This is the first part to my 24-hour comics adventure from last weekend at the Kimpton Palladian Hotel:
Tag Archives: comic books
Comics can be discussed in any number of ways. You can try to include everything from comic strips to superhero comics to the latest graphic novels. What the annual anthology Best American Comics does is focus on comics that rise to the level of art that are already coming from some sort of artistic background: boutique publishers, arthouse anthologies, cultural websites, self-published work, and any other art outlets including galleries. The Best American series began with a short stories yearly anthology in 1915. The addition of an annual focusing on comics began in 2006. This was perfect timing as consensus in varied circles had reached a fever pitch that American comics had reached the level of art. And so, here we are with another long look at the comics medium with The Best American Comics 2017.
When you focus solely on alt-comics (alternative as opposed to mainstream) as representing all the best American comics, that creates an interesting challenge. But, all in all, it ends up being very helpful in sorting out where comics are headed as an art form. It is essential to avoid pitfalls: giving a pass to work that is weak from being self-indulgent, ill-conceived, poorly crafted, or heavy-handed. But we’re looking for the best, right? Comics cannot be held by the hand and protected. It is made of stronger stuff. To try to shield its creators from the harsh realities of life only hurts the very thing you may think, it your position of authority, you are helping. You wouldn’t provide a painter with free room and board and simply expect masterpieces in return, right? That’s not how life works. Anyway, the best work will win out in the end and the best work has got to have some kind of “wow factor.” This collection has plenty of that.
First, be sure to read the introductions by series editor Bill Kartalopoulos and guest editor Ben Katchor, a master cartoonist. To be fair, this is a very dry nutshell of what they have to say but, basically: Kartalopoulos advocates for artist-cartoonists to not hold back at all since their odds of fame and fortune are nil; Katchor, in a series of hilarious satirical pieces, reveals a sensitivity to the marginalized role of cartoonists. To be egalitarian and invite everyone to try their hand at creating comics does, as I suggest, create interesting challenges. Another example: you would not assemble an annual collection of the best American illustration and really spend too much time considering nonprofessionals–nor would you concern yourself over the status of a person in the illustration profession. So, what makes the artist-cartoonist (plus those who aspire to be) so special? You could say that is what makes this book so special since it devotes itself, as well as logic and space can accommodate, to the current state of independent American comics.
We begin with a piece by Gary Panter. Here is someone who, by all rights, openly defies any professional standards to the comics profession. Panter’s work is messy: from the clumsy depiction of figures and composition down to the often hard to read hand-drawn lettering. A lot of people do not like a “clumsy” work. However, a lot of people who attempt such a style, don’t nearly come close to the spark and originality in Panter’s work. In “Frieze, No. 181,” Panter has his characters prattle about the current state of art. It’s funny, unique, and totally Panter. In comparison, the next work in this collection is by Dan Zettwoch. Now, here you have a cartoonist who has mastered all those aspects of traditional cartooning: crisp and dynamic depiction of figures and composition right down to intricate highly-polished/professional-grade use of hand-drawn lettering. In his case, if he tried to be too casual and expressive, his creations might become too hard to follow. So, there you have two examples of contemporary indie comics, among a myriad of possibilities.
If I were to point to only one item in this collection, I would be satisfied with the excerpt from “John Wilcock, New York Years, 1954-1971,” by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall. I believe this satisfies the desire of Kartalopoulos to highlight work that pushes boundaries; and it also satisfies a similar inclination in Katchor, to seek out offbeat and unusual work. I find this excerpt especially timely as it focuses on the origins of The Village Voice, which recently had to give up its print edition. In this piece, we follow the misadventures of writer John Wilcock, who actually succeeds by not only skill and talent but by a formidable force of will. He finds himself at the right time and place as one of the founders of the Voice, first published in October of 1955. Wilcock manages to hold his own with tough guy co-founder Norman Mailer. And, among the dazzling people he gets to interview is none other than Marilyn Monroe. This is a very lively work of comics. You can follow it as a webcomic right here.
There is definitely something to be said for being completely inclusive about the act of creating comics. We have already reached the point where you can just as easily consider taking a cooking class, or a yoga workshop, or a comics-making workshop. Hey, you can also include improv comedy in that self-improvement list. Do comedians feel that their profession is somehow diminished by having so many amateurs getting into (or attempting to get into) the same game? Nope. Same goes for a whole bunch of other people: writers, actors, and various other artists. Fortunately, you can’t learn some of the basics of becoming a doctor on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The point is that the standards for comics are there and some people will do comics for a certain time while others will be compelled to delve deeper. What a book like Best American Comics does is provide both the practitioner and the reader with a wonderful roadmap and source of inspiration–and, by the way, entertainment and enrichment.
“The Best American Comics 2017,” editor Ben Katchor; series editor, Bill Kartalopoulos, is a 400-page hardcover, available as of October 3rd, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Cannabis humor is tricky. The subject comes with its own unique background that easily attracts goofy humor. It can also definitely have redeeming quality. I’m talking about overall quality and craft. In movies, think: Cheech & Chong. Seth Rogen and James Franco. In comics, think: Robert Crumb. Simon Hanselmann. If you are really cool and smart about it, you can succeed with goofy jokes about pot. WEED MAGIC, published by Bliss on Tap Publishing, is a new comic book series that gives it a try. Let’s take a closer look.
Here’s the deal: you are already preaching to the choir when you create a cannabis comic so you really don’t need to overstate your case. That is a big challenge to contend with. And, to be fair, you are also dealing with a variety of opinions and tastes. Some people think Kevin Smith is spot on with his cannabis humor and some think not so much. It does seem that people can get way too caught up in proving that they have cannabis cred and that they’re up for the most wildest of misadventures. In general, less is more. Some people think more is not enough. At first, I was leaning towards this being a problem for this comic. Attempts at going full-on Mary Jane can fall short and feel too generic and calculated. But, after careful consideration, I say this comic grows on me.
The narrative steadily takes form and the reader can expect to roll with the offbeat humor. This is light entertainment done right. This is written by Brian Phillipson and Jordan Lichtman with art by Alex Cormack. Brian Phillipson is the president and co-founder of Bliss on Tap Publishing. It is easy for readers to take for granted the hard work involved in creating something that falls in the light humor category. But this is a sharp and well-executed smooth read. The dynamic use of color by Cormack is in step with the pace and humor. We’re in good hands down to spot on lettering by Alex Murillo.
The story does a good job of playing off the typical superhero origin story. Set in Los Angeles, in Hollywood, we follow two friends as they discover their true destiny. Bunny Cortez dreams of making it big as a filmmaker. Moe Green is more down to earth as a law clerk on a fast track to becoming an attorney. But both of these guys are not happy, at least not as happy as they’d like to be. Until, one day, they stumble upon a big bag of magic weed. Hey, I could see this attracting the attention of Seth Rogen and James Franco or the next wave of talent that aspire to be Rogen and Franco. It could happen. Lastly, we’re just discussing the first issue here. From what I see, I am intrigued and look forward to the collected trade. All in all, a strong first issue. Seek this out.
WEED MAGIC is available as of October 4: digitally on all major distribution platforms, including Amazon, Apple iTunes, Hoopla, Comixology, Google, Scribd, Nook, and Drivethrucomics. And for fans attending New York Comic Con (October 5-8), Bliss on Tap will be featuring WEED MAGIC at booth 945 along with a special collectible.
Visit Bliss on Tap right here.
Jean-Paul Deshong is a professional in the comics industry. SONS OF FATE is Deshong’s first independent series. As he states in his introduction, his goal is to bring all the excitement from reading comics as a kid to this project. If you like adventures with a martial arts theme, then this is for you.
A look at this book reveals a lot of passion behind the work. Deshong revels in details. The origins to our narrative involve a fleet of medieval Japanese ships that are attacked by pirates. The ambush results in heavy casualties. One particular sailor ends up ashore a tropical island. The indigenous people are dark and savage in comparison to what our hero is accustomed to. But he gains their trust and even becomes a guardian to a boy from the village. It is this fateful union that moves our story forward.
This is an involved and dense story that moves at a contemplative pace and is punctuated by lively action sequences. You can have a long interval with some characters opening up about their motivations and then, for the next scene, there’s a rampaging rhino. That works for me. You can never go wrong with a rhino. What I find most interesting and admirable is the level of dedication Deshong has brought to his work. That will carry him, and the reader, forward on this series and with projects in the future. SONS OF FATE is a solid adventure comic that a wide spectrum of readers will enjoy.
Visit the SONS OF FATE website right here.
Blutch is one of the greatest cartoonists working today. You may not be familiar with him but, once you see his work, you can’t help but fall in love with his fluid line and worldly narrative. This guy is simply brilliant. At 49, he is relatively young. All of us cartoonists seem to age well. Part of it has to do with a bit of arrested development. Just a touch of Peter Pan can go a long way in a youth-oriented industry. If only all could be counted on to go well, then a true artist-cartoonist could enjoy a most meaningful, productive, and youthful life. But things rarely go according to plan. That is part of what the great Blutch confronts in his new graphic novel, “Dark Side of the Moon,” available in French and English at izneo.
Now, one more thing, keep in mind that American cartoonist greats like Paul Pope and Craig Thompson turn to France and worship at the altar of Blutch. This is the time for all the great work in French by Blutch to be translated into English. And, believe me, that is currently happening. Take a look at a recent English version of “Peplum,” published by The New York Review of Books. This is also time for the master to reach ever new heights with ambitious and complex bildungsromans and roman-a-clefs. He does just that sort of thing with this new book which has a cartoonist satirizing his lot in life in a similar vein as Fellini satirizing his. We begin with a dream, an ideal, and how it fares when it dukes it out with cold harsh reality.
Much has been said about Blutch’s expressive line. It seems as if he conjures up the most lively and vivid figures from head to toe. Well, that ability does not come from being showered with likes on Facebook over knocking off a quickie sketch. In Blutch’s youth, and in mine, to be liked was a hard won endeavor that really meant something between two human beings, if it happened at all. And for someone to like your work, well, that meant you must have torn your heart out with elbow grease. Oh, the nostalgia can weigh so heavy as to floor me. In the case of this book, we go back and forth between Lantz, the cartoonist in the bloom of youth and in the pit of middle age. Lantz is on a journey where memory and desire conflate the truth.
Perhaps sweet and dewy Liebling holds the key to happiness, to perpetual youth. It is this lovely young woman who begins our tale. From her, we find all the energy and promise of youth fully intact. But, alas, Liebling has certainly come of age to go out and get a job and so off she goes to give up her soul to the nearest employment agency. Blutch mercifully sweetens things by setting it all in a fanciful world of the not too distant future. All Liebling seems to have to do at her new job is stick both of her hands in a big blob. Yes, a blob, not a blog. It is a goopy half-sentient network that keeps things running smoothly at Mediamondia, the mega-publisher-content-provider. Okay, you can see the easy segue to Lantz, a master content provider, er, cartoonist.
Imagine your favorite pop culture franchise. Okay, that’s what our hero, Lantz, has a pivotal role in. Lantz is responsible for churning out the next installment of The Brand New Testament. The only problem is that Lantz is losing his mind. The passing of time is making Lantz sad again. It’s a whole new world. It’s not like the old days and it’s hardly like it was in the heyday of Pips.
No one appreciates all the toil involved with creating a work of such epic proportions…and all done by hand. Hint: Blutch speaks of his own work and the relative indifference he must confront. There are people who want what he can make but do they really know him or love him?
Blutch triples down by giving himself three alter egos. There is a young Lantz and an oldish Lantz. Plus, there is a shrewd youngish character named Blutch, a corporate jester who knows how to play the game. It is this character who needles Lantz and convinces him that, if he refuses to go on with The Brand New Testament, then he damn well better be content to churn out the very next installment of the popular, but decidedly subpar, Cuckoo Puff series.
Lantz will either avoid reaching a breaking point or Blutch will happily dance on his grave. And then there’s the ethereal Liebling. Surely, she must hold a key. This is an utterly mesmerizing work. If you are new to Blutch, consider this an excellent introduction.
DARK SIDE OF THE MOON is a 56-page full color graphic novel and available in a digital format at izneo.
Who knew that ancient Egyptian (3000 BCE – 30 BC) mythology could be so much fun? Well, a very creative and funny guy named Hamish Steele sure does. Read his take on these creation tales in his new graphic novel, “Pantheon: The True Story of The Egyptian Deities,” published by Nobrow Press. It is always a pleasure to review a book by Nobrow as they consistently bring out books that will appeal to a wide readership. This book I peg at ages 13 and up. A tongue-in-cheek blurb on the back provides a friendly warning. It states that this book contains depictions of “incest, decapitation, suspicious salad, fighting hippos, lots of scorpions, and a golden willy.” So, keep that in mind.
Steele has created a “disruptive” comic interpretation of Egyptian mtyhology. It is as if he picked the brains of countless students who have had to slog through arcane history and literature and given them exactly what they wanted. How about The Canterbury Tales as told by Borat? The original is “bawdy” but still a bit distant. There is no harm in making it more accessible. In fact, the great Seymour Chwast gave us his take on The Canterbury Tales a few years ago and brings things to life in way that only the comics medium can do. What Steele does is follow the pantheon of gods and pharaohs as they attempt to rule over ancient Egypt, warts and all.
Take, for example, just how badly things go when a god is insecure. Ra, the sun god, senses that he has outworn his welcome among humans. So, what does he do? He turns his one and only duaghter, Hathor, into fury itself, hell-bent on killing humans. Not the best solution to a problem. Steele plays that up with sly wit. Of course, things get far more complicated once Ra drops off a few gods to fight over who will rule over humans as pharaoh. Gods being gods, nothing is beneath them. And here, Steele runs with it.
With an appealing style, Steele infuses these tales of gods and mortals with a zesty contemporary vibe. Steele’s approach is uninhibited, playful, and spot on. This would be a welcome addition in a high school or college classroom.
“Pantheon: The True Story of The Egyptian Deities” is a 216 page full-color trade paperback, available as of September 15, 2017. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Nobrow Press right here. You can also find this book by visiting Amazon right here.
I have not been following a Batman title, or any mainstream superhero tile, for quite a while. But all that has changed with just one name: Tom King. As many of you already know, King is the man on Batman. He’s a writer who knows when and how to expand on a moment as he recently did with a whole issue devoted to a certain gathering for dinner (see Batman #29). And then there’s his work on Mister Miracle. King has brought back the character first created by Jack Kirby in 1971. For this latest 12-issue run, Tom King’s script is decidedly existential. Our hero, Scott Free, happens to be one of the fabulous New Gods. His backstory is a little complicated. Think Wonder Woman. To add to the complexity, Scott hides his secret identity as a world-renown escape artist. And, lately, he’s been struggling with his greatest challenge of all: Scott wants to escape death.
So far so good. Any story with a guy dancing with the Grim Reaper gets my attention. What wins me over is the everyday moments between Scott and Barda. They’re, in many respects, just a typical young married couple. Maybe they take each other for granted sometimes. Maybe they push each other’s buttons at other times. That sort of thing. But they’re also awesome superheroes, right? King and artist Mitch Gerads (The Punisher) keep that balance working very nicely. Frankly, any talk, at least at first, of New Genesis and Darkseid and my eyes will fully glaze over. Maybe I’d get into it after a while. I just need a hook. Honestly, all of us readers need something to hook into and the truth is that few of us are going to care as much about the superhero stuff without first investing in the characters. That said, this creative team understands that very well.
Okay, so now for the finer points. The comic pretty much sticks to a grid of nine panels per page. It’s a great look and King and Gerads can get really creative with this more arty approach. Well, I say “arty” as I think of that nine panel grid as definitely calling attention to itself. It has a great deal of potential as seen in other titles such as Hawkeye from Marvel Comics. King and Gerads have made good use of this structure for both dramatic and comedic affect. There’s a moment where Scott and Barda must go through the ritual of kneeling before their leader, the Highfather. It’s an extended moment that allows for all the necessary timing. But you’d expect that sort of thing from King, king of the pregnant pauses. It’s totally funny. Now, I’m just wondering if we’re simply going to see more and more of the nine panel grid as it works so well on mobile devices. Hopefully, we’ll always have the Kings of comics overseeing quality control with excellent content.
MISTER MIRACLE #2 is available as of September 13, 2017. For more details, visit DC Comics right here.
If you have not heard of this book yet, then let me introduce you to one of the new landmarks in graphic novels, “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters,” by Emil Ferris, published by Fantagraphics. Maybe you have heard of it. Or maybe, like me, you weren’t sure what to make of it at first. Certainly, one quick look through its pages, and you can tell this is something weird and wonderful. And, at 386 pages, this ain’t a book you’re gonna miss sitting there on the shelf.
As a cartoonist myself, the book is also a bit intimidating. All this awesome stuff to process–that I didn’t write and draw! As a reviewer, this is the sort of book that everyone comes out of the woodwork to review. People who never read graphic novels now suddenly have an opinion to express on the next big thing. But, don’t get me wrong, it is exciting to see a book like this gain the spotlight. That said, a number of things make this book significant and worthy of a long life after the current buzz.
The best way to enjoy this book is to find a cozy seat and explore the pages for a while. Then just settle into it. Ferris has an uncanny sense for narrative flow. In a comic that she did about promoting the book, she included an observation by comics legend Art Spiegelman. He declared that Ferris had tapped into a new rhythm for comics. To be sure, Ferris has a distinctive approach. She beautifully alternates among various possibilities: from full page drawings to panel sequences; from just a hint of color to full color; from lots of text to minimal text. This exquisite contrast propels the reader into worlds unknown.
Our story begins in Chicago on Valentine’s Day, 1968. There’s been a murder, or maybe a suicide, or God only knows what. Something happened upstairs. 10-year-old Karen Reyes has lost her dear friend, her upstairs neighbor in the apartment right above her: the elegant and enigmatic Anka Silverberg. She was shot in the heart. But her apartment door was bolted shut from the inside. So, yes, it was a suicide, right? Well, that’s what the police say. But Karen senses that just can’t be right. And so begins Karen’s investigation. Karen, the little girl who thinks she’s a monster. Yes, she really believes she’s some werewolf girl. And the only thing more scary than that is the M.O.B., that’s short for people who are Mean, Ordinary, and Boring.
Ferris fuels her work of magical realism with magical kid logic. Karen’s quest to get to the bottom of the death of Anka Silverberg, a holocaust survivor, becomes a multi-layered journey. Narrated by Karen, the reader becomes privy to a child’s inner world in a similar fashion to Jonathan Safran Foer’s celebrated novel, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.” 10-year-old Karen ponders over the validity of monsters and concludes that they have as much right to exist as other unseen marvels like germs and electricity. Karen’s fanciful innocence clashes with harsh reality. Her older brother, Deeze is engrossed in various sexual conquests with little to no discretion as to whether Karen is around to hear it or see it. As a way to protect herself, Karen can always revert back to her own whimsical concerns, like whether or not tulips get homesick for Holland.
This is a genuine must-read resonating with aficionados and the general public alike. Many of the pages in the book have become iconic, particularly the monster magazine portraits. This is a tale that intertwines the tumult of the 1930s and 1960s and ends up casting a mirror to our own very troubled era. The alternating formats that Ferris uses are the hallmark to this most innovative work. Ferris steadily modulates the narrative having the reader swim to the deep end and read passages suitable for a prose novel all the way to deceptively simple comic strip sequences. All the while, everything is held together cohesively with the consistent use of ball point pen rendered art on a background of notebook paper–that and one of the most compelling voices to grace the page.
As I say, in my video review, it is a hard thing to do in a graphic novel where a cartoonist creates something truly fresh that has the reader seeing things in a whole new way:
This is one of those rare books that can safely be called an instant classic. It is a long work in comics that truly makes good use of a high page count. In fact, a second volume is due out as early as Valentine’s Day of 2018. For more details, visit Emil Ferris right here. And visit Fantagraphics right here.
Think of Maggy Garrisson as a more gritty Bridget Jones–dealing with crime noir misadventures. The first book in a graphic novel series sets up a rollicking good time with our main character, Maggy, stumbling into a career as a private detective. That’s pretty remarkable considering she wan’t doing anything in particular prior to her new more challenging situation. The first book in the series in entitled, “Maggy Garrisson: Give Us a Smile, Maggy,” originally published by Dupuis, in Belgium, and now available in an English translation as a digital comic at izneo right here.
Written by Lewis Trondheim and drawn by Stéphane Oiry, this crime comedy series is sure to please just about any reader. Trondheim is a legendary cartoonist, both as an artist and writer. Stéphane Oiry is best known for his collaboration with the cartoonist, “Trap,” in bringing back the classic comic strip, “Les Feet Nickelés,” originally created in 1908 by Louis Forton.
Maggy Garrisson proves to be a perfect anti-hero in her own way. She seems to only attract grifters and drifters into her life. But she is determined to get a better life or, at least, she really hopes for the best. She is not an ambitious sort. Trondheim and Oiry play up Maggy’s shortcomings for all they’re worth. As Maggy becomes more entangled in what could add up to some fairly sinister activities, the reader will be thoroughly amused. Drawn with a light touch and attention to detail, Maggy moves about a vivid and animated world.
This first book is 50 pages in full color and available as a digital comic at izneo.
“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a very big deal–and deservedly so! It exceeds the expectations of the most diehard fan with a heady mix of style and substance. I am so happy to have seen it and I would gladly go see it again and again. I was hoping for something special. I went in with thoughts that this could be a like a French Star Wars, perhaps divided by Star Trek, and then multiplied by Doctor Who. Something really special–and that it is!
My concern was that there might be some culture clash for some viewers: American tastes at odds with this Euro-movie based upon a Euro-comic book series. But, I conclude, that really is such a non-issue. There is a decidedly offbeat sensibility going on with this movie but isn’t that what we all love about the Star Wars franchise, along with other loopy and irreverent entertainment?
Another worry was that I had heard that this movie was too dependent upon CGI. Well, ahem, there’s nothing wrong with CGI when it works. Just think of “Avatar.” Much like “Avatar,” the CGI in “Valerian” is simply an integral part of the experience. There are so many iconic moments in this movie that are all about the CGI. For instance, the wonderfully elaborate sequence with Valerian (Dane DeHaan) running through a multitude of dimensions. Or Laureline (Cara Delevingne) arguing with some very dim servant creatures. Or, one of my favorite moments, Bubble (Rihanna) and her beautiful dance sequences.
There’s a very intriguing thing going on with the dynamic between Valerian and Laureline. The two are lovers but they have a lot of work ahead of them. They are intentionally distant in how they interact with each other, in an other-worldly comic book way. This disconnection between the two lovers leaves the viewer wondering about them. When Valerian repeatedly tells Laureline that he wants to marry her, it comes across as highly ironic. It would be wrong to dismiss the acting as wooden. It is part of what director Luc Besson intentionally wants. It is part of what the script aims for. I think some critics have unfairly expected more natural performances and gleefully found fault where there is none.
Given the surreal and whimsical elements in this movie, it remains a well-built and grounded piece of work. The opening sequence brings to mind the opening scenes to “Wonder Woman” set in the idyllic Themyscira. In this case, it is an ideal world of peaceful beings. The civilization depends upon little creatures who happily produce pearls that power their world. These beings, like the young lovers, Valerian and Laureline, are quite otherly. It is this otherliness that informs this rather sophisticated narrative that gently balances irreverence and idealism. Just the sort of thing you’d expect from the very best comics.
Of course, you can’t please everyone. Americans, in particular, have become quite reliant upon extra bells and whistles, even after they’ve just been presented with a formidable visual feast. No, it doesn’t seem to matter if they’ve just viewed a masterpiece–Where’s the gag reel?! they demand. And, with that in mind, you may love the video below that includes just that sort of bonus content:
“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is undoubtedly a joyride of a movie. You will love it. Visit the official Valerian movie website right here.