Confessions of a Cranky Comic Book Cartoonist: Ten More-Or-Less Current, More-Or-Less Mainstream Funnybooks That I Actually More-Or-Less Enjoy – And Why!
Columnist Scott Shaw! brings his perspective as an experienced professional cartoonist and active participant in the comic book industry for more than 40 years. Get an insider’s look at the art form from someone in the trenches every day.
By Scott Shaw!
It may surprise some of you that I still read current comic books. Since writing and drawing allegedly humorous comic books is one aspect of my career as a cartoonist, it’s a matter of keeping up with the competition when it comes to reading funnybooks that are actually funny. But I also dig other genres, too. I’ll admit, I don’t purchase many new comics anymore, but between those I buy, borrow or browse at the local comic book emporiums, I’ve compiled this list of those I can recommend.
I’ll start with a few superhero series I dig, since that genre still seems to dominate the racks. Let’s face it, most superhero comics adhere to that old unwritten rule: “Create the illusion of change without ever changing anything for long.” Instead, the fun of the Marvel Universe – much more than DC’s dour, drab and depressing “New 52” – is in how the playing pieces are moved around in new and interesting ways.
Marvel’s Fantastic Four will always be my favorite superhero title and I’ll buy it as long as Marvel keeps publishing it. That dedication is due to my first reading it back when Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Chic Stone, Joe Sinnott, Dick Ayers and others made sure that it really was “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” Since those first hundred-or-so issues of Fantastic Four, the series’ quality has been wildly up, down and all over the place, but rarely approaching the compelling “sense of wonder” and fun that the Kirby/Lee team achieved. Most of those assigned to the title over the years seem to be attempting to re-create stories from those first hundred issues… and they never seem to quite “get” it. The current version plays with many of those classic elements – the Inhumans, Doctor Doom, Atlantis, the Kree, Annihilus and the Negative Zone, etc. – but writer Jonathan Hickman and rotating artists Steve Epting, Ron Garney, Barry Kitson and others seem more interested in telling new sense of wonder stories with them, even if I’m the one who sometimes winds up wondering exactly what is going on in Hickman and company’s sparely presented storytelling. At least I feel like I’m reading new exploits of the FF, not more rehashes. (Speaking of the FF, that Hickman-written spin-off – featuring the young members of the Future Foundation, overseen by a civilized version of Dragon Man – is a tougher read, especially due to some extremely off-putting artwork by Juan Bobillo.)
That moving-around-playing-pieces has been an enjoyable part of Marvel’s Thunderbolts since its inception back in 1997 by Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley. Writer Jeff Parker and a variety of artists have been the latest folks on the series for the last few years and their approach to crafting the ongoing adventures of multiple teams of bad guys – both rehabilitated and otherwise – all overseen by Luke Cage, has been a lot of fun. Twists, turns and double-crosses abound, with the team’s headquarters unanchored in the time stream to complicate matters. (This lost-in-time wrinkle provided an amusingly uneasy team-up with Captain America and the Invaders during WWII.) In recent months, the book has been re-titled Dark Avengers after Norman Osborn’s team of badass stand-ins for some of the heroic Avengers’ stalwarts. By comparison, Luke’s team almost seems like the good guys they pretend to be. The unexpected arrival of Dr. Doom (direct from Mark Millar/Bryan Hitch‘s “realistic” stint on Fantastic Four from a few years back) is yet another player sure to challenge the small-time supervillains’ internal politics. To my knowledge, this is the only series focusing on bad guys that’s lasted so long and it deserves to hold the record over such lame and lesser attempts such as DC’s Secret Society Of Super Villains or Marvel’s Super Villain Team-Up. But whether his book is called Thunderbolts or Dark Avengers, Jeff Parker provides a lot of evil fun.
Over the years I’ve heard or read a variety of arguments before and against the categorization of Elzie Segar’s “Popeye The Sailor” as the first modern superhero. (You’ve gotta admit that the notion of a tough-with-his-fists human male who gains phenomenal super-strength after ingesting a special substance and who is utterly unkillable 24/7/365 certainly sounds like a superhero!) Depending on my mood, I could easily support either stance, but one thing is constant: I love Popeye and he’s one of my all-time favorite characters, especially his original incarnation in Segar’s Thimble Theater syndicated comic strip. My first exposures to the sailor man was in Fleischer Studios’ animated “Popeye” cartoon shorts and Bud Sagendorf’s stories for Dell’s Popeye comic book and I love those, too, but IDW’s version is modeled on Segar’s original. Writer Roger Langridge (Snarked!) really captures the delightfully peculiar personalities and voices of Segar’s Popeye, Olive Oyl, J. Wellington Wimpy, the Sea Hag and the rest of the cast. So far, the second issue, featuring terrific art by Ken Wheaton, has been my favorite, but I’ve liked ‘em all a lot.
Then there’s Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon for Image Comics. Erik insists that his character is anything but a superhero, but the strip reads like a 1970s Marvel comic as interpreted by a talented underground cartoonist under the influence of Jack Kirby, Gil Kane and some killer acid. Although Savage Dragon started out as a typical Image book (after all, Erik’s one of the publisher’s original founders and its former publisher), after a few years, Erik found his muse and ever since, the one thing you can count on from Savage Dragon is that the characters, stories and tone can turn on a dime. You never know what to expect from Savage Dragon and Erik rarely disappoints. Standouts have been (for me, at least): a long story arc in tribute to Kirby’s Kamandi; a honeymoon sequence that was originally conceived as a pitch for a Savage Dragon syndicated comic strip; a galaxy-conquering despot who looks like a cute little toy; a male Captain Marvel-esque superhero whose secret identity has been both a woman and an infant; a decidedly non-jolly green giant Osama bin Laden; an unauthorized appearance by the fabulous, furry Freak Brothers; and of course, Erik’s legendarily offensive “Don’t FUCK with God!” page. Now you see why I always pick up every issue of Savage Dragon; who knows what I might miss!
And although it’s not an actual superhero title, DC’s All-Star Western starring the latest iteration of “Jonah Hex” by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and Moritat certainly depends on Batman for its central concept. This series explores the Gotham City of the mid-19th Century by dropping the disfigured and morally raw Civil War vet into the middle of it. (I assume the inspiration was the 1970 TV series McCloud starring Dennis Weaver.) Anyway, Jonah has been summoned by Dr. Amadeus Arkham (founder of Arkham Asylum) to solve a chain of serial killings. Along the way he runs afoul of Gotham’s Mayor Cobblepot (an ancestor of the Penguin) and even plummets into the caverns beneath what will someday become the real estate that Wayne is built upon! It’s a fascinating look at a retrofitted version of Gotham City, and Gray and Palmiotti have long proven their skill in writing Jonah Hex over the last few years. Moritat, last seen on the DC’s “First Wave” version of The Spirit, does a good job, although he needs to learn how to draw more than one look for a woman’s face. There’s also been a number of solid backup stories with a general Western setting, including “El Diablo” drawn by Jordi Bernet, “The Barbary Ghost” drawn by Phil Winslade, “Bat Lash” drawn by José Luis Garcia-López (!), “Nighthawk/Cinnamon” and “Terrence Thirteen”. I know I’m not the only comic book pro who considers All-Star Western – edited by Joey Cavalieri – to be the best of DC’s “New 52” by a wide margin.
Stan Sakai has been writing and drawing his Usagi Yojimbo for over twenty years and yet there are still a few people out there who dismiss it because it features talking animals. Dark Horse has been publishing Usagi Yojimbo for a large part of that time, and as his many awards verify, Stan just keeps getting better and better. Over the years, I’ve drawn my fair share of “funny animal” comics and during that time, I’ve heard the term “anthropomorphic” comics bandied about. I’m still not certain I completely understand the difference, but I can acknowledge that Usagi Yojimbo is definitely more “anthropomorphic” than “funny animal” and that Stan has become a master of subtlety as well as action, of nuance as well as the written word. However, we won’t be seeing any new issues of Usagi Yojimbo for a while, because Stan is temporarily putting his Ronin rabbit aside to concentrate on the upcoming 47 Samurai, a limited series written by Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson and starring a cast of historical humans. I’ve only seen a few pages but I think that it’s some of the most impressive work I’ve ever seen Stan draw and he rises to the challenge beautifully. I think that 47 Samurai is going to change a lot of minds regarding Usagi Yojimbo.
IDW’s ongoing Ghostbusters series has one foot in action, one foot in horror and one foot in comedy. (Three feet? Hey, what did you expect?) There have been quite a few stabs at adapting the ghost busting gang from the 1984 and 1989 films, but frankly, their quality has been all over the ectometer. But I think that this version has finally nailed it. First of all, Erik Burnham’s scripts have been terrific, with interesting new situations and crackling and clever dialog that’s extremely faithful to the specific on-screen personas of Bill Murray as “Dr. Peter Venkman”, Harold Ramis as “Dr. Egon Spengler”, Dan Aykroyd as “Dr. Raymond Stantz” and Ernie Hudson as “Winston Zeddemore”. These stories have been so well-done that I could easily see them as the basis for new Ghostbusters films, animated series or video games. (As if!) And speaking of animation, I’ve got a sneaking hunch that the series’ artist, Dan Schoening, has a background in that field, because his representations of the cast, while not actually caricatures of the property’s key actors, evoke them well enough to be instantly recognizable. Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening really “get” Ghostbusters and it shows. I think that this funnybook iteration of Ghostbusters is about as good as it can get, possibly even equal to Evan Dorkin’s legendary run on Marvel’s Bill and Ted’s Excellent Comic Book… and as the guy who suggested BATECB to the Eisner judging committee, that’s really saying a lot.
Archie’s Kevin Keller by Dan Parent has gotten a ton of press due to the fact that it’s the first funnybook from “America’s most wholesome comic book publisher” to star an openly gay teenager. But outside of the gay press I’ve seen few if any reviews that point out that it’s genuinely a lot of fun. Now that such longtime Archie Comics creators as George Gladir, Stan Goldberg and Bob Bolling are rarely (if ever) given any new assignments, Dan Parent is arguably the company’s top creator in terms of writing and drawing the classic Archie characters with authority and appeal. Kevin Keller is no exception to that, especially when Dan wrings funny situations born of Veronica’s frustration that a cute, hip kid like Kevin Keller isn’t straight. But to Dan’s credit, the issue of Kevin’s gayness isn’t the only basis for his stories. But what I’ve especially dug about Kevin has been Dan’s terrific alternative covers for every issue of the ongoing series. Just as he drew for the initial Kevin mini-series, each one pays homage to the great Archie styles and themes of the past. One in particular that I love features Kevin – dressed as the old school Archie Andrews of the ‘40s and ‘50s – shrugging to the reader as if saying, “Can you believe how crazy-acting these straight teenagers are?”
Image’s Reed Gunther by Shane and Chris Houghton just finished up its initial 10-issue run but it’s not too late to pick up the two trade paperbacks that reprint the whole wonderful thing. I’m not a particular fan of westerns, so it’s kinda odd that I’ve got two of ‘em on this list, but if you think that All-Star Western sounds unusual, check out Reed Gunther. Reed is a roving cowboy who’s a magnet for trouble, much the same as James Garner’s private eye character in the classic 1970s TV series, The Rockford Files… except that Jim Rockford never had a grown grizzly bear for a best friend and steed. That’s right, thanks to Sterling, Reed is the Old West’s first (and only) bear-riding cowboy. Accompanied by the beautiful tomboy Starla, Reed become snared in an eldritch mystery of increasingly Lovecraftian nature and proportions… but instead of being terrifying, these monster-filled tales are hilarious! I can’t quite put a finger on why, but Reed Gunther somehow reminds me of European comic albums starring characters like Asterix, Tin Tin and Lucky Luke – and that can’t possibly be a bad thing, right? The maddeningly young and gifted Houghton brothers are currently turning their attentions to a new project, but they promise to return to Reed Gunther someday. Meanwhile, don’t miss the chance to savor Reed’s memorable first story arc.
Sergio Aragonés is arguable the World’s Greatest Living Cartoonist, and Bongo Comics’ Sergio Aragonés Funnies is, in my opinion, the best thing he’s done lately in a career that’s chock-full of “best things”… and I don’t write that just because El Maestro included a cameo appearance by Yours Truly on the cover of Sergio Aragonés Funnies No 1. Every issue includes a few short genre stories, a handful of puzzles and games, a pantomime gag or two and best of all, at least one (often two) autobiographical stories from Sergio’s amazing life – all written and drawn by Sergio himself! Unlike most of his other material, Sergio’s autobiographical pieces aren’t necessarily intended to be funny; many time they’re more poignant than you’d expect. His work for Mad and Groo The Wanderer has always been wonderful stuff, but these stories are special, even for him. (Let’s face it, Sergio’s one of the only cartoonists who’s ever had a life interesting enough to chronicle in funnybook form.) Sergio Aragonés Funnies has been on a temporary hiatus due to a passing problem with El Maestro’s back, but Sergio’s been on the mend for a while now – if anything, he’s doing even better than ever – and has jumped back into producing this now-bimonthly, Bill Morrison-edited series with a vengeance. So keep your eyes peeled for Sergio Aragonés Funnies No. 8, coming soon!
And finally, Keith Knight is one of the most talented and prolific cartoonists I know – I gobble up his stuff like junk food that’s actually good for me – yet he’s the only creator on this list that hasn’t done any actual comic books, but I’m gonna add it to my recommendations anyway. (Hey, it’s my list, my column and I’ll make and break the rules if I feel like it; consider it a bonus from me to you.) Fortunately for us, Keith’s The Knight Life (an autobiographical daily syndicated comic strip), The K Chronicles (his longtime autobiographical weekly comic strip) and (Th)ink (his weekly panel feature) have all been collected in a variety of reprint books published by Keith himself. Keith’s writing is hip, funny and smart, his drawing style reminds of Harvey Kurtzman’s (although he swears the Mad creator isn’t a particular influence) and his outlook on racial relations and humanity in general encompasses everything from sweetly cheerful (“Life’s Little Victories”) to hopelessly pessimistic. Visit Keith at kchronicles.com, read a healthy sampling of his stuff and order any and all of his books – Chivalry Ain’t Dead (The Knight Life), The Incredible Cuteness Of Being (The K Chronicles) and Too Small To Fail (Th)ink) are his latest – I promise you won’t regret it.
Not that any of my recommendations mean much in the greater scheme of things, but most (if not all) of these titles absolutely deserve better sales figures, so by all means, if what I’ve written here intrigues you, please, check ‘em out!
All I ask is that you leave a copy of each comic for me.
– Scott Shaw!
Next up: How and why I grew to love and embrace the once-reviled term “funnybook”!
Scott Shaw! — yes, that exclamation point has adorned his name since junior high school — currently writes and draws comic books starring the Simpsons for Bongo Comic, The Adventures of Captain Rochester for Rochester Electronics, and his autobiographical comic strip, Now It Can Be Told! for Act-I-Vate, as well as performing his live Oddball Comics show. He just finished storyboarding four episodes of Cartoon Network’s Annoying Orange animated show, is finishing a new 8-page Now It Can Be Told! story for Dark Horse Presents (“I Covered Myself With Peanut Butter To Become…The Turd!”) and will be drawing an upcoming Mark Evanier-written Garfield comic book story for Ka-Boom. He’s currently writing and drawing on the first Annoying Orange graphic novel – split with Mike Kazaleh – for Papercutz.
Guest columnist Scott Shaw! brings his perspective as an experienced professional cartoonist and active participant in the comic book industry for more than 40 years. Get an insider’s look at the art form from someone in the trenches every day.
By Scott Shaw!
Back in the late 1980s, when he was drawing such titles as DC’s Doom Patrol and Marvel’s Punisher, I ran into Savage Dragon creator-to-be Erik Larsen at a San Diego Comic-Con, where I complimented him on his “cartoony” drawing style. But instead of accepting my kudos, Erik – never the sort of person to mince words – made a sour expression on his face and said something to the effect of “Actually, I’m trying as hard as I can to dump that style. It’s costing me work!” Fortunately, Erik eventually changed his mind, and that’s why Savage Dragon is one of my favorite funnybooks – even when it’s deadly serious, it’s delightfully outrageous, exaggerated and somewhat ridiculous looking. It’s just what I dig in a superhero comic, which in my opinion should look outrageous, exaggerated and somewhat ridiculous – just like the concept of brightly costumed flying men, super-strong women and wall-walking whatchamacallits.
I recently had dinner with a fellow cartoonist whose work I’ve admired for a long time, Joe Staton. Joe’s one of those rare cartoonists who has drawn everything from Green Lantern to E-Man to Scooby-Doo and all with equal expertise. We discussed our styles, both of which share a humorous bent. He explained that his current gig, drawing the syndicated Dick Tracy comic strip written by Mike Curtis, was the perfect assignment. Not only was Dick Tracy creator Chester Gould his original inspiration to become a cartoonist, but Joe was also getting more than a bit tired of dialing back the cartoony-ness of his style when drawing superheroes and the like. The audience for those comics apparently prefers a darkly photorealistic approach over “light ‘n’ fun”. With Dick Tracy, Joe can get paid for drawing what he loves to draw – and he does it damn well, too.
Both of these stories about cartoonists whose careers both included stretches in which they were forced to draw much “straighter” than they’d have preferred — have happy endings. And those just don’t happen nearly often enough, at least not often enough for the funnybook industry. But then, I’m a cartoonist.
Back when I was growing up, nearly all comic books and comic strips were drawn in “cartoony” styles, no matter how dead serious their storylines could get. Here are just a few my favorite cartoonists who drew “straight” material in decidedly less-than-serious styles: Dick Sprang (his square-jawed, Dick Tracy-esqe Batman and giant typewriters); Ross Andru and Mike Esposito (of their work on Metal Men, Wonder Woman and “The War That Time Forgot” in Star Spangled War Stories, cartoonist Evan Dorkin once observed that Andru and Esposito’s characters all looked “insane”); Jack Cole (his Plastic Man was equal parts superhero and humor strip while his crime and horror stories were only slightly less outrageous); Steve Ditko (The Amazing Spider-Man, “Dr. Strange” in Strange Tales, Blue Beetle and The Creeper – all cool, all weird, all cartoony as hell); Ramona Fradon (her “Aquaman” in Adventure Comics was cartoony but warmly beautiful, her Metamorpho was the only version that worked visually); Jack Davis (his style was as much at home on straight horror in EC’s Tales From The Crypt as it was in Mad); Mike Sekowsky (his Justice League Of America featured the widest Superman ever); Marie and John Severin (this sister-and-brother act was known for comedy but produced Marvel’s wonderful Kull The Conqueror together); and Jack Kirby (whose resumé spanned every style and genre – from Captain America to “Earl The Rich Rabbit” – while always remaining uniquely himself).
In fact, I’ll never forget the smile that spread across Jack’s face, sometime during my first visit to his home, when I told him that he was my favorite cartoonist. And to most of us who turn blank pages into stories and artwork, “cartoonist” is the label we prefer. After all, we write and draw cartoons. I’ll even bet that Hal Foster – whose Prince Valiant syndicated Sunday strip was about as realistic as any famous funnies pages feature ever – referred to himself as a “cartoonist”. (Hey, Foster was a dues-paying member of the National Cartoonists Society for many years.)
But then, in the mid-to-late 1960s, Neal Adams came along. Although Neal’s first published comic book work appeared in an issue of Archie’s Joke Book, he had a background in the sophisticated comics-format ads of the fabled Johnstone and Cushing ad agency and the Ben Casey syndicated comic strip. After drawing a slew of Superman-related covers for DC editor Mort Weisinger, Neal went on to stellar gigs on “Deadman” in Strange Adventures, “Batman” in Detective Comics, X-Men and The Avengers. Suddenly, everyone was raving about how “realistic” Neal’s style was. By the time Jack Kirby’s first “Fourth World” comics debuted at DC, the “King Of Comics” found himself sharing his position of industry importance with Neal Adams.
So, what is “realistic”, anyway?
Well, it sure ain’t Neal Adams’ drawing style. Neal’s art is impeccably executed, but it’s an idealization of reality as seen through a perspective from Madison Avenue. The work of the great Russ Heath is certainly a bit more realistic, but Russ’ approach to drawing – even at age 85 (!) – is still too fastidious to be considered realistic. I suppose Alex Ross’ work is about as “realistic” as comic books get… but his dynamic poses, staging and compositions are anything but everyday. And isn’t “realistic” supposed to reflect the “real world”? But one thing’s for sure: ever since Neal Adams entered the world of comic books, the ability to draw in a “realistic” style has been the goal of many – in my opinion, too many – comic book artists. (Please note that I avoided using the word “cartoonist”.)
A few years ago, I displayed my work at the Long Beach Comic-Con and the pro set up at the table next to me was a talented young guy named Joshua Middleton (NYX, Superman/Shazam: First Thunder, many covers). I’ll admit I was unfamiliar with his artwork, but after witnessing the rabid demand for his originals, I studied up on Josh and his approach to drawing comic book art. My impression is that he shoots specific photographs that relate to the scripts he illustrates, uses PhotoShop to trace them, adds backgrounds and props, inks the tracings and, with his impeccable color sense, paints each image digitally. If that’s not accurate (and it may not be, considering my aversion to technology), I apologize to Mr. Middleton, but the final result is some very impressive “realistic” art, even if the pages of original artwork that Josh was selling hand-over-fist to an eager following did resemble extremely well-drawn coloring book art.
Here’s the big issue I don’t understand. How come the average person out there is resistant to reading a “straight” comic book like Watchmen, Marvels or The Rocketeer but loves humorous comic strips like Peanuts, Calvin And Hobbes or Mutts? And how come faithful comic book readers’ tastes seem to be the opposite, flocking to the straight stuff yet shunning the funny stuff like the plague? (I’ll never forget the year that Keith Giffen, J. M. Matteis and Kevin McGuire’s Justice League Of America received an Eisner Award nomination for “Best Humorous Series”. Sheesh!) If the world of comic books paralleled the real world, Bongo’s Sergio Aragonés Funnies would be America’s best-selling comic book – and deservedly so, since it’s written and drawn by the World’s Best Cartoonist – instead of being a mere niche title!
Are the vast majority of modern comic books going for a dark and/or photorealistic approach to storytelling because their publishers think they’re competing with the various live-action films? Or instead, are they trying to attract the attention of live-action filmmakers?
Fortunately, there are a few cartoonists left who “get” it. Kyle Baker (The Bakers, Special Forces and Deadpool Max), Roger Langridge (The Muppet Show, Thor The Mighty, Snarked! and Popeye) and Darwyn Cooke (DC: The New Frontier, Richard Stark’s Parker and now, Before Watchmen) – and the aforementioned Erik Larsen and Sergio Aragonés are all delivering comic book stories with a much welcome (for me, at least) cartoony touch.
Maybe some of them can answer this question better than I can: since when was a flying man any more “realistic” than a talking duck?
Next up: “Why I Don’t Dig Superhero Movies!”
Scott Shaw! — yes, that exclamation point has adorned his name since junior high school — currently writes and draws comic books starring the Simpsons for Bongo Comics, The Adventures of Captain Rochester for Rochester Electronics, and his autobiographical comic strip, Now It Can Be Told! for Act-I-Vate, as well as performing his live Oddball Comics show. He just finished storyboarding four episodes of Cartoon Network’s Annoying Orange animated show, is finishing a new 8-page Now It Can Be Told! story for Dark Horse Presents (“I Covered Myself With Peanut Butter To Become… The Turd!”) and will be drawing an upcoming Mark Evanier-written Garfield comic book story for KaBOOM!
A silly story about revenge starring a cowboy who’s actually a boy, a strange story (mixing prose with comics) of two sisters and the monster of jealousy, and literature’s greatest stories adapted into comics by some of the greatest artists.
Wednesday is New Comics Day! Each week, The Comics Observer picks three brand new releases worth checking out that should be suitable for someone who has never read comic books, graphic novels or manga before. These three books are out today!
If you like what you see here, click the links to see previews and learn more about them. Then head to your local comic book store, or check out online retailers like Things From Another World and Amazon. Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Facebook.
“Justice ain’t got no age.”
Nate Cosby (Pigs, Jim Henson’s The Storyteller) and Chris Eliopoulos (Franklin Richards, Misery Loves Sherman) present Cow Boy, the story of a young bounty hunter determined to send his entire outlaw family to jail. He travels the Old West on a horse that ain’t his, and won’t stop ’til every one’a his kin’s in the clink.
Also in this volume:
Short stories by the likes of Roger Langridge (The Muppet Show Comic Book), Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Atomic Robo), and Mike Maihack (Cleopatra in Space) & Colleen Coover (Jim Henson’s The Storyteller).
There’s a beast in all of us.
Every summer the trucks roll in, bringing the carnival and its infinite possibilities to town. This year Tessa and her younger sister Lulu are un-chaperoned and want to be first in line to experience the rides, the food… and the boys. Except this summer, jealousy will invade their relationship for the first time, setting in motion a course of events that can only end in tragedy, putting everyone’s love and friendship to the test.
Alternating chapters of prose and comics are interwoven in this extraordinary novel that will break your heart and crack it wide open at the same time.
The Graphic Canon, Volume 1: From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons
Written and illustrated by various
Edited by Russ Kick
Published by Seven Stories Press
The classic literary canon of Western civilization meets the comics artists, illustrators, and other artists who have remade reading in the last years of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first century in Russ Kick’s magisterial, full-color The Graphic Canon.
Volume 1 takes us on a visual tour from the earliest literature through the end of the 1700s. Along the way, we’re treated to eye-popping renditions of the human race’s greatest epics: Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Odyssey (in watercolors by Gareth Hinds), The Aeneid, Beowulf, and The Arabian Nights, plus later epics The Divine Comedy and The Canterbury Tales (both by legendary illustrator and graphic designer Seymour Chwast), Paradise Lost, and Le Morte D’Arthur. Two of ancient Greece’s greatest plays are adapted — the tragedy Medea by Euripides and Tania Schrag’s uninhibited rendering of the very bawdy comedy Lysistrata by Aristophanes (the text of which is still censored in many textbooks). Also included is Robert Crumb’s rarely-seen adaptation of James Boswell’s London Journal, filled with philosophical debate and lowbrow debauchery.
Religious literature is well-covered and well-illustrated, with the Books of Daniel and Esther from the Old Testament, Rick Geary’s awe-inspiring new rendition of the Book of Revelation from the New Testament, the Tao te Ching, Rumi’s Sufi poetry, Hinduism’s Mahabharata, and the Mayan holy book Popol Vuh, illustrated by Roberta Gregory. The Eastern canon gets its due, with The Tale of Genji (the world’s first novel, done in full-page illustrations reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley), three poems from China’s golden age of literature lovingly drawn by pioneering underground comics artist Sharon Rudahl, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, a Japanese Noh play, and other works from Asia.
Two of Shakespeare’s greatest plays (King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and two of his sonnets are here, as are Plato’s Symposium, Gulliver’s Travels, Candide, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Renaissance poetry of love and desire, and Don Quixote visualized by the legendary Will Eisner.
Some unexpected twists in this volume include a Native American folktale, an Incan play, Sappho’s poetic fragments, bawdy essays by Benjamin Franklin, the love letters of Abelard and Heloise, and the decadent French classic Dangerous Liaisons, as illustrated by Molly
And much, much more.
From fantasy to funnies, this special week highlights 3 great new releases from the LA-based publisher Boom! Studios.
Wednesday is New Comics Day! Each week, The Comics Observer picks three brand new releases worth checking out that should be suitable for someone who has never read comic books, graphic novels or manga before.
If you like what you see here, click the links to see previews and learn more about them. Then head to your local comic book store, or check out online retailers like Things From Another World and Amazon. Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Facebook.
Celebrated creator Camilla d’Errico delivers a stunning visual journey exploring emotion, self-discovery/innocence and what it means to be human.
TANPOPO is superhumanly intelligent and inhumanly emotionless. Attached to a mysterious machine and ruled by her vast knowledge, one day her heart rises up to struggle against her ruling mind. Torn and confused, she now seeks humanity, longing to feel what other humans feel. Each chapter of TANPOPO is inspired by a classic piece of literature or poetry, woven into its own epic story, and contained in this beautiful hardcover edition.
You were amazed by his Harvey Award-winning run on The Muppet Show Comic Book. You thrilled to his run on Thor: The Mighty Avenger. Now the next great Roger Langridge graphic novel series begins as he brings Lewis Carroll’s imaginative world to new heights in a side-splitting adventure that can only be explained as… Snarked! Journey with Langridge as he pulls the carpet out from under such Lewis Carroll classics as “The Walrus and The Carpenter,” “Through the Looking Glass,” and “The Hunting of the Snark,” creating an all-new world of humorous grandeur.
Presenting a fresh and incredibly modern “Langridge” spin on an already-warped classic, Snarked starts here in an epic adventure featuring the Red Queen’s children, Princess Scarlett and her baby brother Rusty, as they set out in search of the missing Red King. And who better to help guide the way than the Walrus and the Carpenter from Through the Looking Glass. That’s right, the same Walrus that inspired the Beatles song “I Am the Walrus” is now in Roger Langridge’s merry, mad hands for new all-ages adventures at KABOOM!
Everyone’s favorite lasagna-scarfing cat opens the fridge to an all-new ongoing comic book series! Join Garfield as he begins his monthly exploits with Jon, Odie, and the rest of the gang in the latest all-ages must-read from kaboom! The Garfield Show writer and comics luminary Mark Evanier teams up with beloved Garfield strip cartoonist Gary Barker to bring you all the laughs (and lasagna) you can handle. With brand new stories featuring everyone’s favorite feline, this debut #1 issue is sure to please Garfield fans, both new and old alike!
A new Facebook page is tracking a recent trend in the creation of comic books and graphic novels. ComicKick describes itself as “a community dedicated to promoting comic book and graphic novel projects on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo!”
Both of those sites help creators turn to their potential audiences for help in financing their creations. In exchange for the help, the creators offer their supporters signed copies, original art, and other unique incentives. It’s a model that traditional outlets never thought would work, and while it’s not a fool-proof method of getting published, there have been some startling success stories.
Rick Burlew wanted to raise about $15,000 to re-release a print collection of his popular webcomic The Order of the Stick. “Popular” is putting it lightly. Not only did fans contribute $250,000 within a week, the project raised over $1 million from almost 15,000 backers! The money was enough for Burlew to reprint the webcomic’s entire 7-book library. As of now, it is the second most successful Kickstarter project, eclipsed only by the over $3 million raised for the video game Double Fine Adventure. Burlew’s incentives included a new prequel story delivered as a PDF to everyone who pledged $10 or more, a walk-on cameo in a future strip for one person that donated $5,000, exclusive magnets, original crayon drawings, and even a coloring book. During the fundraising period, he amped up his production to release a new installment of The Order of the Stick every day to help generate extra excitement and energy around the event.
Renae De Liz‘s all-female comics anthology Womanthology also had similar success, as reported last year. Their Kickstarter page met their goal of $25,000 within just 18 hours, and finished with over $100,000. The buzz around the project garnered the attention of IDW Publishing, which helped distribute the anthology and has agreed to publish a 5-issue mini-series for a second graphic novel.
Not everyone is making such huge bank. Using Kickstarter or IndieGoGo (or another crowd-sourcing platform) takes a serious commitment to promotion, and of course a pre-existing audience helps. But more and more comics projects are matching their goal, like LA cartoonist Keith Knight (The K Chronicles, The Knight Life), who brought in over $40,000 to produce his original graphic novel I Was A Teenage Michael Jackson Impersonator.
According to the Kickstarter Blog, the Comics category in 2011 raised over $1.7 million from over 27,000 backers of 267 successful projects. It’s important to note that with Kickstarter, only projects that match their goal receive funds pledged. Considering that The Order of the Stick nearly eclipsed that total dollar figure by itself earlier this year, the 2012 figures should see a remarkable increase.
With these success stories, others are turning to this method to try to publish their own comics and graphic novels, or books and films about comics. To keep them all straight, enter ComicKick on Facebook. Only about a week old, these fans are posting about a variety of new projects by creators trying to bring their dreams to reality.
Aimed at grades 3-6, The Graphic Textbook features a dozen short stories (both fiction and non-fiction) that address topics in a variety of disciplines (Social Studies, Math, Language Arts, Science) drawn from the list of Common Core Standards used in classrooms countrywide. The accompanying Teacher’s Guide will include Standards-correlated lesson plans customized to each story, research-based justifications for using comics in the classroom, a guide to establishing best classroom practices and a comprehensive listing of additional educational resources.
The Graphic Textbook will prove once and for all that comics belong in the classroom by creating a comic that every teacher will actually want to use and a textbook that every student will actually want to read!
It includes chapters from professional creators of comic books and graphic novels, such as Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey, who produced the educational series Action Philosophers, plus Roger Langridge (The Muppet Show Comic Book, Snarked!, Popeye), Chris Schweizer (Crogan’s Vengeance), Katie Cook (Fraggle Rock, Gronk: A Monster’s Story) and more. The cover to the right is by Ben Caldwell.
The comics projects on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are often unique and different from what is being produced by the bigger comics publishers, so it’s worth it to “Like” ComicKick on Facebook to find out about what could be a future hit.
Los Angeles comics publisher Boom! Studios has been releasing info on their re-branded Boom! Kids imprint this and last week, and the big news is the March release of the first Peanuts original graphic novel Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown as the debut title of kaboom! (formerly teased as Boom! Kids 2.0). (Click on the image to the right for a preview, which immediately sold me on the previously unthinkable idea of buying something Peanuts-related that wasn’t directly written and illustrated by the late Charles Schulz.)
Not to be confused with the Mexican comic book studio ¡Ka-Boom! Estudio or the short-lived 1990s comic book series by Jeph Loeb and Jeff Matsuda called Kaboom or the Texas comic book store KABOOM Comics or the Virginia Beach comic book store Kaboom Collectibles or the Australian comic book store Kaboom! Comics, Boom’s kaboom! will also include Snarked! by Roger Langridge, who recently wrapped up an excellent run creating The Muppet Show Comic Book, as well as a licensed comic based on the PBS Kids animated series Word Girl, and a French Star Wars parody imported as Space Warped. The line will also retain their classic Disney comics Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, Mickey Mouse and Friends, Donald Duck and Friends, and Uncle Scrooge as well as the Disney Afternoon comics DuckTales, Darkwing Duck, and Chip ‘n Dale’s Rescue Rangers. (Disney has decided to pull the comics based on Pixar movies such as The Incredibles, Cars and Toy Story in-house where Marvel Comics will publish Disney•Pixar Presents, a magazine currently slated to reprint the Boom!-produced stories.)
Boom! publisher Ross Richie spoke with Comic Book Resources about kaboom! and the Peanuts graphic novel, and I was struck by his explanation for why the re-named Boom! Kids. From that interview:
“We had theorized for a while that we need to change it up for two reasons: one, we were seeing adults apologizing at conventions for buying the kids’ comics for themselves, and we wanted to remove this barrier. Seeing women in their 20s at Emerald City Comicon say, ‘I know the Incredibles comic book is made for kids, but it looks awesome and I love the art and I’m buying it anyway’ — that ain’t right. Let’s remove the perceived barrier,” Richie explained.
“We also knew on the other end that kids that can buy with their own dollars — let’s say 8 year olds for instance — didn’t consider themselves kids, so they were not sparking to the name,” he continued. “A lot of our content is great for this age group, so let’s get rid of that barrier.
“And through the process, what we ended up seeing was that our organic desire as a publisher hewed more towards being ‘all ages’ than a strict ‘kids’ publisher. So why not reflect that? Why not show everyone that our focus is shifting and changing?
I think that realization and change is significant, and it’s smart of them to listen to this and act on it. Many of the strongest material for young readers is in fact enjoyable for a wider cross section of people. It’s why Pixar movies are so successful. It’s why many of the classic Warner Brothers/Looney Tunes cartoons are so timeless. They don’t just speak to a narrow demographic. (As an aside, DC Comics has been publishing Looney Tunes comics for years.)
It kind of ties in with part of a new interview conducted by colorist Chris Sotomayor (Captain America, Hulk) with comics writer Kurt Busiek (JLA/Avengers, Astro City) (via The Beat). In talking about what’s lacking in the comics industry, Busiek said, “What we’re doing wrong is that we’re putting so much of our energy trying to make comics that will keep the existing audience on board, by concentrating the thrills, the hype and the excitement in ways that make the work forbidding to newcomers. And at the same time, not doing enough outreach to new audiences.” He goes on to break down how to bring in new audiences:
The four-part mantra of how to reach a new target audience remains true: 1. Publish material they will like. 2. Publish it in a form they’ll be willing to pick up. 3. Distribute it to places they will see it. 4. Tell them it exists.
When we reach out to new audiences, we often do only one of the four — and sometimes none, and then complain that it’s not possible.
Fortunately Boom! is doing it differently (and there are others too). They get that speaking to the same narrow audience is death in the long term. There’s nothing wrong with being a cult hit or making a product for a very specific audience, but when the majority of a publishing line is developed with that approach, there can only be finite interest.
Those four steps should be plastered on every comics publishers walls.
You’d think that with their over $4 billion purchase of Marvel Entertainment a year ago this week, the Burbank-based Walt Disney Company would have brought things in-house for comics featuring Disney characters. Instead, Disney has licensed a small but highly acclaimed line of comics to Los Angeles comics publisher Boom! Studios over the last year plus. And with their Boom! Kids line, Boom! has helped resurrect the all-ages corner of the comic book industry, something that many feared was a lost cause. Not only is this good news for increasing variety, but it’s absolutely crucial in making sure that another generation doesn’t slip by without learning and internalizing the language of comics. Read the rest of this entry
The general consensus among mainstream comic book publishers is that comics aimed at kids, or all-ages comics, don’t sell. And sadly, they’re usually right.
Take for example the apparent cancellation of the endlessly charming Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee. Even an impending big Hollywood movie of Thor couldn’t generate enough interest to sustain the series past eight issues. Why? Maybe it’s because there are also about four other comics starring Thor or some Thor-like character and who can keep them straight? Maybe it’s because too many comic book stores cater to their established audience base of young-ish to older adults who aren’t interested in an all-ages comic book no matter how much praise and acclaim it gets.
So kids comics are doomed, right?
Not quite. Fortunately a growing number of comics stores actually do have enough business savvy to diversify their customer base. In support of this, Diamond Comics, the primary distributor for comics shops, has been amping up their KidsComics.com website, now with a handy-dandy order form kids and parents can print out to make sure their local store orders what they want.
And more effectively, and unlike ten or more years ago, there are now other ways for comics to find their audience. As examples, walk into a book store and see how long it takes you to stumble over a display of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. Granted, they technically aren’t comic books (or graphic novels), but often not far from away are copies of Bone by Jeff Smith, Owly by Andy Runton, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz adaptation by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young, The Muppet Show Comic Book by Langridge himself, and lots more. And they’ve all been selling very well. Yes even the Twilight graphic novel adaptation by Young Kim. And tons of manga too, plenty of it age appropriate (see Manga4Kids for recommendations – I’ve still got a lot to learn myself). The School Library Journal has a great blog to help find Good Comics For Kids.
There are also great web-comics for kids online. Two of my favorites are the whimsical Abominable Charles Christopher by Karl Kerschl and the delightfully absurd Axe Cop by Ethan Nicolle and Malachai Nicolle (age 5!). LunchboxFunnies.com is a good place to start, although they sadly haven’t updated for several months now. Hopefully it’s just temporary. There have been a few sites attempting to track age appropriate web-comics but sadly most are over a year old now, basically ancient artifacts in internet time.
Plenty of the above mentioned comics have been released as digital comics on mobile devices and online through services like ComiXology. Although they have yet to parse out kids comics to make shopping easier, they do have age ratings, which helps a great deal. Much of Atomic Robo by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener is recommended for kids 9 and up, and it is regularly among the most downloaded.
So kids comics do sell. You just have to know how to get them to kids.
Never read a graphic novel before? Haven’t read a comic book in years?
Here’s some brand new stuff that came out the week of October 14 that I think is worth a look-see for someone with little to no history with comics. That means you should be able to pick any of these up cold without having read anything else. So take a look and see if something doesn’t grab your fancy. If so, follow the publisher links or Amazon.com links to buy yourself a copy. Or, head to your local friendly comic book shop.
[And yes, I'm nearly a month behind. You don't have to rub it in.]
Disclaimer: For the most part, I have not read these yet, so I can’t vouch for their quality. But, from what I’ve heard and seen, odds are good they just might appeal to you.
Adam Heller is dying, but before he can take the big dirt nap, his best friends offer him a chance at immortality and he takes it. Now Adam is a vampire living it up on the wild side and it’s everything he could ever want. But the eternal party crashes to a bloody halt when an ancient monster awakens from the dark, forgotten places of the world and comes looking for Adam. The startling reason this monster has come looking for him may be the most horrifying realization of all.
I read this story when it originally came out in individual comic book issues back in 2003. (I can’t believe that was 6 years ago.) I find Judd Winick to be kind of a mixed bag as a writer, but this was one of his good ones. And as I recall Tomm Coker’s art is even better. It was so solid, I was kind of surprised a sequel never materialized. Maybe this collected edition is a hint that one is finally coming. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a preview. If anyone finds one, post it in the comments below.
“Pope has embellished his stylish love story with heart-stopping action and adventure. …Pope’s drawing and page design … is both technically assured and wonderfully expressive.” —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
“This has the potential to attract a large audience, including serious readers, science-fiction buffs, artists, and would-be graphic novelists.” —SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
In a future where New York has evolved into a sci-fi metropolis, “S,” a man addicted to “heavy liquid,” a substance that is both a drug and an art form, finds himself trapped in a mystery littered with love and drugs. This new edition features bonus sketch material, new coloring and more.
Another one from Vertigo’s vaults, this was originally released in early 2000. Paul Pope is one of the art form’s more exceptional storytellers and artists and this has been on my must-get list for some time. It’s great to see this re-released. DC Comics has a pretty skimpy preview here in PDF.
“Sacco is one of the most astute war-zone correspondents working today” –Rolling Stone
“A searing and amusing look at the motley collection of reporters, war profiteers, criminals, soldiers and hapless civilians trapped in war zone.” –New York Times
“Sacco doesn’t try to lay claim to the truth. He’s simply telling one man’s story, and it makes for an excellent book.” –Washington Post
“Sacco demonstrates that the narrative arts, including comics, can gather up complicated social truths with a gradual patience that often eludes the camera.” –Boston Globe
Using old-fashioned pen and paper, award-winning cartoonist Joe Sacco reports from the sidelines of wars around the world. THE FIXER AND OTHER STORIES is a new softcover that collects Joe Sacco’s landmark short stories on the Bosnian War that previously comprised the hardcover editions of THE FIXER and WARS END.
It must be re-issue week. This reprints material from 2003 and 2005. Joe Sacco is living proof that comics can do and be anything. Even journalism. And fortunately he’s real good at it, too. It’s sorta kinda like NPR in comics.
Blackbeard: Legend of the Pyrate King #1 – $3.50
By Eduardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Robert Napton, Jamie Nash and Mario Guevara
32 pages; published by Dynamite Entertaiment
Dynamite presents their most ambitious undertaking yet – BLACKBEARD: THE LEGEND OF THE PYRATE KING #1! Under the stunning John Cassaday, producers Eduardo (writer of The Blair Witch Project) Sanchez and Gregg (producer of The Blair Witch Project) Hale are joined by Robert Napton and Jamie Nash to present the ultimate adventure tale of a bygone age, when pyrates ruled the waters!
Beginning with his childhood and carry through to his bitter end, Blackbeard’s legacy has never been explored as deeply and illustrated as beautifully (by Mario Guevara) than now!
I don’t really consider a comic by the makers of The Blair Witch Project to be all that big of a selling point, but Dynamite has had a pretty decent track record with properties like The Lone Ranger, Zorro and Sherlock Holmes. I think this is their first comic steeped in history and based on an actual person, and I’m sure liberties will be taken. But it looks like a fun ride nevertheless. Check out the preview at the publisher link above.
Since its inception in 2005, Mome has served as a comics McSweeney’s. Whether exposing new talent like Eleanor Davis (author of the recent Stinky by Toon Books); featuring short stories by contemporary graphic novelists like Dash Shaw (The Bottomless Belly Button); bringing the work of international superstars like David B. (Epileptic) to American audiences; or introducing the work of legends like Gilbert Shelton (The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers) to a new generation of readers, Mome is the most acclaimed, accessible, frequent, and reasonably priced anthology on the market despite it’s high production values and mostly color format.
This issue features several of our favorite alternative comic artists of the last 15 years, bringing us great joy. Archer Prewitt is the first, with an all-new “Funny Bunny” strip created in between his active musical career. “The Moolah Tree” is the new Fuzz & Pluck graphic novel from Ted Stearn, following Fuzz & Pluck and Fuzz & Pluck: Splitsville, beginning serialization here. We are equally proud to debut new work from Renée French, whose work is also featured on the front and back cover of this issue. And Nicholas Mahler debuts to ask “What Is Art?” (translated by secret weapon Kim Thompson).
Also: the second chapter of T. Edward Bak’s “Wild Man – The Strange Journey – and Fantastic Accounts – of the Naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller, from Bavaria to Bolshaya Zemlya (and Beyond)”; a new “Cold Heat” story by the team of Ben Jones, Frank Santoro & Jon Vermilyea; Dash Shaw interprets an episode of “Blind Date” into comics form; and new stories from Lilli Carré, Conor O’Keefe, Laura Park, Nate Neal, and Sara Edward-Corbett, with incidental drawings by Kaela Graham.
This highly regarded quarterly anthology is a great survey of some of the industry’s greatest and most innovative creators. If you’ve always wanted to sample quality alternative comics, here’s your first stop. Here’s a great big 12-page preview (PDF).
The satirical masterpiece that ushered in the graphic novel era to European comics, finally available in English—the beginning of an ambitious publishing project introducing one of Europe’s most beloved cartoonists to American audiences. One of the earliest full-length, standalone graphic novels to be published in Europe, and certainly one of the best and most original, Ici Même was serialized in the adult French comics monthly (A suivre) in the early 1980s and then released in book form. A quarter of a century later, this dark, funny, consistently surprising masterpiece has finally been translated into English.
An unexpected yet smoothly confident collaboration between the darkly cynical Jacques Tardi and the playful fantasist Jean-Claude Forest (of Barbarella fame), You Are There is set on a small island off the coast of France, where unscrupulous landowners have succeeded in overtaking the land from the last heir of a previously wealthy family. That heir, whose domain, in a Beckettian twist, is now reduced to the walls that border these patches of land he used to own, prowls the walls all day, eking out a living by collecting tolls at each gate. His seemingly hopeless struggle to recover his birthright becomes complicated as the government sees a way of using his plight for the sake of political expediency, and the romantic intervention of the daughter of one of the landowners (who has her own sordid history with the politician) engenders further difficulties, culminating in an apocalyptic, hallucinatory finale.
Set in Tardi’s preferred early 20th century milieu, You Are There is drawn in his crisp 1980s neo-“clear line” style, gorgeously detailed, elegantly stylized, with impossibly deep slabs of black. You Are There is a feast for both the eyes and the brain.
As we cover in our documentary Dig Comics, the perception of comic books and their corresponding growth (or lack thereof) is notably different in countries other than the United States. This past summer, Dig Comics director/writer/host Miguel Cima discovered firsthand that France has a healthier, more diverse industry. This release from 1979 was apparently a significant moment in the growth of that industry. Here’s an even bigger 19-page preview (PDF).
In the tradition of the acclaimed and groundbreaking anthology, Flight, the ACT-I-VATE Primer showcases a wide array of stories and talent -18 innovative creators, 16 intriguing properties, one beautiful book – and all-new, never-before-seen stories and art!
act-i-vate.com is the premier comic art collective on the Internet, featuring many renowned cartoonists who produce all-new material on a regular basis. The ACT-I-VATE PRIMER is a PRINT EXCLUSIVE anthology by many of the Act-I-Vate creators. None of the material in this book will appear on the Act-I-Vate website for at least one year from publication date.
That’s it for this week. Tougher than usual to whittle it down to a halfway digestible list. Yay comics!