PREVIEWS: "Spider-Gwen," "Chewbacca" & More Marvel Comics on Sale October 14, 2015
What’s this affection we have for personifications of popular holidays? Santa can’t just be this weird elf who lives in the North Pole and breaks all laws of physics to shimmy down a chimney that’s too small for him. No, that guy is literally Christmas. If little children were to, say, stop believing in him, he’d up and disappear like Tinkerbell in Peter Pan. If Christmas doesn’t exist, Santa doesn’t exist. Hence, he attains this almost god-like status, presiding over the other holidays like Zeus on Mount Olympus.
The idea has been explored in more popular venues, such as Jack Skellington as the long-limbed King of Halloween in The Nightmare Before Christmas and Santa Claus as a jovial, sword-wielding Cossack in The Rise of the Guardians. (No, not the one with the owls.) If anything, drawing on familiar properties allows creators to fancifully tweak characters that have long been in the public domain. A surly Easter Bunny played by Hugh Jackman? Who would’ve heard of such a thing? Webcomics are represented as well. The most notorious is probably the Christmas adventures that Bun-Bun would have in the pages of Sluggy Freelance.
In Holiday Wars, by Scott King, Michael Odom, Guiseppe Pica and Aturo Said (Volume 1), the personification of holidays is front and center. So what fuels this horrible holiday-on-holiday violence? Basically the core tenets of most stories of this genre: that Santa is beloved, Christmas is the most popular holiday by far, and the Easter Bunny is a total jerk. (It’s got to be those creepy buckteeth.) After the old gods left Earth, the popular holidays band together to keep order and to ward off malevolent spirits, thereby protecting humanity.
The old-school black-and-white sketches are a very good fit for Abby Howard’s macabre sense of humor. This becomes quite apparent in Chapter 4 of The Last Halloween. Characters and horror creatures in previous chapters have generally been more — how do I say it? — adorable? The eight-legged creature that stalks Mona at the opening of the comic looks like something designed by the Jim Henson Creature Shop for the Storytellers series. Visually distinct, but not the stuff of nightmares necessarily.
The monsters of Chapter 4 are more creepily organic like hairless, feral humans. They actually remind me of the creature from XTro, a little-known horror classic that most people would write off as camp until that backward-jointed creature shambles onto the screen.
Kate Beaton remains one of the most recognizable names in webcomics. Hark! A Vagrant began as humorous doodles posted to LiveJournal but has since become one of the most-loved webcomics in the world. It’s been nominated for several awards, winning the Harvey twice for Best Online Comic. In 2011, Time named Beaton’s collection (published by Drawn & Quarterly) one of the Top 10 fiction books of the year.
It’s not difficult to see why Beaton’s comics are popular: Her style is unmistakable; it’s loose and deceptively simple, as if she just had a funny notion only seconds ago, and yet manages to be successfully comedic with its goofiness, bug-eyed faces and rubbery body language. Her love of history helps, too (she has a bachelor’s degree in history and anthropology from Mount Allison University). There’s a lot of life that goes into both the caricatures of royal dead dudes and the attention to detail on the period costumes. And then Beaton has them act and talk like a bunch of teens. It’s a magical formula that combines goofiness with an air of respectability… like, say, a classy Victorian lady smoking a cigarette and talking like an urban tough guy. It’s the sort of thing that gets her invited to participate in a diverse array of projects, from Marvel’s non-canon superhero anthology Strange Tales to the notoriously sophisticated (and sometimes inscrutable) pages of The New Yorker.
A long time ago — say, 1999 — in a galaxy not so far away, the history of interlocking bricks was altered forever when, for the first time, LEGO licensed an intellectual property. X-Wings, TIE Fighter, and AT-ATs had been designed and assembled by hobbyists for years, but now you could put together a design that was blessed by both LEGO Corporation and Lucasfilm! Complete with actual minifigs! The agreement managed to coincide with the rise of several nerdier properties, and the once unthinkable was now possible. What a glorious future we live in to have both a LEGO Gandalf and a LEGO Rocket Raccoon?
But this world isn’t always met with open arms. As Professor Cane on Community once lamented, “What happened with LEGOs? They used to be simple.” Some fear that the focus on licensed merchandise — and the specialty parts that it takes to make, say, the Batwing — places limits on a child’s creativity. The diversity of available parts seem to be a godsend for Internet content creators, however. How It Should Have Ended’s parody of The LEGO Movie looks like it could have come straight off the screen. Meanwhile, some enterprising souls put together a LEGO version of Star Wars: The Force Awakens just one day after the official trailer debuted.
Long, long ago there was a little movie called Star Wars, and it and its two sequels became the highest-grossing movies of all time. Yet, there was a time the interstellar saga wasn’t quite as mighty a pop culture juggernaut as it is today. Some time between President Reagan’s “Star Wars” SDI initiative and Lucas’ CG retooling of his cinematic babies, Star Wars existed primarily in the books, comics and video games that made up the Expanded Universe. Star Wars was a nerdier pursuit, when the true fans followed the adventures of Mara Jade and Admiral Thrawn.
Since the prequel trilogy, Star Wars has barreled back into the mainstream like a hungry Rancor. Merchandise depicting Darth Vader, Yoda and newcomers named Asajj Ventress and Savage Oppress peek from the shelves of every Toys R Us, Walmart and FYE.
If there’s something Star Wars fans love to do, however, it’s laugh at themselves: For example, Jeffrey Brown has released three books that play around with the idea of Darth Vader as a doting father. Darths & Droids, meanwhile, has turned screenshots of the Star Wars saga into a long role-playing game.
It seems as if most webcomics are designed to run more or less forever. That’s par for the course with comics in general, really: It’s not like we really expect Action Comics or Garfield to reach a logical terminus any time soon. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any great completed narratives in webcomics, however.
Evan Dahm never left his world of Overside. He’s chronicled its history with Order of Tales, and he’s now continuing the story with Vattu. The latter was recently honored at Small Press Expo with the Ignatz Award for Best Online Comic. The first of the Overside stories may still be the best, though.
Rice Boy, like the follow-up stories, follows the outline of a hero’s journey, with the title characgter called away from his mundane life by a wise man (here named The One Electric) to follow a life of adventure. Rice Boy journeys through various strange lands and meets a colorful cast of characters on his way toward an epic battle.
Superheroes are all the rage these days. They’ve already conquered the multiplex, and now they’re poised to conquer the small screen. This could be a good thing or a bad thing. A lot of fans are already a bit wary these days, what with The Flash and Constantine joining Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Arrow as TV shows based on comic properties. And that’s not even counting the upcoming Agent Carter, the online streaming projects and the potential Supergirl show. It’s cause for both much excitement and much anxiety.
Perhaps nothing carried a bigger bull’s eye on its back than FOX’s Gotham. Pitched as a look at Gotham before there was a Batman, the show already faced several significant hurdles. There was the fact that it was coming right off the very successful Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy. There were the stories of extensive retooling of the pilot to shoehorn even more villains-before-they-were-villains cameos (Edward Nygma, Poison Ivy, and Catwoman, specifically). And there were the fans who’d been looking forward to a Gotham Central show, but were becoming increasingly disheartened when it became more and more apparent that the show wasn’t going to do that.
After four years and an Eisner nomination, Ben Towles’ Oyster War is coming to an end. The webomic is based on an obscure chapter in American history, in which oyster pirates and legal fishermen fought over the rights to the harvest in Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River. (Apparently, oysters used to be much larger and way cheaper before overfishing devastated the entire industry.) Don’t expect a straight history lesson, however: Towles’ version is visually more cartoon; he also embellishes his story with some fantastical elements, like a witch who turns into a seal, and a sea monster.
The old-school aesthetic of Oyster War recalls a style popular during the early 20th century, and the seaside town of Blood’s Haven, with its narrow corridors and piers that stretch past the shore, resembles Thimble Theatre‘s Sweethaven. While backgrounds are simple and minimalistic, close-ups are lovingly textured. The characters are simple cartoony designs: bulbous noses, brush-like mustaches, block-shaped heads and stocky bodies.
The influence behind Sean Lindsay’s Spinnerette should be pretty obvious — after all, the webcomic is about a young superhero with spider-based superpowers. Another dead giveaway is her original costume, which looks like something nicked from Julia Carpenter’s wardrobe. (In story, it’s because she bought some Venom costumes.) Lindsay has a bit of a laugh about that, as he includes a sequence in which Spinnerette receives a cease-and-desist letter from Marvel.
An accident with an experimental laser gives Heather Brown incredible muscle tone, two extra sets of arms and web-shooting abilities. Inconveniently, the latter is anatomically correct and webbing comes right out of her butt. The extra arms are a bit of a problem, too, as they certainly prove problematic to her secret identity. To hide her arms, she must wear a fat suit.
Superhero webcomics have generally been tongue-in-cheek, following less in the footsteps of Jack Kirby and more in the superhero-parody vein of Ben Edlund. Spinnerette is no exception; it’s unapologetically up to its ears in cheesecake. If male gaze is a sticking point for you, then you’ll probably find a lot to complain about. However, it almost becomes a joke in itself. There is, for example, one supervillain whose main characteristic is being ridiculously stacked (and given that this is Spinnerette we’re talking about, that’s saying something).
Once upon a time, during the imaginatively fertile period known as the Monday Night Wars, my sister described pro wrestling to me as superheroes … except in real life! Truly, she knew where my passions lay.
Yet, I was skeptical. What was the appeal of a sport that everyone already knew was (SPOILER ALERT!) totally fake. I decided to take her up on her ostentatious claim and caught an episode of WCW Thunder. While I can’t say she was 100 percent correct, she got me hooked on wrestling for life. There was a lot of elements that did cross over: the colorful costumes, the larger-than-life gimmicks, and the bombastic hero and villain speeches. Comics may have gravitated away from the era in which every speech bubble ended in an exclamation point, but wrestling never grew up.
Historically, the backstage realities (called “shoots”) and the scripted stories (called “kayfabe”) have been kept separate, with the former only made known through sketchy publications nicknamed “dirtsheets.” You’d think that, with the rise of the Internet and the availability of information, wrestling would become a relic of the past. Instead, it remains popular. It may actually be a better fit in this decade, as almost all of reality television now treads the same blurry line between “fact” and fiction. When Lina approaches the Rana King on NBC’s The Quest, for example, is it a shoot or a kayfabe? Even more insidiously, wrestling has found a way to fake viewer participation, aka the kayfabe of the digital age.
Not too long ago, I became aware of something called “seapunk.” After steampunk and deiselpunk, I had initially thought this was another strange technology-based trend based on the legitimate “cyberpunk” where geeks were far more interested in the aesthetic qualities rather than anything making sense. As it turns out, “seapunk” is far less serious.
Unlike the other variations, seapunk leans far more heavily on the “punk” part. There’s a ton of bright colors — teals, purples and greens — plus mermaids, dolphins and other aquatic life.
There’s also the inherent silliness, which includes ’90s nostalgia. Search “seapunk” on Tumblr (the alleged breeding ground for this microculture) and you run into the sorts of jerky animated GIFs and visual callbacks to Windows 95. While it may not necessarily be aesthetically pleasing, its off-putting, incongruous visuals are part of the charm.
There’s a theory that the American obsession with the apocalypse stems from Manifest Destiny: As settlers pushed west, they encountered things that would strain the threads tying them to civilization. Storms rolling across the flat plains could be seen from man miles away, and they posed a considerable threat to the livelihoods of entire communities. During the pitch-black night, there would be ominous noises — frightening howls, thunderclaps, maybe even the unexpected sound of a human voice.
There would be precious few things you can do in a world where law is stretched thin, except keep a well-stocked cellar and a loaded shotgun.
That may explain why a lot of North American post-apocalyptic fiction tends to look like the Wild West. While we may think we’re too cool for cowboys and Indians, it may have just morphed to satisfy the primal survival instincts of modern thrill-seekers. After all, aren’t armored, nomadic warlords just bandits and desperadoes with a shiny new coat of paint? It’s probably no accident that The Walking Dead‘s Rick Grimes dressed a lot like a frontier sheriff, or why the women in Katniss Everdeen’s district look as if they stepped out of a little house on the prairie.
(This post contains spoilers for Opplopolis Proceed at your own caution.)
This week, Kit Roebuck’s Opplopolis starts Issue 14 as the entire saga slowly but surely approaching its planned conclusion with Issue 20. It’s been a strange journey thus far, full of odd little left turns. There’s a moment, for example, that seems to be a visual homage to The Shining. Agnes, an artist, is invited to a high-class celebrity party where she’s already a bit out of place; she even needs her clothes ripped to shreds just so she can fit in. Thinking it a public service to the fashion-impaired, manufactured pop celebrity Vesper takes a pair of scissors to the artist’s dowdy outfit to create a new dress that shows a bit more skin.
Agnes decides to cut loose a little on the dance floor, but her way to the bathroom she encounters a slightly disturbing sight: When she peeks in an open door, she sees two men wearing animal masks while playing a card game. Eventually, a third person wearing an upside-down cat mask shuts the door in Agnes’ face (revealing a word that forms the comic’s central mystery).
The female heroes of Kate Ashwin’s Widdershins share a lot of personality traits. Harriet “Harry” Barber, for example, is a cool, collected bounty hunter of the pre-Victorian era who’s often shown pondering a mystery while puffing smoke from her pipe. She’s also a bit of a loner; her face is frequently twisted in a tired scowl, and there’s a slight bags under her eyes. There’s a little bit of Rorschach in her, too, as interesting clues are greeted with a “hrm.” She’s definitely the smartest person in the room, but she’s also proud. Her reluctance to accept any help is driven, partially, by her need to prove that she and she alone solved the case.
I didn’t know who Boulet was until this week. I imagine this statement is going to hang over my head, more damning with the passing of each year, like being a big fan of comics, yet having no idea who Hergé is. You’d be all, “Get out of here, you uncultured swine.” Fortunately, we live in an age in which Wikipedia exists. After a few searches it’s easy to catch up and go, “Yeah … I’m totally into Boulet.” A nervous giggle may or may not follow.
Who is Boulet? It turns out it’s the pen name of Gilles Roussel, one of France’s earliest and most famous webcomic creators. Bouletcorp has been running since 2004, and its strips have been collected in seven printed volumes.
His talents are also on display in other French print works, such as the sword-and-sorcery parody comic Donjon Zénith. Stateside, Boulet has illustrated Augie & The Green Knight, a children’s book written by fellow webcomic creator Zachary Wiener that managed to raise an amazing $384,000 through Kickstarter, totally smashing its humble $30,000 goal. (What’s being done with all that extra cash? It’s going to fund the printing of 800 copies of the book, which will be donated to libraries.)