Happy Sunday and welcome to What Are You Reading? Our guest today is Kevin Church, writer of The Rack, Signs and Meanings, the new Monkeybrain series Wander: Olive Hopkins And The Ninth Kingdom and many other comics.
To see what Kevin and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
Little Heart — This is a pocket-sized anthology from the small press publisher 2D Cloud created to raise funds and awareness toward gay marriage, especially in Minnesota. Thankfully, the contributors didn’t necessarily feel the need to address the politics of the issue outright, and the book is more about marriage and relationships — both straight and gay — than it is about any strident cries for marriage equality. Like most anthologies, it’s a mixed bag and there are more than a few entries that fall flat. The good news is contributors like Joseph Remant and Noah Van Sciver are on hand to liven up the proceedings. The best part of the book by far for me is the last piece, a journalism-styled comic by Maurice Vellekoop where he visits married gay friends and asks how they’re getting along. I’m happy in general just to see Vellekoop doing comics once again. His presence alone makes Little Heart a worthwhile project beyond their noble nonprofit goals.
Anna & Froga: Want a Gumball by Anouk Ricard — This is an amusing collection of short comics by Ricard involving a little girl and her animal friends — a frog, a worm, a cat and a dog. They’re all a little cruel to each other, which keeps the material from being too treacly. Actually, this reminded me of nothing so much as a G-rated version of Matt Furie’s Boys Club comics. Take out the drug and poop references, and the psychedelic asides, and the similarities seem more apparent. Overall, it’s a cute, funny book that kids will appreciate, but not one that lingers long in the memory after reading it.
Fallen Words by Yoshihiro Tatsumi — I talked about this book on the Comic Books Are Burning in Hell podcast this week and,like I said there, this book sort of stymied me. It’s a collection of jokes, basically — humorous stories taken from the Japanese storytelling tradition known as “rakugo.” But Tatsumi adapts these “shaggy dog” stories in his “straight” gekiga style, that I’m not sure benefits the material. Reading these stories, I got the feeling I was supposed to laugh, but not quite sure why, or even if I knew why, uncertain or unwilling to do so. I admire Tatsumi’s eagerness to experiment, especially after such a lengthy career as his, but this book comes off largely as a failure for me.
Mickey Mouse Vol. 3 — More great stuff from Floyd Gottfredson and company. Gottfredson’s firing on all cylinders at this point, putting Mickey, Minnie and the rest of the gang in one hair-raising adventure after another. Of particular enjoyment is The Pirate Submarine, in which Mickey faces off against a proto-fascist underwater dictator, Editor in Grief, where Mickey takes over a newspaper and exposes corruption and Race for Riches, which is notable mainly for being included in the Smithsonian Book of Comic Strips anthology, which for many was their first introduction to Gottfredson’s work.
Haven’t had time to read everything from Wednesday, although I have been moving steadily through Showcase Presents Teen Titans Volume 1. There are two SPTT volumes so far, and I bought both of them because I keep hearing that the first one is kind of a trainwreck, but the second makes up for it. While I’m not far enough into Vol. 1 to make a conclusive judgment, Bob Haney’s faux-teenybopper dialogue definitely gets a gobsmacked wow. (Actually, it all reads like the last half of that sentence.) Maybe Haney read Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four and thought Naah, I’m going a different way. However, I was pleasantly surprised by “The Astounding Separated Man!” in June-July 1965’s The Brave And The Bold #60, the Titans’ first appearance as such. (B&B #54 had featured a Robin/Kid Flash/Aqualad team-up.) The Separated Man manifests as giant disembodied body parts — giant foot here, giant eye there — and artist Nick Cardy gets a lot of disquieting imagery out of it, particularly from the giant eye. Sadly, though, the giant ear isn’t really as threatening. It just pops up in the background so that the good guys can look over their shoulders and exclaim things like “Quiet! I think he can hear us!” I’m not sure the Separated Man has reappeared, but he’s a Grant Morrison revitalization waiting to happen.
I’m still moving stuff from my parent’s explosion-endangered attic to my house at weekends. This week I deliberately targeted seventy-odd issues of Shade The Changing Man and several years worth of Deadline magazines for an interview I’m at the research stages on. Intended to read about half a dozen issues of Shade, and ended up keeping going right to the end. Reminded me of a time when I wasn’t really buying American comics, and wish now I had been, and can get quite sentimental about, because Milligan, Morrison and Gaiman were being allowed to work in such a novelistic way. Back then every arc read like a chapter in a longer unfurling whole, now every trade paperback reads like a pitch for a movie sequel. And if you look at TV right now, we’re living in a golden age because writer/producers are being allowed to work in that longer, novelistic, way. We’re taking our cues from the wrong artform, people! Re-reading Deadline reminds me of the frustrations I felt buying it at a time, and had forgotten about. It did get awfully inconsistent, sometimes you could go issues-on-end waiting for something good to pop up amidst the mediocrity. My nostalgia for it had me thinking it was a high-water mark for British comics, but after the first couple of years, reading it was an exercise in patience.
My earlier decision to bring the biggest, bulkiest, items back first also meant I spent a goodly amount of time admiring several library editions of Hellboy, another comic that is a totally different kind of exercise in patience, just in time to warm me up for the imminent arrival of volume 5. I also snagged Wally Wood’s Compleat (sic) Cannon and Arlen Schumer’s The Silver Age Of Comic Book Art. Cannon is another book where you can almost spot the page on which Wood’s attention wandered and never really came back, but for the first half, it’s amazing (and utterly reprehensible, simultaneously). I’d forgotten I even owned a copy of Schumer’s book, forgotten it even existed, really, but it’s a stunner, and will be staying on my coffee table for a good long stint. Yup, the theme for my this week’s reading has been: just how poor is my memory getting?
Oh, and I really loved the return of Lenny Zero in this week’s 2000AD. Andy Diggle’s obvious relish at getting to play around with old Dredd mythology shines through, with all kinds of shout-outs and call-backs; the best polar bear character in a UK comic strip since Shako; and Ben Willsher doing a fine job of stepping into Jock’s shoes.
I went to Comic-Con last week and came back with two big tote bags full of comics, but the first one I dove into was one I have read before: The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers Omnibus (this is a UK edition from Knockabout; shockingly, there doesn’t seem to be a U.S. collection). Gilbert Shelton was at the con—he was named to the Eisner Hall of Fame and gave two panels—and in celebration of that I treated myself to this complete collection of all the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comics. The comics are as funny now as when I was in college, but I appreciate them in a different way now, especially after hearing Shelton explain that they were inspired by the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges. This satisfyingly thick volume includes color pages and a nice afterword giving the history of the comic. The book is slightly smaller than the originals, causing me to squint a bit to read some of the older, smaller-format comics, and the world depicted in the comics is quite dated now (marijuana has been decriminalized in Massachusetts, so the paranoia seems even more overblown than it used to), but the humor is as sly and sharp as ever.
The Absolute Ultimate The Gutters Omnibus, on the other hand, comes in two oversized volumes that are much bigger than the browser I originally read the webcomic on. I’m a fan of the comic (although I’ll freely admit that, as with xkcd, I don’t understand every one), and when I first saw these books, during the Eisner judging, I was really impressed with the layout and how they solved the problem of presenting a webcomic, with the accompanying commentary, in print form. The logical solution would have been to make the print version the same size as the comic (which is usually formatted like a standard comics page), but instead writer Ryan Sohmer and art director Lar DeSouza (who also drew some of the comics) have created a big square book with a double-page spread for each comic, allowing space for commentary, an artist bio, and a preliminary sketch. The Gutters is a comic about comics, and every strip has a different artist, so these notes really are helpful to the reader. The result is a really nice set of books with beautiful layouts and a deluxe feel—and, oh yeah, these comics still make me laugh as well.
Tom Taylor’s The Deep: Here Be Dragons is the first volume of a series about a family of researchers who live in a submarine. Like a good Pixar movie (which it resembles in many ways) it is kid-friendly but sharp enough for an adult to enjoy as well. In the first volume, mom Kaiko, dad William, teenage daughter Fontaine and scrappy son Ant face a sea dragon powerful enough to chop a blue whale in half. Oddly, for a comic about the sea, The Deep doesn’t have a lot of the sort of detail one would expect; the sea monster is drawn very vaguely, as a set of menacing teeth that appear from the deep, and there isn’t a lot of other sea life around (although to be fair that is a plot point). In fact, the art is quite simple, and the humans are the ones who shine. The writing is sharp and funny, and the characters are well defined, although the part that will appeal to young readers is probably the fact that the parents allow the kids to pilot the submarine and the exploration modules on their own.
Finally, I read the latest batch of Valiant comics. X-O Manowar #3 is the standout—this is a sharp comic that just keeps getting better and better. In this issue, Aric experiences the power of the suit and the slaves’ revolt reaches its logical conclusion; the issue ends on a delightful cliffhanger. Of both this and Bloodshot #1 I would say the same thing: I’m not usually a fan of action comics, but the writing makes them work for me. There’s fighting and gore, but it’s all smartly done. With X-O Manowar, it’s the world of the comic and the struggle of the main character that make it compelling, and judging from the last page, it’s only going to get better. In the case of Bloodshot, the setup is simply mind-bending: The lead character is a human weapon and the world as he knows it is manipulated by his handlers, giving the creators of the comic the opportunity to play with reality and illusion. Harbinger #2 was OK—I had the highest hopes for this one, and I’m still waiting to see where it goes. In this second issue, Peter uses his psychic powers to fend off his pursuers, and the result is an impressive display of power run amok. The action sequences work well, but I still can’t get past my dislike of the character designs—tiny mouths and eyes embedded in big, blobby faces—and the uncomfortable mix of line and gradient. As with Harbinger #1, I liked the art in the opening flashback sequence a lot better. Anyway, the story is pushing me along so I’m still on board with this one as well.
Captain Marvel #1
As expected this first issue is solidly written by Kelly Sue DeConnick. She quickly introduces elements of a supporting cast, that draw upon Carol Danvers’ continuity history to a certain extent (but without being a fanboy aspect that bogs the story down for new readers). I wish I could say I am definitely back for issue two, but the art by Dexter Soy is intensely problematic. It’s not a matter of that I do not like Soy’s unique art style (which is true, it lacks any level of kineticism, the issue’s action is dulled by his style). It’s the fact that no one in editorial flagged for the artist some basic layout flaws. There are numerous scenes where Soy places characters with their back to the “comic camera.” There are two consecutive scenes early in the book where I found myself asking, “Why am I looking at Captain America’s butt in the midst of a battle?” There’s just so many different ways that Soy could have positioned Cap to make the scene better. On a more simple level, Soy’s faces struggle to show emotion (really through a good chunk of the book, Danvers looks inexplicably sullen). I will be back for issue 2, however, in the hopes that Soy improves or Marvel opts to bring in another artist (because honestly I wonder if Soy’s art style is even suited for the pace of a monthly printing schedule). But make no doubt, it is DeConnick’s writing that is bringing me back—and in comics (at least for me) writing is only 40 to 50 percent of the appeal for me as a consumer.
When folks look back on writer Mark Waid’s run (which I hope does not end for a long, long time), one aspect that people will likely focus upon was his interest in exploring how Daredevil perceives things despite his lack of traditional sight. To sell this story element, Waid has had to rely on some hard-working artists and colorists. Really, when I think about it, it’s not just artist Chris Samnee making this issue look so damn good (which he does), but the quirky effects that colorist Javier Rodriguez utilizes conveying DD’s struggle to regain the ability to “see” the world around him (after being stripped of that ability by Dr. Doom’s lackeys in the last issue). Another bonus to this DD versus Doom story? You rarely see Doom in this story, and it makes sense. Somebody who is trying to take over the world (or whatever Doom’s mission statement is currently) cannot do this alone—and it takes more than Doombots. In this arc, DD was taken down by a team of doctors/scientists and nurses, with barely any presence of Doom (though obviously everybody in Latveria are merely carrying out Doom plans). That’s what makes Waid such a good writer, his ability to take a traditional villain and present his machinations in a non-traditional manner.
Fantastic Four #608
After being disappointed by last issue, this installment in the Wakanda arc was a slight improvement, which is not saying much. That being said, for a story that substantially changes the Black Panther status quo, I was rather bewildered/nonplussed at how the story was structured. It did not engage me, I did not have a concern for the characters. Concern for the characters actually is part of what hooked me with most of Jonathan Hickman’s F4 run (this is the guy that “killed” one of them, lest we forget). If I could give one compliment to the issue (which I do not recommend, it seemed like it was serving Marvel editorial’s needs for the Black Panther character more than Hickman’s F4 larger story) was his ability to capitalize upon the Reed Richards/T’Challa’s friendship and actually build upon it.
Avengers Academy #33
This is one of those issues (in the book that I still consider to be the best Avengers title) where writer Christos Gage touches upon a story seed he planted much earlier in the series. His ability to build a larger tapestry over the course of this series is one of its many assets. In addition I appreciate that he is able to so effectively allow growth in both Finesse and Quicksilver in a subtle manner that also advances the story.
X-O Manowar #3
After hearing good things about this book, I decided to check out this issue. I am glad I joined when I did, because this issue features a change in the status quo of the series and I can honestly say I likely would have been driven away from it if that change had not occurred. I want to read a few more issues before weighing in on writer Robert Venditti’s first foray into the superhero genre, but I have always enjoyed his work in the past (we Atlanta residents have to stick together, of course) and what I read so far is much in that same quality. The standout so far for me is artist Cary Nord. I fondly remember Nord’s work teaming him with writer Karl Kesel on Daredevil years ago. More recently he won an Eisner for his work on Kurt Busiek’s Conan. But I must be honest and say I never realized he had a Marvel exclusive contract from 2008 to 2010, can anyone tell me any great stories that came from that period involving him? There’s an energy to his art in these pages , you can see why Valiant tapped him as an exclusive artist. But it mystifies me why Nord is not more high profile. Potentially, it may be by his own choice. Either way, I look forward to reading more of Venditti’s and Nord’s work on this series.
God and Science: Return of the Ti-Girls
I’d read all of this serialized in Love and Rockets: New Stories, but as a graphic novel on its own, this indie superhero story really shows off why Jaime Hernandez is so revered. It’s very new-reader friendly and discrete, with strong female protagonists in a wide range of ages and ethnicities. Sure, there are some odd, nonsensical moments, but the magical realism that Los Bros Hernandez makes it rewarding in a way that very few continuity-humping DC or Marvel books ever manage.
Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex
I’m reading these adaptations of the anime series to learn a bit more about the timing of animation versus comics pages and how manga compresses and distorts time in the name of storytelling. I actually prefer the Stand Alone Complex material to the original manga and anime because it gives its rich cast of characters problems to solve versus philosophy to espouse.
For some reason, nobody seems to be talking about this completely mental Joe Casey/Nathan Fox comic book. (Of course, I don’t read much in the way of comics press these days, so maybe they are?) I never read it while Kirkman was writing, but the second Casey took over, I was on board, sight unseen, and it’s been very rewarding. It’s a book whose fast pace and density really rewards re-reading and Fox’s art looks better on every successive page.
I usually wait a few months between deep binges of Jamie Noguchi’s funny, beautifully drawn webcomic about twenty-something Asian Americans struggling against their corporate shackles. He’s got a unique voice, managing to do strips you can enjoy on their own while propelling his ongoing shorelines. Special notice should be taken of his love of geek things that are a bit outside of the mainstream in the U.S.
If you’ve not, just do. It’s a buck and looks great on your iPad or iPhone or computer screen. Paul and Colleen make it look effortless, which is both enraging and inspiring in equal parts.
The Three Musketeers
If you’ve not read Richard Peaver’s translation of Dumas’s seminal action-adventure novel, you are doing yourself a grave disservice. He’s had the opportunity to inject the ribald bits from the original text back into the work (seeing as how the French were, naturally, a bit friskier than their English counterparts) and it’s amazing how funny and fast-paced it is. Every chapter is a critical piece of the story and every scene, even if the language does get a bit florid, has a zip that many modern writers would envy