CHEW 14

CHEW #14

Written by John Layman and Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

The fourth installment of CHEW’s five part story arc ‘Just Desserts’ delivers more of the dangerous fugitive Mason, another colorful character from Tony’s past, and more evidence that behind the metal mask, John Colby is one truly decent and loyal guy who Chu is lucky to have on his side.

A few pages of flashback open the book, introducing readers to one of Tony’s ex-girlfriends. She appears to be somewhat unstable, and despite their graphic break-up, Chu surprisingly seems to be still holding on to her, which may cause problems between him and Amelia. His work life is no better as Mason takes out several police teams and his partner Colby before fleeing the scene, leaving Chu right back to where he started in terms of his investigation, not to mention the prospect of facing an emotionally distraught and rather pissed off boss.

There is a touch of tenderness in this issue which gives CHEW an added dimension. Humor has always been present, be it grotesque, clever or otherwise, but it is Colby’s shining moment which makes this installment of ‘Just Desserts’ truly stirring. Guillory, naturally, provides a few nuggets of background beguilement in addition to stellar pencils, and according to the PDF preview an incredible tri-fold cover for next issue which will have even softcore collectors clamoring for multiple copies of number fifteen. Better put your order in now at your local shop, because the word is out: CHEW is comics at its finest.

IMAGE GNS

IMAGE GNS
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Three new books from the Bay Area…

The highest profile among them is THE CRUSADES BOOK 1: KNIGHT, written by Steven T. Seagle and Drawn by Kelley Jones. This is the latest Vertigo series to revert back to its owners, allowing it to get the collected treatment elsewhere, and certainly one that intrigues and entertains. The story sounds simple on its surface: an 11th century knight has arrived in modern day San Francisco, and he’s dispensing his own grisly brand of justice against the city’s scum. But that’s not what the book is really about. The tale focuses on a young woman named Venus who is stuck in a terrible relationship with a radio shock jock named Anton Marx; Marx is using the knight’s rampage to goose his ratings; and the victims of the knight are tending to more and more be the goons of local organized crime. What we get overall is an interesting morality play; Venus as the strictly moral (yet confused heart), Marx as the conflicted straddler of middle ground- falling farther and farther toward the darker side of behavior as the story wears on, and the Knight as the arbiter of justice for all. I read the first couple of issues way back when this originally came out and let it go. I shouldn’t have. This is top-drawer stuff, smartly written and gloriously drawn by the amazing Jones. Volume two coming reasonably soon, I believe.

I was surprised at how much difficulty I had with Corey S. Lewis’ SEEDLESS VOL.1. I’ve read SHARKNIFE and PENG and been quite enamored of Lewis’ penchant for bizarre storytelling and ideas, and this sounded like a winner: a planet of sentient grapes sees its worst villain head to Earth to gather an army of grapes that he can control and use to overthrow his home planet. To stop the bad grape, three special grapes that are immune to that control are sent to track him down and stop him. See? That’s cute, right? The heroic grapes arrive on Earth and befriend a young girl named Harmony who helps them on their quest. All-ages friendly story, creatively different… the ingredients are here. But it just never jelled for me. The story bounces in so many different directions that I wanted to give Lewis some ADHD meds so he would slow down and let it breathe. It lacks coherence, and when Lewis goes to the well and throws in “videogame” moments, they stick out like a sore thumb and disrupt the storytelling instead of coming across as clever or cute.

Finally, we have HELLCITY: THE WHOLE DAMNED THING by writer Macon Blair and artist Joe Flood. The first third of this was published a few years ago by another company and then it vanished on a cliffhanger. On the bright side, it was pretty good, so I was ready to see how it played out. A grizzled private eye has died and made his way to eternal torment, but one of the local demons has a proposition that might help ease his horror: use his skills to find out why her boss is acting so weird. Her boss being Lucifer, the ruler of Hell. A smart man would leave it alone, but our hero finds out that he just can’t and winds up embarking on a journey that will change the fabric of Hell, the nature of the devil’s job, and allow the detective a chance to reach Heaven and make amends for the wrongs of his life. Sharp script, tasty art, funny, action-packed… I dug this book even more than I did the first time around. The afterlife is a lot more interesting in these guys’ world.



ROGUE ELEMENT 62

Rogue Element #62: Falling for Fall

By Avril Brown

As a general rule, Chicago has a very limited definition of ‘seasons.’ The running joke is Chicago has two seasons: Winter and Construction, which is not that far off from the truth. There is no Spring to speak of; mainly a water-logged, grey-infused transition from ‘colder than a witch’s teat’ to ‘hotter than the blazes of damnation itself.’ I refuse to bitch about the sweltering Summer season because at least the sun is out, I can ride my bike excessively and ice cream never tastes better. Until recently, I have held a grudge against Fall solely because its presence translates to the death of Summer and the emergence of the dreaded Winter, a.k.a. Six Months of Freezing Temperatures and Snow-Coated Hell. Yet in spite of my more cynical judgment, I believe I have fallen in love with Fall.

Anyone with at least three functioning senses will attest to the beauty of the Fall season, particularly in the northern most states where the leaves change from green hues into the varying spectrum of autumn shades. The air smells like apple cider and pumpkin pie and the weather is crisp and clean, the chill yet temperate climate offering the perfect excuse for long walks in National Parks and intimate snuggles with your sweetie. Yet Fall is a short-lived mistress, the leaves falling faster than it takes to grab a camera, the weather evolving from just right to so wrong in a matter of weeks. Blink your eyes and Fall will disappear into a dark corner of your insulated winter coat, hidden underneath the matching hat, gloves and scarf you must don in order to keep your extremities from a) looking garish and uncoordinated and b) dropping off your body like formerly fertile fronds.

This Fall, however, has managed to seduce me despite the constricting limit of time we will be able to spend together. I have always attempted to enjoy the more aesthetically appealing aspects of this season, but this year brings more than fashionable sweaters, market-fresh Taffy apples and leaves incapable of choosing a color. Fall in the year two thousand and ten shall usher in an exciting television line up, a new and improved attitude with regards to career expansion and two highly anticipated jaunts off to the East Coast where I shall frolic with friends and get my nerd on in the Big Apple. In other words, I am going to have one fantastic Fall.

In just a few days I will be boarding a plane (fingers crossed; Stand-By, ol’ buddy, don’t let me down) to Boston, Massachusetts, home of Paul Revere, tasty seafood and a few of my closest college friends. Many moons have passed since I last saw my former roommates, and I can barely put into words how much I am looking forward to seeing them this weekend. Nearly everyone and their significant other will be gathering in this city of amazing architecture for an array of good times including a birthday party, Queer-oke and, of course, a chance to see the Midwestern black sheep of the ’04 CU Love-nester alum family. I will be spending an extended weekend with some of the brightest, cleverest and most fantastic people I have the pleasure of calling ‘friend,’ and I cannot wait for it to begin almost as much as I never want it to end.

Come mid-October I will be expanding my nerdy horizons by attending my very first New York Comic Con. Though I am a Chicago gal, born (close enough) and bred, my love for NYC is based on more than its semi-proximal location to my undergraduate university. Part of my adoration is genetic, passed onto me by my Brooklyn-born mother who never lost her love for the overpriced Big Apple despite moving when she was four (to this day she still cannot say the word ‘orange’ like a normal/non-New York individual), though there are many parts of me which enjoy my time in New York purely for the simple joy of consuming a black and white cookie from a novel location, noshing on a bag of roasted peanuts from Times Square or wandering through obscure bits of Central Park. Toss a comic convention into the mix and the only thing that will suck about this vacation is the finite number of hours I have to spend with my comic people and my local friends/family in one of my favorite places in the world to kick back and enjoy life: New York City.

With the debut of Fall also comes the return of some of the best television in years. There is a genre for everyone this coming season, and I am looking forward to experiencing television fiction at its finest. The third season of HBO’s ‘True Blood’ has ended with something significantly less than a bang in my humble, unpaid opinion, and with its temporary retirement I shall return with eagerness to the CW’s ‘Vampire Diaries’ which more than fulfills my fiending for fang. Though slow moving and overly soap opera-ish in its first season (the later descriptor remaining true, only as part of its charm rather than a determent), ‘Vampire Diaries’ has become a staple in my vamp-addicted fantasy credenza. Surprisingly intelligent, sexy, and unpredictable more often than not, Season One only got better with time, and Season Two will hopefully follow a similar pattern (two episodes in and it is so far, SO damn good).

Award-winning ‘Dexter’ returns for more blood, carnage and twisted introspection next weekend, and I scoff in the face of cable adversity when it comes to enjoying an hour every week with my favorite serial killer. I have a friend who can afford Showtime on a regular basis, ‘Dexter’s’ home station, my folks who live nearby will have this exclusive channel for a few more months, and there is always the semi-reliable realm of internet TV. When it comes to keeping up with Dexter, I will take anything, may stellar picture quality (to a certain extent) be damned.

Entering its third season on ABC, ‘Castle,’ starring Nathan Fillion of ‘Firefly’ fame, is a slightly more upbeat cop comedy/drama. Even if he wasn’t ruggedly handsome, I would be following this dry comedic talent anywhere he chose to wander, and his character on ’Castle’ is easy to love. Witty and light-hearted ‘Castle’ is the ‘Remington Steele’ of the twenty-first century with its strong, proficient female lead (who somehow manages to run in heels) and the charismatic and unconventionally capable male star working side by side solving crimes/mysteries. Loaded with partially cheesy plot lines and oozing chemistry (personally I cannot comprehend an individual who does NOT have chemistry with sexy bad-ass Captain Malcolm Reynolds/successful and brilliant author Rick Castle), this is a show I am only mildly shocked yet immensely pleased made it to its third season of creative murders and accumulating sexual tension. Shiny.

‘Modern Family’ deserved every award it recently won at the Emmy’s, plus several it did not, for its uniquely brilliant scripts, all-around solid acting and general hilarity, and I am looking forward to once again having my ribs tickled by this show every Wednesday. A bit off the beaten path, this show stars a patriarch who took a much younger, totally hot Columbian woman as his second wife (who comes with an emotionally evolved son), his daughter has an adolescent husband plus three drastically different children, and his gay son and his life partner recently adopted a daughter from Vietnam. Individually the characters sound like a bad sitcom which would not live past its pilot, but combined and backed with several of the best comedic writing brains in the business, ‘Modern Family’ delivers.

Clearly, there are many reasons why I have taken on Fall as a fair-weather lover, several of which remain unprinted. Fall has waltzed me through many years of courtship with its hay rides, tasty nibblets and raging bonfires, but combined with my amazingly awesome upcoming trips this year I am finally conceding defeat and allowing Fall to pirouette its way into my heart. ‘Spring forward and fall back’ is a handy catchphrase in keep up with Daylight Savings, and this year I am springing forward into my cherishment of Fall, while never looking back.

NINJAS VS ZOMBIES

NINJAS VS ZOMBIES
Written and Directed by Justin Timpane
Available via Endlight Entertainment and Seminal Pictures

Reviewed by Marc Mason

NINJAS VS ZOMBIES should have been the hands-down, no-brainer fun DVD of the the year. The concept at its core is nifty: after a séance gone bad, a young man’s brother returns from the grave with the power to suck out souls and create zombies. Stuck for ideas, the guy responsible for unleashing this plague of horror happens upon a spell that turns his three best friends into ninjas and joins them in the fight against a growing zombie army. When you’ve got a title and an idea like that, you’re halfway to glory.

But you have to finish the other half. And unfortunately, NINJAS VS ZOMBIES doesn’t.

Two things hamper the execution of the idea, and both are things you cannot easily maneuver around when shooting a low-budget film. The first is casting. Some of the players here are genuine naturals. Timpane is given a couple of players that have a real gift for capturing the screen and creating characters that you can invest in and get behind in their arc. The problem, though, is that a good chunk of the cast does not have that gift. And when those two “camps” interact on screen, the scenes between them come off wonky. It feels like people are acting in different films at the same time. This jarring juxtaposition hurts momentum and whatever chance of emotional depth that the film is trying to have.

This leads to the other primary problem, which is in the direction itself. Too often it feels like Timpane doesn’t really know how to stage what he wants to get across on the screen. Moments meant to evoke connections between the characters go flat not only from performance, but because they’re not framed in such a way as to suggest intimacy or intrigue. Also, a number of moments in the fight scenes are done so slowly that it takes you out of the picture and breaks suspension of disbelief. I kept hoping that Timpane would stop and shoot at 16 frames per second and then speed up the film to 24fps during the fights in order to give them locomotion, excitement, and immediacy, but it never happens.

I’m sure that many people will castigate me, saying that I should go easier on a movie that was put together by friends and made for a paltry $300K. After all, it’s meant to evoke the classic grade-B flicks of the 50s, and they didn’t exactly have a budget back then, either. I could let that thought stand and pat the filmmakers on the back, sure. But the real issue is that the potential to do something truly better existed here, making a movie that had legitimate impact not only as a B-level flick but as a way to show that you can do something truly amazing without spending millions. (see: Smith, Kevin) But it didn’t happen, and I can’t ignore that. We only improve when we get take legitimate criticism to heart and use it to grow. Good luck to the NVZ crew in their next endeavor.

DEAD SOLDIER 1

DEAD SOLDIER #1
Written by Richie Smyth and Drawn by Dean Hyrapiet
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Reviewed by Marc Mason

World War I: the war to end all wars. On a battlefield full of the dead, one lone survivor finds himself starving to the point of eating the bodies of the diseased departed. Now, somehow, he has been transformed into a monster of frightening power, and one with an extended life span. Now he’s arrived in the Sudan, smack dab in the middle of American military operations, but he isn’t exactly on the U.S.’ side. Under the watchful eye of a spook trained to torture and a retired general, this scary stranger is about to bust loose and play his own agenda, and anyone that stands in his way is in pretty deep trouble.

DEAD SOLDIER is another of Dynamite’s co-published projects with Liquid Comics, and honestly, it’s one with a glaring problem. First is the nature of the main character himself; the blurb on the back cover does a much better job of explaining what happens in this book than the actual pages of the comic. Indeed, we get very little of the Dead Soldier, most of the time being spent with the modern American soldiers being forced to deal with him. In a movie, where you get the story in one sitting, that isn’t so much of a big deal. In a comic, broken into short chapters, it can make your story and characters feel like ciphers, and that happens here. The Dead Soldier himself does very little to make him of any real interest, though the final page at least begins to move things forward.

On the positive side, this book looks fantastic. Dean Hyrapiet’s is absolutely stunning; it’s rich, full of detail, and has a genuine sense of style about it. He’s dealt a bad script choice by being asked to draw two consecutive splash pages to close the book, and those two pages don’t flow together well at all. But even then, they sure are lovely.

There are three pieces of this one left to go. With the limited plot movement here, there is certainly plenty of fertile ground available for this series to toil. Remains to be seen what bears fruit.

NEW INDIES

NEW INDIES

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Three new ones that have arrived in the post recently…

MERMIN #3 (Tragic Planet) is the latest in writer/artist Joey Weiser’s new minicomic series. The story of a young… well, Mer-man… that has left his undersea home and moved into a suburban neighborhood and befriended the local kids, MERMIN has balanced humor and absurdity through its first two issues. However, issue three takes a different step, raising the actual stakes for Mermin and throwing an intense action sequence into the mix. The ending is actually quite a stunner, proving that you still don’t quite have a full grasp of what is happening in this series yet and that Weiser intends to keep you on your toes. Like the first two issues, this is a terrific effort, and money well spent.

Z-BLADE XX #2 (Atomic Basement) sees writer Steve J. Palmer and artist Guy Lemay take a nice step forward in their strange hybrid take on armored superhero tropes and flat-out parody. This issue introduces us to a pair of waitresses, one of whom moonlights selling sex toys at an adult toy expo. What she doesn’t know is that one of her regular customers is Z-Blade XX in his civilian identity and he recognizes her when he winds up having to fight a bad guy at the show. Throw in a ridiculous bad guy, a wacky double date, and a sudden dark shift in tone, and you have a book that throws everything at you bit the kitchen sink. I’m not sure that the story actually works in the grander scheme, but I admire the ambition. Lemay’s art, very Grist like, is also pretty snazzy.

Finally, we have THE GHOSTS OF MARKO DARC (Atomic Basement), an anthology title written by Palmer and drawn by Lemay, Chris Dyer, and Christopher Booth. The stories revolve around a demon-slayer and all-around tough guy (the title character), his adventures, and the sub-characters that make up his world. This one isn’t quite as fully formed as Palmer’s other book; the character isn’t deeply defined, and he barely appears in the book, which puts the onus on the other elements and they just aren’t as strong. The book is also hampered by the wildly different art styles of the three guys that did the work. It makes Darc’s world feel inconsistent in its threat level. There’s hope and room for improvement, but right this first effort just doesn’t fly.

CREATING ANIMATED CARTOONS WITH CHARACTER

CREATING ANIMATED CARTOONS WITH CHARACTER
Written by Joe Murray
Published by Watson-Guptill

Reviewed by Marc Mason

You could do a lot worse than have Joe Murray’s career. Murray was one of us: a nerd, a lover of the geek arts, but he is also one that stuck with it and put it to use. And what good use it was: Murray created ROCKO’S MODERN LIFE and CAMP LAZLO, two cartoons that were not only some of animation’s best for years running, but also Emmy winners. Most creators are lucky enough to strike gold even once. Murray… yeah, this guy has the touch.

You can do a lot worse than to have Joe Murray’s career. But you certainly can’t do much better.

But, hey! Murray is a nice enough chap that he’s at least willing to show you the ropes and explain how it’s done. CREATING ANIMATED CARTOONS WITH CHARACTER is an incredibly detailed and thorough look at the process of creating a cartoon. Murray starts off with working on the character and premise, carries you through the process of pitching it, how to go about producing a pilot, building your team of writers to do the regular show, and more. He even offers advice on how to deal with temptation, thoughts of selling out, and what happens if you realize you’re becoming an asshole.

Murray is also smart enough to not hog the book to himself. He also offers up a number of interviews with other folks that have successfully gone through the process of getting a show made and on the air and mines their experiences to help guide the reader, too.

I’ve read what feels like eight million “how to” books in the past couple of years, but not one of them was in this book’s league. I put down this book and felt smarter. I read passages that I knew I would refer back to in my own writing endeavors (even though they don’t involve animation). It is the most practical and useful book of its kind currently on the market.

You could do a lot worse than have Joe Murray’s career. But you can’t do much better than to buy and read Joe Murray’s book.

SCRATCH9 – THE INTERVIEW

SCRATCH9 is a limited series, all-ages comic book recently released by Ape Entertainment starring a kitty named Scratch with an unusual talent. Thanks to a mad scientist’s experiment gone wrong, whenever his life is in danger Scratch can summon the spirit of one of his past lives including a saber-toothed tiger, the feline protector of a Pharaoh and a kitty ninja warrior. SCRATCH9 has garnered many enthusiastic reviews and is flying off shelves across the country. Writer Rob Worley and artist Jason Kruse took the time to share a few thoughts on cats, comics and creativity with CWR’s Avril Brown.


Avril Brown: Thanks for taking the time to talk, gentlemen! The infectiously adorable series SCRATCH9 has met with rave reviews and commercial success, selling out at the recent Wizard World Convention here in Chicago. What do you think is the source of the mass appeal of your book?

Rob Worley: That’s really hard to say. People love their pets, their cats and dogs. This book came from the heart and my affection for my own cats. I had ’em for 18 years and just adored those furry little guys. With Scratch9 I wanted to come up with a comic that made me feel as happy as the cats did. Hopefully that comes across to the reader. If it does I think people who have their own pets will dig it.

AB: Clearly you are a cat person, and I mean that in a good way. I read in one of your previous interviews that your kitties’ names were Itchy and Scratchy (which are fantastic names, by the way). What can you tell us about them, and do you see yourself adopting again in the near future?

RW: Itchy and Scratchy were the first cats I’d ever had. I got them as kittens and had only had dogs before them, so it really surprised me how different they were from dogs.

Itchy pretty early on established himself as the Boss Cat. All of one pound of kitten, he scold me with his tiny little voice the minute I entered the house every day. And if he thought I wasn’t listening he would climb up my jeans until I boosted him up on my shoulder. He would ride around there talking in my ear until he said what he had to say.

Scratchy was more relaxed. He was always deferential to Itchy and waited his turn for stuff. With him it always seemed to be about being polite and dignified. When the comic book Scratch calls himself “The Panther King,” that’s something that comes from the real Scratchy. He always looked like a king among cats to me.

If you can find pictures of Itchy and Scratchy online (and there are LOTS of them) you’ll see that the comic book character is modeled quite a bit on their “tuxedo” look. It was important to me that Scratch looked like the guys.

For the book’s initial launch Jason and I are doing a number of store appearances and we’ll have animal shelters at each one. There are tons of cats and dogs in need of good homes and these shelters are working to help find those homes. I still miss my cats terribly. I imagine I’ll adopt a pet from a shelter at some point but the guys were very special to me. I don’t feel like I can replace them. Any new buddy beast will have to come as something new in my life.

AB: Sounds like they were extraordinary little guys, and speaking as an employee of an animal shelter I heartedly applaud your collaboration with local adoption facilities. Have you always wanted to write an all-ages comic? What was your favorite part about writing Scratch9?

RW: It’s an idea that’s come to me gradually. Most of my earliest projects were very much the kind of things I’d want to see as an adult man. On the other hand, because of my cats and because I was volunteering for a local animal shelter, I knew I wanted to do something about pets and that it would clearly be for a younger audience. When I wrote Heir To Fire for Actionopolis I really realized how much fun it is to write for a younger audience.

I think kids love stories that are fast-paced and fun, and that lets me do things that would seem inelegant if I were writing for older readers. For example, when a new character appears in Scratch9, there’s a “Stats” box in the panel with info about his backstory. I’m not sure I could get away with that writing for adults.

For me the great part of writing Scratch9 was reflecting on all the funny, crazy things my cats used to do and trying to get that into the story. And all the goofy stuff I used to say to them — things I’d be totally mortified if anybody actually heard me say them — now Penelope gets to say all that stuff and write it on her lost cat fliers. It was fun to try to capture that.

And then working with Jason to visualize all the characters is the best. Opening an email attachment from Jason is like opening a birthday present. He’s got such a gift for character design and acting.

AB: You have written darker stories in the past such as the graphic novel The Revenant, published by Desperado, where a vengeful spirit returns to claim the lives of his murderers. Do you have a preference of genres or do you enjoy exploring all areas of comic writing?

RW: I’m a huge fan of horror stories. It’s what I started off writing and will continue to write about that stuff. I think I’m generally regarded as a nice guy, and sometimes my characters may read as too nice. So The Revenant was really the first character where my protagonist got to be the opposite of that, all the time, with no apologies and no shades of gray. That’s immensely fun for me.

But you know, there are dark things in the world and without them there’s no drama. So Scratch9 is very light-hearted but we touch on some dark subjects: puppy mills, game fighting and laboratory cruelty. I’m not trying to terrorize kids or anything, but with any story there has to be something at stake. If nothing is at stake the adventures don’t matter. When we get into the homestretch of Scratch9 everything that a little cat and a little girl can hold dear is at stake, so hopefully readers will find some real drama there.

So even with this I tried not to shy away from the dark stuff. It’s a beautiful world but there are terrible things in it. Goodhearted souls like Scratch and Penelope have to stand up to that however small and powerless they might seem.

AB: Hear hear! Do you see Scratch9 becoming an on-going series?

RW: Gosh, I sure hope so! I have lots more stories to tell and am looking to spending more time with the characters. I’m already working on the next mini-series. If Scratch9 doesn’t go as a true on-going series, I’m confident there’ll be a number of minis.

AB: Anything to get more of Scratch! How did you come up with the idea of several different incarnations of Scratch coming to his aid in times of duress? Do you believe in past lives or is this all in good comic-y fun?

RW: I would say I’m open to the belief in past lives. Certainly many people have had experiences that suggest past lives and many systems of belief allow for it.

One fascinating thing about cats is how they present themselves throughout history. They’re wrapped up in lots of mythologies and superstitions, be it ancient Egyptian mythology or early American witchcraft. I’d even seen a documentary which showed how Tibetan monks respected their presence in the temples and allowed them to live undisturbed on the premises. So there were so many wonderful things cats who lived throughout history could be involved in. It’s a very rich vein to explore, with fingers in lots of different eras and cultures.

AB: Sounds like someone is enjoying his homework, and I agree that cats are compelling creatures. You mentioned your recently published non-graphic novel entitled ‘Heir to the Fire.’ What can you tell us about your book? How is writing a novel different than writing a comic book? Is it more or less challenging as a writer?

RW: Heir to Fire was part of a book line called Actionopolis.

The book is kind of a mash-up of horror, creature-feature and hero’s journey stuff. It’s about a teenage boy living in Arizona who discovers he’s part of a lost line of elemental beings whose great city fell to these subterranean spider invaders. Now the invaders are returning to the surface and trying to kill the Heir to Fire before he can complete a prophecy that would send them underground once and for all.

I enjoyed the process tremendously. There’s a certain strange rigidity to comics that you don’t find in prose. The comic has to be 22 pages and there are certain number of panels that can appear on the page. There’s a certain level of craftsmanship to making sure the comic story works in the allotted space, and that the beats fall in the right place on the page, etc.

And it’s collaborative, so whatever story I may envision as a writer, it will then be filtered through the sensibilities of the artist.

Writing prose you have a much higher degree of responsibility. You’re telling the story and painting the visual with words. Whether the story works or doesn’t is entirely up to you as a writer. But at the same time you’re not worried about if the story is a page or two longer than expected, or whether the button on a scene falls at exactly the right place on the page.

I would also like to add that Actionopolis books are back! The original seven available as printed books on Amazon, and there’s over a dozen new books – including Heir to Fire 2 and my urban kung fu story The Legend of Tigerfist – available as eBooks on the Kindle, iPad, iPhone, Android, Blackberry and whatsit! Visit actionopolis.com.

AB: Good to know. Any advice you can dole out to aspiring writers?

RW: Write what you believe in, and believe in what you’re writing. There’s no shortage of people telling you you’re doing it wrong, it won’t work, or it might be better if you changed a bunch of stuff. Ultimately you have to be your own champion so you’d better feel confident about what you’re doing. If you are, it’ll show up on the page.

AB: That is sound advice, thanks so much, Rob! Now let us turn the spotlight over to Jason Kruse, the brilliant pen behind the pussycat. Aesthetically speaking Scratch reminds me a bit of Sylvester from Looney Toons, only lighter on the saliva expectoration and with a cuddlier face and personality. Is your artistic rendition of Scratch based upon any creature in particular?

Jason Kruse: Not really. I actually did a lot of sketches of my cats (there were only 3 at the time–we now have 4) to try to get a feel for the look and movement of Scratch. I also looked more at Hanna Barbera cats like “Top Cat” just to get an idea of how they designed their anthropomorphic cats.

AB: Of all the project you have been involved in, what has been your favorite thus far to illustrate?

JK: That’s a tough call. Scratch9 was a blast to work on but so was my own project, “The World of Quest.” I’d put them neck and neck with each other. I haven’t really done much else, but I’m hoping that changes soon.

AB: Are they any artists in particular who have influenced you and your style?

JK: Oh, so many. Bill Watterson, Berkeley Breathed, Claire Wendling. Too many to name, really.

AB: I do love me some Bill Watterson; ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ will never stop being funny. Any advice you can dole out to aspiring artists?

JK: Keep at it. Practice. Practice. Practice. It takes time and patience to get into this industry. Show your work to everyone you can at cons. Artists and editors in particular. And don’t get defensive. We’re just trying to help.

AB: That makes sense. Practice makes perfect, after all. I have a few questions for the both of you, Rob and Jason. Is this your first project with Ape Entertainment? Are all publishing companies different in how they interact with their creative staff?

RW: This is my first project with them. I would imagine every company is different. This is my first project where I was working with my own creation, so I had a lot of authority in saying how the story was going to go. That’s quite a bit different from when you’re dealing with pre-existing material. And my deal with Ape invested me with most of the responsibilities for seeing the book through to completion. So in most ways, I was the boss on this project.

The Ape guys were very helpful in lending their creative opinions and, especially, guiding me through the non-creative stuff: the printing and distribution which is a whole area of black magic unto itself. Dave Hedgecock and Brent Erwin are nice, honorable guys and good people to work with.

JK: Yes, this is my first with Ape (hopefully not my last). I honestly dealt with Rob (tyrant) more than I did with the Ape guys. They did offer helpful input on my artwork when they felt it was necessary. It was fairly similar to what I encountered at Yen Press. A lot of creative freedom.

AB: Are they any current comic characters/books you are dying to tackle?

RW: I love Devil Dinosaur and have a take on it that I think would be really fun and prosperous for Marvel. Mostly I’d prefer to work on my own characters, I think.

JK: I would absolutely love to do something with Juggernaut and Colossus. I don’t why but they’ve always been my 2 favorite characters to draw.

AB: Two of my favorite powerhouses. Now it is time for the random question of the day – If you woke up a millionaire tomorrow, what would be your first course of action?

RW: Oh god, I’d probably do something completely selfish like a large, hedonistic party. I wouldn’t invite Jason though, but I’d let him know I was having it. Then after he begged for an invitation I would say OK, but only if he shows up in an awesome MODOK costume. Then he would find out it wasn’t a costume party.

JK: See, I’d have an even better party than Rob and not invite him but I’d record it and make him watch on webcam.

RW: If Jason’s party is on the same day as mine, I’ll probably duck out early and go to his. His does sound better.

After all the partying…it’s a tough economy, ya know? I have family members who could benefit from a little financial stability right now, so they’d probably find a large box of money on their doorstep. Or one of those giant checks. That would be sweet. And then I would video tape them bringing the giant check into the bank for deposit. Awesome!

JK: Really, I have simple wants these days like paying off my student loans and buying a house. That’d be great.

AB: Well I hope I get an invite to at least one of your parties, and perhaps I could persuade you, Jason, to turn a generous eye towards my student loans as well? Either way, SCRATCH9 Issues #1-4 are available at your local comic shop, and thank you gentlemen so much for taking the time to give the readers of CWR a chance to learn more about you. We hope to see your talents in print again soon and best of luck in your future endeavors!

ROGUE ELEMENT 61

Rogue Element #61: I Will Follow Him a.k.a. Garth Ennis, You’re My Hero

By Avril Brown

Ask almost any bookworm and they will all agree: you follow a good writer. When you find and fall in love with a talented scribe you tend to stick around and see what other gems they are capable of producing. Of course, no one can construct top quality work every time they put a pen to paper, or continue to create characters you universally esteem, but the odds of enjoying a piece of literature written by a beloved author are in your favor.

For me, Garth Ennis is such a writer, and I will follow him until the death of the printed word.

Though I have been reading comics for over a decade, my evolution as a comic book aficionada has been slow and steady the past few years. The more I advertised my adoration of comic books the more people I met who share that love, and they began to educate me on what I have been missing. “I have been reading X-Men since I was sixteen and I have thrown down hundreds of dollars in past summers by buying back issues from the last twenty years,” I would tell people, “so I’m good on the X-Men front. I seek to broaden my nerdy horizons. What iconic graphic novels should I read in my quest to become a better, more educated comic book fan?”

‘The Watchmen’ was a popular answer, and I experienced the book for the first time only a year or so ago, shortly before the release of the movie. Frank Millar’s ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ frequently made the cut, and though I have finally absorbed that incredible and iconic chapter of comic storytelling into my soul, I am kicking myself a bit for having this book in my possession for months, thanks to a very generous friend, and not read it before now.

After those two infamous graphic novels, another title that kept popping up on several ‘must read’ lists was ‘Preacher,’ a series of graphic novels written by Ennis and penciled by Steve Dillon, originally published a little over ten years ago. I almost blew my entire budget at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo this past March acquiring the nine ‘Preacher’ trades solely based on recommendations of the books, but I held off and was rewarded, once again, via a munificent comic comrade who loaned, and eventually gifted me the trades.

From the very first trade I knew I’d found another favorite writer; a source of divine storytelling I will follow into whatever territory he chooses to venture, and Ennis can purposefully wander into some pretty fucked up terrain. ‘Preacher’ follows the quest of Jesse Custer, a cowboy/man of the cloth whose soul became linked with the unnatural god-like spawn of a demon and an angel, imbuing Custer with the word of God and granting him the power to command anyone who understands him to do his bidding. Custer decides to seek out God and bring him to account for the shitstorm he left behind when he quit the kingdom of heaven, and along the way he befriends a century old Irish vampire, reunites with the love of his life Tulip, makes a deal with the man who killed the Devil and confronts his intensely damaged relatives who make the Manson family look like the Flanders, to name a few adventures. Granted the violence, profanity, sex and sacrilege which saturate the pages of ‘Preacher’ are not for everyone, but personally I had an absolute ball reading those trades, several of which brought me to tears I was laughing so hard. Yet as hysterical these books are, at the same time ‘Preacher’ has such heart, such raw sentiment that is impossible to deny or ignore, and I am in no mood to do either. Ennis clearly cared about these characters he brought to life and was obviously committed to producing a truly amazing story, and THAT is an author I can get behind.

After devouring ‘Preacher’ and loving every single morsel, I have been on a mission to educate myself in everything Ennis. I am finally caught up with ‘The Boys,’ an ongoing title Ennis is writing for Dynamite Entertainment that packs more blood, guts and spirit than ninety percent of the books on the comic market. ‘The Boys’ centers around a ragtag team of guys and gal who essentially police the mentally and emotionally unstable superhumans of their world, a majority of which are right bastards. This book is often grotesque, grainy and bizarre, it is typically disgustingly droll and remarkably clever, and it can relentless attack your sense of humor and break your heart in the span of twenty-odd pages. ‘The Boys’ is a book you have to read to believe.

In addition, I purchased a ‘Punisher’ trade he penned entitled “The Resurrection of Ma Gnucci” at Wizard World Chicago, despite the fact I previously had limited interest in the Punisher character. I saw his name and I made a decision which will undoubtedly affect my checking account for years to come: I will follow him. Wherever Ennis goes in his literary career, I will follow. Perhaps I may not continue to adulate his work the way I have ‘Preacher,’ ‘The Boys,’ and ‘Punisher’ (a title he in fact wrote for years, which I intend to acquire no matter the monetary obstacles), but I will always err on the side of ‘umption’ when it comes to the general assumption I will always love an Ennis book.

There are several talented comic writers who succeeded tremendously with one project and dropped the ball on others. I consider Robert Kirkman’s ‘Walking Dead’ series some of the best zombie comics available, but I shudder when I recall his stint on ‘Ultimate X-Men’ several years back where he turned one of my favorite villains into a bad joke. Frank Millar delivered some of the best graphic storytelling I have ever read in ‘The Dark Knight Returns,’ yet I did not feel the same earth-shattering emotional revelations over what I have read of ‘Sin City,’ a more visually powerful book. Jim Butcher is my go-to guy for the magical world thanks to his brilliant ongoing series of Harry Dresden novels starring a supremely bad-ass wizard living in Chicago and working as a private detective. Along with his mad skills, Harry also has friends on the force, a loyal pooch possessing mystical powers, formidable mentors, a half-vampire ex-girlfriend and an army of fairies who work for pizza (can you see why I love these books?). Butcher also wrote a finite series of more fantasy-based books entitled ‘The Codex Alera.’ As far as I am concerned nearly every Dresden book is totally boss, yet the last couple books in the ‘Codex’ lost steam and creativity, coming off as redundant and anticlimactic compared to its predecessors.

However, I am still batting a perfect .400 with Ennis penned projects, and I have confidence that number will remain relatively steady. I had the good fortune of meeting this glorious creator of fiction at C2E2, and despite my inebriated endeavor to inform him he looked just like Christopher Eccleston as the ninth Doctor from Gallifrey, Ennis took the time to indulge an obvious fan and help direct me towards related projects I may take a shine to, such as a BBC police drama entitled ‘Cracker,’ starring Robbie Coltrane in a defining role as a brilliant psychologist with a gambling problem. Only half a season in and I know Ennis guided me towards a winner.

Clearly we cannot put all of our fictional eggs into one basket, but rather pick and choose which eggs we shall follow throughout its life cycle. After three distinctly different yet undeniably similar projects, Ennis has proved himself to be one of my eggs, and I will eagerly anticipate every comic he can conjure. I will continue in my attempts to expand my comic knowledge, yet I will perpetually keep my nerdy nose to the ground to effectively sniff out new Ennis works. One day I hope to pick his brain over a pint or several while sequestered in a New York tavern in a fruitless yet gratifying attempt to understand the mind of a creative genius, or even to simply hear the accented voice behind so many characters I have fallen for. If that day comes, Mr. Ennis, the first round is on me.

DYNAMITE ONES

DYNAMITE ONES
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Four new ones from DE…

The best of the lot, and one of the best releases from the company in recent memory is HIGHLAND LADDIE, written by Garth Ennis and drawn by John McCrea and Keith Burns. The spinoff from THE BOYS follows Wee Hughie as he heads home to Scotland for the first time in eight years. In the intervening time, he’s been injected with Compound V, giving him super-strength, and running around pounding the piss out of nasty super-humans, not to mention finding out that his girlfriend happens to be one of them. Back in the U.K. hoping to figure his life out, Hughie reconnects with his parents and childhood friends, looking to perhaps find a valedictory moment. But what really happens is all-too-normal: when your life has shifted so far afield from the things that made us who we were, there is no going back. This issue is devoid of fisticuffs, focusing on Hughie’s emotional journey, and yet it completely captivates. Ennis is mining territory here that he hasn’t touched since HITMAN, and damned good comics is the result. Highly recommended.

Scott Beatty, fresh off of BUCK ROGERS, writes the adventures of another great pulp hero in THE LAST PHANTOM. His take on the Phantom is pretty straight-forward, the only serious change being the time frame: we find ourselves in modern day, rather than the classic 1920s and 30s material many longtime fans of the character might be expecting. This Kit Walker barely remembers that he is the Phantom, spending most of his time jetting around a fundraising to help his beloved Bengali. But philanthropy doesn’t always sit well with the ambitious, and he is about to be betrayed someone close, and it will cost Walker dearly. As you might imagine, this will require stepping back into the identity that he has tried so hard to leave behind. This is a solid start from Beatty- the story dives right in, moves along at a nice pace, and ups the stakes quickly. Artist Eduardo Ferigato accompanies him well, though one character is drawn as such a stereotype that he might as well have “evil” tattooed on his forehead. A different design might have held off a plot surprise just a bit longer. Still- I’m in for this one.

ANI-MAX, by writer Ron Marz and artist Jeevan Kang, comes from the collaboration between Dynamite and Liquid Comics (call them the remnants of Virgin Comics). This is a nifty all-ages tale, focusing on a boy named Max who is given a mystical amulet that allows him to touch an animal and take on its powers, skills, and characteristics for seven minutes. That comes in handy when his class field trip to the zoo is interrupted by a full-scale animal breakout. Marz really does things right here- we dive right into the action, we see what Max can do, he offers up his origin, we get a great look at the supporting cast… this is exactly what a first issue should do, especially one aimed at younger readers. The art by Kang is perfect for the story- it’s bright, clean, and tells the story effectively. Anyone reading a comic for the first time could follow it easily. But… there’s a down side. I loved everything about this book until I saw the price on the back cover- $4.99. That’s way, way steep for a book aimed at kids and younger readers. I’d rather see the paper stock downgraded or some other action taken to hold down the cost- this is prohibitive for the weekly allowance set.

Finally, we have DEAN KOONTZ’S FRANKENSTEIN: PRODIGAL SON, and, well… remember how your parents used to say that if you don’t have something nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all? That doesn’t apply to a reviewer, sadly. There’s no way around it- this is a complete mess, and I admit to some surprise about that. It’s adapted by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Tim Seeley, two guys that know something about making good comics. This just isn’t one of them. There are a ton of characters, none of them well-defined or showing genuine motivation. The art makes some bizarre choices, particularly in trying to hide female nudity- I can’t recall stranger setups for light sources in recent memory. The plot moves along with no organic flow, bouncing from scene to scene with little rhyme or reason. Now, to be fair, the first graphic novel in this series, which was published by another company a year or so ago, was absolutely fucking terrible, too. Maybe Dixon and Seeley just had nothing to work with here, I don’t know. But I do know that there are plenty of better ways to spend four bucks.