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The Devastator #8: “Crossovers”
By Various Writers and Artists
Edited by Geoffrey Golden and Amanda Meadows
People love crossovers. That’s not news, but I’ve never stopped and wondered why that is. What exactly is so cool about someone from Universe X running into someone from Universe Y? Or even people from different corners of the same universe meeting each other? And why do some crossovers work really well when others are so disappointing? The most recent issue of the humor anthology The Devastator explores crossovers in a way that’s of course funny, but also helps me understand what makes a great one, and why.
Devastator #8 features comics and pin-ups by a lot of great artists, as well as short stories, essays, infographics and epic poetry. On one level, it’s fun simply to read through and giggle at Box Brown’s Punisher/New Yorker mash-up or spot the references in Jim Rugg’s cover. But the more I read, the more I realized that The Devastator was scratching a crossover itch in a way that’s more satisfying than most of the actual crossovers it’s parodying.
Continuing my ever-ongoing look at new comics from relatively new publishers, here are three books I recently received from the New Jersey-based Hic & Hoc:
The Hic & Hoc Illustrated Journal of Humor, edited by Lauren Barnett & Nathan Bulmer ($10): It’s about time we had a decent humor-themed anthology; we’re long overdue. While none of the contributions contained in this 64-page comic reaches the level of divinely inspired hilarity, there are nevertheless some pretty great contributions from folks like Noah Van Sciver, Bort, Sam Henderson, Grant Snider, Dustin Harbin and Julia Wertz. My favorite is probably a sex comic by Sam Spina in which the participants say the most bizarrely un-sexy things (“I have to tell the rainforest a secret,” “Mash my bean bags”). The stories run from the outrageous to the gentle and observant but it all flows together nicely. Good job everyone. I look forward to the second volume.
Me Likes You Very Much by Lauren Barnett ($14): Here’s a case of a cartoonist finding a unique niche and working the hell out of it. Just about every gag in this 192-page book involves fruit, vegetables and birds being absolutely horrid to each other. (Baby bird: “My tummy hurts.” Mom bird: “That’s because you’re filled with lies.”) Her art style is deliberately crude — (her occasional realistic renderings of animals suggest she does have some genuine artistic talent — which adds to the general absurdity of the gags. For the most part, this stuff is pretty funny, or at least funny enough to make you forgive the occasional weak punchline or just plain odd non sequitur. But while it goes down pretty quickly, I suspect these types of comics work best in small doses, i.e. a minicomic or thrice-weekly webcomic. I’m not sure this chunky book format offers the best sort of presentation for her work. That’s not to say it’s not worth reading. There’s enough funny stuff here that will provide some good chuckles and the occasional guffaw. Perhaps it’s just that I’d like to see her extend her reach a bit beyond the static one-panel gag format the next time she publishes something of this size.
Conventions | The New York Post previews what’s now called the Wizard World Comic Con NYC Experience, which kicks off in about three hours at Basketball City (Pier 36) in New York City: “Wizard cons, which are kind of a traveling road show hitting cities across the country, tend to focus more on celebrity appearances and (paid) meet-and-greets than other shows. But they still have plenty of programming that will scratch a given itch. And there will be plenty of comics/memorabilia/ephemera dealers to help empty your wallet. [Parallel Worlds]
Editorial cartoons | The Cartoonists Rights Network International will honor Syrian cartoonist Akram Raslan, who has been imprisoned on charges of sedition for the past seven months because of his cartoons critical of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. [The Salt Lake Tribune]
There’s a growing number of small-press publishers popping up these days, from Koyama Press to Oily Comics and beyond. No doubt that’s in large part due to the increasing number of indie-comics conventions like CAKE and SPX, the relative ease of selling your work online, more and more cartoonists trained in basic printing and business skills thanks to schools like the Center for Cartoon Studies, and perhaps even more affordable printing technologies. (I’m guessing at that last one. OK, I’m guessing at all of these.)
Whatever the reason, we are blessed (or, depending on your viewpoint, cursed) with a plethora of minicomics from new and up-and-coming cartoonists. Here then are some short-ish reviews of minis that came to my doorstep from two relatively new publishers: Yeti Press and Retrofit Comics.
Our Ever Improving Living Room by Kevin Budnik ($20): This is a chunky-sized collection of a series of four-panel journal comics Budnik did while attending college. It’s similar in style and presentation to James Kochalka’s American Elf, although Budnik portrays himself as being a bit more reserved and anxious than Kochalka. It seems like just about everyone and their cat is doing a diary comic of some form these days, and while I can appreciate how the daily rigamarole of that type of comic can improve one’s artistic and storytelling skill, there’s always a danger in discovering that the examined life turns out to be rather dull. While he’s not above highlighting the cute moment or indulging in some unnecessary naval-gazing, Budnik manages to avoid many of the pitfalls of his peers by possessing a self-effacing sense of humor and an appreciation for the minor victories and miseries of life. This is early work, and rough at times, but it shows a good deal of promise and I want to see what he does next.
The business model of Box Brown’s Retrofit Comics is old school all the way: He’s doing print editions, on paper and everything, of indie comics and selling them individually and by subscription. But he added a new twist this week when he announced on the Retrofit Tumblr that if the number of subscriptions reaches 130 (it was at 122 that day) by this Friday, every subscriber will get a two-color riso print (in full below). I find the concept of stretch goals fascinating, as they allow some customers to benefit from decisions made by others — I thought this was a good deal, so I subscribed, and now that a bunch of other people have subscribed as well, I get a free print.
While the whole rest of the world, it seems, is experimenting with digital comics, Box Brown has been going the opposite direction, publishing indie print comics through his own Retrofit Comics. I talked to him when he was launching the first season of Retrofit Comics, in fall 2011, and now that he’s back for a second round, I thought it would be a good time to ask him what he learned from the first iteration and what he will be doing differently this time.
Robot 6: What did you learn from your first year as the publisher of Retrofit Comics?
Box Brown: I think I spread myself too thin. I released 17 comics in about 18 months while working on a graphic novel of my own and I was working too hard. I wasn’t able to give each release the attention it deserved. Also, I learned a lot about “seasons” in the retail world. Stuff slows down a lot in the Summer. And, I think I also learned that people actually wanted a comic from Box Brown the cartoonist as well. Publishing your own work until a brand like this is kind of a weird feeling. I think I was uncomfortable with it for a while, but I’ve learned to say “fuck it”
After finding out about Box Brown‘s comics here at Robot 6 last year, I’ve been following his work intently. And now I get the opportunity to show off a little gem of a story Brown just posted online for free. It’s a short Brown wrote and illustrated called “Sock” about a teenage boy getting drunk and trying to hit on a girl, and being sucked into a sidebar conversation with his nerdish friend. In true Brown style he finds a way to work talk about pro wrestling, but I’m not complaining … brother.
Brown is offering “Sock” as a print minicomic for sale online and from his convention appearances, so I was shocked to see him put it online for free — but hey, it’s great comics so I can’t turn it down.
MICE, the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo, is like a mini-MoCCA for the Boston area. Sponsored by the Boston Comics Roundtable and the Art Institute of Boston, MICE is in its third year, and last year’s show was such a hit that tables for this year sold out within three hours. The headline guest is R. Sikoryak, and the roster includes Box Brown, Ming Doyle, Cathy Leamy, Kevin Church, Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue (who will be debuting their latest Pet Shop Private Eye book at the show), Adventure Time team Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline, and many more too numerous to mention (more than 150 in all). Besides Venable and Yue’s book, there are several other debuts at the show, including the Boston Comics Roundtable’s Hellbound III, Cathy Leamy’s Diabetes Is After Your Dick and Mike Lynch’s Don’t Let the Zombie Drive the Bus.
As much as I love the big shows, and I’ll move heaven and earth to get to New York Comic Con every year, I really enjoy smaller shows like this. Boston has a lot of native and nearby comics talent, and while the room does get crowded at times, it’s still more laid back than a big con. You get to see talent at all stages of its development and interact with creators while they are still making their comics by hand. Plus it’s in a great location, easy to get to and with a ton of good restaurants nearb y— no shriveled-up turkey sandwiches for $9 a pop or fake coffee in a Styrofoam cup. Admission is free, too. So if you’re in the area, hop on the T and check it out.
It seems like Box Brown has been making comics for a long time, so it’s a bit of a shock to realize that when First Second Books publishes his Andre the Giant next year, it will be his first full-length graphic novel. Brown is the creator of the webcomic Bellen and Everything Dies (which doesn’t seem to be available online, except for this). An episode from that comic, “Ben Died of a Train,” won the Ignatz Award for Best Comic. Most recently, his The Survivalist was published by U.K. publisher Blank Slate.
Brown is also the moving force behind Retrofit Comics, which published a number of indy one-shot comics in print format, as well as several Kickstarters; the latest is an anthology in the spirit of the alt-manga magazine Garo.
Andre the Giant is a big step for Brown, who is going from self-published and small-press indy comics to a graphic novel from a big publisher. So naturally, I had some questions, which he was kind enough to answer.
Robot 6: What interested you about Andre the Giant, and why do you think his story is a good fit for the comics medium?
I grew up a big wrestling fan. And, at some point last year found myself looking up Andre on the Internet. I read that Andre got a ride to school from Samuel Beckett when he was a kid. I had two free weeks before SPX and thought that would make a good zine. Then I just kept diving back in for more. And eventually I’d assembled 100 pages worth of Andre stories.
Guess what? You don’t get to call yourself underground if you’re on Kickstarter. Guess what else? You don’t get to call yourself a publisher either; you’re just someone who pays a printing bill. Take pre-orders on your site. Sell your boots. Do what you have to do. But don’t go begging for money so that you can then give 5% of it to Amazon.com, which is actively trying to put you (!), and the stores you hope to shove this shit into, out of business.
Dan Nadel, objecting to Box Brown and Ian Harker’s Kickstarter campaign to fund their anthology of comics inspired by the Japanese magazine Garo. (Dan also objected to the book on intellectual grounds, but everyone who would have argued with him about that is at Otakon this weekend.)
These days I only get miffed at Kickstarters when it’s someone asking for people to pay for them to quit their jobs. The SP guys [Brown and Harker] make some fun books and usually only take in as much money as they need plus a bit for production costs, then give the damned things away for free. They’re good yeggs with their hearts in the right place, and certainly didn’t deserve to get kicked in the teeth on TCJ. If Kickstarter is the way folks are getting their stuff out there now, fine by me. Getting uppity about someone using a popular site whose name is instantly recognized in the minds of millions of people, but being totally cool with hosting the exact same thing on your own site which get 4 hits a month (half from your mom) is fucking weird. Finding the best ways to get your material out there has always been the hardest part about making comics for me, if this makes it easier for someone, more power to them.
Some guy named Cheese, providing the counterpoint.
Creator Ryan Estrada has created a new digital comics site, The Whole Story, that—if it succeeds—could change the whole way digital comics are sold.
The site basically delivers what people have been clamoring for: Downloadable, DRM-free comics at a reasonable price. In fact, until July 23, the starter bundle is pay-what-you-want (with a $1 minimum, which sounds reasonable). The rest of the comics are sold in bundles with various extras thrown in—it’s sort of like Kickstarter, only with instantaneous delivery. Even more Kickstarter-y: On the FAQ page, Estrada promises to make more rewards, such as being drawn into his comics, available via Twitter.
Who’s on board? A host of indy creators, that’s who: The free bundle gets you comics by Estrada and Box Brown as well as Fusion Elementary, illustrated by Nam Dong Yoon and written by Meredith Gran, Jeffrey Brown, C. Spike Trotman, and other luminaries, most of whom have made their names in the webcomics world. At the higher levels, you get more new books by Brown and Yoon, and for $200 you can get download links to share with ten friends.
By cutting out the middleman, Estrada also cuts out a lot of the nonsense involved with digital comics purchases, such as licenses, geographical restrictions, and DRM. The sales mechanism is a bit clumsy at the moment—he e-mails out the higher-priced bundles by hand—but this site might have the right combination of talent and user-friendliness to really be a game changer.
Welcome to Food or Comics?, where every week we talk about what comics we’d buy at our local comic shop based on certain spending limits — $15 and $30 — as well as what we’d get if we had extra money or a gift card to spend on a splurge item.
If I had $15, I’d first snap up a book I’ve been trying to track down for years: Amazing Spider-Man: Hooky (Marvel, $4.99). This 1986 lost classic features Bernie Wrightson drawing a webhead story featuring monsters and alternate worlds – looks like a real gem. Now to convince Marvel to republish John Paul Leon’s Logan: Path of the Warlord… Next up would be Secret Service #1 (Marvel/Icon, $2.99). I’ll buy pretty much anything Dave Gibbons puts out these days, and seeing him with Mark Millar is bound to be a unique experience. Next up is Saga #2 (Image, $2.99); Brian K. Vaughn is really setting up a world – like a sci-fi sitcom here, with loads of direction to go in. Lastly I’d get Conan the Barbarian #3 (Dark Horse, $3.50). Can I admit I might like this more than Northlanders? Brian Wood’s definitely expanding how people think of him with this story, and Becky Cloonan is making a lot of editors look foolish for not putting her on these kinds of books sooner.
If I had $30, I’d start out with Secret #1 (Image, $3.50). Manhattan Projects seems more up my alley than this story, but Jonathan Hickman’s built up some credit in me to try anything new he puts out even if I’m not too interested. Next up would be Northlanders #50 (DC/Vertigo, $2.99), which I’m sad to see go. I think this will be one of those series that achieves more popularity after it’s over, and it’s a shame DC can’t find a way to continue it. After that it would be Glory #25 (Image, $2.99). I was a bit shaky on the story after Joe Keatinge’s first issue, but everything after has really put the pieces into place and Ross Campbell seems to be finding his footing to really land the superheroics of this story. Last up would be Secret Avengers #25 (Marvel, $3.99); Rick Remender’s clearly put his own spin to this series, so much I’m surprised Marvel didn’t use this as a chance to renumber the series… but I’m glad they didn’t.
If I could splurge, I’d throw money at my comic retailer for Pete and Miriam (Boom!, $14.99). Big fan of Rich Tommaso, and he seems to be honing his craft like a knife, creating more pointed and poignant stories here. And Miriam, she’s a real gem.
Creators | Watchmen writer Alan Moore responds to recent comments made by The Dark Knight Returns creator Frank Miller: “I think that the Occupy movement is, in one sense, the public saying that they should be the ones to decide who’s too big to fail. It’s a completely justified howl of moral outrage and it seems to be handled in a very intelligent, non-violent way, which is probably another reason why Frank Miller would be less than pleased with it. I’m sure if it had been a bunch of young, sociopathic vigilantes with Batman make-up on their faces, he’d be more in favour of it. We would definitely have to agree to differ on that one.” [Honest Publishing]
1. What comic-related gift or gifts would you recommend giving this year, and why?
2. What gift (comic or otherwise) is at the top of your personal wish list, and why?
Ho-ho-hopefully you’ve gotten the chance to check out the previous three installments. If not, it isn’t too late:
Part 1: Jim McCann, Matt Kindt, Daryl Gregory, Jim “Zub” Zubkavich, Jamie S. Rich, Ryan Cody
Part 2: Jeff Parker, Tim Seeley, Ross Campbell, Kody Chamberlain, Ian Brill, Jamaica Dyer
Part 3: Mike Carey, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Kagan McLeod, Kevin Colden, Thom Zahler, Van Jensen
And here is today’s round-up …
1. For the kids (or kids-at-heart): Okie Dokie Donuts by Chris “Elio” Eliopoulos – One of my favorite books of the year. Each page is crammed to the brim with kinetic artwork and fun comics!
For the art lover: “Behold! The Dinosaurs!” print by Dustin Harbin – Absolutely gorgeous print featuring one of my favorite subjects: Dinosaurs!
For the comic strip enthusiast: Mickey Mouse by Floyd Gottfredson – Super engaging strips that are full of life and very funny. I’m very glad that Fantagraphics is publishing these.
For the manga reader: Cross Game by Mitsuru Adachi – A recent series that I’ve been infatuated with after having it recommended to me by several friends. A manga with a very welcoming atmosphere and tons of heart.
For the indie-minded: A few comics from Blank Slate Books: Dinopopolous by Nick Edwards and The Survivalist by Box Brown – Two great-looking books from a publisher that might be off some folks’ radars at the moment. I haven’t even read these yet, and I feel confident recommending them!
2. Well, my dad has a long-standing tradition of giving me a volume of the Complete Peanuts collections for birthdays and holidays, so I’ve got that covered. Let’s see…
I suppose there are a few Japanese imported books that would make the top of my list of things I’ve had my eye on, but haven’t had the chance/extra cash to buy for myself. These fall under the category of “Things That I’m Not Likely to Stumble Across In-Person and Say, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to get that!’” Two that come to mind are One Piece Green, a “databook” which contains a treasure-trove of sketches and notes from Eiichiro Oda from the years leading up to and during his epic manga series One Piece. I’ve also been eyeing some Shigeru Mizuki (Gegege No Kitaro, Onward Towards Our Noble Death) yokai encyclopedias that pop up on eBay. Those look Beautiful with a capital B!
While the rest of the world is going digital, Box Brown is heading in the other direction: Last month he launched Retrofit Comics with plans to publish 17 print comics by new and independent creators in the next 17 months. He got the seed money for Retrofit with a Kickstarter drive, and the launch comic was James Kochalka’s Fungus. All the books are by different artists, and most are one-shots, although Brown said he is open to creators incorporating their Retrofit comics into their ongoing series. This month’s release is Drag Bandits, by Colleen Frakes and Betsy Swardlick, which Brown describes as “kind of like The Scarlet Pimpernel, a woman dressed as a man and a man dressed as a woman, and it’s really exciting.” Comics by Pat Aulisio and Josh Bayer round out this year’s offerings, and plans for the future include an anthology in the spirit of the Japanese underground-manga magazine Garo, a project that Brown says was the brainchild of Ian Harker, editor of the free alt-comic newspaper Secret Prison. The comics are sold both in selected retail stores and by subscription, and Brown estimates he has 150 subscribers to the four-month package and a handful with six-month or twelve-month subscriptions.
While he is handling all this, Brown, who recently won two Ignatz Awards, continues to self-publish his own work, and Blank Slate will publish his graphic novel The Survivalist in December. We talked to him this past weekend about the genesis of Retrofit Comics and what it’s like to run a really, really small press.