PIPELINE PREVIEWSAt Wizard World this past weekend, I had the chance to pick up a couple of books that won't be out until today's shipment arrives at your comic book store. So if you haven't gone to the store just yet, let me try to talk you into buying a couple more books: DORK TOWER #10 and the (Eisner-Award Winning Mini-Series) WHITEOUT: MELT trade paperback collection.
If you've come here looking for the first part of my Wizard World Con coverage, then click here. The second part is due on Friday. I'm guessing right now that a third part will appear next Friday.
WHITEOUT: NOT JUST AN OFFICE GADGETGreg Rucka and Steve Lieber got shafted, more or less, at the Eisner Awards last year. It was a real shame when they didn't win anything for the original WHITEOUT series. This year, though, they finally got the much-deserved recognition with the Eisner for best mini-series. WHITEOUT: MELT stars Carrie Stetko again, who is talked into taking on one more case at the South Pole. It's a quick and dirty operation, it holds certain promises, and it goes very wrong. This book is much more action/adventure-oriented than the first mini-series. It moves quickly, without hesitation, and carries you through the narrative with tension, suspense, and action.
In some ways, it almost seems like a victory lap. Rucka can write the series knowing that its readership will probably be composed of people who already know Carrie Stetko. That helps to get things moving just a little bit quicker. He also manages to introduce some interesting elements of the natural landscape and the historical implications of it in an interesting manner. The book opens up with five pages of historical context. The third chapter opens up with a scientific explanation of what a 'crevasse' is. Neither part stops the flow of the book. They lead into the action of the series expertly.
Steve Lieber has four issues of snowy landscapes under his belt already. He doesn't need to experiment with his art as much as he did in the first mini-series. While he still uses an astounding number of tools to portray the Antarctic, you get the sense that he's more sure of himself and can use each tool for a specific effect. The landscapes are beautiful. Pay special attention to those crevasses (again) in the third chapter. Look especially towards that sequence for the way in which Lieber lays out a sequential narrative that runs under captions explaining something so arcane as the formation of a natural occurrence. You think drawing snow is tough? Try drawing it in motion over a long period of time. Now this would be a particularly tricky test for a wannabe comic book artist.
The lettering geek in me should also point out how carefully Lieber poises the words over the images. The lettering helps move your eyes over the page and over the specific images. By self-lettering the book, the artist can be sure that his compositions are used to their full effect. It's rather an interesting trick.
The book also contains an introduction by Brian Michael Bendis and an afterword by Steve Lieber. The Bendis piece is just as appreciative of the artform and just as bitingly humorous of its creators as you might expect Bendis to be. Lieber is appreciative and funny in his text piece, as well.
(How often do you read reviews of introductions and afterwards?!? Welcome to Pipeline: Extra!)
The book will run you $12, has a new cover by Steve Lieber, and is a fine addition to any comics library. I'm also happy to say they were selling like hotcakes in Chicago. The box Lieber had with him sold out in a matter of hours on Saturday. This is also a great book to give to your non comic-reading friends, by the way. While I was at Lieber's table, another gentleman came up and offered that his mother enjoyed the book -- and she doesn't even read comics.
(Aside: It's a damned shame that Steve Lieber isn't drawing the forthcoming Lily Sharpe series. I know the book is featuring a rotating series of artists, but I hope they can find room for him in there somewhere. Better yet, if the strain of finding and corralling different artistic teams so often gets to be too much, hire him full-time!)
DORK TOWER: NOT JUST FOR DORKSIt was just a couple of weeks ago that I picked up a copy of DORK TOWER from my local comics shop. I had seen bits and pieces from the comic before, but never bothered picking up an issue. For one thing, it seemed to have been a gamer's book. For another, I just didn't feel like picking up a new series.
Damn, I can be stupid sometimes.
One of the first booths I hit on Friday at Wizard World was the Dork Tower booth, to meet creator John Kovalic and pick up some missing back issues. When I passed by on Sunday, the tenth issue had shown up at his booth. That issue goes on sale today at your local comics shop, and contains a theme very much near and dear to my heart right now: convention season.
First, let me just set this series up for you. Right now, it's on a bi-monthly pace. It's a black and white humor book with plenty of Photoshop-added grey tones. It features a set of four characters, including my favorite, the muskrat named Carson. (Yup, this is another humor book I like that features an animal character in an otherwise all-human cast. The other, of course, is DESPERATE TIMES by Chris Eliopoulos, which will be showing up again at your local comics shop this November. I'm looking forward to seeing more of Kennedy the drunken three-toed sloth there soon.)
The tenth issue of DORK TOWER starts off with a fifteen page story of our intrepid heroes, Matt and Igor, deciding to go off to a "gaming, sf memorabilia, and comics" convention. The story ends when they get there. Why? Remember - getting there is half the fun! (Remind me to tall you about my flights to Wizard World sometime.) The story is paced with a gag at the bottom of each page, as well as the occasional gag at the end of the first tier. It works well as almost a series of connection one-page stories leading up to their arrival at the con and the final punch line.
The story is not strictly gaming-related. Some of it is aimed there, specifically, but the in-jokes aren't taking anything away from the overall enjoyment of the book. They're not integral to the understanding of the story. Any comics fan should see themselves reflected in the gaming fans portrayed in this book. Along the way, there's also plenty of humor about computers, television, comics, and various bits of pop culture.
Kovalic's art style is perfect for a comic strip. It's simple. It works best when seen small. It is easy to read. It's 'cute' to look at. And the characters are easily identifiable. His storytelling is rather clear, as well. He uses repeating panels to great effect, and can otherwise move characters from action to action with ease.
Kovalic does all the lettering by hand and does it beautifully. He must be inspired, in part, by Dave Sim. Heck, Cerebus himself appears on the cover of the ninth issue. This lettering is perfect for this style of book. It's large, it's bold, and it's expressive. It looks natural. It fits in with the deceptively simply drawn characters of the book.
After the main story, there is a trio of one-page gag stories that I believe are reprinted from PYRAMID, a gaming magazine.
The issue continues on with WILDLIFE, a comic strip starring DORK TOWER's Carson and three of his animal friends. This one is straight-on comic strip stuff, without any real gaming references or genre parodies. This looks more like a slice-of-life comic. It's still funny, although not as much so as the main Dork Tower stories. There are collections of these strips already available for your shopping dollar, too, if you're so inclined.
(OK, so the above paragraph is actually backwards. Carson started off in WILDLIFE, a high school comic strip Kovalic has been drawing since 1979. He then carried over to DORK TOWER. I read him first in Dork Tower, so I think of him that way.)
There are also three pages of "Newbies" a strip by John Kovalic and Liz Rathke, about an obsessive internet type, Adrian, and his more grounded-in-the-real-world wife/roommate/friend. (It's not clear which it is, but it doesn't make much difference, story-wise.) They might not have you rolling on the floor in tears, but they're still funny and worth the read.
The book ends up with "Murphy's Rules," a page of illustrated silly rules seen in actual role playing games. Even as one who hasn't picked up an RPG in over ten years, I find these funny and interesting. I'm sure there are some who don't like it because it belittles gaming, but I think it's great when a community or a company can laugh at itself like this. (Ah, if only Marvel would realize this with Chris Giarrusso's BULLPEN BITS.)
In-between, there are text pages with reviews of other comics and game systems, advertisements for DRAGON MAGAZINE, a letters column, a text page, Dork Tower t-shirt offers, and other ads.
Oh, and lest I forget: The paper stock is heavy solid white stuff. The covers are cardboard, and this issue has 44 pages plus a color-advertising insert. All of this is yours for $2.95 and twenty minutes of reading time.
You can pick up this issue now and start reading. You don't need any large-scale introduction to these characters, nor are there any on-going storylines. You can pick it up as you go along. In October, the first trade paperback is being released to collect the first 6 issues of the book and is titled DORK COVENANT. It's 156 ages for $16.
Tons more information on this series is available through Kovalic's web site, which also includes an on-line store to order some of these goodies, a FAQ, and a character guide.
THE CONCLUDING PART OF THIS COLUMNPlease, let me know if this column causes you to pick up some of these comics. I'd be curious to know if you thought I steered you right or wrong.
Then come back on Friday for Pipeline2 and a look at the panels and classes at Wizard School I attended last weekend. If you're lucky, maybe I'll even sneak in the karaoke and Wizard Fan Awards stories. If not, I'll just push them to next week.
Thanks, as always, for reading!