Robert is the king of the Grass Kingdom. And his older brother, Bruce, is the sheriff. All works out pretty well for this tucked away off-the-grid community. That is, until outsiders intrude. Then, things can get complicated. And so we set off on this rural mystery series, GRASS KINGS, written by New York Times bestselling writer Matt Kindt (Mind MGMT); illustrated by Tyler Jenkins (Peter Panzerfaust); published by BOOM! Studios.
GRASS KINGS page excerpt
The sheer beauty of the land is brought to life by the artwork of Tyler Jenkins. The folks hid away are not quite as pretty. And Jenkins has a way of brining out their cunning as well as sense of loss and desperation. Matt Kindt has crafted a story about people who desperately wish to be left alone. However, nothing is ever that simple. Early on, Kindt and Jenkins provide an overview of what the Grass Kingdom has been like for the last 800 years leading up to the present day. Idyllic, sure. But there’s always the human element and people will do what people do. Things that may not quite fit with such a bucolic setting.
GRASS KINGS page excerpt
This first issue takes a lyrical pace and then steadily unveils something sinister. The Grass Kingdom does not tolerate trespassers. In this first issue, we have an exchange between Bruce, the official gatekeeper, and Lo, a local kid who has wandered off from the neighboring Cargill territory onto Grass Kingdom territory. Bruce warns Lo that he would already be dead if his brother Robert had caught him. Bruce even tries to appeal to Lo and ends up giving him a quick tour. Lo is unmoved. But Lo can’t help it. He’s sort of undercover investigating a missing person case and a possible murder.
GRASS KINGS #1 is available as of March 8th. For more details, visit Boom! Studios right here.
DEAD INSIDE is a new crime noir comic book series, written by John Arcudi; art by Toni Fejzula; colors by Andre May; published by Dark Horse Comics. The main character is Linda, a deputy who has recently been promoted to detective. Linda is a hard case all to her own: does not play well with others, whether professionally or personally. Between the talents of Arcudi and Feizula, they have created a tough character, all sad and lonely, you know, dead inside. Funny thing about death, it comes in many colors. The first thing to really bring Linda to life in years is all about death: a really twisted murder-suicide committed by a most unlikely character.
Detective Linda Caruso can’t let go of the fact that the murderer, so small and slight in stature, would have been able to bring down a bear of a man. This was supposedly an easy enough crime to solve as it took place inside a prison, a minimum security prison at that. This is the first case for Linda at the Jail Crimes Division of the Sheriff’s Office in Mariposa County. Nothing unusual is supposed to happen there. Except Linda now finds herself confronting a crime that becomes more bizarre the more she investigates.
Page from DEAD INSIDE #1
This is a series that will have special appeal for fans of crime and prison television, such as Law & Order, NCIS, Orange Is the New Black, American Crime Story, or Making a Murderer. This is a new series from Rumble writer John Arcudi and Veil artist Toni Fejzula. DEAD INSIDE all adds up to a great study in character and a compelling murder mystery full of gritty style. This resonates with the reader. An intriguing case. And an intriguing detective. Who could ask for more?
Page from DEAD INSIDE #1
DEAD INSIDE #1 is available as of December 21st. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Dark Horse Comics right here.
We begin Jonathan Case’s new graphic novel, “The New Deal,” in New York City, 1936. It’s the depths of the Great Depression. NYC is pretty darn cold in the winter, especially when money is so scarce. There’s a young guy, Frank O’Malley, and he’s pleading with passersby to consider buying a ticket to an avant-garde production of Macbeth. Tough sale especially when, just next to Frank is his Uncle Pack hawking apples for six cents each. A potential customer tries to haggle the price down by a penny but Uncle Pack won’t budge. Quickly, we move on as Frank races to his regular job as a bellman at the Waldorf Astoria. And with that Case has hooked you in as the plot thickens and we find Frank to be way over his head.
Pages from THE NEW DEAL
Case delivers a solid story built upon his character-driven script and his engaging drawing style. His sly sense of humor and intrigue works its way through every page. He has managed to create characters that feel real while inhabiting the hyperreal world of screwball comedies of the 1930s. We cannot help but be curious about the relationship between a Caucasian bellman, Frank O’Malley, and an African-American maid, Theresa Harris. In public, they keep at a distance and address each other by their surnames. In private, they are playful with each other but still hold back. What we do know is that they care about each other very much and the plot that unfolds will test them.
This is an exceptionally well-paced and substantial story. It has one foot in the ’30s and the other in today’s sensibilities. This allows us to explore the relationship between Frank and Theresa and the inner world of Theresa with great subtlety. You learn to accept Frank who has to struggle with proving his trustworthiness. And you follow Theresa as she must navigate through the obstacles before her. The more complicated our story gets, the more Frank and Theresa are forced to face what it is that keeps attracting them to each other.
Make no mistake, this is a perfect blend of mystery, humor, and offbeat love story. If there’s any mention of FDR’s “New Deal,” it is only in passing. This is not a history lesson, at least not directly. That said, while you’ll learn a thing or two about swells and dolls and fancy hotels, you will also get a good sense of the cold realities of that era.
This is Jonathan Case’s best work yet. You may know him from his artwork for the critically-acclaimed graphic novel, “Green River Killer: A True Detective Story,” which I reviewed here. Or you may have caught his work for the DC Comics title, “Batman ’66.” You will definitely want to read “The New Deal,” a thoroughly entertaining and remarkable work.
THE NEW DEAL is a hardcover, published by Dark Horse Comics, available as of September 23. You can find it at all your favorite booksellers including through Jonathan’s website right here. As always, be sure to visit our friends at Dark Horse Comics right here.
A really good murder mystery is always about more than just the murder. There’s tantalizing intrigue but it also transcends searching for clues and skulking about. How about one that features one of Hollywood’s most alluring beauties, Louise Brooks, as a gumshoe detective in Wichita, Kansas? She was never really a detective, was she? And in Kansas? That’s what cartoonist Rick Geary has conjured up with his latest graphic novel, “Louise Brooks: Detective.” And this one is quite a story. It makes you believe that Louise Brooks actually did go all Sherlock Holmes.
Any good mystery will depend upon a fair amount of trickery and distraction. Just when you think all roads are leading to a resolution, something happens to tell you different. Murder, I tell you! It was bloody murder! And in Wichita! Enter Louise Brooks, stage left, if she still had a stage from which to veer left from. These days, she has dropped down a number of pegs. It’s 1940, she’s no longer the star she once was and, at age 33, she has had to come back home to reinvent herself. There was nothing about solving crime in her plans. So, she is literally forced into something way over her head. Initially, she had just hoped to make a go of it as a dance instructor!
Geary has a wonderful time with bringing Miss Brooks to life. He allows her to live and breathe, starting with a little pout or smirk. She is a big city girl, after all. Who knew she would ever return to Kansas? She is not pleased. But, as she comes to terms with her circumstances, we see her grow. With regularity, Geary will bring her to an extreme close-up and we deal with her directly: read her thoughts, hear her rant, and so on. There’s an interesting thing he does here as he consistently favors going for these close-ups on the last panel of a page on the right side. This is for added emphasis, the last thing you read, before you move on to something else.
This Louise Brooks adventure is supposed to just be a little detour from Mr. Geary’s ongoing work on his Treasury of Murder true crime series. However, there’s definitely a case to be made for more Louise Brooks adventures. He’s found a way where that could happen. So, stay tuned.
“Louise Brooks: Detective” is an 80-page hardcover and is available now. You can find out more by visiting our friends at NBM Publishing right here. You can also find this book at Amazon right here.
Holmes investigates Holmes. Art by Henry Chamberlain.
It is clear that Zach Dundas loves Sherlock Holmes. A quest to explore how and why the interest in Sherlock Holmes has endured is the subject of his new book, “The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes.” In a highly accessible and conversational narrative, Dundas weaves classic Holmes stories into his own idiosyncratic reportage. The result is jolly good fun and goes a long way in explaining the Holmes phenomena.
Can one really put one’s finger on the Holmes appeal? Well, sure, for one thing, he’s a comfortably familiar character right up there with Superman, Snow White, Snoopy, and Frankenstein. He’s the ultimate brand. Of course, do people still actually read the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Well, Dundas is here to assure you, if you have not, that it’s fun stuff. Much of the appeal to this book is Dundas’s unbridled enthusiasm for his subject. He makes no bones about letting you know his passion runs deep going back to reading Holmes tales as a kid.
Time and again, Dundas will casually describe to you an adventure from Sherlock Holmes lulling you in until you’re deep into the plot. Then he’ll alternate with one of his own quests such as dragging his family all across the moors of the English countryside or endless searching for the real-life potential counterparts to fictional Victorian London. For Dundas, part of the mystery lies in attempting to understand what all his fellow tourists see in Holmes.
As he waits in line to enter a replica to 221B Baker Street, Holmes’s fictional digs, he can’t help but get a little smug assuming no one else in line has actually read Doyle. This lapse can be forgiven. When the only thing setting you apart from the crowd is the fact that you’ve read something that they haven’t, that’s more of a humbling experience than something to be proud of. And, it’s in that spirit, that Dundas shines as he shares his various facts and insights.
What you get here is a low-key and quirky look at what Holmes meant in his own time and what came soon after-and beyond. As Dundas observes, Holmes went retro rather quickly and embraced his new position, as it were, with gusto. With the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, the Victorian era quite literally came to an end. However, in the Holmes universe, the Victorian era would now enter a perpetual loop as Doyle kept on creating Holmes adventures set circa 1890. In short, Holmes was the original steampunk. And, with that in mind, it makes more and more sense as Dundas explores the myth and mystique of Holmes leading him all the way to Benedict Cumberbatch.
Ultimately, the mystery to Holmes does seem to be that such an esoteric character should have such broad appeal. That said, there are a number of erudite, refined, offbeat, and just plain weird characters that have struck a chord with wide audiences. Doctor Who is one, for sure. But you can rattle off any number of them from Star Wars to Game of Thrones and so on down the line. The general public is not always looking for some obviously populist figure to be the next pop culture superstar. And, with Holmes, you get a ready-made multi-layered artichoke of entertainment at the ready to be peeled back for deeper and richer understanding. That is what Dundas delightfully demonstrates in this quite entertaining book.
“The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes” is 336-page hardcover, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and available as of June 2. You can find it at Amazon right here.
For a relatively young country, the United States holds a tremendous amount of history, with much of it leading back to Ole Virginny. “All My Ghosts,” a new comic from Alterna Comics, is set in a small town in Virginia, rife with history, and ghosts. Our main character is Joe Hale, the editor and owner of The Wise Progress. This is likely a nod to The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. Given that this story takes place in Wise, a small college town up near the Appalachian Mountains, I believe I’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s a nice quirky setting that adds some extra flavor.
Ellen Lindner has a wonderful way with prose and composition. Her intricate artwork and distinctive voice give life to her latest creation, “The Black Feather Falls.” This is a webcomic told in four parts, which you can view at ACT-I-VATE here. The first part is now collected and will be published by Soaring Penguin Press.
The beauty of Lindner’s work is on many levels, not the least of which is her dynamic composition. We begin with the main character, Tina Swift, juxtaposed by her striking view of two pyramids that act as visual and symbolic thrust. They lead us to more energetic play with geometry of body language and setting.
Take a closer look at Tina Swift. On Page 2, we see her face is a crisp collection of lines and angles with a few accenting curves. We take in the rest of the page: in the first panel, we see a typewriter rendered to the last detail acting as a still life accompanied by Tina’s sharply rendered hands. The last panel caps off with another view of those pyramids. In the span of time that we’ve read the first two pages, we already know a mighty adventure is about to be retold.
And, by Page 3, we have entered a new world. Tina is an American abroad. She’s in 1920s London. As engaging as Lindner’s artwork, her prose charms you and immerses you in the customs and logic of another time. Lindner was an American abroad herself and you sense a loving attention to her past home byway of this murder mystery. It’s as if Lindner travelled back in time and is reporting to us her observations with a fresh vitality. She provides a somewhat similar treatment of Brooklyn in the early 1960s for her work, “Undertow.” The writing for this story is quite fun and feels in step with such British writers of the time as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and the Mitford sisters.
Our team of brash young American, Tina Swift, and young British spinster, Miss McInteer, are delightful as polar opposites that manage to attract. They do have quite a compelling murder mystery to solve that apparently will turn into another cold case if not for them. All the elements are in place for a delicious read.
You can read the latest installments of The Black Feather Falls at ACT-I-VATE here. Be sure to pick up the first collection of The Black Feather Falls from Soaring Penguin Press and look for updates here. And do visit Ellen Lindner at her site here.
“Velvet,” published by Image Comics, is your next spy thriller addiction. It is written by one of the best crime fiction writers that comics has ever known, Ed Brubaker. And he is teamed up with one of the best artists he’s ever worked with, Steve Epting. This new series blasts away from the start. We have the dark and moody color palette that Brubaker favors, provided by colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser. We have the nondescript lettering, as if out of typewriter or teletype machine, provided by letterer Chris Eliopoulos. Yes, this comic is like a good martini, shaken, not stirred.
An odd little old gentleman proves to be very entertaining in this week’s releases from ComiXology Submit. “Short Hand #1” is a breath of fresh air. The main character has star power even if he can barely reach for the stars or just about anything else for that matter.
Meet Oscar Lindstat. He is one big ball of mischief and that has landed him a twelve-month house arrest. He’s 80 years old but he can still give the likes of Lindsay Lohan a run for her money. At the start of our story, “The Toothless Fairy,” we find Oscar is two months into his arrest and he’s triggered a visit from the sheriff and a deputy for tampering with his ankle monitor. Oscar looks sickly and vulnerable but surprisingly spry.
Sheriff Sumner looks worn out just looking at Oscar. That’s why he’s brought in backup, Deputy Woods, who is being lured into making Oscar his very special responsibility. Little does Sumner or Woods know that Oscar never gave up solving crimes and a little ole ankle monitor sure isn’t going to stop him for long. Thanks to crisp writing, by Jason McNamara, and engaging artwork, by Rahsan Ekedal, we quickly buy into the premise.
This comic has a sharpness and confidence to it that serves it well considering that you have a subject that you would suspect to tread along slowly. Yes, Oscar doesn’t move all that fast but this is definitely one of the most quick-witted comics you’re going to come across. “Isn’t it the little crimes that matter the most?” asks Oscar. It’s not a concept that resonates all that well with Deputy Woods. But maybe the guy just needs a little time to figure out what matters the most.
“Short Hand #1” is 25 pages, priced at $1.99, and you can check it out at ComiXology here.
Ellen Lindner is an accomplished illustrator and cartoonist. She is a cheerful, passionate, and whipsmart person with talent to spare. It was very nice to get to meet her and her friend, Robin Ha, an excellent artist in her own right. You’ll definitely want to check out the work of both of these ladies.
In the above interview, we focus on Ellen’s work on the anthology series she co-edits, THE STRUMPET, which showcases women cartoonists. To do justice to this project, I’ve written a separate review that you can scroll down and find or you can read it here.
Ellen’s work has a bold and joyful way about it and a keen sense of humor. Ellen has an intriguing webcomic you’ll want to check out, THE BLACK FEATHER FALLS, on ACT-I-VATE Comics. It is set in the aftermath of World War I. It revolves around, Tina Swift, a woman who is caught in a web of intrigue surrounding a murder in 1920s London. You’ll want to jump in on a read if you haven’t already. You’ll be hooked.