Tag Archives: graphic novels

Review: Herald: Lovecraft & Tesla Vol. 1 (#1-3)

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Much in the spirit of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” the action-and-character-packed “Herald: Lovecraft and Tesla” manages to deliver on its ambitious promise. You certainly have a sense of urgency going on as we see Amelia Earhart running smack into her ill-fated destiny with key figures, Nikola Tesla, H.P. Lovecraft, and even Albert Einstein, determined to save her. Of course, Amelia would say that a woman doesn’t need any saving! All this glorious activity, written by John Reilly, is brought into a crisp clarity by the pencils of Tom Rogers. And then that is given a warm glow and finish by Dexter Weeks in charge of inks, coloring, and lettering. The new trade paperback collects the first three issues to this six-issue series, published by Action Lab Entertainment.

This is exactly what you would hope it would be: a faithfully realized adventure mashup with a steampunk energy running throughout. You don’t just get all the famous players lined up or lounging about. They’re really walking and talking characters and substantial references are made to who they are and what might motivate them to travel in similar circles. Well, in this case, truth can be stranger than fiction. For instance, the real Nikola Tesla actually did hang out with Mark Twain. Thankfully, the narrative picks up on some essential truths, like the fact that Nikola Tesla, despite his brilliance, was taken to the cleaners by Thomas Edison. Or the fact that the athletic Harry Houdini was actually friends with the intellectual Lovecraft. These choice bits of factoids are treated lightly and smoothly.

We also don’t waste any time in getting to a free-wheeling fantasy, particularly the romantic pairing of Tesla with Earhart. You have to have these two together for the rest of the story to work. It’s Earhart who somehow gets caught up in swiping one of Tesla’s experiments. And this leads to the big chase that slides into confrontations with ancient gods, secret societies, strange technologies, and even occultist Aleister Crowley.

Hats off to Tom Rogers for his spirited depictions of everyone involved and his dynamic handling of settings. He has quite an energetic style that mingles a tight adherence to details with a lively effortless quality. He really enjoys bringing in an intense angular look to his people and places. What Rogers makes look bold and smooth, might turn out stilted in a lesser talent. So, there, you’ve got a very solid creative team all working together on something special, something that I can actually get excited about.

If you happen to be Beaverton, Oregon, this Wednesday, July 1st, stop by the Things From Another World comics shop to see Tom Rogers in person as he’ll be there signing from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. To RSVP and check out more details on that event, go right here.

And visit our friends at Action Lab Entertainment right here.

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Filed under Action Lab Entertainment, Comics, Comics Reviews, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, H.P. Lovecraft, Nikola Tesla, Things From Another World

Review: ‘Disillusioned Illusions’ by Greg Stump

Fantagraphics-Greg-Stump-comics

You know those optical illusions where you see an illustration of a boy fishing in a boat and then, once it’s flipped around, you see a bearded lady? Well, how about a vase that, once two shadows pull away, you see two living and breathing silhouettes of a couple of wiseguys? And how about if, once free, they commence to endlessly chatter about various things? Welcome to “Disillusioned Illusions,” the debut graphic novel by cartoonist Greg Stump. This sort of humor is brave and harder to pull off than it might seem. It does one thing in particular that requires skill and a certain temperament: it messes with you, tries your patience, and dares you to see it through to the end.

Panel excerpt from "Disillusioned Illusions," by Greg Stump

Panel excerpt from “Disillusioned Illusions,” by Greg Stump

Now, I read and go out and see my fair share of absurdist humor and theater. I get the joke. Good or bad, this sort of thing is more likely to try my patience than not. Stump’s book reminds me of Dash Shaw’s “Bottomless Belly Button,” also published by Fantagraphics. It too is a prime example of something out to test the reader, see how far it can go with subverting expectations. In the case of Shaw’s work, the reader must be willing to take a leap of faith with intentionally arty/bad drawing and meandering plot, and is ultimately rewarded with an offbeat story. But, first, they are forced to decide to stick around as opposed to coast along with something more familiar. I mean, say, Batman is never going to force you to decide. Well, at least the intention is not there.

Panel excerpt from “Disillusioned Illusions,” by Greg Stump

Panel excerpt from “Disillusioned Illusions,” by Greg Stump

And so, these two wiseguys banter back and forth. The layout and composition is decidedly minimal. And to what end? Is it only to try your patience? Or is it also to stack together something interesting? Or, still, maybe it’s all meant to exist as this offbeat amusement. Let’s look closer. Oh, wait, let’s work with the idea that each silly moment of farce is building on to the next. The two guys begin by figuring out what their roles are. They appreciate the fact that they’re in a “graphic novel.” They realize that graphic novels are supposed to be cool and marketable. And, the longer, the better. So, they begin by padding the content and altering the page count.

The two wiseguys bicker over whether one should wear a vase as a hat. And then a new character, identical to the first two, is brought in to attempt to spice things up. His name is Rodney and it seems his main purpose is to underscore how little plot there is. In the course of events, you do get the feeling that Stump is bringing in anything and everything that might come across his mind. He definitely evokes a frantic and unstable improv comedy set.

Page from "Disillusioned Illusions," by Greg Stump

Page from “Disillusioned Illusions,” by Greg Stump

Give any artist enough room and maybe they begin to reveal something about themselves or at least about their process. In the case of Greg Stump, he is a notorious kidder. He will pull your leg until he pulls it right off your torso. And then he’ll swing your severed leg above him as he yells out a battle cry. But he is also a meticulous craftsman. Remarkably, what you end up with here is a lot of very funny dialogue and a plot that does grow in a genuinely intriguing and entertaining way. And, most important of all, you will laugh.

All in all, I have to admit that this book grew on me. When it comes to wacky humor, I am open to just about anything. And I conclude here that perhaps it doesn’t matter if the reader or Stump has the last laugh. Because, yes, there is that prankster element running throughout. But the saving grace is an inventive spirit that also runs right along with the smart aleck foolishness. And there are a number of twists and turns as, indeed, one silly element stacks upon another. For those who love offbeat and experimental work, this will definitely appeal to you. Furthermore, just like an optical illusion, there is more here than first meets the eye.

“Disillusioned Illusions” is a 356-page paperback, published by Fantagraphics. You can find it by visiting our friends at Fantagraphics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Greg Stump, Humor

ZCO.MX Offers Readers a World of Great Indie Comics

From Roger Langridge's "The Iron Duchess," available at Zco.mx

From Roger Langridge’s “The Iron Duchess,” available at ZCO.MX

ZCO.MX is a new and unique place to find some of the best work from leading contemporary cartoonists. ZCO.MX is where you can instantly read some of the best comics around with their “try before you buy” model. The goal is to foster goodwill among the comics community, cartoonists and readers in this together. You can read and share comics for free and then you have an opportunity to directly contribute to the cartoonists who made that work.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comic Arts Festivals, Comics, Independent Comics, Self-Published, zco.mx

Review: DEATH HEAD #1

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Dark Horse unleashes The Keller Bros’ “Death Head,” a supernatural-horror thriller and it hits all the creepy notes just right! There’s a lot of great titles from Dark Horse and this is one of them. Here’s one for you that exemplifies the Dark Horse sensibility. Here’s something that has the writing and artwork chops to give you a good scare. It taps into the classic bogeyman archetype with a fresh and down-to-basics approach.

In a smooth and seemingly effortless manner, we follow three different stories that are all connected in some way with our bogeyman. We don’t know much at all about him in this first issue. But we get some clues: this bogeyman is legendary and he’s very much alive. Good, so far. Joanna Estep provides first-rate horror comic art with dramatic settings and believable characters. This is all complemented by warm and spooky coloring by Kelly Fitzpatrick.

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The characters in each subplot are all worthy of further study. We have Justine and Niles Burton, a couple on vacation in a national park. We have Lena and Maggie, two misfits in a Catholic girls school. And we have Bee, a little boy who is bullied into a tunnel where he meets Rosie, who appears to be a ghost. Oh, and there is quite a connection here: Justine and Niles are the parents of Maggie and Bee. You can just imagine all the possibilities when you have a family separated and a super scary killer has targeted them.

For this first issue, I really don’t think I could spoil anything. It’s a great setting up of events and anticipation for what’s to come. For something like this to work, well, it needs to jump out and grab somebody like me who has read a lot of stuff and has a pretty solid quality detector. This title passes with flying colors.

And this comic is sure to satisfy a huge Keller Bros. fan base: Zack Keller (cocreator of “Dick Figures,” the Streamy, IAWTV, and Annie Award–nominated web series with 650 million+ YouTube views) and Nick Keller (Turner of the Century). With “Death Head,” Zack and Nick Keller together deliver a supernatural-horror thriller about family and creeping, terrifying murder!

“Death Head #1″ is out on July 15, 2015. It’s 32 pages and priced at $3.99. For more details, visit our friends at Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Dark Horse Comics, Horror, Keller Brothers, Supernatural

Review: EAT EAT EAT by Tom Van Deusen

Cover to the print issue of Tom Van Deusen's most excellent EAT EAT EAT

Cover to the print issue of Tom Van Deusen’s most excellent EAT EAT EAT

“Eat Eat Eat” is a very funny comic by cartoonist Tom Van Deusen. That may not be readily apparent for some readers, I suppose. If you haven’t (or have?) been exposed to Robert Crumb, for instance. But, you know, for a lot of folks, this is going to be a laugh riot. Let me delve into this one further because it merits close attention. As I began to say, the content is, well, weird.

So, yeah, some people could potentially think they’re in for some typical gross out session. But, no, no, it’s not that. This is well-timed wry humor with a touch of the poet. That is to say that it does not collapse under the weight of heavily-used underground comix tropes. Many a cartoonist, and comics reviewer, have allowed themselves to get too caught up in what is thought to be fashionable scat. But you show some restraint and respect for craft and you end up moving forward.

Van Deusen knows how to make the most of the little details. He knows how to draw bared teeth to maximum effect. Each instance is mercilessly depicted with precision and gusto. And elicits a giggle. He also knows how to wring out humor from lettering for all it’s worth. Who knew how funny it could be to read his various hand-written renderings of “Later.” You know, a brief break in the action similar to “Meanwhile.” He loves to devote a full panel for each of his uses of “Later.”

Okay, I think we know where we stand now. It’s not so much gross out humor as absurdist humor that we find in this comic. Our hero is just a sad sack looking to get lucky. In this case, lucky in love. Lucky with the ladies. Our sad sack is NOT a ladies’ man but that doesn’t stop him. And when he does land a date with a cutie, he proves to her and all the world how underserving he is to have set foot outdoors in the first place.

Turns out, push comes to shove, forget the ladies, he’d much rather make out with a giant bag of popcorn. Wonderful surreal humor. Is it any wonder that I was reading this as I waited to see some improv comedy? It’s good stuff–and good for you. I read the rest during my visit to the chiropractor. I highly recommend that you read this as they crack you back into shape.

I had the treat of reading the collected webcomic work to EAT EAT EAT that makes for a powerful work in comics, all in one neat 24-page book. You really need to get yourself a copy, even if you’ve already read the webcomic. You can find out how to get your copy here. Ah, and there’s more comics by Tom Van Deusen, all part of his Poochie Press. We’ll cover another title in another post.

And be sure to check out the EAT EAT EAT webcomic at Studygroup right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Comics Reviews, Independent Comics, Poochie Press, Seattle, Tom Van Deusen

Review: MIKE’S PLACE, published by First Second

Mikes-Place-First-Second

Jack is a journalist in search of a story. It’s 2003 and Iraq is grabbing all the headlines. However, a set of circumstances finds him considering a story set in the Middle East that does not involve conflict. Enter Mike’s Place, a haven for the young and young-at-heart to unwind and enjoy good spirits and great rhythm and blues right off the beach in Tel Aviv. It will be a decidedly odd twist of fate that places Jack in what proves a most compelling story of conflict, and unbridled optimism.

Building upon their work on the documentary, “Blues by the Beach,” Jack Baxter and Joshua Faudem have taken what they placed on the screen and reworked it for the comics medium. Along with the thoughtful and energetic art of Koren Shadmi, you have a narrative that naturally flows with a life of its own. Shadmi has carefully developed believable characters that the reader hooks into. This is a story, as the cover makes clear, about a bombing. But not only about a bombing.

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With countless acts of violence and terror in the world, it can all seem a blur. As the characters in this story often say, you have to create your own way of coping amid terror. Throughout, the regulars at Mike’s Place are being interviewed for a documentary exploring the real Israel. One standout is Dominique, a beautiful and lively waitress. Her story, on and off camera, is pivotal. When asked about how she copes with bombings, she says that you need short-term memory as an “immune system.” You deal with it at the time and then move on. She proudly states, “That’s the Israeli way.”

But, how then do you make sense of it all if you’re constantly moving on? Well, you don’t completely forget. It seems that a story like the one about Mike’s Place becomes more powerful with each revisit. It seems that Baxter and Faudem had to process what they experienced and recorded into two separate mediums, as a documentary and then as a graphic novel. You sift through the details and sharpen the focus. What happens, once you have a graphic novel of this caliber, is that you find a greater truth.

You have here a straightforward cadence as the story is presented in comics. The layout foundation on the page is two panels on three rows with variations as needed. This is classic comics storytelling and it works quite well. You don’t need much else in many cases. For this story, this framework sort of mimics the camera in a documentary and evokes reportage in general. In fact, you don’t really notice the panel structure as you are immersed into action. Again, Shadmi does a remarkable job with bringing to life these characters. And, as you’ll see yourself, this graphic novel does a remarkable job of clearing away the clutter and getting to the heart of the matter.

You see here Mike’s Place become the center of conflict. A happy-go-lucky gathering spot, seemingly existing out of time and place, comes crashing down. This is the story of such a place. And how people come together once the unthinkable has happened.

“Mikes’ Place” is a 192-page hardcover published by First Second Books. For more details, visit our friends at First Second right here. You can also find this book here, here, and here.

If you are in the Seattle area, be sure to stop by Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery this Saturday, June 13, and meet the book’s cartoonist, Koren Shadmi. This will be a fun event which includes the debut of a new book by local cartoonist, Greg Stump, “Disillusioned Illusions,” published by Fantagraphics. For more details, go right here.

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Filed under Comics, Documentaries, First Second, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Israel, Middle East

Review: ‘Figure Fantasy: The Pop Culture Photography of Daniel Picard’

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Many people enjoy collecting pop culture figures. Some collectors will add an environment to showcase them. What if the sky’s the limit and you could go hog wild? Imagine, for instance, the Joker facing off with G.I. Joe. And have that in a realistic setting. Well, as kids, the sky was always the limit! Your characters didn’t have to obey any rules and you could have all sorts of battles that would never have taken place anywhere else. In that spirit, photographer Daniel Picard has let it roll with some inspired work with icons we all know and love.

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Picard photographs 12-inch figures from Sideshow Collectibles, then does only what a skilled adult can do: create those sort of moments that kids around the globe conjure up just for the fun of it. These are to-scale environments with an uncannily realistic look.

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Actor Simon Pegg provides a forward calling this collection, “a wonderful conversation piece.” Kevin Smith provides an afterword describing Picard’s work as a “salute to all the fun we had with our toys as kids.”

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“Figure Fantasy: The Pop Culture Photography of Daniel Picard” is a 132-page hardcover, priced at $29.99 US, published by Insight Editions. For more details, and to purchase the book, visit our friends at Insight Editions right here.

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Filed under Collectibles, Comics, Insight Editions, Photography, Sideshow Collectibles, Star Wars, Toys

Review: RICHY VEGAS COMICS #8 and #9 by Richard Alexander

From "Richy Vegas Comics #9"

From “Richy Vegas Comics #9″

“Richy Vegas Comics,” by Richard Alexander, are what you would consider very personal and decidedly out of the mainstream. It reminds me a little of the work of Daniel Johnston. Based upon reading numbers 8 and 9 of this ongoing comic, I get the picture of what he’s doing and I can offer up some comments. For those who follow my reviews, you know that, at times, I’ll expand upon the review and make some general observations. I also want to discuss here personal comics in general.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Autobio Comics, Comics, Comics Reviews, Independent Comics, Richard Alexander, Richy Vegas Comics, Self-Published

Review: DIRK GENTLY’S HOLISTIC DETECTIVE AGENCY #1

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You have to hand it to Chris Ryall and IDW Publishing for creating a long line of heart-felt and artful tributes to books, movies, and television. Well, a comic book based upon Douglas Adams’s “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” is one of IDW’s best yet. Written by Chris Ryall, with pencils by Tony Akins, inks by John Livesay, and colors by Leonard O’Grady. It is a most vivid revisit to Dirk Gently placing him in new digs (San Diego) and a whole new challenge (copycat killers and ancient ghosts). The artwork is lively and it all adds up to be one of the most promising comics I’ve seen in quite a while.

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With Dirk Gently, Douglas Adams gave us a kaleidoscopic surge of reading joy. It was dapper wit and quirky hijinks. And it was far more than that as Adams played with a wide spectrum of ideas. So, for IDW to tackle Dirk Gently is ambitious–and IDW does not disappoint. The opening story for this first issue is very well paced and full of fun intrigue stacking itself one upon the other like a house of cards.

Dirk is like a whirling dervish right out of the gate. He begins by bolting out of the airport determined to make his way into San Diego with a stolen duffle bag. He bumps right into the owners of the bag and they pursue Dirk all the way to a mystery-themed teahouse, Gumshoes & Tea Leaves. The beautiful bold colors by Leonard O’Grady totally take over in the glorious use of green throughout the café. Our characters come to life in this space as our story unfolds. Dirk has a chance to introduce himself, all sorts of suspicious, dangerous, and supernatural things are already in play. And we know we’re in for something that Douglas Adams himself would have approved of.

“Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency #1″ is out now, 32 pages, and priced at $3.99. For more details, visit our friends at IDW Publishing right here.

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Filed under Comics, Douglas Adams, IDW Publishing, Sci-Fi, science fiction

Review: BASELINE BLVD by Emi Gennis

Emi-Gennis-Baseline-Blvd-2015

Emis Gennis is a cartoonist who I see as someone who likes to get down to business and create good comics. I admire that. Her work is clean and professional while also maintaining an organic energy to it. For her latest work, “Baseline Blvd,” she employs a precise and bold use of pencil to take us on quite a journey.

Gennis has a keen interest in sordid tales, as I’ve seen from her past work. For this one, we follow the emotional turmoil from an abusive relationship and the end results. We view this from various vantage points, often very quiet and nondescript.

A woman carries flowers in her car on a trip to find some resolution. We don’t know very much about her or any other details than are necessary. It’s as if the flotsam and jetsam of the urban sprawl the young woman sees on her way to her destination tries to compete for our attention. Faceless everyday detritus. A crow devouring roadside carrion.

Gennis is a born storyteller. “Baseline Blvd” shows us a cartoonist well on her way. This new comic just debuted at the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival. For more details on work in general, visit Emi Gennis right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Carrion Press, Comics, Emi Gennis, Independent Comics, Indie, mini-comics, Minicomics, Self-Published, Vancouver Comic Arts Festival