Tag Archives: graphic novels

SDCC 2016 Review: THE DEATH OF STALIN, presented by Europe Comics

"The Death of Stalin," published by Europe Comics

“The Death of Stalin,” published by Europe Comics

The Death of Stalin” is a digital graphic novel presented by Europe Comics and is one of various select titles from Europe Comics being promoted at this year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego. This is quite an audacious, vivid, and insightful look at the strange events occurring shortly after Joseph Stalin had a stroke: the chaos and the subsequent grab for power. 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.

Who was Joseph Stalin? If you’re too young to have a frame of reference, that’s understandable. Think World War II. Think dictator. Then add to that one of the great mass murderers in history responsible for the deaths of millions. Joseph Stalin was the Soviet Union’s dictator from 1924 to 1953. And, in that time, he ordered the deaths of an estimated 50 million of his own citizens. So, you can imagine that his death would be a pretty big deal.

It once was common to find in your newspaper a grainy official photo of the Soviet leaders proudly reviewing the annual May Day parade displaying Soviet military might. That very same photo would, at a later date, pop back into those same newspapers with the latest news from the mysterious world of the Soviet Union. But the photo was altered: someone had been erased and replaced with someone else. There was plenty of doctoring of photos and executing of comrades during Stalin’s regime. While that may seem primitive by today’s standards, you can see something similar going on in North Korea. I feel like Rachel Maddow now as I hope I impress upon young readers that Kim Jong-un’s regime is a small scale throwback to what the Soviet Union was like.

Who Will Take Over After Stalin?

Who Will Take Over After Stalin?

To best convey the inner workings of the Kremlin during the last days of Stalin requires a dedication to characters. Go back to that grainy photo of politburo leaders at the May Day reviewing stand. How do you give those ghostly figures some life? Now, that must have been a challenge. This book is up to the task thanks to both a lively script by Fabien Nury and compelling art by Thierry Robin. Without a doubt, you are that fly on the wall. We are told that truth is stranger than fiction. Did Stalin, the night before he had his fatal stroke, really force the national symphony to replay a concert they had just performed just for the benefit of his own personal recording? I would not be surprised.

This two part story will thrill political junkies as well as history buffs. We see a relatively young Nikita Khrushchev as he maneuvers for power. In 1953, he was a mere 59 years-old! That’s “young” for Soviet leaders. In a matter of days, the tide would turn in his favor and he would replace Stalin. But not before a chaoic, bloody, and sometimes comical, turn of events. That said, this intriguing story will prove insightful and entertaining for any reader of any age.

The Death of Stalin” is now available at Europe Comics, which launched in November 2015 by a coalition of nine comics publishers, two rights agents, and an audio-visual company, from eight different European countries. Europe Comics is working towards the creation of a pan-European comics catalog, available in English and digital format, a website with comics information for readers and professionals, and a series of author tours and events across Europe and the USA.


Filed under Comic-Con, Comic-Con 2016, Comics, Europe Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, History, Russia

Review: SNOTGIRL #1

Your Fashionista, Snotgirl!

Your Fashionista, Snotgirl!

“Oh boy! It’s really been a while, hasn’t it? But it’s like they say: life is what happens between blog posts. Right??” That is “Snotgirl,” the new comic created by Bryan Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung. Meet Lottie Person, your fashionista, your Holly Golightly with a blog. Not in a long while have a enjoyed such a pleasing mix of sexy and cute as with this new comic.

Holly Golightly with a blog

Holly Golightly with a blog

A comic like this almost writes itself. Thankfully, we have a thoughtful script by O’Malley and engaging artwork by Hung. When has snot ever been a recurring motif in a story about twentysomethings? Maybe it a comic strictly for kids, like Dennis the Menace or Peppermint Patty covered in snot. But not someone so poised and elegant as our Lottie! The poor thing suffers form allergies. So, she is never too far from a tissue. And those allergy pills don’t seem to be reliable.

I blog, therefore I am.

I blog, therefore I am.

If you are reading this blog post, chances are you write a blog of your own! We’re all doing it. Feels good, right? Or does it? You could say it depends on why you’re doing it. This is at the hear of this story. What makes Lottie tick? What if all her social media was suddenly withheld from her? Would she exist? And then there’s a surprise twist at the end of this first issue that lets you know for sure that all is not what it seems. Great first issue!

SNOTGIRL #1 is available as of July 20th. For more details, visit Image Comics right here.

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Filed under Bryan Lee O'Malley, Comics, Comics Reviews, Image Comics

Interview: Eric Heisserer, LIGHTS OUT, ARRIVAL, and the Art of Storytelling

Eric Heisserer

Eric Heisserer

"Lights Out"

“Lights Out”

Eric Heisserer is a screenwriter you want to follow. He is known for “The Thing” (2011), “Final Destination 5” (2011), “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (2010), and “Hours,” (2013) his directorial debut, starring Paul Walker.

You will see his work this year in “Lights Out,” a supernatural horror film directed by David F. Sandberg; and “Arrival,” a sci-fi thriller directed by Denis Villeneuve. “Lights Out” is in theaters starting July 22, 2016 (USA). “Arrival” will open wide on November 11, 2016.

In this interview, we chat about storytelling and we begin with “The Dionaea House,” an online project that launched Eric’s professional screenwriting career with its sale to Warner Bros. in 2005.

From The Dionaea House

From The Dionaea House online companion story, “Exposure”

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Eric, I wanted to ask you about “The Dionaea House” as that was what kicked off your career. It would be great if you could share with us some of the process that led to that.

ERIC HEISSERER: Sure, that was back in 2004. I had just moved to Los Angeles. I had moved out here because I had managed to get a screenplay of mine optioned and that got me enough cash to sort of get a foothold out here in the city. But I really didn’t know many people here and, a few months after making the move, that project crumbled. So, I was already hemorrhaging money. And one thing I had to do, as a writer, was to find something else to work on. I also tried to avoid the trap that too many writers can fall into. You can easily become a hermit. So, I went to a friend’s house in the Valley. He was holding a party at the time. And I got lost in the grid of homes out there. As I passed one block, I looked over and I saw a house that looked exactly like the one in Houston that I used to drive by on my trek to work every day.

And that stuck with me. I was like, “That’s the same elevation. It even looks like the same roof damage. That’s really bizarre.” So, I did a triple take. It was a couple of weeks later, I was dealing with insomnia, and I stayed up and watched a feature on the Discovery Channel on carnivorous plants, particularly, Dionaea muscipula, or the Venus Flytrap. The narrator spoke about how all these identical mouths were disguised as shelter for insects. Those two ideas collied in my brain: What if we’re the insects? These aren’t houses anymore but portals to something terrifying.

I am a big fan of Lovecraftian horror, something less conventional. This isn’t demons and angels. It’s a different kind of horror.

Were you influenced by “House of Leaves”?

I had been turned on to that after I wrote the story. Similar influence is there as we’re operating in the same garden. There’s a passing resemblance there. I definitely recommend Mark Z. Danielewski’s book to anyone.

I want to focus a bit on “Hours.” But what led from “The Dionaea House” was huge: writing for “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “The Thing,” and “Final Destination 5,” that alone must have been a wild ride.

It was wild, and interesting, for sure. Those were my early days working in the studio system. After having written thirteen feature screenplays, it was, “The War Horrors,” that stuck with everyone and got me work faster than anything else. You learn early on that, as a writer, you can be hired on as an architect or only as a construction worker. You need to earn your wings. It wasn’t until I got to work on “Final Destination 5” that I got to flex my own muscles and explore some of my own ideas. It was a confidence level building up that allowed some of those ideas to be seen all the way to the end.

And then you need to overcome only being offered certain projects. I grew up in an age when you were not monogamous to just one genre. We had just mentioned earlier “The Thing.” Well, the writer of the John Carpenter film, from 1982, Bill Lancaster, was the same writer for “The Bad News Bears.” So, you can jump around a lot of genres. I am built that way. I am wired for a lot of different genres. And, to show that, I wrote and directed “Hours,” starring Paul Walker.

I see “Hours” as having a Richard Matheson vibe to it: the man versus environment theme. “Hours” has elements of horror without being outright horror. It fits right in with what you’re saying as Matheson always maintained he was, above of, a writer, beyond genre.

Exactly! I loved reading Richard Matheson growing up. I devoured all his “Twilight Zone” stories.

I believe that “Hours” is a movie that will be revisited by viewers again and again. It’s a beautiful film.

Thank you.

"The Toynbee Convector," a short story by Ray Bradbury originally  published in Playboy magazine in 1984

“The Toynbee Convector,” a short story by Ray Bradbury originally published in Playboy magazine in 1984

I think about those writers who resist labels. One cult favorite writer that I admire is Dennis Etchison. He writes great horror which defies labeling. Are there any writers you might like to share with us that inspire you?

Well, there are a number of writers and genres that I enjoy. I started with science fiction: Asimov, Heinlein, and definitely Bradbury. What surprised me most is how the most emotionally affecting stories by these authors were not specifically science fiction. There’s a Bradbury story, “The Toynbee Convector,” which is basically a scene about a dissolving marriage. And, once you realize that relationship is over, it is heartbreaking. I found myself sobbing at the end of it. And that helped me to realize that someone with a great vivid imagination, who can create stories about A.I. and spaceships, never lost sight that the key component to a story is to find that emotional connection.



You do a lot of writing for comics. For example, Lone Wolf 2100: Chase The Setting Sun, with Dark Horse Comics.

Yes! The collected trade comes out in September. I am really proud of that one.

Sony Pictures to bring out Valiant Comics movies

Sony Pictures to bring out Valiant Comics movies

What can you tell us about your working with Valiant Comics on Bloodshot and Harbinger? You got to work on the scripts for the upcoming movies from Sony.

I got introduced to Valiant Comics through the movie adaptations for Bloodshot and Harbinger at Sony. I became enamored with the character of Faith. I brought in some ideas of what could be done with the character and that has led to a new project that fans can look forward to in 2017.

With “Lights Out” coming out very soon, July 22nd, what can you tell us about getting to work on that?

It was a real joy. It began as a short by Swedish filmmaker David Sandberg. He had some really great ideas on how to take that two and half minute film and turn it into a feature length movie. Everyone involved wanted to see him direct. This would be his first film at that scale, and his first American feature film. I knew that, with me, he would need a producer in his pocket. He would need, let’s say, a linebacker to absorb some of the stress that comes with that kind of project. I wanted to be there for him: not only write the script but be there for preproduction, be there onsite every day.

Lights Out Eric Heisserer

What can you tell us about “Arrival”? You wrote the screenplay that is based on a beloved short story by Ted Chiang. And the movie is directed by one of the great directors, Denis Villeneuve.
That must be very exciting. That comes out November 11th.

Yes, November 11th! I am very excited. That has been a dream project for me. I’ve been working on that for more than six years. That’s the closest to my own writing that you’ll see on screen with the exception of “Hours,” which I directed.

"Arrival," adapts Ted Chiang's "Stories of Your Life"

“Arrival,” adapts Ted Chiang’s “Stories of Your Life”

You have what seems like an endless list of projects that you’re working on. There’s “Bird Box” at Universal. There’s “Understand” at Fox. How do you plan your day? Do you clear the table and just focus on one thing for a while or do you find yourself going back and forth?

I need more than one project to work on. That’s how things operate. I can get very passionate about something for a week or two. And then it starts to just feel like work. I’ll have all these interesting ideas for something else. Eventually, I’ll shift back to what I was working on.

And for those out there interested in the process of writing, you have a book out, “150 Screenwriting Challenges.”

I’ve been creating exercises for myself: dealing with writer’s block, creating dialogue, scenecraft. I’d been sharing those with my Twitter followers. It got to the point where I collected them into a book. I hope it proves to be helpful and fun for readers.

We look forward to “Lights Out” and “Arrival.” And all the other good things down the road.

You and me both, Henry!

“Lights Out” is in theaters starting July 22, 2016 (USA). This is a story about what is and isn’t real when the lights go out. For more details, visit the official LIGHTS OUT website right here.


Filed under Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Eric Heisserer, Horror, Interviews, movies, Ray Bradbury, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Screenwriting, Valiant Entertainment, writers, writing

Review: THE FUN FAMILY by Benjamin Frisch

Fun Family

“The Fun Family” is the debut graphic novel by Benjamin Frisch. It is a satire of wholesome family comic strips with a decided focus on Bil Keane’s “Family Circus.” I think Frisch is a decent cartoonist but this work does not make me want to poke fun at family-oriented comic strips that are supposedly shallow and trite. No, instead, it makes me want to defend all comic strips, especially the masterful work of Bil Keane! That said, I do appreciate what Frisch is after here. He has set up an ongoing gag where he has the anti-Family Circus family crumble before our eyes. Meet the Fun family, they are not what they seem.

Frisch goes about his task with a good deal of precision. We are swept right into the family dynamics as each member recites what they are thankful for before dinner. We observe a hearty and classic nuclear family, all Ozzie and Harriet pleasantries intact. And then little junior picks up the phone and is given the news, via an automated message from the hospital, that grandma has passed away. This event triggers a downward spiral that just keeps going downward. This hits Robert Fun, the patriarch, especially hard. How can he continue to draw his world-famous circle-shaped newspaper comic strip celebrating the wholesome American family?

Perfectionist Robert Fun reveals his secret porcelain doll family to his son.

Perfectionist Robert Fun reveals his secret porcelain doll family to his son.

Everyone in this comic within a comic is drawn in the old-fashioned spit polish style of a family comic strip except all vibrancy has been replaced with a certain strangeness. The artwork is keyed down, all the characters either look lifeless or ugly compared to the original Family Circus characters. You think that family fun is the norm? Frisch tells you to think again. It’s an undeniably intriguing concept for a graphic novel. The narrative weaves its way through showing up how families are not perfect and how quack counseling can make matters worse. We also have an interesting mirroring of events going on as little Robby follows in his dad’s footsteps and creates his own successful family comic strip.

This is a well-constructed graphic novel. No real argument there. And the humor may hold up for some folks. As for me, if feels like Frisch is hammering away at something that is not exactly all that subversive as that is clearly his goal. The Simpsons series, reveling in family dysfunction, has been on TV for nearly 30 years. It is common to ridicule a tepid and disingenuous slogan like, “family values.” So, I can’t back down on feeling compelled to support Bil Keane’s life work, now continued by his son, Jeff Keane. What’s next? Are we going to bash Hank Ketcham and Charles M. Schulz? Surely, I ask this with tongue in cheek. It’s not that I can’t take a joke and I do believe that Frisch is capable of telling a joke.

Great satire is great satire. You just know when it comes together. All you need to do is read Mad magazine and read how it has cleverly satirized family comic strips over the years. In the case of “The Fun Family,” the point is made about family dysfunction in a didactic fashion that may prove to be too much of a good thing. That said, you may be alright with the tone to this book. I definitely look forward to more of Frisch’s work. How about a satire on this satire? Now, that could prove to be very interesting and Frisch could prove to be just the right cartoonist to take that on.

“The Fun Family” is a 240-page full-color softcover graphic novel. For more details, visit Top Shelf Productions right here.

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Filed under Bil Keane, Comic Strips, Comics, Humor, Satire, Top Shelf Productions

Review: ‘Guardians of the Louvre’

Jiro Taniguchi Louvre comics

I would love to know the details on the Louvre series published by NBM. This latest installment, “Guardians of the Louvre,” by acclaimed manga artist Jirô Taniguchi just goes to show once again how unique this subject is and the endless possibilities for it. What a great cartoonist wants in a project, especially one who both writes and draws and has done so for many years, is a task worthy of the enormous effort. And, to sweeten the deal, make it something heroic. A cartoonist loves it when he or she can make a grand gesture.

Reading Guardians of the Louvre

Reading Guardians of the Louvre

What I’m saying about the grand gesture is so very true. Look at how Taniguchi responds to the task: his main character/alter ego is reduced to a little heap in comparison to the Louvre and its many treasures, opportunities, and mysteries. He arrives in Paris completely spent from a bad case of the flu. He is completely overwhelmed, out of his element, his observations through a fever dream. Like Little Nemo on his magic flying bed, we set off on a most unusual journey.

The Louvre, outside of any known realm.

The Louvre, outside of any known realm.

Our hero, due to a bad rabbit stew or some such mishap, is now in tune with the supernatural elements of the Louvre. When you consider that we are talking about a museum that is over 200 years old, as large as ten football fields, holding 70,000 pieces of art going back to antiquity, well, it would not be surprising to find that it has many tales to tell and that it is at least a bit haunted, right? Taniguchi asks that you run with that idea.

And so one grand gesture leads to another. We see poltergeist in all their gloopy glory floating about. We meet a beautiful ghost, presumably the Winged Victory. And, it just goes on from there as we go in and out of time, meet various artists long gone expect very much alive in this moment. The Louvre is a House of Leaves. It is a place that insists you shed your normal skin and walk amongst it. You inhabit a place such as the Louvre and you can’t help but let it inhabit you.

“Guardians of the Louvre” is the latest in the NBM Louvre series. It is a full color hardcover, right to left reading manga-style, 8 x 11, 136 pages. For more details, go right here.


Filed under Art, Art books, Art History, Comics, France, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, NBM Publishing, Paris, The Louvre

Review: DARK PANTS #3

DARK PANTS #3 by Matt MacFarland

DARK PANTS #3 by Matt MacFarland

I am a big fan of Matt MacFarland’s DARK PANTS series. You can read my review on the previous two issues right here. The third issue is now out and it follows Phil, a teenager in Silver Lake, California, circa 1988. As Matt described to me in an interview, each new issue focuses on a different time and place in the Los Angeles area. The motif is a mysterious pair of black jeans and the sexual awakening they trigger in whoever wears them.

Page from DARK PANTS #3

Page from DARK PANTS #3

For our hero, Phil, life has been hell as he struggles with his sexuality. Phil is navigating in a very oppressive environment. The last thing he wants to consider is being gay. But, once his fate crosses paths with those alluring dark pants, he gains enough confidence to explore his options a little bit. MacFarland is relentless in his depiction of Phil’s inability to be true to himself. It seems as if his embracing his truth is filled with nothing but pain. Gradually, MacFarland hints that Phil may ultimately find pleasure but it sure won’t come easy.

Reading DARK PANTS #3

Reading DARK PANTS #3

The easiest thing that Phil can rely upon is his imagining having sex with teen heartthrob John Stamos. It’s a pretty funny and sobering fact. Phil thinks about it and he knows he likes it. But he’d rather hide. Things come to a head, so to speak, when Lisa, his supposed dream girl, lures him away to a bedroom. It’s his big chance to prove he’s not gay to his confused and frustrated self but all he can think about is…John Stamos. As for Lisa, she will have her day. It looks like she is the subject of the fourth issue set in Eagle Rock, California, circa 2016.

No matter how empowering those dark pants are, they are no match for an awkward teen. Phil is simply ill-equipped to harness his new raw power. He makes some progress but not quite what he might have expected. 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.

Matt MacFarland Los Angeles

If you are in the L.A. area this weekend, be sure to see Matt MacFarland on Saturday, July 16th, from 5-7pm at the Los Angeles County Store in Silver Lake. Find out more right here.

Find Matt MacFarland and DARK PANTS right here.


Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Gay, Independent Comics, LGBTQ, Los Angeles, Matt MacFarland, Sex


Black Hammer Jeff Lemire

BLACK HAMMER is the latest entry in the fish-out-of-water superhero story. For this first issue, Jeff Lemire tries out a bunch of scenes with his cast of misbegotten superheroes. And the twist at the end of this first issue, should leave you wanting more. Dean Ormston’s artwork compliments Lemire’s script with a light and ethereal quality similar to Lemire’s own artwork. And Dave Stewart rounds out the core creative trio with plenty of those spot on atmospheric colors: autumnal oranges and sunset pinks. Where all this is headed is still unclear but the overall offbeat quality is winning me over.

These are superheroes with a Golden Age vibe to them. The real deal type. And it fell upon them to make some big sacrifices they’d all rather not talk about. But talking things out is good, right? That’s what Abe would say. Of course, Gail would never listen. And Barbalien would just laugh. There’s this one scene where Gail, who happens to be stuck inhabiting a 9-year-old, goes off to sit and brood on a rooftop. Along floats by Barbalien looking like this really big demon. He plops next to Gail and the two of them chat. It’s a good scene but it reminded me way too much of the sitcom, “3rd Rock from the Sun.” You know the show? It has a similar premise: aliens from another world stuck on planet Earth. You can imagine Joseph Gordon-Levitt up there on the roof with a hoodie feeling bad about himself and then John Lithgow comes out to join him.

I don’t think it’s such a good idea for this script to resemble a sitcom too much unless we’re heading down a particularly ironic path. There’s also a scene with ole Abe going into town to see his sweetheart, a waitress at the diner. That too has a squarely sitcom quality to it. I am willing to see where this goes. Then there’s Talky-Walky. He’s a robot determiend to invent a way to get off the island…uh, I mean planet. I sense that Lemire really wants to be very playful. So, if you’re in the mood for something whimsical, and ironic, this may end up adding up the further along you go past this first issue.

BLACK HAMMER is available as of July 20, 2016. For more details, visit Dark Horse Comics right here.


Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Dark Horse Comics, Jeff Lemire, Satire, Superheroes

Review: LADY KILLER 2 #1 by Joëlle Jones

Joëlle Jones Lady Killer

LADY KILLER, written and drawn by Joëlle Jones, is a landmark in comics. To have a second season kick off is pretty awesome indeed. This is as tightly written as it is exquisitely drawn. And, hell yeah, you get quite a freaky entertaining story to enjoy. This is why people get hooked on comics and great storytelling. Here’s the deal, it does get bloody but it’s never creepy. Well, creepy can work really well sometimes. But, you know, then there’s super-creepy torture porn stuff and this is not that at all. Think more in terms of Alfred Hitchcock just to give you a solid point of reference.

Our story finds Josie picking up where she left off. The horrible things that happened in Seattle are now in the past. The Schuller family has moved to Cocoa Beach, Florida–where a whole new set of horrible things can happen! It is circa 1962, with the American dream flying high with a house full of kids and Tupperware parties. Josie, if she towed the line as a typical housewife, would take orders from her husband and simply recede into the background. But Josie is different. For one thing, she’s a serial killer.

Lady Killer Joëlle Jones

Jones deftly plays with the housewife/serial killer dynamic as stylishly as if it were coming from Hitchcock. It is a sheer delight to see her balance the gore with understatement and just the right touch of humor. She does a great thing by replacing all the blood with ink. Well, the blood is the color of black ink. Black has a way of delightfully messing with your mind in ways that red would not. It adds a different kind of impact: the abrupt and stark black commands your attention. It’s negative space, negating life, summoning sharp thoughts of death, finality, the great void.

For a comic so invested in death, it is definitely one of the most alive and vital comics you can pick up.

LADY KILLER 2 #1 is available as of August 3, 2016. For more details, visit Dark Horse Comics right here.


Filed under Alfred Hitchcock, Comics, Comics Reviews, Dark Horse Comics, Horror, Joëlle Jones

Review: Girl Over Paris #1 (of 4) (The Cirque American Series)

Jules Maroni out to prove them wrong.

Jules Maroni out to prove them wrong.

Jules Maroni is a celebrity tightrope walker connected to the supernatural in the latest comic from Amazon’s Jet City Comics. I love a good story with complications. Part of the fun of reading a comic that is hinting at something spooky around the corner is how it creates its trail of breadcrumbs. “Girl Over Paris” sets the tone for a spooky adventure with style and joie de vivre.

Part of Gwenda Bond’s CIRQUE AMERICAN universe, this story, written by Kate Leth (Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat!, Adventure Time: Seeing Red), follows Jules and the gang as they fly from the U.S. to France in order to perform at a big event and allow Jules to regain her stature after a long hiatus. Artwork by Ming Doyle (The Kitchen, Constantine: The Hellblazer) and colors by Andrew Dalhouse enhance the pixie-romantic quality to this tale.

Reading "Girl Over Paris #1"

Reading “Girl Over Paris #1”

There’s a lot of luscious detail to this comic that sets it apart. I like the gentle pace too. Ms. Leth does a wonderful job of allowing us into the innermost thoughts of Jules: she is making a comeback, opening up to her new boyfriend, and confronting a supernatural entity. That’s quite a lot for a first issue.

Girl Over Paris #1 (The Cirque American Series) is available as of July 6, 2016. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Adventure, Amazon, Amazon Publishing, Comics, Comics Reviews, France, Gwenda Bond, Jet City Comics, Paris, Young Adult

Interview: Bob Proehl and ‘A Hundred Thousand Worlds’

Bob Proehl

Bob Proehl

A HUNDRED THOUSAND WORLDS, the debut novel by Bob Proehl, is a beautiful and quirky book mixing pop culture satire with a compelling family journey. It is published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Read my review here.

“For all its acrobatic wit and outsize charm, at its heart this is the love story of two everyday heroes–a mother and son–who, like their author, possess the superpower of storytelling. A ‘Cavalier & Clay’ for the Comic-Con age, ‘A Hundred Thousand Worlds’ is a bighearted, inventive, exuberant debut.”

–Eleanor Henderson, author of “Ten Thousand Saints”

BOB PROEHL grew up in Buffalo, New York, where his local comics shop was Queen City Bookstore. He has worked as a bookseller and programming director for Buffalo Street Books, a DJ, a record store owner, and a bartender. He has written for the 33⅓ book series and worked as a columnist and reviewer for the arts and culture site PopMatters.com. Proehl currently lives in Ithaca, New York with his wife, stepson, and daughter. It is my pleasure to share with you this interview.

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Your novel is a mix of family drama and satire. I see it in the long tradition of novels. Are you more of a traditional writer?

BOB PROEHL: I’m a fairly traditional writer. I write long form. I write novels. I sat down with this and I knew, pretty early on, that it was a big project, of novelistic length.

HC: Your satire seems to have a gentle bite to it while still being complex. You’re critiquing consumer culture and corporate interest while you’re also celebrating storytelling. Can you speak to that?

BP: It’s written very much from that fan community. I’ve been a comic book fan for as long as I can remember. It’s a community that I see too often portrayed in a really negative light. I think the general public perception of geekdom, or fandom, comes from that “Big Bang Theory” portrayal: nerds living in their mother’s basements. And that’s not true. It’s not true to my experience or what I see at cons or when I talk to other people. So, while I did want to poke a little bit of fun, I also wanted to put out a more positive portrayal of that subculture.

HC: Well, I see a fun satire, like when you have, in the book, the superhero, The Ferret; or your parody of “The X-Files” which you call, “Anamoly.” There’s a certain level of snark, or am I reading that wrong?

BP: Very loving snark. The Ferret is sort of my Spider-Man stand-in. Basically, there’s nothing that much more absurd about a character with magical ferret powers than another character who gets bitten by a radioactive spider and gets really strong and agile. So, if there is some snark there, it’s done with a lot of love.



HC: Share with us the storytelling going on between Valerie and Alex. She recites bedtime stories to her son based on plot lines from the hit sci-fi show she used to star in. That’s her way of revealing. How did that device come about?

BP: That was a device that developed over the course of a couple of drafts. When I first wrote it, it was clear to me that she was just recounting plots. And, as the idea developed, it became more of an interactive thing between her and Alex. I went back and reread Margaret Atwood’s “Blind Assassin” which does this brilliant thing where two of the characters are co-creating a science fiction story. They’re playing it back and forth like a narrative tennis. That same thing is happening between Alex, the boy in my story, and Brett, the comic book creator. They end up collaborating. What I wanted to get across with Val and her son, Alex, is that storytelling drifts that way anyway. The way she tells the stories from these episodes has to do with where they’re at and is very responsive to what he needs and what he needs to know.

HC: Tell us about how the origin story sections in your book came about. Some are superhero origin stories and some are origin stories for the characters in the book.

BP: I really love the phrase, “secret origin.” It’s an old DC Comics term. You knew about the character’s past but they’d then introduce this new bit of information. I saw that as part of the backstory in my book. They were sort of thought experiments, especially for the superhero ones. Just emoting, or empathizing with the high concepts of superhero characters. Backstory can be difficult to organically bring into the story. I wanted these origin pieces to be little stories in themselves. The one for the Idea Man was originally not backstory but the beginning of the narrative. It made for a clunky start so it became a flashback. And the one with Val in the theater was one of the last chapters to be written and it didn’t come together until a third draft. While I was working on it, I called a friend who is a stage actor and acted him about his process for preparing a scene. That actually helped.

HC: What writers are you currently reading?

BP: I had to take a bit of pause from fiction as I started working on another book. But I just started reading “Homegoing,” by Yaa Gyasi, which is fantastic. I’m scrambling to catch up on titles that have come out this month. I find that, when you’re away from fiction, it’s such a treat to return to it. Lately, I’ve been reading Polish history and weird research books for this other project.

HC: From your vantage point, how do you see alternative comics doing? All these “alternatives” to superhero comics, do you see a steady climb in readership?

BP: I think so. I think that’s where a lot of the top talent is going. They are moving away from corporate-owned properties and moving to creator-owned work. I don’t think they’re referred to as alternative comics anymore. It’ not like R. Crumb or the Hernandez brothers anymore. It’s a significant portion of the mainstream and the new readership. There’s a limit to how many readers you can bring in to all the superhero continuity. But, at the same time, there are people doing fresh new stuff that’s more accessible. And that’s exciting. I’ve been reading comics for twenty years and will continue to do so. I’m part of the target audience. But, for new readers, there’s other ways to access Batman.

HC: Do you think it would be interesting for your book tour to crossover to reading in a comic book shop?

BP: Yes, in fact, tomorrow I will be in Philadelphia and I’ll be at Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse. And then later, in July, I’ll be in Portland at Books with Pictures. So, mostly doing traditional bookstores for this tour. But, there’s those two comic book shops and I’m really excited about that.

HC: You have a significant music background. You’ve been a DJ and a record store owner. Any interest in writing a novel set in the music scene?

BP: I still want to do that. I have something in the que and that may result in something set in New York City, the punk scene in the mid-70s. But this current book, curiously, has no musical references.

HC: For this book, you had comic con experience to draw from.

BP: When I was growing up in Buffalo, I worked for a comic book dealer. It was for one summer. We didn’t do conventions; we did shows. They would be in suburban malls. There would be a dozen other comic book dealers there. And kids like me would come trying to find issues missing from their collections. But I was already there. I got first dibs. I got paid in comics. That worked out well.

End papers by Esad Ribic

Endpapers by Esad Ribic

HC: What can you tell us about the beautiful endpapers to this book by artist Esad Ribic?

BP: I went down in the fall to meet with the folks at Viking. It was the publisher who suggested that we hire a comic book artist to do an illustration for the endpapers. We decided upon Esad Ribic. I got to describe to him all the visual references like what does the robot look like. It is supposed to be the sort of illustration that the character, Brett, would draw for Alex. It was fun to go back and forth. At one point, I was trying to describe the background, something like the Emerald City or Gallifrey from Doctor Who. And then it occurred to me it was like futuristic cities that Esad was known for drawing.

HC: Would you ever write a comic book script?

BP: I would love to. I have heard that it can be incredibly difficult. There are all sorts of constraints–but constraints can be fun as a writer. I listened to an interview with G. Willow Wilson. She was a novelist before she came to comics. She wrote, for example, the novel, “Alif the Unseen.” Currently, she’s working on Ms. Marvel. She said the technical constraints to writing for comics are mind-boggling: all the mapping out of panels; mindful to have something surprising take place on the left-hand page. I would love to but I haven’t had the opportunity yet. I imagine it would be a challenging transition.

HC: Anything you can tell us about what you’re working on now?

BP: I’m in the middle of projects. After the book tour, I’ll see what might have legs.

HC: Perhaps the book tour will inspire an essay or perhaps more.

BP: I am looking forward to the next big project, that’s what I like best, something big.

HC: Much success to you on the tour and whatever you do next.

BP: Thank you, Henry.

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