Thursday, December 31, 2009

Kavalier & Clay & The Escapists

A few years ago I started reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and for whatever dumb reason, didn't stick with it (I probably only read about 50 of its 639 pages). So early this past November when I was at the Miami International Book Fair I saw a copy there and told myself I was going to buy my own copy and commit to reading the whole book - after all it was a work of fiction paralleling the roots of the American comic book industry and it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2001.

So I just finished The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay yesterday morning and yes it is very much AMAZING and of course totally worthy of having won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. A part of me is still very surprised that a novel set in the early days of the comic book medium in the U.S. won over all of the other fiction novels of the year 2000 (and I'm sure it didn't win because it was a slow year for fiction) as the comic book medium (especially superhero comics) is usually regarded as being the "red-headed stepchild" of the art world. Certainly this perspective is changing and has largely, gradually, since Moore & Gibbon's Watchmen and Spiegleman's Maus (which has been the only graphic novel to date that has won the Pulitzer Prize), and this has not been truer this past decade as there has never been a period with so many literary and artistic comic book creations as in this past decade. Until I started this blog entry today, I hadn't looked at when The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay was published and I was surprised it was as long ago as the year 2000, but I think this fact supports the fact that the comic book medium has gotten out of being regarded as just an escapist (no pun intended) genre in full force this past decade (and ironic that my last blog post of the decade is about a novel that came out in the first year of this decade!).

Before I get into some of my impressions of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, I want to offer two apologies: the first to my friend Joel (who first loaned me his copy years ago that I never finished), for not sticking with this great book upon his recommendation in the first place, and secondly and most importantly, to the novel's author, Michael Chabon, for not trusting in his obvious love for the comic book medium and its creators, specifically the founding fathers of the U.S. comic book industry.

I'm thinking that the main reason I didn't stick with The Amazing Adventures of Kavlier & Clay was because I had read and know so much about the origins of the U.S. comic book industry circa the mid / late 1930's, and I just thought what could I get out of this book that I didn't already get elsewhere, in numerous books I'd read. Well of course I couldn't be more wrong, because while The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is very much about the genesis of the U.S. comic book industry (with Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay being the fictional counterparts of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman), anyone who reads this book, will find out in short order that The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is about so much more. The other three themes present throughout The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay are: the Jewish immigration to the United States (or attempted immigration before and during World War II), the "secret identities" we all have, and escape, both in the physical sense, but more importantly in the mental sense, which we all look for in varying degrees.

While The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay has as its setting and center the birth of the U.S. comic industry, (often called the Golden Age of the medium), prior knowledge of that era (up through the Senate investigations into comic book content and its role in juvenile delinquency) is not essential to one's enjoyment of this book. Having said that though, I can't stress enough how I feel that The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is essential reading for anyone who loves the comic book medium, especially superhero comic books. While reading the beginning of this novel, I was thinking that Michael Chabon probably could have reduced the page count by some 300 pages, but the more one reads The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, the realization sets in that Chabon has introduced seemingly unrelated plot developments that are VERY important to the book's entirety (after all Chabon didn't just win the Pulitzer Prize for being able to write a 639 page novel - grin). Actually the title of Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (the central characters and the two words preceding their names) is also significant and something that I wasn't aware of until I got about three-fourths of the way through the novel (I have been known to be a little slow at times). I couldn't be happier to have read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and of course give it my HIGHEST recommendations.
A few Years after The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay novel was published, Dark Horse got the rights to make comics based on this novel. There are three trade paperbacks that collect short stories set in the Kavalier & Clay "world" by a who's who of some of the best comic book writers and artists of today, but for my money and recommendation, I want to give a huge shout out to Brian K. Vaughan's The Escapists (drawn by Steve Rolston, Jason Shawn Alexander, Philip Bond, and Eduardo Barreto), which is a fantastic extension of sorts to Chabon's novel. Just as Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is his love letter to the comic book medium, its creators, and origins, so too is The Escapists, Brian K. Vaughan's love letter to this medium and makes a wonderful companion to Chabon's novel (but a person could read The Escapists unto itself as I first did years ago and enjoy it without having read Chabon's novel, but seriously don't short change yourself in this fashion!). I'm surprised that no one had taken away my comic store retailer license for not having read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay until just now!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I saw this over on Heidi MacDonald's The Beat Publishers Weekly blog today and just had to share - they don't call him The Punisher for nothing!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Wednesday, Dec. 30th; Fillbach brothers signing & other exciting happenings

Tomorrow, Wednesday, Dec. 30th, here at Alternate Reality Comics, I'm having a year end celebration, with the main attraction being a signing by Matt and Shawn Fillbach (writers and artists on the Star Wars Clone Adventures digests , Maxwell Strangewell, Roadkill, and Werewolves On The Moon Versus Vampires) which is happening from 4-7pm. All of the Fillbach brothers books will be 30% off the entire day so I'm thinking that's a great inexpensive way to get some highly entertaining comics for yourself or for people you like to share comics with.

The cartoon at left is a little Merry Christmas comic strip Matt and Shawn sent me, but in case anyone reads that comic strip and thinks they are angry cartoonists, well having talked to them a couple of times, I'm here to tell you that they are very much the opposite of angry cartoonists. So come on by Alternate Reality Comics from 4-7pm tomorrow, get some of your Fillbach brothers books signed (and or purchase some of the ones you don't have for 30% off!), visit with them, and lavish ego strokes upon them (they also live here in Vegas, so whoever told you that Vegas is an artistic wasteland was lying!).

In addition to the signing, I'm going to be open from 11-7pm, with tomorrow being the release date of Blackest Night #6 and everyone who stops by will get a free Marvel Siege prelude comic and a free Marvel 2010 calendar, in addition to my trade paperback sale (with added savings tomorrow only) and an extra special deal that will be revealed to all who show up for my end of 2010 bash!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Original Johnson & Ali

Earlier this year The Comics Journal had an interview with one of my favorite comic book artists, Trevor Von Eeden, which besides being a great insightful update on how Eeden feels about the comic book medium and his place within it, he talked about this online comic he'd done on the first black heavyweight champion of the world, Jack Johnson. Being as I don't like reading comics online, I was happy when I'd heard that IDW would be publishing said book, which came out this week, called The Original Johnson.

The Original Johnson, written and drawn by Trevor Von Eeden is fantastic. The first thing one notices when one looks through The Original Johnson is the dynamic art, with Eeden's great layout sense that is never hard to follow and evokes the art styles of Neal Adams and the power of Jack Kirby's art without being derivative. The art and coloring on The Original Johnson practically leap off of the page as they should when dealing with such a powerful figure such as Jack Johnson.

I hadn't heard of Jack Johnson before hearing about this project that Trevor Von Eeden was doing, but he lead a life that was very forceful, which forced him to grow up in a hurry, as he lived in a time when the U.S. was still fairly freshly dealing with the end of the Civil War (Jack Johnson's father was a slave until the Emancipation). I'd highly recommend The Original Johnson as a great graphic novel biography of this dynamic individual (Jack Johnson, of course), who lived a very charged life, even if you're not a fan of boxing. The Original Johnson is very much a mature readers graphic novel and the only minus I'd say about this book, is that it is book one of two (volume two comes out in May), but this first volume does end in such a way that, while you'll want to read the next one, it does have a kind of closure as well.

Since the theme of my blog entry today is on boxing, I'm happy to report that DC announced yesterday that next year they'll be bringing their 1978 Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali treasury sized comic back into print. Without spoiling the story for those of you who haven't read this (being that you're not as ancient as myself - grin), I'm just going to say that something happens within the stoy that deprives Superman of his powers, which is only fair because otherwise Superman would just have to flick his fingers at Ali and the fight would be over. Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali is legendary mostly for the superlative hyper realistic artwork of Neal Adams, but the story by Denny O'Neil is entertaining as well. More details about size the the new edition and pricing will follow in 2010.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Alec "The Years Have Pants"

This week, Eddie Campbell's definitive edition collection of his autobiographical comics, many of them with the title Alec within them, arrived, aptly titled Alec "The Years Have Pants" (A Life-Sized Omnibus). This fancy huge volume collects comics that Eddie Campbell wrote and drew as far back as the early 1980's (but even then his cartooning skills and comic book autobio voice were already in top form) and with its page count clocking in at 640 pages, Alec "The Years Have Pants" adds up to hours of entertainment and insight through Campbell's reflections on his daily life (Alec is actually a stand in character for Eddie himself) covering a span of about thirty years.

If you're only familiar with Eddie Campbell from his art accompaniment to Alan Moore's word wizardry in From Hell, Campbell's autobiographical comic stylings are amongst the very best within this "genre" of comic books. Those that have read Campbell's autobio work before will be happy to have all of these stories in one place in addition to a brand new 35 page story exclusive to this handsome volume. Just in time for the holidays (for your loved ones or a huge treat for yourself)!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dec. 30th celebration, Fillbach brothers signing, & more...

Wednesday, December 30th, here at Alternate Reality Comics, there'll be an all day end of 2009 celebration, with the main attraction being a signing by Matt and Shawn Fillbach, from 4-7pm. The Fillbach brothers (as they are known collectively - grin!) have written and drawn Roadkill and Maxwell Strangewell, both published by Dark Horse, as well as several stories in the Star Wars Clone Wars digest comics. I'm having a 30% off sale (to tie in to the Dec. 30th theme) on all comics / graphic novels / digests by the Fillbach brothers, until the end of the year, so I'm thinking this is a great way for people to introduce themselves to some great comics and or get some of the ones they don't have already (plus they make great stocking stuffers)!
A couple of other attractions happening on Wednesday, December 30th, is the release of everyone's favorite event book in years, Blackest Night #6, and everyone who stops by the store that day will receive the following free items: a new Marvel Siege origin comic, a Marvel 2010 calendar, and an Avengers ID card so that you can get into all finer establishments! I'll probably have some other things going on that day that I haven't thought of yet (as if the above wasn't exciting enough - grin!), so mark your calendars for Wednesday, December 30th from 11-7pm (with the signing by Matt & Shawn Fillbach happening from 4-7pm)!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ditko & Stevens & Vess!

This week is a fantastic day for people who love great comic book art, with the release of The Art of Ditko, Dave Stevens' The Rocketeer The Complete Adventures, and Drawing Down The Moon The Art of Charles Vess having arrived to beautify comic store and personal book displays / coffee tables everywhere!

The Art of Ditko is 206 pages of fantastic obscure short stories drawn by Steve Ditko from the 1950's and 1960's, in a full color over-sized hardcover with stellar reproduction throughout, lovingly put together by Craig Yoe. This Ditko collection comes out hot on the heals of Fantagraphics' Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives V.1 so it's been a great year for people who love the art of Steve Ditko (and I don't even want to talk to you if you don't - grin)!
The long-awaited The Rocketeer The Complete Adventures hardcover and deluxe over-sized edition also arrived, newly beautifully colored by Laura Martin, who was selected by Dave Stevens for this project before he died.
The regular hardcover is a great value at $30, but the deluxe edition really re-defines the word "deluxe" - and I know I often say such things and sound like a hype machine, but everyone who looks at the Deluxe Rocketeer will immediately see that I'm not just talking out of the side of my hat (and there's an extra 130 pages of Stevens production art in the deluxe edition). Both The Art of Ditko and The Rocketeer hardcovers are from IDW.

From Dark Horse this week is the third eye candy art book release of the week, Drawing Down The Moon The Art of Charles Vess, which is a 200 page hardcover collection of paintings from one of the masters of fantasy art. Too much great stuff!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

ha-ha, hurm!

This is my friend Jason (who lives up in the Northwest), from this past Halloween. This is one of the funniest Halloween costumes I've ever seen!

For those of you that read my blog who have never seen the 1970's television show Welcome Back Kotter, well you probably won't appreciate how funny this costume is, so just go out and buy some of the show on dvd or netflix them for some high octane fun!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

J.H. Williams III: artist of the year!

Well anyone who has read my blog with any regularity already knows that I think J.H. Williams III is one of the very best artists working in comics today, but in this week's Wizard magazine (their year end best of issue) they proclaim him to be the artist of the year! J.H. would probably have a much easier life if he took shortcuts with his art or drew in a style that was "easier" and more fan friendly, but he has NEVER taken shortcuts, rather he's always pushing himself to find new ways to interpret a comics page or cover. J.H. doesn't just stick to the standard panel following panel layout scheme that most comic artists employ, but he's always done his experimental gorgeous art in such a way that isn't hard to follow in story terms. I'm happy that he's getting a bigger audience that is appreciating / understanding what J.H. does with his art.
The two pages I've included here are from the most current issue of Batwoman (Detective Comics #859), which is the second part of the three part Batwoman back story / origin that J. H. and Greg Rucka are doing. For the flashback sequences, J. H. has been drawing in a style evocative of the style David Mazzucchelli used when he did Batman Year One. The concluding chapter comes out December 23rd and this is easily shaping up to being one of the best origin / back stories for a character that I have read in years. Click on the images of course to see them in their full screen glory.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Daytripper - looks to be a great new Vertigo series!

Today the first issue of Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon's new Vertigo series, Daytripper, and a very strong debut it is. From what I can gather from reading interviews with Ba and Moon, each issue of Daytripper will be fairly self contained, even though each issue will make up a bigger story that they are telling. Daytripper's central character is Bras, a writer, with Daytripper being the story of his life. I think a person could read the first two pages of this first issue and know whether this is the kind of story they usually gravitate towards, but even if it's not, I'd bet that those who read the whole first issue of Daytripper will be back for the next issue.

For an interview with Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon (who previously collaborated with Gerard Way on the Eisner winning Umbrella Academy) click on and scroll down their features page.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

the road to god knows...

the road to god knows... is a new graphic novel written and drawn by Von Allan, of which I just received my store copies yesterday. This is a really strong debut featuring great characters and a fine illustrative style about a subject, mental illness / schizophrenia, that is close to creator Von Allan, as his mother lived with this. The central character of the road to god knows... is Marie, a teenage girl whose mother is schizophrenic. As if it's not awkward enough just being a teenager, Marie lives alone with her mother (her father doesn't live with them), but Von Allan's the road to god knows... doesn't sensationalize his characters or the subject matter, rather he just portrays how people try to live with this. While the road to god knows... has some sad scenes, this graphic novel isn't overwhelmingly sad, thanks to the addition of another character, Kelly, who is a great friend to Marie.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Bronx Kill - advance look

no spoilers following:

Last week I received an advance copy of The Bronx Kill, a new Vertigo Crime graphic novel written by Peter Milligan and drawn by James Romberger. Of the Vertigo Crime graphic novels written to date this is my favorite thus far and features some of the best writing that I've read from Peter Milligan (Shade The Changing Man, Enigma, Face, The Extremist, The Eaters, Human Target) in some time. I'd rank The Bronx Kill up there with the best of two of my favorite crime fiction / mystery novelists, Max Allan Collins (Stolen Away, Butcher's Dozen) and Lawrence Block (A Ticket To The Boneyard).

The Bronx Kill is about a writer / novelist, Martin, who is in a writing slump until something happens to his wife and then the book he's working on starts to mirror / seem to influence events that are occurring. The characters, style of writing, and plot development within The Bronx Kill, read very much like a novel which just happens to be illustrated to great effect by James Romberger (Seven Miles A Second), an artist who we don't get to see enough of.

Look for The Bronx Kill in finer comic book stores March 17th (wow, until I just now looked that up, I hadn't remembered it being that far away from release!).