January 30, 2015

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Weekend Patterings for Jan 30, 2015-- Comixology being throttled in the Midwest?

** Two weeks ago, Comixology responded to report of slow downloads, particularly in the midwest, with this Tweet:
As of January 28th, this still seems to be an issue

Doing a quick Google Search, there have been some complaints of Comcast throttling other Amazon services, such as their streaming video.  Of course, it doesn't sound like anything is being confirmed one way or another by Comcast about any actions on their part but it seems like Comcast is reducing download speeds during prime evening hours for key content providers.  I've had this happen regularly with trying to download comics.  Just tonight, I tried to download the new issue of Multiversity and it was taking 3 to 4 seconds just to download a 10th of a megabyte.  That's a comic that's over 90 megabytes.  I'm sure if I try it again, oh say after 11pm, things will be better.

This all ties into the discussion about Net Neutrality and how the service providers can basically hold the content providers hostage until they pay.  Between mid 2013 and early 2014, Netflix services were slowed down by Comcast until Netflix paid an undisclosed amount to Comcast.  Are they trying to get money from Amazon now using the same tactics?

From Chris Ware's Building Stories
** Over at the Paris Review, Jeet Heer has an enlightening interview with Chris Ware.  There's a lot in that interview to digest but I found Ware talking about color and line utterly fascinating.
Sure. In a way, it’s really the difference between painting and drawing, if one wanted to be art historical about it. It’s also what the core of comics is—a combination of memory and experience into a simplified visual language. What one thinks of as pictures in comics are really the equivalent of drawn words—words meant to be read, not looked at—which is analogous to the way humans perceive the world. Looking is a part of it, but not all of it. It’s ultimately the limiting effect of language on experience, a ratcheting down of perception by the human mind that begins the moment we learn how to communicate with words and to name things. Sometimes I think it’s why time seems to speed up for adults as we age—because we spend so much of our conscious time remembering rather than simply looking. To say nothing of the distractions of cell phones and Facebook nowadays to help us along.
Color is the way we see the world and line is the way we want to see/remember it.  It's a great theory and makes a lot of sense.  I'm trying to think of what this may mean for black and white comics.  Are they all memory?

** Katsuhiro Otomo is your winner of Angouleme's Grand Prix.  In case you're wondering, here's the list of all past winners.  That's quite impressive talent.  It kind of makes you wonder who will be winning this in 10-20 years.  Both Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez have to do this sometime, right?  Dan Clowes?  Chris Ware?

And it gives us a chance to run some excellent Otomo artwork from Domu.  Someone really needs to put out a new printing of that book.

** Ng Suat Tong provides his nominations for the best comic criticism of 2014 at The Hooded Utilitarian.

** Your Panel Patterers in action:
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2D Cloud Plans for a Big 2015

A good chunk of the Panel Patter crew are big fans of 2D Cloud, a publisher that's been steadily gaining momentum, especially last year, which saw them draw a lot of praise from putting out the print edition of a Noah Van Sciver diary and Mari Naomi's Dragon's Breath and Other Stories, which was on too many favorites lists to count.

They're coming out in 2015 with a bang, announcing they're "leveling up" with a record number of 11 books slated for this year, starting with three titles at the beginning of this year and continuing with others throughout the year, including a new memoir from Mari Naomi and an anthology.

In addition to the larger number of books, they've introduced two new staff members, both of whom designed to help increase marketing and awareness of 2D Cloud. Melissa Carraher is in charge of publicity while Blaise Larmee takes on the role of Marketing Director.

If Larmee's name is familiar to you, it's because he, like 2D Cloud founder Raighne Hogan, is a creator himself. (Comets Comets was named one of Panel Pal Alex Hoffman's "Books that Challenged Me" in 2014) So there's definitely a desire to make sure that the people involved are comics people, and mini/micro-press in particular.

The total of 11 books is more than they've put out in the past five years, per Hogan, and is definitely ambitious. However, given how well received 2D Cloud is, they definitely seem ready to join Koyama Press and AdHouse Books as being able to do multiple titles in a year while still staying close to their original vision.

The first three books are loosely themed around sex and its taboos. Due out in summer 2015, they'll hit in advance of the Fall small press shows (SPX, APE, Short Run), when there is a lot of buzz about small press books, so it's good timing. Per the press release, a bit about each:
Andy Burkholder’s Qviet is a provocative collection of a multi-year series that takes a fearless look at the abstractions of sex, of seeing, and the fluid relations between the two. Blaise Larmee’s 3 Books comprises three separate, intertwining works, including the highly anticipated Ice Cream Kisses, and features a mix of media: intimate Skype video sessions, bleed-through drawings and monochrome paintings. Émilie Gleason’s Salz & Pfeffer brings to life a pageant of abduction, damnation, hell, brainwashing, fart jail, magical kingdoms, and murderous machinations across a set of evocative pencil drawings.

More books will follow in the Fall (probably timed to debut at small press shows), including new work from Hogan and Mari Naomi. Larmee will also contribute another title at the end of the year.

We will definitely be following things closely, and expect some reviews of these titles as they're released. 2D Cloud is a very good micro press publisher who's moving into small press territory. Make a note to keep an eye on them, and look forward to some great books in 2015!
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James' Single-Minded for 1/28/15: Image is Everything

The Dying and the Dead #1
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Illustrated by Ryan Bodenheim
Colors by Michael Garland
Letters by Rus Wooton
Image Comics

When Jonathan Hickman, Ryan Bodenheim and Michael Garland collaborate, the results are big and gritty and action-packed and dramatic and intense. Red Mass for Mars is a futuristic superhero story with ominous heft and power, and Secret is a compelling, gut-wrenching look into the world of industrial espionage (please, do yourself a favor and read both these books now). In The Dying & The Dead, the creative team sets their sights on an even bigger story, one that looks to encompass war heroes, the battle against death, world domination, clones (maybe?), and ancient humanoid civilizations (or maybe angels or demons). So, just those things. For any fans of Jonathan Hickman's work, this issue (with 60 pages of story for $4.50) is an absolute must-read.

In The Manhattan Projects and East of West, Hickman's other current creator-owned projects, it's difficult to say that there are clear heroes. Those are more stories about complex systems and the impact of a powerful self-selected elite on a society. By contrast (and even after only one, albeit oversized, issue), The Dying & The Dead feels much more like a classical story about a hero trying to defeat evil in order to save his beloved (and, you know, the world). In this case the year is 1969, and the hero is Captain Edward James Canning, retired military man. He's struck a dark bargain with powerful (and truly striking-looking) ancient beings to help them retrieve a stolen object from a considerable threat, and in exchange they will heal his dying wife. 

The first issue doesn't show us the exact nature of this threat, but it clearly establishes that they are efficient, brutal, and we have every reason to fear them. The Captain is a veteran of World War II, and this is going to be a story of him fighting one last battle (which seems to involve the supernatural and may also involve Nazis, as any epic battle should); the first issue effectively sets this grandiose, mythic tone and establishes the stakes. We don't much about him or his story, but we know he loves his wife and he was a soldier, which feels like enough for now. Character in Hickman's books is typically driven less by elaborate back stories and more by what they want, what they're trying to accomplish. Hickman does, however, provide effective dialogue with his typical dry wit. The tough, grizzled personality of the Captain comes across, as does the fact that he's singularly focused on his goals, and isn't all that impressed with the hidden world of super beings. 

This is a gorgeous comic. Bodenheim knows how to set a scene, and he and Hickman engage in some masterful decompressed storytelling here. With 60 pages for the first issue, they have the space to really build up a scene, from small elements, to the general geographic overlay, to the specifics of a (ultimately very unhappy) wedding. Coupled with Hickman's ominous (but not overly intrusive) narration, this builds a real sense of dread and weight, which conveys that there are big things at stake. Bodenheim also excels at facial characterization and overall character design and character interaction. His characters have detailed, intricate features and a slightly exaggerated style to them, and their emotion comes through clearly in the art. He's a skilled sequential storyteller, as his action has weight and movement, and his backgrounds and layouts are full of precise detail. 

None of this (highly effective) storytelling would be possible without the work of Michael Garland, though. His coloring is one of the real stars of the show in this book. If you've read Red Mass for Mars or Secret, then you know that Garland doesn't use "realistic" coloring in his collaborations with Hickman. Instead, he washes over each panel (or series of panels) with certain colors. A change in color panel conveys a threat (such as a wedding about to get very messy) or conveys a change in location (such as a movement from the Greek islands to the mountains of Germany). These colors provide an engaging, atmospheric effect. 

Garland also uses an interesting effect with the aliens/Angels/ancient beings that promise to help Captain Canning's wife. They're completely white in a striking way. This is similar to the effect Jordie Bellaire has been using in Moon Knight, and it's effective here as well as in conveying a sense that the beings are truly alien. A whole room of them, situated in a world with color and interacting with a "regular" human, provides a terrifically dissonant, unsettling feeling. He also uses a similar effect on a dramatic two-page spread showing a wander over desert location. Everything is the same general washed-out color except for a big black car, and it makes the car feel forced and unnatural in that scene (which it is). It's skilled storytelling, and a helpful reminder that there are many ways to color a comic. 

The Dying &The Dead is big, powerful debut, and is shaping up to be a fun, epic tale of heroism, and is well worth a look. 

Casanova: Acedia #1
"Nine Days Now" written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Fabio Moon
"The Metanauts: Kawaii Five-O" written by Michael Chabon and illustrated by Gabriel Ba
Colors by Cris Peter
Letters by Dustin Harbin
Image Comics

If you're looking for a trippy, witty, gorgeous, weird, sexy espionage story and don't mind being thrown right into the deep end of the pool (metaphorically speaking, though there is a fight in a pool), then Casanova: Acedia* #1 is great place to start. Matt Fraction, Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba have been telling stories about super thief/spy/secret agent Casanova Quinn for a number of years now, at several different publishers. Casanova is now back at Image Comics (where it began), and Casanova: Acedia #1 is the beginning of a new story arc. They're joined here by acclaimed author Michael Chabon** who writes the second (and possibly even weirder) of two stories included here. 
There's a dense back story to Casanova Quinn, as he's a time and universe hopping thief and spy. I'd just mention that at the end of the last volume of Casanova, he was thrown through the multiverse into our world (more or less). In the first story (from Fraction and Moon) Casanova's made a new life for himself (with the new identity of Quentin Cassiday) in Hollywood (which is full of people reinventing themselves), as the advisor and assistant to a powerful man who also has no memory of his early life. And after a sexy-turned-nearly deadly encounter at a party, Casanova and his boss decide to look into each other's pasts, but Casanova's weird past seem to be chasing him. The second story (from Chabon and Ba) takes a look at a rock band named T.A.M.I. which seems to have a connection to strange occurrences and other worlds. 

This is a story with wit and charm and style and gorgeously weird art to spare, which is helpful because it's also a somewhat confusing issue (particularly the second story). It's actually not much of a problem here, it works quite well since Casanova is a man thrown into a strange world (that being our world, more or less), so if he's not sure who he is or why he knows the things he knows, it makes sense that the reader should feel his same disorientation. He's sort of like Jason Bourne except a lot more fun and stylish and in a sleazy Hollywood setting. The second part of the issue brings a fun, weird tale of a popular all-female rock band and its newest member who may or may not be human, and who may also have ties to Casanova's hidden history.  

The first story is a wild-colorful, sexy romp and the backup story is even more so, but both have a bright, colorful, weird, racy charm to them. This is thanks to the gorgeous, angular, vivid, expressionistic styles of Moon and Ba, and the spectacular color work from Cris Peter and lettering from Dustin Harbin, their longtime collaborators on these books.  This is something closer to the real world than has been typically portrayed in Casanova stories, but this is a world in which it feels like anything can happen, and that is due to the skill of the art team on this book. There's also something of a focus on scantily-clad women in this story, but given the somewhat abstract nature of the art, and the way in which these instances work as part of a larger story, it doesn't feel objectifying. It just feels like part of the strange, sexy, brightly colored world of which Casanova Quinn is a part.

The bright, varied, unusual coloring gives this world something of an alien feel, and Moon and Ba (whose styles are fairly similar to each other, and while completely their own, have echoes of a more playful Mike Mignola or a more abstract Howard Chaykin) bring a slightly rough, exaggerated, expressionistic feel to the book, primarily in their depiction of people.  In the first story, Moon also gets a chance to show his skills in depicting action. He brings so much energy and fluidity and menace to a sequence where Casanova is surrounded by weird threats in his quest to help his boss discover his past. Casanova may not know who he is, but thanks to Moon (and Peter's fantastic usage of light and shadow), he fights and dispatches a number of threats in a way that clearly appears instinctual.  

The colors from Peter pop on every page, but there's great attention to detail in the color work in this book. In a sequence where Casanova is fighting for his life underwater in a pool, the entire book has a slightly washed-over or filmy feel to it, to make clear you're seeing the characters through the water. A similarly effective technique is used when viewing the character through a window.  Similarly, Harbin's lettering provides a great feel to the series. Just on the first page, there are 3 different fonts used, a stronger all-caps font for the omniscient narrator, a more jagged one used for dialogue, and a hand-written style font used to show the journals of Casanova. That's great attention to storytelling through letters, along with the many other examples in the book of sound-effects lettering being well-integrated into action sequences, with bright, stylish colors and fonts. 

This is a fun, weird book absolutely worth reading even if you're not familiar with the prior stories in the series.  If you're looking for a book that's bursting with color, excitement, weirdness, sex, style, wit and mysteries, look no further than Casanova: Acedia #1.

* Apparently it means apathy or sloth. Had to look that one up. 

**  The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay should be required reading for any comics fan. 

January 29, 2015

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James' Single-Minded for 1/28/15: Some Dynamite Comics

Flash Gordon #8
Written by Jeff Parker
Illustrated by Evan "Doc" Shaner
Colors by Jordie Bellaire
Letters by Simon Bowland
Dynamite Comics

It's no secret that we at Panel Patter are huge fans of the Parker/Shaner/Bellaire run on Flash Gordon (review of issues 1 and 2 here, review of issue 7 here). While we're sorry to see this series end, I'm happy to say that issue 8 is a strong, delightful conclusion to the series that sets up a good status quo for the new creative team going forward.

Flash, Dale and Zarkov make their way back to Earth with much acclaim for their accomplishment of striking a blow against Ming's Empire (which had previously launched an assault against Earth in the Kings Watch miniseries). The creative team finds a way to make exposition interesting, by providing an overview of the few weeks after the heroes' return in the form of old-fashioned newsreel reports. These are completely anachronistic to the modern setting of the current Flash Gordon series, but they work perfectly in capturing the pulpy, old-timey feel of the original series, and in providing a lot of information in a relatively short amount of page space; other writers might have spent an entire issue dealing with how the heroes are adjusting back to life on Earth, but this way works better.

The issue (and the series) would not be complete without one last burst of heroism and derring-do; not to fear, there is heroism and excitement to spare (as the formal, sedentary life just doesn't suit our heroes), and this issue (and the series) ends in a way that makes it easily possible to tell more stories with these characters, now that they've established their heroic bona fides.

It's a short but compelling conclusion to the series. Even in a relatively brief battle sequence at the end of the issue, the creative team works wonders to show Flash Gordon's personality through word and action. Not to belabor the point, but this series has really been a showcase for Doc Shaner. In the sequence of a few panels, he uses fighting to convey everything you need to know about Flash Gordon's personality - brave, headstrong, athletic, fearless, and a feeling of fulfillment and the rush of action. Coupled with the joyful, vibrant colors from Bellaire and quick-witted dialogue from Parker, the sequence is a reminder of what great series this was. If you haven't been reading the series, I'd strongly suggest picking up this volume of Flash Gordon when it comes out in collected form.

King: Flash Gordon #1
Written by Ben Acker and Ben Blacker
Illustrated by Lee Ferguson
Colors by Omi Remalante
Letters by Simon Bowland
Dynamite Comics/King Features Syndicate

King: Flash Gordon #1 is part of Dynamite Comics' new initiative to use the "King Features Syndicate" name and branding (associated with classic characters such as Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Jungle Jim, Prince Valiant and Mandrake the Magician) under which the company will be releasing a number of miniseries for these characters (which exist in a shared universe) and which will lead into an event miniseries bringing all of these heroes together.  King: Flash Gordon #1 is a fun first issue for the series, which strikes a similar (but not identical) tone of excitement, humor, action and adventure to the Parker/Shaner/Bellaire series. If you enjoyed that series, this first issue is worth a look.

This first issue picks up some indeterminate amount of time after the end of the prior arc, as Flash Gordon, Dale Arden and Professor Zarkov are making their way across the galaxy, rallying support and allies in the fight against Ming the Merciless and his Empire. They've found their way to the high-tech world of Planet T.R.O.P.I.C.A. where they hope to gain the support of a powerful ally, but as it happens, things don't go their way. Along the way there's subterfuge, rebellion, and battles, and as the issue ends, things look grim for our heroes.

The team of Acker and Blacker has experience telling pulp-style stories (as the writers for the Thrilling Adventure Hour), and in the first issue of King: Flash Gordon they capture what a reader would want in a Flash Gordon story. Is Ming cruel and (yes) merciless? He certainly is (I would not want to work for that guy). Is Flash strong-headed, well-intentioned, and sometimes leaping before he looks? He is, and the work by Acker, Blacker and artist Lee Ferguson captures his fighting spirit.  The creative team gets right the dynamic between the heroes. Interestingly, they also capture another part of the dynamic between Flash and Dale which is that Flash appears to be smitten with her (a story element not really addressed in the prior series). There's an amusing few pages of dialogue among Flash, Dale, and Zarkov as Zarkov attempts to explain his discoveries regarding a high-tech communications device, but Flash is far more interested in figuring out exactly what happened the night before between him and Dale (it seems Flash can't hold his liquor nearly as well as Dale can), and throughout the issue he amusingly brings up their relationship status at inopportune moments. 

Ferguson brings an appealing pulp style to the book that's complemented by Omi Remalante's bright, vibrant colors. Ferguson has a slightly rougher style than Doc Shaner, but he has a style that similarly owes a debt (as many artists do) to Darwyn Cooke (who illustrated the cover). Ferguson uses relatively straightforward panel layouts but within those panels he provides some engaging action, as scenes of movement (such as a ship, or Flash moving in battle) are illustrated with a very strong sense of energy and dynamism. Ferguson also has strong skill in facial expressions, as he captures nicely Flash's enthusiasm, Dale's skepticism, and Zarkov's sense of self-satisfaction.

King: Flash Gordon #1 is off to an entertaining start. If you're a fan of two-fisted action with a good sense of humor, this is a good pickup. 

King: The Phantom #1
Written by Brian Clevinger
Illustrated by Brent Schoonover
Colors by Robt Snyder
Letters by Simon Bowland
Dynamite Comics/King Features Syndicate

The Phantom (like Flash Gordon) is a character that's been around for a very long time in different incarnations.  King: The Phantom #1 is part of the King Features initiative from Dynamite, and is a promising start to the new series. This first issue sets a fun, pulpy tone both in writing style and art, and tells an engaging story.

A little context will be helpful in reading this story. In the Kings Watch miniseries, The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, and Flash Gordon teamed up to repel an invasion by Ming the Merciless and his invasion force. This invasion, however, did some serious damage to Earth's technological capabilities, and it also left behind some animal-man hybrids that were used as part of Ming's army but now seem to be trying to live life on Earth.

King: The Phantom #1 picks up soon after the events of Kings Watch where the prior Phantom was killed, and a man named Lothar Kehwabe has taken up the mantle temporarily until the next Phantom can be found (as there's a family component to being the Phantom). In this first issue there are a few threads developing in Bengalla, the African nation where the Phantom is based. In the midst of the chaos after Ming's invasion, ambitious forces are moving to take up power and control. Lothar has reluctantly taken up the mantle of the Phantom in order to take action against these forces, and these activities have also drawn the attention of journalist Jen Harris, who believe something suspicious is happening. By the end of the issue, these strands have been drawn together in a dramatic cliffhanger.

This is another fun first issue. Brian Clevinger (Atomic Robo) has a strong handle on the characters in the story. It feels fairly black-and-white (the heroes are heroic and the villains are, well, villainous), but that feels right in this story which is not meant to be about subtle gradations but about fun, exciting action and suspense, and it's done well here.  While Lothar doesn't truly see himself as the Phantom (but as more of a caretaker), he feels very much like someone motivated to do the right thing and comes across as both heroic and highly capable. His interactions with his helper Guran (whose people have a tradition of aiding the Phantom) are amusing and good-natured. 

Particularly in the jungle and cave sequences, Brent Schoonover (with colors from Robt Snyder) has a strong sense of pulpy style and action (his work reminds me of Chris Mooneyham on Five Ghosts, and Victor Santos, most recently seen on Black Market). Schoonover has a very strong handle on depiction of suspenseful, engaging action sequences. The pacing is solid, and there is some good visual humor in the story. The characters have a slightly exaggerated look to them which and the book has a weathered color palate which helps contribute to the old-fashioned feel of the story. The lettering from Simon Bowland is well-executed in all of the 3 books discussed today; he's got a good handle on lettering sound effects in an engaging way within the story.

The Phantom looks like a character straight out of the 1930's, with his traditional accouterments (a white horse, skull ring, skull cave). There are a few places where this feels somewhat incongruous, particularly in scenes depicting the modern world; somehow cell phones and modern clothing look slightly out of place in this world of two-fisted masked heroes. In this way, it's actually somewhat helpful to the storytelling that there was an event in Kings Watch which knocked the world decades back technologically; the creative team doesn't have to worry quite as much about incorporating satellite imaging or other modern devices into their story. 

King: The Phantom #1 is a fun story and an entertaining first issue, and it will be interesting to see how this book balances a pulpy sensibility in a modern setting.

January 28, 2015

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Revenger #1

Revenger #1
Written and Drawn by Charles Forsman
Published by Oily Comics

While reading Charles Forsman's The Revenger #1, you can almost hear the opening narration from The A-Team: “If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team."  Like them, if you have a problem with missing girlfriends or killer clowns, you can call the Revenger.  The comic opens with a complete non-sequitur to the rest of the issue; the Revenger fighting knife-wielding clowns.  Against a stark white background with no horizon lines or sense of space, this black-leather jacketed woman fights clowns from no kind of circus that I’ve ever seen.  She bashes their heads with a bat, sending their round red nose flying through the air.  As this is going on she describes through narration a grizzly murder of a child, her child; “They killed my baby right in front of me.”  With the clowns taken care of, she walks off into the undefined future with a message left behind in clown blood: 1-800- Revenge.

Receiving a call at that number, the Revenger (she’s never given any other name) travels to Neptune, “the city by the sea,” to try to find a boy’s girlfriend who has mysteriously vanished.  No one except her father seems to know what’s going on and he isn’t talking.  The trail leads her to the Neptune Hotel and completely different and realistically more horrific world than the clowns at the beginning of this issue.  Forsman’s two previous works The End of the Fucking World and Celebrated Summer have both about relatable, youthful experiences.  There has been violence and outrageousness in both of them but the characters, for all of their Charles Schultz-like visual innocence, have had struggles that seem like part of just growing up.  Revenger doesn’t have the same relatable narrative context and it feels like Forsman is working in a completely different style than in his previous comics.

Even Forsman knows that he’s going into some uncharted territory for him.  In an essay in the back of the issue, he writes “I think I wanted to take a stab at doing a very American comic book.”  He cites the work of Ben Marra and Michel Fiffe as examples of what he’s going for and it’s interesting to see this new mainstreamish aesthetic growing through alternative comics.  You could probably also add Tom Scioli, Ed Piskor and maybe even Brandon Graham to that list of cartoonists who are trying to recreate some past nostalgic experience through comics.  Whether it’s Forsman’s action/adventure push here or Fiffe’s Ostrander Suicide Squad riffing in Copra, these younger cartoonists are trying to recreate their own excitement about comics by emulating the comics and stories that they loved.

So here in Revenger #1, we have Forsman walking down some dark, anti-hero path.  There’s a tinge of familiarity to the set up of the book but Forsman’s execution of it feels so fresh and a bit innocent as well.  His earlier books felt more subversive as his characters in the older books looked like the dark-side of Charlie Brown and Lucy as if they were thrown into a Tarantino flick.  Forsman’s Revenger art is sharp and vivid, more Tim Vigil than Charles Schultz.  Forsman is playing within a very defined stylistic world of “realistic” artwork.  His figures look like they stepped out of an early 1990s comic.  The Revenger herself is a very harsh character.  There is nothing soft or cartoonish about her.  The drawings look very much like the “American comic book” that Forsman is going for, even though it may be from a slightly older, more genre-driven comic.

As well as the harder line that Forsman employs, the other new element in Revenger #1 is color.  At times, Forsman seems completely comfortable with it and then at other times in this comic, he still looks like he’s trying to figure out how to use it.  The opening pages, as described earlier, are so captivating because of his use of color.  The Revenger’s dark skin and jacket, the clown’s colorful outfits and the strongly purple caption boxes set against the pure white background announce this comic as something different, something new.  After that, Forsman tries to make the colors work, using earthy tones for the town of Neptune and keeping the Revenger cloaked in dark blues and purple.  When she approaches the missing girl’s father and holds a knife to his throat to get the truth from him, Forsman’s use of simplistic coloring and wonderful staging come together to highlight the father’s confession of what happened to his daughter in a panel that makes unique use of color and space.

Even as there is all of this newness and different elements to Forsman’s work, there are still connections between them, particularly through the characters in Forsman’s comics.  Like the boys in The Celebrated Summer or the young lovers in The End of the Fucking World, the Revenger is caught trying to make sense of her world.  That opening scene frames the whole story as she fights these clowns all the while remembering the death of her child.  She may be the Revenger, complete with her own 1-800 number, but we see her as a character trying to find something in the world that’s understandable and orderly.  She can’t find it.  The clowns aren’t understandable or orderly and as she dives deeper into the mystery of the missing girl, what she finds is more chaos.  Forsman has changed how he draws comics with Revenger #1 but the heart of this book may not be that different than what has come before.  
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Whit Taylor Interviews Chuck Forsman

It's undeniable that Charles Forsman is one of those cartoonists who has made a great impact on the indie comics scene in recent years. A Center for Cartoon Studies graduate and western Massachusetts resident, Forsman is the author of TEOFW (Oily/Fantagraphics), Snake Oil series (various publishers), Celebrated Summer (Fantagraphics), and many other minicomics. He also continues to run Oily Comics, his minicomics publishing outfit, which has successfully provided exposure and support for many young, talented cartoonists. His latest project, Revenger, immediately intrigued me, as it appeared as a departure from Forsman's usual style yet also something clearly his own. Forsman was kind enough to take some time to answer some of my questions about Revenger, his creating process, Oily, and the evolution of the small press comics world.

Whit: What was the inspiration for Revenger? Did you have specific goals you were trying to achieve in terms of storytelling and art?

Charles: I think the inspiration for Revenger is a combination of things. First are the comics that I read when I first started reading them at 10 or 11 years old. This was during X-Men's heyday with Claremont and Jim Lee and the launch of Image Comics. The second are movies. I got back into watching John Carpenter movies like Escape from New York and Assault on Precinct 13. And even new movies like The Guest which came out a few months ago. The Guest actually made me scrap the first completed version of Revenger #1 and I started over almost from scratch. That movie reminded me that what I wanted to do was something much leaner without any fat. My original version of Revenger had a much larger world. I was worrying too much about the made-up world politics and trying to make an interesting mystery with the story. Sometimes after experiencing someone else's work that connects with you it makes what you want much clearer. 

As for the art, that was basically a yearlong process. First I had to get used to drawing on larger pages again. Which was not easy. I was trying to work at 10 x 15 but it was a struggle. I'm sure if I stuck it out I would get used to it but I went down to 9 x 12 and it made a big difference. Then the actual art was pretty frustrating. I drew the same 7-8 page sequence probably 4 or 5 times before I felt like I had gotten it to a place that felt right. As you saw it look pretty different from my previous comics. With each new project I find it very difficult to continue working the same way I had before. I always have to change something. Maybe it is about challenging myself but I think it keeps me from getting bored. 

Whit: One thing that I've always liked about your comics is how uniquely you render characters, and I think Revenger is a good example of this. What's your character design process look like? 

Charles: Well for Revenger, she is inspired by Grace Jones. I can't recall how I came upon using her as a template but I've always been fascinated by her look. She just exudes this confidence and power that made sense to me for this type of character. I wanted to make a really tough character like Snake Plissken from Escape from New York. The last thing I added was the "X" scar on her cheek. It made me laugh when I first drew it. It just seemed so ridiculous. But it definitely adds that humourous and tough-as-nails touch to her. When you see that scar you immediately know that this woman has a rough past and you probably should mess with her. I'm sure the scar is also an ode to a lot of Rob Liefeld character designs. I think Cable has some crazy scar over one of his eyes.

Whit: Why did you decide to do Revenger in color? Can you talk a bit about your approach to doing color?

Charles: I've always wanted to do something in color. It is also something I've been a bit afraid to jump into. The color was another big challenge for me and another reason for even doing it. I tried a bunch of different approaches to coloring Revenger and I think I settled on something that works. It isn't perfect but I hope with each issue I get it closer and closer to what I want it to be. Using color just opens a lot of doors to set mood and give the reader cues. I'm basically just trying to ride a line between representational color and using color as a storytelling tool.

Whit: The back of your comic features great artwork by Ben Marra. You also elaborate a bit on the influence that he's had on your work. Can you speak a bit about your working relationship with him?

Charles: In my mind, Marra has been playing in this sandbox for years. When I first heard about him or maybe I saw his booth at a show it was really striking. He was drawing comics, that to me looked like the weird self-published vigilante/superhero comics that you used to see in the 90's. But everyone around was saying how great it was. And once I read one of his comics, which was probably an issue of Night Business I remember just laughing out load after finishing the book. It was genuinely funny but it was also just a big release. I think I spent a long time rejecting these types of comics that I used to read. I condemned them as stupid mindless junk. But Ben kind of showed me that there is a real art there that makes something inside of me fire. And then Michel Fiffe came along with Copra which was another big inspiration for me. It feels like an almost coming out. I feel like I had rejected and sort of hidden my love for this part of comics and they sort of gave me permission to love it openly.

Whit: What's the longer term plan for Revenger? Have you planned out how many issues there will be or is it a more loosely defined project?

Charles: I'm planning on doing around 5-6 issues and then I'll see how sustainable it is. If I'm still having fun and not losing my shirt, I'll keep going.

Whit: You spoke at length in a piece you did for Medium on your somewhat recent "creative block". This is a universal, yet deeply personal experience for artists. What prompted you to share your own story? What has the response been?

Charles: Yeah, that thing I wrote was a way of organizing my thoughts about the last 12 months of my life. I felt pretty creatively lost and it was all intertwined with my anxiety/depression stuff that I am susceptible to. It felt so good to just write it out. And once I did I didn't really feel the need to post it. I felt like I got a little peace from just seeing it written down. But I mentioned this on twitter and some folks wanted to read it. And I know when I am feeling in the dumps it feels so good know that I'm not alone. Everyone struggles with this stuff and by putting it out there maybe it'll make someone not feel alone. Which to me, is just the worst feeling. I spent most of last year convincing myself I was alone and just beating myself up about everything. My self-respect just dwindled. And the response has been really great. I got some really nice notes from people thanking me for putting it out there. So I think it connected in the way that I hoped it would. 

Whit: What's the next year hold for Oily Comics? What will you be publishing?

Charles: Well, I'm sure most people have noticed that Oily has slowed down recently. I think I burnt myself out a little bit and I really want to focus on my own work again. So my main thing in the coming year will be Revenger. But I do plan on publishing a few things like another issue of Nu by Sacha Goerg and another Bastard by Max de radigués. More Dumpling King from Alex Kim is coming and probably some more Josh Simmons. I'm being less active in looking for stuff to publish but I still enjoy doing it and I think the artists I work with love not having to staple and fold their own comics. 

Whit: What are you reading right now that's exciting you in comics?

Charles: I feel like a bad comics reader right now. The past year I've been mostly looking at old comics. A lot of Ditko, Kirby, Severin, Buckler, Tom Sutton, Paul Gulacy. Stuff like that. I think I got a little burned out on mini comics and art comics and alt comics...whatever they are called. I don't know. I think I just need inspiration from somewhere different. I'm probably just getting old and this is my excuse for not having the energy to keep up but maybe thats it. I think i just don't care to keep up like I used to. I'm just going to like what I like. I get the most joy right now just looking through the bins of comics that nobody wants looking for something peculiar or interesting. 
I should say that all the folks I publish are people's work that I do follow. I hope whatever little boost Oily gave them leads them to bigger and better things. 

Whit: How has the indie comics landscape changed most notably since you started 1) cartooning, and 2) publishing as Oily comics?

Charles: Well, the thing that I've noticed from the conventions this year is that there are a LOT of new people making comics and there are a ton of little pockets of them and I have no idea who they are. I think this is just a generation shift happening though. I think a lot of my peers have sort of dropped out of comics or are just less invested. So maybe that is why I don't recognize as many faces as I used to. But I do think there are a lot of people making comics. Even more so than when I started out. But I will never begrudge anyone for making a go at this. Me and my friends got a lot of indifference and negativity when we started making comics. We got called "those CCS kids" for while and it really bugged me. I hated being lumped in a group. I wanted to be my own thing. I think I succeeded in that. It seems like people talk about the school I went to less nowadays. I'm hoping that stigma for going to school for comics is wearing off. It is just so dumb. Do architects make fun of other architects that went to school for architecture? Maybe they do? Okay, not sure how I got on this subject.
The other thing I love about comics nowadays is how the boundaries are melting away. My making Revenger is part of this. There definitely used to be an "us vs them" thing in alternative comics. But now that is much less prevalent. I think younger readers are much more open to reading all kinds of comics. I like Andrei Tarkovsky AND John Carpenter. 

Whit: I'd like to hear a bit more about this "stigma" about going to school for comics. It's funny, because I was never aware of this! Do you think this attitude is changing as the number of cartoonists grow?

Charles: Yeah, I kind of went off on that huh? Yeah, there is this mentality that is fading but it is still there, that one should does not need to go to school to learn to make comics. That it should be, I don't know, self-taught or something. I think that is very romantic and I understand the desire to keep comics in the underworld but comics is so much bigger than that now. And I think there is a perception that anyone who goes to a comics school is a rich kid. I know in my class there was maybe one person that came from a wealthy background. The rest of us just have very kind parents with second mortgages or are in massive debt.

Whit: Looking back on your journey as a cartoonist, what advice or insights can you share with an aspiring one?

Charles: Well, I hope I am still at the beginning. I sure hope so. I would love to be able to do this for a long time. I think the best advice to to try to do it for yourself in the end. That doesn't apply to everyone but if you are like me you can get swept up in imaginary critics. Don't let that influence you or stop you. I think you also have to be stubborn and a little ignorant. Most won't make a lot of money doing this and it is easy to get worn down and just give up. I think a lot of the people who stick around in comics just don't or can't give it up. Maybe that isn't really something you can control?

You can buy Revenger here!
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Happy Chuck Forsman Day!

Why is it Chuck Forsman Day?

Why not?

Anyway, coming up soon on the site are two pieces on the Oily Comics publisher and very strong comics creator, who is moving into a different direction with his latest work, Revenger.

First up, Whit Taylor interviews Chuck, talking about his career, the perception of those who go to school for comics, dealing with his own personal issues, and of course, Revenger.

Then Scott Cederlund reviews Revenger 1, noting the stylistic shift--and whether it's as much of a change for Forsman as you might think on first reading.

Enjoy Chuck Forsman Day! And if you really dig it, go buy some Oily Comics!

January 27, 2015

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Bendis Backlist: Torso

I'm a big fan of comics, but I'm not very well-versed in the classics of comics. I've spent the last year reading a lot of the newer series, catching up on some of the easier entry-points for stories like Marvel Now!, and generally reminding myself of why I like comics. But now, I'm starting to go back to the roots of the genre. There are plenty of folks who I'd like to read this year and really focus on, like Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and Peter David. I've chosen to start the year off with reading Brian Michael Bendis' classic works. I've really liked everything I've read by him, and so it seemed like a natural starting point. This is the first book I'm reading to catch up on my "Bendis Backlist." I'll be making a point of reading Bendis' stand-alone stories and current series (Uncanny X-Men and Magneto) throughout the first few months of the year, really getting a good feel for one of the most influential comics creators in the industry.

I picked up Torso as the first place to start. It's one of his earlier works that he got a lot of press for when it came out. Torso is a fictionalization of the Cleveland "Torso Killer," a serial killer who preyed on Cleveland's poor in the 1930s.

The story is interesting already, but the combination of art and story in Torso makes for a page-turner. It focuses on the police side of the story and, in that respect, the story is very much a police procedural.

Bendis splits the plot between the investigation and the contemporaneous installation of a new police commissioner who is fighting to end corruption in the city police force. This could easily have been a total distraction from the murder. Bendis manages to balance the two very well. I really thought that the secondary story about Commissioner Ness was a good way to give more intrigue to the story without overly embellishing the sparse facts of the actual investigation.

The story doesn't ever give a glimpse at the murderer in the act. I thought that this was clever. The Torso Killer was never officially found.

Be warned, Marc Andreyko's artwork is very stark. He works with just black and white and favors the negative space in his work prominently. The cover isn't made for just effect, it is the style of the work throughout. This could be something that is a bit abrasive. Personally, I liked the way it played into the story and into the script. The black and white panels are occasionally mixed with photographs of evidence or scenes of the investigation. The contrast was interesting.

One of my favorite parts of the book are the creative page layouts. Andreyko often uses only a part of the page for many of the scenes. What I really liked, though, are the layout of pages when Commissioner Ness is being attacked. You have to physically rotate the book 360 degrees, often multiple times. It makes for a really vivid sense of chaos during press interviews or when he's being attacked for his methods for combating corruption within the city.

Overall, I enjoyed reading it. It's worth noting that the story isn't terribly gory and only features minor swearing. The most risque it really gets is talk of prostitution, and that whole discussion is stinted anyway.

Please Welcome Brianne Reeves!

It's always a great day when I get to announce a new member of the Panel Patter team, and so let's make today a great day, shall we?

I first ran into Brianne's reviews when spending some quality time on Tumblr, and I was very impressed with what I saw. She works on reviews of all kinds at her own site, and it wasn't only her good taste in comics, but books as well that made me ask if she was interesting in coming and sharing her insightful thoughts on some of what she reads right here on Panel Patter.

I'll let Brianne introduce herself:
Bree is a book lover, comic enthusiast, and sci-fi geek. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Bree is a copy editor by day, book and comic blogger by night. Her book blog can be found at Bree's Book Blog. She loves to read complex stories with vivid art. She's been blogging for the past year and is excited to become a Panel Patter contributor.
Please welcome Bree to the Panel Patter family! Her first post is coming up soon!
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James' Single-Minded for 1/21/15: A Valiant Effort

Ivar, Timewalker #1
Written by Fred Van Lente
Illustrated by Clayton Henry
Colors by Brian Reber
Letters by Dave Sharpe
Valiant Entertainment

Since its reemergence in 2012, Valiant Entertainment has been steadily building up a complex, interconnected universe of heroes, villains, aliens, exotic science and dark magic. Writer Fred Van Lente and artist Clayton Henry are important contributors to that effort, with their work on the series Archer & Armstrong which was funny, action-packed, ridiculous and heartfelt. They bring their same flair for absurd, high concept action and humor to the new series Ivar, Timewalker. If this first issue is any indication, the series should be a light-hearted, witty, trip through time that becomes even more rewarding the more familiar you are with the Valiant universe. 

You don't need to know a great deal about the Valiant universe in order to enjoy this book, but it helps to have a little background. Ivar Anni-Padda is thousands of years old, and the oldest of three brothers. His brother Aram is currently known as Armstrong and is an adventurer of his own and something of a Falstaffian figure in the Valiant universe. Their youngest brother Gilad is known as the Eternal Warrior and was also featured in his own series, showing his adventures and battles throughout time (more about him in the discussion about The Valiant below).  

Ivar, however, is different from both of his brothers. He's a more mysterious figure, and someone about whom the reader still has a lot to learn. In this issue, Ivar shows up at the lab of Doctor Neela Sethi, claiming that she's about to invent time travel, and that he's there to stop her in order to protect the universe. From there the action picks up, as (seemingly evil) people/golden robots show up to capture the doctor, and Ivar helps them escape by jumping into the past and then into the future. Ivar wants to recruit Neela to help him in the battle against future beings that want to use the discovery in her brain in order to take over all of existence.  Will she join him? Tune in next time to find out. 

This is a highly entertaining first issue. Van Lente and Henry strike a good balance here; if you're not a regular reader of Valiant books, they tell a fun story with engaging action and clear stakes. If you are more familiar with the Valiant universe, there are a number of different callbacks to other Valiant heroes and books in the issue that you'll appreciate without finding them to be a distraction. Ivar is an intriguing character, as he clearly comes across as a smooth operator, but someone who you don't feel you can entirely trust. But he certainly talks a good game, and Van Lente and Henry make him a charming, roguish figure. The creative team also gives Neela a strong introduction in this issue. She's highly intelligent, capable, and handles herself with quick thinking and humor in some pretty unusual circumstances. 

Van Lente crafts some genuinely funny, clever dialogue as well, particularly with respect to Neela. The Valiant universe is intended to be a little more like our own than the Marvel or DC universes; in our world, someone thrust into a time travel situation would naturally think first about time travel movies they've seen or books that they've read.  At this point, people are pretty familiar with the basics of time travel in fiction, and stories about people jumping through time to save the past, and preserve the future (there's a clever callback to The Terminator at one point). So, it's a funny ongoing bit that Neela is highly concerned throughout the issue about stepping on a weevil, or bumping into anyone, or creating any universe-altering paradoxes by having a conversation. Van Lente has a real skill for crafting a comic that's genuinely funny and includes pop-cultural humor, but its not done in a way that takes the reader out of the story or makes the reader feel like the characters or the reader are being mocked (a good skill to have). 

Henry and colorist Brian Reber do some very strong work in this issue. Reber provides effective, varied coloring in this issue. The initial pages in the present day have a more realistic feel to them, the past sequences have a bright, vibrant look to them (befitting their outdoor, nautical setting), and the future is made up of a darker, grayer, weirder palate. There's a nice variety of layouts from Henry, and in the quieter scenes the panels easily flow from one to another, with good shifts in perspective. Henry's depiction of action is great, as the panels become more jagged and effectively convey the frenetic pace and confusion that would come from jumping from one time period to another, and particularly jumping right into the middle of a naval battle(!). There's also a great two-page spread of the  characters jumping through a number of different time periods in order to escape their pursuers. It's a really fun sequence, as these different time periods become two-dimensional spaces that the characters must jump through. (Also on this page: A very clever explanation for what happens to commonly missing objects.(

There's a lot to enjoy in this issue, whether you're a veteran Valiant reader or newer to the books. If you're a fan of entertaining action, witty dialogue, and time travel stories (and why wouldn't you be?), Ivar, Timewalker is worth a look. 

The Valiant #2
Written by Jeff Lemire and Matt Kindt
Art by Paolo Rivera with Joe Rivera
(plus a cameo from Lemire and Kindt)
Letters by Dave Lanphear
Valiant Entertainment

The Valiant is a shaping up as a highly entertaining, strong miniseries, and it's clear that Valiant is bringing their A-game to this book. With Matt Kindt and Jeff Lemire co-writing and the majority of the art by Paolo Rivera, this is a book with top level talent. Thus far the book delivers on the promise of that talent, and provides an engaging, epic superhero story.

I hate that there are things that I want to accomplish but for whatever reason, I never get around to it. For example I want to learn to play chess but, I just don't seem to dedicate the time to do it.  Similarly, Gilad Anni-Padda (a/k/a the Eternal Warrior, I told you we'd come back to him) has been trying (and failing) to protect a person known as a Geomancer (a person who periodically emerges and has a mystical connection to the Earth) from being killed by the Immortal Enemy.  Any time that the Immortal Enemy kills a Geomancer, it plunges the world into an era of darkness. So, very similar to my failure to learn how to play chess.

The first issue of The Valiant sets up the thousands of years-old conflict between Gilad, the Geomancer (whoever it happens to be), and the Immortal Enemy, along with showing the efforts of Gilad's allies MI-6 and Bloodshot (a hard-edged soldier/assassin with cybernetic implants that allow him to recover from virtually any injury) to recover an ancient artifact that may hold clues to how to defeat the Immortal Enemy. The first issue also introduces Kay McHenry, a former PR executive and the current Geomancer.

Issue 2 broadens the focus away from just Gilad and onto his allies, including Ninjak (a supremely badass, purple-clad ninja) and Bloodshot. Meanwhile, Kay confronts the Immortal Enemy in a powerful, scary sequence, and both she and her allies (and the reader) realize what a formidable foe he is.  As the second issue ends, it's clear that the story is going to continue to expand and bring in a number of the different heroes from throughout the Valiant universe (and that they're going to need all the help they can get).

Valiant has been successfully telling big, exciting and varied superhero stories for several years now, but this story consciously feels like something more; from the choice of creative team, to the name of the series, to the heavy card stock that they've used for the covers, it's clear that this series is meant to be epic and important.  Both Kindt and Lemire know something about telling stories with large casts involving epic, large-scale confrontations, and they bring that skill here. They have a great partner in Paolo Rivera, who provides some spectacular sequential storytelling, beginning on the first page of the comic (shown above), as Ninjak's assessment of the situation is juxtaposed with his swiftly and silently (but brutally) dispatching the two agents that are protecting the code breaker. While the plot is relatively straightforward, it's engaging, and it leaves the reader looking forward to seeing how this is all going to come together.

There's some even more masterful sequential storytelling as Kay McHenry is confronted by the Immortal Enemy, who takes the form of "Mr. Flay," the (very creepy) villain from a children's story that Kay loved as a kid. Here, Kindt and Lemire take advantage of the fact that they both happen to themselves be accomplished artists, and Lemire illustrated (with colors from Kindt) panels depicting scenes from the children's book. Lemire's sad, deceptively simple lines are a dramatic contrast to Rivera's rich, comprehensively illustrated work, and provide for haunting, unsettling imagery as Kay's childhood nightmare comes to life.

Rivera also gets to show off his range, as when Ninjak approaches the battle, we see the nightmares and fears in his head come to life, and those are depicted in a style more reminiscent of Hokusai or other classical Japanese artists. He also shows his skill in facial acting (as he emotions on all of the characters, particularly the fear on Kay's face) is skillfully done, and his action sequences (as when Ninjak lets loose) are memorable, visceral, and explosively colored.

It's great, compelling work, and the team is doing a very effective job of pulling together
a varied group of heroes in the Valiant universe and giving them all a good reason to be there. Like Ivar, Timewalker, The Valiant works well as an introduction to the Valiant universe, but your reading of it will only be enhanced by seeking out other Valiant titles (which I highly recommend you doing).