Category Archives: Graphic Novel Reviews

Review: SCOTLAND YARDIE by Bobby Joseph and Joseph Samuels

SCOTLAND YARDIE by Bobby Joseph and Joseph Samuels

SCOTLAND YARDIE by Bobby Joseph and Joseph Samuels

As we here in the States, along with the rest of the world, continue to deal with the orange menace, it’s good to gain strength from our friends across the pond. One thing that the creators of the graphic novel, SCOTLAND YARDIE, want you to know is that things are bad all over. Bobby Joseph and Joseph Samuels provide some dark humor for these hard times. This is a provocative work, set in south London, with a smart and gritty vibe.

Darkness fell...

Darkness fell…

No doubt, Bobby Joseph (script) and Joseph Samuels (art) make no bones about their dismay with the current (and ongoing) state of affairs. With such clownish characters in the media, and in government (gasp), stoking the fires of hatred, racism, and xenophobia with such intensity as we have not seen before in recent memory, any form of satire can be cathartic. In this case, we have a plot involving the Brixton Metropolitan Police in need of some diversity. Enter Scotland Yardie, a ganja smoking, no-nonsense “bad bwoy” cop who breaks all the rules to enforce his own harsh sense of justice. This is, by turns, a very silly comic (think Monty Python, for starters) and, ultimately, an eye-opening and worthwhile read.

Is that Brexit heartthrob Boris Johnson?

Is that Brexit heartthrob Boris Johnson?

This comic’s writer, Bobby Joseph, is considered to be the voice of urban UK comic books. He is credited as the creator of the cult comic classics Skank Magazine and Black Eye. He has written satirical pieces for Vice.com, Loaded Magazine, The Voice newspaper, BBC1’s Lenny in Pieces and Radio 4. He is credited on the BBC website as instrumental in featuring some of the “first comics by black creators featuring black characters.”

Some light emerges...

Some light emerges…

This comic’s artist, Joseph Samuels, is credited as one of the most popular comic artists to grace the pages of Skank Magazine and Black Eye. He is the co-creator of the popular Afro Kid comic strip on Vice.com.

SCOTLAND YARDIE is a 100-page, full color, graphic novel, published by Knockabout. For more information, and how to purchase, visit Knockabout right here.

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Filed under Bobby Joseph, Brexit, Cannabis, Comics, Donald Trump, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Joseph Samuels, Race, Race Relations, Racism, VICE

Webcomic Review: ‘The Führer And The Tramp’

"The Fuhrer and the Tramp"

“The Führer And The Tramp”

The figure of Charlie Chaplin looms large all these many years and rightly so. If Chaplin had only taken his career as far as his Tramp character, he would richly deserve all the accolades in the world. Unlike other silent screen giants, it was after dominating the box office in what he was known for, that he pushed himself to his greatest creative heights crossing over into the sweeping changes of a new generation. Chaplin’s achievement is so singular and unique that it simply has no equal. It is all on full display with his film, 1940’s “The Great Dictator.” In honor of such talent and vision, a webcomic and graphic-novel-in-progress plays off all the dynamics involved between Chaplin’s answer to Hitler. This is a bold and whimsical fictionalization entitled, “The Führer And The Tramp,” written by Sean Luke McCard, Jon Judy and illustrated by Dexter Wee.

The Tramp on the run from the Nazis!

The Tramp on the run from the Nazis!

To see Charlie Chaplin, in full costume as the Tramp, stumbling into a Berlin movie theater and ending up sharing popcorn with Adolf Hitler is pretty wild–and a fun start to this graphic novel. This is just a taste of things to come. It’s 1938 and Chaplin just happens to be in Berlin and one thing leads to another. Once safely back in Hollywood, it seems that all can go back to normal–but not if undercover agent Hedy Lamar, and her handler Errol Flynn, have anything to do with it! If you’re a fan of alt-history, a little zany spy hijinks, mixed in with some thoughtful observations on real history, then this is something you will want to seek out.

Happier times at the Cocoanut Grove.

Happier times at the Cocoanut Grove.

The idea here is to cast a fresh light on history as well as just have some fun. The webcomic continues to upload new material so it will be interesting to see how things develop. I think the script has an overall nice handle on the humor running throughout. Given that this is fiction, the story is free to take a number of twists and turns. It’s a tricky balancing act since, in large part, this fictional Chaplin has been robbed of his self-determination. Here you have others goading and pushing him along to move beyond what he knows and create a work of art with real political power. The real Charles Chaplin did not need to be pushed into creating “The Great Dictator.” Anyway, just wanted to clear that up. That said, this is a delightful webcomic. The artwork by Dexter Wee is spot on capturing something of the pathos and integrity of Chaplin. So, Chaplin is not treated all that bad here after all.

Keep up with “The Führer And The Tramp” webcomic right here.

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Filed under Adolf Hitler, Charlie Chaplin, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Webcomics

Review: ‘Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation’

"Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation"

“Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation”

There’s a ragged and raw quality to Octavia Butler’s novel, “Kindred,” first published in 1979, about a young African American woman who time travels to America during slavery. It’s odd. It’s compelling. And it demands to be read all the way to the end. As I say, it’s ragged and raw, and by that I mean it’s a rough journey in what transpires and in the telling. As a time travel tale alone, it’s bumpy at best. The time travel element abruptly kicks in and, just as abruptly, the characters involved accept the situation. The narrative itself is episodic and there is little in the form of subtlety. What can be said of the novel transfers over to the just released graphic novel adaptation published by Abrams ComicArts: this is raw, sometimes ugly, but always compelling and a must-read.

panel excerpt

panel excerpt: a time traveller’s satchel

Octavia Butler rips the scab off a nightmarish era in America, a wound so deep that it remains healing to this day. You could say that what Butler aspires to do is give a full sense of what it means when we talk about slavey in America. There are a number of approaches you can take. If you go down the ragged and raw path, you may end up with something that is deemed bold by some and deemed heavy-handed by others. The end result could be somewhere in between. Butler chose to damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, with this novel that finds Dana, an African American woman from 1976 Los Angeles, repeatedly and relentlessly subjected to various torture and humiliation as she finds herself regularly being transported back to America during slavery. The story begins in Maryland in 1815 and subsequently follows the progress of slaver-holder Rufus Weylin, from boy to manhood.

page excerpt: dark journey

page excerpt: dark journey

First and foremost, this is a book to be celebrated. While it is a tough story to tell, it is brimming with truths to be told. Sure, no need to sugarcoat anything. There are no sensibilities here to protect. That said, while a graphic novel, this is a book with a decidedly mature theme running throughout with disturbing content. What it requires is a adult to check it out first and then decide how to proceed. Without a doubt, this is an important teaching tool but best left to high school and above.

page excerpt: slave/master

page excerpt: slave/master

As for the overall presentation of this graphic novel, it has taken an audacious approach of its own. Whether intentionally or not, it carries its own distinctive ragged and raw vibe. The drawing throughout is far from elegant, quite the opposite. In fact, it often has a rushed quality about it and I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing. I sense that it’s something of a style choice. This is a harsh and dark story and so it is depicted as such. In the end, this is a truly unusual and intriguing work.

“Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation” is a 240-page, full-color, hardcover available as of January 10th. It is based upon the novel by Octavia Estelle Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy, artwork by John Jennings. For more information and how to purchase, visit Abrams ComicArts.

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Filed under Abrams ComicArts, African American, American History, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, History, Race, Race Relations, Racism, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Time Travel

Graphic Novel Review: ‘Steve McQueen in Le Mans’

"Steve McQueen in Le Mans" by Sandro Garbo and Garbo Studio

“Steve McQueen in Le Mans” by Sandro Garbo and Garbo Studio

“Steve McQueen in Le Mans” is a new graphic novel by Swiss artist Sandro Garbo that brings to life in heroic fashion a movie steeped in heroic fashion. It’s more than that. This is what a graphic novel can do when it aims for the stars and pulls out all the stops. This is the first book in a series and it knocks your socks off!

The pit crew gathers.

The pit crew gathers.

If you were a young and hip guy, like Steve McQueen, you not only closely followed race car driving, you were a race car driver. Certainly, the popularity of racing has never dimmed. But it was definitely riding a special crest of cool in McQueen’s day. In 1970, McQueen decided to honor his passion by starring in a film about a fictional 24-hour race at Le Mans. While the movie was not a box office hit, it has become a cult favorite. What Sandro Garbo and his team of artists have done is give the whole movie project a high sheen of luster capturing the excitement in a most compelling manner.

The worlds of comics and cinema are both similar and quite distinct from each other. Some things that work in a movie do not carry over so well in comics or will work in a whole different way. Where the movie, with its heavy cinéma vérité style allows the camera to gorge on each and every detail it picks up, this graphic novel adaptation chooses wisely on what to focus upon.

Gambling with your life.

Gambling with your life.

Garbo Studio has distilled what makes the McQueen movie so cool. A lot of what is going on in the movie, and in this book, is a study in cool. I’m not sure there’s one thing wrong with the movie except for satisfying more of a niche audience. The graphic novel, by virtue of its audacious vision, exemplary composition and artistry, simply soars on its own unique merits.

Essentially, all you need to know is that Steve McQueen plays the role of race car driver Michael Delaney. He has a rival who he is determined to give his comeuppance. There are thrills and chills. Both the movie and the book are visually gorgeous in their own ways. Both are as cool as hell. This is a big coffee table art book that will satisfy just about anyone, no prior interest in race cars required.

“Steve McQueen in Le Mans” is a 64-page full-color hardcover, 10″ x 13.5,” published by Garbo Studio. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Garbo Studio right here.

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Filed under Cars, Classic Cars, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Illustration, Sports, Steve McQueen

Comics Grinder Picks The 20 Best Comics of 2016

2016 was a very good year for comics. There are more cartoonists than ever before and the interest in comics just keeps growing. Here is a short list of some of the outstanding work that got on my radar this year.

ROSALIE LIGHTNING by Tom Hart

ROSALIE LIGHTNING by Tom Hart

ROSALIE LIGHTNING by Tom Hart

“Hart’s book proves to be an excellent work of self-discovery and of keeping the memory alive of a dear soul.” Read my review here.

BERNIE by Ted Rall

BERNIE by Ted Rall

BERNIE by Ted Rall

“Rall makes a strong case for a Bernie Sanders candidacy and what it means. Even if establishment Democrats are resistant, Sanders is paving the way for a return to progressive values.” Read my review here.

THE ARAB OF THE FUTURE by Riad Sattouf

THE ARAB OF THE FUTURE by Riad Sattouf

THE ARAB OF THE FUTURE by Riad Sattouf

“Sattouf’s graphic novel takes us into a part of the world many of us would like to understand better.” Read my review here.

SCORCHED EARTH collection by Tom Van Deusen

SCORCHED EARTH collection by Tom Van Deusen

SCORCHED EARTH by Tom Van Deusen

“Tom Van Deusen’s aim is to satirize the oily underbelly of hipsterdom with a neo-underground sensibility.” Read my review here.

Your Fashionista, Snotgirl!

Your Fashionista, Snotgirl!

SNOT GIRL by Bryan Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung

“Not in a long while have I enjoyed such a pleasing mix of sexy and cute as with this new comic.” Read my review here.

THE DEATH OF STALIN by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin

THE DEATH OF STALIN by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin

THE DEATH OF STALIN by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin

“It is highly accessible: drops you right in, as if you were a fly on the wall, a fly that Stalin, himself, would have thought nothing of swatting and flicking away.” Read my review here.

PATIENCE by Daniel Clowes

PATIENCE by Daniel Clowes

PATIENCE by Daniel Clowes

“Clowes has created an excellent vehicle for his vision. He has Patience, his ideal young woman, and he has Jack who, due to just the right touch of strange, becomes an ideal Clowes alter ego. This is quite a remarkable, beautiful, and ambitious work.” Read my review here.

DARK PANTS #3 by Matt MacFarland

DARK PANTS #3 by Matt MacFarland

DARK PANTS by Matt McFarland

“MacFarland’s drawing and writing is highly accessible. He immerses the reader in the inner turmoil that his characters are going through. With just the right touch of humor, MacFarland offers us stories of missteps of the heart that will stay with us.” Read my review for Issue 3 right here.

YEARBOOK HERO by Ami Komai

YEARBOOK HERO by Ami Komai

YEARBOOK HERO by Ami Komai

“Komai writes and draws this comic which is in the tradition of Daniel Clowes and Adrian Tomine: off-kilter slice of life. Her style is more pared-down, lean, and does a great job of capturing perfectly deadpan hipster moments.” Read my review here.

OVER THE GARDEN WALL by Cartoon Network and Boom! Studios

OVER THE GARDEN WALL by Cartoon Network and Boom! Studios

OVER THE GARDEN WALL by Cartoon Network and Boom! Studios

“Well, it all adds up to some magical storytelling. No prior knowledge, indeed! All you need to do is observe, with a certain amount of glee, little boy Greg as he returns to Dreamland traipsing about, all Little Nemo-style.” Read my review here.

THE NAMELESS CITY by Faith Erin Hicks

THE NAMELESS CITY by Faith Erin Hicks

THE NAMELESS CITY by Faith Erin Hicks

“Looking at the artwork to this latest book, I marvel at how Hicks brings her characters to life. Her action scenes are totally believable. It feels like the characters literally jump from page to page.” Read my review here.

HOW TO SURVIVE IN THE NORTH by Luke Healy

HOW TO SURVIVE IN THE NORTH by Luke Healy

HOW TO SURVIVE IN THE NORTH by Luke Healy

“There’s a wonderful depth to this book with its full-bodied scope following the rhythms of a prose novel.” Read my review here.

MUNCH by Steffen Kverneland

MUNCH by Steffen Kverneland

MUNCH by Steffen Kverneland

“The party was supposed to never end — and then each ending was capable of tearing these fierce bohemians to shreds as they quarreled, mostly over women. That crazy energy is mirrored throughout this book by cartoonist Steffen Kverneland masterfully inserting his own highly spirited debates on Munch with his friend and collaborator, Lars Fiske.” Read my review here.

A CITY INSIDE by Tillie Walden

A CITY INSIDE by Tillie Walden

A CITY INSIDE by Tillie Walden

“Much of what we see in “A City Inside” is a wonderful ode to a daydream nation and to overcoming the trepidations of a young person. Walden celebrates all the great eccentricity to be found in comics.” Read my review here.

Jacques Ferrandez's "The Stranger," published by Pegasus Books

Jacques Ferrandez’s “The Stranger,” published by Pegasus Books

THE STRANGER by Jacques Ferrandez

“Ferrandez favors a more painterly and economical approach to creating graphic novels. Throughout the book, he has paintings floating behind the panels. Elements of the watercolor artwork are mirrored back in the panels. The drawings are quick and simplified, kept light, while also providing substance.” Read my review here.

THE BOYS OF SHERIFF STREET by Jerome Charyn and Jacques de Loustal

THE BOYS OF SHERIFF STREET by Jerome Charyn and Jacques de Loustal

THE BOYS OF SHERIFF STREET by Jerome Charyn and Jacques de Loustal

“The size and scope of Charyn’s story leaves me thinking of what a great movie it could make. That said, everything adds up to a perfect graphic novel. Loustal has created a fully realized world that the characters smoothly move through. This all works flawlessly as classic tragedy with a noir bite.” Read my review here.

EQUINOXES by Cyril Pedrosa

EQUINOXES by Cyril Pedrosa

EQUINOXES by Cyril Pedrosa

“Pedrosa is living and breathing what he’s setting down on paper at a delicious level. He has an extensive background in animation, which certainly helps, but he takes it even further. He knows how to speed up work. He knows when he can ease up on the details and when to add an extra coat of polish. And to do that well with both his artwork and his writing is definitely remarkable.” Read my review here.

POCAHONTAS: PRINCESS OF THE NEW WORLD by Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky

POCAHONTAS: PRINCESS OF THE NEW WORLD by Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky

POCAHONTAS: PRINCESS OF THE NEW WORLD by Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky

“Readers will be pleasantly surprised to read a more enlightened account of such a celebrated figure in history. Locatelli-Kournwsky’s artwork is just the right mix of lightness and precision. And the new English translation by Sandra Smith provides a smooth and accessible path to this most engaging story.” Read my review here.

BECOMING ANDY WARHOL by Nick Bertozzi and Pierce Hargan

BECOMING ANDY WARHOL by Nick Bertozzi and Pierce Hargan

BECOMING ANDY WARHOL by Nick Bertozzi and Pierce Hargan

“I believe Bertozzi does an admirable job of choosing what bits to use that add up. Hargan does an equally good job of tuning into an irreverent depiction of the man. His Warhol becomes an accessible comics character in his own right. As you read, you can get lost in conversations and the whole pace of things from a certain era.” Read my review here.

SP4RX by Wren MacDonald

SP4RX by Wren MacDonald

SP4RX by Wren MacDonald

“SP4RX has all the bells and whistles in all the right places. This 116-page graphic novel is a full-bodied cyberpunk adventure that would make William Gibson and Philip K. Dick proud.” Read my review here.

Hope this list proves useful and it helps give a sense of the quality and dedication you can find here at Comics Grinder.

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Filed under 2016, Comics, Comics Reviews, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels

Review: HOW TO SURVIVE IN THE NORTH by Luke Healy

HOW TO SURVIVE IN THE NORTH by Luke Healy

HOW TO SURVIVE IN THE NORTH by Luke Healy

What if you could run away and live off the land as you help settle the North Pole? Sounds kinda nutty, doesn’t it? Well, it made total sense to Vilhjalmur Stefansson, a Canadian Arctic explorer and ethnologist, active at the turn of the last century. Luke Healy’s new graphic novel, “How to Survive in the North,” published by Nobrow Press, looks back on this most quixotic journey.

Healy brings in a contemporary narrative thread that is interlaced with this bizarre arctic misadventure. It provides a nice counterbalance to the often dire arctic narrative. As weird as the attempt to settle the North Pole is, it is also weird, in a good way, to embark upon a graphic novel based upon this relatively arcane history. But a gem is a gem and it takes a certain talent to see that.

Panels excerpt

Panels excerpt

There’s a wonderful depth to this book with its full-bodied scope following the rhythms of a prose novel. Healy’s drawing style is economical while not missing a beat. The pacing, the light but spot on composition, and the compelling dialogue provide a rich experience. A lot of people today are ready to dive in and create their own graphic novels. There is no trick to it and there’s a great chance of failure. But, if you’re in love with it, then there’s no other way. Healy is clearly in love.

Panels excerpt

Panels excerpt

In fact, there’s plenty of love to be found within this story. One primary plot line, set in the present, follows the ill-fated affair between Sully Barnaby, a tenured professor, and Kevin, his student. Sully has been put on a forced one-year sabbatical to temper his lack of judgement. It is during this bittersweet one-year paid vacation that the prof immerses himself in the various documents related to the two arctic expeditions of 1912 and 1926. In the process, Sully gains a renewed sense of purpose.

Full Page Excerpt

Full Page Excerpt

Was it a very good idea to try to tame the North Pole? Spoiler alert: No, it was not such a good idea. But you will definitely root for the survivors. And reading this quirky and highly entertaining graphic novel is certainly a great idea! This book was first introduced to American audiences via the Center For Cartoon Studies, which launched the careers of Chuck Forsman, Jen Vaughn, and Sophie Goldstein, amongst others.

“How to Survive in the North” is a 192-page full-color hardcover. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Nobrow Press right here.

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

Review: ‘Division to Unification in Imperial China (vol. 2): The Three Kingdoms to the Tang Dynasty (220–907)’

Volume 2 in Jing Liu's Understanding China Through Comics series.

Volume 2 in Jing Liu’s Understanding China Through Comics series.

Jing Liu brings to life the history of China in his series, Understanding China Through Comics. With Donald Trump’s focus on China, with no signs of letting up, it is a perfect time to gain a better understanding of a very misunderstood country. It was a pleasure to review the first volume in this series. You can read that here. For this second volume, Liu proceeds where he left off and focuses on the periods of division and unification in Imperial China. The full title is, “Division to Unification in Imperial China (vol. 2): The Three Kingdoms to the Tang Dynasty (220–907),” published by Stone Bridge Press. But don’t let the long title intimidate you. This is a highly accessible work tailored to fast learning while also very entertaining.

There is much to marvel over with Liu’s book. As a cartoonist myself, I fully appreciate the balancing act that Liu had to negotiate in order to have the facts make sense in a comics format. It is often believed that the only path for a work in comics or a graphic novel is brevity. You should only insert a limited number of words in those word balloons and text boxes, so the rule goes. However, that all depends. Liu presents everything in a very clean and visually appealing style and has managed to up his word count as needed.

Dividing up territory.

Dividing up territory.

The story of China is one of many regions vying for control and Liu is up to the task of showing us all the machinations. With great clarity, Liu reveals all the moving parts involved and reintroduces key facts as the story unfolds. Liu employs a number of time-saving devices, primarily he makes good use of all his digital options: fonts, pre-made borders for his panels, word balloons, and such. And, in an uncanny way, his art style compliments this more compact approach. It is a relatively spare style but not without a beauty and flourish running throughout in the spirit of manga. He’s managed to hold back enough in order to mix well with the flow of characters and events. You will not only learn about battles and wars, you will learn about the evolution of Chinese culture and spirituality. For instance, Liu provides a wonderful comparison and contrast to the Tao and Buddhist belief systems.

The excess of The One Percent.

The excess of The One Percent.

Liu presents us with cycles of history, the rise and fall of dynasties. And we come to see the patterns and how they relate to current history. We see the perpetual struggle between the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak. But we never tire of such a narrative. First, dynasties prospered. Then they grew corrupt. Finally, they fell and gave way to other dynasties. Liu shows us both the good, the bad, and the in-between. One example that sticks with me falls squarely in the bad column: there was a time when wealthy aristocrats thought nothing of commissioning miles and miles of screens made of silk just so they could pass through them and greet each other. Now, there’s some One Percent decadence for you!

“Division to Unification in Imperial China” is a 166-page book, published by Stone Bridge Press. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Stone Bridge Press right here.

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Filed under China, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jing Liu, Stone Bridge Press

Review: BEOWULF, a graphic novel by Santiago García and David Rubín

BEOWULF, a graphic novel by Santiago García and David Rubín

BEOWULF, a graphic novel by Santiago García and David Rubín

If you are looking for a graphic novel that gives a quirky edge to the epic poem, Beowulf, then check out the all-new English translation of the graphic novel version. Originally published in Spain by Astiberri, this new edition is by Image Comics. Written by Santiago García and illustrated by David Rubín, this is a fresh and bloody take on the oldest surviving long poem in Old English (circa 1000 AD).

There’s that scene in Woody Allen’s 1977 masterpiece, “Annie Hall,” with Alvy talking to Annie about her English lit courses. He advises her to take anything but Beowulf. That was the common view on the prospect of reading the Viking epic in its original Old English. But attitudes evolve. An interest in Tolkien and such helps. Robert Zemeckis directed a pretty decent Beowulf movie in 2007. The fact is that Beowulf has influenced countless great works of fiction in numerous mediums. What is distinctive about this new graphic novel is how much it revels in the gritty and gruesome.

Beowulf makes his case.

Beowulf makes his case.

Our hero is the brave warrior, Beowulf. He’s on a quest to kill the monster known as Grendel, right? In that task, he succeeds. All seems well until he has to confront the wrath of Grendel’s mother–and beyond! If you’ve read this in high school or college, you know it’s pretty rough going for Beowulf. Santiago García’s script and David Rubín’s artwork mean to up the ante.

Grendel!

Grendel!

Consider the fight between Beowulf and Grendel. There’s definitely a contemporary sense of provocation here as Grendel is depicted as having a devilish zeal to inflict pain. In fact, he sexually assaults Beowulf. It is one of the most unusual scenes I’ve read in comics this year. Done with a certain level of restraint, you could possibly miss it if you were quickly scanning through pages.

Use of floating panels.

Use of floating panels.

This is an intelligent and imaginative adaptation. While not without a generous dose of blood and gore, the creators here aimed to tap into the power of the original work. The pacing of the narrative and the robust art make this a highly accessible read. There are interesting touches running throughout like the floating panels within panels offering various points of view and/or an inside look into a character. This has a thoroughly contemporary sensibility and decidedly provocative. Recommended for mature readers.

BEOWULF is a 200-page hardcover, in full color. Direct market release date is 12/21. Book market release date is 12/27. For more details and how to purchase, visit Image Comics right here.

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Filed under Beowulf, Comics, Comics Reviews, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Image Comics, J.R.R. Tolkien

Interview: WREN McDONALD on Comics, Illustration, and SP4RX

Wren McDonald self-portrait

Wren McDonald self-portrait

Wren McDonald is a cartoonist and illustrator. His illustrations appear in The New York Times, The New Yorker, GQ, The Washington Post, The Hollywood Reporter, and many other places. His first full-length graphic novel, a quirky cyberpunk thriller, “SP4RX,” was recently published by Nobrow Press.

If you are in the New York City metro area this weekend, you can see Wren at Comic Arts Brooklyn. CAB is taking place this weekend with the main event this Saturday, November 5th, at Mt. Carmel Gymnasium, 12 Havemeyer Street, from 11am to 7pm, in beautiful Brooklyn! You can find Wren at CAB, downstairs at Table D31.

Wren McDonald has shot like a rocket since graduating from Ringling College of Art and Design in 2013. Wren has a refreshing take on both comics and illustrations: a rare set of skills, talent, passion, and drive. So, without further ado, here is my interview with Wren McDonald, recorded this Wednesday, as he prepares for Comic Arts Brooklyn.

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Wren, if we were to do a virtual tour of your studio, what would we find there?

WREN McDONALD: Well, my studio is my bedroom. So, here’s my bed and here’s my desk. That’s my studio! (Laughter)

That’s the set of circumstances for a lot of cartoonists and illustrators, isn’t it?

Yeah, especially living in New York. It just doesn’t make much financial sense to have a separate studio. But I have plenty of room here. It’s pretty spacious. I can spread out and get my work done. I have a super big desk and an iMac. And I actually have (laughs) the extended studio in the living room! There I have a Lasergraph copier where I print out my mini-comics and zines.

That’s for serious cartoonists.

Oh, yeah!

“Did Trump and Clinton Get a Pass on Education?” illustration for The New Yorker by Wren McDonald

“Did Trump and Clinton Get a Pass on Education?” illustration for The New Yorker by Wren McDonald

I direct folks who are new to your work to go to your website, wrenmcdonald.com. There you will find a cornucopia of stuff. I’m focusing on one of your current illustrations of Trump and Clinton and they are both sitting in a classroom. These two are hyperreal, larger-than-life, cartoonish. You can’t make them up. Could you give us a window into how you created that illustration?

That illustration was funny because I got the assignment the day before it was due, which was also the day before I was traveling to MICE Expo in Boston, a comics show that I was just at this last weekend. That was like a super rush job which was really intense. The art director at The New Yorker, Rina Kushnir, who is super great, I work with her a lot, she emailed me the article. She said it was last minute but she asked if I could do it. And I said, yes, of course.

Rina needed sketches in the morning and then the final that evening, around 5pm or 6pm. So, that morning, I sent in like four sketches. They were sort of goofy and funny. Like you say, these candidates are already cartoony so it’s easy to characterize them. Rina chose the one she liked. That was at noon. From that point, I got to work on the final and sent it over in the evening.

Those jobs are always pretty stressful but I enjoy doing them a lot because I feel that I work really hard and get a real day’s work in and have something to show for it.

It’s a beautiful illustration.

Thank you.

I wanted to ask you about your evolving into the illustrator you are today. Your work is appearing everywhere. Only a few years ago you were in Florida just starting out. Could you give us the cook’s tour of how you got where you are today.

Sure, I graduated from Ringling College of Art and Design, which is in Sarasota, Florida, in 2013. When I was in school, I had a website and was posting things on social media, like Tumblr, and I think that helped me get my feet off the ground in terms of people seeing my work.

From that point, I started going to comics shows like TCAF in Toronto, Comic Arts Brooklyn, and MoCCA. I tabled at TCAF and other shows I would just go to. I’d have mini-comics to give out to help make people aware of me. It’s two different paths, comics and illustration, so I’ll talk about them separately.

The illustration stuff is, like I say, social media and tracking down email contacts and networking. And a lot of promotional stuff. You want to create a portfolio that really looks like editorial illustration. Editorial work has a snowball effect. You start to get jobs and you’re seen as a professional.

CYBER REALM by Wren McDonald

CYBER REALM by Wren McDonald

The comics stuff is going to shows and socializing. I was approached by Peow! Studio, based in Sweden, about publishing one of my short stories in of one of their anthologies, “Time Capsule.” I thought that was super cool since I was familiar with their work. I was super excited. I think that was the first comics story that I had published out in the world besides my own stuff online, on Tumblr. Soon after that, I talked to Nobrow about doing a short story (CYBER REALM) for their 17×23 series which is a platform to try out new talent. That’s a small format, just 24 pages. We did that and enjoyed working together. So, Nobrow said they wanted to try something longer. That’s what I wanted to do so it worked out that way.

It’s amazing how quickly things came together. Did you already have an idea of what SP4RX was going to be like while you were working on CYBER REALM or did one work just follow the other?

I didn’t have one story cocked and loaded beforehand. I always hear other cartoonists, or writers, when they talk about their work, saying they had this story they’d been working on since they were 10 years-old and it’s part of an epic world they’ve created. I’m not one of those people. When I sit down to write a story it’s about brainstorming and anything that peaks my interest.

For SP4RX, I’ve always been interested in the cyberpunk genre, especially movies and comics. I wanted to work in that genre. I was already creating work dealing with technology, robots, and dystopian settings. I think it just made a lot of sense to me.

We’re always hearing about the digital versus the physical. I direct people to the comic you did for The Comics Journal. How did that come about?

I’m not sure if Nobrow contacted The Comics Journal, or the other way around, but The Comics Journal approached me about doing one of their A Cartoonist Diary columns. I was all for it since I have the attitude of wanting to try something out and make it work. I had not done diary comics before so I had to think about how to do this. Mine is not a traditional diary comic since it has these fantastical elements to it. Despite it being involved with things I was experiencing, the more apt title to it turned out to be “Not A Cartoonist Diary.” That was a fun project.

Over the years, illustration is deemed dead and then it comes right back. It all runs in cycles. You’re firmly in both the world of comics and illustrations. Some cartoonists, I know, have never printed mini-comics nor done the comic fest circuit. But you love that.

Right! I love making comics, reading comics, and telling stories. I am passionate about my comics work because I am able to draw what I want to draw. Illustration is a fun back and forth since it involves work that I would not necessarily choose to draw: it’s more like a puzzle. Okay, how do I use these images to convey a specific idea, very concisely, to pair with the article? It’s a fun back and forth. Maybe I’ve been working on comics for two weeks straight, and then I get an editorial assignment. That’s great, I can take a break from comics and do an illustration, take a break from having my face too close to the page and switch my train of thought–and vice versa.

SP4RX by Wren McDonald

SP4RX by Wren McDonald

If we were just chatting, we’d end up talking about books and movies, especially science fiction and cyberpunk. I imagine that “Videodrome” must be a favorite for you.

I do love “Videodrome.” David Cronenberg is amazing but I don’t think that “Videodrome” had a specific influence on SP4RX. Instead, concerning SP4RX, I had just read William Gibson’s “Neuromancer,” which I thought was like the coolest book ever. It is considered “cool.” I wanted to make something “super cool” like that! I’d always been into “Akira” by Katsuhiro Otomo. And “Ghost in the Shell” by Masamune Shirow and his Appleseed series. And movies like Paul Verhoeven’s “Total Recall” or “Robocop.” Or James Cameron’s “Terminator II.” “The Matrix.” “Aliens.” Stuff like that. I wanted to do something in the vein of that genre.

Let’s focus back on SP4RX: a super hacker going up against corporate enslavement. How close are we today to corporate enslavement?

There’s a lot of parallels that I was drawing from. Basic stuff that I’d see on the news. Even just going about my day-to-day, going shopping or whatever, that would end up in SP4RX. It’s a world with hover cars and sci-fi elements but there are plenty of parallels to our real world throughout. For example, I’d be watching some crazy video on YouTube with one newscaster harassing another newscaster and I would basically copy and paste that into the book. Within a sci-fi setting, you can focus on the human element. You don’t get caught up in a specific nation or political agenda. It’s just people in this science fiction world.

Everyone may not get a hover car but we’ve got plenty of the weird and nefarious stuff already. What do you think about Edward Snowden and us being monitored? The future is here.

Yeah, it makes me think that the cyberpunk genre and movement is more relevant than ever. When the internet was first coming about, that genre seemed so cheesy. It’s fun to laugh about it but there’s so much of it that’s relevant. Like you say, that NSA stuff is really happening. It’s important to pay attention to that and be aware.

Panel excerpt from SP4RX

Panel excerpt from SP4RX

Is there anything you’d like folks to know about that you are currently doing?

It depends upon when you think this post will go up. There’s Comic Arts Brooklyn this weekend.

I can push things up and get this out by Friday. I’d love to go to CAB. I have my own book I’m working on that is very much science fiction oriented. It’s about the science fiction writer George Clayton Johnson. His career and life’s journey has a very intriguing arc. He began with writing the story for the Rat Pack classic, “Ocean’s Eleven” and crescendoed with co-writing the novel that was the basis for the cult classic, “Logan’s Run.”

Oh, yeah, that movie has a nice sci-fi cheesy quality.

Well, the thing with George was that he kept to his set of values and the integrity of his storytelling. “Logan’s Run” is an example of a big studio having its own ideas on what the story should be. It’s totally fun though and I think a remake would be great. The original novel is very different. I think you’d enjoy it.

I will check it out.

Comic Arts Brooklyn

Comic Arts Brooklyn

But getting back to CAB.

Yes, I will be at Comic Arts Brooklyn this Saturday, November 5th. You can find me downstairs at Table D31. So, come by and say hello! And I have a new mini-comic that will debut at CAB and then be available on my site which is called, “Dirt Dart,” a 12-page story about a soldier lost on another planet.

Well, it’s been fun talking with you, Wren. I know that you’re having the time of your life.

Yes, staying busy!

Thanks so much, Wren.

Thank you, Henry. When you’re in New York, stop by and we can have a drink.

Will do.

You can listen to the interview by clicking the link below. I did not make any edits so you’ll pick up on some slight differences from the transcription which is a smoother read. One thing to mention here is that I was not aware of the title, SP4RX, being pronounced “Sparks.” I must have been firmly in the mindset of George Lucas and his 1971 classic, THX 1138:

SP4RX is out now. Find it at Nobrow Press right here. Visit Wren McDonald right here. And, if you are in the New York City metro area, be sure to visit Comic Arts Brooklyn this weekend. Visit CAB right here.

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Filed under Brooklyn, Comic Arts Brooklyn, Comics, Cyberpunk, George Clayton Johnson, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Interviews, Logan's Run, New York City, Nobrow Press, Sci-Fi, science fiction, The Comics Journal, Wren McDonald

Review: BECOMING ANDY WARHOL

Warhol overseeing production.

Warhol overseeing production.

The world of Andy Warhol is our world. His art, inextricably linked to his persona, resonates with us today on an uncanny level. Along with a select few artists like Picasso, he has broken through, reached immortal fame with the general public. When a new book or movie comes out about him, we feel we’re dealing with something familiar. The new graphic novel, “Becoming Andy Warhol,” written by Nick Bertozzi and illustrated by Pierce Hargan, seems to tap into some new ground by presenting us with more of the human being that was Andy Warhol (1928-1987).

Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, with my own art ambitions, I was keenly aware of Warhol as I digested his art through the media. What I saw of the person was actually quite minimal. There was that exaggerated deadpan pose, that would be taken up by so many artists of the next generation, like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Who Warhol really was did not seem to matter. The fact that he was gay was never brought up in the mainstream media. But one thing was clear: Warhol was a significant artist breaking new ground.

What this graphic novel attempts to do is humanize Warhol to better understand the man and his art. He was certainly not a passive eunuch. The most distinctive contribution this book makes is to show Warhol as an active and sexual being dealing with relationships, and strategizing his career. His career did not just emerge one day fully formed and he did not have all the answers. In fact, there’s some wonderful scenes in the book with art critic Henry Geldzahler guiding his friend along. When it came to attempting to answer rather pompous questions from the media, why not simply respond with enigmatic non-answers? This approach, Geldzahler advises Warhol, will make him a star.

Enigmatic Andy

Enigmatic Andy

Warhol was certainly more than capable of explaining his methods. More than anything in the world, he wished to share his insights with the Pop Art kings Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. But, when they saw themselves as on a separate plane from Warhol, it did not faze Warhol. What we see in this graphic novel is a Warhol who, despite setbacks, maintains an internal compass that keeps him on his path. He is a determined and driven dynamo. The book focuses on Andy Warhol from 1962 to 1964, those critical years which see him make the break from a hugely successful career as an illustrator, dive into a fine art career, and never look back.

Warhol at Work

Warhol at Work

A grand biography is one of the most suitable of subjects for a graphic novel. Bertozzi and Hargan turn Warhol’s journey into a most engaging story, one that gains much from the way that they tell it. The challenge here for Bertozzi was to present a story that many of us already know to some extent, while only relying upon books and resources commonly available. What is so new and compelling to tell? It becomes a matter of what to bring to the foreground. I believe Bertozzi does an admirable job of choosing what bits to use that add up. Hargan does an equally good job of tuning into an irreverent depiction of the man. His Warhol becomes an accessible comics character in his own right. As you read, you can get lost in conversations and the whole pace of things from a certain era.

Andy Warhol was already Andy Warhol at the start of this story insomuch as he wasn’t going to let anyone or anything get in his way. And, when it seemed time to choose whether to abandon parts of who he was in favor of a more mainstream presence, he knew where to draw the line. There’s a particularly effective scene where the renowned architect Philip Johnson admonishes Warhol to drop all of his rough trade friends while, at the same time, he ponders which of the boys he might get to bed. While far from perfect, Warhol proves to stand for something. By defying Johnson and others, Warhol stayed true to himself and would go on to make history. I’m sure that Bertozzi felt compelled to articulate these finer points about Warhol.

BECOMING ANDY WARHOL by Nick Bertozzi and Pierce Hargan

BECOMING ANDY WARHOL by Nick Bertozzi and Pierce Hargan

“Becoming Andy Warhol” is a 160-page hardcover with two-color illustrations throughout, available as of Oct 4th, and published by Abrams ComicArts.

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Filed under Abrams, Abrams ComicArts, Andy Warhol, Art, Art books, Art History, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Nick Bertozzi