Monday, March 29, 2010

Days Missing, do not miss this graphic novel!

The Days Missing hardcover that was released a couple of weeks ago by Archaia Publishing, collects the five issues of the same named mini series that came out last year and may very well be the most unjustifiably overlooked series of 2009. Actually, I am amongst those that originally overlooked Days Missing, because although I read the first issue when it came out and really enjoyed it, for whatever reason I didn't follow up on the other issues as they came out. A few days ago, Archaia sent Mel Caylo, their marketing manager, to the ComicsPro retailer trade show in Memphis (and I'll have a blog entry overview on that meeting within the next couple of days, but I just want to briefly say that the meeting was very productive and left me feeling more positive about the future of comic stores and the future of comic books in printed form) and he supplied all of the retailers that attended with their own copy of Days Missing (thanks Mel!).

So on the flight back from Memphis, I devoured the entirety of the Days Missing hardcover and was blown away with how excellent it is! All five stories contained in this collection can be thoroughly enjoyed unto themselves and anyone who has enjoyed Warren Ellis' Planetary (Ellis also provides the introduction) will love Days Missing. Each of the five stories in this collection take place during different times throughout our world's history and involve an immortal character called The Steward, who corrects / resets days so that great calamities won't happen. The Steward can't see into the future and can't be everywhere at once so he does have limitations and obviously our world still had other tremendous, often horrendous events happen that he wasn't there to prevent. There's a lot of very big ideas on display in each of the Days Missing stories and they all have a factual basis, making this a textbook example of how to think outside of the box without those big ideas getting lost as they often do when they are contained within actual textbooks.

The Days Missing concept was created by Eugene Roddenberry (the son of Gene Roddenberry, who created Star Trek, of course) and Trevor Roth. Phil Hester writes the first and last stories, with David Hine, Ian Edington, and Matz writing the other three stories. The excellent artists contributing are: Frazer Irving (who illustrates both of Phil Hester's stories), Chris Burnham, Lee Moder, and Hugo Petrus. After reading and marveling at the stories and art on display in this Days Missing collection, if you aren't already reading comics by them, I'm confident that you'll be looking for other comic book creations that they've done.

I think that a lot of comic books, even ones I find highly entertaining, are unnecessarily collected in the hardcover format when a softcover would suffice, but the hardcover format of Days Missing is definitely warranted as it is a beautiful production with lots of great extras, such as extensive liner notes, many pages of developmental art, and with 160 pages for a mere $19.95, upon finishing this book you'll feel like you've read a book twice in length because of the richness of concepts and big ideas these stories encompass. I hope this years Eisner judges don't overlook Days Missing (although as the dust jacket shows, this was very well received by those for whom Days Missing didn't get lost in the sea of releases that come out every week) as I and so many others did when it was published as single issues last year because this book deserves a much bigger audience.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Templesmith & McCool signing wrap...

The Las Vegas Choker (Ben McCool & Ben Templesmith, natch) tour at Alternate Reality Comics was a great time with a great turnout! Both Bens have been on a crazy cross country tour with their Choker promotion and I was happy to be a part of the excitement. Ben McCool told me that Choker #2, which just came out this week also sold out at the distributor level, so now both issues are going to a second print. It's always great to see a new writer with a fresh voice (writing style) break out like this so strongly right out of the gate. Hopefully someday artist Ben Templesmith will get his big break - ha, just my feeble attempt at humor, everyone who's a fan of maniacal horror art knows that Ben Templesmith is an Artist with a capital A!

In this first photo, over to the right is Tyler (one of Las Vegas' biggest original art connoisseurs) watching Ben Templesmith do up a sketch for him (besides being a great artist, Templesmith is a FAST artist!).

Tyler's completed sketch - 'tis a beauty!

This is the also cool sketch Ben Templesmith did up for me!

After the signing dinner gathering (at Toto's one of the best Mexican restaurants in Las Vegas), with from left to right: Ben McCool, Derrick (friend and owner of Comic Oasis here in Vegas over on Rainbow and Cheyenne, a store that's definitely worth visiting if you haven't already done so as long as you don't stop coming to my store - grin!), my friend Rob (thanks for your help at the store which allowed me to be less stressed out and for getting the Blue Moon!), the Kate and Ralph duo, and Ben Templesmith. After I showed this photo to Kate she started cracking up at the giant beer bottle over Rob's head!

Kate and I were at the side of the table with Ben McCool and it was great getting a chance to have a long chat with him about his upcoming projects (sorry, can't talk about them as the "i's" and "t's" haven't been dotted and crossed yet) and his stories about his other Choker tour stops (poor chap was also starting to very much feel the after effects of having so much going on the past few weeks!). As much as I enjoyed talking at length with Ben McCool (someday I'll be able to say that I knew him back when he wasn't a super superstar!), I lament not getting more of a chance to talk to Ben Templesmith more than I did (Rob and Derrick were hogging him!), especially about his art. I don't know if I impressed upon him what a huge fan of his art I am so hopefully he reads this and feels the love!

Thanks to everyone who came out and thanks to Ben and Ben, who are both REALLY APPRECIATIVE of their fans, for including my store in their Choker tour!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Kick Ass movie - Kick Awesome!

No spoilers following:

Just saw an advance screening of the Kick Ass movie (it hits theaters on April 16th), based on the comic / graphic novel by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. and it was a TON of fun! There are changes, but I thought the changes were fine and I wouldn't say that I liked the graphic novel better or the movie better, they both are totally entertaining onto themselves. With the changes, one can read the Kick Ass graphic novel and watch the movie and they aren't total reruns of each other. The movie, like the Kick Ass graphic novel, definitely doesn't shy away from its R rating and everyone who likes stylized ultra violence similar to Quentin Tarantino movies should eat the Kick Ass movie up and want more. If this movie doesn't make some good coin at the box office, I'd be very surprised. I can't wait to hear other people's reactions after seeing the Kick Ass movie!

Also kick ass will be the signing by Ben Templesmith and Ben McCool (was that a good transition - grin!?) tomorrow (Thursday, March 18th from 5-7pm) at Alternate Reality Comics. Seriously though, it's going to be a fun time and I always appreciate when people support these signings and the creators, like all artists, appreciate seeing their fans and getting ego stokes and feedback - and all Templesmith / McCool comics and graphic novels will be on sale for 20% off through the end of the signing!

Monday, March 15, 2010

McCool & Templesmith signing Thursday and...!

Just four days away from the big Ben McCool and Ben Templesmith signing at Alternate Reality Comics! Ben and Ben are doing a tour to promote their new Image crime noir / horror series, Choker, so come on down to Alternate Reality Comics this Thursday, March 18th from 5-7pm to give them a big welcome! The second issue of Choker arrives this week so I'll have that on hand as well as issue #1 (which is going to a second printing, but I still have first printings left) and Superman 80 Page Giant, which has a short story written by Ben McCool. And...

...this week only, in celebration of the Templesmith / McCool signing, all of their titles, comics, graphic novels will be on sale for 20% off cover price (sale ends at close of signing on Thursday)!! This sale includes fantastic Ben Templesmith titles such as: Wormwood Gentleman Corpse, Welcome To Hoxford, 30 Days of Night, Groom Lake, Fell, and The Presidents of the United States as well as Choker, written by Ben McCool. Seriously, all of these aforementioned titles are excellent so I'm thinking that this sale will allow people to get more of their Templesmith / McCool fix (sorry for being such a shameless comic book pusher - grin!). Ben and Ben will be happy to sign all of the books they've worked on, I believe Ben Templesmith will have some prints for sale, and I think he even does quick sketches for free if you give him a wink (grin!), especially if you have / bought one of his books. And just because Ben Templesmith seems to wear a suit to all of his convention / store appearances, the dress code for the signing this Thursday will still be causal so come on by to catch a glimpse of the minds behind some of the most unique comics being produced today!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mountains Beyond Mountains

Mountains Beyond Mountains is a 2003 novel by Tracy Kidder about Dr. Paul Farmer, a truly remarkable doctor, Harvard professor, humanist, anthropologist, and just all around real life saint of a person. My friend Zena gave me Mountains Beyond Mountains when I visited her and my friend Rick last November (Lorraine, their daughter, had given her this book originally) and just the past couple of weeks it's come up in my reading queue. Attending a presentation by author, Tracy Kidder, about Mountains Beyond Mountains and his follow up novel (also a biography), Strength In What Remains (which was released last year), was one of the highlights of last year's Miami International Book Festival for me.

In Mountains Beyond Mountains, Kidder does provide some background on Dr. Paul Farmer's early life growing up in a large, poor family that moved around a lot (amongst the places they lived was in Alabama and around the Gulf of Mexico region), but the focus of Mountain Beyond Mountains, is on Paul Farmer's early decision to seek the cure for infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS and help people in extremely impoverished countries who are especially vulnerable to these diseases.

Although Dr. Paul Farmer lives in the United States, most of his time is spent in Haiti. He considers Haiti his home base, where he's administered medical help to the people there since the 1990's, specializing in people that have TB or AIDS. Farmer has written books on infectious diseases as well as lecturing around the world on this subject especially how they pertain to poor countries, but while Dr. Farmer knows that this lecturing around the world is important for increasing awareness and for the financial support these countries need, he is most "at home / happy" when he's directly providing medical help to people who otherwise wouldn't receive any medical attention. Tracy Kidder accompanied Dr. Farmer on many of his returns to Haiti, Peru, Russia, and elsewhere and thus bore witness to the lengths Farmer had to undergo to provide the medical services he provided. As Kidder recounts, Paul Farmer undertakes the seemingly tireless medical services he performs because of the great need that exists, not for monetary gains or personal fame. The following are Paul Farmers words:

"I think of myself as more of a physician than as an American. Americans are lazy democrats...the rich can always call themselves democratic, but the sick people are not among the rich. Look I'm very proud to be an American. I have many opportunities because I'm an American. I can travel freely throughout the world, I can start projects, but that's called privilege, not democracy."

People who read the above words spoken by Dr. Paul Farmer who haven't Mountains Beyond Mountains, may assume that Farmer is an ingrate, but nothing could be farther from the truth as Paul Farmer just has no patience for the bureaucracy he was often confronted with just to provide the medical services that he did and the rampant inaction that exists in people who have the means to make actions happen.

I get overwhelmed fairly easily, especially when I think about dire living conditions in a country like Haiti (conditions of which were already really bad even before January's horrible earthquakes) so I definitely understand people's inclination to tune out when they hear about these calamities that are happening around the world and feel like there's nothing they can do (compounded by the reality that many people here in the U.S. are themselves experiencing hardships). I think that a book like Tracy Kidder's Mountain Beyond Mountains and the existence of a person such as Dr. Paul Farmer serves as a vivid illustration of not only how really really bad things are in some parts of the world, but also as a template of how one person can be instrumental in changes happening. Looking at the big picture and all its variables can lead to, as Kidder writes, "...what seems like a small problem gets ignored, until it grows large...theory often outruns practice", but as Jim Kim (a colleague of Dr. Farmer) says: "If you focus on individual patients, you can't get sloppy."

Fairly early on when Paul Farmer first started going to Haiti, he got the attention of Thomas White, who through his belief in what Farmer was doing, was the initial financial start up of Partners In Health, a Boston based non-profit health organization dedicated to providing a "preferential option for the poor." The work that Partners In Health do through their clinics around the world is explored in Mountains Beyond Mountains, but you can also visit their website for more information at:

Anyone who would like to read the copy of Mountains Beyond Mountains that I just got done reading just has to stop by my store (Alternate Reality Comics, here in Las Vegas, of course) and I'll pass it on as long as it gets read and passed on to others who would read it (as it has been passed on to me and to Zena before me). Those great U.S. institutions called libraries will have this book on their shelves also (unless it's checked out).

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Daytripper #4

Daytripper #4 is titled 41 and is another fine fine example of how to do a comic book in twenty-two pages that gives you a beginning, middle, and end in one single issue (all of the issues of Daytripper can be read as GREAT single issues, but they are also pieces of a bigger whole). Reading Daytripper will enrich your day. I hope everyone who is reading Daytripper shares this great series by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba (published by Vertigo) with others as I really believe it has universal appeal. I love that Daytripper comes out on the same day as Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon's Punishermax (their run may very well go down as the VERY best Punisher stories ever told) because Daytripper is the yin to Punisher's yang. Go team comics!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Page After Page: a tribute

Page After Page was the name of a comic book store that Lyn Pederson owned from 1982 until about 1995 here in fabulous Las Vegas. I strongly believe that my store (Alternate Reality Comics, of course) wouldn't be a tenth as good as it is (and I'm not fishing for compliments for my store here) if it weren't for the existence of Page After Page, a truly pioneering comic book store. I've been meaning to write this tribute blog entry about Page After Page for some time now, but my memory isn't what I'd like it to be and I've been trying to organize my thoughts before just randomly typing words. Well, this morning I just thought "damn the torpedoes!" and decided that I was going to share my memories (as faulty as they are) of Page After Page and hopefully give people an impression of what a landmark store it was (if they weren't lucky enough to have gotten a chance to visit said store).

I moved to Las Vegas in 1981 and remembered going to Page After Page not long thereafter. Lyn Pederson is a new facebook friend of mine (and he comes into my store every once in a great while) so before writing this I confirmed with him that Page After Page did officially open in 1982. I only found out recently that before Lyn opened Page After Page he worked at Friendly Neighborhood Comics, which (I believe) was the first comic store here in Las Vegas, owned by Tom and Mary Heiner (spelling?), which opened sometime in the mid 1970's. I remember going to Friendly Neighborhood Comics when I first lived in Las Vegas in the mid 1970's before moving to Germany, but as happy as I was to find a store that just sold comic books, Friendly Neighborhood didn't leave me with an impression of being a GREAT comic book store (and I mean no disrespect to owners Tom and Mary, but it just seemed like a store that sold superhero comics and didn't have any particular character). Anyway, at some point, Lyn left the employment of Friendly Neighborhood Comics and opened up his own store.

The two biggest things anyone who ever went to Page After Page saw upon entering, was the beautiful design schematic of the store and the diversity and depth of comic books available. Lyn and his father, Pete, built the shelves and the interior of Page After Page from the ground up in such a way that visually it wasn't just a shell of racks upon which comics just sat upon with seemingly no rhyme or reason. Lyn was / is an artist so he channeled this part of him into Page After Page's layout, both in shelving arrangements and creating window displays and other visually attractive displays within the store.

I really can't stress enough how important visual presentation of any store is, because while I'm not an authority on store design, I know that even if it's just on a subconscious level, the way a store (any kind of store, not just a comic book store) is laid out does effect a person's decision to shop at that store and return to that store. I've always worked towards having the layout of my store, through the placement of my comic book display shelves and racks, be easy to navigate for the casual comic book reader and the comic book devotee and organized in such a way that people can easily see the diversity of genres that this medium has (akin to "regular" bookstores). The visual dynamic of Alternate Reality Comics wouldn't be what it is if Page After Page wasn't the inspiration and template that it was.

Page After Page, being that it opened in 1982, was there at the beginning of the creation of the direct market era of the comic book industry, meaning the time in history when Marvel and DC, as well as other publishers, created comic books for the specialty marketplace exclusively, not for drugstores or supermarket outlets. Comic specialty stores and some comic titles from a few small publishers existed in the 1970's, but it wasn't until 1980 that the real growth in this area occurred. I mentioned that Page After Page had a wide selection of different kinds of comics. When Page After Page was in its infancy, the comic book medium really had just a handful of publishers that produced graphic novels / trade paperbacks and or material that wasn't superhero or fantasy based. It wasn't until the mid 1980's and really not until the mid 1990's that the comic book industry, creators, publishers, and retailers, came to seriously appreciate that graphic novels / trade paperbacks and true diversity of content would be profitable supplements to superhero / fantasy comic book periodicals. So Page After Page, in the early 1980's really had to be creative in finding / stocking those creators and publishers who made the alternative comic books / graphic novels that did exist on the fringes. As much as I do enjoy superhero comic books, ever since I first started reading comic books, I looked for comic books that told different kinds of stories and if I didn't have a store like Page After Page that had those other kinds of comics I was looking for, there's a good chance that I would have just quit reading comics. Lyn and Page After Page were definitely at the forefront of the alternative comics movement.

Even though my memory is so wonky, I'll always fondly remember going to Page After Page weekly to get my fix, eagerly awaiting Lyn's arrival with that week's shipment (hopefully not annoying him and his crew too much as they were trying to process the new titles - I know how hairy that can be!), being sad when my favorite titles didn't arrive (this was before we could find out online which titles came out on any given week), the numerous signings he had by legendary and new comic creators, watching the awful Supergirl movie in his store (actually I was looking through Charlton Ditko Blue Beetle comics while the movie was playing), and meeting my now long time friend, Joel (we planned going to our first San Diego Comic-Con back in 1985 at Page After Page and went on to go to about twenty more together!), and just generally being a great place to have gotten my comic book geek on. Whenever I got a chance to talk directly to Lyn, that was a treat as he knew (and still does) so much about the comic book industry and the creators. I still run into people all the time at conventions who know Lyn from all aspects of the comic industry (actually the excellent Dark Horse photography book The Artist Within of comic creators in their studios wouldn't have been possible without Lyn's connections).

Why did Page After Page close? Well that's something I've always been curious about, but it's really none of my business. I'm certain though that it didn't close because it wasn't doing well or because Lyn no longer cared about the comic book industry. As much as I'm thankful to Blake (the owner of Dungeon Comics who sold me his store back in 1995 that I have since transformed into what it is today) and to my friends Joel and PJ for telling me that Blake was looking to sell in the first place, I think in some sense Lyn also handed me his comic shop baton to keep alive the strong comic book store presence here in Vegas that he established with Page After Page. And isn't the name Page After Page one of the greatest names ever for a comic book store!?

Postscript: Some time ago I was talking to Lyn and he mentioned something about putting the archives together pertaining to Page After Page and I for one hope he's still working on that and will share the HUGE part he played in shaping a great foundation for people who love the comic book medium here in Las Vegas.

Monday, March 1, 2010

American Splendor: Unsung Hero

The other day I was getting Our Cancer Year by Harvey Pekar and his wife Joyce Brabner off of my shelf for a friend to borrow and also pulled off American Splendor Unsung Hero to revisit. Unsung Hero is the story of Robert McNeill, who when he was 19 years old, was a Lance Corporal in the United States Marine Corps and this book recounts his stint in Vietnam in 1970. Robert McNeill, like most young people that served in the military during the Vietnam War, didn't join because he had some burning patriotic urge to do so, rather he joined because he saw it as something to do with his life that school wasn't providing for him. McNeill was awarded a Navy Commendation Medal for his work as a Rifleman during combat operations while in Vietnam.

As Robert NcNeill recounts to Harvey Pekar in Unsung Hero, Vietnam was quite the culture shock from life in the U.S. Of course Vietnam was also a really dangerous day to day existence, especially if you were involved in any combat positions. Sure this is true of just about any war, but the Vietnam War was occurring during an especially turbulent part of the U.S.'s history, so being a young black man, as Robert McNeill was, made him hyper aware of this reality. Things weren't all doom and gloom though, as soldiers such as McNeill made their own entertainment, usually in the form of drugs and women. I'm not the biggest advocate for drug taking (nor have I taken really anything in the way o drugs in my lifetime), but from everything I've read / seen about the Vietnam War, I can't imagine not taking drugs to endure what was going on. Reading Unsung Hero (and finally watching the brilliant Apocalypse Now the other day) I can't come close to imagining myself at nineteen being thrust into the chaos that was the Vietnam War.

For anyone who hasn't read a Harvey Pekar comic book biography (usually about himself) or has seen the excellent American Splendor movie, I would recommend Unsung Hero as a great place to start. I'm actually not sure if this is still in print (it was published by Dark Horse in 2003), but I'll be checking on this when I place my weekly reorder next week. The art in Unsung Hero is ably rendered by David Colliers in a non-flashy style that, like Pekar's script, is totally respectful of its subject matter. The only thing I would have liked to have read about Robert McNeill was a post script on what he did after his service in Vietnam - I'm going to guess that he maybe was working with Harvey Pekar in the Cleveland hospital (where Harvey was a file clerk) and that's how Harvey Pekar came up with the idea to do this story.