Tag Archives: Sci-Fi

Comics Review: THE WINNER by Karl Stevens

A most engaging muse.

Karl Stevens is quite an impressive artist. Now, he does let himself get tripped up over labels. Stevens confides this with the reader, along with a bunch of other juicy and fun things, in his new autobiographical graphic novel, The Winner, published by Retrofit/Big Planet. Just who is Karl Stevens to think you, the reader, are going to care one way or another as to how he sees himself as an artist and/or cartoonist? Well, he’ll readily admit that he’s confronting the artist’s lot in life of fighting off overwhelming indifference but that’s just the thing. Mr. Stevens is engaging in the fine old tradition of presenting a portrait of the artist and having the reader take of it what they will. In this case, there is much to take and much to celebrate.

THE WINNER by Karl Stevens

I, for one, celebrate the work of Karl Stevens–and I’m sure you will too! I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing his work in the past. I really enjoyed, Failure. This new book carries on that same level of excellent auto-bio along with a foray into other themes. I see here an evolving sense of humor mixing sharp self-deprecation with the wildly absurd. It’s as if Stevens is still too close to the real world gripes that he needs to play with different genres in order to cut loose. Stevens inserts a few segments of sci-fi, fantasy, and even horror, into his auto-bio narrative. These segments are experimental compared to his far more measured and earnest social commentary. Taken as a whole, the reader seems to get to know Stevens through all these various samples of the artist’s life, working process, and work resulting from sources other than direct observation.

THE WINNER by Karl Stevens

Stevens plays up his anti-social and elitist tendencies for the reader. Whether or not the Stevens on the page is the same as the Stevens in private is one of those games that can make you crazy. It doesn’t help that Stevens has such a deliciously realistic style that lures the reader in. The writing is crisp, the dialogue is sharp and natural. So, sure, you can easily lose yourself in these wonderful scenes of Steven ranting about the mindless masses while his wife, Alex, nudges him into a reality check. I suspect that there’s more truth to these scenes than fiction and that’s totally okay, better than okay! Stevens knows how to kid. For someone who can so consistently conjure up such exquisite work, the man has earned himself the right to complain as much as he wants about the dire state of affairs and us less than noble humans.

Getting back to the genre-hopping going on here, I think Stevens is still figuring out what he wants from this. Right now, I see an artist/writer of high caliber flexing his muscles and testing things out. That said, his work can be quite visually appealing. And his humor is wry, dry, and often silly. As it stands right now, I think Stevens is heading in a very interesting direction. I am curious to see how Stevens continues to intertwine his real world with the supernatural.

THE WINNER by Karl Stevens

The Winner is a 104-page full cover trade paperback, now available. For more information and how to purchase, visit Retrofit/Big Planet right here.

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Filed under Big Planet Comics, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Karl Stevens, Retrofit Comics, Retrofit/Big Planet

Comics Review: THE FURNACE by Prentis Rollins

THE FURNACE by Prentis Rollins

It is an honor and a pleasure to share with you, The Furnace, the new book by Prentis Rollins, a veteran in the comics industry (Marvel and DC), published by Tor Books. I will jump in with a quick way to hook into this book and say outright that this work does indeed compare favorably with the best of the original Twilight Zone. That’s a tall order but this is an exceptionally unique work. I don’t take such comparisons lightly and I have no problem striking down false claims that occur quite often. So, yes, this is the real deal with its finely modulated pace and attention to detail. It delivers that ethereal sensation that leaves you in a deliciously questioning mood. And, with its sophisticated flair, it will have strong appeal to adult readers while still appropriate for any age.

Much like an excellent episode of The Twilight Zone, every detail is accounted for right down to the title, The Furnace. What sort of furnace could this be? Well, as in any existential tale such as this, there’s a good deal of nihilism. This furnace first comes into view as a parent tries to explain to a child a highly complex (and compromised) adult endeavor. The explanation takes on grand metaphysical proportions while also clearly playing the role of an augury of sinister things to come. Just what is this parent trying to tell this child? A machine that keeps cookies locked away?


Witness the worry in the mesmerizing patterns in the sky.

We take so much for granted when it comes to comics. I digest quite a lot of comics, coming from a myriad of genres, publishers, and niches. A work like this is the Holy Grail of comics, to try to put it as plainly as possible. With a work like this, you are experiencing comics, both in art and in writing, at an extraordinary level. I’m sorry but work at this level is not for hobbyists. And I strongly believe that work at this level needs to be acknowledged as often as possible. It’s not only that Mr. Rollins can draw at an exquisite level. That alone will get you only so far. And the same can be said for nicely-paced prose. What stands out is a level of dedication and professionalism that results in astonishingly honest work. You view an episode of Twilight Zone running on all four cylinders and you see exactly what I mean. No one who just happens to love comics is going to crank this out overnight. No, sir. It doesn’t work that way. Here is someone who wrote and drew and colored a significant and highly-polished graphic novel all by himself. It happens–but not quite as often as you might think. And not nearly as good as this book!

What I really enjoy about The Furnace is that Mr. Rollins seems to not give a fig about all the time and effort required to tell his tale. He just does it–and he makes it look so easy. As a cartoonist who both writes and draws, I can tell you that this is quite labor-intensive stuff, especially if you do it all by hand, the old-fashioned way. Based upon the endnotes, where Mr. Rollins shares his process, he did indeed do it all by hand. And here’s the irony. While it is devilishly hard work, if you stop and think about it too much, it can be a very satisfactory activity. You reach a point, towards the end of such a project, when your skills are at a well-oiled level, that you simply don’t want to stop. You actually want to do more and so, if you’re fortunate, you simply jump on to the next project.

“I’m having a ball!”

Each character in this book is quite palpable, a true living and breathing entity. The key bone of contention is between two ambitious young men who find themselves at the precipice of a watershed moment with staggering consequences. Marc holds the key to what comes next and also has the power to stop it, if he were so inclined. Walton, while very capable in his own right, is stuck with being in Marc’s shadow. Walton is the guy that a genius goes to for some assistance, not for collaboration. Our story is told in various pieces looking back from the perspective of a middle-aged, and bitter, Walton. He tells this tale to himself and, oddly enough, in a sanitized form, to Clara, his six-year-old daughter. To add to the tension, Clara’s face and demeanor often resemble a much older girl or woman. It doesn’t help that Clara keeps pushing the envelope for her age. For example, she insists upon calling her father by his first name. Walton’s wife sees no problem with this as she declares, matter-of-factly, that Clara simply doesn’t see Walton as her father.

You reach a point in a work when you either ease up a bit or you dive deeper. Mr. Rollins takes each dive and goes deeper. Thankfully, he is a writer who relishes in well-placed, finely-articulated dialogue and action. And, as happens deep in the process of making a work of comics such as this, the level of writing somehow blends and interlaces with the artwork. Your characters might be pensive or caught in the throes of a crisis and, akin to the background in a painting, character and environment meld together. The skies take on an eerie neurotic energy which is accomplished with crosshatching and patterning above and beyond what would satisfy a typical panel or page. And, thus, a remarkable moment is experienced…followed by another and another.

The best rendered ears in the business!

I sort of want to skirt around the issue of the actual plot because I don’t want to give too much away. In some respects, this is as much a character-driven narrative as anything else. It has a lot to do with the great distance we can create between our fellow humans, a recurring theme on The Twilight Zone. And the storytelling has a lot to do with evoking a certain state of mind, an ongoing concern, for sure, on The Twilight Zone. The Rollins touch is there in every way possible, right down to arguably the best rendered ears in the business! Yep, that little sample above of a finely-rendered Rollins ear speaks volumes. I honestly believe that the complexity and beauty of this work ranks up there with such landmark work as Watchmen, albeit on a smaller scale.

A utopian scene

It was indeed a pleasure for me to review another work by Prentis Rollins a while back. This was his magnificent guide to drawing comics, How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias: Create the Futuristic Humans, Aliens, Robots, Vehicles, and Cities of Your Dreams and Nightmares, published by Monacelli Studio. In fact, the image above is a working drawing related to The Furnace. This particular image did not make it into the book but I thought it might make a nice treat to include here. Obviously, this book is a visual delight–and, without a doubt, a literary delight.

The Furnace is a 208-page full color trade paperback, available as of July 10, 2018. For more details, visit Tor Books right here. And be sure to visit Prentis Rollins at his website right here.

File this book under “Awesome Titles Near Level with Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.”

Rating: 10/10

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2018 ACE Comic Con in Seattle: June 22-24

2018 ACE Comic Con in Seattle

ACE Comic Con is coming to the Pacific Northwest! From June 22 – 24, you can see Tom Holland (Spider-Man), Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch), Paul Bettany (Vision), and Hayley Atwell (Agent Peggy Carter – “Captain America”) of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe will join previously announced talent Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Tom Hiddleston (Loki) at the WaMu Theater & CenturyLink Field Event Center, Seattle.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, Chris Hemsworth has cancelled. Hemsworth tweeted his apologies citing last-minute scheduling conflicts that would prevent him from attending the first-ever ACE Comic Con at the WaMu Theater and CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle. ACE said that two Marvel Avengers have been assembled to take Hemsworth’s place: Sebastian Stan (Winter Soldier) and Anthony Mackie (The Falcon).

Other confirmed guests include Grant Gustin (Barry Allen/The Flash) of CW’s “The Flash,” cast member Camila Mendes (Veronica Lodge) of CW’s “Riverdale,” and WWE Superstars Shinsuke Nakamura, Carmella and Becky Lynch.

ACE Comic Con

A sneak peek sample of special programming for the weekend includes:

A solo panel with Spider-Man’s Tom Holland
Vision & Scarlet Witch panel with Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen
Thor panel with Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston
A solo panel with “Riverdale” star Camila Mendes
WWE Superstars discussing their journeys in and out of the ring

If you are in Seattle this weekend, be sure to visit ACE Comic Con.

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Comics Review: H.G. WELLS: THE WAR OF THE WORLDS

Indeed, the martians are coming!

There is an exciting new graphic novel adaptation of the H.G. Wells classic, The War of the Worlds, presented by Insight Comics. This version provides a vivid and immersive “present day” of 1898 that keeps the reader quite engaged. It will sneak up on you with its strange yet familiar qualities. We have seen so many different versions of this material that we cry out for ways to peel back as closely to the original to reveal something about our contemporary selves. That is what I see happening here.

A wonderful sense of pacing.

One thing is for sure, these martian creatures are relentless forces of nature–and that sort of villain never goes out of style. Writer Dobbs and artist Cifuentes do well to follow their hearts and take such an inhibited approach. I think there’s always that risk of losing one’s way in a work set in a different era. In this case, it all feels very natural. The reader accepts this natural setting and gets hooked into the suspense within context.

Part of what makes everything fit correctly in this version is the fine sense of timing. As much as things move quickly in this story, the intrinsic pace to life is relatively methodical. You want to send a message, heck, you might opt for a carrier pigeon. You want to pick up the pace, you best find a good horse. With that in mind, I cherish how that special pacing finds itself on these pages. For example, just consider the above page, our hero is slogging his way down a rough road while, steadily moving forward, the bloodthirsty martians are coming!

H.G. WELLS: THE WAR OF THE WORLDS

Look closely, and this captivating work in comics will set your mind to flashes of past great moments between human and creature. The first look at the giant cylinder immediately made me think of Arrival. And the first look at the actual martians made me think of Alien. That said, it was more a recollection of a great sense of energy and not a lifting of one style onto another. Without a doubt, this book has its own unique sense of energy and it has earned its place among related work.

H.G. Wells: The War of the Worlds is a 116-page full color hardcover and available now. For more details, visit Insight Comics right here.

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Comics Review: SKINNED from Insight Comics

SKINNED from Insight Comics

If you’ve been to your local comics shop or bookstore, you may have noticed the colorful cover for Skinned, a new graphic novel and part of the Insight Editions imprint, Insight Comics. Taking a look inside, I was immediately impressed with its vivid, daring, and hip approach. Written by Tim Daniel and Jeremy Holt, illustrated by Joshua Gowdy, and lettering by Matthew Meylikhov, this is an eye-popping, sleek and fun comic that will bring to mind such comics as The Wicked + The Divine and American Gods. There is definitely a blending of sci-fi and fantasy elements with a millennial sensibility.

SKINNED from Insight Comics

And, if you love a good twist on sci-fi tropes, I believe you’ll be pleased with this story that gives us a delicious take on how easily humans are overwhelmed by their own technology. This is a wonderful satire that does not get bogged down by its targets: artificial intelligence, virtual reality and human folly. Instead, it jumps right in and brings the story and art up to a high level of excitement and urgency. You’ll get a psychedelic jolt along the lines of The Wizard of Oz and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and, in that spirit, one you’ll want to come back to it.

SKINNED from Insight Comics

The big thing that captivates everyone in this story is iRIS, enhanced-reality contact lenses that provide users with their own unique take on reality. You no longer have to dread another day with its randomness and challenges. Why not give everything a nice fuzzy fun beach theme or some other calming fantasy? Do it enough, and you’ll never miss reality again, right? Sounds like too much of a good thing and, as we come to see, it is. But thanks to two star-crossed lovers, Aldair and Bouy, humanity may find a way out of its voluntary enslavement. This is quite a fun book with a lot of energy and originality to spare.

Aldair and Bouy might just save the day!

Skinned is a 128-page full color hardcover and is available now. For more details, visit Insight Comics right here.

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Comics Review: M.F.K. by Nilah Magruder

M.F.K. by Nilah Magruder

This week we will look at the new line of original comics coming from the Insight Editions imprint, Insight Comics. I have been meaning to get to some of these titles and I’ve hesitated since I really wanted to process them and have something worthwhile to say! Well, enough waiting. In fact, I interviewed Nilah Magruder a few months back at Emerald City Comic Con and so I’m overdue. The first comic to kick off this new line of comics is “M.F.K.” by Nilah Magruder. Now, you may wonder what M.F.K. stands for but that will remain a mystery. It’s quite fitting considering this is one of the most unusual and mysterious comics I’ve ever read.

A small in humble village is the jumping off point for an epic adventure.

I swear, more and more of us are collectively going to look at comics as this most stimulating alternative form of entertainment. I know that sounds stupid to say that, especially if you already appreciate comics at a higher level. I guess I mean that it seems that the vast majority are still okay with comics serving a more basic service, simply acting as a simple vehicle for action and entertainment. When people like myself lecture about how it can be so much more than that we are referring to quite a colossal amount of comics that somehow manage to keep a relatively low profile. Does that make sense? There are a lot of, say, niche comics out there but, with each passing year, the audience grows, is more accepting, and remembers specific titles and creators. Just look at how long it has taken for names like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko to pretty much enter the mainstream. Okay, I know, I am digressing down a deep rabbit hole here. I just say this because I’m excited to see such a quirky and remarkable comic as M.F.K. getting a lot of love and respect.

It all begins with a sandstorm!

People often compare comics to movies. And prose novels. Sometimes paintings. And I would definitely have to add music. I think I found myself processing M.F.K. best as a stimulating and unpredictable piece of music. Sure, there is a narrative to follow but, as is the case with a lot of more eccentric work, the narrative is almost besides the point. Not totally but to some extent. There are a lot of atmospherics going on in this comic, okay? Amazing sandstorms and we begin with some strange scene involving a struggle to collect and process the sand. I really do not understand what the characters are doing with all this sand–but that’s okay. So, you see, in that respect, it’s like music. I am experiencing beautiful and intriguing interludes. But, again, that’s not to say there isn’t a compelling story going on because there is.

Abbie, the outsider.

Abbie is a tough kid. We don’t get her story right away but, basically, she’s this young woman with a Wookie-like bird. Abbie is carrying a urn with her mother’s remains. Her goal is to find a proper place for the ashes. But then things happen. Abbie is worn down. Her bird, or moa, is worn down. And there’s all this sand swirling around. Next thing you know, Jaime, a young man, becomes entangled in a fight with Abbie that leads to Abbie and the moa both being stabbed by Jaime. This leads to Abbie being taken in by Jaime’s family who tend to her wounds although reluctantly since she’s an outsider. A lot more stuff goes on, including a much better understanding of who or what Abbie really is, and we come full circle in this first installment with Abbie back on the road with her urn. But she no longer has a moa. Now she has Jaime as a sidekick.

You can imagine all the music coming from this comic, can’t you? I’m sure you can. Nilah Magruder has written and drawn some sort of epic opera in the form of a quirky, funny, and most engaging work of comics. The first book in the M.F.K. saga is now out. For more details, visit Insight Comics right here.

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Comics Review: MURDER #1

MURDER #1

MURDER is an intriguing new graphic novel series that will have you thinking twice about animals. It is written by the team of husband and wife, Matthew & Brittany Loisel. Art by Emiliano Correa. Lettering by Micah Myers. In all respects, this is quite a compelling work in comics. I have to admit that when I first took a look at it, my mind quickly went to the classic song, “Meat is Murder,” by The Smiths. I’m sure that the Loisels knew they would need to bring their A-game to a subject vulnerable to earnest polemics. So, yeah, the animals rebel and the meat industry is put on notice but it is all done with quirky style.

Meat industry put on notice!

One issue in and I am left curious for more. The narrative has a nice natural pace. We don’t know too much about our emerging cast of characters–just enough to be lured in. I’m intrigued by the one standout human in the bunch. We see him in a two-year flash forward going by the name of The Butcher of Butchers. He makes for a colorful vigilante. We start off by seeing him befriend a little baby chick.

Chicks and humans don’t mix so well.

The little baby chick, by the way, can talk–and the do-gooder human buddy of his understands and casually chats with the chick. Who knew. Humans and animals, just like Doctor Dolittle, can talk to the animals! Well, in this story, it’s only this one human who can parlay with the pachyderms, if he were so inclined. For this guy, chatting with a chick is plenty for starters.

Start to think about it, and there are all sorts of critters talking to each other, and the occasional human, in books, movies, and comics. “Animal Farm” and “Watership Down” are a couple of my favorites. This comic gets a thumbs, paws and hooves up for willing to go out on a limb with a story involving a dog and a cat plotting their overthrow of humans while playing chess.

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Graphic Novel Review: LEGEND OF SUMERIA

Legend of Sumeria

LEGEND OF SUMERIA is a graphic novel set in a future where social media and genetics collide. Among a growing number of graphic novels integrating elements of real science with fiction, this one does best with its offbeat humor. There are plenty of intriguing subplots here but what will get the reader every time is that quirky human touch. Just as we marvel over the fact that there is just a speck of difference between our genomes, so too do we zero in on those storytelling nuances. This is not a perfect work but it is weird and odd enough to keep your interest.

“You smell like my mother used to. And I know she was not evil.”

Our main character is Dr. Bruce Abbot, who works for The SEQ Network. He is not very happy at all with that arrangement. Not when there is such a high level of mutual distrust. And especially not when a corporate lab experiment could trigger the end of human civilization! Add to that a cryptic organization lurking in the shadows and bent on destroying SEQ and you’ve got quite a lot of narrative to juggle. There is definitely a lot of stuff to like here such as the premise of trusting a corporation with your DNA especially so that you can have tailor-made intense and unique experiences.

New York, 2027

I’m not sure everything adds up here but I would advise to take what you want from this and don’t sweat the details. As it is, the story lurches enough with its insertion of sexual content. It is not exactly necessary and just makes the book inappropriate for younger readers. A more alluring vibe could have been achieved if the art was stronger. That said, the art is spot on for the overall offbeat quality to this work. So, I hardly dismiss this book out of hand as it brings up some intriguing ideas about how we humans can be outdone by our own hands.

LEGEND OF SUMERIA

LEGEND OF SUMERIA is co-created and written by Jay Webb and Dr. Biju Parekkadan. Lead artist is Anthony LaGaipa. It debuts on March 20, 2018. For more details, visit the official site right here.

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Comics Review: PRISM STALKER #1

PRISM STALKER by Sloane Leong

Sloane Leong is one of those special cartoonists who immerse themselves deep into a world of their own. This sort of artist-warrior is without exception, both writer and artist. Leong, following this highly individual tradition, has worked up her skills (never complaining since it never seemed like work) and come out the other side with comics of a caliber that has led her today to launching PRISM STALKER, her new title with Image Comics.

For a comics critic who also both writes and draws comics, I am confident in sharing with you what sets Leong apart. Among the many independent cartoonists out there, just like any other artists, a number of them will take one detour or another. Some will feel most comfortable remaining within self-published cliques. Others may need to keep a project under wraps and work on it on their own terms. But, if the stars are in alignment, and the cartoonist is particularly driven, the transition can be made from bohemian poet to career path. In the ideal case, the work retains that same idiosyncratic vibe. The work retains its integrity. The artist retains their integrity.

What you see on the comics page, the merging of words and images, takes on an added significance when created by a cartoonist in the traditional role of artist-writer. You end up with a window into the subconscious mind. I would argue that you can feel a disconnect, perhaps subtle or maybe distracting, in a collaborative work. That is why you hear so much said on the importance of chemistry between writer and artist. But you don’t have that concern when you’re running the whole show. In the case of Leong, she has taken on the added roles of lettering and coloring. All of that adds up to a more personal perspective. And, by the way, it is no surprise that cartoonists at this level are attracted to and invest a lot of energy upon depicting dreams.

And then you add a passionate vision and you have the whole package. A look at Leong’s website shows us a person with a heart-felt desire to tell the stories of those who have been pushed to the margins. That is exactly what we see here: Vep, our main character is toiling away as a slave on a hive colony run by giant insects. Who doing what where? you may ask. It is a very dream-like sci-fi tale about very serious problems.

This is a story that casts a very wide net and succeeds by balancing all the details. Vep is a strong and compelling character who the reader is immediately drawn to. The setting is pretty outrageous and highly ambiguous and becomes a character in its own right. You could say this is a comic that is both character and atmosphere driven. It becomes a true meld of visual and literary delight. You feel that unique push-pull connection. You recognize trippy originality when you see it right down to that wildly eccentric title, PRISM STALKER!

Rating of 10/10

PRISM STALKER #1 is available as of March 7, 2018. For more details, visit Image Comics right here.

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Emerald City Comicon 2018: March 1-4

Emerald City Comicon 2018: March 1-4

Emerald City Comicon is and integral part of the fabric of Seattle. It is a tradition that has grown and developed into an impressive and highly anticipated annual event. ECCC is one of the first, if not the first stop, for many creatives as they embark upon their comics convention tours–and a most welcome one. That has a lot to do with ReedPOP‘s leadership. And, of course, it has a lot to do with so many loyal fans of a uniquely Pacific Northwest celebration of pop culture. Maybe folks are more polite and mellow in this region. We won’t dissect it any further and just be grateful. Now is the time to get ready and to keep an eye out for updates on all things ECCC.

ECCC and SYFY WIRE

JENNIFER MORRISON at ECCC 2018

Whether it is a chance to see two of the legends from “Back to Future,” Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown) and Tom Wilson (Biff Tannen) or a favorite talent at Artist Alley, there is something for everyone at ECCC.

BACK TO THE FUTURE at ECCC 2018

ECCC Artist Alley 2018

ECCC Artist Alley 2018

As usual, Comics Grinder will venture out and report back from various panels, activity on the showroom floor, and whatever should catch the eye. If you are in Seattle, and love comics and pop culture, then make sure to be part of Emerald City Comicon.

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