Friday, August 31, 2007

Chickenhare: The House of Klaus

Chris Grine

This all-ages graphic novel features an unlikely hero who happens to be half-chicken, half-hare. Together with a couple of other strange misfit friends, he does his best to outwit the exotic animal collector, Mr. Klaus (an eccentric taxidermist), and escape from his clutches into the cold winter night. This is a fun chase story with likeable characters and fluid storytelling. Grine demonstrates a superior cartooning ability as he folds his well-designed characters into the brisk sequence of events. I would be surprised if Grine weren't influenced by Jeff Smith, as this certainly had a certain flavor that I got from the great Bone saga that I didn't necessarily feel when I read similar titles like, say, Castle Waiting. Although the story isn't as dense as these other works, there's enough there to keep you entertained all the way through. It's a quick read. It's a simple little story. But I think that kids everywhere will eat this sort of thing up. It seems to be aimed at a younger audience than some of the titles I've mentioned. More like Owly. But the creator is good enough to keep the rest of us enthralled through the tale as well. B

White Picket Fences #1 (of 3)

Matt Anderson, Eric Hutchins & Micah Farritor

The mini-series White Picket Fences from Ape Entertainment takes place in the small town of Greenview in the Midwest during "the good ol' days" that would make the Cleavers proud. But during this era of patriotism and bunkers in suburban backyards, the military has a secret that they are hiding in this out-of-the-way town. And one day, little Charlie Hobson stumbles upon this secret that will inevitably lead to the military versus an alien menace. That cover pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the comic before you pick it up, in the end. White Picket Fences features some stunning art from Micah Farritor in a story that plays with the reader's expectations (particularly with the opening sequence) and offers up an instantly compelling story. The creators do a great job of injecting this book with atmosphere. It's a little haunting and odd, and quite fun, with images of breadboxes and pitchers of lemonade to subtly promote the time period. And it's all done in this kind of washed-out coloring that captures that "Leave It To Beaver" black-and-white feel perfectly. All-in-all, a great success. And there's a little bonus story at the end of the book featuring "Captain Odyssey" that was pretty cute. B+

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Mice Templar #1

Bryan J.L. Glass & Michael Avon Oeming

The first issue of The Mice Templar from Image Comics is a 56-page introduction to a blood-soaked, dark mirror of David Petersen's popular Mouse Guard from Archaia Studios Press. And frankly, it doesn't hold a candle to the previously established title featuring cute mice with swords. While Michael Avon Oeming's pencils are beautifully wrought over the pages of this comic, it's kind of a disjointed mess in the end. The characters are hardly distinctive from one another in scenes that aren't very fluid, particularly in light of reading the gorgeous, seamless Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 #1 that was released just one week ago. But really, this is not the same sort of all-ages tale. Oeming and Glass are going for your typical superhero-loving comic buyer, with violent arms-hacked-off battles and literal rivers of blood. Instead of trying to find the next Mouse Guard phenomenon, they're capitalizing on the recent success of a story with similar elements, and to quite an inferior degree. In this tale, the Mice Templar are legendary protectors of mice, formed out of the ashes of the warrior-priest Kuhl-En. Years ago, the Mice Templar became divided and fought one another in a bloody massacre before they simply disappeared. Years have past and as a village of mice are attacked by outside forces, a young mouse named Karic sees his home torn asunder and may rise as a new hope for mice everywhere, as a prophecy declares him heir to Kuhl-En's legacy. This book may have style and flair, but it's a watered-down tale with flat characters. I didn't exactly hate this book, but in the end, I didn't really enjoy it either. The art was nice. The designs of the mice were great. But there's nothing here to compel me to continue the series next month. This is probably going to do very well for Image in wake of Mouse Guard's success, but it won't have earned it from what I've seen so far. D+

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Picks of the Week: 8/29

It's time once again for Patrick and I to choose what we think are the best bets to put your money toward at the local comic store this week...
.
Dave's Pick:

Squirrelly Gray SC - James Kochalka's children's book comes out to comic shops in soft cover this week, featuring a cute little squirrel who lives in a gray world, whose only source of entertainment is TV. But that all changes one night when he meets some fun characters - the tooth fairy, a fox and others. Forty pages of good, clean fun mixing verse and "comic-inspired" illustration. Barnes & Noble suggests it for kids aged 5 - 7.
.
Patrick's Pick:
.
Chance In Hell - I’m very much looking forward to this new, original graphic novel from Gilbert Hernandez because, well, It’s a new, original graphic novel from Gilbert Hernandez. Also, it’s gotten some terrific advance reviews. And Sloth was awesome.

Like Speak of the Devil, currently serialized in comic book form from Dark Horse, Chance In Hell is an “adaptation” of one of Love and Rockets character Fritz’s B-movies. I believe Fritz appears as a prostitute in this tale of an orphan girl who abandons her harsh life in a junkyard shantytown, only to encounter further abuse and exploitation in the big city. Beto’s take on sleazy, exploitation cinema should prove interesting.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Manga Monday 43: Honey & Clover

Honey & Clover
Chica Umino

I've only read the first two chapters of the newest serial joining Shojo Beat this month, filling the big shoes left by Ai Yazawa's Nana, and so far, so good. I like series creator Chica Umino's art style - very different than anything else we've seen in the magazine so far. The story centers around a group of students attending an art school in Tokyo, particularly Yuta Takemoto and his wacky friends. Very quickly, the group meets one of their professor's cousins, a shy girl with anxiety issues named Hagumi Hanamoto. She's a prodigy of sorts whom Yuta, among others, falls for upon first sight. This is an instantly likeable cast of characters in a fun, whimsical type of narrative. It's unfair to compare it to Nana, but I was expecting a bit more from what I've heard is the next best thing to Ai Yazawa's masterpiece. However, it is early on in the series and the complexity of relationships and story in general have yet to unfold. I'm certianly willing to give it a chance to live up to its reputation, and it's certainly the best thing to grace the pages of Shojo Beat with Ai Yazawa's departure. A-
.
The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (Volume 3)
Eiji Otsuka & Housui Yamazaki
.
The group of strange individuals with psychic abilities and/or various specialties continue to take on dead clients to help them be at peace in the afterlife. In this particular volume, The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service receive a first: a request for help from part of a dead person. Ears, eyes, and lungs call out for help from inside the bodies of the living who have received transplants, wishing for closure in death. This book is constantly creative and innovative, with fine characters to match the strength of art and story alike. A
.
The Drifting Classroom (Volumes 6 - 7)
Kazuo Umezu
.
What aren't these poor elementary kids going to run into? Amid more screaming, gasping and general overly-dramatic moments, aliens, plagues and starvation threaten the group of survivors as they struggle to keep their sanity and lives in the far future where Earth is a wasteland. Somehow, Sho Takamatsu is able to communicate with his mother from the past, and we are treated to scenes where she does wild and crazy things to protect a son that she hasn't given up hope in reclaiming. It borderlines on the ridiculous, actually goes well over the edge, but I can't stop reading this title! B+

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Brief Thoughts on Recent Comics

1-800-Mice: There’s really no point in describing the semi-coherent short stories contained in this second issue of Matthew Thurber’s new comic book, except to say that Thurber employs an art style and sense of humor you’re either going to be on board with or not. I might call it a mixture of David Lynch and Michael Kupperman filtered through the Fort Thunder aesthetic? It’s the kind of thing I enjoy to the point that I’m very much looking forward to more new work by the artist, although it’s not the sort of material that creates a lasting impression, and probably doesn’t demand revisiting.

Also, this series is an example of an “alternative” cartoonist bucking the graphic novel trend in favor of a good old-fashioned comic book series. This is a trend I appreciate.

Astonishing X-Men #22: Joss Whedon’s and John Cassaday’s run on this series is nearing its conclusion. Here, the X-Men reunite to take on Kruun, ruler of the Breakworld that Colossus is prophesied to destroy. There’s an important revelation about Danger in this issue, and one of our heroes appears to make the ultimate sacrifice. As always, the story is pulled off with great skill by Whedon and Cassaday. I only wish the wait between issues wasn’t so long.

Batman #668: The great draw here is the art by J.H. Williams III and master colorist Dave Stewart. Really, some of the work on display here is almost shockingly gorgeous. Grant Morrison’s story is a lot of fun, too. Batman and the Club of Heroes try to solve a kind of drawing room mystery of the murder of one of their own. A fun, straight-forward superhero comic.

Black Summer #2: This issue seemed more superhero-y than the previous two (there was a zero issue, so this second issue is actually the third part of the story), probably because the principals spent most of the issue in costume, fighting and using their powers in terrifically violent displays, expertly rendered by Juan Jose Ryp in a deliciously decadent style. Warren Ellis’ script succeeds by not taking things too seriously, although he stumbles a bit when he gets lost in the complex, pseudo-scientific explanation for one of the characters’ powers. You’ve got to expect that with Ellis, though, right?

I was happy to see an advertisement for a Blackgas trade paperback in the back of this issue, collecting both of Ellis’s zombie miniseries, although the ad doesn’t say when this might be coming out.

Thunderbolts #116: If I were to give out an award for the most pleasant surprise in comics, this year Warren Ellis’ and Mike Deodato’s run on Thunderbolts would be a pretty strong contender. I guess I’m surprised I enjoy this series so much because it embodies a lot of what I usually dislike in modern superhero comics. It’s ridiculously violent, for one, and it’s basic premise is born out of one of those currently fashionable company wide mega-crossover events I generally avoid like the plague. Everything here works, though, I think because Ellis embraces the absurdity of the concept without quite making it a parody of the genre a la Nextwave. This book is just…bad ass. It’s like if all of those early Image books were as good as you thought they were when you were thirteen years old? I adore Ellis’ take on Norman Osborn, and the new Venom, a character I'd not previously had much interest in, is pretty awesome. “Venom’s in me but he’s not me.” Yes.

Ultimate Spider-Man #112: This is Stuart Immonen’s first full issue , after sharing art chores with now-departed series artist Mark Bagley last issue. I loved Bagley’s work on this series, and I have to say it was difficult even for me to imagine the series continuing without him, but man o man does Immonen own this book. The guy’s art just keeps getting better and better. I loved his work on Nextwave and his work here is a step up even from that. A really sleek, dynamic looking book. The story is the first part of what I guess might be the final Green Goblin story arc, and involves an unfortunate cliché of a subplot where Peter Parker and his classmates have to pair up to care for virtual baby dolls. Would you believe that the kids are unhappy with their respective partners? And do you think Peter will have trouble caring for his and Kitty’s kid, what with his Spider adventures and all?? Ah, who cares? Check out that awesome nightmare monster sequence on pages 9-10.

Uptight #2: I’ve saved the best for last. Actually, I reviewed these books alphabetically, so it just so happens that the best of the bunch is also the last one I’ll be talking about. But it’s great. The centerpiece of Jordan Crane’s excellent new comic book is a short story called “Before They Got Better,” about a man who seems exhausted and depressed by his life and his family. He and his wife don’t get along, his daughter hates him, he seems not to enjoy his work, and the neighbor’s dog keeps shitting on his lawn. The only glimmer of joy in the man’s life is his granddaughter, who adores him. This is the kind of comic that makes me wish I was a better writer so I could accurately convey its strengths. Crane chooses his moments carefully, giving us just the right amount of information without overstating things. There’s no real solution or moral offered in this short tale, and not much plot, but there is, I think, hope, and possibly even moments of grace hidden within the tapestry of this tired man’s sad life. I love the title, too.

The other two stories here are also good. The first is an expertly-paced horror story that fumbles the ball only in it's somewhat predictable ending, and the last is the second part of the serial “Keeping Two,” begun last issue and employing a different, thicker-lined drawing style than the first two tales.

Really, “Before They Got Better” is worth twice the price of admission all on it’s own, but the book as a whole adds up to an incredibly pleasant reading experience. Crane is the real deal, and I’m glad he, like Thurber, has chosen the serialized comic book as a format to display and develop his skills as a cartoonist. Where Crane is concerned, it almost goes without saying that the cover is one of the most beautifully designed and colored I’ve seen all year. Seek this one out.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Strugglers

Tim Fish

Strugglers is a great little graphic novel from Tim Fish, creator of Cavalcade of Boys, the series of gay romance graphic novels that the author is primarily known for. Strugglers is, in fact, a prequel of sorts to the series, as one of the characters from this book (Tighe) actually moves on to become a part of the antics of that series. This particular tale, however, is self-contained, telling his story before he moves on to California, when he moves in with two female roommates in Saint Louis, Missouri, where things are a little foreign and everyone seems to be in a band. In fact, both of his roommates join bands before too long and compete with one another while Tighe struggles with his conflicting emotions about the boy next door. This is a really great book from Tim Fish. While some of his other projects are aggressively gay, this one has less emphasis on it, focusing instead on three individuals with different degrees of aspiration, struggling to find out where they fit in this world in the face of parents, relationships, careers, and each other. It's very much a slice-of-life tale that examines the short period of time when these three cross paths in Saint Louis, in a refreshing, often funny, tale that's expertly told. I wish there were more comics out there like this, and it's unfortunate, but I don't think that this is going to get much notice merely because it's from a creator that writes for a primarily gay audience. Quite a few gay comics that I've read are crap and are overpraised by the gay community. Kind of like manga magazines, who are overenthusiastic about everything manga, without really criticizing any of it. The same goes for gay comics. It's not good just because it showcases gay lifestyles. Most of it sucks, and that fact really doesn't seem to be acknowledged. But there are a few diamonds in the rough, like in any media, and this is one of them. But it will be criminally overlooked because of it's intended audience, even though it falls under the general umbrella of comics. Flipping through Strugglers for the first time, I didn't think I'd like it much, to be honest. The art didn't really grab me. But as I read it, I very quickly began to like the cartoony style of the artist and was pulled in to a great story with great characters who had fun conversations with witty banter. I hope people check this book out. It really is one of the better graphic novels that I've read in recent memory. A+

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 #1

David Petersen

I really, really enjoyed the first Mouse Guard mini-series from David Petersen, published by Archaia Studios Press. The latest mini-series from the Mouse Guard universe follows up on the Fall 1152 story with the next season, where the Mouse Guard attempt to secure supplies for Lockhaven from neighboring towns during a particularly harsh winter. Gone are the bright leaves and beautiful plant and beach scenes that Petersen established with the previous storyarc. In its place is a desolate landscape that Petersen yet again manages to capture the full beauty of via the guards' trek through the baren, blanketed wilderness. The fully-rendered world that is portrayed in Mouse Guard is one that makes me want to read the pages slowly, as to totally immerse myself in the atmosphere conveyed. It's a treat to walk alongside the Mouse Guard as they encounter predators and interact with one another as they struggle to carry out their daring missions. From the first page to the last of this first issue, the story is compelling and the art, completely gorgeous. I almost forgot how great Petersen's artwork was before picking up this issue, but from the first panel with the snow falling overhead among the trees, I was really taken away once again by a master of his craft. Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 is beginning as a great companion to the first Mouse Guard mini-series, and I really think that it's one of the best all-ages books coming out currently, especially now that Bone has been over for a few years. With the first series of the Guard, I collected the comic in single issues, but also ended up buying the collection afterwards just because I enjoyed the series so much and it ended up being such a beautiful-looking package. This time around...I'm still going to collect the individual issues because I can't wait a whole year before the entire six issue mini-series has concluded, and I'll probably still end up owning the final collection as well. This book is just great fun and I urge anyone who has even the tiniest interest in the tale, to check it out. A+

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Black Cat Crossing

Richard Sala

Black Cat Crossing is an earlier work from one of my favorite creators - Richard Sala. It's out of print, so you may have to do a little digging to find this book from Kitchen Sink Press, but it's worth the effort for the great art and strange, creepy tales. Sala is a master of noir, and while these stories of madmen, dames and murder plots are shorter than the crazy, winding stories we usually get from this particular creator, they're still brimming with that atmosphere that fans love. For the most part, this book is black and white, but a few color pages are tucked in the middle of the volume, making the pages prettier, although they do tend to lose some of the darkness of the tales with the pastels and rosy cheeks. And sure, some of the stories aren't as good as others. "Psychorama" is actually really, really weak. It's a poem that describes different patients of a psychiatrist, from A to Z. Very cheesy. But other stories like "The Fellowship of the Creeping Cat," one of the longer stories in the book, more than make up for some of the other stories' shortcomings. Overall, there's a lot of fun packed into this volume, the kind of fun that readers have come to expect from this innovative creator. B-

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Toronto Comic Art Festival 2007!

This was Patrick and I's first year attending the Toronto Comic Art Festival at the Old Victoria College building on the University of Toronto campus. The festival, held every other year, boasted appearances from top-notch creators such as Bryan Lee O'Malley (Scott Pilgrim), Hope Larson (Salamander Dreams), Stuart Immonen (Nextwave), Paul Pope (100%), James Jean (Fables covers) and Darwyn Cooke (DC: The New Frontier), among many, many others. Toronto is a beautiful city and I urge anybody with the opportunity to visit its streets. There were plenty of bookstores along the popular Bloor Street where we stayed, including a newer comic book store, The Labyrinth, which had walls of art books and plenty of graphic novels and manga, but no floppies, which was a nice concept. Of course, Toronto is also the home of the world-famous The Beguiling, which was crammed floor to ceiling with pretty much every conceivable comic or graphic novel that you could ever want to get your hands on, with more of a focus on alternative comics than the superhero stuff.

The Toronto Comic Art Festival itself was held across two floors of the Old Victoria building with a tent outside with kiddy events, and parties pretty much every night over the weekend. There were plenty of creators on-hand selling their wares, plus innovative publishers like :01 First Second Books (with absolutely fantastic prices on their graphic novels) and Picture Box (who debuted Brian Chippendale's long-awaited Maggots). There were plenty of interesting panels worth attending, a refreshing concept in wake of Wizard World Chicago.

The first panel that we attended was Peter Maresca's panel on reprinting Sunday strips, in which the audience was treated to the first appearance of the new Sammy Sneeze collection from Winsor McCay and the oversized Walt and Skeezix Sunday collection was ogled by many. Maresca announced that in the works was an anthology series project that collected different Sundays together in their original oversized dimensions, a sort of best-of that would begin with The Yellow Kid and incorporate works that he's gotten requests to reprint, such as Polly & Her Pals and The Kinder Kids. Its sounded very exciting, as you can imagine.

There were other great panels, of course, but the other one that we attended that stood out for me was Paul Gravett's spotlight, where he went through a brief history of British comics in wake of the release of his book, Great British Comics. It was an interesting history, and I'm sure the book is pretty illuminating. Gravett said that he would like to do a series of books like this and his manga and graphic novel books, on different subjects including superhero comics and French comics. Very cool.

Patrick and I's purchases include:

Monday, August 20, 2007

Picks of the Week: 8/22

It's weeks like this that make narrowing comics down to one title hard to do. So, as you'll see below, we both sort of cheated...

Patrick's Pick:

Classic Comic Strip Reprints - There is a ridiculous amount of books collecting classic comic strips out this week. If I had to choose just one as my pick of the week, it would be The Kat Who Walked In Beauty: Panoramic Dailies of 1920 HC, a kind of best-of collection of George Herriman's daily strips published by Fantagraphics, who are also responsible for the complete Krazy Kat Sunday strips reprint effort. Fortunately, I don't have to choose just one, so I'm also going to point you towards The Complete Terry & the Pirates (Volume 1): 1934-1936 HC and The Complete Peanuts: 1965-1966 HC. All are well worth your time and money.

Dave's Pick:

Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 #1 - The first of another Mouse Guard six issue mini-series debuts this week from the talented David Petersen. A follow-up to the acclaimed Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, this should be another all-ages visual treat that follows up on the goings-on of the Mouse Guard following the events from the previous "season." Another all-ages book that's certainly worth checking out this week is the Tellos Colossal HC, collecting the creator-owned Tellos books from the recently deceased Mike Wieringo's great fantasy series.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

300

Frank Miller

I'm sure that this work has been analyzed to death, so I'm not going to try to do anyone better. I'm not sure how people feel about the work, or if it's any different of an experience having read the graphic novel before or after seeing the film, but I like to look at this as a graphic novel without comparing it to the movie, despite the echoes of catch phrases that have been done to death in trailers and advertisements. And anyway, I think it works much better as a graphic novel where it doesn't fall into such obvious monotony. But that all being said, the graphic novel is good. The stand of the three hundred Spartans against Xerxes and his new world order is a fascinating tale, as told by Frank Miller, and his art does the bloody battle and harsh world justice, with captivating scenes of violence and resilience. Miller says all he needs to say about Sparta, about the wives and families left behind, to make the reader feel for what he's leaving behind without overkilling it or demeaning it with unnecessary scenes. He stays consistent and true to the characters in actions, dialogue and thoughts, particularly when it comes to the Spartan King Leonidas. Now, I'm sorry to say that I haven't read too much Frank Miller, and it's a shame since what I have read has been excellent. Even one of his other collaborations with Lynn Varley, the legendary The Dark Knight, glares at me from my bookshelf as I write this post, daring me to indulge in its sure-to-be-awesome pages. And I will get to it, especially with how embarrassed I am to admit that I haven't read it... But Miller's Daredevil run is what made me a fan, and remain some of the best superhero comics that I've yet read. Another collaboration with Lynn Varley on Elektra Lives Again left me a little disappointed, particularly in wake of the utterly fantastic Elektra: Assassin with Bill Sienkiewicz, but it's something that I plan to revisit in the near future after reading more of Miller's works. 300 stands as a testament to the skill of a master of the medium. And despite my favoritism of spandex over loincloths, it goes down as a classic. A

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Walking Dead (Volume 6)

This Sorrowful Life

Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

The sixth volume of Kirkman's popular The Walking Dead does not disappoint. In fact, it's probably the best of the entire series thus far. If you can get over that little hitch in storytelling back in volume four, then it's going to be well worth the wait. The interesting thing is that the zombie stuff isn't what made this volume so great. It's still action-packed, but it's really become a story about what people do in a world devastated by such events, and the action is focused on getting out of the way of people like that, who feel that laws are forfeit and that every man for himself is rule of thumb. I'm not even so interested in how the survivors deal with things when it comes to the main cast of people in the book. It's much better when it's broader and we get to see an entire village of people who behave in ridiculous ways that somehow seem very likely given the scenario. It's an interesting commentary on how people act presently in society and by a not-so-long stretch of the imagination, what sorts of things they would be driven to do under extreme pressure. But in the end, this is a zombie book and if it's thrills and action that one is looking for here, then plenty is still available. The few zombie scenes that riddle the book are quite enough to satisfy any cravings for the undead around the pulse-pounding action that goes on between the humans of the tale. There are several chilling moments in the latest volume of The Walking Dead, and some fantastic scenes that make some of the supporting cast that much more interesting. Michonne in particular is a fascinating character and I hope she has a long life ahead of her in volumes to come. The art on the book, courtesy of Charlie Adlard, is top-notch whether it's scenes of dialogue or mutiny or gore. There's one event in this book that would make Eli Roth proud, and its execution is fantastic. It may be a little indulgent, but it's an important moment for one of the characters and these past two volumes have been leading toward such a confrontation. Six volumes in, this series still has a lot of life in it. No pun intended. A

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Picks of the Week: 8/15

And once again, we take a stab at the best bets to spend you money on this week at the local comic store…

Dave’s Pick:

Undertown (Volume 1) - It’s not too exciting of a week for comics unfortunately, but I did notice this new manga coming out from Tokyopop that looked kind of neat. I noticed it at my Barnes & Noble the other day and it has some pretty nice art inside. It’s from Jim Pascoe and Jake Myler, about a boy who escapes the tragedy of his life with his teddy bear into a world beneath his bed. Very much like Lions, Tigers and Bears and Lullaby and plenty of other new all-ages books with little children and cutesy animals. I can’t really vouch that this is much different, not having read it, but it’s worth a look at least.

Patrick’s Pick:

Dogs and Water Definitive Edition HC

This graphic novel from the talented cartoonist Anders Nilsen has been on my “to read” list for quite some time now. I’m not sure what the difference is between this and the previously released soft cover edition except for the obvious, but it’s definitely worth checking out, if, like myself, you haven’t already.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Manga Monday 42: Apollo's Song

Apollo’s Song
Osama Tezuka

The complete 500+ page story from the master “godfather” of manga comes in a beautiful package from Vertical, a similar treatment to the fantastic Ode To Kirihito released last year. And while Apollo’s Song is a strange tale, it’s nothing compared to the oddities of Ode To Kirihito, but similarly exemplifies Tezuka’s attempts to grapple with larger issues. Apollo’s Song is much more straight forward, but only comparatively, and not as epic in tone. This book focuses on love. We see love through the eyes of a boy, Shojo, who may be beyond it. He grew up in horrendous conditions and exhibits homicidal tendencies when confronted with animals procreating, etc. But the boy is cursed to feel love through several lifetimes, whereupon he or his love will die, so that it eludes him. And so in a remote cabin in the woods where he trains to be a marathon runner, on an island where he is stranded alongside a troublesome reporter, and in the far future where he attempts to assassinate the queen of oppressive androids, he meets this woman, his soul mate, and has her slip through his grasp again and again. Each new chapter seems larger in scale than the previous and seem ambiguous as to when they take place, if they take place outside of our young sadistic friend’s mind at all. It’s all very over-the-top and silly (and a bit twisted), but in a good way. Apollo’s Song is an exceedingly entertaining book brimming with heartache, action and horror, and easily one of the best manga to come out in recent years. I’m really happy that Vertical has taken it upon themselves to release these classic stories for American audiences and can’t wait to see what else they’ve got up their sleeves. A+

Monster (Volume 9)
Naoki Urasawa

If you thought that the last installment of Monster was mostly set-up, then all is forgiven with volume 9, where things that have boiling for awhile come to a head. Many lives collide as individuals caught up in the web of intrigue are pushed in their various directions for their own reasons. One chilling moment is of a certain BKA agent whose fingers flutter as he takes in data for a case. In one particular scene when he follows up on this Johan he’s heard so much about, enters the room Johan previously vacated, the panels focus on the agent’s hands, completely still. It was a cool moment if you’ve followed the book for awhile. Also, we’re treated to the children’s story about a monster that Johan had quite a reaction to, and perhaps learn a little about what is going on with him… A

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Double Take: Wizard World Chicago

This is another Double Take. Patrick and I both weigh in on our thoughts on this year's Chicago Wizard World convention...

Dave says:

Despite a disappointing Saturday convention day that saw gaping floor space where exhibitors used to park their wares in years past, panels that drove attendees out to the floor en masse due to lack of any interesting content, and a completely disappointing lineup (or lack thereof) of celebrities (which consisted of "that girl" from Battlestar Galactica as the headliner) and creative talent, there were a few bright spots including the last minute addition of footage from The Dark Knight presented by director Christopher Nolan, and the abundance of merchandise slashed to 40% and 50% off at retailers across the floor (my guess: due to poor sales on Friday). I enjoyed the shopping aspect more this year than last probably due to the fact that I merely attended the convention for one day instead of three (or two, since last year I didn't even go back for the final day). I packed everything into six hours, which meant I wasn't as bored or tired as last time I walked the aisles. Plus, I still have the Toronto Comics Art Festival to look forward to, so Chicago isn't my big (and ultimately disappointing) event of the year. Artist Alley was pretty great this time around too. I wasn't expecting much since I usually don't get much enjoyment out of it, but when I noticed exhibitors like Image and Archaia Studios Press and even retailers like alternative-carrying Chicago Comics noticably absent, I was a little dismayed. There wasn't even a single manga company! But then a whole row of tables in artist alley featured the works of Archaia Studios Press creators, which was fantastic since I love the stuff coming out of the company. Not only did I pick up a few new issues and autographs, but I picked up some original art for free from the Starkweather: Immortal mini-series, and a nice color catologue with plenty to ogle. This year was probably the poorest year for the convention since I began attending it seven years ago, but really, I enjoyed it a little more than last time simply because I knew to expect disappoinment. Pretty sad. This convention needs to be revitalized in a bad way.
.
Patrick says:

This was my eighth year attending the Wizard World convention in Chicago, and the first year I attended for only one day. David and I made the decision last year, after a pretty lackluster show, that one day would probably be enough. I think it was a great idea, as I had a very good time this year, and really wasn’t at all disappointed in the show. Now, when I say I wasn’t disappointed, I hasten to note that my expectations for this convention have been drastically lowered in the past couple of years. A big part of this is my own changing perspective on what comics means to me. When I attended my first Wizard World convention, I was fairly immersed in the “mainstream comics” culture promoted by the magazine, with no real knowledge of, or enthusiasm for, anything that fell too far outside of the Marvel/Image/DC axis. Needless to say, things have changed. I still enjoy a lot of what is produced by the Big Three, but my tastes have certainly shifted to include a much greater variety of material.

It’s not all me, though. I can see myself having a great time at a comics convention focusing exclusively on the so-called “mainstream.” However, the Wizard conventions are even narrower in their focus than that. It’s basically Marvel’s show, with Image Comics not even in attendance the last couple of years. There is zero focus on anything other than currently published or upcoming work from these companies, with no panels or guests reflecting any interest whatsoever in golden or silver age artists. It’s really become a forum for Marvel and DC to hype their upcoming wares. I guess that’s alright, but it’s certainly not enough to sustain me over three long days.

As I said, though, I did have a very good time this year. I went in assuming all I would get out of the convention was a pleasant day of shopping, and I certainly got that. David and I only attended one panel, Joe Quesada’s popular Cup-O-Joe panel, where the Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief basically hosts a long Q and A with fans after some product announcements and reminders. I guess the big news here was Alex Ross’ return to Marvel for some secret project, possibly involving the return of Captain America. Not really the sort of thing that I get too excited about these days, but most in attendance seemed quite pleased at the news. The Q and A portion of the event was pretty boring, and David and I snuck out early. In all honesty, we had gone primarily to rest after an exhausting several hours walking the floor.

That was the fun part, walking the floor, and buying stuff. As David said, there were a lot of great discounts this year, and I had a great time shopping. The retailers seemed a bit more aggressive (not in an obnoxious way, though), possibly, as David suggested, due to a disappointing Friday, but we may be completely wrong about that. My only slight disappointment was Chicago Comics’ absence from the show. They’re one of the few places on the floor where one can purchase “alternative” comics, and there were a couple of things I had missed in the past month or so I had been hoping to buy from them. They’re a terrific store, maybe the best I’ve shopped at, and I encourage everyone to stop by and shop there if you’re ever in the area.

All in all, we had a good time, but the convention itself does seem to kind of be withering away. I don’t know, maybe what I perceive as withering is actually restructuring into the kind of thing more people actually want. I do feel as though I’m a bit out of step with whoever the target audience for these things is supposed to be. Hence my not mentioning The Dark Knight movie stuff that was apparently the highlight for a lot of folks. Sorry.

Here’s what I bought, all heavily discounted:




.
.
A lot of Kirby this year. I also picked up a couple of comic books I’d missed at the shops the past couple of weeks, one or both of which I may be reviewing here later in the week:


Dave's Purchases, mostly single issues, but a few trades thrown in there for good measure:


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Awakening #1 (of 10)

Nick Tapalansky & Alex Eckman-Lawn

The new mini-series Awakening, from Archaia Studios Press, was my pick a few weeks back for the best bet of all releases to put your money on. And now that I've finally gotten my hands on a copy, I can breathe a sigh of relief that I haven't steered anybody wrong. I put my faith in the publishing company a little blindly, but my luck held out. At Wizard World Chicago of all places, I tracked this issue down in artist alley and got it autographed to boot. Awakening follows the sleepy town of Park Falls as a series of disappearances and grisly murders grip the community. The police are horrified by the viciousness of the acts, and no one believes the crazy conspiracy-theorist until they absolutely have to when the slow build of events lead to the conclusion that she provided: that there are indeed zombies walking amongst them. This comic is a dark thriller that reminded me quite a bit of Warren Ellis' Fell, and frankly, I think that this holds up pretty nicely next to the critically-acclaimed title. The art might not be quite as slick as Templesmith's, but Eckhart-Lawn's atmosphere and well, what sometimes look like drawings over photographry, provide all the atmosphere needed to make this a creepy little number that surpasses most of the zombie and monster crap out there in comics currently. Most. But not that other little-known zombie book by Robert Kirkman. With this debut issue, the creators effectively stage a book for scares aplenty, but unfortunately have left little for us to care about in terms of characters. I'm not even sure the protagonist's connection with the police department at this point, although I'm pretty sure there is one. And characterization: pretty much nill. But this is only the first of ten long issues, so there's still plenty of room for that stuff down the road hopefully now that the atmosphere and tone have appropriately been identified. Definitely worth a look. B+

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Sarah Mensinga

I found this creator Sarah Mensinga online when I was taking a gander at the Flight Volume 4 preview. I really enjoyed the art from the preview of her contribution and found a site featuring her illustrations, character designs and art from films she's worked on (The Ant Bully). But the real treat was her blog, Sarah's Sketches, where Sarah posts drawings and paintings and talks about them. It was really fun to peruse - I found the illustration on the left there. I think she's definitely a creator to watch and love a lot of the cute animals and strips she has up, not to mention the great character designs in there.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Picks of the Week: 8/8

Dave’s Pick:

Essential Dazzler (Volume 1) - Collecting the earliest solo exploits from X-Men Allison Blaire, this collection boasts the talent of Chris Claremont, John Byrne, John Romita Jr., Walt Simonson, and more. Sure, it’s probably bad, but a lot of these “essentials” are…in a good way. And come on, this book has Dazzler versus Galactus! It’s bound to be a better battle than Jessica Alba versus a cloud…

Patrick's Pick:

Batman #667 - This issue reunites Grant Morrison with artist J.H. Williams III for a new storyline. I really liked the last issue.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Manga Monday 41: Gon!

I'm getting pretty behind on my manga. I have an unwieldy pile waiting for me to sift through and I'm barely making small dents in it before more new stuff comes out. Sigh. With Wizard World Chicago coming up this next weekend and The Toronto Comic Arts Festival the next (both of which I'm attending), I may not get much reading in, but you can bet that reviews of Osama Tezuka's Apollo's Song and MPD Psycho are forthcoming, as well as plenty more of my favorites... Up this week, Gon and the newest Hana-Kimi!

Gon (Volume 1)
Masashi Tanaka

Gon is an adorable all-ages manga, one that's been printed before in the US, but not in its entirety. DC is providing American readers with a chance to experience the series from beginning to end in their relaunch of the title through their CMX line. The manga follows the last dinosaur as he strives to survive in the wilderness and make sense of his surroundings. Quite often, the little guy can be seen imitating animals around him, whether its appropriate or not. He builds a beaver dam, he tries to fly... He pretty much gets in a lot of mischief. But he's a tough little guy, so he can bully and throw tantrums as he pleases pretty much. When he wants to, he can be a great defender of harmless animals, but he's usually self-serving and disregards the lives of those around him. He's kind of a complex character when it comes down to it.

The art on the series is fantastic. It really doesn't get much better than this if you're looking for realistic art with all of the beauty and savagery available in the wild. And since Gon is told without any dialogue or words whatsoever, it's quite an achievement that the stories can be so cohesive. Even the critically-acclaimed Owly cheats with pictures in thought balloons to convey meaning. The skillful Tanaka merely conveys it through actions, and to spectacular effect. It really speaks to the mastery of his craft, especially since I can't follow what's going on in Chris Claremont comics that are overflowing with word balloons and dialogue that tell the reader what's going on.

This is a treat. It's nice and simple, and a really brisk read, but it's priced at a mere $5.99, so you're hardly putting yourself out for giving the title a try. It's a cute book that I'm looking forward to following. A-

Hana-Kimi (Volume 19)
Hisaya Nakajo

And just when I thought I had finally caught up with the series, another volume comes out... The latest volume of Hana-Kimi brings the series back to form, with a real tension building between the characters and a short climax to the storyarc that's been culminating for a few books. There are some great moments in this volume, some of the best of the series, and Nakajo's art has never looked better. I'm not sure how many volumes of Hana-Kimi there are, but I'm looking forward to when everything finally comes to a head. A

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Astounding Wolf-Man #1

Robert Kirkman & Jason Howard

Yes, I'm a little late on my review of this book, but at least I'm getting to it... During Free Comic Book Day, I had to work, so my usual comic book store had "sold out" of this book by the time I got around to perusing the leftover selection. A visit to a new, closer and overall better store (Neptune Comics) led to my picking up this book months after its launch (the second issue is already on comic book shelves). After reading the debut issue of the Robert Kirkman title, I can say that there's nothing too new and inventive about the title thus far. It's your basic attacked-and-discovering-you're-a-werewolf story. Nothing shocking and inventive about it whatsoever. We've seen this type of thing dozens of times before. But I believe this character turns into a superhero of sorts in subsequent issues, so past the obligatory origin, we may get something worth a closer inspection. But as is, it's very by-the-numbers, with the great cartoony art and instantly likeable characters being the only saving graces. I think I will give it another shot since Kirkman is generally a pretty good writer, but if something compelling doesn't happen soon, I'm going to have to write the title off... C-