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New Comics for New Readers – May 8, 2013

Photo by Christopher Butcher

Photo by Christopher Butcher

Want to try reading comics? Don’t know where to start? Want to try something different?

Wednesday is New Comics Day! Each week, The Comics Observer spotlights up to three brand new releases worthy of your consideration. Sometimes we list more on really good weeks. All of these have been carefully selected as best bets for someone who has never read comic books, graphic novels or manga before. They each highlight the variety and creativity being produced today. These are also great for those that haven’t read comics in awhile or regular readers looking to try something new.

While we can’t guarantee you’ll like what we’ve picked, we truly believe there’s a comic for everyone. If you like the images and descriptions below, click the links to see previews and learn more about them. You can often buy straight from the publishers or creators. If not, head over to your local comic book store, check out online retailers like Things From Another World and Amazon, or download a copy at comiXology, or the comics and graphic novels sections of the Kindle Store or NOOK store. Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Facebook.

For a full list of this week’s new releases, see comiXology, and PREVIEWSworld.

(Please note these aren’t reviews. Recommendations are based on pre-release buzz, previews, and The Comics Observer‘s patented crystal ball. Product descriptions provided by publisher.)


Benny Breakiron in The Red Taxis by Peyo

Benny Breakiron Vol. 1: The Red Taxis
Written and illustrated by Peyo
Published by Papercutz
Genre: Humor, Adventure
Ages: 7+
64 pages

Benny Breakiron is an honest, polite little boy with an an exceptional quality: he possesses superhuman strength, can leap over huge distances, and can run unbelievably fast! This little kid packs quite a punch, and he devotes his play time to stopping crime and injustice.

In this first volume, a new taxi service has moved into Benny’s town threatening to put Benny’s friend, taxi driver Mr. Dussiflard, out of business. The more Benny learns about the Red Taxi Company, the more he realizes something isn’t right. Who’s behind this mysterious enterprise, and just what are they up to? Benny aims to find out and put a stop to it once and for all, and hopefully keep the property damage to a minimum!


Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong
Written by Prudence Shen
Illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks
Published by First Second Books
Genre: Young Adult
Ages: 12+
288 pages

You wouldn’t expect Nate and Charlie to be friends. Charlie’s the laid-back captain of the basketball team, and Nate is the neurotic, scheming president of the robotics club. But they are friends, however unlikely—until Nate declares war on the cheerleaders. At stake is funding that will either cover a robotics competition or new cheerleading uniforms—but not both.

It’s only going to get worse: after both parties are stripped of their funding on grounds of abominable misbehavior, Nate enrolls the club’s robot in a battlebot competition in a desperate bid for prize money. Bad sportsmanship? Sure. Chainsaws? Why not. Running away from home on Thanksgiving to illicitly enter a televised robot death match? Of course!

In Faith Erin Hicks’ and Prudence Shen’s world of high school class warfare and robot death matches, Nothing can possibly go wrong.


Will & Whit by Laura Lee Gulledge

Will & Whit
Written and illustrated by Laura Lee Gulledge
Published by Amulet Books
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Ages: 12+
192 pages

Wilhelmina “Will” Huxstep is a creative soul struggling to come to terms with a family tragedy. She crafts whimsical lamps, in part to deal with her fear of the dark. As she wraps up another summer in her mountain town, she longs for unplugged adventures with her fellow creative friends, Autumn, Noel, and Reese. Little does she know that she will get her wish in the form of an arts carnival and a blackout, courtesy of a hurricane named Whitney, which forces Will to face her fear of darkness.

Laura Lee Gulledge’s signature visual metaphors will be on full display in this all-new graphic novel, a moving look at shedding light on the dark corners of life.


Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes by Matt Kindt

Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes
Written and illustrated by Matt Kindt
Published by First Second Books
Genre: Crime
Ages: 14+
272 pages

Welcome to the city of Red Wheelbarrow, where the world’s greatest detective has yet to meet the crime he can’t solve—every criminal in Red Wheelbarrow is caught and convicted thanks to Detective Gould’s brilliant mind and cutting-edge spy technology.

But lately there has been a rash of crimes so eccentric and random that even Detective Gould is stumped. Will he discover the connection between the compulsive chair thief, the novelist who uses purloined street signs to write her magnum opus, and the photographer who secretly documents peoples’ most anguished personal moments? Or will Detective Gould finally meet his match?

Matt Kindt operates with wit and perception in the genre of hard-boiled crime fiction. Red Handed owes as much to Paul Auster as Dashiell Hammett, and raises some genuinely sticky questions about human nature.


You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack by Tom Gauld

You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack
Written and illustrated by Tom Gauld
Published by Drawn and Quarterly
Genre: Humor
Ages: 14+
160 pages

A new collection from The Guardian and New York Times Magazine cartoonist

New York Times Magazine cartoonist Tom Gauld follows up his widely praised graphic novel Goliath with You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, a collection of cartoons made for The Guardian. Over the past eight years, Gauld has produced a weekly cartoon for the Saturday Review section of Britain’s most well regarded newspaper. Only a handful of comics from this huge and hilarious body of work have ever been printed in North America – exclusively within the pages of the prestigious Believer magazine.

You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack distils perfectly Gauld’s dark humor, impeccable timing, and distinctive style. Arrests by the fiction police and fictional towns designed by Tom Waits intermingle hilariously with piercing observations about human behavior and whimsical imaginings of the future. Again and again, Tom Gauld reaffirms his position as a first rank cartoonist, creating work infused with a deep understanding of both literary and cartoon history.


Good Riddance by Cynthia Copeland

Good Riddance
Written and illustrated by Cynthia Copeland
Published by Abrams ComicArts
Genre: Memoir
Ages: 16+
224 pages

When you think you live in a Norman Rockwell painting—married 18 years, three kids, beautiful old house in the country, successful career as a writer—you don’t expect there’s another side to the canvas. Until you read a lovesick e-mail to your husband… that didn’t come from you!

Good Riddance is an honest and funny graphic memoir about suffering through and surviving divorce. Cynthia Copeland chronicles the deep pain, confusion, awkwardness, and breakthroughs she experiences in the “new normal” as a wife who’s been deceived, a mom who’s now single, a divorcée who’s dating, and a woman who’s on her own figuring out what she truly wants from her life. Copeland tells her story with an emotional candor and spot-on humor that makes Good Riddance poignant, painful, and hilarious all at once.

New Comics for New Readers – February 13, 2013

Want to try reading comics? Don’t know where to start? Want to try something different?

Wednesday is New Comics Day! Each week, The Comics Observer spotlights up to three brand new releases worthy of your consideration. All of these have been carefully selected as best bets for someone who has never read comic books, graphic novels or manga before. They each highlight the variety and creativity being produced today. These are also great for those that haven’t read comics in awhile or regular readers looking to try something new.

While we can’t guarantee you’ll like what we’ve picked, we truly believe there’s a comic for everyone. If you like the images and descriptions below, click the links to see previews and learn more about them. You can often buy straight from the publishers or creators. If not, head over to your local comic book store, check out online retailers like Things From Another World and Amazon, or download a copy at comiXology, or the comics and graphic novels sections of the Kindle Store or NOOK store. Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Facebook.

For a full list of this week’s new releases, see comiXology and

(Please note these aren’t reviews. Recommendations are based on pre-release buzz, previews, and The Comics Observer‘s patented crystal ball. Product descriptions provided by publisher.)


Susceptible by Geneviève Castrée

Written and illustrated by Geneviéve Castrée
Published by Drawn and Quarterly
Genre: Drama, Coming of Age
Ages: 14+
80 pages

“With mesmerizing honesty Castrée resurrects the obscenely disorienting turning points of a childhood, the ones that haunt a person for a lifetime. After reading the last page I closed the book and wept a little bit about its simple, perfect ending.” –Miranda July, author of It Chooses You and No One Belongs Here More Than You

Geneviève Castrée has long been beloved for her mini-comics, comics, visual art, and music. There is a unique quality to all of her artistic endeavors– quiet, serene, depressing.

SUSCEPTIBLE is the story of Goglu, a daydreamer growing up in Quebec in the ’80s and ’90s with a single mother. From a skillful artist comes a moving, beautiful story about families, loss, and growing up. Whether she’s discussing nature versus nurture or the story of her birth, Castrée imbues her storytelling with a quiet power and a confidence in the strength of imagery.


Ariol: Just a Donkey Like You and Me by Emmanuel Guibert and Marc Boutavant

Ariol Volume 1: Just a Donkey Like You and Me
Written by Emmanuel Guibert
Illustrated by Marc Boutavant
Published by Papercutz
Genre: Humor
Ages: 7+
124 pages

From multiple award-winning author Emmanuel Guibert and renowned illustrator Marc Boutavant!

Ariol is your everyday tween donkey. He lives in the suburbs with his mom and dad. His best friend is a pig. He’s in love with a beautiful cow in his class. His teacher is a dog. His gym teacher is a huge rooster. In short, Ariol is just like you and me.

This new series from is a hilarious adventure through recess, silly nicknames, gym class, and everything else life throws our way!



Emerald and Other Stories by Hiroaki Samura

Emerald and Other Stories
Written and illustrated by Hiroaki Samura
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Genre: Action/Adventure, Short Stories, Anthology
Ages: 16+
228 pages

Hiroaki Samura’s Emerald and Other Stories collects seven powerful short pieces from the manga maestro that have appeared in various Japanese magazines. In “Emerald,” Samura tells his first explosive adventure set in the Wild West, and a series of humorous vignettes about two motor-mouthed teen girls is woven through several other riveting tales. A masterful storyteller bounces around genres and time periods in this unique collection!

* A perfect companion to Samura’s Ohikkoshi collection!

* Hiroaki Samura is the winner of Japan’s Media Arts Award, an Eisner Award, and three British Eagle Awards!

* Presented in English for the first time!

Dig Comics: Whither Inspiration?

Guest contributor Miguel Cima, director/host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics, begins a new series of essays looking at what makes comics so great, and what’s holding them back.

I’ve spent most of my professional life working on the business side of things. There’s plenty of “conventional wisdom” you will find repeated. One of the biggest refrains you will hear is “stick to what works” along with the time-honored “go for the lowest hanging fruit” admonition, which in some ways seems kinda, I don’t know – dirty? When you look at the comic book market in the United States of America today, you can be sure these same sorts of creeds echo wildly within the vaunted halls of the two corporations which control 70% of the market. Marvel and DC surely have been practicing this sort of stalwart capitalism approach to their respective properties long before Time Warner or Disney entered the scene. It’s been known for a long time that using the go-to legacy characters to frontline your product armadas is the surest way to keep the lights on. But what’s funny is that were it not for risk and a trust of the artist rather than fallback to formula, neither Superman nor Spider-Man would even be with us right now.

The well-known back stories for many of the greatest superhero characters is often the same. You had a flailing company or a starving artist simply FORCED into innovation by intense need. You can see the creators of old gumshoeing their way from meeting to meeting in New York, overstuffed portfolios in hand (loose pages bursting out the sides), wondering if they’ll have to paint a barn next week just to make rent. Or you could take the legendary image of the furniture being repossessed from the publisher’s office as a handful of geniuses tap the inner depths of their creative spirit and issue forth entire mythologies to be as enduring as Aphrodite and Gilgamesh, saving the company from ruin in the same stroke. The bean-counters could never have made any of these true-life tales happen: a trust of the artist to really innovate was necessary.

Gilgamesh cries for comics

Sure, in the scenarios above, there’s this element of desperation, of necessity being the mother of inspiration. But funny enough, one of the most successful purveyors of modern mythology actually used success to fuel an ever-evolving artistry – and his most important role wasn’t as an artist. Walt Disney was far more the manager behind the scenes than an animator. And he had true vision. Rather than make every single movie after Steamboat Willie about Mickey Mouse and his little gang of friends, he always was sure to promote new properties, worked on by new artists who would take his company to the next level. That tradition has largely stayed alive to this day in the company. Of course, Mickey still makes the company a lot of money. But every couple of years, we have whole new worlds introduced to us, be it Peter Pan or Dumbo during Disney’s lifetime, or Beauty and the Beast or Toy Story in the more modern era. I doubt that Disney could have grown significantly had it stayed perched in one little pantheon of never-ending and continuous characters, relegated to one genre, targeting just one audience group. Such a business model would even contradict “conventional wisdom” – don’t ya think?

Lois Lane cries for comics

Well, by now you know my punch line – this is PRECISELY how Marvel and DC do most of their business. The scheme is simple: keep pimping the capes to the same aging comics fans and call that an industry. I guess it works in terms of market share. But it’s a losing game in the long term, as seen by the ever-declining readership much lamented these past 15 or so years. Not that they need to worry much. I mean, are Marvel and DC really comic book companies any more? One may not be blamed for pondering that perhaps now, they are more brand managers for licensing carefully crafted empires based on the iconic rosters of the beloved in their respective stables. All the continuity and/or reboots are meant to keep the base calm while experimenting with how to manage which character’s evolution to ensure the greatest market share possible. As such, we face another often-lamented paradox, Marvel and DC are what’s keeping the comics business alive, even while they sort of ensure a decline due to inbreeding. After all, Superman, Phoenix, Batman, Spider-Man, Captain America and so on can really only “die” so many times before anybody even paying a little attention realizes, this industry has been reduced to running on transparent gimmickry, offering less and less as time goes on by way of a compelling story or revolutionary art. In the long run, this will turn into a huge net loss of readers, if not an overall decline of the industry itself.

Rather than seem pessimistic about the future of American comics, I would make the simple suggestion that all of you who are either long-time comic book fans losing interest in the stuff coming out, or those of you interested in comics but can’t cut through the impenetrable pitfalls of pointless universe continuity, try to find comics ELSEWHERE. There are plenty of them. There are so many great creators out there working hard, I blush in the embarrassment of riches we have at hand. There is a whole world out there of fantastic stories and art just bursting to be noticed and superheroes are just the beginning. There is horror, drama, humor, history. There is high art, surrealism, crime thrillers, and political commentary. Comics are just like the movies and literature and TV and music – there’s ALL SORTS of different types of stuff out there. There are artists who belong on museum walls next to Van Gough, Picasso and Rembrandt. There are entire publishing companies dedicated to giving singular artists the opportunity to realize unique visions, banking on the creative drive, rather than simply handing out operating manuals for 70-year old characters. Innovation is not dead, and it doesn’t need to rely upon – nor be deterred by – economic considerations.

Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire

So what’s my point? Well, I wanted to expose a problem, the decline of comics readership in America, and towards fixing that problem, I have a set of requests.

First, I would ask all my fellow long-time comics fans to leave their comfort zones and support alternative comics companies, artists, writers, and especially GENRES. It’s so odd: a film buff is likely to see all sorts of movies, yet the comics fan by and large sticks to just one paradigm – guys in tights beating each other up. When you go to the movies, you are as likely to watch The Lord of the Rings, Harold and Kumar, and Inglorious Basterds as you are to see Thor, Green Lantern, and Iron Man. So start small – check out some other fantasy books, some humor comics, maybe even a war story. Move that loyal weekly dollar from demanding the same crap over and over to a fresh surprise every Wednesday. I’ve been doing it for years, and it’s been richly rewarding. And yes, I still buy superhero comics from time to time, so I am not saying go cold turkey, just cut back and try some spinach for once, humans cannot live on Twinkies alone.

Second, I would ask anyone remotely interested in giving comic books a try, but are turned off by the likes of Wolverine and The Dark Knight to seek out alternative comics. Where to find them? Well, that’s easy if you know where to look. Starting small, I would visit the websites of comics publishers that aren’t Marvel and DC. Don’t know any? Here’s a small sampler to start with: Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Dark Horse, Image, IDW, Top Shelf, First Second, NBM, Archaia, BOOM!, PictureBox and Gestalt all come immediately to mind. Just looking at the list now, I see human drama, history, vampires, alternate superheroes, kids comics, true crime and even licensed material from the worlds of TV, film and literature. You could also try your local comic book store – but try and find the largest, best serviced one in your area (most “regular” shops won’t even carry a lot of this stuff, just the supes). Also, if you like what you see on the publisher’s websites, you can use Amazon’s suggestion generator to find comics you may also like.

Criminal: The Last of the Innocent by Brubaker & Phillips

My last request is to Marvel and DC. For god’s sake, would you just make comic books again? Would you let more new artists create more new worlds and use your considerable resources to reach out to more new readers? Would you please end the superhero fan regime? Yes, there are exceptions to your practices. DC’s Vertigo line has offered a plethora of non-superhero works by some terrific artists. And Marvel’s Icon line has allowed some established artists to really strut their stuff unconstrained by the machinations of the superhero continuity. But great works like Jeff Lamire’s Sweet Tooth and Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips’s Criminal aren’t exactly selling like hot cakes. Yet they should. Fostering works like these will manifest an image of a company to be trusted with the innovative choices it makes, just as a major studio can be a seal of quality come Oscar time. Take some chances, ladies and gentlemen of that world – act like the superheroes whose temple you worship upon. Cultivating an environment of inspiration is not just a great thing to do for the world of art, it will also turn out to be good business.

Argentinean-born New Yorker and NYU film school graduate Miguel Cima is a veteran of film, television and music. He has worked for such companies as Warner Bros., Dreamworks and MTV. An avid comic book collector since he could read, Miguel began writing stories in 4th grade and has not slowed down since. He is a world traveler, accomplished writer, filmmaker, and comics creator. He is the writer, director and host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics. Follow Dig Comics on Facebook. Read Miguel’s comic book recommendations.

Read It: Darkness by Boulet – Improvised Comics in 24 Hours

Darkness by Boulet

No purchase necessary! You can read this entire 24-page comic online now.

Last month, the French artist Boulet attended the massive Angoulême International Comics Festival (site in English). Like the Sundance Film Festival, Angoulême is a huge annual event that almost completely takes over a small town for several days to celebrate an art form.

Every year, Boulet joins with other comic creators at Angoulême where they hole up in the Maison des Auteurs for one night to create 24 Hour Comics. That means they each have 24 hours to create their own 24-page comic book, creating roughly 1 page per hour. Each year, the group has a different requirement that their comics have to meet, in addition to the time constraints. This year, they had to incorporate a 3-word caption at certain points of the story. Within the first third of the story, there had to be a caption with the words “He suddenly appeared”. The second third would have the phrase “And at the end” and the final third “She suddenly stopped”. Other than that, Boulet and the other creators could create whatever they wanted.

Boulet’s Darkness is a funny and clever exploration of life with a roommate that is the epitome of cool, mysterious and romantic. It’s extremely imaginative and charming with fantastic imagery. The story was mostly improvised but you’d hardly know it because the story is focused and tight with a great epilogue that really caps off the characters’ journey with a sweet twist. Since it was originally written in French, there are a few awkward translations, but not enough to get in the way of the story.

This is hardly Boulet’s first time at the rodeo. Boulet is the pen name of Gilles Roussel who has maintained a comics blog of his work since 2004, making him one of the earliest French artists to embrace the internet. His online work led to published work, where he has had over 20 books released in French. He is now the regular artist for Dungeon: Zenith starting with Volume 3: Back In Style, just part of the sprawling fantasy satire Dungeon by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim, imported by NBM Publishing. Hopefully this exposure will encourage English-language publishers to import more of his work.

Comic-Con Wrap-Up: Comics Debuts

I know it’s hard to believe with all the big flashy Hollywood things, but Comic-Con actually had stuff about comic books! There were a number of exciting debuts this year. Scroll through and see if something catches your eye. If so, read the blurb I’ve put together from the publisher’s write-ups, and if you’re intrigued, click the links to find out more.

Any Empire by Nate Powell

Any Empire by Nate Powell

Any Empire by Nate Powell (Swallow Me Whole) recalls aimless summers of Nancy Drew and G.I. Joe, treehouses and army surplus stores… but when fantasy starts to bleed into reality, whose mission will be accomplished? [Interview]

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen: A haunting postmodern fable, this beautiful and minimalist story is the culmination of ten years and over 600 pages of work that details the metaphysical quandaries of the occupants of an endless plain, existing somewhere between a dream and a Russian steppe.

Daybreak by Brian Ralph

Daybreak by Brian Ralph

Daybreak by Brian Ralph is an unconventional zombie story. Drawing inspiration from zombies, horror movies, television, and first-person shooter video games, Daybreak departs from zombie genre in both content and format, achieving a living-dead masterwork of literary proportions. [Interview]

The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes

The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes

The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes: Classic staples of the superhero genre – origin, costume, ray-gun. sidekick, fight scene – are reconfigured into a story that is anything but morally simplistic. With subtle comedy, deft mastery and an obvious affection for the bold Pop Art exuberance of comic book design, Daniel Clowes delivers a contemporary meditation on the darkness of the human psyche.

Freakshow by David Server, Jackson Lanzing and Joe Suitor

Freakshow by David Server, Jackson Lanzing and Joe Suitor

Freakshow by writers David Server and Jackson Lanzing, and artist Joe Suitor: When five refugee survivors develop monstrous mutations from a devastating chemical explosion that leaves their city in ruins, they band together to seek revenge against the clandestine government quarantine that has seized control in the aftermath. But are they monsters…or heroes?

WAIT, there’s more! Click through…!

Read the rest of this entry

In Recognition of Memorial Day

Our Army at War #13, August 1953 (Art by Bernie Krigstein, published by DC Comics)

The 1812 War, Fall 2011 (Art by George Freeman, published by Renegade Arts Entertainment)

Civil War Adventure, May 2011 (Art by Gary Kwapicz, published by History Graphics Press)

It Was the War of the Trenches, February 2010 (Art by Jacques Tardi, published by Fantagraphics)

Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy #6, August 2006 (Art by Joe Kubert, published by DC Comics)

Two-Fisted Tales #27, May 1952 (Art by Harvey Kurtzman, published by EC Comics)

Last Day in Vietnam, July 2000 (Art by Will Eisner, published by Dark Horse Comics)

Gulf War Journal, August 2004 (Art by Don Lomax, published by iBooks)

Dougie's War, August 2010 (Art by Dave Turbitt, published by Freight Design)

War Fix, June 2005 (Art by Stephen Olexa, published by NBM Publishing)

Digital Comics Update: Dark Horse launches Digital, NBM goes interactive, Nook gets Graphicly app, Archie translates digital to Spanish

Comic books continue their evolution into digital comics, where the sequential art form is available on mobile devices like the iPad and Android, game systems like the PSP, and web browsers. Expanding in distribution, getting more competitive with prices, and experimenting with interactivity – these are all good signs that digital comics might be growing from infant to toddler.

After some delays, Dark Horse Comics will launch their anticipated Dark Horse Digital program later today. The system was built in-house and uses a web-based system supplemented by apps for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. The comics will be priced starting at $1.49 $0.99 (versus competing apps that have comics starting at $1.99), and will be available in bundles as though you’re buying a full graphic novel collection. The app will be free and come loaded with the first issue of Hellboy: Seeds of Destruction by Mike Mignola and John Byrne. There will also be five free comics available: the first issues of Criminal Macabre by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, Joss Whedon‘s Fray, Mike Mignola’s Abe Sapien: The Drowning, Gerard Way‘s Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite, and Mass Effect: Redemption. The app will have hundreds of other comics for download, including issues of Conan, Joss Whedon’s Serenity, Eric Powell‘s The Goon and more. An Android app will follow.

Meanwhile on the Nook Color, Barnes & Noble has launched a new app store which includes three graphic novel apps from Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Petersen, Mark Millar and JG JonesWanted, and Mark Waid‘s Irredeemable. All of the apps have been specially optimized for the Nook Color e-reader, which uses Google’s Android platform. Graphicly also has digital comics from major comics publishers available on the iPad, iPhone/iPad Touch and Android, on the web, Adobe Air, and Google’s Chrome browser app.

Dinosaurs Across America (iPad screenshot)

NBM Publishing and their all-ages Papercutz imprint has teamed up with TWP Interactive to produce what they are billing as the first interactive graphic novel, Dinosaurs Across America by Phil Yeh. (It’s not the first, but it’s still cool.) Dinosaurs Across America was first published as a traditional graphic novel in print in 2007. It was named one of the best 25 graphic novels of the year by School Library Journal and has won acclaim for its ability to teach geography to children. The new interactive edition allows the reader to zoom in on individual states, learn fun facts and play with puzzles. The interactive version is now available for $9.99 as an app for iOS devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch), and for $4.99 as an e-book on Koobits.

And finally, Archie Comics continues its aggressive pursuit of digital, launching Spanish language versions of some of their digital comics Monday. The comics are available on Archie Digital, as well as their iOS app for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch provided by iVerse, and the Sony PSP. An Android app is coming soon. Further translations into French and Hindi are planned as well.

Parents: Get your Kid-Friendly Comics on iPhone and iPad

So maybe you get it by now. Librarians, teachers, and other smart people that you trust tell you that comics are a great way to develop and strengthen your child’s reading skills. They also capture their imagination and work visual recognition skills and they do tons of other good things for the brain, in addition to being fun and entertaining. But maybe you’ve also heard that there are some comics that aren’t really appropriate for everyone. So what’s safe? If you’ve got an iPhone or iPad, now there’s a simple way to get great comics for your kids and teens.

Digital comics provider comiXology officially launched their newest app, Comics4Kids, yesterday. And it’s exactly what it sounds like. Almost 175 comic books from 15 comic book publishers like Archie Comics, Image Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, Red 5 Comics, NBM Publishing, and more. I’m sure more will be added every week just like comiXology’s other apps. And hopefully Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, IDW, Boom! Studios, along with other publishers, will join in since they all have comic books that would fit right in.

One of my initial thoughts was similar to JK Parkin: will kids want to read something that’s so blatantly targeted to them? Most kids want to get the real thing, not the kiddie version, and one red flag is something with “kids” in the title. But seeing this targeted to parents as something they can feel comfortable handing to their children, the branding makes more sense. Time will tell, I guess. I certainly appreciate the effort, and I’m sure parents will too.

For more information, read click through for their press release: Read the rest of this entry

Sequence to Motion: The First Comic Book Movie and the Comic That Inspired It

Happy Hooligan by Frederick Opper (click for bigger)

We’re getting closer to the beginning of the big summer blockbuster season and once again, comic book adaptations are making up a very visible percentage of the big cinematic spectacles. But before Green Lantern, Thor and Captain America, before Iron Man, Batman, Spider-Man and Superman all had their own superhero movies, there was Happy Hooligan.

Over 100 years ago, newspaper comics were still refining the language of comics but at the same time they were becoming a hugely popular form of entertainment. It was basically TV for the masses before there was television (or even radio, for that matter) in America’s living rooms. In 1899, one of newspaper’s biggest moguls, William Randolph Hearst, hired a respected illustrator of humor magazines to add to his growing roster of newspaper cartoonists at the New York Journal. Hearst quickly found that comics significantly increased readership and was a powerful communication tool, and he was a fan himself. He paid better rates to steal creators from his competition, and would fight for less successful creators he believed in. Hearst’s respected illustrator was named Frederick Burr Opper and one of his big creations was Happy Hooligan, which debuted March 11, 1900.

The comic strip was about a disheveled tramp with the worst luck. Happy would frequently try to do good, only to fall (usually literally) to some accident conveniently witnessed by a passing cop who thought Happy was causing the trouble. Most comics ended with Happy being dragged off by one or more cops to serve some excessive amount of jail time. Someone in the legal system must have taken pity on Happy because the following Sunday he would be getting into trouble all over again.

Above is an example from August 24, 1902, preserved and represented by Barnacle Press, which has a veritable treasure trove of old newspaper comics. The physical comedy is played out seemingly second-by-second in each panel. The main fun is in following each step of the small disaster as it unravels, and how each chess piece moves around the space and interacts with the others. In this instance, the chess pieces are Happy, the woman, her horse, Happy’s brother Gloomy Gus (essentially serving as our point of view), the police officer that runs onto the scene, and the tree. The tree’s broken branches and Happy’s pocket knife also serve as secondary chess pieces. Even the bush in the background seems to respond to the action in each panel. And Happy’s ever-present tin can hat adds to the whole. It might look like it vanishes but it’s still on his head at the end, flattened from the action in panels 6, 7 and 8.) You can re-read the strip following just one of the chess pieces. Speech balloons helped direct attention to certain chess pieces at specific moments. The “camera” holds at one angle throughout, similar to vaudeville theater at the time (Gloomy Gus even breaks the fourth wall and talks to the readers/audience at one point). But this also enhances the effect of following the action. We’re a witness to this unbelievable accident as though we were walking by. It also makes it easier to track the action, allowing each panel to serve as a before and/or after comparison of the panels around it. It seems primitive at first (the panels are numbered to make sure readers understood the reading sequence), but it’s really quite a wonderful bit of choreography, and was probably really eye catching to readers of the time. It still holds a lot of delight. I love the horse’s faces! And there’s something really bewitching about Gloomy Gus’s spotted hankerchief, which seems to know more than it’s letting on.

The comic must have hit a chord with people fairly quickly, because within the year the silent film producer/director J. Stuart Blackton (who also created the first American animated film) began making live action short films based on Happy Hooligan. Blackton himself played Happy, complete with torn clothes and a tin-can as a hat. Six shorts were made between 1900 and 1903. Sadly, nearly all of the shorts have either been misplaced or dissolved from the passage of time. Fortunately, The Library of Congress has been able to retrieve and digitally save about 1 minute of one of the last shorts in 1903. This scene was shot on June 15, 1903, at the New York studio of the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, the production and distribution company for the shorts.

Cute bit, definitely a classic. But from the start, you can see that movies already had a challenge in adapting comics that would dog them for a century. The visual effects just can’t recreate the madcap slapstick and physical choreography of the comic strip. And this was a good 35+ years before superheroes introduced superpowers and flashy costumes into the mix. Movie-making technology has come a long way since then but it’s still a challenge to get the visuals right. Just last week, the reveal of Wonder Woman’s costume for the new TV series caused much outrage and ridicule online. We’ll see how this summer’s movies tackle it.

Meanwhile, Happy Hooligan went on to influence Charlie Chaplin’s tramp and other lovable homeless characters with bad luck. Happy had three brothers, one of which was named Gloomy Gus (seen in the comic above), a term that’s still sometimes used today to describe an excessively depressed person. Happy also had three nephews that looked nearly identical and spoke in unison, likely influences for Donald Duck’s nephews Huey, Dewy and Louie. The strip has also been cited as the comic to establish the consistent use of speech balloons as the regular comics form of depicting dialogue. Before that, comics typically had dialogue below the panel as a caption. While the comic might take work for some readers to adjust to its aging style of storytelling, it will always hold a significant place in history.

More info about Happy Hooligan and Frederick Opper: Toonopedia, Wikipedia, Comiclopedia

To read more Happy Hooligan comics, visit the previously linked Barnacle Press, and NBM Publishing for their published compilation.

Celebrate Presidents Day – Read a Comic

Happy Presidents Day! It’s that time of year again when the United States celebrates that we have a President in our form of government! Pretty exciting stuff!

Actually, there are some pretty crazy stories from the life and times of US Presidents past. And sometimes their deaths can make for some compelling reading too. Sure, it’s morbid but it can also be pretty fascinating. Comics writer/artist Rick Geary has taken a look at two presidential assassinations with the same precision and accessibility of all of his work. His series of graphic novels A Treasury of Victorian Murder (and the newer series A Treasury of XXth Century Murder) make for great reads, and pre-dates a lot of the current non-fiction graphic novels coming out nowadays.

The Murder of Abraham Lincoln by Rick Geary

In The Murder of Abraham Lincoln, Geary takes a look at the 1865 murder of the 16th US President and the days that followed. Some of the recently resurrected theories about John Wilkes Booth surviving and living to old age while a body double was killed in his place at Garrett Farm aren’t included but it nevertheless is packed with information glazed over in high school history class while maintaining a great narrative. Geary also uses the power of comics well, weaving in a cutaway of the Presidential Box at the Ford’s Theatre as Booth makes his fatal move, maps and a timeline of Booth’s escape route, and a map showing the route taken by the Lincoln funeral train.

Geary also took a look at the second US President to be killed in The Fatal Bullet: The Assassination of President James A. Garfield.

See NBM Publishing for a complete list of Geary’s true crime graphic novels currently in-print.


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