A TRIO OF TRADES REVIEWED
MELONPOOL III: A NEW HOPE is the third in a series of impressively collected volumes of Steve Troop's internet-based comic strip, MAYBERRY MELONPOOL. As he's done with the previous two volumes, he's brought together a thick series of strips in a 200-page book and fully annotated them, along with a stack of behind-the-scenes material. In fact, what's most impressive about the book isn't even the strips. It's the thought that goes into them and the honesty with which Troop presents them.
The internet has the ability to bring people closer together. "Communities" spring up over the most trivial things and bring together the most diverse groups of people you could imagine from around the world. Along with that comes a feeling that we're all closer to each other than ever before. MELONPOOL III is a prime example of it. While the book does present the funny adventures of the crew of the Steel Duck spaceship, it's everything that goes on around it and behind the scenes that steals the show for me. Some of the background detail is trivial and silly. Some of it, such as the breakup of Troop's marriage and how it affected the strip and this book, is painfully honest.
Forget the strips for a moment and look at everything surrounding them. The first few pages have an introduction to the cast of the strip, as well as brief recaps of previous adventures. The back portion of the book starts off with some animation slides of web ads Troop did as part of his Keenspot commitment, as well as fan art. There's a detailed and annotated guide to how to draw the characters in the strip, which isn't as easy as it might sound since they're all so idiosyncratic. You also get a full sketchbook, and a few pages explaining what happened to the Melonpool graphic novel, which hopefully will someday soon see print. (I've seen some of the revised pages for it and they're beautiful.)
Steve Troop talks to you, his reader, directly. He's showing you what others like you have done for him. He's explaining to you how you can draw his characters. He's telling you more than he needs to about a failed attempt at a graphic novel, possibly in the hopes that it will spur him on to get back to work on it.
While the book is filled with plenty of geeky references and pop culture a'plenty, in the end it's the warmth and honesty that fills this book that brings me back for me. It's like sitting down with a good friend and listening to him narrating the slides of his summer vacation. Except this is an interesting and often funny vacation, and this is the crazy uncle whose stories make sense.
The book will run you $20 and is available through Amazon.com and at the San Diego Comic Con. Stop by the booth there and tell 'em I sent you. (I also imagine it'll be available at your local comics shop before you know it.)
If you want to see more before you buy, check out the Mayberry Melonpool web site for the latest strips, the FAQ, and more.
WOLVERINE: BLOOD HUNGRY is recently reprinted, covering the 8 part story originally serialized in MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS #85-#92. Wolverine is caught in the middle of a gang war in Madripoor, with General Coy on one side and Tyger Tiger on the other. Wolvie, of course, sides with the beautiful Tyger Tiger against Coy, who employs a bloodthirsty agent named Cyber, who's also an old adversary of Wolverine, complete with adamantium-lined skin and finger spikes. Add to that some hallucinogenic drugs, Weinermobiles, paper airplanes, and ping-pong games.
Who else could put together this package besides Peter David and Sam Kieth? It's just as wacky as it sounds, but twice as enjoyable. I remember reading this story when it first came out and counting the days until each chapter would come out. MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS played a large part in my early fan days, including publishing a few of my first letters. It also introduced me to a wide array of characters and creators, and created some memorable stories that got lost in a sea of throwaways.
This story was so mind-blowing to me at the time, in part, because it didn't look like all the other Marvel and DC comics I was reading. Kieth brought an "independent" look to the story. While he obviously labored to create some of the typical "money shots" of super hero comics, he also incorporated some techniques I wasn't used to seeing at that time, like all those itty bitty panels and the wacky panel layouts.
Kieth wasn't drawing in the multimedia art style that he has been using lately. This is the Kieth who draws with tiny thin lines, cartoony proportions, and lots of shadows and little curls off of rips in uniforms. He draws stubble and body hair on Wolverine like he lost a bet with his India Ink distributor and took shipment on a dozen cases of the stuff.
The book reprints the story on glossy stock paper, and doesn't suffer from it. Originally, the story was printed on newspaper stock. It was very brittle and didn't show off the detailed linework all that well. Colors bled. Now, the glossy stock preserves the art nicely, and shows it off in the best possible way that it's ever been shown.
I only wish the book had added an extra signature to show off some of the covers that Kieth had done at the time. He was the regular cover artist on the book and did some fantastic stuff. Adding 8 pages to this book to include the 8 covers he did for this story would have been worth the extra dollar it might have added to the cost of the already-$6 book.
Heck, they could probably put together a book of all the MCP covers Kieth did back then and have a fascinating art book. A lot of it is rushed-looking and some of it's a bit uneven, but it's still great fun.
The first RUSE trade paperback, "Enter the Detective," came out from CrossGen this week. It contains the first six issues (the first of which had ten extra story pages) with all the covers intact as splash pages inbetween. The cost is a mere $16, and you can even sample the first issue on-line at comicsontheweb.com if you're still hesitant.
RUSE is my favorite on-going series of the moment, with sharp scripting by Mark Waid, who shows off his great dialogue skill in this series. Butch Guice's art is a perfect complement, keeping the book grounded in a feeling of reality. And coloring champion Laura DePuy fills in all the black lines and creates three dimensions in the process.
The stories don't suffer from the reprinting. The colors come out just as well as I remember, and the paper stock is the same glossy stuff to hold it. The book relies on a lot of double-page spreads and panel-to-panel continuity across the center divide of the book. Remarkably, the vast majority of these pages line up perfectly, but there are two or three that I noticed in flipping through the book that don't quite make it.
I almost wish CrossGen would reprint RUSE in a hardcover oversized format so that the pages could be opened up more and spread out better. As it is, I'm sure there will be people who rip their books in half trying to press them down hard enough to see every millimeter of detail. For the record: You don't need to do that. There aren't any caption boxes or word balloons that spill over the binding. It's just human nature. You'll expect that you're missing something, when in fact it ends up being the gutter more often than not.
The only other thing I miss is the bonus material that the first round of CrossGen trades had. There are a few blank pages in this book (to indicate the pagination of the inside front cover) that scream out for extra material. Those pages would be nice places to include an article on coloring the book, or one on the photo referencing Guice does, or the authenticity of the period being referenced for the series.
The beautiful cover makes up for all of it, though. It's DePuy coloring straight from Guice's pencils and it really works. I like the idea of having the regular art team doing the trade covers. That's one change from those first CrossGen trades that I'll go for.
If you like Sherlock Holmes stories, or witty British detective stories, I think you'll fall for this. If you liked "Moonlighting," I think you'll love the banter between Emma and Simon. It's a good book. It's a smart book. It's one worth your time.
Next week: A flip through the latest and greatest offered in PREVIEWS.
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