June 30, 2015

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Fantasy Sports #1 by Sam Bosma

Written and Illustrated by Sam Bosma
Published by Nobrow

Wiz, an intern with the Mage Guild, is paired up with a grizzled veteran who barrels his way through missions. She'd love to change partners, but isn't given a choice, and now they're an unlikely tag team in a basketball game of life and death in the delightful Fantasy Sports #1.

This is such a strange beast, but it's absolutely brilliant. On the one hand, it's got the vibe of the early years of Manga, with  two comically sized characters paired together, a boss whose chin could double as the letter "V", gigantic eyes on Wiz, and lots of semi-posing when the characters go to speak. It wouldn't be out of place in an anthology with Tezuka, and the influence is clearly shown on Bosma's artistic sleeve.

Yet on the other hand, there's so much about this that is perfectly modern. First, the co-main character--and the one who must rise to save the day--is the plucky girl, not a young boy (though visually, she's a bit ambiguous, with no obvious curves and a hairstyle that's similarly suited to either gender). The sport in question is basketball, and they're playing horse. Wiz flips the bad guy--an ancient mummy who morphs into a gigantic, NBA-styled player for the game--the bird at one point. There's the deadpanning skeleton guard, who plays the part of the modern-thinking, self-aware henchman. ("Well, if all the boys is all dead, I guess that makes me Cap'n now, don't it?") Bosma, who works on Stephen Universe for Cartoon Network, throws in the winks and nods that have been a hallmark of modern animation for kids here, mixing the homage to Japanese comics with a flavor that's entirely Millennial.

In the wrong hands, this could go terribly wrong, with too many winks and nods, in an attempt to show how clever the creator is. However, Bosma understands what he's trying to do and makes it work with nary a hitch. The story is Shonen at its heart, and follows the pattern to the letter, even if the details along the way are very different: Somewhat unhappy youngster with adults who stifle him/her encounters a monster that is impossibly large and powerful, yet finds a way to win. That's not too far from Dororo or Bleach, but Fantasy Sports approaches things in a way that's fresh and unique. There's just enough winks and nods and the idea that the primary fight is one of hoops that it pulls the story outside the traditional framework enough that anyone not as invested in Shonen stories could (and definitely will) still enjoy this one.

It also helps that Bosma's pair of main characters work well together, even if they don't exactly get alone. Wiz is a smart and crafty mage who is just as likely to try to logic the situation out as go in guns blazing. But as we see in the final confrontation, she's willing to take the lead action-wise, if the need calls for it. A lot of kids reading this will see her as an avatar for them, I think--trying to get their side heard when those who "know better" move on ahead anyway. Meanwhile, though Mug seems like a jerk at first meeting (he doesn't want her as his intern anymore than she wants to work with him), he quickly endears himself to the reader by being a silly bull in a China shop, busting up things first and asking questions later. It's obvious he can't win a game of horse, but he doesn't give up, and he's quick to worry that his own failure might harm Wiz. They grow together as characters, which is a lot of fun to read.

The final piece in this puzzle is of course, the artwork. I touched on some of that above, but I want to emphasize again just how well Bosma's managed to capture the feel of an older manga without being a slave to it. For one thing, there's color throughout--a muted palate that lets the linework shine through but allows Bosma to use some dramatic moments with a splash of lightness against the black inks. It really helps highlight the posing moments, comedic emphasis, and other little touches here and there, such as the Mage's office being a surreal Arctic Ocean, with a hazy purple horizon. The action flows from panel to panel, and there's a nice variety among, them, too. It also keeps the comedy going, such as the scenes with the Skeleton Captain or seeing Mug barrel his way through life. There's a lot of things that are driven by the art, like the Mummy's third eye becoming the basketball or allowing the creature to ignore the rules of anatomy in order to heighten the drama.

Fantasy Sports promises that it's a "number 1" and I really hope that means there are future installments coming in the years to come. It's yet another great comic from Nobrow, and highly recommended for all ages, manga fans, and those who like irreverent comics in the vein of Adventure Time, Lumberjanes, and similar comics that are either directly from Cartoon Network or inspired by them. This was a joy to read, and I think you'll feel that way, too.

June 29, 2015

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Quick Hits: Nonplayer by Nate Simpson and Hand Drying in America by Ben Katchor

Summer is in full swing in North America, and we've got hot takes on some cool comics. Leading off is James Kaplan, with a look at the return of Nonplayer...

 Nonplayer #1-2
Written and Illustrated by Nate Simpson
Image Comics

The first issue of Nonplayer was published in 2011, and the second issue came out a few weeks ago. I hadn't read the first issue when it was initially published but when I saw just how much excitement and interest there was for issue 2, I knew I had to check it out. I'm so glad that I did. It's a story about the immersive nature of gaming, of losing yourself in another reality or another identity, and is one of the most beautiful looking comic books I've seen in a very long time.

That's kind of where you have to start with Nonplayer, because as interesting and thought-provoking as the story is, the art will absolutely blow you away. It is beautiful and detailed and vivid with clean lines that bring everything on the page to life. I wasn't familiar with Nate Simpson or his art before, but I'm highly impressed, it's a style that looks like the highest quality animation, with great detail, sort of like if you combine the work of Fiona Staples with that of Geoff Darrow.  The story takes place sometime in the future, where gaming and virtual reality have met and the result is people spending significant portions of their waking lives in immersive games that are more than just games, they're fully realized worlds with AI that mimic sentience to a remarkable degree. 

The first issue focuses on a character named Dana, a young woman who loves to lose herself in the game because the beautiful, fantastical world of Jarvath is far more compelling than her real life as a tamale delivery driver in a crowded future city. The second issue expands the scope of the story considerably as we get to see the CEO of the company that's created the Jarvath game which has over a billion users, we get to see the  role of law enforcement where monitoring of artificial intelligence is part of their job, and we get some explanations for some of the strange goings on in the Jarvath world and beyond. It's a gorgeous, interesting, engaging series and I'm looking forward to reading more whenever it comes out.  (Review by James Kaplan)

Hand-Drying in America and Other Stories
by Ben Katchor

Hand-Drying in America is one of those book one encounters skeptically-- the single page stories filling oversized pages seem complex and wordy, the pale colors, scrawly illustration lines, and unfamiliar, often fanciful metropolitan constructions make you squint and scratch your head. But, if you can find it in you to give it a chance, this collection of Ben Katchor’s strips from Metropolitan magazine -- which focus primarily on the absurdities of modern urban development and the
growing prevalence of architectural eyesores -- are by turns hilarious, sharp, and deeply troubling in the best way. From stories about the inconveniences of conveniences such as hand-dryers to the
soul-killing quality of unopenable hotel windows, from the encroaching dullness of big-box modern condominiums to the loss of small businesses and historic storefronts, the awkwardness of hearing
conversations through apartment walls, the doldrums of office design, Katchor takes the smallest elements of daily life and turns each into a full-fledged legend of American “progress”, often sarcastically skewered or nostalgically elegized.

Though taken as a whole book, it is a bit exhausting, each individual page presents a fully-formed and well-loved world, with precise visual details, both architectural and intimate, and Katchor’s dry narration sears each story into the reader’s brain. Even though the stories revel in ironies and
absurdities, it’s clear that Katchor has a great love of the ever-changing urban environment and imparts that with flourish in all that he creates. (Review by Emilia Packard)

June 28, 2015

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Mulan Revelations #1 by Robert Alter, Marc Andreyko and Micah Kaneshiro

Mulan Revelations #1 (of 4)
Created by Robert Alter
Written by Marc Andreyko
Illustrated by Micah Kaneshiro
Lettered by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Retelling classic fairy-tales has become a common occurrence in cinema in recent years. They have been criticised for their lack of originality and unadventurous storylines, so you would not be blamed for approaching this series with a certain amount of trepidation. However, the creative team manage to take a story that you think you know and put it into an entirely different setting.

This first issue introduces Mulan in the year 500BC as a magnificent warrior fighting in an enormous battle against an enemy known only as "The Hybrids." As soon as it becomes clear to her allies and masters that the battle is lost, she is temporally displaced by them to continue the battle at a more opportune time. By introducing the character into a familiar scene and then immediately tearing her away from it, the reader has a chance to gain an appreciation for the context of the story while still keeping the story as fresh as possible.

Mulan can be added to the rapidly growing list of strong female protagonists in comics. While this is a fantastic expansion of the medium, some character introductions have been more successful than others. True equality comes when the character's gender isn't an important part of the story being told. In both the script from Andreyko and the art from Kaneshiro, she is never objectified and the focus is entirely on her achievements and capabilities.

Mulan isn't afraid to assert herself in any situation that she finds herself in and takes complete control of the path she wants her life to take. The character has a realistic and complex past and we've begun to get a hint at what drives her. It's remarkable to see that her prowess hasn't stunted her compassion for others; this presents her as an extremely likeable protagonist.

This issue begins in an ancient Chinese war and quickly transitions to an enormous and technologically advanced world. Kaneshiro's art looks phenomenal in each scene and he gets to show what he's truly capable of; the colouring has a painted aspect to it that highlights the beauty of the art even further. By limiting heavy inking and bright colouring to the main characters, Kaneshiro guides the reader's eye with masterful skill. The other characters are still visible but manage to fade into the background and are prevented from stealing focus.

A common complaint of highly detailed art like Kaneshiro's is how static each panel can seem. While there are definitely times within this story where it lacks the dynamic flow that comics require, it manages to pull it off reasonably effectively. It's worth noting that in the more action-oriented scenes, the motion is always clear even if it does sometimes feel like you're looking at a fixed image.

Even after following her around for the entire issue, Mulan remains something of an enigma. It is unclear how much of her history and destiny she is aware of which is a very interesting creative decision. Along with that, Mulan's supporting cast each get a small scene introducing them to the reader and lets us know what their relationship is to Mulan. With a lot of potential, it's going to be great to see the part that each of them has to play in the months to come.

The first section of this book feels extremely fast paced even though it takes up a third of the entire book. The remainder of the book follows Mulan around in her new life and feels like a far more substantial section of story. This world building is presented in a way that makes it feel as though you're following Mulan about on a regular day and gives a great insight into how the world works. However, the amount of story progression could be argued to be a little bit slow which is not uncommon when a status-quo is being set up.

Through the use of both sections of story, we get introduced to the series antagonists and get hints at both their longevity and ability to manipulate everything from behind the scenes. Even though their motivations are currently ambiguous, Alter and Andreyko hint at their end goal and what they are trying to get from Mulan.

This issue marks an extremely promising start to this redefinition of Mulan in the context of a futuristic world. Her confidence and kindness are both infectious and endearing. Alter and Andreyko have created a fascinating mystery with The Hybrids and, as they begin to make their move, their motivations will hopefully become clear. While this chapter didn't charge ahead with the story, it has laid a strong foundation to build upon in the rest of this miniseries as Mulan's journey really kicks into high gear.

June 27, 2015

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Graphic Nonfiction: Murder Mystery Superfan by Andrea Tsurumi

I've always been a big genre fiction person, going back to when I first learned to read. It's no wonder that comic books stayed in my lifeblood!

While I don't knock anyone who loves reading literary fiction, I can't think of a time where I'd rather read it than a good mystery or sci fi. And while I don't do as much detective fiction in prose form as I used to (my time as a Sci Fi/Fantasy/Horror reviewer for PW keeps me pretty tied up, as does reading short sci fi/fantasy to bolster my own writing), I still love the genre.

So does Andrea Tsurumi, and she gives it a loving, graphical treatment in this piece.  Here's a sample to whet your appetite:

Go read the rest now, and enjoy!

June 26, 2015

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Weekend Pattering for June 26th, 2015-- Tangents, What Is It Good For?

** You know what we do here.  We patter about panels.

** The Advocate has a great interview with Sophie Campbell about her comics Jem and the Holograms as well as Sophie's recent experience about coming out as a transgender woman.
But it was also super scary. I didn’t know how people would react, my family in particular of course, and I was worried about being fired from Jem because I was scared that IDW or Hasbro would feel like this wasn’t what they signed up for. [I worried] I [would] be committing career suicide both by throwing away the “brand” I’d built for myself and creating the possibility that I wouldn’t be able to get work anymore. I was scared of opening myself up to discrimination and transphobic trolls. It was nerve-racking — I felt sick to my stomach leading up to when I was planning to come out.
I've never read many of Campbell's comics but the artwork in Jem looks like it's a lot of fun.

** This Chris Schweizer Guide to Spotting Tangents is your required reading for this week.  (I just noticed that this was first posted in 2011 but it's still a lot of good information.)

A tangent is when two or more lines interact in a way that insinuates a relationship between them that the artist did not intend.

It can create confusion on the part of the audience as to what it is that they’re looking at. It can cause the spatial depth that one attempts to cultivate through the use of planes to become flattened. Most of all, it creates a decidedly unwelcome aesthetic response: tangents are just plain ugly. 
There are a lot of different types of tangents, as least according to the way I define them. In order to make it easier on my students when giving critiques, I’ve categorized them and named them. This may have been done before, but I’ve not encountered it. My hope is that, by making this “spot-the-enemy” guide, fewer artists will fall into the tangent trap by knowing what to look for.

** At The Response, seven black cartoonists discuss race and their reaction to last week's killing in Charleston, SC.

Richie Pope: The Confederate flag is a tangible thing for “good guys” to rally against without really thinking about themselves. There’s not enough introspection about racism. It’s often a game of Find The Racist and if they can’t find the evil villain, then where is the racism? So I get why people want the flag taken down, but it’s not like it’s the life force of racism. Americans get a tiny tangible victory and then claim racism is over. Seeing small progresses of basic decency as the deathstroke against racism instead of being in spite of it. Like a whole group of Americans have been weight-training and the rest are like, “Damn, this five pounds sure is heavy, but I lifted it! Aren’t we both equally strong?”Richie Po: The Confederate flag is a tangible thing for “good guys” to rally against without really thinking about themselves. There’s not enough introspection about racism. It’s often a game of Find The Racist and if they can’t find the evil villain, then where is the racism? So I get why people want the flag taken down, but it’s not like it’s the life force of racism. Americans get a tiny tangible victory and then claim racism is over. Seeing small progresses of basic decency as the deathstroke against racism instead of being in spite of it. Like a whole group of Americans have been weight-training and the rest are like, “Damn, this five pounds sure is heavy, but I lifted it! Aren’t we both equally strong?”

** Image Comics is publicizing the return of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's Phonogram in August. If you're me, this is a good thing because Phonogram: The Singles Club is probably one of my favorite comics of this century. I wrote about it five (???) years ago and for two creators who would spend the next five years playing with format, the structure of The Singles Club still just resonates for me.

And this cover, riffing on Patrick Nagel?  What's not to love here.

I'm now going to go an put on my vinyl copy of Rio and dream about 1983.  

June 23, 2015

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Stray Volume 1

Stray Volume 1
Written by Vito Delsante
Line Art by Sean Izaakse
Color Art by Ross A. Campbell (flashback) and Simon Gough (modern)
Published by Action Lab

It's never easy to be the sidekick, and when you start to question the validity of the justice system, it's even harder. When the son of the Doberman, aka Rottweiler, learns that his father was murdered, he pulls himself out of the gutter and back into the fight in a trade that's an interesting take-off from the Batman mythos.

Normally, I'm not overly fond of premises that fall back on existing heroes, but this time, it works well. Instead of Dick Grayson just trying to become his own hero, this time the sidekick openly rejects the law-and-order stance of his mentor/father. He's not merely trying to live up to a legacy here, but instead doesn't want any part of it. The other heroes treatment of him when he comes back to find out who killed Dad is note-perfect, and I like how this version of the fallen hero's redemption doesn't involve just stepping back into old roles. Rodney will forge his own path, assuming there are further comics featuring the character.

It's not perfect, of course. Some of the dialogue is a bit tin-eared, and I had an issue with the villain of the piece, who seems to be inserted just to give Rodney a big, bad villain to fight. The solo hero vs other heroes cliche also shows up, and of course, there's the little problem of Rodney being a drug pusher that falls off the storyline over time. Still, it works through the mystery quite well, even with the definite echo of the death of the Comedian in Watchman. Sometimes, Delsante isn't able to escape cape comic cliches and they do stand out, at least to this long-time comic reader.

One of the things that makes this notable for me is the art from Sean Izaakse. He's clearly influenced by classic, 1970s/1980s Marvel/DC books, with things like multiple images of the hero on a splash page, characters dancing across the page, and ensuring that everything felt very fluid. There's very little posing, and whether the panel is small or large, Izaakse structures it so that the reader's eye is drawn to the most important image. We get a lot of varied angles, too, which helps with the movement.  His action sequences are definitely a step above most of what we see in an Action Lab book, and show a real eye for design. Facial features aren't a strong suit, but the flow of the bodies and little touches like a finger pointing or a shrugged shoulder make up for the lack of strong emotions.

Stray is a series that does a nice job of mixing the familiar with a fresh take, doing things that a longstanding continuity cannot, while implying a continuity of its own. I've grown a bit bored with "fallen hero" stories, but this one caught my eye and is definitely worth checking out. (Review by Rob McMonigal)

June 22, 2015

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The Disciples #1 by Steve Niles, Christopher Mitten and Jay Fotos

The Disciples #1
Created by Steve Niles and Christopher Mitten
Written by Steve Niles
Illustrated by Christopher Mitten
Colored by Jay Fotos
Lettered by Thomas Mauer
Black Mask Studios

Space really freaks some people out. I look up at the stars and I'm filled with wonder. What's out there? Who's out there? But, pretty much any place there is wonder there's also an opportunity to be terrified. The unknown, the vast emptiness of it, the lack of opportunities to get help if there's a problem, the likelihood that anything we meet out there will be something for which we are woefully unprepared...ok now I'm a little terrified too.  Just recently in comics, Nameless, Roche Limit and Southern Cross have dealt with weird threats in space. Looking more broadly, I'd never really want to go into space if it's anything like Aliens, Solaris or Event Horizon, or the one where Johnny Depp is an astronaut.  

That brings us to The Disciples.  What's creepier than space?  Creepy fanatical religious cults. Combine the two together, and you've got the potential for something really interesting. This first issue is mostly a setup issue but it hints at a big, weird, scary story, while establishing a claustrophobic atmosphere and a looming sense of dread.

It's some time in the future, and travel throughout the solar system is possible.  The rich have gotten even richer and those with means have staked their claim on spots throughout the solar system. One of those is religious zealot and reclusive billionaire McCauley Richmond, who's set up his "flock" on Ganymede.  The crew of the Starship Venture are bounty hunters/mercenaries en route to Ganymede, one of the moons of Jupiter.  They've been hired by the family of a young woman.  She's joined this religious group, and her family wants her back home.  Even before they leave space dock, things don't seem quite right.  By the end of the issue, the Venture has arrived in orbit around Jupiter and things have gotten incredibly strange.

At first glance, it doesn't feel like that much happens here, but this first issue actually accomplishes plenty. We meet the crew of the Venture; the ship's owner Rick, Jules, and Dagmar, who's the pilot and who has been ill at ease since before the mission even left.  The story so far doesn't delve into the backstory of the characters, but we learn enough about them to get the point. They're an experienced crew and have been working together for a while, and there's a humor and familiarity among them.  From the very beginning of the comic, something isn't right, and only Dagmar seems to know it. She's unsettled, and things feel off to her.  Her sense of unease effectively sets the tone for the mission.  Things are slightly off - a mission control that's slightly delayed in responding, a takeoff that goes slightly wrong; all of these things help set the scene.

We get hints at the world in which the characters live, accomplished by both the art and the writing. This is a future where the rich has gotten richer, and the ability to travel throughout the solar system has only exacerbated this trend. Instead of the wealthy staking out an exclusive compound or a tropical island, they can now claim parts of moons for themselves, and the rest of us are left on what is presumably an Earth that continues to go on its current negative trajectory.

So much of what's great and weird and creepy about the book is accomplished by the great art from Christopher Mitten, with colors from Jay Fotos.  Mitten has a rough, vibrant style that provides enough detail for the characters and the locations in the story, but lets your mind fill in the rest of the details. Combined with slightly washed-out, grimy coloring from Fotos, this feels like a lived-in world. The future is a place where things get dirty, and things don't look all that different from the present day, just in slightly more remote locations (the Jetsons this is not). A lived-in feel is a common look for science fiction stories (the original Star Wars, Alien, the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, the recent Southern Cross) but it works here and helps establish for the reader that this is a world not so unlike our own, a world of darkness, shadows and worn out hallways and corriders beyond which terrible things may be lurking. You could tell a creepy horror story about a star ship if you set it in something that looked like the Enterprise-D from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but it's a harder sell to combine utopian gleaming sci-fi and grisly horror*.

There's a nice variety of art and setting in the story (even given the limited number of locations.  When the crew uses their super fast locations to travel to Jupiter, we get a vivid few pages displaying the visual effect of using their warp engines (or however the engines are referred to here) - the coloring by Fotos in those sequences gives those few pages a dynamic, electric feel. Mitten also does nice work with very small gestures, as seen in the above sequence involving the necessary "greasing the wheels" one has to do to move their travel along in this world.  The only real change between the middle left and right panels is the eyes of the inspector, but that sequence says a ton and really conveys all of the unspoken communication. While their styles are somewhat different, this subtle work with gestures reminded me of some of the work done by Michael Lark in Lazarus (which is meant as the highest of praise).

I would be remiss if I didn't note that this is a horror comic, and if the last page here is any indication (it's some highly detailed, unsettling, pretty disgusting stuff), readers are in for a terrifically scary, weird ride. If you enjoy the idea of being terrified in cramped spaces, you should give The Disciples a look.

* I'd like to see someone try that; maybe they have and I just don't know the story.
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Quick Hits: Stumptown 6 from Rucka/Greenwood/Hill, Robert Moses by Christin and Balez, and Harrow County by Bunn and Crook

Welcome to another week of Quick Hits, and we're very pleased today to have "Weekend Pattering" star Scott Cederlund on board for his first-ever contributions to the column! We'll lead off with Scott's look at the 6th issue of the current run of Stumptown...

Stumptown #6
Written by Greg Rucka
Drawn by Justin Greenwood
Colored by Ryan Hill
Lettered by Crank!
Published by Oni Press

One of the best things that Greg Rucka is doing with Stumptown is he’s writing stories that only make sense in the Pacific Northwest and specifically Portland.  The newest story that kicks off in Stumptown #6, “The Case of a Cup of Joe,” sees our favorite P.I. named after a drug Dex Parios taking on a case where she has to protect a 3 pound sample of designer coffee.  Following a story about soccer and its fandom in the previous issues, Rucka writing about coffee seems like the next logical step for a story set near the homebase of Starbucks.  After almost having to do a reintroduction into Dex’s Portland in the last five issues, this issue feels more like the first Stumptown stories, giving us more about Dex and her messed up family as this issue introduces another member of the Parios clan.  Rucka’s writing, always clean and rugged, is  best when it is character focused.  You get the sense that he never writes a character without knowing exactly who they are and that includes even the most minor henchmen that are trying to beat Dex to the coffee that’s so special that it needs a bodyguard.

Justin Greenwood’s more exaggerated artwork was quite a shift after the first couple of storylines drawn by Matthew Southworth with his more shaded realistic style.  Greenwood has settled into the book now, making it his.  His characters feel natural, always a nice pairing with Rucka’s personality focused writing.  In Lazarus (another great book written by Rucka,) Michael Lark’s drawings partner with Rucka’s writing to produce a very cinematic experience.  HIs artwork flows through that story, propelling the narrative to the forefront.  Greenwood eases more into Rucka’s story as everyone’s interaction to their environment (Portland, the houses, offices or stores they’re in, and even to the characters that they’re sharing the scenes with) becomes much more relational-based in their compositions.  For as much as Stumptown #6 is about very special coffee, it’s also about Dex’s closeness or distance with her family, her client and enemies.  Greenwood’s storytelling places the characters in relation to one another, not just physically but also emotionally. (Review by Scott Cederlund)

Robert Moses: The Master Builder of New York City
Written by Pierre Christin
Line Art by Olivier Balez 
Published by Nobrow Press

We owe much of our modern, grittily romantic vision of New York City to Robert Moses, perhaps the most powerful urban planner of the twentieth century. He’s responsible for parks, project, pools and bridges, worked to make the city more accessible by car and to the world and (somewhat indirectly) less accessible to those in poverty. He had his hands in every urban improvement project for much of the mid-twentieth century, and had a hand in the transition of New York from a city of working class immigrants to a center for world class business. Robert Moses: The Master Builder of New York City written by Pierre Christin and illustrated by Olivier Balez walks the truly ambivalent line of marveling at Moses’ power and accomplishment and mourning the New York that his roads steamrolled over and the citizens he  displaced. It’s more direct about representing Moses’ general
unpleasantness - born to privilege and always seeking more acceptance, recognition and control, Moses was a pushy and powerful man who made many enemies and got a million things done.  But this book would not work without, and indeed, succeeds on, the power of Olivier Balez’s precise, full-color, mid-century style illustrations that capture postcard worthy views of Moses’ projects and a changing New York, as well as shadowy snapshots of his political negotiations. With a light narrative touch, this reads quickly and satisfyingly - it’s not a comprehensive biography, and owes much of its narrative to Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, but it is a well-crafted outline of a man with a tremendous legacy, ambivalent in intent, but breathtaking in scope. (Review by Emilia Packard)

Harrow County #2
Written by Cullen Bunn
Drawn, Colored and Lettered by Tyler Crook
Published by Dark Horse Comics

Tyler Crook’s painted coloring is the true star of Harrow County #2.  In the rural, supernatural noir that he and Cullen Bunn are creating, Crook’s coloring really establishes the tone of this story as his watercolor approach gives this issue a life to it that you just don’t see in most modern (and digitally) colored comics.  Set on a farm where Emmy, the farmer’s young daughter, may or may not be the reincarnation of a witch that he and many others killed 18 years ago, Crook’s paintings are both natural and otherworldly.  He gives the characters a life they just wouldn’t have through the line drawings.  As Emmy runs out of a haunted woods, the red scratches and cuts that she gets stand out against her already ruddy cheeks.  Blood runs through these characters and Crook isn’t afraid to show that.  These aren’t just fleshed-color drawings.  Crook’s coloring shows the vibrancy of these characters as Emmy and her father have to wonder just how his actions of 18 years ago are now affecting his daughter today.

As well as adding life to this story, Crook’s colors also hide the horror of this comic in its shadows, slowly revealing just what really lives in those dark spaces.  The shadows hide those horrors in the shadows but never obscure them.  It’s not like he’s drawing horrible, disgusting things in those shadows but he’s creating suspense in them.  The shadows and the night are a completely different world than Emmy’s home is during the day.  The ways that Crook paints this story gives it both its vibrancy as well as its dread. The colors are the life of these characters but they are also what hides just what is lurking behind the doors and walls of the family farm.

Cullen Bunn continues to be a chameleon like storyteller but Harrow County #2 feels like we may be seeing the real Cullen Bunn, horror writer.  And that’s kind of scary.  His voice here feels like that of a true storyteller and whether it’s this, The Sixth Gun, Sinestro or The Remains, that’s what Bunn is; a storyteller.  Harrow County is the story that you hear, huddled around a campfire as the storyteller plays to his environment as much as he does his audience.  Only the sounds of nature, an owl’s hoot or the rustle of something moving just outside of the light of the fire, are the only things which interrupt and ultimately enhance the storyteller’s tale.  That’s the best way to describe what Bunn is doing in this issue as what was already sinister in the first issue just continues to get darker and darker in this issue as Emmy doesn’t understand just how her life is changing or how her father is involved in it. (Review by Scott Cederlund)

June 20, 2015

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Graphic Nonfiction: Whit Taylor on Rachel Dolezal

While the original version of The Nib is no more, editor Matt Bors is still soliciting new comics, and that's a good thing. Here's our own Whit Taylor,discussing the horrible human being known as Rachel Dolezal. Whit mixes serious concerns with her own usual dry wit, and the results are a pointed look at some of the feelings that black Americans were/are having about this whole thing. This of course came before we had yet another racist murderer treated with kid gloves because he's white, but the sick, cruel, malice of Dolezal's actions are still important to examine and discuss.

Here's a sample from Whit's post:

You can read all of Whit's feelings on Rachel Dolezal here.

June 19, 2015

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Weekend Pattering for June 19, 2015--Dollars and Cents

** Panels were pattered about this week.

** Rob Kirby has a preview of the anthology What's Your Sign, Girl?, including a page from his story in that book.  

** It was a great week for interviews with great cartoonists.
** To keep the themed bullet points going, it was also a week to discuss comics and money.
** Lettering Legend Todd Klein writes about a recent visit he had with fellow Lettering Legend John Workman, including this wonderful story about how Workman got his first job at DC Comics.
John also recounted how his being hired by DC Comics in 1975 was due to his mumbling, a funny tale. John and his friend and fellow artist Bob Smith came to New York in 1975 looking to get work in comics. Larry Hama got them in the door at Marvel, and they managed to get an appointment with Gerry Conway, then an editor at DC. They had already met a few folks who worked at DC, and while they were in the reception area waiting, Bob Rozakis, one of those people, came by and asked who they were there to see. John mumbled “Conway,” and Bob replied, “Oh, he’s not busy, I’ll take you in.” As Workman and Smith followed Rozakis down the hall, John realized they were going PAST Conway’s office and a few minutes later, they were being introduced to Carmine Infantino, then the DC publisher, and an artistic hero of both visitors. John’s mumble had been heard as “Carmine...”
** Matt Wagner reminisces about the time that he was asked to finish a Harvey Kurtzman adaptation of a Ray Bradbury comic over at CBR.

Harvey Kurtzman's rough layouts

Matt Wagner's finished comic panels

** The San Diego Comicon announces some new rules and regulations for the modern age, including the prohibition of drones on the premises.  This is what we've come to as a society- we have to tell you when you can and can't use drones.  I never thought I'd live this long.

June 18, 2015

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Series Review: We Can Never Go Home

We Can Never Go Home (series review)
Written by Patrick Kindlon and Matthew Rosenberg
Illustrated by Josh Hood
Colored by Tyler Boss
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Black Mask Studios

Remember when you were growing up in a small town in the 1980's and felt like a misfit, but then things changed when you discovered that both you and the most popular girl in school had super powers and you killed a few people, went on the run and stole money from drug dealers?  Me too. Good times. That highly intriguing premise is the hook for the new Black Mask series We Can Never Go Home.  The creative team here is building a fully realized, punk rock world of disaffected youth struggling with problems both ordinary and extraordinary, both universal and highly specific. 

Duncan is unlike other kids. It's 1989 and he's a social misfit, a loner, living in a small town with his abusive dad. Did I mention that he can also kill people if he thinks it hard enough? Then there's Madison, at the other end of the social spectrum. She's beautiful and popular, and dating a star football player. However, similarly to Duncan, she hates their small town and all she wants is to leave. And she is virtually indestructible and has super-strength (like, throw a car in the air super-strength). Thanks to a chance encounter, these two end up talking and becoming friendly. He makes her a mix tape (it's a sweet mix - Husker Du, Mission of Burma, Talking Heads, a lot of great stuff), she saves his life, and they decide to get the hell out of town. Duncan says he's got a plan, and he does, but it's not a great one. It pretty much involves robbing drug dealers and beating the crap out of anyone who gets in their way.

Not surprisingly, things don't go exactly according to plan for the two of them. In the current issue (Issue 3), they have encounters with the police, drug dealers, hostile townies, and spend some quality time at the local department store looking for superhero costumes. All the while, they're getting to know each other and their connection to one another is deepening, beyond just their shared sense of isolation and feeling different from everyone else.

This is a very strong, emotionally affecting comic with a real punk ethos. The comic really does conjure up a time and place gone by. There's great design work throughout all of the issues involving cassette tapes and the fact that each issue is named after one of the songs on the mix that Duncan makes for Madison. As someone who was a young teenager in 1989, the details feel right to me, from the clothes to the way people talk, to the cars and the music. Sometimes when people depict the 1980's, all they can picture is 1984-1985 and they want to have everybody either dressing as an homage to Michael Jackson or wearing Miami Vice suits. The creative team here gets that small-town 1989 is not 1985 Miami; this comic wouldn't work if the creators didn't effectively conjure a real sense of time and place, but they do, quite successfully.

The art in this comic is a detailed, clean style that sells the emotions of all of the characters in the story. Josh Hood has a realistic, highly expressive art style that reminds me a little bit of Scott Godlewski (currently doing great work on Copperhead). The subject matter is very different, but what Hood has in common with Godlewski (and other great artists) is the precise details, body language and facial expressions that really make a scene. The work is detailed, not so much that it feels like Hood is trying to achieve photo-realism, but enough so that the art conveys a real sense of place and weight and physics; when someone or something gets thrown, you really feel like something is getting thrown. Hood also uses a wide variety of panel layouts in order to convey pacing, from one page with only three panels (meant to convey a few tense moments in a standoff), to a page varying significantly in panel size and layout showing quick cross cutting action, to a page with 15 panels that humorously shows the rapid-fire conversation between Duncan and Madison. The creative team knows how to pace a comic.

Hood designs some great, very specific looking characters (with varied and realistic body types - teenagers actually look like teenagers), and Boss does precise complementary work. First, Boss makes clear that this town is full of people of varied ethnicity (i.e., that a variety of actual non-white people exist). Secondly, Hood and Boss create real sense of place in locations such as a motel room where Duncan and Madison were hoping to hole up.  The motel room is drab but clean; it feels like a real place. This tremendous sense of detail extends to the cars in the story, an amusement park, and a discount department store. There's also great sound effects lettering from Jim Campbell in a number of places (working well together with the other members of the art team) to show the visceral consequences when Madison does to people what she's capable of doing (when she's breaking bones, or light is flashing out of her eyes which means that someone is about to get hurt).  

This is a story of teenagers on the run who just happen to have super-powers.  Notwithstanding the super-powers, the story feels universal, and real. The mutant powers add a fun and interesting twist to the story, and puts it a little more in the realm of the X-Men or Runaways. However, the creative team  here tries very hard to give the world a grounded feel; they're not about to put on costumes and start flying around the city, fighting crime. The current issue  has a terrific, very self-aware two page sequence where Madison tries on different superhero costumes at the department store, poking fun at the ridiculousness of people dressing up in spandex to fight crime. The story also plays with the ridiculousness of teenagers trying to live in the adult world. Duncan was so confident to Madison that he had a plan, and she believed him. However, the problem is that's it's a terrible plan unless they want to sped the rest of their lives as fugitives or in jail. Teenagers - not that good with long term planning.

Duncan and Madison's relationship is at the heart of the story.  They like each other, notwithstanding the fact that they're so very different from each other; that part is appealing to them. It brought to mind classic 80's movies where the nerdy guy thinks "If I just had a chance, I could show the popular girl just how awesome I am." The story plays with that idea and does interesting things with it (and with typical gender tropes); Duncan tries on several occasions to stand up to the bullies and stick up for Madison, this typically results in him getting punched in the face. Of course, she doesn't need him to stick up for her; she can withstand bullets.  But they're clearly in over their head and have no idea what they're doing.

One other note - two comics that come to mind that feel thematically similar to We Can Never Go Home are Deadly Class and They're Not Like Us.  Each is covering its own ground, but similar to Deadly Class, We Can Never Go Home illustrates a world of teenagers in way over their heads into a world of violence, revenge, and running outside the law (and has a similar punk rock, rebellious ethos). Much like They're Not Like Us, Duncan and Madison have amazing abilities, and are focusing those abilities on survival rather than larger, more outward and noble ends. Of course the themes addressed here (teenage alienation, figuring yourself out, getting in way over your head) are universal ones going beyond comics, and the ideas here are evocative of stories like True Romance and The Graduate. 

If you like either or both of those books, you will absolutely enjoy We Can Never Go Home. It's a strong, engaging series with a real point of view, not to mention the fact that it's going to make you want to bust out your old tape player and put on some kick-ass mix tapes.
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King: Jungle Jim 1-4 by Paul Tobin and Sandy Jarrell

King: Jungle Jim 1-4
Written by Paul Tobin
Illustrated by Sandy Jarrell
Published by Dynamite

An English Adventurer who still acts like the bad old days of Victorian England but has a good heart takes the fight to Ming on one of his many conquered worlds in one of the mini-series picking up the threads from the Kings Watch series started by Jeff Parker, Marc Laming, and Jeff Boyd.

This one is going to succeed or fail for a reader entirely based on how much you like an irreverent take on a classic character, and possibly just a bit on how often you interact with Paul Tobin online. The same quick wit and willingness to go blue when the occasion calls for it that Tobin uses on Twitter features prominently in this series, as there are plenty of jokes about Jim's inability to keep his clothes on as part of his nature-controlling powers, the excessive drinking, and of course Jim's generally sexist nature born of his time period. Once you realize that Tobin is going for an action comedy farce and isn't going to treat this obscure character with one iota of seriousness, it's a ton of fun.

Tobin, who is Jeff Parker's Periscope Studio office mate, captures the romp nature of this take on the old newspaper strip heroes better than any of the writers involved in the King project, managing to make things funny in his own style, instead of trying to ape Jeff.* They come at a frantic pace, and work well to cover the hand-waving that's going on here, as the former Victorian Adventurer with a troublesome backstory ends up becoming a weird combination of Animal Man, Beast Boy, and Swamp Thing. It's clear he's meant to be a bit of a jerk, and watching the earnest freedom fighters, who also have acid tongues, try to deal with him, works very well in a Dematteis/Giffen JLI manner. In the end, though, Tobin makes sure we know that there's still a battle to be won, and the final fight is a great set piece with clever plotting.

Speaking of Parker, his Meteor Men collaborator, Sandy Jarrell handles the art duties here, doing his best to keep up with the rapid pace of the jokes with visuals that match Tobin's breeziness. He does a nice job with the visual gags, like strategic coverage, but never steps into an exaggerated style that might have meshed just a bit better with the tone. Jarrell more than makes up for that by creating a world that's familiar to Jim yet retains its alien strangeness. The trees, cliffs, and other features feel vaguely familiar, and yet don't recall a specific part of Earth. When they have to morph and change due to Jim's powers, it feels like these are things that can and should happen, because all of the twisting branches, swarming creatures and other touches all form organically and naturally out of the backgrounds. There's no pasting over generic backgrounds.

But the best part of Jarrell's work here is his amazing panel and page construction. Jarrell is the master of making characters interact with each other, and it shows here. When Jim and Lille (the woman who needs him to save her brother from Ming) talk about why she drinks so much in issue three, the intensity of the pair's eyes shows that, jokes aside, the mission is no laughing matter, with Tobin's dialogue changing accordingly. Jarrell reveals secrets here, again being understated where others might have gone big, and leaves Lille to reflect, with only her changing facial expression driving the storytelling.

That's just one instance of Jarrell's superb work in terms of making the art something to linger over. His placement of figures is a thing of beauty, making sure that anyone who should be interacting is actually doing so, not just talking at each other in posed positions. When Ming and Jim are discussing the same subject, we get a great switch-off between the two characters. Most of Jarrell's work comes from the same angle and perspective, which normally would be an issue for me from a critique standpoint, but he makes it work through the use of strategic repetition and keeping the panel size varied, mixing in standard grids with smaller and larger panels. When he does go for a perspective change, such as the slow close-up on Jim at the end of issue two, it has a lot of impact for the reader because we aren't used to seeing it.

Of the King mini-series material I've read so far, Jungle Jim has been far and away my favorite. It's probably easier to grok if you've been following along from Kings Watch and the Parker-writen Flash Gordon, but even as a set piece, I think it works well. If you're fans of Tobin and Jarrell--and you should be--this is not to be missed, even if you skip the larger crossover. It's a lot of fun, with great wit and great art, which is no surprise given the team behind it. I'd be happy to see their irreverent take continue in another adventure.

*Gorilla-related puns and Jeff Parker will never grow old for me.

June 17, 2015

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Interview with Rachel Dukes about Frankie Comics #4 Kickstarter

I had the great pleasure to do a quick email interview with Rachel Dukes, creator of Frankie Comics and the upcoming graphic novel Let Me Walk You Home and hero to cat people everywhere, where we talked about her currently running Kickstarter campaign to print the newest issue of Frankie Comics (as well as some pretty adorable dolls).

Full disclosure for journalistic integrity: I am a backer of this Kickstarter, and consider Rachel Dukes a personal friend.

Guy Thomas: Let’s get right into it. Could you tell me about your Kickstarter campaign?

Rachel Dukes: The Kickstarter campaign is fairly straight-forward. I want to raise $8,500 to fund a run of plush Frankie dolls and the printing cost for Frankie Comics #4. The Frankie dolls will be 6" tall and handmade. (The plan is to debut those at Comic Con next month.) Frankie Comics #4 will be 20 pages of brand new Frankie comics. Black and white (half-toned) interior with a black and white cover on colour stock, just like the previous three issues.

I'm offering several different rewards aside from the doll and issue 4. There's an exclusive 1.5" button, a sticker, past issues of the comic, a t-shirt, and original art all in the standard reward tiers. If we make it past the initial goal there's also stretch goal including new button packs, stickers, patches, and a tote bag.

Thomas: I understand this is your return to Frankie Comics after a long hiatus to draw your upcoming graphic novel, Let Me Walk You Home. When can fans expect to see regular updates online again? Will the content in the new mini be exclusive to that?

Dukes: I'm planning to have regular updates again starting mid/late July after Comic Con International. Right now, I'm focusing on getting through the Kickstarter campaign and getting everything finalized for Comic Con in a few weeks. After that, I'll be able to dedicate myself to drawing and updating comics full-time again.

While Frankie Comics #4 is full of short jokes like Frankie Comics #1-3, it will also include a short story about how/when we first met Frankie. If I can't find a way to easily publish that story on the website, it may end up being exclusive to the mini-comic.

Thomas: The doll is super cute. Can you talk a bit about the process of getting it made?

Dukes: With the guidance of toy creator Claire Sanders, I first started contacting manufacturers for price quotes way back in January. I quickly chose Gann Memorials to use for production. The founder, Chris, was informative, friendly, and enthusiastic about producing the dolls.

When I first contacted Gann I was hoping they could do a build "like a Beanie Baby" but with Frankie's face on it. I sent them a rough sketch of Beanie Baby cat bodies that I drew with Frankie faces. After two different prototypes (leading in to the end of February) I realized they were more comfortable building dolls with a static pose/build so I altered the design to reflect that (and sent them a sketched turn-around of Frankie sitting).

Over the next few months we went through 9 more prototypes: fussing over her stance and the shape of her face. Finally, in May, she was "just right" and ready to go into production. (Here's hoping that the whole batch turns out as cute as the prototype!)

Thomas: You’ve been doing Frankie Comics for a few years now, what else have you done?

Dukes: I do a lot of freelance work and work for anthologies. I drew a comic in the recent Steven Universe: Greg Universe Special #1 by Boom Studios (written by Liz Prince) another in the upcoming Beyond anthology (written by Gabby Reed), and another in Jonathan Baylis' So Buttons: Man of, Like, A Dozen Faces (written by Jonathan Baylis). I have an illustration in Rachel Ann Millar's upcoming Mermaid Book and am currently drawing a comic for the upcoming Oath anthology (written by Megan Rose Gedris). I have a handful of personal projects that I'm currently planning to work on in 2016 but nothing worth mentioning by name yet. Right now I'm primarily a cartoonist for hire when I'm not working on Frankie Comics or Let Me Walk You Home.

Thomas: Is there anything you would like to add?

Dukes: Only that I'd like to give a big thanks to everyone at Gann for putting in so much effort on the dolls and to everyone who has backed (or does back) the Kickstarter. I'm so excited about the dolls and can't wait to see the final batch and send them out to Frankie fans everywhere.

Thomas: What’s your favorite sea creature?

Dukes: It's so hard to choose! Gut reaction? Top three: sea anemones, sea cucumbers, and sea horses. Runners up include: sea otters, starfish, and manta rays.

You can find Rachel’s Frankie Kickstarter here. You can also find her on the web at mixtapecomics.com, Tumblr, and Facebook.
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Wart - Book 1 by Ammar Al-Chalabi and Chris Walsh

Written by Chris Welsh
 Art by Ammar Al-Chalabi
Wart began as an idea in a Reddit thread and, months later, blossomed into a webcomic that has since gained hundreds of dedicated followers. In December 2014 the team went to Kickstarter to ask their fans for the money to compile the first chapters together and, after raising £2500, created this collection of the first three chapters.

The style of this comic is cemented as soon as you glimpse the foreword and is maintained through to the final page. The story told in this volume is framed as a story being read by candlelight from an ancient book which was a fantastic idea that instantly sets you on edge. This horrific world is introduced using narration that Lovecraft himself would be proud of; it contains the right combination of old-fashioned formality and ominous banality.

The art from Al-Chalabi is an exceptional fit to this series as he takes classically exaggerated human features and adds muted colours and a dark layer of shading. This allows each scene to be sufficiently intimidating without crossing over into the territory of extraneous gore. There are plenty of opportunities where some creators would rely on the shock of showing blood and other bodily fluids. It speaks to the talent here that they are able to create such a strong atmosphere without needing to stray into that territory.

However, do not interpret this as a description of an all-ages book. There are a few particular scenes where, even though the grey tones and cartoonish style mask it, the situation is actually quite disturbing. If you're worried about restless nights from this series, then those fears are unnecessary; it manages to be unsettling without becoming genuinely terrifying.

There are three (and a half) chapters within this first collection and throughout them all we are kept as bewildered and unbalanced as our protagonist. He is constantly sucked into different worlds and dimensions and we are taken along for the ride. As we are shown the same amount of information as the character, it removes any sense of dramatic irony and is far more effective at grounding you in the story. It's exciting to not know what's going to happen next and having to piece it all together. Small bits of information have started to give form to the shape of the solution but we are far from knowing anything definitive.

This early in the story, and with the sheer amount of characters that we've been introduced to, it's difficult to tell who's a foe and who's a friend. We meet a wide array of characters that satisfy the classic genre tropes so perfectly that it's hard not to love them; the overpowering and mysterious jailkeeper and the selection of Elder Gods all help to secure this book into the horror genre.

One infamous part of Lovecraft's work is how difficult it is to tell if the protagonist is a sane character genuinely entering a demon world or is simply someone going through a psychotic breakdown. This series manages to fit snugly right into the middle of this and you are always second-guessing everything that's happening.

Despite the primarily sombre nature of the book, it is prevented from becoming too dense and weighty by the introduction of the struggling and incompetent hooded figures. By placing their scenes in between the scenes full of information, it's a great way to break it up so that the reader doesn't get bogged down.

The second scene with the inept team of sorcerers allows Al-Chalabi to play with the nature of the medium as the panels start to come apart.  As the page continues, the order of the panels remains clear and the ridiculousness of the situation is enhanced by how strenuous the kidnapper is finding the job.

This series starts as a pure horror series with a script and art that works perfectly in harmony. You are kept on edge as you simultaneously root for our hapless protagonist and try to work out the rules of the world that he's found himself in. As the story progresses however, particularly in Chapter 3 and 3.5, it starts to introduce more comedic situations that lighten the mood and magnify the horrific scenes when they happen.

It's a joy to watch everything unfold as the creative team gradually start to connect the dots that they've drawn out so far. If you decide that you want to check this series out then, at the very least, go over to their webcomic at www.wartcomic.com where you can read everything for free. If you're feeling generous, treat yourself and buy a print copy of the book. It contains bonus Chapter 3.5 that is exclusive to the collected editions. This series is horrific and hilarious in equal parts and really does deserve a look.