STUFF WONDER ZOMBIES

BOOKS FROM RANDOM HOUSE(S)
Written and Drawn by Various

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Three recent graphic novels from different parts of the Random House empire…

THE STUFF OF LEGEND BOOK 1: THE DARK (Villard) is written by Mike Raicht and Brian Smith and drawn by Charles Paul Wilson III. It’s every child’s nightmare: kidnapped by the Boogeyman! But when it happens to one young boy, he isn’t just left to the evil creature’s clutches; his toys come to animated life and undertake a quest into The Dark to find the boy, rescue him, and bring him home. Unfortunately, The Dark is not so easy to traverse; it’s full of dangers unimaginable, and the loyal playthings have undertaken a quest that not all of them will survive. STUFF surprised me with how much I liked it; the script is clever and intelligent, and the characters interesting, but what really sells it is the art by Wilson. His work is conveyed through sepia-toned pages full of detailed wonderment, and his commitment to the reality of the story sucks you in as a reader. There is a nice chunk of story here, enough to whet your appetite and desire to see more of the toys’ quest, and the package is put together nicely. I wouldn’t give it to a child under ten or so, buy those older than that will likely find themselves hooked.

Writer Tony Lee and artist Cliff Richards adapt the novel PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES (Del Rey) into a graphic novel, and the results are surprising. The novel, Jane Austen enhance by Seth Grahame-Smith, was a surprise smash when it hit shelves, but the unusual mix of period piece and violence could have been a potentially tough sell. Wisely, though, the adaptation was handed to an artist well-suited to young women fighting with ancient weapons and killing the undead. Richards spent years drawing the BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER comics for Dark Horse, and he brings the zest and gusto for death and dismemberment to each and every page here. Lee has the harder task; much of the book is the same talky, relationship melodrama from Austen’s original work, and it doesn’t lend itself to anything grand or exciting on the comicbook page. Still, he manages to find a pacing that lends itself to maintaining the reader’s interest, and whenever he can, he steps aside and lets the artist do his thing. In the end, I found myself enjoying the book far more than I would have anticipated, and fans of (both forms of) the source material will likely be pleased.

As solid as those two books are, though, neither can top THE ESSENTIAL WONDER WOMAN ENCYCLOPEDIA in terms of sheer scope and accomplishment. (Del Rey) Comics historian John Wells and former writer and artist of WONDER WOMAN, Phil Jimenez team up to provide the most comprehensive resource to the amazing Amazon’s comics career imaginable. In this book’s nearly 500 pages you get thousands of entries about the people, places, and storylines that have shaped Wonder Woman’s life in comics (her television show and cartoon appearances are not dealt with in this book), and a complete look at the character’s origins… all of them! With the confusing level of DC continuity that exists in comics, this book breaks down which origins count for what era, how they changed, why they changed… and somehow manages to make some of the greatest nonsense ever put to print actually make some sense. They even parse out the origins of Donna Troy, which is as close to impossible as anything in comics period. The level of detail in the entries is amazing, the amount of art that appears in these pages is astonishing, and you even get some cool inserts reproducing some of the greatest images of the character ever put to print. If you’re a fan of the character, this is easily the greatest gift you could give yourself. If you aren’t a fan, then reading some of the material here might just change that. This is quite possibly the best comics-related reference work ever made.



AISLE SEAT 2.0.53

AISLE SEAT 2.0.53: PHOENIX COMICON 2010

By Marc Mason

You’d think that having a good-size comicon in my backyard would make it easier to spent a couple of days at the show and absorb a large chunk of the programming at the very least. However, it’s just the opposite; when at San Diego, there’s nothing else to focus on but the con. When the show is a 20-minute train ride away, you still have to focus on dealing with daily life. Thus, as it was for the 2009 edition, I was only going to have one day at the con. Friday.

That said, I feel like I got plenty out of that day, and I had fun. And the show, with its new changes, continues to improve and build its profile and reputation.

I arrived on Friday afternoon with no real agenda in mind. The only thing I knew for sure that I would be doing that day wasn’t taking place until after the show was over- dinner with Steven Grant, friend and comics veteran, a man who knows where the bodies are buried and who dug the holes. But until then, as Grant was signing his latest graphic novel, ODYSSEUS THE REBEL at Big Head Press’ table right up until the show closed at 8pm, I was free to roam.

Of course, I stepped off the train, and as I went to cross the street to go into the Phoenix Convention Center (the new home for the show, and the best improvement the organizers made), the first thing I did was run into Steven who was on a break from signing. After a brief catchup, I went inside, got directions from a helpful volunteer, and picked up my press badge. Enter: writer boy.

But I want to digress for a moment on the subject of badges, because this is still where the show falls down the most. I will say that the Phoenix con badges are always attractive, which is great. But they still lack any sort of name or identification of affiliation, which is a larger issue for a smaller con. Two, in order to pick up my badge, I actually had to read a list of rules for the press and sign an agreement to abide by their rules. This is, frankly, fucking stupid. If the show has had issues with press misbehaving before, they need to be more judicious about who they give badges to. If they haven’t the show needs to back up and trust in professionals to do their job. Anyone that takes the job seriously knows how to conduct themselves at a convention and around potential subjects. If organizers have had issues with entry-level bloggers, then don’t give them credentials.

Guys: San Diego puts their rules on their website. That’s all you need to do. Really.

Anyway…

I walked into the show and began strolling through the floor. This year’s setup had a lot more room than years last, and the number of vendors was solid. Wisely, the Wildstorm and Top Cow setups were right inside the front doors, giving an instant eye-draw for attendees as they walked in. But just past them began some retail, then some smaller press folks. There was care taken in blending various types of booths on the rows, which I liked very much. That keeps attendees from skipping rows entirely and draws more eyes to booths that might need a bit more help. That was design high point number one; as I reached the far side of the show, I discovered the celebrity autograph tables, which was high point number two. Unlike a show run by Wizard, the Phoenix organizers made you work a bit to get over to see James Marsters, Levar Burton, Felicia Day and friends. The design pushed people past some dinner before getting to dessert. I can’t say enough about how much I appreciated this level of thinking. Unlike San Diego, which buries artists’ alley and pushes the Hollywood up front, the comics folk were more towards the center of the show… where they belong.

The first person I chatted with as I walked the floor was Eric Mengel, a local AZ artist who had recently sent me the guts of the second volume of his OCHO series, asking me for a pull quote for the back. The books were in, and he happily handed one over, which was kind of him. I was amused to see that I am actually two of the quotes on the back, the first coming from when I reviewed volume one back when I was at Kevin Smith’s MoviePoopShoot. Eric’s a good guy, and he’s been busting his hump on his book for a long time. I’m happy for him that he’s now two volumes in on what I hope will be a long run for him on his book.

As I rounded the corner, I saw the smiling face of Rob Osborne, one of the coolest cats in comics. Rob used to be a full-time Zonie, but now that he lives in Texas, he just pops over for visits and cons. What always cracks me up about the guy is that he doesn’t even remotely look like a comicbook artist; he has the firmest handshake of any dude I know, and with his bald head he looks like an MMA fighter. Rob had a new printing of his 1000 STEPS TO WORLD DOMINATION graphic novel on hand, along with two new efforts- OLD MAN, and GO FORTH AND CONQUER. I picked up all three- my copy of STEPS had disappeared a long time ago, and I won’t miss new stuff from his pen. Rob was also debuting a new book on Saturday (which I would miss) that he wrote and Tony Parker (Boom’s DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?) drew, and I’m pretty jealous of those that will be going home with it this weekend. I’m going to have to order mine once Rob gets back to “yee haw!” land.

Did some more walking across the floor, and bumped into another face I know well: Jason Martin, creator of SUPER REAL and publisher of Super Real Graphics. Jason recently finished the first volume of SR, and his trade paperback came out quite nicely. He was selling that, some sketchbooks, his PULP GIRLS art book, some prints… the variety of material he had available was pretty impressive. He’s branched out as a publisher and been producing works from others over the past eighteen months or so, and one of those books is the ludicrously named (and covered) ZOMBIE TRAMP. With a title like that, you know it’s either going to be 1) hilarious or 2) godawful to the extreme, which means issues one and two made their way home with me. Jason was down here for his first Phoenix show, and I think he’s a convert. The scene here really seems angled towards appreciating his work, so I’m guessing he had a strong weekend.

Not far down from Jason was Paul Horn, one of my fave folks in the business, and creator of my favorite webcomic, COOL JERK. I met Paul back in 2004, when the strip was solely online and in a yearly minicomic he put together to sell at cons, and I’ve watched his empire slowly build up as the years have passed. He has two CJ collections out in stores (with a third on the way this summer), another separate cartoon strip collection, a good selection of merchandise, and more. Paul is a testament to the fact that you can be ridiculously talented and still be a really nice guy. If there were more people like Horn making comics, the field would be much richer, and I’d be much poorer from having to buy all their work. He was having a pretty amusing time of it, as his booth was next to a goth and alt-oriented jewelry maker, and teenaged girls were piling up and blocking the sightlines to his area. Thus, the perils of a convention- you never quite know what sort of neighbors you’re going to have, and even if they’re friendly, they might still wind up being difficult. But cons being cons, I suspect it all equaled out before the weekend was over.

After more walking, I bumped into one of the best retailers I’ve ever known, Randy Tusha. He’s a good guy, honest, and trades fairly- qualities that can be in short supply in comics. I hadn’t seen him in a while- he’s been sticking to online sales for the past couple of years- but it was great to catch up and to get his good news: he’s opening a brick-and-mortar store over in Mesa. The area where he’s setting up shop has no store even remotely close to it, and I think the locals will respond to him and his impressive stock. That also means I have a trading partner again and I can get some of these comics out of my house, so it’s a win for me, too!

Just down the row from Randy I spotted John Layman, good pal and writer-extraordinaire. The past year has seen John finally getting the kudos he deserves from comics, as his book CHEW has been lighting up the sales charts. He’s also seen volume one of the trade paperback soar up the NEW YORK TIMES best-seller list. If you haven’t read CHEW (from Image Comics), shame on you- it’s brilliant, and I’d say that whether I knew John or not. If you’re sick of the “norm” in comics, the book’s humor and wild unpredictability make sure that you get your three bucks worth every issue. I chatted with John for a while, caught up on stuff with his family, and made plans to attend a panel he was doing later in the day, then headed off on my way.

I finally hit the last aisle (whereupon I discovered the celebrity tables) and found myself at an impasse. I had about 45minutes until John’s panel, and I didn’t want to make another trip through the floor yet. Thus I took a break, walking over to Brooklyn Pizza and getting an ice-cold root beer.

Folks, that’s the key to successfully navigating any comicon. Don’t spend every waking moment in the building. Take the time to walk away. Get some fresh air. Have a tasty beverage that you don’t pay convention center prices for. Relax.

The con will still be there when you walk back inside.

After I finished my drink, I headed back to the con for John’s panel. He was paired with Raven Gregory for a session on “Getting Signed in Comics”, which John opened up the talk by admitting he didn’t understand, as he had never signed anything. Instead, he and Gregory shifted over into talking a bit about breaking in, sending samples, and meeting editors. Mostly, though, it was a way for the duo to spend an hour telling stories… what writers do best. This was the first time I had listened to Gregory, but I’ve always known John to be a brilliant raconteur, so the hour was a fun one. I also gave my card to a young artist who had asked some questions of the guys; hey- nothing wrong with doing a little talent scouting when you’ve got the time, right?
I wandered back onto the floor for a bit after that, chatting a bit more with John and then deciding to make a concerted effort to check out some of the smaller press comics to see what was available. The one that stuck out most to me came from a local woman named Jean Arrow. Her stuff looked a little closer to primetime than most of the rest on the floor, so I took a flyer on her first comic, EXTRAORDINARY TALES OF LAZER WOMAN & STRONG GIRL, which she described to me as “short”. I got a laugh out of that, and with that I pulled the trigger on the two $1 art prints she had on her table as well. I liked her humility. From there, I popped back over to catch Randy again and take him to meet John. I figured that a new shop could use a good signing, and Randy excitedly agreed. Intros were made, Randy bought a set of CHEWs from John, and hopefully they’ll be able to put something together.

After a bit more browsing, I decided to hi another panel. This time it was the “Southwest Sketch-Off”, which saw a number of the artist guests gathered together and whipping up art for the Art Auction. Participants included Peter Gross, Jamal Igle, and Philip Tan, and there was a lot of fun going on. The moderator was coming up with sketch themes, and the audience was throwing out suggestions for the (I believe there were as many as nine) artists to whip up. One round had characters with the word “doctor” in their names. Another was “Fantastic Four villains”. My favorite round was “80s references”. As the artists drew, the moderators asked trivia questions and entertained the crowd. In short, it was a lot of fun. I spent almost 90minutes at this lengthy panel, enjoying appreciating the spirit and humor of the goings on and being impressed by what the guys were turning out. It was a great capper to my day at the con.

The clock approached 8pm, and I went back inside the hall to meet Steven and head off to dinner. The day had been long, but nice. The con’s organizers made the most out of the change of venue, their design was strong, and the crowds were enthusiastic. The amount of cosplayers easily broke 50% of the attendees, showing off the hunger that the Phoenix area has for its show. Volunteers were educated, security was reasonably polite, the crowds were behaving themselves… You can’t say enough good things about the level of execution. I tip my cap to the show, and I can only believe that it will get better now that it has settled into the Phoenix Convention Center.

As for dinner? It was good. But as I said, Steven knows where all the bodies are buried, and if I told you any of the stories that he shared with me, then my body would join them. Some things, as always, are better left a mystery.

THE LAGOS BROTHERS-SONS OF LIBERTY

THE LAGOS BROTHERS

Alexander and Joseph Lagos aren’t just new to the graphic novel arena. They’re also trying something new in how they promote their graphic novel as well. They’re taking their book, THE SONS OF LIBERTY, on the road… on the net. They’re on a “blog tour”- yesterday they visited Write For A Reader, and we’re very happy to welcome them to the Comics Waiting Room today. Below, you’ll find a quick interview with the duo, as well as an exclusive page of art from their exciting new graphic novel! And catch them on their next stop at Largehearted Boy later today!

5 Questions with the Lagos Brothers:

MM: Why early American History? Is that an era that holds particular appeal for you?

 

LB: This particular story idea came to Alexander in the form of a vivid dream. In it, he saw two masked figures leaping from roof to roof in a Colonial town as British troops tried in vain to cut them down. When the characters removed their masks, they revealed that they were two African American men. Alexander shared this story with me and soon thereafter we began the collaboration that ultimately led The Sons of Liberty book series.

Early American history is full of colorful characters and exciting events. We did tons of research, and weaved many facts into our fictional telling of Graham and Brody’s journey. Benjamin Franklin is a historical figure who has always fascinated us, and he is an important character in our book. We grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey surrounded by historical sites, so working on The Sons of Liberty was a return to something we loved as kids!

MM: This is your first book. Were you storytellers as kids, and this is a natural progression? Or does this collaboration have other roots?

LB: As children, whenever we were disappointed with the outcome of a store-bought comic book, we sat down and re-did it to our satisfaction, including new illustrations and storylines. We also designed our own characters, but Alexander really outdid himself in that capacity by creating a catalog of some forty to fifty original heroes and villains, including The Insatiable Sharkman and The Human Centipede. There is a large box full of homemade comic books up in the attic from Alexander’s comic drawing frenzy!

We also performed our own episodes of the Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, Kung-Fu and The Night Stalker recording them on a tape on school nights, when we were supposed to be sleeping. Ah, those were the days!

MM: Your particular skills (music, fine craftsman) seemingly have little in common outside of being creative talents. How do you blend those skills into creating a graphic novel?

LB: Both build character and discipline; without either of those experiences, none of this would have been possible for us.

MM: As this is your first graphic novel, what was the experience like of writing a script for an artist? What did you learn from that aspect of the creative process?

LB: Growing up obsessed with comics and movies, we had a pretty good grasp on how we would approach the script and it’s very much like writing a script for a film with the art being just like the storyboards for the film. Steve Walker and Oren Kramek are extremely talented artists with an ability to translate the script into beautiful and dramatic panels of art; it is a pleasure to be associated with them. When working with true professionals, the vision in the script becomes, for the most part, universal and the details of how it should be presented are clear.

MM: This is the first volume of what could be many. Do you have a long-term plan for where a series could take you?

LB: Right now we are focused on doing the best work we can with each book in the series- we would not want disappointed children out there re-drawing our books!

THE BLACK TERROR OF THE ELEPHANTMEN

BLACK TERROR 9/ELEPHANTMEN 25
Written by Phil Hester and Drawn by Jonathan Lau
Written by Richard Starkings and Drawn by Various

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Taking a look at a couple of recent books…

BLACK TERROR #9 (Dynamite Entertainment) continues the rise in quality from this PROJECT SUPERPOWERS spinoff. The Black Terror, for lack of a way of putting it, is sort of the Batman of this universe, but writer Phil Hester has found ways to tell compelling stories about the character that ignore that somewhat. This excellent issue, which is done-in-one, finds the Terror being confronted by the ghost of a young woman that died during a bank robbery that the Terror foiled. But there’s more to it than that, and once he begins to realize what’s at stake, the story takes on another dimension and becomes something that shows why he isn’t just a Bat-clone. The key here is Phil Hester; the reason why Hester seems to be everywhere these days is because he’s just that good. He’s like the .300 hitter you bring in through free agency that solidifies the lineup and takes your team to the next level in the playoffs. These days, I find his name to be one that instantly means “quality” when I see it in the credits, and BLACK TERROR exemplifies that.

Over at Image Comics, ELEPHANTMEN reaches its 25th issue, which is no small feat these days. Not many launches are getting to this point, so complete respect must be paid to Richard Starkings and company. This anniversary issue is drawn by a plethora of artists, as each single page comprises one image of a story told by the man who employs Hip Flask and Ebony Hide. He’s also a ringer for legendary Marvel editor Mark Gruenwald, to whom the issue is dedicated. The artists here are impressive; Tim Sale, Dave Gibbons, Paul Grist, Gary Erskine… the list goes on. The book’s over-arching story gets a small bit of forward momentum in the end, but the real fun here is in enjoying the tribute to Gru and poring over the pages and appreciating all the wonderful visions of this world that they represent. Good stuff.

PRIME BABY

PRIME BABY
Written and Drawn by Gene Luen Yang
Published by First Second

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Thaddeus K. Fong wasn’t expecting much when his parents announced that they were going to have another baby. He knew that his own importance would fade into the background a bit, and he expected to be annoyed. But when his sister Maddie is born, it gets a lot stranger than the young boy could have expected. One day in math class, he learns about prime numbers, and when he begins to pay attention to his little sis, he begins to believe that her gurgles and coos are more than just the ramblings of a slow-to-develop child; he instead determines that they are actually a coded signal from aliens and that Earth is about to be invaded.

And really- what else is there to think?

PRIME BABY is a hilariously charming little book, first serialized in the NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE and now collected together under one cover. Gene Luen Yang has already proven himself to be one of the most talented comics creators working today through books like AMERICAN BORN CHINESE and THE ETERNAL SMILE, and this book, while more of a trifle than those efforts, only cements his place in the pantheon. Even when Yang takes the lighter route, his work transcends that of so many of his peers.

I won’t give away what happens in this book, but suffice it to say, there is more to Thaddeus’ little sister than first meets the eye, but that isn’t what’s important or interesting about the book. What stands out is the slow arc of the young boy suddenly learning that he needs to love Maddie and be the best brother he can, no matter what. A lesson surely worth internalizing, and PRIME BABY a journey most definitely worth taking.

SCRATCH9 #1

SCRATCH9 #1
Created and Written by Rob M. Worley, Illustrated by Jason T. Kruse
Published by Ape Entertainment

Reviewed by Avril Brown

SCRATCH9 is a humorous, light-hearted tale of nine lives bottled up in one furry little body and this introductory issue is an entertaining comic for all ages of cat lovers. Talking animals, mad scientists and a dash of mysticism, SCRATCH9 delivers a positive message via a mischievously adorable young feline.

Scratch is a sprightly young kitty who enjoys play-stalking and romping with his new human friend, Penelope. When Penelope suggests a bath and a collar for her cat companion, the independent feline in him rebels and Scratch takes off out the door into the city and dangers unknown. Soon enough the naïve kitty finds himself in the hands of a greedy scientist determined to unlock the secrets of the soul in order to find a way to transfer his own essence into other bodies, thusly living forever. What he accomplishes instead is the transformation of Scratch into super-kitty who has access to his nine past lives, which include a saber-tooth tiger.

SCRATCH9 is a book to get behind not only for its lovable nature but also for its wit and upbeat attitude. The ‘after school special’ tone of the script is tempered by the grin-worthy jokes and Scratch’s indomitable will. Kruse’s artwork is delightful, delivering a kitty so cute you can pinch his cheeks, but drawn with enough of an edge to remind readers this pussycat is no push over (especially when his past life shows up). Worley tells a story of strength and friendship while Kruse uses his fine line pencils to present these irresistible characters making SCRATCH9 a worthy book for the younger generation to buy.

 

ROGUE ELEMENT 53

ROGUE ELEMENT #53: Funky Yet Fabulous Feature Films

By Avril Brown

Funky – a) odd or quaint in appearance or feeling; b) unconventionally stylish

There are several other definitions for this flexible word (for a good grammar lesson and an audio definition of the premier versatile F word check this out. Warning: you may pee yourself), but the above explanations are quite fitting for the films and television I have been privy to in recent days. Though the television program is one nearly every person in the States is aware of, the films are not as well known as they should be, and all three boast an aspect what some may describe as kind of funky, and I sincerely mean that as the highest form of praise. Funky subject matter, funky scene structure and a funky host have all lead to some massively entertaining cinema, and each are enough to turn those with a straight edge into fans of funky.

Let The Right One In (2008)
Two years ago this vampire horror/drama out of Norway made a few waves in the cinematic community. Oskar is a bullied, lonely child that befriends his new neighbor Eli, who happens to be a vampire. The horror aspects of the film are subtle and terrifying, the most graphic example being when Eli walks into Oskar’s home without a verbal invitation. She at first appears unharmed, but soon starts bleeding from all over her body, the thick red liquid seeping from her back, scalp and eyes until the distraught Oskar shouts out an invitation. Though there is gore, murder and blood-drinking, the central focus of this quietly powerful film is about the depths of children’s cruelty and the limitless horizons of their love, compassion and desperate need to connect. Though vampires are hardly an unheard of subject matter in this day and age, the portrayal of a vampire as an androgynous twelve-year-old who is neither entirely good nor evil sets this funky film apart.

Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981)
Have you ever heard of Paul Newman? Stupid question. Have you ever heard of/seen ‘Fort Apache, The Bronx?’ Probably not. For some reason which escapes me, this cinematic gem is not a title which comes to mind when people speak of Paul Newman’s most iconic roles, barely even garnering a mention in his Wikipedia profile, for god’s sake. The only reason I knew about this movie in the first place is because it has been sitting on my shelf for almost five years, having once belonged to my sister who gifted it to me when she moved out to get married or something, and having finally seen it I find it a crime against nature how long this fantastic film has remained in my possession yet unwatched. My friend Jack recently came over for a movie night, and while surfing through my stuff he found ‘Fort Apache.’ Upon hearing it starred Paul Newman and I had yet to see it, he would brook no arguments and into the DVD player it went. Neither one of us expected to be as thoroughly entertained as we were, at times rewinding to watch brilliant scenes for a second time, scrunching our brows over the piecemeal plot progression and gasping at the unexpected brutality. Those who grew up watching films from the sixties on up may not blink at the funky film structure, but younger generations who are used to a standard format of, say, ‘Good guy meets bad guy, they have a fight, good guy wins the war and gets the girl’ are in for a shock. And the ending, oh the ending…not only was it the perfect conclusion to such a random film, but Jack had called it only minutes before it happened. “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if it ended with some sort of freeze frame action shot?” he postulated. One and a half minutes later the camera freezes with our heroes in mid-jump about to apprehend a sprightly thief who had been popping up like a Whack-a-Mole throughout the film. We laughed until we cried. Jack’s take on ‘Fort Apache’ can be found soon at his blog.

Saturday Night Live with host Betty White (May 8th, 2010)

The Super Bowl is known for its expensive, highly anticipated and often hysterical commercials crammed in between the football-y goodness, and last year’s Bowl was no exception. Betty White’s thirty second Snickers spot launched the former Golden Girl back in the spot light with a brief yet pant-wetting performance where she gets tackled into the mud and talks some serious smack. People were so tickled by her appearance a Facebook petition was launched in support of the octogenarian to host Saturday Night Live, a group whose efforts succeeded with flying colors. One would not expect a country obsessed with youth to be so united in the cause to bring a definitely senior citizen onto America’s most recognized live television program, but at eighty-eight and a half Betty brought the house down live in New York and on TVs across the country. Full disclosure here: I do not care for SNL on the whole, but I do take a peek at the skits which make headlines, and I caught up on clips from this landmark episode. From her opening monologue where she tries not to call Facebookers losers to in-depth conversations about her yeasty muffins, Betty proved to be the definition of a funky hostess by boasting an unconventional style many of Hollywood’s ‘hottest’ should be jealous of.

Undoubtedly there are many funky films, television shows, plays and books we have passed up or ignored, probably with good reason. Yet there are still diamonds in the rough to be discovered, dusted off and given their chance to shine. Use your best judgment but make sure to step outside the lines once in awhile and give yourself the chance to expand your litany of favorite forays into the world of fiction, for if you find nuggets like these, you will not regret the experience.

 

FRENEMY OF THE STATE 1

FRENEMY OF THE STATE #1
Written by Rashida Jones, Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFilippis and Illustrated by Jeff Wamester
Published by Oni Press

Reviewed by Avril Brown

Ariana Von Holmberg is a beautiful young socialite with more money than your average millionaire and a bit of a chip on her shoulder. Though skilled in several useful arenas, including self-defense, horseback riding and computer hacking, she lacks a certain amount of impulse restraint and the ability to keep her temper, which soon lands her in trouble she cannot lawyer her way out of.

After spying on her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend (who happens to be the son of a senator) via his own security cameras and breaking into his estate, Ari does not care for what she discovers and reacts accordingly. Her ‘reaction’ lands her behind bars and into the hands of a few select CIA officials who feel she can serve her country in an uniquely beneficial way.

FRENEMY OF THE STATE is boasting a feminine lead many women, and plenty of men, can get behind. Ari is spoiled but not rotten, she knows her (illegal) way around a computer, she can break into houses of government officials, she has a heavy bag in her condo to work out (some of) her aggression and she knows her Lewis Carroll. What is not to love? Though three names can claim writing credit, FRENEMY’s script has a coherent flow to it as well as a sharp humor, keeping the story alive and snappy. There are also several engaging angles taken in this book, including a Twitter page intro and a tongue-in-cheek interrogation session.

The penciling is edgy and linear which works for parts of the book, in particular the action sequences, and though Wamester could stand to soften up his work for the more subdued panels I am looking forward to seeing how his art develops over the course of the series.

There is comedy, social scenarios and current pop culture lingo threaded throughout the book in addition to the action sequences, offering something for everyone. With a knock-out new leading lady, a story idea which (if done well) is consistently entertaining and a smart sense of fun, FRENEMY OF THE STATE is a book which holds plenty of promise.

SUPER REAL

SUPER REAL
Written and Drawn by Jason Martin
Published by Super Real Graphics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

You’d recognize them immediately, as our airwaves are currently infested by them: vacuous 20-somethings looking for fame at any cost. They have no talent. They have no intellect. They have no moral compass. All they have is the drive to make themselves known and to make some bucks along the way. Thus, Jason Martin’s SUPER REAL, which started out as a parody back when the issues first began shipping four or so years ago, now looks like an oracle instead.

This being comics, though, Martin’s cast of characters have entered the reality TV arena in order to received super-powered enhancements along with fame and cash. Strength, adrenaline, hearing, vision… human attributes taken to the extreme are given to these five, but the question isn’t whether or not they’ll use their powers for good… the question is really whether or not they’ll be sober enough or clever enough, or stop fucking long enough to use them for anything at all.

Jason Martin, you see, weeps not only for the future, but also for the present.

I’ve been following this book since Martin produced his first preview issue and was selling it at San Diego, and it’s been interesting to see how it has evolved. At times, I felt like the parody aspect was completely overwhelming telling the story, and at other times I was more concerned about the digressions the plot was going through as Martin did a couple of special issues meant to build interest in the book. But overall, the one thing that always worked was Martin’s commitment to the work. His art, very rough in the beginning, smoothed out. The writing got a little more clever. And he stuck with it. In an era where Diamond minimums are dictating what comic shops can carry, and not quality, Martin busted his hump to reach a finish line and do it his way. That is something I can applaud.

Is SUPER REAL perfect? No. Does it have a transcendent moment? Nope on that one, too. What it does do, though, is entertain. It asks you to sit down, relax, shut out the lunacy of everyday life, and have a good time along with its creator. Over the last few years, and during the reading of this collected edition, that’s precisely what I did.

BARCELONA: DAY FIVE

Barcelona: Day Five

By Joseph Rybandt

“This is the End…”

I type this Monday morning, having been to the airport and then back to the hotel as my flight is way delayed. I was able to sleep a bit and now I’m catching up on work, getting ready to head out once more, get a little food, and then hope my plane leaves Spain tonight. I’ve had a blast (obviously!), but I am oh so tired and oh so ready to go home. Fer real…

So, yesterday was the most low-key of the days, with the energy gone and portfolio reviews dragging into portfolio reviews as we were all just so tired. Highlights included a lunch break with David and his artist (where I got to meet Homs! He drew Red Sonja for me for a good long while a few years back) and then a quiet drink with the Diggles and Jock before the big long dinner… Before dinner, I popped out to take some shots of the Plaza de Espanya at night as there’s fountains and lights and stuff and ended up seeing that Jim had stepped out as well for some air. We walked the avenue and as I had Euros to burn before leaving, I bought a bunch of street things, including a tacky fan, long scarf and some cool thing that glowed and shot into the air. Back at the bar, before dinner, we all had a good laugh (that carried through to the end of the evening) at an amazing sample we had seen that day from the man of mystery known only as Tort Swipes! He’s going places… heh!

Dinner was fun… I can’t go into too many details, but Jock and I concocted a plan for fun and it kind of backfired, but we pushed through. It all came to an end with a birthday cake for the Paniccias’ daughter who turned 4 Sunday, here in spain. Pretty cool…

After dinner it was to the Piano Bar, where there was still no player, but I was winding down, and fast… I had meant to go to bed before midnight, but we were eating until then so I was aiming for 1 or 2 but I think that all turned into 3:00… such is life.

And then it was over, hugs were exchanged, goodbyes were heartfelt as we all really bonded and became fast friends. Good times, good people and all that…

Thanks for reading.

-Joe Rybandt
Barcelona Spain
May 10, 2010