Archive for ‘Comic reviews’

June 15, 2016

50 cent finds – 901 Comics

50centaIt’s been a while since I’ve written about my bargain bin finds– a while since I’ve rummaged through bargain boxes at all, in fact– so I was thrilled to stumble upon the “50¢ Island” during last weekend’s grand opening of 901 Comics on Young Avenue in Memphis. In addition to a healthy supply of bargain reads, they stock a pretty respectable number of back issues, including signed comics and new and used trades. New single issue selection was still a little sparse, but for a store that hasn’t even been open a full month yet, that’s not surprising.

But I was more than thrilled with the gems I found, including…

SGoof43Super Goof #43 (Whitman, 1977): Not only did it have a fantastic cover cameo by Donald Duck, but it was also an issue I didn’t have!

Love and Capes #7 (Maerkle Press, 2008): I enjoy Thom Zahler’s “heroically super situation comedy”, and this issue (a FCBD offering) also gave me a peek at how he markets and monetizes his webcomic with ancillary merchandise.

Marvel Saga #1 (Marvel, 1985): I had never read an issue of this cut-and-paste retelling of Marvel’s continuity, but for half a buck I figured it was worth a try. An interesting primer, but I thought it came off really dry, with none of the excitement of the original stories. Had they done this 15-20 years later, when they could have used digital lettering instead of typesetting, and actually taken the time to lay the cut-and-paste images into full pages of comic art, I think it would have worked much better.

Super Powers #3 (DC, 1986): When I opened the cover to this issue to see if it was drawn by Kirby (it’s actually by Paul Kupperberg, Carmine Infantino, and Pablos Marcos), not only did I know I had to buy it, but I had to write about it …

PoorDarkseid… the sight of Darkseid using a crowbar to break into a thrift shop was just too good to pass up! And that’s not even the most ignominius thing to happen to him in the first three pages, either! Almost puts Thanos’ helicopter to shame…

Cosmic Capers (Big Muddy Comics, 1972): One of the things I was hoping to stumble upon when I shifted my location so far from Kansas were different locally-published comics. This underground gem from New Orleans has a flavor all its own that certainly fits the bill!

TubeTalesTales from the Tube #1 (Print Mint, 1973): The find of the day! Surfing-themed comics from Rick Griffin, S. Clay Wilson, Robt. Williams, Crumb, and other underground legends!

Wildstar #1 (Image, 1993): While I’m not a big fan of the blood-drenched superhero vibe of the early Image comics, it’s got Jerry Ordway art! That alone makes it worth a read!

Adventures in the DC Universe #7 & 15 (DC, 1997-98): Captain Marvel & family (the version then being done by Jerry Ordway), in entertaining animated-style adventures (by Steve Vance & John Delaney). Ever since I read the Ordway/Parobeck story that used that formula in Superman & Batman Magazine, I thought it was a winning combination. It even happened for an all-too-brief period in the underrated Franco/Baltazar/Norton stories from Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! (#13-21)…

Rip in Time #1 (Fantagor Press, 1986): Bruce Jones and  Richard Corben– definitely worth a look at that price!

The Age of the Sentry #1 (Marvel, 2008): Luckily, it was written by Jeff Parker & Paul Tobin (not Bendis!), and the art by Nick Dragotta and Ramon Rosanas is fresh and fun to view.

Secret Origins #5 (DC, 1973): Unlike the Secret Origins series of the 80’s, this was a reprint book, and this issue was all about the Spectre: 20 pages of Bernard Bailey’s origin of the character from 1940’s More Fun Comics #52-53. I also enjoyed the subscription ad in that issue, which served as a stark reminder of how diverse that publisher’s output used to be:

DC1973SubThank goodness for Image and the independent publishers who have made good use of genres ignored as DC and Marvel became so superhero-centric over the years since then.

There were even a couple of beat up much-loved copies of Micronauts #1 (Marvel, 1979) and Marvel Team-Up #74 (Spider-Man and the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players! from 1978) that I left for someone who hasn’t read them yet to discover on a future visit to 901 Comics…

Maybe it’ll even be you…

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April 20, 2016

Peter Kuper’s “Ruins” and the subtle art of lettering

I can’t recall when I first discovered the art of Peter Kuper (probably an early ’90s issue of World War 3 Illustrated or his adaptation of The Jungle), but I was immediately drawn to both his graphic style– a combination of scratchboard and stencils– and his sharp political commentary. I’ve enjoyed his work ever since, and his ability to convey a story with few (or often no) words made him a natural fit for Mad magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy”, a strip he’s drawn for nearly 20 years.

So, naturally, I was predisposed to enjoy his latest book, Ruins (Self-Made Hero, 2015). What surprised me, though, were the nuanced characterizations of his protagonists, New Yorkers Samantha and George. They are not merely ciphers, but fully realized characters. The story details their time spent during Samantha’s sabbatical year in Oaxaca, Mexico, their strained relationship, and the violent suppression of the local teachers’ trade union strike there in 2006. Their story is paired with the migration of a monarch butterfly from New York to Oaxaca, which gives Kuper a chance to touch upon additional issues of social and ecological damage. He has a lot to say in this book and he says is well. It’s an engrossing read, and he brings an admirable mix of illustration styles to its pages. It may well be my favorite work by him yet, and he takes full advantage of the scope of his vision.

KuperLetteringIn addition to the mix of illustration styles, Kuper also gives each of his main characters a distinctive speech bubble and lettering style that mirrors their personality. This technique, which too often comes off as a distracting trick, works well here, likely due to the mix of drawing styles already at play in the book. David Mazzucchelli did something similar in his Eisner and Harvey Award-winning book Asterios Polyp (Pantheon, 2009), another highly recommended read that is both a visual treat and an intriguing character study. In fact, one of the Eisners it won in 2010 was for his lettering.

So why, then, does this technique bother me so much when I encounter it in mainstream comics? I’m thinking particularly of the lettering in Marvel’s Avengers and Fantastic Four circa 1998 (the “Heroes Return” era): Thor had a Norse-evoking typeface, the Human Torch had a flaming speech bubble with red type, and the Thing spoke in chunky letterforms. Looking back on it in comparison to Ruins and Asterios Polyp, perhaps I found it such a distraction because they were applying such different speech lettering when there was not an accompanying variety of artwork within the story. Or perhaps it just turned me off because it became obvious that hand lettering had been cast out, and such tricks as transparent bubbles with gray type came to be used for “whisper”, instead of the dashed bubbles that had been its clearly-recognized sign for decades. Even though tricks like that, and the often-used choice to letter with a smaller type size rather than letter around the artwork, often caused readability to suffer as a result. But perhaps I’m being too hard on the Comicraft letterers making those early forays into digital lettering: after all, it wasn’t too many years later that Todd Klein proved one could produce subtle digital lettering in books like Tom Strong and Promethea. It just serves as a reminder to cartoonists at all levels that proper lettering is a skill that takes more attention to detail than simple typesetting.

I’ve employed digital lettering in my own comics over the years, but found myself tweaking it a fair amount in the production stage to get the look I want. Currently I’m hand lettering most of my comics again, and I’m enjoying taking the time to reacquaint myself with that process … which actually means less time spent cleaning scans and doing production, and more time drawing, which is a great tradeoff any day of the week!

March 2, 2016

Letting go

PilesOfComicsWhen I moved to Memphis last year, I knew I’d be moving into a smaller space and that I had to pare my “stuff” down. A lot. That meant not only books, clothes, and CDs … but comics, too. Over the last few years, I had regularly been shedding comics I’d read (and may or may not have enjoyed reading) but didn’t want to keep in my collection. This time, though, was different. I also got rid of comics I’d liked. Comics I had actively collected. Comics I’d held on to for decades in some cases. Comics that were sometimes hard to let go of.

But, ultimately, comics that no longer spoke to me saying “hey, I’m worth the space on your shelf!” Not only random issues of incomplete series, but full runs of once favorite titles. Comics like…

  • Champions (Marvel, 1975-1978) was one of my favorite superteam comics, featuring an oddball mix of heroes (even for 1970s Marvel!): Angel, Black Widow, Ghost Rider, Hercules, and Iceman. I discovered it nearly on the eve of its cancellation, and loved tracking down their appearances, especially the Mantlo/Byrne issues that came at the end of its run. It all went (partly because I hadn’t read them in years, partly because Marvel collected them as a trade a few years ago) … except for the Godzilla crossover issue, which is less likely to see print again.
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January 20, 2016

Learning new moves from experienced strippers

I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences between comic strips and comic books lately.

Even though I’ve essentially been writing & drawing a comic strip for years now, I’ve always thought of myself as a comic book creator. And, while I haven’t yet collected the “Watusi” strips like I’ve planned, my end goal with these stories has always been for book-length (or at least issue-length) collections. Which only makes sense, given how much more my storytelling sensibilities and influences have always come from the pacing of comic books than from gag-a-day comic strips. Still, I’ve found myself paying a lot more attention to comic strips than to books lately. Partly this is because there aren’t that many ongoing monthlies that appeal to me right now, partly because my own collection is largely inaccessible in my current studio space, and partly because the (how to say this kindly?) “vintage” graphic novel collection at the Memphis Public Library includes a lot more “Alley Oop” than Saga. And they only have one “Alley Oop” book…

But I’m enjoying what I’m discovering– not just in classic adventure strips that lean naturally toward my comic interests– but also in gag strips, both those being published today and what I’m rediscovering in older strips.

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November 18, 2015

A Chum Bucket of fun!

spongebobAs it celebrates its 50th issue, I thought I would take a moment to share my love for one of the only two titles left on my pull list– SpongeBob Comics! Now, I’ve never watched the SpongeBob SquarePants show, so my knowledge of– and unbridled pleasure in– these characters comes solely from the pages of the comic. And I enjoy them so much that at this point I’ve been hesitant to watch the show (or even the movies) for fear it will sour my perception of the characters.

Each issue never fails to bring me an honest laugh– more laughs than a month worth of the snarky asides meant to pass as humor in today’s superhero comics– genuine humor that come from the normal interactions between these characters. Page for page, it gives me more laughter and pure joy than even well-done issues of Simpsons Comics and Futurama Comics, other tv tie-ins that work well on their own as comics. The fact that protagonists SpongeBob and Patrick are clueless idiots who persevere despite that shortcoming helps, of course (it must be a favorite character trait of mine, since I’ve used it with my own long-running protagonists (TGWAH!, Watusi) over the years). SpongeBob Comics regularly features puzzles, interactive strips and stories with complex (though easy to follow) game-like page layouts among the more straightforward and goofily humorous stories. They’ve maintained a steady group of creators over the run, including James Kochalka, Mark Martin, Jacob Chabot, Graham Annable and others that make each issue a treat! I may not know who or what will be in each new issue, but it never lets me down!

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July 3, 2015

Happy 75th, Captain Marvel!

1940 was a banner year for the introduction of long-lived comic book characters: the Spirit, the Flash, Robin, the Joker, Hawkman & Hawkgirl, Green Lantern, the Justice Society of America, and many more first appeared in that year. This year has already seen 75th anniversary celebrations for a number of them, including my personal favorite: the original Captain Marvel!

Shazam75

It’s been a pretty good year for the good Captain, beginning with Grant Morrison & Cameron Stewart‘s Thunderworld Adventures (featuring nicely updated Marvels in the standout chapter of Morrison’s Multiversity miniseries) and culminating with the recent Convergence: Shazam! two-parter pitting the Marvel Family against the Gotham by Gaslight Batman. Jeff Parker and Evan “Doc” Shaner really knocked the ball out of the park with those issues featuring the classic version of the characters, and I enjoyed all the behind-the-scenes sketches that Shaner has posted, too. DC really should give that pair (along with colorist Jordie Bellaire) the blank check for more Captain Marvel material; it would be a much better investment of time and energy than anything “New 52 Shazam”-related!

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May 24, 2015

A review of reviews

It’s been far too long since I’ve reviewed any comics on this site, but I’ve still been writing super-short reviews on both my new Twitter account and as part of the Lawrence Public Library‘s BiblioCommons catalog interface. Especially given the latter, most tend to be about trade compilations or book-like originals rather than single issues. Here are some of them, expanded and collected for your perusal…

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October 29, 2014

Found at Free State Comicon

I’m in a deacquisition mode with my comic collection these days, trying to thin out an overgrown collection and focus on those titles and items that really mean a lot to me. Sure, I have a nearly-complete Hulk collection that stretches back to 1968, but am I really going to reread those comics? Especially when the Essentials take up so much less shelf space, and at the same time fills in the missing issues from ’68-’73?

Still, I’m a sucker for a comic show, especially one with such a low cost of entry as last weekend’s Free State Comicon. And while I successfully steered clear of the bargain bins, I did pick up a few goodies from self-publishing creators:

FreeCon14aGooch #1 (Bookish Beasts, 2014), the latest collection from Tara Avery, compiles 48 strips starring the bisexual title character. While I had read a number of these online, it was great to read them in one sitting. In addition to her expressive, well-drawn characters, Tara has a real knack for dry humor and snarkiness which makes it fun to spend time with these characters. Especially enjoyable was the sequence where Gooch and Miguel set up Luddite bartender Martha with blogger Gretchen!

Tales of Amnesia #1 (Virtual Infinity Comics, 2014) is brand new from Kansas City’s own Mike Sullivan. While it introduces a lot of new characters and concepts (as is to be expected with a “backstory of the universe” kind of comic),  there are enough dynamic layouts and action sequences that it reads like an actual story and not just an encyclopedia entry. Mike also notes where it (along with his “There’s something happening in Crawford, Kansas” webcomic) fits into the larger tale he’s been telling via short comics and anthology stories since 2004.

FreeCon14aDaniel Spottswood‘s NIX! 2014 Annual (the author, 2014) is a fine little minicomic. Unlike some of his previous print work I’ve picked up, this is a less physically involved (think Chris Ware) product, and more slice-of-life vignettes (think James Kochalka). He’s still able to pack a lot of character and expression into his small panels and even smaller characters, and this issue includes his foray into Hourly Comic Day 2014, a comic-making marathon even I wouldn’t want to attempt!

Science Hero #1 (New Haven Comics, 2013) is an anthology written and edited by Aaron Walther. Not as “science-y” as I was expecting, it was a nice mix of SF heroics, mystery, and comedy in three different stories. While all are nicely done, the slickly stylized artwork of Grant Perkins and JAMWAH on “Muscles and Mullets” stood out the most for me…

p3coverDarren Neely’s weird science epic The Prospector #1-4 (the author, 2011-2013) jumps around in time and setting quite a bit–the author compared its multiple takes on the same events to “Lost”, which is an apt analogy. I’m of mixed mind on this effect: on the one hand, it gets tedious to jump back and forth between the same couple of scenes as they move slowly forward ; on the other, it’s a clever way to break up what could be long talky sequences with moments of action. The artwork by Chad Kaberlein & Philip Burnette improves over the issues, and issue #3 starts off particularly strong. Neely handles the lettering & coloring chores for these nicely-produced full color issues (his coloring includes a nice mottled texture that never overpowers the line art), which seems like a good way for him to exert final control over the finished product.

May 12, 2014

Anthologized

While it seems my bill-paying job uses up too many of my waking hours to do much more than keep on top of my weekly Watusi deadline, I have managed to complete stories this year for two anthology books that have recently seen print:

OhComics2014Oh, Comics! #22, the “Time” issue features a new four-page Watusi comic. One of the things I want to do this year is take advantage of anthology opportunities and local art shows, so publisher Bob Corby’s deadline reminder came at just the right time, since it gave me a chance to see how my work measures up in context to that of my peers, including Pam Bliss, Matt Feazell, Kel Crum, and Matt Levin … and I was happy to see I’m holding my own! You can get more info about– and order– this classy trade paperback from Back Porch Comics here. I may not have been able to attend SPACE, but it felt good to be connected to it vicariously thanks to this book!

Keith O’Brien released his latest Samurai Slate collection, “Pungent, or, Starting With a Clean Slate”, on Free Comic Book Day, and it features a one-page story of his I drew. Keith’s writing on this character packs as many puns as possible into a minicomic page, and I find them challenging (in a good way) to draw. Once again I find myself in stellar company, including Batton Lash, Brad Foster, and cover artist Tom Cherry. Find out how to get your own copy from Keith at The Forbidden Falls Kourier.

April 27, 2014

They came from the mailbox!

It’s true! In the mail, with a stamp and everything!

CopyThis01I’ve been going through my collection of minicomics lately, and found myself bemoaning the loss of the network of active self-publishers from the good ol’ days of the SPCE scene. Then, out of the blue, D. Blake Werts’ Copy This! #1 appeared in my mail, attempting to fill that very void. Needless to say, it really struck a chord with me! A high-quality 40-page mini, it kicks off with a Steve Willis essay and a long interview with Dan W. Taylor. Its second half is filled with updates on a number of well known and new (to me, at least) minicomic creators, including Ed Bolman, Brad Foster, Andy Nukes, Rick Bradford, Matt Feazell, and more. Blake has a second issue in the works already and would love to have more cartoonists join his revived “paperNet”- you can contact him at bwerts (at) vnet.net to get an e-mail version of his questionnaire or just to find out more.  You can also get a sample issue for $2 each; email Blake for mailing address.

McKay2014-1Coincidentally, Billy McKay, one of the artists slated for an update in Copy This! #2 just sent me his newest comic: Peculiar Paper People #1. It’s a beautifully-produced collection of Billy’s surreal stories, mixing newly-colored past work and brand new stories in a 16-page full-color digest. It has the same high production level Billy’s always brought to his work, even if it has less of a hand-crafted feel than many of his older comics. You can get if for just $2.00 from Billy’s etsy shop or from P.O. Box 542, N. Olmsted, OH 44070.