Coming Soon to A Spinner Rack Near You: Seconds

Seconds, Bryan Lee O'Malley's follow up to Scott Pilgrim, is due in July. Mosey on over to io9 for some art.  

Competition and the Comics Marketplace

Although I'm trying to move away from writing about industry news (there are other, much better sources, for that kind of info, chief among them Comics Reporter and Bleeding Cool, the latter of which I lifted the substantive content of this report from), it seemed worth noting that both Marvel and DC dropped below 30% dollar share of the comics market in November, particularly as both companies finally seem to be abandoning lower price points for higher ones.

Comics are, I think, the most expensive form of popular entertainment. People complain about the cost of going to the movies more often and more loudly, sure, but a movie typically lasts in between 90 and 120 minutes and costs, in my recent experience, anywhere between $8 and $14. A 32-page comic, read exceptionally slowly, takes maybe a quarter of an hour from font to back, and costs between $2.99 and $3.99. I won't do the math for you-- the difference is clear. Obviously, you get to keep your comic book, and buying a DVD is significantly more expensive than going out to the movies (something, incidentally, I never hear anyone complain about), but the experience of buying and reading individual comic books is, I think, closer to the ephemeral experience of going to the movies than the permanent ownership of a DVD; you buy your comics, you read them, and then you put them away. They go into your longbox, out of sight, unlikely ever to be read again.

And, so, that people are choosing to bring their money elsewhere is significant, since it suggests that readers are trying unfamiliar things.  As Marvel and DC continue to stumble (the latter, perhaps, more than the former) they may very well get scared. Since neither is likely to retreat on an increased price point, they'll either double down on what isn't working (which will continue to drive people towards more inventive publishers, which will in turn fund greater output from those publishers), or, hopefully, they'll try more new and possibly interesting things. Either way, if you're a comics reader, these numbers are a good sign. 

' "Year One" and a Half' or 'How I Learned to Stop Worrying and LoveScott Snyder's "Zero Year" '


We ask this awful little question of our art and our artists often. Why did you make this choice? Why didn't we get to see that thing? Why does this entire thing exist?

(Ask me someday about the time I met Rick Remender. Boy, did I put my foot in my mouth!)

You're far and away not going to be the first or the last to ask that question about the current epic Batman saga from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo: "Zero Year," yet another reimagining/updating of Bruce Wayne's return to his corrupt hometown and first steps toward becoming the world's greatest crime-fighter.

The Kane/Finger Golden Age original
Yeah. Batman's origin. Bob Kane and Bill Finger's story. Again. Why is Snyder biting off more than he can chew? Why do this again?

I asked it. Vehemently, actually. Why measure yourself directly against the greats of the past? Why take the risk?

But I'm reminded of one of my proudest academic moments: I sat discussing "Othello" in a freshman year Shakespeare class at Bard College and another student questioned Shakespeare's placement of a long side-narrative soliloquy spoken by the poor, much-abused O himself, pretty much right in the middle of the otherwise fast-paced big suicidal finale. 'Why do this whole side-monologue-thing?' my fellow student asked. And he wasn't entirely wrong. But I blurted out something along the lines of: Because it's FUCKING BADASS! That's why! He put it in because it's good!

Now we're less than half-way through the Snyder/Capullo team's eleven-issue-long-origum-opus, but I'm going to go out on a limb and declare it to be GOOD.

The third issue makes remarkably intelligent and brave storytelling chronology choices I've never seen in comics before. American superhero comics, certainly. These three panels below are in their intended order but Panel 2 takes place before both Panel 1 and Panel 3. Somehow this works, despite all sanity.

The jarringly beautiful storytelling on display in the new "Batman" #23
Seriously, read issue #23 if you read nothing else of the story. It's pretty amazing. If you want to hear more about my thoughts on the quality of the issues, it just so happens to be the subject of the first episode of my new podcast recorded in comics-related NYC locales reviewing recent comics related to those locales.
(Listen here, I'd love it if you do!)

Capullo's hologram bats...
Perhaps strangely, perversely even, the parts of "Zero Year" I'm enjoying the most are the parts that reference and directly or indirectly contradict Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's celebrated work from 1987: "Batman: Year One."

I suppose that shouldn't be so strange since I've said for years that although "Year One" is good, it's not really Batman's story but James Gordon's. Until the Miller/Mazzucchelli story, Commissioner Gordon had been a paper-thin character. Miller introduced us to LIEUTENANT Gordon, made him ex-military, gave him an ex-wife, and made him extremely angry. As insipid as that makes it sound, he lives and breathes as a vivid personality in the books. 

So, for example, we've been given very little of Gordon so far in "Zero Year." I have no idea where he comes from or if he has a pregnant wife fed-up with his workaholism, but he is certainly angry. And tough. The few times we see Snyder's Gordon have had added weight for me because nothing has contradicted Miller's Gordon. They are, so far, identical characters.

The same is nearly true of Bruce and Alfred. And, more importantly, their relationship.

Miller/Mazzucchelli 80s take on the moment
In-between page 8 and page 22 of the first issue of the 1980s "Year One", Bruce is put through a torturous evening his first night as a crime-fighter that forces him to rethink his entire plan. Until he sees a bat fly into his father's study and realizes he needs to make people fear him on a primal level if he's going to win his war. A similar event happens over in the entire third issue of "Zero Year", in the aftermath of just about everything in issues #21 and #22.

3 panels- expanded to 14 pages- expanded to roughly a full 22-page comic-book.

None of the three make it explicitly clear that all the events depicted happen on the same night or that they don't, which keeps it loose. Most importantly, we see a scene of Alfred and Bruce after the resourceful butler has performed the life-saving surgery Miller hinted at and the scene is sad, beautiful, and rings true. I imagine the scenes Snyder wrote fitting precariously in-between the pages Miller wrote, the pages Miller wrote filling-out the panels Bob Kane wrote, and we get something even more powerful than each was separately. Seventy-plus years in the making.

(I actually wrote an editorial years ago about how awesome it is when this happens. Intertextuality, yo!)

Snyder/Capullo version of the same
The answer to this article's initial question could be many-fold. Snyder thought he deserved a crack at it. (He may as well be right.) Capullo wanted to do it. Snyder thought "Batman: Year One" didn't have enough Batman in it. (I'd say he's right.) DC Editorial figured it would sell them some comics. (They definitely turned out to be right.) Some fan somewhere asked for it. Liberals hate Frank Miller now. Everyone agreed it could be badass.

Who knows? But, in other words...

Why not?

~ @JonGorga

Wednesday's New Things: Remender, Rios and Kelly Sue

1) One of my serious flaws is a reader of comics is that I have trouble reading single issues more than once, even if I've really enjoyed myself or I'm confused by something. This is frustrating, of course, because I've read all of these comics I've only read one time and which are now sitting around, taking up space. Luckily, sometimes, there's stuff that's so good that I will read it twice-- like the first issue of Pretty Deadly. If this second issue is even as close to as good as the first one was, it'll be worth the price, no matter how many times you read it.

2) I've always been a little ambivalent about Rick Remender. His books are bad (Uncanny Avengers) just as often as they're good (Captain America), and he seems to be good at very particular, very odd, things. Black Science, though, is a book that looks pretty odd; a psycha-sci-fi-fantasy odyssey through the impossible. Sort of like Fraction's Defenders, but with more latitude. How could you say no to an elevator pitch like that? 

Chatter: Kieron Gillen

If Young Avengers ever became just another Superhero book it would depress the living hell out of me. I’d always rather be a firework rather than a low-watt bulb.
Kieron Gillen, talking about why he and Jamie McKelvie are ending their Young Avengers run with #15. It's a shame that its over so soon, but I'm absolutely with Gillen here; the fact that comics have traditionally been serialized, and that fans always want more rather than less, has meant that many good stories go on long enough that they stop being good stories. The bonus here is that we'll see that third Phonograph volume in the near future, and I expect that, sooner rather than later, Marvel will hand something else to this lot. 

Coming Soon to A Spinner Rack Near You: Ms. Marvel

The new Ms. Marvel series, coming out in February, is to be written by G. Willow Wilson and drawn by Adrian Alphona and will feature a new character, a shape shifting Muslim-American teenager named Kamala Khan. Today's announcement came by way of a New York Times article
The creative team is braced for all possible reactions. “I do expect some negativity,” Ms. Amanat said, “not only from people who are anti-Muslim, but people who are Muslim and might want the character portrayed in a particular light.” 
But “this is not evangelism,” Ms. Wilson said. “It was really important for me to portray Kamala as someone who is struggling with her faith.” The series, Ms. Wilson said, would deal with how familial and religious edicts mesh with super-heroics, which can require rules to be broken.
I've read Wilson's work before, and remember particularly liking her graphic novel, Cairo. I have every confidence that this book will be very good. That Times article goes a little too far out of its way to pat Marvel on the back, though, and it is important to remember that comics' diversity problem is not going to be solved by little, well publicized displays here and there. This is definitely a step in the right direction, moreso than Mighty Avengers was, and it will be interesting to see the reaction, both inside the comics community and outside of it, as we move closer to seeing this new Ms. Marvel in print. 

The Glamoured Disenchanted

Yesterday, Disenchanted, the Si Spurrier written, German Erramouspe drawn, Avatar published, weekly digital serial about a city for the English fay, premiered online. You can find it here. Unsurprisingly, given Spurrier's recent successes, it's pretty good.

Not perfect, mind you; for one, Erramouspe's art is what you expect from Avatar, heavy on the exploitation blood and guts, serviceable if not stunning. This has its benefits, of course, pure visceral thrill, for one, but it also facilitates storytelling; this sequence, for example, or this one, reveals the scope of what Erramouspe and Spurrier are up to and it does so without demanding that the reader stop reading for too long to admire the art. This focus, though, shows some further cracks, most notably that this first episode suffers from a debilitating case of what you might call world building syndrome. Rather develop a single narrative as a way in, Spurrier gives us several concurrent stories: Tibitha, the elder who teaches the young the old ways, a pair of cops, some disaffected, alienated, and recently arrived, day laborers. Still, although he doesn't develop any of the stories, save maybe the last one, enough for this initial installment to be satisfying, this approach, agains, opens up the world of Disenchanted in a way that gives a larger sense of what it is that the story is after. It's enough to pique curiosity, but not enough to pull you through; if you think you'd like a cross between Spenser, Dickens, and The Wire, then it's certainly enough to bring you back next week. 

Of course, one of the intriguing things about this project is the way it integrates digital and physical distribution; unlike traditional single issues, which, I think, are still primarily physical objects that some people read on their iPads, or webcomics, which are digital first and released into the physical world at intermittent intervals, if it all, or, even, what you might call digital first floppies, like the stuff Monkey Brain puts out, which are slowly being released in physical form by partnerships between that publisher and more traditional comics companies, Disenchanted's episodes are published online first and then, every six months or so, will be collected into trade paperbacks. If you don't want to come back next week, you can come back in six months and read a much more developed story at a much faster pace. Following it either way, you get a significant number of pages at a relatively short interval. The two squarish pages available online are likely going to be stitched together to make a single page for the book release (which, I think, will make the sequence I linked to above interesting in a different way; you can see where it's going to be pushed together into a splash page, it could evoke wonder, rather than being a formally unusual sequence), you're getting 12 pages an episode, 48+ pages a month, over a six month period. That's twice what you get from a monthly releasing Big Two comic book, on a pay if you want scheme. It's a pretty good deal, one that Avatar knows works from Freakangels and Crossed, and its nice to see them keeping at it. 

Wednesday's New Thing: Pretty Deadly and Velvet, A Double Feature Comic Show

Going on two years now, Image has absolutely been killing it, releasing books that are consistently among the best mainstream comics going. This streak seems likely to continue with the releases of the Western Pretty Deadly (written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and drawn by Emma Rios) and the espionage thriller Velvet (put together by long time Long and Shortbox of It! favorite team Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting). Without having read either, I will with some confidence put them in the company of Young Avengers and Satellite Sam as books to follow out of 2013. 

Wednesday's New Things: Lightning Round

To make up for my absence the last couple of weeks, and because this week brings a plethora of exciting new comics, here is a slightly different than usual version of Wednesday's New Things, a lightly annotated list of things worth taking a peak at that come out this week.

Leading the pack is a period piece, set in ancient Greece and written by Kieron Gillen. From the preview, stunningly pencilled by Ryan Kelly and colored by Jordie Bellaire, you can see that it has that typically, frankly, Gillen. Do you think I can just send him my money by airmail? Or do I have to go to a comic book store?

This looks pretty fun. Darrow is a practitioner of a smoother version of the raw, loose style that I mostly associate with Frank Quitely, and which you can also see in the work of Chris Burnham, Simon Roy and Nick Pitarra. When a prose story came out, I think a year ago, featuring this character, I passed because, well, prose. But Darrow's art is great, emphasizing the movement that those artist do so well without any of the attendant squishiness, so I'm likely to pick this up the next time I head to the shop.

 It's nice to see that Vertigo is back in the game in a serious way. After the departure of Karen Berger, the imprint, which had seemed moribund for a while, really looked decrepit. Recently, though, they've published Trillium, FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics (the poorly renamed book formerly known as Collider) and, now, this, which, with established author Caitlin Kitteridge as its writer, seems an awful lot like Vertigo projects of old. I've never heard of either contributor, and the story seems to fit squarely in the gothic horror genre (not that there's anything wrong with that), but the art, by Inaki Miranda, looks great.

I bought the first two issues of this, didn't read them, and then moved. They're in my short box, alternatively laughing at me and looking at me longingly. The pricing on the trade edition of this book's first volume is tempting-- less than $10, for four issues? I suspect the subsequent volumes won't be as cheap, but even so, at $3.50 a pop for individual issues, I save money as long as a four issue collections costs less than $14. Is that enough of a savings, considering I already own the first two issues? As I reconsider my comics purchasing strategy, reorienting myself towards buying trades in the case of books like this, I think it may be. 

These lego variants are fun. Not enough fun that I want to own one, but, still, fun.

These Best American Comics anthologies seem like good books for people like me, who don't have the time, energy, or cash to pick through everything that comes out in a year. Although I think I'll wait until the end of the year to pick it up, it's a pretty sure buy.

Hey! New Paul Pope is always exciting. 

The Return of: Stephan Franck

Earlier this year, I interviewed animator and comicsmith Stephan Franck about his creator owned comic book Silver and the recent completion of his Smurfs special The Legend of Smurfy Hollow. Stephan contacted me at the beginning of the week to let me know that you can purchase the second of issue starting this Wednesday, via Dark Planet Comics' web store. The first issue was available on Comixology and in one or two brick and mortar retailers-- presumably you will eventually be able to find it in those places too. He says that the second issue "takes a clear turn for the supernatural," and I can tell you that the things that made the first issue great have gotten better here. While Franck's drawing in the first issue seemed a little rushed, he's really on top of his game now, and his compositions, and his storytelling, have gotten increasingly interesting. Silver is just beginning to hit its stride, and, if you're interested in vampires or heist stories, I'd give it a shot.

Also upcoming is the debut of The Legend of Smurfy Hollow, which will first air on ABC Family on 10/27. I don't have a television, so I won't be able to watch, but it's supposed to be great!

Wednesday's New Things: Spiegelman Looks Back, Chester Brown and Brandom Graham Too

1) I confess that, in my ongoing attempts to give myself a comprehensive comics education, I haven't yet gotten to Chester Brown-- it's hard! There's just so much good stuff. I just got to the Hernandez Brothers. It's not like I have a syllabus, and a lot of what I read is dependent on what I can find at the library or justify acquiring based on temporarily decreased cost or temporarily heightened interest. I've been meaning to get to Brown for a while, though. Even amongst the generally self-revealing autobio comics crowd, he seems to be particularly honest, with books like The Playboy and Paying For It, in which he shares parts of his life that others would scarcely admit to in private, let alone in public. And, tellingly, Paying For It isn't some kind of redemption memoir, some kind of claim that he's become a better person and that he doesn't do that (that being seeing prostitutes) anymore. Louis Riel, though, is a fundamentally different kind of book-- a comics history in an academic frame. Brown, like Art Spiegelman, seems interested in pushing the boundaries of what people can do with the genre, but in terms of content rather than in terms of form. The mere fact that this new release is a tenth anniversary edition rather than just a new edition suggests that Brown and Drawn & Quarterly believe that this is a different sort of comic book, the initial publication of which is worth marking, which makes this book interesting both as an artifact of a certain moment in the history of comics publishing as well as an achievement by one of the form's most celebrated artists. 

2) Speaking of Art Spiegelman, he's another interesting guy. Maus is essential reading for anyone interested in comics, of course, and Breakdowns and Meta-Maus seem like good resources for people interesting in pulling apart the form a little. Although I hesitate to recommend retrospective books, or comics art shows like the one this is attached to, to beginners, I do like that it apparently reprints some stuff that's hard to get your hands on now and, as important as Spiegelman is, it's nice to see a high profile bibliographical essay published by a mainstream art comics publisher rather than an academic press. 
3) Another reprint worth looking at this week is the collection of some of Brandon Grahm's loose Multiple Warheads material. Graham is one of my favorite mainstream comics writers and artists-- King City is one of the best serial comics of the past few years, easily-- I just haven't gotten a chance to read any of this stuff yet, in part, I guess, because I was waiting for the new mini from last year to be released as a collection. This, however, seems like a much better place to start. 
4) Just so I don't seem like I'm mired in the past, here's a never before published book from Ales Kot and Michael Walsh! The premise is a little tired, Kot knows it: "What happens when you grow up in a world that celebrates murder as a means to an end? What happens when you’re taken in by a team of people who exploit war scenarios while looking like the white knights? What happens when you start snapping out of it?" In this way, Zero seems like a sort of converse of 24, movies, The Bourne Identity with implications that reach past what it means for the spy's life. If that weren't enough of an enticement on its own, the art resists the compulsion to make stories like this either hyper realistic or grim and gritty. It'll be interesting to see if there's a tension between story and content here and, if there is, how that might reflect Kot and Walsh's view of the world they've built. 

Craig Thompson and Process on Instagram

Earlier today, via facebook, Craig Thompson announced a new instagram, where he's posting pictures of his process for his upcoming all ages outer space adventure, Space Dumplins. I can't post the pictures here, but using that particular popular smartphone application to document a workspace as well as and alongside documentation of his process is clever; it's a good reminder that comics, any art, really, is created by people in places at a certain point in time and that to argue otherwise is contradicted by the evidence at hand. 

Coming Soon To A Spinner Rack Near You: The Complete Eightball

Via Comics Reporter. It's a good time to be getting interested in Dan Clowes, I guess, between this and the show that's entering its final month at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. I've been meaning to write about my two trips there over the summer-- soon, I hope. Certainly before the show closes. 

Coming Soon To A Spinner Rack Near You: Sandman Overture

My resolve to trade wait Sandman: Overture is eroding quickly. 

"Much More Intimate Than A Recipe In A Cook Book": Talking with Lauren Jordan About Food Zine!

Last week, I shared my conversation with Tony Breed about his upcoming food minicomic Foodwise, which debuts this weekend at SPX. Breed's work, however, isn't the only thing that cooks and comics fans should be looking out for in Bethesda; also available will be the compilation Food Zine! put together by cartoonist Lauren Jordan. For those of you, like me, who can't make it to Maryland this weekend, Jordan is also selling the book via a crowdfunding campaign. Below, she and I talk about why she wanted to put Food Zine! together and about the advantages and disadvantages of comics cook books. 

JK: Where did you get the idea for Food Zine!? Why did you decide to put together a book like this?

LJ: I have very strong positive associations with food and art, and in my experience, artists tend to be wonderful cooks. 

In college my friends and I would get together and do weekly potlucks. We were a bunch of (mostly) art majors and were incredibly busy but always made time to cook and eat together once a week. I think those meals were what got most of us through the semester.

Earlier this year, I went to Montreal for a New Years bash along with a bunch of other artists, mostly illustrators and cartoonists. Almost every meal we ate over the course of that trip was homemade and eaten at a table like a family. It was incredibly special for me, because many of my friends live across the country (or in other countries) and comic conventions tend to be one of the few times I get to see them. And conventions aren’t the ideal environment for cooking large family dinners.

There’s just something about sharing food with others that resonates very strongly with me. Making food for people I care about is one of my main forms of expressing love. So Food Zine! came out of a desire to recreate the experience of sharing meals with loved ones, but in a form that could reach as many people as possible.

JK: Can you give me a sense of the breadth of material in Food Zine!?

LJ: Food Zine! ended up being quite a bit bigger than I had anticipated when I first started the project, with 60 pages of content from 32 artists. Entries range from illustrations and pin-ups of food to recipe comics featuring everything from breakfast foods to spicy dinner meals to favorite cookie recipes from childhood.

It’s a book with a lot of heart, and there’s some jokes in there too.

JK: What were you looking for in submissions? How did you go about putting together the book?

I was mostly looking for cohesion and clarity. When you’re curating, you have to find a common theme among all the work that’s presented to you, which can be tough! When I put out a call for submissions on tumblr and twitter I wanted to keep an open mind, because ultimately the work submitted would be what dictated what the book was about.

But most of the submissions I received were very in-line with my personal vision for the book, which was comics and illustrations that celebrate food. It was really exciting to see how well all of it came together and how cohesive all of the submissions were despite how open-ended the prompt was.

JK: Is there something that you think comics and illustration based comic books might do better than prose ones? Conversely, do you think there are things that prose recipes might do better?

LJ: The advantage that comics have over prose recipes is that you’re able to explain a lot of steps simply with images. But comics also take longer to explain a recipe, and take up more space in a book than a standard prose recipe does.

However, comics allow you to use characters and narrative to your advantage, to build a relationship with the reader. It’s more much more intimate than a recipe in a cookbook.

JK: Do you find that recipe comics are often somehow different from what a casual reader might recognize as "comics"? If so, in what ways?

LJ: I suppose the biggest difference is that recipe comics typically don’t follow a traditional narrative structure, and they tend to focus more on relaying information than on establishing plot and developing characters. But there are usually still characters (even just the artist themselves) and they usually have some kind of emotional rational for sharing a recipe.

So recipe comics are kind of… narrative infographics?

But even then, just in Food Zine!, there’s so many different ways people approach recipe comics. Some have narratives followed by a recipe while some use the recipe as the narrative. There’s some comics have no recipe at all, and there’s some comics that show how to make a dish visually but have no written instructions.

JK: Is there a recipe in the zine that you're particularly excited to try?

LJ: There’s a lot of them! I’m more of a baker so the cookie recipes first come to mind, but there’s a pancake recipe I’m looking to try, as well (because I am terrible at making pancakes).

JK: I know that Food Zine will be available at SPX and is also currently available via IndieGoGo. Once that ends, will there be a way to obtain the book?

LJ: Extra copies left over after SPX (and after all the contributing artists get their books) will go up in a Big Cartel store. Depending on how things go, I may print a second run of books. And the PDF of the book will be available for purchase online, as well.

JK: Is there anything else you would like to add?

LJ: Please consider ordering Food Zine! through the IndieGoGo campaign. If you’re unable to donate but still want to help, you can tweet or blog about the zine!

And I want to give a huge thanks to all of the artists who contributed to Food Zine!, and to everyone who has donated to the indiegogo campaign or spread the word. This project wouldn’t have been possible without all of the support! 

Wednesday's New Things: Hail and Farewell

1. It's a real shame to see Matt Fraction walk away from Marvel's first family; although his Fantastic Four didn't set the world on fire or anything, I thought he was doing a pretty good job following Jonathan Hickman on the book, in particular how he was dealing with  bad dad Reed Richards. And, of course, his madcap FF is excellent, buoyed by the excellent visual storytelling of Mike and Laura Allred.  Of the post-Fraction two, I think I'll stick with FF alone. I'm assuming that they're going to relaunch Fantastic Four with a new creative team sometime early next year and, given my newfound fondness for these characters, I'll think I'll pick it back up then. In the meantime, it's nice to see Fraction move from the kind of shared universe series where he often seems cramped into a wider portfolio of books were he has more room to play-- very few people, for example, have any skin in the game when it comes to the Inhumans, Satellite Sam is just hitting its stride, and his upcoming Sex Criminals, from Image, is intriguing and totally untethered to anything except his imagination. Hopefully, his work in those places, like with Immortal Iron Fist, Invincible Iron Man, and Hawkeye, will be illuminating. 

2. Speaking of unexplored sandboxes, Fred Van Lente follows up on the success of his Archer and Armstrong revival with another legacy project, the resurrection of Dell Comics' short live Brain Boy hero. It seems like a halfway decent espionage-with-super powers story, mixed with some of the alienated hero elements of a book like Chew or of the kind that the X-Men were once premised on. Certainly worth taking a shot on, if you've got some extra room on your pull this week. Preview here.

3. Also of interest this week is Greg Pak's Eternal Warrior, for Valiant, a book which is connected to Pak's former partner-in-crime Van Lente's Archer and Armstrong. The obvious concern here is that humor and absurdity of A+A will be absent from a book whose main character is Very Serious-- let's call it the difference between Incredible Hercules and Herc. Still, as with all the Valiant books, the art will be bright and legible, which will do wonders for making the darker, but probably not edgy content, palatable. The preview, at least, suggests that we should expect good things. 

"I Like Making Comics, And I Like Making Food, So I Made Comics About Food": A Conversation with Tony Breed

Last year, I had the great fortune of attending the Small Press Expo, or SPX, held every year in Bethesda, Maryland. It's a great show, packed, but also small and easy to maneuver around, and just filled with great comics. It's the kind of show I always want when I'm stuck in the grand hall of NYCC. Since I moved away from the East Coast last month, I won't be able to attend SPX this year. I've been browsing their tumblr, though, where they've been previewing all manner of cool looking things, including a minicomic called Foodwise, by cartoonist Tony Breed. Last week I spoke to Tony, who also does the weekly webcomic Finn and Charlie are Hitched, about the mini for a story I'm writing on food comics, and he very kindly agreed to let me share the interview, and a preview, with you. You can see another one of his recipes on his tumblr.

JK: Why did you chose a deconstructed comics format, rather than something more typically comics looking? 

TB: My weekly comic is very formalist: it's almost always three panels, and you have to do a lot of editing to fit it in. I enjoy that challenge, and I don't want to change the way the strip works. At the same time I do want to push my creative muscles by working in other styles. Lately, I have become interested in the looser, more ruminant style that people like Corinne Mucha use, and I thought that it was a good way to talk about food. The comics in Foodwise aren't so much telling stories as they are talking about food, and about how I approach food.

JK:  Why choose comics at all, rather than a more traditional prose recipe format? 

TB: Comics are just the means I'm using these days to tell stories and talk about things. And again, I've been working in one style for several years, and I trying to push myself and try different things. Put another way, I like making comics, and I like food, so I made comics about food.

JK: Do you think that there are some things that comics cook books might do better than prose ones? Conversely, do you think there might be something that prose books do better? 

TB: I should say that there's a big difference between my recipes and cookbook recipes. Cookbook recipes are typically extensively kitchen-tested to make sure that a person following the directions will get the same result. My recipes are mostly very loose: cook about so long, add some butter, maybe add parsley. What I hope is that people will learn how to think about food, rather than learning how to make one thing. I think that using a comic form changes peoples expectations a bit; it seems less formal, so they expect something less formal. At the same time, using the visuals of a comic can make cooking seem very easy (which it is, generally). One person has told me that he made the gratin recipe, and commented that my comic made it seem really easy. (And I confess, that visual trick I used to show the layers in the gratin is something I learned from reading Lucy Knisley.)

                          This chicken gratin recipe originally appeared on Tony Breed's tumblr. 
JK: Why did you decide to do Foodwise?

TB: I decided to do Foodwise because the chicken and gratin recipe was so popular on Tumblr, there seemed to be interest in more. And I felt I could do more. I think about food constantly, so there's a lot to say.

JK: I noticed that one of the comics you sent me mentions that a recipe is vegan and gluten free-- is your diet restricted in that (or any other) way? If it is, how did that influence the book? 

TB: I don't have any food restrictions in my diet. I've got a couple of minor sensitivities (peanuts, dairy) that affect what I eat—I'd rather have a small cone of perfect ice cream, than a large cone of mediocre ice cream, in part because the ice cream may make me feel bad, so it better be worth it. However, we sometimes have friends over, and then you have to cook to their needs. One friend can't eat gluten, the other is vegan, what do you cook? (We do in fact have a friend who is vegan and gluten-intolerant, so I was thinking of her when I came up with that recipe.)

JK: Is there a recipe (or a recipe comic) that you're particularly proud of? If there is, which one and why?

TB: That's a hard question, because I sort of feel equally proud of it. A full 4 pages of the book are about how to make pie, which is my personal specialty. I've been refining that technique for years, and I'm pretty proud of it. And I'm pretty proud of my portobello bacon recipe; I came up with this idea that I could make something like bacon out of portobello mushrooms, and I was pretty gratified that it worked.

JK: I know that Foodwise is debuting at SPX-- will it be available for people who are not able to make the show?

TB: I'll make Foodwise available on my website. I need to fix my web store, though, so it make take some time. I'll also bring it to APE, where I'll be tabling with PRISM comics.

JK: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add?

TB: I've gotten good response so far about this comic, and it's from a different crew of people than my usual fans, so I'm very interested to see where this goes. I might end up making a lot food comics. Or I might move on to try something else. The beauty of minicomics is that you can be pretty experimental.

Wednesday's New Things: The Uncanny X-Boondoggle

1) I usually use this space to write about a book that I'm going to buy this week. Today, something slightly different, at least at the top-- I don't think I'll be buying Battle of the Atom, and I don't think I'll be buying any of the comics that I usually buy that tie-in to the crossover. This isn't the first time I've abandoned an onerous X-crossover, but Marvel did a really good job of making this one easy for me. For one, Infinity is running basically concurrently. Multi-author crossovers are very rarely good, and, although I very much like Jason Aaron's Wolverine and the X-Men and have been surprised by the quality of Bendis's work on Uncanny, Jonathan's Hickman's single author event has been worthwhile. Given that, if I decide that I can purchase only one wallet consuming crossover that'll mean buying comics that I don't typically read and don't typically want to read, which one am I going to pick? How about if only one is running, but I decide that I can afford to purchase precisely no expensive event comics? I often actually find that the coming of a crossover decreases the amount of money I'm spending on Marvel books for the duration thereof. This must not be true for the whole market, since Marvel is running crossovers for the foreseeable future, Matt Fraction's Inhumanity following Infinity, and I presume that means that such event comics are profitable. I think that these comics make money despite their inevitable dearth of quality means something interesting about market preferences, but I would have to take some time to figure out exactly what that something is. 

2) Speaking of Hickman, does he have a time turner or something? I'm counting six books out by him this month, and that's just off the top of my head. The new one is the Avatar-published God Is Dead, illustrated by Di Anorim. I think that it's sort of in the spirit of Warren Ellis's Supergods from a couple of years ago. Unlike some of the other more recent pieces of superhero deconstruction, this one's at least a little interesting off the bat, since it removes the allegorical element, trading out the godlike superheroes in deconstruction's question-- what would happen if godlike superheroes were real-- for straight up gods. I can't find a preview, but expect the art to be competent if not compelling. Can you imagine how mind blowing some of this stuff would be (say, both God is Dead and Uber, also out this week) if Avatar branched out from the house style a little bit?

3) So Hit's premise-- LAPD goes outside the law to fight crime-- is not exactly groundbreaking; it is, for example, the exact same premise as the recent movie Gangster Squad. Still, sometimes seeing what a talented storyteller can do with an old saw is a worthwhile endeavor. I can't speak to writer Bryce Carlson, I think this is his debut, but Vanesa Del Rey's artwork has been bouncing around the internet for a while. The one lettered page I've seen suggests that Carlson is going to let Del Rey do most of the talking, which is fine by me; her art has this slinky quality, aided by her facility with light/dark contrast and her understanding of the power of negative space. Both of these seem to work because she exercise discretion about when to use her black pen, making her figures stand out and her shadows more powerful. A longer, unlettered, preview here.

4) I know this came out last week, but how cool does Itty Bitty Hellboy look? It reminded me that I need to check out Balthazar and Franco's Aw Yeah comics. 

Coming Soon to a Spinner Rack Near You: Bryan Lee O'Malley

A new 10-year-anniversary hardcover edition of my first book, LOST AT SEA, will be released this December. More details coming soon! 
A lot of people are going “omg is it in full color!” so I will say right now that it is not in full color.

Wednesday's New Things: Red Rover, Red Rover, A Pretty Good Crossover

1) The general consensus on Jonathan Hickman's relatively new Avengers comics is that New Avengers is pretty good, but that Avengers is something of a mess. I'd strenuously disagree with the latter claim, but I'm also the only person I know who would. New Avengers, though, is pretty good, generally, although I thought last month's issue was basically incomprehensible. Still, everyone gets a little leeway for a bad comic now and then, particularly Hickman. Moreover, given that the Infinity crossover has so far been of a perfectly acceptable quality, it seems like a shame to skip out on that story right now. The decent crossover comic is just such a rare thing. 

2) Rick Remender is wrapping up his first, extraordinarily long, arc on Captain America. The comic has, generally, been pretty good, although it's notable mostly for just how different its goofy sci-fi beats are from Ed Brubaker's long standing super spy take on the character. I do hope that some of the characters we've been introduced to carry through, although with the "dramatic death" promised in the solicitation that seems unlikely. Still, its nice to see a ten month long serial wrapped up completely, meaning that its able to pick up next month with a completely new, though presumably connected, story. Another thing to note is that John Romita Jr.'s work here has been excellent; because JRJR has been making public noises about leaving Marvel and he's being replaced by Carlos Pacheco (himself an excellent, although very different and much more traditional, artist) next month, this maybe the last chance you have to see these characters drawn in this way for a long time.

3) Also being released this week is Chuck Forsman's The End of the Fucking World, collected and retitled the safe for bookstores TEOTFW. I've heard a lot of really good things about Forsman, and I think I'll probably check this one out sooner rather than later. One thing I wonder, though, is if the fact that this material was originally published as a minicomic was part of the appeal. Does the book, published a different, more formal way, call to the same people? I very much hope it does. If it doesn't, or if it finds a different audience in this format, it'll mean something interesting things about the divide between comics subcultures.

Gilbert Hernandez and the Infinite Sky

As I think I mentioned last week, I've been spending my summer reading through Fantagraphics' collected editions of Love and Rockets' first volume. Although I had believed that I was playing catch up in my classes at comics college, it turns out that I had actually read parts of Gilbert Hernandez's stories before, I think out of the big, not just long, physically big and heavy, Palomar collection. A few days ago, when I cracked open Human Diastrophism, the second Heartbreak Soup trade, it also became clear that I hadn't yet read all of them, because I'm pretty sure I would have remembered the above page. 

I love this page, from the short story "Space Case." Here's what's going on: one of Luba's daughters, Guadalupe, becomes interested in the sky, in the way that it goes on forever, in the fact that it goes on forever, into infinity. As she learns more, from her teacher, from her mother's cousin Ofelia, she gets increasingly distracted by it, ignoring her dinner and finding herself unable to sleep. She walks over to the window to look at the sky, and what she sees, what we see, is the cosmos, tranquil and violently turbulent, of Van Gogh's Starry Night.

There's an interesting question about whether Guadalupe has ever seen Starry Night or if instead she's replicated it sui generis, but there's simply no way to know either way, and it doesn't matter. What Hernandez seems to be suggesting, what he's suggested elsewhere, most explicitly in a couple places with Heraclio and Carmen and in the story An American in Palomar, is that the isolated and seemingly backwards folk of Palomar are just as capable of living high art lives as anyone else, that the imagination of their children know no bounds. Read more liberally, and in the context of the story's discussion about Galileo, "Space Case" is a statement about what comics are, and what they can be: the cartoonist has a home in the art world, but that he's been made to turn that home into a prison, his work shunned on the outside by everyone on the outside but his friends. History, Gilbert Hernandez says, will vindicate the cartoonist, the innovator under house arrest, the child with the big imagination. 

It's all well and good to say that, but then Hernandez goes ahead and backs it up. Take a look at the page one more time; it's your basic 3x3 composition, except that, in the most technical sense, there are eight panels instead of nine. In the space where the exact middle frame should be, there's just gutter and composition, given a panel-like quality by its surroundings. What goes on in the "panel" is actually happening in the in-between, in the infinite place where comics storytelling takes place, where artist collaborates with reader. 

There are a few things this does. For one, it gives the page a three dimensional quality, insofar as certain things (the eight actual panels) are foregrounded, while another appears to drop back a little bit, looking like it might disappear entirely, marking it as different, as important somehow. In fact, what's really going here is that the composition of middle panel exists behind the composition of the other eight-- it is in fact the whole page. This gives Luba's family, and their meal, an extra smallness in the face of the infinite universe, in the whole of space and time. 

Such a broad perspective is a chilly one but, like in much of Hernadez's work, the larger machinations of the universe are given short shrift in favor of a present kindness; tenderness is the remedy for the cold. You'll notice, for example, that the page's fourth panel (counting like you read) is slightly larger than the rest of them. Luba's calling her daughter and her cousin to dinner is given just that much more precedence. And then, in the composition itself, Luba's concern is the first thing we read--"What's the matter Guadalupe? Aren't you hungry sweetheart?"--long before we notice what exactly it is we're looking at, and from what perspective. No matter what happens in Heartbreak Soup, to its characters, by its characters, sympathy and understanding come first. Sometimes, in Palomar, it's the only thing that can get you through the night.