COMICS AND ANIMATION
There's a whole category of comic books out there that have developed in the past couple of years since the debut of Mike Kunkel's HEROBEAR AND THE KID. It's that group of books being created and self-published (mostly) by animators. Ryan Woodward's INVINCIBLE ED (second issue due out this month) and Jason Lethcoe's ZOOM'S ACADEMY are two titles that fit into the category. This week, I'm looking at two more. One is aimed straight for the kiddies, while the other goes for a slightly older audience, but is fit for all ages.
AWESOME MAN #1 is the latest comic from Mike Kunkel's Astonish Comics lineup. Created and drawn by Joe Mateo (with writing help from David Oshima), this book tells the story of a little boy named Joey who dreams of being a superhero like his idol, Awesome Man. Like a true Disney movie, there's no father present, a busy working mother, and an older sibling (brother David) who's left to take care of him while being the typically insulting and abusive older brother that we all imagine he should be. The thing that makes him different is that he's the class nerd and gets picked on at school, himself.
It's a good book for little kids to read. There is no swearing, no violence, and very little action or issues of characters being in danger. It's a book that's written to appeal to the universal emotion of not fitting in that all kids have at one point or another. Joey's fierce imagination is something that would resonate with the younger set, as well. I'm not sure this is going to be the kind of book that's going to appeal to children of all ages, though, like HEROBEAR AND THE KID.
Mateo's art is reproduced directly from the pencils, but has a more finished look that Kunkel's. You can see the strokes in the line, but you don't see all the extra guidelines. The characters are expressive and move like animated characters on the page. Mateo's animation training shows through in this book. The only thing that bothers me visually is the coloring. Besides the fact that every character in the book has red circles to indicate cheeks, I don't like the often dull color scheme. It's all flat colors, and not much pops out at you. It's not a bad coloring job; You're not getting characters blending together, or backgrounds that look to be at the same depth as the foregrounds. There's just an overall blahness to the look and feel of the art because of the colors.
And, most tragically, Mateo commits the cardinal sin of lettering with the Whizbang font. I can understand the extra thickness being used on the word balloons and captions to fit in with the artwork. The font, however, is dull and mechanical.
AWESOME MAN has one issue published so far at $2.95. There's a web site for the book, but it's still in the nascent stages. If you've got a little kid at home or a small sibling, they might like the book. If you're a teenager or older, you might want to skip it.
OPPOSITE FORCES #2 is due out this month from the pen of Disney animator Tom Bancroft, through his publishing venture, Funny Pages Press. This "semi-quarterly" series follows two neighbors. One is a slovenly geek shut-in named Marty. The other is the perky blonde lawyer-next-door, Alexis. When the city's superhero becomes the target of an alien assassination attempt, Marty and Alexis are in the wrong place at the wrong time and suddenly find themselves with unexplained powers. The second issue follows the pair as they discover their powers and get into uncomfortable situations. In the meantime, Bancroft gets the ball rolling on a couple of subplots to set future issues up.
Bancroft has a good sense of rhythm to his plotting. These first two issues move along at a nice clip. It keeps things interesting without confusing the reader or pushing things along for the sake of getting to the next plot point. The characters remain consistent throughout, without changing for the sake of the plot.
The problem with the story, however, might lie in its simplicity. Marty is too stereotypical and too cartoonish. (Oh, the irony.) He's a web page designing geek who makes references to sci-fi shows, barely leaves his apartment, is overweight, has a pet dog as a best friend, and never gets the girl. Alexis is slightly better. She's the upwardly mobile young lawyer who's aggressive and energetic, concerned about keeping in shape and keeping in the good graces of her bosses at her company. While she firmly rejects Marty, there are signs in this second issue that he might be growing on her. For this title to work, that relationship has to feel real. Thankfully, Bancroft is moving in that direction slowly. He's not pushing it.
Bancroft's art is beautiful. It's alive on the page. The characters feel real. They have weight and substance across the page. Their faces are well animated, with a real natural quality to their expressions. Grey tones are added to the art. The first issue was a little too busy with the grey tones. The art came across too darkly at times, and at others looked more complicated than it should have. The good news is that Bancroft has corrected for this in the second issue. The tones are a lot more subtle, with less of those dark tones.
The big problem I have with the comic is that there's not much new to it. From ZED to BALL AND CHAIN to LILO AND STICH, elements of this series have been done to death. While Bancroft makes them work, I still have a problem with the series being so rehashed. For goodness' sakes, can't one animator working in comics stay away from the superhero stories? Michel Gagne's ZED appears to be the only one to do that so far. Give me a science fiction epic or a monster comic or a romantic comedy for a change. Heaven help me, but superheroes are beginning to get stale.
Bancroft does get points, however, for not using children in this story. Unlike the other comics referenced at the beginning of this review, this is not the story of a teenaged or younger person coming to grips with their newfound powers and how it'll affect them in school. This story centers on two adults and their new awareness. Their pet dogs factor in (Marty's looks straight out of the Warner Bros. classic animation department's central casting), but there's nothing aimed directly at the kids. The book can be enjoyed by children of all ages, but it doesn't talk down to any one age group.
Bancroft did his own lettering in the first issue and did a credible job at it. He gets points for not using Whizbang, and additional credit for mixing up his word balloons and font size in an appropriate way. The second issue is nicely lettered by Chris Eliopoulos. It is an improvement over Bancroft's, but not necessarily one that was needed.
Each issue comes with bonus material in the back. The first issue features a pin-up by Mike Wieringo on the inside back cover. The second issue includes art by Francisco Herrera and Humberto Ramos. (If it weren't for their signatures, I would never be able to tell their styles apart.) Both issues contain sketchbook and early design material for the book by Bancroft. It's a really nice package for $2.95.
The book is self-published under the label Funny Pages Press. The label's web site has good background information on Bancroft and his book, as well as two other prospective books from the label. Keep an eye out for them.
BITS AND PIECES
* TECH JACKET #2 came out last week. It figures that it would arrive in shops the day after I pronounced that it wasn't out yet. Hopefully, you were still able to get your hands on the first issue if you were so inclined. The second issue is good, as well. It maintains the fun feel of the first issue without getting bogged down in teen angst issues. E.J. Su's art is exceptional in this issue, as well, complete with hyper-detailed backgrounds in the alien ship. Mesmerizing stuff.
* Sometimes, things need to get done on the local level. Finding new ways and new formats to distribute comics is, of course, a good thing. However, there are plenty of instances of people out there working on a school-by-school level to introduce children to comics and reading.
Added to that movement now is Mark McKenna, probably best known around here as the guy who inks a lot of Mike McKone's artwork. McKenna has written and drawn a children's book, called BANANA TAIL. To help promote it and reading, he's gone around schools in his local area to talk to children about the book and how he creates it.
I've seen bits and pieces of the book over the past couple of years. The art is really cute, filled with bright and colorful characters for the young ones to enjoy. It's great to see the book is now available for one and all. The web site includes a store where you can order the book and a calendar suitable for use as a coloring book. You can also see a lot of sample art to get a feel for what the book might look like.
* I was about to give up on RAIJIN COMICS when I read the opening story in the fourth issue this past week. "Revenge of Mouflon" is a great opening chapter in a new serial involving a popular Japanese comedian whose commercial flight is hijacked. It touches on all the issues surrounding such an event in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks, and adds some good twists to ratchet up the drama a notch or three. For this series and "City Hunter," I'll be re-upping my subscription right away.
* I picked up my copy of the Chip Kidd-designed hardcover edition of THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS last week. I'm a little disappointed that the snazzy yellow stripe along the bottom is actually a separate piece of glossy paper wrapped around the book. Is it supposed to be a mini-dust jacket, or something to be discarded? It's a pain to keep around, but I like the design aspect of it.
* I once mentioned the oddity of THE FIRST #24 having a cover which omitted the creative team's names. It's been since brought to my attention that the issue had a wraparound cover, which included the creators' names on the back side.
* Four more packages for the Holiday Giveaway contest went out this week, bringing the grand total to 17 winners in five countries on three continents.
VariousAndSundry.com had a very busy weekend, starting with a bevy of Friday updates. Check it out for thoughts on my favorite Christmas music, Firefly, Colin Quinn's new show, the latest BMW Film, Monster Garage, and an explanation of the DVD market and syndication in Region 1.
More than 400 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML that's soon going away.