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

Video: Why Alan Moore's Watchmen is "unfilmable"

Kristian Williams created this compelling video essay analyzing why Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's Watchmen was "unfilmable" without, well, ruining it.

"If we only see comics in relation to movies then the best that they will ever be is films that do not move," Moore once said.

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Dark Night – Paul Dini's chilling autobiographical Batman tale

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Dark Night: A True Batman Story by Paul Dini (author) and Eduardo Risso (illustrator) Vertigo 2016, 128 pages, 6.9 x 10.4 x 0.5 inches $14 Buy a copy on Amazon

Batman the Animated Series was perhaps the cartoon of my childhood. I remember watching it when it premiered, and followed it through its entire run. While I’ve loved the movies, and the comics, Batman for me will always be the voice of Kevin Conroy, and the Joker will always be Mark Hamill. I owe my love for Batman to this wonderful show that Paul Dini helped create, which is why I was so struck to read his chilling autobiographical Batman tale.

Like myself and many others, Dini too was hugely influenced by Batman through his childhood. The beginning of the book establishes how comics became a coping mechanism for Dini as he navigated through the world with social anxiety. His lonely but successful life is thrown upside down one night when he was mugged and beaten within an inch of his life.

Dini’s story is all about coming to grips with a world that can be cruel, dealing with demons, and finding a way to overcome. It’s a Batman story that doesn’t take place in the Batman universe. I found it tremendously moving, the artwork beautiful, and I highty recommend it. – JP LeRoux Read the rest

Kickstarting an indie graphic novel about John Brown and Harper's Ferry

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Wilfred Santiago and Sanlida Cheng are comics pros who've worked for the likes of Marvel, DC and Fantagraphics, but for "Thunderbolt: An American Tale," their dramatization of the life of John Brown and the militant abolitionist uprising at Harper's Ferry, they've decided to go indie and take it to Kickstarter. Read the rest

Sex Criminals Volume Three: in which a dirty caper story becomes something much, much more

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The first two volumes of Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky's Sex Criminals were a dirty romp: a pair of lovers who discover that they can stop time at the moment of orgasm start robbing banks to save a local library from demolition, and run into a posse of other time-stopping fuckers who are set against them. But in volume three, Three the Hard Way, the story transcends the sex and the jokes to take a hard, wet look at what humans do when we do sex.

Saga Volume 6: Proof that awesome, weird, sexy space-opera can be produced to a schedule

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Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples' comic Saga blew the lid off comics when they started publishing it with the creator-friendly folks at Image, producing two graphic novels' worth of material in as many years; but then there was the long drought while we waited for book three (spoiler: worth the wait), and since then, they've hit a driving, relentless annual schedule, culminating in the publication, last week, of Volume 6, which is all that we've come to love from the series and then some.

Jughead: Zdarsky's reboot is funny, fannish, and freaky

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For the past couple years, the "new, hipster" Archie has been pushing the envelope on what can be done within the confines of an old, beloved (and outdated) media brand: there was Kevin Keller, a gay character; Jughead coming out as asexual; a seriously scary zombie story; Sharknado spinoffs; a breast cancer storyline; even a guest appearance by Jaime "Love and Rockets" Hernandez: but Chip "Sex Criminals" Zdarsky's run on Jughead, illustrated by Erica Henderson and just collected in a trade paperback shows just how much fun the new normal of Archie can be!

Teri S. Wood's Wandering Star Gets New Omnibus Graphic Novel

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Stop what you’re doing and buy the new omnibus graphic novel of Teri S. Wood's 1990s comic series Wandering Star. It's amazing. Splendtacular, even.

Set in the future, it is the tale of Cassandra Andrews, daughter of the President of Earth, and how she became embroiled in a galaxy-spanning war for freedom from tyranny. Wood takes what could be a generic science fiction trope and creates something new and different by weaving in hard, realistic racism, xenophobia, religion and philosophy (which are shockingly and sadly relevant to current world events) paired with well-defined and incredibly likeable—and hateable—characters. In fact, the characters and story are so strong and relatable the scifi setting becomes a simple backdrop, the room in which the tale unfolds. The plot is tight, marching forward chapter by chapter, without excess or unnecessary tangents. It is humorous, horrific, endearing, and heart-crushing all in equal measure.

The art is just as good as the story. Wood is a master cartoonist who has a command of human anatomy and understands how to bend, squash and exaggerate it to create visually charming characters, both human and alien alike. Her lines are fluid and alive and playful. I marvel at the stippled, hand-drawn pen and ink effects she puts into every page that make the art in Wandering Star so unique. What’s more, Wood knows how to use sequential art and camera angle to deliver both side-splitting comedy and emotional gut-punches. (And I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the rad 90’s pop culture and indie comics references hidden in the background details of the art.)

While the series has been collected into graphic novels in the past, those editions are long out of print and nowhere near the quality of this new omnibus. Read the rest

William Gibson's Archangel: intricate military sf, mercilessly optimized for comics

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Archangel is a five-part science fiction comic written by William Gibson and Michael St. John Smith and illustrated by Butch Guice; Issue #1 came out last month and sold out immediately, and IDW has only just got its second printing into stores this week, just ahead of the ship-date for #2, which is due next Wednesday. Read the rest

How tragedies of the Great Depression influenced singer Woody Guthrie

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Woody Guthrie and the Dust Bowl Ballads by Nick Hayes Harry N. Abrams 16, 272 pages, 8.6 x 8.6 x 1.2 inches $19 Buy a copy on Amazon

A graphic novel of the life and early career of singer Woody Guthrie, Woody Guthrie and the Dust Bowl Ballads is a sepia and dusty brown, linocut illustrated graphic novel. It begins with harrowing tales of his youth – his mother burning his father with coal oil, resulting in her being shipped off to the Hospital For The Insane, the collapse of his Pampa hometown as the plummeting price of wheat ruined the local and national economy, and Guthrie traveling roads and hopping trains during the Great Depression. His encounters with snake oil salesmen and carnival acts, hobos, and migrant workers, as well as his exposure to the music of Cajuns, Native Americans, Xit cowboys, and Appalachian folksong performances at barn dances ultimately inspire him to take up the fiddle and write original tunes.

Along with Woody's story, the book provides a powerful backstory on the environmental conditions of the Dust Bowl region, including the displacement of Native Americans through the push of white settlers on native lands, agriculture techniques that resulted in the tearing up of the bluestem grasses to plant wheat, an unprecedented drought, and the glut of wheat causing the exodus of settlers to California. This all brings to life the tragic unraveling of the fragile Dust Bowl ecosystem and brings about the hardscrabble lives and dust-blown landscape that Guthrie integrates into his music. Read the rest

Fight Club 2 – a punch to the cerebral cortex

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Fight Club 2 by Chuck Palahniuk (author), Cameron Stewart (illustrator) and David Mack (illustrator) Dark Horse Comics 2016, 256 pages, 6.9 x 10.5 x 0.9 inches $20 Buy a copy on Amazon

Let’s talk about Fight Club. This movie rocked me, and introduced me to the incredible and controversial work of Chuck Palahniuk. Now the concept of a sequel does seem a little out of sorts to the counter culture message of the original, but honestly, who hasn’t been wondering how things turned out for Marla and the Narrator after he stuck a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger? Did they find their happily ever after? No, of course they didn’t, thus the sequel.

The Narrator finally gets a name, Sebastian...it’s not a great name, but it fits given the current state of his life. Marla’s bored, Sebastian is in a drug-induced fog, Tyler Durden is raging behind the scenes trying to get back in control, and project mayhem is causing more chaos than ever. Then things get weird.

If you’ve only seen the movie you probably won’t dig this. Actually Palahniuk’s anticipation of the fanbase’s dislike for the comic becomes an actual plot point. Things get meta to say the least. The comic builds off of not just the novel, but Palahniuk’s work and reputation since the film came out. It’s very fitting of Palahniuk, and I think fans of his will really enjoy it, but be clear this is not a blockbuster directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt or Ed Norton. Read the rest

Hope Larson's "Compass South": swashbuckling YA graphic novel

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Hope Larson is a comics genius, the woman hand-picked to adapt Madeline L'Engle's Wrinkle In Time for comics, who furthermore just nailed it, and whose other projects are every bit as rich and wonderful. Today she begins a new young adult series, Four Points, whose first volume, Compass South is a treasure-chest of swashbuckling themes and action.

The first volume of Injection reads like a fairytale brought into the tech world

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Injection by Warren Ellis (author), Jordie Bellaire (illustrator) and Declan Shalvey (illustrator) Image Comics 2015, 120 pages, 6.4 x 10 x 0.4 inches $7 Buy a copy on Amazon

Science meets folklore. It’s a theme that is pervasive throughout literature, from Frankenstein to Dracula to The Dragon Riders of Pern. And like its predecessors, the first volume of Injection also poses the question, what if these two things aren’t as different as we’d like to believe?

Injection reads like a fairytale brought into the modern century, combining the folklore used by its predecessors with new computers and communication systems. The story jumps backwards and forwards in time, telling the chronicle of five brilliant people with different backgrounds who came together and built an artificial consciousness to “make the 21st century more interesting.” As anyone who has seen The Matrix or Terminator films could tell you, this creation doesn’t do what the team was hoping it would. But instead of being straight science fiction, the novel joins science with the fantastic. The creation begins mimicking folklore, and the solution to defeating it seems to lie just as much in magic as it does in science.

The artwork is classically rendered graphic novel illustration, reminding me of the Hellboy series, or Sandman. What strikes me as the most interesting part of the pictures is the range of color used in them; the palette moves from dark greys and greens to brilliant oranges and reds, and some of the scenes are done in such a surreal manner you feel as though you’ve been transported to another plane altogether (which, truth be told, might just be the case). Read the rest

Sex Criminals: Robin Hood bank robbers who can stop time when they orgasm

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Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky's creator-owned comic Sex Criminals is a filthy, hilarious heist story about a couple who discover that they can stop time while orgasming, and keep it frozen until they become horny again -- so they use their power to rob banks in order to rescue a library from foreclosure (naturally). The first two series of the comic are collected in Big Hard Sex Criminals, a fabulous hardcover whose plain pink wrapper comes off to make it look like you're reading a book on DIY pet euthanasia.

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