Like a good pop song, if a genre comic is going to keep you interested, it has to have a hook. It really doesn't matter if the art is exceptional, or it has an inventive structure or well-written characters. If it can't be distilled into one intriguing sentence of less than ten words, then it's not going to keep your attention. Blind guy fights crime; orphaned billionaire is world's greatest detective; six guns control the fate of the world; this Avenger is a freaking mess; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, etc. But you can't just have the hook -- a comic with bad art, poor writing, and a fantastic hook is still a mediocre comic.
Dead Letters Vol. 1: The Existential Op by Christopher Sebela and Chris Visions, is far from mediocre, with strong writing, captivating and kinetic art, and a hook that will grab you from the get-go: amnesiac detective joins gang war in Purgatory.
Also a contributor to the recent volume of Batman: Black and White, Cho does a very good job with the characterization of his Shoplifter protagonist: grumpy, wry yet oddly affable, and smart. She's both a familiar and refreshing protagonist and serves well as a universal conduit for the emotions and experiences portrayed. I'm usually the first person to shunt the concept of "quit your day job, and do what makes you happy" à la Zen Pencils, Cho's an accomplished enough writer that his presentation of Corinna's decision to pursue her creative passion is more the result of a cumulative desire to change what isn't working for her, an acknowledgement of the problems she's having and possessing the strength and fortitude to realize only she can enforce a difference. She's under no illusions about what the future may bring, but for now, she's done enough to make herself feel better, and hopeful, and that will do.
Shoplifter's a short book -- 90 pages or so, and the concise length serves it well -- there's no flab here, no room for distracted interjections, no complaints. It may be slight, but it's elegantly executed, and I like the fact that Cho didn't feel the need to draw this out, the story's assured and cogent (although spending more time with the character would perhaps leave a greater impact on the reader). Visually, it's as attractive as you'd expect from Cho, alternatively surrounding Corinna with beautiful rendered city and then leaving her swathes of space; she's as lost in one as the other. The rose and black color scheme is a gorgeous combination that does much to imbue the narrative with a sense of warmth and closeness, and also to dispel any notions of otherwise suggested tone. It's rare that you read something so evenly handled yet characterful and uplifting, but Shoplifter manages it.
I chatted to Cho about the new Pantheon book, its themes and the process by which it was created.
Avatar: The Last Airbender's four-episode finale starts with a beach party. Sokka cracks jokes as he scrambles across a crumbling airship. The last spoken line is a blind joke. It is clear to me, in a way that it wasn't when I first watched it, that these characters are young teens. Young teens dealing with genocidal dictatorships, Orwellian city-states and the general mayhem of war, absolutely, but their age lends the whole affair a constant, underlying levity. The adults that exist are kept at arm's length from the action—present, but unmistakably marked as “grown-ups,” and thus distant. Youth, and all its connotations of hope and humor, are the engine of the show.
Traditionally speaking, TV tie-in comics have been a pretty mixed bag. The ones that are bad tend to fall flat pretty hard, ranging from forgettable to outright terrible. Occasionally, it's because they feel like cheap cash-ins, but more often, it's just a simple case of the tie-in not being able to capture the same spirit and feeling of the source material. But sometimes, every once in a while, you get something like the Bill and Ted's Excellent Comic Book series that Evan Dorkin did for Marvel back in the '90s, where he took the Wyld Stallyns on a full year of increasingly bizarre adventures and ended up making something that's actually amazing, or the recent Eisner-winning Adventure Time comics.
This week marked the launch of Dynamite's Bob's Burgers comic, and while it's only one issue in, I'm already going to go ahead and say that it goes far beyond capturing the spirit of the show, to the point where it feels like it could be a lost episode. It's not just a great translation of Bob's Burgers to comics, it's great Bob's Burgers, period.
Mostly because it starts with Erotic Friend Fiction about Tina being a horse.
Emily Carroll’s collection of horror comics, Through the Woods, operates largely on the alienation of the inexplicable experience. More specifically, with one exception, it explores that alienation in women, particularly young women. The struggle for many of these characters is the insidious horror of trauma, and all of the ways that trauma pulls you apart, both from yourself and your community, and leaves you susceptible to further terrors.
This trauma that suddenly makes you unreliable to the world around you, and indeed unreliable to yourself, provides much of the claustrophobia that characterizes the slowly closing trap of Carroll’s flashlight-whispered tales. These are spellbound stories through which every strength of the comics medium is put into employ. There are frankly very few writers in comics who can go toe-to-toe with Emily Carroll in this regard. The totality of these comics is a testament to the largely untapped potentials inherent in this medium.
Listen: I love Robin Hood. Outside of Dracula, who I think we can all agree is pretty great, he's probably my favorite public domain character in the history of fiction, and between the sidekicks, the secret headquarters, the recognizeable costume and the uneasy relationship with local law enforcement, he's pretty much a direct ancestor to the kind of superheroes that we have today. So really, if there was anything that was going to get me back to being excited about the hardcovers reprinting Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse strips after the last volume left such a bad taste in my mouth, Mickey going on an adventure with Robin Hood was going to be the thing that did it.
Which, as it turns out, is exactly what they did. The latest Mickey volume from Fantagraphics is a collection of Gottfredson's full-color Sunday strips from 1936 to 1938 -- plus a whole bunch of bonus features from his later career -- that includes "The Robin Hood Adventure." And folks, this one isn't just a great story from a great creator, it's the kind of story where I want to just start grabbing people on the street and telling them they have to read it, because it's one of the weirdest things I have ever read.
Wednesdays have been the focal point of the comics calendar for as long as I've been reading them, but recently there's been a new reason to look forward to the middle of the week: Back, a webcomic that sees Anthony Clark (Nedroid) and KC Green (Gunshow) steadily weaving a bizarre and often hilarious tale of resurrection, prophecy, and the occasional Garfield phone.
When it was announced, I predicted that Green and Clark coming together would create a project that would send all other webcomics fleeing in terror of their union, and while that might have been overselling it just a bit, I don't think it was far off in terms of just how good this thing is. Now that we're about 26 pages in, it's safe to say that if you're not reading Back, you really need to be.
Q: I was reading your column about New Teen Titans where you said Crisis on Infinite Earths was a mess, but a topic for another time. Care to explain now? -- @jeremyliveshere
A: The one thing you can't say about Crisis on Infinite Earths is that it didn't deliver on its promise. In a time when "event" comics were still in their infancy, Crisis came out of the gate promising to be the biggest thing that had ever or would ever hit comics, and looking back on it from almost thirty years later, it's hard not to admit that even with a comic rolling out every six months like clockwork that promises to change everything forever, it's still the one that actually did it. Worlds did live, worlds did die, and nothing actually was the same again.
It just also happens to be a story that's a complete friggin' mess.
We can all agree that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips form one of the most successful comics collaborations of all time, right? Over the last fifteen years the pair have routinely produced some of the best comics of the present age -- Sleeper, Incognito, about a thousand pages of Criminal, and the just-completed Fatale. They're the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby of smart, stylish, noir-tinged genre comics. Whenever their names appear together on a cover, it's practically a guarantee of excellence.
Now, after years of telling stories influenced by classic film noir, Brubaker and Phillips head directly to the source with The Fade Out, a dark and enthralling mystery about the dark truths behind the myth of old Hollywood.
When Mark Millar and Goran Parlov's Starlight was announced, I had mixed feelings. Goran Parlov may be one of the five best comics artists living today, and it sounded like a good idea: a retired hero in the mold of John Carter returns to the planet he once saved, decades after his prime, to be a hero once again.
But often it seems that no matter how good an idea is, Mark Millar can't help but screw it up. His love of sensationalism and his need to be controversial have sapped the power out of many of his strongest ideas, and I wasn't that surprised when our own Kevin Church ripped the first issue to shreds. I read it anyway, because Goran Parlov exists, and life is much better for it.
I was a little surprised to find out that I totally disagreed with Church's review. And I was shocked that the Mark Millar that I like actually decided to turn up.
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