Best of 7 | Oni's 2014 plans, new 'American Vampire' and more

Welcome to Best of 7, where we talk about “The best in comics from the last seven days” — which could be anything from an exciting piece of news to a cool publisher’s announcement to an awesome comic that came out.

This week is pretty packed, as we have news, reviews, a con recap and a whole year's worth of announcements from one publisher. So buckle your seat belts and hold on tight as we aim our DeLorean at the last seven days ...


Oni's 2014 plans hit like a Meteor

On Friday Oni dropped a treasure trove of exciting news by detailing its plans for 2014.

I am a sucker for anything Jeff Parker related, but to learn he is teaming with his longtime friend (as well as sometime Batman 66 collaborator) and established Oni artist Sandy Jarrell on something is doubly delightful.

Set to be released in September 2014, Meteor Men stars a teenager named Alden Baylor. Parker and Jarrell seem perfectly suited to create a story that on some level seems like it will be targeted to teen (as well as adult) readers. Any graphic novel that helps foster interest from the new generation of readers is great.

Also I have to commend Oni, as well as Greg Rucka and Matt Southworth on how everyone proceeded forward in trying to make Stumptown an ongoing series.

While it is unfortunate that circumstances could not allow Southworth to be involved going forward, I respect the fact that the public was not treated to a series of posts where Southworth or Rucka revealed how and why it played out this way. In other words, both parties acted like adults and professionals who respect each other. Too often in the comics industry we see it go the other way.

So while I will personally miss Southworth's involvement in Stumptown, I was very happy to learn that Justin Greenwood will be illustrating the title starting in September.

I have to also say I hope to see much more of Southworth's work whatever it may be in the months and years ahead. (Tim O'Shea)

I, For One, Welcome Our New Cat Overlord

Among the flurry of Oni Press announcements this week, one stands out among the rest to demand immediate anticipation and enthusiasm among the masses. The internet loves cats, so I am required by law to highly anticipate I Was the Cat by Paul Tobin and Benjamin Dewey even with only a cover image and brief blurb to go by.

The original graphic novel is scheduled for August, at which point we will meet Burma, an aspiring feline despot. Through his nine lives, Burma has been present for many of the world's most historically crucial moments, and maybe played a (yes, I'm going to do it) paw in influencing events. Journalist blogger Allison Breaking is hired by Burma to write his memoirs, and in the process she uncovers an even more sinister story about Burma.

With this information, I can only assume this will be Tobin's twisted spin on the Garfield book of short stories and subsequent TV special Garfield: His 9 Lives (and if there's a sequence like "Diana's Piano" I'm going to cry again, I just know it). Paul Tobin is of course known for the headlining digital series at Monkeybrain, Bandette. He also impressed me with the bewitching Gingerbread Girl from Top Shelf. So I have no doubt this is going to be a unique read. Fellow Portlander Benjamin Dewey has a painting background, a mastery of depicting animals, and a love of cats, so this book should be stunning, as evidenced by that fantastic cover. As a regular visitor to I Can Has Cheezburger?, there's really no way I'm not getting this book. Plus, my cat already told me she wants to read it, and it's not like I'm going to disobey her. (Corey Blake)

Myths, misfits & masks explained by Sana Amanat

On March 1st, Marvel Comics editor Sana Amanat spoke at the 5th TEDxTeen conference. She was invited to do so after the initial announcement of Ms. Marvel, the first Muslim-American superhero to headline her own comic book at Marvel. A video of her talk "Myths, Misfits & Masks" was posted to YouTube earlier this week, and it's an inspiring 16 and a half minutes.

Amanat beautifully described her experiences growing up as a Muslim-American, particularly how it changed for her after the first World Trade Center bombings, and how superheroes helped her find comfort and solace in an awkward youth. She brilliantly explains how greater diversity and better representation in fiction can make positive change. She pulls out some sophisticated sociology terms like Stereotype Threats and Mirror Neuron Theory, but makes it palatable and easy to understand.

Perhaps best of all, she explains how story is the most powerful way to challenge us to look at others as individuals, instead of groups of people or stereotypes. "Why not tell stories that are empowering, and aspirational, and challenge us to be better," she asked. "That is exactly what superhero stories do." (Corey Blake)

American Vampire returns for a second helping

It may look like I'm auditioning for president of the Scott Snyder Fan Club, but for the second straight week I come to praise an issue he's written.

In fact, while I enjoyed Snyder's script for the debut of American Vampire: Second Cycle, artist Rafael Albuquerque really pulls out all the stops. As with the first series, his work in this issue is vivid and occasionally stylized, with a definite "vamped-out look" that is as distinctive for AV as, say, its counterpart in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It would therefore be pretty easy for Albuquerque to rest on that visual shorthand, and rely on a lot of razor-sharp fangs and claws (not to mention distended jaws) for the sake of shock value. However, Albuquerque returns to AV with what looks like an even broader range, and a command of mood which guides the reader as much as Snyder's dialogue does. The issue goes from a near-whiteout snowstorm to an ominous standoff and a couple of highway capers, and stitches them together with a handful of quieter moments, without missing a beat.

This book knows full well that it's about monsters, and doesn't try to make them "cute." Instead, Snyder and Albuquerque want to show which ones are sympathetic, and which ones are genuinely scary -- and this issue is most effective when it leaves some of that up in the air. Thus, the issue begins and ends with sequences apparently involving the newest kind of unstoppable undead, catches up with the familiar Pearl and Skinner, and introduces a group of new characters which figure into Pearl's mission.

Colorist Dave McCaig is the issue's unsung hero. He gives the snowstorm sickly-green highlights, bathes Pearl's introduction in the burnt orange of a night on fire, and contrasts Skinner's scenes with mustard-yellow and blue-gray. Indeed, throughout the book McCaig uses those dominant colors for the backgrounds, while coloring the main characters more neutrally. This gives many sequences a more primal, two-tone feel, emphasizing the characters' struggles against implacable forces. In the end, though, it's the eyes of Albuquerque's characters which make the difference. In her first appearance, Pearl's eyes are cold, commanding, thick-lined half-moons. They soften when Pearl comforts her latest charge; and the other character's eyes are wide with both fear and hope. Skinner's eyes are beady and yellow-tinted -- part of being "vamped-out" -- and when other characters similarly let their horrific sides show, the change is striking. Those panels practically glow in the dark.

What's more, the issue really is the proverbial "good jumping-on point," since it includes some handy flashbacks and a two-page text piece (part of all the Vertigo books this week, I suppose) outlining the story so far. It's great to have American Vampire back, especially when it's this good. (Tom Bondurant)

Santoro, Watterson and Thompson rock the Billy Ireland Museum

It was a very busy week for the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum (BICLM), starting on Monday with a Frank Santoro speech (on how he composes his comics) in the Eisner Seminar Room and ending with the opening of the Bill Watterson and Richard Thompson exhibitions.

Santoro has promised to post a link to the video of his presentation once it becomes available, and judging from his summary of it, he offered quite an engaging seminar. "I like to think about how musical composition and arrangement relates to comics. Particularly modal music. I think there is a shared 'pattern language.' Mode means 'way' essentially and I think that there is a way to use simple scales and rhythms like in modal music and apply them to composing comics. And I don’t just mean the regularity of the grid. I mean abandoning the prison of 'chord changes' and just 'playing scales' under the melody instead."

A Friday reception marked the opening of the Watterson and Thompson exhibitions, which both run through August 3, 2014. The museum's blog posted a tempting sneak peek of the exhibitions as well as interviews with the subjects by Watterson Curator Jenny Robb and Thompson Curator Caitlin McGurk.

Watterson quite succinctly explains the importance of the BICLM as well as the unique opportunity to see an exhibition that features his work:"The library helps counteract the art world’s condescension to the “low art” of cartoons, and it protects work that would otherwise be scattered or lost. In making original work available for anyone to study, it also gives us access to our own history. You know, if you’re a painter, it’s simply taken for granted that you’ll spend a lot of time in museums studying great paintings, but if you’re a cartoonist, it used to be very hard to see an original cartoon drawing."

Thompson meanwhile offers sad, yet savvy advice for aspiring creators: "Try everything. Comics are, as they say, blowing up. The chance for invention is great but the chance for moneymaking is small. Right now creators are pretty much screwed."

As documented by this official BICLM tweet, Thompson was able to attend the opening of the exhibit--which is only fitting.

Judging by the photos offered in the sneak peak, as it should come as no surprise to fans of either creators' work--it is an experience no one wants to miss seeing. (Tim O'Shea)

"Superman's Mission for President Kennedy" finally flies home

Despite what we're told by fairy tales and Hollywood (and a lot of fiction, actually), clear cut happy endings can be hard to come by in real life. But they do happen, and they deserve celebrating. Fifty years later, the original art of Al Plastino for the 1964 story "Superman's Mission for President Kennedy" is now on display at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, at last fulfilling the late artist's wishes. The art was originally created in cooperation with the Kennedy Administration to promote the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. The story's publication was initially delayed due to Kennedy's assassination, until President Lyndon Johnson encouraged DC Comics to publish the story as a tribute to Kennedy. The Bill Finger-written story appeared in Superman #170.

It's tragic that Plastino could not see the resolution of his art's long journey, but it's comforting to know that his appeals during the final months of his life were heard and the industry responded. We still don't know why the art wasn't originally sent to the Kennedy Museum, as Plastino had requested following the issue's publication in '64, but at least the oversight has been corrected. Plastino was at last year's New York Comic Con when he discovered his art was to be auctioned off through Heritage Auctions during the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination. DC Comics and Heritage Auctions took the right steps to halt the auction, purchase the art, and deliver it to the museum. It's both a tribute to Kennedy and to Plastino himself that the artist's wishes were finally respected. (Corey Blake)

Beaton offers a sneak peek at "Ducks"

Kate Beaton gave readers a nice surprise this week when she tweeted a link to the first section of a sketch out for a new Fort McMurray (her autobiography tales) story called "Ducks." As she explained in a later tweet, this story deals with an environmental incident that happened at the Alberta oil sands in 2008.

In addition to the treat of the story itself, I always find it refreshing to see how much Beaton interacts with her readership on Twitter. Unlike some popular creators who tweet a link out and opt to click favorite to response tweets from readers, Beaton makes a concerted effort to reply in kind to folks. One telling response that resonated with me was this exchange in which a reader confided that "Ducks" was "gonna sit with me all day." Very tellingly, Beaton replied her autobio work with impact (understandably) "certainly sit with me a while."

Even if you do not use Twitter, I strongly suggest if you enjoy Beaton as a storyteller you would get a whole other level of enjoyment from following her tweets. She often uses the social media platform as a movie director employing a DVD commentary track. (Tim O'Shea)

Fandom rules at Anime Boston

Anime Boston is not an industry con, for the most part; it's a fan con, where people go to meet up with friends and show off their awesome cosplay. The only manga publisher present was Kodansha, which announced some new titles in a panel; several anime publishers were there as well, and the dubbed version of Attack on Titan was one of the big attractions.

But there wasn't the sort of promotional look-at-this-cool-thing-all-the-cool-kids-are-buying drumbeat that you get at regular comic cons--no "Big Cans" promotions, no decorated car taking up space on the convention floor. Cosplay is huge at Anime Boston, but people are less concerned with the Next Big Thing than the things they love, so a lot of them were cosplaying characters from older series such as Bleach, One Piece, and Death Note (although there was a sizable contingent of Attack on Titan cosplayers as well). I always go hunting for comics in the Artist Alley (which usually is heavy on posters and buttons at anime cons), and I found a handful by veterans (Lora Innes, Kel McDonald) as well as some enthusiastic young creators.

Most of the comics I saw were influenced by manga but clearly not slavishly following its conventions; the real legacy of manga in the U.S., I believe, will be that simply it inspired so many people to make comics of their own, developing their own styles as they went along. I came away from Anime Boston with a knapsack heavy with self-published comics and a new sense of optimism about the anime and manga fandom, especially among younger readers. We don't see them so much on the blogosphere, but the kids are still there, and they are as enthusiastic as ever. (Brigid Alverson)

Amazing Spider-Man's Nick Spencer Helms Spider-Man 2099 Comic

More in Comics