May 13, 2020

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Catch Up at the Comic Shop May 13th, 2020

We're going to be doing something a little different for a while. With all? most? publishers taking a hiatus from new books, the Panel Patter team will be doing some curated picks of "evergreen" or recent titles that should be easily mail-ordered from your favorite comic book shop or indie bookstore. (And digital, too, if you're like Rob and out of space!) We'll keep this up for at least the month of May, but if there's a call for it, we'll keep going, so let us know what you think!

James' Picks:

Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido, published by Dark Horse Comics
I've read thousands of comics, in many different comics. So, I have a decent frame of reference to say this: Blacksad is one of the most stunningly beautiful comics that I have ever read, and I am willing to bet that it will be one of the most beautiful comics you will ever read. Blacksad is created by Spanish writer Juan Diaz Canales and artist Juanjo Guarnido, and originally published in France. It's a crime noir story about a detective named John Blacksad. The thing to know about this story is that John Blacksad is a cat. Everyone in Blacksad is an anthropomorphic animal. Cats, dogs, bears, lizards, etc. When I first started reading the book, I found that a little weird. It made me think I was reading a funny or silly comic. And, to be clear, Blacksad is full of moments of humor. But the emotions feel very real and grounded, and these are very much detective noir stories, they just happen to take place in a world of anthropomorphic animals.  Be aware, this is an adult comic with adult themes (and some sex and nudity)

About that art and those animals. Juanjo Guarnido was previously an animator for Disney, and it shows. In Blacksad (and there are two additional volumes) he is cartooning at the absolute highest possible level. The world of the story is completely believable and immersive (it very much evokes a post-war New York City). Guarnido is a master sequential storyteller, but you're just going to want to linger on some of the art on every page just because it's so stunning. The facial and body-language acting in this comic is just stunning (among other stunning parts of the artwork). Blacksad is an absolute joy. Go read it.

The Wild Storm by Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt, published by DC Comics

The Wild Storm is a story about the Cold War that engulfs our world, and the disastrous possible consequences if these two warring powers don't exercise some wisdom and judgment. I'm speaking, of course, about the cold war between International Operations ("IO") and Skywatch. Who, you might be asking, are IO and Skywatch?  Both were originally government organizations that basically went rogue. IO essentially controls everything on Earth, and Skywatch controls everything off of Earth, through an enormous (cloaked) space station. They have achieved detente through a complex series of treaties. But...if there wasn't conflict, there wouldn't be a very interesting story.

Each organization is itching to get the upper hand and destroy the other. Oh also, there are aliens. And alien technology has been used to enhance humans, so each side has their own enhanced humans In addition to there being aliens walking around in human form. But things begin to go awry when an IO employee steals some stolen Skywatch tech and puts an experimental flight suit inside of herself.  From there, things get wilder and weirder. This is a big, complex, incredibly engaging comic. There are definitely a lot of characters involved, but this is a comic that rewards careful reading. While it's a story about aliens and people with amazing abilities, this is ultimately an espionage thriller, where there are lots of parties playing 5-dimensional chess against multiple opponents. 

The Wild Storm is also an amazing-looking comic, thanks to the terrific artwork of Jon Davis-Hunt.Davis-Hunt has a style that's detailed, but very clear. Much of the comic is quiet moments, and Davis-Hunt is great at those. But when the action cranks up, he's absolutely able to bring exciting action to the reader. His style is very appealing and readable, and feels very modern to me. I also really like Davis-Hunt's character designs in this story. The Wild Storm is a reboot of characters originally created in the 90's, and this reboot feels very modern. This is an incredibly fun, dense, engaging series.

Rob's Picks:

Keiler Roberts' Autobio Comics: Rat Time/Chlorine Gardens/Sunburning, published by Koyama Press
The freedom of the autobiographical comic is that it's the most catholic form of comic--anyone can create one, and all it takes is a drawing implement and some paper or an electronic tablet. The only problem with this freedom is that there are so many out there that it's easy to overlook any particular creator in the genre, and it's even easier to get burned out on them entirely. One of the things that sets Roberts apart from the pack--and likely why she got a deal with the high-quality publisher Koyama--is that she's honest with her reader. That's what made Jeffrey Brown and James Kochalka so good back in the day, and why Liz Prince and Gabrielle Bell are names to follow from book to book.

In these works, Roberts deals with being a mother, a partner, a person dealing with mental illness, and just trying to lead her daily life. It's the kinds of things, both in her past and present, that any reader can relate to. And best of all, there's a nice layer of humor to the whole thing, not in a broad farce but seeing the absurdities in living in the 21st Century. Roberts' linework matches the tone perfectly--she's more advanced in terms of drawing figures and backgrounds than a lot of other autobio creators, but it doesn't overwhelm the page. The focus is still on the actions, not in the details of a particular panel unless it's essential for us to understand her life story.  These are great comics that will remind you that no matter what happens, we all have to keep living--an important message right now, I'd say.