April 30, 2015

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Garbage Quest by Bobby Mono

Written and Illustrated by Bobby Mono

A young knight discovers that a castle is full of trash, from old paint to a bastard sword. Soon he's on a quest to get rid of everything, but he'll have to do some really hard work just to meet government regulations in this quirky, comedic mini that's a lot of a fun to read.

In a series of mostly one-panel pages, Bobby Mono does a great job with the timing and pacing of the comic. As soon as the government official shows up to say the knight can't pollute the moat, we know we're in for a joking ride, and things continue, as he asks why the garbage dump wizard has an exclamation point over his head.

"Oh, that's because I'm a quest-giver," quips the wizard, who is in full beard and pointed hat mode. This is only the start, however, as the wizard gleefully asks the knight to first kick turtles and then push babies in the mud. Don't worry, though, they're evil babies, complete with sinister moustaches.

That's the kind of jokes you're in for, from start to finish, as we learn the only way to get rid of latex paint is to have a dragon burn it, or the man with overly large ears, who suggests a way to get rid of an old couch. Each gags follows the next in rapid succession, with the running gag of an interdimensional being getting the worst of the knight's efforts to clean up.

There's one other running gag that's a bit of a D&D joke, and it's a lot of fun to get to its resolution, which closes out the comedy, but you don't need to know the reference to find it funny. Mono's dialogue and visuals take care of the heavy lifting, and anything else you get is a bonus.

Visually, Mono's art reminded me a bit of Kate Beaton or similar creators, people who are able to take mostly flat images and make them interesting and compelling. I love his design for the wizard, especially when he's describing the tasks, for example. Mono takes the tropes he's working with and bends them to his will. You'll find better-drawn crystal-ball retail shops, I'm sure, but the setting, the calm manner in which the associate explains they do take used balls, and the way the orbs are distributed across the page do much to make the story work.

Unlike some minis of this type, Mono even makes a strong effort to set up the backgrounds. There are intricate brick designs on several pages, the dragon's cave has stalactites of varying sizes, and there's a bit of a smokey feeling to the blacksmith shop. It's some nice scene-setting that helps make Garbage Quest stand out among similar comics.

The best thing about this comic, though, are the visual set pieces, whether it's the dragon dutifully frying paint, a cultist eagerly taking bones, or that poor creature having all kinds of detailed trash thrown into its otherworldly home. This is a very fun, laugh out loud type of comic, and I'm really glad I picked it up. If you like jokes in your comics, you should grab it, too.

You can buy Garbage Quest here. 

April 29, 2015

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Unterzakhn by Leela Corman

Written and Illustrated by Leela Corman
Published by Pantheon Books

I recently read Leela Corman’s much-discussed and very moving short comic on the death of her young daughter -- PTSD: The Wound That Never Heals in Nautilus magazine and kept saying to myself, “Huh, this feels familiar, but I can’t quite place it.” I was riveted, regardless of its authorship, and got to the end before I Googled. It’s great, and moving, and leaves you wanting more -- so check it out. BUT, that is not the point. The point is that I realized upon Googling that she had written a book I read and which I remain haunted by, which shares a certain darkness with this work, but for very different reasons.

Leela Corman wrote Unterzakhn just a few years ago, but it is of another time. This is, of course, in part due to its being historical fiction but also because of its dark tone and style, which are effectively reminiscent of the period in which it takes place. The 1910s were a dark time on New York’s Lower East Side, but as a consumer of Jewish nostalgia pieces (think All of A Kind Family or even the fairly sober A Bintel Brief or A Contract With God),  I have a starry-eyed view of tenement life -- of course times were hard, but people persevered and family mattered and cultural Jewishness was a virtue. Right? Perhaps it’s not that simple, and Unterzakhn arrived to shake some sense into me. And I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Our story begins in 1909, when sisters Fanya and Esther are six but already beginning to see the ways of the world. In the first few pages of the book, Fanya witnesses the gruesome after-effects of a self-administered abortion, while Esther delivers a package of clothing from her mother’s shop to a lady of the evening. And unwittingly, if not inevitably, their futures begin to take shape. Living in the tenements, with a close-minded and cruel mother, Fanya and Esther quickly realize that there are few opportunities for women to express themselves or participate in society beyond being a wife and mother. Corman is emphatic about this -- there’s not a ray of hope or a moment of lightness to be found. And she suggests, probably not entirely incorrectly, that the immigrant Jewish outlook of the time, with highly codified roles for men and women, had a great hand in that oppression

But both Fanya and Esther are smart -- they are searching for something more. As they rebel against the old ways, though, they seem to define their paths by that rebellion -- specifically, both of them become involved in worlds where sex, and their femaleness, is central. Fanya apprentices herself to the lady doctor (who performs illegal -- but safer than self-administered -- abortions). The doctor herself is stern and bitter, as she’s seen the darker side of sex in the domestic sphere -- abusive husbands by the score, unwanted and unsupported children, and of course, botched abortions. She has an entirely negative view of sex, and Fanya hopes that this can be improved upon. She takes it upon herself to educate women on birth control methods, whether they’re married or not. The Lady Doctor and her argue over this point, but Fanya is a crusader of sorts. It’s a powerful, brave position to take, and she suffers for it both in society at large and in her personal life.

Esther takes a very different path, becoming a brothel maid, and then a prostitute, a showgirl, and ultimately a very successful and comfortable kept woman -- rather than becoming a powerless wife and mother, she sells her sexual self to the highest bidder, and through wits and luck and talent, reaps the rewards. Though her story is not without suffering or hardship, it is surprising -- what society viewed as ultimate debasement becomes, in a sense, empowering for Esther. Fanya, who’s seen what sex can do to women, disapproves of Esther’s trajectory, but ultimately both are seeking the same sense of self-definition, and Corman does an excellent job of juxtaposing their equally complicated and oftentimes painful roads.

Finally, the two sisters reconcile when Fanya comes to Esther in her hour of need, and it’s a powerful realization that their shared difficult childhood is a great source of strength for them, and that they are connected by the disenfranchisement they are fighting against. More than a Jewish story, or an immigrant story, this is an explicitly and unblinkingly feminist story -- a corrective to more idyllic visions of the time. Even if there are more hopeful tenement tales, more loving mothers, or more individual freedom for some -- this experience happened too. Not every story of the olden days is pleasant, and Corman is smart and sober about the darker side of things. In some ways, Unterzakhn also has an attitude of “look how far we’ve come, but how far we still have left to go” -- sex work can be degrading or empowering depending on what wave of feminism you’re from, and reproductive politics continue to top the headlines. Unterzakhn isnot a fun read, and you may think Corman paints with a bit of a broad brush, but it’s a compelling argument that deserves to be heard.

Her illustration style is a bit broad as well -- her use of black fill is apparent, more pages are filled with darkness than not. Her characters are surprisingly wobbly, though -- nervous bodies in a shaky world. Perhaps this is a hint of the unsettling and unsettled nature of their existence. It’s imperfect, but it sets a tone of uncertainty which works for the story. There were times I had problems telling secondary characters apart due to their lack of distinguishing characteristics, but I rolled with it and the story’s impact was not affected. Corman’s style shined particularly in her representations of a Esther as a 1920s vamp -- dramatic, dark, kohl-outlined eyebrows and all. The last panels of the book are an especially satisfying culmination of the visual and narrative pathos that has been building up throughout the story.

Unterzakhn is a hard read, but that’s the point, and I think it’s ultimately worth it. It’s a hard story to hear, but Corman makes an excellent argument that is one that needs to be heard, and remembered, and applied to our lives today -- when women are disenfranchised, the roads left to them to gain power are be hard ones. Corman has  got a unique voice and an unapologetic style in both this book and her short form work, and I look forward to seeing what other stories she tells, with great conviction, in her comics yet to come.

April 28, 2015

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Quick Hits: Moreton's Smoo 8, Wes Craig's Black Hand Comics, Lust's Today is the Last Day, and Sacco's Notes from Gaza

Never fear, the Panel Patter team is here with Quick Hits, shifted a day later because of the Linework NW show write-up. No particular theme this week, just some brief thoughts on comics the gang has read recently and wanted to talk about in a paragraph or two.

We'll lead off with Rob Kirby, Quick Hit Enthusiast, and his review of Simon Moreton's Smoo #8...

Smoo #8
Written and Illustrated by Simon Moreton

Since the debut of his minicomic Smoo back in 2008, UK artist Simon Moreton has increasingly pared down his visual style, crafting elegant, semi-abstract line drawings to limn his spare but beguiling autobiographical narratives, the details of which readers are invited to fill in to their satisfaction. This issue is an immersive, pocket-sized tone poem.

The loose storyline is presented chronologically, taking place at various times and locations between September 2013 and September 2014. The settings alternate between pastoral and urban, though the journey depicted is of the emotional/internal variety. "I think I knew what was coming," Moreton narrates at the outset, wandering on the banks of a river, "but somehow it was ok." In the section called "December" Moreton sits at a bar with a girlfriend: "She and I talk and take everything apart (…) we do not put it back together again." The rest of Smoo wanders through post-breakup desolation and liminality, leading up to a quiet epiphany: "The weight of a year lifting."

Minimalist drawing is a lot harder to pull off than it looks. With just a few well-placed lines, shapes and squiggles, Moreton ably captures people, birds, trees, a landscape or city block, evoking instant sense memories: country breezes, the clinking of glasses in a pub, the song of a sidewalk musician's trumpet reverberating on a busy street. It may well set you off to daydreaming. There's even a cool fold-out drawing in the middle of the comic, adding a little extra kick of the unexpected. Wistful and haunting, this is my favorite issue of Smoo to date, and the perfect appetizer to his upcoming paperback, Plans We Made, due out this fall from Grimalkin Press. Available here. (Review by Rob Kirby)

Black Hand Comics
Written and Illustrated by Wes Craig
Published by Image Comics

Anyone who's been reading Deadly Class knows what an amazing illustrator Wes Craig is, structuring panels that are works of art and demand a reader's time and attention. It's no surprise then that working on his own, Craig is every bit as good. This one-man anthology collection of stories by Craig, working with the horror genre (complete with a creepy, bowler hat-wearing narrator), shows off a variety of styles. The first story is short and brutal, and feels most similar in style to what he's doing with Remender. "Circus Day" is in the middle, features color, and has a ton of tight panel work that packs so much information onto each page. Starting from very tight linework, it slowly devolves as the story progresses, making for a great visual narrative trick.

The highlight is the closing story, "The Seed," which finds Craig matching his panels to an increasing rhythm of a demented song--the lyrics chasing the main character across the pages at the bottom of each panel. They're off-kilter, repeat frequently, and often show only part of the action. The result is a brilliant example of pacing and showing the passing of time on a comic page, no easy feat. It really feels like we are racing along through the story as if it were a motion comic.

Full of a nice creepy vibe, this is a wonderful pickup for horror fans or those looking to add more Wes Craig into their comics collection. (Review by Rob McMonigal)

Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life
Written and Illustrated by Ulli Lust
Published by Fantagraphics

Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life started out as an exercise in skepticism for me -- what could the story of an Austrian punk kid in the early 80s have to teach me, really? Drugs, sleeping
around and panhandling do not sound like my cup of tea. But Ulli Lust quickly and skillfully disabused me of the notion that I could or should judge her experience -- her reportage on her turn as a teenage runaway traipsing across Italy by hitch-hiking, train-scamming and her own two feet was weirdly epic and specific at the same time, with plenty of hiccups, hippies, henchmen and mafioso to guide and mislead her.

Writing with almost three decades of distance from her teenage self, Lust recounts her mistakes clearly, and indicts those who took advantage of her -- especially the legions of Italian men who wanted to (and often did) have unwanted sex with her. But the real power of her story is that, although she realizes that bad things happened on her journey, she is not apologetic or remorseful for what she did or who she was. Though the petit bourgeoise amongst us often seek travel out as transformative and life-changing through things like museums, fine cuisine and spectacular views, Lust’s hard-scrabble way of travel is easily as life-changing and affirming. Sleeping under bleachers in Rome's Villa Borghese park during a rainstorm, hiding out in a burnt-out house by the sea with a tragic artist, meals provided gratis by restaurateurs in Siciliy out of a sense of honor, are as meaningful as soft pillows and comfortable company. Still, Lust isn’t preachy or proud, just the fact of her telling her story with a neutral eye is a profoundly punk thing to do -- the world sucks pretty hard, but that doesn''t mean I have to.

Surprisingly, this 400+ page book was a quick read, and left me wanting more -- Lust is a fascinating character and a skilled writer -- but what happens after you move on from teenage itinerancy? Tell me Ulli, please! (Review by Emilia Packard)

Footnotes in Gaza
Written and Illustrated by Joe Sacco
Published by Metropolitan Books

It is easy to forget, sometimes, that there are parts of the world that have been entangled in war and violence since longer than I have been alive. The way the news media handles this makes it seem even more unreal, as though it is simply a fact, more numbers to add to an ever growing death toll and nothing more. Joe Sacco is a journalist who uses comics to draw his audience into what he is reporting in a way that the BBC never could. He describes his own experiences, showing us what he saw happening, as he saw it. Footnotes in Gaza follows Sacco as he attempts to uncover, in as much objective detail as possible, what happened on the nights of November 3rd and November 12th, 1956, when almost 400 Palestinians were massacred.

The book is difficult to read, describing the events as Sacco heard them – from mouths of survivors and those who lost someone. There are parts that are uncomfortable, deeply disturbing, and occasionally so brutally violent that it is difficult to accept that it actually happened. Yet, what Sacco provides is a sense of empathy, an objective look into the lives of people that Americans so rarely are given the opportunity to understand. This is not the kind of book that you read for enjoyment, it’s the kind of book that you read to become a more empathetic, more knowledgeable person. (Review by Guy Thomas)

April 27, 2015

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What I Got at Linework NW 2015

Here's a rundown of what I picked up at Linework NW over the weekend. This does not include the amazing archaeopteryx print from Reid Psaltis. They're alphabetical so I don't play favorites:

  • 36 Bear Delux (prose/comics combo anthology, including Reid Psaltis)
  • Alone Forever by Liz Prince (last book from Liz we didn't have)
  • Bird Girl and Fox Girl by Yumi Sakugawa (her Sparkplug mini I didn't have)
  • CE/ZE by Suzette Smith (newest Sparkplug mini!)
  • Dream Gardens and Sculpture Gardens 1 by Sean Christensen A.B.T (cool-looking story and an abstract)
  • Everything Eventually Connects (one of Nobrow's pop-up books!)
  • Gems, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, PDX 100, and Second Chances by Matt Sundstrom (Amazing work doing drawings of real places and things, and so affordable I bought almost everything he had.)
  • Indy 1 (promo material for the consortium of micro pubs working together for Diamond coverage)
  • Invincible Summer/Clutch splits 21/24 and 22/25 (longstanding comic zine work)
  • Limited Edition Linework Sketchbook mini from Luke Ramsey
  • Magic Whistle 14 from Sam Henderson (another great set of comedic comics)
  • Middle #1 by Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg (newest comic from a long-time favorite)
  • Milk Carrots 3 anthology, including Malachi Ward, with a sci-fi theme
  • Miniature Bestiary Vol 1 and 2 by Sera Stanton (two cool art minis I missed at Short Run, was happy to get at this show)
  • Non-Binary by Melanie Gilman (An autobio comic about their non-binary gender status, a subject very important to me)
  • Runner Runner's latest anthology
  • Structures 1-11 mini by Tom Kaczynski (art mini from Uncivilized that looked cool)
  • Vision Quest (new alt comix tabloid from Portland)

I can't wait to read them, and of course, review my favorites for Panel Patter over the course of the year!
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A Trip to Linework NW 2015

Packed House at Linework NW
Last weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of going to the second edition of my hometown indie comics show, Linework NW. Last year, I really had a great time, even though I'd just moved 2700 miles with all my stuff in a moving van and had basically no money to spend on anything. I saw the potential for a great indie comics show that celebrated comics as comics, not something to be used as a wedge to get into better paying mediums. In short, it was exactly the kind of comics show I like to attend, like the Small Press Expo or Locust Moon.

Sparkplug Books sells comics on Sunday at Linework NW
I'm happy to say that now, in an expanded, two-day rotating artists format, Linework NW is not only better than last year, it might have had the best concentration of quality creators I've ever seen at a comics show. That's nothing against the great folks who've tabled at other events I've attended. I'm just saying that, pound for pound, matched against my own personal taste, that Linework NW this year had virtually no creators where I thought to myself, "What are they doing here?"* Both days featured not just a range of the heavy hitters like Fantagraphics, AdHouse, Sparkplug Books, and others who are at most indie comics shows, but also a ton of people, many of whom I'd never heard of before, who were offering very interesting comics.

Another view of the Linework NW Crowd.
I was blown away by Matt Sundstrom, for instance, and dropped money his way--especially since he was practicing one of Rob's Rules of Tabling: Keep your prices down. Sean Christensen A.B.T had a great array of abstract-style comics, something I've been really digging lately, and so I got a few of their comics, too, because it covered another of my rules: Have something affordable for me to sample. I'm expecting to get more from them next time I see them at a show. Most of my money, admittedly, did go to my old and new favorites, from Liz Prince to Malachi Ward, but I took a lot of cards and found multiple artists I plan to look up and examine in more detail. While I do have more money available than last year, I don't have an unlimited comics budget, so sometimes it's a hard choice to make final decisions. Not buying didn't mean I didn't like what I saw--just that I liked something else I saw a bit better.

But my main point here is that Linework NW had a ton of stuff that was interesting to me and kept me looking and thinking across two days and several hours.  That's not always the case when I go to a show, and it's a tribute to the curating of the organizing team, of which Zack Soto and Francois Vigneault are the main public faces.

Moving on to some general comments about the the show, in no particular order:

Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg holds up her newest mini, Middle #1, at Linework NW
The two-day, different creators style worked great from an attendee's standpoint. While I know that it's harder on the exhibitors (you have to make table in one day) and of course, sometimes there was that "Oh rats, I missed X" moment from those who came only on Sunday, I think it's a great compromise and does encourage people to make going to Linework NW a destination, especially since Portland is such a great city to visit.** Anyone who's a fan of comics that's looking to make a short flight or longer road trip has a bigger reason to do so, now. Additionally, creators who are just starting out have a better chance at getting in, because they're not trying to compete for less slots against better known creators or publishers. And lastly, it meant that creators themselves had a day at the show just to look around and hang out. I think it was a winning combination, and the way to go for the future of comics shows.

Pizza for show exhibitors may be the single-best idea I've ever seen for a comics show. Especially since the Norse Hall is a nice place, but not really close walking distance to any food outlets that aren't carts who've come in for the show.

Uncivilized Books Stands Tall at Linework NW
The Norse Hall is a really nice space, and the large room for panels is pretty nifty. But when Portland had a freak heat wave on Sunday, the inside of the venue became almost intolerably warm. Nothing they can control but I'm sure glad the Portland Zine Symposium isn't there in July. Yikes!

As with the first Linework, I loved that as I was walking around, there were so many people with comics in their hands that they'd purchased. A show can have great attendance, a nice venue, and cool people running it, but if no one's buying, it's useless. I didn't poke too much for specific numbers from people, but it looked like sales were brisk, though of course, not distributed completely evenly.
The show was pretty steady stream for the times I was there, between around 1pm and 5pm. I don't know how it looked later in the day, but there were moments where it felt incredibly crowded and dense. I have no idea if there'd be another venue to move it to that might help with this and still be viable for all involved, but I think a small expansion would be a good thing, if possible.

The Queering Comics Panel at Linework NW
I only made it to one panel, on Queering Comics, but it was awesome. tightly structured, panelists who knew their topic, and engaging conversation. Very well done.

Linework continued its egalitarian policies with regards to tabling. As with past shows, certain publishers had more space than others, and of course they were also anchors. But they were not given special treatment or placement. Each was melded into the show, and they were distributed in such a way that if you were looking for one in particular, you'd just so happen to need to pass cool creators who could draw your eye--and maybe, your dollars, too. Fantagraphics was hopping--and deservedly so--but it wasn't like people were only buying from the big names. If anything, they may not have done as well as the smaller folks.

Tucker Stone talks about Nobrow Books to an Attendee at Linework NW
Props to the creators who had friends at the show and therefore kept their stuff out there both days while only tabling once. I saw a few folks doing this--where Creator A would table on Saturday, then hang out while Creator B, their buddy, tabled on Sunday. Nice way to maximize your chances to get your name out there.

One more of the crowd at Linework NW
This show felt especially open and welcoming to everyone. I noticed a very high proportion of women at the show, for example, and I think some of that was due to the Linework NW team making sure that the exhibitors weren't just the usual, well-known male names. At the same time, though, there were plenty of folks wearing old-school t-shirts you usually associate with aging male geeks, showing that middle aged, indie comic-loving men were happy to be there, too. I did not notice inappropriate behavior, either. I have been to shows where there was quite a bit of leering. This may be due to the lack of cosplayers or just that the show was front and center about being an open environment. (Come on, people, who is going to show up next year looking like someone from Farel's The Wrenchies?)

Last but not least, Zack and Krista's baby was the real star of Linework NW. Don't even argue the point.

Chris Pitzer is happy because the Nats just won a game. From Linework NW.
On a personal level, this show was really good for me. I admit that early this year, I'd been feeling kinda bummed about so many bad things in comics. You know them, I'm not going to make this a litany of woes. But seeing so many people enthused about comics, to see all parts of the indie comic spectrum coming together without throwing daggers across the room (except for that time there was a dagger-throwing panel***), and to connect with some of the best people in the industry really made me feel much better about comics. It was also nice to have a chance to meet a few people in person for the first time, after talking for extended periods over email, particularly the folks from Uncivilized Books and Nobrow, as well as seeing my old pal Chris from AdHouse, and showing I've still got his tote bag.

Lucy Bellwood gains a new fan at Linework NW.

Getting to talk casually with some folks, just as people, and not as creator-to-writer was fun, too. Part of going to SPX was seeing people I'd come to call friend, not just creator, and I felt like this was the start of having some of those same relationships here on the West Coast.

Linework NW was a wonderful, and I am already looking forward to next year. I hope that the Linework team time continues to build on what is a really fantastic foundation. It's hard to believe the show is only two years old! With such a strong commitment to variety and diversity, I think the show can really lead the way in doing even better with non-white representation in indie comics. Sometimes when folks think of indie comics, they gravitate to the old, white guard, like special guest Daniel Clowes. What's great about Linework is that Clowes was lauded, but so were people who might have been tabling for the first time. And the special guests were split 50-50 male/female, too. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see Linework be the indie comics show that finally brings more creators (and fans) of color into the fold.

That would take a show that's arguably already a model convention and turn it into something really special. No matter what, though, I can hardly wait to see what the gang at Linework NW comes up with next. I can't imagine not being there in 2016, and I hope you'll join me there!

You can find my collection of pictures from Linework  NW here.

See you next year, Norse Hall!
*Before you start tut-tutting, be honest. You know you go past tables and think that. Unless you are the comics version of Gene Shalit.

**Seriously, even without a comics show, you should come visit Portland. We don't bite unless you ask.

***Just kidding, That's on the agenda for 2016.

April 26, 2015

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Operation Pineapple Sparkle by Francois Vigneault

Story by Oren J. Falkowitz
Written and Illustrated by Francois Vigneault
Available online at Pineapple Sparkle
Created for Area 1 Security

Cybersecurity is on the line in this comic that explains the danger of clicking links without thinking in a comic that takes the idea of a training manual and turns it into a much more engaging property.

Created by Francois Vigneault for Area 1 Security, a firm dedicated to helping businesses plug leaks in their technology, this isn't usually the kind of thing we might review here. However, though the topic is a bit dry, I like Francois's art and the lesson to be learned here is an important one for people in their private lives, too. Most folks think of scammers as people sitting in Nigeria offering you lots of money if only you'll give them your bank account. 

However, that's the stuff that only fools rubes and newbies. The real dirt is in e-mails that almost exactly replicate an official message from Google (I speak from experience here, as someone kept trying to Phish me when Panel Patter's renewal was due.) or one that claims to come from someone you know and trust (remember those Twitter DMs that went around for awhile?). Working off the story from Falkowitz, Vigneault shows this end of things, portraying his villains in an office setting that mirrors that of their corporate target, right down to have bosses, needing approval, and even a comic work bonding ritual.

The comic balances a bit of humor with the serious notes, and while there are a few places that have to be a bit of an info-dump, I think that it works overall, thanks to the visual breakdowns and decision to play the story as a mirror image. To help readers know the difference, Francois uses a dark pink for the bad guys and light blue for their target. It offers a nice contrast from page to page as well. 

Vigneault's linework reminds me a bit of Ben Towle here, with a feel that's a bit of a throwback to 1950s art deco aesthetics. I think the use of a dominant color, thick lines (especially the eyebrows) and other touches that Ben also uses to great effect. The offices feature modern tech, but they're also a bit timeless in construction. His characters dress in a wide variety of styles, from casual clothing to a natty bow tie, and they're also diverse, too. It would have been all too easy to just make this comic a bunch of stereotyped hackers with punk tattoos and businessmen in suits, but that's not Francois's style.

Sometimes we forget about comics-as-PSA. This was a nice reminder that they still exist, and can often be fun to read for their own sake. The comic is online here if you want to have a look. Even if you don't care about the subject material (but you probably should), noting the detailing of the linework, the artistic choices, and the great use of color to indicate place are worth a few clicks--once you verify it's a legitimate link, that is!

April 24, 2015

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Weekend Pattering--- And the Nominees Are...

** I imagine a world where the Eisner nominee announcements are as big as the Oscars.  Imagine instead of being released as a press release, the announcements would be on television and all of the pundits would start making the rounds dissecting what a group of people put together as the best comics of the past year.  And then we would spend the next couple of months poring over the nominees, holding office pools and talking around the water cooler about who we think are going to win.  The awards themselves would be black tie affairs (as if any comic creator owns a black tie) but we would all be let down by the celebrity host.

You may call me a dreamer.  But I'm not the only one.

** In case you missed it, the 2015 Eisner Award Nominations were released this week.  The actual awards will be given out on July 10th this year. These awards are given for books published in the previous calendar year, although it's hard to find that stated anywhere on the Eisner Awards site.  I think it speaks the the depth of comics right now that there aren't a lot of comics or books nominated for multiple categories.  Jason Aaron and Jason Latour's Southern Bastards is nominated as "Best Continuing Series" but not for "Best New Series," a category it's more than qualified for and would be one of the strongest contenders for.  Digital books are getting more than their fair share of nominations in more than just the ghettoized "Best Digital/Web Comics" group.  Two of the "Best Limited Series" nominees are digital comics (Daredevil: Road Warrior and The Private Eye.)

Of course, there are things to quibble about.  Why didn't Richard McGuire get a "Best Painter/Multimedia Artist" nomination for Here (I know he's nominated for best "Writer/Artist" and I hope he wins but I'm also going to be greedy and want that book to get more attention) or why isn't Mariko Tamaki celebrated as a "Best Writer" for This One Summer, from beginning to end one of the strongest books of 2014.?  It's all subjective as the Eisner's have always walked a line between popularity and true merit-based recognition.  While Southern Bastards is great, Original Sin should have been enough to argue against Jason Aaron being one of the best writers of the year.  As with all awards, it's all subjective.

And then there are the snubs.  No Box Brown and Andre the Giant?  No Bumberhead by Gilbert Hernandez?  No Lucy Knisely or Gabrielle Bell?  I'm not saying that these would be the winners as the best of 2014 but I think these are names that are missing from this list this year.  And honestly, I would have put up Fantagraphics EC artist-based collection before Hermes Press's Pogo comics collections as "Best Archival Collection/Project."

Maybe I'm a bit elitist but I wish some kind of aesthetic could be figured out by looking at the Eisner nominees and winners.  Ideally an awards ballot like this would set forth some kind of vision of comics and the year that was.  But much like the Academy Awards, the Eisners offer more of a summary than a summation of what we liked.  It's as reflective of the times as most "Top 10" lists are.  And the Eisners have to envelop all of comics.  That's a lot to cover.

** As a bit of prognosticating, is this the year that Grant Morrison wins "Best Writer?"  He's actually never won an Eisner award and is nominated for Annihilator and Multiversity.  Could the voters actually give it to him this year to cap off the victory lap that is Multiversity?  If we were more like the Oscars, we would be trying to figure out how people are going to vote and this would be a valid discussion point.

** James Kaplan on this years Eisners:
It's a really strong field but there are a few points I find puzzling. Mostly the inclusion of Hawkeye and Saga in the best continuing series category. Hawkeye?  I love that book but how many issues actually came out last year?* And Saga, I also love Saga but nobody who reads that book thinks this has been its strongest period. I also don't regularly read the Walking Dead so I'm not sure it's really something that belongs on this list.

If I were in charge I would've included Mind MGMT (ridiculous that Matt Kindt isn't nominated as a best writer/artist, or Michel Fiffe on Copra for that matter) and Lazarus, which is about as good as mainstream comics get. Of course I also would've included East of West but I know not everyone loves Hickman's work as much as I do.

I do think the best new series is such a strong field. Ms. Marvel, the Fade Out, Lumberjanes and The Wicked + The Divine (even though I'm not a huge fan) are among the best comics has to offer. If I had to pick one I'd probably go with Ms. Marvel if only for social impact, but my heart would be with Lumberjanes.

I also would have a hard time deciding between Multiversity: Pax Americana and Madman special. So very different but both such amazing single issues.
* Scott's note: according to Comixology, it looks like six issues of Hawkeye were released.   

** Emilia Packard quickly chimes in as well.
I have read all of the Graphic Album - New! Category. Almost all of
them are pretty great (I thought Kill My Mother was kind of a
snoozer/not a very good transition from Fieffer's previous
illustration work).

I think they could have done way better in Kids Comix - Early Reader
especially - where are the Toon Books?
Also, hooray Gene Luen Yang! He should win everything, always. He's so
great at using established genres and putting a totally original spin
on them.
** And finally the boss Rob McMonigal has his thoughts as well.
I preface this by noting that I am on record as saying that awards are not something that matters greatly to me. They do not, for instance, make me more likely to read a comic I haven't already tried, nor do I think "Wow, I'm reading the wrong things!" if the Eisners (or Harveys or Hugos) come out, and very few things I personally liked are on the list.

However, in my decade or so of paying attention to the Eisners, I am hard-pressed to name a year in which there were more choices that personally aligned with my own reading. Beyond the personal friends who made the list, I can look at nearly every category and nod my head saying, "Yup, those were good books." Maybe not the books *I* would have chosen, but if they won, I could see the argument for them.

What's even better, in my opinion, is that it feels like this a group of nominees who are pushing the traditional Eisner boundaries. This really started in 2012, when Brigid Alverson was part of the Judges, but I feel like it's in full bloom here. Sure, you've got some of the usual suspects on there, but it's not because they just were out there--it's because they wrote or drew (or in some cases, both) really damned good books.

But the real question for me is this: If Stan Sakai manages to edge out Sergio Aragones, can he finally get out of that Groo lettering contract?
** All the Pattering that was worth the patter last week:

April 23, 2015

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Masks 2 #1 by Cullen Bunn, Eman Casallos, and Adriano Augusto

Written by Cullen Bunn
Line Art by Eman Casallos
Color Art by Adriano Augusto
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

The Shadow, working in an uneasy alliance with the Green Hornet and Kato, take on a batch of criminals who hold a deadly device, but it's only the tip of the iceberg as they discover that a new villain is out to turn Edgar Allan Poe into true crime in this first issue of a new pulp hero crossover from Dynamite that's off to a great start.

"And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth's mightiest heroes and heroines found themselves united against a common threat. On that day..." Well, you know the rest, don't you? It's no secret that comic book fans love team books. From the Invaders and Justice Society back in World War 2 to even the movie universes being steered into shared universes (for better or worse), there's just so much sheer joy as a fan to see your favorite characters working together.

With control of a ton of pulp characters, Dynamite is happy to take advantage of this, having done it already with the first Masks mini-series (written by Chris Roberson with art by Dennis Calero) and giving Gail Simone the keys to a woman-centric character crossover coming up soon, a literary crossover from Ron Marz and Walter Geovani, Prophecy, and others.

While it's a tough act to follow Roberson, they did a great job picking Cullen Bunn, who understands how to write single-issue comics, a nearly lost art in the age of the trade. Bunn wastes no time trying to introduce the characters to the reader, instead dropping right into a battle with the Shadow, who uses his signature line right on page two, practically leaping out of the panel thanks to the great linework of Eman Cassalos and coloring of Adriano Augusto. In a great way to show off character differences, while the Shadow is, well, steeped in darkness even when there's external lighting, the Green Hornet is shown as a figure of light piercing the veil of crime. When the trio are fighting, their styles also show clear differences. While Cranston kills at a clip that would make the Punisher blush and dives into the fight with reckless abandon, Green Hornet and Kato fight to preserve life, even that of criminals. We get some of this in Bunn's dialogue, but the bulk of that difference is show in the art, and it's great to see.

There's a ton of fighting in the issue, as the trio are joined by other pulp-era heroes around the midpoint, and while a battle-heavy book can sometimes sag a bit, Bunn varies how the battle proceeds and Cassallos keeps it varied by ensuring that a) we can tell who is fighting and b) keeps the panels moving fluidly across the action. You'd be surprised how often that's ignored, leaving us with muddled, dark work or a bunch of posing people standing instead of acting. Once we reach the end of this issue, and the Shadow and the Green Hornet--who come to a costume ball dressed as themselves, natch--it's clear they're quite likely in over their heads. (It's also a great nod to the source material for the villain's name, but you'll have to read the issue to get the reference, or read someone else's review. I'm not telling.)

Along the way, there's plenty of hints that this is going to be large scale, and not just the number of caped characters. Once again, these heroes of the pre-war era are faced with the idea that heroics and legacies are being forged. It's not really a new idea, but I love how Bunn makes the Shadow incredulous that his work is ultimately meaningless, because crime does not end. It's such a nice touch, and I hope it's followed up on. It's also a nice nod to the various ways in which Dynamite has used these characters.

I had a lot of fun reading this first issue, and while it won't be to everyone's taste, if you like the old radio series or pulp stories, make sure you check this one out. It's a large crossover, but it's also self-contained within its own issues, and doesn't requite having read any of the other books being published in this part of the Dynamite world. Bunn is using these characters to their strengths, not to just fit his story, and the art is really outstanding, making this a comic I'd recommend easily to team-up fans to put on their pull lists.

April 22, 2015

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Staple Independent Media Expo: A Belated Review

The STAPLE Independent Media Expo was bustling and busy -- it was a cold, grey weekend just like the 2014 one, but that didn't stop the discerning crowds from pouring into the Marchesa Theater. But I entered trepidatiously and perhaps a bid grudgingly -- it's hard leaving your cozy bed on a Sunday afternoon. But I'm glad I went -- It took me a while to unwind and take a deep breath before attacking my stash. Once the stash was attacked, I then took a while to process it. Hence, in part, the lateness of my review.

I always struggle a bit at conventions -- I’m pretty introverted and comics suit me fairly well in that regard. I am nowhere as happy as I am curled up in the corner of the couch furtively turning pages and tuning out the world. So the bustle and hum of conventions freaks me out a little -- and I’d wager to say that a fair handful of cartoonists have a tendency towards introversion too. So that makes for some stuttering and stammering and not learning as much about the offerings as I should. So to try to combat this while not getting too far outside my comfort zone, I focused on some artists who I had something in common with -- Austin? Cats? Beards? These are things I like, and can talk about for a minute or two if pressed-- so I found myself with a few selections in such areas. Here were some of my favorites.

Bearded for Pleasure by Jaime Hernandez surprised me -- Hernandez does a lot of prints as Crayonblood Studios, and I enjoy his light but piercing style. It’s in full force in Bearded for Pleasure, which is a playful, pointed jab at the Austin culture of bushy-bearded but somehow perfectly-coiffed, clean-flannel-work-shirted, sunglass-clad hipsters who haunt coffee shop porches and beer bars. It’s a certain, especially absurd, brand of masculinity that Hernandez captures, portraying his protagonist as part superhero and part man-child. I was surprised by how it was able to embody that coolness and also skewer it in such short order -- anyway, it was great. So Austin.

Bad Mother was the one comic I planned to make a deliberate stop for -- as a newly minted mother, I am predisposed to gravitate to anything with the word mother in it, because all mothers are the same, right? But in all seriousness, it worked, because I got into a lovely conversation with Jeanne Thornton about writing, her webcomics, the Hire This Woman panel (which I missed!), and her recent relocation to New Orleans. Thornton’s comics highlight another side of Austin -- the folks who actually Keep Austin Weird. Nerds, artists, transgendered baristas and pagan-lesbian-sculptor-parents-of-preschoolers. It’s been a webcomic for a while, and adheres to the comic strip format, but does a wonderful job of fully realizing snarky, silly and smart characters in just a few pages. And the titular Bad Mother, is in fact, and of course, a good mother, who exemplifies being a caring parent by being true to yourself -- though Jeanne is not a parent herself, she’s spot on about what parents could learn by taking their task a bit less seriously and living life more joyfully. I’m not sure that was Thornton’s main intent, but I liked it and want to read more of her work.

And my final favorite thing, after beards and babies, was CATS. My husband is hopelessly allergic, but I am a Crazy Cat Lady by nature and nurture, and I will stop for any good cat comic that presents itself -- Rachel Dukes' Frankie Comics definitely fit that bill. In her Frankie minicomics, Dukes sends up life with a cat, integrating the cat into her marriage, feline eccentricites -- and just the joys of seeing the world through cats eyes -- of course it sounds silly and obvious, but Dukes’ bold black and white illustrations are simple and clean but also slyly personal - Dukes’ funky self-depiction and Frankie’s wry expressions give her stories just the right amount of edge.

A totally different take on cats was That Damned Cat by David Lamplugh and Chris Nicholas -- Nicholas is Uncle Staple himself, and Lamplugh does really great samurai/animal mash-up prints that we’ve gotten hip to at the craft fairs around town. That Damned Cat is the ongoing adventures of a feline nursing home denizen who also serves as a sort of spirit-guide for the dying, and offers them a chance to right their wrongs before they go. It sounds a little ridiculous, and it is -- but it’s well executed and suitably trippy, and the cats' snarky tone saves the stories from getting too serious. I only bought the first volume, and I’m eager to get my hands on more.

Other comics I got and really enjoyed were Mittie Paul’s -- her etchy but precise Ash and her impeccable, simple, and delightful cover designs (cutouts! shiny paper!) were a treat. Noel Kalmus’s dreamy sketchy fairy worlds and dark smeary fantasies were delightful as well -- youthful in their soul-baring openness, but also bold and challenging.

Finally, I finally got the guts to tell Ben Snakepit he was my hero and idol. I don’t think I did a good job of it, or that it particularly matters in the grand scheme of things, but I’m a committed member of the Snakepit Fiend Club (I have two buttons now!) and knowing he’s in Austin makes it a pretty great town as far as I’m concerned.

So there’s my STAPLE - I missed the panels (though they’re available to listen to here!), I didn’t connect with the big name folks, and I passed by a lot of artists that were more along the superheroes, sci-fi, creatures and fan-art points on the comics spectrum, so I probably missed some great stuff that just wasn’t my bag -- regardless, I enjoyed what I did find, and can recommend the comics on beards, kids, and cats that I did discover. Can’t wait till next year, when maybe I’ll get a few steps bolder and branch out just a little bit more. STAPLE delivers again!

April 21, 2015

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The Temptation of Empty Promises in Frontier #7 by Jillian Tamaki

Frontier #7
Written and Drawn by Jillian Tamaki
Published by Youth in Decline

Opening with an invocation of the early days of the internet, “The file was uploaded July 26, 1996,” Jillian Tamaki’s Frontier #7 (a.k.a. Sexcoven) reminds us of just how much of an untested frontier the ‘net was before it became the commoditized ad-ridden platform that it currently is. Tamaki describes the mp3 file named “Sexcoven” as “... a six hour atonal drone? A sound so profound that each chord shift feels like a new tear in the Universe? Sonic mindfuck gets close. Listeners report cascading feelings of dread, fear, love, and euphoria.” I kind of would like to hear that. A whole youth culture develops around this mp3 file as its effects mostly only work on anyone younger than thirty years old. Tamaki’s story begins as a mockumentary on this file, presenting the facts about it. But by the second half of the book, it becomes the personal story of Raven, one of the many people who were once so enraptured by this file that they ran off to join a commune to plumb the depths of it.

Like her artwork in This One Summer, Tamaki’s art in Frontier #7 perfectly captures the tone of the story. As the story develops and a whole culture develops around the mysteries of the Sexcoven file, there’s a youthful innocence to Tamaki’s artwork that gives way to a harder and more jaded conclusion. She draws the sounds of the files as these tendrils that snake through the air. It’s slightly sinister that the sound becomes this wispy, physical manifestation that ultimately infects its audience until they become something other than the world around them. While Tamaki concentrates on the audio file, her art with its shifting perspective keeps us apart from the music, as if we’re too old to understand the effects of the audio ourselves.

The second half of the book shifts from a distanced view of the culture that grow up around Sexcoven to the more intimate story of Raven, a devotee of the file who is feeling more and more distanced from its culture. Tamaki’s story tracks with the development of the internet, from the oddity underground knowledge that it used to contain through to the point in time where societies developed around internet tribes. Raven’s part of the book is about when the excitement of these new societies became the same old doldrums of real life. It’s not that those new societies weren’t real; it’s more that there was nothing fulfilling around them. The dreams of sex and enlightenment gave way to the dreams of orders and fulfillment. 

Maybe it’s not a problem with the developing tribal society around the Sexcoven file; maybe it’s just that it’s a young person’s game, much like the effects of the file. The life that Raven has that we see in the end isn’t defined by mysterious files or sex tribes or even any kind of counter culture. It’s defined by the rules that we all struggle against and chafe at while we’re young that end up being the things that we accept as we get older. Maybe that’s why the allure of the Sexcoven file is lost on anyone over a certain age. As it represents a type of youthful rebellion, Raven seems resigned to admitting it’s a mystery that we end up outgrowing. 

Tamaki’s movement through this story is ambitious. The way she begins with a look at a larger society and focuses the story to finally be a very personal tale is a skill that you just don’t see that much in comics. And for as much as it is a personal story, it’s also a story about how the internet has changed and changed us since those wild frontier days of 1996. As if her work in last year’s This One Summer wasn’t enough, Frontier #7 establishes Jillian Tamaki as an artist that you can’t ignore. Her seductive storytelling makes you want to hear the music of the Sexcoven file even while her story warns you about the false allure of these internet phenomenons.

April 18, 2015

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Linework NW Preview: 30 'til 30 by Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg

Written and Illustrated by Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg

Age is a funny thing. We set the idea that certain numbers have special meaning. One of them is turning thirty. In order to reconize this point in her life, autobio comic creator Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg chronicled the thirty days before her thirtieth birthday, trying to expand her creative skills while showing what it was like to transition into the next decade of her life. The result is a very personal look at a month in her life and realizations that should resonate with anyone of a similar age or who's trying to figure out their place in life.

I probably say this too often, but I'll mention it again--one of the things that's important about an autobiographical mini-comic is for the author to be honest with the reader. You have to share your anxieties and fears along with the cute moments, or it comes across shallow at best, and disingenuous at worst. I'm not saying that you have to be the worst person in your comic (something I think happened to James Kochalka a lot), but if it's only the highlights, I'm going to wonder where the lowlights are.

Lisa understands this, and while she worries at the end that she was too positive, I think the balance is just right. We see her worrying about roommate issues, with her boyfriend assuring her that she thinks her friendships are a lot more shallow than they actually are. In another instance, there's awkward silence in her drawing class that she teaches. We see a fight over staying at a party too long. These are all little touches that happen to all of us, every day, in some form or another. Lisa's letting us know it happens to her, too, and that's what makes her autobio comics work so well.

It also means that when things are going well for her, we can celebrate those moments with Lisa. It might be watching cartoons as an adult, or her birthday celebration. The anticipation of possible getting a career-changing job in animation also fills Lisa with potential excitement--and a bit of dread, of course.

Lisa's linework across these daily strips is very strong, probably because after setting a "two hours, no more" rule at the outset, she started cheating, doing outlines and then playing catch-up. It might not have been her original plan, but the resulting comics are stronger, I think, for the time taken on them. We don't have loose, flying lines, obvious mistakes, or other errors that come from rushing the work. While I like my autobio comics honest, I also like them to show a sense of craft, not "I wrote this at 11:57pm and then went to bed." Lisa's style is very consistent here, such as showing a few hairs perpetually out of place, regardless of the situation. Her outfits change depending on the place she's depicting, and it's very easy to see when recurring characters, such as her boyfriend, weave in and out of the narrative. We don't get a lot of backgrounds--most of the panels are medium looks--but there's enough to know where she is: At home, at school, or outside in the Portland day (or night). A heavy use of greyscale helps to break up the look of each page, as does varying the ways in which each panel is constructed.

30 'til 30 is a peek into Lisa's life at an important moment--one that could have been really transformative for her but ultimately still shows a woman who has a lot going for her in life, even if it can be stressful. She can be proud of knowing what her life was like between 29 and 30, that artificial barrier many of us place on ourselves, for good or ill. In this case, I think it was good, and I believe that readers of this comic will agree.

April 17, 2015

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Weekend Pattering for April 17, 2015

** From last week's East Coast Comicon, Sound on Sight's Logan Dalton interviews the creative team behind Images Rocket Girl, Brandon Montclare and Becky Reeder.
Brandon Montclare: Rocket Girl #4, which has the big chase scene, was really a challenge for Amy because you don’t really have chase scenes in comics. You have Akira and Paul Pope, who did it after watching Akira, in Batman Year 100, but those are really long-form chase scenes. In Akira, it’s 80 pages of a motorcycle chase scene, but we only have 20 pages to work with. We actually cheated on issue 4 and made it 22 so we could a little more of the chase scene in it. But it was also important because it’s cool to challenge. Most people might say, “That’s too hard. Just make it punching because I’ve been drawing the Hulk punching the Thing since I was eight years old.” But it’s not interesting, and also not Amy. You try to introduce different opportunities to try different things.
I have to be honest and say that I haven't actually read the first Rocket Girl collection but I've flipped through it many times and love Reeder's artwork in that book.  Just seeing some of the comics that Montclare and Reeder reference in this interview makes me think that I need to sit down with that book soon.

** The upcoming Free Comic Book Day is about more than just the comics that your retailers can get through Diamond. Bleeding Cool reports that six alternative publishers are joining forces for a FCBD comic.
Free 2015 will feature a color cover by Chuck Forsman and 40 pages of comics from the different publishers. Artists include David B., Niv Bavarsky, Box Brown, Patrick Crotty, Max de Rodriguès, Hanna K., Alex Kim, Laura Knetzger, Kate Leth, Jason Little, Matt Madden, Jane Mai, Melissa Mendes, Oliver Schrauwen, Ben Sears, Jack Teagle, Derek Van Gison, and François Vigneault.
** Scroll through some of the DC stuff and watch Jeff Lester review Gil Kane's His Name Is... Savage before diverging into a brief bit on Rick Buckler's Deathlock. I think I now have two copies of this somewhere, the original printing and the Fantagraphics reprint.

And how could you not love this Point Blank Lee Marvin cover?

** The Outhousers cover how some dude supported some other dudes who do artwork that probably only dudes really like.  This past week, I've seen other dudes invoke the curvy drawings of Harvey Kurtzman and Bill Elder and wonder how they would be accepted in today's politically correct comics world?  My only response to them is that Kurtzman and Elder's art was actually funny and their styles reflected their humor.  Frank Cho's "humorous" drawings try to be funny and instead just look very staid and boring, much like most of Cho's drawings.  And if that's the type of art Rob Liefeld wants to hold up as being the foundational work of comics, well, to each their own I guess.

** At Publisher's Weekly, Deb Aoki has a fascinating look at the current manga market.  It seems that one way to read the post Tokyopop/post-Border's manga world has been as some kind of market correction taking place.  I'll say that while I think there are still great manga work getting translated and published in English, I wonder where those sales are coming from?  Barnes and Nobles and Books-A-Million, maybe two of the largest brick-and-mortar, have generic-to-decent selections on their shelves right now- at least the ones I've been to.  How much of the manga market is due to Amazon?

Deb offers some insights into what may be driving the strong market:
A good deal of the renewed vigor in the manga market can be attributed to an overall stronger U.S. economy, but there are other factors, including new distribution channels, the growth of legal digital publishing, and some new popular series that are generating a rising tide of sales for the entire category.
** The Panel Patter Week That Was:

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Linework NW Preview: The Pants Dropping Truth in Jason Little's Borb

Written and Drawn by Jason Little
Published by Uncivilized Books

The cruelest joke in Jason Little’s Borb is that the best moments in the life of the homeless Borb end with him waking up from dreams and finding out that his life hasn’t gotten any better. He’s still a drunk and living on the streets. Each small comic strip in this book is a constant trial for Borb while the universe ignores the man’s troubles. Taken a page at a time, Borb almost looks like a comedy as the times and life of its title character become a unending series of almost ridiculously mounting bad luck for a man who starts out losing all of his teeth, twice even. It’s hard to tell how much Little is exaggerating these events as opposed to just naturally extrapolating what it would be like for a man with no home, no love, no money, no insurance and no place in society for him to exist in. For as unlikely as the horrors of Borb’s life are, once you don’t have anything how much can you expect anything good to happen?

The Comedy...
Stripping his character of everything except for the clothes Borb is wearing, Little creates a world without love. More than just the absence of the love of another person, Borb’s existence is devoid of the love or caring of any external forces, call it “nature” or “God” or whatever you will. Dedicating the book to “the guy with the shopping cart who lived under the Culver viaduct at 2nd Avenue and 10th Street, Brooklyn, circa 2009-2011,” the cartoonist puts us into the shoes of this character and that’s probably not a place where any of us have been before. Addled mind from booze and drug abuse, Borb is practically a babe in this world that is at best completely indifferent to him. He loses his teeth, he breaks his legs, he sets his shelter on fire, he sees people he once knew in a completely different life and yet he keeps on going. Each day, he gets up, drinks his way through the hours and then finds someplace to sleep to do it again tomorrow.

The cruelty of Little’s story is just how meaningless it all is. Borb isn’t “just some homeless guy” everywhere he goes but that’s what his life is summed up as in the end. Along the way, there are people who notice him, who try to help him and who try to harm him. And yet ultimately, all of that doesn’t mean a thing. The promo blurb for Borb compares him to Voltaire’s Candide, the man who believed in “the best of all possible worlds.” For Borb to be like Candide, Borb would need to have some kind of expressed worldview or some type of reaction to the world around him. Borb actually appears to be more like the Biblical Jude, without the love of a God to protect him. Jude was tested because of his faith but there is none of that in Borb. 

And the Tragedy
As Little draws the book to resemble old comic strips, the structure of the book keeps heaping one bad event on top of the last one. Trapped in an uncaring existence, Borb keeps on going but why? What is there to his life than the next bottle of liquor and the next place to sleep. As his own actions have taken away the good things in his life, the strip nature of this comic shows us bits and pieces of just what he's lost and what he dreams of. For as much as it may be an uncaring universe, Little doesn’t absolve Borb of any responsibility for his current state. We see how Borb plummeted into the life he had and along with him we see what Borb has lost. If the world is loveless, there’s also a vacuum of love in Borb’s existence. And it’s an absence that comically fills Borb’s days with the constant struggle just to make it through another day.

Borb is heartbreaking and frustrating. It’s funny and tender but it’s also harsh and damning. The book doesn’t blame the world for what has happened to Borb but the book also doesn’t let Borb or his fellow humanity off the hook for the events on nearly every single page. There are probably many ways to read Borb, from nihilistic to freeing and Little leaves it open just enough that probably neither of those readings is completely right or completely wrong. It’s hard to find love or grace in a world where those things just don’t exist and where that void drives so many of the darkly amusing things that happen to Borb. The universe doesn’t care and Little nudges us to wonder why it doesn’t.