Sunday, May 31, 2009

Short Reviews: Pluto vol. 1, Hellboy vol. 4, Benny and Penny: The Big No-No

Here are some short reviews of what I've been reading over the past week:

Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka vol. 1, by Naoki Urasawa, Osamu Tezuka, and Takashi Nagasaki, 2009, Viz Media, 200 pages, $12.99

For the first time in a long time, I absolutely cannot wait to read the next volume of a serialized comic book. Pluto, Urasawa's re-imagining of the classic 1964 Tezuka Astro Boy story "The Greatest Robot on Earth," is a sci-fi murder mystery about a robot detective trying to discover who is targeting the seven great robots of the world. IT IS FANTASTIC.

Just to single out a few things: first, the detective's encounter with Brau 1589, a robot who violated the robot laws by killing a human being, is chilling. And the three chapters about the relationship between the former army-bot North No. 2 and his new master, an aging musical maestro, are stunning in their drama and emotional complexity.

I cannot recommend this enough, and I hope the rest of the series maintains this level of quality. If you have not read this, go out immediately and get it.

You can buy it from Amazon here: Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka vol. 1

Hellboy vol. 4: The Right Hand of Doom, by Mike Mignola, 2004, Dark Horse, 144 pages, $17.95

Way back when, I mentioned that Mike Mignola's horror-adventure series Hellboy was on my list of "Things that I wish I was reading." I've since set out to remedy that, and this past week I grabbed The Right Hand of Doom from the library. This collects a number of one-shots and short stories that originally were published in 1998 and 1998. It's good spooky fun, just like I wanted.

The first story, a two-pager called "Pancakes," is just damn funny. Most of the rest of the stories weave in creatures from world folklore, such as an enormous Romanian vampire called the Vârcolac and a bunch of Japanese floating demon heads. The final story, "Box Full of Evil," focuses more on the central mystery of Hellboy himself: what is he, why is he here, and what's up with that big stone hand.

Mignola's art and Dave Stewart's colors are terrific, as always. It's a nice collection.

See a preview here. You can buy it from the publisher here or from Amazon here: Hellboy vol. 4: The Right Hand of Doom

Benny and Penny: The Big No-No, Geoffrey Hayes, 2009, Toon Books, 32 pages, $12.95

My children enjoy this book about two mice who sneak into their neighbor's yard and get into a mud-slinging battle with the new kid living there. It's a short, simple story, and it kept my kids' attention. My only criticism would be that there is some name-calling involved (the term "cry-baby" gets used twice, and Benny calls Penny and the new kid "dumb girls"), which I don't think is all that great for young kids to read. But other than that, it's a perfectly good children's comic book.

See a preview here. You can buy it from Amazon here: Benny and Penny: The Big No-No

Friday, May 29, 2009

Comics Are All Around Us.

First, I wanted to let everyone know that I am headed to:

I am particularly interested in attending the following panel:
2:00 pm – 2:50 pm
Making Good Comics in a New Era
With Alvin Buenaventura (Buenaventura Books), Mats Jonsson (Gallago), Tom Neely (2007 Ignatz Winner), Brett Warnock (Top Shelf), Julia Wertz (, Dylan Williams (Sparkplug Comics). Chaired by Heidi MacDonald (The Beat).

How are small comics publishers and self-published cartoonists responding to the current comics market? What are the main challenges and opportunities for independent publishers in today’s publishing climate? This roundtable is cosponsored by Sparkplug Comics.
Also, I am looking forward to buying this:

Which you can read all about here.

Next, I wanted to draw your attention to the following items:

  • Colleen Coover drew a Wolverine cover sketch for the Hero Initiative. Be sure to click on the picture on her site to see the back cover.

  • Lucy Knisley fasted for a week and told everybody her new book Relish will be published by First Second.

Enjoy your weekend, everybody.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Review: Blazing Combat

Blazing Combat, written by Archie Goodwin, art by Gene Colan, Reed Crandall, George Evans, Frank Frazetta, Russ Heath, Al McWilliams, Gray Morrow, Joe Orlando, John Severin, Angelo Torres, Alex Toth, and Wally Wood, 2009, Fantagraphics, 208 pages, $28.99

This collection of the 1965-66 Blazing Combat war comic magazine is a stellar publication that scores perfectly on my handy-dandy comic book reprint checklist:
  • Are the original comics long out-of-print and difficult to find?
Yes. Blazing Combat lasted all of four 64-page issues back in the mid-60s before dissatisfaction with its content -- it was seen as "anti-American" because of its realistic depiction of war -- led to the U.S. military banning it from sale on its bases and magazine wholesalers refusing to sell it. Before the publication of this new collection, I'd say you wouldn't have run across these comics in the local Waldenbooks or the back issue bin at Superheroes R Us.

(click to enlarge)
  • Does the new collection show off the original comics?
Yes. First, it's got everything. All twenty-nine stories that appeared in the original four issues are reproduced here, which will make all you compulsive collectors feel good. Second, it looks great. The pages are reproduced from the original printer’s films, giving the drawings a nice clarity. (It reminds me of the time that New York City cleaned the ceiling of the main concourse of Grand Central Station -- everything seemed to just glow.) And, as Kevin Church has pointed out, the cover design is fantastic. It jumps off the shelf. Finally, the new material (an introduction and interviews with original publisher James Warren and writer Goodwin) is interesting and edifying. The book is a great package.

(click to enlarge)
  • Are the original comics any good?
This is the most important question, of course, and I'm glad to say that these comics are excellent. The artistic talent arrayed inside -- including several masters of the art form -- is enough to raise the book above your standard fare, but Archie Goodwin's writing left the most impact on me. He hopscotches through history, with each story taking place during one of America's many wars. And he gets personal: instead of focusing on generals and presidents, he tells stories about foot soldiers and peasants, and how war affects their emotions and thoughts. It's a ground-level view of war. He also doesn't celebrate the glory of war; everyone ends up horrified, scared, paranoid, or dead. Finally, he doesn't mince words, telling engrossing and complete stories in six to eight pages.

(click to enlarge)

It's a master class on how to tell a short story, and I highly recommend checking it out.

Previews: Here is a pdf of the first three stories, here is a video/slideshow preview, and here is the story "Holding Action" with art by John Severin. You can read Michael Catron's introduction here.

Buy it: From Fantagraphics here or from Amazon here: Blazing Combat

Trivia: Jason Aaron read Blazing Combat while researching his breakout war comic The Other Side.

Related: My reviews of other Fantagraphics publications:

Disclaimer: This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Review: Sgt. Fury & His Howling Commandos #1: Shotgun Opera

Sgt. Fury & His Howling Commandos #1, written by Jesse Alexander, art by John Paul Leon, 2009, Marvel, 40 pages, $3.99

This action-adventure comic is worth flipping through to see the excellent artwork of John Paul Leon, but I can't say that the story was a success.

In 1942, Sergeant Fury and his Howling Commandos parachute behind enemy lines, kill some Germans, blow some stuff up, meet a Russian spy, and blow more stuff up.

It's got an old-school "ain't war fun?" outlook (writer Alexander has said that he was trying to get back to the mentality of the Jack Kirby/Stan Lee books) but in its haste to pack in So! Much! Excitement! it tries to do way too much. We've got tanks, planes, submarines, nuclear bombs, a "warbot," several different villians, etc., etc. There are some neat kernels of ideas in here, but nothing is given any time to breathe and develop before the Commandos race on to the next idea. It just becomes overwhelming and meaningless, unfortunately.

Moreover, I'm all for actiony-war stories, but it helps if the characters appear to be in real danger. Here, I was never worried for any of the Commandos, let alone the invincible Fury.

But as I said, you should check out the art. Here's an uncolored, unlettered example:

(click to enlarge)

John Paul Leon's work has a rough-n-ready vibe that would make Joe Kubert proud, combined with an attention to detail and character that helps the reader to suspend his or her disbelief, even in the face of stunts like this:

(click to enlarge)

Sure, it's fantasy, but man that tank looks great. Seriously, though, Leon's work is dynamic and perfect for this genre. I only wish they had whittled this thing down to a more mangeable story.

Read more: Here's an interview with Alexander.

Buy it: from Heavy Ink.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Michelangelo's Emphatic Cross-Hatching

There was an interesting article in the New York Times this week about the identification of Michelangelo's first known painting.

After a debate lasting four and a half centuries, several scholars have concluded that Michelangelo painted "The Torment of St. Anthony" between 1487 and 1488, when he was 12 or 13 years old.

Here's one researcher describing his reaction to the painting:
I looked at it and said this is self-evidently Michelangelo. There’s a section of the rocks with cross-hatching. Nobody else did this kind of emphatic cross-hatching.

Apparently, this guy has never come across the work of Jim Lee:

Emphatic cross-hatching indeed. The subject matter is not all that different either, actually.

Here's a detail of the painting:

Pretty neat.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Neato Upcoming Comic: Olympus #1

I'd like to bring everyone's attention to Olympus #1 (of 4), which is due out May 20th from Image Comics. It's the comic book debut of both writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Christian Ward.

You already know that I like Greek myths, and this book stars the brothers Castor and Pollux. Here's the solicitation description:
In ancient Greece, Zeus granted eternal life to two brothers, and bound them to his service. 3,000 years later, they are hunting an exiled god, only in their hunt they release onto earth one of Hades' most dangerous prisoners. With a fresh, compelling visual style and original storytelling, OLYMPUS #1 is a rebirth of classical mythology into action and intrigue.
Sounds like fun, but man oh man, do yourself a favor and check out the art. Here's one page from Comic Book Resources' five-page preview:

Beautiful work. Kind of reminds me of Bill Sienkiewicz, but with a 00s feel to it (rather than 80s) and the colors gone gaga bright.

For more information about Olympus, here's the Olympus blog, an interview with Ward, an interview with Edmondson, and another interview with Edmondson.

Image's anthology Popgun vol. 3 (which Rob from Talkin Bout Comics has been talkin bout) also has an Olympus-related story, but you'll have to buy that to see it.

Here's hoping that Ward continues to get the opportunity to produce comic book work. You can check out his website and MySpace page for more information. (And here's Edmondson's website.)

One last note -- Ward also did some art for the Totoro Forest Project, including this:

Monday, May 11, 2009

Review: Old Man Winter and Other Sordid Tales

Old Man Winter and Other Sordid Tales, by J.T. Yost, 2009, Birdcage Bottom Books, 56 pages, $6.95

This 2009 Xeric Award winner is a fairly excellent collection of five short stories, three of which are powerful condemnations of the treatment of animals by humans. Be forewarned: this book will take you aback with some graphic depictions of cruelty to animals.

The first and longest story is not about animals, though. "Old Man Winter" is a sad tale of an elderly widower with little going on in his life. This story was created most recently and was probably my favorite story in the book. It certainly has the strongest art, with author Yost's linework seeming more confident. Here's the first page of the story:

(click to enlarge -- note that printed version is black and white)

Something about that image reminds me of Where the Wild Things Are. Without giving away the ending, I will say that the story ends rather abruptly, but in a way that feels true to life.

The second story is a four-pager called "All is forgiven," about a scientist who experiments on bunnies, chimps, and kittens. Yup, you'll feel pretty crummy after seeing these helpless animals caged, scared, and in pain. There's not too much to say about this one; it almost feels like a warm-up to what comes later.

Third is "Logging Sanjay," an eight-page autobiographical story about Yost and a friend playing a practical joke on a friend and his family. It feels slightly out of place in this collection, since it is more light-hearted in tone. Perhaps Yost included it because it's another example of the casual cruelty that people inflict on other creatures (humans or animals), but I might be looking too hard for a connection. It's probably my least favorite story, and it doesn't seem like Yost spent as much time on the art.

Fourth is the ass-kicker. "Roadtrip" is a wordless story that shows the parallel lives of a young girl and a young cow. The panels alternate between the girl's innocent happy fun world and the mirrored hellish life of the cow as it is put through a factory farm's slaughterhouse.

(click to enlarge)

It's horrifying, and the contrast of the two lives makes the story that much more powerful and upsetting. You'll think twice before again eating mass-produced meat or feeding it to your family, trust me.

The final story, "Running Away With the Circus / Running Away From the Circus," is similar to "Roadtrip" in that it compares the lives of a person and an elephant who are now facing each other inside the circus ring. But here, everybody has a crappy life. It draws its strength from its unblinking depictions of violence, and it's a strong closer for the collection.

Other than my concerns about the "Logging Sanjay" story, my only criticism of the book would be that I think the cover is awful. It's dominated by an ugly color and almost illegible lettering, and I worry that people will be put off from checking this out simply because of it.

But please do look beyond the cover, as the book really is worth reading. It goes for the throat, and its affecting message will open your eyes and get you thinking about how we should be treating animals.

READ IT: See a bunch of pages from the book here. And here's an interview with Yost.

BUY IT: From the publisher here.

RELATED: My review of another 2009 Xeric Award winner, Box Brown's Love is a Peculiar Type of Thing

Disclaimer: This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Not Comics: This American Life explains the financial crisis

Do you want to understand the financial crisis, but you don't know anything about finance? Listen to This American Life.

This radio show cannot be praised enough, and recently it has run a series of episodes devoted to explaining what is going on with the economy.

These particular episodes are fantastic reporting: comprehensive but not overwhelming, they explain incredibly sophisticated concepts in a way that anyone can understand. If you want to understand what is going on right now, listen to them.

Go here to get to all of the show's episodes about the financial crisis.

Or, click on the following links, which will take you to individual episodes. You then can click on "Full Episode" to listen to an entire episode as a free stream, or you can download an mp3 version through ITunes for less than a buck. Each episode runs one hour. If you don't have the ability to listen to them, I've also provided links to pdf versions of the transcripts.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Upcoming Comic Books

Amazon's website often posts the upcoming publication schedules for comic books, long before the publishing companies themselves reveal their intentions.

Below are links to upcoming comic books on Amazon, sorted by publication date and publisher.

Have fun pre-ordering, or just get a good look into the future. (Note: Sometimes the first results will be used books with incorrect dates. Just scroll past those results.)

Links to upcoming comic books organized by publisher:

Abrams ComicArts






Dark Horse


Del Rey

Devil's Due

Drawn & Quarterly



First Second

Hill & Wang

Houghton Mifflin



Kodansha Comics

Last Gasp



Oni Press




Ponent Mon


Red 5

Simon & Schuster




Toon Books / Raw Junior

Top Shelf






W.W. Norton & Co.


General searches:

All Upcoming Comic Books

All Upcoming Graphic Novels

All Upcoming Manga

All Upcoming Children's Comic Books

All of the searches will grab all of the newly posted books each time you click the links, so bookmark this page and come back often!

If you have suggestions for other publishers, share them in the comments and I'll add them to the list.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Noir Previews

Publishers Weekly has a preview of Dark Horse's upcoming black-and-white anthology of crime comics, Noir.

Also, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips's contribution will be a Criminal short story. You can see a couple pages of it here and there.

In addition to Brubaker and Phillips, Noir includes work by:
  • Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets)
  • David Lapham (Stray Bullets)
  • Rick Geary (A Treasury of Victorian Murder)
  • Chris Offutt (HBO's True Blood)
  • Paul Grist (Kane)
  • Jeff Lemire (Essex County)
  • M. K. Perker (Cairo, Air)
  • Alex de Campi (Smoke)
  • Eduardo Barreto (Cobb)
  • Dean Motter (Mister X)
I'm looking forward to this book. It goes on sale on September 30, 2009.

Pre-Order: From Dark Horse over here, from Heavy Ink down that way, or even from Amazon up through this thing: Noir

Monday, May 4, 2009

Aw man this is gonna be great.

Here is the new poster for Hayao Miyazaki's upcoming movie, Ponyo:

Tina Fey? Matt Damon? Cate Blanchett? Nice. Also: love the little dudes in the image below.

The movie is set to be released in the U.S. on August 14, 2009.

Here is the Japanese website and a trailer: