Friday, February 26, 2010

JLA: Crisis On Two Earths

This week, fans of great Justice League animated stories written by Dwayne McDuffie, will be happy to know that Warner Home Video has released Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths, another in their fine series of almost movie length animated features with characters from the DC Universe (the running time of the main feature is 75 minutes).

Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths was originally a story that Dwayne McDuffie had written for the Justice League Unlimited cartoon series, but Cartoon Network ended that show before this could be developed (for whatever crazy reason as it is my understanding that the Justice League Unlimited cartoon did well). The story deals with the concept of worlds / Earths that exist parallel to ours, in which on one Earth for example, the villains were victorious over the heroes, and there exist evil opposites to the good versions of characters we know from the "main" DC Universe Earth. Besides some great action sequences that actually showcase what various characters can do with the powers they have, Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths also manages to tap into some big ideas (mostly on the aforementioned concept of parallel worlds) and these elements combined with great animation and great voice work (especially James Woods as Owlman), make for some very fine superhero cartoon entertainment. Wonder Woman also gets a big part in this story. My only nitpick is with William Baldwin's voice as Batman, which didn't really work for me (but it didn't super annoy me).

An extra huge bonus for anyone who buys the two disc special edition (which only costs a little more than the single DVD version) is the Spectre animated short written by Steve Niles (The Ghoul, 30 Days Of Night) and it is classic Spectre in full vengeful mode. Steve Niles definitely got his horror on with this story and there's many homages to horror movies of yesteryear. This short is the first in a series of shorts that will be included with the main feature, called DC Showcase, with the next one being a Jonah Hex spotlight that'll be on this summer's Batman Under The Hood Warner Home Video animated release.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Choker #1 & upcoming signing!

Today from writer Ben McCool and artist Ben Templesmith, sees the arrival of Choker, their new horror / crime noir series for Image Comics. Anyone who's followed the art and writing of Ben Templesmith on titles such as Welcome To Hoxford, 30 Days Of Niight, Fell, and Gloom Lake, knows that they're in for a great, crazy visual madness and mood ride as only Templesmith can deliver. Choker is the first big series for new writer Ben McCool and this story plays very well to artist Ben Templesmith's strengths.

At the heart of Choker is a mystery about a biotech crime with some escaped psychopaths throw into the mix (this takes place in th future, but the tone of the book is more crime / horror than science fiction) and the first issue moves at a great pace and does exactly what a first issue should - make you want to come back for the next issue!

Alternate Reality Comics (and me, Ralph) is excited to be part of the signing tour by the Choker creative team of Ben McCool and Ben Templesmith, which is happening Thursday, March 18th from 5-7pm. I'm glad to be part of the launching for Choker and helping to introduce it to people who like their crime fiction with a nice big helping of horror. More details by early next week, but please mark your calendars for what's sure to be a fun time!

Monday, February 22, 2010

King; Ho Che Anderson

A few weeks ago, Fantagraphics released King The Special Edition, a graphic novel biography of Martin Luther King, written and drawn by Ho Che Anderson. King was originally released as three trade paperbacks, which Ho Che Anderson had worked on from 1991 through 2002. King The Special Edition is very much like a directors cut of a great movie, as it contains commentary by Anderson on the long road he'd taken to finish King, as well as presenting a sketchbook section and a couple of short stories that Anderson wrote and drew before undertaking his Martin Luther King biography.

Being as Martin Luther King was the engine of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's and such a charismatic figure, it would be hard for any biography of him and what he accomplished, to be anything short of a great narrative. Reading King The Special Edition (of which the biography narrative is 240 pages out of this edition's 300 pages), is much like reading a rich novel, as Ho Che Anderson doesn't just go through the motions of Martin Luther King's history and the U.S's history during the Civil Rights Movement, rather his King unfolds with the reader becoming immersed in every facet of Martin Luther's life (especially during the 1960's) and what black people had to endure before and during this tumultuous period. Anderson doesn't sugarcoat what happened or aspects of Martin Luther King's life and thus King is the most engaging account of Martin Luther King's life that I have experienced. King ends, as Martin Luther King's life did, just as the promise of what he (and so many others) worked towards was beginning to be realized, but as history was and is still unfolding, huge steps towards equality for all is happening, much work in that arena still needs to be completed.

Ho Che Anderson lists Howard Chaykin (American Flagg) as a major influence on him as an artist, but Anderson has taken Chayin's visual and narrative style and created his own extension of that artistic style. Anderson, as he recounts in his commentary afterward, started King when he was twenty-two years old and didn't complete King until he was thirty-three years old. During these long years, Anderson did a massive amount of research, which actually didn't help him complete King faster, instead his research slowed him down and that, in addition to his own life "getting in the way" (my words), and he almost had someone else complete the art portion of the latter parts of his Martin Luther King biography. Fortunately, Ho Che Anderson found his muse within himself and completed the entirety of King himself so that connoisseurs of great sequential art biographical works now have King The Special Edition, as the excellent record of Martin Luther King's life that it is.

Friday, February 19, 2010

They're not hurting anyone...

...well maybe they're hurting themselves, but as long as they're not hurting anyone else, that's okay, right?

I need to get back to working on my monthly Diamond Comics order, not goofing around on the internet, so... carry on, there's nothing to see here...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kick-Ass hardcover has landed!

If Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill, Death Proof) wrote a comic book, that comic book would be exactly like Kick-Ass. For those of you who somehow missed out on the comic book powerhouse that is Kick-Ass, today at finer comic book stores (and one that rhymes with Alternate Reality Comics - grin), the hardcover edition of the complete eight issue Kick-Ass creator-owned comic by Mark Millar and John Romita JR. is available for $24.99 (the same price as all of the eight individual comics). This is a very hard comic series of which to find all of the individual issues (several of which went to multiple printings) so having this collection available is going to make a lot of people happy.

Kick-Ass takes place in the "real" (our) world, not the Marvel Universe in which every other person has super powers. Kick-Ass does have characters that dress up in costumes though (mostly inspired by comics said characters have read) and attempt to fight crime. But Kick-Ass is written by Mark Millar (Wanted, Superman Red Son, The Ultimates, American Jesus) who is amongst the very finest of comic book writers who are able to "think outside of the box" and turn conventions of superhero comics inside out (he first did this with The Authority years ago). Yes Kick-Ass is a kind of superhero comic, but it's a VERY R-rated superhero comic, with very adult humor, a liberal use of colorful "language", and a very high dose of ultra violence (I can't stress enough that this is not a comic for anyone under 17 years of age). All of this is drawn by co-creator (and co-owner) John Romita JR., who is at the top of his game on Kick-Ass with his trademark wall to wall comic book illustrative dynamism on full display.

For the three of you reading this blog entry that haven't yet seen a trailer for the upcoming Kick-Ass movie (April 16th) or knew that one has been made, well in the next two months, you're going to not be able to avoid hearing about Kick-Ass, the comic and the movie. Seriously, having seen three trailers for the Kick-Ass movie, if this movie is anywhere as entertaining as the trailers suggest, well this is going to be a pretty great movie. It looks like the movie will follow the comic fairly closely, but even though I know that the movie is going to be rated R, I'm fairly sure that they'll still have to tone down the "language", violence, and humor because if the movie played out exactly like the comic, it would be make Deadwood, Pulp Fiction, and Kill Bill look tame. I'm not just putting on my hype monster hat here and it's going to be interesting to see how comic stores (and other bookstores) and movie theaters keep kids from reading or watching Kick-Ass because there are many of them that are going to want to when they find out about Kick-Ass.

People who are old enough for mature content, who like non-stop comic book action that is also very funny (albeit very dark humor) mixed with ultra violence and great characters will be thoroughly entertained by Kick-Ass. Mark Millar and John Romita JR. are going to make a LOT of money now that Kick-Ass has been collected.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Voice actors signing this Saturday!

This Saturday, February 20th, from 3-5pm, YuriLowenthal and Tara Platt will be signing their new book Voice-Over Voice Actor, at Alternate Reality Comics (across from UNLV of course).

Some of the anime / animated shows that Yuri Lowenthal has done voices for over the years are: Naruto, Afro Samurai, Bleach, Prince Of Tennis, Ben 10, Wolverine and the X-Men, and Mister Miracle (on Batman The Brave and the Bold). And that's just a small sampling of Yuri's voice work, check out his wiki page for the full listing.

Tara Platt, has an equally long varied list of anime / animated shows she's done voice work for, some of which include Bleach, Naruto, Monster, and the Legion of Superheroes. She also has a website and wiki page with her full voice acting credits.

Yuri and Tara will have copies of their Voice-Over Voice Actor at the signing this Saturday (from 3-5pm) for a mere $19.95. Voice-Over Voice Actor is a great book for anyone remotely interested in how voice acting is done, how to break in, and is full of their personal experiences with voice acting. Visit for more on the book and stop by Alternate Reality Comics this Saturday afternoon for what will surely be a fun time listening to Yuri and Tara do some of the different voices they do and share their behind the scenes experiences on the different shows they've worked on.

Friday, February 12, 2010

BookScan, what is BookScan?

Today's entry will only be of interest to those of you who read my blog who are interested in the behind-the-curtain aspects of the comic book industry. It's true that some people (including myself) probably concern themselves too much with how the magic trick works rather than just enjoying the magic trick unto itself (kind of how a lot of people are obsessed with weekend movie box office totals), but that's a topic for another day.

BookScan is a tracking operation for bookstore sales of books sold, meaning not just how many they ordered, but rather how many copies they actually sold. BookScan's data tracks sales information from just "regular" bookstores, not comic bookstores (Diamond Comics has their own top sellers listings for direct market stores they service, but they only have order numbers, not sell through numbers unfortunately). Not all bookstores (or places that sell books) report their sales to BookScan (for example Walmart and supermarket stores don't), but there is a huge amount of the existing bookstores both big box (like Borders) and independent that do, and from this information we can get a pretty good picture of what is selling and what isn't (libraries, schools, and book fair book sales are also not included within BookScan's numbers).

Every year for the past several years, Brian Hibbs, who has owned the excellent Comix Experience in San Francisco for over twenty years, has combed through the BookScan numbers and shared his analysis of how comic book graphic novels have performed in the book store marketplace. Brian has a column he does monthly for Comic Book Resources called Tilting At The Windmills ( in which he discusses topics of interest to the comic book industry. Brian Hibbs also has two book collections of his Tilting At The Windmills columns out, which should be required reading for anyone who owns or wants to open a comic book store. His latest column at the aforementioned link is his extensive look at the BookScan numbers for 2009. Yes it takes a long time to read, but I don't think it's a boring read, rather it's a very thorough analysis by Brian Hibbs of what these numbers have to say about the present and possibly the future for the comic book industry.

Following are some of my thoughts after reading Brian Hibb's analysis of the BookScan 2009 numbers (and as a note to those of you who haven't read Hibb's column yet, while he has sales info on books that have sold just one copy (!) in bookstores, he is "just" looking at the top 750 books):

In the direct market comic store landscape, Marvel almost always (probably at least 95% of the time) beats DC in terms of market share in dollars and unit sales. In "regular" bookstores, the reverse occurs, and this has never been more true than in 2009. To illustrate: DC had 93 titles (graphic novels) in the top 750 with total unit sales of 1.2 million equaling 24 million retail dollars compared to Marvel's mere 34 titles in the top 750 with unit sales of just 227,000 equaling 5 million dollars. Simple math shows that DC is beating Marvel by 21 million dollars in bookstores and yes, a lot of DC's big showing over Marvel had to do with the Watchmen trade selling WAY more then it ever has because of the movie (being the exception to the rule that movies don't always do a lot to affect book sales), but even if the Watchmen trade was removed from DC's books on the BookScan list, DC still would be strongly outperforming Marvel outside of comic book stores (and actually even in comic bookstores, DC's graphic novels sell more generally overall than Marvels).

I'm spotlighting the above, not for the sake of "DC is stronger than Marvel / Hulk is stronger than The Thing" sense (even though I do think that DC is stronger than Marvel), but as a preamble to my observations on why this is so.

While Marvel still does a better job in comic book stores producing superhero comic books that outsell DC superhero comic books (and I'm talking about the periodical format, not the collected format) month after month, year after year, they really have very few graphic novels that a retailer will sell over and over again and or can be recommended to people without reservations. Off the top of my head, I can only think of a handful of Marvel trade paperbacks that are in the "evergreen" category (meaning they have a long shelf life and sell repeatedly): Marvels, Marvel Zombies, Daredevil Born Again, Astonishing X-Men, and Millar & Hitch's Ultimates. They do have trades that come out such as New Avengers, Captain America, and the Ultimate Spider-Man collections that sell multiple copies in their initial release cycle, but they don't generally keep selling and thus become shelf warmers.

Conversely, DC / Vertigo, for example, besides the obvious like Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, V For Vendetta, Killing Joke, Kingdom Come, and Batman Year One, also have Preacher, Sandman, Y The Last Man, All Star Superman, Fables, etc. Seriously, any comic store retailer could think of a lot more DC / Vertigo trades of which they do regular traffic with whereas with Marvel just thinking of even five titles on which they do regular traffic with can be challenging.

What does this say to me at the end of the day? The obvious answer is that DC is better at producing graphic novels that stand the test of time and aren't hopelessly convoluted and that Marvel doesn't worry about the long term entertainment value of any one project, focusing on the short term dollars that they generate from their numerous spin off and one shot periodicals they produce (they have a LOT more periodical titles coming out monthly in comparison to DC). I find it incredibly frustrating that I have a hard time thinking of great stand-alone graphic novels with iconic characters such as Spider-Man, the X-Men, Hulk, and other Marvel characters that I can introduce to a Joe or Jane off the street or someone who is getting back into comics as examples of being the best definitive representations of those characters. Even though the Civil War, House of M, and Wolverine Old Man Logan (and whenever they do a Secret Invasion collection) did well, ultimately those event books had lame endings and are hard to recommend to people that you want to be return customers based on your recommendations. Having said that though, the upcoming Kick Ass hardcover, will be the break-through, cross-audience, easy to recommend without qualifications Marvel collection to just about everyone (well except kids and those adverse to ultra violence) that will sell like a strong DC / Vertigo collection does whether the movie is any good or not (which if it's anywhere as entertaining as the trailers suggest, does look like it will be good).

The other point of interest I wanted to touch on that Brian's analysis of the BookScan 2009 numbers revealed is the decline of manga, which has been happening at a very accelerated rate. Certainly a powerhouse title like Naruto, with its forty-seven volumes and counting, still places all of its backlist amongst the top tiers of all graphic novels, but as Brian shows, the newest volume of 2009 sold considerably less than the newest volume sold of 2008. And wow, TokyoPop is quite the pale shadow of its former head-of-the-pack manga publisher here in the U.S. Manga hasn't been the growth sector of the comic industry that I thought it would be a few years ago.

What happened to manga? Well the audience and interest level for manga and anime is still out there, but largely that audience has gone to accessing their favorite series online (mostly illegally) because it costs too much to get the whole series, they can often access the newest chapters before they are published here in the U.S., and because that audience aren't as tied to owning the physical object as people that buy "regular" comics are. Additionally, libraries carry a lot of manga as this has brought many young people into the reading fold (which of course is great) and bookstores let customers read the manga volumes in their stores (and certainly the huge returns manga publishers saw after their initial sales bonanzas is proof that that model doesn't turn most people into buyers).

Pleasant surprises for me as a person who also enjoys graphic novels that aren't of the long john variety that I got from the Bookscan numbers (although I do like superhero comics contrary to my emphasis on alternative comic works here on my blog) was seeing great books like Logicomix, Crumb's Book of Genesis, Fun Home, Persepolis, Maus, Scott Pilgrim, Walking Dead, and Cooke's The Hunter (actually I thought that book would have placed higher in BookScan than it did) do so well outside of comic book stores. Some of these books, such as Scott Pilgrim and Walking Dead, actually sell more copies at comic book stores, but the success of the other books I've mentioned shows me that if more comic book stores actually stocked those graphic novels they would find that they have an audience for them (unless they just shelved them amongst their superhero titles causing them to get lost in the mix).

Thursday, February 11, 2010


This week Drawn and Quarterly released Dylan Horrocks revised edition of Hicksville. Hicksville originally appeared in comic form by Horrocks in his comic Pickle in the mid-to-late 1990's and is about a fictional small town in New Zealand where everyone loves comics as being the ultimate art platform (sigh - if only that was such a place). This new edition of Hicksville has a new twelve page comic strip introduction by Dylan Horrocks about his life-long love of the comic book medium and he touches on his bouts with cartooning block (more on this later).

Hicksville opens with comic journalist, Leonard Batts, going to New Zealand to search for the legendary cartoonist, Dick Burger. I loved Pickle / Hicksville when it originally came out, but when I first started re-reading Hicksville, other than the new introduction, I was thinking that it wasn't as great as I'd remembered it being. For some reason, it took me a little longer to get into what Horrocks was doing with Hicksville this time around and it wasn't until about page 13 (of the main narrative of Hicksville - I'm thinking maybe after the excellent new twelve page intro that the very beginning is too offsetting) that I once again fell in love with Hicksville. The cartoonist, Dick Burger, whom Leonard Batts is searching for, is as fictitious as this New Zealand comic book loving town (Hicksville), but throughout Hicksville there are factual not-so-thinly veiled odes to comic creators of yesteryear and the mediums history somewhat akin to what Michael Chabon did in his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

At the beginning of each of the ten chapters of Hicksville, Dylan Horrocks uses quotes of things people / creators within the comic book industry have said throughout history. A couple of examples: "Comics will break your heart." Jack Kirby, "From now on, I do not want progress." Stan Lee (from 1973), "We can't keep putting out this crap for much longer." Martin Goodman (founder of Marvel Comics, from 1939 when they were called Timely Comics), and "The medium of exchange in the comics business is guilt; it's not money." Steve Englehart. I'll let potential readers of Hicksville to discover the rest of them for themselves, but I just wanted to share some of these, as they speak volumes. These quotes are interesting unto themselves, but they are also integral to the mystery that underlines Hicksville, only part of which is the search for cartoonist Dick Burger.

The other mystery at the heart of Hicksville is that of the cartoonist of Hicksville, Dylan Horrocks, aforementioned bouts with cartooning block, which he mentions in his introduction to this new edition, but is also evident in the narrative of Hicksville. Horrocks did some other comic books post Hicksville for companies such as DC / Vertigo (which he admits weren't that note-worthy), but other than a much lamented short-lived attempt at starting a new comic, Atlas, he had ran into a creative wall.

It wasn't until this morning when I was searching for a cover image online to use with this entry that I discovered that Dylan Horrocks has a website,, upon which he has some pages for some comics he has been working on such as Sam Zebal and the Magic Pen and The American Dream (both in color). Most of the themes of the comics that Horrocks has on his site have as a recurring theme the existential issues he is wrestling with and his attempts at overcoming the dreaded cartooning block that he also wrestles with. I highly recommend checking out Dylan Horrocks' site in addition to Hicksville and reading these comics (many of which sadly don't have that many pages), with my favorite being The American Dream, which looks to be the making of his opus upon completion (no pressure Dylan, but seriously after reading those sixteen pages, I can't wait to see where this is going!).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Daytripper #3

Daytripper has, in just three issues, easily leaped to the top of my favorite monthly comic book series being published today. Daytripper #3, subtitled "28", opens with a sad ending of a relationship, but the central character learns that his future isn't destined to be as bleak as the ending of this relationship suggests things may be. As I was reading Daytripper #3, I was thinking of a friend who has been going through an especially rough patch and I'm hoping that this person, after reading Daytripper #3, can also see the possibilities that the future holds.

Daytripper #3, is another beautiful, self-contained story written and drawn by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, but with each issue, more of a bigger tapestry is being revealed. I'm not seeing how the individual issues are going to connect to this bigger picture yet, as I'm just enjoying each issue onto themselves, but I know that I'll be even more amazed with what Moon and Ba are doing with Daytripper when the connecting elements become apparent.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Of Mule And Man

Last November I visited my friends, Rick and Zena, in Florida, and got to share the wonderful Miami International Book Fair with them. Mike Farrell was supposed to be one of the many author guests and being that I was a big fan of the television show M.A.S.H., of which he was one of the central characters, I was especially looking forward to hearing him speak and seeing him in person. Well for whatever reason, Mike Farrell had to cancel, but as I started reading through one of his books his publisher, Akashic Books, had at their booth, I was instantly wanting to read more so I bought Of Mule And Man (there were other books in my reading stack that made me only just now having gotten to actually reading it this past week though).

Of Mule And Man is actually a follow up novel to Mike Farrell's Just Call Me Mike: A journey to Actor and Activist (which I haven't read yet). The "Mule" in the title, refers to the Prius hybrid car that Mike Farrell rented to travel across the U.S. in to promote the release of the paperback edition of Just Call Me Mike. Anyone who has ever watched M.A.S.H. knows what a great character BJ, the character Mike Farrell played was, but I'm happy to have discovered that the real life person Mike Farrell is, is also a great person, being involved in many human rights issues, with his focus being on working with groups who oppose the death penalty (and many of these groups were sponsors of Mike Farrell's book store, library, and other stops across the nation in 2008).

Of Mule And Man is a collection of the journal entries Mike Farrell wrote during his cross country five week trek across the U.S. and although the subject matter of most of the entries, being that they deal with the human rights injustices occurring here in the U.S. and around the world is of a very serious nature, Of Mule And Man isn't ultimately an oppressive, depressing book as Farrell is helping to put a spotlight on human right organizations around the country that are changing the old guard. I especially enjoyed the way Mike Farrell treats his rented Prius (Mule) as if it were a companion (and though he talks to Mule, I know that Farrell doesn't really think that it is a living entity like a person, just that he does appreciate the can do that makes a car like the Prius possible).

For more info on human rights organizations that Mike Farrell has worked with visit:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Smile is a new graphic novel by cartoonist Raina Tegemeier about dental adventures / misadventures when she was a young lass. Smile is published in full color by Scholastic, but it's not just a great graphic novel for kids, it's a great, funny, wonderfully drawn graphic novel for anyone who has ever been to the dentist.

I've never had braces, but I did have a lot of dental work done a few years ago to correct / fix my years of bad dental hygiene from my youth. I went to the dentist regularly as a kid (always had lots of cavities), but didn't brush or floss my teeth as much as I should have. As an adult I've been better about brushing my teeth regularly, but damage was already done, so as I said, I needed a LOT of dental work. I'm probably the biggest baby when it comes to going to the dentist because I HATE all the having to keep your mouth open really wide, the scrapping and the drilling that goes on.

So reading Smile, with Raina's accounts of all she went through having to get and wear braces, getting implants, and other corrective dental surgery over her very important pre-teen years, made me recall my dentist visits and made me glad that I didn't also have to endure braces on top of all the other dental trauma I've been through. In Smile, Raina Telgemeier doesn't just show how difficult having to wear braces is when you're a young teenager, but also hows difficult it is to do so when you're going through so many other life changes, but she does this all in a highly entertaining, positive fashion, making Smile a great graphic novel (200 pages for only $10.99) for everyone.