A young girl ventures into an abandoned, labyrinthine city in order to find her lost brother, despite it’s being haunted by malevolent demons. One of the strengths of Wartman’s debut graphic novel is that he doesn’t vary much from that core story outline. He dabbles in a lot of overly familiar genre and mythological tropes to be sure (there’s some business with the demons being named and people entering the city forgetting who they are) but he doesn’t play up these elements too strongly or let them overwhelm the story, instead keeping the focus on the girl and her desire to locate her brother. I also liked the relationship between the girl and a somewhat helpful demon who seems so astonished that someone would willingly enter the city that he ends up acting as a benefactor. Again, it’s a familiar trope, but paces the story well enough that it never once feels rote or cliched.
Another key to the book’s success is the city itself. I can’t emphasize enough the need for cartoonists, especially young cartoonists, to set their stories in a well-defined universe. This is especially true in fantasy stories, where the reader needs to get a sense of the physical world the characters inhabit in order to be willing to accept the supernatural and logic-defying events that occur in the story. You can’t map out Wartman’s city in your head, but the seemingly endless panels of well-detailed corridors, stairs, gardens and passageways give a sense of scale to the story. The city seems so foreboding and ancient, you worry the characters really will lose their way. Overall I just appreciated this well-structured, engrossing adventure tale and hope it’s a sign of more good things to come from this particular cartoonist.
Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor, Fantagraphics Books, 120 pages, $24.99.
I enjoy both hip-hop and reading books about the history of music or nascent art forms in general, so this book fits right in my wheelhouse anyway, but, man, did I like this comic. I liked the way Piskor designed the book, making it look like one of those oversized Marvel or DC “Treasury” books from the 1970s, and even goes so far as to use newsprint-like paper and print the colors slightly off-register at times, all the better to evoke those lap-sized comics of yesteryear. I liked the way he juggles a huge cast of characters, jumping around from one to the next without losing or confusing the reader. I like how he employs some wonderful bits of cartoonish exaggeration (that, it should be noted, never devolves into ethnic stereotyping), so that Grandmaster Flash wears an impossibly large cap, Mellie Mel’s afro seems larger than his head at times, and Russell Simmons is a cross-eyed guy with a bad lisp. Piskor seems to know intuitively how to relate the best, most revealing and juiciest anecdotes without bogging the reader down in minutiae. I’ve enjoyed Piskor’s work in the past (most notably with his hacker book Wizzywig) but he’s never seemed quite as confident a storyteller as he does here. Can’t wait for volume two.
Passings | Roy Peterson, editorial cartoonist for the Vancouver Sun, died Sunday at the age of 77. During his 40-year career, Peterson won more National Newspaper Awards than any other Canadian creator, but he was remembered by his peers chiefly for his sense of humor and his mentoring of younger artists. [Vancouver Sun]
Publishing | CNN contributor Bob Greene profiles Victor Gorelick, the editor-in-chief and co-president of Archie Comics who began working for the publisher at age 17, in 1958. [CNN.com]
Creators | Craig Thompson talks about the short story he wrote and drew for First Second’s Fairy Tale Comics anthology, and he reveals an interesting fact: “For six years or so, my entire income was based on drawing kids’ comics for [Nickelodeon] magazine. Later on my career shifted to drawing ‘serious’ graphic novels aimed at adult readers, but I’ve always wanted to revisit my more fun and cartoony style.” Former Nickelodeon editor Chris Duffy is the editor of Fairy Tale Comics. [Hero Complex]
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.
Note: My schedule has been all goofy lately which means I haven’t been able to post on a regular weekly basis or contribute to Cheat Sheet or What Are You Reading in the manner I’d like to. I know: Wah, wah, wah.
Meanwhile, the books keep piling up. And piling up.
So, in an effort to assuage my guilt, I attempted to run through some of the titles I’ve received in the mail in the past few months. Warning: I might do this again. I might not. I’m mercurial.
You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack by Tom Gauld (Drawn & Quarterly)
As appreciative as I am that we live in an era when cartoonists are encouraged to, and do, create lengthy, thoughtful, multi-layered stories, there’s something to be said for the simple pleasures of a gag strip – the fleeting joy that a really short, well-constructed joke can provide. I didn’t realize how much I missed that sort of thing until I read You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, a collection of short strips that cartoonist Tom Gauld did for The Guardian. The bulk of the strips play upon classic stories, genre fiction or publishing in general. Gauld’s jokes are are silly enough and play upon familiar cliches well enough to make the reader feel smart even if you haven’t read, say, Zola’s “Germinal.” His minimalist, silhouetted style helps get the joke across as well. He’s also rather fond of diagrams and maps, which puts him in good company with folks like New Yorker cartoonists Roz Chast and Jack Ziegler I didn’t care much for Gauld’s last book, Goliath, which I thought milked a rather weak joke (gosh, the Biblical Goliath was actually a really nice guy!) but Jetpack had me frequently laughing out loud in the way that only my favorite comic strips do. Comics need more of this sort of “get in, get out quick” work right now and I’m happy that Gauld is here to fill that void.
Last weekend I was supposed to speak at the Kidlit Blogger conference in New York, but I had to bow out shortly beforehand because of scheduling problems. However, in preparing for the panel, I pulled together some notes on reviewing graphic novels that I thought might be of interest to writers, and maybe to readers as well. And because a good writer wastes nothing, here you go!
Types of reviews: Most of my reviews are written for the mildly interested reader, a group that could include casual readers, fans of any genre and librarians, and the aim of the review is to help that reader determine whether he or she would like that book. That’s different from me liking the book. There’s always a large measure of taste involved in any review, and if a book is solid but somehow done in a style or genre I don’t care for, that doesn’t mean someone else won’t like it. Having had the experience of totally trashing a book that other people love, and loving a book most people hated, I don’t even try to believe that my taste is universal.
So, in this type of review I give an indication of what the story is about, who the characters are, what the art is like, and how the story is told, then discuss what worked particularly well or don’t work at all. If I have a physical copy of the book, I might note the presentation, particularly if the production values are especially good (or especially bad). I seldom do an entirely positive or entirely negative review of a book, because most books have flaws and high points. I generally avoid spoilers in those types of reviews.
Occasionally a book is so bad I just pull out the sledgehammer and trash it. The book has to be spectacularly, offensively bad for me to do that—if it’s merely boring, the muse won’t come. So that doesn’t happen too often. Actually, my favorite kind of review is the one where I think a book is going go to be awful and I am pleasantly surprised when it turns out to be good.
I spent the weekend reading big piles of children’s graphic novels, prepping for my Eisner judging duties. There were two that stood out to me for the same reason: They demanded more of the reader than just following along. While they are clearly intended for young readers, both are interesting enough to hold an adult’s attention and would definitely make good gifts for a child who will immediately demand that you read them aloud.
Hello and welcome to a special holiday edition of What Are You Reading? Actually it’s just a normal edition of What Are You Reading?, because changing the font color to red and green, and adding twinkling lights around the border just made it harder to read.
Our special guest this week is Andy Khouri, associate editor over at ComicsAlliance, where he drops comic news and commentary on a daily basis.
To see what Andy and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
So here we are, the last week of the New 52 rollout, and I must say it’s been a fascinating — sometimes exhausting — ride. It’ll be good to get back to more normal posting next week, but I have enjoyed these marathon stream-of-consciousness reviews. Although DC has said over and over that these books are all part of the same revised universe, there are so many different styles and approaches on display (The early ‘90s! The mid- to late ‘90s!) that the line seems a lot more heterogeneous than it did five weeks ago.
Moreover, the realization that these books are the new status quo is only now starting to sink in. Overall it’s a good feeling, but bittersweet too. After all, I had 25 years to get used to the last line-wide revampings.
SPOILERS FOLLOW, as always.
Comics | Dismayed by the portrayal of Catwoman in DC Comics’ relaunched series, Alyssa Rosenberg of ThinkProgress asks whether feminists are wasting their time in hoping and lobbying for better portrayals of women in mainstream superhero comics. While she understands the desire to walk away, the decides in the end “it’s worth it to keep nudging”: “… Even if the industry doesn’t change, there should be voices in the background when folks read these books pointing out their problems. The key is getting folks who really just want to see, say, Catwoman bang Batman and nothing else to hear those critiques and to find a way to engage with them constructively, which is really, profoundly difficult. But I’d rather live in a world where people who don’t want to hear the works they like criticized have to work to shut them out, rather than leaving them to relax into the blissful sounds of silence.”
At The Atlantic, Noah Berlatsky points out that not all comics are like Catwoman or Red Hood and the Outlaws, and recommends some alternatives. Meanwhile, Tom Foss jokingly suggests that the “new” Starfire is merely replacing longtime New Teen Titans creeper Terry Long. [ThinkProgress, The Atlantic]
Whether by accident or design, this week was dominated by female leads (four, not including Starfire in Red Hood) and Bat-titles (four including RH; five if you count Birds Of Prey). It is tempting to say the woman-led titles ran the gamut of experiences from A to D, but thankfully it is a little more complicated than that. As you might expect, the week produced issues of varying quality, although I found something to like about each one. Sometimes it was harder to find that one thing, though….
Naturally, SPOILERS FOLLOW.
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In theory, the DC Universe Presents anthology has a longer lease on life because its sales can’t be judged fairly on the basis of only one arc. I suppose that, given Deadman’s relationship with one of Hawk & Dove’s headliners, that book’s readers might be interested in this one. By and large, though, the audience for this title is made up either of DC stalwarts waiting for a good Obscure Character X story, or (less likely, I’d say) impulse buyers. Such an approach might have been a great way to introduce a totally new character within the context of the New 52, and piggyback that feature on the rest of the relaunch’s popularity — but I’m not surprised DC chose Deadman, fresh off Brightest Day.
It was the strangest thing — when I woke up this morning I was younger, single, and most of my clothes had high collars and funky seams….
Okay, let’s cut that out right now. Don’t worry, I’m still middle-aged and married, with the same beat-up wardrobe. However, I have read all but one of this week’s New-52 books, and now I get to share them with you. (The local comics shop got shorted on Batwing #1, which is too bad, because as one of the few sort-of new concepts being offered, I was especially looking forward to it. Next week for sure!) Generally I thought most had at least some potential, and I was mostly impressed with the efforts the various creative teams made. Of course, that doesn’t mean I liked everything, but I did like more than I thought I would.
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Legal | A Michigan judge on Monday denied a defense motion to dismiss the murder case against former retailer and convention organizer Michael George, who will now stand trial a second time in the 1990 shooting death of his first wife Barbara. His trial is set to begin Sept. 7. George, 51, was convicted in 2008 of killing his wife in their Clinton Township comic book store. However, later that year Macomb County Circuit Judge James M. Biernat set aside the conviction based on claims of prosecutorial misconduct and the emergence of new evidence that might have resulted in a different verdict. [The Detroit News]
Comic strips | On Sept. 11, the Sunday comics pages will mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11 as 93 strips from six syndicates participate in “Cartoonists Remember 9/11.” After publication, the strips will be collected at CartoonistsRemember911.com. [USA Today]
Education | Updating Monday’s report about rising waters in White River Junction, Vermont, imperiling The Center for Cartoon Studies’ Schulz Library, Director James Sturm says that while the building was seriously damaged, thanks to the efforts of students, staff and alumni, not a single book was lost. Cartoonist Jen Vaughn, meanwhile, details the rescue, with accompanying photos. [The Comics Reporter, The Beat]
As insufferably precious as Sara Varon’s comics can seem at first glance, they’re frequently suffused with a melancholy that belies their outward cutie-pie nature. Most of her books deal with the tricky nature of friendship, both our essential human need for connection and companionship and also how we often define our own identity through our contact with others. She rarely sugarcoats these relationships, either — Robot Dreams had a rather nasty betrayal at its focal point after all. That all can seem like heady stuff for an all-ages book, but Varon smartly refuses to delve too deep into psychology blather, preferring to keep the actions and visuals as simple and self-explanatory as possible.
Publishers | DC Comics have released details on the midnight release of Flashpoint #5 and Justice League #1 on Aug. 31. The publisher is offering a free over-ship of Flashpoint #5 for retailers who order 125 percent of their order for Flashpoint #1, and the publisher has noted that that these are the only two DC titles shipping that week that can be sold at midnight. The promotion is only available to U.S. and Canadian accounts; due to the Aug. 29 bank holiday, the midnight sale option will not be available to UK retailers. [ICv2]
Legal | Michael Dean looks at the recent ruling by New York federal judge Colleen McMahon that the family of Jack Kirby has no claim to the copyrights of the characters he co-created for Marvel. Dean notes, “Some legal observers were expecting Marvel to be the second major comics-publisher domino to fall when Toberoff filed on behalf of the Kirbys, but there is a key difference between Kirby’s comics work and Siegel’s: It was well established that Superman already existed as a full-blown character concept before Siegel and Joe Shuster pitched him to DC, whereas Kirby, who died in 1994, did most if not all of his Marvel work on assignment from the publisher. In the case of work for hire, the Copyright Act defines the instigating employer/publisher as the Author of the work.” [The Comics Journal]