December 30, 2015

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The Evocative Optimism of Low Volume 2: Before the Dawn Burns Us

Low Volume 2: Before the Dawn Burns Us
Written by Rick Remender
Drawn by Greg Tocchini
Colored by Greg Tocchini and Dave McCaig
Lettered by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics

Low may be the best comic that Rick Remender is writing right now because it feels like it’s the book he’s been able to really remove himself from. Set in a futuristic, underwater world where the sun is on the verge of going supernova, Remender and artist Greg Tocchini’s vision of the future still revolves around one basic unit; the family. In the first volume, “The Delirium of Hope,” we saw a family torn apart. Low Volume 2: Before the Dawn Burns Us watches the mother Stel trying to salvage what she can of her mission to save humanity after the loss of her own family while it also follows her estranged daughters as they try to find each other again.

While Low takes place under the seas of the Earth, Remender, Tocchini, and colorist Dave McCaig create these separate yet distinct worlds. Tocchini’s art has never been used better to so completely define an environment. Even as the story takes occurs in an underwater setting, Tocchini’s art doesn’t necessarily reflect that part of the environment. The characters and the objects in Low V2 have a weight to them that’s more solid than characters swimming or diving actually have. What Tocchini and McCaig really capture is the pressure and murkiness of the oceans. What could be at times a muddiness to his artwork (see his Last Days of American Crime or X-Force work) here defines the atmospheric forces at work in this story.

More than the physical pressure of the book, Tocchini creates an alien world. Tocchini’s designs build these foreign places and fashions out of the ocean depths. In the decadent cities and untamed wilderness of Remender's story, Tocchini’s artwork create these environments that are so otherworldly. Low is a book that reflects back at us the strangeness and immorality of a world without hope even if hope is what keeps the main character moving forward. The sun is going to go supernova so let’s party like it’s 1999 or 9999. The cities and fashions have this lushness and wickedness to them that’s only understandable if there are no thoughts or dreams of a possible tomorrow. And outside of those cities, the untamed seas hide unsuspected dangers.

Remender is at this interesting period where his books are focused on families or the lack of them in our lives. While this goes back to his X-Force run and even Fear Agent, the concentration on the sins of parents and children in Deadly Class, Black Science, and Low starts to form this compelling thematic unity between his work. Low Volume 2: Before the Dawn Burns Us follows the story of Stel after losing her son and finding and losing one of her two daughters on her quest to find another world for humanity to colonize to save itself. The first book was about the many ways you can lose a family and Volume 2 is about the void that develops in people in the midst of those losses. 

When we were introduced to Stel, she was such an optimistic woman. And that optimism still exists in her but this second book works to establish it more as part of her religion. It's beaten and bruised but it's still there.  Optimism as belief sounds inviting and that was one of the many ways that Remender was getting out of his own way in the first book. The earnest cynicism that drips off the pages of Black Science and Deadly Class are so tied into Remender’s own experiences according to his text pieces in those comics that he couldn’t let those comics stand on their own. In this age of Image creators filling up pages with text about where their comics came from and what their comics mean, the writer forces his audience to accept the work as him or to just outright reject him altogether. If you don’t understand Deadly Class, you obviously don’t understand Rick Remender. But you don’t need to read Remender to explain how Deadly Class was a reflection of his own misspent youth to understand that Remender is as sad and lonely as you are. If anything else, Remender undercuts the power of his story in Deadly Class by making it explicitly about him in a text piece when he could easily have avoided that all together and let the readers discover the story through the comic pages and Wes Craig’s artwork.

But optimism is not something that you associate with Remender. Low V2 is a story about mothers and daughters so that is another way that fairly or not that the story becomes a bit more distanced from Remender and it’s so much stronger for that. Stel is this character who was so defined by her desire for her family in the first book that her story in the second volume becomes more about the separation from the idea of a family. The void at the heart of Low V2 works differently than the same void in Remender’s other works because of the optimism, however weak it is, that exists in these characters. Stel and her daughters are facing troubles and hardships that seem to be just parts of Remender’s usual bag of tricks but the way he has these characters approach their difficulties feels so different than his more obvious self-interested storytelling.

December 28, 2015

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Weekend Pattering for December 28th, 2015-- The Monday Morning Edition

** We hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas weekend, a great holiday season and that you all have a great week leading up to the new year.

** Angouleme Festival Releases Official Selections For 2016 Show (The Comics Reporter)-- Tom Spurgeon has the rundown of the official selections for the upcoming Angouleme International Comics Festival next month, Jan 28th-31st 2016.

If you're looking for an international flavor to your reading list for 2016, this list is a pretty good place to start.  Remember that while it takes a while and that your Amazon Prime may not work for it, you can always order books from  I've used this before to get Moebius books that haven't yet been translated into Englis and to get a wonderful looking adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo that looks so much nicer than the version that DC put together a few years ago.

** Is Marvel’s Relaunch Stumbling Out of the Gate? (The Beat)
** TILTING AT WINDMILLS: Trouble on the Horizon? (Comic Book Resources)-- As we look at closing out 2015 and entering into 2016, these two articles from the past couple of weeks paint a dire picture for the Direct Market in the near future.  One of the stories of 2015 has been Marvel's domination of the DM, mostly through events and Star Wars.  Just for November 2015, Marvel had over 40% of the DM in both units and dollars.  Other than DKIII, the top 10 books were all Marvel and mostly #1 issues.

Based on Total Unit Sales of Products Invoiced in November 2015
22359.82SEP150827-MSTAR WARS VADER DOWN #1$4.99MAR
33168.77SEP150699-MDEADPOOL #1$4.99MAR
45165.46JUL150718-MSECRET WARS #7$3.99MAR
56124.98AUG150752-MEXTRAORDINARY X-MEN #1$4.99MAR
710118.50AUG150870-MSTAR WARS #11$3.99MAR
84118.19MAR150760-MUNCANNY X-MEN #600$5.99MAR
911115.09SEP150835-MSTAR WARS #12$3.99MAR
108111.96SEP150716-MALL NEW WOLVERINE #1$4.99MAR
Both Todd Allen (The Beat) and Brian Hibbs' (CBR) analysis are Direct Market-based, which is at best an incomplete view of comics.  But unfortunately, it is a critical element of comics as the Direct Market is the retail arm of the comics industry.  Marvel and DC, and to a lesser extent still Image, are the traffic and sales drivers for comics.  Through them and the shops that they support, all kinds of independent and alternative comics count on the shelf space that they help generate.  There are other methods of distribution (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, online shops) but the DM is a huge financial supporter of creators and retailers.  

So looking ahead to the first portion of 2016, these are the business oracles we have:
(Allen @ The Beat) I’m occasionally accused of being a bit cynical, but the numbers on this first batch of #2 and #3 issues is what I would have expected to see with the March or April estimates – around #6 for the various series – if nothing clicked with the audience and the usual attrition set in. This really does appear to be slow start for the relaunch. Everyone was hoping to see more titles settling in the 70K-100K range that’s increasingly rare outside of Event comics or multiple covers.
(Hibbs @ CBR) January 2016 looked pretty mediocre (my orders were a full 25% below December 2015, yow!), but February looks downright awful, with virtually nothing new, exciting, or commercial debuting at all. If March follows the normal trend (April is usually the first "big" month at most publishers), I would expect a number of stores to fold or otherwise be extremely harmed by the current trends.
Now, of course, the thing to be aware of is that Mr. Hibbs' analysis is from the point of view of a retailer and a pretty good businessman.

But neither p.o.v. is really addressing anything more than the Direct Market business.  And I honestly don't know how well comics are doing outside of the DM but let's take a look at Barnes and Noble and their recent expansion of their comics and manga section.  There's a good selection of Direct Market comics in B&N's expanded assortment, but I've continued to be pleasantly surprised at the depth of their catalog of comics and manga.  It's not like their comic catalog can compete with the depth of a good comic shop, but B&N seems to acknowledge that comics are more than Marvel and DC, a lesson that a lot of comic shops seem not to have learned yet.  It's also a lesson that Mr. Hibbs suggests stores figure out in 2016.

(Hibbs @ CBR) I would also strongly urge every retailer to take a hard look at what and how you stock, and encourage you to diversify your stock -- I think that the market is starting to say that the days of being a "superhero-only" store are beginning to be numbered. But that isn't a switch that can be made on a dime -- moving the direction of your store is a task that is better measured in seasons than weeks. You can't start early enough.
B&N seems to have started this ahead of Mr. Hibbs' warnings.  If we believe that Mr. Hibbs and Mr. Allen's analysis is in any way a harbinger of things to come in the Direct Market in 2016, it could be a tough few months coming up for some of our favorite retail stores.  

** :01 First Second Books Celebrates Its 10th Anniversary (Previews World)-- Diamond's Previews World website has an interview with First Second's Mark Siegel and Gina Gagliano.  In it's first 10 years, First Second has become a publishing house with one of the best eyes for projects.  Not everything they do is for everyone, but they have a fantastic track record at putting out rich and meaningful comics.  
Mark Siegel: First Second straddles the line between comics publishing and book publishing — this gives us some insight into the market that houses with a focus on a single market may lack. We publish books for an extremely wide and varied readership, through many channels. And we publish books that really mean something to the people who make them — graphic novels with heart.
Congrats to First Second. We can't wait to see what you do in the next ten years.

December 20, 2015

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Weekend Pattering for December 20th, 2015-- please let these Star Wars stay-ay!

**Yub Nub (Ewok Celebration) - ukulele Star Wars cover  (YouTube)-- Editing Marvel's Star Wars line, Jordan White's version of Yub Nub on the ukulele is perhaps the only thing we need to put up for this week's Weekend Pattering.

Although if you do want more, his version of Phil Collin's Against All Odds is perfection as well.

And in this weekend of Star Wars, may the Force be with you.

**  The Pattering about Panels that we did this week:

** TWC Question Time #17: Best Work by New Creators (Trouble With Comics)-- This week over at the Trouble With Comics site, I participated in this week's questions about the best works by new creators.  Only I misread the question and wrote about the best new creators of the 2010s. It was a difficult question. So many of the cartoonists that I immediately thought of really started around 2005 or 2007 so they didn't qualify for the question that was in my mind.  But once I started to be able to narrow it down to creators who really started in 2010 or later, there were a few suprises that I was able to think of.

Here's the preview of my list.  You'll have to click on the actual link to see why I chose them.
  • James Harren
  • Tula Lotay
  • Tyler Crook
  • Charles Forsman
  • Stephanie Hans
  • Scott Snyder
  • Jordie Bellaire
  • Russell Dauterman
  There are some good books listed from those who actually answered the question that was asked.

** From beyond grave, Charlie Hebdo editor’s last manifesto preaches against hate (Comic Riffs)-- In a couple of weeks, Stephane Charbonnier's “Open Letter: On Blasphemy, Islamophobia, and the True Enemies of Free Expression" is set to be published.  Charbonnier is one of the many people killed in the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris earlier this year.  At Comics Riffs, Michael Cavna highlihgts the upcoming 82 page manifesto.
And what Charb most had a talent for was walking through the intersections of crossing philosophies and ideologies and, like Camus as some whistle-blowing traffic cop, calling out hypocrisy after passing hypocrisy. He is both appalled by, and seems to delight in, the height of man’s philosophical absurdities. His badge is the power of a free press, and his whistle is the power of humor to engage.

December 14, 2015

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Alphabet Anthology Kickstarter

The Alphabet Anthology Kickstarter is running right now! Alphabet is a celebration of LGBTQIA comics organized by Prism Comics, to be published by Stacked Deck Press in 2016. Prism Comics is a non-profit volunteer-run organization that has been supporting queer comics creators since 2005. Each year at Wondercon in Southern California Prism awards a $2000 grant to help an aspiring comics author publish their work. (Full application details can be found on their website.) Past winners of the grant include Steve MacIsaac (Shirtlifter), Ed Luce (Wuvable Oaf), Blue Delliquanti (O Human Star), Justin Hall (True Travel Tales), Christine Smith (The Princess) and Robert Kirby, one of the writers of this blog.

Alphabet Anthology, edited by Jon Macy and Tara Avery, is a collection of short comics by over 40 different queer creators. This book was designed both as a fund-raiser for the grant program and also as a show-case of many authors who applied for, but did not receive, the grant. Jon Macy said in his press release, "This is going to be a great anthology with many established comics creators as well as fresh and exciting new voices. Yes, the ultimate goal is to raise money for the grant, but my secret agenda has always been to find a way to promote the many amazing artists that have submitted over the years. I want to give them the chance to show off their talents in a sweet full color hard back book. Doing this makes us really happy."

Tara Avery has founded Stacked Deck Press to publish Alphabet and also future projects supporting gender, sexual, regional and ethnic diversity among creators. "Alphabet is an attempt to bring cartoonists together that represent the broadest cross section of our community and culture," Avery wrote on the Prism website.

The Alphabet Anthology author lineup includes Ajuan Mance, Ahri Almeida, Ashley R GuilloryElizabeth BeierChristianne Benedict, BexJennifer Camper, Jon MacyVi CaoTyler CohenHoward CruseDave DavenportDylan Edwards, Tana Ford, Tara AveryMelanie Gillman, Maia Kobabe, Diego Gomez, Dorian Katz, Dylan Good, Soizick JaffreEmeric KennardRobert KirbyHanna-Pirita LehkonenEd LuceSteve MacIsaacHazel NewlevantHanna Oliver, Eric Orner, Ingrid Mouth, Knave Murdock, David Quantic, GZ Biazus, Carlo QuispeSonya Saturday, Nero O'Reilly, Pam Harrison, Mike Sullivan, Roberta Gregory, Dax Tran-Caffee, Scott Adams, Josh Trujillo, Ted Clossen, Tod Bower, Kelsey Wroten,Victor Hodge, Justin Hall, Zak Plum and more!

This anthology does involve two members of the Panel Patter team (one of whom is me), but it's also something we strongly support--comics that come from voices that often don't get heard elsewhere. It's a worthy project I hope you'll consider backing.

December 12, 2015

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Graphic Nonfiction: Audrey Quinn and Jackie Roche Examine the Climate of Syria

While Syria's issues are very much coming to the forefront right now, with racist demagogues inciting the flames of hatred against the people who need us the most, it's not a new issue by any means. Back in 2014, the excellent series, "Years of Living Dangerously" covered something that will really make a Trump supporter's head spin: The Syria situation may be partially a result of climate change radically altering the nature of an entire nation.

Writer Audrey Quinn and artist Jackie Roche take an extended look at how the unrest in Syria can be possibly tied to the changing weather conditions. It's absolutely fascinating. We often think about "grand disasters" like the flooding of America's coastal cities due to rising oceans, but the truth is, climate change is a global issue, and can hit "internal" locations just as easily--and with equally deadly effect.

Roche's watercolor work is excellent, providing a very subdued color scheme to go along with her linework. She's not out to dazzle with the illustrations. These are ordinary people given the look of ordinary people. This is not an attempt to capture every detail--the pictures serve to reinforce the text boxes written by Quinn.

Here's an example from the article:

You can read the complete post here, and I highly recommend that you do so.

December 11, 2015

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Weekend Pattering for Dec 11th, 2015--

** As it creeps into the holiday season, we're still here doing some pattering about our favorite things, namely panels.

** As a complete aside, check out the credits on Comicosity's Honor Roll column that James participated in.
  •  James is a lawyer by day, and an avid reader of comics whenever he can. 
  • [Kulbir Mann] spends the day as a surgeon operating on people, spend the night as a blogger operating on comics! 
It's people like James and Kulbir who make me feel like I'm the Gen X slacker that I've always been.  Thanks gentlemen for reminding me of what I have and haven't accomplished in life.  

** Cartoonist Lynda Barry Shows You How to Draw Batman in Her UW-Madison Course, “Making Comics” (Open Culture)-- This is from earlier in the year but I just found it thanks to the Quotes About Comics Tumblr blog.  Barry's syllabus for a class she was teaching at UW-Madison tackles how we all go from artists to... non-artists or artists who have no life in their work.  Read the whole thing, either the transcript on Quotes About Comics or, better yet, the original piece at Open Culture.

** The 100 Best Comics of the First Half of the 2010s: Part 1, 100-81 (Loser City)-- Subsequent posts are up dealing with approx the top 80 so far I think.  
At Loser City, we feel that the 2010’s have been an especially exciting time to be into comics, thanks to the wealth of incredible material being produced as well as the emergence of more and more new perspectives from creators and fans who have historically been underserved in the medium. We wanted to take this opportunity here in the middle of the decade to look back at the phenomenal material that has already emerged and anticipate where comics are going next. Comics continues to have growing pains and a number of major issues hold the medium back from its true potential, but we have chosen this time to focus on the positive and hopefully introduce you to the works we believe are currently making up the modern canon.
I can't tell if this is too soon or whether it's the right time for this kind of analysis of the past five years of comics.  Either way, this is a surprisingly diverse list.  And I only mean that as I'm not too familiar with the tastes of that website so when their first book is Charles Burns, that usually a good sign.  (It also means that there have been 99 books better in the past 5 years than X'ed Out and I'm not too sure about that.

As we're in the season of "Best of 2015" lists in early December, I guess it's not too early to try to critically apprise the recent history but looking at some of the recent books that rank higher right now, I wonder if everyone involved is still a bit too close to what their talking about to be able to really look at what they're trying to achieve.  At least 4 books ranked between 40 and 21 are from the past 12 months.

Either way, it's a pretty good list of good comics even if there are some books that I'd like to argue about the inclusion of.  (Really, Darwyn Cooke's Parker?  Although I'd make an argument for Cooke's storytelling over the story that he's actually telling.

** Analyzing Comics 101 (Layout) (The Hooded Utilitarian)-- Chris Gavaler is trying to write his own course on comics and presents his section on explaining layouts in comics. If nothing else, it's fun to scroll through this post just to see the wide range of artist and comics he uses as his illustrations.

It's amazing how well Roy Thomas and Neal Adams can pull of a diagonal page like this while whenever every time Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming try to do this is just bugs the hell out of me.

Gavaler's piece is particularly insightful because it helps illustrate and even define the wide range of options that are available for both creating a comic page while also helping to refine the language we could use to talk about them.

Also this is one of those posts where you can read the comment.  It's entertaining and enlightening to see academics discuss terms and names.

** An Interview With Joshua Hale Fialkov (Diamond Bookshelf)-- Fialkov has created some of my favorite comics of the past decade or so.  I want to revisit Elk's Run but I remember that being a really strong comic.  Tumor was an excellent book.  Anyone who likes Brubaker and Phillips crime stories really needs to check out Tumor.  And currently The Bunker and The Life After are great.

I really wanted to link to this interview just to sing the praises of Fialkov.  I really like his stuff.

** In the back of their Frontier comic, Youth in Decline usually has a short interview with the creator of that issue and you can now read those on their Tumblr.

** It’s Canon, Not Stucky That Needs to Go (The Rainbow Hub)
** On Shipping: What’s Disney’s, What’s Yours, and What’s Mine (Women Write About Comics)-- Both of these pieces are reacting to the same article at Comic Book Resources, a piece where the author claims to not understand shipping.  I think I once may have but I'll admit that this is a part of fandom that I also don't completely understand but that's completely on me.  One way or another, I'm not really too sure that the point is, either in CBR's piece or either of the reactions to it.

There's an ownership that fandom now feels and displays on a regular basis around characters, which is just odd from me since I guess I'm from the generation of fans that rebelled against loyalty to characters to focus on creators.  The specific relationship between Captain America and Bucky just doesn't really matter.

To me.

And it's probably generational but seeing this embracing of the character is slightly off putting but refreshing.  That there are fans out there who are so invested in these characters and their stories seems like a type of a pure fandom to me that there's plenty of room for.  And there's room for all of these stories and interpretation of stories.  It's the Tumblr age of fandom and it's much more organized and unified than we ever were.

** Frank Miller (Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá's Blog)-- Gabriel Bá has a nice story about the influence older generation of cartoonists have on the younger one and the circle of life those influences are.

Just for their sense of joy, I'm glad that we have Moon and Bá in the world of comics.

December 8, 2015

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The Poetry of Comics found in Caitlin Skaalrud's Houses of the Holy

Houses of the Holy
Written and Drawn by Caitlin Skaalrud
Published by Uncivilized Books

Caitlin Skaalrud’s Houses of the Holy is a perplexing comic. The poetic tale of a woman journeying through a biographical landscape desires your interpretation of its dreamlike images and cryptic prose. The book begins by revealing secret, underground rooms, twelve in total, even though Skaalrud waits until after the 12th to reveal the 10th room. These rooms serve as an overture to the rest of the book. Fittingly, this first movement of Houses of the Holy was published a year or two ago as a minicomic that reveals the metered nature of Skaalrud’s drawing and writing. Now expanded, the mysteries of the 12 rooms functions as a gateway into the mysteries of a woman’s journey across a dream-like countryside.

Skaalrud’s cartooning is full of puzzles. Each drawing is a stunning and complete work of art but they are full of these elements that don’t make sense on their own. The spaces she draws are as much mysteries as they are clues to the overall narrative of the entire book. The haunting images are so unnatural even as they contain elements of nature. Dead or dying animals are juxtaposed against houses and buildings filled with the artifacts of a life. For the most part, it’s a decaying world in Skaalrud’s pages, a world that barely makes sense as it falls into ruins. Her artwork is brimming with incongruous images that are disconcerting but mesmerizing. The imagination or desperation that visually goes into these images desires interpretation, if not resolution.

And that’s what the woman in this comic seems to want as well. As your read Skaalrud’s drawings, you can start to piece together the connections and themes that are running through the book. Skaalrud has a story that she wants to tell without actually telling it. There’s no “once upon a time…” in Houses of the Holy because Skaalrud knows that there’s rarely a “once upon a time…” in life. Skaalrud’s images may seem random and disconnected on a first read, but she’s not trying to make this simple for you. It couldn’t have been simple or easy for her to tell this story so why should it be for you to read it?

The poetic nature of the comic makes Houses of the Holy a rather unique reading experience. The poetry of the prose reflects and complements the poetry of the images. While all the elements are powerful on their own, just reading the artwork or allowing the prose to build these mysteries forms an incomplete view of the verses and movements of Houses of the Holy. The complete experience calls for wrestling with both word and image as Skaalund weaves to two together, creating dreams and nightmares simultaneously. 

Within these glimpses of the artifacts of a lifetime, Skaalrud forms a vision of this woman’s life and the pain that has been left behind in it. This is the poetry of personal journey that is revealed to us through verse, image, and metaphor. It almost seems like the ideal way to view Skaalrud’s book would be in a gallery, with all of the pages on display for you to join in the journey with the woman. Walking through this narrative, viewing each page as a separate yet connected part of a whole would modify the experience of this book as if you were on the journey with the woman. Having this as a book brings it into a more personal journey though as it becomes a series of small little discoveries, parts that build into a revealing whole.

December 4, 2015

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Weekend Pattering for December 4th, 2015-- Don't Tell Anyone We're Really Talking About Comics

** The panels that were worth pattering about last week:

** Chaz Ebert: Where Are All the Diverse Voices in Film Criticism? (The Daily Beast)-- Chaz Ebert has a thought-provoking piece about the need for diverse point of views in film criticism.  You could easily read this article and anywhere she invokes "film criticism", you could substitute "comic criticism."

The parts of her piece that feels important are this:
The trusted voices in film criticism should be diverse ambassadors who have access to the larger conversation. If we can’t recognize ourselves within the existing public discourse, we are implicitly being asked to devalue our experiences and accept a narrative that is not our own. Excluding diverse voices from the conversation de-emphasizes the value of our different experiences. It is critical that the people who write about film and television and the arts—and indeed the world—mirror the people in our society.
It means an expanded definition of diversity where there will be more sexual identities represented, more women, and more people who are differently abled writing about film from their standpoint.

And this:
But sexism and racism have been so engrained in our culture that seismic change is guaranteed to be an all-too-gradual one. Yet it is our role as journalists and critics and cinephiles to aim a spotlight on the artists whose work stand as inarguable proof of the boundless talent ignored when we green-light only those projects of white males. When we respond to whitewashing, ignorance, or misappropriation in film and the arts with indifference, we allow them to fester in the hollowness of silence. Silence is seen as approval and deliberately perpetuates barriers, pushing diverse voices to the periphery.
The internet is the greatest magazine that each of us can curate whatever way that we want to.  We can seek like-minded and demographically homogenous voices to support us or to uphold our own particular worldviews or we can seek out new voices to challenge us, to reveal to us, to broaden our views.

** The Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency (The Comics Journal)-- The future home of Frank Santoro's Comic Workbook Rowhouse Residency is on its way to becoming a reality.  I can't wait to see what comics this building produces.

To get an idea of the comics that Santoro's student's produce, check out the Comics Workbook Tumblr page.

** Sunday Book Review Adrian Tomine’s ‘Killing and Dying’ (New York Times)-- So I wasn't expecting A.O. Scott, one of the NYT's chief film critics, to review Adrian Tomine's latest book but here it is.  Unfortunately he has to start it off by defining/defending/defusing the term "graphic novel."  I actually wish he could have called this book what is-- Comics!!!!!!!
“Graphic novel” is a perfectly serviceable phrase, but it expresses an unmistakable and unfortunate bias, emphasizing the literary identity of a given book at the expense of its visual essence. Pictures are more than prose carried out by other means. And there is some category confusion when it comes to a book like Adrian Tomine’s “Killing and Dying.” “Graphic short story” doesn’t sound quite right, but how else to describe the half-dozen vignettes in this collection, each one bristling with acute observations and piquant ironies? These tales — pocket epics of romantic, creative and social frustration set in recognizably drab, drably picturesque American landscapes — certainly invite comparison to the work of words-only short-form masters like Raymond ­Carver, Ann Beattie and Mary Gaitskill, and for that matter O. Henry himself. You can almost forget you’re looking at drawings.
Yes, we get it, A.O.  This is some strange merge of word and image, unlike anything we've seen before.  So let's compare it to masters of the short stories instead of trying to find other, similar creators like the Hernandez brothers, Alison Bechdel or any number of cartoonists who may also do these "graphic novels" and these "drawings."

** Check out this comic by Jason Martin and Rob Kirby.

December 1, 2015

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Rich Tommaso's Dark Corridor

Written and Illustrated by Rich Tommaso
Published by Image Comics

The city of Red Circle is a cesspit of humanity that mini-comics master Rich Tommaso begins to explore in a crime series that shows an extensive love for the genre in all its forms. Whether it's mobsters getting whacked, a crooked cop in prison, or two hit people trying to work their way out of a double-cross, this set of two-part issues with interlocking stories is a lot of fun for crime comic fans, with plenty more promised for the future.

I think I first ran into Tommaso's work as part of the excellent Study Group webcomic site and was immediately drawn to his distinctive figure work, which is one part Fred Hembeck, one part old EC house style, and one part Center for Cartoon studies. Working in full, brilliant, eye-popping color, Tommaso's not afraid to play with panel designs (such as bringing back the helpful arrows of yore in issue three), keeping the reader off-balance by varying the size and shape of the borders on each page. His style could hardly be called realistic, yet it doesn't feel over-the-top cartoonish, either, even when presented with a lawyer whose nose juts straight out or sweat beads that race off a person's face in large, oval droplets.

It's Tommaso's layouts that just blow me away, however. In one panel, we're at a character's ankles while she desperately strikes out at an attacker, who looms over both her and the reader's eye, which is directed upward by the swing of her arm. On the same page, the character is now scrunched up into the foreground, breaking panel walls as the rest of the scene plays out over her left shoulder. In another example, another character's gun is pointed up at the reader, making it seem like the pistol barrel is impossibly long, and focusing the reader's eye down to the protagonist in a lovely perspective trick. Issue one has as a three-panel sequence that's straight out of the Kirby-Ditko playbook. Tommaso's style is his own, but he certainly understands the things that made golden/silver age comics so interesting from a visual perspective--tricks that have fallen out of favor at the very places that once used them the most.

The art on Dark Corridor is worth recommending the series alone, but that doesn't mean Tommaso's stories are secondary. I mentioned above that he clearly loves the crime genre, and especially the stories which feature unpleasant characters doing unpleasant things. There's nothing honorable about the people here--just shades of how bad they are. As the jailed ex-cop quips, "I'm ever to remain the department scapegoat. A department FILLED with bigger crooks than me." (Tommaso cleverly makes that word much larger than the rest of his lettering, using the visual to add emphasis, a trick he he returns to periodically.) It's a word filled with killers, petty shits, and people looking to get one leg up on everyone else. They move slowly but inexorably in the orbit created by Tomasso, coming together as his larger plot demands.

What's interesting here is that while the stories themselves work on their own as short vignettes like you might find in Dark Horse Presents, it's very clear that we're moving to a larger whole--even if that picture is about a clear as mud through the first few issues. Something is happening in the local mobs and the various characters who interact with the two main families are caught up in it. They're so close in fact that they can't even see--at least not yet--that there's a bigger picture. How these hit people, thieves, and revenge-seeking women fit into everything will come later. Tommaso's not giving up his secrets easily--nor should he. Finding out how the pieces fit together--and going back to look at the events of the earliest issues with fresh eyes--will be a part of the fun.

Dark Corridor is top-notch noir storytelling from a fan of the genre who understands that there's more to that part of the crime world than just making it dark. It's a complexity of character and a damning of all involved that most miss. Tomasso gets that, and it's why this is must-read for anyone who enjoys reading about terrible people. I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens next, and I hope the series get a nice long run, allowing Tomasso's considerable imagination--and illustration skills--to shine.