Color's Not Free

I think we forget how important good coloring is, particularly in super hero comics. In every comic, though, I think we think it's incidental, perfunctory, and after the fact, perhaps because not every comic has it. I think we forget that color is a choice. The truth, though, is that good pencils and good inks can be sunk by bad coloring, and good color can salvage less than ideal pencils. Colors, good or bad, can have as much effect on meaning as any other aspect of the process (and, if inking is merely misunderstood, lettering is similarly marginal).

One of the reason that good superhero comics are so hard to find is that they're often the result of a collaboration between four or five different people. For a comic to pass muster, a team has to work together on every aspect of the book, color included. Matt Hollingsworth is one of the best colorists we've got, and this series of tweets about his work with Matt Fraction and David Aja on Hawkeye, posted earlier this week, are a good reminder of why he's so good, and why color matters.

Wednesday's New Things: Waiting for a Superman Trade Paperback

Saga Deluxe Edition Vol 1. written by Brian K. Vaughn, art by Fiona Staples. Iron Fist: The Living Weapon Vol. 1, by Kaare Andrews

Two different kinds of collected comics, two different reasons for thinking about picking them up. I've wanted to buy a Saga collection for my bookshelf since I fell behind on the comics almost a year ago and this deluxe volume seems like a good bet. It collects the first 18 issues, so through the time when I stopped reading, and I bet it's beautiful, the kind of format I want to own a series like Saga in. Of course, if I start buying in the format then I'm committed to buying in this format, and it'll probably be 18 months or more before I can move on-- which is a big check in the con column. Kaare Andrews's Iron Fist series looked great when I bought the first issue, but I decided to wait for the trade. I'll probably pick it up one of these days. 

Multiversity: Pax Americana, written by Grant Morrison, art by Frank Quitely

This project is fascinating for me. It's like that really fun Marvel Exiles book from when I was a teenager, but all grown up. This particular book is interesting to me, though, in part because it features the Charleston characters, many of whom Alan Moore cribbed for Watchmen, and some of whom have since entered the mainstream DC continuities. The cultural force of Watchmen has grown so great that one of the comments on the Newsarama preview actually asks if the inclusion of the Question (originally an objectivist character created by objectivist Steve Ditko) is an oblique reference to Rorschach, which I point out not so that we can laugh, but instead to suggest that the whole thing eats itself. How Morrison, himself a referencer extraordinaire, will choose to play with this irony, and him not choosing to play with it will be itself interesting, will likely make excellent reading. Also, anything that Quitely draws is a treat; its good to see him back at the drawing board. 

Intersect by Ray Fawkes

This one looks fun and beautiful, although perhaps a mite hard to follow.

Nancy Loves Sluggo: Complete Dailies 1949-1951 by Ernie Bushmiller

This is one of those things I'll have to pick up one day. I've heard nothing but good things about Nancy, the most recent of which came from Carol Tyler at ICAF. As I begin to look more seriously at comics strips (and in particular Peanuts, which debuted during the period that this collection covers) this will be one of the first places I'll go. 

Black Widow #12, written by Nathan Edmonson, art by Phil Noto, ft. Anderson Cooper (!?)

From ICAF w/ Love

I don’t know what I was expecting when I went to ICAF.

A friend came back from the big American Studies conference, ASA, a few days before I left. She liked it ok, but she thought it was cliquey, and deeply weird, a sort of surreal parade of academia into and out of various hotel ballrooms. 

I think I expected ICAF to be the same, more or less. What I got instead was a series of talks organized by a group of people who care deeply about comics, both about what they mean and what it means to make them. I sat up late on Wednesday night, finishing my presentation with the help of a pint of espresso ice cream from Jeni’s Splendid Creams, already fortified by a sampling of sausage from a Bavarian restaurant in the Columbus neighborhood known as German Village, sausage consumed to the tune of an oom pa pa band. I did not know then how the paper would go over, I did not know that the community would be deeply welcoming, that they would be interested in me and what I was working on. I chugged on anyway, working out of a notebook I had been scribbling in in the German restaurant, eyes watering from the dust in the carpet of the apartment I was staying in. 

The next morning, after little sleep, I wandered in to the Ohio Union just as the conference was starting.  I heard talks about the historic and formal relationships between comics and fine art, about comics exhibitions in the French context, about the anti-comics tendency of the critical boosters of Persepolis, about the history of comics in England, and the embodiment of Hellboy. Academic talks in the morning were followed by artist talks later in the day, and as the focus shifted on the first evening it became clear to me that ICAF was the thing I was always disappointed that comic con was not—a chance to talk about comics with people who care about comics, in a real and serious way, at a place where consumption is secondary to appreciation.

I’m in an American Studies graduate program that, thankfully, takes my work seriously, but that also doesn’t have any comics studies scholars who can advise me. Often, I feel that I’m in the weeds. When I got up to give my talk, though, I saw a group that was genuinely interested in who I was and what I was doing—who also wanted to know why it was that Gilbert Hernandez slotted a representation of Van Gogh’s Starry Night into a short “Heartbreak Soup” story. Afterwards, we talked about it, or about other things, and both other graduate students and full time tenured faculty seemed interested in the project, and in what else I was working on. They shared their work with me, too; a masters thesis on Calvin and Hobbes, another on neoliberalism and comics, a dissertation on post-unification German comics. I knew that other comics studies folks existed; what I didn’t know was how friendly and generous they were going to be to a newbie like me. 

I shouldn't have been too surprised. It turns out that many us of feel a little in the weeds; Bart Beaty's keynote ("Here There Be Dragons") was about the terra incognita of comics studies, and the last event of the first day was about how to build institutions that will support the discipline. On the second day, we laid the foundation for the first of those new institutions, voting into existence the Comics Studies Society. As the CSS grows, it will come to serve as the institutional support for the community I joined last week. Perhaps most excitingly of all was the founding of the CSS’s graduate caucus, a group of graduate students and recently minted PhDs that exists to support each other as we attempt to navigate our entrances into academia. What I learned last week was that I don’t need anyone to advise me on the particulars at my institution, because there is a community, now more formal than it was even a week ago, that I can turn to when I need it. 

To focus on the academic alone, though, would to give ICAF short shrift. What makes it really wonderful is that the people who come to it come to appreciate the work of practitioners as much as they come to share their own work, and so we gathered not only to listen to each other, but also to listen Justin Green (“I think the surveillance state is crazier than Binky Brown’s penis rays), Carol Tyler, Phoebe Gloeckner, Finnish cartoonist Hanneriina Moisseinen, Dash Shaw and, finally, Jeff Smith, in talks moderated by figures with diverse interests and a wide reach, figures like Bill Kartalopolous, Tom Spurgeon, Jared Gardner and Corey Creekmur. Each of the artists was stunning in their own way; Green and Tyler’s love for each other was as evident as how hard they work, and very rarely for a big reward; Gloeckner gave the strangest, rawest, most emotionally affecting presentation of work I think I’ve ever seen; and Moisseinen shared with us a documentary she’s featured in, about learning from the last of the great Finnish rune singers, and then she sang for us. She closed her eyes and sang, hauntingly, hypnotically. Afterwards, grad students, professors, journalists, editors, and artists, as many as wanted, really, gathered for drinks. The last of us didn’t head home until 2 AM. 

Gone Conferencin'

See you next week. 

Talk Over Balloons: Rotten Roots

Six summers ago, when I was in between high school and college, I worked on a congressional campaign for a candidate who couldn't quite get over. It's too bad-- he would have been a good congressman. Just because he didn't get elected, though, doesn't mean the experience wasn't worthwhile--among other things, I met Paul Axel, then a University of Wisconsin student, now a comic book creator on the verge of completing a successful Kickstarter for his first series, Rotten Roots, which he wrote and features Renée Majkut on art. He and I spoke, for the first time in several years, about the comic; you can read the interview below. Rotten Roots is in its final days-- but there's still time to help Paul and Renée out. 

JK: Can you give a little bit of a synopsis of Rotten Roots, and a little bit of a history about how the project came together?

PA: Rotten Roots is, as I've described it, a neo-noir crime drama, mixed with historical fiction. It starts with the murder of Harold Wood, the wealthy and well-respected patriarch of one of the oldest families in Osprey City, a fictional place located on Cape Cod. As Detective Mark Robles investigates the case, he uncovers the family history of the Woods, and a 400-year-old legacy of schemes, betrayal, and murder.

When I finished a rough draft of the script for issue 1, I sent it on to my friend, Brian McKenzie, who does a lot of editing for superhero and comic-type stories - just to get his opinion on the work, and get a few pointers. Since he liked it so much, I decided to show it to the owner of my local comic book shop, Bob Howard at Comicazi. Bob's a co-writer on a self-published comic, and I figured that, if I ever turned Rotten Roots into something real, it couldn't hurt to have a shop owner in my corner. Bob also loved the script, and offered to help publish under his nascent independent press, Bad Kids Press. Through a little monthly event he holds at the shop called "Drink 'n' Draw," Bob got me in touch with Renee - and her art blew me away. You can see it for yourself. It's a style you don't see too often these days in comics. It sort of reminded me of the Miller/Janson work on The Dark Knight Returns. I signed her to a contract to produce five completed pages of the first issue, and she's been with the project ever since. She does the pencils and inks, her husband Tom does the formatting (and is perhaps the best pitchman we've ever had - the video on the Kickstarter is all his doing). I wrote, and I do the lettering. Add in Brian as editor, and that's pretty much the Rotten Roots team right there.

I’m always a little curious about how people came to comics—what got you started? What are you reading now?

I think my dad gave me my first comics before I was ten. There was a little used-book store in Sheboygan, WI (where my grandparents lived). He would buy them there for me - lots of Batman and the Outsiders (the original '83-'86 run). I stopped reading for a while, picked it up in high school, dropped it for a couple years in college, picked it up near the end of college, and I haven't stopped since. On my pull list currently is Captain AmericaBatman,Batman: EternalFuture's EndNovaThe Fade OutFablesLegenderry, and a few random issues here and there if the story intrigues me, like the new Batgirl run.

Branching off of that, how did you decide you wanted to make a comic? Is Rotten Roots your first attempt?

I always joke that Rotten Roots came about in the midst of a bout of extended unemployment. I figured, I had always read comics (even if it was on-and-off at times), and I love the medium. After I read Scott Snyder's "Court of Owls" arc in Batman, I decided to try my hand at writing a comic - I won't deny that Snyder's over-arching themes influenced my own story. But I feel like I've gone in a different, more realistic direction; I would have been disappointed in myself if I had turned out too similar to Snyder's work.

Rotten Roots is my first attempt at writing a comic (apart from that mini-comic that I wrote and drew in third grade and sold for a quarter a copy), and my first serious attempt at creative writing. I've written for academia and for op-eds, but I've never told a story like this before. It's a lot of fun, which I think is the most important part!

Can you talk a little bit about your influences for the project? Specifically, what do you mean when you say it’s a neo-noir?

"Noir" and "neo-noir" are a couple of terms that a lot of people feel have been thrown around so much that they've lost all meaning. I'd like to think that I do adopt a lot of the characteristics of the noir style - the use of flashbacks to disrupt the main narrative, in particular. Every issue jumps back and forth between the present and a historical period in American history. Consequently, there's a lot of "voiceover" narration from dead people - also a hallmark of the noir style. The fact that Rotten Roots, at its core, is a detective story, a type of story that's key to the very idea of noir.

As far as influences go, apart from noir, I'm inspired by the works of James Michener (multi-generational historical fiction), and the writing styles of Scott Snyder and Ed Brubaker. There's probably a bit of Law and Order in there as well, I won't lie.

I know that you’ve finished the scripting for the series—are you and Renee working together to revise it, or is your part more or less finished? How was the process been different or similar than what you expected?

My part is more or less finished, though sometimes I will go back to a script to make a small change if a new historical fact I've learned warrants it (for example, I got a clarification on colonial-era tar-and-feathering from a graduate school colleague of mine). I'll share with Renee my thoughts on how characters or places should look - I really wanted to use Clancy Brown as an inspiration for one of my characters in Issue 2 (you hear that, Mr. Brown? If you're reading this, drop me a line!). I'm sitting on more stories, but I probably won't start really settling down to write them until this project is completed. For now, I'm occupying myself with the Kickstarter campaign, and then more of the business end of Rotten Roots.

The process - getting from script to Kickstarter - took much longer than I anticipated, and that's a good thing. If I originally went at the schedule I wanted, it would have been a much more half-assed product, and I don't think the Kickstarter would have been as successful as it was. So, it's a good thing that people - especially Bob - told me to slow down and wait.

How have you found the process of using Kickstarter? Do you think you’ll use it again?
Kickstarter is ridiculously easy. It shouldn't be this easy, but it is. I'm probably feeling that way because of my awesome team and how well we've done, but if you take the time to put together a well-crafted pitch, explain everything clearly, include some pretty pictures, and just spread word as much as you can, you can reach your goal. I've got to say, you have to really do your research before you present your project - above everything else, have a budget written out, shop around for prices, but be able to tell everyone how much you're spending on what.

If Volume 1 of Rotten Roots sells well, and people like it, I probably will Kickstart the second half. This volume is only half the story, and I'm hoping people want to see how it ends, because I really want to show everyone how it ends!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Other than "visit the Kickstarter," yes. If you want to write a comic, sit down and write a comic. Of course, have an idea first, but write the comic. People will help you fine-tune your story, and maybe help you find an artist, but none of that happens unless you actually write the comic. It has never been easier to write and publish a comic, so do it. We're living in a golden age - take advantage!

Wednesday's New Things: Remember, Remember

The Ghost Fleet #1 by Donny Cates, Daniel Warren Johnson, and Lauren Affe
The Humans #1 by Keenan Marshall Keller, Tom Neely and Kristina Collantes

I've gotten very serious about comics. Too serious-- I regularly refer to my "purchasing strategy" in this space, as if I were a political consultant contemplating some kind of ad buy. There are some good reasons for that shift, but it's important every now and again to take a step back and remember that comic books can be stupid fun-- that that's part of the reason I came to love them in the first place. To that end, two books of interest this week. The Ghost Fleet looks more or less deeply silly-- "When one of the world’s most elite combat-trained truckers takes a forbidden peek at his payload, he uncovers a conspiracy that will change his life forever!"-- but that art's not bad and I'm a sucker for a good heist story. The Humans is a little more intriguing-- Easy Rider on The Planet of the Apes-- and writer Keenan Marshall Keller is big on exploitation movies. There's just something sort of unhinged seeming about it, appealing in the same way that The Auteur is, although perhaps a mite less grotesque. 

Velvet #8 by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, and Elizabeth Breitweiser

Not all fun has to be stupid, though. Velvet is an exemplar of this kind of series for me, a space where Ed Brubaker can show off his espionage chops, but minus the sort of self seriousness that's endemic to his similar work on Captin America or the almost deadly seriousness of his most recent series with Sean Phillips, The Fade Out. Part of the appeal here is that it's more or less an old school bit of spy fiction, the kind we very rarely see these days, but with the added dimension that the protagonist was literally hiding in plain sight, retired and taking on the Mrs. Moneypenny role. Velvet's knowledge of the agency she's been working for is more or less absolute, there is no doubt of her ability and, even so, you don't know if she's going to make it out of any particular issue alive, or even who's after her. Even though there's an unfortunate amount of time between issues, Brubaker's been a master at building tension here, one that's got me buying it off the rack rather than waiting for the trade. 

Kinski by Gabriel Hardman

Gabriel Hardman is a cartoonist I've admired from a run of work on Marvel books from a few years ago-- I remember his work being both solid and pleasingly sketchy. Kinski is a collection of a series revolving around a salesman saving an abused dog, originally put out by digital only publisher Monkey Brain, now being collected by Image. Hardman packs kinetic energy between each panel here, propelling you from frame to frame. If the story plays out even close to the way that the preview suggests, the writing's not bad either. 

Tooth & Claw #1 by Kurt Busiek, Ben Dewey, Jordie Bellaire, and Comicraft

I don't even know what to make of this one. Seems sort of like a mystical Redwall, for adults but influenced by the Dinotopia books. It certainly looks good, and the way the art interacts with the lettering is unusually playful, suggesting that, even as the preview points to a certain amount of death and destruction, it'll be tempered by a little levity. Kurt Busiek is one of those grand comics writers who's been around forever; sometimes series like this, by writers like that, are indulgences, but this one really seems like a passion project. We might have a special one here. 

Arsene Schrauwen by Olivier Schrauwen 

Back to being serious, just for a second at the end, Olivier Schrauwen is always one to watch. This one looks like it might be particularly interesting, and watching him play with a little bit of family history might be useful for thinking through some things I'm working on right now. 

Here, There, Everywhere

Pardon my crappy iPhone photos

There is now, and there always will be, something very weird for me about seeing comics artwork in a gallery space. It's almost uncanny, familiar and yet unfamiliar, and it puts the social norms of the museum in conflict with the process of reading. At those exhibits I've been to, I'm always compelled to try to contemplate and consume simultaneously, which means I do neither particular well. Even more frustrating, comics pages are supposed to both follow and precede other, similar pages; since exhibitions are focused on the visual and since they privilege the work they could could access, any attempt at reading is, sooner or later, stymied.

Sometimes, like at the Dan Clowes show I saw last year at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the curators attempt to temper this conflict by providing comfortable places to sit and read full copies of the work being displayed, in part, on the walls. That recognition of the fundamental contradictions of comics presented in a fine art space was welcome, and there were many things about that show that were extraordinary, but, despite its enormity, despite its attempt at reconciling the experience of reading comics with the experience of being at an art museum, its parts didn't really seem to fit together. And, yet, there's hope. From Here to Here, the show featuring work from Richard McGuire's revived Here project, running through November 9th at the Morgan Library in Manhattan, is coherent in a way that I have not seen before. 

In part, this is because McGuire's work resists reading. Here is probably best described as a series of windows into a particular corner of a particular house in a particular part of New Jersey, laid out non-chronologically and often on top of each other in a way that superficially resembles a traditional comics page but that, again, resists traditional reading. The juxtapositions of different moments and contexts trouble the relationship between comics and seriality, suggesting both that the panel has more in common than the infinite time and infinite space of the gutter than we usually assume and that the comics page can operate in what is functionally three dimensions. When complete art from Here is hung on a wall, then, it seems more or less the same then it does on the page. There's no assumption of linear sequence to drag on the experience; McGuire has already smashed those expectations. In some ways, it seems like even the static form of a book limits his ambition; one of the features of the exhibition is an early version of an ebook version of Here, which allows scenes to be done or undone with the touch of a finger. 

The other aspect of From Here to Here that sets it apart may have to do with circumstances unique to Here's creation. Originally a six page strip published by Raw in 1989 (and since republished in Ivan Brunetti's An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons and True Stories), McGuire has been toying with expanding it since. Starting with those original pages, the one room exhibition walks you around  its perimeter, through various stages of revision and expansion, including a false start that would have featured one moment on each page, as well as the mock ups, sketches, collages, and pencils that make up the anatomy of the new work, some of which is itself displayed in a ribbon across the top of the other displays, leading finally to the ebook and a copy of the printed book at the other end. In the center there is a series of display cases, which places McGuire's named influences (Tadnoori Yokoo's Waterfall Rapture Postcards of Falling Water, My Addiction, My Edition, My Collection) and antecedents to Here (like a particularly formalist Gasoline Alley strip) alongside his sketchbooks and his work in other mediums. 

The result is that From Here to Here puts a completed work in conversation with its creation and evolution. It is an absolutely coherent expression of what Here is and how it came to be, satisfying not just as a vindication (look at the comics in a fine art space!) or a curiosity (the tendency to show pencils along with completed original art) but as a genealogy of a particular work that illuminates it in ways impossible to do by simply looking at that work alone. Even given that certain features of Here enable this kind of exposition, From Here To Here is an exemplary show. From Here to Here is up at the Morgan Library, at 225 Madison Avenue, in Manhattan, until Sunday, November 9. 

Wednesday's New Things: Being Bad at Comic Books

Saga #24 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples

I'm bad at comic books. Over the past year or so, I've lost track of three or four series I really love; East of West, Uber, and, most criminally of all, ("If Star Wars was any good," sez the sign at my favorite comic shop in the state of Illinois, "it would be...) Saga. I'm not completely sure how this happened, although before I was limiting my purchases I was buying enough that I didn't have quite the time to read all of it. It's also possible that, as I was considering new purchasing strategies, I let some of these series fall of because they would be better in trade (something that I maintain will be most true for East of West, which is so deeply built up and weird that it can be hard to follow from month to month). Saga, though, is so good, so well paced, that it deserves that monthly $3.50-- one of these days, I'll just walk into my comic shop and by the lot that I'm missing. Maybe that day is today. 


These Boom Pen&Ink books are like the IDW artists editions, in that they take established content and break them down into the process pieces that preceded their publication, but they're significantly less involved, and therefore cheaper, and they draw from material in the publisher's home stable. Vanesa Del Ray is a serious talent, my favorite new artist from last year, who toiled away on this more than decent but sort of hard to track crime noir. As is often true, it'll be interesting to see her art separated from what we generally understand to be the "writerly" and utilitarian (speech bubbles, narration, and so on) aspects of comics making.  

Set to Sea by Drew Weing

I've been following Drew Weing's wonderful and charming The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo for a spell, and, from the previewSet to Sea seems of a similar bent, although more Melville than Sendak. What unites the kids in the first with the shanghaied poet in the second is the understanding that the world is just a little bit stranger than we might be inclined to believe. The form is slightly different, though, with every page in Set to Sea functioning as an individual panel, shortening the story but also giving Weing a large canvas to explore the blocky and scratchy world he's drawn. 

Showa: A History of Japan (1944-1953) by Shigeru Mizuki 

This is the third volume of Shigeru Mizuki's history of Japan's showa period, which has seemed to be generally pretty well received. History comics, and non-fiction comics in general, are hard to pull off, which is one of the reason why I think that cartoonists have often pursued memoir instead of my straight non-fiction genres. Memoir allows folks to easily balance a work's words and pictures, and is more readily open to dialogue, while historical comics or comics journalism seems to fall more easily into looking and feeling like illustrated prose. From all accounts, the Showa volumes so far seem to work, perhaps because they are part memoir. The mix of illustrated realism and stylized drawing also probably helps, giving the pictures weight enough so that they hang with the words. 

The Leaning Girl by Francois Schuiten and Benoit Peeters, translated by Stephen D. Smith

This is the first of a series of Franco-Belgian comics series called The Obscure Cities, some of which have seen print in America and some of which have not. It's a fun concept, set on a counter-Earth where folks live in city states defined by architectural style, and where sometimes weird things happen.  What I like about projects like this one is that someone, in this case it seems like its the publisher and translator Stephen D. Smith, cares enough about these works to make sure that they see release in English. That's the best kind of endorsement. What I like about this particular project, at least in theory, is that design is specifically, rather than loosely, tied to definition of place, something that will be fun to tease out if I ever decide to pick them up. 

Wednesday's New Things: Bigger, Better, Faster, Stronger

... and we're back. Wednesday's New Things features stuff I'm planning on buying in a given week, plus some other stuff of interest, with links to previews and occasional commentary. 

Tove Jansson's Moomin comics, like so many others, are a thing I know only by reputation. This new complete collection, beautifully put together by D+Q to celebrate the centennial of her birth, seems like a good place to start. For the Jansson completist, the NYRB press is also putting out a collection of her prose stories this fall.

Another import, this one is the the first book translated into English from prominent Montreal cartoonist Simon Bosse. Not a whole lot to go on, here, but the few panels of preview suggest that he's got some skill with grey tones, which is a hard thing to achieve, and imagination worth exploring, which is a thing few people have. 

Releases like this are fascinating to me-- an oversized and expanded reprint of a story that's already been released in comic form and in trade, for a relatively prominent Archie comic that's barely a year old. Who goes for this? Someone who passed on it the first time, in tow other formats? A kind of completist? Maybe a Francavilla superfan (and, if you're that, it's hard to blame you). It does have "new special features," whatever that means, but do you shell out $4.99 for a comic you already have for new special features? That doesn't make sense to me, although I guess certain consumers of DVDs and Blu-Rays behave that way; maybe comics consumers behave in similar ways. I put the over/under at the continued release of these magazines at 6. 

Chatter: John Porcellino

Always with my comics, what I’m trying to do, is to put down the thing that’s in my head as straight as possible. When I draw a page of comics it doesn’t need any color. Color would mess it up. In the olden days if I drew a scene at night, I would take some ink and fill in the sky black or use cross-hatching, but at some that even became unnecessary. There’s context there probably that tells the reader that it’s night. The reader already knows the night sky is dark. I don’t have to draw the darkness. 
I’m not trying to accurately render the world, I’m trying to transmit something from my head into another person’s head. You don’t necessarily need a lot to do that. When I talk to students I tell them cartooning is like writing. Even the drawings are writing. The letters CAT, they don’t mean anything. They’re abstract lines on paper. You learn through the process of reading that CAT is a symbol that represents the furry thing throwing up behind the couch. If I can drawn a car with three lines and the person can read it as a car, I’ll use three lines. 
Sometimes I still get that cliché, “My five-year-old could draw this.” I think to myself, “I’d like to see your five-year-old draw that!” I still get that. Reviewers will be looking at my comics and they’ll say, “But you can really draw right, can’t you? I mean, you could make this look good, right?”
via The Comics Journal

Wednesday's New Things: A Big 'Un

After last week's dearth of titles, this week is a big 'un. Here we go. 

The Hospital Suite by John Porcellino 

John Porcellino is one of the grand figures of comics who I've heard about but never actually had the pleasure of encountering.  I've been tempted to start reading King Cat, but I've never pulled the trigger; I couldn't tell you why, since its readily available from his website and, presumably, a few of the better shops around the country. I feel like I've been missing out. Hopefully The Hospital Suite, a story about a period of ill health and its aftermath, is a good place to start.

Loverboys by Gilbert Hernandez 

Two weeks, two new things from Gilbert Hernandez? What a world it is that we live in! From the solicitation, Loverboys sounds like a tale of Palomar, but without the boundaries of years of Heartbreak Soup stories limiting it to an already well trod path. Preview here, extensive interview with Hernandez here, including this excellent tidbit:
 When I did "Marble Season," I said, this is a Drawn & Quarterly book. I want this for all ages. Some of my stuff at Fantagraphics is pretty rough, visually, whether it's sex or violence, so I just didn't want to go to another publisher and do that. With Dark Horse, I think of the kinds of books they publish, so I went ahead and did this heavy, violent zombie story because they're more into that dark genre stories. Fantagraphics is more indie -- closer to the way of indie music -- than the other publishers. With each publisher, I try to focus and express myself in a different way. Sort of having a split personality with each publisher.

In a Glass Grotesquely by Richard Sala

The main attraction in this new book of stories from Richard Sala is the tale of Super-Enigmatix, the world's greatest super criminal, and his army of henchwomen. Sala initially published (and is continuing to publish) the strip on a tumblr, which is a relatively common method of low stress online self publishing. The art is bright and the story is by turns charming and violent, sometimes at the same moment; I liked that latter combination so much that I'm a little worried about myself. 

Southern Bastards Vol. 1: Here Was a Man, written by Jason Aaron and drawn by Jason Latour

A Jason Aaron writer's credit is more or less a guarantee of quality. Southern Bastards is his follow up to Scalped, one of three or four best crime comics of the past little while. This new book fills a hole left by the end of the old one in 2012 and distinguishes itself with Latour's art, which gives it a design forward quality that might even launch it past its predecessor. I read Scalped in trade, it's the kind of book that rewards the rereadings facilitated by the collected editions, and, after purchasing the first issue, I'm doing the same with this one. Volume 1 collects the first four issues; I've been looking forward to this book for a while. 

The Fade Out, written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Sean Phillips, colored by Elizabeth Breitweiser 

Speaking of guarantees, anything from Brubaker and Phillips is sure to be worth a look. The first issue was great, this one is sure to be too. 

Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier #1, written by Ales Kot, drawn by Marco Rudy

This book's a weird one, and I'm ambivalent about it. The Winter Soldier iteration of the Bucky Barnes character was created by Ed Brubaker for his run of Captain America stories, now approaching their tenth anniversary. Those were the comics that got me into comics again after a three or four year break, and they're still some of my favorites. Although the whole of Brubaker's Captain America run is worthwhile, the later issues were often of slightly lesser quality, eroded by the needs of line wide crossovers, a transition from a superhero espionage comic hybrid into straight superhero comics and, I think, by a little bit of writer's malaise. At the end, Bucky Barnes's consolation prize for no longer getting to be Captain America was that he got his own comic book, and Brubaker's year plus on the Winter Soldier title stands up against that early stuff, in part because it phased out the superheroics entirely, and what we got were straight spy stories with the trappings of the Marvel universe. Brubaker left and the series languished; they final issues are supposed to be ok (I've never read them), but interest waned anyway. 

All of that means that I'm trepidatious about this book. Part of what's got me worried is that it's a weird combination of things; Barnes is now a sort of intergalactic clean up crew, a set up which emphasizes the espionage while restoring some of the fantastical elements. It's also drawn by Marco Rudy, who gives the book a painterly feel, a quality I often find ugly and difficult to read. Because Rudy's goal is to emphasize the weirdo quality of the sci-fi, though, it looks like it works. We'll have to see what happens when that art is subjected to the utilitarianism of comics text; I suspect there will be a certain amount of dissonance. 

Still, I think that the espionage story may be the most important mainstream comics genre of the last decade or so, and writer Ales Kot has recently set himself up as the most adept inheritor of that tradition; if anyone can pull off a book like this. Kot might be the man to do it. 

Coming Soon to a Spinner Rack Near You: Two from Olivier Schrauwen

I first became aware of Olivier Schrauwen while attending the final iteration of the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics fest in late 2012 (that festival has since been replaced by Comics Arts Brooklyn, which by all accounts sounds like an excellent show). Schrauwen was a special guest, and I was able both to hear him interviewed (by Bill Kartalopoulos) and to go see a gallery show of some of his work, but I never picked up any of his books afterwards. There's no real reason for that, except perhaps that I'm on a budget and that I've never come across any of it while browsing; it's intriguing stuff, often very beautiful, and it seems to run on an alt-comix weirdness that is happily free from grotesque excesses. 

Although translations of his work are available in English, I would have to go out and seek them if I wanted to read them, and my current purchasing habits and budgeting strategy privilege new releases over already available work. Luckily for me, then, Schrauwen has two new books incoming. The first, Arsene Schrauwen, is a bit of originally self-published family history done in one color printing, which will be out at the end of the year. Fantagraphics is calling it his first graphic novel, which I think is misleading, but the work seems to be well regarded however it's packaged. The second is Mowgli's Mirror, an all or mostly silent tale featuring Rudyard Kipling's character from The Jungle Book. which will be put out by Retrofit/Big Planet sometime next year. Zainab Akhtar at ComicsAlliance has a plot summary and some preview pages; it's a looker, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

Wednesday's New Things: Paying For It

Barbarella by Jean-Claude Forest, translated by Kelly Sue Deconnick

Barbarella is one of those European comics I know only reputation, perhaps best euphemistically characterized as European, although I remember encountering the Jane Fonda movie version on the shelves at Blockbuster, when video rental places were still a thing outside of Austin. It's cool to see a new English language release of the first volume of the material translated by Kelly Sue Deconnick, with the first ever translation of the second volume to follow early next year. The book is interesting enough on its own, but Humanoids's publishing strategy is fascinating. What might be characterized as the central release is a massive volume, 12 inches X 16 inches, officially a coffee table book, and coming in at a modest $80 for 70 pages of content. Also being made available is a digital version, which will cost you -- this is not a typo-- $5.95. Just to be clear, the digital version costs less than 7.5% of what the physical version costs. In this case, what you're paying for isn't the content, its the packaging. That's true of all physical releases, of course, but this is extreme, the logical conclusion of a market driven by collectors. Eventually, I'm sure there will be a more reasonable physical version, but, for now, I think it's cool that Humanoids is making the work available for those of us without either the $80 to lay down or the coffee table to put the book on. 

Bumperhead by Gilbert Hernandez 

I'm about to dig deep into Gilbert Hernandez's Heartbreak Soup stories for a presentation I'm giving at ICAF in November (A Cosmonaut in Palomar: Seeing, Showing, and Imagining In Gilbert Hernandez’s Heartbreak Soup). It'll be my first academic conference as a graduate student. Excitement and terror are closer than people realize. Anyway, Hernandez's newest project is out in wide release this week, after a SDCC debut, and, as always, it looks excellent

Process: David Aja

Coming Soon To A Spinner Rack Near You: Ba and Moon's Two Brothers

Twins Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon are two of the foremost members of a generation of Brazilian cartoonists that are getting regular or semi-regular work from comics companies in the United States. If they're not the most well known of the group, they're certainly close, having worked regularly with Matt Fraction on Casanova as well as seeing their own work, most notably the story collection De:Tales and the series Daytripper, released in English. They've apparently just finished work on a new project called Two Brothers, and they're celebrating in style:
We've began this tradition in 2005, when Fábio finished Smke and Guns. On the day he drew the last pages of the story, he came wearing a suit, as a way of remembering that day, making it special. He did it again in 2006 on the last day drawing The Alienist. Again in 2008, when he finished Casanova: GULA. Every new big story he finished, he'd have a suit day on the last day of the work. Our last suit day was July 19th, 2010, in London, when he drew the last page of Daytripper. 
Today is another memorable day, as we finished our new book, Two Brothers. Both of us dressed accordingly. It's a very special day.
That's a fabulous tradition; I hope they don't mind that I steal it for when I complete my own projects. Ba and Moon always do good work, and I'm looking forward to Two Brothers, whatever it is.

Wednesday's New Things: Oddities and Endities

Red Moon, writing by Carlos Trillo, art by Eduardo Risso

A couple of years ago, as 100 Bullets ended, I had the bright idea to do a bunch of stories focusing on the work of that book's artist, the Argentinian Eduardo Risso. As I gathered material for the retrospective, which I never actually completed, I realized that most of Risso's work was originally from outside of the US. Reading through that stuff was one of the first experiences I had with Latin American comics, which was an important moment for me in terms of expanding my comics consciousness outside of what's produced in the US. Red Moon is one of Risso's collaborations with another Argentine, Carlos Trillo, especially intriguing to me because it reaches for a much different register than much of the other work I've seen from them; it reads, or at least the preview does, like a kids' adventure comic if it had been written and directed by Ingmar Bergman. The angst of children is a topic that seems both well trod (think Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, and, in not-comics form, Where The Wild Things Are) and under explored; where Risso's thin, anxious line in 100 Bullets underscored a struggle for power on the one hand and mere survival on the other (dramatized by the hypothetical that gave the series both its name and its early hook), here it contrasts the latter with the creative hunger of childhood. As is usually true, the difference between color palates is mostly responsible for the difference in tone, but it's a mark of the artist's talent that he maintains his recognizable style, one that I associate with a crime comics grit and grime, in panels like the one below: 

Where I usually think of Risso's panels as dramatic and dense, this one is elegant, ever so slightly obscuring what's really at stake, suggesting the way that adults often misunderstand children's play. 

I often say that I'm looking forward to something, or that something looks like a treat; from the preview, I'm betting on Red Moon being a masterpiece. 

The Authentic Accounts of Billy The Kid's Old Timey Oddities, written by Eric Powell, drawn by Kyle Hotz, colored by Dan Brown

This is a book about a rumors-of-his-death-have-been-greatly-exaggerated Billy the Kid working as hired muscle for a traveling a traveling sideshow in the Wild West. It was written by Eric Powell, who writes and draws The Goon (I love The Goon). It's a shame that he didn't also do that art here, since his feel for a sort of familiar grotesque seems perfect for stories like these. Kyle Hotz's work is a little more straight up than Powell's, reaching as it does towards the dramatic. I won't know if that move is a good one in terms of tone until I dig into the book a little, but it certainly seems like it works in the preview.

The Wicked and the Divine, written by Kieron Gillen, drawn by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson