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Comics Review: XERXES: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF DARIUS AND THE RISE OF ALEXANDER #1

Frank Miller is back, baby!

Frank Miller is back, baby! What a treat to see our Dark Knight master cartoonist returning to this long-awaited companion to his masterpiece, 300! As I like to point out, there’s nothing quite like having a masterful storyteller in charge of both the writing and the artwork. You have Greeks and Persians battling it out left and right, all following the vision of Miller. And, best of all, you really want to pick up this comic book in print form as it has a deluxe format. And it is colored by Alex Sinclair, the colorist for Miller’s Dark Knight Master Race, third installment of his Dark Knight Returns master trilogy.

XERXES #1

Frank Miller returns to the world of 300 with this sprawling historical epic! Persian King Xerxes sets out to conquer the world to avenge his father Darius’s defeat and create an empire, unlike anything the world has ever seen. That is until the hardy Greeks produce a god king of their own, Alexander the Great.

This is an utterly gorgeous work, right down to the lettering. While he could be using a font, I doubt it. This looks like hand-lettering, and we’re talking very precise and professional–with the added bonus of the artist in full control of where he wants his text boxes to hit in relation to compositions and action. Miller offers up plenty of compelling action sequences, by the way. It is a pleasure to linger over how to arranges his military formations, often alternating between crisp details set off by silhouettes. There is a genuine urgency here, a joy of cartooning that brings to mind such happy warriors as Jack Kirby and Stan Sakai. I love this book and can’t wait for more.

10/10

Back to 300!

XERXES #1 is available as of April 4, 2018. For more details, visit Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Dark Horse Comics, Frank Miller

Comics Review: SPINADOODLES 8: MOOZ BOOSH by Sam Spina

Mastering the “Uncomfortable Smile”

Mastering the “Uncomfortable Smile.” Who knew that was a thing. Apparently, it is a very big thing among cartoonist Sam Spina and his friends. Seriously, Spina is masterful at spinning gold from ephemera. It’s an art form that carries over to all kinds of storytelling. So, it makes total sense that Spina could transfer the skills he honed as a cartoonist and use them as a storyboard artist for Cartoon Network’s “Regular Show.” Spina has a golden touch which you can enjoy in his latest collection of diary comics, “Spinadoodles #8: Mooz Boosh,” available at Kilgore Books.

The whole page about uncomfortable smiles.

The whole page about uncomfortable smiles, entitled, “It’s My Sad Eyes,” is fun to read and indicative of what you’ll find here. Spina is recalling a moment from a trip to Arizona. The locale is mentioned simply to add a little flavor. The focus is on the interactions between friends. Spina uses a very casual approach which welcomes the reader. Everything feels like it is accessible and evoking an easy-going conversation. Nothing appears to be overworked. The characters are drawn, not in a slapdash manner as much as a slapdash style. That’s a huge difference. Less careful, less thoughtful, and less skilled cartoonists tend to lean too heavily upon an artistic sensibility that would embrace any mark on the page. In fact, any mark on a page is not golden. There are standards to this thing and cartoonists that create comics at the level of a six-year-old seeking praise from grandma are doing themselves a disservice. Just saying.

Spinadoodles!

Diary comics actually have a long history, inextricably linked to independent comics. And it is John Porcellino’s ongoing zine, “King-Cat Comics and Stories” (May 1989 – present), that casts quite a long shadow. I think there is room for everyone under the comics tent–and I know a lot of cartoonists are influenced by John P’s approach, be it the pared-down artwork, the spare compositions, right down to the self-deprecating humor–but it often does not quite work in other hands. The best one can do is to honor what he’s established and add to it. I think Sam Spina falls within the group of cartoonists that are not just coasting along but creating compelling work.

SPINADOODLES 8: MOOZ BOOSH

Sam Spina is having fun and he has taken the time to give his comics a distinctive charm and sparkle. His humor is not particularly satirical as much as it is in keeping with the slice-of-life tradition of much of alt-comics. Within alt-comics circles, authenticity is highly regarded although not always followed through in practice. Spina’s work has a refreshing honesty and irreverence that, at its best, can rise above anything trendy and cute and just be plain ole good storytelling.

“Spinadoodles #8: Mooz Boosh,” is available at Kilgore Books.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Cartoon Network, Comics, Comix, Humor, Kilgore Books, mini-comics, Minicomics, Zines

Kickstarter: LEMONADE SUMMER, LGBTQ Comics (Ends April 7)

LEMONADE SUMMER by Gabi Mendez

“THERE ARE STORIES ABOUT KIDS AND GROWING UP, AND THERE ARE STORIES ABOUT THE LGBT EXPERIENCE; BUT THE TWO DON’T OFTEN INTERSECT IN A POSITIVE WAY. LGBT ISSUES AREN’T JUST ADULT ISSUES! MY STORIES ARE FOR ALL AGES: POSITIVE STORIES OF KIDS AND YOUNG ADULTS NAVIGATING LIFE AND HELPING EACH OTHER WHILE NOT IGNORING THEIR IDENTITIES AS TRANSGENDER, BISEXUAL, NON-BINARY, LESBIAN, AND MORE.” – GABI MENDEZ, AUTHOR

A Kickstarter campaign is running now and ending on April 7th in support of Lemonade Summer by Gabi Mendez. This is an all-ages graphic novel about queer children, adolescents, teens and young adults coming of age in positive environments and finding supportive communities. The book is 136 pages with full color covers and chapter covers. Each story is a monochromatic color scheme mirroring the sun from noon to dusk, reflecting the characters’ growth in the book. The stories feature young, queer characters who grapple with the conflicts of their own worlds.

Page From “Strays”

“In the summer of our dreams, young pirate runaways learn to accept each other regardless of gender presentation. The new girl in town finds solidarity in female friendship. A roller derby unexpectedly lights the spark of a first-time crush. Friends find confidence in their own voice, and teens face the uncertainty of growing up.”
— Gabi Mendez

Kickstarter Goal: $15,000 currently funded at 40%
Kickstarter Ends: April 7
Support this Kickstarter campaign right HERE.

“We chose to crowd-fund this project to allow us to donate copies to schools, libraries, youth centers and other organizations that would not normally be able to access this book. Currently, our backers will allow us to donate 65 copies.”
— Gabi Mendez

This book is part of Cow House Press. Visit them right here.

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Filed under Comics, Crowdfunding, Gay, graphic novels, Kickstarter, LGBT, LGBTQ, Queer, Young Adult, Youth

Graphic Novel Review: LEGEND OF SUMERIA

Legend of Sumeria

LEGEND OF SUMERIA is a graphic novel set in a future where social media and genetics collide. Among a growing number of graphic novels integrating elements of real science with fiction, this one does best with its offbeat humor. There are plenty of intriguing subplots here but what will get the reader every time is that quirky human touch. Just as we marvel over the fact that there is just a speck of difference between our genomes, so too do we zero in on those storytelling nuances. This is not a perfect work but it is weird and odd enough to keep your interest.

“You smell like my mother used to. And I know she was not evil.”

Our main character is Dr. Bruce Abbot, who works for The SEQ Network. He is not very happy at all with that arrangement. Not when there is such a high level of mutual distrust. And especially not when a corporate lab experiment could trigger the end of human civilization! Add to that a cryptic organization lurking in the shadows and bent on destroying SEQ and you’ve got quite a lot of narrative to juggle. There is definitely a lot of stuff to like here such as the premise of trusting a corporation with your DNA especially so that you can have tailor-made intense and unique experiences.

New York, 2027

I’m not sure everything adds up here but I would advise to take what you want from this and don’t sweat the details. As it is, the story lurches enough with its insertion of sexual content. It is not exactly necessary and just makes the book inappropriate for younger readers. A more alluring vibe could have been achieved if the art was stronger. That said, the art is spot on for the overall offbeat quality to this work. So, I hardly dismiss this book out of hand as it brings up some intriguing ideas about how we humans can be outdone by our own hands.

LEGEND OF SUMERIA

LEGEND OF SUMERIA is co-created and written by Jay Webb and Dr. Biju Parekkadan. Lead artist is Anthony LaGaipa. It debuts on March 20, 2018. For more details, visit the official site right here.

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Filed under Comics, DNA, Sci-Fi, Science, science fiction

Comics Review: ETERNITY GIRL #1

ETERNITY GIRL #1

Caroline Sharp, aka superhero Chrysalis, has been put on administrative leave by Alpha 13. You see, there was this incident, where all sorts of things got blown up. It was no big deal. She just lost her cool, as she tells her therapist. In fact, Caroline has got a lot to say given that she’s been trying to kill herself ever since she was put on leave…and, as a superhero, she’s immortal. ETERNITY GIRL is a miniseries from the Young Animal imprint at DC Comics and it is easily one of the most engaging of new comic books.

Superhero Therapy!

Here is a comic that knows how to strike just the right balance with crisp writing that juggles serious issues and complex characters. And the main character just happens to be a superhero. We’ve gone down this road before but it’s always worthy of recognition when it’s done right. The script by Magdalene Visaggio (Kim and Kim) is so good that it all feels quite refreshing. And the art by Sonny Liew (The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye) jumps off the page, with a lively spirit reminiscent of Curt Swan.

No Big Deal!

So, what do you do when you can live forever but you’d rather be dead? Quite a conundrum. And get a load of the featured villain: Madame Atom and The Night Terrors! Alright then! Turns out that Madam Atom may have a solution as to how Caroline/Chrysalis can kill herself. But who ever took advice from a villain? Sounds like pretty self-serving advice to me. We’ll just have to stay tuned to find out.

A perfect score: 10/10

ETERNITY GIRL #1 is available as of March 14, 2018. For more details, visit DC Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, DC Comics, Young Animal

Comics Review: TWISTED DARK by Neil Gibson

TWISTED DARK, Cover art by Caspar Wijngaard

TWISTED DARK, published by TPub Comics, has the face of a battered woman as its brand and permanent logo. The story of a woman who wants to be beaten by a man is the flagship story to its TWISTED DARK universe. What to say on this? Where to begin? This logo has been around for many years now. I suspect that a lot of people who have actually bought the comic have not actually read the comic. That would partly explain how this has remained under the radar.

How about #NoAbuseToWomenInComics as a response? I know, some comics fans would cry foul and bring up the old Comics Code Authority. I am not advocating censorship. Hey, I am willing to see what this series attempted to accomplish. The least that I can do is to bring it up here to your attention. The least that TPub Comics can do, moving forward, is place a sticker on such books that states, FOR MATURE READERS. Now, let’s see, I’d say that CREEPY magazine is pretty much the closest work I can compare this to in attempts at offbeat horror–but CREEPY never beat up on women. If you like gritty and grim, that is the audience that Neil Gibson, the creator, writer, and publisher, seeks to attract.

I’m getting quite a late start with this series, which recently ended with Volume 6. I can clearly see from the first volume that this is a collection of depictions of misery. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, similar to The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror, as Mr. Gibson would hope for. That’s unfortunate. I can imagine how he would like to be associated with that but his work falls considerably short. Before I was even aware of the battered woman cover (as it is an extreme close-up) I went into reading this as I would any comic. As I progressed from one story to the next, I kept giving the book the benefit of the doubt. By the end, I found this to be not only dark and twisted–but misguided. Overall, I would say it is very misconceived. It may have been a case of persistence getting the better of good writing and judgement. I don’t enjoy saying this but that’s what I get from this. The solution is to phase out the false start and do a rebrand. There is potential there if corrections are made.

“A Lighter Note” Art by Heru Prasetyo Djalal

Here, you can see for yourself what is in this first volume. Each story involves a tale of dread and despair. There’s the story of a man who regularly asks his dead son for forgiveness for the way he abused him. Not exactly cheery, right? And it goes on from there getting more and more disturbing. There’s one story that begins with the compelling fact that we presently have more people living in slavery around the world than in any other time. I applaud bringing out that fact. The actual story is intriguing, if not depressing. It follows a man in utter poverty who rises to become an Islamic terrorist.

“The Pushman” Art by Jan Wijngaard

Another story about a failed life depicts a young Japanese man with crushed dreams of becoming an architect. Instead, he is a subway “pushman.” His job is to literally push crowds into subway cars to insure efficiency. However, this man, due to his troubled and frustrated existence, abuses the passengers by pushing and punching whoever he can.

“Munchausen’s Little Poxy” Art by Jan Wijngaard

The book rounds out with its final big story, “Munchausen’s Little Poxy.” All stories are written by Neil Gibson. Many of the stories, including this one, are illustrated by Jan Wijngaard. This is the story of Ulara, a troubled young woman facing issues of self-abuse. Ulara comes from a very wealthy family. It would stand to reason that Ulara would have, at some point, gotten the help she needed–with or without vast sums of money. Gibson paints a picture of a poor little rich girl who gets what’s coming to her since all her troubles are schemes to get attention. Her cutting is just a scheme. Her eating disorder is just a scheme. And so on down to her getting beat up by men. No one should feel sorry for Ulara since she deserves her pain. End of story. This is most assuredly not something that Rod Serling would ever have written. But it is a point of pride for Neil Gibson.

Neil Gibson’s overall motivation with his stories, to be generous, is to push limits. But simply pushing limits does not guarantee sound storytelling. His stories lack the perspective required for good horror. I think he has skill and I hope he learns from his mistakes. One of the challenging things about comics is that they take a considerably long time to create, especially at the scrappy indie level. So, it is possible for a misfit concept to power through to completion simply because too much effort has been put into it to abandon it. That certainly happens with the big publishers too but they can afford to cover one misstep after another, year after year. Indie publishers, all publishers, need to think twice about any project they undertake.

TPub Comics describes Twisted Dark as “a series of interconnected psychological thrillers, perfect for fans of twist endings and comics that reveal more on the second reading. Each story stands alone, but the more you read, the more connections you see between the characters.” I’m not here to burst anyone’s bubble. But, fair is fair, a closer look does not favor this work. Some high profile reviewers, and even a celebrity or two, have supported this series–but I seriously doubt they gave it a close reading, if any. Clearly, TPub Comics is persistent and maintains a presence at comic book conventions. If you view the video below, you see Richard Johnston mostly praising TPub and TWISTED DARK for its tenacity. “They challenge you to ignore them!” How about this: Now is the time to look inward. Mr. Gibson, please place stickers on your remaining stock that read FOR MATURE READERS.

So, maybe you should visit TPub Comics and let them know what you think.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Horror, Neil Gibson, TPub Comics

Comics Review: ‘Courtney Crumrin Volume One: The Night Things’ by Ted Naifeh

Never Trust a Talking Cat.

What an honor it was to chat with Ted Naifeh at Emerald City Comic Con. He is one of a number of master cartoonists that has not gotten on my radar, due to my own limitations. This is The New York Times bestselling author of “Courtney Crumrin.” Oni Press has recently re-issued all its collected volumes. I give you a taste with a review of “Courtney Crumrin Volume One: The Night Things.” The humor ranges from pithy to laugh-out-loud. I can tell you that, as I scanned the books, along with original pages, I couldn’t leave without getting a fix.

Mr. Naifeh has a dapper style with a touch of steampunk. I refer to his writing and drawing of comics–and to the man himself. Naifeh brings to mind a number of masters of a certain stripe of gothic horror, like Edward Gorey, Mike Mignola and Roald Dahl. Ask Mr. Naifeh to name an influence and he’ll get even more specific, like fellow cartoonist, Phil Foglio. Our main character, Courtney Crumrin, follows in this tradition of deliciously witty work.

Whose Life Is It Anyway?

Childhood is meant for children. Adults don’t totally get it, as far removed as they are. They may have even sugar-coated the whole experience in syrupy nostalgia. It is left to the kids to navigate the often scary, if not utterly dangerous, terrain as best they can. So it is for Courtney. In this first volume the reader gets to see her begin life at Crumrin manor. Her social-climbing and spendthrift parents eagerly take up the offer to be live-in caregivers to a wealthy but highly eccentric old relative, Great-Uncle Aloysius. Little do they know that the old man has supernatural powers, is as healthy as ever, and simply finds them useful for his own designs.

“Courtney Crumrin Volume One: The Night Things”

The sense of dread and wonder is palpable as Naifeh has little Courtney navigate through wealthy brat bullies at school; and various hobgoblins lurking in every corner at home. Naifeh’s quill is precise with his depictions. Readers will quickly find themselves immersed in the narrative. The scenes with Courtney battling, and then bargaining with, a goblin are particularly creepy. Naifeh is spot on with his balancing and blending the otherworldly with harsh reality. Sometimes, you cross a goblin and you simply don’t come back. But, if you’re made of just the right stuff, it’s the goblin who is put on notice.

“Courtney Crumrin Volume One: The Night Things” is published by Oni Press. For more details, visit Oni Press right here.

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ECCC 2018 Interview: Sloane Leong

Sloane Leong at #208 at Artist Alley!

For those heading out to Emerald City Comic Con on its last day, be sure to visit Sloane Leong at Artist Alley at Table #208!

PRISM STALKER by Sloane Leong

Sloane Leong is a self-taught cartoonist who has made remarkable progress with her compelling work. She has a comic book series, PRISM STALKER, with Image Comics. And she also has a graphic novel, A MAP TO THE SUN, coming out next year with First Second Books. What’s her secret? Like any hard-working and driven individual, Leong has a vision and cannot help but need to bring it to life.

A MAP TO THE SUN by Sloane Leong

I hope you enjoy this video interview. I begin with a little observation. Both of the main characters to Leong’s two big projects have monosyllabic names. And they both have an “e” in the middle. PRISM STALKER has Vep. And A MAP TO THE SUN has Ren. What to make of that? Watch the video interview to find out.

Let me add here a review of Leong’s mini-comic, A HOLLOWING:

A HOLLOWING

Here is a wonderful showcase of what makes Leong’s work so intriguing. With a confident and consistent tone running throughout, Leong takes us on a young woman’s tumultuous journey. Leong masterfully balances various ambiguous moments and images. She keeps the reader guessing by not spelling everything out. She takes the theme of horses, one of the great staples of girlhood in culture, and turns it on its head. You could say Leong is exploring deeper as she begins with a quote from Anna Sewell’s 1877 classic, “Black Beauty,” which resonates today with a fresh and relatively subversive vibe.

The dark and enigmatic horse.

In Leong’s hands, the horse is beyond mystery. This is a dark creature absorbing all of the young woman’s anxiety. In the course of the story, our main character, Casey, has been given a horse by her father. Now begins her training. This is symbolic on many levels, including the fact that Casey’s mother was an equestrian champion. Will Casey master the horse? That begs a more complicated set of questions. Leong’s gestural style and poetic narrative are simply mesmerizing. Discerning comics readers are looking for gems just like this mini-comic. If you’re at ECCC, you can get a copy for yourself.

Visit Sloane Leong.

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Filed under Comics, Emerald City Comic Con, First Second, Image Comics, Interviews, Sloane Leong

ECCC 2018 Interview and Review: Terry Mayo and THE WICKED RIGHTEOUS

Terry Mayo is at the TPub booth, #1606.

Emerald City Comic Con provides so many opportunities to meet exciting talent. Case in point is Terry Mayo. He is currently on tour in support of his comic book, THE WICKED RIGHTEOUS with Alterna Comics; and his upcoming comic book, DISPOSABLE LEGENDS, with TPub Comics. If you’re going to ECCC, find Terry Mayo at the TPub booth, #1606. The TPub booth features all sorts of goodies, like the ongoing series TWISTED DARK.

THE WICKED RIGHTEOUS #1 is a post-apocalyptic 6-issue comic book series from Alterna Comics. The creator and writer, Terry Mayo, describes it as “Mad Max meets Stranger Things.” We are midway through the series at this point so I’m catching up here. I can report that the first issue definitely sets the tone and proves to be a most enjoyable read.

When the Apocalypse hits, it comes down to survival of the fittest. Mayo plays with that concept with fine results. Think of this as having a bit of a Walking Dead vibe to with the focus being on one family clan in an alternate San Diego set in the future. You’ve got sophisticated government drones constantly hovering around and monitoring citizen activity. You’ve got a population that has been devastated by a mysterious plague. And you’ve got a civilization that is a mix of high tech and a throwback to another time more in tune with primal animal instincts.

THE WICKED RIGHTEOUS

What’s so great about going to cons is stumbling upon little gems like this comic. I am always on the lookout for something that has just the right quirky offbeat factor. If something is just a historical saga, for instance, it becomes a much harder sell for me to be convinced I should take the time and effort to say anything about it. In the first place, where is my motivation? If a creator is a bit of a prima donna, again, I need a reason to overlook that. The list goes on. My time is valuable and so is yours. With that said, I like what Terry Mayo is doing here.

I will start to wrap this up by just emphasizing how essential it is to have some sort of hook in a work of comics. I don’t know how some readers are attracted to some of the stuff that for me, and for more careful readers, looks like it has been stripped of any shred of humanity. My hunch is that most readers are sometimes willing to take something for what it is and then just move on. What I think a comics publisher like Alterna Comics does best is to keep to a core of authenticity. I kid you not, people sniff that out.

Overall, I look forward to seeing the collected trade to THE WICKED RIGHTEOUS. I think the whole creative team here should be proud of themselves. The artwork by Lucas Romero definitely has got a real deal human touch and goes a long way into getting the reader involved. Colors by Christopher Hall are spot on with the moody atmospherics. Lettering by Brandon DeStefano fits in exceptionally well into compositions and enhances the genuine and organic feel to this comic.

Rating of 10/10

DISPOSABLE LEGENDS

THE WICKED RIGHTEOUS is available at comiXology right here. For more details, visit Alterna Comics right here.

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Filed under Alterna Comics, Comics, Comics Reviews, Comixology, Emerald City Comic Con, TPub Comics

RICK AND MORTY PRESENTS: THE VINDICATORS #1 ECCC 2018 EXCLUSIVE VARIANT

RICK AND MORTY PRESENTS: THE VINDICATORS #1

An Emerald City Comic Con 2018 exclusive variant of RICK AND MORTY PRESENTS: THE VINDICATORS #1 by J. Torres and CJ Cannon with Nick Filardi. This convention exclusive is illustrated by Jen Bartel (Storm)! Available at Oni Press booth #216.

Keep up with Oni Press at ECCC on Twitter. Click to enlarge signing schedule below:

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Filed under Comics, ECCC, Emerald City Comic Con, Emerald City Comicon, Oni Press, Seattle