What Are You Reading? with Ao Meng

Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading? This week our special guest is Ao Meng, who writes about comics for the Daily Texan, the University of Texas newspaper, as well as Novi Magazine.

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


Michael May

I’ve read a couple of issues of BOOM!’s Planet of the Apes since the last time I contributed to this feature, and it’s still my favorite monthly series right now. It’s scary how good it is because experience tells me that comics this awesome are too good to be true and don’t last. Not that I have any reason to believe PotA’s going away; it’s just one of those irrational fears you get when you really love something and can’t stand the thought of not having it around anymore.

Something else I read recently was Pilot & Huxley: The First Adventure by Dan McGuiness. I’d never heard of it before and the deceptively simple art didn’t grab me right away, but I grinned and chuckled my way all through this thing. It’s about a couple of kids with an overdue video game rental that--unknown to them--contains the password that activates an alien Weapon of Doom. Unfortunately for the aliens, they don’t remember the password and need the game, so they hire Death to capture the boys, but Death sort of botches the job and sends the pair into an alternate dimension where swamps are made of bees and little girls turn into giant monsters. It…is…awesome.

Tom Bondurant

It may be perpetuating a stereotype to say that this week I read a pretty good issue of Aquaman, but, well ... issue #5 was pretty good. Beginning with Aquaman literally dropped into the middle of a desert, it sets up the next big arc (the real reason Atlantis sunk) while serving nicely as a standalone survival tale. Geoff Johns' script is efficient and well-paced, using a nonlinear narrative to good effect. There seems to be a little more pointed puncturing of Aquaman's perceived inferiority, which at this point is a little old, so thankfully there's not a lot. (Johns does get good use out of Aquaman's telepathic powers, and that's always nice.) Ivan Reis and Joe Prado's art is straightforward as ever, conveying both Aquaman's determination and his world-weariness.

The Fury Of Firestorm The Nuclear Men #5 (written by Gail Simone and Ethan Van Sciver, drawn by Yildiray Cinar) was also a decent standalone issue, reframing Ronnie and Jason's continuing struggles with their powers in the context of a global Firestorm network. Specifically, when said network places our heroes in a too-good-to-be-true planned community -- a plot device which by this point should come with a "Ye Olde" prefix -- you just know things are going to go horribly wrong. And so they do, but in a well-choreographed way which gives the reader some hope that maybe this time will be different. In other words, despite the predictability, this turned out to be a rather suspenseful issue, infusing the overall storyline with some necessary momentum.

This week I finally got a chance to check out Jeff Parker and Erika Moen's Bucko, only about eleven months after everyone else on Earth, and just in time for it to wrap up. Still, not surprisingly, I liked this sprightly farce a lot. The combination of Parker's energetic script and Moen's endearing art is instantly appealing, and the plot is like "Three's Company" on acid. (In a good way, of course.) I'm only through the first part, but I'm eager to see the rest.

In other better-late-than-never news, last night I was up late polishing off The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, so that my wife and I could catch David Fincher's adaptation before it leaves the local theaters. The last half of the book took just under three hours to read, and at the risk of spoiling it (even obliquely), I thought the denouement was somewhat anticlimactic. I mean, I liked the book pretty well, but the first half is all about adapting to life on the frozen tundra, the third quarter jumps full-on into the mystery, and the last little bit is an extended wrap-up. I don't doubt that the new movie will be fairly faithful, but I can't imagine how the upcoming DC adaptation will deal with some of it.

Brigid Alverson

In Dotter of Her Father's Eyes, Mary Talbot weaves her own growing-up story with that of James Joyce's daughter Lucia. Tying the two stories together is Mary's father, who was an eminent Joyce scholar. That meant less to his daughter, of course, than the way he treated her, warm and cold by turns, and sometimes unbearably harsh. Mary's own story is an engaging tale of growing up in a large family in England after the war; Lucia's is equally fascinating in a different way, as she led a more artistic and demanding life but was equally frustrated by her father's needs and prejudices and, ultimately, her own mental illness. The book is skillfully illustrated by Mary's husband, BryanTalbot, and it sits comfortably on the shelf next to Alison Bechdel's Fun Home.

Mary Talbot grew up in a house full of brothers, and so did Maggie McKay, the heroine of Faith Erin Hicks's Friends With Boys. In both cases, the boys add a certain madcap energy to the story, constantly fighting and breaking things, but in Friends With Boys, they also bring emotional depth. As the book opens, Maggie is starting high school after years of being home-schooled by her mother—who has just left the family, for reasons that are left vague. Maggie quickly makes friends with a brother and sister, but there's a strange tension between them and her older brother, and the boys on the volleyball team. Hicks unfurls the backstory slowly, then brings it all to a head with a theft and a fight. While the plot itself is a bit improbable, the characters are well grounded and believable, and overall it's an enjoyable read.

I also picked up Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant this week. It's very hit-or-miss—sometimes Beaton makes me laugh out loud, other times the strips make me wish I knew more about Canadian history. Overall, though, there are more yuks than WTFs, and it's easy to give a "read" recommendation on this one.

Chris Mautner

Is there something wrong with me? Is my sense of humor on the fritz? Am I becoming too jaded? What could possibly be the reason for my completely "meh" reaction to Michael Kupperman's latest book, Mark Twain's Autobiography 1910-2010. I mean, I really like Kupperman's work. I think he's one of the funniest cartoonists going today. But Twain felt somewhat undercooked to me.

Don't get me wrong, it's still funny, just fitfully so. I didn't greet the book with the sort of over the top vocal laughter that I usually do when reading his comics. Perhaps I've grown blase. Perhaps I've just become accustomed to Kupperman's style and tics and it's harder for him to get me laughing. Perhaps he's better with comics than straight prose. Perhaps I'm just not a fan of all the Mark Twain jokes (I'm kind of not).

Whatever the case, any fears I had that Kupperman's magic had ceased to charm me were swept away with the latest issue (that's no. 7) of his regular series, Tales Designed to Thrizzle. Kupperman is back to his usually hilarity here, at least as far as I'm concerned, with a side-splitting parody/mash-up of Inception and Quincy, and a lengthy list of funny names for shower heads (I'm especially fond of "Mrs. Dallospray"). I take it all back. There's nothing wrong with me after all.

Ao Meng

I'm actually pretty bad about finding time to go down to my local shops, but my last haul from a few weeks ago was pretty big: I picked up a copy of Josh Tierney's Spera Vol. 1, mostly to see some choice web cartoonists make their leap from humble RGB to glorious CMYK. I especially loved the contribution from UK-based Nobrow Press mainstay Luke Pearson, whose two-color-on-cream-paper short sat nicely in contrast with the colorful explorations found in the rest of the book. I'm a big fan of adventure comics, and the energy on display here is infectious.

Speaking of adventure comics, Ryan Cecil Smith's SF Supplementary File minicomics (I've only got #1 through #2B) are a whole lot of fun, and are a huge bang for your buck. #1's contained origin story is a great continuation of that groove Smith's been riding since the CCC#9 anthology. I really fell in love with the extended three-part #2— a"cover" of a 1979 space opera manga— one of a new trend of risograph comics that, to the best of my limited knowledge, have been sparked off by those noisemakers in the Ryan Sands camp. I also picked up Jonny Negron and Jesse Balmer's Chameleon #2, which I believe contains the North American debut of Uno Moralez, whose pixel-art nightmares have been the best-kept secret of cartoonist livejournal rings for a couple of years now. Chameleon's two editors's contributions are as on point as always.

Anyways, back to Mr. Smith's minis— they are absolutely beautiful. They're not nostalgic as much as interested in the techniques used by previous generations of cartoonists, and how much emotional heavy lifting they were capable of. To use terms from hip-hop, the other great American art form, It's not quite a sample as much as an interpolation, where a producer or artist will re-record, re-sing and/or re-instrumentalize a melody, usually (but not always) because of sample clearance issues. Another very good interpolation by Kevin Huizenga is in the new Kramers Ergot, his being one of an obscure 1956 Charlton sci-fi short with an unknown writer. Who knows if this "interpolation comics" thing will eventually become another alt-comics trend, but this new type of dialog with comic's labyrinthine history is incredibly interesting, and tickles a particular bone that classical reprints don't quite scratch.

Let's see, I also read The Silence of our Friends, a very readable and a great all-around First Second issue. Nate Powell's art totally caries the book from it's Oscar-awards-season material and towards something of real craft. I picked up the new King Kat #72, which is as good as always, but significantly more melancholic than the last issue. As one of the titans of the auto-bio genre, Porcellino's commitment to the rawness and expression of his work is humbling to see. He's a true living legend, that one.

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