May 29, 2015

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Weekend Pattering for May 29th, 2015-- Fear and Loathing in the Direct Market

** In what could be a publishing highlight of the fall, Top Shelf Comix is offering new adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, written and drawn by Troy Little. Remember, this is the book that begins:
We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive...” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?” Then it was quiet again. My attorney had taken his shirt off and was pouring beer on his chest, to facilitate the tanning process. “What the hell are you yelling about?” he muttered, staring up at the sun with his eyes closed and covered with wrap- around Spanish sunglasses. “Never mind,” I said. “It’s your turn to drive.” I hit the brakes and aimed the Great Red Shark toward the shoulder of the highway. No point mentioning those bats, I thought. The poor bastard will see them soon enough.

I love that last panel with just how big Thompson's hand is in comparison to his head.  Forced perspective is a tool that not enough cartoonists use.

** And we can't post art about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas without including some fun Ralph Steadman artwork, can we?



I’d say that 80% of what I’ve learned about comic book storytelling has happened working on Amelia. This thing has been a massive learning curve. I change my style from issue to issue in very tiny ways. Sometimes in big ways! I don’t mind though. The overall style and flavour has stayed true to the spirit of the story even though I change. I’m playing catch up really. A lot of artists who get into cartooning from a young age do all the learning early on. I guess I’m a late bloomer so those of you reading the book are observing my artistic development as the story moves on. I think that’s quite groovy.
** If you don't already, you need to be reading comic retailing legend Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin, probably the one comic blog that I've been following for the longest time.  The owner of Sterling Silver Comics, located in lovely Camarillo, CA (I don't know for sure that it's lovely but I just assume that everything in CA is lovely, including Mr. Sterling himself.)

Known for his undying love for all things Swamp Thing, my favorite thing that Mike does at his site is his monthly Progressive Ruin Presents... The End of Civilization, his look at the freak show worthy offerings of every new monthly Preview magazines.  This month's offering is the 1/6 scale Stan Lee fixture (seriously, I won't even include the image here.  You've got to see it on Mike's site.)

And that's out in the same month that they're offering a Homer Simpson Buddha in Previews.  And that's the Direct Market at work for you folks.

** Last week, Matt Fraction was on Seth Meyer's late night talk show and Kris Saldaña talks about what it means over at Panels.net.
On Thursday night, Fraction walked out as the third guest to talk to Seth Meyers following Heidi Klum, and Richard Lewis. He talked Sex Criminals, and Hawkeye, and even gave the the viewers at home some of his famous tips to spice up the bedroom. Also, “Sex Criminals” was said on national television about 40 times. He was affable and smart, and I love how Seth Meyers gave him all the opportunity to talk about his work. It’s fantastic how Seth books guests he genuinely wants to talk to (like Brian Michael Bendis in January). I really hope other hosts follow suit. Lots of comic fans out there, right??
Kris has an interesting line that really caught my attention at the end of his piece.  "When Matt walked out onto the stage, it was kind of like seeing my dad on the TV. My comics dad." I'm taking it that this is more of a generational thing because when I see Fraction up there, it's more like seeing my cousin, the socially awkward but cool cousin who was into all of the hip stuff about 3 months before everyone else was.  (Honestly, that's a bit of a lie.  I don't know if I've ever really thought too much about which relative of mine that Fraction maybe.  Possibly my father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate?

** Daniel Clowes is always someone worth talking to and The Vulture is who he's talking to this week.

Had you tried to make it in the superhero comics world?
No, it was half that kind of thing where, when you're a teenager, you really love something. You imagine some 12-year-old girl who loves One Direction or whatever, and ten years later, the thought of them, she’s just filled with hatred towards them because it reminds her of the way she was at this awkward age. I grew up reading superhero comics and had this certain love for them that was not necessarily related to the content. I just liked that Pop-art world of superhero comics, and then at a certain point, I learned about other comics and I completely lost interest in superhero comics.
Now I'm just going to be sitting here for the rest of the night trying to think what a Dan Clowes Wolverine comic back in the early 1990s would have been like.

And as long as the art theme today seems to be Hunter S. Thompson, here's Clowes drawing the venerated journalist for the Fast Company magazine.



** Need a tip about how to survive SDCC?  Well, how about 164 of them?  I swear that Tom Spurgeon's laundry list for how to do SDCC gets exponentially bigger every year.  #1 is a particularly sobering but needed statement.

Tip #1: Pay Attention To Personal Safety 
In 2012, a woman with the intention of attending Comic-Con died after running into traffic and being struck by a car during the time she spent in a line that formed in advance of the show. Her name was Gisela Gagliardi. She was a fan, a lot like you and me that way. She didn't think she was going to die when she got out of bed that morning.
Please, please be careful.
** The Paneling that happened this week (and maybe a bit of Patter as well...)

May 27, 2015

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Dealing With the Past in Seth's Palookaville #22


Palookaville #22
Written and Drawn by Seth
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

We don’t get enough Seth comics lately so when a new volume of Palookaville drops, it’s a reason to celebrate. Having a couple of years ago migrated from being an irregular comic book to being a semi-annual hardcover, Palookaville #22 is a true comic book event as Seth’s masterful cartooning makes you forget the time that has passed since the last volume (approx 19 months for those of you keeping track at home.) Opening this new book, you might at first feel a bit lost, trying to remember the story of “Clyde’s Fans” (now on part 4) or “Nothing “Lasts” (only on its second installment) or even wondering just what the heck the barber shop photos in the bridging sequence “Crown Barber” has to do with anything. Maybe there is a bit of frustration about that 19 months between volumes but Seth quickly makes you forget about those Palookavilleless months because so much of Palookaville #22 is about memory and the haze of it. So if you’ve forgotten what’s been happening in this comic, don’t worry. It’s almost kind of the point of these comics.

The fourth part of “Clyde’s Fans” is the continuation of a story that’s been doled out in fits and starts since 1997. The main chunk of this story focuses on a discussion of two brothers, Abraham and Simon, who tried to run their father’s electric fan business together after he abandoned his family. The brothers dredge up every wrong each other had committed against him, trying to figure out who was the crappier brother. It’s a harsh discussion as Seth excellently leaves so much unsaid between the two of them. As they bicker back and forth, Abraham roots around the knick knack littered around Simon’s room. Simon’s odd collections are as much Abraham’s memories as they are Simon’s. These leftover artifacts of a life are the only things that form any connection other than the family business between these two brothers. They may have never been close but Simon’s odd collections are what span the chasm between small talk and family matters for these two brothers.

As if having a discussion about the family business and the rifts between them wasn’t bad enough for Abraham, he leaves Abraham feeling nostalgic for his old sales routes and one women along those routes, Alice. “I love you, Abe” he hazily remembers her saying even if he remembers little else. Her hair? What she was wearing? Any really defining features of her face? Those details fade to black in his memory while he hangs onto “I love you, Abe.” It’s a decades old memory. His brief rendezvous with Alice is no less unpleasant than his time with Simon but it’s much briefer. His hopes to rekindle some old feelings is overshadowed by Alice’s still painful memories of Abraham and his cruelty to her.

Images of Seth's childhood from "Nothing Lasts"

“Crown Barber” and “Nothing Lasts” explore the cartoonist’s memory in much the same way. “Crown Barber” is an odd piece, more a celebration of his wife’s (proprietor of the real Crown Barber Shop) business and even its past. It feels like a diversion, like his cardboard and paper model towns or his rubber stamp diary from the past two volumes. Photos of the barber shop feel Sethian, but more something belonging in his other books Wimbledon Green or The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists. It’s playful but twinged with a nostalgia for a time that no longer exists, even if it ever really did. Among these photos is a two page cartoon of a fictional previous owner of the barbershop looking back on his life and profession. This is where that fascination with memory comes back in. Is the barber here really any different than Abraham in “Clyde’s Fans?”

And in “Nothing Lasts,” is Seth himself any different than his comic characters? Looking back on his childhood and teenage years, Seth ends up re-examining and judging his own life through the haze of his memories. There’s probably nothing that any self-professed school-aged “outsider” doesn’t at least recognize in him or herself in Seth’s catalog of his youthful interests. There’s nothing particularly salacious in his childhood but there is this strong twinge of the author’s guilt that hangs over the whole thing. Years wasted on seemingly frivolous things or friendships left behind as shared interests started to diverge seem to be Seth’s (let’s just assume for now that unlike It’s A Good Thing If You Don’t Weaken that “Nothing Lasts” is at least partially if not completely true autobiographical) biggest hangups about his childhood. The cruelty of these memories is what link Seth, the barber and Abraham. In Palookaville #22, we get three very different stories about men looking back on their lives and feeling very similar dissatisfaction with them. 

The way Seth choreographs Abraham and Simon’s discussions or revisits the streets and libraries he knew as a kid is stunning. “Clyde’s Fans” is broken narratively into two distinct parts, Abraham’s meeting with Simon and his dinner with Alice but the visual consistency through the ways that characters interact in this comic links the two encounters as much as the themes of memory do. It’s never just two people talking; it’s two people trying to avoid one another even though they’re right there in the same room. Abraham falls further and further into his overstuffed chair while Abraham shuffles around the room, picking at the artifacts of a life. Or it’s Alice shifting her eyes all around the restaurant wanting to ask Abraham “why?” 

Avoiding the conversation in "Clyde's Fan"

Seth builds lives through his artwork one panel at a time. “Nothing Lasts” focuses as much on places and things as it does on characters but each panel becomes one more piece of a life, it becomes one more mystery of its creator that Seth is trying to reveal. The way in all three comics that Seth lingers on a postcard, a barber’s comb or even the headstones of a local cemetery focuses on the building blocks of his characters lives. These aren’t objects; they’re memories, events, possessions, and fragments of these lives that Seth is carefully constructing and simultaneously deconstructing. These are elements that are truly world building but he’s using them to break down his characters existence while he’s reconstructing their memories in the here and now. 

Palookaville #22 is a cruel book to its characters and its creator but it’s lovingly cruel because Seth cares about every panel of these characters lives. It’s the memories that these characters have to live with that are cruel to them. While the cartoons explore the unpleasantness of Simon, Seth’s and the barber’s past, it’s counterbalanced by the photos of the his wife’s barber shop or even the act of Seth’s cartooning. He seems somewhat embarrassed by being a fan of comics but here he is, producing some of the most stunning cartooning of the year so far. Scott McCloud tried to show how serious he was about cartooning in The Sculptor but Seth does everything McCloud does so much better and so much more organically to the story that it’s not even funny. (This may be a backhanded compliment to Seth but it’s also the truth that from a true cartooning perspective that he takes McCloud to school.) Characters and creator are both wrestling with their memories in this comic and maybe even the readers are as well, depending on how much they can remember from past volumes. And in that way, Seth places reader, characters and cartoonist on equal footing.

May 26, 2015

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Conan/Red Sonja by Gail Simone and Jim Zub

25317
Conan/Red Sonja
Published by Dark Horse Comics, Dynamite Entertainment
Written by Gail Simone, Jim Zub
Illustrated by Dan Panosian, Randy Green
Colours by Dave Stewart
Letters by Richard Starkings & Comicraft
This miniseries marks a combined effort between Dark Horse Comics and Dynamite Entertainment to bring together two of the most well known properties of sword-and-sorcery writer Robert E. Howard. While Conan and Red Sonja initially spawned from the same series of comic books in the adaptations of Roy Thomas, their comic counterparts have been split across the two publishers for years. With a superstar writing team containing current Red Sonja scribe Gail Simone as well as the creator of the beloved Skullkickers, Jim Zub, these characters are already in fantastic hands.
This miniseries takes place across a span of many years and takes us through an adventure that is told through three pivotal moments in the lives of this infamous duo. Each issue is framed as an advisory story being told to a young prince; the style of the narration is stereotypically grandiose which sets the tone of each scene perfectly. We get to see their first meeting as young adults before they know who they're destined to be and, as we eventually discover, this initial meeting shapes the course of their lives more than they initially know.
grandioseNarration
The understated nature of their importance is a running theme throughout this miniseries. It begins as they accidentally stumble upon a dangerous substance that threatens to wipe out all life in their world. The pair are never depicted as adventurers seeking glory and are two simple people trying to create a better life for themselves and everyone around them. This is juxtaposed with their lives as self-proclaimed "honest pirates" as, even though they know how to fight to kill, they are trying to survive in the only way they know how.
This series plays with the idea that a supposedly insignificant moment in our pasts can have a massive effect on, not only our own lives, but the lives of everyone that we come into contact with. In a fantasy setting, the word "destiny" gets thrown around a lot; this is subtly slotted into the story through the use of the genre-appropriate narration.
In the gap between each issue, time passes and the lives of each of our heroes change drastically. Without needing to know anything about past history of these characters, the tragedy and heartbreak in their lives is instantly clear each time we see them. Simone and Zub know how to insert a dump of exposition that feels like a natural part of our characters catching up with each other.
The friendship that the writing duo have managed to portray walks the fine line between sexual tension and simple comradery. It's refreshing to see a relationship between a man and a woman that doesn't result in each person falling in love and living happily ever after. There is a clear demonstration of the fierce independence in each of the characters creating a situation where neither of them want or need a commitment from the other.
conanRedSonjaMoment
One criticism of this miniseries is the slightly disappointing final confrontation between the two legendary warriors and their main antagonist. The entire situation feels like it belongs in a sci-fi story and detracts from an otherwise awe-inspiring fantasy story.
It wouldn't be fair to do a review of this series without mentioning the artistic team. There is a change in the artist between issues #2 and #3 but the art style is so similar that it's difficult to notice. Even reading through the entire series in one sitting, the only way that I noticed was when looking up the the artist's name for this review. While there is nothing particularly wrong with Green's art, Panosian turns in some really astounding work. His rendition of both Conan and Red Sonja is extremely striking and captures the raw nature of their fighting styles.
panosianArt
This is a miniseries that's going to define what I expect from any future fantasy epic. The characters are complex and compelling in way that I've not experienced in a while. Its decade-spanning story is expertly paced and, despite not knowing anything about the characters beforehand, the writers create such chemistry between the two that you root for the pair and their continued relationship. This is a refreshing and reinvigorating take on established fantasy tropes that will leave you wanting more. If you've ever been a fan of any part of the fantasy genre or even if you simply like seeing a strong and badass relationship, then you need to get your hands on this. It will fill a hole in your collection that you didn't know you had.

May 22, 2015

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Weekend Pattering for May 22, 2015- I Believe in Simon Pegg

** Photographer and writer Seth Kushner passed away earlier this week after fighting leukemia for the past year.  At GraphicNYC, Christopher Irving has a nice memorial up about his friend and partner on the site.  Our condolences to his family and his friends.

A Go Fund Me campaign was set up to help the Kushner's while Seth was receiving treatment and it's still up to help his wife and son.  If you have the opportunity, please consider giving to this fund.

If you're not familiar with Seth's photography, got to GraphicNYC and check out Irving and Kushner's profile on comic creators.  The Washington Post's Comic Riff's also has a nice profile and gallery of his photography.

** Jeremy Melloul has put together a lot of information about what people looking to put together funding campaigns can learn from the aborted Archie Kickstarter.  As someone who's only on the side of funding campaigns, I'm starting to think about what makes a successful campaign lately.  I'm one of those who usually watches campaigns and only contributes when it looks like they'll be successful so maybe I'm part of the problem here. Steve Bryant and Jason Millet's failed campaign for Undead or Alive and what looks like a potentially unsuccessful Broken Frontier anthology campaign (two recent campaigns that I've supported based off of the strength of the creators) I think are demonstrating something about the crowd funding platform but I'm not too sure what that is yet. There are still wildly successful campaigns out there and while I didn't think the Undead or Alive was going to be massive, I would have bet good money that the Broken Frontier anthology would have been a strong one.

(Update: I must have been overly pessimistic while writing this because the Broken Frontier Anthology Kickstarter had a great push on their last day and made their goal.)



** Boing Boing lets everyone know that Mitch O'Connell the World's Best Artist by Mitch O'Connell is now a relatively inexpensive e-book.  If you aren't familiar with O'Connell's art, check out the link for a nice sampling of his stuff.  This just reminds me that I actually wanted to reread his and Mike Baron's Ginger Fox again.  Add that and the art book to the summer reading list.

** Over at Experiments in Manga, Ash Brown writes about TCAF 2015.Ash's write up is a lot to take in and makes me think I need to go to this show sometime.

** Deb Aoki covers some Do's and Don't for creators looking to push their work.  I'm relatively small potatoes when it comes to this kind of stuff but this is one of the many reasons I don't follow or interact with a lot of creators on any social media.
Think of connecting on Twitter as a way to meet and talk with interesting people, not just as a way to advance your career or sell some books. Twitter is best when you're being real, when you
're not just "broadcasting" but doing some reception (listening) and synthesizing/reacting to what you hear, such that you have actual conversations with other people.
Be someone who gives/shares information and ideas, makes people laugh, makes them think, gives them exposure to a point of view that they may not have considered before. Be a friend and you'll make friends -- this is true in Twitter and in "real life.



** So earlier this week, news broke that Simon Pegg told geeks everwhere to grow up, or something like that.

“Now we’re essentially all consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes. Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously.
“It is a kind of dumbing down, in a way, because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about … whatever.
“Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot.”

And the writer of the next Star Trek movie was widely criticized and applauded for this.

I have two semi-conflicting thoughts about this that I'm totally at peace with:

  1. Are you really going to let a celebrity tell you what you should and shouldn't enjoy?  As I said on Twitter, my parents' entertainment was Dallas, Love Boat and General Hospital.  Is that really any more "smarter" or more "grown up" that our current entertainment?  It's easy to look back at the past and say "it was better then."  Of course it was because it's not now.  It's rose color grasses, the grass being greener, the nostalgic haze of memory.  Pegg and I are the same age exactly (both born on the same day in 1970) and I think he's fallen into the trap of equating our entertainment with our worldviews.  My father's obsession when I was growing up was golf.  He's play it; he'd watch it; he'd study it.  That was his free time.  Is that really any different than what I'm doing?
  2. He's kind of right, you know.  Our entertainment could and should be smarter. That's what he's saying and he's getting in some kind of trouble for it?  I just don't get that.  Shouldn't we want our entertainment to be smarter?  
** All of the Panelling that's fit for Patter this week:

May 20, 2015

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ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times


ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times
Written and Illustrated by Andrew MacLean
Dark Horse Comics

Andrew MacLean has created something distinctive with ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times. It's a story that's at turns sad, funny, scary, and hopeful, all the while centered around a great, unique protagonist.

Aria is a girl (or woman, her age is somewhat indeterminate) wandering the streets of the overgrown, decaying remnants of the city, accompanied only by her cat Jellybeans. They have a fairly limited existence, as she mostly moves between her home inside an underground subway car, and throughout the city as she tries to rebuild an ancient Mech that she's named Gus. The city is otherwise inhabited by locals who don't speak a language that she really understands; two tribes known as the Blue Stripes and the Graybeards. They don't have much other then weapons, but they seem to be fighting for what's left of the city.

Aria is an immediately likable protagonist. A lead character doesn't have to be likable to be compelling (see many stories, including the recent Southern Cross), but this one is, and almost instantly. She's surrounded by decay and ruin, and she's singing opera to herself. She pretends to take her cat's nose, and then in a bit of meta-awareness that's very funny without taking the reader out of the story, she begins to argue, in dialogue, with the caption boxes that illustrate her own thoughts. So from the outset she's a distinctive character, and seems to have a rich inner life. She's walking the corpse of a ruined city, but she's not ruined - quite the contrary, she's full of life, self awareness and humor.

MacLean is a gifted visual storyteller and this is his most ambitious work yet.  You can see the Mignola and Guy Davis influence in MacLean's line work (MacLean has cited Mignola as an influence), but there's so much more going on here than some sort of Hellboy homage.  MacLean has been both generally and specifically influenced by Manga in this work.  The compact size of the book, and the look and feel of the story all bear the influence of Manga storytelling (and when I met MacLean at Boston Comic Con last summer, he mentioned the story Tekkonkinkreet as an inspiration).  ApocalyptiGirl is influenced by a number of sources, but feels distinctive and original.  There's a strong element of the lone swords-woman, but the feeling one gets in this story isn't one of grimness; quite the opposite, it's life and humor and resiliency.  MacLean sells that in his art and scripting.
He uses sharp lines and jagged angles to convey this world; the objects have a somewhat realistic, proportional feel but his people and animals have a more angular, exaggerated look to them. Colors are bright and somewhat flat (which works well here; I don't think that given the exaggerated art style, that hyper-detailed, highly realistic coloring would help the story), and are used very effectively from the very beginning of the story, as the gray of the world and buildings is contrasted with the life and color of Aria and her cat Jelly Beans. The coloring makes the sun seem bright, almost oppressive. To tell the mythic origins of this world, MacLean completely changes up his style and uses mostly white space and simple, iconic color images to tell the origins of this world. It gives the pages a larger than life, almost religious feel, like either scripture or an epic poem.

MacLean brings his skill in sequential storytelling to both the quieter moments (like when Aria is alone in her makeshift home, or walking through the city) and the action, as in a powerful sequence where she is attacked by Blue Stripes and she dispatches them with speed, skill and a ready sword. Those sequences give a visceral, kinetic sense of the speed and motion involved.  Aria runs, slides, leaps and then faces her attackers with her motorcycle. You feel the weight and movement, and the art conveys what a highly capable badass Aria is.  Much of the story is told without words, and MacLean gives a clear sense of the action, so you never feel lost or confused (this is one of those stories that could be read and understand pretty much entirely without captions or dialogue).
The theme that keeps coming through in this story is not just one of hope but also of humanity. Aria keeps to a routine, the tries to take care of herself as best she can, she takes care of a pet; these are things that may seem like luxuries in a desperate situation, but they are also ennobling and part of being a civilized person and resisting the descent into barbarism. Ultimately, Aria's skill and capability as a fighter, researcher and mechanic are what save her life, but her humanity and her compassion (particularly shown in the story's end) that make her great (and a compelling character).

If you're looking for a highly entertaining read from a great, up-and-coming comics creator, I'd highly recommend ApocalyptiGirl.


May 18, 2015

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Injection #1

 

Injection #1
Written by Warren Ellis
Illustrated by Declan Shalvey
Colors by Jordie Bellaire
Letters and Design by Fonografiks
Image Comics

There are certain things that writer Warren Ellis captures better than just about anyone. That looming sense of existential dread wrapped in a sci-fi story that's somewhat impenetrable but completely conveys the sense that "the world is completely f$@&ed"? Ellis (along with some very talented artists) is your guy.  Injection is an ominously promising start in that same vein which explores some of the same themes as his other recent work (Supreme: Blue Rose, Trees, Blackcross), such as the notion that there are terrible forces beyond our understanding that are coming our way, and there's not much we can do about it. Ellis has able artistic collaborators in his Moon Knight partners Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire.  It's a cagey first issue that doesn't explain a whole lot, but nonetheless is a highly intriguing start to the destruction of the world.

From the outset, it's not entirely clear what's going on but (not surprisingly) something terrible is happening. Years earlier, the members of the Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit were brought together to think big thoughts and do big things. Not surprisingly, everything went terribly wrong and now they must deal with the fallout of something called The Injection. The story takes place in two time periods - when the group was first put together, and now, years later as it's time to get the band back together (or what's left of it) to undo the damage that they've done for what they created. Their leader is Maria Kilbride, who spends her downtime in a mental institution. All of the members of this team that we see in the present day seem pretty damaged, whether they're alone in a cabin, walking the ancient roads of England solo, or locked up in a mental institution. But it's clear their work is not done yet.


If the purpose of a first issue of a comic is to set the tone and establish the stakes, along with building mystery and intrigue, then this is a highly successful first issue. Every choice here (whether dialogue or art) feels deliberate, like this is a book that is going to reward careful reading. Ellis likes to explore themes of the unknown and the unexplainable, going all the way back to Planetary (and other series),  which was all about "space-time archaeologists". It feels like this is meant to explore some of the same ideas. However, where Planetary was about the interconnected nature of all of these various unexplained phenomena and the heroic figures that recognize the beauty in the strangeness of the world (and work to preserve it), this doesn't feel nearly as heroic.  This has much more sinister overtones, more like Ellis' other three recent series mentioned above.  It's a story about the bad guys who are trying to clean up their messes.

As in Supreme: Blue Rose, there is a large corporation with an impenetrable name that seems to have some connection to these strange phenomena. As in both Supreme: Blue Rose and Blackcross, there are sinister forces that are just beyond our reach (and our understanding). We don't yet know what the  Injection is, or what it's done, but it seems to have profoundly damaged all of the people involved. This feeling of impending dread, something unnatural inserting itself into our world, is also found in Blackcross and in Trees, Ellis' other recent series at Image comics. In that series, unexplained alien objects arrive on earth and or disruptive and damaging to society (and we chronicle those who attempt to understand the strange phenomena). This series also has some of the other Ellis hallmarks, such as prickly (very British) personalities, and a fondness for acronyms, bureaucracy and pseudo-scientific jargon. This sort of language choice makes perfect sense in the world and Ellis is creating, where large companies with anodyne-sounding names have strange departments making stranger decisions that impact the world.  It's cold and clinical, but that suits the story well.
 
In some ways these themes remind a little me of another recent Image comic, Autumnlands. That book shares nothing as far as plot and art (though both are expertly colored by Jordie Bellaire), as it's about a world full of magical animals. However it's also a story about some of the brightest minds coming together to accomplish remarkable goals and all of their good intentions going horribly wrong. Similar to that story, this theme has a lot of real world parallels such as the Manhattan Project (and as an aside, the theme of a scientific elite taking humanity's future into their own hands is well explored in The Manhattan Projects) creating an atomic bomb, the "best and the brightest" getting the United States intricately involved into Vietnam, and high-level closed door meetings to resolve the financial crisis which had far-reaching consequences.  Here's it's slightly different in that it's just a small department of a large company, but they've somehow set forces in motion beyond the understanding in control of the people who took those actions.

None of the remarkable tone and atmosphere sent in the story would be possible without the work of Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire. These two worked with Warren Ellis previously on Moon Knight, to produce some truly remarkable comic storytelling.* As opposed to the more kinetic style used by Shalvey in Moon Knight (which was a much more action oriented series), here he has a clean, clinical, almost sterile line to convey the world these characters live in.


Shavey's careful, deliberate linework is complemented perfectly by colors from Bellaire. She uses a somewhat muted palate in the present day of the story. Even the outdoor scenes have something of a wan, sad look to them.  This isn't some sort of apocalyptic story, this is much more subtle than that, and the colors reflect that impending disaster. One nice touch throughout the story (much of which takes place in cold, clinical environments) is Kilbride's bright red hair. It's a nice contrast and it evokes the spark of life within her, even when she is at her worst.


Throughout the issue, Shalvey shows the impact that the Injection has had on the main characters. In the introductory scene of the story, there are several pages of interactions between Maria Kilbride, the  leader of the Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit (currently spending time in a mental institution), and a woman called Control (there with a new assignment). Shalvey completely conveys Kilbride's fatigue and her wariness of this new task, we can see (through her facial acting and body language) the way in which she is a tired, broken woman. This is completely contrasted by the version of the same character to whom we're introduced in the first meeting of the Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit. That sequence also takes place in a sterile environment, but it's brighter and cooler in some ways. Kilbride is younger, but more than that, she seems more alive, someone with optimism and enthusiasm. The similar contrast is shown for Brigid Roth and Robin Morel, two other members of the Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit. In their initial meeting they're full of optimism (in the case of Morel) or at least spirit (in the case of Roth), as contrasted with how they seem in the present day.


For Morel in particular the contrast is severe.  In the present day, we see him walking the lonely English countryside, and his eyes are closed as he seems to be absorbing the beauty of this pastoral setting. Along with some thoughtful narration (with great lettering throughout the issue from Fonografiks), the scene of him, the single panel, tells us a great deal about him (his fatigue, his appreciation for the solitude). We see though, that there's rage within him.  When Morel's eyes are finally truly open as he's confronted by an agent of the Company, you see the strength and power and hostility within him. Shalvey and Bellaire accomplish this in a remarkable panel in a windblown scene surrounded by trees, where it makes Morel look almost like he's got superpowers.  The story isn't just about subtle looks and gestures. We do finally get a look at what the Injection might be (or some phenomena more directly affected by the Injection),  and Shalvey and Bellaire effectively show this situation, we understand that the situation is pretty dire.  

The dramatic, unsettling end to the issue effectively shows the weirdness and violence that exists within the story just below the surface, and what readers can expect in future issues.  For a compelling, unsettling science fiction story about how highly intelligent people can come together to wreck the world, I'd highly recommend Injection.

* Seriously, if you haven't read their arc on the comic, stop what you're doing right now and go pick it up. One of my favorite series of 2014.

May 17, 2015

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Five Questions with Chris Schweizer



We're very happy to be part of the Five Questions with Kids Comics Authors, a special celebration coordinated by publisher MacTeenBooks. All this past week, creators have been talking about working on kids comics. Today it's our turn to host 5 questions, and we have none other than Chris Schweizer of the Crogan's Adventures series!

With no further ado, here we go!

Chris Schweizer

From Rafael: I saw a copy of the Sketchbook you published and was really impressed by the amount of preparation you do for your books. Are you a compulsive sketcher, or do you only draw when you have to?

Schweizer: The last couple of years have seen a marked decline in the amount of sketching that I do.  When I was teaching, I would usually fill up one sketchbook a month, whereas now I've probably used two or three in the last two years.  A big part of this is because of my circumstances then and now.  I was commuting, going to meetings, traveling to shows, talking with students, etc, and any time that my hands weren't otherwise occupied I was sketching.  It helped me keep focus on what was going on rather than letting my mind wander.  But for the past couple of years I've flown very little and when I'm not at my desk working I'm usually playing with my daughter, so sketching-as-something-to-occupy-my-faculties no longer applies.  And when I'm working on preparatory stuff for future books, I'm often drawing on the computer, just because that's where I physically am when on the clock.

That isn't to say that I'm not drawing a lot, it's just that now I'm devoting most my energy to finished pieces rather than exploratory sketches.  In addition to the books I've done over the last two years I've also done probably twenty-five posters, six or seven hundred character portraits (five hundred fifty-five of which will be collected in an upcoming art book), and a decent amount of animation design work, mostly environments.

The only time I regularly sketch anymore is in church, as it's the one time my hands aren't otherwise occupied, but I'll probably put more effort into sketching this year as I start to travel again.

From Jorge: You went to Savannah College of Art & Design and also taught there for several years.  My nephew is going to start going there this Fall.  What advice do you have for young artists going to art school?  What should they be focus on while at school so they can make a living working in the arts once they graduate?

Schwiezer: One of the biggest strengths of art school - its intense focus on one subject - is also its biggest weakness.  While a student should certainly do all that he or she can to absorb, reflect upon, and internalize the rules and principles being taught related to the student's medium, college is the best possible time to try to learn as much as possible in as many disparate fields of study as might hold a student's interest.  The most employable artists (if one is looking at fields in which there is collaboration, production, etc) are the ones who not only have a mastery of their craft but who are also well-read, well-reasoned, and varied in their interests.  This affects your interpersonal relationships and it also benefits your art by giving you perspectives that may not be shared by your peers.

A good understanding of math might yield format or dramatic pacing or compositional ideas.  A good understanding of sociology might help you craft character.  An understanding of engine mechanics might give your designs a sense of real-world applicability.  Geography, engineering, journalism, the trombone, birdwatching, rock climbing, coin collecting, knitting... however broad or narrow the scope of one's interests, those interests will affect one's art, and that's a good thing.  It forestalls the homogeny that might otherwise manifest when a bunch of students are studying the same thing in the same way.  So take advantage of all of your classes, all of your guest speakers, any publishing opportunities that may arise, etc, but also take as many electives as you can, sit in on as many non-major-related lectures as you can.  Join academic clubs and fun clubs and anything else that you can to broaden your exposure to things about which you may not know much.



Question: Can you talk about your cartooning influences? what were some of your favorite comics as kid?

Schweizer: We had a lot of comic strips in the house.  As close to complete collections of Peanuts Books, Calvin & Hobbes, and Pogo as were possible at the time, and one or two collections each of many of the other strips.  I had a big Dick Tracy collection that I read to tatters, and a big Burne Hogarth adaptation of the first half of the first Tarzan novel.  Around third or fourth grade I got a collection of the first ten issues of Spider-Man, and I was big into that book.  I think it's better than any other superhero run of its era by such a wide margin.  Ditko's priorities were staging and clarity, and as a result of reading those stories over and over I think they've become my priorities, too.

When I was in high school I fell out of reading monthly comics but started picking up Bone and Usagi Yojimbo, and they were both huge for me.  Both as direct influences on my approach to comics-making, but also from a business standpoint.  These guys weren't confined to the genres of their time and that was exciting.  I wanted to do historical adventure, and they were proof that you could do whatever you wanted if you did it very well.

Question: What can you tell us about your upcoming book The Creeps?

Schweizer: The two genres in which I've always wanted to work are historical adventure and kids' horror.  Not horror generally, but horror for kids.  I love being scared, and I love scaring others, but I think there's something especially wonderful about scary stuff geared at and featuring kids.  The social situation of kids is so much different than that of adults.  They're afforded very little agency to determine their own affairs, they have very little control over the social makeup of their daily encounters, and I think that these things add layers to the drama in a way that adult horror usually doesn't.  Kids have to deal with stuff on a daily basis that would just destroy adults, they're the best suited to dealing with monsters because they roll with things so well.  Add to that the wonder and mystery of childhood and you have a recipe for exciting, engaging, terrifying stories.

The Creeps is about four very unpopular middle schoolers.  They're unpopular because they're always uncovering these terrible monster plots, and everyone else in town wishes that they wouldn't rock the boat.  So they would have it a lot easier if they just let whatever terrible things were going to happen happen, but their consciences won't let them.  I'm hoping that the books are both funny and scary, that's my goal.

Question: Our colorist John Novak colored some of the Tricky Tales books. Are you working on any more?

Schweizer: I'm afraid not.  That was a fun project, but the company that made them, Lerner, scaled back its comics imprint considerably.  I did get to work with my editor on that project again with the first Creeps book, which was wonderful.  No, my time now is mostly divided between The Crogan Adventures and The Creeps, though I always try to squeeze more in if I can.  There are a lot of stories that I want to tell!

May 15, 2015

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Weekend Pattering for 5/15/2015 Part 2- Archie Revisited


** Following up on the Weekend Pattering that went up a few hours ago, Archie Comics has cancelled their Kickstarter.  Bleeding Cool has a copy of the email that went out to this campaign's supporters explaining this move:
While the response to these new titles has been amazing, the reaction to an established brand like Archie crowdfunding has not been. Though we saw this as an innovative, progressive and “outside-the-box” way to fund the accelerated schedule we wanted to produce these books, it became another conversation, leading us further away from the purpose of this whole campaign: to get these amazing books in the hands of fans faster than we could on our own. While we fully expected our goal to be funded, it was no longer about the books and how amazing they will be. We don’t want that. This is why we’re shutting this Kickstarter down today.
This is a pretty smart move for the publisher as a lot of people have been questioning this campaign since it launched earlier this week.  Of course, the cynic in me wants to think that having only raised less than 10% of their goal by this point also had something to do with this decision.  If they were already looking close to having been fully funded after only a week, would they have cancelled?

The books will be published but not as quickly as they would have been with the Kickstarter funding.  So you can still look forward to Jughead by yours and mine favorite comic artist TBA.
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Weekend Pattering for May 15, 2015- Ten Will Get You $3.99


** Archie Comics has been getting quite a bit of attention for the past couple of years.  Kevin Keller, Life with Archie and Afterlife with Archie have all been some great strides for comics and have been some dang fine comics as well.  Breaking out of the bubblegum pop that Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and all of those characters have been known for for decades, the last couple of years have seen Archie get fairly experimental and more daring.  Whether it's tackling gay characters, their own characters getting older and moving on with life after high school or the weird situations that they can generate by throwing their characters into a horror story, there's been a push to do new things with their characters that has been rightly applauded by comic fans.

In just a couple of months, they've got Mark Waid and Fiona Staples reimagining Archie and his cast for the 21st century.  Waid is riding his second or third or fourth wave of popularity and thanks to her stellar work on Saga, Staples is getting a lot of recognition the last couple of years.  This comic sounds like the next home run for Archie Comics.  So why stop there?  How does Chip Zdarsky and my favorite artists TBA sound on Jughead?  Haven't you always wanted to see Adam Hughes draw Betty and Veronica?  And Dan Parent and J. Bone should be great showing us the further adventures of Kevin Keller and Veronica.  Welcome to the new Archie Comics!

If you really want to see all of this happen, all you've got to do is throw a few dollars towards Archie Comics Kickstarter campaign for $350,000.

Now honestly, all of these comics sound pretty good with the possible exception of TBA on the Jughead comic.  (Seriously, when will this stop?)  For the longest time, Archie Comics was all but ignored by the direct market fan but these recent moves as well as publishing some truly fantastic comics has put a lot of attention on the comics publisher.

And maybe $350,000 doesn't seem like a lot when you consider in 1998, Mark Waid's annual salary was reported to be $250,000 by Parade Magazine.  That's what Kingdom Come money looks like, boys and girls.  But for Archie Comics, let's try to take a quick look at what this means.

John Jackson's Comichron estimates that in 2014, the Direct Market (comics and goods sold by Diamond Comics through North American comic shops only) was around $540.4 million.  That's an estimate with a lot of qualifiers on it but it's still a pretty good number.  That's easily the best year that Comichron has reported on. Through Diamond, we know that Archie's Direct Market marketshare was 0.89%.  That's roughly $4.8 million in revenue that Archie Comics generated in the direct market last year.  Now due to costs, talent, shipping, distribution and a whole mess of other stuff, that's not profit for Archie Comics.  That's just how much product worth of comics sold through comic shops.  Now I've got no idea what kind of profit margins the comic industry runs at so it's hard to tell how much of that Archie Comics pocketed.

But think of this for a moment...  That $350,000 that they are asking for through Kickstarter is about 7% of the dollar amount of what they sold through Diamond Comics last year.  That doesn't seem like a lot.

And here is where things start to look unstable.  If Archie is needing this money to fund their "New Archie" initiative, it doesn't speak that well to their planning, does it?  On the surface, this looks close to Fantagraphics' campaign a few years ago to fund their publishing but that company was in a bit of dire straits after the death of Kim Thompson.  And Fantagraphics' goal was less than half of Archie's for quite a few more books to get published.

And then there's Archie's Kickstarter rewards.  For $10, you get one $3.99 book and maybe a tweet thrown at you.  So they're asking you to pay over twice cover price to what?  Help them out?  Be a good buddy?  Add a new addition on to Chip Zdarsky's house?  Make sure that TBA gets to draw all of the comics that he wants to?

The Archie Kickstarter looks to be almost the opposite of everything Kickstarter wants to be, particularly the fourth point about their About Us:
4. Creators keep 100% ownership of their work. 
Backers are supporting projects to help them come to life, not to profit financially. Instead, project creators offer rewards to thank backers for their support. Backers of an effort to make a book or film, for example, often get a copy of the finished work. A bigger pledge to a film project might get you into the premiere — or land you a private screening for you and your friends. One artist raised funds to create a wall installation, then gave pieces of it to her backers when the exhibit ended.
Unless their meaning "Creator of the Kickstarter" as in Jon Goldwater is the Creator here, this isn't supporting work owned by Mark Waid, Fiona Staples, Chip Zdarsky, TBA, Dan Parent or J. Bone.  This isn't about supporting creators who need it; this is about helping a corporation who has a profit/loss report to manage and can't afford the creators it wants to have.

Crowdfunding has been one of the truly admirable things that has developed on the internet over the past couple of years.  Just think about what it means if you start using it to help support companies who should be self-sustaining.  It's not always a bad decision but it's also not always the right decision.

** Even with all of this, Kickstarter is great.  There are a metric ton of comic projects on Kickstarter right now.  Brianne and Rob even highlighted a couple of great projects earlier this week.  Go and help a creator publish a passion project that he or she owns.

** Panel Patterers just keep on doing their thing this week.

May 14, 2015

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Rat Queens, Volume 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'Rygoth

Rat Queens, Volume 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'Rygoth
Written by Kurtis Wiebe
Illustrated by Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Šejić
Published by Image Comics
This second arc of Rat Queens is going to go down as one of the longest drawn out comic arcs in recent memory. One year and a shift in artists later, this paperback contains issues #6 - #10 and fortunately continues steaming forward with  all of its well-deserved momentum. This is a title for anyone interested in the fantasy genre as it plays with established tropes in a witty and engaging way.
The arc joins the story the morning after the raging party our titular heroines threw after defending the town from a rampaging goblin army. After partying hard everyone is looking forward to a bit of time to recuperate while attempting to work out what to do next with their lives. As is the way with a group of mercenaries, life is never that simple. While issue #6 is filled with a hilarious crusade against the mushroom people (don't ask), the Rat Queens soon discover a growing threat tied to the past of resident necromancer Dee when her secret husband unexpectedly comes to visit.

As their town starts to crumble around them, the Rat Queens need to band together with the rival teams of mercenaries to defend everything that they've come to know and love. This arc is a great example of the feeling of comradery and family that Wiebe is able to create between his characters. Even throughout the harshest of times, it's very easy to tell how much these characters care for one another. It speaks to Wiebe's talent as a writer that after only 10 issues of a series, even the secondary characters have become a core part of this title as it continues forwards.
The antagonistic creatures that appear to attack the town are a stroke of brilliance. As a form of self-defence, they cast a spell that forces you to relive your old memories rendering you useless. This masterfully interweaves the present day devastation with little flashes into each character's past; the cuts between scenes create a contrast that causes a few very dramatic cliffhangers.

With the first arc of this series introducing us to the dynamic present in this group of mercenaries, the flashes into the past reveal some juicy secrets with serious repercussions in the future. The supporting cast continues to grow even further and as the characters come from all races and gender identities, it creates a very welcoming and relatable atmosphere to anyone looking to jump into comics.
Issue #9 brings a shift in artists to the fan-favourite and one-man-machine Stjepan Šejić. The two artists have a very different style which causes a slight jarring when crossing that issue gap, but Šejić is proving himself to be a worthy addition to this title. While his first issue feels a bit rushed with a very noticeable lack of background detail, he really pulls it out of the bag with issue #10. Every panel that he draws is breathtaking and his well-established ability to draw emotive faces shines.


The detail contained in every panel that Šejić turns in during issue #10 contains such a high attention to detail. Whether the shot is showing a simple spell, a tactful dodge around an incoming arrow or even a passionate kiss, the amount of shown is astounding and highlights the three-dimensional nature of this world.
With Rat Queens seemingly back on a regular schedule, the positive and welcoming fan-base will hopefully continue to grow and continue to encourage comic newbies to pick up the hobby. The natural humour and intimacy that Wiebe and Šejić are bringing to the table with this series clearly resonates with a lot of people and shows no sign of letting up. This is a series that you need to get into before it's too late. You won't regret it.
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Please Welcome Mark Dickson to Panel Patter!

I'm very pleased to announce we have a new addition to the Panel Patter team, making his debut today: Please welcome Mark Dickson!

Part of being a good reviewer is looking to see what others are saying about the same comics you're reading. Whenever I discover someone whose insight into a comic brings an idea that I might not have thought of, they immediately become a person I want to talk to about joining our merry band. I really liked how Mark showed he could talk about a comic's strengths and weaknesses, and happily, he was interested in coming on board.

Here's what Mark has to say about himself:
Mark Dickson started reading comics three years ago but, after taking the dive into X-Men continuity, was lost and presumed dead. After resurfacing a year later, he started to branch out into more independent comics and is constantly on the look-out for more. However, if you're ever looking for a detailed explanation of the Scott Summers family tree then look no further. You've found your only-slightly-too-obsessed expert.
Outside of comics, Mark is just about to complete a degree in computer science and is soon going to be joining the terrifying adult world of paying taxes.
His blog can be found at thelastaskani.com
Mark's first review, on the second trade of Rat Queens, will be up on the site shortly. He's off to a great start, as you will soon see. Please give him a warm welcome!
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Dreaming of Football, God and Southern Bastards


Southern Bastards Volume 2: Gridiron
Written by Jason Aaron
Drawn and Colored by Jason Latour
Lettered by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Image Comics

“You seein’ it, boy?”

“I see so many X’s and O’s I can’t think straight.”

“But do you see the face of God?”

Jason Aaron and Jason Latour are making it difficult to figure out just what kind of comic series their Southern Bastards is supposed to be. The first book Here Was A Man was fairly clear that it was going to be the story of Earl Tubbs, a man who maybe wasn’t good but he was a lot better than the world he grew up in. And it seemed like after returning to that world after forty years, he was going to take a stand and to be a hero. And then Euless Boss, the Coach of the local high school football team, brutally beat and killed him. It was an ending that you just didn’t see coming. Tubbs lost to the villain of the town. So, how do Aaron and Latour follow that up? In Southern Bastards Volume 2: Gridiron, they almost make us think that Euless Boss is the hero by telling us his secret origin.

Euless is a sad kid and a horrible adult. He’s one of those kids who tries out for the football team to try to win his father’s love only he doesn’t deserve it. And his father certainly doesn’t deserve the love of his son. A criminal by nature, the elder Boss brings nothing but pain and evil into his son’s life. So Euless’ way to try to create some kind of love in his father is through domination, transferring that pain to the offensive players on the opposing football teams. Describing the meaning he found on the football field, Euless says, “Beating somebody so bad you knock the fight out of ‘em. Ain’t nothin’ in the world feels better than that.”




Even though he was barely more than a kid when he said that to his father, it’s still the desire that Euless is chasing as an older man. It was not enough to beat Earl Tubbs in the first book. Coach Boss had to take the fight out of Earl and the only way to do that was to kill him. Even beyond Earl Tubbs, Boss needs to take the fight out of everyone in town. He needs to show up at Earl’s funeral to prove that he’s not scared of what he’s done. He put Earl’s stick, the weapon of Earl’s father, up on display for the whole town to see. In high school football, it was about dominating the other team to gain some measure of love but now it’s about dominating everyone because if he can’t have their love (and he knows he’ll never have that,) he’ll have their respect and their fear. And when when Earl showed that he wouldn’t give Boss respect or fear, Boss took his life.

The stories of Euless and Earl are not that different. Between the two books, Aaron and Latour look to be telling the stories of a hero and a villain but really they are telling the stories of two sons. Earl and Euless are the sons of their father but they’re also the sons of Craw County, Alabama, where football rules supreme. In Boss’s side of the story, we see the kid from the wrong side of the tracks who on the outside looked to have made quite a name for himself. In contrast, Earl was the high school football hero and sheriff's son who disappeared after graduation and was practically forgotten about.



And while Boss is learning to be a football player, his mentor and friend is Big, a blind black man who is only the ballboy on the football team. He may be blind but he sees so much more of the game than Boss could ever hope to. When he asks Boss “... do you see the face of God?” it could be an ironic moment, a blind man asking a kid that question but I don’t know if Aaron and Latour think it is. When Big asks Boss that question, he’s looking for a specific answer from Boss. Of all of the role models in Boss’s life, Big is the one who can teach him something new. Big is the mentor who maybe has a chance of putting Boss on the road of salvation or at least a road out of Craw County. Big is asking Boss that question to find out if Boss can see the grace and beauty that can be found in the game but Boss only sees the X’s and O’s. He only sees the mechanics of the football life without seeing the essence of it.

The anger and rage in Southern Bastards Volume 2: Gridiron is palpable even as the character try to pretend that it is not there. The way that Boss treats the killing of Earl Tubbs isn’t prideful or damning. It’s anger that he feels; anger towards the people who won’t respect him unless he shows how dominating he’s capable of being. He fought for that respect when he was a high school junior trying out for the football team and he’s fighting for that respect still as he coaches that same team years later. Like the story of Earl Tubbs in the previous book, Euless Boss is a tired man in a tireless struggle.