What Are You Reading? with Ales Kot

Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading? Our special guest this week is Ales Kot, writer of Wild Children, Change and the just-announced Zero and The Surface.

To see what Ales and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.


Michael May

Creator-Owned Heroes #5 starts two new stories, one of which is "Black Sparrow" by Steve Niles and Andrew Ritchie. I'm a big fan of both of those guys, and they've created a completely creepy thing about the family of a sociopathic killer. I know I'm not going to be satisfied when it ends next issue, because I already want a whole graphic novel out of it. I enjoyed Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Jerry Lando's "Killswitch" much more than I thought I would. The concept of a hitman with a contract on his own head is a familiar one, but these guys find something interesting to do with it by having the antagonist choose an indirect route to his target. Plus, I like the main character's personality. He's kind of an ass, but he's a charming ass.

Stumptown #2 didn't need to win me over, because I loved the first issue so much. But even if I'd been shaky on it, including a laid back character named David Mayes in the story would have got me. That's close enough to my son David's name to give me a thrill when I read it.

Tim O'Shea

Red She-Hulk #58: It is impressive to see how seamlessly writer Jeff Parker has worked Betty Ross/Red She-Hulk into much of what was her father’s (Thunderbolt Ross/Red Hulk) supporting cast. To no one’s surprise, I am partial to Parker on this series.

Fantastic Four #611: With this being writer Jonathan Hickman’s last Fantastic Four issue (and one more FF issue to go), I get that Val, Doom and Reed were central to this issue. But is it odd to anyone else that Ben, Johnny (the guy who was dead for a while) and Sue do not appear in the action?

Captain America #18: I am a sucker for sarcastic Dum Dum Dugan dialogue (plus he so rarely gets utilized in the Cap books, so I always get a kick when the bowler wearing agent appears). This issue has a gem, when Dugan easily intimidates Hydra agents—and as they turn to run, he dryly says: “Hail Hydra.”

Uncanny Avengers #1: It’s been awhile since I have seen a monthly book featuring Scarlet Witch or Havok—-and to have them as part of an Avengers team has me intrigued. Laura Martin coloring John Cassady has me over the moon, in terms of the look of the series.

Wolveriine & the X-Men #18: Writer Jason Aaron breaks my heart with this issue, the last page of the story both surprised and dismayed me. Neither is a reaction I get typically in a comic book after reading them for so long.

Pax Arena (Week 1): Thrillbent is proving that it is going to offer a diverse array of storytellers. This past week saw the launch of Pax Arena, by writer Mast and artist Geoffo—a noir/alien police procedural in stark black and white. The story is being offered in both English and French (an option made easier by the digital dynamics). I love the look of the story—and got out a kick of the distinctive font used in the story (which apparently is based on Moebius’ handwriting).

Mark Kardwell

I was in a rock and roll mood this week, what with reading Barney Hoskyn's Trampled Underfoot and Neil Young's Waging Heavy Peace, so when Colin Smith published this appraisal of the great Hector Umbra by Uli Oesterle, I was very much in the mood to pull my copy out for a re-read. I originally bought this a few years ago in German, just because I loved the art, but believed in it so much I pestered two UK publishers to buy the rights to it, until Kenny Penman of Blank Slate, to his eternal credit, did just that. Oesterle, as well as being a fantastic visual stylist (which is why there's such high praise for the guy from Mike Mignola), writes with great humanity, warmth and empathy. If I beg you to get your hands on a copy of this book, I do so only for your own good. It's hip, it's funny, it's weird, it's exciting, it has a cast of beautifully realized characters you'll come to love, it's full of the milk of human kindness. If you buy one graphic novel this week on a crazy hunch because you've been harassed by a stranger on the internet, make it this one.

Ales Kot

American Flagg! Howard Victor Chaykin is one of the most impressive figures of the last 50 years in comics. I always valued the way he conducted himself when giving interviews--brain and balls, saying whatever he wanted, however he wanted. I read some of his work here and there. With American Flagg!, I waited for years. I knew it would be a great read, but the moment simply had to be right. It's like losing your virginity, you know? You don't want to go with the first girl that...oh well, this metaphor's not doing it for me, but the point is: American Flagg! deserved better, so I waited until I was a big boy, I dressed up...and it fucked my brains out.

The sheer inventiveness of Chaykin's layouts is astounding. American Flagg!'s resonance with today's events feels magical--Chaykin foreshadows today's idiocracy by exploring it in detail in a SF setting, all the while giving in to his love of investigating the dynamics of nationality, attraction, sex and media. Ken Bruzenak's lettering is so strong and committed to the best storytelling effect that it reminds me of the strongest works of letterers such as Todd Klein and John Workman. American Flagg! layers text and image with such bravado that I feel slightly swept off my feet when thinking about it. I'm about halfway done with the first book.

Herzog on Herzog. I already read Lynch on Lynch and Cronenberg on Cronenberg, so this had to be the third one, and I think von Trier's next. Werner Herzog is, first and foremost, an incredibly complex, inspiring human. His life--the stories he tells about it--would make for 50 new, fresh films, and he talks about it with so much modesty and understanding that I usually find myself deeply moved while reading this book. The lengths to which he chooses to go to make his films show a stellar commitment. He also didn't kill Klaus Kinski, despite wanting to. One of the tribes they were shooting Fitzcarraldo with even offered to kill Kinski for Herzog.

Here's an excerpt:

Q: Was Signs of Life an easy shoot?

Werner Herzog: “One thing that happened whilst I was making the film was I understood that somehow I possessed a certain quality which means I attract real disaster during the making of my films. I know it sounds crazy, but there were so many problems during the production of Signs of Life that seemed to pave the way for what happened on Fata Morgana and Fitzcarraldo and other films.

Signs of Life started very unfortunately, because everything was prepared, I had secured permission to shoot where I wanted to, and then three weeks before we started there was a military coup d’état in Greece. I could not reach anyone, airports were closed and trains were stopped at the border. So I drove by car non-stop to Athens and discovered that I was not allowed even to shoot on Kos because the authorities were so afraid of the colonels. My shooting permits had become invalid overnight.

Then, well into the shoot, the leading actor, Peter Brogle, had an accident and broke his heel bone which meant a six-month pause during which he was in a cast and afterwards needed a device to help him walk. Brogle was originally a tightrope walker and I wanted to shoot a sequence in the fortress from one wall to a small tower. He needed to fix the rope himself — no one else could do it — and he fell from something like eight feet, and that was that. A very absurd accident. So we had to suspend shooting for six months and after that I could shoot him only from the hip upwards. And when it came to the final sequences of the film I was forbidden to use fireworks. I told the army major that it was essential for the film. “You’ll be arrested,”, he said. “Then arrest me,”, I said, “but know that I will not be unarmed tomorrow. And the first man who touches me will drop down dead with me.” The next day there were fifty policemen and soldiers standing watching me work, plus a few thousand people from the town who wanted to see the fireworks. Of course, I was not armed, but how were they to know? Nobody complained or said anything. So through all these incidents I learned very quickly that this was the very nature of filmmaking. It hit me harder than it did many of my colleagues around me. A very valuable lesson: things never go as you hope, and there is no point in fuming about it. For a filmmaker, dependent on so many things outside of your control, it is an important lesson.”

King City. A comic book that deserves at least 100,000 readers. At least. It's perfectly mainstream and constantly inventive. Brandon Graham's affinity for puns is well-known, and his world-building skills are so playful that you could give this book to depression-afflicted people instead of Prozac. All the playfulness works within the context of the larger story, too--and a large story it is. I love how unafraid this comic is when it comes to heightening the moments that matter. It's a skill that's rare, because many comics creators don't slow down time and focus on beautiful things--be it the way the city breathes or naming all the gangs in a seedy bar. The book design is wonderful and it's 432 pages for $20, which makes it my best low-profile investment of this year.

King City is a comic that, just like the best Paul Pope comics, just like Chris Ware's work, like Jack Kirby's work, like the best moments in Preacher, Transmetropolitan or the Nikopol Trilogy--fully transports you to a new place, a place you can touch and smell and feel and live in. King City flows straight from Graham's heart.

The Die Hard Script. This is a classic. I think I saw this film for the first time when I was six or seven. Its clarity and clockwork-like craftmanship is worth studying. Die Hard and The Terminator might be two of the tightest-written action thrillers ever made. Re-watching The Terminator also made me realize that the use of reds and blues in the movie and in Tony Scott's The Hunger is worth a comparative essay. Also interesting--Cameron wrote The Terminator and Aliens at the same time, and both films feature a female protagonist that disposes of the antagonist by using a machine. Anyway, Die Hard was written by Steven E. de Souza and Jeb Stuart, and you can find it for free right here.

Alan Moore's Fossil Angels. I don't see any major difference between science and magic--to me, they are ostensibly the same thing, but magic has the charisma of something not fully understood, which makes it on one hand enticing, and on other hand mocked and feared, often even by scientists who then assume attitudes eerily similar to those of people who say things like "the female body has a way of shutting that whole thing down." Magic is fun. It's about finding connections and creating new ones. Fossil Angels can be read for free right here.

I'm also digging through a whole lot of Carl Gustav Jung's work once again, especially everything related to his theory of the shadow. Preparation for Zero, #1 of which is coming out May 2013, has me reading and watching a ton of super-spy and real spy material--the Bond movies, the brilliant Desolation Jones and Casanova, documentaries by Adam Curtis, John le Carre books, and so on. I also read something between 5-15 longer articles almost every day, making notes and such--some of the more interesting ones from recent history are this article on biohacking in America, Dan Harmon's lesson on story structure, a new Tori Amos interview, an article on how exactly order arises from random motions of particles in the cosmos and this very good essay on comics and time by Warren Ellis.

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