ROGUE ELEMENT 86

Rogue Element #86: Mitzvahs for Mutts, Biker Buddies and Comic Book Santa Clauses


By Avril Brown

Everyone goes nuts for a good deed. People love it when someone is unexpectedly thoughtful and generous, and most people like being responsible for such euphoria. True there are those who perform good deeds for less than altruistic reasons, but even so the implied definition of a good deed is an act of kindness which promises little to no compensation, meaning whoever commits a good deed on some level likes to make people smile. Any good deed, no matter the grandness or simplicity, often results in uncontrollably genuine smiling, which is an amazingly agreeable activity. Enjoying the little things is not only Zombieland Rule #32, it is also an excellent life philosophy.

Several months ago I received an unexpected but most welcome surprise in my mailbox at work. Someone had placed a 1993 issue of a comic book entitled ‘Supreme,’ published by Image Comics, in my mailbox. I had not previously read this particular series, but I was nonetheless glowing at my gift. Immediately I began reading the comic as I wandered my workplace, showing it off to every person I met while simultaneously asking if they were my nameless giver of free comics (whom I quickly dubbed the Comic Book Santa Claus), but no one claimed responsibility. Later in the week, I received another book. Different title, same reaction: sheer, undiluted joy. “Is it wrong that I am in love with my boyfriend but I also have a serious crush on whoever is giving me comic books?” I asked my co-worker, who replied in the negative. Since then I have received several books from a range of titles, including a ‘Ghost Rider #6,’ a ‘Batman vs Predator II’ graphic novel and a Frank Millar/John Romita Jr. ‘Daredevil’ issue. A copy of ‘Spider-Man #14’ (from 1991, not to be confused with ‘Amazing Spider-Man #14’ from 1964, which is currently selling at four thousand dollars in mint condition. As generous as my Comic Claus is I doubt I’ll be finding one of those in my mail slot at work) came accompanied by the only written communication from my Comic Claus. “Please take care of this one; it has one of my favorite artists,” was all it said, and Todd McFarlane’s (creator of ‘Spawn‘) name appeared on the first page as author and illustrator. McFarlane’s gripping story and darkly beautiful artistic spread on the second and third pages would be reason enough to heed the understandable request if I did not already give the utmost care for every single gift. The identity of my Comic Claus is still a mystery to me, and I am surprisingly content with that fact (though I certainly wouldn’t mind the opportunity to give my benefactor a big squishy hug). If the gifts carry on, I will continue to read each typically the same day they arrive in my possession, and be forever appreciative of the kindness of my CC by leaving a thank you note for each and every issue, with the occasional offering in the form of a jar of market honey. Perhaps this person no longer cares for comics the way I do and is utilizing my enthusiastic appreciation of the medium, but I think it more likely my Comic Claus is a person of great generosity of spirit, nerdy in nature and an unpaid professional in making people smile.

Several weeks ago my folks were enjoying a cruise around Alaska, and I was enjoying a house in Evanston all to myself. I was watering plants in the backyard when two dogs suddenly appeared out of nowhere, tails wagging and tongues flopping at a rather twitchy rate. Chicago was suffering from one of the many freakishly hot days we had this summer and the poor dogs were obviously dehydrated, stressed out and lost. Though they initially ran away when I approached them, their retreat seemed to stem from a logical wariness than any true fear of people, and with the skills garnered from years of working at an animal shelter (namely the common sense to offer a water bowl and some dog treats) I was able to coax them into staying in my yard. They had no collars and therefore no “Hi, my name is Cerberus! Phone number: (666) 666-6666” identification tag, but they were very friendly when shown some kindness and a big bowl of H2O. They also knew sit, down and paw and seemed to take comfort in backyards, which roughly translated to them being pets who had recently misplaced their humans. I have always been an animal lover and a bleeding heart (working at Chicago’s largest animal shelter hasn’t diminished these traits), so for me the choice was clear: Bribe the beasties enough to keep them in the yard while I called the non-emergency police in an attempt to reunited tired, mildly freaked out dogs with their undoubtedly worried human family. After only about fifteen minutes, two officers arrived with a relieved boy in tow clutching leashes and empty collars, and the good deed doer in me was able to see the kid and his best furry friends reunited. I got an unexpected ego boost as well: as they pulled away, the officer I knew stopped the squad car twenty feet away, got on his rather loud radio and announced to the whole block that I look just like my sister (she’s more a little gorgeous). Beaming, I took the compliment and went on my merry.

Someone has been looking out for me lately and I was the receiver of another good deed a couple weeks ago. This one was a real sanity saver as I had been riding my bike and just received my second flat tire of the month while on my way to visit my mum, sis and baby niece. A few minutes of colorful curses were loudly uttered until I fully started realizing the precariousness of my position: I was on the lakefront trail with no clue as to the location of the nearest bike shop and only a vague idea of where the nearest El stop might be. Right before I entered full panic mode, a gentleman riding the trail pulled over and told me there was a shop only a few blocks from where we were standing, definitely walk-able and capable of fixing a flat. I almost kissed him in elation. He shared with me his plan of going fishing that day but he had forgotten an extra inner tube in case of flats, and since he didn’t have a tube to offer me he was glad at least he was able to point me in the right direction. Well your good deed really saved my bacon, Biker Buddy, so thanks again for the help.

Since my Comic Claus began his/her frequent philanthropy, I have made an attempt to be more aware and grateful of the good deeds going on around me, as well as contributing to the movement more often. I am not a very complex person, and randomly receiving an unknown comic book at my workplace makes me an extremely exultant individual, inspired to help someone else feel this delighted. Take stock of the good deeds surrounding you for they are ideally occurring on a daily basis, but if they are not then be the one to, as Jean-Luc Picard would say, make it so. Be the good deed you want to see in this world, and watch as your life becomes all the brighter.

CHEW 20

CHEW #20
Written by John Layman and Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

The twentieth issue of CHEW concludes the latest story arc entitled Flambe in addition to bringing back familiar faces in unfamiliar roles. Opening and closing on Mason Savoy, who remains a strong presence in this book, another piece of the story puzzle is also presented in a uniquely vague, and very CHEW, way.

By taking a single drop of Migdalo’s blood, Mason take a mind-spacewalk and finally feels as if he is beginning to grasp the sheer scale of what the hell has been going on the last few years, and it involves everyone with special abilities. Meanwhile back at FDA headquarters, Chu and Colby are assigned to infiltrate “The Church of the Divinity of the Immaculate Ova” (Jesus, I love this book) who happened to predict the fire-writing in the sky. Though readers are given a peek behind the robes of the church’s sacred leader everyone remains clueless as to her motivations and reasoning. Indecipherable texts, bad Kool-Aid and no collar all add up to nothing good for our favorite cibopath and cyborg buddy cop team, but that still pales in comparison to what Mason has up his oversized sleeve.

Once again, the end of a story arc brings readers plenty of questions, laughs, and the occasional head scratch. I love the way Layman can pace out a story while still giving his readers plenty of meaty bits to chew on. Guillory has yet to fail when challenged, and Mason’s mental trip out to the black beyond spanned several two page spreads, each one more gorgeous than the one before. Twenty issues in and CHEW remains, unsurprisingly, a winner.

ANNIE AUTOMATIC 0

ANNIE AUTOMATIC: KILLER IN DISGUISE #0
Written by Sam Scott and Drawn by Russell Dauterman
Published by Whisper City Productions


Reviewed by Marc Mason

A young woman appears in an alley from out of nowhere, goes to visit her mother- who is promptly assassinated- and then winds up disappearing again after beating up a bunch of bad guys and jumping off the roof of a tall building. Sound strange and confusing? Well, it is. Welcome to ANNIE AUTOMATIC #0, a promo comic produced by the band of the same name who have just released their first full-length album.

This promo comic is meant to (I’ll quote from the accompanying PR here) “illustrate Annie’s journey of rebellion from her mother and how she forms her own path. The comic book allows the audience to see another side to Annie Automatic and the story behind their music.” In that respect, the comic is a huge swing and a miss, because not only did I not have the slightest clue what was happening in the story, it certainly didn’t tell me anything about the story behind their music.

The creative team certainly tries their hardest- the scripting by Scott is actually handled nicely, and Dauterman’s art has a nice, rounded fluidity to it. If they had another twelve pages or so to work with, they might have had the chance to tell a full story that actually made sense. But given the limitations of the twelve pages they were given, this just doesn’t work.

ANNIE comes packaged with a three-song sampler CD of songs from the album, and it works much better at introducing the band’s work to a new audience. The tracks are extremely radio-friendly rock- fans of bands like 3 Doors Down or Maroon 5 would find Annie Automatic very much to their taste. Ultimately, that’s what matters to the band most, so in that respect, the success or failure of the comic is pretty negligible I suppose.

Hardcore geeks may be interested/amused that the lead character bears a striking resemblance to BIG BANG THEORY actress Kaley Cuoco, girlfriend of Annie Automatic lead singer Christopher French.

NEW NBM

NBM X 2
Written and Drawn by Rick Geary and Lewis Trondheim
Published by NBM


Reviewed by Marc Mason

I’ve been asked on many occasions about what it was like to work as the P.R. person for NBM Publishing. I held that job from August 2009 through December 2010, and though that isn’t exactly an eternity, I certainly spent enough time doing the job to see some wonderful highs and some occasional lows- as it is with any type of employment, really, not just working for a comics publisher. But when pressed for my absolute favorite thing about being a part of the NBM family, the answer always comes easy: getting to play a small part in getting books by true comics greats into peoples’ hands. The roster of talent at NBM is extraordinary, and a couple of recent review books arriving in my mailbox only serve to remind me what I love so much about this publisher.

First THE LIVES OF SACCO AND VANZETTI showed up, which just happens to be the latest effort in the TREASURY OF XXTH CENTURY MURDER series by the amazing Rick Geary. This time around he tackles what was, until the O.J. Simpson trial, the most famous murder trial of the century. Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants with radical leanings were arrested and tried for robbery and murder in a case that gathered the interest of the entire world. The duo were railroaded by a judge who had it out for them, witnesses who were coerced by the police and district attorney’s office, and early public sentiment that arose because of the fear of communism. Of course, Geary doesn’t specifically lead you to that conclusion- as with all the books he’s done in this series, he does his research, lays out the facts and evidence, and allows you to decide for yourself. That’s not only a hallmark of strong storytelling, but of confidence by the storyteller. He doesn’t need to pull you around by the nose if he has done his job right, and no one does the job right like Rick Geary. This is another incredible effort by a creator who simply seems to never swing and miss.

On the heels of Geary, LITTLE NOTHINGS VOL.4 arrived, and that’s about as happy as I get when it comes to comics. LITTLE NOTHINGS is the collected art blog of Lewis Trondheim, the man I consider to be the greatest living comics creator on the planet right now. In these books we get a glimpse inside the man’s head, and as good as he is when whipping up wonderful tales of fiction, he is just as strong when navigating the reader through the ebb and flow of his life. Can he make the mundane interesting? Absolutely. One of the best pieces in this volume focuses on his mishap in trying to determine which knobs in the shower do what- a universal problem, and one with a hilarious solution for Trondheim. But he can also deliver insightful looks at the extraordinary, as he does in navigating the reader through the many journeys he takes across the world to promote his books or to just find peace and quiet. LITTLE NOTHINGS shows us a phenomenal talent at the peak of his powers. What more could you want?






ROGUE ELEMENT 85

Rogue Element #85: A Different Kind of Con


By Avril Brown

Wizard World Chicago was the very first Comic Convention I ever experienced and I have yet to miss a show since I first started attending. Though I have heard from many people in the business that WWC has changed in recent years and not for the better, I tend to have a great time and enjoy the show in a slightly different way every year. Last year it was meeting new people, hanging with friends and gathering stories that shall remain locked in my journal. This year, it was going in cosplay and joining the costume contest, exposing fresh eyes to the wacky world of Wizard, making key purchases and interviewing a cast member of one of my favorite television shows of all time: Nicholas Brendon from ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’

The long Comic Con weekend was packed with so much nerdy goodness I hardly know where to begin. Friday afternoon I arrived at the Con later than expected due to an unplanned hissy fit I had to throw over my missing CTA card. My apartment looked as if a red-headed Cyclone hit it but the elusive little bastard was eventually located and I was on my way. After acquiring my press badge I dove into the melee, which was surprisingly hectic given it was only the first full day of the Con. Though I did not linger (you do not drag your feet at the entrance of the Con floor unless you wished to get trampled or shoved out of the way of a photo op) I caught a glimpse of the eternally delicious James Marsters signing pictures as I made my way back to Artists’ Alley.

I popped by the table of one of my favorite people and illustrator/storyteller extraordinaire, Kurt Dinse (author of ‘One Year in Indiana,’ portfolio found here ), who always lets me stash my stuff, saving my shoulder and neck muscles a world of grief, before I allowed myself to fully realize the magnitude of Artists’ Alley. For those interested in the comics and not the celebrities, AA is where it’s at, and ‘it’ was flipping ginormous. Boasting over five hundred comic creators, WWC certainly delivered the goods for those looking to explore the multitude of talent existent in the creative world. Though known comic book pencilers and inkers were present in droves, there were also oodles of freelance artists of all sorts, including crafters, independent filmmakers and even Lego builders. These dedicated diorama-ists had a sweet set up of several famous scenes from all of the ‘Indiana Jones’ movies, ‘Futurama’ locations and even the storefront from ‘Clerks.’ There was even some crazy crossover action in the form of an Indiana Jones Lego man riding a Tauntaun.

After making a solid circuit of the Con floor I took my first detour from past Con itineraries and headed back into my fair city to attend the Eduardo Risso gallery opening at Challenger’s Comics and Conversation, where the artist and his creative partner on the infamous series ‘100 Bullets’ Brian Azzarello, plus cover artist Dave Johnson, were doing signings and mingling with the adoring masses. Drinks were thrown back, snacks were consumed at an alarming rate (artist Jill Thompson can bake a mean batch of mouthwatering cookies) and many an entertaining conversation were had as we all partied like it was a Comic Con weekend. Many thanks to Patrick Brower and the rest of the Challenger’s crew for hosting one mighty fine shin dig.

Saturday brought a relatively early morning and my first day as a Wizard World cosplayer. The thermal bandage Leeloo costume made its second appearance as I am determined to get as much usage out of these stitched straps before, as my Nana used to say, ‘everything flies south for the winter.’ I wandered the aisles solo for awhile posing for pictures and eyeballing items I want before my Korben arrived with bleach blond hair and his trademark orange tank top and black pants. We walked arm in arm (and no, we weren’t just being cute; it was fucking freezing in that convention hall for a naturally cold-susceptible individual dressed in clothing scraps and I needed the body heat), smiling for photos and inching our way across the Convention floor. Being this was only Jesse’s second Comic Convention, he had a lot of ogling to do of the endless Alley and various vendors.

At the urging of several of our friends and my own vain curiosity, we entered the WWC Adult Costume Contest being held that evening. Though seeing a program hall filled with costumed individuals was itself an overwhelming sight and the contest and its main commentator were decently hilarious, the whole event was poorly organized and executed, running past its allotted time and subsequently being moved from one place to another (to another) before the winners were finally announced. Despite the judging categories being too limited (i.e. Jesse and I didn’t win anything), attending the contest was an experience I’m glad we had and I shall never forget. Honestly, how often do you see over two hundred grown adults in one room playing dress up? Memorable costumes include a gentleman dressed as Obi Wan Kenobi with his baby strapped to his chest dressed like Yoda. He pulled out a bottle rather a light saber as he posed on stage. Mr. and Mrs. Skeletor made a stunning pair, as did the Red and White Queens from the recent remake of ‘Alice and Wonderland.’ Obscure gaming cosplayers made several appearances (Jesse out-geeked me here as he recognized their costumes with a fair amount of gleeful delight) as did Edward from ‘Cowboy Bebop,’ The Tick, Miss TARDIS, ‘Labyrinth’ Bowie, Mr. T, Marty McFly and countless others. I did see a duo dressed as the old man and boy from Pixar’s ‘Up,’ but I do not believe they entered the contest. Though we left without ‘stuff’ (that was the description of the prizes available for the contest winners), I will always remember our moment in the spotlight as we walked down the aisle with cameras flashing like the paparazzi. We took to the stage only briefly before Jesse swept me into his arms, looked out into the audience and said, “I’m looking for a priest.” My hand swept up to keep my bright orange wig in place and my heart was thundering in my chest, blocking out all other sounds even after I found my feet and we strode offstage, but my man tells me the crowd was thunderous in their applause.

Though we did end up joining the comic crowd at the Hyatt bar (where I received a free shot of tequila from some very generous and likely drunk gentlemen; it really rocks being a chick sometimes) our time there was limited as we were exceptionally exhausted (getting old blows), more than slightly broke (I’d forgotten my rum-filled ‘Watchmen’ flask) and fully intent on getting up early the next day to do it all over again. Ducking out early meant we missed Anthony Michael Hall hitting on a couple of Harley Quinns, but you can’t win them all.

Sunday morning brought me a present beyond price: a few minutes alone with Nicholas Brendon, one of the premier stars of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ Though Xander Harris was not my all-time favorite character (Spike held that honor, and Xander hated Spike), Mr. Brendon will remain one of my favorite people I barely know. Instantly affable, deviously hilarious and so fucking cute I had to slap myself to keep from pinching his cheeks/leaping into his lap, our few minutes together were as indelible as they were pleasurable. Feel free to check out our video chat here.

The rest of Sunday passed without much fanfare, only more pictures as we went in costume once more and some final bouts of shopping. I managed to acquire exactly what I was looking for with little to no effort and a lot of serendipity, and I came away two Rogue and Gambit prints richer (or should I say poorer, though I cannot regret the dollars spent on these beauties by talents Vo Nyugen and Jason Metcalf, which are now displayed in my apartment).

A shout out must also be given to the slew of pant-wettingly hysterical t-shirts I spied with my little eye at the Con, most of which seem to get funnier every year. Prime examples include a picture of Admiral Ackbar with his fingers stuck in a paper finger trap, Mario splayed out with a squid on his face and a flower coming out of his chest with the caption “Game over, man!,” and a paragraph of text on a tee explaining how the bearer is not a stalker, she’s just a fan girl. An image of a Delorean crashing into a TARDIS was enough fodder for a brief debate (a gentleman and I agreed the only way the Delorean could make a dent in the TARDIS doors was if they were both traveling in the time vortex when they smashed into each other…yup, I’m a colossal nerd and proud of it), and a new variation on an unstoppable Star Wars clarification movement brought a smile to my face. Many felt the need to clear the air on who pulled the trigger first in the epic, and famous altered, ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ scene between Han and Greedo. Previous incarnations of the t-shirt simply stated ‘Han shot first.’ The ones I saw at Wizard World showed a picture of Han with the text declaring: “Damn right I shot first.”

As the Con wound down, I reflected upon how different this year’s WWC was in compared to past experiences, and how much I truly enjoyed myself. During my first Con my senses were overwhelmed and my heart and soul filled with joy at the mounds of comic books and art, and years later I still feel a flutter in my chest at just the thought of walking the Con floor, though chatting and hanging with comic-centric friends has become the highlight of every show. Finding out what they’re working on (check out my reviews of the latest issue of ‘Bob Howard, Plumber of the Unknown’ and ‘Underneath‘) and simply shooting the shit with some of the best damn people I have the privilege to call ‘friend’ makes me happier than Scrooge diving into his money pool. Though every Con has its organizational flaws and bad judgment calls (WWC 2010 had Rod Blagojevich as a ‘celebrity’ guest star. Way to back the winning horse there, boys), what truly matters is whether or not one enjoyed the time spent and items acquired (the jury is still out on whether or not WWC has learned its lesson on organization; it certainly has in terms of the guest list. Aw yeah, Sir Patrick Stewart and Bruce Campbell!). Going by this basic and logical generalization, I cannot help but give Wizard World Chicago 2011 a resounding two nerdy thumbs up.

NEW INDIES

NEW INDIES


Reviewed by Avril Brown

New books I picked up at Wizard World Chicago…

UNDERNEATH
Written by Tom Stillwell and Illustrated by Jim Terry
Published by Spinner Rack Comics

A brand new book with some local Chicago flavor, the first issue of UNDERNEATH is off to a fantastic start. With a little bit of everything including monsters, warriors, a belligerent business man and a dash of humor, UNDERNEATH is a read worth diving into.

Over two hundred years ago before Chicago became a hotbed of political scandals and corrupt politicians it was a hotbed for volatile swamps housing ancient and angry trolls. The local tribesmen kept the man-eating trolls, or Weendigo, at bay, but when the white settlers arrived and took over the local landscape, they took the black pool housing the dark creatures but not the responsibility of battling them back into the deep. Now in the year 2011, the homeless vagabonds are the unsung protectors of the wounded city of Chicago, and Terrence Kirk, ESQ, and up and coming lawyer, is about to become an unwilling participant in the war between the Keepers and the eternally hungry Weendigo.

Stillwell weaves one hell of an introductory story in the debut issue of UNDERNEATH, and I do respect an author who is not afraid to get a little colorful with his script. Joe and Clarence are instantly likable characters, and even asshole Terry earns some respect and affection by the end. Terry’s art is clear and his monsters are large, green and drooly; completely convincing as flesh-addicted treasure hoarders. UNDERNEATH is definitely a series to start reading.

BOB HOWARD, PLUMBER OF THE UNKNOWN #3
Written by Rafael Nieves and Illustrated by Dan Dougherty
Published by Rafael Nieves and Dan Dougherty

Oh, Bob Howard, how I have missed you! For those unfortunate folk still unfamiliar with the ultimate awesomeness that is BOB HOWARD, PLUMBER OF THE UNKNOWN, this independently published book debuts at Comic Conventions, and Wizard World Chicago 2011 brought lucky readers the third installment of this delightfully creepy ongoing series. Starring a gentleman and his Big Daddy wrench, BOB HOWARD is a humorous horror comic guaranteed to keep you chuckling and rooting for Mr. Howard until the final panel.

When we last saw the indomitable Bob Howard, reluctant yet badass Plumber of the Unknown, he was taking on odd jobs in an effort to escape the otherworldly creatures that seem to haunt him around every u-bend. Now Bob has seemingly settled into a domestic life, living with a buxom beauty and her daughter who are equally determined in their attempts to take care of the strapping plumber and get him to his new job on time. Unfortunately there is a slight delay as Bob is forced to tackle a jealous ghost intent on strangling his new found foxy friend (who calls him ‘Meester Bah!’), but he eventually arrives at his new place of employment: a theater, which is, naturally, not what it appears to be, leaving Bob in a tighter jam than he has ever been in before.

This books just keeps better and better with each issue, and I am not only referring to the amazing final pages, both two-page spreads featuring creatures of all shapes and sizes, including a three-headed monster bearing a suspicious resemblance to a certain Comics Slumber Party podcast crew. The humor, both subtle and outrageous, is continuous, and the unique creativity pours from every panel. Nieves and Dougherty are an unstoppable force and I for one hope to read BOB HOWARD adventures for as long as he can swing Big Daddy.

FIRST COMICS

FOUR BY FIRST
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by First Comics


Reviewed by Marc Mason

This past SDCC saw the resurrected First Comics sharing table space with AiT/PlanetLar and selling four new books. Let’s take a look at them, then discuss some implications of the company’s return, shall we?

Without question, the best book from this initial wave of releases is NECESSARY MONSTERS by writer Daniel Merlin Goodbrey and artist Sean Azzopardi. Lurking beneath humanity’s veneer is an entire subculture of monsters- walking nightmares whose existence would terrify most humans into taking their own lives. The one thing that prevents these beasts from taking over is an organization called The Chain- a covert group of monsters who keep their brethren from destroying the world. In this introductory tale, we meet The Chain’s newest cell and follow them as they not only recruit a new member but also on their first mission- to take down a former member of the organization who has gone rogue and decided to let Hell loose upon the world. Goodbrey has created a world of dark intrigue, full of fascinating characters and psychological terror that really grab the imagination. Azzopardi’s art is moody and evocative, perfect for telling the story. I’d read more of this.

Diving back into history of First Comics, we get E-MAN: THE EARLY YEARS which reprints the old, classic stories by writer Nicola Cuti and artist Joe Staton. For those that don’t know, E-Man was a ball of energy who found his way to Earth and wound up becoming a superhero alongside his companion Nova Kane (who would eventually gain similar powers herself). E-MAN was one of the first indy comics to really make a dent in the market and gain staying power, and these early tales from the 70s give you a good idea why: they’re fun, reasonably smart, and Joe Staton drew the hell out of them. His Neal Adams-inspired art develops and grows by leaps and bounds with each passing issue. As with most comics of that era, the stories are dense- no decompression here- and Cuti does his best to fill every page with interesting moments of character and action without going overboard. This one should appeal to longtime comics fans and is worth a read to new readers to see how comics can be executed in a way they likely can’t quite conceive of.

I’m not really quite sure what to make of FRICKIN’ BUTT-KICKIN’ ZOMBIE ANTS by writer Steve Stern and artists the Fillbach Brothers. Four giant-sized zombie ants from the dinosaur era are trapped in suspended animation and wake up in the modern day during the middle of an actual zombie apocalypse. Sound dumb? Well, it is, but not so dumb that it’s charmless and without a nifty dose of humor. Stern does his damnedest to make this work. But part of the problem is that it feels like a long-lost Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles parody that has just come out of suspended animation. In fact, that puts the point on it for me- this is an 80s comic at heart, but you never quite get the sense that the creative team knows that for sure. ZOMBIE ANTS would have worked a little better with its tongue buried firmly in its cheek. It isn’t a bad comic, but it just doesn’t get to where it needs to be, either.

On the other hand, ZEN THE INTERGALACTIC NIJA 3D CONVENTION SPECIAL is flat-out awful. Zen is a character who has been around for some time, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need an introduction for new readers. Unfortunately, Stern, the writer, doesn’t give one. Instead you get stale narration that has to explain what is happening in the art, since the book only uses splash pages and therefore has no flow to the storytelling. What are Zen’s powers? No answers to that, either. On top of that, the 3D doesn’t work, either- I don’t know if that falls on artist Dan Cote or on poor printing, but a number of the pages look blurry even with the glasses on. I suppose that longtime fans of the character could pick this up and find some traction, and those who find 3D an interesting novelty might jump at it, but in no way can I recommend it.

Something that jumped out at me as I read all these books was the copyright statement. Each one has a copyright to the company for 2011 produced material- the exception being Staton who maintains co-copyright on the E-MAN book. This surprised me a bit- I would have expected to see First look at the Image model, or even at shared co-ownership upon its return to the market- at the very least that would make for a compelling reason for a creator to take their projects to their door. But if they’re asking for ownership, I can’t think of a reason why you’d go there, except as a last resort. I can’t imagine that would be the reputation they’d want to cultivate, so what happens on that front should be worth keeping an eye on, yes?

CRAIG THOMPSON

Craig Thompson made a splash entering the comics scene with GOODBYE, CHUNKY RICE, but it was the publication of BLANKETS that sent him into the stratosphere of A-list talent. Now, almost seven years after CARNET DE VOYAGE, he is back with a new graphic novel- HABIBI. I caught up with Craig this past July in San Diego, where we talked about the new work, his place in the industry, and comics as art objects. (Hat tip to Brooke Unverferth for transcription assistance.)


MM: This is Marc Mason here in the Comics Waiting Room. Today, I am with writer/artist extraordinaire Craig Thompson. Good morning.

CT: Good morning Marc!

MM: You are here at the Con because after a couple of years off, you’ve been working on a new magnum opus, HABIBI. Tell us a little bit about the story.

CT: Well it’s been more than a couple of years off. It’s actually been seven years since I’ve been in San Diego. But the book is coming out in September, too, so this is like the very tail end of the hiatus. I finished the book last September; it’s released in two months. It’s a 700-page Arabian Nights style fairy tale epic that also incorporates a lot of modern day environmental, political, and religious issues, and I also think it’s a dissection of sexual trauma. It follows two characters, Fidola and Pam, who are escaped childhood slaves. They struggle to survive in this sort of bleak desert landscape. And it’s a landscape of deserts and harems and palaces, but also industry and slums and very modern, industrial clutter.

MM: It sounds – it’s an intense work, obviously. And you’re working with some interesting and sort of darker themes here.

CT: Yeah. There’s a French Algerian cartoonist who is dead now, Aristophane, First Second just put out one of his books, “Zabime”. But he worked on two big projects, and that’s one of them, and everyone describes it as sort of his heaven project. And then he did a book called “Demonic Stories,” “Demonique,” which is his hell project. I think on some level, “Blankets” might have been my heaven project and this is my hell project. And that said, it’s not all oppressive evil or anything, but it’s all darker than “Blankets.” It was sort of like diving into that dark space, and in hopes of breaking through to the other side.

MM: Well, that’s something I think is a commonality in your work. You don’t make work where it doesn’t have something to say. You have something to say each time you step up to the plate. Whether it was “Blankets” or “Chunky Rice” or even “Carnet De Voyage,” you have something to say, you have something on your mind. What got you to what you had on your mind to make “Habibi”?

CT: It’s a great question. Well, one, I agree with you that art has to be born of necessity. At least for me personally it has to come from some very sort of, like a primal and necessary space. And with this book I was practicing, on one level, American guilt or sort of, like a sort of an understanding of feeling like a passive participant in like an imperialistic culture, and then trying to figure out how what we do sort of feeds off the poor. Or, you know, I don’t know. Even being middle-class now, there’s a sense that everything we do, everything we consume, feeds off someone else. Rich doesn’t exist without poor. I think that was something I was processing. I was definitely processing male guilt too, on a personal level. You know, without giving away spoilers and without getting too personal, I mean, it’s just something – I grew up – like the sexual trauma of some people I was really close to growing up really shaped my own perceptions of sexuality. So I was processing that in almost a therapy sort of way through the writing.

MM: Very interesting. Something else that you do in your work, is that you’re not afraid to take us somewhere else. You’re not afraid to take that American audience and show them the world. Where does that come from, from an artistic point of view? Is that something deliberate that you’re doing?

CT: Well, when I was a kid, I always drew for escape. And I actually recently went home to Wisconsin, I grew up in this really rural town, and every time I’m there, I actually found a stash of childhood drawings that I didn’t destroy, but I drew prolifically as a child. And I recognize that I was like a troubled, trapped little kid, and this was my escape to create huge fantasy escapes on paper. But as I’ve matured, I guess, art has become more about ways of understanding and exploring the world, and kind of the opposite of escape – well it’s still escape, but it’s also about expanding my own experience to new horizons, or to new worlds. You know, I travel and stuff, and experiences from my travels of going to developing nations, and like Morocco, Vietnam and parts of rural China, and each one of those trips really like, sort of destroys you, and then you have to piece everything back together when you get back to your old home. It’s like there’s more culture shock coming home. For me, that’s one thing I’m practicing, the culture shock of returning home.

MM: You said you drew a lot as a kid. What kind of stuff did you draw?

CT: Typical boyhood fantasies of spaceships, race cars, Dungeons & Dragons, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters. I recycled every single pop culture thing, I mean, it’s like San Diego Comic Con on paper. All of that.

MM: What’s interesting about that to me is that I think if we were to go around to Artists’ Alley here and talk to people, a lot of people would have similar stories, and they continued drawing similar stories, but you, on the other hand, you went a different direction. You went in a more personalized direction, you went in a more emotional direction. I find that fascinating that you took that branched path.

CT: Yeah, it might be partly because I broke away from comics for a short spell. I had read comics since I was a little kid, but my biggest superheroes phase was junior high when I was at my most awkward and probably most desperately grasping for some sort of like, I mean, I was probably processing early sexuality, conflicting ideas of masculinity or something. But then by the time I reached high school, I kind of like gave up comics for a while because I wanted to be cool, and my version of coolness was of just being a scrawny skateboarder kid, and that was sort of the place I dwelled in for a few years. And when I rediscovered comics, I was coming from sort of a punk rock place. It was that whole 90’s, sort of DIY, post grunge, sort of new attitude about comics, and zines and mini-comics. It was all about DIY. Making it yourself, resisting the man. So that’s where my rediscovery was born out of.

MM: And at this point in your career, a Craig Thompson book is something of an event. When there’s a new Craig Thompson book, the industry sits up and takes notice. How do you feel about that? How do you feel about your place in the industry?

CM: Strange. I mean, “Blankets” I created in a vacuum. I didn’t have much of a fan base then and I never expected anyone to see the book, so I think the reason it’s taken me longer is because I’ve had greater self-consciousness, or self – yeah, I’m much more self-conscious about it. So, I mean, now that it’s happening, now I’m ready. Now it can roll. But I don’t know…and I also don’t see myself in that way necessarily. I do want my books to be events, because they are events to create, but I just feel grateful to be part of the medium and to be, to have peers now who are my greatest inspiration. Like Joe Sacco, you know- actually, Maurice Sendak, I recently befriended him. People like that. People like Art Spiegelman and Dan Clowes. Everyone that I grew up idolizing. The fact that I can brush shoulders with them now is like probably the biggest honor.

MM: Do you feel artistically free at this point? Do you feel like “I can pretty much do what I want to do and I’m good with it?”

CT: Yes and no. Yeah, I think I’ve always made that a priority to do what I want to do and hope that the financial things fall into place, and I’m still in that same place. I mean, I don’t know if financially I’ll be fine in six months or a year. I’m not set in that sort of way. But I kind of disregard that. I’ve always disregarded…I’m like, well, this is the book I want to do, it might take longer, if I have to figure out ways to pay the bills, but it’s still the book I want to do.

MM: Are you already thinking about what’s next, or are you focused on getting this in front of people and talking to them about it?

CT: Both. I’m sure that this is pretty much going to consume all of my time for the next six months, for the promotion. Then, the touring. That’s how it was with “Blankets” – I toured for six months straight with “Blankets” – which might be the longest cartoonist’s a book tour ever. It was international, though. So, touring is going to consume a lot of time. But there are three new books I want to – I’m desperate to start on. And so I’m looking forward to that little stretch where I can kind of hole up in my studio again and get started on new work. And this time around, rather than focusing on one gigantic epic, I want to work on some other projects, and a handful of them simultaneously.

MM: Will we see anything like a gallery showing of any of the art for “Habibi”?

CT: There’s a good chance. There are a lot of galleries who have tapped me already. I might be holding out for the right one. It always makes me…I don’t know, I’m uncomfortable with gallery shows a lot of times. I don’t like breaking up the work. I always think of the book. I mean, I’m into mass produced art, mass art. I think of the book as the art piece. I don’t think about one image, one page, isolated on its own, some sort of gallery, really, it doesn’t’ do it justice. But, I don’t know. I did go to the Crumb exhibit. I don’t know if you had a chance to see that in any city…in Portland, at the Portland Art Museum, for a long time, maybe five months, so I got to go a couple of times. And to get to see his Genesis book, like every single page lined up? It was pretty amazing. And it would be insane and it probably won’t happen that there will be an opportunity to display all of “Habibi” together, but it’s pretty amazing when you can see a comic book in its entirety on display, a graphic novel.

MM: Fascinating. Craig, thank you for taking some time to talk with us today!

JAMES GUNN

Filmmaker James Gunn is one of those guys who just projects an aura of cool. He’s talented, as his work on SLITHER and PG PORN have shown, and he’s versatile, giving written material as diverse as SCOOBY DOO and DAWN OF THE DEAD. His twisted take on real-life superheroics, SUPER, just hit DVD, and if you haven’t seen it, you should- it’s everything that KICK ASS wasn’t, but should have been. I caught up with James at San Diego Comic-Con and we talked about Super and what he has on the horizon. (Hat tip to Brooke Unverferth for transcription assistance.)


MM: This is Marc Mason in the Comics Waiting Room and I am here with writer/director James Gunn this morning. James, thanks for joining us.

JG: Thank you, Marc.

MM: SUPER is hitting DVD…

JG: It is.

MM: …which is your kind of dark take on superheroes. Dark take on superheroes is something we haven’t seen a lot of. Why did you go that route?

JG: I, you know, listen, I don’t know why I do anything I do. I was inspired to tell a story about a real guy who wanted to become a superhero for perhaps the right reasons, perhaps the wrong reasons, and I just started writing it. It was originally going to be a short movie and it just, I fell in love with the characters. I fell in love with Frank D’Arbo, who is the Crimson Bolt, and I fell in love with Libby, who is Boltie, his kid sidekick, or not so kid sidekick, and I couldn’t stop writing. I fell in love with the script. It is a very strange script, a very dark tale, very brutal, very violent. It’s funny, but it’s also very dramatic, and you know, it’s just an extreme movie in a lot of ways, but I felt beholden to the script in some ways. I knew it wasn’t the most commercial movie I ever have written and will probably ever write, but it was something where I felt like I had a story that needed to be told.

MM: And I think that maybe that’s why your films work. As an independent filmmaker, you’re bullshit free…

JG: Yeah…

MM: You’re bullshit free.

JG: Oh, I have plenty of bullshit, but I think Super doesn’t have so much bullshit, I mean, you’re right. I think that, I just told the story I wanted to tell and I was fortunate enough to get this huge cast who wanted to do the movie, which I didn’t expect. But it’s because of them that we were able to make the movie. Nobody would have ever made this movie if it was just the script and unknowns because it’s, it’s just too esoteric. But once we had that cast on board, it was like people couldn’t say no. Especially for the budget we made it for. A couple million bucks.

MM: Do you feel like maybe the actors respond to the honesty?

JG: Yeah!

MM: In the scripts…?

JG: I think the actors get really excited at the prospect of making a movie that is different and I think that Rainn and I see the world in very similar way that I think is unique, and I think because of that he was attracted to it. You know, Liv Tyler and Ellen Page were attracted to it because it had female characters that weren’t just “the girl.” You know, I think that you see a lot of comedic films where there’s the guys who are all funny and interesting characters and then there’s the girl character, you know, Teri Polo in Meet the Parents, this great movie, but they aren’t exactly- I didn’t mean to put her down, I feel bad- but anyway, it’s like, you know, the females in Super have a lot of depth to their personalities and a lot of different facets and I think they were excited at the prospect at playing something different.

MM: As an indie filmmaker, with the freedom that you have, do you ever think to yourself, do you have moments when you write or do you have moments where you direct, when you’re like maybe, “oh, that’s too far” or do feel like you can just take the reins off and do what you want, like with the violence in Super?

JG: Yeah…wait, ask that question again.

MM: Do you feel like with the freedom that you have, do you ever feel like you’ve kinda gone too far in your writing or directing? Do you ever pull back?

JG: Yeah…

MM: You do?

JG: Yes, I do. Yeah, yeah, yeah, there was a scene in Super that was, that I felt went a little bit too far in my first draft, when somebody said to me, Alex Gardner actually, who was one of the original producers, who’s a great guy. There’s a scene in which Libby, well, the scene still exists in the movie, where Libby bashes a guy in the face with a vase and he goes down, and then she goes to pick up this like, bronze rodeo statue and goes to hit him in the skull with that and Rainn stops her, the Crimson Bolt stops her. In the original script, she squashed that guy’s head open with that rodeo statue and then the Crimson Bolt was like, “You just killed him for keying a car!” Like, “what the hell was that?” And Alex said, “You know, listen, I think that maybe you’re going to lose people when she kills him, I think that’s going a little bit too far.” And I thought about it and that’s the one place where I pulled back. I didn’t pull back any place else in the movie. None of the humor. There were jokes that people said to me, “Oh that’s too much” you know. Libby’s character says a lot of politically incorrect things, that, they’re not statements by me, they’re statement by her character and they seemed real to me so I kept them in the movie, despite some people possibly being offended by that. But I thought that her killing a character at that point in the movie would have been too much. Especially for really not having done anything. So I changed it.

MM: Now we’re here at Comic-Con and Comic-Con is the home of a James Gunn fan. Is that a fair statement?

JG: There are a lot of them here, yeah, I think probably twenty of my 40,000 Twitter followers are here.

MM: But the thing I’ve noticed about your films, unlike a lot of films that achieve cult status or something like that, is the critics really respond to you. The critics like your films…

JG: Sometimes.

MM: …does that surprise you, or…?

JG: It did on SLITHER. It definitely did on Slither. I mean, Slither was like, I think it was like, it’s still like in the top ten best reviewed horror movies of all time, or something, on Rotten Tomatoes. And Slither was a very, you know, unusual film. And I certainly did not expect the critics to have the good reaction that they did. In fact, Universal, at one point, didn’t want to screen it for critics because they thought, they said to me directly, they said, “Listen, we love the movie, but the thing is, it’s the kind of thing the critics aren’t going to get and they’re going to give it bad reviews, so we don’t want to send it out to critics to have them see it and give it bad reviews,” but instead, the movie got great reviews. It was surprising to me, you know, because it is so edgy, you know. I think Super is more of a mixed bag. I mean, Super is a thing where people either really respond positively to it and they love it. I can’t tell you, every single day I get Tweets and Facebook messages and Google+ messages and everything saying, “Super is my favorite movie ever!” And I didn’t quite get that with Slither. So that’s a new thing for me. I mean, occasionally. But Super, I get it all the time. But there are also people that say, “Fuck you for what you did in that movie!” I mean, especially if there’s one thing, there’s a spoiler that happens at the end that some people get very pissed off by. And so, Super is a different beast than Slither. Slither seemed to be something that people didn’t think they were going to enjoy and the ended up enjoying a lot. Super seems to be something that people sometimes go into it with certain expectations of it being a light comedy and it’s certainly, certainly not a light comedy. It’s a brutal film, and it’s a dramatic film in a lot of ways. And it’s edgy cinema. It’s not just because it’s about, you know, what it’s about, or being about a superhero, or being a cult movie, it’s just edgy cinema because of the way we deal with the tonal shifts and things like that. It’s not your usual thing. It’s an experimental film in some ways. So, the people that love it, love it, and the people that hate it, hate it. And that’s been pronounced in this film.

MM: So at this point, you’ve developed a relationship and you’ve developed a reputation with actors. Going forward and into your next project, does that make it easier for you? Are you going to have more people coming towards you or is it easier for you to approach people for your next project now?

JG: Yes. It is, it is. Because I am, in the end, I feel like I am an actor’s director. I started out as an actor. I’ve had a lot of acting training. And I’ve been on a lot of movie sets with other directors who, they’re great at certain aspects of filmmaking, but they really don’t know how to talk to actors, they don’t know the language of acting. And I think I do. I like dealing with that part. I love shooting action sequences, but I also love dealing with actors, and those are my two favorite things to do. The rest of it is what it is. But I love dealing with actors. I love getting in there and seeing where they’re coming from and helping them to get someplace where they haven’t been before, and especially, helping to show an aspect of an actor that an audience hasn’t seen before. That’s a great deal of fun for me. To be able to show, you know, the dramatic side of Rainn Wilson, to bring that out of him and to show it in long form. Actually, to not even bring it out of him, because he’s so natural, but to give him the opportunity to show that in a film was a great pleasure and then, with Ellen, she’s normally like this wise-cracking-under-her-breath kind of girl, to be able to show this sort of psychotic, you know, nymphomaniac who’s going at a thousand miles per hour every second of the day. To get that out of her and to help her express that was a lot of fun, you know, and I’m sharing with them that performance that we share with the audience. I enjoy that a great deal.

MM: Excellent. What does come next?

JG: Well next is…there’s a.. Movie 43, which is something I did with the Farrelly brothers, it’s a bunch of directors directing different comedy shorts, all connected by a common theme, it has everyone from Hugh Jackman to Kate Winslet to Halle Berry, and I did a short with Elizabeth Banks and Josh Duhamel, who are both very funny, and they interact with an animated creature, sort of like Pete’s Dragon. And that was a lot of fun to do. And so that’s my next thing- that comes out in April. And then, I’ve got a video game coming out too, which I don’t know when we’re announcing that, but I think soon, I think in August we’re announcing it. So, I’ve got that coming out. And then I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do next. So…

MM: You’re a very busy man.

JG: You know, sometimes I’m busy. I’ve actually been kinda taking it easy lately. I’ve been a little busy. I’ve been working, you know, I wake up and I work on ideas. I’ve got a script I finished that I’m trying to put together, and I’ve got another script that I’d like to do. But, listen, I’m not one of these, I mean I have times when I’m doing nothing but working, but I also like to live life and hang out with my girlfriend, and hopefully I’ll get to walk the floor later a little bit. Maybe buy some art or something. So, I take my time.

MM: Great. Well, I want to thank you for your time this morning, and thanks for joining us in the Comics Waiting Room.