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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

AMELIA RULES v5 - THE TWEENAGE GUIDE... by Jimmy Gownley

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

TALES OF THE UNCANNY PREVIEW by Bissette & Co.

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

THE MUPPET SHOW COMIC BOOK by Langridge

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

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