Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Last night, MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show devoted a full 10-minute segment to March, its creators Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, and to Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, the 1958 comic that helped to inspire the civil-rights movement.
While many authors, musicians and politicians have cited increased sales and profiles following their appearances on The Colbert Report — the frequently mentioned, by Stephen Colbert himself, “Colbert Bump” — March seems seems to be the beneficiary of the lesser-known “Maddow Bump”: Following last night’s episode, the book rocketed to No. 12 on the Amazon Best Seller list, its peak position.
Maddow, an avowed comics fan, recently conducted a one-hour interview with Lewis about March at the Kentucky Author Forum. CBR spoke with the March team in June, and in July at Comic-Con International in San Diego.
As we reported earlier this week, publisher Top Shelf Productions has partnered with Fellowship of Reconciliation to offer Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story in a digital bundle with March. Watch the Maddow segment below.
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.
Back in April Alan Moore told Padraig O. Mealoid that he was almost finished with the follow-up to Nemo: Heart of Ice. Titled Nemo: The Roses of Berlin, the graphic novel follows the further adventures of Janni Nemo, daughter of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen member Captain Nemo, as she takes over the family business (and submarine).
Thanks to Forbidden Planet, we now have some additional details on Roses of Berlin, including a cover, a release date and solicitation text:
“From The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen! Sixteen years ago, notorious science-brigand Janni Nemo journeyed into the frozen reaches of Antarctica to resolve her father’s weighty legacy in a storm of madness and loss, barely escaping with her Nautilus and her life. Now it is 1941, and with her daughter strategically married into the family of aerial warlord Jean Robur, Janni’s raiders have only limited contact with the military might of the clownish German-Tomanian dictator Adenoid Hynkel. But when the pirate queen learns that her loved ones are held hostage in the nightmarish Berlin, she has no choice save to intervene directly, traveling with her aging lover Broad Arrow Jack into the belly of the beastly metropolis. Within that alienated city await monsters, criminals, and legends, including the remaining vestiges of Germany’s notorious ‘Twilight Heroes’, a dark Teutonic counterpart to Mina Murray’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And waiting at the far end of this gauntlet of alarming adversaries there is something much, much worse.”
I missed out on Pat Grant‘s debut graphic novel Blue when it was initially released in 2012. But now that Top Shelf has the book back in print, I got in touch with the Australian writer/artist to learn more about the 96-page book, described as “a fascinating blend of autobiography and fiction with a sci-fi twist.” The story has an interesting mix of several elements, including teenagers surfing, aliens with tentacles, conflict, bigotry and a quest for a dead body — all of which just scratches the surface of this ambitious work.
The first volume of March, released this week by Top Shelf Productions,just oozes respectability. Its author and protagonist is a well-known and well-respected figure, no less than a venerated U.S. congressman. It’s about an important subject – race relations – and set in a iconic and turbulent time period – the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. It’s the kind of book that both the comics industry and the mainstream media like to trip over themselves in holding aloft as an example of the sort of general interest, literate work that would not only appeal to a non-comics reading public, but can be shown as an example of how the medium is capable of more than mere spandex fisticuffs.
In other words, I absolutely dreaded having to read the thing.
It’s not that I think that comics only work best only when they recognize their low-gutter, high-slapstick, overwrought melodrama origins or that cartoonists shouldn’t aspire to tackle complex, serious issues. It’s more that these sorts of works – biographical dramas where the central character happens to be caught in the midst of a major historical event – tend to simply not be very good, a few notable exceptions aside. All too often it seems as though the authors make the fatal mistake of assuming the subject matter itself is enough to carry the work forward and neglect to focus on things like crafting sharp dialogue, compelling page compositions or an interesting – or even comprehensible – plot. The end result is a lot of boring books with noble intentions.
Thankfully, that’s not the case with March. While the comic stays well within its basic, Bildungsroman structure, it’s an engaging, well-crafted read nevertheless.
March: Book One debuted Tuesday from Top Shelf Productions, earning high praise and a lot of attention for Congressman John Lewis, co-author Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell. But last night the graphic novel garnered arguably the highest accolade of all: the coveted Colbert Bump.
Lewis, the civil-rights pioneer who spoke at the 1963 March on Washington, appeared on The Colbert Report to discuss the book, which chronicles his early life in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King Jr. and the Selma to Montgomery marches.
“I don’t see a vast difference [between Comic-Con and political conventions]. Here at Comic-Con, you see people dressed in different ways, but even in some political conventions, you see people with a lot of flags and colors, especially some of the young women, who will put all types of things in their hair, and some of the men. Politicians like to stand out, like people to pay attention to them. Here, I think it’s the real world. Comic-Con is the real world and to see people bringing their little children and seeing all the little children all dressed up enjoying themselves — that’s a great feeling, seeing them have fun.”
— Congressman John Lewis, talking with CBR TV about his first experience at Comic-Con International, where he promoted March, the upcoming graphic-novel trilogy from Top Shelf Productions recounting his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement
Did we know there’s another Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer story in the works? ‘Cause I just stumbled across this image on the PVS website with the announcement that it’s something creators Dusty Higgins and Van Jensen are working on.
In a throwaway line from Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer, Volume 3, a character mentions a vampire-infested zoo and quips, “Remember the vampire gorilla?” Higgins and Jensen not only remember it, they “have always planned on eventually telling it.” It’ll be a short story featuring all the vampire-slaying puppets from the graphic novels; the creators just have to work out the details of how it’ll be released.
Update: Jensen provides some additional PVS-related info in our comments section: “Also, for those who missed the announcement at Comic-Con, Top Shelf Productions will be publishing an omnibus edition of PVS in 2014. We’re thrilled to partner with the Top Shelf folks and to have the entire story in one place. Digital editions will be coming as well. Release dates not set as of yet, but we’ll announce all of that soon.”
In case you didn’t notice, Comic-Con International happened last weekend. As always, it was an epic affair with tons of announcements, stunts and surprises. Amid cannons firing, actors dressing up as themselves, and big movie plans, there were also a good number of genuine surprises from comics.
Usually I end up picking a winner of Comic-Con, but after Dynamite Entertainment flooded the air waves with announcements the days before the event, no one else seemed to stand out as the clear winner. It’s not that everyone slacked off, however: They brought a good variety of interesting and exciting projects, and a number of standout announcements made my ears perk up. So instead of declaring a winner, I’m going to run down my Top 6 Comic-Con surprises in comics.
Before I start, though, two publishers deserve a little recognition for serious contenders for the Comic-Con crown. Top Shelf Productions classed up the joint by bringing in Congressman John Lewis for the debut of his graphic novel, March: Book One with artist Nate Powell and co-writer Andrew Aydin. I have little doubt this trilogy will end up being a historic release with profound benefits for schools, libraries and organizations looking for a powerful teaching tool and first=person account of the Civil Rights Movement and non-violent resistance. Plus, come on, photos of Lewis meeting Neil deGrasse Tyson and Lou Ferrigno? Everybody else, just pack it up. Maybe not as much of a milestone, but IDW Publishing also deserves a nod for the pure quantity and variety of good-looking books announced.
OK, on with my list:
I happen to be a person of faith who also has a sense of humor. As a result, the effort by writer Mark Russell and cartoonist Shannon Wheeler to accurately, yet comically, condense the Bible, God Is Disappointed in You, amused the hell out of me. In Catholic high school, I once offended several people by characterizing a newly unveiled statue of Christ (hands outstretched blessing a crowd) as showing the son of God opting for a “basketball zone defense.”
Fortunately Russell and Wheeler, are far superior at comedy (and religious scholarship) than I have ever been. The book clicked with me from the opening pages. While it will not be released until August, you can preorder it now from Top Shelf.
Tim O’Shea: First question goes to Shannon, thanks to his part of the book dedication. Just to clarify: In the dedication, in which both you and your mom were glad you were not struck by lightning, you also thank Patricia, who survived a lightning hit. I have to hear the story about that.
Shannon Wheeler: My mom manages to be in the middle of all sorts of zeitgeists. Elvis played at her high school. When I was little we went to see Jim Jones preach (before Guyana). She managed to stop by the Koresh compound mid-standoff (she bought me a novelty Frisbee from a roadside vendor). She seems to be at the right place, or wrong place, at the right, or wrong, time. In college she was hit by lightning. It knocked the shoes off her feet and threw her into a ditch. She couldn’t move her legs. A couple of co-eds carried her back to her dorm. The doctor told her to take a warm bath and call back if the feeling didn’t return. Over the next couple hours everything returned to normal. She said it was “tingly” — the same as when your foot falls asleep. She had a circular carbon mark on her side for a bit. Some Native Americans believe that being hit by lightning makes you a shaman. She tells the story like it was no big deal.
Comic-Con International continued to reveal the programming schedule for San Diego as they rolled out the panels and events scheduled for Saturday, July 20.
The third day brings panels from Skybound, BOOM!, Archaia, Top Shelf, Fantagraphics, Drawn + Quarterly, Top Cow, Archie, Action Lab Entertainment, IDW and Rebellion, Dark Horse, Image Comics, Valiant and Lion Forge Comics, the makers of those Saved by the Bell and Knight Rider comics that are coming soon. DC has panels dedicated to Green Lantern, Superman’s 75th anniversary, Sandman and Batman: Year Zero, while Marvel has panels on Infinity, their video games, animation slate and their movies, which include Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (no doubt they’ll have a little more than that). In what is likely his first trip to Comic-Con, Congressman John Lewis will be on hand to talk about his book from Top Shelf, March.
You’ll also find spotlight panels on Russ Heath, Sam Kieth, Val Mayerik, Vera Brosgol, John Romita Jr., Jon Bogdanove, Jim Lee, George Perez, Gerry Conway, Frank Brunner, Roy Thomas and Paul Dini, as well as a tribute to Joe Kubert. The day wraps up with the annual CCI Masquerade.
Check out some of the comics-related highlights below, and visit the Comic-Con website for the full schedule:
Thirty-six questions. Six answers. One random number generator. Welcome to Robot Roulette, where creators roll the virtual dice and answer our questions about their lives, careers, interests and more.
Joining us today is writer Robert Venditti, who you know from X-O Manowar, Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps., Demon Knights, the graphic novel adaptations of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Homeland Directive and The Surrogates
Now let’s get to it …
Top Shelf Productions has announced the July debut of a series of all-ages graphic novels by veteran cartoonist Rob Harrell, and a “condensed” version of the Bible by Mark Russell and Shannon Wheeler.
Harrell’s Monster on the Hill ($19.95) is set in a fantastical version of 19th century England, where every little town is terrorized by a unique monster, much to the pleasure of the citizens, who view the ferocious creature as a matter of local pride and a magnet for tourism. That is, except for the residents of Stoker-on-Avon, whose monster Rayburn is a little down in the dumps and in need of a makeover from the eccentric Dr. Charles Wilkie and street urchin Timothy.
And then there’s God Is Disappointed in You ($19.95), the irreverent yet faithful retelling of the Bible written by Russell and illustrated by Wheeler (Too Much Coffee Man). It’s billed as “a must-read for anyone who wants to see past the fog of religious agendas and cultural debates to discover what the Bible really says.”
It’s time once again for our monthly trip through Previews looking for cool, new comics. We’ve each picked the five comics we’re most anticipating in order to create a list of the best new stuff coming out two months from now.
As usual, please feel free to play along in the comments. Tell us what we missed that you’re looking forward to or – if you’re a comics creator – mention your own stuff.
Crater XV HC (Top Shelf, $19.95): I’ve been following (and loving) the serialization of Kevin Cannon’s follow-up to Far Arden in the digital pages of Double Barrel, but I know that I’ll be picking up this hardcover collection of the further adventures of sea dog Rusty Shanks nonetheless. The Canadian space program deserves no less.
In The Days of the Mob HC (DC Comics, $39.99): To say that Kirby’s 1970s take on the organized-crime world of the 1930s is something I’ve been longing to read since I first discovered its existence would be an understatement, so I’m definitely looking forward to this deluxe reprint, complete with material that wasn’t in the original edition.
Indigo Prime: Anthropocalypse TP (Rebellion/2000AD, $24.99): John Smith’s cosmic authorities are one of comics’ most secret treasures, I think, especially when he’s paired with an artist like Edmund Bagwell, who brings a wonderful Euro-Kirby influence to the stories in this collection. Really looking forward to this one.
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen GN (First Second, $17.99): As a sucker for good autobiographical comics and also good food writing, the idea of Lucy Knisley creating a food-centric memoir — complete with recipes! — is far too good to ignore. I love that publishers like First Second are publishing work like this.
Solo Deluxe Edition HC (DC Comics, $49.99): Even though I own most of these issues from their original appearance, the oversized hardcover format is waaaay too tempting when you consider some of the material this book has up its 500+ page sleeve: Paul Pope covering Kirby! Brendan McCarthy channeling Ditko as only he could! The amazing Darwyn Cooke issue! The only thing that could make this better would be if it included work completed on follow-up issues before the plug had been pulled … But maybe that can appear in a second volume, one day…
After 14 years, and more than 3,500 cartoons, James Kochalka is bringing his diary comic American Elf to an end. Since October 1998, Kochalka has been chronicling small slices of his daily life in short comics, seldom longer than four panels, and if you read the comic, you already know he has mixed feelings about ending it.
Of course, Kochalka has plenty still going on, including the animated version of his comic SuperF*ckers, plus teaching at the Center for Cartoon Studies, playing rock music and being the Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont. He’s going to keep the American Elf site live, and of course, you can get the collected editions from Top Shelf (and digitally via comiXology).
Keeping a diary comic for 14 years is a singular achievement, so we asked Kochalka to talk a bit about the experience of creating — and living — American Elf.