April 14, 2021

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Quick Hit: The Grande Odalisque


Manufacturing a successful heist is a common story trope seen many times over in film and trade paperback. These are stories of a person A meeting a person B, and so on, in order to assemble a Team so that they are able to steal object C; narrative structure we are all quite familiar. People's names have become normalized through this genre. Franchises have literally been built on it. There is reason for our desire to tell stories as these. They are action-packed, they are high-stakes, and there isn't any reason to expect much less from a narrative design combining cat burglar with Thelma & Louise. Heist tales always manage to have a specific purpose keeping you perched to the edge of your seat. The Grande Odalisque, published by Fantagraphics Books this past February, is no different. 

April 13, 2021

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Catch It at the Comic Shop April 14th, 2021

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week...

Sean’s Picks:

Peanuts: Scotland Bound, Charlie Brown OGN by Charles M. Schulz, Bill Melendez, Jason Cooper and Robert Pope, published by BOOM! Studios

Anytime you mention the Peanuts gang I’m all-in. The gang that the legendary Charles Schulz created are timeless American treasures that will be among the most beloved characters every child will grow up with for endless generations. It doesn’t end with those holiday TV specials, but it sure does begin there. After reading and rereading the dozens of collected volumes there are plenty of moments to cherish and enjoy. Never did I imagine I’d live to see new stories from Charlie Brown and the gang. Not until today, that is. BOOM! Studios is publishing a brand new adaptation of a newly discovered storyboard from the Schultz studios and is brought to us by the people behind Adventure Time Comics and Scooby-Doo. This time Charlie Brown convinces his friends to travel abroad so that he can meet the love of his life, a pen pal from Scotland. That rare moment of self-confidence, found here in this new Peanuts story, is what we have always hoped for in the epic sage of the perpetually sad Charlie Brown. In all those years reading along with Chuck and his gang, we’ve managed to see him muster up enough confidence to embarrass himself into a silly situation where readers of literally all ages can enjoy.

April 6, 2021

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Catch It at the Comic Shop April 7th, 2021

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week...

James' Picks:

Geiger #1 by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, and Brad Anderson, published by Image Comics

With an independent comic written by Geoff John’s and drawn by Gary Frank, I would’ve picked this up no matter what. This team has totally earned my trust, going all the way back to their run on Action Comics prior to the new 52, and continuing in Shazam, Superman: Secret Origin, and in Doomsday Clock most recently. I loved Doomsday Clock. All of John’s’ and Frank’s work has been at DC, and I’m so curious to see what they do in a whole new world. Having read the first issue, I’m super intrigued to see where it’s going. Frank is as spectacular on art as ever. His level of detail is just remarkable, with excellent, weird, post-apocalyptic colors from Brad Anderson. The story is really interesting and dark. It’s post apocalyptic and sci-fi, and it feels like it’s going big places. This is a no-brainer for me. 

April 5, 2021

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ADVANCE REVIEW: Barbaric #1 by Moreci and Gooden

Barbaric #1
Written by Michael Moreci
Illustrated by Nathan Gooden
Colors by Addison Duke
Letters by Jim Campbell
Published by Vault Comics 

I wish I could quantify or adequately describe what it is when a comic series has it, that je ne sais quoi that immediately hooks me and makes me not just say "I liked that" but say "I'm in." Well, whatever that alchemy is, I'm happy to say it's present in the first issue of Barbaric from the excellent creative team of writer Michael Moreci, artist Nathan Gooden, colorist Addison Duke, and letterer Jim Campbell.  I'm not typically that much of a fantasy comics person, but I'm very much intrigued by what the creative team sets up in this first issue. There's a great deal that seems fantastical, but people feel real and grounded. It's a violent, vulgar, blast of a series and I'm excited for more.

If you're a Barbarian, your goals in life are probably relatively straightforward: 

  1. Crush your enemies.
  2. See them driven before you.
  3. Hear the lamentations of their women.
Power and riches for yourself and your tribe/clan, crushing all those who oppose you, etc. These are things to strive for. Your goals are probably not to roam the lands killing people - not for personal gain and glory (which would be cool), but rather, in the name of promoting justice and "doing good".  Well, this is the situation that Owen the Barbarian finds himself in. Owen was going along, living his best Barbarian life (murdering and pillaging, drinking, sex, etc.) when he has a curse placed upon him . He can either go to Hell immediately and suffer eternal punishment and face those who sent there - OR, he can go around writing wrongs and doing good, never refusing to help those in need.  And now he has an enchanted talking axe that craves blood but also tells him who does or does not deserve to die (like Jiminy Cricket, but an axe, and very murdery). 

April 2, 2021

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The Apotheosis of a Punk in Gary Panter's Jimbo: Adventures in Paradise from NYRC

Jimbo holds a special place in my comic-reading history. Along with Mike Allred’s Madman, the 1990’s Zongo incarnation of Jimbo represents my first foray outside the world of mainstream superhero comics. For an 8th grader raised on Superman and Green Lantern, a book like Madman was certainly weird, but familiar enough. It spoke essentially the same language, if in a far cooler and slightly less accessible dialect. Jimbo, on the other hand, was entirely foreign, dropping only a few cognates here or there, and I truly had no idea what what I had encountered when it first entered my world. I’m not sure specifically how I came across it, or why the shop owner even let me buy it. I’m 100% certain I didn’t understand it in the slightest. 

April 1, 2021

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Quick Hit: Destiny, NY #1 by Pat Shand and Manuel Preitano

Destiny, NY #1
Pat Shand, writer
Manuel Preitano, artist
Jim Campbell, letterer
Cover artists: Elisa Romboli, Terry Moore, and Rosi Kämpe
Published by Black Mask Studios

What happens next to the young man or woman after they save the world, defeat the evil villain, or solve the unsolvable puzzle? This is generally where the story ends, with the hero victorious and balance restored. We don’t see the hero going to college, getting a job, applying for a mortgage, etc. Now that the quest is over, we don’t really care about the hero anymore; they are the spent rocket booster that’s done its job and is no longer needed. The audience has already moved on to the next story, the next adventure. 

Logan McBride is one of these young heroes and she fulfilled her prophecy as a preteen. It isn’t clear to the readers—or even to her friends and classmates—what exactly she did. It was foretold that she would “Go into the unseen and remove untouched death” but what does that mean? Her life now involves being a grad student at Destiny University and working as a barista. You would think that after removing the untouched death, she would at least get a job at a startup. Her ex-girlfriend Bailey has just gotten engaged, she appears to be suffering from anxiety, and she doesn't really seem to have anything to look forward to. And that’s where Destiny, NY starts. 

March 30, 2021

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Catch It at the Comic Shop March 31st, 2021

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week... 

Rachel's Picks:

Witchblood #1 by Matthew Erman, Lisa Sterle, Gab Contreras, and Jim Campbell, published by Vault Comics

I’ve always had a problem with female characters fighting in metal bikinis and stiletto boots/high heels. How is it that none of these characters have had a wardrobe malfunction while saving the day? I can only suspend my disbelief so much. Lately I’ve gotten in to watching Jill Bearup’s videos. She is a stage combat performer and one of the frequent themes in her videos is discussing the clothing that characters, especially female characters, wear in action and comic book movies. If you want to know why boob armor is bad and why platform boots aren’t the best footwear for a fight, I recommend that you check out her YouTube or Nebula videos. Thus, when I started reading Vault’s Witchblood and I saw that Yonna D’Arc a witch and the main character was wearing a cute but very practical motorcycle outfit (leather jacket, fitted cargo pants, sturdy low-heeled boots), I was quite pleased.  Witchblood takes place in a world where both witches and vampires exist. The vampires especially enjoy drinking blood from witche—hence the title of the series. Yonna is understandably not a fan of this. Aside from the great outfits, I was also immediately captured by the opening shot of a beautiful western desert with stars, mountains, and cacti. A lot of neon colors, like hot pink and turquoise are used throughout, which reminds me of Jen Bartel's work. There are moments that are very cartoony, like when a character is bonked on the head. What's nice though is that even though some items in that panel are drawn in a more simplified manner, the item that did the bonking is rendered in a lot of detail. And when the vampires turn up, the art becomes more menacing and psychedelic. I liked Jim Campbell's lettering for Bhu the crow’s sound effects. Some of these include "peck," "caw" and my absolute favorite, "bird." If you like urban fantasies and colors that remind you of Lisa Frank, pick up a copy of Witchblood.

Shadow Doctor #2 by Peter Calloway, Georges Jeanty, Juancho!, Charles Pritchett, & Mark Chiarello, published by AfterShock Comics

This volume opens with teenaged Nat and his white friend, Mary, out in the Alabama woods. Mary brings Nat to a fig tree that shouldn't be growing in this climate, but which appears to be thriving. These scenes of the lush tree and the woods are the brightest in the volume, a kind of Eden. Even in this paradise, the color of his skin will be held against him.  Knowing that the series is based on a true story, it is sickening to see how terribly Nat is treated. He just wants to be a doctor and no one is willing to hire him or to lend him money to open a clinic. And though Al Capone regularly says racist, ignorant things to Nat about Black culture, he's far less racist and hateful than most Americans. He gives--not loans but gives--Nat $1,000 so that Nat can open up a clinic. Capone tells Nat that in America, station doesn't matter, that a man is limited only by his ambition. Despite this, he doesn't believe that America is ready to accept Black lawyers or doctors, but he'd like Nat to prove him wrong. The art by Georges Jeanty again recreates 1930s Chicago. My favorite panel is from inside a bustling jazz club. The diners are all rich and white and the band performing is made up of three Black men. Nat's purple suit (a loan from Capone) is one of the brightest items in the space. It’s obvious how much he doesn’t belong there. But his services as a doctor are going to be needed quite soon.

March 25, 2021

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Quick Hit - Aggretsuko: Meet Her Friends


I’m a big fan of the anime Aggretsuko that’s about a red panda named Retsuko who works as an accountant at a large corporation in a Japanese city. She’s a young woman/red panda with dating problems, money problems, and a burning desire to quit her office job. Her boss is sexist and demeaning, and he delights in overworking all of his employees, especially Retsuko.  Partially out of social mores and partially out of anxiety, Retsuko takes pains not to stand out. She presents a mild-mannered persona to the world and uses death metal karaoke sessions to vent. The comic Aggretsuko: Meet Her Friends published by Oni Press is an anthology of three short stories about Retsuko, her coworkers, and her friends.

I’m going to focus this review on my favorite of the stories, the second story, “Fenneko’s Grand Plan” which was written by Arielle Jovellanos, and illustrated and colored by Diigii Daguna with lettering by Crank! Retsuko is being blackmailed by a coworker who’s threatening to send everyone in the company a video. In the video, Retsuko is ambushed on the street and asked what two plus two equals. Rattled, Retsuko replies, “twenty-two.” Because she’s an accountant, there is a chance that if her boss, Director Ton, sees it, she could be fired. That’s where Fenneko, the fennec fox, comes in. Fenneko reminds me a lot of Daria Morgendorffer from the MTV cartoon Daria (huh, I’m really dating myself here, aren’t I?). Like Daria, she is sardonic, intelligent, and judgmental. She is able to read people well and though she has no problem making fun of Retsuko, she actually cares a lot about her. Fenneko hatches an elaborate heist-like operation to neutralize the blackmailer. Like all good capers, multiple people are needed to use their various skills at different points. The dialogue feels true to the characters and the plan itself is really quite clever and fun to read.

The art and colors by Diigii Daguna use subtler, more muted colored pencil-like drawings than the other stories in the collection.  The linework is softer and less precise, which really works with characters who are (generally) very cute animals. The office is illustrated with darker, grimmer tones, sometimes directly opposite sunlit skies. I appreciated how the internal thoughts of the characters are drawn in a simplified manner as if they've been too beaten down by their office jobs to daydream in more than one color. Retsuko's heavy metal interludes, by contrast, are drawn with passion, attitude, and 80s awesomeness. I could see “Fenneko’s Grand Plan” being made into an episode of the anime, and since I quickly consumed the third season when it came out, I was glad to spend more time with Retsuko and her friends (and enemies).


March 23, 2021

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Catch It at the Comic Shop March 24th, 2021

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week...

Rob's Picks:

HaHa #3 by Roger Langridge and W. Maxwell Prince, published by Image
It's tough being a mime in the best of times, but try being one in *this* economy, am I right? Our pantomime protagonist is down on his luck until a literal dumpster dive lands him a robot companion who takes his act to a new level. Everyone's a critic, however, as we see in this comedy collaboration between one of my all-time favorite creators and one of my new favorites in Prince. These two make an excellent pair, with Langridge able to emote everything in his linework, allowing the moments when we do get language to feel really powerful. Prince's darkness really shines here even as the illustrations look bright and sunny, and some of the panel constructions are simply amazing. I'd love to see Roger guest on an Ice Cream Man story. In the meantime, make sure you get out of your invisible box and pick up this issue.

March 18, 2021

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Cells at Work: Baby! Volume 1


This past summer, I was searching for a new show to watch on Netflix and the algorithm suggested Cells at Work! I figured I’d give it a try. One episode in and I was hooked. One of the biggest reasons why I love the anime and the manga that the anime is based on is because I have learned so much about human biology. As a kid and preteen, I loved educational shows like Bill Nye the Science Guy and The Magic School Bus. However, in high school and college, I only took a handful of science courses and only a couple of those were in biology. Still, I thought that I had a pretty decent understanding of how the human body works. But with each episode of the anime or issue of the manga, I would learn more and more about the immune system, red blood cells, cancer, bacteria, etc. Another thing that I really appreciate is how much teamwork is demonstrated. It doesn’t matter how brave or determined an individual cell is if the rest of the cells don’t also pull their own weight. Without teamwork, the body wouldn’t survive.

Like the main series Cells at Work! created by Akane Shimizu, Cells at Work: Baby!—which is written and illustrated by Yasuhiro Fukuda—all takes place inside of one human body. Dr. Naoya Hashimoto, a Japanese pediatrician, serves as the book’s medical supervisor. The body in this case is a baby who is about to be born. All of the baby’s cells are depicted as toddlers who don’t fully understand their respective jobs. Often instead of doing their jobs, the cells prefer playing with blocks or running around. The main red blood cell is a pig-tailed girl who has a lot of curiosity but is lacking a bit when it comes to finding her way inside the body. Her friend, F-niichan (niichan is a term of endearment used to indicate that the speaker sees the addressee as an older brother), is a red blood cell bearing hemoglobin-F, and he’s able to more easily carry oxygen. He takes a sibling-like interest in her and tries to encourage her to deliver oxygen on her own without getting lost or distracted. Many of the adventures in the book start with red blood cell getting distracted by a new sight in the body or by her wanting to meet new cells.

The art by Yasuhiro Fukuda is similar enough to the flagship line while also being distinct. The cells here are cuter, the violence that can get quite gory in the other series has been toned down, and the body seems appropriately smaller and less complex compared to the adult bodies that are the settings for Cells at Work! and Cells at Work: Code Black!  The character’s expressions are often a bit more exaggerated, and that totally makes sense as these cells aren’t old enough yet to become jaded or bored.


Each of the organs is depicted differently. The placenta looks a bit like a large conference center that’s been decorated to look like a preschool. The mother’s adult red blood cells hand over oxygen and nutrients to the baby’s childish red blood cells through a series of windows that look like a bank teller’s station. Because the mother’s blood and the baby’s blood don’t intermingle, the placenta acts as a meeting ground for both bodies’ red blood cells to exchange oxygen and nutrients. The umbilical cord is a long, tall tunnel with linoleum tiles and muzak playing in the background. The lungs appear to be composed of a series of large geodesic domes connected to massive vents. The small intestine looks like a mix between an oil refinery and an assembly line at a food manufacturer. The stomach, when it is first shown, is a dry, empty wasteland. The brain is a mix of NASA’s mission control room and a children’s library filled with information from the genes.

The book is listed as 16+ on Kodansha’s website, but I think it would be appropriate for middle grade readers. There’s no talk of sex or conception, no nudity, and the violence is pretty tame. I think that this would be a great series to give to a young reader, especially one who is starting to learn about the human body. By giving the different cells distinct personalities, it makes it easier for readers to differentiate between white blood cells, red blood cells, etc. And there are also helpful tips throughout the book for expectant parents and caregivers. A preteen who’s about to become a big sibling would likely get a lot out of this book. Heck, I got a lot out of this book!

March 17, 2021

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A Compassionate Time of Mourning in Jiro Taniguchi's A Journal of My Father


Jiro Taniguchi drew his comics with so much kindness in his images.  A Journal of My Father tells the story of Yoichi and Takeshi, a son and his father Takeshi who both let their pride rob them of family and of time.  After getting the phone call of his father’s death, Yoichi returns to his hometown of Tottori after spending most of the last 10 years in Tokyo.  His return to his childhood home is more out of obligation and duty than out of a desire to honor his father.  Yoichi’s wife has to practically push him out of their house. In Tottori, he finds a changed city but begins to recognize the streets and the people.  It’s the same for his family as they gather the night before the funeral: they are changed but recognizable. And he is to them as well.   Seeing his sister, his stepmother, and his uncle brings back the memories of his childhood that Yoichi has tried to escape during his self-imposed exile from his home.  Taniguchi explores the pain of when a family can’t live up to their own expectations, whether it’s a wife and a husband or a father and a son.  

Early in the book, we see the 1952 fire which ravaged Tottori and destroyed Yoichi’s home.  Yoichi’s memory of life before the fire are brief and very general.  He remembers his father’s barbershop and the way that the sun shone through the window and warmed up the place.  There are not many memories about what his mother or his father were like before that but that may be due to his young age.  But returning to Tottori after getting the call about his father’s passing, he describes the sensation of returning to his childhood hometown as “a strange feeling of time moving backwards…”  Taniguchi drops this little nugget early in the book. At this point, we’re moving through two distinct time periods with Yoichi; the present as he has to reconcile his conflicted feelings about his father and the past as Yoichi has to remember what caused the divides between the two men. Time in this story ebbs and flows, moving forward and backward while Yoichi tries to remember what his father was like.

Yoichi’s memories of life before the fire are simple and innocent. But the fire burned that innocence away, even if it would be years before he could acknowledge that.  As his family tried to rebuild their life after the fire, his parent’s relationship was one of the casualties of that event.  At the memorial the night before the funeral, Yoichi’s uncle Daisuke, his mother’s brother, provided an older and more aware recounting of those days. Even as an adult, Yoichi finds it difficult to let go of his perception of the past or to accept his own limited memories of the time.  

Even as Yoichi’s whole childhood and teenage years were colored by the fire and breakup of his family, Taniguchi never approaches the story in black and white terms.  It is never about who was right and who was wrong.  Taniguchi is far more compassionate in his storytelling than that.  To balance out Yoichi’s one-sided memories, Daisuke provides another perspective on those days, trying to get his nephew to understand what both of his parents were going through.  It’s a perspective of Yoichi’s childhood but it can see more sides of what really happened.  As both men share their memories with us, we get to see a family like so many other families struggling to hold on to something.

Maybe Yoichi’s parents’ separation was inevitable.  They fought to get married against the wishes of her parents, built a life together. But that life just couldn’t survive the fire.  The pressure of rebuilding the life that they had was too much and she eventually left.  For young Yoichi, it was far easier to blame the parent who stayed, his father, for everything that was happening.  Just a child, he could only frame the dissolution of his family in terms of whose fault it could be.  And to him, it was his father’s fault.  His mother’s abandonment of her family set Yoichi on the path of eventually leaving his home and not looking back.

There’s no malice in Taniguchi’s characters, just misunderstanding.  Even during the separation, there’s no sense of intentional malice or even anger in their actions.  There’s confusion.  There’s pain. There’s misunderstanding but there’s no spite in their actions.  Any spite comes from Yoichi, a child who doesn’t know any better.  His older sister has a greater awareness of the events but for the young boy, his mother leaving his father created this rift in Yoichi’s life that he struggled with all the way up through his father’s death.  Taniguchi’s storytelling captures the complexity of the situation as well as the child-like reactions to it.  

For many of us, this story covers family events from nearly 70 years ago and on the other side of the world.  Based on that alone, this should feel like a very foreign story. Exploring the pain of lost time, Taniguchi forms this image of a world that doesn’t look all that different than what we know. While he’s very specific in setting the scene of this family’s mourning, he wisely focuses in on the human impact of everything that happened.  Setting and tradition may be strange but the way that these people react feels very familiar and natural.  This story could as easily be set in St. Paul, Minnesota instead of Tottori, Japan.  Sure some of the details would shift but the emotions that Yoichi and his father have to deal with would be the same.

Jiro Taniguchi comics make the world feel smaller than it really is.  Distance disappears between life in Japan and life wherever you may be. A Journal of My Father transports us to Tottori to experience this new culture and to get a glimpse into this broken family’s life.  But the emotions that Taniguchi explores, the complete relationships, and the healing that’s needed in mourning are universal.  There is a connection that we all share that Taniguchi brings to life, making these faraway events personal and intimate to those of us who are so far away from those times and those lands.  

A Journal of My Father
Written and Drawn by Jiro Taniguchi
Translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian
Published by Fanfare Ponet Mon

March 16, 2021

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Catch It at the Comic Shop March 17th, 2021

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week...

Beth's Pick:

Nightwing #78, by Tom Taylor, Bruno Redondo, Adriano Lucas, Wes Abbott and Skan, published by DC Comics
The various Injustice series by Tom Taylor have been one of my favorite pandemic entertainment binges. I don’t want to spoil anything if you haven’t read Injustice (and you should, because it is great fun), but Dick Grayson’s storyline is absolute genius. Thus, I’m looking forward to Taylor’s run on Nightwing’s solo series. I dropped the book during the whole mucky Ric Grayson amnesia arc, but plan on making this one of the few DC books post Future State I’ll pick up in print. The previews for give off a definite Matt Fraction-era Hawkeye vibe, complete with a canine companion, and that is most certainly a good thing. Bruno Redondo’s art is dynamic, and Ardriano Lucas is using a bright color palette highlighting the fact Nightwing is not mired in the gloom of his mentor.

March 9, 2021

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Catch It at the Comic Shop March 10th, 2021

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week...

Kelli's Pick:

Saint Young Men Vol.5 [print release] by Hikaru Nakamura, Translated by: Alethea & Athena Nibley, Release date: March 9 2021, Published by Kodansha
Saint Young Men is the type of manga that I turn to at the end of a long frustrating day, usually right before bed. I find that it is just the right dose of quiet humour to wash away the detritus of the work day. Nakamura’s story of Buddha and Jesus taking an extended vacation on Earth is strangely relaxing. Collectively Buddha and Jesus have been working in the Heavens for over 2 millennia, so they kinda deserve the break. Broke and with only a tiny stipend from their respective orders, the two end up renting a one room flat in a suburb of Tokyo. While trying to keep their divine status under wraps, they attempt to fit into everyday Japanese society with varying degrees of success. Nakamura manages to make these two larger than life figures super relatable. Jesus might be the Son of God and Buddha the Enlightened one, but in Saint Young Men, they are just two sweet boys who are trying to make their way in the world’s most populous city. Buddha is a frugal, coupon cutting hausfrau, focused on making their allowance last to the end of the month. No small feat when there is the material temptation of Tezuka manga and his housemate keeps ordering stuff off Amazon. Jesus is an avid gamer and blogger, who’s stigmata open up whenever he gets stressed. Most of the laughs come from the ridiculous situations these two find themselves in. I mean, who won’t laugh at Jesus being mistaken for the young boss of a yakuza dynasty? He does have all those scars after all. Nakamura’s brand of humour is distinctly Japanese. Saint Young Men relies on a heavy dose of wordplay, as well as absurdist situations to elicit laughs. All of it is conveyed well in English due to the hard work of the translation team, and they work hard. Every chapter has its own set of detailed translation notes. I am super excited to see what kind of nonsense the duo get up to in volume 5. Post Plague Year, I am sorely in need of a spiritual cleanse.

March 8, 2021

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True War Stories: Interview with Alex de Campi & Khai Krumbhaar

Cover of True War Stories. Art by Richard Johnson

Back in September of last year I was part of the successful Kickstarter campaign run by Alex de Campi and Khai Krumbhaar by way of Z2 Comics and it gave the latter half of a pandemic year something to be proud of. The overwhelming support that the campaign received validated the passion project for it's two coordinators, and gave me something to look forward to.

Fast forward a few months, with book now in hand, and I’ve read through the war stories a few times already. These stories are not what you’d necessarily expect at face value from a book sporting a tank on it’s cover while calling itself True War Stories.

This is an anthology book at heart. It is a collection of memories of actual war veterans, told by war veterans, and illustrated by some of the comic industries top talents. Unfortunately, the chance to earn bragging rights for being an early adopter through Kickstarter have long passed. But you can now get a copy at your local bookstore, as well as online. As I learned during the interview, the charities benefiting from the sales of the book receive the most money if purchased direct from the Z2 Comics web store online. You can do so by following the link here.

I had the pleasure of participating in a brief conversation with Alex and Khai, the editors of True War Stories, and they were kind enough to share some behind-the-scenes action as well as some possible future plans for the book.

Sean: So, Alex and Khai, did you know each other before this collaboration and where’d this great idea for compiling a war story anthology come from?

Khai: We met at a friend’s house, where we were both staying during San Diego Comic Con. I don’t usually trot out war stories around civilians, but we got to talking and for some reason I told her the story that would eventually become “Rebels of Macadamia” [in the book]. She [Alex] had always wanted to do a war book. I assumed she was just throwing out ideas, but a while later she emailed and said, “Hey, for real though, let’s make this happen.”

Alex: The book took forever to make! I mean, that was probably 2015 or 2016 when we met in San Diego. It was a really slow process, mostly because we were absolutely determined that both the writers and the artists would get paid a decent rate for their work, which a lot of publishers weren’t willing to do. All the book’s profits go to veterans’ charities, but that doesn’t mean the people working on the book should work for free. The contributors needed to be treated with respect. I was really worried Khai would think I was a flake or unable to get the book together, like, here I am, this weirdo friend-of-a-friend showing up and going “hey, tell me your story, and we should get more stories like this.” We were super lucky to get Z2 Comics on board because not only did they give us page rates for the artists and writers, they said, “as soon as the book covers its costs, let’s give all the profits to charity,” and that was amazing. So we had our writers pick five veterans’ charities they liked, and all the book’s moneys go to that. 

Sean: That's pretty amazing that Z2 Comics went in the same direction with proceeds as you were intending without any nudge whatsoever! But, tell me, why do you think these aren't the stories that end up getting told to non-military people? I feel like these are the ones that transcend any preconceived stance on war in general. I mean.. even a pacifist can come away from reading this with enjoyment so why hold back, you know?

Khai: Well.. when the opening for a war story comes up people are looking for a certain kind. Their reaction when you tell the one you want (instead of the one they expect) can shut you right down. It sucks to share what you think is a really good story and be met with confusion, disappointment, or even contempt. That happens a few times and you learn to just tell the "safe" ones. Then no one gets to hear the real ones. Which is a shame, because those are the best stories.

Sean: Absolutely, they are the best ones! I can attest to that as having read this collection already. In retrospect (and to confirm what you just said) I noticed that all the stories in the book are literally not what you’d expect from someone telling a war story. Some are sad and others are quirky, but they all have a charm to them that make them feel intimate and personal; as if you’re having a beer with the one telling it while sitting with them in their living room. How’d you track down all of these veterans to tell such vulnerable stories?

Khai: For this book, it really came down to personal connections. Again, these aren’t the stories we usually tell non-military people, so it took a certain level of vulnerability for our contributors to share these with us. We had some personal ties to all our contributors, and they knew there was a veteran on the team, so they trusted us enough to believe we weren’t going to spin this somehow when they were done. They really took a leap of faith on us, and I think it paid off.

Alex: Yeah, this was definitely friends and friends-of-friends. And we told everyone “tell the story you think about most”, and that was it. Every writer chose what story of theirs they wanted to share. And one of the reasons this book exists is these are the stories you hear if you have friends and family in the military. Books of autobiographical military stories are so often heavily filtered through a propaganda lens (and a ghostwriter), focusing on moments of Great Heroism and… nobody actually tells those tales to their friends. It’s bragging. We wanted to show just the diversity of everyday experience on deployment, and some of it’s hilarious, some of it’s sad, some of it’s very philosophical. I do feel like we failed a little, in that we didn’t have a poop story. (Every soldier has a poop story; google “Rip-It Ranger” and be warned.)

Sean: Were there any stories that didn’t get included due to time or money constraints? If yea, throw me a bone and give me the gist of each one of your favorites..

Khai: We had one author drop out for real world reasons. I really wish we’d gotten her story, and I hope we can entice her back if we do another volume. Also, somehow we don’t have one single poop story in here. Everyone who’s deployed has a story about the time they pooped their pants (or the time their friend pooped their pants, but you know it’s really them). One of our authors has one that makes me cry laughing. It was a stretch goal to add that one, but we didn’t quite hit it. You can bet it will be there next time.

Alex: Yea, I do feel like we failed a little, in that we didn’t have a poop story. (Every soldier has a poop story; google “Rip-It Ranger” and be warned.) But, yeah, we actually had a couple of folks who didn’t end up being able to finish their stories, and I’m hoping they’ll be willing to be involved for Volume 2. Our door is always open. And, Tyson’s story about winning hearts and minds via drinking unpasteurized milk and the, uh, explosive gastrointestinal results…

Sean: [bookmarking Rip-It Ranger Google results on my phone] ..so, I really enjoyed the range of stories you included. Nearly every emotion on the spectrum is involved here. The one that made me curl up in laughter was “Overboard”. That one felt like a story Grandpa would tell as soon as Grandma left the room. At what point did you realize you were making a book for the coffee table rather than the relic room?

Khai: I think we always knew we wanted this to be a book that was read and reread and shared. War stories- the real kind, not the shiny Hollywood ones- are something we tell over and over amongst ourselves. A new guy shows up to the unit and everyone wants Sergeant Sachs to tell the story about the mule, that kind of thing. So that’s intentional.

Alex: Oh yeah, from the beginning we wanted like Humans of New York, but military. And honestly, if you’re friends with someone who deployed and you’re sitting around having a beer and you ask them to tell you a story, it’s probably going to be something funny and absurd. Or a poop story. This book’s about people, not institutions.

Sean: Hoe was the experience of doing this as a Kickstarter with Z2 Comics like for you both compared to just doing it traditionally?

Khai: Real talk, my main interest in the Kickstarter was covering as many costs as we could so there would be more profit from the retail sales for our charities. I know it was a good publicity move too, but anything that helps us raise more [money] makes me happy.

Alex: Yeah, same. Doing a Kickstarter in the middle of a pandemic when stuff has been a nightmare to get stuff from the printer and ship out has been an experience, but most folks have been really patient. The USPS has been losing so many books, like fully 10% of our books were lost or destroyed in the postal system.

Sean: Yikes! Mine came on time and in great shape. So no complaints here.

Alex: Great! But if you like engaging with people, and you’re super organized, Kickstarters are great. I just like the book earning out before it even comes out in shops. That’s crucial for me. And honestly right now? Anything to get books in people’s hands. You can’t rely on shops because a lot of folks still aren’t going to any. (Speaking of which, if you want to buy True War Stories and also want to maximize the amount of money from your purchase that goes to the five veterans charities our writers picked out, buy it from the Z2 web store. More than double the money goes to charity than if you buy it through Amazon.)

Sean: Good to know. I'll remember that for future also. Let's switch gears and talk the creative process for a minute. How did you handle pairing war veteran authors with the different artists? Did they choose or did you? 

Khai: Finding artists was all Alex! She asked some people she’d worked with before, and also put up an advertisement for the book. Then we’d match the artist to the story, introduce them to the author, and see how everyone felt. We did have to switch someone out at one point because it just wasn’t fitting the story, but overall, everyone seemed really happy with their team. The artists were very patient about endless “wait that patch is wrong, the incoming unit had THESE patches” edits.

Alex: Yes, I’m lucky enough to know a lot of great artists and since the longest story is only 26 pages long, we could grab a little space here and there in people’s schedules even though our page rate wasn’t, like, a Marvel or DC rate. The true hero of the book is Kelly Fitzpatrick, though, who coloured about 75% of the stories and managed to choose a different, unique colour style for each one. And also Peter Krause, for stepping in at the last minute to draw a second story when the original artist was unable to complete it.
Page from "Rebels of Macadamia" by Khai Krumbhaar, Jeff McComsey & Dee Cunniffe
Sean: So.. Khai.. was your rat story intentionally put in the three spot? Because where I come from that is the track listing for the hit single! Seriously though, how hard was it to navigate the reading experience? I don’t find it coincidental that the book begins with a quick heavy hitter and ends with a tear-jerker that’ll make you want to phone home.

Khai: We did go over the story order a few times to get the pacing right. I’m lucky to have had Alex’s experience for this part. She wanted “Roadside” at the end for that sense of closure. I think it worked out better than ending on a laugh, which was my first impulse.

Alex: Wait, I thought you suggested "Roadside" for the end? I was thinking about "Brothers" but then you said "Roadside" was better because it brings our soldier home from deployment, and you were right! The story listing was like making a mixtape. We wrote all the titles down and then we stared at it. Some of it was predetermined, like we didn’t want the two Vietnam stories right next to each other, and we wanted to spread out the branches of service represented so there wasn’t like four Army stories to start out, or a big bunch of Marines stories together, et cetera. We also needed to spread out engagements so it was clear that this wasn’t just a bunch of Afghanistan stories or Iraq stories. We put Motorpool first because it’s the sort of story everyone thinks the book will be about (the author also has a really funny poop story, by the way), and then go the other way with the rather more freewheeling "My Vietnam Blast" which is both dramatic and funny and was an Air Force story, then Khai’s story because again, we wanted to make sure one of our two women veterans’ stories was up front… there were a lot of considerations in placement.

Sean: Since you brought up mixtapes, I gotta ask.. in the editor’s room, was there a preferred background noise? Kim Gordan, Tom Petty, Dave Grohl.. or do you prefer splicing panels in silence?

Khai: Uh-oh. If I try to be cool about this, anyone I served with will rat me out in a second. My musical tastes have been described as “weird or relentlessly cheerful, plus classic rock”. So you’re as likely to hear me bopping along to Gogol Bordello as belting out “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You”. In my defense I was raised in Florida and Disney runs in our blood there.

Alex: There’s a panel where two Scout Snipers in Haiti are singing Madonna in their nest and it’s one of those Very True panels. I lettered the book mostly in silence because my 2008 (!!) Macbook Pro was thiiis close to dying the entire time and if I even THOUGHT about opening another application or asking it to stream something it would have been Game Over. (I finally bought a new secondhand one in November; it’s from 2019!).

Sean: Alex, I could be way off base here, but I felt like this was more than a business proposition for you. During the whole Kickstarter campaign I could almost feel the energy that suggested it a passion project for you, and not just selling comics. Who’s the veteran in your family?

Alex: My dad; he was Navy. We had a lot of cool family stuff happen around the book — both our Vietnam stories were father/daughter partnerships; the artist on "My Vietnam Blast", Dave Acosta, wants to get a story from HIS dad’s Vietnam tour if we do a Volume 2. Telling these stories started a lot of positive discussions among families.

Khai: Not directed at me, but as a fun note I have a family full of veterans. Father, mother, stepfather (my dad), grandparents, sister, uncles… it’s one of the "Officially Approved Vocations" in my family.

Sean: That's so awesome that the making of the book brought real life families together like that! Khai-- it was your first time as editor of a book, right ? You up for some more? I’d be down for part two of whatever you got kicking around up there, more rats or whatever else you got.

Khai: I had so much fun with this, and I learned a lot. The hardest part is wanting to go back to the first story (my own) and pick it apart at the end, but I think it holds up. I’m hoping we get to do another volume after this one. And- well, the rats really did stop coming for us, but I do have other stories. A really sad one about a cat, a funny potty humor one, and one that’s Very Good Stuff but I would probably need to check with S2 (security) about it before I told it.

Alex: I really want this book to sell well so we can persuade Z2 to do a Volume 2. And Khai was an amazing co-editor. We took stories in any form the authors gave us — sometimes a comic script, sometimes a ramble in an email, sometimes a highly organized PDF with photo references. And [Khai] fully adapted half those stories to comic script, which kept me from going insane while I did the other half, and lettered the book. And she was the eye for military detail, along with our authors, who had approvals every step of the way.

Sean: I definitely see an opportunity here for an ongoing passion project; Volume 2 and beyond. You both have hinted already at the desire for Volume 2 or something similar. What’s that look like for both of you? I’m sure there’s thousands of war stories worth telling, and I’m sure plenty of people interested in reading them.

Khai: The dream would be we do one every year, and that year’s authors choose the charities.

Alex: Yep! But like I said, we need Volume 1 to be a success. I’d like to pay the creators more next time, too.

Sean: Great! So basically keep telling people to hit up Z2 at their web store to buy the book. Say no more. Well.. this has been great. Thank you both for spending the time to do this. I wish you the best and I hope these stories bring a smile to everyone’s face as big as the one it gave me. /it really is a good read! Let’s end things by fantasy casting your own war story.. who draws, who colors, and who letters your comic?

Alex: Oh wow. I did a fictional story for the BATTLE annual in the UK this year with Glenn Fabry, who I love. Keith Burns painted cover… It’s hard to say, I got to work with so many of my favourite artists on TRUE WAR STORIES… Tonci Zonjic, I guess. I’d letter it myself, Tonci does his own colours

Khai: For me.. I doubt they’d do a war book because they mainly do fantasy work, but it would be fun to use Kendra Wells for a lighter story. They have a real humor to their art that I think would be unexpected. Also, I liked working with Dee Cunniffe on colors… but I’d like to try Kelly Fitzpatrick who did “Airman Jennings The Impaler.”
True War Stories is out now and available at all retail and online places where books are sold. Maximize proceeds benefiting war veteran chosen non-profits by visiting the Z2 Comics webstore at z2comics.com/products/true-war-stories-graphic-novel.

Page from "Airman Jennings the Impaler" by Brandon Davis Jennings, PJ Holden & Kelly Fitzpatrick