I wasn’t too worried about the new Dan Nadel/Tim Hodler revamp of TCJ.com, but it’s off to an even better start than expected. Now, I’m not offering anything close to a comprehensive review; one nice thing here is that there’s quite a bit to dig into and most of the articles, columns, interviews and reviews are relatively lengthy. Just a few thoughts on the ones I read first:
Tucker Stone on Johnny Red - Tucker’s a good reviewer, but it seems like he exposed a soft spot here. This sounds like a raft of formulaic, derivative old sub-Enemy Ace bollocks—why not let rip with some anti-aircraft fire? I realize he knows one of the other three people (Grant Goggans) in America who might be getting this book, but still. (Note: I just realized I wrote this after a loving review of a book of Adam Hughes’ T&A covers. My daughter was embarrassed by Power Girl’s cleavage.)
Sean T. Collins interviewing Blaise Larmee. Jaunty Sean T. is a thoughtful interviewer and Larmee is an exciting young talent. But while Larmee isn’t insulting, I wasn’t really into the games he was playing here. Which is fine. Maybe from now on I’ll just focus on his lovely comics. (Note: sometimes we shouldn’t interview artists we like. For me it was Kevin Huizenga, but it didn’t ruin my affection for his comics.)
R. Fiore’s Funnybook Roulette. Hey, Fiore’s one of my favorites and I’m glad he stayed on. The line about Toy Story 3's characters exchanging one god for another is brilliant. Still, call me a dick editor but if I was Nadler I'd want to launch this new webmagazine edition of “Funnybook Roulette” with something about actual funnybooks. Not cartoons. (Note: this kind of attitude may be why nobody lasted very long with me editing them at Comic Book Galaxy.)
Bob Levin on the Frank Frazetta stolen artwork case. This is the best piece I read yesterday, and it’s not even in my top 20 Levin pieces (never mind his full-length books). It was sad/funny to see commenters on the piece ripping him for a) not appreciating Frazetta’s artwork the way they do, and b) practicing an un-tabloid reporterlike restraint by not intruding further into the lives of the hurting, feuding Frazetta kids (Bob could get another good piece about how we consume Art while not really caring about the artists themselves and the pain that results in or from their art). There’s a kindness in his method, and in not pressing too hard on what seems pretty clearly an opinion that Frazetta’s work was simplistic, didn’t evolve, and even suffered some technical failings in the classic sense of believable light sources and the like. He also maybe thought Frazetta was kind of a loudmouth, if only judging by the TCJ Gary Groth interview years earlier.
While the piece offered no new revelations in the story (and even missed one or two recent developments), I appreciated the psychological insight of it. If your world-famous Pops moved your family out to the boondocks, that might feel a little stifling, might cause some resentment. I liked Levin’s problem-solving here; lacking juicy quotes or an obvious hook for the story (he hitches a ride on the Art of the Steal/Van Barnes story, but it’s not enough of a parallel with Frazetta to get him very far), he turns inward, seeing in the aging lion Frazetta and the void his passing left for his survivors his own struggles and obligations with his elderly, stroke-surviving mother. That’s more of a fiction writer’s technique, feeding off one’s own life when inspiration ebbs. It works nicely here. (Note: I just really like Bob Levin’s writing).
I’ve been aware of Adam Hughes’ artwork from pretty early on—not his Maze Agency stuff but Justice League and onward. At the time I thought, this guy is a pretty good replacement for Kevin Maguire! Since then, I guess I developed an attitude where guys like Hughes and Brian Bolland—guys who started doing interiors and now only do covers—were somehow not really living up to their potential. It’s like, by not portraying the exploits of our beloved superheroes in sequential form, they weren’t really contributing to their history, weren’t really connected. It’s nonsense, I see that now.
I picked this book up in my local library on a whim. I do get to some comics late in the game but don’t live under a rock, so I’ve known for many years how good Hughes was as a cover artist, even if I was mainly experiencing it in thumbnail-sized solicitation copy or a quick scan at a comic shop shelf of new releases. That he has had a long, venerable run depicting Wonder Woman wasn’t lost on me, but clearly, I didn’t really appreciate how good he is.
This volume is an eye-opener into not just how good Hughes has been and for so long, but how hard he works to keep getting better. With a witty, self-deprecating tone, Hughes walks the reader through cover after cover, including preliminary sketches. We learn where he feels he went wrong, where he picked up a valuable bit of insight into, say, how best to depict the values of metallic clothing, or how Diana’s lasso can be not just an Art Nouveau design element but also one that serves a storytelling function, leading the viewer’s eye along an intended path. With each image, one comes to appreciate the fierce-yet-joyous, vaguely Mediterranean face of Diana, and where Hughes cops to making her too harsh here, too busty there, and boy, those boots are hard to get quite right. It’s amazing; the guy really has a strong opinion about those boots, and he’s sorry but he’s going to keep drawing them that way. Technology like Photoshop has by Hughes’ own admission been a godsend to his work, but the tools and toys are absolutely in service to a real artistic vision, a thoughtful and often humorous journey for beauty. I’ve surprised myself, but I really need to own this book.
If you watch any reality television like Top Chef or Project Runway, you will notice that there’s always that one guy who expresses a kind of superficial shock and empathy when the person who’s just been cut by the judges comes back into the waiting room. “Really?! You’re kidding me!” A lot of comics readers are like that, or at least a lot of the ones who post in comments threads. I’m not trying to be negative here—it’s a nice gesture that at its best lets the people who were producing the canceled comic know that the few people who were buying their comic liked it and wished them well and an easy transition to other projects.
Still, the cancellation of DC’s First Wave imprint shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone after the first month. The premise of a pulp fiction milieu for Golden Age comics characters like Doc Savage, The Spirit, Crimson Avenger and others to interact in a universe where they were the big heroes and the only superhero was a pulpy, out-of-continuity Batman, was going to be difficult to make a success under the best circumstances. None of these characters have endured in the public consciousness in a way that would bring in many non-comics readers, nor have they been particularly successful comics characters for many years.
Matters of taste aside, having Brian Azzarello script a lead-in one-shot and miniseries to introduce these characters wasn’t a bad idea. Azzarello has his fans. Using Batman as a way to lead superhero readers over to the line was also a sensible idea. Where DC went wrong has much to do with scheduling and marketing, and those problems are not unique to this line, nor other comics publishers.
Publishers often have a perverse sort of Darwinism when it comes to publishing new titles, offering three or four in the expectation that that offers better odds for one succeeding than just publishing one and focusing on making that the best it can be. Of course, many times the editors in charge of putting these books together don’t have much choice. Here, DC owns these characters and eventually must publish something featuring them, so there is some logic to doing it all at one time and hoping that generates more buzz than a single title. The problem, then, is that the prospective new customer is led to believe that he or she might need to buy all the titles to understand the line, and so it becomes easier to pass. Instead of a shared universe, it’s a fishbowl with maybe only enough food for one fish. There is no camaraderie here. Do you think Seth MacFarlane was happy about Bob’s Burgers? It’s a competitor for his viewership. First Wave launched with the first issue of the lead-in miniseries, but it wasn’t designed well as a lead-in because they scheduled the release of the Doc Savage and The Spirit books within weeks of its first issue, rather than building off the momentum of a hopefully good conclusion to the miniseries. The fact that those series didn’t feature any of the talent who did the miniseries itself would also dull the excitement, unless readers were as excited by the new creative teams.
When it comes to the marketing, it seems reasonable to criticize DC for how little they promoted these titles, or indeed most ongoing series once they’ve debuted. I liken DC to a mama pig with a litter of piglets but only two teats, so only the two strongest piglets get fed. And having fed, they’re going to be stronger than the others and thus able to keep getting fed, while those others get weaker and weaker, with many eventually starving to death. I can’t blame DC for putting more time and money into promoting the projects and titles that either have already been selling or show more signs of crossover appeal, as in your Brightest Day and DC Universe Online and Batman and Green Lantern books. That just makes sense. But then again, if you’re not going to do much for other books but one house ad, why bother? What expectation could DC have that this Doc Savage is going to be the one that takes off? I think it’s probably reasonable to assume that most of DC knows that such titles aren’t going to do well, so perhaps they publish them knowing they’ll fail, and the lack of marketing push is just an attempt not to throw good money after bad.
With the First Wave line, it also occurs to me that those appear to have been approved and developed prior to Diane Nelson taking over. It’s common practice in the motion picture industry, at least, for a new studio head to underpromote movies greenlit by the previous studio head, so that their failure will only reenforce that firing the last guy was the right move. I don’t know how it works with publishing, but it’s just human nature that one will work harder to make something succeed if it started on your watch. Having no attachment to First Wave, once it had performed its first function of trademark renewal and shown the titles were underperforming, it only helps Diane Nelson to show her bosses she’s watching the bottom line and culling the books that are draining profits.
As far as the execution of the books, it feels wrong to knock them too hard when they’re down and almost out, but Azzarello’s cynicism never seemed a good fit when he wrote Batman stories, so Golden Age pulp heroes seem even more out of his comfort zone (though I could see him as a decent fit on The Shadow with his knack for conspiracy stories). On Doc Savage, well, they took a chance on a novelist with little comics-writing experience and it didn’t work out. It happens, though one would think that there had to be an established comics scribe who had some affection for the Savage novels. Asking a contemporary novelist to take someone else’s character and adapt him to a less familiar medium seems like an added degree of difficulty. Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark notwithstanding, I would prefer someone who’d already written musicals to do the book for a superhero musical than hiring a superhero comics writer for the job.
As for The Spirit, that was a lovely book, both Mark Schultz and David Hine managing to take a character with a tone and look wedded to the ’40s and adapt him pretty successfully to a grimmer, somewhat contemporary urban setting with his essence intact, aided by the great artwork of Moritat. Those issues are worth tracking down, and one hopes those creators find their next gigs soon and that they’re at least as satisfying and of longer duration. As for DC, it remains to be seen whether they’ll learn anything or continue to dump too many related books on the market at a time and let them cannibalize each other.
The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 2 - Unexplored Worlds
Writers - Joe Gill, Various
Artist - Steve Ditko
Editor - Blake Bell
Publisher - Fantagraphics. $39.99 USD
This second volume of Fantagraphics’ chronological (in terms of creation rather than publication) reprinting of comics by moralizing maestro Steve Ditko finds the young cartoonist rebounding from a battle of several months with tuberculosis in 1956 to emerge into the beginning of a great period of prolificacy. Ditko found work at Timely/Atlas, which would eventually become Marvel Comics, including his first collaboration with Stan Lee, but the majority of the work here was produced for Charlton, which paid less than the industry standard but at least paid on time.
The other benefits for Ditko were steady work and very little editorial interference, so that he was able to refine his style and storytelling skills quickly. If one story didn’t come out quite the way he wanted, there was always another script ready for him to start drawing.
Although it’s unclear who wrote these stories, it’s certain that Charlton regular Joe Gill wrote many of them. He was their lead writer, and at a rock bottom rate of $2 a page, Gill had to keep the work coming to make a living. This quantity-over-quality approach results in most of the stories here being, in Gill’s own words, “shitty.” Most of them are science fiction or horror stories with slim premises just deep enough to warrant the four or five pages they’re given. The best ones have a predictable, O. Henryesque twist ending, not unlike the work Stan Lee was writing for Marvel at the time, and the worst ones seem to cut off abruptly or with slapdash, even nonsensical endings. It’s possible Ditko may have written a few, but if so, his Objectivist philosophizing and intense outsider ethos have yet to emerge in his writing. There may be a tale or two here that does find a character who wants to get away to a better world, like the vaguely pedophiliac “The Man Who Stepped out of a Cloud,” but if this isn’t unlike some later Ditko-scripted stories, well, it’s also logical that a script monkey for a third-rate comics publisher like Gill or other Charlton writers might share those fantasies.
The value in this volume is not in the stories themselves, which are not just generally poor but irritating in large doses, but in tracking how Ditko’s art develops. Amid the stock characters of hapless dullards, five o’clock shadow Everymen and saturnine businessmen and the typical rocketships and ray guns of the day, Ditko gains confidence and consistency in his depictions, and an ability to pack more information into fewer images and to guide the reader’s eye across the page for maximum impact. His ability to convey otherworldly horrors flowers as well, especially in a story like “A World of His Own,” which benefits from a terrifically colored sequence where Ditko alternates panels of yellow, gray and orange, the figure within the same color as the background, as if with a filter used in film. It’s not a steady progression but a fascinating one, as taking these stories in order, one sees Ditko constantly experimenting with line weight to mixed results, the amount of effort put into creating texture with ink sometimes diluting the power of the composition. Still, there’s a good deal to enjoy in seeing how Ditko solves problems and attempts to add drama and imagination to the hokey stories.
Rest in peace, Dwayne McDuffie. His work in comics and especially on Justice League Unlimited was witty, visionary and wildly entertaining. His work was filled with a commitment to presenting diversity, a lesson both my kids took to heart in the untold hours we spent watching JLU together.
I’ll never forget the joy he brought me and my kids, and I’ll never forget his honesty and commitment to what he believed in. There aren’t many people in comics that set a standard like Dwayne did.
Like Mike Wieringo, another comics creator who died way too young, I cherish the few times I got to interact with Dwayne, and I will never forget his work and the profound and very personal impact it had for my family and I.
I’ve been reading books and some old comics, but had a chance this weekend to catch up on a chunk of recent stuff:
Batman and Robin #20 - Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason step in for a three issue arc in which Tomasi seems determined to misinterpret Damian Wayne as just another disrespectful young delinquent, using contractions, calling Commissioner Gordon “old man,” wisecracking about the dead. That’s just not the character Grant Morrison created. He’s a know-it-all, sure, but a very articulate one who takes his role seriously and knows when to let the grown-ups talk, for the most part. I also thought it was funny that just a month or two after Scott Snyder established that the Dick Grayson Batman wasn’t the type to disappear while Gordon was in the middle of a sentence, Tomasi has him do just that. I blame the editors for this small oversight, but as a creative choice I don’t get why Tomasi isn’t interested in writing Dick as a different kind of Batman, especially when the book opens up with an odd take on Bruce Wayne as the kind of Bat-patriarch who gathers all his boys together for movie night. I only remember the weird characterization; the plot escapes me. Gleason is very average.
Amazing Spider-Man #653, 654, 654.1 - Dan Slott, with some scripting help from Fred Van Lente, wraps up the Spider-Slayer storyline, which makes the younger Smythe into a convincing legacy villain with a new take on the Spider-Slayers: they’re now guys in buggy exosuits that mimic Spider-Man’s danger sense, which makes them hard for even the Avengers to hit. Smythe tries to take down all the Jameson clan for revenge, and succeeds in getting one of them, though I won’t spoil who if you haven’t read it. I will say it makes good dramatic sense and could open up at least one character to a fresh take. I wasn’t a fan of Stefano Caselli’s art, but Humberto Ramos comes back for the .1 issue, which presents legless Flash Thompson as a new, government-controlled Venom, the symbiote approximating his legs and whatever else is needed for missions that don’t take more than 48 hours, so that he can be out before the symbiote takes over his mind. With both stories, Slott proves himself at the very least to have a facile mind when it comes to remixing old intellectual property.
Soldier Zero #5 - Paul Cornell is now off this book, replaced by Abnett/Lanning. They follow through on his ideas well enough, but it’s still a pretty easy book to cut, which is probably what I’ll be doing.
Starborn #3 - Likewise this book. I am not exactly a fan of Khary Randolph’s art style, but I think it’s consistent and accomplished. The story isn’t bad, either, but I’ve seen it all before many times, and aside from the prospect of a race of warrior lion aliens, there isn’t much here that’s novel.
Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #515 - I’ve been liking this. I think David Liss understands that he’s not writing an ongoing Panther series and so he keeps his story tight: T’Challa sets himself up as Hell’s Kitchen’s new protector, and he’s got a new enemy to contend with, a nasty Romanian with family issues and a pretty cool superpower. Panther is going low-tech and solo to prove himself. Good Francavilla artwork that looks organic and sort of in Mazzucchelli territory. I love that Francavilla writes labels by hand, sloppily, rather than having the letterer do it perfectly but incongruously with his art. I’m amused that Luke Cage’s relatively brief time as an Avengers leader has now given him balls big enough to give T’Challa orders, but then this is a guy who went all the way to Latveria to collect a fee from deadbeat Doctor Doom.
New Avengers #9 - Another creative change as Mike Deodato moves from Secret Avengers to this title. Not a whole lot going on yet, and a largish part of the book was given to a flashback with Nick Fury hunting escaped Nazis in Cuba, 1959, drawn by Howard Chaykin. At the end, he’s approached about The Avengers Initiative. Not sure how they’ll make the timeline work.
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #4 - Similarly, this team book also gives its opener to veteran George Perez, drawing a kind of recruitment speech/history of T.H.U.N.D.E.R., complete with a busy two-page spread. Perez still looks good, though Scott Koblish’s inks are heavier than I’d like. The rest of the book is mostly talky, leading to a nice surprise at the end. I like what Nick Spencer and Cafu have been doing on this series, which isn’t a book I was expecting to like, but I do wish there was more going on in each issue.
Heroes For Hire #3 - Abnett/Lanning/Brad Walker deliver the okays in this series, as mercenary Paladin delays helping Moon Knight on a mission, as he’s in the middle of surveilling those close to Misty Knight. He thinks she’s in trouble and he’s right. But Iron Fist doesn’t take kindly to being spied on and there’s a fight before known amoral, double-crossing Paladin rather uncharacteristically yells at Iron Fist that his avoiding Misty is a cop-out. When did Paladin get touchy-feely? If you like to see what second-and-thirdl-string Marvel characters do between miniseries and failed solo series, this book isn’t bad.
John Byrne’s Next Men #2, 3 - After a bumpy start, in which it looked like Byrne was working in older pages and taking too much time in set-up, we get two issues with much stronger, more consistent art. One probably has to be a big fan of the old series, though, because the characters are not really themselves yet, all dropped in different eras, or maybe that’s another illusion. It’s entertaining, though I do wish Byrne took his freedom with the series to do more than amp up the sex and torture, but then, that’s the fun in wishing.
Commenting on Twitter, Fantagraphics publisher (and one of my personal heroes) Gary Groth called the controversial Obama Nation comic strip by James Hudnall and Batton Lash “witless,” among other things. I’m not sure I agree with Lawrence O’Donnell’s characterization of this particular example of the strip as racist, but I do think Obama Nation as a whole is a loathsome, unfunny comic strip obviously fueled by hatred, much like its closest ancestor, Mallard Fillmore. Again, this particular strip may not be overtly racist in its execution (although it certainly is easy to say it looks that way on a very facile level), but it’s very hard not to suspect the strip’s creators operate from a place of malice and loathing.
I’m far from Obama’s biggest fan. I am, in fact, one of his most disappointed former supporters. But maybe if Lash and Hudnall spent some creative energy on positive work that urged real solutions to the problems here in Los Estados Unidos, they would not get painted with the racist brush by opportunistic commentators on the opposite side of the ideological fence. I am somewhat impressed that most people commenting on the issue seem to realize what a sorry, pathetic piece of cartooning the strip overall represents.
Should Obama Nation be censored? No. Should it be ignored and reviled because it is ugly, nonsensical and epically unfunny? Hell, yes.
Tumor was a big Kindle hit a couple years ago, its serialized chapters much in demand. I don’t recall reading a whole lot about it through the usual comics news sites, but maybe that’s just me and my irregular attention to such sites. I actually happened on the book in my local library’s New Releases rack and was drawn to its elegant, clever design, with a stark, sepia image of a middle-aged detective holding a handgun on a Chip Kidd-like partial jacket which cuts off the top of the guy’s skull to line up with an embossed image of a brain on the cloth cover. Add to this the unevenly cut pages—a favorite touch that adds welcome texture to the reading experience the way a fine chef may add an item to a dish for a different mouthfell rather than taste—and I was looking forward to the book.
It’s not a bad effort, though I’ll cut to the chase and say my recommendation is a mild one. The hero in question is an aging P.I. who takes on an undesirable case to find the daughter of a local crime boss. She took off with his money, and her boyfriend, and the boss looks to be much more interested in getting the money back than his daughter’s safety. In fact, he’s probably going to punish her severely, maybe terminally. Our man Frank knows this might be his last case because he’s got a brain tumor and not a lot longer to live. It might have been more novel for this last case to be just another paycheck—more hardboiled and unsentimental, I mean—but no, this case is a chance for redemption, as the girl reminds him of his own wife, also the daughter of a crime boss, and her life cut short long ago because of it, with Frank feeling responsible.
There is much made on the cover copy of the most gimmicky element of the book, which is that due to Frank’s tumor, the narrative jumps around in time. Comparisons are made to the film Memento, and I suppose that’s appropriate enough. Both are gritty but standard crime stories enlivened by the device of non-linear storytelling. In the case of Tumor, though, Fialkov doesn’t do much with the device. The jumps in time don’t add a lot of mystery, suspense or pathos to the story; for the most part they either provide abrupt breaks between action with the unseen intervals either promptly explained in dialogue or narration, or easily deduced. And Fialkov also leans way too hard on the easy device of Frank’s tumor causing him to hallucinate that his current female charge is his dead wife, leading to glimpses back to days gone by where the wife is conveniently posed the exact same way, not just in a similar situation. There were some great opportunities with this device for interesting, thorny juxtapositions and contrasts between the past and present, but Fialkov sticks to a pretty basic remit: Frank failed before, and now he has one last chance to redeem himself by being stronger in almost the same situation. It ends up not a bad book but despite the slightly unusual (for comics) nonlinear narrative, an ordinary one, with strong, no-frills art by Tuazon and a script that could have used not frills but more depth and rough edges. On the plus side, I remember the creators, the character’s name and the story a week or so after reading it and returning it to the library, which is something. And I would call Fialkov one to watch, in that he comes up with some decent concepts and different routes of getting them to market. The big superstar talents of 2015, 2020, are probably not going to be the guys who come up the ranks writing a year of Green Arrow. They’ll figure out new ways and how best to utilize the new media.
Seeing this hardcover makes me feel, well, nostalgic. And it wasn’t so long ago. I started writing about comics about 2000, which is when this first came out. Kurt Busiek was riding high as a comics writer, going from strength to strength, from Marvels to his creator-owned Astro City, and I think this series was preceded by a fine one-shot called Superstar, also drawn by Immonen. This was part of a company called Gorilla, which was Busiek and Mark Waid and some other guys, trying to break away from Marvel and DC and the work-for-hire system and doing their own thing, sort of like the Image boys did, only with guys who could write well instead of draw really awesome tits and asses and thugs and chains and such. I rooted for them, but it ended quickly, as they just didn’t have the dough to make a go of it, popular though they were.
It’s not that Shockrockets or the other Gorilla work was better or, let’s say, nobler, than superheroes. Look, this is about some futuristic flyboys. It’s genre entertainment like superheroes are. The charm is just that superheroes so overpower the comics landscape that any divergence is novel and worth nurturing. Busiek borrows from Star Wars and other stories to tell of Alejandro Cruz, a blue collar gearhead who wants not only a better life but a heroic, adventurous one, and the fates conspire to give him his chance when one of the Shockrockets, the hotshot elite squad of heroes piloting alien ships, dies. Cruz bonds with the ship, not unlike Abin Sur passing on the power of the Green Lantern to Hal Jordan, and he becomes a new, if insecure and mistrusted, rookie on the team, trying to prove his worth.
The series is a trial by multiple fires for Cruz, as he not only must overcome emotional barriers in place for his teammates but he has to take on the big baddie, General Korda, a former hero who helped defend Earth from alien invaders but then went on to become a despot with his own country and advanced technology.
Artist Immonen creates some state-of-the-art work for the time, incorporating manga spaceship design and lots of speedlines, while keeping it relatable to the fairly standard human characters who would not be out of place in any superhero book. It’s a fairly delicate balance and he does it well, although in retrospect the orange/blue color contrast becomes redundant early, and his choice of using black without white or color to depict eyeballs gets a little tiresome as well. He does excel at body language, though, and the facial expressions are rarely overplayed, so he should be commended for these.
Busiek does an able job of carrying off the main story and making Alejandro accessible. There is a sort of hernia in the middle of the book, where he breaks off to focus on another member of the Shockrockets. It’s a kind of bulge of the main story membrane, as if Busiek predicted an ongoing series that could support focuses on all the team, rather than the five issue, discrete miniseries. It’s a fine issue but in comparison to what looks to be all the Shockrockets we’re likely to see, it’s a digression that sort of tilts the book off its rather narrow axis for a time. But good is good, and if given the choice of four tightly plotted issues and four tightly plotted issues and one nice change of pace, I’ll take it.
IDW’s production is stellar, and the pages look as good as they’ve ever looked. The bonus material isn’t lavish, just some preliminary sketchbook stuff from Immonen, but it’s nice, and makes one wish these two big talents can eventually make room in their schedules to work together again.
Rob Vollmar is not just a former contributor to this site (and its progenitor, Comic Book Galaxy), he’s also been a great friend of mine for the past decade. But that’s not why I’m talking to him about his new project. I’m talking to him about Inanna’s Tears because he is the writer of Bluesman and The Castaways, two of the best graphic novels of the last 10 years. New work from Rob Vollmar is exciting news indeed, and I am in Rob’s debt for taking the time to talk to me about his new project with M.P. Mann, Inanna’s Tears.
Alan David Doane: Rob, correct me if I’m wrong, but Inanna’s Tears is your third full graphic novel to see print?
Rob Vollmar: That is correct. Castaways originally in 2002, Bluesman Complete in 2006 (i think) and now, Inanna’s Tears.
Inanna’s Tears is quite a departure, narrative-wise and visually, from the Depression-era concerns of Castaways and Bluesman. Tell me how the project came about, and what the story concerns?
I 'd say it was the intersection of several factors. For my first post-Bluesman project, I wanted to get away from the Great Depression as a setting.
The kernel of the project came from my interest in ancient history and was in line with my usual concerns about belief, faith, power and how they intersect in people’s lives. I did about three years of intensive research, even while we were still working on Bluesman, studying the rise of civilization and the tools that made it possible. I became fascinated by the particular seam of history that Inanna’s Tears represents and started looking for ways to inject it with a compelling narrative.
The story focuses on the transition of power from the matriarchal communist theocracy that forged the tools of civilization and the patriarchal militaristic autocracies that used those tools to create the idea of empire.
How did you go about humanizing such complex ideas?
Well, it wasn’t easy. Our data on how exactly this transition took place is incomplete at best and I had to compress what probably took several hundred years to complete down on to a fulcrum, if you will, of a particular moment in time.
Ultimately, successful fiction is about people and their relationships, so I did my best to personify the various interests into believable characters and then opened up the floor to see how they might interact with one another.
Tell me a little bit about your artistic collaborator, M.P. Mann and what he brought to the project.
Marvin has been working in the comics industry since the late 1980s. I believe he helped ink some of the latter issues of The Trouble with Girls at the end of the black and white boom. As I was fishing around for collaborators, I was already familiar with Marv’s work on Lone and Level Sands and found it to be in harmony with the kind of look I wanted for Inanna’s Tears. When I approached him about the project, I was more than pleasantly surprised at the kind of questions he was asking.
Questions about textiles, architecture. I could tell immediately that he had both the visual and intellectual chops to bring this remote period of history to life.
How smooth was the partnership once you got rolling?
Very smooth. Marvin has a gift for visual storytelling and blocking that you can’t embed into a script without becoming overbearing. He also works VERY fast and brought a certain energy to the creative process that was different than my experience with my earlier books. He knows how to suggest detail without laboring over it. That’s a valuable commodity to say the least.
Who do you think is the ideal reader for Inanna’s Tears?
I think it is a book that works on several levels. Folks with an interest in history, anthropology and language are going to feel like it was written for them.I think it also features a very accessible story within about people and how they love and how, on occasion, that love can destroy their ideals that most anyone could identify with.
I come from a liberal arts background and was using Greek theater as my model for Inanna’s Tears. It’s a conversation about universals set in a very specific moment in time. It’s taken a while for the book to be collected in graphic novel form, but finally it will be available in February. Tell me about the road to publication.
Well, it was long and winding. But just as we were about to bring the GN to market, the economy fell apart with the difficulties that we have now in the Direct Market in tow. It went very quickly from a market very inviting to GNs to very hostile in a very short period of time.
To Archaia’s credit, they never said, “Sorry, fellas, but we just can’t do this anymore.” We all stayed in communication and, after a few hard fought battles to get the word out and get reflecting pre-order numbers, we’ve finally gotten to the place where print makes sense. Both Marvin and I are very grateful that we’ve had advocates for the book on the inside who care about creators and have worked hard to live up to their obligations, contractual and otherwise.
Tell me how readers can make sure they get their own copy of Inanna’s Tears.
As a former Direct Market retailer, my first piece of advice is always to try and support their locally owned and operated comics shop. Finding a responsive one can be a challenge depending on where one lives but it is worth the effort.
Barring that, the book is available for order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other reputable online retailers. I will also be partnering with Atomik Pop in Norman, Oklahoma to make signed copies available for purchase at regular price plus shipping for those who’d like that personal touch. We’ll be releasing details about that through our Facebook page, which we encourage people to join if they want to be kept in the loop on updates.
* At The Panelists, Craig Fisher has a twopart look at DC’s Jonah Hex, part of its ten percent of quality comics. I haven’t read every issue, but the ones I have read have been almost uniformly entertaining and pretty to look at.
* Uncomics: Christopher Butcher again, this time at his eponymous website, running down his Five Favourite McDonald’s Sandwiches. Seriously. Now, I didn’t eat at McDonald’s when we were in Canada a few years back, but my wife did and told me that everything tasted better, something my Canadian friend d. emerson eddy told me can be attributed to better food standards up north (not surprising). Agree with Mr. Butcher about most of these, especially the McRib, which it seems to me used to be good but just does not cohere as a sandwich anymore. My feeling is the sauce is wrong, and roll should be buttered and grilled, not that Mickey D’s would go to that much trouble this late in the day.
Back in the 1980s when I was around 14 or 15, my mom bought me just about every one of the EC hardcover sets published by Russ Cochran, and they really opened my eyes to how good comics could be. The books themselves set the standard for how beautiful books could be when published by people who are committed to quality. Russ Cochran has earned my undying respect and gratitude for his critical contribution to my lifetime appreciation of comics and quality publishing that really has its foundation in his EC reprints way back when.
Right now is a crucial time in Russ’s publishing efforts. I’ll let him explain:
I’m going to have to be completely honest with you now. My business, which has been in existence since 1971…that’s FORTY YEARS…is in financial trouble, and unless something changes soon, I will be closing my doors before 2011 is over.
I’ve already had to terminate my oldest employee, Chris Rock, who was with me for 35 years. Chris worked on all the EC projects with me, he went to NYC with me to photograph the EC art for the EC portfolios, and it was very difficult for me to tell him that he was being laid off. This leaves only two other employees, Angie Meyer and Judy Goodwin, and right now my monthly sales through my website, eBay, and Amazon are not enough to cover their salaries.
I’m hoping to get permission from the Gaines Estate to continue publishing the EC ARCHIVES series, but unless this comes soon, my publishing days will be ended. With no new products to offer you, all I can do is to offer special deals on the items I do have in inventory. I would rather sell them to you, my faithful customers, at a lower price than to wholesale them to dealers and booksellers.
So here are some special offers being made only to my internet customer list:
1. THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN COLLECTING, a hardcover, limited-edition book in slipcase, which originally sold for $200, I now offer for only $45.
2. Your choice of any three EC ARCHIVES books (11 are available out of 13 which have been published) for $95, or any ten EC ARCHIVES books for $285. These are the lowest prices I have ever offered for these books.
3. The following special deals on EC ANNUALS:
TALES FROM THE CRYPT: Annuals 3, 4, 5 and 6, the last 20 issues, all for $20.
THE VAULT OF HORROR: Annuals 1 thru 6, the complete 29-issue run, all for $30.
THE HAUNT OF FEAR: Annuals 1 thru 6, the complete 28-issue run, all for $30.
ALL OF THE ABOVE, 16 ANNUALS CONTAINING THE NEW TREND EC HORROR COMICS, FOR $70.
ALL ELEVEN EC SCIENCE FICTION ANNUALS, FOR $55. This is a complete collection of EC’s s-f comics except for WEIRD SCIENCE Annual #2, which is sold out.
ALL NINE EC SUSPENSTORIES (SHOCK SS AND CRIME SS) ANNUALS FOR $45. This is a complete collection of EC’s suspense comics except for SHOCK Annual #2, which is sold out.
ALL EIGHT EC WAR COMICS (complete runs of TWO-FISTED TALES and FRONTLINE COMBAT) ANNUALS FOR $40.
ALL EIGHT “NEW DIRECTION” EC COMICS ANNUALS: MD, PSYCHOANALYSIS, PIRACY (2 VOLUMES), VALOR, EXTRA!, ACES HIGH, IMPACT FOR $40.
ALL THREE PANIC ANNUALS (Al Feldstein’s answer to Kurtzman’s MAD) for $15.
ALL FOUR EC “PRE-TREND” CRIME ANNUALS FOR $20.
AND, FINALLY, THE BEST DEAL OF ALL, VIRTUALLY A COMPLETE COLLECTION OF EC COMICS IN THE ANNUAL FORMAT, ALL OF THE ABOVE, EVERYTHING FOR $200.
And last but not least:
HOPALONG CASSIDY TRADE EDITION (list price $75) for $35.
LES PAUL—IN HIS OWN WORDS TRADE EDITION (list price $75) for $35.
These last two books are hardcover, high-quality, 368 page books which are considered to be the definitive reference and picture books on Hoppy and Les Paul. These are new copies in DJ.
So, you can get some good bargains while helping me to stay afloat by ordering any of the above specials. Thanks for your business, and thanks for the last forty years!
Sean T. Collins: “[The comics industry in 2011 revolves] around the equivalent of a really killer Entertainment Weekly panel at San Diego, basically: Bendis, Johns, Morrison, Kirkman, O’Malley, and to an extent Millar.”
What’s depressing is that I would be very, very happy if three of the six people on that list never, ever wrote another comic book again. If half of Comics 2011 is unreadable shit and half is readable-to-genius, I know in my head that’s a good ratio, but in my heart it makes me want to not look at another comic book for the rest of the year.
Additional Art - Elena Casagrande, Claudia Balboni
Publisher - IDW Publishing $3.99 USD
Mama mia, that’s a lotta mediocre Italian artists. This is the first issue of IDW’s first big licensed crossover event, with two bookend issues and then two issues each focusing on a zombie & infected robot invasion of various Earths related to the G.I. Joe, Transformers, Star Trek and Ghostbusters franchises. If you’re going to put together a successful story that somehow works for all these varied properties, you can either get some top talent who are just going to let loose and make it over-the-top, goofy, balls-out fun, or you get some mid-level talent who are going to roll up their sleeves and try to actually make something sensible. Abnett and Lanning are Plan B, always competent, able to make something sturdy out of the materials at hand, but they’re never going to surprise you. It’s kind of nice that they found a way to make the IDW property C.V.O. (Covert Vampire Operations) and some of the Zombies vs. Robots characters and ‘bots into the stars here, but they’re mostly shorthand cliches like the hardass soldier dragged from retirement, ready with B-movie lines like “eat ‘em if you got ‘em.” It’s inoffensive, and it seems like one can only read the bookends and the particular franchise issues one’s interested in and get the basic story without needing all of it. Still, based on the issue itself and the two-page previews of the other first issues, having Kirk, or Optimus, or the Baroness taking on zombies and evil robots should have been a real geekgasm, a lot more fun than what’s on display here.
(advance copy provided for review by the publisher)
* Mark Evanier reflects on Saturday’s terrorist attack in Arizona and notes that a liberal commentator has apologized for his strident rhetoric. I have a feeling a similar apology will not be forthcoming today when the Hate Radio gang (Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, etc.) take to the airwaves. In fact, I’d bet you twenty devalued American dollars (oh, why didn’t I invest with Goldline years ago?!?) that those assholes will find some way to be the injured parties in the wake of an event that left six dead, including a 9-year-old girl. Oh, and Bryan Lambert hits a little closer to my own personal feelings about this shooting rampage.
It is such a worn-out and much-mocked cliché of autobiographical comics for the cartoonist to declare his own self-loathing, that when Seth does so at the end of a heartbreaking and presumably true strip at the end of Palookaville #20, one has to assume he is both unaware of the frequent citing of such moments as trite and self-obsessed by critics of the genre, and more importantly, that he is absolutely serious. How could he not hate himself, when everything he has spent the last 30 years doing has been a complete and utter waste of time? He’s thrown his life away, and for what? Comic books.
In many ways, despite being a $20.00 hardcover art object, the new Palookaville feels very much like the last comic book. In a long and introspective introduction (presented in Chris Ware-like teeny-tiny type that is a slap in the face to my aging and diabetic eyes), Seth explains why he went along with publisher Drawn and Quarterly’s suggestion that Palookaville transition (Like Acme Novelty Library, like Love and Rockets, like J. Michael Straczynski’s Superman, ha ha ha just fuckin’ with ya) from floppy, saddle-stitched comic book to hardcover “periodical.” (Yearly hardly seems periodical to me, and I am so old now that entire years go by in three weeks.)
Bemoaning (accurately, at that) the death of the comic book stings particularly for me, a guy whose best-fulfilled dream in life culminated in the creation and decade-long maintenance of a website two words of the three-name URL of which were “Comic Book.” How ironic that Seth (accurately, at that) declare the comic book dead and buried in the same era in which I more or less gave up “Comic Book _______” and declared, instead, my Trouble With Comics. Although in these unemployed and increasingly desperate times, it more often seems to be “Trouble, with comics.” Selah.
Being the last comic book, I find a further layer of irony in that the same day I expend twenty dollars (that I could have spent on rent or feeding my family) on a single “issue” of Palookaville, I eye-witnessed a superhero fan buying — and I’m not making this up, I heard him say it out loud and saw the pile — 140 superhero comic books at Earthworld in Albany, New York (where I could not find the new Palookaville; I had to go to the local indy bookstore The Bookhouse — not a comic book store — to accomplish that feat of latter-day and unwise comic book investing). And to be utterly frank, the fact that there are superhero junkies willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a pile of 140 frankly shitty superhero comic books (Marvel and DC together have not produced 140 good comic books in the past ten years, effendi) is not a sign of a healthy Direct Market, but rather the futile but comforting-to-the-surviving-family-members defibrillation of a patient whose heart stopped at least five years ago and whose organs aren’t deemed worthy of donation and transplant, but rather will be quietly interred in the dumpster out back of the hospital at the 11-dollar-an-hour (plus shift deferential) orderly’s earliest convenience.
And finally one has to gaze in wide wonder at the fact that the best content in the last comic book, Palookaville #20, is not the many dozens of pages of comics it contains (all of which are good and entertaining and thought-provoking and unutterably pretty and nostalgic in that Seth manner), but rather a photo-essay and written history of Seth’s Dominion project, a huge and mind-blowing collection of hand-drawn, obsessively-crafted cardboard buildings made out of old FedEx boxes. There’s no question at all that Seth’s creative spirit and longing for the past is finding its truest expression in this ongoing and amazing and strange art installation, and it’s coming to Montreal (a city I have actually driven to from my house and not freaked out about the expense or the distance) sometime this year.
If it’s not too late — that is to say, if I have found paying work or my unemployment benefits haven’t dried up or been shot and killed by the tea-bagging thugs that took over Congress this week — if it’s not too late, I’d really and truly like to go and see those crazy, motherfuckingly AWESOME cardboard buildings Seth has been creating. I’d like to shake the man’s hand and tell him how sad it makes me that I had to see off my entire first-print hardcover collection of Seth books a few months ago to make the rent (goodbye, Vernacular Drawings; so long, George Sprott; sayonara, It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken; take care, Wimbledon Green; seeya again sometime, Clyde Fans). I’d like to thank Seth for listing all his books in the front of the last comic book, because I had them all, and I sold them to make the rent, in case I didn’t mention that.
But I bought Palookaville #20, mainly because I wanted to see the pictures of Seth’s cardboard city (which he says he fantasizes about as he drifts off to sleep each night), not because of the comics.
And because, as I have just explained, it is the last comic book.
“Moore’s a rather squirrelly old man who worships a snake god.”—Jason Aaron, a very insecure young writer, on Alan Moore, whose worst work is more of interest to me than everything Jason Aaron and his amazing friends have ever or will ever write.
Putting the dis in distaff, Marvel unloads a misguided monument to mediocrity for that $125 you had no better use for. I see a lot of failed series and by-the-numbers miniseries here, but they seem to miss on some legitimately empowering stories like Kitty Pryde vs. The Brood or ’80s Ka-Zar/Shanna. With an Introduction providing context, even that ’70s story where the female Avengers rebelled against the chauvinistic males would have been fun, and what about Byrne’s solo Sue Storm FF story? There are a few good ones here, but what should have been a carefully spun celebration is more of a sad exposé of decades of disservice to some decent characters and readers of all genders. For the same money, why not buy a set of cheap tires and set them on f
ire? It’s more entertaining, and the fumes actually cause less brain damage*:
Collecting TALES TO ASTONISH (1959) #51-58, X-MEN (1963) #57, NIGHT NURSE #1-4, CAT #1-4, MARVEL TEAM-UP (1972) #8, GIANT-SIZE CREATURES #1, MARVEL PREMIERE #42, SHANNA THE SHE-DEVIL (1972) #1-5, KA-ZAR: LORD OF THE HIDDEN JUNGLE #2, DAREDEVIL (1964) #108-112, MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #3, MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL #12, #16 & #18, FIRESTAR #1-4, SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK: CEREMONY #1-2, CAPTAIN MARVEL (1989) #1, CAPTAIN MARVEL (1994) #1, MILLIE THE MODEL #100, PATSY AND HEDY ANNUAL #1, SOLO AVENGERS #9, MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS (1988) #36 and MARVEL FANFARE #59!
* Trouble With Comics is not responsible if you do this, and the tire fire would in all honesty cause more brain damage than reading or even burning this book.
ADD and I are often pretty cranky about the state of comics today, and publishing practices and strategies, but I have to commend IDW Publishing on the upcoming three volume biography of master storyteller Alex Toth (Genius, Isolated; Genius, Illustrated and Genius, Animated). I haven’t seen anything but the covers and read the descriptions, but IDW’s Dean Mullaney has a good track record of putting great care into classic reprints, and he already did a well-regarded Toth collection (The Complete Zorro), so I think we’re in good hands.
It’s also another encouraging sign, because to me it will sort of check off one more of the greats off the dwindling list of those who deserve to have their great bodies of work back in print and don’t. Don’t misunderstand; I know that the three volumes are largely biographies, with some complete story reprints and a lot of previously unseen art. But still, it’s a step in the right direction, up there with DC’s many recent Jack Kirby reprints, Fantagraphics ongoing Steve Ditko Archives (IDW also had a good if uneven Art of Ditko book, and DC has announced another Ditko collection, probably focusing on Shade the Changing Man). Ever since I knew who Toth was, I had little to sate my curiosity, with one legendary book out of my price range and cd-roms and free stories on a fan site not the ideal presentation for his work, at least not for a guy who generally likes to read comics in printed form. It’s great that even in this economy, those days are gone and publishers are giving these great artists the formats their great work deserves. Here’s hoping someone makes a major Wallace Wood announcement soon and I’ll be ecstatic.
* At Comics Worth Reading, Johanna Draper Carlson has the news that DC is reinstating letters pages in their funnybooks. GOOD. Dropping this seemingly minor tradition in comics is one of the reasons for my own personal disconnect with much of what the industry has to offer, I think. I can’t provide a rational, scientific explanation for this, but I can tell you that reading just about any new #1, corporate superhero comic, artcomic, any kind of comic at all, and finding no text piece at all, no little introductory essay, always seems like a little slap in the face to me as a reader. If DC does it right and uses letters pages as a way to communicate with readers (and not as a vapid promotional tool), I wouldn’t be surprised to see the erosion of readers begin to slow down a little. I’m not saying it will actually increase sales, because I don’t think it will, but I do think it could help build loyalty among whatever readership remains.
* Glycon knows I love me some Alan Moore, and I haunted the shelves at FantaCo for something like a year waiting for the 1963 Annual that never was. Big Numbers is another great, incomplete Moore epic, and it seems artist Bill Sienkiewicz is game to wrap it up.
* In design news, CBR has news that Archie is taking their covers in a more retro direction. I’m a little baffled that anyone would think the example given is really retro looking, but maybe they’ll get the hang of it eventually. Not having the UPC code on the front cover is definitely a step in the right direction, if that’s really what I am seeing, there.
That’s a really pretentious title for a little back-and-forth email chat about some comics stuff right now, but there you go. As far as DVD-type extras, it’s interesting to note that I was eating a snack of cheese and crackers with sharp cheddar as we were emailing each other, when Chris threw sharp cheddar into the discussion. Eerie! — Alan David Doane
CA: Reading Robot 6’s long piece asking comics people about 2010, it’s funny to me that when given the opportunity to give a shout-out to an overlooked book, many pick mediocre books that got normal attention but were rightly unheralded (Ultimate Mystery? Siege: Loki?). Thor the Mighty Avenger was the most talked about Thor book before it was even canceled, but the people who blog about comics aren’t exactly the same demo that buys the same ol’ sooperhero stuff. And I guess everyone felt digital comics was the big deal of 2010, even though it hasn’t made much of an impact yet as far as I can tell.
ADD: I read the first issue of Langridge’s Thor but it didn’t blow me away. I may or may not go back and read the rest of the run. It just didn’t strike me as amazing or outstanding in any way.
CA: I suspected as much. I think there are just too many books that are very samey, so when someone does something just a little different, it’s often overpraised. I’m not quite ready to crown a Chris Roberson, Paul Cornell, Nick Spencer or Cristos Gage geniuses yet, y’know? They have some flair. An all-ages Thor book drawing from decades of stories and hundreds of years of mythology, with clean art, shouldn’t be that difficult to pull off, and no offense to Langridge, but so should Muppet Show. Mark Evanier could probably crank out just as good a version, but who talks about Evanier as a writer these days? Action Comics, Avengers Academy, Secret Avengers — these are fine books but they really should be the bog-standard in superhero comics. We’re just used to accepting so much less and gutting it out.
ADD: I honestly don’t think anyone ever talked about Evanier as a writer, except perhaps for six months when DNAGents was around, and honestly the most entertaining thing about both that and its spinoff book Crossfire was the letters pages. And I am not belittling the comics, which were above-average superhero stuff for the time, but the letters pages were pure gold, in much the same way his very best blog posts are today.
CA: Right. But based on Groo, he can be pretty great. I liked the Langridge Muppet Show TPB, the first one, but haven’t felt the need to keep up with the rest. It hit the marks of what you would expect of an adaptation of the show and was drawn well, but it’s not like it made me feel I need more Kermit and Piggy in my life.
ADD: Right, I read the first four issues and was blown away by the technical excellence of it, but would much, MUCH rather see Langridge free to do his own thing. His 13th Floor online GN was BRILLIANT, but no one has ever put it into print. It would be a perfect fit at Top Shelf. Oh, and, agreed that Secret Avengers should be the bare-minimum acceptable level of quality, with the exception being #5, which was just spectacular and makes me wish the entire series would get that good. It would help if Lark were the regular artist, of course — Deodato’s fine, in the same way mac and cheese for dinner is fine. I’ll eat it but I won’t remember it next week.
CA: Ha ha. I got these mac-n-cheese bites for lunch last Saturday. For the kids but I ate them, too — basically mac-n-cheese rolled in a crunchy coating like a hush puppy. When you stop and think about it, it’s still pretty bland, but I sure ate a lot of ‘em.
I like Deodato a little better than that — maybe mac-n-cheese with sharp cheddar? His Shang-Chi was pretty nice, and the way he draws Sharon Carter, Steve Rogers should be sporting wood in every scene. But it’s just pretty pictures.
I’m through three issues (of five so far) of Hickman’s S.H.I.E.L.D. and wondering what the point is. It’s fun to use DaVinci and Galileo and Newton and come up with all the secret history stuff, but I’m not sure why I should care. I’m not seeing a story there yet and it has a curious lack of narrative oomph. You would think the previously untold story of Galactus attacking the Vatican 400 years ago and being repelled by Galileo would be cool but it’s like getting history from a textbook.
ADD: My kids have ordered those mac and cheese nuggets occasionally. I don’t think I could bear putting one in my mouth. I read Hickman’s first S.H.I.E.L.D. and as I recall the art was nice, but yeah, damn, it was BORING.
CA: Hickman seems to like to add bonus features to comics like this and Secret Warriors — text-heavy things — and that’s nice, but I wish he’d get a little more push from his editor to amp up the conflict, action and tension in the actual comics themselves. Just having every old genius also be some kind of secret superhero isn’t enough.
I’m not kidding when I say that, after The Complete Peanuts (also published by Fantagraphics), this is the reprint project I’ve been waiting most of my life for. Barks was an absolute master of comic book storytelling, but there has never been a definitive, all-encompassing project you could point to and say “Yeah, get that and you’re all set.” As of today, that has changed. Fantagraphics (an advertiser on this site, I should note) has long prided itself on being the publisher of the world’s greatest cartoonists, and it’s astonishing and gratifying to see them add one of the probably half-dozen best of all time to their stable. The Complete Peanuts, Krazy and Ignatz, Prince Valiant and other Fanta reprint projects have proven that they know how to handle material like this with class and respect, and Gary Groth, Kim Thompson, Eric Reynolds and the rest of the gang at Fantagraphics are to be congratulated and thanked for adding this monumental feather to their cap. Way to go, guys. You just made 2011 a very good year for a lot of comics-loving folks like myself.
TWC News with ADD : How Binary You Look Today
* Tom Spurgeon is continuing to add entries to his regional comics scene list, and if you’re in one of the communities listed (or in one that isn’t but know of multiple comics folk in your area), you should get in touch with Spurge and make sure you’re on the list. One of the things I really dig about being on this, the comics internet is the thrill of seeing my name on this annual list. It’s like, I’m still here, you know?
* At Comics Alliance, Straczynski’s Superman gets the royal ass-kicking it deserves. Yet another overblown and undercooked example of the Fan-Fiction Age of Superhero Comics. What I wouldn’t give to wake up one morning and find out that Bendis, Straczynski, Meltzer, Johns and their ilk were never actually allowed to fuck up superhero comics they way they have, that it was all just a bad dream.
* Roger Green looks back on 2010. Wish I could say I am not more disillusioned with politics than I was a year ago, but 2010 was politically one of the most cynical and harmful years I’ve ever lived through.
* It’s the first day of 2011, a year which appears to my eyes to really look futuristic. Like if I look out the window I should see a flying car in the driveway, not my wife’s beat-up Chevy. As David Byrne noted a couple of years ago, “Nothing has changed but nothing’s the same, and every tomorrow will be yesterday.” Well, after a year that really tested my ability to deal with uncertainty and change, I’m ready for something different. And I hope I get it. And I hope you and yours enjoy a peaceful and prosperous new year.
TWC News with ADD : The Fury of the Uninvolved
* Longtime comic book writer, creator rights advocate and industry observer Tony Isabella explains the methodology he is using in his continuing career autobiography. He’s about to get into contentious territory, so it’s good that he is letting readers know exactly what he is thinking and how he is laying out the facts he is presenting. Having known Tony for years and having some small idea of where he’s going with at least some of this, I can almost guarantee you that a lot of hardcore corporate superhero “fans” who have nothing whatsoever to do with the industry, or the injustices Tony and countless others have suffered at its hands, are about to get righteously outraged at the truth about the North American sooperhero machine. For the rest of us, those interested in the truth about the history of the comics industry, this is absolutely essential reading, if not always pleasant to learn (see Wednesday’s Tony’s Bloggy Thing, in which the tragic story of DC colourist Adrienne Roy is recounted).
* Tom Spurgeon interviews Dee Vee’s Daren White. Dee Vee was a quietly awesome comics anthology, one you’ve probably never heard of, that contained great comics by names like Eddie Campbell, James Kochalka and many others. I came for the Kochalka and stayed for the general comics excellence. I haven’t read this interview yet, but as soon as I get myself settled this morning, this interview is first on my to-do list. Spurgeon’s holiday interviews are always a highlight of this time of the year, but honestly this year seems to have raised the bar to an intimidating degree. Just one great comics discussion after another, day after day. Thanks for making the season bright (and informative and entertaining!), Tom.
Retailer Profile: Comic Depot, Saratoga Springs, NY
Comic Depot opened six years ago along a fairly rural stretch of Route 9N north of Saratoga Springs, NY, and I’ve had a pull list there for nearly as long as they’ve existed. Although my list is small, I rely on the shop for special orders (mostly hardcovers and trades), supplies like bags and boards, and good conversation with the owner, Darren Carrara. Darren recently closed his original location and is focusing his efforts on an expanded site in the Wilton Mall, located in a retail-heavy part of the Saratoga area that is bound to bring him more foot traffic. I took the change as an opportunity to pick his brain about comics retailing in upstate New York and get a feel for his approach to operating the store. — Alan David Doane
Tell me a little bit about how you became interested in comics, and how that led to you opening up your own store.
I have always been a fan of super heroes. When I was young I remember reading my brothers Conans and Incredible Hulk comics. But as I grew up I grew away from comics.
I became reacquainted with comics again in college. A friend of mine had been an avid collector and our talks about comics sparked my interests again and I found a local shop and began to pick up a few titles.
This same local shop was where I picked up my first large collection of comics. I was in the store one day and the owner was yelling at someone on the phone about how they screwed up his order, of course this was Diamond. This was the last straw for him, he asked if I wanted all of the comics in his store? You bet I did! He was asking a very reasonable price, so I picked up over 100 long boxes of mostly ’80s and ’90s stuff. Right place at the right time!
My now wife and then girlfriend, Kristi, and I lugged around this huge collection from Potsdam, NY to Boston, MA. Then over to Saratoga Springs, NY. Where it sat for a couple more years till I opened up the Comic Depot!
Comic Depot’s first location was located just a couple of miles outside Saratoga Springs, New York, a summer destination due to its famous racecourse and lively downtown scene. The shop was on a fairly rural stretch of road, in a strip mall that also housed a convenience store, a pizza shop (where I’ve spent a lot of money feeding my family after picking up my comics over the past few years!) and other assorted shops. Tell me how you picked this site, and what benefits and drawbacks you think it had.
My biggest concern was monetary. I opened up during a retail and real estate boom; retail space was, in my mind, very expensive. So we had to find a location that was out of the way, to make it more affordable. It also had to be short term in case it didn’t work out. And there were a few other stores in the area and I didn’t want to step on their feet. So we narrowed in on Greenfield, just a few minutes outside of Saratoga Springs.
The best and worst part of Greenfield was the location, very rural. You had to drive to the store, there was almost no one who could walk there. But that was also great, it made us a destination store. Almost no one wandered in who wasn’t into comics and gaming. It was perfect for our Yu-Gi-Oh! tournaments, parents could feel comfortable leaving their children for tournaments cause there was nowhere for them to wander off to.
You know my taste in comics is pretty far afield of the typical “comics fan.” I’m not in the store enough to get a sense of how many other customers you have who focus, like me, more on alternative and artcomics than on the weekly superhero fix. Can you thumbnail your clientele for me in terms of what percentage you think are superhero fans versus the rest of what is going on in comics?
I would say 50% are straight up super hero fans, they only get superhero stuff. And that is the same group who is like to only pick up Marvel or DC comics not both. Maybe 5% (sorry Alan) are into art comics. Maybe 10% are collecting everything Stephen King, or stop in to get Amory Wars, or any Rob Zombie book. So the rest are more of the equal opportunity crowd, they read what is good, like Walking Dead!
How about male/female? What’s the percentage there?
Less than 5% are women, but that number is growing.
What are the best-selling titles you carry?
Amazing Spider-Man, Green Lantern, Walking Dead, lots of X-Titles, Return of Bruce Wayne (mini), Stephen King (Dark Tower, Stand, American Vampire), most of the new Avengers titles.
How do you see the rise of the graphic novel in terms of sales of floppy, single issues? Do you think they both have their place?
They both have a place, the same as digital comics. They are made for different people who all enjoy different aspects of comics. Graphic Novels are awesome, you get to read a whole store or story arc in one sitting without waiting six or more months for floppies to come out. They are also portable and lendable, and less expensive then their floppy counterparts. But for collectors there is the floppy, the comic book. Without the floppy the industry ends, in some way or another. And floppies are also there for those of us too impatient to “wait for the trade.”
What comics are you reading now, and what titles do you consider your all time faves?
Love Walking Dead, love it! The Sword by the Luna Brothers under the image imprint, awesome, sad it’s over. Green Lantern, I love Hal Jordan and I loved Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night. I do love Deadpool too, although I’m not a big fan of everything currently being published. I like a lot of the stuff from Radical Publishing too, FVZA and Legends the Enchanted was cool. Lots of good stuff from Avatar too, both past and present. And Proof from Image, Mulder as Bigfoot=awesome.
All time faves? Walking Dead, I have reread this more times than anything else.
You have a pretty big focus on role-playing games, tell me what you offer customers interested in that aspect, and how it’s worked out for you.
I have a bunch of RPG books, but most are vintage. We do much more with Collectible Card Games, like Magic the Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh! One of our main focuses is tournaments for those games. Also the board game market is starting to boom.
You’ve been very active in the re-emerging Albany-area convention scene (and other, more distant shows as well). Tell me why you think it’s important to be at comic book shows, and what your approach is when you’re behind the booth at a show.
It is a great way to reach your target audience, the most effective marketing tool is to be in a room filled with local people who want to buy your product. I think of a comic show as a giant Comic Depot advertisement, that’s the business side.
The fanboy side says: they are a ton of fun, no better way to get your geek on then to spend the day with hundreds of people who share your interests and passions. Lots of great conversations, lots of awesome merchandise, creators, costumes, and at the end of the day if you made money and had that much fun, then what more could you ask for?
About a year ago you opened a second store in the Wilton Mall, just outside Saratoga Springs but much closer to the main regional highway, I-87 (“The Northway”). A few weeks ago you closed the original Greenfield Center shop and moved your entire operation into a second, larger spot in the mall, across from your former mall location. Tell me how your mall presence has evolved since it began, and what led you to decide to put all your eggs in the mall retailing basket, as it were.
Kristi and I wanted to try out a mall spot just for the holiday season. Comic books are popular again, comic book movies are all over the place with no end in sight. So we thought it would be a good idea to open up a second location for the holiday season. But people seemed to really respond to having a comic shop in the mall. All day long kids beg to come into the store, “Mom please, please” and the sounds of crying if they don’t come in, and grownups swearing out front, “Holy SH*T, it’s Castle Grayskull. I had that as a kid!”
This location is great it is conveniently located just off of exit 15 of the Northway, which is closer for almost all of our regulars. And the foot traffic is great. Granted malls aren’t exactly what they used to be, but a hell of a lot more people walk through the mall than through Greenfield. Avengers, Captain America, Green Lantern, Deadpool all coming out in the near future, it doesn’t hurt to be close to a movie theater. And we even had some “movie premiere parties” at Ruby Tuesdays, they were kind enough to stay open an extra hour or two while eager fans such as myself had a beer or two and a complimentary slider while waiting for Iron Man 2 and Kick-Ass opening night.
What changes are you expecting to make with the new, bigger location?
More stuff! We are always buying great collections of action figures, comics, RPG, Magic cards, posters and who knows what else. But lots of cool different merchandise is one of the things people can expect to see. We are also going to try to be better organized with our comic book back issues, that will be a work in progress for a while I’m sure. The same great customer service! Bigger and better tournaments for Magic and Yu-Gi-Oh! More promotions, including sales and hopefully more “movie premieres.”
* Tony Isabella — one of the most outspoken and right-on advocates for creator rights — begins telling one of the definitive cautionary tales within that issue, his creation of Black Lightning. You’ll want to bookmark Tony’s message board and check back daily for upcoming installments of this story, which could very well change your perception of the corporate superhero comics industry.
* Steve Bissette and Dave Sim are having a very public chat (part one) (part two) (part three) (part four). This one could get very interesting. I remember well the Warren Ellis Forum incident that Bissette recounts, so damn, I must be old.
* Which reminds me, it was 11 years ago today that I first met and interviewed Barry Windsor-Smith. It was a memorable day for many reasons, including the fact that I got to meet and pick the brain of one of the smartest and most gifted comics creators of all time (not to mention a personal favourite comics creator of mine), George Harrison was stabbed that day, and it was less than 24 hours before the dreaded Y2K non-event occurred. The morning of the 30th I worked 5-11 AM at WABY (an all-news AM station) in Albany, met up with my friend Marshall for a quick lunch and then we hit the thruway to make the hour-long drive down to Barry’s studio. I ended up with something like four hours of taped interview, and had a mind-blowing time talking comics and more important issues with Barry, Marshall, and Barry’s studio manager Alex Bialy. At the end of this very long day, Barry treated Marshall and I to an incredible meal, Barry signed my copy of Opus Vol. 1, and we agreed that we would all talk again (which we did, many times). I drove back to Albany, where Marshall had left his pickup truck, and now it was something like 2 in the morning on 31 December 1999. I had to be at work at WABY again at 5 AM, so instead of driving an hour further north to Glens Falls to refresh myself, I just went to the radio station and tried unsuccessfully to take a nap. 5 AM came all too soon, and I zombied my way through my shift until I could finally go home at 11 AM, where I slept until evening, and then stayed up to watch the end of the world at midnight as the year 2000 was rung in. Needless to say, there was no catastrophe, the internet did not explode, airplanes did not fall out of the sky, and I went to bed, exhausted but quite pleased that my radio career and my interest in comics had intersected to allow me to have this amazing experience. Really the first time, but not the last.
Welcome to a special “Understanding Comics” edition of TWC News with ADD.
* At The Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon interviews Jason Miles, “Operations/Editorial” for Fantagraphics Books. Miles explains the title and discusses publishing and his own experiences in comics.
* At World Famous Comics, Tony Isabella discusses the long history of DC Comics destroying the lives of the people who make the comics that allow them to exist as a corporate entity, and focuses on the sad and completely unnecessary tragedy of longtime colourist Adrienne Roy. This is must reading for anyone who wants to understand the history of North American comic book publishing, and the great, casual injustices the industry is capable of.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec Vol. 1
Writer/Artist - Jacques Tardi
Publisher - Fantagraphics Books. $24.99 USD
Fantagraphics continues their collection of translated Tardi with this fourth release, which collects the first two albums of what would become a celebrated French literary heroine. The stories collected here are Pterror over Paris and The Eiffel Tower Demon, both of which Tardi produced in 1976.
I enjoyed a nice Christmas Eve morning reading them, but was a bit puzzled by the tone. One could call it “all ages” with the understanding that that would mean something quite different to American readers than it would to the French, who after all allow children to drink wine with meals. In other words, it’s a story that doesn’t glory in violence, but doesn’t shy away from it, and the story is not particularly dumbed down for children, nor is the character of Adele made likable for mass appeal.
In the first story, Adele Blanc-Sec, a young woman of means and with two male assistants in tow, travels from the countryside to Paris for reasons unclear, but becomes embroiled in the case of a pterodactyl whose million-year-old egg had been hatched by groundbreaking new science, and which was now terrorizing Paris and eating animals and citizens. Enter a bumbling detective trying to make a name for himself, and a plot involving the hatching method that leads to the betrayal of Adele by her assistants, and you’ve got a fairly involving, if somewhat confusing, yarn.
The second tale picks up right after the first, which is interesting in that one expects adventure albums of this sort to be more self-contained a la Tintin. But no, in this one, one of Adele’s former assistants is front and center as a member of an evil secret cult in Paris that worships an ancient Assyrian demon, Pazuzu. There’s police corruption, and more bumbling, and again, the calm and tight-lipped Adele plows through the mystical nonsense and red tape to save the day.
The chief reason to recommend the books is Tardi’s art. Though I prefer his black and white work in You Are Here and West Coast Blues, his photorealistic vistas of early 20th Century Paris are lovely, especially in the pastels and autumnual hues used here, and his cartoonish characters with their bulbous noses and waxed moustaches are a treat. Best yet is the design of Adele, with her period pulled-up hair, slit eyes and only top lip visible, which makes her appear more business-like and asexual, yet somehow more alluring because of the barriers presented.
The shame of it, though, is that Tardi doesn’t give the reader much reason to really care about her yet, so for all her steely competence and bristling anger she is still something of an object rather than a character. I’m not saying she needs to be more likable; I just want to know more to get more of a handle on her. That said, with the artwork and the affection I have for the other Tardi books I’ve read, I would certainly like to keep going with this series to see how it develops.
I don’t post often about comics publisher sales and such, but Fantagraphics is having a good one, with 40% off some great books from Gilbert Hernandez, Peter Bagge, George Herriman, C. Tyler, Jim Woodring and more. It’s three days only, starting today, so basically you’ve got through Wednesday. The books in question are here.
So DC Comics is going back to the $2.99 price point on their ongoing titles. You know, the price point that we complained about until it got worse at $3.99. This reset is apparently worthy of posters and cardboard displays.
The auldtastic savant R.C. Harvey begins the first of a two-part history of the now mercifully euthanized Brenda Starr comic strip, easily one of the worst I grew up with in the Chicago Tribune in the ’70s and ’80s for its boneless art and brainless stories. This was a strip where you never bothered lifting impressions of it with Silly Putty, and you never even bothered to deface it like I did drawing a big dong on Marmaduke or gunshot wounds in the Family Circle kids (I haven’t done this in years. At least two.) The unlikely hero of the article ends up being New York Daily News publisher Captain Joseph Patterson, who prevented the strip from being published in his papers during his lifetime, sort of the anti-Hearst to Messick’s Krazy Kat. But it does show how adaptable old comic strips can be. Messick’s version was fashion-and-romance-obsessed, and she assiduously avoided learning anything about Starr’s field, newspaper journalism, for fear it would interfere with her creativity, while the strip’s writer for the past 25 years did her best to research the details of the locales where Starr’s adventures were set. As sad as it sounds, if there were space left on the comics page, I could see another iteration of Brenda actually working, if she was more of a Sex in the City-type globe-trotting blogger unlucky in love. But, I suppose it’s better that we all just move on and leave room open for someone’s new idea.
In a good-natured but bizarrely rosy post on comicky things he’s thankful for in 2010, Douglas Wolk is happy that comic specialty shops have not yet become extinct, but at the same time, isn’t it great that the back issue market that kept some afloat has become so unprofitable? This quote was strange as well:
*The general shift toward the rights of individual creators is a very good long-term sign. The most talked-about comics-inspired projects in other media this year were Kick-Ass, Scott Pilgrim and The Walking Dead—all of which are properties owned by the particular people who created them. That’s a huge change.
Well, no. I don’t see the fact that three creator-owned comics had some adaptations in other media, and that those adaptations got some press, as a big deal at all. At least, it’s not indicative of any vague shift towards creators’ rights being a concept that the majority of the public understands or even thinks about, much less supports. And let’s face it, the first two projects weren’t very successful even with small budgets, while critical reaction to The Walking Dead has been mixed at best. Also, Wolk forgets to mention that non-creator-owned media adaptations of comics properties like Iron Man 2 and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark have gotten more attention than the others, even if, in the case of the Spidey musical, for all the wrong reasons. I like Wolk, but he’s creating a bullet point here where there is no casing or gunpowder to base it on. Did you know the Nook Color is the most talked-about electronic device of 2010…behind the counter at Barnes & Noble?
Time Magazine’s Techland has a new post up by Douglas Wolk running down a handful of 2011 graphic novels of note…and it’s interesting to me that although only two titles on there will be on my must-buy list (Mister Wonderful by Dan Clowes and Paying For It by Chester Brown), both are really on my must-buy list, like, I’d skip a meal or two to make sure I have them.
In addition to those two, I have already pre-ordered the Captain America Operation Rebirth Premiere Hardcover because I love the original Waid/Garney run on that title and have been waiting for a nice hardcover collection forever, Conan Vol. 10: Iron Shadows On The Moon, which will complete my hardcover Busiek/Truman Conan collection at long last (I am really bummed that Truman is leaving the title), and Gotham Central Vol. 4: Corrigan Deluxe Hardcover, which completes the HC reissues of that beloved and much-missed title.
I’ve also got a standing order for the Alan Moore Swamp Thing hardcover reissues (still kicking myself for ever selling off those original issues), and will be buying the final issue of Neonomicon (Moore and Jacen Burrows are doing amazing work on that title) in 2011, and will continute to buy Criminal, Incognito, and anything else Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips create together. I’ve also been buying Fraction’s Iron Man in hardcover and enjoying it, and I think that actually covers all the comics I expect to buy this year. Not many ongoing titles in there, huh?
* World Without Journalista, Day 01: Farewells and thoughts on the end of Dirk Deppey’s TCJ era from Johanna, Kleefeld, and Noah. There’s a Facebook page to register your appreciation and share your thoughts about Dirk and Journalista.
* Awesome Fantagraphics warehouse find: Two Jack Jackson collections. I have God’s Bosom and it’s fantastic. Go buy some great comics before they’re gone again.
* It’s a good thing I subscribed to Robot 6’s RSS feed at Dirk’s suggestion, or I’d miss oddball weirdness like Miss Grundy having cancer, but apparently only in one of the two universes she occupies, like Schrodinger’s Cat.
Leave it to Dirk Deppey to close out one of the very best comics blogs ever with one of his most essential posts ever. In his final Journalista, Deppey provides the usual significant links of the day and then goes on to create the most relevant, concise and useful list of comics-related links that could possibly be generated right at this very moment. And then he makes me cry just a little by honouring Trouble With Comics among the blogs he finds worthy. Then he coins the best and most resonant and accurate new term to describe what some fans and sites narrowly focus on, the “Direct Market reservation.” Fucking brilliant. Well played. RIGHT-FUCKING-ON.
Let me just say this and I’ll be done with it:
DIRK DEPPEY IS THE COMICS BLOGGING HERO OF 2010 AND SOMEBODY BETTER GODDAMNED WELL START PAYING HIM TO WRITE ABOUT COMICS SOMETIME IN THE NEXT FEW WEEKS.
After many years as one of the finest comics bloggers on the internet, Journalista’s Dirk Deppey has been laid off from Fantagraphics. In the world of comic book blogging, there is Neilalien, there is Tom Spurgeon, and there is Dirk Deppey. And then there’s everybody else. I know I speak for just about the entire comics blogosphere when I wish Dirk the very best in whatever he chooses to do from here, and with every molecule of my being, Dirk, thank you for all you did for comics both as editor of The Comics Journal and as Journalista’s guiding light. It’s no exaggeration to say my time spent reading about comics every day will be greatly diminished by the loss of Journalista. I hate that this has happened, and I can only hope that it results in something far better and more profitable coming your way in a very short span of time.
Hello, Happy Holidays and welcome to what might very well be the last TWC News with ADD (a double entendre if ever there was one) of calendar year 2010. I was fascinated to note that, a decade in, people finally started saying the name of this year in short form, as we did in the 1900s, (“Twenty-Ten” instead of dragging out the entire year as “Two-Thousand-And-Ten”). Frankly I thought this
would happen in 2001, and I remember being the only person at the radio station I worked at then who would say “Twenty-Oh-One,” a losing battle for sure, and then 9/11 happened and I fought valiantly to be one of those people who said “11 September” instead of “Nine Eleven,” but obviously that battle was permanently lost. So it’s very rewarding to me to hear people saying “Twenty-Ten,” and I am sure by “Twenty-Fifteen,” there will be no one left saying “Two-Thousand-And-Fifteen.” Because, really, why would you?
* I don’t know that there was a comics article I enjoyed more this year than Tom Spurgeon’s personal tour through his favourite Wildstorm titles. Automatic Kafka never grabbed me (although Chris Allen loved it, it should be noted), but every other title on Spurge’s list is one of my favourite comics of the past 20 years, and like Tom, they’re comics I re-read often and will have as long as I have comic books in my house. I was especially pleased to see Tom views Warren Ellis’s long run from Stormwatch Vol. 1 #37 through all of Vol. 2 and The Authority #1-12 as being all of a piece, as this is usually how I re-read those comics. It’s a powerful pile of entertainment, to be certain. I’m a little amazed DC has never collected that entire run under one collection of trades, as it’s really how they should be read, and the Stormwatch stuff, in my view, is wildly under-rated.
* A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a promising young writer vowed to review every comic book John Byrne had ever worked on. Today at Trouble With Comics, Christopher Allen reviews John Byrne’s Next Men #1, a revival of Byrne’s ’90s creator-owned superhero effort. And the circle is complete.
I hope you and yours have a wonderful Winter Solstice, or any of the other many subsidiary holidays entirely derived from the Solstice, should that be how you choose to roll at your house. And Happy Festivus!
Christopher Allen Reviews John Byrne's Next Men #1
John Byrne’s Next Men #1 Writer/Artist - John Byrne Publisher - IDW Publishing. $3.99 USD
I’ll give John Byrne some credit here: to return to a famously unfinished series after 15 plus years is pretty ballsy. Those who never liked it or have come to not like Byrne or his work in that time are going to be very difficult to win over, while many of those who liked the series may have built up their own endings or high expectations. I suppose I fall into the the category of a fan of the series when it came out, and I enjoyed rereading the first IDW collection of it, though hadn’t gotten around to reading the rest.
What I found here, then, as an old fan who had partially revisited the material already, is a first issue that shows heavy tinkering, but with too much of an emphasis on bringing the reader up to speed with every event in the previous 28 issues, as well as too many misdirections. We meet the Next Men, unplugged from their virtual reality of The Greenery as well as the reality that had them as escapees from Project: Next Men into a life of fugitive, costumed heroes. Only Jasmine has doubts about this new reality, not to mention the readers, as her long flashback leads into a creepy rape dream sequence, and finally into her being trapped in dinosaur times with Nathan. Is she still telling a story? I don’t know.
Although his stock of poses and angles is very familiar by now, Byrne does deliver some good art here…and some not so good art. It’s one of the most uneven books of his I’ve seen, with a wide variation in style that leads one to suspect some of these pages date back to the ’90s, before he’d decided to cancel the book. The rape pages seem to be in his most current style, but then it’s hard to place some of the earlier pages where he draws Danny as if he has Bell’s Palsy. Maybe things will even out as we get into for-sure all new territory.
What I was more disappointed in were the ideas here. And maybe this isn’t fair—for the early ’90s, this was a fairly sophisticated superhero book. Or was it? I’m trying to nail down just what makes this different from any other superhero team book. They all deal with alternate realities, conspiracies and increasingly bloody violence. Having sex be the catalyst for the emergence of superpowers is still a bit unusual, but it’s hard to say that Byrne has done much with the idea, and to a large extent, it’s hard to say he shows the capability of doing so. He deals in broad, obvious signifiers: Aldus Hilltop is a bad guy because Byrne draws him with a sneer and a gold bracelet. A decent, honorable man has no need of such ornamentation.
The recap was unfortunate in that it reminded me of times in the series where Byrne took the path well-traveled. The Next Men eventually got costumes and codenames. They fought a foreign team much like them who were led by someone at one time involved in Project: Next Men. Very typical stuff here, even reminiscent of Byrne’s X-Men and Alpha Flight work. And unfortunately, as of this issue, I’m not getting much to grab onto to feel like there’s a huge, amazing story to come, nor do I feel like I have a handle on these characters yet. At one point, this was Byrne’s baby, and the possibilities were only limited to his own imagination. Here’s hoping he can come up with some stories that live up to that potential.
“It seems to me that there used to be more of a “general consensus” attitude about hot button topics in comics. Whether the topic was “Kirby” or “Indie Comics” or whatever – there seemed to be room within the comics shop (where these discussions took place) for everything to exist on the shelf together literally and figuratively. Most folks hated Kirby (“look at how he draws square fingers”) and most of those folks loved Mage, which was an “indie” comic.”—Frank Santoro
Christopher Allen and Alan David Doane Review The Outfit
Note: Even though we’ve been working on Comic Book Galaxy together for a decade, Chris Allen and I didn’t co-write our first article together until 2004. We did it a couplemoretimes and then laid off until now, because nothing was good enough to rouse the sleeping giant of our two towering comics intellects working in tandem (and also because we were deeply ashamed of the effete logo our efforts had been slapped with by the asshole publisher of the site). With the publication of Parker: The Outfit, that has all changed, and we’ve got the band back together to jointly twist your arms into buying one of the best crime graphic novels yet published. We had so much fun that we’re gonna do it again. See ya in 2015, pally. — Alan David Doane
CA: I’m sure most folks know this, but The Outfit is Darwyn Cooke’s second and latest adaptation of one of Donald Westlake’s Parker crime novels. Actually, I think I read he condensed another, less interesting novel in here as well. Now, I’m a pulp crime fiction fan, but I admit I haven’t gotten to much Westlake yet, and what I have read wasn’t in the Parker series. But, Alan, I think I recall you’ve read a bunch of them. What do you think of Cooke’s take on this one?
ADD: Cooke’s first Parker outing, Parker: The Hunter was actually my first exposure to Westlake’s writing in print, although I had been exposed to his storytelling via the amazing movie Point Blank, which was also based on The Hunter. I liked but didn’t love The Hunter, but was definitely intrigued by Westlake’s prose, and so sought out a bunch of his novels from my local library, and really developed an appreciation for his style, which I’d call Heist Procedural for lack of a better term. And The Outfit translates that style and Westlake’s unique expression of it brilliantly, far better than The Hunter, making it the comics adaptation version of the better second film, like Superman II or Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
CA: Not that I would have suggested Cooke model The Hunter on the brilliant Point Blank at all, but it does show that one can add other elements to Westlake’s story (in the case of the film, the late ’60s psychedelic touches) as long as one adheres to the basic story. You can’t leave that film not knowing that Lee Marvin’s character wants his money and will do anything to get it. He may seem almost foolishly principled, but you know he means it, and that if he’s hurting over his betrayal he will never show it.
In Cooke’s version of The Hunter, he got all that right, but perhaps he was almost too faithful. Fans of books freak out when chunks of plot or whole characters don’t make it into a film adapation, but the film has to work on its own, and The Lord of the Rings aside, most films would be agonizingly long and boring if utterly faithful to their books. But while Cooke was faithful, there were some distracting elements that somewhat undercut the brutally spare story. Offhand, without having read the book in a year, I recall the opening sequence with Parker walking determinedly and a woman in a car checking him out with desire in her eyes, when it would have been more effective for her to be fearful. Parker is not going to be anyone’s boyfriend, not anymore.
There were also some set dressing such as specific types of early ’60s furniture, that were distracting in some scenes as well. The Hunter was good, but it’s not until The Outfit where Cooke seems confident enough to be free to open up and try different stylistic tactics to make the book more than another respectable, unsurprising adaptation.
ADD: Maybe it’s just Cooke becoming more seasoned as a writer/artist. When I first really became aware of him, on Catwoman with writer Ed Brubaker, I thought he was the best new comic book artist to come along in forever, with a classic style that demonstrated a profound appreciation for storytelling over superficial flash. The fact that he was replacing the absolutely talent-free Jim Balent as Catwoman's artist of record, I am sure, had at least something to do with it, but Cooke very obviously had serious chops right out of the gate.
Unfortunately, Cooke’s career path was not 100 percent onward and upward after his initial splash with Catwoman. As fun as New Frontier was, it never really felt like it coalesced into a comic for the ages like I thought it was going to, and Cooke’s 12 issues on The Spirit mostly felt like a well-intentioned misfire, with the exception of the superb final issue.
But reading recent interviews with the cartoonist, one gets the sense that Cooke is coming to grips with his talent and his place in comics, and is maturing as both an artist and a businessman. I definitely look forward to more Parker, but I am also excited at the thought of his Cooke might apply the lessons he’s learned so far to whatever it is that he chooses to do afterward. And if nothing else, when all is said and done, we will all have a gorgeous set of thrilling Parker hardcovers to enjoy as comics and fetish art-objects. There’s not many creators that can propose such a project and then see it through to a satisfying fruition, but two volumes in, I have no doubt Cooke can do it, and he seems to have found the right partners in the folks at IDW to help him get it done.
CA: I don’t mean to break the illusion that we’re having a real time conversation here, with you sitting on my lap in that red leather clawfoot chair, but I must admit that between the time I wrote the first paragraph and now I’ve read one of the later Parker novels, Backflash (I also had nine meals, two shits, two bottles of wine, four beers, four orgasms and a pound of bacon — those last two items at the same time, with a call from my Grandma). Um, Parker. So, what I’m saying is, reading this novel, which is one of the last of ‘em from Westlake, makes me realize how well-suited Parker’s world is to comics, because essentially he doesn’t change. Like Peter Parker, he does pick up a woman here and there, but while he has a girlfriend of sorts in that 1998 book, she ultimately doesn’t mean much more to him or the book than a researcher, a helpmate to make the latest heist go over. The status quo doesn’t change much.
That gives me a new perspective on The Outfit, because I realize here even more than I did just comparing it to The Hunter, that Cooke is going for broke (or close to) in trying to come up with different ways to tell the story. Let’s face it: he could have probably just adapted The Man with the Getaway Face as an entire graphic novel and it would have been fine. He could have adapted that with The Outfit as he did here, but in the same style as he used on The Hunter, and that would have been good, too. But what he does, and I believe he mentions this in Tom Spurgeon’s interview, he comes up with different cartooning styles for each heist. See, The Outfit is rather challenging in that it’s not one job. What Parker is trying to do here is really annoy the crime syndicate (The Outfit) by robbing their various enterprises until they give up on trying to kill him. It’s different from The Hunter in that it’s not about revenge and not really about money — it’s harassment. That’s less exciting on one level and yet more relateable, as we’ve all fucked with someone even if we didn’t exact the revenge we craved (Rose Kennedy escaped my clutches too soon).
As a guy who grew up a little later but nonetheless absorbed some of these cartooning styles through, say, early Al Jaffee paperbacks, I loved the early ’60s gnomish figures and gray wash stylings Cooke brought to some of these sequences, and he also did a terrific job capturing the coldhearted, zaftig waitress who gets what’s coming to her in the condensed Getaway Face sequence. The whole book is a stylistic tour-de-force that’s got a kind of sharkskin Rat Pack zing-a-ding-ding insouciance yet never getting too far away from the heart of Westlake’s Parker, which is that he’s a cool son-of-a-bitch who’s all about the job and his own self-preservation, yet under no illusions that the latest score will bring any happiness. The rare (only) two page spread on pages 130-131 is amazing: Parker sitting alone in the dark on the diving board of a covered motel pool. No pleasure here, just business, and don’t try to lift the cover before daylight. He’s not only the straw that stirs the drink but the ice cube that always floats on top and never melts. The cover says (shows) it all: this is not a man with features and the soul showing through his eyes; he’s an abstraction, a composite of hard angles that can’t be reduced by science or emotion.
The Hunter was a modest success but The Outfit is a triumph. One is a feather in one’s cap and the other is the entire pheasant. It’s exhilarating and troubling at the same time, because after reading that Parker novel, Backflash, near the end of the line, one realizes that Westlake chose to work within himself in the series. Cooke has vowed to do at least one more Parker book, perhaps two. What to do as an encore for a character who doesn’t grow? I’m looking forward to how Cooke responds to the bar he’s set so much higher here. At the same time, given the relative stasis of the source material, as entertaining and tightly wound as it is, I think when he decides it’s time to move on, we can look forward to even better and more surprising work. Maybe something with a less assured character, or one of a fainter masculinity. At the very least, don’t they have crime in Canada? Where’s The Salty Poutine Score?
Buy Parker: The Outfit from Amazon.com. A copy was provided by the publisher for the purpose of review.
Artists - Jerry Ordway, George Perez, Dan Jurgens, Keith Giffen, Brian Bolland, Scott Kolins
Publisher - DC Comics
Aside from one of Giffen’s goofiest styles on a ridiculous Superboy/LOSH backup story, and the ponderous, out-of-place stylings of Kolins on the framing sequences, this series has had some really nice art, particularly for those like me who grew up on a lot of these ’70s-’80s superstars now getting to take a tour with Wein down Memory Lane. Either penciling or inking, any of the pages with Ordway’s hand in them are better storytelling than the majority of what passes for it today. That said, the story—indeed, the entire premise of this series—is pointless. It’s just a jog through some of the DCU’s biggest events, kind of through the eyes of an average guy named Paul Lincoln (except the many times it’s just straight sooperhero action), from ’40s street kid to, as of #7, around a 40 year old police detective in the mid-’90s. Strangely, the Paul who introduces each issue is elderly, far older than the 60 years, give or take, that he would be if he was telling the story today. Maybe we’ll find he’s in the future, I dunno.
Wein has no problem putting words in Lincoln’s mouth like, “A hero needs only an honest, noble heart,” that would make Superman gag, and the would-be Marvels-style regular guy story is really just a ’40s Warner Bros gangster film plot, with two kids taking different paths and the criminal one getting a chance to redeem himself. If you can swallow the dialogue, and convenient plotting that, say, allows a career criminal to get a job at S.T.A.R. Labs with easy access to experimental armor, all while cramming in the broad strokes of old stories great and small like Crisis, the Detroit JLA, Legends, The Killing Joke, Jon Stewart, the Bloodwynd/Maxima era of Justice League, Doomsday and Knightfall, then this is for you. Mostly, it’s nice to admire some solid artwork and ignore the story. Highlight: the Bolland-drawn “Camelot 500” story with the Atom, Shining Knight, Silent Knight, King Arthur, and Etrigan.
Writer - Jason Aaron
Artist - Renaldo Guedes
Publisher - Marvel Comics
Just because Wolverine goes to Hell doesn’t mean he has to take the readers with him. I gave this more than the benefit of the doubt, but man, what an unremittingly boring, repetitive storyline. Each issue is just this demon trying to break Wolverine’s spirit by making him fight more demons and hellish versions of old foes, and Wolvie is an ornery cuss who’s too stubborn to be turned, while Mystique, Daken and Wolvie’s girlfriend flit around trying to figure out how to get to Hell and help him, with zero results so far. Throw in some X-cameos and repeat. Aaron can write a fun, well-paced story, but this one is stuck in first gear. It also seems to have sucked Daken down with it.
Batman and Robin #17
Writer - Paul Cornell
Artist - Scott McDaniel
Publisher - DC Comics
Yeah, I don’t know why they just didn’t retire Batman and Robin after Morrison left, but whatever. It’s a perfectly good name. So here we have a new creative team, with McDaniel bringing his usual bag of trick to scripting by rising star Cornell. I say rising star, and I like the guy, but with this new villainess The Absence (who we needed like the hole in her head), Cornell might want to be careful he doesn’t overextend himself and become this decade’s Paul Jenkins. It’s okay so far; pretty typical old 'Tec kind of mystery but with grislier details, and some fine is occasionally labored repartee between clenched Damian Wayne take on Robin and the more lighthearted Dick Grayson version of Batman.
Detective Comics #871
Writer - Scott Snyder
Artists - Jock, Francisco Francavilla
Publisher - DC Comics
Like Cornell, Snyder is quick to start playing with his new toys, in this case having some fun exploring the differences in the Dick/Gordon relationship from the Bruce/Gordon one. For one, Dick doesn’t silently slip away when the conversation is over. It’s cute. Still, I’m looking forward to Snyder digging deeper into what makes Dick a good Batman vs. just a different Batman. This one’s a mystery involving an unseen villain named The Dealer, who deals in hard-to-obtain supervillain stuff like the serum that made Killer Croc the way he is (who would buy this?) and something Poison Ivy-related that makes a would-be squealer grow a tree root out of his mouth. It makes for some good visuals but not much of a coherent story as yet, and one suspects Jock would be put to better use drawing the grim Bruce Batman. That is, he draws Bats exactly the same, but it would make more sense aesthetically if it was Bruce. Snyder doesn’t have a lot of room to get this one going, as he also starts a Gordon backup story, this one with nice art from Francavilla in a stylistic range that seems to be gaining traction (see also Paul Azaceta, Matthew Southworth). My takeaway from these two Batbooks is that the editor(s) are pushing for new villains and shorter story arcs. I’m in favor of the former but it’s too early to judge the results yet, and it makes sense for the latter as well. Three issues + three issues = HC/TPB. Having two arcs per collection conceivably increases the chances of a purchase, and just as far as the monthly series, it’s easier to jump on. Plus, I would not be surprised if this doesn’t also make it easier to get some better artists on for a three issue arc that wouldn’t want to/be able to commit to something longer term. Like, I don’t really see Jock doing 10 issues of this book, do you? I could be wrong about all this, but even if so, it’s not a bad plan. Note: of our players this week, Francisco Francavilla has the most fun name to say out loud.
The Traveler #1
Writer - Mark Waid
Artist - Chad Hardin
Not to take anything away from Stan Lee and his amazing accomplishments, but I’d be curious if his name on a comic really had any positive effect on sales. And this is not even getting into whether he had anything to do with the contents inside. For the record, the comic is copyright both BOOM! Studios and Stan’s POW! Entertainment (we finally got BOOM! and POW! together, but where’s BIFF!?), but Stan’s only credit is the vague, “Grand Poobah.” I imagine Waid and others came up with it and Stan signed off, maybe offering some minor input. Whatever.
As one might reasonably guess, The Traveler is decidedly lighter in tone than Waid’s other BOOM! series, Irredeemable and Incorruptible. Stan doesn’t do scorched earth and kinky sex and psychotic capes. But it’s not even a “feet of clay” type of old Marvel approach, either. Tonally, it’s more like ’50s DC stuff, with a cheerful, time-traveling hero trying to stop some other time-traveling creeps, all the while chattering with a scared African-American mom (with Hardin playing up her MILFy BOOM! POW! attributes a little much). Normally, Waid would be your go-to guy for Silver Age homage, but this one feels a little flat, fast-paced but lacking a distinctive hook or much in the way of characterization, and like he saved his best jokes for another comic. I mean, it reads like an assignment rather than inspiration, and while many of us would take this assignment in a minute, it doesn’t mean it’s going to turn out well.
I don’t think I’ve ever really done one of these before, but with comics and graphic novels more in the public eye than they have been since, what, the 1940s? — and as the Winter Solstice draws nearer, I thought I would weigh in with what I think would make some nice gifts this holiday season for that special someone in your life. You know, that person you are pretty sure won’t give you the stinkeye when they open up their present and it turns out, it’s comics?
To keep this list to a manageable length, I set forth a few rules:
1. The gift must be at or under $100.00. 2. One gift suggestion per publisher. 3. They must be more than just “a good graphic novel,” they have to have something special that makes them truly gift-worthy. 4. They must have mainstream appeal.
And away we go!
Alec: The Years Have Pants HC (Top Shelf) — Eddie Campbell’s extraordinary life’s work in autobiographical comics makes a fantastic gift in hardcover. This mammoth slab of witty, whimsical and brilliant comics will keep your loved one amazed and entertained for the many weeks it will likely take them to read it. I can’t imagine a better way to get through the winter than being warmed by these charming and game-changing comics.
Castle Waiting Vols. 1 and 2 HCs (Fantagraphics) — These two huge hardcovers can currently be had for less than 50 bucks, and offer up a whole new world of wonder. Perfect for anyone who loves to be transported to another place and time.
H Day HC (Picturebox) — Renee French welcomes you into her head (literally) in this mysterious and gorgeous hardcover. More challenging than her previous efforts, but the rewards make the journey worthwhile.
Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Box Set (Oni Press) — If they loved the movie, get ‘em the comics! I can’t imagine a better combo gift, too, than giving both this box set and the DVD of the great movie adaptation.
Star Trek Countdown HC (IDW) — For the Trek fan in your life, there’s no better comics offering than this. Countdown tells the story of what happened before JJ Abrams recreated the Star Trek universe, bringing in characters from Star Trek: The Next Generation to explain some unanswered questions about the 2009 movie, and it all ties into the new continuity flawlessly. As a huge Trek fanatic, I absolutely consider this story canon, and would dearly love to see it adapted as an animated film to come out ahead of 2012’s next chapter in the newly-revived franchise. It’s a classy, exciting and entertaining comic, and this hardcover edition would make a great gift.
Wilson HC (Drawn and Quarterly) — Dan Clowes is one of those cartoonists that really invites the reader’s eye whether they are already ensconced in comics reading or not. Wilson offers up a wealth of opportunities for discovery, both in terms of the oblique angles of its story and the mysterious way comics can unveil its wonders.
Yuggoth Cultures HC (Avatar) — Alan Moore’s Neonomicon (with artist Jacen Burrows) is the best new Moore title in years, but it’s not collected yet. So why not give this beautiful hardcover collection of eerie and strange Moore tales (definitely adults only) to satisfy the horror fan in your life?
Those are my suggestions! Leave your recommendations in the comments, and happy holidays!
Fire & Water: Bill Everett, The Sub-Mariner, and the Birth of Marvel Comics Writer - Blake Bell Publisher - Fantagraphics Books. $39.99 USD
During his time in comics, from the start of the Golden Age to the end of 1972, Bill Everett had the respect of many of his peers for his gifts as a an artist and storyteller. His penciling in the boom time for the industry of the late ’30s through the end of World War II showed a sure, almost cocky hand, the compositions dynamic with depth and potency and an easy glide of the eyes across the page. He created Namor the Sub-Mariner, comics’ first anti-hero and still a mainstay of Marvel Comics, and frequently set his creation against Carl Burgos’ Human Torch in co-authored battles legendary for their time and still recalled fondly today. So why isn’t Everett better known?
As it turns out, Everett’s story is not one of cruel fate, the fickleness of the public, or corporate injustice, at least not more than what many other comics writers and artists went through. It’s the story of what appears to be a naturally gifted man who happened into the comics industry and stayed in it as best he could, despite not making the most of his gifts and opportunities. Yes, the Sub-Mariner’s longevity didn’t lead to fortune for him or his family, although his heirs are disinclined to take the now common legal action for the return of ownership of characters and the profits they’ve made. But Everett is more of an obscure figure than his clear talent would seem to have deserved due to chronic alcoholism by the time he was just fifteen years old, as well as problems with authority figures that would see him bounced out of many a lucrative, stable job. As well, he came from a moneyed family and often had inheritances to fall back on, so he was rarely scraping and thus enabled, could afford to be sidelined when his disease got the better of him. Also, aside from one mysterious story for editor Robert Kanigher at DC Comics, Everett did almost all his comics work for Timely/Atlas/Marvel over his career. His drinking caused him to miss deadlines or sometimes turn in inferior work, and by the early ’60s “Marvel Age,” he would often be lost in the shuffle behind the prolific Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and others who could get their pages done and sometimes were in the office to help out others, like John Romita, Sr., Marie Severin and the rest of the Bullpen. Everett worked from home and would mail his pages in most times.
One of the striking revelations to Everett’s story is the pains both Stan Lee, and later, Roy Thomas, made to keep giving Everett work, despite his unreliability and—shocking—the fact that Lee never even met the man. Lee was just always a fan of his work. If anyone wondered why Everett only drew the first issue of Daredevil, it’s because he couldn’t meet the deadlines on it and needed help to get it done, so he was replaced, despite creating the look of the character and his blindness (based on Everett’s daughter being born legally blind). Still, although much of Everett’s ’60s work was journeyman and lacking his earlier panache, he did finish on a strong note in ‘72, having given up drinking and finding his old verve, only to be felled by a heart attack brought on by his other lifelong vice, a three-pack-a-day cigarette habit.
Author Bell has carved a niche in biographies of cartoonists obscure or reclusive. Although Steve Ditko differs greatly from Everett in having no apparent vices, is productive in his 80s, and has long created work born of moral and philosophical concerns, he and Everett are similar in one way: there isn’t a whole lot known about them. Not a ton of interviews, especially about their craft. Not to be crass, but this ends up working very well for Bell, because there is little on record to compare and contrast with his work, and the rather skimpy biographical details and the remembrances of family and colleagues leaves plenty of room for examples of Everett’s comics covers and storytelling, much of which makes a better argument for Everett’s importance than Bell does.
One can argue that comics analysis doesn’t really belong in a biography-cum-coffee-table-art-book, but this writer would have appreciated more in this area. Poring over the pages, one wonders why Bell doesn’t delve more into the “fire & water” of his title, such as where Everett’s early fury came from, if it ever dissipated and when, and why so many of his early characters were more at home in water or as vapor or smoke than standing with their feet on the ground. It might also have been worth exploring how in creating comics’ first anti-hero in Namor, Everett unfortunately created a character few would want to imitate, as anti-heros didn’t get long-running books, cartoons and toys until the ’70s and ’80s with Wolverine, The Punisher, Ghost Rider, etc. I would have loved to see examples of Everett’s antiauthoritarian streak playing itself out in his comics, or to learn if he had been upset about the start of the Comics Code Authority and the defanging of horror comics, since the examples shown in here are evidence he was right up there with the EC greats. Obviously, Bell can’t ask someone no longer with us, and perhaps his children just didn’t know much of their father’s feelings about his work and the changes to the industry, but it’s kind of a shame at least some of these threads aren’t explored or that there isn’t a more thorough analysis of Everett’s body of work for common themes, highlights, stylistic innovations or even shortcomings (his style seems out of place with swinging ’60s Marvel). It’s a good and valuable book, but one wonders what Bell could do with a better documented figure, if he can find an angle or provide insights not seen before. But enjoy it for what it is, a portrait and gallery of a talented, troubled artist whose work should be better known today.
In this parable about racism and equality, longtime superhero comics inker Alanguilan tells the story of Jake Gallo, a chicken born in the second generation of chickens who found themselves able to speak, with all the intelligence and emotions of humans. In fact, they’re recognized as equal, but as with blacks or Jews or any other minority, not everyone can accept this. Jake is an angry young chicken, not well adjusted like his sister or particularly brother Freddie, a rising movie star.
If the reader can accept this conceit of smart chickens, they can go onto enjoy a terrific story. Alanguilan makes it easy, developing Jake as confrontational, even unlikable, but clearly hurting. His family loves him and wants him to adjust, but it’s hard, especially as he’s just lost his father, Elmer.
What gets Jake on the path to understanding is the discovery of his father’s memoir, which explains how things were from birth to the start of their human-level sentience. Alanguilan does a good job thinking through how humanity would react to these developments, and how the longtime foodstuff poultry would react to finally having the brains needed to hate and carry out revenge. The setting and plot are believable enough given the premise, but it’s his characterization that sells it. Fighting cock Uncle Joseph was bred to be a killer and he knows he can’t escape his fate; he can only be a symbol, a legend. It’s up to the wiser Elmer to take the smarter, longer range course for acceptance with his newspaper columns about life as a chicken, and it’s up to Jake to spread his father’s story and expand upon his work.
Alanguilan’s art is extremely well-suited to the story, utilizing grids for clarity but with his inking gifts on display with lots of rural texture (farmhouses, feathers, squalor), occasionally stopping for a jaw-dropping Philippine landscape or grisly scene of devastation or mass culling. Appropriately, the chicken characters are drawn with as great a range of expression (shock, joy, contentment, rage, etc.) as the humans. It’s funny, but each time I write, “humans,” I feel odd about it; that’s how convincing a case Alanguilan makes for the chickens being just a more recently recognized form of humanity. As it seems to be the last word Alanguilan wants on this world, one could make minor quibbles over the lack of development of Jake’s sister, or Jake’s possible romantic relationship with non-chicken human Anna Rosie, but again, these are minor quibbles. It’s a very well done book.