October 31, 2011

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10 Days of Halloween Horror 10: Horror I liked in 2011

Don't Tell Ditko About This!

Welcome to Day Ten of the 10 Days of Halloween Horror 2011!  We'll be featuring horror-related reviews right up until the big day!  You can find the Halloween Horror posts for Panel Patter here, and don't forget to check out the Book Stew for book-book horror, too!

Today Panel Patter's gonna pack as much horror as possible into one day!

I thought it might be fun to talk a bit about some of the horror comics I read this year and give them one last plug for the year.  These are things that may or may not make my end of the year lists, but certainly qualify as solid horror works!

Creepy Collections

Here are some books that haunted my days, and should haunt your nights:
  • I didn't have enough to say about Robert Kirkman's The Astounding Wolf-Man, but it's an interesting take on the idea.  The plot is designed to fit into a super hero world, while keeping the horror aspects in a different way from, say, the Marvel 1970s books.  It's extremely violent, of course, but I enjoyed it.
  • Cthulhu Tales 2 and 3 were some of the best comics I read in the horror genre.  Both have reviews here on the blog, the latter as part of the Halloween Horror series.
  • Necronomicon was written by William Messner-Loebs, one of the contributors to Cthulhu Tales, and this expanded take on the Mythos is just as good, if not better, than his short works in the collections.  This also got a review earlier in the year, and is highly recommended.
  • I'm not sure if others would count Kill Shakespeare as horror, but I do.  There are witches, magic, and other horror elements in the story, taken straight from the Bard's own books.  Great stuff!  I can't wait to read the second half of the story soon!
  • Beasts of Burden show that Hellboy isn't the only Dark Horse comic that can carry their horror banner.  Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson knock this out of the park.  Even if you don't like talking animals, give this one a try!
  • FUBAR Empire of the Rising Dead was another book featured in the Halloween Horror special.  A very solid thematic zombie anthology.
  • Marvel Zombies 2 was not as good as the first book, but sequels rarely are.  Kirkman does some good character work, but at a certain point, the joke is played.  Worth reading for a few good lines, though, as well as Sean Phillips' artwork.

Morbid Manga
Go overseas for some translated terror:

  • 20th Century Boys is the manga answer to Stephen King, with a story that echoes many of the classic American storyteller's themes, wrapped neatly in an intricate story that looks like it's going to take thousands of pages to tell in full.  Definitely one of my favorite manga, and I need to get back to reading it soon.
  • Bleach is no classic, but it's fun monster-mashing with a bit of romance, banter, and characterization.  I like this in the same way that I like, say, one of those Vincent Price-Richard Corben collaborations.  Nothing earth-shattering, but fun to watch, er, read.
  • Nightschool ended this year, and while it kinda petered out a bit at the end, I did really like the series overall.    It shows that's OEL manga can hold its own and that horror stories set in high schools don't have to be a panty-showing fest.
  • Rin-Ne isn't Rumiko Takahashi's best work, but it's still romping fun with two mismatched characters, fighting off the supernatural--and each other.  The story is a bit weak, but there are flashes of greatness here and there.  Definitely enough to keep reading.
  • Raiders made my Halloween Horror special this year, the only individual manga I focused on this time.  It was a surprisingly enjoyable manhwa, much in the same way Bleach brings a smile to my eye when I read it.


Happy Halloween everyone!  Only 356 days till the Halloween Horror returns!!
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10 Days of Halloween Horror Day 10: Monsters!* Mostly


Welcome to Day Ten of the 10 Days of Halloween Horror 2011!  We'll be featuring horror-related reviews right up until the big day!  You can find the Halloween Horror posts for Panel Patter here, and don't forget to check out the Book Stew for book-book horror, too!

Today Panel Patter's gonna pack as much horror as possible into one day!

Illustrated by Dave Wachter
Self-Published

I love horror monsters and comic book villains.
I love Dave Wachter's artwork.
Really, this one was a no-brainer for me.

In this collection of 100 sketches, Wachter puts together some of the images he's drawn for people over time, most of which are monsters.  There are a few heroes thrown in, such as Captain America or Spider-Man, but the majority of the characters are monsters in some way, whether they're Godzilla or Ben Grimm.  (I'll leave it up to you to decide if Larry David is a hero, a villain, or  a Monster.  Personally, I think he's the latter, if only for the dreck that is Curb Your Enthusiasm.)

Some of you may know Wachter from seeing him at a show or my frequent links to his sketchblog.  If you are at all familiar with his work, you'll know that his creations are incredibly detailed, with lots of line and brushwork.  I've watched him draw a few times at shows this year, and this is a man who takes pride in his work.  That pride shows in this collection, where everything from Muppets to Mephisto get the same care and stylings that make these pages pop out to the reader.

One of these days, I'm going to ask Wachter to draw something for me.  But since I can't personally pay for him to illustrate everything, the next best thing to do is pick up his sketchbooks.  This is a great way to get an appreciation for Wachter without completely bankrupting yourself.  Monsters!* Mostly is one of those rare sketchbooks that deserves careful viewing and re-viewing.  I don't buy them very often, but I am glad I have this one.  If you are a horror fan, you need to get it, too.

You can pick up Monsters!* Mostly at a convention on the East Coast or directly at Dave Wachter's store.

Happy Halloween!!
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10 Days of Halloween Horror 10: Sarah on Garth Ennis's Crossed

Welcome to Day Ten of the 10 Days of Halloween Horror 2011!  We'll be featuring horror-related reviews right up until the big day!  You can find the Halloween Horror posts for Panel Patter here, and don't forget to check out the Book Stew for book-book horror, too!

Today Panel Patter's gonna pack as much horror as possible into one day!

Sarah has had a few things going on recently, but that's not stopping her from helping out with the 10 Days of Halloween Horror!

Here's a link to Sarah's review of Crossed, a comic by Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows.  She leaves the comic rather unimpressed, which frankly is my general feeling on Garth Ennis in the first place.  See if you agree with her assessment, and have a great Halloween!

October 30, 2011

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10 Days of Halloween Horror 9: Sunday Readings

Welcome to day nine of the 10 Days of Halloween Horror 2011!  We'll be featuring horror-related reviews right up until the big day!  You can find the Halloween Horror posts for Panel Patter here, and don't forget to check out the Book Stew for book-book horror, too!

It's the penultimate day of my 10 Days of Halloween Horror!  I hope you've had a blast.  Now let's see what others are up to, as we do a little Sunday Reading.  Don't be afraid, they're only links...

If you only pick one link to visit, make it this one, as Comics Alliance points us to arguably the greatest Marvel What The..? video of all time.

John Carpenter gets into the comics game, but chooses Bruce Jones to be his writer.  Not sure that would be my pick.  In fact, I'm almost certain it wouldn't be.  At least the sales numbers are set to be scary!

Here's an interview with Joshua Hale Fialkov about I, Vampire that made me stop fretting over the cover and buy the comic.  Hey, it's J.M. DeMatteis approved!

Phillipa Rice ain't afraid of no ghosts!

Missed Busiek's Dracula?  Here's a new chance at it, this time on the web.

Beware the Phantom of the Opera!

Vampire Tragedy

The Wolfman, Novelist?

Have a great Sunday...if you dare!


October 28, 2011

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10 Days of Halloween Horror: Cthulhu Tales Volume 3

Welcome to day seven of the 10 Days of Halloween Horror 2011!  We'll be featuring horror-related reviews right up until the big day!  You can find the Halloween Horror posts for Panel Patter here, and don't forget to check out the Book Stew for book-book horror, too!

Written by Various Authors, including William Messner-Loebs and Brian Augustyn
Illustrated by Various Artists
Boom! Studios

The madness continues in this third collection of stories related to and inspired by the world of H.P. Lovecraft.  In this series of cautionary tales, one can learn a lot about how to interact with Cthulhu and company.  Watch as a man learns the value of sacrifice to keep the Old Gods at bay while another unintentionally dooms the earth in his attempt to outshine Carnegie, Morgan, and the other robber barons.  See what happens when reality television producers scrape the barrel and try to film what man was not meant to know!  Beware computer viruses with sinister images, and whatever you do, don't go into an ancient temple if you're a racist imperialist and never assume your religion is the dominant one.  Finally, be sure to give crazed cultist moms a wide berth, make sure you're not related to anyone living near Arkham, and for God's sake, stay out of space!

All of the above are little snippets relating to the stories told in this four issue, nine-story collection that continues to use the Mythos as a backdrop but do not attempt any kind of internal continuity.  Like the FUBAR 2 anthology I reviewed earlier this week, this series uses a central theme (Lovecraft's universe) and allows the creators free reign from that point.  The result are tales that run from the traditional horror story to witty commentary on today's society to a twist on the gotcha ending that I totally did not see coming.  There is a great variety in the feel of these stories, with each one exploring the idea of madness brought on by the Mythos in a way that is distinctive--and of a very high quality to boot.

My favorite section in this book was definitely those from issue 6.  Messner-Loebs' twisted take on reality television is a riot from start to finish, and was just the right length.  It's joined by the gotcha story which I don't want to talk about because you need to appreciate it on the page, and closes with a dedicated I/T technician who soon learns--far too late--that some problems are better left unsolved.  I love the idea that he's every bit the investigator, though the world is cyberspace instead of, say, an old mansion or set of ruins. It's a great touch, and writer Glen Cadigan deserves a lot of kudos for the concept.

This does not mean that the other stories weren't good.  Far from it.  It's just those three were some of the best writing in the three trades of Cthulhu Tales I've read so far.  I liked the opening story, "The Doorman" by Michael Alan Nelson quite a lot, and Augustyn shows his horror chops haven't left him by comparing the British Empire to far greater empires too unspeakable to name.  That was such a nice touch, giving both a strong story and commentary at the same time.  One of the closing stories, "The Elite" from Christine Boylan, is just damned creepy.  Does the man accept his fate or is his hand forced?  We might never know.

As with the other anthologies in this series, there aren't a lot of big-name creators involved.  Messner-Loebs is probably the biggest one in the collection, with most of the others (especially the artists) coming from the usual crew of Boom! writers.  They do good work, even if they are unheralded.  I'd prefer a bit more variety in the artwork, but those presented here are solid if unspectacular.  It would have been cool to get an indie creator or two to take a whack at the Mythos, but that might just be my personal taste talking.

I can't remember if it was the second volume or in the similar anthology series Zombie Tales that I noted that I wanted the stories to be a bit longer.  That's definitely the case here, as we move from three story issues to two story issues.  The additional space helped a lot, I think.  These creators need room to breathe, and 8 pages often isn't enough.  11 or so is just about right.  I hope that continues into volume four when I get a chance to read it.

Cthulhu Tales is a great anthology for horror fans and those who enjoy the Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft.  It might be hard to find the trade, but luckily, you can get these issues for $1.99 each at Graphicly.  You totally need to grab issue 6, but why not get them all?  I think you'll be glad you did, and maybe your death at the hands of the Ancient Ones will be swift.  Or maybe not...

October 27, 2011

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MMF/10 Days of Halloween Horror Day 6: Raiders Volume 1


 Welcome to day six of the 10 Days of Halloween Horror 2011!  We'll be featuring horror-related reviews right up until the big day!  You can find the Halloween Horror posts for Panel Patter here, and don't forget to check out the Book Stew for book-book horror, too!

This is another special edition of the 10 Days of Halloween Horror, crossing over with the Horror Manga edition of the Manga Movable Feast, hosted by my friend Lori Henderson.  The Manga Movable Feast is a chance for bloggers of all kinds to get together and discuss a particular manga, a manga-ka, or even a manga genre, in this case horror.  We've talked about everything from Barefoot Gen to Yotsuba&!, and opinions can range from the raving to the ranting, depending on the comic series being covered.  I'm really looking forward to see what kinds of hauntings are in store for the manga world this time!

Written by JinJun Park
Illustrated by JinJun Park
Yen Press

Archaeology can be a deadly game when the prize at stake is the legendary Holy Grail!  Irel is a rather deadly member of an investigative team that's hoping to find the blood of Christ.  He's not the only one after it, however, and finds that they'll stop at nothing to get what they want.  When Irel is dying, his only hope is to drink the alleged holy blood, which does in fact grant him immortality.  But that's just the start of his problems, because now he's a perfect farm animal for zombies!  Can Irel find a way out of this new life, that seems far dangerous than his original one?  Find out in the action-packed start to Raiders!

I have absolutely no idea when I picked this one up but I know it was sitting on my shelf for some time.  It looked intriguing enough to survive when I was culling a lot of books I had no desire to read but had acquired over the years.  I figured it would be a quick read and then off to the donation bin.

Not so fast!

What I found when I started reading Raiders is that it's a fun, quick romp of a story with a premise that is ludicrous but somehow seems perfectly normal because the entire situation is over the top.  Park does not even try to make this series seem realistic in any way, and that works perfectly.  From the opening pages, where an archaeological assistant has James Bond-level skills and kills tons of people to try and effectively steal an artifact to the idea that there is an elixir of life to having a bunch of undead monster types battle it out to the rights for a guy who is described on the cover copy as an "all you can eat buffet."  I love that none of this is taken seriously.  There's no attempt to rationalize any of it.  We're in a world that's totally screwed up, and I hope that awesome sense that everything is (relatively) normal for the characters doesn't change as the series progresses.

I was especially surprised at how well this holds together.  My impression of manhwa generally is that it's gorgeous artistically but that plotting and dialog drag the story down, usually making it something I don't want to keep reading.  That's not the case here.  We get a pretty good introduction to who Irel is and the world he inhabits.  We get conflict from the first page onward, with very little down time.  The battles have a cohesion that helps us flow from panel to panel, and we get enough story here to see that things are not going to be as simple as the first appear:  Irel's captor might not be as bad as some of the other players in this drama.  I thought that the reactions were quite natural, if a bit stiff here and there.

The nice thing is that this emphasis on storytelling doesn't reduce the quality of the art.  Park's lines are a match for any of the other manhwa I've read, save the outstanding artwork of Bride of the Water God.  The characters flow across the page, with a lot of the action being large without feeling like the story is getting shorted.  There's a sense of connection to the drawings, which I mentioned above, that was lacking in, say, Time and Again.  I was impressed with Park's work, and I definitely want to read more.

Raiders is not a serious story.  If you want deep, psychological horror, this isn't going to satisfy you.  It's not The Drifting Classroom or Psycho.  This is more like Jormundgand or a good Hammer horror film.  It's a romp of a tale that doesn't take long to read and probably won't hold up for the ages.  But if you're looking for a story about zombies and stuff that's a bit different from the usual and are okay with a popcorn story, look this one up.  Like me, you might be pleasantly surprised.  I know I am looking forward to reading Volume 2.

October 26, 2011

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10 Days of Halloween Horror Day 5: FUBAR 2 Empire of the Rising Dead

 Welcome to day five of the 10 Days of Halloween Horror 2011!  We'll be featuring horror-related reviews right up until the big day!  You can find the Halloween Horror posts for Panel Patter here, and don't forget to check out the Book Stew for book-book horror, too!

Written by Various Authors including Rafer Roberts
Illustrated by Various Artists including Rafer Roberts
Self-Published

The walking dead invade the Pacific Theatre of World War II in this anthology that is primarily the brainchild of Jeff McComsey.  Watch as the zombies attack both the Allies and the Axis, depending on the tale.  There's stories of heroism mixed with tales of cowardice.  Some zombies are just there, while others are created as a weapon of war.  War itself is hell, but when zombies are added, it's a whole new level of desperation.  Can either side win when time and numbers are on the side of the undead?  It's very much an open-ended question that might leave you with a slack jaw.

I'll be honest--if this collection didn't have my friend Rafer in it, I might have ignored it entirely.  I'm pretty much zombied out at this point, having not even returned to Walking Dead, a series I enjoy quite a bit, since I read up to the most recent trade back in 2009.  There's just so many zombie stories out there that it's hard to find quality stories among the crap, and I don't have a lot of inclination to try.

Had I missed out on FUBAR 2, however, I'd have been poorer for my loss.  This is a quality anthology, with most of the stories being at least enjoyable and several of them being quite good.  One thing that I think helps is that there is a solid theme involved.  All of the stories involve a war setting, which is a very different spin on the zombie story.  We're used to seeing it at a house or a neighborhood or something, not on a field of battle.  I love the way that the writers opted to use this idea and run with it.  Two turn the atomic bomb into a zombie bomb, which was absolutely brilliant.  Another writer posits the idea that the Japanese, who used real American soliders as experimental dummies, might have created zombies in one of their unholy laboratories.

It's the clever touches that put this anthology above other zombie books.  These writers know their World War Two history, and use it to give their stories a historical backing that really drew me into the narrative.  I easily fell into the trenches or foxhole or ships and planes of these poor men who not only faced death from a military bent on domination but also from an ungodly plague.

I think my favorite from the collection was a set of fighter pilots who have no way to refuel because their aircraft carrier is infested with zombies.  They make a decision to die for their country, unknown, and unheralded.  Dominic Vivonia's story is less about horror than heroism, and it actually really got to me in a way that a comic rarely does.  Simply brilliant.

The key to this anthology's quality, though, is the variety.  While I loved the stories involving larger armies and fighting forces, there's also the twist on the "trapped in the house with a zombie" trope, using a submarine as the venue.  Another tale is about a man who fights hard to preserve...life?  In still another, a GI goes to save the woman he loves, for one last dance.  There are tales of the individual mixed with those of the group.

I only have two small issues with this collection, both minor.  One is that I think the stories could have been longer in a few cases.  I appreciate their desire to cram as many stories as possible into the book, but I think a little more length might have helped a few of the weaker stories breathe more easily, and solidify the best works.  My other issue is that the art has a very similar feel from piece to piece.  It gives a consistency of style, but I'm not looking for that in an anthology.  I like seeing variety.

Neither of those issues are deal-breakers, however.  I really enjoyed FUBAR 2 and I'm definitely going to look for the first collection at a future show.  I'm not sure where you can get this commercially, but if you are at all interested in zombies or military stories, find this one as soon as you can.  That's an order, solider!

October 24, 2011

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Digging into Digital/10 Days of Halloween Horror Day 3: Digital Horror Manga

 Welcome to day three of the 10 Days of Halloween Horror 2011!  We'll be featuring horror-related reviews right up until the big day!  You can find the Halloween Horror posts for Panel Patter here, and don't forget to check out the Book Stew for book-book horror, too!

This is a very special edition of the 10 Days of Halloween Horror, because not only does it involve investigating the world of digital comics, it also crosses over with the Horror Manga edition of the Manga Movable Feast, hosted by my friend Lori Henderson.  The Manga Movable Feast is a chance for bloggers of all kinds to get together and discuss a particular manga, a manga-ka, or even a manga genre, in this case horror.  We've talked about everything from Barefoot Gen to Yotsuba&!, and opinions can range from the raving to the ranting, depending on the comic series being covered.  I'm really looking forward to see what kinds of hauntings are in store for the manga world this time!

For my primary contribution to the Feast, I thought I would take a moment to look at what was out there for the digital consumer who is interested in horror manga.  I talked a bit in last year's 10 Days of Halloween Horror about my favorite horror manga, and I was hoping that I could plug them again in this column, but staggeringly, only one of them has digital availability, and it's limited, at that.  (Note that, as always, I am referring to items available legally, not through the darknet.)

Still, there are some digital horror manga titles if you know where to look.  Here's a guide to some of the things I found.  This is by no means a complete list, but it's a start.  Try not to get too scared as you browse!

InuYasha is #$%# because he's iPad only!

Dark Horse


Unfortunately, the best Dark Horse horror manga isn't digitized yet because it's unflipped.  However, those looking for a story where there are elements of monsters but the theme is on romance should be well served by Bride of the Water God, which is a manhwa and therefore easily converted to the Dark Horse reader.  So far three volumes of the series are available, at a reasonable $5.99 each.  I really hope others are added once they can make the technology work.

Viz


Like Dark Horse, Viz has a lot of cool horror manga, but only just a bit of it is online right now.  Here are some that I am familiar with, and a bit of commentary:
OEL Horror can be good, too.


  • InuYasha might be the best known of Rumiko Takahashi's creations.  Despite Rin-Ne being available online to anyone with internet capabilities, this story of a girl linked by her past to a demon who acts quite a bit like Ranma is only available for the iPad.  If you have an iPad and haven't read this yet, I definitely recommend it.  PC only users, I'm afraid you're out of luck.  These are the VIZBIG editions, so they're $8.99 but give you three volumes at a time, which is definitely a great deal.
  • Bleach is the ongoing story of Ichigo, a teen with attitude issues who has a link to the supernatural world that allows him to see hollows, spirits of people who did bad things in life and now want to make matters worse. They're opposed by the Soul Society, with whom Ichigo becomes linked in ways that threaten to destroy his life and those he cares about.  It's popcorn manga, but I enjoy it.  Digital copies are $4.99 a piece, but honestly, there's a good chance your library has this.
  • Death Note is a manga I haven't read yet, but the premise sounds interesting.  A student gains the ability to kill people at will and uses it on the worst kind of people.  Kinda puts me in mind of Dexter. This is also a $4.99 title.

A story about the nature of friendship.
And of course, ghosts.
And a cat demon.

  •  Natsume's Book of Friends is, like Bride of the Water God, a horror title more in theme than in execution.  There are demons and ghosts and things, but the tone is nothing like, say, Uzumaki.  Natsume can see ghosts, and it ruins his life.  He finds the cause is an old relative who stole the names of many supernatural creatures.  With the help of a spirit in the form of a cat, Natsume wants to give them their names back.  If you liked Mushishi, I think you'll like this one a lot.  It's $4.99 a volume.
  • I know there are people who like Rosario+Vampire, but I am not one of them.  When fanservice involves students who aren't in college, I get turned off.  I did like the use of horror monsters, but in the end, I just felt too much of a skeevy vibe.  If that bothers you less than me, $4.99 will give you each volume, for both the original and its sequel.
  • Vampire Knight is certainly a horror manga as well, but I know absolutely nothing about it, sorry.  $4.99 will let you try it, though, if vampires in school is your thing.  I'm likely to pass, after my Rosario+Vampire experience.
JManga

JManga is new to the digital scene, and unfortunately, have not added a lot of comics to their catalog yet, unless you are charitable and count the many, many titles that are preview only or have nothing but the cover of the first trade.  However, here are a few horror-related titles that you can purchase.  Now is a good time, because they are all on sale,.  I can't speak for the quality of these titles, yet, having bought a few of them myself only recently.  Note that at this time, JManga is web-only, with no iPad ability.  Yet.
  • Urameshiya features one of my favorite horror manga concepts, the wandering supernatural investigator.  I'm told this installment does not require more than one volume to read, so it's safe in case JManga doesn't digitize the rest.  It's on sale for $4.99 right now.
  • Devil King is a four volume series that reminds me a bit of the premise of Frankenstein, in that a man tries to do what is generally left only to God.  I like it enough to get the whole series while its on sale, but you can try a volume or two for $4.99 each right now.
  • Pieces of a Spiral is another title I know nothing about, but with the idea of supernatural souls fighting the good fight, I figure it's worth including here.  It's also $4.99 during the sale.
  • I absolutely disliked Black Sun, Silver Moon but I don't think I was the intended audience.  It's got Dom-Sub themes mixed with priests and they have to fight off zombie hordes.  I was bored with it quickly, but if you're more into vague boy's love and zombies, it might be worth a look at $4.99.
  • CMX title The Young Magician gets a digital license rescue here at JManga, and the reviews were favorable enough that I'm going to give it a try.  You can, too, for $4.99.
  • I found nothing good about Kagome Kagome, which appears to have a supernatural club set in a high school.  Wanna test your luck?  It's $4.99, too.
  • Vampire Portrait's cover says all you need to know.  It's about gay vampires!  We've never seen that before!  $4.99 gets you what I bet is more of the same.  Go for it if you wanna.

eManga

I don't read a lot of things from eManga, because they tend to run towards more yaoi, and it's just not something I'm all that interested in.  I did a search for Supernatural, and they have 20 titles listed in the catalog, most of which fall under the boy's love/yaoi category (including Vampire Portrait for $3.50 instead of $4.99).  Vampire Hunter D is probably the most well-known of the titles listed, but I can't say I was a big fan when I sampled it a few years back.  They're worth a look for your digital horror needs, but I do not think I'm the best person to guide you there.  Note that at this time, eManga is web only, no iPad.

Kodansha Comics

Kodansha is iPad only at this time.  Sorry, PC users.  You're not missing much right now, because they only have four titles at this time.  Until the Full Moon looks like it's more about relationships than horror, but it does feature a supernatural theme, so I'll include it here.  I have no personal interest, but at least Kodansha has the good sense to make their volumes $4.99 a piece if you are so inclined.

A gorgeous manhwa that's light
on horror but easy on the eyes.
Yen Press

Like Kodansha, Yen Press is iPad only.  I'm not a fan of that approach, but that's okay, because Yen's prices are way too high for my taste, anyway.  I shouldn't be paying paper prices for digital manga that is still in print.  So while I personally would not get these comics digitally, if you're less hung up on price than I am, here are some ideas:

  • Highschool of the Dead is probably out for me for the same reason as Rosario+Vampire, but I hear that if you can stand the fan service, the story is actually pretty enjoyable.  This is $8.99 digitally for a sexy zombie fight.
  • Jack Frost looks interesting to me.  A high school where supernatural things are occurring, and the only hope may be a seemingly irredeemable student.  But not at $8.99.
  • Nightschool  was on my list of best comics in 2010.  It's set in a school but doesn't have issues with inappropriate sexiness.  We get a lot of creatures both familiar and new, a mystery that keeps you guessing, and good OEL art.  The ending is a bit weak, but that's forgivable.  Definitely recommended, so if you're going to pay $8.99, this is the one to do it for.
  • I guess I'll list Witch & Wizard here, but what I read of it was terrible, emo, and cliched.  Not worth the industry standard $4.99, let alone $8.99
I realize that may look like a lot of comics, but it's really not.  There are so many other, good horror manga titles.  This list features a lot of dubious entries, making it look better than it is.  Come on, publishers--start digitizing more horror manga!  I'd love to revisit this list next year, with more (and better) comics!

Enjoy your Manga Movable Feast, and be sure to stop back for more of the 10 Days of Halloween Horror!



October 23, 2011

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10 Days of Halloween Horror Day Two: Sunday Readings Edition

 Welcome to day two of the 10 Days of Halloween Horror 2011!  We'll be featuring horror-related reviews right up until the big day!  You can find the Halloween Horror posts for Panel Patter here, and don't forget to check out the Book Stew for book-book horror, too!

Let's see what kind of spooky things we can find for you on this scary second day of my days of Halloween Horror!

First up is a reminder that the Manga Movable Feast will feast on YOU if you don't read the scary comics we're coming up with this season!  You can find all you need to know at Lori Henderson's Manga Xanadu!

Need some help finding a scary title or two for your digital manga collection? JManga can help!

Beware the Abominable Dr. Phibes!

Adam Koford clues you in to all sorts of ghosts.

The folks at Monster Isle prepare for the big day.

Finally, Stephanie Buscema draws a nifty witch to kick off the Halloween season.

Have some cool comic links for Halloween?  Send them my way so I can include them in next week's Sunday Readings!






October 22, 2011

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10 Days of Halloween Horror 1: American Vampire Volumes 1 and 2

 Welcome to day one of the 10 Days of Halloween Horror 2011!  We'll be featuring horror-related reviews right up until the big day!  You can find the Halloween Horror posts for Panel Patter here, and don't forget to check out the Book Stew for book-book horror, too!

Written by Scott Snyder (w. Stephen King Vol 1)
Illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque (and Mateus Santolouco Vol 2)
Vertigo

I'd been hearing good things about Scott Snyder from a few people here and there, but I hadn't gotten around to this series yet.  Since I knew good or bad it would be perfect for the Halloween season, I decided to give it a shot.

Oh wow.

It's always a great time when you find a new favorite writer, and boy did I ever!  Scott Snyder knows how to write comic books, both in the single issue and trade-arc forms, combining dark humor with strong pacing, plot, and characterization.  He's aided and abetted here by Stephen King (perhaps you've heard of him), making his comic book debut.  (It's a little hard to believe that King hasn't written a comic before this in all his years of writing.)  While King's parts are not as sharp as Snyder's, they are a solid effort from a rookie writer.  Unlike many other novelists who take a shot at comic writing, King tries hard to take what he does best--snappy dialog and a folksy storytelling style from a first person perspective--and make it work with the visual storytelling of a comic book.

The result has a bit of an old-fashioned feel to it in King's case, with the story having some echoes of the 1950s EC horror comics that I'm sure he grew up with, but given an updated look and feel.  Snyder's take is far more modern, but the switching between the two styles works a lot better than I expected it to.  Snyder is not afraid to use the old ideas of good versus evil and finding nobility within monstrosity, though in his case, there's an air of cynicism that, say, an old Marv Wolfman horror comic might lack.

The basic premise of American Vampire is that a low-life criminal is tainted by the blood of an Old World Vampire, part of a clique of creatures of the night who came to the American West in order to capitalize on its riches (a nice allusion to real-life robber barons sucking the life out of ordinary people).  For some reason, not yet explained, this American Vampire is different than those who created him.

Now Skinner Sweet is a threat to both ordinary people and his monstrous cousins, living large in an America that's expanding and growing beyond all expectations.  We first meet Sweet in 1920s Hollywood, where he decides to throw a monkey wrench into the plans of the old vampires and create a new vampire just like him.Meanwhile, in the King-written arc, we learn the origin of Sweet and how his legacy is even more twisted than we previously thought.

As Sweet's actions start touching more and more people, we see that the morality here is just about as gray as anything I've ever read.  One of the neat parts of this concept is that there really are no pure actors in the picture.  It's easy to root against the European vamps, but Sweet is so completely amoral that taking his side is just as wrong.  Pearl might be a viable option, but for how long?  I find it impossible to believe that Snyder is going to let anyone stay innocent, based on what I've seen so far.

The second book moves into the 1930s and the city of sin, Las Vegas.  It makes perfect sense that vampires would gather here, as the vices created by gambling and prostitution are a breeding ground for the type of crime in which a vampire can safely hide.  Sweet now runs a house of ill repute, but is he also in the business of killing investors in the Hoover Dam?  That's the mystery that an honest cop in a corrupt town must figure out.  But how do the old vampires and Pearl fit into the picture?

As with the first trade, Snyder makes each issue readable on its own but links the pieces together by the time we get to the finished story.  He's particularly adept here at linking threads from the first story arc into this one, with the only obvious moment being the introduction of vampire hunters.  Of course they exist, because what is Dracula without his Van Helsing?  I'd have preferred a bit more of an obvious introduction to them, but it's a minor complaint.

This trade really starts to expand on the world of the new vampires, as we see Snyder's world-building talent on display, all while the pieces fit together neatly.  I like how certain players weave in and out of the narrative, showing that nothing has been shuffled to the side, and everything we've seen so far has a point.  It's extremely talented writing from Snyder, and something we do not see very often these days.  This is a writer who plans to be on a title for some time, not just until the contract runs out.  (Granted, I realize this is a creator-created title, but I've even read some of those where it's clear the plan is to write for a bit and move on to something higher profile.)

While I really do like the story of American Vampire, I can't say that I am in love with the style of the two artists that Snyder has been paired with so far.  While they do compliment each other, which I thought was a solid editorial choice, I think their style is a bit too rough-hewn.  Like other projects I've read and enjoyed the story but thought the art was just okay, it's as though they've skipped the extremely important step of inking.  I am not a fan of going pencils to coloring, and have yet to see an example of that style which I actually liked.  There's a lack of depth and shadow as a result, which I think is a big mistake when you're drawing a comic about vampires.

Another issue I had with the art was the posing of the characters within the panels.  I feel like the characters are far too stiff, like they are posing for the camera rather than moving naturally.  Close-ups seem to be at the wrong angle, or in a manner that doesn't put the best visual with the dialog.  I like my heroes and villains to move dynamically, and they just don't do that here for the most part.  While this is not a superhero story, we are dealing with monsters and the supernatural, and so I think the same storytelling elements apply for the artist.

It's not that the art is bad so much as just that I think it could be so much more.  Given Snyder's careful crafting of the world and plot, it seems a shame he's not given an art team that reflects that care.  Even with the handicap, though, this is a solid new series from Vertigo, which makes me happy because I've been a bit worried about the imprint with all of DC's recent contractions.  Scott Snyder is a great addition to their line-up, and I hope he writes this series for a long time. If you haven't read this one yet and are a fan of horror comics, what are you waiting for?  This is a great addition to the genre, and definitely one of my favorites!

October 21, 2011

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The 10 Days of Halloween Horror Returns!

It's that time of year again!  No, I don't mean when networks cancel shows that were obviously bad ideas in the first place.  We have come to the last week or so of October, my favorite month of year, because it contains the best day of the year, Halloween!

I've loved Halloween for as long as I can remember, and not at all for the candy.  I've been Frankenstein* at least three times, Dracula twice, and have even gone as everything from Yoda to Groucho Marx to a member of the 1979 Pittsbugh Pirates.  I've even gone to work as the Joker and Jack the Ripper.

It's no surprise then, that I read a lot of horror-themed comics, from old archive editions to Hellboy to manga such as The Drifting Classroom and Uzumaki, to say nothing of comics with a horror-feel, like Dr. Strange or 20th Century Boys.  I also read horror fiction and things related to horror phenomenon when I get the chance.

All this means it's once again time to have the annual JSA-JLA Crossover  Panel Patter/Book Stew 10 Days of Halloween Horror, where I use both of my reading blogs to talk entirely too much about things that are creepy, spooky, and ookie.

If you love Halloween, too, come and celebrate it with me in a virtual forum over the next ten days, leading right up to my favorite day of the year, Halloween!  If you don't, well, you might have to answer to this guy:

Gior-Dracula!
I don't know about you, but I think I'd rather read my RSS feed!

You can follow along with the Halloween 2011 tags on Panel Patter and Book Stew.  Hope to see you in the comments--assuming you don't die of fright first!  MWAHAHAHAhahahahahahahaha!

*I agree with Chris Sims.  If you wanna argue about it being Frankenstein's Monster not Frankenstein, suck it.  Dude has a last name, even if he was cobbled together from corpses!

October 18, 2011

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Tragic Relief 12

Thieves! Cross-Dressing!
You really need more?
Written by Betsy Swardlick
Illustrated by Colleen Frakes
Retrofit Comics

He's a rogue who dresses as a woman to practice thievery sometime in the Colonial age.  She's the woman that loves him, with a set of sticky fingers all her own.  Together, they share adventure (and clothes) in this edition of Tragic Relief, Colleen Frakes' ongoing series of mini-comics.

I first became aware of Ms. Frakes' work a few months ago, and was excited that she was contributing an issue to the Retrofit Comics project, where 17 indie comic issues from everyone from James Kochalka to Noah Van Sciver participating.  The first issue was by Kochalka, and I reviewed it here.  I think the concept is a solid one, and I was happy to be a Kickstarter contributor for the project.

This issue was a lot of fun to read.  Broken down into several story sections, we follow the tale of a man who prefers to dress as a woman, and uses the disguise to commit crimes.  His wife is completely supportive, which is refreshing to see, even if this an indie comic.  When his thievery threatens to end everything, we find that there's more to the story than meets the eye.

Because this is a funny story, things end well for our modern couple, as they go off to keep living life the way they want to, free from the mores of the society in which they live.  We get a few codas that finish up the tales of several of the side characters, which I thought was a nice touch.  I really liked just how comical the whole story was, with even the dangerous parts turned into more of a romp than anything else.  This comic is, at heart, a caper, and it plays out perfectly, from patsies who keep getting picked on to a rotund villain who gets his in the end.

Frakes' art style works well with the material written by Swardlick.  Her expressive faces really sell the comedy, and she allows just enough exaggeration to make the farce work.  The costuming fits the time period well, and the only thing that might have been nice is a bit more of a solid background for these zany characters to run around in.  Other than that extremely minor complaint, I thought this comic was just about perfect.  It does exactly what it sets out to do, and does it in style.  I'm seriously impressed with this comic, and I think anyone who has no issue with the content matter will, too.  This is definitely one of the best minis I read in 2011.

You can pick up Tragic Relief 12 at the Retrofit Comics store.  I strongly recommend you pick up a subscription while you are there!  You can find a preview of this comic here.

October 17, 2011

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Dust off the Panels: Power Girl Volumes 1 and 2

 Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
Illustrated by Amanda Conner
DC Comics

It's time to Dust off the Panels and take a look at a comic I've enjoyed both times I've read it, the 12 issue run of Power Girl by the writing team of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, paired with one of the best female superhero artists, Amanda Conner.

Power Girl is finally moving out on her own, setting up her own business, her own identity, and her own life.  With her cat Stinky, super heroine friend Terra, and big plans, this woman out of time is ready to begin anew.

There's just one problem: An old foe has other plans.  Watch as the Ultra-Humanite tries to destroy everything Kara is working for, sometimes with the help of his associates, sometimes on his own.  If that's not enough, earth seems to be party planet central, as aliens of all kinds come here for galactic spring break hijinks, with deadly repercussions.  Can even a cousin to the Man of Steel handle everything thrown at her and still be able to keep a day job, to say nothing of maybe trying to have her own social life?  Find out in these two volumes of Power Girl!

If DC comics was looking for a model of how to handle a female character that shows her off as a powerful figure in her own right, while placing her in the larger DC Universe, they could do worse than use this set of collections as a model.  Palmiotti and Gray manage to make Kara interesting by treating her as a real person who happens to have super powers.  She wants the same thing any of us who are trying for a fresh start wants--a chance to make in the world, without getting dragged down by what's happened in the past.  That's not nearly as easy as Kara would like, and again, that parallels the real world.

The problem many books with female characters have is that that they to make the character too heroic, thereby overcompensating for other representations (see Whedon, Joss) or they turn them into objects of sexual attraction, with poses and postures taking center stage and leaving little to no room for actual characterization beyond using their looks and acting badass (this looks like it's the direction Catwoman is taking in the DCnU).  In some cases, the character is indistinguishable from a male hero, which is just as wrong as trying to make them as feminine as possible.

It's not an issue unique to comics, but because of the visual possibilities of the medium, the heirs of Wally Wood have taken anatomy to the extreme, which is why I think comics--and superhero comics in particular--are frequently the target of so much criticism.

The fact of the matter is, part of being heroic is going beyond the norm, both in abilities and looks, and there is nothing wrong with allowing characters to be sexy, as long as it's not done just to goose sales and give teenagers an acceptable thing to ogle that won't get them thrown out of the newsstand or get banned from their bedroom.

Palmiotti and Gray get this with Power Girl, and they're aided and abetted by Amanda Conner, who draws incredibly attractive female characters who still manage to look like they are just as powerful as their male counterparts.  There are plenty of sexual references in this book, from the funny to the creepy to the slightly dangerous.  Kara's gender is a prominent part of the book, but we see her generally in control of the situation.  No one can handle everything, but instead of rejecting her looks or denying them (or worst of all, letting them be dominated), Kara makes it a part of herself.  It's a refreshing take on the idea of an attractive superheroine.

That doesn't mean it's perfect.  There is a clunky section where Kara explains her point of view, for instance, and one might argue that sexual themes are far too prevalent in these issues.  The thing is, this is written like a screwball comedy with a generally lighthearted tone, so the sexual jokes fit right in.  For the most part, Kara is the one in control of the sexual humor, not the male antagonists.  The idea of sex and power are a theme in the work, and as a result, we see it over and over again.  With the help of quite a few great Conner sight gags, this theme works perfectly.  This is a comic that's part romantic farce, part identity struggle, and part obsessive villain who cannot handle his own identity.  The foes Kara faces all mirror some of her own insecurities, and the ways in which she deals with them say a lot about her character.

That's the way you write a good comic--make it about something, with a focal character who is likable and (within reason) able to be someone you know in real life.  Palmiotti and Gray get this, and the comic works accordingly.  They made me interested in a character I care little about, aided and abetted by an artist who is able to blend titillation within the normal bounds of a heroic setting.

By the end of this all-too-short run, Power Girl is a character who won't let anything stop her.  She's going to find a way to make it in the world, based on who she wants to be, not who others perceive her as.  It's going to be a tough road, but hey, she's a tough character!  This is just the kind of story I like to read, one that can be both low-brow and have an uplifting message.  It's the kind of comic I think DC would be wise to look at as they keep tweaking their new universe.  Comics can have sexy people in them, without being an object of ridicule and shame.  You just have to put the characters in the right hands.  These two Power Girl trades are well worth finding.  I'd dust off the panels and look for them, if I were you!

October 16, 2011

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Sunday Readings 10-16-2011

Good Morning!

While others are at the New York Comi-Con, I'm here with some links of interest for your Sunday reading pleasure...

First off, the fine people at Comic Book Resources are doing a great job of covering the convention.  They're my primary source of information this year.  Definitely check them out.  Here is a discussion of the publisher Dark Horse's panel.  That company is now twenty-five years old, and still combining their older ideas (DHP, Hellboy) with newer plans, such as the collaboration with musician Tom Morello.

In other NYCC news, here's a piece that Newsarama reprinted about the ongoing debate of print comics versus digital comics, as though the two are diametrically opposed to one another.  They're not.  There's a place for print and a place for digital.  The sooner publishers realize this, the better.  I think fans already have.  What we lose in single issue paper comics, we gain in nice omnibi or delux packages.  I really wish the debate was not framed like it was rock 'em sock 'em robots.

There was quite a bit of digital news at the show, including the fact that Viz is taking Shonen Jump digital.  Lori Henderson shares her thoughts on that idea, along with some other manga-related items.  While I have no interest personally in Shonen Jump, I think this is a sign that digital is beginning to hit a tipping point.  Whether or not it's a toppling point is still up for debate.  I definitely agree with her that Viz should use this digital opportunity to try out some riskier titles.  (And one more aside--I think it's funny that Yen, who decried license rescues awhile back, just did a license rescue.  Never say never!)

In non-Con digital news, Brigid Alverson follows a story about an (admittedly self-selected) survey that might lead to clues about people's digital buying habits.  Do you think this data is generally true?

Graeme McMillan has a few thoughts on the nature of digital storytelling, based on thoughts expressed by Warren Ellis.

JManga seems to be working hard to get better, which I think is great news.  Here's Deb Aoki's look at some of the changes, and then her recommendations for further improvements.

If you think the best things in life are free, then good news!  There will be a second FCBD in 2012, this time on Halloween, which falls on a Wednesday that year.  I'm a little dubious of this one.  Kids want candy, not comic shops, on trick or treat night.  Or maybe they don't anymore?  Is this a generational thing?

Faith Erin Hicks found this awesome video of manga-ka Kaoru Mori sketching.  Wow!

Alison Bechdel has an update on what she's working on, including that book that's due out soon.

Anna reviews the excellent Wandering Son Vol 1.  I wasn't able to get my thoughts together on that book just yet.  I definitely recommend it, though.

Finally, former Marvel Editor in Chief Jim Shooter takes a long, critical look at the DCnU in this four-part series.  Even if you don't like Shooter, this is well worth reading for his insight as a former EiC examining how this reboot looks to a new reader, both good and bad.  Plus, it has a few great snark lines.  Here's part one, part two, part three, and part four.

Have a great Sunday!

October 15, 2011

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Show Report: PIX Has Some Growing Pains

Erica and I attended both days of the Pittsburgh Indy Comics Expo last weekend, partly because we like comics and partly because it was a great excuse to come up to Pittsburgh and hang out with friends.

I'm glad we had something else to do besides the show, because, to be honest, we both left the expo a bit disappointed.  We had heard really good things about last year's show, and opted to make the hard choice to skip our friends at the Richmond Zine Fest.  Based on our experience, I do not think we'll be doing that again next year if the dates conflict again.

Overall, the biggest problem with the show was attendance.  The show's organizer spoke with Erica on Sunday and estimated attendance at about 250.  If that was for a one-day show, it wouldn't be bad.  However, that was across both days of the expo.  For a show to be successful, it needs people walking around, browsing and buying.  There simply were not enough people going to the show, leading to extensive down time where the only people walking around were other creators, shooting the breeze.

I think the biggest issue with attendance came from the location.  PIX is held on the 6th floor of a Guardian storage building, in a part of a Pittsburgh neighborhood where there is nothing nearby to draw attention for several blocks in either direction.  While the price may be right, it's killer for attendance.  If you even know the show exists, you have to navigate the Guardian maze and take a service elevator to the 6th floor, with no stairs, second elevator, or fire pole to get to the comics.  When I went out for lunch, I saw several people wandering aimlessly trying to find the show, looking about ready to give up.

I know Pittsburgh very well, having lived in and around it most of my life.  There are plenty of potential places to hold a show there, and unfortunately, where PIX is located is one of the least likely to get people to stop by.  You have to make a conscious decision to go to that part of town.  I think the show would have been better to go to East Liberty, where several other shows with similar themes were occurring.  I bet their foot traffic, which is aided by being part of a bus hub, was much higher.

If you are going to use a more secluded location, then at least put out signs!  There were only a few signs in hard-to-see locations for the show and none at all near the high-traffic areas that were within a short drive or bike ride away, such as the heart of the Strip District, Bloomfield, Shadyside, or even Squirrel Hill.  I don't know if there were radio spots, or a newspaper ad, but it sure looked to me like you had to know the show existed in order to get there.  That's no way to help your tablers get sales.  PIX needs to get signs out, anywhere and everywhere.  It's not like Pittsburgh is militant about posters, fliers, and the like, unless it's changed in the past few years.

Overall, my impression of the show was that it was by and for people in the local Pittsburgh comics scene.  I  saw lots of creators talking to each other, seemingly indifferent to whether or not they sold anything, marking time till the after-show party on Saturday.  A few mentioned how cool it was to hang out together.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it's NOT a comics expo.  That's a club meeting.  If you are going to do that, don't bill it as a show.  Call it a gathering or something similar, and pick a place where you can have an open bar and a bit of room to put out some comics.  As someone who is not part of the Pittsburgh community any longer, it felt very off-putting that we'd driven up, paid for a table and gas, and ended up at an over-sized swap meet.

Again, I have no problem with PIX as a way for local creators to meet, but it's not billed as such.  But it was never so clear to me that if you weren't part of the 'Burgh crowd, you were missing out as when a panel was held without it being clearly communicated to the attendees.  All of a sudden, people were in a corner, talking to each other.  It felt like being at a school lunchroom and having no one want to sit at your table.

My experience with the show was rather negative, but there were a few good points.  I thought the space itself was nice and roomy, with plenty of room for each creator to spread out and not feel cramped.  Everyone I talked to was very nice, and I had great conversations.  Had that been the main purpose of my going to the show, I would have left pleased.  We picked up some comics, mostly from Bill Volk and Bob Corby, and several people talked to us about the virtues of going to SPACE in Columbus, if we can find a way to do it.  It was nice to see that Pittsburgh has a vibrant group of creators, even if most of what I looked at were shock value comics that don't do much for me personally.

Generally speaking, however, I don't think PIX is ready to be a show of note just yet.  It needs to advertise better on the day of the show, consider a location that lends itself to foot traffic, and decide whether it's more interested in being a gathering of creators and fans or a place to look for and buy comics.  Once it does that, I would be prepared to come back.  As of now, however, I think I'll find another reason to stop in Pittsburgh next time.  Trust me, that's not very hard for us to do!

October 8, 2011

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Life with Mr. Dangerous

Written by Paul Hornschemeier
Illustrated by Paul Hornschemeier
Villard (Random House)

Amy is your typical mid-twenties girl who's having a hard time finding her way through life.  With a mother who plays it safe (while wishing she didn't), a love-life that keeps filtering its way through a series of bad ideas, and a job that pays the bills but nothing else, Amy finds her only solace in a popular television show that seems absolutely mind-numbing in its repetition and theme.  Can Amy find a way out of her rut?  Or she bound by the same rules as her sitcom?

This book was originally put together as a series of entries in Fantagraphics' Mome anthology, which is where I recognized part of the narrative.  In style and theme, it's a typical real-world comic.  By that I mean the type of book where the protagonist could be you (or someone you know) struggling with what it's like to grow up here in the twenty-first century, with all its complications, anxieties, and worries. How much you like that type of story will heavily influence your opinion of the book.  If you see them as diaries of the possible you (or your friend), then connections can be made with the book.  If you tend to think of them as whining to the world at large about how terrible life for a child of the 1980s is, then you're going to hate the protagonist and the overall story.  I like these kinds of comics, because they offer windows into how those of us of similar age are coping with the world around us.  If you aren't of the same age group, it's possible that this comic might not work for you at all.

With that out of the way, let's look at the story itself.  Here, Hornschemeier looks at what it's like when you put your life on a holding pattern, doing just enough to survive but nothing to progress.  For most of the book, Amy is seen as denying her feelings for a long-time friend, Michael.  As a result, she sleep-walks through a series of relationships and one-night stands that might not be as bad as she makes them out to be, but are not healthy for her at all.  Amy is surrounded by people who do the same, in different ways, ranging from her passive-aggressive mother (who feels she can't change because to do so would lead to certain failure) to a co-worker who's too meek to stand up for herself.  Even the more aggressive people in the story are seemingly happily to rule their own little worlds, never looking past the edge of their nose.

While Amy starts to fight back against this feeling, her favorite show, Life with Mr. Dangerous, seems stuck in a rut.  As she explores what it means to be Amy, the show keeps flashing back to a certain point.  This is one of the best narrative tricks Hornschemeier uses in the book, because it's so subtle.  There are no flashing neon signs that Amy's life is like a perpetual re-run, but we can recognize it all the same.  Only when Amy starts to look beyond what she's familiar with can Life with Mr. Dangerous move on.

Hornschemeier's artwork reminds me of Daniel Clowes and those of his ilk.  The characters are presented realistically, stiffly, and just a bit like they are sleep-walking, which fits the narrative tone well.  He does move into caricature when Amy moves out of her reality, giving some nice change of pace pages and preventing the art from being too uniform.  I really like that the characters in the book look like actual people.  Amy is just a bit overweight, with a plain haircut.  The men aren't gorgeous.  Amy's co-workers could be found in just about any retail store.  It's always nice to see artists who want to tell real-life stories trying to provide characters who look real for the reader.

Life with Mr. Dangerous is not funny, except perhaps tragically, despite some of the back cover blurbs.  It's the story of a woman who has to decide if she's going to do the same old thing or make a change.  That's a question many, many people around my age have to make, day in and day out.  It's not easily and what you decide may not even work.  Hornschemeier recognizes this, and makes a great book about twenty-something living in the process.  If you are of the right mind or age, this is going to be a great book for you.  It might even make you re-think your own life.

October 6, 2011

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Counter Attack #2, #3, and #4

Written by Alisa Harris
Illustrated by Alisa Harris
Self-published

I'm a sucker for comics that have to do with cats.  They are my favorite pet, and I've had cats in my life almost ever year for over twenty years now.

So if you have a cat comic, I'm almost certainly a good mark for you!

Counter Attack is a series of quick sketches of Ms. Harris' two cats, Fidget and Moe.  They spend their time doing the funny things cat do, from trying to ruin our board games to pretending they own everything in the house.  Harris shows them being possessive, being aggressive, and even, when their guard is down, a bit of love.

There's nothing fancy about these minis--they are cute drawings of cats.  Harris's line work is slick and her cats flow across the page and simple scenery.  The minis do not have a plot or a story, other than to tell the day to day lives of two adorable cats.

If you are a cat lover, these three minis are a nice addition to your collection.  Cat people tend to collect cat comics, and there's nothing wrong with that.  Anyone looking for more than that will be disappointed.  I liked this series of sketches, and I hope to see a Counter Attack #5 sometime soon.

If you'd like to get a copy of Counter Attack, you can do so at Harris' website.

October 4, 2011

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You Should Go to the Richmond Zine Fest!

Just because Erica and I won't be making it to the Richmond Zine Fest this year is no reason why you shouldn't go if you're in the area!

Held annually sometime in the Fall, the Richmond Zine Fest once again is back in the Gay Community Center, which I think is the best place for it, if it is not going to be held on the campus of one of Richmond's colleges.  There is a lot of foot traffic for the center's thrift store, plenty of parking, and it's not too far from the interstate while still being bikeable from the main part of Richmond.

We have gone to the past three shows, and we even got engaged after one of them, so the Zine Fest has a lot of good memories for both of us.  The exhibitors range wildly from anarchists who will give you DIY pamphlets on how to fight the system to personal zines to a few mini-comics vendors.  There is usually something for just about any taste, and anyone who has gone in past years will find quite a few familiar faces in the tabling crowd.

Here are a few of the tables I strongly recommend you visit if you go:

Alex Wrekk writes the long-running zine Brainscan and is also involved in other projects.  Her zine is probably one of the best-known personal zines still ongoing and is definitely worth getting, especially if you are new to the idea of zines.

I've been a fan of the I Love Bad Movies zine since the first issue.  I'm really sad that I won't be around to pick up issue four, which I am betting will be at the show.  I Love Bad Movies is a fan zine based upon the love of cinematic turds and cult classics, many of which are VHS only.  Movie buffs need their zine.

Click Clack Distro is run by Richmond Zine Fest co-organizer and friend Nicole Harris.  Nicole's distro has a wide range of zines, from personal to self-hlp to DIY to special interest topics.  You are bound to find something you like at her table, and sampling a few zines from her would be a good way to see if you like the genre.

AdHouse Books is making their Richmond Zine Fest debut.  Run by Chris Pitzer, this small publisher has comics of all kinds.  Chris has promised to bring a bunch of different things and offer them at zine-like prices.  Anyone who likes comics needs to stop by and see what he's up to!  Make sure you let Chris talk you into at least one book.  His taste is quite good, and he'll usually steer you to something you'll like.

Parcell Press is kind of a bridge between the zine-heavy distro like Click Clack and the comics-heavy stylings of AdHouse.  They have a wide variety of upscale zines and comics, making them a bit like the Drawn and Quarterly of the mini-comics set.

The Richmond Zine Fest is free and open from 11am to 6pm on Saturday, October 8th.  Check it out!

October 3, 2011

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Digging into Digital: Image Jumps on the Same-Day Digital Bandwagon

In a move that I don't think is unexpected at all, it was announced today that Image Comics is taking the majority of its titles day and date digital in partnership with Comixology, starting this Wednesday, October 5th.  With both DC and Marvel going after people who either cannot (or do not want to) go to a comic book store, it makes perfect sense for Image, one of the biggest of the remaining publishers, to ensure they aren't getting locked out of potential sales. Further, since Image's biggest presence online for digital comics is the same as the "big two", they can benefit from people browsing Comixology and seeing that there are other books out there available at the same time as the print editions.

Image notes that they were the first to go day-and-date digital, with Walking Dead.  I do not know if that's verifiable or not, since I wasn't doing much in the digital world at the time.  They are also big on noting that they have a wide variety of titles, which I think is a subtle swipe at the perceived sameness of DC's re-launch, made all the more ironic by the fact that several people well-known for their work with Image are now toiling away in the kinda-sorta rebooted DC Universe.

Obviously, as a fan of digital comics, I am quite pleased to see yet another publisher start moving towards the digital future.  I wonder how much of this is coming from Comixology, given that all three publishers who have made this a big part of their digital initiative worth with the premiere company for digital comics.  I should also note that while Comixology is announcing this change, there is nothing yet on the Image Comics website as of this writing (about 3PM on October 3rd).  It's interesting to me that the press release/blog post notes the retailer initiative, to try and take some of the sting out of this news.

Right now, there is no clear way to know how well digital comics are selling day and date because these details are not shared publicly, at least not to my knowledge.  (Anyone know if there is a way to find this out that I am just unaware of?)  Unlike paper comics, which have trails via Diamond or publisher book sales records, digital comics seem to lurk without concrete data.  That could mean publishers are still taking a bath on digital comics.  However, given that we are seeing such a strong move towards digital sales, someone must see a trend that shows this is the future.

Then again, this is comics, where people thought hologram covers were the key to success.  

At any rate, this puts a lot of pressure on Dark Horse, which uses its own digital store, to move towards day and date release.  IDW may be in a different situation, because so many of their books are tied to licencing, where they either cannot (or don't need to) worry about picking up digital sales.  I'll be really curious to see what the other, smaller digital players, such as Archaia, Boom!, and Dynamite, do in response to this apparent change in the market.

Below are a few details from the release, which can be read in full here.
New York, NY, 10/3/11- Images Comics, the third largest comics publisher in the United States, announced with comiXology that they would sell the majority of their highly acclaimed comics the same day as print. Top titles like Chew, Pilot Season, The Infinite, Severed and Skullkickers, along with various other titles will join the ranks of long-time same-day-as-print titles like The Walking Dead and Invincible on the Comics by comiXology platform on iOS,Android and comics.comixology.com the same day digitally as print, as well as online at the Comics by comiXology powered comics.imagecomics.com website and Image Comics iOS app.

“Image Comics was one of the first to publish a comic the same day digitally as print with Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, and that turned out great for all involved,” said David Steinberger, CEO of comiXology. “With one of the most diverse selections, we are excited to power their digital initiatives as they publish more of their top comics digitally the same day as print.”
Of course, all Image Comics will also be available digitally on all participating retailers digital storefronts. Retailers can take advantage of the digital storefront program at retailers.comixology.com.

“comiXology has built an amazing platform for digital comics and a vibrant community around it, which we have happily been apart of for a while now,” said Eric Stephenson, Publisher for Image Comics. “Publishing our top titles the same day digitally as print will allow our loyal reader to buy their favorite comics on almost any smartphone and tablet, while also getting them into the hands of new readers and grow the market.”

This Wednesday October 5th, the following titles will be available on the full comiXology platform, the comiXology Digital Storefronts, as well as on comics.imagecomics.com and the Image Comics iOS app:
  • The Last of the Greats
  • Marksmen
  • Moriarty
  • Red Spike
  • Red Gunther
  • The Strange Talent of Luther Strode
  • Vescell

So what do you think about this change?  Start of a needed trend, or over-reaction to a market that's not going to last?  Let me know what you think!