October 30, 2013

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Halloween Horror: Moth City

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2013! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

Written and Illustrated by Tim Gibson
Self-Published (also serialized on Thrillbent)

No man is an island, but Governor McCaw runs his domain as if it was entirely his. Ruthlessly controlling a small population outside mainland China, he'll stop at nothing to grow his power base, which includes a daughter he compares just a bit too much to her late mother. When he plans to sell a series of powders that are rumored to kill all that touch it, McCaw gets more than he bargained for as he faces treachery, double-crosses, and the knowledge that the needs of many might just be the flesh of each other. It's a tightly restricted world spiraling out of anyone's ability to keep control in Tim Gibson's Moth City.

When you start reading Moth City, it doesn't have the look or feel of a horror story. There's nothing supernatural about the setting, just a pair of tin-pot dictators using the populace for their own ends, making racist remarks, and not noticing just how fragile their hold on power might be. Gibson quickly shows us this not so much by words as by the actions of the characters. While seemingly helpless, a group of prisoners are exchanging knives that later play a big role in driving the plot. Governor McCaw can't keep tabs on his own daughter, let alone a populace he dismisses later on in the series as being "sparkplugs" for all he cares. The story seems set to be a thriller about revolution, with the communist "threat" set up as the underdog heroes.

And if that's all Moth City was, I'd love it to death and recommend it highly. Gibson, who has experience working with the likes of Peter Jackson, clearly knows how to craft a plot and keep it moving. But that wouldn't make it a good fit for Halloween Horror.

The key to this comic and what makes it such a great horror story, is the way that the horror elements creep into the narrative, slowly and subtly. Before the reader knows it, there's people who should be dead cropping up and returning to the plot, making life harder for McCaw and his possible Chinese partner. They're slow to figure out what's going on, with the reader about a step or two ahead of them, even as Gibson keeps the story winding through twists and turns. By the time we hit issue five (the most recent one released), things have accelerated to the point that desperate measures are being planned to ensure that the horror of the flesh-eaters roaming McCaw's island is condemned and contained, even as he works to find a way to save all that his greed has cost him.

Gibson's put together an amazing slow-burn horror in Moth City, which isn't easy to do. Go too fast and you lose the point of holding things back. Go too slow and the reader's clicking off your comic and on to something else. In this case, the story hooks you by being a noir-ish thriller involving evil people and revolution, then when he's ready, Gibson pulls the rug out from under everyone with the revelation that we have zombies added into the mix.

Now, hold it right there, I see some of you rolling your eyes. Yes, this story does have zombies in it, but there's two things you should know: 1) They're not the usual kind of zombies, these folks are not only smart, they're diabolically so and 2) They're more of a situation than the main storyline. Trust me, if this were a plain old zombie tale, I wouldn't be doing this review in the first place. Gibson is clever in his handling of the undead in Moth City, using them in a way that is innovative and intriguing. Plus, watching how the different characters deal with this unusual weapon of mass destruction ties the plot together and keeps it from just being another horror story with horrible people. It's not going to appeal to those who are entirely done with zombies, but I have a feeling by the time most readers encounter the flesh-eating in this story, you'll already be too hooked to stop, even if they aren't you usual cup of tea.

I've said a lot about the story, so now let's get to the visuals. Gibson mentions on his "about" page that he's a big fan of David Mazzucchelli, and that shows. His work is minimalist and colored in the same shades that anyone who's read Batman: Year One (in the original version) will be instantly familiar with. You can tell where his creative influences lie, but that doesn't make him a clone of Mazzucchelli. His figures are more expressive and varied, for one thing, and there's a looseness to the overall style that gives it a more distinctive look.

I also like the fact that despite this being a horror story with lots of violence, Gibson is very restrained his presentation. He's good at withholding just the right things to let the reader's imagination go wild (this is especially true in the creepy relationship between McCaw and his daughter) rather than spread blood all over the page. His settings are vivid and make me think of the time period (1930s China), and his Asian characters are varied in size, shape, and personalities.

The most interesting part of Moth City, however, is how well it uses the digital medium. This is a digital comic in every sense of the word. Even in a downloaded PDF format (which is how I read my copy), the effects were clear to see and extremely well done, perhaps the best since Alex de Campi's Valentine. I really loved the way he did the narrative boxes, which come up, then disappeared as the images moved onto the screen, via a nifty system that uses the arrows on your computer to move from panel to panel. When viewing full-screen on a computer, it's just an amazing visual experience. Once you get used to the arrow system, you'll be amazed as characters blink, move across the screen, or even provide a bit of humor as situations are revealed.

This is how a digital comic should be done. The tricks do not distract from or slow down the reading experience--they enhance it. It's a lesson that should be learned by others as we move into an era where some comics--not all, of course--are written for those reading on smaller screens or entirely online. I'm incredibly impressed by how Gibson manipulates things, since usually, I find digital-trick comics too gimmicky for my taste. Since Gibson has experience working with amazing directors in film (and de Campi, who also did this well, is also involved in film projects), perhaps this is one of those instances where the blending of the mediums creates the product.

Moth City is available on Comixology, at Gibson's website, or on Thrillbent, so there are plenty of opportunities and options, based on your digital reading preferences. No matter what you decide, this book is a great story for both horror fans, those looking towards the digital frontier, and anyone who just wants to read a comic with a great plot, characters, and art.

October 29, 2013

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Halloween Horror: Nenetl of the Forgotten Spirits Kickstarter

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2013! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

We're nearing the end of the Halloween season, so it's appropriate that today I'm focusing on another horror-themed Kickstarter project that's nearing the end of its funding drive.

Nenetl of the Forgotten Spirits looks absolutely adorable, as you can see from the picture at left. This campaign is to fund the second issue, so it's a bit of a story in progress, but smartly, the writer (and campaign runner) Vera Greentea is offering the first issue in the backer rewards.

Nenetl (Nena to her friends) is the protagonist of this story that Greentea describes accordingly:
Nenetl of the Forgotten Spirits is a spirited horror story about a ghost searching for her family during the festival of the Day of the Dead, while dodging ambitious exorcist apprentices. Vera Greentea (Recipes for the Dead, To Stop Dreaming of Goddesses) and talented artist Laura Müller (Mega Man Tribute, Subway to Sally Storybook) collaborate to create an autumn-friendly tale of skulls and hope.
Part Two brings in three devilish girls as they conspire to unlock the Forgotten Realm and invite a spirit into their world. Violetta, who dreams of becoming an exorcist apprentice like her older brother, wants to prove what she can do to her two gothic pals as they all get ready to celebrate Mexico’s eerie but gorgeous holiday, the Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos).
Described at something fans of Coraline might light, the visual samples I've seen look incredibly pretty and remind me a bit of Jill Thompson's work on Beasts of Burden. The premise feels really solid as well, from the description and discussion within the Kickstarter.

While I don't know enough about this particular story to tell you it's awesome, if Greentea's "Recipes for the Dead" is a guide, then Nenetl of the Forgotten Spirits will be extremely good. A part of the reward package, I had the pleasure of reading Recipes before writing up this entry. It's fast moving, with a shojo look and feel, with a main character who wants to do the right thing but finds it leads to consequences. Greentea's dialogue is flowing and natural, and the plot sets up future stories well.

That makes me feel very comfortable profiling and highlighting this one, as it finishes off its campaign and looks to stretch goals. Best of all, for only $5, you can get the digital editions of Recipes as well as the first two parts of Nenetl of the Forgotten Spirits. This couldn't be more different from In the Dark, but they're both great ways to support creators working in all forms of the horror genre, and I encourage you to support this KS, too, if what you see looks as good to you as it did to me!

October 28, 2013

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Halloween Horror: In the Dark Anthology

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2013! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

A few weeks ago, I featured Rachel Deering's Anathema series, and promised she'd be back before the month was over. Well, here she is, with her anthology project In the Dark that is closing out its Kickstarter campaign, appropriately enough, on Halloween.

A huge horror fan, Deering has put together a collection of some of the best creators working in horror comics today into a 250 page hardcover anthology that is a labor of love. A veteran of the Womanthology project, Deering is no stranger to a project of this size and scope, and it's impressive to see how well this came together.

 Thanks to an amazing grouping of talent and Deering's professionalism that's led to a solid base of supporters, In the Dark funded quickly and is looking to come in somewhere around 200% of its original goal.

There's still plenty of time to go, however, and if you are a fan of comics horror, this is a book you want on your shelf alongside your collections of Creepy. IDW does amazing work on their books in terms of quality, so I can just about guarantee that it will be one of the nicest-looking titles you'll own--even if it's filled with content designed to bring bile into your throat and keep your heart beating out a staccato sound.

So just how good is the lineup for this project? Here's a partial list of writers and artists involved in the anthology, taken from the project's main site:


  • RACHEL DEERING - CREEPY, Diablo III, Anathema
  • SCOTT SNYDER - Batman, American Vampire, The Wake
  • STEVE NILES - 30 Days of Night, Criminal Macabre, Mystery Society
  • PAUL TOBIN - Colder, Conan, Bandette
  • DUANE SWIERCZYNSKI - Judge Dredd, Godzilla, Birds of Prey
  • TIM SEELEY - Hack/Slash, Revival, The Occultist
  • MATTHEW DOW SMITH - Hellboy, Dr. Who, Sandman Mystery Theatre
  • DECLAN SHALVEY - Deadpool, Conan, Venom


  • ANDY BELANGER - Swamp Thing, Kill Shakespeare, Black Church
  • ROBERT WILSON IV - Knuckleheads, Like A Virus
  • MATTHEW DOW SMITH - Hellboy, Dr. Who, October Girl
  • MARC LAMING - Planet of the Apes, The Activity, King's Watch
  • MIKE HENDERSON - Masks & Mobsters, Ghostbusters, Spider-Man

That's an amazing grouping right there, all inside one collection. Even the names I was less familiar with have strong creative credits on projects for all of the major publishers as well as their own work.

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of horror anthologies from Deering, but the only way for that to occur is if this first version shows as much potential as it possibly can. What I really appreciate about Deering and this project is that unlike a lot of kickstarters that create trinkets people will end up throwing away, she's pouring the extra money back to increase creator pay and look to create further work for horror writers and artists. To me, that's what a good KS should do--give the backers what they asked for and then use the rest to make more books and pay their people as much as they can.

In the Dark has only a few days to go on Kickstarter, so why not give yourself a Halloween treat and back it today? It may not protect you against vampires, but it's sure to be a thrill.

October 27, 2013

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Oily Comics June 2013

The unrelenting June Oily Sun
More mini-comic madness here at Panel Patter as I finally get to the June Oily comics!

For those unaware, Oily is a mini-comics publisher that specializes in short, quarter-sized comics.  They run a subscription program and give readers a chance to get a variety of comics and creators in their mailbox every month. The creative rotation changes up regularly, with some folks anchoring the batches (usually Chuck Forsman or Melissa Mendes) and others swinging in and out here and there. I love exploring new creators and seeing what they do, so Oily is perfect for me.

Each month, I go through and offer a few comments on each of the comics I got that month. Let's see what the June batch was like...

Blood Visions Part 2 is a new one for me but I'm quickly hooked on the story. Zach Worton's got a creepy horror story building, as folks apparently are dying violently by coughing up blood. (I know, I'm easy to please. Just give me blood and I'm a happy vampire reviewer.) Worton's linework is very strong, with clearly defined characters who are very realistic, possibly the most life-life of all the Oily creators I've seen so far. The backgrounds nail the school setting well, and his dialogue feels natural and realistic for the situation. This could be a new favorite, and I hope to see more of it soon.
Cut-Away Comics #1 starring John James Audobon by Dan Zettwoch is an irreverent look at the life of the naturalist every child was taught to idolize when I was growing up. It's only when you get older they start teaching you how he got those great paintings, which is the focus here. Zettwoch uses a lot of the tricks of alt comix to tell the story, and they work great, from having JJA's eye bug out of his head to the square, blocky nature of the art. Another great comic in this month's batch.
Lou #15 starts steering the series towards its conclusion, as the characters find a missing man only to learn he's not their friend when the cops come calling. The situation in Melissa Mendes' long-running comic doesn't look good at all. Someone is going to end up hurt--the question is who. Will it be Lou, the name on the cover? We'll have to see. Once again, this features Mendes' solid artwork that brings a lot of emotion to the table without a lot of lines. It does pale a bit compared against Zettwoch and Worton, in terms of the art, however, instead of being the standout in a grouping of Oilys.
Mrs. Connie Dutton An Adaptation of Spam is exactly the reason mini-comics exist and hopefully always will. It wouldn't work as a webcomic or in a slick production. It's a joke based around the complimentary emails we all receive, with a woman as a face behind the name. Jessica Campbell tells her story with one-page splash pieces and a little text. It's incredibly cute and uses the quarter-sized zine form perfectly.
Word & Voice 6 from Aaron Cockle closes out this month's entries, and while this will probably never be a favorite, it's still getting better. This time we learn of a couple who were having issues just before the virus hit, and now they'll never be able to reconcile. It's very touching, with large blocks of text interspersed with the simple visuals of the pair.

That's June! Come back next time, when I look at the July comics.
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Halloween Horror: Transfusion: Vampires versus Robots

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2013! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

Written by Steve Niles
Illustrated by Mention3 (with Tony Moy)
Published by IDW

As if things weren't bad enough for the few humans left, with killer robots hunting them down to use as oil, there's vampires on their trail, too! Modern horror master Steve Niles pits blood suckers against, well, blood suckers with people caught in the middle in this series that's not going to be for everyone.

I'll be honest--if this hadn't been written by Steve Niles, I probably wouldn't have bothered with it. I'm kinda bored with vampires, zombies, and other creatures of the night who've just been used and abused for everything. It's hard to find a good way to use them in a way that makes me stand up and say, "Hey, that's pretty good."

Well, here comes Niles and here comes the "Hey, that's pretty good."

First off, while I think they're an existing IDW property and not from Niles' imagination, it's a lot of fun to see robots as vampires, no matter how ridiculous the idea is. Niles is careful not to overdo this either, keeping the mechanical monsters to the background so that when we see them, it's a powerful moment. Most of this story focuses on what happens when you're a regular vampire, trying to survive when your primary food source is just about exhausted.

Monsters work great as metaphors for human problems and fears, and in this case, the idea of food scarcity and existing in a world where the next meal isn't there no matter how much power you have is the theme. Niles does a great job with it. The leader of the Vampire band feels the weight of his burden heavily, teetering on the line of melodrama, while one of his own makes a sacrifice for the greater good. It's incredibly powerful, and sets up the climax well.

Echoing the plight of the vampires is a small surviving band of humans. They're pretty much screwed, as their own food is scarce as well and what remains are being used as traps by the robots. Niles makes them a bit on the plucky side, but that's not unusual for a horror story. When they run into the vampires, the two sides see they have a common enemy with a weakness of its own. The only hope for these opposing forces is to team up against the robots, with no guarantee that it will work--or that the alliance will hold. That drives the drama through the end of the series, leading to a conclusion that, while a bit on the optimistic side for my taste, shows that such plans can only ever be temporary.

Abstract and Generic isn't a great combo
It's the work of a man who understands how to create a solid horror story with a few new twists thrown in for good measure to keep readers engaged. The only trick on this one is the art. Mention3, who does the vast majority of the work on Transfusion, is not going to be to everyone's taste. His art looks great as a cover--it reminds me a bit of some of the things Neil Clarke has selected for Clarkesworld--but it's not the best at telling an overarching story.

While some of the images are pretty amazing as pictures, they aren't always so good at telling the actual story. I'm not a big fan of creators who draw to show off their chops instead of working with the plot they're given. That seems to happen a lot here, with panels that are cool and creepy, but could have anything written around them.

Mention3 also sticks to a very drab palette, which means nothing stands out. Since the dialogue balloons/captions are in the same shades, there were moments when I couldn't actually read Niles' words without having to try several times, bouncing me out of the story in the middle of the trade.

Again, it's not that I didn't like the art--I thought the images were perfect, if they'd been prints or covers. The trouble is that they're not. They're internal pages, and that means they failed at the job far too often. The story moved despite them, instead of because of them.

Transfusion is a troubled work because of the disconnect between the art and story. If that's a huge problem for you, then you're going to want to avoid this one. However, if you prioritize plot  and script in your comics and are a fan of Niles, see if you can find this one. It's an odd duck, but worth reading because of the unusual premise and strong use of horror concepts.

Just--bring a magnifying glass with you when reading it. I wish I'd had mine.

October 26, 2013

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Digging into Digital: Believed Behavior Offers Online Content + Print Product

Another group of mini-comics creators is taking advantage of the immediacy of the internet while holding on to the concept of a printed product, which I think is a solid combination.

Believed Behavior debuted recently, offering a chance to read serialized comics online from five creators for $8. Now that's not a bad deal in and of itself* but the folks behind this site have a bonus for subscribers at the end.

Once everything for these comics is finished and posed, they will be sending out a tabloid-sized comic containing all of the serialized material, giving readers a print version of their digital subscription. It's basically the digital codes idea in reverse, and I think it's incredibly cool.

The creators involved are all from the Chicago area, so they aren't as well known to me. Andy Burkholder, Krystal DiFronzo, Edie Fake, Grant Reynolds, Jeremy Tinder. Tinder is one of the Oily Comics contributors, and is the only person whose work I recognized by name, as I've also read his stuff from Top Shelf. However, the samples from the others definitely make this one a project worth subscribing to.

For the purposes of this post, I'm only discussing the bits currently shown for free, though by the time this posts, I will be a subscriber. I'll take them in order of which they appear on the main page:

Floriculture By Krystal DiFronzo is like a visual poem, with a few words to go along with each watercolored picture. I really think it's neat that you can sometimes see the lines of the paint as it dried. Her style uses inked lines that are then painted in, and they do a great job of affecting a mood on the reader.
Busty Shasta By Grant Reynolds is a wordless comic that appears to be taking place in a strip club. It features panels that are big and bold, despite their black and white construction. They're in your face with fanciful exaggerations that may or may not represent reality (it's too early in to tell). This one reminded me quite a bit of something you might see in Oily.
Night Taps By Edie Fake really takes advantage of the panel-by-panel style of the website's viewer, using a window as a framing device for a story that features an extremely polite monster warning of a safety concern. The Ignatz-winning Fake's monster is rounded and loose, with Halloween-themed colors. This one was my favorite of the bunch when I was going through the samples.
Pretty Smart By Andy Burkholder uses text to make up part of the visuals. It's a long, rambling letter that goes on and one while the action takes place extremely slowly. The Juxtaposition makes this one work, and it will be interesting to see where it goes from here.
Loren By Jeremy Tinder is more like his Top Shelf material than the work in Oily. Fully colored, it's off to an interesting start, using visual gags to keep the story lighthearted, which isn't easy, given the protagonist just cremated his dog. This one looks a bit like James Kochalka in terms of its deceptively loose lines and disregard for anatomy, and has a definite hook that makes you want to keep reading.

I've mentioned before that I love getting a chance to explore the work of mini-comics creators from regions I don't get to visit personally, and this one hits the Chicago group nicely. The cost is minimal, and can be done quickly through PayPal, which I appreciate. I also like that all of this is called "Season 1" (though why comics folks insist on using a TV term is beyond me) because it means they're planning to make this an ongoing project.

If you like mini-comics--especially ones from Oily--then definitely give Believed Behavior a try. When the stories are finished, I'll try to get back to doing another review, to see how my opinion changed from beginning to end.

*Yes, I know, lots of webcomics are free. I am referring to pricing as compared to, say, buying 5 PDFs of mini-comics that a creator has digitized.
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Halloween Horror: Study Group Gets Haunted

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2013! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

A long time ago, I blogged about the opening of Study Group, a collective of webcomics by creators like Zack Soto, Katie Skelly, Elijah Brubaker, Farel Dalrymple, Michael DeForge, Sam Humphries, Box Brown, and others.

In celebration of the best holiday on Earth, the Study Group folks are featuring extra content for Halloween, and what they have so far is absolutely awesome. (However, please be aware that Study Group is the poster child for Not Safe for Work.)

Some highlights of the Halloween content that's up there so far:

  • Phosphorous by Julia Gfrorer is the story of a young man running away from home who has an unwilling affair with a swamp creature. A wonderful play on the idea of the succubus, Gfrorer uses a turquoise main color for the pages, giving it an unnatural feel from the start and draws in a style that makes heavy use of short, straight lines. There are very few words, making it all the more haunting.
  • Vile from Tyler Landy is a pin-up a day until Halloween, with the first image showing some Mignola influences.
  • Eight Creeps For October by Trevor Alixopulos is also a series of pin-ups, covering a variety of horror situations in a style that reminds me a bit of New Yorker comics.

Now, I should warn you that while I love Study Group's comics, their website layout is Tumblr-ish and rather busy. It's a bit daunting and periodically confusing, but don't let that stop you from checking out some great stuff.

The website promises new content of a scary nature between now and Halloween, so make sure you add it into your daily routine this spooky season. It's amazing stuff, and costs you nothing but time. Time to have your soul damned by mini-comics creators! MWAHAHAHAHA!!!!

October 25, 2013

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Halloween Horror: Museum of Terror Volumes 1 and 2

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2013! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

Written by Junji Ito
Illustrated by Junji Ito
Published by Dark Horse Comics

A teen's affair with her teacher turns deadly--for her. But when she returns, madness envelops all who come into contact with the mysterious Tomie in this collection of thematic short stories from manga horror master Junji Ito.

I'm a huge fan of Ito's classic series Uzumaki, which features a town slowly going insane due to increasing obsessions with the nature of spirals. In addition to quality dialogue and insane plotting, Ito's visuals on that series are unbelievably creepy and detailed. It's just about the perfect horror comic.

The same quality holds true for his "Tomie" stories, which are collected in these first two (of three) volumes featuring his shorter horror work. Over the course of nearly 800 pages of comics, Ito brings this horrific force of nature back time and again to ruin the lives of anyone she comes into contact with.

At first, there's good reason. Tomie is the victim of a teen acting rashly upon hearing that she's sleeping with her teacher. She's not a nice person, but he death is compounded by a decision from the collective students to each take a part of her body and bury it somewhere, so that the crime is covered up. When Tomie returns, she haunts the teacher into madness and drives some of the kids insane as well.

It's a great revenge plot. Classic stuff.

Then things gets weird.

An example of Ito's amazing linework.
Starting with a story set in a hospital, we learn that Tomie has the ability to build herself back together from any part of her own body. Lost your liver? That's okay, it will grow a head. Cut off fingers? They'll become Tomies, too.

The idea is incredibly disturbing, and Ito's visuals will definitely reach the level of "creep out" for some readers. This is not a series for the faint of heart. His ability to make you squirm in your seat as you wonder how he'll depict her gruesome dismemberment and resurrection is part of what makes these stories so good.

An example of this is the story "Hair." Tomie is considered to be extremely attractive and desirable, and when a father steals a lock of her hair, of course it grows. Soon two girls are using it for the most exotic hair extensions around and eventually we discover they're being taken over by Tomie--from the scalp down.

The idea is positively chilling. In another story, a person tries to eliminate Tomie by chopping her up and pouring the remains into saki vats. Instead of keeping her apart, Tomie ferments herself into an alluring brew that no man can resist.

Or there's the tale where an elderly couple takes Tomie in, and she uses their fears and jealousy to kill them both off so she can take over their estate and live comfortably. Another version of Tomie forms from chopped-off fingers that are slightly scarred in a fire, so her resurrected forms are created accordingly. Perhaps the worst is a girl who is tricked into a house of horror, where the goal is to experiment on her to see how she melds with Tomie's genes. The prior experiment failed miserably, and ends up bringing the story to a climax worthy of a Poe-penned gothic tale.

Ito's horror chops on display.
All of this is illustrated in the most graphic ways possible, that would make Gaines blush. The worst EC Comics I've seen have nothing on Ito here, as he works to come up with the most horrific images imaginable and tell a story around them.

It's the detailing that makes this such a compelling read for me. The horror and gore is nothing new--I've been exposed to it for ages--but the way it's presented it amazing. This is just as violent as the things that people get mad about in Western comics. The difference, fortunately for the reader, is that Japan's cultural warriors don't care, which means those of us who get to read these translations win.

Stories aren't stopped short for gore or nudity; they're as violent as the the author wants and the audience is willing to purchase. When a version of Tomie forms out of plastic carpeting insulation and explodes in a fountain of blood, it delights me because that's what I was looking for.

Ito understands this, and crafts his stories accordingly. The fact that Japan doesn't force all comics under the misconception that they're written for children (or worse, that comics can only be written for adults, which seems to be the DC mindset right now), the results are good stories that are aimed at a specific market.

The only problem with reading these stories collected together is that it gives the false impression that they tell an overarching storyline. While pieces do connect here and there, by the time you get to Volume 2, you have to accept that these stories aren't meant to tell a narrative. They're just designed to use a creature to horrify you with her evil nature. Think of it more of a collection of vampire stories, where the attacks are going to be similar but the stories don't bear much relation beyond that, and you'll be fine.

Dark Horse's manga line may be smaller these days, but the fact that they put these horror stories into print is something I'm eternally grateful for. If you can find these, definitely pick them up. I know I'm going to be on the lookout for the final collection. These stories are a horror comics' dream, especially if you like old pre-code Western comics. They're better drawn and edited, and with even less regard for public opinion. Find them if you can!

October 20, 2013

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Halloween Horror: Monster on the Hill

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2013! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

[A short note: I had some horror of my own dealing with a now-dead car. Should be back in blogging action this week.-Rob]

Written by Rob Harrell
Illustrated by Rob Harrell
Top Shelf Comics

Every town has a monster that keeps its residents scared--and protected. Every town, that is, except Stoker-on-Avon. Their monster sucks. Heck, he can't even fly, despite having wings. The town takes drastic action to prompt their protagonist, but the act of getting a stronger monster leads to greater danger that only a monster can stop--if he can get over his own issues first.

From the opening pages, when a cute, Victorian family, thrills as a monster wreaks havoc on their town, you know you're in for a book that's going to be all ages in the best possible way. Rob Harrell, best known for his work on the comic strip Big Top, brings an irreverent wit to the proceedings that's perfect for adults and young readers. (Think of the work Jeff Parker did for Marvel Adventures or, more recently, the Cartozia Tales anthology.) There's sparkling snark and funny lines all across Monster on the Hill in a story that refuses to take itself too seriously for much of the work. With the exception of the battle between the monsters and the Murk, everything about the book is light-hearted without falling in on itself by trying to be too cute.

There are plenty of little in-jokes that make this one a book that even those without children will want to read. The town name of Stoker is a gimme, as is the name of the weak monster, Rayburn (clearly a play on Ray Bradbury). Others are trickier to spot, coming in as verbal clues or visual gags. Harrell's dialogue is amazingly clever, able to balance feeling old-fashioned with a modern tone at the same time, helped by having the pre-teen character of Timothy represent the readership.

Mad Monster Mudbath
The story is extremely strong as well. It follows a pretty standard narrative structure, setting up the heroes of the story, their problem, and why Rayburn will need to overcome his problems to prevent disaster. It loses some points for being an all-male cast, which is really the only complaint I have about the story itself. Despite not breaking any new ground, Harrell keeps the reader from noticing the stock nature of the base plot by having extremely entertaining characters and drawing the heck out of them.

Even though Harrell is new to the graphic novel genre, he takes to the form like an old pro. His layouts are vibrant, with action going on in every panel. He uses a lot of big and bold splash pages to carry the story, which works because it's the best way to show monsters in a comic. (If you don't, you risk diminishing their scope and scale.) The characters emote early and often with broad facial expressions that's done without exaggeration. Given that three of the characters are monsters, getting them to express themselves without ruining the general structure of the art itself is no mean feat.

I also absolutely love the coloring in this book. Harrell's palate choices are impeccable. They highlight and contract the main characters or blend into the background as needed. Taking advantage of being in a fantasy setting, there's no need to be realistic. When we see things like Venus Flytrap-like trees, Harrell colors them however he feels, not even bothering to make them "look right."

While this book isn't all that scary, it's got its moments and makes a great Halloween present for a young horror fan in your life--or one that's older but enjoys tongue-in-cheek fun and visuals that are some of the best I've seen in an all-ages book. This one is definitely worth grabbing before the Murk comes to visit!

October 14, 2013

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Christopher Priest Returns to Comics (and Quantum and Woody)

I'm super excited about the fact that one of my favorite writers, Christopher Priest, is returning to comics work again.

Priest, who wrote some really great Spider-Man comics in the 80s but whose signature work (for me) will always be his work on defining Black Panther as a character before he was wrecked for a time by another writer. (The fact that Bendis and Hickman's Illuminati Panther hews much more closely to Priest's version tells you everything you need to know about the re-working post-Priest.)

His writing is complex, crisp, and compelling, able to, like Peter David or Mark Waid, tell a long-form story within smaller chunks that readers new and old can enjoy. He's great with character history, yet feels free to go into his own areas when it suits him.

In this case, Valiant's brought Priest in to make a mini-series about the original version of Quantum and Woody, characters that Priest co-created along with artist M.D. Bright, who is also doing the art for this series. Set in the same world as the original series (so it's not linked to Valiant's current universe) but twenty years later, it looks like not all is harmony between the two former partners.

Valiant gives the following plot description in their press release:

Whatever happened to the world's worst superhero team? Twenty years past their prime, the unlikely crime-fighting duo known as Quantum and Woody have long since parted ways and retired…until a middle-aged Quantum suddenly reappears with a brand-new teenage partner—and his wisecracking ex-best friend gets mad. Now Woody is out to break up the all-new, all-different Quantum and Woody and put an end to Quantum's recklessness and child endangerment…just as Quantum sets out to bring down a shadowy, globe-spanning agency of freelance spies and assassins. As Quantum's plan crumbles right through Woody's fingers, will the former friends set aside their differences…and their age…and their numerous health difficulties…to join forces one last time without driving each other crazy?
Gotta love that Odd Couple reference in there.

This is new territory for Valiant, who have done an amazing job of rebuilding their brand. I think it's smart to keep this outside the current Valiant U, so that anyone who just wants to read this can do so without having to be drawn into the other books. At the same time, if they like this, it might get them trying the current book, and Valiant wins either way.

This one is not unlike the Claremont X-Men Legacy series for Marvel or even that company's "The End" series, where classic creators are brought on to finish out their tales. I think it's a great idea, though one that might be difficult in other cases for Valiant characters.

This should be a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to reading about it. For more information, check out this interview Newsarama did with Priest and Bright about the announcement.

October 13, 2013

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Halloween Horror: Seeley's Hack/Slash Finale

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2013! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

Hey all--I'm busy at Capclave Sci Fi Con in Washington, DC. Science!

While I finish up my time away from the computer and losing followers by live-tweeting like a banshee, why don't you take a moment to read over my review of the last of Tim Seeley's brainchild of slasher horror, Hack/Slash.

This is a series that's better than it looks on the covers. There's a lot of depth to the characters and it's more than just a bloody mess of bodies--though there's plenty of that too.

Here's a link to the review over at Newsarama. Enjoy, and I'll be back with a full review of another horror comic tomorrow!

October 12, 2013

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Halloween Horror: Don't forget about Scott Snyder's Severed

Not the book's cover, but it's awesome!
If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2013! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

Hey all--I'm busy being at Capclave Sci Fi Con in Washington, DC.

So in my absence, please have a gander at this review I did back in 2012 for Newsarama covering Severed, an amazing mini-series that Image collected into a trade.

Written by Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft, with art by Attila Futaki and Greg Guilhaumond, along with Bill Nelson, this is a story where the Boogie Man might really be out there ready to get you. It's classic horror, and makes me wish he'd write more of this and less Caped Crusader.

I'm still proud of this review, even if it's old. You can find it over at Newsarama right here.

October 10, 2013

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Halloween Horror: Rachel Deering's Anathema 4

The "naked" cover to issue 4, by Marc Laming
If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2013! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

Written by Rachel Deering
Illustrated by Chris Dibari and Mike Spicer
Self-Published (Tiny Behemoth Press)
Available digitally on Comixology

Saddled with a young girl, Mercy's quest to save her lover and rid the world of a terrible evil runs into a tangle of problems that her own werewolf powers can't solve as we move closer to the end of this excellent horror mini-series.

Last year, I pointed out Rachel's Anathema series to readers after picking up the first issue at Heroes 2012 (review here). It's a horror story by a person who knows the genre inside and out and is able to tell a story with classic elements but keep the overall feeling modern.

It's now at issue four, which was a good time to revisit the series and remind Panel Patter readers that it exists. I could think of no better reason than in this celebration of the wide variety of horror in comics. (And yes, I know she's got another horror project out there--we'll be getting to it later this month, trust me!)

By this point in the series, Mercy is collecting pieces of the heart of Karnstein, and if there's one complaint it that she hasn't failed yet. This time she comes mighty close, however, and loses something else instead. Despite her desire to be alone, Mercy keeps gaining allies, as if the world is refusing to allow her to be the outcast she wants to be after "failing" Sarah, her lover. It's a nice touch of depth that is part of what makes this a cut above other horror comics.

Deering isn't afraid to zig when others might zag, and that's what makes this issue notable. We've seen Mercy rip enemies to shreds in her were-form, but what happens when she's attacked as a human? The results aren't pretty, and if you have a fear of spiders, well, maybe you might want to move on to issue five! I love that Rachel took this tack, because it allows her to keep the series varied while using another tool of horror (a protagonist's ability to persevere no matter how bad things get) in her vast book of knowledge. Like showing a depowered superhero still willing to fight, Mercy's determination shows a depth to her character, which will make her ultimate victory--or perhaps loss!--all the more real for the reader.

Chris Dibari has the line art duties this time, and his first image, a full-page splash of Werewolf Mercy holding an innocent child with menacing panel narration. What will Mercy do? Is she ready to go over the edge? Her claws are blood red and there's offal and gore across her mouth and tastefully shred clothing. The color art of Mike Spicer blends perfectly with Dibari's work here and elsewhere in the issue. This setup puts the reader immediately on edge, waiting for Deering to take the plot in any number of directions.

From there, Dibari manages to give a werewolf's face emotions, and his creatures that Mercy must face are extremely creepy, starting with a zombie woman and her intimate relationship with spiders that might given even someone with my tolerance nightmares. It's really solid work with the monsters, which makes up for the fact that his backgrounds are a bit weak and generic, though part of that is due to the setting. I also thought Dibari's depiction of Mercy was a bit flat--she doesn't emote as well with her human face as she does as the werewolf, which is a bit odd.

The positions that Mercy fnds herself in for the action scenes also aren't as good as they might have been, which is unfortunate give the plot. When Mercy falls down a hole, it's more jazz hands than sheer terror. Given the priority of any horror comic should be the monsters, which Dibari absolutely nails, I can life with okay depictions of humans.

Anathema's story is compelling and re-reading the back issues for this review just reminded me how much it draws you in. We need Mercy to right the wrongs brought by persecution, just because she and her lover are gay. Horror is about picking your tropes, finding the right analogues, and mashing them together into something compelling, thrilling, and with a pinch of "eww, gross." Deering's got the recipe just right, and horror fans should be reading this one, if they aren't already.
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Yeti Press's Kickstarter Isn't a Myth

I had wanted to get to this one earlier but it's been a crazy month. (How crazy? I'm still not to my SPX con report yet.) However, I wanted to make sure that I called attention to this Kickstarter for a small press whose work looks pretty cool, though I've not read any of it personally.

One of the best parts of Kickstarter is that while the "big name person gets people to fund something they could have done themselves" stories get all the press, plenty of folks use it every day to help them provide creative outlets that would never see the light of day otherwise.

In today's case, it's Yeti Press, which was founded in 2011 by Eric Roesner and RJ Casey, first for their own comics, then for those of others. Their existing comics include illustrating the adventures of Pecos Bill (one of my favorite tall tales characters), a few anthology series, and even sea-turtle sexual escapades.

Now that sounds just like the kind of thing I want to support (though I do wish their website had better descriptions and sample images), as it reminds me of other small, mostly hand-run publishers I know, such as Retrofit and Oily. The big difference here is that the length of the books they wish to produce are larger, more along the lines of small trades rather than mini-comics.

For their Kickstarter, Yeti Press is planning the following books, split across Winter and Summer:

A page from Bird Witch

  • Bird Witch by Kat Leyh is an all-ages fantasy story involving magic, coming of age, defeating evil, and, of course birds. It looks incredibly pretty and collects the six issue series together into one package.

  • Pecos Collection, which tales the series I mentioned above about Pecos Bill and merges it into one volume. That one is by Yeti Press founders Eric Roesner and RJ Casey.
  • Rose from the Dead by Andrea Bell. This one is billed as "adorahorror" (which should really be adorahorra if you ask me), as the creator works within the realm of horror but draws in a friendly, all-ages style that looks like it would be right at home in an issue of Cartozia Tales. This is Bell's first major comics work.
  • Poop, Boobs, Poo (there goes my search results again, thanks a lot indie comics) by Sam Sharpe is, unsurprisingly, a collection of gag comics. These can sometimes be hysterically funny (see Magic Whistle) and in other cases fall on their face. Funnyman Shannon Wheeler vouches for its quality, so if you like his thing, you'll likely enjoy this, too.
A page from Well Come
  • Well Come by Erik Nebel should appeal to those of you who like your comics on the strange side. It's hard to tell a lot from the samples provided, but the Yeti folks bill this one as creating a "surreal, spiritual world" and consider Nebel to an an underrated artist. I definitely love his use of color and found the examples intriguing.
  • The Summit brings RJ Casey together with Gabriel Bautista for a short story about a man's dying wish to climb Everest. Sadly, there's nothing but sketches to promote this one, but Bautista is a former Eisner winner, so that's definitely a draw.
In addition to offering digital versions of back issues, subscriptions to get the books as they are produced, and individual purchasing tiers, there are other rewards, such as prints and commissions. 

If there's a problem with this set-up, it's that Yeti definitely needs to work on its marketing materials. I had a hard time putting this together, and if I had been browsing this one without having someone vouch for them (Box Brown), I might have passed entirely.

Fortunately, Yeti Press has made their goal, and are now looking to stretch things out. I do hope that they work on improving their examples a bit, so that they can thrive without future kickstarters (something that should be the goal of any KS project). If you want to try some new indie comics that you might not otherwise see because they're from another part of the country, this is a Kickstarter you should support before the campaign ends in a few days. You can find it here.

October 9, 2013

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Halloween Horror: Colder TP

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2013! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

Today I'm pointing you to Newsarama's Best Shots, where I sing the praises of Colder, by Paul Tobin and Juan Ferreyra, which was published as a mini-series by Dark Horse Comics and collected into a trade that's out today.

Colder, in brief, is the story of a mental patient who has a connection to a demon from another world that feeds on insanity, and the results are even cooler than that premise sounds, no pun intended.

It's a great mini-series that's self-contained but also able to expand should the creators wish to do so. I hope we see more from their pairing, no matter what they choose to take on next.

The art is amazingly fluid in a way you don't see much of these days and Tobin's ear for dialogue is top-shelf.

For more on this one, go see my Newsarama review here. Trust me, this is a horror comic you want to be reading this Halloween season!

October 8, 2013

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Halloween Horror: Grindhouse Doors Open at Midnight #1

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2013! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

Written by Alex de Campi
Illustrated by Chris Peterson and Nolan Woodard
Published by Dark Horse Comics

A small town is buzzing after a cursed beehive leads to mass murder while its honey ramps up the sexuality of all who touch it in this over-the-top horror piece that I can honestly say is quite unlike anything I've ever read in a comic.

Grabbing the hypersexual drive-in horror movie vibe by the throat, Alex de Campi wastes no time in letting you know this is going to be a comic heavy on the sex and violence. We get a woman touching herself on the first page, and shortly after that, two female friends start making out while a man prefers to go after his beer.

Before long, the violence half kicks in, with the seemingly innocent killing of a bee followed by a gruesome killing that would make Lorena Bobbitt proud. By the time we reach the end, de Campi has hit just about every note pitch-perfect, including ending on a cliffhanger that might just cause a nightmare, thanks to the work of Peterson and Woodard.

It's not easy to make a comic like this without tipping over the edge, but de Campi manages it--just barely. It really helps that despite working in some absolutely despicable tropes, she does a great job keeping the dialogue fresh and modern. There's a female character with some integrity, too, to balance against the women who are under the influence of the bees. Those little touches make this something that's compelling reading beyond a quick, "oh that's a funny parody" sort of way.

I don't know how de Campi selected her artists, but Peterson and Woodard nail this one. They're able to switch between trashy scenes of sloppy make-outs to jaded cops to brutal violence. Peterson's lines remind me a bit of Marc Laming, with perhaps just a bit more exaggeration about them. He's not shy about bringing the images of the story right into the reader's face, such as when Garcia's eyes explode from an extreme close-up at the bottom of a nearly full-page image of gore, that itself bursts out of a bed of roses. Woodward's colors are dulled but vivid, as though a bit of black was mixed into the reds, blues, and yellows that he uses to emphasize the dark nature of the story. When we are out of the horror realm, it's all garish and bright, which provides a stark contrast.

Grindhouse isn't for the easily disgusted or those who knee-jerk when they see female characters being exploited. Trust me, Alex knows what she's doing--and that's giving horror comics fans a loving tribute to another part of the horror genre. If you have any affinity at all for the drive in gore-fests, then make sure you're picking up Grindhouse. It's absolutely amazing at what it does, and any fans of horror need to check this out as well. It's like the old EC comics turned up to eleven--and that's a good thing.
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Nutmeg Issue 1 Has Just the Right Spice to be Kickstarted

It's 1967, and Junior High is a regular gauntlet for anyone who dares to cross the Queen, Saffron. She runs things with an iron fist and smug grin, making life miserable for anyone who doesn't meet her standards.

Enter Cassia. She doesn't take well to bullies or the status quo, and quickly falls afoul of Saffron. But instead of knuckling under, Cassia plans revenge as this new, 18-part series gets off the ground as part of a Kickstarter from creators James Wright (words) and Jackie Crofts (pictures).

Page 1 of issue 1 of Nutmeg.
It's a little hard to judge something based only on one issue, but I liked the quick-witted dialogue and really strong artwork that Wright and Crofts put together here. They aren't trying to Kickstart the entire series, merely the first issue to build up interest and then use that interest to keep the series going. It's a different approach from what we usually see in a Kickstarter, but I think it's a good one.

The story and promotional information from the Kickstarter promise that this story is going to be a caper, with hijinks that end up leading to police involvement. (You can even see the siren lights in one of the first-page panels.) With two main characters who are interesting and engaging, I'm definitely hooked and interested in seeing what happens to Cassia and Pamela and if they can knock Saffron off her perch.

This is a story about outsiders getting back at the cool kids, and I admit that those kinds of tales hold a lot of appeal to me. I also like that this story centers on the young women in the story. There's a boy who's sympathetic, but we don't see a lot of him, and it's clear the focus will be on the girls, always a welcome event. While the big publishers may have lightyears to go before they start playing fair with all genders, indie comics like Nutmeg more than make up for it.

Crofts' art style really works for me, featuring characters with long, thin bodies that flow across the page. Everything is stretched out just a bit, giving it a distinctive look, even as heavy ink lines define the characters, not unlike the Archie house style. She also does a great job with the backgrounds, something that not all indie books get right. I was able to get a feel for the world of Nutmeg that goes past "generic school setting."

The idea of an outsider getting revenge on a rich group of kids isn't new--Faith Erin Hicks' War at Ellsmere comes to mind, just thinking quickly--but I like the setup, and Wright's quick wit and smart dialogue keep this one fresh and interesting. That's something I hope keeps up in future issues.

As I write this, Nutmeg is funded, but Kickstarters can always use additional help to grow stronger. If you like (or are looking for) comics with female protagonists, a sharp wit, and excellent artwork, then definitely considering giving Wight and Crofts some of your money. You'll be glad you did.

You can find the Nutmeg Kickstarter here, or check them out at their website.

October 7, 2013

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Halloween Horror: Kill All Monsters Volume 1

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2013! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

Written by Michael May
Illustrated by Jason Copland
Alterna Comics

In the 1950s, atomic experiments created giant monsters that roamed the earth and destroyed nearly everything. Now a team of monster killers in giant robot suits is out to settle the score, but it won't be easy. Their goal? To Kill All Monsters!

First, let's get this out of the way: Kill All Monsters began as a webcomic in 2010, so it predates Pacific Rim. It's just another case of people having a deep-rooted love for kaiju, something I happen to share, which is why this one was right up my alley.

In fact, Kill All Monsters! is pretty much everything I wanted Pacific Rim to be, but wasn't. The creatures are varied in design, shape, and form of attack. The robots are controlled by a diverse group of races and genders, who are all clearly equal partners. The possible saviors of the planet operate out of Africa, and venture into Paris to see if they can recover it. Just about all the pitfalls that the movie fell into are avoided by May and Copland, and they do it while telling a great story that's definitely based in the source material but feels original.

I don't want this to be a review solely by comparison, so I'll stop there, but you get the idea. This collection, representing the first half of the story the creators wish to tell, moves immediately into the action, as our three main protagonists take on a passel of creatures that range from a tentacled beast to smaller, lizard-like things that are mostly jaws and teeth. Later in the book, we encounter one that appears to be just a brain encased in some awful, corrosive jelly. Copland works in a loose, sketchy style, which makes the monsters extremely fluid and free-flowing across the page. They feel like they leaped off the drawing board and into the panels, ready to fight and maim and kill.

Copland's robots are more stolid, which is appropriate. They're killing machines, but he does a great job of visually cuing the reader into understanding that they are clunky, unwieldy things that have great power for devastation but can just easily become as much of a brick as an old laptop. Even more amazing is the fact that the bot with AI is shown to be the most easily adaptable one. Little, subtle things like that are part of what makes this such a great story.

I know Michael May primarily from his work at Robot 6, a comics blog, but he does a good job with the script here, showing he's got a talent for creating as well as commenting. Within a few pages, we have the personality of the three monster hunters, a bit of doubt thrown on their mission, and a battle set piece that shows May knows how the best monster movies work. (Hope you aren't too attached to the Eiffel Tower.)

May has to cover a lot of expository ground as he and Copland create this world, but I never felt like the story bogged down. We find out a lot by seeing it, thanks to Copland's panels, and I think the serial nature of its origins as a webcomic forced May to find a way to get across the information in bits and pieces while the overall story kept moving. (There's nothing worse than a webcomic that bogs down into days upon days of narration.) The introduction of the AI robot, learning of the Paris Underground, and even finding out that perhaps some humans are traitors to their kind all weave into the story organically. It's some of the best world-building I've seen in quite some time.

Kill All Monsters has a few flaws--Copland's scenes with the humans don't have a lot of life to them, for example, as he relies on facial expression and body positioning to do the heavy lifting. Because it's in black and white and there's a lot of shadows and grime, it can sometimes be a bit hard to negotiate all that's going on without a re-read. One of the plot points screams "1990s" to me, too, in its understanding of technology. But it's not like any of these are deal killers, because the overall comic is extremely good.

If you're a fan of Godzilla or horror stories where humanity must pull itself back together, Kill All Monsters should be your next purchase. Your only regret will be having to wait for volume two.

October 6, 2013

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Halloween Horror: School Zone Volumes 1-3

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2013! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

Written by Kanako Inuki
Illustrated by Kanako Inuki
Published by Dark Horse Comics

A school full of rumors of ghosts, horrible deaths, and creepy mirrors is the site for visceral and psychological horror as author Kanako Inuki puts her characters through a brutal, three volume horror manga that's a hidden gem in the Dark Horse manga stable.

I picked these up awhile ago and was just waiting for October to read them. Anyone who's been along for the ride for the past few years on this blog know that I'm a big fan of horror manga, because, with no comic code to hinder them, Japan's creators have the edge on the horror market by never having to stop and wonder if it's going to have trouble from an angry parent.

This is no exception. Reminding me a bit of The Drifting Classroom, Inuki immediately makes it clear she's got no reservations about taking the kids who make up the main cast and doing terrible things to them, starting by having one of them tormented into jumping off a roof. The first volume alone features multiple instances of sheer horror, with the worst probably seeing a policewoman ripping her own head off at the behest of a ghost.

Part of why School Zone works so well is the ability for Inuki to go from normal, cartoonish looking characters to sheer monstrosities just by turning the page. The kids are always wide-eyed, but they're just caricatures to start, looking a lot like Hino's work or that of Barefoot Gen. It's a very comical style, but once the scary stuff kicks in, they start screaming in terror and the monsters look like distorted versions of themselves (a great visual trick), with features twisted up, limbs distorted, mouths engorged, and other tricks. A girl shrinks to the size of a doll, grows a third leg, and chases a poor boy to the brink of madness. It's terrifying because the effect is magnified by the way the figures don't look entirely human to begin with.

There are countless moments of horror images in this series. Duffel bags become the heads of screaming children. First grade students disappear into the shadows, ending up living out life as a street sign. Backgrounds morph into shadowy figures, adding to the terror. Adults are hapless to help, wailing in pain and despair along side the children. Inuki's backgrounds are veiled in blacks, shadows, and vague shapes that heighten the menace.

As the story progresses, things look worse and worse, as the truth of the school's secrets begin to be revealed, linking to a world where spirits are trapped, causing increased pain and rage and bringing it all to a boiling point even as we approach the denouncement. The dialogue is shrill and harried, which fits nicely with the storyline and plot. If there's a problem, it's that the ending feels a bit abrupt, but I was pleased we got an ending. Sometimes manga series peter out more than they end.

School Zone is dirt cheap on Amazon used, and anyone who is a fan of horror and manga (or someone wanting to try it) should definitely grab this short, three volume series, assuming they don't mind seeing characters with necks twisted, body-less limbs reaching out from the corners, and other scary stuff. This one deserves a spot on your shelf with Uzumaki, Kurosaki Corpse Delivery Service, and other great horror mangas.
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Locust Moon 2013 Haul

What I got.
And continuing a tradition, here's a rundown of what I picked up at Locust Moon yesterday.

It was fun to get stuff from new people and a few old friends, and it was also neat to be all mini-comics for a change.

Reviews on these things as I get time, but I have a metric ton of comics and books right now so no idea how quickly that's going to happen.

So without further ado, here we go:

  • Milo & Ginny by Denny Connolly & Sergio Castro
  • Creator Showcase: Meg Gandy
  • Creator Showcase: Rawn Gandy
  • Catburglar Cream by Laura Knetzger
  • Flocks 2 and 3 by L. Nichols
  • 24 Hour Comics 2011 and 2012 by Kelly Phillips
  • Rat King and Snapdragon Queen by Carey Pietsch
  • Roquefort by James Point Du Jour
  • The Well-Dressed Bear Will Never Be Found by Jarod Rosello
  • Pants Optional by Jarod Rosello, Matt Aucoin, and Denny Connolly
  • Slow the Transit of Time by Ian Sampson
  • Nest Fest by Sarah Sheppard
Of course, sitting here now there's a lot of "oh man, maybe I should have grabbed..." but I'm very happy with the stuff that I got. Can't wait to read it!
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A Visit to Locust Moon Comics Festival 2013

A view of the main room
Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of actually making it to the Locust Moon Comics Festival in its second year, after an epic fail in year one that ended with me shredding my Greyhound ticket.

This year was nearly as perilous, as I went to drive to the show and found that my car wouldn't start. What gives, Comics Gods? Don't you want me to buy great comics from Philadelphians?

At any rate, I made it to the show, and despite the oppressive heat (the Rotunda is a great place for a comics or zine show, but it's not designed for summer weather), had a good time getting to explore a lot of local comics from creators I had not seen or met before and another chance to talk and hang out for a bit with old comics friends--and a few newer ones as well.

The Dirty Diamonds crew: Carey and Kelly
One of the things that always worries me about going to a show shortly before or after SPX is the chance for repetition. For example, if you don't go to SPX, MoCCA provides a chance to meet a lot of the same people.

The problem is that if you've already been to SPX, unless the comics creator is prolific, odds are you don't have anything new to buy from them.

So that was what really impressed me with Locust Moon. There were quite a few creators I'd never seen or heard of before, vastly outnumbering the ones I see yearly at SPX. It was really cool to be able to go around and sample, and pick out a few that looked most interesting to me. I probably could have spent a bit more, but this was my fourth comics show (and fifth con, with a sixth to follow this coming weekend) and it's started to hit me just how much I've spent on things lately. I definitely got some ideas for the future and creators to keep an eye on, which is always awesome.

Two of the best.
I thought that Locust Moon did a good job with making the best use possible of the space of the Rotunda, with the expanded area being as filled to the gills as the the normal exhibition area. They didn't waste a single inch, with comics people even squeezed into the entrance alcove and in the hallway leading between the two wings of the building.

Despite how packed the creators were, it did not feel oppressive, except for the heat. There was definitely enough aisle space, and with no one cosplaying, people were able to walk around freely. The no pressure donations-at-the-door approach worked well, I think, especially at getting casual people in to see the comics. Door fees should never be a barrier at a show like this one.

An interesting choice was the mixing of the big names with the smaller ones. Todd Klein might be next to a person with a $1 mini, which was kind of neat. The democratic nature of comics really showed at Locust Moon--with the exception of Jim Steranko, because, well--he's Steranko.

Locust Moon was a great show, and I highly recommend it to anyone in the area. I hope to see it return in 2014, even if I am too far away to attend personally.

You can see all my Locust Moon 2013 pictures here.

October 5, 2013

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Halloween Horror: A Reminder about Alabaster: Wolves

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2013! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

Hi All!

I'm at the Locust Moon Comics Festival today, so I don't have time to run a full post.  Instead, enjoy this set of 5 reminders why Alabaster: Wolves is not only a great horror comic, but a clinic on how to write a mini-series for comics.

My Newsarama Review of Issue 1.

My Newsarama Review of Issue 2.

My Newsarama Review of Issue 3.

My Newsarama Review of Issue 4.

My Newsarama Review of Issue 5.

Seriously, this was one amazing series that really stayed with me. I'm sad that Kiernan is stepping away from comics again, but I also understand you have to pay the bills, and indie comics are a tough way to do that. So why not give yourself a treat and pick up a trade of this the next time you're at the comic shop. This one gets my complete and unhesitating recommendation, especially for those of you loving Superior Foes of Spider-Man and looking for more from Steve Lieber.

October 4, 2013

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Halloween Horror: Dark Horse Creepy Volume 2

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2013! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

Written by Various Creators, including Tim Truman, David Lapham, Joe R. Lansdale, Doug Moench, Jeff Parker, Rick Geary, and Peter Bagge.
Illustrated by Various Creators, including Tim Truman, Colleen Coover, Rick Geary, and Peter Bagge.
Published by Dark Horse Comics

I've been a big fan of the most recent issues of Creepy and its sister series Eerie, both resurrected from the world of Warren Publishing by Dark Horse. I figured it was time to go back and see what the older issues of the new series had to offer for a fan of anthology horror like me.

The results were a bit mixed, actually. Perhaps it's because of how damned good the last few Creepy issues were, but I found myself thinking, "Wow, these aren't quite as good as I'd hoped they'd be."

That doesn't mean this is a bad collection that should be avoided--far from it. It's just that when I've been giving the new issues a 9/10 on 'Rama, I kind of expected the same quality here. Instead, I think it's probably more on the level of a 7 or so, with certain stories being outstanding and others feeling like they were lacking a certain something that I look for in horror. The overall result is a good collection, but the hit to miss ratio is a bit higher than I had hoped for. I'm not going to mention every story--these are the highlights, both good and bad.

Leading off this collection is a story by Benjamin and Timothy Truman, and it's a great, longer piece. A magical finds her village taken over by an evil shaman who killed her son to gain power, and must fight in the land of the dead to bring him back. Written to echo the tales and legends of many an ancient culture, the story nails the tone of such a piece and Truman gives it just the right amount of visceral images, being careful not to overdo it. It's a subtler piece than you'd expect from Creepy, but it works incredibly well.

David Lapham follows up with a hack writer who tries to go back to his roots and finds fertile soil for his ideas. Filled quite nifty twists and turns, the story has a gotcha ending that I thought Lapham did quite well. The art's a bit static, but the end splash page makes up for it.

Sadly, Doug Moench, who I normally dig, is off his game with Murdicide, where a man who killed his girlfriend and her lover is haunted by himself. It's not helped by art that doesn't try to be menacing in any way, but the overall plot felt too 1970s for my taste.

In the next issue of the collection, Creepy goes West but forgets to take clear storytelling with it, as Joe R. Lansdale's art partner, Nathan Fox, tries to work like Paul Pope but ends up just giving readers a jumble of arms and legs, making it hard to tell what's going on. This one fell completely flat for me.

Perhaps the creepiest story here is Christopher Taylor and Jason Shawn Alexander's Commedia dell Morte!, in which a serial killer disguised as a clown kills parents he thinks are child abusers. Is he right? We'll never know, which is part of the quality of the story. Alexander's work is a bit like Jae Lee, and the style meshes well for the plot. This one's downright disturbing, and could be a trigger for some readers.

You probably know Bill Morrison best from his Simpsons comics work, but he's right at home here. Sadly, he only writes the story of  town plagued by vampires where the vampire hunter isn't afraid to use his foes as bait! This was another highlight of the collection for me, with Morrison capturing the B-movie flavor of the plot but also able to give it some life by changing around some of the standard roles. Wilfredo Torres is on art duties, with a blocky, line-filled style that makes everything feel appropriately just a bit off.

Dan Braun finally does a feature story, with The Shroud feeling very much like it could have sat beside Corben and Ditko in the classic incarnation of the magazine. A couple down on their luck made the find of a lifetime, but greed gets the better of the male partner and the devil doesn't like it when others offer the deal. The characters are suitably unpleasant, so seeing them meet their fate is fun. Patrick Reynolds' art isn't up to the level of the best, but he does the job with sketchy pencils and keeps the story going.

Can Jeff Parker write a straight horror story? You bet! Nineteen is an act of confession for a bad man, but he'll soon learn that what might be good for the soul isn't good for the mind. There's not a joke to be found, as the man finds out his fate, while Colleen Coover uses her signature style to make the protagonist look harried and the women he meets attractive and varied. Top notch short horror work.

About as far away from Coover's style as you can get, Rick Geary takes his fake woodblock work into an old-fashioned love story with a tragic-not horrible-twist. A man finally finds love among the dead, but can't deal with the side effects. This one never gets very scary, so for some that's going to cost it points, but it's a classic Gothic romance gone wrong, set in a modern age.

Emily Carroll's The Red Knife puts a different spin on domestic bliss. A mild housewife gets a strange gift and finds herself falling down into madness that she can't escape--and eventually has no desire to do so. The illustration style here is amazing, with random dialogue filling backgrounds, the use of stark, black areas to heighten the menace, and some really dramatic panel placements.

Rounding out the collection are some Creepy gag strips from Dan Braun and Peter Bagge. Like the Aragones bumpers of old, these are extremely funny, don't always require words, and are incredibly detailed within a cartoonish frame. It was good to see them, though I might have put them between each issue instead of at the end.

Creepy is a must read each quarter for horror fans. As a collection, it's not quite as solid, as reading short, punchy horror back to back to back loses some of its impact. Still, if you aren't a regular subscriber (why not?), then this is a way to catch up and read some really good stories. Just be prepared for a few that aren't quite ready for such a grave spotlight.
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Oily Comics May 2013

It's time to continue reviewing the Oily comics I've received so far, this time going back to the ones from May.

For those unaware, Oily is a mini-comics publisher that specializes in short, quarter-sized comics.  They run a subscription program and give readers a chance to get a variety of comics and creators in their mailbox every month.  I enjoy finding new creators and since I'm going to less cons this year, I thought taking advantage of subscriptions like these would be a good way to do it.

Here's short notes on each of the comics for May.  Once again, Lou is the only series to be available month in, month out. We see a return from Middle Ground and Outside after a few months off, and Josh Simmons joins the party.

Lou 14 by Melissa Mendes continues the story where it left off, with John missing. He's gone to the secret place, but finds he's not alone. With a ton of cross-hatching work, Mendes makes the scene look pretty scary, without doing a lot of complex visuals. This one is more of a stage-setter than actual story, which is a bit disappointing, but it's still pretty good.

Using a lot of extremely small panels, Middle Ground by Andy Burkholder is mostly a series of stories from a character's dad. The kind of tales you don't want your friends to hear, they're designed to make you midly uncomfortable, and it works extremely well here. I liked this one better than the last Middle Ground, but the style is still a bit overly obscure just because, and I'm not a huge fan of that.

Not a Horse Girl 1: Acoustic Episodes is a new series from Marian Runk, and it's a great entry. My favorite of this month's comics, Runk tells stories about her voice teacher and her connection to music. Extremely well drawn (possibly the best I've seen in an Oily comic) and able to tell quick, concise autobiographical stories that are actually interesting, this is one I hope to see a lot more of going forward.

By contrast, and showing the variety you get in every Oily delivery, Outside from Marc Geddes (words) and Warren Craghead (art) is another exercise in abstraction. Loosely based on the idea of surfing, this one becomes more and more sketchy and heavy lines as it goes along. It doesn't quite work for me, but fans of that type of comic should appreciate it.

Training from Josh Simmons ends the batch this month, and it's as strange and filled with horror as you'd expect from him. I think this is part of a series, but it's the first I've seen of it. A young man comes to a demented training camp, where people have needles under their skin and act out violence regularly. He's apparently trapped, and that's enough to hook me into wanting to know more. Filled with the great use of heavy blacks and stark horror that Simmons does so well, this one's a great finish to May's Oily.

Join me next time when I tell you about June's comics from Oily.