Welcome to What Are You Reading?, where we talk about what comics and other stuff we’ve been reading lately.
Today's special guest is Joe Keatinge, writer and co-creator of the upcoming Image comic Brutal with Frank Cho. He's also the writer of the final "Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies" installment in April’s Savage Dragon #171, drawn by Savage Dragon creator Erik Larsen, Billy Dogma’s Dean Haspiel, Nikolai Dante’s Simon Fraser, Parade (With Fireworks)’s Mike Cavallaro, The Transmigration of Ultra Lad’s Joe Infurnari, Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation’s Tim Hamilton and Olympians’ George O’Connor. He's also executive editor of the PopGun anthology, he's got an ongoing series coming soon that he can't say anything else about and with his fellow studio members at Tranquility Base, regularly beats up on 13 year olds at laser tag.
To see what Joe and the Robot 6 crew have been reading lately, click below.
I don't play video games, so I'm not at all familiar with Capcomm's Street Fighter series, but for some reason I picked up Udon's Street Fighter Legends: Ibuki, and it's really, really good. Oh, here's the reason: Jim Zubkavich's writing and Omar Dogan's art. Zubkavich gives the characters a lot of personality and weaves a storyline I can care about, in between the martial arts battles, of course, and Dogan has created a teenage heroine that girls can enjoy. She's powerful, cute, and comfortably dressed; her costume has some odd cut-outs, but at least she doesn't go about her business in high heels. Ibuki is a ninja-in-training, but she is not sure she wants to make the commitment to that life, so although she lives in a secret ninja village, and takes lessons from a master, she also goes to an ordinary high school and has friends and even a cell phone. There's ordinary high school drama—the good friend, the aggressive new girl, the exotic even newer girl—wrapped around the fight scenes to give them meaning. Zubkavich was nominated for a Joe Shuster award for the writing on this book, and it's well deserved. This is good stuff.
All shoujo manga readers know that Japanese high schools operate on a strict hierarchy, in which the smartest and most popular boys and girls are labeled as such and worshiped by the other students. Masami Tsuda has a lot of fun turning that notion upside down in Eensy Weensy Monster, but the basic premise of the book also has a grain of emotional truth to it: Liking a guy can stir up strong feelings, and sometimes those feelings come out as hate rather than love. Nanoha, the heroine, is a very ordinary girl who happens to be good friends with the tw alpha girls in her school. When a new student, Hazuki, comes to the school, the other girls immediately dub him "the prince" because of his good looks. Hazuki is also shallow and self-centered, and his mere presence causes Nanoha to boil over with a rage so intense, she describes it as a little monster that lives inside her and occasionally takes over. But when Nanoha tells Hazuki off, he takes it to heart and decides to become a better person—with Nanoha as his teacher. Tsuda, the creator of Kare Kano, handles the story deftly and manages to make Hazuki a sympathetic, if somewhat dim character. I also like it that the series is only two volumes long, so rather than dragging things out, Tsuda tells her story and then winds it up.
Tim Kreider is a great caricaturist, as his latest collection of cartoons, Twilight of the Assholes, attests. He has a real knack for portraying the unsightly physical traits of modern Americans-- the rolls of fat, the paunchy stomachs, the jowls, flabby arms and chinless faces -- that make up more of the current populace than we'd care to admit (myself included). Plus, he's got a nice, razor-sharp wit that really cuts to the absurdity of a particular stance or issue, and he isn't afraid to get nasty or break a taboo to make his point, which can be refreshing.
All that being said, Kreider does a number of things throughout Twilight that annoy me intensely, like his inexplicable and utterly unnecessary need to write a lengthy essay underscoring, underlining and over explaining each and every cartoon -- he's a capable writer, but I got the joke the first time thanks, I don't need to have it laid bare in prose form. Then there's the way he constantly inserts himself and his friends in every cartoon in an oh-so-cute, self-depricating fashion that over time suggests there's more self-aggrandizement going on than first glance would suggest. Eventually it all starts to undercut the meat of the book -- i.e., the cartoons -- and I found myself going from being irked to delighted with Twilight in an almost rapid ping-pong fashion. Kreider's talented and funny enough that I want to recommend this book to others, but find it hard to do so when he keeps getting in the way of his work.
Red 5’s inaugural digital-first comic Bonnie Lass is surprising in a couple of ways. For one thing, it’s bawdier and sillier than the other Red 5 books I’ve read. Bonnie Lass isn’t just a description of the main character, it’s also her name. So, as you can tell from the pun, the humor is pretty low-brow. There are jokes about Bonnie’s breast size and plenty of physical slapstick; not really what I’m used to from the company that publishes Atomic Robo and Neozoic.
But just as I was ready to write it off as a disappointing gag-book, it clicked in with an exciting action sequence and finished the first issue with an interesting villain. It also revealed that the story doesn’t just take place in a fantastic version of seventeenth-century Earth. It’s an amalgamation of that and Westerns with a bit of Film Noir and some modern technology thrown into the mix as well. The result is a light-hearted adventure story that owes as much to Indiana Jones as Pirates of the Caribbean. Which, now that I think of it, is exactly the kind of thing that Red 5 publishes.
My son and I read Jake Parker’s Missile Mouse: Rescue of Tanium3 for bedtime a couple of nights this week. We’d read and liked Parker’s short Missile Mouse story in Flight Explorer, but I wasn’t sure how well the concept would stretch out to a full-length graphic novel. Would it feel too thin? Not at all, it turns out. In fact, Missile Mouse was made for the longer format and Parker’s turned out an exciting, cinematic space pulp with some deep – though not too heavy – emotional resonance. As soon as I finish typing this, I’m ordering the first volume, The Star Crusher.
A few years ago, I read the first couple of issues of the original Abyss mini-series before deciding to trade-wait the rest of it. It was good, funny stuff, so when I got the chance this week to read the first issue of the second mini-series, Family Issues, I took a shot.
I might should’ve waited until I caught up on the first story, because I have questions about some of the relationships in the new one. Kevin Rubio does a good job of making sure new readers aren't totally lost. I especially liked one Editor's Note that read, “This little piece of exposition is for all you people who didn’t get the first series. Go buy it in trade paperback now! We can always use the sales.” That's the kind of wall-breaking/meta-commentary/whathaveyou that I enjoyed about the earlier issues I read.
I had questions about what was going on (why does Magic Man and his family wear Nazi "SS" lightning-bolts on their costumes?), but I’ve read enough superhero comics to recognize and understand the general plot. Young Eric Hoffman’s dad was a super villain and now Eric’s trying to make restitution for that by using his father’s name to fight crime instead of commit it. Naturally, the more established heroes are distrustful, causing Eric to feel alienated, which in turn makes him question his mission.
The comic’s a nice discussion of what it takes to be a superhero. Its answers aren’t exactly groundbreaking, but maybe they’re not meant to be. The book’s got a light, comedic touch that almost touches parody, but the emotions are real enough that – while funny – it never becomes a joke.
And it’s got a great, soap-opera cliffhanger that even an Abyss n00b like me can understand and look forward to seeing played out.
I’m still catching up from being at the Angouleme Festival de la Bande Dessinee and just recently got a change to check out the wares I picked up. I suppose with these books I’m doing more looking than reading since I can’t read a lick of French, but I don’t really care. They’re all fine looks, so to speak.
Favorites include Casterman’s massive edition of Corto Maltese: La Ballade de la Mer Salee, which came out through NBM many a year ago and is supposedly on its way back in the US from Universe, both under the name The Ballad of Salt Sea. Corto Maltese is one of my favorite comics of all time a, as Bleeding Cool put it, “Tinin for adults.” Great, deep philosophical adventure comics featuring the original comics swashbuckler. Of course, I can’t read this edition, but the sheer size of the book (rivaling DC’s Wednesday Comics hardcover) makes it all worth it. Author Hugo Pratt is a artistic god, even with an earlier work.
The giant hardcover train kept coming with the Soleil edition of Claire Wendling’s Daises, first put out by my favorite comics importer, Stuart Ng Books. If you’re not aware of Wendling’s work, you really owe it to yourself to track it down. Stuart actually has a fair number of her books and sketchbooks in stock. She’s more or less the greatest comics artist and designer most folks probably aren’t aware of. Just ask any legendary artist into her work, including dudes like Mike Mignola, and they’ll most likely tell you every line she puts down makes them envious.
Another Soleil find was Yaxin: Le Faune Gabriel by Dimitri Vey and Man Arenas and again, it’s a gorgeous giant hardcover, this time a fantasy narrative about a young satyr. I think. Like I said before, I can’t read a word of it, but the book’s gorgeous. It’s easily some of the best fantasy illustration I’ve seen since Michael Kaluta, Barry Windsor-Smith, Bernie Wrightson and Jeff Jones formed The Studio.
It was also a good year to be a Jean “Moebius” Giraud fan as I picked up two massive tomes, Moebius Transforme (the 300+ page catalogue for exposition at Paris’ la Foundation Cartier) and Moebius Oeuvres (the 400+ page compilation of pretty much every single comic he did in Heavy Metal’s European predecessor, Metal Hurlant). Giraud is the reason for so much in comics in terms of style, storytelling and, jeeze, pretty much everything. Sadly, with the exception of Humanoids’ recent reprints (we’ll get to those in a sec), his work is largely out of print. If you’re looking for a good overview of his work, these two books will do it for you. If they’re too rich for your blood, I also recommend his recent Arzak Vol. 1: L’Arpenteur from Glenat. It’s an especially amazing book considering the guy is into his seventies and doing the best work of his and just about anyone else’s careers.
Finally on the international front, I want to mention two publications about comics, Signs: International Journal for the History of Early Comics and Sequential Art and Beaux Arts Magazine. Signs is a publication delving into the very early works of comics from an academic standpoint with all subjects more or less from the pre-1930s. Thankfully it’s in English. While he version I have is actually a supplement to the second issue, so it’s much shorter, I found the entire thing completely enthralling. Considering I’ve read comics my whole life and have never seen 90 percent of the works they’re covering it makes their work all the more impressive. Beaux Arts is more of a traditional magazine, with each issue covering a different topic thoroughly, including very in-depth articles and reprints of choice work. I was able to grab two issues, the first about American comics (which covered its entire history, from the earliest days when Gaines was putting out Famous Funnies all to the most contemporary works and included reprints of Amazing Fantasy #15, among others) and the second was about sexuality in comics with a cover feature on Milo Manara and reprints of comics by folks like Happy Sex’s Zep. Unfortunately, it was in French. I still remain impressed.
I’ve also been catching up on the latest American comics either released while I was gone or just after. The stack was pretty massive, but I’ll narrow it down to the following books.
Daytripper by Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba, Vertigo and Casanova by Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba and Matt Fraction, Icon: I’ve had an absolute blast rereading Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba’s Daytripper, now that it’s collected in one volume. I’m not sure why, but even though I loved it on its first read, I am loving it more the second time around. I have a feeling it’s going to be a book I read over and over with some regularity. Strangely enough, I’m having the same experience with their Icon published collaboration with writer Matt Fraction, Casanova. The series was a personal favorite when coming out through Image, when I read the single issues multiple times, then the Luxuria hardcover, then the Luxuria trade. Now that it’s been remastered through Icon, I’ve picked up and reread the singles multiple times over and have since done the same with the new Luxuria trade. I’m ecstatically awaiting the third volume. With Casanova once again coming out on regular basis, it may be back to being my most anticipated read of the month.
Cursed Pirate Girl by Jeremy Bastian, Olympian Publishing: Speaking of rereading stuff I’m excited about, I was very stoked to see the collection of Cursed Pirate Girl. I’ve picked up every single issue released, including the zero issue, but I wanted something easier to give out to my non-comics fans. It seems like the perfect book for anyone raised on John R. Neil, Little Nemo in Slumberland or, hell, fantastic stories in general, which is almost everyone on Earth. I think Gerard Way’s pull quote put it best, “[Cursed Pirate Girl] looks like something from 1892, but is totally ahead of its time.” Olympian also continues to impress from a production stand point. The paper, reprint and cover quality is astounding right down to the hand pressed logo. I’m extremely happy to finally put this on the shelf.
Nonplayer by Nate Simpson, Image Comics: I’ve been lucky enough to know cartoonist Nate Simpson during the majority of Nonplayer’s development (previously known as Project Waldo). However, despite seeing his process and almost every page as they’ve been drawn, the moment I sat down and read a print out of the book, I was seriously knocked on my ass like I had never seen a single line before. This dude’s comics debut is ridiculous and puts many a veteran cartoonist to shame. It’s one of those books I don’t want to describe too much, as I’d rather you experience it, but if my word’s not good enough for you know I showed a copy to that Jean “Moebius” Giraud dude during Angouleme and after saying it was “Very cool! Beautiful!” he asked me to keep it. That’s pretty much the greatest comics endorsement of all time.
Savage Dragon by Erik Larsen, Image Comics: The sales figures on this book often convince me the entire comic book industry is drunk. Not in a jovial drunk way, but like a making-bad-decisions-to-everyone’s-detriment way. I’ll admit a certain level of bias due to the triple threat of once being the book’s promo guy, having a story in an upcoming issue and Erik being a buddy. On the other hand, I’ve been reading every issue as soon as they hit stands since 1992. In fact, the latest storyline is easily the most ballsiest and innovative yet. If everyone I’ve read complain about how boring some superhero comics can be gave this series a shot, it would be a Top Ten book and I think they would be pretty satisfied. I mean, seriously, dude made his 18-year lead character the main villain of the series, then killed him out of nowhere. Where else do you see that happening? Furthermore, by the hand of the character’s creator, who has drawn every. single. issue? Nowhere.
Everything Humanoids Is Doing: Speaking of being confused by the comics’ industry, I don’t get how the new iteration of Humanoids US isn’t getting more positive attention. I’ve been a fan of their material over the years and while I’ve been critical of past incarnations, this one has been a fan’s dream come true. It’s the first time I’ve felt their material was packaged correctly, branded correctly and in the case of the Incal Classic Edition, colored correctly (well, correct colors restored anyway). Yet somehow ‘new to the US’ works such as John Cassady’s complete I Am Legion and Milo Manara’s Pandora’s Eyes as well as classics brought back from the Out-Of-Print grave including Moebius/Jodorwsky joints like Madwoman of the Sacred Heart and the aforementioned Incal Classic Edition seemed to fall under the radar. These folks brought Moebius back in print after an almost 15-year hiatus. How are we not all focusing on this? Seems like that alone should have been publishing event of last year, but it barely seemed to get noticed. I’m having a hard time getting why that is.
Emitown by Emi Lenox: This is pretty much my favorite web comic. Despite the fact its been getting a huge push after the Image Comics compilation, I still wanted to mention it since it's really hard to make autobio interesting. Yet a new cartoonist like Lenox does so in a fresh, new light. Good times, that Emitown. A very impressive work by a new talent I'm way excited for.
I’ve also been trying to get back to speed with my Not Comics reading, including The Girl Who Played With Fire by Steig Larsson, the second book in the Millennium trilogy just about everybody who digs mystery novels is reading. I really loved Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but I’ll admit to this one dragging a bit for me. However, in its defense I haven’t had as much time as I should to devote to it and will admit it really picks up about halfway through.
Finally, I feel the need to mention I pretty much always have a copy of Empire magazine with me. It’s the only mag I head down to my local newsstand (more often than not one of the downtown Portland Rich’s Cigar Stores) whenever I know it’s out. Comics will always be my first love, but movies is the one thing I don’t have a lot of interest in pursuing creatively and enjoy purely as a fan. Empire is the best movie magazine out there. Not maybe, not sort of, not almost - it completely and utterly is the most fun I have as a fan. The articles and interviews are always unique, in-depth and very well written without getting on the pretentious side. I really wish American comics currently had an equivalent.