Unwritten 2: pulse-pounding graphic novel shows the grim and selfish ways that people use stories

One of the strongest graphic novel debuts I read in 2010 was the first collection of The Unwritten, a story that peeks into the secret life of narrative and the blood and teeth lurking beneath our fantasies and fairy tales.

Now, The Unwritten Vol. 2: Inside Man, author Mike Carey and illustrator Peter Gross continue to work their magic, in a fast paced adventure story that delves more explicitly into the ways that humans manipulate story to their own ends.

Tom Taylor is the namesake of Tommy Taylor, a globally beloved fantasy character in the mold of Harry Potter from a series of books written by his father, who mysteriously disappeared years before. A Z-list celebrity, Tom ekes out a meager living signing copies of his father's books at conventions until a grad student publicly challenges him with evidence that he is an impostor (news to Tom!).

A pariah, Tom flees angry mobs of disillusioned fans, finally coming to the very castle where Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, where a group of famous (and insufferable) writers have gathered. Then, amid revelations about an ancient conspiracy of story and storytelling (encompassing Twain and Kipling), the writers are murdered in most grisly fashion, leaving Tom to take the blame.

Book 2 picks up with Tom in jail in France, the subject of worldwide resentment and hate, in a prison built on the site memorialized in the ballad of Sir Roland's famous rout by the Saracens. Now all the stories are coming together: the ancient ballads, the Tommy Taylor novels, the gossip blogs that follow Taylor's every move -- and now Tom is in more danger than ever. Read the rest

Great Fables Crossover: Fables goes even more meta, stays just as rollicking

I just finished Fables Vol. 13: The Great Fables Crossover, the latest collection in Bill Willingham's superb Fables series. This is an incredibly complicated, long-running story in which all the fables of every time and land have been chased from their dimensions by a dark power, and have gone into hiding in NYC, where a final battle is brewing.

The last Fables volume, War and Pieces, had enough finality in it that I erroneously believed it to be the end of the series -- for one thing, I couldn't imagine what else could come to top it. I was bemused to discover that the series was only half-done, and that the real action was only getting started.

Crossover marks a transition to a different kind of second act for the storyline, I think. As the title suggests, the story is a crossover between the main Fables serial and one of the spinoffs, Jack of Fables (which depicts the many adventures of the roguish Jack of Beanstalk fame).

In Crossover, the Literals (literal embodiments of philosophical and literary ideals, such as the Pathetic Fallacy and a trio of beautiful, ass-kicking embodiments of librarianship) suck the Fables into a new kind of fight -- a fight against the Writer, himself a Literal, bent on rewriting reality and making a better one, in order to rein in the characters and situations who've run away from him.

As with previous volumes, it's whacking great fun, as well as being an education in the ways of storytelling and a philosophical rumination on the nature of belief, reality, and the power of stories. Read the rest

Unwritten: spellbinding graphic novel about narrative's secret place in the world

Unwritten Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity collects the first series of Mike Carey and Peter Gross's Unwritten comic. It's a fine, mature graphic novel in the tradition of Bill Willingham's Fables (Willingham wrote the intro to the collection): Tom Taylor is best known for inspiring his father's character "Tommy Taylor," the star of a mega-best-selling series of kids' fantasy novels. Now a young man, Tom earns his keep through depression convention appearances, fending off questions about his father's mysterious disappearance.

It's a crappy living, but it's a living. Until a pseudonymous grad student in the crowd accuses Tom of being a cuckoo in his father's nest: the kidnapped son of a Serbian family, "borrowed" to help market the books, and then never returned. Inconsistencies in Tom's life come to light -- inconsistencies even Tom wasn't aware of -- and his adoring fans turn into a lynch mob.

Thus begins the saga of Tommy Taylor, who must answer the riddle of his father's disappearance before his disappointed fans (and insane stalkers) tear him to pieces. Before long, Tommy is at the center of a supernatural puzzle, stalked by far more dangerous things than disgruntled trufen -- shadowy conspirators from an ancient order that has secretly controlled the world by controlling its stories, leaning on writers from Kipling to Twain to force their prose to serve their agenda.

Unwritten manages to tell a fast-paced supernatural horror story while musing philosophically on the role of narrative in our lives and nations. Read the rest

Grimmer Tales: twisted fairy tale comics

The publishers of Erik Bergstrom's Grimmer Tales: A Wicked Collection of Happily Never After Stories were kind enough to send me a review copy, which I've just had a very entertaining half-hour chuckling over. The book consists of a series of extremely nasty comic-strips telling the aftermath of the classic folkloric fairy tales. For example, one running gag has Pinnocchio telling polite social lies in panel 1, while panel 2 depicts his sprouted nose gouging out the eye of some innocent (i.e., "Cute baby! -- stab").

These running gags are pretty funny, but the really standout moments are the longer strips, especially the "What a Witch" strip, in which two witches standing over a cauldron extol the virtues of Kiddee Flakes, which are much more convenient for kidnapped-child-fattening than candy-houses. This is good, wicked humor at its finest -- if you loved Fractured Fairy Tales...

Grimmer Tales: A Wicked Collection of Happily Never After Stories Previously:Steampunk fairy-tales CGI -- Boing Boing Gadgets - Boing Boing Changeling, a fairy tale of contemporary New York - Boing Boing Marxist fairy tales - Boing Boing Jack of Fables versus Sun Tzu - Boing Boing Notional list of Klingon fairy tales - Boing Boing Watch What You Say About Welsh - Boing Boing Peter & Max: the Fables comics jump to novel - Boing Boing Read the rest

A girl at the 1978 comic-con

Though comic fandom's often held to be an unwelcoming place for girls, one correspondent remembers fondly her trip to the 1978 San Diego Comic-Con, when she was only 8 years old. Other females were few and far between—but one of them was Wendy Pini, who embodied the classic fantasy persona of Red Sonja—and who had a story of her own to tell.

Peter & Max: the Fables comics jump to novel

The Fables comics are an infinitely entertaining and moving series of comics about a world in which every fable, legend and belief of humanity has been chased from the worlds of fantasy to exile on Earth, hiding in a secret side-street in Manhattan. The chaser is The Adversary, an evil emperor, and his numberless goblin shock-troops. This is such rich material, as it allows for tellings and retellings of every beloved story of humanity.

In Peter & Max: A Fables Novel, writer Bill Willingham tells a key piece of the story in prose form, and proves that he's every bit as wonderful a prose-writer as he is a comics-writer. Peter and Max is the story of two brothers, Peter (Piper, also Pumpkin Eater) and Max (the Pied Piper), who grow estranged from one another on the eve of the Adversary's invasion of their homeworld, and lose themselves in a blood-soaked Black Forest, where they are both fired by the crucible of war and magic into men whose innocence will never be recovered.

Max is the villain here, jealous of Peter's inheritance of Frost, the magic flute of their father. Max acquires Fire, another powerful magic flute, from Frau Totenkinder, the evil witch of the Black Forest, and he and Fire warp each other into something monstrous.

Peter, meanwhile, is orphaned in Hamelin, where he becomes an accomplished thief, escaping from the worst circumstances with the help of Frost, and forever pining for his lost love, Bo Peep, disappeared into the evil woods. Read the rest

Jack of Fables versus Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu meets Fables

Howie Tsui's Asian/Western horror paintings

Ottawa artist Howie Tsui paints fantastical, evil, and beautiful landscapes of monsters, ghosts, demons, and deities. He tells me that his new large paintings, "Horror Fables," are in the form of Ming Dynasty scrolls and were influenced by "a variety of dark subjects, including Asian ghost stories, Buddhist hell scrolls, Hong Kong vampire films, neo-conservative propaganda, and twentieth-century genocides such as the Nanking massacre." Howie Tsui Read the rest

The Future of the Past and Present

Stephen Worth says:

When people of the past envisioned what the inhabitants of other planets might be like, they conceived of gods and spirits who lived lives like those of the heroes and villains found in fables and ancient myths. Around the turn of the 20th century, mankind's conception of the world underwent a huge shift. Advances in technology were occurring at an unprecedented rate. These changes affected the way people lived their lives and the way they thought about their place in the universe. People began to think there might be no limit to the number of amazing changes technology was going to bring to them in the next hundred years.

They were right.

Today at the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive, I posted an article on how visionary animators like Ward Kimball and Walt Disney were responsible for putting a man on the moon. Yes, we have Walt to thank for our space program! The post contains a complete illustrated article by the father of modern space art, Chesley Bonestell, and clips from Disney's landmark TV program, "Mars and Beyond." Enjoy!

ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive: Our Dreams of the Future Read the rest

Fables: War and Pieces -- a fitting resolution to a marvellous graphic novel series

Update:: OK, I'm an idiot. This sure seemed like the ending of the story, but apparently, they're only halfway through. Eek!

One of the most rewarding moments of my winter holiday was the morning I found to read the final installment in Fables, Bill Willingham (and company)'s long-running, brilliant graphic novel series.

Over 11 volumes (plus a few very fine spin-offs), Fables has treated us to a cracking story about the exiled community of mythological creatures living in secret in Manhattan -- a motley cadre of legendary figures who were chased from their homeland by an evil emporer bent on multiversal conquest. From Sleeping Beauty to Little Boy Blue and the Big Bad Wolf, the legends have lurked in our human society, mingling with us, sometimes acting as our friends and sometimes as our enemies.

Building from a series of clever little vignettes to an epic tale of war and betrayal, revolution and politics, Legends became one of my favorite graphic novel reads. The authors rarely strayed into the realm of the silly, playing their Big Idea as straight as a ruler, drawing me into the lives of these vividly realized, striving people who struggled to get along -- and get home. On the way, the authors fluidly change comic styles, flipping from simplistic children's comics to elaborate oil-paintings to stylized manga, choosing the style that suits the present storyline best.

With the final installment, the Fables go to war, and adopts the conventions of war comics. The story is big -- huge -- and the battles are nail-biters. Read the rest

Three Balconies, by Bruce Jay Friedman

Dan Wells, publisher at Biblioasis, wrote to me about Three Balconies, an anthology written by illustrator Drew Friedman's dad, and I asked him to provide a brief description about it.
Three Balconies, the first collection of new short stories in nearly two decades by Bruce Jay Friedman (who, if you're keeping track of such things, is the father of the fabulous portrait artist Drew Friedman) has just been released. There was a time, in the 60's, 70's and 80's, when Friedman was often mentioned alongside Philip Roth and Bernard Malamud as among the most important Jewish writers in America. His star has fallen a bit since, though it's not deserved. There seems to be the simmerings of new interest, finally: Heidi Julavits has praised him in an interview as an important literary trend setter, the original Roth, his Stern making Portnoy's Complaint possible.

Three Balconies is vintage Friedman, a collection of carefully crafted moral fables, sharp, funny, uncomfortable and affecting. In terms of subject, they range quite widely, from stories about battles between Jews and Gentiles, on how to keep your dignity in Hollywood (Friedman was responsible for Steambath, Stir Crazy, The Lonely Guy, Splash, The Heartbreak Kid and many others), to somewhat fantastic tales, including one about an unnamed president resembling George W. who is abducted by terrorists and put in a room where he is forced to read the Western Canon. It's a book that deserves a wider audience, and, just as importantly, a younger one, as does Friedman himself.

Read the rest

Trip with Rick

Rick Veitch is the comics writer and artist who got famous for the Swamp Thing issues he drew for Alan Moore, and is probably still best known for a later issue he planned (the infamous cancelled #88) in which Swamp Thing went back in time, met Jesus and served as the cross on which the messiah was crucified. Although Moore resurrected Swamp Thing, it was Veitch who wrote that story about a hippy actually eating one of the monster's tubers and tripping Veitch continued the series' psychedelic path and took it in some even more dangerous directions.

Veitch split from DC for many years, and became a sensation on his own, publishing extremely bizarre yet resonant psychedelic fables. Psychedelic being the operative word.

Now they're back - bigger and brighter than ever before. And in my experience, it's the first time a second dose has packed more wallop than the first. His seminal 1980's graphic novel Brat Pack which will finally be republished in a deluxe edition in spring 2009, read like Teen Titans on crank, and served as a template for those super-bad-ass do-gooders in The Boys, Authority, and Kick Ass. He's also reprinting very high quality editions of his classics The Maximortal (free preview) and my personal favorite, Heartburst (which includes a reprint of the almost forgotten “Mirror Of Love” with Alan Moore and S.R. Bissette).

Veitch also drew a story for Harvey Pekar in Smith's fabulous ongoing Next Door Neighbor series (disclosure, my wife has one coming up, as well), and is starting his second year of a disturbingly entertaining war comedy-horror series for Vertigo called Army @ Love. Read the rest

Fables 10: the Good Prince: fairyland's armies mass for the final (?) battle

The tenth collection of Fables comics, "The Good Prince" (and its companion volume, The Bad Prince) continues to delight with its thoroughgoing exploration of one of the better conceits in comics today. Fables is the long-running, multiple-award-winning comic series in which every legendary being of every land -- and all of the elements of storytelling, like the pathetic fallacy -- are exiled to earth by a cruel and conquering emperor.

The Fables creators have lots of room to play with this idea -- fourteen volumes so far, including four spinouts -- and they're really going for it. The side-plots have explored everything from Hollywood's vulnerability to Jack of Fables to the special problems of human-wolf mating, the handling of conspiracy nuts who get too close to the truth, and the claustrophobia of a whole world when you aren't allowed to reveal yourself in it.

But all the way through, Fables has been moving toward a conclusion, a major battle in which the Fables try to reclaim their ancestral lands from the evil emperor. And that's where The Good Prince comes in. In this volume, the stage is really set for the final conflict between the two armies, through a set of transformations to some of the series oldest and most complex characters (some of whom have been offstage for a book or two).

At nearly 250 pages, this book feels roomier than some of the others, and there's a lot of laying-of-groundwork going on, the sense of pieces being put into place for a major offensive. Read the rest

DMZ Friendly Fire: reinventing war comics, making them better and more important

I've just finished DMZ: Friendly Fire, the fourth collection for Brian Wood's incredible, next-gen war comic that is busily redefining the genre as something more relevant and important than it ever was before. In the DMZ storyline, America is plunged into civil war, a war between the redneck Free States movement and the authoritarian, Iraq-shocked US military. The two armies meet in New York, turning Manhattan into a giant, rent-asunder demilitarized zone, where only one reporter, the unlikely young Matty Roth, tells the real story of what goes on in the latest, endless war.

The DMZ stories manage to combine the tough, thrilling character of golden age war comics with sharp and complex analysis of the big questions underpinning the modern age of politicized, commercialized warfare.

In Friendly Fire, Matty is charged with covering the military tribunal for the squad who conducted the Day 204 Massacre in which nearly 200 peaceful protesters were gunned down by a hair-trigger force who thought they saw a gun (or did see a gun, or planted a gun). Wood's tight, super-focused storytelling never tells us what exactly happened on Day 204, and manages to make heroes out of the worst villains and villains out of the biggest heroes.

DMZ keeps getting better and better. Between this and books like The Walking Dead, Fables and Y: The Last Man, it feels like we're living in a renaissance of amazing comic book storytelling. Link

See also: DMZ: graphic novel, a worthy successor to Transmetropolitan DMZ Public Works: New collection of moving, thrilling graphic novel Cory and DMZ's Brian Wood interviewed on iFanBoy DMZ comic t-shirt Read the rest

Artist James Jean for Prada

Incredible pop surrealist painter James Jean, known also for his covers for comix series like Fables, Umbrella Academy, and others, worked with Prada to design fabrics for the fashion company's Spring line. Beautiful stuff, 'natch. Comics212 has more. Link (via Drawn!) Previously on BB: • James Jean: Pressure Printing art print sale Link Read the rest

Arnold's Fables: What Koko Wants

My friend Dale Dougherty (editor and publisher of Maker Media) sent this to me for Boing Boing. He writes:

I just completed two plus hours of training in the prevention of sexual harassment. Thanks to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's flirtatious ways in his he-man days, California has a law (AB 1825) that "requires employers with more than 50 people to provide 2 hours of training and education to all supervisory employees." (Learning to spell 'harassment' correctly is a challenge itself - one 'r', not two, and two 's's; pronunciation is another issue.)

So I'm able to meet this requirement by taking an online course that teaches about "protected characteristics" and other terms. "Real-world" legal cases are presented throughout. At times, I thought I was reading Aesop's Fables, but with the "moral" of the story presented as multiple choice. Most of the lessons have the tone of a humorless teacher: "Employees should never use email or any business communication system to send or receive rumors or gossip, or to make disparaging or defamatory remarks about anyone." I felt like a student in the back of class wanting to say: "yeah, that never happens."

So I was surprised to read that the subject of one of these fables was Koko the Gorilla.

Case Study: Gorilla Suit

Kendra was a research associate for The Gorilla Foundation. As part of her duties, Kendra helped care for Koko, the sign-language talking gorilla.

Using sign language, Koko is able to communicate with humans. Over the years, Koko has repeatedly requested that female human visitors display their breasts to her.

Read the rest

Jack of Fables: Jack of Hearts - comic adventures of the legendary Jack continue

I've just finished "Jack of Hearts," the second collection in the "Jack of Fables" comic series, spun out of the larger (and most excellent) Fables books. These are the life stories of "Jack" who was Jack Horner, Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack be Nimble, and all the other Jacks from storybooks. These comprise a kind of picaresque tale of Jack's philandering, selfish, funny life, accompanied by such supporting fables as the Pathetic Fallacy (now going by the name "Gary") and the Queen of Fortune.

In book two, we follow Jack through a series of adventures as a casino baron (the previous volume starred him as a Hollywood exec), as he copes with the mob, heiresses, and ancient mystical cabals (not to mention large, violent pit-bosses).

These are great, lightweight stories, a nice counterpoint to the darker, more brooding main Fables stories. More to the point, a second Fables series means that there's twice as much of this great comic to read. I can't get enough of it. Link, Link to all Fables collections

See also: Jack of Fables: great new Fables collection Scherezade meets every fable of every land - comic Read the rest

Previous PageNext page