By Marc Mason

Let’s see… I left off right before heading out for Thursday dinner, which turned out to be a good one. I joined a couple of good friends over at Busters in Seaport Village, and in a pleasant surprise, some folks I didn’t know were at the table as well. This being Comic-con and not the real world, that situation almost uniformly works out that by the end of an evening you have acquired new friends. It certainly was in this case.

Indeed, if I don’t come home from San Diego with a couple of new pals, something has gone horribly wrong. That should be one of your goals when you get the pass, folks.

After dinner it was time to bar-hop. Our first destination was Trickster, the “Slamdance” counterpart to the con, set up directly across the street from the main show. It was a lively crowd, and I had a number of good chats with folks, catching up with James Lucas Jones, Danielle Corsetto, Jill Thompson (who was kind enough to discuss FINALS with me, which is maybe my favorite of her works), and Laurenn McCubbin. Plus I had a kickass glass of wine, hung with friends old and new, and overall enjoyed the relaxed vibe that they had going on over there. After that it was over to the Hyatt for the usual hijinx and then off to bed. Friday was on its way.

Friday started with an early lunch at Seaport Village, then it was off to the show. I made a number of stops to chat with publishers and artists before finally alighting at the NBM booth for my smut-peddling duties. After that, my day had one focus: shopping.

Look, there is a shitload of free stuff at Comic-con. There is also plenty of expensive stuff. But neither of those things holds must interest for me. The freebies are usually throwaways, and the expensive stuff is out of my budgetary reach. Thus I am looking for cheap, Trade paperbacks and hardcovers, to be specific. And a thorough scanning of the retailer end delivered such things in spades. I found three places selling such items for 50-60% off cover price.

If you’re guessing that my bag got heavy in a hurry, you win the prize.

Ultimately, I bought eleven books for myself, including a couple of omnibuses at the cheapest price I’d ever seen. With all that, I still spent under a hundred bucks, so I felt like I made out like a bandit. Really, if you go to Comic-con, and you aren’t checking out what the retailers have to offer, you’re doing it wrong. They deserve your support, and they have something to offer you. Nuff said.

After giving my aching shoulder and back a rest back at the hotel, it was off to dinner, and that night we went a bit more upscale, getting a table at the Harbor House. There wound up being six of us, and the food was excellent. I had never heard a whole lot of good about that place, but this time around they were just fine. When finished, it was once again time for Bar-con. Not much to report there, and I wound up calling it an early night because my Saturday (my last day at the show) was completely packed full of things to do.

Pals Brandon Jerwa, Joe Dilworth, and Jeremy Spurlock stopped by my hotel the next morning and we walked down to the show together. As I was shutting my laptop down the news about Amy Winehouse’s death came across the wire, so it was a bit of a bracing way to start the day. Running short on time, we did something I had never done before- stop at the lot full of food trucks parked a block away from the con. Talk about a fantastic idea- I wound up with tasty food, it was cheap, it was convenient- I’ll be keeping this option in mind for future cons. But after that it was time to get down to business.

First on the agenda was an interview with comics maestro Craig Thompson. It has been seven years since his last graphic novel and he returns this fall with HABIBI, a 700-page masterwork. We chatted about the book, artistic freedom, travel, and more, and you’ll see that chat here soon at CWR. From there it was immediately on to my next interview- upstairs I located the press room I needed, and I got a surprise. I was supposed to be part of round tables with indy filmmaker James Gunn, but I turned out to be the only person to show up. So I got a kickass one-on-one with the SUPER writer/director. As usual, look for that here in the weeks ahead.

Back on the floor I made a publisher visit, chatted with the always-excellent Javier Grillo-Marxuach (interview to come!), then did my final stint at the NBM booth. I had a nice time helping out my old employer, and they remain a group of pleasant, charming, and intelligent folk. Upon my return home, I found a review copy of Rick Geary’s latest Treasury of Murder series in my mailbox, so I’m stoked to finally read it after watching Rick signing it all weekend. But after my shift was done, it was time to run.

More and more press stuff is being held away from the convention center, and my interview with WAREHOUSE 13 star and veteran actor Saul Rubinek was over at the Hotel Solamar at 6th and J street. I had very little travel time, and getting out of the show, across the railroad tracks, and anyplace back in that area is an ordeal. I made it, though, and we had a fantastic interview. I’ve interviewed god knows how many celebs over the years, and Rubinek was one of my favorites. Coming soon!

I mentioned my buddy Brandon Jerwa earlier, and he was next on the agenda. He isn’t just a fine writer and musician- he is also getting into the realm of filmmaking. Brandon is currently working with an indy film producer on a documentary about comics themselves (not Comic-con) and they were interviewing folks in and around the industry over the weekend. I arrived to watch him interview Chunk Kelly, and then- hold onto your hat and check your gag reflex- it was my turn. I was the first person from the press side of things to get the grilling, and it turned out to be a shitload of fun. Brandon asked great, intelligent questions, and I felt very free to be bluntly honest in my answers. But after me was when it got really good- veteran comics journo Heidi MacDonald strapped on a microphone, and listening to her was like a symphony of intelligence and insight. By the time she finished, I had an overwhelmingly positive feeling about the entire project and I can’t wait to see the completed product. I think they had gotten over twenty people on camera by the time the show was over, and more are set to be interviewed in the coming weeks. This should be something special.

A check of the clock showed that I had missed a couple of larger-scale press opportunities, so I decided to take my stuff back to the hotel and call my con over. After some relaxation it was back down for dinner and Bar-con, and then it was over. I had to get up at seven in the morning on Sunday, as I had a flight at ten, so I squeezed in one last breakfast on that glorious patio, and then it was off to the airport.

So I’ve given you the details of what I did, but that isn’t really everything my show was about. First and foremost, this may have been the best San Diego I have ever attended, and it was my thirteenth overall.

Reasons? One, the show itself was easier to navigate than it has been in years. Unless you were near the Marvel booth, you could get through the floor without wanting to fly into a homicidal rage. With events being held not only upstairs, but over in the Hilton and Marriott, as well as studios and such having stuff off-site, the crowd was stretched a little bit. Plus, the con folks always examine what worked and what didn’t, and they made some adjustments this year that really worked, chief among them opening up the sides of the upper ballrooms so that all the entrances weren’t concentrated on one side. The lines for badges moved smoothly and efficiently, too. 2011 was simply a well-managed show.

The only misstep, though I understand why they did it, was the Exhibitor wristband idea. I get that the show wants to cut down on badge swapping and such, but forcing people to wear a wristband for the entirety of the show was a horrendous idea. So what if it’s waterproof? No one wants to shower wearing one of those. Plus, they’re a biohazard- most people stuck out their dominant arm to put it on- people wipe their asses with their dominant arm. The wristband was an easy place for germs and fecal matter to gather.

Oh, and people had to have sex while wearing them as well.

Other reasons the show rocked? I had a fantastic time with my friends. I enjoyed the city immensely. The shopping was excellent. And as always, I learned something.

I’m a creature of habit and routine- I know this. I’ve stayed at the same hotel for five or six years and developed a comfortable system for handling the con. Yet this year that was all disrupted. I was in a different hotel. I had to develop a different approach to things. You know what? It was fantastic. I loved where I stayed. I had a great time there. It brought me to a different part of town. It gave me different things to do. The newness of it was exhilarating. This was something I needed to internalize and take to heart- to embrace change, get out of my ruts, and do something to shake up my status quo.

There’s never been a Comic-con where I didn’t learn something important. It’s a gift.

Okay, that just about wraps it up. Let me leave it off with some thanks. First, thanks to new friends: Bobby Curnow, Brian Winkeler, Matt Levin, and Brad and Kat Arnold.

Thanks also go out to a fine set of soccer-loving traveling companions in Ben McCool, Jerry Jimenez, Jason Adams, and artist-extraordinaire Cruddie Torian. Neal Pozner, one of those rare guys to combine quiet and cool in equal amounts, was totally the man in getting us back and forth in one piece, and mastermind David Baron is one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever encountered in my life, not just comics. Without these guys, my con would have been way, way lessened.

Without Joe Dilworth, Jeremy Spurlock, Mark Rahner, Elliott Serrano, Paul Horn and Darlene Horn, this might have been an extremely boring trip. Good friends one and all, whether at dinner, the bar, or on the con floor. I’m lucky to know each of them.

And finally, thanks go to John Layman, Joe Rybandt, and Brandon Jerwa, good friends one and all. John took home a well-deserved Eisner for the second year in a row, and it couldn’t happen to a better guy. Joe always brings laughs and wisdom in equal measure, and for that I am always grateful. Brandon is growing as an artist, showing just what he’s capable of in so many media, and it’s fantastic to watch it happening. He was also a huge help in keeping me relaxed and un-stressed at the show, and that counts for more than I can express. When it comes to these guys, I might not take a bullet for them, but you can bet I wouldn’t steal money from their wallets after they bled out.

See you next year, San Diego. We shall dance again.


Rogue Element #84: Captain America, Fuck Yeah!

By Avril Brown

While many of my nerdy friends are off frolicking in San Diego for the 2011 Con, leaving me to cry myself to sleep every night, ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ hit theaters this past Friday. Excited as all get out despite never having personally picked up a Cap book in my life, I decided to dry my tears for an evening and catch the Cap kicking some Nazi ass on opening night with my man, my lone comic-centric cousin and his lovely fiancée, my cousin-to-be.

Critics have been (at times suitably) harsh of this summer’s deluge of comic book based films, so there were many a bated breath being held as the release date of ‘Captain America’ drew closer. Would it break the recent string of box office disappointments? (Not that I have any clue what the issue was with the low numbers surrounding ‘X-Men: First Class,’ or even ‘Thor,’ for that matter. Yes, it could have been better, yes, it was heavily garnished with cheese, but it’s a movie about a Norse god who becomes one of Earth’s greatest superheroes. Of COURSE it is going to be a bit cheesy. ‘Green Lantern’ kind of blew, though. Sorry Molly Jane.) Would the Cap bring the blockbuster back in comic book movies? The answer: The Captain is here to save the motherfucking day, yeah!*

Perfectly paced and roaring with action, ‘Captain America’ delivers all it promised from the previews and more. Easy to love protagonists and easy to hate bad guys (more Hydra, a villainous group from the comics, than Hitler, these nevertheless ‘purity’ fanatics are people the Nazis thought were a little off, so getting on the “Hydra is evil” bandwagon is effortless) make this a fun film to watch. Plus, let us be honest: seeing Americans kick ass in World War II is a favorite American pastime.

Following a literal little guy named Steve Rogers in the midst of America’s involvement in WWII, this glutton for punishment doesn’t know how to run away from a fight he cannot win, which, thanks to his asthma and numerous other medical problems, is every fight. Here is a man who should be running away from a war, not towards it, but Steve feels compelled to do what he feels a good man should: anything he can. His passion intrigues a German scientist (on the side of the angels, of course) in the throes of a hunt for potential people to enlist in a top secret military program designed to create a super soldier capable of turning the tide of the war. Thus, skinny Steve Rogers became super-sleek and massively muscled out Captain America.

Although the beginning of the Cap’s career in doing his part for his country was not filled with as many dead Nazis as one would think (though he did get to punch out Adolf Hitler two hundred and sixty times…watch the movie to get this reference and catch one of the best lines in the script), soon enough the Cap gets his chance to show off his moves and truly do his part. Before long he has his own team snuffing out Hydra bases across the Axis and the bad guys, led by the brilliantly twisted and creepy looking Red Skull, are shaking in their goose-stepping boots. There is triumph, tragedy, a whole mess of bullets and big booms, and eventually a showdown between the two sides of the same super-powered coin, the ashes of which neither one emerges unscathed.

There are few things as enjoyable as a film that never tries to be something it’s not, and ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ sticks to its red, white and blue guns the whole way through. There is a mystical aspect to the film I did not foresee, likely because I am unfamiliar with the origin of the Red Skull, but I found completely unsurprising given this IS a comic book movie involving science fiction and set in an alternative past (Howard Stark debuted a not-quite-functional flying car at a presentation). There is true heart to this film as well, a double whammy of inspiring compassion surrounding an underdog who becomes a selfless hero, and his friends and peers fighting passionately against a growing and relentless evil. Just the right touch of humor kept the movie balanced, especially since the best lines were distributed amongst the best characters.

Speaking of, my hat goes off to the casting director. Chris Evans is truly believable as the stubborn and adorably innocent Steve Rogers, Hayley Atwell is a classic beauty with damn good aim, Sebastian Stan as Bucky was more of an inspiration rather than a sidekick, Hugo Weaving never fails to rock an eyebrow and the part of a stoic villain and Tommy Lee Jones was straight up stellar, as always. He was more of a major player than I was expecting, which was a pleasant surprise, and he held a fair amount of the dryly humorous dialogue he delivers with such impeccable ease. The entire cast gelled well, making the lengthy two and half hours of film fly by.

Absolutely no complaints on the special effects side of things, either. Explosions are a dime a dozen these days, but skinny Steve, a CG shaved down version of Chris Evans, was impressive. Though make up is also a well-honed skill, the Red Skull looked equally realistic, the only disappointment being he lacked Weaving’s expressive eyebrows.

Though there are several moments where the patriotic pride is off the charts, escorted by a striking swell in the orchestral score, it still all feels like part of the story and can be swallowed, especially when chased with a good Tommy Lee one liner or a wicked spinning shield move by the Cap. I do not normally go for pretty blond boy scouts, but I will admit, ‘Captain America’ had me captivated and ended with a tear still left in my eye. Entertaining for nearly the whole family, the Cap is feel good fun and a hero worth cheering for.

Oh, and wait in the theater until the credits stop rolling, which will admittedly be awhile. Trust me, what you see is worth the wait.

* – For those who are unfamiliar with the implied reference, no, I did not suddenly contract Tourette’s, and neither did the Cap as there was nary a ‘fuck’ the entire film. ‘Team America’ is an incredibly raunchy, hysterical and wrong movie involving enthusiastically patriotic puppets. Recommended.


Rogue Element #83: Welcome to the Bristol Renaissance Faire, Where Fantasy Rules!

By Avril Brown

This past weekend I attended my very first Renaissance Faire, a celebration of the Renaissance period (as well as pirates and general fairy and wizard-type fantasy) lasting almost two months and held every summer just across the Illinois/Wisconsin border in a field containing a tiny village. Each weekend from the beginning of July to the dawn of September, thousands of people gather off the I-94 in various states of elaborate cosplay for the sole purpose (as far I can tell) of having a nerdy blast.

When my man Jesse, who is a Renaissance Fair veteran having worked the show for years at a medieval weapons shop, purposed the idea of visiting the Ren Fair this summer I jumped at the invitation. After attending, and loving, my first comic convention several years ago, I swore I would consistently make an attempt to expand my nerdy horizons, and here was an excellent opportunity to do so. On the arm of a seasoned Fair-goer, I was tingling with anticipation at the idea of being exposed to such sights, sounds and surprises I could not even imagine.

We parked in a grassy field and began the walk towards the village, trailing behind a pair of cosplayers (or playtrons as Jesse called them: patrons who still like to play dress up) draped in head-to-toe Renaissance garb, despite the ninety-degree heat. Dressed in a long cotton skirt, a shirt with three quarters length sleeves as well as a scullery maid cap and armed with a sturdy, five foot tall walking stick, this dedicated woman walked beside her male partner, also completely covered in pants, a long-sleeved blouse and vest, utilizing his own walking stick. When I expressed my disbelief over the fact these two fully clothed people were still conscious let alone walking towards a venue where they were sure to continue walking outside for hours to come, Jesse simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “You get used to it.” And this was only the beginning.

Immediately upon arriving at the ticket booth we were greeted with a ‘Good morrow, milady and milord,’ salutation that would meet us at every vendor we would happen across throughout the afternoon. We headed into the village, my eyes attempting to soak up minute details of every costume that entered my vision while simultaneously trying to absorb the overwhelming detail of each storefront, advertisement and event I could see.

Shops of all sorts dotted the peripheral of the village, boasting various wares such as books, sculptures, swords, wands and paintings. Merchants were shouting in front of their stores and down the walkways, audibly promoting their various cups, jewelry, incense and candles, toys, henna designs, and mountains of food. Jesse bought me two copper roses, coated in brilliantly colored enamel and scented with rose oil and a tablet placed in the middle of the bud, promising to smell sweet as summer for an entire year. We sipped some beer, demolished a banana crepe/chocolate ice cream/whip cream-covered monstrosity and sampled a glob of fried cheese, something my heart demonstrated its protest by slowing down for a beat or two immediately post-consumption.

Performing regular shows throughout the day was World Champion bullwhip artiste, Adam Crack: Fire Whip. He consistently cracked jokes as well as his whip, keeping audiences laughing while snapping a pretzel rod, held by his own teeth, into pieces. “Don’t cross the streams,” he jibed as the long pieces of leather undulated in front of him. “Thirty percent more people get ‘Ghostbusters’ references at the Ren Fair.” Unfortunately, I let myself down and experienced my only regret of the day when I hesitated at offering myself and refused to let Jesse pull my hand into the air when Adam Crack asked for a volunteer. Regressing into the shy, watch-from-the-sidelines kind of gal I was years ago was NOT my original plan, and I watched with a fair amount of envy, longing and regret, a feeling I loathe most acutely, as a woman reluctantly followed Adam’s coaxing into the clearing. Where she was close to tears, terrified at the sound and feel of Mr. Crack’s whips snapping so close to her person, I am sure I would have been breathless with tension-wrought laughter if our roles were reversed. Still, it was one hell of a show, complete with a fire-laden finale and plenty of ooooh-inspiring tricks.

Also sweating for the crowd was MooNie the Magnif’Cent, a well-known and revered reoccurring comic. Famous for his tight rope walking, clown-type comedy and ability to control an audience with whistles and comprehensive gestures, MooNie tends to pull a Silent Bob and speak once, if at all, during a show. Well, apart from the show we witnessed where halfway through he snapped and berated the audience for not laughing/cheering loudly enough for a slightly awkward several minutes. Any doubts as to the depth of affection and admiration people have for MooNie? The next trick he performed after his little tirade was a simple bit of hat juggling and the audience went nuts. Standing ovation, piercing whistles, extended cheers, the whole nine yards. Even MooNie himself seem taken aback by his people’s devotion, laughing and shaking his head, and the rest of the show was pure MooNie-style entertainment complete with enthusiastic audience participation.

Jesse mixed and mingled with familiar faces and friends, one of which gifted me with a beautiful piece of henna on my right hand. We visited the ‘privy,’ got a mini-massage from a busty wench who pointed out sexual focal points in the hand and watched the Queen and her court pass through parts of the village. We were in mid-conversation with a friend of Jesse’s who was managing the crossbow range when he pardoned himself for a moment, swept his hat off his head and bowed to Her Majesty as she meandered by. At one point we were heading towards the last jousting tournament of the day when I realized I’d lost my boyfriend’s sunglasses in the span of five minutes and fifty feet and doubled back to find them, to no avail. I think one of the fairies stole them.

Speaking of, one of the most aesthetically appealing aspects of the Fair were the gorgeously painted and costumed fairies who wandered the walkways of the Ren Fair, but unless you are in a state of pre-puberty good luck carrying on a conversation with these Fae. The Ren Fair fairies, including the mysterious Cobweb who consistently builds upon the spider web stretching from tree to tree in the heart of the Fair all summer, will only speak to children. Watch them, smile at them, take their picture, but leave the communication with the Fae to the young ones of the world.

We caught the last bit of Christophe the Insultor’s final roast, a ripping monologue of a good-humored victim so painfully hysterical it made me wish we’d been present for every minute of the show. As soon as she was freed from the confines of her stroller, a toddler no more than two years old hit the dirt at that running-walk only tiny young humans can accomplish, only to be caught by her folks and stuffed into the rest of her Renaissance gear, bright-eyed and smiling the whole time. As we moseyed past an ‘at your own risk’ knife-throwing booth, a father walking behind us had to explain to his young sons why exactly throwing small, sharp objects was not on the day’s docket. We saw elephants on a break from giving tourists a tour around a thirty-foot oval swaying in their pasture, keeping cool and using their dexterous trunks to ferret out carrot sticks from piles of grass. Everywhere we looked people were smiling, laughing, jesting, selling, affecting a British accent, putting on a good show and/or enjoying themselves to the fullest.

I know I was expecting to have a marvelous and uniquely awesome time at my first Ren Fair, but I do not think I was expecting to have as much fun as I did. Perhaps it is all a matter of perspective; given this was my first experience, much like my first Comic Convention, all I can see are shiny happy nerds and fantasy fun. True, many vendors we spoke to were not having the best of days; the stifling heat kept throngs away from the Fair and money firmly ensconced in wallets, but people of all ages were still grinning in delight, myself included. Spending the day surrounded by a new type of nerd and on the arm of the man I love is certainly a fine way to spend a Sunday. Good morrow to you, Bristol Renaissance Faire, and I’m looking forward to next year!



By Marc Mason

It is Thursday early evening, and to say that I have had an eventful SDCC 2011 so far would be underselling it a bit.

I arrived Tuesday evening, albeit a bit late. For the first time in memory, I experience a flight delay in getting here. Get this- they had to install a new captain’s seat in the plane. Why this was important/necessary, as well as why they had to do it then instead of waiting until the plane was done for the night was the great mystery. So we wound up sitting on the scalding Phoenix tarmac for twenty-five minutes mentally urging the mechanic to speed the hell up. By the time we got into the air, we were a sweaty plane. Fortunately it didn’t turn out to be an omen.

After I checked in, I caught up with a couple of comics journo friends for dinner at Seaport Village. As we made our way downtown, the massive SDCC advertising campaigns came into full view. The hotels are serving up a heaping helping of love for movies, TV, and video games on their facades, and it’s pretty omnipresent. I’d get an even better sense of it the next day.

I’m a big believer in not just spending your time at places surrounding the convention center. Honestly, most comicons look pretty similar once you’re inside. Publishers, artist alleys, a place where you can meet a Star Trek actor… what makes a con special is the city surrounding it. San Diego is what it is because it has more to offer than most. Thus on Tuesday night, I headed away from Seaport and out to Mission Beach to hang with some other friends. We spent some time grabbing food at one friend’s beach house, then walked into town to a fantastic little dive bar call The Pennant. Cheap drinks, crooked pool table, stoners and hipsters… a damned good time.

Wednesday, though, was when things really kicked into gear. I discovered that my hotel has a wonderful little breakfast nook attached to it, and I got a hot, fresh waffle, then sat on their patio and stared across the road and out over the ocean as I ate it. It was so tranquil, so peaceful, I cannot even begin to tell you. Then, with some time in my schedule, I headed across the road and began wandering around and exploring the ships docked in the harbor. By the time my buddy Brandon (Jerwa) arrived, I found myself rather obsessed with the boats. As he wandered with me, I decided to pull the trigger on taking a harbor cruise, something I have never done down here.

The cruise went the southerly route, and for those considering doing this, I recommend it. That route takes you past all the cool military boats in the harbor, including a massive dry-dock setup. It was incredibly impressive. The path also takes you under the Coronado bridge and nears the Mexican border. Throw in the sunshine and amazing ocean breeze, and by the time it was over, neither of us had an ounce of tension working. It was as relaxed as I have felt since… shit, I don’t know how long.

Disembarking, we met up with Joe Dilworth, Jeremy Spurlock, and new friend Brian Winkeler. Keeping with the theme, we escaped downtown and went off to Old Town. Jeremy introduced us to Café Guadalupe, a terrific Mexican food restaurant, and we had a seriously tasty lunch. It was a pleasure to get over to that area of the city and check out what it had to offer.

I took the train back down to my hotel while the boys went off to different lands, because my day was really just getting started. I was fortunate enough to have been invited on a road trip with a bunch of guys, the destination an L.A. Galaxy game up in Carson, CA. Thus I took a quick jaunt over to The Field- the best Irish pub in town- met up with the crew, and we were off. To say this was a shitload of fun would be an understatement; even when we hit ugly traffic in Long Beach, laughs were still the order of the day. I had never seen an MLS soccer game before, so this was a real treat for me. Thanks to our incredible seats, in the second half I got to see the legendary David Beckham pretty well up close, and he is indeed as talented as advertised.

He is also very short. Just sayin’.

The journey brought new friends and spared me one ordeal that I am grateful for: Preview Night.

Over the past couple of SDCCs, Preview Night has just gotten crazier and crazier. With very little in the way of programming, the throng is focused solely on the floor. Crowding gets painful. I’ve wound up leaving early in recent years, just because I cannot handle it. From what my fellow journos told me today, that was pretty much how things were again last night. So I don’t feel like I missed anything, yet I do feel like I gained a whole lot.

Today brought a repeat of the breakfast adventure, then it was down to the show for real. I had to pick up my badge- which was a ridiculously smooth and easy affair. Rather than yesterday’s eternal line, I walked almost straight up to a counter this morning. Win! From there it was onto the floor.

The layout is pretty similar to recent years, though the publishers are grouped together slightly differently this year, and it’s a change for the better. I made stops at Image, IDW, Archaia, and Oni during my first go around, then popped back to Image to do a favor for a friend who couldn’t leave his table. Next came visits to a couple of the large book publishers and to see excellent artist Steve Bryant for catch up, then it was time to sit. Fortunately, I had a chair reserved.

Even though I departed my position at NBM Publishing when I returned to school, it was on friendly terms. Thus I happily raised my hand and volunteered to do some time at their booth again this year. Last year I was assigned to work the Eurotica area of the booth, and I discovered that I am a class-A smut peddler. In all seriousness, that arm of the company produces strong work, and it has a devoted fanbase. For those that aren’t already fans, it isn’t difficult to sell folks on it. The quality speaks for itself. Seeing no need to fix what wasn’t broken, I was once again assigned to the Eurotica material today, and I sold a ton of it. It was nice to know I hadn’t lost my touch.

Upon my shift’s completion, I once again walked the floor, bumping into good pal Joe Rybandt along the way. We wandered across the place, finally getting to Artists Alley and taking a look at what these folks had to offer this year. Joe introduced me to Sergio Cariello, who drew the recent LONE RANGER book for Dynamite, and his portfolio of work was really something to see. I also stopped and chatted with new friend Cruddie Torian before I ultimately realized I needed to take a break.

The evening still awaits- dinner and the potential of at least one party sits in the near future. Tomorrow: what I did today plus a whole lot more. Including, hopefully, some shopping down on the retail end.


Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Top Cow/Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Three recent releases from Moo Town…

The TC Universe has seen a lot of focus on its “Artifacts”- the 13 objects of power that center the entire line. Primarily, of course, are stories about the Witchblade and the Darkness, but there are niches to fill in, and BROKEN TRINITY VOL. 2: PANDORA’S BOX actually does an interesting job of it. Two of the lesser artifacts are the Ember Stone and the Glacier Stone. The hot one is in the control of a high-powered business woman named Glori Silver, while a criminal named Michael Finnegan has the Glacier. Of course, being artifacts of fire and ice, they are mortal enemies. But in this tale they find themselves paired together as an even greater threat arises in the form of a cult devoted to finding and opening the legendary Pandora’s Box. Writers Bryan Edward Hill and Rob Levin do a solid job of making the characters interesting outside of the traditional Top Cow environment, and the pacing here works well in capturing the reader’s attention. The art by Alessandro Vitti and Facundo Percio is strong- in case you don’t know, the Cow’s house style has evolved over the years, with a renewed emphasis on storytelling instead of over-sexualized posing. Thus we get a straight-out adventure story, with nice locales, strong action sequences, and a sense of danger alongside the fun. I was surprised at how well this worked for me, but by the time it was over, I was feeling like I was in for another go-around with Glori and Michael. They make for good reading.

Diving way back into the archives we get DARKNESS: ORIGINS VOL.3, which was written by none other than Garth Ennis (for the first few issues printed here) along with Malachy Coney, and drawn by Mark Silvestri and Joe Benitez. This book trades issues #11-18 (for comparisons, note that the book is currently in the mid 90s as far as issue numbers go), so this is a look at a much younger and less evolved Jackie Estacado than we’ve been seeing in Phil Hester’s work on the title over the last couple of years. But that doesn’t man the stuff here isn’t interesting; indeed, this book delivers a solid action story that introduces some of Jackie’s extended mob family, brings the concept of the Angelus and the Magdalena into the TCU, and shows Jackie still learning how to master his powers. The Darkness was a bit of a hit or miss concept in its earliest publishing days, but Ennis was a guy that righted the ship. His stories are loaded with action and cool moments, but he never forgets to keep focus on Jackie as a character. When he leaves the book, along with Silvestri, the story and continues forward with strength and momentum, but the art by Benitez is frankly not very good for the first couple of issues- his stuff gets away from actual storytelling too often and instead goes for the “kewl” fanboy factor/cheesecake nonsense. But in the final issue or two, Benitez shows marked improvement.

Writer Brian Holguin and artist Eric Basaldua bring you MAGDALENA ORIGINS VOL.2, which introduces the second woman to assume the character’s mantle, Patience. A young runaway who decides to flee the convent where she has been living, she is tracked down by the Church and given news she cannot quite comprehend: she is the latest in the bloodline of Jesus himself to have the power to fight darkness and evil. Unfortunately, she isn’t really interested until the bad guys kidnap her only friend. The Magdalena always felt like the TCU’s version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer- “Into each generation is born a girl… blah blah blah” and not much here dispels that comparison. That said, Holguin works hard to make Patience interesting, someone who you can develop a rooting interest in. She’s a charming and driven young woman, and her loyalty to her friend makes her relatable. On the downside, Basaldua’s art doesn’t do the writer many favors. Panel-to-panel flow vanishes with some frequency, the Magdalena’s outfit I skimpy for no good reason, and there are too many splash pages and double-page spreads. It makes the book feel like something of a relic, really, a reminder of a time where things got done differently and reader palates weren’t exactly discerning. The bright side is that Patience ultimately became a fantastic character (her current series has been excellent). This book is simply a guidepost on that path.


Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Various

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Taking a look at three recent comics from three different publishers…

I’ve been enjoying LI’L DEPRESSED BOY (Image Comics) quite a bit, and issue five does a nice job of taking the character in an interesting direction. Writer Steven Struble and artist Sina Grace pick up where the last issue left off- with LDB discovering that Jazz has been playing him- and put him back in his proper, depressed funk. But the return of a friend who has been touring with his band sets our lead back on a proper path as the duo gather themselves for a road trip. The book continues to work well for a couple of reasons. One, LDB is an extremely relatable character- a good chunk of us have felt like him or been in his position before, and the creators keep it very emotionally real. Two, the book keeps it simple- it’s a book about music and heartache. No grand themes, no overreaching to make a statement. Every month this book has crept closer and closer to the top of the stack. A cover by CHEW’s Rob Guillory makes this package even sweeter.

Oni Press debuted SPONTANEOUS on Free Comic Book Day, but if you didn’t get one then, issues one (reprinting that offering) and two will be making their regular debut in San Diego this coming week. Writer Joe Harris and artist Brett Weldele present the story of Melvin Reyes, a seemingly normal kid in a seemingly normal town. But what Melvin knows and no one else suspects is that this city has an epidemic of spontaneous combustion going on. Now he is tracking the patterns and trying to identify future victims in order to stop it. When reporter Emily Durshmiller gets involved, though, Melvin begins to wonder if she will help him save lives or destroy his quest in her hopes of making a name for herself. The elements in SPONTANEOUS are thrilling- interesting conspiracy, good mystery, interesting characters- and the art by Weldele is note perfect (as with his work on SURROGATES, it’s hard to imagine the book done by anyone else). This has the look of a breakout hit.

I haven’t been very impressed with most of the recent output by Radical Comics lately but DAMAGED #1 is a step back in the right direction for the company. This is the first issue of their collaboration with Sam Worthington’s “Full Clip” imprint, and by bringing in writer David Lapham and artist Leonardo Manco, the company demonstrates just how seriously they’re working to make it a success. The story is clean and simple: Frank Lincoln- the toughest cop in San Francisco, the man that heads up their anti-organized crime taskforce, is being put out to pasture by the city government and replaced with a young idealist. But before Frank spends his last day on the job, he’s going to have to deal with two problems. Training his replacement? Easy enough. But the arrival of a vigilante who is murdering mobsters by the dozen? Considering that Frank is more than passing familiar with the identity of the shooter, that’s going to be a bit more problematic. Lapham is a pro at this kind of story, and his dialogue and pacing here are tasty, and Manco remains one of the best, most underrated artists in comics today. Recommended.



By Marc Mason

By this time next week, Comicon 2011 will have been in full swing for a couple of days. On a personal level, my feet will be hurting. A lot. I will be wildly short on sleep. My hostility level towards my fellow geeks will be at a 12 on a 10-point scale.

And I’ll be loving every minute of it.

This will be my 12th consecutive San Diego and 13th overall. Every year at the show brings something different- a different dynamic, some new friends as the circle expands, a change in the attitude revolving around the show itself. No matter how many times you go, there’s a freshness to the experience, which is one of the reasons why everyone who considers themselves a geek or nerd should try and go at least once.

However, that isn’t really why you should go to Comicon. It certainly isn’t why I go to the show.

When people ask me why I go, my immediate answer is “to see my friends.” Our little group is spread out across the country- Pennsylvania, Illinois, Arizona, Washington, California. It takes a special occasion to bring us together, and generally that occasion is Comicon. A perfectly legit reason to head over to the show. If pressed further, I will discuss my love of the city of San Diego. If I could live anywhere in our fine nation, it would be in San Diego. I’ve loved it since the first time I visited there in 1991. I love the weather, I love the ocean, I love the downtown area, I love Mission Beach… I could go on and on. Really, if you’re going to Comicon, you should make time to explore the city itself. It has a ton to offer.

But at the heart of why I go to Comicon, and why I recommend the experience to others, is the comics themselves.

Sure, the last few years of the con have been dominated by the Hollywood studios. I’ve certainly done plenty of press events for those sorts of things. Many geeks fear that comics are being “pushed out” of Comicon, and while I can see their point, I don’t fully agree with it. There are still tons of comics to be found at the show, whether through publishers, retailers, or individual artists, and let me tell you, I bust my ass to find them. Finding a new, good comic is something worth the effort to do, if only because of what comics can do for a reader.

As a young child, I read a lot of comics. Did they capture my imagination? You bet? But those comics, the ones I read in my formative years, did so much more than that.

Comics, you see, made me want to better myself.

Maybe it was a word I didn’t understand. The writers didn’t dumb down the books, which meant I was occasionally sent to the dictionary to learn something. In turn, my vocabulary grew, something I still get remarks about to this very day. Maybe it was the way that comics presented a clear sense of right and wrong; whenever I found myself wavering on such issues as a boy, comics were a guidepost reminding me of the proper way to comport myself. My best pal was the kindest, most honest and forthright guy I knew and he still is- a product of his parents for sure, but the steady diet of Superman comics didn’t hurt, either.

Or maybe it was just in how comics gave me characters I could relate to. The X-Men were mutants- outcasts that didn’t fit in with everyone else. As I sat in our class for gifted and talented students, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to see the similarity. We were different. We did have powers and abilities that set us apart from our fellows, and plenty of them sneered at us for it. But all I needed to do was crack open a comic and I could read about characters just like us. It helped. That much I can tell you.

I’ve never forgotten what comics did for me as a kid. My relationship with the medium is far different at this point in my life, but the spark of those early years remains alive. So I prowl the floor at Comicon, looking, ever searching, for that next great comic. Not just for myself to read, but that I can stand on my soapbox here at CWR and tell the world that they should to. Because you never know who is reading- the next kid who needs the inspiration and comfort the medium provides is only a click away.

See you at the show.


CHEW #19
Written by John Layman and Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

The nineteenth issue of CHEW, following the time-traveling release of issue number twenty-seven, brings readers (somewhat) back on track with previous continuity. Admittedly Layman’s fondness of mucking about with the order of events ala Tarantino’s ‘Pulp Fiction’ can be marginally confusing, but pay attention and barrel through the issue and everything becomes significantly clearer.

Toni Chu, our star Tony Chu’s twin sister, was the premier face in the previous issue, showing off her skills as a NASA special agent working with the FDA, charming everyone in her path. There were also hints at Toni possessing powers akin to her twin; hints that become fact in the current issue. Intrigue and aliens, babies and biting, it is all another day in the life of the Chu’s as they arrive at Area 51 on a top secret classified mission.

Layman is obviously having a blast while messing with people’s heads with this story arc, and Guillory never disappoints with his artistic renditions of Layman’s twisted ideas. There is a room at Area 51 that essentially serves as a closet for forgotten NASA toys and trophies, a few of which are instantly recognizable and hilarious. Be sure and enjoy the glow in the dark variant cover of this issue that will be available at SDCC, for the lucky sods who are attending this year’s massive convention. I jealously wish you all fun and frolics.


Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Buncha new trades crossing my desk from the Image folks. Let’s take a look…

The cream of this crop is easily YESTERDAY’S TOMORROWS, a collection of pieces drawn by the amazing Rian Hughes throughout his career. Hughes’ work has an incredible sense of graphic design when needed, yet he is also quite adept at focusing on the characters in a story and bringing them to life. The material in this book is written for Hughes by a fine roster of scribes- Grant Morrison, Tom DeHaven, John Freeman, and Chris Reynolds, and each collaboration produces something unique and interesting. But if you need one reason, and one only, to buy this book, the DAN DARE story the two team on is it. Focusing on an older, retired Dare brought back into public light by a political campaign is it. It’s one of the darkest, bleakest comics I’ve read in some time, yet it is also a rich study of a character that it is not easy to do something truly different with. Really, each story in the collection is worth your time, and the sketch and cover section that closes the book is pretty nifty as well. This is quality comics at its best.

When DC’s Minx line folded, a number of books in the pipeline found themselves homeless. Thanks to Image, though, a quality book like POSEURS has managed to find a new home. Writer Deborah Vankin steps away from her desk at the L.A. TIMES to pen this amusing tale of a young girl hired to be a professional party guest and how that job manages to turn her entire life upside down. Jenna finds a way to escape the drudgery of her home and make some interesting new friends, including the charming Mac and the mysteriously wealthy Pouri, but this new life and her new friends bring complications. POSEURS has a lot going for it- the characters are fun, the situations have an authenticity to them, and the art by comics veteran Rick Mays is superb. The dialogue crackles, and the pacing is brisk- Vankin never gives you time to get bored. This is the kind of book you could give to a teenage girl that doesn’t normally read comics and use it to reel her into the fold.

BREED VOL.1: THE BOOK OF GENESIS brings writer/artist Jim Starlin’s Malibu-era material back into print. Raymond Stoner drifts through life, not knowing the truth of his origins- a demon arrived on Earth and impregnated his mother. But in the middle of a patrol during the Vietnam War, when his platoon is attacked, Raymond learns the hard way that he is “breed”- half human, half demon- when he changes form and tears the enemy into tiny little pieces. BREED is fun for a number of reasons- one, Starlin knows more about making comics than almost anyone else working in the field today. Two, he knows how to tell a story on the page- eight or nine panels on the pages is no big deal, and he knows how to lay them out in order to make the story flow. His action is big action, with dynamic movement and character poses. Yet when the story needs to breathe, he knows how to pull the camera back and let the panels expand. Really, BREED is a clinic in comics storytelling, and it has an entertaining and exciting story to boot.

I think I get what the creators are going for in SKULLKICKERS VOL.1, but I just don’t think it quite works. A pair of unnamed mercenaries- one a dwarf, one a muscle-bound powerhouse- ride through the countryside fighting monsters and trying to make some cash to pay their bar tab. After an assassination the duo are hired to retrieve the deceased’s stolen body, sending them on a journey through uncharted territory and into the realm of a very evil sorcerer. On a surface level this all works fine on the page- the storytelling is handled in solid fashion, and the action is amusing. But scratch below that and SKULLKICKERS crumbles. The leading dup are never named. So immediately, one way to develop a rooting interest in their fates is missing. Also, there is no character movement or depth- there’s no arc at work here. People like to point to Conan as a guidepost for these sorts of stories, but even he eventually fell in love and became king, growing wiser along the way. Hell, even after a night of playing D&D your character has grown and developed, moving along an arc. This book needs to focus more on its leads and strengthen them, otherwise there’s no reason to care.

And finally we come to two different volumes of DARKCHYLDE. Look, the conceptual idea behind Ariel Chylde was a decent one- a young girl who was plagued by nightmares, and eventually she was able to transform into the monsters she saw in her dreams and fight monsters in the real world. But the execution of the early material was, shall we say, godawfulfuckingterrible. DARKCHYLDE: LEGACY AND REDEMPTION falls right into that category. The flip side of the story was that this book was conceptualized during the early years of Image where everybody and their brother was trying to create a “bad girl” character that they could dress in skimpy clothes, pose in ways that would tear a spine in two, and titillate a readership whose sense of taste lay solely in their mouths and who would buy for the “kewl” factor. To be frank, Randy Queen was pretty successful in doing so with this book. But the comics are just not good- this volume shows a complete lack of storytelling and narrative flow. Panel transitions are nonexistent. Narrative captions are used to try and bridge that problem, but they’re overwritten to the point of pain. The plot jumps all over the place. I realize that books like this have their place, and their readership, but…

DREAMS OF DARKCHYLDE is actually a bit better, in part because it’s actually readable- coherent plot, a narrative that you can follow. This is due, in part, to Queen stepping away from the art chores. Brandon Peterson and Ron Adrian step in, and even though both have their own excesses working on the page, they do the job of propelling the story forward in a way you can understand. The story is still overwritten- the number of narrative captions is excruciating, to the point that I stopped reading them and realized just how much they weren’t contributing to the story. But there’s a genuine character arc at work and Ariel comes away from the story changed in the way she should be.

Look, I don’t want it to seem like I’m just totally bagging on Queen here- he has changed and evolved as an artist over the years. His work on the EMMA FROST book at Marvel was a quantum leap forward for him. But the problem with dredging up the past is that you have to face your missteps. Early DARKCHYLDE was simply not good comics.