Monday, August 31, 2009

Anime Vegas 2009 - this weekend!

This weekend, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday (Labor Day weekend) Anime Vegas will have its sixth annual convention at the Cashman Center here in fabulous Las Vegas. The dealer room is open on Saturday from 12-8pm, Sunday from 10-6pm, and Monday from 10-4pm. This year they have one day passes as well as three day passes and I have coupons at my store for ten dollars off the one day pass.

Besides the exhibition room with dealer selling varied items, DVDs and manga related to anime, there will be free screenings of anime throughout the day and night, many different panels, JPop (Japanese pop music) bands performing live, many guests including voice actors, a masquerade contest, and just a lot of people with shared manga / anime interests having a great time. A lot of the people who go to anime conventions like to dress up as their favorite characters (but you don't have to do this to go) and checking out the various elaborate costumes people show up in is one of my favorite things about Anime Vegas (the photo here is from last year's Anime Vegas). For more info check out:

I'll also have a booth again at the show with some very special manga prices so stop by and say hi!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Happy Birthday King Kirby!

Today would have been Jack Kirby's 92nd birthday, but sadly he died in 1994. Besides being an amazing, dynamic, prolific artist, Jack Kirby was an idea machine and his creations are the foundations of most of the U.S. super hero comic book landscape as we know it today.

This is my Big Barda tattoo that I got last year because I had to represent the King (for the three of you reading my blog who haven't seen it yet).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fantastic Four #570, it's fantastic!

My surprise comic book of the week is Fantastic Four #570, the first issue by the new creative team of Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham. Hickman already had great comic book writing credentials with his indy / alternative titles The Nightly News and Pax Romona (as well as already writing Secret Warriors of which I've heard good things about) and Eaglesham recently wrapped up a long artistic stint on Justice Society of America, so I shouldn't have been as surprised as I was with how good their first issue of Fantastic Four is.

Hickman and Eaglesham follow the high profile team of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, which normally would be really huge shoes to fill, but although Millar and Hitch did some entertaining things on Fantastic Four, they didn't recharge this title as they have with others they've worked on. I also think Fantastic Four is one of Marvel's hardest titles to write because I a lot of comic readers don't see the characters as too exciting because of said characters largely being a happy unit who work well together. So mostly FF doesn't seem like a title on the edge and readers (and often the creative teams) don't feel the title has that urgency that comics like Blackest Night or Avengers have (although for me all of the Bendis Avengers titles have been chores to read for some time).

I think it's very important for any new creative team on any project (be it comic, television, or movie) to quickly hook their audience and Jonathan Hickman, with his first issue of Fantastic Four, has very much done this. His first story arc is titled "Solve Everything" so this is a Reed Richards driven adventure as he has Reed really trying to use his vast intellect and solve everything (slight spoiler / teaser: Reed recruits some alternate reality versions of himself to help himself out in this endeavor). This is the kind of story that is really ambitious so how Hickman ends this will be key to whether he has a future with this title, but if his following issues are as strong as his debut, well then we finally have a Fantastic Four that people will put at the top of their reading pile. Hickman also handles the Fantastic Four family dynamic really well and Dale Eaglesham has turned up his already strong artistic game up from what he was doing on JSA, delivering some great eye candy and great action sequences. Anyone who reads Fantastic Four #570 will know right away whether this is the book for them (I'm saying for those that don't like this issue, well they just don't like the very idea of Fantastic Four and should just stop reading super hero comics - I'm only half joking!).

Friday, August 21, 2009

A.D. New Orleans

This week Josh Neufeld's new graphic novel, dealing with the Katrina hurricane, A.D. New Orleans After The Deluge, arrived at finer comic stores (and mine, which I think is a fairly decent comic book store!). New Orleans After the Deluge is a mostly true account of what happened to seven people before, during, and after Katrina, the hurricane that ravaged New Orleans and surrounding areas with winds of upwards of 160 miles per hour. Josh Neufeld changed some names and events slightly for privacy reasons.
Josh Neufeld, with his New Orleans After the Deluge, does a great job of personalizing how the monstrous Katrina storm and the floods that followed, affected the people who had to live through it and how ill-equipped those who were supposed to be in charge, were in getting people to safety (and a lot of the damage could have been prevented, but too many short cuts were taken or protective measures weren't taken at all). Although poor people of New Orleans and surrounding areas were affected in greater numbers than any other group of people, Josh Neufeld largely refrains from hammering on this point, rather he shows through the diversity of the seven people he follows through the course of New Orleans After The Deluge, that Katrina affected people across the board.

The Machinist & And Then...

Ryan Claytor and his lovely girlfriend, Candace, stopped by for a visit to my store at the end of July after the big San Diego Comic-Con. I always like visiting with Ryan because unlike me, I don't think he has a negative bone in his body.

Ryan, for several years, has been writing, drawing, and self publishing his excellent And Then One Day autobiographical comic. Just last year he moved to Michigan to be with Candace and they both do some teaching at a local university there (if I remember correctly, she's doing some graduate work in African studies). They were telling me that they'd gone to Africa earlier this year so I'm looking forward to Ryan's comic book version of that trip.

Yesterday I received the two newest Ryan Clator productions at my store.

The Machinist is a 24 hour comic Ryan did during one of the recent 24 Hour Comic Book gatherings. A 24 Hour Comic Book is just what it sounds like - a comic created entirely within 24 hours. Being that Ryan now lives in Michigan, he decided to do a comic about the vanishing industry there (machinists, car manufacturing). As you can probably imagine, it's a sad story and as Ryan states in his afterward (also illustrated), one without any easy answers.

The newest edition of And Then One Day is also out and features Ryan talking to Dr. Harry Polkinhorn, an English professor at the Michigan university that Ryan also does some teaching at) on the topic of autobiography. They talk about what constitutes autobiography and its differences from a personal essay and as regular readers of this blog already know, this is a topic of particular interest to me because autobiographical comics are amongst my very favorite comic books to read. I especially liked Ryan's questions / musings on objective versus emotional honesty in autobiographical works, with my only criticism being that I wished he would have presented examples within the comic book medium of which works he thinks best represent objective honesty and which ones best represent emotional honesty. I suspect that he'll be exploring this further in future editions of And Then One Day, so I'll be awaiting new volumes.

Besides being entertaining and engaging and featuring nice, clean, crisp, and easy to follow art, Ryan Claytor's comic books also have beautiful production values which have to be seen in person to fully appreciate so next time any of you reading this are at my store, ask me where the Ryan Claytor section is or visit his website: for examples.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ponyo, why don't people care?

I saw Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea yesterday, by Japanese film master, Hayao Miyazaki, and it was wonderful. For movies that I'm really excited for (such as any new movie by Miyazaki or Tarantino) I try not to read any reviews because I'm going to go see them regardless (so I mostly try to avoid reviews because I want to know as little about the movie as possible before seeing it). Some time before Ponyo's U.S. release I remember "accidently" reading something somewhere that Ponyo wasn't being as well received as Miyazaki's previous movies, so part of me was bracing for a lesser production. Well within five minutes I was swept away by Ponyo and I'd rank it amongst his top movies such as My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Nausicaa Valley of the Wind, Whisper of the Heart (Miyazaki wrote the screenplay), Porco Rosso, and Kiki's Delivery Service. When I got home I checked Rotten Tomatoes and Ponyo is reviewed at 93% favorable (80 fresh reviews versus only 6 rotten reviews) so I was happy to see that the love for this movie exists.

Ponyo was inspired by The Little Mermaid (not the Disney version) and almost all of the animation is hand drawn (many sequences by Miyazaki himself). One could argue that the story is simple, but it's not simple in a stupid way and the animation, characters, and music of Ponyo make this a very happy joyous experience that I think people who see it will want to share with others. Go here for a great clip from Ponyo (one of my favorite scenes that doesn't really spoil anything): and click on small, medium, or large for viewing depending on your computer's speed. Wasn't that great? Why would someone not want to see Ponyo after watching that clip?

The title of my entry here "Ponyo, why don't people care?" doesn't mean that Ponyo isn't doing well in the semi-wide release it's gotten (and its per screen average probably would put Ponyo higher in the top ten for this week), but rather is my lament about why it's not doing better, why isn't the anticipation of seeing Ponyo at the fever pitch that the anticipation was for Transformers, GI Joe, or District 9 (the latter of which I still plan to see and have heard mostly good things about)? Before finishing this entry I was going to go on a rant that this is because Ponyo, like all of Miyazaki's movies, don't have villainish characters, there's not a constant threat of things blowing up, and Miyazaki's movies aren't guycentric.

Well in the middle of writing this, my friend, Miami Rick calls up and I start talking to him about this. Rick doesn't think my hypothesis is entirely correct and that rather the reason that Ponyo isn't doing better than it is or that the awareness isn't as great as it could be is because of poor marketing by Disney. He reminded me that Disney only about a week ago started airing commercials for Ponyo, while for movies they've produced like The Princess and the Frog, they've got trailers running in theaters months before it's supposed to be released. So if it wasn't for the growing fan base that Miyazaki does have here in the U.S. and their anticipation and online promoting for Ponyo, it would be not even doing as well as it is. Rick argues that Disney doesn't care that much about marketing Ponyo or Miyazaki's films. I then offered back that Disney does a great job of providing top notch voice actor talent for the Miyazaki movies (Ponyo has the voices of Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Matt Damon, Betty White, Cate Blanchett, Lily Tomlin, and Cloris Leachman - Noah Cyrus and Frankie Jonas are also great as Ponyo and Sosuke) and that John Lasseter, the king of Pixar, has nothing but the highest regards for Miyazaki (as do most of the people who end up working on his movies). Rick's position is that Disney marketing and Disney production of Miyazaki's films are two different things, which I understand and we both agreed that big companies such as Disney (and this is true of Warner Brothers, Sony, DC, and Marvel) largely just promote projects of the lowest common denominator such as The Princess and the Frog or "sure fire successes" like Transformers or Batman and Robin (by Morrison and Quitely) because the marketing people don't want to take the risks promoting something that when it doesn't do big numbers could risk their continued employment and or promoting higher caliber productions like Ponyo will make it harder for them to sell simpler fare like The Princess and the Frog (which are easier to make and promote in sound / clip bites).

I still think part of why Ponyo or Miyazaki movies don't do better in the U.S. is because a big portion of people who would go to Transformers, GI Joe, Spider-Man, and District 9, cringe at the idea of going to see a movie like Ponyo because it's just a children's movie (it's not) or Julie and Julia (which I haven't seen yet) because it's a "chick flick" and there's no possible way that those movies could speak or appeal to them. I see the same thing here in my comic shop, with people who only buy superhero titles and while I like many superhero titles myself, I lament that often comic books like Whatever Happened To The World Of Tomorrow?, Color of Earth, Stuck Rubber Baby, and American Widow, just get completely overlooked. Now it is certainly true that a person can't buy everything and that maybe a person just wants a superhero story when they buy a comic, but I really do believe if more people actually read a graphic novel such as The Impostor's Daughter or Alan's War, they'd see that you don't have to limit yourself to just action / adventure / slugfests for one's entertainment. I say this, not to be an elitist as I'm sure some think of me as I seem to talk more about comics / art forms that aren't of a superhero / action slant, because really I'm not the smartest bear on the block by a longshot, I just want more of these other works of entertainment like Ponyo and Alice In Sunderland, to find a bigger audience that I know would love them as I do.

For those of you who've read this all the way to the end (thank you for that, by the way!) that don't plan to see Ponyo, what is it about this movie (and similar movies) that makes you not consider it as an entertainment choice? Is my argument about why Ponyo isn't bigger wrong? What do you think are the reasons Ponyo doesn't resonate with people like Transformers or District 9 do?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Big Kahn

The Big Kahn is a new graphic novel written by Neil Kleid (who also wrote the Jewish gangster graphic novel Brownsville and the Xeric Award graphic novella Ninety Candles) and illustrated by Nicolas Cinquegrani. I really enjoyed the two aforementioned graphic novels by Neil Kleid so I was already on board for anything he was going to write, but the premise of The Big Kahn added to my anticipation.

The Big Kahn, a 176 page graphic novel, gets into its premise right away, which is the story of David Kahn who, up until his death, lived most of his life conning people into thinking he was a Rabbi (so of course the title of this book and the central character's name is a play on words). This is a work of fiction, but there's nothing fantastical about what unfolds and reading about how David Kahn was able to sell this fabrication he'd created and how it affected his family and the community he lived and worked in, makes The Big Kahn very engrossing. As is evident from the cover and interior page used here in this entry, the art by Nicolas Cinuegrani is crisp and enhances Kleid's prose. Neil Kleid knows he has a good artist with this book as he has several sequences in which no text accompanies the art and Cinquegrani doesn't miss a beat.

I'm sure that Hollywood option people will be calling in short order to try to secure the rights to film The Big Kahn as this story would work wonderfully in several different mediums.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury wrote the novel Fahrenheit 451 back in 1953, but as the new graphic novel adapted by Tim Hamilton, shows, Fahrenheit 451 couldn't be farther away from being dated (sadly there are still factions that still advocate that we "need" censorship). For those who haven't read this great piece of literature, the premise of Fahrenheit 451 is a future in which firemen don't put out fires, they start them, specifically burning houses that have books in them. Reading books helps promote independent thinking, which is of course bad (well if you're trying to have a totalitarian society like North Korea) so they must be eradicated.

The central character of Fahrenheit 451 is named Montag, who is a fireman, who doesn't question his job to burn books until he encounters a young woman named Clarissa, who is full of life and does question why things are as they are. Montag, inspired by Clarissa's spirit, revolts against his life until then of just doing what he was trained for and seeks others who are passionate about books, thus freeing his mind of the dampeners his oppressive world in which he lives has ingrained upon him.

Fahrenheit 451 is an important book with its underlining message about censorship, but it's not one of those "important" books that is a chore to read. Fahrenheit 451 is a celebration of the printed word, the free mind, and Bradbury's prose and characters are top notch. This graphic novel version of Fahrenheit 451 sports beautiful art by Tim Hamilton (he's done a graphic novel adaptation of Treasure Island that I'm going to look up), an artist that definitely was up to the task of adapting this and Ray Bradbury (as he states in his introduction), gives his full approval.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sunset Crater via Flagstaff

Being part three of Ralph & Kate's Flagstaff adventure (parts one & two blog entries below this entry):

On the way back to Vegas from Flagstaff (our doing the opposite of San Diego Comic-Con trip and unplugging the 'puter and tv trip), we made it a point to stop at Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monument which are also just outside of Flagstaff, to marvel at their wonders and do some hiking. Sunset Crater erupted 900 years ago and people can hike on the lava flow trail. People can't actually walk on the black lava surface, but the trail is right alongside it so it's still awesome. I don't know if my photos here really give the sense of what a dramatic landscape the Sunset Crater is, but it was one of the highlights of my getting out of the big city trip.
Since it's been about 900 years since the eruptions at Sunset Crater, vegetation and trees have grown back. But since the ground isn't ultra fertile, the tree roots don't get a chance to get dug in real far, so instead a lot of them can't withstand their weight and die or have to find ways for their roots to snake around the topsoil. The tree in this photo is sadly no longer living, but I like the way it seems to be crying out in defiance amongst these wonderful clouds.
Another wide shot of the black lava landscape of Sunset Crater juxtaposed against living things (yes, it does look like there was a fire, except not in the sad way that a fire can make things look).

After hiking Sunset Crater, we headed to the nearby Wupatki National Monument, which has the remains of the rock foundations of 800 year old pueblos where thousands of people once lived. While we were hiking around these ruins I heard some German people talking so I went up to them and had a little exchange with them with the limited recollections of the German language that I know just to touch base with people from my birth country and attempt to show foreigners that Americans are not entirely insular people.
Within this circular space was were the people who lived here hundreds of years ago held special and sacred celebrations.

So hopefully I've impressed upon people reading my three entries today on Flagstaff and its surroundings with its beauty and that you will be inspired to visit there - seriously it's always good to get out of the big city whenever you get a chance to recharge, explore the world around you, and just plain relax.

Having talked to my customers who went to the San Diego Comic-Con in our stead, I can report that almost overwhelmingly they had a great time and will go back, but for me I want to do other things with the time I get away from my store (I did especially miss my Saturday San Diego beach day though this year) and after going to 23 San Diego conventions, really it was time for me to make room for other people (I wonder how many more people would go to that convention if they didn't cap it to 125,000 people?).

Sedona via Flagstaff

On day two of our Flagstaff three day weekend a couple of weeks ago, Kate and I took a side trip into Sedona, which is about an hour outside of Flagstaff. This photo was taken by Kate, from inside Mother Box (that's my car's name) on the way there going through the beautiful Coconino National forest.
Another beautiful mountain around the Sedona region. The closer one gets into Sedona, the rock / mountain landscape takes on similarities to our Red Rock and Valley Of Fire regions, and anyone who has been to those places knows what wondrous spaces they are that transports one to really different terrains.
Since Kate and I were only spending part of our day that day in Sedona, we decided to take a trolley tour of the area to get a better overview and I'd recommend doing that for everyone first going to Sedona so that you can enjoy the scenery without worrying about watching the road (and then you could go back and explore the areas you especially liked at length on your own). Our tour guide told us that over 64% of people who visit the Flagstaff / Sedona area come to experience the vortexes (of which Sedona has four major ones - none of which Kate and I got to check out this time), which are supposed to have some weird kind of energy experiences around them (more so if you're a new-agey sort and or have the right drugs on you).
Our trolley tour in Sedona took us to this impressive structure, Chapel Of The Holy Cross, and it is a beautiful building with beautiful viewpoints all around regardless of one's religious or lack of religious beliefs.
I love these bilious clouds over the gorgeous Sedona mountains.

Sedona is definitely a touristy town (population about 12,000), but I'd definitely go back there some day to do some actual hiking, check out a vortex, and explore the numerous art galleries around the town (it looked like there was a lot of cool sculptures). On the way back into Flagstaff, Kate and I had a late lunch at this great vegan restaurant on the outskirts of Sedona called D'Lish with food so good I wanted to marry it.

Flagstaff part one

A couple of weeks ago , Kate and I got lost on the way to the huge San Diego Comic-Con and ended up in Flagstaff, Arizona. Actually we've decided to sit out the huge pop culture extravaganza that is San Diego Comic-Con, not because it's not still fun, but rather we prefer San Francisco's Wonder Con (a little sister comic convention at the end of February) which, with its smaller size, is more relaxing and not as overwhelming. We'd been wanting to get out of the big city for a while and I'd read in NPR's Desert Companion that Flagstaff was a good shortish drive get-away destination place, so Kate did some research on the area and decided that there was enough things to do that would make it a nice place to visit.

We stayed at this really nice bread and breakfast in Flagstaff (we were there Saturday - Monday) called The Inn at 410 and it was a really nice place to hang our hats in between doing things in and around Flagstaff. One thing that the B & B owners of The Inn at 410 did that made me give them high points was making me a really good tofu scrambler for breakfast (with a great fruit side dish) which got my day started off on the right foot.
This is a shot of the neighborhood around The Inn at 410. Flagstaff is on a higher elevation of almost 7,000 feet so it was a lot cooler there than in Vegas (it was in the 80's!). Becasue of Flagstaff's higher elevation and the fact that it rains quite a bit, they have a lot of trees and greenery, which is a nice break from the desert landscape. I took several photos of these cool pillowy clouds and we were even there for a really nice afternoon thunderstorm (I miss the rain).
A short drive outside of Flagstaff there is a great Arboretum, which is basically a 200 acre mountain garden. They also had a Birds of Prey tour there featuring raptors (eagles, hawks, and owls), who hunt their prey. These birds, including this owl here in this photo, are uber impressive up close.

One of the many beautiful flowers within the Arboretum at Flagstaff, with a huge bumblebee doing what bumblebees do.

A nice, cool marshlike pond at the Arboretum, one of several different environments within this great sanctuary.

Flagstaff is a city of about 55,000 people and with its acclaimed University, is a city that to me has the character of a small Northwest or Northeast city. They have a couple of small local breweries, of which we went to the Flagstaff Brewing Co. twice for lunch and I had an awesome black bean burger (no meat they had the black beans form the patty) with pears (yum!) and Kate had a hummus dish that she also liked (the t-shirt worn by some of the staff said on the back: "beer as good as your mom used to make"). Flagstaff is very vegan friendly. I would move there if I could take my friends and comic shop and the wonderful customers I have with me.