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Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Question redux

As it was the subject of one of the earliest series of posts on this weblog, and one of the few I actually finished, I'm pretty thrilled that DC has finally got a reprint of the old O'Neil/Cowan QUESTION series on the schedule.

THE QUESTION VOL. 1 TP
Writer: Dennis O'Neil
Artists: Denys Cowan & Rick Magyar
Collects: THE QUESTION #1-6
$19.99 U.S., 176 pages

Of course, the book has been on schedules before, so we'll see. I wonder if they've considered using the promo poster (seen here) as the cover or a frontispiece or pinup? I'd love to have an actual print copy of that image.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

EC - Horror House (Craig)

Horror House
by Johnny Craig
Vault of Horror #15[#4] (1950)

As part of this seemingly never ending series of posts on EC stories, one of the things I get reminded of is that they aren't all gems. Case in point...



This early little bit by Craig has a writer who, for some reason, finds his house the party destination for all his friends, keeping him from making his deadlines. So he takes off for the country and buys an old house that is rumoured to be haunted. His writing goes great, until his friends track him down, hoping to lure him back to the city. Their logical plan is to convince him his house is haunted by rigging various gimmicks. After he's scared off, his friends encounter the real ghosts, and are either killed or driven crazy. Yeah, definitely not a gem, and Craig's earlier art never knocks me out either.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Linkistan

Why didn't I know Stan Sakai has a journal?

Steve Bissette's blog has moved, update your maps accordingly. And go and read his post that starts off being about the recent WAR THAT TIME FORGOT book, and then rather appropriately goes through time and space to other dinosaur comics, the early days of art team Andru and Esposito, his days at the Kubert school and more.

Spunky the Monkey.

Got POGO art or quality proofs? Help make the upcoming reprints definitive.

Eddie Campbell's been looking at some of his painted covers and variations on the same.

EC - Custer's Last Stand (Wood)

Custer's Last Stand
art by Wallace Wood, story by Harvey Kurtzman
Two-Fisted Tales #27[#10] (1952)

Kurtzman and Wood present a story from the battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, popularly known by the title of the story. The tale is told from the perspective of one of Custer's men, and except for some narration and a word balloon on both the first and last pages it's entirely told in thought balloons presenting the soldier's view of what's happening and why as the story progresses.



Kurtzman does a great job of capturing the frustration of the common soldier swept up in what he knows is a lost cause for sake of the glory of others, doing a great job with the words. Wood meanwhile really seemed to get into the subject matter, and does some of the most lush and detailed illustrations of his early career. When the soldier has to look down at an attack from "all the Indians in North America", that's near to what Wood actually drew. This kind of makes me wish that New Trend era EC had a dedicated western title, instead of scattered stories like this, just so we'd have seen a lot more tales of this kind.

The Lone Ranger #1 [1993]

Random Comics Theatre

The Lone Ranger #1 [1993]

I believe this was the only issue of the series published by Pure Imagination, collecting a run of the comic strip adventures of the Lone Ranger by Russ Heath and Cary Bates that, according to a search on the prestigious internets, ran from 1981 to either 1984 or 1986 (possibly not with Heath and Bates through the entire run). This comic book doesn't give too much information about the contents, but has 49 pages of those adventures (seems to be dailies and Sundays, so about 20 weeks worth), comprising two stories, all under a painted cover by Heath and Greg Theakston.

The first story is the better of the two, pretty much a by-the-book western, where a young man enlists the aid of the Lone Ranger and Tonto to find the father he never knew, an old gunfighter who the Ranger had helped disappear some years earlier. Of course, things aren't as they seem, and there are multiple pursuits, ambushes and gunfights before everything gets sorted out. There's a bit of a twist that kind of comes out of nowhere, and could have been established better with a clue early in the story, but that shouldn't be news for those familiar with Cary "Mr. Surprise" Bates from his super-hero comic book writing.

The second story is quite a bit odder, as our intrepid duo are contacted by Mark Twain to help him on a riverboat journey starting in New Orleans, because he's had a premonition of his own death.


It's hinted that there's some sort of past between the Ranger and Twain that isn't explained, as well. The story then goes on even stranger tangents involving an ex-Confederate general who's looking to steal some gold to finance the rise of the New South. Decent enough story, but not really a Lone Ranger story.

The artwork, though, is pretty excellent in both stories. Heath with his slick and precise style really looks good on a western (I know he did a lot of them in the 1950s, but I haven't seen those, the only substantial western I can remember seeing him on is the brilliantly twisted final Jonah Hex story), and the book is well worth having just for that glimpse into another aspect of his career.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

EC - Child of Tomorrow (Feldstein)

Child of Tomorrow
by Al Feldstein
Weird Fantasy #17[#5] (1951)

Post-nuclear funnies provided by Feldstein this time, as Jerry has the luck of spending some time exploring an underground mine as the US faces a saturation attack of nukes (but manage to completely wipe out the enemy). His girl Linda was also among the survivors, but he has to leave her behind, pregnant, when he's sent on job to find uranium in South America. Unfortunately, everyone else quickly starts dying from delayed effects of the nukes, leaving Jerry to make his way back to the US alone, where he finds the city full of strange mutants, where he's the only pre-Atomic left alive.



One of those crazed two-headed mutants turns out to be... well, you can figure it out from there, I'm sure. Very clear, straightforward work from Feldstein that gets really creepy in the last few pages.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

GRIMJACK - KILLER INSTINCT by Ostrander/Truman

GRIMJACK - KILLER INSTINCT collects the 6-issue miniseries from 2005 featuring the return of the creators of the character, John Ostrander and Tim Truman, back with his first new adventure since the demise of First Comics in 1991.



I'm fairly familiar with the original series, having most of Truman's original run and scattered issues after that (I never did feel any of the later artists worked out quite as well as Truman, although I thought Tom Mandrake did okay). From what I could piece together, the story seemed to get pretty convoluted in the second half of the original series, with clones, time travel, re-incarnation and who knows what else. So it's probably for the best that for this return they've opted to go back in time and tell a story from some years before the original series, which explores some backstory that had been mentioned before, including the origin of Grimjack's ownership of Munden's Bar.

The book opens with the end of the Dancer Rebellion, at a time when John Gaunt / Grimjack is a member of the Trans-Dimensional Police in the multi-dimensional city of Cynosure, partnered up with Roscoe. Following the requisite bloodshed, we find out how Grimjack got from there to a member of the secret police Cadre, then jumps to his final mission for them, which forms the rest of this book.

Truman's art is excellent as always. Still very much in the style of the original work, but he's gotten much more polished and detailed in the two decades since. The whole "multi-dimensional" thing is obviously a convenient excuse for him to draw whatever interests him, so there's always a great mix of sci-fi, fantasy, historical and modern elements.

Ostrander gets back into the old rhythm as well. It's the old mix of pulp adventure in a fantastic setting. I'm not sure how it'll read to someone not familiar with the original series, but it seems that enough of the backstory is given early on to get people up to speed, and for the most part this story doesn't depend on the earlier stuff. He's also free to put in a lot more adult elements now, in terms of language, sex and violence, and he seems quite happy to use this new liberty. It's a nicely dense story compared to a lot of modern comics, with some interesting concepts open to explore, and a lot of surprises while still feeling comfortably familiar to those who read the original series.

Ostrander and Truman are apparently still at work on the next chapter in the Grimjack saga, whatever form that will take. I look forward to it.

About "Bernie's Notebook"

For those of you curious about Sheldon Mayer's Sugar & Spike story "Bernie's Notebook" which I ran across the last week (since removed since a bunch of the image links were broken), it was a three page story that was auctioned by Heritage Comics recently (registration required to see the details and full scans). It was among the stories that Mayer did in the early 1980s for foreign publishers, some of which were published in DC's digest comics of the era, but most of which have never been published in English in any format. It's a delightful little story, made all the more so when I cross-checked and verified that it neither appeared in any of the digests or on any list of the unpublished stories I had. Since I've been wanting to post some more stuff on Mayer here, and since the story seemed to work so well split into tiers, I figured I'd show it here (the original scans at Heritage are still worth taking a look at, with the blue-line editorial corrections which I cleaned up).

Anyway, while the story isn't quite to the level of Mayer's best, it's a good sample of his work. The pacing of the joke is great, the body language amazing (I love Sugar's glower and reaction shot on the last page), and I like how he sneaks in a gratuitous "Spike being knocked down" gag.

Hope you enjoyed, whether S&S is new to you or if you thought you'd read it all. If you'd like to see more, consider my recommendation in the last post about letting DC and your retailer know about it. There's over 3000 pages of material they have to work with, almost all of it unseen in over three decades, plus a few thousand more pages of Mayer's SCRIBBLY and funny animal work, enough to keep a robust publishing plan occupied for years.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

SGT. ROCK - THE PROPHECY by Joe Kubert

The recent SGT. ROCK - THE PROPHECY collects the six-issue miniseries of the same name from last year. Rock co-creator Joe Kubert handles both the writing and the art on the story.



Kubert wrote a dozen or so Rock stories back around 1970, in the early days of his taking the editorial reins of OUR ARMY AT WAR, either stories he drew himself or drawn by Russ Heath. I'm not a big fan of those I read. Any number of minor problems, but the big one was that they just lacked the consistent voice that Rock's other co-creator, Robert Kanigher, brought to the feature.

That's still a problem here, but it worked a bit better, overall. The story is a little bit far-fetched. Rock and Easy, including two members never seen before, so you know they're in trouble, are parachuted into Lithuania in the winter of 1943 for a special mission, which turns out to be getting a young rabbi who is apparently prophesied to be the one to tell the world about Nazi atrocities out into the free world. I'm not sure exactly what "true story" the backcover is claiming this is based on, but I don't buy it. Anyway, their mission eventually takes them into contact with various war comics standards, including a cute puppy, a baby, civilian resistance fighters, kids forced to grow up too soon, collaborators and evil Nazis. One of the problems with telling a single long story with Rock is that it's a bit much when you pile all those in one story. It was much more effective when you have them in separate stories. But Kubert still does them well enough.

The main attraction is still his art, which is always a pleasure. It's hard to put a finger on it, but Kubert's artwork just exudes an air of comfort in itself, an organic completeness that you don't see from too many artists. Maybe Sergio Aragones, a few others. You know that they must work hard to get the effect of making it look so easy. It feels right to see him bringing back all the old tricks that he pioneered, and even trying out a few new ones.

The book isn't an all time classic of the form, but it's a nice solid work by legendary creator and well worth what it costs. If it's Kubert's swan-song to his signature character than it's a fitting one.

In the ranks of recent Kubert, I'd place this ahead of the Kubert drawn-only SGT ROCK - BETWEEN HELL AND A HARD PLACE book (which may have been better drawn, but the story missed the mark completely) but well behind YOSSEL (which might have been less successful than either Sgt. Rock story, but made up for that by being far more ambitious). I'll read JEW GANGSTER in a little while and see how it places.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

THE ART OF USAGI YOJIMBO by Stan Sakai

THE ART OF USAGI YOJIMBO is a deluxe collection of artwork by Stan Sakai on his samurai rabbit character published in hardcover back in 2004, on the 20th anniversary of Usagi first being published, and in paperback last year (not to be confused with two earlier ART OF USAGI YOJIMBO comics published in the late 1990s by Radio Comix). I finally got around to picking it up, and I have to say, if I knew it looked this nice I wouldn't have waited nearly as long (and might even have paid the extra few bucks for the hardcover when it was available). It's a large 9x12 size, 200 pages, about a quarter of them in full colour, all of it beautifully printed, with chapter breaks printed on some special patterned translucent paper stock and overall excellent production. It's almost criminal how a $30 book can look this good when other publishers (and sometimes even this publisher) are routinely charging almost twice as much for a lot less.

After some introductory stuff, the book begins with the chapter "Creative Process", presenting a pair of non-fiction stories Sakai did on his working habits. The first one I'm familiar with from its prior printings, but its a classic and nice to have in a larger and more permanent form. The second one is new to me, and has an interesting sketchier inking technique on the art which fits the introspective spirit of the story about Sakai's writing process and his early love of comics.

The bulk of the book is divided into four sections corresponding to the four phases of Usagi's publishing history. "Beginnings" has the earliest character sketches (showing a very different rabbit) and the work published in ALBEDO. "Early Years" covers the Fantagraphics years, with the first series and appearances in CRITTERS. "Middle Years" covers the brief stopover at Mirage for the second series and "Recent Years" the last decade at Dark Horse. Each section has a mix of especially striking covers and interior pages, some unused images, artwork used in fanzines and merchandising, and convention sketches. A good mix of new stuff and old favourites in a new form, or with added information.

Between those sections are two colour sections. The first contains a pair of painted stories. The first, "Return to Adachi Plain" (aka How Usagi Got His Scar), is a real treat, only having been in a limited hardcover before in this form, so I'd only read the later b&w line-art version of the story (with inks by Sergio Aragones). Looks great here. The other story is the cute "The Guardian" story from the late 1990s TRILOGY convention tour book. The other colour section has 32 single page images, mostly painted covers (without any of the trade dress) and a few other new or more obscure images.

The book closes with a "Gallery" section of ten guest artists contributing their versions of Usagi. First and best, neither a surprise, is Sergio Aragones, with Usagi facing off against an army of crabs. William Stout also has an excellent piece, in particular his well rendered version of Usagi's pet lizard Spot. All the others (Paul Chadwick, Geof Darrow, Peter Laird, Frank Miller, Tim Sale, Jeff Smith, Matt Wagner and Andi Watson) are interesting mixes of Usagi with the artist's own style.

This is one of the best "Art of" type books I've seen, and really a must for any Sakai fan.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

ABRAXAS AND THE EARTHMAN by Rick Veitch

ABRAXAS AND THE EARTHMAN is a recent release from Rick Veitch's King Hell Press, collecting the eight part story that he did in the early 1980s, serialized in EPIC ILLUSTRATED #10 - #17. I'd read a couple of chapters of this a few years ago, and it was pretty strange stuff. Good to see it finally available in as a proper book.

The story starts off with echoes of MOBY DICK, but spins off from that in strange directions involving space whales, including the huge red whale of the title. If you're familiar with Veitch's work, you can see a lot of common themes that show up in works like HEARTBURST, THE ONE, RARE BIT FIENDS, and even Veitch's SWAMP THING work. Transformation, mysterious cosmic forces, the separation of body and spirit, the collective unconscious and archetypes, all stuff which figures into Veitch's work in a variety of ways.

The book is definitely a strange journey, with a lot of imaginative characters and weird situations. The ending is really strong, though like a lot of Veitch things it seems to bring everything up to another level which could stand more exploration, which we never get.

It's also pretty remarkable how bold Marvel sometimes found themselves under Archie Goodwin's editorship over at Epic in the 1980s, especially considering how often tame and limited in ambition they've mostly been since.

This is definitely a welcome book, and I look forward to getting the recent SHINY BEASTS collection of Veitch's shorter works for EPIC soon.

Veitch has the entire first chapter online as a free preview.

Quick looks at random books

A few quick thoughts on some of the stuff I picked up out of the library. I have to admit that some of these are things that I normally would never read, but as I said I'm trying to sample some new things hoping for a surprise and encouraging my library to expand their comics section, so take that into consideration.

THE BIG BOOK OF WAG collects various works by Joe Ollmann from the small-press book WAG that he published from 1991 to 2003, plus a few other short comics. There's quite a variety of stuff, especially compared to the other Ollmann book I read recently. A few things are straight comics, some are illustrated poetry or prose, various other formats. I liked some of it a lot, but other things I couldn't get into and stopped reading after one or two pages. Maybe I'll try again in a week or two.

PECULIA by Richard Sala collects some short stories featuring the character of the title from Sala's EVIL EYE series. I've seen Sala's distinctive style around for years, but can't recall actually reading anything from him before. It's an odd little feature, with an odd sort of dream-logic about a girl in a land of strange creatures, including her super-hero suitor Obscurus, her rival Justine and her butler Ambrose. Cute little quick read, not sure I'd come back for more.

SOUTHLAND TALES - TWO ROADS DIVERGE by Richard Kelly and Brett Weldele is one of several preludes to an upcoming (or already released, I'm not clear on that from a quick web search) movie by Kelly. I remember liking DONNIE DARKO, his movie of a few years back. After reading this, I'm not sure I can recall why. This is some sort of nonsense about a post-nuclear attack America and some unlikely goings-on involving an actor with amnesia and a porn actress. Don't think I'll be watching that movie...

TRANSMETROPOLITAN - TALES OF HUMAN WASTE is a collection of two specials from the Ellis/Robertson series with some text pieces written by Ellis in-character as Spider Jerusalem and drawn by various guest artists, plus a short Christmas story by the regular team. I never quite got the fuss over TRANSMETROPOLITAN, from reading the first book and a few other random bits. But I like a few of the artists in here, so took a look at it. I pretty much gave up on actually reading "Jerusalem's" words about a quarter of the way through. I can never quite figure out how to take it. It's trying hard to be outrageous, but if you take the world presented in the series at face value than it would hardly seem to be outrageous at all in comparison. It's also apparently supposed to be brilliant in the context of the series, but it's not that, neither. A few good pieces of art, in particular David Lloyd's page and Eric Shanower's two-page spread, but I guess most of the pieces require reading the words to appreciate. And that's a price I'm not willing to pay.

THE BLACKBURNE COVENANT collects a four-issue series by Fabian Nicieza and Stefano Raffaele. The art is pretty good, but the story is a pretty bad derivative movie pitch in comics form. It goes into the laughably bad territory with the back-cover blurb comparing it to Umberto Eco, Jorge Luis Borges, JRR Tolkein and JK Rowling. No, really, it does, it's even there on the publisher's website. That's a charming mix of pretentiousness and pandering to the market.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Groo Returns



THE GROO 25TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL
On sale Aug. 1
Full Colour, 56 pages
$5.99
One-shot

Celebrate twenty-five years of the world’s stupidest barbarian doing stupid and barbaric things! After a brief hiatus, the Champion of Cheese Dip is back to battle the menace of “The Plague,” an all-new story by the same guys responsible for all the Groo stories for the last quarter-century, Sergio Aragon├ęs and Mark Evanier. Also, thrill to The Groo Alphabet, a primer of that hero’s friends and foes (mostly foes), followed by a special illustrated text story by Sergio and Mark on how this comic came to be and why it just won’t go away. Plus other silly features.

Celebrate twenty-five years of Groo!

Also of note from the latest Dark Horse solicitations, big fat book of RICHIE RICH reprints, more LITTLE LULU and of course USAGI YOJIMBO.

BLOOD SONG by Eric Drooker

BLOOD SONG is a massive 300-page wordless graphic novel by Eric Drooker, illustrated by engravings on scratchboard which are then watercoloured (mostly with that blueish tinge of the pages below, with sudden bursts of brighter colours where appropriate). I have no idea what that engraving actually entails, but it sure looks like it must be a lot of work.




The book is called "A Silent Ballad", which is a suitable description. It follows a girl living in a small village after the arrival of some non-specific war (echoing news and film depictions of Viet Nam and Cambodia, but generic enough to apply to too many 20th century and beyond events) which drives her beyond the sea to a very different world.

I'm generally not a huge fan of what few longer completely wordless comics I've read. It's something that I tend to think works better either in shorter pieces or sections of longer works. This one worked better than I expected, I think because of that "Ballad" feel. It was as much a song as a story, and that tended to slow down the pacing. The lack of identity of the characters and settings also emphasized the broader scope of the story.

And the art was just fascinating to look at. Clear and easy to interpret, but with a lot of detail that forces you to slow down to appreciate it all. Drooker does some fascinating things with the layouts, like in the panel above having certain elements break the panel border in such a way to create a greater feeling of distance. There are a lot of other subtle little effects that read automatically and then you pick up on why they work when you slow down.

Truly fascinating stuff. Part of me does feel that it's a little bit long for the story it's telling, like the album version of a song by some 1970s progressive rock band having a technically brilliant but somewhat ponderous instrumental solo that can be easily cut for the radio-friendly single, but that's a minor complaint considering the overall achievement.

Drooker has a sample of the book over on his website.

Movies - HOT FUZZ (2007)

Hot Fuzz
directed by Edgar Wright
written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright

I wasn't a huge fan of SHAUN OF THE DEAD, but I certainly liked it well enough to want to see the follow-up by the Pegg/Wright team, the first time I dragged my sorry ass to a movie theatre in about six months.

Forget it Nick... it's Sandford.


Not unlike SHAUN, HOT FUZZ is a British-based parody of a genre of movies that aren't associated with Britain, in this case the high-action buddy cop movie, specifically (as in they show up on screen here) films like POINT BREAK and BAD BOYS. I'm not a huge fan of that particular genre, but this has enough twists and turns to make it fresh. The basic plot is that the overly productive by-the-book wonder-cop Nicholas Angel is transferred out of London for making everyone else look bad to quiet small-town Sandford, where naturally things aren't quite as they seem, and he has to fix all of that while learning how to unwind from his new partner.

Haven't you ever wondered why the crime rate is so low, but the accident rate is so high?


The movie follows the general formula of mixing in straightforward situations with punctuations of mild insanity, with the insanity levels and frequency gradually increasing until that's all there is for the last act of the movie. Glorious, fast-moving, nonsensical and captivating insanity.

Pegg and his returning sidekick Nick Frost play off each other magnificently throughout the movie, making for a few touching scenes amidst the chaos.

Despite a few minor flaws in the pacing, and a few more obvious bits, it's a great movie, by far the best I've seen this year[*].

--
[*]Note comment in paragraph 1

Monday, May 07, 2007

McCloud signing

Decided to go down to the Scott McCloud tour signing at the Beguiling today. It was nice to get a chance to say hello to McCloud and get a few things signed. I brought along my first issue of ZOT! (background here), my copy of UNDERSTANDING COMICS (old-school first print Tundra edition) and the tabloid sized DESTROY!! (explaining how I only recently got that edition, after suffering for years with the 3-D edition that doesn't quite work with my wonky eyes). McCloud is very friendly, and I recommend catching him if possible during his on-going tour.

As luck would have it, they also had a package of Matt Feazell's mini-comics from the Beguiling's stock there, including the ZOT #10 1/2 (which I already had, though this is the rarer first print) and a whole lot of others, only a few of which I already had, so I picked that up. I suppose that pack might have been in the store for a long while, but if you've been in the Beguiling you know they have 50 pounds of books stuffed in a 10 pound sack, so it's easy to miss stuff there. Especially if you only go there two or three times a year.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

FABLES: 1001 NIGHTS OF SNOWFALL by various

FABLES: 1001 NIGHTS OF SNOWFALL
by Bill Willingham, Charles Vess, Michael Kaluta, John Bolton, Mark Buckingham, James Jean, Mark Wheatley, Derek Kirk Kim, Tara McPherson, Esao Andrews, Brian Bolland & Jill Thompson

I've read a handful of the on-going FABLES series over the years, never really got too much into it. The art was usually really good, but the writing was uneven. Clever bits every now and then, but rarely as clever as it felt like the writer thought they were (I can never quite put my finger on it, but Willingham's writing is the type that sometimes just exudes an air of smarminess), and irritating stuff just as common as the good stuff.

Anyway, last year they put out this book of short stories based on the series (which, for those who don't know, is that characters who inspired all the old public domain fables, fairy tales and fantasies are real, with a large group of them living in exile in modern day Earth after being driven out of their native lands by a mysterious Adversary). This collection is set in the early days of that exile, when Snow White goes to warn and enlist the aid of Arabian fables in their cause. In this framing sequence (prose illustrated by Michael Kaluta and Charles Vess) she finds herself cast in the role of Scheherazade in the Arabian Nights, telling the Sultan stories night after night to avoid execution. The stories she tells are about herself and the other FABLES characters, generally in the form of "What really happened" or "What happened next" on the stories everyone knows, or what happened when the Adversary attacked.

I had a slightly better reaction to this than I did the on-going series. The art was excellent, with each artist being well suited to their individual story, and well-handled in production (not always a given in comics, alas). No surprise on a lot of the familiar names (the Kaluta/Vess illustrations on the framing sequence are as gorgeous as you'd expect (see this page for a look at how they collaborated)), but the artists who were new to me were great as well.

The writing still had the mix of clever, not-as-clever-as-it-thinks and just plain irritating, but leaning more towards the first.

"A Most Troublesome Woman" is the framing sequence, and my favourite art in the book. I'm just a sucker for Vess's work, and he's a good combination with Kaluta (I think the only previous time the worked together was on some minor STARSTRUCK related stuff). The writing strikes a few sour notes, and I'm not sure on the chronology at all (I'm pretty that in the real world the story of the 1001 Nights far pre-dates when this story could take place, but I'm not quite up on my Fables-logic of what influenced what).

"The Fencing Lessons" is a long story that combines the "what happened next" and "what really happened" concepts for the story of Snow White. It's kind of predictable, and I'll give Willingham the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn't intend for the ending to a surprise to anyone. John Bolton's art it pretty good, although a disappointment considering how much I like some of his older work.

"The Christmas Pies" takes off from animal fables, showing what happens in the forest when the Adversary tries to take over. Nicely designed by the ever-versatile Mark Buckingham and a smart story with a twist I didn't see coming.

"A Frog's Eye View" is a short bit drawn by James Jean, who also does the covers to a lot of FABLES stuff. Gorgeous little story about the aftermath of a princess kissing a frog, though the actual story didn't really interest me.

"The Runt" is my overall favourite story in the book, with some great art by Mark Wheatley, and presenting the origin of the "Bigby Wolf"/"Big Bad Wolf" character in the series. In typical FABLES fashion, he's the source for virtually every wolf character in any public domain fantasy story, and there are some clever twists on some of those. Wheatley's expressive style really sells it.


"A Mother's Love" is a short little story about fighting rabbits and a reverse of the usual "Frog Prince" type curse. Fortunately short at just three pages, so it makes its point quickly and doesn't wear out its welcome. Attractive artwork by Derek Kirk Kim completes the package.

"Diaspora" is another tale of Snow White, this time with her sister Rose Red (mixing a few fairy tales together), on the run from the Adversary and encountering a witch in the ruins of a house made of gingerbread. This one is pretty much just a story fragment in the larger FABLES tapestry, so doesn't work as well as I imagine it would knowing the series. Some nicely off-kilter art by Tara McPherson, though.

"The Witch's Tale" takes place in the middle of the above story, as the Witch gives her life story in a story drawn by Esao Andrews. As it goes in FABLES, she's the Witch character in any number of stories, although with far darker twists.

"What You Wish For" is a two-page story by Brian Bolland, which I guess fills his quota of non-cover and non-Mr. Mamoulian comic book art for at least a year (is anyone else surprised that we aren't still waiting for CAMELOT 3000 to end?). No real point to the story, but it's pretty enough to look at.

"Fair Division" is drawn by Jill Thompson and explores another region of the Fables lands under attack, this time that of King Cole and his talking animal subjects. Nice little piece, although the ending is another one of those that probably only makes sense if you read the series.

So a pretty solid book, well worth taking a look at. Doesn't really convince me to read the on-going series, but I'm more inclined to give them a look someday.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Free Comics overview

Went to a Free Comic Book Day thing for the first time, mostly because there was a particular comic shop that I'd been meaning to check out. It was a pretty good store, with a good selection of tradepaperbacks (I picked up one of Tezuka's PHOENIX books I didn't have, and the collection of Charles Schulz's sports strip IT'S ONLY A GAME) and well located for me in some ways, so I might be going there more.

Anyway, the store had about two dozen of what I gather are over 40 of this years free comics. I'm not sure if they just ran out of the others or didn't get them (I was there fairly late in the day, but they still had a lot of the ones they had). Looking at the FCBD website it looks like some of the missing ones where ones I might have been interested in, like Eddie Campbell's upcoming book. But I guess it doesn't matter much since I already know I'm going to buy Campbell's book.

I picked up 10 of the books they had. Some quick thoughts on them:

UNSEEN PEANUTS, a selection of over 150 Peanuts strips not reprinted until the current COMPLETE PEANUTS series (including some scheduled for an upcoming volume), along with some notes and speculation about why those strips were "lost". Interesting to read in this context. A lot of those are the ones that struck off notes reading them in context of the full run. Kind of makes me wish that they included some sort of notes in the COMPLETE books.

LITTLE ARCHIE had a pretty decent story by Bob Bolling of the mini-versions of the Riverdale gang at camp. Not quite as good as the older Bolling work I've read.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES IN THE 31st CENTURY, a comic based on the cartoon. I really don't like the character designs for this show, and I found this story kind of confusing and unfunny.

NEXUS has a selection of short bits from older NEXUS issues (some in colour for the first time), with some notes on why they were chosen, and then a 7-page preview of the upcoming new series. Pretty good sampler of Baron and Rude's work, and I'll probably pick up the collection of the new stuff.

GUMBY is suitably strange stuff from a variety of creators, some from the regular GUMBY book, some others. Lots of weird art jokes. Felt a bit barren in black and white, pretty sure it was drawn for colour.

WHITEOUT #1, a reprint of the first chapter of the Rucka/Lieber comic of a few years back, being re-released in a fancy new edition. I'm almost certain I've read this before, but have no memory of it. Really good art, story doesn't do anything for me.

BONGO COMICS FREE-FOR-ALL has various Simpsons and Futurama stories. Evan Dorkin writes the lead story, which is pretty good (and even has a Milk and Cheese cameo...). The shorter stories are okay, and the art is nice throughout, but overall it satisfies my Groeningverse comics itch for a long while to come.

SPIDER-MAN has a new story by Dan Slott and Phil Jimenez, who have both done some work I thought was okay in the past. Not really the kind of Spider-Man story I want to read more of, and if that was in fact Mary Jane as a super-hero named Jackpot, well, that's wrong on many levels. Jimenez has changed a lot from the George Perez clone I remember of years past, but not always for the better. If this is the future of Spider-Man, I'll be sitting it out.

COMICS FESTIVAL has various short bits from some Canadian artists. A few were pretty funny, most weren't really to my taste. Whoever proofread the bios needs to learn the difference between "Joe Shuster" and "Simon&Schuster". Darwyn Cooke does a story that's about Alex Toth, in a roundabout way, and I'm not sure about it at all.

MICKEY MOUSE has some goofy reprints of the Floyd Gottfredson strip from 1936. A long adventure that starts with Mickey experimenting with plant growing and shrinking formula, which somehow leads to him meeting Robin Hood, and a short adventure with rival Mortimer Mouse. Good fun.

So not a bad haul for free. I liked about half of what I got, and really had no reason to think I'd like some of those I didn't like and probably should have just left them on the table.

Friday, May 04, 2007

DESTROY!!





Zot and Jenny find themselves stuck between Captain Maximum and the Red Basher. McCloud did some fun covers for the fan magazines back in the day. His AH Preview Special cover was great fun, and his cover for AH #200 was brilliant ("Can comics be ART, Dad?" / "Only if it's got BIG DOTS, son!").

I probably won't get around to seeing him, but Scott McCloud takes a detour from his 50 State Tour to visit a province this weekend, specifically Ontario, more specifically Toronto, with a lecture Sunday and signing on Monday. Maybe I'll try to go to the signing. Details here and here (the latter being where I stole the graphic below from). And remind me some day to post about MAKING COMICS.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

THE QUITTER by Pekar&Haspiel

In case you're curious about the odd selection of some upcoming posts, I've decided to sample a bunch of the holdings in my library's "graphic novel" section, both on the chance that there's a gem I'd missed and as a way to encourage them to expand that section.

THE QUITTER
by Harvey Pekar and Dean Haspiel

I never really got into the whole "Harvey Pekar" thing. I read the occasional thing from him back in the 1980s and 1990s, usually liking a few short bits in each book I read, most of the others not making a major impact on me, nothing really blowing me away. Saw a few of his Letterman appearances, too, but have to say I thought he came across as more an amusing crank than anything else.

I got around to seeing the 2003 AMERICAN SPLENDOR film last year, and I thought it was a pretty impressive bit of film-making, with a unique structure and some bold choices that were pulled off with considerable skill. Some of the more obvious divergences with reality kind of bugged me more than they should have (hey, I know who drew OUR CANCER YEAR, okay). And as an actor, I thought Pekar himself was probably in about third place in terms of playing a plausible "Harvey Pekar" character in the film.

Anyway, in the wake of the the film's relative success, Pekar got a couple of book deals, including for this 100-page volume from 2005 published by the fledgling graphic novel house Vertigo. I guess there was some licensing reason why it wasn't published under the AMERICAN SPLENDOR banner, but like SPLENDOR it's autobiography by Pekar. In this case a single long story drawn by Dean Haspiel, tracing his life from childhood until his early twenties, with a brief segment skimming through a few later highlights until the present day.

It's not really something that's changed my mind about Pekar, I'm sorry to say. Haspiel's art is nice and clear, doing a good job of capturing the mid-century setting of most of the story, but just didn't seem as smooth a match for Pekar as some of the old-school SPLENDOR illustrators (Crumb, Zabel/Dumm, Stack). It was just a bit too slick, I thought. As for the writing, I liked parts of it, especially the bits about his appreciation for old jazz and his record collecting (which also tended to be my favourite topics in the older SPLENDOR books I read), but a lot of it just didn't interest me. It's mostly about his problems fitting in through his whole life, from school to family to jobs, and his inability to commit to things and tendency to be a quitter (hey, that's the title of this book!). I found the narration by present-day Harvey a bit overly analytical at times, and found myself wishing he told more of the story through the dialogue and voice of young Harvey. Even that young Harvey voice I often found a bit unrealistic (I really don't think that when he picked up the mail he said "Oh, man! Another letter from Ira Gitler. Great! They're so substantive").

I was also really disappointed with the ending. Five pages from the end, after only getting up to the early 1960s and the start of his jazz writing taking off, and then he finishes the book with the abridged history of AMERICAN SPLENDOR (meeting Crumb in 1962, starting his comic in the 1970s, the movie coming out and his current life) and then just stops. It almost felt like he got close to the end and said "Man, people are gonna wanna hear about Crumb and the movie and stuff. Damn, no space to mention being on Letterman". It was really disappointing, and unfortunately seems to rob this story of having a proper resolution in favour of a "Pekar's greatest hits" selection.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

ITEM: I post some links

The internets are a big place, so here are some posts of interest from various parts of it that you might like if your interests are anything like mine (and if they aren't, why would you be reading this?). I'm going to try to be better about marking these things to show up over on the "Recent Readings" box on the sidebar in the future.

ITEM: Steve Bissette talks to Bryan Talbot about the British underground scene and other things. And posts many other things. His site feed still seems to be dead, so catch up if you've missed out

ITEM: Mark Martin comments on the comics market and the end of his RUNAWAY COMIC

ITEM: Harry Mendryk explores some of the inking on old Jack Kirby romance covers

ITEM: Craig Yoe talks to Kirby Museum board member Randy Hoppe

ITEM: Mark Evanier looks at some filmed versions of one of my favourite plays, INHERIT THE WIND.

ITEM: I look at one of the greatest Beanworld guest shots ever

ITEM: Craig Boldman draws his character Tailipoe as Yoda.

ITEM: Tom Brevoort explains some of the changes in comics distribution from the 1970s and 1980s

ITEM: Alison Bechdel commences posting her early "Dykes to Watch Out For" strips online, starting at the beginning

ITEM: Bully examines a later day non-Barks Scrooge tale. Or does he...

ITEM: Kevin Church explains Superboy's most recent personality shift

ITEM: Mike Sterling focuses on the mystified residents of Lulu's town

ITEM: Michael T. Gilbert doesn't seem to have permanent links to his journal posts, but he has some great art there. Look down on April 28, 2007, for a nice Mr. Monster / Heap drawing.

ITEM: Vincent Colletta exposes the dark underbelly Marvel in the 1980s

ITEM: Stephen DeStefano kills the Venture Bros. whoever they are

ITEM: Fist-a-Cuffs declares its tag team champ

ITEM: Pat praises one of the more unheralded Silver Age heroes

ITEM: I post something with art by Jack Kirby. Go figure

ITEM: J.M. DeMatteis remembers Kurt Vonnegut

ITEM: Dennis O'Neil does too

ITEM: Neil Gaiman doesn't need any kind of link from me to get attention. But it'll be interesting to see what this "interesting device" is.

ITEM: Michael Ryan runs some of the coolest photos and links for dinosaur fans

ITEM: Wolfman visits Oz, brings photos

ITEM: Eddie Campbell chronicles his adventures in courtroom sketching

ITEM: Steve Thompson ponders how Sheldon Mayer turned a gorilla into a bear

ITEM: Dr. Scott examines the questionable techniques of Dr. Dan

ITEM: I post some stuff about Ditko. Go figure

ITEM: Steve Cohen writes about Russ Manning. And Leonard Starr. And Neal Adams. And Joe Staton. And...

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

THIS WILL ALL END IN TEARS by Joe Ollmann

THIS WILL ALL END IN TEARS is a 168-page collection of five short stories by Joe Ollmann published in 2006 by Insomniac Press (PDF samples of two of the stories can be downloaded at the linked sites). Apparently Ollmann has a few previous books, but I'd never heard of him until I saw this book in the library the other day. From the "Littlest Hobo" reference in one story you can probably guess that he's Canadian...

It's a great little book, with each story presenting a little slice in the life of a different working-class character. In general very depressing slices, but with some touches of humour to soften it a bit. The art is a nice, solid expressive style, and the scripting is excellent, very naturalistic and smooth. Most of the stories are built around contrasting the internal thoughts of the main character with the actual dialogue, showing how they hide things, second guess themselves and interpret the actions of others.

It reminds me a lot of some of the alternative press comics I enjoyed back in the 1990s, in particular Jessica Abel's ARTBABE and Roberta Gregory's NAUGHTY BITS. Actually, thinking of what to compare it to, I'd almost put it right in the middle of those two in a lot of ways. The characters are less pretty than Abel's, not quite as ugly as Gregory's, both in looks and personality.

The Roberta Gregory comparison really comes across in the first story, "Big Boned", about an overweight young woman whose internal monologue of bitterness and contempt for herself and those around her contrasts with the actual dialogue, where she's afraid to express herself and always puts the worst possible interpretation on what the words and actions of others mean. That kind of structure was pretty common in Gregory's Bitchy Bitch stories, and I remember at least one which was built entirely on Bitchy's cynical interpretations of what everyone really means. It's quite a bit different in effect from Gregory's work. You tend to laugh at her characters, while for the most part you just feel sorry for Ollmann's.

"Day Old" is a bit of an anomaly in the book. The shortest story, it's also the only one without a running narrative of the inner voice of the main character, so for the most part we just get the story through the dialogue and actions (although it's also the only one where Ollmann resorts to thought balloons in a few places). It's a simple enough story about a bagel store employee bending some rules to show some kindness for a mother with a sick child, and the consequences of that.

"Oh Deer" is the most comical of the stories. It starts off oddly, with a man trying to sell a fired-once gun at a pawn shop. As the story goes on we find that the man allowed himself to be pressured by people at work to go on a hunting trip, where he shot a deer, and now has to deal with its carcass. The humour gets almost slapstick at times, but there's quite a bit going on beneath the jokes.

"The Filmed a Movie Here Once" is the longest story in the book, at 52 pages, and features a young waitress in a small town, and all of the characters who intersect with her life, including fellow employees, her father, her priest and her boyfriend. It ends up being a very complex story about love, religion, trust and betrayal, and Ollmann does a great job of creating three-dimensional characters in very little space.

"Hanging Over" is another long story to close the book, and might be my favourite. In this one, a man has to deal with taking care of his intellectually disabled older brother after their mother has an accident. The lead character is anything but an angel, and most of the story is spent with him trying to duck out of his responsibilities and justifying his actions both to himself and to others. A lot of great little scenes that are entertaining on their own right and also serve to demonstrate and advance the relationships between the characters.

Despite being one of the most depressing collection of comic book stories I've ever seen, finding this book was a very pleasant surprise. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a good example of this kind of slice-of-life drama that I'm not sure anyone else is doing anymore (I guess Adrian Tomine still is in OPTIC NERVE, although I never really got into his stuff beyond the original short work).
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