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Boutique home video distributor Criterion commissioned Samuel Hiti (Los Tiempos Finales, Death-Day) and a list of other great comics artists to create artwork for the individual films in the company’s box set for the long-running Zatoichi series starring Shintaro Katsu as a blind, but incredibly quick and accurate swordsman. Hiti designed the cover for Zatoichi the Fugitive, the fourth in the series.
Twenty-five Zatoichi films were produced between 1962 and 1973, making it the longest-running action series in Japanese history. There was also a four-season TV series in the late ’70s. The Criterion box set collects those first 25 feature films in one package for the first time, but doesn’t include 1989’s Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman, written and directed by Shintaro Katsu himself.
There are two things I love about Sam Hiti’s work. One is his unique artistic style; his stuff looks like nothing else on the planet. But as much as I love that, what I especially look forward to in his books is layered storytelling. Even when I can’t read the language he’s writing in, like the Spanish comic El Largo Tren Oscuro, Hiti’s visuals communicate that there are multiple things going on for anyone paying attention. That’s especially true in longer graphic novels like Tiempos Finales and Death-Day.
I wasn’t sure then what to expect from Hiti’s first children’s book, Waga’s Big Scare. I knew I’d love the art, but what would the story be like? Fortunately, Hiti’s one of those authors who knows that children can handle more than people usually give them credit for, both in terms of story and frights. Waga is a demonic little monster that’s lost his “scare.” Hiti doesn’t explicitly describe what that means, nor why Waga will disappear if he doesn’t get his scare back by morning, but there’s food for thought there if you want to figure out what the scare represents and how it relates to nighttime. The story works on different levels.
Children and adults both will relate to looking for something that’s gone missing, just as everyone will delight in the spooky, creature-filled landscapes and scenes Hiti creates for Waga to go searching through: monster parades, creepy woods, graveyards, and dark, dank caves. There’s also a growing sense of urgency and tension reminiscent of The Monster at the End of this Book. The closer Waga gets to the end of the story, the more worried I got that he wouldn’t find his scare.
But then, why was I rooting for him in the first place? Hiti describes him early on as “the meanest, trickiest, most terrible monster that ever lived.” Do I really want him to get his big scare back? Don’t I want him to fail and disappear? It’s to the book’s great credit that the answer to that last question is “no” and I imagine it’ll be the same for kids.
Go, Waga, go! Find that scare and terrify the poop out of me.
Not every comics artist is at Comic-Con International in San Diego this week; some are at home updating their blogs. Like Paul Pope (above). For this I’ll forgive his minor part in the Before Watchmen farrago.
Dan McDaid is home in Scotland posting an Easter egg-laden image from an upcoming issue of Doctor Who Magazine.
But only in the nicest way. The cartoonist behind intelligently creepy comics like Tiempos Finales, The Long Dark Train and Death-Day has created his first children’s book, Waga’s Big Scare. It won’t be available until closer to Halloween, but Amazon is taking pre-orders and Hiti says that the book will be available directly from him (with a personalized sketch) as soon as he has his copies. Stay tuned to his blog for details.
Amazon’s description of the book goes, “Meet Waga. Waga isn’t the biggest monster. Waga isn’t the hairiest or slimiest monster either. But Waga is the trickiest . . . and shouldn’t be trusted. Find out just how tricky Waga can be — unless you’re too scared to keep reading.” On his Facebook page, Hiti explains that he wrote it as an attempt to “deal with fear” and that it’s appropriate for ages for 4 to 6, depending on the child and the parents. “It might be a little scary,” he writes, “but it is goofy fun nonetheless.”
Three creators of hotly anticipated comics have given exciting updates about their projects in the last few weeks.
Jordan Mechner (Prince of Persia) says the second volume of Solomon’s Thieves, his historical-adventure trilogy, is in the can, and artists LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland are hard at work on Vol. 3. No release date for either book has been announced, but there’s a Facebook page for fans who want the latest info on the series, including sneak peeks at artwork like this:
Sam Hiti (Tiempos Finales, Death-Day) has illustrated a series of educational books for World Book titled Building Blocks of Science. They’re only available to educational institutions, but if you contact your local school or library and tell them you want to read the series, they’ll be able to order them. And since World Book is currently taking pre-orders, now would be an excellent time to do that.
The titles include Electricity, Energy, Force and Motion, Gravity, Heat, Light, Magnetism, Matter and How It Changes, Matter and Its Properties, and Sound. Hiti’s got several sample pages and a behind-the-scenes video on his blog.
Update: On Facebook (and in the comments below; I’m so unobservant), Hiti offers the following advice on approaching schools about ordering these: “Talk to your library at the school. They will have the budget to get it in there asap. If you bring it to a teacher, they will have to bring it before a school committee to approve it to be a part of the schools curriculum, which is good, but it may take longer to get in. Plus the committee would need the books in order to judge them first, so get it into the library first.”
Sam Hiti (Death-Day) redrew a panel from Tales of Suspense #78 and this is how it turned out. Somebody call that man for the next Strange Tales volume, please.
You can see the original Jack Kirby/Frank Giacola panel at Kirby-Vision.
Since 1992, the Xeric Foundation, founded by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Peter Laird, has awarded grants to comic creators that allowed them bring their comics to the world. Late last week Laird announced that the foundation would stop providing grants to amateur creators, noting that “the advent of essentially free web publishing has forever altered the way aspiring comic book creators can get their work out into the public eye.” The foundation will instead devote its grant funds to charitable organizations.
The barriers to entry for getting your comic work out in front of people may have changed, but as Sean Kleefeld points out, the Xeric Foundation provided another benefit to comic fans. “…here’s why I’ll miss the Xerics: they have been an incredibly powerful shorthand for identifying great comics,” he wrote on his blog. “Oh, there’s other comic awards out there, of course, but those always come across as hit or miss for me. Just because a comic won a Harvey or an Eisner or whatever doesn’t mean I’ll really enjoy or appreciate it. But the Xerics, I’ve found, are consistently high quality and enjoyable. I have yet to read a Xeric-winning book that I didn’t enjoy, a claim I can’t make regarding the Eisners.”
So when I threw out the idea to do a Six by 6 list highlighting some of our favorite Xeric Foundation recipients over the years, I didn’t realize what I was asking; it didn’t register just how many completely awesome creators out there have benefited from the grant. So, when I say “Six Xeric Foundation grant recipients we love,” that’s not to say that they are the only ones we love. Hell, just throw all the names in a hat and pick out six, and you’ll have a list just as legitimate as this one.
Also, it was interesting to see how my fellow bloggers interpreted my request for entries for this list; while some, like Chris Mautner, did what I was expecting and talked about what one of their favorites went on to do after receiving the grant, others reached out to some of them to get their thoughts on the discontinuation of the grants. So the content of the list is … varied.
As always feel free to share thoughts on some of your favorites in the comments section. You can find a list of all the recipients here.
When Sam Hiti won the Xeric Grant and self-published Tiempos Finales, Book One in 2004, the comics world took notice. A unique combination of influences from Central and South American art to manga and Jack Kirby came together with Hiti’s own, self-taught style to earn him praise and respect from fans, critics, and fellow cartoonists alike. All of who rubbed their hands together and impatiently waited for him to continue the story with Book Two.
Though Tiempos Finales, Book Two hasn’t appeared, Hiti certainly hasn’t been resting. In between gigs for folks like Nickelodeon (A Series of Unfortunate Events) and Lerner (Life in Ancient Civilizations), he’s been steadily producing mini-comics and art books like The Long Dark Train and Ghoulash. And he’s also been working on his current, big project, the webcomic Death-Day, which just saw its first collection last fall. If you’re not familiar with it, there’s a non-spoilery summary in my review.
What surprised some fans was that after producing so many comics completely by himself, Hiti’s name isn’t the only one on Death-Day. Joseph Midthun is listed as editor and co-creator of the series, so I sat down with both men to talk about the project, their collaboration, what they’ve learned along the way, and yes, the future of Tiempos Finales.
Michael May: Sam, tell me the story behind the title Death-Day.
Sam Hiti: Well, when I was a kid, I remember not knowing what the “D” in D-Day stood for. Instead of asking, I came to the conclusion that it must stand for Death, because of all the dead they showed on the television when they honored the anniversary. Later on in life when I had begun to make comics, I thought if I ever did a war story, Death-Day would make a great title for a book.
May: What was the inspiration for the book?
Hiti: The basic idea started to form after 9/11 and more so with the wars that followed. I had finished my first graphic novel, Tiempos Finales and was working full time on comics.
Sam Hiti posted this awesome commission he painted for a friend’s 33rd birthday. Hit the link to see not only the uncropped version at various stages, but also a couple of process drawings that reveal how he got to the final product.
Publishing | John Jackson Miller delves into September’s grim direct-market sales figures and discovers a (relative) bright spot: Sales of lower-tier titles — those that don’t crack Diamond’s Top 300 — appear to be increasing, to record levels. “How do we know?” Miller writes. “Believe it or not, a record for high sales was actually set in September. The 300th place comic book, Boom’s Farscape #11, sold more copies to retailers in September than in any month since November 1996: 4,702 copies. That’s a record for the period following Marvel’s return to Diamond. This bellwether tells us about the shape of the market, and how prolific the major and middle-tier publishers are; when many of their titles are being released and reordered, higher-volume titles tend to push farther into the list.”
However, the higher you go on the list, the worse things look: “The average comic book in the Top 25 is selling more poorly in 2010 than in 2003. At the very top of the chart, 2010’s average top-sellers are about 25% off what the best-sellers of 2003 were doing.” [The Comichron]
Death-Day, Part One
Written and Illustrated by Samuel Hiti
Edited by Joseph Midthun
La Luz Comics; $19.95
One of the coolest things about Sam Hiti’s work is his ability to tell insane adventure stories in a truly artistic way. His distinct, Latin-influenced style combines with his fantastically wild imagination to create unique worlds full of monsters and demons and fascinating tough guys willing to kill them. His previous graphic novel, Tiempos Finales was the story of a man named Mario for whom monster-hunting was a holy calling. Mario looked like he started in a Sergio Leone Western, but spent time with Hellboy before readers got to meet him. The seaside community he protected had Spanish architecture combined with ancient South American iconography. The monsters and other creatures in the book came straight from Hell. It was an amazing, imaginative book. And now he’s topped it.
Death-Day has a very different tone from Tiempos Finales (it’s much more sci-fi than spiritual fantasy), but there are similarities in the storytelling style that reminded me of what it was like reading Tiempos Finales for the first time. Both books take their time unfolding the story. The art is densely packed, especially in the beginning, demanding that readers spend time taking in the panels and exploring their details. Because of that, the world gets into your head and you enter it. By the time the prologue is done, it’s a real place.
It’s a horrifying place too: a completely alien world filled with six-limbed monsters and floating, invulnerable orbs. Both of which are hostile to the human soldiers who’ve been stranded there. Though the first book (there will be four total when Hiti’s done) is divided into a prologue and four “episodes,” there are three basic stories going on it. The first is about a massive offensive the humans are mounting against the orbs. Told mainly from the perspective of the officers coordinating the strategy in their war room, the scene reveals that the humans are assisted – or is that controlled? – by a computer called Mother-0. The story cuts away before the final results of the initiative are revealed, but success isn’t the only thing called into question in the scene. One of the officers accuses Mother-0 of being in league with the Black Orb, the entity that seems to control the other orblings. How much should the humans be trusting their computer?
If you’re like me and need a little more Sam Hiti to keep you going until his next graphic novel, the cartoonist has awesome news for you. He’s following up his previous Ghoulash “collection of inky manifestations” with a sequel.
Ghoulash 2 is at the printers and will make it’s debut at what Hiti hilariously (but accurately) calls San Diego Media Con. He also promises a few other new titles, which makes me wish now that I was going to the convention. Really though, I’d go home happy with just that cover.