Hello everyone, Happy Memorial Day weekend to America, and welcome one and all to What Are You Reading? This week we are joined by special guests Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder, the creative team behind Halloween Eve and the upcoming Rocket Girl. I spoke to them earlier this month about Rocket Girl, which surpassed its Kickstarter goal but you still have some time to get in on the action and rewards.
To see what Brandon, Amy and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
This week I read the new novel by UK comics' next great hope, Al Ewing: The Fictional Man. I liked it a lot. Ewing is obviously going for a flat-out phildickian mood in this book, and he hits that tone nicely, even if it doesn't quite have the paranoid power of vintage Philip K Dick. It's ambitious, being a rumination on how fiction works, and how writers tick, as well as providing a rollicking yarn as an overweight, oversensitive and overwrought author chases after a series of elusive McGuffins. There's a Russian doll quality to Ewing's meditation on the writing process, too, as his protagonist seeks to adapt a camp spy movie from the '60s into a modern blockbuster, only to discover it was adapted from an episode of an earlier TV anthology, which he further discovers was based on a children's book, which was itself a version of a short story, based in turn on a rather sordid anecdote. These accumulated retellings allow Ewing to playfully try on various styles: the short story section is particularly well done, as Ewing writes an American Gothic tale in a modernist style, resembling nothing short of a PTSD William Faulkner. It's bravura stuff.
Like Dick, Ewing changes the world with one SF trope, and then has fun figuring out how that one change ripples out to effect society: in this case, the creation of genetically modified clones. In Ewing's world, these clones have only one legal use, in the entertainment industry, which makes for some Who Censored Roger Rabbit?-esque jokes, as well as allowing the text to resonate with some of the same metaphysical arguments as Dick and Ridley Scott (Scott more so, to be frank) loaded into the replicants from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Blade Runner.
Ewing is to be applauded for his sheer brass neck here — if you take a swing at writing some serious SF, then repeatedly evoke the author many consider the best the genre ever produced, you're painting a hell of a target on your back. Good for him: this book is smart, brave, funny, and affecting. Ewing is writing some of the most enjoyable comics around at the minute, turns out he's a pretty good novelist, too.
I finally read the Archaia edition of Jeremy Bastian's Cursed Pirate Girl and I'm sort of ashamed it took me so long. I let some other things get ahead of it in my reading pile because I'd already read the first half of the book in single-issue form. That should have just spurred me on to want to finish it faster, but while I always remember how great-looking CPG is, I forget that it's also hilarious. If I'd remembered how excellent the whole package is, I wouldn't have put it off.
Painter Gail Potocki called it "our generation's Alice in Wonderland" and that's really accurate. Bastian's artwork reminds me a lot of Sir John Tenniel's fanciful illustrations from Lewis Carroll's books with his delicate lines, exquisite details, and sense of visual humor. But -- as with Alice -- the humor extends beyond the artwork and into the situations and dialogue as well.
Bastian even makes the pin-up section funny by creating a story around it. A royal painter has been ordered to interview witnesses and create an accurate portrait of the Cursed Pirate Girl, so each pin-up (by folks like Mike Mignola, David Petersen, and Moritat) is accompanied by Bastian's drawing of the witness and his or her description. It's clever, grin-creating stuff and culminates in a fold-out poster by the fictional painter (Bastian, that is).
There's one bit of darkness to the volume that's made all the more impressive by what surrounds it. It's an epilogue that I won't spoil, but after all the awesome frivolity of the rest of the story, it introduces a tone of serious menace that promises to carry into Volume 2. It's a wonderful juxtaposition of emotions that proves Bastian to be as impressive a writer as he is an artist.
Amulet Book One: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi (Scholastic) - This is a big hit for Scholastic's graphic novel line but somehow I don't see it get a lot of buzz or coverage in comics circles. I'm not sure why. It feels like a modern classic. Like many timeless fantasy stories geared to younger readers, this tale is surprisingly dark, opening with a tragic accident. Yet the boundless imagination and fantastical elements balance out the grim with an exciting world to discover. Stakes remain high as the two kids try to rescue their mother. There's also some mystery around the titular device that gives Emily special abilities. This is clearly the first installment in a series, so there's a lot of set-up and questions to be resolved and answered later, but it's still a satisfying adventure on its own. Kazu Kibuishi's artwork is just wonderful. Great character designs, exciting page layouts and fantastic coloring. It wouldn't be hard to see this as an animated film. Kazu has created a rich world full of wonder and danger. I can't wait to revisit it.
Rust Vol. 2: Visitor in the Field by Royden Lepp (Archaia) - I don't know if there was such a thing as rural steampunk but there is now, thanks to this surprisingly strong debut graphic novel. Royden Lepp shows impressive restraint and control both in dialogue and pacing, letting the stillness of the farm setting speak volumes and adeptly shifting to action scenes. There's nary a sound effect in the entire book yet I swear I could hear the sound of Jet Jones' jet pack and the rusty gears of the big robot pursuing him. The small cast reveals a lot about themselves in what they don't say to each other. Roman Taylor is trying to keep the family farm going without his father around, but it's more than he can do with the help of his mother and two younger siblings. He turns to a tool that could unwittingly endanger them. The yellow/orange hue along with the beautiful design of the book helps the entire experience feel like Woody Guthrie's Dust Bowl Ballads with a steampunk jetpack.
Minor Acts of Heroism #1 by Adriana Ferguson and Kristen Van Dam (Super Cosmic Friends) - This just launched on ComiXology, so it's new to me but it's apparently been in existence as a webcomic since about 2010 or so. It's very funny and fun series about three superhero kid sidekicks. This issue opens things up really well, focusing initially on a smart alec kid named Simon who is forced into a play date at the house of a new kid in town named Sergio. The house is very gothic and creepy, matching the appearance of Sergio and his uncle. There are a few visual red herrings about what Sergio's uncle and Simon's father are up to in the next room, which is pretty funny and nicely played. The whole thing is very clever and looks great. Kristen Van Dam's art is bright and confident, and the kids look and move like kids. This is a fun superhero series that gently pokes fun at the genre but it's with affection. Adriana and Kristen are clearly superhero fans and and are building a world with a lot of lasting potential.
I read a ton of comics. I haven’t had a TV in eight years -- since I relocated to Los Angeles and was working at TokyoPop. I’m back in New York, but figure it better to continue rotting my brain on funnybooks rather than the boob tube. This past Wednesday I discussed recent reads Dial H, Saga, Hawkeye and Daredevil on PODCORN, my podcast with Amy Reeder.
Green Lantern #20 ends Geoff Johns’ 9-year epic. As a creative-type, you dream about getting that kind of fan appreciation and investment. Green Lantern excelled through a lot of change -- both to the fictional DC Universe as well as the more real publishing environment. The conclusion was a fun read, even for someone not steeped in the rainbow rings. Doug Mahnke delivers -- with the help of apparently every past collaborator on inks. Alex Sinclair and Tony Avina use up so much color, DC might have to print books b&w for the next few weeks. Nothing is skimped. Appreciations from creators and other industry folk pepper the book—adding weight to the genuine monument that is this oversized issue. Made me want to go back and read them all.
I saw Miniature Jesus #2 in the store this week. That’s the new Ted McKeever book from Image/Shadowline. I somehow missed the first issue and the store didn’t have a copy! But I have read and was blown away by the relatively recent Meta 4 and Mondo. Meta 4 is far out there; Mondo is in your face ... so I’m curious to see where the new book lands. McKeever is always provocative, while being utterly, utterly readable and re-readable.
Image Comics is pushing great stuff. A couple of their comics that don’t get the big buzz are nonetheless excellent. Nowhere Men #5 is new this week. Stephenson and Bellegarde have weaved something that feels deep. I wish I could clock even half of the Beatles references. The mood is really strong and there’s a unique tone, adding up to a very compelling experience. I can’t wait to dive in to a new issue—and the book sits in your brain when you’re done with it. Also deserving more attention from Image is Todd, the Ugliest Kid on Earth. It’s got a crazy story by Ken Kristensen, but the draw (ha! get it?) for me is MK Perker. I wish he was encouraged to use this kookier style when he was doing Air at Vertigo. A hidden gem is Perker’s Insomina Café, published a few years ago by Dark Horse.
I’m also reading a pile of Marvel’s mid-80’s The Thing. I don’t know if it’s been collected, but single issues are easy to find. John Byrne wrote it, and Mike Carlin took over writing it—the stories are fun; the actual writing more than holds up. But I’m most interested in the Ron Wilson art. The guy does great covers. And I am totally addicted to his interiors. The page and panel compositions are really striking. Everything has a presence--the rocky Ben Grimm always anchoring the scene. More people should appreciate how good this is. I Google-learned that Ron Wilson also drew The Thing earlier, in Marvel Two-in-One—so now I’ll hunt for those issues.
I've always been fascinated by the synergy of the writer-artist combo in comics, and these days I've had a lot of luck. Three books I've recently picked up were by people primarily known as artists, who made the leap into writing, and I thought they were all really fantastic.
Jamal Igle got in on Free Comic Book Day with his Molly Danger preview. Hyped as "The superhero you've been waiting for," he does right what's been going abysmally wrong in some superhero books these days. Molly's a kid--not a sexy teenager--who's smart and grabs life by the balls in the name of Right. In just a few pages a lot happens, and Igle makes sure it's all about Molly. Somehow he even managed to fit in a moment that got me a little choked up. It's super clear storytelling, and the art is his best and most beautiful yet. Very much looking forward to the official release in August. As a fellow Kickstarter and Supergirl vet, I'm rooting for him!
I know this was mentioned recently by Brigid Alverson but I just want to join the choir in praising Glyn Dillon for his The Nao of Brown graphic novel. Who are we kidding--I even did a whole podcast about it with Brandon Montclare! Maybe I'm reading too many "mainstream" comics but this to me was such a breath of fresh air. I happen to very much enjoy straight-up drama, about people and relationships, so he had already won me over. But I did not expect it to be so well written and totally immersive. The art was absolutely gorgeous and watercolored--and I personally appreciated that his style had some realism to it, with complex expressions and well-drawn clothing and little details that made this reality-based story even more real to me.
I finally got a chance to read Sean Gordon Murphy's Punk Rock Jesus, another highly-praised (and deservedly so) book. He totally nailed it. So much fun and excitement combined with actual serious questions being asked--a good handful of surprises in the story and I wish I had come up with the character "Bunny." Really cool to read his afterward about the genesis (har) of the story that makes you love it even more. I don't even want to talk about the art. Whenever I see something drawn by Murphy I have to try not to get discouraged. Like I sort of literally don't understand how he draws certain things...it blows my mind. I can learn something from almost every panel and it's still not enough.
I mentioned the writer-artist synergy thing before and what I mean by that is there's some sort of magic that happens when it all comes from one mind. And this applied to all three titles--in each one I found moments I just don't think you can have unless there's a boundless trust in the art to carry a story, or even a recognition of when art should come first in a scene. But even without that, these were all very well-crafted books, and I was insanely proud. Most artist would like to write, too, and these guys make us look good.