Noah Van Sciver
Is Noah Van Sciver the finest cartoonist of his generation? It certainly seems like he’s on the path to earn that title, as readers of The Hypo and his contribution to Alternative Comics #4 will attest. Van Sciver further underscores his considerable talent in Deep in the Woods, a two-man anthology published on newspaper. Van Sciver’s original (I’m assuming) fairy tale involves a hapless and poor young maiden who flees her evil stepmother and alcoholic father only to come across a supernatural benefactor in the shape of a floating cow’s head. The temptation to let the story delve into parody or slapstick must have been tremendous, especially during sequences like the one where the girl, Robin, attempts to feed the cow, only to have the stew slop out the back of its head. But Van Sciver plays it deadly straight here, keeping the comedy at a far, buried distance (though not so buried that it’s completely undetectable). Filling his pages with suffocating black ink, often in the form of nefarious tree branches that threaten to engulf the protagonists, Van Sciver has created a decidedly claustrophobic, downbeat fairy tale that is no less magical due to the storytelling craft on display.
Nic Breutzman is someone I’m less familiar with, or rather, I should say I’m not that familiar with his work at all. I like his contribution here though, a somewhat more modern tale involving a poor, meth-taking family, the level-headed young girl that serves as our protagonist, a grandfather who won’t come out of a well and a nefarious creature that lives in a hollow tree. I’m all about stories that place archetypical folk structures and place them in a modern setting and Breutzman does that well enough here that I’m going to keep an eye out for what he does next time.
Continuing my ever-ongoing look at new comics from relatively new publishers, here are three books I recently received from the New Jersey-based Hic & Hoc:
The Hic & Hoc Illustrated Journal of Humor, edited by Lauren Barnett & Nathan Bulmer ($10): It’s about time we had a decent humor-themed anthology; we’re long overdue. While none of the contributions contained in this 64-page comic reaches the level of divinely inspired hilarity, there are nevertheless some pretty great contributions from folks like Noah Van Sciver, Bort, Sam Henderson, Grant Snider, Dustin Harbin and Julia Wertz. My favorite is probably a sex comic by Sam Spina in which the participants say the most bizarrely un-sexy things (“I have to tell the rainforest a secret,” “Mash my bean bags”). The stories run from the outrageous to the gentle and observant but it all flows together nicely. Good job everyone. I look forward to the second volume.
Me Likes You Very Much by Lauren Barnett ($14): Here’s a case of a cartoonist finding a unique niche and working the hell out of it. Just about every gag in this 192-page book involves fruit, vegetables and birds being absolutely horrid to each other. (Baby bird: “My tummy hurts.” Mom bird: “That’s because you’re filled with lies.”) Her art style is deliberately crude — (her occasional realistic renderings of animals suggest she does have some genuine artistic talent — which adds to the general absurdity of the gags. For the most part, this stuff is pretty funny, or at least funny enough to make you forgive the occasional weak punchline or just plain odd non sequitur. But while it goes down pretty quickly, I suspect these types of comics work best in small doses, i.e. a minicomic or thrice-weekly webcomic. I’m not sure this chunky book format offers the best sort of presentation for her work. That’s not to say it’s not worth reading. There’s enough funny stuff here that will provide some good chuckles and the occasional guffaw. Perhaps it’s just that I’d like to see her extend her reach a bit beyond the static one-panel gag format the next time she publishes something of this size.
Alternative Comics, the publisher of alternative comics, is back in business, with two big releases of note this month: Failure, a collection of Karl Stevens’ remarkably illustrated comic strips from the Boston Phoenix, and Alternative Comics #4, the latest installment of its showcase anthology (the first three issues were released as Free Comic Book Day giveaways, with the third issue shipping way back in 2005).
The new iteration isn’t free (in fact, it’s a $5.99, 48-page book), and it’s not coming out on Free Comic Book Day, but it is bigger, newer and perhaps even improved. To find that out, we’ll have to take a closer look at this book, edited by Marc Arsenault and featuring a lovely cover by Mike Bertino.
Here then, are a few words about every single story in Alternative Comics #4:
“Talent Goes In” by Sam Alden
This is a four-panel, inside-front-cover strip by Alden, which amounts to little more than a picture poem. It’s not terribly profound or even substantial but that’s okay, it’s only the inside front cover. Alden has a better strip later in the book.
Publishing | Dave Itzkoff profiles Karen Berger, who stepped down in March after 20 years as executive editor of DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint (she still consults on a few projects). The story has a wistful tone, with Berger suggesting that DC is more interested in its company-owned characters and Co-Publisher Dan DiDio basically agreeing, but noting it’s an industry-wide trend. He said it would be “myopic” to believe “that servicing a very small slice of our audience is the way to go ahead,” adding, “That’s not what we’re in the business for. We have to shoot for the stars with whatever we’re doing. Because what we’re trying to do is reach the biggest audience and be as successful as possible.” [The New York Times]
When comics entrepreneur Marc Arsenault announced almost a year ago that he had bought defunct Alternative Comics in order to relaunch the publisher, a lot of fans (me included) were thrilled. Under founder Jeff Mason, Alternative introduced readers to creators like Graham Annable, Brandon Graham, James Kochalka, Ed Brubaker, Scott Campbell (of Great Movie Showdowns fame), Dean Haspiel and Josh Neufeld. So with Alternative and comiXology announcing today that the publisher’s catalog is becoming available digitally on the app, I was eager to talk to Arsenault about their plans.
Michael May: For those who don’t know you, what’s your background in comics?
Marc Arsenault: Wow. Where to begin? I’ve been a pretty behind-the-scenes guy for most of my time in comics, but this year I’ve hit the quarter century mark for working in them.
I figured out that I wanted to make comics somewhere around eighth grade when I discovered RAW, Warrior and Heavy Metal. When I found out about the comics program at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) my path was clear. I didn’t even apply to any other schools. I got to study with Harvey Kurtzman, Will Eisner, Joe Orlando, David Sandlin, Jerry Moriarity, Marshall Arisman and the very influential Jack Potter.
That experience was very relevant to Alternative Comics’ past and present because it was there that I met Sam Henderson and Tom Hart. I shared a studio space with Tom, and he and Sam had started an off-campus comics anthology called Tuna Casserole. By the fifth issue I became co-editor and we founded the first incarnation of my company Wow Cool. I ended up becoming an illustrator instead of a cartoonist, and did that freelance on and off up until about a decade ago.
Conventions | Jason Knize makes a case for New York Comic Con potentially becoming “the Comic Con” next year, surpassing Comic-Con International as the completion of renovations on the Jacob Javits Center frees up an additional 90,000 square feet of space. However, he notes that space and attendance — NYCC’s 116,000 this year versus CCI’s 130,000 or so — certainly aren’t the only determining factors. [Panels on Pages]
Comics | Don MacPherson, who’s a newspaper reporter as well as a comics blogger, ponders Clark Kent’s departure from The Daily Planet in this week’s Superman #13: “In the scene in which Clark issues his ideological proclamation, Perry White retorts, ‘Go easy on us mortals, Clark. Times are changing and print is a dying medium.’ The challenges the Planet faces in the story reflect not only real-world ones in the newspaper industry, but also those faced by DC Comics itself as it struggles to stave off ebbing readership and find a way to foster an audience for online comics. Digital-publishing initiatives in the world of comics aside, I feel it important to argue Perry is wrong. Print isn’t a dying medium. What’s dying are past business models.” [Eye on Comics]
Conventions | Wizard World Chicago Comic Con kicks off today with a guest list that includes Stan Lee, George Perez, Neal Adams, Greg Capullo, Humberto Ramos, Carlos Pacheco, Barry Kitson, David Mack and Chris Burnham. The convention continues through Sunday in Rosemont, Illinois. [Wizard World]
Creators | Cyriaque Lamar has a brief interview with Matt Kindt about Mind MGMT #0, which is being solicited now for a November release. (Issues 1-3 are already available.) Here’s Kindt on the look of the comic: “For this project, I wanted it to be less like you’re picking up a comic and more like you’re holding a story, right down to everything outside of the panels. I want it to feel interactive, something you don’t just drift into. I tend to read graphic novels over issues — I can’t remember thirty days ago from a bit of story. I wanted each issue something you’d go back to every month. My goal was give the book as much depth as possible to reward monthly readers.” [io9.com]
Happy Sunday and welcome to What Are You Reading? Our guest today is Kevin Church, writer of The Rack, Signs and Meanings, the new Monkeybrain series Wander: Olive Hopkins And The Ninth Kingdom and many other comics.
To see what Kevin and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
Sales charts | The American Booksellers Association has released its list of the top-selling graphic novels in indie bookstores for the eight weeks ending May 27. At first glance, it looks like it’s mostly literary graphic novels (Habibi, Are You My Mother?) with a healthy sprinkling of The Walking Dead. [Bookselling This Week, via The Beat]
Creators | Grant Morrison discusses the second issue of Batman Incorporated, which features Batman’s lover and Robin’s mom, Talia al Ghul. [USA Today]
Comics history | Could comics history have been radically different if Jerry Siegel had a different last name? Larry Tye, the author of the new Superman a biography, talks to Fresh Air about the origins of the Man of Steel and how he changed over the years: “The editors in New York over time started to exercise their editorial control. They saw this as both a character and a business. They would go down to the level of dictating just what his forelocks looked like. They could be too curly. His arms should be shorter and less ‘ape-like.’ And Joe should get rid of his hero’s ‘nice fat bottom.’ His editor told him that he worried that that made Superman look too ‘la-dee-dah.’ And they were really concerned about the image of the character.” [NPR]
Season’s Greetings and welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at what we’ve been reading lately. Today our special guests are Geoffrey Golden and Amanda Meadows, editors of Devastator: The Quarterly Comedy Magazine for Humans. Their latest issue has a video game theme, with contributions from James Kochalka, Corey Lewis, Danny Hellman and many more. And if you head over to their website between now through Dec. 16, the code ROBOT6 gets you 20 percent off single issues.
To see what Amanda, Geoffrey and the Robot 6 crew have been reading lately, click below.
Eightball. Love and Rockets. Hate. Yummy Fur. Grit Bath. Meatcake. Palookaville. Dirty Plotte. In a distant time, serialized staple-bound solo anthology series dominated the alternative comics scene, and these (more or less) regularly published floppy-formatted comics roamed the earth in huge hordes. They also gave people interested in genres other than superheroes a reason to come back to comic shops week after week. Today they’re on the verge of extinction, supplanted by graphic novels and webcomics as the venues of choice for alternative work, with only a quixotic few — Alvin Buenaventura’s Pigeon Press, Igort and Fantagraphics’ Ignatz Line, Anders Nilsen’s recently completed Big Questions, the occasional issue of Uptight or Optic Nerve — keeping the torch lit.
But cartoonist Box Brown is looking to pull this fabled format back from the brink in a big way with Retrofit Comics, a new Kickstarter-funded publishing imprint seeking to publish fully 16 32-page pamphlet-format alternative comic books in a single year. Brown’s assembled an impressive line-up of creators for Retrofit Year One, including James Kochalka, Liz Bailie, Noah Van Sciver, L. Nichols, and Chuck Forsman — as well as a murderer’s row of retailers committed to carrying the comics, including The Beguiling, Jim Hanley’s Universe, Quimby’s, Desert Island, Floating World, Bergen Street, Chicago Comics, and Forbidden Planet UK. I think this last part is key. Brown explains that he’s doing this in part to provide alternative comics creators with the regular feedback of an audience as opposed to having them disappear from view for years at a time to draw a graphic novel, but that’s the sort of thing publishing to the web can take care of. What it can’t do is create an incentive for altcomix fans to visit their local comic shop, which would presumably drive more demand for similar books down the line. That’s worth pushing for.
Comics | A July house fire in Minneapolis that killed homeowner Gary Dahlberg spared his meticulously preserved comic-book collection, which experts say could be worth $1 million. The comics, which includes first issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and Daredevil, will be sold at auction on May 5 by Heritage Auction Galleries, with the money going to Dahlberg’s estate. “To go for the really big money they have to be really perfect, and that what these are,” says Barry Sandoval of Heritage Auction Galleries. “The comics look like they just rolled off the printing press and nobody’s ever touched them.” [KSTP TV, with video]
Crime | A 17-year-old boy accused of attempting to rob Fun 4 All Comics & Games in Ypsilanti, Mich., on Monday has been arraigned on charges of assault with attempt to rob while armed and attempted larceny. Police say the teen, wearing a blond wig, bandanna and dark glasses, gave an employee a list of merchandise — “most, if not all, of it Yu-Gi-Oh! cards” — then opened his coat to reveal what appeared to be an improvised explosive device. The boy allegedly threatened to detonate the bomb if he wasn’t given the merchandise. When the employee yelled for the owner to call police, then teen said he was only joking, then bought some inexpensive items and left the store. The sheriff’s department later arrested the teen in his car in a Burger King parking lot. The Michigan State Police bomb squad responded, and determined the potential explosive device was inert. [AnnArbor.com]
From King-Cat to Dark Knight: Minicomics master John Porcellino tackles the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder for the Denver Comics Fest sketchbook. Click the link to check out the final version with colors from Noah Van Sciver. Then check out Noah’s take on his comrade-in-cartooning-Van-Sciverhood Ethan’s cover for The Flash: Rebirth #3 for the Covered blog. Gee, the Joe Chiappetta/Mark Chiarello collaboration of our dreams can’t be far away at this rate…