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Review: THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2018

THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2018

The Best American Comics 2018, with series editor Bill Kartalopoulos, and editor Phoebe Gloeckner, is another impressive collection of comics that are offered to the reader as among the best of the last year. Think of it as a comics art festival all in one book. Don’t expect much in the way of mainstream comics: no big publishers, let alone superheroes. What you will find a great deal of is a treasure trove of activity on the fringes.

While comics can be created in a myriad of ways, some patterns hold true. The most distinctive common trait is that work in the alt-comics scene is usually the work of one original voice that knows the work best and is compelled to shout it from the mountain tops with little or not additional assistance. Here are some examples for this year’s BAC anthology:

Kevin Hooyman

Kevin Hooyman fits more into the heroic mold of the hermit cartoonist. There are any number of glorious examples of this type of commitment. It leads to some of the most idiosyncratic, and compelling, work around. People can take sides and claim this is the only kind of comics that really matter. The truth is that including Hooyman’s work in this alt-comics anthology helps to set the tone and continue to build on what is possible in this medium.

Richie Pope

Richie Pope is an excellent example of an indie-pro hybrid. It happens and more often that you might think: a rebel/eccentric who, when he is assigned a client, will naturally keep to deadlines and go to meetings. Consider Pope’s work to have that extra professional snap and polish.

Lale Westvind

Lale Westvind is another hybrid. This time: cartoonist-animator. This is always an intriguing combination of skill sets. Westvind can bring to bear her rigorous animation background in the service of art comics–giving it that added lift.

Tara Booth

Tara Booth is another example of a cartoonist identifying as an outsider and challenging the reader, whether mainstream or not. That said, she’s also a masterful artist with a deceptively simple style.

Max Clotfelter

Max Clotfelter is high on the list of cartoonists who aim to provoke. He is a guerilla artist who defies the general reader’s expectations. It’s an ethos rooted in punk and DIY: the more raw and simple the better. A more raw approach is something cartoonists like Art Spiegelman advocated and yet, as underground cartoonists progressed in what became actual art careers, refinement was never far behind raw. So, the balancing between the raw and the cooked will go on.

Geof Darrow

Geof Darrow is another independent cartoonist who is also at home with big publishers like Dark Horse Comics from which Darrow’s piece in the book originally appeared. Darrow is a shining example that technical skill and masterful creation within the traditional structures of comics is something to celebrate and not distance one’s self from in favor of seeking out the most experimental of creators.

Bill Kartalopoulos has much to be proud of in all his efforts to support and to better understand the ever-shifting world of contemporary comics as an art form. He makes choices as to what may end up in the book. Then an esteemed guest editor makes the final calls. After that, well, it’s up to the selected creators to take it from there. Some may find themselves relatively rising and some may find themselves relatively coming up short. And others may just slip out the back door and never be heard from again.

The Best American Comics 2018 is a 416-page hardcover, in b&W & color, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Visit HMH right here.

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Filed under Anthologies, Best American Comics, Bill Kartalopoulos, Comics, Phoebe Gloeckner

24-Hour Comics Day 2018: Character and Narrative Development

Emily is haapy, right?

The unique character of Emily emerged in the mist of the night. Who is she? Well, if I could talk with Emily, I would tell her that she’s intriguing and deserves everything wonderful in life. It looks like I’ve found my main character. It is a very natural discovery.

When you’re building up a story, you do a lot of things on the fly and juggle as best you can until it’s time to settle down. What I started with was a whole bunch of background stuff.

Not so happy.

And then, as I wandered along, a character fell into place that could carry along and support the background. We see her smiling. Next panel, we already see her not smiling. Okay, what’s up?

Radio silence.

By the third panel, everything has gone quiet.

The plot thickens.

And on the last panel, we’ve got some conflict. The plot thickens. So, suffice it to say, I am intrigued with Emily and I wish her well on her journey.

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Filed under 24 Hour Comics, 24HCD, Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Comics, Comix, Henry Chamberlain, Independent Comics, Indie

24-Hour Comics Day 2018: First Steps in Process

Creating Characters.

I have gotten situated. I have lots of books and various reference material. I’ve got the whole frick’in internet! And, with the Mayflower Park Hotel, I’ve got a wonderful and stimulating environment.

I try to include a bit of everything during these precious hours of creativity. Brett Kavanaugh is certainly fair game as he dominates the news. You’ll find him in the background music to the above video.

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Filed under 24 Hour Comics, 24 Hour Comics Day, 24HCD, Comics, Henry Chamberlain, Mayflower Park Hotel Seattle, Seattle

Comics Review: AFTER HOUDINI

AFTER HOUDINI by Jeremy Holt and John Lucas

Editor’s Note: This book is a Comics Grinder Giveaway. If you would like your own free copy, contact me and I’ll get it out to you.

After Houdini is a graphic novel that truly lives up to its promise: a rollicking adventure that taps into the mystery of grand illusionist Harry Houdini. You have here another riveting original tale with high production value from Insight Comics. The steampunk vibe is natural and spot on. Overall, the work looks and feels like it was fun to create. Written by Jeremy Holt; illustrated by John Lucas; Colors by Adrian Crossa; Lettering by A Larger World Studios.

Teddy Roosevelt runs a tight ship!

You are quickly swept up into a supernatural world with this comic. I think it’s the strange energy that all the characters are feeding off each other that is the true star of the show as opposed to any set of characters carrying the story. And I think that subtle distinction makes this special. By all the rights, the main character is Josef Houdini, son of Harry Houdini. But, as I say, it’s the magic in the air that overshadows everything. No one, not even a Houdini, is going to upstage that. It’s a challenge to convey that but this comic does it with wonderful pacing, gorgeous art, and one quirky tale to tell.

The steampunk vibe is natural and spot on.

All you need to know is that it takes a Houdini to rescue a Houdini. That’s an important point. The rest is, well, a fun and intriguing read. Any story that thoughtfully manages to include Teddy Roosevelt and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as active and viable players is fine by me. I see that another graphic novel, Before Houdini, is an upcoming follow-up to this book and I look forward to it.

After Houdini is a 112-page full color trade paperback. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Insight Comics right here.

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

Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC) this weekend 9/29-30

Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC)

Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC) is one of the newest comics art festivals, founded in 2015 by Bone cartoonist Jeff Smith and comics journalist Tom Spurgeon. If you are in the Columbus area and your passion is comics and graphic novels, then CXC is for you. The “backbone” of the four-day CXC is this weekend’s Expo and Book Fair which brings together 135 comics-makers on the second floor of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, Main Library.

Comic books. Mini-comics. Graphic Novels. That is the main focus. Cartoon Crossroads Columbus is free to the public. It is a distinguished event featuring impeccable talent like Katie Skelly, Derf Backderf, Nate Powell, Zack Soto, Gemma Correll and publishers like Fantagraphics and Silver Sprocket.

The festival takes place at various locations in the University and Discovery Districts, including buildings on the Ohio State University campus, the Main Library, the Columbus College of Art & Design and the Columbus Museum of Art.

“For Better or For Worse” cartoonist Lynn Johnston (Ron Bull/Toronto Star/Getty Images)

This year’s main speaker is “For Better or For Worse” cartoonist Lynn Johnston, appearing at 7:30 p.m. Friday, September 28th, at the Wexner Center for the Arts. Also on the docket is a jammed-packed schedule of talks and panels, screenings, exhibitions and networking. Make sure to hit up the after-parties on Friday at Brewcadia (467 N. High St.) and Sunday at Pins Mechanical Company (141 N. 4th St.)

For more details, visit Cartoon Crossroads Columbus right here.

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Filed under Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, Comics, CXC, Jeff Smith, mini-comics, Tom Spurgeon

SPX Comics Review: GOOD KINGS BING & BOWIE SWING

GOOD KINGS BING & BOWIE SWING

Good Kings Bing & Bowie Swing, published by Brain Cloud Comics, is a comic book with a gentle, quirky, and upbeat theme. I’m always fascinated with the innate ability of comics to crossover into various subjects and demographics. It sounds sort of counterintuitive to say but comics are not just for comics enthusiasts. Comics will always surprise you with how elastic it is and how broad its appeal is. This can apply for any comic, even a comic that may have, by all intents and purposes, been created with a small group of readers in mind. So, this is a lengthy way of saying that I see this weird and funny book as being something a lot of readers will enjoy!

Bing Crosby and David Bowie to the rescue!

It’s remarkable to see how well the creative team (written by Jim Ousley; illustrated by Carlos Gabriel Ruiz; lettered by Brandon Daniels) works with its chosen subject: an enhanced/fanciful look beyond that time that Bowie and Bing sang together on a holiday special. For this book, this unlikely dynamic duo is lending a helping hand to those in distress.

Brain Cloud Comics offers a wide variety of quality comics. I go back with this publisher to my reviewing one of its earliest projects, Pretentious Record Store Guy. You can read my review right here. And you can read my interview with creator Carlos Gabriel Ruiz right here. What I enjoyed about this book was its irreverence and style. When you reach that sweet spot of irony, it’s something special. That said, this Bowie/Bing comic gives us a taste of that.

If you are heading out to Small Press Expo this weekend, be sure to stop by at Table B10 and visit Brain Cloud Comics. You will find the SPX debut of Good Kings Bing & Bowie Swing as well as the debut of Blood on the Track #2, plus many more titles.

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Filed under Brain Cloud Comics, Carlos Gabriel Ruiz, Comics, Independent Comics, Indie, Small Press Expo

SPX 2018: Time for Small Press Expo, September 15-16!

SPX illustration by Molly Ostertag

Time for Small Press Expo, September 15-16! SPX, created in 1994, is the cornerstone to the comics community. It is at the forefront in promoting and providing support. Each year, more than 4,000 cartoonists and comics enthusiasts gather in Bethesda Maryland for North America’s premiere independent cartooning and comic arts festival. Let the latest news speak for itself. This is from a press release that just came out:

“Small Press Expo announced that it will immediately make available $20,000 and also launch a legal aid fundraising vehicle to support members of the SPX community who are currently facing a defamation lawsuit. The fundraising vehicle, administered by SPX, and created in consultation with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, will be established for the purposes of defraying the cost of legal representation for the eleven members of the independent comics community named as defendants in the ongoing lawsuit.”

So, yeah, it’s September and that can only mean one thing for die-hard indie comics fans: Small Press Expo! Yes, indeed, each year Bethesda Maryland suddenly becomes, for one weekend, the lightning rod for some of the most cutting-edge comics. If you’re in the area the weekend of September 15-16, then come out to this event and check out some awesome alt-comics.

Now, I must admit that, although I’ve gone and I’ve participated in numerous comics festivals and events as a journalist and as a comics creator, I have never gone to Small Press Expo. Some folks there will have heard of me and some know me from years back. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m new to SPX. So, I hope to do my best to provide some stellar coverage to this most venerable and respected gathering. Small Press Expo is where much of the indie comics scene gained traction and it remains the jewel in the crown.

So, say hello if you see me and we make eye contact or somehow slip into conversation. We’ll figure it out. Or say hello here at Comics Grinder. If you’re a creator, let me know what you’re up to and maybe we can set up an interview or I can plan to review your work. I don’t exactly expect an avalanche of responses– but I always end up making a decent number of connections at these events. I understand that things will get hectic and maybe you’re shy to begin with. I understand– and I can only focus on so much myself. The main thing is to have fun and to always strive for authenticity. The rest works itself out.

The full press release on the Legal Aid Fund for Cartoonists follows:

Continue reading

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Comics, Comix, Independent Comics, Indie, Millennials, mini comics, mini-comics, Minicomics, Self-Published, Small Press, Small Press Expo, SPX

Comics Review: ‘DC Comics: Anatomy of a Metahuman’

DC COMICS: ANATOMY OF A METAHUMAN

DC Comics: Anatomy of a Metahuman is another entertaining and informative title from Insight Editions. This is something that will appeal to teen readers and up. Whatever your level of knowledge of superheroes, particularly from DC Comics, this book is quite appealing. A “metahuman” can mean a lot of things and, in the DC Universe, it is a superhuman power. That includes the most prominent names like Superman and Aquaman as well as lesser know characters like The Cheetah and Martian Manhunter.

This book examines in detail, with bold illustrations, the powers of twelve characters. It’s an investigation carried out by, none other than, Bruce Wayne. So, Batman himself guides the reader through this top secret dossier. You never know what to expect with these metahumans, friend or foe. For the most part, these are villains. Some have gained in prominence since gracing the silver screen, like Bane and Doomsday.

Bruce Wayne doggedly pursues the secrets to Superman’s superpowers.

In the hierarchy of metahumans, it’s hard to judge the order of significance. Each can become a star within context. And often the most interesting things are going on with the least known. And, with that in mind, this book makes for an intriguing collection.

There is a fun and natural flow to this book. The reader will be delighted with the meticulous reporting by Bruce Wayne. He definitely gives it his all in attempting to dissect Superman. The reader will enjoy following Wayne’s obsessive search and question alongside him as he ponders such things as: “While it would explain many of his feats, is negative mass effect even the likeliest reason for his abilities?” In a sense, this dossier is a story within a story.

Wayne goes on to turn his attention to The Cheetah, Aquaman, and on down the line. This is a wonderful way to become more familiar with the DC Universe, all under the metahuman theme. Without a doubt, this is another great title from Insight Editions.

DC Comics: Anatomy of a Metahuman is a 160-page full color hardcover available as of September 18, 2018. For more details, visit Insight Editions right here.

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Filed under Comics, DC Comics, DC Entertainment, Insight Editions, Metahumans, Superheroes, Superman

Comics Review: THE FURNACE by Prentis Rollins

THE FURNACE by Prentis Rollins

It is an honor and a pleasure to share with you, The Furnace, the new book by Prentis Rollins, a veteran in the comics industry (Marvel and DC), published by Tor Books. I will jump in with a quick way to hook into this book and say outright that this work does indeed compare favorably with the best of the original Twilight Zone. That’s a tall order but this is an exceptionally unique work. I don’t take such comparisons lightly and I have no problem striking down false claims that occur quite often. So, yes, this is the real deal with its finely modulated pace and attention to detail. It delivers that ethereal sensation that leaves you in a deliciously questioning mood. And, with its sophisticated flair, it will have strong appeal to adult readers while still appropriate for any age.

Much like an excellent episode of The Twilight Zone, every detail is accounted for right down to the title, The Furnace. What sort of furnace could this be? Well, as in any existential tale such as this, there’s a good deal of nihilism. This furnace first comes into view as a parent tries to explain to a child a highly complex (and compromised) adult endeavor. The explanation takes on grand metaphysical proportions while also clearly playing the role of an augury of sinister things to come. Just what is this parent trying to tell this child? A machine that keeps cookies locked away?


Witness the worry in the mesmerizing patterns in the sky.

We take so much for granted when it comes to comics. I digest quite a lot of comics, coming from a myriad of genres, publishers, and niches. A work like this is the Holy Grail of comics, to try to put it as plainly as possible. With a work like this, you are experiencing comics, both in art and in writing, at an extraordinary level. I’m sorry but work at this level is not for hobbyists. And I strongly believe that work at this level needs to be acknowledged as often as possible. It’s not only that Mr. Rollins can draw at an exquisite level. That alone will get you only so far. And the same can be said for nicely-paced prose. What stands out is a level of dedication and professionalism that results in astonishingly honest work. You view an episode of Twilight Zone running on all four cylinders and you see exactly what I mean. No one who just happens to love comics is going to crank this out overnight. No, sir. It doesn’t work that way. Here is someone who wrote and drew and colored a significant and highly-polished graphic novel all by himself. It happens–but not quite as often as you might think. And not nearly as good as this book!

What I really enjoy about The Furnace is that Mr. Rollins seems to not give a fig about all the time and effort required to tell his tale. He just does it–and he makes it look so easy. As a cartoonist who both writes and draws, I can tell you that this is quite labor-intensive stuff, especially if you do it all by hand, the old-fashioned way. Based upon the endnotes, where Mr. Rollins shares his process, he did indeed do it all by hand. And here’s the irony. While it is devilishly hard work, if you stop and think about it too much, it can be a very satisfactory activity. You reach a point, towards the end of such a project, when your skills are at a well-oiled level, that you simply don’t want to stop. You actually want to do more and so, if you’re fortunate, you simply jump on to the next project.

“I’m having a ball!”

Each character in this book is quite palpable, a true living and breathing entity. The key bone of contention is between two ambitious young men who find themselves at the precipice of a watershed moment with staggering consequences. Marc holds the key to what comes next and also has the power to stop it, if he were so inclined. Walton, while very capable in his own right, is stuck with being in Marc’s shadow. Walton is the guy that a genius goes to for some assistance, not for collaboration. Our story is told in various pieces looking back from the perspective of a middle-aged, and bitter, Walton. He tells this tale to himself and, oddly enough, in a sanitized form, to Clara, his six-year-old daughter. To add to the tension, Clara’s face and demeanor often resemble a much older girl or woman. It doesn’t help that Clara keeps pushing the envelope for her age. For example, she insists upon calling her father by his first name. Walton’s wife sees no problem with this as she declares, matter-of-factly, that Clara simply doesn’t see Walton as her father.

You reach a point in a work when you either ease up a bit or you dive deeper. Mr. Rollins takes each dive and goes deeper. Thankfully, he is a writer who relishes in well-placed, finely-articulated dialogue and action. And, as happens deep in the process of making a work of comics such as this, the level of writing somehow blends and interlaces with the artwork. Your characters might be pensive or caught in the throes of a crisis and, akin to the background in a painting, character and environment meld together. The skies take on an eerie neurotic energy which is accomplished with crosshatching and patterning above and beyond what would satisfy a typical panel or page. And, thus, a remarkable moment is experienced…followed by another and another.

The best rendered ears in the business!

I sort of want to skirt around the issue of the actual plot because I don’t want to give too much away. In some respects, this is as much a character-driven narrative as anything else. It has a lot to do with the great distance we can create between our fellow humans, a recurring theme on The Twilight Zone. And the storytelling has a lot to do with evoking a certain state of mind, an ongoing concern, for sure, on The Twilight Zone. The Rollins touch is there in every way possible, right down to arguably the best rendered ears in the business! Yep, that little sample above of a finely-rendered Rollins ear speaks volumes. I honestly believe that the complexity and beauty of this work ranks up there with such landmark work as Watchmen, albeit on a smaller scale.

A utopian scene

It was indeed a pleasure for me to review another work by Prentis Rollins a while back. This was his magnificent guide to drawing comics, How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias: Create the Futuristic Humans, Aliens, Robots, Vehicles, and Cities of Your Dreams and Nightmares, published by Monacelli Studio. In fact, the image above is a working drawing related to The Furnace. This particular image did not make it into the book but I thought it might make a nice treat to include here. Obviously, this book is a visual delight–and, without a doubt, a literary delight.

The Furnace is a 208-page full color trade paperback, available as of July 10, 2018. For more details, visit Tor Books right here. And be sure to visit Prentis Rollins at his website right here.

File this book under “Awesome Titles Near Level with Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.”

Rating: 10/10

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Sci-Fi, science fiction, The Twilight Zone, Tor Books

Comics Review: Clockwork Lives: The Graphic Novel

Clockwork Lives: The Graphic Novel

Any escape might help to smooth
The unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe
The restless dreams of youth

–Neil Peart, RUSH – Subdivisions ( Signals Album 1982 )

Any kid growing up in the ’80s and in tune with popular music was listening to Rush in 1982. I fondly remember the single, “Subdivisions,” with its eerie biting satire. Flash forward thirty years, Rush released its 19th and final album, Clockwork Angels, in 2012. The lyrics written by Neil Pert, were adapted into a comic book mini-series by Boom Studios in 2014. And now we have a new Clockworks tale to tell, Clockwork Lives, published by Insight Comics. It is a treat for fans, new and old, promising to deliver something trippy and unusual, another ode to nonconformity.

If I were to storyboard out this narrative, I would be anticipating some really weird and fun visuals. Here’s the thing, this whole story is about dreams and telling stories where anything is possible. The premise is quite whimsical: the great clockworks conductor has passed away; if his sheltered daughter wishes to gain her inheritance, she must venture out into the world, beyond her little hamlet, and collect wonderful stories into a special book.

The Death of the Father

Be prepared to take in one intriguing image after another. It’s like Jethro Tull meets The Wizard of Oz. Or Ozzy Osborne meets Tintin. Or, better yet, steampunk meets The Canterbury Tales. So, curl up in a nice comfy chair and just take it all in. This is coming from Rush’s Neil Peart, after all. Co-writer Kevin J. Anderson worked with Peart on the original Clockwork Angels comics adaptation. As Anderson states in the Introduction, with this new tale, Peart and Anderson did not have album lyrics to guide them. This time out, the world of the Watchmaker, the Anarchist, and Albion, would be set free to develop further.

The Fortune Teller’s Tale

The art (Benjamin Rboly, GMB Chomichuk, Juan Vegas, Moy R., Tom Hodges, Tony Perna, Vic Malhotra) here is gorgeous with a true steampunk sensibility. And the cover, by the way, is designed by Hugh Syme, who did the covers and illustrations for Clockwork Angels and just about every single Rush album.

As our main character, the mellow Marinda Peake, soon learns, it’s good to strike out on one’s own. Before you know it, your life can blossom from a “mere sentence or two” to a true epic. It will prove an enjoyable journey for any reader.

Clockwork Lives: The Graphic Novel is a 176-page full color hardcover available as of June 26, 2018. For more details, visit Insight Comics.

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