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Creator Q&A: Joe Ollmann confronts his ‘Mid-Life’


Unless you follow the small-press or Canadian cartooning scenes very closely, there’s a good chance you haven’t heard of Joe Ollmann before now. He’s been somewhat on the peripheries of the industry for a few years, though he’s won acclaim for short story collections like This Will All End in Tears. I suspect his star will rise considerably however, with this week’s release of his excellent  Mid-Life, Ollman’s first graphic novel, courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly.

The book follows John, an all-too self-aware middle aged dad (and fictional stand-in for Ollmann himself), who, while working on his second marriage and raising a toddler son, finds himself growing ever so slightly obsessed with Sherri Smalls, the children’s entertainer his young child currently enjoys watching and listening to. The book then switches perspectives between John, as his obsession grows and he attempts to find an excuse to head to New York and “interview” the object of his infatuation, and Smalls herself as she mulls over signing a lucrative TV contract and wonders why she’s been so unlucky in love up till now.

Hilarious in that way that only good, sharply observed, cringe-inducing comedy can, Mid-Life suggests that Ollmann has a long and laudable career ahead of him. I talked to him over email about the book, the trick of blending autobiography into fictional material and the perils of parenting. Despite my barrage of personal and potentially embarrassing questions, he remained polite and thoughtful throughout, for which I am tremendously grateful.

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Comics College | John Stanley

Comics College is a monthly feature where we provide an introductory guide to some of the comics medium’s most important auteurs and offer our best educated suggestions on how to become familiar with their body of work.

This month we’re looking at the career of a Golden Age artist who’s undergone a bit of a rediscovery and renaissance lately, John Stanley. Continue Reading »

A look at Brecht Evens’ Night Animals

Do you like comics with gorgeous colors, hot sex scenes, and all-too-relatable scenes in which twenty-something urbanites go to crazy nightclubs and lousy parties? Then Belgian cartoonist Brecht Evens’ The Wrong Place may be right book for you. The Drawn & Quarterly release took a lot of readers and critics by storm at the tail end of 2010 with both its incisive writing and innovative use of color as a storytelling mechanism. (You can read my interview with Evens about the book by clicking this link.)

In just a couple months, Evens will be back with a book about a very different kind of night life. Slated for a March release from Top Shelf, Night Animals — an earlier work than The Wrong Place — was described to me by Evens as a walk on the Where the Wild Things Are side. It contains two wordless tales about seemingly normal people who get caught up in a world of wild wonder (and, perhaps, danger) among the creatures beyond the city limits. While the drawing style is more traditional than The Wrong Place‘s all-watercolors approach, it’s just as lush and inviting, and the color washes are just as vibrant and emotionally freighted. Meanwhile, the stories themselves show that Evens is just as adept at fairy tales and fables as he is at lousy parties and awesome one-night stands. Good stuff.

And courtesy of Leigh Walton and the fine folks at Top Shelf, here’s an eight-page preview of the book. Unleash the animal within, folks!

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What Are You Reading?

Batgirl #17

Welcome to a long holiday weekend (at least here in the United States) edition of What Are You Reading? Today our special guest is Doug Zawisza, who writes reviews and the occasional article for Comic Book Resources.

To see what Doug and the Robot 6 gang are reading, click below.

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Six by 6 | Six potentially great 2011 comics you haven’t heard of

The Man Who Grew His Beard

Like you, I’m all a-twitter about the release of those Carl Barks books from Fantagraphics later this year. (you are a-twitter, aren’t you?) Not to mention Craig Thompson’s Habibi, Paul Pope’s Battling Boy, Chester Brown’s Paying for It and that Grant Morrison Multiversity mini-series. And, hey, maybe we’ll even see the first volume of Pogo! Yep, by any yardstick, it seems like 2011 promises to be another year of really great releases.

But, even beyond the big-name titles and huge company crossovers, there are a number of comics and graphic novels arriving in stores this year that warrant further attention. They may have not have garnered much of your notice, since they’re not attached to a well-known creator or license or come from overseas. Here then, are six such books, all due this year, all of which I’m willing to bet good money aren’t on your radar, but should be. As usual, be sure to note any books you’re excited about but haven’t generated much buzz yet in the comments section.

1) The Man Who Grew His Beard by Olivier Schrauwen (Fantagraphics). If you’ve had the lucky opportunity to read Schrauwen’s My Boy, or perused his work in the anthology Mome, then you’ll know this Belgian artist is the real deal — a true, utterly unique and frequently inspired cartoonist who draws upon century-old cartooning styles (McCay, Outcault) to create something contemporary and frequently bizarre. This is the first American collection of Schrauwen’s work and I’m really excited to see him reach a potentially wider audience. Actually, I’m just excited to read more of an artist I’ve only been able to catch in dribs and drabs.

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D&Q announces a collection of artist Kate Beaton’s work

Tom Spurgeon broke the news that Drawn & Quarterly has acquired the North American rights to publish a new collection of work by cartoonist Kate Beaton titled Hark! A Vagrant.

Using the name of Beaton’s website, the book will collect comics she has published there, as well as some new strips. The Montreal-based publisher plans to have the hardcover collection on store shelves in the Fall of 2011. UK fans will see her book put out through Jonathan Cape.

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What Are You Reading?

King City #6

Hello and welcome to another week of What Are You Reading?, where we talk about what comics and other stuff we’ve been reading lately. This week our special guest is Robin McConnell of Inkstuds fame, who will be guest blogging with us as well. Robin has a new book out that collects 30 of his interviews with folks like Jeff Lemire, Joe Sacco, Kate Beaton, Jaime Hernandez and many more; you can find more details on it over on his website.

To see what Robin and teh rest of the Robot 6 crew are reading, click below.

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Six by 6 | The six most criminally ignored books of 2010

Captain Easy Vol. 1

It happens every year. Amidst all the hullaballoo of the big-name releases and show-stopping events and sleeper hits there are those titles that, for whatever reason, fail to generate any reviews, discussion or sales (or in some cases all three) whatsoever. 2010 was no exception. In fact, the wealth of stellar material that was released this year made it seem like there were an extraordinary number of great comics that garnered not even a peep from the blogosphere and press.

After the jump are six books that I think got nowhere near the amount of attention they deserved. There are lots more that I could include if I had the time. And I’m sure there are books that you read that you don’t think got enough praise as well. Be sure to let me know what they are in the comments section.

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“A fight between operatic spectacle and tiny intimate moments”: Brecht Evens on The Wrong Place

The Wrong Place

Brecht Evens took a lot of people by surprise this past autumn. Seemingly emerging from nowhere, the Flemish cartoonist’s English-language graphic-novel debut, The Wrong Place, was released by Drawn & Quarterly and quickly made a major splash among critics and cartoonists in a year already crowded by high-quality releases. For that you can thank Evens’ eye-popping painted colors, which do far more than just tell you what color hair or clothes his characters have.

His story of a small group of twenty-somethings — revolving around an odd couple of mismatched friends and their divergent night lives during a party, a one-night stand, and a night out at a club — uses color almost as a code. It differentiates the characters, conveys their personalities, and helps us understand their environments and relationships. You’ll see parts of yourself you like and dislike in all three of its main characters: gray-colored wallflower Gary, his legend-in-his-own-time bright-blue best friend Robbie, and Olivia, who decides to live it up one night in fiery red.

So color us excited (sorry, couldn’t resist!) to be able to interview Evens as part of Robot 6’s second anniversary spectacular…

Sean T. Collins: The thing that most surprised me about The Wrong Place was that it didn’t “teach me a lesson.” I expected to be hit with a moral about how Robbie’s vida loca was actually empty and meaningless, or how wrong it is for Gary not to loosen up and live a little, but neither thing happened. Olivia shows a tinge of regret about her wild night with Robbie, but it’s just a tinge, not an indication that she Did The Wrong Thing or something like that. All of this despite the fact that the title itself implies that one or all of these characters is not where they really belong. I was hoping you could talk a bit about why you took this approach to your main characters and their decisions, which I found refreshingly non-judgmental.

Brecht Evens: I was 20 when I came up with the first draft, the setup for the book, and it was very noir, very contrived and judgmental, and full of nifty “ideas.” Most of this got thrown out along the way, where the ideas come to seem stale and instead the need becomes greater to be able to believe in and identify with the characters, and to testify about things observed in real life. Or, because I automatically began to identify with the characters, and love them, I was more compelled to nuance.

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Food or Comics? | This week’s comics on a budget

Welcome once again to Food or Comics?, where every week we talk about what comics we’d buy based on certain spending limits — $15, $30 to spend and if we had extra money to spend on what we call the “Splurge” item. Check out Diamond’s release list for this week if you’d like to play along in our comments section.


Graeme McMillan

It’s a weird week for new releases, with everyone but Marvel taking it easy and pulling back on massive hauls in order to give our wallets a nice holiday break (unless you’re a Marvel completest, in which case, yowza. Look out). That said, if I had $15, I’d put it towards the special 200th issue of What If? ($4.99), the first issue of event tie-in Chaos War: X-Men ($3.99) because I’m curious how Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson handle Marvel’s version of Blackest Night, and the second issue of Scott Snyder and Jock’s Detective Comics run (#872, $3.99), because I was really happily surprised by how much I enjoyed the first.

If I had $30, I’d put Chaos War and What If? back on the shelf, and get Emitown ($24.99) instead. I’ve heard really great things about this print collection of Emi Lenox’s autobio webcomic, and I like the idea of seeing 2011 in by discovering a new cartoonist to love.

Splurging, I’d go back to Marvel, with the brand new Ka-Zar collection by Mark Waid and Andy Kubert ($19.99). I missed out on this series back in the 1990s, but as a fan of both fish-out-of-water stories and Mark Waid stories, something tells me that this might be right up my street.

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A sneak peek at Drawn & Quarterly’s spring line-up

Excerpt from 'Paying for It'

With the end of the year approaching, book publishers are sending out their preview catalogs to book buyers and the media. One of those publishers, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, just happens to represent the Canadian comics company Drawn & Quarterly, which means we can get a sneak peek of sorts at their plans for the spring and summer months. Most of these titles won’t be too surprising to those who follow the company’s output, but there are a few books of note that readers may not be expecting. Click on the link to find out what they are.

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Clowes’ The Death-Ray hardcover coming from Drawn & Quarterly next fall

The Death-Ray

I’ve been anticipating this since Daniel Clowes teased it at the Alternative Press Expo in October … Tom Spurgeon broke the news this morning that Drawn & Quarterly will release a hardcover version of Clowes’ The Death-Ray next fall.

Much like Pantheon did when they repackaged Clowes’ Ice Haven as a stand-alone hardcover, the book will repackage and re-release an issue of Clowes’ Eightball — issue #23, which came out in 2004 and starred the outcast-turned superhero. The Death-Ray has also been optioned for film by Jack Black’s Electric Dynamite Productions, with Chris Milk attached to direct

“The Death-Ray is one of the most perfect and fully realized comics of the past decade and it is nothing short of the highest honour to publish,” said Chris Oliveros, editor-in-chief and publisher of Drawn & Quarterly in the press release. “The story of the alienated Andy is drawn and written to perfection with Dan’s signature subtle humour, stylistic eloquence, and understated social commentary–showcasing all of the hallmarks of why Dan is one of the preeminent cartoonists of the comics medium.”

You can find the entire press release after the jump.

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Comics College | Kevin Huizenga

cover to Ganges #3

Comics College is a monthly feature where we provide an introductory guide to some of the comics medium’s most important auteurs and offer our best educated suggestions on how to become familiar with their body of work.

This month we’re looking at the career of a relative newcomer to the comics industry, Mr. Kevin Huizenga.

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Robot reviews: Acme Novelty Library Vol 20

Acme Novelty Library #20 by Chris Ware

Acme Novelty Library Vol. 20
by Chris Ware
Drawn & Quarterly, 72 pages $23.95

(Note: I shall endeavor to be as spoiler-free as possible, but obviously if you’re the sort who would rather dive into a book like this knowing as little as possible then you may not want to click on that “continue reading” link.)

Acme Novelty Library #20 is about an asshole. The book’s main character, one Jordan W. Lint, is a bully, a coward, an adulterer, a drunkard, is frequently callous and cruel to friends and family, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In some regards he is an outright monster.

And yet, Ware manages to make us not only care, rather deeply, about this unlikeable figure but also sympathize and, to a surprising degree, understand his plight. Without condoning or excusing his behavior, Ware manages to offer a portrait that is nuanced enough to make us reflect upon our own foibles and fears. If that’s not the mark of a great artist, I’m not sure what is.

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Man, that was over fast: My SPX 2010 report


Get in line for cool comics

As is my wont, I made the one-day (the one day being Saturday) trek to Bethesda, Md., along with Joe “Jog” McCulloch for the annual Small Press Expo. Perhaps the Earth’s rotation is spinning ever faster, but this year’s show seemed a bit of a blur to me, even by previous years’ standards. Before I had a chance to say “Sorry, I’m tapped out and can’t buy your mini-comic,” it was after 6 p.m. and time to go home. Fortunately I took some pictures to help my fading memory keep the show alive in my tumescent brain. Or at least, I tried to take some pictures.

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