July 31, 2014

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Adventure Time 30 (the Mini-Comic issue)

Written by Ryan North
Illustrated by: Kat Philbin (Intro)
Missy Pena (BMO)
Becca Tobin (Peppermint)
Liz Prince (Marceline)
Yumi Sakugawa (Bubblegum)
Carey Pietsch (LSP)
Jesse Tise (Ice King)
Ian McGinty (Lady Rainicorn)
T. Zysk (Earl of Lemongrab)
David Cutler (Finn and Jake)
Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb (Afterward) 

Just when you don't think the Land of Ooo can't get any cooler, you learn that they're a big fan of mini-comics and zines. It turns out that Marceline and her Marcelzine made it to 30 issues, so she asked folks who are not nearly as cool as her to join in the fun. Watch as everyone from the Ice King to Marceline's best bud Bubblegum come together to share stories in a way that only zines/minis can, in this special issue.

Liz Prince Page
I figured I'd end the periodic posts relating to International Zine Month with this tribute by Ryan North and Boom! Studios to the mini-comics/zine movement. Gathering together creators who are best known for their work in the field of minis and zines, the issue is designed to look like a collaborative zine, and they did a great job of it while still making the comic look professional enough to not anger the fanboy collectors. I actually bought this one in paper, and I love that the stock has been changed to mimic as close as possible the feel of a photocopied zine.

There's a lot about this one that works well. It makes sense that Marceline would be the primary zinester in Ooo, because she's the coolest character. Her attitude makes sense to be a DIY-type, and she'd also be the one who would be okay with the raw nature of zines. (Bubblegum would want it to be in offset print, with set print runs.) The idea that it's "Free if I know you, $5,000,000 if I Don't" is a perfect line, and the fact that Marceline's "cover" is designed to look like it was cut and pasted together shows the gang involved here knows what they're doing.

The issue is extremely strong overall, with the creators each bringing their unique touch to the proceedings and allowing for a wide swath of styles. We have color and black and white, cutout-style mixed with watercolored work, tiny panels versus a more traditional comic-book look, and so on, because there's no one way to do a mini-comic.

Carey Pietsch page
Some of the matches are perfect. Liz Prince's acidic tone captures Marceline in a hysterical send-up of hourly comics day, filled with jokes that match the vampire perfectly ("This is what I think of you, cooking!"). I'm not sure how she got the fake crayon effect, but the wavy lines across her pencil work really makes this one pop. It was weird seeing Prince's work in color, actually, and I'm glad it was in a rough style like this, so that her distinctive pencils dominate.

The use of tiny panels for Ice King also seems to fit him somehow. Jesse Tise packs as much as possible into the small spaces, along with a background of the Ice King's realm looming behind. The linework reminded me a bit of someone like Michael DeForge, where there are single panels with no text, just to allow the strangeness of the situation to set in.

Watercoloring works well for Lumpy Space Princess, with Carey Pietsch using lots of pinks and purples and allowing them to blend together in a beach scene. Her linework gives LSP just the right amount of arrogance and self-confidence, allowing the coloring to do the rest around Ryan North's words. Similarly, I love that Princess Bubblegum's comic is mostly words, written like a science report for school on graph paper, because she's just not artistically minded.

Becca Tobin Page
Perhaps the best match is how Lady Rainicorn's contribution uses Korean, mixed with odd images (an idyllic farm, followed by a pair of skeletons, then back to happiness) and garish colors. The bizarre nature of the page really fits.

Just like how Finn and Jake's comic is done in the style of a completely out of place superhero story (with Finn turned into a Superman-like character and Jake his talking cape), the combinations here are all very well meshed, as we learn that this comic was being read by the mysterious descendant of Finn and Bubblegum (maybe) to learn how best to fight a creature. The final meta touch is par for the course for this series, and North's writing style.

One can quibble about calling this a zine tribute when it's all-comics, but the style is definitely designed to evoke the minis that relate closer to zines than those polished things you find in Artist's Alley. No matter what, it's a great one-and-done issue with talented artists on board and is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys good comics.
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It Never Happened Again by Sam Alden

Written and Illustrated by Sam Alden
Published by Uncivilized Books

Two stories show Sam Alden's skills at creating situations that leave his characters (and the reader) thinking about their life choices. In the first, a young boy--who may or may not be Alden himself--takes a moonlight stroll in Hawaii, only to encounter a girl who'll leave him with a haunting question after challenging his expectations. The second story features an American who's focused her life so hard on Japanese culture that she's lost all hold of everything else. When she makes it to Japan, the final break from reality happens.

Though the characters--and art styles--could not be more different, Alden ties them together by going for the conceptual link: How do outside influences change our lives, and how do we react to them? It's a question that has no easy answer, and we see that as these tales play out. Alden isn't afraid to let the reader draw their own conclusions, either, as both parts to this narrative contain endings that close a chapter in the protagonists' lives, but by no means finish their story.

Hawaii 1997, the story of the boy, is drawn in an extremely minimalist way, with rough pencils only. Lines sometimes attack each other without the benefit of inks or erasers, as the images created by them fight for dominance, like when the boy (Sam) runs through the trees with the girl. Sometimes shadows cross into the solid shapes of the trees. In other cases, lines are abruptly abandoned, as the outline of Sam is configured almost abstractly instead of in a formal, refined manner. There's a sense of unease here, as if the reader was allowed to see the finished work before it was completed, just as Sam-as-character is interrupted by the girl.

It's a fine line (no pun intended) that Alden walks here, because in most places, the art is raw and primal. Not everyone is going to appreciate the unlined lettering, which shifts across the page. The idea of taking the characters and allowing them to spend most of the story merely as outlines within a densely-pencilled background. It takes an appreciation for the craft involved to use just a pencil to achieve shading, shadow, and structure to really like Hawaii, and I'm not sure how people less attuned to the nature of comics creation would feel about it.

However, if you take the time to linger, and look past what at first glance looks like something unfinished, the amount Alden does with just a pencil is striking. From blurring the world when "Sam" isn't wearing glasses to his Van Gough-like depiction of the stars to the way the water is shaded just a bit differently from the night sky, there are plenty of details to absorb a careful reader.

Even if that's not the kind of thing you might appreciate, the ending of the story hits like a punch to the gut. This girl, who interrupted a night of reflection, leaves "Sam" on a thought that will haunt him forever. It's such a great moment, especially how Alden pans out at the end, to let the depth of the implication set in.

On the other hand, in Anime, the main character is not very good at understanding implications. Janet is under pressure from her father to do more with her life than live in a basement with her boyfriend and work for a local tourist outfit. Initially, Alden allows us to sympathize with her--after all, not everyone wants to be a careerist. But after we see Janet's obsession with all things Japanese, from how she greets people to calling out jokes from manga at uncaring strangers. The fact that she's a weeaboo* and not a person who actually understands the culture she's placing above her own is hammered home in a great moment where Janet doesn't even realize she's watching edited anime and can't tell a Korean-American from someone of Japanese descent.

Once we know enough to know that Janet is a damaged individual with a tenuous connection to reality, the rest of the story--her trip to Japan with her boyfriend--heads in the inevitable direction. Faced with the reality of life in America, Janet makes a choice that's sure to be fatally wrong, but since the reader knows it, Alden just leaves us with a few key scenes, including Janet's utter delusion that she's fitting in perfectly.

Though Anime is also done all in pencil, there is far more detail to the linework. Unlike Hawaii, where the pencil work is rough, the images we see here are mostly polished, at what you might consider the "ready to be inked" stage. It allows us to get a clear picture of Janet and her world, as well as the one she aspires to. It also means that when Alden opts to move back into abstract shapes, it ties into the story. For Janet, the only things that are clear relate to her dream. The reality of pedaling three drunks across town blurs into general shapes, giving visual confirmation of Janet's feelings.

There's a sequence in Anime that is absolutely amazing, though, because it shows that comics can convey a sense of movement, even in static images. Over the course of about 15 panels, Alden focuses not on Janet or the passengers or the plane itself, but what she can see out the window. At one point, all the reader has to look at are a few tiny dots, because they are out over the ocean. You can "see" the plane move as a result, thanks to the framing device, focus, and selection of images presented in this tight window on the action. Though it's probably the least-detailed part of the book, in some ways it's the most powerful, and shows just how much thought goes into Alden's work. As with Hawaii, there's a focus on the craft of telling his story, and the absence of detail is what shows the skill in the way that a million perfectly-placed lines could not do.

It Never Happened Again isn't a book you hand to a casual comics fan. It requires, I think, for the reader to have spent years reading comics in all kinds of forms, because otherwise you don't have the ability to grasp that Alden isn't taking shortcuts by working in pencil or leaving figures in a state of abstraction. Instead, he's taking the nature of visual storytelling and working with it at the most basic level, leaving it there to show just how much goes into crafting a comic from the very start of the page.

If that sounds appealing to you, then you'll love It Never Happened Again. When you combine it with Alden's ability to be philosophical without dragging the reader down into unnecessary angst, it makes for a work that will challenge the reader to engage with it on a level that may be new to them.

If you're willing to do that, you'll be richly rewarded.

You can pick up a copy of It Never Happened Again directly from Uncivilized Books here.

July 30, 2014

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Tally Marks #1

Written and Illustrated by Natalie Nourigat
Published by Monkeybrain

Natalie Nourigat returns with a new sketchbook series offering illustrations and observations from a year-long trip across Europe.

A little while back, Natalie and Monkeybrain published what I joked at the time was "the most inexpensive sketchbook you'll ever find" featuring drawings she'd done in Amsterdam. It was a lot of fun to read, and I couldn't be happier to learn that not only are we getting more, we are getting an entire mini-series worth of sketchbooks from the extremely talented artist behind 2013's A Boy and a Girl.

In this first issue, Natalie takes us from her jumping-off point of New York City across various locations in Europe, ending just before she reaches Paris. The "story" of her journey is told roughly in chronological order, though a few things have been changed up for space or thematic reasons.

The artwork inside the sketchbook is simply stellar. Whether it's nearly full-page depictions of scenes like Brooklyn's Botanical Garden or detailing the countless faces she encounters on her trip, the level of detailing on this work is amazing. Nourigat varies her style often, thanks to the use of several artistic tools, including pencils, markers, and even white gel pen for corrections. Because she changes things up, sometimes using color, sometimes not, each figure, headshot, and depiction is its own animal. What could be a bit too repetitive if it were merely penciled people across 30 pages takes on new life as the curious will try to figure out which tool Natalie's using for each illustration.

There aren't a lot of notes that accompany the work, though we do get an introduction and an explanation of Nourigat's technique. However, seeing scrawled lines like "villain from Norwegian TV show" or "I love drawing the statues!" allows us to see her feelings in the moment in a way that text boxes inserted over the sketches themselves could not.

Nourigat's eye for detail, which serves her so well on long-form projects, is on display on every page. When working on full-body drawings, Natalie is able to capture how different everyone's clothing is, whether it's the pouch of a shirt against tight jeans or how a blouse contours to the shape of the person wearing it. There are tiny shading differences, some of which show that certain parts of a person's dress matched in color but without using the markers. On the pages that feature headshots, I'm not sure if a single one of them looks the same. In certain cases, features (like a broad nose) are exaggerated, while in other cases, she goes more realistic.

When color is added, the drawings really pop, especially when Nourigat notes she has new markers. They stand out against the black and white drawings and show a strong understanding of complimentary/contrasting colors. At the same time, however, I think it's Natalie's use of the power of black and white art and how to color without having more to work with than pencil or black ink that shows her most powerful strengths as an artist.

Tally Marks #1 is available now on Comixology. It's only 99 cents for 30 pages of great artwork from a creator you should be watching. Anyone who appreciates the work that goes into making a comic stand out from the crowd or wants to see how Nourigat works on an informal level should pick this one up right away.
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Cartozia Tales 3

Written and Illustrated by Sarah Becan, Lucy Bellwood, Kevin Cannon, Isaac Cates, Shawn Cheng, Evan Dahm, Victoria Grace Elliott, Becky Gautreav, Carol Lay, Caitlin Lehman, Lupi McGinty, Tom Motley, Jen Vaughn, and Mike Wenthe

The Cackle of Creators is back for more imaginative adventures in the world of Cartozia, once against shifting regions and continuing where their peers left off as this all-ages mini-comic keeps up the pace of strong, innovative storytelling.

This one has been out for awhile, but when you move across the country, it takes a bit of time to get organized, and I wanted to review this before getting to issue 4 (and the upcoming issue or issues that will undoubtedly be an SPX Spotlight). It's always a pleasure to read this series, because there's really nothing else like that I'm aware of being published right now.

For those who are new to the idea, Cartozia Tales is a shared universe anthology, where a set of core creators collaborate with a rotating set of guest stars (such as James Kochalka, in issue two) to being an entire world to life, based loosely on the idea of maps, cartography, and characters exploring the world around them. Because the creators themselves rotate, taking on different parts of the map each issue, we get to see a wide range of impressions--and how one creator plays with characters recently developed by another.

Lucy Bellwood Art from Cartozia Tales 3
It's an amazing idea, and the execution is even better, thanks to having a core group of creators who complement each other stylistically without being copies or clones. Some work in thin lines while others use heavy blacks, for example, but at no point are the differences so marked as to jar the reader.

What really amazes me are some of the innovations that show up in this mini-comic. For example, publisher Isaac Cates has a one-page story that's presented in the form of a board game, complete with taking the reader back and forth across the game board until they reach the end, moving forwards and backwards across the spaces, which mix text with illustrations based on the story. It's such a great idea!

That's not the only non-traditional story here, though, as we also have a maze created by Tom Motley that takes Reshii across the China Labyrinth, in which the maze borders are shrubbery, rubble, fence posts, and animal bones, among other little touches. Meanwhile, the characters encounter things like soldier figures "trained to shoot" or a singer who isn't dangerous--he just indicates you're lost. The best joke, however, is a visual pun I won't spoil.

A panel from Mike Wenthe and Isaac Cates from Cartozia Tales 3
The other highlight of this issue was Kevin Cannon's work with Taco and Wick. Cannon is one of my favorite creators I haven't talked enough about on PP, and his two books (Far Arden and Crater XV) are highly recommended. Here he brings his "bounce the characters out at the reader" style with a tale of Pirates who are after a treasure belonging to the prince that hates the pair of heroes. Cannon drawing Pirates is just a lot of fun, but what's really amazing is the splash page ending, where we learn that there's a reason why Wick was considered so expendable. It's a great moment that's going to be a lot of fun for the the next creators to play with (looks like Cates and Wenthe, based on the map, but we'll see).

Of course, pretty much all of Cartozia is a highlight. "Kevin's Catch" by Lucy Bellwood is a playful short that lets her show off her love of drawing things relating to the sea, as a pair of fishermen wait for a big catch for that never shows up. There's some great comic timing and use of lettering-as-art, ending in a well-placed droll finishing comment. Evan Dahm provides a bit of mystery with "I Don't Remember" following up on an idea by Cates. A land where the fog makes you forget everything, a young man heads to find the Cleansing Beast, a creature standing on a stool that looks like a snub-nosed dog with an arched back and tail that swirl into mist.

Carol Lay's story in Cartozia Tales 3
The idea of puzzles, mystery, and being lost crops up elsewhere, too, as Jen Vaughn's section leads to one family member found while others may be lost for good. Her layouts here do a lot with patterns and shapes, ending in a six-panel page that resembles half a wagon wheel. Carol Lay does a one-page comic about how a map might not be a map after all, and of course we have the ongoing quests of the Otter Girl and Sylvia.

One final comic I want to mention here is Shawn Cheng's "Hubert the Humorist Meets Conrad the Comedian" which plays to two of my favorite things, wordplay and physical comedy. Hubert, a Doctor, spars with Conrad, a jokester, due to the term humorist. Dressed in outrageous clothing that's far more ornamental than needed, the pair compete for the attention of a noble, who finds their inevitable physical confrontation extremely amusing. The looks on the characters' faces are perfect and despite not using a lot of backgrounds, Cheng creates an entertaining short in just a few pages, something all of the Cartozians are extremely good at doing.

The thing that's so great about Cartozia Tales is that it's the best kind of all-ages book. I can linger on the artistic details or punning wordplay, but a kid may just find it fun to run their finger across Motley's maze. Or perhaps we'll both enjoy the same physical joke. It doesn't matter, because this is a work that doesn't try to talk down to its age group. There's nothing cutesy in Cartozia--it's s smart book by smart people, writing for a smart audience of anyone who encounters the comic.

Cartozia Tales is available by subscription. You can find out more about it here at their website. I highly recommend you join in, whether you are an adult or a parent looking for a quality comic to read with your kids.

July 29, 2014

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You Should Go to the Silent Reading Series in Portland July 30th

If you live in the area and are interested in the cultural implications of being unable to speak, Wednesday July 30th presents an opportunity to explore this issue with someone who had to experience it first hand.

Comics creator Georgia Webber had what her doctor termed a "temporary disability" when she injured her vocal chords and had to radically alter her life in order to repair her voice, which is still not at 100% recovery.

The result has been a desire to study the concept of voicelessness, along with the comic "Dumb" which Webber is currently serializing via Tumblr.

On July 30th, she will be joined by Sparkplug publisher Virginia Paine and creator Lucy Bellwood (Cartozia Tales) to hold an event at Floating World Comics from 5-8pm. At 6pm, all talking will cease and the only way for everyone at the show to communicate will be via paper and pencil, whether it's drawn or written communication.

At 7pm, speaking will resume, and all those involved will be invited to discuss their feelings and experiences during the hour of silence.

The purpose of this is to show what it's like to live without a voice, and how it changes you. Webber's life will arguably never be the same, even if she is able to fully recover. Instead of retreating from this, she is making it a new focus in her life. From her Tumblr:
Where are you going with this?
I’m going everywhere. It has become my deepest fascination. What is a voice? What is your voice, to you? Do you like it? Care about it? Appreciate it?
What about our culture? Other cultures? What roles have voices filled throughout history? How do they affect our physiology? Our psychology?
I will explore all of it until I’m bored with it. I don’t see the end coming anytime soon.
 This is a great chance to go beyond the normal idea of comics as enjoyment and into a different arena. It also involves some of the best people working in comics, as the next negative word I hear spoken about Sparkplug Books will be the first, and Lucy is part of another great gathering of creators, Periscope Studio.

If you are the Facebook type, you can RSVP here. If not, there are details of the event on Floating World's website.

Silent Reading Series runs from 5pm to 8pm at Floating World Comics, located at 400 NW Couch Street in Portland, OR. 
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Mesmo Delivery (2nd Edition)

Mesmo Delivery (2nd Edition)
Written and illustrated by Rafael Grampá
Dark Horse

Mesmo Delivery is a visually stunning, hyper-violent story about the world's worst visit to a rest stop. Originally published in 2010, Dark Horse has released a Hardcover 2nd edition of Mesmo Delivery. This book was Grampá's full-length comics debut, and is worth a look for a quick, viscerally entertaining romp, and as an artistic showcase.

The story concerns two men. Rufo is a big guy and is a driver for Mesmo Delivery company. His traveling companion is an older man, an Elvis fan (and sometimes impersonator) named Sangrecco. They're on their way to make a delivery in the middle of nowhere when they decide to make a stop at a grimy gas station next to a bar. Never a good decision.

There are some rowdy locals in the bar that start giving Rufo a hard time, and one of them says they'll give Rufo $50 if he can knock the guy out. They head out, and in the first of some pretty absurd moments, Rufo's challenger takes his standard prosthetic hand off and puts on a giant fist, for fighting purposes. Much to Rufo's surprise, this challenger avoids his punches and then proceeds to beat the hell out of him. Things go badly when Rufo accidentially kills one of their female companions, and then they knock out Rufo. Believing he's dead, they decide to dispose of him, and decide to investigate the mysterious cargo at the back of the truck. Big mistake.

The story briefly cuts back to when Rufo is hired by the unseen owner of Mesmo Delivery, who lets him know that an associate, Sangrecco, will be traveling with him and pay Rufo what he's owed once the delivery is made to the drop-off.  The story then returns to the present, where the man who went to see what's inside the truck's head starts rolling. It's Sangrecco, who as it turns out has incredible assassin martial arts fighting skills. He quickly, brutally murders the rest of the people who were at the truck stop, puts their bodies in the back of the truck, and returns. Rufo eventually becomes conscious again, and returns to the truck where he finds Sangrecco resting, having missed all of Sangrecco's theatrics. Through another series of flashbacks, we see Sangrecco talking with the unseen owner, and it's clear that things are not going to end well for Rufo.

Any discussion of this book begins with Grampá's art. Grampá is a hyper-talented, kinetic, incredibly detailed stylist. Each of them has their own unique style, but you could include Grampá's work in a general category with Paul Pope, James Stokoe and Geof Darrow. Each panel, each square inch of the page conveys hyper-kinetic detail and motion (there are panels in this book where you feel like the intricate swirls of detail are actually moving). Grampá's fight sequences in this book are not for the faint of heart - there is blood, gore, and a fair number of decapitations. These scenes are rendered with a great degree of skill by Grampá, he effectively shows the speed at which Sangrecco operates, and from the moment you see Sangrecco's true nature, you understand that there's no hope for any of these people.

The book has a fairly limited color palate - it's all very muted, dusted and grimy, fitting the setting of the story perfectly. There's also interesting color choice regarding Sangrecco. He wears a black shirt, and the blacks around him are strikingly rendered, even places (like the inside of the bar) that weren't previously rendered in black.  It is like when he's around, he sucks the life out of the room.

The story itself is basic, but not simple. When you see the two men initially (Rufo and Sangrecco), you expect that Rufo is the serious threat in the group. He's a huge imposing man, and Sangrecco is an older, much smaller man who talks about the time when he was an Elvis impersonator. However, as the story illustrates, things are not as they seem.  As a writer, Grampá knows how to set a mood and tone, and the story elements make for a great crime/western/martial arts story mashup. The book is also full moments of dark humor (much of it visual) and wit.

If you're looking for a heartwarming, uplifting tale about the beauty of the human spirit, seriously, look elsewhere. However, if you're looking for an intense, bloody romp from a visual master, Mesmo Delivery is just the thing.

 By the way, if you have any issues with the story after reading the book, please keep in mind you'll need to speak to the following person to register your complaint:

I wouldn't mess with this guy

July 28, 2014

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Above the Dreamless Dead

Poems and Writings by: Rupert Brooke, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, Robert Graves, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Francis Edward Ledwidge, Patrick MacGill, Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg, Siegfried Sassoon, Osbert Sitwell, Charles Sorley, and Edward Thomas
Adaptations by: Hannah Berry, Stephen R. Bissette, Eddie Campbell, Lilli Carre, Liesbeth De Stercke, Hunt Emerson, Garth Ennis, Simon Gane, Sarah Glidden, Isabel Greenberg, Sammy Harkham, David Hitchcock, Kevin Huizenga, Kathryn Immonon, Stuart Immonen, Peter Kuper, James Lloyd, Pat Mills, Anders Nilsen, Danica Novgorodoff, Luke Pearson, George Pratt, Carol Tyler, and Phil Winslade
Edited by Chris Duffy
Published by First Second

The often-overlooked World War I is given voice through an adaptation of trench poetry by a stellar group of comics creators in this new anthology from First Second, edited by Chris Duffy. The experiences of those who were there and wrote about the trauma, reflections, or ways to deal with massive amounts of tedium, terror, and death are brought to life for the reader in a variety of ways, all of which are respectful to the source material.

As I wrote in my introduction to today's feature, the First World War is a neglected part of history, due in large part to the fact that World War II eclipsed it in the eyes of so many, given the large volume of survivors who came back from Europe and Asia and formed the backbone of America's middle class. However, even in Europe, this war doesn't seem to have the prominence of the latter conflict.

But just because it gets less page time in history books doesn't meant that the level of sacrifice, pain, and loss were any easier on those who participated. Many wrote about their experiences, and those writings are used here to form the stories each creator or creative team works on in their adaptations. They've come to be called the "Trench Poets" because of their shared war duties, but they were a group of people as diverse as those who illustrated the works here. As editor Chris Duffy notes, "Some of the Trench Poets were friends, but on the whole they came from many classes, had different educational backgrounds, wrote in a variety of styles, and held different religious and political beliefs."

Those differences play out across the pages here, as we go from the ribald solders' songs (all of which are illustrated to great comedic effect by Hunt Emerson) to accounts of being on the front lines to reflections on home or trying to deal with the war's aftermath. There's also an amazing matching of comics creator to prose piece here, which is either a credit to Duffy or a strong understanding by those involved at taking on a work that speaks to their strengths as an artist. It's also very impressive that while each creator's style shines through, whether it's Simon Gane's grimy detail or the stark lines of Stuart Immonen, at no time does it feel like they are running roughshod on the text. Each shows the respect they have for the Trench Poets and what they represent to their generation and to history.

As with any anthology, it's impossible to cover every entry without being pedantic. These are some of the adaptations that I thought were particularly powerful, in order of their appearance in the book:
  •  Luke Pearson opens with an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Channel Firing, making great use of black and white space to draw attention to the visuals presented. Opening with a church and graveyard in silhouette that is brought into the light by a crack of lightning, the rest of the poem follows along with pictures that rely on heavy blacks or whites, like dirt around bleached skulls. Dead bodies and graves repeat across the pages, setting a tone for the rest of the adaptations to come.
  • Kevin Huizenga is perhaps best-known for his depiction of the everyman in his Glen Ganges series, and that makes him a great choice to depict the regular solder in the poem All the Hills and Vales Along by Charles Sorley. Alternating between men on the march and nature scenes that belie a sense of death, the images become more severe until we reach the climax, where we we pan out to the Earth itself, the final resting place of the dead.
  • Eddie Campbell's adaptation is hidden within dark shadows, using white lines on black and gray to illustrate part of Patrick MacGill's Great Push. Even the lettering is in white ink rather than the traditional black, putting the reader off-guard. The slightly abstract and shaky lines of Campbell make the whole thing feel almost ghostly and unreal, especially when he sticks on the image of a dead man hanging from barbed wire, something soldiers certainly saw regularly. The overall effect here is striking and was one of the best in the collection.
  • Hannah Berry opts to avoid direct focus on the main character of Edward Thomas's The Private, instead showing parts of his pre and post war lives, with only one panel giving us an idea of his face, partially obscured in the grey background. It works for a poem about a person barely known in life and buried somewhere unmarked in death.
  • Working in the same stark style that he's used on other projects with Kathryn Immonen, Stuart Immonen's lines in an adaptation of I Looked Up from My Writing by Thomas Hardy contrasts against much of what has come before by making white the primary color instead of black or gray. They also are perhaps the most liberal in working with the material, going for a theme instead of literal interpretation. Picking certain words to highlight on, the pair pick odd angles to provide the perspective, such as going from looking at the moon to the moon looking back at the observer. A ship heads for the rocks, soldiers on a train are smiling all the way to death, and a horse slowly drowns as the words of poem come to a close.
  • In using drawings of memorials to both World War I and World War II, Simon Gane emphasizes the bitter prophecy of Osbert Sitwell's The Next War, which features words that continue to haunt, as we watch sons and daughters grow up to keep fighting the conflicts of their parents and grandparents while the same powers look on. Gane's art technique is amazing here, because his weathered look with extra lines makes the monuments appear to be slowly decaying. Brilliant work.
  • James Lloyd's adaptation of Repression of War Experience by Sigfried Sassoon owes a lot to Will Eisner, as the images blend across the page without strict panel boundaries. Words and images mix to form a complex whole that depicts a soldier haunted by the images of war that will never leave him, no matter what he tries to do. Lloyd writes a brief afterward, drawing attention to the fact that those who lose a limb get a purple heart, but those who lost their soul in wars right up to this very day and are emotionally broken are shunned and shunted off to the sidelines. So very true, and a great way to link the past to the present.
  • Carol Tyler takes on another poem that deals with the aftermath of war, this time written by Robert Graves. She shows a man who is broken by age but still has memories of who he-and his lost friend-once were. It's very understated, but when we see the man turn young again as he looks out the window, the weight of the work comes crashing down on the reader.
Like Duffy himself admits at the start of the book, I, too, am woefully unfamiliar with body of literature, and I say that as a former English Major. A work like Above the Dreamless Dead is important because, when done right, it gives readers a chance to sample that which they might not otherwise seek out, because someone they know is involved. Someone looking for more Campbell or Ennis might pick this up, and learn a part of history they'd previously been unaware of, and maybe even seek out more from the original writers after finishing the anthology.

Even if they don't, or even if you are more familiar with the Trench Poets than I was, Above the Dreamless Dead is a great anthology series and well worth picking up when it is available.
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First Second Focuses on First World War

It's hard to believe, but we have arrived at the 100th Anniversary of the start of World War I, what was once called The World War, because no one wanted to admit that there would be future bloody struggles involving countries and troops all across the globe.

Sadly, though we do not currently have another global-level conflict looming, war is still with us, just scattered about in pockets that flare up, die down, and flare up again, to the point that even a person as politically aware as myself cannot keep up with all of them.

That's why it's so important to never forget the wars that have come before, but it's also why it's so easy to do so. Because it solved almost nothing and because of the closer proximity of World War II, the First World War often is something people (especially in the United States) are vaguely aware of, but pay little attention to.

First Second is trying to do something to change that, with Above the Dreamless Dead, an anthology of war poetry that's been adapted by a stellar lineup of comics creators, including Eddie Campbell, Carol Tyler, Simon Gane, the Immonens, Kevin Huizenga, and more.

Today on Panel Patter, we'll be featuring a review of the new anthology, edited by Chris Duffy, along with an interview with several of the creators involved in the book. with an interview to follow hopefully later this week. Please keep an eye out for those, and for more information about World War I and its Centennial, please have a look at this website, which is dedicated to the objective of commemorating this horrible conflict.

July 26, 2014

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Infallible Vol 1 by Fred Noland

Written and Illustrated by Fred Noland

A part of the dark history of the political nature of the Papacy comes to illustrated light in this non-fiction mini-comic by Fred Noland, featuring well-researched facts with references.

I'll mention early on here that I'm an ex-Catholic*, and that it's really amazing just how hard it is for the Church to square all of this. While it's not common knowledge, if you do any digging (and apparently in the case of one poor, dead Pontiff, the early Church did quite a bit of digging), you find these sad tales of petty jealousy and naked power grabs. So it's not like it's kept in the dark. It's like internet comments you wish you'd never said--they exist if someone cares to look, and everyone has them.

So whenever you stop to wonder just how the same Cardinals that picked Benedict XII can also pick Pope Francis or how it's possible that in the space of three Pontiffs, the stance of the Church can change twice on the nature of other faiths, just remember that this problem isn't new.

It's been an issue in the Church going back to the fight that, sadly, Paul and his ultra-misogynists won. When dealing with religion, there's huge amounts of political power to be reaped, and no matter how much we'd like to think otherwise, religious figures aren't free from that temptation, especially given the vast wealth and power concentrated in Rome.

If you can look on it with your history/political science hat on instead of your faith, the back story of the Papacy is downright fascinating. There's stuff that happened during several reigns that would make J.R.R. Martin blush and cause his editor to tell him it wasn't realistic. Noland takes this fertile material and, presenting it straight with no embellishments, turns in great work.

Opening with with a Pontiff from the 5th Century (who was tossed into Hell by Dante, apparently for heresy), Noland begins with rather tame portraits of the Popes in question, with text boxes explaining their various sins. They are slightly caricatured in nature, with bodies that aren't quite proportional, with a focus on the heads and petering out** to spindly legs. He puts them in detailed, period accurate clothing, giving a strong sense of grounding for the material to come.

Once we get to the years 872-965, things begin to heat up. The illustrations start to show the cruelty of the time period, depicting poisonings, whippings, and, the worst of all, desecration of a corpse.

It's that latter story that takes up the most space of any tale, because it's fascinatingly morbid. During the so-called Cadaver Synod, Pope Formosus's body was exhumed and--get this--actually put on trial--by his successor, who propped the corpse up in a chair and demanded it answer the charges brought against it!
The body was used and abused, all of which is carefully depicted by Noland as he narrates the gruesome story. He never stoops to sensationalism, with flies and retching (both of which make perfect sense) being the only embellishments. Noland lets the horror of the story repel the reader--it doesn't need any help, beyond showing just how awful this all is in ways that a straight textbook never could.

Unfortunately for Formosus, yet another Pope (Sergius III) later dug him up and had his head chopped off, because I guess it wasn't enough to be a Pope who got run out of town once and had an illegitimate child who later became Pope, too--he had to ensure he added borderline necromancy to the deal.

Well, at least he won't be forgotten!

The various misdeeds continue across the pages, with Noland providing illustrations that highlight the worst deeds, all without doing it in such a way that feels like torture porn. His characters remain just a bit too cartoon-like to really sink the knife in, and for some, that might be a problem. It's one thing to draw a man running away from Rome with a bag of money, but a Warner Brothers-like look of pain for a castrated Deacon could rub some the wrong way.

It didn't bother me, because the point here, at least in how I read it, is that Noland wants to illustrate the larger-than-life, truth is stranger than fiction nature of these acts. The best way to do so in a visual medium like a mini-comic is to take the images and give them a bit of punch and edginess. The alternative, drawing in a sober manner with blood flowing across the page might be more accurate, but it's in bad taste. Ironically, making the drawings a bit more light-hearted, Cartoon History of the World-style, is what hooks the reader in and gives the entry point to what's usually presented as dull history.

Infallible ends with a quote about Popes getting to make doctrine for their followers, a hollow comment in light of all that he's shown the reader, allowing the hypocrisy inherent in the idea that one man makes God's Law to really hit home. He also provides references for the details, should anyone care to read more. Overall, it's a great package missing just one thing--Volume 2.

This is not the book for everyone, but I enjoyed it a lot. You can find out more about Noland at his website, where you can also buy a copy of Infallible and read sample pages.

*But not a bitter one, I loved most of the priests I interacted with, actually, and never had an issues despite being a young boy often alone with them. It's just that my faith moved and evolved down a different path. If you're a fervent Catholic, that's great. And maybe, just maybe, this isn't the mini--or review--for you.

**No pun intended. But if you'd like to think I was riffing on the idea of St. Peter, the first Pope, go right ahead.

July 25, 2014

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Comixology Holds Sales, Including another Indie-Driven Bundle

Fresh off its news that a nice chunk of its books will be DRM-free and downloadable, Comixology has collected a big chunk of sales timed during the San Diego Comic-Con and featuring two of the publishers involved in the new program.

A total of 8 big sales are running right now, including a Batman binge, Zenoscope's Grimm Fairy Tales, and a discount on certain Viz books.

I'd like to highlight four of the things available, which I think match up most closely with what we've been focusing on here at Panel Patter. (Right now, I'm so far behind on my manga reading that I don't think I could accurately talk about a Viz sale, sadly.)

First up is the 45 cents (yes, I said 45 CENTS, as is 1 quarter, 1 dime, 1 nickel and 5 pennies) trade of the day, which is the Hernandez Brothers' Love and Rockets New Stories Volume 1, from Fantagraphics. That's an insane savings, as the trade normally costs eight bucks. If you haven't had the chance to read any of the Love and Rockets material, here's a chance to try it on the cheap! But you need to act fast--this sale ends today, July 25th, at 11:59pm EST.

Next is a new bundle of 100 Comixology Submit titles for only $10! While I can't swear for sure that it's all new books from the last bundle I encouraged you to purchase, a quick glance makes me pretty sure that's true. At worst, it might be a duplicate or two. Still, getting 100 indie comics for only $10, making them TEN CENTS EACH means digital folks who like to read books that aren't from the major indies should have a field day finding new favorites.

Included in this bundle are:
  • Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales, edited by Kel McDonald and a great anthology I never got a chance to review for the sight. That's worth the $10 alone.
  • Rex Zombie Killer, about a pack of animals trying to survive in an zombie apocalypse, which proves that not all zombie stories are played out.
  • When I was a Mall Model by Panel Patter Pal Monica Gallagher
  • The Lizard Laughed by another PP Pal, Banner-maker Noah Van Sciver
  • Wolves from Becky Cloonan, who is finally getting the recognition she deserves (I'm just annoyed it takes being on Batman to do it.)
  • ReincarNATE #1 from PP Pal, Michael Moreci and co.
  • Merrick the Sensational Elephantman #1, which James Kaplan reviewed recently
  • Aw Yeah Comics! #1
 A chance to pick up those books (and a bunch more that are sure to be good, too!) is not to be missed. If you do nothing else from the sales this weekend, grab this one. There's nothing better than getting to experiment. At 10 cents a comic? It's downright criminal to pass. You should get on this one before July 27th at 11pm EST, when the sale ends.

Top Shelf, one of the DRM-free publishers, is also holding sales, both in bundle form (including a "get everything for $150" deal) and separately. The sale also runs through 11pm EST on the 27th of July.

Items of note include:
  • Eddie Campbell's underrated Baccus series
  • A bunch of Alan Moore, for those who like his most recent work
  • All of James Kochalka's American Elf diaries for just $9.99
  • All of Double Barrell for just $5.99
 Top Shelf is one of my favorite publishers, so you really rarely go wrong with them. This sale is a good chance to dive in and enjoy some great indie comics.

Last but not least is an Image Comics Sale. This one focuses on the top Image titles, which means it's a chance to catch up if you didn't jump on from the start. Remember that Image, too, is DRM-free and download-friendly now. Running through 11pm EST on July 28th, the sale includes deals on collections and single issues (as well as an all-in-one bundle) on the following books:
  • Saga
  • Pretty Deadly
  • Lazarus
  • Manhattan Projects
  • Rat Queens
  • East of West
  • Sex Criminals
  • Zero
  • Nowhere Men
All in all, there's a ton of good books available for you to completely blow your budget on. Have fun, and enjoy this comics windfall. No matter which of these deals you take part in, you're getting quality work from a diverse range of talents, both known and new!
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Recommendations for the Fantagraphics Annual Not-at-Comic-Con Sale

For the 4th straight year, Fantagraphics is holding a 20% off sale on their entire catalog for those folks who aren't attending Comic-Con.* It's a great chance to pick up books both old and new from one of the best of the indie publishers.

The sale runs until Midnight Pacific time on Sunday, July 27th and is good for 20% everything on the website, with no restrictions, which is a nice touch, but typical of the classy publisher.

You can use the code  FANTACON714 at checkout to get the discount.

For the purpose of this post, I'll be concentrating on their newer releases. If you want to dig deeper, feel free to have a look at what the Panel Patter team has said about older Fanta books here. Generally speaking, the publisher has someone for anyone interested in comics, whether it's classic newspaper strips reprinted in a high-quality manner, heartfelt memoirs, old EC work getting a collected edition, or some of the rawest comics work you'll see on a printed page. They are a vast and varied company, so do have a look.

Now for the recommendations:

21: The Story of Roberto Clemente is a great fit for the baseball fan in your life, as the pioneering Latin American superstar's life gets a profile in a new, softcover edition.
Buddy Buys a Dump is the third volume of Peter Bagge's long-running series of a man who allows for a cynical look at life has a title that refers to something you'd never expect. Bagge's possibly the best misanthrope in comics!
Cannon is a Wally Wood solo effort featuring spies and sex. Really all you need to know.
Cosplayers features 2 cosplayers who decide to make a movie. Dash Shaw plays with the fans in the first of two comics, both of which are on the site.
Creeping Death from Neptune The Life and Comics of Basil Wolvertin Vol 1 collects this eccentric creator's works along with biographical information. Fans of the old, pre-code comics definitely will love this.
Ditko Kirby Wood is an homage by Sergio Ponchione to three of the best to ever draw.
Hip Hop Family Tree Vol 2 by Ed Piskor is set to hit the streets in September but you can pre-order it now for a discount. A detailed, methodical but fun tribute to the world of hip-hip, Piskor's series is really amazing.
Love and Rockets New Stories 7. Do I have to explain why?
Run Like Crazy Run Like Hell by Jacques Tardi and Jean-Patrick Manchette is described as a noir thriller. Given the team involved, this looks like it will be quite good.
Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen is Dylan Horrocks' first new graphic novel since Hicksville. It's another playing with the role of creator and creation, it looks like, and I can't wait to read it.
Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol 1, now in softcover. Ditko's earliest comics work all reproduced for you in a legal (i.e. rights properly acquired) edition.
Tales Designed to Thrizzle Vol 1 by Michael Kupperman also gets the softcover treatment. Read one of the best satirists in comics do his thing on short, sometime micro-flash sized concepts. Highly recommended!
4-volume set of EC Hardcovers: If you can afford it and love old EC comics as much as I do, this is the collection to grab. 4 books together, featuring Wally Wood, Jack David, Al Williamson, and more.
Wandering Son, the manga dealing with transgender issues, is up to Volume 6, with a seventh on the way.
Young Romance 2: The Early Simon and Kirby Romance Comics is sure to be a winner, looking at the kind of stories you don't normally associate with the folks behind Captain America.

I could easily have listed another 15 comics, or even 150, if I was so inclined. Fantagraphics is one of the best in the business. Don't believe me? Take advantage of the sale and find out!

*I guess you can still order if you're attending Comic-Con, but good luck getting the wireless to work, from what I understand.
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La Quinta Camera

Written and Illustrated by Natsume Ono
Published by Viz

An Italian man with a room to spare takes in a variety of people over time in addition to his regular renters in a slice of life series that shows the roommates interacting and growing over time in this collection of webcomics from Natsume Ono.

I don't know that I've read a Japanese webcomic in translation before, so that makes this one notable to me. It's nice to see Viz using the Signature Line for a book like this one, even though I'm a bit late to the party in reading it. The label is a great fit for something like this, the early work of a now-popular creator.

La Quinta Camera was the series that put Ono on the map, and it's easy to see why. Her ability to weave characters in and out of the narrative, tell stories that could easily be about someone you know, and yet still give a feeling of place (the book is set in Italy, after all) and comparison between cultures (Japan vs Italy in terms of Christmas, for example) all shine here. The American is a total stereotype, but it's nice to see the US on the receiving end of a trope for a change.

The dialogue here is perfectly natural, allowing readers to get to know the characters well. Each has their own voice, so that even when limitations in the art make it more difficult to tell people apart, it's not hard to know who is speaking. (A tip of the cap to translator Joe Yamazaki for retaining that feeling.) By far the best part of the story is the natural linking of the stories, like when Charlotte (the opening focal character) loses her bag in a stranger's car, he turns up as one of the house mates. In another case, a random trip puts Al back in territory he'd rather forget. In clumsier hands that might feel too convenient, but Ono is already skilled at finding ways to do this so convincingly it's like finding out someone you know is actually Facebook friends with someone who has an unexpected connection to another of your friends.

I'm not sure how this was originally serialized on the web, but here it's gathered into traditional manga-style chapters, with "bonus" material at the end. Each of these moves linearly through time, skipping across various roommates and focusing on key times for the characters. The feeling is not unlike a movie about relationships, and thanks to the work Ono does in the opening chapter, you want to find out more about Charlotte, Al, Massimo, and the rest.

Artistically, this is also very different, in terms of most manga I've read. In fact, the next time someone says, "All manga looks alike" (which makes my skin crawl), I'm going to find a copy of this, show them a few pages, then hit them over the head with a Tezuka omnibus for good measure. The linework here still retains some essence of the things we think of as traditional manga art, like triangle chins or thin bodies, but the ways in which those concepts are presented are very different. In fact, the word that comes to mind for me with this is almost geometric. The characters, their surroundings, and everything else are angular, with the exception of the wide, expressive eyes.

Like many of the indie books I read, there's not a lot going on in the way of backgrounds. Ono chooses to focus squarely on her characters, leaving some panels without anything other than white or shaded tones. In a story about Italy, that's a bit disappointing, to be honest, but she makes up for it with her dialogue. The panel layouts are often quite packed, filling the page from top to bottom with characters and word balloons. This means that when there is white space/street scenes/etc., they have a real impact, serving as pauses in the narrative. Overall, the art won't be to everyone's taste, but it works for what Ono is trying to do.

La Quinta Camera is a cute one-and-done book showing the early development of Ono as she learns her craft. It's a good fit for fans seeking out more of her work and those who enjoy relationship-driven, everyday life comics.

July 24, 2014

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Digging into Digital: Comixology Partners with 5 Publishers to Go DRM-Free

So your mileage may vary, but for me, this is the announcement of the show from San Diego Comic-Con, pretty much no matter what else gets announced.

Comixology has partnered with five publishers to go DRM-Free, allowing users to download PDF or CBZ copies of the comics they purchased.

Tip of the cap over to Heidi MacDonald and the folks at The Beat for breaking this one. You can read Heidi's article about it here.

So as of right this very second, you can download copies of any Dynamite, Image, Monkeybrain, Thrillbent, or Top Shelf books that you've already purchased. That's pretty amazing. It's one thing to announce this--it's another to not only announce it, but have it ready to go and working as soon as it's announced.

Before writing this up, I took some time to experiment. I downloaded an Image book, a Top Shelf book, and a Monkeybrain book to PDF format, and my God, they look amazing. While they lack the guided view technology, of course, I had no problem reading them on my PC as PDFs, the same way I might for a digital comp copy.

The way to do this is incredibly simple: You go to "my books," then "my backups," then download the books you want in the format of your choice. Notable is that it does state "last downloaded" and  tracks downloaded vs non-downloaded books. Right now, that's hella convenient, but it also means it's coded so that eventually, they can restrict number of downloads if a publisher wants to go down that road.

This is nothing but good news. First of all, it means the people who keep complaining that Comixology is evil because they force people to use DRM and "What if this one dollar comic I bought and read and will never read again is removed?" straw man arguments against the company can be put to rest once and for all. Are all comics on the system DRM free yet? No, and I'm sure that's going to be the next refuge of the "I hate Digital Comics and Comixology" crowd. But now it's clear the company--possibly because of the "evil Amazon" connection--is cool with DRM-free.

The second piece of good news is that while this is only five companies right now, the rest of the mid-majors won't be far behind. I can't see IDW or Boom! sitting back and letting these other companies get the windfall from those who were waiting for DRM-free. They'll be there, soon. Similarly, smaller folks, who generally take their lead from the mid-majors, are likely to join in as well, for the same reason.

If any of those publishers are reading this and might be leery of doing DRM-free because of piracy, please remember this piece of advice from a friend of mine, who works within the comics industry: "The person illegally downloading your book? They were never going to pay for the damned thing anyway."

What you will gain are people who want to make the transition to digital but also want to "own" their copy, because it's important to them. Now you can get the best of both worlds--be on the best digital comics platform AND give folks a way to download your books DRM-free, if they want to.

Obviously, as both a comics fan and a digital advocate, I hope that as many companies as possible start using this new option at Comixology. But personal bias aside, I think it's a smart move to get in on this while you're still able to be one of the few pubs doing it and not part of the crowd. It's a great point of separation.

Three final thoughts on the ramifications of this, not in any particular order:

1) When will Marvel and DC bow to the pressure and go DRM-free? They have to eventually, it's only a matter of time, and the one who goes first gets bragging rights. In fact, if I were in charge at either company, I'd be begging to announce it this weekend, to totally scoop the other guy. Don't believe me that they will? Look at how the pair have embraced digital at all, after initially being shackled to the comic book stores. It will happen. If not this year, then sometime in 2015.

2) Is this another move towards pulling away from Apple? Look, Amazon wants people buying their Fire tablets. They now have the single best digital-comics reading company out there in their stable. If people can download their books from the website and then port them to their iPad or iPhone, how long is it going to be before Amazon gets the bright idea to make the software Fire-only? Not saying they will or should do that. But now you can do it without hurting your existing customers, because their books would still be available, just not as conveniently. Something to ponder, I think.

3) Your move, Dark Horse. Dark Horse had the chance to be a big player outside Comixology's orbit by offering new digital comics day and date for $1.99 instead of cover price. Retailers whined, and the company blinked--something I still think was a big mistake. If they don't make themselves DRM-free ASAP, the veritable indie is about to do themselves further harm in the expanding digital market. They should have done this as soon as Image did, but waited. Now, if they wait too much longer--or don't go DRM-free at all, they really risk hurting themselves in terms of market share.

No matter what happens, I'll be keeping my eyes peeled. This is the next step in the digital comics revolution, one that offers nothing but positives for readers, publishers, and Comixology itself.
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Fearful Hunter by Jon Macy

Written and Illustrated by Jon Macy
Published by Northwest Press

[Editor's Note: This book is NSFW, so that means the review responds accordingly. You've been warned. -RobM]
"I wanted to...only [draw] my favorite thing[s]: trees, punk boys, pick-up trucks, werewolves, and naked Druids in the woods." I remember Jon Macy's promise from his introduction, while I scroll past tree spirits, birds, and the silhouette of two people kissing. I interpret them as men because, similar to Macy, "I grew up watching love stories by straight people. Like a foreign film, I would translate it in my head to make it queer." And his graphic novel, Fearful Hunter, does not make me do the work.

The first of four chapters opens with a split page. The top panel overlooks cliffs, a small town, and a looming mountain. In the bottom panel, an ominous voice directs a muscled man, dressed only in antlers and a beaded cloak. 

"Are you ready for your final lesson, Oisin? Then cast the spell of seeking." Through this spell, Oisin discovers a gruff, hairy man, sleeping naked in the woods. But, before their lips can touch, Oisin disappears and the other man wakes up.

Oisin's mentor, Tavius--the ominous voice, whose body is composed of rippling abs, bulging pecs, and two plump asscheeks that wouldn't look out of place in a fruitbowl--warns Oisin that for a Druid, true love can only be found with an Ally, a god of nature. Macy illustrates this union through several panels of earthy tentacle porn that I reread several times--strictly for review purposes.

I want to note that though I may describe certain scenes with raunchy or comical terms, I do not do so to devalue them. Macy states in his introduction that he "wanted to include sex" because "it's important to have sex portrayed in a sexual relationship" and "that when we sanitize our love stories, we are telling the world and ourselves that there is something wrong with queer sex." 

Fearful Hunter does not fear sex--sex in all it's wet, sticky, kinky, intimate glory. When Tavius' Ally wraps its god-tentacles around around his cock and balls, when cum shoots into Tavius' mouth until it overflows as if from a fountain, perfect pleasure shows in the his eyes and the lines of his face. The sex is plot relevant but also, well, sexy.

And I can't believe I'm going to say this, but Oisin looks even more delicious when he pulls on a hoodie and low-rise jeans for his trip into town. As a Druid, the residents look upon him as out of place, which I cannot help but align with the same feeling queer people often have in non-queer spaces.

Oisin takes refuge in an underground concert, populated with pretty punk boys of the magical and queer varieties. A werefox, Shea, offers to find the Druid's one-true-love (Uh oh, isn't that supposed to be an Ally? Drama!), but Oisin says he can do it himself. Enter: Byron, the werewolf from Oisin's earlier spell. The one he almost kissed.

Werewolves, like penguins, are adorable and mate for life. Since Druids apparently have the opposite reputation, Byron refuses Oisin's initial advances. Macy recounts the earlier dream not only with words, but sincere expressions on Byron's behalf that make me want to shout, "That face!" Body of a wolf, heart of a penguin; I refuse to think of him any other way.

Their sex leaves scratches and bite marks on Oisin's back and content exhaustion on their faces. But, in the last frame of the chapter, Tavius looks upon the sleeping couple. He wants Byron. Oisin wants Byron. I kind of want Byron, too, so I feel his pain. There's only one wolf-heart to go around, god dammit.

As the story continues, we are torn between Oisin's spiritual pursuits toward Druidship and his longing for Byron. Thanks to Macy's intricate details--hundreds of tiny leaves, blades of grass, veiny roots, and old ringed trees--Oisin is shown to truly live as part of the forest, not against it. The setting is not a cheap green screen, it is another character, another lover, Byron's competition.

But the werewolf is not cast only as the mysterious love interest. In a horrifying flashback, we learn that baby-Byron could not kill a rabbit when his mentor demanded he demanded it. Even pages past the the panel, I cannot forget the image of Byron attempting to kill the rabbit by hitting it with a rock. The first blow does not finish the job and the animal looks up at the young wolf with a pained face.

"He's still alive. I'm just hurting him! What do I do? He hates me!!!" young Byron cries.

The older wolf ends it, biting the rabbit's neck. "Your name will be Fearful Hunter."

The third chapter, titled "Filthy Beasts," reveals the remaining Druid-drama. The Master Druid wants Oisin to ally with the mountain god in order that he may control them in a way that sounds less like an alliance and more like a dictatorship. Tavius is willing to help--as long as he gets Byron, as a reward.

I won't spoil the ending--sorry! I will say that Fearful Hunter is the well-balanced breakfast of queer fiction with earthy, psychedelic illustrations. Macy doesn't shy away from sex--not by a longcock--but he also doesn't shy away from a plot. In his introduction, he states that this book was born from the Proposition 8 decision and it shows. Fearful Hunter is as Macy hopes: "...a story that give[s] others the tools to understand us."

July 23, 2014

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Dynamite Gets Rights to The Spirit

  In a press release that came out just a few minutes ago, publisher Dynamite Entertainment dropped a huge announcement that serves as a capstone of sorts to all of the licensing work they've been doing over the course of 2014.

Dynamite has gotten the rights to none other than Will Eisner's Spirit.

Obviously, the timing here is perfect, given the Eisner Awards will be given out at San Diego Comic-Con this weekend. But anytime you announce you have the rights to use one of the most iconic figures among people who know comics, timed to the character's 75th anniversary, it's going to be big news.

From the Press Release:
"We are thrilled that Will Eisner's The Spirit has found a new home with Dynamite Entertainment," state Nancy and Carl Gropper of the Eisner estate in a joint announcement.  "At Dynamite, The Spirit will be joining many iconic heroes including Flash Gordon, The Shadow, The Green Hornet, The Lone Ranger, Zorro, and others. Will Eisner created The Spirit in 1940 as a syndicated seven-page newspaper supplement, where The Spirit fought the villains of Central City weekly until 1952.  We're hoping to see Dynamite's new comics of The Spirit surpass the circulation of the Will Eisner's original series."
 This is, frankly, incredibly good news. DC Comics didn't seem to know what to do with Eisner's creation, especially after Darwyn Cooke moved on to doing Parker adaptations instead. At Dynamite, Denny Colt joins The Shadow, Green Hornet, Lone Ranger, and many, many other pulp-adventure heroes. While not all of these books have been to my taste, it's clear Dynamite understands and appreciates how to market these books. With creators like Jeff Parker on Flash Gordon and Ron Marz coming to John Carter, they also do a great job of matching the material with someone able to best write it.

Dynamite's fan-level excitement comes through on the release:
 "Bringing The Spirit to Dynamite is a dream come true.  Actually, that's not a strong enough sentiment.  It's a lifelong dream come true," says Nick Barrucci, CEO and Publisher of Dynamite Entertainment. "The Spirit is one of comicdom's greatest characters, and has stood the test of time for nearly 75 years.  Will is one of the greats, and his influence as a storyteller is incredible.  I've loved all of Will's work from The Spirit to his graphic novels from A Contract with God to The Dreamer, and his entire body of work.  This is a huge responsibility that we've undertaken as there have been some great creators involved in The Spirit throughout the seven decades of his career. I'm honored that Carl and Nancy feel that we are up to the task, and have entrusted us to publish The Spirit, especially beginning at such a landmark year - his 75th Anniversary.  I believe that, with our proven track record for high-quality pulp comics by incredible talents (like Matt Wagner, Garth Ennis, and Kevin Smith), the addition of The Spirit to our line of classic adventure titles is a major win for longtime fans of Will Eisner's original crime fighter.  I cannot emphasize enough how important publishing The Spirit is to us."
Look at that last sentence: "I cannot emphasize enough how important publishing The Spirit is to us." Do you really think it was ever important to DC Comics to get The Spirit in front of new fans? Maybe in theory, but it never showed in practice. If I remember right their last attempt had an old-school Batman heading the line of titles. That should tell you everything.

There is no word on a creative team yet--I'm sure that will either come later at SDCC or in some exclusive article, but I trust them to find the right people for the job. I'd love to see some female creators involved, partly because I don't think Denny Colt has ever had one and partly because Eisner's misogyny needs addressed, and I don't know that male writer or artist will be willing to do that, or see its importance.

Also not noted is who has the right to re-publish Eisner's Spirit books. Those were only available in expensive DC archives. I'd love to see new, affordable editions.

No matter what, this is great news, and I eagerly look forward to finding a "coming soon" notice for an all-new Spirit #1. Anyone who is a long-time fan of the character should be as well.

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Black Market (1 of 4)

Black Market (1 of 4)
Written by Frank Barbiere
Illustrated by Victor Santos, Adam Metcalfe and Ed Dukeshire
Boom! Studios

If you poke at some of the concepts behind superheroes, they start to seem ridiculous, and I don't mean the teleportation, flying and super-strength. No, the troubling idea about superheroes is that they are fundamentally selfish. If Reed Richards is the world's smartest man and can create all manner of amazing inventions and technology, why doesn't he share it with the world? If Wolverine (up until recently) has a healing factor that enables him to quickly bounce back from even the most ridiculous, grotesque injuries, you don't think millions of burn victims around the world might be interested in something like that?  No, even though they work to protect humanity, superheroes and their villainous counterparts are engaged in colossal battles to which ordinary people are incidental. They put themselves above the regular people of the world in a way that is fundamentally selfish, and it would be understandable for people to resent them.

Black Market is a crime story set in a world of superheroes, where people decide that it's time to make the superheroes share their gifts, like it or not. This is a strong first issue with solid characterization and beautiful art from Victor Santos.  In this world, masked vigilantes emerged a number of years ago.  The fought crime, and helped improve society. Eventually they were replaced by "the Supers" who had massive powers and virtually wiped out crime. The story begins with a fire at an apartment building and a Super named Hotspot who comes to the rescue; several men (including a man named Raymond) have used the fire to lure the hero in and capture him.  The story moves back a number of months and shows us Raymond's life. He's preparing bodies at a funeral home, but used to be a medical examiner for the police until something called "Ultra". It's clear Raymond has a difficult life, as he's unhappy with his job and is caring for his wife who has MS.

Ray's visited by his brother Denny, whom Ray greets with a punch in the face.  It seems Denny was somehow responsible for "Ultra" which cost Ray his job. But Denny's got money for Ray, and a way to make up to Ray what Denny has cost him. Denny has gotten involved with a company called Biochem that's using Super-DNA in order to create a miracle cure for diseases (including MS). Jumping back to the present day, Ray and Denny and their large associate Albert are making a run for their laboratory (in a stolen ambulance) when they're stopped by some cops whom Denny and Albert deal with violently. They make their way back to the lab, where Ray sets up Hotspot so the others can extract his blood. Back when Denny approached Ray about this plan, he promised Ray that they were the good guys and that no one was going to get hurt. However, at the end of this story, that's clearly not the case.

This is a strong first issue with a solid hook. While taking place in a world full of superheroes, this is not a story about Supers; it's a story about people who take matters in their own hands because they don't want to feel like ants in a world full of giants. This story fits in well with other stories in this subgenre, such as Incognito and Sleeper from the team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, both of which also explore the underbelly of a world of super-powered people. Frank Barbiere has started to carve out an interesting comics resume of ethically murky, desperate characters such as in Five Ghosts where his protagonist is a shady treasure hunter/thief who's motivated to save his sister's life, and The White Suits centered on a group of Cold War-era assassins and the people out to stop them (and who'll use any means to do so). Ray here is a similarly compromised protagonist; all he wants to do his save his wife, the next thing you know he's trapping and experimenting on superheroes, and evading law enforcement.  His internal narration is effective and he's a sympathetic character, so it's not hard to see how he would come to be in his current situation.

This story is aided tremendously by very strong art from Santos; while the art is distinctive, there's a definite Darwyn Cooke influence in the character designs and facial expressions, and in the crime setting of the book also evokes Michael Avon Oeming.  His stylized take works well for both super-powered heroics and for scenes of darkness and violence.  Santos makes effective use of panel layout such as in the above page where the focus is generally on Ray's head, but Santos uses smaller panels within and between the larger ones to show us the gritty details of Ray's work.  These panels-within-panels are used periodically throughout the story to show action or movement, and are a creative use of space on the page. The facial acting and body language between characters is nicely executed here; while done in an exaggerated, stylized way, the characters' emotions (particularly Ray's very mixed feelings towards his brother) are effectively conveyed

The color choices from Adam Metcalfe also present an interesting contrast. This is a world of crime and darkness and people making bad choices; for a story such as this one might expect a muted color palate (such as that in Incognito or other crime-noir stories). However, it's also a world full of people who can fly and burst into flames, and so the coloring in this story conveys that vibrant world and all of its contrasts.

There's a lot of places this story can go, from Ray's evolution, to his history with his brother, to more background on who the Supers are and where they came from. If you're a fan of dark, interesting takes on the superhero genre, Black Market is worth a look.