What Are You Reading? with Curt Pires and Ramon Villalobos
Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading? Today our special guests are the creative team behind the upcoming self-distributed indie comic LP, Curt Pires and Ramon Villalobos. You can read more about the comic in the interview Tim O’Shea did with Curt earlier this week.
And to see what they’ve been reading lately, click below.
This was a great week! Y’know when a new book comes around, maybe once a year, that combines instantly classic content with amazing packaging, leaving you with that “holy sh!t, this is the book of the year!” feeling? I got that rush this week when Glyn Dillon’s The Nao Of Brown landed on my doorstep. Dillon was at the SPX with copies of it this weekend, so I’m sure you’ll hear this claim a lot over the next few days. It’s true.
Getting one great book in a week is a rare treat, but I also picked up Ron Wimberly’s Prince Of Cats, which in any other week, man… A fantastic conceit, a conflation of strange bedfellows (Shakespeare, hip-hop, ninjitsu) that really works, a visual style that’s that rare thing: original.
And while I was at it, I picked up that DC Spirit World book, too. It’s a hoot. Kirby’s maddest stuff, his sexiest stuff (!), and his best collages. “Don’t visit Paris in 1983″? I knew I shouldn’t have gone on that school trip.
Bird & Squirrel On the Run by James Burks: Imagine the two main characters from Finding Nemo (the OCD one and the ADD one). Turn them into land animals, take away the whole “My son is missing” plot and you have the basic outline of this all-ages graphic novel from Scholastic. The constantly on-edge squirrel finds a (initially unwanted) friend in the erratic, carefree bird, and both are chased by a nasty cat until they aren’t anymore. It’s a relatively amusing book, but a very shallow one, and not funny or visually striking enough to make me want to re-read it. I’m sure kids will like it, though.
Aquaman Vol. 1: The Trench by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis and Joe Prado: In which Johns and company attempt to convince everyone that Aquaman is a really, really awesome superhero. I already liked Aquaman — at least I remember liking him quite a bit as a child — but I suppose that puts me in the minority these days. Johns gets some mileage by acknowledging how much of a joke the character has seemed to the general public. A familiar pattern emerges: citizens doubt Aquaman’s abilities, he puts on his serious face and saves people, proving what a kick-ass guy he is. There’s lots of father issues in the mix too, which seems to be a thing with Johns. It’s not badly done by any means, but it does feel a little rote at times and I was not engaged enough ultimately to want to read further issues, my appreciation of Arthur Curry notwithstanding.
Stumptown: The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case #1: If I had any apprehension about reading this issue, it was that I haven’t yet read the first mini-series. I suspected though that – like a lot detective novel series – the new case would be a good enough jumping on point not to be confused, and that’s certainly how it is. Private investigator Dex Parios turns down the first case she’s offered in this issue for what I imagine are reasons related to the previous story, but it’s not a frustrating scene. It makes me eager to read the other case and learn what happened, but doesn’t at all get in the way of this one. Once Dex’s for-real client shows up, a famous rock guitarist who’s missing her favorite guitar (her “baby”), we’re off and running. The issue-ending cliffhanger isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be, but I like Dex and her client a lot, so I’m in. I also can’t tell you how glad I am that the mystery doesn’t involve a human baby in a velvet case.
Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom #2: I was sort of enjoying this comic – liking the rocket stuff, pretty much hating Betty (and Cliff for liking her) – but not really being amazed like I thought I should be by a Mark Waid Rocketeer story. Then, out of nowhere, on the last three pages Waid reveals what the “Cargo of Doom” is, how it’s all a sequel to King Kong, and has the villain utter the five most awesome words in the English language (I’d quote them, but they’re spoilers). Just like that the series goes from being “okay” to blowing my mind.
The Massive #4: I wasn’t sure how I’d like the artistic change on this series, but Garry Brown does a fine job and I’m still into it. Brian Wood lets us a little deeper into the psyche of Captain Callum Israel and I appreciate the exploration of what it takes to be a pacifist in a violent world. Especially a world as rough as the post-apocalyptic landscape of this series. I believe Israel when he says that his life is better now that he’s embraced peace, but I also know that living a peaceful life isn’t as simple as declaring that you’re doing it. It’s great to see that Wood understands that and is dealing with it in the series. That makes the story fascinating and powerful, whoever is providing the art.
Elmer by Gerry Alanguilan
There’s something about comics that does such a fantastic job of taking an absurd concept and realizing it so fully. Elmer tells the story of a world where chickens suddenly have the same mental and emotional abilities as humans. So you’ve got some hilarious scenes of a chicken dressing up in a suit to try to get a job, but you also get a rich exploration of the civil rights movement, racism, and the unfortunate practices of the poultry industry, all told through a very personal story. The artwork is beautiful and the storytelling is funny, touching and actually heartbreaking. It was a real unexpected treat and a great example of how comics can pull off stories like no other art form.
Freeway by Mark Kalesniko
Never have I seen the horrors of traffic so accurately depicted. I live in Los Angeles, so a lot of the landmarks were familiar to me but it’s also a wonderfully imaginative and funny bit of stream of consciousness. The artwork is lush and really detailed as we watch the dog-headed character Alex Kalienka adjust to the disappointing realities of working his dream job at a legendary animation studio. As he sits in traffic, he daydreams to the golden age of animation and imagines what it must have been like in LA back then. The architectural accuracy is stunning, and the sense of movement and tracking of cars from one panel to the other during traffic scenes is a master class for artists to manage all of the chess pieces on the board.
“Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” (Superman #423 and Action Comics #583) by Alan Moore and Curt Swan
Another checked off from the “I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never read this” pile, thanks to comiXology (although there’s no “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow/” story arc, I had to do a bit of searching for these issues). This is getting to become quite the archival story, what with DC Comics hitting the Cosmic Reset Button at least twice following these issues. This was definitely a love letter to the Superman comics that came before and those that didn’t grow up with them (like myself) probably won’t quite feel the love as much as those that read it at the time, and probably truly felt like they were saying goodbye to a friend forever. The first part is pretty effective in building up the impending doom (Superman cries?! What?! This is serious!) but the ending in part two felt a little too tidy and cutesy, complete with a wink to the audience. But then I realized, that’s exactly the kind of story to which this is paying tribute. It’s exactly how I would want to leave these characters. But there’s something to be said for not giving the audience what they want, which is probably why ultimately it feels a little too perfect.
Stumptown: The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case #1
I think it was just coincidence that this issue came out the same week of the anniversary of The Rockford Files premiere on Sept. 13, 1974. I call it a happy coincidence. You rarely see a comic book character smile these days, unless he’s the Joker, but there is a great scene with series lead Dex Parios smiling as a skinhead threatens her with a boxcutter. Writer Greg Rucka effortly constructs conflicts that are both thrilling and bemusing (for the reader and character), a trait that reminds me of the Jim Rockford that Rucka and I grew up loving. Wise cracks while facing obstacles. Artist Matthew Southworth captures the tone of Rucka’s script perfectly and I want to hug colorist Rico Renzi for the sky he colored in a two-page spread early in the issue. Welcome back, Stumptown, you were worth the wait.
Captain America & Black Widow #636
Writer Cullen Bunn may have written a great issue, but damned if I could notice for the beautiful art delivered by Francesco Francavilla. Sheer delight.
The Creep #1
Before reading this first issue, I knew nothing about The Creep. Three things made me check it out–Jamie S. Rich recommended it, John Arcudi is writing it and artist Jonathan Case (whose work I have never seen–and I loved instantly). Actually make it four things, I love the sheer odd size (albeit due to his medical condition mentioned in the story) of Oxel the private detective’s head. I do not delight in his misery, I am just in awe of the character’s unique appearance. Now that I think about it, this week should have been declared Independent Comics Private Eye Week with the release of Stumptown and The Creep. And I am not complaining.
Butcher Baker: The Righteous Maker
I was late to the Butcher Baker party, okay? I admit it. I picked up all 8 issues of this and read it in one sitting. Simply amazing work from Casey and Huddleston. Very much a comic book about comic books. What happens when we are passed our Golden Age and called back into action? There’s loads of subtext here about what makes comics so beautiful. In a way I think its Casey’s love letter to the medium. This is all going to seem like rambling until you read the book, but I mean, it’s so worth it. I don’t know what territory we fall into awards wise because of how late the last issue was, but I really think this is Eisner level material. Casey’s back matter in each issue is equally compelling. There’s this thing he says in the first issue about comics being “Low fi future shit” that really resonated with me. Basically he’s talking about how what comics are doing now is what the mainstream will embrace in 10 years. We are future. Joe Casey is right.
Brian Wood is writing the best book, craft-wise, on the stands today. Seriously, Wood’s writing on this series so far has been nothing sort of virtuoso levels of good. With The Massive he is crafting a book that is experiments in pacing, structure and the single-issue format. Wood is doing some amazing stuff structurally here. We have three-panel, almost widescreen pages combined with an almost documentary-esque heavy captioning, juxtaposed with compressed conversational scenes, and almost every issue has had some beautiful splash moments to give the artists a chance to flex their creative muscles. This is a book that makes me want to up my goddamn game every single time I read it.
Study Group Comics is an online web comic galleria of sorts featuring some of the most BRILLIANT cartoonists working today contributing work, and its absolutely free. Seriously this feels like the most functional and brilliant use of the web comic format I’ve ever seen. Absolutely titanic amounts of talent contributing, too. Curated by Zack Soto, Study Group features super talents such as: Michael Deforge, Malachi Ward, Farel Dalrymple, Simon Roy and last but not least Morgan Jeske. Simon Roy’s “Ship Wrecked with Dan the Gorilla” is one of the most heartbreaking and brilliant meditations on the concept of friendship I’ve read in a while, Jeskes “Disappearing Town” is an innovative sci-fi tale that makes me want to write Morgan emails every day harassing him to work with me, and Soto’s “The Secret Voice” is a mind-blowing exploration of space , pacing , and page layout. When I read this I feel like I’m looking at the future of comics. Check it out here: http://studygroupcomics.com/main/.
The Bulletproof Coffin
I don’t really know what to say about this book other than it is a book that contains almost everything I love about comics inside its pages. Surrealist meta-narratives, brilliant art work, colors that will make your brain bleed. This is quiet simply one of the best comics I’ve read in ages. Volume two just came out on trade this past Wednesday, so I made sure to pick that up when I dropped by my shop . I love the way they do the trades too, they reprinting the covers with EVERYTHING. Barcodes, summary pages, its probably the most pure translation from single issue to trade format I’ve ever seen. This is very much a love letter to comics as well. Albeit, in a distinctly different way from Butcher Baker. I’m sensing a common thread here …
Action Comics #0: While Action Comics has not been as good as I think Batman Incorporated is because it’s generally not got as many big ideas packed into it and has been indecisive in tone and execution, Action Comics is still a really awesome comic. But I can’t be convinced that a Grant Morrison comic is not a really awesome one. I’m not a big fan of all digitally painted comics because too often there’s not enough contrast and the whole thing feels a little washed out with a soft focus, Ben Oliver does a pretty good job in this comic. The last page of the story he does is particularly beautiful and I think is one of those moments where Morrison eases off all the words and let iconic images tell the story for him. I really like this whole #0 issue month DC comics is doing because not only does it force a lot of one shots, which I’m a huge fan of, but it also gave Morrison an opportunity to use the more punk rock/golden age version of Superman that nobody in Metropolis really knows or cares about that he only wrote about briefly in the first couple issues of Action.
Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E #0: The Creature Commandos may be my favorite DC comics team behind only Doom Patrol and every day DC doesn’t put out a Showcase Presents: Weird War Tales that include them, I wonder why they aren’t doing that. I’d hunt out those back issues more aggressively but thanks to Jeff Lemire doing the right thing and incorporating them into S.H.A.D.E. I don’t have to read those old comics to those characters. I’m gonna be honest and say I didn’t know much about Matt Kindt at all and I’ve not even read any of his run since Lemire left the book. When I did eventually catch up to this #0 issue I was really happy I didn’t follow my knee jerk reaction to drop the book when Lemire handed it over. I’m a sucker for single issue stories and this one didn’t disappoint at all. This is probably as good as Alberto Ponticelli has been on Frankenstein since the book started.
Batman and Robin #0: I’ve been all about Tomasi and Gleason since the Green Lantern Corps hey days when that book would routinely be one of the most colorful and exciting book being put out by a mainstream publisher. Batman and Robin got off to a bit of a slow start (as Tomasi seems to do) but now that the book is on cruise control, it’s ridiculously well paced and consistently awesome every month. There’s nothing about this book I don’t like. Patrick Gleason’s bold cartoony style is so sharp when run through the filter of Mick Gray’s clean and delicate inking. But as for the zero issue itself, it’s about time reader’s got a little more insight into Damian’s background and considering Grant Morrison had initially chose Tomasi as the guy to pick up where he left off on Batman and Robin when he initially left it, I’d say Tomasi was the perfect guy to offer it.
Sweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness, and the Country In Between: I generally like reading these collected essay books because I have a really short attention span and about the time that good writers finish an essay is about when I’m read to start doing something other than reading. Jeff Sharlet is such a good writer though that even when I’ve finished reading one story about something I would have previously thought uninteresting, I want to either know more about that subject or just read more of his writing about other stuff. Sharlet’s writing is just great. I don’t even know what else to say.