LEVEL UP/ANYA’S GHOST

LEVEL UP/ANYA’S GHOST
Written by Gene Luen Yang and Drawn by Thien Pham
Written and Drawn by Vera Brosgol
Published by First Second


Reviewed by Marc Mason

Two excellent new books from the FS folks…

LEVEL UP continues Gene Luen Yang’s hot streak, as he once again delivers an amazing graphic novel full of fascinating characters, interesting situations, tasty dialogue, and captivating story. Dennis Ouyang is a slacker who would prefer to take it easy and play video games, but his strict parents are dead set on forcing him to go to medical school. However, when he completely loses his way, something odd happens: four very bossy and determined ghosts show up in his life and begin leading him back to The Path. Yet for Dennis, maybe this is not the path. Torn by duty to family, friends, and his own desires, poor Dennis might just be a pawn in someone else’s game.

This book works in so many ways. Dennis is an easily relatable character, and his confusion over what to do with his life will speak to so many who have gone through it themselves. The pressures he feels from his family and his friends is palpable, and it gives you the ability to truly feel like you know him. Thien Pham’s art looks simple, but it has a lovely way of setting an emotional tone for the reader. There’s a “real” quality to the pages, even with his very cartoony style. Even when dealing with the ghosts, the book never loses the sense of being grounded in a real world situation. In short: it’s an outstanding piece of work. Yang’s name has pretty much become an automatic read for me at this point. It’s synonymous with high-quality work.

So when I tell you that, you’ll understand just how startling a statement this is, following: as good as Yang’s book is, ANYA’S GHOST is the finest piece of work to come out of First Second since THE PHOTOGHRAPHER. No joke.

Vera Brosgol’s story seems simple on the surface. Anya, a teenage Russian immigrant trying desperately to fit into her American school and adopt an American lifestyle, discovers what we already know: kids are massively cruel. Being a teenager is ridiculously difficult, and the changes coursing through your body don’t do anything but make it worse. Thus one day while walking home from school off the beaten path, she winds up falling down a well. Inside that well: the skeleton (and ghost) of a murdered young girl. Once Anya is found and freed, though, the ghost manages to find a way to come home with Anya, and for once she seems to have a friend who truly understands her. But as time passes, strange things begin to occur with the ghost that make Anya begin to wonder if perhaps something else isn’t at work in the pair’s relationship. Something… wrong.

To be honest, when I finished ANYA for the first time, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. So I set it aside and let my thoughts cohere on it, and as they did, I kept flashing to things in the book that really grabbed me. A sequence that takes place at a party that reverses a cliché about “hot girls”. The way that Brosgol sets up an important plot point about the ghost right away but you can’t see it until she’s already played it out. The role of the “nerd” boy and how you discover he won’t allow himself to feel like a victim. So many moments flood back at you as the book digests.

Everything simply works in ANYA’S GHOST. The characters, the story, the dialogue… Brosgol blends them all together to make a gorgeous, scintillating graphic novel. If I were asked to pick one graphic novel to give a teenaged girl right now, this would be the one. It might just be the one I’d pick for an adult as well.


AISLE SEAT 2.0.64

AISLE SEAT 2.0.64: PHOENIX COMICON 2011


By Marc Mason

Sometimes you get the comicon you want. Sometimes you get the comicon you need. At this year’s Phoenix Comicon, I got the latter.

The 2011 edition of the con was held from Thursday, May 26th through Sunday, May 29th, but for me, the show started on the previous Sunday. I woke up early to take my girlfriend to the ER at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. She had been struggling with some health issues for a while at that point, and she needed help that she was just not receiving at that point. We got there, they started processing and testing, and we got unexpected news: they wanted to keep her there for a two or three-day stay. So she was admitted, I made a run for supplies and technology, and I sat back on tiny pins and needles, waiting to see how they were going to help her feel better. One thing I knew was that it was going to feel like a long couple of days.

It got longer.

Fast-forward to Friday. She’s still in the hospital, and they don’t have a firm idea yet when she will be released. In the meantime, she encouraged me to get on with the business of going to Comicon. So after work, I hopped the light rail and headed downtown to the Convention Center and made my way into the show. My first impression was just that: impressed. The show has made leaps and bounds in its size and how it presents itself.

For starters, it looked and felt like the con floor was about 50% larger than last year’s. The rows were full of people shopping like there was no tomorrow and finding their favorite artists and writers in order to get autographs. And much like in years past, the level of cosplay was astonishing. It was more unusual if you weren’t wearing a costume. The fanbase in the Phoenix area is hardcore, and they love showing off their devotion to their hobbies. As I wandered through some very tightly packed aisles, I could do little but smile at the level of enthusiasm the crowd was showing, as well as at how well it was being managed. Comicons are usually littered with nightmare stories of problems with the security guards, but I didn’t see that going on. Everything was calm and orderly, and that would only get more important the next day.

I caught up with a number of pro pals as I made my way through the show, and we all decided on a dinner destination. As we ate some amazing food (at Duce, which I highly recommend), I took the temperature of the writers and artists at the table as to how they thought the show was going after the first 1.5 days. Everyone seemed to be pretty pleased- no complaints. Anyone who has ever been to a comicon knows that’s a rarity. My local show was doing quite well.

Being a planner, I had set a schedule for myself for Saturday and Sunday. There were five panels that I intended to go to and report on over the two days, and I wanted to set up some interviews with comics folks. So I woke up Saturday morning with a sense of purpose. I was going to tackle the day head-on and get my journalistic blood flowing. But first: I needed to get myself down to the hospital.

It had been a few days since I had been to see her. I had been on the outside running some errands for her, and we had texted, talked on the phone, all that good stuff- but I needed to be down there. She was having a small procedure done that morning, and I arrived in time to be there waiting in her room when she returned. I was relieved to see her in high spirits and feeling better- I can’t begin to describe how much that elevated my own mood. We caught up on all the testing, poking, prodding… the list of things they were putting her through in an effort to give her the best care possible and get her well. I was blown away by the dedication of the staff and their professionalism in how they treated her. And in the middle of all that…

Honestly, I put the con out of my mind.

Eventually, though, she needed to nap, and I headed down to the Convention Center. I wanted to hit the “It’s All About CHEW” panel at 3pm, as John Layman and Rob Guillory are pals. Plus, having watched John on panels before, I knew it would be a treat. The man is a born raconteur and when you put a microphone in front of him, it’s pretty much magic. I stopped by their table, helped them pack up, then joined them on the walk to their panel room, but as we walked, I got a text from the hospital:

They were releasing her. That night. Could I pick her up about 8pm?

Of course I could. Of course I would.

As I sat in the panel, my brain kept dividing itself in two. Part of it was listening and laughing. John was his usual self- gregarious, funny, a natural comedian. Rob, who is an extremely mellow guy, flashed a sharp wit and gave some wonderfully charming answers, handling audience inquiries brilliantly. On the whole, the guys were fantastic- they discussed the genesis of the book, from when Layman first started putting the idea together in his head, to Rob being recommended to him, to their efforts to get it set up at Image. Tantalizing hints were offered at what is coming up in the book, as well as about the SECRET AGENT POYO one-shot coming in early 2012. Layman reiterated that CHEW would end with issue sixty and that he knows precisely how it will conclude, assuring the readers that they would not be stuck with a book that wore out its welcome. When it was over, the crowd filed out, most buzzing about the stuff they had just heard. If there were people in the room who had not read the book previously, I’m pretty certain they were going to head down and buy it direct from the creators. That’s what I would call a successful panel.

The other half of my brain? Well, it was strategizing. I was only going to have a little bit more time at the show, as I needed to get on the train home, grab the car, and get back down to the hospital to pick her up. But I felt like I had plenty of time to do that, as well as hit another panel. It was only as I attempted to return to the convention floor that I realized that plan was about to crumble into pieces.

You see, Phoenix Comicon grew in floor space again this year, but it also made a quantum leap forward in another way: attendees. At the time I arrived back downstairs, the exhibit hall was in a full-on fire marshal situation. People were only being allowed on the floor as others left. The line to get back inside was six full rows long!

In fact, attendance, not counting little kids, broke 23,000 this year. That puts the Phoenix show right in the range of Emerald City Comic-Con; pretty good neighborhood to be in. I’m sure that Matt Solberg, the show’s director, is already plotting to find ways to make sure this situation doesn’t arise again next year. He and the planning committee have always been very good at year-to-year adjustments and this one seems like a relatively easy fix. The one highly positive thing I can say about the situation this year was how well it was handled. Security was pleasant, the lines were kept in constant motion, and peace was the order of the day.

So I had to make some decisions. I could either hit that next panel or get back inside, do some shopping and talk to people (I had already set up an interview with Rob). I chose option number two.

This would be my most thorough go through of the floor. I chatted up some potential interview subjects. I bought six trade paperbacks for $5 each- can’t pass up that kind of bargain! I found Danielle Corsetto and bought my sweetie a McPedro plush. I bumped into a girl I went out with once. I talked e-readers with a tech expert. Believe me- I was cramming as much comicon as I could into the short couple of hours I had available. Finally I rolled around and caught up with Mr. Guillory and conducted our chat, which should be live here at CWR within the next couple of weeks. Then, a look at the clock, and it was time to go.

At two minutes to eight, I arrived at her hospital room. We waited for transport (the staffer who would wheel her down to the entrance) then got underway to getting her home. We bounced around looking for a late-night pharmacy and got her prescriptions filled. And finally we got her back to her apartment, safe and sound in her own bed.

Hell of a Saturday, big picture-wise.

But there was still con to be had on Sunday, right? You know, I could have gone back on Sunday. I could have found a way to squeeze it in. Yet… my head just wasn’t in it.

When you’re in the hospital for a week, the food in your fridge tends to rot and go bad. So a grocery run needed to be made. The trash needed to go out. Mail needed to be retrieved. All of that didn’t take a lot of time, but you know what did? Just sitting and enjoying spending the afternoon talking on the couch. Having that quiet calm where she could sit up and just smile. It was gratifying to see it; even though her ordeal is far from over, it didn’t matter. There is a great deal of pleasure to be had in being able to revel in your own personal space. Experiencing that with her- that sort of thing is priceless.

No show for me Sunday. But I got something a little more important, you know?

Thus, my 2011 Phoenix Comicon was not the show I thought it was going to be. I did not drink and carouse until I forgot my name, and I certainly didn’t do so for three nights in a row (that’ll have to wait until San Diego). I didn’t have the chance to attend and report on a bunch of panels. I only got one interview done, though I do have a couple of potentials. But was it a bad con?

Hell no.

For those of us in the hobby, sometimes we need to be reminded of what’s really important. We love comics and pop culture, and it sure is fun to celebrate that fact. But in the end, it’s the people that we care about that matter most.

This year, I had exactly the con I needed.

NEW DYNAMITE

NEW DYNAMITE
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Reviewed by Avril Brown

THE GREEN HORNET: AFTERMATH #1-2
Written by Jai Nitz and Illustrated by Nigel Raynor

Following the path the recently released ‘Green Hornet’ movie created, ‘Aftermath’ tells the story of the continuing adventures of paper playboy Britt Reid as the Green Hornet and his trusty, and varyingly useful partner-in-defeating-crime Kato. One of the many aspects I enjoyed about the movie starring Seth Rogen and Jay Chou was the ridiculousness of it all, and that have-fun humor is predominant in this book.

Though their mission is to take down criminals by posing as the nefarious element, the Green Hornet and Kato seem to stir up as much trouble as they take down. Inspired by the actions of these effective vigilantes a new pair of ‘crime fighters’ appear, codenames Doctor Frenzy and Clawful, and their body count rapidly begins to rise. Meanwhile, two hot, tightly clothed Homeland Security agents (one of whom is constantly sucking on a lollypop, for Christ’s sake) are out looking for the Green Hornet and they are determined to get their man.

Raynor’s more cartoon-y style is a good visual vehicle for another wild ride with the Hornet and Kato. Nitz handles their by-play perfectly and gives Britt such wonderful Rogen-like lines, such as: “I may need to see a vet these pythons are so sick!” referring, of course, to his bulging biceps. Humorous and engaging, fans of the film should find ‘Aftermath’ to be a worthy read.

VAMPIRELLA #1-5
Written by Eric Trautmann and Illustrated by Wagner Reis with Fabiano Neves

This fantastic new series is an excellent avenue for new readers of Vampirella to explore, offering a dark and twisted story with familiar faces from Vampirella’s past while keeping the plot largely uncomplicated by detailed continuity.

Trautmann writes a strong, confident and completely kick-ass Vampirella, one who has been through a trial and is the better for overcoming her challenges. I adore the new look she is sporting; a simplistically sexy combination of tight blouse and trousers, complimented by her signature emblem as a noticeable piece of necklace bling. Reis and Neves give Vampirella a dark, husky air with thick lines and oodles of bloody violence.

Fighting alongside an old enemy against more old enemies, these controlled by an ancient evil so powerful it has Dracula shaking in his cape, Vampirella certainly has her work cut out for her. Revamped and refreshed, Dynamite’s new ‘Vampirella’ series is certainly a must read for both old readers of the character and new.

DANGER GIRL AND THE ARMY OF DARKNESS #1
Written by Andy Hartnell and Illustrated by Chris Bolson

Published by Dynamite, ‘Danger Girl’ is nonetheless an IDW character and credit for this incredible first issue must go to both companies and the rocking creative team responsible for bringing this inspired team up to life.

This is my first exposure to Danger Girl and I am suitably impressed. A hot chick (Abbey Chase) who used to be a freelance thief and is the best there is at what she does is usually a recipe for an entertaining ride, plus her crew are intriguing characters and their by-play is fun to read. Abbey is seriously bad-ass with a ’tude to match, and nothing stops her from getting the job done. There are plenty of explosive action sequences in this introductory issue, and Ash hasn’t even shown up yet (apart from the last page in a contriving cameo). Something tells me that he and Chase are going to make one hell of a tumultuous duo.

Bolson simply rocks the fast-paced and fiery battle scenes, and his spread a few pages in is a work of beauty, rich with deadly detail. Hartnell does an exemplary job of introducing readers to half of the Danger Girl team while balancing the script with some nuggets of background information and a couple witty one liners. I simply cannot wait to read how he writes Ash, and I am already wishing this team up would last longer than six issues.

CHEW 27

CHEW #27
Written by John Layman and Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

In true CHEW fashion, the creators behind this wacky series have thrown another monkey wrench in the works by releasing issue #27 this month instead of issue #19, which is where we slightly confused but massively entertained readers left off in continuity.

This issue is all about Toni Chu, Tony’s twin sister, who is super peppy with a small side of crazy. The bubbly, motor-mouthed Chu is recounting a story for her bed-ridden brother, doped up in a hospital and apparently in bad shape. Through her narrative and flashbacks, we learn of Toni’s frog-licking history and brief run in with Agent Cesar Valenzano, her ability to melt her boss using the power of puppy dog eyes and see her taking a page from her brother’s book in the midst of action. Basically, Toni may be a bizarre character with too much cheerleader ‘tude but she seriously kicks ass.

The immensely creative CHEW crew do so delight in keeping us loyal readers on our toes, and plucking an issue from half a year down the line and depositing it on shelves this month certainly does at that. Although the story setting is unfamiliar, the story itself retains its usual dry humor and awesome Easter eggs making it an excellent stand-alone issue. No doubt it will all make sense in the grand master scheme of things as the story arcs unfold, and I cannot wait to see what other off-the-wall ideas they have in store.

PLANET OF THE APES 1-2

PLANET OF THE APES #1-2
Written by Daryl Gregory and Illustrated by Carlos Magno
Published by BOOM! Studios

Reviewed by Avril Brown

Fans of the ‘Planet of the Apes’ series should check out BOOM!’s new comic of the same name and concept. Set twelve hundred years before the events in Charlton Heston’s ground-breaking original ‘Planet of the Apes’ movie released in 1968, the balance of power between the apes and humans has already begun to shift in the apes’ favor. As more humans are being born mute and the human culture disintegrates, the apes are well on their way to becoming the dominant creatures on the planet.

As girls the human Sullivan and the ape Alaya were orphans both adopted by a kindly older ape they called ‘grandfather.’ Believing in a world where ape and human lived together in harmony, the well-respected Lawgiver was in a position of great power and influence and he remained a friend to the humans…until he was gunned down by a human assassin using extremely deadly ‘old tech.’ Someone has been manufacturing these lethal tools in Southtown aka ‘Skintown,’ and though both Alaya and Sullivan are hunting the same killer, their methods differ vastly, and Alaya’s choices especially will have long-reaching consequences.

Filled with action and intrigue, these two introductory issues have gotten off to an addictive start. Gregory has weaved a believable world fraught with change and tension, and the story is nicely nestled between the time periods of the very first ‘Apes’ and the upcoming ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ (where apes first gain advanced intelligence), thus insuring an unique story in an original setting. Magno’s art is slightly gritty yet so rich in detail and vivacity, making him the perfect artistic compliment to this brand new chapter in the saga of the ‘Apes.’ All eyes back on ‘Apes’ with the latest movie coming out in August of this year, and thankfully BOOM! was smart to get such a successful team on such a noticeable, and enjoyable, title.



NEW IMAGES

NEW IMAGES
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Image Comics


Reviewed by Marc Mason

While Marvel and DC continue to regurgitate the same event-driven (or should I say Sales Department driven?) shit over and over and over again, proving themselves to be bereft of ideas, Image Comics continues to push new and interesting creator-owned content out and onto the shelves for comics fans that have an appreciation for quality (and hygiene). Here is a look at a number of the most recent efforts and a preview of one coming in about a month.

That would be ALL NIGHTER #1, written and drawn by David Hahn. Hahn- not to be confused with David Hine, who also does work for Image, first came to prominence with his series PRIVATE BEACH, and ALL NIGHTER definitely reminds me of that era in his career. The lead character here, Kit Bradley, is a 20-year old art student and petty thief, neither of which is doing much in the way of setting her on track to grow up and get a life. However, she is beginning to get a glimmer of clue that she needs to snap out of it, but that doesn’t stop her from taking on a burglary job with her ex-boyfriend against her better judgment. This being fiction, her life only begins to get more complicated. Hahn has a gift for creating characters with strong individual voices, and his artwork is crisply appealing to the eye. I’m not sure I liked Kit, but I think that was exactly what Hahn was going for in the reader. Easy recommendation to make.

One book that got a ton of notoriety before it shipped was NONPLAYER #1 by Nate Simpson, and it turns out that excitement was much deserved. Start with the art, which is as visually arresting as anything I’ve come across this year- Simpson’s work is rich in detail and color, the pages bursting with life and energy. The story, which focuses on a young woman named Dana who escapes the drudgery of her life in a futuristic society by downloading herself into her favorite MMMO-type game is fun, and the author gives you just enough of a peek at Dana’s real life to help you understand why she stays plugged in as much as she can. The action is dynamic, the storytelling is dramatic and interesting to follow… this is really just an outstanding piece of work. If comics has been waiting for a second coming of Geoff Darrow, we may have found it in Nate Simpson.

I’m not really sure I liked BUTCHER BAKER #1 by writer Joe Casey and artist Mike Huddleston, but will say that I respect the hell out of what they’re trying to do with it. Butcher is a retired superhero living a life of incredible sin- having a ton of sex, snorting his weight in blow, drinking at all hours of the day. Then one day a couple of government officials arrive (think Cheney and Clinton) with an offer to put him back on the job- and job one will be to break into the prison that houses his old enemies and kill them all. An offer of three hookers seals the deal. I get that Casey is aiming to do something completely over-the-top here- it’s what he excels at, so why not? But there’s a certain point at which over-the-top just becomes numbingly stupid. Did Casey reach it here with BUTCHER? He might have left himself a little bit of wiggle room, but it’s damn close. Still, it takes massive cojones to put something this gonzo out into a marketplace obsessed with FEAR/POINT bullshit. For that alone, I applaud it and will remain curious about what happens in issue two.

On the other hand, RED SPIKE #1 is a massive dud, and there’s no way around it. Written by Jeff Cahn and drawn by Salvador Navarro, we’re introduced to a pair of soldiers who have been fitted with special devices that enhance their adrenal glands, giving them superior awareness, reflexes, and tactical capabilities. What does that mean for the reader? Stale dialogue, standard government baddies with “secret agendas” that might be harmful to the guys, the traditional female scientist in love with one of the soldiers who is torn between her heart and her duty… if this sounds like it was a movie starring either Van Damme or Lundgren, you’re right about a half-dozen times over. RED SPIKE is a quintessential 90s comic book. Unfortunately, it’s currently 2011. Pass.

That doesn’t mean that 90s comics can’t be relevant in the modern era. Writer/artist Jim Starlin, a living legend, proves that with BREED III #1. Starlin obviously expects many potential readers to be unfamiliar with the first two volumes of the series, so he does something very ballsy: he spends the majority of this first issue explaining everything that has happened previously, all the while introducing new plot, new characters, and new realms. The cumulative effect is that anyone can pick up this comic and understand it, as well as they will also get a full story that is appealing and interesting. Starlin knows what he is doing- the exposition never becomes too great a drag on the proceedings, his storytelling is strong, the action is exciting… it’s just a joy to see it. He knows precisely how to adapt his work for today’s reader while still keeping enough of his classic flourishes to entertain his longtime fans. Much respect for this one.

A few years ago we saw the original one-shot of ’68 and now it’s back in a new miniseries by writer Mark Kidwell and artist Nat Jones. This is another zombie book on the shelves, but the creative team does some interesting things to help set their series apart. To begin with, this zombie outbreak occurs in the middle of the Vietnam War, and that adds some scary peril to the already horrific situation. For instance, the VC used to bury their dead down in the tunnels they used. So what happens to an already frighteningly claustrophobic situation where a U.S. soldier is sent into the tunnels? Your nightmares will remind you for a long, long time. What’s it like when, no matter how many times you’ve shot the enemy, they stumble back to life and pick up arms against you? Read this and find out. Kidwell and Jones have created a creepy, atmospheric world here, and it sticks with you once you’ve finished reading. It’d be easy to be zombied-out at this point, but ’68 is interesting enough that I’ll stick with it for a bit to see where it goes.

Every once in a while, a comic asks “what if the bad guy won?” MORIARTY #1 is the latest entrant in that sweepstakes, and it turns out to be a good one. Writer Daniel Corey and artist Anthony Diecidue posit a world in which Holmes is dead and his nemesis remains free and alive in the London of the early 20th century. Moriarty is mostly just relaxing and taking on a few Holmes-ish jobs, but then one comes his way that he can’t refuse: Sherlock’s brother Mycroft has gone missing, and the Crown would very much like his help in determining the man’s whereabouts. That sets the villain on a path from which even he cannot guess just how insane his life is about to become. A new nemesis awaits the Professor, and he will need to gather himself and all the skills he has let atrophy in order to solve this particular riddle and avoid taking the fall for crimes he did not commit. Corey writes a Moriarty that intrigues the reader- he is clearly still a villain, but one that you come to understand and find rooting interest in. The art is rough in places, but it deals effectively in the use of shadow, light, and color. I’d like to see this one find an audience and stick around a while.

I had mixed emotions about GREEN WAKE #1-2 by writer Kurtis Wiebe and artist Riley Rossmo. Green Wake is a sort of alternate Earth or secondary dimension where people randomly disappear to, and it is “policed” by a man named Morley who found himself there after causing a car wreck that killed his wife. Unfortunately for the denizens of the Wake, one of the residents has started murdering her fellows, and that, as you would think, is a problem. There’s a lot to like here, no question- the setup is intriguing, Morley makes for a fascinating character, and the question of why the killer has started down this path is a good one. But the pacing is absolutely glacial. And as much as I have always like Rossmo’s art, the storytelling and level of detail in some spots here leaves a lot to be desired. I think I’m frustrated because GREEN WAKE could be even better than it already is, and that’s always a shame. I hope they pull it together a bit over the last two issues.

Boy meets girl. Boy falls for girl. Girl happens to be a vampire, guy happens to be a massive ass-kicker ready to do what it takes to find a cure for girl. That’s the gist of UNDYING LOVE #1-2 by Tomm Coker and Daniel Freedman. First and foremost, this is a damn pretty book- Coker has always been a name I’ve appreciated seeing in the credits box, and for good reason- there’s precious little he doesn’t do well. His characters are unique, his backgrounds are richly detailed, his storytelling is vivid- he meshes the writing with the art just about perfectly. The story here isn’t exactly complex, but it doesn’t need to be- it grabs your interest, and you get sucked in to the joyful way that the lead character slaughters his way through a building full of bad guys. In recent times, pop culture has been subject to ridiculously poor portrayals of vampires and vampirism. It’s nice to see it done in brutal and bloody fashion, the way it was meant to be done. Thumbs way up on this one.

And for the kids…

GLADSTONE’S SCHOOL FOR WORLD CONQUERORS #1 is a charmingly amusing book about a school for young would-be supervillains. Potential classes in the curriculum include “Treachery”, “Hatching a Scheme”, “Oversized Reptiles”, and of course, “P.E. Dodgeball.” Writer Mark Andrew Smith delivers the entire book with his tongue buried firmly in his cheek, offering up three tales of this academy of evil, and each one finds a way to bring a smile to your face. Artist Armand Villavert does a wonderful job of producing a style that is appealing to the eye of both younger and older readers. If you’re going to make a book that’s appropriate for all ages, then the one thing you simply must do is make it fun. This comic is a lot of fun. I’d read more of these any day.

Image bigwig and WALKING DEAD creator has never been one for aiming at the younger reader before, but there’s a first time for everything. Thus we get SUPER DINOSAUR #1, wherein young Derek Dynamo goes on adventures with a nine-foot tall T-Rex who wears heavily-weaponed armor. Together they take on rogue dino-men that work for bad guys at the Earth’s core. I get exactly what Kirkman is going for here: he’s making a comic for his own inner child, the kind of thing he wishes he could have read when he was eleven years old. Utterly respectable. Artist Jason Howard once again joins him, fresh off their collaboration on WOLF-MAN. Does this work? Not entirely- it’s a bit pat that Derek is also a super-genius, though I suspect young kids would dig that aspect. (To me it was a bit too Wesley Crusher.) Really, though, if anyone has a great chance of shoving a book for younger readers out into the mainstream of comics, it’s Kirkman. I hope he succeeds.










SEEDS

SEEDS
Written and Drawn by Ross Mackintosh
Published by Com.X


Reviewed by Marc Mason

Ross Mackintosh was busy living his middle-class existence when one day it was disrupted by the kind of devastating news that changes lives forever: his father had been diagnosed with cancer. The good news was that it was very treatable cancer of the prostate; the bad news was yet to come. A secondary cancer arose in his father’s lungs, and it was untreatable. Over the next few months, Mackintosh would watch his father deteriorate. This is their story.

SEEDS has a lot of interesting things going for it, not the least of which is Mackintosh’s simple and intimate artistic style. The book benefits from the clean paneling and layout, which keeps the focus on the progression of the father’s illness and Mackintosh’s memories of the man. You get a strong picture of who his father was and what kind of relationship the pair had, and that’s vital in getting you to invest in the story. I also found myself impressed by the subtle sense of humor that the book displays- dying isn’t exactly something that lends itself well to comedy, but Mackintosh’s father clearly was a man who liked to laugh, and the book is infused with some of that spirit, even in its darkest moments.

The primary downside to SEEDS is that it bred a sense of frustration on more than one occasion. There are moments when you really wish that Mackintosh would peel away some of the padding and really get into the emotions that he and his family are feeling. But they are a seriously British group- stiff upper lip, just a flesh wound, etc. That doesn’t make the book shallow, but it does rob it of opportunity to make a deeper impact on the reader.

Ultimately, I think that SEEDS is a book that I think would bring comfort to others that find themselves in the same position that Mackintosh did, and for that alone, it earns its place on the shelves. Solid stuff.

ERIKA MOEN

Erika Moen made her splash in comics with DAR, an autobiographical webcomic that was a smash hit with fans and critics alike. These days she’s drawing BUCKO, a hilariously entertaining webcomic written by Jeff Parker. BUCKO starts out as something of an odd crime story but has evolved into something more in the vein of a strange romance. I had the opportunity to chat with Erika at Emerald City Comic Con back in March. Special thanks to Chelsea Freund for transcription assistance.

Marc: This is Marc Mason from the Comics Waiting Room, I am with noted webcomics artist Ericka Moen.

Erika: Hello.

M: Recently, you just started a new webcomic, “Bucko”. Tell us about it.

E: Well, it’s a dick and fart joke murder mystery, and written by Jeff Parker, which means it’s really well-written. He’s one of my favorite writers. I can’t believe he’s working with me, and I am just really having a good time doing something completely fictional, and I actually don’t know what is coming up with it. He gives me one page of script at a time, so it’s a surprise for me every single page. Like, what’s happening next? And for me to find out, I have to finish my current page so I can go on to the next one.

M: It’s also a little bit of a departure for you. You kind of made your name as an autobiographical comics artist. What sort of adjustments have you had to make artistically to do a murder mystery?

E: Well, I’m trying to draw better. I’m trying to be a better artist. ‘Cause now it’s not just, like, my story, like- shit, I’m working with somebody else, I’ve got to make this good. So I’m trying to improve my art and push myself artistically. It’s been challenging in a really good way, and I feel like I’m a stronger artist for it. Within the first 20 pages, I can look at it and see that my art is improved by the 20th page.

M: This weekend you’ve been selling a mini-comic, the first few installments of “Bucko.” How are people responding to it?

E: Really positively. I, honestly wasn’t really expecting people to buy a mini-comic of it, but they have been. I’m really impressed by how many people have bought the first chapter of “Bucko.” I mean, I’m really excited. Thanks, everyone.

M: Well, and they got a sneak peek ahead, because I know I took it home and I read it, and there are pages ahead of what’s been online, so that had to be an effective selling tool, right?

E: Yeah. I tell people, if you buy this, you get to see the future of the comic. Right now we’re up to page 12 online (Ed. Note: they’re past page 30 now!), and the comic gives the first whole chapter, so it’s 21 pages. So that’s quite a peek ahead. Although, there’s still something for the people that are online. If you put your mouse over the comic online, you get a little bit more. So you can still go read it online and get something out of that too.

M: Nice. I mentioned “Dar” earlier, your autobiographical comics. I bought those last summer, and I loved them a whole bunch.

E: Thank you.

M: Do you miss doing “Dar” at all?

E: Not really. I still have a couple auto-bio stories I want to tell eventually, but right now, I’m so happy to be doing fiction. I kind of… when you’re doing auto-bio, you’re really trapped your own brain, and everything is all about you, obviously, with your story, and your art. It’s very Erika, Erika, Erika, and I was really happy to have a chance to go outside of that. I feel like my skills always improve, and I feel more challenged and creative when I’m working with somebody else, because it’s an outside influence, and you have to think differently. So I really enjoy collaborating and working with another writer.

M: Was it difficult to put yourself out there in some of the ways that you did? I imagine that there’s a line that you have defined between talking about too much and not talking about enough, and keeping it real enough to keep your audience enthralled.

E: Yeah, it was an interesting balance. When I first started, I was not thinking in terms of that. I just thought, hey, this funny thing happened, I’ll do a comic about it. So things that I would have thought about doing a comic about before but not even thought twice about, suddenly, it’s like, you know, you don’t want to hurt peoples’ feelings. I was having to censor myself a lot towards the end of the comic, because you get in the public eye, which I could not have anticipated. Which sounds naïve to say now, but at the time, I didn’t know. So, yeah, it’s a delicate balance and I feel like in the 6 years that I did “Dar,” I got a nice, unexpected story arc to it. In the beginning I was very much a lesbian, identifying with that, and then I fell in love with a man, and had to kind of restructure my whole identity. And then in the end I get married to him, and that’s kind of a nice beginning, middle and end. So it’s like, you know what? I think this was a good place to end it.

M: You covered the three act structure pretty well on accident with your own life.

E: I know!

M: It’s more common than I think people realize; if they really look at their own lives it follows the rules pretty well.

E: Well, maybe that’s why we put it in literature so much.

M: Yes. We’re all universal stories.

E: There you go.

M: Well, thank you very much for your time, loving the comic. You’re doing a great job, and I look forward to seeing more of it.

E: Thank you. Yeah, and everybody else can go see us at buckocomics.com and follow along too!

M: Thank you. This is Marc Mason in the Comics Waiting Room with Erika Moen. See you next time.



MARK RAHNER

Mark Rahner, along with Robert Horton, is the creator of ROTTEN, a zombie western comic that has received acclaim from comics fans and horror fans alike. He is also a friend, and as is usual, when we get together, the douchebaggery flows like wine. Our interview, conducted at Emerald City Comic Con this past March, is no exception. Special thanks to Chelsea Freund for transcription assistance.


Marc Mason: This is Marc Mason of the Comics Waiting Room. I am here with Mark Rahner, the writer of “Rotten,” a zombie western, from Moonstone Books. Mark, you just released trade paperback 1. Tell me about that.

Mark Rahner: Well, it’s 5 months late. What do you want to know, apart from that?

MM: Does that mean we got extra stuff in it, or you were just lazy?

MR: Naw, it wasn’t my doing. The publisher had some sort of speed bump. But thank God it’s finally out. Please, everyone go buy it. It’s the first 6 issues; the 9th issue is about to come out, and what I can tell you is that it keeps getting worse.

MM: That is an incentive to buy if I have ever heard one.

MR: That should be our motto. Like, “Rotten: It just keeps getting worse.”

MM: Why that isn’t on the t-shirts, I don’t know. And I see you are selling t-shirts; tell me about that.

MR: Well, they’re very absorbent.

MM: That’s excellent, because I don’t want the sweat staying on my skin, and I want a shirt that will do that for me.

MR: I think it would bring out…um, it would suit you. It would suit your figure, it would emphasize all the curves in the right way, and – –

MM: What about my complexion? Will it go with my complexion?

MR: Um, if I slap you.

MM: I’ll think about that, and I’ll get back to you.

MR: You put on one of those “Rotten” shirts, you’re not walking outta here alone.

MM: Am I walking out in cuffs? ‘Cause that’s usually how it works.

MR: Cuffs and a ball gag. The whole ensemble.

MM: Excellent, excellent. That’s my idea of a good time. That’s what I want out of a comic.

MR: All right. So, let’s get serious here. Good God. You are the Morley Safer of comic book interviewers, so let’s get down to business here.

MM: That is the highest praise I have ever received in my entire adult life.

MR. That’s sad. That’s the saddest thing I’ve heard all day, and we’re at a Comicon.

MM: It should’ve been. All right, so you’re saying issue 9 is coming soon?

MR: Issue 9 is coming soon (Ed. Note: It has now shipped), it’s a conclusion to a three-parter called “Revival of the Fittest,” and it’s really repugnant and offensive and filled with some really, we think, creative, hard core action and violence.

MM: How do you keep coming up with ideas that push the boundaries even further of bad taste?

MR: I like the way you put that, thank you. Well, there’s bad taste on a number of different levels. There’s action, which is kind of foul; like, for instance, in the 8th issue, the hero goes down a timber shoot chased by zombies that are torn to pieces while he is coasting down on his bite-proof leather coat, and that’s tasteless. But there’s also tastelessness in the sense that we have a zombie that looks like Sarah Palin that gets a spike through the forehead preceded by, “Shut the fuck up, you brain-dead bitch.” That is so tasteless, I felt like I should retire after that.

MM: I think I saw a bit of controversy online about that when you first released those pictures.

MR: It made Andrew Sullivan’s Atlantic blog and I just felt like that was the pinnacle of my career, and then after that I should just do an Elvis and die on the toilet.

MM: I think we’re all expecting that.

MR: It’s gonna happen sooner or later. I just hope that when they find me I was reading something that wasn’t too embarrassing, you know?

MM: Like an issue of Vogue, or something recommended by Oprah?

MR: Certainly not an issue of Plumpers, or anything that you would have found in Michael Jackson’s house, you know? You wanna start the interview over again?

MM: Oh, God, no.

MR: Are we doing okay?

MM: We’re doing all right.

MR: Okay.

MM: So, after issue 9, are you going to another arc? Do you have an ending in sight, or – –

MR: If there is an ending, it’s a little ways down the line, but numbers 10 and 11 – I’ve literally been cackling as I write them. There’re some great set pieces in them. There’s a figure who will look very familiar to you, who is a bad guy, an evil character. And – –

MM: Does he look like John Layman, by any chance?

MR: No…he’s…I don’t wanna get too offensive. I mean, I want people to still read the book, and I want it to be dry. Numbers 10 and 11 also have variant covers now. We have a great new cover artist who paints the covers, his name is Steve Bryant, and – –

MM: Steve Bryant is fantastic.

MR: Yeah, I think he’s every bit as good as Alex Ross, and cheaper to hire than Alex Ross by a great deal. No, I love the guy, and we’re happy to have him be part of the “Rotten” family…although that sounds kinda gross, doesn’t it?

MM: Only a smidge.

MR: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, there’s a lot of cool stuff coming up. We’re pretty excited about it, and it looks like we’re going to finally get some issues out one month after the next, and then this summer in June there is a prose book which is the lost diary of Agent Flynn, and Robert Horton wrote that. It’s sort of a really creepy but wryly humorous kind of prequel to what starts in the first issue, and it’s really good. Horton is an outstanding writer, although I try to keep him out of sight and completely eclipsed most of the time.

MM: Is that coming out through Moonstone as well?

MR: It is. It’s a little hardcover book and it’s substantial enough so that you can really club somebody with it. You can’t do much damage with these single issues, even if you roll one up and do it like in “Alien,” try and jam it down somebody’s throat.

MM: Sure.

MR: The trade you could do a little bit more damage with, but still, you can’t beat a hardcover for assaulting someone.

MM: I agree 100 percent. I think that’s effective thinking and good work on your part.

MR: Now you’re the Piers Morgan of comic book interviewers. Throw me another softball.

MM: How was it shaving your testicles this morning?

MR: Well, it takes a long time, as you might imagine.

MM: A little gnarly? You might try some conditioner first.

MR: There’s a lot of area to cover. I mean, how far do you wanna take this? You’re not talking to Brandon Jerwa, okay?

MM: All right. So you said you had an ending in sight. How far away is it?

MR: Well, it depends on when I go bankrupt. No, there is an ending. We’re thinking kinda like in the Preacher range, in the Chew range, something like that, but if it must happen, we can truncate the thing. But we’ve got all the story lines completely plotted out, except the thing is, when we get together to fill things out and write the issues, we keep on coming up with other story lines. After “Revival of the Fittest,” the story line is called “Love the Sinner.” We’re writing that one, and there were a couple of people I was pissed at, and wanted to make caricatures out of, like an evil guy and his retarded sidekick. We thought of some great episodes that take place in an orphanage full of living dead children. So, we have a structured beginning, middle and end, but cool stuff keeps on coming up that we just, we have to do. Why wouldn’t you want to see an orphanage full of the living dead, for God’s sake?

MM: I want to adopt – –

MR: It sells itself, right there. Don’t you feel it?

MM: If Angelina Jolie hasn’t adopted them all by the time I get there, I will take one.

MR: Oh…I was trying to give you an opening for a Charlie Sheen joke, but you went for an Angelina.

MM: Sorry.

MR: Nah, it’s okay.

MM: And with the problems you had getting the first trade version, are those cleared up? Will we see trade 2 by the end of this year?

MR: Hope so. You know, I don’t want to get too insider baseball, but Moonstone sends things off to the printer in batches, and one of their titles was late, and it was really frustrating because I would like to have the story finished and out there before I’m in diapers. So, yeah, hopefully things will go smoother next time, and we’ll have some extras in it as well. The first trade is bare bones and as inexpensive as possible to get it into peoples’ hands, 16 bucks instead of 20 or more. The second will be issues 7-11 and will have a cover gallery and all sorts of other doo dads…maybe a centerfold. What do you think about a centerfold?

MM: I think it’s a great idea. It should be somebody from that orphanage of living dead children.

MR: Now you’re crossing a line that even I won’t cross, but – –

MM: Who knew that was possible?

MR: I’m going to take that bold move of not making pedophilia jokes. It’s a bold position to stake out, but I’m comfortable there.

MM: I’m shocked and amazed.

MR: Maybe that could be, like, a one-shot issue that Horton writes. Hey – can you rewrite that before you post it?

MM: Thanks to Mark Rahner. This is Marc Mason with the Comics Waiting Room, and we’ll see you next time.

MR: Forget you heard that.

EMI LENOX

Emi Lenox is a comics star on the rise. Her autobiographical webcomic EMITOWN saw its first trade paperback collection release last year to great acclaim, and she is now branching out into working on other projects as well. I had the opportunity to chat with her in Seattle this past March about her work. Special thanks to Chelsea Freund for her work in getting this transcribed.


Marc: This is Marc Mason from the Comics Waiting Room, and I’m at the Emerald City Comicon with Emi Lenox. Emi, hello.

Emi: Hello.

M: We were just discussing the fact that “EmiTown,” your trade paperback of your web comic, has sold out, and it is Saturday afternoon. How do you feel about that?

E: I feel like I wasn’t prepared, but you know, I think that’s part of the folly of having a 400-page book. You can only carry so much and bring it on a train. I only brought 20. Now I’m definitely prepared for next year.

M: Did you think a price factor of $25.00 would make it harder to sell, or….?

E: Yeah, I did, actually. I thought it would be harder to sell, but I think also maybe my location at Image has been really helpful as well.

M: That has to be a little bit of a bonus, yes. Going back to the comic itself, I think what makes your comic unique in webcomics and autobiographical comics is that you use a page a day. It’s representative of the dates and times. Some days it is literal, but you don’t do what a lot of other people do in autobiographical comics. Where did this sort of conceptualize for you?

E: Well, the whole train of thought when I draw is that it come naturally to me, for some reason. It started as a kid’s diary, so that when I drew it out, I was just drawing whatever came to mind at first, and then later on, it became more and more planned. But I feel more comfortable not having a structured panel layout. I feel like it is just a series of random things that happen; why not have it randomly placed on the page?

M: In doing autobiographical comics, how do you tread the line between saying too much and saying not enough?

E: I like to think that I use mixed metaphors, super heroes, or the Army Cats, by way to not cross the line. And I think I say enough that people, if they took the time, could probably could figure out what I was trying to say, but honestly, in the next book, it really could get a little more personal. I think I’ve gotten used to the fact that people are reading my life.

M: I know I do. I have it in my RSS feeds so I see when the new pages go up. The relationship stuff is going on; very exciting.

E: Well, it ended, which is why the book is going to be really cool.

M: Are we taking a dark turn in “EmiTown”?

E: It’s not dark. I have pretty positive parts in, but I just think it’s going to be good because that book will have a pretty linear story line with that release. And it’s the first time I have actually addressed the relationship forwardly, not using metaphors, really.

M: I remember in the first book, one of your metaphors is sailing a ship at sea, and I thought that was really effective.

E: Oh, thanks. I haven’t brought that back at all.

M: Well, and that brings me to one of the things that I think really stands out about the book, and about the work, is that you twist between styles very frequently. You have a very loose, cartoon-y style, but then you will turn around and you will have panels that are incredibly detailed and rich in the strokes and so forth. Do you have to open your mindset to make those changes, or does it just come very naturally for you?

E: Most of the time when I am drawing, I will draw that specific stuff if I feel like at the time. So, yeah, I guess, more or less, when I feel like it, I draw a certain way, but I did keep the cartoon-y style for just simple narrative stuff I did.

M: What’s it like to meet your fans who do feel like that they know about you from reading the strip?

E: Well, I ran into a couple today at the convention, and they were a little overwhelming at first, but I think I’m starting to get used to it. It makes me feel really good.

M: So, you’re doing “EmiTown.” What else are you working on right now?

E: Well, I can’t really say a lot. Right now I’m still trying to work on getting comics work, so I’m trying to survive without having to have, you know, a computer desk job again. I do have the Madman thing coming up next month, where I did an 8-page story, so I wrote it, colored it, and drew it. (Ed. Note: the Madman issue shipped, and Emi’s piece in it was regarded as a highlight.)

M: That sounds pretty exciting.

E: Yeah, I’m really excited. I mean, the Sweet Tooth thing came out this past Wednesday where I did a 4-page guest art (piece), so I don’t know what I’m going to do next.

M: Has the book opened up some doors for you?

E: I feel like it has. A lot of people seem to be really supportive of it. I’ve had Brian Michael Bendis here and he bought the book, and my brain exploded with the thought of that even happening. Yeah, I guess it’s definitely putting my foot in the door.

M: Well, the long-time readers on my site know that I love it. It’s fantastic. You’re incredibly talented. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, and I look forward to seeing more “EmiTown.”

E: There will be more to come, I promise!

All images copyright Emi Lenox.