You’ve heard it said that children are the future, and if that’s true—and it must be, since they’ll be around for more of the future than we adults will be—it’s as true for comics as it is for whatever else people mean when they say children are the future.
So what sorts of comic books are we providing for our children, our future these days? As it turns out, some pretty good ones—hell, some pretty great ones.
This week saw the release of three particular comic books–not graphic novels or tankobon, but good-old-fashioned 20-some pages and some staples comic books—that featured superior writing and art, some of that art coming from world-class cartoonists.
And all three of those comics, oddly enough, are based on cartoon series.
When I was a child, there were comic books based on cartoons (cartoons that were often based on toy lines), and while they were readily available in drug and grocery stores, and you could buy one with a dollar bill and get change back, they weren’t exactly the highest quality product.
But some of today’s based-on-cartoons comics can put to shame much of what the “Big Six” direct market publishers release for their grown-up audiences.
Jeffrey Brown, Ming Doyle, Michael Kupperman and several other creators have contributed to The Comic Book Fan’s Worst NIGHTMARE!, a mini-comic that highlights the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund‘s current casework. In particular, the comic highlights the case of “Brandon X,” who is facing a minimum sentence of one year in prison for possessing horror and fantasy manga on his laptop computer. His case is expected to go to trial in 2012, and legal expenses are estimated to run around $150,000.
It’s an annual tradition to look forward to: The alternative comics publisher Top Shelf has unveiled its “Massive $3 Sale,” in which they’re pricing down their catalog to near-ridiculous levels — in many cases $3, and in many more cases just one lousy American dollar. For very little money, you can rack up a big chunk of one of the best comics publishers’ best comics.
What would I get? At the $3 level, Kolbeinn Karlsson’s The Troll King — a surreal collection of intertwined short stories that for once lives up to the overused, rarely true label “fairy tales for grown-ups” — is basically a must-buy. I’d also be sure to pick up Andy Hartzell’s Fox Bunny Funny, an unpredictable and impeccably cartooned funny-animal allegory about conformity and self-discovery. Lilli Carré’s remarkably assured debut collection of satirical short stories, Tales of Woodsman Pete, is another no-brainer. If you’re interested in rounding out your Alan Moore collection with some of his more off-the-beaten-path efforts, you can get all eight issues of his underground-culture zine Dodgem Logic, his prose novel Voice of the Fire, and his poetry/photography collaboration with José Villarubia The Mirror of Love for three bucks a pop. And you can pick up all three issues of Jeffrey Brown’s one-man action anthology series Sulk — Bighead & Friends, a return to his genuinely funny superhero parody characters; Deadly Awesome, an 84-page mixed martial arts fight comic; and The Kind of Strength That Comes from Madness, a grab bag of sci-fi/fantasy/action/adventure spoofs — for a buck apiece, which is a steal.
Beyond the deepest discounts, you’ll rarely find the publisher’s heavy (literally–these books are big) hitters priced as low as they are now: Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell, Campbell’s Alec: The Year’s Have Pants omnibus, and Jeff Lemire’s complete Essex County are all $20, while Craig Thompson’s Blankets is just $22.50.
And hey, if you’re totally new to all of these books, so much the better. Maybe DC’s New 52 initiative has you in an “I’ll try anything for $3 a book” mood? If so, put a few bucks aside and get some full-fledged graphic novels for that price or lower. You’ll be glad you did.
The third issue of The Devastator, the humor anthology edited by Geoffrey Golden and Amanda Meadows, comes out at the end of the month, and the theme this time around is cats. Cats! Who doesn’t love cats?
I know someone who definitely loves cats — cartoonist Jeffrey Brown, creator of Cat Getting Out of a Bag and Other Observations. Brown has a two-page strip in the upcoming volume; Devastator sent us the first page, which you can view after the jump, but you’ll have to buy the anthology to see the second page (see what they did there?) Each issues is a mix of comics, prose pieces and a whole bunch of humor, and can be bought through their website.
Cartoonists rarely produce great work right out of the starting gate. It usually it takes lots of time and lots of effort for an artist to hone their style and storytelling abilities. Debut comics — even those made by the greats — rarely offer any indication of what type of treasures lie ahead. Even Chris Ware had to make Floyd Farland before he could produce Jimmy Corrigan.
Still, sometimes a cartoonist seems to spring out of the sea foam fully formed, producing a work that not only draws attention and great buzz, but also indicates exactly where they’re headed — what direction they plan to take as an artist and what you as a reader can expect from them.
Here then, are six debut comics that made people go “Who the heck is this guy? And why haven’t I heard of him before?” I’m sure I missed someone. I always do. Be a dear and let me know who I forgot in the comments section, won’t you?
Broadway | The $70-million musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark will emerge Thursday from its three-week hiatus a vastly changed production, featuring five additional flying sequences, expanded roles for Aunt May, Uncle Ben and Mary Jane, a scaled back (and transformed) Arachne, new songs and a lighter tone. “There is still a ton of emotional complexity in the musical, and some of that original darkness,” says playwright and comics writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who was hired to help rework the script. “But we all also wanted a show that would honor the rich legacy and history of the Spider-Man story: the high school love story, the pretty girl next door, the science geek who is coping with new powers.” The new opening night is set for June 14. [The New York Times]
Publishing | Gregory Noveck, former senior vice president-creative affairs at DC Entertainment, has been hired as senior vice president of production for Syfy Films, a joint venture of Syfy and Universal. Noveck, who oversaw DC’s film and television ventures, left the company in August amid a massive restructuring. [Heat Vision]
Retailing | A bankruptcy judge is expected to hear arguments today from the bankrupt Borders Group, which is seeking to pay $8.3 million in bonuses in a bid to retain key corporate personnel. The struggling bookseller says that 47 executives and director-level employees have quit since the company declared bankruptcy on Feb. 16 — two dozen just this month — leaving only 15 people in senior management positions. In a court filing last week, U.S. bankruptcy trustee Tracy Hope Davis objected to the bonus proposal, characterizing it as “a disguised retention plan for insiders, which also provides for discriminatory bonuses for non-insiders.” [The Detroit News]
Publishing | Todd Allen looks at sales estimates for the first issues in Marvel’s “Point One” initiative, which featured self-contained stories designed to serve as a jumping-on point for new or lapsed readers: “With the sole exception of Hulk, retailers ordered less copies of the ‘jump on’ issue, than the regular series. If you figure people picking up the title would also pick up the ‘.1′ introductory issue, this is a flaming disaster and there aren’t going to be a lot of these comics finding their way into the hands of new readers. It smack of very low buy-in from the retail community.” [Indignant Online]
Publishing | Dynamite Entertainment CEO Nick Barrucci talks frankly about the state of the marketplace, digital comics, and his company’s plans. He also acknowledges some missteps: “Green Hornet was a license we paid a lot of attention to last year, probably too much attention. Going back to what we were talking about earlier, putting out too much product, we put out too much Green Hornet product. Part of it is that we wanted to get trade paperback collections out in time for the movie, and we did that, we succeeded. We built up our market share and we generated more revenue for us and the retailers. I’m going off on a tangent here, so I apologize, but we took that money and reinvested into projects like Vampirella, like Warlord of Mars, like the upcoming Kirby: Genesis. But we overdid it, and that we realize, which is why you don’t see us doing four Vampirella titles and four Warlord of Mars titles.” [ICv2.com]
Creators | For its annual Comics Issue, the Village Voice takes a fascinating, lengthy and very depressing look at the often-grim financial reality faced by cartoonists — an environment to which, it turns out, the Village Voice contributed. “I’m not sure how much you’ll be allowed to write about this,” says Dan Perkins (Tom Tomorrow), “but of course the Village Voice Media chain is one of the major culprits in this —their decision to ‘suspend’ cartoons [in 15 papers in 2009] dealt a serious blow to the struggling subgenre of alt-weekly cartoons.” It’s noted parenthetically that Tom Tomorrow will return to the paper “within a few months,” and that “many of the artists in this issue aren’t getting paid, but have contributed work for the exposure.” [Village Voice]
When the editors of the Graphic NYC blog asked Incredible Change-Bots creator Jeffrey Brown to discuss his influences, they had an essay in mind, but after working on the idea for some time, Brown came back with something different: A comic.
In the charming I’m Really Good at Playing, Brown uses his interactions with his son Oscar to make some points about creating comics, some obvious—his comics are inspired by childhood love of both comics and action figures, in which good and evil were clearly demarcated and good always triumphed at the last minute—and some subtle, like the way his wife can’t impersonate a shark as well as he can. As an extra bonus, he provided a diagram of his initial thoughts and how he turned them into panels of the comic, and he goes through all the steps at his blog.
Over at ComicsAlliance, Laura Hudson has a real treat for those of you who like your superhero comics with an alternative twist: 50-plus pages of sketches, thumbnails, pencils, inks, color studies and more from the Strange Tales II hardcover, which debuted this week. Click on over and get a glimpse at the creative process behind contributions from Kate Beaton, Jeffrey Brown, Ivan Brunetti, Farel Dalrymple, Rafael Grampa, Dean Haspiel, Jaime Hernandez, Paul Hornschemeier, Benjamin Marra, Edu Medeiros, Harvey Pekar, Frank Santoro, and Paul Vella. That’s hella Strange!
As Transformers 3 draws inexorably nearer, I find myself dreading the conversations I know I’m going to have.
My friends will ask, innocently, “Have you seen Transformers 3, yet?”
“No,” I’ll reply, hoping they’ll lose interest and change the subject.
“Why not? It looks great! I thought you were into all that sci-fi, comic booky stuff.”
At which point I’ll either have to lie and say that I just haven’t gotten around to it yet (a tactic I’ll feel horrible about later), or tell the truth about hating Michael Bay movies and come off sounding like a complete snob. Which of course I am, but nobody likes defending themselves against that, especially when it’s true.
You see, my friends just don’t get it. If it’s big, if it’s blockbustery, if it’s got giant robots and it’s based on a popular cartoon from the ‘80s, they’ll go see it regardless of how crap it is. “I know it’s not great,” they’ll tell me, “but come on. It’s fun!” I could argue that last point, but by now I’m tired of the conversation.
I know I’m going to get this because I went through it two years ago with Transformers 2. I don’t want to go through it again. Fortunately, this year I have something with which to deflect the conversation into a positive direction. I have Incredible Change-Bots.
The second volume of Jeffrey Brown’s Incredible Change-Bots debuts at the C2E2 comics convention this weekend, where the creator will be in attendance. Over on his blog, Brown also reveals a piece of art titled “Bew! Bew! Bew!” that will be featured in a Change-bots art show at the Scott Eder Gallery in May. The gallery has a table at the con, where the artwork will be displayed.
And if that’s not enough, Brown also recently announced a new Change-Bots fan club offer, which you can either take advantage of on the web or at C2E2 this weekend. You can find Brown at the Top Shelf booth (#810).
Or does he? According to cartoonist Jeffrey Brown’s interview with CBR’s Alex Dueben, the upcoming sequel to his hit transforming-robot action-parody Incredible Change-Bots owes a bit less to the robots in disguise and more to his desire just to play around some more with the characters he concocted for Volume One — and to spoof the Superman mythos, of all things…
There are a lot of superhero parodies, but not a lot of transforming fighting robot parodies. Does it help, knowing you’re treading on ground no one’s covering?
[Laughs] It’s hard to say how much that helped. I think especially with the second book, it became less a parody of Transformers and more just being interested in these characters…who just happen to have the same functions as Transformers. It becomes more of its own thing. I think it’s one reason why I’ve enjoyed the Change-Bots stuff more than I enjoyed doing [the superhero parody] “Bighead.” It doesn’t feel as much like it’s something that’s been done to death already.
To highlight the New Chicago Comics exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art, NBC Chicago ran the above segment, which features creators Jeffrey Brown and Paul Hornschemeier talking about their work. The exhibit features their work, as well as that of Lilli Carré and Anders Nilsen.
Mark your calendar and start saving your pennies: Top Shelf has announced its entire 2011 lineup, in chronological order, and it’s going to be quite a year. In addition to a varied line of adult graphic novels, the indy publisher is greatly expanding its children’s line and inaugurating a “Kids Club” website just for those books. Some highlights:
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Vol III): Century #2 – 1969, by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill: The latest chapter of Moore’s epic moves to 1960s London, the epicenter of psychedelic cool. Due out in July.
Any Empire, by Nate Powell: Powell won an Eisner Award two years ago for Swallow Me Whole, and now he’s back with another book about the secrets of childhood, this one focusing on violence in suburbia. Also due out in July.
Incredible Change-Bots Two, by Jeffrey Brown: The catalog text describes this as “a nostalgic tribute not only to Saturday morning cartoons but also to Jeffrey Brown’s Incredible Change-Bots One,” which is as good a reason as any for fans of the first book to pick up the second. Watch for it in March.
Gingerbread Girl, by Colleen Coover and Paul Tobin (who we interviewed last summer about it): This sounds like a pileup of wackiness, with multiple narrators following a young woman, trying to see if her mad-scientist father used part of her brain to make her a sister. Due out in May.
Okie Dokie Donuts (Story 1): Open for Business, by Chris “Elio” Eliopoulos: Trouble in the donut shop! Chris Eliopoulos is an animator for the children’s television show Yo Gabba Gabba, and you can see his webcomic The Bravest Nino at the Top Shelf site. Due out in June.
And, for those who can’t get enough alternative manga, another volume of AX! There’s a lot more in their catalog, so go, read, and plan!