Looking for Beauty in the Oddity

Oddriel by Adriel Flores Roman (Self-Published): Oddriel arrived in my “to review” stack as a very attractive and professional looking package. I enjoyed the creator’s wit being on full display, even before I cracked the book open. There were pull quotes (from his mom!) about the brilliance of his work or how handsome he was, and that just takes some stones to pull off. It’s tough to be funny in print, but those little tricks succeed. My favorite was the ominous teaser passage “A Young Boy Looking For His Soulmate. A Russian Experiment Gone Wrong. A City That Needs To Be Protected.” And then… in the tiniest of fine print: “*This Paragraph Does Not Depict Any Actual Content.”

The image you see up top is not from this actual book, but is rather one that I pulled from Adriel’s (largely graphic design oriented) web-site, because I think it best represents the strength and style of the cartooning he’s capable of producing. It reminds me a bit of the style of Arthur Dela Cruz, who did a book for Oni Press a decade ago which I just adored, Kissing Chaos, and then abruptly disappeared from the scene. Oddriel is a collection of strips and miscellany. The intro from his dog continues the humor and describes the author as “sometimes swearing like a vulgar cheap corsair during a drunken night.” As we move deeper into the accompanying text pieces, I found them to be *sorry!* a little preachy and condescending. I think part of the vibe is that they stemmed from writing artist statements in a university setting, where it seems from my lay understanding like you're encouraged to hype yourself and discuss how important and unique your artistic vision is. The point is about finding beauty in the oddity, but the tongue-in-cheek self-congratulatory style, with a tendency to over-explain, was just off-putting for me. I usually prefer when artists just let the work speak for itself.

Moving into the actual strips, I found Adriel’s figure work to be handsome. The characters are affable and easy to look at. There’s some nice variation in the line weight, though I do think that inking the pieces heavier, and altering the figure scale on occasion, would add some much needed depth and texture to the overall composition. Even the inclusion of some color would be great, judging by the graphic design samples on the web, the creator’s use of color elements is bold and iconic, something comics also live for. The introductory piece is a very interesting idea, about illustrating one of those aforementioned “artist statements,” and essentially answering the questions: Why do you do what you do? Why art? The results are a little fuzzy, and I think could be made crisp, for the greatest impact, with a strong editorial hand in play.

"Teddy Knight" is the second strip, a sort of Toy Story gone rogue as the kid slumbers in his bed. It also reminded me of a book called The Stuff of Legend wherein toys come alive to fight the equivalent of WWII, which takes that concept to the aesthetic extreme. "Teddy Knight" was full of a burst of unexpected energy, but seemed to be over just as it got going. "Unresolved Issues" is the third entry and the most personal piece in the book. Attempting “dream comics” is a very tricky business though. Initially they seem like easy source material for autobiographical creators, but unfortunately it’s a universal rule that dreams are only interesting to the people having them, and a total snoozer for everyone else. Adriel is able to visually capture the sense of confusion and insecurity that comes with low self-esteem.

There’s also a teaser for a promised web-comic entitled "Beast," about a TV persona who is also a vampire. The premise of the tale felt a bit unwieldy, but it’s full of nice perspective shots and use of negative space. At a technical level, there are a couple examples of an entry level mistake that Paul Pope refers to as “the halo-ing effect,” where trying to draw actual figures against an all black background, instead of the mere representation of the figure’s contours and shadows, creates an unseemly border outline. There’s undeniably some raw skill here, but additional polish is required to moves Roman’s work to being ready for the prime time mini-comics scene. Overall, I like the packaging, enjoyed the humor, but found some of the writing to be lackluster. With some writing practice that clarifies the delivery of the concept without editorialization, and some effort to work out the small journeyman technical glitches in the art rendering, I think Adriel Flores Roman could grow to be a creator to watch. Grade B-.


12.21.11 Reviews

Uncanny X-Force #19 (Marvel): I’m just catching up on reviews from last week, so I thought I’d jot down some quick thoughts. I was really nervous that a(nother) new artist coming on would ruin the magic here, but I’m pleased to report that’s definitely not the case. Robbi Rodriguez is a worthy aesthetic successor to Jerome Opena, feeling like equal parts Opena, Nathan Fox, and even Kyle Baker in spots with that anemic sort of emotional line. I like it! Fantomex is still really stealing the show, turning in these performances that are full of arrogance, intelligence, and wit, seemingly several moves ahead of everyone else on the chess board, as he pushes the nurture vs. nature debate in all kinds of interesting directions. I really enjoy all of the baggage from the Age of Apocalypse timeline left over from the last arc. There’s Jean and Logan, the toilet humor of Deadpool and Sabretooth, Nightcrawler and Kitty, the “new” Warren, and Psylocke actually looks Asian! There’s small character moments, like Logan giving the sword to Sabretooth, and I’m still enjoying Remender’s swipes at DC with Evan’s “super” origin. The confluence of the Logan/Beast/X-Force/Avengers/Jean Grey School conflict is bloody brilliant, and Fantomex saying “befriend girls with loose morals” is absolute gold. UXF still has it all, action, humor, characterization, moral complexity, all in a very slick looking package. This is how you do it, folks. Grade A+.

Batman #4 (DC): I don’t have a lot to say on this one, but I’m still really enjoying it. Intense action, smart writing, and relationship driven storylines amid the grandeur of Gotham City feels like the proper recipe for a proper modern Batman, and it succeeds on all fronts. Snyder finds a clever way to add something to the Batman/Bruce Wayne origin story regarding The Court of Owls, without it being some jarring retcon, all positioned within Alan Wayne’s legacy and the history of Gotham. I also enjoyed the counterpoint between Bruce’s obsession and Dick’s pragmatism. Grade A.

Wonder Woman #4 (DC): For some reason, this book felt like the front half was really treading water and not doing anything. But, by the time someone said “We will protect our Queen. To the death.” I was all in. I still really appreciate the new direction this has taken, the whole “feminine code” bit between Hera and Hippolyta, and it’s definitely pretty to look at, but I feel like a) I need to re-read all the issues in one sitting, or at least the entire first arc, in order to make a long term decision regarding my financial support of the title, and b) that if Cliff Chiang left, so would I. Grade B+.

Wolverine & The X-Men #3 (Marvel): Argh, I really want to like this book! I dig Jason Aaron so much, but some bits of this really bugged me. First off, anything that takes 3 artists, 7 inkers, and 2 colorists to complete is likely to be a muddled mess. It’s true, some of the art is just very difficult to parse, and there’s so many massive conversations taking place amid the rubble and noisy art that it just feels like a mess visually at times. I like the characters though. Logan saying “You’re Captain America, you’re allowed to do whatever the hell you want.” is a great little moment, as was the entire Logan/Cap convo regarding the future of young Quentin Quire. I feel like Aaron and Brian Wood have been chatting about how Wood’s impending Wolverine/Kid Omega series is going to fit into all of this, and that’s nice to see from a collaborative/editorial perspective I guess(?). For me, Aaron commits one of the cardinal writing sins by inserting the “trending on Twitter” lines in here. That’s’ the kind of thing that will instantly date a comic, today’s Twitter is tomorrow’s MySpace. He kinds of saves it at the end with the Matt Murdock cameo. I guess I’ll try to stick with this, but like Cliff Chiang on Wonder Woman, I feel like all it would take is a less than desirable art change here, and I’d be out fairly quickly. Grade B.


12.28.11 Reviews (Bonus Round)

Swamp Thing #1 (DC): I’ve been on a bit of a Scott Snyder kick after the new Batman and the American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest mini-series, so I decided to check this out. I think one of the things that makes Snyder a good writer is that he finds a nice balance between the literal and the figurative, and the juxtaposition of those elements within the words and pictures creates a tertiary layer of information. In that, he really *gets* what makes the medium unique. One of the examples of that in this issue is when he talks about stemming roses against the birds falling out of the sky in Metropolis. The team seems to re-root Swamp Thing in the DCU, with several JLA’ers making cameos, and Yanick Paquette is able to relay a lot of information visually during these early sequences. Paquette’s pencils can slip into being a bit stiff at times, but they’re mostly serviceable. Snyder’s script is well researched, and I generally dig the interpretation of the violent plant world. Shit, I don’t even like Swamp Thing as a character, but in Snyder’s capable hands, it’s kind of making me want to track down the next couple of issues. Grade B+.

Aquaman #4 (DC): For these next three reviews, I picked up a few books for a coworker. I couldn’t resist reading them before I had a chance to hand them off, so here we go… I don’t understand how Arthur and Mera can talk underwater. That's just lazy writing. The art is nonsensical at times. Something about Atlantean creatures underwater… or something? It seems to revel in its own attempted self-aware stupidity. Proof? One word: “Aquadog.” Grade C-.

Captain America #5 (Marvel): I kept thing that there was some hoary tired dialogue as I was trying to figure out something involving Hydra and Nowhere-land… or something? Then the book ended. There are some very jarring art transitions from the style of McNiven to Camuncoli. If Steve Rogers was frozen in a block of ice at the end of WWII, say 1945, then was revived in the mid-60’s, say 1965, then that means he was out for 20 years roughly, so saying that he “slept through the majority of the 20th century” is kinda’ dumb. "Majority" means more than half the total, which would be at least 51 out of 100 in this case. 20 does not equal 51. Dumb. Grade C-.

Captain America #6 (Marvel): Because one half-assed issue per week wasn’t enough! Man, this is so steeped in impenetrable Hydra and Baron Zemo machinations. There’s also this thinly veiled Impotent Cap theme running through these two issues. Brubaker seems to be attempting the clever intro captions that Matt Fraction made famous in Uncanny X-Men, minus the “clever” part. When did Hawkeye’s costume change? There’s a mindless fight sequence with no real plot advancement in the whole issue. Alan Davis instead of McNiven on art AND Laura Martin on colors can’t even save this thing. I thought Brubaker was hailed as like The Great Captain America Writer of Our Generation, but this is just perfectly mediocre Big Two Superhero Comics. Grade C.

12.28.11 Reviews

DMZ #72 (DC/Vertigo): [DMZ Countdown Clock™: 0 Issues Remaining] As much as I’ve written about DMZ, I really don’t know where to start. It all feels a bit surreal, and a lot of thoughts flood into my brain and intertwine. The issue itself is an emotionally satisfying flash forward 15 years, with the war in the past. We take an everywoman tour through the city, which calls to mind the all Brian Wood issue, #12, or even Megan in Local to some degree. Riccardo gets to draw the city shiny and gleaming for once, teeming with life, and it’s such a peacefully jarring transition. Through the words in Matty’s book, we learn that he’s largely accepted his personal outcome, but essentially asks people to remember what occurred, to love NYC, including its turbulent past, because when you forget, well, that’s when the old adage comes in about those not knowing history being doomed to repeat it. For a book that was dirty and gritty and complex morally, bordering on apocalyptic at times, it’s a bit of refreshing sunshine to see Wood end the book with such hopeful optimism. If the real main character of the series was always New York, the city itself, then the creative team just ended a 6 year love letter to NYC. So much of what Brian writes in the end piece rings true for me as well. It’s amazing how much life can change in the space of 6 years, with DMZ having run as a constant in the background. When the first issue of DMZ shipped, I was still living in the San Francisco Bay Area too, still worked at Cisco and not at MCA San Diego like I do now, I was *just* starting this blog, I’ve since bought and sold houses, had two kids, and hit a lot of those life benchmarks Brian talks about. DMZ was always there, and now it won’t be. This book allowed me to meet cool people like Brian, like Jeromy Cox, Nathan Fox, correspond with Will Dennis, Kristian Donaldson, John Paul Leon, and even my paisan Riccardo Burchielli. But, like Matty, we grow up, we internalize those experiences, and just move forward. I’m looking forward to everything that comes from this creator from this point forward. For me, Brian’s in superstar territory now, whatever that means, having helmed one of the longest running Vertigo books in history. Congratulations to everyone involved! I’m also happy to say that DMZ won’t be “over” for me for a few months still. Please visit us at LIVE FROM THE DMZ, where we’ll be continuing our coverage, volume by volume, all the way until Volume 12: The Five Nations of New York ships in the front half of 2012. Grade A+.

Secret Avengers #20 (Marvel): I knew I was going to dig the covert sci-fi vibe of this book as soon as I saw the cover. It's John Cassaday, by way of Steranko, with Warren Ellis and Alex Maleev delivering the contents. The book is just go-go-go and I dug it all the way. The title page is slick as hell, we start en media res with a frantic action opener, we jump back 5 years, then skip all up and down a timeline as Black Widow tries to prevent a bad mission that killed Steve Rogers, James Rhodes, and Sharon Carter. The murky art suits the moral ambiguity of the tale. The period sequence looks like some delicious lost strip, with period-style sound effects, exposition, and general newspaper aesthetic. Doctor Druid, Daimon Hellstrom, and "magic irradiation" reminds me of Warren Ellis' early Marvel work. At the end of it all, the story is a closed loop that tries its hardest to avoid the time travel paradox, it's quite entertaining, and a reminder that good spy work is something that nobody ever knows about, nearly averting total disaster in total secret. Grade A.


12.28.11 Releases

Things get a little back to normal as the final shipping week of the year comes around. Without question, the pick of the week will be DMZ #72 (DC/Vertigo), which marks the very last issue of Brian Wood's 6 year tale of Matty Roth and the cultural identity of the modern day United States. Any series hitting 72 issues from the same writer is a minor miracle these days, and I'll be sad to see it go, but we'll still be talking about the trades for months to come over at LIVE FROM THE DMZ. There's really no other book I'll be able to focus on this week, but I'll still be picking up Secret Avengers #20 (Marvel) from Warren Ellis and Alex Maleev, featuring Black Widow. I can also recommend Avengers: Children's Crusade #8 (Marvel), which is the penultimate issue in the saga. Joe Casey offers up a little double tap with Haunt #20 (Image) and Godland #35 (Image). I was underwhelmed by the story in Haunt #19, but there's no denying the magic of Nathan Fox's art. On the other hand, Godland is usually both a fun read and visually engaging, but I have zero recollection of the last issue and what's going on. What looks good to you?


Comic Book Colorist Countdown - Archive Post

Ryan Claytor and I are now officially done with our 2011 Comic Book Colorist Countdown, bringing you our series of the "10 Best Colorists" working in the industry today. As Ryan often does with a series of articles like this, today's final post archives the links to all 10 of our selections, along with all of the bonus interviews, in a handy one-stop link dump. You can bookmark it here. Thanks for reading!


Comic Book Colorist Countdown - #5 Dean White (Bonus Interview)

Ryan and I deliver the last of our interviews in conjunction with our countdown of the "10 Best Colorists" working on comics today. I'm pleased to have interviewed one of my favorite new creators, Dean White. Check it out!


Comic Book Colorist Countdown - #7 Alex Sinclair (Bonus Interview)

It's not over yet! Altough Ryan and I have wrapped up our countdown portion of the "10 Best Colorists" working in comics today, we have a couple of last minute interviews with them still trickling in. Please check out Ryan's interview with Alex Sinclair.


Comic Book Colorist Countdown - #1 Laura Martin

Ryan and I bring our "10 Best Colorists" series home, today discussing the astonishing Laura Martin. Do yourself a favor and read the post!


Comic Book Colorist Countdown - #2 Dave Stewart (Bonus Interview)

Before we reach the last slot, Ryan pauses to interview colorist extraordinaire Dave Stewart for our "10 Best Colorists" series. Check it out!


The Great Statistical Purchasing Analysis of 2011!

Welcome to the 4th consecutive year that I’ve tracked my comic book purchasing habits and provided some commentary about the data. Essentially, the trend formally established last year appears to be continuing. Yes, my high school stats teacher, Mr. Embry, was right, “three points make a trend,” he said, while I was staring at a girl named Gretchen who looked vaguely like Whitney Port and used to wear frilly low cut tank tops, sans bra, that revealed oh so much that was taut and perky and, wait... what was I saying...? Oh. Yeah… In short, I’m buying fewer books across the board and spending significantly less money.

I attribute this primarily to two factors. One, I moved from a 10+ year career at a high-paying job in Corporate America to a small non-profit organization (during that same time period, I also had two kids!) and thus have less discretionary income for my hobbies. Yeah, “I’m all groweds up,” as Trent would say. I gave up collecting and racing BMWs long ago, as well as my voracious film appetite. It was not uncommon for me to burn up a set of $800 tires on any given weekend when I had them slapped on a ’95 M3 at the track, nor was it uncommon for me to literally spend all weekend watching back to back to back new releases in the theatre and hitting the town with a certain circle of friends. Heck, a little known fact is that one of my first writing gigs, like ever, was writing movie reviews, not comic book reviews. But, I digress.

The second factor leading to my declining purchasing habits is that I perceive less value remaining for me personally in the majority of products I come into contact with. Not the medium itself, but what the medium is predominantly producing. And despite objective price points, a lot of consumer purchasing habits are driven by perceived value. It doesn’t matter if something is $5 or $50, people will/won’t buy an object simply based on whether or not they subjectively feel they’re getting their money’s worth in terms of enjoyment. There are fewer titles I’m willing to adventurously try or habitually spend money on because price points on the upswing are intersecting with enjoyment on the downswing. There are fewer creators I feel any die hard sense of loyalty to. Sure, they do exist, but I feel like the pool is dwindling rather than growing. Sure, new creators get on my radar that I become a fan of, but trust me when I say that I’m either shedding books, or not bothering to try new ones after a casual flip test, at a faster rate than I’m sticking. I want to point out that there are obviously some amazing exceptions out there that I love, it’s not all doom and gloom. But, the bottom line is that if I don’t feel I’m enjoying a title or creator, really enjoying them fully – writing and art consistently firing on all cylinders in a confluence of substance and style more than the sum of its parts, high expectations indeed – then I’m just not going to spend any money. I used to try first arcs of many new books, now I try first issues.

Well, with all of the usual blah-bitty-blah out of the way, let’s just dive in… I’ll start with the TOTAL QUANTITY of SINGLE ISSUES purchased from 2008 to 2011.

2008: 259
2009: 197
2010: 169
2011: 125

This is a substantial decrease of 26% from 2010 to 2011, and a whopping 52% decrease from 2008 to 2011. I’m basically buying half of the floppies I was just 4 years ago. Looking at the same category of SINGLE ISSUES in terms of TOTAL DOLLARS SPENT, the results are as follows.

2008: $777
2009: $697
2010: $616
2011: $458

This also represents a 26% decrease from 2010 to 2011, and a 41% decrease from 2008 to 2011. You’ll notice that this is a disproportionate decrease in dollars spent compared to titles purchased over the longer 4-year period. That’s due to the fact that during the last couple of years, the average price point per item went up from somewhere around $3 to somewhere closer to $4 on so many titles. Since comics are periodicals and the weekly sales pattern and subsequent news cycle is endemic to the paradigm, I like to look at my purchasing habits on a weekly basis as a meaningful statistic as well. Here is the AVERAGE QUANTITY of SINGLE ISSUES purchased per week over the period.

2008: 4.98
2009: 3.79
2010: 3.25
2011: 2.40

Basically, I would buy about 5 singles per week on average in 2008, and that’s slowly declined to about 2 per week on average, if you round to the nearest whole book. It’s roughly a 30% drop from 2010 to 2011, and a 60% drop from 2008 to 2011. We can also take a look at AVERAGE DOLLARS SPENT per week on SINGLE ISSUES.

2009: $13.40
2010: $11.85
2011: $8.81

In 2008, I’d spent approximately $15 per week on SINGLE ISSUES, and by 2011 I’ve dropped into single digits, spending just under $9 per week on average, rounding to the nearest dollar. That’s a 25% drop from 2010 to 2011, with a 40% drop from 2008 to 2011. Moving on to the GRAPHIC NOVELS AND/OR TRADE PAPERBACKS category, I tracked all of the metrics in the same manner. First, here is the TOTAL QUANTITY of TRADES/OGN purchased.

2008: 55
2009: 26
2010: 18
2011: 12

This is a 30% drop from 2010 to 2011, with a sharp decrease of 78% from 2008 to 2011. Now, keep in mind that these metrics are for books purchased, not consumed. I would guesstimate that I actually read just as many trades or graphic novels as I have in previous years, likely more, but the catch is that I didn’t pay for them. As Thirteen Minutes has flourished, and I’ve picked up writing gigs at other venues, the number of comp copies I receive has increased dramatically. I don’t track that number, but just off the top of my head I can think of at least 2 to 3 dozen books that I received for free for review purposes this year, directly from creators, publishers, etc. that would tend to skew this metric. It’s hard to know to what degree this skew is in effect, because some of these comp copies acquired are ones that I would have bought anyway, but that’s certainly not the case for all of them. So, just keep that in mind. My perception is that I think the trend holds though, that there are probably fewer books in this category that I would have willingly spent the money on, but I can’t back that claim up with metrics. Let’s move on to look at TOTAL DOLLARS SPENT on TRADES/OGN.

2009: $521
2010: $413
2011: $103

From 2010 to 2011 alone, this is a 75% decrease, with a staggering 91% decline from 2008 to 2011. I’ve nothing more to add here other than the fact that this year’s $103 really doesn’t reflect my reading habits very accurately in terms of what I consumed. As I mentioned, I received tons of comp copies from all over the place, and I also ended up with a ton of Amazon credit that I burned up on trades/OGN, but those “sales” transactions weren’t tracked here because they never represented an actual out of pocket expense. And this is a purchasing analysis, not a reading analysis per se, hence their exclusion.

The average price point is also out of whack for this category this year, but I can explain that one. One thing that might jump out at you statistical nerds is that if I spent just $103 on 12 trades/graphic novels, then the average price point only amounts to $8.58. What kind of trades and graphic novels only cost $8 you might ask? The kind that are on sale for up to 80% off at the BORDERS LIQUIDATION SALES! Many of the books in this category were runs of Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, Pluto, Monster, or other manga that I sampled, which I ended up picking up for around $2 in some cases, and those purchases severely skewed the metrics. Let’s look at the weekly averages in this category, starting off with the AVERAGE QUANTITY of TRADES/OGN purchased on a weekly basis.

2008: 1.06
2009: .50
2010: .35
2011: .23

That’s a 34% drop from 2010 to 2011, and a 78% drop from 2008 to 2011. It’s still staggering to me that I was basically buying 1 full-on trade/OGN per week in 2008. Now that the number has slipped to .23 per week, it’s almost a meaningless and insignificant entry on a weekly basis, but it does equate to about 1 per month, if we looked at it that way. In terms of AVERAGE DOLLARS SPENT on TRADES/OGN per week, the numbers shake out like this.

2008: $23.08
2009: $10.02
2010: $7.94
2011: $1.98

As you can see, this is a pretty serious decline of 75% from 2010 to 2011, and 91% from 2008 to 2011, but there are some extenuating factors previously explained that would tend to position this as being a little less bleak than the raw data might lead you to believe. Lastly, and mostly for kicks, we can look at combined units for both floppies and collected editions. Here’s the overall TOTAL UNITS PURCHASED.

2009: 223
2010: 187
2011: 137

So, I went from buying 314 total objects that qualify as “comics” in 2008, to just 137 in 2011. That’s a 27% decrease from 2010 to 2011, and a substantial 56% drop from 2008 to 2011, meaning that I’m essentially buying less than half of the comics I did just 4 years ago. That’s a pretty powerful bottom line statement, all things considered. In terms of TOTAL DOLLARS SPENT on TOTAL UNITS, it looks like this.

2008: $1,977
2009: $1,218
2010: $1,029
2011: $561

That equates to a 45% decline from 2010 to 2011, with a 72% overall drop from 2008 to 2011. The numbers sound big, don’t they? I went from spending nearly $2,000 on comics 4 years ago, to spending in the $500 range this year. Add it all up and *cringe* it looks like I spent about $4,785 on comics in the last 4 years. Shhh! Don’t tell my better half! As for AVERAGE TOTAL UNITS purchased per week

2008: 6.04
2009: 4.29
2010: 3.60
2011: 2.63

This means that I went from purchasing 6 total “things” that could be classified as comics per week (whether singles or trades) in 2008, to not quite 3 in 2011. Those metrics represent a 27% decline from 2010 to 2011, with a 56% drop overall from 2008 to 2011. Lastly, we can also look at AVERAGE DOLLARS SPENT per week as applied to TOTAL UNITS.

2009: $23.42
2010: $19.79
2011: $10.79

This is another pretty straightforward metric that seems to ring true based on my perceptions of what I actually do in the LCS on a weekly basis. It means that in 2008, I was basically dropping $40 per week, and now I’m only dropping about $10 per week on average. This comes out to a 45% drop from 2010 to 2011, with a 72% decrease from 2008 to 2011. That feels like what actually occurs for sure. I usually buy 2 or 3 singles per week, breaking a $20 bill in the process and hoping I have enough left for lunch, and then getting comp copies of a bunch of other stuff from generous creators and publishers.

Questions? Thoughts? Would you like to see me continue this analysis next year or is the writing on the wall at this point? Will all the categories ultimately bottom out at zero?! Should I scrap this ongoing project or hold out hope that one day the numbers will increase? Let me know!

12.21.11 Releases

There are a lot of good books out this week, but I suppose I have the most emotionally riding on Uncanny X-Force #19 (Marvel). Over the course of 2011, it grew to be one of my favorite books, culminating with one of the year’s best single issues in last week’s conclusion to the Dark Angel Saga. I’m hope hope hoping that the transition from Jerome Opena to Robbi Rodriguez will be strong, hopefully shored up by Rick Remender and Dean White staying on the title, along with that awesome cover by Rafael Grampa. Wolverine & The X-Men #3 (Marvel) also comes out, continuing the better (best?) of the recently revamped core X-titles. DC continues a couple of their strongest offerings from The New 52 with Batman #4 (DC) and Wonder Woman #4 (DC) also hitting the shelves. In the indie arena, Michael Kupperman’s Tales Designed to Thrizzle #7 (Fantagraphics) is sure to delight the readers who seek it out. What looks good to you?

Comic Book Colorist Countdown - #2 Dave Stewart

Ryan and I get closer to the finish line with our "10 Best Colorists" series, today we gush about the one and only Dave Stewart. Read the full post!


Comic Book Colorist Countdown - #3 Trish Mulvihill

Ryan and I continue our countdown of the "10 Best Colorists," and the gloves come off as we argue over Patricica Mulvihill! Go sort out the madness.


Comic Book Colorist Countdown - #4 Philippe Dupuy & Charles Berberian

Ryan and I continue our annual collaboration, this year counting down our joint list of the "10 Best Colorists." Today's selection is the duo of Philippe Dupuy & Charles Berberian, read the full post!


Comic Book Colorist Countdown - #5 Dean White

Ryan and I continue our countdown of the "10 Best Colorists" working today. I'm pleased to announce today's selection, Dean White. Check it out!


Comic Book Colorist Countdown - #6 Seth

Ryan and I continue our countdown of the "10 Best Colorists" working today, as he examines the work of the inimitable Seth. Take a look!


12.14.11 Reviews

Uncanny X-Force #18 (Marvel): Truthfully, I was a little pissed off when I walked up and saw this sucker polybagged like it was 1992 all over again, half expecting to find a trading card by Rob Liefeld inserted. But, inside? It. Did. Not. Disappoint. The book is full of smarts, like Deathlok logic-ing his way out of War’s spell, reminding me of a duel that Sandman once had with a demon from hell that had stolen one of his weapons. The book is full of humor, like Fantomex calling Archangel “cuckoo bird,” reminding us why it’s no surprise that Paradox Comics Group recently selected him as “Best Supporting Character.” I’ve rarely seen a book that can push your emotions from one extreme to another. Within the space of just a few minutes, I’m LOL-ing at Fantomex, and then Betsy and Warren nearly bring a tear to my eye. I mean, seriously, I was getting choked up when the art switched to that fantasy sequence and she psychically gave him the life they both always wished they could have together. As if Jerome Opena’s full throttle action sequences weren’t in your face enough, Remender then comes along and takes two swipes at DC, with a Ma and Pa Kent archetype on a farm, then naming the new En Sabah Nur “Genesis” to the existing heir of Apocalypse. This is just smart, fun, cool, slick, beautiful shit. By the end of it all (vague spoiler alert, I guess?), two characters are dead, and there’s a bittersweet twist. This book is more imaginative, more adrenalized, more humorous, with a deeper emotional core than pretty much anything out there. And ohmygod, does that Rafael Grampa cover art for the next run look deliciously wicked. All of the other X-books should be taking notes from these guys on how to do the franchise perfectly. Oh, and three words: Dean. White. Color. Grade A+.

Batwoman #4 (DC): That text intro on the first page has got to be the best bit of succinct instant recap existing in the biz today. I love how Flamebird is more prominent in this issue. I don’t mean this to be salacious (don’t I?), but I also really like how you can see the outline of Bette’s nipples protruding from her costume. It just seems like a small realistic touch in terms of how the uniform would form around her body. There’s an anatomical authenticity there that I truly appreciate. The juxtaposition of the adrenaline rush from crime-fighting and the washed out black and white sex scene is a probing look into the mindset of Bette and what makes her tick, setting up all kinds of guilt to follow. This has got to be one of the most beautiful sequences this year, in one of the best single issues this year. Along with what just happened in Uncanny X-Force #18 (another best issue of the year), I’m so glad I put both of these series on "My Favorite 13 Things of 2011" list. As Kate and Maggie do some long-awaited “bonding,” Bette and Cameron Chase are sharing quite a different scene. One of the other best sequences is when we get to see some real investigative work being done by the DEO, and I always lose my shit when Director Bones shows up. Dude is just cool. One thing that might get lost in all of this rich character work, engaging story, and amazing pencils, is what a terrific designer Jim Williams is. There’s so much going on to latch onto, that you almost miss the sheer wonder of how he can lay out a page or arrange the panels. This book is absolutely breathtaking. Grade A+.

The Strain #1 (Dark Horse): I think I’ve seen this movie before. Dante’s Peak, Volcano, War of the Worlds, Outbreak, Independence Day, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow. I’m surprised this is Guillermo Del Toro and not Jerry Bruckheimer or Roland Emmerich. You take all that formulaic set up, about the dysfunctional family grounding you in a larger disaster, throw in the female partner, the personal connection to events, add de rigueur vampires, and some of that post-9/11 “airplanes are the scariest things we can think of now” stuff, as seen in the series premieres of Lost, Flash Forward, Fringe, and about a half dozen other TV shows, and there you go. Your basic post-9/11 disaster movie pitch “yeah we know The Walking Dead is pretty successful but don’t use zombies because that would just be too obvious” Hollywood formula. The opening prologue was very long-winded, I feel like that could have been done in at least half the pages. Mike Huddleston is a good artist though! The style almost feels like some bizarre cross between Leandro Fernandez and Gabriel Ba in spots. It makes me wonder if Huddleston would have been a good Northlanders artist? Anyway, I like the whole JFK lockdown, government procedural bits. I like the hook of the mystery regarding a plane full of dead people that lost comm. But, I hate the formulaic familiarity, the supernatural overtones turn me off, and I’m so very tired of vampires. This worked well enough for a $1 introductory issue, but I don’t think it’s quite unique enough for me to support at full price. Grade B.

Comic Book Colorist Countdown - #7 Alex Sinclair

Ryan Claytor and I continue our annual collaboration, counting down the "10 Best Colorists" working in comics today. On this fine Wednesday morning, we take a look at Alex Sinclair. Check it out!


Thirteen Minutes Wins 2011 Paradox Comics Group "Oscar" For Best Web-Site!

This is the sound of me speechless...

...which my friends will tell you doesn't happen very often. HUGE thanks to the crew at Paradox Comics Group for putting the awards together and delivering some very respectable choices, such as Uncanny X-Force, JH Williams III, Scott Snyder, and Fantomex in various categories. HUGE thanks to everyone who got out and voted! I'm humbled, gratified, and excited all at once.


DMZ VOLUME 07: WAR POWERS is now broadcasting LIVE FROM THE DMZ. With just a single issue left before the series ends, there's no better time than now to jump on board the site dedicated to Brian Wood’s long-running DC/Vertigo classic. DMZ chronicles journalist Matthew Roth in a not-too-distant-future America plunged into the Second American Civil War.

LIVE FROM THE DMZ takes a behind-the-scenes "Director's Commentary Track" look at the creation of the series, with interviews, never-before-seen concept art, and more, as we count down to final issue #72 this December. There’s nothing else like it and it’s done with the full cooperation of Brian Wood and many of his series collaborators.

Comic Book Colorist Countdown - #8 Tom Luth (Bonus Interview)

Ryan delivers an in depth interview that survey's Tom's entire career, as our "10 Best Colorists" series continues over at Elephant Eater.


My 13 Favorite Things of 2011

DMZ (DC/Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchielli: Was there every any doubt? DMZ is the most relevant political allegory in early 21st century fiction. It captures a defining moment in the history of our generation, by the writer of our generation. It’s an unflinching “what if?” exercise that illuminates and provokes as often as it entertains.

UNCANNY X-FORCE (Marvel) by Rick Remender & Jerome Opena: Despite some fill-in artists, this specific creative team’s output remains the perfect X-Men book for my money. There’s a balance between an appreciation of history, and the avoidance of getting lost in its own convoluted continuity. It’s self-aware, with plots of consequence set in a visceral aesthetic tone that serves the story. There’s action, humor, and quintessential “cool” briskly paced with strong characterization. It’s everything I want from a modern superhero comic.

SWEETS (Image) by Kody Chamberlain: The collected edition of Sweets is a perfectly packaged singular creative vision that breathes new life into the well tread crime noir genre. At this point, my eyes are fixed on Chamberlain, sitting down in Louisiana hidden away from the incessant chatter of New York and Los Angeles like Prospero on his little island, to see what the one-man-band will conjure next.

20th CENTURY BOYS (VizMedia) by Naoki Urasawa: I discovered the works of Urasawa this year. I thought Pluto: Urasawa X Tezuka was a great reimaging, and even though the serial killer thriller Monster never quite hooked me, this one is truly his masterpiece. In the wake of post-WWII reconstructionism in Japan, a band of kids must determine the fate of their own generation. The kids were promised their science-fiction future, and when it doesn’t come to pass, they simply invent their own. It’s full of pop political commentary and a sense of epic grandeur seldom seen in American comics. It has more to say about the culture it resides in than many modern works do, while offering a master class in hooking and looping story threads. There’s no wonder it’s known as “The Watchmen of Japan.” Psst – I think it’s actually better.

ECHO (Abstract Studio) by Terry Moore: When you read the massive omnibus in one sitting, you realize that Moore essentially crafted a heartfelt action film on paper. It hums along with creative control, perfect pacing, effortless but highly effective pencils, natural dialogue, and small character moments balanced with unpredictable action. It’s a perfect self-contained package, and deep down we all really know what was in Julie’s box. Wink!

SCALPED (DC/Vertigo) by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guera: With just a handful of issues left, you suddenly realize what an essential part of the Vertigo line-up this was. Like the sun, like the air, it’s so good you don’t even realize the gaping hole that will be created when it’s gone. With no more DMZ, Northlanders, or Scalped, Vertigo needs to ramp up their next wave of flagship titles stat. In the wake of The Sopranos, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and [insert your example here], if a network like HBO isn’t trying to adapt this brutal tapestry of American society in decay, masquerading as Native-American crime opus, then something is seriously wrong with the PTB in the Hollywood machine.

CASANOVA: AVARITIA (Marvel/Icon) by Matt Fraction & Gabriel Ba: With clever narrative tools like the lost art of superimposition, fourth wall breaking, calculated repetition, and Rashomon style re-examination of what’s come before, there’s probably no other comic today so aggressively displaying what comics can be and can do with absolute creative freedom. Casanova continually pushes the envelope of imagination, and wickedly entertains those-in-the-know in the process. In one of those aborted inverse timelines that Cass exterminated, all the Marvel Zombies only buying Fraction’s more mainstream work are buying this title instead – and the industry looks so much brighter.

BATWOMAN (DC) by JH Williams III, W. Haden Blackman & Amy Reeder: With formal constructionist tendencies and a strong supporting cast of (mostly female) characters, Jim continues his evolving artistry and skills at a compelling narrative thrust. Batwoman breaks the mold of full immersion in a world of substance and style. If all mainstream comics were this good, the medium would be a force to be reckoned with, instantly dispelling any backward-ass, lingering, embarrassing, nostalgic perception of the “BIFF! BOOM! POW!” era. Mediocre superhero comics are a poison, and Batwoman is the antidote.

ANY EMPIRE (Top Shelf) by Nate Powell: I think this book is going to mark a turning point in Powell’s career, as he seeks to reconcile the tension existing in his generation between their G.I. JOE childhood and the adult culture of war and violence they’ve been forced to inhabit. Any Empire operates in a perfect nexus of minimalist dialogue, a sense of adventure, and symbolic imagery full of emotionally charged ideas. It’s one of the most important works this year, reminiscent of Stephen King’s Stand By Me, in the way it chronicles the changing value system from one generation to the next.

LEWIS & CLARK (First Second) by Nick Bertozzi: It’s important to note that this biographical interpretation of the famed 1804 expedition dutifully captures their plagued misfortune, the minds of the explorers, overcoming all types of adversity, and the emotional toll it all took through robust characterization, but don’t ever think it’s just regurgitation of dry historical facts. It’s visually stunning, yet thoroughly accessible. Educators should take note of the evolving paradigm regarding rote facts being taught in a more compelling package, one that engages both the left and right sides of the brain with equal gusto.

CHESTER 5000 (Top Shelf) by Jess Fink: It’s a perfectly delicious blend of steampunk and erotica that isn’t apologetic or ashamed, but fiercely proud, about women’s sexuality and their sexual rights. Fink cleverly juxtaposes the societal progress of the industrial revolution, with the societal sexual repression of the same period. She delivers inventive and rightfully mischievous experimentation with the medium, most memorable for the way the panel borders and gutters come alive and directly participate in the storytelling activity. And the sex is really hot.

HABIBI (Pantheon) by Craig Thompson: Regardless of what you make of the contents (there’s some minor controversy online about Thompson’s story being accused of “Orientalism”), “My Beloved” is one of the most beautiful looking books to emerge in a very long time. It’s a lyrical story full of culture, action, and sexual awakening. To some degree, it’s about belief, but not belief in a deity per se, or the dogma of any particular religion. I think it’s about belief in love, in connectedness, in other people, and how that can profoundly alter your outlook on life. It’s hard not to gush about the symmetry in motion, the artistic depiction of orgasm, the soothing letters, the decorative ornamentation, the detail in the design flourishes, or how this will stand for a long time as an artifact of pure artistic expression. You can lose yourself in the visual wonderland. It has the sweeping scope of a modernized parable. This might sound like a contrarian backhanded compliment, but despite what could be perceived as some clichéd characters who lack development and the project potentially valuing form over function, this seems like an inevitable Eisner Award Winner.

THE NEW TEEN TITANS: GAMES (DC) by Marv Wolfman & George Perez: We’ve long forgotten how rapidly The New Teen Titans rose to prominence and gave the Uncanny X-Men a run for their teen angst money. Games is an interesting piece of ephemera that presents the classic period aesthetic of the 1980’s, but is modernized to address NYC terrorism in a Manhattan skyline that still possesses the WTC. Wolfman makes an effort to root this in DC lore with the inclusion of characters like King Faraday, but throws in terms like “darpanet” or “Langley” or “Quantico” from a time when the mere mention of these would have been the height of relevant government intrigue. This OGN starts on slow and builds to a frenetic pace, as the kids deal with an asymmetrical foe, paranoia, and government knowledge of conspiracies eerily similar to 9/11. It’s just smart. Perez is always lauded for his usually tight and detailed style, but here his versatile Azerath sequences with Raven come off more ethereal, like Jim Starlin’s work on the early Dreadstar serialization in Epic Illustrated. It’s all a memorable blend that feels like a paradoxically dated intellectual response to events now happening to us in real time.

Runner Up: BATMAN (DC) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo: I almost filed this in the “too soon to say for sure” category along with Wonder Woman and Wolverine & The X-Men (see below), but it was just too strong to be relegated to that fate. Batman was so close to knocking another title off the list and officially making the jump up, that for the first time ever, I caved and created a “Runner Up” category. I think it would’ve made it if there were just a few more issues out to demonstrate longer term consistency. If the current trend continues, I fully expect it to sit proudly on the list this time next year, without caveat or asterisk. This iteration of Batman marries Capullo’s slick but purposeful “best of the 90’s Image Comics” art to Snyder’s masterful distillation of all the essential elements of the property, seamlessly working together to create strong characterization and intelligent action. It’s a pitch-perfect union. If you’re one of those people who don’t consider Snyder “broken out” yet as a star writer from projects like American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest with Sean Murphy’s lavish illustrations, then this is the title that you won’t be able to ignore. Wake up, there’s a new player on the board.

There are a few additional books that I wanted to mention. These are books that I enjoyed, but just couldn’t seem to fight their way onto the list for one reason or another. SECRET AVENGERS (Marvel) by Warren Ellis & Various Artists was an abrupt run of perfect little done-in-one treats, like a box of See’s Candies. Sometimes you get a nut, some times a chew, some are favorites, and some are not. By definition, the artistic contributions were uneven, but I always looked forward to cracking it open. Speaking of inconsistent runs, there’s BATMAN INCORPORATED (DC) by Grant Morrison & Chris Burnham. The issues with Burnham on art feel magical, while the rest simply do not. If you want to keep talking about how artistic contributions affect your overall enjoyment of a title, well, then, I’ll say that I loved looking at WOLVERINE: THE BEST THERE IS (Marvel) by Charlie Huston & Juan Jose Ryp for the art alone, but nothing else was terribly compelling about it. It’ll come as no secret around these parts that I’m partial to the authenticity of Brian Wood’s writing in this project, but my mention of THE NEW YORK FIVE (DC/Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Ryan Kelly has just as much to do with Kelly and how much he’s grown as an artist. I really enjoyed the new Jason Shiga joint EMPIRE STATE: A LOVE STORY (OR NOT) (Abrams/ComicArts), a quality package showcasing his immense talent, full of pop culture drops and missed opportunities in life. In the “too soon to say for sure” category, I’d place WONDER WOMAN (DC) by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang, along with WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN (Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Bachalo. These are both solid books that have my interest piqued at the moment. If they can sustain their creative teams and the energy they’re currently putting on the table, it’s possible they could make a run at next year’s list.

12.14.11 Releases

Two of my favorite books to read in terms of sheer comics enjoyment are out this week. They are Batwoman #4 (DC) and Uncanny X-Force #18 (Marvel). Both are recommended and continue to fire on all cylinders as shining examples of the mainstream done absolutely right. Although it’s strapped with that Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan moniker up top, which makes me nervous, I’ll probably check out The Strain #1 (Dark Horse) since the introductory issue is only $1. David Lapham and Mike Huddleston are a terrific sounding team, and I like the CDC/terror concept, if not the more supernatural overtones. On the collected edition front, I’d like to encourage everyone to skip that ridiculous $150 hardcover of all The New 52 first issues, and instead plunk down $99 on the Absolute Promethea: Volume 03 HC (DC). It’s a much better book and I can basically guarantee you’ll enjoy it more. It was a nice surprise to see the Nightly News Anniversary Edition HC (Image), highlighting Jonathan Hickman’s first attention-grabbing foray into creator owned works. Lastly, I can wholeheartedly recommend 20th Century Boys: Volume 18 (VizMedia) from Naoki Urasawa. What looks good to you?

Comic Book Colorist Countdown - #8 Tom Luth

Ryan and I continue our series of posts concerning "The 10 Best Colorists" in comics, today featuring the incomparable Tom Luth. Check it out!


Comic Book Colorist Countdown - #9 Jeromy Cox

Ryan Claytor and I continue our countdown of "The 10 Best Colorists" working in the industry, today featuring the uber-cool craftsman Jeromy Cox. Please take a read through the full length write up!


Comic Book Colorist Countdown - #10 Kristian Donaldson (Bonus Interview)

Ryan Claytor and I continue our countdown of "The 10 Best Colorists" working, today featuring a special interview with Kristian Donaldson. He discusses his approach to coloring Supermarket, time spent at SCAD, collaborating with Brian Wood, and more. Check it out!


Comic Book Colorist Countdown - #10 Kristian Donaldson

Ryan Claytor and I continue our countdown of "The 10 Best Colorists" working in the industry over the next couple of weeks, today featuring Kristian Donaldson. Check out the discussion!


Comic Book Colorist Countdown - Introduction

During the holiday season over the last few years, it’s become customary for me to team up with Ryan Claytor of Elephant Eater Comics for a series of posts on various industry topics. In 2008, we discussed form and function, in 2009 it was the role of the creator and the critic, and in 2010 we collaborated on a spirited list of selections for holiday gift-giving. Our topic this year, as they all have in the past, spun out of an organic conversation between the two of us. Maybe it was in relation to an interview with Jeromy Cox I’d done, or maybe it was our mutual admiration for Dave Stewart on Daytripper, I’m not even sure at this point, but the under-noticed and under-appreciated role of The Comic Book Colorist presented itself naturally. When we were struggling to come up with an annual topic that we felt had enough “oomph,” this was an epiphany of genuine interest.

That said, we worked together to come up with our joint list of "The 10 Best Colorists" working in the industry today. There’s some natural overlap in our preferences, but also a lot of diversity on this list in terms of what influenced our selections based on our reading habits, as well as our respective roles as (primarily) creator and (primarily) critic. We’ll be flipping back and forth between our respective selections, supporting our choices with some crisp examples of their work, and then bat the conversation back and forth to see where that takes us. Finally, we’ll be posting the entire series at Elephant Eater, while I’ll be linking to it from here and tweeting the heck out of it! (Follow me @thirteenminutes and/or Ryan @elephanteater). We hope you’re entertained by this list and also come away with a better understanding of how strong coloring choices enhance the medium, and pay a little more attention to some of the unsung heroes of our beloved comic books. Enjoy!

Note: The picture you see is a quirky old image I found during research from a book by J. Hatt in 1908, who was arguing that color theory was stemming from a flawed premise. He felt that magenta, yellow, and cyan ought to be the correct primary colors vis-à-vis Yarmby’s color wheel. The book dives quickly into a more technical analysis beyond the scope of this series of posts, but I thought it was a bold proclamation about the importance of color theory and the role of colorists – not to mention just an awesome old timey image!


12.07.11 Reviews

Thought Bubble #1 (Image): The Leeds Comic Art Festival’s First Ever Anthology. I caught some stray rumblings about this online, but never really paid much attention. It had an attractive cover, I saw names like Mike Carey, Becky Cloonan, and Antony Johnston advertised, and it’s in the “Newsprint Revivalist Movement” format (a term I invented to describe a wave of mini-comics a couple years back), so in an otherwise slow week of comics, I decided what the hell? And HOLY SHIT, not only is that cover by Becky Cloonan, but the first piece is a Wasteland strip from Antony Johnston and Charlie Adlard! It showcases the harsh environs and deadpan drifter Michael. Duncan Fegredo turns in a secret origin for himself, which I really enjoyed, especially the mentions of Kid Eternity and Enigma. There’s a closed room time travel murder mystery from Andy Diggle and D’Israeli which was gorgeous. I found the art itself a little stiff in A Thief’s Tale by Furth, Rutter, and Beazante, but it’s colored beautifully. The Da Vinci story by Mike Carey, M.D. Penman, and Andrew Tunney begins as a straight history lesson, introduces subtle humor, and then quickly builds to LOL proportions. The amazing art has an almost Winsor McCay vibe to it. The anthology contains 3 pieces from the 18+ entrants, and 3 from the under 18 set. Of those, I liked The Very Best by Sally Jane Thompson, which had a bit of a Jason Shiga aesthetic by the end, and Let’s Go Fly A Kite by Will Morris, which was clearly influenced by the great work of Gipi. H.P. Lovecraft’s The Hound was interpreted by Stuart Gordon and Tula Lotay. It balanced great horror motifs, great detail in the pencils, and nice colors, especially the bloody bits that literally bleed off the page. Considering the $2.99 price point, sheer diversity and strength of the work, and a format I’m partial to, this was clearly the book of the week. Grade A.

The Defenders #1 (Marvel): So, it’s like you have this really cool friend who is usually pretty smooth and you head out clubbing one night, right? But, instead of “Matt,” let’s call him, being a really good wingman who usually entertains you with his antics, he’s having an off night, and he’s trying reeeally hard to be hip and cool and funny, and instead you just feel embarrassed for him. Yeah, it’s like that. Fraction and Dodson open with some weird awkward one night stand involving Stephen Strange and then the hooking up with random chics thing becomes an ongoing bit in the rest of the book. Hulk shows up and then for some reason a bunch of heroes get together to help him, and then they go to Wundagore Mountain, but I have no idea why any of that is happening. One interesting thing about the book could be the clever info scroll at the bottom of the page, but I feel like Joe Casey was experimenting with that years ago in books like The Intimates. The shifting narrative POV was fun for a minute, but then you realize you’re overwhelmed by all of the random dialogue and straight exposition. The walking stereotype Flight Attendant does it: “Mr. Rand, I’m flying in a super duper plane that cost a gazillion dollars you invented doing a zero-g dive and blah, blah, blah…” Iron Fist does it: “It sounds like you just asked me to blah, blah, blah…” She Hulk does it (why is she red again???): “I’ll be the tourist, what is Wundagore Mountain?” so another character can go blah, blah, blah… I’m also not really sure how this is a sentence: “Namor’s shouting but she can’t hear him, but she reads his lips it looks like Rand.” Huh? Dodson’s soft serve art looks a little more at home here than it did in Uncanny X-Men, but the prevailing feeling is that Fraction is just trying too hard to be clever. Danny is reading Marvelman comics. Ok. I suppose he crams a lot of character intros into a small space, but there’s no real reason for these characters to be together. I guess that’s kind of the point of the book, but instead of playing like self-aware tongue-in-cheek meta, it just lays there with no real raison d’etre besides the obtuse “protect the world from the impossible,” whatever that means. Maybe this will congeal in a couple of issues, but based on the strength of this, I doubt I’ll be around to find out. Man, I love the guy, but it seems like Fraction has had more misses lately than hits. Grade B-.



[Originally Published @ Poopsheet Foundation]

Dedicated to Dylan Williams

As has become tradition over the last couple of years, I’ll issue my standard disclaimer about how difficult it is culling this list down to just 10 entries. It’s a rigorous mental exercise that has me staring at my screen for abnormally long periods of time, pitting title against title based on inexplicable personal criteria, and weighing artistic merit and entertainment value for what feels like an eternity.

I’d be remiss in not mentioning a few other selections that I enjoyed, which also valiantly fought for a place on the list. These recommended titles include BEING by Martins Zutis, THE STORY OF GARDENS by Kuba Woynarowski, CHICKENBOT’S ODD JOBS #3 by Eric H., NIGHT ANIMALS by Brecht Evens, I WILL BITE YOU by Joseph Lambert, VIETNAMERICA by GB Tran, OPTIC NERVE #12 by Adrian Tomine, HABITAT #2 by Dunja Jankovic, BLAMMO #7 by Noah Van Sciver, THE WHALE by Aidan Koch, THREE #2 Edited by Rob Kirby, BY THE SLICE by Giulie Speziani & Cecilia Latella, and PASSAGE by Tessa Brunton.

SOLDIERS OF GOD by Kelly Clancy: This coming of age tale diverges from the typical point of view of relatively insular Western Culture, taking cues from creators like Marjane Satrapi, Art Spiegelman, and Joe Sacco. It’s educational while never ceasing to entertain, and exhibits remarkable craftsmanship in the process, from someone who is early into what I hope is a very long and prolific career.

TOO DARK TO SEE by Julia Gfrorer: One of my favorite new creators has crafted a revealing confluence of the unsettling and the erotic. It’s an emotionally frank closed-room examination of basic human nature and the underpinnings of interpersonal dynamics.

THE DEATH OF ELIJAH LOVEJOY by Noah Van Sciver: I still don’t understand why Noah isn’t a superstar. He’s a talented creator who seems intent on pushing himself beyond the confines of his autobiographical roots, this time addressing speculative historical fiction merged with an outright biographical account of a figure that should be important for anyone who believes in Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press. Van Sciver is one of the small elite cadre of creators who make me yearn to still be reviewing comics 10 years from now just so I can see what he’ll do next. Noah, you might be an “Ignatz Award Loser!” but you’re a winner in my book. More precisely, Noah is the Robert Crumb of our generation.

THE WOLF by Tom Neely: The Wolf is a beautifully modern dissertation on sex, violence, and humanity, with painterly gallery worthy images capable of haunting you long after put the book down. Imagine a mash up that’s equal parts Floyd Gottfredson and Lon Chaney. It’s the fusion of early Disney ornamentation and Neely’s almost fetishistic fascination with horror imagery converging in a silent film concoction that perfectly controls the pace of the transformative experience. There’s nothing like it. It’s so damn good.

BLACK EYE Edited by Ryan Standfest: Applying the critical curatorial eye to humor-functionality-as-genre in the comics medium! Academic precision balanced with liberated artistic voices! Banned in Canada!

GANGES #4 by Kevin Huizenga: It’s the continuing adventures of Glenn Ganges and his latest nocturnal outing, as he navigates his sleepless existence on a seemingly endless night. With the degree of interactivity occurring between the page and the readers, there’s as much technique on display here as there is original storytelling.

BATUMAN #1 by Mari Ahokoivu: The only truly fresh Batman riff in recent memory. It cuts to the heart of the property’s psychological insecurities and transcends its origins to become something wholly unique. If Joe Matt, Chester Brown, or Seth did Batman, it would have come out looking like this VERY low budget Dark Knight that takes the familiar tropes of chummy partnership, playboy flirtation, enigmatic hero, and maniacal villain, and subtly upends every single one of them to reveal a brilliant new examination of a 70 year old character.

EVERYTHING UNSEEN: PARTS 4 & 5 by Drew Beckmeyer: There are more ideas present per page in Beckmeyer’s saga than most comics have in the entire issue. The sketchy lines drag us kicking and screaming through 40 days adrift in the desert. The contemplation ranges from pure existential dilemma to allegorical misgivings about our current culture of desert campaigns and pre-emptive strikes. Beckmeyer seems to eschew all the traditional narrative tools, common visual cues, and linear sets of logic. This book doesn’t do anything right by conventional standards, and for that it is perfect. As a reviewer, you seldom see such unharnessed energy reverberating off the page. It’s an absolute triumph from start to finish.

TRIGGER #2 by Mike Bertino: This is the second book in a little double-tap this year from Revival House Press. It’s got the primal visceral aesthetic appeal of Gary Panter, using colors and shapes that shouldn’t work together so well, but miraculously do. Along with his pure technical ability, Bertino’s narrative range is impressive. From faux autobio to humor to inventive sci-fi and other genre mash-ups, Bertino shares the lens through which he views the world and invents his own mythology and internal storytelling rules in the process. Some creators strive for world-building; Bertino is reality-building.

THE DISGUSTING ROOM by Austin English: Though some of the creators on this list are loosely affiliated with the publisher, this is the lone entry published (not just distributed) by Sparkplug Comic Books. The Disgusting Room is another foray into what I’ve been terming the “Newsprint Revivalist Movement” for a couple of years now. English’s work is about the impurity of the human condition, it rewards repeated reading, and although you might initially assume there’s a limited market for this odd abstract expressionistic style, its very existence sings about the versatility of the medium. It’s impossible for me not to acknowledge the loss of Dylan Williams in a project like this. In many ways, it’s a perfect example of why Dylan’s legacy continues to be so vital. The Disgusting Room is just the type of book he wanted to read. It’s just the type of book that probably couldn’t exist anywhere else. So, it’s just the type of book that Dylan went and published. He did that not to make money or to curry favor with anybody, but followed his entrepreneurial sensibility and punk DIY heart, just to ensure it was put out into the world and available for more widespread reader exposure. It’s selfless. It’s empowering. It’s about building something called “connoisseurship” in an audience. It breaks my heart that this is the first time he won’t be able to share his thoughts on one of my annual lists.

12.07.11 Releases

Zzzzzzzzzz. Zzzzzzzzzz. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz. *Cough* * Cough* Huh! What?! Oh, yeah, comics are coming out this week. What a sleepy bunch of offerings. I guess most people will be talking about Defenders #1 (Marvel) this week? I’ve never been a huge fan of the property, but despite some misses with Invincible Iron Man (ever since it switched to #500), and the whole Fear Itself debacle, and eventually losing me on Uncanny X-Men, Matt Fraction has at least earned the right to have me check out the first issue. I wasn’t fond of Dodson’s art on Uncanny X-Men, but somehow the cheesecake vibe seems like it might fit (what I assume is) the tongue-in-cheek tone of this title. Speaking of X-Men books, I’ll probably give X-Club #1 (Marvel) a flip at the LCS. I generally like the characters in this mini-series, and sometimes writer Si Spurrier can really crack me up online, so this has the potential to be a little sleeper. Lastly, out of the sheer desperation of just wanting something new to read, I could see myself picking up Voltron #1 (Dynamite Entertainment) just for old times’ sake. What looks good to you?


Passage by Tessa Brunton

Passage (Sparkplug Comic Books): Ostensibly, this 32 page graphic novella is about celebrating her brother’s atypical rite of passage into adulthood, but it also serves as Tessa’s own small scale coming of age story. It’s a tale which ultimately sees her defending the sovereignty of her own personality and individual rights. Her offbeat parents are quite distinct, but Brunton wisely roots the story in a suburbia with some commonality we can all identify with. The end result is that the general mood absolutely rings true. Her note perfect details in the pencils lend a sense of authenticity to her quirky upbringing. When you start cataloguing the shading technique, the rampant crosshatching, and the variable line weights, you realize her self-taught style is highly accomplished, culminating with a glorious two page spread that’s a cutaway diagram of her parents’ house. It comes with a penchant for creating rich panels that hum with a lived-in feeling evident in the clothing, the hair, the backgrounds, and the general sense of diversity in all of the figure work. Most importantly, she’s able to capture the dynamic surrounding teenagers’ desire to be alone in order to find their way, much to the chagrin of well-meaning parents who always seem to over-insert themselves into the process. Maybe sequestered youths create hidden personalities as adults, but we should also remember our past while trying to transcend it, as the old saying goes. I enjoy her very dry sense of humor, as she matter-of-factly delivers the gritty details of her “fertility workshops” that intend to celebrate womanhood, and the titular homemade vision quest excursion that serves as her brother’s wacky passage from boyhood to manhood at the hands of the adult men in her father’s social circle. I guess if I’ve learned anything as a parent about teaching kids, which I see reflected back at me in Passage, it’s that you can’t really force the bonds of knowledge at a time of your choosing. It has to happen organically. It’s tough to try and overtly teach a kid, but instead you can try to create an environment, surrounding them with people and settings, where it can happen naturally. There’s nice tension in this book between outward celebrations of self-discovery, and more inward contemplation, in the difference between simple privacy and destructive shame. Perhaps true adulthood means that you’re capable of analyzing information and arriving at your own (hopefully positive) conclusions. Order it today at www.sparkplugcomicbooks.com Grade A.