I know it's part of the whole online writing gig, that invariably my work is gonna show up on other sites or get linked to from others pages. But it still thrills me to no end when it happens. The idea that someone out there read my stuff and liked it enough to link to it is just the coolest thing on the planet. Check out this Wikki. Where's It At Sugar Kat! Wikki Page
I've been a fan of Ian and Woodrow's work for a long time. It's nice to see someone took the time to put this page together for them.
I've really never been much of a fan of Bob Geldof, so it was kind of a suprise to me the other day when I heard this song on the radio and I actually liked it. It's one of the few Boomtown Rats songs that comes off more like something Queen would do. It also frightens me a little that I certainly understand the sentiment behind the song. Mind you, I'm not advocating mass murder at a schoolyard by any means... but every once in a while, something happens that makes me just see red.
I found this through Jeff Chon's excellent Shrillmatic blog, and it's an amazing piece of autobiography. I've spoken about the state of the comics industry several times with online friends Gail and Johanna, and though I don't comment on her blog a lot, I think Lea Hernandez is dead on accurate when she's ranted about the "frat house" mentality that exists at the big dinosaur publishers Marvel and DC.
Anyway, here's the link... We Need a Rape
Dave Cockrum was the chief architect in a microcosm of dreams set to four color harmony. His comics covers were bar-none the coolest around, and he had the distinction of being the only artist to ever sell me on an issue of Rawhide Kid (issue 151 still got it.) In his lifetime he designed some of the coolest costumes and drew some of the most fantastic comics stories I'd ever read. He was always one of my favorite artists, and one of the nicest guys on the planet to talk to at convention. Goodbye Dave, you will be sorely missed.
A Review of the graphic novel Shatter, a brief discussion of the universal forces, and some more pot shots at Michael Bay!
Most scientists agree that there are four universal forces. These are the most powerful forces in the universe, starting with strong nuclear force which is the most powerful but affects things over the smallest distance. The middle two are weak nuclear force and electromagnetic force, and these are followed by gravitational force, which is the weakest of the four, but affects things over the longest distance. Coming in just under gravitational force, however, is an unspoken fifth universal force that is the true glue that binds the universe together. Gravity be damned, that force is nostalgia. Anyone who doubts this can go find out about Michael Bay's newest project, then get back to me.
Writers as varied as Garrison Kellior and Michael Chabon have built their careers on nostalgia. Artists like Alex Ross and Steve Rude have careers steeped in it, and let's not even get into the careers of Norman Rockwell, Stan Lynde, or Charles M. Russell.
Nostalgia is everywhere. Sometimes it's a force for good, like Pallisades Toys re-introducing Micronauts, and sometimes it's pure evil, like the aforementioned Michael Bay project. In comics, that unrelenting need to recapture a bit of history is obvious in works like; The Watchmen, The Dark Knight, Maus, The Sandman, Acme Novelty Library... I could do this list forever.
Back in the 80's there were several comics that I followed with the fervor of a hyper-motivated religious zealot. I tried never to miss an issue. For the record they were; American Flagg, Badger, Nexus, Grimjack, Mage, Cerebus, Starslayer, Miracle Man, and of course The Legion of Super Heroes. I'm sure there were others... The Rocketeer when it came out, Mars was periodically entertaining, occasionally Dynamo Joe and The Elementals. I'm getting misty-eyed just thinking about them.
Then there was Shatter. My best friend Will followed this thing devotedly. He bought every issue, and even followed Mike Saenz onto Donna Matrix. It took nearly a year of his browbeating me with this series before I finally gave it a chance. It was good. It didn't exactly blow my socks off or anything, but I liked it well enough. Peter Gillis' plot was a bit pedestrian, a futuristic crime noir complete with the cliche hard boiled hero, and the femme fatale. It was obvious that Gillis was a Blade Runner fan, and that was just fine by me.
From a story standpoint, Shatter didn't exactly set my world on fire, but the artwork was a different story. Working with an Apple MacIntosh and a dot matrix printer, Mike Saenz made magic. He pulled light, depth and shadow from a device that only a few years before could barely repeat the word "run" on an endless loop until you hit the escape button. This was something new, exciting, and endlessly interesting. It was the first time a comic had ever been produced using a tool that twenty-two years later is an integral part of the art form.
I liked Shatter. It was unique for its time. Over the years I've gone back and re-read those issues several times. It has always held up as a nostalgic reminder of one of my favorite eras in the history of comics.
And that's why I was happy to see AiT/Planet Lar publish Shatter as a graphic novel. It had been several years since I'd read the comic, and seeing it on the shelf at my local Borders was like welcoming back an old friend. Larry Young and Mimi Rosenheim understand all to well that fifth universal force, and they definitely know quality work when they see it. The new Shatter package is excellent. It's faithfully reproduced from the original black and white art, and the modern color process on the covers takes the artwork to whole new levels of excellence. It's got essays by the writer Peter Gillis, and by Mike Gold (the genius responsible for most of what was good from First Comics, Shatter's original publishing house.) There's a couple of other essays by luminaries who are fans of Shatter, and only Mike Saenz is conspicuous by his absence. It's a nice package, and a fine addition to the AiT/Planet Lar cannon.
Looking back at 1984, the year Shatter was published, it was a watershed year for science fiction. Blade Runner was only two years old, and everyone was still on the fence about its importance to the genre. Howard Chaykin was working on his science fiction magnum opus American Flagg. Later that same year, a little book called Neuromancer would plow into the metaphorical forearm of the genre like a cybernetic heroin overdose, leaving us with permanent track mark scars of chrome and neon.
Taken in that context, Shatter becomes all the more important for what Peter Gillis accomplished with his story. To swipe a turn of phrase from Larry Young, like fine sippin' whiskey, Shatter just gets better with age. The artwork suffers a bit with the passing of time, especially considering what we're used to in these latter days of 2006, but it still rocks. Hopefully one of these days Mike Saenz will revisit this project and apply some of our modern coloring techniques. Shater's artwork almost begs for it, and the addition of color would definitely alleviate some of the "dated" feel it has for today's comics readers, spoiled on a diet of digital processing.
For now though, Shatter works just fine the way it's presented. It's a nostalgic trip back to a fun time in comics. It was a time when a comics company that was neither Marvel or DC would take a chance on something that had never been done before. It was an era where that same upstart publisher took on the big two with a murder's row of indy titles, and actually managed to shake the pillars of heaven, for a time.
When you make your living cutting brand new worlds whole cloth from your personal mental firmament, it takes a special kind of writer to splatter those brain children over twenty-odd pages of cheap newsprint on a regular basis. For those few writers that have the talent and the creativity, the rewards are minimal, so you'd better love what you're doing. In the minuscule litany of those who love writing comics, there are even fewer who stand out as supernova bright as Brian K. Vaughn.
Brian is the scribe responsible for Ex-Machina, which blows the doors off The Watchmen as an attempt to portray superheroes in a real world setting. His teen superhero series Runaways, offers a fresh and infinitely interesting spin on what it takes to be a hero, even as it blurs the lines between good guys and bad guys. His science fiction series Y The Last Man is a twisting journey of self discovery that pulls equal bits from Stephen King's The Stand and James Tiptree Jr.'s The Screwfly Solution, and beats them both in the grand smackdown of post apocalyptic speculative fiction.
So, it's no wonder that his stand alone graphic novel Pride Of Baghdad, which seemed like kind of a stupid idea on the surface, turned out so remarkably good. The high concept genesis of this little gem started its life as a news report about a quartet of lions that escaped from the Baghdad Zoo during the U.S.'s 2003 bombing of Iraq. Starving, frightened out of their minds, and half dead from exhaustion and exposure, the U.S. Army mercifully put them down. The twist on this is that the story is told from the lions' points of view.
I'm always wary of anthropomorphising animals. If taken too far you get extremist terrorist organizations like P.E.T.A. and its hyperviolent sock puppet A.L.F., or you get regurgitated pablum like Barney the dinosaur, and stupid people with too much money and way too much time on their hands who like to dress their pets up in leather bomber jackets and Harley Davidson paraphernalia. If done right though, you get fine religious allegory like Richard Adams' Watership Down and Neil Gaiman's Dream of a Thousand Cats, or a masterful deconstruction of the nature of revolution like George Orwell's Animal Farm.
Under less skilled hands this story could easily have turned into just another political screed about how bad the United States is and how the evil American Military cold-bloodedly gunned down four poor defenseless animals. It's not. Instead, Pride of Baghdad is a well crafted, impeccably told tale that is entertaining, poignant and tragic.
As a story, Pride of Baghdad works and works well. Brian walks the lions through the wreckage of Baghdad, and the Pride keeps a running commentary that explores heavy ideas like what happens to the civilians during a war, what is the price of freedom, and what happens when your caregivers suddenly go away.
The part that resonated most with me, was a scene where the lions come across a turtle and he recounts the ecological disaster that the Hussien government unleashed during Operation Desert Storm. I was in Saudi Arabia as part of that operation, and I can tell you that the turtle in this story doesn't even scratch the surface of the devastation that occurred outside the Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil fields.
But that's what I like about this story. Brian doesn't browbeat you with the obvious, nor does he ever give in to what was quite possibly the overwhelming urge to preach about how bad war is. We're reading the story, we get it, war is bad. He leaves it at that, preferring instead to concentrate on giving us believable characters and a great story.
The other half of Pride's creative team, Nico Henricson is relatively new to American comics. His first graphic novel, Barnum, was well drafted, if a bit stiff. With Pride of Bagdhad he pulls out all the stops. There are no humans to speak of in this tale, but they're not missed. Nico gives each of the animal characters a wide range of expression and movement that does bring out human qualities in them. This would detract from the realistic feel of the story, but Nico keeps the lions true enough to the source material that they are still believable as animals.
The backgrounds and landscape of Pride are phenomenal. Nico is a master of stylized detail and it's on full display in these pages. He gives us a guided tour of a little slice of hell on earth, and we come away the better for it.
There's no colorist credited, so it's a pretty safe bet that the color choices are Nico's. He applies a bit of a fade to the dull browns and oranges in the outside scenes, which gives the story an effect that recalls some of Ridley Scott's lensing choices during Black Hawk Down. It's a great effect that applies a sort of haze of war. It evokes a feeling of unease that keeps the idea that there is danger around every corner, just at the back of your mind where it should be for this type of story.
Pride of Bagdhad is solid work by a team that meshes well. It's an intense, sad story that is intelligent, relevant, and superbly drawn. It's a short film on paper that's worthy of an Oscar, or in this case an Eisner. Pick it up and give it a try. You will absolutely not be disappointed.
I'll admit this right up front. Roy Lichtenstein was not my favorite artist. It never set right with me that he didn't credit the original artists whose work he was using, and I always found his line work far inferior to the original comics panels he was using. Still and all, his artwork was unique and over the years, I have found several of his pieces that I quite like. I do know that I appreciate the statement he was making with his reproductions, and I really enjoy the controversy over his work that goes on even today, seven years after his death.
So, it strikes me as kind of funny that David Barsalou should obsess about Lichtenstein's paintings to the point that he would put up a web site devoted to pairing blow ups of the original comics panels with poorly reproduced, micronized pictures of the original Lichtenstein paintings. The site is badly put together, but as the main point of this article, you can take a look at it at Deconstructing Lichtenstein.
See, here's the thing... if you're going to deconstruct the work of an artist, any artist, you make a much better argument if you're fair about your criticism. The very act of blowing up these comics panels, and drastically reducing the size of the Lichtenstein paintings has the effect of completely screwing up the artwork for comparison contrast.
In the case of the comics panels, the size change muddies the line work by taking it from its original published size to something approximating the size at which it was originally drawn. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but here's the thing. Comic Books are a completely collaborative medium. When you show a comics panel, you are showing work by not only the artist that pencilled the panel, but also from the artist that inked it, the colorist, the letterer, and dare I say it, the writer who came up with the scene in the first place. If you're going to do a true comparison, perhaps a reproduction of the original art would be a bit closer to fair.
In the case of the Lichtenstein paintings, you run into some different problems. I've seen Roy Lichtenstein's comics reproduction work in person, and the first thing that hits you about them is their sheer size. By altering that size, you completely change the meaning of the work. What was once a celebration of the comics medium, and a scathing social commentary, is reduced to nothing more than a swipe. I submit that it's completely disingenuous to compare and contrast altered artwork. A person coming to Roy Lichtenstein's art for the first time via Barsalou's website could easily mistake Lichtenstein for a comics artist. He isn't, and never in his life did he claim to be.
Another thing that's really annoying about the Deconstructing Lichtenstein site is the watermarks that Barsalou plasters all over his scans of the comics panels. It's distracting, it's annoying, and it makes you wonder why he was so quick to deface those comics panels, but not the Lichtenstein scans. This shouldn't surprise me really, but it does. Does Barsalou have so little respect for the comics artwork he's showing? If that's the case, then the logical conclusion would be that this is merely an attack on Roy Lichtenstein's legacy, and not in fact a deconstruction. Of course since Barsalou credits none of the original artists on his site, I'm thinking either this is an attack, or he's just not finished building the site.
When John Byrne draws his twentieth (or whatever) re-interpretation of the cover to Fantastic Four #1, we call it homage. When Lichtenstein re-interpreted the comics panels for his series of paintings, he called it homage too. It's one thing to call out a comic book artist for swiping other artist's works. Peter David has been doing this to Rob Liefeld for years. It's quite another matter, however, to exhibit drastically altered scans of painted, stylized reproduction art next to comic book art, and call it a critical deconstruction. You might as well vilify a movie for copying the book it was based on.
During his lifetime, Roy Lichtenstein made it very clear that this series of paintings were reproduced from the comics that he loved. If he made one mistake, it was that he never really went out of his way to credit his source material. So, If you're Russ Heath, Curt Swan, or any of the other artists whose work Lichtenstein used, but almost never credited, you definitely have a legitimate complaint. If you're going to go to bat for credit where credit is due, I'll be first on the bandwagon. Just don't compare apples to Lasagna and call it a critical deconstruction.
The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation has an excellent website, dedicated to the man's life and works. In the cases where the Lichtenstein painting is a reproduced project, they have gone so far as to credit the source material. If you want to see what Roy Lichtenstein was all about, this is an excellent place to start.
It's part one, because there are definitely more of these posts to come. I've been focusing a lot on comics lately, and I figured I'd break it up a bit. Besides this is an easy type of post to do, and I feel more like a real blogger when I post more frequently, sooo....
I have an absolutely massive toy collection that is currently residing in our storage while we (that is my wife and I) get our shit together enough to find a place to live that doesn't involve packing us and our six cats into my parents' back bedroom. I've been collecting toys for as long as I can remember (at least as long as comics) and I just love 'em. This series of posts will cover some of the neatest, coolest, most unusual toys I've run across in my travels, and where to get them.
First up is the flat out best idea for a line of plush toys I've ever seen. The toys are from a company called Giant Microbes . You can still purchase these babies directly from the source, or from Think Geek which is a very cool online website, as well as the place from which all these images were kiped. Hopefully these guys will be around for a long time to come, and considering their source material, they could potentially have a larger variety of critters than TY.
There's lots more available. Check out the web sites I mentioned for the full line. Each microbe comes with its own little info card that shows you a picture of the actual microbe, and gives you all sorts of fun facts about it. These definitely qualify as some of the coolest toys on the planet.
Back in my SAVANT days there was this one writer who could turn any string of random comics related words into sheer poetry. He was funny, and poignant, and absolutely my favorite of the SAVANT Crew. His name was... Paul T. Riddell.
But, my second favorite writer at SAVANT was definitely... Matt Fraction. Matt created SAVANT, and he eventually stopped writing about comics, and started writing them.
Third on the list was definitely the perceptive and talented Bryan Miller.
...And then there was Matt Terl who could turn a review of the most dog-assed garbage into a marvelous critique.
...Then of course there were all the power players, amazing writers all, including Larry Young, Christopher (Xtop) B. Sebela, Johanna Draper Carlson, Wendi Strang-Frost and her husband Sean Frost, Dan Curtis Johnson, Chris Juricich, and Patrick Neighly.
Then there was this Jeff Chon guy. His reviews were weird and hyperactive, and break-all-your-furniture funny. He wrote like Ambush Bug with emoting by William Shatner, and a swiped copy of Dennis Miller's desk reference set. He was the best of us. When SAVANT packed up its bags and moved to Key Biscayne, he briefly went to Sequart, where he lit up their fledgling web site like a pinball machine, before he disappeared.
Where was he? What happened to this reviewing rock star? Many theories abounded. One was that he'd died, overdosing on a speedball, and spending his last moments writhing in a puddle of his own vomit on the floor of a Parisian bathroom. One theory purported that he'd given it all up and moved to Polebridge Montana on the banks of the Flathead River, where he continues to this day fishing, trapping and living off the land. One theory suggested that he'd moved to the southern coast of Argentina to be with his beloved Mr. T.
Well, I'm happy to report that none of that is true. Like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes, he's back with his very own reali -T- show... no, wait. Let me start over...
I'm happy to report that he's back. Like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes, he's back, and he's just as witty and insightful as ever. Check out his blog Shrillmatic you'll be happy you did. (However don't touch the you tube post or you'll be scarred for life.) Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Jeff Chon.
A review of the Graphic Novel Moped Army by Paul Sizer.
For those of you who don't know what a moped is, check out The Moped Army Website. Basically, a moped is a reinforced bicycle with a 50cc engine that cruises you around at a top speed of about 30 miles per hour, and it has pedals in case the engine stops. If you don't know the difference between a moped and a scooter, it's really easy. Mopeds are bad-ass bicycles while scooters are motorcycles for pussies.
At Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo in 1997, three students got together and formed an organization. Part biker gang and part fan club, they named themselves The Decepticons after the Transformers toys, and the Moped Army was born.
Simon King, Daniel Robert Kastner, and Brennan Sang, the originators of the Moped Army, have seen their brainchild blossom into a national moped club, with chapters from Arizona to Washington State. But this is merely back story.
In 2003, comics creator and fellow WMU student Paul Sizer started working on his newest project. Sizer tabled his ongoing series Little White Mouse, in favor of the less demanding schedule of a graphic novel, and thus was born the subject of this review.
Paul Sizer takes well to the graphic novel format. Moped Army is a graphic gem that is impossible to put down once it's started. Sizer is that rare talent of a storyteller that can take the most innocuous of ideas and make them sing with magic, wit, and power. In this instance the plot hook is a spoiled little rich girl who has a crisis of conscience and falls in with the right crowd. Deeper beneath the surface of this slightly cliched plot hook, lies a study in class warfare and a revelatory tale about what happens when those societal lines are crossed.
The story is laid out for us by Simone. She's part of the upscale rich that have built their lives, literally, on the wreckage that they've left behind for everybody else. Through Simone, Sizer gives us a guided tour of their spangled misery, as we learn that being uber-rich doesn't really save us from our all too human emotions. Simone's life changes when an evening joyride with her asshole boyfriend and his gang, crashes head-on into The Moped Army. Tragedy ensues, and later Simone starts to alienate herself from her shallow, vapid "friends" as she tries to find some sort of redemption by "slumming it" with the people that live below her city in the sky. Eventually she finds acceptance and possibly even friendship as she's adopted by the very same people that she'd earlier stood by and watched as they were terrorized.
Sizer's well honed grasp of characterization serves him perfectly as he effortlessly mixes Simone, his redemptive character, into the stew of wildly different personalities that the moped army represents. More than just mere character archetypes, the different army members quickly establish their own personalities, and Sizer layers in countless seeds for future stories as bits and pieces of their histories are revealed.
While Simone searches for some sense of self worth, we are treated to stunning visuals of life in the year 2277, courtesy of Sizer's amazing pencils. He combines the stellar design work of a veteran graphic artist with an amazing knack for facial expression and movement. He gives us everything a speculative fiction fan could want, from grandiose cityscape vistas, to a rotting dilapidated under city, to insanely neat gadgets. In one sequence, Sizer brilliantly pits a futuristic air car against a 20th century moped. It's a scene reminiscent of the freeway chase in The Matrix, and it's absolutely brilliantly drawn.
Sizer's greatest strength as a writer and an artist is his ability to create deep, fully believable characters. He brings that talent full throttle with Moped Army, creating a large cast of characters where even the bit players are interesting and absolutely believable. He takes fewer risks with his artwork in Moped Army, preferring instead to concentrate on designing believable characters, and making the cityscape as realistic as he can. It works well enough to give the story a cohesion and a sense of familiarity that has the effect of putting you at ease in the midst of an uncomfortable story.
As a graphic novel, Moped Army is a sweet package. You get 120 pages of story, galleries, sketchbook pages, plus short bios of Simon King and Daniel Robert Kastner, the brains behind the real life version of the moped army. It's an expanded dance version of a DVD, and it's well worth the measly $12.95 Sizer's charging for it. The graphic novel is rated Mature(16+) because it has some language, and a bit of sexual content, but it's nothing your average teen-ager can't handle. Moped Army is available online from Paul's website or from finer comic book stores near you.
Watch closely everyone as master comics reviewer Karen Healey beats the holy living crap out of Harper Collins, Neil Strauss, and Bernard Chang for excreting their big fat bag of violent, mysoginistic bile called How To Make Money Like A Porn Star!
I was going to review this thing, just to warn everybody away, but Karen is a poet and when you piss her off, it's like watching the literary equivalent of a Bruce Lee action sequence. She takes this review on with her typical mixture of eloquence and precision, stirs in a helping of pure extract of hatred, and serves up an essay that beats most of what I see in the Comics Journal on a regular basis. (Ya' hear that Deppey?) Her blog is called, Girls Read Comics (And They're Pissed) , and it's one of the best comics themed blogs on the internet.
... or, Why it's never a good idea to let your marketing manager get all "creative" on you.
In a maneuver that smacks of one part desperation and two parts mind-boggling stupidity, Marvel Comics has announced they will have a crossover event with the CBS soap opera, The Guiding Light. In better news, the crossover will feature The Avengers, and S.H.I.E.L.D. In even better news, the announced writer for this high profile project will be Marvel's Marketing Director Jim McCann???? You know, I've been reading comics since the age of six. That means I've got 32 years of reading comics under my belt and I have never understood Marvel's propensity for not using high power talent on books that will receive inordinate amounts of exposure.
Here's the thing. Let's say you need a brick wall built, you don't want to do it yourself who do you have do the job? Do you hire a plumber, or an accountant? Not usually, no. You hire a bricklayer, or a general contractor, and he hires the bricklayer. You get someone with the skills and the background to do the job and do it well. Subsequently, if you need a story written that's going to net your company more media exposure than it's ever gotten before, do you hire an MBA? No. If you have unlimited access to Marvel Comics' talent pool, you hire Brian Michael Bendis or Mark Millar, and if it's a comic book, you put one of your top artists on the project, not some newcomer, or second stringer.
Of course, when you think about it, all of this is probably academic anyway. All you have to do is think about the viewing audience for The Guiding Light, and ask yourself how many soccer moms do you know that read comic books. In fact I'll do you one better. How many middle-aged housewives...(or husbands. Let's be fair, this is the new century, and I do catch "Days Of Our Lives", when I can.) (In my defense, I was programmed to be kindly disposed towards "Days" as a small child because Deidre Hall was my all time favorite Saturday morning superhero, Electra Woman.)... do you know that have even a passing interest in comic books? How many of them will see this big crossover as anything more than a week long annoyance?
The worst part of this whole thing is this: This idea could quite possibly work. Here's the thing. Soap operas are simply serial fiction, so they have at least that core concept in common with comics. If Marvel were to produce something in the way of let's say a graphic novel sized storyline, something that does some sort of major reveal for one of the recurring "Guiding Light" characters, keep the storyline under tight control, and dovetail a daily release with one week's worth of episodes or so. You'd have to make the dailies available across newsstands so that it showed up at your local supermarket, or at Borders and Barnes and Noble. Plus you could give comics retailers an incentive to carry the thing by giving them expanded editions to sell with different covers or production art, or something like that, this could work. The important thing would be to make damn sure it was well written, and stay the hell away from the super heroes. It could work, but it won't, because Marvel can't seem to think beyond the superhero genre.
Now really, how many of you out there thought anything more than, "Huh?" or "What the fuck?" when you heard this announcement? If any of you thought this was anything more than a monumentally stupid idea, let me know, and I'll send someone over to rip up your Chris Claremont collection.
I have this thing in my head. It's kind of my own personal version of a computer installation wizard. You know, the one with the annoying little messages that say things like, "Do you want to proceed?" "Are you sure you want to proceed?" "Well, if you're really, really sure..." "Okay, last chance, are you really, really, really sure?" Sometimes the bastard gets stuck and years slip by while the article, story, or review I originally wanted to write sits on my mental back burner, smouldering and burning around the edges. Lately, I've developed some mental pot holders so I can now grab this baby off the back burner, scrape the crusty stuff off the edges, stir it up a bit, and serve it up with some sort of frilly garnish. Yes, tonight I'm giving you all something out of my very own mental crock pot.
Try not to think of it as leftovers, and I'll make it as tasty as I can.
Reviewing Tom Beland's work is a daunting task. He's got marvelous reviewers like Johanna Draper Carlson, Randy Lander, Don MacPherson, and Andrew Arnold who writes the Comics Love column for Time frikkin Magazine Online, planted squarely in his corner. The guy tends to be a perennial critical darling. He's been nominated for the Eisner Award. He's got his magazine coming out from Image Comics now, and a high profile writing gig for Marvel Comics coming up. He doesn't need my little ol' opinion of his work floating around out there. Then again, it never hurts to have one more person in your corner pitching for you.
My composition and rhetoric professor, the man who taught me the Montaigne style essay, and quite a lot about the critical review once told me, "While you're writing, you must remember this one truism. Just because it happened to you, doesn't make it interesting. If you can consistently break this rule you will never fail to entertain."
Tom Beland breaks this rule with marvelous style, grace, and precision. The core story is elegant in its simplicity. Tom meets this girl Lilly while waiting at a bus stop at Disneyland. The two hit it off and this chance meeting quickly turns into a long distance relationship. Lily is a popular morning show radio host in Puerto Rico, Tom is a newspaper columnist and cartoonist in Napa Valley California. After several abbreviated visits and a category five hurricane, Tom decides to move to Puerto Rico. That pretty much catches you up on the story so far.
True Story Swear To God is an absolutely perfect love story at its core. Beland proves himself an impossibly perceptive observer of human behavior. He's introspective to a fault, and he uses that amazingly precise internal eye to splay glimpses of his life onto the comics page. His family is slightly dysfunctional and extremely loving. Tom himself is by turns insecure and mildly neurotic. Only the character of Lily is seen without much in the way of flaws. I suspect that what Tom is doing here is filtering his perception of Lily through that initial haze of new love. Either that or she really doesn't have much in the way of flaws in which case Tom is in real trouble in future episodes.
One of the most amazing scenes is the first time we actually see Lily get angry. Tom and Lily set up a dinner party to introduce Tom to Lily's parents. The planning stages leading up to it are a little slice of new couple's hell wherein everything that can possibly go wrong does. They make it through and dinner goes off without a hitch, and at the end of it all as they're saying goodnight, all Lily's mother can do is admonish her for not wearing earrings. It's a priceless moment. We've all been there with our own relatives and Tom walks us through it all again, deftly giving us his perspective. Lily's reaction humanizes her and Tom's reaction to her makes us love them both that much more.
To sum up the totality of TSSTG by calling it a "chick flick on paper", is perhaps an accurate description. If that label is to be applied, it must take its place alongside classic fare such as When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless In Seattle, and The Princess Bride. Yes, it's that good.
Tom is a fabulous writer. He combines spot on dialogue with some of the most gorgeous exposition I've ever read.
"She's sleeping. Her body's so close, I can feel it move as she breathes."
"In my arms."
"I feel a sense of serenity that I've never felt before with others."
"If my feelings are a painting... this moment would be the frame."
Within these five simple, elegant sentences he brilliantly sums up the unquantifiable feeling of being in love.
The artwork on TSSTG is, on the surface, deceptively cartoony. The characters are caricatured simply, but that merely adds clarity to the story. Tom's backgrounds are where he really shines. He gives us super detailed establishing shots to frame the location, then abandons them as the characters take the stage. This has the effect of making the dialogue jump off the page, and draws the readers' eyes to the characters which are the most important parts of the story. It's a visual trick that Dave Sim and Gerhard used masterfully well in Cerebus, and Jeff Smith used to impressive effect with Bone.
Together, the writing and the art make for a story that will have you crying and laughing out loud, often at the same time. It's brilliant, essential reading for anyone with a passion for meaningful human interest stories, chick flicks, or just a damn fine read.
True Story Swear To God is available from any local comics shop that has even a marginal clue. The first and second trade paperbacks are still available from AIT/Planet Lar, along with the 100 Stories collection of Beland's original mini strips. Recently TSSTG made the jump from Tom's own imprint Clib's Boy Comics, to Image. The first issue is out now, and it's a pretty good assumption that future graphic novels will be released with Image as well.
My wife tells me that I don't just jump online and bitch about random stuff enough, so far be it from me to refuse her a rant. Let's see, what to rant about. Hmmm... over saturation of 911 survivor's guilt on all media outlets? Naah. Several friends still stuck in Afghanistan and currently getting chopped to bits by a re-energized, rebooted Taliban based out of Pakistan, who's supposed to be on our side in this whole "war on terror" thing? No. Ooh, I know. I'll rant about Steve Irwin's untimely death by stingray and all the Internet troglodytes that couldn't gather up the self control to let the rest of us mourn the untimely passing of a great conservationist in peace? Or perhaps the fact that Montana gas prices are still sky high, even though we use almost no Middle Eastern oil. You know, the same oil interests which our military boys are currently fighting to protect. Of course, it's kind of confusing when everybody seems to keep calling, "protecting our oil interests", "establishing a peaceful democratic Middle East."
Ah, screw it, Let's bitch about this whole Michael Bay/Transformers Movie scandal. In fact, let's just bitch about Michael Bay in general. Okay, so...Top 10 reasons why Michael Bay can bite my ass.
10. The Rock - Nicholas Cage? Check. Stupid, impossible plot? Check. Weak, embarrassing dialogue? Check. Insipid villain role that not even Ed Harris can salvage? Check. All this and Sean Connery still comes out smelling like a rose.
9. Armageddon - You, go wake up 20 million people and tell 'em this movie has more cheeseball climaxes than Linda Lovelace on a 12 day crack bender.
8. Bad Boys - Blah, blah, blah, Lawerence and Smith blow stuff up, blah, blah, blah.
7. The Island - Okay, so I haven't actually watched The Island, but after the total marketing saturation prior to the theatrical release, I still feel I've seen enough.
6. Bad Boys 2 - Bad Boys 2, Bad Boys 2. Michael Bay's got a crappy sequel for you. Works better if you sing it to the COPS theme song.
5. He's much prettier than I am. Just look at that face. He should be hosting Project Runway with Heidi Klum or something.
4. He can't hold a camera steady to save his life. This weird directorial disease has infected Tony Scott, Ridley Scott, and Michael Mann. If Cameron goes, you're all gonna pay!
3. He's singlehandedly dragged every closet Transformers fan kicking and screaming onto the Internet and whipped them into a rabid bitch fest reminiscent of a day spent with your browser stuck on Barbelith. Here's a clue for all of you. So he changed some of the robot designs. Fucking deal. It was a shitty cartoon to begin with and an even shittier line of toys. To think that Transformers spawned out of Microman toys... *shudder* talk about xenogenesis.
2. Pearl Harbor - Not even gonna touch that one. Sometimes there are simply no words.
1. He keeps making movies, and you people keep throwing money at him. He's like the Terminator. He won't stop, he'll never stop until we're all so lobotomized by loud explosions, witty banter and bad acting that we... oh, wait.
In 1986 Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons came out with a little 12 issue mini-series that promptly set the comics world on fire. The Watchmen re-invented the genre for the next decade, and today remains a seminal influence in the hearts and minds of creators of such luminary status as Joss Wheedon, Darren Aronofsky, and Niel Gaiman. It is widely reguarded as a literary masterpiece, and a natural for film adaptation.
In 1989 Joel Silver, the producer behind The Lethal Weapon franchise, and the Die Hard cash cow, teamed with Arnold Schwarzenegger to try to get The Watchmen movie into production. Armed with no script, and hamstrung by their choice of Terry Gilliam (who has a James Cameron-like grasp of budget, and plays really well with the other children) as director, the movie disappeared in a mess of studio infighting.
Then in 1991, President Regan's evil master plan of matching the Soviet "defense" budget until their economy tanked, effectively ended the Cold War, (at least in the popular zeitgeist.) This rendered The Watchmen's theme of Cold War anxiety effectively impotent, and plans for a movie were tabled indefinitely.
The tragic events of September 11th 2001 sparked a renewed interest in The Watchmen. Plot compression expert David Hayter, who condensed three decades of The X-Men into a passably watchable two hour movie, actually came up with a workable script. In 2002 wonderkind director Darren Aronofsky was given the option to direct Hayter's script. Aronofsky instead chose to take on The Fountain, ending it's tenure in development hell, but condemming The Watchmen to languish a little longer.
In 2005 Paul Greengrass, the brilliant director of The Bourne Supremacy, actually got most of the way through pre-production on The Watchmen movie before the studio pulled the rug out from under him, citing budgetary concerns.
It's now 2006 and Zack Snyder, the brilliant director behind the impressive re-imagining of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, has signed on to see if he can beat the odds. He has a few aces up his sleeve. He knows how to bring in a movie on time and within budget. He's working with Warner Brothers, who own D.C. comics, so they have a vested interest in seeing a successful Watchmen movie. Finally, he's a fan of the source material. Hopefully all these things will combine together, the planets will align properly, whatever, and we'll finally get our Watchmen movie.
Snyder's got his adaptation of Frank Miller's The 300 coming out shortly. I think I'll wait to see how that does before I start holding my breath... again.
Lego Watchmen and Lego Minutemen can be found at David Oakes wonderful online gallery here.
I know what you're all thinking. Some of you are wondering who is this Gail Simone and when did she piss in Dan's Cheerios. Others of you are wondering how I could possibly hate one of the nicest Comics writers on the planet, and some of you Bendis fans are cheering me on to a frenzy of Gail bashing goodness. Well...
Okay, you got me. I really don't hate Gail Simone. I just used that as an intro to sucker you all in here. In point of fact, aside from a somewhat unhealthy obsession with fish nipples, the color purple (that's the color, not the Spielberg movie), Disney stuff, and Canadians, she has always seemed quite congenial to me. I have been told on occasion that she eats live kittens, and that she killed and ate an internet journalist to get her Villians United gig, but the source is highly suspect. Gail is in point of fact, one of the nicest writers I've ever met.
What makes Gail unique is that she started her writing career on the internet, and she still takes great pains to maintain a strong internet presence. Over the years I have been lucky enough to correspond with her. Sometimes at length, other times just a quick, "Hey, nice article," but it's always nice to hear from her. For the record, Gail Simone is endlessly patient with her fans and eternally graceful to her detractors. She's funny, waaaaaay too self-effacing, and if it weren't for that whole internet journalist incident, she'd have long since been nominated for sainthood. So, my children, we gather here today in this small, overly cramped sideroom in the largest convention center in the world, to sing hosannas to the stunning creative talent that is the great and terrible Gail Simone. Beer and kittens are of course optional.
Gail Simone announced her presence on the internet with the authority of a born superhero fan who had the intestinal fortitude to ask a question that disturbingly, no one had really asked before. It was discussed in hushed whispers at the local comics store, and pondered over by the occasional casual reader of comics, but it was never discussed out in the open, and definitely never brought up in front of the potentially limitless audience of the internet. The springboard was a Green Lantern story by the great Ron Marz, wherein the hero's girlfriend ends up dead and stuffed into his refrigerator. Gail posited the question, "Why?" To paraphrase, "Why is it that comic book women always seem to end up raped, humiliated, folded, spindled, and mutilated in a wide variety of strange and interesting ways?" The answers she got to that simple question run the gauntlet from the simply asinine, "As regards the female characters thing, I'm afraid I think it's giving male creators a bum deal. The list does read pretty shocking at first until you think of everything the male heroes have gone through, too, in terms of deaths/mutilations/etc." to the downright disturbing, "Well, I think part of the problem for female characters is that, since our readership is dominated by males, they aren't perceived as having the same economic viability as many male characters." The whole sordid story is hosted for anyone who wants it at Unheard Taunts among other places. It's called Women in Refrigerators, and it's one of the most important essays ever written about the culture surrounding comics.
The next time the amazing Ms Simone crops up is with her ongoing column for Comic Book Resources called, You'll All Be Sorry, or YABS in the common internet parlance. With You'll All Be Sorry, Gail got the opportunity to prove that not only did she have a master's grasp of impressionistic writing, but that she also had some remarkably professional comedic chops. YABS became an internet darling and proved implicitly that Gail Simone could competently skewer every writer, artist, journalist, and fan on the planet, from her dead accurate parodies of icons like Frank Miller and Mark Millar, to easier targets like Dave Sim and John Byrne. My personal favorite is her spot-on parody of Planetary, wherein the three major players unearth the remnants of a certain modern stone-age family. It's written in near perfect Warren Ellis style, and it's absolutely hilarious. The You'll All Be Sorry archives are located on Comic Book Resources, and they're well worth a read or two, or three, or twenty.
At the gentle urging of Scott Shaw, I suspect something involving a flamethrower, wet spaghetti noodles, and a rusty ice pick, Gail submitted a script to Bongo Comics. The script in question was for their Simpsons line, and a writing career was born.
Gail's work for Bongo Comics is a testament to just how strong her writing skills really are. The most difficult aspect of writing a comic based on a popular cartoon is that you do it without the benefit of the voice actors. The readers come to the comic with a pre-set notion of how the characters sound. This requires letter perfect dialogue from the writer, and plotting that doesn't seem "out of character," to the audience. Gail succeeded admirably well with both these aspects, while still remaining consistently funny. Stand-outs from Gail's tenure at Bongo include: "Maximum Bart!" from Bart Simpson #2, "Battle of the Boy Bands" from Bart Simpson #3, and "Tales From The Kwik-E-Mart" from Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Horror #8 (which will make you think twice about your beloved breakfast cereal mascot. *shudder*)
Her next project was a three issue mini series for Oni Comics called Killer Princesses. Coupled with the phenomenal writer/artist Lea Hernandez, it was a perfect match. The synergy between these two creators is obvious on every page of this comic. To this day, there has yet to be an artist that Gail has worked with that has complimented her writing style as well as Ms Hernandez. Killer Princesses is a wild action movie on paper that oozes with black humor. If you think of the Charlie's Angels movies if they had a creative production team, then smack yourself upside the head with a gold brick wrapped in a slice of X-Men, you've about got it.
One of Gail's fans from her YABS days happened to be Joe Quesada, who obviously knows talent when he sees it. As Marvel Comics editor in chief, he extended her the offer of taking over their floundering Deadpool title. Gail jumped in with both feet, bringing Deadpool a relevant hipness, and a return to black humor, not seen since his Joe Kelley days. Five issues into her run, Deadpool was cancelled out from under her, and she was asked to re-imagine the book from scratch. The result was Agent X, which was fun, but it wasn't the same Deadpool goodness. Gail left the series after seven issues over "creative differences" with the editor of the series. I'm sure there's some juicy dish there somewhere, but Gail has been nothing but gracious about it in public. Though she would return a year later for three issues to wrap up the series which died in her absence, Gail would eventually sign an exclusive contract with DC, and to date she has yet to do anything more for Marvel.
Shortly before she jumpped ship to DC, Gail created The Marvelous Adventures of Gus Beezer. Gus was Peter Parker's nephew, and though he had no super powers, his imagination was good enough. Gus Beezer debuted in a series of three one shot issues, and though it was geared towards younger kids, it still benifited from Gail's multi layered scripting which worked equally as well for adults. Gus would recieve one final one shot before his creator defected to the competition. Any further adventures will probably be directed by much less skilled hands.
Which brings us to Birds of Prey. Gail took over the BoP series with issue #56. She followed the footsteps of Master action series writer Chuck Dixon. With an extremely tough act to follow, and tons of negative press surrounding the horribly inept Birds of Prey television series, Gail slammed into the comic series full force with a story that set the Birds against a criminal mastermind that captured the Black Canary, got the better of Oracle, and nearly defeated The Huntress. Gail's run on Birds of Prey proved to be immensley popular, and she continues her work on the series to this day. Now coming into her fourth year on the series, she continues to deliver consistently excellent stories, occasionally shaking up the status quo, and always maintaining her exceptional sense of humor. My absolute favorite story is her arc from #62-#65. Black Canary returns to China to visit her old Sensi who is dying. Unfortunately, Sensi also instructed master assassin Lady Shiva. Mayhem ensues when Canary and Shiva form an uneasy alliance when they discover their Sensi has been murdered. The story brings together all the great elements from Hong Kong action films and establishes Black Canary as one of the pre-eminent martial artists in the DC universe. (Gail was actually confronted at San Diego con this year by a fan who asked, if Black Canary is the number three martial artist in the DC universe, who is number one and two? Gail gave the standard dodgy answer, but I'll go out on a pretty safe limb here and say one and two are Batman and Wildcat, in that order.)
Gail's other work for DC has included stellar runs on Legion of Super Heroes, Justice League Classified, her Rose and Thorn mini series, a fabulous run on Action Comics, and two issues of Teen Titans which marked the controversial return of artist (and I use the term loosely) Rob Lifeld. She shows no sign of slowing down this year, writing the Villians United part of DC's big crossover event, and its spin-off series Secret Six. She's also starting work on the All New Atom series with her Action Comics artist John Byrne, and she's kick starting Gen 13 for the Wildstorm imprint.
Nearly all of Gail's work for Bongo and DC has been collected in Trade Paperback form, and may be found everywhere from Amazon.com to Borders and Barnes & Noble, and even better from your Local Comics Store. Her Marvel work is a bit harder to get, but with a little digging you can easily turn it up. Gail Simone has established herself as a brilliant and funny writer, with an already impressive comics resume. The best part of all this is that she'll only get better as time goes on. By the time she's been at this as long as Alan Moore or Frank Miller, she'll have long since established herself as their equal in the megastar pantheon of comics writers. Personally, I think she belongs there now, but I'm giving the rest of comics fandom a chance to catch up. They've got a lot of great reads to go through, and we probably shouldn't disturb them while they're deciding on legendary status.
If you want more Gail Simone goodness on the net check out The Gail Simone Index, Gail Simone's Blog: Bloodstains On The Looking Glass, and The Gail Simone Wikki.