March 29, 2017

, , , , ,   |  

REVIEW: Space Riders: Galaxy of Brutality #1

Space Riders: Galaxy of Brutality #1
Created by Alexis Ziritt & Fabian Rangel, Jr.
Written by Fabian Rangel, Jr.
Art by Alexis Ziritt
Letters and Design by Ryan Ferrier

Good news for fans of crazy, fun comics that will melt your face with psychedelic art - Space Riders is back and it's just as great as ever. If you're not familiar with the story of Space Riders, here's what you need to know. Capitan Peligro is the Captain of the Santa Muerte (a ship that looks like a menacing giant skull), a ship in the EISF (kinda like Starfleet but more badass). He's joined by his crew, the Baboon Mono, and the robot Yara. They roam the stars, fight bad guys, right wrongs, etc. In this issue, all is not well aboard the Santa Muerte as the ship takes on a bunch of no-good Vikers (space viking bikers, obviously) and we see and discover new mysteries as there's tension among the crew.


This is such a fun book. It's a crazy, engaging, psychedelic space adventure. If you're looking for a comic that's a legitimate delight to read, that will leave you feeling enthusiastic about the medium, this is a great read. Capitan Peligro is such a great, gruff, take-no-prisoners character, and the whole crew is similarly memorable, such as the thoughtful spiritual, devout Mono. Rangel writes great, punchy dialogue here (it helps to know a little Spanish as well). I also appreciate Rangel's vision of a cosmic future where American English isn't the dominant or only language spoken throughout the cosmos, where a Capitan leads the flagship of the fleet.

One of the other good things Rangel does in Space Riders is to let Ziritt's art tell the story. Ziritt creates some fantastic, jaw-droppingly psychedelic art in this comic. He's got a style that's rough, and detailed, and feels decidedly analog, like underground art that you might be lucky to discover. It's very much his own style, but it does feel like Ziritt (along with so many others) is inpsired by some of Jack Kirby's most out-there cosmic comics, along with the 70's work of Jim Starlin.  Additionally, if you enjoy the work of artists like Tom Scioli (who has a similar analog, old-school feel to his work along with the Kirby inspiration), Nathan Fox (who also did great work on the Captain Victory mini, which had an out-there space feel to it as well), Jim Mahfood or James Stokoe (both with unique but similarly detailed styles), then you'll really enjoy this book. Ziritt does some gorgeous, inspired design work in this comic, from the Santa Muerte (a giant skull flying through space), to each individual Viker, to the amazing way they combine into a sort of Viker Voltron, and the trippy psychedelic demons that Peligro must face.  It really is some original, inspiring design work.


Ziritt's colors explode off of the page. He's got a highly atmospheric style, and sometimes panels are monochromatic for effect, and sometimes certain characters are highlighted red or blue in order to show mood or focus on the tension between the characters. And the scenes that take place in a psychic realm are genuinely mind-blowing in the explosion of weird colors and shapes. I mentioned the "analog" feel of the book - the page borders have a weathered, faded feel to them with stains and blotches. The effect is to give the book the feel of a found artifact from a cooler time long ago. Ryan Ferrier does some fantastic hand-lettering and design here, which is completely consistent with the old-school underground feel of the book. The sound effects lettering is really additive to the book, and everything from the colors to letters to design feels like a unified whole.

I highly recommend you check out Space Riders: Galaxy of Brutality. It'll melt your brain, but it's totally worth it.
, , , ,   |  

Interview: Sean T. Collins Talks Mirror Mirror II, 2D Cloud and their Kickstarter

We here at Panel Patter are big fans of 2D Cloud, one of the small comics publishers who consistently put out great content, featuring creators such as Marinaomi, Will Dinski, Andy Burkholder, Jason T. Miles, Noah Van Sciver, and many more. They're a publisher willing to take risks, and part of that means understanding there may not be a wide audience for their books--but those who enjoy comics that often challenge a reader's perceptions always find rewarding material under the 2D Cloud banner.

Recently, 2D Cloud has been moving to a Kickstarter model for pre-orders. This ensures that they have the demand and funding for upcoming books. It's something we're seeing a lot more in the comics world--those of us who want what the direct market won't provide can go directly to our favorite sources via funding drives.

The key, though is hitting that funding goal, and that's where 2D Cloud still needs a little help, as their latest Kickstarter campaign winds down towards the end of this month. The headliner this time out is Mirror Mirror II, the second 2D Cloud horror anthology. I had the pleasure to sit down with Sean T. Collins, co-editor of the anthology with his fiance, Julia Gfrörer, via e-mail to talk a little about Mirror Mirror II, 2D Cloud, and the nature of horror.

Mirror Mirror II cover by Julia Gfrörer
Rob McMonigal: Thanks for agreeing to this interview on short notice, Sean! I remember reading your old comic, Destructor, way back when! Let's start off with the basics--what is the Mirror Mirror anthology series and how did it come about?

Sean T. Collins: Mirror Mirror is the brainchild of our publisher 2dcloud. It's a really innovative idea, I think: a flagship anthology in which no two volumes are a like because each volume has a different guest editor (or editors in our case). The first volume came out last year courtesy of editor and cartoonist Blaise Larmee, who's now 2dcloud's creative director. It was a really bold book, loose and abstract, kinda simultaneously pushing at the boundaries of comics and "the self" as a concept. 

But when Julia Gfrörer, my co-editor and fiancée, and I set out to do our volume, we knew it would be very different—denser markmaking, a greater focus on narrative, more explicit and dark in tone, and as black as Blaise's volume was white, just on the level of the cover and even the trim of the pages. If you put the two books together they look as different as day and night but, I think, they fit together and follow one another as naturally as day and night, too.

from Bad Blood by Al Columbia

Rob:  There are so many awesome horror comics. It's one of my favorite genres, too. What makes comics such a great art form for horror?

Sean:  That's a tough question for me, because a lot of what people think of when they think of "horror comics" don't move or frighten me at all. Mirror Mirror II is basically a who's who of the artists who have scared us--Al Columbia, Uno Moralez, Renee French, Josh Simmons, and Julia too. Have you ever watched a horror movie, gotten to a really intensely scary part, and then been unable to resist rewinding and watching again? I definitely have, and I think the best horror comics make that compulsive instinct to face what frightens and disgusts us easy to give in to. You control the speed at which you pass through the images, so when something really sinks its claws into you, it's entirely up to you how fast you pull those claws back out by turning the page. 
from Love by Laura Lannes

Rob:  How did you and Julia go about selecting content for Mirror Mirror?

Sean:  I've joked that it helped that we went to a bar across the street to do it. After a drink or two, "Let's invite Clive Barker" seems less and less like a pipe dream, you know? I'm kidding, but only slightly -- from our initial barside conversation about who we wanted, we decided to shoot for the moon. What's the worst that could happen? They say no and we politely thank them for their consideration and move on. 

So our list was a combination of groups, I'd say. There were major artists from other fields, like Barker and fine artist Chloe Piene, whose work meant a lot to us. There were cartoonists who we consider part of our canon and heritage -- Columbia, French, Dame Darcy, Carol Swain, folks like that. There were artists who are more comics-adjacent than comics proper and whose work and audiences we wanted to mix up with a more traditional alternative-comics readership, like Meaghan Garvey and Heather Benjamin. There were comics artists we consider peers or friends or fellow travelers--Noel Freibert, Aidan Koch, Sean Christensen, Céline Loup, Lala Albert, Jonny Negron, Simon Hanselmann, Laura Lannes, Josh Simmons. There were quite a few people we discovered online and invited cold, from younger artists like Mou and Apolo Cacho and Trungles to Nicole Claveloux, a French comics legend going back several decades. 

We thought that as different as, say, Clive Barker and Aidan Koch or Chloe Piene and Josh Simmons might be, if you put them together in the right context, the commonalities would emerge. Our only guidance for the creators was that we wanted work based around four themes: horror, pornography, the Gothic, and the abject. They all knew exactly what we meant, which really is why we asked them in the first place. 

from Shifts by Trungles

Rob:  Who among your contributors to Mirror Mirror might be a reader's new favorite creator? 

Sean:  I'll use the first example that comes to mind because it's the first full-length comic in the collection: Laura Lannes's "Love" is going to to hit people hard. She has a style of tremendous restraint and control, so when things go bad, you feel it. 

Rob:  What is it like to work with 2d cloud?

Sean:  They're a dream. I say this all the time, but Raighne Hogan, the co-publisher and our main point-person on the project, is just so thoughtful and deliberate about everything he does -- who he works with, how he treats them, what comics he publishes and why. Throughout the whole process Raighne was encouraging and supportive. Given that a lot of the work in the anthology is challenging, even upsetting, having his humane conscience sign off on what we were doing meant a lot.

Rob:  Why are small pubs like 2d cloud important to the comics world?

Sean:  2dcloud takes real risks on resolutely uncommercial work -- not only that, but they built their kickstarter business model to accommodate their artists, rather than doing it the other way around and only publishing artists who make sound business sense. I pretty firmly believe that the future of both the arts and politics depends on expanding our capability to imagine new ways things can be done, and 2dcloud fits that bill to a tee.

Rob: Thanks again for taking the time to do this, Sean. Last question--what's next for you and Julia?

Sean: Well, I can tell you what's on Julia's drawing board at the moment: She just finished the sequel to her first major work, Flesh and Bone; it continues the story of the witch at the center of that comic and I'm excited for people to see it. She's also working on a t-shirt design for the band Wax Idols, who rule. Together, she and I are doing the third in our series of pornographic adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe short stories -- this one will be based on "The Masque of the Red Death" and I'd say it's sort of epic compared to the intimacy of the books we did based on "The Cask of Amontillado," which was In Pace Requiescat, and "The Fall of the House of Usher," which was The Hideous Dropping Off of the Veil. For my part, I mostly work as a television critic these days, and this spring will be a very very busy season. It's probably no surprise that the Twin Peaks revival is the show I'm most looking forward to. 

Rob: Okay, back to my comments now!

In addition to Mirror Mirror II, the Spring 2017 Kickstarter has 4 other parts: Yours by Sarah Ferrick, Sound of Snow Falling by Maggie Umber, 100 by Nou, and Alt Comics Magazine 5. I admit to being unfamiliar with these creators, but looking at some of the preview pages, I'm pretty excited:

100 by Nou

from 100 by Nou
Sound of Snow Falling by Maggie Umber

from Sound of Snow Falling by Maggie Umber

Yours by Sarah Ferrick
from Yours by Sarah Ferrick
Alt Comics 5

There are a ton more of these pics on the Kickstarter page, too, for you to get a feel for the work.

As I write this, the Kickstarter is just a little shy of making it. Let's put it over the top. You can get everything from digital copies to print to past books by 2D Cloud, and even a full 1-year subscription to all of the books coming out this year by 2D Cloud. Again, I trust Raighne and his pals to provide me with excellent books, and I urge you to check out this Kickstarter today!

March 28, 2017

, , ,   |  

Repeat Review- Wilson by Daniel Clowes

Note: This review was originally written back in 2010 when Daniel Clowes' Wilson was originally published. I couldn't even tell you what website it was written for.  It has been revised slightly from its original publication.  The Wilson movie is now out but I can't imagine that it can capture the dogged despair of Clowes' book.

When Wilson was a child, his parents used to sit by the lakefront for hours, simply staring at the water. It's one of those things that parents do which children just can't understand. "It's just water," a kid would think, "nothing special." As a man whose best relationship is with his dog Pepper, Wilson goes to the ocean shore, trying to see and experience what his parents did. If he sits long enough, maybe he'll be able to find a connection to them, he hopes. Finally, he gives up and walks away; "... This is a snooze-fest." Years later, long after the death of his father, a reunion with his ex-wife, learning about his sixteen-year-old daughter and the misguided attempts to build a relationship with her, Wilson sits cross-legged on the ground, watching a melting icicle. "Still nothing." Finally, after losing and then somewhat gaining a family back, Wilson sits in front of a window, watching the rain fall. It's been a long life and finally, he gets it. It's so obvious; obvious enough that Wilson doesn't have to offer any explanation to the audience.

That's what passes as a plot summary for Daniel Clowes' Wilson, his newest book about a man with too much faith in his fellow man but too high of standards to ever accept them for who his fellow men are. Told in one page gag-style strips drawn in a number of different cartooning styles, Wilson shows the adult life of one man repeating the same mistakes throughout his life. Almost everything in Wilson is a do-over for this character, another chance to get it right but it almost always comes too late. He wants to finally get to know his father but his father has stage four lymphoma. After sixteen years of separation, he wants to be a husband again to his estranged wife Pippi but she's far too damaged to even show the slightest amount of emotion to anyone. He wants to be a father but hasn't the first idea of how to just get to know Claire, his daughter who he didn’t know about. He makes the same jokes over and over even though nobody ever laughs. He insults the same people again and again without ever finding out who they are. If life is a series of events that you learn from and grow from, Wilson never seems to change. He goes from life event to life event, waiting for everyone to catch up to his highly developed sense of self.

During the entire book, Wilson wants to be normal and just like everyone else. He's constantly reaching out to people, trying to find something interesting in them that he can latch onto. He wants to hear about people's families and their jobs but it's never interesting enough for him. In the end, he’s one of those guys who appears interested in his fellow man but ends up being far more interested in himself than he would ever care to admit. You could almost read these encounters as Wilson just trying to show up each person he meets but I think Clowes wants us to see more than a pompous blowhard in Wilson. Wilson is a character who's searching for someone that he can feel honest emotions for; his father, his ex-wife, his daughter, his grandchild, the dog, the dog sitter or even the guy at the cafe who Wilson insists on sitting with because he likes to look out the window even though there are any number of open tables available. There's an earnestness to how Wilson tries to communicate with each character that's tangible just before he grows tired of the conversation and tries to dominate the other person with his own singular wit.

Clowes use of different styles creates a fascinating dynamic in this book. It's a bit jarring in the first couple of pages but once Clowes really begins to develop Wilson's story, the changing art fades a bit into the background, becoming less obvious and distracting. Running the range from a realistic, non-decorative style to a very cartoony and rhythmic style, Clowes repeats these styles like Wilson repeats his various approaches with other people. I wonder if you pulled the book apart and grouped pages drawn in a similar style together if you'd find any narrative or thematic connection between them? These ever-changing approaches to the story actually create a sense of hope for Wilson, hope that maybe he’s seeing the world somewhat differently because he’s learned something. But Clowes never gives him that ability to grow and learn.

The different styles focus you more on Wilson and remind you that Clowes isn't telling you the story of a one-dimensional man. Wilson isn't just a funny clown or a bearded slob but he is both of those and much more. Every different characteristic Clowes gives him through the different styles are part of who Wilson is. From the story alone, it's easy to try and peg Wilson as a somewhat sloven misanthrope but Clowes wants us to see that as only one aspect of the character. In many ways, the art has to overpower the story to try and create a more sympathetic and likable character but it doesn't always work. Even with the different styles trying to give us a glimpse into the heart and soul of the character, it's difficult to see beyond the misguided repulsiveness of some of his actions.

I really don't want to know a Wilson in real life but I have the feeling that I do know one or two of them, those people who would much rather listen to their own voices that for one minute think that someone else has something to contribute to any discussion. Dan Clowes works to reminds us though that we have to see beyond the obvious of Wilson, beyond the glasses, receding hairline, big nose, and beard because there's so much more to Wilson. We may never see the whole Wilson but we'll keep on getting glimpses of him. Clowes leaves it up to the reader to assemble the final and complete image of Wilson.

Written & Drawn by Daniel Clowes
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

March 26, 2017

, , , ,   |  

This Looks Good: Cullen Bunn and Jack T. Cole Get "Unsound" at Boom!

Cullen Bunn is one of my favorite horror writers (you *are* reading Harrow County, right?).
Jack T. Cole's art is phenomenal, as introduced to me by Leia Weathington.

And now they're teamed up together to make a comic:

Coming in June 2017, Boom! describes the comic as follows:
The Unsound follows the journey of Ashli, a young woman caught in the middle of a strange supernatural conspiracy that reveals to her a much more terrifying version of our world than she ever imagined.

Ashli’s first day as a nurse at Saint Cascia Psychiatric Hospital turns into a nightmare as a bloody riot sends her fleeing into the bowels of the hospital. As this unsettling descent takes her to a hellish world populated by lunatics and monsters, cloaked in a secret history of black magic and heinous scientific experiments, she’s forced to ask one horrifying question: Is there such a thing as sanity?
That sounds really awesome to me. I love stories that question the nature of reality, regardless of the genre or medium. Given Cole's visual strengths, I can only imagine the depth of detail that we'll be seeing on the comic pages. With Bunn's strong plotting and ability to lure a reader in before shocking them with a new wrinkle, the two should match up for a really strong comic.

One more quote from the press release:
“Working with Cullen on The Empty Man was one of my favorite experiences of recent years, so I jumped at the chance to help usher in his next horror classic,” said Eric Harburn, Editor, BOOM! Studios. “A cerebral, unsettling tale of an asylum on the brink of hysteria, The Unsound is also a showcase for Jack T. Cole—your new favorite artist.”
I included this because that last sentence is definitely true. Here's some more of Jack's work. This is a page from Deep Engines, which he co-created with Leia Weathington:

And here's a skeleton for your trouble:

So yeah, this one looks good. Keep an eye out for "Unsound" starting in June, at your local comic shop or digital device.

March 24, 2017

, , , , , , ,   |  

Making Up a Mess of Fun

Previously on Panel Patter

Cover of the Next Week

Banana Splits/Suicide Squad by Ben Caldwell

Four banana three banana two banana one
All bananas playing in the bright warm sun
Flipping like a pancake popping like a cork
Fleagle Bingo Drooper and Snork

Greatest.  Comic.  Ever.  

The Banana Splits/Suicide Squad Special #1 features a cover and interior artwork by Ben Caldwell.


Royal City by Jeff Lemire

** Jeff Lemire on the Auto Factories, Indie Rock and Mystery of Royal City (Paste Magazine)-- Tobias Carroll interviews Jeff Lemire about his newest series out of Image Comics.  One of the things that really bugged me about the first issue was the cliched author with writer's block but Lemire talks a bit about that character.
Lemire: I just thought it would be fun to base one of the characters on myself, as I’ve never done that before. But instead of him just being me, he is me if I had made all the wrong decision in my life. He is me if I had really screwed up and made bad creative choices, bad life choices, etc. It’s sort of fun to self-destruct on the page so I don’t have to in real life.
Don't know if I like this character any more or less but it's an interesting approach to a character that's similar to the author.

This and That

Scout by Tim Truman

** Dystopic Homesick Blues: Scout: The Four Monsters by Tim Truman (Loser City)-- Tim Truman's Scout is one of my favorite series of all time so I appreciate Nick Hanover's survey of the first major storyline from this series.
In a conversation about some of the themes I saw in Scout, indigenous media critic James Leask told me that in the online indigenous community there is talk of “the idea that native peoples actually ARE living in a post-apocalyptic world, given the ongoing genocide against them that fundamentally changed their societies. In the view of the contemporary indigenous world as a post-apocalyptic one, there can be pain and pride in the survival of it, and wry observation of settlers discussing it as something new or forthcoming.”

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

** The Best We Could Do (The Comics Journal)-- Panel Patter alum Rob Kirby reviews Thi Bui's book at TCJ.
In her early twenties, Bui traveled back to Vietnam to meet her extended family. It was shortly afterward that she began to record the family’s history, hoping that “if I bridged the gap between past and present… I could fill the void between my parents and me.” Her narrative flashes back and forth in time, illustrating how larger events (war, dictatorship, immigration) shaped the family’s lives. She records her father’s traumatic, uprooted childhood in the 1950s (she calls him “Bố,” or “daddy”) and how he endured periods of living as a refugee with his abusive, philandering father in a country wracked with sociopolitical turmoil and poverty. Meanwhile, Bui’s mother (“Má”) grew up in privilege as a child of a civil engineer, shielded for many years from the dire conditions of much of the country. After marrying Bố, Má gives birth to multiple children, usually under extremely difficult conditions, including her daughter, Bích, right before the Tet Offensive in 1968; a stillborn child, Thảo, in Saigon in 1974; and her son Tâm in a UN refugee camp in Malaysia in 1978.

Altcomics from 2dcloud

** Minnesota Publisher 2dcloud is Gaining Ground in U.S. Alt-comics (AIGO)-- 2dcloud's comics are some of the best comics just to look at.  Their detail in packaging, from stapled zines to nicely produced books, perfectly fits the spirit of every book that they publish.  
The best way to start an alt-comics publishing company is by just doing so. Start with an anthology; seeing how difficult it is to get work from artists with little to no financial incentives makes it hard, but it’s also realistic. It can also be thrilling to get people whose work you have long admired involved, or to pay someone their very first check (even if it is an embarrassingly small amount)—it feels incredible, and is encouraging.
2dcloud is currently running a Kickstarter campaign for their Spring line of books.   You need these books.

** Quick Guide to Frank Santoro’s Grid Theories (Comic Workbook)-- Frank Santoro's concept of the grid just fascinates me.  I even ended up buying his school's handbook just to try to figure it out.  I'm putting this here just to link to a lot of his writing about how the comic page works.

Current Mood

March 22, 2017

, , ,   |  

The Very Model of a Modern Man- a review of Joe Ollmann's The Abominable Mr. Seabrook

The Abominable Mr. Seabrook by Joe Ollmann
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

William Seabrook was a man who believed in experience. Whether that was learning about voodoo, eating with cannibals or tying women up, the man was ravenous for that next thrill. And as well as living all of those experiences, he wanted you to know that he had done all of that. His strange quest to eat human flesh, to say that he had dined with the cannibals, is the most sensationalistic portion of Joe Ollmann’s book The Abominable Mr. Seabrook but it shows so much of Seabrook’s obsession to be the man who was known to have done that. And it continued to define him even after he had published his accounts but he had started to realize that his experiences weren’t quite as authentic as even he thought they were. Even if Seabrook wanted to be known as the man who tried cannibalism, there’s also the strange desire to be authentic to his public persona.

That cannibalism is only one of the many colorful aspects of Seabrook’s life. Ollmann’s biography shows a man from a conservative upbringing who refused to conform to polite society. It’s not even that he was rebelling against his upbringing but more that Seabrook just was never satisfied. Whether it was the women in his life, the opportunities that he had to travel and to share his adventures or the self-destructive alcoholism that took over his later life, the story of Seabrook’s life is about a man who was looking for fulfillment. And near the closing days of Seabrook’s life, Ollmann hilariously reveals the possible reasons for Seabrook’s drive and it’s a reason that makes Seabrook very human far more ordinary than his adventurous pursuits would lead you to believe that he was. 

Tackling Seabrook as his subject, Ollmann’s almost deadpan humor gives you a bit of room to view Seabrook as something less than awful. It's Ollmann's straight-forward delivery that makes Seabrook's ugly actions somewhat palatable. Building his story on a tightly constructed 9-panel frame, Ollmann’s cartooning has a strong sense of forward momentum. And at first, that momentum is fueled by Seabrook’s own desires and hungers. But that momentum eventually turns from forward drive to an uncontrollable and directionless march toward drunken entropy as Seabrook loses himself in his bottles and demons.

From a distance, Seabrook really is a bit of a monster. O.k. He is actually a really big monster but Ollmann’s depiction of the man is also oddly charming. In trying to fulfill his many appetites, Seabrook leaves a trail of devastated women behind him. A contemporary of the Lost Generation of writers post World War I, Seabrook frames his desires and his actions around explore and expand not just his mind but America’s minds. As much as he was a journalist, Seabrook also believed that he was an explorer of new frontiers and it was his responsibility go where we couldn’t back in the 1920s and 1930s. As Ollmann writes and draws him, Seabrook is a man who believes in his own hype even as he knows that he can’t live up to it. 

Today, we would probably call Seabrook an adventure junkie, a guy who gets as drunk off of the thought of subjecting a woman to bondage as he does by drinking bottle after bottle of whatever alcohol he can get his hands on. But for all of his horrible qualities, Ollmann also captures the parts about Seabrook that appealed to and attracted lovers and friends. The cartoonist depicts that early-20th-century-male swagger in Seabrook, the man as comfortably at home entertaining high society over polite drinks as he was at being carried on a litter through the jungles of Africa. Seabrook isn’t any kind of he-man but he’s a charming man about town, ready to regale you with his voodoo and cannibalistic adventures.

In the grand scheme of history, William Seabrook has become a minor character but Joe Ollmann’s biography of Seabrook shows us a man who is as much a man of his times as he is of our times. In The Abominable Mr. Seabrook, we see a man who lives to satisfy his own needs and desires, something that’s as much of a transgression in the 1930s as it is in 2017. In that way, Seabrook is a modern man. For the most part, Ollmann is able to sidestep any obvious signifiers of time so that Seabrook’s story isn’t tied into the early 20th century anymore or less than it could be tied into the present day. Seabrook’s story is not merely history thanks to how Ollmann tells the story; it’s simply the story of a man who was never truly happy within the constraints of his own life.

March 19, 2017


"Horror to me is... a spot of blood on his shoe"-- Bernie Wrightson (1948-2017)

Whenever I think about Bernie Wrightson, I think about this clip from Masters of Comic Book Art, a fantastic 1980s era VHS video profiling some of the greatest artists of comics.

Best known for his work on Swamp Thing and his illustrations for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, I don't know if you could say that there are a lot of artists following in Wrightson's footsteps (with the exception of Kelly Jones probably) because the worldview that Wrightson portrayed on the page was almost such a naturalistic p.o.v. but twisted just enough to make you wonder about the reality of what you were seeing.

For as much as Wrightson could affect the way that we see the world of Swamp Thing, Batman or Frankenstein, it was Wrightson's definition of horror (starting around the 5:00-minute mark of the embedded clip) that has always stuck with me and influenced the ways that I look at his work and even horror as a genre.

"... horror to me is the image of a well-dressed man, standing on a corner waiting for a bus and everything about him is absolutely perfect except there's a spot of blood on his shoe."

Thanks for Bernie, this has been what horror has been to me as well for the past 30 years.

From Wrightson's Frankenstein illustrations

March 16, 2017

, , , , , , ,   |  

Quick Hits Reviews: Image has some Issues (Extremity & Royal City)

The two issues I look at below couldn't be more different. But they're both the work of talented writer-artists, and so each really reflects an artist's unified vision. Both look like the beginnings of excellent series.
Extremity #1

Extremity #1
Created, Written and Illustrated by Daniel Warren Johnson
Colors by Mike Spicer
Letters by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics/Skybound
Extremity is a tale of tragedy, loss and revenge, and is one of the strongest, most ambitious debut comic issues that I have read in a while. It covers a lot of ground and it does so quite successfully, and unlike most single issue comics these days, Extremity is a satisfying and complete story in its own right. It's about loss and pain and purpose and the limits of revenge, and even over the course of a single issue we come to care for the characters and get a sense of who they are as people. Writer–artist Daniel Warren Johnson is someone with whom I was not familiar, but reading this issue makes me want to seek out his earlier work. 

There's a lot of world-building for a single issue of a comic. The story focuses on one clan of (what appear to be) humans known as the Roto, whose enemy the Paznina attacked them years before, killing many, including the mother of Thea and Rollo, whose father Jerome is the leader of the Roto. They also brutally chopped off Thea's right hand, a particularly cruel act given that Thea was the most talented artist among the Roto. The majority of the first issue is focused on the counterattack by the Roto on the Paznina years later, and the ultimate bloody revenge achieved by the Roto and by Thea in particular.There's world-building going on, but it's more character focused and less focused on making sure the reader understands all aspects of this world.

Extremity #1

Johnson does fantastic, intricate, detailed, imaginative work in this first issue. It's an action-packed, visceral comic, not for the faint of heart. The art in this comic brings to mind Mad Max: Fury Road (both for some of specific costuming and for the relentless pacing). In the kinetic style and constant forward motion of the action, it feels like Johnson has a strong manga influence, and I'm reminded a little bit of other highly talented visual, visceral artists such as Raphael Grampá, James Stokoe and Felipe Sobreiro. There's a lot of really interesting, original and striking design in this issue, from the battering ram warship to the frightening mask that Jerome wears into battle, to the tattoos (paint?) on the characters' faces. It's sort of a mix of floating medieval times meets biker gangs meets post apocalyptic. It's all very engaging and highly detailed.

Johnson has a terrific artistic partner in colorist Mike Spicer. Spicer is an excellent, versatile colorist (whose work I've really enjoyed in books like Black Science and Head Lopper) and he really helps bring Johnson's illustrations to life. From the warm hearth of Thea's old home, to the gray industrial feel of the warship, Spicer's colors really pop and add a lot of richness to the story. This comic also has some of the very best sound effects lettering that I've seen in a very long time. It's big and bold and really feels like part of the art. Speaking of lettering, Rus Wooton does his usual excellent professional work in lettering the comic with a slightly more analog, hand drawn style. 

As you can probably tell, I highly recommend you pick up Extremity. It's a great, promising debut with a lot to offer.

Royal City #1

Royal City #1
Created, Written and Illustrated by Jeff Lemire
Letters by Steve Wands
Published by Image Comics

I just finished telling you what a great first issue Extremity was; that was a comic that succeeded in part because it was relentless, non-stop action and violence over the course of 24 pages. Well, what's wonderful about comics is that there are so many ways to successfully tell a story. Royal City is a completely different, but equally successful first issue. Writer-artist Jeff Lemire returns to the world of a family-based, ostensibly realistic piece of fiction such as his early (and much-loved) series Essex CountyRoyal City is an emotional, sprawling and spacious first issue that gives every character and every moment a chance to breathe, as members of family are brought together as a result of a family emergency. 

The feeling I got reading Royal City was that it reminded me of an excellent TV drama, that deliberately (this is a well-paced issue) introduces the disparate characters, coming together for a purpose. In this case, the family patriarch Peter Pike has suffered a stroke, and we see this affecting his wife Patti and their children. There's Tara, the real estate broker and budding entrepreneur whose plans for the Royal City Manufacturing plant don't line up with the wishes of her family or the town itself. There's Pat, the novelist who's hit something of a dead end on his current project. There's Richie, who's less interested in working at the Royal City Manufacturing plant and more interested in drinking himself into oblivion. And there's Tommy, who - well, I don't want to say too much about Tommy. As I've discussed previously, Lemire is someone who's interested in exploring themes of loneliness and alienation; people for who the world as it is doesn't quite fit. I'm glad that Lemire has chosen to tell this as an episodic story; this expansive, oversized first issue* gives him a real chance to introduce the main cast of characters and start to explore those themes of loneliness and feeling adrift.
Royal City #1

Lemire is second to none as a sequential storyteller, and all that skill is on display here. He's got a unique visual style that reveals fundamental truths about human emotion in a way that a more traditional artistic style doesn't necessarily accomplish. I also think Royal City has some of Lemire's best, most accessible artwork. His work can venture into the realm of trippy and dreamlike (such as in works like Trillium, The Underwater Welder or After Death), which perfectly suits those stories. However, in Royal City, Lemire is using a slightly more conventional panel layout and his characters feel slightly more realistic in their design. Lemire still brings his unique, distinctive, angular style to Royal City. I'm a huge fan of his art style and while I think he's justly praised for his beautiful, hauntng and sad work, I think he might be underappreciated when it comes to facial acting and body language. There are a lot of great, small moments of personal interaction in Royal City and Lemire does terrific, precise work in portraying emotion through facial expression, whether it's the turn of a head, the crook of an eyebrow, or someone's posture.

Lemire also does a terrific job in establishing a sense of place for the characters. Royal City (the place) really comes to life as a small town (with a name seems that like a vast overstatement, a nice little joke) whose best days are behind it, and Lemire does a great job showing us the specific, industrial architecture and geography of this place. I'm also impressed with Lemire's coloring choices in Royal City. It's would have been easy and more obvious to choose gray, washed out colors and make this a gloomy-looking book. But instead of that, Lemire chooses a warmer, prettier color palate but gives them a somewhat faded look. Very much a metaphor for the town and the people in it; maybe their best days are fading, but they seem like people doing the best they can with their lives; people are still living and loving and working and struggling.

Royal City is a relatable, fundamentally human story which looks like it should have some fascinating twists, and I highly recommend it. 

* I'm a huge fan of the oversized first issue by the way, I think is a great way to start off your story and to make a first issue more than just a preview of the series.

March 14, 2017

, , , , , , , , ,   |  

Quick Hits Reviews: Image has some Issues (The Old Guard & The Few)

The Old Guard #1

The Old Guard #1
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Leandro Fernandez
Colors by Daniela Miwa
Letters by Jodi Wynne
Design by Eric Trautmann
Edited by Alejandro Arbona
Published by Image Comics

Greg Rucka is writer who's great at a lot of things. He writes complex, interesting female protagonists. He's skillful at establishing fully realized worlds in a way that's user-friendly without spoon-feeding the reader. He's a master at epic tales of war, combat and the supernatural. And, he's great at partnering with terrific artists and getting out of their way (in this case, the terrific Leandro Fernendez and Daniela Miwa on colors). It's good news then that The Old Guard brings together all of these different skills. The Old Guard is a story of mercenaries/soldiers who appear to be effectively immortal, and at least in some cases have been active for thousands of years. This is a great, engaging concept - sort of a meets a military adventure book, if your team was comprised of Vandal Savage, The Eternal Warrior and Forever from Lazarus (which, as it turns out, would also be a great name for this book). The camaraderie of this group comes across nicely, even as they're threatening and messing with one another. They've clearly been working together for a very long time.

What's also evident from the first few pages of the comic (from both the words and Fernandez and Miwa's gorgeous, thoughtful illustration) is that our lead character (a woman named Andy) is someone who's lived and loved and fought and slept her way through multiple lifetimes and just wants to be done with the endless cycle of it all. Rucka’s spare narration tells us this, but the strength of the art in The Old Guard is that Even without Rucka’s words, we see this though the repetition of sex and war and combat, all things Andy had experienced again and again. Fernandez's art in this sequence reminds me (in spirit, more than with regards to the specific art style) of an ancient Greek or Egyptian wall painting. In very few panels we see the passage of centuries and a long life lived. It's very effective work. In particular, Miwa does striking work with shadow and color contrasts that illustrates sadness, loneliness and fatigue.

The Old Guard #1
Fernandez's art style reminds me a little bit of the work of Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon and Michael Oeming (in his playful, stylized exaggeration of the human body) but while characters' features are exaggerated, this is controlled, realistic, grounded work. Fernandez’s art is emotionally honest, dynamic, and just generally inviting to look at. He's got a great sense of pacing, and the panel layouts are always interesting and guide the eye in a way that it it's always telling a story. As mentioned above, Miwa does great, varied work throughout the issue, from the sun-dappled streets of Barcelona, to the warm light of Paris at Midnight, to arid warzones; the colors are stylized rather than strictly realistic, but they convey the emotion and really set the mood for each scene.

The Old Guard doesn't seem like a story that's interested in why these people are immortal; that they are is taken as a given. What it is interested in establishing is that their status quo (in which they operate discreetly in the shadows) is about to be upset, both by forces acting against them and by the realization that they aren't the only immortals out there. The Old Guard is looking like another great series, and I highly recommend it.

The Few #1

The Few #1-2
Written by Sean Lewis
Art by Hayden Sherman
Published by Image Comics

I wasn’t sure that right now I wanted to be reading a comic about a dystopian, post-America landscape, but after 2 issues of The Few I’m hooked. It’s a story about the conflict between what’s left after the fall of the American government, and rebels on the other side, and a woman who’s caught in between. Through the first 2 issues, we have a basic picture of the collapse of America and the conflict between what's left of the government (known as The Castle) and various rebels and fiefdoms who've staked out control of different areas (this story takes place in what was Montana). Writer Sean Lewis is building a world from the ground up, where for the most part we're learning based on what the characters themselves know, rather than from some sort of high-level omniscient party (more Brian K. Vaughan, less Jonathan Hickman). The protagonist is named Hale, and she's a soldier on a mission, one that becomes much more complicated in the course of the first issue. Through two issues I think The Few does a nice job in establishing her as a complex character with secrets and motivations that aren't yet clear; we definitely want to see where this is going.

The Few #1

The world that Lewis is writing is one that feels cold and harsh and spare. It's portrayed very effectively, and that wouldn't be possible without Lewis' storytelling partner, artist Hayden Sherman (who’s working on this and a comic at Dynamite while still in college - much more ambitious than I was at that age). Sherman’s art is a real revelation. Sherman has a style that reminds me of Ronin-era Frank Miller (spare, angular) that I find incredibly appealing in this book. As seen in the above panels, there's something elemental about Sherman's art; his forest scenes almost call to mind Japanese wood-cuttings. The books is minimalist and striking (there are only occasional splashes of color, all used very effectively to show blood or something else elemental), and in addition to setting a great, lonely, cold mood, Sherman is equally effective at character design (it's a weird, ramshackle world) and at portraying intense movement and action. The tension during chase sequences really comes across, as Sherman has a nice sense of pacing.

I'm impressed with the first two issues of The Few; it helped me overcome my skepticism at a post-collapse story and I think it's got something original and interesting to say.

March 10, 2017

, , , , , , , , , , ,   |  

Trade Talk: I see the Eclipse on the Horizon

This week I'm taking a look at two engaging science fiction collections from Image Comics imprints. Both do what strong science fiction should do, which is to use fantastical concepts to pose questions that make us ask about ourselves and how we are living right now.

Horizon Vol. 1

Horizon Vol. 1
Written by Brandon Thomas
Illustrated by Juan Gedeon
Colored by Frank Martin
Lettered by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics/Skybound

An elite military team has infiltrated a hostile, dying alien world, in order to prevent that aggressive alien species from invading and taking over the military team's home world.  The catch is, that dying world is Earth and the aggressive aliens are humans. That's the hook behind the engaging series Horizon, from Image Comics/Skybound. Horizon is written by Brandon Thomas, and illustrated by Juan Gedeon, with colors from Frank Martin. Volume 1 (collecting issues 1-6) is currently available in paperback.

Zhia Malen is from the planet Valius which has been targeted by Earth as a future home for humanity (we've wrecked this place and we need somewhere else to go - not a good look for humanity).  Malen is a dedicated agent who has been called upon to sacrifice herself (and years of her own life) in order to modify/upgrade her as a soldier who can help infiltrate Earth and prevent humanity from ever being able to leave. She's got help from other agents from the planet Valius who are here working undercover under her command. This first arc of Horizon is really an introductory story; it establishes the team, the threats against them, and their ultimate mission.

Horizon Vol. 1

Horizon was an entertaining, action-packed read. It took me a little while to get into the story, but I feel like that is in fact by design. This is fundamentally a story about aliens on Earth, and while there are humans in the story they are secondary characters. Horizon sees human beings the way we would typically see an alien threat in a typical, human-centric story. So, while humans are present throughout the story, we don't really see their humanity. We see human beings as the visitors from Valius see them - as hostile, as savage, as people that are trying to capture, torture or kill them.

So, this is a fundamentally alien story. And, since we're not visitors from another planet (well, I'm not, I don't want to speak for you), what the creative team does here is start the story with a sense of (for lack of a better word) alienation, as we begin the story by seeing Earth from the eyes of a visitor from Valius. The first few pages there isn't much of any dialogue or recognizable language at all. We hear English being spoken the way that an alien might hear it - sounds that approximate the sound of English but without the real meaning. If you don't know a language, it would just sound like gibberish, and the story (with effective lettering from the always excellent Rus Wooton) does an excellent job of portraying that confusion until Zhia Malen is able to get her translator to work.

This is a fast-paced, action packed series, and that is brought to life by the rough and kinetic illustration of Juan Gedeon. Gedeon does an excellent job portraying the speed and power at which the visitors from Valius can move (particularly Zhia - do not mess with her). He also portrays the way she can move from compassionate to extremely fearsome. Gedeon's linework in this story is loose, spare, straight and sometimes a little jagged where it needs to be. Action sequences are very effectively drawn, as Gedeon has a great sense of motion and the interaction between characters in a combat sequences. Those sequences are often drawn with a very minimal, impressionistic line. It's not hyper-detailed, but it works pretty well as your mind fills in some of the character details. The jagged effect (when one character kicks another, the lines around the person being kicked have sort of a zig-zag effect) is something I haven't seen before, and it's an effective and nonstandard way to convey physical impact.
Horizon #2

Frank Martin does great, complementary work with Gedeon in coloring this series. As a huge fan of Martin's work in East of West, I was already predisposed to like this book, and Martin delivers distinctive but similarly excellent work in Horizon. From a dramatic underwater sequence (in which the characters are illustrated only in shadow, to the grimy earth tones of the near-future Earth in which the characters live, to the bright colors of the alien visitors, Martin's colors are an integral part of the storytelling. There are a lot of fun, engaging effects in this series, such as the digital zigzag effects that convey sudden motion, colorful, old-school sound effects lettering, lightning and crackle (not exactly Kirby crackle, but similar) to show a character's visual transformation, and pixellation to focus the reader's attention on a particular panel or image. It's engaging, kinetic visual work all around.

This is a story that doesn't explain everything that's going on. As the agents from Valius are new to this world, so are we. We see glimpses of the near-future in which this takes place (both through visuals of croded, dirty cities, and audio from news reports), and the creators paint a somewhat bleak picture. This isn't a dramatically apocalyptic world, more like we're slouching towards oblivion. There are also parts of the Valius alien society and structure that aren't yet explained, but the alien invaders are given a lot of space that you can really begin to see who they are as people. A story can be accessible without telling you everything, and Horizon strikes that balance well.

It took me a little while to get used to the storytelling style in this book but I'm really interested to read more. If you're looking for thoughtful and action-packed sci-fi with a strong hook, Horizon is a great place to start.

Eclipse Vol. 1

Eclipse Vol. 1
Written by Zack Kaplan
Illustrated by Giovanni Timpano
Colored by Chris Northrop
Lettered by Troy Peteri
 Published by Image Comics/Top Cow

Sure, life is pretty rough these days. There's a lot of uncertainty. least the sun won't burn you to a crisp within seconds of being outside. How would we adapt to life living underground, when instead of being something that nourishes us, the sun becomes our greatest enemy?  That's the premise behind Eclipse, written by Zack Kaplan (no relation) and illustrated by Giovanni Timpano, with colors from Chris Northrop. It's a great premise, but what makes Eclipse a compelling story is not just the premise, but the murder mystery and personal drama that unfolds in this new, catastrophic world. Volume 1 (collecting issues 1-6) is currently available in paperback.

Ten years before there was a horrific solar flare event, which killed billions of people and forced the remainder of humanity underground.  It's a nocturnal society now, as folks can only go above ground during the nighttime. Bax is a maintenance worker in this new, changed version of society. He's regarded as a hero for his actions on the day of the flare (he was a firefighter who saved the Mayor), and he's an expert now on the suits that anyone must wear in order to survive being above ground during the day time. This expertise, and Bax's knowledge become crucial when there's a series of murders that take place above ground, which themselves lead to bigger and stranger mysteries.

Eclipse Vol. 1
I really enjoyed this first volume. Kaplan has a great idea in this story; seeing humanity adapt to changed circumstances often makes for excellent storytelling, and this is an interesting hook and way to explore humanity's adaptability to a problem that wasn't necessarily the one we were expecting would doom humanity. In some ways, the idea that the surface of the Earth becomes uninhabitable because of a solar flare lets humanity off the hook for its own damage to the environment. However, what the setting does do is give Kaplan and his co-creators a chance to explore a world in the near future where people have to adapt very quickly to a very changed situation. What would having to live underground during the daytime do to our psychology? What would the radical change in sleep patterns do to human functioning? While this story isn't primarily about those things, the interesting questions that are raised in Eclipse make for fascinating background in which to have the main story take place. The character of Bax is an interesting window into this story. He's a reluctant hero, but an interesting one, and his skepticism helps ground the storytelling.

Kaplan has strong storytelling partners in Timpano and Northrop. Timpano brings a realistic, gritty, and strong line to the proceedings. Such as in the below panel, Timpano pulls off a nice trick in showing a weird and different Times Square that's absolutely recognizable and realistic, but done in an "analog" way that doesn't feel like photo-reference.  Both in the above ground scenes in New York, and in the scenes underground, Timpano provides a lot of background detail, and a weathered quality, that gives Eclipse an authentic sense of place. This really does feel like what New York City might look like ten years after a natural disaster, and the new, makeshift, underground world has a lived-in quality that really sells it as a realistic future.  Timpano does a lot of good, precise character work throughout the story. Bax is a believably gruff, damaged hero, and he and all of the other characters are nicely portrayed with some precise work around facial acting and body expressions. The emotional work is strong in this book, and the sense of detail that was applied to the backgrounds is also extended to the specific choices in character design and clothing. 

Eclipse Vol. 1

I can't say enough good things about the great work Northrop does in coloring this book. As shown in the above page and throughout the series, Northrop gives the sun a quality I've never really seen in a comic before. The sun is a killer now, something terrifying, to be avoided at all costs, and Northrop does great work in showing the oppressive nature of sunlight throughout this story, including in scenes where the sun is used as a weapon. In the scenes of nighttime and underground, Northrop does similarly precise and effective work; the fluorescent light that pervades their world gives everything a little too much unnatural light. Northrop extends this great color detail generally throughout the series. Troy Peteri also extends the "post-fall of society" feel to the hand-drawn style lettering that's quite effective in this series.

This is an interesting, fun, accessible read. If you're looking for an enjoyable sci-fi comic, I definitely recommend Eclipse.