June 30, 2014

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The Crossover You've Been Dreading---Groo Meets Conan in July!

Dark Horse Comics is doing its best to make the many sensible people upset by today's political news laugh by promising a new Groo series from the veteran team of Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones.

Now any time we get new Groo is a time to celebrate (unless you are the people who live in Groo's world, in which case, it is time to move), but this one is even better, because it's time for the clueless killer to meet the ruthless frayer, Conan the Barbarian!

Yup! With the help of artist Thomas Yeates, the trio of creators find a way to have Robert E. Howard's classic character and Evanier/Aragones' classic parody of said character show up together for an adventure they're calling "Three Swords! Two Barbarians! One Brain!"

If you're unfamiliar with Groo, first of all, shame on you. Second, he's a character that the two created to make fun of the sword and sorcery genre that, over time, came to be a biting political parody as well. Groo has taken on everything from trickle-down economics to global warming, while still attacking everything in sight. It will be interesting to see if this one has a particular topic at the edge of Evanier's verbal sword or if it will be more generally directed at comics and crossovers, which is hinted at in the preview pages Dark Horse was kind enough to send along.

Groo Vs. Conan #1 is on sale July 23rd at comic shops and the Dark Horse Comics app.

Preview pages of Conan and Groo's world mixing:

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International Zine Month Starts Tomorrow

You may not be aware of it, but July is International Zine Month!

Founded as a concept by my friend Alex Wrekk, she describes coming up with the idea in the following way:
      During conversations with friends I found myself saying “Wouldn’t it be rad if there was an International Zine Month?” Which led to the question: “How do we make it official?” This was actually a silly question since zines are inherently DIY there was no one who could make it official, but I could Do It Myself. I decided to propose the idea on the We Mazine Zines forum and people seemed really excited about it. I figured to pair it with the 24 hour Zine thing would be a good idea and since that takes place in the month of July…. JULY IS INTERNATIONAL ZINE MONTH!
Though 24 hour Zine Thing looks to be dead (nothing new on its website, nothing new on Twitter since December), the idea is a great way to either connect with the DIY nature of zines or to re-connect yourself if you've found that you haven't been reading those zines you picked up or stopped going to zine gatherings awhile back.

Alex has a list of suggested things to do across the month of July, including ordering from a Distro on July 3rd (I'll just link you to one I recommend here), re-reading your favorite zines, writing a fan letter to a zinester, sending your zine to a library, and contributing to a compilation zine. Not everyone can do every option, but it makes for a great list of suggestions and ideas. For my part, I'll be trying to read a zine a day across July, and review several of them here.

She also lists a few upcoming zine fests, including Portland Zine Symposium, which I cannot wait to attend for the first time (look for a show preview next week).

Zines are a wonderful way for people who might not otherwise get an opportunity to express themselves. It's not the same when you blog. There are times when you do need to share something by trading a tangible, physical object, especially when it relates to personal matters. I am of course a digital advocate, but that doesn't make me anti-paper. Digital is a convenience that allows me to live in a small apartment and still have all the things I'd like to re-read at my fingertips.

Some of the best comics and personal essays I've read are via the zine/mini-comic format. If you've never tried them before, July is a perfect time to do so!

You can see a nice, high-resolution list of International Zine Month suggestions here.

June 29, 2014

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Wizards Don't Know Math: Notes on Contemporary Education, Muggles and Magic and Smashing the Ministry of Magic

Oh sure, we've all read what they tell us in the magical papers, but what of the truth? Are wizards being fed a line from the (often corrupted) Ministry of Magic about the overwhelming number of humans who are designated as Muggles?

Shem Shacklecrack, the author of this treatise, posits that the phobic portrayal of non-magical people is a scheme to keep wizards in the dark of all the things humanity is capable of, such as the application of science to solve problems instead of a wand. Arguing that treating "Muggles" (a term that Shacklecrack feels is demeaning) worse than house elves is a major issue that breeds the evil of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, the author points out the privilege of having magical powers while noting that reliance on such power could in fact be the downfall of magical society.

After all, even the most advanced wizard can't pass a simple test that a 15-year old non-magical human can complete with flying colors!

Shacklecrack has a solution: Get out, get informed, get involved. He argues for magic users to stop being afraid. Go live outside a wizard community! Share your magic with "Muggles!" Better yet--try not using magic at all!

***

This is obviously a tongue-in-cheek satire of zines which advocate for social change. Using the world of Harry Potter, with which most readers will have at least a passing familiarity, the author points out just how strange the world created by Rowling really is, along with the fact that it's far from perfect, with class imbalances among the magic-using races and even within the magical families themselves. Those wishing they lived in the Potterverse instead of reality might want to re-think things, after reading this zine.

At the same time, there's also a gentle poke at folks who write political zines. While I am very much a left-wing individual (no shock to anyone who's read my past articles about comics and social issues), sometimes the zines targeted to those who want to make society a better, more egalitarian place tend to take themselves a bit too seriously when constructing their arguments. They go out on limbs, take things to an extreme, and don't stop to think about the difficulties involved in societal change. In the end, their greater point gets lost.

Here, "Shacklecrack" shows how exposed a zine of that nature can be, by comically showing off the flaws of such an approach via taking them to an extreme. Any good satire should be able to pull this off, but it's not easy to write good satire. This zine, however, is textbook case of how to do it right.

As with all zines, finding this won't be easy, but if you do, definitely grab it. It's a lot of fun to read, even if you're not a Harry Potter fan. Political wit is rare, and should be cherished. This is one of those zines, and I'm happy to have it in our private collection.

June 28, 2014

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The Boxer: The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft

The Boxer: The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft
Written and Illustrated by Reinhard Kleist
Self Made Hero Publishing

The Boxer tells the story of Hertzko "Harry" Haft, who survived the concentration camps of Nazi-occupied Poland by participating in brutal boxing matches, and went on to fight Rocky Marciano. For those with an interest in history and graphic memoir/non-fiction, this is a compelling, essential read.

The story begins in Miami, 1963. A middle-aged man in a car with his son; the son reaches for the radio and the father sternly tells him "no music". The first person narration (from the son) describes what a difficult father this man is. They pull over as the man is crying. The father says "one day, I'll tell you everything".

The story then jumps back to Poland, 1939, and focuses on a young man named Hertzko Haft, the youngest of eight children.  He is the man we saw initially driving the car in Miami. Now, in 1939, he and his brothers are engaged in a smuggling operation to sell food to Jews living in Nazi-occupied Poland. He is the youngest and smallest, so he works as runner and lookout. This is a very difficult time; the Germans are on their way into the town, and are welcomed by many non-Jews. Hertzko and his family are Jewish, and so their life goes from bad to worse.   Hertzko is hurt on a run smuggling food, but through this he meets Leah, with whom he quickly falls in love and plans to marry.

One day, when he learns that his brother has planned to register for work duty with the Nazis, Hertzko goes to stop him. Before he knows it, Hertzko has been loaded on a train being taken to a work camp.  Hertzko arrives and is put to work, living in hard conditions. He gains the favor of the foreman as Hertzko has a talent for smuggling and sneaking around, but as we soon learn, the Germans are on a path of destruction, and nothing Hertzko cares about is safe.

Before long, Hertzko and the other men are loaded on another train and this time are taken to another camp. At this camp, everything has changed. The men's heads are shaved, numbers are carved into their arms, and they all wear the identical uniform of concentration camp prisoner.  Hertzko does what he must to survive, and anyone who knows the horror of the Nazi death camps should prepare themselves for gruesome moments. Later a Nazi captain approaches Hertzko about entering into boxing matches. Hertzko can see that his opponents are poor, starving men, but he doesn't care. He fights them and beats them without regret or sympathy. Hertzko fights a number of these bouts, winning regardless of the opponent. He does what he must to survive.

The war turns against the Germans, and then the camp prisoners are taken on an extended death march. Eventually Hertzko escapes; at one point he kills a German officer and takes his uniform. He finds shelter in the home of a elderly German-sympathizing couple whom eventually discover that Hertzko is not really a German. He does what he must to survive.

Once the war ends, things get better for Hertzko. For a short time, he ends up living in a large house where he operates a bordello. He also begins fighting again. He wins a local championship and then decides to make his way to America, where he has an uncle.  He is in America now, and he's no longer Hertzko, he's Harry Haft.

After coming to America, Harry decides to become a professional boxer, and despite some early struggles, has some success. As he fights and wins matches, Harry flashes back to his fights in the concentration camp. Eventually he is scheduled to fight the young (future champion) Rocky Marciano. It seems clear that nobody expects Harry to win this fight. Harry gives it his all, but Marciano is a better fighter. After this fight, Haft's career as a boxer is over.  Harry finds work as a grocer, meets a girl and marries.

The story ends close to where it began, in 1963. We can see the man into which Harry has turned. He hasn't changed, but only hardened over the years. To his son Alan's surprise, Harry announces that the family is taking a trip down to Miami for a vacation. All along, Harry has never give up on finding Leah again, and enlists his son's help (as Harry can still barely read or write) calling all of the Lieberman's in the phone book to ask for Leah.  Their final reunion is touching and sad, because they've both lived lives apart, separated by German's atrocities. Harry has an emotional reunion with her, and the story ends with Harry telling his son that "one day, I'll tell you everything". Forty years later, he did.

This is a powerful, moving work, and a great example of using the graphic medium to tell a difficult story. Kleist paints a compelling portrait of Haft from the very beginning. Bookending a story with scenes from later in life is a fairly common trope (in both literature and film such as Saving Private Ryan), but here it is used quite effectively. Who is this hard man who pulls over to the side of the road and breaks down, crying? As the story moves back in time, Kleist makes clear that as the youngest and smallest of eight children, Haft has a chip on his shoulder from the very beginning.  This attitude, and his willingness to do anything to survive are attributes that help him get through the most horrific of situations; whether as a smuggler, a scavenger of jewelry, or a brutal fighter. However, what's also clear is that Haft's personality and mindset, his willingness to do absolutely anything he can to survive, are not without tremendous personal cost. At the end of it, when all of the fighting (either during the war or after) is done, he is broken. The storytelling is clear and straightforward. The only place where this is slightly confusing is that the introductory and end scenes (set in 1963) are narrated by Harry's son Aaron, whereas the rest of the story is narrated by Harry.

Kleist's artistic storytelling in this work is stellar. Here he uses a black and white, stylized, angular (oddly evocative of legendary New Yorker cartoonist Al Hirschfeld) art style that truly conveys the horrors which Haft encountered in his life. Kleist pulls no punches in depicting the horrors of life during the war; while violence in this story is not graphic, it is visceral and effective. The facial acting of the characters in the story is first-rate and often unsettling. We see on Harry's face the lines of age well before he becomes an old man - his life and circumstances aged him quickly. The hollowed-out faces of the concentration camp prisoners, and Leah's face as she is dying of cancer are images not easily forgotten.

There's heavy use of blacks in this art style, and for the most part the portrayal is fairly "realistic" except in a few key moments, where Kleist uses just a few scenes to powerfully convey emotion. First, when Harry ends up in the concentration camp and is overwhelmed with the reality of his job (cleaning out the ovens where people are burned) and his circumstances, he is completely overwhelmed. In that moment, there appears to be almost an explosion of light and heat around Harry, as the magnitude of this situation is too much for even this hard young man. Later, as Harry fights opponents in America, we see through his eyes the opponents he fought in those brutal matches back in the concentration camp. Harry is still there, still fighting those battles.  The brutality of Harry's boxing matches, particularly his final match against Marciano, is effectively rendered.  In a few places in the concentration camp, the art is slightly hard to follow; in a scene where several people are talking, it's not easy to distinguish who is Harry and who is his brother. However, this feels like a deliberate choice more than an oversight. For the people in the camps - heads shaved, identical uniforms, numbers burned into them - all of their individuality was taken away from them. The lack of individuation makes sense under the circumstances.

This is a great work, in the tradition of Maus and Persepolis, that effectively uses the graphic medium to provide insight into a challenging man who survived unimaginable circumstances.


Harry Haft, in his fighting days

June 27, 2014

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New Goon Series Promises "Revenge"

Dark Horse Comics announced in a press release yesterday that Eric Powell's Goon character would return with a new #1 issue, as part of Powell's new plan to make Goon a mini-series based comic instead of an extremely erratic regular book.

Called "The Goon: Occasion of Revenge," it picks up on the general plot that Goon has stepped his foot into the business of a group of powerful magical beings that make his old adversary the Zombie Priest look like the chump he was frequently portrayed as, back when the series was more about jokes and lighthearted fun. But as we can see from these opening pages, the Goon--as always--has a plan.

I'm a big fan of Powell's work on The Goon, though I admit, I prefer the earlier material because I liked it being a foul-mouthed, raw romp that was mostly about Goon beating the crap out of things (including Hellboy, at one point). This new series looks like Powell is continuing on his more serious path, which is still excellent work, with surprising depth even if the coarse exterior is retained.

The first issue of The Goon: Occasion of Revenge is set for July 23rd. Preview pages are below, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.







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(Mostly) Wordless by Jed Alexander

Written and Illustrated by Jed Alexander
Published by Alternative Comics

A series of short stories, almost entirely without words, show off the creative range of Jed Alexander in this small but enjoyable collection.

Originally a Kickstarter project, Alexander came up with the idea of collecting his stories together after being asked to do so enough times that it made sense. "I can't make a hand bound book for everybody," he noted in the Kickstarter. Instead, there's now a version anyone can publish, and it's definitely a visual treat for fans of comics that lean more heavily on their visual rather than script sides.

The collection opens with "Ella and the Pirates," a story of three kids who use their vivid imagination to turn an ordinary wagon into a sailing ship and go after buried treasure. Switching onto to reality as the framing device, the story features Ella taking the leading role, dueling her friend-as-pirate and generally protecting the other male character. That's so rare as to be notable.
The images shift across the page without panels, drifting naturally into one another. It's a tale of wonder and imagination, captured for the reader, and it's no wonder folks were asking Alexander for copies. It's a great set piece.

The rest of the stories are much shorter, and cover a range of topics. "Midnight Snack," which is narrated, is the story of a man's nose and moustache, who grow rather creepy, hairy legs and take off for parts unknown. "Rainy Day" features a boy and his umbrella and was used for the cover image. "The Dancer" is a young girl in a ballerina costume practicing, while "Girl Meets Ball" is exactly what you'd think. In two more shorts, a girl tries on different Halloween costumes.

An adaptation of "Jack Be Nimble" closes out the book, with a mouse taking the role of the titular character, dressed in a marathon outfit and comically stretching before making the jump. It's a nice set up for a visual gag, and a great way to wrap things up.

While researching for this review, I discovered that Alexander works in what he calls a "dry brush technique" which explains why my initial thoughts on this was that it was done with watercolors but couldn't figure out why that didn't seem quite right. The effect is a cross between the look of a watercolored work and something filled in with market, and I quite like the way it looks on the page. It allows for texturing, especially in the backgrounds, but there's a much richer depth to the color without water bleeding out some of the vibrancy from darker blues, greens, and reds. It also allows for more control and no bleed.

That's a good thing, because Alexander's lines are extremely thin, which means there's no a lot of room for spillover. His work overall has the feel of children's book illustrations, and the subjects chosen here fit well with that aesthetic.

(Mostly) Wordless probably hews closer to an art book than a traditional comic, but it's definitely pretty and thanks to the art style, features a unique look that was unfamiliar to me. I'm glad I encountered it. If you're a fan of comic-as-artform, seek this out. I think you'll like what you see.

You can get a copy of (Mostly) Wordless directly from Alternative Comics.

June 26, 2014

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Believed Behavior's Second Issue Stars Michael DeForge

Believed Behavior, the combination tabloid and tablet comics anthology is back for a second issue, once again offering both a print and digital edition for a single price point. For $8, users get 5 more comics across a 12-page print edition.

There are a few changes this time around, all of which are definitely improvements:


  • Instead of serializing the comics online, anyone who purchases a subscription to the second issue will have access to the complete stories immediately.
  • Digital viewers now have additional viewing options.
  • The website has been given an overhaul to make it more user-friendly.

That first point is a big, and well-needed change. While I understand that the webcomics model works on serialization, those stories are also long-form, stretching across months and years. For something that's going to be about 16 panels total, there's no need to make a person wait. I would imagine I wasn't the only person who just decided, "Heck with it, I'll wait for the print copy" and stopped going to the site.

A panel from Michael DeForge.
I also like the idea of additional viewing modes. Not all views work best for all types of devices, and anytime you can give your customers additional options, it's a good thing.

This issue is highlighted by a contribution from Michael DeForge, who is quickly becoming a star in the world of independent comics. As you might expect, his entry is incredibly strange, featuring a person who's had themselves physically altered to resemble a plane. Done in his usual thin, minimalist manner, it gets increasingly preposterous from panel to panel, climaxing in a sex scene that's about as unsensual as it gets.

Other pieces in this issue are by artists I'm less familiar with:
A panel from Lyra Hill.

  • A technological future where an aspiring writer is mocked for his work by Anya Davidson. Her neon color choices really set the linework out and make this feel as alien as possible. 
  • Lale Westvind's entry features a woman who speaks about what appears to be nihilistic philosophy with a a glowing-eyed statue, also colored in such a way to stretch the art and keep the reader's eyes off-balance. The gradual blurring of the recurring images together will work better for some than others.
  • Creation is in the air with Lyra Hill's story of a man who creates neon signs while a boy watches and helps make decisions on the configuration of a new design. Mostly wordless with a few narrative boxes, this is an exploration in shapes and color.
  • Sophia Foster-Dimino closes out the issue with the most narrative of the stories included. A young bodyguard's first day on the job doesn't go so well, as it turns out the tips given a young person for business jobs don't apply so well when it's a matter of life and death. Quirky and sarcastic, this was probably my favorite. Foster-Dimino's reminded me a bit of Box Brown's earlier work, with the characters based strongly around shapes and featuring oval eyes and lightly created noses/mouths. There's just enough in the backgrounds to set the stage, but the coloring felt dull after the bright, blazing shades featured in the other color comics.


As with the first issue, Believed Behavior is best suited to those who are strong fans of mini-comics, particularly of the more experimental kind. If that meets your description, I think you'll really like Believed Behavior. But to get a copy, you'll need to act fast. The deadline for subscribing is July 3rd.

You can sign up for issue two of Believed Behavior at their website.
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Ghosted Volume 1: Haunted Heist

Written by Joshua Williamson
Line Art by Goran Sudzuka
Color Art by Miroslav Mrva
Published by Image Comics

A former master thief has resigned himself to living out what's left of his life in prison until an eccentric millionaire breaks him out to coordinate the heist of a lifetime--steal a ghost from a condemned building! Working with a hand-picked team including a brilliant skeptic, a con-man magician with an eye for larceny, a seer available for the right price, and the millionaire's right-hand assassin, Jackson Winters must find a way to satisfy his new employer's wishes--or die trying--in a new series that has the feel of an updated William Castle film.

Ghosted gets off to one of the worst starts in horror comic history, beginning with an opening sequence filled with just about every prison cliche Williamson can find. It was almost bad enough for me to give up entirely, but paging through the art was enough to convince me to stick with this one. I'm glad I did, because once we get to Jackson's deal to steal a ghost, the series quickly picks up steam and becomes a solid story with plenty of twists and turns. Williamson does a great job of blending two classic movie styles together: The Haunted House and The Heist. It shows a level of innovation and careful plotting that sometimes escapes lesser writers, who tend to think of horror books are being vast gore-fests.

Ghosted has blood, of course, but it also has perfect timing and an understanding of how the tropes of the haunted house need to play out--and when to exploit that expectation to try something a bit different. Sure, we know someone has to die, that the skeptic has to change their mind, and that the ghosts are even worse than previously imagined, but Williamson's handling of these expectations are going to surprise you. This won't be the first time you've read a story about how to trap a ghost, but I am pretty sure the way in which Jackson goes about fulfilling his contract will surprise you.

I don't want to give away too much here, but it's worth noting that Jackson's team is selected for very specific reasons, all of which play out over the course of the story, right up to the very end, because of Williamson's strong plotting. At no point is there an "Oh, come on!" moment or a feeling of being betrayed by some hidden secret the writer wasn't clever enough to hint at early on. Everything that happens depends on the fact that Jackson is smart enough to realize when he's being played and acts accordingly. The fact that the reader doesn't know how he plans to get out from under his new employer's thumb is okay, because we know that's what has to happen. The question is--will Jackson's plan work and can he survive it?


Watching that drama unfold is as compelling as watching Vincent Price's scheme slowly unravel in Haunting of Hill House, which, along with similar movies, definitely carries the same vibe as Haunted's first five issues. Fortunately, Goran Sudzuka is a far better artist than Castle was as a writer/director. His artwork is perfect for this story, utilizing a style that may be out of favor at the "Big Two" but simply does what no amount of intricate costume details covering poor anatomy and layout can--tells the damned story with strong overall visuals.

As with the script, once we get past the inane prison opening, Sudzuka's art is stellar, beginning with the splash page showing just how messed in the head Jackson's rich boss really is. As his assistant looms over Jackson with a knife, a room lit by fire only displays walls of books, skulls, arcane artifacts and sigils. It sets the tone for the rest of the story to come, all by creating a mood. Everything is angled in such a way that it opens up from the restrained and seated Jackson, yet still feels somewhat claustrophobic. Future splash pages are similarly dynamic, and the change to stick figures to summarize the skeptic's plan because he's the one drawing it was a stroke of genius. When the ghosts start getting added to the mix, they are suitably creepy and ephemeral, too, forming yet more overwhelming presences to go along with the general look of the house.

All of the layouts are just stellar in this one from start to finish. Sudzuka finds just the right moment to portray the action of Williamson's script, whether it's knowing to have the action face the reader or flee away from them. In other cases, Sudzuka takes in the scene from above, allowing the reader to play "God" and see that which is unavailable to the main characters. Even the standard panels where two or more characters are talking/arguing/scheming have just a slight hint of action to them, but it's not overdone. We don't need an extreme tilt on every single view, and Sudzuka understands that.

Sudzuka gets how to apply the concepts used so well by Marvel's 1970s artists, and that shows. Even his linework is reminiscent of Dick Giordano's horror comics. Combined with the subtle coloring of Miroslav Mrva, readers are able to indulge in looking at the way he applies shadows, heavier inks, and other tricks without it getting buried by over-processing.

Ghosted got off on the wrong foot, but it quickly recovered and is an amazing horror book and probably a bit underrated in the Image stable. I know I'll be reading from this point on. Horror fans who appreciate carefully crafted visual storytelling really need to jump on this one. I wish I'd done so sooner.

June 25, 2014

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Dynamite's 10th Anniversary Humble Bundle is Full of Great Comics

To celebrate its 10th Anniversary, Dynamite Entertainment has teamed up with the folks at Humble Bundle for a massive digital comics collection.

From the press release:

To celebrate their first decade of comic book publishing, Dynamite Entertainment launches its first ever Humble Bundle promotion which will allow fans to purchase over 100 digital comics books and graphic novels (the largest Humble Bumble comics collection in history) at a cost of each person's choosing, granting existing and new fans significant purchasing power.  In keeping with the tradition of promotions hosted and arranged by Humble Bundle, Dynamite will contribute a portion of the proceeds to three important charitable organizations, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
As with other bundles, this one works on a tiered system. At the basic level, which is name your own price, the set includes several parodies, such as "The Mocking Dead," "My Little Phony," and "Vampirella vs. Fluffy." It also has the first seven issues of Project Superpowers, along with more Vampirella comics, a Sherlock Holmes mini-series, and licensed work based on Amanda Hawking's stories.

If you go up to $11.35, you can get the jewl of this crown, the first arc of Gail Simone and Walter Geovani's Red Sonja series. That's a must-read comic if you are a sword and sorcery fan, and is arguably Gail's best book right now, illustrated by a criminally underrated artist. This level also has more Vampirella, Kevin Smith's Green Hornet reboot, and adaptations of Dreden and George RR Martin.

At the top level, for $15, you can pick up a Wheel of Time adaptation and The Dynamite Art of Alex Ross.

If you'd like a sampling of what Dynamite offers, this is a great chance to do so. But make a decision quickly, because the bundle ends July 9th at 1:59PM Eastern.

You can check out the Dynamite Humble Bundle here. 
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Adventure Time 30 Pays Tribute To Zines/Mini-comics!

Adventure Time 30 Incentive Cover by
Luke Pearson evokes zine/mini look
Boom! Studios, home to several creators who "grew up" in the world of mini-comics and zines and a plethora of variant cover artists who also share that that background, announced in a recent press release that issue 30 of their insanely popular (and usually pretty amazing) series Adventure Time would be a tribute to mini-comics and zines.

From the press release:
June 19,  2014 - Los Angeles, CA - KaBOOM!, an award-winning imprint of publisher BOOM! Studios, and Cartoon Network Enterprises, the licensing and merchandising arm of the network, are pleased to announce that July’s ADVENTURE TIME #30 will be a special stand-alone issue that honors the thriving DIY (“Do It Yourself”), mini-comics culture, printed on uncoated paper and made to look like a homemade zine from the citizens of Ooo. This issue features a cavalcade of indie creators, including longtime ADVENTURE TIME writer Ryan North and artists Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb; plus artists Liz Prince (Alone Forever), Carey PietschRebecca TobinKat Philbin,T. Zysk (ADVENTURE TIME), Missy Pena (BRAVEST WARRIORS), Jesse TiseIan McGinty (ADVENTURE TIME, BRAVEST WARRIORS), David Cutler, and Yumi Sakugawa (I Think I Am in Friend-Love with You). 
“We love do-it-yourself zines and minicomics here at BOOM!, and some of us actually make them on our own time,” said BOOM! Studios Editor-in-Chief Matt Gagnon. “It’s so much fun to see all of these artists, who have their own styles and POV making zines, bringing those talents to this unique issue.”
I cannot stress enough how much that second paragraph warms my heart. Too often, comics is treated like the default setting for creators, fans, and publishers has to be Balkanized. It's really nice seeing Boom!'s Editor in Chief not only acknowledging that zines/minis exist and are a vibrant part of the comics community, but that the staffers at Boom! actually read--and even make!--zines and minis themselves. It's no wonder that Boom! is snagging these folks--they've got their eyes on the ground.

It's nice to see Carey and Liz get their shot at this, and I'm really looking forward to reading the issue. Though I'm a digital guy, this is one time where I plan to get a paper copy. It's the zine-y thing to do!

Adventure Time 30 will be on sale July 16th, digitally and in print, for $3.99. This is one of the few times I'll actually tell you to find a comic shop and get the print edition.

June 24, 2014

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Lapham's Murder Me Dead Gets Image Re-Issue

Image Comics announced in a press release that they were bringing David Lapham's "Murder Me Dead" back into print with a re-issue of the noir graphic novel scheduled for July 16th release (July 29th if you're the bookstore type).

From the release, the full text of which can be found here:
Hanging from the ceiling fan in her lavish Hollywood home. That’s where Steven Russell finds his estranged wife, Eve Kroft—rich, beautiful, and desperately sad—a tear-stained note in her pocket pouring out years of pain and regret. Is it suicide? The police think so. But his wife’s rich and powerful family is convinced otherwise, and they’ll do everything in their power to make him pay in MURDER ME DEAD, the classic noir graphic novel by David Lapham (STRAY BULLETS), back in print from Image Comics this July. 
Murder Me Dead is my modern-day love letter to the great noir films of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s,” said Lapham. “It’s every bit as emotionally twisted as Stray Bullets, but in the guise of a traditional femme fatale noir." 
Hailed as a masterful contemporary take on classic noir, MURDER ME DEAD takes its antihero down an ever-darkening road of obsession, sex, betrayal, murder, and dashed hopes. Peeling back the carefully constructed facades of each character, Lapham exposes the true nature of their humanity and propels you toward a final, horrifying revelation.
While I am new to Lapham (yes, yes, I know, what took me so long), my reading of Stray Bullets and the new Killers series tells me that he's the perfect writer/artist to pull off a tale like this. He has an unflinching ability to create characters who are extremely unpleasant, yet compelling to read about. (A good TV comparison would be The Shield, if I may be forgiven for crossing media types.) His art is stark and yet detailed at the same time, and as you'll see from the preview pages, he makes the world look and feel like the time period the story is designed to evoke.

This looks to be a highlight of my July reading. If you like crime comics as much as I do, then make sure you get this one on your pull lists.

Preview art provided by Image is shared below:




 
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Kill Shakespeare: The Mask of Night #1

Kill Shakespeare: The Mask of Night #1
Written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col
Illustrated by Andy Belanger, Adam Gorham, Shari Chankhamma and Chris Mowry
IDW Publishing

Remember when Hamlet, Othello and Juliet teamed up to battle the evil Richard III? No? Then you've been missing out. Kill Shakespeare is the series from writers Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col and artist Andy Belanger that takes many of William Shakespeare's characters and puts them in a battle royale pitting his (mostly) good vs. (mostly) evil characters in a war for control over a shared universe. Alliances form, people are betrayed, and there is bawdy behavior, brooding, and bloodshed.

Kill Shakespeare: The Mask of Night #1 is the first issue in the new volume of the series. In the previous volumes of the story, Hamlet made his way from Denmark across the sea to a strange island populated with characters from William Shakepeare's plays, and enters into an alliance with Juliet, Romeo, Falstaff and others in order to do battle against the oppressive reign of Richard III and Lady MacBeth. Shakespeare himself is known to the characters (in the beginning, only as a mythical godlike figure), and becomes one of the characters in the story.  As things progress across the three prior volumes, more characters are introduced, and the problems that plagued them in their titular plays start to really play out, as some characters, like Romeo, can't handle the new dynamics and they find that Lady MacBeth isn't the only person lusting after the potential power of creation.

As the new arc begins, the focus is on the mysterious pirate Captain Cesario, who has seized control of another ship, this one holding the cargo of Othello, Juliet, Hamlet and an injured William Shakespeare - they are all taken prisoner aboard Cesario's ship. Cesario's second in command is Viola (of Twelfth Night), and while in bed with Cesario she expresses some amount of jealousy over his interest in their prisoner Juliet. Juliet was one of the leaders of the "Prodigals," those characters who stood against the brutal reign of Richard III and Lady Macbeth. Now she is here with the others, including Othello, who since he left the island is somewhat delusional as he imagines his dead wife Desdemona. Juliet confronts Cesario, who surprises and angers Viola by saying that Juliet and the others are free to do as they please, and that he intends to join the Prodigal cause. Viola takes her anger (at what joining the Prodigal cause will do to the life of freedom that she loves) out on Juliet, when their ship is attacked by the Lavinia, the ship captained by the fearsome Titus Andronicus.

I mention all this in detail to show you a) just how many of Shakespeare's characters are involved and b) the way the creators have worked hard to do more than just "mash-up" the various plays. There is real interaction and integration here, going past the surface and into detailed, intricate plotting that carries over from arc to arc.

This is an engaging first issue that throws you right into the middle of the story. It has a different focus than the previous arcs (as we move from the mysterious island to a nautical setting), but it helps to have read prior issues, or at least to be familiar with the story. (That's the downside to the intricate plotting.) Viola and Captain Cesario are fresh introductions to the series, as they are entertaining, swashbuckling characters with clearly mixed motivations. Viola was more than willing to pass their passengers along to Titus Andronicus, and she dealt quite harshly with Juliet, who was just recovering from trying to calm down a delusional Othello. Her evolution from pirate to hero should make for an interesting arc.

The art on this series continues to be engaging, as Belanger and the art team bring great detail to every aspect of the page. Anatomy and layouts are strong, and the setting aboard Cesario's ship the Boreas is rendered precisely. The action has a strong, kinetic feel, where the thick inking provides a sense of motion on the page. The facial acting from the characters is also effective - this is big, fun action, and the characters' emotions are rendered in a slightly exaggerated way which works for the setting.  


As detailed here at Panel Patter, the Kill Shakespeare team are taking an innovative storytelling approach on this newest volume of the story by tying the plot of this arc directly to a new Board Game.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the story itself. If you've enjoyed this series, or if you're a Shakespeare fan, or if you enjoy the idea of taking literary characters and putting them in different situations, then this is well worth picking up.

June 23, 2014

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Alternative Comics Reveals Fall Plans

Alternative Comics has come back in a big way under new publisher Marc Arsenault, and their new set of books for Fall 2014 is no exception.

Headlined (for me at least) by a new Noah Van Sciver comic, the imprint has a strong lineup of books coming out both digitally and in print, timed to ensure that they aren't flooding the market all at once. Though most are set for later this year, a few of the digital releases will be coming up soon.

A few books originally planned for earlier have been moved around as well, such as Megan Kelso's "Unspoken," which is now coming out in November.

A look at the highlights from my perspective, going in release order. You can find the entire list here.

June Digital Releases:

At the Shore by Jim Campbell makes its digital-only debut on June 27th, as the first issue in a five-issue series from a Meathaus alum who is (sadly) probably better known for coloring Marvel books. This story about a group of students who head to the shore for some fun but end up finding danger lurks under the surface was originally presented in Krachmacher and will have a print release in 2015, for those of you who are anti-digital types.

The Josh Shalek Collection will begin in June as well, also digitally. The prolific, Portland-area creator's main series, Falling Rock, will be serialized, along with other works. Falling Rock celebrates the outdoors and the many many people that make up a National Park. If you've never tried this one before and are digitally inclined, this is a good way to check out Shalek's stuff.

Misnomer and Kingdom/Order by Reid Psaltis is from a creator I've never heard of, but the cover image provided by Marc has me very interested and curious about the contents. Apparently a person adept at drawing animals, Psaltis is actually working to become a nature illustrator for scientific stuff, which is kinda awesome. The plan is to serialize his creature work and anthology materials, starting in June.

August:

Night of the Living Vidiots by Andy Ristaino is billed by Marc as "Sci-fi, horror, and comedy melted together and topped with a Twilight Zone twist." That's a recipe for a comic that's likely to be right up my alley, and then he doubled down by mentioning it features gothic anime, kaiju, and a haunted sweatshirt.
A.
Haunted.
Sweatshirt.
Ristaino is a storyboard artist and character designer for Adventure Time, which is really just the cherry on top of what promises to be a really fun comic. It's 128 pages and retails for $19.99.

Death in Oxaca #1 by Steve Lafler is a new series, which will be available in English and Spanish for the digital editions. Featuring a cast of characters that includes a chicken-eating vampire and of course luca libre wrestlers, this one should be worth checking out, especially if you are someone who enjoys quirky comics. Issue one will be 36 pages and $4.99.

October:

A City of Whiskey and Fire by Noah Van Sciver and Daniel Landes features the pair telling the story of the Great Fire in Denver in 1863, a point of history I was previously unaware of, though it makes sense as most cities had one (or more) in their past. Van Sciver's ability to draw historical pieces was cemented with The Hypo, one of the best books ever written about Abraham Lincoln. This is a second edition, and is not to be missed. If you're only going to get one book from this list, make it this one. It's 20 pages and $4.99.

That's some great comics, and you can find those and more at the Alternative Comics website.
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Little Nemo Tribute Kickstarter is a Sleeper Hit

Small press publisher Locust Moon Press, the folks behind the Locust Moon Comics Festival (and also a cool comics shop) have debuted a project that's both ambitious and outstanding on Kickstarter today. It's a tribute to Windsor McCoy, and not only is it going to be printed in the original newsprint size of 16 x 21, it features some of the best people working in comics right now. Without even seeing the entire roster of creators, it's easily one of the most star-studded tributes I've ever seen, whether on Kickstarter or otherwise.

From the Press Release:
Philadelphia publishing company Locust Moon Comics has announced a crowdfunding campaign to finance the printing of their hotly anticipated  Winsor McCay tribute project LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM. Featuring an almost impossibly star-studded lineup of over one hundred cartoonists and illustrators including Mike Allred, Bill Sienkiewicz, Paul Pope, Peter Bagge, J.H. Williams III, John Cassaday, J.G. Jones, Craig Thompson, Yuko Shimizu, Dean Haspiel, Paolo Rivera, Scott Morse, Denis Kitchen and Carla Speed McNeil, this oversized hardcover anthology is among the most eagerly awaited publications of 2014.  
Described by Mr. Allred as the “book of the decade,” and J.G. Jones as “the most stunningly ambitious comic project I've ever seen,” this unique publication will feature original strips that revisit the characters and universe of McCay's seminal turn-of-the-century Sunday newspaper strip, which remains an unmatched comic creation and one of the most inventive and visually stunning works of American art.  
What began as a fledgling tribute project from a small press publisher quickly took on a life of its own, snowballing into a cause and crusade among comic creators and illustrators, who were excited to pay tribute to one of the true forefathers and founders of their medium. 
To be printed at the full 16”x21” broadsheet size of the original Little Nemo newspaper strips, this collection will celebrate McCay's endless legacy, chart his influence on generations of modern cartoonists, and most of all shine a light back on an artist who has given his art form so much, and whose work should be more widely known.
The creator list is amazing, as the names above are just a small portion of the total. There's also Panel Patter favorites Rafer Roberts, Box Brown, Farel Dalrymple, Nate Powell, Roger Langridge, and Jim Rugg, along with Charles Vess and Cliff Chiang, just to drop some other names.

It's an amazing gathering, and clocks in at 144 pages in hardcover. Locust Moon is looking for $50,000 to fund this one, which is on the high side, but it's definitely doable, especially given the vast number of fans this is going to potentially appeal to, from students of comics history to long-time followers of folks like Allred and Russell to those who value art books.

The structure of the Kickstarter begins with a $5 behind the scenes PDF, followed by an $8 behind the scenes PDF just dedicated to Bill Sienkiewicz. $30 gets you a not-in-the-book print, but if you want the book itself, you're going to need to shell out $100 at the low end. This is not a project for the normal comics fan, which is a shame. It would have been great to see this put closer to cost of an Absolute edition, but I also understand that the production costs and artists involved may not have made that feasible.

I've had the pleasure to see some of these in person, and I cannot begin to describe to you how gorgeous these are. You can tell the artists involved put their A-game together for this one. If you like comic art and can afford to make the $100 plunge, this is a Kickstarter you'll have nightmares about if you miss.

June 21, 2014

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The Plot 1 and 2 by Neil Brideau

Written and Illustrated by Neil Brideau
Self-Published

A trio of friends on the cusp of a ritual that will turn them into adults and bind them to constructs that grant them abilities encounter a strange monster, setting in motion a series of events that will change their world forever in the intriguing start to an epic story by Brideau.

This one is notable because there aren't a ton of mini-comics out there which take on the concept of building an entire world from whole cloth and make it past their first issue. It's not easy to commit yourself to working on a story at such a grand scale. Even those who create on a mainstream scale sometimes burn out (or have their series cancelled) before it finishes.

That's why Brideau's Plot is so notable. It bucks several trends, and does so with quite a bit of quality and skill. It's not just something a little different from the usual mini-comic fare, but also a really solid story with three characters who are both familiar and different at the same time.

We open with the trio of humanoids pictured on the cover above hanging out, presumably somewhere they don't belong. After getting some time to establish their personalities, Brideau cleverly disguises the backstory by taking them to a preparation session for their ascent. This leads to further conflict, as one of their number doesn't take anything at face value.

When the trio regroups, they find themselves confronted by a monster which follows them right back to the village. That's where issue two picks up, as the kids try to avoid blame and the village deals with their new visitor. As things escalate, the true nature of the creature and just how much trouble everyone is in becomes clear, leavings readers on a great cliffhanger.

Serial storytelling like this rare in any format these days. With so many folks keeping half an eye (or more) on collected editions, finding just the right breaking point for a narrative while also telling a complete story in the pages available to the creator is a lost art. In these two mini-comics, however, Brideau does a great job of knowing when to stop while still making it crucial for the reader to find the next comic. There's a real sense of menace at both endings, but at the same time, it's also a logical break point, as the story shifts focus to reflect the new reality presented.

Within each issue, things build up, and it's actually impressive how quickly Brideau gets to his points. While still doing all the necessary character work and backstory, along with the theme of a new generation questioning that which has come before, this story moves at a rapid pace. Just about every page provides key information without going overly long, as fantasy stories can sometimes do. When the history is recited, it takes up only a few pages, for example, instead of an entire comic. The revelation that the kids have been violating the rules doesn't require panel after panel of denial and recrimination. Instead, it's given a brief, wordless depiction and then the fallout begins.

Now, if you are the type who enjoys those lengthy speeches and scenes, then perhaps The Plot will seem unsatisfying to you. While the style of the story is similar to Tolkien or Jordan (or, perhaps in a better comics comparison, maybe Elfquest), Brideau recognizes that in a mini-comics format, going on and on, no matter how enjoyable, just doesn't work within the context of the medium he's using to tell the tale. Mini-comics are the type of thing you find at a table at a convention or a zine fest maybe a few times a year. If each issue, which takes time and care to produce as a one-man operation, only contained a bit of action and lots and lots of discussion and debate, it's unlikely anyone comes back for issue 2, let alone however many minis it might take to reach the end. Instead, he concentrates on getting the elements of such a story together, and adapts them for working within the strengths and limitations of a mini-comic.

In addition having a strong plot and characters who are rebellious but not annoying (i.e. not Wesley Crusher circa Season 1 of Next Gen), Brideau's artwork on The Plot matches his goal to create a fantasy world. We have humanoids who are just a bit different from you or me, with oddly shaped heads and tribal markings. There's a commonality among types but enough variety that you don't get the main characters mixed up. All of the people have wide eyes and broad mouths, giving Brideau room to express feelings without having to put it all in the dialogue.

Brideau works entirely in black and white here, with no greyscale or shading. Because of this, the art has a crisp feeling, with the reader's eye drawn to the heavy black inks on the tribal markings and clothing. Backgrounds vary from being blank to featuring pointillism to featuring trees, grass, and other natural elements, drawn in sufficient detail to allow the reader to form a picture of the world around these characters. As with most mini-comics artists, Brideau relies heavily on medium shot panels, and from time to time, these could use some variety to keep the eye fresh. There are times when it would have been nice to see a longer-angle look at the action, if only as a break from shirt-to-face looks at our protagonists. Overall, however, Brideau does a nice job of making the world around his characters feel real without bogging down into minutia, applying the same concepts to the art as he did to the scripting.

If I read correctly, The Plot is nearing issue 4 at this point, working on roughly a once a year schedule. It's going to take time to see the final vision of Brideau's play out across the half-size zine pages, but if these first two issues are any indication, it's definitely going to be worth it. Anyone who is a fan of fantasy and mini-comics should try to find this if they can.

You can learn more about Neil Brideau at his website.

June 20, 2014

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Journal of Jerks by Andrew Neal

Written and Illustrated by Andrew Neal
Self-Published

A collection of monsters that you wouldn't want to meet in a blind alley--or in your bedroom--gather together under the clever pen and witty descriptions of mini-comics creator Andrew Neal.

Part of the Alphabeasts Tumblr that ran a few years ago, Neal put his drawings together in a small mini-comic for folks like me who absolutely love themed art books like this one, whether they're fancy (like the tribute to Stan Sakai that Baltimore Comic-Con did in 2013) or something you'd find at a zine fest (such as one Anne Thalheimer did several years ago about her Halloween costumes).

This one is particularly clever in my opinion because instead of just providing the drawings, which would have been cool enough, Neal also gives a little bit of text for each entry.

That, too, would have been a lot of fun. But then Neal doubles down, mixing up the entries from fake personal ads to noir text to a helpful guide to determining if you're encountering a monster or a cuddly corporate mascot.

The added touch really makes this one stand out, as does the changes in art style, depending on the creature involved. Some are loosely sketched, others have thick, Bryan Lee O'Malley-like ink lines. None are extremely detailed, but they're all creepy, and some of his selections are extremely obscure, which is saying something, given I'm pretty well up on my monsters.

I'm not sure you'll find this one anywhere, but if you do, definitely grab a copy and get a handy field guide to those things that go bump in the night. Especially if you're the type who falls for bad women with goat legs. Generally speaking, that never works out too well.

Andrew Neal's website is here.
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Moose Kid Comics Looks to Re-Start UK Kids Market

A ton of creators have formed a new comic presence under the anthology "Moose Kid Comics," looking to fill a perceived void in comics storytelling in the United Kingdom, namely funny books aimed at the youth market which are not corporate or TV-character driven.

In their mission statement, the group said the following (caps lock is theirs):
HERE IN THE U.K, MAINSTREAM CHILDREN’S COMICS HAVE BEEN DYING OUT, ESPECIALLY ONES FEATURING ORIGINAL CONTENT. THE PHOENIX AND THE BEANO ARE THE ONLY COMMERCIALLY AVAILABLE WEEKLY TITLES STILL PRODUCING ENTIRELY ORIGINAL CHARACTERS, BUT THEY ARE COMPETING AGAINST BIG-NAME LICENSED TITLES BASED ON TV SHOWS OR MERCHANDISING.
WE WANT TO HELP CHANGE THINGS. WE WANT TO BE CREATING THE NEXT GENERATION OF LOVEABLE CHARACTERS FOR THE WORLD TO EMBRACE, ALL CREATED BY ARTISTS WHO RETAIN THEIR COPYRIGHTS AND PUT ALL THEIR HEART INTO THEIR CREATIONS.

WE WANT TO REMIND BOTH CHILDREN AND ADULTS ALIKE HOW FANTASTICAL AND IMAGINATIVE COMICS CAN BE, AND TO HELP BRING CHILDREN’S COMICS BACK INTO THE PUBLIC CONSCIOUSNESS.

It's an admirable goal, and certainly one that Roger Langridge, one of the group's members has been espousing for some time now. While it's not easy to get attention for new characters, doing it this way might be the ticket. At the very least, being together on the same website/comics certainly makes it easier to be found, much like how some webcomics work together as part of a hub.

There is certainly no lack in overall content. A total of 40 creators or creative teams take part in the first issue, which is available for free on the Moose Kids website. Most are one-page long, with some sharing half a page and a rare few going more than one page, including the framing device, which posits that a set of wizards are trying to curse a kid who loved comics. There's only one problem: Making him a moose-headed comic character is exactly the kind of thing he'd love instead of hate.

Tongue-in-cheek playfulness and the idea of childish imagination gaining life, along with third-wall breaking jokes give the series a backbone that's going to be familiar to the parents reading this one. It dates back to Warner Brothers and has been a constant part of children's entertainment ever since. There's even "Young Tank Girl," further proving that this one is looking to appeal to those who have a bit of an indie comics vibe in the first place, and would be happy to find an alternative to what the creators maintain is a stale market for kids.

I had a chance to read issue one, and if nothing else, it's a textbook example of trying to use quantity to good effect. The pages are packed with tiny panels--too small for my eyes in some cases--and every single one of the stories, no matter how long or short, tries to do as much as possible in the space allotted. 

The problem is that at times it feels almost manic, like each creator is shouting across the page at the top of their lungs, "PAY ATTENTION TO ME!!!!!" which begins to grow wearying after about the first twenty pages. I'm not sure if the target audience (kids, not me) would have the same issue, but I can't help but think looking at having a few less contributors with more space to work might be a better fit. Perhaps an anthology where there were 10 ongoing stories, 5 one-shots, and 5-10 alternating ongoing stories would be a better, less-hectic fit.

That said, you can't deny the overall sense of fun that also comes across. The characters are gleefully unrestrained in a way you don't often see from comics these days, even all-ages one like Tiny Titans. From Gurber (a water monster who comically misunderstands why people are running) to Cecil B. Wombat, who slanders polar bears for no reason to Flora and Fauna's obsession that turns to disinterest, these are all people/animals/things that feel passionately about what they are doing and are given free reign to be as silly as they want. It's the kind of freedom that only independent creations can express, with no corporate masters or toys to sell. 

Wanna feature a guy in a Godzilla suit who gets his zipper stuck? Sure!
Dumb knight who gets lucky fighting evil? Why not?
Kids who would rather cosplay real-life jobs instead of fight crime? You bet!

The first issue even gives kids some activities to complete, like searching for things sprinkled throughout the pages or finding objects on a certain page. There's also a series of side-comics, manga-style, that personally feels a bit distracting to me, but seems to be something younger eyes are more used to seeing.

There really is a little bit for everyone in Moose Kid Comics, and that's a good thing. It's like opening a Sunday Comics section and finding that--gasp!--it actually features pages and pages of cartoon characters doing their thing. The stories are episodic, just like a Sunday strip, too, and feature the kind of variety that used to be common when some newspapers had not just one, but two--TWO!!--sections devoted to Sunday comics.

Those days are long gone, but projects such as Moose Kid Comics can bring them back, and in a format--digital--that's far more likely to attract a young audience. With such a large variety of stories, too (and only a few clunkers that simply aren't very funny), it's easy to imagine siblings arguing over which comic was best.

Moose Kid Comics has a few rough edges, but overall, it's a great idea. This issue clearly has the feel of a pitch, and hopefully they can get this one off the ground, both for the UK audience it's primarily targeted to (spelling and speech patterns definitely have a British feel to them) and those of us who just enjoy fun, all-ages work.

Two bonus pages, because this stuff is so much fun to read and I want to encourage you to download the free first issue: