MY UNCLE JEFF
Your family doesn't suck, after all. Take Damon Hurd's, for one example. His mother's side of the family, alone, has as many alcoholics, rapists, and druggies as your average daytime soap opera. It's all laid out for you in a two page family tree at the beginning of Hurd's new "graphic novella," MY UNCLE JEFF. The book is being released to comics shops this week. It's Hurd's self-proclaimed love letter to his favorite uncle, seemingly the only one in the family to follow the beat of his own drummer in a non-destructive manner.
I had two initial reactions to the 27-page story. First, I have a boring family, for which I'm eternally grateful. Second, Hurd's narrative is so honest and open, that I wanted to flinch while reading it. Hurd is not holding back anything here. Every inch of pain is written across the pages of this book, as well as his affection for his one sane uncle. I wanted to look away, like at the site of a car crash. I almost felt guilty for violating his privacy. That's never a feeling I've had in reading an autobiographical book or seeing a movie based on a true story. There's something about the power of the comics form and the way Hurd uses it here, I think, that's a testament to his ability to draw the reader in.
The plot to the story is pretty thin. Damon visits with family to decide what to do about his aging and ailing father. Family quarrels ensue, and a small trip to the bar with his favorite Uncle Jeff, caps off Hurd's explanation of what makes this uncle so special. The book is less about plot and story as it is about characters, and how one in particular has so moved the author.
Pedro Camello draws the undersized black and white book, in a style that perfectly fits the tone of the story. It's not overly slick. It's a little awkward at times, just as the story and the relationships are.
It's a curiously tough book to get through, as well as a wonderfully sweet one. While a stronger narrative hook might have gotten me more excited about it, it's still a worthwhile read. Your biggest barrier to entry might be the price, $3.50.
For more information on the book, check out Hurd's website. It's filled with more glorious endorsements, and a few sample pages.
JENNIFER GOES BYE BYE?!?
MY MONKEY'S NAME IS JENNIFER #6 is, sadly, the last issue of the series for awhile. Creator Ken Knudsten is taking some time away to work on other projects, but there will be a new story in the Free Comic Book Day book that Slave Labor Graphics is putting out.
Ironically, this is the perfect introductory issue to the series. Instead of far-flung pirate ships or scary skeleton guys or any of the other surreal adventures that Jennifer and Kaitlin have gotten into in the first five issues, this one is a relatively sane trip to the movie theater. This being Jennifer, of course, we have rants against fish sticks, Huey Lewis, and the "Pretty Rapping Alpacas." Jennifer goes nuts at the movie theater, and Kaitlin's parents show the dark side of parenting. Jennifer's running internal monologue is the highlight of the issue, as always, punctuating otherwise tedious or simple situations with the kind of off-the-wall humor you might be familiar with from the likes of SKY APE or REX MANTOOTH.
Nevertheless, this series is a one of a kind work that deserves a broader audience. With any luck, Slave Labor Graphics will release these first six issues as a trade paperback. Even without any extras, there's enough great material to add to anyone's bookshelf in here. If you want to sample it, first, you can't go wrong with this sixth issue. It stands alone, and it doesn't rely on your knowledge of anything else that's gone on in the series. It's a perfect one-off.
TRIPWIRE X 10
I've kept every issue of WIZARD I've ever purchased. HERO ILLUSTRATED, ARENA, and COMICS SCENE, as well. They sit in a couple of short boxes in the back of the closet. Occasionally, they come in handy for researching something, or for killing a few spare minutes in looking back on What Once Was. Remember when WIZARD asked Rob Liefeld if he used action figures for reference? Remember when Andy Kubert went on and on about White Castle hamburgers? Remember when Legend first formed and they created that cool jam cover for WIZARD?
With all of those interesting historical artifacts at their grasp, it's always surprised me that WIZARD has never put together a 'Best Of' book, featuring what they think of as their best articles and interviews from the past decade. Introduce each piece with the proper historical perspective, and maybe outro each with "what happened next," and you'd have a fun read, particularly if you're a superhero fan from the 1990s. (There used to be a lot of those.)
WIZARD hasn't done it, but the plucky folks over at TRIPWIRE have for their magazine. Joel Meadows' little publication that could has reached its tenth anniversary, and is celebrating with a new monthly publication aimed at the general comics audience, as well as a new compilation book, TRIPWIRE X 10 that reprints interviews and articles from ten years of the magazine. It's accompanied by new artwork from a variety of artists, and some new articles looking back at the last ten years of comics. A review of crime comics of the past decade is in there, as well as a personal list of the ten favorite graphic novels, and a recap of comic book-based movies.
This oversized trade paperback contains 158 oversized pages featuring a diverse selection of articles and interviews. Joe Quesada, Mark Millar, Grant Morrison, Jeph Loeb, Todd McFarlane, and Brian Bendis are all in there. But so are some British names that might be overlooked in the American mags: D'Israeli, Bryan Talbot, Jamie Delano, Andy Diggle, and Ilya.
There's one other thing that distinguishes TRIPWIRE from WIZARD. Whereas WIZARD often comes off as the glossy magazine run by a bunch of fanboys living through a second puberty, TRIPWIRE feels more like a magazine by fans of the medium with a modicum of intelligence. There might not be the depth to the interviews that only THE COMICS JOURNAL excels at, there is a definite focus and maturity present in all the writings.
The entertaining thing about TRIPWIRE, for me, is that it doesn't come with an agenda. WIZARD is aimed at the superhero fan with occasional and often laughable coverage of anything else. (Check out the most recent edition of WIZARD EDGE for proof of that.) THE COMICS JOURNAL is the polar opposite, citing superhero comics only when the opportunity arises to put them (and often, their fans) down. The rest of its coverage trends towards the type of scholarly dissertations that many of us hoped to avoid after graduating college. They still do the best interviews in comics, though.
TRIPWIRE covers both the superhero "mainstream" and the small press/independent areas with equal levels of interest and excitement. It doesn't try to be scholarly, and it doesn't make light of everything it covers.
Highlights of this book include a new roundtable interview with Joe Quesada, Jim Valentino, Paul Levitz, Mike Richardson, and Jason Kingsley (a British publisher) looking at how things have changed in the last ten years. Grant Morrison offers up a new introduction in the way that only he could write one. A series of segments strewn throughout the book excerpt interesting quotes from the interviews in past TRIPWIREs. Some come off as prophetic. Some are ironic. Some are insightful, and others may cause a chuckle or two. Take this quote from Warren Ellis in 1994:
"And yes I use a typewriter. None of this weak word processor [bleep]. Real Men Use Typewriters. Can you see Ernest Hemmingway using a WP? The man who had to punch out three typewriters before one of them would spit out the story he was after? Pah. Trust no-one who claims to love their gutless word processor. Especially Neil Gaiman."
Interviews with a certain "historical" perspective include Frank Miller talking on the eve of 300's publication, Greg Rucka starting a comics career with WHITEOUT, Kevin Smith doing the same with DAREDEVIL, Quesada and Palmiotti introducing the Marvel Knights line, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale at the end of THE LONG HALLOWEEN, and Steve Darnall and Alex Ross on UNCLE SAM.
TRIPWIRE X 10 is a $14.95 publication containing some mature language and art in it. It's a thought-provoking look back on what happened in the last ten years, as well as some "What Might Have Beens." If you're looking for a trip down memory lane, this is a pretty good guide to it.
RAIJIN COMICS, PART TWO
I have two favorites in the RAIJIN COMICS weekly magazine that I'm reviewing at the same time this week because they fit together very well. At different levels, they are political thrillers. One is a bit more visceral than the other, dealing in highly decompressed action over a small period of time. The other is the ultimate game of politics in what seems to be a no-win situation.
"The First President of Japan" is very much plot-oriented. A lot of the other stories in RAIJIN COMICS are heavily character focused. With "First President," the series of events come first, with some minor characterization coming into play sporadically. There is plenty going on in the series, though, to draw your attention.
Japan has elected its first President, but the old politicians in the Diet (Japanese Parliament) aren't so eager to give up power. China takes advantage of the situation to rattle some sabers, North Korea invades South Korea, and America has an agenda all its own when it gets caught in the middle.
This is a story of brinksmanship, as politicians at the highest level play the most serious of games, and that tensions rises higher and higher. Bombs will start flying soon enough.
The series is written by first-time comics scribe, Hidaka Yoshiki, who wrote a serious political book based on the concept of a president of Japan. In it, he discusses the ramifications of such a thing from the angles of finance and international politics. They are both items that figure strongly into the storyline in some surprising ways.
Tsugahara Ruji is the artist, using a very realistic style to convey the seriousness of the story, as well as placing it in the real world, with carefully-drawn recognizable locations.
The second serial is my favorite so far, "Revenge of the Mouflon." This one stars a fictional (?) Japanese television star, Sano Yohei, steering an airplane that's been hijacked and left for dead as it flies towards Tokyo.
In the wake of September 11th, this is a risky story to tell. The story makes reference to those events a couple of times but never harps on it. As the plane lurches out of control, fighter planes surround it, ready to fire on it. But Sano will have none of that and, with a little surprise help, plans on crash landing the plane with as few casualties as possible. It takes more than just a few good words to convince the people on the ground that it's the right thing to do, though, and that's where things get hairy.
A few years ago, a movie like INDEPENDENCE DAY was considered hilarious and absurd in its imagery of alien ships low in the sky frying recognizable buildings. Nowadays, the images in "Mouflon" of a jet plane flying low above the buildings of Tokyo don't elicit the same cackling sense of glee and over-the-top wonder that they would have just a couple of years ago. There's a new gut reaction to the images. It's scary, and that's much more fitting. You can better identify with the severity of the situation when that's your reaction, rather than a simple gosh-wow response to the insanity of it all. Credit Ono Yoichiro's detailed art for that. While his characters are more cartoonish than the ones in "Last President," his backgrounds, architectural detail, and external plane imagery are all dead on target. He uses great angles to show just how closely the plane is flying to the ground. Never have so many speed lines been put to such good use.
When RAIJIN COMICS arrives in the mail each week, "Revenge of the Mouflon" is the first story I tear into. I can't wait to see what happens next, but I don't want it to end, either. There would seem to be a natural expiration date for the story. Once the plane lands and we know what comes of the passengers on it, the rest is all extra. Sure, you could cover some of the political fall-out, or even show the impact the event has on Sano and his career (assuming he survives), but it's the high action of the doomed plane's flight that grips the reader more. Hopefully, the serial will lend itself to a nice trade paperback when it's over. More people should be able to read this from the start.
ONE LAST STRAY THOUGHT
We need AMERICAN IDOL for comic book submissions. I've seen some of the samples people post on the web, thinking that they're ready to work for Marvel or DC. We need a Simon Cowell of the comics world to shoot all these people down in the harshest possible language.
Every time I see one of those failed contestants on AMERICAN IDOL protesting Cowell's harsh and honest assessment of their piss-poor talent, I think of comic fans -- mostly artist wannabes -- whose portfolios aren't fit to draw to the excellence of Gary Larsen or Scott Adams, but who think they're the next Jim Lee, mostly because they've swiped his stuff to learn anatomy.
AND ANOTHER THING...
I neglected to mention it in the Pipeline Previews column on Friday, but April 2003 is the month for ugly statues. First, there's that hideous Miracleman thing on the cover of PREVIEWS. Then, Marvel has three of the laziest-looking statues they've ever licensed with Thor, Thanos, and Hulk. I feel sorry for you statue collectors. About the only thing you have to look forward to are the Muppets busts.
AROUND THE WEB
Soon to be referred to as ex-YOUNG JUSTICE penciller, Todd Nauck, has a home page that's profusely illustrated. There are a ton of sketches and character designs to be found on the site. You can also order up a commission or buy a page or two of original art, while you're at it. (Thanks to Patricia for pointing it out.)
Richard Starkings has created a two page comic strip that explains where the name "Comicraft" came from, as well as a bit of his own history. I can remember those early issues of NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. that he lettered, as written by Bob Harras. It was neither a good story, nor well received. They had to promise in the letters column at the time that the title would have no more aliens after the first story arc. Whoops.
About ten years ago, Steven Butler was drawing a truly horrific little book for Marvel called SILVER SABLE. Having recently read the first two years of that book, I can tell you that it's even worse than you probably remembered it. But whatever happened to Butler? He's been hiding in books that the direct market tends to ignore, notably SONIC THE HEDGEHOG. His style has adjusted itself, also, getting Bruce Timm-ized into looking like something more cartoony than ever. New at AdventureStrips.com is his new comic, TYBRUS THE MIGHTY.
Rich Johnston is back again with another entertaining interview. This time, the subject of the interview isn't the most interesting thing. It's Johnston's slow burn to insanity. Watch Rich melt down as Bill Jemas dodges questions left and right.
The ORBITER graphic novel has not had its schedule changed due to the Columbia tragedy. That announcement was made official the same morning as I posed the question last week. Good timing.
And it was Rick Parker, not "Ron," who created those gag panels in Marvel books about Tom DeFalco. (Thanks to Russell for pointing that one out to me.)
Apropos of nothing, Laura DePuy is now using her married name, Laura Martin. This gives all those spellcheckers a break. I learned to look to my right to see the spine from the ABSOLUTE AUTHORITY hardcover book to check the spelling on that one. "Martin" is a cinch.
VariousAndSundry.com has been updated with the permalinks now easy to identify and use. The RSS link is also now active, for you tech heads. As far as content goes, there is the traditional Tuesday look at the new DVD releases for the week, how to take a concert home with you, news on a new Weird Al album, more TV series on DVD, Linux screenshots, the place where weblogs go to die, Matrix links, and more. It was a very busy week, indeed.
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.