Hooray for Halloween!

*What? Of course it’s still Halloween. Just look at the date on top of the page. Anyway, since it’s Halloween, I thought I’d do something really appropriate, something that’d totally fit the way in which we celebrate holidays.

In other words, I’m going to review a book tangentially related to Christmas.

Chickenhare: The House of Klaus

This is a 160-page, b&w book from writer/artist Chris Grine, published by Dark Horse. It’s $9.95, and has been out for a few weeks now.

It’s one of those comics that naturally attracts the label ‘all ages,’ though truth be told it’s probably best enjoyed by younger readers; like a number of recent(ish) books featuring the antics of anthropomorphic animal thingies, Chickenhare seems to adopt the flavor and approach of an extended episode of a kids’ cartoon show. Indeed, given the in medias res setup of the book (even if you’ve read the extended online prologue), it feels like an episode from the middle of the show’s run, albeit one that serves to introduce new characters. It naturally concludes with a little mystery, a little hook for showing up for future editions.

The book follows an adventure of Chickenhare, who is half chicken, half hare, all cocksure heroic lead, and his bearded turtle friend Abe, who’s also snarky, but a bit more reserved. They’ve been captured and whisked away to some polar region, where they’re going to be sold to a mad taxidermist named Klaus. Along the way our heroes team up with an arrogant, semi-antagonistic Krampus, a female character that isn’t given much to do, a tribe of beasties collectively called the Shromph, and a dead goat in a top hat an monocle named Mr. Buttons (who, truth be told, is also female, though few characters in the story figure it out). There’s assorted escapes and quick scrapes, a bunch of sarcastic lines of dialogue, and a few winning jokes about devouring human flesh.

Grine has an attractively cute visual style, reminiscent in various ways of obvious forebears like Stan Sakai and Jeff Smith, though his story doesn’t manage nearly as broad a range of appeal; this is very simple, straightforward plotting, every beat clearly telegraphed and every event dutifully set up, the characters as open and obvious about their personalities and intents as possible, so as for minimal complexity. There’s little-to-no kids’ production moralizing (beyond the most basic ‘friends stick together!’), granted, but it’s a frothy, ultra-light book, the events of which seem to have already passed through you by the time you find a space for it on the bookshelf afterward. Still, I’ll cop to enjoying an extended bit with Chickenhead dragging a goat corpse around the tundra and conversing with the beast’s soul; that seems almost like Jodorowsky as transitioned to a kids’ book, and it’s intermittently fascinating to see such odd material folded into so friendly and mild a work.

Here’s the website, if you want to learn more.


I can't help posting about candy.

*A weird compulsion.


Mineshaft #18 (nice new edition of this underground comics-infused publication)

The Mother's Mouth (graphic novel from Dash Shaw; some very interesting use of page-by-page visual contrasts and clashing narrative approaches)

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #9, Planetary #26 (also featuring a preliminary non-review of Seven Soldiers #1)

Action Figure #1 (adorned autobio comics from Baboon Books)

Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall (the fans'll like it, provided they're already fans...)

*Drama Dept:

Jog! Jog!!

Yes, gentle reader?

It’s the most awful emergency! I’m to inherit a considerable sum of money from my considerably deceased grandfather, but I have to spend a million dollars in one day to get it!

Holy shit, reader. That is something!

So what’s the very best manner you can think of in which to spend, say, eleven and a half or so bucks? I've got to get the pipes flowing.”

Hmm… why not pick up a copy of Frank Santoro’s excellent Storeyville (yes, I spelled it right)? You may be familiar with Santoro’s more recent works with PictureBox: Chimera, Incanto, and Cold Heat (with Ben Jones). This was his 1995 debut, a huge 11” x 16” tabloid newspaper comic, 40 dense pages of images and colors (the latter by Kate Glicksberg) mixing beautifully to tell the early 20th century story of a young bum on a journey to find the only man who ever loaned him direction in life. Derik Badman reviewed it here, if you want more info. It’s fine work, enough to make you sad that Santoro vanished from comics for a solid decade thereafter, and happy that he’s back and working the art form once more. You’ll want to get one quick if it sounds interesting; decade-old newspaper-printed comics don’t age well, and once this stock is gone you’ll have a hell of a time finding another source.”

Wow! You pronounced all those parentheses perfectly!


*Yesterday was a day of triumph. There I was at the store, calculating how many weeks of shunning I’d be in for if I restricted my participation in the office’s Halloween candy exchange to three peanut butter Hershey’s kisses rather than four, when something special came into view. Something tough and new, something revelatory.

Snickers Xtreme.

Wow,” I thought, dropping everything I had, including the eggs and my cousin’s baby, “How the hell might Snickers transfigure itself into something… Xtreme?!

I bought the bleeding hell out of that candy bar, friends; I ate it into submission. But it wasn’t enough for me. No no. I had to understand Snickers Xtreme. Foolishly, impossibly, it had somehow let its secrets get printed, right on the wrapper.

The key? No nougat.

Really - they just got rid of the nougat, and added more peanuts.

Thus, as logic and science can definitively discern, nougat is a clear impediment to the Xtreme. Indeed, it may well be the anti-Xtreme.

So in conclusion:

Fuck you, 3 Musketeers eaters.

Yeah, I meant that. Go crawl back to your corporate suburban comfy chair lite FM jobs and sip some chamomile tea out of the taxes of America and saunter home into your diapers and snuggle into the crib of conformity, suckling on your fluffy nougat bars and mewling into teddy’s cheek - the rest of us will be out snowboarding atop the flames of hell, wearing helmets, yes, but helmets made of incurable diseases, because that’s how tough we are with our peanut candy. Pray we never meet the Payday eaters, for that may end us all.

*If you didn’t find a copy of Seven Soldiers #1 last week, it ought to be stumbling into the store this week, smelling faintly of gin and great times. I sure hope I’ll have that review up sometime this weekend. So…


(also note that Diamond didn’t get their list out yet this week, so I’m triangulating this from assorted stores’ lists - all of it should be arriving)

The Mourning Star: I really don’t know anything about this book except that it’s from writer/artist Kazimir Strzepek, published by Bodega Distribution, and got some really excellent buzz at SPX this year. Now it’s in comics shops, though you can view it and a bunch of other books at Bodega’s online shop as well.

Daybreak: I think Wednesday might actually be Bodega in the Direct Market Day, since we’re also getting the new one from Fort Thunder alum Brian Ralph, the man who puts to rest the popular myth that everything out of the Fort was ferocious scribbling and looming outlays of brut. Tom Spurgeon had some nice coverage of this one, including scads of art.

A Last Cry for Help: And completing the day’s Bodega trilogy, we have this fresh collection from Dave Kiersh purveyor of young romantic agony. Preview here.

Tales Designed to Thrizzle #3: Meanwhile, Fantagraphics presents the new Michael Kupperman experience. It is funny.

The Complete Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy Vol. 1: 1931-1933: New from IDW, a project to compile the early years of the famous newspaper strip, dailies and Sundays in one tome. The book design may look a wee bit familiar to those who’ve kept up on their vintage strips, but hey - why mess with success?

Local #7 (of 12): Youth rampage from Brian Wood & Ryan Kelly, as we learn about protagonist Megan’s troubled younger half-brother.

Ghost in the Shell 1.5: Human-Error Processor #1 (of 8): Holy shit!! It’s a new (in English) high-profile manga series being released in pamphlet format before hitting bookshelves! In 2006! That’s a handy indication of just how much Dark Horse believes writer/artist Masamune Shirow is ingrained in the minds of the Direct Market; he, and perhaps only he can kick off a fresh new series with high enough floppy numbers to add that extra boost to the inevitable compendium. The pamphlets will apparently be in right-to-left format, though, just as a little gift to the other side of the market, though I‘m not entirely sure how much appeal Shirow even has to the contemporary manga devotee; certainly the assorted GitS anime continue to do well enough. In case you’re wondering what this is, it’s actually a set of four somewhat self-contained stories that used to be part of Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface during its extended 1991-96 serialization in Japan, and wound up getting sliced out when Shirow released the collected edition, which he also redid a good portion of the extant art for - that’s why the book drifts in and out of pen & ink and CGI in its current form. I didn’t care much for the computer graphics, so luckily this stuff is all in the classic ‘color openings, b&w majority’ Shirow style, and serves to follow up on what Section 9 has been up to during the largely inscrutable goings-on of GitS2. Nobody makes ‘em like Shirow, as the preview indicates (footnote!), and take whatever you want from that.

Eden: It’s an Endless World! Vol. 5: There’s other bits of sci-fi coming from Dark Horse too, in the contemporary format. I’ve really fallen behind on this.

Apocalypse Nerd #4 (of 6): Also from Dark Horse, the new installment of this Peter Bagge miniseries. With Founding Fathers Funnies, of course.

Love Roma Vol. 4: Also in manga, the latest volume of this cute lil’ thing from Minoru Toyoda.

Midnighter #1: The new ongoing series from writer Garth Ennis and artists Chris Sprouse & Karl Story, concerning the exploits of that one fellow who hits things. Hey, we didn’t see him in The Authority’s relaunch, right? Ennis is sure to take a far more direct approach.

Superman Confidential #1: Obviously what the world really needs right now is Superman’s very own Legends of the Dark Knight, so we’ve all been gifted with this new ongoing series. The initial six-issue arc is by writer Darwyn Cooke and artist Tim Sale, providing the debut hook.

American Splendor #3 (of 4): A slew of artists tackle no less than eight quick shorts this issue; contributors include Dean Haspiel, Rick Geary, Steve Vance, Hunt Emerson, Josh Neufeld, Zachary Baldus, Ty Templeton, and Gary Dumm.

52 #26 (of 52): Hey, it’s the halfway point at the end if this issue. Maybe Batwoman will uncork the champagne and explain to us what she’s been up to in the last few months in celebration of the book’s financial success - almost every issue through #21 has sat above the 100,000 copy mark. Over two million served! This issue also has Joe Bennett on the origin of Hawkman.

Criminal #2: More crime, obviously.

Vault of Michael Allred #2 (of 4): Already? Nice - maybe we’ll be getting regular blasts of voluminous scrapbook information from the Allred archives. Get out your bifocals and prepare for some dense reading.


What a morning already!

*Magazines I Stole This Shtick From Dept: Looking through the November 2006 issue of Mad Magazine, I'm struck by how much it's changed since I was a kid. It's been said that the best era for Mad has always been 'when you were 12,' and I can believe it; back then, Mad had some real authority as one of the 'bad' magazined my mother didn't want me reading. It was all grotty b&w with the icy-looking typeset lettering appearing over everyone's heads. It felt like it made your hands dirty, literally, and that seemed all too apt.

Mad is different now. It's published by DC, for one. It's full-color. There's ads, which always gets to me; I'll be looking at a center double-page splash of native warriors fighting in promotion of Age of Empires III, and I'll wonder for a second what the joke is supposed to be. Nothing's more telling then turning to the inside-back cover and seeing Al Jaffee's familiar fold-in, then flipping over the the back cover and seeing an ad for the all-new 2007 Dodge Caliber, also styled like a fold-in, also drawn by Al Jaffee. Funny old world.

Still, Mad has gotten interestingly heavy on things like strips; there's several sections (The Strip Club, The Fundalini Pages) devoted to quick gags and random bits of comedy by a variety of artists, and there's a goodly number of contributions by alternative comics veterans; I know Peter Kuper has been doing Spy vs. Spy for years now, but there's also meaty sections featuring Peter Bagge and Ted Rall, and Johnny Ryan shows up in the letters pages (having been identified as a contributer himself). It's also nice to see artists like Tom Bunk still around, and obviously there's Sergio Aragones, so at times the magazine is also still a familiar-feeling one to me in multiple ways, glossy as it might be.

The jokes? Ah, it's Mad, you know? It skews young, gags about teachers and parents and the like; it probably always has for the last decade-plus at least, though obviously it never seemed that way when I was young. Perspective. There's always a few pleasures, and it's impressive that the general tone remains largely the same despite significant format changes and the need to give away dvd copies of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift in the letters section without accompanying jokes. Still sticks out to me, though...


Stories About Tales, Tales About Stories

Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall

Something scratchy in my brain indicates that Vertigo won’t be all that annoyed if the wider pool of comics readers develops a psychological connection between Fables and The Sandman. I mean Christ, why not? Neil Gaiman’s enduring megahit loaned the Vertigo line an awful lot of identity, and sweet, sweet lucre continues to flow from both the core series (now in Absolute form) and its myriad spin-offs (Lucifer in particular just wrapped after 75 issues of its own). So who even really needs a literal connection to the Gaiman-struck mythos? Why not a separate book, an unattached book that could nonetheless nourish itself off thematic and aesthetic association?

That’s how it’s gone with the Bill Willingham-created Fables, at least to my mind, and that’s how it continues here. Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall probably could not seem any more inspired by the latter-day Sandman hardcover special The Sandman: Endless Nights, an original collection of new stories written by Gaiman with an eye toward both tantalizing new readers and pleasuring the old, visuals provided by a slew of highly capable talents. It did well in stores, and thus we have the Fables version, which is somewhat smaller in dimension, roughly five bucks less expensive (at $19.99), and in possession of a framing story that seeks to push the whole project a little bit closer to a ‘graphic novel’ then the Sandman book got, but let’s not fool ourselves as to the reminisces that Vertigo so plainly wants us to experience.

It’s all a bit unfortunate then, as sound as the market sense behind the project might be; at least in terms of this comparison, Fables is no Sandman, as 1001 Nights of Snowfall is no Endless Nights. And even if the making of that comparison wasn’t a foregone conclusion through Vertigo’s positioning of the book, I still couldn’t recommend it with much vigor to any but a few select groups of readers. This book simply errs too much on the side of servicing devoted readers, resulting in an often abridged, incomplete feel for its included stories; that’s fine for the hardcore, but I can’t imagine it tantalizing many beyond that number, especially those piqued by Sandman comparisons.

The story of Fables concerns a batch of familiar folk tale/fairy story characters, who’ve been run out of their homeland by a shadowy, malevolent entity called the Adversary and the expected hordes of atrocious goblins. The framing sequence of this particular tome involves Snow White, a driven, cunning woman who travels to the still-unmolested land of Arabian story characters in order to strike up an alliance with the local Sultan and possibly drive the Adversary out of the exiles’ territory. Unfortunately the Sultan is a diehard misogynist, having witnessed or experienced one too many personal infidelities at the hands of the fairer sex (and fortuitously ordered their heads lopped off before he could surmise any fault of his or any other man’s own in the various affairs), and now accepts women only for marriage, sex, and immediate execution, all in the space of one night, for every night. Snow isn’t about to accept this situation, so she distracts the Sultan with tales of her lost homeland. You know the drill, right?

This sequence occasionally recurs throughout the book; it’s illustrated prose, and lovely illustrations they are, by Charles Vess & Michael Wm. Kaluta. Certainly the narrative conceit of ‘telling tales’ is appropriate for something like Fables, and certainly most of said tales (all of which are told in full comics form) have technically fine art. And yet, one of the book’s problems is swiftly illustrated by merely a flip, since nearly all of these stories employ the same visual tact: lavish, painterly, eminently handsome and gently stylized high fantasy-style art, appropriate for storybooks or illustrated plates in contemporary epics. And it frankly begins to blend together after a while.

Nowhere is this more evident then with James Jean’s contribution; nobody can deny the intense acclaim he’s gathered as cover artist for the series, but seeing his visuals grace this book’s interiors in a completely straightforward (albeit strikingly hued) fashion merely throws into sharp relief how much of his impact depends on his skills as a playful designer. There’s remarkably little room for play outside the storybook/high fantasy illustrative style seen in nearly every piece here, and as such Jean’s work seems inert by virtue of sitting around so many other accomplished examples of the same straightforward drive. Not to denigrate the skills of Mark Buckingham, Mark Wheatley, and Jill Thompson, but they’re all so intend on pursuing the same burnished aesthetic that some of their pages become nearly indistinguishable. It becomes a relief when Tara McPherson shows up for some much-needed wryness and pep (her character work is excellent), or Brian Bolland turns in two pages of vivid pen & ink and sparkling pop color.

Which introduces another, more primal problem with the book: some of these stories are quite short, others are quite long, and few of them add up to much of anything on their own merits, or even the merits of the book as a whole. By way of example, one tale involves Snow White’s married life to Prince Charming. She asks him for fencing lessons as her wedding gift. Meanwhile, we learn that assorted personages from the kingdom of underground dwarfs have made their way to the surface and are engaging in acts of wanton rape and murder, unchallenged by the aboveground authorities out of concern for the kingdom’s political dependency on good relations with the dwarves. Soon, aboveground dwarves are found stabbed to death. Who done it?!

I really don’t think I need to go any further, and I’m not convinced that writer Willingham even intended any of this to be a mystery, so I’m at a loss as to why the story trudges on for 32 long pages, detailing the politics of men and dwarves and concluding by not ascribing any particular motive to the killer save for some possible incident in the past which we’re not privy to. Maybe it’s somewhere in the ongoing Fables series? Maybe it’ll be revealed later in the series? Regardless, it’s not satisfying here, and it’s not the only one.

The above mentioned Jean-illustrated tale involves the famous frog prince, kissed into humanity. He has such a funny way of becoming a frog again when he gets nervous! Then one day the hordes of the Adversary show up and murder his young children and rape his wife and daughter in front of him as he regresses to a lowly frog. The experience drives him insane. The end. Eight pages.

Sometimes, like in the McPherson story, there’s simply no ending at all; an adventure of Snow and sister Rose in which they team up with the old witch of Hansel & Gretel (who’s seemingly every old witch, in the way that recurring character Bigby Wolf is every big bad wolf), and even encounter a story-within-a-story, concludes with a one-page summary of important-sounding events that presumably happened in the ongoing series. And maybe the lives and losses of these and other characters would seem more affecting with the familiarity an ongoing series can bring, but this book only gives off the impression of being given an extensive preview of stories that the teller doesn’t want to part with prior to an additional payment by the listener.

There are some good bits: Bigby Wolf gets a nice, coherent origin story of sorts, and there’s some occasionally funny gags (Derek Kirk Kim has a solid three pages to that effect). However, this is mainly dark, downbeat material; I presume you’ve picked up on the running motif of sexual violence and exploitation (not without some precedent in the original tales themselves, mind you), and the constant theme of homelessness and ruin. This also does not mix well with the tales’ abridged-seeming nature, as some segments emerge as mere shock shows, emblematic of the grimy darkening of preexisting material that I believe I recall Vertigo trafficking in at an earlier time in superhero properties, grimness without a lot of purpose or message.

I presume they fill it out in the seven trades, eh? Available now for sale!

This is a handsomely produced book, yes, and the level of technical accomplishment is generally high. But I cannot recommend it for anyone beyond those ravenous for fantasy art or Fables devotees - and the latter group has probably already bought it. It's how these stories often end.


I am also a figure of action, in that I can't be moved without the aid of others.

Action Figure #1

I remember this one being announced a while ago - it was previewed in publisher Baboon Books’ Free Comic Book Day 2004 sampler A Bunch of Baboons. The company’s been around for close to a decade, actually; I recall someone at one of the shops that I frequented back when I lived farther up north showing me a copy of Baboon’s Petey (by Jeff Kilpatrick), so the name of the place has kind of stuck in my head.

Action Figure is a new series by Baboon founder Richard Marzelak, a longtime veteran of the toy and greeting card industry; he worked at Hasbro on the initial Americanization of the new Transformers line of toys, and later moved on to Hallmark. He’s also created some comics, like the two-issue late ‘90s series Bastard Tales. Action Figure is a bit more germane to the past, though; it’s a semi-autobiographical account of moments from the writer/artist’s life in the toy and card industries. Its milieu affords it some unique appeal, and it’s got a few nice flourishes of outright fantasy, but a healthy appreciation for wordy, low-key workplace comedy will be required.

It’s hard for me to not get reeled in by a comic that opens with a prologue that looks for all the world like a visual homage to Dave Berg of Mad Magazine fame, and that’s just what Marzelak seems to be doing in this issue - there’s something about the mannered postures of the characters and the drained shading and the typeset dialogue that coalesces to give off the feeling. The sequence actually details the events of an estate sale, in which all of Marzelak’s worldly possessions are snapped up by buyers following his death . A young couple discovers his journals, which proceed to reveal the actual comic to us. And it’s at times an ingratiating comic, executed in black, white, and red, though the lattermost is only deployed for the intrusion of fantasy on the everyday world. An early dream of flying is thus kissed entirely by red, and there’s a certain vigor to the art that brings to mind some of Rick Veitch’s sequences from Rare Bit Fiends.

But mostly the comic is thinly fictionalized workplace autobiography, in which young Marzelak toils at “Hasmark,” chats with friends, encounters annoyances, pines for both pretty women and fine assignments (like that new transforming robots line that’s coming in from Japan), and generally introduces us to his world. I tended to like the story better when Marzelak dialed down the amount of dialogue (there’s quite a bit of it, though Marzelak is skilled enough a designer that his pages never look terribly cluttered with words) and let his sleepy fantasies drift into his life; there’s a striking panel where Our Hero looking up from his drawing board, having just envisioned the characters he’s drafted going to war with swords and teeth, and all that’s left of his dream are red fantasy bloodstains on his shirt and desk.

Otherwise, there’s a lot of character introduction, joking about annoying bosses and coworkers, and other workplace comedy staples. Marzelak’s character art conveys the requisite feelings of angst and distraction decently, with a particular fondness for exaggerated facial expressions that will amuse some and annoy others (I think it works well, given the book’s tone - samples are here). I think what emerges primarily from all this day-in-the-life employment focus is the notion that working in an office devoted to toys and greeting cards in an artistic capacity isn’t all that different from many other offices, though I think it would be more useful to hit on the unique properties of such a workplace in future issues, as one would expect a fair amount of the interest would come from the particular time period and setting.

Fair enough material; you can order it (along with other titles) from Baboon Books’ online store.


What time allows.

*Cobalt 60 is going to be a movie? From the guy who just made 300? Well, let's hope for visuals apeshit enough to match the feeling of Vaughn & Mark Bode's art, since that was always the whole appeal for me.

I'm also eagerly awaiting the cries of "Th... they're just ripping off Wizards!!"

*52 Dept: This book has been good lately. I particularly loved the Jack T. Chick-worthy invasion of Halloween by demonic villain, who's swiftly beaten back by the decidedly non Judeo-Christian "Black Marvel Family," though the seasonal 'spooooky story of deals with the devil' told to Ralph "Must Have Dropped the Backpack Into the Lava" Dibny. Amusingly, Klarion's cameo in the story (not to mention his bit part at the end of Infinite Crisis) fits in nicely with his new achievements at the end of Seven Soldiers, though at some point in the next few months one of his shiniest toys winds up in the pages of Brad Meltzer's Justice League of America.

And speaking of Seven Soldiers - you'd almost think the whole thing was planned out, what with the references Dark Side/Darkseid, who's apparently gotten out of the entertainment business to explore the new market of religion. I love how Intergang's religion of crime actually has relics to pass around from member to prominent member - why, it even gets touched to someone's forehead, just like at Mass! As usual with 52, strange notions and weird sights get mixed with extreme violence ("Those are your brains trickling onto the carpet, smart guy."), just as political/religious maneuvering come courtesy of a crime boss cannibal and a mammoth talking egg with robot spider legs, or two men walk along the beach discussing mental health and the dampering of creativity by medication while a giant metal crab tromps around carrying away a submarine in the background.

Also, as Douglas Wolk pointed out - Jimmy Corrigan reference. And I don't mean the old Spectre.


This is an internet post.

*This is a preliminary review, pending a bigger one in a few(?) days.

Seven Soldiers #1

I guess only 2/3 of the US got this today.

It’s 40 pages of story, two more than Seven Soldiers #0. Missed the symmetry by that much. Fitting.

The revelation of the traitor and the traitorous activities that follow are the funniest bits of the issue - and there’s plenty of funny bits. You sure can’t accuse Morrison of taking himself too seriously. I mean, just look at Gloriana at the end.

I’m pretty stunned that so much stuff got crammed into a fairly small space. Some things are directly explained. Some things are left implied. Some things might require a tour through the prior 29 comics.

Oh, and the book is 100% incomprehensible for those who haven’t read the rest of the megaproject, but I’m sure you expected that.

Emotional beats are hidden in games you can play along with. Various storytelling styles are adopted. Visual approaches shift on the fly. What is this, Acme Novelty Library?!

Note the pin on that guy’s tie.

The finale to Guardian’s arc is so cheesy and awesome it actually hurts.

J.H. Williams III draws pretty good.

I come with GOD-SIGHT now.”

Cute final page.

*This is a full-length review.

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #9

This issue, the spirit of Not Brand Echh is duly evoked as writer Warren Ellis presents his dark, brooding revamp of Forbush Man, leading a gigantic squad of unfortunate parodic superheroes into battle with the also not-terribly-serious Nextwave. There’s a reference in the credits to the book insulting its readers, and a lot of this issue feels like Ellis working to fit his approach on the title into a certain Marvel tradition of tomfoolery. The last page gave me a solid horselaugh, but I’d have probably cackled harder at the many ‘poorly conceived superheroes’ gags if 52 hadn’t unfortunately done the same thing last week. I entirely doubt any of that was planned.

And there is really very little more to say.

*This is not a review of a final issue.

Planetary #26


There’s still another issue of this due out early next year, but this one’s been hyped to us as the ending to the main story, with only an epilogue yet to come. And sure enough, there’s a definite sense of finality about the proceedings, and not an inconsiderable whiff of self-satisfaction over what the book is about, an aroma I’m not quite convinced the book has earned the right to exude, though I can’t deny there’s real entertainment here for the longtime reader.

Elijah Snow, archeologist of the weird, century baby, and human defense mechanism for our Earth out of many in the Multiverse, really needs to take care of the wicked Randall Dowling and the remnants of his evil Fantastic Four, the dastards who traveled the Bleed, became superhuman, hoarded all the world’s wonders for their own, and sold out the planet to the interdimensional robber barons of Not Apokolips (or, “Earth Toilet-On-Fire” as it’s deemed by the Drummer). It might be a trick of the release schedule coloring my vision, but the setup for the final clash seems oddly similar to that of Seven Soldiers, especially in the extra-fictional sense of an extremely tardy series working double-time to wrap its plot up in a very small space.

Ellis and artist John Cassaday actually pull the wrap-up off quite smoothly, not just fitting in seemingly all the revelations that they need to, but even preserving the series’ sense of wide-open, big-paneled discovery. It’s also nicely amusing, in that Snow’s huge plan for dealing with the Four is so simple it seems ripped straight out of Looney Tunes. Seriously: this is some straight-up Coyote/Road Runner shit, even taking place in the desert, and while the reader may have to wonder about the elaborate nature of the plan given the ease with which it’s pulled off, there’s no doubt that it’s kind of fun, willing to incarnate Snow’s masterstroke in the form of a grand, concluding jest.

Even the series’ ongoing ‘archeologists’ riff gets a climactic airing as part of the gag - it’s amusing enough that it kind of drowns the hollow ring of Snow’s later self-congratulatory mini-speech on how he’s learned to circumvent the Evil Fantastic Four way of looking at problems in terms of shooting and destroying by… thinking up a more elaborate, hands-off means of smashing his opponents to bloody death. Hey, the Four were evil folks and all, but the smugness comes off as more than slightly unearned; that’s a joke that belongs in Nextwave, where it’ll fit in with the quick ’n dirty laughs and not point so much at the strain in the longer work’s themes and character development.

I like to imagine that the cover art of this issue is not so much symbolic of Snow preparing to fit the final piece of the puzzle into place, but rather removing a crucial bit to hold - his heart is now in his hand. At the end of this issue, Snow symbolically throws away his cigarettes, declaring that such habits are the business of the 20th Century; it’s time to put all the badass posturing away and redistribute the lost advances of the world back to the people. And yet, Snow shows nary a sign of development in the actual comic, save for his declarations - it's just an additional dose of bruising (dare I say superheroic?) badassery.

There were some tantalizing teases in the prior issue that perhaps Snow’s increasingly violent, aggressive nature could be attributable to Dowling’s stretchy mental influence, or even that ‘Snow’ as a personal might be an extension of the lead villain’s personality. Hope you didn’t bank on that, or really any sense of substantial shading; Snow’s character arc here ends exactly where you’d expect it to land. There are no surprises. It just seems from what we can read that Snow became better by becoming even more of a badass than before, apparently through the spiritual intervention of glimpsing his role in the universe, releasing him from blame for any of his activities. Don’t many of the emperors claim a calling from beyond, after all? Ah, but we’re assured that Snow’s violent, domineering ways can only lead to the people thriving, because that’s The Way It Is. Divine right, eh? Like a good superhuman, the world-protecting superhero displacing the more overt cruelty of an old generation of superhumans.

But was Planetary always going to boil down to differing flavors of superpowered entities clashing over the world? Maybe I just need to re-read it. Ah well - the notion of making all the world's seemingly fictional wonders a reality for the betterment of all still retains a core of sweetness, no matter how intermittently troublesome and ordinary the path to get there seems.

On the plus side, Ellis has left himself an additional issue to actually explore this new frontier, which is invaluable - the conclusions of this issue might have come off as intolerable if the curtain closed here. This is not the final chapter, and one can feel some relief for that.


Page by Page

The Mother’s Mouth

A $12.95, 128-page graphic novel from writer/artist Dash Shaw, published by Alternative Comics. It’s been out in Direct Market stores for a few weeks now, and you can find it online too.

In terms of pure page-by-page construction, this is quite an intriguing, adventurous book; Shaw is obviously fascinated by the construction of comics stories and the putting together of books of comics, and accordingly this is one of those books were every part of the package somehow serves the overall story experience. From the gorgeously odd horror-type cover (which can be glimpsed on Shaw’s homepage - the blue band in the lower right corner breathlessly notes that the story “Begins on Page 2”) to the obligatory page of praise-filled pull quotes (which, a third of the way through, segue into quotes from characters in the book about each other and items from their past), every last thing in this package leads into something else on a quest for a rigorous page-by-page experience. Formalism isn’t the only level The Mother’s Mouth operates on, but it’s the one it best works on.

Hence, merely summarizing the plot does the book a disservice since Shaw’s primary concern is on the way his story is told. There’s four primary characters: (1) Virginia, an awkward, depressive woman who quits her job as a children’s librarian to tend to (2) Mary, her mother, who is dying in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, and ultimately meets (3) Dick, a local musician who’s haunted by the specter of failure (at one point memorably depicted as tiny upside-down ghost horses whispering “you suck”) and reminds Virginia of (4) Richard, an ill-fated childhood friend. All four are neatly introduced near the beginning of the book through a series of full-page drawings accompanied by artist’s comments - there’s even spoiler warnings given for which characters live and die. Near the end of the book, Shaw reprises this sequence with a quartet of drawings by a 5 year-old, accompanied by a psychoanalytical commentary; but is Shaw talking about himself, or something else? Is the artist ever not present in his work anyway, regardless of whether he’s operating in the guise of an alter ego?

These are some of the questions raised by The Mother’s Mouth, which flips and tumbles across its page count through a multitude of styles and approaches: full-page drawings with short captions, traditional sequential cartooning, photography, factoids on pre-Christian dress accompanying ‘silent’ panels of characters preparing for a date, diagrams, dance steps, prose news reports, blank pages with single words scribbled upon them, repeated images for pages and pages - nothing is out-of-bounds. Often these styles are set up against one another for maximum friction, and the effect is sometimes marvelous. An image of Mary, her aged form drawn in a queasily detailed style unlike that of any other character in the book, being set down into bed faces a full-page photo of a man tending to a human-like bundle smothered in a blanket on his parlor rug. A sex sequence explodes into a symbolist devolutionary spread of nature regressing into sand.

All throughout, there are the echoes of a mother’s influence, a certain smothering effect eventually made all too literal, though that brand of analysis seems a bit pat to me; really, the book is about the past constantly haunting the present, and the myriad ways in which it can manifest; fitting then that the book adamantly refuses to stick with any straightforward style. I can’t imagine half of these sequences coming off any better if not glimpsed through Shaw’s determined cockeye, like an eight-page sequence of exactly the same panel of aged Mary fast asleep drifting across the bottom of each sheet, the tops at first filled with photographs of the past, a broken narration drifting around, XXXXX marks clogging up some of the images to mark the gaps in a decaying memory. And then, the photos vanish, replaced with images of the moon and a clock, more certain things, you see.

Some sequences, admittedly, don’t come off all that well in any manner. Some of Shaw’s more straightforward bits -- sequences of characters talking, for example -- drift away into over-the-top awkwardness, such as a bit with Virginia trying to quit her job and breaking down into tears. It seems merely forced and heavy-handed, as do sequences in a club where Virginia overhears characters talking about Dick’s performance, occasionally dumping out forced character revelations through their dialogue. It’s good on the level that Shaw effectively conveys the experience of sitting down and covertly listening to people talk about a loved one in the way that people only do when they assume nobody with an emotional interest is present, but the actual dialogue seems stiff and uncertain. Arguably, this problem extends to the book as a total unit, since at its heart it really is only telling the story of yet another batch of awkward people dealing with their problems and possibly finding succor through togetherness and choosing to live or whatnot, and I wonder if some readers might feel the whole affair is much elaborate ado about nothing that hasn’t been said in a variety of vastly simpler manners before.

Yet, I think that line of thinking unnecessarily downplays the unique pleasures of this book. The Mother’s Mouth is about the moment-by-moment, not the big picture. It’s about the way pages relate to one another, and how scraps of recollection stick with people and pop back out at certain times of their day. It’s about the accumulation of memories and visual approaches, though not necessarily set toward a grand, overarching goal. The story concludes with a type of breakthrough, though it more ‘stops’ than ‘ends.’ You get the feeling that it’ll continue on later, despite anything like the end of a book. For what satisfaction it sacrifices, it gains resonance in going back and sampling, like pouring over someone's else's scrapbook, one that's curiously affecting to the outside viewer.

A substantial preview of the book can be downloaded from this page. See how you feel.


This post has many aspects.

*Like a shining gem, if gems were internet writings on comics. Which they practically are anyway.


The Vagabonds #2: Of Two Minds (new from writer/artist Josh Neufeld, a pamphlet-format trip through various brands of collaboration)

WildCats #1, The Authority #1 (neither of these Grant Morrison WildStorm relaunches work all that well out of the gate, but one might have some real potential)

John Woo's 7 Brothers #1 (actually written by Garth Ennis, mind you)

Desolation Jones #7 (with thoughts on differing visuals)

Golgo 13 Vol. 5: Wiseguy (I'd hate to break up a run of parentheses at the end)

And why waste time in waiting for this week's reviews to begin?

Mineshaft #18

Another entertaining issue of the magazine devoted to seemingly anything its contributors decide is worth discussing, said contributors including an awful lot of ‘60s underground or underground-styled cartoonists. It’s an odd little book that publishers/editors Everett Rand & Gioia Palmieri run, but I never fail to find interesting things in it, and I can’t think of any other publication that’s run unseen work by Robert Crumb, Kim Deitch, and Frank Stack for its last handful of issues. It’s 52 big pages for your $6.95.

The miscellany-bound construction of each issue continues here: we’ve got a suite of mid-20th century circus strongwoman photographs by Orrin J. Heller, with commentary by his son Larry, an appreciation of the rubber-suit movie monster costume work of Charles Gemora by Simon Deitch (Kim’s brother, co-writer of Boulevard of Broken Dreams) with accompanying drawings, six pages of comics by writer Jay Lynch (of Nard and Pat, who grace the back cover) and artist Ed Piskor (a younger cartoonist, younger than me actually, of Isolation Chamber and recent American Splendor), illustrated autobiographical prose by Kim Deitch, sketchbook drawings by Crumb, another installment of Stack’s spicy serial The Adventures of Dirty Diana, a story excerpt by Ace Backwards on the topic of drugs, movie-themed sketches from Peter Poplaski (many of them silent-themed), and more.

If any underling concern emerges, it’s an interest in the nostalgic and autobiographical; most contributors either seek to illuminate some favored aspect of cultural ephemera, or some incident from their personal past; the title Mineshaft is thus even more pertinent, as if the reader is descending through the innards of long-passed days. The letters pages also tend to be lively, with Crumb turning in another appearance, plus a more downcast issuance from Bud Plant Comic Art on their difficulties in selling the magazine. I think this thing needs more attention, so go have a look at their website, from which all issues can be ordered.

*And there's even more coming up -


Ode to Kirihito: Vertical’s big new Osamu Tezuka graphic novel release, a one-off, 832-page softcover for $24.95. Virtually nobody I’ve read had heard of this 1970-71 work until Vertical picked it up, and it looks like a wild one: Christ metaphors and medical drama mix as a mysterious disease transforms people into dog-like monsters, and a pair of doctors clash over what to do with the denizens of an infected village. All the weighty spiritual concern of Vertical’s prior Tezuka release, Buddha, with hearty doses of Black Jack-style medical fantasy kneaded right in (although really this work is proto-Black Jack; that famous Tezuka series would not begin for another two years). Every Tezuka fan around is going to get this anyway, but the handy one-volume format might also make a good sampler for those interested in dipping their toes into the Tezuka world without committing to a multi-book epic.

The Vagabonds #2: I linked to my review above, but I’ll link to it again, since the book hits shops this Wednesday. Published by Alternative Comics.

Seven Soldiers #1: Collector’s item first issue! Marc Singer has a nice get-back-in-shape piece on some of the megaproject’s key bits of mythology, so read it and refresh yourself. I’m prepared for bigness. If this project’s going down, it’s going down in flames. Hell, it’s hardly been a flawless emerald brooch of a narrative thus far, cheerily stumbling over writer Grant Morrison’s own fevered structural self-hype (not that Morrison isn’t known for toying with expectations or indulging in outright misdirection in interviews), suffering an ugly artist upheaval on one of its segments, temporarily falling out of order only to pick itself up again, and let’s just face it - Shining Knight was kind of crap when all was said and done. For further night terrors, I direct you to both the official Barbelith Seven Soldiers Sucks thread, and the more macrocosmic (if somewhat less successful) Grant Morrison Sucks thread. But oh, the good was very good, and sheer, blissfully hopeless sweep of all the tearing down your bad parents and revolutionizing your world, your genre, yourself - it gets to ya! I’m hoping for plumes of fire, one way or the other.

Planetary #26: Meanwhile, another right-on-time project reaches an end of sorts, though an additional epilogue issue Warren Ellis/John Cassaday project is set for release sometime in 2007. The main plot concludes here, anyway, and while I’ve kind of cooled on Planetary over the last batch of issues I’m still interested to see what happens with the Planetary squad and the remnants of the evil Fantastic Four and all that, and I’ve got to confess there were revelations both stultifying and tantalizing in the previous issue. Here’s to the best.

Abraxas and the Earthman: Collecting the classic full-color Epic Illustrated serial by Rick Veitch, sending Moby Dick screaming through the hallucinogenic sci-fi wringer. Here’s a preview, which will doubtlessly indicate if this thing is for you. Obviously, it was for me.

EC Archives: Weird Science Vol. 1: Hey, the debut of those new $49.95, 212-page hardcover collections of EC material, apparently with the bookstore market in mind. This one’s got the first six issue of Weird Science, complete with ads and letters pages. Featuring an introduction by George Lucas, and revised coloring that everyone seems to be nervous about, given prior releases from publisher Gemstone. We’ll see.

Gødland #13: Back from its summer break, the resumption of fun and games in the style we’re now accustomed to.

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #9 (of 12): Might as well toss up the countdown there, since Planetary isn’t the only Warren Ellis-written book of the week nearing its end. Artist Stuart Immonen is jumping over to Ultimate Spider-Man pretty soon, so the series is going the X-Statix route of miniseries-only after issue #12. Recent issues have been good.

52 #25 (of 52): In which George Pérez shows up for the origin of Nightwing, as 52 plunges further into back-up stories that probably won’t have much to do with the main plot since they’re running out of pertinent characters, I guess.

Meathaus Vol. 8: Headgames: The latest edition of the much-admired anthology, released in partnership with Alternative Comics, who seem to be undergoing a revival of productivity (I also have a review of their new Dash Shaw graphic novel The Mother’s Mouth, which will hopefully be up tomorrow). Plenty of great talents will be front and center, like Becky Cloonan, Troy Nixey, Jim Mahfood, James Jean, Jim Rugg, the aforementioned Mr. Shaw, Farel Dalrymple, Tomer Hanuka, and many more. Visit the Meathaus homepage for all the pleasures of the flesh.


See Below

*God, you get screwy with the posts for one day and everything gets thrown off. Anyway, yesterday's post didn't go up until something like 12 hours ago, so maybe you didn't read it? I'm between writings at the moment, so I'll probably wind up doubling up a review with tomorrow's usual features, and then I'll put chocolate in my peanut butter and I'll have truly won.


The new Drifting Classroom was also very good, if truly exhausting what with all the running and yelling.

*I loved how the evil lunchman seemed to be a self-portrait of writer/artist Kazuo Umezu. Also, his double-page splashes are better than anyone's I can think of.

*Hmmm, I think I will link to this nice Hope Larson interview by Chris Randle that’s up at the Comics Reporter. Yes, that is what I will do.

*Recent Cinema Dept: There’s really no good reason for The Departed to have been close to two and a half hours long, and I can’t remember the last time Martin Scorsese got this cheesy with the symbolism (there’s this one bit where Leonardo DiCaprio sees his reflection in wind chimes and it fragments because *gasp* he doesn’t know who he really is, and then it reforms into the reflection of Matt Damon, who’s essentially his thematic ‘double’ in the movie, and around then I had to slap myself to keep my eyes from rolling all the way over), but I’m not gonna lie - this is exactly the sort of goofy, over-the-top crime movie horseplay I’ll happily sit through every time without substantial complaint, especially when it’s as nicely crafted as this. Lots of vivid, larger-than-life performances (Mark Wahlberg’s cartoonishly mean undercover police chessmaster was my favorite, and quite a crowd-pleaser too), gory violence (there’s so many headshots in this thing it rises to the level of recurring motif), and crazy, crazy plot twists and double-crosses, over and over. More comedy than expected too, which is great - these things need a sense of humor as far as I‘m concerned.

It also helps that the environment of the picture instantly appealed to me: hard-scrabble tensions between Irish and Italian-descended Catholics in a half-thriving, half-depressed area. Boston ain’t the only place like that, let me tell you. I enjoyed the construction of several volleys of scenes (often its more like vignettes) around anchoring framing scenes - I’m pretty sure DiCaprio’s conversation in the shrink’s office wind up spiraling out into a whole bunch of tangents and mini-scenes, many of which throughout the film emphasize the doubling aspect of the characters, not to mention the mirror environments of crime and law enforcement, how both feature their own little gangs and troubles and overachievers. Jack Nicholson and Martin Sheen even provide contrasting father figures for both protagonists, and, typically, the ‘good’ one’s hands aren’t totally clean and the ‘bad’ one has a certain special take on how to operate within the law. Very well designed from almost any angle (the pacing, as I’ve mentioned gets screwy), and it does have a really great final scene; the cheesiest of all symbolism pops up there, but by that point it’s silly enough to work in the film’s gregarious universe. Maybe some of it came from Infernal Affairs, which I've not seen. Still, if you like this sort of thing, you'll like this.

*Also of note in the theater: a new 300 trailer, and since it was on the big screen I had the chance to spot an interesting detail - Lynn Varley is credited as co-author of the 300 graphic novel. Very interesting, and much-deserved.

Golgo 13 Vol. 5 (of 13): Wiseguy

Only in the pages of Golgo 13 could you possibly run into anything like what’s in this volume’s File 13 bonus section: a short essay by Horibe Masashi, “founder of the Hakukotsu School of Japanese Martial Arts,” devoted entirely to the physiology of being kicked in the nuts. Seriously; you’ll learn the science behind what exactly happens in the body during an assault on the family jewels, some fun facts about testicles in Japanese folklore, and even the secrets behind a legendary lost karate skill of temporary bollocks retraction. But don’t get the impression that sensei isn’t a devoted reader as well:

I personally would like to see a scene where Golgo 13 gets attacked in the testicles, and squirms in anguish, or is attacked but is shown to have some sort of protection against it, allowing him to get through the biggest pinch of his life.”

Oh Golgo 13, you have the best letters column ever! The same temperament extends to the entirety of this particular File 13, which is devoted exclusively to torture and the title character’s godlike endurance thereof. As usual, there’s a billion citations to Duke Togo adventures past, enough so that it sort of adopts the feeling of one of those fake vintage comics supplements that Alan Moore or Geof Darrow or someone might draft, chock-full of increasingly outlandish titles and references to zany adventures that we the readers will never get to see. We’ll probably never get to see many of these Golgo 13 adventures either, but they derive a certain added effect from actually existing. You can practically hear the unnamed File 13 compiler cackling with glee while typing out lines like “NOTES: The day after the torture, Golgo was released into the desert, and forced to fight a giant eagle bare-handed.” And you can read that with pride, knowing that, at some point in time (actually in 1981, Story #171, since they all have cites), Duke Togo actually did battle a gigantic fucking eagle with his bare hands in the desert, and that you could really find that comic and read it if you tried extra hard. No other comic on the stands today can give you that feeling.

It’s too bad there’s no giant eagle fighting in this particular volume’s stories; VIZ’s current release of Golgo 13 is based on The Golgo 13 Gaku, a collection of creator Takao Saito’s 13 favorite stories, and an additional 13 favorites selected by readers via polling. We’re going to be into Saito’s favorites until mid-way through Volume 7, and it’s understandable that the old gekiga hand might favor the especially studied episodes, those that fit tightly into real-world concerns. I’ve heard that the readers’ choices tend to gravitate more toward giant eagle material, and I find myself waiting more and more for that to kick in.

I mean, it’s nice to see a story about Duke lurking around the fall of the Berlin Wall (Germany is One, Story #288, August, 1990), and there’s certainly some interesting flourishes at work -- the bit with representatives of the EU sitting around to play a tabletop RPG as a means of blowing off steam and sussing out one another’s diplomatic inclinations is funny, and quite inspired -- but in the end there’s not an awful lot to set it apart from other G13 epics save for the particularized setting. There’s none of the cockeyed pulp emotion of Power to the People (Vol. 3, Tiananmen Square Massacre) or the damn-the-torpedoes engaging with controversy of England’s Rose (Vol. 4, death of Lady Di); I liked the characters, and the studious examination of then-current political tensions is as well-presented as ever, but it’s starting to feel a bit dry after this many consecutive run-ins with history.

The book’s other story, Way of the Wiseguy (Story #301, October 1991), is more successful in that Saito and company (as usual, there are no credited writers or artists on Golgo 13 - all is accomplished by Saito and his rotating teams of specialists at Saito Production) basically produce a political chamber drama involving an aged mob leader, his loyal, ambitious son, a hot-blooded friend of the family, and a sinister Senator with one toe still dipped in his own father’s rival crime syndicate. Duke pops in for a cameo shooting (an especially berserk one) that wraps up the plot, but really it’s an opportunity for Saito and pals to wring some character drama out of a concept that allows for the lead character to stand around off-page if need be. If he’s not fighting massive birds, maybe sometimes it’s better he doesn’t do much of anything, lest the weight of history start to numb us poor fans.



Why yes, this is the post for Friday night at 11:59 PM.

*52 Dept: This was probably the best issue so far. It certainly had everything I want from 52. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect -- for that, the creative team would have had to figure out what the hell to do with Bulleteer besides have her stand around and set up an Ambush Bug one-liner -- but I’m fine with 99%. It even does a few things that 52 usually doesn’t, like telling a decent done-in-one story along with the usual ongoing plot prodding, and featuring unexpectedly detail-heavy art (by special guests Phil Jimenez & Andy Lanning). Hell, it even gets around to explaining what some of the B+ List DCU characters are up to, complete with the Martian Manhunter going undercover into what doubles as both a tie-in to team writer Greg Rucka’s Checkmate series and a little wink toward Marvel’s Civil War, or Green Arrow taking on politics with campaign manager Elliot S! Maggin. And speaking of knocking on the fourth wall - have I mentioned Ambush Bug?

I’m sure one of the more fun aspects of writing a year-long weekly series set to span an entire shared superhero universe is that everyone on the creative team gets a chance to roll out some of their signature characters or pet favorites for added attention; Keith Giffen isn’t a writer on the series, but it’s still nice to see one of his more famous creations popping up as part of Firestorm’s ill-fated attempt to revive the JLA with whomever happens to be on hand or willing to help (so it’s not that the concept doesn’t fit Bulleteer’s presence like a glove, it’s just that the character herself has nothing to do after we all nod at how nicely she fits in). It’s a cute plot that doesn’t wear out its welcome, connects smoothly with the Lex Luthor and Booster plots as Lex floods the streets (market?) with shitty superhero concepts and Skeets opens up a time portal to overrun the present with angry pirates (I will presume the robots are simply Pirates of the Future), and even serves to somewhat redeem the shitty Super-Chief introduction from last week with an excellent punchline.

Also: best Ralph “What a Twist” Dibny cameo yet.

Desolation Jones #7

The plot of this first issue of the new, delayed storyline is largely flashback and setup, and doesn’t really warrant much discussion in its current state. Suffice to say, protagonist Michael Jones knew some nasty people back in the day, so we get to savor lurid pages of torture before leaping over to the present day and discovering that one of the best/worst of Jones’ colleagues has apparently become the victim of a mutilation murder, though Jones suspects otherwise, given the man’s skills, and decides to investigate if only to convince himself that he’s right. Jones also strolls around withered and naked, vomits a bit, curls up into a fetal position in guilt over the events of last issue, plugs Phillip K. Dick’s Radio Free Albemuth (likely setting up this storyline’s exploration of another author’s themes - last time was Chandler, remember), and refuses a cigarette in what’s probably an in-joke about Warren Ellis protagonists (remember, it’s only pot for our Mr. Jones).

But there’s no way you’re going to read this after reading the last six issues and not want to think about the art. Danijel Zezelj replaces J.H. Williams III on lines, while José Villarrubia sticks around on colors, and there are several telling connections and differences between the two approaches. The Williams/Villarrubia team took an emphatic-yet-segmented approach to their visuals, with line textures and shading varying among assorted sequences as a means of better conveying narrative tone; Williams has a famously amorphous drawing style, capable of gracefully shifting from look to look while making it all seem like a coherent whole, and that aptitude was used to often marvelous effect under Villarrubia’s washing hues. And then there were the violent bits, in which the pair would essentially bring the reader into Jones’ head (even if he’s present on the page), and block off points of the main character’s attention with thin boxes and flashes of red or white. All Jones really knows how to do well is hurt people, after all, and the art worked hard toward portraying exactly how it might seem to have your mind so devoted to such a pursuit.

Zezelj is different, and thus Villarrubia is different with him. Zezelj takes far less mannered a sequence-by-sequence approach, opting instead to approach flashback and present alike with the same methodical, inky, soot-dusted look. I particularly enjoy how it’s rarely possible to glimpse anyone’s eyes, or even any more than the outline of their faces; that’s very fitting for the environment of this book. Villarrubia’s coloring is now much more prone to gently washing pages with color, to match Zezelj’s steady representation effect (at least compared to Williams). Often the colors and the inks and the outlines combine to make the characters look carved from polished rocks, again a fitting effect; Villarrubia makes the post-Desolation Test Jones shine from the inside, rendering him into a veritable diamond as backed by Zezelj’s spiky outlines of the man’s flesh and hair - I’ve said it before, but truly he’s the hardest man in the room, pathetic as he can seem. Villarrubia also partially drops the red & white effect in this issue, perhaps because Ellis is now writing sequences of violence that involved other talented individuals of Jones’ caliber; there’s red but also glowing blue, and maybe it’s pertinent that the only bold, forceful colors in the book are those that mark the presence of pain. All else is extremely subdued. And even with Jones’ red-washed headaches, there’s no boxes or breakdowns of anything; the whole world just goes red, in the way that Zezelj now keeps past and future and everywhere on the same visual plane.

It’s quite lovely, though it should be noted Zezelj is a much-acclaimed writer/artist in the European market, largely known to US fans only through collaborations with separate writers, and one gets the strong feeling that he perhaps works best as a solo creator; go to his site, and take a stroll through the Graphic Novels section (composed largely of solo works), then the Comic Books section (composed entirely of collaborations), and the difference in quality is quite obvious. I know, I know, separate markets, separate expectations - but still, I think the samples speak for themselves (Bart Beaty also has stuff to say on the topic). We have the book that we have though, and I’d say that what’s glimpsed in here is maybe the best of Zezelj’s collaborative excursions into the pamphlet format. We’ll see what develops in future issues, when the story activates itself more fully.


Another near myth.

John Woo’s 7 Brothers #1

The most entertaining portion of this debut issue of the new Virgin Comics series, also the first in its Director’s Cut line of comics stemming from cinema directors, is definitely Editor-in-Chief Gotham Chopra’s inside back cover assurance that “[a] great comic is its own craft,” and that while everyone at Virgin would totally be tickled if their Director’s Cut comics would be adapted into films someday, that’s just not their #1 priority. Comics are so a distinctly satisfying art form! Also, apparently even one of Virgin’s top personalities can’t quite decide whether the book is titled 7 Brothers (like it says on the cover and the legal indicia) or Seven Brothers (like it says in the essay and in much of the internet promotion), but keep in mind that I’ve been awake since 4:00 straightening the ends of every rug in the apartment, so I’m probably the only one who cares.

Anyway, it’s been pretty evident since the beginning that creator John Woo contributed little more than “a seed of an idea” to the comic, leaving most of the detail to writer Garth Ennis, and much of the book does indeed feel like Ennis’ work with a drizzle of ancient, non-Western myth about it. This is one of those ‘old legend transplanted to the modern day’ stories, and there’s also a four-page introduction concerning Chinese exploration of the Western world, so that gets to play out before we’re dropped into the city and Ennis gets to break out his urban dialect skills again while a cadre of badass-looking types stand around and acknowledge one another. Said badasses have been assembled by a mystery woman for a cloudy purpose due to the secret powers they’ve possessed since youth: one can jump high, one can see far, one can run fast, etc. The woman herself can apparently disrupt the flow of time, beating the crap out of toughs and cackling in their face before her strikes even have a chance to register; I’m hoping for a later declaration of “You’re already dead!!” in the manner of Fist of the North Star.

That’s that for the first issue; Ennis perhaps wisely doesn’t attempt to fill in many personalities among his multicultural cast, although that lends the issue an occasionally comedic sense of global inclusiveness, hardly aided by the cheeseball ethnic shorthand occasionally employed: there’s a hulking, brooding Native American in a large hat, a cocksure, gregarious Australian, and even a fast-talking, comic relief street pimp. We’re treated to clankingly descriptive lines like “Muhammed, do you remember that Israeli gunship that you shot down with your voice?” when necessary. Eventually we get to a sinister-seeming possible-villain, a seething, wizened type with a dorkish associate named Jenkins, who wants to accomplish something that’s in all likelihood going to clash with the protagonists of the book, though I couldn’t really tell you what, not that I know what the heroes are doing either. It is a mystery!

I suppose it’s an ok introduction, although virtually nothing is defined yet and most of the characters are walking compilations of presumed cultural baggage. The art, by Jeevan Kang (also a senior VP and creative chief at Virgin), is attractive and agreeably scratchy, with some decent color work (by Kang and S. Sundarakannan). A closer inspection reveals much the same affinity for rippled men and pole-waisted, balloon-breasted women in a superheroic anatomic style that marks a good deal of what I’ve seen of Virgin’s offerings, but it’s a fairly attractive example of its type.

Nothing but set-up, and even the set-up doesn't actually set much up, but there's probably nothing in here that'll scare you away from issue #2, if you're already focused on it.


Morrison tries 'em out.

*My first impression of that fifty-cent recolored Sandman sampler that Vertigo released this week?

"Wow! Neil Gaiman apparently wrote and drew the book all by himself?! That is a remastering!!"

I mean, it's not like Sam Kieth wants a ton to do with the title anyway, and I have no idea how Mike Dringenberg feels, so maybe I'm just being churlish here... but would it have killed Vertigo to put the names of the guys who, you know, drew the comic on its cover along with Gaiman's? The credits are intact on the inside, of course, but yeah - it's just Gaiman up there staring at you from the racks. Kind of left a sour taste in my mouth. Anyone know anything about this that I'm missing?

The new coloring is quite good, though.

WildCats #1

From what I can gather, the correct spelling and title this time around is simply WildCats, two caps, no Worldstorm subtitle.

That sinking feeling starts with this book on the first few pages, which are apparently supposed to serve as a little introduction to the WildStorm universe and the various characters therein. Since the book’s a month late and there’s already been a handful of new WildStorm books released, the effect is rather dulled. But in a more constrained focus than that, the book also serves to reintroduce the various WildCats characters, as well as their universe. It kind of works, but also desires to leave a few things unsaid to tempt fans of the ‘high superheroics’ era of this book - as a result, we have a comic that seems somewhat familiar, even somewhat generic, yet not entirely easy to grasp.

Writer Grant Morrison does manage a few interesting ideas; it was maybe inevitable that the series would switch back to some form of costumed adventuring after the lukewarm sales reception to Joe Casey’s Wildcats 3.0 run, but Morrison does retain the notion of Hadrian attempting to change the world through corporate means. He’s cooked up his own line of mass-produced Spartans, an affordable series of personal superheroes that have apparently upset the microcosmic balance of power in the world, with poorer regions of the globe now even more susceptible to abuse through their lack of metahuman accompaniment. Meanwhile, the Covert Action Team bit of the old WildC.A.T.s rises to the fore, as all our old friends from 1993 return to do something that will no doubt become clear in later issues. For now, there’s superheroes having semi-explicit psychedelic sex, cracking Wolverine jokes, and fighting big monsters with bigger swords. I think I recognized a few of the villains lurking around.

Co-creator Jim Lee is back on penciling duties, so the whole thing looks a lot like 1993 as well; I expect the intent here is to capture the brassy fun of early Image comics while imbuing it with a greater measure of narrative sophistication, but I’m left feeling like I’m reading one of those ‘90s-style big creator kick-off arcs that used to lead new series from Acclaim or whatnot, a few catchy ideas and some flashy art dished out to bolster some ok concepts for a little while, maybe keeping it humming for later creative teams to pick up with ease. But I dare say the WildCats cast isn’t mythic (or even recognizable) enough for a writer to have the characters parade across the pages like this in semi-mythic fashion; the introduction winds up feeling sort of blasé, as if we're supposed to know things about these characters that only a fairly devoted fan might, without the decades of storied knowlege surrounding the characters that the core DCU cast could utilize. As a result, it seems more like a book for older fans, without all that much to attract folks who might just be showing up to see what Morrison does.

Not a lot to say. It's an ok introduction, if kind of watery. It's WildCats, and they're superheroes. See you in two months, maybe!

The Authority #1

A fair bit more interesting, yet maddeningly even less immediately satisfying, is Morrison’s revival of the consummate latter-day WildStorm superhero team. It’s been a hard road for The Authority; the bombastic stylings of early writers Warren Ellis and Mark Millar provided a decidedly time-sensitive feel for the book, one that both defined its identity and essentially assured that it’d never remain relevant long after its stylish flourishes fell from high style and became integrated into the longstanding superhero books that most of the Direct Market feeds on. In other words, you can assuredly draw a line from, say, Millar’s run on the book to the brawny, politicized posturing of The Ultimates and Civil War, but that doesn’t help The Authority itself from seeming trapped in a comics world of half a decade ago. Merely hearing the title brings to mind feelings of a zeitgeist-capturing superhero comic whose time has incontrovertibly passed. 'Oh, The Authority. Are they still trying to publish that?'

Morrison apparently has a strategy for reviving the book for today, one that cleverly prevents anyone from drawing many conclusions about the book from reviewing its first issue. Suffice to say, The Authority do not appear in their new first issue, the book choosing instead to focus on the daily affairs of Ken, a fellow whose personal life is gradually falling apart due to the distance between him and his wife, and the rigors of his secretive intelligence job. But Ken is whisked away yet again to investigate a deadly, mysterious problem on a submarine, with far bigger things just waiting to be discovered.

And that’s all for the issue.

In many ways, Morrison seems to be emulating an Ultimate book here, from the myriad single and double-page splashes of Big scenery and fabulous establishing views, to the half-naturalistic, half-stylized mode of ‘realistic’ interaction between the characters. Oh, there’s no superpowers just yet, and from his interviews Morrison is apparently shooting for a less mannered ‘real world’ vibe to his approach, but it never seems terribly naturalistic, I have to say. Unadorned conversation isn’t quite Morrison’s strong point to begin with (even relatively ‘real world’ works like St. Swithin’s Day are inevitably filtered through a lens of imagination and mannered narrative fancy), and he essentially replaces his more overtly artificial superhero voice with a choppy approximation of realist conversation that nevertheless drips with necessary exposition and mild melodrama. As a result, the issue seems like a particularly decompressed, particularly loose emulation of a style that Morrison himself is on the record as wishing to move past in crafting superhero books.

Or, at least it would have, had it not been for the presence of Gene Ha on art, who delivers an experience that can best be described as genuinely unsettling. At virtually every opportunity, Ha and colorist Art Lyon strive to drain every drop of traditional action impact from what’s happening on the page. The book’s only action scene is an abrupt two pages, wiggled and prodded with visual filters until it’s roughly as difficult to discern as an actual submarine calamity might be. Characters are constantly positioned off to the side of panels, or glimpsed from behind their backs, or spotted only as mouths, or seen in long view or shadow. There’s constant visual blur effects, straight out of Spider-Man Unlimited circa 1994, which serve mainly to confound our attempts to hone in on the cast. We almost never glimpse anyone’s face straight-on. And those towering splashes of scenery and machinery are muddy, dim, ominous. Never pounding or thrilling in an action movie way.

Simply put, Ha manages to sell this world as a mundane, anti-fantasy place through sheer visual aptitude. I’m sure it’s also fortuitous that the look won’t be quite as work-intensive as Top Ten, allowing for the artist to perhaps adhere to a bimonthly schedule, but it’s still quite a marvel of counterintuitive tinkering, and absolutely necessary to pick up the slack that Morrison seems to leave. In this way, The Authority emerges as more of an aesthetic critique of the brand of comic arguably spawned by the book’s own earlier incarnation. That doesn’t make the story any less glacial, mind you, especially when it’s bound to arrive only six times per year at tops. Plus, a full analysis of what the book even intends to accomplish is rendered impossible until a few more issues are on the stands, and the superheroes start showing up and stuff. But there’s enough here to at least get you hoping that something satisfying will possibly emerge at some distant point. Accordingly, I award this book my most enthusiastic shrug.


Finally, another review.

The Vagabonds #2: Of Two Minds

This is a new pamphlet-format release from writer/artist Josh Neufeld of A Few Perfect Hours, published by Alternative Comics, a company I haven’t heard from in a while though they seem to have a fair number of projects in the pipeline for the near future. The book was on display at SPX, so it should be making its way into Direct Market stores relatively soon.

Neufeld notes in his introduction that he’s always geared his work toward collaboration, having provided art for series like American Splendor and Duplex Planet Illustrated over the years; this particular piece of work is dedicated to exploring all the different types of ‘collaboration’ a comics artist can enter into, from proper ‘written by, drawn by’ to sequential adaptation of preexisting work to simple formalist play. It’s a pleasant enough experiment, even if the results generally don’t result in much more than diverting little works; this is the kind of book you have to view as a capsule of diverse narrative approaches, appreciating the multiplicity of viewpoints in their total form, in order to derive much resonance from the affair.

The comic, which is $3.95 for 32 oversized pages, divides itself into four distinct thematic segments: Confessions, Health & Welfare, Echoes, and Loss. The first section (Confessions) explores the various ways in which one might convey a direct narrative by another person. There’s a pair of contrasting, somewhat clipped-feeling anecdotes by Peter Ross, a septuagenarian reflecting on his life in both cutthroat business and foreign farming, executed in as traditional a narrative form as one might imagine. There’s also separate single-page ‘talking head’ narrations, a simple one by Martha Rosler (Neufeld’s mother) that regularly shifts from simple dialogue to stationary images accompanied by narrative caption, and a more adorned page with poet Eileen Myles, that sees the narrator growing up panel-by-panel by taking on the form of various and sundry familiar comics characters. All are illustrated in variant forms of Neufeld’s clear, unassuming style, which gently shifts from exaggerated big-head cartooning to realist representation, depending on what’s necessary; in a way, the visuals are indicative of the stories, in that they don’t as much stand out on their own as they hold value through comparison with each other.

And comparisons can be made the varied approaches of the comic’s other sections. Health & Welfare sees contrasting (plenty of this-and-that contrasts in here) stories by spouses Joyce Brabner and Harvey Pekar, one told as a mock narrated filmstrip and the other as a typical American Splendor short. There’s also a ‘collaboration’ with Neufeld’s own injured finger, illustrating the extent to which a creator’s work is influenced by their own personal state, which leads right into the next section (Echoes) and a team-up with the artist’s imagined mirror image, complete with art from his non-drawing hand. Further discursion follows, such as an involuntary teaming with writer Gerry Conway as Neufeld plugs his Superman #351 narration and dialogue into a non-superhero context, and a story in the final section (Loss) that takes The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby and extrapolates a little story from its final verses. There’s also a number of teamings with poets and troupes and performance artists like Nick Flynn, The Civilians, and Andrew Rashkow, some of them taking a symbolist route to illustrating non-prose, and others presenting the comics page as a fragmented landscape adorned with words like signposts for travel (think those old Frank King Gasoline Alley Sunday pages).

Very few of these skits and stories extend for more than three pages, and less still carry much singular resonance. They are lightly pitched (even when nominally weighty), and not always successful in their formalist drive; it eventually becomes clear that Neufeld is more adept at handling icon-laden page structures and looming landscapes than something that might demand multiple styles of character art on a single page. And yet, The Vagabonds #2 may well prove valuable to the interested reader for its determination in elucidating the assorted facets of collaboration and narrative conception. Its immediate impact is muted, but the possibilities it raises through its careful associations might be of more lasting flavor.


This is going to look an awful lot like Chris Butcher's similar feature for the week, I do understand.

*I will salvage my individuality with


Monster Parade #1 (visual-dominant one-man anthology thingy from Ben Catmull, and it be good)

Dork #11 (funny)

And that's kind of it, since SPX took up a bunch of space. Here's the full-length rundown.

*Great minds just think alike.


Ohikkoshi: Here’s something neat from Dark Horse: a one-off, 248-page compilation of lighthearted comics about Japanese art students from Hiroaki Samura, creator of the evergreen Blade of the Immortal. Amusingly, it’s all drawn with much the same aplomb that Samura might bring to one of his samurai epics. Who knows if the significant Blade fanbase (save for Masamune Shirow’s stuff, it’s just about the only manga left that’s still successfully released in US pamphlet format before getting collected) will show for this, but it looks pretty great.

Golgo 13 Vol. 5 (of 13): It’s also time for VIZ to dump out their Signature books all on the same day. Hooray!

The Drifting Classroom Vol. 2 (of 11): As a delightful treat for the Direct Market, this time they didn’t all show up in bookstores weeks beforehand. Hooray, I guess!

Naoki Urasawa’s Monster Vol. 5 (of 18): I’m just listing them in the order I’ll pick them up; I’m perpetually a volume or two behind in Monster here, and I always go for Golgo 13 first, since I’m not sure it’s selling all that well and I want to make sure I don’t wind up having to order it online. Hooray for pragmatism!

Cromartie High School Vol. 8 (of who knows, I don’t want to jinx it - a lot more than 8, let me tell you): Despite ADV Manga’s release crunch (whither Yotsuba&!??), there’s apparently still time for a bit more of this. It’ll keep going till the manga division drops.

Q-Ko-chan Vol. 2 (of 2): Another model of clarity from writer/artist Ueda Hajime draws to a close. It looks nice!

John Woo’s Seven Brothers #1: Woo’s name might be in the title, but this is Garth Ennis’ new series for Virgin Comics, with covers by Yoshitaka Amano and Greg Horn; the contrast between those two might create enough friction energy to power several smaller Direct Market stores. Nobody talks much about the person filling in the minor duty of providing all interior art, but it’s Jeevan Kang; tough being surrounded by huge names at all sides, though the preview actually looks pretty sweet, giving off not nearly as much of a Top Cow house style vibe.

Wildcats: Worldstorm #1: In which the flagship title for Wildstorm’s Worldstorm relaunch effort steams into port about a month behind schedule. Thank heavens for good omens. Still, it’s from writer Grant Morrison and artist Jim Lee, with a variant cover featuring Todd McFarlane, so it’s not like it’ll bomb or anything, though it’ll be instructive to view how many of Lee’s many, many fans are willing to follow him away from the DCU big leagues and onto his ‘home’ book for more than a few issues. Wildcats (or WildC.A.T.s or whatever) has actually had some pretty decent creative runs in the past, so it’ll also be fun to see what Morrison plans to do with the material. The hints thus far have indicated glossy, ultra-’90s big superhero trash, which could work.

The Authority #1: Meanwhile, Morrison’s other Wildstorm relaunch arrives apparently on time, with no less than Gene Ha on art. Obviously, I’d watch these two team up on anything, so I’m not too concerned with the done-to-death ‘superheroes in the real world’ concept that Grant seems to have cooked up; at this point I’d hope you can’t even consider rolling out something like that without an original spin on it, and hey - Gene Ha.

Desolation Jones #7: The return of this series, the beginning of a new storyline, and the debut of new artist Danijel Zezelj. José Villarrubia is sticking around on colors, and the preview indicates that he may be retaining some elements of the color-coded visual signal system that he devised with prior artist J.H. Williams III. But wisely, it also looks like there’s going to be some major visual departures; I love how the whole world has somehow gone pale, with Zezelj’s rough-hewn Jones glowing like he’s carved from diamonds. He can’t be cut. Definitely worth picking back up.

Casanova #5: Jeez, this thing really comes out like clockwork. Casanova has not stopped being good, and you should continue paying the whopping $1.99 they’re charging for its pleasures.

Elephantmen #4: The prior issue of this was just bizarre, with one story dedicated entirely to a penis joke, and the other set up as some sort of oddball throwback to something I didn’t recognize; this issue features the contribution of Joe Madureira in some capacity, unless he got pushed off by the Brian Bolland cover which apparently didn’t pop up for last issue like it was supposed to. A preview to soothe your head.

The Sandman #1: Special Edition: A fifty-cent teaser for the shiny new upcoming Absolute Sandman brick brigade; thrill to the newly recolored exploits of original creators Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, and Mike Dringenberg, and be sure to savor that profound Alan Moore influence and the general notion that the book isn’t sure if it wants to stray too far from superhero-flavored material yet. I’m not the biggest fan of Sandman around (didn’t think it really got cooking until A Game of You), but at least it does have a nice, self-sufficient debut issue that’ll make for a fun giveaway/restoration demonstration.

Blade #2: Sure, I’ll stick with it a while longer. I’m very proud of my Howard Chaykin on Hawkgirl set too.

52 #24 (of 52): Featuring the very nostalgic return of Dan Jurgens of History of the DCU on the origin of Booster Gold; hmmm, well Booster’s dead, so maybe we’ll have someone stand around and cry! Just for old times’ sake.


SPX: Baby's First Impressions

The image of cartoonist after cartoonist sitting at folding tables selling comic books is truly a pathetic one. From talking with cartoonists, I get the sense that most of them find it debilitating, too. It's hard, often dreary work. It can be ego-crushing when no one comes to buy anything. I would hate to do it myself.”

- Bart Beaty, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the show, from his Conversational Eurocomics column on what SPX could learn from some European conventions

I really enjoyed myself at SPX, that delightsome Bethesda megamall of rare and exclusive purchases and the men and women who brought the wares about. Don’t sweat it, that’s just my perception: I traveled the hour and a half trip down on Saturday with American Hero Chris Mautner (he attained that storied status by agreeing to drive), arrived a half-hour after the doors opened, stayed until 5:30, then went right back home. That means I didn’t see the Ignatz Awards, didn’t partake of any post-show gatherings, and missed a big chunk of panels.

My SPX, in other words, was full of shopping and stalking the aisles. Commerce! Show debuts! I met an awful lot of fine creators, but I hated taking up much of their table time; heaven knows by the afternoon there’s a swarm of people waiting to trudge through the byways between tables, and one thousand distractions to attend to. I’d never been to a comics show in my life, so I’d not known any SPX other than what was presented to me there: a pretty swank hotel, a table to pay at in the hall outside, and big ballroom with everyone selling everything inside, and a bunch of other rooms to have educational and informative events in, though all of those were down the hall, around the bend, and down an escalator. There were no signs to direct you to the panels or whatnot, though it wasn’t hard to find someone to ask direction of.

Still, the separation-by-floor carried a certain symbolism for me when coupled with the atmosphere; upstairs was the carnival of monies and tables, downstairs were the talks and trophies. Upstairs there were masses of shoppers with bags and backpacks and totes, cookies and candies and muffins on certain tables to attract attention, and even a pair of folks operating hand puppets to entice a stray passerby. Downstairs there were hushed people crouched before open doors, the portals leading to capacity talks. There was some sort of bizarre crystal bridge hanging by strings above the escalator, and it certainly did feel like you were crossing into a different, segmented zone of the convention.

All of it in a building off the highway, malls and fences and the whipping metal sea of vehicles all around it. To say there was no color at all would be misleading, since it was a nice day and there were a number of trees and things, but I did not detect any local pulse at all. It was a hotel, on a road.

I went out for lunch with Chris and Gina Gagliano of First Second; food became curiously hard to find within hiking distance (in the interests of full disclosure, my mastery of direction also had us walking the wrong way for a good while). After we passed by a large parking lot promising a furniture blowout sale, as well as a haunted attraction and possibly ponies or something in the back, we decided to turn around and stop at a little diner we’d passed on the way. It was decent food, Gina got us very enthused about some of First Second’s upcoming releases involving Eddie Campbell, Gipi, and the ever-prolific Joann Sfar, Chris blinked a lot in the direction of his sandwich since he hadn’t been to sleep since October 2nd, and I told Gina the secret of why there are no pictures on this site (I was bullied by a JPEG in high school).

But we didn’t hang around. We hurried back from the gray highway to the center of comics and people, followed close behind by haunted ponies who’d just bought cheap Barcaloungers for their ghost stable and were now jonesing for independent comics.

Oh, but don’t presume that I’m somehow upset at the purchase-happy nature of the show’s afternoon - far from it! I love walking around for things to buy, and traveling less than two hours to arrive at the comics spread of my dreams won’t raise too many personal hackles, let me tell you. I also made it a point to say hello to everyone there with whom I’d ever communicated on the internet, though I couldn’t find anyone matching Johanna Draper Carlson’s description and I totally missed Douglas Wolk. But I saw a lot of good people, and finally put some faces to names. I’m also really glad I had Chris with me, since he knew a lot of faces that I didn’t; he made a fine guide, though one of us would occasionally wander away from the other in the vein of the old NES version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, though I’m unsure as to which one of us was Bob Hoskins.

Actually, I think maybe the best thing about SPX is how everyone is kind of pressed together, comics placed near one another seemingly without much concern for subject matter coherency (I heard it was a bit different in prior years, with multiple selling rooms and all); if the creators in attendance and the books on display weren’t a comprehensive picture of English-language non-superhero comics, there was at least enough diversity to manage the illusion of comprehensiveness. A diverse audience too, everything from young to old, from old-school nerds to stylish-looking folk, from aged hippies to teenage Goths. To look only at this crowd, you’d imagine that there was no question as to the diversity of the comics-reading audience.

I went to two panels, Scott McCloud's and Brian Chippendale's. There was nowhere to sit in the former, since I got there late, so I sort of drifted in and out of hearing distance. At one point, McCloud began vigorously drawing a chart to illustrate different types of artists, all the while telling stories of the message board clashes between forces on places like the Comics Journal board. Someone behind me turned to someone else and whispered "It's just like Civil War." Afterward (a solid half-hour afterward, I believe), McCloud could be seen out in the hallway, taking questions from anyone who happened to want to talk to him away from the bustle of his table upstairs. The Chippendale talk was different, a highly entertaining, digression-prone ramble by the artist through his history and procedure, moderated by Dan Nadel and with extra bonus contributions from Brian Ralph, who was seated in the back of the room. Nobody was particularly brusque at SPX, at least from among the artists, but I found Chippendale to be consistently the most emphatic and friendly creator around.

And I bought a good deal of stuff too. I tried to follow Tom's rule of not buying anything on my first trip around the room, but that didn't quite hold. I managed to get through the whole show without finding anything I really wanted sold out, however, and I only had to stand in the Line of Shame at the ATM once.


Abraxas and the Earthman by Rick Veitch (debuted at the show, a collection of the Epic Illustrated serial; an additional collection of Veitch’s short comics from the same venue is coming soon)

Awakening Comics #1-2 by Steve Peters & friends (I reviewed his The Origin of Sparky a few weeks ago; having walked away from the table, and indeed the entire convention, I suddenly realized that I’d forgotten to actually tell Steve Peters who I was - another triumph of intellect!)

Cinema Sewer #19 edited by Robin Bougie (new issue of the funny, comics-heavy pamphlet-format magazine devoted entirely to the finest in exploitation and pornographic film - a creator’s personality-powered publication, and I assure you that Robin Bougie is in real life exactly the way he portrays himself in the mag)

Cold Heat #1-2 (of 12) by Ben Jones & Frank Santoro (#2 debuted at the show; the odd, semi-abstract fantasy/action book that Diamond initially disliked a while back, complaining of its format despite the fact that it’s 100% a serialized pamphlet-format comic)

Comics Comics #1-2 edited by Timothy Hodler & Dan Nadel (I mentioned this yesterday, but didn’t note that I also got a hard copy of issue #1)

Dave K. Greatest Hits 1999-2004 by Dave Kiersh (snapped up from the Bodega Distribution table, a collection of work from a prominent minicomics fellow; Kiersh was actually sitting right in front of my the whole time and I had no idea who he was, and when the guy I was paying mentioned that “Dave” was here to see if I wanted it signed, I kind of stared at him dully before getting what was going on - I also totally forgot to buy Leif Goldberg’s National Waste #6 and say hi to Heidi MacDonald who was standing next to me at the table a bit earlier, so it was a real hat trick of inattentive triumph)

Ed the Happy Clown #2 (of 9) by Chester Brown (the one I was missing - who says you can’t score back-issues at these things?!)

Fuzz & Pluck in Splitsville #4 (of 5) by Ted Stearn (surely I can’t be the only fan of the mighty Fuzz & Pluck; still, I’ve never seen this in a store, though Fantagraphics had it at their table)

House of Twelve, at the movies Vol. 2 #1: Heavy Metal by various (from House of Twelve, a free giveaway show debut, parodying the original movie version of the magazine)

Krayons Ego by various (very nice 2006 minicomic anthology spoofing Kramers Ergot, though it’s most highly reminiscent of Kurt Wolfgang’s old Lo-Jinx; a semi-heated, semi-affectionate lampoon of various contemporary independent comics names, Paper Rad or members thereof apparently the most popular target, though the Jeffrey Brown stuff is maybe the nastiest - Chris really liked it when I showed it to him, but then it was all sold out when he went back for a copy of his own)

New Tales of Old Palomar #1 (of 3) by Gilbert Hernandez (new miniseries of stand-alone tales, presented in the Ignatz format, debuting at a show featuring the Ignatz Awards; I remember when this was first released I heard it was going to be titled simply ‘New Palomar’ like it was New X-Men)

Ninja by Brian Chippendale (debuted at the show, probably the book of the show, and I’ve gushed enough already; when I went to Rick Veitch's table, he became momentarily transfixed with the transfixed and murmured "I want to make a book like this!")

Paping #11 by various (older issue of a deluxe anthology by some interesting-looking creators; the real showpiece was issue #14, with its solid wood covers and impressive prints ‘n comics mishmash interior, the whole thing bound by red shoelaces; I just didn’t have the roughly $30 needed to spend on it by that point in the show, though)

Project: Romantic by various (debuted at the show, the newest in AdHouse’s Project series of anthologies, this one strictly devoted to romance comics)

Pulphope.A by Paul Pope (a show exclusive, I think; not the full Pope art book coming soon from AdHouse, but a 200 copy ashcan with some exclusive stuff)

R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet” Starring Batman (Abridged) by K. Thor Jensen (a reenactment of the continuing American epic, with members of the Batman cast playing each role)

Sermons #2 by Kevin Huizenga (found at the Buenaventura Press table, debuted at the show I think; another installment of Huizenga’s interesting sketchbook minicomic concept, dedicated wholly to drawings made and notes taken during church services - it’s "KH Book #9" in Huizenga’s numbering scheme, if you’re keeping track)

Service Industry by t. edward bak (much-recommended and indeed very impressive 2005 minicomic by bak, who’s set to appear in Fantagraphics’ MOME at some point in the future; a potent mix of autobiography, fantasy, subconscious yearning, and personal philosophy, all in 28 b&w and color pages)

Shadowland by Kim Deitch (the big new Fantagraphics collection of some of my personal favorite underground-era cartoonist’s less-seen works, all of it concerning the affairs of an ill-fated family; debuted at the show, and I bought the last copy, so if you couldn’t find it you might as well blame me)

So it was a nice trip. A lot of good things to have, and good hands to shake. I hope to do it again, and add on a few more convention experience points. I'm not leveled up yet, no sir.