Tag Archives: comics

Review: PRISON ISLAND by Colleen Frakes

Colleen Frakes Prison Island

“Prison Island: A Graphic Memoir” is quite a pleasant surprise coming from indie cartoonist Colleen Frakes. I have kept up with her work which gravitates towards ethereal terrain full of whimsical creatures and mythical themes. So, to have her share about her own childhood is a treat. Frakes is another cartoonist who I can say knows her stuff. Cartooning, I think I’ve said before in one form or another, is a harsh and fickle mistress. You cannot rush the process unless you want to end up aping the current trends; and you cannot sit on something for too long. I think Frakes has cultivated a distinctive style and knows when it’s time to push the work out the door.

As the title suggests, our story takes place on a prison island. This is where the Frakes family found employment. After a number of years where careers led to a lot of moving around the Pacific Northwest, it was a welcome change to have mom and dad both finding work in the same location with a long-lasting future. Well, everything is relative. This facility no longer exists. McNeil Island in Washington state had the distinction of being the last prison island in the U.S. accessible only by sea or air. There was Alcatraz Island but that’s another story. Come to think of it, Riker’s Island is still around but it has a bridge connecting it. Hmm, San Quentin? No, that’s not even an island. Okay then, all said and done, an usual place to grow up.

Prison Island Colleen Frakes

Frakes weaves a fascinating look at everyday life on an island dependent upon a prison economy as it were. We observe Frakes just trying to be a kid. But you can’t even take ordering a pizza for granted. As we find out, that is just too complicated to make happen when you live on an isolated prison island! Frakes does a great job of alternating recollections from the past with a more recent family visit to the now virtually deserted island. All in all, this is a charming story that just goes to show that, no matter where you live, a family is a family. I think that Frakes has an endearing drawing style and great enthusiasm for sharing some slice-of-life observations. And she provides a positive and realistic portrait of living in close vicinity to a prison. As Frakes makes clear, the typical prisoner in a relatively low-security prison is someone paying their debt and attempting to rebuild a life.

PRISON ISLAND is a 192-page trade paperback published by Zest Books. For more details, visit Zest Books right here.

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Filed under Colleen Frakes, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Zest Books

Review: ROSALIE LIGHTNING: A Graphic Memoir by Tom Hart

St-Martins-Press-Tom-Hart

A basic truth about good art is that it comes from an artist who is compelled to create it. I have followed the work of cartoonist Tom Hart for many years and I consider him a friend. I can see that his latest book, the graphic memoir, “Rosalie Lightning,” brings out the best in him and what he can do as an artist. This is a story about grieving. Tom and his wife, the cartoonist Leela Corman, suffered the loss of their daughter, Rosalie Lightning, a few years ago. She was nearly two years old. The process of grieving has no set amount of time. It can very well go on forever. However, for the sake of one’s own life, and one’s loved ones, there is also a process of acceptance and renewal. In his book, Hart explores all of this with great insight.

The comics medium can offer the reader entry into the mind of a cartoonist in a very distinct way. This often happens with a work from an independent creator who both writes and draws the work. If it is a personal work, and the creator is up to the task, the reader will be swept into a myriad of observations made all the more tangible by the elastic and concise nature of comics. The words must be more condensed, providing a sharper impact. And then you add the immediacy and the intimacy of the drawings coming from the very same author’s hand. Tom Hart is in a unique position, as an experienced storyteller with a highly expressive style, to tell this story.

Tom Hart Rosalie Lightning

One thing I’ve always admired about Tom Hart is his ability and willingness to open himself up to his readers. He is alright with presenting himself as a regular guy struggling with life in much the same way as we all do. Now, imagine a gifted storyteller like Hart dealing with the death of his baby girl. Is this a story he can even begin to tell? Is it one he wants to tell? You sense right from the beginning that he followed his instincts and chose to continue to share about his life through his comics. There was no set plan. The observations were intermittent posts on his blog. Organically, a narrative took root. And, I believe, the theme of exploring grieving naturally emerged. You find it throughout the book, first in moving recollections and later in greater detail as two parents walk in the wilderness and search for answers.

Aside from the medical reasons, are there any answers as to why a beautiful toddler would die? That is the question that Tom and Leela struggle with. Was it somehow preordained? Both parents torment themselves by repeatedly posing that question. The thing about Hart’s comics is, by their very nature, they are direct and are brimming with immediacy. There’s an interesting tension created by a story following a circuitous and ambiguous path which is punctuated with sharp and forceful drawings. Hart combats a need to contemplate, and recede into the background, with a strong will to tell his story and keep moving forward in his life. Of course, the goal was never to forget but to find balance. Hart’s book proves to be an excellent work of self-discovery and of keeping the memory alive of a dear soul.

Rosalie Lightning Tom Hart

“Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir” is a 272-page hardcover published by St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers. For more details, visit our friends at Macmillan Publishers right here.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Macmillan Publishers, Tom Hart

Cartoonist Jim Toomey Promotes Saving Ocean Life in CARTOON CRASH COURSE

Cartoonist Jim Toomey

Cartoonist Jim Toomey

It’s pretty simple, we need a healthy planet in order to sustain healthy life all around. Take our oceans, they seem vast and mighty but they’re also vulnerable. As cartoonist and conservationist Jim Toomey points out, there’s a delicate ecosystem we need to protect. For example, consider forage fish. These little guys, such as herring, menhaden, and sardines, play an essential role as food for an array of sealife: sharks, whales, seabirds, tuna, seals, and sea lions. But, you guessed it, humans have managed to muck up the system.

And there is so much to say on marine topics! With Jim Toomey, the cartoonist for the popular comic strip, “Sherman’s Lagoon,” as your guide, you can learn a lot in only a few minutes. The Pew Charitable Trusts has joined forces with Jim Toomey to present a lively and fun look at our vital ocean life in “Cartoon Crash Course.” You can see all 10 new short films right here!

The Vital Role of Forage Fish

The Vital Role of Forage Fish

Watch these humorous cartoons and come away with a better, and more animated, understanding of what it means to take care of our oceans! Learn more and get involved by visiting our friends at The Pew Charitable Trusts right here.

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Filed under Comics, Environment, Jim Toomey

How Modern Fans Have Come to Know Graphic Novels

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Guest column by Joseph Byrd

There was a time when comic books and graphic novels seemed like old-fashioned forms of fiction and entertainment. However, thanks in large part to a modern film industry that’s become obsessed with adapting these comics and novels, a whole new generation has become attached to them. Really, it’s been a gradual but fascinating development in popular fiction.

It begins with the films themselves. Since Iron Man debuted in 2008, the movie industry has been utterly dominated by superhero cinema. The Marvel Cinematic Universe now consists of over 10 films and will only grow larger in the years to come. This article reveals that the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War (due out in 2018) will include a whopping 67 characters from Marvel Comics. And it’s not just Marvel bringing comics to life on the big screen. DC Comics adaptations provide regular competition, and there have even been other prominent examples not related to the two publishing giants. For instance, popular 2010 superhero comedy Kick-Ass was based on a comic published by Icon (which to be fair is a Marvel affiliate), and movies like Sin City and 300 were based on Frank Miller works published by Dark Horse Comics. All of these films have helped to spark a renewed interest in source material among modern fans.

CivilWarComic_1It’s also become particularly helpful that a number of the most prominent superhero movies have been based on very specific comics or graphic novels. For example, while a given Spider-Man movie might pull elements from several different comics and origin stories, some projects have essentially adapted screenplays from individual editions. This list ranked Frank Miller’s 1986 novel The Dark Knight Rises as the single best graphic novel out there, and millions of fans have now come to know it nearly 30 years later through the film of the same name. Likewise, Marvel has seemingly made a clearer effort to connect its own movies to specific projects. The aforementioned Infinity War movie will be based on a six-issue series of comics published in the ’90s, and this spring’s Captain America: Civil War actually pulls its story from one of the more modern chapters of Marvel lore, published in 2006-07. As long as movies remain so deeply rooted in comics, they’ll continue to spark new interest for younger generations.

ArkhamAsylumComic_1But it’s not solely the movies that are helping to spread the word about some of the great comics and graphic novels out there. The gaming industry has also played a major role, largely through famous console-based titles like those in the Arkham Asylum series (which took its inspiration from a Grant Morrison graphic novel). But other areas in gaming have embraced the popularity of comic book characters, and in doing so helped to reach out to alternative audiences. This site is best known for catering to fans of casual casino games through offering a range of bingo, roulette and poker options to suit the genre. However, it’s also expanded to include slot and arcade games that invoke images and character names from popular comics and graphic novels. Iron Man and Batman are directly used, an “Amazon Queen” game implies a Wonder Woman connection, and even the Spartan 300 are used as thematic material for a game.

And then of course there’s the outreach to young kids, which is done differently now than in decades past. When comics and graphic novels originally rose to relevance, it was at least in part because there just wasn’t as much visual entertainment available. There was no regular television or film content, let alone any fit for children. Now kids have all kinds of other ways to entertain themselves, which means comics and graphic novels have lost what once may have been their greatest advantage. Still, there are a number of ways in which these characters and stories have been made available and appealing to kids.

MarvelComicApp_1Perhaps the most noteworthy development is LEGO’s partnerships with Marvel and DC to create gaming content that brings characters and storylines to life in a cartoonish manner. But on a more straightforward note, we’ve also seen comics and graphic novels made available electronically through app developers who recognize their new audience. Kids as young as two or three these days are learning to use smartphones and tablets, and parents now have the ability to load those devices with age-appropriate comic book material over time. It’s essentially modernizing the concept of a comic book.

Through all these developments, we’ve seen comics and graphic novels make a pretty remarkable transition into modern entertainment. And their popularity is only growing greater.

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Filed under comic books, Comics, Dark Horse Comics, DC Comics, DC Entertainment, graphic novels, Iron Man, Marvel Comics, movies

Review: IDW’s THE SHRINKING MAN

Matheson Shrinking Man IDW

IDW’s graphic novel adaption of Richard Matheson’s classic 1956 novel, “The Shrinking Man,” holds up very well. Ted Adams, IDW’s CEO and Publisher, has written a script that is faithful to the novel and to the unique pace of comics. Mark Torres (Judge Dredd) provides artwork that zones right into the stifled suburban living of 1950s America. Our main character, Scott Carey, cannot cope with his environment in an extraordinary way: Scott is regressing, reverting, literally shrinking away! No more life as husband, father, breadwinner, and symbol of masculinity. He is going, going, gone. Adams says it was a thrill to bring the novel to the comics page and it shows.

Ted Adams IDW Richard Matheson

Richard Matheson is an exceptionally vivid writer. He has you experiencing every detail, whether it is a man attempting to survive a vampire apocalyse as in “I Am Legned” or a man confronting a demented truck driver as in “Duel.” Whatever it is, you will believe and be on the edge of your seat as you read it. In this case, the Matheson meticulous attention to detail is focused upon Scott Carey, reducing in size by 1/7” per day. The story alternates between the early stages of Carey’s condition and once he’s near the end, stuck in a cellar, and easily food for a spider.

Matheson Shrinking Man IDW

This book includes an introduction by Peter Straub and an afterword by David Morrell. I read the singles which included Morrell’s afterword which explores the novel’s existential underpinnings. Morrell discusses the 1942 philosophical essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” where Camus compares daily life to eternally pushing a boulder around a dial. The essay was translated into English in 1955 and Morrell considers if Matheson may have read it. If not, then perhaps it was one of those concepts in the air. And, most certainly, existential ideas were not foreign to Matheson.

Ted Adams Richard Matheson

I believe that Matheson did not care for being labeled a genre writer at all because of how the term is lobbed at writers in a pejorative sense. What the Morrell afterward makes clear is that Matheson was working at a sophisticated level no matter what you call his writing. According to Morrell, Matheson was breaking new ground by including existential themes in a mainstream novel. On top of that, Matheson’s narrative structure, with its flashbacks within flashbacks, predates widespread use of metafiction techniques by some thirty years.

Richard Matheson Shrinking Man

I believe that to label Matheson as a genre writer is very problematic. The actual writing in the 1956 novel, “The Shrinking Man,” is not particularly elegant, per se, but that can be said of any number of so-called “serious” writers. That said, even at this early stage of his career, Matheson does reach lyrical heights. In fact, Matheson reaches a perfect hard-boiled, yet metaphysical, pitch with this novel. Ultimately, as IDW’s Ted Adams states, reading Richard Matheson is time well spent.

THE SHRINKING MAN has recently been collected into a 104-page trade paperback, priced at $17.99. For more details, visit our friends at IDW right here.

You can also get the complete 4-part series through Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, IDW Publishing, Richard Matheson, writers, writing

Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery Celebrates 9th Anniversary: Cheech Wizard Show, Mark Bodé, Laura Knetzger, and More! Dec 12-13, 2015

Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery

Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery

Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, in Seattle, celebrates its 9th anniversary in wild style with the Cheech Wizard Show, Mark Bodé, Laura Knetzger, and more! A festive holiday gala takes place Saturday, December 12, from 6:00 to 9:00 PM marking the debut of Cheech Wizard’s Book of Me featuring a fabulous show of tributes to the alluring art of the late Vaughn Bodé and a rare reunion of his extended family.

Big-Book-of-Me-Vaughn-Bode

The very first comic strip of Cheech the Wizard was drawn by Vaughn Bodé on a series of notebook pages in 1957. As the legend goes, the famous underground character came to Bodé as he contemplated a can of chee-chee nuts. Cheech the Wizard would go on to become a big player in underground comix celebrating sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. He was a Pogo for a mature audience with a similar whimsical quality masking a subversive humor. Which leads us to Cheech Wizard’s Book of Me which collects the best work of Vaughn Bodé along with a cavalcade of extras. The forward is by his son, Mark, who has carried on the tradition with his own take on Cheech and his pals.

Laura Knetzger

And if the holiday gala weren’t enough on Saturday, you are welcome to return on Sunday for a book release party for Laura Knetzger’s Bug Boys Volume I. That takes place from 1:00 to 3:00 PM.

Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery is located in Georgetown at 1201 S. Vale St. For more details, visit our friends at Fantagraphics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comix, Counterculture, Fantagraphics Books, Laura Knetzger, The Sixties, Underground Comics, Vaughn Bodē

Review: ‘The World According to Wonder Woman’ (Insight Legends)

Wonder-Woman-Matthew-Manning

Wonder Woman. How well do you know her? What I love about this new book from Insight Editions is how accessible this great American icon has been made. Writer Matthew K. Manning and illustrator Paul Bulman have explored everything you’ve ever wanted to know and some things you may have thought you knew.

Wonder-Woman-Paul-Bulman

Each and every aspect of Wonder Woman triggers a new story. This book is all about sticking to canon. Manning does this by having Wonder Woman speak for herself in journal entries. For instance, we get a firsthand recollection of her growing up in Themyscira. Just to set the record straight, Wonder Woman explains, that whole thing about her being formed from clay was just a ruse. Her mom was having an affair with another god. Being born from clay sounded like a good idea at the time.

Insight-Editions-Wonder-Woman

Think of this as a guidebook in a picture book format. There is a level of sophistication here that will appeal to fans of any age. Manning maintains an engaging conversational tone while peppering his narrative with bona fide comics facts, as in describing how Wonder Woman joined the Justice League; as well as integrating Greek mythology as in comparing superhero secret identities with Zeus incognito walking amongst mortals.

The beauty of this book lies within its crisp and concise structure. Add to that Bulman’s dynamic artwork, and you have a truly informative, entertaining, and compelling book. I leave you with one last example. Any fan will appreciate the four-page spread featuring all the gods in Wonder Woman’s orbit from the New 52 DC Comics universe. Very impressive for fans and casual readers alike.

“The World According to Wonder Woman” is published by Insight Editions. This is a hardcover 64-page book in full color priced at $16.95. For more details, visit Insight Editions right here.

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Filed under DC Comics, DC Entertainment, Insight Editions, pop culture, Wonder Woman

Comic Arts Los Angeles (CALA) Enters Second Year

CALA 2015 A

CALA 2015 in the Fashion District

Comic Arts L.A. (CALA), a comic arts festival in Los Angeles, took place this last weekend, December 5-6, in a walk-up art gallery, Think Tank Gallery. CALA expanded to two days for its second year. Both days proved busy for an event that has certainly earned its place alongside such notable comic arts festivals as MoCCA Comic Arts Festival in New York City, Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland, and Short Run in Seattle, Washington.

CALA 2015 B

CALA 2015 tables

CALA 2015 C

CALA 2015 panel discussion

CALA is a pleasure to navigate from the moment you are welcomed by friendly volunteers at the entrance to the time you foot inside and marvel over the works on offer to when you take in a panel discussion. Comic arts festivals are something to be treasured indeed. CALA blends the offbeat folksy charm of a market with a clean precise professionalism. Within this context, you can engage with some of the leading artists in the comics medium.

John F. Malta

John F. Malta

Each artist here shares a desire to work with words and pictures. A cartoonist is someone who cannot help but do a lot of observing and is compelled to make note of it. This is how they view the world, how they process, and even cope, with reality. Often, if not always, this is simply a way of being before it becomes anything else, before it is shared with others. Among the young turks happy to take on the world is John F. Malta.

Vanessa Davis

Vanessa Davis

Trevor Alixopulos

Trevor Alixopulos

At an event like CALA, you will find those cartoonists who are taking comics to the level of fine art. You won’t find superhero genre work here. You’ll find a lot of cartoonists here who are self-published alongside publishers interested in experimental, offbeat, and daring work. Among seasoned vets, are Vanessa Davis and Trevor Alixopulos.

Lila Ash

Lila Ash

Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg

Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg

Comics, like any other art form, can conform to some sort of commerce. In fact, the work you will find at CALA is quite varied with something for everyone. CALA provides that vital role of linking artists with customers. Two cartoonists with heartfelt and energetic work: Lila Ash and Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg.

Hazel Newlevant

Hazel Newlevant

Hope Larson

Hope Larson

I had a great time this year debuting a new work of my own at this year’s Short Run in Seattle. As a cartoonist coming fresh from that experience, I know that CALA is a taste of nirvana. It is smoothly run, considerate of participants and customers alike. More inspiring cartoonists: Hazel Newlevant and Hope Larson.

Quinne Larsen

Quinne Larsen

Fran Krause

Fran Krause

Stay tuned as I’ll share with you from my haul of comics I picked up at CALA. For someone completely new to independent comics, CALA will prove to be insightful and fun. And two more artists who can be your guide to the world of comics: Quinne Larsen and Fran Krause.

CALA-Dec-5-6-2015

For more details, visit our friends at CALA right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, CALA, Comic Arts Festivals, Comic Arts Los Angeles, Comics, Independent Comics, mini-comics

Review: RINGSIDE #1, published by Image Comics

Ringside-Nick-Barber

Kayfabe” is the unspoken understanding between the audience and pro wrestlers to suspend disbelief. You never have to question what goes on in the ring. But what pact do pro wrestlers make amongst themselves and each other? This is part of what is going on in RINGSIDE, a new comic published by Image Comics, by writer Joe Keatinge (SHUTTER) and artist Nick Barber. Rounding out the creative team is colorist Simon Gough and letterer Ariana Maher. This is a unique behind-the-scenes look at the world of pro wrestling in the form of a noir tale which kicks off, in this first issue, with our getting to know ex-champ Dan “The Minotaur” Knossos.

Ringside-Joe-Keatinge

In the spirit of a shaggy dog gritty story by Ed Brubaker, Joe Keatinge’s script begins with Dan as he makes his way to right some past wrongs. He’s like on a mission from God; nothing will stop him. We see him uproot himself from a relatively good position in Japan hellbent for San Francisco. Dan is now of a certain age. At this point in his career, he is best served if he was a mentor or, even better, if he just gracefully walked away. But this is a messy situation that is only going to get messier. Just what we want.

Nick Barber has a very accessible style. It reminds me a bit of Box Brown’s approach: pared down to the basics. Brown especially comes to mind since he did a tremendous book on pro wrestling a few years back. His tribute to Andre the Giant set the gold standard as far as I’m concerned. You can read my review of ANDRE THE GIANT: LIFE AND LEGEND right here. Barber has that same energy running throughout RINGSIDE.

This is a comic with a cinematic quality keeping to a steady pace. I especially enjoy the conversations here that involve some creative back and forth between poses and background and never gets caught in the rut of talking heads. The dialogue and composition won’t allow for that. This first issue offers a lot of intriguing possibilities. Dan is clearly a cut above the typical aging ex-wrestler. And he is also clearly over his head with what he plans to do next.

RINGSIDE #1 is available as of November 25. For more details, visit our friends at Image Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Image Comics

Review: MANIFESTO ITEMS #5 by David Lasky

David-Lasky-Short-Run-2015

Even in what would seem to be the carefree world of alt-comics, there is a creeping feeling of “self-publish or perish” that can nag at many a cartoonist. This can be a good thing as it helps to motivate many who must rely upon their own self-imposed deadlines. Despite all the interest that is supposed to be heaped upon the DIY world and a myriad of other endeavors conveniently labeled as “hipster,” “quirky,” or the grand ole workhorse, “geek,” there’s really no money, let alone a livelihood, to be expected from all the scribbling in notebooks and sketchbooks. Maybe, for some, there’s at least a real feeling of accomplishment from one’s efforts, not just a pat on the back. And, for a relative few who keep honing their craft, and especially at the alt level, each year brings a little more recognition. Each year makes the big picture more clear. This is certainly the case with cartoonist David Lasky. Here’s a look at a special annual publication that he’s been putting together to coincide with the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival in Seattle.

David Lasky Cat Comics

David Lasky and I are of the same vintage. I consider him a good friend and a fellow cartoonist that I’ve always admired. We’re both in Seattle and share a certain sensibility. So, of all the people who take a moment to read what I have to say, he’s one of my readers who I will hope to especially resonate with. Let me put it this way: I appreciate what he’s doing on a deep level. I believe there’s this chasing after the brass ring that was drummed into folks from our Generation X. People like us will make good on the dreams we’ve envisioned since we were little kids, as corny as that sounds. I know that makes sense to David, and probably, I would hope, to everyone reading this.

David-Lasky-The-Intruder

What we find in “Manifesto Items #5” is special indeed. David Lasky highlights his creation of comics from the past year. It’s a fascinating window into the creative process. Like I say, there’s that “publish or perish” mantra that can dog cartoonists. If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? That’s the challenge that many creators must contend with. They can certainly opt to work alone until a project is complete and many are just fine with that. But some want to keep stoking the fires in between significant work and so they need to hunt down viable options such as anthologies, local publications, and comics jams. In the case of Lasky, it is this short form work, with its room for experimentation, that he loves the most and that he can raise to the level of significant work. We get a nice sampling of all of that, notably a sci-fi satire that appeared in The Intruder.

David Lasky Poetry Comics

Perhaps most revealing are a couple of things that feel very natural. One is a father and son comics memoir. David is visiting his dad. And his dad gives him some advice: Rid yourself of clutter! He then proceeds to unload a bunch of books and DVDs on his son who gladly accepts each and every one. I think that speaks to a particular Gen X mad love for all media.

The other is a prose essay recollection of David visiting the Hirshhorn Museum as a little boy to see a Saul Steinberg retrospective. David was fascinated by Steinberg on many levels not the least of which was his noncommercial approach to cartooning! Here you had Steinberg creating cartoon characters without a comic strip or any scent of franchise. Ah, that’s fodder for Gen X rebellion! And to make the point, David emulated Steinberg’s penchant for drawing cartoons directly onto the envelopes he sent off in the mail. How unconventional back then and even today.

Be sure to visit David Lasky right here. Find David at Etsy right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, David Lasky, mini-comics, Short Run, Short Run Comix & Arts Festival