AISLE SEAT 2.0.87

Aisle Seat 2.0.87: Sharing is Caring

By Marc Mason

If you are lucky enough to find someone to spend your life with, life is pretty good.

If you are lucky enough to find that person and they share your prime interests?

Buy a lottery ticket. You are one lucky person.

For me, it’s my fiancée Sophie, and not only does Soph like comics, she loves them. I’ve shared comics with others, but it has never been quite like this. A while back, Soph looked at a stack of books and said “Where are the girl comics?” She was looking for even more to read, and she was looking for female leads.

I have been happy to comply.

Look, there is a lot of talk about diversity in comics right now, and that is good talk. Representation is monstrously important. As an art form, comics needs every pair of eyes it can get looking its way. The marketplace has plenty of room for everyone and for every type of story, and it is that very trait that will help comics survive and thrive.

As of late, no one has been doing this better than Image. The broad spectrum of product coming out of the new House Of Ideas has been extraordinary. Let’s talk about a few.

PAPER GIRLS by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang is a blast of sisterhood, science fiction, and mystery. Set in 1988, a group of young women find their morning delivering the newspaper disrupted in mind-boggling ways. Ninja cyborgs(?), crazy skies, insane machinery, bully boys… the foursome at the center of the story are in the position to report the news for the first time, not just toss it on porches. And good grief is this good. Wittily scripted, wildly plotted, and beautifully drawn, every aspect of this comic is a winner. Plus, it is the kind of fiction that seriously captures the imagination of young people. Why? The best sci-fi allows the reader to live vicariously through a character and imagine the experience – this book gives you multiple options to do so.

If sci-fi isn’t your thing, maybe magic is. If so, I’d highly recommend BLACK MAGICK from writer Greg Rucka and artist Nicola Scott. Opening up on a ritual in the woods, we quickly learn that one of the members of the coven is a cop named Rowan Black. We learn this because there’s a hostage situation going down, and the perp is asking specifically for her on the scene. Smart, gritty, and an absolute visual treat, this one impressed me with how skillfully it blends the cop and magic genres. Every ounce of it feels authentic and well-researched, as Rucka’s work usually does. Between Tara Chace, Carrie Stetko, Forever Carlyle, and now Rowan Black, no one does better women lead characters than Rucka. No one.

Finally, if you just enjoy a good lark every once in a while, I’d tell you to take a look at Antony Johnston and Shari Chankhamma’s CODENAME: BABOUSHKA which takes a nifty look at the flip side of a classic James Bond trope: the sexy Russian spygirl. Paced like a modern action flick, smartly scripted, lovingly drawn, and really just pure fun, I dug the first issue from start-to-finish. Baboushka is clever, resourceful, and efficient, getting the job done as well as (or better) than your traditional male spy. Johnston has been on fire lately, with THE FUSE consistently at the top of my reading stack every month, and this just solidifies how talented the man truly is. And his co-creators ain’t too shabby either.

Will I give these books to Soph? Damn skippy I will. And when she’s done, we’ll talk about them and geek out about how cool they are. What could be better than that?

Ain’t love grand?

AISLE SEAT 2.0.86

AISLE SEAT 2.0.86: SDCC 2014 FINAL THOUGHTS

By Marc Mason

Some final notes on this year’s show and the future of the con:

– Kudos to my friends Paul and Darlene Horn for their genius engagement with the local community. San Diego’s THE DONUT BAR asked them about creating a SDCC themed donut, and the result – The Infinity Bearclaw – quickly went viral on social media. See for yourself:

DonutBar_InfinityBearClaw

– I started seeing more articles this year agreeing with what I wrote after the show last year: this is still a great show for comic books. The sheer amount of square footage dedicated to comics is staggering. And despite what you hear, not always easy to navigate. There were always plenty of people blocking the way down on that end.

– On the other hand, the media end of things continues to be an utter nightmare to navigate through. Fellas, please move Artists’ Alley to the center of the floor. Use it as a divider. Don’t stick it on the far end where it’s almost impossible to get through during the middle of the day.

– I thought the folks running the show did an outstanding job this year. Everything seemed to run quite smoothly, and I saw fewer instances of the security team being unpleasant than I ever have before. The environment surrounding the show was outstanding, and all involved should be incredibly proud.

– Okay, now I’m about to court controversy.

I love the city of San Diego. I love going there even when it isn’t Comic-Con. I love the weather. I love the sights. I love sitting at Petco Park for a ballgame. If I could, I would move to San Diego tomorrow and gladly spend the rest of my life there, and I’d be happy every single damn day of it. So would Soph, for that matter.

But as much as I got back to having a great time at the show this year, this was the first time that I honestly felt like the city was trying to break me, and I can’t be the only one.

There have been some interesting articles appearing lately about the economic impact that the show has on the city and what might be considered a paucity of spending by con-goers compared to their massive numbers. And you know what? I understand completely, because the rest of the city is draining the attendees before they ever hit the floor.

To be blunt: I stay at a Motel 6. Not a fancy downtown hotel, far from it. Yet my bill inched ever closer to a grand this year. Seriously close. Too close. But with the demand created by the show, they go into gouge mode, just like every other hotel in the area. And some restaurants. And so on and so on…

For comparison’s sake, let me tell you about ALA 2014, the American Library Association’s annual conference, an absolutely massive show. It was in Las Vegas at the end of June, and I stayed the exact same number of nights that I did in San Diego. I stayed in the Riviera, one of the classic hotels on the North strip, which is only a half-mile from the Las Vegas Convention Center. Like the Hyatt to the San Diego Convention Center, okay?

My hotel bill in Vegas was 40% of my San Diego hotel bill. Vegas, you see, doesn’t go into gouge mode because a big show is in town. For Vegas, that’s just business as usual.

Yes, it’s hot in Vegas in July. But they have the space, and they have fantastic air conditioning. It pains me to say it, but there used to be a feeling in my gut that I would feel a huge sense of loss if the show ever exited San Diego, and that feeling is gone. I would be perfectly fine if the show moved to Vegas. Better than fine, really. I’d certainly have more money to spend on the convention floor.

The planned expansion of the convention center in San Diego is once again in doubt, and talk about moving the show is going to become prevalent quickly. Whatever happens, I’ll still spend time in San Diego, a city I love very much. I just may do so at a time when the city loves me – and my wallet – back.

Right now, SDCC is not that time.

AISLE SEAT 2.0.85

AISLE SEAT 2.0.85: SDCC 2014 PART 4

By Marc Mason

Saturday was pretty uneventful for me.

After breakfast, I made my way to the convention center and there was a palpable difference in everything that day. The crowds felt bigger. The security personnel looked far more stressed. Every line I saw for every single thing in the building looked longer. Even the streets I walked as I headed to the show felt more packed with bodies.

That’s just Saturday for you in a nutshell.

For me, I got started back on the comics retailer end. To that point, I had yet to actauuly buy myself anything at the show. Now part of that comes from the fact that I own plenty of comics and around 2000 graphic novels. If I buy something these days, there has to be a pretty compelling reason to add to my bookshelves, you know?

I spent a lot of time at the half-price trade paperback dealers again, and this time, I found something I wanted very much: an omnibus collection of remastered SPACE: 1999 comics that were originally published in the 70s by Charlton. This collection came out of Archaia, and those folks do fantastic work. There was no hesitation on my part: that bad boy came home with me.

After that, I made final rounds, talking to folks about the site, and talking to folks about myself. By 5pm, I felt as though my con was complete, so I went back to the hotel to grab some rest.

It wasn’t until much later that I wound up giving some interesting thought to what I did for dinner. Not so much the food itself, but the experience of getting there. You see, I walked two miles to dinner. What’s funny about that is that for SDCC, that seems perfectly normal. Yet in my daily life here in Tempe, no way in hell would that happen. Not even in winter when it isn’t hot. You just don’t do it.

But at SDCC, you readjust what normal is. That’s the nature of the show.

After dinner, I hit the Hyatt bar, and I randomly ran into friend & editor Joe Rybandt there. It was a great learning opportunity, as usual. Joe’s one of the smartest guys in comics, and when he talks, I do my best to absorb what he’s saying. Whether he is discussing storytelling, professionalism, or how to properly conduct business, it doesn’t matter. The things he is saying are things you should know. If you want to be in the comics business, that is.

Dynamite head honcho Nick Barrucci dropped in as well, and after a nice chat, I decided to call it a show. I had a 7am wake-up call coming the next morning, and I wanted to feel halfway decent heading home to Sophie.

AISLE SEAT 2.0.84

AISLE SEAT 2.0.84: SDCC 2014 PART 3

By Marc Mason

Friday, I had a different mission.

Over the last few years, more and more events and setups have been springing up in the areas surrounding the convention center. I have, to say the least, not been effective in getting out and seeing what they have to offer, with the exception of last year’s Godzilla Experience. Thus, I decided well in advance to take a chunk of Friday to explore what was going on outside… and to maybe try and just have a bit of fun for myself.

Look, it isn’t that the show isn’t fun. It can be a hoot. But allowing myself to have fun? I kinda suck at that sometimes. I need a reminder now and then to remove the stick from my ass and relax and find a reason to smile.

I took the trolley from the Civic Center to 12th and Imperial, which is just off of the Petco Park parking lot. I had received a metric ton of PR material about what was going on there, and even then, I have to admit that it was all fairly impressive. ADULT SWIM had a giant Meatwad with stuff inside. The TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES had an area promoting the movie and giving away pizza slices. SIN CITY had a huge setup that included a lineup of classic muscle cars (my better half, Sophie, loves that sort of thing, so I made sure to take plenty of pictures), there was a HELLO KITTY truck giving away promo materials, there were a bunch of foodtrucks where you could get lunch… and the crowds had found their way there. Even with some distance away from the con floor, attendees had flooded the area in a meaningful way. And why not? The stuff to do was pretty cool. The corporate backers had spared no expense in putting together something first class to bring eyes to what they wanted to promote.

Crossing the pedestrian bridge over Harbor Drive, I got a good look at all the stuff set up on the lawn between the Hilton Bayfront and the convention center, as well as a glimpse of what was going on behind the convention center. Most prominent, by far, was the SIMPSONS stuff.

The “Homerdome” – Homer Simpson’s head rising out of the ground – dominated the landscape between Hall H and the Hilton. You couldn’t miss it (and Fox didn’t want you to, as they prepare to make the entire series available in an app, as well as prepare a marathon of the whole show from start to now), yet that was not all. There were multiple Simpsons-themed booths, offering games and cotton candy to those willing to brave the lines. For visibility and drawing power, this was the show’s winner, hands down.

But for excitement, no one trumped the build for GOTHAM. A massive backdrop of the city skyline looked striking against the ocean behind it, but in front of it was a zipline tower and dual-line setup that allowed fans to do the zip and get a picture taken along the way that they could post to social media. The line was huge, the squeals of delight from the people going down the line were infectious. It was a brilliant bit of marketing, no question.

For me, though, the biggie was the GODZILLA exhibit. Legendary put together a two-pronged interactive booth. In one, you stood in front of a green screen and were then digitally added into the movie’s poster. This had the effect of making you look like you were in front of the Big Green, standing or running right in his path:

godzilla pic sdcc 2014

There was also an exhibit of different versions of the movie poster, a huge wall full of fan-art posters, a ginormous sculpture of Godzilla with a speaker in the bottom that let off his roar at random moments, a chalkboard where you could write messages about your fandom, and then a camera setup where you were placed into a poster as a .GIF file. I had mine sent to Sophie so she could see something important: I was having a good time.

Yes, I was smiling. I was having fun. Godzilla is my primary fandom as a geek, so doing those things gave me enormous pleasure. At that point, no matter what else happened, I knew that I was going to count this SDCC as a success.

Once I was done outside, I hit the floor for a while, talking to some publishers about stuff for the site and doing a little bit of window shopping. Indeed, that began to become a weird recurring theme: I love the cheap trades booths, but this year I was having a horrible time finding stuff I truly wanted to buy.

What about variants, you say? Why not buy from the publishers’ booths and get a variant or something? Well, for one, I could give less than a damn about variants. I don’t ever buy comics for collectability purposes. And given the choice between a $10 variant at a show or supporting a local retailer by purchasing the regular $4 version from one of them? I’m going to support my local retailers every time.

After finishing on the floor, I once again headed back to my hotel to take a break. From there, I headed back down toward the water, alighting in Seaport Village to grab dinner. Post-food, I texted a friend and made my way toward the far end, catching up with him and others at the Hilton Bayfront. It was a great night, a cool breeze wafting through the air, and I once again met some new folks and had fun chatting with old friends. I stuck to ice water, and rather quickly I began to grow tired. I had spent a lot of time in the sun, done plenty of walking… and now the cool breeze was making me start to yawn with alarming frequency. My mind began to wander, and I made the decision to head back to the hotel and call it a night.

A short call to Soph, a head on the pillow, and it was going to be another night where I got plenty of sleep.

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.

AISLE SEAT 2.0.81

AISLE SEAT 2.0.81: WRITING RED SONJA REDUX


By Marc Mason

A bit over two years ago, I wrote this, talking about the process of how my first comic book made it to shelves. It was an incredibly exciting moment for me, the fulfillment of a life-long dream. But in my head, the creepy little elves that like to take up residence did their best to eat away at my excitement, trying to convince me that it was a fluke, and unless I did it again, I had little to be happy about.

All that stuff you hear about writers being neurotic? Far too true.

But I am breathing a bit easier at the moment, because the sequel to RED SONJA: RAVEN is coming this June from the fine folks at Dynamite Entertainment.
RED SONJA: SANCTUARY takes place a couple of years after RAVEN. It brings back characters from that first one-shot, and it follows up on ideas from that book. That said, you do NOT have to have read RAVEN in order to understand what is going on in SANCTUARY. One of the great things about editor Joe Rybandt is that he wouldn’t let that happen. He makes sure books are accessible. And I’m with him on that – I grew up on Jim Shooter’s Marvel universe, where the philosophy was always that any comic could potentially be someone’s first comic, so it needed to be understandable. I have always taken that to heart, as a reader and as a writer, and I promise you that SANCTUARY gives you everything you need in order to have a robust reading experience.

In a broader sense, I’m excited beyond just having the book coming out. Sonja is a great character, one of the richest and most interesting that comics have to offer. Being able to add to her legend is a privilege, one I do not take lightly. And the talent I’m surrounded by is fantastic. The first time it was Lui Antonio, this time it’s Noah Salonga. These guys are veterans. It eases the mind to know the kind of work they can do.

RAVEN came out during Eric Trautmann’s record-setting run, which was certainly a little intimidating. No one has done a longer consecutive run than he has on the character. But I made deliberate choices as a writer to separate my story from what Eric was doing on the main book. I did not want to even remotely interfere with his incredible storyline. Of course, it doesn’t get any easier this time; we’re right in the middle of Gail Simone’s absolutely epic run on the book, probably the most buzz the character has received in her entire history. Again, my story has nothing to do with hers. But I’m hopeful that the old adage that a rising tide lifts all boats applies, and hopefully some of the readers who have found Sonja because of Gail will sample SANCTUARY. If they do, I think they’ll like it.

So what is SANCTUARY about?

The first time I wrote the character, my story was based out of two concepts: the idea of Sonja being replaced by a younger woman, and using that character to pay tribute to Chris Claremont’s Professor X/Magneto dynamic from the classic UNCANNY X-MEN era. This time around, I took a far different route. In conceptualizing what I thought a sequel to RAVEN should look like, I started by digging into my own past.

As an undergraduate in college, a bit over twenty years ago, I was a Justice major. During my degree path, I took a class in domestic violence issues, and that course required community service outside the classroom. I spent almost six months volunteering at a local domestic violence shelter, mostly working with the kids. It was an eye-opening, life-changing experience. I’ve never forgotten any of it, really. The pain, the anguish, the heartbreak of those I met… that sticks in your brain. But the good we were doing was also amazing. I was always aware that I was part of something that was making a difference.

The question popped into my head: what would such a shelter look like in Sonja’s time?

The second question: why would Sonja lay down her sword and begin working there?

Question two gave me my primary theme for the entire book, really: aging. How old is Sonja? How long can she keep doing what she is doing? Isn’t her life a tragedy of mammoth proportions if she has no chance to retire and live a little bit?

SANCTUARY is a book about these types of questions.

This does not mean that it is a talking heads book. Far from it. In Sonja’s world, violence is never far away. There is plenty of fighting and carnage in this story. Fans who want things bloody will be quite satisfied. But hopefully those readers will enjoy the layers the tale has to offer.

Since RAVEN came out, I’ve been nicely busy as a writer, and honestly, CWR has suffered for it. I’ve written for a video game, I’ve written a travelogue called A LATE START that will also be a one-man show, I finished serializing an 85K word science fiction novel, I had my first young adult novel, SCHISM, come out, I had a story printed in a literary journal (and a couple of others are still in play), I have written six issues of a creator-owned comic book that my friend Cruddie Torian and I created, and my second young adult novel, BATTERY, just came out last week.

I’m not saying that this is an excuse for allowing the site to suffer; it’s just how things have worked out. I’m trying my best to keep it up and going, and if you think you might want to write for it, drop me a line.

What I am saying is that I’ve gained a lot of experience as a writer in the past couple of years, and I’m better for it. I hope that comes through in SANCTUARY, too. So that’s my pitch. If you want to read the book, let your retailer know to order you a copy. One-shots like this one can easily get “lost in the crowd” in the process of filling out the final order form, so pre-ordering makes an enormous difference. And thanks for reading this far. If you buy the book, drop me a line and tell me what you thought about it. I’ll be right here. I’ll be listening.

AISLE SEAT 2.0.80

AISLE SEAT 2.0.80: FIVE FOR 2013


By Marc Mason

2013 is coming to a close. Let us pause and be grateful for that.

Good, now that that’s over… let’s talk the best of what happened in graphic novels this year, along with a couple of notes on comics.

As usual, I had the opportunity to read a staggering number of comics and graphic novels this year, yet for all that, I feel as though I barely scratch the surface of what actually hits the stands. Thus, I feel like I cannot truly offer up a “Best Of” list that would be comprehensive enough. I can, however, offer you a list of five absolutely great books that arrived on shelves this year. These are books that, even if I read another 200 books that came out this year, I feel strongly would still make a top-10 list if I made one.

MARCH vol. 1 (Top Shelf): Congressman John Lewis, a legendary figure in the civil rights movement, worked with writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell to deliver a powerhouse memoir of growing up in the turbulent mid-20th century and finding purpose in civil disobedience as the American South was dragged kicking and screaming towards acknowledging racial equality. Captivating, fascinating, and educational, MARCH illuminates one of the most important human stories of the past few generations, and does so in a manner that enthralls and educates the modern reader. A powerful work.

BOXERS & SAINTS (First Second): writer/artist Gene Yang spent seven years putting together this two-volume work focused on the Boxer Rebellion in China, and the astonishing level of detail demonstrates every bit of his effort. BOXERS focuses on a young Chinese man driven to defend his land from foreign interests, while SAINTS finds a nameless Chinese girl given a name and a purpose by missionaries. As their stories parallel, you can’t help but feel like tragedy lies ahead if they meet, and meet they do. Ambitious, stunningly drawn, and intelligent, this two-volume work astonishes.

THE GREAT WAR (W.W. Norton): There are few accolades left that writer/artist Joe Sacco has not earned, so it would be easy for him to rest on his laurels. Instead, he produced his most ambitious and unusual work yet, this massive battlefield scene demonstrating one of the pivotal days in World War I. Drawn in excruciating detail and annotated like the finest textbooks, THE GREAT WAR offers up a fascinating look at the sheer scale that war encompasses, in space used, in terms of human lives lost, and in emotional toll.

RED HANDED (First Second): writer/artist Matt Kindt has been turning out spectacular work almost non-stop for the past five years, but this wonderful graphic novel really stood out this year. Set up as an homage to classic Dick Tracy comics, Kindt could have rested easy and let the entire book play out on a surface level. Instead, he delivered a bravura performance wherein he mixed plotlines, time, artistic styles, and snappy dialogue together until he had created a work that rose above the rest. It’s magnificent.

THE INITIATES (NBM): A book that deserved a far louder response when it hit, THE INITIATES is the finest piece of immersion journalism to hit graphic novel shelves… well, ever. Writer/artist Etienne Davodeau’s decision to spend a year working at a friend’s vineyard, learning the process of making wine, turned out to be a richly fascinating one. At the same time, he begins teaching his wine-making friend about the business and greatness of graphic novels. Two worlds don’t so much collide here as much as they come together in beautiful friendship and understanding. An astonishing piece of work.

Of course, I don’t just spend my time reading graphic novels.

I read hundreds of traditional comics every year, and certainly some of those are worth one last look.

BEST SINGLE ISSUE OF 2013: SEX CRIMINALS #1 (Image Comics): “People with the power to stop time by having sex decide to rob banks.” When I saw this book described that way, I almost skipped right past it. Thankfully, that description barely has anything to do with this incredible first issue, which is really about a young woman trying to navigate and explore her sexuality as she grows up. Writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky delivered the best character piece of the year in issue one, no question; a few pages in and I forgot about the robbery stuff and was completely sucked into the lead character’s story of growing up confused. Filled with an unusual level of pathos, it was one of the few comics I read this year that I wanted to read more than once, and it rewarded me for reading it again. And again.

BEST BOOK THAT NEEDS A BIGGER AUDIENCE: THE SHADOW (Dynamite): I’ve never been a huge lover of pulp; it’s a very hit-or-miss genre for me. But THE SHADOW changed all that with issue #13 and the arrival of writer Chris Roberson. Instead of street thugs and mobsters, Roberson gave The Shadow the best villain the character has seen since the 80s in The Light. An Easterner raised and trained in the West, she arrived to dispense justice in harsher and crueler ways than even The Shadow could tolerate. The rare occasion where a character meets his true “opposite” or “mirror” and the results elevate above everything that has come before, the six-issue arc delivered some epic thrills and excitement, and it made me like the character in a way I never had before.

And… that feels like enough. I’ll be back next year to talk more comics and graphic novels with you all. Until then, have an excellent holiday season and a safe and sound turn of the new year.

AISLE SEAT 2.0.79

AISLE SEAT 2.0.79: BEST OF SDCC 2013 – THE GODZILLA ENCOUNTER


By Marc Mason

Flashback to 1998. My excitement was at an all-time high, because the guys behind INDEPENDENCE DAY had been granted the rights to make an American GODZILLA movie. I am close to being an obsessive when it comes to the subject of the big guy, so I was damn near hyperventilating by the time the film was to be released. I bought a ticket to midnight screening at a theatre a couple of miles from my house, and I had no transportation but my feet. That didn’t stop me; it was Godzilla, it would be worth it. The film was a long one, and I had to work in the morning. Didn’t matter; it was Godzilla, it would be worth it. I’d still get three or four hours of sleep before getting up for work, and I was 28. No big deal.

The lights went down. The screen lit up.

Two and a half hours later, if I’d had a flamethrower, I’d have burned the entire building to the ground.

After watching the adventures of GINO (Godzilla in Name Only), I was filled with nerdy despair. Thankfully, Toho went back to doing what they do so well and put out the Millennium series of the big G’s flicks, and they were amazingly fun. But I felt so burned by that midnight screening that I waited fourteen years to go to another one. I turned down multiple opportunities to go, but I remembered that sensation like it had just happened. It took my faith in Marvel and Joss Whedon to get me back to the midnight shows. Thankfully, THE AVENGERS paid off.

Flashforward to now. Another attempt at an American-made Godzilla film announced. Director Gareth Edwards, who made the excellent MONSTERS, announced as the man behind the camera. Dare I hope that this time they will do it right?

Legendary Pictures, the production company behind the film, rented a warehouse off-site at this year’s SDCC in order to give fans like myself a taste of what we would see when the flick hits next May. And the good news is, after spending time at what was called “The Godzilla Experience,” is that my faith feels like it has been restored. There was love in this place, and respect for the character and his history. There was also a glimpse of what he will look like in this new film, and this time, he looks like… well, like Godzilla.

That may be the most important part.

So next May, will I be at a midnight Thursday night screening when the new GODZILLA hits movie screens? Or will I demonstrate that I have learned my lesson?

What do you think?

AISLE SEAT 2.0.78

AISLE SEAT 2.0.78: SDCC 2013


By Marc Mason

Comicon has come and gone. Long live Comicon.

This was an unusual San Diego for me. Many of the people I hang out with at the show didn’t go this year. I wasn’t entirely on my own – I had plenty of friends to hang out with, and I did – but it had a different flavor to it. I wound up changing my approach to almost everything I did, right down to how I set my social schedule. Yet the end result was fairly common: I was insanely busy, I got a wealth of material for CWR, and by the time it was over, I didn’t have a major body part that didn’t hurt like a bastard.

My busiest day, I wound up walking over six miles. Not bad for an old man, but that sort of thing takes its toll, you know?

One thing I did this year that I was really happy about was devoting extra attention to the comicbook aspect of the show. I didn’t stop at any of the big media booths (and I’m not sure I could have gotten close enough to them anyway, thanks to lines) during my time on the floor. I focused on the “comic” in comicon, and here is what I will take away most from this year’s show:

It is time to stop the bitching about how comics are being pushed out of SDCC. That is nonsense.

I can hear some of you screaming bloody murder in response to that, but a look at pure numbers says otherwise. To wit:

Starting with aisle 400 and stretching to aisle 2800, it was a mass of comics retailers and publishers. That also includes the Small Press Pavilion. Friends, that is a LOT of comicbooks. 25 aisles worth of them!

Honestly, if Comicon organizers would move Artists Alley to aisles 100-300, it would be just about perfect.

The shopping with the retailers was plentiful. The publishers had amazing books to offer. Twenty-five aisles of comics. That’s incredible! Thousands of square feet filled with our floppy friends and their cousins in book form. I spent untold hours going through it, and still I barely scratched the surface.

Now if you want to complain about Hollywood news and panels drowning out comics, I’ll grant you that. A new Walt Simonson Artist Edition from IDW isn’t as sexy a newsbyte as Tom Hiddleston showing up as Loki and performing for the crowd. But does it need to be? In this information age, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to get any information you might have missed while walking the floor. The people who want to know? They’ll find out.

Instead, let’s think about what we really know: comics as an industry are as strong as they’ve ever been. Marvel and DC are doing their thing, as usual. But below them, everyone else is upping their game. Image is better now than it has ever been in its existence. Dark Horse is going strong. Boom’s merger with Archaia shores up its output. Dynamite’s addition of several A-list creators shows that it is right behind Image as the place to be right now with a creator-owned book. And Valiant appears to be quietly surging as well.

Comics are okay. Comics may be better than okay.

And that goes for their place at Comicon. More than ever, I was impressed with the variety of what was available and the quality involved. So when someone bitches about comics being pushed out of Comicon? It just rings hollow to me. Comics are there, and they are there in force. They’re even pretty easy to find.

So you won’t see any Hollywood interviews here at CWR over the next couple of weeks, but you will see interviews with some terrific folks who put their hearts and souls into making comics. And that is what Comicon is really all about.