Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Anticipation & Convergences

I have finished eleven reviews over the last three months.  I write these reviews because I like the books and I want to let everyone know how to find and support them.  The thing is once I publish a review I continue to get updates from and about artists.  As I move on to the next artist I am getting all these awesome little tidbits that I haven't been sharing.  I asked Geoff Vasile for permission to use images from his books.  He said sure.  He also said that he was moving most of his web-presence to The Geoff Vasile Show! on tumblr.   I bit the bullet and set up a tumblr account.  I found out that about half of the artists who had stopped updating their web pages are now posting on tumblr.  On a side note, Vasile posted this new slick silk screened cover for issue four of Trackrabbit.

Robinson's take on Fin & Jake
Now on tumblr, I have started to see Andy Hirsch promoting this Adventure Time book that Liz Prince had been mentioning.   Not having Kids or cable I really had no idea what Adventure Time is.  Everyone else seems to already have been keyed into Adventure Time.  The young woman running the register at Austin Books all but rolled her eyes at me when I asked if all the issues of Adventure Time had back-up stories by indie artist.  Turns out I had been seeing a lot of Adventure Time fan art floating around the intertubes.  I just had failed to draw the connection.  Unsurprisingly Alex Robinson's attempt at The Wonderful World of Alx Robinson is both awesome and a little freaky.

Hirsch did the art for the B alternate cover for the third issue of Adventure Time:Marceline and the Scream Queens.  He will also be doing a cover of another issue in November.  Hopefully this is a good link, if not he posted both covers at It's Andy Hirsch.   The six issue Marceline series were done by Meredith Gran.  Gran has been rocking out her own web-comic called Octopus PieOctopus Pie: There Are No Stars In Brooklyn, is a hoot and brought back the few fond memories I have of Brooklyn.  Hirsch 's cover highlights Liz Prince's seven page back-up story.  I ran out and got it but starting at issue three of six left me a little at sea.  Gran's work seams like some solid story telling.  Prince's back-up story Fruit Salad Days is hilarious and stands on its own.  With the Hirsch cover it is totally worth the cover price all on its own.

Prince with Hirsch's Cover
So that's where things I had been anticipating converged.  Some of the other things I am looking forward to have been in print for years.  Following Alex Robinson on social media is a reminder that I have three more reviews of already published work, that I hope to explore here. He also keeps on putting out teaser pages for the book he is currently working on.  He just posted page eighty-eight; it is ridiculous good but frustratingly gives almost nothing away.  Also, when I wrote my Guy Davis review Guy Davis Artworks was off line for renovation.  Now it is back up with many awesome preview pages including may works I missed.  From adverts in B.P.R.D. I knew I had missed Nevermen but I had no idea about The Zombies That Ate The World and some other work he did for Les Humanoides Associes.  As I track down those works there is also some work free of charge on My Space Dark Horse Presents

I came across two things slated for 2013 that have me chomping at the bit.  Monica Gallagher had mentioned that she had done some work for Oni but she has now announced that  Glitter Kiss will be coming out in January.  She is also stepping up Bonnie N. Collide to a twice weekly comic strip!  There are also all her mini-comics Boobage, When I Was A Mall Model and Go For The Eyes that I hope to review.  The 2013 news that has me jumping up and down is issue number four of Varmints!  I am not normally an exuberant guy.  As far as content goes, on the surface of it, Varmints is one of the lighter books that I follow.  While deeper things are developing, each issue stands on its own as a little comic adventure.  Hirsch recently posted a page that reminded me why I just can't wait to see where his work is going.  I have been accused of being dourer and I do hate musicals.  So why am I so giddy?   It is the audacity of having a singing dancing extravaganza conveyed only in static silent juxtaposed illustrations.   I would call bullshit on many others artists, but he makes it look easy.  You should go to It's Andy Hirsch and look at the larger  image.  I could (and may) write a entire review just on this page.

That's it for now.  I still have a stack of mini-comics to get through before I see what people bring to Artists' Alley at Austin Comic Con. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Liz Prince's I Swallowed the Key to My Heart

In a word (or 3), Liz Prince rocks. She is a prolific cartoonist, cat lover, punk enthusiasts, and web maven. You can find her at two tumbler accounts, Fuck Yeah, Liz Prince and Fuck You, Liz Prince, a LiveJournal account there is no Liz, only zuul, a flickr account, a twitter account, and has over eighteen hundred Facebook followers.  Her web-site lizprincepower is also really cool.  I first learned about her on the interview she did for Indie Spinner Rack. Once I found her work I started to obsessively follow her, which she made really easy because of her web presence and her prolific posting.  A lot of her work to date has been single strip or singe page auto-biographical vignettes and a good deal of that can be found on her web-site free of charge.

The first two issues of I Swallowed the Key to My Heart got me to easily part with my money.  These two books are beautiful. They are self printed and distributed. They fit in the zine/mini-comic section of your store, but they are a massive 8.5″x11″ and the crisp black and white design of the book really stands out.

I keep on stressing the design and craft elements of these books and collections in these mini-comic reviews because I think they are more than decorative.  Each issue feels not only complete, but also intentionally complete.  Mini-comics have no publisher logo, bar code, nor any page or size limits.  They are an opportunity to experience a narrative object as nothing but an art object.  The hardbound editions of Tricked (on sale thru 9/28/12) and Essex County (out of print) are great examples of graphic design and book making, but there is something to say when the artist is responsible for editorial and quality control. But I digress...

I believe most of Prince's work is more cartoon journaling than auto-biography.  She shares funny and notable anecdotes about her life rather than tying them into a super narrative like Alison Bechdel's Funhouse.  The stories in I Swallowed the Key to My Heart are longer versions of her work.  In fact, the twenty plus pages of issue one transpire over a single night.  While there is an overarching narrative, Prince uses some of her comic strip sensibilities and so many of the pages can hold up as strips without context.  Dry wit and some sadness underneath very hip observations about absurdity in everyday life tie the piece together.

In interviews, Prince has talked about the loose and intentionally rough style she used in Will You Still Love Me If I Wet The Bed  and Delayed Replays.    If you start with the first strip on her web page, the format was a row of three panels with similar character framing and composition, the dialogue and subtle shifts in posture and expression tell the story.  If you continue to progress through the strips, her style tightens up and she starts to experiment with formats.  Some of her strips only really work in a web format, but the illustration always retains some of the playful looseness of her early work. 

She went BIG with I Swallowed the Key to My Heart.  The page layout is European with an average of four rows of two to four panels.  For me, that is one of the most exciting things about these books because Prince spent years refining her craft with very limited parameters.  I Swallowed the Key to My Heart is a chance to see her bring all of that skill to bear on a big canvas.  You can (and should!) pick a copy up from her store, or in person at one of the many con appearances she announces on her news section. She also has plenty of free content, so you have no excuse not check it out.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Geoff Vasile's Trackrabbit

by Geoff Vasile

This is a review of Trackrabit issues one through four. There is also a fifth issue available at Vasile's website. You can check out some his work for free on his tublr page.  Vasile calls Trackrabit his "one-man fiction anthology."  To date, he has alternated between science fiction and twenty something slice of life stories.  I wanted to start these mini comic reviews with Geoff Vasile because he had the strongest collection of mini-comics by creators that I met for the first time at Staple! 2012.  Later this month I'll be reviewing some artists who I knew of before the '12 expo as well as a few I have yet to meet.

Initially, I wanted to focus on the writing in Trackrabit.  Each issue contains a single stand alone story of twenty-four to forty pages.  In my first read, his writing stood out as more innovative and personal than the artwork.  My impression is that Vasile packs a lot of story telling in those few pages without being overly textual.  I came away from each issue feeling like I had spent far more time with the characters than I had.  With a re-read, it became clear that this is as much a product of Vasil's skill as an illustrator as his skill at prose and dialogue.

Panel choices are a big part of what is not visible in McCloud's formulation of comics as the "Invisible Art."  Vasile's break down of pages shows his talent for very conservatively cutting unnecessary scenes and panels.  While his illustration lacks the showiness and/or hyper stylization that I am a sucker for, there is a solidness to it that actively propels the story without getting in the way.  It is his skills as a graphic storyteller that masks the very skills he uses.

The second thing that has to be said about Vasile's Art is his professionalism.  In a world of near infinite digital content, part of what fans of Mini/DIY Comics are buying is the physicality of the book as art object.  This can be a splashy use of artistic and crafty flourishes that can only be accomplished in very small print runs.  It can just be a basic attention to detail and design that sets one book apart from another in any form of publishing.  Each of these issues is progressively more and more professionally designed (issue four looks like it is ready to be distributed by Top Shelf), yet there is a wonderful handmade quality to them.  

While the pacing is very different I think if you enjoyed the work of Alex Robinson you should check out the Ignatz nominated Trackrabit issues 2 and 3.  They both craft well balanced completely fictional narratives with the feeling of brutal honesty of auto-bio comics.

There are people who I would just suggest reading issues 1 and 4 and people who I would steer towards 2 and 3.  Nevertheless, I do believe all four issues of Trackrabit hold together.  The work that I keep thinking about is Jaime Hernandez's first volume of the Love and Rockets magazines.  There is a combination of very real people in almost accidental science fiction settings that speaks to the very unreality of very real situations.  You can get copies of Trackrabit as well as a few other books at his website.  I picked up Vasile's short auto-bio work A History of Increasing Humiliation at Staple!.  I just found more auto-bio work he has posted to his tumblr account.  This week I wanted to focus just on Trackrabit, but I will come back to his work.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


So there are few things I want to get back to with this blog.  I should mention that Indie Spinner Rack is back on air.  If you're not familiar with their work check out the back catalog   They have had some terrific interviews over the years.  I also got around to checking out Mr. Phil's tumbler account and it is pretty cool.  In September and October I want to get back to reviewing mini comics.  Artist who are self publishing are the most likely place to find the bleeding edge of comics as an art form.  I have a stack of zine sized comics from two years of comic conventions, Austin Books and Domy Books.  I also have large stack of exceptionally long works that I want to get deeper into.

I may be less regular reviewing mini comics because I don't want to publish it without clearing it with  the author.  Most of these books were available for purchase through personal web sites but some times they sell out never to be printed again.  So I want to make sure that I am not going to send you down a rabbit hole by talking up some once in a life-time you had to be there publication.

I have thought about really digging into some long running creator owned comics.  David Sim's Cerebus  ran to issue 200 from 1977-2004 and although I own the first 5 collections I have yet to get through Church and Sate.  I know there is some controversy over some things he said and wrote.  Never the less Cerebus is one of the the first, most regular and longest running creator owned comics.   Conversely I have read all the Love and Rockets collections the Hernandez brothers' published from 1982 to today.  Jaime Hernandez went on to continue his Locas just as Gilbert continued stories featuring the Palomar cast of characters. 

There are a few more of these epic series that really need mentioning.  Before Scott McCloud wrote Understanding Comics he worked on a series called Zot! and continued in an amazing web comic.  I came late to Jeff Smith's Bone and Terry Moore's Strangers in Paradise, but they are awesome.  Both series are complete and well worth checking out but both Smith and Moore are continuing with new projects that you can check out at  Boneville and respective.  Douglas Wolk's  Reading Comics introduced me to Carla Speed McNeil's Finder comics.  They were hard to find but now that Dark Horse is distributing them I have a lot of catching up to do.

I don't feel like I have the time to read and re-read Strangers in Paradise in its entirety just for a one page review, nor do I feel like suspending this blog and writing a treatises on it that no one will read.  So, here is my idea. I would love to start an on-line book club.  If anyone who reads this blog is interested in reading and discussing any of the titles, please e-mail me.  I will make a list if I can get enough people interested. We can see if we can plan a little forum in the comment sections.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Monica Gallagher's Bonnie N. Collide

Bonnie N. Collide
By Monica Gallagher

Normally I want to focus on Comic books rather than comic strips.  Bonnie N. Collide is the exception  that proves my reasons for this preference.   It is hard to develop and expand a sense of space and motion in three to five panel chunks.   You can see, here in her 72nd strip, Gallagher is challenging some of the spatially linear tendencies of the comic strip medium.  It takes some dramatic shifting angle on single character in motion to set up the punch-line.
I think of comic strips as more like poetry that prose or more like punch-lines than comedies.  Bonnie N. Collide has been making serialized narrative out of stand alone vignettes.  Over that last five years of building narrative I have found myself more attached to Bonnie and the crew than Nona La Bette from Gallagher's long form comic Lipstick & Malice

Bonnie splits 90% of her time at here 9-5 job and 110% of her time at the roller derby.  She goes careening through her life, on and off the derby track, in skates and roller gear.  There is a great strip that explains the Roller Derby that you can skip to before digging into the story.

Bonnie's office is populated by the mundanely named Herb, Sherry, Barb, Greg, Carl and her love interest Stuart.  Her 'off' hours are spent in grueling practices and bruising competition with the more colorfully named Hattie Hellfire, Mimi Madness, Mouthpiece Molly, Fresh Meat Fran and Agro Amelia.  There is a playful unreality that normalizes Bonnie's office space derby antics.  The rest of the office is more or less normal with the exception of Herb who is a werewolf with a file cabinet of meat.  This is not a spoiler; you never see Herb with out hair sticking out of his button-down.  The magical unreality of it is that nobody in the office is reasonably disturbed by this.

I have come to count on Gallagher for strong well rounded female roles.  Bonnie takes her knocks; she has personal and competitive upsets but she always bounces back.  This is kinda rare in light of some of the genre and the medium expectation  of  a romantic comic strip.  Bonnie is a busy lady; she doesn't have time to sit around feeling sorry for herself.
Bonnie N. Collide is a true romantic comedy.  Romance comics were briefly a possible alternative to the horror comics of the 1940's mainstream comics.  There has been more romance in the self published indie comics.  Both Jamie and Gilbert's long works in Love and Rockets as well the works of Terry Moore are explicitly romances.  I'd also like to give a shout out to Fade to Blue that I picked up the first trade paper back many years ago and am looking for issues 6-10.  There are also important romantic arches in Scott McCloud's Zot! and Wendy Pini's Elf Quest.  How excellently fitted the medium of comics are for romance is often overlooked.  To bring a romance to stage or screen you need not only a writer and director (Gallagher like all writer/illustrators wears both hats), you also need the skills of at least two actors and an x factor called chemistry.  Comics allow for the illustrator to do all of the acting.
What Gallagher shares with the Hernandez brothers, Moore, McCloud and Pini is a delight and mastery over expressive body language and dynamic facial expression.  Look at how expressive everyone is in strip #91.  She pulls this off with a minimum of lines.  Take the time to note how Gallagher refines her style over the course of this strip five year history.  It is a rewarding study in how much human emotion can be conveyed with a few elegant lines.

Part of the reason I felt I needed to review this strip is just how much enjoyment I have gotten out of Monica Gallagher's Bonnie N. Collide updates as well as her own blog.   You can follow these for free but the hand made Bonnie and Lipstick & Malice collections are pretty cool.  You can pick them up from her at her on-line store, as well as her auto-bio mini comics.  I still have to read Middle School and Go For The Eyes but her other mini comics have been awesome.  She had some great web content on her old web-site especially her Relentless Buzzing.  She should be uploading it at some point and you can keep eye on her page here.
The inspiration for my Blog came from Indie Spinner Rack and the way Charlito and Mister Phil created a community to encourage and celebrate indie comics.  The motivation that keeps me posting with some regularity is the example and advice that Liz Prince and Monica Gallagher shared at the Women of Webcomics panel discussion Staple! 2012 and in their regular posts.  You can meet Monica at Baltimore Comic-Con September 8-9 and at Emerald City Comic Con March 1-3 (which means we will miss her this year in Austin). 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bandes Dessinées 3: Multiple Genre Medium

 Bandes Dessinées 3
Multiple Genre Medium

European comics have an extensive selection of science fiction titles.  I have already mentioned Enrico Marni's Gipsy.  American advocates of comics as the 9th art make a big deal of comics being a medium not a genre.  Super heroes are a genre that have become exclusively linked with comics.  In fact, the two largest comic book publishers hold a joint trademark on the term.  Comic book stores are such a stange market, the are served by only one distribution company.  So you can go over Diamond Comic Distributors and confirm that over seven out of every ten comics sold in comic shops is a super hero book.  In 2011, all but about a dozen mostly horror titles of the top 500 best selling comics of 2011 were super hero books.  I should note that the graphic novel/trade paperback list is much broader and those books are also sold by book stores that do not report numbers to Diamond.  The French comic book scene is far more diverse, and even though only a small fraction of those have been translated into English it still expands our market here in the U.S.A. 

I picked up The Metabarons: Poet and Killer and The Metabarons: Alpha / Omega by Jodorowsky, Gimenez, Charest and Moebius.  I can make some observation about the series even after skipping over the second volume of these editions.  There seems to be a few things lost in translation, this is a problem because language in SF can be strange without translation.  Jodorowsky has worn a lot of hats over his lifetime.  On top of being a renowned comic book writer he is also a prose writer, occultist and film maker.  Before doing The Incal and its prequel The Metabarons he spent about half a decade trying to bring Frank Herbert's Dune to screen.  You can see how much of Herbert rubs off on this work.  It is epic and while it is slightly silly it is strangely Shakespearean.  You can find copies directly from Humanoids, the English language publisher.
A page from Ortibal

So I read, Orbital: Vol. 1  Scars by Serge Pelle and Sylvain Runberg.  Runberg has a good running start at an epic space opera but there just isn't enough in the first volume for me to make a judgment.   Serge Pelle art is amazing and the translation is very readable.  The entire series is available in print and English  This is becuse of this intresting company called Cinebook.  This U.K. company is actively trying to bring high art comics across the English Channel. You find their catalogue at, but prices are listed in  pounds. 

Last but not least, my final finds were VALERIAN spatiotemporal agent: Ambassador of the Shadows & VALERIAN spatiotemporal agent: World Wthout Stars by  Jean-Claude Mezieres & Pierre Christin.  From the 1970, VALERIAN & LUARELINE appears to be giant among the shelves of the Bandes Dessinées.  I should mention that allot of the dust jacket info highlights the connection to and influence on Star Wars.  What is more telling for me is the list of creators that praise it:  Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman and Jim Steranko all heavy hitters in and out of mainstream comics.  The praise for these first two volumes of VALERIAN spatiotemporal agent is understandable.  It really does feel like George Lucas partnered with Wally Wood to create a big sand box of a space opera.  The publisher, Dargaud International, is a division of its French publisher.  I found out that I can get ahold of the French editions here in Austin so I will return to these after I run out of English translation with Bandes Dessinées 4(or possibly 5): Enki Bilal.  Before that I will be returning to some self published work.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tommy Kovac & Andy Hirsch's The Royal Historian Of OZ

The Royal Historian Of Oz
Tommy Kovac & Andy Hirsch

The Royal Historian of Oz is one of the many comic books to build on the modern fairy tales of the turn of the last century.  Oz, Wonderland and Neverland have all become geographical back drops for comics.  Because Oz is an epic sprawling fantasy with plenty of room for interpretation while falling safely in the public domain, it is a natural enough fit for comics.

One thing that sets The Royal Historian of Oz apart is the way it actively and self-referentially  places its self in the tradition of Oz adaptions.  For example, even Kovac's title is an allusion to a tradition, started by Frank Baum, of referring to the author of Oz stories as a 'historian' of Oz.

The Royal Historian of Oz starts off in a slightly alternate near future.   Like Baker Street's London, Kovac's "broke-down weary future" allows for greater literary license and zeppelins.  The story follows Frank and his father Jasper Fizzel.  To Frank's chagrin, Jasper is persistently cranking out Oz fan fiction to the detriment of any help to the household.  Jasper is hounded by the ruthless but ridiculous fictional Official Oz Society (not the real International Wizard's of Oz Club).  The  Official Oz Society police all Frank  Baum's intellectual properties.  In a fantastic turn of events, Jasper manages to cross over into Oz in an attempt to vindicate himself.  This only manages to make more of a mess of things for everyone and leaves Frank stuck in the middle.

OZprint020In researching this review, I found a copy of Wonderland.  It utilizes the writing talents of Kovac and the illustrations of Sonny Liew.  Kovac clearly has an understanding of the inner-workings of the modern fairy tale.  He also has a glibness that is contemporary without being anachronistic.  He keeps The Royal Historian of Oz accessible to readers whose knowledge of Oz is limited to passing familiarity with Scarecrow, Dorothy and Ozma.  Nevertheless Kovac does spend a little time geeking out on less known members of the Oz pantheon like Button Bright and the Glass Cat.  Tommy Kovac also has a pretty comprehensive web page and a highly entertaining blog.

For me, Andy Hirsch steals the show.  There isn't as much multi-panel motion as his self produced Varmints.  In The Royal Historian of Oz panel breakdown would be most dictated by Kovac's script.   Hirsch's talent mostly shines through in his panel composition.  When talking about panel composition it is easier to talk about it in terms of camera angles.   Hirsch shoots up, down and off to the sides that allow for a sense of motion in static single panel.  Take a look at the fourth panel of page above.  There is a minimum of action in the page as dialogue goes back and forth.   The over head angled shot gives the impression that you actually saw the steps as Frank pivots and points.  Another thing to check out is all of the chewy scenery.  The level of detail in the first two panels is a mainstay of the book.  To give him feed back or check out what he is currently working on, visit A is for Andy or darnvarmints

Jasper brings a flying monkey named Zik back from Oz.  Zik is monosyllabic with a noticeably inhuman face.  Zik's ability to emote and his comic timing really highlight the strength of Kovac and Hirsch's collaboration.  Both men are capable of stealing a scene.  For example note some of Jasper's monologues or the visual funkiness of Patchwork Girl at the end of issue four.  But I feel that there is an equilibrium on the character of Zik that shows off what both men bring to the work.

You can buy the individual issues or the pocket sized trade paper back from Slave Labor Graphics.  The first three issues are also for sale from the Comixology smart phone application. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


So it's been five weeks without a cigarette, and  it's been more or less successful.  I will be dropping the patch in the next few days.  I am writing to apologize for missing this weeks post.  I have been working six day weeks but have a mini vacation over the horizon.  I do have a review that I am looking forward to.   I am close to finishing it but I want to do some more research.  I'll be back next week.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Robert Venditti & Mike Huddleston's The Homeland Directive

The Homeland Directive
Robert Venditti & Mike Huddleston

The Homeland Directive is one of my favorite conspiracy thrillers of any medium.  As a genre, original thrillers have been under represented in comics.  I've mentioned Pierre Christin and Enki Bilal's The Hunting Party.  Also of note is Brian Azzarello and Eduadrdo Risso's 100 Bullets.  They are the exceptions that prove the rule.  The Homeland Directive is not just a  magnificent comic book.  Before diging into how it takes advantage of comics as a medium I want to say a few things about the writer and the story.

Robert Venditti has mostly worked for Top Shelf.  Apparently he started out as a volunteer in the mail room.  His first and continuing  series The Surrogates was a runaway success for Venditti and Top Shelf.   What made that series so enjoyable for me was not its glimpse into a wildly innovative dystopia nor was it the wonderful collaboration between writer and artist.  Rather it is Venditti's talent for telling stories squarely in the realm of genre fiction that take unpredictable but unforced twists with three dimensional characters.

These twists and dimensionality shine through in The Homeland Directive.  Without giving too much away, by page 24 you find out that the main character is caught betwean a conspiracy and a counter-conspiracy.  Venditti uses this to side step some genre tropes which I always had as pet-peeves.  The conspiracies are not global with unlimited  and unrealistic resources brought down by a sequences of deus ex machinas.  Rather it is the missteps and overlooked facts that create the dramatic tension between the two conspiracies.  Unrealistic villains are always frustrating but the idea that a person or persons capable of manipulating multiple levels of governmental jurisdictions who need to stoop to melodramatic world domination is a bridge too far.  Venditti characters all have realistic and mixed motives behind their actions.   While there are clearly villains there are many levels of grey between them and the heroes.

As you can see in this page, Mike Huddleston uses lines very sparingly and his figure drawing is far simpler and more abstract than his work on Butcher Baker The Righteous Maker.  It is the coloring that really stands out in this book.  For most of the book the colors are light and lay on top of the heavier inks.  Unlike mainstream coloring this highlights the line work rather than completing or obscuring it.  The collaboration between Venditti and Huddleston results in some truly excellent storytelling.  They shift not just the color palette but color techniques as the narrative shifts between the perspectives of different players in the conspiracies.  It creates this wonderful and almost unique pacing and I strongly suggest you go check it out if you are a fan of the genera or the medium.
You can buy a hard or digital copy from Top Self. Also check out Robert Venditti bio-page.

Warning, possible spoiler alert.

I will moderate commitments for civility, but if people would rather use this blog as a chances to discuses the book amount folks that have already read the book, I am great with that.  So If you haven't read the book hold off on reading the comments until you have.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

21 days without a cigarette

I am not sure about this post but I am kind of twitching from withdrawal and not ready to finish with either of the proper reviews I am working on.  What I was was doing with money before I started smoking was buying comics.  My mom sent me this link thought that brought it all back.

This video is kind of sad or the funniest thing ever.  Between the ages of elevan and fourteen I owned about 2 out of 3 of those books.  He must be a little younger than me or also a late bloomer.

Those books are from the early nineties.  The joke is that those comics were marketed as collectibles, so subsequently, were overproduced junk.

The sad or possibly ironic thing about this video is that it highlights the worse side effects of the false scarcity of the comic book market.  In the nineties there were literally thousands of comic books that were being sold to people who would never open them.   Which meant there were issues where five books were sold for every three that were read.   This excess production of never opened comics subsequently drove down the scarcity of each copy.

There was a silver, or at least limited addition foil lining, to all this speculation.  Because so many of these books were never opened, the cover art didn't just have to sell the book, at times it was the only thing being sold.   So there was a high premium on the art and many of the artists who were just getting name recognition in the late eighties became the selling points for the books they worked on.   This in turn allowed for a group of them to break off and start Image Comics the first really profitable high-profile creator owned publisher.

I am not claiming Image didn't have a lot of its own problems.  Back then it wasn't really offering much that Marvel or DC hadn't already offered.  Sam Keith's Maxx being the exception that proved the rule.  As it has sort of become it own thing, it largely did so by allowing that some of the more derivative aspects to re-enter the corporately controlled intellectual property driven industry of mainstream comics. 

While this was going on Karen Berger at DC was poaching all this crazy writing talent from Great Britain and starting up the Vertigo imprint of DC.   I feel (this may just be auto-biographical), that the backlash against comics that were not for reading collided with Vertigo's track record of having books whose writers and not illustrators were the big selling point.

That was over a decade ago and I really don't have my hand any where near the pulse of main stream comics but I hope this had lead to some equilibrium.  I guess I can use that hope as transaction because the two reviews I am working on are writer/artist teams.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Bandes Dessinées 2

So, I wanted to do a quick survey of all the English translations of French Comics that I could get my hands on.  My first thought was to pick up some Richard Corben.  His work was all over France and I had seen plenty of his stuff here in the standard Bandes Dessinées album size.  Lately he  has been publishing a lot of stuff through Dark Horse that you can check it out here.    Thing is, I am embarrassed to have just discovered, Richard Corben is an American who has been working on comics in America for over 40 years.  I sort of became familiar with his work as a well established artist who was filling in on Hellboy.  Apparently his first really big break was in Metal Hurlant the French anthology founded by Mœbius that is the precursor to the trans-Atlantic Heavy Metal.  From what I gather Mœbius is the Akira Kurosawa of comic books.  So here are five books and four series that have found so far.

I picked up the first two albums of Massimiliano Frezzato's Keepers of the Maser Series.  He is Italian, of Heavy Metal fame, and his work was everywhere in France.  Unsurprisingly it is gorgeous.  English translations can be bought from Heavy Metal.  From my quick survey of these first two albums, the story is reminiscent of darker more sexual  Castle in the Sky or Nausiccaa.

The Hunting Party - Hardcover Album : The Hunting Party
I took a look at the first volume Enrico Marni's Gipsy.  From the 61 pages it seems to be a near future action romp.  It's fun genera fiction.  I didn't feel there was enough to make a judgement but there is a longer collection put out by Heavy Metal

The artist Enki Bilal, who is also a veteran of Metal Hurlgeant, is in fact a French citizen.  Pierre Christin and Enki Bilal's The Hunting Party is exactly what I feel is missing from the American comic book marcket.  It is a political thriller between Eastern Block political operatives set towards the end of the cold war.   It is published by Humanoids,  which has an impressive line up of Franco/Belgian comics.

I haven't found any Mœbius books yet.  The Metabarons: Path of the Warrior by Jodorowsky and Gimenez is a prequel to a a set of books called Incal by Jodorowsky and Mœbius.  Like Frezzato and Bilal's work, The Metabarons is painfully pretty.  This edition is strange. They reformatted it to fit the standard American comic book format.  This means there are next to no left or right margins but larger blank space at the top and bottom of the page.  It looks like this collection is the first one and a half albums that can be found here from Humanoids.

That is it for now.  I am going to go back to American creator-controled work for a while, but I will be back to the European scene shortly.  I also need to delve into some of Richard Corben's work.

Monday, July 9, 2012

David McKean & Neil Gaiman's Signal to Noise

David McKean & Neil Gaiman's Signal To Noise 

Signal To Noise follows the middle-aged film director as he discovers and deals with late stage cancer while working on a script about the 999AD apocalypse that wasn't.  The narrative shifts between him and the lives of the midevil villagers of his script he is writing for and audience of one.  Appropriately Signal To Noise is short on resolution.  The story does throw the reader into the division of between the intended and received work of of art.

Signal To Noise came out in the early nineties.  I came across it latter in decade back before I started smoking when I was still visiting comic book stores weekly.  I think of it as part of trilogy falling in between Violent Cases and The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch. At 48 to 96 pages, all three are relatively short for bound American collection but long for stapled comic books.  They are much closer to Bandes Dessinées format. 

The McKean's artwork in all three is unreal.  It is closer to mix media and collage work he did for covers for comic books and CDs.  But the simple but elegant line work he used in Cages occasionally peaks trough.  His color pallet creates a depth to the page without overwhelming the narrative flow.

I ended up putting this review off until the last minute I hope to come back to these three books.  I had planed to review another book from Top Shelf but couldn't get a hold of it.  I picked a copy of Signal to Noise one off my book case I think I lent Violent Cases out.  Dark Horse has released a a new edition that appears to have some interesting bonus material.  I hope to get a weak or two ahead over the next few days as a way taking my mind over the withdraw.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Andy Hirsch's Varmints

“A girl with a broken gun, and her overeager kid brother
pursue their dead beat pa, the criminal king of the west.”

There are two reasons why Andy Hirsch's Varmints is a must read: Varmints is a great companion to Eisner's Comics and Sequential Art, and is an all-ages accessible romp of a narrative. It is a western following Opie and Ned, young siblings on the hunt for their infamous father. So far each issue is a standalone tale as they travel from saloon to bandit-ravaged town to train headed for disaster.  They overcome obstacles through a combination of their native with, the incompetence of adults,  Ned's positive outlook, and Opie's worldly cynicism.

Hirsch makes  look unforced and almost invisible. For those of you who love the art form as much as I do, I want to point out 5 things that stand out in theses books. 

  1. Maintaining depth in black and white composition is tricky, yet in issue after issue, impressively crowded spacial relations are clearly defined between fore, middle and background and explored in panel and page as action seamlessly travels though surprising direction and angle.
  2. The motion--that is so important to this work--is made smoother by using action to action panel transitions. Liveliness is accentuated by the daring shifts of angle from panel to panel.
  3. The expressiveness of the work comes from the synchronization in Mr. Hirsch's art. His lines create a fully fleshed out world with highly stylized character illustrations, reminiscent of Jeff Smith's work. This contrast with work like Tin-tin or Cerebus, where you have very stylized characters in very realistic backgrounds. I'm think of chapter two of Understanding Comics. Worlds that Smith and Hirsch create feel like the worlds that those characters belong in, not the real world. The lines are simple and playful, nevertheless, the objects are really objects (not just images of objects). It is a style that works beautifully for an all-ages action comedy.
  4. I'm a fan of experimentation. Weird, innovative page layouts even if they get in the way of smooth narrative. Hirch is innovative, but without sacrificing story telling. It works so seamlessly that you may even miss it on the first read.
  5. Varmints is in dialogue with the history of the art form by reflecting and accentuating under appreciated aspects of the cannon. There are strong parallels to Will Eisner and Jack Cole. Another fun homage is callbacks to the house style of the early Mad comics in issue three.

Varmints is simply fun and heart warming.

Opie and Ned are easy for any reader, young or old, to cheer for and identify with. They have the basic dialectic personalities. Opie is a young girl who serious concern comes from having too grow up to quick. While Ned's unflappable optimism is neither out of ignorance nor pollyannaish chirpiness. The art style allows the characters to be hyper expressive and a “vacuum into which our identity and awareness (is) pulled (into)” as Scott McCloud puts it.

The book's tag-line points to an epic simplicity that it shares with Bone. I grew up with the Hobit and I always found Bilbo's memoir title the punch-line of the book. There and Back Again is all you need to know, but it is not all you want to know. Varmints premise is simple, it could be finished in a few more issues or become the backbone of a 1,317 page illustrate masterwork like Bone. The thing that makes it so accessible at this stage is that every issue stands solidly on its own and as piece of larger puzzle. 

This book is a great way to jump in and start supporting creator-owned work.  It is only a few dollars for a digital copy from the artist at his website. This is the a chance to get in and follow and support an amazing project at the start.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Guy Davis & Gary Reed's Honour Among Punks

Guy Davis & Gary Reed's Honour Among Punks:
The Complete Baker Street Graphic Novel

When I started this review I had 10 cigarettes left. I wrote with the jittery knowledge that I can't allow cigarette breaks. As I posted I have one left. I've been saving the review of this collection because Baker Street makes me ridiculously happy. I would have difficulty listing my top fifty favorite books let alone ranking them but Baker Street would easily be at the top of that list. 

The stories are set in a vaguely steampunk alternate London, allowing for the collision of something authentically Victorian in Conan Doyle with the punk ethics and aesthetics of the book's protagonists Sharon and Sam.  It is through the eyes of the Susan, an American medical student, that we are brought into the world of Sharon.  Quickly we learn that Sharon splits her time between the role of the great consulting detective by day and as keeper of the peace between the rival punk gangs at night,

The two runs of Baker Street where published and collected by Reed's company Caliber Comics.  Caliber merits a review of its own.  Caliber rode the late 80s black and white comic book explosions, publishing Brian Michael Bendis' Jinx and Goldfish, David Mack Kabuki and J O'Barr's The Crow

At the time Guy Davis was a self-taught illustrator in his early twenties.  One of the truly wonderful things about this collocation is that you can see his early development.  There is a notable shift from the first two issues of the Honour Among Punks storyline to the third issue.  In the third and fourth issues he  embraces the wild line work and intense compositions that have made him famous.  In the second storyline, Children Of The Night, his work is fully mature an as vibrant and proffesional as the work he has done for DC and Marvel.  
Davis is mostly working with Dark Horse these days.  His work with Mike Mignola on B.P.R.D. in the world of Hellboy has been amazing.  Dark Horse has all been publishing The Marquis which is shipping up to be Davis' magnum opus.  You can track his progress and some awesome Marquis fan art on his blog.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Sorry this is the second late post in a row. I have a very addictive personality. I realized that I am getting old and rapidly running out of time to quit smoking and still be able to say that I smoked for less than half of my life. I have been cutting my cigarette intake in half and am officially going to transfer to the patch just after the next post. Now that I am back from vacation I want to get back in the swing of regular posting.

The next post will be looking at one of my all time favorite comics and should be on time. That will be my sixth review. For my seventh, I think its time to review a book in color and should be publishing it on July 9th.

After that I will be returning to the European scene. There is a vast number of comics being produced all over Europe, and only a tiny fraction are translated into a English. I am looking forward to writing about the variety, larger and slightly wider format along with the focus on quality that is being produced across the Atlantic.

Obliviously the quitting smoking is important and I will have to figure out how to write without smoke breaks. But the really big news that by getting this monkey off my back means I will be able to afford make new comic book Wednesday a semi regular thing.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bandes Dessinées

Sorry this was late I was on vacation.
Did a lot more than comics in France, but ...
the comic scene is amazing.

This was the start of a street with over seven comic book storefronts less than half kilometer from out hotel in Paris.
Three of the stores belonged to a company called 'Album'

 Another two where exclusively selling English language comics.


 The eleventh store-front was closed.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Jeremy Bastian's Cursed Pirate Girl

Cursed Pirate Girl is an all-ages, fantastic, slightly creepy comic that follows the adventures of a dock urchin between the stratified world of colonial Caribbean society and the magical Omerta Seas in search of her father a pirate captain.

This review could be difficult for two reasons. On the one hand, much ink has already been spilled praising Jeremy Bastian for his truly magical creation that there is a question of what can be add. On the other hand, as wonderful as Cursed Pirate Girl is it does not neatly fit into the critical categories. Largely, I am as interested in what happens in the gutters (the space between panels) as the panels themselves.  Looking to see how the story is created through the creation of a narrative space filled with motion out of static two dimensional images.

The first thing that must be mentioned is that every page in Cursed Pirate Girl is so pretty it makes your eyes hurt. Mr. Bastian's panels pull a totality out of an expansive disordered much like Guy Davis only with a surgical precision of line. He also has a great sense of page as canvas.

His story is also truly remarkable. While clearly in the vein of the classic modern fable like Alice In Wonderland and Peter Pan, it threads a needle between homage and post-modernism. There are modern fairy tails that are clearly products of this century but have the traditional fairy tale atmosphere and tropes for example Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. Conversely there are post-modern fairy tales like Bill Willingham's Fables. Mr. Bastian's work is has the clear wonder of the classic fairy tale but is the product of post-modernism.

There are two terms that need to definition. Mimesis and diegesis can be summed up as the show and tell of art. In prose the straightforward narration works mostly as diegesis while dialogue and poetic and symbolic narration operates more as mimesis. While visual representation is by definition mimesis, It has an axis of diegesis. Blueprints or a photo of a church are more in the realm of diegesis than a Van Gogh painting of a church.

So as a work of prose and illustration, Cursed Pirate Girl is an undeniable success. But there is a third sense of mimesis in comics. Comics, as collections of static two dimensional images, have the unique ability to show space and motion without spelling them out. My first reaction to Cursed Pirate Girl was that it wasn't as successful as some the books I have discussed here. At times the panel and scene transitions seem choppy.  Bastian's establishing panels can be so epic and detailed that the information they convey about spatial relations of individual characters can get lost in his mastery of detail. He also pulls off these amazing page layouts that tie all of the individual panels into a grand composition. At first glance there seems to be a jump over the gutter.

On further reflection two things have occurred to me. One is the lasting effects of John Tenniel's illustrators in Alice In Wonderland. The other is the narrative timing in the work of Edward St. John Gorey.

In the interplay between words and images there is a duration to powerful images that continues after the page is turned. A good example of this is how John Tenniel's images are so iconic that dwell and shape the text. Mr. Bastian bolder compositions don't overshadow the narrative they set the tone. Their grand weirdness lingers through his more traditional pages.

Mimesis and diegesis Edward Gorey work is strange. Specifically how Gorey would use the discontent between words and illustration to create a kind of motion through the double take. The text would tell one thing, the image would show you something slightly different, that would in turn cause you to reevaluate a double meaning in the text. What I will call the “Gorey effect” is how a single panel can show (as apposed to tell) motion and causation backwards by the readers unpacking of the relation between the images and text. It is the kind of eureka moment that you get from dealing on the massive amount of information contained in the pages of Cursed Pirate Girl.

In closing you should pick this book up. It remains rewarding read after read. You won't find a lot of Eisner/Kirby showy cuts on action or McKean/Mack collage as narrative space. Rather Mr. Bastian uses his penn like a scalpel and carvers the gutters into your frontal cortex.

You can follow Jeremy Bastian's blog here and should be able be able to buy or pre-order it form its new publisher Archaia.

His listed upcoming appearances are...

July 11th-15th- San Diego Comic Con San Diego, CA.
Sept. 8th-9th- Baltimore Comic-Con Baltimore, MD.
Oct. 26th-28th Detroit Fanfare Dearborn, MI. 
Nov. 17th and 18th- NC Comicon Durham, NC. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

David McKean's Cages

Cages centers on a apartment populated with a jazz musician, a novelist and a painter. In orbit of the building is a cat, a cray man, a homeless man and a Demiurge. The ten issue arch is both tribute and performance of the trials and rewards of the creative process.

Cages, like McCloud's Understanding Comics and Moore/Campbell's From Hell, is alumni Tundra Publishing. It shares in, and is partly responsible for, the mystique of excellence around that short lived publishing house. Cages is still a contender for being the high watermark of art house comics even after being in print for almost a generation. While it isn't a breeze read I found it flowed pretty smoothly once I committed to sitting down and giving it my full attention. It can be challenging but it never sacrifices the simple joy of storytelling for its well deserved reputation as a avant-garde comic book narrative.

McCloud lays out his theory of the 'four tribes' in the third essay of chapter six of Making Comics.  Here is a short article from The Guardian on the subject. I want to focus on the relationship between Animists and Formalists which from the less subjective of his two sets of opposed artistic preference among the comic book community. Jeff Smith and (early) Jack Kirby are excellent examples of Animist. Their mastery of form and style intentionally and seamlessly obscures itself in their devotion to story and content. McCloud singles out Cages as the perfect example of the junction between the Formalist and Classicist tribes.

The juxtaposition between the preferences of the Animists that use the techniques of comic book composition to tell a story by concealing those techniques and what McKean offers us is telling. Mckean shows off his skills in his composition and editorial decisions. He weds the artistic showiness of his form to content as his story pulls the reader deeper and deeper into the drama of the creative lives of characters.

Cages has been in and out of print and shifted publishers 4 times. Currently Dark Horse is keeping it in print and has a well-priced paper back edition. His web-site isn't live yet, but its going to be gorgeous.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Alex Robinson's Tricked

From the first chapter, reoccurring themes of small scams and funny retail math set the stage for the larger deceptions. Tricked follows the lives and loves of six seemingly unconnected characters whose paths occasionally cross as they move toward a final convergence. Each character is actively holding something back that must be resolved either by coming to terms with it or with crisis. The Little Piggy Diner and the its owners round out the cast and provides a reoccurring location.

What makes Robinson's body of work so relevant is in his non-heroic, non-autobiographical long work he has given us some incredibly dynamic characters. All likeable even while unapologetic, petty and flawed. While deceptions and revelations shift our sympathies towards the characters, it is our empathy that turns the page. (I was barely able to closes this 349 page book. I also finished Robinson's Box of Poison's 608pgs in a long weekend and To Cool to Be Forgotten's 128pgs in a sitting.)

I love Box Office Poison, but it is almost his juvenilia. In Tricked, the wild experimentation with page layouts that show his love for Dave Sim has settled down. It is more the case that Tricked 's symmetry of form and content has unified into a narrative fatit-accompli. Matt Kindt gorgeously playful rap-around cover for the second edition highlights the interconnected totality of the book.

In Robinsion's speech at Staple! 2011, he claimed that he was a better writer than an illustrator. On the face of this claim it is him talking down his cartooning, but I would argue that it highlights one his strengthens as a cartoonist. As a writer he is very good about allowing his character drawings to hold most of the diegesis of the internal states of his characters. The lines of his faces, body posture and even the externalization of internal body image creates an expansive dimensionality to his characters. If he had attempted to convey this content in prose it would quickly become ponderous and preachy. As it is, the character contradictions are conveyed atmospherically. The accomplishment has relevant teachings in the larger world of the narrative arts as one of the defining separations between high and low art.

There is an open question of whether he has a profound admiration for or is disgusted by humanity. Tricked can be read as love for the human condition (warts and all) or as condemnation of human as all too human. Either was the trick of the book, and Robinsion's work in general is sincerely guileless and a beautiful read.

You can click to Mr Robinson web-site.  If you don't have a hip local comic book store you should buy his books from his Top Shelf page because Chris "rock-"Staros and the gang at Top Shelf deserve your love too. The Top Shelf page is also a great resources.  If your trying to squeeze every nickel out of your dimes you might consider by a digital copy from Top Shelf or the comiXology smart phone app.