough, now Dc is giving readers a chance to pick up their comics on an electronic device instead of at the comics shop, with no waiting. Previously, there has been at least some delay for most books, meaning that those who have to have the latest capering need to go to the store to get it. Not so, for DC books after August.

If you are going to spend a lot of time analyzing DC’s move, this is the place to do it. Since the 1980, comic book stores have been the place to go to get your comic fix. But now that we live in a world where downloading a comic is almost as easy as downloading an e-mail attachment and applications like Comixology make viewing those comics as good of an experience as reading a paper version*, the business model was bound to change at some point. The thing that caught us all by surprise was the idea that “at some point” became “in a few months.” Not even the most digitally inclined people could have predicted that DC or any other major publisher would make such a move this quickly.

DC has a strong presence on the Comixology app, and is not restricted to Ipad/Ipod only. Either they are taking an enormous chance or something in their existing sales tells them that going digital will help their bottom line. And understand, that’s what this move is all about. Comics retailers can be unhappy all they want, but if the average mid-range DC book goes from selling 25,000 copies to 40,000 copies by adding digital and it wipes out several comic book shops in the process, well, frankly DC just doesn’t care, and I don’t know that it should, either. I’m sorry if that seems harsh to those who work on the retail side of the industry, but this is a business, and DC should be thinking about how to sell more comics and get more readers, not how to ease the pain for those working retail.

Comic shops were a great idea, but I think readers are moving past them. People want trade paperbacks so they can read complete stories. They can get those in bookstores or online. Writers are telling tales by the arc, not by the issue, with rare exception. Individual comics are going so far up in price that it’s not value for the money.

Space is another consideration. I had 27 longboxes in my attic at one point in time. 27. Now with the age of digital comics, I can have 270. Or 2700. I’m sorry that there are people who will lose their jobs as a result, but I can’t be a museum for comic books. If I can get good stories for two or three dollars and be able to hop online to access them anytime I want, I’m a very happy customer. I’m back into the buying habit again. That’s what DC wants and needs, and clearly they think (as I do) that moving to simultaneous digital is the way to do it.

Now will they hook me in particular? As I said above, probably not, given who’s running the show. But do they have a better chance by allowing me to go digital if I like what I see? They sure do, and I’m betting there are thousands of potential me-like people out there, maybe even tens of thousands. Why not give it a try? This is a low-risk (might lose sales from closed shops), high reward (might get many, many new readers) decision for them. This gives them a leg up on Marvel as well, and I’m sure that was part of the thought process.

Giving fans a chance to buy digital comics legally the day they hit paper is a great idea, and those decrying it as the end of “the way things always have been” might as well lament payphones for all the good it will do. (One also should ask each of these people to prove they’ve never been to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Target.) Paper will be there for those who want it, but stores that focused on comics only are going to need to consider trying other avenues, such as more regular books, more events, more sales, adding gaming nights or something to keep going. It won’t be the end of the world for retailers to adapt and change. The last comic book store I frequented was already doing that, by adding more signings in-store and taking two thirds of their space for trade paperbacks.

Digital comics and DC’s move to simultaneous release will not kill paper comics. They might change the way stories are told (just as trades have impacted on single issues), but for those wanting the feel of floppies, I don’t think we’re in danger of losing them anytime soon. Why anyone would want them is beyond me, but since my feeling is that this move by DC is all about choice and increasing market share, they would be stupid to cut off those who like paper better. At worst, there will be (and should be) a price difference, with those wanting a paper copy paying more. Unless DC opts to go the New York Times route, where a paper subscription is inexplicably cheaper.

The industry will survive adding digital comics, and it might even thrive a bit when the barriers to participation are lowered. There are a lot of potential negatives to the digital comics world, but that’s not my point here. What I’m trying to get across is that this is not the end of the world, it’s a beginning. Before condemning the whole thing, open your mind to what good may come of it. (Off the top of my head, two come to mind: Less printing costs mean a better chance of low-selling titles to continue and the ability to vary prices so that less popular titles can still exist, if readers pay a bit more to get them.) I say that as a person who is not all that high on the quality of DC comics, keep in mind. If I can find positives, then they must be on to something.

I could go on for ages about the different things this change by DC could mean. As we get closer and details are clearer, I’m sure many will do so and do it better than I can. My main point is this: All three parts of this plan (reboot, renumber, re-market) are a great move for DC, a great move for comics in general, and none of it is irreversible. (Not even the comic shops. If the economy calls for it, shops can return where they previously closed.) Sure there are reasons to be concerned, especially about the quality of the reboot, but this is not the end of the world. Far from it. These changes might even put the comics world on the cutting edge instead of picking up the rear. Given the science fiction nature of a good portion of the medium, that would be a nice change of pace.

*Opinions will vary, of course, but I’ve read Irredeemable both ways and the only difference I can see is that I can’t take the Comixology version in the bathtub.