Axel-In-Charge: "Secret Wars" Jam Session Talking "A-Force," "Ultimate End" and More
Toronto Comic Arts Festival organizer Christopher Butcher opened the 2014 show by announcing the “unspoken theme” of that year’s show was spotlighting work by women creators. “Then,” I noted at the time, “Butcher did something truly amazing: He introduced a panel of three women that was not titled ‘Women in Comics.'” This year’s festival continued that theme, showcasing a diverse group of artists and spreading that diversity across the breadth and depth of the show.
In fact, the first thing I noticed when I looked over the schedule was there was no “Women in Comics” or “LGBTQ Comics” panel. There were a couple of more specialized panels — one on gay comics art in Japan, another on older women and comics — but for the most part, the diversity was just sort of there, no further comment needed. The “Art of the Travelogue” panel moderated by my con roommate Johanna Draper Carlson, for instance, featured four women and two men, and it didn’t seem like a particularly big deal until I started to write this article. This may be a watershed in the history of comics events.
Passings | Dexter Taylor, the longtime writer and artist of The Adventures of Little Archie, has died at age 84. He began working for Archie Comics in the 1950s, first in the production department and then as an assistant to artist Bob Bolling on Little Archie before taking the reins on the title in 1965. His run continued until the series ended in 1983. “The first day I came to work at Archie Comics I met the nicest, most helpful, friendliest and honest person: Dexter Taylor,” Victor Gorelick, Archie’s longtime editor-in-chief and co-president, said in a statement. [Archie Comics, Den of Geek]
Manga | Manga accounted for almost 80 percent of Japan’s digital book market in the 2013 fiscal year, according to a report released by the Yano Research Institute. The marketing research company predicts the country’s larger digital market, which is worth about $710 million, will see a 23.5 percent growth in the 2014 fiscal year. [Anime News Network]
Publishing | Tom Devlin, creative director of Drawn and Quarterly, talks about the unlikely success of Tove Jansson’s Moomin comics. [Montreal Gazette]
Comics | Noah Berlatsky writes about Wonder Woman the character and Wonder Woman the comic. [The Atlantic]
[Editor’s note: Each Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss the best in comics from the last seven days — from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done.]
Drawn and Quarterly is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Tove Jansson’s birth with Moomin: The Deluxe Anniversary Edition, a beautiful, slipcased book that collects all the Moomin comics drawn by Jansson in a single oversized volume.
The Moomin comics were sort of hiding in plain sight: Jansson’s fanciful, hippo-like creatures appeared in children’s books (originally published in Swedish and quickly translated into English) and an animated television series, but for some reason the comics, which were originally published in English in The London Evening News, were not only out of print but rare. In the introduction to this book, Drawn and Quarterly creative director Tom Devlin tells of how he discovered the comics: Dylan Horrocks gave him a photocopy of the first English collection, which Horrocks in turn had gotten from critic Paul Gravett. There’s an almost mythical aspect to that story, and it makes a fine introduction to the comics.
Publishing | Leyla Aker, Viz Media’s vice present of publishing, and Kevin Hamric, its director of publishing sales and marketing, discuss the state of the manga market and how the company’s books are selling through the print and digital channels (including comiXology, where Viz just signed on last month). One interesting tidbit: Viz products are carried by 64 percent of Diamond Comic Distributors’ accounts (i.e., comic shops). “Some of the store owners just don’t understand manga yet,” Hamric said. “They’re like librarians were years ago. They’re afraid of it, but if it’s children’s and Pokemon, or has a tie-in, especially to anime or television, then they’re not afraid to take it.” [ICv2]
Publishing | Tom Spurgeon talks to Drawn and Quarterly’s Tracy Hurren about the company’s new website, which launched this week, as well as life in the D+Q offices. [The Comics Reporter]
You would be forgiven if you thought of French author, artist and animator Anouk Ricard primarily as someone who makes comics for kids. Before the North American release this month of Benson’s Cuckoos, from Drawn and Quarterly, her only other books to make it into English on this side of the Atlantic were a pair of collections of her charming children’s strip, Anna & Froga (2013’s I Don’t Know, What Do You Want to Do? and this year’s Thrills, Spills and Gooseberries).
And while Benson’s Cuckoos does look at first glance (and even after a fairly thorough flip-through) like a kids comic, given the adorable, big-headed, Richard Scarry-esque characters, it’s decidedly adult in nature. That the characters are all cute little anthropomorphic animals accentuates the humor of the many awkward moments of their social interactions, and diffuses the darker aspects of the story, keeping them from being read as anything other than comedy.
Originally released in 2011 as Coucous Bouzon (and earning a Special Jury Prize at the 2012 Angouleme International Comics Festival), the book seems to owe a significant debt to Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s The Office, and/or its U.S. adaptation. If, in fact, Ricard has never seen the show, which is certainly quite possible, then the boss at the office in which her book is set is quite coincidentally remarkably like Gervais’ David Brent and Steve Carell’s Michael Scott.
Benson, a particularly fluffy white poodle who owns and operates the cuckoo clock company from which the book takes its title, shares with The Office bosses an inherent belief in his own hipness, completely convinced that, unlike other bosses, he’s cool and sympathetic. He tells a lot of jokes, feels closer to his employees than they feel to him, wears funny hats, tries new and creative and dumb ideas, and generally makes everyone uncomfortable.
Everywhere Antennas (Drawn and Quarterly): Julie Delporte’s challenging, emotionally wrenching book comes in the form of a sketch-filled diary, the words all written in cursive with various colored pencils. It reads a bit like a therapy journal made by someone attempting to crawl out of a breakdown, sometimes sliding back as far as she gets out, an impression furthered by the art, which, like the handwritten text, looks so intimate, “corrections” made by redrawing portions on new pieces of paper, which are then taped atop the pages before printing.
There’s such a lack of artifice to the book — unless there’s a high degree of artifice applied to make it seem as if there’s a great lack of artifice — that it really seems like something you’re not supposed to be reading, something you might have found in someone’s apartment, rather than bought in a bookstore. Delporte does tell a story, but it’s fragmentary, with characters who appear and disappear and scenes that don’t necessarily lead to the next.
It would be tempting to think it was a straight diary comic created during a time of mental crisis — the line “coloured pencils … are her favourite antidepressants” in Delporte’s back-page biography indicates that many aspects of the deeply felt contents aren’t completely alien to her — were it not for the specific ailment of our unnamed, perhaps Delporte-like heroine. She suffers from a rare sensitivity to radio waves and electrical auras, so cell phones, televisions, computers, cell phone towers and power lines give her migraines, and she must find a way to divorce herself from the modern world while still trying to live some semblance of a life in it.
Diane Obomsawin’s On Loving Women and Brecht Vandenbroucke’s White Cube have two things in common: First, they’re both published by Drawn and Quarterly; second, they’re both collections of very short, individual comics stories riffing on a single theme that defines them as books — little pieces contributing to a great, big whole.
Wait, did I say they have two things in common? I meant three – they have three things in common: Both are excellent.
Beyond those commonalities, there’s not a whole lot of overlap between the two works. On Loving Women is a series of six- to nine-page, black-and-white short stories about the real-life sexual awakenings of various women who love other women. White Cube is a bunch of one- or two-page, fully painted, full-color, silent strips about modern art and related subject matter. The former is pretty funny, but mostly by virtue of the way Obomsawin tells a joke, as the stories are more conversational anecdotes than gags. The latter is very funny because it’s a collection of comic comic strips (although some of those jokes are pretty dark).
The first six pages of Beautiful Darkness comprise one of the more dramatic sequences you’re likely to see in any comics work. On the first, a saucer-eyed young blonde is having hot chocolate and cake with the fancily dressed man she met at the ball, and then something is falling from the ceiling — “But this isn’t how things were supposed to turn out!” — and after a quick, desperate struggle, the reader is treated to maybe the last thing he or she might expect to see. It’s creepy, scary and intriguing, a potent dare to stop reading, and an irresistible lure to turn the page.
The book is a collaboration between writer Fabien Vehlmann, who wrote the quirky, Jason-drawn comedy Isle of 100,000 Graves, and Marie Pommepuy, one-half of the art team known as Kerascoët, who drew the Miss Don’t Touch Me books, and who rather lavishly renders this story. Publisher Drawn and Quarterly bills it as an anti-fairy tale, but adding “anti-” seems a bit much, given how closely elements echo fairy tales and more modern, but still classic, children’s literature: Thumbelina and Tom Thumb, most especially, with at least a touch of Hansel and Gretel near the ending. There’s some Beatrix Potter in here, particularly in the visuals, and anyone who has read or encountered any adaptation of the The Borrowers will find much of that as well.
His last major work of fiction was Big Questions, a 600-page epic fable involving a community of birds. If Big Questions was a graphic novel (in the most literal sense of the word “novel”), then his latest work, Rage of Poseidon, is more of a short-story collection. Here the cast of characters is grander: All seven of these stories star characters from Judeo-Christian belief or classical mythology and sometimes both, including Prometheus, Abraham, Isaac, Jesus, God and a good chunk of the Olympian pantheon.
But whether writing through birds or gods, the mundane or the divine, Nilsen’s true subject matter remains much the same: explorations of metaphysical and existential concerns, here more directly concerned with faith and religion than elsewhere.
Nilsen’s writing is spare and efficient; you could even say curt. In all of the stories, he writes quite conversationally, usually easing into second-person storytelling. “So imagine you are Poseidon, god of the sea,” the title story begins. That story is set in the present, but features the ancient Greek god; the same goes for “Prometheus” and the book’s longest and most compelling story, “The Girl and The Lions.” The stories “The Flood” and “Leda and the Swan” take place in their original settings. “Isaac” (“So imagine your name is Isaac and you are standing on a moutaintop with your dad”) is fairly true to the Biblical telling, but the ending finds Isaac playing a video game his father let him buy at the market (It’s Exodus 6: The Reckoning, if you’re wondering). The final story, the single page “Jesus and Aphrodite” is set in a bar in heaven.
Graphic novels | Between them, Attack on Titan and The Walking Dead claimed nine of the 20 spots on BookScan’s October rundown of the top-selling graphic novels in bookstores. The first volume of Attack on Titan led another strong month for manga, which placed nine titles in the Top 20. New DC Comics books, rather than simply evergreen sellers, made an appearance, too, with the Batman: The Court of Owls mask and book set, the Joker: Death of the Family hardcover and the third Justice League hardcover landing in the Top 10. [ICv2]
Creators | Joe Sacco talks about his work, his collaboration with journalist Chris Hedges, and why he doesn’t portray himself with eyeballs. [Straight.com]
Leach’s big follow-up to 2011’s Pterodactyl Hunters is a very entertaining, tightly paced crime comic about two hoodlums living in Newark, New Jersey, in the early ’60s and the trouble they get into running “errands” for one of the local gangsters. I really liked the way Leach sets up the story, with a violent incident on a bus that quickly establishes the characters’ personalities and relationships to each other but also becomes an even more significant incident once you learn what those two were doing on that bus. Leach has an angular, slashing style that fits the grittiness of the material and also keeps the narrative moving a hurried clip, rarely taking a moment to pause. There’s at least one big plot hole that gave me pause (without spoiling anything, I find it difficult to believe that a certain ancillary character’s death would generate such a minor reaction from family members, friends and various authorities not on the take). A bit more perspective and varied viewpoints (it’s notable there’s no parental units to be found in Iron Bound) might have given the story a bit more depth, although it could also have easily slackened the book’s drumbeat pace. Overall, this is a sharp, strong book, a smart follow-up to Hunters and proof that Leach is a cartoonist to watch. The book even comes with a flexi-disc record to play during the story’s big fight/climax, a really terrific conceit, even if the nerd in me is hesitant to play it, for fear of damaging the book’s “mint” condition (you never know what might be worth money some day).
Drawn and Quarterly has announced its debuts and signing schedule for this weekend’s Alternative Press Expo, which will be your first opportunity to buy the newest book from APE special guest Anders Nilsen (Big Questions).
“Anders has always created pretty epic works in the past, and I think Rage of Poseidon really falls into that category,” D+Q’s Tracy Hurren said in July at Comic-Con International. “It combines his interest in philosophy and religion and myth, which we saw in Big Questions, in a style that’s more similar to what’s seen in ‘Monologues for Calculating the Destiny of Black Holes,’ although you can see the style’s a little divergent from that, too, using silhouettes with very sparse backgrounds.”
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.