Hello and welcome to a special "birthday bash" edition of our weekly "What Are You Reading" feature, where the Robot 6 crew talks about what books we've read recently. Usually we invite a special guest to share what they've been reading, but since today isn't just an ordinary day for us, we thought we'd invite a whole bunch of special guests to help us out -- our friends and colleagues from Comic Book Resources, Spinoff and Comics Should Be Good!
To see what everyone has been reading, click below ...
I'm trying to catch up on some of the books I missed during the long stretch of my life when I was away from comics, so this week I picked up the first volume of Fables. I like the idea a lot—taking the characters of fairy tales and children's literature and putting them into adult situations—and the stories are interesting enough to keep me reading. The art bothers me a lot, though. The character designs are fine, but the different elements of each panel don't work together to create a coherent space. Snow White's office for example, is in a vast room filled with all sorts of clutter—a flying ship, a toppled column, a suit of armor—but it's as if every piece was drawn separately and then pasted down, like a Coloforms kit. It's not as obvious in other parts of the book, but that early scene made me aware of it. Also the characters in this first novel don't wander far from standard stereotypes—the icy executive woman, the bad boy, the slut, and of course Prince Charming. That's the cost of using fairy tales as your source material, but I hope the characters develop a bit more complexity. Anyway, it's a very witty take on the topic and the stories are fun to follow, so I'll be sticking with it.
Manga-wise, I read the first chapter of Mizuki, a shoujo manga that Digital is publishing on their eManga site. It's a pretty standard story about a girl who transforms into a devil to fight ghosts; as she is in high school, she tries very hard not to transform because her friends are frightened and revolted by her other form (they don't know it's her) and she doesn't want to scare off the guy she has a crush on. That's a pretty transparent metaphor for teenage life, and I can see why a book like this would have some appeal for the young-adult crowd. The art is not very distinctive but it is nicely done; I'll be sticking around for chapter 2 of this one.
Sean T. Collins
Oh, sweet Christmas break! I did a ton of cramming to be properly equipped for doing Best of 2010 lists and now I can kick back and catch up on my prose reading. Right now I'm working my way through an old favorite fantasy series, Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising Sequence. Re-reading it for the first time in years, I'm struck by how much of it is basically info-dumping, yet somehow its tale of the eternal, Arthurian conflict between the Dark and the Light in Britain and Wales still feels immediate and epic.
But there have been plenty of comics on the docket as well. Click the links below for full reviews!
* H Day by Renee French (PictureBox): French's elliptical, silent tone poem about her struggle with migraines and ants is a fantastic showcase of her considerable gifts as a crafter of images.
* I Want You #2 by Lisa Hanwalt (Pigeon Press): Body horror, gross-out humor, and insanely detailed drawings of horses and birds and stuff. It's quite a combo.
* Boy's Club #4 by Matt Furie (Pigeon Press): Another uproarious installment of Matt Furie's chronicle of the unrepentant dude-dom.
* Duncan the Wonder Dog by Adam Hines (AdHouse): Despite its rapturous reception elsewhere and my sympathies for its subject matter of animal rights, I found this graphic novel a classic case of reach exceeding grasp.
* The Wrong Place by Brecht Evens (Drawn & Quarterly): Evens uses color like you've rarely seen elsewhere to tell the tale of two friends, one a livewire and one a wallflower, and their shared social scene.
* Big Questions #15 by Anders Nilsen (Drawn & Quarterly): The decade-in-the-making conclusion to Nilsen's haunting series about a flock of birds who were tragically ill-equipped to deal with the incursion of humanity into their world offers no big answers.
The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, by J. W. RinzlerI'll admit that the combination of the leaden prequels and video-gamish Clone Wars theatrical release nearly killed my interest in anything Star Wars-related. But I used to be a total Star Wars geek, even going so far as to submit a Star Wars RPG adventure to West End Games in the mid-1990s, though my adventure was rejected because it (a) wasn't very good, and (b) had what the editor called an "inappropriate title" for something in the Star Wars line. The title? "Attack of the Energy Beasts," a purposely goofy classic sci-fi homage. I guess, when the second prequel title was announced, years later, that editor probably realized his mistake. Or he said to himself, "Yeah, Lucas doesn't get it, either."
Anyway, Rinzler's massive "Making of..." tomes are the kinds of things that can rekindle interest in that far, far away galaxy. This book focuses on Episode V, of course, and it not only has fascinating behind-the-scenes photographs, and a compelling overview of the struggle to make the movie at a time when no sequel had ever made as much as the original film (Godfather II only did half as well as the original, for example, and that was the best sequel ever made), it also has a great sequence which transcribes a day in the directing life of Irvin Kershner, based on a recording of that day's events leading up to the famous Han Solo in carbonite scene. Kerhner was wearing a mic all day for another "Making of..." project being completed at the time, and the transcription of the on-set script revision and fragile egos of the performers is a clear look at what really happened when the cameras weren't looking. The whole book is a pretty great, and engrossing, read.
Captain America #613 by Ed Brubaker, Butch Guice, and FriendsI read ten to twenty new comics every week, so why single out this one? Because sometimes I forget how good Brubaker's Captain America can be, and this was a particularly good reminder of what has been one of the best mainstream superhero comics of the past five years. From Guice's chiseled artwork (best embellished by Stefano Gaudiano) to the sometimes dynamic vividly nightmarish layouts to the rapid cross-cutting between Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes, and the daughter of the Red Skull, this looks to be a comic that's back on track after a year of slightly disappointing issues (though by the high standards of Brubaker's Captain America, even weaker installments are better than most). I liked this one a lot.
The Art of Jim Starlin, by Jim StarlinQuite early in my comic book reading days, I picked up a copy of Dreadstar and Company #2, which reprinted the second issue of the Epic Comics series focusing on Dreadstar's blind female compatriot, Willow. It was a shocking issue back then, and rereading the entire Dreadstar saga these days, trying to follow along with CBR's Chad Nevett in "Dreadstar December," has reminded me how much I've always enjoyed Jim Starlin's work. I've been devouring his other comics, and I have an essay on Gilgamesh II that I keep promising to write.
Jim Starlin's art book, which features highlights from his career and a lengthy retrospective written by himself, is a good primer on the man's career and it's also a good reminder of all the projects he's tacked over the years. It doesn't go into nearly enough detail about the conflicts he's had with various publishers (he frustratingly hints at juicy stories of poor treatment by the Big Two, but politely declines to name names or provide specific blow-by-blow accounts), but it does show Starlin to be a man who has always been ahead of the curve, trying to do his own thing in an industry that wants bland conformity.
Timothy Callahan writes the regular column When Words Collide, as well as reviews for Comic Book Resources. He does a lot of other stuff online, too, even talking about comics on the Splash Page podcast with CBR's Chad Nevett.
It's probably no accident that the books I'm enjoying the most these days are coming from Image Comics, given the fact that I've covered the Image beat on CBR for the better part of two years now. But that's just the state of things, I guess -- it's a good time to be a comics fan, and an especially great time for Image's creative output.
The two books at the top of my buy pile every month are Chew and Morning Glories, and not just because I'm running monthly columns on them (though that certainly doesn't hurt). With Chew, John Layman and Rob Guillory are constantly evolving the story of FDA agent Tony Chu in exciting new directions, almost effortlessly taking the series from its initial premise of a guy who gleans psychic impressions from the things he eats to it's current end-of-the-world-by-fiery-alien-sky-writing status quo. There's no telling where the book is going to go next, which is exactly why I love it so much.
Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma's Morning Glories is entering the new year in great shape as well, with the first arc officially concluded in last month's breathtaking fifth issue. Having already read this month's installment a couple of weeks early, I can already tell you that Morning Glories is off to an excellent start in 2011. I can also say with no bullshit that this series is one of the most consistent edge-of-your-seat reads you'll find anywhere in comics today. If you're not picking Morning Glories up already, do yourself a favor and dive in while it's still early — trust me, you don't want to miss this boat.
Some other current favorites include:
- Artifacts ... the best event series of 2010, trucking strong into 2011 thanks to Ron Marz and the enormously talented people at Top Cow.
- Orc Stain ... I'm pretty sure James Stokoe couldn't make a bad comic if he tried, certainly not when crafting the disturbingly detailed world that "Orc Stain" inhabits.
- Proof ... recently relaunched with a new number one, but it's the same hairy Sasquatch you know and love.
- The Walking Dead ... as the world wakes up and smells the coffee thanks to the hit AMC series, the rest of us already know how amazing this series is thanks to the increasingly devastating monthlies. After eighty issues, Kirkman is still at the top of his game and showing no signs of slowing down.
That's barely scratching the surface of what I've been reading and loving lately, and judging by what's on the horizon in 2011, the new year should be an equally crowded one. Here's hoping, at least!
Ryan K Lindsay
Franken-CastleIt’s a concept nearly everyone scoffed at and while many enjoyed it just as many would never admit that it was fun. I missed the boat but that only means I get to enjoy it in one big HC instead. While the end of the tale may have lost its way, the start of this strange monster filled romp by Remender and Moore was one of my picks for comic of the year. A shame not enough agreed with me and it missed out on a mention on the CBR Top 100. I absolutely loved the art and the writing here and while it wasn’t really the Punisher I kind of dug that about it. It wasn’t afraid to try something new and completely succeed in totally new ways.
I can only imagine what a youth would make of Franken-Castle if s/he found it squirreled away at home (which is the optimal way for every generation to discover comics). The sensational art by Tony Moore is something indeed and matched with Rick Remender cutting loose in a way that the Big Two just don’t do enough is the sort of mind-expanding four colour drug that every formative stage should be exposed to. This is comics the way I always imagine them through the magical and misty lens of the golden years of my youth. There should be more titles out there like this.
Secret Dead MenI love Duane Swierczynski. I’ll just come out and say it, I think he’s a damn fun writer. I really liked his Immortal Iron Fist Run and I would have loved to see him do just a bit more on Black Widow. But the man also writes novels and very good ones so I’m slowly catching up on them all. I recently finished The Wheelman, which is a stellar heist story, and I’m now elbows deep in Secret Dead Men, which is about a sort of wandering PI who collects souls and stores them in his brain. It’s the sort of zany idea that must be read to be believed, and once you’ve read enough Swierczynski you will become a believer. I have no doubt.
ProofJohn Prufrock is a very cool character. A Bigfoot (perhaps the Bigfoot) who works for a shadowy government agency tracking down other cryptids. It’s a perfect high concept but shocking in that the execution is actually better than you think it might be. There’s erudition to the words, and beauty in the art, and a certain spirit between the panels that just makes you fall completely into the world created. This is a title you can get lost in.
I initially picked this title up in trades but I’ve switched to floppies for the new relaunch and I’m glad I did. The latest issue was a whole barrel of cool and I’m so very glad I don’t have to wait months between my Proof fixes. This comic deserves to be read by more people so become the next one and pick up a trade, or the latest #1 issue, today. You won’t regret it.
Ryan K Lindsay is a weekly reviewer at CBR. He is also a staff writer for comic news and reviews site The Weekly Crisis. He also runs a comic scripting challenge site called thoughtballoons where each week a character is picked and every member of the site must write a one page script about that character (and play-at-home scripts are encouraged in the comments). He’s also been known to throw a think piece up at Gestalt Mash and is hoping one day to have his many comic pitches drawn by people with pencils.
All Clear by Connie Willis: I've been a fan of Connie Willis's writings ever since I first picked up a copy of Doomsday Book, back in the day. The second half of what was supposed to be a single novel (but so big it got split into Blackout and All Clear), it feels like it's the final word on her time travel novels. A book about World War II is rarely cheerful, but this one pulls your heartstrings with both despair and hope. It's a book I was a little unsure of early on, but it comes together beautifully for a strong conclusion.
Justice League International Vol. 1-4 by Keith Giffen, J.M DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire, Ty Templeton: I have a confession to make--aside from the odd issue here and there, I've read almost none of the "classic" Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire JLI. I recently went on a binge and read all four collections to date, and unsurprisingly I loved them. Sure, I could've done without the inevitable line-wide crossover every five or six issues, and the rotating door of cast members is a little hard to keep track of at times, but it's still a lot of fun. Looking forward to picking up Volume 5 shortly!
Voodoo Heart by Scott Snyder: I'm about halfway through this collection of short stories, and if there was any doubt that Snyder's adept at multiple genres (he's already proven that by writing both American Vampire and Detective Comics with completely different voices), this should seal it. The opening story ("Blue Heron") about a man chasing a zeppelin across the country to catch the love of his life will hook you, and three stories later the quality hasn't dipped. Really looking forward to sitting down with the rest before long.
Over the past few weeks, my reading has been divided up on two very specific categories. First up, I’ve been going back over a ton of great comics while working on CBR’s top 100 of the year list. Aside from some of the books I wrote up for the countdown including Brandon Graham’s King City, Hope Larson’s Mercury and Mike Dawson’s Troop 142, I’ve been going back over the big books of the year like Wilson an X’Ed Out as well as some killer stuff that didn’t quite make my top ten or the top 100 including Jason Lutes’ latest issue of Berlin and Kathryn and Stuart Immonen’s Moving Pictures. And in case you’re wondering, my #1 book of the year was totally Love & Rockets New Stories #3. That one has been banging around my brain box since the moment I first picked it up. We live in an age of wonders.
The other stack of stuff I’ve been tearing through are a slew of novels I have to read for my upcoming residency as an MFA student at Hamline University. My program is in Writing for Children and Young Adults, so my required list is a metric ton of middle grade and YA prose with a few picture books thrown in. I’ve read Jack Gantos’ Joey Pigza Swallowed The Key, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and Deborah Heiligman Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith. Most importantly for the comic folks out there, I’ve been asked to re-read Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese because, get this, Yang will be at Hamline next week while I’m in my first residency to give us students a workshop in writing and graphic novels and what not. How rad is that?
Kiel Phegley is the news editor for Comic Book Resources, and one of the folks I should probably thank more often for all the help he gives us. Check out his interview with The Comics Reporter.
The last five comic books that I read were Deadpool Team-Up #886, a well-told action story by Shane McCarthy and Nick Dragotta featuring Iron Fist. Dragotta's art was fantastic and McCarthy had a lot of funny dialogue.
Secret Warriors #23 was the rare issue that gives you an extreme amount of singular character development while still moving the over-arching plot along. Great job by Jonathan Hickman, and it is awesome that Alessandro Vitti is going to finish out this series on art.
Justice Society of America #46 was an intriguing look at the idea of a superhero team devoting itself entirely to one city and not letting ANY crime occur. Meanwhile, Marc Guggenheim and artist Scott Kolins do strong work in establishing the mysterious villains in the comic as a formidable and scary threat to the cast of this book. One drawback in the issue to me was a scene featuring Obsidian that did not ring true to me.
Hulk #28 was another entertaining issue by the impressive duo of Jeff Parker and Gabriel Hardman. Hardman has not had a bad issue yet, and Parker gives him a lot of really cool stuff to draw in this issue (and the previous issues, as well).
Finally, Flash #8, by Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins, was an effectively eerie look at the origin (or should I say originS) of the Reverse-Flash. Seeing him cruelly change time around himself makes him a rather terrifyingly disturbing creature.
That's my list!
Apollo’s Angels by Jennifer Homans. Writing about comics and art has its challenges, but it’s a cakewalk compared to writing about dance. For centuries, the only real record we have of dance has been through writing. The facility with language required by good dance writers is part of what I love about the genre (sometimes more than dance itself) and as I think and write more about the history of comics I know that Homans’ cultural analysis and history of ballet is something that’s going to stick in my head for some time to come. This is the gold standard of arts writing.
Berlin: City of Stones and Berlin: City of Smoke. I’ve been meaning to reread the first volume and read the second one of Jason Lutes’ epic series ever since I picked it up months ago but I wanted to read through it all in one sitting and finally got a chance this week. I can’t help but feel that like Love and Rockets, the problem isn’t that we love the series any less or that the quality has dropped - it’s better than it’s ever been - the problem is that we’ve run out of adjectives to describe it. There’s nothing new to say. How many times can we say it’s a brilliant piece of work and one of the greatest comic series ever?
Bad Machinery: A Feral Flag Will Fly. I picked up this limited edition book of the beginning strips of John Allison’s new comic at Webcomics Weekend and hadn’t gotten around to reading it. Part of the problem with buying the books of webcomics is that I’ve already them, which means they drop to the bottom of the pile quickly. The truth is that I love Bad Machinery. I think it’s Allison’s best work. And it was great to OD on the comic for an afternoon without staring at the screen.
The Butterfly Mosque. G. Willow Wilson is best known to comic fans for her graphic novel Cairo and the series Air. This new memoir will likely change all that. It’s a beautiful book that I can’t recommend highly enough, detailing Wilson’s conversion to Islam and her time in Cairo, falling in love and her young married life. Wilson conveys the culture she found herself a part of and the essential separateness that one feels in a culture unlike that which one is born and raised in. Through it all there is a greater understanding and love.
The Essential Moon Knight Vol 1 & 2by Doug Moench, Bill Sienkiewicz and othersLove Bill Sienkiewicz, I have ever since New Mutants and then Elektra Assassin. Because of his genre-altering work , I thought it would be interesting to see how his style evolved. This book definitely show his early work, you can see the change and watch him move towards something more communicative. Still, his line is always characteristic, easy to spot even when he's trying to hide his inherent craziness. To be honest, I'm not reading the words, I'm just in it for the art. I might go back and read them if I get stuck in bed sick one day or something, but there isn't a lot of draw.
http://www.freakangels.com/by Warren Ellis and Paul DuffieldI tried reading this online when it started, but the short episodes meant that I couldn't really get into it. Then I forgot about it for a few months and came back with plenty of story unfolded. Elis writing a screwed-up, post-apocalyptic London is very compelling, especially with a dysfunctional, neo Village of the Damned (but nice, sort of) angle. Duffield's art is quite lovely, and it's become one of the few comics that I don't mind reading online. Having said that, it does look good in print - the colors sort of do slightly better things in print - but knowing that it is up online, how can I wait all those extra weeks for the book?
Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativityby David LynchA funny little, chunky, blue book. Although I read sequentially, it would be a great book to dive into at any point for inspiration, a sort of random divination kind of a thing, to set the mood for a project or day. David Lynch talks gently about his creative process and the role transcendental meditation plays in that (which may or may not be your cup of tea, but I think it is interesting, regardless.) He's very candid, talks openly of his feelings about major projects, which is really interesting to me. He discusses about how some films are made, what it means to him, and what he intends in making them... It's nice, but it didn't affect my enjoyment of his films. The book is less dry than that, more an aspirational piece for the creative mind.
1. Hopeless Savages: Greatest Hits - Jen Van Meter, Christine Norrie et al.Many of my favourite creators have admitted being influenced by Hopeless Savages, so when the omnibus edition came out recently, I took that as my "now or never" moment to see it for myself. Working through the book, I'm not sure I've been entirely won over by the "punk family" premise, but the characters are lovingly-crafted and it's easy to see why it had such an impact on those who read it.
2. Generation Hope - Kieron Gillen, Salvador Espin.With its central theme of teenagers accepting themselves as mutants, Generation Hope feels more like the X-Men than any other X-Book does right now. I've loved Gillen's work ever since the days of the original Phonogram series, and this is no exception. The market might feel a little over-saturated with mutant titles, but this had an incredibly strong launch, and it's a series that I'm looking forward to seeing more of in 2010.
3. The Fabric of the Cosmos - Brian Greene.Sometimes it's good to get away from fiction and be reminded that actually, the universe we live in is strange enough even without superpowers and cosmic beings. I figure if I can understand DC continuity, quantum physics shouldn't be much harder to grasp, and Greene's informative yet approachable style keeps me from feeling overwhelmed by the hard maths - just when you think it's getting a bit too complicated, out come The Simpsons references.
James Hunt reviews comics for Comic Book Resources.
Well, to be honest, what I'm reading is usually listed right there in the column every week. But today we have....
Crossovers: The Secret Chronology of the World, volumes one and two, by Win Eckert. This is kind of the ultimate continuity-geek book, working out the chronology of every single literary crossover ever, including comics. It might be a little uber-nerdy for some folks but I'm pretty nerdy and I think it's great fun. I'm a Wold Newton guy from way back, I bought Philip Jose Farmer's biography of Doc Savage new off the stands back in the seventies, so this is totally my thing.
Coils, by Fred Saberhagen and Roger Zelazny. Picked this up on a whim not too long ago, on one of our bookscouting road trips. A man discovers that his memories are false computer implants... when he tries to discover the truth his fiancee is kidnapped and the chase is on. Sort of a cross between The Bourne Identity and Total Recall.
The Liberty Project by Kurt Busiek and James Fry, collecting their short-lived comics series from Eclipse way back when. I remember this series fondly from the 1980s and it's nice that it's back in print again.
Greg Hatcher can be found writing every week for Comics Should Be Good!
20th Century Boys vol. 12
I'll admit that I thought 20th Century Boys went off the rails a bit when the “New Book of Prophecy” was introduced, but volume 12 reveals a bit more about the origins of this second deadly tome and ties together a lot of really fascinating threads. Urasawa is utterly brilliant, managing to string out the big reveal of the Friend's identity for a full twelve volumes and keep things interesting at every step of the way.
Doctor Who #1
I got a preview copy of the new IDW series starring the Eleventh Doctor, and this standalone issue was a hell of a lot of fun. Basically, the TARDIS is infected with every spam email Rory has ever received and brings to life the various charlatans and con men embodied in each. The 419 man is a special treat. My only gripe is that it drives me nuts when recognizable entities like Facebook are tweaked just to avoid naming them directly, and there was a bit of this.
Shaun Manning covers Dark Horse, BOOM! and a lot of other comic news on CBR.
I got some really cool books for Christmas and have been reading those, prose and comics alike. On Wednesday, I had a bunch of time to kill and wound up reading all of Invisible by Paul Auster in the process. It's not dissimilar to his other books with a narrative within the narrative presented to us by a friend of the original author. I find Auster's prose engaging and it always makes me want to write. It's writing that requires you to be active and read between the lines. He's also a writer I love just for the fact he's almost at the point where he's releasing one novel each year.
I arrived home from the holidays to find a shipment of comics I bought, including Jack Cross #1-4 by Warren Ellis and Gary Erskine. It's one of the rare recent Ellis-penned minis that I hadn't read and I missed getting a copy of the recent DC reprint. It fits nicely into his larger body of work with his interest in intelligence work. The protagonist is an interesting fellow with his idealism and pacifism in the 'real' world, but his utter brutality when he's called on to do a job. It's a cynical book, but definitely one for the Ellis fans.
And, finally, just today, while at work, I read Parker: The Outfit by Darwyn Cooke (on lunch and during breaks, of course). I picked this up during the week with a gift card and loved it. Much more of a COMIC adaptation of the prose than The Hunter was. Cooke is more playful and inventive here, willing to change up styles and storytelling approaches when it suits him, not just during the heist scenes. It's a shame we'll have to wait until 2012 for more.
Chad Nevett talks about comics in several different places around the web — at his personal blog GraphiContent, at Comics Should Be Good!, as a reviewer for Comic Book Resources and on the Splash Page podcast, with Mr. Callahan. He also writes about wrestling for 411mania.