Everyone branches out.


This week’s column.

Yeah. This one warrants a certain measure of explanation.

You see, there was basically no way I could not write something on the big Tokyopop contract debate, since it’s far and away the most interesting thing to emerge into the wider comics spotlight this week, and my immediate instinct was to do something lively and funny on the topic. Naturally, this meant transforming the situation into a hot-blooded youth drama set in outer space (helpful column tip: when in allegorical doubt, either roll out the talking forest creatures or move everything off-planet). So I got to digging up information and argument from a bunch of sites and stuff, just to add an element of authenticity to the knee-slapping laffs.

And the result is probably the most somber thing I’ve ever done in this column.

Set in goddamned space, of course.

But I couldn’t help it; the piece just took control of me. The gravity of the situation seized me and held me down, and while there’s still jokes, the whole affair really turned into something totally different. Ironically enough, it superficially (very superficially) resembles some of the ‘uncertain youth’ space warfare anime I happen to like. It’s kind of an impressionistic thing; the narrator isn’t based on anyone in particular (including myself), and it’s dotted with concerns that I find to be inherent to the situation, if not always stated (generational conflict, savior tendencies, a parting with the past). It’s also a bit more open to interpretation than usual, I notice.

So yeah - in summary, this week’s column is a semi-serious look at Tokyopop contracts in outer fucking space. Enjoy!(?)

Doomed #1

Look at that! An honest-to-god horror comics magazine, just in time for Halloween! It’s from IDW, though it’s presented in typical magazine size and format, glossy cover with b&w newsprint guts, 72 pages. Given the usual price of magazines, the $6.99 tag actually isn’t that bad, though the fact (by its own inside back cover admission) that this allegedly bi-monthly publication isn’t returning for issue #2 until 2006 is maybe a slight initial scratch in the negative column. But still, it’s an attractive thing; I wouldn’t mind seeing it peer out at me from a chain bookstore’s magazine rack.

Edited by Chris Ryall (also Publisher/Editor-In-Chief of IDW as a whole), the magazine mostly consists of comics-format conversions of assorted horror prose shorts. Ryall himself handles three out of four sequential adaptations, hammering down work by genre heavyweight Richard Matheson (Blood Son), Psycho author Robert Bloch (The Final Performance), and ‘splatterpunk’ godhead David J. Schow (Blood Rape of the Lust Ghouls), who also serves as the issue’s feature interview subject. F. Paul Wilson (a comics veteran and author of assorted horror shorts and novels) adapts the fourth short, his own Cuts.

There’s also a very short framing sequence, one page on either end, with the obligatory horror host, a one-eyed femme fatale named Ms. Doomed, who castigates the publication’s readership at length for their failures as men (and yes, the reader is explicitly presumed to be a male) and their loathsome, grasping, pathetic lives. It's kind of annoying, even condescending, no matter how firmly its tongue is planted in its cheek. No writer is credited for the material, but the visuals are from the familiar Ashley Wood, also Art Director of the whole enterprise.

Wood also handles the art on the Matheson story, a witty, creepy piece about an odd boy who decides to devote his life to becoming a vampire. I was instantly reminded of how much I like Wood’s art (largely absent from the last few issues of the soon-to-revive Lore, and I can’t say I’ve been willing to follow him onto that dozen-plus issues worth of Metal Gear Solid comics), and here he sports a wonderfully simplified look, character faces kept down to a few precise strokes, mere dots and dashes for eyes, save for the protagonist’s inky orbs. It’s still finely atmospheric work, and quite perfectly clear in its storytelling; Wood has come a long way from his days of fevered, smeary obscurity, and he’s now right on top of a flexible, always unmistakably personal style. I can’t even recall when he broke through to me, but he’s certainly there now as one of my current favorites. Matheson’s oddly charming plot only helps matters.

There’s a little twist ending to it, as there is to all the stories here, though not all of them achieve the same level of success, and none of them match that first story’s blend of creeping, oozing whimsy. But Bloch’s story is at least prime pulp horror, with a man entering a strange town and a strange diner, befriending a mysterious waitress and meeting her odd male companion. It’s fairly by-the-numbers in its build, though Kristian Donaldson (of Image’s Forsaken) provides decent enough art, and it’s got a certain vintage sleaze tang to it, the final twist only predictable when it needs to be for the sake of its impact. Contrast that to Schow’s story, a self-referential grindhouse-dwelling thing in which you can pretty much puzzle out the resolution less than halfway through. Great, lurid visuals from Eduardo Barretto (currently of several DC comics), adopting a more solidified, classical horror comics poise. And don’t let me detract from Ryall’s own talents as an adaptor; none of these stories ever feel too verbose, and all of them flow with remarkable smoothness.

As does Wilson’s story, with jagged, comedic art from Ted McKeever, a good little voodoo number set in mean old Hollywood. Not much to say beyond it being diverting entertainment, and good looking, which pretty much extends to the publication as a whole. The interview with Schow (despite his story being the least of the offerings), conducted by Joshua Jabcuga, is engaging and entertaining, if strictly positioned as an introductory-level overview, acclimating the reader to the basics of Schow’s career trajectory and work style while letting the author drip anecdotes at length. Even the back-end advertisements are cleverly constructed to tie in other IDW wares to material scattered throughout the publication; it’s simple attention to detail, but something more companies could pay mind to.

All in all, good entertainment for your money. I’ll be looking for the next issue, and maybe hoping to catch a glimpse of the loud, slightly goofy title font peeping out from behind the assorted copies of Psychotronic and Fangoria. We need more of it in this season.