Robot 6

What Are You Reading? with Allison Baker

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Happy Mother’s Day and welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at the comics, books and what have you we’ve been checking out lately. Joining us today is Allison Baker, co-publisher of Bandette, Edison Rex and all the other Monkeybrain Comics you can find on comiXology.

To see what Allison and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.

*****

Michael May

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I’ve been catching up on some comics from a week or two ago, starting with Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s East of West. I’m pretty sure this is my first Hickman comic, so I didn’t know what to expect, but I was a little frustrated by the lack of any character worth rooting for in the first issue. There were some very cool characters and some compelling mysteries and developments though – and the world Dragotta presents is awe-inspiring – so I came back for the second issue. I don’t know that I’m actually rooting for any of the characters yet, but I’m softening towards the personification of Death, which is an interesting development. I’m definitely in for more.

I wrote a while back about how Machine Man’s support of Betty Banner is a huge source of enjoyment for me in Red She-Hulk. In the most recent issue, #65, Betty gets to return the favor and that’s just as nice. And since I’m catching up on comics that I’ve featured in Why You Should Be Reading, it was wonderful to see FF #6 devoted to Darla Deering, my favorite character from that series. Ant-Man continues to prove himself a capable badass too, which is delightfully surprising to me.

Finally, I passed up Sesame Street #1 when it came out a couple of week’s ago, because I imagined its being more kid-focused than I wanted. I love kid-friendly comics, but I don’t buy them unless I’m reasonably sure that I can enjoy them too. I was afraid that Sesame Street would have as many educational and activity pages as story pages, so I didn’t give it a shot. But then I saw the variant cover with Super Grover, Elmo, and Big Bird reading comics outside of a shop with my local store’s logo in the window. It was too cute to pass up, so I flipped through it and was immediately impressed with the art (including a claymation-style Ernie and Bert strip) and lack of activity pages. It’s all story and it’s all adorable. Very much like the best parts of an episode of Sesame Street.

Chris Mautner

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Legends of the Blues by William Stout (Abrams) — There’s basically two people that will be interested by this book. Blues fans and Stout fans. The book might also appeal to fans of Robert Crumb’s Heroes of the Blues trading card series that Kitchen Sink put out back in the day (and that Abrams collected as R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz and Country. Stout apes Crumb’s format completely (the series was originally intended as a sequel set of trading cards), right down to the extensive use of cross-hatching. But Stout is not Crumb and there’s a bit of disconnect in seeing a talented but very different artist so consciously ape someone else. As a blues fan, I enjoyed the book (it comes with a nice compilation CD) and Stout’s short biographies of the artists were concise and informative — there’s a number of musicians here I’m not familiar with and will have to check out. But I kind of wish Stout had felt the freedom to do these portraits in his own style (the cover image of Muddy Waters teases at what might have been) than basically do a Crumb redux.

The Cartoon Book of Statistics by Grady Klein and Alan Dabney — I’m about as good with math as I am at dental surgery, so I approached this book with some trepidation and the hope that it would indeed be able to provide some insight into the scary world of statistics. For the most part it does that job very well. Adopting the Larry Gonick style of cartooning (info dumps offered in a friendly, casual prose with lots of visual jokes and asides), Klein and Dabney break down why statistics are important and how they work in a relatively easy to swallow manner, saving all the math stuff for an appendix in the back of the book. I didn’t completely understand every formula or analogy thrown at me — a few went over my head — but I walked away with a better understanding of how Nate Silver and his entourage do their jobs. I plan on passing it on to my kids before they start taking those treacherous honors high school math courses.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, adapted by I.N.J. Culbard — I’m not a fan of H.P Lovecraft — sacrilege, I know. I’ve attempted to read his stuff a number of times and always found his prose to be dull and overly wordy and walked away before even getting the slightest chill down my spine. So it’s no surprise perhaps to say that this adaptation of Lovecraft’s novel didn’t really thrill me, though it didn’t bore me either. Culbard’s got a nice, cartoonish style and his use of color (all blues and greens) go a long way to helping to set the eerie mood. Basically Culbard’s rendition helped make Lovecraft palatable for me, though I doubt I’ll go seeking out any more Cthulhu mythos stories any time soon. It was basically a pleasant way to kill a few hours on a Sunday afternoon. If that’s not the gushing accolade Lovecraft fans would like, well, at least it’s not a complete slam either.

Tom Bondurant

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I’d like to start off this week by making an observation which someone, somewhere, has probably made before, and more intelligently, because it’s about a 51-year-old comic book — but as I understand it, that’s why we have the Internet.

So most of The Incredible Hulk #1 (by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, with inks by Paul Reinman, which I read after finally getting the first Essential Hulk) uses some form of the classic nine-panel grid. There are some deviations, but by and large every page has three tiers … and each one of those tiers could function as its own comic strip, with its own setup and “punchline.” Again, this is probably something Jack Kirby did all the time, but I just now noticed it, and it blew my mind. Comic books were originally repurposed from comic strips, of course, but I never really thought of Kirby in a “newspaper” context, since he spent so much time in comic books. Along the same lines, I have read a lot of Kirby comics, and this sort of three-panel rhythm never jumped out at me before. Now, it’s hard to ignore. It really propels the story, too, because each tier’s payoff just keeps leading into the next. It almost establishes a steady tempo for the issue, which just keeps things bopping along.

As for more current comics, Avengers #11 (written by Jonathan Hickman and drawn by Mike Deodato) was a fun caper story. It might have been a little too pleased with itself, but the party-friendly AIM operatives were fun enough to not be obnoxious, and Hickman wisely chose to focus on the very cool Shang-Chi. In fact, Mike Deodato’s style has developed in the years since I last read him regularly (in the mid-’90s Wonder Woman), and today his clean, open look reminds me of Paul Gulacy. It’s a different kind of story than previous issues’ universes-colliding adventures, but it opens the door to what could be a nifty new arc.

Finally, with the 12-part “Zero Year” kicking off next month, it may not be the best time to mention that Scott Snyder has written some nice one- and two-issue stories for Batman. Issue #20 features regular artists Greg Capullo (pencils) and Danny Miki (Inks) showing Batman taking on a version of Clayface who not only mimics people’s appearances, he steals their lives. Naturally, coming after Bruce Wayne puts Batman’s secrets in danger, but it’s resolved with a bit of misdirection that — like so many Batman secret-ID perils which have come before — really strains the predictive power of Occam’s Razor. Still, that’s the great thing about superhero comics: the less-likely explanation could easily be the answer. Capullo and Miki are great at making this Clayface truly monstrous without turning him into some kind of ’90s-extreme villain. Much of this comes from his two sets of teeth, which amp up the creep factor appreciably. Overall, this was a fine couple of issues which show that a lot can come out of a little.

Mark Kardwell

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Finally got my hands on a copy of Fantagraphics’ big ol’ new edition of The Adventures of Jodelle by Guy Peellaert & Pierre Bartier. What a great book. Worth getting just for the essays and biographical sections in the back end, the equal of any Phaidon-esque art publication,  never mind the stone-classic ultra-influential comic at the front. I’ve spent more and more time this year writing about the interplay between comics, fine art and illustration, and this book represents something of a key moment in that relationship. And even if you’re not as concerned with these matters as me, check it out because it looks great, is frequently very sexy, and often downright hilarious. Can’t wait to see how Fanta repackage Peellaert’s Pravda next.

Allison Baker

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Full disclosure. I haven’t been asked to write about something I’ve read since college and I’m not a professional writer like my partner in crime, Chris Roberson, so this may or not be a) informative or b) entertaining.

Just want us all to be on the same page.

Yes. I like puns.

Right. What am I reading?

I’m in this crazy awesome book club chock full of comics professionals which is just ANOTHER reason Portland, OR is the best place EVER. We pick a prose book by vote and meet every few months to eat, drink and talk about the book we’ve all read. So I literally just finished reading A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, the most recent pick.  I wasn’t sure about this book when I first started it. The narrative structure is atypical which took a while for me to get comfortable with, but once I got a few chapters in, I got it.  It was described to me by a fellow book clubber, to be about the music business, and more specifically about the early days of punk, etc… and it certainly is about that but only on the surface.

Underneath, it’s about the relationship threads created as we live, age, change, evolve and how we can be literally connected to people by circumstance or experience and friends in common for years without knowing it. Beginnings, endings, memories, time and believe it or not, the power of social media.

It hit home on a number of levels and I would definitely recommend giving it a shot. This is a book that makes you reflect on your own life, choices and path, which is quite remarkable if you think about it.

Okay next, COMICS!

I read a lot of comics on a regular basis but due to the time constraints of life, the vast majority of them are books I’m publishing or something my husband has written. So, instead of me giving you a laundry list of Monkeybrain titles that YOU SHOULD BE READING TOO, or talking about how great my husband is, cause frankly you already know that, I pulled a few things off the shelf just to write this piece, of which there are many, many, many books to choose from.

Nurse Nurse by Katie Skelly was delightful. I love reading things that are imaginative, funny and weird. This is a book that does all of that and more. I also read The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks. I highly recommend this book and agree wholeheartedly with the protagonist that not every super hero has to have a dark tragic origin story. A very funny well done collection.

Then I wanted to find out what exactly was so great about Hawkeye so I read issue #2 by Matt Fraction and David Aja and boy howdy. What a great book! More of this please Big 2 or anyone really! I’ll be reading more.

Lastly I want to recommend High Crimes by Chris Sebela and Ibrahim Moustafa. Yes I publish this book and I know a mother shouldn’t have a favorite child but if I had to, this would be my favorite son. I read it as soon as it hits my inbox. Lucky for you issue #3, which I have already read of course, comes out this Wednesday. Yippee!

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Read the TPB American Dream: Beyond Courage, which collects the mini-series set in MC2 by Tom DeFalco and Todd Nauck; issue one of The Huntress (1989) by Joey Cavallieri and Joe Staton, the origin story for Helena Bertinelli; and issue one of the new Ghost series by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Phil Noto.

Dial H #12: I never expected this series to last a year. Did anybody have 15 issues in the betting pool? The inks are still bringing out the worst aspects of the pencils, but any critique at this point feels kinda moot.

The Movement #1: The nicest thing I can say about this series is: I’m really looking forward to The Green Team.

Ultimate Comics X-Men #26: At C2E2, Wood revealed that he only has an arc or two left on this title. The Ultimate Universe jumping forward a year does present the ideal opportunity to rotate in a new creative team; even so, I’ll miss the hell out of Wood’s run when it’s over. His tenure hasn’t been perfect by any means, but watching him tackle weighty concepts, filtered through a super-powered prism, has been fascinating. If only Asrar had been drawing it all along…

In response to your review of my new book, Legends of the Blues:
I am sorry you didn’t look past the surface and “get” what I was trying to do with the portraits. Yep, the pics are in the same format as R. Crumb’s Heroes of the Blues cards (both working from old photos, same proportions, hand-lettered names and all inked with a pen, although in my case a crowquil and not Robert’s weapon of choice, a rapidograph, I believe. I prefer the juicier lines produced more easily by a crowquil). I was asked by Shout! Factory to work in that format to keep the CD covers of their blues series consistent.

Once I decided to continue to produce more of these portraits I looked for ways to differentiate my work from Robert’s. I only referred to Crumb’s portraits once in the entire process: to determine the proportions and lettering style so that my work would remain consistent — at least on the surface — with Crumb’s approach for the images used by Shout! While our pen inking styles are similar, one could argue that I was as influenced by Jean “Moebius” Giraud’s inking as much as Crumb’s inking. In reality, all three of us just happen to ink in a similar style when we are holding a pen in our hand (I can send you stuff I did in 1970 inked in the same style). Since I was drawing fairly straight portraits (and not caricatures) I really can’t think of how I would have made these pictures different if given a second chance. I consistently searched for something in each photo that gave me some kind of an inner indication of the musician’s own personal character. The artistic takes of each blues musician all came from me, from deep inside of me, and no one else.

Crumb used flat mechanical color in his pieces. I decided to hand color each portrait with watercolor to make them look even more homemade and funkier. I decided that some of the portraits should have backgrounds reflecting the musicians or their music (Robert’s didn’t), or that they include objects or background elements that reflected the artists or their songs (like John Lee Hooker’s “Crawling Kingsnake” or the Friday the 13th behind Albert King, referencing “Born Under a Bad Sign”, or the speeding train behind Tiny Bradshaw symbolizing his song “The Train Kept A-Rollin’”).

In coloring the second 50 images I accidentally discovered a new technique — not just one that Crumb had never tried, but an approach new to me as well. I expanded my pen inking technique to include inking made using Extra Fine Tip Sharpies of different colors, giving me beautiful, harmonious line work that was not quite as harsh as using pure black lines for all of the inking.

Having said all that, I can still see where you might at first glance think I was doing a Crumb knock-off. In anticipation of that response, I contacted Robert (through our mutual agent, Denis Kitchen) early on in the process to get his blessing on my project. He enthusiastically did just that — which is good, as I wouldn’t have continued the project otherwise.

You mentioned the Muddy Waters cover portrait as an example of “what might have been.” I honestly have no idea as to what you are talking about; I don’t see any difference in style from that portrait to the portraits within the book. Ironically, because, like Crumb, I colored that piece mechanically in PhotoShop (the only piece in the book colored that way), to me it actually makes the cover image one step stylistically closer to Robert’s work than that of the interior images.

I’m glad you enjoyed the CD and the text, though (I tried to be more thorough and personal in my bios than the exceedingly short bios accompanying the Crumb cards; sorry about the small type!). Please give the pics another look, though. Keeping in mind what I have just written, I suspect you’ll find elements both substantively and stylistically that you might have missed on the first go-round.

PART ONE: In response to your review of my new book, Legends of the Blues:
I am sorry you didn’t look past the surface and “get” what I was trying to do with the portraits. Yep, the pics are in the same format as R. Crumb’s Heroes of the Blues cards (both working from old photos, same proportions, hand-lettered names and all inked with a pen, although in my case a crowquil and not Robert’s weapon of choice, a rapidograph, I believe. I prefer the juicier lines produced more easily by a crowquil). I was asked by Shout! Factory to work in that format to keep the CD covers of their blues series consistent.

Once I decided to continue to produce more of these portraits I looked for ways to differentiate my work from Robert’s. I only referred to Crumb’s portraits once in the entire process: to determine the proportions and lettering style so that my work would remain consistent — at least on the surface — with Crumb’s approach for the images used by Shout!

PART TWO: While our pen inking styles are similar, one could argue that I was as influenced by Jean “Moebius” Giraud’s inking as much as Crumb’s inking. In reality, all three of us just happen to ink in a similar style when we are holding a pen in our hand (I can send you stuff I did in 1970 inked in the same style). Since I was drawing fairly straight portraits (and not caricatures) I really can’t think of how I would have made these pictures different if given a second chance. I consistently searched for something in each photo that gave me some kind of an inner indication of the musician’s own personal character. The artistic takes of each blues musician all came from me, from deep inside of me, and no one else.

Crumb used flat mechanical color in his pieces. I decided to hand color each portrait with watercolor to make them look even more homemade and funkier.

PART THREE: I decided that some of the portraits should have backgrounds reflecting the musicians or their music (Robert’s didn’t), or that they include objects or background elements that reflected the artists or their songs (like John Lee Hooker’s “Crawling Kingsnake” or the Friday the 13th behind Albert King, referencing “Born Under a Bad Sign”, or the speeding train behind Tiny Bradshaw symbolizing his song “The Train Kept A-Rollin’”).

In coloring the second 50 images I accidentally discovered a new technique — not just one that Crumb had never tried, but an approach new to me as well. I expanded my pen inking technique to include inking made using Extra Fine Tip Sharpies of different colors, giving me beautiful, harmonious line work that was not quite as harsh as using pure black lines for all of the inking.

PART FOUR: Having said all that, I can still see where you might at first glance think I was doing a Crumb knock-off. In anticipation of that response, I contacted Robert (through our mutual agent, Denis Kitchen) early on in the process to get his blessing on my project. He enthusiastically did just that — which is good, as I wouldn’t have continued the project otherwise.

You mentioned the Muddy Waters cover portrait as an example of “what might have been.” I honestly have no idea as to what you are talking about; I don’t see any difference in style from that portrait to the portraits within the book. Ironically, because, like Crumb, I colored that piece mechanically in PhotoShop (the only piece in the book colored that way), to me it actually makes the cover image one step stylistically closer to Robert’s work than that of the interior images.

PART FIVE:
I’m glad you enjoyed the CD and the text, though (I tried to be more thorough and personal in my bios than the exceedingly short bios accompanying the Crumb cards; sorry about the small type!). Please give the pics another look, though. Keeping in mind what I have just written, I suspect you’ll find elements both substantively and stylistically that you might have missed on the first go-round.

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