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.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Brownsville GN Review

Brownsville GN HC
NBM Publishing; $18.95
Writer: Neil Kleid; Artist: Jake Allen

From the opening pages of Brownsville, it’s clear this book will be well told and well designed. Kleid gives us a story and characters that pull you in, and Allen provides stellar inks.

The book is primarily non-fiction, the characters real Jewish gangsters part of Murder Inc., a crime syndicate that recruited heavily out of East New York. Kleid focuses the story of the gangsters around Albert Tannenbaum, otherwise known as Allie boy or Tick Tock. As a kid looking for work and some excitement, Allie gets involved with the Jewish gangsters of Brooklyn. We follow Allie as he grows up and progresses through the ranks of Murder Inc. He faces tough choices early on – his family with his father in charge or his gangster family with Louis “Lepke” Buchalter at the helm. Twice he has to choose between the two, each time a different choice and a different result.

Allie’s father is unique and gives him his freedom to make these choices early on. He says at one point, “There are all kinds of people in this world. I pray that God gives you the strength to know which kind not to be.”

The book is interesting in the fact that you really do learn quite a bit about the Jewish gangsters of the time – especially the key members of Murder Inc. Also interesting is the more universal message of family, obligation, figuring out what the right thing is, and sticking to it.

Not all that long ago I reviewed Joe Kubert’s “Jew Gangster” GN, and comparing these two books is hard to resist – they have their similarities, after all, especially toward the beginning – a Jewish kid going down the wrong path, the path toward gangster life. However, the criticisms that I had with Kubert’s book don’t apply to “Brownsville.” While I had trouble feeling for the main character in “Jew Gangster,” Kleid made Allie engaging, beyond a stock character, and into a person you are curious about, who you want to hear their story. For one, Kleid focuses more on telling the story of Allie’s associates and work as much as his relationships – which was really as much a part of Allie’s work as extortion or contract killing. Brownsville could have been a dry retelling of actual events, but it does have a soul, it has much more than just historical value.

Ultimately, "Brownsville" is an all-round excellent book. The art is wonderful – Allen even does a nice job recreating the true look of the gangsters themselves. The story is good both as a non-fiction tale of the times and as a universal lesson for any time.

Bottom Line: A

Friday, April 21, 2006

April Previews Picks

I’m late with the Previews picks this month, but there’s still time to add books to your April order. Here’s what I’ve noticed in the April Previews that look worth checking out.

Picks of the Month:

Wonder Woman #1
DC – pg. 91; $2.99; 32 pgs. FC
Writer: Allan Heinberg; Artists: Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson (with variant cover by Adam Kubert)
Whew! I can breathe easier now, Wonder Woman is back in action with a new series. Now, I’m only half joking – I do like Wonder Woman quite a bit, but I am a little apprehensive when the solicit says things like the creators are “giving Wonder Woman a fresh, sexy look and a bold new direction!” and that she will have “an all-new supporting cast, a brand-new mission, and a renewed sense of wonder.” A renewed sense of wonder? What the hell is that supposed to mean? Does an anvil get dropped on her head giving her amnesia? This kind of solicit worries me, because it hearkens memories of her stint as a sort of pseudo James Bond fashion icon in the early 70s. In case you’ve forgotten, check out the cover I’ve so generously taken the time to scan.

Now for my true pick of the month:

Tales of Woodsman Pete GN
Top Shelf – pg. 350; $7; 80 pgs. B&W
By Lilli Carré
Between the sample panels and the great description, I’m sold. The comic is a collection of stories about “a solitary albeit gregarious woodsman with a loose grasp on his own personal history and that of the outside world. He forms relationships with his inanimate surroundings and muses to a dead audience, specifically his bear rug, Philippe. His own tales eventually become entangled with that of the legendary Paul Bunyan, and the two become indirectly intertwined, illuminating the discrepancy between the character of the storyteller and the character within his stories.” There’s really not much more to say; this looks like a winner, folks.

Featured Comics:

Vertigo – pg. 115; $19.95; 128 pgs. B&W HC
By Gilbert Hernandez
This should be one of the highest highlights of July, described in the solicit as “a surrealist romantic drama in the spirit of David Lynch that takes the art of sequential storytelling to new heights in its use of light and shadow.” No pressure! Just has to reach new heights of storytelling, that’s all. But—no pressure!! This should be excellent, despite the hyperbole, the sample pages about teenager Miguel Serra who wills himself into a year-long coma certainly point in this direction.

Skyscrapers of the Midwest #3
Adhouse Books – pg. 214; $5; 56 pgs. B&W
By Joshua W. Cotter
I’m very happy to see another issue of Skyscrapers of the Midwest solicited. Cotter is amazingly talented—if you haven’t tried this series yet, I implore you to pick it up. And I don’t often implore!

In the Hands of Boys #1 (of 2)
Melody Nadia Shickley – pg. 310; $10; 42 pgs. B&W
By Melody Nadia Shickley and Janet Tanirala
This looks like a fascinating book from creators I’m not familiar with – one of my favorite kinds of books. Anna Covello’s best friend is killed in Sarajevo, and the friend leaves her Anna her entire fortune, including her 10-year-old son.

Get a Life
Drawn and Quarterly – pg. 287; $19.95; 148 pgs. FC HC
By Dupuy and Berberian
This hardcover volume collects the early Mr. Jean—a Parisian everyman—stories. The solicit says “melancholic yet joyful reflections on past loves, favorite authors, marriage, and fatherhood are laid out in a breezy, comic style.”

Zed #7
Gagne International Press – pg. 293; $3.50; 24 pgs. B&W
By Michel Gagné
One of the cutest characters is back in an all-new issue—Zed! According to the solicit, “Zed has had enough and he’s fighting back.” I always enjoy Gagne’s work, especially on Zed, so I’m definitely looking forward to this comic.

The Artist Within TPB
Dark Horse – pg. 35; $39.95; 216 pgs. B&W
By Greg Preston
Photographer Greg Preston collects more than 15 years of photography capturing the leading names of comics creators around the world including Frank Miller, Al Hirschfeld, Joe Barbera, Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Moebius, and Walter and Louise Simonson. This looks like a very sweet book ready for the cool nerd’s coffee table.

Quick Picks:

In Conan #29 writer Mike Mignola joins Cary Nord and the Conan team for a three-part storyline “Hall of the Dead” (Dark Horse; pg. 22; $2.99; 32 pgs.).

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol. 1 TPB from Eiji Ohtsuka and Housui Yamazaki looks fascinating (Dark Horse; pg. 40; $10.95; 208 pgs.; B&W). Five students at a Buddhist university form the corpse delivery service to carry bodies to wherever they need to go to free the deceased’s soul.

Oooooh, DC puts out a bargain sampler platter of upcoming comics with the DCU: Brave New World 80-pg. special for a buck (pg. 77). Now, the only reason I say oooooh, is because there’s a preview for both a Martian Manhunter project—a humungoid favorite of Kerry, the other Comic Queen—AND a preview of an Atom project—my favorite underrated superhero. Yippee!!

Sweet—Sergio Aragones is the featured artist of the next issue of Solo (#11). This should be a treat to say the least (DC; pg. 87; $4.99; 48 pgs.).

A new Astro City story will be coming out—Astro City: Samaritan Special (Wildstorm; pg. 106; $3.99; 48 pgs.).

Image is releasing a handful of interesting books. Casanova could be worth checking out considering Matt Fraction is writing and Gabriel Ba is responsible for the art (pg. 136; $1.99; 32 pgs. 2-color). A playful-looking comic from Steve Niles and Ben Roman called The Cryptics follows a group of cute junior-high monsters (pg. 138; $3.50; 32 pgs.). Another fun comic, about the life of a hapless superhero sidekick will come out in June: Part one of five Sidekick by Paul Jenkins and Chris Moreno (pg. 142; $3.50; 32 pgs.). The three-part miniseries Umbra begins as well, and caught my interest since art and cover are by Mike Hawthorne – plus it’s set in Iceland. That never hurts (pg. 144; $5.99; 52 pgs. B&W).

Buzz about AiT/PlanetLar’s newest book is rampant. Continuity by Jason McNamara and Tony Talbert is being solicited in this month’s Previews, but the company has already released an electronic copy of the book. I haven’t read it yet, so I won’t comment, but it’s in my virtual read pile, so expect words soon (pg. 218;$12.95; 104 pgs.).

Ursa Minors #1 from Neil Kleid, Paul Cote, and Fernando Pinto (SLG; pg. 224; $2.95; 24 pgs.). You can check out out sample pages on Kleid’s website. Robotic bear suits, comics, beer, ninjas, dinosaurs … helloooo, this has all the meta keywords needed to have a good time!

Mouse Guard!! Number 3!! Buy it!! This is a beautifully illustrated book, most definitely worth checking out (Archaia Studios Press; pg. 232; $3.50; 24 pgs.).

From the cover art in Previews, Twerp and the Blue Baboon by Chris Yambar and George Broderick Jr. looks very cute (Comic International Library; pg. 254; $8.95; 64 pgs.).

Tom Spurgeon and Jacob Covey tell the story of Fantagraphics Books first 30 years in Comics as Art: We Told You So (Fantagraphics; pg. 290; $19.95; 192 pgs.). I love that title.

The incredible book Epileptic by David B. is now available as an affordable softcover edition from Pantheon (page 320; $17.95; 368 pgs. B&W).

Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi is also being offered by Pantheon as a softcover (page 320; $10.95; 144 pgs. B&W).

A new Furious Fist of the Drunken Monkey by Rich Stahnke is coming out. Listed as the first of a three-issue series, this looks to be entertaining much as the first couple Drunken Monkey stories are (Silent Devil Productions; pg. 322; $2.95; 24 pgs.).

Art Out of Time: Unknown Comic Visionaries 1900-1969 HC by Daniel Nadel features the work of 30 under-recognized American cartoonists (pg. 376; $40; 320 pgs.).

Trade Treatment:

Batman Chronicles Vol. 2 TP
Collects Batman stories from Detective Comics issues 39-45, Batman #2 and 3, and New York World’s Fair Comics #2. This is the second volume collecting in chronological order every Batman comics story published … and it’s about time the second volume came out. I’ve been waiting ever so patiently. Well, sort of.
DC – page 65; $14.99; 224 pgs. FC

Essential Savage She-Hulk Vol. 1 TPB
This essential volume collects issues 1 through 25 of She-Hulk by Stan Lee, David Anthony Kraft, John Buscema, and Mike Vosburg.
Marvel – page 101 (Marvel insert); $16.99; 552 pgs. B&W

Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big in Japan TPB
Collects the Big in Japan four-issue series plus the story illustrated by Seth Fisher in Spider-Man Unlimited #8.
Marvel – page 99 (Marvel insert); $12.99; 120 pgs. FC

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Single-Panel Reviews: Jeremiah Harm, The Last Island, Zombie Tales, Crickets

Jeremiah Harm #2
Boom! Studios $3.99
Plot: Keith Giffen; Script: Alan Grant; Art: Rael Lyra; Colors: Imaginary Friends Studio
This series is really getting good – a touch sci-fi and more than a touch action, this issue finds Harm transporting to Earth, meeting a couple Bronx residents as well as the villains of the series: Ayoma, Dak Moira, and “Fart Boy” who have less than honorable intentions for the future of the Earth. I’d love to see this comic made into a series or movie on Cartoon Network. With the comic’s pacing, characters, dialogue, and plot, this series would translate very nicely to an animated show. Until my fondest wishes are fulfilled, however, I recommend picking up this book.
Bottom Line: B+

The Last Island
The New Radio $6
Creator: Alex Cahill
Simply summed up, this nearly wordless comic is about two boys – one living a solitary life on an island, the other from the city – who don’t get along, whether it’s over things, the island, or personal space. Simply summing up this comic, though, woefully shortchanges the book. The art, as you can see by the sample page, is wonderful – bold lines, expressive features, and every panel serving the narrative. The narrative itself is extremely interesting. I’ve read the book six times now, and each time think the point or moral could be something else. A commentary on our disregard for the last pristine places on Earth? The poisoning effects of things? A political statement? The internal struggles we all face? The book could be tackling any or all of these subjects or more. I highly suggest you read it for yourself and come to your own conclusion, or better yet, your non-conclusion.
Bottom Line: A-

Zombie Tales: The Dead #1
Boom! Studios $6.99
Writers: Michael Alan Nelson, Keith Giffen, Johanna Stokes, Jim Pascoe, John Rogers, Andrew Cosby; Artists: Lee Moder, Ron Lim, Cynthia Martin, Chris Moreno, Ed Tadem, Fabio Moon
Though I’m not a huge zombie fan, I am a fan of well-told short stories, and this comic contains some very well told shorts. A couple of my favorites were “The Miracle of Bethany” (Nelson/Moder) revealing the less than expected consequences of a Biblical miracle, and “Zoombies” (Stokes/Martin) showing a zombie invasion from the perspective of zoo animals. Both of these were a perfect mix of good storytelling and great art. My very favorite, though, was “Four out of Five” (Rogers/Tadem). Though the art wasn’t as much to my taste, the story itself is priceless. It begins with the typical people-fighting-zombies scene and then flashes back to lamentations that we did this to ourselves through science. Every 100 years zombies raise up and we’ve always been able to beat them – until now. I won’t give away the ending, but suffice it to say, it’s a very satisfying punch line.
Bottom Line: B

Crickets #1
Drawn & Quarterly $3.95
Creator: Sammy Harkham
Golem tales always fascinate me. There’s something inescapably intriguing about the mystical and mythical idea of the golem. In this comic, a man is running away from presumably Indians, since he is being shot through and through with arrows as he runs away from the unseen pursuers. Instead of creating his own golem, however, the man seems to stumble upon one. The golem then acts as his protector – if not for the golem, he’d be dead, and whenever the golem isn’t near, the man slips toward death. The man continues on his journey (which we know nothing about yet) with the golem in tow, when they run across a man and his son, and we see the first signs of the golem’s inevitable devastation. That’s really about it for the story in this first installment, but as poorly as I’ve described the comic, it is a great book, sparsely pen and ink illustrated, with a duotone finish, and should prove to be an excellent series.
[note that sample pages are available on the Drawn & Quarterly site]
Bottom Line: A

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Emerald City Comicon 2006 Review

Sorry for my absence, folks, I’ve been working on another side project that’s taken up most of my free time. So, anyway, I can’t believe it’s been well over a week since the Emerald City Comicon. I was only able to attend the first day, but I had a great time, and am happy to report it was a very good show. The following are my top five highlights, but for a more comprehensive look at the con, I highly recommend Laura Gjovaag’s look at the con over at the Bloggity-Blog-Blog-Blog. Here’s the link to the last installment (you can get to the rest from the right-hand column).

Top Five Con Highlights:

1. Sketch by Pia Guerra
Every creator that I spoke with or met at the con was nothing but kind, but Pia Guerra was especially great. Down to earth and very nice, it was a joy to meet her. She signed issue 19 of Y: The Last Man for me – the one with the cast skipping down the Yellow Brick Road ala the Wizard of Oz. (I try to get autographs on comics with covers I particularly like, since my master plan is to buy a large frame and custom make a piece of matting that will showcase multiple issues … uh one of these days.) But the best part was the great sketch I got. Guerra asked if I had any special requests, and as much as I love monkeys, I restrained from asking for a sketch of Ampersand, and instead requested a sketch of Allison Mann (I love the great lines Guerra draws Mann with). Guerra was happy to get a request that wasn’t typical (sounds like me, doesn’t it?), and I was extremely happy to get a great sketch of one of my favorite characters from one of my favorite artists.

2. Chatting with Steve Lieber and Sara Ryan
I was hard pressed to find friendlier guests than Steve Lieber and Sara Ryan. The husband and wife creators were a great first stop for me, as I’d been driving for nearly two hours and was in a daze for about the first hour I was at the con. I just kept walking around without a real plan. I mean, I knew who I wanted to see and what I wanted to check out in general terms, but no Risk-style plan of world-dominating action. So, I saw familiar faces and stopped off at the corner that was home base for a number of great creators including Lieber and Ryan. Both were incredibly nice, and we chatted it up for a bit. Great people and great comics. Make sure to check out their latest mini-comic endeavor together: Flytrap.

3. Meeting Bill Willingham
First off, I felt like kind of a dork having Bill Willingham sign my TPB of the Fables Book 1, but what can I say, I came to the series late, so trades are what I picked up. But he was very cool about it, signed the copy, and we talked a little bit about this and that. Very cool guy – very cool to get a chance to meet him.

4. Discovering Brandon Hanvey’s work
Finding new comics and artists I’ve never heard of or read anything by is an especially enjoyable part of the con experience. This time around I stumbled upon Brandon Hanvey. His thick-lined, cartoon-like artwork caught my eye from the bustling aisle, so I stopped in my tracks and took a closer look. Hanvey has three self-published books out—The Stereos: Battle of the Bands, The Stereos: In the Garage, and Entanglement. I went ahead and bought Entanglement, since it was his newest release (just last month). It’s a really sweet book, and his art is very endearing. I really enjoyed the book, and I’ll definitely be ordering the other two off his online store. (Follow the link and check out the Geek Pride shirts – those are sweet).

5. Mini-Comics!!!
Going around Artist’s Alley and different exhibitor booths, and buying a nice thick stack of mini-comics by the end of the day was one of my main goals for the con, and let me tell you that goal was filed under Mission Accomplished in a hurry. There were oodles and oodles of mini-comics at the con, from tiny photocopied first-time mini-comic efforts to hand-sown beauties. I bought a bunch of great mini-comics, of course there are some misses too, but you just never know what gold nuggets you’ll dig up, and that’s the joy of the hunt. In the next few weeks I’ll weave in reviews of comics of all varieties I picked up at the con.

Well, those are the highest of the highlights—not even close to all I took in. It was a great day at the con, and many good memories were created. I’m already looking forward to 2007, in fact.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Single Panel Reviews: Sky Ape, Planetary Brigade, Mouse Guard, Flying Friar, Zombie Tales, Moxie

Sky Ape: King of Girls
AiT/Planet Lar $4.95
Writers: Phil Amara, Tim McCarney, Mike Russo; Artist: Richard Jenkins
Comics that can make me laugh out loud page after page are a rare treat. Luckily this latest installment of King of Apes is one tasty treat. First off, I don’t know what it is about a cigar-chomping gorilla that wears goggles and a jet pack or a minotaur with a monocle and top hat, but that shit just cracks me up. I know I can be simplistic (perhaps even simple minded), but sometimes the little things in life are the most enjoyable. The book follows a loose plot wherein Derrick Williamson is training nerds to be uber-suave lotharios, but really the plot is just a frame around which a series of one-panel to a few-page jokes are strung together. I don’t always enjoy this kind of a setup, but it works in this case. If you want a good chuckle, and a break from comics that take themselves a little too seriously, then pick up King of Apes.
Bottom Line: B+

Planetary Brigade #2
Boom Studios $2.99
Writers: Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis; Artists: Fabio Moon, Zid of IFS, Joe Abraham, and Alfa of IFS; Colorist: Pilvi Kuusela of IFS
I wasn’t sure I’d ever find a superhero comic outside of the DC-Marvel realm that I’d really be able to get into. I’m having a hard enough time in the DC-Marvel universes as it is. But with Planetary Brigade, Giffen and DeMatteis have created a fun set of characters, and are less concerned with building a gigantic world or system around the characters and are more interested in developing them and just plain having fun. My biggest criticism for the first issue – that with different artists taking on different sections of the book, the lack of continuity of the art is hard on readers – wasn’t an issue for this second installment. There were different artists, but the styles weren’t so radically different to cause confusion.
Bottom Line: B

Mouse Guard: Belly of the Beast #1 (of 6)
Archaia Studios Press $3.50
Creator: David Petersen
This is a beautiful and engaging first issue to what looks to shape up as a great adventure comic. The book follows the Mouse Guard, a group of mice who watch over the forest. This book is all ages in the best sense of the genre – much like Lord of the Rings is all ages. It’s something adults and kids would absolutely take to and love. Not to mention that this fantasy adventure has some of the most gorgeous art I’ve seen in a comic. You may read the story just once, but you’ll find yourself flipping through the comic over and over.
Make sure to visit Archaia's website, they have preview art of the first two issues.
Bottom Line: A

The Flying Friar
Speakeasy Comics $4.95
Writer: Rich Johnston; Artist: Thomas Nachlik
I keep trying to nail down my thoughts on this comic, but I’m having a heck of a time doing so. There were some things I thought were immensely successful, the art and the tone of the writing were especially good. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the story or “get it.” There were just parts, especially toward the end, where I felt like the story line got away and instead of being linear or an orchestrated non-linear, it spider-webbed off from its beginnings. However, I don’t mean to be negative here at all, in fact I definitely recommend picking up the book. Taking a step back, the comic follows two boys, Lux and Joseph, jumping in time throughout their lives, though most of the story takes place when they are about in their late teens. Lux is driven with the desire to fly, and though all Joseph wants is to join a monastery, he is the one who ultimately flies. Although the characters are based loosely on real historical figures, the story is fiction. In doing this, Johnston combines mysticism and religion, juxtaposing many elements throughout the book for an intriguing and thought-provoking read.
Bottom Line: B+

Zombie Tales: Death Valley #2
Boom! Studios $6.99
Story by: Andrew Cosby; Writer: Johanna Stokes; Artist: Rhoald Marcellus
This second part of the two-issue story wraps up the Zombies-take-over-L.A. plot. In this issue, the zombies are adapting and getting stronger, but so are the handful of kids who managed to survive. The art (especially page layouts) and colors are eye catching. Though the story is on the light side, a little formulaic, that is the genre the book is in, after all. I think a little younger audience than myself would find this an especially good read. I can certainly see this being developed as a TV movie for one of the family channels. Good adventure, teen characters that develop through their ordeal and come out on top, and zombies – can’t go wrong with them.
Bottom Line: B

Moxie, My Sweet
Finecomix $6.95
By David Lasky, Tatiana Gill, Stefan Gruber, Sarah Galvin, Elijah Brubaker, Kaz Strzepek, Scott Faulkner, Dalton Webb
A group of artists illustrate a collection of short stories by Mark Campos in this solid and entertaining anthology. I always enjoy David Lasky’s art, which in “Ramble On!” illustrates a pot-induced daydream. Tatiana Gill is responsible for the art on one of my favorite parts of the book: In “Maxine’s” a young woman gets a Tarot card reading that she cynically rejects but discovers her cynicism came a little too quickly in this case. “Appliances Gone Wrong” cracked me up, and Elijah Brubaker did an awesome job on “Colony of Cats”—a beautifully illustrated fairy tale. I also enjoyed Kazmir Strzepek’s work on “Endless Plain of Fortune” where a cute vampire boy gathers scraps of paper that are flying through the air like snowflakes and shapes them into a “snowman.” These aren’t the only highlights, just my favorites, and I recommend picking this anthology up.
Bottom Line: B+