January 29, 2016

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Weekend Pattering for January 29th, 2016-- Scooby Doo & "Weaponized Nostalgia"

** Let's catch up on the panels we pattered about this past week.

** Cabinet of Blood by Rob Kirby-- On his Tumblr blog, Rob Kirby presents a new comic that will be part of next Fall's THE SHIRLEY JACKSON PROJECT: COMICS INSPIRED BY HER LIFE AND WORK from Ninth Art Press.

** Review: Whit Taylor’s Up Down Clown tackles mental health issues (The Beat)-- At the Beat, John Seven reviews Whit Taylor's Up Down Clown, also from Ninth Art Press.
Taylor mixes up the chronology in such a way that the temporal makes way for the psychological, as Gabe’s awareness of what is actually happening to him becomes clearer to him the more he drowns in the behavior. He may be stricken by a crippling depression, but he is also blessed with a soaring energy that seems to help him get things done, unless it’s derailing him by causing him to misplace a natural sense of boundaries and appropriate behavior.

** ERIC STEPHENSON PREVIEWS WHAT'S NEXT FOR IMAGE, LAMENTS "BLAND" COMICS INDUSTRY & MAKING IMAGE THE #1 COMICS PUBLISHER IS ERIC STEPHENSON'S GOAL (Comic Book Resources)-- In lieu of a keynote address at an Image Expo this year, Image publisher turns to CBR to discuss the state of Image Comics and the comic industry in general.
I mean, I'm not going to claim we don't have our share of misses along with the hits, or that there aren't things Image can do better -- but looking at the vast majority of comics that came out in 2015, it was just a pretty dull year. I don't think Star Wars was much of a surprise. Nostalgia is a powerful drug, and given the kind of talent involved, it would have only been surprising if those books hadn't done well. The fact that Star Wars is bolstering Marvel to such a great degree is more interesting to me than the actual comics, though, and I think that's one of the biggest problems with comics as a whole right now. Talking about comics and analyzing the industry has, by and large, become more interesting than a lot of the work being generated.
 ** G. Willow Wilson has a short post up on her Tumblr about some health difficulties that her family is going through right now.
My youngest daughter has been diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. Fortunately, it’s reparable, and her longterm prognosis is good, but it will require major surgery. I will in all likelihood be spending much of the remainder of the winter and spring in and out of hospitals.
We're glad to hear that the prognosis is good but our thoughts and prayers are with Wilson and her family during all of this.

** Jack Davis's cover of TV Guide (1976) featuring the cast of Barney Miller, with a great focus on Abe Vigoda who sadly passed away this week.

** 'WicDiv', 'Midnighter', 'Lumberjanes' Among GLAAD Nominees (Comics Alliance)-- Andrew Wheeler covers the comics that are among GLAAD's nominees this year.  The full list of all nominees is up at GLAAD's website.

** DC Entertainment announces new slate of Hanna-Barbera titles (Entertainment Weekly)-- DC Comics, who have had the comic license for Scooby Doo and other Hanna-Barbera comics, just announced that they'll be revamping the line of comics to make them more... DCish?  DC Co-Publisher Dan Didio talked a bit about DC's approach to these comics.  
“From a personal standpoint, I was always a fan of the old Hanna-Barbera characters, having grown up on them,” says Dan DiDio, co-publisher of DC Entertainment. “I think what you find right now is there’s so much material on pop culture, and these characters resonate with so much of our fanbase. It was so fun to go out and look at them, but not just bring back versions that existed 40, 50 years ago and really look at it the way of saying, if these characters were created and interpreted today, how would they exist? So we handed off our materials to a number of top creators, and what came back was an exciting look that felt very true to the existence of the characters.”
So this is coming from the company that gave us the "Before Watchmen" debacle a couple of years ago.  I wonder when we're going to get a Blue Falcon and Dynomutt series from Brian Azzarello and Darwyn Cooke?

The non-cynical part of me wants to think that this is DC's approach to getting kids like my almost-twelve-year-old son into the comics.  That Jim Lee-designed Scooby Gang looks different enough to be possibly interesting, even if it's full of some silly cliches at this point (tribal tattoos?)  Of course, Amanda Conner's redesigns for The Flintstone's looks almost as silly as the John Goodman film from years ago.

But I was surprised Thursday morning as this news was breaking that so many comic fans in their twenties, thirties and forties looked like they were getting into this.  Undoubtedly, there's some good talent on these comics.  Jeff Parker and Evan Shaner's Future Quest looks quite intriguing but a big part of me hopes that these comics aren't being designed to just appeal to the people who loved these cartoons when they were kids.  I really, really hope that these are designed to appeal to kids who are digging on Raina Telgemaier and Jeff Smith comics, but I kind of doubt that.  Howard Porter on a Scooby Doo comic seems like horrible casting and Amanda Waller's Flinstones design is stupidly ridiculous.

But of course, nostalgia is what's holding up Direct Market portion of the comic industry right now.  Comics based on movies, tv shows and cartoons are all the rage right now.  Just look at how the success of Marvel's Star Wars comics has bolstered that company right now.  Even companies like IDW and BOOM support a lot of their more creator-driven comics using the success of JEM and other 1980's era comics to probably underwrite a lot of more prestigious but lesser selling comics.

This week at Variety, Maureen Ryan wrote about the new X-Files television show and a lot of what she says feels like it could be applied to DC's Hanna-Barbera comics and Marvel's Star Wars comics.
As a TV critic, it’s weird to be in a position of actively hoping that some shows never come back. For a long time, a significant chunk of the job consisted of campaigning for marginal shows that deserved more chances and better odds. But these days, comebacks for successful shows and updates of cult properties are almost more common than pilots based on fresh concepts. At press tour, when a Showtime executive said “Never say never” when asked about a “Dexter” retread, all I could think is, “Please, for the love of Deb, say never.”
You could even view the way that Marvel Comics and DC Comics (note I'm highlighting the parts of the companies that produce comics and not the movies) maintain their superhero comic books as a part of this "weaponized nostalgia" as Ryan calls it.  But certainly this Scooby Doo revamp has the strong stench of this as Jim Lee redesigned these characters to look like something out of a Vin Diesel movie.

Personally, I'm waiting for Amanda Conner and Keith Giffen to create something new.  Looking at that Eric Stephenson interview on CBR, you've got to give Image credit for giving creators an outlet to produce Lazarus, Descender, and Paper Girls.  Wouldn't it be nice to see more creators have that kind of opportunity?  I'd even take a new concept from Jim Lee, who hasn't had one since Divine Right launched at Wildstorm almost 20 years ago.  

Unfortunately, so much of the Direct Markets and, therefore, comics are driven by this desire for nostalgia over discovery.  But that's also the way that most of our pop culture is nowadays.  (And I write all of that as I have J.J. Abram's Star Trek movie playing on the TV.)

So, updated Scooby Doo and Space Ghost?  I guess that sounds fine but I hope the goal is to show young kids just how great some of these old concepts are rather than reminding people who were able to watch these when they were on the Saturday morning cartoons how much of their childhood Hanna-Barbera shaped.  But it's hard to see that kind of intent out of DC which has been marketing-event driven for the past 5+ years.  Is this really all that different than The New 52, Before Watchmen, The Sandman: Overture or even DKIII?  DC has been mining their past to try and figure out what their future is.  This just feels like another one of those attempts.

January 27, 2016

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After the Gold Rush #1 - Science returning to a world that has forsaken it

 Written by Miles Greb
Art by Isaac La Russa
Colours by Michael Shepard
Letters by Jamie Me

Beginning its life as an Editor’s Choice on Kickstarter, After the Gold Rush was pushed extraordinarily far into the atmosphere of creator-owned comics; as occasionally happens, the book instantly found its audience. This first issue quickly introduces us to Scout, the talented scientist that we are going to be exploring the universe with. Her personality instantly draws you in and, with the pitch-perfect art from La Russa, the world around her has already begun to fall into place.

Without a compelling protagonist an exploration of the potential within each human wouldn’t be anywhere near as interesting to read. As loaded as the adjective has become in recent years, there is a certain quirkiness that conveys two of her key properties: her natural aptitude for science and her absolute inexperience functioning on her own. Introducing this endearing flaw to the character so early in her development allows you to easily connect with her; she's clearly making all of this up on the fly, and you want to experience  this new and exciting journey with her.

From its initial conception, this series was intended as a bright future for the human race to serve as a shining beacon in the myriad of dark and gloomy futures. Although her adventure is not free of strife, the narration that surrounds her arrival onto the planet demonstrates to us that human life is continuing out in the deepest recesses of space. Coupled with that, Scout’s reaction to the planet and her approach to the investigation implies that this is a continued expansion instead of a last-ditch hunt for survival. Frankly, it’s a breath of fresh air in a genre that has descended far too absolutely into the desolate and will hopefully inspire writers to imagine and strive for a world where everything is going to be alright.

This bright and powerful future is brought to life by the talented hand of Isaac La Russa who possesses a style that somehow manages to fall somewhere between one that is inherently detailed and a simplified style that focuses on clarity. The design of Scout’s spaceship is a measured one that emerged fully-formed from La Russa's brain in an extremely believable way. As we explore the landscape, you can observe small creatures, rubble and varied fauna in the background of shots which allows the world to feel far more whole.

One thing that Scout observes as she lands on planet Earth is the lushness of the fauna and how enveloping it is. Michael Shepard’s colours blend perfectly with La Russa’s pencils to show off how much the planet has changed while its original inhabitants have been off galavanting around the rest of the universe. The spacesuit is an intricately designed piece of equipment that has been highlighted in all of the right places by its chosen pallet; such a synergy between the artist and the colourist shows off how competent they each are and how much you can achieve when you bring two talented people together.

Lettering is one of the most underappreciated and undervalued skills for the vast majority of a reading audience. I will admit that I regularly find it difficult to comment on what the choice of letters add to a story, so I like to point it out when it’s noticeable. The colours of the textboxes themselves have been carefully selected as to always stand out from the background, but are still shrewdly appropriate to the scene in question. A review of this issue wouldn't be complete without mentioning the font for the running diagonistic equipment in the first few pages. It would have been extremely easy to gloss over this little detail and select a generic, computerised font, but Jamie Me goes above and beyond to select what seems to be a carbon-copy of the original terminal lettering. Thankfully, this introduces a level of immersion that could have easily been missed by a lesser collaborator.

Projects that have received their funding through Kickstarter with enticing premises and unique creators are wont to descend into a pit of mediocrity. It’s rare that you stumble across a series with as much reach and influence as this that is simultaneously as capable at meeting those enormous expectations. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of this first issue ever since I stumbled across the project some months ago and I was honestly worried that it was going to disappoint. It’s clear that this book is a passion project for each and every person involved and has breathed life into my belief that this genre still has something to offer me. In a world where so many titles are screaming from the rooftop for your attention, it’s nice to find that shining star to guide you home.

January 26, 2016

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“Little things I should have said and done”-- Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #6 by Gillen & McKelvie

Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #6
Written by Kieron Gillen
Drawn by Jamie McKelvie
Colored by Matthew Wilson
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics

“It’s just the power to charm.”

It’s 2009, Michael Jackson is dead, and Emily Aster had nothing to do with it.

Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #6 is something I don’t think any issue of Phonogram has been up until this point; it’s sentimental. Those opening black and white pages in Phonogram: Rue Britannia were so brash, bold, and cocky but as the series has progressed from its beginnings in 2006 to 2016, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie close it out down reflecting on how the characters and themselves have aged since David Kohl put on the “S” Superman medallion for a night of clubbing and dancing. Kohl was full of bravado in those original issues but as The Immaterial Girl ends the Phonogram cycle, Emily Aster walks out into the rain having lost much more than she won as she puts the past behind her and tries to figure out who she is going to be now that the music and magic maybe aren’t quite that important anymore.

Having been trapped in a dimension of music videos for the past four issues, there’s no one left for Emily Aster to run from except herself. And that only gets you so far. Set in 2000, her final adversaries are a construct of Emily, dressed up like The King of Pop who himself is about to die, and then there’s Claire, the other part of herself that she’s been fighting against for this entire series. All of these facets of Emily have their claims on her life but in this age of self-description, digital music and all of our pop heroes dying one by one, there just is not room for all of them in Emily any more. Maybe there was once but if Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl is about anything, maybe it’s about how as we get older and accumulate more experience, there’s less space and time to think about the people we wanted to be or fought against being as it becomes a full time job just living in the here and now.

That Michael Jackson dies on the same day that Emily survives her struggles means nothing at all but maybe it means everything. In a final discussion with David Kohl, she waves off the idea that she killed Jackson. “Behind the screen is outside time. It’s outside cause and effect. I couldn’t affect anything in there, except my own delicate behind.” So part of Phonogram has been about music as magic. So on June 25, 2009, for Emily to defeat her own demons and to say that the king of pop was never involved? That seems as unlikely as Kieron Gillen producing his own ode to David Bowie in the backup to this issue, proclaiming his belief in “Modern Love,” and having that testimony come out just weeks after Bowie’s sudden and surprising death. Cause and effect.

So maybe it is all magic.

Even something about Jamie McKelvie’s artwork seems different in this issue. The opening pages with Emily facing her demons and herself show just how far McKelvie has come since 2006. McKelvie’s usual pop touches give way to outbursts of violence and moments of tenderness that haven’t been on display as much in his earlier work. Touches of Young Avengers and The Wicked + The Divine’s seeps into McKelvie’s artwork as the book becomes something more than cool people doing cool things.

As the second half of this issue becomes about a world without a King of Pop, Emily and David both become more mature and more honest characters. As Gillen, McKelvie and the audience are possibly saying “goodbye” to these characters for good, the comic turns into a talking heads comic about these characters feelings and their lives, which almost feels like a betrayal to everything we’ve known about David Kohl and Emily Aster all of these years. There’s no coven, no magic, no drugs and no music in the end for these two. There’s just the lives that’s ahead of them that are so completely different from anything they’ve known before. The days of music are over so does that mean that all that remains are the memories and the stories?

Every generation believes that it’s their duty to save or change the world and then they get families, jobs and houses and, more importantly, real world responsibilities. Saving the world doesn’t feel as important as just being a good person. But the beauty of that is that there’s always a new generation coming up right behind the last, ready to take on the burden of saving the world. Gillen and McKelvie may be ready to move on from the world of Phonogram but Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #6 shows us that the music and, therefore, the magic never end. They just change into something that may not be to our tastes. At least we still have our CDs, our MP3s and our comic issues to go back to now and again to remember who and how we were.
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Digging into Digital: Caravan of Comics Gives You a Free Mini Weekly

Continuing the focus on comics and creators that aren't easily accessed here in the United States, I wanted to bring to your attention the Caravan of Comics, a site that provides a new mini-comic from a different creator each week. Apparently, they did this in 2015 and I didn't know it, which really bums me out, but I'm on board for 2016, using their easy e-mail sign-up. (If you prefer, you can get updates via Twitter or Facebook.) From looking around, it seems their focus is on Australian creators, not unlike the Mini-Comic of the Month Club from Smaller Comics.

The premise is simple. They pick a creator and tell you a little bit about them, along with a free digital mini that you can download in the format of your choice, including PDF and CBZ. They also let you know where you can find the creator online as well as how to buy their work if you like the comic that you read. What's really interesting to me is that these aren't just eight-page samplers, either-they're real, full, mini-comics.

This is such a great idea! Last year's Caravan featured Jonathan King, Toby Morris, Andrew Fulton, and many, many others, most of whom I admittedly don't know by name.

Best of all, you haven't missed any creators yet. First up is Lachlan Conn, with Judee, a comic about a girl who goes for a walk and meets a witch.

There's no cost involved in this, and it's amazing for anyone who wants to expand their comics horizons in 2016. Go visit the Caravan of Comcis here!

January 25, 2016

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Favorite Comics of 2015: "HAX" by Lale Westvind

Written and Illustrated by Lale Westvind
Published by Breakdown Press

At one point in the spring of 2015 there were three consecutive weeks where when I went to the comic store and came home with: Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve #14, then Ethan Rilly's Pope Hats #4, and then Sammy Harkam's Crickets #4. Each was prominently displayed on the table near the entrance. You could close your eyes and imagine this was what the world of comic retail was really like: a work of art from a major talent worth getting excited about each and every week of the year.

But the three weeks passed quickly and after that it was back to the status quo. Good artists don't make any money so years pass between occasions of their small pamphlets making it to market. Legends in the game are out there hustling $100 commissions on their Twitter accounts. And, increasingly the only ways to buy many good comics are either schlep your ass to one of a growing number of regional festivals or order online from small web stores, generally run by the artists themselves.

Despite this current, awkward delivery system, I was able to get my hands on Lale Westvind's HAX. It's a 24 page, soft-covered, stapled, four-color risographed comic published by Breakdown Press in the UK. It’s expensive for the format (£8) and requires overseas shipping, so buying online is less of an option and few have even been seen in the US. I got mine from Comic Arts Brooklyn, where Breakdown Press sold out of nearly everything they brought. HAX is the best looking thing Westvind has done in her career and feels like a culmination of her previous, slightly more available projects, like her Hot Dog Beach and Now and Here comics. For my money, it was the best comic of the year.

HAX is silent: there is no dialog or sound effects. The action of the comic is made up of three or five, or many women who traverse environments, battling airplanes and hooded figures as well as each other. The women look like Gods. They are broad shouldered, and stand with their feet spread apart, as if primed to throw a punch. They have bolts of electricity coursing through and off their bodies, and they collide and wrestle and stare off across ancient, volcanic vistas. At times Westvind’s pages can initially resemble the faces in Karl Wirsum's Hairy Who comics, but the effect is different. It looks like Westvind was jamming these lines onto the page fast and desperately with a brush clenched in her fist. You can imagine her making the sound effects to herself while drawing the motion lines of solid objects slamming into each other and the glass shattering . She is certainly not sitting back and filling in her panels with Wirsum-style ornamentation and curvy lines. There are few curvy lines in HAX -- it’s all straight or jagged. It is the most kinetic comic I read this year.

It's difficult to tell what is going on from panel to another, and for that matter, it's not always clear what is happening in any single panel. But the arrangement of the panels appears to be connected, and depicting continual action from panel to panel -- at least some of the time.  Another comic, Ding Dong Circus and Other Stories by Sasaki Maki, also published by Breakdown Press this year, tends towards even less narrative connective tissue between panels. In an essay about the manga and the reactions to it at the time their original publishing, in the late 60’s and early 70s, the comics writer Ryan Holmberg suggests approaching the Sasaki’s manga with an "open eye", "forgetting about conventional reading order and letting your eyes be guided instead by the gravitational pull of the overall page composition, as you would a painting or a poster."

Even though Sasaki drew his comic decades ago, it feels as though HAX is in dialog with Ding Dong Circus not only because the two comics were both published by the same small publisher in the same year, but because of the way you read the comics. Reading through the individual short comics collected in Ding Dong Circus you begin to see recurring visual motifs, themes, symbols, and characters.  There would be a similar experience reading through a collection of Westvind's work, especially with recurring character types.  But where Sasaki's comics are oriented towards symbolism and iconography, Westvinds' focus on actual movement and action.

In reference to Sasaki's work, Holmberg says "some people weren’t sure whether their work should be called manga", but no one is questioning whether Westvind's HAX is a comic. It is sitting confortably within the world of today's art comics of the Jack Kirby meets Fort Thunder type. And it may be interesting to compare her comics to Anya Davidson, Michael Deforge, or other artists working in a similar context, but with all of art history so easily available now, contextualizing art across decades and cultures, and between two admittedly different-looking comics, is a great pursuit for a small publisher and helps you look with different eyes.

In Italo Calvino’s Castle of Crossed Destinies, Calvino makes stories emerge from tarot cards arranged in a line. I tried reading HAX this way, with the comic’s images / panels read as architectural elements depicting pieces of the story. Read this way, there are no consistent characters or actions from image to image. And that works for some of the comic, and bringing so much of yourself to a comic is a fun exercise. But to stick with the tarot approach, you have to ignore a good deal of what your eyes are telling you.

One undeniable sequence where this style of reading fails is on the bottom half of page 11, where three or five women appear to drink from the ocean, as if they were the Chinese man in Claire Huchet's Five Chinese Brothers, and then spit out the water as lightning bolts towards the airplanes divebombing over their heads. With tarot cards the action happens off-page between the panels, but there are too more panel sequences like the one above, depicting specific actions, for HAX to work as a tarot card style reading.

The best way to read the comic is to think of how you would watch the video that Westvind animated for Lightning Bolt's song, The Metal East. In a music video, loosely connected narrative sequences can be pieced together without any expectation of narrative resolution or even cohesion. The images are there to support the song, the music binds the images and sequences together, and fills in the gaps. A comic doesn't have music to pull it together. All it has are a couple of staples and 80 years of history telling you to read it a certain way. But if you look at HAX with the same eyes you use to watch The Metal East video, you can push back against that history a bit.

HAX is available from from Breakdown Press' online store.  Lale Westvind also has a few available from her personal online store.

January 24, 2016

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Australian "Mini-Comic of the Month Club" Offers Drawing for Non-Subscribers

Longtime Panel Patter readers know that I'm a big fan of the Smaller Comics "Mini-Comic of the Month Club" which started a few years ago and continues again this year. It's a great, inexpensive way to see what comic creators on the other side of the planet are up to, usually for about $3 per comic.

Now sometimes you just can't subscribe for whatever reason, either due to money or just missing out on the opportunity. Well, if that was you, here's a chance to pick up the first three comics from this year's edition of the club: Matt Emery's Mere & Mary, Tom Eccles's Yoink and Ashley Ronning's Closest Approach.

All you have to do is enter your e-mail address, and they'll do the drawing just after the end of this month. If you aren't a part of the Club, definitely take a few minutes out of your Sunday and sign up. It's better than Poweball!*

*Okay, not really. If you win the Powerball, you could just go to Australia and buy the comics directly from the creators, possibly after taking them out to a fancy dinner, if you wanted to be really nice.

January 22, 2016

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Weekend Pattering for January 22nd, 2016-- The Wide World of Comics

** So what type of pattering have we been up to lately?  Glad you asked.

** For the second year, comics shops are hosting the In-store Comic Convention Kick-Off on March 5th.  What's the In-store Comic Convention Kick-Off, you may ask?  Well, here's the explanation buried a bit on their website:
Convention attendance is on the rise! In March 2015, we tried something that hadn’t been attempted before: we held a live broadcast in over three dozen stores across the country for a full day of convention-style announcements from major publishers, interviews and experiences via live TV. We brought the convention to the stores!
I was intrigued by the idea of this last year but never got a chance to hit a local comic shop to check this out.  And like any good convention, they've even started to announce guests.  

It sounds like stores have to buy into this event through Diamond so I guess in a month or so we'll see a list of participating stores.  

** Brandon Graham writing about art is always a good thing but Graham writing about Moebius is always a treat.  
I always joke that Jordo did an amazing thing with Madwoman in that he made the only Moebius book that I don’t like. Even Stan Lee didn’t manage that!!
Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius's Madwoman of the Sacred Heart is just a strange book.  I first encountered the first half of it back in the late 1990s when Dark Horse published an incomplete version of it.  It was only a couple of years ago that Humanoids finally released the whole thing and I haven't gotten the nerve up to revisit the whole thing.

The little bit of latter Moebius I've seen seems like a mixed bag.  He worked so hard to minimalize his style that there's the air of ease to it but it also doesn't have the character of his 1970s and 1980s artwork.  Of course that may just be part of that there's so little of it that's translated that it's hard to get as lot into his imagination as it is in the translated stories.

Hopefully when Dark Horse starts releasing Moebius's work, they'll start with some of the stuff that hasn't been released in English yet.  I would just love to spend time with his Inside Moebius series.

** So after the boycott of the all-male nominee list for Angouleme's Grand Prix, the shadowy council in charge of Angouleme opened up the voting to any and all creators.  The final voting is currently open (running from January 20th to the 24th) and the three finalists are Claire Wendling, Hermann and Alan Moore.  It seems like the Grand Prix is just doomed this year because Hermann and Moore have said in past years that they would decline this award.  And now Clair Wendling has announced on her Facebook page that she would also rather not win it.

Note that this Facebook translating Wendling's original French-language post.  

And at the site for his upcoming book, Bart Beatty wonders just how important the Angouleme and the Grand Prix really is by looking at the print history of the winners.
The largest category [of work translated into English and available through Amazon.com], by far are Angoulême award-winners that are not in print. Works by F'Murr, Jacques Martin, Attilio Micheluzzi, Jano, Fred, Pascal Rabaté, and Riad Sattouf can be found in this section of the chart. Notably, eleven of the books are currently available in print as translations (by Dupuy-Berberian, Christophe Blain, Marjane Satrapi, Shigeru Mizuki, Guy Delisle, Christophe Blain, and the aforementioned Riad Sattouf), and one was originally published in English (Ware's Jimmy Corrigan) and one is wordless (Shaun Tan's The Arrival). Add to this the three winners listed as forthcoming: Manuele Fior's Five Thousand Miles Per Second, Alack Sinner by Muñoz and Sampayo, and Paracuellos by Carlos Giménez.
** And finally, Naoki Urasawa talks to Akiko Higashimura about her cartooning and her manga on an episode of Japan's Manben.

January 20, 2016

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Punching the Clock in Makoto Yukimura's Planetes Omnibus Volume 1

Planetes Omnibus Volume 1
Written and Drawn by Makoto Yukimura
Published by Dark Horse Comics

The tagline for Planetes since it first debuted in English back in 2003 was that it was about garbage men in space. And sure it starts out that way but that description is horribly incomplete as the comic moves beyond the garbagemen concept and becomes about the allure of  going beyond the places we know in a world where space becomes just another workplace.  Space is where people go to do a job. And for some, that job is to be garbage men and women. Space isn’t glamorous or sexy. It’s just dirty and there are people who get the unenviable job of cleaning it up.

Hachimaki is just another kid in space. His story actually isn’t all that different than any kid; he just wants to work so he can get his own ship and have the type of freedom with having his own ride. His boss Fee seems perfectly fine where she is. It’s a job that helps support her family back home. The other crew member Yuri seems more reverent towards the vacuum of space but Hachimaki isn’t too sure why. The workday life that Yukimura shows makes Planetes a more relatable story than this would have been if it was about explorers or adventurers.

This approach makes this volume of Planetes as much a workplace as it is a science fiction tale. Even as Hachimaki begins pursuing his dream of becoming an elite astronaut on a voyage to Jupiter, the drama is more about the day-to-day happenings of this crew of spacemen and women. So much of Planetes is about what happens between the time you punch in at the job and punch out. And maybe it says something more about 2015 than it does about when this manga was originally created but the subplot of terrorism adds to the here-and-now feel of the story. As a group opposes the further colonization of space, their actions feel frighteningly normalized in today’s world in ways that it could have back around the turn of the century when Yukimura originally wrote and drew this manga. 

So as normal as a story mostly set in orbit around the Earth or on a base on the moon can be, Yukimura’s artwork normalizes everything that much more as he concentrates on the emotions and expressions of his characters. Space becomes just another setting like your office that it’s where these people spend their time but it’s not necessarily all that extraordinary to these characters. For Yuri, it’s a place of tragedy and a place to remember or mourn. For Hachimaka, it’s a step to his future and getting out of town. He dreams of getting a ship like teenagers dream of getting a car. For him, his own ship would mean freedom and seeing new things in ways that being in orbit can’t. The sense of wonder of space is minimized so Yukimura can focus on the relatability of his characters.

If anything, the characters in Planetes are almost always looking for something outside of themselves. Whether it’s searching for answers in tragedy or looking for a future, Yukimura’s Planetes is about characters who want meaning that their lives lack. That kind of a story could be set using garbage men who ride a truck up and down your street or garbagemen who orbit the Earth. By setting it in space, Yukimura also introduces a sense of isolation in these characters lives. They’re not living on Earth but they’re also not venturing to Jupiter and beyond yet. The in-between existence of these characters is so perfect for a workplace drama where the job is just a stepping stone to something different for each of the characters. These characters aren’t their job but the job is so much of who they are in this place and time that the story is about that journey through an occupation.

January 15, 2016

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Weekend Pattering for January 14, 2016-- 2 Interviews and a Critique

** It's a light one this week but the links contain a lot to think about.  

** The Worst Moment of This Writer’s Life Became One of the Best Things You’ll Read All Year (The Vulture)-- David Marchese talks to Tom Hart about his new book Rosalie Lightning, a book that I've been waiting a long time to read.  I've read a couple of the chapter's of this book as Hart's released them as minicomics the past few years and this book should be devastating.  The book is about his and his wife's having to rebuild their lives after the sudden death of their young daughter.  Hart's cartooning is raw and painful to read but there is something beautiful in the way that he shares both the love and the pain of his daughter.

So, even in the first couple days after she died, when I was capable of having a thought, I felt that, to get some sort of understanding, I’d have to put everything into book form. But, you know, you quickly realize that you never “understand” what happened. Instead of understanding, or something as trite as “moving past it,” the best you can do, I think, is integrate the facts of what happened into your life — stop trying to deny it, or stop suffering from it.

** Priority shipping was a waste (Alec Reads Comics)-- I really enjoy it when Alec Berry writes about comics.  He's got a critical voice that was all the rage for a bit around in the late aughts when there was a degree of performance to criticism but Alec has a good eye for story and art .  His latest piece takes a look at Howard Chaykin's Batman: Dark Allegiances that came out during Chaykin's Hollywood years.
In essence, that’s Chaykin’s approach to Batman. Take a brooding totem away from its emotional ghetto, and supply an opportunity for it to laugh at itself. When Chaykin says the book is about “Hitler in a Hawaiian shirt” in Howard Chaykin: Conversations he’s not wrong. It is. But it’s not without the stoic Welch image at the front, placing the character in context as the pop culture product Batman is. A character under the cover of a plated cowl, protected from the world his eyes see.

** Interview: Seth (Comics Alternative)-- Derek Royal has an interview with Seth and there's so much to talk about this interview.  First, it's the kind that you don't see much anymore as it's not purely a promotional interview.  Seth isn't hawking his newest project or anything.  It's not quite the career retrospective-type interview that The Comics Journal used to do but it may be the closest thing we'll get to that for a while.

The other great things is just Seth.  I honestly don't remember reading a good and thorough interview with him.  I want to say that maybe there was one around It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken or when Clyde's Fans started up but the man is just fascinating.  His aesthetic is the life he lives.  Has there been another cartoonist who's style isn't just on his drawing board but also in his life?
The fiction that came around the shop was a natural outgrowth of my own sensibilities when working on such a project. I like to elaborate and make up small fake histories. So much of my work is about this sort of thing. I’m awfully attracted to the commonplace elements (and the uncommonplace too) of that old twentieth-century world. I read a lot in that vein, and I have a pretty deep mental reservoir of information about these sort of things, and so I naturally like to come up with little back stories. Inevitably, I wanted to add elements to the shop that blurred fact and fiction. That’s why, on the wall, we have a framed newspaper that details the shop’s twenty-five-year history. Of course, that newspaper went up on the wall when the shop was only one day old. The shop has a whimsical element to it as well. An imaginary King that rules over it and chooses his barbers mysteriously. This has kind of fey, sickly sweet quality, I realize. Perhaps a bit sickening in preciousness. I have nothing to offer in my defense, except I think it’s cute. I like cute.

January 9, 2016

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Weekend Pattering for January 10th, 2016-- On The Morality of Comics

** Maybe someday I'll get this back on a schedule where this is going up on Friday instead of Saturday or Sunday.

** It's been a while since we've done a roundup of all of our pattering so here's a few weeks worth of it to tie you over until next week:

** Writing About Comics (Youtube)-- Back in October, James K. participated in the Writing About Comics panel and it's now up on YouTube and you can check it out here as well.

** Analyzing Comics 101 (Tee Hooded Utilitarian)-- Chris Gavaler has been continuing his series at HU on Analyzing Comics, the latest being about closure in comics.
Moment-to-moment and action-and-action, for instance, are often ambiguous, sometimes combining identical leaps in time. And since actions do occur in McCloud’s moment-to-moment examples (a women blinks!), it’s not exactly clear what constitutes an “action.” Aspect-to-aspect can also be indistinguishable from subject-to-subject, both of which may or may not involve a movement in time, and so may or may not also be moment-to-moment or even action-to-action. And scene-to-scene might be a location leap and so also a kind of aspect-to-aspect at the big picture level, or a scene-to-scene can be in the same location but at a different time–so then how much time has to pass for an old scene to become a new scene?

** From the Fringes to the Mainstream: Ten Years of Growth In Graphic Novel Publishing (Publisher's Weekly)-- Calvin Reid and Heidi MacDonald talk to a number of people involved in the comic publishing and retail industry about the growth of graphic novels over the past decade, including, "Leyla Aker, v-p, publishing at Viz Media; Charles Brownstein, executive director of The Comic book Legal Defense Fund; Christopher Butcher, manager of the Toronto comics retailer, The Beguiling, and cofounder of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival; Kuo-Yu Liang, v-p, sales & marketing Diamond Book Distributors; Terry Nantier, president, publisher and founder of NBM Publishing and Papercutz; David Saylor, v-p, creative director, Scholastic, and founder and editorial director of Graphix, Scholastic’s graphic novel imprint; and Eva Volin, supervising children's librarian at the Alameda Free Library, in Ca."  That's a fairly strong lineup of opinions on the business of comics that's well worth reading.

But as a reader of comics, there was one thing that really jumped out to me.  Chris Butcher talked about the choices we make in where we buy comics when answering the questions of what are the biggest challenges the business will face in the next 5 years.
I honestly think that customer education is the next step for all of us. Letting customers know that their purchasing habits have very strong effects on the industry, and that how they choose to support an author or work, approaches being as important as supporting that author or work. Buying from Amazon versus indie retailers and what that means for authors/pubs, supporting publishers who underpay (or don't pay) artists, all of it. I think there's tremendous purchasing power in this nearly billion-dollar-a-year market, and the fight to move that power in the direction of addressing some of comics' systematic imbalances should be what's at the heart of the next five years.
I have some issues with the idea of pre-ordering comics as anything other than a way of letting your retailer know what you want and when you want it.  The idea of pre-ordering as some kind of activism gets a bit grosser and grosser to me each year.  I understand how it affects the comic industry but you barely hear any other mass media talk about pre-ordering that way.  "Make sure that you order your copy of the Hateful Eight blu-ray so you can send a message to the studios and distributors."

But the idea of where we buy comics being a way of supporting the industry is something that too many of us (myself included) probably don't think about or just try to ignore.  I spread all of my purchases around retailers fairly liberally.  I buy a handful of comics weekly from my local comic shop and Comixology (now an Amazon company, in case you've forgotten.)  I also purchase quite a bit from Amazon, usually on higher ticket items where there's a savings.  Same for discount online retailer Discount Comic Book Service but more their sister company Instock Trades.  

For a few years a while ago, the majority of my comics came from DCBS.  They're a supporter of comic podcasts and they offer savings of up to 50% on new comics.  The catch, if there can be a catch here, is that you're paying in advance when you place your order.  So if you order $50 dollars worth of new comics from them from the newest Diamond Previews, you're paying them $50 now for comics that you won't get for 2 or 3 months, or longer.  In the past, I had paid them for books that were getting to be up to 8 months late.  I got to the point where if anyone was going to sit on my money for a couple of months, it was going to be me and stopped ordering from DCBS.

Now let me say that DCBS is a great service and their prices are tough to beat.  I had no complaint about their service.  If you're looking to get the most comics for your buck, they're the place to go.  And when I was on a bit tighter of a budget, they were my place to go.  Until I got tired of paying for books months before I would get the books.  For the record, I still place a few orders with their graphic novel and collection storefront a few times a year because those items are usually instock (hence the names I guess) when you place the order.

So I order stuff from Amazon; big, bad Amazon.  I'm an Amazon Prime member and everything.  And I choose to ignore what Amazon actually is and how they conduct business because it's so convenient and inexpensive.  And I get books from Comixology because sometimes I need my comic fix then and there.  But I also support my local comic shops, stopping at the same store almost weekly for over 20 years now.  Their discount is fairly average.  I probably could get most everything I buy there cheaper online but everyone who has worked there during all of my years of hitting them has been great to me.  I stop at MY comic shop (notice the level of ownership there) because I want to support them and their employees.  That's been my decision of why I still shop at comic shops.  

So Butcher's statement about the education of the customer stuck with me from all of that huge piece at Publisher's Weekly.  "... and the fight to move that power in the direction of addressing some of comics' systematic imbalances should be what's at the heart of the next five years." I'm going to be interested in finding out more about this as we move into the latter half of this decade.

** FOUNDER OF RUTHLESS COMICS MONOPOLY SPEAKS OUT IN FAVOR OF INCOME INEQUALITY, REBUKES GOD DAMN LIBERALS (The Outhousers)-- Of course, some of "comic's systematic imbalances" may be Diamond Comics, the distributing arm of the Direct Market.  While I have problems with the DM, I don't know if I ever thought that Diamond was evil or anything as much as they were the winners in a game that ended up being rigged in their favor.

And then there's Steve Geppi, one of those faces of comics that I've chosen to just ignore over the years.  There's so much to go into on this but I'm just going to leave you with the Outhousers summary of it.  And with the thought that this man controls the main distribution of comics in North America.

From BDEgalite.org

** So this week, The International Festival of Comics announced their nominees for their Grand Prix; 30 men and 0 women.  The France-based female cartoonists organization BDEgalite called for a boycott of the 2016 prize, which was supported by a number of the men who were nominated for the award.  

To have an award that's a lifetime achievement award and saying that there are no women in the history of comics, of BD, and of manga who belong on a list of 30 nominees is just ridiculous.  Completely ridiculous.

To conclude this week's Weekend Pattering, I'm just going to link to some of the writing that's been done about this during the week.  Go and read them.

January 7, 2016

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Scott's Year of Comics (or His Favorite Comics of 2015)

I’ve put off writing about the comics of 2015 as long as I could. It’s not because the comics were bad but it’s more that the past year was an odd year for comics. Maybe it says something about this year that while there are books that I really, really enjoyed, I don’t want to dwell on them and I’m already looking forward to 2016 and want to see what the new year brings.

But here we are trying to put the past year into perspective which is something that we do annually. 

The year started out great with Jaco The Intergalactic Patrolman (Viz Media,) Akira Toriyama’s prequel (?) to Dragonball. Now I’ve never read any Dragonball but Jaco made me want to check out more of Toriyama’s work. What I remember most distinctly about Jaco was the energy, the humor and the humanity of that story. It’s a great little book and I wish that there was more of it without having to dive into a 42 volume manga title. Toriyama’s Jaco was just a really, really fun book. I don’t know if there were enough of those this year.

The other early year revelation was Exploring Calvin and HobbesThe other early year revelation was Exploring Calvin and Hobbes (reviewed here,) The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum’s exhibition booklet. It’s been 20 years since Bill Watterson concluded his comic strip but reading this book gave me a whole new appreciation of Watterson’s work. And I don’t think it’s a sentimental appreciation but between Jenny Robb’s interview with Watterson and the book’s presentation and analysis of the strip, Exploring Calvin and Hobbes is a great retrospective about Watterson’s cartooning. Back in that review in April, I wrote, “The amount of real estate he has doesn’t change all that much over the ten years but as he gets older, you can see him doing things on the page that are quite revolutionary in comic strips and art.” We probably don’t give comic strips and those cartoonists their due but this book was just the type of critical look that Watterson deserves right now.

January 6, 2016

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Paper Girls (1-3)

Paper Girls #1 - 3
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrated by Cliff Chiang
Colors by Matt Wilson
Letters and Design by Jared K. Fletcher
Image Comics

Where were you on November 1, 1988? Me, I was 12 years old, in 8th grade, growing up in the Boston suburbs, and not particularly enjoying middle school (we called it junior high school back then).  A few weeks earlier (October 7), I had been to my first rock concert (AC/DC with opening band Cinderella, it was a hell of a show) at the old Boston Garden.  I was probably tired from the night before when I went trick or treating for the last time (I believe I was a zombie).  One week later (on November 8) I attended the concession speech Mike Dukakis (The Duke!) gave on losing the 1988 presidential election.

I mention all of this to put Paper Girls #1-3 into context for me as a reader.  This is a comic series that feels literally designed for me to enjoy it. I wasn't a girl, and I never delivered papers - but the world that these characters come from, that was my world. And it's wonderful to see it captured in a comic. So, before I dive more deeply into this book, let me just get out of the way the fact that I love it. I think issue 1 of Paper Girls is the strongest debut issue I've read on a comic in a long time (and happily that excellence continues and deepens), and I think it's Brian K. Vaughan doing what he does best, which is to use the trappings of genre (in his case, 80's period setting, science fiction and fantasy) to tell a profoundly human, character-based story. Also, be assured that the appeal of Paper Girls does not just rest on the nostalgic feeling that it conveys. Nostalgia can only get you in the door, it's not enough to keep the reader engaged.  Thankfully, this is strong world-building and storytelling from the ground up, in the best tradition of Saga and Y: The Last Man.

Paper Girls begins with a vivid, dramatic and violent dream sequence that introduces the main character of Erin and tells us a lot about what we need to know about her. This is masterful storytelling (Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson are in top form) from the entire creative team (including wonderfully evocative and emotional lettering and design from Jared Fletcher), as this seemingly disjointed dream sequence introduces the point-of-view character, sets the time period, and establishes Erin’s personality and her priorities. It's exposition that doesn't feel like exposition (in addition to being a sequence that feels completely different from the color palate and scenery of the rest of the story).  As Erin awakens we see that it's November 1, 1988 ("Hell Morning") and she needs to get up early to deliver papers. Some of the older trick-or-treaters are still out and about and it's generally a bad morning to have to be up early (4:40 am).

Erin heads out to deliver papers and then meets three other paper girls, KJ, Tiffany and Mac (short for Mackenzie, the legendary first paper girl). From there, things start to get weird, and then over the course of the first three issues of the comic they get even weirder, more intense, and raise a lot of questions that aren't yet answered. I don't want to say too much about the specifics of it, except to say that the story gets big and strange and packs in a lot of interesting ideas and possibilities, sooner than you might expect.

Much like Vaughan and Staples on Saga, this book feels from start to finish like there's real synchronization between all aspects of storytelling. I really can't say enough about the precise, deliberate, thoughtful visual storytelling and scene setting from Chiang and Wilson. As you can gather from my introduction, this era is important to me, memory-wise and emotionally. I was thrilled with all the small touches and ways that they got this era right. From the Far Side calendar on Erin's desk (a staple of late 80's life), to the posters to the fashion choices for each of the girls, this feels like 1988. That's one of my gripes about comics or other media set in the 1980s, is that most people choose to go with incredibly facile, obvious choices, or they think that everything is the same throughout the entire 80's. 1988 was not 1984 or 1985. 

So I'm relieved that thus far nobody is walking around looking like someone out of Miami Vice or wearing legwarmers, a Thriller-era Michael Jackson jacket with zippers, or something similar. By 1988 the fashion had changed and gotten slightly more subtle and muted, and looked almost like what people were wearing in the early 1990s. I thought the book We Can Never Go Home (published by Black Mask) similarly got this era right. The presentation and design (by Fletcher) of Paper Girls from the front cover really sets the scene and evokes the late 1980's as each cover is one bright, striking color that wouldn't have been out of place on a magazine or poster in the 1980's, with a little splash of some other color. The font choice also feels very era-appropriate. Each of the girls embodies a different fashion trend (in clothes, shoes and hair) which says a great deal about their distinct personalities; they're all complex, interesting characters, but the deliberate, specific choices made by Chiang help give the girls a basic outline.


All of the visuals in this book, beyond just choices made for verisimilitude, are effective in regards to the storytelling. The colors, in particular, are quite striking. In the first issue, Wilson's colors set the pre-dawn scene, and that sense of the hint of light before sunrise, is really quite beautiful and really sets the atmosphere. It's a weird time of day, and there's usually a reason why someone's up at that hour. As things get stranger throughout the series, Wilson's color choices capture the increasing weirdness and continue to be entirely on point in capturing the strangeness of the goings-on. Even if all you saw in the series was Wilson's colors for the sky, you'd understand at least some of what's going on in the story. That is effective visual storytelling at the highest level.

Paper Girls is a great homage to a world gone by. It's also a great homage to movies from that era (70's and 80's) like E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goonies and Stand By Me, and other more recent movies about that era such as Super 8 and Donnie Darko (which involved time travel, weird phenomena and was set in 1988). Through the first issue, my (as it turned out, ill-founded) concern was that this was somehow simply going to be a nostalgia trip. It does absolutely evoke that for me, including by making me sad as I miss things from my childhood. Nostalgia is meant to make you sad and wistful for a place and time gone by, and that mission is accomplished (particularly in the first issue of the story). Nostalgia is also meant to evoke other entertainment (such as the movies I mention above), but thankfully Paper Girls is not just a pastiche or homage. If this was just some sort of trip down memory lane that would be nice, but it wouldn't sustain a book. I'm happy to say that after 3 issues this book gets intense pretty quickly, and while the late 1980's is the setting, this story isn't about the late 1980's. It's about 4 girls getting in way over their heads and dealing with what comes their way, with as much smarts and resourcefulness as they can muster as everything around them goes to hell.
In addition to being like Saga in that it has gorgeous, evocative art, this book shares another similarity with Saga in that the reader can connect immediately with these characters on an emotional level. They feel like real, recognizable people, as opposed to We Stand on Guard (also written by Vaughan and illustrated by Steve Skroce) which is a really engaging story, and a lot of fun, but feels less focused on the characters emotionally (at least for the most part). Paper Girlsdoesn't start as an action-packed story but it absolutely gets there. The first issue takes its time by introducing the characters through dialogue and interaction; we see who they are such that by the time the action heats up, we've got a real sense of who these girls are.   
Some people dislike that sort of decompressed storytelling, but I think it's quite useful as the main function of the initial issues (particularly the first issue) is to set the scene and establish the world and the characters that inhabit it. I think here it's effective as it lets the story breathe. Much of the first few pages are wordless; we see Erin going through her paper girl prep work. The other character introductions are handled in a way that doesn't feel rushed; by the time we meet the other paper girls we already feel like we know Erin a little and we're in her corner. Each of the girls are subsequently given a chance to show who they are, through their actions, their words, and their terrifically detailed appearance as designed by Chiang.  The girls' interactions also feel naturalistic and authentic. They're not necessarily close friends but they have a shared bond, and tense situations has a way of pulling people together quickly, but also bringing out their distinct approaches to problem-solving.

If you enjoy intriguing science fiction mysteries with great, naturalistic dialogue and characters you'll quickly grow to like, told with striking, gorgeous art, then Paper Girls is the book for you. If you don't like those things, well, I'm sorry.

Issue 4 of Paper Girls is available Wednesday, January 6, from Image Comics.