Hello and welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading? Our special guest this week is Matthew Thurber of 1-800 Mice and Infomaniacs fame. To see what Matthew and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
Although I don’t really know much of anything about this Adventure Time! cartoon (although since I recently became a dad, I’m sure a lot of things that have escaped my notice, like Yo Gabba Gabba and the like, will become a big part of my world in the not-too-distant future) that BOOM! released as a comic this week, Caleb’s review yesterday made it sound like a lot of fun, so I’ve added the show to my TiVo and the comic to my buy list.
I also really dug this post by Aaron Reiner, which goes into heavy detail on the process of creating his back-up story for the first issue, which he drew and then painted with watercolors. “When my story was finally approved I decided I wanted to do it in watercolor… because I wanted to get the bright colors I love about the show, but I also really wanted it to be clear that I wasn’t trying to mimic the art of the show,” he says on his blog. “I wanted it to feel like my comic as well as a tribute to the program.”
You’ve heard it said that children are the future, and if that’s true—and it must be, since they’ll be around for more of the future than we adults will be—it’s as true for comics as it is for whatever else people mean when they say children are the future.
So what sorts of comic books are we providing for our children, our future these days? As it turns out, some pretty good ones—hell, some pretty great ones.
This week saw the release of three particular comic books–not graphic novels or tankobon, but good-old-fashioned 20-some pages and some staples comic books—that featured superior writing and art, some of that art coming from world-class cartoonists.
And all three of those comics, oddly enough, are based on cartoon series.
When I was a child, there were comic books based on cartoons (cartoons that were often based on toy lines), and while they were readily available in drug and grocery stores, and you could buy one with a dollar bill and get change back, they weren’t exactly the highest quality product.
But some of today’s based-on-cartoons comics can put to shame much of what the “Big Six” direct market publishers release for their grown-up audiences.
All this week at Robot 6 we’re interviewing some of the many contributors to First Second’s new anthology, Nursery Rhyme Comics. Today, Michael May talks to cartoonist Aaron Renier.
Aaron Renier first came to comics fans’ attention with his childlike, but suspenseful Spiral-Bound, a Top Shelf graphic novel that earned him the Eisner for Talent Deserving Wider Recognition in 2006. Last year, he gained some of that recognition with his adventurous and spooky The Unsinkable Walker Bean from First Second. This year finds him still with First Second illustrating one of the more obscure (to me, anyway; Lewis Carroll fans will undoubtedly recognize it) nursery rhymes in their collection.
Michael May: For those who aren’t familiar with “The Lion and Unicorn,” can you explain the history behind it?
Aaron Renier: Sure. The history behind it is that in the early 17th Century, England and Scotland became unified and they needed a new coat of arms. So they took one of the two lions from the English coat of arms and one of the two unicorns from the Scottish coat of arms. One lion and one unicorn to symbolize the unity for the new British coat of arms. But when I read the poem I saw it as something much stranger, and colorful. So I tried to ignore that knowledge.
Tomorrow marks the release of First Second’s Nursery Rhyme Comics: 50 Timeless Rhymes from 50 Celebrated Cartoonists. To mark the release of the Chris Duffy-edited project, Robot 6 is interviewing five of the 50 cartoonists throughout this week. The first interview is with Eleanor Davis, the Athens, Georgia-based creator who contributes The Queen of Hearts nursery rhyme to the collection. Davis’ most recent book was The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook (Bloomsbury).
Tim O’Shea: Your two-page layout has a whole lot of story going on it, yet retains a great narrative flow at the same time. How much revision did you endure with the layout before you achieved the flow you sought?
Eleanor Davis: I wrote and drew the comic last January. It was kind of tricky — it was hard to make everything fit in those tiny panels.
O’Shea: What enticed you to tackle the Queen of Hearts in particular?
Davis: I was enticed by Chris Duffy telling me to. I felt lucky to get it tho, it’s a great rhyme and the perfect vehicle for my commie pinko propaganda.
Nominees were selected by a panel of judges — Michael Allred, Brandon Graham, Laura Hudson, Michael Ring and Jason Leivian — from among the entries submitted earlier this year. Winners were determined by an online vote.
The winners are:
Best Artist: Emily Carroll, His Face All Red
Best Writer: Aaron Renier, The Unsinkable Walker Bean
Best Cartoonist: Bryan Lee O’Malley, Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour
Best Letterer: Johnny Ryan, Prison Pit #2
Best Colorist: Emily Carroll, His Face All Red
Best Publication Design: Michael DeForge, Spotting Deer
Best Anthology: Studygroup 12 #4, edited by Zack Soto
Best Small Press: I Want You #2 by Lisa Hanawalt
Best New Talent: Michael DeForge
Reader’s Choice: Pang, the Wandering Shaolin Monk by Ben Costa
Director’s Choice: The Sixth Gun, by Brian Hurtt and Cullen Bunn, published by Oni Press
The Unsinkable Walker Bean
Written and Illustrated by Aaron Renier
First Second; $13.99
As popular as pirates are, you’d think there’d be more comics featuring them. Certainly there’ve been some good ones over the years. Isaac the Pirate and Polly and the Pirates immediately come to mind, but the most recent of those is more than two years old. And even then, that’s not a lot of pirate comics for a time when Jack Sparrow was the hottest thing going at the box office. Since then, there’s been what? Boom! did a nice one-shot called Pirate Tales about four years ago and there was also Galveston, a pirate-Western mash-up by the same publisher, in 2008. That’s not a lot, but maybe I’m missing some. Let me know in the comments. It’s hard to believe that we haven’t even had a licensed Pirates of the Caribbean comic yet (outside of some short stories in the old Disney Adventures Magazine). That sounds like a no-brainer.
One reason for the shortage of pirate comics may be that it’s damn hard, apparently, to write an original pirate story. I interviewed Chuck Dixon about it back when he was promoting CrossGen’s El Cazador. When I asked him how we end up with so many bad pirate stories, he said that the problem is not having a story in the first place, but relying on a string of clichés and hoping that’ll suffice. As anyone who’s seen Cutthroat Island or that Walter Matthau movie will tell you, that’s true. You need a lot more than just peg legs, buried treasure, and a character who talks like Robert Newton.
Aaron Renier’s doing his part though. The Unsinkable Walker Bean is as original as it is swashbuckling and adventurous. It’s the story of a young boy named Walker Bean who’s never been to sea, but comes from an ocean-faring family. In fact, his father and grandfather both serve in the navy of the fictional country they belong to.
At SPX this past weekend, First Second’s Gina Gagliano told me that cartoonist Aaron Renier was headed up to Maurice Sendak’s home after the convention, as he was one of four young illustrators who won a grant from the brand-new Sendak Fellowship, which, if I understood it correctly, gives aspiring artists the chance to meet, workshop and work on various projects for several weeks at Sendak’s house, as well as soak up wisdom from the author of In the Night Kitchen.
It was hard for me to think of an all-ages cartoonist more deserving of such an opportunity. He came roaring out of the gate in 2007 with the anthropomorphic Spiral Bound, which showcased his deft ability at dealing with a large cast of characters and detailed environments and landscapes. His new book from First Second, The Unsinkable Walker Bean, a rousing tale involving sea monsters, pirates, mysterious curses and a plucky, inventive youngster, should serve to cement his reputation and prove that Renier knows how to craft a sweeping, intricate, epic tale.
I sent Renier a list of questions (via Ms. Gagliano) about his new book that he was kind enough to respond to before he trucked off somewhere where the wild things are and think about comics and children’s books. It was much appreciated.
What was the impetus for Walker Bean? Where did you get the initial idea for the story and how did it develop over time?
The impetus for Walker Bean was the opportunity to propose a brand new story to a brand new publisher. I wasn’t able to use my characters from my first book Spiral-Bound, so I wanted to think up something very different. Humans were the first big leap… and then I thought it’d be fun to try and do something resembling a period piece. I’ve always been interested in nautical adventures ever since I was very little, so the rest just seemed to form from there.