Happy New Year!

A happy new year to y'all, and I come bearing a little bit of a new year's treat.

My co-blogger, friend and all around good guy, Jon Gorga, made Quotes on Comics!

Isn't that a sweet way to start a new year?

Comic Biblical Book-Endings (Or Lack Thereof)

"Amazing Tales of the Bible: Noah's Ark" by Zachary Kanin in The New Yorker Nov 1, 2010: The Cartoon Issue; pgs. 84-87 (Viewable, with digital subscription, here.)

Humor and imagination can get you a long way.

I've always loved The New Yorker, both for its prose and its cartoons and, increasingly now, comics. They both have the ability to tickle your funny bone and wrinkle your brain. And Zachary Kanin is among the new talents to draft and draw in the footsteps of Peter Arno and Charles Addams as a New Yorker cartoonist.

It seems that since R. Crumb can make a comics adaptation of the book of "Genesis" and get pages of it published in The New Yorker so can any sequential artist. The New Yorker released the first preview the public ever saw of Crumb's "Book of Genesis" project in their June 8th issue of last year: the Summer Fiction issue. (Truthfully, I suspect that it was because of Crumb's successful adaptation of Biblical material that this new work even exists. "If it worked once...!")

Furthermore, comics adaptations of the Bible are hardly a new concept: "The Picture Bible", everything on this site, the SISTINE CHAPEL CEILING. That list goes on forever. That is surely why the title includes "Amazing Tales of the Bible", as an in-joke about the existence of so many crude Bible comics out there.

All that said, Zachary Kanin's short and jocular adaptation of the story of Noah and the flood is far from bad. It's light and fun material and any fan of either Bill Cosby's or Eddie Izzard's hilarious stand-up bits recounting the story of Noah will find much to enjoy here. Kanin packs a lot of great stuff into four pages. Stuff like the two panels in which Noah is revealed to be a nose picker and the narrator declares "Well, not totally righteous" followed immediately by a panel where God says: "But good enough!" The effect is a bit of humanizing while poking fun at a Biblical figure.

The best moment is unquestionably the 'cut-away' image allowing us a peek into the ark, jam-packed with pairs of animals, all squished up against each other. Cartoon reality: bones of all kinds are flexible and pliable in all directions!

Why the damn comic ends with its worst moment I'm sure I will never know, because I'm sure Kanin doesn't know: The story takes a left turn and Noah meets another strange speedo-wearing (hispanic?) vassal of god on the high seas who asks Noah if he wants another wife, because on this other ark there's a surplus. Noah doesn't answer. Then I turned the page... and discovered there was no more to the comic. (Nonsensical and sexist?)

The art is simple cartooning, to its benefit, with subtle grey washes. The simple alterations in the lines of Noah's face giving us a look of determination as he decides if he is to get all his mating pairs he MUST PUNCH OUT A RHINO is a deft use of the tools in the cartooning toolbox. The first panel on the fourth page where Noah's eyes are so large as to be out of proportion to the rest of his face... not so much.

"Amazing Tales of the Bible: Noah's Ark" is hilarious with hit or miss art.

The problem is that, like a lot of New Yorker cartoonists, Kanin just doesn't seem to care about giving his work an ending. He leaves without finishing. It's a problem seen literally a few pages previous with the only other comic in this Cartoon Issue: "Self Effacing Man" by Alex Gregory. It, too, has no ending, but it is a vignette. A short series of three thematically related moments in time. "Noah's Ark" is a series of gags and that's totally fine, but it lacks a final punchline.

A good comic, like any work of narrative art, should have a beginning, a middle and

~ @JonGorga

See what I mean?

Marvel Day-And-Dates The Ultimate "Death of Spider-Man"

What does THAT mean? Just that Marvel Comics announced plans this morning for a further flirtation with simultaneous digital and paper release of a comic-book at the same paper cost ($3.99) and this time with all the issues in a short but high-profile crossover 'event': namely the "Death of Spider-Man" from their Ultimate Comics imprint.

Those easily alarmed take NOTE: The Peter Parker in "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" isn't the same Peter Parker in "the Amazing Spider-Man". "Twice the Spider-Man!" said the marketing people in the year 2ooo and we've had two separate ongoing universes ever since.

And in the words of those marketing people: "Marvel is proud to announce that every issue of the hotly-anticipated DEATH OF SPIDER-MAN will be available day & date on the Marvel Comics app, available via iTunes for the iPad, iPhone & iPod touch."

CBR.com's article by Kiel Phegley reprinted that press release with a few comments from the main writer of the upcoming story, Brian Michael Bendis, and the interesting comment: "the issues mark the first event comics – a driving force in comics retail for the past decade – to be offered day-and-date online, though Marvel has been experimenting with high profile releases in this format including the recent 'Invincible Iron Man' Annual and the 'Ultimate Thor' mini series."

The first issues in the "Death of Spider-Man" story are to release in comics retail stores and on the iPad, in February of 2o11.

[via ComicBookResources.com]

And what of those comics retailers? Should they be worried? The crossover 'event' has meant big bucks for them for a long time. I've written on this very site about how much better suited the crossover is to digital simply because it the eliminates the: "Damn! I won't know how this story ends without reading a DIFFERENT comic-book? What the HELL!?" Press a button, problem solved much faster. Or could this prove one of the failings of digital comics? No ACTUAL HUMAN BEING to point to a comic-book and say: "Oh, I've already flipped through that, if you want the whole story you'll have to read THIS first."

However, whether or not "Death of Spider-Man" is a crossover 'event' at all is questionable to me because one of their defining characteristics is the multiplicity of inter-locking comic-book series. Not just one or two. I think one character (or set of characters) appearing in another's book is a guest appearance, two sets of characters appearing in the other's books for one story is a crossover, but a crossover 'event' requires a wider net. Those definitions are far from all-encompassing, I know, but are worth mulling over if for no other reason than nobody else seems to! Why has Phegley specified that "Death of Spider-Man" is an "event" not a "crossover event"? What does he mean when referring to other comics as "high profile" as opposed to "events"?

Is the entire family of terms: crossover, event, and crossover 'event', just marketing hype pure and simple? Perhaps this is all best left to the comics historians of the next generation to worry about, because by just about any definitions you can't call it a crossover 'event' until it's over and done. We will all have to wait and see.


P.S. ~ Josh and I have a little plan in the works to probe the nature of digital day-and-date releases in a series of reviews in the coming year!

An Opportunity I'm Not Library To Pass Up

I don't like winter break very much. It's not that I don't like the time off (I do), and it's not like I don't like my family (I love them, that's why I come home), there just isn't very much to do in Chicago's north suburbs in late December and early January. Rather than find things to occupy me, then, I have often to make them.

Luckily, my local library has a pretty sweet graphic novel and collected comics collection. It's growing, too: when I started checking books out as a freshmen in high school, the whole shebang occupied maybe four bookshelves. Today, when I walked into the library for the first time in probably about a year, it took up four whole bookcases.

Clearly, someone at the Highland Park public library likes me very much.

I always use the opportunity of being home to read some stuff I wouldn't have read otherwise; things that just aren't my speed enough to buy, or things that are just too big, unwieldy or expensive for me to consider purchasing on a normal occasion. This vacation, I've chosen three things to read, all of which encompass both categories of comics I borrow from the library.

The first, Fantagraphics' complete collection of Gilbert Hernandez's Palomar, is my introduction to Los Bros Hernandez. That I've read nothing of their work means that I have a pretty big hole in my comics knowledge, and I hope the experience of this tale, which originally ran in the Bros' Love and Rockets anthology, is as fantastic as everyone says it is. The HPPL also has Luba, Locas I and Locas II, so it's possible I'll also get to at least one of those before the break is over.

The second, Top Shelf's collection of Eddie Campbell's Alec comics, entitled The Years Have Pants, is something I've thought about buying a couple times, on the strength of recommendations alone. It's a huge, beautiful, book- I hope I enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy looking at it.

The last maxi-sized comic currently on loan to me is Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly's Local, which looks about as perfect a comic for me as there ever was. If Wood's Demo proved anything, it's that he writes a great short comics story and this collection of twelve interconnected ones, about a girl who sets out from Portland, Oregon and just travels around the country, looks perfect. And pretty.

I'm hoping to review each of them; I'm curious how their massive size and quality paper changes the experience of reading comics. I'll let you know how it goes.

The Memory's Telling of the Journey is the Worthier Part

"Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale" from Dark Horse Comics

If you are at all a fan of Joss Whedon's ongoing sci-fi story: TV's "Firefly" and its feature film sequel "Serenity", you have been waiting for this comic even if you didn't know it, because you've been waiting for this story for a long time. And it does not disappoint. If you're not familiar with Joss Whedon's 'verse this may very well be the place to start.

Chris Samnee's art is wonderful. Clean-lined and smooth, alive and full of delightful human imperfection. His work retains that feeling of being hand-made (what the art historians call gestural artwork) and the result is great cartooning. But somehow his stuff is also realistic enough that it holds some weight. His people look like their bodies are moving over real terrain and through real air. Samnee (@ChrisSamnee) is one of those fantastically rare visual artists who is perfect for comics: smartly cartoony and fluid with strong recognizable shapes that build volume and give a realitic feel to the entire product.

There really are just a handful of them alive and working in the American comics industy at any given time: Dean Haspiel and Erik Larsen are the only other two that come to my mind.

Samnee's art is never a weak link in making visual narrative art. He was unknown to me when I first saw his name attached to this project, but after I saw the preview images [like the one above] and his work on Marvel's "Thor: The Mighty Avenger" series I had no fear about his art doing justice to the brilliant work of Joss Whedon and the original cast of the TV show that started the franchise in 2oo2.

Just look at the sketches from his blog, taking the actor's face and extrapolating the character's younger self(ves). How cool is that?
Now that I sufficiently sound like I'm obsessed with Chris Samnee and you think he's paying The Long and the Shortbox Of It money for these positive reviews both Josh and I have given him now... let's move on to the story.

To clearly depict a character's emotional journey is a tough act in any narrative art medium. To do so with a character who was already well-established and defined in a completely different art medium by a writer, actor, costumers, and cinematographers? And to then do it IN REVERSE?

That's remarkable.

Just as Samnee had to reverse engineer Ron Glass' face in the character of Shepherd Derrial Book, so too did Zack Whedon (@ZDubDub) find himself challenged with crafting a single linear story (a backwards linear story) that presents us his brother's notes on the character's life-story at all different stages from childhood to the middle-aged man we met in the show's first episode when he said: not the destination, but "how you get there is the worthier part." All this material was probably intended to be revealed bit by bit over two seasons of television. Remarkably, the resulting story is smart, unnerving, and emotional. Especially on the re-read.

"The Shepherd's Tale" is an exceptionally well-written and well-drawn character biography in reverse. Buy it. Read it. Read it again.

If you've been wondering about whether these Serenity comics from Dark Horse are worth your time, this is one you should have no doubt about. If you were a fan of Joss Whedon's original TV series or the movie sequel you should not hesitate to buy and read this graphic novella. Even if you've never heard of the stuff, you can find something you will love here.

Go get one at your local comic shop! And try to enjoy your trip there because life is wonderful but will be over all too quickly and "how you get there is the worthier part"!

~ @JonGorga