Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Watson-Guptill

Reviewed by Marc Mason

I’m not one for hyperbole; just the opposite, really. So when I make a statement like “THE DC COMICS GUIDE TO CREATING COMICS: INSIDE THE ART OF VISUAL STORYTELLING is the best how-to book I’ve seen in the past five years,” you can trust me on it.

This is the book that should be supplied to every wannabe comics artist, and they shouldn’t be given work until they demonstrate that they understand what’s being said in these pages.

Veteran writer/editor/artist/mentor Carl Potts steps into the author’s chair here, and what he produces is a masterwork on how to tell a story through sequential art. He covers panel structure, creating a sense of place, producing movement on the page, how to get the reader to fill in information the artist doesn’t, transitions on the page, juxtaposition, how to write for narrative storytelling, and much more, creating a comprehensive course in making great comics. Why listen to Potts? Well, the man served as mentor for both Jim Lee and Mike Mignola in their early careers, and those guys have done well beyond “okay.”

The sample art that accompanies the text is extremely effective in illustrating the points Potts is trying to get across, and seeing practical examples of his concepts only enhances the learning objectives the book is trying to get across. Folks, if you’re looking for the perfect holiday gift for that young artist in your life, this is the one.

If you have someone who prefers manga instead, Camilla D’Errico and Stephen W. Martin’s POP MANGA: HOW TO DRAW THE COOLEST, CUTEST CHARACTERS, ANIMALS, MASCOTS, AND MORE would fit that bill nicely. Unlike a lot of how-to manga books, this one is actively produced by a working manga artist in D’Errico, and that makes a huge difference. Her approach has some slight differences to it, and the book also steers away from some of the sexism and fan service nonsense you’ll come across in those other books.

The text here is simple and direct, and it has a way of making the concepts seem simple enough that anyone can do what is being talked about. You want practicality in a how-to book, and this one delivers; the basics must be mastered before moving forward, and you definitely get a sense of just how important that is as you read. Terrific stuff.

If all how-to books were as good as these, my job would be much, much easier.


Illustrated by Joe Sacco
Published by W.W. Norton

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Along with Paul Pope’s new effort, there is likely no more anticipated book to hit shelves this year than Joe Sacco’s THE GREAT WAR. Sacco, who has made his reputation as one of the true giants in the comics field with works like PALESTINE and SAFE AREA GORAZDE, is one of the most fearless and inventive people working today. He has never backed down from spending time in war zones, expressing unpopular opinions… his work is always a learning experience, as well as a visceral one.

Yet he has managed to top himself with THE GREAT WAR.

It isn’t that he’s made an all-time great graphic novel. Indeed, this isn’t a graphic novel. The cover describes it as “an illustrated panorama,” and that says it about as well as it can be said. This hardcover work opens up… and opens out… and out… and out. 24 feet out. THE GREAT WAR is one massive diorama depicting a singular day in World War I, July 1st 1916, which was the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Wordlessly, Sacco takes you from the day’s beginnings to the initiation of the conflict, through nighttime, to troop actions, to burying the first round of the dead.

This all occurs in astonishing, almost excruciating, detail.

Accompanying the diorama piece is a companion booklet that annotates moments seen in the art, adding facts and context to the piece that enhance understanding and deepen the work. The booklet also contains an essay from Sacco on the genesis of the project and an excerpted essay on July 1st, 1916 by writer Adan Hochschild. Both are informative pieces and enhance the reader’s understanding of the diorama itself.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at THE GREAT WAR, and each time I do, something new catches my eye. It’s a different animal from what comics fans are used to seeing, a brave, inspired work from a talent who has now shown that he is completely unpredictable. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Also from W.W. Norton:

I described David Shrigley’s previous work as aggressive and angry, and those qualities come through clearly in his new book, HOW ARE YOU FEELING? A satirical take on self-help books and those who buy and believe in them, Shrigley uses his rough artistic style to create something that I would personally describe as an epic poem about mental illness and the inability to cope with modern living. Some of the material is inspired and enjoyable, but a lot of it is uncomfortable and you’d want to be selective about who you bought the book for. This is definitely a “your mileage may vary” kind of work; I get what he’s aiming for, but it isn’t for me.


CHEW #37
Written by John Layman and Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

Ah, Antonelle, us CHEW readers just cannot get enough of you! Thankfully we are treated to a whole toe’s worth of the prettier Chu in this issue as Tony begins nibbling on his sister’s last remains.

There is a sort of time delay narration that accompanies Tony’s consumption of his twin’s digit, which comes in handy as yet another Chu sibling makes a guest appearance. This time the world renown chef Chow Chu, quite possibly Tony’s most antagonistic sibling, is in need of assistance from the sibling Chu…only he doesn’t know that Toni’s spectral self is tagging along for the ride. Chow is in some potentially steamy water as an eroscibopictaros (a photographer of food whose photos inspire tingly feelings in one’s nether regions) snagged some pictures of his culinary creations and is about to publish them in Food Luv magazine. Scandalous. With Chow’s reputation at stake the Chus team up and take down the food pornographer, scoring a win for the Chu clan.

Though there is a minutely tender moment between the estranged brothers, Tony is left more lost than ever after Toni the toe-ghost runs her course. Between yet another goodbye to the bubbliest person in CHEW and the opening sequence where we get a glimpse of the early stages of Tony and Min’s relationship (he accidentally took a bite out of his late wife’s toe before passing it along to his daughter Olive), CHEW yet again carved a chunk out of the bleeding hearts of its readers. Guillory absolutely nailed Tony’s mournful yet concentrated expression as he first tasted his sister’s flesh, trying to reach out and find her one more time. Only this creative team could make something so tender and tearful out of something so macabre and disturbing. Well played, gentlemen. Top it off with a trip behind bars to show not everything is as it seems with prisoner Savoy, and a background nugget in the form of a Happy Bunny sticker, CHEW’s ‘Family Recipes’ story arc is shaping up to be quite the epic reunion.


Written by Matt Fraction and Drawn by Chip Zdarsky
Written by Jeff Parker and Drawn by Marc Laming
Published by Image Comics
Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Looking at a couple of new books that have caught my eye recently…

Image has been on fire with releasing terrific creator-owned books over the past year or so. I’m loving books like LAZARUS, FATALE, and SAGA, but SEX CRIMINALS #1 might be the best debut issue of them all. The concept is right out of a Nicholson Baker novel: a young woman named Suzanne discovers that when she has an orgasm, time literally stops around her. She can move around during these “breaks” but the rest of the world is frozen in place and does not perceive her. However, a chance encounter at a party sees her meet up with a guy who has the same power… a power that they decide to use for extra-legal purposes. But for all that, what makes this book stand out is the journey Fraction takes us on through Suzanne’s life. From the death of her father, to a rough adolescence marked by an emotionally absent mother, to her exploration of her sexuality, she is an absolutely fascinating, absorbing character. You get sucked in to her story and develop an immediate rooting interest in her, and the way the script is structured, it feels like her mostly quiet life is a massive epic. Zdarksy’s art tells the story perfectly, and Suzanne never feels less than believable as a child or as an adult. The solicits sort of made the book sound like a lark, but that’s far from accurate. There’s character depth here that’s unusual for modern comics. Excellent stuff.

Dynamite is doing a number of crossovers right now, some good, some… not so much. KINGS WATCH #1-2 represent the absolute best of the bunch, and likely against the longest odds that would actually be the case. Why? It’s easily the least “natural” of the crossovers. Bringing together The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, and Flash Gordon all in modern day, not the 30s, isn’t necessarily as obvious as mixing The Shadow and The Green Hornet… in the 30s. Here, writer Jeff Parker weaves an extremely smart story that finds a way to make it all make sense. The story starts with strange sightings in the sky; the sightings are accompanied by an epidemic of nightmares that plague the majority of the human race. At the center of the mystery is something called the Kings Watch, pieces of which are locatable near our heroes (Africa, Connecticut), the implication that the Watch can bring about the arrival of demons from a place called “Mongo.” That’s part of the fun, really, seeing Parker play with the mythology of each of the characters – the main villain on the ground is one of Mandrake’s foes. But he saves his best stuff for his updated Dale Arden, a hard-nosed, inquisitive, brave reporter who works the science desk for the New York Times. I’d read a book about her and her alone. Aided by the excellent, dynamic artwork from Laming, KINGS WATCH is a giddy, pulpy thrill, a book that has no reason to work, yet completely does.