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.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

In Memoriam: Alex Toth 1928-2006

I was away from my computer all weekend, and so missed the sad news that Alex Toth passed away on May 27. The Comics Reporter has a wonderful collective page dedicated to Toth's passing and work. Read all about it here.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Single-Panel Reviews: Jeffrey Brown, Cthulhu Tales, The Road to God Knows, Astro

Every Girl is the End of the World for Me
Top Shelf $8
By Jeffrey Brown
I’ll be straight with you right off the bat—I enjoy Jeffrey Brown’s work a lot. His style may be simply lined pen work, but he manages to say a lot with this style. It can be vulnerable, telling, forward—and many other emotions as need be. In this particular book, the reader follows Brown over a three-week period—Dec. 26 2003 through Jan. 15 2004—as he runs into the many women in his life. They may be friends, or ex’s, or co-workers, but they’re all important women in his life—for good or bad. It’s Brown’s usual relationship-based slice of life story, but his relationships are less damaged, and he’s more confident in this book. This makes for both stronger artwork and a good comic.
Bottom Line: B+

Cthulhu Tales
Boom! Studios $6.99
Writers: Michael Alan Nelson, Johanna Stokes, Andrew Cosby, John Rogers, Casey Grey, Keith Giffen; Artists: Andrew Ritchie, Filip Sablik, Ellia Heroux, Lee Carter, Andy Kuhn, Mark Badger, Ben Roman
This book is a collection of horror stories centered (to varying degrees) around the monster Cthulhu. I guess this genre just isn’t really down my alley—most of the book was just icky, grody with no real scare or unexpectedness, just gross for gross’s sake. For most of the stories, it seemed like either the art or the story were lacking. Really only the last story “The Oddly Amorous Phineas Flynn and the Troublesome Trouble He Got Himself In” by Giffen and Roman was both well written and well drawn. Like I said, I’m qualifying my opinion because I don’t have a natural affinity for horror, but overall I didn’t think this was a well-executed comic (please excuse the pun).
Bottom Line: C-

The Road to God Knows
By Eric “Von Allan” Julien
I recently got my hands on the first 35 pages of this graphic novel in progress. The story follows Marie as she deals with her mother’s schizophrenia and just goes about regular kid stuff—friends and hobbies. In particular, Marie’s best friend is Kelly, and Marie’s true love in life is pro wrestling. Marie acts a little young for her age, but I expect we’ll see her grow up as the story progresses—having to take care of yourself and your mom will do that to a person. The story is a little on the slow side at this point—character development is the focus for this first section of the book—but my main criticism, though not huge, is the dialogue. It doesn’t flow as naturally as maybe it could, so the characters “voices” aren’t clear. Again, these are pretty small criticisms and certainly the fact that I only have a portion of the book should be taken into account. On the other hand, I really like the art. Von Allan does a nice, stylized job on people, especially, and I like his varying page layouts. Overall, I think this sample shows great promise for a full-length finished book. I’m looking forward to it, in fact.
Bottom Line: the story so far, B

Astro
Image Comics $6.99
By Nils Hamm
What a beautiful book—quite incredible! I can’t imagine the work that must have gone into this mixed-media romp. Astro’s a little space dude who gets stranded on Earth, and along the way happens to find a place for himself in this world. Though the wordless comic tells an interesting adventure/journey story, the real joy of the comic is the art. Mostly painted, the colors are anywhere from vibrant to muted, and quite amazing.
Bottom Line: A-

Sunday, May 21, 2006

May Previews Picks

Once again, I’m a little late with this Previews Picks post, but thought I’d at least get my top picks up before it’s too late.

Picks of the Month:

The Surrogates TP

Top Shelf Productions – pg. 363; $19.95; 208 pgs. FC
Writer: Robert Venditti; Artist: Brett Weldele
A TP collection isn’t normally my pick of the month, but this series was so great, it deserves it. This book collects the five-issue mini-series about the not-so-distant future where people live most of their lives through “surrogates” or better-than-reality androids, and two detectives investigate an outbreak of mysterious surrogate deaths. Very Philip K. Dick, and very good, this series gets my highest recommendation.

Featured Comics:

The All-New Atom #1

DC – pg. 72; $2.99; 32 pgs. FC
Writer: Gail Simone; Artists: John Byrne and Trevor Scott
I don’t know what it is about the Atom that I’ve always loved, but since I was a kid, he’s been one of my favorite superheroes. Needless to say, then, I’m very excited about this new series. With Simone writing, this should be a real treat. Yipee!

I Am Going to Be Small
Top Shelf Productions – pg. 363; $14; 384 pgs. B&W
By Jeffrey Brown
I’m a sucker for a Jeffrey Brown book, and while I love the books about his life and loves, it’s his humor books that really get me. This is a super-sized version of an earlier, much shorter version of a book of the same name. Can’t wait for this one.

Jack of Fables #1
Vertigo – pg. 113; $2.99; 32 pgs. FC
Writers: Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges; Artists: Tony Akins and Andrey Pepoy
Fables is one of my favorite series, so a spin-off book naturally grabbed my attention. It will be interesting to see how this book stands on its own -- definitely worth a try.

The Left Bank Gang GN
Fantagraphics – pg. 301; $12.95; 48 pgs. FC
By Jason
Jason’s unique anthropomorphic art style is very appealing, and this time he tells an alternate history story set in 1920s Paris. In this version of history, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Ezra Pound are still literary greats, but instead of prose novelists, their medium is graphic novels.

Bumperboy and the Loud, Loud Mountain
Adhouse Books – pg. 213; $8.95; 128 pgs. PC
By Debbie Huey
Bumperboy is about as sweet as characters come. In a similar vein as Owly – but with words – Bumperboy appeals to all ages. In this second book, Bumperboy and his dog Bumperpup “unravel the mystery of a rather talkative mountain, meet new friends, and discover a new enemy.” I thought the first book was incredibly cute, so I’m looking forward to this next book.

Quick Picks:

One of my favorite writers, Brian K. Vaughan, has a new series coming out from Dark Horse – and the first issue is just a buck. The Escapists will be a six-issue series with art by Philip Bond and Eduardo Barreto (pg. 22; $1; 32 pgs.).

Dark Horse has a 25-cent sampler comic coming out celebrating their 20th birthday – the cover by Mike Mignola is fabulous and worth the price of admission alone (pg. 28; 24 pgs.).

Doug Tennapel, creator of Tommysaurus Rex and Creature Tech, has a new graphic novel coming out from Image. Iron West combines robots with the Old West (among other things). The preview art looked great to boot (pg. 148; $14.99; 160 pgs.).

Active Images collects the series Kafka by Steven T. Seagle and Stefano Gaudiano for the first time (pg. 212; $14.99; 160 pgs.).

Shatter, a futuristic graphic novel from AiT/Planet Lar, is an “archival collection” of the first computerized comic. This had to have been an excruciating task at the time – I think I’ll have to check this one out (pg. 220; $14.95; 156 pgs.).

More Than Sparrows GN by Jamie Cosley could be promising. It’s described as “a unique love triangle wrought with tragedy and consequence minus the Hollywood ending” (Blind Wolf Comics; pg. 252; $4.95; 64 pgs.).

The John Doe Preview Book from Boom! Studios is interesting in a couple ways. First, it looks like a good story, but second, it’s an interesting concept to sell a preview of a comic – been done before but rarely. I’d be interested to know how successful or effective this marketing concept is (pg. 258; $1.99; 16 pgs.).

A new offering from Digital Manga Publishing caught my eye. Project X: Cup Noodle features the true history of the noodle sensation. It was the tagline that got me: Billions Eat It, Now You Can Read It! You can’t make this shit up (pg. 292; $12.95; 208 pgs.).

Antony Johnston and Chris Mitten team up on Wasteland #1 about a futuristic post-apocalyptic world (Oni Press; pg. 335; $2.99; 48 pgs.).

I’m excited to see a new Gumby comic starting up – and with Bob Burden and Rick Geary on creative, this should be a fun ride (Wildcard Production; pg. 376; $3.99; 32 pgs.)

Spider-Girl hits issue 100 – supposedly the final issue of the series, though the solicit does say it includes a “surprise announcement” (Marvel insert pg. 15; $3.99; 104 pgs.).

Thought it was worth noting Ed Brubaker will be taking the writing duties on Uncanny X-Men with #475 (Marvel insert pg. 75; $2.99; 32 pgs.).

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Link 'em up Baby!

For a rare treat, check out German comic artist Dirk Schwieger’s blog/illustrated journal. Dirk is currently living in Tokyo, and the premise of the journal is that readers give Dirk an “assignment” – an experience he should take, a place he should visit, etc. – and he completes the assignment, then creates a comic documenting his experience. His journal entries are really amazing – great art and well-told “story” in just four small pages, and he provides some really interesting insights into Japanese culture to boot. All signs point to bookmark.

“The Comics Interpreter” is back, this time in podcast form – available on the TCI site and on iTunes. I listened to pretty much all of the episode (a whopping 55 minutes!), and while it’s a little rambley (it is a podcast after all), it’s worth a listen.

Oh how I wish I could be in Toronto next weekend. On May 27 at 8 p.m. at Rocco’s Plum Tomato, a release party will be unleashed for “Scott Pilgrim 3: Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness” (by Bryan Lee O’Malley) AND the comic-strip collection “Dinosaur Comics” (by Ryan North). The free event looks deliciously fun – check out more at The Beguiling’s website. Also Scott Pilgrim-related, if you haven’t read any of the Scott Pilgrim books yet, or you weren’t able to snag a copy of the Free Comic Book Day Edition “Free Scott Pilgrim,” Newsarama has the entire comic up on their site for free. Excellent.

Speaking of cool things happening in Canada (we were, weren’t we?), if you are around Vancouver and have $3 burning a hole in your pocket, check out the Vancouver Comicon on June 4 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Special guests this time around include Cameron Stewart (Seaguy, Catwoman), Takeshi Miyazawa (Runaways, Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane), Dave McCaig (The Batman Strikes!), Fred Grisolm (Hate Song), and many others.

And speaking of next weekend, the little fan-girl that lives deep inside me can’t wait for “X-Men: The Last Stand” to come out. It looks like a good mix of comic-book action, nods to fans, special effects, hot chicks, and yes, cheese. *Sigh* And thus, here’s my shot of the day. Mommy, why is the smurf so angry?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Stagger Lee GN Preview

Stagger Lee GN
Image Comics; $17.99; 205 pgs.; B&W
Writer: Derek McCulloch; Artist: Shepherd Hendrix

On Christmas night, 1895, a man named Lee Shelton, or “Stag Lee,” shot Billy Lyons in the heat of a St. Louis barroom argument. This seemingly insignificant piece of history would be the catalyst for hundreds of folkloric songs … and now a graphic novel.

In this unique book, writer McCulloch and artist Hendrix weave a semifictional depiction of the actual events surrounding the case in with the history of the tale’s countless retelling in song. Whether as Stagger Lee, Stagolee, Stack-A-Lee, or Stack O’Lee, and whether sung by Ma Rainey, Mississippi John Hurt, or The Clash, Neil Diamond, or Bob Dylan, the heart of the song stays the same.

I found it very fitting that McCulloch takes the facts, changes a bit here and there, and creates a narrative to show the reader the essence of the events that led to the many songs. That’s the essence of the songs’ history, after all.

The actual structure of the graphic novel alternates between a few pages of historical information about the songs’ evolution and contents, and several pages of semifictional narrative depicting the story of the Stagger Lee incident and his subsequent trial, which follows a small cast of characters. Also woven into this mix is the history of two other historical events that would sprout songs of their own: “Duncan and Brady” and “Frankie and Johnny,” which interestingly are both based on murders that took place within several years and a few blocks of the Stagger Lee incident.

The balance between the “story” and the songs’ history was just about right – no one part dominated, and the two together kept the book from dragging.

The art alone is excellent. I really enjoyed Hendrix’s all-ink style, very realistic the closer the perspective, then more iconic as the perspective pulls away.

I also thought the back of the book was a nice addendum. Called “Notes on the Historical Characters,” it answered a few questions I had about the veracity of the characters and their stories. Really for as little as we know about the actual Stagger Lee and Billy, McCulloch’s retelling is a darn factual interpretation.

Just like the songs’ many incarnations, McCulloch takes an interesting yet minor piece of history and makes it truly fascinating.

Stagger Lee the graphic novel is due out later this month, and I highly recommend picking it up. I think this is one of those rare books that will appeal equally to seasoned comics readers and first-time visitors to the medium.

Bottom Line: A-

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Single-Panel Reviews: Conversation, War of the Worlds, Or Else, Tails, What Were They Thinking

Conversation #2
Top Shelf $4.95
By Jeffrey Brown and James Kochalka
Jeffrey Brown and James Kochalka team up for this issue of Conversation. Two of my favorite creators in one book—the comics gods smile upon me! The pair tackles why they draw comics—their motivations stem from different perspectives, but both want to make their mark on the world, to affect others in some way, and both agree that letting the creative juices flow is integral not just to their livelihoods, but their lives as well. Brown feels that any affect we have, no matter the size, is worth the effort and can help the world. Kochalka questions this, though, positing that the joy we receive in life ultimately comes from exercising our power over others. Maybe the biggest difference between the two artists comes near the end where we see Brown feels the need to analyze and rationalize while creating his comics more than Kochalka, who says life is to live, not analyze. Really, none of this is any surprise if you’ve read much of either artist’s work.

The charm of the book is the way in which it presents a glimpse into how Brown and Kochalka look at both life and the comics profession. The creators share most pages, some pages are more one artist’s than others, but the back and forth art is shared pretty seamlessly between the two. Though the format is set up to let the creators romp freely, it was interesting to see where either the creators stalled a bit on the back and forth or where they felt they’d gotten a little too “deep” and then became self conscious and resorted to humor to lighten the mood. That’s the only drawback of this format, a comic takes effort, time, and work, especially when two creators are involved, and this takes a good portion of the feel of spontaneity out of the book and the natural progression of the dialogue, unlike an in-person conversation. I don’t want to say the opinions expressed in the book come off artificial, but perhaps the truth of what they are expressing is found a bit more between the lines, or panels, than a true conversation. In any case, though, the chance to see these two creators on one book wins out over all, and is worth reading.
Bottom Line: B+

War of the Worlds: Second Wave #2
Boom Studios! $2.99
Writer: Michael Alan Nelson; Artist: Chee
This is shaping up to be a great series. The second wave of alien invaders has landed, and we’re just getting a taste of how they’ve adapted and what they’re like. Following the main character, Miles, Nelson tells the story of the current invasion side by side backstory about Miles through flashbacks. This is effectively done, keeping the pace in check and the narrative set up well. Though the series loses its color with the switch to black and white, it hasn’t lost one thing else. So far, this is Boom Studios!’s best book.
Bottom Line: A

Or Else #4
Drawn & Quarterly $5.95
By Kevin Huizenga
Huizenga comes out with another great book featuring Glenn Ganges, the Wild Kingdom, and his usual blend of thoughtfulness, humor, and philosophy. This was a great book, but I’ve got to say my favorite book of his was Ganges #1 that came out earlier this year. Some of the best art and “story” he’s created. Huizenga’s art, in general, is some of my favorite out there right now. I love his clean lines and perspectives – actually both in his art and with his writing. Always good stuff—both Or Else #4 and Ganges #1 are great examples of this.
Bottom Line: A-

Tails #3
Bohemian Press $2.95
By Ethan Young
Another very good issue of this series. Though the issue marks the last in the originally solicited series, Young states at the end of the comic that there’s more to come. Certainly the story ends as the close of one chapter in life, and definitely just the beginning of a new chapter. I definitely hope there is more to come – I’ve really enjoyed Young’s work on Tails and am anxious to see more from him. If you haven’t seen his work yet, you’re really missing out.
Bottom Line: A-

What Were They Thinking?!: Some People Never Learn
Boom Studios! $3.99
Writers: Keith Giffen, Mike Leib, John Rogers, Chris Ward, Andrew Cosby; Artists: mostly unknown
Though it says #1 on the cover, this is the second book of this nature from the publisher, and the funnier issue, in my humble opinion. The concept is that the writers take an old comic and rewrite the dialogue and story, keeping the original artwork. There are some very funny gags this time around—worth more than a few laughs. If you like this concept, it’s worth reading, very entertaining.
Bottom Line: B