Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Giant robots and wisecracking cats. They’re such great cartoon tropes that you wonder why someone hasn’t tried to mesh them together before now. But mesh they do in Brian Ralph’s Reggie-12, an episodic comic strip about an constantly plucky, ever-optimistic Astro Boy-like robot who constantly is saving the city he lives in from danger (usually in the form of other, bigger robots), only to face withering indifference from everyone back home, especially the afore-mentioned cat.
Originally serialized in the pages of Giant Robot magazine and other assorted comics anthologies, the Reggie-12 strips have now been collected in a handsome, oversize, hardbound book from Drawn and Quarterly. Ralph was at the Small Press Expo this year, signing copies of his new book and generally helping man the D& Q booth. I pulled him away for a bit and, once we found a place to sit down, peppered him with questions about Reggie-12.
Chris Mautner: When was the first appearance of Reggie-12? Do you remember when you started these strips?
Brian Ralph: You know, I don’t. I had done comics in Giant Robot earlier before Reggie-12. There was this thing I did called The Legend of Giant Robot. It wasn’t funny. It was trying to be an ongoing serialized comic. I just didn’t have the storytelling chops yet. I ended it and wanted to start something new. That’s when Reggie-12 started and it was such a better fit for the magazine. It’s hard to do a daily strip in a magazine that comes out every month. I got so much more story packed into a smaller space. I don’t know the exact year [it began] though. Ten years ago?
Happy Marriage?! Vol. 1 (Viz Media): Maki Enjoji’s Josei rom-com dispenses with the suspense of the typical will-they, won’t-they business, marrying off her heroine and the handsome, mysterious, prickly bachelor in the first chapter. Here, the couple starts off married, and then must get to know one another and fall in love.
Our heroine is Chiwa Takanashi, who works in an office by day and a hostess in a club by night, in an ultimately hopeless attempt to earn enough to get her ridiculous-with-money father out of his astronomical debt. She finds an unlikely way out of that situation when company president Hokuto Mamiya suddenly proposes marriage. It turns out the chairman of the board (and Hokuto’s grandfather) owes a debt of kindness to Chiwa’s family, and would only agree to let Hokuto have full control of the company if he marries Chiwa.
And that’s the set-up. The middle-class Chiwa suddenly finds herself married to one of the most eligible bachelors in Japan, and in the difficult situation of having to keep the marriage secret from almost everyone (something about the business advantage of a bachelor image, I think), and trying to make the most of a loveless relationship — although each chapter makes it more and more clear it won’t be loveless for too long.
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 this Wednesday, it’d be all Image for me – starting with Nowhere Men #3 (Image, $2.99). The Beatles as a scientific supergroup, through the lens of Dr. Strangelove? Let’s do this. I’ve been a big fan of Nate Bellegarde for a while, and this book finally seems to capture what’s unique about him – his comedy, his stark scientific acumen, and his humanism. After that I’d get Glory #32 (Image, $3.99). Beautiful cover by Ricken here, and reads like a great manga building up to some epic battle. After that I’d get Brian Wood and Ming Doyle’s Mara #2 (Image, $2.99). I tried to hold back my expectations before reading Issue 1, and I was blown away – so now Issue 2 has something to prove. Finally, I’d get Invincible #100 (Image, $3.99) (Cory Walker’s cover, if you want to know!). I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I think Invincible is better than The Walking Dead. No need to compare the two really, though, because no matter how you cut it, this series is great … and what Kirkman and Ottley have planned for the 100th issue looks to be unique – both for the promised deaths and the promise of seeing what could have been had Mark Grayson chosen differently.
If I had $30, I’d make up for lost time and get Brian Ralph’s Cave-In (Drawn & Quarterly, $14.95) . I’m reticent to admit this, but I’ve never read this book. I loved Daybreak, but never found a copy or the motivation to seek out more … but this Wednesday that will change.
For splurging, I already have most of this in the single issues, but I can’t help but splurge on the new collection X-Men: Mutant Massacre (Marvel, $34.99). This was my first crossover in comics, buying back-issues before I discovered events like Crisis on Infinite Earths and Secret Wars. In my rose-colored glasses, it’s an ideal crossover for not being too overbearing and relating to a conflict or situation that isn’t superhero-specific. Love the Morlocks, love Uncanny X-Men and the associated books around this time, so I’m buying this and spending an evening enjoying it all over again.
Comics | Bryan Young talks to Archie Comics Co-CEO Jon Goldwater about the attempted boycott of Life With Archie #16, which featured the marriage of Kevin Keller, as well as the changes that have taken place within the company to make that marriage possible. “When I got to Archie my first mandate was to talk to the staff and creators and say ‘Change things up. Try new things. Be bold. Be daring. Be creative.’ If there was an idea I felt was out of line or too crazy, I’d nix it. But for the most part, people like Dan Parent came to me with excellent ideas and suggestions. Kevin Keller is a perfect example of that. I don’t think you would have seen the previous regime publish Kevin.” [The Huffington Post]
Awards | Cartoonist Alison Bechdel has won the 24th annual Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement, presented by the Publishing Triangle, the association of lesbians and gay men in publishing. [GalleyCat]
The featured guests for the third annual Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival have been announced, and whoo boy, it’s quite a line-up. And it runs the gamut, too: MAD Magazine legend Jack Davis, book-design kingpin Chip Kidd, The Diary of a Teenage Girl author Phoebe Gloeckner, Asterios Polyp/Batman Year One artist David Mazzucchelli, Providence artcomix vets CF and Brian Ralph, grossout-humor queen Lisa Hanawalt, and minicomics patriarch John Porcellino. An opportunity to encounter Gloeckner live and in person is not to be squandered, folks, and that’s just for starters.
Organized by publisher PictureBox Inc., retailer Desert Island, and scholar Bill Kartalopoulos, this year’s BCGF will take place on Saturday, December 3 from noon to nine at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with programming hosted at the nearby Union Pool. If the last two years are any indication, it’s the alternative comics show to beat.
Welcome to What Are You Reading?, where each week we talk about what comics, graphic novels, books and what-have-you we’ve been reading lately. This week our special guest is Brian Ralph, creator of Daybreak, Cave-In and Reggie 12.
To see what Brian and the Robot 6 crew have been reading lately, click below.
Creators | With the announcement that Rob Liefeld’s Extreme Studios is back in business, former Extreme Studios employee and current Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson reflects on his time with the studio. “From 1992-1998, Extreme Studios was more or less my life. Youngblood, Supreme, Brigade, Bloodstrike, Team Youngblood, New Men, Prophet, Youngblood: Strikefile, Bloodpool, Glory… We put out a lot of comics, and for the most part everyone involved was incredibly young. Rob and I were amongst the oldest at 25. So many of the artists involved in various aspects of production were just out of their teens, and that made the work as frustrating as it was fun. But looking back, the main thing I remember about that time is Rob wanted to share his success with people who loved comics and wanted to make a living in the business as much as he had.” [It Sparkles!]
Webcomics | A Distant Soil creator Colleen Doran, who began serializing the comic online in 2009, notes “my bottom line is up significantly, and my online audience is ten times higher than when I started the five day a week online serialization of A Distant Soil 2.5 years ago.” She also shares advice she received when she started the endeavor that hasn’t worked for her. [A Distant Soil]
SPX, or the Small Press Expo, returns to the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Bethesda, Md. this weekend.
The show’s special guests include Roz Chast, Jim Woodring, Diane Noomin, Jim Rugg, Ann Telnaes, Chester Brown, Johnny Ryan, Craig Thompson and Matthew Thurber, and fans who attend will also have the opportunity to meet and/or hear from Kevin Huizenga, Anders Nilsen, Jessica Abel, Sarah Glidden, Alex Robinson, Brian Ralph, Mike Dawson, Meredith Gran, Roger Langridge and Julia Wertz, just to name a few. I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out that our own Chris Mautner will be attending and conducting a Q&A with Johnny Ryan on Saturday, so be sure to tell him hi for us.
I’ll admit it, it’s a bit of a shock to see a Brian Ralph comic that isn’t about some deceptively adorable character adventuring their way through an impeccably rendered rubble-strewn environment. Then again, is surviving the San Diego Comic-Con really all that different? The Daybreak cartoonist and alumnus of the influential Fort Thunder collective is chronicling his experience at Comic-Con International 2011 in diary comics form for The Comics Journal all week long. Day one’s a doozy, a journey from misery to triumph and back to misery in the space of a few panels. Look out for the cameo appearance from Drawn and Quarterly’s staff supercouple Peggy Burns and Tom Devlin, who emerge as a sort of obscenity-spewing Statler & Waldorf.
Publishing | Popular comic-book guest star President Barack Obama will make a brief appearance in this week’s Flashpoint #4. DC Comics Executive Editor Eddie Berganza told USA Today that the inclusion of the actual President, rather than a fictional counterpart, signals that the danger is real — something that will get pushed as the publisher prepares for the September relaunch. [USA Today]
Conventions | More than 31,000 anime and manga enthusiasts flocked to Baltimore over the weekend for Otakon, one of the biggest fan-oriented anime conventions. There were a few anime and manga licenses announced, but mainly it was a meet-and-greet for fans and publishers. [Anime News Network]
For the last few years, when not busy with his day job teaching sequential art at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), Brian Ralph has been busy working on his latest graphic novel, Daybreak. The book is a slight departure of sorts for Ralph — best known for his early work as part of the highly influential Fort Thunder collective and for books like Cave-In — in that it delves into the horror genre. Yes, it’s another zombie book, but it’s a zombie book with a unique twist, with everything viewed from the perspective of an unnamed survivor (i.e. the reader), as he explores a foreboding landscape and finds a potential friend amidst all the devastation.
Daybreak makes it debut at Comic-Con this year, and Ralph will be on a panel at 5 p.m. (Pacific time) 14today with Anders Nilsen and Jeff Smith on the subject of “Epic Literary Adventures” (in Room 9).
I talked with Ralph over email about the panel, the new book, and the adventures of teaching comics to college students.
Daybreak is a horror story told from a unique, first-person perspective. Which came first for you, the desire to do a horror tale or the unique way of telling it?
I don’t play video games, but I felt there was something exciting about how a person could be immersed in the world of a video game. With comics the reader isn’t an active participant in the storytelling. I wanted to make a comic that, in it’s own way, achieve some feeling of participation and immersion. I was looking for interactivity of some kind.
I had not seen a “first-person shooter” style of comic before. It turned out to be very exciting approach to storytelling. I was constantly trying to figure out new ways for the reader to feel like they were interacting with the characters and become characters in the story as well. I made some decisions along the way; to never show the reader’s “character” such as in a mirror. I didn’t want the reader to talk with a word balloon. I felt those things would break the illusion. It was tricky to work with those constraints, but such a fun challenge.
What does it take to make a story just right for some creators? As revealed in this interview with Megan Kelso, with her latest book, Artichoke Tales (released by Fantagraphics a few months ago and praised by Brigid just yesterday)–it took 10 years. Not every storyteller takes the time to indulge my questions in the manner that Kelso did, an effort for which I’m extremely grateful. Here’s the scoop on the book: “Artichoke Tales is a coming-of-age story about a young girl named Brigitte whose family is caught between the two warring sides of a civil war, a graphic novel that takes place in a world that echoes our own, but whose people have artichoke leaves instead of hair. Influenced in equal parts by Little House on the Prairie, The Thorn Birds, Dharma Bums, and Cold Mountain, Kelso weaves a moving story about family amidst war. Kelso’s visual storytelling, uniquely combining delicate linework with rhythmic, musical page compositions, creates a dramatic tension between intimate, ruminative character studies and the unflinching depiction of the consequences of war and carnage, lending cohesion and resonance to a generational epic. This is Kelso’s first new work in four years; the widespread critical reception of her previous work makes Artichoke Tales one of the most eagerly anticipated graphic novels of 2010.” Fun aside, in clarifying a detail about this interview, I learned that Kelso created a iGoogle theme, which can be accessed here. One last item, Fantagraphics posted a 16-page preview here.
Tim O’Shea: Creating Artichoke Tales represented more than six years of your creative life–can you describe how relieving (or what emotion you felt) when you finished the tale?
Megan Kelso: Truth be told, it was more like a ten year project. I think for some reason my publisher wanted to down play how friggin’ long it took me to finish this book. It was very protracted because I took a lot of breaks to do other things; freelance work, a wedding, moving, having a baby, moving again. I actually finished pencilling the last two chapters in 2005, which is really the heart of the creative work. I pushed myself on that because I wanted to be done with the storytelling part of it before I was pregnant. But then the final denoument, the inking, the computer shading, the corrections – I didn’t begin that work until two and a half years later. It was kind of excruciating doing all the final work on the book after it had been completely drawn – I think because the urgency and excitement of getting the story out was over. Then it was just drudge work. I finally finished all the work just before Thanksgiving of 2009 and I was 100% thrilled and happy about it for months. The let-down, “nothing left but doubt” part of finishing a huge project did not set in until I recently saw it in printed form. I am totally happy with how the printing and production came out, but even still, there’s a bit of a void. I think I’m fending off a bit of a mid-life crisis.
Maybe it was the sharpened instincts I gained from reading Brian Ralph’s first-person POV post-apocalyptic thriller Daybreak, which uses that unique videogame-style eye-view perspective to put you in the middle of the action like no other comic from the zombie craze. Or maybe I’m just a good guesser. But when Ralph (an alumnus of the ultra-influential Providence art/comics/music collective Fort Thunder) started posting never-before-seen Daybreak cover sketches to the New Bodega blog last week, I had a hunch this meant that the acclaimed three-part series had a collected edition in its future. Now Drawn & Quarterly’s Tom Devlin confirms the upcoming creation of a Daybreak hardcover, kinda, with a series of rhetorical questions: “Next Fall?…Additional epilogue? Deluxe hard cover treatment? Comic-Con debut? Are these things in the offing from D+Q?” I’ll bet my right arm that the answer to all these questions is “yes”…
They’re gettin’ the band back together, man! Tom Spurgeon reports that members of Providence, Rhode Island’s late, great comics/music/art/noise/wtf collective Fort Thunder are planning a one-off reunion issue of their anthology title Monster, to debut at
the San Diego Comic-Con UPDATE: the Small Press Expo via exhibitor and Fort alumnus Brian Ralph. Though the Fort produced everything from installations to art-rock to bicycles, we comics folks know them best through the output of a line-up of cartoonists that included Ralph, Brian Chippendale, Mat Brinkman, Leif Goldberg, Jim Drain, and Paul Lyons. It’s tough to imagine the alternative-comics world without them anymore — their aesthetic heavily influenced or outright inspired entire publishing lines, including Highwater, PictureBox, Buenaventura, Bodega, and post-Tom Devlin Drawn & Quarterly — so for fans of comics’ outer limits, this is at least as exciting as the Faith No More reunion tour currently underway. Which is pretty damn exciting.