Best of 7 | Stan Sakai auctions, 'Master Keaton' 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 we focus in on some great new comics, including Veil and Afterlife with Archie, as well as the benefit auctions for Stan Sakai and his wife. Plus free comics! What's better than that? So without further ado, let's get to it ...


Comics lends a helping hand to one of its greats

It gets me every time. A creator or some other individual in the comics community is in need, and the rest of us rush in to hold them up with emotional and financial assistance. It's really one of the most beautiful traits of this industry.

This week, the L.A.-based CAPS (Cartoon Art Professional Society) launched a series of auctions to raise money for the talented and beloved Stan Sakai so he can continue to give his wife Sharon the best medical care possible. Creators have stepped forward offering original artwork for the auctions. Fans are swarming to the auctions, already raising over $6,000 within two days. Dark Horse Comics, which publishes Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo, has agreed to publish a fundraising book collecting all of the work paying tribute to Sakai and his work.

All told, there will be over 400 auctions, and if this first wave is any indication, it will be a fantastic celebration of Stan Sakai's iconic creation and comics in general. Jeff Smith's wonderful mash-up of Usagi and Bone has raised nearly $2,000 so far. Other favorites are Mike Mignola's Hellboy and Roger Langridge's awesome color image of Usagi and Gonzo from the Muppets preparing for a duel (with a fretting Camilla watching from the sidelines).

It's really true - comics can change lives for the better. (Corey Blake)

Viz licenses Master Keaton

Naoki Urasawa is a master storyteller, although honestly, sometimes his stories are better than their endings. But with Urasawa, getting there is all the fun. He starts off with a great premise, introduces a cast of quirky characters, and leads the reader through layers of tangled storylines.

So more Urasawa is always a good thing, and Viz's announcement this week that they have licensed Master Keaton is particularly good news. It's a detective story about an archaeology professor and part-time insurance investigator who lives in England and solves various mysteries, drawing on his experience as a former SAS member when it comes down to fisticuffs. This is an older series (it ran from 1988 to 1994) and is a manageable 12 volumes long; Viz is giving it the deluxe treatment, with oversized volumes and color pages. Urasawa's art is very expressive and quite accessible to non-manga readers, and I would say that anyone who likes a good graphic novel should give this one a try--or check out his Monster while you're waiting. (Brigid Alverson)

Nothing says "wasted weekend" like "free comics"

All weekend long, comiXology is celebrating their appearance at SXSW's Geek Stage with codes to redeem free comic books and graphic novels. Yes, full-length graphic novels are included in the mix, such as awesome stories like Adventure Time Vol. 1, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Vol. 1 and Lock & Key Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft. But you better act fast! You only have until midnight the following day to stock up on free comic goodness. Keep checking the Great Geek Stage Giveaway page every hour to find out the next comic to be given away. Then fire up your comiXology account and start downloading. (Corey Blake)

Leaving Megalopolis makes a return trip to Dark Horse

I called Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore's Leaving Megalopolis the "best zombie survival book that doesn’t feature zombies" when I included it in my "best of 2013" list in January, and I noted in the comments that I'd be surprised if some publisher didn't one day decide to publish it. Well, that day has arrived, as Dark Horse will publish a new edition of the graphic novel, which previously was only available to backers of the book's Kickstarter campaign (a separate digital release through comiXology is also planned).

Just the fact that the book was on my best-of-2013 list should tell you what I think about it. If you were a fan of the duo's work on Secret Six but missed out on the Kickstarter, now's your chance to check it out -- it's very dark, but very good. (JK Parkin)

New Rucka, Fejzula series un-Veil-ed by Dark Horse

As much as I have enjoyed Greg Rucka's work in mainstream comics over the years, he is always at his best and strongest (as most storytellers) when swimming in creator-owned waters.

With Veil, Rucka teams with veteran Dark Horse editor Scott Allie, who tapped artist Toni Fejzula for this new series. As Rucka notes in a write-up in the back of the issue: "Veil, as a character, has been with me for twenty years, perhaps longer. Unlike most of my characters, she has always been more a concept than an identity, an idea in search of a story rather than a character waiting for her story to be told. I knew what the concept was, mind you. I knew the kind of story I wanted to tell with her. But the content of that story, the heart of that story, it scared me. Frankly, it still does. I genuinely don’t know if I have the skill or the smarts to pull it off."

The look of the series even seems to convey that Rucka has stepped out of his comfort zone. As I noted in the intro to my recent interview of Fejzula--the eyes of Veil will catch your attention immediately and at least as far I was concerned make it hard not want to read the comic.

Again, as noted by Rucka in the first issue afterword, he opens the story in a way that tests an artist's abilities. "Look, we all know how women are most often depicted in comics. In a story where our main character starts buck naked, where she’s viewed as a sex object by most, if not all, of the people she meets, her depiction is vital. It’s a depiction that must strive to remain objective rather than subjective. It’s a depiction that must respect, not demean, yet must do so while conveying that, yes, this character is beautiful, is desirable, and it must do so without collapsing into visual cliché.That’s a damn difficult line to walk."

Indeed it is, but Fejzula succeeds. In fact, as Veil walks onto the street fully naked, that was the last aspect of the scene I noted. Why? Because of the bustling city scene that the artist successfully conveys. As much as people may be attracted to this series initially because of Rucka's involvement, I think ultimately the success lies in Fejzula's art and will be the factor that builds interest and buzz.

I love Fejzula's art, but even more I love his approach to coloring his art. I wish I could find something to compare it to, but I cannot. Not to sound like an advocate for the series, per se, but I hope I am not the only reader who loves the art. (Tim O'Shea)

Jimmy Gownley's The Dumbest Idea Ever is anything but

I'll admit, I had my doubts about this book. Jimmy Gownley is the creator of Amelia Rules, an eight-volume series about a girl dealing with the stuff kids have to deal with: Mean girls, nerdy friends, quarreling adults. He's a first-rate cartoonist who really stretches the medium, and the Amelia stories are grounded in real life, not the sort of fake everybody-is-happy world of many children's comics.

Still, autobiographical work is hard to get right, and telling a story about your own adolescence would put any creator into risky territory. The strength and the weakness of this book is that Gownley goes ahead and just includes it all, without smoothing out the rough edges. That means there is some clunky expository dialogue in the beginning, but it also makes the story feel more real. You don't read too many children's books in which the protagonist decides realizes he's miserable despite being a straight-A student and just kind of gives up on it. But that's what Jimmy does, finding solace in video games, new friends, and eventually, drawing comics. When he discovers his first comic shop, and realizes that creators are able to make a living self-publishing their comics (he's talking about Dave Sim's Cerberus, although the name is never mentioned) that gives him something to aim for. He creates and self-publishes his own story and becomes a local celebrity, gets a swelled head (literally, in one sequence), and then has an epiphany on a trip to New York. The book ends with him starting over. Although this book is aimed at kids, there is a lot here that adults can relate to, and Gownley's storytelling shouldn't be missed. (Brigid Alverson)

Afterlife with Archie brings new life to a classic property

Unlike some comic folks, I did not grow up reading Archie comics. They never interested me to any great extent.

As much as I love artist Francesco Francavilla's work, there was a nagging concern in the back of my head that because I did not have a history with these characters--I could not be invested in a horror tale involving them. Credit newly minted chief creative officer (and series writer) Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa for counterbalancing the zombie action-driven plot of Afterlife with Archie with flashbacks to happier days of the Archie universe. Without being heavy-handed, the storytellers draw in new readers while at the same time giving story beats that equally resonate and appeal to longtime fans.

In Afterlife with Archie #4, the focus is Archie's quest to check on his parents' welfare. It is astounding how Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla shift on one page from a violent conflict between two characters interlaced with glimpses of treasured, joy-filled moments of the past between these same two characters, shifting gears between present and past in alternating panels while also creating a larger full page splash. Using tinges of nostalgia or remembrances of cherished times to amp the horror of the scenes is a device I never have seen used so quite effectively.

With spoiling details, I am also intrigued by the subplots that Aguirre-Sacasa is slipping into the plot. I have no idea what he has in store for Jason and Cheryl Blossom, but the writer inserts a different kind of creepiness with these two characters dynamics.

Kudos to Archie editors for digging into their archives to reissue stories from the early 1970s era Chilling Adventures in Sorcery. This issue and issue 2 featured stories by then-series editor Gray Morrow, while Afterlife with Archie #3 offered a tale by the late great Dick Giordano. (Tim O'Shea)

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