reviews Archives - Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources

Nothing says ‘summer reading’ like a trip to Antarctica

shack-tease

[Editor’s note: Every Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss “The best in comics from the last seven days” — from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done.]

I love a good cold-weather book to take the edge off the summer heat, and summer is the time to read Nick Bertozzi’s Shackleton, the story of the ill-fated Imperial Trans-Arctic Expedition.

When Ernest Shackleton set out to walk across Antarctica, in 1914, the South Pole had already been visited by two explorers, Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott. The Great War had just begun, and this is quickly put into context: Shackleton realizes that if he doesn’t get his expedition funded now, it may never happen. His plan was to make the first crossing of Antarctica on foot, using two ships; one would drop him and his companions off on one side of the continent, while the other would land on the other side, set up a series of stations with provisions for the traveling party, and then wait to bring them back to England.

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New writing team gives ‘Thunderbolts’ a shot in the arm

thunderbolts-facebook

[Editor’s note: Every Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss “The best in comics from the last seven days” — from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done.]

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of Ben Acker and Ben Blacker; they’ve been wowing me with their incredible old-time radio podcast, The Thrilling Adventure Hour. This isn’t their first comic book either, as they both brought The Thrilling Adventure Hour to graphic novel life, wrote Wolverine: Season One and were also tapped to write Deadpool Annual #1.. There’s really nothing new about this title, as they don’t even start with a #1; instead, we pick up mid-shenanigans with Thunderbolts #27.

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Fitzgerald’s ‘Photobooth’ tells a story of pictures — in pictures

PAB-Cover-tease

[Editor’s note: Every Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss “The best in comics from the last seven days” — from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done.]

Meags Fitzgerald‘s Photobooth: A Biography is my favorite sort of book, the history of a common object that folds in all sorts of interesting side stories along the way. Photobooths were once ubiquitous in malls and shopping centers; you put in your quarter, mugged for the camera, waited what seemed like forever, and collected your strip of three or four photos to swap with friends or pin to your bulletin board. When I was growing up they were just sort of there, and nobody thought too much about them.

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Robot Reviews | ‘Dennis P. Eichhorn’s Real Good Stuff’ 1 & 2

Real Good Stuff #1 & 2There’s are a number of reasons why Dennis Eichhorn‘s Real Stuff was regarded as one of the better autobiographical comics of the 1990s. One thing, of course, was that he has lived an interesting and varied life – including a stint in jail – and has come across some unique, and at times bizarre, characters.

The other is that Eichhorn was a gifted raconteur, knowing exactly what beats of his story to hit and when, and the perfect point to deliver the punchline, even if it was retelling a funny thing someone said over drinks. Add to that the fact he collaborated with some of the most talented cartoonists in the industry at the time – Mary Fleener, Julie Doucet, Peter Bagge and Chester Brown, to name just a few – and tailored his stories to fit each artist’s unique strengths. I don’t know how the division of labor works with Eichhorn, whether he gives out detailed thumbnails or just a page of uninterrupted text, but he seems to understand the rhythm of comics exceedingly well.

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Robot Reviews | ‘Artists, Authors, Thinkers, Directors’

Artists Authors Thinkers Directors

Artists Authors Thinkers Directors

Artists Authors Thinkers Directors by Paul Hornschemeier, Fantagraphics Books, 112 pages, $19.99.

This isn’t comics per se, but rather a collection of portraits Hornschemeier did of various notable figures as a late-night drawing exercise of sorts. One of the things I like is that Hornschemeier tries to change his style to suit the subject matter, or at least keep things from getting similar, so that Edward Gorey might be portrayed in a traditional stipple/cross-hatch method, J.D. Salinger and John Steinbeck are all made up of severe, angular, slashing lines, while P.G. Wodehouse seems to consist of a collection of basic geometric shapes that threaten to break off into pure abstraction. My favorites are probably the “blind continuous line” drawings, where Hornschemeier attempted to capture a person’s likeness without looking at the drawing or lifting his pen form the paper. These images have a lovely chaos to them that nevertheless manage to coalesce into an identifiable face.

On the downside, Hornschemeier has a tendency to elongate people’s faces, which can result in some rather odd-looking figures (Charles Schulz in particular seems rather off-model). He’s also obviously working off of photos, and part of me wished he took even more of a chance in attempting to draw his figures in different poses or expressions — especially with someone like Tesla, where the original image is so well know. On the upside, I also appreciated Hornschemeir’s notes in the back on each individual. Every so often he comes up with a delightful turn of phrase that captures an artist’s essence, as when he describes Richard Scarry art as, “The aesthetic equivalent of a towel fresh from the dryer.” All in all, it’s a nice little gift book that holiday present-shoppers can give to fans of Mother, Come Home or those who simply share the same sort of admiration Hornschemeier clearly does for these creative people.

Robot Reviews | ‘Over the Wall,’ ‘Monster on the Hill’ and other all-ages comics

Over the Wall

Over the Wall

Over the Wall by Peter Wartman, Uncivilized Books, 80 pages, $14.95.

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.

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Reviews | ‘Hip Hop Family Tree,’ ‘Treasury of Mini Comics’ and ‘Heroic Tales’

Hip Hop Family Tree

Hip Hop Family Tree

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.

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Comics A.M. | Acclaimed editorial cartoonist Roy Peterson dies

Roy Peterson

Roy Peterson

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]

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Humor, mystery and cruel birds: Three books from Hic & Hoc

The Hic & Hoc Illustrated Journal of Humor

The Hic & Hoc Illustrated Journal of Humor

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.

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Not-so-new books from Koyama Press, Secret Acres, D&Q and Picturebox

You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack

You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack

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.

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Reviewing graphic novels | The view from the keyboard

Apparently, I'm the only person on earth who hated this book

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.

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Robot Reviews | Two kids’ comics that make you think

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.

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What Are You Reading? with Andy Khouri

Wet Moon

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.

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Grumpy Old Fan | New 52 Week 4: Across the finish line

Aquaman #1 -- overcompensating, perhaps?

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.

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Comics A.M. | Should feminists give up on superhero comics?

Catwoman #1

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]

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