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Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 in comics

A brief overview of comics in 2010, including the stuff I bought and read, stuff I bought and still have sitting in the metaphorical to-read pile, stuff that came out that I still have to buy (some of it on order and coming in the mail), stuff I borrowed and read in whole or in part and stuff that seemed interesting.  The Ditko over here, and the Kirby over here.

I do still love DC's Showcase Presents format, big thick books of black and white reprints. The one from the year I'm most happy about is the one I don't have yet, OUR ARMY AT WAR, in my hands this time next week, post office willing.  500 pages of early 1950s war comics. I'm in the middle of reading a whole bunch of them, including those released this year, usually reading a story from each every week. DIAL H is goofy fun, with great Jim Mooney artwork, I'd have loved it at age 10, I still like it a lot at age 40. SINISTER HOUSE is mostly journeyman early 1970s stuff, with occasional artistic standouts including Alex Toth, Alfredo Alcala and Sam Glanzman. The SGT. ROCK book is all Kanigher/Kubert so far, about half new to me, and naturally great. Really looking forward to the Kanigher/Heath stuff coming up towards the end of the book. DOOM PATROL has some quirky stories by Arnold Drake that amuse if I'm in the right mood, but the Bruno Premiani art is the real star. There were also WORLD'S FINEST (Superman/Batman team-up) and LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES volumes out this year, which I'm sure I'll pick up eventually.

The latest single-volume reprint of Osamu Tezuka's work published by Vertical, a thick 700-page hardcover, looks really impressive. Still waiting until I have the time and am in the right mood. Also from Tezuka this year, several volumes of BLACK JACK, which I need to get caught up on, and thinner 2-volume versions of APOLLO'S SONG and ODE TO KIRIHITO. I really need to catch up on all the Tezuka stuff available, and re-read a lot of it.  And this BOOK OF HUMAN INSECTS thing coming up looks bizarre.

Jimmy Gownley returned in a big way in 2010, with two long original books featuring his character Amelia McBride and her friends and family, picking up right where the serialized version (also available in several collections) left off. I write about the first one over here, the second I hope to get around to writing about soon, but it's even better. And another volume due in September 2011.

Softcover edition of the previous hardcover reprint of the 4-issue war comics series Archie Goodwin wrote and edited with some great artists back in the 1960s. Still amazing stuff, very well reproduced, I just leave it lying around to flip to stories at random.

A preview of Steve Bissette's upcoming return to his share of the 1963 characters, I wrote about it over here. No word yet on exactly when we'll see the actual book, but it's one of my most anticipated 2011 releases.

A very well designed large hardcover of the Evan Dorkin / Jill Thompson series about domestic pets who get involved in the supernatural. The series began with short stories in some anthology comics, which led to a 4-issue series last year. All of that material is collected in this book. Evan Dorkin's stories are very different from the material I know and love from his solo projects, but still very entertaining, a nice mix of humour and horror with some good work distinguishing the characters. Jill Thompson's painted artwork is some of the best of her career.

This just came out from Dark Horse, I should have my copy soon. It's a softcover reprint of the first seven issues of the original series from the 1960s by Russ Manning. Gorgeous work from the samples I've seen of it before, really looking forward to this and hope we get more volumes. I thought the previous hardcover reprints were criminally overpriced, but this format is right up my alley.

First of six books in a few series by AKIKO creator Mark Crilley. A good start, with a nice fantasy set-up for some ghosts and adventure storytelling with a Japanese flair, really looking forward to the rest.

AGE OF BRONZE #30 - 31
Eric Shanower's ongoing historical fiction about the Trojan War continues at its regular pace. Gorgeous artwork, as always, and I just got a prior issue I had missed so I can read them now, I think it's a good time to go back to the beginning and re-read the whole series.

Still waiting for my copy of this collection of the 1980s jungle girl adventure series created by Steve Perry and Paul Chadwick. I read the stuff in the original 3-D version years ago, and will appreciate having a clearer 2-D version, along with the new prose story by Perry with illustrations by Steve Bissette.

A new book from Joe Kubert, about a true story early in the Vietnam War. Still sitting in my to-read pile, waiting for the right mood to strike me. I leaf through it every now and then, and it does look gorgeous, but the story-telling style seems a bit odd. More on that when I finally read it and can tell you if it worked.

Jason Shiga's wild and crazy experimental choose-your-own-adventure comic, I wrote about how it almost broke my brain (in a good way) back here. Still a delight that I pick up from time to time just to play around with. Shiga's next book is out in a few months and firmly on that most anticipated books of 2011 list coming on January 1.

From Eddie Campbell and Alan Moore, a softcover edition of the surprisingly difficult to find hardcover collection of a few years back. This collects The Birth Caul and Snake&Ladders, two Campbell adaptations of Moore's "performance art" pieces, along with a great interview of Moore by Campbell that ran in EDDIE CAMPBELL'S EGOMANIA. Handsome looking book, still sitting around waiting for the right mood to re-read all that stuff.

A spectacular collection of comics from the 1930s to the 1960s selected by Francoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman. The big four that those familiar with comics would expect art well represented, with multiple stories by Carl Barks, Walt Kelly, John Stanley and Sheldon Mayer (an especially welcome inclusion). There's also great stuff by Jack Cole, Harvey Kurtzman, Dick Briefer and a few dozen more, including a few names I'd never heard of before.


A whole lot of reprints of Stanley's comics for Dell. Always enjoyable, I especially enjoyed some of the stories in THIRTEEN as a very entertaining variation on the teen comic format.

A new collection of autobiographical travel related stories from Roberta Gregory, most never before published, available from her directly. In the to-read pile as I'm waiting to get a few issues of NAUGHTY BITS I need (after filling most of the holes in my collection through Gregory), and will read it after I read all of her older work. Very attractive book, though, and good to see her publishing something new.

A collection of the first three volumes of a European funny animal comic about a hard-boiled private eye cat. I thought the art was really good, for the most part, but had a lot of problems with the writing.  I'll have to re-read it sometime and see if I like it better or can put my finger on what I didn't like.

A pair of books published by Flesk, celebrating the work of a great who sadly passed away in 2010. I wrote about the Flash Gordon book here, and it remains one of the best looking books in a year of great looking books. Kind of wish I'd sprung the extra few dollars for the hardcover. The ARCHIVES is a collection of sketches from Williamson, which looks great, but I wish there was some more text to give context to the images.

The third collection of Roger Langridge's comics based on the classic Jim Henson series of the 1970s, I wrote about the first two here, pretty much all the same applies to this one. Unfortunately the run of comics has ended or is ending soon, but that still leaves quite a few more for me to read after this one.


The first two collections of the on-going fantasy comic by Mike Carey and Peter Gross.  I was pleasantly surprised by this, after not thinking much of the premise (and after I stopped reading the previous Carey/Gross collaboration for Vertigo, LUCIFER, about half-way through).  For the most part it reads pretty well, and has some clever ideas.  Can't say I think too much about some of the digressions between the main story, but maybe they'll turn out to be important later.

The annual anthology to benefit the CBLDF, edited by Larry Marder of Beanworld fame this time around. Sadly 2010 was a mostly fallow year for Beanworld after a good 2009, but there are some beans in Marder's 2-page story in here. In addition to the Marder, some Evan Dorkin (Milk & Cheese return), Don Simpson (Megaton Man returns), Jeff Smith and others under a nice Dave Gibbons cover.

A collection of the half-page humour feature that Basil Wolverton did for Fawcett's WHIZ COMICS from the 1940s and 1950s.  Very odd, as you'd expect from Wolverton, with a lot of word-play and sometimes grotesque visuals.  This book includes not only all the published pages in colour, but wherever available also includes Wolverton's pencilled layouts which were sent to the editor for approval, printed opposite the published strips.  But wait, there's more.  There are also dozens of additional layouts that were rejected, either by Wolverton or his editor, which are also included. Plus examples of a few similar features Wolverton did.  Very nice comprehensive package.

A new book from Stephen DeStefano, of 'MAZING MAN and HERO HOTLINE fame, along with co-writer George Chieffet. Just read it recently, haven't quite absorbed it yet, it's an interesting contrast of style and content. Unfortunately it's also just the first half of a story which won't be concluded until, it says, 2013. And I've read comics for long enough not to be too optimistic about a promise of a follow-up that far in advance coming out on time. Anyway, interesting book, more when I've had a chance to re-read it.

A collection of Linda Medley's excellent comic, still not sure I can recommend it for the reasons mentioned here, but still some great stuff. Hopefully we'll have word on Medley's future plans sooner rather than later.

No, you didn't imagine it, there really was a Jonah Hex movie, so there was an original hardcover comic for Hex as well.  The story wasn't too good, but it was good to see Hex's co-creator Tony DeZuniga drawing the story.

The first finishes up the collection of the 36-issue Dennis O'Neil / Denys Cowan run from the 1980s. The weakest part of the run, but still some enjoyable comics. A shame DC was so short-sighted in the reprint strategy for the series, not including the annuals and just overly lackluster design. Early this year there was also that "#37", tying in with DC's big crossover. Apparently Vic Sage is dead, someone else is the Question, Vic comes back as a zombie and... Fuck, I can't do it. There are some good moments in the comic, which was co-written by O'Neil and pencilled by Cowan (with inks by Bill Sienkiewicz who inked many of the original covers), but there's just such a tonal conflict between what made the series special and the big crossover of the year.

An early comic from Yoshiro Tatsumi, mostly interesting as a sample of the type of work he was doing during the days he writes about in his very impressive look at the early days of Japanese comics in A DRIFTING LIFE published last year.  On its merits not too special, although there are some interesting moments of youthful energy from a young artist figuring things out as he goes.

A collection of Randy Reynaldo's stories featuring a modern day soldier-of-fortune, heavily inspired by the classic adventure comics of a half-century ago.  This book has the issues published as ADVENTURE STRIP DIGEST in the mid-1990s, bridging the gap between the mini-comic run (reprinted as ROB HANES ARCHIVES) and the currently on-going ROB HANES ADVENTURES, which is up to #12.  Very entertaining stuff.

Impressive looking big, thick book, I have to get around to reading it.

A great new collection of Mark Schultz's XENOZOIC TALES comic of the that ran from 1987 to 1996, featuring just the main stories (not the Steve Stiles illustrated back-ups) from the 14-issue run, almost all of it with film freshly shot from the original art, plus some new illustrations. It's a gorgeous book, definitely the best presentation the work has ever gotten. Fascinating to see Schultz's progression as an artist, from the very gritty EC-inspired early work to the increasingly illustrative later stuff. Not sure how much I believe it, but the ending even promises more Xenozoic tales in the future, which would be nice since it ends just as the story is beginning to come together.

A nice hardcover collection of all the stories drawn by Joe Kubert featuring the character from THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD in the 1950s, as well as a later crossover story with Sgt. Rock, with various writers starting and ending Robert Kanigher.  Just got this one, haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I already know from a few prior reprints that I love this stuff.  I've also been tempted by the similar reprint of the Broome/Anderson Atomic Knights.  And that reprint of the early Superboy stories.

A book about the short-lived feature that the creators of Superman worked on, both in comic books and comic strips, after they were fired from their more famous creation.  Unfortunately the book only includes a handful of stories, following lengthy essays about Jewish humour and the precedents for super-heroes in Jewish culture.

Well, it was fairly cheap, so I got this collection of 2-page origin stories of various DC characters, reprinted from a few different sources over the last few years. A lot of different artists, a few quite good, keep it visually interesting. The writing is mostly journeyman stuff, nothing too special, but a few inspired moments brighten it up. Sometimes bizarre to read how different the interpretations of the characters have gotten from what I remember.

A light but engaging comic by Eddie Campbell and Daren White, definitely needs a re-read before I comment too much on it, but definitely worth reading.

Surprisingly, my library got copies of this huge collection of DC's anthology comic of last year.  Then it was published as a folding newspaper page, collected it was slightly smaller but much better overall.  The comics themselves weren't that great, of course.  I don't think any of the fifteen 12-page features were wholly successful, although several of them had good points.  Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez's art on Metal Men, with Kevin Nowlan inks, was great in that large size.  The Kamandi story, done in a Prince Valiant format by Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook, was pretty solid.  Mike Allred's artwork fit Metamorpho pretty well, and the way he and Neil Gaiman played with the format was amusing at times. Joe Kubert's always nice to see, although I was surprised nothing in his Sgt. Rock story really used the format.

A companion book to the earlier ART OUT OF TIME, also edited by Dan Nadel, had some entertaining little seen comics.  It's always good to see some of Sam Glanzman's KONA, and some really nice stuff by Pat Boyette, Pete Morisi, Mort Meskin, Bill Everett and others.

USAGI YOJIMBO #126 - 134
Stan Sakai continues with his regular USAGI comic like clockwork, and it's been very enjoyable with some strong short stories. Meanwhile, Fantagraphics finally got out the long-promised deluxe edition of the early years of the series (the first 38-issue series and various short stories). My copy is on the way, I'm really looking forward to it, more when I have it in hand.

Nice affordable compact volume of the first 400 or so pages of the John Ostrander / Tim Truman science fiction adventure series from the 1980s. I mostly got it for the early stories that ran as back-ups in STARSLAYER, but it's good to have the rest. A much nicer format than the previous reprints.

After some small delays the latest Groo series by Aragones and Evanier concluded. Still good stuff. Still no word on the promised Groo/Conan crossover, or the GROO TREASURY reprint of the early years of the comic. But there was a great hardcover collection of just a fraction of Aragones's nearly 50 years of work for MAD. Funny stuff, I keep picking it up and reading a few pages, amazed at how consistent he is and how well he captures each era as he was living it.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sugar&Spike Christmas Pint-Size Pin-Ups by Sheldon Mayer

From SUGAR AND SPIKE #26 [Dec. 1959/Jan. 1960], by Sheldon Mayer

Coming in January, Sugar & Spike Awareness Month, to celebrate the scheduling of SUGAR AND SPIKE ARCHIVES VOL. 1, order code JAN110334, page 115 of January 2011 Diamond Previews and  ISBN 1401231128, due out August 2011.

While I do like them, the activity pages like this than ran in the series tend to be the bane of my existence, as several of the issues I have of the series have these pages removed, often with story pages on the reverse.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sugar & Spike reprint in 2011

Well, it shouldn't come as any surprise to regular readers here, if there are any left with my sporadic posting, that I'm a big fan of Sheldon Mayer in general, and his creation SUGAR & SPIKE in particular.  So I'm quite happy about the announcement of this coming from DC in August 2011:

Written by SHELDON MAYER; Art and cover by SHELDON MAYER

DC's cult favorite comic about a pair of precocious babies is collected at last in this volume.

Hot-tempered Sugar Plumm and shy Cecil "Spike" Wilson may be toddlers, but they know more about getting into trouble than most grown-ups. And while they can understand each other perfectly, all their parents seem to hear when they speak is "Glx sptzl glaah!"

Now, DC Comics collects their classic series for the first time, starting with issues #1-10, in this hardcover showcasing stories and art by the talented Sheldon Mayer, inspired by the hijinks of his own children.

* Archive Editions * 240pg. * Color * Hardcover * $59.99 US
That's those 10 issues shown in that animated image that should be to the right.  For more S&S covers, check the GCD.

And no, not really the format I would have chosen among the many reprint formats that DC has to offer, not to mention the superior formats that other publishers use, and I'm sure I'll have various quibbles when it comes out, but a 240 page collection of some of Mayer's best work is great to see.

Anyway, for some bizarre reason comic shops are expected to order this book due in August with their orders due in late January, so the next few weeks will be the time to make your interest known if you're planning to buy it from a comic shop (order code JAN110334, page 115 of January 2011 Diamond Previews).  It's also not too early to place an order with your on-line retailer of choice, like Amazon (disclosure, small commission to me if you use that link).  That 37% off they have right now is about as good a discount as you're going to find. Not all the other retailers have it listed yet, but they will soon, search for ISBN 1401231128.

Anyway, look for January to be an unofficial "Sugar & Spike Awareness Month" on this weblog.  I'll try to get daily content up

Saturday, November 27, 2010

CASTLE WAITING v2 by Linda Medley

Well, this is kind of an odd thing. On the merits of the work, the newly released CASTLE WAITING VOLUME 2 deserves as high a recommendation as I'm likely to give. I've been a fan of Linda Medley's series since I first encountered it in a short preview in Charles Vess's BALLADS AND SAGAS back in 1997, which insured I picked up the first issue of CASTLE WAITING when I saw it a few weeks later (and went back to pick up the CURSE OF BRAMBLY HEDGE one-shot I'd missed from the previous year). I was thrilled in 2006 when the series returned with a gorgeous hardcover reprinting the completed storylines and a new on-going series reprinting and then continuing the story begun back in 2002. That new series was on of the few serialized comics I continued to buy in the last few years, and came out fairly steadily until early last year, with 15 issues in all. This new book collects all 15 issues of that series, which is quite a bargain at $30, less than half the cover price of those issues.

Unfortunately, right now I can't recommend it, since as you can see it sort of lacks a certain something, that being Linda Medley's name on the cover. In fact, her name only appears in the copyright notice and a sticker on the backcover. The only information I can find on that on-line is here, where the omission is just noted as being at Medley's request. I probably wouldn't have bought it if I had heard about that first, unless Medley said publicly that she was okay with it. Unfortunately, her own website vanished quite a while ago.

The other thing the book lacks is an ending, as the 15 published issues don't complete the story begun in #1. I'd say that it was at least two, maybe more, issues from a conclusion. Hopefully in the near future we'll get some news on when and where Medley will continue the story (presumably not from the same publisher), but I can't really recommend the book if there's the possibility that it'll be re-released in a proper edition with the full story. I mean, I've already bought it all twice (three times in the case of the first two chapters), and I'd probably buy it a fourth if need be, but that's just me.

But as I said, on the merits of the work, this is a great book, as good as comics get.  Medley continues her exploration of the denizens of Castle Waiting, characters from fairy tales and folklore living their lives after the famous adventures are over. Medley continues with her rather unique structure, where she has a leisurely pace for the main story but a very dense narrative overall as she explores the pasts of the characters.  And of course her art is beautiful, full of great character designs, body language, facial expressions and some of the best renderings of architecture in comics since Gerhard at his peak.

Anyway, a great book despite the misgivings above.  Hopefully we'll get some news about the future of the series and I can clarify if I actually recommend the book or not.  Until then, see if your local library gets this, and the first book.

(2012 update, see here for news on the long-delayed continuation of the story, which will eventually lead to an updated VOLUME 2 book)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Quick bits on recent stuff

A few quick comments on some stuff I've read or bought or plan to read or buy recently. Look for longer posts on these books and other things in the future.  Or, you know, maybe look for another long gap before I post again.  You never know.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Remember, Remember...

Happy Guy Fawkes Day

Seriously, I can't be the only one who would pay good money to see a proper black and white edition of V FOR VENDETTA. Someone get the rights to revert so that Lloyd and Moore can get a proper publisher for it.

(from WARRIOR #1, Art by David Lloyd, script by Alan Moore, lettering by "Zelda Estrella")

And remember, kids, don't try this at home...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Some quick links

Michael Zulli remembers the PUMA BLUES, and speculates on how it would be now in the unlikely event that he and Steven Murphy re-started the series from scratch today. Look for more about Zulli's major book coming out next year soon.

1977 fan mail response from Charles Schulz.

Mark Evanier has a photo of a Groo-o-lantern, guaranteed to sink Halloween.

Various weird 1960s Archie covers reveal a darker side of Riverdale.

J.M. DeMatteis finds a British edition of his 1980s Star Wars story that doesn't have the editorial changes imposed from above.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A few links

Rare political cartoon by Lucy van Pelt found.

For the sake of the children, Batman must die!

And meanwhile, Superman vs. Jesus by Ty Templeton.

A look at just a few months of 1950s Prize romance comics with lots of Kirby.

Communist super-villains from Steve Bissette's upcoming return to 1963 TALES OF THE UNCANNY.

Sluggo and the Cookie Shortage.

I've posted a bunch of 1950s Ditko stories recently, I especially like this one, check it out and if you like follow the links for more, there are some 125 or so full stories available so far, expect about another hundred of them in the next year.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cathy, 1976-2010

On the news that "cartoonist" Cathy Guisewite is ending her comic strip, am I the only one who first thought of this:

1994 comic by Evan Dorkin, available in his collection WHO'S LAUGHING NOW? if you want to appreciate him with money.

It took 16 years, but the children will soon be safe.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Strange Schulz...

One day I'll have to go through the full run on Peanuts and try to identify the dozen strangest images, in or out of context, that Charles Schulz put in there. It's sometimes very jarring, when there's a run of perfectly standard, amusing strips, and then you turn the page and see something like this:

Yes, really.

Early 1967 seems to be an especially good time for some mildly unsettling images.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Al Williamson, R.I.P.

Classic comic book artist Al Williamson passed away a few days ago at age 79.  You can read a lot more about his life and work from people who met him like John Fleskes, Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch, Ty Templeton, Mark Evanier and many more.

I've posted previously about a few of Williamson's EC stories.
Fish Story
The Thing In the 'Glades

And about some of his Flash Gordon work here and here.

I think the first place I noticed Williamson's work was the adaptation of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK that he did with Archie Goodwin back in 1980.  Even with the less than ideal mass-market paperback format that I had the comic in it was some great stuff, perfectly suited to his style.

(Williamson C3P0 sketch from Vanguard's AL WILLIAMSON SKETCHBOOK [1998], a great little book)

I think the next thing I saw was the "Cliff Hanger" backup he did in the back of SOMERSET HOLMES with Bruce Jones. A great classic adventure story in six parts.

(from the reprint of "Cliff Hanger" in ISG's AL WILLIAMSON ADVENTURES [2003], an excellent collection of Williamson's later work with a variety of writers, with most of his full art jobs from the later years not in the movie adaptation or comic strip vein excellently reproduced in a large size)

I would later discover a lot of his other work, of course.  It's gratifying to see the Goodwin/Williamson "The Success Story" from CREEPY #1 singled out so often in writings about Williamson this past week.  That was the first story I read when I heard about Williamson's passing, as it was the first one I read when I heard about Archie Goodwin's passing in 1998.  A highlight from a pair of creators with careers full of highlights.

(panel from "The Success Story", CREEPY #1 [1964])

And while it was a minor part of his career, I really liked the brief time in the mid-1980s when he inked about a dozen Superman comics over Curt Swan. It was probably the best sustained run of quality inking that Swan had since Murphy Anderson in the early 1970s.

(Williamson over Swan from DC COMICS PRESENTS #87 [1985])

Williamson spent much of the last two decades of his career inking other artists, and not surprisingly he generally made the work all the better for it.  There was some great looking work over Bret Blevins, Lee Weeks and Pat Olliffe, and of course a classic Superman/Swamp Thing crossover over Rick Veitch.  To close, Al Williamson inking Mark Schultz drawing a dinosaur and a giant penny. With some incidental Batman...


Williamson's family requests donations in his memory can be made to

The Joe Kubert School
37 Myrtle Avenue
Dover, NJ 07801
Attn: Al Williamson Scholarship Fund


Yesteryears Day Program
2801 Wayne Street
Endwell, NY 13760

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Van Pelt family tradition...

Been reading some later Peanuts strips recently. I really enjoyed the March 14, 1999 strip, since it's a callback to one of my favourite classic sequences. First, from 1967...

(read the whole week starting here)

And now the callback...

Both by Charles Schulz, of course.

Oh, and since I want to be able to find it quickly later, the Little Red Haired Girl:

Saturday, June 05, 2010


THE ART OF DITKO is a large 208-page hardcover published by IDW a few months ago.  The bulk of the book is a reprint of 27 ½ short genre stories that Ditko drew for Charlton comics in various stints with the company between 1954 and 1976.  All of the stories are reproduced in full colour with the printed comics as the source.  Most of the scripts are uncredited, except for one by Nick Cuti. Not mentioned in the book,  but Steve Skeates has previously verified that he wrote one of them, and recently Bhob Stewart has written that he and Russ Jones wrote one of the later ones.  Several of the others were probably written by Joe Gill.

In addition to the stories, there are 10 covers from Charlton reprinted.  The rest of Ditko's career is represented by the reproduction of a dozen pages of original artwork, which includes examples of the Marvel super-heroes, the short "Atlas" fantasy/sci-fi stories that preceded them, two pages from Ditko's brief period drawing for Warren's black and white magazines, a Mr. A page and a few others.  There are also a few short essays. Detailed list of the contents and sources over here.

Overall, I'd say this book is an inferior presentation of some superior material.  I didn't go into the book with the highest of expectations.  I already knew about one major issue, page 3 of this story being missing, replaced with page 3 of this story, which oddly isn't even otherwise included in the book (and why I said it has "27 ½" stories above).  Obviously production mistakes happen to the best of publishers, but that one is pretty sloppy.  I had some other issues going in as well based on what I heard about the book.  Even with those expectations lowered, I found the book to be disappointing.

But before we get to those, I will say that the strength of Ditko's art (and in a few cases the quality of the mostly uncredited writing) probably still makes the book just barely worth picking up, thanks to its relatively low cover price and the generous discount you'd probably buy it at. This book includes about 5% of Ditko's work that would qualify for inclusion (non-super-hero short story work for Charlton), and while it's not the top 5%, I'd say everything included is pretty solidly in the top 23%, and if you like Ditko, that's pretty good. I won't get into details about the individual stories, I have someplace else where I can and will write about that.  The only real quibble in story selection is that most of these stories have been reprinted before, some quite recently (and in the case of three of the 1970s stories, in a much superior form (black and white, apparently from original art or quality stats rather than printed comics as the source) in a still-available book co-published by Ditko).  Only 4 of the 27 stories have never been reprinted before, and two of those were among the weaker stories in the book (to be fair, the other two were among the best). Obviously if you're going to get a collection with the top 23%, you'll get a few that someone else decided to reprint before, but there are a lot of gems in the 200 or so still never-reprinted Charlton short stories, some 1200 pages, that Ditko drew.

And yes, I like numbers...

Now, other than the missing story page, a big problem was a printing error which may not affect the entire print run (although I did double check with a copy not from the same source I got the one I read, so definitely not a unique error).  There's an annoying void in the artwork, about one-inch long, that occurs every 8 pages from page 64 to 160.  To wit:

(if the top right panel of page 104 of your copy doesn't look like this, let me know)

When I saw the first one I thought it might have been a scanning thing (there is another scanning issue, a page where it looks like a small piece of paper fell on the scanner beneath the comic), but when I noticed more of them, and that it occurred every 8 pages like clockwork (the size of the signatures of the book), at exactly the same place, figured it must have been a printing issue. If it's just in a very few copies, I guess that's an understandable lapse in quality control. If it's in all of them, that's quite a problem to miss.

I also question the editorial choice to present the material in what appears to be a random order, as you can see from the aforementioned list. There really does seem to be no order in either that stories or in the original art and covers used between stories.  I'm not sure why that's considered a good thing.  I don't mind reading stories out of order, but I can do that myself, and wouldn't mind having the option to easily read them in some order, maybe at least separating material by decade or something.  Strict chronological order would put slightly below-average stories both first and last, but I don't see how that's really an issue.

On the actual reproduction quality, a few months ago I said about another Ditko reprint, "there's a limit to how good a reprint can be if the source material has to be actual printed comics from the 1950s, though what's possible overall has improved tremendously in the last decade.  Late in the last century a reprint of this quality probably would have been considered state of the art.  In 2010, I'd say it's solidly average, maybe give it a 6 or 7 out of 10".  For the most part I'd say the same for this book. It gets a few points more for the larger page size, loses a few for some production issues (other than those mentioned above).  I liked the paper a bit more, liked the binding a bit less.

Which leaves the text essays.  The first is by Stan Lee.  I'm really not sure why (other than a few of the original art pages he wasn't involved in the contents), but it's typical Lee, whatever that may mean to you, with a few of those Lee-isms that I'm sure some people find charming.  The book's editor Craig Yoe writes a few pieces, partly about his own interactions with Ditko (including an entertaining story about introducing him to Jim Henson) and about some of the stories reprinted.  Most interesting was a short piece by Jerry Robinson, who taught Ditko in the early 1950s.  Not really anything in here that he hasn't talked about in interviews before, but always good to hear from Robinson. John Romita provides some thoughts on following Ditko on Spider-Man, and P. Craig Russell writes a few things on his long time as a fan and brief time as an inker of Ditko. As they say, mostly harmless, although like the rest of the book the text pages could have benefited from another one or two editorial/proofing passes.

So, as I said, worth getting as a relatively inexpensive and easy to obtain sampler of some of the better works of a substantial body of work spanning over 20 years, but disappointing overall for a variety of reasons.  An inferior presentation of superior material.  Overall I'd give it a 6/10.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Steve Perry, R.I.P.

Steve Bissette has confirmed that writer Steve Perry has passed away.  You can read a lot more about his life and the unfortunate circumstances of his last days in other posts from Bissette.

I wasn't reading comics for most of the time that Perry was active in the 1980s, but I did end up with a good percentage of his non-animation related comics (Thundercats and Silverhawks, for which he wrote both cartoons and comics, were after my time, and I don't ever recall watching the shows, though it seems they do have some dedicated fans).  Most recently I picked up an issue of his most significant work, TIMESPIRITS, a few years ago, mostly for the Al Williamson guest art, and liked that enough to get the rest of the series shortly after.  That series deserves a more detailed look, which I'll try to get around to when, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, co-creator Tom Yeates is able to arrange a reprint.  In the meantime, here's a good discussion of it.

Outside of TIMESPIRITS my favourite Perry story is "The Saurian Remains", drawn by Steve Bissette and published in Marvel's AMAZING HIGH ADVENTURE #4 [1986].  A fictionalized fantasy story based on the "Bone Wars" rivalry among 19th century paleontologists, it's a cleverly done tale which provides a fanciful explanation for an old scientific error while also providing the opportunity for Bissette to draw both the dinosaurs and extreme violence that he excels in.

Perry and Bissette also did the memorable stories "A Frog Is A Frog" and "The Blood Bequest" (with John Totleben) for Marvel's BIZARRE ADVENTURES black and white magazine, as well as some stories in HEAVY METAL and EPIC ILLUSTRATED that I haven't read.

With Rick Veitch, Perry did the short story "Ahhh... Christmas" for Marvel's one-shot AMAZING ADVENTURES #1 [1988]. Not your typical warm holiday story, as you might gather from the line:

And what about the elves? I've always wondered about them. An exploited minority if ever there was one. Picture these undemanding little fellows jailed year round in some Arctic factory enslaved to the eccentricities of one slightly larger than themselves...

Perry wrote several stories for the brief revival of THUNDER AGENTS published by Deluxe Comics in the mid-1980s.  In the first issue, he wrote a story drawn by Keith Giffen featuring the new female Menthor, and then he did a 2-part story featuring the robotic NoMan in #3 and #4, with artwork by Steve Ditko and Greg Theakston.  This latter story was very entertaining as a modern take on a silver age concept (including a villain with the unlikely name Cyrano de Klopps), with several inventive uses of NoMan's powers.  Definitely one of the better non-Ditko-written Ditko stories of the era.

I picked up VANGUARD ILLUSTRATED #7 [1984], one of the last comics published by early independent publisher Pacific Comics, quite a while back for the first Mr. Monster story.  The anthology leads off with an entertaining western/horror story "The Ballad of Hardcase Bradley" drawn by George Evans.  I didn't remember that it was written by Steve Perry, but I remembered the story right away when Steve Bissette mentioned the title a few days ago.

One of Perry's other major comic book works was a jungle adventure comic called SALIMBA, with art by Paul Chadwick.  I remember reading that, but can't seem to find it right now.  It was recently announced that About Comics had bought the rights to it, along with a new prose short story of the character, so it might return to print sooner or later.

Perry was helped in his last few months by the Hero Initiative. Consider a donation to them if you can.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Various upcoming comics roundup

Haven't paid too much attention to the solicitations for upcoming comics, except to note the Kirby and Ditko stuff, for the last few months.  Heard about a few things I'd missed recently, so I looked down the full lists, and here are some random things I thought were noteworthy, mostly for my own future reference.

Sunday, May 09, 2010


As previously mentioned, I went to TCAF on Saturday at the Toronto Reference Library (a really nice place, by the way.  I used to go there all the time when I had more occasion to be downtown).  A very good show, I highly recommend heading down if you can whenever the next show is.

Met the main five guests who I wanted to see, and enjoyed taking to them all.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Heading down to TCAF

Preparing to go to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) this weekend.  Despite it, obviously, being in Toronto and me, not quite so obviously, also being in Toronto, I haven't attended the show before.  Should be interesting.  The main reason I'm going, of course, is the attendance of Larry Marder, of Beanworld fame.  He's giving a history of the Beanworld show on Saturday afternoon, so I'll definitely be there for that.

Looking down the full guest list, I don't recognize a lot of these names, but I've been kind of out of touch with new independent comics for a while now.

One name that jumps out is Charles Vess, whose work I've been reading for some twenty years or more.  Hell, my review of his BOOK OF BALLADS was the second ever post on this weblog, after a short introductory post.  I'll have to get that signed.  Maybe one of his old TALES OF ASGARD things.

And Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer both, that's pretty good.  I love all sorts of stuff they've done together and separately, MILK AND CHEESE, PIRATE CORPS, ACTION GIRL, SUPERMAN ADVENTURES.  Hm, I was thinking KID BLASTOFF would be a good thing to bring for signing, but it seems to be misfiled...

Good to see Jim Ottaviani on the guest list.  I have a bunch of his books about real-life science from GT Labs, starting with TWO-FISTED SCIENCE.  Think I might have missed a few of the more recent ones, so maybe I can catch up.

So that's a pretty good list of people to look up.  Depending on how long that takes and how long I feel like sticking around, I might also stop by and see a few of the other names I recognize who've done work I enjoyed, like Salgood Sam (SEA OF RED), Jim Rugg (STREET ANGEL), Roger Langridge (FRED THE CLOWN), James Sturm (GOLEM'S MIGHTY SWING), Paul Pope (100%) and some others, and see if I can spot anything unfamiliar which looks interesting.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


AMELIA RULES was a series self-published by Jimmy Gownley through Renaissance Press for 20 issues from 2001 to 2008. The contents of those comics have been collected most recently into four books from Simon&Schuster (plus a Christmas book with some of the stories re-formatted into digest size). Now that the reprinting is out of the way, Gownley has just released an original 192-page fifth book in the series, THE TWEENAGE GUIDE TO NOT BEING UNPOPULAR.

To recap, the series features the adventures of young Amelia McBride, following her move with her mother to a new town after her parents divorced.  In previous books, we've seen her get to know her somewhat nerdish and often super-hero obsessed friends, do battle with a rival ninja gang from across town, find out about her family (including her Aunt Tanner) and generally struggle through the fourth grade.  In this new book, she's now in the fifth grade, and she and her friends are getting more concerned with their social standing, trying to fit in and be popular, or at least, as the title suggests, not be unpopular.  It's an uphill battle, of course.

As you can read on the official site, Gownley takes the inspiration for AMELIA RULES from classic comic strips, in particular Charles Schulz' PEANUTS (the more direct visual cues from Schulz have subsided over time, but still pop up every now and then).  It's also, he says, not about childhood, but about growing up, so the characters do tend to grow and change.

It's always been a very charming series, with Gownley never being a slave to any conventions and willing to do anything for the joke, starting with breaking the fourth wall, which is a regular feature of the book with Amelia's narration, and moving on from there.  In the case of this particular book, that includes a sight gag referencing a classic Wile E. Coyote moment, an extended aside where Amelia talks to Dracula, Frankenstein Frankenstein's Monster and the Wolfman about the nature of evil (which even includes a somewhat obscure but classic Saturday Night Live joke) and a long flashback done in the style of an Archie comic.  It all tends to work because in every case Gownley really commits to the gag, making everything look and feel right (in an earlier book, he had the photo albums of the characters take the form of the appropriate period comic strips, which really cracked me up).

Anyway, it's always a pleasure to get any new work from Gownley, and six times as much a pleasure to get it a 192-page chunk instead of just 32-pages.  And even more of a pleasure to get it for such a reasonable price (the hardcover is cheaper than 6 issues of the comic would have been, and the softcover is much less than that, so don't believe people when they tell you not serializing comics will lead to higher prices).  And even better news, the back of the book lists Volume 6, TRUE THINGS (ADULTS DON'T WANT KIDS TO KNOW), scheduled for October 2010, so no two year gap before the next big chunk of story.

Monday, April 19, 2010


As I mentioned a few days ago, Steve Bissette has just released a new 16-page preview under the TALES OF THE UNCANNY title, reviving the concepts from his share of the long dormant characters from the 1963 series (N-Man, the Hypernaut and the Fury plus associated characters, including what looks like an enlarged role for Sky Solo), in anticipation of a full 200+ page book coming out later this year.  Courtesy of Steve, I've got a copy of the preview now (details on ordering a copy of your own over here, and look around the site for a lot more details about the characters).

For the revival, Bissette establishes the fictional publisher Naut Comics, with a history going back back to the pulps and continuing on through comics history, with various incarnations of their key characters.  It looks like the upcoming book will present some of the newly created vintage stories, as well as articles about their fictional creation. It's an interesting set-up which is true to the 1963 roots of the characters, and lets Bissette explore multiple styles and genres and also indulge in his interest in comic book history through a fictional lens.

And as you'd expect for a 200+ page book, Bissette isn't alone in this.  As Bissette goes through on his site, many of the stories are being done in collaboration with various young artists from the Center for Cartoon Studies where Bissette teaches, several of them with work in the preview showing off a variety of styles, and several other established creators look to be contributing as well (including Fred Hembeck, who has a short Dateline: @!!?# comic strip in the preview).

There are several bits with N-Man in the preview, starting with the cover.  It looks like there'll be some good variety with his character, from straight-forward Hulk-like super-hero adventures to much more horror based material and an intriguing looking back-cover look at an adventure that seems to be something like Indiana Jones crossed with Hellboy.

And as Bissette mentioned on his site (and in a note to me) the Hypernaut is going to get quite a lot of attention as well. He intersects with N-Man on the heroics, but leans to a more science fiction side. My second favourite piece of art in the preview (after the front cover) is a great colour portrait of the Hypernaut among some asteroids in deep space, and a preview of a comics page shows him inhabiting a microscopic Nanonaut body to enter N-Man's body.

There are a lot of directions this material could take in the upcoming book, especially with over 200 pages to play with (for more possible hints, check out the pages for N-Man, the Hypernaut and the Fury over on Bissette's site.  I'm not sure how much of that stuff is still relevant with the latest work on the characters, but it's fun reading and has some great art, including a screen from the Fury cell phone game). I'll definitely be there to check out the full book.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I will confess to being a bit cynical a year back when Boom Studios began publishing comics based on Jim Henson's classic MUPPET SHOW that ran on TV from 1976 to 1981. I'm a big fan of the show, but couldn't really see it translating to comics. However, as I'm currently waiting for the seemingly stalled release of the series on DVD to conclude so that I can get a complete set (and stop watching the two dozen episodes I have on tape from one of the last times it was shown locally), and as I have enjoyed some of writer/artist Roger Langridge's previous work, and as the comic has gotten some good reviews, I decided to check out the first two books, MEET THE MUPPETS and THE TREASURE OF PEG-LEG WILSON, each collecting four issues of the comic.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A visit back to 1963...

I should have a copy of Steve Bissette's new TALES OF THE UNCANNY PREVIEW EDITION in my hands soon.  That's the first step in his upcoming return to his share of the "1963" characters.  While I wait, I pulled out my set of the original comics that it seems will never be reprinted, and re-read the stories that form the basis of this new revival (all of #2 and half of #3 and #4).

For those who are somehow unfamiliar with the background of the series, 1963 was a six issue series published in 1993, introducing a variety of characters created by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and Rick Veitch that were all to some degree pastiches of the Kirby/Ditko/Lee Marvel comics characters and stories of the 1960s.  For various reasons the series never properly finished, and eventually the rights to the characters were split among the creators.  While it doesn't look like there are any active plans for the return of the characters now owned by Veitch and Moore, the Bissette side is one we'll be seeing more of soon.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Short notes on some recently consumed old and new stuff

So, a few things I may or may not get into in more detail later...

The last books of the English version of Keiji Nakazawa's BAREFOOT GEN (HADASHI NO GEN) were published by Last Gasp recently, bringing the whole 10-volume, circa 2500 page story of a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima into print.  The story has its slow points, but it's great overall.  The first four volumes are essential reading, especially in this unabridged version.  I'm not holding my breath, but it would be nice to see a companion volume of some of Nakazawa's other work.  In particular the more strictly autobiographical I SAW IT, plus some other intriguing stuff never published in English.

I read Miss Lasko-Gross' ESCAPE FROM "SPECIAL" recently, and really enjoyed that, the story of Melissa from her earliest memories until just before she starts high school, dealing with special needs education, sometimes odd parenting and general difficulties fitting in, all told in short vignettes.  I have the follow-up book, A MESS OF EVERYTHING, sitting here, which follows Melissa into high school, so I have high hopes for that.

As we wait for the Pogo comic strip reprints to finally begin, I decided to attempt to complete my collection of the various classic Pogo books by Walt Kelly, in one form or another.  Many of the books were reprinted either in the 1970s or 1990s in either 2-in-1 or 3-in-1 omnibus editions, or in hardcover editions (most of the 1990s hardcovers are still readily available, pick up some FORT MUDGE MOST while you're there), so my collection is a hodge-podge of originals and variously formatted reprints. Obviously great stuff, especially as a few of the books I just picked up are those that I used to read from copies that the library had when I was shorter, so they bring back fond memories.

Read the first two books collecting Roger Langridge's comic book version of THE MUPPET SHOW, and enjoyed those more than I was expecting.  He knows his stuff, capturing the voices of the characters very nicely, and tossing in some of the most obscure characters and sketches from Muppet history, and nicely combines the structure of comics with that of the show.  Not great stuff by any means, but solidly entertaining.

Switching to TV, I'm still watching LOST, but mostly just to get to the ending.  I'm pretty sure I'd stop now if I didn't know it was the final season, and if it wasn't free.  This Earth-2 business just isn't nearly as clever as they seem to think it is.

I enjoy CHUCK a bit more, though honestly I wouldn't be that upset if it doesn't come back for another year. Guess seeing decent shows almost consistently get worse after three or four solid years makes you a cynic after a while.  For now the show mostly works, although their insistence on constantly returning to the status quo (with a few minor tweaks) every few episodes after teasing major changes tends to grate after a while, even though that obviously just par for the course on network TV.

I also pretty consistently enjoy COMMUNITY as a nice goofy 22 minute diversion.  Not sure if it's the kind of thing that'll hold up for more than two years, but worthwhile for now.

Older stuff, I noticed that my library had many of the BABYLON 5 seasons on DVD.  I watched the show somewhat sporadically when it was broadcast, partly because I didn't always like it, partly because it wasn't exactly well scheduled locally (it was frequently shifted around due to some sports broadcasts, as I recall).  So far I've watched until almost the end of season 4, with about a third of the episodes new to me.  I was going to write some more about it, but looking around it seems that my opinions pretty much match the conventional wisdom. Not very good pilot movie, very uneven first season, with a few good bits and generally getting better, improved and mostly solid second season, very good third season, and the fourth season mostly continuing the quality, but way too rushed and some of the story resolutions being more than a bit anti-climactic (seriously, the lead just told the bad guys to to away, and they meekly said okay, as long as their "dad" went with them?).  I haven't decided if I'll watch the last season, which I'd have to watch on-line.  I recall it being a big let-down after the two prior years, which again seems to be the conventional wisdom.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

A fistful of links

Steve Bissette returns with his share of the 1963 characters, including N-Man, the Hypernaut and the Fury, with a preview available soon (at MOCCA) and a full book planned for later this year.

Evan Dorkin and Hilary Barta on an old-school MAD style parody of Tarantino.

James Vance finishes script for KINGS IN DISGUISE sequel, ON THE ROPES, now in the hands of artist Dan Burr

Carl Barks draws human beings. They look very pretty and all, but just imagine them with beaks and webbed feet...

Stan Sakai has a convention promo piece featuring art by him and Sergio Aragones of their most famous creations, Spot and Rufferto.  Oh, and Usagi and Groo are on there as well.

J.M. DeMatteis has the cover to his upcoming novel IMAGINALIS.

Jack Kirby draws 3-D art for Honeycomb cereal.

Larry Marder has some old Beanworld art on weird clay paper

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Opening Day

From an obscure comic strip by Charles Schulz, April 2, 1963.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dick Giordano, R.I.P.

Dick Giordano, artist on one of the best Batman stories ever:

passed away at age 77.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Superman vs. Ali

First, let me be clear, there is no way I'm buying this, especially at $250.

Still, I can't say I'm not tempted...

Just for fun, here's Joe Kubert's original for the image, adapted by Neal Adams for the published book.

Ali, bomaye! Ali, bomaye!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

EC - The Thing In the 'Glades (Williamson)

The Thing In the 'Glades
art by Al Williamson, story by Al Feldstein
Tales From the Crypt #31[#15] (1952)

This is an early story from Al Williamson for the EC books, featuring drama deep in the everglades.  It's his only story for CRYPT, as he was mostly in the sci-fi/fantasy books.

A sheriff investigating some bloody bodies found deep in the woods, obviously not killed by an animal.  There are some rumours about the old hermit Ezzard, and some strange noises from his cabin, but no evidence.  With another body comes an eyewitness, enough to get Ezzard to admit to the existence of his secret deformed son.

All that leads to a violent chase, ending sadly in quicksand.  Kind of a sad story, since the kid really is an innocent victim of some horrid parenting.

Some really gorgeous work by Williamson on this one, with the lush setting, especially in the chase on the last few pages (and as previewed in the splash image).

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Superman and the unheard Word of God

So, I was ordering a couple of books from a British bookstore, and looked at what else they might have that would be worth ordering to lower the average shipping charge.  One of the things I noticed was a hardcover SUPERMAN ANNUAL from 1983, with an original Brian Bolland cover (good, but not great):

...obviously reprinting a favourite story of mine, the 3-part Len Wein/Jim Starlin story from DC COMICS PRESENTS #27-29 [1980-1981], teaming up Superman with J'onn J'onzz, Supergirl and the Spectre in a story introducing the villain Mongul. I really liked that when it came out, and in my defense, I hadn't read enough older comics at the time to realize Mongul was a poor man's Thanos, and Thanos was a poor man's Darkseid.  Anyway, said story has never been reprinted by DC, except for the final chapter  in a collection I don't really want to buy, so I figured it would an interesting novelty, certainly worth £1 plus shipping.

For the most part the book is okay.  The paper has certainly aged better than the originals.  They did understandably cut out a page of mostly recaps from two of the stories.  More seriously, they seemed to have some problems with anything printed in sold colour overlays.  Like this image of Supergirl which is a pretty poor tracing of the original:

And much more seriously, this must have been perplexing to British reader, at the climax of the story:

And a page later:

Ah, the giant white-space voice of God strikes again.  Given what was done with the Supergirl image, I'm guessing this wasn't a change made to address the religious sensitivities of the Church of England, but rather a production issue with the lettering appearing in blue rather than black for those two panels.  If anyone has been wondering what was going on there for a quarter century:


Actually, while I really liked these stories, I never really liked the direct intervention of God in the finale, so I think the Brits might have had the right idea, if for the wrong reasons.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Al Williamson’s Flash Gordon: A Lifelong Vision of the Heroic

Al Williamson was a big fan of Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon comic strip back when he was a boy, and the obvious influence of that work led his career to intersect with the character multiple times in the last half-century. All of the major intersections, as well as many minor ones, are collected in the gorgeous volume AL WILLIAMSON’S FLASH GORDON: A LIFELONG VISION OF THE HEROIC from Flesk Publications, a large 9x12 256-page book published last year.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Cool old Oscar moment

Kind of surprised I could only find this in a low quality version from a Japanese show. Although in looking for it I did also find this version:

Songwriters Annette O'Toole and Michael McKean singing the song. Neat. I have to get that McKean/Guest/Shearer UNWIGGED & UNPLUGGED concert movie.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

MEANWHILE by Jason Shiga

I found a copy of Jason Shiga's BOOKHUNTER in the library last year, and really enjoyed it, so it was good to see that his newest book got the deluxe release treatment from a major publisher.

The 80-page full colour hardcover MEANWHILE is the book in question, and its conceptual hook is summarized by the blurb on the cover "Pick Any Path. 3,856 Story Possibilities."  Yes, it's a "Choose Your Own Adventure" style story, but in a unique comic book form, with the panel progressions being led through the page by various "tubes" that split off depending on your choices, and the transitions through pages being accomplished by a clever series of tabs on the edge of the book.  Despite the complexity of the work, the system is very intuitive for the most part, reading quite naturally after a few pages (in fact, after my first go-round with the book for about a half-hour, I picked up another comic and it took me a few pages before I could stop looking for tubes to lead me to the next panel or page. I thought for a second that the damn thing had broken by brain).

To read my digression about CYOA books, continue below.  To skip it, click here

Now, to backtrack a bit on a personal level to the "Choose Your Own Adventure" thing, I see from the prestigious internets that said series of books debuted in 1979.  I'd have been about nine at the time, and I recall being quite taken with the concept early on, reading several of the books. The concept really just captivated me for a while, probably less to do with the quality of the writing than the structure. I recall that after a few books I wound up trying to deconstruct one of them, creating a primitive flow-chart tracing all the page references to see exactly how it worked, where the loops were and if I was managing to read every combination. Perhaps not surprisingly, after I had done that the books had lost all their mystique, and I quickly moved on to something else. Encyclopedia Brown or The Great Brain or Danny Dunn or something, I don't recall exactly what order those things come into my life.

Shiga manages his odd format very well, managing to play around with it in some ways that manage to surprise in delightful ways.  Of course, given my history with this type of story (aren't you glad you didn't choose to skip that part?), after I'd read about a dozen of those 3,856 stories I was taken with an urge to do some deconstruction, which proved quite a bit harder than with the "go to page 75" format of the old books.  The format makes it inevitable that as you read you'll see something intriguing in a panel that's from a path not taken, and while it would be possible to get there by starting over and making different choices, sometimes it's even more intriguing to discover how to trace the tubes backwards in time.  And sometimes that might lead you to find out that there are things hidden in plain sight.

As for the story, young Jimmy has to choose chocolate or vanilla ice cream, and depending on which he prefers might end up encountering a scientist with three different devices: a time machine, a Killitron 2000 and a mind-reading SQUID.  Hi-jinks ensue.  Sometimes.  Other times it all ends in tears.

The one thing that remains consistent is that it's a great little book (well, I did find one combination that had some structural flaws, but the other 3,855 seem solid).  If you like Scott McCloud (in particular this or this) you should definitely give it a try, and you can see some other interactive comics by Shiga over here (some adapted for the web, some just descriptions of the low-run self-published print versions or abandoned experiments.  Check out the photo of the author with a 5-foot-square print version of MEANWHILE from 2004).

Oh, some unfinished business down below. Ignore it...

A fatal error. You die. Try again.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Some new Ditko...

New Ditko comic is out now, and it includes a preview of the cover to the next Ditko comic. Here's a quick teaser...

Full cover and title over here tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Pre-Calvinozoic Era Watterson has a story up right now with several examples of Bill Watterson's work as an editorial cartoonist from before his work on Calvin & Hobbes.  Check it out.  They're from microfilm copies of the paper, so not the highest resolution, but readable.  As you'd expect, most of them are very much of their time, with caricatures of various political types of the era, some local to the region, and with references that were no doubt crystal clear to readers of the day but faded into obscurity now.  Some of the cartooning is pretty good, as you'd expect, with a few hints of his later work, like the bit I chose to highlight above.

Oh, and there's an interview with Watterson up there, too.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Reversal of kudos to DC - Ignoring errors

This probably matters to no one but me, but since I commended DC Comics a while back for  putting up an errata site to document and correct errors in their books (primarily credits, but other things as well), I wanted to note that they've not added any entries to the site since then, despite dozens of undocumented errors not yet included from earlier books, and many new ones since (with one egregious example).  So I guess it was a half-assed effort.  Not sure if that's better or worse than nothing at all, since having the site up there does sort of imply those are the only mistakes they're aware of.

The whole thing made me curious about why exactly they put the site up there, what one mistake tipped the balance to make them decide they needed the site, presumably letting someone throw up a quickly constructed list of errors (or maybe an existing internal list of corrections made or planned for new printings) to make the site look real and act as chaff for the error they had to acknowledge?

The ABSOLUTE SANDMAN errors are conspicuous, as it's a prestige project and it's always nice to stay on Neil Gaiman's good side, I guess, but those are fairly minor errors.  The big Kane/Moldoff correction on one book might have been it, but I know that same "error" exists in other books not corrected.

Then it jumped out at me:

Elric: The Making Of Sorcerer

  • Indicia is incorrect - trademark should be assigned to Michael Moorcock.

Should have been obvious, really.  They somehow flubbed properly acknowledging the owner of the character and story they were publishing, an actual legal requirement, and presumably recalling the whole print run and reprinting the book wasn't a feasible option.  Much cheaper to say they've got a site to cover stuff like that and hastily throw one up.

And no, I don't know that was the case, but it seems to make sense.

Friday, January 29, 2010

My favourite way to read THE CATCHER IN THE RYE...

Pick up Evan Dorkin's DORK #1, and I'm sure one of the books reprinting the series (WHO'S LAUGHING NOW, I guess), for the rest of the 2-page story.

And rest in peace, Mr. Salinger.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

ABADAZAD v3 by DeMatteis & Ploog

Bit overdue, I talked about ABADAZAD v1 over here and v2 over here.  A while after that it was revealed that Disney/Hyperion had cancelled the series, and further that they weren't even going to release the completed third book in North America, but did release it in the UK.  Yeah, I don't get it either...

Anyway, a few times in the past few years I took a look to see if I could get the third book, but generally found that it was either ridiculously expensive, when shipping was added on (often even before shipping), or that the sellers wouldn't ship to Canada for some reason, or had a dodgey looking website that I didn't want to enter my credit card information on.  A few times I even found it for a reasonable price and ordered it, only to be told that there was an inventory error and the seller didn't actually have a copy, so money refunded.  So when I tried again a few weeks ago (after DeMatteis mentioned the series a few times on his blog), I didn't hold out much hope, so imagine my surprise when instead of an apology and a refund a package showed up with a copy of ABADAZAD v3: THE PUPPET, THE PROFESSOR AND THE PROPHET by J. M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog.

For those unfamiliar with the history of the series, it began as a comic book series from rapidly failing publisher CrossGen back in 2004, only lasting three issues and barely getting into the story of Kate Jameson, a young girl who finds out that the world presented in the popular early 20th century series of Abadazad novels were inspired by a real place, one where she winds up in a search for her long-missing young brother.

The remains of the company were bought by Disney, which apparently only had a real interest in ABADAZAD (all they've done with the other books from CrossGen is license out some reprints to a third-rate publisher) and the series was reformatted to a series of books in a hybrid format, with sections of heavily illustrated text mixed with sections of comics, with eight books to tell the initial story.  Unfortunately, as mentioned above, it didn't get much further into the story than the original comics, especially in North America.  If you read the posts from DeMatteis's blog above, you'll get more details about what happened, and prospects for the future, including details about his related upcoming novel IMAGINALIS, about characters trapped in limbo.

For now, though, we (or at least I) have one new book to move the story along.  This third book essentially finishes up the first act of the story, the classic gathering of the characters for their quest.  It's a bit more than that, since this is a heavily meta-textual story, so it plays with the classic story structure in addition to following it.  By the end of the story we get Kate finally united with the group of characters who formed the core of the adventures in the fictitious original Abadazad novels, all quite different from their fictional counterparts.

It's a very enjoyable read, although the foreknowledge of the fate of the series kind of makes it somewhat bittersweet.  The contrast between the characters as Kate knows them from the novels and how they really are is always enjoyable, and there are a lot of twists that depend on the odd meta-textual format of the series (the story in this format is essentially presented as direct from Kate's enchanted diary, which includes scenes that she's not present for or didn't write about, but which she sees in the diary (as the comic book formatted pages), so she becomes aware of those events, even if she doesn't know if they're real or what they mean, and those inform her future actions).

Anyway, a good little book, and hopefully it finds a way to rise from the ashes once again.  In the meantime, I guess, into IMAGINALIS.

By the way, from a while back, the original series proposal by DeMatteis.  It's interesting to see how some parts of it were retained, but a lot of it changed in very major ways.  The end of the third books has a twist that was obviously going to have major implications on the final resolution but doesn't appear in the original proposal, and neither does one major character.

Also, Disney still has their way out-of-date website for the series up, which has some neat stuff. I don't know if I like the disneyfied animation in the opening screen, but it's interesting, and some of the other stuff is very nice.

Update: and here's an excerpt from the unpublished v4
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