Written and Drawn by Christopher Hart
Published by Watson-Guptill

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Anthropomorphic animals have been a huge part of comics from almost the beginning. Indeed, such creatures not only litter the comics landscape, they also make up a majority of the classic cartoons (Bugs, Porky, etc.). Thus it makes good sense for a budding comics artist to know how to execute these creatures on the page; you never quite know where your career will take you or what opportunities might arise along the way.

CARTOON CUTE ANIMALS is the latest effort from Christopher Hart, another in a very lengthy series of How-To books designed to help the beginner artist master figure drawing for comics. His previous book, one on chibis, felt flat and uninspired, but this one is a return to better form.

Highlights here include: his descriptions of leg design affect what kind of character you’re creating; notes on whether or not the animal should have an overbite; and some nice work on body language. There are some lowlights; primarily, it feels a bit like he was stretching out the premise by throwing in as many animals as humanly possible and the book begins to feel repetitive by the time you reach the end.

Hart’s books aren’t going to be for everybody, and I think that it is clear in spots that once an artist gains enough experience that they might want to move on to more advanced materials. But for a younger artist, perhaps one in the junior high or early high school demo, books like this one could be crucial and helpful for development.


Written and Drawn by Tracy White
Published by Roaring Brook Press

Reviewed by Marc Mason

“Stacy Black” is a confused young woman of 17. She’s in an unhealthy relationship, she is taking a lot of drugs, and her level of unhappiness is growing at a rate that threatens to eclipse her life if she’s not careful. So after she engages in a nasty bit of self-harm, she does the only thing she can think of: check herself into a mental hospital for a short stay to try and get her life back on track. But as she begins what is supposed to be the healing process, she digs deeper and deeper into other issues that are scratching and clawing at the edges of her existence. And suddenly that short stay begins to stretch out into a much longer therapeutic adventure.

HOW I MADE TO EIGHTEEN is the debut graphic novel from Tracy White, and it’s certainly a powerful piece of work. As the author describes it, the book is “mostly true because I skipped over things, moved events around, embellished, and occasionally just plain made things up.” But even if the book doesn’t hold up as 100% factual, the truth of White’s experience as a teen definitely does. Drugs, the search for personal identity, eating disorders, abandonment issues… White fills “Black’s” world with enough reality that whatever enhancements appear here, they aren’t significant enough to derail the work.

As I read the book, I struggled a bit with the cartooning aspect. White’s work is almost deceptively simple; devoid of detail, she presents the Stacy’s world as one of nearly pure black and white with very little gray. At times, I wondered why she hadn’t just gone ahead and done her story as a straight-out prose project. Yet as I went through the book a second time, I began to get a better sense of what she was trying to do with the storytelling and panels, and I got more out of it. Would a more complex approach perhaps better served the story? Maybe. But what White does here is ultimately quite effective in helping us get to know her and develop a rooting interest in her.

And that’s important. If you aren’t onboard with wanting Stacy to get her life back together, then the book is moot. White doesn’t shy away from highlighting her own bad behavior, and at times, it is difficult to feel for Stacy. But once you’re fully immersed in her experience of trying to find her own truth and find a way to be happy again, the book comes together and really works. This is a brave piece of work, and one that will wind up on more than a few class reading lists in high school and college.


Written by John Heffernan and Drawn by Leonardo Manco
Published by Radical Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Alabaster Graves is the best there is at what he does… and what he does best is drive a hearse. Not the most scintillating concept for a comic you’ve ever heard? No worries- there’s plenty more going on in this book: voodoo, vampires, and plenty of other demons are at play in the bayous of Louisiana. Hired on to transport the body of a legendary magic man, and accompanied by the man’s great-granddaughter, Graves must make his way through a gauntlet of nasties just waiting to rise up and add him to the ranks of the dead. Can a man with an absurdly armored hearse beat back the bad guys? He’s damned well sure gonna try.

DRIVER FOR THE DEAD marks the comics debut of screenwriter Heffernan, best known for SNAKES ON A PLANE (which sort of gets a dark shout-out here), but he settles into the role of comics writer reasonably well. The only “off” thing here is the pacing, as the opening sequence runs a bit long for the comics medium, whereas the same material on-screen would feel just right. It’s the breaking of this story into three parts that makes it feel chunky. On the other hand, the book is just about artistically perfect. Two weeks ago I was telling a fellow comics friend how much I believed that a particular book needed “Leonardo Manco or at least a Manco type” in order for it to get top the level of success it truly needs. Now I have new Manco art in my hands and am certain of it. This book is beautiful, and Manco only gets better with age.

This being a Radical title, the book is definitely doubling as proof-of-concept for a potential feature film, and Manco helps that along by drawing some of the characters with a… resemblance… to some popular members of SAG. Still, it doesn’t come across as intrusive, which is a relief. That sort of thing can get old really quickly. In all, I was down with the proceedings here, captivated by an interesting premise and exquisite art. Recommended.


ROGUE ELEMENT #55: Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me…and Turn Me

By Avril Brown

At my workplace one of my more print-appropriate nicknames is ‘the vampire chick.’ Nearly every person I have conversed with is aware of my obsession with the creatures of the night as they pertain to popular fiction. If one of my co-workers has questions about immortal blood-drinkers or is looking to gush about certain television shows or movies, odds are this vamp-obsessed chick has the answers and/or the ear to bend. In the interest of retaining the feeling I am a wikipedia of current vampire fiction, I feel it is my duty to inform the masses of the recent goings on in the wide world of vampire wonders.

Thanks to the PTB (People That are Billionaires AKA people constantly looking for easy ways to make a shit-ton of money), when vampires stepped back into the spotlight everyone and their mom jumped on the vamp bandwagon trying to create their own bloodthirsty cash cow. This means there are is vast amount of variety in the recent vampire/fantasy realm to explore, depending on what gets your blood type flowing. The following is a brief summation of the dishes available for the vamp-curious palate.

I care not if you live in a cave or even the most rural sections of backwoods Indiana, you have to at least heard of HBO’s smash hit series ‘True Blood.’ Two episodes into the third season and I am already convinced ‘TB’ has managed to improve from the spectacular-ness that was the second season. Here is a show which acknowledges its extreme campy-ness and rather than trying to pretend it is not there, utilizes the momentum and boundless material which comes with embracing said campy-ness. ‘True Blood’ consistently makes fun of itself while delivering pant-wetting one-liners and colorful, addictive characters. Vampires, telepaths, shape shifters, maenads and werewolves have debuted on this soap opera of a show, surrounded by tongue-in-cheek humor, beautiful bodies and oh-so much spine-tingling sex. I cannot imagine who could love their job more than the cast and crew of this series.

On the teenage side of things, there is ‘The Vampire Diaries,’ a widely popular CW show based on the books of the same title. Although the series started out somewhat slow and has consistently remained cheesy as hell, this ranks as one of my favorite shows on television. On hiatus for the summer, I encourage vamp fans to give this show a chance. Weather through the first half of the season and it will become a guilty pleasure you never expected. From the battle of the hot brothers to the badass witchy-ness and teenage hormones running amuck, this show knows how to work it. Nina Dobrev plays Elena, the female lead who is more than a little annoying and could use a good bitch-slap or two, and yes, the show is marketed towards teens given the youthful cast and setting. However at some point during the drama, angst, Damon’s quirky eyebrows, Stephen’s puppy dog face and more cliffhangers than you can shake a stick at, the debut season of ‘Vampire Diaries’ sunk its teeth into me so hard I found myself looking forward to Thursdays and shouting almost every commercial break: “I love this show!”

Naturally the latest cinematic installment in the ‘Twilight’ series deserves a shout out as ‘Eclipse’ hits theaters June 30th. The fact that the movie release date is in the middle of the week goes to show the confidence of the producers in the movie’s inevitable success, and who precisely the movie is marketed towards. ‘Eclipse,’ a tale of vampire versus werewolf in the battle for true love (with some ‘vampire/werewolf tag team against bad vampires’ action for good measure) is not the first choice of the typical age bracket for the date night demographic, but it will almost certainly grab number one at the box office regardless considering the entire teenage population of the United States will be clamoring to get into a premier night showing. Not to mention many women of all ages will attend whenever they can fit a screening into their schedule, and will either be accompanied by a gaggle of close girlfriends or flying solo, if they have the cojones and a sufficient disregard for the opinion of strangers (*cough* me *cough*).

‘Disappointment’ is too kind of a word when it comes to my feelings about ‘Daybreakers’ which debuted in early 2010. When I first heard about this film I was wicked excited and annoyed with myself when I did not see it in theaters. A world where a vampire virus has turned ninety percent of the population into blood-drinkers, a society of beings which is now in crisis due to blood shortage, sounds like a stimulating scientific take on vampire fiction. With a star-studded cast including Ethan Hawke, Willem Defoe and Sam Neill I was convinced I was in for a treat, yet what resulted was so awful I nearly cried. A few brief moments in the movie were entertaining enough, one example being a scene where a vampire solider volunteers for an experimental procedure. He is injected and appears to be burning from the inside out with his skin bubbling and rippling, screams of pain erupting from his throat. Finally the symptoms and pain seem to abate and he takes one sigh of surprised content before Sgt. Guinea Pig explodes into a million bloody chunks, half of which end up on a disgruntled Dr. Ethan Hawke who is pissed solely because the experiment did not work. The rest of the movie, despite Neill’s calm authority and Defoe’s always amazing presence and dry sarcasm, was forgettable and often boring. Rare comes the day when I will steer a fellow vamp fan away from a particular project, but unless a horrific script and leaky plot do it for you, ‘Daybreakers’ is a film which can be skipped.

In the mystery section, as in I know little about them, we have two new-comers: ABC’s summer television series entitled ‘The Gates’ and a new fiction release by Justin Cronin entitled ‘The Passage.’ The former is ABC’s response to the vampire fad by seemingly blending ‘Desperate Housewives’ and ‘Vampire Diaries,’ and after having seen the first episode I am quite frankly not holding my breath for a breakaway hit. I am, however, giving it a chance to find its feet. Starring Rhona Mitra (who also starred in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans; at least she has vampire experience) as a reluctant, struggling vampire/housewife in the well-to-do Gates neighborhood, and thus far the best part of the show, ‘The Gates’ pilot episode also introduced teenage werewolves, competing witches, a murder mystery and an obsessed, disgraced police officer. I am all about varying forms of fantasy and fiction, but slow it down a pace, willya? Give the characters time to develop, give central plot lines time to unfurl, give some of the cast acting lessons and this show could have potential.

The plot of ‘The Passage’ by Justin Cronin sounds a bit like World War Z if the Z was a V. A post-apocalyptic take on what would happen to the world if a vampire virus had been running rampant for years, I was recently tipped off to the existence of this book by a close friend and a fellow fiction fiend. Given his tangible excitement and my own craving to find this concept in a less crap-tastic story venue than ‘Daybreakers,’ this book is going on my reading queue.

Obviously there is no shortage of vampire fiction to choose from, which is why being a vamp slut is so exciting at the moment. If you have been thinking about dipping your toe into the bloodbath of vampire addiction, then dive on in; the ‘water’ is 98.6 degrees and just fine. Try not to be overwhelmed by the choices available but rather take a deep breath and sample one course after another to determine what best suits your tastes. Whether you stop at appetizers or stay until dessert, at least one fictional foray will likely be a meal for the mind you will not soon forget.



Written by Ian Brill and Illustrated by James Silvani
Published by BOOM! Studios

Reviewed by Avril Brown

“Let’s. Get. Dangerous.” Growing up in the eighties and nineties meant I was exposed to some ground-breaking and cult classic animated television shows, one of which was the wacky crime fighting cartoon ‘Darkwing Duck.’ This ego-inflated caped crusader of the night was always good for a laugh and even at the tender age of ten I could appreciate his liberal and unapologetic use of sarcasm and bravado. His reckless yet pure-hearted efforts at controlling crime were aided and abetted by his adorably ignorant sidekick Launchpad and his adopted-in-flesh yet kindred-in-spirit daughter Gosalyn. All three of our favorite faces are resurrected in the comic book DARKWING DUCK, and all seem to have carried over their original personalities and quirks which enraptured audiences almost twenty years ago.

DARKWING DUCK gives homage to the series from the get-go by resurrecting a popular running joke on its variant cover. When surrounded by a horde of angry foes Darkwing Duck, typically restrained or at some disadvantage, would always ask his opponents: “Who wants to surrender first?” I was smiling in fond remembrance before I even read the first page.

Brill took the ‘Incredibles’ route by opening DARKWING with an excellent example of D.W.’s passion and skill in the field. Turns out that was his last fight and one year later the former Darkwing Duck has become solely Drake Mallard, Data Accounts Networking Officer for the Quackwerks Satellite Network. Disillusioned with his job and desperate for the chance to prove his is still the top-notch crime-fighter he used to be, D.W. must contend with corporate crap, back-stabbing co-workers, a hot-headed daughter and his own memory-filled yearning of yesteryear.

Largely kid-friendly and entertaining enough for adults with a subtle reference or two (the ‘Blues Brothers’ shout out on the last page was thrilling), DARKWING DUCK has the potential to draw in a large, diverse following of readers. Brill brings the off-the-wall spirit of the show into the comic script and characters while Silvani’s artwork is nigh identical to the original show, giving retro fanatics something familiar to catch their eye. With all the bold, droll statements such as: “I am the terror that flaps during the night. I am the awkward goodbye that lasts for far too long. I am DARKWING DUCK!” I remember why I loved this show and why I could love this book.


Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Graphic Classics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

There’s something unusual about this anthology of Poe adaptations, something you might not expect in today’s graphic novel market: this is the fourth edition of this particular book. Considering the number of books that can’t sell through a first print, to get to a fourth is rather astonishing. And for those that haven’t seen the book before, this version comes with forty new pages of Poe stories for the readers.

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the only astonishing thing about this book.

This is the third book in the Graphic Classics series that I have seen, and as this harkens back to the beginning, you also get a number of “rookie mistakes” in the presentation here. It takes time to figure out how to best put together books like these, and it is clear that the publisher was not quite there when they were putting together this one. The variance in the quality of the work is almost dizzying; some of this stuff comes across perfectly- Rick Geary handles “Tell-Tale Heart” like the superstar he is, but J.B. Bonivert’s take on “The Raven” is almost excruciating. And that’s not the only piece here I could use that word to describe. For as good as the work by Pedro Lopez and Lance Tooks is, some of the rest is simply not professionally ready.

If I had to guess, I’d bet that Graphics Classics knows this now, and that’s where the forty new pages come into play. A book that has had this much sales success can’t simply be taken out of print and abandoned, so the new stuff is meant to balance out the book’s quality a little better.

Don’t get me wrong- it isn’t like this book as a whole is terrible or anything like that. However, it simply has too many weaknesses to gloss over. This publisher has shown that it produces high-quality adaptations of great literary works that are well worth your cash. Unfortunately, their first effort, even after a new edition, isn’t quite one of them.


Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Reviewed by Marc Mason

If I had to put money on it, I’d be willing to be that beyond those involved with putting the books out, there has been no one else more immersed in Dynamite’s RED SONJA books over the last four years than me. Indeed, full disclosure, when DE needed someone to write Red Sonja entries for the Sci-Fi Channel’s “scifipedia”, I was the person that got the call. When I took the Comics Waiting Room from a one-man show to an online magazine and re-started my AISLE SEAT column, the very first edition was a lengthy review of a year’s worth of Sonja stories. Of course, I have continued to check in on the character on a frequent basis beyond that as well, and this seems like a good time to do so again. Let’s take a look at four recent SONJA releases.

CLASSIC RED SONJA RE-MASTERED #1 is written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Esteban Maroto. This new series is taking the character’s original Marvel appearances and adding color and nice paper for the first time. This reprints Sonja’s story from SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN #230 and finds the creative team adapting a story from a Sonja novel written by David Smiths and Richard Tierney and introduces us to a Sonja not yet wearing the chainmail bikini. However, she is still plenty recognizable; she takes no crap, beats up a lot of dudes, and hires out her sword to a good cause. The material feels classic in multiple ways, as you get the more expository form of comics at play here, though Thomas shows unusual restraint on many pages in allowing Maroto’s art to tell the story. The one thing I’m not sure really works is the color; it’s technically proficient, but the art was not done with color in mind and I think it loses some detail and clarity. A nice artifact of a long-gone era if nothing else.

The great Dan Brereton writes and draws (along with Adriano Batista and Chris Bolson) RED SONJA ANNUAL #3, which finds our heroine facing off against mountain trolls, vengeful spirits, and nasty curses. She also meets a castle full of fascinating women that give the story and Sonja herself a nice bit of depth amongst the carnage. Brereton’s tale also allows Sonja to show off the fact that she’s not just an ass-kicker without peer; she’s also extremely clever, which is important to the character. She’s not just a blunt force object carving her way through the middle ages, she’s a leader and a strategist. Sonja thinks her way through things, rather than killing first and asking questions later, and it’s an important distinction. I wish that Brereton’s work appeared more often in comics; he rarely swings and misses. Solid stuff from him here.

After RED SONJA #49 hit the shelves, we got a new status quo for the character as QUEEN SONJA #1 came next. However, it’s been close to a year later, and now that the QUEEN storyline has had some room to breathe, we finally get RED SONJA #50. This over-sized issue contains four new stories from various creative teams and reprints three others, including the original, 1977 RED SONJA #1 from Marvel. You also get an essay from Mike Carey, who co-wrote issues #0-6 in the Dynamite series. The material you get here is a bit of a mixed bag; the new stories by Arvid Nelson and Kevin McCarthy are alright, and the reprinted piece by Mike Oeming is a good one. But the other new piece is a bit flat, and the reprinted story from issue seven by J.T. Krul is a mystifying choice, as it represents perhaps the single worst issue of the previous forty-nine. The original issue one is notable for Frank Thorne’s sweet, sweet art- he was the character’s definitive artist for a very long time,- but the story by Roy Thomas and Clara Noto isn’t going to set your hair on fire. Still, at only five bucks for all this stuff, you easily get your money’s worth here.

Closing it out, the RED SONJA OMNIBUS VOL.1 is an outstanding package, a must-own if you’re a fan of the character. This massive book collects issues #0-18 of the Dynamite series, which basically rescues the character from the scrap heap and makes her one of comics’ best female characters, period. Mike Oeming has a hand in writing all but one of these issues, and thus I have to give him credit for the incredible turnaround we get here. It’s these stories where Sonja gets much-needed character depth. It’s here that her horrific vow to have no man that cannot defeat her in battle (thereby basically repeating the sexual assault that forced the vow upon her to begin with) and made an adjustment to remove that nasty aspect to it- Sonja will have no man that is not her equal in battle, which is a crucial difference. That makes her someone unwilling to compromise herself for someone unworthy of her affections, something that can be admired. This book also shows the development of artist Mel Rubi, as he goes from someone struggling to find the character’s look and feel to becoming the definitive artist for Red Sonja. Throw in a comprehensive cover gallery for these issues that features work by virtually every great artist in comics, and what else could you ask for?


Written and Drawn by Jonathan Rosenberg
Published by Del Rey

Reviewed by Marc Mason

The bizarre adventures of Jon and Phillip continue, as each one finds themselves faced with newer and stranger circumstances. When last we left them, we knew that they had eaten God, and the multiverse was due to be destroyed in a couple of years. Picking up in this volume, we find that Jon is now contractually obligated to work for One Death and entity that rules over a very corporate netherworld, and Phillip discovers a typewriter that allows the writer to change the shape of reality itself. As you might imagine, neither of those things bodes well for the characters or the strange cast of characters following them around the multiverse.

GOATS remains one of the finest treats on the shelves today, as Rosenberg continues to find newer and weirder things for his characters to do. Unlike those cartoonists that might get squeamish as they approach a “line” they feel they shouldn’t cross, Rosenberg actively goes hunting for that line, takes a leak on it, then keeps merrily wandering forward on his way. He imposes no limits on his imagination or on taste, and that makes the book a joy to read from cover-to-cover.

For instance, the character Diablo, when given the choice of anywhere in the multiverse that he can be sent, asks:

”Can you send me somewhere warm, wet, and sandy?”

In response, Jon consults the being that allows for such travel, and its response is:

”Top result is Paula Abdul’s uterus…”

Fearless stuff from Rosenberg.

This book is full of plenty of other sick, twisted, yummy goodness like that piece of dialogue, along with some truly inspired artwork. GOATS isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you’re into advanced insanity, then it is most definitely for you.


Written and Drawn by Joey Weiser
Published by Tragic Planet/AdHouse Books

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Some new stuff from alt-cartoonist Joey Weiser…

CAVEMEN IN SPACE is a full-length graphic novel (self-published, but distributed by AdHouse), and it’s a bit of a hoot. The setting is the far-flung future, where we find that scientist Albert Casimir has started one of the strangest experiments in human history: using a time machine, he snatched seven early humans from their era and transplanted them to his space station. There he has begun the process of studying them and educating them to the ways of modernity with varying results.

Sound like a recipe for disaster? You might think so, but the seven are doing reasonably well, thanks to their easy acceptance of such amenities as art, makeup, comic books, and robots. Unfortunately, their domestic tranquility is disrupted when an alien invasion force arrives and wants to make off with the Earth’s resources… and the professor’s time machine.

That’s your recipe for disaster right there.

There’s an elegant charm at the heart of the book, as Weiser explores what happens when someone finds themselves taken from a more innocent time… and dropped in a warped version of that innocent time. The characters are funny, the pace is zippy, and the ending is wonderfully emotionally resonant. If you’re in the mood for something fun, this book would do the trick.

I’m a huge fan of minicomics, so I was delighted to see MERMIN #1-2 in the package with CAVEMEN. In this kid-friendly tale, a merman named Mermin arrives on a local beach while some kids are playing in the sand, and they take him in and befriend him. Of course, passing someone off as human when they have gills isn’t quite as easy as you think, but they give it their level best when it comes to taking Mermin to school. Unfortunately, such things as playing tetherball and swimming in the pool during gym class have unintended consequences when they involve a merman, and that’s where the real fun kicks in during these first two issues. I really dug MERMIN, and the all-ages vibe bodes well for it finding a wider audience once Weiser has finished the tale and he goes to collect it.


Written by Nick Sagan and Clinnette Minnis, Illustrated by Concept Art House
Published by Radical Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

On the heels of the successful futuristic military mini-series ‘Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising’ comes Radical’s next chapter in the ‘Shrapnel’ books, ‘Hubris.’ Vijaya “Sam” Narayan was a Marine on the run from her haunted, violent past until it caught up to her on the planet Venus. A young, liberal colony, Venus is the home to many a helot (non-genetically engineered human) and many other people looking to escape the oppression of the Solar Alliance. Sam once again donned her armor and led her men, the free people of Venus, into battle with the powerful and well-trained Marines, and won. Victory on Venus, however, was just the beginning.

Previously written by M. Zachary Sherman, this ‘Shrapnel’ series is written by one of the co-creators of the original concept, Nick Sagan, and newcomer to the series Clinnette Minnis, yet thus far has the feel of Sherman’s gripping and detailed storytelling. Their story picks up shortly after the events of ‘Aristeia Rising’ with war hero Sam working directly with the president of Venus in an effort to keep morale (and men) alive in the face of dwindling essential supplies. Colonel Rossi, who turned against the Marines to rejoin his favorite pupil in her fight for freedom, is by her side again as they plan a radical move against the Alliance which will undoubtedly take its toll on Sam, her men, and all the free people of Venus.

The ‘Shrapnel’ comics are a riveting blend of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Blade Runner,’ and though the price has gone up for this second series, ‘Hubris’ is a three-issue mini-series with over fifty pages per issue to peruse. Plenty of comic book companies charge the same price for less story, and if you enjoyed the fast-paced feel, military-jargon-laced script and occasional touching human moments from the first series, Sagan and Minnis have seemingly carried those elements into ‘Hubris’ while adding their own unique touches, such as Sam’s surreal dream sequence. Similarly, Concept Art House has taken over the reigns of illustration from Bagus Hutomo, and while keeping the foggy haze layering each panel which gives the book its otherworldly essence, CAH has sharpened the characters and given Sam a slightly more mature look fitting to what she has been through. Recommended to fans of the first series, and though a nice summary is given at the beginning of the book ‘Hubris’ is far more understandable, and enjoyable, for those familiar with ‘Aristeia Rising.’