It can be hard to describe Matthew Thurber‘s comics. Certain phrases like surreal, absurd and dream-like get thrown around a lot and while they’re all true, it doesn’t accurately capture the free-form playfulness of his work or the way he manages to make his work both bizarre and accessible at the same time.
His latest book 1-800-MICE, now available in stores via Picturebox, is his longest narrative yet. An epic tale set in the imaginary town of Volcano Park, the book juggles a rather large cast of characters and their competing subplots as various political and social groups strive for dominance in the town, not realizing that their actions may result in their own destruction. If that sounds rather grim, rest assured the book remains delightfully nonsensical and silly (in the best sense of the word), full of concepts like bagpipes that also serve as teleporters or rocket ships that run on urine. It’s off-kilter and disarming but never falls apart and is a surprisingly straightforward and easy-to-follow read. In short, it’s pretty great.
I talked to Thurber over the phone from his home in Brooklyn, N.Y., about the new book and the challenges of doing a longer and more involved narrative:
Give me a bit of biographical background about yourself. Have you always been interested in making comics?
I was always interested in anything with a narrative. When I was a kid I made movies and comic books with my friends. My friends Tom and Jeff had this series called The Killer Pigs. It was a sci-fi story. This was when I 10. They were making comics and I imitated them but I was also interested in making more professional versions of the Killer Pigs. I’d put a little Marvel Comics symbol in the upper left hand corner. My background was being into Dungeons and Dragons and comics, making videos with my friends and reading all kinds of books.
I might still like to do the Atom. I think there’s something great to be done with the Atom that hasn’t been done yet…I like the idea of doing an Atom story where he can only shrink to a certain size for each episode. One of the things I felt didn’t work about the Atom was that he was up and down [in height] and could do anything. I thought it would be really good to do stories of a guy who has so much power to shrink that he does it for missions when he’s brought in. So it’s slightly more Indiana Jones, where this guy works as a professor during the day, but sometimes he’ll get a call from the President — “There’s monsters in the White House carpet” kinda stuff. — and he comes in and deals with that. But in another episode he might just shrink to six inches and be chased around a room by bad guys and cats and dogs, like Incredible Shrinking Man stuff. I thought there’s a sci-fi series in there, where each issue is him at a different scale. In some he could be trapped at a molecular scale, and in other ones he’s one inch and trapped in the garden.
–Action Comics and Supergods writer and superhero-revamper extraordinaire Grant Morrison in conversation with CBR’s Jonah Weiland, who asked him what B-list characters he’d still like to take a crack at. And hey, Morrison’s proven his proficiency with sprawling supporting-player revamps in the past with projects like Seven Soldiers (not to mention the upcoming Multiversity, which he says will have a similar focus on DC’s deep bench), so would it be out of the question for him to throw a Ryan Choi: Rebirth and Atom Incorporated into the mix? For now, I’ll file this with his much-discussed desire to write Wonder Woman under projects we’ll hopefully get to see one day.
Watch the entire video above for more Morrison commentary on the Lois & Clark marriage, Superman’s costume, Action Comics, New X-Men, Supergods, Sinatoro and more.
Nate Powell wowed indie readers back in 2009 with the release of Swallow Me Whole, a haunting graphic novel about a teen-age brother and sister suffering from mental illness and attempting to hold themselves and their family together.
Now Powell has released his follow-up to Swallow, Any Empire. The book, available through Top Shelf, examines the way children are taught about war and violence and how even “acceptable” military violence can end up appearing on our city and town streets.
The book debuts in San Diego this week, and should be in stores next month. We talked to Powell about the book and its underlying themes, both political and social.
Let’s start by talking about the book’s origins. How did Any Empire first take shape?
Well, the book emerged as I was finishing up Swallow Me Whole, and I’d been pretty impacted by the books Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker, On Killing by Dave Grossman, the movie Children of Men, and also a zine supplement in an LP by some friends Please Inform The Captain This Is A Hijack. I’d been very focused on the long history of the state’s prime directive of ensuring its own existence, even if that meant killing or imprisoning its own citizens, or provoking air raids to flatten its own cities for a “proper” moral justification for war (as was one of Churchill’s many shadier moments leading into WWII). We’ve all grown up accustomed to seeing smoldering wastelands on CNN, but I began imagining the rubble as buildings, transplanting foliage back onto the blight, and couldn’t stop imagining my own neighborhood as a wasteland indistinguishable from the ones I’m so used to seeing on the news.
Back in May Udon Entertainment announced they were launching a line of original graphic novels, starting with a book called RandomVeus. Created by Jeffrey Cruz and co-writer Leonard Bermingham, the book features a bouffant-sporting hero and a team of couriers as they “deliver mysterious packages to every corner of the wild world known as the RandomVeus! Octopus ninjas, jazz-playing demons, buxom lady-pirates, cyborg gorillas, samurai mushrooms, and one giant furry squid monster are all on tap in this zaniest of zany adventures!”
The book debuts this week in San Diego and can be found at the Udon booth, #5037. I spoke with Cruz and Bermingham about it, their backgrounds and more.
JK: Tell me a little bit about yourselves. Where do you live and how did you meet?
Leonard: OK. I have been a comic fan since I was eight since a got into comics through the awesome X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons. Been a fan ever since. I found I really got into writing when I was in university where I met Jeff. I went and did a Masters of Creative Media to try and sharpen my writing. That’s my origin story I guess.
Jeff: Well I’m from Melbourne, Australia. I enjoy my sequential art reading, which consist primarily of European and Asian books (there are American comics also) heh. Although drawing pretty much takes up a majority of my life (love it) and I’m not sure I’d want it any other way.
Rick Geary is in San Diego right now, debuting the latest volume in his Treasury of XXth Century Murder series, The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti. He took a moment on the way to talk to us about the story, his attraction to murders, and the challenges of writing about the past—and he told us what his next book will be.
Robot 6: Why are you so interested in murder, and how has it held your interest through so many books?
Rick Geary: I’ve been a “fan” of crime, both fiction and non-fiction, since the early 1970s. I lived in Wichita, Kansas, and a friend of mine, a former cop, gave me a copy of the complete police file on an unsolved murder in Wichita from the 1960s. It fascinated me, and I used it as the subject of my first published comic story in 1977. Since then, the exploration of the dark side of human behavior has been a continuing obsession.
Robot 6:Would you ever do a book about a modern murder story, or do you prefer to stick to stories set in the past?
Rick: I prefer dealing with cases from the past, because with them the urgency and emotionalism have dissipated, and I’m able to get the proper ironic distance in my treatment. That said, I’d love someday to do the OJ Simpson case or JonBenet Ramsey or even Casey Anthony.
There’s not much I can say by way of an introduction to Tom Neely that the above image can’t do better. Combining the gangly, jaunty character designs of classic comic icons like E.C. Segar’s Popeye and Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse with a take on horror that’s equal parts metal album cover, ’70s horror mag, and sexualized Surrealism, Neely’s comics, paintings, and illustrations wed a high level of craft to intense imagery that often literally tears its characters apart. It’s a style Neely has deployed with surprising versatility since the high-profile release of his self-published graphic novel debut The Blot in 2007; in that time he’s riffed directly on his influences with the Popeye reinterpretation Doppelgänger and the horror-mag cover collection Neely Covers Comics to Give You the Creeps!, adapted the songs of punk mainstays the Melvins in Your Disease Spread Quick, created a series of strip-format comic poems in Brilliantly Ham-fisted, put an alternative spin on the gag comic in the anthology Bound & Gagged, and most famously helped craft an ode to the timeless love affair of hardcore legends Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig in Henry & Glenn Forever. I’ve enjoyed all these comics. But The Wolf, Neely’s new self-published full-length graphic novel, is the leader of the pack.
It’s easy to enjoy (if that’s the right word) The Wolf as a thrilling, chilling onslaught of monsters, bloody combat, and graphic sex — and indeed I do. But beneath the werewolves and zombies and tree-headed monks is a moving exploration of couplehood, as our male and female protagonists deal with the pain of the past and the threats of the present in order to build a (literally) brighter future together. As with The Blot, The Wolf‘s wordlessness emphasizes Neely’s powerful images, with a clever use of single splashes and double-page spreads propelling us through a story that at any moment can toggle between nightmare, wet dream, and peaceful reverie. It’s like life with the volume cranked up.
With The Wolf‘s release party scheduled for this Friday, July 8, at L.A.’s Secret Headquarters (although you can already purchase a copy through Neely’s website), Neely has provided Robot 6 with a selection of preview pages from throughout the book, and took the time to answer a few questions about its origins, influences, style, substance, subtext, sex scene, and more.
It’s always a good sign, and a rare blessing, when you close a comic and say to yourself, “Well, I’ve certainly never seen anything like that before.” Such was my reaction to Garden, the upcoming PictureBox graphic novel from acclaimed manga artist Yuichi Yokoyama (currently in Previews for a May 4 release; Diamond code MAR111221). Sure, this is the same guy who made guys throwing books at one another as exciting a fight scene as anything out of Kill Bill in his collection New Engineering. It’s the same guy who made a bunch of dudes taking a ride on the train as thrilling as Jack Kirby drawing someone hijacking the Moebius Chair and going on a joyride through Apokalips in his book Travel. But Garden takes Yokoyama’s unique combination of deadpan characters, robotically clean lines, zany costumes, epic sets and scenery, and hyper-caffeinated action to a whole new level. It’s like a magical mental amusement park.
The plot of Garden is pure simplicity: A crowd of would-be sightseers (all wearing costumes and headgear that make them look like a lost Kinnikuman toyline) sneak into a sprawling “garden” filled with inexplicable, incredible sights and structures, from a river of rubber balls and a forest filled with disassembled cars to mountains made of glass and a massive hallway filled with floating bubbles. The endlessly chatty characters slowly walk, climb, swing, float, and otherwise make their way through the environments and obstacles, constantly narrating as they go. (“Now what could this be?” “It’s a field of boulders.” “All the boulders have ladders on them.” “Let’s climb it.”) By explaining exactly what’s happening at all times, the little explorers make following Yokoyama’s often kaleidoscopic art a breeze, freeing you to simply marvel at the sheer scale and scope of his imagination (and chuckle at the the crazy stuff the characters encounter). The overall effect is like being strapped in for a ride through some Bizarro Disney World where every single attraction is as colossal and otherworldly as the big Spaceship Earth golfball, as fast as Space Mountain, and as dizzying as the Mad Tea Party.
Courtesy of PictureBox, Robot 6 is pleased to present this exclusive eight-page preview of Garden, and an interview with Yokoyama about the book, in which the cartoonist gives us some fascinating answers — about his love for the collision between the natural and artificial, his goal in including all that dialogue, and why size matters — and raises just as many compelling questions.
(Special thanks to Dan Nadel and Yu Marooka for their help in facilitating and translating this interview respectively.)
There’s nothing else in the world quite like Ben Katchor’s comics. Perhaps that’s because there’s nothing in the world quite like the people and places you’ll find in them. Best known for his newspaper strip Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer, Katchor is an inventor of lost culture. His comics chronicle imaginary occupations and cultural attractions, like an island whose economy revolves around tourists visiting the ruins of abandoned public restrooms, “humane hamburgers” consisting of tiny slices of meat snipped from still-living cows so gently that they barely notice, or a seaside cellphone stand whose employees hold their phones aloft at the shore for ten minutes at a time so callers can hear the sounds of the ocean for a price. All of these things are just this side of plausible, feeling like old-fashioned customs that have been rendered obsolete or great ideas that never caught on, drowned out by the bustle of life in the big city.
But in his upcoming book The Cardboard Valise, due out on March 8 from Pantheon, Katchor takes a journey beyond his customary imaginary American-urban setting. This collection of strips culled from a variety of publications tells the loosely intertwined stories of two men dealing with our increasingly small world in two very different fashions: One is a literal travel addict who can’t stop visiting distant lands and cultures; the other proudly and loudly denounces the very notion of differing nations and customs, seeking to wipe out the physical and psychological borders that divide the world. Unsurprisingly, Katchor proves himself just as adept at chronicling the dislocations of travel and internationalism as he is at showing us (to use the subtitle of one of his books) the pleasures of urban decay.
As part of Robot 6’s second anniversary spectacular, Katchor allowed us to pick his brain about his new book, the allure of exoticism, the danger of nationalism, print vs. digital, and making the impossible possible.
After running a successful Kickstarter campaign, Geoffrey Golden and Amanda Meadows launched The Devastator earlier this year, a humor anthology that features a mix of prose and comics by a variety of contributors. Each issue focuses on a particular subject; the first issue lampooned cartoons like Fat Albert, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Inspector Gadget, while the second issue will take aim at science fiction when it comes out later this week.
Contributors to the anthology include a mix of humor writers, Hollywood folks and cartoonists — James Urbaniak of The Venture Bros. fame, Masterpiece Comics creator R. Sikoryak, Wondermark creator David Malki!, Antz co-writer Todd Alcott and Metalocalypse‘s Jon Schnepp, among many others. Per their site, “The Devastator publishes quarterly, which naturally means twice a year.”
I met Golden and Meadows at the Alternative Press Expo in October and caught back up with them this week to talk about the anthology.
JK: So to start off, introduce yourselves. What do you do in addition to the anthology?
Geoffrey: I’m Geoffrey Golden, co-founder and editor in chief of The Devastator. In addition, I’m a freelance writer/editor – I’ve written for Cracked, MadAtoms, National Lampoon and recently finished writing an animated movie for Lionsgate and Mondo Media (Happy Tree Friends).
Amanda: I’m Amanda Meadows, co-founder and managing editor of The Devastator. I too am a freelance writer/editor; I’ve written for College Humor, McSweeney’s, and worked at a publishing company for some time.
JK: What made you want to start publishing your own humor publication?
When we were over at Newsarama, I used to do these creator profile pieces that were a lot of fun. They were fun for me at least, because I always came away from them with an insight into some of my favorite creators that I never got from the typical project-oriented interviews. I mean, where else are you going to learn about a writer’s work-out routine or an artist’s favorite shirt?
So, once a month I’d like to use this space for a different kind of look at the creators of the fun kinds of comics we usually talk about here. I hope you’ll dig it as much as I do.
First up is Kelly Sue DeConnick who got started in the biz translating manga for VIZ and Tokyopop before doing some Image anthologies (most of which featured robots) and 30 Days of Night: Eben & Stella for IDW. Nowadays, of course, you’ll find her name all over Marvel comics in anthologies like Age of Heroes and Girl Comics and one-shots like Sif and Rescue. You may have also noticed that Osborn, her first mini-series for Marvel, just launched today.
Let’s get to know her:
Q: Who’s your personal hero?
A: Man. After far more deliberation that I really should cop to, I’m going to go with Laurenn McCubbin. There are about a bazillion ways to interpret “personal hero.” I’m going with the person from whom I think I have the most to learn, the person I wish I were more like.
Laurenn’s exceptionally courageous and open-minded, two areas where I think I could be improved. More impressive still, she has the extraordinary willingness to be wrong. Do you know what I mean by that? Laurenn is one of the few people you’ll ever meet who will go into an argument with you willing to change her mind. She doesn’t seem to have her ego wrapped up in any of that. You don’t really realize how rare that is until you meet someone like her. I think it’s tremendously evolved.
I suck at being wrong. I’m embarrassed by it.
Good thing it happens so very rarely.
Kevin is out sick today, so I’m filling in on Comics A.M. … apologies for the lateness.
Publishers | Viz Senior Vice President and General Manager Alvin Lu discusses the state of the company after the layoffs that occurred in May, as well as the overall manga market. “We continue to get great support from our retail partners. They do see that these very popular series continue to do well. They are getting up there in the 40s and 50s of the volume count, and there is the challenge of bringing in newer readers, to catch them up. I was looking though a calendar from several years ago when we were looking at Bleach Vol. 5 or something. That is a conversation we’ve been having with the bookstores, and they’re being very responsive on how to work with us, to continue to drive the category. They’ve been very supportive of helping us launch new series as well. So it’s a balancing act of getting the space to launch new series while nurturing the more mature series that continue to enjoy a loyal readership.” [ICv2]
Events | Brian Heater from the Daily Cross Hatch and Sarah Morean from Blog Chicka Blog Blog have declared Aug. 28 “International Read Comics in Public” Day. They’ve started a blog that features, as you might guess, people reading comics in public. [Daily Cross Hatch]
One of the more intriguing pieces of news to come out of Comic-Con was that the Archie folks are bringing back the venerable cute-kid comic Li’l Jinx, but with an older Jinx and a fresh new look. Even better, the comic is being written by J. Torres (Alison Dare, Lola: A Ghost Story). The series will go direct to digital in four 22-page issues and then see print as a trade paperback.
Not only did J. take time to talk to me about the new comic, but the Archie folks provided some exclusive character sketches of the new, more grown-up versions of Jinx and her friends. Hit the jump for comics and conversation.
During their panel at Comic-Con International last month, Top Shelf Productions highlighted several projects they’ll publish next year, including Gingerbread Girl, a new graphic novel by the husband-and-wife team of writer Paul Tobin and artist Colleen Coover.
The duo, probably best known for their respective work at Marvel right now, took the time to answer a few of my questions about the new project, how they collaborate and what else they’re working on.
JK: What’s Gingerbread Girl about?
Paul: At heart, it’s a strange bird of a character study focused on the main character, Annah, with a changing group of narrators (including a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a magician, a pigeon, a thug, a store clerk, a doctor, an English bulldog, and many more) searching for the truth behind our “Gingerbread Girl,” who believes that her mad scientist father extracted a part of her brain (the Penfield Homunculus) and used it to create a sister for Annah.
Ever since she made made her debut in anthologies like True Porn and Kramer’s Ergot, Davis’ work has exuded a warmth, humor, and sense of style that few of her compatriots can match, a fact only underscored by her 2005 book, Spaniel Rage, published by the late, lamented Buenaventura Press.
It’s been far too long since we’ve had a new book from her, but Make Me A Woman is thankfully worth the wait. Lest the title fool you into thinking the book is some saucy romp, let me be quick to dash some cold water on your overheated imagination. Mostly containing stories originally serialized in Tablet magazine, as well as some sketchbook strips and other material, the book explores how her relationship towards her family, friends, religion and self-image has changed as she’s matured. Along the way she talks about her experiences at fat camp, her feelings towards Robert Crumb’s Genesis adaptation and why she’d still like a present for Hanukkah.
I chatted with Davis over email last week about her new book and how she broke into comics. It was a genuine pleasure and I hope I don’t have to wait another five years for the opportunity to talk about her work with her again.
Elvis Yang’s life couldn’t be lamer. He’s in his sixth year of college, doesn’t have a girlfriend, lives in his parents’ basement, he’s flat broke and worst of all, his best friend Randy just kicked his ass in Wii Bowling. But everything for Elvis is about to change, including his last name.
Debuting at Comic-Con International next week is Elvis Van Helsing, written by Steve Kriozere and Mark A. Altman, with art by Jason Baroody and Zach Matheny. You can check out a trailer here. The book will hit comic shops later this fall.
Kriozere and Altman have previously worked together on a comic called The Unknowns and the television show Castle. Between them they’ve also worked on several other TV shows and movies, including Sliders, V.I.P., NCIS, DOA: Dead or Alive, The Specials and the William Shatner comedy Free Enterprise. Both were kind enough to share some more details on the book with me.
In addition, you can meet them next week at the AiT/PlanetLar booth (#2001) in San Diego to sign the book at the following times:
- Thursday 1-2 p.m.
- Friday 1-2 p.m.
- Saturday 11 a.m.-noon
- Sunday 1-2 p.m.
My thanks for their time, and to Larry Young for setting it up.
JK: When I first heard the title Elvis Van Helsing, the image that immediately sprang to mind was one of Elvis Presley fighting vampires. Can you talk a little bit about your “Elvis,” who he is and how he ends up fighting creatures of the night?
Steve: Our Elvis is a clueless slacker who’s decided to stay in college well past his graduation expiration date. He’s not dumb, he’s actually very, very smart, he just hasn’t found his true calling in life and finds things easier if he just stays in college to avoid taking on any sort of responsibility. So when Elvis finally does find out his true calling and secret family lineage — that he’s the sole surviving heir to the Van Helsing monster hunting family and, like it or not, must battle creatures of the night — it’s a bit much for him.
Mark: What he said…