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. Sometimes we list more on really good weeks. 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.
(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.)
A powerful debut graphic memoir, Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life is the rollicking story of two teenaged girls’ wild hitchhiking trip across Italy from Naples to Sicily.
Back in 1984, a rebellious, 17-year-old, punked-out Ulli Lust set out for a wild hitchhiking trip across Italy, from Naples through Verona and Rome and ending up in Sicily. Twenty-five years later, this talented Austrian cartoonist has looked back at that tumultuous summer and delivered a long, dense, sensitive, and minutely observed autobiographical masterpiece.
Miraculously combining a perfect memory for both emotional and physical detail with the sometimes painful lucidity two and half decades’ distance have brought to her understanding of the events, Lust meticulously shows the who, where, when, and how (specifically, how an often penniless young girl can survive for months on the road) of a sometimes dangerous and sometimes exhilarating journey. Particularly haunting is her portrait of her fellow traveler, the gangly, promiscuous devil-may-care Edi who veers from being her spunky, funny best friend in the world to an out-of-control lunatic with no consideration for anything but her own whims and desires.
Universally considered one of the very finest examples of the new breed of graphic novels coming from Europe, Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life won the 2011 Angoulême “Revelation” prize, and Fantagraphics is proud to bring it to English speaking readers.
Sam Kieth and Chris Ryall transport you to a near-future Japan, where burned-out husks – the Hollows – wantonly devour souls throughout the city. Far above, a segment of society lives safely in giant tree-cities, but the problems below have a way of growing out of control…
To combat the catastrophic death of a decaying Japan, survivors create genetically engineered supertrees – wooden leviathans capable of supporting entire cities suspended above the radioactive wastes below. Traveling via jetpacks to stay above the toxic air below, the survivors must also band together against the Hollows, irradiated husks whose humanity has been supplanted by an unquenchable desire to consume human energy!
The Hollows is the premiere of a wildly original new world realized in the vivid, expressive tones that can only emanate from Sam Kieth’s hands.
Assembled from work done in Anders Nilsen’s sketchbooks over the course of the year following the death of his fiancée in 2005, The End is a collection of short strips about loss, paralysis, waiting, and transformation.
It is a concept album in different styles, a meditation on paying attention, an abstracted autobiography and a travelogue, reflecting the progress of his struggle to reconcile the great upheaval of a death, and finding a new life on the other side.
The book blends Nilsen’s disparate styles, from the iconic simplicity and collaged drawings of his Monologues for the Coming Plague to the finely rendered Dogs and Water and Big Questions.
Originally released in magazine form in 2007 (which received an Ignatz Award nomination for Outstanding Story), The End has been updated and expanded to more than twice its original length, including 16 pages of full color.
Here’s your latest webcomics and digital comics news. I was hoping to get this out last week but things got away from me. There were also a lot of big stories I felt deserved coverage but unfortunately that meant I had less time to dig up stories on less high profile comics. Remember, if you’re a creator of such comics, send me your news, press releases, announcements, etc. The internet is a big place so I can’t see everything. I’d be happy to cover your comic.
# Digital comics publisher MonkeyBrain Comics announces their Summer of Print, where they will release print versions of their digital-first comics for the first time. MonkeyBrain and their creators will team up with traditional print publishers Image Comics and IDW Publishing. The super-villain series Edison Rex by Chris Roberson and Dennis Culver will be released by IDW in June. The Depression-era superhero anthology Masks & Mobsters by Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson will be released by the Shadowline imprint of Image in July. And then fantasy series Amelia Cole and the Unknown World by Adam P. Knave, D.J. Kirkbride and Nick Brokenshire will come out in August from IDW. “Print collections have been a main goal from the beginning and it’s really exciting to see such a major piece of the plan fall into place,” Allison Baker says, “especially since it means even more people get to discover the amazing work of our creators!” More collections will be announced in the near future. Wired has a story covering the news and more about MonkeyBrain’s business model and goals.
# Mark Waid spoke at the Tools of Change for Publishing conference recently. His presentation “Reinventing Comics and Graphic Novels for Digital” walked people through the challenges of bringing comics to the digital space, and how his digital-first model on Thrillbent is succeeding. One thing I found interesting is that the sales from collections of 4 weeks of content through ComiXology recoups their production costs. And that’s just one revenue stream they only recently started.
# ComiXology released the first ever digital convention exclusive at the just-concluded Emerald City Comicon this past weekend. According to the press release, con goers were given a special code for a free download of the all-new short story Atomic Robo: Along Came a Tyrantula by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener which will be released this Wednesday. The fancy gif above reveals that the story was made exclusively as a digital experience, using similar techniques used by Thrillbent and Marvel’s Infinite Comics.
Spotlight on… Look Straight Ahead by Elaine M. Will. One of the final recipients of the Xeric Award grant, Will has been serializing her beautiful graphic novel online since last summer before the eventual print release. Look Straight Ahead, which was nominated for a 2011 Joe Shuster Award in it’s original form as a self-published comic book, is a story about a teen boy’s struggle with depression and mental illness. Will herself had suffered from a mental breakdown in 2002. This led her to research mental illness and when she found a lack of coverage in comics, she decided to change that. In addition to the rock solid line work and layout skills, there’s some fantastic imagery that wonderfully visualizes some of the abstract and intangible sensations of mental illness. Check out page 4 from Chapter 1:
In other news
# Kelly Yates launched last week MonstHer, a new all-ages adventure series released as a digital comic at Artist Alley Comics. A 0 issue is free (and is an adorable and awesome tribute to the classic children’s book The Monster at the End of This Book: Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover by Jon Stone and Mike Smollin), and issue #1 is only $0.99. The series is about Eva Monst who helps her father run a halfway house for monsters who were once humans. Yates is probably best known for his other creator-owned sci-fi adventure series, Amber Atoms, which started life in print at Image Comics and now also lives at Artist Alley Comics.
Artist Alley Comics is unique from other digital comics distributors in that they let you download a PDF file that you can keep, instead of leasing you a digital file stored by them. They’re still formatted like print comics, so they read best on tablets like iPads, even though they don’t have an app yet (and their website’s navigation isn’t the best despite a nice and clean look). But the low price ($0.99 instead of $2.99-$3.99) and a true purchase are where digital comics should be. They also put the focus on the creators, which always wins points with us (one of their taglines is “creator-driven digital comics”). They have digital comics by Craig Rousseau, Todd Dezago, Jason Copland, and other quality creators.
# Warren Ellis and Jason Howard launched a unique web-comic last week. Borrowing from daily newspaper comic strips, Scatterlands is being released Mondays through Fridays but only one panel at a time. The comic is fully improvised, so while it sounds like some rough mapping out might’ve been done (it’s probably going to be a sci-fi tale), there’s no telling where it will go. Every four or five weeks, they’ll take a brief break and release a digest collection but haven’t quite worked out the details on that yet. Watch WarrenEllis.com for future installments.
# Friday saw the release of the first episode of Strip Search, the reality game show by the Penny Arcade gang looking for America’s next top webcomic maker. The full episode is above. We meet the contestants as they arrive at the house where they’ll be competing against each other. I’m still kind of torn about this whole thing. I’m not a fan of reality shows like this and was hoping for a bit more Penny Arcade-style humor. They also apparently had some technical problems. Their host’s mic must’ve died because his audio was clearly re-recorded at a later date and awkwardly dubbed in. But it’s cool to see comics get this kind of mass appeal attention. I know that Hollywood has been trying to get a show like this made for years and I’m glad it came from comics people. I’m also already rooting for a few contestants, so they must be doing something right. Future episodes will go up every Tuesday and Friday.
# Chris Onstad wants to bring his award-winning webcomic Achewood to animation. A teaser trailer is above and once again Wired covers the story. Unlike the Cyanide & Happiness crew, Onstad is not yet burnt out from trying to deal with Hollywood and keep his creative freedom. In fact, according to this blog post, he’s just started trying to work out a deal with a studio or network, although he has a promising partner in producer Josh Lieb, formerly of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Simpsons. While it’s a shame he seems to be done making comics, best of luck to him.
# iVerse Media, which runs the Comics+ app and web store for digital comics, last Wednesday announced a partnership with Archaia Entertaiment, publishers of comics and graphic novels such as Mouse Guard, Return of the Dapper Men and Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand. Archaia has been releasing a number of their comics digitally first in their partnership with ComiXology and I would imagine (and hope) they’ll do the same through Comics+. Perhaps most notable is that the partnership will benefit iVerse’s ComicsPlus: Library Edition, which provides digital comics to libraries.
# Webcomic Creators Google+ community is a great way for creators to talk shop with others.
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.
(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.)
Erstwhile: From the Tales of the Brothers Grimm
Written by the Brothers Grimm, adapted by Gina Biggs
Illustrated by Gina Biggs, Louisa Roy, and Elle Skinner
Published by Strawberry Comics
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale
Fairy Tales have captured our hearts for generations, appealing to our taste for adventure, horror, and romance. Erstwhile gives the lesser-known Brothers Grimm Tales the spotlight in these delightful comic adaptations.
While we love Snow White, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, and the others, everyone knows them already. They’ve been done to death, spoofed, parodied, and reimagined to death. Many of the fairy tales we know today have been watered down as many have been considered too dark for today’s children.
Erstwhile is returning to the roots of these stories, telling five complete stories as they appeared when Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published them.
New York Times best-selling author and Eisner-nominated creator of iZombie Chris Roberson delivers a magical new series featuring art by the fantastical Rich Ellis and covers by the legendary Michael Wm. Kaluta.
Memorial is the story of Em, a young woman who arrives at a hospital in Portland, Oregon, with no memory of her past. A year later, she has rebuilt her life, only to find her existence thrown into turmoil after she inherits a magical shop. The kind that appears in an alley one instance and disappears the next. Em is drawn into a supernatural conflict between beings that not only represent, but are, fundamental elements of the universe itself!
He comes when he is least expected. You hear a knock at the door. You fear the worst: it’s Little Death. But is he here for you? Or your cat?
Little Death, the pint-size death merchant in the black suit, is the creation of Thomas Kriebaum. Created initially as a response to his previous, critically-acclaimed book Life, and riffing on the premise of Death in Venice, it wasn’t until Kriebaum saw Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman that he thought of Little Death as a world-weary, door-to-door salesman, plying his trade to the unwelcoming public.
The result is Little Death, a smart and witty interpretation of the time old question of what to do if death came knocking at your door? Told in 14 stories. Kriebaum’s Little Death may be child-like in size, but sports a smart black suit, a dashing cap and tinted glasses over his ‘deathly’ pale face. Along his journey to collect his due souls, we are transported from a Nighthawks styled diner to various apartment complexes – meeting dramatic starlets, familiar little old ladies, and the unsuspecting public just going about their errands.
Confessions of a Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist: Ten More-Or-Less Current, More-Or-Less Mainstream Funnybooks That I Actually More-Or-Less Enjoy – And Why!
Columnist Scott Shaw! brings his perspective as an experienced professional cartoonist and active participant in the comic book industry for more than 40 years. Get an insider’s look at the art form from someone in the trenches every day.
By Scott Shaw!
It may surprise some of you that I still read current comic books. Since writing and drawing allegedly humorous comic books is one aspect of my career as a cartoonist, it’s a matter of keeping up with the competition when it comes to reading funnybooks that are actually funny. But I also dig other genres, too. I’ll admit, I don’t purchase many new comics anymore, but between those I buy, borrow or browse at the local comic book emporiums, I’ve compiled this list of those I can recommend.
I’ll start with a few superhero series I dig, since that genre still seems to dominate the racks. Let’s face it, most superhero comics adhere to that old unwritten rule: “Create the illusion of change without ever changing anything for long.” Instead, the fun of the Marvel Universe – much more than DC’s dour, drab and depressing “New 52” – is in how the playing pieces are moved around in new and interesting ways.
Marvel’s Fantastic Four will always be my favorite superhero title and I’ll buy it as long as Marvel keeps publishing it. That dedication is due to my first reading it back when Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Chic Stone, Joe Sinnott, Dick Ayers and others made sure that it really was “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” Since those first hundred-or-so issues of Fantastic Four, the series’ quality has been wildly up, down and all over the place, but rarely approaching the compelling “sense of wonder” and fun that the Kirby/Lee team achieved. Most of those assigned to the title over the years seem to be attempting to re-create stories from those first hundred issues… and they never seem to quite “get” it. The current version plays with many of those classic elements – the Inhumans, Doctor Doom, Atlantis, the Kree, Annihilus and the Negative Zone, etc. – but writer Jonathan Hickman and rotating artists Steve Epting, Ron Garney, Barry Kitson and others seem more interested in telling new sense of wonder stories with them, even if I’m the one who sometimes winds up wondering exactly what is going on in Hickman and company’s sparely presented storytelling. At least I feel like I’m reading new exploits of the FF, not more rehashes. (Speaking of the FF, that Hickman-written spin-off – featuring the young members of the Future Foundation, overseen by a civilized version of Dragon Man – is a tougher read, especially due to some extremely off-putting artwork by Juan Bobillo.)
That moving-around-playing-pieces has been an enjoyable part of Marvel’s Thunderbolts since its inception back in 1997 by Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley. Writer Jeff Parker and a variety of artists have been the latest folks on the series for the last few years and their approach to crafting the ongoing adventures of multiple teams of bad guys – both rehabilitated and otherwise – all overseen by Luke Cage, has been a lot of fun. Twists, turns and double-crosses abound, with the team’s headquarters unanchored in the time stream to complicate matters. (This lost-in-time wrinkle provided an amusingly uneasy team-up with Captain America and the Invaders during WWII.) In recent months, the book has been re-titled Dark Avengers after Norman Osborn’s team of badass stand-ins for some of the heroic Avengers’ stalwarts. By comparison, Luke’s team almost seems like the good guys they pretend to be. The unexpected arrival of Dr. Doom (direct from Mark Millar/Bryan Hitch‘s “realistic” stint on Fantastic Four from a few years back) is yet another player sure to challenge the small-time supervillains’ internal politics. To my knowledge, this is the only series focusing on bad guys that’s lasted so long and it deserves to hold the record over such lame and lesser attempts such as DC’s Secret Society Of Super Villains or Marvel’s Super Villain Team-Up. But whether his book is called Thunderbolts or Dark Avengers, Jeff Parker provides a lot of evil fun.
Over the years I’ve heard or read a variety of arguments before and against the categorization of Elzie Segar’s “Popeye The Sailor” as the first modern superhero. (You’ve gotta admit that the notion of a tough-with-his-fists human male who gains phenomenal super-strength after ingesting a special substance and who is utterly unkillable 24/7/365 certainly sounds like a superhero!) Depending on my mood, I could easily support either stance, but one thing is constant: I love Popeye and he’s one of my all-time favorite characters, especially his original incarnation in Segar’s Thimble Theater syndicated comic strip. My first exposures to the sailor man was in Fleischer Studios’ animated “Popeye” cartoon shorts and Bud Sagendorf’s stories for Dell’s Popeye comic book and I love those, too, but IDW’s version is modeled on Segar’s original. Writer Roger Langridge (Snarked!) really captures the delightfully peculiar personalities and voices of Segar’s Popeye, Olive Oyl, J. Wellington Wimpy, the Sea Hag and the rest of the cast. So far, the second issue, featuring terrific art by Ken Wheaton, has been my favorite, but I’ve liked ‘em all a lot.
Then there’s Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon for Image Comics. Erik insists that his character is anything but a superhero, but the strip reads like a 1970s Marvel comic as interpreted by a talented underground cartoonist under the influence of Jack Kirby, Gil Kane and some killer acid. Although Savage Dragon started out as a typical Image book (after all, Erik’s one of the publisher’s original founders and its former publisher), after a few years, Erik found his muse and ever since, the one thing you can count on from Savage Dragon is that the characters, stories and tone can turn on a dime. You never know what to expect from Savage Dragon and Erik rarely disappoints. Standouts have been (for me, at least): a long story arc in tribute to Kirby’s Kamandi; a honeymoon sequence that was originally conceived as a pitch for a Savage Dragon syndicated comic strip; a galaxy-conquering despot who looks like a cute little toy; a male Captain Marvel-esque superhero whose secret identity has been both a woman and an infant; a decidedly non-jolly green giant Osama bin Laden; an unauthorized appearance by the fabulous, furry Freak Brothers; and of course, Erik’s legendarily offensive “Don’t FUCK with God!” page. Now you see why I always pick up every issue of Savage Dragon; who knows what I might miss!
And although it’s not an actual superhero title, DC’s All-Star Western starring the latest iteration of “Jonah Hex” by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and Moritat certainly depends on Batman for its central concept. This series explores the Gotham City of the mid-19th Century by dropping the disfigured and morally raw Civil War vet into the middle of it. (I assume the inspiration was the 1970 TV series McCloud starring Dennis Weaver.) Anyway, Jonah has been summoned by Dr. Amadeus Arkham (founder of Arkham Asylum) to solve a chain of serial killings. Along the way he runs afoul of Gotham’s Mayor Cobblepot (an ancestor of the Penguin) and even plummets into the caverns beneath what will someday become the real estate that Wayne is built upon! It’s a fascinating look at a retrofitted version of Gotham City, and Gray and Palmiotti have long proven their skill in writing Jonah Hex over the last few years. Moritat, last seen on the DC’s “First Wave” version of The Spirit, does a good job, although he needs to learn how to draw more than one look for a woman’s face. There’s also been a number of solid backup stories with a general Western setting, including “El Diablo” drawn by Jordi Bernet, “The Barbary Ghost” drawn by Phil Winslade, “Bat Lash” drawn by José Luis Garcia-López (!), “Nighthawk/Cinnamon” and “Terrence Thirteen”. I know I’m not the only comic book pro who considers All-Star Western – edited by Joey Cavalieri – to be the best of DC’s “New 52” by a wide margin.
Stan Sakai has been writing and drawing his Usagi Yojimbo for over twenty years and yet there are still a few people out there who dismiss it because it features talking animals. Dark Horse has been publishing Usagi Yojimbo for a large part of that time, and as his many awards verify, Stan just keeps getting better and better. Over the years, I’ve drawn my fair share of “funny animal” comics and during that time, I’ve heard the term “anthropomorphic” comics bandied about. I’m still not certain I completely understand the difference, but I can acknowledge that Usagi Yojimbo is definitely more “anthropomorphic” than “funny animal” and that Stan has become a master of subtlety as well as action, of nuance as well as the written word. However, we won’t be seeing any new issues of Usagi Yojimbo for a while, because Stan is temporarily putting his Ronin rabbit aside to concentrate on the upcoming 47 Samurai, a limited series written by Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson and starring a cast of historical humans. I’ve only seen a few pages but I think that it’s some of the most impressive work I’ve ever seen Stan draw and he rises to the challenge beautifully. I think that 47 Samurai is going to change a lot of minds regarding Usagi Yojimbo.
IDW’s ongoing Ghostbusters series has one foot in action, one foot in horror and one foot in comedy. (Three feet? Hey, what did you expect?) There have been quite a few stabs at adapting the ghost busting gang from the 1984 and 1989 films, but frankly, their quality has been all over the ectometer. But I think that this version has finally nailed it. First of all, Erik Burnham’s scripts have been terrific, with interesting new situations and crackling and clever dialog that’s extremely faithful to the specific on-screen personas of Bill Murray as “Dr. Peter Venkman”, Harold Ramis as “Dr. Egon Spengler”, Dan Aykroyd as “Dr. Raymond Stantz” and Ernie Hudson as “Winston Zeddemore”. These stories have been so well-done that I could easily see them as the basis for new Ghostbusters films, animated series or video games. (As if!) And speaking of animation, I’ve got a sneaking hunch that the series’ artist, Dan Schoening, has a background in that field, because his representations of the cast, while not actually caricatures of the property’s key actors, evoke them well enough to be instantly recognizable. Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening really “get” Ghostbusters and it shows. I think that this funnybook iteration of Ghostbusters is about as good as it can get, possibly even equal to Evan Dorkin’s legendary run on Marvel’s Bill and Ted’s Excellent Comic Book… and as the guy who suggested BATECB to the Eisner judging committee, that’s really saying a lot.
Archie’s Kevin Keller by Dan Parent has gotten a ton of press due to the fact that it’s the first funnybook from “America’s most wholesome comic book publisher” to star an openly gay teenager. But outside of the gay press I’ve seen few if any reviews that point out that it’s genuinely a lot of fun. Now that such longtime Archie Comics creators as George Gladir, Stan Goldberg and Bob Bolling are rarely (if ever) given any new assignments, Dan Parent is arguably the company’s top creator in terms of writing and drawing the classic Archie characters with authority and appeal. Kevin Keller is no exception to that, especially when Dan wrings funny situations born of Veronica’s frustration that a cute, hip kid like Kevin Keller isn’t straight. But to Dan’s credit, the issue of Kevin’s gayness isn’t the only basis for his stories. But what I’ve especially dug about Kevin has been Dan’s terrific alternative covers for every issue of the ongoing series. Just as he drew for the initial Kevin mini-series, each one pays homage to the great Archie styles and themes of the past. One in particular that I love features Kevin – dressed as the old school Archie Andrews of the ‘40s and ‘50s – shrugging to the reader as if saying, “Can you believe how crazy-acting these straight teenagers are?”
Image’s Reed Gunther by Shane and Chris Houghton just finished up its initial 10-issue run but it’s not too late to pick up the two trade paperbacks that reprint the whole wonderful thing. I’m not a particular fan of westerns, so it’s kinda odd that I’ve got two of ‘em on this list, but if you think that All-Star Western sounds unusual, check out Reed Gunther. Reed is a roving cowboy who’s a magnet for trouble, much the same as James Garner’s private eye character in the classic 1970s TV series, The Rockford Files… except that Jim Rockford never had a grown grizzly bear for a best friend and steed. That’s right, thanks to Sterling, Reed is the Old West’s first (and only) bear-riding cowboy. Accompanied by the beautiful tomboy Starla, Reed become snared in an eldritch mystery of increasingly Lovecraftian nature and proportions… but instead of being terrifying, these monster-filled tales are hilarious! I can’t quite put a finger on why, but Reed Gunther somehow reminds me of European comic albums starring characters like Asterix, Tin Tin and Lucky Luke – and that can’t possibly be a bad thing, right? The maddeningly young and gifted Houghton brothers are currently turning their attentions to a new project, but they promise to return to Reed Gunther someday. Meanwhile, don’t miss the chance to savor Reed’s memorable first story arc.
Sergio Aragonés is arguable the World’s Greatest Living Cartoonist, and Bongo Comics’ Sergio Aragonés Funnies is, in my opinion, the best thing he’s done lately in a career that’s chock-full of “best things”… and I don’t write that just because El Maestro included a cameo appearance by Yours Truly on the cover of Sergio Aragonés Funnies No 1. Every issue includes a few short genre stories, a handful of puzzles and games, a pantomime gag or two and best of all, at least one (often two) autobiographical stories from Sergio’s amazing life – all written and drawn by Sergio himself! Unlike most of his other material, Sergio’s autobiographical pieces aren’t necessarily intended to be funny; many time they’re more poignant than you’d expect. His work for Mad and Groo The Wanderer has always been wonderful stuff, but these stories are special, even for him. (Let’s face it, Sergio’s one of the only cartoonists who’s ever had a life interesting enough to chronicle in funnybook form.) Sergio Aragonés Funnies has been on a temporary hiatus due to a passing problem with El Maestro’s back, but Sergio’s been on the mend for a while now – if anything, he’s doing even better than ever – and has jumped back into producing this now-bimonthly, Bill Morrison-edited series with a vengeance. So keep your eyes peeled for Sergio Aragonés Funnies No. 8, coming soon!
And finally, Keith Knight is one of the most talented and prolific cartoonists I know – I gobble up his stuff like junk food that’s actually good for me – yet he’s the only creator on this list that hasn’t done any actual comic books, but I’m gonna add it to my recommendations anyway. (Hey, it’s my list, my column and I’ll make and break the rules if I feel like it; consider it a bonus from me to you.) Fortunately for us, Keith’s The Knight Life (an autobiographical daily syndicated comic strip), The K Chronicles (his longtime autobiographical weekly comic strip) and (Th)ink (his weekly panel feature) have all been collected in a variety of reprint books published by Keith himself. Keith’s writing is hip, funny and smart, his drawing style reminds of Harvey Kurtzman’s (although he swears the Mad creator isn’t a particular influence) and his outlook on racial relations and humanity in general encompasses everything from sweetly cheerful (“Life’s Little Victories”) to hopelessly pessimistic. Visit Keith at kchronicles.com, read a healthy sampling of his stuff and order any and all of his books – Chivalry Ain’t Dead (The Knight Life), The Incredible Cuteness Of Being (The K Chronicles) and Too Small To Fail (Th)ink) are his latest – I promise you won’t regret it.
Not that any of my recommendations mean much in the greater scheme of things, but most (if not all) of these titles absolutely deserve better sales figures, so by all means, if what I’ve written here intrigues you, please, check ‘em out!
All I ask is that you leave a copy of each comic for me.
— Scott Shaw!
Next up: How and why I grew to love and embrace the once-reviled term “funnybook”!
Scott Shaw! — yes, that exclamation point has adorned his name since junior high school — currently writes and draws comic books starring the Simpsons for Bongo Comic, The Adventures of Captain Rochester for Rochester Electronics, and his autobiographical comic strip, Now It Can Be Told! for Act-I-Vate, as well as performing his live Oddball Comics show. He just finished storyboarding four episodes of Cartoon Network’s Annoying Orange animated show, is finishing a new 8-page Now It Can Be Told! story for Dark Horse Presents (“I Covered Myself With Peanut Butter To Become…The Turd!”) and will be drawing an upcoming Mark Evanier-written Garfield comic book story for Ka-Boom. He’s currently writing and drawing on the first Annoying Orange graphic novel – split with Mike Kazaleh – for Papercutz.
Wednesday is New Comics Day! Each week, The Comics Observer picks 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.
(Disclaimer: These aren’t reviews. Recommendations based on pre-release press, previews, and The Comics Observer‘s patented crystal ball. Product descriptions provided by publisher.)
Bird & Squirrel on the Run
Bird and Squirrel outwit Cat and become best friends in this zany adventure.
Squirrel is afraid of his own shadow. Bird doesn’t have a care in the world. And Cat wants to eat Bird and Squirrel. Of course, he’ll have to catch them first, and that’s not going to be easy.
Join this trio as they head south for the winter in a hilarious road trip. But watch out! Cat is waiting around every bend, and he’s one pesky feline!
When cardboard creatures come magically to life, a boy must save his town from disaster.
Cam’s down-and-out father gives him a cardboard box for his birthday and he knows it’s the worst present ever. So to make the best of a bad situation, they bend the cardboard into a man, and to their astonishment, it comes magically to life. But the neighborhood bully, Marcus, warps the powerful cardboard into his own evil creations that threaten to destroy them all!
Two warring immortal races rule a scarred world where time has no meaning. Death (Azrael) sits impotent, quietly planning his restoration. He summons Monocyte, a forgotten immortal necromancer who long ago chose sleep in his failed quest to die. With a fatal pact sealed, Monoctye strikes out as Azrael’s vicious proxy.
The Monocyte collected edition is a 224-page oversized 9×13.5″ hardcover that includes the series prequel previously only available digitally, all four issues, all eight side stories, and all 12 covers. This includes art by Ashley Wood, Bill Sienkiewicz, George Pratt, Phil Hale, Barron Storey, Ben Templesmith, Riley Rossmo, Christopher Mitten, David Stoupakis, and Chris Newman. The over 60 pages of new content will be filled in part with art contributions by internationally-known comic book and fine artists/sculptors such as Scott Radke, Matthew Bone, Guillermo Rigattieri, Richard A. Kirk, Alberto Ruiz, Tim Roosen, Richard Friend, Toby Cypress, and many more.
For a special weekly series during the month of June, guest columnist Dane Hill shares his experiences as a gay comics reader and the power of being represented. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.
There are some institutions that have come to represent the ideal way of life in our country. Cultural heritages that are recognized the world over as “All-American”: Baseball. Apple pie. Ford. Cowboys. Hollywood. Within the comic industry, that honor belongs to Archie Comics. For 70 years, they have been the “Middle America” of comicbookdom, never wavering from their small town style of stories, seemingly stunted since the ’50s in their business model. If you wanted an old-fashioned story deemed safe for the kids, you visited the townsfolk of Riverdale, where light-hearted humor was a mere chocolate malt away.
I, on the other hand, couldn’t have cared less about Archie and the Gang growing up. As All-American as I came across, to me, Archie was simply that bland out-dated line of kiddie books meant for the older generation of a bygone era. I had read one, maybe two, issues in my entire lifetime. Riverdale was just too saccharine for my tastes. I didn’t get the appeal. Did you have to be in your 60s to appreciate that “gee golly” humor? Relevance certainly seemed to have passed it by long long ago. No, my heart belonged to the spandexed superheroes battling through the modern world, thank you very much.
Little did I know, however, the changes that were going on behind the scenes the past couple years. In early 2010, Archie began dating black bandmate Valerie from Josie and the Pussycats. Not much odd about that you might think. Except that it was the first time an inter-racial relationship had been depicted with Archie. Forty-three years after the Supreme Court struck down miscegenation laws, the company finally felt it safe enough to test the waters with its readers. Did the editors debate putting out such a storyline for several decades, or was it a spontaneous idea cooked up in a meeting mere months before? Whatever the case may be, it would turn out to be the first indication of bigger and more daring things to come from the industry’s most conservative publisher. Still, Archie was not on my radar yet.
Truth be told, around this time, I was also burnt out on the event books being churned out by Marvel and DC Comics one after another. Most titles came across as money grabs. For the first time in a decade or two, I felt my passion for the medium begin to ebb. Even the gay characters that were popping up here and there were not holding my interest any longer. The gay side of their storylines didn’t have any teeth. As progressive as the various publishers were becoming, they all still seemed to be playing their hands a bit safe.
Around early summer of 2010, in a random blog interview, Archie artist Dan Parent would casually confirm that they too had plans to bring an openly gay character to their line. Barely newsworthy for any other company, this on the other hand was Archie Comics making the announcement for God’s sake. The news exploded overnight. How do you reconcile 1950s doowap and poodle skirts with the idea of homosexuality? It would be like your grandfather announcing plans to marry a 20-year-old. And that 20-year-old just so happened to be another man. The brain just has a hard time going there.
Parent’s announcement and the ensuing media hoopla grabbed my attention like a bonfire in the night. I held a cynical curiosity of the train wreck that was undoubtedly coming, visions of another Rawhide Kid-caliber disaster in mind. But, you know, it was cute they were trying. Good for them.
And so it came, in September 2010, Veronica #202 was released, and the world was introduced to gay Kevin Keller. I was expecting an uninspired stereotype. What I got was a slam dunk debut in every way. After reading the issue, all I could think was… how in the $%@& did Archie Comics come up with the most relatable and inspiring gay character in comics?!? My second thought was… when, if ever, would we see Kevin again?? I made a deal with the Devil that I would give up all my remaining Marvel books if Kevin’s debut would be popular enough to warrant further stories. Boy, did He deliver! (And boy, do I miss my Marvel! Or not. I totally went back on my word within a month. What! I’m only human.) Kevin’s debut set records for the company, and he quickly became their most popular new character in years.
As I said, the character was a revelation. In one single issue, I fell in love with the Archie universe. I suddenly got it – the appeal, the entire 70-year history, its newfound relevance unfolded before me like a map of Treasure Island, where X marked the spot on Kevin.
So what made Kevin’s debut so special? You might say the fact that the reveal wasn’t special made it special. He was that every day high school student who just so happened to be gay. The issue received universal praise in its nonchalant depiction of being gay. No angst or coming out drama. The fact that he was gay was a complete non-issue to the folks of Riverdale, its significance merely to be used as a ploy in Jughead’s ever on-going battle of wits with clueless yet love-struck Veronica of Kevin. No stereotypes. No controversy. Just a kid moving to a new town where everyone is welcomed, and oh by the way, just happened to be gay. The subtlety was a master stroke by Parent and for the publisher. The story immediately sold out and resulted in the company’s first ever second printing of an issue in its 70-year history. The character has since become one of the company’s most high-profile characters. It was also the final indication needed, you might say, that being gay in America was at last accepted.
And yet, Archie did not just stop with the character’s introduction. Oh no. Not resting on their laurels, in the year that followed, they went after the hot topics defining today’s debate on the subject, and gave it the ol’ Riverdale spin: Gays in the military. Gay marriage. Even combining together in a single issue of Life With Archie #16 a gay marriage between inter-racial military men. You could almost hear the publisher daring the conservative right to protest the company. The issue created a firestorm of attention, and subsequently sold out within days.
Meanwhile, after a trial mini-series, Keller proved popular enough to warrant his own regular series, which debuted this year.
With essentially no backlash, tons of media attention and critical praise, and heavy sales, it was only a matter of time before Marvel and DC stepped up their efforts in gay visibility. While they may have laid the foundation for that visibility the past number of years, Archie Comics grabbed the bull by the horns and has led the way with bold risky storylines, including a gay marriage in the midst of a national debate, a stance on DADT prior to its repeal, etc. For a company that on paper should be most concerned about what Middle America thinks of its lily white Americana image, its defiant integrity in the face of profit risk of late is perhaps the single most unexpected development in the industry the past several years. It’s a remarkable stance for any true blue American company to take, let alone one aimed towards kids.
Is it any wonder that Marvel is now proceeding with Northstar’s own marriage 9 months after Kevin’s gay marriage was announced? Is it coincidence that after seven years, Wiccan and Hulkling of Young Avengers are finally shown to kiss? Was it always planned that DC would re-introduce one of its oldest characters from the ’40s as gay, even after saying last year that no pre-existing characters would be turned gay? Even the rebooted Godzilla series from IDW Publishing introduced a new hero (enemy?) seeking revenge against the monster for destroying his gay wedding, killing his fiance. Archie’s newfound approach to storytelling has suddenly trailblazed the way for the industry.
So, what might the future hold for gays in comics? Expect to see a continual expansion of different gay characters – heroes, villains and side characters. There will be less trepidation with showing intimacy, and less hesitancy to treat them with kid gloves. Perhaps a gay sidekick to a major hero such as Batman or Captain America, or a gay disciple to a major villain such as Joker or Kingpin. Perhaps one of the plethora of gods will come out. Although Hercules’s sexual fluidity was hinted at by Marvel recently. Perhaps an all-gay super-team. Or maybe the child of a major character will be gay. I’d like to see a story exploring why homosexuality exists, such as a form of population control, or the “gay uncle” theory where families with gay members tend to be stronger and more successful.
Whatever is to come, we have definitely turned a major corner in recent years. There’s a bright gay future ahead for the industry, and I couldn’t be more proud.
Southern grown Dane Hill has worked in the dot-com industry for the past 15 years, having put his Drama degree from the University of Virginia to good use. His passions have been comic books and baseball since he was knee-high to a grasshopper.
Guest columnist Wayne Rée shares his discovery of comic books, from his start as a super-hero fan to his evolution into a believer of the power of the art form of comics.
When I was 14, my friend Roy introduced me to Monty Python. Or, at least, I thought he did. See, after watching the Pythons’ infamous Dead Parrot skit, I had this moment of clarity and realization, and I suddenly found myself, as a six year old, on a plane to LA, listening to the in-flight radio’s comedy channel—and laughing my tuchus right off at the very same Dead Parrot skit.
The point of that little anecdote is that, for a while now, I’d been telling people that my journey into indie comics started when I got into Oni Press in the late ’90s (a topic I’ll probably cover in the next edition), which, upon closer reflection isn’t actually true. In fact, I probably got into indie comics around the same time as a lot of kids my age. Well, one indie comic in particular anyway; you might have heard of it: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Squiggly flashback lines
Let me take you back, dear reader, to the early ’90s—to a time when Guns N’ Roses was more than just Axl and everyone was down with OPP (yeah, you know me). Before The Walking Dead showed the world that indie comics could become a massive franchise, the Turtles were a juggernaut and every kid was nuts over them, myself included.
I had all the toys and watched all the episodes. But I also remember that, on my school bus, one kid actually had a reprint of the original comics by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. They were, to my seven-year-old mind, a lot darker than the cartoons and I was naturally enthralled. They were superheroish like Spider-Man, but not. I mean, come on—in that very first issue [20-YEAR-OLD SPOILER] they killed Shredder! Do not pass Go; do not get sent back to Dimension X.
Sadly, because it was one copy being passed around, I didn’t really get to digest it until last year when IDW Publishing reprinted the first couple of issues in a massive hardcover. IDW, interestingly enough, also has ties to the second time I was exposed to indie comics.
Victims, weren’t we all?
James O’Barr’s The Crow had a similar effect on me, seven years after the Ninja Turtles. Like any 14-year-old in the mid-90s, I was angsty and brooding and wore more black clothes than was sensible in a tropical Singaporean climate. And it was all because of Alex Proyas’ adaptation of O’Barr’s comic, the movie that was famed for being Brandon Lee’s last role.
Again, I devoured everything I could that was related to The Crow. I had the soundtrack on cassette (ask your parents, kids) and I rewatched the film on laser disc (seriously, ask your parents) so many times that I could recite entire scenes by heart.
I also borrowed a reprint of O’Barr’s original comic from my friend Paul and was astounded by what could be done in terms of comic storytelling. It was more a bloody piece of poetry than a tightly cohesive story, but it said everything that needed to be said. The art was a mix of a grimly manga-infused, almost cartoony style and gorgeously painted, emotionally charged pages that, up till then, I never thought could be part of a comic.
Years later, I picked up the trade paperback for myself. And recently, I found out that IDW’s roped in John Shirley, one of the screenwriters for Proyas’ film, and O’Barr himself, to pen new stories revolving around The Crow legend.
All the comics who independent, throw your hands up at me
Like I said at the start, these two books were really just the first few drops of what would be the torrent of indie comics I’d find myself drowning in. I said earlier that Oni Press will probably be the focus of the next edition, but after laying the groundwork here a bit, I might want to also talk about what the term “indie” really means in the confines of comics. Or I might not. Look, as I also already established with the opening paragraph, I don’t exactly have the most reliable memory.
Wayne Rée’s been writing professionally for about ten years. He’s worked in everything from advertising to publishing, and was even part of the team that created Singapore’s very first tattoo magazine. He dabbles in screenwriting and photography, and travels way too much. And, yes, he had a goth phase. Look, he was 14, OK?
We don’t feature a lot of single issues of comic books in this column, mostly sticking to the more meaty reads of graphic novels and manga. But when the extraordinary Matt Kindt puts out a comic book, you’d do well to check it out. Who is Matt Kindt? Read on to discover one of our modern master storytellers. If you’d rather learn more about past master storytellers, there’s an informative and funny history of comic books in comic book form you can get. And if you’d rather step out of reality, there’s a new release where you can explore your dreams… at a price.
Wednesday is New Comics Day! Each week, The Comics Observer picks three brand new releases out today worth checking out that should be suitable for someone who has never read comic books, graphic novels or manga before.
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.
Matt Kindt, the most original voice in genre comics, outdoes himself in this bold new espionage series!
Reporting on a commercial flight where everyone aboard lost their memories, a young journalist stumbles onto a much bigger story, the top-secret Mind Management program. Her ensuing journey involves weaponized psychics, hypnotic advertising, talking dolphins, and seemingly immortal pursuers, as she attempts to find the flight’s missing passenger, the man who was Mind MGMT’s greatest success – and its most devastating failure. But in a world where people can rewrite reality itself, can she trust anything she sees?
* From the creator of 3 Story and Super Spy!
* Akira meets Heart of Darkness by way of 100 Bullets!
For the first time ever, the inspiring, infuriating, and utterly insane story of comics, graphic novels, and manga is presented in comic book form!
The award-winning Action Philosophers team of Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey turn their irreverent-but-accurate eye to the stories of Jack Kirby, R. Crumb, Harvey Kurtzman, Alan Moore, Stan Lee, Will Eisner, Fredric Wertham, Roy Lichtenstein, Art Spiegelman, Hergé, Osamu Tezuka — and more!
“Done with wit, energy, a healthy dose of insolence and a dedication to getting it right.” — NPR.
Collects Comic Book Comics #1-6.
A young boy named Colby Reynolds searches for meaning in the world around him and discovers a place where dreams can come true, if he’s willing to pay the price.
Along the way he’ll see sights he’s never fathomed and encounter hidden truths about himself that he’ll wish he never knew. The hit online comic is now a beautiful high-quality hardcover graphic novel, perfect for teen readers and manga fans, with a durable library-quality binding.
Discover the story Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics, Zot!) calls an ‘enchantingly drawn meditation on imagination and yearning.’
A new Facebook page is tracking a recent trend in the creation of comic books and graphic novels. ComicKick describes itself as “a community dedicated to promoting comic book and graphic novel projects on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo!”
Both of those sites help creators turn to their potential audiences for help in financing their creations. In exchange for the help, the creators offer their supporters signed copies, original art, and other unique incentives. It’s a model that traditional outlets never thought would work, and while it’s not a fool-proof method of getting published, there have been some startling success stories.
Rick Burlew wanted to raise about $15,000 to re-release a print collection of his popular webcomic The Order of the Stick. “Popular” is putting it lightly. Not only did fans contribute $250,000 within a week, the project raised over $1 million from almost 15,000 backers! The money was enough for Burlew to reprint the webcomic’s entire 7-book library. As of now, it is the second most successful Kickstarter project, eclipsed only by the over $3 million raised for the video game Double Fine Adventure. Burlew’s incentives included a new prequel story delivered as a PDF to everyone who pledged $10 or more, a walk-on cameo in a future strip for one person that donated $5,000, exclusive magnets, original crayon drawings, and even a coloring book. During the fundraising period, he amped up his production to release a new installment of The Order of the Stick every day to help generate extra excitement and energy around the event.
Renae De Liz‘s all-female comics anthology Womanthology also had similar success, as reported last year. Their Kickstarter page met their goal of $25,000 within just 18 hours, and finished with over $100,000. The buzz around the project garnered the attention of IDW Publishing, which helped distribute the anthology and has agreed to publish a 5-issue mini-series for a second graphic novel.
Not everyone is making such huge bank. Using Kickstarter or IndieGoGo (or another crowd-sourcing platform) takes a serious commitment to promotion, and of course a pre-existing audience helps. But more and more comics projects are matching their goal, like LA cartoonist Keith Knight (The K Chronicles, The Knight Life), who brought in over $40,000 to produce his original graphic novel I Was A Teenage Michael Jackson Impersonator.
According to the Kickstarter Blog, the Comics category in 2011 raised over $1.7 million from over 27,000 backers of 267 successful projects. It’s important to note that with Kickstarter, only projects that match their goal receive funds pledged. Considering that The Order of the Stick nearly eclipsed that total dollar figure by itself earlier this year, the 2012 figures should see a remarkable increase.
With these success stories, others are turning to this method to try to publish their own comics and graphic novels, or books and films about comics. To keep them all straight, enter ComicKick on Facebook. Only about a week old, these fans are posting about a variety of new projects by creators trying to bring their dreams to reality.
Aimed at grades 3-6, The Graphic Textbook features a dozen short stories (both fiction and non-fiction) that address topics in a variety of disciplines (Social Studies, Math, Language Arts, Science) drawn from the list of Common Core Standards used in classrooms countrywide. The accompanying Teacher’s Guide will include Standards-correlated lesson plans customized to each story, research-based justifications for using comics in the classroom, a guide to establishing best classroom practices and a comprehensive listing of additional educational resources.
The Graphic Textbook will prove once and for all that comics belong in the classroom by creating a comic that every teacher will actually want to use and a textbook that every student will actually want to read!
It includes chapters from professional creators of comic books and graphic novels, such as Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey, who produced the educational series Action Philosophers, plus Roger Langridge (The Muppet Show Comic Book, Snarked!, Popeye), Chris Schweizer (Crogan’s Vengeance), Katie Cook (Fraggle Rock, Gronk: A Monster’s Story) and more. The cover to the right is by Ben Caldwell.
The comics projects on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are often unique and different from what is being produced by the bigger comics publishers, so it’s worth it to “Like” ComicKick on Facebook to find out about what could be a future hit.