The Comic Queen

Zip ribbons and word balloons, Wednesday bliss and Previews dreams. If these phrases mean anything to you, then you're in the right place. But if they don't -- hey stick around anyway. You might just like what you see.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Ninety Candles Joint Review

Ninety Candles
Rant Comics $5.95
By Neil Kleid



ERIN: Ninety Candles is the story of Kevin Hall, a comic book creator, told in an improvisational form. There are 90 panels, each one a moment-in-time representing a consecutive year for Hall – 90 panels, 90 years. Kleid says in the introduction, “Ninety Candles is a completely improvisational comic book -- no script, no net. Each day is created THAT day. The original plan was to do a page per day and set three months as the cut off date for the story. Whatever I ended up with on Day Ninety would be the finale. Time and method become major factors in the narrative itself.”



KERRY: The art was really very good throughout Ninety Candles, but I especially enjoyed the panel layout. There are two years, one picture for each year, per page, but rather than the standard square or rectangular panels, they were circles. This made me feel like I was looking in on Kevin Hall through a pair of binoculars. The perspective of each circle felt a little like a photo through a fish-eye lens, where the subject is ultra prominent. This was extremely appropriate for this project and Kleid uses it effectively.

Kleid also uses the circle shaped panels to make the reader feel like a fly on the wall in Hall’s house, and therefore, life. The book is intensely personal and being forced to look at it as an uninvited guest makes some scenes a little uncomfortable and others all the more touching. I’m not sure if Kleid intended all this when opting for the circular shape, but it brought a lot of meaning to the book for me. It is used so successfully here that I wonder why this style isn’t employed in more books today.

ERIN: I, too, thought the layout and design of the book was well-employed. It created an atmosphere both intimate and detached, and controlled the pace of the book as well. One thought that came to me was what Scott McCloud said in “Understanding Comics” about the importance of what happens in the gutters. This was an incredible storytelling undertaking to have most of the implied story occur in the gutters. Kleid mostly very successfully revealed to the reader the implied action that transpired in the year gaps.

KERRY: Like the art, the story is also very good. I know Erin will disagree with me here, but I found Kevin Hall’s story to be a sad one. After I finished reading it, I told her that I thought the story was depressing, but the more I thought about it I decided it was pretty realistic. There are sad moments in life and sometimes it does get depressing. There are equally happy moments too and Hall’s life has its fair share. He loves his son and grandson and time with them is a reward. He wins an Eisner for his work and has a mostly successful career. The ending of the book is just so bittersweet and there are so many sad moments that it actually got me down after my first read.

ERIN: I didn’t think the story was depressing as much as it was poignant. To me there is a big difference between sad moments and a just plain depressing life. Kevin’s life may not have been what he imagined it would, and many turns of events didn’t go the way he would have liked, which did make him depressed at times. However, it’s the things he most likely never thought to imagine that made him the most fulfilled – the bonds between himself and his son and grandson.

KERRY: My only complaint about the look is its depiction of the women in Hall’s life. We don’t really see, but hear a lot from Kevin’s mother and wife. Both, but especially his mother, are unsupportive and critical of first his love of comics and then his work in them When one panel represents a year, and half of the childhood panels depict Kevin’s mother either putting down comics or Kevin himself, I get the feeling that his childhood wasn’t all that pleasant. Similarly, when a few panels revolve around husband and wife squabbles, I conclude that the Hall marriage went through some utterly unhappy periods. Did both the women in the story have to be portrayed as such harpies? This could be why I found the story so sad at first. Here is Kevin, a talented guy, with loved ones who are less than supportive. It would have been nice to see a little more understanding and love from the female characters in the book.

ERIN: You know, this aspect didn’t even occur to me. Interesting observation, Kerry. The only criticism I had was that the tones for the different speakers wasn’t as varied or distinct as they maybe could have been. But then, perhaps, maybe the reader just didn’t have enough information about the speakers to differentiate the tones while reading. Overall, though, this is a book that deserves a read, and more than anything, makes me anxious for what will come next from the author. Kleid is talented and I have no doubt that his next project will be even better than Ninety Candles.

KERRY: To wrap-up, I think Ninety Candles is great and definitely deserved the Xeric Grant Kleid received. When I first read about the concept, I had no doubt it would be interesting. I’m happy to report that it’s not only interesting, but rewarding as well.

Kerry’s Bottom Line: A

Erin’s Bottom Line: A-

For more information on Ninety Candles and Kleid’s other work, see his website here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

October Previews Highlights: Erin’s Picks

Kerry pointed out some great picks in her look at the new Previews book yesterday, but she didn’t quite pick the bones dry. Here are a few more books that caught my eye.

Pick of the Month:
Astro City: The Dark Age #1 (of 12)
Wildstorm – page 94, $2.95; 32 pgs.
Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson with Cover by Alex Ross
I’m very excited to see Astro City in a longer series format. The 12 issues will be split into four 3-issue story arcs “that stretch across Astro City’s darkest era. Find out why the 70s were so troubled through the eyes of two men who survived its depths.” If you’ve never read any Astro City comics before, now’s the time to jump on board.

Featured Comics:
Concrete: The Human Dilemma #1 (of 6)
Dark Horse – page 17; $3.50; 32 pgs.
Paul Chadwick
Concrete is back in a new mini-series, and “is now courted by a high-profile CEO to lend his name to a controversial population control program. While Concrete mulls this generous proposition over with his companion Maureen, his longtime aid Larry Munro mulls over an entirely different sort of proposal.”

The Legion of Super-Heroes #1
DC – page 78; $2.95; 40 pgs.
Mark Waid and Barry Kitson
This isn’t a comic that I’m overjoyed about, but I thought it might be of interest to others, so I’m pointing it out here. This will be an ongoing series revamping the Legion – and extra-sized each month to boot. We’ll see what Waid can do with the characters. I have mixed feelings on what he might add to the comic. One to watch at any rate.

Solo #2
DC – page 81; $4.95; 48 pgs.
Richard Corben and John Arcudi
Issue one of this series hasn’t come out yet, but I like the concept. It seems like a free-for-all in the DC universe where creators can go wild in an expanded format. A bit different for something from DC. I do notice that issue two is a whole buck more, though.

Astonishing X-Men Vol. 1: Gifted TPB
Marvel – page 69 in the Marvel insert; $14.99; 144 pgs.
Joss Whedon and John Cassaday
This trade collects issues 1-6 of the best X-title out there if you ask me. Actually this is the best X-title I’ve read in a long time. If you haven’t read it yet, this trade is a nice way to catch up – and it will make a great gift for those you would like to show the wonders of Whedon.

Skyscrapers of the Midwest #1
Adhouse Books – page 204; $5.00; 56 pgs.
Joshua W. Cotter
Damn that James Sime. He’s always turning people on to good books and now I’ve got to spend another $5 because he’s put his stamp of approval on Skycrapers. Sime talks to Cotter in his column on the Comic Book Resources website, and awarded the book the 2004 Isotope (the name of his comics shop) Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics. This book from Adhouse “collects the almost out-of-print mini-comics, and begins the AdHouse series.”

Proof of Concept TP
AiT/Planet Lar – page 218; $12.95; 128 pgs.
Young, Tucker, Couciero, Sanders, Johns, & Flynn
This “collection of short adventure stories” looks like a lot of wild fun. I’ll most definitely be making this my big purchase of the month. You can check out a preview page at the AiT/Planet Lar homepage. Oh, and damn that Larry Young, too. I’m telling you these Comic Pimps and quality small publishers are killing my budget.

Point Pleasant #1
Ape Entertainment – page 228; $3.95; 32 pgs.
Chad Lambert, Ryan Scott, Jason Moser, and Dan Barlow
I really don’t think I can add anything to the solicit: “Time-traveling scientist journey to Point Pleasant, West Virginia, in search of … The Mothman! From the Revolutionary War to the 1967 Silver Bridge disaster, 200 years of paranormal history becomes a roadmap of death, treachery and murder for a technologically advanced society. Based on true events.” See what I mean?

Chronicles of Lucky Ello GN, Dog and Water GN, and Lady Pep GN
Drawn & Quarterly – page 278; $9.95 each; 80 pgs., 88 pgs., and 80 pgs. respectively
Peter Thompson, Anders Nilsen, and Julie Doucet, respectively
All three of these offerings from Drawn & Quarterly look great. Dog and Water especially caught my eye, done in two colors, “it’s the story of wild animals, armed confrontation, and oil pipeline, and swimming to Asia. It follows a boy and his bear as they wander further into the middle of nowhere and away from everything they think they know.”

Temporary #1: Chutes and Ladders
Origin Comics – page 323; $3.95; 56 pgs.
Damon Hurd and Rick Smith
This was very nearly my pick of the month. Between the cover art and the description of the book, I am sufficiently intrigued to snag this comic. Envy Saint-Claire works for the AllTrades temp agency in this ongoing series, jumping to a different job each day. In the first issue, Saint-Claire works at the Calvin C. Nelson HMO “the corporation where the inmates are literally running the asylum.”

Quick Picks:
Besides books on my regular pull list I’m going to make sure to grab Street Angel #4 and Bear #7 from SLG (pg. 221), Blood Orange #4 from Fantagraphics (pg. 294), and Queen & Country: Declassified Volume 2 #1 (page 322).

File Under: Wha-Huh?
Now why the heck is DC splitting up the limited series DC: The New Frontier into two trades? The series was only six issues and yet they are making two trades out of the series. Now, I know the issues were larger sized and cost about $7 each, but still – two trades for a six-issue series that will cost $20 each? Come on DC, get some common sense. If I want to read the series, I’ll just pick up the single issues and spend a whopping two bucks more.

I’m also disappointed with DC for announcing the cancellation of Kinetic after issue #8. Issue #9, which was already solicited won’t be published. In addition, the trade is being postponed, which I’m sure means it will be cancelled as well. After all, what’s the point of releasing the trade of the series at this point. I’ve been enjoying Kinetic – it’s different and interesting. I was looking forward to seeing where it was going, but I guess I’ll never know. I’m very interested in how the series is going to be wrapped up in such a short time.

Here! Here!
I’m going to second Kerry’s motion to recommend Love Fights TPB Vol. 2, Trigger #1, Quixote, Lunch Hour Comix #1 (very close to being my pick of the month), and The Goon #10. What can I say? She’s got good taste.

Monday, September 27, 2004

October Previews Highlights: Kerry’s Picks

I love Christmas for many of reasons. I love giving and getting presents, baking, decorating, snow, admiring other people’s decorations, bringing treats to work, sending cards, and going to parties. Besides all the normal holiday activities though, I especially love that it means more comic books, more DVDs, and more video game releases. The market gets flooded with all sorts of products that might make good gifts. This month, the release date schedule gets into full swing and the Previews catalog is no different. There are little gift icons next to all the new trades and reprinted books and there are a ton of great looking books to to talk about.

Here are my highlights from the October issues of Previews for items mostly released in the month of December.

Pick of the Month:
Love Fights v. 2 TPB
Oni Press Inc.; $14.95; 168 pgs.
This trade collects the last six issues of Andi Watson’s brilliant series. It is to be digest size, which I think really suits this superhero romantic comedy. I picked up the first trade and have been holding out for the second part. It is truly a gem of a series.

Featured Items:

For the first time in history, I’ve decided to make mine Dark Horse this month. Everything in their section of Previews looked enticing, but the next four picks definitely stood out.

Samurai: Heaven and Earth #1 (of 5)
Dark Horse; page 23; $2.99
Ron Marz and Luke Ross bring us the story of a samurai and the lengths he goes to for his true love. He crosses the globe in search of her, traveling from Japan to China, across Asia, and finally to Europe. There was a short preview of this title in the catalog and the art looks fabulous.

B.P.R.D.: Plague of Frogs TPB
Dark Horse; page 28; $17.95; 144 pgs.
This is the loong-awaited Abe Sapien orgin story and collection of the five-part mini-series. Abe is my favorite character from the Hellboy movie, so learning more about him will be great. The trade format should really suit the story as well.

Goon #10
Dark Horse; $2.99; 32 pgs.
I said I love Christmas for lots of reasons and one of those reasons is Christmas tie-ins. I love the Christmas Carol and I’ve been wanting to read the Goon, so the a marriage of the Dickens’s classic and the world of the Goon sounds like an excellent place to start.

The Irregulars TPB
Dark Horse; $12.95; 128 pgs.
Sherlock Holmes has to solve a murder where the only suspect is John Watson. The Irregulars are a group of street punks who help Holmes try to rescue Watson from being punished for the crime.

Lunch Hour Comix #1
Alternative Comics; page 218; $4.95; 64 pgs.
We’ve all heard of 24-hour comics, but this book is just one-hour comics. The book collects strips Robert Ullman drew on his lunch hour. I missed the boat on Ullman before, but I’m going to be the first in line for this book.

Trigger #1
Vertigo; page 112; $2.95; 32 pgs.
The futuristic tale of America after the second Patriotic Act is enacted and most corporations have consolidated into one giant megacorp. piqued my interest. The triggers themselves are individuals who serve as people hunters, tracking down and killing citizens who are percieved as a threat to Ethicorp, the company with the controlling interest in America. I always look forward to stories that explore our current political landscape. This book also has a three-page preview in the catalog that makes it look very promising.

Quixote
Image; page 148; $9.95; 304 pages
Hybrid nvel and graphic novel (ie less pictures, more words), this book is a modern day retelling of Don Quixote. A reporters disovers a quixotic homeless man who believe gutter punks are monsters and government agents are demons. The reporter has to pick a truth, either that of the world around her that everyone sees, or that of the apparently deranged man.

What if Dr. Doom had Become the Thing
Marvel; page 37 of Marvel previews book; $2.99; 32 pgs.
Because Marvel doesn’t have enough going on and isn’t bringing enough titles back, a slew of new What If titles are coming out. A few of these new titles are hit or miss, but I’m looking forward to this story of the Thing and Dr. Doom. The cover looked truly fantastic and sent a little shiver down my spine.

That wraps up my picks for the month. I guess I’ll be spending a lot of time and money at my comic book shop this month. Finally, tune in tomorrow for Erin’s picks.


Friday, September 24, 2004

The Amazing Screw-On Head Review

Dark Horse Comics $2.99
By Mark Mignola; Colors by Dave Stewart; Letters by Pat Brosseau

Originally published in May 2002, The Amazing Screw-On Head has been reprinted for the umpteenth time this week. I admit to picking it up just yesterday, as I am a newcomer to the Hellboy and Mignola universe. Hellboy, the movie, pulled me onto the bandwagon and I’ve been enjoying the ride since then. This book certainly doesn’t disappoint and I continue to look forward to picking up Mignola’s work.

The Amazing Screw-On Head is the story of, well, a screw-on head superhero. At the behest of President Lincoln, Screw-On Head goes to stop baddie Emperor Zombie from stealing an important jewel. Regular superhero shtick happens next with Mr. Head traveling to exotic locales to kick the crap out of the Emperor.

While the premise is your run-of-the-mill superhero tale, Mignola’s writing and sense of humor he infuses into the script makes all the difference. These are things that make this title stand out. There were many one-liners that made me laugh out loud, something that doesn’t happen too often when I’m reading comic books. Besides the fast easy jokes, there is underlying back-story that kept me both laughing and wondering. For example, how did Mr. Groin get his name? Oh the possibilities . . .

Besides great writing, Mignola creates and incredibly original character. It’s a robot head with a number of bodies to suit many situations that assists President Lincoln in instances of national security. It is definitely something these eyes have never seen or read and this brain has never contemplated. Much of Mignola’s work is like that. He takes what are regular comic book ideas and plot lines and turns them into something unique and exciting.

I’m also impressed with the art and more specifically the colors in this book. I like Mignola and Stewart’s choices. The book isn’t dark, but just a little macabre. The colors look like they’ve all got a bit of black or gray added to them. They definitely pull off an old fashioned look for a lot of the characters and settings. Statues look gothic, but not scary. It is a style that makes it stand out from other books.

The Amazing Screw-On Head has been reprinted a million times for a reason: it’s a high quality, entertaining read that you shouldn’t miss. I wasn’t disappointed and I bet you won’t be either.

Bottom Line: A

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return Review

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return
By Marjane Satrapi
Pantheon Books; $17.95 Hardcover

In Bellingham, WA, there is a great locally owned bookstore called Village Books that is constantly growing and thriving. In fact the store is preparing for an expansion. I happened to stop by the store earlier this week, and the first thing I saw when I walked into the store just about brought a tear to my eye. Persepolis 2 was ranked as the #13 best-seller in new non-fiction. It thrills me to think that people are picking up such a worthy book and perhaps being turned on the graphic novel form at the same time.

Maybe this shouldn’t be such a big surprise since the book has received ample attention from the mainstream media. That and the simple fact that both Persepolis 1 and 2 are very good books.

You can read my look at Satrapi’s first book, “Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood” here. In the first book we watch Marji grow up in Tehran, Iran dealing with typical kid issues -- fitting in, figuring out who you are -- and then not-so-typical issues -- war, death, and a repressive government regime.

The new book, “Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return,” picks up where the last book left off. Marji’s parents are sending her to school in Austria out of worry for her safety. Marji has a rebellious streak and a flair for speaking her mind – two very dangerous things in Iran.

In Austria Marji hits her teenage years in full stride. She finds it difficult to connect with most Europeans and finds being a foreigner a difficult prospect as well. Her descent into self destruction picks up speed with drug use, rejection, and loneliness; and ultimately Marji ends up homeless and homesick. Even with mind-boggling repression and fundamentalism, Iran is still her home – still the place where she grew up and where her loved ones still live.

So, Marji returns home to Iran to face a different set of challenges and a new part of her life. Nearly 1 million people have died in the Iran-Iraq war, the fallen soldiers have been elevated to martyr status, and questioning the government is just as or more dangerous than before.

While on an intellectual level I am aware of conditions as bad as Iran and even worse in many places around the world, emotionally, I cannot wrap my mind around things such as being arrested or possibly worse for wearing make-up or a graphic artist who has his hand cut off for drawing a bearded man for a magazine illustration.

One passage particularly hit me. From page 148: “The regime had understood that one person leaving her house while asking herself: ‘Are my trousers long enough? Is my veil in place? Can my make-up be seen? Are they going to whip me?’ No longer asks herself: ‘Where is my freedom of thought? Where is my freedom of speech? My life, is it livable? What’s going on in the political prisons?’ It’s only natural! When we’re afraid, we lose all sense of analysis and reflection. Our fear paralyzes us. Besides, fear has always been the driving force behind all dictators’ repression.”

Satrapi’s journey in these books is a very personal one and unique to her experience, yet she has a knack for both pulling out that which many can identify with and bringing out that which others may not be able to identify with but that needs to be known or understood nonetheless.

Satrapi’s two Persepolis books are a must read for anyone who enjoys an intelligent and different book.

Bottom Line: A

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Comics Links of Interest

Here is a look at some other comic book or graphic novel related webpages.

Powells interviews Marjane Satrapi
Being one of the largest book stores in America, Powells is a common stop for authors on booktours. Every so often, they post great interviews and offer autographed copies of books from authors who stop there. This week is the first time in memory that Powells has posted an interview with a graphic novelist. I don't think they could have picked a better interviewee either, as Marjane Satrapi, author/artist of Persepolis 1 and 2, offers a unique perspective on war and the Middle East. The interview is both poignant and funny. Check it out.

Jessica Abel gets DIY on Mini-Comics
Instead of “Mini-Comics for Dummies”, Artbabe and La Perdida creator Jessica Abel offers a do-it-yourself guide on making comics. There are entries on the drawing process, materials, and tracing, but I found the mini-comics section to be most interesting. The exhaustive guide includes chapters on everything from format to binding. This is an excellent resource for those getting started in mini-comics or those just interested in Abel’s process.

Lutefisk Sushi Mini-Comic Exhibition
File this under “events I’m sad to miss.” Creative Electric Studios in Minneapolis, Minnesota hosts a month-long mini-comic exhibit highlighting books by Minnesotan creators. One product from the show is a sampler box collecting all the books exhibited at the show. It isn’t for sale on the site, but there is a picture of it if you would like sometime to make your mouth water.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Single-Panel Review 9/21/04

Runaways: Teenage Wasteland TPB
Marvel $7.99
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan; Pencillers: Adrian Alphona & Takeshi Miyazawa; Inkers: Craig Yeung & David Newbold
Runaways is one of those gems that has gotten overlooked in the multitude of titles on the shelf. Support for this title seems to be coming late and isn’t necessarily translating into bigger sales as the title has hung around 120 on the top 300 comics industry sales chart for the past few issues. Runaways would be perfect for preteens and teenagers, but readers older than this can definitely enjoy the title. This is the second trade in the series, collecting issues 7 through 12. Runaways follows a group of kids who sort of know each other through their parents who are all friends. Well, it turns out their parents not friends so much as supervillians – members of “The Pride” whose network reaches into practically every corner of law enforcement and society in general. The children run away together to escape their parents and end up discovering more about themselves than they ever thought possible. Vaughan’s writing is his normal – sharp with good pacing and cliffhangers. My only criticism of this second trade is that it seems to be repeating much the same idea as the first. Sure some of the foes have changed, but the challenge is the same and was maybe not kept as fresh as it could have been. But, overall, this is a good TPB to pick up and a good series to get into. I’m really looking forward to hearing more about a supposed “second season” for this title.
Bottom line: B+

War Games through Act II, Part 4 – the halfway point
DC
We are now halfway through War Games, and it’s turning out better than I first imagined it would. So far in the action, a city-wide gang war has broken out after a meeting of the gang lords called by an unknown player got out of hand resulting in the death of several crime bosses and becoming the catalyst for a massive power struggle. We learn later that Spoiler – after getting into Batman’s “contingency” plans – was the person who called the meeting in the first place and is now struggling to get things under control. The missing piece in Batman’s worst-case scenario plan to take control of the city’s gangs is Batman himself. Spoiler set the plan in motion waiting for Matches Malone to show up and take control of the gangs. Little did Spoiler know that Batman *is* Matches Malone. That is when he wants to fit in and get information he could only get as a crime boss not a crime fighter. Meanwhile Batman, Nightwing, Batgirl, Oracle, Robin, and even Catwoman, Tarantula, and a few others have been trying to contain the turf wars all over Gotham City. And finally in this issue Batman connects the dots and realizes why this all seems so familiar – it’s his plan after all. This issue ends in quite the cliffhanger (I won’t ruin it). I have to say that Spoiler is the most frustrating part of this storyline – I don’t have a lot of patience for the characters who are young and in over their heads but refuse to ask for help. Ugh. There have been some really great individual issues and some pretty mediocre to bad issues as part of this series so far. The action and feel among the titles is starting to really mesh now; the series has turned the tide and is promising to be exciting from here on out.
Bottom line: B+

The Batman Strikes #1
My review for The Batman Strikes #1 should appear soon at the Paperback Reader website.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Single-Panel Reviews 9/20/04

Mary Jane #4
Marvel $2.25
Writer: Sean McKeever; Pencils: Takeshi Miyazawa; Inks: Norman Lee; Color: Christina Strain

This series happily rolls on and I'm enjoying the ride. In this issue Mary Jane works to calm Liz who is having trouble trusting boyfriend Flash. Liz's fears are not off base as Flash harbors a crush on MJ, but hasn't told Liz about it. The end of this issue hints that MJ and Liz will be fighting come next month and I'm looking forward to see that dynamic play out. I especially enjoy the art in this title. The style is really clean and fresh. It is very light and cheerful. The story is also good and well suited for the Marvel Age line and the book has a sort of teen drama feel to it. It reminds me of the early years of Dawson's Creek before they went to college and it got lame. The book is definitely the WB of comic books. While that may detract a good portion of the comic reading public, remember that Marvel is trying to attract the elusive teen girl market with this book and not your average fanboy. If they can get the book into places where girls shop, I don't see how it could fail. The book is really that enjoyable.
Bottom Line: B+

Owly: Stories of a Little Owl
Top Shelf Productions $3.00
Written and Drawn by Andy Runton

Top Shelf recently released Owly: The Way Home and a Bittersweet Summer, so I thought it would be a good time to take another look at Owly #1. This mini-comic contains two short stories, "Clean Up, Aisle Two" and "Table for One". The first story, about Owly's job at a grocery store is especially great. It successfully masks its social commentary behind a cat and mouse tale (well, in this case, a owl and mouse tale). What is really a "teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime story" is presented as Owly being nice to a down-on-his-luck mouse. Owly is so adorable and charming that you can't helped be left with warm fuzzies after reading it. Everything about it is cute. Top Shelf says this will be its first ongoing graphic novel series and it will be good to see were Owly goes in the future.
Bottom Line: A

Provinces
Bent Comics
Written and drawn by Daniel Collin

Erin picked up this mini-comic at the Comix & Stories event in Vancouver, Canada, in August and I finally got a chance to read it. Published in Spring 2004, Provinces is a the type of autobiographical slice-of-life type stories that I really enjoy. The book isn't one long story, but a collection of 4 panel, one page strips, with a few longer stories mixed in. While the drawing is a bit on the simple side, the comic and the stories are still good. The best spreads are about the narrator and his girlfriend Heather and the longer story "Gastown" about the narrator's short time employed at a restaurant in the Gastown section of Vancouver. This was the only story in the book that conveyed real emotion to me. The rest were really "this is how my day went" strips and while not bad, they just weren't as good as Gastown. I would like to see Collin do more longer stories, like this one, in the future. Until then, Provinces is a good read and can be seen via the link above.
Bottom Line: B-


Saturday, September 18, 2004

Comics in the News - Week of September 12

More Rare Comics to be Auctioned
September 17, 2004
Wichita, Kansas
The article highlights details of the second and final auction of vintage comics from the estate of the late Robert Ford of Wichita. The first auction brought in $130,000, and the second auction is speculated to bring in $250,000. The comics were found in pristine shape under a bed by auctioneers preparing for a household auction.
Read the rest of the story from The Wichita Eagle.

Is Tragedy Off-Limits if Satire Helps Heal?
September 17, 2004
The Christian Science Monitor
Art Spiegelman’s new book In the Shadow of the Towers has garnered much attention from the mainstream media. This op-ed piece by Abe Novick on satire in the face of tragedy and Spiegelman’s book is especially interesting.
Read the rest of the story from The Christian Science Monitor.

Peter Parker Becomes an Indian
September 16, 2004
Mumbai, India
A very nice interview with Jeevan Kang, the creator of the new Indian Spiderman. Kang talks about how he went about recreating Spiderman, the new look, and the motivation for such a reinvention.
Read the rest of the story from rediff.com (an Indian-interest news online news
source).

Comic Book Appeals to Kids of All Ages
September 16, 2004
Somerville, Massachusetts
An interview with Jef Czekaj on his new book from Top Shelf—Grandpa and Julie: Shark Hunters.
Read the rest of the story from the Somerville Journal.

HeroClix: Chess Meets Comic Books
September 15, 2004
Seattle, Washington
This article talks about the game HeroClix and interviews local gamers about their hobby.
Read the rest of the story from The Seattle Times.

Saved By the Beagle
September 15, 2004
Seattle, Washington
An extensive article that explores the history of Fantagraphics Publishing -- its struggles and successes -- especially securing the rights to publish the Charlie Brown anthologies and, in turn, their existence for years to come.
Read the rest of the story from the Seattle Weekly.

Comics Brew: An Exhibition of International Comic Art
September 14, 2004
Durban, South Africa
Coverage of an international comic art festival that is “an initiative to showcase, develop and establish comic strip drawing in Southern Africa.” The tour will stop in Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, and South Africa. Artists hail from a variety of African and European countries.
Read the rest of the story from absolutearts.com.

Miami Book Fair’s Poster Unveiled
September 12, 2004
Miami, Florida
This year the Miami Book Fair will spotlight graphic novels. The book fair’s official poster was created by Chip Kidd and the first book selection is Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi. This book is the first graphic novel to be recommended by a national reading initiative.
Read the rest of the story from The Miami Herald. Free registration required.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Storyline Review: Fables "War Stories" (Issues #28 and #29)

Vertigo $2.50 each
Written by Bill Willingham; Pencils by Tony Akins; Inked by Jimmy Palmiotti

Caution: Spoiler heavy review ahead. Proceed with caution.

Fabletown went on vacation for the past two months, while Willingham and company explored a story from Bigby Wolf’s past. We find our hairy hero in Nazi Germany on a secret mission for the Allies. Bigby and a group of American soldiers head off for Castle Frankenstein to stop a secret Nazi weapon from being built and used. This project however is just a ruse for the Nazis to try to capture Bigby and exploit him for their own evil cause. Insanity ensues with Americans fighting Nazis, Bigby fighting Nazis, and Bigby fighting Frankenstein’s monster.

While I liked the idea of this storyline at first, I was dissapointed with the outcome. Some parts were just utterly ridiculous. For example, why would the Nazis go to all the trouble of making Frankenstein’s monster (I nicknamed him Big Frank) just to use him as a high-tech lure? Couldn’t they just leak false intelligence to the Allies and save themselves the trouble? Using Big Frank was just too complicated, despite him being a cool addition to the cast.

While the big guy’s presence was unnecessary, I did enjoy the Bigby versus Big Frank brawl. It definitely had an old Universal monster movie feel to it. I would have been happier with Bigby fighting either Big Frank or the Nazis. The combination was just too much. Could we see more of Big Frank in future issues? Willingham leaves that open as a possibility.

The writing was also a little weak in these two issues. While I see what Willingham was trying to accomplish using rough soldier talk, a lot of the lines, especially when a character said that someone “scared the frothy Irish piss” out of him, fell flat with me. They seemed to be trying to be gross for no reason, instead of bringing humor to the story. Some lines like, he “could shoot the dick off a fly at 300 meters” were just plain bad. This definitely isn’t something we’ve come to expect from the Fables crew.

One thing that is always on the mark with this title is the stylish flourishes unique to each storyline. The title banners on the cover of these issues show off the Army theme. Other storylines also had their own style. This is just a little thing that makes Fables stand out from other titles.

Next month, a new storyline “The Year After,” begins. I hope it brings us back to Fabletown. While I like the idea of exploring individual Fables away from the rest of the gang, this issue just wasn’t as successful as I had hoped.

Bottom line: C

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Comics Links Cop Out Post

Well, I was going to write a few reviews tonight but two of the comics didn’t make it from the distributor to my local comic shop this week. So, instead, I thought I’d put a few comics-related websites on your comic radar.

The Museum of Comic Book Advertising
This virtual museum showcases American comic-book ads since 1938. Many of the ads are from the golden-age of comics (1938-1955). Current featured exhibits are “Comic Book Ads At War,” showcasing World War II ads and “Novel Ideas” on 50 years of comic book novelties.

Bowzizzer
A great little site to purchase a variety of mini-comics/self-published comics. Go wild – you get free shipping on orders over $10. Nice!

highway 62
Another great comics blog. I “heart” the Internet.

Diesel Sweeties
This is a very funny online “digital” comic strip. Definitely one to check out daily.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Event: Blankets Booksigning and Soundtrack Performance

Anacortes, Washington's Department of Safety is hosting a Blankets booksigning and soundtrack performance this Friday (September 17) at 8. Portland group Tracker will play from their soundtrack to the graphic novel and Top Shelf will be there with the book. The website doesn't mention Craig Thompson, but they are offering book signings, so I assume that means he'll be there.

Unfortunately, I'm going home on Friday and can't attend. If you get the chance, please post a review in the comments.

Queenly Declarations: Hey Marvel, No More X titles

It’s time we “comic queens” put our self-proclaimed titles to use and make a declaration. This is sure to benefit all of comic fandom, not just us, because we care about you, our royal subjects. We here at the Comic Queen are thoughtful and approachable royalty; more like Princess Diana and less like Prince Charles. With that in mind, I hereby declare that Marvel is forbidden from publishing more mediocre X-Men titles.

Flipping through the September Previews catalog of November release, I noted 19 X titles. These include the regular X books like Uncanny X-Men #452, Ultimate X-Men #53, and plain old X-Men #164 and the title starring just one X character like Rogue #5, Jubilee #3, and Gambit #4.Good Lord Marvel! Slow it down. 19 titles of anything surely loses fans. Who can keep up with that many books? That is a commitment that I don’t have either the wallet or the time to support.

Both the Uncanny and Ultimate titles were on my pull list until recently. Both, but Uncanny especially, were getting extremely boring. Also Uncanny had boatloads of history that was nearly impossible for this feeble minded Queen to remember. You can’t attract new readers when you make obscure references to ancient story lines. The art is good sure, but the art is always good. The stories were boring and some seemed to drag on forever. After one too many six-issue storylines, I cut both of them loose and started picking up two other, better books.

Here is my idea. It might be naïve, but it is worth a shot. Marvel should focus on 6 member teams. Cut out all the Xtraneous characters. No more massive Xtravaganzas. Have guest stars, but don’t expect readers to know every X character and their history. Take these 6 characters and explore the heck out of them. What makes them tick? What is their motivation? Tell us about their friends, their family, their childhood, and their enemies. Show them fighting hard and often, but give us a break from all that as well. Show us a more personal side. That is what makes Marvel titles like Daredevil consistently good, but a lot of the X titles sub par.

Also, give us more one shots and two and three-parters and less massive six part storylines. Stop dragging stories out to six issues when they clearly could have been done in four. I hate wasting $6 on parts four and five only to be strung along with Xtra junk, not relevant to the plot at hand. Keep the stories neat. Most importantly, wrap them up and move on.

While I admit I haven’t read all the new X titles or even the majority of them, I can still see the problem. X3 isn’t even shooting yet, but the market is inundated with titles. I want to see more focus and creativity. I want quality, not quantity. Put out one excellent title and it will sell more than three lame ones. Granted, I don’t have any facts to back that up, but if I’m going to use this “Comic Queen” title to its full extent, then I get to make unsubstantiated biased demands every now and then. Therefore, Marvel let it be so.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Single-Panel Reviews 9/14/04

Here's a glimpse of some comics from the last couple weeks that are worth checking out.

Street Angel #3
SLG $2.95
By Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca
Street Angel is the homeless ninja “hero” (I use this term loosely) in a rough section of metropolitan Wilkesborough. In the fist two issues, Street Angel has battled gangs of ninjas, conquistadors, and pirates. But in issue #3 Street Angel takes on a whole new level of trouble, the badest baddie there is – the devil. Of course, she does have some help – Jesus himself lends a hand in fighting evil this time. Now, this wasn’t my favorite issue as far as plot goes. However, I thought the art was stepped up a notch. Much less was packed into each page, and the pages where Street Angel fights as her transfigured self were crisply drawn and inked. The nice part about Street Angel is that you never have a clue about what will happen next. You just have to pick up the next issue to find out.
Bottom line: B

WE 3 #1 (of 3)
Vertigo $2.95
Writer: Grant Morrison; Penciller: Frank Quitely; Colors and Digital Inks: Jamie Grant; Letterer: Todd Klein
WE3 tells of three animals – a dog, cat, and rabbit – who are part of a successful government program to use small animals as the next weapons. Armed animals controlled remotely to do the killing instead of armies of humans. I won’t spoil the entire plot, but the point is these three animals end up escaping. There wasn’t much dialogue in the first issue, and when that’s the case in a comic, it is essential that the artwork be extremely effective at storytelling. Quitely not only achieves this but teamed with Jamie Grant on colors and inks the book is visually amazing. DC included sample pages in Previews a couple months ago, and while I understand why they included the ones they did (they included the most dialogue and plot and were less gruesome than many of the pages), those sample pages were the least dazzling of the book.
Bottom line: A-

Jane’s World #15
Girl Twirl Comics $5.95
By Paige Braddock
Jane’s World began as a web comic strip in 1998 and with its increasing regularity found its way to print in 2001 in collected issues. Now at issue 15, Jane’s World is making another transition – from comic strip to comic book format. On page 46 of the 53-page story, Braddock fills out the page into the new format. Jane’s World stars Jane, a 30-something journalist, and a pretty good-size supportive cast, which notably includes Ethan, Jane’s roommate, and several friends who are women and also women who happen to be more than friends. Yep, Jane bats for the other team. Braddock writes a smart, fun character in slightly-unsure-of-herself Jane. Plainly said -- the comic is simply fun to read. In this issue, Jane deals with a mini-convergence of exs, we watch Ethan be slowly transformed by a new girlfriend, and the action ends with a roadtrip. Check out an archive of strips and more on the comic at the Jane’s World website.
Bottom line: B+

Bear #6
SLG $2.95
By Jamie Smart
I hadn’t read Bear before this issue, so thought it was about time to try the title. Published quarterly, this issue of Bear was especially horror-themed presumably for Halloween titled “Silence: The Spooh Whooky Special.” Bear is a cute little stuffed animal – but don’t let that fool you, he’s also a trash talker with plenty of attitude. The main characters also include Looshkin, the psychotic house cat who constantly devils Bear, and their owner Karl, an underachieving Gen Y/X’er. Smart writes a frenetically witty comic and does some nice things artwise with perspective and shading. Most comics seem to take about 15 minutes to read, but this book is jam packed from inside front cover to inside back cover with dialog and action, making it a longer read and a nice bargain to boot.
Bottom line: B+

Kinetic #6
DC Focus $2.50
See my review of Kinetic #6 at the Paperback Reader website.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Single-Panel Reviews 9/13/04

Here is some quick reviews for you. This week, I apparently chose to "make mine Marvel".

Ultimate Spiderman #65
Marvel $2.25
Written by Brian Michael Bendis; Cover and pencils by Mark Bagley; Inks by Scott Hanna

This is a great little one shot where we find Peter in dentention with MJ, Flash, Liz, and Kong after a fight at Gwen's locker gets them all in trouble. Peter is grieving for Gwen and Flash is being his normal jerky self. The cover looks great, like most Ultimate Spiderman covers do, but I really enjoy it when Spiderman doesn't take center stage. He is on the cover sure, but isn't as prominent as Gwen Stacy. The story is also well written and the reader feels immersed in Peter's grief and also in MJ's concern for Peter. The feelings of these two characters really makes the book. Overall, everything about the book is beautiful.
Bottom line: A

She-Hulk #7
Marvel $2.99
Written by Dan Slott; Pencils by Juan Bobillo; Inks by Marcelo Sosa

I've really enjoyed this series up until this point, but this issue just fell flat for me. We find She-Hulk mentoring young mutant South Paw, a welcome addition, but then the story starts moving way too fast. She-Hulk gets tapped to be a judge in the Universal court and she is hearing cases from all over space. This would be a good move for down the line, maybe even after one more story arc, but it seems like the series just started. Slott hasn't explored She-Hulk as a lawyer on Earth enough and but now she is off in space. We are treated to cameos by Warlock and others, but it doesn't rationalize the huge change of pace. Also, does anyone else think She-Hulk looked like Felicity (of the WB series fame) on the cover? Um, ok, maybe it was just me, but the resemblance was uncanny. Overall the issue was a disappointment.
Bottome line: C

District X #5
Marvel $2.99
Written by David Hine; Cover by Steve McNiven; Pencils by David Yardin; Inks by Alejandra Sicat

This is a good part 5 of 6 issue. The story keeps moving and I'm looking forward to the wrap-up and finding out more about Mr. M. The biggest problem with six part stories is that issues four and five feel like filler, but this isn't the case here. There is enough story line to keep the reader interested and there aren't any dead spots. The art and style of the book continue to be good as well. It is gritty and fast-paced. The cover is dark, but has a lot of great details especially in Bishop's coat. The series is moving along rather nicely and this issue is no exception. Also in this issue, we see a little bit more of Ortega's wife and the Ortega family. I'm sure they will be the subject of future issues.
Bottom line: B

Jubilee #1
Marvel $2.99
Written by Robert Kirkman; Cover by Casey Jones; Pencil and Inks by Derec Aucoin

Here we are with another X title and another Marvel Age title. So far, I like the Marvel Age books and I'm always interested when the comic industry tries to get girls' attention. This first issue is a good way to do just that. Jubilee moves to California and in with a long last Aunt and starts up at a new school. While I don't think Jubilee is the best role-model for the tweens, as she shoplifted in this issue, she is still fun and brash. The cover and art really mirrors her attitude. It is bright and Aucoin uses colors not often seen in the regular Marvel books. I dare say, it is almost pastel. The story is decent and Kirkman sets up for future issues. There is Jubilee's Aunt Hope in some sort of special ops gear in two panels which is just begging to be explored. Also, we have the normal high school plots to look forward to, because it looks as if Jubilee might try to steal another girl's boyfriend. I wasn't expecting much from this comic, but it left me looking forward to the next one. I'm on board for at least a few more issues.
Bottom line: B

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Comics in the News – Week of September 5

Here are a handful of articles about comics featured in the mainstream news arena for the week of September 5.

Dandy Comic Sold for Record Price
September 8, 2004
A rare edition of The Dandy comic book sold for a British record £20,350 ($36,625 USD) according to the auctioneers who handled the sale. The Dandy was first published on December 4, 1937 and became a very popular comic in the UK.
Read the rest of the story from BBC News.

7-year-old Phenom Stirs Up Comic Biz
September 8, 2004
Layne Toth, a 7-year-old Lansing, Mich. girl, will be publishing two comic books with Chris Yambar, a lead Bart Simpson Comics writer. Toth is not only a soon-to-be comics creator but is also attending community college.
Read the rest of the story from the Lansing State Journal.

Comic Books Turn a New Page
September 7, 2004
The Korea Culture and Content Agency works to develop South Korea’s slumping comics industry by using comics in other popular media.
Read the rest of the story from The Korea Herald.

Feminism Kicks Booty in Pop Culture
September 7, 2004
Reporter Jenee Osterheldt gives a brief history and the evolution of women in comics and pop culture.
Read the rest of the story from The Indianapolis Star.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Loose Cannon Goes Off at CBR

Larry Young of AiT/Planet Lar continues his series on comic blogging in the column "Loose Cannon" at the Comic Book Resources website. This week he asks top comic bloggers the questions:

How do you see the coverage you offer? Do you try to go for a journalistic viewpoint of the latest pop culture news, or are you content to provide links to news others point out? Or is there a third path your blog travels?

You'll find The Comic Queen represented this week along with Ken Lowery Presents: Ringwood, Thought Balloons, Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin, the Johnny Bacardi Show, When Will the Hurting Stop, Pop Culture Gadabout, Near Mint Heroes, Bloggity-Blog Blog Blog, Fanboy Rampage, and Highway 62.

Read the Loose Cannon column here.

I Missed the Boat: Rob Ullman

Often, I feel like I live in a pop culture cocoon. Sometimes, more often than I’d like to admit actually, cool stuff just passes me by. Eventually, when I do discover it and realize its greatness I wonder, “What was I doing in (insert year here) that caused me to miss (insert awesome discovery here)?” Was I too busy with Uncanny X-Men and oodles of Spiderman titles to notice all the sweet little indie gems floating by? Recently this happened to me yet again with the work of Rob Ullman.

When the call to help Alternative Comics came out, I had to do my part. Somehow I ended up on Ullman’s site ordering a slew of titles dating back to 1994. I was wholly impressed with all the books. They are fun slice-of-life tales and I could relate to a lot of them. How did I go ten years without reading these books? That just isn’t right.

Signifying Nothing: The Collected From the Curve 1994-1998
The first book collects the best of the first 5 issues of Ullman’s mini-comic From the Curve. Most of the pages are four panel stand alone comics where Ullman illustrates scenes from his life. These include little everyday occurrences that happen to most everyone, but are often ignored. It’s great that they are captured here. “Distraction” is my favorite story of those included because it describes a stupid argument that couples often have perfectly. It is the old “you’re not spending enough time with me” fight laid out exactly as thousands of couples have argued it. The autobiographical style is very enjoyable and doesn’t come off as vain here.

From the Curve 5, 6, and 7
I also picked up the last three issues of From the Curve. This continues with what was laid out in Signifying Nothing. There are more everyday life stories including one about a freezing apartment and visits to a hockey game and a concert. You can really see Ullman’s drawing improving in these issues as well.

Grand Gestures
Released in 2003 by Alternative Comics, Grand Gestures is Ullman’s first graphic novel. The story revolves around sensitive soul Perry, horny jerk Brody, and regular joe Ken and their relationships with the women in their lives. These characters were first seen in “Late Show” in From the Curve #7 and that story is reprinted at the end of the book. Ullman captures male friendships here nicely and doesn’t make the characters overly macho. They talk about their problems honestly while giving each other a fair amount of ribbing. I really enjoy this story and the characters and hope to see more of these three in the future.

Ullman’s next project is Pink volume 2, a collection of sketchbook pin-ups. While this one doesn’t interest me, I’m definitely looking forward to more of his work, because I enjoyed these books so much.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Comix & Stories Comicon Report

Now that you've read Kerry's report on her recent experience at Bumbershoot, let's travel back in time and take a look at the Comix & Stories Comicon held just more than a week ago in Vancouver, BC.

The venue was a historic building in downtown Vancouver, with the artists and vendors in one large room—Heritage Hall. According to organizer Leonard Wong, around 300 attendees showed up to check out the 30 creators/self-publishers and five dealers.

There was a laid-back feel to the event; everyone that I ran into was courteous to those around them. So, in other words, no one was hogging a creator's time, and it wasn’t crowded, so there was still plenty of time to shoot the breeze with creators.

Speaking of shooting the breeze, one the highlights for me was laughing it up with Greg Stump and Smell of Steve, Inc. (SOS) who were at adjacent tables. These guys were a riot – we had an especially hearty laugh at posters SOS was selling of his character "Ziggy-with-a-Hat."

We discovered the character when we overheard this conversation:
Woman: "Um, I don’t get it – who’s Ziggy-with-a-Hat"
SOS – covering up the "with-a-Hat" part: "Well, you see there’s the cartoon Ziggy -- " [reveals the "with-a-Hat"] "and this is Ziggy-with-a-Hat."
Woman: "Uh, o.k."

In the meantime my significant other and I are tearing up with laughter. Check out Ziggy-with-a-Hat here, and see what all the joy is about. Too funny.

Other highlights included meeting Jim Mahfood (Stupid Comics, Grrrl Scouts, 40oz. Comics) and Steve Rolston (Queen & Country, Pounded, One Bad Day). Both of these guys were very cool and approachable.

I have to admit I'd never seen more than a snipet of Mahfood's work, so it was great to not only pick up more of his work, but also get to see him sketch and interact with fans. These are things you just can’t get at home and what makes a con like this so invaluable.

The other great thing about an indie con is all the mini-comics. I went in with the equivalent of $45USD and, including admission, left with a thick stack of mini-comics and small publisher stuff right from the creators themselves. And this often included the creators' John Hancock.

Among the highlights of what I picked up:
Older stuff:
Stupid Comics #2
By Jim Mahfood; Image; 2003

40oz Collected
By Jim Mahfood; Image; 2003
40oz Collected is compilation of Mahfood’s mini-comics from 1997 through 2003. While Stupid Comics is a "regular"-sized comic containing a variety of one- and two-page comic "strips" covering subjects anywhere from politics to a day-in-the-life of Mahfood. I think one of my favorites was titled "the cool persons baby-making movement" which encourages cool people to procreate thereby ensuring future generations of "creative bad asses." Stupid Comics is a must have as far as I’m concerned.

Urban Hipster #1 & #2
By Greg Stump & David Lasky; Alternative Comics; 1998 & 2003
Both of these comics were a real mix of styles, subject matter, and storytelling. Chloe and Natasha were reoccurring characters in both issues; these two are in the vein of Clowes’s Ghost World. I think my favorites were: "Slob" following the trials of a total slob or as the character describes himself "a serious thinker;" the Garfunk strips, and "Four Twenty Five" which tells the tale an unemployed man who becomes addicted to "The Addams Family" pinball game.

Forever and a Day and Sob Story mini-comic
By Ed Brisson; unsure of the date
This collects a series of strips called "Forever and a Day" and "Sob Story." This very funny strip is difficult to describe and best speaks for itself. So check it out here (check out the links on this page as well. It goes to some other good web-comic finds).

Newer stuff
Lost Souls in Love
By Steve Rolston; mini-comic – Pharoh Eye Studios; 2004
Rolston explains that this comic was intended to be a 24-hour comic experiment in 2003; however at the end of the 24 hours the story still needed most of the pages inked. So this comic is the entire completed story finished specifically for the 2004 San Diego Comicon as a limited edition of 100 copies. It's a charming story with Rolston’s signature clean, beautiful art.

On the Rocks
By Ken Boesem; mini-comic – Barking Raven Press; August 2004
Boesem describes On the Rocks as a "'comix noir' adaptation of a Classical Greek myth [that] tells the story of a young factory worker who learns the dire consequences that can result from brutal honesty." This short tale is told in an attractively designed format not to mention the immaculate artwork. I’ll have to pick up more from Boesem.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Craig Thompson at Bumbershoot

I've been going to Bumbershoot, Seattle's four day music festival, for years now. While there is always a literary stage, where authors do readings or have Q&A sessions, this is the first year that there has been significant involvement from the comics' world. Unfortunately, schedule conflicts and packed houses led me to miss out on the panel discussion and Harvey Pekar's session. Nothing, however, could make me miss out on Craig Thompson's appearance on the literary stage.

A pretty good size crowd showed up for the session with Thompson and this attendee wasn't disappointed. After reading his work, especially Blankets and Carnet de Voyage, I expected Thompson to be nervous, self-deprecating, smart, and funny and he certainly didn't disappoint. He came on stage and seemed very small. He had a tiny voice even piped through the microphone. He really had no reason to be nervous, as he presented the audience with a lot of great information and was quite charming.

First, he talked about Goodbye Chunky Rice. He detailed how fellow inhabitants of a rooming house he lived in became characters in the novel. Later, he moved on to Blankets and told us his family's reaction to the book and, most interesting to me, showed us his process. It was cool to see Thompson's progress from very rough thumbnail sketches to a blueprint of a page and finally to finished product. I'm always interested in how talented people do their craft, so this portion of the talk was a treat. Lastly, Thompson talked about Carnet de Voyage focusing on his trip to Paris and Morocco, the subject of the book. He also spoke of some of the difficulties in this kind of "working vacation".

After the planned portion of the talk was over, Thompson opened up the floor to questions. Then a book signing session followed. Foolishly, I forgot the book that I wanted Thompson to sign and although some of his stuff was available for purchase, I didn't let myself buy it again. Hopefully, I'll get to see him again and then I can get something signed.

Be sure to check out Thompson if he goes on any sort of promotional tour in the near future. It was an hour well spent. Also, he said that his next book, Habibi (sp?), won't be out for about two more years. That makes this fan, devastatingly sad. Those two years better move fast and, hopefully, we'll see some smaller projects, like Conversation, in the time being.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

I'm a Fan of the ICAA




The International Comic Arts Association (ICAA) has received quite a bit of press since its inception earlier this year. From the Comic Book Resources website to The Comics Journal, the word is out about this non-profit trade organization and promotional board that is “dedicated to the preservation and further advancement of the comic arts,” to use their trademarked phrase.

While the comics industry has seen its fair share of industry organizations start up and often fold, the ICAA, in my estimation is significantly different. The biggest difference is the man in charge, Founder, President, and Executive Director Erik Enervold. From all that I’ve seen of the ICAA, there are few people who have the organization, professionalism, and finesse of Enervold. And that’s exactly what a project like the ICAA absolutely has to have and an industry like the comics industry needs. Some people can make things happen by sheer will and hard work, and Enervold appears to be one of those people.

From website to promotional materials, the ICAA’s presentation is incredibly slick and professional. The vision and scope of this organization is wide. It includes, but certainly is not limited to:

* ComicArts AdCouncil
* ICAA Media Council
* Comics Outreach Program
* Comic Arts Research and Reference Library
* Comics Kids Club
* C.L.A.S.S. Project – Comics: Learning and Advanced Student Strategies
* ICAA Press – their own, original publications department
* Resources for retailers, libraries, and teachers

Each of the program areas are in various stages of implementation, but they each have their goals clearly outlined and logos in place. There are so many projected services and programs that it nearly boggles the mind. I can only imagine how Enervold must feel!

Many have described Enervold’s appearance on the scene as coming out of nowhere. And others question how such an ambitious organization can survive with just the efforts of him and a few other dedicated volunteers. But here’s the thing: you can be a part of the ICAA’s survival and growth – whether you are a fan, a retailer, an artist or writer (or both), or a company. And there are special benefits for each of these groups.

I absolutely love that the ICAA has a place for fans. When I heard about the organization and saw what it was about, I joined right away. I’m not usually the first to join a group, but I know quality when I see it, and I understand the power that individual purchases have, so I had to join. There are several levels of membership, but here’s a glimpse into what you’ll get if you join as a Fan/Collector.

First off, you get great communication. Press releases of interest to members are distributed via email and you are automatically entered into each giveaway they have. In fact, I’ve already won a free comic, and I just got my raffle ticket for the Spiderman giveaway going on now. You also receive a subscription to the organization’s official journal, ComicArts Illustrated. And what would a membership be without a membership packet. I mean really.

Here’s what mine contained:
* A welcome letter and a copy of the press release announcing their debut along with copies of articles on the organization from CBR and Broken Frontier
* My very own membership card #F1005 (told you I joined right away!)
* A Fan/Collector membership handbook
* An ICAA logo cling sticker (now on my car’s rear window)
* A couple ICAA bumper stickers
* A membership certificate (with a real seal on it!)
* A volunteer application and an ad rate sheet (members get 25% off list prices)

And the best part is the annual membership fee for a Fan/Collector is only $35. This is a bargain. Yes, there will be naysayers and doubters for any organization such as this. But I maintain that nasaying and doubting is pointless. An organization such as the ICAA can only benefit the industry. A few bucks spent now may just ensure that later there are quality comics still being put out – or even better that there are more quality comics being put out. This is an investment, people.

These are just my opinions, but here are the facts: success won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen without your support and action. Share your love of comics by helping this non-profit organization to bloom and grow – become a member!

Friday, September 03, 2004

Eureka! I’ve Found Comics!

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I was going on a bit of a vacation, heading down to Northern California to help my brother move into Humboldt State University for the year. The Arcata area, where the university is located, was beautiful, on the cusp of the Pacific Northwest, it was very reminiscent of Northwest Washington -- but with real beaches! In other words instead of rock-encrusted shoreline that can do a number on the hooves, the Arcata area had pleasant-to-the-touch sandy beaches. Ahhh.

But I digress.

In my constant quest for comics satiation, I found the Comic Castle located in Eureka, just a few miles away from Arcata. I also discovered a second shop -- Northcoast Roleplaying -- but I didn't get a chance to check it out. I'll have to pop in on my next visit.

Comic Castle is located at 407 5th St., right downtown, in a medium-sized storefront (how’s that for subjective!). The shop was clean, very well organized, and buzzing with activity when I was there. They had the last four week’s comics in a separate display from the “recent” back issues of the current titles they carried. Each comic title had its own space and every title was visible and easy to get at. Now, you might think this is a no-brainer, but some shops are just a mess.

They didn’t really have any local minicomics, but overall the selection was great. I found several titles there my local stores don’t carry but that I’ve been interested in, likewise they had quite a few GNs in the same boat. I managed to contain myself and just picked up the latest Gotham Central, a Queen & Country from a couple issues ago I was missing, and a graphic novel called “Like a River” from Swiss artist Pierre Wazen.

And lastly, the guy who helped me was friendly. Again, you’d think that these things would be givens in a retail experience -- good selection, helpful service, clean space, good organization. But, alas, that’s just not the case. I get frustrated when I want to impulse buy a new comic, and then get told I can order them. Well, I know I can order Usagi Yojimbo, Queen & Country, or Demo, but you can’t get people interested in a title or to try something new if you don’t even carry it!

Anyhoo, the Comic Castle was an example of a great comic shop. I wish them luck in the future.

Here’s a look at the GN I purchased:

Metal Hurlant Presents: Like a River
Humanoids Publishing $9.95 SC 110 pgs.
Original Graphic Novel
Pierre Wazem
Originally published in Switzerland; English version published last year (2003).

My impression of this book is it’s as if Ernest Hemingway wrote a story using a John Steinbeck character. There’s the quirky, down-on-his-luck, but likable character that Steinbeck often wrote about – I’m thinking particularly of Canary Row and Tortilla Flat. This paired with the focus on the scenery, the emotional connection to natural surroundings that emerges in Hemingway’s works.

Set in rural Russia, Vlad is poor – poor in a materialistic way and poor in spirit, as well. He lives alone, but his late wife is always with him. Vlad keeps up a constant dialogue with Macha. There’s an intense longing for his wife, a void that he tries to fill, or maybe attempts to ignore with ample amounts of vodka. But by the middle of the book things have gone from bad to worse for Vlad, and he’s ready to end it all.

But before any damage can be done, his son comes home for a surprise visit – the first time he’s been home in seven years. Just as the visit jars Vlad into some perspective, the sorry shape he is in jars his son.

In the interactions between father and son, the reader learns why Vlad is in as bad of emotional shape as he is, and for nearly the same reason, why his son has come home.

Vlad explains Macha’s philospophy on life – that life is like a river, and the way individuals deal with what life brings is the difference between pushing with strength down the flow of the river and getting held up by just a few pebbles, stuck in stagnant water.

Obviously Vlad has been stuck in the stagnant water for some time, but the healing that comes from sharing the truth about Macha’s final moments and the community that is reestablished by just a short visit from his son give Vlad the push he needs back into the river.

Readers should take their time reading this book. Wazem’s style is to be taken in slowly; like a good European film, it takes its time to develop and shouldn’t be rushed with impatience to see what happens. The art is in the journey, the small moments, the style. So, my advice is to sit back, have a glass of wine, and take your time with this book.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Birth of a Nation OGN

This book was already out when I first heard about it. I was stunned that it had slipped by without trumpets or confetti or some fanfare to announce its arrival. It should be getting a lot more press, especially in this election year. Co-written by Boondocks scribe, Aaron McGruder and Reginald Hudlin of House Party fame and drawn by Kyle Baker, the book spoofs the results of the 2000 election and what happens when East St. Louis secedes from the country.

The story itself is smart and funny. It starts with East St. Louis mayor Fred Fredericks having a terrible day. His girlfriend leaves and the trash doesn’t get picked up because of a garbage strike. Finally, he goes to vote in the presidential election, but is denied when his name is found on a list of felons barred from voting. Thousands of residents’ names are also on the list. Meanwhile, a suspiciously Bush-like president wins the election. When the Supreme Courts doesn’t side with Fredericks, he takes his town and tells the US government to shove it. What follows is a hilarious account of the construction of Blackland. They make a flag, mint new currency, and write an anthem. It becomes a nightmare for the President and his staff of Cheney, Rice, and Powell look-alikes. The first half of the book is especially funny and it is feels like it should be in the Onion.

The book reads less like a graphic novel or comic book and more like a storyboard to me. This could be because McGruder and Hudlin originally wrote it as a screenplay. Instead of panels with word balloons, the text was typed below each panel. This took some getting used to and I would have preferred larger panels with word balloons and traditional lettering. Baker’s illustrations look great and the facial expressions on some characters perfectly capture their emotions. I’m not very familiar with Baker’s work, so I’m interested in picking up some of his older stuff to see how this book differs from his regular projects.

Overall, the writing is strong and while the ending falls a bit flat, it is definitely worth picking up. Ask your local comic shop to order a few copies. Selling for $25, the high quality hard cover, deserves space on your shelf. It is exciting to see McGruder branch out beyond the Boondocks and I’m hoping we see more like this from him in the future.