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Kim Thompson and Why I Dig Comics

Columnist Miguel Cima, director/host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics, looks at what makes comics so great, and what’s holding them back.

digcomicsKim Thompson died yesterday.

I never met the man and outside of the comics community – even for most comic book fans – his name is largely unknown. Thompson was the co-publisher of a comic book company called Fantagraphics, and quite frankly, were it not for the work of him and his business partner Gary Groth, I may not have stayed a comics lover past my childhood. And consequently, there might not be Dig Comics – my film/TV project dedicated to getting America to read comic books.

I was an avid comics collector from the time I could read until the age of 16. Around that time, I started paying more attention to girls and “partying,” and “serious” film and literature. Those distractions came easy because up until then, comics meant nothing but Marvel superheroes to me. And I was getting bored. How many years could I sit through the same fights, the same characters who never grew old? There was no real danger. Characters never really changed. Even death was impermanent.

Naturally, maintaining the quality level of writing and art became less possible, as the brand managers could not allow most creators to stray from the “winning formula” of good and evil archetypes and standardized graphic design. Yes, of course, there have been writers and artists who distinguished themselves. But as time passed, those were less frequent. The unchanging nature of the superhero formula makes it tougher and tougher the longer it persists. So, by age 18, I had pretty much given up on comics.

But then, something unexpected happened. A friend began to introduce me to “alternative comics.” Of course, I resisted at first. Comics were superheroes, nothing more. And if the art didn’t look like Jim Starlin or John Byrne or Frank Miller, then why bother? But my friend kept pushing me. And quickly, I realized I had a whole new world before me. I was being offered stories about people I could relate to. Street kids looking for the next thrill; adults struggling with their love lives; “racy” humor that tested the borders of good taste; “serious” animal characters with real human philosophical questions; depressed and lonely people navigating a world they feel lost in. Many of these books had nothing fantastical about them. Some were way more far out than anything Marvel had ever produced.

And the art! What a range! Titles like Los Bros. Hernandez’s Love & Rockets would mostly stick to an almost Archie­­like deceptive simplicity, telling a character’s story with just a few lines of expression on a face. But then the mind-blowing Frank by Jim Woodring delved into images so surreal, my brain had to learn how to take it in – slowly. The whimsical curvy lines of Peter Bagge’s Hate had me laughing before I read a word of dialogue. And the pissed-off scrawl of Roberta Gregory’s Naughty Bits seethed its hilarious anger at me. And imagine – all this stuff was in black & white! Boy, I was growing up, I tell ya…

KimThompson-byLynnEmmert

Kim Thompson, with two Eisner Awards (photo by Lynn Emmert)

Kim Thompson helped bring all of these works to us and many, many more. For over 30 years he made sure that singular artists, creating their own vision in their own way, had a venue to strut their stuff. Characters grew old and died. Or only appeared once. Or whatever. Fantagraphics has always championed comics as an art form, rather than an intellectual property to be endlessly licensed and exploited. And in such an environment, readers have possibilities, new adventures, the chance to stretch the consciousness. I was no longer bored with comics. Kim Thompson had offered me a new way to see them.

But Thompson did much more than that. Having grown up in Europe, he translated, edited and published several works from places like France, Italy, and Scandinavia. Yes – another whole new world of comics, literally, came to my brain. Crime noir tales like Jacques Tardi’s West Coast Blues, Jason’s weird off-center anthropological Sshhh! And so many others, even manga from Japan. I’ll say it again – literally a world of comics, tirelessly nurtured and imported to my benefit and to the benefit of so many others.

And the funny thing is, Kim Thompson also started as a Marvel comics fan. In fact, his fan letters appeared in several letters columns as far back as the early 1970’s. He edited superhero fanzines. He wasn’t closed off to superheroes at all. In fact, it’s because of works published by Fantagraphics and so many other smaller publishers who expanded my comics horizon, that I can still enjoy the occasional superhero comic. Without them, I probably would never have stepped into a comic store again and there would be no reason for me to even consider making a film like Dig Comics. After all, Dig Comics is NOT about an insulated niche culture of hero fetishists. It’s about a great big world which EVERYONE can enjoy.

So thank you, Kim Thompson, for your part in my own growth and evolution. Jack Kirby and Stan Lee may have gotten me started on the path, but you really went a long way to making sure I continued the journey. May the next page you are now turning to be equally as rewarding. I look forward to humbly honoring your legacy.

Argentinean-born New Yorker and NYU film school graduate Miguel Cima is a veteran of film, television and music. He has worked for such companies as Warner Bros., Dreamworks and MTV. An avid comic book collector since he could read, Miguel began writing stories in 4th grade and has not slowed down since. He is a world traveler, accomplished writer, filmmaker, and comics creator. He is the writer, director and host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics. Follow Dig Comics on Facebook. Read more of Miguel’s comic book recommendations.

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New Comics for New Readers – May 1, 2013

Photo by Christopher Butcher

Photo by Christopher Butcher

Want to try reading comics? Don’t know where to start? Want to try something different?

Wednesday is New Comics Day! Each week, The Comics Observer spotlights up to three (sometimes a little more on really good weeks) brand new releases worthy of your consideration. All of these have been carefully selected as best bets for someone who has never read comic books, graphic novels or manga before. They each highlight the variety and creativity being produced today. These are also great for those that haven’t read comics in awhile or regular readers looking to try something new.

While we can’t guarantee you’ll like what we’ve picked, we truly believe there’s a comic for everyone. If you like the images and descriptions below, click the links to see previews and learn more about them. You can often buy straight from the publishers or creators. If not, head over to your local comic book store, check out online retailers like Things From Another World and Amazon, or download a copy at comiXology, or the comics and graphic novels sections of the Kindle Store or NOOK store. Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Facebook.

For a full list of this week’s new releases, see comiXology, ComicList.com and PREVIEWSworld.

(Please note these aren’t reviews. Recommendations are based on pre-release buzz, previews, and The Comics Observer‘s patented crystal ball. Product descriptions provided by publisher.)

GreatPacific

Great Pacific by Joe Harris and Martin Morazzo

Great Pacific Vol. 1: Trashed!
Written by Joe Harris
Illustrated by Martin Morazzo
Published by Image Comics
Genre: Action/Adventure, Science Fiction
Ages: 12+
144 pages
$9.99

When fugitive oil heir Chas Worthington settles the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch, plants a flag, and declares it his own sovereign nation, the reality of the environmental catastrophe is only the beginning of his odyssey.

From acclaimed writer Joe Harris (Ghost Projekt, Spontaneous) and artist Martin Morazzo (Absolute Magnitude) comes a sprawling adventure across earth’s newest, strangest frontier!

This volume collects the first arc of this breakout hit series – a sprawling adventure across earth’s newest, strangest frontier!

 

PeterBaggeOtherStuff

Peter Bagge’s Other Stuff

Peter Bagge’s Other Stuff
Written and illustrated by Peter Bagge and others
Published by Fantagraphics Books
Genre: Humor
Ages: 12+
144 pages
$19.99

Peter Bagge’s one-offs, with an all-star cast of cartoonist collaborators such as Alan Moore, Robert Crumb, Daniel Clowes, and Adrian Tomine.

During the 1990s and 2000s, Peter Bagge worked mostly on his “Buddy Bradley” stories in Hate and a series of standalone graphic novels (Apocalypse Nerd), but in-between these major projects this ever-energetic cartoonist also cranked out dozens of shorter stories, which are now finally being collected in this riotously anarchic book.

Peter Bagge’s Other Stuff includes a few lesser-known Bagge characters, including the wacky modern party girl “Lovey” and the aging bobo “Shut-Ins” — not to mention the self-explanatory “Rock ‘N’ Roll Dad” starring Murry Wilson and the Beach Boys. But many of the strips are one-off gags or short stories, often with a contemporary satirical slant, including on-site reportage like “So Much Comedy, So Little Time” (from a comedy festival) and more. Also: Dick Cheney, The Matrix, and Alien!

Other Stuff also includes a series of Bagge-written stories drawn by other cartoonists, including “Life in these United States” with Daniel Clowes, “Shamrock Squid” with Adrian Tomine, and the one-two parody punch of “Caffy” (with art by R. Crumb) and “Dildobert” (with art by Prison Pit’s Johnny Ryan)… plus a highlight of the book, the hilarious, literate and intricate exposé of “Kool-Aid Man” written by Alan Moore and drawn by Bagge. (Other collaborators include the Hernandez Brothers and Danny Hellman.)

Bagge is one of the funniest cartoonists of the century (20th or 21st), and this collection shows him at his most free-wheeling and craziest… 50 times over.

TheGreyMuseum

The Grey Museum by Lorenz Peter

The Grey Museum
Written and illustrated by Lorenz Peter
Published by Conundrum Press
Genre: Science Fiction
Ages: 16+
216 pages
$20.00

Set in the future, The Grey Museum is a galactic romp, following a small group of survivors as they fend with mystic beings, interstellar parasites and themselves. Everything here is decided by narcissistic gods and goddesses, disturbed spirits, and bored aliens. Our clueless captives are left to wander, meandering their way among ruins, souvenirs, and impossible trails, and the 300-year-old television station attempts to capture it all. The Greys, a cloned race of coffee-drinking pseudo-humanity, have created a machine to “contemplate” things from a distance and annihilate them by turning them into “Awht”. We experience death, rebirth and everything in between. The fate of all Earthly life is up to these eight hairy humans preserved in jelly, they just don’t know it yet.

New Comics for New Readers – April 3, 2013

Want to try reading comics? Don’t know where to start? Want to try something different?

Wednesday is New Comics Day! Each week, The Comics Observer spotlights up to three brand new releases worthy of your consideration. All of these have been carefully selected as best bets for someone who has never read comic books, graphic novels or manga before. They each highlight the variety and creativity being produced today. These are also great for those that haven’t read comics in awhile or regular readers looking to try something new.

While we can’t guarantee you’ll like what we’ve picked, we truly believe there’s a comic for everyone. If you like the images and descriptions below, click the links to see previews and learn more about them. You can often buy straight from the publishers or creators. If not, head over to your local comic book store, check out online retailers like Things From Another World and Amazon, or download a copy at comiXology, or the comics and graphic novels sections of the Kindle Store or NOOK store. Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Facebook.

For a full list of this week’s new releases, see comiXology, ComicList.com and PREVIEWSworld.

(Please note these aren’t reviews. Recommendations are based on pre-release buzz, previews, and The Comics Observer‘s patented crystal ball. Product descriptions provided by publisher.)

LettingItGo

Letting It Go by Mariam Katin

Letting It Go
Written and illustrated by Miriam Katin
Published by Drawn and Quarterly
Genre: Non-Fiction
Ages: 13+
pages
$24.95

A Holocaust survivor struggles to let go of the past

Miriam Katin has the light hand of a master storyteller in this flowing, expressive, full-color masterpiece.  A Holocaust survivor and mother, Katin’s world is turned upside down by the news that her adult son is moving to Berlin, a city she’s villainized for the past forty years. As she struggles to accept her son’s decision, she visits the city twice, first to see her son and then to attend a museum gala featuring her own artwork. What she witnesses firsthand is a city coming to terms with its traumatic past, much as Katin is herself. Letting It Go is a deft and careful balance: wry, self-deprecating anecdotes counterpoint a serious account of the myriad ways trauma inflects daily existence, both for survivors and for their families.

Katin’s first book, We Are On Our Own, was a memoir of her childhood, detailing how she and her mother hid in the Hungarian countryside, disguising themselves as a peasant woman and her illegitimate child in order to escape the Nazis. The stunning story, along with Katin’s gorgeous pencil work, immediately garnered acclaim in the comics world and beyond. With Letting It Go, Katin’s storytelling and artistic skills allow her to explore a voice and perspective like no other found in the medium.

JuliosDay

Julio’s Day by Gilbert Hernandez

Julio’s Day
Written and illustrated by Gilbert Hernandez
Published by Fantagraphics
Genre: Fiction
Ages: 13+
104 pages
$19.99

It begins in the year 1900, with the scream of a newborn. It ends, 100 pages later, in the year 2000, with the death rattle of a 100-year-old man. The infant and the old man are both Julio, and Gilbert Hernandez’s Julio’s Day (originally serialized in Love and Rockets Vol. II but never completed until now) is his latest graphic novel, a masterpiece of elliptical, emotional storytelling that traces one life — indeed, one century in a human life — through a series of carefully crafted, consistently surprising and enthralling vignettes.

There is hope and joy, there is bullying and grief, there is war (so much war — this is after all the 20th century), there is love, there is heartbreak. While Julio’s Day has some settings and elements in common with Hernandez’s Palomar cycle (the Central American protagonists and milieu, the vivid characters, the strong familial and social ties), this is very much a singular, standalone story that will help cement his position as one of the strongest and most original cartoonists of this, or any other, century.

Julio’s Day is a story of one man’s life, but it’s a great deal more than that as well. It’s the story of the life of a century, also told as if a day. Beginning with Julio’s birth in 1900 and ending with his death in 2000, the graphic novel touches on most of the major events that shaped the 20th century.” – Brian Evenson, from his introduction

“A haunting performance and about as perfect a literary work as I’ve read in years. Hernandez accomplishes in 100 pages what most novelists only dream of — rendering the closeted phlegmatic Julio in all his confounding complexity and in the process creating an unflinching biography of a community, a country and a century. A masterpiece.” – Junot Díaz

PunkRockJesus

Punk Rock Jesus by Sean Murphy

Punk Rock Jesus
Written and illustrated by Sean Murphy
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics
Genre: Science Fiction
Ages: 16+
224 pages
$16.99

A reality TV show starring a clone of Jesus Christ causes chaos across the U.S. of the near future in Punk Rock Jesus, a new graphic novel written and drawn by Sean Murphy, the acclaimed illustrator of Joe the Barbarian and American Vampire.

J2 causes both outrage and adulation. Religious zealots either love or hate the show, angry politicians worry about its influence on the nation, and members of the scientific community fear the implications of cloning a human being at all, let alone the Son of God. And what effect will this all have on Gwen, the young woman who is selected, through an American Idol-style process, to be the mother of the new Messiah?

Thomas McKael is the clones’s bodyguard and former IRA operative, who despite his turbulent past is hired to protect the new Jesus—a baby who captivates the world, but grows up to become an angry teenager.

When falling ratings force the network to cut Jesus’s mother from the series the young star runs away, renounces his religious heritage and forms a punk rock band. And what starts off as babysitting for Thomas becomes an epic battle, as Jesus goes to war against the corporate media complex that created him.

Dig Comics: Conversion Conversation

Columnist Miguel Cima, director/host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics, looks at what makes comics so great, and what’s holding them back.

digcomicsMy girlfriend and I will mark our ninth anniversary this week. From the day I got to know her, I figured we had a shot at the long haul. Like me, she is an artist (singer, writer) and we both value many of the same aesthetics and spirituality. Of course, she never really bargained for comics. Like so many more we may know, this lovely gal was well on her way towards becoming the stereotypical comic book widow. We know what she looks like: a grown lady, trying to have a life with a slob who can’t stop amassing colorful bound paper, dodging stacks of Spider-Man here, sitting on action figures (NOT dolls!) there. The poor thing could have been facing an eternal labyrinth of Batman posters, Thanos sculpts, Hulk gloves, all laid ceremonially about dozens upon dozens of short white cardboard boxes, the product of decades of packratery. And in fact, to some degree, this has become her life. Except for one very important exception: this woman was able to come to love comics.

TheWalkingDead1

The Walking Dead, Volume 1: Days Gone Bye by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore

Two things allowed her to escape this fate. The first: she was cool. She dug good music, poetry, cinema, etc. Like me, her tastes were vast and eclectic, with a touch of nerd, and always with hunger for more. Second: I might have been a comics geek, but I wasn’t JUST a fan boy. Sure, I used to be. “Make Mine Marvel” is a pretty good summation of the first 10 years or so of my serious collecting years (I was so young). But by the time we met, I had tapped deep into the well of “other” comics. It didn’t happen overnight. But slowly, she found her bearings. Being a fan of horror films and true crime stories, she began to pick up titles like The Walking Dead, Crossed, Criminal and Stitched. Loving strong human dramas, she’s now into some gekiga manga, especially the works of Tezuka like Buddha and Message to Adolf. And of course, a lot of American alternative stuff like Carol Tyler’s You’ll Never Know and Backderf’s My Friend Dahmer. Had she found nothing but guys in capes beating each other up, this probably would never have happened. But now, when I bring home the books on Wednesdays, she is more eager than me to burn through the pile, and is most often ahead of me as she reads way faster than I do.

But like I suggested earlier, this is often the exception and not the rule. Take for example, my buddy Tyler. His wife is totally a comics widow. Her house has been littered with cosmic Gauntlets, never-ending Crises, the deaths of superheroes, the inevitable resurrection of said superheroes, clones, alternate universes, snikts, bamfs, thwips, booms, bangs and pows. And the vast majority of this work is industrially produced, 70-year old legacy brands driving the impenetrable soap opera addiction, managed trademarks rarely allowed to be created with the free hand of individual vision. And besides – it’s always the same thing. Buff boys and big breasted babes fighting, betraying, switching sides, unlocking box within box of subplot…even for the dedicated, it’s a lot of energy.

youllneverknow1

You’ll Never Know, Book One: A Good and Decent Man by C. Tyler

The thing is – Tyler’s wife is totally reachable, just like my gal. But only if we can find something that will appeal to her. I had never met Kari before – or Tyler – back when I filmed them for my second Dig Comics short film. We had been pals on Facebook, and met up at the San Diego Comic Con. My challenge was simple: find Kari a comic she would like. She was quite skeptical. So I talked to her for 15 minutes, got a vibe for her. Kari was very much a salt-of-the-earth blue collar mom. She spoke to me for her love of biographies, and her fondness of books that tug at the heart. We mosied on up to the Fantagraphics booth and in about 30 seconds, I put the aforementioned Carol Tyler’s You’ll Never Know in front of her. An autobiographic tale of one woman’s quest to keep her crumbling family together while simultaneously poking at her father, trying to get him to open up about his experiences in World War Two, it is a warm, wonderful tear-jerker, with art that’s friendly and light, at once humorous and familiar. Carol’s sincerity and courage flow off the page, exposing her flaws, fears and fights to the audience. Kari LOVED it. And she loved meeting Carol, a surprise I pulled for the cameras.

So, when facing Dig Comics’ core mission of expanding comics readership in America, we are affronted with a conundrum: at the same time we need comics enthusiasts to actively convert family and friends into comics fans, most of these comics enthusiasts have little knowledge of the types of comics which could appeal to those who frankly don’t give a rat’s ass about superheroes. I’ve had the practice for a while of making all gifts – birthdays, holidays, etc. – the gift of comics. For my mom, it’s always easy. She grew up loving certain types of works, mainly humor and drama. For her, I could turn to Dennis The Menace, Nancy, The Rabbi’s Cat, Will Eisner’s stuff. But she would never read Wolverine or Hellboy or Superman. My brother was tougher – he’s into sports – but I still found some stuff like Golem’s Mighty Swing and the Roberto Clemente biography. For my dad, P. Craig Russell’s adaptations of opera, like The Magic Flute, did the trick. It’s a fun exercise which I enjoy.

Irredeemable

Irredeemable by Mark Waid and Peter Krause

And I think that if we want to see more Americans reading comics, then we ALL need to preach the word. But it’ll never work if we can’t leave the superhero comfort zone. To the fanboy I say this: with great power comes great responsibility. We NEED you to do this good work and spread the love of comics around. Not only that, consider it a voyage of discovery for yourself. Your TV and movie habits aren’t 100% superheroes. You like comedy, terror, history – why not consume that stuff in comics too? You’ll be doing your friends, family and YOURSELF a favor. Give it a shot. And here’s the epilogue: slowly, but surely, my girlfriend is checking out superheroes. She’s already read the entire run of Irredeemable and I’ve put the Spider-Man Ditko omnibus in her hands. She’s asked me more than once to explain why Kirby’s art is important. Fellas, imagine your future with that super geek gal you helped mold. All it takes is a little sweat up front that will make your comics world bigger, and the world of comics audience stronger.

Argentinean-born New Yorker and NYU film school graduate Miguel Cima is a veteran of film, television and music. He has worked for such companies as Warner Bros., Dreamworks and MTV. An avid comic book collector since he could read, Miguel began writing stories in 4th grade and has not slowed down since. He is a world traveler, accomplished writer, filmmaker, and comics creator. He is the writer, director and host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics. Follow Dig Comics on Facebook. Read more of Miguel’s comic book recommendations.

New Comics for New Readers – January 30, 2013

Want to try reading comics? Don’t know where to start? Want to try something different?

Wednesday is New Comics Day! Each week, The Comics Observer spotlights up to three brand new releases worthy of your consideration. All of these have been carefully selected as best bets for someone who has never read comic books, graphic novels or manga before. They each highlight the variety and creativity being produced today. These are also great for those that haven’t read comics in awhile or regular readers looking to try something new.

While we can’t guarantee you’ll like what we’ve picked, we truly believe there’s a comic for everyone. If you like the images and descriptions below, click the links to see previews and learn more about them. You can often buy straight from the publishers or creators. If not, head over to your local comic book store, check out online retailers like Things From Another World and Amazon, or download a copy at comiXology, or the comics and graphic novels sections of the Kindle Store or NOOK store. Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Facebook.

For a full list of this week’s new releases, see comiXology and ComicList.com.

(Please note these aren’t reviews. Recommendations are based on pre-release buzz, previews, and The Comics Observer‘s patented crystal ball. Product descriptions provided by publisher.)

ZED_A_Cosmic_Tale

Zed: A Cosmic Tale by Michel Gagné

Zed: A Cosmic Tale
Written and illustrated by Michel Gagné
Published by Image Comics
Genre: Sci-fi/fantasy, dark comedy
Ages: 13+
280 pages
$19.99

When a cute little alien named ZED demonstrates his invention to the Hierarchy of the Galaxy, something goes wrong — terribly wrong! Before long, ZED’s universe is thrown into complete turmoil and our little hero must face nearly insurmountable odds trying to survive and save the very fate of his home world.

Imbued with a dark edge, peppered with pure silliness, and wrapped up in a childlike sense of wonder, ZED’s adventures will keep readers tickled and captivated from start to finish.

Originally published in comic book form over a period of eleven years, ZED has been completely revised and remastered for this definitive edition.

Introduction by Brad Bird.

MessagesInABottle

Messages in a Bottle: Comic Book Stories by B. Krigstein, edited by Greg Sadowski

Messages in a Bottle: Comic Book Stories by B. Krigstein
Written and illustrated by Bernie Krigstein
Edited by Greg Sadowski
Published by Fantagraphics Books
Genre: Anthology
Ages: 13+
272 pages
$35.00

Working in comic books for just over a decade in the 1940s and ’50s, Bernard Krigstein applied all the craft, intelligence, and ambition of a burgeoning “serious” artist, achieving results that remain stunning to this day. While his legend rests mostly on his landmark narratives created for EC Comics, dozens of stories for lesser publishers equally showcase his singular draftsmanship and radical reinterpretation of the comics page.

Harvey and Eisner Award-winning Krigstein biographer Greg Sadowski has assembled the very best of the artist’s work, starting with his earliest creative rumblings, through his glory days at EC, to his final daring experiments for Stan Lee’s Atlas Comics — running through nearly every genre popular at the time, be it horror, science fiction, war, western, or romance.

This edition reprints the out-of-print 2004 hardcover B. Krigstein Comics, with a number of stories re-tooled and improved in terms of reproduction, and several new stories added. Legendary EC colorist Marie Severin, in her last major assignment before her retirement, recolored 20 stories for this edition. The remainder has been taken from printed comics, digitally restored with subtlety and restraint. Original art pages, photostats from Krigstein’s personal archives, and an extensive set of historical and editorial notes by Sadowski round out this compelling volume.

Global-Frequency

Global Frequency by Warren Ellis, et al.

Global Frequency
Written by Warren Ellis
Illustrated by various artists
Published by DC Comics
Genre: Sci-fi
Ages: 13+
288 pages
$19.99

Created by Entertainment Weekly “It” writer, Global Frequency is a worldwide rescue organization that offers the last shred of hope when all other options have failed. Manned by 1,001 operatives, the Frequency is made up of experts in fields as diverse as bio-weapon engineering and Le Parkour Running. Each agent – equipped with a special mobile vid-phone – is speciffically chosen by Miranda Zero, enigmatic leader of the Global Frequency, based on proximity, expertise, and, in some cases, sheer desperation!

This 288 page volume collects the entire 12 issue Global Frequency storyline in one trade paperback featuring art by a mind-blowing collection of artists including: Lee Bermejo, Glenn Fabry, Steve Dillon, David Lloyd, Gene Ha and many others.

New Comics for New Readers – October 31, 2012

Wednesday is New Comics Day! Each week, The Comics Observer spotlights three brand new releases worth checking out that should be suitable for someone who has never read comic books, graphic novels or manga before.

These are out today! If you like what you see here, click the links to see previews and learn more about them. Then head to your local comic book store, or check out online retailers like Things From Another World and Amazon. Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Facebook.

For a full list of this week’s new releases, see comiXology and ComicList.com.

(Disclaimer: These aren’t reviews. Recommendations are based on pre-release press, previews, and The Comics Observer‘s patented crystal ball. Product descriptions provided by publisher.)

Heads or Tails by Lilli Carré

Heads or Tails
Written and illustrated by Lilli Carré
Published by Fantagraphics Books
Genre: Anthology, Short Stories, Fiction
Ages: 12+
200 pages
$22.99

The creator of 2008’s acclaimed graphic novel The Lagoon — named to many annual critics’ lists including Publishers Weekly and USA Today’s Pop Candy — is back with a stunningly designed and packaged collection of some of the most poetic and confident short fiction being produced in comics today. These stories, created over a period of five years, touch on ideas of flip sides, choices, and extreme ambivalence.

Carré’s elegant short stories read like the gothic, family narratives of Flannery O’Connor or Carson McCullers, but told visually. Poetic rhythms — a coin flip, a circling ferris wheel — are punctuated by elements of melancholy fantasy pushed forward by character-driven, naturalistic dialogue. The stories in Heads or Tails display a virtuosic breadth of visual styles and color palettes, each in perfect service of the story, and range from experimental one-pagers to short masterpieces like “The Thing About Madeline” (featured in The Best American Comics 2008), to graphic novellas like “The Carnival” (featured in David Sedaris’ and Dave Eggers’ 2010 Best American Nonrequired Reading, originally published in MOME), to new work created for this book.

Through the Walls by Jean-Luc Cornette and Stéphane Oiry

Through the Walls
Written by Jean-Luc Cornette
Illustrated by Stéphane Oiry
Published by Humanoids Inc.
Genre: Anthology, Short Stories, Humor
Ages: 12+
96 pages
$29.95

A series of droll vignettes of everyday French life…except for the fact that each short story features one or more characters that have the very special ability of walking through walls, and through any other objects for that matter, which tends to “enliven” things quite a bit…

These touching and humorous chronicles by the talented team of Jean-Luc Cornette and Stephane Oiry are full of the European sensibility seen in titles such as the Monsieur Jean collection. Published here in its entirety (equivalent to the original 2 French albums) and in the English language for the first time.

Presented in a slightly oversized (8.5 x 11 inches) hardcover edition whose format more closely resembles the European standard, allowing for a better presentation of the graphic storytelling.

August Moon by Diana Thung

August Moon
Written and illustrated by Diana Thung
Published by Top Shelf Productions
Genre: Young Adult
Ages: 12+
320 pages
$14.95

“A dream of a book. August Moon hums with menace and wonder, like the coolest childhood you never had. Diana Thung’s work is beautiful in all the right ways, for all the right reasons.” — Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and This Is How You Lose Her

August Moon did the thing I always hope a book will do: It took me someplace I hadn’t been before.” — Hope Larson, author of Mercury and A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel

The townspeople of Calico believe in family. In fact, some say that the souls of dead ancestors watch over this town, and on a clear night, you can see their “Soul Fires” dancing through the sky.

But when young Fiona Gan comes to town with her father, she finds that the Soul Fires are just the beginning of Calico’s mysteries. Strange graffiti appears all over town, a huge rabbit-like creature is found in an alley, and a peculiar street boy named Jaden claims to come from the moon.

Now time may be running out, because Fi and her dad are not the only newcomers to Calico. As the Soul Fire festival approaches and a creepy corporation starts to bulldoze the nearby forests, she finds herself drawn into Jaden’s battle for the soul of a community.

Diana Thung’s debut Top Shelf graphic novel is a true adventure, rooted in the diverse local traditions of Asia and the films of Hayao Miyazaki, with a modern sensibility and a hint of magic.

LA Times Book Prize Finalist Spotlight: Congress of the Animals by Jim Woodring

The Los Angeles Times Book Prizes are a set of awards for excellence in literature held annually since 1980. They are given to books published in the United States within the previous calendar year by a living author(s). Winners receive a citation and $500 for each category. The finalists for each category were announced recently, and the Graphic Novel category, the newest to be added to the prestigious prizes, has an impressive line-up. The Comics Observer looks at each Graphic Novel finalist in the build-up to the award ceremony April 20.

Congress of the Animals by Jim Woodring

Jim Woodring is a Finalist for the second year in a row, this time for his wonderfully surreal and bizarre graphic novel Congress of the Animals, published by Fantagraphics Books. The story stars Frank, a cartoon character that exists in a mostly wordless world that seems to spring forth from some kind of LSD trip. Here, Frank leaves that world, which has kept him free from lasting change or repercussions, to go on a harrowing journey that may prevent him from returning home.

Congress of the Animals has already garnered impressive acclaim from some of the industry’s most respected institutions. The French edition was the winner of the Special Jury Prize at Europe’s largest celebration of comic books, Festival International de la Bande Dessinée d’Angoulême. It has also helped Jim Woodring receive a nomination for Best Writer/Artist for this year’s Eisner Awards. He was also nominated for Best Short Story for his “Harvest of Fears” in The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror #17. In the past, he’s won Harvey Awards for Best Story and Best Colorist, and an Inkpot Award for Comic Art. The Artist Trust has both awarded him a grant and recognized him with a Fellowship Award in Visual Arts. He’s a Fellow of the United States Artists, which also helped him fund the creation of a giant steel dip pen (yes really!), and is projected to fund his Congress of the Animals up-coming sequel Fran.

Last year, Woodring was also one of the featured panelists at the LA Times Festival of Books and spoke about his graphic novel Weathercraft, which was a Finalist for that year’s LA Times Book Prize for Graphic Novel. So it’s clear the judges like him. Will this be the year he take home the Prize?

LA Times Book Prize Finalist Spotlight: Celluloid by Dave McKean

The Los Angeles Times Book Prizes are a set of awards for excellence in literature held annually since 1980. They are given to books published in the United States within the previous calendar year by a living author(s). Winners receive a citation and $500 for each category. The finalists for each category were announced recently, and the Graphic Novel category, the newest to be added to the prestigious prizes, has an impressive line-up. The Comics Observer looks at each Graphic Novel finalist in the build-up to the award ceremony April 20.

Celluloid by Dave McKean

Dave McKean‘s wordless erotic graphic novel Celluloid is an unexpected choice as one of the finalists for this year’s LA Times Book Prize. It uses mixed media and a variety of art styles to depict a sensual and increasingly dream-like and abstract series of sexual encounters by a woman who discovers a mysterious film projector that transports her into another world.

Despite the fantastical angle and artistic prowess of McKean, it is a book with no words and lots of nudity and sex. Perhaps not the ideal poster child for literacy in comics. Despite that simplistic and prudish summary, its artistry elevates it to another level, and that artistry has not gone unnoticed. Paste Magazine named it the fifth best comic of 2011, describing it as a “coital masterwork that elicits beauty and excitement in equal measure” and a “treasure of technical finesse and sensual mystique that transcends its potential controversy”.

It helps that Dave McKean is an award-winning artist known for pushing visual boundaries by depicting the dark and bizarre with more than just a pencil and paper. He has been known to include photography, paintings, sculptures and more to capture his unique visions. He is perhaps most well known for his eerie covers of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman and directing the feature film MirrorMask. He also wrote and illustrated the massive award-winning graphic novel Cages.

Will all of that acclaim and the stunning execution of the book itself be enough for the LA Times Book Prize judges to select erotica for the graphic novel of 2011?

Celluloid by Dave McKean - video preview

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books 2012 announces Graphic Novel Finalists for Book Prize

The LA Times Festival of Books is ramping up for this year’s event, one of the country’s largest free outdoor book fairs. Last week, a press release announced the finalists for the 32nd Annual Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, which are given out on the eve of the Festival. Last Friday, the Festival’s website and social media once again came to life to announce that the 17th Annual Festival of Books will be held April 21 and 22 on the campus of the University of Southern California. The Book Prizes award ceremony will be held in USC’s Bovard Auditorium on Friday night, April 20.

The LA Times Book Prizes have been awarded every year since 1980, but it wasn’t until 2009 that a graphic novel category was added. This third year of the graphic novel category has the following five finalists:

  1. I Will Bite You! And Other Stories by Joseph Lambert (Secret Acres Books)
  2. Celluloid by Dave McKean (Fantagraphics Books)
  3. Finder: Voice by Carla Speed McNeil (Dark Horse Comics)
  4. Congress of the Animals by Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics Books)
  5. Garden by Yuichi Yokoyama (PictureBox)

Finalists and winners of the LA Times Book Prizes are selected by a panel of three judges per genre. The panels are made up of writers who specialize in each genre. Tickets for the Book Prizes ceremony will be available for purchase at 10 a.m. Monday, March 26. Once again Geoff Boucher of the LA Times’ Hero Complex blog will be presenting the Book Prize for the Graphic Novel category. Look for more on each of the finalists here at The Comics Observer in the weeks and months leading up to the ceremony.

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books began in 1996 and typically attracts about 140,000 people every year. Just as comics and graphic novels have been embraced by libraries and book stores over the last decade, so too has their presence increased at the Festival. This year will surely include plenty of writers, artists and other comics creators and publishers. A list of authors attending the Festival has already been posted and will be updated as more are confirmed. Already spotted are writers Cecil Castellucci (The Plain Janes and the upcoming The Year of the Beasts) and Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead), and writer/artist Jim Woodring (Congress of the Animals, Weathercraft)

Read here for a look at last year’s Festival of Books.

Dig Comics: Whither Inspiration?

Guest contributor Miguel Cima, director/host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics, begins a new series of essays looking at what makes comics so great, and what’s holding them back.

I’ve spent most of my professional life working on the business side of things. There’s plenty of “conventional wisdom” you will find repeated. One of the biggest refrains you will hear is “stick to what works” along with the time-honored “go for the lowest hanging fruit” admonition, which in some ways seems kinda, I don’t know – dirty? When you look at the comic book market in the United States of America today, you can be sure these same sorts of creeds echo wildly within the vaunted halls of the two corporations which control 70% of the market. Marvel and DC surely have been practicing this sort of stalwart capitalism approach to their respective properties long before Time Warner or Disney entered the scene. It’s been known for a long time that using the go-to legacy characters to frontline your product armadas is the surest way to keep the lights on. But what’s funny is that were it not for risk and a trust of the artist rather than fallback to formula, neither Superman nor Spider-Man would even be with us right now.

The well-known back stories for many of the greatest superhero characters is often the same. You had a flailing company or a starving artist simply FORCED into innovation by intense need. You can see the creators of old gumshoeing their way from meeting to meeting in New York, overstuffed portfolios in hand (loose pages bursting out the sides), wondering if they’ll have to paint a barn next week just to make rent. Or you could take the legendary image of the furniture being repossessed from the publisher’s office as a handful of geniuses tap the inner depths of their creative spirit and issue forth entire mythologies to be as enduring as Aphrodite and Gilgamesh, saving the company from ruin in the same stroke. The bean-counters could never have made any of these true-life tales happen: a trust of the artist to really innovate was necessary.

Gilgamesh cries for comics

Sure, in the scenarios above, there’s this element of desperation, of necessity being the mother of inspiration. But funny enough, one of the most successful purveyors of modern mythology actually used success to fuel an ever-evolving artistry – and his most important role wasn’t as an artist. Walt Disney was far more the manager behind the scenes than an animator. And he had true vision. Rather than make every single movie after Steamboat Willie about Mickey Mouse and his little gang of friends, he always was sure to promote new properties, worked on by new artists who would take his company to the next level. That tradition has largely stayed alive to this day in the company. Of course, Mickey still makes the company a lot of money. But every couple of years, we have whole new worlds introduced to us, be it Peter Pan or Dumbo during Disney’s lifetime, or Beauty and the Beast or Toy Story in the more modern era. I doubt that Disney could have grown significantly had it stayed perched in one little pantheon of never-ending and continuous characters, relegated to one genre, targeting just one audience group. Such a business model would even contradict “conventional wisdom” – don’t ya think?

Lois Lane cries for comics

Well, by now you know my punch line – this is PRECISELY how Marvel and DC do most of their business. The scheme is simple: keep pimping the capes to the same aging comics fans and call that an industry. I guess it works in terms of market share. But it’s a losing game in the long term, as seen by the ever-declining readership much lamented these past 15 or so years. Not that they need to worry much. I mean, are Marvel and DC really comic book companies any more? One may not be blamed for pondering that perhaps now, they are more brand managers for licensing carefully crafted empires based on the iconic rosters of the beloved in their respective stables. All the continuity and/or reboots are meant to keep the base calm while experimenting with how to manage which character’s evolution to ensure the greatest market share possible. As such, we face another often-lamented paradox, Marvel and DC are what’s keeping the comics business alive, even while they sort of ensure a decline due to inbreeding. After all, Superman, Phoenix, Batman, Spider-Man, Captain America and so on can really only “die” so many times before anybody even paying a little attention realizes, this industry has been reduced to running on transparent gimmickry, offering less and less as time goes on by way of a compelling story or revolutionary art. In the long run, this will turn into a huge net loss of readers, if not an overall decline of the industry itself.

Rather than seem pessimistic about the future of American comics, I would make the simple suggestion that all of you who are either long-time comic book fans losing interest in the stuff coming out, or those of you interested in comics but can’t cut through the impenetrable pitfalls of pointless universe continuity, try to find comics ELSEWHERE. There are plenty of them. There are so many great creators out there working hard, I blush in the embarrassment of riches we have at hand. There is a whole world out there of fantastic stories and art just bursting to be noticed and superheroes are just the beginning. There is horror, drama, humor, history. There is high art, surrealism, crime thrillers, and political commentary. Comics are just like the movies and literature and TV and music – there’s ALL SORTS of different types of stuff out there. There are artists who belong on museum walls next to Van Gough, Picasso and Rembrandt. There are entire publishing companies dedicated to giving singular artists the opportunity to realize unique visions, banking on the creative drive, rather than simply handing out operating manuals for 70-year old characters. Innovation is not dead, and it doesn’t need to rely upon – nor be deterred by – economic considerations.

Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire

So what’s my point? Well, I wanted to expose a problem, the decline of comics readership in America, and towards fixing that problem, I have a set of requests.

First, I would ask all my fellow long-time comics fans to leave their comfort zones and support alternative comics companies, artists, writers, and especially GENRES. It’s so odd: a film buff is likely to see all sorts of movies, yet the comics fan by and large sticks to just one paradigm – guys in tights beating each other up. When you go to the movies, you are as likely to watch The Lord of the Rings, Harold and Kumar, and Inglorious Basterds as you are to see Thor, Green Lantern, and Iron Man. So start small – check out some other fantasy books, some humor comics, maybe even a war story. Move that loyal weekly dollar from demanding the same crap over and over to a fresh surprise every Wednesday. I’ve been doing it for years, and it’s been richly rewarding. And yes, I still buy superhero comics from time to time, so I am not saying go cold turkey, just cut back and try some spinach for once, humans cannot live on Twinkies alone.

Second, I would ask anyone remotely interested in giving comic books a try, but are turned off by the likes of Wolverine and The Dark Knight to seek out alternative comics. Where to find them? Well, that’s easy if you know where to look. Starting small, I would visit the websites of comics publishers that aren’t Marvel and DC. Don’t know any? Here’s a small sampler to start with: Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Dark Horse, Image, IDW, Top Shelf, First Second, NBM, Archaia, BOOM!, PictureBox and Gestalt all come immediately to mind. Just looking at the list now, I see human drama, history, vampires, alternate superheroes, kids comics, true crime and even licensed material from the worlds of TV, film and literature. You could also try your local comic book store – but try and find the largest, best serviced one in your area (most “regular” shops won’t even carry a lot of this stuff, just the supes). Also, if you like what you see on the publisher’s websites, you can use Amazon’s suggestion generator to find comics you may also like.

Criminal: The Last of the Innocent by Brubaker & Phillips

My last request is to Marvel and DC. For god’s sake, would you just make comic books again? Would you let more new artists create more new worlds and use your considerable resources to reach out to more new readers? Would you please end the superhero fan regime? Yes, there are exceptions to your practices. DC’s Vertigo line has offered a plethora of non-superhero works by some terrific artists. And Marvel’s Icon line has allowed some established artists to really strut their stuff unconstrained by the machinations of the superhero continuity. But great works like Jeff Lamire’s Sweet Tooth and Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips’s Criminal aren’t exactly selling like hot cakes. Yet they should. Fostering works like these will manifest an image of a company to be trusted with the innovative choices it makes, just as a major studio can be a seal of quality come Oscar time. Take some chances, ladies and gentlemen of that world – act like the superheroes whose temple you worship upon. Cultivating an environment of inspiration is not just a great thing to do for the world of art, it will also turn out to be good business.

Argentinean-born New Yorker and NYU film school graduate Miguel Cima is a veteran of film, television and music. He has worked for such companies as Warner Bros., Dreamworks and MTV. An avid comic book collector since he could read, Miguel began writing stories in 4th grade and has not slowed down since. He is a world traveler, accomplished writer, filmmaker, and comics creator. He is the writer, director and host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics. Follow Dig Comics on Facebook. Read Miguel’s comic book recommendations.