September 30, 2013

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Digging into Digital: eManga Wants You to Switch, Offers Credits

I'm a little late getting to this one, but I wanted to talk a little about it, because I find the idea interesting.

Digital Manga Publishing, the parent company of eManga, is offering new--and only new--customers the chance to have a 795 point credit (roughly 8 dollars) if they sign up for an account with eManga and provide proof that they've bought e-books elsewhere, with Amazon's Kindle Store and the Barnes and Noble Nook Store name-checked in the promotional materials. The receipt must be "verified" which makes me wonder a bit about whether a receipt from, say, Weightless Books would be accepted.

It's an interesting idea to draw readers towards your own in-house service rather than use Comixology or the Kindle Store or other places where DMP would have to share a cut of the profits. They're banking that once the customer buys a volume one from them for free, they're more likely to come back for volume two on the same platform, as switching between different applications is a pain. (Or perhaps I'm just projecting. I use Comixology almost exclusively because I hate going back and forth.)

In addition to the deal, there's two other factors that could lure folks in. The first is downloadable content, which is important to some segments of the digital reading population (though not me personally). They also note in the release that some of their titles are censored and unavailable from the "big guns" so anyone who is big into hentai or the steamier side of yaoi can get their fill without the gatekeepers.

DMP covers Digital Manga Publishing, JUNE, 801, Project-H, and also has some Western comics on their site as well.

I've fallen away from them as I started reading less manga, found reading on my netbook hard to do, and was unable to access my titles that I had on my account from my iPad when the app launched. (That may have changed since then, but after that experience, I didn't try and moved on to other publishers.) However, if you have an interest in some really good yaoi manga and don't have an account yet, this might be a good time to check them out and see what you think. They have plenty of good manga in other genres, too, but I think it's in their yaoi choices where they really shine.

The complete details on the September Switch deal is here.
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You Should Go to the Locust Moon Festival October 5th

Like a Midwest political primary, the Locust Moon Comics Festival moved up this year, as the Philadelphia-based comics show moves up a few months from the cold of December to the slight chill of October this year. Held in the amazing venue for small-press comics and zines, the Rotunda, Locust Moon will be open from 10am to 6pm on the outskirts of the U Penn campus.

I really wanted to make the first year of the show, but I had a few issues, so I wasn't able to participate. This year, I hope to go, even as the show itself is growing to include more mainstream folks to go along with the indie comics creators that are the main draw for me personally.

This year the biggest draw by far is the iconic Jim Steranko, who landed in Marvel comics like a shooting star, burning bright and then burning out and into other projects. His stories are almost as large as his artwork, and I'm sure he'll be bending the ears of many fans at the show.

You can find the entire guest list here, but I'll point out some names you should be on the lookout for when you get there:

  • Alternative Comics is back in the game, working to both bring new material to the world and reprint the titles that made this publisher one of the best in the small press field. Anything you get from them is going to be good, but I'll call attention to Magic Whistle, which is hilarious and filthy, and Look Straight Ahead, which is poignant and touching. Alternative has a full range of options and I'd make it one of my first stops at Locust Moon.
  • Box Brown is a Philly mini-comics superstar, as both a publisher of Retrofit books and his own wide and varied solo projects. Often using the most common of characters to explore the nature of life for ordinary people and the philosophical questions we face, Brown's work can make you smile and think at the same time. It's a mix of Kant and cock jokes, drawn with increasing skill. Plus, he's an amazing curator of talent as a publisher, too. Definitely make him a must-visit person when you go to the show.
  • Farel Dalrymple is probably best known for Pop Gun War, which is a series I really need to read. I'm more familiar with his shorter comics and webcomic work, which is excellent. He recently has a collection out with AdHouse books, and his creative use of panel space and refusal to abide by genre guidelines makes him someone to check out.
  • Brian JL Glass is the writer of Mice Templar, an excellent series form Image, along with other projects. I've already got this series, but if you haven't, it's worth your time and $$$.
  • Dean Haspiel has a slick illustration style that always catches my eyes when I see it. He's worked on various projects over the years, both inside and out of superheroes and is currently teaming with Mark Waid on Archie's The Fox. Not sure what he'll have at Locust Moon, but it's likely to be pretty.
  • Michael Kupperman may or may not be at the show. If not, Mark Twain will appear in his place, and he's far better looking than Michael anyway. If you love absurd humor, Kupperman may be the best there is at taking that style and giving it visual life. I rarely make guarantees, but I will here: Open to a random page of Thrizzle, and you'll start laughing if you have anything remotely resembling a sense of humor. Trust me on this one.
  • L. Nichols, whose Flocks #1 was my favorite mini-comic last year, will also be at the show. Her series about dealing with being queer in an environment where it's considered sinful is extremely powerful, illustrated by portraying herself as a rag doll and often using words themselves as a visual device. I know folks may be auto-biographical comic-ed out, but this one is worth it.
  • Ed Piskor just released a new book that starts an extensive history of hip hop and it was so popular at SPX, the comic sold out within a few hours on the first day (as I predicted!). Not sure if Ed will have copies at the show or not, but if you like the genre of music, you simply must get this book. I was extremely impressed with his detailed work, which is incredibly well-researched and has the drawings to match. Piskor also has a few other comics, so if hip hop's not your thing, there's likely to be something that is.
  • Rafer Roberts brings his psychological horror opus Plastic Farm to Philadelphia, along with some other side work, prints, and original art. I've written quite a bit about Rafer over the years, so I'll keep it short this time: If you like comics that hide as much as they reveal and line work that's incredibly detailed, you'll like Rafer Roberts and should look him up at Locust Moon.
  • Jarod Rosello does great work in the mini-comics field, using his angular style to create dramatic visuals that catch your eye while telling a story that can range from silly to serious. He should have his collection of mini-comics at the show, as well as the next installment of his new series about a well-dressed bear who has found himself in a world of rather unfriendly humans.
  • Bill Roundy is your man if you need to know the best bars in Brooklyn, and I love the alliteration telling you that brings to Blogger. If you don't plan to drink in one of the five boroughs, he's also got several mini-comics about gay characters and sometimes even his auto-biographical comics, which have cute characters, soppy love stories, and even classic horror monsters.
  • Tom Scioli should definitely be located next to the Jack Kirby Museum folks, if there's any justice in the world. The best neo-Kirby artist working in comics today, Scioli has a ton of projects to his name at this point, from his breakout with the Myth of 8-Opus to Godland to his webcomic work. If you worship the King of Comics, you need to find Scioli and add him to your favorite artists list.
  • Chrissy Zullo's artwork is absolutely gorgeous. She's done work for most of the major publishers and her ability to bring attention to a central subject while creating a background that is just as interesting puts her among the elite cover artists working in the same style, such as James Jean. If you love art, you'll love Zullo. 
In addition, there will also be panels, ranging from a spotlight on Meathaus to Jack Kirby to how childhood experiences lead to comics creation. It's nice to see the show adding programming and expanding to be a more rounded experience for attendees. They also promise amazing food, too, and trust me--Phlly has some really great places to eat.

Locust Moon should be a great time, and if you live in the area and love comics, you should definitely go. I hope to actually make it this year!

September 17, 2013

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You Should Go to the Rose City Comic-Con September 21-22

No rest for the comics fan!

I'm very pleased to be planning to attend the second Rose City Comic Con this year, as part of a longer trip to the comics Mecca of Portland, OR.

Held at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Oregon, the two-day show is a mix of comics and media, with guests ranging from the legendary Kurt Busiek to the voices of Bender and Fry, John DiMaggio and Billy West.

Held from 10-7 on Saturday and 10-5 on Sunday, the show costs $30 for a weekend pass, $20 for Satuday, and $15 for Sunday.

While I normally wouldn't attend a show that's mixed so heavily between media and comics (I prefer comics-centric shows like Heroes or Baltimore), there's plenty of comics content and the media guests are all folks who have a strong connection to properties that comics fans love (Futurama, Adventure Time, Star Trek, Flash Gordon, and so on).

Highlights from the comics guest list include:

  • Damn near everyone from Periscope Studios will be there. I'm a huge fan of these guys, ranging from Erika Moen to Jeff Parker to Steve Lieber, and they're all incredibly talented people with projects for just about everyone from indie work to superheroes. Besides those three, there's also Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover of Bandette, Karl Kesel of just about everything, and many, many more. Meeting as many of these guys as I can will be the show highlight for me.
  • Kurt Busiek is a gem of the superhero comics genre, bringing his class and knowledge to any project. He's working on Astro City again, and that's just the tip of his creative iceberg.
  • Katie Cook is a very funny woman, and also the writing half of My Little Pony, among other projects. She also runs the cute-as-hell webcomic Gronk.
  • Kelly Sue Deconnick is one of Marvel's rising stars, taking a C-list heroine and making her a force to be reckoned with in Captain Marvel. She's also going to do a story in Cartozia Tales!
  • Rachel Deering lettered more of Womanthology than anyone should have had to do. She's also the writer of Anathema, a great horror series, has an upcoming romance book for Monkeybrain, and is working on editing a horror anthology. She's also a great person, so be sure to check her out when you're there.
  • Matt Fraction is Matt Fraction. 'Nuff said.
  • Greg Rucka is amazing when writing his own creations. If you aren't reading Lazarus right now, you're missing out. Sadly, his co-creator on that book can't make the show, but be sure to see Greg and encourage him to write more Whiteout books.
  • Tim Sale is the man behind multiple projects with Jeff Loeb, such as The Long Halloween, Daredevil: Yellow, and many more. See his creepy and cool work in person at the show.
  • Tim Seeley just wrapped up work on Witchblade, writing it as it spun out of Top Cow: Rebirth. He also is the brains behind Hack/Slash, a highly underrated horror book and is a very strong artist in his own right.

 The list of folks exhibiting and in Artist's Alley are mostly new to me, because I've never done a West Coast show. That's part of what I'm looking forward to the most--getting to meet new folks and try their comics. A few names stuck out, though, and should not be missed:

  • Dark Horse Comics is one of the best mainstream independent publishers out there. I'm always doing Best Shots on their books, seemingly every week. Go see what they have for sale at the show, and pick up great horror, sci-fi, and fantasy books, both original an licensed.
  • I haven't had the pleasure of talking to the Oni Comics folks in person since several SPXs ago, so I'm not going to miss the chance now. Once the King of the relationship comic, the home of Scott Pilgrim has branched out, doing works like 6th Gun, Mermin, and others that are now the standard-bearers.
  • Top Shelf will be there, too. I've extolled their virtues a lot lately, so I'll just mention they're one of the best in the indie comix biz.
  • Jason Copland will be on hand with Kill All Monsters, which I just grabbed at Baltimore and can't wait to read. Giant creatures smashing things!
  • Geek in the City is my friend Aaron's comics, so you should definitely look him up. He's not only a talented reviewer, but a solid comics creator as well. 
  • Super Ugly does great work with comics that take extraordinary things and mash them up with ordinary items. A great cartoonist, he'll be on hand and is one of the Action Lab team.

For a newer show, the panels for Rose City are really impressive. There are spotlights on the media guests as well as the comics artists, running both Saturday and Sunday. Other panels focus on publishers and their upcoming work (Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, Monkeybrain, Oni, and others) or aspects of comics, like diversity. There are some how-to panels and of course just a bit on Dr. Who. You can find a complete list here.

Rose City Comic Con looks to be a great time. I hope, if you're in the area, to see you there!
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Action Lab Moves into Digital First, Teases Titles

Action Lab's darker side, Danger Zone, moves into the digital-first publishing world starting in October, based on an teaser image they released.

Working with far and away the most popular digital comics distributor, Comixology, Action Lab joins a trend we're seeing a lot more of lately, where books are given a digital release and then later are collected into a traditional paper version.

There's no word on whether that's the plan or not, but given that Monkeybrain, DC, Dynamite, and others all eventually move their digital first comics into something sold at stores, it's logical that Action Lab will follow the same trend.

Sadly, the company did not provide any information on these titles, so I can't make a lot of commentary. I'm a little surprised they did not give any creative team information or pricing to help give this a push, but perhaps that will come later.

From what I can see, it looks like we have a bloody, gory series in Scum of the Earth, a raunchy version of a children's comic in Itty Bitty Bunnies (possibly with My Little Pony jabs), a blackspoitation-inspired work with a plush bear in an Afro for Bo Plushy Gangster, and maybe a superhero pastiche in Crimson Society.

Hard to judge a book by its cover, but in this case you'll have to. Based on Action Lab's current pricing and the general market for digital-first books, I'm guessing these will be 99 cents, making them something you can easily try when you pick up your regular books from Comixology.

It's interesting to me that these are all Danger Zone books. I wonder if that's something they determined from marketing (do more folks buy mature books digitally?) or if there's a plan afoot to add all-ages digital titles going forward. I also wonder if this is a way to gauge interest in making these regular series. So far, Action Lab has been pretty smart about how they grow their line. I'll be watching this carefully to see how it develops.

September 16, 2013

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Recommendations from the Top Shelf $3 Sale

SPX may be over for another year, but finding and picking up great comics never rests!

Once again, Top Shelf, one of my favorite publishers, is putting together a massive sale from their back catalog, with books as cheap as $3 and some of their smaller comics going for only a buck!

As in past years, they've even added a section for some great books at a big discount. While not $3, they're chances to get some of the top books that they've published at a significant savings.

You can see the entire list of sale books here. I'll talk about some of my recommendations below. Don't delay--some books will run out and the sale itself ends on September 27th. This is a great chance to pick up things you may have missed or find a few new favorites.


  • I mentioned that everyone should read a copy of March Book 1. Well, you can now do so for only $7.50. This story of Civil Rights is not to be missed.
  • We Can Fix It is a great memoir that talks about sex and the way we dwell on memory. Jess Fink is a great artist and this one is also only $7.50
  • SuperFuckers has been collected into a trade, and if you love James Kochalka, have a look at his incredibly funny raunchy side with this Legion of Superheroes parody, collected together for $8.
  • Blue was an underrated hit for me, though I didn't get a chance to review it at the time. It's a book that's partly funny, partly a commentary on the idea of the alien "ruining" things when they "invade" what is perceived as normal reality. A great book for $5.
  • If you love Alan Moore but missed the latest League work--it's only $5 each for the League Century books.
  • Carnet de Voyage is my favorite Craig Thompson book. Both a travelogue and an introspective, it's $5.


  • The Lovely Horrible Stuff finds Eddie Campbell reflecting quite personally on the nature of money and its role in our lives, done in his great pencil-watercolor style and flowing like his brushwork across ideas and themes.
  • If you want to see Manga on the edge, Ax is now down to only $3, and that works out to like a penny a page, which is unreal. Anyone who likes both manga and alternative comics ala Josh Bayer need to get this, no excuses.
  • Wanna find the various Jeffrey Brown stories that appeared in anthologies and things like that? Undeleted Scenes is what you need.
  • If you love Bandette, don't pass go, but do pay 300 cents for Gingerbread Girl, by the team of Tobin and Coover.
  • Both of Brown's Incredible Change-Bots books (review of one here, review of two here) are available, and if you liked Transformers and want to see them as whiny, selfish shits, this is the place to go. Plus you can watch how Brown's art progresses from one to the other!
  • BB Wolf and the 3 LPs blends a classic fairy tale, blues music, the spectre of racism, and incredible art. This is one of my favorite Top Shelf books.
  • For good measure, you can also get Three Fingers (Koslowski's animation homage/parody) and The King (my favorite book about Elvis) on sale as well.
  • Digging X-O Manowar and want more of Robert Venditti? Oh man, go grab The Surrogates right now. A dystopia with strong science fiction and a great noir mystery plot, the first book is amazing and the second book is good and both will fit right in with your Valiant collections.
  • Fox Bunny Funny is something I reviewed AGES go, but I still love it, and it's on sale, too. A great and surprising tale of identity.
  • You can't go wrong with Scott Morse, and here's a chance to get one of his older books, Barefoot Serpent, on sale.


  • Lone Racer is a great story about a man past his prime who's trying to make himself relevant one last time. Anyone growing older can appreciate this. A hidden gem in the Top Shelf Catalog.
  • More Jeffrey Brown is available, so if you're a fan and don't have Sulk yet, they're $1 a piece right now. They come highly recommended from Erica, who has read all of Brown's work.
  • Conversation 1 and 2 find Jeffrey Brown debating and alternating art duties with Craig Thompson (1) and Jeffrey Brown (2). Those are steals at only a buck a piece.
  • Black Ghost Apple Factory is a fun and quirky relationship comic with several stories.
  • All Flee belongs on the bookshelf of any kaiju fan, and you can get it for a hell of a lot less than a movie ticket--or even a discounted DVD. Simon Gane working on alt comix and showing the skills he used on IDW's Godzilla series.

There are plenty of good things in the sale--these are just a  few of the highlights from my perspective. Poke around the list and find some favorites of your own and enjoy a fall filled with great comic bargains from an awesome publisher.

September 15, 2013


SPX Bonus Post: Debut Tablers

Hi everyone! I hope those to went to SPX on Saturday had an awesome time. I know I did!

One of the best parts of Day 2 is to get a chance to explore deeper and see what's out there that you may have missed. Things that looked potentially interesting, but you wanted to make sure you bought your copy of Cartozia Tales or Hip Hop Family Free or March or Plastic Farm first.

Well, in order to help you out, here's some folks that, to the best of my knowledge, are tabling at SPX for the very first time! This list was compiled by asking around on Twitter. It's far from complete, but hey, it's a start. Some also have new books, some are showing their classic stuff. Either way, go have a look at their things when you return to SPX at noon today!

List is in alphabetical order. Links will take you to their websites.

  • Carey Pietsch should win over fans of Scott Morse and other creators who work in painted art. It's really pretty and worth investigating further.
  • Diana Tamblyn worked hard to get her new book, the first part of a two-part biography of Gerald Bull, finished in time for SPX, and it's available at her table, right across from Fantagraphics. I'm possibly cheating a bit--this might not be her first SPX, but if you like non-fiction comics, the research and artwork on this one is meticulous and recommended.
  • Dylan Edwards writes comics about queer comics and situations. He's been featured in Fantagraphic's No Straight Lines and does a webcomic called Politically InQueerect and has a graphic novel featuring six true stories about trans men called Transposes. 
  • Elaine Will is the last recipient of a Xeric Grant, and they went out with a bang! I wanted to do a full write-up on her work, which is about a teenager who faces social pressures and ends up questioning his entire reality. Will's artwork is strong and fits the narrative extremely well. Dealing with a sensitive subject that's very close to my heart, I've only had a chance to sample this book that is one you should definitely seek out at the show today.
  • Jay Fuller is the creator behind an absolutely adorable webcomic, The Boy in the Pink Earmuffs, which is a story of a budding relationship between two young gay men. Fuller's linework is incredibly cute and the characters will grow on you immediately.
  • Katie Valeska brings her autobiographical webcomic to SPX, Next Year's Girl. It's about a person obsessed with goals trying to pin herself down and I can easily relate to that.
  • Ken Eppstein got an SPX Spotlight, so not going to add much, other than his record-infused brain and comics covering horror, Westerns, and even all-ages are at SPX for the first time!
  • Lizz Lunney is one of several UK folks coming to SPX for the first time. She has a comic called Depressed Cat, which I mean, come on--Depressed Cat, folks!
  • Melanie Gillman has a webcomic As the Crow Flies, and it's another example of the growth of queer comics over the years. This one deals with being a gay girl at a Christian Youth camp, and looks great in the samples I read before the show.
  • Pikitia Press is at SPX all the way from New Zealand/Australia (one of several folks who made the trip) and they have a variety of comics available for you to purchase. Speaking as a person who belongs to a mini-comic of the month club from Australia, I can tell you there are a ton of strong cartoonists working "down there" right now. Definitely check these guys out!
  • Shazzbaa Bennet has worked with Kel McDonald and has projects of her own that range from fantasy to autobiographical. Her work has a nice sense of life to the panels if her topics match your reading interests.
  • Space Pyrates is a parody of all things pop culture, with a sci fi bent. I only got the briefest chance to sample this one, but it looks awesome and a good pick for anyone who likes things that poke fun at our idols of geekdom.
  • Steph Stober has a series of mini-comics that remind me a bit of the style of Ryan Estrada.
  • Telegraph has you covered--and will help you cover your wall--if you really dig prints. They range from intricate work to more simple ideas, and look pretty awesome.
  • 2 Headed Monster Comics is a team effort putting out a few cool comics, including a Chick Tract parody celebrating Halloween and other cool things.

I received several other folks, but sometimes it was hard to tell what was offered or could not get a name from the website. So if you aren't on here, don't be offended--please think about making your web presence a bit cleaner and easier to navigate, though!

For those reading, I hope you find this list helpful. Go find a new favorite at SPX today!

September 13, 2013

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SPX Spotlight 2013: Jarod Rosello and The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) Be Found

Welcome to another entry in the 2013 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, I'll be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at the best convention, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of my spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

As we get down to our last few SPX Spotlights this year (and I'm so sorry to everyone I wasn't able to feature), I'm pleased to add Jarod Rosello to the list of creators you need to seek out.

Jarod first came to my attention with a comic featuring two people discussing who should own an old Spirit comic book (see my review here) and I immediately liked his distinctive, angular line work and ability to tell a more complicated story underlying the apparent simplicity of the plot.

This year, Jarod recently collected his past comics and will be offering the "trade" edition of them called There's Someone Behind You. Funded on Kickstarter (Disclosure: I was a backer), Rosello says that it contains just about every comic he's written, including a few not published previously.

In addition to this debut, Rosello will also have an anthology called Pants Optional, in which he collaborates with two other creators on a series of stories about animals without pants. That one sounds like a lot of fun.

Rosello will also be debuting his newest work, The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) Be Found, which Jarod tells me will be a series of 5 or 6 mini-comics, with the first debuting at SPX this year. He was kind enough to give me a review copy, and I recommend it highly. A simple bear is pestered by a phone call from a woman who wants to speak with Jonathan, who is not the bear. In this first issue, we learn just how much this displeases the bear, who only wants to live his life, making lasagna for a party of 15.

With Rosello as the unnamed narrator, we are taken through the bear's world, which is first shown in well-detailed domestic bliss but then expands out to show our bear lives in a very broken world, that gets increasingly darker as the first mini reaches its ending. It is a world where people hover over trash cans, buildings are destroyed, and helicopters roam with searchlights. Rosello makes a chilling transition here, putting his strong art skills to work showing just how desperate this world he's created is, while using an improbably long land-line as an anchor to the tranquility of the bear's house.

I know the general outline of the story, and it sounds awesome, as the bear's world gets more difficult and he must take desperate measures to keep his place in it. There is a lot of room for commentary in this comic, and it will be interesting to see how Rosello uses it (or opts not to use it) to talk about events that are very much in the public eye.

Whether you want to sample Rosello's work or invest in a bigger chunk with his new collection, Jarod is a creator to visit at SPX.

Well-dressed but unable to make it to SPX because they don't allow bears? You can find Jarod Rosello on the web here, with links to buy his books.
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SPX Spotlight 2013: Bob Corby and Bunny Blues

Welcome to another entry in the 2013 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, I'll be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at the best convention, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of my spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

My only experience with going to a comics show in Pittsburgh was, honestly, a bit disappointing. However, I was very pleased to get to meet--and have an extended conversation with--Bob Corby, who is the main force behind a show I regret I probably won't ever get a chance to attend, SPACE in Columbus, Ohio.

While he also does other mini-comics that are one-shots, which I imagine he'll have around at the show, the main mini-comic that Corby works on is Bunny Blues, which will have its 6th and final issue appearing at SPX this year.

I picked up the first five when I was at that Pittsburgh show, and I am definitely looking forward to seeing how it ends. Bunny Blues is the story of Mike Blues, a generally good rabbit who's often a bit in debt. He takes a job as roadie/security for Kit Jones, a (cat? fox?) singer who feels she's lost her way and wants to get out on the road. They're joined by Marcel, a penguin with a French accent and homocidal tendencies, who manages Kit while they're on the road. Meanwhile, Kit's brother ponders his life as a club owner.

Mike Blues is a long-running character of Corby's, but you don't need to have his back story in order to appreciate this comic that heavily involves the life of a club musician, unrequited love, and slapstick humor. The characters quickly grow on you--especially Marcel--and they act just like people we know (especially if, like me, you know folks who play small shows on a regular basis).

In these issues, we meet the characters and set up the plot, as Corby works a bit of a tri-narrative. We see what's happening now, Mike's thoughts, and also the brother's own quest. Each story gets moved forward a bit in each issue, leading up to what will be the closing scenes in issue six. Along the way, we learn a lot about Mike and also that things are never quite as easy as they appear.

Corby's art is mostly in black and white, with a few bits of color now and again. As fitting the detective origins of Mike, the series uses a lot of blacks and shadow to create a bit of a noirish feel. The series itself is a bit timeless, living as it has across the 21st century as Corby put out issues. We get things like confidence games and sleezy club owners and low-lit scenes that evoke a reflective mood. Corby isn't stunning on art, but he does a good job of setting up each scene and keeping the visuals varied and the characters distinct.

If you like stories that are set in a noir-ish world, with plenty of reflection mixed with comedy and a bit of action now and again, definitely give Bob Corby a look. He does a great job with Bunny Blues and is worth seeking out at SPX.

On tour and don't have a Bethesda, MD date? You can find Bob Corby on the web here, with links to buy his books.

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SPX Spotlight 2013: Whit Taylor and Madtown High

Welcome to another entry in the 2013 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, I'll be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at the best convention, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of my spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

I first became aware of Taylor's mini-comics in 2011 when I picked up a copy of Watermelon, a full-size mini-comic in which she discussed things that related to her experiences as an African American and the expectations and associations that go along with being Black in America.

Struck by the frankness of her observations, her honesty, and a loose, sketchy style that reminded me of Panel Patter favorite Katie Omberg, I quickly made a note to keep an eye on her work.

In 2012, I found her again at SPX and grabbed a few more of her comics. One of them, Relics, made my 2012 favorites list. 

Now it's 2013 and here she is, not only back with a great series of mini-comics reflecting upon her time in high school, but carrying an Ignatz nomination into SPX along with it. (So yeah--VOTE FOR WHIT TOMORROW!)

I've spoken at length over the years about the ability of the mini-comics genre to give creators the freedom to express themselves without the demands and pressures of a publisher. This means they can talk about absolutely anything they wish. In the case of Taylor, this means looking back at a period of her life she wasn't aware would end up meaning more to her than college.

Over the course of five issues, Taylor moves the reader across her life as a teenager, starting with the nerves of beginning high school, her luck at finding friends who were as oddball and geeky as she was, and of course the ins and outs of dating. The theme of relationships continues through the minis, and I could completely relate to the idea of not being able to follow through properly on crushes. 

Taylor does a great job in Madtown of mixing the funny bits and tragic elements. There's a lot of pages dedicated to pranks (including a great series of torturing the ice cream guy in harmless ways) but we also see what it was like to be in high school during Columbine and 9/11. The latter is especially powerful, because, growing up in Jersey, Taylor and her friends are close enough to drive down to see what's happened. 

There are also the smaller moments, where a reader can closely relate to Taylor's experiences. She's often unaware of slang (one of the things that happened to me a ton growing up) and puts herself in a vulnerable situation. She talks about her first experience drinking--and puking. But perhaps the most heartbreaking is Taylor's insecurity about dating. Maybe that's just because of how much trouble I had at the same age. It had to be worse for Taylor, though, because she has the added issue of being a minority in an overwhelmingly white school, something she illustrates in an understated manner--simply by her use of shading.

Race does not come up all that often in the minis, but when it does, it's very powerful. At a "lock-in" she finally confesses what it's like to be her among the overwhelming white population, and it's like a pressure valve releases for both her character and the reader, as the unstated issue gets the airing she's been holding back. While I cannot relate directly, I do understand how it feels to be the one who's different. It gets easier, as you age, but it never, ever goes away.

And in high school, it's maddening.

Taylor illustrates this mini-series in her usual way, with sketchy and loose outlines that keep the feel of the characters and places but aren't locked in to rigid form. She gives every character a distinctive look and ensures we know who they are by visual clues, like hairstyle or shirts. Even minor characters get this treatment. Her backdrops set the stage well, and we don't need a lot because it's pretty easy to understand what a high school looks like. Taylor's work is very much in line with her mini-comic contemporaries.

This is one of the best mini-comic memoirs I've read in some time. I'd like to thank Whit for sharing them with me in advance of the show, and I urge you to go find her at SPX this year and have a look at her books. There's quite a variety, ranging from the Midtown work to short reflections to commentary. If you like autobiographical comics, make sure you stop by her table. Also: VOTE FOR WHIT IN THE IGNATZ. 

Going to be at high school instead of SPX? You do know it's Saturday, right? You can find Whit Taylor on the web here, with links to buy her comics.
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SPX Spotlight 2013: Jeremy Whitley of Princeless

Welcome to another entry in the 2013 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, I'll be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at the best convention, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of my spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

I'm really exited to report that Jeremy Whitley will in fact be making SPX this year, after being unsure if he had a table for the show.

The marketing arm of Action Lab, a small press publisher, Whitley is best known for the breakout hit Princeless (my review of Volume 1 here), which he created because he wanted there to be a comic his daughter could relate to.

For those who are unaware, Princeless is the story of a young woman living in a world where her opinion isn't valued. Her parents keep their girls as prisoners, waiting for the right man to come and rescue them. With the help of a sympathetic dragon, our heroine escapes to live life on her own terms, which is far from easy.

The comic definitely has a message, especially when one of its covers calls out the rest of the industry (see here for details), but Whitley is careful to ensure he's telling a story, not just countering stories he doesn't like. The characters are real, their feelings and emotions are human--even those of the parents, who are shown more as being misguided than evil.

As the series moved into Volume 2, it continued to be excellent, though the tone and feel was just a bit darker, at least from my perspective. That's a natural progression. It still remains an amazing comic, showing that you can make a comic for all ages that shows positive role models for young women and girls.

I'm not entirely sure what Whitley will have at SPX. My guess is copies of the older, smaller version of the Princeless trade (but be aware it's re-launching in a full-size trade soon). He should also have copies of Volume 2, which was just released, and possibly single issues as well.

Jeremy also writes another series, The Order of the Dagonet, which features a set of honorary Knights (i.e. celebrities) being forced to band together to save the day. It's a fun romp of a series for those who like parody comics. You probably need to be of a certain age to get the analogs and references, however.

For those who can't make SPX, I want to let you know that Princeless Volume 1 is being re-released as single issues, with the first issue only $1, to be followed by $2.99 releases for issues 2-4. If you prefer floppies to trades and missed out originally, check your local comic book shop for them.

I don't often recommend comics without hesitation--well, except during SPX Spotlight time--but I can definitely say that Princeless is a comic anyone coming to SPX will love. Lots of folks complain about the nature of comics these days--but Jeremy is doing something about it. When you're at SPX, go have a look at his stuff, and put your own consumer dollars where your mouth is.

Stuck in a tower and can't make SPX? You can find Action Lab on the web here, and their comics are on Comixology for the digital set.

September 12, 2013

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SPX Spotlight 2013: NBM Publishing and Science A Discovery in Comics

Welcome to another entry in the 2013 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, I'll be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at the best convention, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of my spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Sometimes I feel like NBM publishing gets overlooked a bit when folks start talking about the larger indie publishers. That's a big mistake, because they quietly publish some of the best graphic novels out there, ranging from translation work from Europe to being the home of Rick Geary to much, much more.

At SPX, NBM always brings a nice sampling of their catalog, focusing on things that are new and a few evergreen works, such as the Dungeon Series (a few reviews of which you can find here). Some of the books you might find there this year include Persia Blues (a story mixing fantasy and reality and set in the crux of Iran-USA relations), Zombillenium (about a theme park that only caters to monsters), and the Initiates (in which a wine maker and a comics maker change jobs). They should also have more of P. Craig Russell's adaptations of everything from opera to Oscar Wilde, which are so gorgeous it hurts.

NBM's feature book this year is Science A Discover in Comics, by Margreet de Heer, who will be at SPX along with the publisher. They provided me with a review copy, and I can't recommend this one highly enough, both for younger readers and adults who enjoy overviews of expansive subjects.

The first thing that comes to mind when seeing a book like this are the "Cartoon History..." series of books. Unfortunately, while I like them, they get mired down in Larry Gonick's politics, which really hurts them as a work of literature. It's one thing to provide a viewpoint, but Gonick hammers it home from cover to cover, and even if you agree with him, it gets on your nerves after awhile.

de Heer deftly avoids this pitfall, preferring to stick within the facts and let them tell the story (such as the difficulty women had breaking into science while also recognizing those who did). When there is authorial intrusion, it's more to comment on how modern some of the ancient ideas were or to note that while we often know the Western scientists who "discovered" things, they frequently were already know by folks in China, the Middle East, and other places centuries before they hit Europe.

Structurally, the book does have similarities to Gonick's work. Two avatars talk back and forth, including an interesting opening discussing the controversial place science has in the world today. The tone is light-hearted from the start, and that carries through the entire book, with her two characters alternating between amusing notes, factual asides, and interaction with the characters they discuss.

The jokes don't interfere with the serious amount of history de Heer gives the reader, even when a character breaks the fourth (fifth?) wall and narrates their own story. There is a ton of information in this book, making it the equal of any prose overview on the subject. I really appreciate that de Heer takes pains not to overwhelm her readers, breaking things up into a logical progression that combines a general timeline with sections on specific disciplines that form out of the slow and steady march of scientific information.

If there's a note of commentary that de Heer wants the reader to come away with, it's that the rigid way we approach science today might not be the best method. She critiques current teaching styles and never fails to note when a scientist was active in multiple disciplines. The most striking example of this is when we get to Leonardo, who painted, invented war machines, experimented, and kept a variety of patrons happy. When asked about whether he'd rather live in the modern world, he dismisses it by noting he'd have been pressured to specialize.

de Heer's art style reminds me a bit of Kate Beaton, with characters who are a bit flat but clearly look like who they are meant to represent. They're more refined, however, and de Heer's background work is far better than that of the popular web comic creator. That's important, because she often has to depict the science that her characters invented/perfected, and we need to know what the machines or ideas looked like or else this would be a nonfiction essay instead of a nonfiction comic. She does a lot to vary the pages, including splashes, diagrams, timelines that wander across two pages, and more. It's extremely well-done and would help any reader who might have difficulty with the text to understand the meaning of the book, if not the entire contents.

Science A Discover in Comics is a great non-fiction work, and I recommend it to anyone. de Heer also wrote a similar book on philosophy, and I hope to be able to grab that at SPX when I attend. Based on the quality of this book, I can assure you it will be an excellent pick-up as well, if you prefer thought questions to empirical facts.

When you go to SPX in just a few days, don't overlook NBM as you go through the many, many tables this year. They're worth your time, attention, and money, no matter what books you pick up. This is a publisher that you need to experience, if you haven't yet. If you have, go see what's new. You won't be disappointed.

Performing an experiment of your own and can't make SPX? You can find NBM on the web here, and can buy directly from the publisher.
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You Should Go To SPX-plosion at Atomic Books on 9/13

Poster by the great Peter Bagge.
One of the things that I like best about SPX is that the line between creators and readers is so thin you could probably cut it with a staple from a mini-comic. There's a great deal of mixing and interaction, and some creators (like Kate Beaton this year) just come to the show to hang out, and don't even table.

That thin line is blown all to hell in the annual pre-show event held at Atomic Books in Baltimore, Maryland. At the show, creators mingle with fans, drinking beer, talking about anything that comes to mind, and listening as some of the guests of the show get up and do readings/presentations from their work.

For those who don't live in the Batlimore area, Atomic Books is arguably the most indie-comics friendly bookstore I've ever met. They not only carry the usual suspects (Fantagraphics, D&Q, Top Shelf), but also have a special spinner rack set up for mini-comics. You can go there and get the latest from Retrofit or Oily, but also locally produced mini-comics and even ones from folks ranging across the spectrum, like Liz Prince or Noah Van Sciver. It's really an amazing store, and a must-visit if you are in the area.

Those coming in for SPX who are able to make it Friday night owe it to themselves to make the trip up the interstate and attend. Peter Bagge, who has worked for everyone from DC to D&Q, will be there at 6pm to sign books. There will also be readings from Michael Kupperman (a personal favorite of mine), Sam Henderson of Magic Whistle, T. Edward Bak, Anya Davidson, David Plunkert, Brian Ralph, and Frank Santoro.

It's a relaxed atmosphere, with everyone feeling like they are on an equal footing, just hanging out and talking about whatever comes to mind after applauding for the readers. You can bee a mini-comics pro, a rookie, or just a fan, and as long as you enjoy a good beer and a VERY CROWDED SPACE, you'll have an awesome time.

Be sure to buy a book or two while you're there, as well. Atomic not only sells comics, it had a great selection of prose, often of the quirky variety you might not find elsewhere. I hope to see you there!
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SPX Spotlight 2013: Rafer Roberts and Plastic Farm 23

Welcome to another entry in the 2013 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, I'll be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at the best convention, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of my spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

I can't believe I read the first Plastic Farm trade just shy of four years ago (review here), but it's true. Over the years since, I've watched Roberts hone his art, like so many of the others who I've spotlighted this year or who make frequent appearances in the pages of Panel Patter. Given that Rafer has been working his magnum opus, Plastic Farm, for such a long time, it's even easier to spot his artistic refinements.

I talked a lot about that in last year's spotlight (see it here), so I won't repeat myself. What I will say is that as Roberts goes along, his ability to do more interesting things with backgrounds or show the fever dreams of his characters in new and interesting ways improves by leaps and bounds.

This year at SPX, Roberts debuts the 23rd issue of Plastic Farm, which includes plans to ramp up production of the series and get it back on a quarterly schedule. I'm very much in favor of this, as long as it doesn't lead to a downgrade in the intricate nature of his artwork.

A short primer: Chester, the main character of Plastic Farm, is either one unique guy or completely insane--or probably both. He's telling his story to a group who sometimes interact, sometimes not. As we move along, things get weirder and creepier as Roberts ramps up the psychological humor and strangeness.

In the current issue, which Rafer was kind enough to give me in advance of release, Chester and his "guide" discuss the nature of religion. It's an interesting interlude that treats the nature of faith with more respect that you might expect, there's a definite message Roberts is conveying, even among the madness and confusion. The line that sticks with me is the idea of religion being fingers pointing at the moon. Sadly, he's completely right at most concentrate on the fingers, not what they're stretched out to reach.

As a breather, there's also an interlude of sorts that shows the audience wondering about Chester and giving a tease into the future of his story. His set-up for this is a lot of fun, showing Rafer's irreverent nature, but the end point is chilling, as it all feels like Chester planned it all along--and perhaps he did.

Plastic Farm is trucking along nicely, and if you want to get the complete picture, you can pick up all three trades so far at SPX this year. I'm normally not one to take a chance on a larger work without seeing a sample first, but Plastic Farm is an exception--if you like psychological horror with a tinge of Kirby and a lot of intricate linework, you can't go wrong buying an entire trade.

In addition to Plastic Farm work, Roberts should have copies of the reprinted Dope Fields of the Zombie Cafe (review here) and its sequel, Wild Women of the Kitty-Kat Galaxy. He's also in the new issue of Magic Bullet, which is a free comics tabloid filled with creators who will be at SPX this year. Not content to stop there, he's also got a back-up in one of R.M. Rhodes' new books (Who Watches the Watcher) and did a pin-up for a comic called Henry and Glenn Forever and Ever #3.

Rafer Roberts is a great cartoonist and a good friend, and I hope you'll stop by to see him at SPX this year.

Stuck in an airport bar, regaled by stories and can't make SPX? Rafer might ask you for story ideas but while you go slowly mad, why not head to his website for more info and a way to buy his comics?

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SPX Spotlight 2013: Vanessa Satone

Welcome to another entry in the 2013 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, I'll be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at the best convention, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of my spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Today's SPX Spotlight is on two mini-comics from a creator I discovered out of the Womanthology book. That collection had its issues, but served as a way for me to find new creators to look for. Satone was one of them.

The paranormal becomes the normal in these two mini-comics from Vanessa Satone.  Domestic Disputes shows why choosing an alien roommate can be a bad idea, while Bait for the Beast of the Deep examines the perils of potential inter-species dating.  Both comics are on the short side, but they feature strong, well-designed visuals and witty dialog that make for enjoyable reading.

Of the two comics, Domestic Disputes is my favorite.  Split into two short stories, Sue, our everyman character, must deal with alien roommate, who is fussy, furious, and carries a faulty death ray that he isn’t afraid to use—if he can get it to work.  They argue over common roommate issues—cleanliness, bills, damages—but because of the nature of the relationship, these disputes become extremely funny, such as when the alien, who has made a resurrection device, complains that the true reason why the electric bill is high is due to leaving the lights on at night.

Bait for the Beast of the Deep is the more visually interesting, with some strong character designs for a world where mer-people live in a water apartment in a major city.  (The background scene where a fish is drinking coffee in the middle of this deep pool cracks me up every time I look at it.)  It also features more sharply defined character profiles and expressive faces.  The story, however, isn’t quite as clever, as the short is a setup for a relationship joke, and those just aren’t as a funny to me.

Vanessa Satone is a very talented creator and was a participant in the Womanthology project.  Based on these comics, she’s got a bright future and is definitely worth seeking out at SPX.  Satone and her comics are exactly the kind of thing I enjoy most about going to shows—finding new people to add to my roster of cool creators to look for! 

Stuck fighting monsters and can't make SPX? Well, you can find Vanessa at her website here.

September 11, 2013

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SPX Spotlight 2013: Box Brown and Beach Girls

Welcome to another entry in the 2013 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, I'll be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at the best convention, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of my spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

If Box Brown were only the publisher of Retrofit Comics, the debt we as mini-comics readers would be great indeed. (See my spotlight here.) But he's also a very talented creator in his own right who is only getting better with every outing.

I first really became hooked on Brown's work with his two books that were part of the first Whole Story Bundle (review here) and I ended up grabbing several of his other books along the way, which I hope to say a few words about if I get a chance later this year.

Brown's style, while improving in quality as he refines it, remains to use thick, black lines and provide just enough visual information to tell his story. The consistency of the characters and overall quality shows, though, as you progress through his work. Like many of my favorite mini-comic creators, he knows how to do a lot with less, telling a full and complete story without going into every single detail, so that when he does, the results are very striking.

A perfect example of this is Beach Girls. A lot of the story is in his usual minimal backgrounds, but when he goes to a full-on splash page of a surfer lost in a hurricane, with only just the basic shape of the human within a raging storm, the impact is striking. It's moments like that which show the refinement of Box's craft.

At heart, Beach Girls is a story about normal people who aren't really going anywhere in life and how they deal with it. For the girls, the beach is a way to escape their mundane lives. For the surfer who is the co-protagonist, it's his life and what gives him meaning, even if that meaning is ultimately futile. There's a little vibe of philosophy running under the stoner jokes and mild lechery that forms the main narrative.

Beach Girls is Box Brown doing great comics, complete with a neat cameo I won't spoil. But if that's not enough for you, James Kochalka, who was the first artist published by Retrofit, returns with a short story featuring two of his characters not understanding a hungover woman. It's silly fun as the girl mistakes one of them for her boyfriend and two entirely different conversations take place between the characters, leading to amusing confusion. It's nice to see more Kochalka work, even if it's a short.

I'm not sure what books of his own other than Beach Girls Box will have at SPX this year. But if you know the pain of trying to get away from your mundane life, it's a must-purchase comic at the show. Box Brown is definitely one of my favorites, and I hope he becomes the same for you, too.

Going to the beach instead of SPX? That's...well, okay, that's legit. So go to Retrofit and buy Box's work to read on the beach, ok?
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SPX Spotlight 2013: Alternative Comics and Sam Henderson

Welcome to another entry in the 2013 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, I'll be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at the best convention, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of my spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Alternative Comics was founded in 1993, publishing comics from a wide range of indie comics creators, with perhaps its biggest name being James Kochalka. However, Alternative has also worked with a huge number of greats, including work from Ed Brubaker(!), Gabrielle Bell, Dash Shaw, Rob Ullman, and Sara Varon, just to name a few.

Sadly the publisher took a break for a few years, but resumed in 2012 and is working on ramping up its publishing schedule, with Sam Henderson being a big part of that revamping.

Depending on your age (I was too old, but Erica immediately recognized it when I showed her the comics), Henderson might be best known for Scene But Not Heard, which appeared in Nickelodeon Magazine and is collected in an edition that should be available at SPX, if I understand correctly.

In the tradition of the work of Mad Magazine, but tamed a bit to a younger audience, Scene But Not Heard takes a page from Sergio Aragones and also Spy vs Spy, using two main characters who never talk but get into a series of ridiculous adventures together. For example, they might play with the idea of a hole leading off to another panel of the comic or casually remove a nose along with exploded bubble gum.

Given this is a gag strip, Henderson's ability to keep it interesting and varied--especially when you see them collected like this--is pretty impressive. One story might feature a broken shrink ray and the next page is about their fear of a word balloon. Certain themes reoccur, such as the ability to manipulate panels and removing body parts, but they're done in so many different ways as to keep it fresh.

Though drawn quite simply with only a few lines, Henderson's comic timing and willingness to throw all the rules of reality out the window make this an enjoyable romp. Watching the two try to keep one-upping each other will remind readers positively of other, similar rivalries (Bugs Bunny vs anyone, for example) and despite being decidedly all-ages, the gags work even when you're an adult with no prior attachment to the material.

Henderson even includes a few behind the scenes looks, such as how a comic progresses from start to finish, which I found particularly interesting.  This is a great collection, and one that fans of Mad should check out for themselves or the young comic fan in their life

Magic Whistle, also by Henderson, should not be allowed anywhere near your child until they mature a bit, however. I almost got whiplash going from one to the other, as the same comic timing and style is used to create sex jokes and other gags that look like what might happen if someone decided they wanted to piss off every subscriber to Reader's Digest, The New Yorker, and other similar magazines that run one-panel comic illustrations.

There's a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor as well, such as a page that advertises itself as "more cartoons for your cartoon looking-at pleasure" and longer gags that extend over a few pages. They share the simple illustrative style of Scene, but are most assuredly adult.

I'm not as big on scatological humor as some, but this is very well done, and when it's just absurd--like the guy who purposely gets himself stuck calling for help from exploding dog--I found myself in stitches.

Aided by Lizz Hickey with a few guest pages, Magic Whistle won't be for everyone, but if you enjoy a dirty joke and outrageous, dumb jokes, it's worth grabbing and comes recommended from someone who's not normally into that sort of thing.

Sam Henderson will be at SPX with Alternative Comics, and he'll also be appearing at Atomic Books for their SPXplosion the Friday before the show. He'll also be appearing on two panels. Alternative also will have Karl Stevens on hand. Stevens just had a new book, Failure, debut with Alternative this year. Elaine Will, one of the last to get a Xeric Grant, will also be SPX and spend some time at Alternative's table. They helped release her work, and she may have copies at SPX.

From what I understand, Alternative should also have some of its back catalog at the show as well, but I'm not sure which books. It's great to welcome this indie comics publisher back, and I recommend seeing what they have to offer when you go to SPX.

You have Alternative plans for SPX?  Why, man why? Okay, then just go to the Alternative Comics website, where you can find out more about them and also purchase their books.

September 10, 2013

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SPX Spotlight 2013: Tom Scioli and American Barbarian

Welcome to another entry in the 2013 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, I'll be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at the best convention, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of my spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

There are many creators out there who show a distinct Jack Kirby influence when you look at there work. I can think of only one creator, however, who can  make me shake my head for a moment and wonder, "Is that Kirby..?" and it's Pittsburgh native Tom Scioli.

I've been reading Scioli's work going all the way back to his Xeric grant-winning Myth of 8-Opus days. Anyone who loves King Kirby's wild and crazy epic adventures (like OMAC, my favorite Kirby book) will instantly find a favorite in Tom Scioli, if you haven't encountered his work already.

What I like about Tom's creations, whether it's 8-Opus or Godland (working with Joe Casey) or American Barbarian (more on that book shortly) is that while he completely understand the style of Jack Kirby, his work doesn't feel like a clone. The style is unmistakable, but the creatures themselves don't feel like he's merely copied the designs from his artistic hero. Instead, they're just as insane and exaggerated, but are definitely Scioli's.

For example, the main villain in American Barbarian is Two-Tank Omen, who is a giant creature with tanks for feet that terrorizes a world filled with robot dinosaurs, women dressed like the Scarlet Witch borrowed Archangel's wings, and various creatures and characters who look like they stepped out of a nightmare, with odd shapes, jagged teeth, and skin tones all over the rainbow.

Originally a webcomic, which appears to be where Scioli is beginning all his works these days, American Barbarian is the story of a man whose entire life is taken away from him, and he has to fight in a destroyed world to take it back, piece by piece. The scale is epic, if not cosmic, as Scioli quickly shows us just how desperate this destroyed world is. Our hero must work not to let the hopelessness of the situation get to him, as he finds love and betrayal across the pages of the book.

Scioli's dialogue is a bit weak at some points, and I admit that finding modern slang mixed in (such as the use of fuck) felt a bit out of place to me, but I absolutely love how the story builds and grows leading up to a climax that recognizes sometimes the end of the hero's journey is not a happy one--even if the final page might be a bit of a cheat. When I read this comic, I found myself exclaiming out loud "that's so ridiculous" and meaning it in a good way.

American Barbarian is a wild ride through a Kirby-inspired fever dream, featuring characters and ideas that you'll recognize from classic geek culture, including nods to Star Wars and Greek myth. It's a mixture that would fail in many hands, but Scioli makes it work.

For SPX, Tom usually had trades of his 8-Opus work and Godland, and will almost certainly have copies of American Barbarian (if not, AdHouse will). He's also got a new series I need to check out, Satan's Soldiers. This one, based on the bit of it I read as the webcomic, has a much looser feel from Scioli. It's still got the Kirby influence, but the work feels less polished and softer than I'm used to seeing from Scioli. My mind is going towrds Erik Larsen as a comparison, but that's not quite it, either. Definitely check it out (I believe he'll have the first three print issues at SPX) and see what you think. If you love yourself some original art, Tom usually has those around for sale as well.

Hailing Satan and can't make SPX? You can find Tom Scioli on the web here, with links to buy his work.
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SPX Spotlight 2013: Philippa Rice and Looking Out

Welcome to another entry in the 2013 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, I'll be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at the best convention, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of my spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy back in 2009, when I was still regularly writing up the few webcomics I was reading at the time (something I'd like to get back to, when time allows), I found a fun little webcomic that featured the adventures of hand-crafted paper (and other objects) characters called My Cardboard Life.

I loved the fun, biting wit of the mostly one-and-done style gag strips with the two main characters, Colin and Pauline, often engaged in hijinks with each other that had a bit of a Charlie Brown and Lucy vibe. The fact that they and their world are posed objects, not drawn, really made the comic stand out to me, and I've been a fan of Philippa Rice ever since. (You can find my review of the webcomic here, but warning, it's an early one.)

I had always hoped to get a chance to meet Rice, but the fact that she's British got in the way. However, this year, I'm super-excited that she's comics to SPX this year, and is Ignatz-nominated to boot! (So yeah, make sure you vote Rice in 2013!)

In addition to her webcomic work, Rice sometimes does mini-comics as well, but in a hand-drawn format. I was fortunate enough to find a copy of Looking Out at my amazing local store, Atomic Books, and I found I liked it just as much as My Cardboard Life, but for entirely different reasons.

Set in a nebulous future, we are introduced to Lori, an explorer who's shown early on to be a bit different from the rest of the world she lives in. When a young man named Daniel follows her lead, a relationship blooms, even as Lori must go out into deep space. As the comic moves along, we learn just why Lori is so distant in a heartbreaking story of loss. By the end, we're left with the question of whether Daniel can handle Lori's pain or if she will remain alone.

I absolutely love the fact that this is a long story with a fantastical backdrop. Rice nails the fact that no matter where we live, humanity will always be about relationships and that a science fiction story can tell a romantic story that's just as good if not better than some rousing adventure tale with lasers and monsters.

The only monster here is guilt, and perhaps misplaced guilt at that (I'll leave it for you to decide when you read it.) The best part, however, is that the feelings are understated from start to finish, with Rice allowing her characters to build to the confessional climax naturally, the way you tell your partner the worst things about yourself only when you're ready to keep going past the first few dates. Rice's a dialogue here feels extremely natural, flowing from the fantastic to the mundane.

It's great storytelling, and Rice's visuals match her plot and pacing just right. While her style isn't flashy, reminding me of the creators who make up the majority of Oily's roster, I could not believe the level of detailing that Rice includes in every panel. Despite most of her human figures being more of rounded shapes than anything else and her linework doing almost nothing in the way of shading or giving the appearance of depth, Looking Out is an incredibly detailed world. Every single page and panel is crammed with little bits, whether it's showing countless homes linked together by thin and winding paths, an outer space that's got jagged lines and infinite bits of stuff, or a roster of creatures collected by Lori. Without having the ability to be the least bit realistic, Rice does more in one page to set up her world than someone like Jae Lee does in an entire comic book, despite his finely honed figure work.

Looking out is a complete story set in a complete world, and it's something that anyone who likes sci fi and/or relationship comics should put on their shopping list for SPX, right after they tick the box to vote for Philippa in the Ignatz awards.

Lost in space and can't make SPX? You can find Philippa on the web here, with a link to her store.
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SPX Spotlight 2013: Oily Comics

Welcome to another entry in the 2013 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, I'll be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at the best convention, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of my spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Oily Comics, like Retrofit, is another subscription-based comics publisher who will be at SPX this year. As longtime readers know, I'm a big fan of the idea of subscription-based mini-comics and have been working my way through my Oily subscription, offering reviews month by month. Run by Chuck Forsman, Oily in its subscription form is 5 quarter-size mini comics delivered every month for a little over a dollar an issue.

While Oily does have a stable of artists, including Melissa Mendez and Forsman himself, the comics rotate in and out of the monthly offering, with usually only one to two comics appearing from the same author every month. This means that you never quite know what you're going to get when you open up the envelope beyond the fact that you'll have several cool creators using the mini-comics form in varied ways.

You can find my Oily Comics reviews here.

The publisher of Oily Comics, Chuck Forsman, is having a great year of his own. His Oily-first series, The End of the Fucking World, was recently published as a collected edition by Fantagraphics, and he'll be doing some signings at their table during SPX. I really enjoyed the parts of that series that I got to read, and I'm very happy for Forsman that it was picked up by a publisher to give it a wider release.

As part of Oily's table for SPX, Forsman will have a mini-comic called Working on the End of the Fucking World, which he describes as a "sort of making-of" zine. Also available, and one that I'm definitely looking forward to checking out is a real-world horror comic called Tell God to Blow the Wind from the West, which relates to the tragic events of September 11th.

Forsman will also have copies of a combo fanzine comic put together by Melissa Mendez about Friday Night Lights, called Can't Lose. Featuring work from a variety of creators who are fans of the show (makes sense!), this is one for folks who miss the iconic program about high school football.

Naturally, Oily will have copies of its issues in single form, which will look a a bit strange to me since I only ever see them as part of my subscriptions (and on the spinner rack at Atomic Books). This is a good chance for you to sample the style of the comics and see why subscribing will find you with a little bit for everyone.

In addition, Forsman will also offer Oily Subscriptions for the months of October to December 2013, finishing out Oily's publishing year. If you like what you see at the table, don't hesitate to subscribe on the spot. Orders for subscriptions help keep Oily going, and I want to see Chuck's work continues to thrive into 2014.

Car needs oil and can't make SPX? You can find Oily Comics on the web here, with links to buy directly from the publisher.

September 9, 2013

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SPX Spotlight 2013: Fantagraphics and Ed Piskor's Hip Hop Family Tree

Welcome to another entry in the 2013 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, I'll be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at the best convention, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of my spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Every year, I get ready to this post about Fantagraphics, and I wonder what I can add to everything that's already been said about them. The granddaddy of indie publishers is as strong as its ever been, putting out a wide rage of original comics and classic reprints from both the pages of the newspaper and pulp comics.

They're the place where you can find elite manga like Wandering Son (review here), the first-ever attempt to create a complete Peanuts collection (which is still ongoing), anthologies that helped build the careers of creators like Gabrielle Bell (such as Mome, a review of an issue here), brought international sensations like Jason to English (my list of Jason reviews here), and of course are the home of Robert Crumb, Johnny Ryan, and other members of the alt-comix crowd.

And hell, I realize I didn't even mention the Hernandez Brothers or the Ditko/Everett collections or that they're the folks behind The Comics Journal. Fantagraphics has seen all of the trends in indie comics and been a part of them all. They'll work with fairy tale-like books such as Castle Waiting as easily as they'd put together a collection of queer comics that push the envelope as far as it will go.

They are by far one of the best publishers out there, and it's no surprised that they took my top graphic novel spot in 2011 (with Michael Kupperman's Mark Twain's Autobiography 1910-2010, review here) and just missed out in 2012, with Noah Van Sciver's The Hypo.

Fantagraphics always pulls out all the stops for SPX, bringing with them everything they possibly can to the show. They'll have all of their 2013 releases currently available (you can find a complete list here), which is incredibly long in and of itself, plus evergreen titles like their Jason collections, work from creators who will be at the show (Peter Bagge, Kupperman, and Carol Tyler, just to name three), their Mickey Mouse and Peanuts reprints, and much, much more. It's like they bring their whole bookstore with them on the road!

For SPX, Fantagraphics will be debuting Ed Piskor's first volume in his history of hip hop and rap, Hip Hop Family Tree. Piskor will be at the show and signing at the Fantagraphics table, and if you are a fan of the genre, make sure you not only take a moment to talk with him, but you buy the book as well. Fantagraphics was kind enough to provide me with a copy of the book before the show, and I came away from it extremely impressed with its detail, care, and respect for the material.

Piskor is a Pittsburgher, so he gets props from me just for that connection. He gets his comics cred for being a collaborator with Harvey Pekor, working with him on Beats and other projects. He uses a very similar style to American Splendor in Hip Hop Family Tree, narrating in yellow boxes with black text and providing visuals that go along with the information being provided.

Piskor starts as close to the beginning as he's able to, based on extensive research that he notes at the end of the book. We open with DJ Kool Herc, who notes that people like certain drum beats, but they only last just long enough to start dancing to before the record moves on. He comes up with the idea of using two copies of the same record, skipping back and forth to keep a beat alive. Adding an MC to work the crowd while he worked on adjusting the sound, a new and extremely popular idea explodes onto the New York Music scene, as others (with names that will be familiar to even those who aren't big hip hop fans) start to try their hand at this new musical style that even by the early 1980s (when this book finishes) is only just beginning to move out and become a national phenomenon.

You can tell that Ed Piskor loves the music he's chronicling here. There is an immense amount of detail in the pages of this comic, as Piskor works to name just about every single person (right down to kids) who had a hand in the formation of Hip Hop music. In fact, if there's one knock on this history, it's that Piskor may have actually gone into almost too much detail. A casual fan could find themselves glazing over a bit as he details record deals, rap battles, and changing allegiances.

But if that's the worst sin you commit, you're doing something right. In the case of Piskor, there's plenty of things he's doing right. I love that the design of the book fake-ages it, making it feel like a Marvel comic of that time period being read by a collector, something the cover definitely evokes as well. But where Piskor really shines is in the variety of his character designs. I am not familiar with most of the people he portrays, so I have no idea how accurate the likenesses are. What I do know is that it was very easy for me to recognize folks in the story as they weaved in and out of the narrative because Piskor took the time to draw them differently, as well as giving them different verbal cadences.

A labor of love, Hip Hop Family Tree won't be for everyone. But if you like Piskor or hip hop and rap, make sure one of the first things you do is run to the Fantagraphics table and grab this one before it goes away. I have a feeling this could be a runaway hit at the show, depending on the musical preferences of the attendees, because it's simply an amazing work, showing just how powerful comics can be as an educational and historical tool.

In addition to Ed Piskor, Fantagraphics will also be hosting signings for the following artists:

  • Ed Piskor (Saturday 11am to 1pm, 3:30pm to 5pm Sunday 1:30pm to 3pm)
  • Michael Kupperman (Saturday 11am to 12:30 Sunday 3:30pm to 5pm)
  • Leslie Stein (Saturday 11am to 12:30 Sunday Noon to 1:30pm)
  • Janet Hamlin (Saturday 12:30 to 2:30pm) SATURDAY ONLY
  • Justin Hall (Saturday 12:30 to 1:30pm Sunday Noon to 1pm)
  • Carol Tyler (Saturday 1pm to 2pm, 6pm to 7pm Sunday 1pm to 2pm)
  • Chuck Forsman (Saturday 2pm to 4pm Sunday 5pm to 6pm)
  • Gary Panter (Saturday 2pm to 3pm Sunday 4pm to 5pm)
  • Dash Shaw (Saturday 2:30pm to 3:30pm Sunday 2pm to 3:30pm, 5pm to 6pm)
  • Ulli Lust (Saturday 3pm to 5pm Sunday 2pm to 4pm)
  • Paul Hornschemeier (Saturday 4pm to 7pm Sunday 1pm to 2pm)
  • Peter Bagge (Saturday 5pm to 6pm Sunday Noon to 1pm)
  • Ben Catmull (Saturday 5pm to 6pm Sunday 4pm to 6pm)
  • Marc Sobel (Saturday 6pm to 7pm Sunday 3pm to 4pm)


Fantagraphics has a lot to offer comics fans of all kinds. Make sure you don't miss them when you attend SPX this year. I just about guarantee they have something for you!

Hip Hop you can't stop at SPX? Then go to Fantagraphics' website and buy some of their stuff.