Thursday, July 19, 2007

Kuper / Katin

Just wanted to talk about two great autobio books by creators that'll be at next week's San Diego convention. For anyone new to autobiographical comics, Stop Forgetting To Remember by Peter Kuper and We Are On Our Own by Miriam Katin, are great examples of a storytelling genre that I think when done well can speak to the reader with a power that other writing styles can't match. I believe this is because via autobiography the author is examining themselves and their experiences through a very personal process, thus causing the reader to reflect on themselves and the world outside their frame of reference in a different context.

Stop Forgetting To Remember is Peter Kuper's brand spanking new autobiographical graphic novel and it is EXCELLENT (anyone familiar with his previous comic work knows to expect nothing less). This has been one of the books I've been most eager to read from the time I first heard about this project. I'm happy to report that Stop Forgetting To Remember exceeded my expectations and is one of my favorite books I've read this year (neck and neck with Alice In Sunderland by Bryan Talbot). With Stop Forgetting To Remember, Kuper uses the graphic novel medium to its fullest potential, accompanied by production values that compliment the contents beautifully (especially the use of duotone, design of the book, and heavy paper stock). This book has it all: humor (I love the way he breaks the fourth wall and directly talks to the reader), drama, political commentary, and homages / name dropping of great comic book artists. This is a book that'll have the reader experiencing a range of emotions and you'll want to share Stop Forgettting To Remember with others.

We Are On Our Own by Miriam Katin came out last year from Drawn & Quarterly, and is her autobiography of how she and her mother had to flee Budapest to escape the Jewish persecution during World War II. We Are On Our Own is also an examination / questioning of God that Katin has had throughout her life. Sadly, some of the best examples of people (especially Jewish people) having to resort to taking desperate actions to survive desperate situations were abundant during WWII and Katin, in We Are On Our Own, vividly revisits some of her and her mother's experiences during that time. Katin's pencil art, which is not inked, but has color that is just used sparingly, serves to powerfully punctuate her story. We Are On Our Own is a story that will stay with the reader long after they've read this book.

If you're going to the San Diego convention next week, look up Kuper and Katin (she'll probably be at the Drawn & Quarterly booth and I'm sure she'll be on at least one panel), look through their books and you'll see two of the best examples of autobio comics (or visit their websites).

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Nothing Better by Tyler Page

Last week I was happy to receive an advance copy of Tyler Page's new graphic novel, Nothing Better. Having been a fan of Page's previous work, Stylish Vittles (three volumes), I was eager to dive into his latest exploration of people's lives with their trials and tribulations.

Nothing Better is a great showcase for Tyler Page's evolution as a comic book writer and artist. His first book, Stylish Vittles (a love story), started at an already strong place in terms of art, but with Nothing Better, Page's line is even crisper, his characters range of expressions and body language is even more expressive, and he fills up a page in such a way that is very fluid and visually appealing.

Nothing Better (subtitled No Place Like Home) features two central characters, Jane and Katt who end up being dorm mates in their first year at a Lutherian college. Through these characters. Page explores experiences and attitudes that are common to many of us, such as first sexual attractions / escapades, family life, and differing views on god and religion. For me, Nothing Better is Strangers In Paradise done right. Strangers In Paradise lost me with its fantastical situations the characters would get into such as when one of the gals would inherit or come into a huge sum of money or would become involved in a murder plotline that I'm not sure was ever resolved (was the huge sum of money ever addressed?). I guess I just wished that SIP was more of a "regular" people story that wouldn't get derailed as I felt it often did. Having said that SIP did have strong, engaging characters (with excellent art) and I firmly believe that anyone who liked SIP will love Nothing Better, with its honesty, humor, and drama.

Nothing Better is in the newest Previews with a July order code scheduled for release in finer comic stores in September. Mark your calenders and visit Tyler Page at: to sample Nothing Better.

This past weekend I finally put a block of time aside to revisit Alan Moore's Supreme which is collected in two volumes, Supreme Story Of The Year and Supreme The Return. Supreme started in the 1990's by Rob Liefeld as his Superman level character. I've never read Liefeld's Supreme and I'd actually recommend just reading Alan Moore's work on the character especially if you've always wondered what a long run on a Superman book written by Moore would be like (because Supreme is Superman down to the powers, villains, and supporting characters all of which are cleverly changed ever so slightly). I think the only reason that DC didn't issue a cease and desist order to stop publication of Supreme was because DC editorial also wanted to read Alan Moore Superman stories.

Basically Alan Moore's Supreme is his loving tribute to the Superman stories mostly from the 1950's and 1960's. It's not important to have read or know about the kinds of stories that Superman writers wrote yesteryear, but if you have read or have an awareness of them you'll get more out of Moore's Supreme (don't let not having read a billion Superman stories discourage you because Moore's Supreme is accessible). Moore actually structures his Supreme stories like the Superman stories from primarly what's called the silver age, while at the same time incorporating a bigger picture that intertwines all of the stories and characters. So while on the surface Moore's Supreme stories are seemingly simplistic, they also offer the trademark insights into the human condition and the cosmos that Alan Moore can tap into like no one else. I believe Moore's concept of idea space was introduced in his Supreme. Idea space is the realm for ideas, kind of like how the dreaming is the realm of dreams.

A person just flipping through a volume of Supreme might at first be turned off by a lot of the art that is Liefeldesque, but really even when the art isn't good it doesn't get in the way of the story. There were many great artists who did work on Alan Moore's Supreme such as Gil Kane, Chris Sprouse, Keith Giffen, Al Gordon, Jim Mooney, Jim Starlin, and especially Rick Veitch who did numerous flashback episodes throughout in a style that further evoked the charm of the Superman stories of the silver age. Check out Moore's Supreme and you'll have a Supremely good time (insert groans here)!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ennis' Preacher made my marriage possible!

Garth Ennis and Steve Dillion's Vertigo series Preacher ran for 66 issues and spans nine collected volumes. Preacher, for the ten of you that haven't read this great book, was at its core about three characters, Jesse (the central character), Tulip (Jesse's true love), and Cassidy (the Irish vampire). The book was a journey quest of sorts as these three characters were on a search for God because they believed he had a lot to answer for with the state of the world being what it is. Actually, a bigger part of Preacher is these character's quest for what friendship and love meant and while Preacher had the over the top trademark elements of Ennis's work, ultimately Garth Ennis is a romantic at heart and Preacher is his greatest testament to that.

Preacher started in 1995 (a few months after I opened Alternate Reality Comics) and Kate (girlfriend at the time) and myself got to visit with Garth when he attended the San Diego conventions of 1995 and 1996. He did a cross country tour of the United States in September of 1996 and stopped by my store and afterwards we all went to a local pub (when you're with Garth of course you have to go to a bar!).

In November of 1996 I wrote Garth a letter asking if I could propose to Kate in the letter page of Preacher (he answered his own letter pages, unlike most books which had the editors doing the letters page). At that point I'd been reading comics for twenty something years and I never heard (or read) of anyone proposing within a comic book's letter page. Garth called me at my store two weeks later and told me that he'd run my letter and that it would appear in issue #25. At the time, it took four or five months from the time you wrote a letter for it to get published so I didn't even tell any of my close friends for fear of the surprise being ruined. Garth ended up calling me again saying that my letter wouldn't appear until issue #26 because DC was running a house ad in issue #25 so I had to wait another month!

I knew that Kate always looked at the Preacher letters pages because Sequential Tart was formed by a small group of gals (Kate included) that were on this mailing list called the Garth Ennis Estrogen Brigade and they (as Sequential Tart, I believe) had appeared in earlier letter pages.

Well Preacher #26 (the second issue of Cassidy's back-story and actually a better issue to have the letter appear because #25 had some old lady vampire coming out of the swamp on the cover) arrived the first week in April of 1997. Kate came in that Wednesday, picked up her new comics, flipped through Preacher, but just passed over the letters page. I'm thinking, I've waited this long, I can wait until she reads it, as I didn't want to ruin the surprise. So she went home, read the issue (and the letter page), and a half hour later she comes back to the store and said: "Of course I will!" I was of course happy, gave her the ring and we've been married since December of 1997 (ten years this December, that's almost 100 years in Hollywood years!).

An humorous aside to my proposal: a couple of months after my letter appeared someone proposed to his girlfriend in the letter's page of The Incredible Hulk and the editor said he thought that was the first time anyone had done that and a couple of weeks after that another guy proposed to his girlfriend in Strangers In Paradise and Terry Moore said he thought that was the first time that was done. So my friend Joel emailed them saying that his friend (me) was the true uber geek and had beaten them to that idea.

The first photo of me as Cassidy (based on the cover of Preacher #26) is an illustration that a customer of mine, Jon Tilly, surprised me with after I told him about my proposal and I've never looked better! The second photo is the illustration that comic art master Jill Thompson (of Sandman, House Of Secrets, and Scary Godmother fame) did for us that we used as our wedding invitations!

Monday, July 9, 2007

06/07 Eisner Snubs

The Eisner nominations for the best of the best in comics of 2006 came out this past April and I'd like to go over what I think are some serious omissions. I think Jackie Estrada who administers the Eisners and selects the judges is great, but this year's judges seem to have gone for nominating uber niche, obscure books I'm thinking so that those works get recognition, not for truly celebrating the best of the medium which is what I think was the foremost reason for the Eisners. The judges change every year and usually they are a very diverse group of people and I'm not saying that this years judges aren't also diverse, but if we look at the category of best original graphic novel and the selected nominees it certainly looks like they had an agenda other than recognizing the best of 2006. I understand that selecting the best of anything is largely subjective, but I think that if we could somehow gather three other groups of five judges all three of those groups would come up with a more reflective representation of the best original graphic novel of 2006 than what we have presently.

The biggest omission for best original graphic novel of 2006: Lost Girls by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie (see photo). Lost Girls is about the sexual escapades of Dorothy (from Wizard of Oz), Alice (from Alice In Wonderland), and Wendy (from Peter Pan) and is very pornographic, while at the same time being very literary and artistic. The shared sexual experiences of the three girls is certainly the main focus of Lost Girls, but Lost Girls, like Moore's other great works (V For Vendetta, Watchmen, From Hell, and Promethea, to name a few) is a multi-layered creation and will be regarded as one of his greatest works. Lost Girls has done really well on the sales front especially for a book that is $75.00 (it's three 110 page hardcover books in a slipcase with superb production values) and it has been a critical success as well. One could argue that it doesn't need the Eisner nomination as much as the other nominees, but again I thought the Eisners were about the year's best and if Lost Girls isn't considered a best I think there's something wrong.

A couple of other specualations as to why Lost Girls wasn't nominated: the explicit sexual content. Certainly Lost Girls turns it up to eleven in its portrayal of the girls' sexual adventures. Now I don't know this year's Eisner judges so I can't state that they didn't nominate Lost Girls because of that and surely this book isn't for everyone even though there exists bodies of writing that deal with the sexual subtext underlining Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Wizard of Oz so Alan Moore isn't the first writer to approach these stories in that light. Another criticism that Lost Girls gets largely from those who haven't read it, but have heard what it's about, is that it's merely fan fiction and Moore is doing unspeakable things to the characters. Do those same people regard the Eisner award winning Fables (and Jack of Fables) as fan fiction?

Other omissions from this year's best graphic novel category: Fate Of The Artist, by Eddie Campbell, We Are On Our Own by Miriam Katin, and American Splndor; Ego & Hubris by Harvey Pekar. I was really surprised that Pride of Baghdad wasn't in this category, even though I don't think it's Vaughan's best work, I'd argue that it merits inclusion over Ninja, Billy Hazlenuts, and The Ticking, three of the books in this category. I've enjoyed works by Chippendale, Millionaire, and French, but I don't think their books last year are true examples of the greatness of this medium as Lost Girls, Fate Of The Artist, We Are On Our Own, and Ego & Hubris are. Some people that read this post may think that what I think should have been included were selected on the basis of them being "important", but rather I'd just suggest that they are lasting creations and have more impact on their readers than Ninja, The Ticking, and Billy Hazlenuts (again I know this arguement falls under the subjectivity header and on many levels it's even odd to compare a book like Billy Hazlenuts with Lost Girls, but that's the nature of awards).

Two other omissions / inclusions that stand out to me as being odd are The Escapists not being nominated in the best limited series category (the Sock Monkey that's included in this category isn't Millionaie's best) and Young Avengers being incuded as best on-going series (while it was a really good superhero title when it was coming out, I think only one or two issues at the most came out last year with no issues at all this year).

I was sure that even if Lost Girls was nominated that it wouldn't win which brings me to the main problem of the Eisners (and this is probably true of most awards) which is the people who vote for the Eisners. While the comic stores that carried Lost Girls did really well with the book, I'd guess that only about 30% (at the most) of all comic stores even carried it. The voting body of the Eisners consists of anyone in the comics industry so that includes everyone who works on comics, people in the distribution system, and comic store retailers. I'm going to present my educated guess that most retailers (and even creators and people in the distribution system ) have zero awareness of Ninja, Billy Hazlenuts, and The Ticking so it's curious as to what they'll vote for in that category. Hopefully the winner will be the excellent Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, but although that book has done well it's only done well with comic stores that carried it (I'm thinking Fun Home even sold more outside of comic stores) I'm glad that Pride of Baghdad wasn't nominated because that would have won just because that was from Vertigo and most of the Eisner voting body knows what that is even if they haven't read it. Again, I think Lost Girls wouldn't have won because most of the voting body of the Eisners, while they may have heard of it, they won't have read it.

Basically I think all awards are popularity based. I don't have an idea of how the Eisners (or any awards) could be done better because at the end of the day the awards are supposed to be voted on by people who should have the greatest knowledge of what the best of the best is, but sadly a lot of people in any group won't bother finding out what those other selected works even are. I think Promethea (especially artist JH Williams III who has been nominated several times) being overlooked in Eisners of years past is a great example of how a lot of the voting body couldn't be bothered with reading this challenging, rich work because it was a title that often couldn't be read in a leisurely fashion.

I'm not here to say the Eisners (or other award presentations) are worthless and shouldn't be done because they're faulty, I just wish the winners actually were the best of the best. Most years I actually think the Eisner winners are more "on" than "off" especially compared to other awards which are even more populist. Its just when I see people like JH Williams or Carla Speed McNeil or a seminal book like Lost Girls not even being nominated that I end up typing way too many words in sadness.

On Friday, July 27th (the night the Eisner winners are announced), if you hear a high pitched girly scream in anger that'll mean that Fun Home didn't win. Any other omissions I omitted (last year was a great year for comics, especially original graphic novels) and or anyone think I should just read Yotsuba or The Spirit to put me in a happy place?

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Super V recommends...

This week Y The Last Man #57 arrived and this series looks to be finishing its run in grand fashion. There's only three more issues to go and while I admire Vaughan for ending his series rather than just milking it for the cash cow it is, at the same time I think there are so many other aspects of this series that haven't been explored (but as they say go out strong and leave them wanting more).

As much as I'm loving the story in Y, I want to talk about the art. Pia Guerra is just amazing all around, especially when people are just standing around talking and her characters have a great range of facial expressions. It'll be interesting to see where Pia Guerra works after Y. The substitute artist they've used on Y in the past, Goran Sudzuka, is also really good (and makes for a nice transition when Guerra didn't do an issue) and I'll also be curious to see where we'll see his art in the future. I also want to give a holla (I'm so street) to inker Jose Marzan, Jr. and the beautiful colors by Zylonol (sounds like a prescription drug, doesn't it?). While I'm at it, the cover artist, Massimo Carnevale, is a keeper also. About the only thing I don't like here is the letterer, Clem Robins - I kid, I kid!

This week's Dragon Head is another great manga page turner from TokyoPop and we finally get a hint as to what may have caused the devastation. All Star Superman continues to be the best Superman title in eons and Jeff Loeb and John Cassaday's Fallen Son this week was in my opinion the best thing that Loeb has written since he left DC. This week's Countdown (another comic that featured a funeral this week) was the best issue yet proving that death in comics often does make for good drama as well as being the sales ploy I think they usually are. If JMS can keep up the momentum of Thor #1, then this title may be a keeper. Definitely a book to put on your gift giving or receiving list is Batman Ego and Other Tails by Darwyn Cooke (can he do nothing wrong?) and for sheer zaniness you don't have to look much further then The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen trade paperback (the Complete Normalman is a lot of fun also). Silverfish by Stray Bullets' (whatever happened to that title?) David Lapham was a good solid suspense Vertigo graphic novel with really nice production values.

Sorry for this seemingly all hype filled post, but I just wanted to highlight some books that are great examples of this wonderful medium we call comic books! On that note, I just want to leave you with this thought: V can be anyone, even Superman (just wanted to somehow tie this in with the photo here)!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Monitors = Smurfs?

All I know about the Smurfs is that they are little blue guys and that there was only one gal Smurf, whom I believe they called Smurfet (spelling?). This was a really popular cartoon in the 1980's (and the little I know about this show is from seeing them as I channel surfed).

Anyway, yesterday I'm reading Countdown and I'm thinking about the Monitors. Are they all guys like the Smurfs? Is there a female Monitor? I don't remember any female Monitors, but that could just be due to a faulty memory. I also got to thinking about Marvel's counterpoint of sorts to the Monitors, The Watcher. Accessing my memory I seem to remember there being more then one Watcher and they're all guys also.

So why is there only one female Smurf? Why are there no female Monitors or Watchers? Thus ends my deep thought for the day.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Artist Within

Last week at your favorite comic book store they should have gotten in this fantastic new book of photographs that local photographer Greg Preston has been working on for over ten years. It's published by Dark Horse and features 101 portraits of comic book artists and cartoonists at their studios. The cross section of artists from all genres and ages is really amazing. I think any fan of any of the artists included within would love to have this and it will make a great book to take to comic book conventions especially the upcoming San Diego convention as many of the artists will be there and it's a great place to have all of their autographs.

Some of the artists within include: Jack Kirby, Art Spiegleman, Neal Adams, Michael Allred, Matt Wagner, Tim Sale, Jill Thompson, John Cassaday, Adrian Tomine, Paul Chadwick, Marie Severin, and Howard Chaykin.

Dead and recovering nicely

The title of this post is a phrase used often by my wife, Kate, although, I think Peter David may have used it first.

Death in comics - does it even matter anymore? Sure they cause sales spikes when they happen, but no one really believes anymore that when a comic book character dies that they'll stay dead. Bringing back every character who died diminishes the impact that present and future deaths in comics has or will have. The number one question comic shops get when a character dies is: "How long is he or she going to be dead or is said character still dead?" I think comic book deaths / returns are largely short term thinking / planning in action.

Comic book deaths will keep happening as long as these "events" spike sales, but my question is at what cost? The same is true of comic characters returning from the dead - it'll keep happening as long as it brings sales and attention to a title. History always repeats, but while these death events cause initial sales increases I think that they also turn off a number of the fan base and I'm not convinced that there will be new people in numbers needed to replace those that just leave in frustration.

Does anyone really think Steve Rogers will stay dead? If the Captain America movie happens in 2009 then Marvel would feel it to be neccessary that Steve Rogers has to be back as Captain America. I like the idea of another character being Cap, carrying on the legacy (like DC used to be especially good at until they saw how well returning original characters to their superhero counterpart did for sales). If Brubaker is still writing the title at that point (hopefully) he'll probably make Steve Roger's return make a kind of sense because while I don't think Bucky should have returned, Brubaker handled that well and that's led to some really good stories. Steve Roger's eventual return will sell gangbusters and may even be a good story, but it'll just further add people who don't believe that a character will stay dead the next time it happens.

Let's look at some other recent / not so recent deaths / returns. Flash; well the most recent issue by Marc Guggenheim was really good, I don't think that a character needed to die for the upcoming change to happen. Of course as it has been speculated elsewhere, maybe that character that died isn't the "real" one from our universe now that there are 52 Earths. That gives them a good out for the return of that character, but again it'll just diminish another comic book death. Thor returns this week and having read the preview copy it was a solid first issue (hopefully JMS can keep up the momentum), but here's another character that's returning. Marvel's Kree warrior, Captain Marvel died years ago in grand fashion by Jim Starlin, but a few months ago during Civil War they brought that character back in a horrible book called Civil War The Return written by Paul Jenkins (I like his Inhumans and Sentry) and then he just stood around in the last issue of Civil War and didn't even say anything. Marvel says that Captain Marvel will return later this year in a mini series or series, but I can't imagine any creative team that can salvage this character being back. Phoenix seems to come back every other year, but that one I can overlook because of the whole "rising from the ashes" nature of the Phoenix, although isn't it kind of like killing Kenny on South Park? Bringing back Hal as Green Lantern was actually really good because his character had a stupid death, but bringing back Barry Allen (as the Flash or just bringing him back at all) during or after Countdown as is being rumored would be the height of lameness (speaking of Countdown someone else is supposed to die in that series later this year, could it be Jimmy Olsen? - as if DC would really keep him dead). Aunt May - well she may be dying again out of Spider-Man: One More Day, but for any long time reader of Spider-Man she had a good death in Amazing Spider-Man #400. Aunt May returned a few years later in a really stupid story with an explanation that I defy anyone to try to explain and she's added nothing to the book since then (although I like the idea of her and Jarvis, the Avengers butler, being together).

I'm sure I've forgotten some other superhero deaths / returns (okay Aunt May isn't a superhero, but she is somewhat of a high profile character) and probably things aren't going to change because how many more original things are there left to do in superhero comics, but I still stand by my original thought here that fans largely just roll their eyes when a character dies in comics and there's no emotional impact.

I hope that when I die that I'll come back (except I don't want to be a zombie)! Any comic character deaths / returns that you've found especially annoying and or do you agree with this never-ending post?