Aliens 30th Anniversary: The Original Comic Series


Aliens is one of my all-time favorite movies. A perfect mix of action, sci-fi and horror, which I would argue hasn’t been replicated. Then there’s Alien 3, and everything that came after it. I don’t like to talk about that. But, in 1988 after Aliens came and four years before the next movie would come out, this comic series ran which gave me the followup story I wanted.

The series has been published as Aliens: Book One, Aliens: Outbreak, and in novel form as Aliens: Earth Hive (a lot to keep track of), but since these publications were made after Alien 3 came out, names were changed to avoid confusion from the films continuation of the story. So Wilcks = Hicks and Billie = Newt. Thankfully this comic doesn’t do that. This printing features the comic as it was intended to be read with the characters we’re familiar with.

The story picks up a few years after the film ended. An adult Newt and aged Hicks are struggling to deal with the horrors they witnessed, and Ripley is ominously missing. The black-and-white comics really capture the gritty world that the movies take place in, expanding on it in the best way. Although the comic ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, the story is continued in Aliens: Nightmare Asylum, but you will have to deal with the name change of the main characters.

The book itself is beautiful. And black. Very black. It feels like something that was designed by H.R. Read the rest

Django/Zorro – Like dipping french fries in a milkshake, the pairing oddly works


Django/Zorro by Quentin Tarantino (author), Matt Wagner (author/artist) and artists Francesco Francavilla, Jae Lee, and Esteve Polls Dynamite Entertainment 2015, 192 pages, 7.1 x 10.4 x 0.9 inches $20 Buy a copy on Amazon

Is the concept of a Django and Zorro team-up ridiculous? Of course. But like dipping French fries in a milkshake, the pairing oddly works. Django/Zorro is an official sequel to the film Django Unchained and was written by Quentin Tarantino himself along with Matt Wagner, having just completed a run of Zorro comics.

The story picks up a few years after the film, and Django is still working as a bounty hunter, sending money back to his beloved Broomhilda. While collecting one of these bounties, he happens to meet an older Don Diego de la Vega, whose alter ego (Zorro) hasn’t given up his freedom-fighting ways. If you were a fan of the film, you’re going to like this, because it reads like another Django movie. It’s action packed and has some great dialogue, but what I found really special about this is that it offers a glimpse into Quentin Tarantino’s future.

As a huge fan of Tarantino’s work, I was saddened when I heard him announce that he’s hanging up his director hat after ten films. This only leaves two more to look forward to. But if the Django/Zorro comic is any indication of what he plans on doing after he stops directing, then comic fans get to rejoice.

As a special bonus for writers to geek out over, there’s a full script of the first issue included in this collected edition. Read the rest

The Longest Day of the Future – Chris Ware meets Terry Gilliam


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The Longest Day of the Future by Lucas Varela Fantagraphics 2016, 112 pages, 7.8 x 10.5 x 0.6 inches (hardcover) $25 Buy a copy on Amazon

On this Earth-like planet, only two corporations exist. One is represented by a pig mascot, the other by a rabbit. Each cult-like corporation produces everything a person could need or want – food, entertainment, housing, vehicles, employment, etc. One day, an alien spaceship crash lands on the planet, disrupting the barely-functioning balance between the rival corporate tribes. This Brazil-like story is told in the form of a wordless graphic novel by Argentine cartoonist and graphic designer Lucas Varela. The art is superb, bringing to mind Chris Ware. I read this twice, savoring every beautiful panel, filled with insanely weird and wonderful robots, buildings, vehicles, and creatures. I can't wait to see what Varela does next.

Read the rest

Cheap Novelties – RAW's Julius Knipl, real estate photographer, finally finds a suitable home


Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay by Ben Katchor Drawn and Quarterly 2016, 112 pages, 8.8 x 10.9 x 0.7 inches (hardcover) $23 Buy a copy on Amazon

Like a lot of bourgeois bohemians in the 1990s, I was a huge fan of the RAW comics anthologies which, among other incredible discoveries, introduced me to the work of Ben Katchor. One might not think that a comic strip about urban architecture, culture, city development and decay, real estate photography, memory, and loss would make very compelling comics, but then you probably haven’t met Katchor’s beloved comic strip character, Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer.

Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay, a collection of Katchor’s Knipl strips, was originally published in 1991 by RAW/Penguin as a cheap paperback. Twenty-five years later and Drawn & Quarterly finally gives Katchor and Knipl their due in a lovely hardbound, landscape edition of the original RAW strips.

If you’ve ever stared in wonder at the decades-old, sun-bleached product boxes inside of the display window of the only original hardware store left in town, or smelled an old typewriter repair shop, or purused gag gifts and tricks in a magic shop that’s been in the same city location for generations, then you’ll understand some of the lost urban culture that Cheap Novelties so deftly and melancholically evokes. As Julius Knipl is called out on building photography assignements, we see these vanishing haunts through his lens, momenents before they leave the city landscape forever, and we hear Knipl’s thoughts on the loss, reflections on his own rather homely life, and urban trivia – all rendered in a very confident and characterful hand in ink-and-gray marker washes. Read the rest

Woman Rebel – Peter Bagge's graphic bio of the controversial founder of Planned Parenthood


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Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story by Peter Bagge Drawn and Quarterly 2013, 104 pages, 6.8 x 9.1 x 0.7 inches (hardcover) $15 Buy a copy on Amazon

When I think of Peter Bagge, I think of his work in Hate or Neat Stuff, both comics about teenage angst and living in suburban malaise. Therefore, when I saw he wrote Woman Rebel, a biography of Margaret Sanger (the woman responsible for Planned Parenthood), I was curious. Once I started reading, it made perfect sense. Discontent, anger, and frustration with the status quo translate perfectly to the life of Ms. Sanger. Margaret Sanger is most famously known as the founder of Planned Parenthood and for her endless fight for women’s access to birth control in the early 20th century. The book highlights key moments in Sanger’s life – it starts with her childhood (she was born in the 1880s to Irish immigrants) and takes us through her early work as a nurse, mother, and eventual activist.

What makes this biography unique are Bagge’s illustrations. His faces, especially the contorted, frustrated ones that work in Bagge’s earlier work (say, on his teenage anti-hero Buddy Bradley) cross over really well. There is a lot of sadness and anger in Sanger’s life, whether it was her mother (who had 18 pregnancies in 25 years) or Sanger herself facing the many smug and misogynistic critics attempting to halt her progress. There is a lot of emotion in this book, the same that made Sanger persevere. Read the rest

Moon and Bá's Daytripper is a masterful novel by any metric


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Daytripper by Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon Vertigo 2011, 256 pages, 6.7 x 10.2 x 0.5 inches (softcover) $12 Buy a copy on Amazon

I don’t think it would be too hyperbolic of me to say Daytripper is one of the best graphic novels I’ve ever read. It’s a big story told in small moments. The epic, emotional core is powerful and life affirming, but brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá get there through the lightest touch of character.

Without giving too much away (because there is so much to discover), the story is about Brás de Oliva Domingos, an aspiring novelist stuck writing newspaper obituaries. His life is both unique and unremarkable, and we meet Brás at a different age in each chapter. Theses ages are told in a non-linear fashion, and mostly feature life-changing moments. The twist is that these moments rarely seem life changing as they are happening, as is usually the case in real life. We live each day as if it is any other, only noting the important bits later.

For Moon and Bá, recognizing the personal is a matter of life or death. Brás spends most of the book pining for more in his life, always dissatisfied with where he is. It’s as if he’s constantly waiting for his “real life” to begin. Moon and Bá suggest that life isn’t the point when you finally find the success you’ve been craving, or when you finally meet the love of your life, or any number of other things. Read the rest

Mooncop – A story with existential pathos that we Earth-dwellers can relate to. Released today!


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Mooncop by Tom Gauld Drawn and Quarterly 2016, 96 pages, 6.6 x 8.1 x 0.6 inches (hardcover) $20 Buy a copy on Amazon

The great Moon colonization project was a failure. The few diehards who remain in their prefab pod-like houses are going back to Earth. That leaves the unnamed lunar police officer with barely anything to do as operations wind down. Author/illustrator Tom Gauld is in top form with his just-released Mooncop, telling a simple story with a deep layer of existential pathos that even we Earth-dwellers can relate to. Read the rest

Mighty Jack: a new series from Ben "Zita the Spacegirl" Hatke

Ben Hatke's Zita the Spacegirl trilogy was one of the best kids' comics of the new century (and it's headed to TV!), and he's been very productive in the years since, but his new series, Mighty Jack feels like the true successor to Zita: a meaty volume one that promises and delivers all the buckle you can shake a swash at, with more to come.

Nimona – A modern medieval world where the bad guys are good and the good guys often aren't

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Nimona by Noelle Stevenson HarperTeen 2015, 272 pages, 6 x 9 x 0.7 inches (softcover) From $8 Buy a copy on Amazon

A few years ago, I had the good fortune of discovering Noelle Stevenson's comics through an interview she did with Danielle Coresetto of the webcomic Girls with Slingshots. I read Nimona when it was available in full online and fell absolutely head over heels in love with the comic, blasting through it from start to finish in one sitting. When I revisited the site a few months later to show it to a friend, I was delighted to find out that it had been picked up by HarperTeen and was to be published later that year – no one deserved a publishing deal more than this incredibly talented illustrator and writer.

The graphic novel is set in a fresh fictional world of Stevenson's imagining, inspired by the medieval fantasy scene but infused with science and technology. The titular character, Nimona, is a shape-shifting young girl who has foisted herself upon her favorite super-villain, Ballister Blackheart, as his sidekick and general mischief-maker. In a Despicable Me-esque fashion, the moral and big-hearted Blackheart has dedicated his life to grand (and mostly failed) schemes against the Institution of Law Enforcement & Heroics, a shadowy corporation with shadowy motives that ousted Blackheart years before. Nimona herself is brash, mischievous, and reckless – and in a split second, can turn into a rhino to smash through a steel door, or into a dragon to fly off with a massive chest of gold. Read the rest

Big Trouble in Little China continues, in comic book form, with John Carpenter still at the helm


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Big Trouble in Little China Vol. 1 by John Carpenter (author), Eric Powell (author) and Brian Churilla (illustrator) BOOM! Studios 2015, 128 pages, 8.6 x 10.2 x 0.4 inches (softcover) $11 Buy a copy on Amazon

(Do I really need to give a spoiler alert for a movie that came out in 1986?)

“Have you paid your dues Jack? Yessir, the check is in the mail.” After shaking the pillars of heaven and defeating Lo Pan, Jack Burton drove off into the night with a monster sneaking up on him from the back of his truck. That’s sadly where this incredible movie ended. It joined the ranks of other cult '80s movies bold enough to tease a sequel that would never come to be. Thankfully much like Lo Pan was in the film, this story isn’t quite dead yet.

The comic picks up right where the movie ended with Jack driving his semi, the Pork-Chop Express, in the rain monologuing into his CB. From there it spirals into ninja punching, demon spewing, and Jack Burton awesomeness. What makes me especially happy is that this is a true extension of the story, as the film's director John Carpenter is back, working with the Goon’s Eric Powell, with Brian Churilla doing the artwork. It’s an awesome creative team up. Comic Jack is a caricature of his Kurt Russell counterpart, which seems oddly fitting and adds to the zaniness of the world.

Fans of the movie will definitely be into this comic. Read the rest

Margaret Atwood's new comic book is "bonkers"


Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake, has completed her first graphic novel, Angel Catbird, with Johnnie Christmas and Tamra Bonvillain, about a superheroic anthropomorphic winged feline. It's bonkers, but... Atwood, it isn’t strange at all. Before she a venerable elder stateswoman of literature and the winner of the Booker Prize and the Arthur C. Clarke Award, she told me, she was a comic book fan who grew up devouring superhero books about heroes like Superman, Batman and Captain Marvel. “I’m a child of the ‘40s and that’s when superhero comics were really, really big,” said Atwood. Nor is she a stranger to making her own sequential art; she wrote and illustrated a children’s book called Up in the Tree in the 1970s, and published an intermittent series of autobiographical strips called “BookTour Comix” on her website. “I’ve been making my own comics since I was little,

A wonderful quote: “I’m so old. Why do anything that isn’t fun?” Read the rest

Awkward Zombie – From the webcomic that parodies video games of all kinds


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Awkward Zombie: We're Going To Be Rich by Katie Tiedrich 2012, 164 pages (softcover) From $10 Buy a copy on Amazon Or $19 from Level Up Studios

Awkward Zombie is one of my favorite webcomics. Creator Katie Tiedrich writes a comic that focuses on parodying video games of all kinds, with the occasional strip drawn from poking fun at her own life. Fans of video games will find a lot to laugh at here. We’re Going to be Rich! collects the first 100 comics originally posted to Tiedrich’s website, Awkward Zombie, and is available in softcover or special edition hardcover format.

In this first volume, Tiedrich primarily writes about Nintendo games like Super Smash Bros and various entries in the Legend of Zelda series, with other games popping up occasionally. If you’re a fan of those games you’ll likely love every panel, as Tiedrich has a great ability to point out the funny logical problems present in these games. One of my favorite such comics makes a joke about the potential difficulties with surfing in Pokemon. Even if you’ve never played a particular game she’s referencing, the jokes tend to be broad enough to understand by more general video game fans. You may have never played World of Warcraft, but if you’ve played any role-playing game you may understand the humor in a large character trying to fit into stolen armor that logically should be much too small for them.

Tiedrich’s art stye is perfectly suited to the sort of sideways world parody she excels at. Read the rest

Bone is possibly one of the best fantasy series ever told


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Bone: Coda (25th Anniversary Special) by Jeff Smith Cartoon Books 2016, 136 pages, 6.4 x 8.9 x 0.5 inches (softcover) $13 Buy a copy on Amazon

If you haven’t read Jeff Smith’s Bone series, just stop. Stop reading right now, mid sentence, and go pick up his masterpiece. It’s wonderful. Quite possibly one of the greatest fantasy stories ever told. Once you’ve read that and fallen in love with Smith’s humor and characters, then you can appreciate this follow-up that gives you a reason to revisit the Bone Brothers.

If you aren’t familiar with the Bone series, this coda won’t interest you. It’s a companion piece that includes interviews of Smith, an oral history by comic historian Stephen Weiner, and early illustrations of the Bone characters. I found it compelling to hear that Bone was a story that almost wasn’t. But through determination, some luck, and careful maneuvering, Smith was able to get the comic off the ground. It’s great inspiration for any independent artist out there.

But the best part about this book is that there’s a new Bone story to be had! The brothers and Bartleby are still in route back to Boneville, when in true Bone fashion things go awry. It’s not a long story, or a deep one, but it’s a reminder about everything that was so great about this series. It’s a little heartbreaking that Smith makes a point to define coda as “the concluding passage of a piece or movement, typically forming an addition to the base structure.” Hopefully we’ll see more from this world, but for now this is a pretty good sendoff. Read the rest

The US sics its robot drone army on Canada’s water supply in "We Stand on Guard"


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We Stand on Guard by Brian K. Vaughan (author), Steve Skroce (artist) and Matt Hollingsworth (artist) Image Comics 2016, 160 pages, 7.3 x 11.1 x 0.6 inches (hardcover) $17 Buy a copy on Amazon

You know those cheeky jokes about the United States invading Canada? No one is laughing in Brian K. Vaughn’s We Stand on Guard, an extremely tense, often brutal, military sci-fi thriller with an obvious political point to make.

Some 100 years in the future, an allegedly Canadian drone strike on the White House destroys it, killing the president. The US responds with everything it’s got while Canada screams false flag attack, an excuse for the US to come after Canada’s precious water resources (which, surprise, the US is plumb out of). The US deploys its immense drone arsenals, including giant, stompy mecha robots, and “hoser ships,” aerial tankers that fly over Canada sucking up all of her water. The story in the book revolves around a group of Canadian guerilla fighters trying to repel the US occupation.

While the subject matter is intense and the pacing of the book rarely lets you catch your breath, there is levity, too. There are plenty of insider Canadian jokes, a character from Quebec whose French dialog is never translated, and an ongoing bit about Superman having Canadian roots (he was co-created by Canadian artist Joseph Shuster). And while there is plenty of action, with everything from skirmish combat to giant, all-out battlefield hellfire, this is a very dialog-driven book and a book that is chalk full of interesting speculative tech and a believable near-future world. Read the rest

Building Stories – Chris Ware's magnum opus includes 14 lavishly presented stories in different formats, all in one box


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Building Stories by Chris Ware Pantheon 2012, 260 pages, 11.7 x 16.6 x 1.9 inches (hardcover, softcovers, boxed) $31 Buy a copy on Amazon

Chris Ware is renowned as the kind of comic artist who makes you expect more from the genre. For nearly three decades, his unfussy, formalized style has given birth to cult strips such as Rusty Brown and Quimby The MouseM. Despite his style being modeled after the simplicity of Tintin in order to express emotion in as universal a way as possible, his style is a vehicle for the minutiae of human struggle. Building Stories is no different.

Largely comprised of strips previously published in national newspapers, but also featuring unreleased material, Building Stories is Ware's magnum opus – 14 lavishly presented stories in one beautifully designed box, itself adorned with extra strips and illustrations. The separation of the stories into physically distinct objects is intended to allow the reader to acquaint themselves with the characters in any order they choose.

Revolving around the lives of the inhabitants of an apartment block in Chicago, his pet themes of social alienation, excessive rumination and the pervasive feeling of being railroaded by mundanity are all present and correct. A number of archetypes populate the building – the lonely old lady, the bickering couple, the single young woman, but Ware imbues each with its own identity.

Arguably the most prominent character is the young woman who has a prosthetic leg, observed at various unassuming yet pivotal moments in her life, whether she's summer house sitting, lying awake at night thinking of her newborn child, or trying to overcome her anxiety in a writing class. Read the rest

The White Donkey – From the online comic series about the existential crisis of a military experience


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The White Donkey: Terminal Lance by Maximlian Uriarte Little, Brown and Company 2016, 288 pages, 7 x 10.5 x 1 inches $15 Buy a copy on Amazon

Maximillian Uriarte served four years in the Marine Corps infantry and went on two combat deployments to Iraq. While on active duty, he created an online comic strip, Terminal Lance, which grew from a small following to being published in official armed forces publications. In The White Donkey, which he calls his “thesis project,” he tells a story about the existential crisis of the military experience and what it means to enlist during a time of war. Subjects like hazing and PTSD are covered in the course of the story as he explores what might drive a Marine to suicide.

We follow Abe, a young, white middle-class kid who enlists after high school for want of a direction, trying to find something better to do with his life. He makes a friend in another “grunt,” Garcia, who’s there because there are no better paths for him. The contrast is stark. Garcia: “I didn’t have shit else going for me, you know? I was with the wrong crowd a lot, I’d probably be in prison by now if not here.”

Abe’s privilege is shown by his encounter with an Iraqi policeman who tells him: “I have met many of your type over the last few years, coming here to fulfill some personal conquest, but you never stop to think about how arrogant you are. Read the rest

How to Talk to Girls at Parties – Neil Gaiman at his best


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How to Talk to Girls at Parties by Neiman Gaiman (author), Gabriel Bá (illustrator), and Fábio Moon (illustrator) Dark Horse Books 2016, 64 pages, 6.9 x 10.5 x 0.4 inches $12 Buy a copy on Amazon

How to Talk to Girls at Parties is an adaptation of the Neil Gaiman short story of the same name, originally published in his collection Fragile Things. As adaptations go, this one tells the story pretty exactly as it was done by Gaiman. Two teens named Enn and Vic go to a party with the intention of picking up girls. Vic is handsome and confident, while Enn is shy and awkward. Enn doesn’t know how to talk to girls, and this becomes the central problem of the story. His attempts to seem cool and desirable are both humorous and relatable to anybody who has ever tried talking to a potential love interest. As the night moves on, it becomes clear that something is amiss at this party, but exactly what is unknown to Enn, and a little ambiguous to the reader.

I really like this book. At first glance it might seem like an odd choice for a comic – the story doesn’t reach the heights of some of Gaiman’s other work, for example. But it’s short and sweet and so unique. The story is Gaiman at his best in terms of information release and character moments. You’re never completely ahead of the plot and it is so easy to sympathize with Enn’s awkwardness. Read the rest

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