I’m liking this Trade Pile format I got some mileage out of last week with not one, but two posts. In an effort to post more here on the blog and also get my thoughts down on the stacks of trade paperbacks and graphic novels I’m reading, I’m going to keep it going. Plus, I like that header image. So, if you want to find out what I thought about Alex Robinson’s Tricked, Goldie Vance Volume 1, the third volume of Rai and the amazing Daytripper, read on! Continue reading Trade Pile: Tricked, Goldie Vance, Rai & Daytripper
I recently realized that, while I greatly respect Alan Moore as a writer, I haven’t read much of his work. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is one of my favorite things ever and Tom Strong definitely did something cool to my brain, but what about all that other work?
My main source of comic book news and inspiration growing up was Wizard. Say what you will about the publication I would eventually go on to intern and then work for, but in the 90s, in addition to bestowing the virtues of all things Image and awesome, the monthly also told a generation of readers about Alan Moore’s work beyond the ever-present Watchmen, specifically and most memorably Miracleman.
Originally published as Marvelman in England, the character actually goes back to the 1950s, but eventually came under the creative guidance of Moore (and later Neil Gaiman!). Mick Anglo’s creation was your basic 50s hero with a wild, alien-based origin, a stable of sidekicks and even more menaces to face. By the time Moore, Garry Leach and later Alan Davis worked on the character in the pages of Warrior, though, he turned into a dark mirror by which to examine not just the early days of this character, but the entire history of comics. Continue reading Moore, Moore, Moore: Miracleman Book One – A Dream Of Flying
Do you ever read a book or group of books and fall hard in love with them, but aren’t sure if you can quite put into words why? That’s what I’m feeling after reading the three Pistolwhip books by Matt Kindt and Jason Hall. I picked all three up during one of Top Shelf’s fantastic sales after discovering Kindt’s work by way of the excellent Super Spy. I knew nothing about them but figured I’d give them a shot. I actually read Mephisto And The Empty Box not too long ago, but had to give it another read after diving so deep into Pistolwhip and Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace.
Pistolwhip stars a bellhop-turned-PI of the same name who gets embroiled in a complicated and complex whodunit that starts with a shooting and then goes on to explain how each character involved got there and where they went afterwards. Each chapter of the book is told from the same perspective of a different character who was in the room, which nearly all of them interacting with secondary or tertiary characters from the other story. What winds up happening is that you really feel like you’re steeped in this world set in a big city in the 30s or 40s.
I had to flip back through this book to remind myself what happened, but I don’t mean that as a check in the negative column. On the contrary, this book does so much in its 120 pages that I felt like I was put on the tracks and rocketed forward in this roller coaster of a mystery-thriller. As such, I grabbed on to whatever I could, but kept moving forward to find out what was going on. It’s similar to something like The Usual Suspects or Reservoir Dogs — two of my favorite movies — in that sense. And, like those movies, I want to return to Pistolwhip again and again to see what else I can absorb.
The only downside to that style of storytelling (or more accurately, my reading of it, because I choose the speed of a comic) added to the loose, cartoony style of the artwork, is that I was definitely confused in the beginning of the story about who I was following and when. I got it eventually, but that’s not something you have to deal with in a film, usually.
Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace (Top Shelf)
By Matt Kindt & Jason Hall
The follow-up book Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace crafts a similarly complex story, but does it in a different way with a whole different thrust. This time around, someone’s committing crimes under the name of the Yellow Menace, the villain on a very popular radio program a a la The Shadow. At the same time the show’s hero Jack Peril has also decided to become a real person and is trying to take down his nemesis. The story becomes a double sided mystery, on one hand Pistolwhip is trying to figure out who the Yellow Menace is and also who Jack Peril really is.
What really impressed me most about Yellow Menace is not only that it keeps the same high quality as the previous volume, but also weaves a similar tale with a completely different end result. I also want to mention Mephisto once again. That is a completely self-contained tale that can be read on its own and also does not need to be read to enjoy either of these books. However, the box does appear at one point in one of the books, so there’s a definitely connection. Even though I’d read that smaller volume not too long before, I still immediately dug it out and gave it another read so I could absorb the full Pistolwhip world. I recommend doing exactly that if you’re going to read these books: catch ’em all Pokemon style, then read them as quickly as you can. You’ll need to go back and catch up a bit, but you’ll also really take in all the small interconnected details (at least that’s how I work).
I also want to take a paragraph and talk a bit about something I tend to overlook and that’s book design. As you can see from the image, the front cover of the first volume is actually a great high-res image of an old timey radio. Parts and schematics can be found inside. Heck, even the back cover looks like an old radio complete with stickers, stamps and notes that aren’t just thoughtful re-creations. The second volume goes a different direction but still offers a really great set of covers that I spent a good deal of time checking out.
One of the first larger indie works I ever read was Alex Robinson’s Box Office Poison. I remember reading about it in Wizard way back, so when I got to the company and saw a big huge book collecting most of the material, I jumped at the chance to give it a read. It’s been a long time and I owe it to the work and myself to get my hands on a copy of that collection. Anyway, the series follows a group of NYC-dwelling 20 somethings as they navigate life, oftentimes balancing a desire to create art and pay their bills. It’s the kind of subject matter that wound up being the focus of most of the indie books I read around that time like Bob Fingerman’s Minimum Wage.
Anyway, somewhere along the way I happened across a copy of BOP! which collects all the Box Office Poison material not collected in that big ol’ book. I’ll admit, my memory’s kind of dumpy and I probably should have held off on reading this book until after I got my hands on the main collection, but it was actually kind of fun going back to these characters, being thrown right in and enjoying these smaller vignettes.
This collection includes a few shorter stories from some of the more peripherally characters as well as some of the one-page strips where several characters would answer questions. I wouldn’t recommend this book to BOP newbies, though it might give you a taste of Robinson’s style. After digging BOP I would go on to check out Too Cool To Be Forgotten which I really dug as well as Tricked which is also sitting in my to-read pile.
I’ve said this before, but I’m not super plugged into the world of indie comics. I like them, but they’re not the kind of comics I read growing up which is kind of funny considering how much I got into weird movies in high school. Anyway, I keep an eye on companies like Top Shelf and Fantagraphics, specifically for their store sales. I picked up Grant Reynolds’ Comic Diorama during one of those Top Shelf sales, not because I had heard anything about it, but because I was already buying some stuff, it was only a buck or so and it had a creepy-cool cover.
The book itself is a pretty crazy collection of graphic storytelling. In just 48 pages, Reynolds goes from drawn journal entries and a one-armed, no-headed humanoid creature to a pair of water based stories that really show off the artists ability to use that element to tell a story.
I’m not going to posture and act like I completely understood the contents of this mini-comic. It’s super weird, but I didn’t get the vibe that it was doing it just for the sake of weirdness. I get the impression that there’s a heart and a purpose behind these stories that maybe I don’t fully understand at this point, but am happy to keep in my collection to return to later on down the road. I’ll also admit that I’m not familiar with Reynolds’ other work, what else of his should I check out?
Craig Robinson’s one of those guys who I’ve heard a lot of good things about but haven’t gotten around to actually reading until recently. I have a copy of Blankets in the to-read pile that I got for about a dollar at a closing Borders a few years back, but haven’t felt prepared to jump in just yet. I recently got a copy of Chunky Rice, though, via Sequential Swap and decided to sit down and read it while I was going through all these other smaller indie books.
Chunky Rice is a turtle who leaves his mouse girlfriend to go on a boat to an undisclosed location to start a new life. Most of the story takes place on the boat with the sneaky captain, his loud wife and Siamese twin women. The captain’s brother happens to be an incredibly sad man who was also Chunky Rice’s roommate back home.
That’s what the book is about, but it’s not what it’s ABOUT, you know? Honestly, though, I don’t really know what it’s ABOUT. Chunky wants the mouse to go with him, but she won’t because she says she belongs in the town. Why? No idea. Is the book about forcing change on yourself to experience the larger world? If so, it’s mostly countermanded by the fact that everyone Chunky meets is kind of a jerk and this journey sucks. Is that supposed to be a metaphor for life? If so, it’s not one I’m super interested. Then again, had I read this at 20 instead of 30, it might have been the kind of thing I really associated with.
Another aspect of the book that got a little under my skin was a perceived intent by the author to subvert expectations by telling this story with cartoony animals and humans as a way to make the reader think they’re looking at a comic strip type story, but instead it’s this heavy thing where young kids have to drown puppies. It felt like my emotions were being purposefully toyed with which is not a feeling I like. I have done absolutely no research about this book so all of this is just what I was left with after reading and might be completely off base. People who love this book, tell me why I’m wrong in the comments.
After reading and really enjoying Matt Kindt’s Super Spy, I put his name on my “check out more of this guy’s work” list which is why I was so excited to see him do Frankenstein: Agent Of S.H.A.D.E.. It’s also why I snatched up three Pistolwhip books when I saw them on the cheap during another Top Shelf sale. I’ve been holding off on reading them, but after going through the above three books, I figured it’d be a good time to dive into the pool.
This is a 24 page, magazine-sized issue featuring a magician named Mephisto who we learn became a performer after his wife was called up on stage to play another magician’s assistant and never returned from a magic box. He’s been trying his damndest to get her back all these years, but to no avail.
I really had no idea what this book was about when I bought it so everything was a surprise. I especially liked the completeness of the story which, now that I think about it a little more, reminds me a lot of a really good Twilight Zone episode. I was really taken with the Mephisto’s sadness and how much he clearly still loved his wife. Unlike Chunky which was focused on finding oneself as a younger person, Mephisto is more about trying to get back what you had, something I can relate to a lot more at this point in my life. Of all four books I read on my quick indie spree, this is the one I liked the best because it’s a clear story, it had the most emotional impact and worked so well as a showcase of the creators’ talent.
Any time we go away for more than a few days, I like to give myself what I call a project comic. This is where I grab a bunch of issues or trades of one series or a particular creator and dive in. For Christmas, we went to visit my wife’s parents in New Hampshire and after a lot of thinking (more than I like to admit, really), I settled on giving League of Extraordinary Gentlemen a read from Black Dossier through the last Century book, which I hadn’t read yet. After finishing Century 2009 I hadn’t quite gotten my fill of the series, so I went back and gave the first two volumes a read and had a delightful time with the whole series.I’m going to start off with this post focusing mainly on Black Dossier and the Century trilogy and then come back for the second part which will talk about the books and concepts in broader terms.
If you’re not familiar with the general concept behind League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it started out as a Victorian superhero team of sorts that brought together Mina Murray from Dracula, Alan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde brought together by the British government to help them defeat extranormal threats. The bigger idea is that Alan Moore created a world inhabited by many of the characters we’ve read about it books for as long as the written word has been around. While introducing his versions of these characters and the kind of world that can hold them all, Moore also hinted at a much deeper and richer history to this world.
Black Dossier completely revolves around that history. The book works on two levels. First, it’s your average comic book showing the latest adventures of Mina Murray and Quartermain in 1958 as they steal the document you’re reading in an attempt to figure out what the government knows of their exploits since they severed ties. It’s also the aforementioned collection of documents all pertaining to the history of the League as if it were put together by someone in that universe. So, while you get your comic story, you’re also, essentially, looking at papers that are not for your eyes only, making it kind of fun and sneaky.
I’m impressed with how dedicated Moore was to the idea of this book. The documents he created range from forgotten Shakespeare plays and weird mod tales to journal entries and MI6 correspondences. From my limited experience with the types of writing Moore pays homage to in these stories, he does a solid job of matching them and utilizing them to convey information accurately in the style of the respective eras.
To be honest, though, reading through all those text pieces can be a slog. While I appreciate Moore’s attention to detail and ability to switch styles with the flip of a page, I wonder if the whole thing is a little more, “Hey, I bet I can do this,” than, “Hey this will serve the story really well.” I’m still on the fence with this point but think I’m leaning towards the latter. I like the idea of the format and maybe just wish there had been more image-oriented tales instead of page after page of dense text. I admit, I tend to have a problem getting interested in all-text pages in comics, so that doesn’t help. Still, I stuck with this one and read almost every single bit, skipping some paragraphs here and there to get to the point a bit quicker.
As far as the references this series is known for, I liked seeing James Bond’s involvement. I mean, he’s not treated particularly well and seems more based on the movie version of the character than the one I’ve read about in the first few Ian Flemming novels (to my poor memory, at least), but it was neat to see Campion’s relative involved in the proceedings. I know there was a lot of problems getting this book published, I believe because Moore wanted to incorporate more overt references to pop culture characters but DC was worried about a legal backlash. I’d love to hear what those were, if anyone knows of a good interview on the subject — or LOEG in general — please drop me a link in the comments.
While I’m not 100% in agreement with the presentation of all the information conveyed to the reader in this book, I do really appreciate the lengths Moore went to to not only stick with his vision, but also give the reader a mountain of information and history to comb through and absorb. I forgot most of what was in the text sections after only reading this book one time previously, but it’s still amazing the way he weaves together all kinds of existing fictional elements into a brand new tapestry that has its own history. It does raise a few questions like how come no one seems to believe in weird stuff in this world that not only survived a Martian invasion but at one time had an England ruled by a faerie queen? But overall, I like the information, I like the intent and above all else I loved getting to see Mina and Alan together again doing their thing. I’m a sucker for that thing in fiction where you allow your characters to cheat death and be together, it’s the hopeless romantic in me I guess. Oh, minor SPOILER, but Mina and Alan found a fountain of youth in Africa which is why they’re neither decrepit nor dead.
Things were a lot less romantic in the Century volumes, at least as they progress. These three books were presented in prestige format with mostly comic pages and a few text pages in the back. I admit, after going through Black Dossier, I skipped all the other supplementary materials moving forward. Anyway, Century 1910 gives us a look at what the British government has dubbed The Mina Group, consisting of mostly new members, trying to stop the birth of an apocalyptic individual called the mooonchild.
The plot mainly revolves around that, allowing the reader to get their first real look at the team that now includes Quartermain Jr., Carnacki, A.J. Raffles and Orlando who becomes a major part of the next two books. I’ll be honest, I didn’t have the giddy thrill of reading these new characters just because I’m nowhere near as familiar with them as the members of the first team, but it was still an enjoyable read with an intriguing story. We’re also shown what happens to Captain Nemo and the brutal, unfortunate tale that finds his daughter becoming the captain of the Nautilus.
Let’s call the next paragraph SPOILERVILLE. The most interesting part of this story is that, thanks to the soothsaying visions of team member Carnacki and the ensuing investigation by the team, they actually plant the ideas necessary to bring about the apocalypse in the villain’s mind. I thought that was kind of a brilliant and tragic kick off to a three part story. My only complaint about the book is that it seems a little bit preachy at the end. Actually, preachy’s probably not the right word, but the reason Nemo’s daughter decides to become the new Captain Nemo is because a bunch of drunks at the bar she works at rape her one night. She decides to bring down the thunder of the Nautilus on these people as revenge and then continue her father’s work. The very end of the book features a murderer and a barmaid sing a song about how terrible the world is and that the basic needs of the people need to be met if the higher classes expect things to get better. This is actually an opinion I agree with, but a part of me saw the brutality of Neo Nemo’s situation exploited to make this point. I know it holds with the history of the time and this is a fictional character, but that feeling still nags at me.
This second volume of Century, set in 1969, follows the adventures of Mina, Alan and Orlando who have become an adventuring trio who no long work for the British government. Much has happened in the 59 years since the previous volume (and the 11 years since Black Dossier), but like all the other installments of this franchise, most of them are hinted at or further explored in the text pieces that remain half- or un-read by yours truly. I’m particularly interested in Mina’s superhero team, but will get to that eventually.
Anyway, it’s the swinging 60s in London and our heroes are reminded of the old case revolving around the moonchild and the apocalypse. This time, the nefarious plot revolves around the bad guy who hops from body to body and intends to take over the lead singer of a Rolling Stones-esque band.
Since I’ve already fallen hard for these characters, I think I’d enjoy seeing them in just about any situation, but I’m also fascinated by this era in history and love the way it lends itself to a visual medium like comics. I also really enjoyed seeing how this trio had progressed over the years and how they deal with their immortality in different ways, especially how Mina adopts the language of the times in order to not feel like a dinosaur.
I also like how I got a lot more of the references in this volume. I mean, the Ruttles are a big band in this world, which is hilarious and awesome. There’s still a lot that went over my head, but I’m used to that from every other volume. Speaking of references, this volume is basically one giant nod to Empire Strikes Back. You’ve got the heroes learning more about the villains, a battle between the main hero and the main villain and a super-downer ending that makes you salivate for the next installment. For what it’s worth, I don’t usually get emotionally worked up when it comes to comics, but I got pretty upset with what happened to Mina at the end of this book. I was even more upset when I read 2009, though.
Seriously, when I realized what had happened between 1969 and 2009 with these three characters I was heartbroken, or at least as heartbroken as I can get from fictional characters. It’s just so sad. Forget about losing a a hand and realizing your dad’s a galactic-level jerk, Mina, Orlando and Alan had it ROUGH.
This volume finally brings the promise of the first to a head as the apocalypse and moonchild are both confirmed unless our incredibly damaged heroes can stop them. This part of the story is not only about defeating what seems undefeatable in an external sense, but also getting over even the worst possible things done to you by others or yourself. It’s about triumph over adversity and for that it’s a positive and exciting tale, one that features a SPOILER Harry Potter analog fighting Mary Poppins…or god, or something, I’m not quite sure, but I liked it better than that weirdness at the London Olympic Opening Ceremony.
As you’d expect, I got WAY more of Moore’s references this time around, which always adds to the enjoyment of these books. The more you’re in on the joke, the funnier it is and all that. I also like how the mythology of this series kind of came to a head with several characters from other books, including Dossier, making appearances and playing important parts in the story.
Getting back to SPOILERVILLE, beware. Still, it’s not the happiest of endings, is it? While Orlando and Mina seem to get through the final battle relatively unscathed, poor Alan looks to have died. We see that he was taken back to their fountain of youth, but doesn’t seem to have made it. Here’s the thing though, we know that Alan’s faked his death before and it’s possible that Mina and Orlando don’t trust their new former government friends as much as they’re letting on. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more of him. I hope we do, I’ve grown quite fond of these characters of the years.
I’ll get into this in more detail in the next post, but one of the reasons I went back to read the first two LOEG volumes was because I wanted to see how Mina and Alan’s relationship started out. It’s much different than what we see in BD and the Century books. I like who Moore developed them both as individual characters and their relationship as its own kind of entity, not to mention how the inclusion of Orlando altered and augmented that union. At the end of the day, beneath all the literary characters and all the references and all the magic and sci-fi and fantasy, League is actually the story of two very extraordinary people not only teaming up but finding love in a world that never fails to surprise and accost them. That simple nugget in the center of this much larger thing is what readers can grab onto while being exposed to the strange, wonderful and horrible.
I write about a lot of trades on this site, about two a week if I’m on my game. But, I actually read a lot more than that. So, this particular list is the 12 books or runs that I enjoyed the most reading or re-reading this year. Most of them have been covered on the site, but others have not. I’ll give the latter a few more words than the former, but hope you enjoy.
I read all of Judd Winick’s run of Outsiders this year, but didn’t write about it? Why? Well, it was a pretty big reading project, something that makes it harder for me to write about as a whole. But, I still really enjoyed this reading experience. Winick brings a realness to superhero comics without letting it get too in the way (if that makes sense). I know a lot of people think he forces issues into books, but I think these are the kinds of things that should be talked about and seen. Anyway, this was a fun superhero reading experience that made me remember how fun the DCU was back when this book and Geoff Johns’ Teen Titans launched. Good times. I haven’t written about James Robinson’s Starman because I haven’t finished the last omnibus yet. I haven’t finished it because I kind of don’t want to finish it and I also need quiet time to really sit down and finish it. This series is up there with Preacher and Sandman for me in my list of all time favorites. It lives in my heart and I was elated to discover that I still like it. This is what shared universe superhero comics could and should be. I know I just read the first two volumes of Grimjack, but the experience has stayed with me. I love that world and keep thinking of great ways it could be interpreted for different genres. Right now I’m thinking about a Crackdown/Amazing Spider-Man style video game set in Cynosure where you take on jobs or just spend your day drinking in Munden’s Bar. If you dig Hellboy, B.P.R.D. or 100 Bullets, I think you’ll enjoy Grimjack. I’ve had a lot of different feelings about DC’s New 52. At first I was upset that “my” versions of the characters would only survive in my trade shelves and long boxes. Then I realized that I don’t really read new issues anymore and I still have my collection (and books I’ve never read from that era) to enjoy. I also realized that I’m almost 30 and have better things to worry about. With that behind me, I was able to dive into various trades with a mostly clear head and enjoyed them for the most part. I appreciate how DC was attempting to hit all different kinds of genres and audiences, of course, not all of those attempts were successful. The least successful tries in my opinion, though, were the books that just failed to set up a basic reason why that book existed aside from “to make money.” I still have a pile of them to read and am getting a sense of the new U, which is kind of fun. Even though I read the second arc of Ed Brubaker’s Secret Avengers first and the first second, I had a great time reading this “black ops” take on superheroes. Bru writing Captain America/Steve Rogers is always aces in my book, but throwing in a lot of other street level-esque characters was even cooler. I’ve only read these first two volumes, but was satisfied with Brubaker’s ability to create an enjoyable sci-fi/spy mash-up story that felt well contained while still making me want to read more. Return of King Doug came out of left field for me. It was gifted to me by a pal and I knew nothing about it, but Greg Erb, Jason Oremland and Wook-Jin Clark reminded me so much of the kinds of stories I love from the 80s, but while also doing all kinds of new, funny things I enjoy. Read this now. I’ve said this before, but one of the things I miss most about not working at Wizard anymore is access to all of the Hellboy and B.P.R.D. comics that came out. I’m super behind, but I did get my hands on some B.P.R.D. trades this year for a little catching up (Hell On Earth: New World and Gods And Monsters). That’s still the best damn comic series around and has been for a while. I don’t mind playing catch-up on some books. I’ve been super happy re-reading things like World War Hulk and catching up on Hulk, Incredible Hulk and Red Hulk this year. Super fun, popcorn books mixed with well thought out ongoing superhero tales filled with monsters? Yeah, I’m all over that. I read the first iZombie trade in 2011, but was delighted to get my hands on the second and third volumes in 2012. I wrote about the second one here and have a post in mind talking about the third. Anyway, this series is the rare mix of intriguing characters, wacky situations, rock solid architecture and mythology I want to study PLUS one of the greatest artists the medium has ever seen. So, so, so good. I’m pretty surprised there are two Vertigo books on here. It seemed like for a while I was reading nothing from them. Now iZombie and American Vampire are two of my faves. Then again Chris Roberson and Scott Snyder are two of the best newcomer writers around, so that’s no surprise. In this case, Snyder takes two things that have become old and boring — vampires and American history — and makes them both super interesting and intense. Can’t wait to see where the rest of this series goes.Batman: Knightfall Volume 1 was pure, nostalgic joy. All of the Batman comics that got me into Batman in one place in one fat volume? Yes, yes and yes. I have the second and third volumes waiting to be read. Maybe next month after knocking off a smattering of random trades I want to check out. I don’t remember exactly why I didn’t write about Jeff Lemire’s Lost Dogs. It’s one of the few books I’ve bought through Comixology for my Kindle Fire. The long and short of it is that this story about a simpleton trying to save his family. It’s raw and rough and hits you in the gut. I don’t know if I liked the experience of reading this story, but it was certainly powerful. I can’t remember if it made me cry or not, but it came close.
I’m certain I missed a few books that I didn’t write about, but this is a pretty solid list by all accounts. I should probably branch out into more diverse trades and graphic novels — and I plan to — but what can I say? I love me some superheroes. I also happen to love all kinds of other comics, so let’s continue to make and talk about awesome comics.
My buddy Alex Segura talked about his upcoming Archie Meets Kiss comic over at CBR.
The news of a possible Beetlejuice sequel that spread all over the internet last week is very intriguing. As with every bit of news like this, I hope for the best, but don’t expect a whole lot. It’s interesting that they’re talking sequel and not remake. (via ComingSoon)Ulises Farinas did it again with his One Last Night For Justice piece. I want to live in a world where this is a comic.
Top Shelf is having a big sale. I bought some things and so should you!
Rolling Stone did an interesting piece on Mudhoney frontman Mark Arm. They’re one of the bands I discovered because Nirvana namechecked them as an influence and I found one of their records used at Boogie Records. I really liked Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary when I read it earlier this year. I don’t know about the Johnny Depp movie version, but I do kinda dig this poster. (via /Film)
I just started reading Michael Ruhlman’s site after enjoying him on various No Reservations episodes and now I want to try his recipe for home-made pastrami!
Ruhlman’s also got a brand new book out called Ruhlman’s Twenty that I really want to buy. In other food book news, HarperCollins imprint Ecco announced that Anthony Bourdain will have his own imprint. This will come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog or Monkeying Around The Kitchen, but this news is exciting to me. (via New York Observer)
First up, even before hyping myself, I’m going to send out big ol’ congrats and thank yous to the Steelers for coming back and beating the Ravens. Here’s hoping the Jets’ deal with the devil wears off by next week.
Okay, me now, I talked to Christos Gage about his Five Favorite Avengers for Marvel.com.
Brian Azzarello and Edwuardo Risso working on a book called Spacemen for Vertigo? Sounds like another trade I’ll be hunting down when it finally comes out.
Happy early birthday to my buddy Ben Morse of Marvel.com and Cool Kids Table. Check out the rad Todd Nauk art he got as an early birthday present he posted on CKT.Tom Whalen‘s Donkey Kong art is awesome.
My buddy Zach Oat got his hands on some classic Transformers books, go check them out at his blog Buster Of Chops.
While watching the Golden Globes last night, a show I don’t particularly care about, I was overjoyed with Ricky Gervais’ comments, especially when he did the unthinkable and made John McClain stumble. If you missed it, check out Esquire‘s run down.
Finally, thanks to Leigh Walton of Top Shelf’s suggestion in the comment section of my post about James Kochalka’s Sketchbook Diary books, I’ve been burning through the rest of his diary comics on American Elf. I’m up to August 23, 2005 as of right now. It’s inspiring stuff for lots of reasons I’ll get into when I get caught up.
THE SKETCHBOOK DIARIES VOLUMES 1 & 4 (Top Shelf)
Written & drawn by James Kochalka
Reviewing a journal comic is kind of a funny thing because it feels like you’re judging someone elses life, which is something I try to avoid. How people live their lives is always interesting to me and I like getting whatever glimpses I can but, for me, there’s sometimes that sense of voyeurism that I’m not always comfortable with.
I’ve had the first and fourth volumes of James Kochalka’s Sketchbook Diaries in my to-read box for years and just never got around to them. I’ve read a few of his works here and there, but have only ever reviewed Superf*ckers over on UGO.com, a book I didn’t like as much as I hoped I would. I purposefully didn’t look the author up on Wiki because I wanted to base my mental image of him purely from these two volumes of one to four panel cartoons he’s done every day. The first volume collects adventures from October 26th, 1998 to October 22nd, 1999 while the fourth covers January 16th, 2002 to January 29th, 2003. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, Kochalka draws himself as an elfish character called Magic Boy, often drawing other people he encounters in cartoony ways (his wife Amy also look elfish, his friend Jason is always a dog, another friend has one giant eye and background characters often look like harmless monsters or aliens). Every day he chooses some aspect of his life to draw about and does a comic of it. We’re talking everything from buying the sketchbook he draws these strips in to recollections of dreams to talks of his wife’s pregnancy. Here, I’ll just copy what Kochalka said in the beginning of the first volume:
“I draw myself as a happy elf named ‘Magic Boy.’ Since October 1988 I have kept a diary in comic strip form. I wanted to explore the rhythm of daily life, to become more conscious of what it really means to live. Sleeping, eating, thinking, talking, day in & day out. My body & it’s actions, my surroundings, my mind & its thoughts, and the people I love…Life is not structured like a typical narrative. Stories have beginnings, middles and ends. Life has ins & outs and ups & downs and backs & forths of endless repetition and endless distraction. The story of my life is not a story at all. But I think you’ll find the reality of one humans’ life compelling enough.”
The most interesting aspect of reading these collections of another person’s interpretation of their life is how scattershot it seems at times, which goes back to the whole idea that this is not a story in the traditional sense. Locations often jump around without any explanation, Amy disappears on trips to places we’re never made privy to and events are discussed but not referred to for some time (like his potential cartoon, something I really need to look up and see what happened to).
One of the most interesting aspects of the book to me is the difference between how relationships are drawn on the page and how they might be different in the real world. The first book has a character called New Guy who seems to be a friend of James’ but there are lots and lots of mentions of them getting into fights, but we never see them on the page. There’s also mentions that Amy and James fight a lot, but we’re mostly shown the aftermath or James snapping at Amy. By distilling his life down into something so short and sweet as a short cartoon a day, Kochalka not only creates a daily newspaper-like strip filled with interesting characters and jokes, but also builds a mystery around his life that sucks the reader in. I want to know more about this guy. It took a lot for me to not jump right on Wiki or find his personal website to learn even more, but I did. I’m also interested in picking up the second and third volumes of Sketchbook Diaries along with any that might have come out after that. Funny and sometimes offensive (depending on how sensitive you might be) I always got the feeling that these strips were nailing down a form of truth, whether that be how events actually went down or how the felt to the writer, there’s a real heart and honesty to these comics that I really appreciate. I’ve tried the journal comic route a few times and I always punk out, partly because my art is terrible and partly because I get busy with other things, so I’m really impressed with Kochalka and anyone else who can keep up on these kinds of things.
THREE FINGERS (Top Shelf)
Written and drawn by Rich Koslowski
Collects nothing, this is a legit OGN!!!
After espousing the awesomeness of Rich Koslowski’s 3 Geeks comic and being pleasantly and violently surprised by his mostly prose The List, I was honestly a little worried that I wouldn’t like his original graphic novel Three Fingers. It’s not that I didn’t think the book would be good, just that it might be a little out of the geeky wheelhouse I had build for him in my head. Thankfully, my worries were unfounded and this book turned out to be highly enjoyable, even though it wasn’t really what I thought it would be. I assumed the book would be about a hard-luck Mickey type character, but I didn’t really think beyond that part. I was sort of right, but mostly completely off base.
The book is written and drawn like a documentary, which is actually pretty fun. See, the idea is that cartoon characters or Toons, as they’re dubbed in the book, are actual living creatures. They’re used as a metaphor for minorities, which is kind of interesting and potentially off putting. The movie still jumps off from the Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney archetypes, but this time the Disney character discovered Mickey instead of inventing him. There are plenty of other Toon analogs for characters like Bugs Bunny, Foghorn Leghorn, Porky Pig, Sylvester and plenty of others, but the main thrust of the story is a conspiracy that said many Toons were having a surgery done to remove a finger on each hand so they’d be more like Mickey (in this case Rickey the Rat). It goes from being a race/cartoon mash-up to being something of a mystery-thriller still told through the documentary format.
It might seem like mixing the static nature of comics with the flowing nature of documentaries wouldn’t work so well but I was surprised at how much I got into this story. It’s like watching a particularly interesting episode of a History Channel show you know nothing about. How will it end? Will the criminals be tried? What the hell is really going on? Those questions get asked and some get answered between the book’s 134+ pages. This makes me even more excited to check the recently released BB Wolf & The 3 LPs which he drew and also helped make a CD for! Sounds like lots of fun.