An aspiring writer does well to heed that famous Tolstoy quote about families: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Cartoonists, many of them and I include myself among these wonderfully wretched souls, gravitate more often than not to stories about outsiders, people dealing with deep issues. It leads to glorious work like The Nao of Brown, originally published in 2012 by SelfMadeHero/Abrams. A new edition, from SelfMadeHero and Abrams, just came out and it’s a good time to revisit what has become a classic tale of a young woman finding her way.
Welcome to the world of Nao Brown.
Nao Brown, at 28, is still teetering along on the precipice that takes one from childhood to adulthood. Nao comes to understand that one can remain dangling on that cliff forever. This is the year that Nao makes it to the other side. The Nao of Brown is in the same spirit as Ghost World, the Daniel Clowes tour de force graphic novel that seemed, with its major motion picture version, to bring geek culture out of the closet back in 2001. The Nao of Brown is also, just like Ghost World, a crisp combination of exquisite art and writing. Where Clowes is more hard-edged and sarcastic, Dillon is more dreamy and bathed in soft watercolor washes. Our main character, Nao, is struggling to find her place in the world with one foot in her Japanese ancestry and the other foot in her Anglo-British ancestry. And she sees the world in the black and white extremes of an obsessive-compulsive. Her dark thoughts terrify her. Pop culture, hip and ironic, is an island that she can escape to.
The life and times of Nao Brown.
Will one more mix tape be able to save Nao? She works in a pop culture boutique run by Steve, a hapless nerd if ever there was one who has a crush on Nao. She cringes at the thought of the pack of teenage boys who frequent the shop only to worship her. She knows she’s too old for them. She intellectually knows her youth is relative. But she still thinks like a little girl. For most of the book, she works out her feelings for a man she’s developed a relationship with recently. Her initial interest in Gregory was triggered by the fact he resembles a pop culture toy she adores.
Steve, trapped in the friend zone.
This is a fascinating read, no two ways about it, as immersive as any of your most beloved movies, music, novels…or graphic novels! And, as an added bonus, alternating throughout the main narrative is a “story within a story” that is simply icing on the cake! All that said, it’s a crowded field these days with one amazing graphic novel after another. The solution sometimes, just as with any other art form, is a revisit or reissue. And so that brings us to this recent reissue of The Nao of Brown. This new edition, with additional production art, is a totally well-deserved relaunch into the world and will undoubtedly enchant a whole new crop of readers.
Searching for Nao Brown.
The Nao of Brown is a 216-page hardcover. For more details, visit SelfMadeHero and Abrams.
Masters of Comics: Inside the Studios of the World’s Premier Graphic Storytellers is a unique behind-the-scenes look at the studios and work habits of some of the all-time great comic book artists, published by Insight Comics, with interviews by Joel Meadows. It is a pleasure to get a chance to chat with Joel Meadows, a fellow comics journalist. Mr. Meadows jumped into comics journalism in 1992 with his own Tripwire Magazine. In this interview, we’re going to unpack what that all means. There have been so many others who have joined the ranks of comics journalists, including myself, so there’s plenty to unpack!
HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Joel, thank you for joining me for this conversation. We’re going to chat about Masters of Comics and the world of comics journalism. You begin in 1992 as a young guy who is compelled to create Tripwire, a magazine of genre culture, and that has evolved into an exciting new website presence and the publication of significant books on pop culture. I believe you really hit upon something with the original Studio Space and now the current Masters of Comics. As a jumping off point, share with us some of the thinking that led you to pursue a collection of in depth process interviews.
It started with the magazine, you mentioned Tripwire. We used to run a feature, Studio Space, where we interviewed artists and illustrators in order to get a closer look, get behind their work: the way they work and how they approach their work. We began with Tim Bradstreet, Phil Hale, and John Bolton. I found it fascinating and I thought it might be fun to pursue this further as a book. We put together a line up of artists for Image in 2008 and that was an impressive book. I was very proud of that book. That came out 11 years ago. We had the late great Joe Kubert. We had Sergio Toppi. We had Steve Dillon. We had Howard Chaykin. I can’t recall everyone. It was a pretty amazing list. I was very proud that we had managed to gather all these great artists together and get into each of their headspace and look at how they actually created work and how each studio was different from the next.
Tripwire magazine, circa 1990s
I love the fact that you have books out in the world. For me, my first loyalty is with print. We both go back to a pre-internet perspective. It used to be that to have something in print was the be all, end all. You feel secure with print. You can feel a bit uncertain about the internet: things can be completely wiped away. The whole website might blow up but you can always have a print edition somewhere. Do you feel like that sometimes?
A little bit. We switched to the web back in 2015 and it has its pros and cons. If you make a mistake you can always go back and fix it. But there’s something about the physicality of a book or a magazine. There’s the tactile nature of it. Say, if you meet someone and they ask you what you do, you can direct them to a website but, in some ways, it’s even nicer to be able to show them the book that you’ve published or the magazine that you edit. There’s something about having something physical that is hard to beat.
Exactly, that’s what I want to stress to everyone. Of course, you can go to a tutorial on Youtube but it’s so great to be able to pick up a book and pore over the pages and make discoveries. I think of someone like John Paul Leon, an amazing artist who will be new to a lot of readers. There’s one title that he worked on, The Winter Men, that really sticks with me. You’ve got such a wonderful range of talent, everyone from Frank Quitely to Bill Sienkiewicz to J.H. Williams III, and everyone has their own way of working. There’s so much to consider, of course, over creating the work physically or digitally or a combination of the two.
Maybe it’s a generational thing. I interviewed Mike Kaluta for the book and he works physically with pen and ink. J.P. has more of a mix. Walt Simonson works physically but he does fix lines digitally. I think it was Laurence Campbell, who does work physically, who said that, with digital, he misses the idea of being able to have a happy accident. You might make a mistake but it’s a good mistake. It brings the work to life a little bit more. In some ways, it comes down to digital coming across as too precise. The idea that you can go in and fix a mistake in Photoshop can leave some artists feeling that something is missing. Obviously, other artists love digital. Sean Phillips he draws his line art digitally but he also paints physically. He went back to painting for some of his covers and some of his work for Criminal. He likes to jump between the two. It really depends upon the artist. Some like the tactile experience of physically painting. Others like the convenience of digital. So, it comes down to a case by case basis.
Sean Phillips doing digital work.
Yes, I think it does come down to a case by case basis since you can’t totally peg it as generational. You have so many young artists who enjoy doing work physically. I even wonder sometimes if using markers is really the best approach to coloring your work. But, hey, if an artist can make it work with markers, then why not.
Michael William Kaluta doing physical work.
I want to ask you about your own process. Maybe you can take us behind the scenes of how you got the book put together. Did you personally interview each artist in their studio or were some interviews over the phone?
It was a mix. I got to visit some of the artists personally: Mike Kaluta, Walt Simonson, Posy Simmonds, Laurence Campbell, and Sean Phillips. The rest were e-mail or telephone interviews and, for those, they supplied the photographs. I would have loved to have interviewed in person Eduardo Risso but he’s way over in Argentina. The same with Rafael Albuquerque. He’s in Brazil. I did the photography for the artists that I met with in person.
It’s a seamless presentation, how all the profiles were put together into such a compelling whole.
Insight did a great job with the design. It looks beautiful. They did a great job with the typography and the way all the images fit, the comics art and the photography. It holds together really well as a cohesive package.
There are 21 profiles here. Maybe you can tell us something more about the decision-making process in choosing artists. It is a stellar line-up of artists. Rafael Albuquerque. Tim Sale. Yumo Shimizu. The list goes.
We wanted to have a cross section of artists coming from different disciplines. For instance, Walt Simonson is very much a pen and ink guy. John Paul Leon is more of a marker artist. Dave Johnson is a cover artist, one of the best. If we picked 20 or so artists that were all in the same style, then it would have gotten repetitive. So, we wanted to have something that was varied in terms of approach and actual work.
Share with us about the world of comics journalism. It was a whole other world when you began in 1992. The field was wide open. Back then, there were only a few outlets, like The Comics Journal. Today, it’s a relatively crowded field, especially when you add in all the various tiers of involvement.
It has changed. The Comics Journal had its moments. I used to enjoy Amazing Heroes, going back to the late ’80s. The biggest one was Speakeasy. It had a column by Grant Morrison. It was a very irreverent magazine. That was a big influence on us at Tripwire. Back in the ’90s, you also had Wizard, which really wasn’t for me. And, yeah, I never connected with The Comics Journal. Today, there are a number of good websites. There’s a digital magazine based in the UK that is doing a lot of good work called, PanexPanel, run by Hass Otsmane-Elhaou. And Forces of Geek, with Stefan Blitz, does excellent work too. A lot of sites are just running press releases. At Tripwire, we try to dig deeper. We interview the creators and the key players. We try to look at the bigger picture. It’s a challenge.
Amazing Heroes (1981-1992), published by Fantagraphics
The thing with press releases is that it’s a balancing act. You don’t want to rely on them. You have to really pick and choose. Some are quite informative and newsworthy. What is the criteria for you when it comes to content on Tripwire?
We try for variety and we try to cover people that other websites don’t. For example, we’ve recently run two interviews with Scott Dunbier from IDW. His artist collections and special projects are a great celebration of comics history. So, we try to pick people like him. We’ve interviewed Chuck Palahniuk a couple of times. We’ve interviewed Philip Pullman. We try to go beyond the boundaries of many comics websites. I want to dig a bit deeper like we did with our interview with J. M. DeMatteis. We try not to cover everything. And we try to contextualize our interviews and explain the significance of our interview subjects.
I do my best to go in depth with my interviews. And I’m always on the look out to go beyond the boundaries of a typical pop culture website. I will naturally gravitate to some novel, which may or may not have anything to do with comics. I might bring in an essay, or whatever. It just happens organically and it helps to keep things fresh and bring in a cross section of readers.
Yes, we do that too on occasion.
Speakeasy, “the organ of the comics world,” March, 1990
I wonder what your take is on alternative comics. My partner, Jennifer, and I are both cartoonists. We come from that indie alt-comics scene. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Page 45 quote.
Yes, I am.
It’s a brilliant observation by Stephen Holland, owner of the UK comics shop Page 45, about how “alternative comics are the real mainstream.”
There’s a lot of great material. I read indie comics. I’ve read the likes of Joe Matt and Daniel Clowes and Adrian Tomine back in the ’90s. I tried to keep up with their careers. There’s incredibly talented people. You have someone like Ed Brubaker who started life as an indie cartoonist and moved into the mainstream. He’s one of these guys who can straddle the two. I believe the Page 45 quote gets it right. You can give someone who doesn’t normally read comics a book like Berlin, by Jason Lutes, and they can appreciate it. But they will have a much harder time with a Batman or Teen Titan graphic novel which relies on more in depth comics knowledge.
MASTERS OF COMICS
I just need to ask you about what’s been on your pop culture radar. For instance, what was your take on how Game of Thrones on HBO resolved itself?
You have to feel sorry for the creators of the show since you can’t satisfy everyone. I remember when the Sopranos ended. I really liked how it ended but there were a lot of people who weren’t happy. A big show like that, which has been around for years, it’s almost impossible to satisfy all of your audience. I think the ending to Game of Thrones was okay. To be honest, I’m not sure how else HBO could have ended it.
There are some shows that we in the States have to wait for from across the pond. But then there’s also the reverse. For example, the new Twilight Zone on CBS All Access. Are you looking forward to that one?
I am curious. I enjoyed Get Out a lot. I think Jordan Peele is quite talented. I’m curious as to whether or not they’ve managed to keep that original flavor.
I’ve gotten a chance to view the whole season and I think it’s coming together. I think it’s going to be of those shows that will probably remain a bit uneven but can have exceptional episodes so you root for it.
There’s quite a bit of TV. I’m trying to catch up with Jessica Jones. I’m a bit ambivalent about the Marvel shows on Netflix. I enjoyed a lot of Daredevil and Luke Cage. I think the big problem is that a lot of these shows run too long. They would be much better off with shorter runs of six episodes per season. Another one, Punisher, I just couldn’t finish that.
How would you like to end our talk? Anything else you’d like to add about Tripwire or Masters of Comics?
We continue to evolve the Tripwire website. We’re hoping to organize a talk that ties in Masters of Comics at the Society of Illustrators in October during New York Comic Con. It would include Walt Simonson and Shawn Martinbrough. It would be very nice to have an event tie-in for the book. We’re also looking forward to some collections of interviews from Tripwire. This is something we’re working with another publisher on. The plan is to have the first book available in time for next year’s Comic Con in San Diego. So, that’s exciting. We’ll be returning to print after a bit of a break.
That would be so exciting to have a talk at Society of Illustrators. I hope that works out.
Well, thank you. We’re hoping to pin that down.
Thanks so much, Joel.
Thank you, Henry.
You can listen to a portion of the podcast interview by just clicking the link below:
Masters of Comics: Inside the Studios of the World’s Premier Graphic Storytellers is a 184-page full color trade paperback, with 21 profiles, with art samples and studio photographs, published by Insight Comics.
Keep up with Joel Meadows and Tripwire magazine by going right here.
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.
SCOTLAND YARDIE by Bobby Joseph and Joseph Samuels
As we here in the States, along with the rest of the world, continue to deal with the orange menace, it’s good to gain strength from our friends across the pond. One thing that the creators of the graphic novel, SCOTLAND YARDIE, want you to know is that things are bad all over. Bobby Joseph and Joseph Samuels provide some dark humor for these hard times. This is a provocative work, set in south London, with a smart and gritty vibe.
No doubt, Bobby Joseph (script) and Joseph Samuels (art) make no bones about their dismay with the current (and ongoing) state of affairs. With such clownish characters in the media, and in government (gasp), stoking the fires of hatred, racism, and xenophobia with such intensity as we have not seen before in recent memory, any form of satire can be cathartic. In this case, we have a plot involving the Brixton Metropolitan Police in need of some diversity. Enter Scotland Yardie, a ganja smoking, no-nonsense “bad bwoy” cop who breaks all the rules to enforce his own harsh sense of justice. This is, by turns, a very silly comic (think Monty Python, for starters) and, ultimately, an eye-opening and worthwhile read.
Is that Brexit heartthrob Boris Johnson?
This comic’s writer, Bobby Joseph, is considered to be the voice of urban UK comic books. He is credited as the creator of the cult comic classics Skank Magazine and Black Eye. He has written satirical pieces for Vice.com, Loaded Magazine, The Voice newspaper, BBC1’s Lenny in Pieces and Radio 4. He is credited on the BBC website as instrumental in featuring some of the “first comics by black creators featuring black characters.”
Some light emerges…
This comic’s artist, Joseph Samuels, is credited as one of the most popular comic artists to grace the pages of Skank Magazine and Black Eye. He is the co-creator of the popular Afro Kid comic strip on Vice.com.
SCOTLAND YARDIE is a 100-page, full color, graphic novel, published by Knockabout. For more information, and how to purchase, visit Knockabout right here.
DAWN OF THE UNREAD is a graphic novel webcomic exploring Nottingham’s literary history created by James Walker. Now, this is quite an impressive project in its specificity and its execution. The underlying mission here is to spark the imagination of new readers and have them rediscover the world of fiction and, most importantly, their local library! To that end, this webcomic is interactive and contains very compelling content. A new installment is published on the 8th of each month. Let’s take a closer look at some of the previous chapters.
Above: Artist Francis Lowe discusses his collaboration with Adrian Reynolds for their “Little Boxes” chapter, published on 8 June 2014.
In “Little Boxes,” you are treated to a variety of interesting facts about Batman lore with a Nottingham connection. Did you know, for instance, that Wollaton Hall was Wayne Manor in one of the Batman films? Well, the focus here is the nearby village of Gotham. And, yes, total Batman connection beginning with Washington Irving bestowing that nickname on Manhattan. We end up making a detour to H.P. Lovecraft. This is a very cleanly drawn comic with just the right touch of whimsy.
“Little Boxes” by Adrian Reynolds and Francis Lowe
Above: Cartoonist Steve Larder, with Alan Gibbons, discusses bringing Geoffrey Trease back to life in “Books and Bowstrings,” published on 8 January 2015.
With “Books and Bowstrings,” you get it all. Steve Larder, author of “Rum Lad,” provides a punk aesthetic with his quirky artwork. With the help of some literary ghosts, byway of Sherwood Forest, the local libraries are on their way to regaining the old spirit.
“Books and Bowstrings” by Alan Gibbons and Steve Larder
Scottish warriors knew no limits. They would fight to the death, even beyond death, if possible. Scotland has a fierce and passionate history. But, in all this time, it has never had its own superhero. Welcome to Scotland’s first superhero, Saltire. As its creator, John Ferguson states, this is a hero that can embrace both Scotland’s forgotten past and bright future. Here is another comic you will find at Glasgow Comic Con this weekend. Let’s take a look.
James Bond came very close to only remaining a character in a series of novels by Ian Fleming. It was once hard to imagine James Bond in comics let alone as leading a magnificent movie franchise and recognized as a pop culture icon. Nice how things have a way of working out.
You will find the Bond lifestyle in full gear in this comic strip, which began in 1958, Volume Five, the most recent, collects work by writer Jim Lawrence and artist Yaroslav Horak, which ran from 1966 to 1984. Published by Titan Books, this is a series of deluxe edition books. It is full of action, exotic locales, intrigue, villains, and sexy women.
The artwork and the dialogue are what you’d expect from an action comic strip. The Bond character is a hunk of a guy. He’s not necessarily reflecting the Bond on the big screen. Whoever the Bond is on the big screen is a tough act to follow. But that’s where the comic strip can claim some cred. It used to be the only Bond there was outside the novels.
Titan Books has collected the whole run of the James Bond comic strip into collectible volumes. Volume Five is 272 pages, priced at $19.95 US, and includes nine adventures: Till Death Do Us Part, The Torch-Time Affair, Hot-Shot, Nightbird, Ape of Diamonds, When The Wizard Awakes, Sea Dragon, Death Wing, and The Xanadu Connection.
“The Lengths” is a graphic novel about addiction, published by Soaring Penguin Press. The title refers to the lenghts to which a young man, Eddie, will go to feed his desire. Howard Hardiman has written and drawn a graphic novel about a youth out of control and in conflict. It is a very rough story about a rough subject that Hardiman navigates quite well. His character, Eddie, is a 24-year-old art school drop out who is gay and unsure about what he wants. He may want a relationship but he is also attracted to what he gets from his role as Ford, an escort. It’s a pretty lurid and gritty premise. Something like this could easily fall apart, as can happen with any story that deals with sex. But sex is only part of what Hardiman has to talk about. And to create some distance to better address and understand the content, he represents all his characters as dogs. It may seem odd at first, but it turns out to be a wonderful narrative device.
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.