Cory reviews Stepping Stones By Lucy Knisley

Lucy Knisley is one of my favorite cartoonists (here are past posts about Lucy). She's written a number of excellent autobiographical comix, and her newest work is a graphic novel memoir for young adults called Stepping Stones. Cory Doctorow reviewed it on his blog, Pluralistic:

Graphic novelist Lucy Knisley's memoirs are classics of the field – drawn with the straightforward lines and character designs of Raina Telgemeier, told with the wrenching pathos, nuance, comedy and complexity of Lynda Barry.

In Stepping Stones, her first foray into YA literature, Knisley fictionalizes her own girlhood, when, following her parents' divorce, she and her mother moved from NYC to a remote farm, accompanied by her mother's tone-deaf, bossy boyfriend.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates's "Black Panther and the Crew" is a powerfully relevant superhero story about Black lives, police brutality, and US history

I have been frequently awed by Ta-Nehisi Coates's thoughtful observations on politics and race in America. But I'll be honest: I was somewhat disappointed by his first run of Black Panther comics. It felt, to me, more like a Coates essay accompanied by some action sequences. The ideas were there, and the art by Brian Stelfreeze was spectacular, but it just didn't grip me as a dramatic narrative. (His Captain America, illustrated by Leinil Francis Yu and others, has left me similarly cold.)

Fortunately, Coates is a certified MacArthur genius, and a deft enough writer that he learned on the job with an impressive swiftness. I read the first eighteen issues of Coates and Daniel Acuña's epic Black Panther space opera The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda in just two days, and am eager to devour the rest once it's available (I read most of my comics on Marvel Unlimited).

So to tide myself over, I decided to check out Coates's brief run on Black Panther and the Crew with illustrator Butch Guice. A nod to or revival of Christopher Priest's similarly Panther-inspired 2003 series, The Crew, the comic brings T'Challa to Harlem, in a loose team-up with some other Harlem-affiliated superheroes, including Luke Cage, Misty Knight, and Storm from the X-Men. It's an intergenerational story about Black liberation and revolution, that begins with the death of an elderly Black activist in police custody during a series of ongoing protests against racist police brutality. The conspiracy at the heart of the murder mystery organically weaves in gentrification, astroturfed agitators undermining protests, and algorithmic policing that's never as unbiased as it claims. Read the rest

Creator of the Punisher is organizing a Black Lives Matter benefit to reclaim the skull symbol from police

Writer Gerry Conway has been vocal for years about the misappropriation of the Punisher, a vigilante murderer superhero he created in 1974 when he wrote Amazing Spider-Man #129:

It's disturbing whenever I see authority figures embracing Punisher iconography because the Punisher represents a failure of the Justice system. He's supposed to indict the collapse of social moral authority and the reality some people can't depend on institutions like the police or the military to act in a just and capable way. […] Whether you think the Punisher is justified or not, whether you admire his code of ethics, he is an outlaw. He is a criminal. Police should not be embracing a criminal as their symbol.

Unfortunately, Conway's insistence on what's plainly obvious for anyone who's actually familiar with the Punisher has not stopped the character from becoming a symbol of fascism, proudly worn by law enforcement agents who probably shouldn't be boasting about their love of fascism.

Now, with protests against police brutality raging across the country, Conway is taking another approach:

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Talking The Rough Pearl with Xeric Award-winning Canadian cartoonist Kevin Mutch

This interview presents a conversation with Xeric Award-winning Canadian cartoonist Kevin Mutch about The Rough Pearl (Fantagraphics, 2020), his new graphic novel which addresses issues surrounding the intersection of class and race privilege in the “precariat” creative communities in and around New York City.

Jeffery Klaehn: Thanks for the interview, Kevin!!  Please tell me about The Rough Pearl.

Kevin Mutch: The Rough Pearl is an autobiographical fantasy — a mixture of truth and fiction in roughly equal parts — about a would-be artist named Adam in New York City in the 1990s. He has a crappy adjunct teaching job, a wife who makes a lot more money than him, and an ill-advised crush on a student. And he seems to be losing his mind — he keeps seeing zombies and aliens and ghosts!

Adam is someone who grew up being told that the world was full of possibilities, but he’s come to see that it isn’t that way anymore (if it ever was). He had all these romantic ideas about being an artist, living in New York, being with beautiful women, and now he realizes all of those dreams have become impossible — until suddenly they all become possible again, all at once.

Unfortunately, he’s been having a harder and harder time determining what’s “real” and what isn’t — either he’s going crazy or he’s bleeding into parallel universes, the book is sort of ambiguous about that, heh — so he has a very difficult time navigating all of this. Read the rest

Talking BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams with Eisner Award-Winning Comic Book Creator Michael Allred

This interview presents a conversation with Eisner Award-winning comic book creator Michael Allred (Madman, iZombie, Red Rocket 7, X-Ray Robot, Silver Surfer, X-Statix, Bug! The Adventures of Forager) about BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams.

Jeffery Klaehn: Please tell me about BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams.

Michael Allred: It's a visual biography about how David Bowie exploded into superstardom with the invention of his Ziggy Stardust persona.  His whole life is represented, but the bulk of it focuses on the amp up to "Ziggy-Mania" with the goal to make it as visually interesting as possible, using the music and visual iconography as inspiration.

JK: How would you say music has influenced your art and sensibilities over the course of your career to date?

Michael Allred: It's massive.  Music injects imagery into my head.  It keeps me loose, lights me up, and fuels me.

JK: What's Bowie and his music meant for you?

Michael Allred: Bowie was the first musical entity I discovered on my own.  Looking for comics at the local drugstore, a rock mag with Bowie on the cover jumped out at me.  It was so compelling I bought the just-released "Rebel Rebel" single, and I was hooked.  A crash course and lifetime addiction to all things Bowie followed.

JK: What are your favorite Bowie songs and albums?

Michael Allred: After buying that first single I started with the Diamond Dogs album and bought everything leading up to that with my paper route money all in a very short period of time.  Read the rest

Talking Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics with Visionary Comic Book Creator Tom Scioli

Visionary comic book creator Tom Scioli discusses his new work, Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics, set to be released July 14, 2020 from Ten Speed Press.

Tom Scioli won a Xeric Grant in 1999 for his creator-owned comic book series, The Myth of 8-Opus, and gained further prominence as co-creator (with Joe Casey) of the Eisner-award nominated comic book series Gødland (2005-2012) published by Image Comics.  More recently, Scioli wrote and drew a five issue Go-Bots mini-series (2018) published by IDW Comics, as well as his (very awesome) “Super Powers” (2017) back-up feature for DC Comics' Young Animal imprint.  Scioli also drew and co-scripted (with IDW editor-in-chief John Barber) the critically acclaimed Transformers vs. G.I. JOE maxi-series (2014-2016) published by IDW.  In 2020 he wrote and drew Fantastic Four: Grand Design, published by Marvel Comics.

Jeffery Klaehn: How might you elevator pitch Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics to audiences, especially new readers who may not yet be familiar with Jack Kirby or your own comics work?

Tom Scioli: Everybody’s knows Marvel, everybody knows Stan Lee, but there’s another guy who is at least as important in the creation of the Marvel Universe. Jack Kirby has been a big part of comics history from the very beginning and is a real life hero in his own right. If you’ve never heard of Jack Kirby, or just know the name and not much more, prepare to get your mind blown. Read the rest

Here's another example of one cartoonist swiping another cartoonist's work

A friend of mine (who wishes to remain anonymous) shares my interest in finding swipes of famous illustrators and comic book artists. Neither of us begrudge these artists for swiping (that's the comics industry term for using reference material perhaps a bit too faithfully). After all, these artists worked under brutal deadlines and sometimes they had to cut corners to meet them. Here's a recent swipe he shared with me:

This swipe is by lesser known artist Ernie Chan. As you can see, he literally traced the scene from Jack Davis and EC Comics' Tales from the Crypt #31. He lived and worked in Oakland and I met him at a few conventions. This is a commission by a fan who wanted a sexy Black Canary.

Chan was a popular freelance artist who inked John and Sal Buscema in the early 70s before going on to solo runs with Conan the Barbarian for Marvel and Batman and Captain Marvel for DC.

I find it interesting that Chan did not even bother to alter the source image (reverse it, repose the actors, etc) but I guess no one in 1977 would believe the internet would exist which would make instant cross checking possible.

See other swipes here.

I look forward to the inevitable comment that comes with my posts about interesting swipes: "It's just a coincidence. There are only a limited number of poses a human body can make, and this is a common one." Read the rest

Friday: the new digital-first, pay-what-you-want Lovecraftian YA detective comic from Ed Brubaker, Marcos Martin, and Muntsa Vicente

Award-winning comic creators Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin launched Panel Syndicate in 2013 as a digital-only, name-your-price publishing outlet for their near-future Internet noir The Private Eye. They've released several comics through this imprint since then — from themselves, and from other creators — that all fit under the same DRM-free, pay-what-you-want f0rmat, with horizontally-oriented pages specifically designed to be read on a computer screen or tablet.

The Panel Syndicate format was always intended to upend comic publishing, in a way. So it wasn't that surprising when they announced a new book in the wake of the temporary coronavirus pause of the entire comic book industry. 

The new book, Friday, features art by Panel Syndicate founders Martin Martin and Muntsa Vicente, with a story by acclaimed comic crime writer Ed Brubaker, creator of Criminal, The Fade Out, and the Winter Soldier from Marvel Comics. Here's a brief synopsis:

Friday Fitzhugh spent her childhood solving crimes and digging up occult secrets with her best friend Lancelot Jones, the smartest boy in the world. But that was the past, now she's in college, starting a new life on her own. Except when Friday comes home for the holidays, she's immediately pulled back into Lance's orbit and finds that something very strange and dangerous is happening in their little New England town...

This is literally the Christmas vacation from Hell and neither of them may survive to see the New Year.

In interviews and his newsletter, Brubaker has described the story as "post-YA," which isn't really a genre, but makes sense — it's about that first winter home after the first semester of college, except in this case it's riffing on the child detective archetypes of Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, and the Hardy Boys.  Read the rest

Two fun Little Archie comic book stories

Love and Rockets' creators Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez have mentioned in interviews that they loved Little Archie comic books when they were growing up. Little Archie was started in the 1950s and stars the characters from Archie comics as little kids. The earlier stories were written and drawn by Bob Bolling, and they're regarded by people who know and love comic books as some of the best stories in comic book history.

The Big Blog of Kids' Comics has two excellent Little Archie stories. Mykal Banta, who runs the blog, says:

Bob Bolling has that rare gift few cartoonists have -- his character design is just funny on sight. Howie Post (of Harvey fame) and Milt Gross had it, as does modern animation master, John Kricfalusi. It's a quality that can't be taught. Throw great scripting and wonderful layouts into the bargain, and you have classic stuff. Last time I checked, Mr. Bolling was still turning out high-caliber Little Archie stories for Archie Comics! These two Bolling stories come from Little Archie No. 3 (Summer 1957).

Read the stories here.

If you like these stories and want more, I recommend The Adventures Of Little Archie Volume 1 and Volume 2 Read the rest

Jim Starlin, creator of many awesome cosmic comics, has a new Kickstarter for his labor of love

Jim Starlin has drawn classic issues of many major comic book characters since the early 1970s, including Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Legion of Super Heroes, and more. But his real claim to fame is his artistic obsession — both as an artist, and a writer — with exploring mythological archetypes on a meta-galactic scale. Starlin pioneered characters like Captain Marvel and Adam Warlock, and also created Thanos, Drax, Gamora, and many other characters that were thematically fascinating but never commercially successful until the recent explosion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

One of Starlin's pet projects in the early 80s was a book called Dreadstar. Dreadstar existed in its own universe outside of Marvel and DC, and gave Starlin a vessel through which he could continue to explore the philosophical implications of literary classics with a shameless embrace of pulpy space opera, and this time without (too much) corporate meddling.

Nearly four decades later, Starlin is returning to the Dreadstar universe with a new Kickstarter-funded original graphic novel that already raised more than $50,000 in the first few days — a testament to the cross-generational appeal of Starlin's work. From the campaign page:

The original, long-running Dreadstar series centered on the exploits of Vanth Dreadstar, newly arrived in the Empirical Galaxy after the necessary destruction of the Milky Way. Vanth attempts to live a pastoral existence on a planet populated by peaceful cat-people. That peace is quickly disturbed when Dreadstar and the crew he assembles are thrust into the conflict between the two major forces in the galaxy: The Monarchy and the Theocratical Instrumentality and its Lord High Papal.

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Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg look at the work of cartoonist Dave Cooper

As a long time fan of cartoonist Dave Cooper, I really enjoyed Jim Rugg and Ed Piskor going over Cooper's comic books of the late 1990s and early 2000s. I agree with them that Cooper belongs in the pantheon of Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Charles Burns, Jim Woodring, and the Hernandez brothers. Read the rest

The Mountain Goats have a new song about Marvel Comics with possibly the longest title ever

I've been writing overly-melodramatic rock n' roll bangers about comic books with long-ass titles for at least 15 years now. I had thought that I had achieved the pinnacle of this with my band's upcoming record. Tentatively titled, "A Collection of Songs About Comics Books and Mid-30s Malaise," it will include a dark synth-pop tune about Cyclops called "Every Girl Is An Apple," as well as a Cars-esque jam about Hawkeye called "My Life as a Weapon." This all of course follows up on our first not-so-big hit, "Face It, Tiger (You Just Hit The Jackpot)."

Unfortunately, my friend John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats may have beat me to the punch with (deep breath) "The Proliferation of Marvel Universe Timelines Has Made It Impossible For Me to Use Search Engines to Determine Which Issue From the 70s Had Loki Predicting the Immanence of Ragnarok In Its Final Panel But It Certainly Wasn’t #272, or, New Mountain Goats Tape Song."

That's it. That's the song title. It almost takes as long to say as the song itself takes to play.

I'm not sure which shames me more: that John has defeated me on long titles and obscurity, or that I actually don't know which Thor comic he's referencing here.

Either way, the song is a delight, and the Mountain Goats will be releasing a new lo-fi cassette tape from quarantine this Friday, the kind of hissy 4-track recordings upon which the band built its cult following in the 90s and early 00s before expanding their lineup and recording quality. Read the rest

"The Black Ghost" is a fun Latina twist on urban noir superheroes

Marvel found a lot of success with their street-level Netflix series, focusing on those less-super superheroes like Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Across town, Batman has always been one of the most beloved DC heroes, more because of his lack of powers than despite them.

Now, Comixology's original digital-only publishing line is offering their own twist on the gritty powerless superhero genre with The Black Ghost. Written by comics and crime writer (and Archie Comics co-president) Alex Segura and comic writer/artist Monica Gallagher with art by Marco Finnegan and George Kambadais, the comic follows a bitter alcoholic beat reporter named Lara Dominguez, whose obsession with a local vigilante called the Black Ghost gets her wrapped up in multilevel crime syndicate that has its eyes as much on real estate and media as it does in petty crimes. It feels like both an origin story, and a chapter in a larger story that's been going on for years — just like a good superhero comic should.

The story takes place in a city called Creighton. And while we don't know where exactly that is (the protagonist's former life in Miami has followed her to this new dying city), the grey skies and crumbling buildings could be almost any fading former factory hub along the East Coast. As I read, I kept thinking of it as the Bridgeport version of Gotham City or Metropolis — generic, but accessible, and fleshed out just enough to make it feel lived-in and real.

From the first issue, it's clear that The Black Ghost is going to shamelessly lean into the tropes of the genre — but with just enough inversions of expectations. Read the rest

DC Comics offers free virtual backgrounds for Zoom conferencing

DC has made images of a number of iconic comic book locations available for use as virtual backgrounds for Zoom and other video conferencing services.

"Whether it's for work, school or just keeping in touch with your friends, you've likely found yourself video chatting with a lot of people over the past couple of weeks. After all, it's a great way to stay connected in this time of social distancing," the DC press release reads. "But why take video calls from your living room or bedroom when you could take them from the Batcave, the Fortress of Solitude, Themyscira, or the Hall of Justice?"

Read the rest on Bleeding Cool.

[H/t Bruce Dykes]

Image: Fortress of Solitude virtual backdrop from DC Comics Read the rest

Check out these new Quarantine Comix from the creator of "Ice Cream Man"

Ice Cream Man is one of the comic books I most look forward to every month. Written by W. Maxwell Prince with art by Martín Morazzo and Chris O'Halloran, it's basically a horror anthology that mines the existential depths of suburban ennui. And all of it, or some of it, may tie back to the Ice Cream Man, who might be a demon, or a God, or maybe it's all in your head. Each issue is a done-in-one, focusing on a new and different character (although there are some subtle connections between them), and many of them take hyper-stylized approaches to graphic storytelling — an entire issue written and drawn as a palindrome, for example; and another one where an incident with Neapolitan ice cream bar creates 3 splintering timelines, shaded in chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry (A Vulture review compared this issue to "Sliding Doors, but terrifying," which is accurate).

Unfortunately, the comic book industry is now indefinitely on hold thanks to the coronavirus pandemic (an invisible existential horror which would actually be right home in an issue of Ice Cream Man).

But now the creators of Ice Cream Man have launched Quarantine Comix, a digital-only collection of short comics in Ice Cream Man continuity that they'll release online once or twice a week. There's more:

Half of profits go to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BINC), which supports struggling booksellers. This includes local Comic Book Shops, who are facing unprecedented financial hardship after the closure of many of their stores, the temporary shuttering of their distribution system, and the non-operation of pretty much every paper printer in the country.

Read the rest

There will be no new comic books in any stores "until further notice," thanks to coronavirus.

Diamond Comics is the exclusive shipping and distribution source for all weekly comic books. Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, Boom! — they all send their single-issues to comic book stores through Diamond.

Due to coronavirus concerns, however, the company has halted all shipments for the foreseeable future.

Comic book stores can still sell other merchandise, as well as some graphic novels, trade paperbacks, collected editions, and other bound book-style publications. Single-issues will also continue to be available digitally through Comixology, as most publishers have already announced their solicitations for new comics through at least June.

But what this means for the future of the comic book industry remains to be seen. While graphic novels and trade paperbacks of single issues have continued to increase in popularity, those single weekly issues remain the backbone of the industry, just as they've been for the last 50+ years. The entire serialized structure of the medium depends on it. Even if you prefer to pick up the collected editions of SAGA (also known as "waiting for the trade"), the comic still benefits from the 6 months of promotion that it gets every time a new single issue is released. Each single issue sells around 40,000 copies, compared to 1-2,000 copies per graphic novel (although the first trade paperback continues to sell more than 1,000 copies per month on average, based on a quick glance through Diamond's sales charts). Self-contained graphic novels — those that are created and released as a single, cohesive entity, instead of as a collection of single issues — rarely sell as well as collected trade paperbacks. Read the rest

"Metropolis Kid" will make you dance like Superboy

Metropolis Kid by Model Decoy

I've known Doron Monk Flake and Ari Sadowitz since high school, and it's been an honor to watch their musical prowess grow and grow and grow. Their current project, Model Decoy, pumps out Prince-like post-punk jams, full of sick rock riffs and soaring jazzy vocals that bring gravitas to clever lyrics that are mostly about their favorite nerdy comic books and movies.

Their newest single, "Metropolis Kid," is a perfect example of this. It makes you want to tap your feet as you croon along with Superboy (being young Kon-El, the misfit clone of Superman and Lex Luthor, not that cranky bastard Superboy-Prime

You can find the band's back catalog on Spotify, but they just released "Metropolis Kid" and two other new songs exclusively on Bandcamp, which is waiving their fee today (March 20) so that struggling bands can get 100% of the proceeds of their music during this quarantine.

(If you're feeling generous, you can buy some tunes from my own band, the Roland High Life, too — we're not as funky as Model Decoy, but we do have some good banger about Spider-Man and, uhh, conspiracy theorists.)

Model Decoy on Bandcamp

Image: Pat Loika / Flickr (CC 2.0) Read the rest

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