The Cellar Door Publishing review column was designed to carry out Cellar Door's expressed commitment to promoting the comic book industry, as a whole. The review column focuses on books our reviewers feel have been overlooked. All reviews are positive, making them recommendations more than reviews.In order to maintain the objectivity of the column, Cellar Door books will not be reviewed or recommended by our reviewers.
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REVIEW FOR DECEMBER 13
Living in Infamy
By Benjamin Raab, Deric A. Hughes, and Greg Kirkpatrick
Publisher: Ludovico Technique
Reviewer: Clark Liles
Bad guys turning good… A common motif, right? Man's struggle to overcome his baser instincts and come out on the side of the angels is a very common story. One told many times over, especially in the world of superheroes and their equally super villains. Today's popular villain is bound to be the next reformee.
But, what if a villain just wants out of the life? Can he turn states evidence? Can he get a new life away from the capes and the cowls? Well, if he does, he'll be Living in Infamy.
In the middle of the Arizona desert, in the little, unassuming town of Infamy, lies a carefully guarded secret… and Benjamin Raab, Deric Hughes, and Greg Kirkpatrick let us in on the secret. But don't worry, they have been mad, they may have been megalomaniacal, they may have been murderous… but with a little finger pointing, giving the police a little help with some of their former partners, they've atoned and committed to leading a normal life. They work normal jobs, they live in normal homes, and have normal problems…
So how will the sleepy little town with the mundane problems of suburbia react when The Baron finds out its government secret? Who is The Baron and for whom is he looking?
At first glace, Living in Infamy may appear to be another comic in the recent trend, or return to the trend, of funny superhero comics… but don't let appearances fool you. It's the story of extraordinary people living mundane lives and trying to hide their true nature for their own protection, as well as the protection of their families.
Raab and Hughes's storytelling is magnificent here. They do capitalize on the humor of a group of former villains playing a poker game, but they don't let the humor dilute the seriousness of the story. Raab and Hughes also masterfully give us enough information about the characters scattered through their dialogue without any drawn out monologues or scene interfering expository boxes. It's like learning about a group of friends by listening in on their conversation. Using that style, they leave us with plenty of questions and begging for more.
Be sure to give Living in Infamy a shot. Don't worry about the mysterious deaths, the disappearances, the marital and parental troubles, and the problems of a hidden past… it's just suburbia. It's a nice place to stay… trust me.
REVIEW FOR DECEMBER 6
Street Angel Volume 1: The Princess of Poverty
By Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca
Publisher: SLG Publishing
Available for purchase online at http://store.slavelabor.com/
Reviewer: Matthew Bylsma
Sometimes a comic is so good, that you just naturally assume that everyone is already reading it, only to be surprised to find that maybe everyone isn't. Street Angel is one of those comics, a book that melds humor, action, and pathos into one satisfying package, a good read from start to finish. So what is Street Angel? Is it a superhero book? Is it one of those deep introspective indie books where a character spends 14 pages digressing on the nature of a snowflake, and how it's non-permanent state makes her sad? Well, no. Simply put, Street Angel is a book that melds humor, action, and pathos into one satisfying package, a good read from start to finish.
Who is Street Angel? Street Angel is the alter-ego of Jesse Sanchez. “Orphaned by the world, raised by the streets, Jesse Sanchez is a dangerous martial artist, and the world's greatest homeless skateboarder.” That's all you will ever know about her past, and really, that's enough. Street Angel doesn't spend time on richly detailed back-story, or convoluted motivations… if there is something in a character's past the book thinks you should know, it will explain it, but apart from that, all the characters are kept refreshingly free of continuity. Every issue takes a short amount of time to set up the conflict, and then bam! Off goes Jesse, riding her skateboard into action, no matter who her foe. Be it evil scientists, Irish astronauts with strange Australian accents, maniacal robots, or the ever present ninja, Street Angel charges into battle without fear, and rides out victorious every time. She is not alone, though, in the fight against the forces of not-good, as she is joined on the streets by her erstwhile partner, the Bald Eagle, a handicapped man with just one arm, who kicks ass with the best of them. She is even aided by Jesus himself, when Jesse finds herself confronted by a demonic foe.
It is not always evil and wrongdoing that Jesse fights, however. Her most constant foe is hunger, as the fourth issue (subtitled “Down in the Dumpster”) illustrates. Even though Jesse is a girl who can do many great things, and is in many ways indestructible, this issue goes a long way to show just how vulnerable she can be to the most basic of human needs. It is especially telling that she goes to great lengths to not be seen by other people at her school when she is dumpster diving for food, as it is clear that while she has found a way to make the best of her situation, she is still embarrassed to be seen that way by her peers.
The look of the pages is very important to the feel of the book, as well. There are many pulp like elements to the illustration, from the way the titles are presented to the captions that speak directly to the reader, as well as numerous little details in panels. One of those details that stands out to me is Street Angel's use of onomatopoeia. For those who don't know, onomatopoeia is the literary term for a word that literally describes a sound or action, such as crash or bang. In comics, this is more commonly referred to as sound effects. Street Angel takes it a step further, though, by actually having the word being affected by the action it describes…when Jesse crashes though the door of the office of the Mayor, for example, not only do pieces of the door go flying, but the word “CRASH!” itself is scattered by the force of the blow, a nice touch indeed.
So, is Street Angel for you? Well, do you like books that don't take themselves that seriously, but still deliver some serious fun? Do you like books that toy with the conventions of superhero and indie comics, while ascribing none of them to itself? Do you like comics? If so, well, Street Angel is for you. It just may be the most fun you'll have reading a comic this year.
REVIEW FOR NOVEMBER 29
Films Inspired By Comics
Reviewer: Ron Thibodeau
The comics medium has certainly caught the eye of ‘mainstream' America, enjoying mentions of comics and graphic novels in Entertainment Weekly, Time Magazine, Spin Magazine, etc.
Comics are also branching out into film projects, art gallery exhibitions, and projects we haven't even heard of yet. Everyone knows about Spider-Man, Batman, X-Men and Superman.
But, there are also smaller, experimental films featuring comics work as well as creators. Some projects have gone the ‘direct to video' route, because of the ability to do more w/ less money.
With the holiday season getting here, I haven't had time to read as many books as I would like. So, I decided to check out some of those DVD offerings you might not be aware of and let you know what I thought (your opinion may vary).
To start with, I grabbed a copy of Lady Death: The Motion Picture . I must admit that all I know of Lady Death is that she rose up during the ‘bad girl' days of the late 90's/early 00's. I know Brian Pulido created the character and has written her for some time. That's it.
The film attempts to tell us the origin of Lady Death. We are taken to Sweden, back in the 1400's. War and strife are ruining the countryside, mainly under the evil leadership of Matthias. He roams the countryside gathering up young men (willingly or not) for his army.
He runs afoul of the local priest who summons the villagers to take down Matthias' castle. But, Matthias has a daughter, named Hope. She, as her name suggests, is blonde and beautiful and in love--until Daddy ruins her relationship.
When the villagers storm the castle it is revealed that Matthias is really the ‘earthbound' form of Lucifer, King of Lies. After the massacre at the castle, the priest and Hope are the only two remaining in the rubble. He decides to burn her at the stake for her father's sins.
Tricked into giving her soul over to hell, Hope enters her father's realm. She confronts him for some past misdeeds, and he casts her aside. But, instead of dying, Hope harnesses the power that her father told her she possessed. She rechristens herself “Lady Death”, and sets out to amass an army to take down her father and free the souls of her soul mate, as well as that of her mother.
The movie isn't bad, but it does suffer in that it isn't the art I was used to seeing on the covers of the book. Instead, the film goes for an ‘anime' style that gives some of the characters limited mobility in action scenes. Despite this being an origin film, it isn't explained when Hope suddenly turns from a young, blonde, girl to a white-haired, white-skinned woman whose breasts suddenly grow to astronomical proportions.
But, like I said, this film is entertaining in a sort of MST3K way, and the people I watched it with quite enjoyed their first look at a character they never knew existed.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I also picked up a DVD entitled God Hates Cartoons . This DVD features 20 cartoon shorts from comics and animation creators. Tony Millionaire, Jim Woodring, and Ivan Brunetti & Tim Maloney are just some of the creators featured in this film.
I knew I was in for a treat when I was subjected to the Public Service Announcement warning people to use cartoons wisely, and how they are not for everyone. A short film, called “God vs. The Bunny”, followed this. The fact that “God” was really just a Hawkman action figure with his face/head obscured by what appeared to be a giant eyeball contact lens made this short even more hilarious.
I was especially happy to see Tony Millionaire's “Maakes” short film on here. I am a big fan of Millionaire's aforementioned strip, as well as his “Sock Monkey” comics, which feature the same characters in hilarious adventures. Check out Sock Monkey if you can. It features stuffed animals and toy soldiers involved in turf wars, an alcoholic stuffed Crow (named ‘Drinky') who laments the fact that he cannot fly because he isn't a real bird.
“The Courtship of Sniffy LePants” had a nice musical opening and the art style along w/ the music made me think of an accordion player on the streets of Europe. (Not sure if that stuff ever happens, but that's what it made me think of.) On a personal note, the ‘crazy lady in the well' had this expression on her face that immediately called to mind my sister.
The ‘Diaper Dyke and Captain Boyf***' shorts are utterly hilarious, and as you can probably guess from the title and some of the synopses above, this is an animated film that isn't for the ‘Walt Disney' age kids.
Definitely check out ‘God Hates Cartoons”. It is time (and money) well spent..
REVIEW FOR NOVEMBER 22
By David Mack (With assists by Rick Mays & Various)
Publishers: Image Comics / Marvel Comics (Icon)
Reviewer: Michael Peterson
Vol. 1: Circle of Blood
Vol. 2: Dreams
Vol. 3: Masks of the Noh
Vol. 4: Skin Deep
Vol. 5: Metamorphosis
Vol. 6: Scarab
Vol. 7: The Alchemy (Not collected at the time of this review)
This is one of those reviews that's hard to write, for equal parts frustration in trying to sum up what David Mack has accomplished, and in the fact that I need to write it at all--why aren't you reading "Kabuki" /already/? Truth be told, however, I was once the same way. When I bought "Circle of Blood," the first volume, I put off reading it for some time--something which I never do. A cursory flip-through did nothing but highlight my prejudices--wasn't it just a better done version of that second-most-cliché of all comic stories, the "bad ass chick with an edged weapon?"
Well, no. And I should have been able to dispel that just by observing the /other/ incorrect assumption laid at this book--that "nothing happens in the later volumes." Certainly at least one of the two had to be wrong, and it turns out that they both are. So it was that when I finally sat down with that introductory chapter, I was so taken with the story of Ukiko Kai that I went out and quickly purchased all of the other volumes in short order. Indeed, they were probably the only books that I bought or read for the next couple months.
The thing with Mack's work is that it can be very deceptive in the best way. It's easy to look at the artwork, its use of mixed media and delicate brushwork, and forget there's even a story going on. He frequently eschews the use of panels entirely and relies upon his command of the page itself as a unit to keep your eye moving from image to image, even as the whole often comes across as nothing more or less than a loving portraiture (an idea that culminates in "Metamorphosis," when Kabuki constructs a self-portrait out of seemingly unrelated abstract finger paintings). Similarly, in his more "traditionalist" volumes, it's the layers beneath the plot that are working towards his goals. Mack uses images (a boy with a necklace of ears, a dragon in the shape of a question mark, a crescent moon, a smile and a tear) to create a language that exists solely in the context of the story--a trick that I've only seen used, or at least used so well, in one other comic work: Moore and Gibbons's "Watchmen."
But I'm a writer, and it's the story that brings me back to this book again and again. Mack's writing is both complex and lyrical, like our best poets. Ukiko Kai grew up as a government operative as a result of a single brutal act that echoes through the entire story--the violation and murder of her mother, an Ainu comfort woman, by the sadistic mobster Ryuichi Kai--Ukiko's father. Her mother's memory cries out for vengeance, and it's the only purpose that Kabuki has. "Circle of Blood" is a violent story of battles within the Japanese government and its underground, but moreso it's a retelling of "Alice in Wonderland" through the filter of a Japanese ghost play. Ukiko has to finish her mother's vendetta so that she can finally let her go, a catharsis that spills into "Dreams," a coda volume.
But what makes "Kabuki" interesting as a story is that what should be the ending is only the first chapter. What happens when the quest is over, when you've retrieved the grail, vanquished the enemy? What's left of your life then? This is when Mack finds his surest footing of all, and the technical craft suddenly has a much more adult story to work with.
"Skin Deep" and "Metamorphosis" are two halves of a whole (though each stands alone perfectly well) that chronicle the next step in Kabuki's life, as she tries to piece together her identity while trapped in an asylum for broken secret agents. Separated from the mask she views as her face and an enemy of the only system she's had for a home, she meets a friend named Akemi who shows her the way out of both the asylum and her old life. But her former partners (highlighted in "Masks of the Noh") are coming for her, and there are going to be corpses before the end.
This story is a puzzle that rewards each reread, because of the sheer number of things going on in the background, of subtle hints at past and future. Isn't that patient one of the players in "Masks of the Noh?" Oh! That guard is a major character in the "Scarab" volume! And how did this minor walk-on get wrapped up in espionage when we see her tale begin as a drugged-out amateur musician? Could Akemi be the man that Kabuki danced with when she was still with the Noh?
"Scarab" rewinds the story to approach events from the perspective of one of Kabuki's pursuers, and reminds us that everyone is the hero of their own story. Scarab's tale is heartbreaking, but also sheds new light on everything that has come before. I can't wait until we get to the story of Tigerlily, which will be not only about the comic industry, but of a necessity that will bring her into conflict with the agent she replaced--Akemi.
Mack's tale is rooted in a love and respect for Japanese culture past and present, and the little details not only add verisimilitude, but also make this ostensible future a believable and relevant look at the present. His use of pop culture references is less about sounding hip than it is acknowledging how we all view the world around us through our art--a topic dear to my heart.
"The Alchemy," the current volume, is still underway and is thus uncollected at the time that I write this, but it's the next logical step in the progression--even as Ukiko heals, she has no direction. And so Mack is giving us a guidebook on how to build our lives with Kabuki as the stand-in--including a clever sleight-of-hand involving the old "author enters the story" trick.
It'd be easy to hate Mack for being so clever, for creating "Circle of Blood" when he was younger than I am now--and for being a good-looking, kick-ass martial artist with famous friends and connections on top of that. Except that /David Mack is also, bar none, one of the nicest people in comics/, and for that alone if nothing else, you should pick up one of the volumes of "Kabuki" today and immerse yourself in the world of the Noh. And if you do, come find me so we can talk, because someone's got to tell me what they think that bitch Butoh is up to and how she knows Akemi.
REVIEW FOR NOVEMBER 15
By Erick Hogan and Jeremy Treece
Publisher: Speakeasy Comics
Reviewer: Clark Liles
What happens when you're the hottest thing on the market one day, and a nobody the next? What if you're a superhero? Erick Hogan and Jeremy Treece explore this situation in Speakeasy Comics's Hero@Large.
Hero@Large #1 follows the rise and fall of Megalotropolis's premiere superhero, Alpha Major…or, well…just his fall. His business manager refuses to continue representing him following a string of bad marketing developments, he loses his membership to the Justice Five…It's a bad day for the Defender of Liberty. As his former manager says, “[He's] yesterday's fish wrap.”
So, what does a superhero do when he finds himself bumped aside for a fresh, new face? Alpha Major finds himself in the rat hole Skid Row Tenements guzzling Sprocket Draft Beer. Is Alpha Major really all washed up? Or can an abused mother and son show him what makes a hero a hero?
Hogan gives us a fascinating tale that is, on the one hand light and funny, but at the same time has a noticeable streak of darkness in it. Through Alpha Major, Hogan satirizes the world of marketing and fame, and while we are supposed to be sympathetic to Alphie, we can see how his own fame has blinded him to the marketing pitfalls that are associated with his name, such as the Alpha Major lunch boxes with toxic paint. Hero@Large is not just a funny book.
Treece perfectly compliments Hogan's tale of comedy and woe with art that accentuates the humor, but at the same times carries a dark tone. Alpha Major sitting in his filthy apartment guzzling beer and still wearing his costume, covered in filth with mice dancing happily at his feet, carries both a hint of humor and a sense of despair.
As Hogan and Treece bring us more Hero@Large, we are promised a closer look at the superheroic dynamics of Megalotropolis as we discover if Alpha Major and other heroes of the city can find there way to the top and the trials that lead there.
REVIEWS FOR NOVEMBER 8
Stray Bullets volume I: Innocence of Nihilism
By David Lapham
Publisher: El Capitan Books
Reviewer: Matthew Bylsma
When diving into a story, what better place to start than at the beginning, right? Well, maybe not. In the world of Stray Bullets, Lapham seems more content to throw us in somewhere in the middle, showing us the story of a thug who has developed a somewhat inconvenient attachment to the corpse in his backseat. Superficially, it seems to be unconnected to any of the other stories in Stray Bullets, Volume 1: Innocence of Nihilism, but as you read deeper into the stories, you begin to see that everything is more than it seems.
It would be easy to categorize these various tales of misdeed as noir, a dark look at crime and dysfunctional families, but Lapham manages to take his stories beyond such simple descriptions. While it is true that the stories often take a look at the seamy underbelly of American life, many of them take a whack at the motives behind the actions, asking and showing just why it is these people do the things they do. Lapham has taken his time crafting this tale (as it still continues to this very day), but it was time well spent, as Stray Bullets stands as a very worthwhile and important read. If you haven't already, let yourself get drawn into Lapham's world… and where better to start, than the very beginning?
The Amazing Joy Buzzards
Written by Mark Andrew Smith, Illustrated by Mr. Dan Hipp.
Publisher: by Image Comics
Reviewer: Matthew Bylsma
I know I have written about this book before, but I am going to do it again. Deal with it. One of the many reasons I read comics is for pure enjoyment, and right now there is NOTHING more enjoyable in comics than The Amazing Joy Buzzards. This book is punk-rock attitude given illustrated form, a thrill ride from beginning to end that only gets better with every issue. Featuring the adventures of the greatest rock band on earth, adventures that resemble a mad amalgam of 60's spy films and Scooby-Doo cartoons, it is literally impossible to read this book without a smile on your face… in fact, the only bad part about it is that eventually it ends, and you have to wait for the next issue to show up before you can get your next fix. If you aren't reading this book, do yourself a big favor and pick up the trade paperback, collecting the entire first five issues. Get addicted to the Amazing Joy Buzzards…it's a high you'll never regret.
REVIEW FOR NOVEMBER 1
Publisher: Archie Comic Publications
Reviewer: Ron Thibodeau
Recently, there was a discussion on the Brian Michael Bendis' forum over at jinxworld.com . Someone asked the question why is Archie still being published.
The point was made that in this day and age where comics fans like an 'ongoing' story, where characters evolve, the Archie universe seemed blessedly 'quaint'.
It made me think back to my first comics. Richie Rich was a hit with me. My favorite character was an evil, snobby, rich girl named Mayda Munny (not sure if I spelled her name correctly, but that was her name, nonetheless).
I went to the store and an issue of Veronica caught my eye. The first thing I noticed was how vividly bright the colors were (the cover image above is different than the cover I got. On my cover Veronica was wearing a red suit w/ brown boots. Very bold). The word balloon on the cover is a lost art. In this day and age where most comic companies make 'iconic' poses of their heroes, it was a refreshing change to see a silly word balloon splashed across the cover.
The stories, while simple, were quite hilarious. In the first story, "Chip off the old Block", Veronica is eating a bag of chips, when she pulls one out of the bag and finds it is shaped exactly like Archie. It made me think of those news stories where people claim that the image of the Virgin Mary is engraved in their breakfast sausage.
And like those people who make those claims, Veronica becomes a local celebrity with her 'Archie Chip', even getting on national television with it. Archie, of course, is not pleased. He has to hear taunts at school like "Archie is a chip off the old block head." Jughead comes in and provides the expected but nonetheless funny conclusion to the story.
"Veronica, Fashion Enforcer" is my favorite of the three tales presented. Veronica is cruising the halls of Riverdale High, when she realises that Midge's outfit "is so last spring!" After insulting all the outfits of her peers, Nancy suggests (jokingly) that Veronica should be an enforcer of fashion. Not realising her friend was being sarcastic, Veronica dons an outfit (complete with whistle) and hands out tickets for such offenses as having a white handbag after labor day, and having 'high rise jeans'.
When the principal arrives to end her shenanigans, something happens to Veronica's own outfit, which requires a quick change of clothes, again, and she ends up wearing a janitor's overalls.
"Art A La Carte" sees Veronica enter her 'modern art' into a local competion. It is nothing more than a trashcan overflowing with trash, but Veronica feels it is worthy of 'artistic' status. World reknowned art critics come and are dazzled by her 'work'. They want to commission the piece, but the trash is taken out by the janitor, unwittingly, and Veronica's dreams go out with the rest of the trash.
I have to say that I was quite happy with this purchase. It is something that entertained me, told 3 different tales in one book, and cost only $2.25. I may pick up another one next month, and I think you should, too.
REVIEW FOR OCTOBER 18
Paul Auster's "City of Glass"
Adapted by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli
Reviewer: Michael Peterson
"This is all he ever asked of things: to be nowhere."
Quinn is an author who receives a phone call from someone mistaking him for Paul Auster--the author of this very book. They believe Auster is a detective, and Quinn takes his identity and the case--leading him on a journey inward and into confrontation with lost fathers, lost sons, and the language of the angels.
It shouldn't have worked, on paper. Not only a comic adaptation of a prose novel, but one that is almost entirely abstract narration and winding monologue. Instead Karasik and Mazzucchelli take the level of experimentation in the novel and bring it up another level-only "Watchmen" has come close in its manipulation of the nine-panel grid.
The story, though, defies description. This is a detective story the way, say, "The Singing Detective" is one; a framework on which to examine both people and narrative--and the relationship between the two.
This classic was out of print for many years, but is finally re-released and bowling over a whole new generation of readers. Be one of them.
REVIEW FOR OCTOBER 11
Buddy Does Seattle
By Peter Bagge
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
Reviewer: Matthew Bylsma
It has often been said that life is stranger than fiction, that no matter how fertile your imagination is, reality can trump your wildest thoughts. This certainly holds true in the pages of Peter Bagge's Buddy Does Seattle, a collection of comics featuring Buddy Bradley and his adventures through life. While not actually based on true events, everything that happens in this book certainly could have happened, and that's what makes it feel so real. What Peter Bagge has done is taken life at it's most mundane, and made it something truly fascinating to read about.
Everyone you will meet in this book is flawed, sometimes deeply so… Buddy is a directionless loser with a drinking problem, his friend “Stinky” is a drug and sex obsessed weirdo, their roommate George is a trust fund conspiracy freak who is terrified of the outside world. But these flaws serve to humanize the characters, to give the reader something to connect to them with. There is a little of what a lot of people in their twenties have gone through in the struggles of Buddy to find a satisfying life, and really, who hasn't known someone like “Stinky”? I found myself identifying with the problems that Buddy and his friends encounter, even if I had never personally experienced them myself. The book does an excellent job of creating a very true to life feel…
But don't take that to mean this is an entirely serious book. While the tone at times can be quite somber (because life is like that sometimes), there is a lot of humor to be found here. Bagge never goes for the easy joke though, instead just telling the story like it is, and letting the reader find the laughs for themselves. It works wonderfully well, as you find yourself amused at the situations these characters get themselves into, but you almost never laugh AT them, but rather with them. And the situations are often quite insane, like Buddy's adventures in managing a rock band with an ever-changing name, or George's one and only date (ever) with Buddy's friend Lisa… insane, but entirely plausible, and often quite hilarious indeed. In fact, I think that would be the best way to describe this book…insane, but absolutely hilarious. If you enjoy books that look at life as it really is, rather than the way we want it to be, you would be well served to pick this up.
REVIEWS FOR OCTOBER 4
Recur #0 and #1
By Brian K. Smith
Publisher: Isolation Disorder Press
Reviewer: Ron Thibodeau
This weekend I was lucky to attend Wizard World Boston. There were scads of comic celebs (Greg Rucka, Ethan Van Sciver, Jim Starlin, David Mack), but the first place I hit was the back of the con, at Artist's Alley.
There I found small press guys waiting to show me something new.
One of the first places I hit was the Isolation Disorder Press table, manned by Brian K. Smith and Iann Robinson.
One of the books I picked up was called 'Recur'. This is a book you probably won't find in your comic shop, as it is done by 'local' talent in Boston.
I was so impressed with the book, I wanted to get the word out.
The 'zero' issue of Recur sets up the story in which young Neil has to deal with something that happened weeks ago, the suicide of his best friend.
He travels by bicycle to his friend's house, sneaks in the window to look over the house that he was so familiar with one last time.
He is surprised by his dead friend's dad, who he had thought already moved out of the house due to the tragedy.
There is awkwardness between the two. How do you put into words what you are feeling? Dad seems to have never connected with his own son, and Neil was unaware of his best friend's decision. This leaves them both feeling isolated, betrayed, and confused.
But, then, something unexpected happens at the end of the zero issue that sets up the direction of the book.
Issue one continues to deal with Neil's guilt, anger, and loss. He seems to withdraw into himself, becoming bitter and reclusive. The fact that his peers at school all find him odd, talk about him and what happened in hushed whispers (when they aren't yelling that he should kill himself, too) makes it harder for Neal, because he really has no one to talk to now that his friend is gone.
So imagine his shock and surprise when he finds a note on his windowsill from his dead friend, asking Neil to meet him down at the quarry, where they used to hang out....
Surprise is the first word that comes to mind about this book. The layout of the zero issue is very artsy, with a thick cover, with holes cut out of it, so that you can see the falling leaves on the interior. It gives off a sense of loss, of death, of that time of year when the trees are coming into their cycle of dormancy. I really enjoyed the creativity of the cover, and the inside of the book doesn't disappoint either.
Brian's style is quirky. The father of the dead boy has this quirky hairdo, in which two tufts of hair on his head make it appear as if he has devil horns. Is this foreshadowing? Does the father have something to do with his son's death? Is the dead boy back, or is someone playing a cruel joke on Neil? (We all know how cruel school kids can be, so there is that possibility.)
The mystery of what is going on, and wanting to know why Neil's friend decided to put a bullet through his own head is intriguing, and will keep me coming back for more.
7 Days To Fame
By Buddy Scalera and Nick Diaz
Publisher: After Hours Press
Reviewer: Ron Thibodeau
I was very excited to see this book available for sale at Wizard World Boston. It is due out soon, and I pre-ordered it from the shop, but seeing it in front of me I had to have it.
The three-issue mini-series starts out gritty. We see a young woman putting her baby to bed. She kisses him on the forehead, and then climbs out on the fire escape. She climbs to the roof. She jumps.
Mark and Richelle witness this event. They work for the local TV station. Sadly, their gig is not the best. Richelle and Mark are in charge of a late night talk show that doesn't have the best ratings. (The fact that it is on at 2 am probably doesn't help.)
Faced with the imminent cancellation of the show, and their possible termination, Mark (who is also the host of the show) decides to try something different.
He decides to have one guest on for an entire week. A woman who is terminally ill with cancer. The suicide of the girl on the roof has caused him to think a bit. Why did she choose to do this? What drove her?
So, he decided to invite this terminally ill woman on his show so that he (and the viewers) can 'put a face' on someone whose death is imminent.
The show doesn't go quite as he had planned, and therein lies the hook.
Throughout the book, we are introduced to other characters who may or may not be terminally ill, but who definitely have the reclusive, angry bit of that situation down. How they will play into the greater tapestry of the story is beyond me (at this time), but I was interested enough to come back to find out.
Scalera doesn't care about making his protagonists 'nice', which is something I enjoyed. Portraying Mark as an opportunist looking for the quick way to fame is something I would imagine that some people in the television industry feel at times.
His brief glimpses of (what I assume will be) future characters in the book were brief, but you had enough information to feel that these characters weren't irrelevant. He also held back just enough for you to wonder exactly what their situation is.
Scalera's pencils work well here, but I think that some of the coloring detracts from that. Sometimes the colors on people's clothes seem a bit too bright, and there is an instance where a man gets coffee spilled on him, where the coffee appears to be floating just in front of his clothes, as opposed to being spilled on his clothes, but those are minor quibbles in the grand scheme of things.
Both books captured my interest due their slight morbidity and themes of death. Who hasn't had to deal with the loss of a loved one? Who hasn't contemplated 'ending it all' at least once in their life?
In Recur, we are left with nothing to go on but the surviving character's feelings and remembrances to draw a complete picture of the deceased.
In 7 Days to Fame, we have someone willing to exploit the death of one woman to reap his own fortune.
While both books deal in similar themes, it is the inherently different approach to the subject matter that caught my interest.
If you are interested in purchasing Recur (or any of the other offerings by Isolation Disorder Press) check out their website: http://www.isolationdisorderpress.com
The website is new, so there may not be much up their now, but stay tuned....
7 Days to Fame will be available in your local comic shops soon, so be sure to talk to your local retailer about getting you a copy.
REVIEW FOR SEPTEMBER 27
E-Merl: The Comics of Daniel Merlin Goodbrey
Reviewer: Michael Peterson
Merlin is one of those guys who makes the miraculous look so simple that you almost want to hate him for it. Better instead to hate his sadistic avatar Mr. Nile. How dare you slaughter our sacred calf? Merlin and Mr. Nile don't just experiment with the comic form--they are full-blown mad scientists, and their twisted creations now run rampant across the internet, changing whatever they touch. When Scott McCloud spoke of Reinventing Comics, he was talking about Merlin.
It started with "Sixgun," a multi-tiered, nonlinear venture into an "unfolded earth"--just the kind of twisted setting, so full of potential, that engages me as a reader and a writer at a deep level. It's a cliché to say that "anything can happen there and does," but when you can introduce a man who bleeds scorpions, you know your canvas is wide open.
"Mr. Nile's Experiment," and its sequel for ModernTales, "The Nile Journals," are still arguably his masterpiece. Nile screws with the comic medium for his own twisted enjoyment, and that's led to travels inside the author's head (a theme that continues in his "Icarus" series), what it feels like to exist in sequential panels of movement, and how sound exists in comics. There are questions answered we didn't realize we wanted the answers to.
It's not always about the grandiose, however. Merlin has a pointed sense of humor, and can make a goofy idea like a Ninja With No Arms not only work but endure, and his 9-11 reaction strip worked also as a commentary on newspaper comics (a concept that Art Spiegelman also employed in a different way).
His "Tarquin Engine" has shown us a new way to view "infinite canvas" webcomics in a way that expands upon the metaphor Dylan Horrocks gave us for comics, a true "map in time as opposed to space." Seen already in a number of his comics, including the sprawling "Externality," it's a versatile tool that has blown the field wide open.
Merlin examines what it is to be a creator, and what comics can be. And he has an addictive style to his writing and artwork that make that a joy to experience.
REVIEWS FOR SEPTEMBER 13
Rex Libris: “I Librarian”
Written and Illustrated by James Turner
Publisher: Slave Labor Graphics.
Reviewer: Matthew Bylsma
Librarians. They are knowledgeable, astute, and sometimes stern. They wield the Dewey decimal system like a well-honed blade… but are they heroes? Well, you tell me. Does a man who defends the vast knowledge of the universe (in convenient book form) from all manner of library card-lacking Samurai demon sound like a hero to you? Does a man who traverses the whole of time and space just to ensure that an overdue book is returned safe and sound seem like a hero to you? Well, I don’t know about you, but he sounds like a big damn hero to me. Thus, we have Rex Libris: librarian superhero, defender of catalogued knowledge.
The first thing that stood out to me about this book, apart from the concept, was the art. Sparse and angular, with strong contrast delineating the characters from the backgrounds, each figure seemed to pop off the page toward your eye. It’s very striking, and serves the story very well in my opinion. This is an art style that is not going to appeal to everyone, but to me, it’s the perfect style for the story being told.
At first blush, what we have as far as plot is your typical origin tale, which not only serves to introduce us to the character of Rex Libris, but also to his world and worldview, which it does very well. However, once you get deeper into the story, it becomes clear that this is not just the origin of Rex himself, but also the origin of the issue you are currently reading. It’s a very unique approach to storytelling…not only are they building the world in which Rex himself inhabits, but they are building connections to the world we inhabit, as well.
After the preamble, wherein Rex battles the aforementioned Demon Samurai over the possession of the library’s copy of the Big Book of Evil, we meet B. Barry Horst, an editor at the publisher Hermeneutic Press. Barry is meeting with Rex about the possibility of basing a comic book on his life, which is of course, the comic book that you are reading. Rex and Barry’s conversation about the book’s tone and scope is a hilarious commentary on the state of the comic industry, as Barry keeps trying to ‘spice up’ Rex’s tale by adding typical comic book clichés, much to the bewilderment of Rex. However, he soon gets caught up in the excitement, and finds himself quite desirous of a pair of tights by the end of the meeting…
Speaking of commentary…another unique feature of Rex Libris is the running ‘audio’ commentary at the bottom of each page, detailing the thoughts of the aforementioned B. Barry Horst and the artist of the comic, known simply as Juame (James Turner’s alter ego in the book). What at first starts out as more or less a parody of typical DVD commentary, with the speakers describing elements in the book above as they happen, turns into more of a skewering of the mindset of ‘mainstream’ comics as the commentary progresses.
It does run out of steam near the end of the book, with neither participant being able to come up with anything to say, but I think that was meant to be in keeping with the style of the DVD counterpart. In essence, what I think James Turner set out to do with this book was to give us something that was almost totally unique, and to my mind, he absolutely succeeded. There is just so much to love about this book that it’s very hard to list it all. I haven’t even mentioned the concept of Advanced Visicomboics yet, which states that comics such as this are, in fact, even better when read with coffee and a pastry (don’t worry, it’s explained in detail at the beginning of the book); or the Obscurantist Adventures of the Meta Dust Mote, a one page back up story telling the tale of the dust mote of destiny; or the Cladogram of the Dadapod , a back up story detailing the evolutionary cycles of the Dadapod, a mysterious quantum animal that exists only between 1 and 2 pm eastern.
I really haven’t seen a book so refreshingly unique in a long, long time, and it’s put a big smile on my face ever since I finished reading it. Please don’t make the mistake of passing this book up. Harass your comic shop to get this for you (or order it direct from Slave Labor Graphics), set aside a day or two to take it all in, boil up a pot of coffee, get a danish, and then settle back and enjoy Rex Libris: “I Librarian”. You’ll be glad you did.
REVIEW FOR SEPTEMBER 6
Lost Dogs GN
By Jeff Lemire
Publisher: Ashtray Press
Reviewer: Ron Thibodeau
Sometimes I go through the Previews guide, and decide to order a book, based only on a tiny solicit and cover image. Sometimes I am pleased, sometimes I am disappointed.
This month, I was very pleased .
Lost Dogs is the story of a man. You never get his name, or his location, but what shines through here is the power of the art and story. Our main character lives w/ his wife, daughter, and dog in the countryside. As the book opens, we see him tilling the field near his house. His daughter appears, calling for her papa. He is overjoyed to see her, and carries her on his shoulders up to the home he shares with his family.
He is big. I mean BIG--certainly no one you would want to mess with, and that is where the unexpectedness of the story comes into play. He is messed with--in a big way, while he takes his wife and daughter to town for a fun night out. Approached by a gang of hoodlums, he is overpowered by sheer numbers (and weapons), and tossed into the sea and left for dead, but not before seeing his daughter gutted before his eyes, and his wife carried off by the gang.
He is discovered by a barge who fishes him out of the water. Upon waking, and not knowing where the rest of his family is, he lashes out at his rescuers, who chain him up and decide to bring him to the local police.
Fate is with him that day, as the crew is set upon by an old man who pays to have this brute taken to his quarters. He repairs the brute's wounds and gives him some food. It is then that the old man's agenda becomes clear. He isn't doing this out of the kindness of his heart, but is seeking retribution of his own. In order to hold the brute under his sway, he reveals that he knows what happened to the brute, and he can help him find out where his wife is-- but, he has to do something for the old man first.....
The over-sized format of the book really lets the art shine here. Although the book is black and white, there are bits of scarlet used to brighten a scene (the brute wears a 'candy striped' t-shirt of red and white) or darken it (as the occasional flashes of blood in the fight scenes illustrate)
The book is a bit dark on the inking, but somehow, it helps show how bleak and dark the town is, as well as giving a contrast to the 'brighter' emotional moments in the story.
As the story progresses, we learn that 'the brute' is not a brute at all, merely a mountain of a man who was lucky enough to find the woman that will love him unconditionally.
There is a scene where our hero's size is shown as he lies down with his wife and child, held lovingly in his arms. The brute is shown as massive, all encompassing, while his wife and child appear to be about the same size. Although his build is massive, you can see the gentleness in his face and manner when he is with his wife and daughter.
The tension of the book plays out in an amazing fight scene in the latter third of the book. A knock-down, drag-out brawl that is part of the 'entertainment' of the day, and pivotal to the story.
Will our brute find his wife in the city? Where is she? And will the visions of his dead daughter asking/pleading "Why did you let those men hurt us?" ever go away?
The resolution of the tale is fitting for the type of story it is. I found myself both happy and sad at the poignant ending that replays the opening scene of the book, but with a little 'twist'.
Be sure to check w/ your comic shop for this one, gang. It is a book worthy of your dollars and your time.
REVIEW FOR AUGUST 30
Scott Pilgrim Vol.1: Precious Little Life
Scott Pilgrim Vol. 2: Versus The World
By Bryan Lee O'Malley
Publisher: Oni Press
Reviewer: Michael Peterson
Scott Pilgrim may well be the most fun comic book ever made.
I just have to get that statement out of the way at the beginning. See, I'm a comic snob--pretty well known for it, too. If you search through my list of favorites, you find a lot of formal experimentation, meta-narrative, the stuff you wind up in debates over. Not that I don't enjoy a little escapism, but when it comes to the top picks off my bookshelf--or top links on my computer... a lot of what I might pick isn't always so much "fun" as it is "clever." So what a joy Bryan Lee O'Malley is, in that he's both.
No, no fancy deconstructions or strange panel layouts. What O'Malley does is create a book where you start grinning like a damned idiot right when you open it and long after you close it--assuming you don't laugh out loud on the crowded L train in the interim, like I did. This was optioned for a movie after the first volume, and it's easy to see why--but don't wait to see what they do with it, grab this book up NOW and get in on the joke.
Imagine you meet the woman of your dreams... but to win her heart, you have to battle her seven evil ex-boyfriends in combat. Scott Pilgrim is a video game character and this is his love story. Scott is twenty-three, jobless, living at the generosity of his roommate and dating a girl much too young for him (okay, maybe I identify with him just a little, to boot). And even with all that, life just seems "so totally sweet" until a woman on roller blades named Ramona Flowers enters his life through a subspace highway in his head and changes things forever.
It sounds like the blueprint for an action comic, but this is the thing--the video game backdrop, the battles, even the obligatory and hilarious power-ups, they're just the decorations. The emotions of Scott and his (ever-widening) circle feel real in every single scene. From the ex-girlfriend who has to see her first love every day and pretend like she doesn't care, to the wide-eyed first touches between two people who have only barely just met, to the mixed feelings of the band suddenly about to raise a level in the public eye overnight. These are real people. And if there's a peculiar laissez-faire attitude to the way they handle an attacker armed with mystical demon cheerleaders... that's just because it's no bigger of a deal than that time their favorite restaurant closed, or when THOSE TWO hooked up...
Scott Pilgrim is a series for our so-called Nintendo generation, one of the first real examples of its kind--but it's also a story about how we never really get to leave our pasts behind us. Buy it for the laughs, buy it for the drama, or buy it for the music lessons and recipes included. Just get this book and have more fun reading a single comic than you've had since those first awestruck visits to the local shop. I can't imagine it getting better than this.
REVIEW FOR AUGUST 23
By Mike Carey and Andy Clarke
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Alex Paknadel
Mike Carey is a genius. Did you catch that? GENIUS. Not only has he
cleansed the palate of 'The Dreaming' with the only true successor to the
Sandman, the epic Lucifer, but he has also revivified the Hellblazer brand
with a run second only to Brian Azzarello's in its maddening complexity and further tarring of Constantine's roguish character. With Thirteen, we see Carey at the beginning of his career, juggling a plot-driven storyline that is phoned in by his current standards, but still squats down and rains
brown confetti on the work of most of his peers.
Thirteen is about Joe Bulmer, street urchin, punk rocker and not-so-proud
possessor of some fairly unremarkable telekinesis skills that he uses to
"influence" roulette wheels in Soho, London's vice district. However, when
he comes into possession of a black pearl seething with alien technology,
he becomes the unwitting and later unwilling host of lethal warrior priestess Adan. Pursued across greater London by the shapeshifting mortal
enemies of Adan's race and accompanied by Dakasha, a psychic/telekinetic with more refined abilities, petty thief and gambler Joe finds himself enmeshed in a conspiracy that may just question the origins of planet earth itself...
Fast, kinetic and frantic, this is top notch fun, devoid of Carey's later
introspection. I prefer the later work, but this is what British sci-fi fans clamour for; the apocalypse conducted from a 1 bedroom flat in Peckham, London; from the ridiculous to the sublime in 60 pages, in other words. In that regard, it has much in common with entertaining mental floss like Shaun of the Dead and Save the Green Planet! Andy Clarke's polished
pencils are redolent of early Travis Charest and Whilce Portacio on a good
day, so you can imagine how vibrant this cheeky little tome is.
Stick the brain on the mantelpiece with the crack pipe and enjoy.
Pure frothy bliss.
REVIEWS FOR AUGUST 2
The Surrogates #1
Written and Created by Robert Venditti
Illustrated and Colored by Brett Weldele
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewer: Ron Thibodeau
An assured debut for this five issue mini that isn't all that it appears to be in the beginning.
Robert Venditti plays with the readers perception by offering up what seems to be a 'normal' crime, but adds some bizarre and cryptic elements.
The scope of the narrative is then broadened, so that the reader realises that what he saw isn't necessarily what he saw. This clever bit of misdirection had me confused for a page or two, but I quickly regained what was going on in the story by Robert letting the tale unfold.
The story is set in the year 2054. The people of Central Georgia Metropolis have become desensitized to each other so much so, that they rarely interact with each other. Instead, they opt to sit at home and plug themselves into a machine that allows them to go through their daily life through a 'surrogate'.
A surrogate is an automated 'humanoid', that goes about their daily 'life', and all their senses and experiences are transmitted back to the 'regular' human, who smells, feels, and experiences everything that the 'surrogate' does.
In todays world where cel phones, ipods, and the internet are so prevalent, it isn't a fantastic leap to imagine that these types of devices would be wanted by the public. I mean, why go to work, if you can send a surrogate to do it for you?
Brett Weldele's art is 'sketchy' (in a good way), and brings to mind the art stylings of Becky Cloonan, or Ashley Wood. The double splash title page is sort of washed out and faded, and the look for the 'villain' of the piece (I hesitate to use the word 'villain', because it has such strong connotations) is mysterious and dark.
The cryptic comment that our killer says to his victims before their deaths seems to suggest he is a person fed up with the rise of the surrogates, who feels that people have turned their lives over to machines, without actually living a life of their own.
I am totally on-board for the rest of this mini, and can't wait to see where the rest of this goes.
School: A Ghost Story #1
Created/Written/Illustrated by Brian Defferding
Publisher: Deftoons! Cartooning and Comics
Reviewer: Ron Thibodeau
This may be one that you haven't heard of. Written by Brian Defferding, a new voice in comics, this confident debut captured my interest right away.
The story captured my interest immediately, by introducing us to our main character, Lyndsay Buckner, who is dead.
The victim of a crime of horrible violence, Lyndsay awakes, not quite sure what has happened to her. She has dark glimpses of her end, but she can't recall the face of her killer. She is alone, covered in blood, 'dead'--but yet she is walking around the grounds of a brand new school, a year after her death.
It is the first day of school, and Lyndsay finds herself a prisoner of the school's walls, unable to leave. What's worse, is that she recognises some of the faces in the school's halls. Unable to communicate with anyone, she tries to figure out why she is there, and who (if anyone) in that school is the person who murdered her.
But, being a ghost isn't all its cracked up to be. For one, Lyndsay can't touch anything, and when she tries, she finds herself going through things. These sequences where she attempts to touch solid objects were very cleverly drawn, and I found myself enjoying the visual technique that Defferding applies.
The art style he employs has a uniqueness to it-- Heads are out of proportion, eyes are large-- and even the lettering conveys a sense of distortion and confusion, that helps establish the mood of the story.
The cliff-hanger introduces us to some characters that could spell either good or bad news for Lyndsay-- I can't say what it will be, but I can say that I will be aboard for this ride till School's out (ok, that was a bad pun, I know).
Because Brian is just starting up this book, I don't believe it has been offered through Diamond. If you are interested in the book, you may go to http://www.deftoons.com for more information on the book, and ordering information.
REVIEW FOR JULY 26
Berlin, Vol. 1: City of Stones
By Jason Lutes
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly Publishing
Reviewer: Michael Peterson
People don't often write about Germany between the two World Wars,
despite it being a time of turbulence and change ripe with material…
Jason Lutes has made all other accounts unnecessary, though, with his
ongoing series "Berlin," later to be three volumes total. Ostensibly
circling around the love story of writer Kurt Severing and artist
Marthe Müller—how apropos for a graphic novel—it very quickly shows
its breadth. There is an early scene that sweeps across a busy
intersection… and stops to dwell on the thoughts of the man operating
the traffic lights.
"Berlin" is full of moments like this, and it never lets the politics overwhelm the characters. They're human, with human concerns, like what they'll have for lunch, how uncomfortable their back is… or how
lonely they are. Some of the best moments in the series are small
ones, like a shared joke at an art class or lovers talking the morning
But it certainly doesn't ignore the politics, and the book excels at
showing all sides of the argument—and so when the sides are pitted
against each other, there's characters on all sides evoking your
sympathy—which is a rarity in any medium.
The book ends in violence, and we're left waiting—Lutes has been
notoriously slow with the single issues to date, and so the second
volume is slow in coming—but he's a master of the comic form, with
simple but emotive cartooning in his characters and a level of detail
that makes the city real in the backgrounds. Even if we never see
anymore of "Berlin," we've been given enough to love.
REVIEW FOR JULY 12
Hexbreaker (A Badger Graphic Novel)
Written by Mike Baron
Publisher: First Publishing
Aight. Check it out. This is the first review (and quite possibly the only one) I’ve done for this site. But I thought I’d mix things up, set the Way Back Machine on 1988 and pull out a classic from my personal stash.
To give you the quick up to date, Badger is Norbert Sykes, a Vietnam veteran suffing from an extremely rare multiple personality disorder, which has its origins in childhood trauma. Seven great personalities in one. The personality most frequently inhabited by Norbert, indeed almost exclusively preferred, is the Badger, a self-styled crime fighter who rides the highways and by-ways of America, meting out bloody justice to jaywalkers, ticket scalpers, indifferent teenaged fast food clerks, in fact any damn body he feels like because he’s CRAZY!
He’s an expert in hand to hand combat. He can also talk to animals. And maybe the coolest thing about him is that he’s stomping around Wisconsin.
When I bought this thing back in 88, First Publishing was a healthy comic company, Mike Baron was best known for his work on The Punisher and Nexus, and I was dating Cindy Becker. Well, a quick google search for all parties involved shows me that First Publishing went out of business and might have run into some legal problems. Mike Baron has gone on to be a very respected person. And the last I knew Cindy was some hair artist in San Francisco.
So I loved Badger back in 88, because there were familiar landmarks in the story, and even though I was still collecting Detective and Batman, there was something cool about Badger because he was obscure, the closest thing to the indy band that everybody name drops. But I hadn’t looked at an issue in over 15 years, and I wasn’t sure how it was all going to hold up.
And now I know. The premise of HEXBREAKER (a Badger Graphic Novel) is that Badger has been invited to fight in a mysterious tournament (weapons optional). The winner of the tournament is granted whatever his heart desires. Before leaving, Badger’s best friend, Ham (a Druid bent on taking over the world who can control the weather) tells Badger that if he wins, he should request that Ham rules the world.
Anywho, Badger ends up in Vietnam on his way to China (with a conveniently placed love interest, Mavis Davis who also happens to be fighting in the tournament). While in Vietnam, Mavis and Badger kinda get freaky for a quick second, take on an orphaned kid, and fight some bad guys (the leader is named Trans Ahm).
The dialogue is straight out of a bad action movie, but I think the intention was to be satirical (I’m sure, please don’t ruin the illusion for me), and I enjoyed it in spite of myself and any literary snobbery I may use to filter these kinds of things. I’m probably not the best judge of art, but there isn’t anything offensive here, it moved the story along.
So, anyway, the whole thing has me thinking that maybe I should call up Mike Baron and Cindy Becker and we can maybe cookout and talk about the old days, and I can sit around and say, “Hey Mike, remember that one time in issue #7 when…”
Review for June 28
Written and Illustrated by James Kochalka
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Reviewer: Matt Bylsma
What to say about Super F*ckers? Well, simply put, it’s a parody of superheroes, written by James Kochalka… need I really say more? I think not.
Hm? Still here?
Oh, okay then, I’ll go on. This is the story of what happens when people stop being nice, and start being real... hmm. No wait, that’s the Real World. THIS is the story of what happens when SUPERHEROES stop being nice, and start getting real. Have you ever wondered what powerful people do when no one is watching? Super F*ckers shows us that side of a group of super powered people, as they relax in their super base on an off day. Mostly, they spend their day getting high and playing videogames, mocking and belittling the less liked members, while waiting for something to happen…really, not too much different from a typical fraternity, eh? Oh but wait… one member, Vortex, has a crisis! You see, Vortex keeps his childhood self in a time pocket, contained within a jar, and that jar has a crack in it… if the time leaks out, then the universe will end! No biggie, right? It must not be, as no one apart from Vortex really seems to be that concerned about it…
Meanwhile, strange things are afoot outside. The Super F*ckers have announced that they are going to be recruiting new members, and the news has attracted quite a crowd. Everyone wants to be first in line, but they will have to get past Plant-Pal and his friend Rocketpower, and the guy with the computerized fists. And the guy with the big f’n rocket cone on his head. And the guy who overdosed on the superhero supplement, xaxxax. And on and on…Naturally, any large gathering of super-powered people is going to result in a lot of butting heads, so predictably, a fight breaks out over who REALLY deserves to be allowed to tryout…
While this is going on, a bizarre hideously scarred man writes a love letter to his favorite member of the team while hiding in the bushes nearby, which his friend Tumor delivers for him via the base's sewer pipes. But that's all pretty normal, and not worth talking about.
If you are looking for deep meaning in this book, don’t bother. That’s not what Super F*ckers is about. This book is all about the laugh, and there are a lot of laughs to be had in this first issue. Sure, it’s low-brow, it’s profane, and borderline obscene, but it’s also pretty f*ckin’ funny. Not recommended for the easily offended, but if you are the type of person that can recognize a joke for what it is, then I recommend checking this out!
Review for June 21
I Was Someone Dead
By Jamie S. Rich
Illustrated by Andi Watson
Publisher: Oni Press
Reviewer: Ron Thibodeau
This review is a bit different, as ‘I Was Someone Dead’ is not your typical ‘graphic novel’, but instead, an actual prose novel that features illustrations placed at various places throughout the novel itself.
The novel tells the tale of Hieronymus Zoo, who truly is the master of all he surveys. You see, Hieronymus lives all alone on an island that he bought, in order to escape the grind of daily life. His only companion on the island is his dog, an Australian shepherd, named Gus.
Hieronymus found that he couldn’t relate to people in his daily life. Not as a child, and certainly not as an adult, because he found himself outside of the window looking in on life. Emotions were something that would upset him, because they were alien to him. And so, to protect himself, he has fled to his solitary island oasis.
He has an arrangement with a boat captain to drop off groceries and books, hygiene products, etc, every week—but even that task is carried out without any contact or interaction between the two. The items are dropped off at night, and the captain picks up the list of next week’s purchases, which has been left for him.
But, not is all as peaceful as Hieronymus had hoped. For out in the sea, there is something dark and scary, hovering just below the surface. At night it cries out in a hideous wail. What is it? And why does it come to visit Hieronymus when he sleeps along the beach?
There is also something else. In the latest shipment, something very unexpected was brought to the island—a woman. A stowaway named Nadya, who snuck herself into a box on a ship. Her presence alters the delicate balance of Hieronymus’ world in ways that are unexpected for both.
Nadya is surprised to find a man and a dog right there, as she didn’t quite know where she was going to end up. And Hieronymus and Gus are surprised to see a woman tumble out of the box onto the sand. Their first interaction is confrontational, and Nadya makes the conscious effort to avoid Hieronymus.
Over the next few days, Nadya is allowed into his home, but is told that she will be returning on next week’s boat.
He doesn’t tell her about the creature who howls at night under the water, or how it seems to be coming more bolder. And the closer Hieronymus becomes to Nadya, the louder and bolder the creature becomes.
Rich’s novel is brief, but engrossing. The way he introduces themes of perception and identity into his work was very well done, even causing the reader to think a little about not only the story, but also how it is told, and who is telling it.
This theme is highlighted in a scene where Nadya and Hieronymus are discussing their mutual passion for reading. Nadya says, “Maybe what the author has chosen to write exposes him more than it exposes the fictional characters….”. She then goes on to say “I’m not just reading another man’s perception of the human condition, though; I’m bringing my own point of view to it as well. And if I reduce it the other way, from the whole of humanity to the individual characters to my point of view, I learn about myself, also.”
Watson’s art is simple, but its clean lines and very simplicity, itself, are welcomed here. There is a scene in the novel, when Hieronymus tells us of his past. Working in his father’s plumbing company, he finds himself unable to relate to his coworkers and their experiences. He instead identifies more with the pipes and tools—a necessary thing to ensure that everything works. Watson’s illustration of that interweaving group of pipes allowing the water to pass through features Hieronymus at the forefront, his hand contorted like an Egyptian wall painting, holding things together, something he is unable to do in his personal life.
In the novel, Hieronymus must deal with many things, his past, his future, his isolation—and one hell of a confrontation with the thing in the ocean. But, is there really a creature, or is it a hallucination. And if it is a hallucination, does that make Hieronymus insane. The only way to find out is to kill the beast, which may take some doing, as it is a much larger and much different thing than either he or the reader expected.
Reviews for June 14
Alec: Three Piece Suit
By Eddie Campbell
Publisher: Eddie Campbell Comics / Top Shelf Productions
Reviewer: Michael Peterson
The second in his not-so-veiled autobiographical "Alec" series, this is actually a collection of three books, all of them good… but this book is worth its cover price for "Graffiti Kitchen" alone.
It's Eddie Campbell's attempt to tell a true love story without the saccharine BS, and he succeeds. I have no trouble holding this up as one of my favorite stories in the comic medium. Alec is awkwardly caught between the girl he likes, and her mother, whom he's with. All the while he ponders his place in the world, and has a fair bit to drink. The emotions feel true, and his loose style has never worked better. Autobiography, particularly about youth, always runs the risk of triteness, but he captures a moment here that really works.
The second piece, "Little Italy," is a collection of journal comics and other work surrounding a period he spent in Northern Australia, and is some of his funniest material. "The Dance of Lifey-Death," in a sense, lays the seeds for the mid-life crisis that explodes so brilliantly across his later work, "After the Snooter," here amongst tales of kids, world-wide tours, and generally coming to terms with being an adult.
Campbell, perhaps better known for his work on "From Hell," shines here as he does throughout the "Alec" series—but it's "Graffiti Kitchen" that I come back to again and again.
Finder: Sin-Eater (Vol. 1 & 2)
By Carla Speed McNeil
Publisher: Lightspeed Press
Reviewer: Michael Peterson
Jaeger Ayers is a Finder, and a Sin-Eater—and a man without a home. Returning to the domed city Anvard after a prolonged absence, he becomes entangled in the domestic troubles of his old military commander and his family, the only people who've truly made him feel at home. The former commander is on the verge of madness, but has yet to take an action—can Jaeger defuse the situation without anyone getting hurt? Particularly when the city feels like a constant prison? And will he like himself when it's over?
Finder is a story set in a fantasy world that is an amalgam of earlier cultures and our near future--McNeil has created a fully realized world, here, and you only need to read the first dozen pages or so to realize just how deep it all goes. More importantly though, the family feels real, despite their alien culture. The relationships are of varying depths, and oftentimes the love is buried.
The hallmark of good science fiction and fantasy isn't coming up with a fantastic world, but using that world to tell stories about people. "Finder" is one of the best of the genre in comics today.
REVIEW FOR JUNE 7
The Milkman Murders
by Joe Casey and Steve Parkhouse
Publisher: Dark Horse
Reviewer: Alex Paknadel
Carrying on the proud tradition of Stray Bullets' "noir domestic", Joe Casey, the untameable writer of modern classics like 'Automatic Kafka' and 'Wildcats Version 2:0' takes on the all-American family in this deliciously overblown slice of grisly satire. Rape, ghetto drugs, skinned pets and domestic violence all contribute to a twisted narrative centred around Barb Vale, dowdy housewife and devoted mother. Poor Barb endures a slovenly husband with the vocabulary of a fourth grader, a promiscuous daughter who skips gym class to... well, to sleep with her gym teacher and an acne-ridden son with a penchant for relieving the
local animals of their pelts. Dysfunctional? Sure. Too dysfunctional to be real? Nope. Casey and Parkhouse turn these paper caricatures into people you love, people you hate and people you pity... often at the same time. It's a showcase for Casey's to-the-life dialogue, which is at once shocking, visceral and often very funny indeed. The turning point of the
story is when a milkman, who looks like a refugee from a demented Tex Avery cartoon, walks into the Vale household unannounced and promptly rapes Barb. No histrionics, no theatrics... he just walks in, performs his "duty" and then leaves her in a heap on the kitchen floor.
Then things get really nasty.
Echoing Nietzsche, Casey masterfully weaves into this fierce morality play the notion that staring into the abyss means the abyss stares into you. Barb slowly comes to realise that the milkman, that paragon of jaunty suburban idyll, has infected her with something cancerous and malignant. She can feel it gnawing at her reality as her family collapses around her; her husband, the obnoxious Vincent, takes crack in his buddies' garages while Ruthie, Barb's daughter openly f**ks her gym teacher in the back of his car right outside the house.
Barb has her fill and quietly, almost imperceptibly at first, stretches and then snaps. Guided by her imaginary svengali-figure and aspirational ideal, a character from chipper sitcom 'Leave it to Mother', Barb takes revenge on her hideous family in a similarly hideous fashion. Filleting them one by one, she comes to realise the nature of the milkman's work;
he is a guru of sorts, going from town-to-town, waking people up from their domestic cages, giving them new eyes with which to coldly reassess their realities. It is tortuous at times and deeply horrific, but this is not splatter without meaning or purpose. It is intended to make you, the reader, look about you for one moment and ask yourself what horrors are
fermenting behind the white picket fences in your street. This is Death of a Salesman territory here, fused at the genetic level with David Cronenberg. Implausibly enough, it works. I only hope the rest of Dark Horse's horror line is as good as this, because if so, we're in for a treat.
REVIEW FOR MAY 31
Billy Dogma: Daydream Lullabies
By: Dean Haspiel
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Reviewer: Matt Bylsma
Have you ever seen a concept and thought "damn, I wish I had thought of that…"? For me, that moment came when I started to read Billy Dogma: Daydream Lullabies, written and illustrated by Dean Haspiel. The basic concept is thus… Billy is a Superhero, but an existential one… his weapon is philosophy (and a bizarre gun that shoots everything except bullets). As such, his adventures tend to be little different than the standard superhero fare… Many of the tales of Billy Dogma are short, nothing more than one page discussions about the nature of life and love, but they provide a nice interstitial for the longer tales, which deal more with Billy Dogma's interactions with the world around him.
In the collection's first story, All Points Bulletin, Billy decides he needs to get a job, so that he can come home weary and tired like his beloved girlfriend, Jane Legit… it is only then, he surmises, that they can truly be together in their dreams. However, Dogma's proclivities toward telling the truth land him in no small amount of trouble as he bounces (read: gets fired) from job to job, as businesses tend not to appreciate having their carefully worded propaganda unraveled. Unable to hold a job, Billy finds himself an enemy of the city for daring to spread the truth and ends up cornered, staring down the barrel of a policeman's gun... but after a two page philosophical debate, all is made well again.
Is this a typical adventure for one Billy Dogma? Well, frankly, the word typical just cannot be accurately applied to this book… no one behaves the way you might expect them to behave. When Billy goes to complain to his apartment's super about a noise problem, you might expect the super to be lazy, slovenly, unintelligent…the stereotypical slumlord. Instead, he is an aging hipster with an interesting philosophy on life ("if it's eight O'clock and you have nothing to do, go to bed and try again tomorrow"), who runs a nightclub in the apartment's basement. Indeed, Billy himself is far from a typical hero, as he seems to find himself on the wrong side of the law more often than not, mainly because he believes that the law simply doesn't apply to him and his worldview. It is this constant toying with expectations that makes the book so enjoyable to me. From page to page, you are never quite sure what may happen next. The whole book is just one long absurdist-existential roller coaster, and all you can really do is just strap in and enjoy the ride… no matter w
here the track may lead .
REVIEW FOR MAY 24
Written by Christopher E. Long
Art and Covers by Andy Kuhn
Duotones by Chris Crabtree
Lettered by Tom B. Long
Edited by Chris Ryall
Reviewer: Ron Thibodeau
Have you ever sat around with your friends, just talking...and you come up with the craziest, zaniest of ideas? You know it can never work, but you talk it up as if you can figure away around all of the problems until your crazy idea seems somewhat...plausible.
Easy Way gave me that feeling. The book starts out at what would appear to be the end of the story, and then takes you back to two weeks earlier where you can see the events that lead up to the opening (or is it closing?) scene.
Duncan is an addict. He has tried many times to get his life straight, but each time, addiction drags him down. His wife has decided to leave him, taking their child along with her. Duncan is desperate to prove to his wife that he can be something other than the addict she has put up with for years. If only he had some money....
Duncan lives in a halfway rehab house, and he has a small circle of 'friends' that he hangs out with. Raz is the one who comes up with the 'easy way' to make some money.
He lays out an idea so crazy and impossible, there is no way that it can work. But he lays it out smooth, omitting a key detail.
You see, Raz' idea is to get a drug sniffing dog. He has a 'friend' who has one. Raz' idea is to use the dog to sniff out drugs in the outerlying storage units. He figures it is only a matter of time before they find something. Once the dog finds it, they steal it, sell it, and they are on easy street.
Duncan at first resists his friend's idea, wanting to do what is right for his wife and daughter for the first time in his life. He finally comes around when he realises that without money, there really is no way he can support his wife and child and show them a better way of life.
I am being intentionally vague on the plot and the kinks, because I want you to be just as surprised and delighted by this book as I was. There are definately some twists.....
Issue #2 just came out this week, and all I am going to tell you is that it is a bloody path of retribution as Marcus searches for the folks who took his stash. This surely will not end well, but the read, itself is exciting and visceral.
The duotone artwork by Bill Crabtree injects a mood into the story that can make certain seems events appear more shocking, more muted, or over the top, depending on how he either enhances or diminshes the tone of the color. The effective use of deep red during the violent splash page in issue 2 was simply amazing.
Andy Kuhn's artwork exaggerates the characters somewhat, especially Nugget, Marcus' partner in crime, whose face has more angles and outcroppings than a mountain, but this makes each character visually distinct, and gives them their own identity.
I know lots of people like to wait for the trades these days and all, but I think this book, in particular, benefits from being a monthly read, due to the effective cliffhangers at the end of each issue so far. Much like the cliffhangers of Robert Kirkman's 'Walking Dead', you don't want to wait 30 days to see what happened, but somehow it adds to the fun and enjoyment of the story itself.
REVIEW FOR MAY 17
Roomies! / It's Walky! / Shortpacked! : The David Willis Troika
By David Willis
Daily Comic Strip
Available online for free at http://www.itswalky.com and http://www.shortpacked.com
Trade paperbacks and side-story issues also available for order
Reviewer: Michael Peterson
Here at Cellar Door Publishing, we're quick to admit that the internet is home to comics just as good as their print counterparts, and there's no need for the two fields to be so mutually exclusive. Even as print comics continue to evolve and break boundaries of what we consider art and literature, webcomics are reinventing media, and sometimes just reminding us why we used to love comics for the serial thrill--like subject of this particular review.
In some ways, David Willis has always had the quintessential "Keenspot" comic. College roommates on the verge of entering "the real world," twisted sci-fi plots, characters both wacky and angsty, pop culture references geared towards specific fandoms, and tangled romantic triangles (and sometimes polygons with too many sides to count). What puts Willis apart from the crowd is that he does it just that much better than his peers.
I'll admit that I may have a certain bias. "It's Walky" featured Transformers cons, Evangelion references, and one of the fan-favorite characters is an ascerbic, sarcastic loner who shares my first name. But the fact is, when you deal with the format of the daily strip, there are certain things that you require, and Willis knocks each of them out of the park.
The story began simply, as "Roomies!," a comic began in 1997 for his school newspaper. Two roommates named Danny and Joe navigated college with less than a clue, and aside from the occasional alien abduction, the early years were a growth period, in both his art and writing styles. In its third year, however, the strip took a dark turn, and moralizing and alcohol sent the characters into a crash and burn. Its over-the-top nature was perhaps the one real sting in the series' run, and not long after, his main character found a love at last and the series was brought to a close with plotlines dangling.
"It's Walky" began shortly thereafter in 2000, bringing the aliens to the fore, and changing the hero to a young man named David Walkerton, brother to Danny's ex-girlfriend, spastic joker, and member of an elite group of superpowered alien fighters. The strip's energy was renewed, and didn't lose much of its momentum afterwards. Characters from "Roomies!" returned from time to time, and the character relationships continued to develop even amongst a plotline that followed alternate universes, child-swapping, alien robots, and a cosmic being that looks suspiciously like a robot wedge of cheese. Right about now was when readers had a startling revelation...
...Willis had been planning ahead. These plotlines had seeds that lay as far back as the first year of "Roomies!," and were beginning to grow into something truly special. The plots and subplots grew more intricate. The characters grew from stock archetypes into people that organically grew and changed, and experienced very real joy and loss. Willis was building something. It's no wonder the fans responded, and speculative threads about the mysteries and relationships would span pages and pages of message board threads. And the artwork was getting further and further polished.
By the end, a climactic, apocalyptic battle between multiple forces from space, existence between realities, and within ourselves... answers were given, loves were admitted, and all the pay-offs came. And the continuity held pretty damned firm for a story that had been adding on nearly every single day for over six years. That's truly amazing, in a medium where continuity from month to month can be an issue. A six year epic of thousands of strips paid off.
What do we look for in a webcomic? Besides compelling characters and expressive art, which the title has? We want it to be easy to jump in during the middle, and Willis has a comprehensive cast page and a summary strip for the first five years. We want it to never lose the funny, and no matter how tortured things got, a good joke was coming around the corner (this IS the story that put "perverse sexual lust" into the internet lexicon). We want it to be worth our time, and this has certainly been that.
"It's Walky" ended just a few short months ago. In its place is a new strip (or rather, a heavy re-tooling of a strip he used to do on the side) called "Shortpacked!," also loosely set in the world of his previous work, without all the baggage. Employees at a toy retailer, getting into situations, commenting on the absurdities of action figure collecting. The wit is sharper than ever, two of his most popular characters return. It's early in the strip to judge yet, but it's to date been as fun as anything the man's done.
At the same time, Willis has brought "Roomies!" back, due to Keenspot's newspaper syndication deal, and the original characters, the original setting and situations, have returned with the benefit of his improved art style and clearer writing sense. Flipping back and forth over the course of each week would be enough work for anyone, but he had one last card up his sleeve.
When a random, one-off "It's Walky" post-script story was posted, fans reacted so positively that Willis struck a deal with them: Donate $100 total, and a new "It's Walky" strip will go up on the next Saturday. His readership is not insubstantial. Within a few hours, a couple hundred dollars showed up in his account, and it's continued to pour in, since. He hasn't cheapened out on the deal, either, and has brought back fan-demanded characters to tell a full, serial story. And so he now runs three simultaneous webcomics set in the same world, at different times.
Willis is just plain good at what he does. When you follow along with his storytelling, you need to read the next, and the next. That's basic stuff, but in this day and age, it's hard to find in serial storytelling of any kind. I dropped by his site on a whim, and wound up stuck there for hours, trying to puzzle out who The Cheese was and why Sal couldn't see that Jason was in love with her. Visit the site, throw some pocket change towards the Paypal if you can, and enjoy some of the most downright FUN webcomic storytelling around. And bring an "X-Treem" Coffee Mug, 'cause you'll be up all night, hooked.
REVIEW FOR MAY 10
Nil: A Land Beyond Belief
By James Turner
Publisher: Slave Labor Graphics
Reviewer: Alex Paknadel
This is (and I lavish praise parsimoniously at the best of times, it must be said), possibly the finest original GN I have ever read. It posits a spent,
cigarette butt future where ALL ideology has been outlawed. Great steam-punk inspired "Demolition Ships" dredge the badlands of the papal kingdom of Nil of "meme outbreaks", bleaching the land of belief. A particularly memorable (and eerily prescient) sequence is the deconstruction ship Derrida's demolition of an outbreak of democracy, replete with triumphal columns and domes that strongly evoke Capitol Hill or Westminster. The goal of this institutional nihilism is to install a perfect, miserable system wherein everyone is free from hypocrisy and acknowledges that altruism and love are merely well-concealed avenues of
self-fulfilment and validation.
In one sequence, the de facto hero of the piece, Mr Nul, escorts the object of his affection, Miss Void, home. As they walk, both conscious of the possibility of real human interaction, of two bodies clasped against the sterility of their world, they deconstruct their feelings;
"I will help walk you home", Nul says, only for Void to counter with a barbed "How positively gallant of you,Mr Nul. You wouldn't be hoping to take advantage of my inebriated state for the sake of getting at my
plump, protein-rich gametes with your disposable sperm, now would you?"
This sequence is hilarious, but cautionary too. In a world where all the "isms" have failed us time and time again, where, as WB Yeats wrote in The Second Coming, "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity", how long can it be before we move into an environment where self-loathing irony presides over all human affairs and cynicism alone buoys up society's conventions?
When Nul is accused of murdering his boss, the nephew of the ruling 'Hypocripope', he is maneuvred into travelling to the front-line of Nil's war against 'Optima' - a haven for optimists. Here, in the chaos of war, he finds what may prove to be the beginning of faith.
The transition is gorgeously rendered by Turner, whose clean, claustrophobic illustrations perfectly capture the homogeneity and bland managerialism of this man-made hell. Like Terry Gilliam's Brazil, this is a world where everything is more complicated than it has to be - where soldiers enter the fray on unweildy armoured bicycles and female eggs are
sequestered in order to prevent the spread of humanity, which is itself viewed as the font of all hypocrisy by the ruling powers.
Make no mistake - this is social commentary at the razor's edge, worthy of Kafka or Orwell, proving once again the versatility of the comic medium. Its themes of control, of the hypocrisy of eliminating hypocrisy, of the value of simple connection in the face of a gargantuan social edifice that turns the individual into a cog in a machine with no discernible product, are too grand and elaborate to convey in a short review. However, I confidently assert that Turner has crafted an utterly convincing dystopia with his monochrome pallette and I, for one, am grateful. The one message that can be taken away from this with no equivocation is finally that apathy and disaffection are no way to deal with a system you disapprove of. As with the recent elections, not voting and instead sliding into laissez-faire, torpid despair is playing into the hands of a system that gleefully preys upon this laziness to give itself the broadest remit
In other words... GIVE A SHIT.
REVIEW FOR MAY 3
Hsu and Chan: Too Much Adventure!
By Norm Scott
Publisher: Slave Labor Graphics
Reviewer: Matt Bylsma
Nothing is better to me on a dreary day than just sitting down to read a book that makes me laugh. I've read plenty of funny books over the years, but I always seem to come back to a select few again and again when I'm looking for some good entertainment. One of those books is Hsu and Chan: Too Much Adventure!, written and illustrated by Norm Scott, published by Slave Labor Graphics.
Hsu and Chan Tanaka are brothers who design video games for a living, creators of such smash hits as "Geriatric Combat" and "Dachshund Toss". But don't think that because these characters are game designers that this is a simple gaming book! While there are characters that are clearly parodies of popular game characters, such as the Tanaka's erstwhile bodyguard/grifter Gila Mobster (who bears a slight resemblance to a certain flame wielding pokemon), this is a book that is grounded in real life adventures. Real-life adventures such as dealing with a couch that just happens to be possessed by hundreds of evil (though rather polite) demons, or having your hedgehog sidekick abducted by the Russian mafia after a drunken night at the club …and really, who among us hasn't had to deal with that at least once? Hsu and Chan take it all in stride, though, as this sort of thing appears to be the norm for them…indeed, mystery seems to follow them wherever they go, be it the carnival, the drive-in movie theater, or the gaming conventions.
Really, this is just a hilarious book. I can't seem to turn a page without finding something that strikes me funny, no matter how many times I read it. This is in no small part due to Norm Scott's witty writing, but also to his attention to detail. The art is very well done, with it's occasionally unconventional panels and bevy of sight gags. There are also often little jokes hidden within the panels, little bits that have nothing to do with the story at hand, but are funny all the same (like an 'extra' complaining that the story's title is obscuring his view, for example). All of this adds up to a book that is, for me, the cure for the blues every single time.
REVIEW FOR APRIL 26
Cavalcade of Boys Volume 1 & 2
Written and Drawn by Tim Fish
Published by Poison Press
Reviewed by Ron Thibodeau
Realising that my last two reviews were 'horror-centric', I didn't want you all to think I only read books of 'doom and gloom'
Luckily, I walked into the shop that week, and immediately two bright covers jumped at me right off the rack!
Cavalcade of Boys is the brainchild of Tim Fish, who has quietly been pumping out both great print, and web comics (like Young Bottoms in Love).
Cavalcade is a wonderful change in the portrayals of gay men in the comics medium. While the mainstream companies seem to relegate their 'gay players' to the background--or even in limbo, altogether, Fish's stories bring gay men to the forefront.
If you are looking for maudlin stories of soapy drama (or worse, melodrama), this is not the book for you. Fish manages to balance a large cast of characters who all live and work in the 'gayborhood'. Their quests for love, acceptance, and that sense of 'normalcy' are not that different from those of heterosexual characters in books. And that is why this book works so well.
At the beginning of both volumes, there is a hand list of the cast of characters. Under their pictures is a cliche used to describe each character. Each character is intentionally a gay cliche. (The names and descriptions of some of the characters, for example are: Gordon--the sugar daddy, Warren--the spaz, and Tommy--the whore).
What Fish does is take these cliches, and actually develop great characterisation that goes beyond the cliche and makes each character a more well-developed whole person.
Fish also manages to give each character his own identity through his artwork that makes his characters stand out, individually, and not get swallowed up as 'just part of the group'.
One can't help but root for Warren (the sugar daddy), who was my favorite character. Here was a man with a heart as big as the great outdoors. Feeling insecure about his looks, he instead doles out money to the men he is attracted to. All these 'twinks' see is the money, not the man. Warren is constantly taken advantage of, but he still goes out there and keeps on trying.
The book follows a few years in the lives of these men. A 3rd volume is dues out later in the year, and they are all reasonable priced at only $14.00.
Because this is a book dealing with gay men, it will probably be immediately labeled a 'gay book', and that will be too bad, because its universal themes of acceptance, love, and respect should cross the lines of both gender and sexuality.
Much like Terry Moore's Strangers in Paradise, this is a book featuring gay characters that treats them with respect, but also doesn't mind throwing in some laugh out loud moments of campy bitchiness.
REVIEW FOR APRIL 19
By Koushun Takami & Masayuki Taguchi
English Adaptation by Keith Giffen
Reviewer: Michael Peterson
It's almost a cliché by this point. Comics, they say, should be like cigarettes. Bad for you, but too cool to resist. Something that kids buy because they know they'd be in trouble if they were caught with it.
As a chain-smoker, I've got to appreciate the analogy. And in an age where it costs me nearly as much as a pack of Camels to buy the average comic, certainly to buy two issues... Hell, yeah, they have to be addictive. But the mainstream's filled with a great deal of tripe (as it is in every medium), and most of what's worth reading these days is better served in collected form, or better yet, original graphic novels with beginnings, middles, and ends. But you still long for that hit, you know?
And here it is. "Battle Royale" is the best example I've seen in years of a comic that fits the drug analogy. Short bursts of dirty, slightly embarrassing fun that are over far too soon and leaving you desperate for the next.
The manga series is based on the novel of the same name, which also
spawned a film and sequel in Japan (the film co-starred Chiaki Kuriyama of "Kill Bill" fame, and the novel is a cult classic in the US--while the story isn't as known on this side of the ocean, it's definitely got its audience). A high school class of forty-two is chosen at random by a totalitarian government and left on a deserted island. Each student is supplied food, water... and a weapon. Only one of them is allowed off of the island--the last one standing. And if there's dissent, the bomb collars around each of their necks goes off, and nobody gets to win. Is it any wonder the yearly battles are the most popular reality program on television?
Play the game? Fight the regime? Run and hide? It's the ultimate "What
would YOU do?" scenario. And that alone's enough to get you reading, but in a series of brutal violence starring sexually-charged, desperate teenagers, it wouldn't be enough to keep you reading. So here's the little trick they pull on you--all forty-two of these kids are real people, with feelings and lives. The creators get you caring about all of them, not just the core seven that the story tends to focus on--and so it becomes all the more agonizing when one of them is cut down. Because, yeah, some of these kids are playing for keeps. And nobody's life is sacred in this. Not the innocent, not the protagonists. Anybody and everybody is a target.
It's not for everyone--the "mature audiences" tag is no joke. But it's a great story about hope in the face of oblivion, and all that mire you wade through is just the sort of thing that makes this a guilty little thrill. There are some covers in this series I'm afraid to show when I read on the bus. It's bad for me, but it's too cool to resist.
And I think we need a bit more of that in comics.
REVIEW FOR APRIL 5
By Scott Mills
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Reviewer: Matt Bylsma
Ever since he was a child, Carter Zacharias had wanted to be a scientist… but it was on a fateful day in 1982 when his future suddenly became very clear. Carter Zacharias, just eight years of age, had foreseen the end of time… and he was not about to let the universe end that way.
Flash forward Fifty-eight years to the year 2040, on Jupiter's moon Europa. Professor Carter Zacharias, a driven, calculating man who left behind his family and wife to achieve his vision, stands poised on the brink of ultimate achievement. All is not going smoothly on this day, though… his technicians seem determined to foul up every task given to them, and he also finds himself beset by the unexpected visit of not only his brother George, a man of the cloth, but also his ex-wife Carolyn, whom he has not seen in many, many years. In addition, there are those who are not so ready to let Carter play dice with the universe… and are willing to sacrifice anything to stop him from succeeding.
And so begins the tale of The Masterplan, written and illustrated by Scott Mills. What at first appears to be a simple story of scientific exploration very quickly becomes a deep, complex tale, rooted heavily in science fact and fiction. Scott Mills explores fully not only what would happen if one scientist, convinced of his place in the universe, were ever foolish enough to play god, but also delves deep into the intricacies of time-travel and causality. He shows us that not only can actions that take place in the past affect the future, but ultimately, that which takes place in the future can shape the past.
As we follow the travels of Carter, George and Carolyn, thrown together by fate, we begin to see that everything that happens has a price and a consequence, but also that everything that can be done can be undone. It can actually be a little overwhelming if you let it be, but this is a book that really takes the concepts of time and space and goes to town with them… It's always exciting to turn the page, never really knowing what to expect next, as Mills weaves newer and ever more fantastical eras for Carter and his companions to visit. Each section of the story just adds more layers to the tale.
Ultimately, what you end up with is a very satisfying science-fiction tinged story about love, loss, discovery and the price of ambition…this is a truly unique and original story, and one well worth the time.
REVIEW FOR MARCH 29
Freaks of the Heartland TPB
Written by Steve Niles
Illustrated by Greg Ruth
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Reviewer: Ron Thibodeau
Steve Niles exploded into the collective consciousness of most comic book readers with his vampire tale “30 Days of Night”. Since that time, Steve Niles has become synonymous with the horror comic with his spin-offs of “30 Days of Night”, but also his other books for IDW Comics.
His project for Dark Horse, ‘Freaks of the Heartland’ is an entirely different tale of terror. It isn’t a ‘blood and guts’ vampire sequence, or undead zombies eating people, but is instead a tale of quite terror.
The tale is set in the heartland of Gristlewood Valley. The date and time of the series could be anywhere, as ‘the heartland’ is portrayed as a dried up, empty place where dreams go to die.
In this setting we find young Trevor going about his chores. One of his duties includes taking care of his brother, Will. Will isn’t like most kids. He is a stranger to his own family, something to be shunned—an abomination. Will’s dad decides that his whole run of bad luck is due to his ‘freak’ son, and decided that he must be destroyed.
But, what exactly is will? A boy with an overactive gland problem? Some sort of genetic mutation? Or something much more?
Ruth’s art takes the setting and runs wild with it, filling our vision with dusty barns, and dark shadows. He handles the quiet moments of desperation and the scenes of surprising violence like a fiddler plucking the reader’s strings. The writing displays moments of quiet poignancy one moment, only to have the reader shocked by a fit of unexpected violence.
Much like the recent WE3 by Grant Morrison, this tale has a sense of impending doom hanging over it from the very beginning, which doesn’t let up until the resolution of the tale.
Fans of horror who want to avoid all the ‘slice and dice’ clichés of the genre may find that ‘Freaks of the Heartland’ may be the perfect book to curl up with.
REVIEW FOR MARCH 22
Jaka's Story (Cerebus, Volume Five)
By Dave Sim and Gerhard
Reviewer: Michael Peterson
There is a great mountain carved with the faces of a million demons, that separates the upper and lower cities of Iest, a literal division between the classes. A war was just waged in Iest, with a corrupt church falling before an even more corrupt matriarchy. Food and supplies are scarce, the economy has fallen apart, and nobody is quite sure which freedom will be next to fall.
It's about halfway up that mountain, where this story takes place; a small alcove into which is tucked a bare few buildings, a bare few people forced to rely upon each other to survive. And what people they are. There is the sad and lonely grocery man; the randy veteran; the innocent layabout of a husband; there is the poet, Oscar Wilde; there is the swordsman aardvark, now fallen pope; there is the government official come to tear their world apart... and then there is Jaka Tavers, the woman whom these bodies orbit near-against their will, a daughter of nobility who is now a dancer in squalor, and whose sins are about to catch up with her.
"Jaka's Story" is ostensibly the fifth book in the sixteen-volume opus that is Sim and Gerhard's "Cerebus"--but don't let that sway you. This is a tale that stands alone, a single novel about art, choice, and truth. Cerebus appears only tangentially, and in that he is only a force of nature, blowing into and out of the book only long enough to set things in motion. No, this is all about the titular character, one of Sim's most complex.
Is Jaka a spoiled child of wealth, whose tantrum locks her uncle into a political trap? Is she the noble wife, trying to eke out an existence in poverty with a husband who doesn't appreciate her? Is she a scared, damaged little girl in a world her men have made for her? Or is she a servant to Art alone? Written in the days before his political views cast more of a pall over his epic, he is a master of subtlety here, dancing around Jaka and drawing away veil after veil, using all of the gifts available to him as a storyteller. If his attempts at purple, Wildean prose sometimes lapses, it is more than compensated by his rare gift at the comic form, from his mastery of panel transitions to his perfect facial expressions, and lettering that makes you realize that yes, dammit, "lettering" can be as outright COOL as any other part of a comic. And this is to say nothing of Gerhard's backgrounds, with a level of detail that is near-excruciating, and which gives this comic grounding, makes it seem REAL, in a way that could not have been possible without them.
Even Sim's detractors consider this one of his greatest works. This book is as essential as comics get. See if YOU can go without reacting to the final third of this graphic novel. I'll bet you a nickel it's just not possible.
REVIEW FOR MARCH 15
By Bill Sienkewicz
Publisher: Graphitti Designs
Reviewer: Alex Paknadel
Stray Toasters is, so we're told, about to get the Hollywood treatment... thru a lens, darkly. As with the risible attempts to adapt Alan Moore's corpus, this may result in a flaccid parody with little or no relation to the original. Thing is, there's something exhilarating about comix adaptations going catastrophically wrong. It allows us to believe that there is an aura around sequential art that does not transfer to other media. I remember thinking during LXG (scours hippocampus with bleach-coated wire wool to avoid remembering film...) this concept could only work in comix!!! Stray Toasters is no exception. It could only work as a comic because its schizophrenic, crushed-glass logic only remains cohesive because of the interaction of words and static pictures. Believe me, try it for yourself and visualise the narrative onscreen. It would be the equivalent of expecting The Shining to work with MTV visuals. Stray Toasters is all things to all (wo)men. It's a terrifying serial killer story, it's a Jungian deconstruction of childhood (a technique that would later reach its apotheosis in Sam Keith's ur-comic The Maxx) and it's very, very funny. At core, though, it does for American family values what David Lynch does for American suburbia; it goes in with a scalpel and slashes open the heart in order to see what makes it beat. We have an unbalanced cop - Egon Rustimagic, who believes he can see a demon called Phil, an autistic child, a therapist who wouldn't know "normal" if it stole her lunch money, and a hideous automaton bent on... something. The latter's quips and jibes, all slice and grind industrial menace when brought into hypodermic relief by Sienkewicz, are a truly disturbing experience, accompanied by gorgeous linework that seems to project the monstrosity out of the page and into your throat. As with the best horror, it is at its best when suspended in the soft-water of innocence. Remember how nursery rhymes got scary after a while? Amplify that tenfold and you're not even close. Dense, textured and adhesive, Sienkewicz's dialogue is as compelling as his art. The assertion that "the family circle is a triangle" in particular rates among my all time favourite soundbytes. This is an eminently quotable graphic novel, and one that will make you appear smart at cocktail parties, guaranteed. The unfolding psychodrama at the core of the book does resolve itself enough for the read not to be a wasted effort, but the payoff does lend itself to frequent flying... believe me, the beginning will not make sense unless you read it twice. Its themes are universal, but clearly personal for Sienkewicz, creating the perfect alchemical marriage between self-gratification and crowd-pleasing that have made the likes of Grant Morrison and Mike Carey so popular and so bloody GOOD. It's a shame Sienkewicz has never seen fit to bite off something this daring since, but I guess as it easily ranks among the likes of A Small Killing and The Filth for sheer narrative trampling of golden cows, we should be grateful it slipped through at all. It's been a long road since Sienkewicz drew the first proper cape in the seventies on Marvel's Moon Knight, and this modest collection from Graphitti Designs (yes, the t-shirt people) is a frankly gaping omission from anyone's shelf. Buy it. Buy it now.
REVIEWS FOR MARCH 8
The Amazing Joy Buzzards #1
By Mark Andrew Smith and Dan Hipp
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewer: Matt Bylsma
So, Picture this: There you are, five rows deep at an Amazing Joy Buzzards show, looking up as Buzzards lead man Biff declares his intentions to rock to the entire world. As you look around from your position on the floor, the names of the other members of the band swirl up before your vision: Stevo on Bass, Gabe pounding the skins in the back... You rock to the rhythm and sing along as the band breaks into your favorite tune. You hold your own in the pulsing mass of fans, pressed against the stage for a while, but you need a break… You look up and notice a strange man headed backstage, so you decide to follow him. You jump back as he knocks down the door... Bewildered, you walk through the ravaged door frame, and what do you see before you? Why, it's none other than the Buzzards, er... mascot? El Campeon, dreaming his burrito dreams. And what is that mysterious pink stranger who forced his way in putting in Stevo's drink? A scream comes from the front stage. It seems that Stevo has mutated into a monster, and now the rest of the Joy Buzzards have to save the day! Sound odd? Well, it's just an average day in the life of the Amazing Joy Buzzards, written by Mark Andrew Smith and Illustrated by Dan Hipp. How do the Buzzards save the day? Just who is El Campeon? And what was up with that mysterious pink stranger, anyway? Well, you'll have to read to find out, and chances are you'll enjoy every single minute of it. This is the book for all of you that have ever said "I wish comics were fun again..." This is the book for all of you that have ever said "I wish I could find something new and exciting to read..." In fact, if you read comics at all, this is the book for you! It's a fun, engaging thrill ride from cover to cover, with likeable characters, great art by Hipp, and clever writing by Smith... Highly, highly recommended!
By Paul Harmon
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewer: Matt Bylsma
On the opposite end of the spectrum from the Amazing Joy Buzzards (in terms of tone, not quality) is Mora, written and illustrated by Paul Harmon. Deliciously moody and dark, you are filled with a sense of foreboding and vague dread from the moment you first lay eyes on your hosts for the affair, the smartly attired Rabbit and his good friend, Tortoise. Less narrators than guides, they take you through the panels, showing you that which they think you need to be shown, always giving you the sense that they are leading you towards some grim joke... Indeed, the book starts at the end, and shows you the final fate of the book's name sake, Mora, a witch of some renown. From the very beginning, Harmon spins the tale magnificently, allowing Rabbit to tell the story, with brief interjections from Tortoise... I focus on the guides so much here because it seems that the guides are focusing on me as I read. Every time Rabbit turns to address you, the reader, it appears as if his eyes are actually connecting with your own, an eerie feeling to be sure. As this is an introduction, Rabbit and Tortoise show you the principle players in this twisted fairy tale... taking time along the way to inform the reader of the presence of magic in this world, of the place of nature, and of the curse of the ancient beasts that haunts Man. Eventually, our guides come to focus on two lives in particular: a young, overly aggressive lion cub with no name, and Mora herself, as a young girl. And it is as interesting to see young Mora explore her fantastical world with childlike wonder, as it is to see the young cub stalking and studying his prey with a wild abandon. Moreover, you are given the feeling that everything you have seen is important, and has some part to play in this tale that is unfolding, leading you to spend a great deal of time absorbing as much detail as possible from each panel. The bottom line here is that Paul Harmon has, in a single issue, created an utterly engaging and fascinating world for his characters to play in, one that I very much enjoy visiting... I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes well written and engaging stories... Get in on Mora now, at the ground floor, and enjoy the ride!
REVIEWS FOR MARCH 1
Love Eats Brains! A Zombie Romance
By Dash Shaw and Will Jones
Publisher: Oddgod Press
Reviewer: Ron Thibodeau
It seems that in the past couple of years, no one can escape zombies. I am not talking about any particular movie or book, in which a character always ends up out-numbered by the undead, though-- I am actually referring to the resurgence of horror comics, and of zombie horror books in general.
Perhaps there have been many zombie titles before, and I just didn't notice it, but it seems to me that with the success of Robert Kirkman's 'The Walking Dead', many books have suddenly showed up to capitalize on the latest 'craze' of both movies and comics. In short, Zombies are the new Monkees.
With that in mind, I decided to try something new. And my sights landed squarely on Love Eats Brains! A Zombie Romance by Dash Shaw and Will Jones. The book is published by Oddgod Press.
How could I pass up a cover like this...?
Al is a photographer, and on his way home to his girlfriend, he sees a young naked woman climb a tree and talk to the sun. She reaches for the sun, falls off the tree, and lay dead in front of Al. He snaps her picture.
The image of the dead girl haunts him. As we see into his life, it doesn't look bad--but to Al, it is a cloying nightmare. The photos of his artwork which depict fruit rotting from within is an apt reflection on Al himself.
While he looks fine on the outside, he is rotting from within, and it's only a matter of time before he crumbles. He also has unresolved issues over the death of his father, and is afraid that he may end up like him. These fears are becoming more obsessive as Al's girlfriend gets closer and closer to delivering their child into the world.
She, herself, is none too happy as well. She has violent outburst of either tears or rage. When these pass, she explains them away as 'hormones' due to her pregnancy.
Through all this, when he should be thinking of his living girlfriend, and their impending child, Al can't seem to get the dead girl out of his thoughts. He begins to entertain suicidal thoughts, himself. He sees death as an escape, and the fact that this girl who did it is now 'free' has given him the courage to get closer to trying this 'freedom' for himself.
It is then that Al gets an unexpected visit from someone in his past, and then the book takes a different turn. The radio announces that the dead are coming back to life, and Al and his girlfriend head out to the emergency shelter. But Al has something else on his mind, and not even a pregnant girlfriend holds much sway with a man obsessed.....
I was expecting a traditional, by the numbers zombie storyline, perhaps with a dash of humor thrown in (think 'Sean of the Dead'). Instead, what I got was a deeply disturbing tale of a relationship in which Al feels as if he is just dead inside. He is unsure of his love for his pregnant girlfriend, and it has caused him to become an emotional zombie.
There is a back up story called "I Love You in the Morning" by Will Jones. Only a few pages, and with no dialogue, this story conveys a story of love and loss and does it with a quiet elegance. The art is a bit more polished than that of of the main story (Love Eats Brains), but I think the chaotic and simplistic art of Love Eats Brains perfectly compliments the sense of inner turmoil felt by the characters, themselves.
REVIEWS FOR FEBRUARY 22
By Daniel Clowes
Reviewer: Michael Peterson
Here's a question I pose to you: which would destroy you more--the end of the world, or losing love? Or not being sure if you've ever had it?
As always, Daniel Clowes pulls off a magic trick... the characters in "David Boring" seem like brittle and hollow people at first glance, so used to their prisons that they can't be separated from them (see his "Ghost World," inspiration for the terrific film, for more of this); and yet, they never fail to show you something deeper, deep enough to break your heart. There's a thread of desperation that carries you along as much as it does them--these people will hold onto anything, be it a lucky charm, a belief system, a few scraps of paper, or in just the luckiest cases, another human being.
Everything fits into place just so. David has a specific kink, but it's never played for tawdry results. Rather, it's his only way of holding onto the one woman he's ever loved unconditionally, and a childhood moment when life seemed easier for just a moment. The coming apocalypse has nothing to do with genre concerns and everything to do with the destruction of a fragile peace amongst these people. The unusually post-modern voice is never forced, but rather David's own voice struggling to make sense of his world, one where he twice survives a shot to the head without knowing why.
It's funny, it's sad, and there's hope. How else can you capture life?
By Brian Wood
Reviewer: Michael Peterson
Uh-oh, politically relevant comics. They're dangerous, they're controversial, and they walk a lot of tightropes. And we don't have damn near enough of them. Luckily, Wood's work here is good enough to make up for the lack... and it's got enough adventure to make it rewarding reading, time and again. But most importantly, it becomes more relevant every year.
The government owns the media, now, after passing a bill designed to protect moral standards. The outside world is cut off from the US as it locks further and further down on itself, and artists and entertainers become the only revolutionaries. Into this steps the woman named Jenny 2.5, who is about to try to change the world. But when the problem is the media, can you use the media without becoming part of it?
This book was first crafted before the reality TV glut had truly risen, before 9/11, before John Ashcroft or the RIAA wars... it's hard sometimes to be a prophet. Wood's received accolades left and right for this book, and it's easy to see why. While his figure work seems rough at times, his design sense is razor-sharp... the book was designed as a propaganda bomb, and it works brilliantly. Subliminal messages are sprinkled within and without the panels, and chapters are broken up by ads ready for photocopy. Despite the level of work that went into its creation, it never loses the fresh-off-the-Kinko's-table quality that the counterculture still worships in spirit.
An entertaining read, but also an important one. Wood remembers that you have to question the revolution as much as you do the establishment, and he wants you to remember, as well.
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