Welcome to another round of What Are You Reading. Our guest this week is Annie Koyama, owner and operator of the wonderful Koyama Press, which publishes fantastic books that you should buy ASAP. To see what Annie and the rest of the Robot 6 crew are reading this week, click on the link below.
Tim O’Shea: Black Panther 523.1: If you have not checked out writer David Liss’ approach on Black Panther, here is your chance with this standalone tale. I am one of those readers that never enjoyed Reginald Hudlin’s approach to the character, so I welcomed the opportunity for a different writer to take a swing at Panther. Setting him in Hell’s Kitchen has been a really boost for the character—and one that I hope sticks around for a while.
Captain America 622: Yeah I repeat myself some weeks on WAYR. But why the hell should I need to say more than Chris Samnee art colored by Bettie Breitweiser? (And I really feel badly for failing to mention Breitweiser’s role in making Hulk 41 look so damn good last week.)
Venom 7: I come for the Tom Fowler art and stick around for Rick Remender’s writing. It’s nice to see Flash Thompson’s character fleshed out (no pun intended) in this series. Don’t know how many people are just checking the book out because of Spider Island, but I hope they stick around.
Justice League Dark 1: The last time I have read anything by Peter Milligan was likely The Human Target. His creative pursuits and my interests just rarely intersect. But he may have hooked me in the scene where Shade the Changing Man reveals certain truths to his girlfriend about the dynamics of their relationship. I like the concept of a Justice League for fighting magic (despite the fact Shadowpact has already been down this road, admittedly).
Superman 1: The numbers drop between 1 and 2 on this book is going to stun DC. Even if the writing had not been so uneven, the news that writer George Pérez is leaving with issue 7 will prompt some folks to bolt. I wonder why this book was not more tightly edited (oh wait, because they had to get 51 other issues out in the same month). Clark Kent’s newspaper story serving as the narrative device for this issue made it even a more boring read for me. Do that bit for one or two scenes, but not almost the whole book. A good comic can sometimes read like a fun soap opera episode. A weak comic reads like a wince- inducing soap opera. I am wincing as I write this.
Flash 1: In the race to win my interest for issue 2, Barry Allen wins (beating Superman quite easily). Co-creators Francis (writer/artist) Manapul and Brian (Writer/Colorist) Buccellato construct a hero with a sense of humor and who can think fast on his feet (heh, see what I did there, yeah I wrote a lame cliché). Seriously though, from the dialogue to the layout, there is nothing rushed (except for the character, of course) or half-baked. Sidebar: do you think DC intentionally wanted to run the Converse ads this month — particularly in this issue the six different versions of Flash in that ad might confuse those potential new readers they are trying to gain and weaken the brand building DC wants to establish
Firestorm 1: This is not Gail Simone at her best, not even close (why would a character insult a jock by calling him “boy band” for instance?; why introduce a female scientist who’s one bit of dialogue is to hit on doomed scientist for this plot [hopefully she has a role of more substance down the road]). This smacked of a bad afterschool special on the perils of weak journalistic ethics or the struggle of race dynamics in the current age. Also am I the only person who momentarily mistook the villains in this issue for the new Blackhawks? Wonderful art by Yildiray Cinar though, but not enough to get me back for issue 2.
Aquaman 1: The last time I enjoyed Geoff Johns writing consistently may have been around the time of the first JSA relaunch (no really). So the deck was stacked against him on this first issue of Aquaman. But two things put this book in the winning column: Aquaman’s two hands. OK, it was more than that, namely the scene in the diner–heck the fact that Aquaman ordered fish at a diner. Quirky stuff.
Secret Avengers 17: As much as I loved Warren Ellis on Secret Avengers 16, I am stymied by his writing in this issue. He writes a Cap that is like that crazy rec league coach who yells at his team for their performance. As much as I love Kev Walker’s art on Thunderbolts, he is ill-suited for this comic. Sharon Carter looks downright ugly (and unrecognizable from the way Walker typically draws her in certain panels). This was a done-in-one effort I wish I had left on the shelf. Avengers Academy 19: Christos Gage and company continue the streak of writing the best Avengers book, hands down. I really admire how Gage incorporated the Fear Itself storyline without allowing it to derail the pacing of the story or growth in characters. In fact, he used the event to his story’s overall benefits.
Tom Bondurant: I really liked IDW’s new Abramsverse Star Trek #1 (written by Mike Johnson, drawn by Stephen Molnar), but then I am pretty much the target audience for the book. For at least the first few arcs, it will re-stage Original-Series episodes for the timeline created in the 2009 movie. First up is Samuel Peeples’ “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” the series’ second pilot episode and the first featuring Kirk (and Scotty and Sulu, but they didn’t get to do a lot). It’s not a straight-up adaptation, but the basic storyline remains intact: the Enterprise encounters a log-recorder from S.S. Valiant which warns of bad tidings around the galactic barrier; and sure enough, the barrier zaps Kirk’s friend Gary Mitchell with energy which magnifies his latent psionic powers. Before you can say “Dark Phoenix,” he’s showing off a little too much, and it’s time for issue #2. I kid, but I do think Johnson and Molnar have a good handle on the characters’ voices and likenesses. In a few panels Kirk looks about 19, but he had that problem in the movie too. Also, Molnar’s poses can sometimes be a bit stiff, and his pacing a bit off. I’m not sure if that’s a hazard of movie adaptations generally, but that’s what it reminded me of here. Still, the issue moves pretty well without getting bogged down in technobabble. While this series is perhaps best appreciated by those of us who wondered what the old stuff would look like “updated,” it’s a good read regardless.
As it happens, the first issue of Power Girl came out around the same time as 2009’s Trek movie, because I remember
picking up a copy on the way to the theater. (How’s that for a segue?) The first arc (featuring the Ultra-Humanite) didn’t grab me, but I kept hearing good things. Finally, I got the two paperbacks collecting Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Amanda Conner’s twelve issues, and I’m glad I did. Conner’s work especially brings wit and vitality to PG’s adventures, particularly the ones involving intergalactic swinger Vartox. However, overall these issues combine PG’s somewhat jaded, day-at-the-office attitude with a fun, anything-goes spirit, to excellent effect. There’s no getting around the cheesecake factor (my wife commented on it immediately), and an issue which PG spends mostly bound and gagged in Ultra’s torture device helped turn me off the book initially. In the larger context, though, it’s not really that salacious, and after a while it’s more farcical than anything else. Considering some of the now-infamous New-52 books, here’s hoping Conner gets to work on another DC title soon.
It’s purely coincidental that I re-watched 2008’s The Dark Knight right before picking up the paperback of 2005’s Batman: Dark Detective (written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Marshall Rogers, inked by Terry Austin), but I was struck by the superficial similarities. Both feature an old flame of Bruce’s who knows he’s Batman (and who’s romancing a guy who looks like Aaron Eckhart) and both involve Two-Face going after the Joker. Like I said, superficial. I read the miniseries when it came out, but otherwise it’s been a while, so I can’t comment on it as a whole. However, Rogers & Austin’s work seems a lot more sketchy than their previous collaborations in the ’70s and ’80s. It’s still good, just different. Most of this is on Rogers, whose style got more loose over time; but Austin’s inking also loosened up. Their Bruce Wayne in DD has a very thick, squared-off face, almost like Jim Rockford meets Tim Sale’s For All Seasons Superman, and it’s hard to get used to. Their Joker is still fantastic, though — cold green eyes which seem to rest in those pale sockets like oiled ball bearings.
Oh! Before I forget, Kate Beaton’s new Hark! A Vagrant collection is just off-the-charts funny, page after page. The best part is that the subject matter makes virtually every comic timeless (sorry, hook-handed Aquaman). If you are able, you should get it, or at least pore obsessively over the website.
Brigid Alverson: Mental illness is a difficult topic, but it is also a wonderful subject for comics artists, because of the visual possibilities. Look Straight Ahead is a webcomic about a teenager with mental illness. It starts with the alienation of high school life — bullying, an unrequited crush — but in addition to that Jeremy, the main character, is hearing voices in his head and having freaky dreams — when he can sleep at all. In the third chapter he crosses over the boundary into delusions and paranoia, and his parents commit him to a mental hospital. Creator Elaine M. Will does a superb job of illustrating what’s going on inside of Jeremy’s head, constructing imaginary worlds out of galaxies and puzzle pieces, drawing what he is feeling as well as what he is seeing. She also makes very clever use of limited color in the hallucination sequences. Yet at the same time the comic is very grounded, and Jeremy’s delusions are presented as being of a piece with the other miseries of his life. It’s a fascinating comic, and the story is still unfolding, with two new pages going up each week.
Unlike Tom, I’m not the target audience at all for IDW’s Star Trek comic. I haven’t seen the movie, and I haven’t watched the show in about 20 years and yet I enjoyed it quite a bit. The story was clear, and everything I needed to know was in the comic. I liked the straightforward art style as well. I wish I could say the same for the first issue of their Ghostbusters comic. The story was a lot busier than the Star Trek comic, and with lots of cuts and scene changes it would be confusing anyway, but I kept feeling like I was missing some important bit of backstory. Again, I’m not the target audience, having last seen the movie about 10 years ago; I’m sure it would be a better experience for true fans.
I whiled away a bit of time with Laddertop, by Orson Scott Card and Emily Janice Card (apparently the three-names thing is hereditary). Although his name is in smaller type on the cover, I’d like to give Honoel A. Ibardolaza a shout-out for his lively manga-style art. “Manga-style art” is a deal-killer for a lot of people, but this is unusually well done. The story itself is sort of strange: Long ago, aliens gave the human race a gift of four 36,000-mile-high towers, each topped with a space station that provides clean energy for the earth. They are maintained by specially trained children who go to an elite school, Laddertop Academy. The main characters are two spunky 11-year-old girls, and we get to follow them through their training.It’s like Twin Spica Lite. My biggest problem with this book is that I have a healthy respect for the laws of physics and therefore I cannot accept the notion of a 36,000-mile-high-tower. That just wouldn’t work. But the idea of aliens gifting humans with technology and then leaving is kind of cool; it’s clear that the people running these things don’t totally get what they are. I’m only about a third of the way through the first volume, but there’s enough here to keep me interested.
Annie Koyama: Since I began publishing indie comics, zines and art books in 2007, I rarely have time to read as much as I would like any more. I’m embarrassed to admit that I have boxes filled with books and zines I bought as far back as TCAF and MoCCA in 2010 that I haven’t read yet. The irony does not escape me.
This is a selection of what I have read lately. I’ll leave out things like Death Ray by Daniel Clowes since many others will cover the bigger current releases much more thoroughly than I could.
I’ve enjoyed Gabrielle Bell’s comics and love the ‘Diary’ and ‘San Diego Diary’ books published by Uncivilized Books. I like a lot of autobiographical comics but the best ones for me deal well with the mundane aspects of life. Her use of black ink for shading is so great. I don’t usually have time or the inclination to re-read books, but I have done that with these ones.
At the recent Fan Expo show in Toronto, I met Drazen Kozjan and got his self-published mini ‘The Happy Undertaker’. The art is beautiful and reminds me of Edward Gorey, Ronald Searle and San Francisco artist Roman Muradov whose work you should also check out
I just read the new Xeric funded book ‘Freddy Stories’ by Melissa Mendes. I’ve followed Melissa’s work for a couple years now and love how she draws the character Freddy. It’s charming and makes me want to see more of Freddy and what Melissa comes up with next.
I am nuts about Cole Closser’s work. I’ve got ‘Little Tommy Lost Book One’. His style is reminiscent of the comics my mom had around when I was little. His book design, colour palette and and stories are like nothing else out there right now.
There will be a lot of great reviews for Ethan Rilly’s new ‘Pope Hats Number 2’ published by AdHouse Books so I will concentrate on what I like about his work. Ethan’s drawings are fantastic. With my film background, I automatically read and picture some books as films. There’s a page involving a character on a bus and the angles Ethan uses to portray the inertness of the scene is wonderfully filmic. I want to see more of these stories and look forward to ‘Pope Hats Number 3’.
I am loving Alex Schubert’s books ‘The Blobby Boys’ and ‘The Dudes’. The colours are gorgeous, I like the characters and the covers are great. You can see his work on the great site What Things Do and at Vice. Nathan Stapley is an amazing painter and I love his mini comics like ‘A Christmas Carol And Other Holiday Tales’. I’d be very happy to see a book of his paintings.
‘Nogoodniks’ by Adrian Norvid published by Drawn & Quarterly is a lovely hardcover of his drawings and collages. It reminds of me of the first book I published called ‘Trio Magnus: Equally Superior’.
Matthew Forsythe’s books are always beautiful and his illustrations in ‘My Name Is Elizabeth’ by Annika Dunklee published by Kids Can Press are no exception. I’m publishing his new ‘Comics Class’ book of his semi-autobiographical teaching experiences due out in time for the Brooklyn Comics & Graphics Festival.
I am a big fan of zines too. Canadian James Kirkpatrick aka Thesis Sahib consistently puts out really interesting ones, the latest I have is called ‘New Strangers’ published by Le Dernier Cri. It comes with a CD too.
I also love his ‘Journey Through Time & Shapes’, a silk screened collaboration with Jamie Q. Perhaps my favourite zine/printmaker is Luke Ramsey. I recommend anything he does, many of which are collaborative efforts. He’s such a prolific artist whose joy, sense of wonder and social justice are evident in all of his work.
Thanks to Chris Mautner for having me contribute! Now back to that huge pile of unread treasures.