Monday, May 29, 2006

The Thursday Forecast - 6/1/2006

**Don't forget new releases arrive on Thursday this week (in the US) due to the Memorial Day holiday.

Battlestar Galactica #0 - by now I'm sure you've heard endless praise for the outstanding remake of Battlestar Galactica on the Sci Fi channel. Having watched the entire first and half of the second season, I can say that the show is indeed as good as you hear, and is probably the best pure science fiction television show since Star Trek: The Next Generation. So, given that and the fact that this first "incentive" issue is only a quarter, I'll likely pick it up. I have not read much of writer Greg Pak's work, and have never heard of artist Nigel Raynor, so my expectations are low for going any deeper into the series, but I'm gonna try my best to come at this issue with an open mind.

Scrublands - although I'm very interested in South African cartoonist Joe Daly's American graphic novel debut, and its been getting some pretty good press, I may wait on it given all the stuff I've bought and haven't read yet. But I do plan to take a good look at it, and you never know. Check out this very interesting 4 page preview.

Uptight #1 - the new Jordan Crane floppy from Fantagraphics, originally due in April, finally arrives. I'm not sure how much of this is new material vs. stuff reprinted from his various mini-comics, but I can tell you if you haven't read the first two issues of his mini-comic graphic novel in progress, Keeping Two, you're missing out on Crane's best work to date. The entire story will be serialized in this new series.

Abadazad Books 1 and 2 - as mentioned previously, these new collections (160 pages each) from Hyperion expand upon the concepts in the original Crossgen series, though in more of a "prose and art" format. Definitely worth a look.

Other books I may take a quick flip through but probably won't get:
  • Never Made to Last: Stories of Suburban Folklore GN (Ourobor Books) - I'm assuming this collects the first three issues of the hit indie series, though a google search revealed very little info about this book.
  • My Inner Bimbo #1 (Oni Press) - new 5 issue mini-series by Sam Keith.
  • Treasury Of Victorian Murder Vol 8 The Case Of Madeleine Smith TP (NBM) - Rick Geary's art is always fun to look at, but I've yet to get any of this series, so I doubt I'll start with vol. 8.
  • Walt Kellys Our Gang Vol 1 1942-1943 TP (Fantagraphics)
  • Skyscrapers Of The Midwest #3 (Adhouse Books)
  • Stagger Lee GN (Image) - Erin over at The Comic Queen has a good review.
  • Night Trippers (Image) - new graphic novel by Mark Ricketts.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Review: X3: The Last Stand


We caught a 5:30 matinee of the new X-Men movie last night, and though my expectations were high, perhaps higher than they should have been, I did not walk away disappointed.

While the movie did not reach the considerably lofty heights of X2, or even the first X-Men movie, it did deliver much of the same action, characterization, and social commentary that made the first two movies successful. The concept of a mutant cure was clever enough to believably divide the mutants againt each other once again without feeling contrived. The actors delivered consistent, if not exceptional performances - Jackman's Wolverine still satisfied with his usual brusque who-gives-a-fuck attitude, and though Patrick Stewart has clearly aged, he is still the only actor alive who could play Charles Xavier. Though the movie suffered without Alan Cumming's Nightcrawler, Halle Barry's increased role as Storm was a pleasant addition to the cast. The movie also delivered its fair share of satisfying action and special effects, the standard by which mainstream superhero movies are measured these days, including a very impressive battle scene at Jean Grey's childhood house and of course the awesome climax scene with the Golden Gate Bridge which, thankfully, was not ruined by the previews as I had initially suspected.

The movie was not without its faults, however. One complaint that was shared by my wife and brother was that the new characters introduced in this third chapter seemed thrown into the mix without any real fleshed out backstory. Warren Worthingon III's discovery of his mutant powers and the conflict with his father, the inventor of the mutunt cure, while ripe with dramatic potential, was mishandled and mostly ignored, until almost at random, the Angel appears out of nowhere at the end of the movie to deliver typical last minute heroics. Similarly, the Beast, brilliantly played by Kelsey Grammar, was given no context in terms of his connection to the X-Men, or Charles Xavier, nor was it explained how such a mutant could have ascended to the top levels of government. Colossus, another character I think many people were excited about having a bigger role in this movie, was unfortunately relegated once again to the background. But perhaps the movie's biggest flaw was the mishandling of Jean Grey's character. The script did a poor job of explaining Jean's transformation into the Phoenix to those unfamiliar with comic book continuity, nor was it clear exactly what caused Jean to turn evil, or what her powers were.

Still, overall, the movie was enjoyable, the action well choreographed, the humor spot on without feeling forced or overdone, and the audience was satisfied, breaking into applause at the rolling of the credits.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Review: War Fix

"I don't care about politics. I'm there to get shot at. I'm there to live in a hovel and eat bad food and be scared all the time. I'm there to see interesting things and meet new people and do something hard." -- David Axe

War Fix
By David Axe and Steven Olexa
Published by NBM Comics Lit, US $15.95

A journalist looking to break out of the doldrums of covering local news stories, David Axe spent his life savings on body armor and a plane ticket to Iraq. Axe actually went to Iraq six times, starting just before the first Iraqi elections in 2004, in search of the “big story” and hoping to both make a name for himself and see the war firsthand. Axe’s sparse monologue makes for a quick read, but where I came in expecting a war journal along the lines of Joe Sacco’s Palestine or Safe Area: Gorazde, what I got instead was a very disturbing account of a young man in search of something he himself doesn’t fully understand.

Axe is clearly fascinated with people’s inability to distinguish reality from fiction. The book opens with a sobering scene with Axe, as a child, seated in front of the television riveted by war footage from the first Iraqi War. But what is Axe’s statement here? It’s not, I think, that people don’t understand the difference between reality and TV, because on some level of course we do. But rather, I think what Axe touches on here is the fact that whether it’s CNN footage of planes crashing into the World Trade Center, or the latest episode of 24, both are experienced by the majority of Americans, alone in the safety of their homes, totally detached from any real emotional connection to the events unfolding on the screen. War Fix is a statement on our TV-obsessed culture, and the idea (evidenced by the stellar rise of “reality TV”) that if we could only put ourselves inside the screen, we might feel something, anything, rather than the numb indifference we feel alone in our homes.

War Fix, as the title itself implies, represents a growing number of Americans who romanticize war and ‘get off’ on violence. As rational readers, the majority of us understand that flinging oneself into a war, with no firsthand knowledge or experience, despite Axe’s proclamations of how “cool” it feels, is tragically stupid. Axe’s ‘addiction’ is a particularly sad one, as we watch, like voyeurs, as he slowly unravels his life in search of a ‘fix,’ knowing full well what a hopeless endeavor this really is. It’s even more painful to watch Axe lying to his girlfriend, abandoning his job and family, and dismissing human tragedy as “kind of cool,” so much so that I honestly felt like crying after I finished the book.

But at the same time, Axe’s lucid self awareness is part of what makes this book so compelling. Axe recognizes his own disconnect between the reality of war and his own romantic notion of it, and does not try to justify his actions or present himself as a sympathetic hero. The book’s climax shows Axe greedily snapping photographs of an Iraqi woman who’s just lost a family member from a stray bullet, and is literally cradling the lifeless body on the ground. One can imagine the mix of emotions that must have consumed a “war addict” like Axe at that powerful moment, when on the one hand, he has found exactly what he came searching for: the perfect “cover shot”, a portrait of real human pain (the kind that sells millions of newspapers, despite the fact that it appears so often we are almost completely desensitized to it), yet on the other hand, he is virtually overcome with guilt at his own selfishness and monstrous disinterest in the tragedy before him. Indeed he is so overwhelmed, he drops his camera, and stares as if seeing the war for the first time. It’s an intense scene, and one that benefits even further from a clever visual metaphor executed flawlessly by Olexa, who in a single panel, swaps the camera he is pointing at the poor woman for a gun - its statement powerfully clear.

Steven Olexa’s art is strongly reminiscent of J.H. Williams III, (Promethea, Desolation Jones) in both character design and unconventional, dramatic page layouts (double images, inset panels, etc). Having won the prestigious Charles M. Schulz Award in 2002, Olexa’s definitely a talented artist, though the constantly varying page layouts, while interesting and I’m sure fun to draw, seem as if they were laid out somewhat at random. Much like an MTV video (perhaps this too is an intentional technique by the writer?) we are barraged with a lot of random war images at once. To be fair, the script doesn’t really lend itself to much sequential panel to panel action, as it’s primarily an introspective monologue calling for character close-ups and action montages. Olexa uses gray scaling, opacity fading, and other Photoshop filtering effects to give his black and white pages a much more textured look. It’s effective and greatly enhances the artwork overall, though again, in a few spots it felt a little experimental and overly varied.

What makes the great works of war journalism stand out is that they put a human face on the violence. In that sense, War Fix falls short. It’s more of a portrait of misguided youth than a war journal, as David Axe rarely lets us outside of his own head to show us what’s really going on. Unlike Sacco, Axe never fleshes out any of the interesting people he meets into sympathetic characters. Even his girlfriend is relegated to a minor role at best, though in single-minded pursuit of his fix, this may well have been how he actually saw the people he encountered.

But in another sense, I think Axe has achieved exactly what he set out to do: present an honest political statement about the damaging effects of our culture’s insatiable appetite for endless entertainment. That such a thing as “war addiction” could exist is surely a sign of the depressing times in which we live, the bloodiest century in history. War Fix is one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read, yet it’s fascinating at the same time, and in some ways, I think Axe has brilliantly captured an unflinching portrait of his generation.

War Fix is a book I definitely recommend, and would even go so far as to call it outstanding, but I’m not sure I actually liked it.

Grade: 4.5/5

Some good further reading on War Fix:
Combat Junkie: David Axe's War Fix (Publisher’s Weekly)
Sample Pages fromWar Fix (NBM)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Personal File

Just got this tonight. Unbelievable! If you are a fan of Cash at all, especially the American Recordings with Rick Rubin, get this. Cash reading the Cremation of Sam McGee, a poem by Robert Service will blow you away!

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Wednesday Forecast - 5/24/2006

Daredevil #85 – other than Kabuki, this is literally the only Marvel title I’m following right now. Ed Brubaker’s Sleeper-style prison story is greatly aided by Michael Lark’s dark, noirish art. The two did some outstanding work together on Gotham Central, not to mention the underrated classic Vertigo mini-series Scene of the Crime, and so far, their Daredevil run has been great.

Negative Burn #1 – Joe Pruett’s reboot of the old Caliber anthology is sure to attract some attention. The original version of Negative Burn featured many of the industry’s top talents way before anyone else had heard of them, but in reality it was always, at best, a mixed bag. It certainly did produce some winners though, including Brian Michael Bendis' classic Jinx, David Mack's Kabuki, Gary Spencer Millidge's Stranghaven, and perhaps most notably Nabiel Kanan, whose short-lived Exit series is one of the most underrated classics of the last twenty years. With this latest incarnation, Pruett tries to once again reclaim past glory, and it will be interesting to see how successful he is.

We Are On Our Own – Miriam Katin’s first graphic novel, at the age of 63, could be one of the most unique and compelling works of the year. Impossible not to compare to Maus, this is a WWII memoir recounting a mother and her young daughter’s escape and struggle to survive the Nazi invasion of Budapest. There's a great 4 page preview here. Published in hardcover by Drawn and Quarterly.

Angry Youth Comix #11 – though I’ve read some Johnny Ryan here and there in anthologies, and generally enjoyed what I’ve read, I wouldn’t say I’ve loved him enough to seek out everything he’s done. That being said, this looks to be one of his best works to date, based on early reviews, and I’m tempted to give it a shot. Plus, I really love the cover.

Scott Pilgrim vol. 3: Infinite Sadness – I actually haven’t read the first two volumes of Scott Pilgrim, much to my shame as everyone I know says they’re excellent, but I did read the Free Comic Book Day issue from Oni Press, which at least gave me a taste of what I’m missing. It’s probably better to start with the first volume, but I may be tempted to give this one a shot, just to see how it reads on its own.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Coming Soon: The Top 27 Books Shipping in June

Abadazad Books 1 and 2 - Described as a mix of "prose, art and comics," these 2 books (each 160 pages) complete the story started with CrossGen. Published by Hyperion Books for Children.

Action Philosophers - Collects the first three Xeric-winning issues of Action Philosphers by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey. Fun stuff, though better in small doses. Published by Evil Twin Comics. 96 pages for $6.95 is not a bad deal at all.

The Complete Future Shocks - Collects all of Alan Moore's early short stories from 2000 A.D. including some early work with Dave Gibbons, John Higgins, Bryan Talbot and many others.

Angry Youth Comix #11 - New stuff from Johnny Ryan is always worth a look.

Art Out of Time - From Ganzfield publisher (Picturebox, Inc) Dan Nadel comes this book of "high quality reproductions of little seen or hard to find classic comics." Sounds very interesting. Published by Harry N. Abrams. Be sure to check out this excellent preview at the Comics Reporter.

Bardin the Superrealist - From Spanish cartoonist Max, the creator of The Extended Dream of Mr. D., this new hardcover collection is 80 pages of short stories and gags that are described as "wild" and "surreal." It's hard to find a lot of info on this book in English, but here's a good 1 page preview. Published by Fantagraphics.

Can't Get No - this 350+ page graphic novel is printed in half sized, landscape format. It follows a man on his journey of self discovery across the post 9/11 American landscape. Sounds interesting and Rick Veitch is one of those creators capable of pulling this off. Worth a look anyway. Check out the preview at IGN's website.

The Eternals - Neil Gaiman's new Eternals mini-series, illustrated by John Romita Jr., is the closest thing Marvel has to DC's All Star series. Worth checking out this fist issue to see if it leans more toward the Superman or Batman end of the spectrum.

Get A Life - Nothing to do with the underappreciated classic Chris Elliot show from the late '80s, Get a Life is a new collection of Mr. Jean stories from Dupuy and Berberian, who have graced many a Drawn & Quarterly anthology. Generally excellent French slice-of-life work. And while you're at it, check out Paul Gravett's interesting article on their 20+ year partnership.

Maybe Later - more new work from Dupuy and Berberian, but this time working solo, as each artist kept "a secret journal." Gravett calls Maybe Later "one of the most honest and engaging autobiographical graphic novels in the genre and a fascinating 'behind-the-scenes' glimpse into the creative process." Not convinced? Then check out the always worthwhile review by Tom Spurgeon.

Flight volume 3 - honestly, I haven't read the first two Flight anthologies, but based on this extensive preview over at Comic Book Resources, this one looks like it may be worth checking out.

Grease Monkey - I'm not sure if I'll end up getting this, given all the other stuff I have to read, but I remember reading a few issues of this a long time ago when Kitchen Sink published it, and thinking it was far, far better than the concept might lead you to believe. Plus, Tim Eldred is a great artist. Full color, 352 pages. Definitely worth a look.

Hoax #4 - I've been a fan of Hoax from the very first issue, but if experience proves true, indie anthologies like this really hit their stride around the fourth or fifth issue (Kramers Ergot, for example). In addition to the usual stable of artists, Hans Rickheit and Dash Shaw contribute.

In the Hands of Boys - I don't know much about this, but the premise sounds interesting. "A high school teacher inherits the fortune of a friend who is killed in Bosnia - and responsibility for his 10-year old son." The preview at Comicon looks pretty good, and a quick scan of creator Melody Nadia Shickley's website proves she's an artist with skill. Worth a look, at least. Lucifer's Garden of Verses vol. 4: The Devil & Miles Davis - Lance Tooks is a creator to watch. Similar to Kyle Baker, his innovative page layouts and extensive use of Photoshop make for a very unique storytelling experience. While not perfect, I did enjoy volume 3 of this series, and given how much I love Miles Davis, I'm very curious about this book. Published by NBM.

Midnight Sun #1 - this looks awesome. Eisner-nominated BenTowle (Farewell, Georgia) returns with a 5 issue mini-series about an ill-fated team of Italian explorers lost in the North Pole. The preview from Slave Labor looks very promising.

Mome vol. 4 - the perfect synthesis of format, content and experimentation, Mome has become THE lit-comics anthology for this generation. This issue features another long-form story by David B., as well as the return of John Pham and Paul Hornschemeier and contributions from Anders Nilsen, Jonathan Bennet, Gabrielle Bell, Kurt Wolfgang, Martin Cendreda, R. Kikuo Johnson, Andrice Arp, Sophie Crumb, Jeffrey Brown and David Heatley. Essential.

Morlac - By Norwegian artist, Lief Tande. This piqued my curiosity. From French publisher La Pasteque's website: "This silent graphic novel which works under Oubapo laws is a multi-layered tale, which multiply under the influences of the main character and his decisions. The reader is then confronted with not only one single story to follow, but multiple stories that cross paths. Morlac is an exceptionally creative book with masterful use of deconstructed narrative." Sounds interesting, right?

Out of Picture - This anthology, from French publisher Paquet, features eleven short stories from some of the top illustrators in the animation industry, all of whom work for Blue Sky Studios, the studio responsible for Robots and Ice Age.

Silk Road to Ruin - Published by NBM (see a preview here). I actually got to see a preview of this book at the New York Comic-Con back in Feb. and it looks very interesting. Ted Rall travels to Central Asia, and this book, a combination of cartoon and prose, recounts his experiences.

Solo #11 - The penultimate issue spotlights Sergio Aragones. This series has been above average to excellent, depending on the creator, and it's a real shame that its officially cancelled as of #12.

Superf*ckers #3 - James Kochalka's little bastard superheroes are back. So far, this series has been very funny, in the South Park vein of humor, with impressive coloring.

Supermarket #4 - the best new mini-series of the year comes to an end.

Tales of Woodsman Pete - Described as a series of short vignettes linking Woodsman Pete to the Paul Bunyan legend, it's hard to know whether Lille Carre's debut graphic novel will be good or not, though Top Shelf's track record is impressive. Worth a look, at least.

Tommyrot: The Art of Ben Templesmith - What a cover! I don't tend to go for these art books usually, but this might be the exception. Published by IDW.

Wally's World - Subtitled "The Brilliant Life and Tragic Death of Wally Wood, the World's Second Best Comic Book Artist." The latest comic book artist biography from Vangaurd Productions promises never before published artwork and photographs, and features the gorgeous Chip Kidd cover above.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

4 Random Comics I Remember Loving as a Child

I don't remember a lot of my early comics, but, like most people, it would have mostly been superhero stuff. I remember one of my favorite comics was an early Spider-Man (#141) which had a story where Mysterio convinced Spider-Man that every single one of his villains were attacking him at the same time. It was my favorite story, and such an intense issue. I think I identified with his feelings of being battered from all angles.

I also had that oversized Battlestar Galactica Marvel Super Special. “In full Marvelcolor,” whatever the hell that is! I remember loving that thing so much. I wish I still had that. I’m sure part of the reason was its size. It was huge! On my last trip to St. Louis, I dug out the first 4 issues of the '80s Marvel BSG series that I picked up somewhere along the way, and read them, but they sucked. Very dated, especially compared to the new TV series (which is outstanding).

I know I also had a ton of Star Wars comics, but I especially remember the mid-series Marvel run adapting The Empire Strikes Back. I read those issues dozens of times, and I remember my dad got me some trace paper and I spent hours tracing that Boba Fett cover on issue 42.

I also remember an issue of Detective Comics (#367) with Batman fighting Jigsaw, and along the bottom of the cover was an actual jigsaw puzzle. I was so young, I actually cut off the bottom and carefully cut out all the pieces. Still one of my favorite covers of all time.

I also remember I had this large plastic die-cut Superman American Greeting Cards display thing. It was huge, like 4 feet wide, and puffed outward in 3D. I think it was from a greeting cards display my dad had in his old pharmacy before it burned down. But somehow, this thing survived. Actually, I think its still somewhere in my parents' basement right now, but now there's so much crap down there you can barely walk around.

Wonderland #1

Wonderland #1
By Tommy Kovac and Sonny Liew
Published by Amaze Ink/Slave Labor Graphics, US $3.50

Wonderland #1 does exactly what Slave Labor’s new line of Disney-licensed comics should do. It captures the fun, playfulness of the original movie, while offering a new spin on the characters and the story. Wonderland essentially picks up where the Disney movie version of Alice in Wonderland left off. The evil Queen, still fuming over Alice’s destruction of her palace, is looking for someone to blame so she has her guards arrest Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. To save their own skins, the two buffoons implicate the White Rabbit (“I’m late, I’m late…”) and the action is set. The story also introduces a young woman named Mary Ann, whose striking resemblance to “the Alice Monster” is bound to lead her to trouble, though unlike Alice, she is concerned with little more than cleanliness and hygiene. What really makes this issue worth the money, however, is Sonny Liew’s art. Liew’s style is a sort of hybrid between Mike Ploog (Abadazad, Stardust) and Gene Colan and his sketchy style mixed with the vibrant primary colors which were so much a part of the movie version of Wonderland, work very well here. Liew is really the perfect artist for this story as he captures the familiar characters that people will remember from the movie, while also adding new characters which fit right into the surrealist fantasy world of Wonderland. Liew also does some very interesting experiments with page layouts, including a very impressive two page spread in the opening scene as Mary Ann wanders through some kind of tree portal, looking for the White Rabbit’s house. I had a feeling the art would be good, but the story by Tommy Kovac, while probably not worthy of an Eisner, will certainly satisfy kids (or anyone else who remembers to movie fondly), which is presumably who this new line of books is targeted. Overall, a very promising start to this latest Disney series. Grade : 4/5

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Love & Rockets #2

My review of Love & Rockets #2 is now live at Check it out! For those new to this site, I'm reviewing all 50 issues of the first volume of Love & Rockets, and will eventually edit and (hopefully) publish them as a book. My goal is to have a new review roughly every 3 weeks or so. If you're a Love & Rockets fan, I'd love to hear what you think, good, bad or otherwise.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Wednesday Forecast

Batman Year 100 #4 (DC Comics)– despite the underwhelming story, and the sometimes frighteningly mangled poses Batman seems to contort himself into, there is still something so visually pleasing about this book, that I have kept buying it. Chewing gum for the eyeballs, as my father used to say.

Fell #5 (DC Comics)– – Like most, I’ve been enjoying this new series, though I think it's more popular than it deserves to be. While not a new concept by any stretch, the "one and done" format makes for a satisfying read each month without having to remember huge volumes of backstory. And once again, Warren Ellis benefits from working with the best illustrators in the industry. I’m not saying it’s bad; it's not. I just think our standards have dropped a little if we really think Fell is one of the best books of the year.

DMZ #7 (DC Comics)– – you know, I’m not really sure why I keep buying this book. I guess partly I just love seeing New York City reimagined as a war torn wasteland. Maybe it’s the kid in me longing for the thrill of the old Kurt Russell classic, Escape from New York. The story's not bad, but I feel like Brian Wood hasn’t really fleshed out a real plot yet, and certainly he hasn’t made clear exactly what this war is about, and which side is which. The art, as with most Vertigo titles these days, is capable, with flashes of brilliance, but really leaves an overall impression of mediocrity. I’m sticking with it though, as #6 started out better than any of the previous issues since the book began.

Wonderland #1 (Amaze Ink/Slave Labor) – I have no idea what this book is about (besides the obvious Alice in Wonderland parallel) but it looks interesting enough to give it a flip-through. Sonny Liew’s Malinky Robot was a beautiful-looking book, with interesting character designs and unique camera angles, so if he can apply that same level of quality toward a halfway decent story, this book could be worth keeping an eye on.

Castle Waiting HC (Fantagraphics) – I’m definitely getting this. Linda Medley’s fairy tale, which began with the self-published one shot, The Curse of Brambley Hedge, is one of the lost classics from the nineties, and it’s great that not only has she finally finished the story, but it’s being presented in the upscale format that will appeal to bookstore fans as well as comics nerds. I met Linda way back when at the Heroes Con in Charlotte, this must have been about ’96 or ’97, and to this day, she left a lasting impression as one of the friendliest creators I’ve ever met.

Supermarket #1 and 2 (2nd prints) (IDW Publishing) – living in NYC, I have the advantage of rarely missing out on a new book, but if you missed this the first time around, I highly recommend it. One of the best new series of the year, and Kristian’s art is absolutely stunning.

Warfix HC (NBM) – I just got a preview copy of this, and it looks very good. Very intense! I’ll have a review in the next week or two over at Comic Book Galaxy.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Crack Shots - May 15, 2006

By Jamie Tanner
Self Published by Jamie Tanner, US $3.00
Catastrophe Preview Pages

Jamie Tanner’s comics are always a treat, and Amber is one of my favorites. The first person tale of a ghost haunting a flooded city is an obvious parallel of the effects Hurricane Katrina had on New Orleans, and Tanner’s quasi-fictional city – from the French-style architecture to the conspicuous gaslamps – is clearly meant to evoke New Orleans. Yet, as with many of Tanner’s stories, there’s a sad sort of wistfulness that mixes with the supernatural. Not much really happens as we follow the ghost as he inhabits one body after another, getting each drunk before moving on, while at the same time recounting the fragments of memory he can recall from his former life. Tanner’s tightly drawn, crosshatched style is very reminiscent of Kurt Wolfgang’s Where Hats Go, though his robots and mannequins and especially his recognizably distinct bird-like characters give his work a unique look and feel. If you’ve never sampled Jamie Tanner’s work before, this is a pretty good place to start. Grade: 4.5/5

Manhole #2
By Mardou
Self Published by Mardou, US $4.00
Catastrophe Preview Pages

I was really excited about this one, especially after seeing the beautifully designed collage cover on the Catastrophe website. The back cover, which unfortunately is the book’s highlight, is also interesting – a sixteen panel strip about different library patrons in a small town. Mardou links pop culture and the personalities of the different characters very nicely, creating a microcosm of this small town through the lens of the local librarian. But once you get past the cover, the book falls apart. The main story, “King of It,” chronicles a woman’s journey into infidelity, but there’s something very cold and stiff about the story. For one thing, the art is awkward and amateurish. Mardou seems to have particular difficulty conveying emotion with extreme facial close-ups, a major problem for this particular style of story. In the big romantic scene, the two characters share a sexual encounter that is hampered by mediocre art, and there is an awkwardness in the way their bodies come together. The anatomy is off, breaking the reality of the scene. The story itself is also cold. The narrator is a young writer who is so in love with herself, she goes and has a meaningless affair with some other hotshot writer, leaving her husband, just so she can write about the experience. It’s tough to like a character like that, and I think that’s part of the problem with the story. One other short story about discovering some old postcards in a thrift shop rounds out the collection, but hardly redeems it. Yet despite these flaws, I do feel like there’s real potential here and I have to admit, I am very much looking forward to what Mardou does next. Grade: 3/5

Crushed #1
By Cole Johnson
Self Published by Cole Johnson, US $3.00
Catastrophe Preview Pages

Crushed is the first issue of a straight forward high school romance tale. Cole Johnson, whose previous mini-comics work Sugar Free Days was enjoyably bizarre, downplays much of the sarcasm and irony here, offering up a fairly generic first day of high school story. This issue is mostly setup, but the basic foundation has been laid. Brenda, an insecure young woman, meets Wesley, the new kid, on her way to school, and develops, as teenagers often do, an instant crush. That her friends also find him cute draws out some jealous thoughts. Not much more happens in this first issue. Crushed falls somewhere between an Andi Watson comic and Tomine’s mini-comics work, with a fairly mundane premise, clich├ęd characters, and little more than some nice, simple art to recommend it. I like Johnson’s previous work a lot, and based solely on that, I think this is worth following to see if it develops into something, but this first issue doesn’t really feel inspired or unique. Grade: 3.5/5

Spit-Toons #1
By Onsmith
Self Published by Onsmith, US $3.00
Catastrophe Preview Pages

If you think people spitting on each other, or stepping on hypodermic needles is funny, then this is the book for you. Personally, I had higher expectations that this Underworld-style gag strip comic would be funnier than it was. The preview pages on the USS Catastrophe website were the best 2 pages in the book, and in general, the humor skewed more toward the bizarre (a six year old girl goes with her father to get breast implants) or the gross (one friend asks another if he’s “checking out” his infant sister). Onsmith’s cartooning is the selling point, though, as he clearly knows how to exaggerate characters’ physical traits in service of a gag. In fact, his best strips are the few where he lets the art deliver the punchline, rather than text. While not bad, this small little package is hardly essential. Still, it might give you a chuckle or two. Grade: 2.5/5

Taken For a Ride
By Ken Dahl
Self Published, US $2.00
Catastrophe Preview Pages

I remember exactly where I was on the first anniversary of 9/11. I was working in an office less than two blocks from “ground zero,” and that morning, we all gathered in one of the conference rooms facing the vacant pit where the Towers stood, and watched the depressing parade of grieving families as various celebrities and “heroes” read the names of every single victim. The memorial lasted several hours. It was a chilling scene, and I remember feeling both uncomfortable and moved. Taken For a Ride is Ken Dahl’s autobiographical story of his own experience on the first anniversary on 9/11, and reading it brought back many of those feelings. Dahl spent the anniversary traveling, and his story is a straight forward recounting of the sometimes ridiculous lengths people went, in the aftermath of that tragedy, to prove publicly their patriotism, as well as the awkward and frustrating overreactions that were felt most profoundly in the air travel industry. Yet Dahl, whose work I have not seen before, delivers a clever, articulate and certainly familiar recounting of his bizarre experience, from traveling in a cab with a foreign driver to checking in at the airport, and which culminates in a bizarre in-flight scene in which the captain leads the passengers in the Pledge of Allegiance. Dahl’s opening quotes from Orwell, Lincoln and Schlessinger, Jr. are appropriate and in some ways chilling, as they set the stage by exposing the racist hypocrisy of this excess patriotism. Dahl’s art, which relies mostly on a single panel per page, is solid, if not exceptional, though it’s his hand-lettering that stands out as the most effective storytelling device. There’s a lot of smart ideas here, as well as some very sharp writing, and while so many mini-comics are little more than sandboxes for artists with little to say, Dahl delivers an intelligent, thought-provoking story. Grade: 4/5

By Ken Dahl
Self Published
Catastrophe Preview Pages

Ken Dahl’s other book, No. is a great collection of short humor strips with a sharp-wittedness not often found in mini-comics. The highlight is “The Origin of Army Guy” which cleverly parodies the Sarge character from Beetle Bailey to lampoon the American military. The Sarge recruits a young man from a small town in Iowa with promises like “get the fuck out of Iowa,” “kill ragheads,” and “son, this is your ticket to prime pussy worldwide.” It’s a clever, barbed indictment of the ridiculous tactics military recruiters will use to convince people to join the military, and Dahl’s perfect imitation of the Sarge makes this strip. Dahl also includes several other short strips which are variations on a theme. One is called “skillshares” in which a character named “Gordon Smalls” tries to convince us that his somewhat strange personal habits, such as “peeing in the shower,” “swinging at night,” and best of all, “putting frozen bananas in your cereal” are habits we should all adopt. There are also several one page strips featuring “old punx” which pokes fun at aging punk rockers. The book also reprints “Paul,” Dahl’s True Porn 2 anthology contribution in which he and a friend, as young boys, discover their father’s porn collection, and explore “butt-fucking” with no real idea what it means. It’s disturbing and sweet at the same time, and demonstrates Dahl’s ability to capture innocent childish moments well. Throughout the book, Dahl proves he definitely has the artistic chops to pull off the visual humor, and also has a clear understanding of how to pace strips and deliver punchlines. Overall, this was a pleasant surprise and Ken Dahl is a creator I look forward to seeing more work from. No. is funny, well paced, and definitely worth checking out. Grade: 4.5/5

Friday, May 12, 2006

"Name That Panel"

One of the three reasons I started this blog was to do Name That Panel.

Here's the rules:

The first person to guess the artist and the book by correctly posting it in the comments with an e-mail address, will win a random graphic novel from my collection of my choosing. That's it.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

First Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth!!!

There are far too many good comics to keep up with. Do you ever have this feeling? I went into Midtown Comics today, looked at all six of the First Second books, and just thought, there's no way.

By putting them all out in the same week, the publishers are asking people to spend $90.70 (though at least at Midtown Comics you get $20 free for every $100 you spend). So if we assume that the average comics buyer will choose his favorite two, what ends up happening is that First Second is forcing their artists to compete with each other for sales, when if they had just staggered the release dates, they might have sold more to the same art-comix audience.

It's pretty overwhelming to think about reading all six of those books, espeically when Eddie Campbell's book looks pretty dense (although unbelievably gorgeous). To really read and digest all six of these books could literally take months.

The two that I was most impressed with, upon initial flip-through, were The Fate of the Artist, and Deogratias (the Rwanda book). The others looked like they were targeted more for an all ages audience, though the design (by Danica Novgorodoff) and artwork are obviously impressive. But if I had to pick only two (I ended up buying none, though I know I will eventually get them all) those would be the two.

I just recently finished The Rabbi's Cat (which gives you an idea of how behind I am in general) and I have the taste for more Sfar work. I loved the shifting styles he uses, varying from detailed and textured closeups to sparse distance shots. He does it so seemlessly, you almost don't register it, which is a credit to his ability not to overuse this technique, and to use it at just the right moments. Vampire Loves has that same look, which would probably, for me, make it third on my list. Tough call though, as Grady Klein's The Lost Colony looked incredible, too. Reminiscent of Scott Morse's best work with such intense, vibrant colors!

Honestly, the other two books didn't interest me as much. A.L.I.E.E.E.N. (which is a real pain to type) looked like well illustrated mayhem in the surrealist sense. I don't know if there was a story thread there, but it sure looked like something Jim Woodring would have done. Fun to look at, especially after a few hits of LSD. Sardine in Outer Space looked like an above average kids book. Fun, but probably better suited for an eight year old girl than a 33 year old man.

I've no doubt that all of these books are incredible, and if and when I read them, I'll enjoy them. But when I think of all the things I've already bought and haven't read yet, I just wonder if dropping another $90 to add about six inches to the reading pile is really such a good idea.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Testing the Waters

Well, at long last, I've decided to give this whole blogging thing a shot. Unlike my Crack Shots at Comic Book Galaxy, this will be a more personal blog, with hopefully a little link blogging, some humor, some creative writing, etc. Of course, there will also be a fair bit of comics talk, since there seems to be a major lack of comics bloggers out there. If you've liked my writing at all at CBG, I hope you'll bear with me as I get this thing up and running.