Symmetry – Utopias are never perfect, are they?

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Utopias are never perfect, are they? Symmetry offers some good heady sci-fi in the vein of 1984, Ender's Game, Equilibrium, or Fahrenheit 451. Imagine a world where humans are coddled and raised by machines, think Wall-E, but people haven’t become total blobs. Gender and identity are decided by the individual when they turn thirteen. And all races have been separated, so that most people will grow up not even realizing that other nationalities exist. Then one day a solar flare causes the machines to shut down and the wall between nations to break.

What follows is a great story that seems very relevant in today’s world. I think Symmetry does what sci-fi does best, it makes you think about what’s happening around you and where things might go if we aren’t careful. It’s clear that the creators spent a good deal of time thinking through these issues, and how the world in their book works. There’s actually a pretty lengthy sociological write-up included that dives further into some of the ideas that helped shape the story.

Volume 1 is satisfying, but definitely leaves you wanting more. The cel-shaded illustration feels like something out of a video game, which actually matches the story perfectly. Thankfully, Volume 2 is due out in December, so we’ll get to explore more of this world. Get caught up.

Symmetry Volume 1 by Matt Hawkins Image Comics 2016, 128 pages, 6.5 x 9.9 x 0.6 inches (softcover) $8 Buy a copy on Amazon Read the rest

The Twilight Children mixes spunky kids, complicated adults, and government goons with magical realism

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Any fan of Love and Rockets creator Gilbert Hernandez and of Batman, Catwoman, and New Frontier writer and artist Darwyn Cooke will be excited to read The Twilight Children, a four-issue series by Vertigo collected in this soft cover book.

The Twilight Children is set in a seaside town and the cast of characters includes his familiar mix of spunky kids and “complicated” adults. There are also government goons, a metaphysical siren, and mysterious, powerful orbs. People disappear, children are blinded (yet see again), and what is the deal with the glowing balls?!?

It’s great to see the wonderful art of Darwyn Cooke again, but sadly he died suddenly at age 53 in May, 2016 and this may be one of his last books (reason enough to get the book). Cooke’s commercial art style with lively character design and simple, bold brushwork gives a more “slick” look than what you'd usually expect from a Gilbert Hernandez book. Dave Stewart (my favorite colorist and the best part of many Dark Horse comics!) does a spectacular job. His painterly, subtle palette and restrained use of color hold line art fits Cooke’s drawing perfectly. No gradient mesh or lens flare effects, just solid sponge- and dry-brush painting. The bright and colorful seaside setting is a good contrast to the darker story elements. Also included in this compilation are some nice extras, like full-page paintings between chapters and a sketchbook of characters with storyboards by Hernandez.

Warning: Some readers may feel unsatisfied with the ending. Read the rest

Roller Girl: Newberry-honored coming of age graphic novel about roller derby and difficult tween friendships

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Victoria Jamieson's 2015 graphic novel Roller Girl won the prestigious Newberry Honor Award and it's easy to see why: Jamieson's story of a young teen's interest in roller derby is the perfect vehicle to explore the difficult and even traumatic way that girls' friendships change as they become teenagers, while never losing sight of the core story, about personal excellence, teamwork, and hard-hitting, girl-positive roller derby.

Kaijumax – Like Orange is the New Black, but the prisoners are monsters straight from Godzilla

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Kaijumax is a fun comic that will make you get all the feels for giant city-destroying monsters. It’s like Oz or Orange Is the New Black, only the prisoners in this case are monsters straight from your favorite Godzilla movies. The monsters are kept in check by guards who have Ultraman-like power suits, allowing them to grow to skyscraper size and lay down their own form of justice.

The story follows Electrogor, a monster and father who was apprehended for chewing on power cables in order to feed his children. As the new monster at Kaijumax, you follow him as he learns the ins and outs of how the prison works. There’s everything you could possibly hope for in a facility that houses the world’s deadliest creatures: corrupt guards, drugs, gangs, and a cult of mecha-monsters.

The artwork’s incredible. It brings a lightness to the otherwise surprisingly heavy subject matter. If you’re a fan of Godzilla, Power Rangers, Ultraman, or any other Kaiju movie or show, you’ll see some familiar characters hidden throughout. This is one of the weirdest comics that I’ve read in a while, but I loved every minute of it. Give giant monsters a chance, and check this one out.

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Kaijumax Season One by Zander Cannon Oni Press 2016, 168 pages, 6.6 x 10.1 x 0.4 inches (softcover) $8 Buy a copy on Amazon

Read the rest

If you're in for Lovecraftian horror and Nazi punching, pick up B.P.R.D: 1946-1948

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I can’t get enough of Mignola’s occult investigators. The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense first appeared in the Hellboy series, however the comics have spiraled off to rightfully stand on their own. This HUGE hardback collects stories from the Bureau’s early years, not long after its creation in 1944. If you’ve been following the series, this collection fills in a large gap between the organization's inception, and where the Hellboy comics pick up in the modern day.

A year after WWII ends, the Bureau is left trying to stamp out one of Hitler’s last ditch efforts to turn the war around. Professor Trevor Bruttenholm, Hellboy’s guardian, is seen here as a younger man battling the forces of evil, and trying to prevent the Reich from amassing power yet again.

There’s so much to love about this book – vampires, an evil Nazi head in a jar, sentient chimpanzees. The artwork is incredible. Mignola worked with a whole slew of illustrators all who brought a unique interpretation to the gothic style that fills out this world. Knowing a little about the Hellboy universe is helpful, but not necessary. If you’re up for some Lovecraftian horror and Nazi punching, definitely pick this one up

B.P.R.D: 1946-1948 by Mike Mignola Dark Horse Books 2015, 472 pages, 6.9 x 10.4 x 1.4 inches (hardcover) $24 Buy a copy on Amazon Read the rest

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye – But just who is this great Singaporean comic artist?

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The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is one of the most intricate and impressive graphic novels I’ve ever read. It’s a biography of the great Singaporean comic artist Charlie Chan Hock Chye, and traces the evolution of Chan’s career by showing the wide array of artistic styles he experimented with. These range from Marvel-style superhero comics to celebrity caricatures, cartoonish science fiction, manga, noir, and more. All this is complemented by explanations and annotations of Chan’s work, which are also presented in graphic form.

The work is complex not only in style, but also in content. A driving theme throughout Chan’s career has been uncompromising political satire. Thus the survey of Chan’s work is also a dense and dizzying tour of 20th-century Singaporean history. The comics depict the complex Singaporean identity following independence from Britain, as the tiny nation-state struggled to define itself ethnically, politically, and economically.

While this is a weighty topic, there’s an ever-present humor in Chan’s comics. For instance, his superhero parody is called Roachman. Roachman worked as a human waste collector in Singapore’s pre-plumbing period, and gained his powers from the bite of a cockroach. His transformation into a superhero allows for commentary on the social ills of the day, as well as providing a snapshot of a country just before rapid urbanization and development.

The big conceit in all this is that Chan isn’t real. He’s a fictional character invented by Sonny Liew to take readers through a simultaneous history of Singapore and of 20th-century comics. Read the rest

The much-anticipated Part Three of the Tonoharu trilogy is hot off the press

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My wife, Carla, is the executive editor of Tofugu, a Japanese language and culture blog. Today she ran her review of the third and final installment of Lars Martinson's Tonoharu trilogy.

The entire trilogy takes place over the course of one year, as we follow the main character, Dan Wells, an awkward 25-year-old English teacher who has just moved to the remote town of Tonoharu, Japan. Being the only American in a rural area an hour away from the nearest small city is a culture shock that Dan hasn’t anticipated. Over the course of the series we are right there with Dan as he struggles with issues that most new assistant language teachers will likely deal with to some degree: loneliness, making friends, fitting in, improving Japanese language ability, overcoming cultural barriers, and figuring out what’s next.

Previously:

Video trailer for Tonoharu graphic novel

Tonoharu: Excellent graphic novel about an English teacher in Japan

Tonoharu Part Two: Excellent graphic novel about an English teacher in Japan Read the rest

4 time-saving tips from a guy who spent 13 years drawing a comic

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Lars Martinson, creator of Tonoharu, an excellent graphic novel trilogy about an American teaching English in a rural Japanese village, made this video about the lessons he learned after spending a large part of his life writing and drawing it. Read the rest

Aliens 30th Anniversary: The Original Comic Series

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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

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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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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

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

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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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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

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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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

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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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

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

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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

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

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

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