Artists Alley Acquisitions: Philadelphia Comic Con 2010

By Rich Chapell

It’s a tough gig, being an independent comics’ creator. There’s no money in it, especially at first. You have to be able to stick to a schedule and get your book out on time, hoping to build an audience, while at the same time working a day job to pay the printer bills. I respect anyone even trying to make a go of it.

That’s why, when I go to a con, I always make a point of touring Artists’ Alley, talking to creators and buying anything that looks interesting. Maybe I’ll be among the first to discover the Next Big Thing. Maybe not, but at the very least I can help an aspiring artist make back his table money so he can afford to go to another con and do it all again.

“Dinoman: Groin-Smashing 1st Issue” was written by Benn and Jeff Cohen, and drawn by Jeff. The hero, an anthropoid dinosaur on the run from the government, has powers beyond those of mortal men or dinosaurs. We join him early in his superhero career, before he’s got a real handle on his powers or on the mechanics of maintaining a secret identity. Fortunately, a false mustache and a pair of glasses are sufficient to disguise him. No one seems to pick up on the fact that he’s green and only has three fingers on each hand, which gives him time to work on his catchphrases.

Through all the sight gags, comic violence and cheerful lampooning of genre conventions, the Cohens also manage to tell a story. In a single issue they introduce their characters, establish their world, set up the ongoing story, and put their hero through a brief adventure, all nicely paced, without clumsy exposition, but with a lot of laughs.

The art, while not quite ready for prime time, is an interesting mix of computer and hand-rendering. I would have preferred more bold blacks and cross-hatching to the sometimes muddy greys, but that’s a matter of taste. The most important thing to consider when looking at comic art is whether it serves the story. By that measure, Jeff Cohen succeeds admirably.

You can find Dinoman online at http://www.myspace.com/dinomancomics.

“My Sister the Dinosaur” by Neil King, is one of several books “For Immature Readers” on his Smarty-Pants Comics imprint. Young Cecilia is having a hard time adjusting to her new baby sister. She’s loud, messy, selfish, and gets all the attention. She can’t possibly be human, and Cecilia wonders why her parents have allowed such a creature in her house. All it takes is a heart-to-heart with Mom, though, to make her see the baby in a new light.

Even when I was six, I didn’t read comics to Learn a Valuable Lesson. I wanted absurdity, mayhem, and booger jokes! “My Sister the Dinosaur” is a bit absurd, has some subdued mayhem, and while there are no booger jokes, there is a bit of mucus. Despite these fine points in its favor, the story is far too didactic for my tastes.

I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. The art is pro-quality, with a nice Jules Feiffer feel. I especially liked the page composition, with bordered panels nesting within larger, unbordered pictures. It’s a fine-looking book, but the story is something I’m guessing the parents will like a lot more than the kids.

Look for “My Sister the Dinosaur” and other comics by Neil King at http://www.smartypantscomics.com/.

One face I was glad to see as I patrolled Artist’s Alley was that of writer Lewis Helfand. I was hoping to pick up the latest issues of his excellent “Wasted Minute” comic, but sadly, he had nothing new since the last time I’d run into him. Instead, he had a small stack of adaptations of classic novels from Campfire Graphic Novels. I can’t blame him for taking a paying gig, but I really like “Wasted Minute“.

Helfand’s adaptation of “Kim”, my favorite of Rudyard Kipling’s works, gives us all of the adventure and grand scope of the original story. The art, by Rakesh Kumar, captures the grit and splendor of colonial India. The distinctive faces make it easy to keep up with the various characters, even when they are in disguise. I wouldn’t hesitate to hand this book to a kid and tell him “Here’s what Kipling is all about. When you’re a little older, you can read the original.”

Helfand’s “Wasted Minute” can be found at http://www.wastedminute.com/. Campfire Graphic Novels will begin releasing Campfire Classics in July, with over a dozen scheduled for release this year, including several adapted by Lewis Helfand. Find them at http://www.campfire.co.in.

“Saga of the Power Heroes: Book One of Five” is a blatantly derivative superhero tale from Derrick A. Rivers. He cheerfully cops to the “derivative” charge in his end notes, pointing out that part of the fun of reading his books will be to identify the established characters on which his own heroes are based. The art is well below pro standards, but it gets the story told.

Rivers’ superhero team, the Preventers, are brought together by a wealthy industrialist in powered armor to face challenges no single hero could surmount. In their first issue, the team comes together, we learn their names and powers, and, through teamwork, they defeat a major supervillain. Clearly, no new ground is broken here, but entertaining comics for kids are few and far between. If you know some kids who aren’t ready for the violence and moral ambiguities of modern comics, this might be their gateway book.

You can find “Saga of the Power Heroes” at http://www.powercomix.com/.

In “Massive Awesome” #1, writer Steve Lindsay and artist Rolf Lejdegard bring us the story of a talking pickle who thinks he’s a zombie and his friend, a 6-foot tall talking commando strip of bacon. There are no other talking food items in the story, and everyone just accepts Bacon and Pickle as normal. If you can get past this premise, you may enjoy the book.

The story is mostly one long fight scene, but it’s peppered with enough jokes to remain entertaining. I prefer a lot more plot and characterization in my comics, but that’s simply not what this is about, and on its own terms, it works. The art is stylized, but a cut above the amateur. Lejdegard has mastered the basics of storytelling and composition, and is developing his own distinctive look.

“Massive Awesome” also contains a six-page “Jesus Hates Zombies” story by Lindsay and Daniel Thollin. Again, it’s mostly one long fight scene. Lindsay has other “Jesus Hates Zombies” books out, but I’m not familiar with the premise, and this one story doesn‘t give me much to go on. Apparently Jesus and Lazarus, a zombie, travel around, fighting zombies and trying to get laid. Again, whether you’ll enjoy the book depends a lot on whether you can buy into that premise.

You can find “Massive Awesome” at http://215ink.com/shop/index.php.

“Hardboiled Horror Tales”, a hand-stapled ashcan from Doug Slack, contains two tales of zombie vengeance. I like the art and its bold black and white contrasts, but it’s a bit cartoony to qualify as horror. It’s really more of a “fun with zombies” book, which is cool. Simultaneously an homage and a parody of the old-school horror books of the fifties, I mention this book mainly because it led me to Doug’s blog, http://www.the-doug-blog.blogspot.com/, which proved to be a fine way to kill time at work.

“For a Price: Bounty Hunters and Other Scum”, an anthology book produced by students from IDW editor Andy Schmidt’s “Comics Experience” course, collects ten stories about bounty hunters and their prey. They vary widely in style and quality, which is what I love about it. If you don’t like a story, you can rest assured that the next one will be completely different. What more could you ask of an anthology?

You can find “For a Price” at http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/for-a-price-anthology/5556543. For more information on the creators involved, go to http://prontocomics.com/.

With the exception of “Kim” and “My Sister the Dinosaur“, none of the indy comics I scored in Philly are of professional quality. However, all of them are readable, and all of them are fun. Take the time to check them out, and support independent creators!

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