What Are You Reading? with special guest Janice Headley

Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly column where we successfully answer the question in the title. Our special guest this week is Janice Headley, events coordinator, publicist and "ambassador of awesome" for Fantagraphics.

To see what Janice and the Robot 6 crew have been reading this week, click the link below.


Michael May

A while back I got interested in the old pulp character The Avenger and picked up everything my local comic shop had on him starting with DC’s Justice Inc. They only had a couple of issues, numbers 1 and 4, but I felt like I got a good indication for what the series was like. The first issue was an adaptation of a the first Avenger story from the pulps and since I’ve also read that it was pretty rough reading Denny O’Neil try to condense it into a single issue. Given that impossible task, he did a pretty good job of it though. Much better, say, than M Night Shyamalan’s trying to condense an entire season of Avatar: The Last Airbender into a two-hour film.

Justice Inc #4 is an original story (also by O’Neil) with some fun Kirby artwork and a couple of nice set pieces featuring a zeppelin and a fight on a bi-plane. It’s too bad the villain’s scheme is a sad scam in which he blows up his own passenger-filled planes for the insurance. If you’re going to kill massive amounts of innocent people, at least have the guts to try taking over the world or something.

In the “more recent, but still not exactly new” category, I saw the old DCU out with Supergirl #67. I’d pretty much given up reading comics in single issues, but was making an exception for Kelly Sue DeConnick’s brief, but extremely enjoyable run. I almost missed the significance of Supergirl’s asking a new friend not to forget about her in the last couple of pages. A sweet end to not only a fun story, but this entire version of the character. I hope to see Kelly Sue on more superhero stuff soon.

A couple of other periodical-issue exceptions I’ve been making have been Mystery Men and Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown. I just finished the fourth issue of Mystery Men and am loving the team as it’s finally coming together. I feel like they’re only just going to form in time for the climactic fifth issue and then I’ll have to say goodbye, but hopefully the series is doing well enough to warrant a sequel. I understand there’s already plans for a collected version.

As for Frankenstein, the third issue wrapped up the Flashpoint era of Frank’s story very nicely and - just as important - completely. According to friends who’ve been keeping up, that’s more than can be said of the rest of the comics in the event. Jeff Lemire and Andy Smith finish the story they began without making me buy anything else, while just teasing the New 52’s Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE enough to get me to want to check it out. It’s one of several comics I’ll be buying as single issues again thanks to the reboot.

Marvel’s also benefiting from my renewed interest in single-issue comics. As long as I’m reworking that format into my budget, I decided to check in on some favorite Marvel characters starting with Rogue in X-Men Legacy #254. Though it’s Part One of a story, it’s very much continued from whatever long epic space search the Legacy X-Men have been on for however long they’ve been on it. Part of the fun though was diving back into the X-Men feet first without trying to catch up ahead of time. That’s how I got into them in the ‘80s and it worked pretty well this time too. There are some new characters I don’t know, but I had Rogue, Gambit, and Magneto to lead me around and it was just fine. Also, the story about the team’s getting accidentally split up and searching a giant space station for Havok and Polaris while dealing with factions of warring aliens was pretty cool.

Carla Hoffman

Let me first publicly apologize to DC Comics and everyone who worked on Batwing because I am more than willing to eat my hat on this: Batwing #1 is everything I have wanted from a detective comic and some things I didn't. That issue was awesome, from the smooth, emotional artwork to the very casual but directed level of storytelling, to the costume design in action... they even changed the logo to look more clear and less I-broke-it-with-a-hammer. Within three pages, we know everything we need and no one stops the whole book to repeat origins or bother with long exposition. The supporting cast range from 'hey, African Alfred!' to a cop who could be better and is slowly being fostered by Batwing's alter ego to strive for more than what little justice they can get. I expected absolutely nothing from this book and it worked its little comic book butt off making me invest in it. I'm going to make sure we sell out of Batwing by the end of the week because this feels more like a new fresh start than anything I've read yet in the reboot.

Back in my home country of Marvel comics, the third issue of Greg Rucka and little mentioned superstar Mark Checchetto's run on Punisher came out this week also and man, if that isn't a good story. Checcetto is becoming the name I want to spell because his artwork is both strangely apt and far too beautiful for Frank Castle. A street level crime story has a certain look to it, or so we have dubbed in modern comics: there's going to be a lot of blacks, shadowed faces, newspaper clippings, narrow panels of just someone's eyes, etc. Things you don't look for but know will be there when someone says "There's been a murder." Not only does Checcetta's art fit the bill with some moody dark pictures, violence and artistic representations of pain, but people's faces are remarkably beatific. It's something in the eyes I think, but Frank Castle is probably the best looking I've seen him ever. Best of all, it doesn't take you out of the story; Greg Land's art might remove you because you're trying to figure out where he took that photo reference from, but Checcetto's work seems organic. Like all this darkness has some light within it as well? Man, that sounds corny, but it's the best analogy I got.

Tom Bondurant

I've been enjoying the reprints in the DC Comics Classics Library: Batman Annuals Vol. 1, and specifically the first Batman Annual (Summer 1961). These stories were collected around the theme "1,001 Secrets Of Batman And Robin," and by and large they're well-crafted little tales shedding light on particular aspects of the Dynamic Duo's methods. "How To Be The Batman" finds Robin re-educating his amnesiac mentor; "Untold Tales of the Bat-Signal" strings together vignettes about the signal's role in various cases, "The Origin of the Bat-Cave" takes readers back to the pre-Gotham frontier times, etc. Nothing too complicated, and each like catnip to the Bat-fan hungry for whys and hows. I was surprised at how many of these stories I'd read years, if not decades ago -- not in the '50s, of course, but in previous reprint collections -- and they hold up pretty well.

Otherwise, I've been re-reading the first several issues of American Flagg!, simply because it had been a while, and there's never really a bad time for Flagg!. I just finished the second arc, "Southern Comfort," which spans issues #4-6. Not that I think the series peaked early, but this has always been one of my favorite Flagg! arcs. It opens up the book's scope beyond the Chicago Plexmall, it introduces a few significant supporting characters (and Flagg's standard disguise, Pete Zarustica), and it kicks off with a nifty, almost standalone story about Flagg and his friends foiling a blimpjacking. Flagg! went on the road a few more times, including to Canada, England, and Russia, but none of those stories were quite as tight and fun as "Southern Comfort."

Brigid Alverson

Although I had read the first few chapters of Americus in webcomic form, for an interview here at Robot 6 last year, when the finished copy arrived I read it in one sitting. The story that drives the book is about a religious fanatic's attempt to have a series of fantasy novels removed from the library of a small town in Oklahoma, but I found that to be the least interesting part of the book. The "Christian" character seemed like a caricature taken from internet postings, rather than a real person with thoughts and emotions (and even doubts), and in a book filled with quirky, nuanced characters, her lack of depth is noticeable. What makes this a great book is Hill and Reed's portrayal of their protagonist, Neil, a teenage boy making the awkward transition from middle school to high school and losing his best friend (who is shipped away to military school) at the same time. Neil starts out being the Mikey of Americus, Oklahoma -- he hates everything, and not without reason‹but as the book moves along he finds more and more kindred spirits. The authors intersperse sequences from their fictitious fantasy novel into the story, switching the drawing style to differentiate them from everyday life. Despite its one flaw, this book is a great coming-of-age story with a (mostly) likable cast and a host of small subplots. The book issue is resolved neatly (and predictably), but some of the other stories look like they will continue beyond the boundaries of the book, and I'd love to see an Americus 2 that leaves controversy to the side and simply continues to tell the stories of these characters.

Shutterbox, by Rikki and Tavisha Simons, seems like the sort of book that the fundamentalists of Americus would try to ban. It's a fantasy tale about a girl who travels in her dreams to an alternate universe that is the home of the muses who inspire humans. Megan, the likable everygirl heroine, is a sort of supernatural exchange student who arrives at Meridiah University in pajamas and bunny slippers and encounters elf-like creatures, a ghost in her camera, and several handsome young men who don't seem to be telling the truth. It's a good example of an American graphic novel that picks up on the styles and tropes of manga and reinterprets them to make something completely new. The first four volumes of the series were published by Tokyopop, and the Simonses are now self-publishing them, along with volume five and an eventual sixth volume, digitally.

Tim O'Shea

So my regular comic book store since 1977 (Book Nook, no link because it's an established Atlanta store that has no interest in the Internet) sold out of many of the DC new 52 fairly quickly--and I had been unable to make it to the store on Wednesday. Hankering to check out the new Batgirl, I called nearby stores on Thursday around 6 PM. The first store did not even pick up the phone. I dialed twice just to make sure I had not misdialed (and checked their posted hours, they were open for another hour). And the phone rang off the hook. I am not naming the store because, hey everybody can have a bad night. The second store I called, Galactic Quest, answered the phone on the third ring--and quickly I found out they had a copy of Batgirl.

Galactic Quest strikes me as the kind of store that will win a lot of new customers from the new DC books (and having just celebrated its 20th year in business, it's a known business in that part of town). The clerk who answered the phone was even more helpful when I got to the store (it was a 15 mile drive in rush hour traffic, so I was pushing my luck just getting there). She directed me to the new releases and when I expressed pleasure that they had a copy of Batgirl, she immediately (but not in a pushy manner) informed me of their pull policy, if I'd like to sign up. When I explained I had a regular store--she backed off on the sell, but was still very friendly. When I noted that Stormwatch had sold out she snagged me a copy from the back that had been set aside, "but not spoken for." When I thanked her and admitted I was afraid I was not gonna make it before closing, she offered (mind you, to a first time customer): "Give me a call if you are going to be five minutes late, I can keep the store open for you." That is customer service that keeps a store open for 20 years, folks.

On to the books, Action Comics #1 was a pleasant surprise for me. Based on the advance art, my expectations had been lowered (and fortunately Rags Morales delivered a solid visual tale). But really this is a story that benefits from the reboot. Rather than being about the iconic Superman, this was a street-level hero Superman--and I like it. I will be back for issue 2.

As for Batwing #1, I concur with Carla's assessment. And I have a hard time liking a Judd Winick story these days typically, unless it involves Barry Ween.

Stormwatch #1: I bought this because Paul Cornell is writing it, plain and simple. Cornell was really trying to cover a lot of ground and introduce all of the cast (a thing that Justice League failed to do last week), so that did win me into coming back.

Batgirl #1: "Feeling a creep crumble under my feet,,,I didn't even know how much I missed it." That line may alienate some, but for me it's the Gail Simone written line that hooked me.

Janice Headley

Where do I even start?!?!  I'm a voracious reader and, as anyone who's ever met me at the Fantagraphics table at a comic-con can attest, an excited chatterbox when it comes to books I love!  So, I was thrilled to be invited to share my recent comix loves for Robot 6!

So, I recently finished reading the gorgeous Big Questions collection from Anders Nilsen.  I followed the series here and there during its decade-long run, but admittedly missed out on a few earlier issues, so I'm grateful to Drawn & Quarterly for this incredible 600+ page book.  Honestly, I wish there were 600+ more pages to read.

When I finished Big Questions, I still wanted more from Anders.  I'd already read his Fanta titles, Monologues for the Coming Plague, and his Ignatz title The End, but for years I had shied away from his acclaimed memoir Don't Go Where I Can't Follow.  Y'see, I cry... easily.  I cry at commercials, I cry at video games, I cry when I'm doing long division and I have a remainder left over.  Mike Baehr (Director of Marketing at Fantagraphics, and Director of Being My Husband) reluctantly pulled the book down from the high shelf, and handed it over to me with great concern.  And yeah.  Of course.  I cried.  Who didn't???  But, god, I'm glad I finally got around to reading it, and it was the perfect companion to Big Questions, whose title page has the owl simply saying, " You must live every day as though it might be your last."  Um... sorry... there's something in my eye...

And while I'm on a teary-eyed thread, Love & Rockets: New Stories 4 pretty much wrecked me.

On a more chipper note, I picked up some new work from Esther Pearl Watson at the San Diego Comic Con. Her Fun Chicken booth with her husband Mark Todd is always on my "must-visit" list at any convention. This time around, I picked up their collaborative comic Nubbin & Nutz, a hilarious and wacky adventure at the grocery store.

I also picked up another collaboration Esther did with Martha Rich, the 2008 mini-comic Beauty Across America, which documents a cross-country trip they took, interviewing people along the way about their feelings on what makes a woman "beautiful."  I'm bewildered that I had never picked this mini-comic up before, because the topic of "society's definition of beauty" is one I tackled myself in an old issue of my zine, copacetic.  Their findings were truly inspiring, and, well, beautiful!

I thought I had caught up with the Invincible Summer series by Nicole J. Georges when I picked up Issue #18 at the Stumptown Comics Fest earlier this year.  But, apparently, she just released Invincible Summer #20, a split with Clutch, so I clearly need to get on it.  Speaking of Stumptown, I've been loving the "Living Things" series that I picked up there from PDX publishers Little Otsu.  My favorites in this series of mini-art books include Lilli Carré's and Jo Dery's.

And speaking of art books, Tom Neely's "painted novel" The Wolf is a stunner!  We passed around a copy excitedly behind the Fantagraphics booth at San Diego Comic Con, and we're over the moon that the Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery gets to host his signing on his upcoming book tour.  If you live in Seattle, please join us for that on September 24th!

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