Category Archives: Comics Reviews

Comics Review: MATA HARI #1 (of 5)

MATA HARI #1

Any close study of history will reveal a vast array of ironies and contradictions. Both individuals and whole nations have checkered pasts. Which leads us to Mata Hari, charged with treason and espionage and executed by a French firing squad in 1917. France had been rocked by the Dreyfus affair only a few years earlier, another case of someone being wrongly accused and being used as a scapegoat. In a new limited series from Dark Horse Comics, we get a fresh look at the enigmatic and exotic Mata Hari.

There is more prose involved with comics than some would think. Prose, lots and lots of prose, is the bedrock to any comics project. Then it is a matter of matching up, balancing out, just the right fit of text and image. MATA HARI is an excellent example of this process as writer Emma Beeby (Judge Dredd) began with reading, of all things, a book! Yes, she read “Femme Fatale: Love, Lies and the Unknown Life of Mata Hari” by Professor Pat Shipman.

Mata Hari as Salome

And then one thing led to another. Artist Ariela Kristantina (Insexts) came on board and did her thing. Then, like a mini-orchestra taking form, colorist Pat Masioni added her special skills. And, finally, we have the mastereo, the conductor herself, editor Karen Berger, who has conducted quite a lot of masterworks in her tine at Vertigo. You know, I have to say this: (and I’ll say more at a later date) it is a very misguided myth that the best comics are being created by the misfit in a garret. True, amazing work comes from there but we need to always come around to what quality gems are put out my professionals. Europe, for instance, has understood that for a very long time.

The quality, especially of offbeat and daring content, that Karen Berger is bringing to Berger Books is right in step with what readers in other parts of the world have appreciated for generations. DC Comics added that extra layer of quirk with Berger at Vertigo. And now Dark Horse Comics gives us Berger at Berger Books! What more could you ask for, right? So, you see a comic book like MATA HARI and you snatch it up, that’s what you do, my dear discerning reader. This is a five-issue limited run. The first issue sets the tone quite nicely. We get a sense of the woman who came to be known to the world as Mata Hari. We get a look at her as a little girl, growing up, and discovering early on that her interests and passions would make for a challenging, but quite stimulating, life.

Rating of 10/10

MATA HARI is available now. For more details, visit Dark Horse Comics and Berger Books right here.

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Comics Review: PRISM STALKER #1

PRISM STALKER by Sloane Leong

Sloane Leong is one of those special cartoonists who immerse themselves deep into a world of their own. This sort of artist-warrior is without exception, both writer and artist. Leong, following this highly individual tradition, has worked up her skills (never complaining since it never seemed like work) and come out the other side with comics of a caliber that has led her today to launching PRISM STALKER, her new title with Image Comics.

For a comics critic who also both writes and draws comics, I am confident in sharing with you what sets Leong apart. Among the many independent cartoonists out there, just like any other artists, a number of them will take one detour or another. Some will feel most comfortable remaining within self-published cliques. Others may need to keep a project under wraps and work on it on their own terms. But, if the stars are in alignment, and the cartoonist is particularly driven, the transition can be made from bohemian poet to career path. In the ideal case, the work retains that same idiosyncratic vibe. The work retains its integrity. The artist retains their integrity.

What you see on the comics page, the merging of words and images, takes on an added significance when created by a cartoonist in the traditional role of artist-writer. You end up with a window into the subconscious mind. I would argue that you can feel a disconnect, perhaps subtle or maybe distracting, in a collaborative work. That is why you hear so much said on the importance of chemistry between writer and artist. But you don’t have that concern when you’re running the whole show. In the case of Leong, she has taken on the added roles of lettering and coloring. All of that adds up to a more personal perspective. And, by the way, it is no surprise that cartoonists at this level are attracted to and invest a lot of energy upon depicting dreams.

And then you add a passionate vision and you have the whole package. A look at Leong’s website shows us a person with a heart-felt desire to tell the stories of those who have been pushed to the margins. That is exactly what we see here: Vep, our main character is toiling away as a slave on a hive colony run by giant insects. Who doing what where? you may ask. It is a very dream-like sci-fi tale about very serious problems.

This is a story that casts a very wide net and succeeds by balancing all the details. Vep is a strong and compelling character who the reader is immediately drawn to. The setting is pretty outrageous and highly ambiguous and becomes a character in its own right. You could say this is a comic that is both character and atmosphere driven. It becomes a true meld of visual and literary delight. You feel that unique push-pull connection. You recognize trippy originality when you see it right down to that wildly eccentric title, PRISM STALKER!

Rating of 10/10

PRISM STALKER #1 is available as of March 7, 2018. For more details, visit Image Comics right here.

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Review: THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF NICK WILSON #1 (of 5)

THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF NICK WILSON #1

You know how some comics get you right away? This is one of them. In fact, I’ll say THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF NICK WILSON has provided me with just the spark I need–and inspired me to start my Best of 2018 list. This is for everyone who regularly follows comics as well as anyone who enjoys sly humor.

The aches and pains of post-superhero life.

Amid all the stories out there that are deconstructing the superhero genre, what I find here already is a good dose of that X factor: Nick Wilson, our down-and-out ex-superhero, is a guy we can relate to and we want to like. Nick has not only lost his superpowers but he has lost something even more precious, his zest for life. Thus, our story: maybe he makes a comeback; or maybe he has an epiphany.

It is important to note the impressive writing talent here. The story is by writer/producer Eddie Gorodetsky. His credits include Desert Bus, Mom, Two and a Half Men, Dharma & Greg, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Mike & Molly, Saturday Night Live, SCTV Network 90, and Late Night with David Letterman. And this comic is written by Marc Andreyko, a comic book writer and screenwriter, known for his work on books such as Manhunter for DC Comics, and Torso, a creator-owned true crime series he wrote with Brian Michael Bendis. I sense from this first issue a real love for spinning the mundane foibles of life into compelling entertainment. Yes, indeed, funny stuff can be made of Nick Wilson, the former superstar, who has let himself become a low rent loser.

Despite Nick’s determined slide into mediocrity, there are signs that he seeks redemption. Even lower on the food chain, a permanent bottom feeder, is Nick’s so-called manager. Nick instinctively despises him. While all too prone to lying on the couch with his bong, there seems to be a flicker of hope. Ironically, Nick seems to be a bit more introspective now that all the fame and glory is behind him.

Sounds interesting, no? It’s not easy to really make a superhero character interesting but it works here, both with the writing and the art. Steve Sadowski’s art is masterfully natural, smooth, and funny. And that’s saying a lot. It takes a special skill, and sensitivity, to genuinely convey humor in a superhero comic book, even an ironic anti-superhero comic book. Oh, sure, there are many fine examples but there are only so many of them–and this is one of them. So, definitely, go take a look. We’ll go ahead and give this the highest rating. 10/10.

THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF NICK WILSON #1 is available as of January 17, 2018. For more details, visit Image Comics right here.

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Review: SONS OF FATE by Jean-Paul Deshong

SONS OF FATE by Jean-Paul Deshong

Jean-Paul Deshong is a professional in the comics industry. SONS OF FATE is Deshong’s first independent series. As he states in his introduction, his goal is to bring all the excitement from reading comics as a kid to this project. If you like adventures with a martial arts theme, then this is for you.

Ah, fate…

A look at this book reveals a lot of passion behind the work. Deshong revels in details. The origins to our narrative involve a fleet of medieval Japanese ships that are attacked by pirates. The ambush results in heavy casualties. One particular sailor ends up ashore a tropical island. The indigenous people are dark and savage in comparison to what our hero is accustomed to. But he gains their trust and even becomes a guardian to a boy from the village. It is this fateful union that moves our story forward.

The natives want something.

This is an involved and dense story that moves at a contemplative pace and is punctuated by lively action sequences. You can have a long interval with some characters opening up about their motivations and then, for the next scene, there’s a rampaging rhino. That works for me. You can never go wrong with a rhino. What I find most interesting and admirable is the level of dedication Deshong has brought to his work. That will carry him, and the reader, forward on this series and with projects in the future. SONS OF FATE is a solid adventure comic that a wide spectrum of readers will enjoy.

Visit the SONS OF FATE website right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, graphic novels, Japan

Review: THE LEGEND OF PINKY (Book I of VI)

THE LEGEND OF PINKY (Book I of VI)

There’s a lot of thought and care that goes into a solid work of comics but the results should be magical for the reader. Within the multi-layered world of independent cartoonists there is a fair amount of intrigue mixed in with camaraderie. Creators can get lost in a fog of competing interests. The answer is to find your way and simply pursue your vision. Cartoonist Craig Johnson II has tapped a significant vein of New York City history to create a comic both purposeful and entertaining. THE LEGEND OF PINKY, an ongoing series ultimately to be a graphic novel, published by Carbon Age Comics, is set in the early years of gangsters (1920s to 1930s), specifically involving the interconnections between Jewish and African American players.

Harlem’s uneasy friendship with Pinky.

The main character is Irving “Pinky” Horwitz, a lean and mean trained killer in the Goldman gang. He is an exceptional assassin, when he bothers to do his job. Pinky’s biggest flaw is an utter lack of discipline. If there is a chance for him to feed his lust and ego, he will take it. And his favorite place to do that is Harlem. In that arena, reckless young women jump into bed with him and skeptical young men sometimes push back and sometimes accept him. With Pinky, and those in his orbit, Johnson has created one of the most fascinating comics currently available.

Pinky and his mom.

The story begins with a pivotal moment gone wrong. Pinky was supposed to report for an important mob hit of two rivals. Instead, he was in bed with his latest conquest. Meanwhile, Sam, his partner, attempted the complete the two-man job by himself but was only able to kill one of the two men. And so begins the conflict that demands resolution in the first issue of this comic. Pinky, no doubt, is due his comeuppance. But Pinky is not without some redeemable traits. Clearly, Pinky seeks approval. There are two women in particular that he cares about: his own mother; and Yetta, a union organizer of garment workers. He takes great delight in showing most people his disdain. But, for a select few, he values some connection, especially the friends he seems to have made in Harlem.

Pinky in his element.

I am often asked what it takes to create a graphic novel. Well, I like to add that this undertaking is, intrinsically (in the undertaking) and ideally (in the creator’s vision), a heroic work. And then I always say that a hero (or an anti-hero) is essential to the story. By and large, this is the model of the vast majority of successful graphic novels. Most of these works are biographies and borrow from history in one form or another. The fact is, to do this right, you don’t want to get bogged down by the facts. This is a work of entertainment, not a meticulous history. Johnson is spot on in how he incorporates history into the bigger picture of his narrative. Everything lifts off the page as we follow accessible characters and vivid action.

Pinky’s alright!

Graphic novels, when true to their original intent, are vivid works of sequential art that evoke the breadth of a prose novel within its own unique narrative structure. Johnson is sensitive to what is possible in the comics medium. He has done the legwork necessary to create a credible foundation as he goes about completing his full-length graphic novel. The artwork is dynamic and the pacing is compelling. Essentially, he has found something that can be quite daunting for many a cartoonist lost in a fog. Johnson has found something to care about. He is compelled to follow through on his vision. This first issue clearly demonstrates that.

Be sure to keep up with Craig Johnson II right here and THE LEGEND OF PINKY, and Carbon Age Comics, right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Craig Johnson II, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, New York City

Review: ROBIN HOOD: OUTLAW OF THE 21st CENTURY

ROBIN HOOD: OUTLAW OF THE 21st CENTURY

ROBIN HOOD: OUTLAW OF THE 21st CENTURY is a comic book series that is a fine mix of action and intelligence. There are so many comics that I could review at any given time so the one question that helps guide me is “Why does this comic exist?” In the Forward to the new book collecting Issues #1-4, Tyler Weaver (Coming to Quest Country) describes a unique and contemporary take on the Robin Hood legend. And, yes, that is definitely the case. Matt Dursin’s script invites the reader into what drives his characters to seek justice–and what happens when they cross the line. It all adds up to a compelling read.

Taking from the rich to give to the poor via pizza delivery.

The divide between rich and poor is handled brilliantly in a plot that focuses on issues of life or death, namely healthcare. Set in the near future, only the rich can rely upon medicine when they need it. So, the tacit understanding in society is that some people are expendable. If that sounds creepily familiar, it certainly is meant to be. A band of vigilantes conclude that there is a way out of this nightmare: take from the rich and give to the poor. That way of thinking worked for Robin Hood but it gets more complicated in the 21st century.

Panel excerpt: Robin and John

What is exceptional about this comic is that everything is alive and lifts off the page in the way you would hope a good comic would do. It’s not easy to achieve that energy and sense of spontaneity. Many creators miss the mark simply because, for various reasons, they lose sight of what they’re doing. For some, the reason for the work to exist has been lost. You sense with this book that the whole creative team loves what they do and are intelligently engaged with it. I’m not saying that you worship your characters and treat them as if they’re real people. No, it’s a dedication to craft. If the time is put in, then you do end up with a vivid story and vivid characters.

Panel excerpt: John is threatened by The Sheriff

The artwork by Mark Louie Vuykankiat has a lean and energetic quality to it with a manga vibe. In the character design notes, he describes the characters as “somewhere between ramshackle and military.” That fits the bill. I have to say, this is one very action-packed story. At times, it feels like a video game. These boys have got their toys, including an air-burst grenade launcher! All in all, this is a smart and heart-felt work and fans of the Robin Hood legend will get a kick out of all the references to the original 1883 novel by Howard Pyle.

Rounding out the creative team is an impressive job of letters & colors by L. Jamal Walton; spectacular cover art by Ray Dillon; and spot on logo & production by Rachel Chernick.

“Robin Hood: Outlaw of the 21st Century,” issues #1 thru #4, are now available digitally and in print and are collected in a trade paperback. For more details, and how to purchase, go right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels

Advance Review: BANKSHOT #1 (of 5)

BANKSHOT #1

Alex de Campi (Archie vs. Predator, No Mercy) is a writer you can count on for something with some tooth to it. Her work in comics began with the political thriller, SMOKE, a 2005 mini-series with IDW. Her latest is BANKSHOT, a short series with Dark Horse that finds the reader right in the thick of our current tangled web around the world.

Our anti-hero is Marcus King and he seems to find himself in all the right and wrong places. The end result is that he has become both valuable to some and dangerous to others. King’s story goes back to a military action in the Middle East that put him face to face with the Dutchman, a sort of pirate king, set to plunder what he can during any ensuing chaos. Much more to come regarding this villain. Suffice it to say, Marcus King is a busy mercenary with more foes than friends.

Page #1

Art by ChrisCross (Convergence: Justice League of America) brings home the action as well as fine tunes our connections to characters. Colors by Snakebite Cortez pick up nicely on the atmospherics whether back at FBI HQ, some baked and desolate desert, or a round of heavy artillery blowing everything sky high.

We begin our story back in DC with a dapper secret agent refreshed after a much needed vacation. But agent Gault is in for quite a thrashing by his superiors when they demand to know why he authorized an operation involving the legendary Marcus King. He is strictly hands off! Gault is puzzled at first. He is then provided some very compelling details. Anyway, this is Marcus King we’re talking about. His name alone should give any agent pause. An opening scene brimming with that much intrigue is worthy of any reader’s attention.

Page #2

What you’ll find appealing in this thriller is just the right mix of fantasy and reality. Marcus King is a larger-than-life figure but you can easily imagine that he exists in lesser forms skulking about the dangerous parts of the world.

BANKSHOT #1 is on sale as of June 28th. The Final Order Cutoff for comic book shops is June 5th. For more details, visit Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Review: ‘Resurrection Perverts: Hunter’s Point’ by Danny Hellman

Harry’s Comeuppance Over Manhattan

Harry Homburg was a porn magazine mogul. His life was not poetic or refined. But he could always rely upon making money and getting laid. That’s all that seemed to matter. And then the bottom fell out of the traditional porn industry. This is the basis for Danny Hellman’s new book that follows one man’s attempts to claw his way back to the top. I believe Danny Hellman to be one of the hardest working illustrators in the business. He has secured his place in his chosen field of illustration with a singular style and sense of humor. “Resurrection Perverts: Hunter’s Point” is his first long-form work in comics.

Is there more to life than sex and money?

I’ve seen various short comics narratives from Hellman and I’ve always enjoyed them. I do appreciate his often ribald and provocative stuff and this new book about a fading porn publisher fits right in with his jaded big city tough guy brand. The book is set up at one panel per page. The introductory remarks attached to the book state that it is “one scene per page, like a series of smartphone screens.” The premise is that, in order to save his failing Harlot magazine, Harry will do anything–except change with the times. And why should he? As far as he’s concerned, the typical Harlot reader not only is tech clueless but can’t even afford a computer. This comic itself, interestingly enough, mirrors Harry’s cynical view. Like a really goofy skit on SNL, you just roll it and Hellman has the balls and the skill to get away with it.

Almost like father and son.

There’s a moment in the story where Harry Homburg is preparing to have dinner with his elderly business partner. Harry calls over the waiter: “Jimmy, listen. This guy is macrobionic. No menu. Just bring him a bowl of moss.” It’s a sharp and funny little moment. And I could very well see Hellman writing the whole book just to include it. The book really feels like a wiseguy giving everyone the finger and that’s not easy to do well, and with style. If you’re a fan of Howard Stern (and, at this point, who isn’t?) then you’ll relate and rejoice to the humor found here. If you’re looking for the next cutting-edge work in graphic novels, this is not that kind of gem. That said, it is a gem, all the same.

A night out at Papageno.

Much of our story takes place in Lower Manhattan at Restaurant Papageno. There is excitement in the air with the anticipation of Homburg’s publishing exclusive photos of a sex scandal involving a US President. Add Homburg’s struggles with the digital age and it all feels circa 1998. But that’s neither here nor there. Basically, Hellman would tell you, it’s the present–deal with it. And, you know, I can deal with it. If you’re someone who has explored NYC with any depth, you know there is plenty of activity lost in a time warp. This is all fun and gritty stuff that rings true. And, sure, I’d be happy to see people reading this comic on their smartphones. As of this writing, this book is only available as a hardcover. A Kindle version will be available as of June 1, 2017. This is part of a series so I am eager to see how things develop with this project.

“Resurrection Perverts: Hunter’s Point” by Danny Hellman

“Resurrection Perverts: Hunter’s Point” is a 112-page hardcover, in full color, published by Dirty Danny Press. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Review: ‘Läskimooses’ by Matti Hagelberg

Panel excerpt from “Läskimooses” by Matti Hagelberg

“Läskimooses,” by Matti Hagelberg, has got to be one of the most unusual of comics. It comes out in single issues and the plan is for the complete collected work to be an epic over 1,000 pages. Currently, this art/sci-fi comic book totals around 700 pages, is published 7 issues per year, and is the longest single comics story ever to be produced in Finland.

Hagelberg is best known for his scratchboard technique that he has used in most of his works, published by L’association and Le Dernier Cri in France (Raw Vision 83). It is a wonderfully obsessive vision, part parody and part stream of consciousness. Hagelberg is on an adventure to find the meaning of life and the secrets to the universe byway of conspiracy theories. Only a determined artist like Hagelberg can sustain such a quest. It makes for fascinating results.

Artist Matti Hagelberg

It’s not uncommon for an artist to keep to one theme or one universe in their body of work. Hagelberg has always drawn stories set in the same universe. His epic Läskimooses comics are quite a dramatic example of focused work harkening back to classic comic strips. His theme of exploring the universe is broad enough to sustain a lifetime’s work. The energy and enthusiasm comes across the page. He has set up some fun devices to keep the narrative flowing like an ongoing conversation between characters discussing cosmic subjects. You don’t need to know how to read Finnish to enjoy it either.

Läskimooses #28

I always enjoy writing about comics from outside the United States. Sometimes, I am not sure how to hook into a work and I find it is better to let it simmer and then I come back to it. So is the case with “Läskimooses.” You can now enjoy an issue of the comic book with a handy translation sheet in English. That will certainly clear up any questions about why you’re seeing a bunch of monkeys or what’s going on regarding a volcanic eruption.

Page from Läskimooses #28

Again, let me emphasize that the visuals are pretty stunning all by themselves. Some issues, like #28 above, are only images, no text at all. Basically, all you need to know to begin with is that Läskimooses and Ohto are both planets and figure prominently in the narrative. The two ongoing characters have their own ideas on existential matters that they’re working through. It’s interesting that Hagelberg’s initial idea was to set his story on the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs. He had a spectacle in mind right from the start. Anyway, we’re all working through our own existential issues, right? It’s fun to see an artist with such an unabashed and audacious attitude share with us his vision of the sublime and the profound. I look forward to what develops next with this intriguing and unusual project.

To get an issue of “Läskimooses,” with an English translation sheet included, go to Printed Matter right here.

For a closer look at the artist at work, check out this video right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Europe, European Comics, Finland, Matti Hagelberg, Scandinavia, Sci-Fi, science fiction

Review: WINNEBAGO GRAVEYARD #1 (of 4)

WINNEBAGO GRAVEYARD #1 (of 4)

It’s that touch of strange that the best writers and artists tap into that makes all the difference. Writer Steve Niles says that his already odd story took some more twists and turns after he viewed what artist Alison Sampson had done with the first issue of their new limited-run comic book series, WINNEBAGO GRAVEYARD. Soon, you’ll be able to see the results for yourself. This is an advance review so a word to the wise (comic book retailers stock up!) and mark your calendar for this Image Comics release on June 14th.

Isn’t it spooky when you thought you saw something out of the corner of your eye? That particularly creepy feeling, the mixing of the banal with the terrifying, keeps building in this first issue in a most satisfying way. We begin in the small American Southwestern town of Acton, one minute after midnight. There’s an orgy of violence with a Satanic ceremony that climaxes with the emergence of a portly and banal naked man declaring his return from the dead. Who is this portly banal man? All we know is that he stepped right out of the body of one of that night’s victims to sacrifice.

This disturbing uneven feeling of disconnection and terror is quite pleasing, and the credit all goes to the team of writer Steve Niles and artist Alison Sampson. With dynamic and moody colors by Stéphane Paitreau. And lyrically placed lettering by Aditya Bidikar. Our story seamlessly rolls along a nightmarish landscape with characters nearly oblivious to what’s going on. It’s more of that delicious disconnection at play.

Winnebago Graveyard!

For, you see, the Winnebago from this comic’s title symbolizes a slice of normal that gets caught in this big fat wedge of crazy. It’s your all-American family, full of equal amounts of wanderlust and dysfunction, that find themselves way off course, all too close to Satan’s country. But are they aware of what’s going on? Sampson depicts them as utterly disconnected in such a masterful way. After spending a whole day in what amounts to an abandoned amusement park, they seem to be getting a clue that they’re very much out of their element. For now, it all seems like a sleepy nightmare.

I was mesmerized by Sampson’s artwork in GENESIS, a one-shot with Image Comics, and wrote a review of that you can read here. This latest comic lives up to what I expected to see next in her work. This is a smashing first issue. You will also want to check out the two essays at the end of this comic. One is on horror movies set in the American Southwest by Sarah Horrocks and it focuses on the 1987 horror classic, “Near Dark.” The other essay is about Satanism in the real world by Casey Gilly and it focuses on Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan and the potential motivations of its followers.

Both essays are part of a series that will run throughout all four issues. I am so glad to see these essays, which compliment the comic and, in fact, become part of the comic. As I like to point out to my readers, we do not live by comics alone. I make a point of writing about all sorts of things and they usually have a relationship to comics, even a quite meaningful connection, like my in-depth interview with novelist Jerome Charyn. Maybe I do things a little differently here but I’m not changing and I believe my readers appreciate that.

And let’s hold on just a bit. Yes, I would take issue with anyone who thinks a discussion about comics takes place in a vacuum. I don’t think anyone really believes that since, even the most so-called comics purist will veer off being strictly on topic. Life, the culture-at-large, bigger and brighter things, exist out there in the world. So, again, I say that the isolated prose, the two essays, in this comic becomes part of the comic. Gilly, in her essay, even directly refers back to the comic and asks the reader to question what the character Chrissie was really seeing. And Horrocks, in her essay, riffs so smoothly on the desert motif running throughout the comic. What a literate and artful comic! Buy it!

WINNEBAGO GRAVEYARD #1 (Of 4) is published by Image Comics and is available as of June 14, 2017. For more details, visit Image Comics right here.

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Filed under Alison Sampson, Comics, Comics Reviews, Horror, Image Comics, Jerome Charyn, Satan, Steve Niles, Supernatural