AISLE SEAT 2.0.83

AISLE SEAT 2.0.83: SDCC 2014 PART 2

By Marc Mason

I woke up Thursday feeling great.

A few years ago, I let my con partying (not just at San Diego) get a little bit out of hand, and I have been much more cogniscent of that ever since. Throw in the fact that I have mostly given up booze anyway, and that meant the only thing I was going to be hitting hard at night was the ice water. Doing so meant waking up without a hangover. Damn, what a difference that makes.

Breakfast was a pastry from the deli next to my hotel, and then I engaged in mapping out a strategy to best make use of my time that day. Once, I did, it was off to lunch with friend and colorist extraordinaire David Baron, then I hit the convention floor.

Pro tip: not showing up right when the con opens is always the way to go. No lines. Security is less stressed out. There is movement between people. These factors make the day loads easier.

I wrote a screed last year about how comics are still a huge factor for the show, and it remained true this year. I roved the comics end of the show for quite some time, visiting retailers, looking for books that my shelves need, all that fun stuff. The aisles were full, attendees were not just walking through – they were stopping – it was what you want to see. After that I moved over the publishers area and began making the rounds. So much of running a website like CWR is in networking and maintaining relationships with the folks making the product – you can never take that for granted. That’s why CWR is in its eighth year, still around. We need news and we need books to review in order to survive. I took a great deal of time to work on that and keep this place going.

Of course, the networking was way, way different this year, because I wasn’t just there to promote the site. No, I was also there to promote me.

My name now adorns the credits list of a couple of mainstream comics (and more are on the way). I’m a multi-published novelist. Bluntly: that stuff is my top priority now, which is why CWR has slowed down a bit. Being on the other side of the table (metaphorically and occasionally literally) changes one’s point of view a bit. It also requires a lot more hustle when you aren’t exactly a household name.

Thursday I also did something I haven’t done for a couple of years: I hit a couple of panels. Seriously, I have somehow missed hitting panels at the last two SDCCs! So I headed upstairs and walked into “The Sergio & Mark Show,” which is one of the con’s perennials. Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier have been working on comics together for decades, and their charming and hilarious rapport makes for a fantastic panel. They tell funny stories, take questions and give funny answers… and this year they had the great Stan Sakai on stage with them, giving the whole thing an extra layer of cool. It was a breezy affair, passing by quickly, and well worth the time.

Next up in the same room was a panel on THUNDERBIRDS, the old Gerry Anderson show, which is now being revived by the special effects gang at Weta. Some of the look of the old “super-marionation” will be there, but this will obviously look far more modern. I was impressed by the gents on the panel, and the test models they showed looked great – but I was even more impressed with the crowd. Young and old, male and female, the fandom for this show covered all bases. That surprised me a bit, but as I thought about it, I realized just how strong a family show the old one was (and the folks behind the update are dedicated to keeping it that way) and the whole thing just clicked for me. Looking forward to seeing the update when it finally hits screens.

At that point, I took the long walk back to the hotel to take a break and pull myself together for the evening. After resting, I headed out to dinner, then made my way to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund party. The CBLDF is one of the most vitally important organizations we have, dedicating themselves to protecting creators, publishers, retailers… whomever censorship or misuse of prosecutorial power strikes. It is always a pleasure to make a donation to their coffers.

The party, at The Westgate, was excellent as usual. The best part was my friend and editor Joe Rybandt arriving, as it had been three years since we had last seen each other. Along with Joe, I got to chat with local AZ pals John Layman and Henry Barajas, as well as cool comics folks like Allison Baker, Chris Roberson, Tony Fleecs, and Joshua Dysart. I had never met Dysart before, but I was grateful for the opportunity. His UNKNOWN SOLDIER series from Vertigo a few years back remains one of the finest things that imprint has released in the past decade. Set amongst the unrest in Africa and dealing with subjects like child soldiers, it was meticulously researched, “ripped from the headlines” stuff, and it remains as incredibly relevant right now as it was when it first hit shelves. In fact, you could move the book to a setting like Gaza and it would still play. Powerful stuff, some of the best that comics has to offer.

But as the night began to truly sink in, I set aside my empty glass of ice water and decided to pack it in. Saying goodnight to my friends, I cabbed back to my hotel, wrapped up my day, then turned out the light around midnight. There’s no substitute for a great night of sleep, and my pillow was giving me a come-hither look.

AISLE SEAT 2.0.82

AISLE SEAT 2.0.82: SDCC 2014 PART ONE

By Marc Mason

I saw a comics journalist write that arriving Tuesday is the new arriving Wednesday. All I can tell you is that I have been arriving on Tuesday for about a decade now, and it does make life at the show more pleasant.

My traditional Southwest flight arriving around 4pm Tuesday was on-time, and nicely, it didn’t take long for my luggage to come down the chute or my Supershuttle to dart out into traffic and head downtown. I had left ridiculous Arizona heat – it was around 111 when I departed, so I quickly felt my body relaxing in the local San Diego 77 degree temps. Good start all the way around.

Traditionally, I get settled into my hotel room, then take a nice Tuesday evening walk. No need to alter that ritual this year, so off I went into the city, my sinuses clearing in the ocean air and my skin gaining a bit of a glow. After a while, I stopped into a local pizza place that my friend – and amazing food writer – Darlene Horn had recommended before the show. After a very satisfying dinner, I headed back to the hotel to relax and enjoy the rest of the evening. It’s always wise to gather yourself before the madness of the show begins.

Wednesday night is Preview Night. For those who have never been there: this is an insane start to an insane event. The closest thing I can equate it to is that it’s sorta like 40K nerds all in the starting blocks bent over and waiting for the starter gun. So before that happens, I do something completely sane: I buy a ticket for the ferry to Coronado Island.

The ferry drops you in the midst of some lovely restaurants and shops, and right next to a beach. So, as I have done previously, I grabbed a tasty lunch, then went to the water. While I didn’t go in, I did enjoy the view very much, as well as simply enjoying the weather and non-lethal sunshine. Once I reached the point of having had enough, I took the boat back and returned to my room for a bit to prepare for that night.

New strategy: the show opens at 6pm. For years, I have shown up between 4-4.30pm to get my badge, then waited around for the stampede.

Why it took me so long to figure out how dumb that is, I have no idea.

Instead, at 6pm, I went to dinner. A nice, leisurely dinner at that. When I tabbed out around 7pm, then I headed for the show. Brilliant. Perfect. The line for my badge was almost non-existent.

Hitting the floor, some of the lines for exclusives had thinned out and abated. Huge sections of the comics publishers area were totally navigable. There was no palpable air of stress in the aether. It was what you wish SDCC could be all the bloody time. I walked around, saw some stuff, said hello to some people… and bumped into my friend and publisher Shannon Denton, who introduced me to colorist extraordinaire Wes Hartman. Again, it was a totally pleasurable evening. Can’t say a single bad thing about it.

Except that I was tired from having walked around all day and having spent a lot of time in the sun. I headed to a nearby watering hole to grab a glass of ice water and take some ibuprofen. No booze?

No booze. For more on that, keep reading these recaps.

Anyway, I called it an early evening, got back to the hotel, called #futurewife, and nodded off to get nine hours of sleep. After all, tomorrow was to be Thursday… and that’s when shit gets real at SDCC.

NEW NBM

NEW NBM

Written and Drawn by Various

Published by NBM

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Three fine new efforts from the NBM gang…

dogbuttscov

Cartoonist Jim Benton sees his Reddit work collected together for the first time in DOG BUTTS AND LOVE. AND STUFF LIKE THAT. AND CATS. The pieces in question range from single-panel gags to short sequential pieces, but the thing they share in common is the level of intelligence and cleverness on display. He is consistently darkly funny, often touching a chord with a tough truth at the heart of the cartoon, such as one amazing effort that finds a man who has been a total moron his entire life celebrating the fact that people believe he is wise just because he’s old now. My personal favorite involves a child whose mother guilts him into eating his food because there are starving children elsewhere actually writing one of those hungry kids to tell him what a jerk he is because of how his mother made him suffer. It’s a damn-near perfect encapsulation of the entitlement generation. The whole book is worth your time.

magentacov

Nik Guerra’s MAGENTA: NOIR FATALE actually comes out of the Eurotica imprint, but there is no explicit sex involved. Instead, the story revolves around Magenta and her friend Lucretia, two burlesque-style models who also work as investigators. Their exploits take them into a case involving a number of missing models and the sicko who is using them for sport at his estate. The story isn’t anything you haven’t seen before – pretty standard stuff. But the art? Whoa. Guerra’s work is absolutely stunning. His evocative black& white figures absolutely jump off of the page. Also, the level of detail extends far beyond what you would expect from material of this nature – his backgrounds are textured nicely, giving an almost 3D quality to the book. The dialogue has some zip to it, and he takes care to make sure that Magenta and Lucretia are never victims. They are strong, controlled women. A notch above the usual, for sure.

bilia-LOUVRE

Last but not least is the latest entry in the Louvre Collection: PHANTOMS OF THE LOUVRE by legendary writer/artist Enki Bilal. The old master took photographs at the Louvre, printed them on canvas, then added his phantoms. With that, he wrote their stories – 22 of them. Look, I could spend a lot of breath telling you how amazing this stuff is, but honestly: why? It’s Enki-friggin’-Bilal drawing and writing about the greatest museum on Earth! What the hell else do you want from comics? Unless your taste resides solely in your mouth, you need this like you need oxygen.



HACK AND SPREAD

HACK & SPREAD

Written by Michael Moreci & Steve Seeley and Drawn by Emilio Laiso

Written by Justin Jordan and Drawn by Kyle Strahm

Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Two newbies in the horror genre…

hackslashsos1

I’ve been a fan of HACK/SLASH since its early days at Devil’s Due, and I was quite satisfied with the ending we got when the book came to a completion a while back. It felt resolute, and there was a note of hope in the air for Cassie. So I had some trepidation about HACK/SLASH: SON OF SAMHAIN #1, wondering if sleeping dogs should be left to lie. But my concerns were quickly alleviated as the writers (Moreci and Seeley) did a solid job of giving the book – and Cassie – a purpose. She’s on the road, playing bounty hunter, the family she started at the end of the prior series in ruins. Evil – and not the slasher kind – is rising. And supernatural evil is best met with a baseball bat full of nails.

Cassie feels a little older and wiser, showing she has grown a bit, and she even dresses a little smarter for the job. Laiso’s art is solid telling the story, and he doesn’t go for cheap easy exploitive panels., so the book looks just fine. Putting Cassie hack back in the shit and letting her do what she has done so well since her introduction? Done just right by the entire team. Overall, I’m happy to have her back.

SPREAD1

Justin Jordan has been on fire lately, turning in terrific stuff like DEAD BODY ROAD, so I was anticipating that SPREAD #1 would be worth a strong look, and indeed it is. Set in a post-apocalyptic future (where the apocalypse involves “The Spread”, a wave of Lovecraftian creatures), we are introduced by the narrator to a lone warrior named “No” who travels around trying to keep himself alive. During one random run, he winds up saving the life of a kidnapped baby who, as it turns out can… well, that would be telling. Suffice it to say, he takes the kid upon himself, making this a cross between LONE WOLF & CUB and CALL OF CTHULHU.

The art by Strahm has some terrific horror touches to it, and Jordan is smart enough not to overwrite the narration, mimicking his very quiet protagonist. Reading this, you can see why Jordan has such buzz behind him right now – he isn’t repeating himself, and he’s showing he’s capable of delivering the goods in multiples genres. Keep your eyes on him.


ALA, COMICS SQUAD, AND SECONDS

ALA, COMICS SQUAD, & SECONDS

Written and Drawn by Various

Published by Random House & Ballantine

Reviewed by Marc Mason

In my day job, I’m a professional library dork. There, I said it. Now you know.

Thus, when the American Library Association held its annual conference in Las Vegas at the end of June, I was on hand to see the true future of the comics medium. Spoiler alert: it isn’t Marvel and it isn’t DC. More and more, I am convinced that they are never be able to truly crack the book market in any meaningful way beyond their evergreen books (WATCHMEN, for instance). But the traditional book publishers are getting the job done, and getting it done right multiple times a year. ALA was all the proof you need.

For instance, ALA has its own Artist Alley, and it is as good as you would find at any comic-con, if not better. Gene Luen Yang. Janet Lee. Raina Telgemeier. Dave Roman. Jimmy Gownley. Kean Soo. The list goes on. And if you think that librarians didn’t recognize the amazing resource they had in front of them, think again. One of the best things I saw at the entire conference was a little girl dressed in an astronaut costume, accompanied by her librarian father, so completely thrilled to be getting her picture taken with ASTRONAUT ACADEMY author Dave Roman. Friends, it was adorable.

Or you could have seen the extraordinary line stretching across five aisles for Raina Telgemeier as she was preparing to sign advance reader copies of her new graphic novel, SISTERS. That would be the same graphic novel that is getting a 200,000 copy first print run. Her previous book, SMILE, has a million copies in print.

How many Marvel or DC trades will do that this year? None. Think about that.

If you want to ignore young women readers – the ones who devour Telgemeier’s work – you do so at your peril. And you are wasting an extraordinary opportunity.

ALA was a stark reminder that there is a bigger world out there as pertains to comics, and it is the true mainstream.

comics squad recess

Two new book releases also get to the heart of that mainstream, starting with COMICS SQUAD: RECESS!, which features not only Telgemeier and Roman, but also Gene Luen Yang and Jennifer & Matthew Holm amongst others. Don’t recognize those last two names? Welcome to the true mainstream. Their BABYMOUSE series of graphic novels have dominated sales charts for years, and they’re up to 18 volumes in print. Young kids know these books, and they know them far better than they know what is currently considered mainstream comics.

The material in this book is incredible. Every talent involved is either an award-winner of some kind, a NY Times best seller, or both. And unlike most anthologies, there is no weak link here; every single person brings their A-game, delivering perfectly entertaining material for readers young and old. I was in love with this book from page one, and smiled al the way through to the end. This serves as a great book on its own, and it serves as a fantastic guide to the creators’ other works. Buy it. Immediately.

seconds

Also in my hands is SECONDS, the new graphic novel from writer/artist Bryan Lee O’Malley. This is his first major project since the completion of the SCOTT PILGRIM series, and he delivers on a massive scale. SECONDS is a 300-page hardcover in full color, and in both story and art, he has continued to grow and produce amazing material. The story introduces us to Katie, a chef who is struggling with her life and her decision to open a second restaurant. After an accident hurts one of her waitresses on the job, Katie is given an opportunity by a spirit who lives in the restaurant to alter reality and prevent it from happening. When it does, Katie seizes an opportunity to use the spirit’s gifts (against the spirit’s will) to begin changing her life at every turn, causing reality itself to begin to unravel.

To tell you more about the story would be to spoil some great surprises, so I’ll just say this: O’Malley amazes in the execution. Katie is kind of insufferable, yet he manages to keep her likeable enough that we root for her. The other characters are fleshed out nicely as well. The art? Gorgeous. The layouts and storytelling are even more innovative than some of the stuff in the SCOTT PILGRIM books, and the color work (by Nathan Fairbairn) gives the pages depth and added emotional engagement. In every way, this book is a huge winner.

And it will sell massive numbers, far beyond anything from the Big Two. Welcome, again, to the true mainstream. You’re seeing at it right here. Don’t get caught looking back. Don’t get left behind, standing and staring, waiting to see who Batman is punching this month. There are legions of kids and libraries redefining the comics market every day. It’s time we listened harder to what they – and their money – have to say.


NEW CHEW

NEW CHEW

Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

CHEW #42

Written by John Layman and Illustrated by Rob Guillory

After two weddings in the previous issue, the latest issue of CHEW opens up with a funeral. One of the beloved and dedicated members of the USDA’s special ops team has been murdered, and the rest of the team wants justice for Special Agent Sammich J. Harper, Security Specialist and fish lover, who also happens to be a seal. Tony Chu is flying solo on this one, as John Colby has been mysteriously (at least to Tony) detained at his wedding reception.

CHEW-42

While Colby is welcomed to the Applebee family with great spirits and a lot of champagne, Chu sets about learning the particulars of his case. Sammi the seal was working undercover at an underwater station in Yamapalu where it was believed he discovered an E.G.G. terrorist spy. Unfortunately Sammi was eliminated before he could fully report his findings, so now Chu must tread delicately in order to root out the killer. Like three full weeks of delicacy. Needless to say, Chu the newlywed doesn’t care for this particular plan of action, so he handles things his way: direct, with perfect aim and a helluva lot of heat.

Speaking of newlyweds, Colby makes the bold decision of inviting Savoy to his reception and finally airing (almost) everything out in the open. Savoy makes the same decision by inviting a guest of his own. What Chu is going to do when he finally finds out what his partner, and his daughter, have been up to behind his back, is anyone’s guess, and undoubtedly a treat for faithful CHEW readers.

Another two page Poyo spread graces this issue, as does Guillory’s glorious renditions of the Applebee clan. A lovely nod to one of my favorite rom-com’s, ‘The Wedding Singer,’ also makes an appearance. The ‘Chicken Tenders’ story arc is in full swing with the momentum of something building to an explosive conclusion.

CHEW/REVIVAL; REVIVAL/CHEW

Written by John Layman and Tim Seeley, Illustrated by Rob Guillory and Mike Norton

Truly an idea born of inspirational genius, the worlds of CHEW and REVIVAL collide in this very unique two-issue one shot. For those who read one but not the other fear not, for all will be clearly explained.

CHEW-Revival

Special Agents Tony Chu and John Colby have been called to rural Wisconsin where the dead have been getting, well, feisty. The local law enforcement does what they can to contain the situation within their town and keep both the living and sort-of living functioning as peacefully as possible. Naturally, not everyone wants to play by the rules.

One of the most excellent parts about this crossover is the distinct story and flavor each team brings to the table. The CHEW/REVIVAL half reads like a CHEW comic complete with silly humor, entertaining background nuggets and random sexual encounters. There’s even a nod to the very first issue of CHEW when a member of the investigative team in Wausau ends up with a butcher knife in the face. The REVIVAL/CHEW half, however, has a more somber tone (with some great Mosinee-type humor) which encompasses a stalker-soul and waltzing zombies. There was also an adorable shout out to not only CHEW but SAGA fans as well. Lying Cat vs. Poyo, who would win and why? The kid drawing this showdown also has one of the best quotes about comics I have ever read: “It’s fun and it’s cool, so that’s all that matters. It’s what comics are for. Duh.” Well said, Mr. Seeley.

The CHEW/REVIVAL crossover has the feel of two amazingly talented creative teams joining their powers for the sake of a good, brief fling. Would the federal agent cibopath and small town officer teaming up work on a more permanent basis? Likely not given how Chu’s cases are more of a jet-setting nature while Officer Cypress’s responsibilities lie at home, but we’ll never know until Layman and Seeley decide they want to give it a go. Regardless, this two-tale issue definitely works by delivering great stories without leaving any reader out in the confused cold. Crossovers are also an excellent way of introducing readers to new experiences. For CHEW readers who do not gravitate towards zombie comics, they are exposed to not only a unique take on the undead, but one with great writing, great art and a whole lot of heart; a combination readers of all sorts can get behind.