It’s the end of the world. Money is meaningless. But the billionaires have got a plan. Sort of like Noah’s Arc, the elite have a space vessel, the Arca, that will take them to a better world, Eden. All they have to do is make sure to keep their slaves, or “settlers,” in line. Effie is one of the teen servants on this vessel. As far as she knows, she should be grateful to have been spared from the billions of people who perished when Earth died. But things aren’t always as they seem. That is the premise of Van Jensen‘s latest graphic novel, ARCA, published by IDW Productions. It is my pleasure to present to you this interview with one of the great writing talents working today in comics.
As I say in my review, this is a story about a reluctant hero who must rise above her quiet demeanor and confront the powers that be. Persephone, or “Effie,” is in the long tradition of reluctant heroes in fiction and particularly in science fiction: the person who emerges as a leader despite their hesitation. As you will come to see for yourself, Effie is a lot like you and me.
In the course of this brief interview, I asked Van if he’d share a little something about the creative process and he provided a gem that I will long cherish and that I’m sure you’ll enjoy too. It involves a tea kettle. Imagine that you’re moving into your new home and you’ve got a thousand things to figure out. Try boiling it down to a tea kettle. If you can pin down your tea kettle, then everything else will fall into place. It’s a wonderful writing exercise: your “tea kettle” can be a brief description of your main character, or a snatch of dialogue or the first couple of sentences in that first chapter. Whatever helps to kick things off. So, I hope you enjoy this interview, stick around for the writer tips, and seek out this remarkable graphic novel.
ARCA comes out July 11, 2023 and is available for pre-order on many platforms including Penguin Random House right here.
ARCA. IDW Publishing. w. Van Jensen. a. Jesse Lonergan. 176 pp. $16.99
Welcome to your next favorite dystopian graphic novel. This is a devilishly good take on the one-percenters behaving badly trope. The focus is on Effie, short for Persephone. She is one of “the settlers,” the youth who are in servitude to “the citizens.” When settlers turn eighteen, they are promoted to something better, although it is unclear what that is. Earth, they’re told, had to be abandoned because of all the usual reasons and so everyone is on this spaceship heading towards “Eden.” But Effie isn’t buying it and it’s up to her to figure out what is really happening.
Things are not what they seem; they never are. The more twisted the reality, the more profound the journey to find out the truth. This is what makes Effie’s journey so dangerous–and compelling for the reader. From the very beginning, I was intrigued by all the heaviness hanging over Effie. Heck, the first page has Effie flying in a plane full of skeletons. She goes for the emergency exit, yanks open the door, and gasps for air when she’s flung out into outer space. It’s a nightmare but, her wide-awake world isn’t much better. Effie is constantly being monitored. People are disappearing. She risks her life every day for the chance to read a book. She’s not even supposed to know how to read.
Van Jensen (Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern) knows how to write a slow burn story with a propulsive bite. Jesse Lonergan (Hedra, Planet Paradise) has a loose and lively drawing style. Together, they bring to life a quirky and moody sci-fi thriller. Everything about this story gives off a disturbing and muted vibe, like you’re somewhere you shouldn’t be, finding out secrets you shouldn’t know. In this low-key and understated world, Effie is queen. She is a very reserved person forced to push back, and bit by bit, in a quiet and determined way, she gets closer to her would-be killers. Like any good work of science fiction, you get hooked in by the weird kid in the corner who nobody notices, until they need a hero.
A few notes on the art. I’m really pleased to see Lonergan having fun and experimenting. He spills over all the action, including the atmosphere, into various panels in unexpected and creative ways. There’s a moment when a glass full of eyeballs (don’t ask) is knocked over flinging eyeballs that bounce from panel to panel. This approach is part of Lonergan’s signature style and he does it very well with bookshelves, crowd scenes and things that go boom. The color is also applied in a dreamy and spacey way (soft watercolors that glide and pop) that compliments this more loose and fluid way of drawing. Nathan Widick brings home lettering and design that is spot on. The final results are fantastic and a joy to take in. I’d love to have him help me with my next comics project.
Science fiction means a lot of things. Often, we’re working with a vocabulary, both written and visual, going back to classic 1950s pulp-style science fiction. This book is in that spirit and turns it on its head. Effie is a classic sci-fi hero, unlikely and unassuming. But she’s not a shrinking violet. She’s more of a lone wolf. Leave her alone unless you need her. The best science fiction is not just about the future, robots and time travel. No, the best science fiction is about people. Readers want that; they hunger for it. This is a clever dystopian graphic novel following the rhythms of a bookish lone wolf. And remember, she’s not even supposed to know how to read. The elites don’t have a clue who they’re messing with. But now you do.
ARCA is available on July 11, 2023. You can pre-order it here.
Trve Kvlt. IDW publishing. (W) Scott Bryan Wilson (A) Liana Kangas. Release date of first issue: August 17, 2022. $3.99
Let’s face it, it’s really tough being an individual. For Marty Tarantella, a working class hero in this comic book series we’re about to explore, life had become one big rut. Oh, sure, he was quite an individual, very quirky and unpredictable. But he’d paid a hefty price for being eccentric with no professional skills, unless flipping burgers counts for much, which it doesn’t. Marty had been working at Burger Lord at the same entry level job for the last fifteen years. Something had to give. To make matters worse, the way out of his rut was completely left in Marty’s hands. This guy can’t get a break! However, Marty was determined not to be just another loser chewed up by the gears of capitalism.
Long live losers!
Marty Tarantella, a young-at-heart aging hipster, was in real danger of entering a slow death when he stumbled upon the most hair-brained scheme that would blow up in his face while also catapulting into a whole new level of consciousness. Marty’s no senator’s son, just an Average Joe, the kind of guy that Kevin Smith has honored in much, if not all, of his work. Heck, Mr. Smith created a whole genre all his own, populated with the most eccentric of dead end kids. This is certainly not lost on the creative team behind this comic as they pull out all the stops to have Marty fly his loser freak flag. Fail! Fail! Gloriously Fail!
Yeah, my friends call me, Tarantula.
The fast food world is a very strange world, just as bumbling and insular as the mall world, a place where staff and customers alike fully embrace being losers. This was a choice someone made to find themselves in a highly artificial disconnected environment. That’s okay. Let ‘er rip, hang on tight, and go for the chili fries! Wash it down with a Pepsi. And don’t forget that bacon cheeseburger. Marty’s big mistake was thinking he could outwit the system he’s let himself fall prey to with as little effort as he put into submitting to it.
Marty and his supervisor, Bernice, have been toiling away at Burger Lord since forever. Why rock the boat now? Ah, if only Marty knew what he didn’t know then! This is the sort of story that you love to linger over the details as the main character gets deeper into trouble. Writer Scott Bryan Wilson delivers on all the authentic details of the fast food milieu. Artist Liana Kangas has a delightfully light style that adds some relish to the most subtle and mysterious of moments. There’s the scene where Alison, a prospective new employee, comes in long after some major plot points but with a sophisticated and intriguing tale of her own. This is where the collaborative spirit shines for writer and artist. Alison turns out to be a real wild card in this story, steering things in uncanny ways. Maybe Marty does have a friend in this cruel world after all! But it’s just too soon to say what kind of friend.
If you’re looking for that something different, this is it. Yes, I can honestly say that the comic that is currently ringing my bell is this one! Go get yourself one and, yeah, you’ll want fries with that too. Let’s roll out the A+ for this comic. If I’m a ratings guy, I give it a solid score. 10/10.
Visit IDW and see what they have in store for you.
Dark Spaces: Wildfire. IDW publishing. (W) Scott Snyder (A) Hayden Sherman. Release date of first issue: July 20, 2022. $3.99
Imagine you are a big-time comic book publisher executive, DC Comics to be exact, and you are directed to read the work of a hot new lead, an emerging talent who could easily, and very artfully, pump fresh new blood into the tired old veins of top-tier landmark characters. So, you take a seat, pour a Scotch and Soda, and read about this strange silver blimp floating above the American heartland, keeping a young man from his sweetheart. The story is so fresh and new, it knocks your socks off–and you hire this wunderkind, one freshly minted Columbia creative writing dept. grad, Scott Snyder. And he doesn’t let you down. No, he adds color to the faces of many of ’em: Batman, Swamp Thing, the whole frickin’ Justice League. The rest is history, or amazingly good comics. Fast forward to today, Scott Snyder is working some of his storytelling magic at IDW comics. This time it’s a story about fire.
Fire! Don’t yell it in a crowded movie theater, that’s what they used to say. Fire, as a comic book plot, falls somewhere within the disaster genre. Things are more stripped down to their essentials, like a black box theater production. Very specific. This reminds me of Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber’s Underground, the comic that mainly takes place inside a cave. Or, more broadly, another comic that comes to mind is the enviro-thriller, The Massive by Brian Wood. More specifically, I think of A Fire Story, by Brian Fies, the graphic memoir documenting the trauma of one of the more recent devastating California fires. All this brings us to the work of writer Scott Snyder and artist Hayden Sherman, a story of fire and destiny.
A story with such a specific theme, as fire, can feel claustrophobic. Snyder masterfully opens things up, giving the reader rich character profiles, each character providing a window into another world. This is a story about a firefighting team, one made up of convicts. Even the team leader, Ma, was a convict at one time. This special program is intended to help disadvantaged women prisoners find a way back into society, or something like that. It’s a great plot device. Can these flawed, hardened and resentful, characters, be relied upon to do the right thing? Well, no. They aren’t built that way. They could change but, there’s plenty to indicate they are all just a match strike’s away from doing the wrong thing. And, thus, we have quite an interesting story! Fire, all alone, is just too abstract. Now, you’ve got conflict, plenty of it, along with plenty of fire!
As I suggest, fire alone is boring–but add a little sideways weird perspective, some kind of spice, and suddenly things can get very interesting. Such is the case with Hayden Sherman’s handling of the art. The above image is just one example of Sherman’s inventive use of comic storytelling structure. Do something different with panels, or text boxes, etc. and you’re good to go. Not only does Sherman relish adding eye-catching details, he has nailed it in bringing to life this troubled crew of tough people who, whether they realized it or not, are all just waiting to blow everything up. Maybe they know it’s a doomed fantasy they’re engaging with but, for some, it’s just too hard not to play with fire. This is a story that makes total sense to have Scott Snyder tell. I can’t wait to read the whole thing once it’s available.
And, for those keeping score at home, I give this four stars. Rating: 10/10.
A few words on IDW Originals
Comics and graphic novel publisher IDW has created a lot of buzz with its launch of nine new original titles, each one with the potential of being developed into a movie or series. I’ve been looking over the offerings and there’s some very exciting stuff, each deserving of a closer look. Here is a list of the nine new IDW original titles. This is from IDW promo and I’ve added a few confirmed start dates. . . .
Dark Spaces: Wildfire (July 20, 2022), a thriller series written by Scott Snyder with art by Hayden Sherman, follows a group of female inmate firefighters deep into the smoldering California hills, where their desperate heist of a burning mansion will lead them to the score of a lifetime…or a deadly trap!
Trve Kvlt (August 10, 2022), a five-issue miniseries written by Scott Bryan Wilson with art by Liana Kangas, introduces Marty Tarantella, a down-on-his-luck loser whose last-ditch scheme to escape a lifetime of fast-food service sets him on a collision course with a cult of violent, Devil-worshiping lunatics!
Crashing (September 21, 2022), a five-issue miniseries written by Matthew Klein with art by Morgan Beem, throws open the doors of an emergency room filled with casualties of a superhuman war, where Rose Osler, a doctor on her own path of addiction and recovery, faces the most dangerous day of her medical career.
Earthdivers, an ongoing series written by Stephen Graham Jones with art by Davide Gianfelice, unites four Indigenous survivors in an apocalyptic near future as they embark on a bloody, one-way mission to save the world by traveling back in time to kill Christopher Columbus and prevent the creation of America.
Dead Seas, a six-issue miniseries written by Cavan Scott with art by Nick Brokenshire, transforms a cynical convict into a reluctant hero when he’s trapped on a sinking prison ship swarming with ghosts. Can he unite desperate criminals, pirates, and brutal guards as they try to escape a watery grave?
Golgotha Motor Mountain, a five-issue miniseries written by Matthew Erman and Lonnie Nadler with art by Ryan Lee, is a high-octane, redneck motor massacre about two meth-cooking brothers and their attempt to make it home in one piece as all manner of cosmic alien horrors are hot on their trail.
Arca, an original graphic novel written by Van Jensen with art by Jesse Lonergan, leaves a dying Earth behind as billionaires establish a luxurious new society out among the stars, tended to by teenage indentured servants. But one girl discovers that the good life promised for their years of servitude was a lie…
The Sin Bin, a six-issue miniseries written by Robbie Thompson with art by Molly Murakami, hits the road with washed-up hockey player Dale “Dukes” Duquesne, who moonlights as a monster hunter during away games with his daughter, Cat, in tow, hoping to find her mother’s killer.
The Hunger and the Dusk, a twelve-issue storyline written by G. Willow Wilson with art by Chris Wildgoose, upends an age-old conflict between humans and orcs by introducing a new, deadlier species. Fragile alliances form—and unexpected romances blossom—as former enemies wade into battle together to save their two races.
Joe Hill, #1 New York Times Bestselling author, is the current go-to creator for a certain quirky brand of horror. Head over to DC Comics and you’ll find he’s been set up with his own fiefdom, Joe Hill Presents Hill House Comics. In there you’ll find such tasty treats as the series, Basketful of Heads. Over at IDW, Joe Hill offers up a five-part miniseries, Dying is Easy, which sets his sights on the often turbulent world of stand-up comedy. It might be fun for you as an audience member but it’s not so easy up on stage, even if you get some laughs. With art by Martin Simmonds, this is a comic that brings on the atmosphere and authenticity of what’s it like to struggle as a comedian. Bad enough that it’s a rough business but it can always gets worse.
On point art by Martin Simmonds.
Our story focuses on an ex-cop comedian who somehow gets in over his head when he finds himself thrust into a blood feud. In the capable of hands of Joe Hill and Martin Simmonds, this first issue sets the tone for what promises to be a satisfying crime thriller. If I was a betting man, which I am on occasion depending upon who is asking, I would place my bet on this comic. Give it a solid 10/10 rating.
Dying is Easy is published by IDW Publishing and is available as of Wednesday, December 11, 2019.
Joyce Chin is a highly respected comic book artist who has suffered a setback. She was on her way to a comics convention in Chicago when she experienced a sub arachnoid hemmorage in the O’Hare airport terminal. A stroke. At the same time, she also fractured her ankle. You can imagine the pain and agony–and the hospital bills. Ms. Chin needless to say, did not attend C2E2. Instead, she spent nearly two weeks in the ICU ward of Presence Resurrection hospital in Chicago undergoing multiple procedures and diagnostic tests. Lucky for her, she is on her way to recovery but she has mounting medical bills to attend to. Visit the Joyce Chin GoFundMe and help in any way that you can.
Joyce Chin cover
Joyce Chin is a comic book penciler, inker, colorist, and cover artist. She has created content under the Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Dynamite Comics, Image Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and IDW Publishing labels. A large portion of Chin’s work has been in creating comic book covers. Visit the Cartoonist Joyce Chin Recovering From a Stroke GoFundMe right here.
IDW’s graphic novel adaption of Richard Matheson’s classic 1956 novel, “The Shrinking Man,” holds up very well. Ted Adams, IDW’s CEO and Publisher, has written a script that is faithful to the novel and to the unique pace of comics. Mark Torres (Judge Dredd) provides artwork that zones right into the stifled suburban living of 1950s America. Our main character, Scott Carey, cannot cope with his environment in an extraordinary way: Scott is regressing, reverting, literally shrinking away! No more life as husband, father, breadwinner, and symbol of masculinity. He is going, going, gone. Adams says it was a thrill to bring the novel to the comics page and it shows.
Richard Matheson is an exceptionally vivid writer. He has you experiencing every detail, whether it is a man attempting to survive a vampire apocalyse as in “I Am Legned” or a man confronting a demented truck driver as in “Duel.” Whatever it is, you will believe and be on the edge of your seat as you read it. In this case, the Matheson meticulous attention to detail is focused upon Scott Carey, reducing in size by 1/7” per day. The story alternates between the early stages of Carey’s condition and once he’s near the end, stuck in a cellar, and easily food for a spider.
This book includes an introduction by Peter Straub and an afterword by David Morrell. I read the singles which included Morrell’s afterword which explores the novel’s existential underpinnings. Morrell discusses the 1942 philosophical essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” where Camus compares daily life to eternally pushing a boulder around a dial. The essay was translated into English in 1955 and Morrell considers if Matheson may have read it. If not, then perhaps it was one of those concepts in the air. And, most certainly, existential ideas were not foreign to Matheson.
I believe that Matheson did not care for being labeled a genre writer at all because of how the term is lobbed at writers in a pejorative sense. What the Morrell afterward makes clear is that Matheson was working at a sophisticated level no matter what you call his writing. According to Morrell, Matheson was breaking new ground by including existential themes in a mainstream novel. On top of that, Matheson’s narrative structure, with its flashbacks within flashbacks, predates widespread use of metafiction techniques by some thirty years.
I believe that to label Matheson as a genre writer is very problematic. The actual writing in the 1956 novel, “The Shrinking Man,” is not particularly elegant, per se, but that can be said of any number of so-called “serious” writers. That said, even at this early stage of his career, Matheson does reach lyrical heights. In fact, Matheson reaches a perfect hard-boiled, yet metaphysical, pitch with this novel. Ultimately, as IDW’s Ted Adams states, reading Richard Matheson is time well spent.
THE SHRINKING MAN has recently been collected into a 104-page trade paperback, priced at $17.99. For more details, visit our friends at IDW right here.
You can also get the complete 4-part series through Amazon right here.
You have to hand it to Chris Ryall and IDW Publishing for creating a long line of heart-felt and artful tributes to books, movies, and television. Well, a comic book based upon Douglas Adams’s “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” is one of IDW’s best yet. Written by Chris Ryall, with pencils by Tony Akins, inks by John Livesay, and colors by Leonard O’Grady. It is a most vivid revisit to Dirk Gently placing him in new digs (San Diego) and a whole new challenge (copycat killers and ancient ghosts). The artwork is lively and it all adds up to be one of the most promising comics I’ve seen in quite a while.
With Dirk Gently, Douglas Adams gave us a kaleidoscopic surge of reading joy. It was dapper wit and quirky hijinks. And it was far more than that as Adams played with a wide spectrum of ideas. So, for IDW to tackle Dirk Gently is ambitious–and IDW does not disappoint. The opening story for this first issue is very well paced and full of fun intrigue stacking itself one upon the other like a house of cards.
Dirk is like a whirling dervish right out of the gate. He begins by bolting out of the airport determined to make his way into San Diego with a stolen duffle bag. He bumps right into the owners of the bag and they pursue Dirk all the way to a mystery-themed teahouse, Gumshoes & Tea Leaves. The beautiful bold colors by Leonard O’Grady totally take over in the glorious use of green throughout the café. Our characters come to life in this space as our story unfolds. Dirk has a chance to introduce himself, all sorts of suspicious, dangerous, and supernatural things are already in play. And we know we’re in for something that Douglas Adams himself would have approved of.
“Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency #1” is out now, 32 pages, and priced at $3.99. For more details, visit our friends at IDW Publishing right here.
IDW Publishing at Emerald City Comicon this year brings a wide variety of comics goodness. I wanted to point out that Top Shelf Productions, now an imprint of IDW Publishing, will be at booth #1225, where you can meet the creative team behind the hit satire “God Is Disappointed in You,” Mark Russell and Shannon Wheeler! The book is very funny and informative. Read my review right here.
“God Is Disappointed in You,” by Mark Russell and Shannon Wheeler
Shannon Wheeler is a cartoonist best known for creating the satirical superhero Too Much Coffee Man, and as a cartoonist for The New Yorker. Find him here. Mark Russell is a writer and a cartoonist. His writing has been featured in McSweeney’s, The Nib, and Funny Times, among other places, and his cartoons are featured regularly at Nailed. Find him here. And, of course, you can definitely purchase “God Is Disappointed in You,” from Top Shelf Productions, right here.
I have a soft spot in my heart for the ebullient quality of Shannon’s cartoons. I include above a video interview I did with him at last year’s Comic-Con International: San Diego. Seems like the perfect blast from the past to share with all of you. Below are the details on the panel with Shannon Wheeler and Mark Russell:
Saturday, 2:00 – 3:00 Room Hall C (TCC 301)
God is Disappointed in You (The Sequel), with Mark Russell & Shannon Wheeler—Last year’s standing-room-only hot ticket returns — now with even more Biblical bewilderment! God Is Disappointed in You, published by Top Shelf, is the tongue-in-cheek “condensed” version of the Bible you never knew you needed — hilariously modern, but surprisingly authentic — packed with cartoons by Eisner-award-winner Shannon Wheeler (The New Yorker, Too Much Coffee Man). Join him and author Mark Russell (writer of DC Comics’ upcoming Prez) for an hour of unforgettable irreverence, including Q&A, audience sketches, and the hilarious-yet-accurate “ten-minute Bible.” PLUS: a taste of the Audie-nominated audiobook, read by Dr. Venture himself, James Urbaniak (The Venture Bros), and an exclusive announcement about the upcoming sequel!
For more details on the IDW schedule at ECCC, go right here.
Okay, let’s get this figured out: “Jem and the Holograms” was an animated show that ran from 1985-1988. Now, was it a show and then it became a line of dolls? No, it was a line of dolls and then it became a show. You know, Hasbro. Same deal like Transformers. The Jem dolls were similar to Barbies (looks like the same mold was used) but with a glam rock vibe.
Yeah, talkin’ about Transformers, Jem is set to be very much a similar deal. The major motion picture comes out October 23, 2015. And, leading up to that, is this six-issue comic book published by IDW Publishing. Let’s take a closer look.
In the front seat writing the limited series is Kelly Thompson. I’ve read her pieces in Comic Book Resources over the years and I appreciate what she does. She sees herself as a voice for women. She does a good job although she has a weakness to overstate herself. She does this, I think, deliberately. You can see this as something of a style choice. Women in comics is her beat. She is certainly an unbashedly enthusiastic fan, the type that speaks of characters as if they were real people and the most awesome ever.
That type of enthusiasm has its place. Even in the relatively limited depths of this project, that enthusiasm can be misplaced. Getting too wrapped up in your characters being these living and breathing entities and, on top of that, being awestruck by them, leads to tepid writing. Your characters never ever do much of anything so as not to risk making them look bad. This is the wrong kind of character-driven storytelling. It takes away from a more challenging story. It does a disservice to young women readers who get a story with everything floating along the same mellow register.
You know that feeling of satisfaction you get when you go see a movie you weren’t expecting much from and then leave the theater impressed? That’s because compelling things were going on. It was good solid writing. What I’m getting so far from this first issue is very soft conflict and very soft focus. Was that part of the charm of the original Jem posse? I don’t think so. Exactly like the Transformers, Jem was and is an empty vessel. It’s not these totally amazing women, as Kelly Thompson endlessly refers to them in her afterword, a masterpiece of hyperbole. But, like I say, that’s how she rolls.
So, what exactly transpires within the pages of this first issue? Our lead singer Jerrica has got the worst case of stage fright in history. She’s a portrait of shivering inaction. Kimber tries to coax her back into the studio while Shana and Aja helplessly look on. There’s some bickering. Later on, we find the solution and it will not involve Jerrica taking responsibility for her actions. Will that change over the course of the story? Maybe so. In all fairness, maybe so. Overall, this issue just plodded along too much. There was room to bring in more elements.
But I don’t want to dismiss this comic. No, because I can understand that the original animated show did leave some comforting mark on a lot of childhoods. It stirs emotions. And, it is what it is. Who knows, maybe the major motion picture of Jem will be one of those movies that leaves me oddly impressed. I’m just thinking about how it can all be better. That said, one thing we cannot overlook is the other major force of creativity on this book, artist Sophie Campbell. Simply for having the sensitivity to have different body types for these characters deserves recognition. These are all distinct characters.
You know, I wish Kelly Thompson, and the whole creative team on this book, the best. And, if we should meet at some convention, I’m sure we’ll have a good conversation. I’m serious when I bring up these writing issues. The mellow pace to the story and then the gushing over the characters in the afterword just left me concerned. The best piece of advice I can offer, not that anyone is asking, is to know that characters like these have got a lot of potential to go far. Forget how awesome they may seem. Just let them go and then don’t be afraid to push them, have them fall, and then push them again. They won’t break. Maybe then you, as the writer, will have the characters, and the story, do something truly amazing.
JEM & THE HOLOGRAMS #1 is available as of March 25. For more details, visit our friends at IDW Publishing right here.