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Review: ROBIN HOOD: OUTLAW OF THE 21st CENTURY

ROBIN HOOD: OUTLAW OF THE 21st CENTURY

ROBIN HOOD: OUTLAW OF THE 21st CENTURY is a comic book series that is a fine mix of action and intelligence. There are so many comics that I could review at any given time so the one question that helps guide me is “Why does this comic exist?” In the Forward to the new book collecting Issues #1-4, Tyler Weaver (Coming to Quest Country) describes a unique and contemporary take on the Robin Hood legend. And, yes, that is definitely the case. Matt Dursin’s script invites the reader into what drives his characters to seek justice–and what happens when they cross the line. It all adds up to a compelling read.

Taking from the rich to give to the poor via pizza delivery.

The divide between rich and poor is handled brilliantly in a plot that focuses on issues of life or death, namely healthcare. Set in the near future, only the rich can rely upon medicine when they need it. So, the tacit understanding in society is that some people are expendable. If that sounds creepily familiar, it certainly is meant to be. A band of vigilantes conclude that there is a way out of this nightmare: take from the rich and give to the poor. That way of thinking worked for Robin Hood but it gets more complicated in the 21st century.

Panel excerpt: Robin and John

What is exceptional about this comic is that everything is alive and lifts off the page in the way you would hope a good comic would do. It’s not easy to achieve that energy and sense of spontaneity. Many creators miss the mark simply because, for various reasons, they lose sight of what they’re doing. For some, the reason for the work to exist has been lost. You sense with this book that the whole creative team loves what they do and are intelligently engaged with it. I’m not saying that you worship your characters and treat them as if they’re real people. No, it’s a dedication to craft. If the time is put in, then you do end up with a vivid story and vivid characters.

Panel excerpt: John is threatened by The Sheriff

The artwork by Mark Louie Vuykankiat has a lean and energetic quality to it with a manga vibe. In the character design notes, he describes the characters as “somewhere between ramshackle and military.” That fits the bill. I have to say, this is one very action-packed story. At times, it feels like a video game. These boys have got their toys, including an air-burst grenade launcher! All in all, this is a smart and heart-felt work and fans of the Robin Hood legend will get a kick out of all the references to the original 1883 novel by Howard Pyle.

Rounding out the creative team is an impressive job of letters & colors by L. Jamal Walton; spectacular cover art by Ray Dillon; and spot on logo & production by Rachel Chernick.

“Robin Hood: Outlaw of the 21st Century,” issues #1 thru #4, are now available digitally and in print and are collected in a trade paperback. For more details, and how to purchase, go right here.

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

Review: THE BATTLES OF TOLKIEN

THE BATTLES OF TOLKIEN

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings epic world includes not only elves and trolls but a whole civilization spanning some 37,000 years. Such a vast timeframe involves war and numerous battles. There have been atttempts to sort through these events but never before in a book filled with such a high level of artwork and commentary. Now, we have “The Battles of Tolkien,” by David David, published by Thunder Bay Press. It is both a beautiful and detailed book. It would make a wonder gift and certainly one to consider for Dad on Father’s Day.

The Battle of Unnumbered Tears

This collection of commentary, art, and maps will prove to be insightful and a delight to any Tolkien reader. Each battle has a map and various artist renditions. David Day’s commentary has a sense of authority and enthusiasm that will keep you reading on from battle to battle. By the end of the book, a Tolkien reader will have a greater understanding of the work and an invaluable keepsake.

Glaurung at the Battle of Sudden Flame

David Day is a poet and author who has published over 40 books of poetry, ecology, history, fantasy, mythology and fiction. David Day’s books, for both adults and children, have sold over 4 million copies worldwide and were translated into twenty languages. This work is unofficial and is not authorized by the Tolkien Estate or HarperCollins Publishers. Other Tolkien titles by David Day include “An Atlas of Tolkien,” “A Dictionary of Tolkien,” and “Heroes of Tolkien.”

The Elven City of Tirion

“The Battles of Tolkien” is a 256-page flexibound. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Thunder Bay Press right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Thunder Bay Press, War

Review: THE GUMAZING GUM GIRL: GUM LUCK

THE GUMAZING GUM GIRL: GUM LUCK

GUM LUCK is the second in the Gumazing Gum Girl series, published by Disney-Hyperion Books, and it is as irreverent and quirky as you may expect. Illustrated by Rhode Montijo, written by Montijo, with Luke Reynolds, this is a perfect book for young readers. This book is hilarious and there is method to all the madness too. Gabby Gomez has quite a conflict to deal with: bubblegum gives Gabby superpowers but her dentist dad is totally against bubblegum. Gabby feels compelled to confess her big gum secret but she can’t risk losing her powers.

Reading GUM GIRL

The script by Montijo and Reynolds provides a fun mix of kid reality and kid fantasy. For example, in one chapter, Gabby is alarmed to see a car skidding its way towards a collision. Instantly, Gabby sets loose her gum powers and brings the car to a sticky, but safe, stop. However, once Gabby arrives at school, she discovers her permission slip to go to the zoo is covered in bubblegum. Without a readable permission slip, Gabby is forced to stay behind in a classroom with other kids who can’t go to the zoo.

Pages from THE GUMAZING GUM GIRL: GUM LUCK

Montijo’s bold artwork is a real treat and keeps the action moving along. Montijo has managed to channel is own take on the Power Puff Girls. Gabby Gomez and her family are easy to relate to while Gum Girl is whimsical and fun to follow along. Montijo offers up a very pleasant and animated style. It is spare and clear and will be especially appealing to a younger age group of ages 6-8. This book also happens to have a pleasing hint of bubblegum scent!

THE GUMAZING GUM GIRL: GUM LUCK is a 160-page color hardcover, available as of June 13th. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Children's Books, Disney, Education, Illustration, Literacy, Reading

Review: GLISTER by Andi Watson

GLISTER by Andi Watson

I’ve kept up with Andi Watson‘s work in comics over the years and maybe you have too. It’s upbeat, quirky, and decidedly dry wit. Kate Beaton comes to mind. A number of British sitcoms come to mind too. Anthony Trollope. Yeah, he comes to mind as well. But let’s get back to Andi Watson. Dark Horse Comics has collected in a deluxe edition Watson’s GLISTER series. This book revolves around Glister Butterworth who stumbles upon quite a number of strange things.

Page from Andi Watson’s GLISTER

One of the strangest things is the family estate of Chilblain Hall. Glister and her dad live there, which is all well and fine. But they also have the occasional ghost. And the estate itself is a living entity. Glister is always trying to maintain an upbeat mood. She even encourages the family home. “But,” as Watson writes in one scene, “the doubt had already seeped into the hall’s timbers like cold in an old man’s bones on a winter’s night.” Here is where Glister must really lay on the charm and persuade the old mansion that being rustic is cool!

As a cartoonist, I greatly admire Watson’s direct line. I would not call it “deceptively simple” as is too often said of clean work. It has more to do with a clear purpose. And it’s very important to have a sense of clarity as you have a main character traipsing through a variety of rather arcane terrain. And I wouldn’t necessarily call this book aimed at only girls. Boys can, and need, to be sensitive. They don’t have to say they’re channeling their feminine side if they’re not ready to. Anyway, most boys know that all rough and tumble can get boring. At the end of the day, we are talking here about a certain sensibility. If you like droll humor, you’ll like this book. Come to think of it, doesn’t Harry Potter have a good dose of dry wit?

GLISTER collects four stories which include the arrival of a teapot haunted by a demanding ghost, a crop of new relatives blooming on the family tree, a stubborn house that walks off its land in a huff, and a trip to Faerieland to find Glister’s missing mother. Whimsical, indeed! A contrarian friend of mine egged me on the other day as to why it is that kids read so many comics. It can’t be good for them, right? With GLISTER fresh on my mind, I pointed out that kids get to enjoy a complex plot, playful use of language, and exercise their imagination. The grounding that will stand them in good stead when they go on to read the biting social satire of Anthony Trollope!

GLISTER is a 304-page trade with color tints. This whimsical collection will appeal to all ages, especially ages 8 to 12. It is available as of July 5. For more details, visit Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Filed under Andi Watson, Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels

Review: HERMAN BY TRADE

HERMAN BY TRADE by Chris W. Kim

The shapeshifter is one of the most misunderstood character archetypes. It is familiar while also shrouded in mystery. And you can find some in unexpected places. How about Kafka’s 1915 classic “The Metamorphosis”? In the novel, Gregor Samsa turns into a cockroach. That makes him a shapeshifter. Alright, I said it. Not a pretty sight. Not something out of Harry Potter. And yet, Kafka would have you look within and ask how close you are to the life of an insect. In Chris W. Kim’s new graphic novel, “Herman by Trade,” he takes a decidedly offbeat approach to shapeshifting. In the case of his main character, Herman, he emerges from a Kafka-like existence and is saved by his unique ability to shape shift.

The post-screening Q&A.

Kim begins with some spot on workplace satire that mirrors the bigger picture that lies ahead. Herman is part of a sanitation crew based at the city waterfront. Within the pecking order, Herman is viewed by his co-workers as a dowdy stay-at-home. But Herman has other plans when he goes to a special screening of a cult hit movie. He knows enough to go in costume. But he knows nothing about this celebrated film until he asks the girl at the ticket booth. She informs him that “Gare” is an intimate portrait of street performers. That’s good enough for Herman to join the die-hard fans in the crowded theater.

Art imitates life imitates art.

With a light and subtle touch, Kim reveals Herman’s journey. It all begins that night in that movie theater. MIO, the film’s director, announces to wild applause that she is going to film a sequel to “Gare” and she invites anyone in the city to come audition at the waterfront. Herman’s fate is sealed. He must be part of the excitement of this momentous event. And, as this graphic novel unfolds, one can’t help but be captivated by Kim’s ambitious vision. He has the backstory of the film and its sequel; the mileu of film buffs; and Herman emerging from his inner world to a much more complex inner world.

Reading HERMAN BY TRADE.

Herman’s goal to be cast in MIO’s new film turns out to be pretty daunting. How will Herman succeed while being so out of his element? In order to even survive, Herman must adapt and that involves shapshifting! Herman, despite all outward appearances, is no cockroach! Kim’s artwork is a marvelous mix of delicate and exuberant. He gently and slyly guides us. All the while, we are viewing not a roach, but a caterpillar emerging from its cocoon in order to triumphantly spread its butterfly wings.

Reading Chris W. Kim’s “Herman by Trade.”

HERMAN BY TRADE is a 120-page hardcover, published by SelfMadeHero, an imprint of Abrams. For more details, visit Abrams right here.

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Filed under Abrams, Abrams ComicArts, Chris W. Kim, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels

Advance Review: BANKSHOT #1 (of 5)

BANKSHOT #1

Alex de Campi (Archie vs. Predator, No Mercy) is a writer you can count on for something with some tooth to it. Her work in comics began with the political thriller, SMOKE, a 2005 mini-series with IDW. Her latest is BANKSHOT, a short series with Dark Horse that finds the reader right in the thick of our current tangled web around the world.

Our anti-hero is Marcus King and he seems to find himself in all the right and wrong places. The end result is that he has become both valuable to some and dangerous to others. King’s story goes back to a military action in the Middle East that put him face to face with the Dutchman, a sort of pirate king, set to plunder what he can during any ensuing chaos. Much more to come regarding this villain. Suffice it to say, Marcus King is a busy mercenary with more foes than friends.

Page #1

Art by ChrisCross (Convergence: Justice League of America) brings home the action as well as fine tunes our connections to characters. Colors by Snakebite Cortez pick up nicely on the atmospherics whether back at FBI HQ, some baked and desolate desert, or a round of heavy artillery blowing everything sky high.

We begin our story back in DC with a dapper secret agent refreshed after a much needed vacation. But agent Gault is in for quite a thrashing by his superiors when they demand to know why he authorized an operation involving the legendary Marcus King. He is strictly hands off! Gault is puzzled at first. He is then provided some very compelling details. Anyway, this is Marcus King we’re talking about. His name alone should give any agent pause. An opening scene brimming with that much intrigue is worthy of any reader’s attention.

Page #2

What you’ll find appealing in this thriller is just the right mix of fantasy and reality. Marcus King is a larger-than-life figure but you can easily imagine that he exists in lesser forms skulking about the dangerous parts of the world.

BANKSHOT #1 is on sale as of June 28th. The Final Order Cutoff for comic book shops is June 5th. For more details, visit Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Review: ‘Resurrection Perverts: Hunter’s Point’ by Danny Hellman

Harry’s Comeuppance Over Manhattan

Harry Homburg was a porn magazine mogul. His life was not poetic or refined. But he could always rely upon making money and getting laid. That’s all that seemed to matter. And then the bottom fell out of the traditional porn industry. This is the basis for Danny Hellman’s new book that follows one man’s attempts to claw his way back to the top. I believe Danny Hellman to be one of the hardest working illustrators in the business. He has secured his place in his chosen field of illustration with a singular style and sense of humor. “Resurrection Perverts: Hunter’s Point” is his first long-form work in comics.

Is there more to life than sex and money?

I’ve seen various short comics narratives from Hellman and I’ve always enjoyed them. I do appreciate his often ribald and provocative stuff and this new book about a fading porn publisher fits right in with his jaded big city tough guy brand. The book is set up at one panel per page. The introductory remarks attached to the book state that it is “one scene per page, like a series of smartphone screens.” The premise is that, in order to save his failing Harlot magazine, Harry will do anything–except change with the times. And why should he? As far as he’s concerned, the typical Harlot reader not only is tech clueless but can’t even afford a computer. This comic itself, interestingly enough, mirrors Harry’s cynical view. Like a really goofy skit on SNL, you just roll it and Hellman has the balls and the skill to get away with it.

Almost like father and son.

There’s a moment in the story where Harry Homburg is preparing to have dinner with his elderly business partner. Harry calls over the waiter: “Jimmy, listen. This guy is macrobionic. No menu. Just bring him a bowl of moss.” It’s a sharp and funny little moment. And I could very well see Hellman writing the whole book just to include it. The book really feels like a wiseguy giving everyone the finger and that’s not easy to do well, and with style. If you’re a fan of Howard Stern (and, at this point, who isn’t?) then you’ll relate and rejoice to the humor found here. If you’re looking for the next cutting-edge work in graphic novels, this is not that kind of gem. That said, it is a gem, all the same.

A night out at Papageno.

Much of our story takes place in Lower Manhattan at Restaurant Papageno. There is excitement in the air with the anticipation of Homburg’s publishing exclusive photos of a sex scandal involving a US President. Add Homburg’s struggles with the digital age and it all feels circa 1998. But that’s neither here nor there. Basically, Hellman would tell you, it’s the present–deal with it. And, you know, I can deal with it. If you’re someone who has explored NYC with any depth, you know there is plenty of activity lost in a time warp. This is all fun and gritty stuff that rings true. And, sure, I’d be happy to see people reading this comic on their smartphones. As of this writing, this book is only available as a hardcover. A Kindle version will be available as of June 1, 2017. This is part of a series so I am eager to see how things develop with this project.

“Resurrection Perverts: Hunter’s Point” by Danny Hellman

“Resurrection Perverts: Hunter’s Point” is a 112-page hardcover, in full color, published by Dirty Danny Press. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Amazon, Comics, Comics Reviews, Danny Hellman, Illustration, Kindle, New York City

Review: ‘Läskimooses’ by Matti Hagelberg

Panel excerpt from “Läskimooses” by Matti Hagelberg

“Läskimooses,” by Matti Hagelberg, has got to be one of the most unusual of comics. It comes out in single issues and the plan is for the complete collected work to be an epic over 1,000 pages. Currently, this art/sci-fi comic book totals around 700 pages, is published 7 issues per year, and is the longest single comics story ever to be produced in Finland.

Hagelberg is best known for his scratchboard technique that he has used in most of his works, published by L’association and Le Dernier Cri in France (Raw Vision 83). It is a wonderfully obsessive vision, part parody and part stream of consciousness. Hagelberg is on an adventure to find the meaning of life and the secrets to the universe byway of conspiracy theories. Only a determined artist like Hagelberg can sustain such a quest. It makes for fascinating results.

Artist Matti Hagelberg

It’s not uncommon for an artist to keep to one theme or one universe in their body of work. Hagelberg has always drawn stories set in the same universe. His epic Läskimooses comics are quite a dramatic example of focused work harkening back to classic comic strips. His theme of exploring the universe is broad enough to sustain a lifetime’s work. The energy and enthusiasm comes across the page. He has set up some fun devices to keep the narrative flowing like an ongoing conversation between characters discussing cosmic subjects. You don’t need to know how to read Finnish to enjoy it either.

Läskimooses #28

I always enjoy writing about comics from outside the United States. Sometimes, I am not sure how to hook into a work and I find it is better to let it simmer and then I come back to it. So is the case with “Läskimooses.” You can now enjoy an issue of the comic book with a handy translation sheet in English. That will certainly clear up any questions about why you’re seeing a bunch of monkeys or what’s going on regarding a volcanic eruption.

Page from Läskimooses #28

Again, let me emphasize that the visuals are pretty stunning all by themselves. Some issues, like #28 above, are only images, no text at all. Basically, all you need to know to begin with is that Läskimooses and Ohto are both planets and figure prominently in the narrative. The two ongoing characters have their own ideas on existential matters that they’re working through. It’s interesting that Hagelberg’s initial idea was to set his story on the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs. He had a spectacle in mind right from the start. Anyway, we’re all working through our own existential issues, right? It’s fun to see an artist with such an unabashed and audacious attitude share with us his vision of the sublime and the profound. I look forward to what develops next with this intriguing and unusual project.

To get an issue of “Läskimooses,” with an English translation sheet included, go to Printed Matter right here.

For a closer look at the artist at work, check out this video right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Europe, European Comics, Finland, Matti Hagelberg, Scandinavia, Sci-Fi, science fiction

Review: NOT MY SMALL DIARY #19

NOT MY SMALL DIARY #19

For a sampling of some of the best independent cartoonists today, one great source is the NOT MY SMALL DIARY anthology, edited by Delaine Derry Green. Cartoonist John Porcellino, known for his “King Cat” comics, has called Delaine’s anthology, “One of the most important comic-zines in history.” Here is a look at Issue 19: Unexplained Events, which showcases the work from 43 talented artists.

Panel excerpt from Kevin Van Hyning’s “The Curse of Macbeth”

So, the theme of “unexplained events” leaves open a wide field of opportunities from things that go bump in the night and beyond. One of the most inventive, jarring, and downright entertaining pieces comes from Kevin Van Hyning. It’s a pretty messed up misadventure and I hope and pray that nothing close to this actually happened to Kevin. Like a lot of creative people, myself included, Kevin has many outlets, like performing on stage. In “The Curse of Macbeth,” we see what can happen when an actor confronts the age-old superstition of daring to say “Macbeth” before a show. It’s supposed to be very bad luck! And, as it turns out in this comic, it’s the sort of bad luck that can knock your teeth out! Inspired work! A big takeaway for me is learning of this curse as I don’t believe I’d ever heard of it before. But it has a long tradition dating back to the very first time it was performed in 1606. Teeth kept being knocked out and worse!

David Lasky’s “Mothman”

As a cartoonist myself, who has observed and commented upon the comics scene for many years, I am delighted to see page after page of inspired work from familiar and new talent. What you find in this book is a treasure trove of comics experimentation. Each creator is working within their own special confines, powered by their own personal engine. This is a fascinating book and a must-read for anyone interested in contemporary comics. Each artist you visit here is like a little island onto itself. We paddle ashore and reach the Isle of David Lasky. Here we find enigmatic work giving out a melancholic howl. In the one-page “Mothman,” we find the distinctive Lasky poetic comic. Relax your shoulders and linger over it.

Panel excerpt from “My ‘Unsual’ Sighting’ by James Burns

The universal symbol for the unexplained seems to always go back to UFOs. And so I close with a piece by James Burns, “My ‘Unusual’ Sighting.” The most eerie and creepy incidents are beautifully underscored by the mundane. Often the most profound things must compete with the most banal and so it is in this comic. It is 1966 and a bunch of kids innocently look up in the sky and seem to be watching their favorite sci-fi show in the clouds–but they’re not. Or what are they seeing? Ten years later, Burns is eighteen and has an opportunity to possibly confirm his most wildest speculation. But he’s still a kid–and what is he supposed to do if his suspicions are correct? Nicely done and a fitting example to a most impressive collection of work in comics.

Be sure to keep up with Not My Small Diary at Delaine Derry Green’s My Small Web Page right here.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Anthologies, Comics, Humor, Independent Comics, Indie, Not My Small Diary

Review: WINNEBAGO GRAVEYARD #1 (of 4)

WINNEBAGO GRAVEYARD #1 (of 4)

It’s that touch of strange that the best writers and artists tap into that makes all the difference. Writer Steve Niles says that his already odd story took some more twists and turns after he viewed what artist Alison Sampson had done with the first issue of their new limited-run comic book series, WINNEBAGO GRAVEYARD. Soon, you’ll be able to see the results for yourself. This is an advance review so a word to the wise (comic book retailers stock up!) and mark your calendar for this Image Comics release on June 14th.

Isn’t it spooky when you thought you saw something out of the corner of your eye? That particularly creepy feeling, the mixing of the banal with the terrifying, keeps building in this first issue in a most satisfying way. We begin in the small American Southwestern town of Acton, one minute after midnight. There’s an orgy of violence with a Satanic ceremony that climaxes with the emergence of a portly and banal naked man declaring his return from the dead. Who is this portly banal man? All we know is that he stepped right out of the body of one of that night’s victims to sacrifice.

This disturbing uneven feeling of disconnection and terror is quite pleasing, and the credit all goes to the team of writer Steve Niles and artist Alison Sampson. With dynamic and moody colors by Stéphane Paitreau. And lyrically placed lettering by Aditya Bidikar. Our story seamlessly rolls along a nightmarish landscape with characters nearly oblivious to what’s going on. It’s more of that delicious disconnection at play.

Winnebago Graveyard!

For, you see, the Winnebago from this comic’s title symbolizes a slice of normal that gets caught in this big fat wedge of crazy. It’s your all-American family, full of equal amounts of wanderlust and dysfunction, that find themselves way off course, all too close to Satan’s country. But are they aware of what’s going on? Sampson depicts them as utterly disconnected in such a masterful way. After spending a whole day in what amounts to an abandoned amusement park, they seem to be getting a clue that they’re very much out of their element. For now, it all seems like a sleepy nightmare.

I was mesmerized by Sampson’s artwork in GENESIS, a one-shot with Image Comics, and wrote a review of that you can read here. This latest comic lives up to what I expected to see next in her work. This is a smashing first issue. You will also want to check out the two essays at the end of this comic. One is on horror movies set in the American Southwest by Sarah Horrocks and it focuses on the 1987 horror classic, “Near Dark.” The other essay is about Satanism in the real world by Casey Gilly and it focuses on Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan and the potential motivations of its followers.

Both essays are part of a series that will run throughout all four issues. I am so glad to see these essays, which compliment the comic and, in fact, become part of the comic. As I like to point out to my readers, we do not live by comics alone. I make a point of writing about all sorts of things and they usually have a relationship to comics, even a quite meaningful connection, like my in-depth interview with novelist Jerome Charyn. Maybe I do things a little differently here but I’m not changing and I believe my readers appreciate that.

And let’s hold on just a bit. Yes, I would take issue with anyone who thinks a discussion about comics takes place in a vacuum. I don’t think anyone really believes that since, even the most so-called comics purist will veer off being strictly on topic. Life, the culture-at-large, bigger and brighter things, exist out there in the world. So, again, I say that the isolated prose, the two essays, in this comic becomes part of the comic. Gilly, in her essay, even directly refers back to the comic and asks the reader to question what the character Chrissie was really seeing. And Horrocks, in her essay, riffs so smoothly on the desert motif running throughout the comic. What a literate and artful comic! Buy it!

WINNEBAGO GRAVEYARD #1 (Of 4) is published by Image Comics and is available as of June 14, 2017. For more details, visit Image Comics right here.

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Filed under Alison Sampson, Comics, Comics Reviews, Horror, Image Comics, Jerome Charyn, Satan, Steve Niles, Supernatural