Thursday, January 31, 2013

American Splendor: Our Movie Year

On my trip to Western MA in December, I came across The Bookloft in Great Barrington MA. This is an excellent old school independent bookstore with excellent atmosphere, and a great selection. Definitely worth a look if you're in the area. They had small but eclectic graphic novel section and I ended up purchasing this.

Title: American Splendor: Our Movie Year
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Date: 2004
Writer: Harvey Pekar
Artist: R. Crumb, Gary Dumm, Mark Zingarelli, Ed Piskor, Josh Neufeld, Frank Stack, Gerry Shamray, Greg Budgett, Dean Haspiel, Joe Zabel

Graphic novel collecting a year's worth of Harvey Pekar's autobiographical American Splendor series. This issue covers the making and release of the American Splendor film. Pekar tells a fascinating story about his quest for a Hollywood adaptation of his long-running comic book series. When the film did finally happen, Pekar was in the midst of a battle with his anxiety attacks and a relapse of his lymphoma.

The book details how he was able to recover to see the release of the film and its showings at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals, as well as Pekar's travels with his family to promote the movie.

Of course a variety of mishaps occur along the way, including the Northeast Blackout of 2003, which stranded Pekar and his family in New York right when the film was set to premier.

In addition to the ongoing chronicle of the movie's release, the book also includes a bunch of stand-alone stories, as well as some of Pekar's historical features on jazz music.

As is typical for Pekar's work, it is illustrated by several artists, so there is a constantly changing art style from one story to the next. R. Crumb is the artist who helped Pekar get started and he still has one of the most distinctive styles here. Pekar's artists avoid exaggerated superhero-style art in favor of a 70s underground look that keeps the characters looking like real people.

There are lots of little treats in the story for the geeky readers. Pekar might not have much interest in mainstream comics, but he talks at length about Hollywood personalities, visits Weta (the effects studio for Lord of the Rings) in New Zealand, checks out a manga shop in Japan (he's not that impressed), and visits Allan Moore in England for an afternoon.

As much as Pekar presents himself as a cynical everyman, his writing is very intellectual, particularly when discussing music and politics. He puts a great deal of thought into what he writes about, and his depth of knowledge on jazz is encyclopedic. I was also surprised by how positive Pekar is. In spite of his pessimistic, hard-luck outlook on his own life, Pekar speaks very highly of just about all of the people that he worked with, whether on comics, music reviews, or the movie. Pekar is always upbeat and appreciative of the creative and talented people that he has had the chance to meet.

Because this is a collection of a year's worth of Pekar's writing in various individual features and comics, there is some redundancy to the book, and some of the music features are clearly meant to be of local interest. But even the repeated material is presented by different artists, and it's fun to see the variety of interpretations of the same sequence of events.

This may not be the absolute best starting point when it comes to Pekar's work, but it's a good place to jump in for those who got to know Pekar by way of the movie.

Rating: 8.5/10

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Booty #26

Picked this up from Trees & Hills at MICE this past fall. Read it on the Red Line train into Arisia tonight.

Title: Booty
Issue: #26
Publisher: My Monster Hat
Distributor: Trees & Hills, Microcosm Publishing
Writer:Anne Thalheimer
Artist: Anne Thalheimer

Anne Thalheimer can always be counted on for some really fun geeky autobiographical comics, a subgenre which is a personal favorite of mine.

The latest issue of her Booty series focuses on the loss of her 9-5 job, and her subsequent decision to devote her time to her monster hat making business, and to substitute teaching, tutoring, and a summer teaching opportunity at Yale to help with the bills.

There is a lot of emotion poured into these pages, and a lot of humor and fun as well. The scene featuring the Internal Monster Council of Doubt was particularly good.

This was a welcome addition to an excellent series.

Rating: 8/10

Friday, January 18, 2013


I'm not sure exactly where I picked this one up. It's one of many minicomics in the tbr stack.

Don't forget, if you're in the Boston area this weekend, I'll be at Arisia, with a minicomic panel Saturday at 10 PM, a reading of one of my prose stories at 10 AM, and a dealer table in the dealers' room all weekend. Come check out my comics.

Title: Chip
Publisher: Square Bubbles
Writer: Jonathan Pinchera
Artist: Jonathan Pinchera

Folded micro-minicomic that tells the origin story of a planet-sized monster named Chips. Chips enjoys roasting marshmallows on the sun and composing haiku. This was obviously a quickie, but it was pretty amusing, especially the way it ended.

Creative and worth a giggle or two.

Rating: 6.5/10

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Strawberry Shortcake / Scouts Halloween Mini-Comic #1

I will be at Arisia this weekend in Boston MA. Come see my comics at the Dandelion Studios table in the dealers' room. I will also be reading my fiction Saturday at 10 AM and I will be on the minicomics panel Saturday at 10 PM. Yes, Saturday will be a long day.

Here's a kids' comic I picked up as a Halloween freebie from New England Comics in Quincy MA.

Title: Strawberry Shortcake / Scouts Halloween Mini-Comic
Issue: #1
Date: 2012
Publisher:  Kizoic
Writer: Heather Nuhfer, Mark Finn
Artist: Amy Mebberson, Antonio Campo
Colorist: Amy Mebberson, Dustin Evans
Letterer: AW's Adrian Martinez

Ashcan-format flip book.

Strawberry Shortcake is getting her sweets shop ready for the Valentines season, which is one of their busiest times of the year. In an effort to get some extra help, she tries recruiting a berrykin, and ends up securing the services of Littlest Berrykin, who is full of her own ideas about how to concoct treats. And some of those ideas involve chili peppers.

There is a fine line between adorable and unbearable sometimes, and this story managed to stay about a millimeter on the adorable side.

Flip the book over and you get Scouts, which is basically a comedy about a Boy Scouts style group. It's time for the pet appreciation badge, and every bad pet cliche shows up all at once. This was fairly lowbrow (but still kid-appropriate) humor, which was enough to get a mild chuckle out of me when reading it, but which is also pretty forgettable once it's done.

Rating: 5.5/10

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Uncanny Avengers #1

I stopped by my local Newbury Comics recently and picked up a couple of the recent Marvel Now debut issues. This is the second of those. My review of Thor: God of Thunder #1 was posted yesterday.

This week I'm gearing up for the Arisia convention this weekend in Boston. My small-press comic company, Dandelion Studios will be in the dealer room all weekend. In addition, I'll be doing a reading of some of my prose fiction (along with authors Resa Nelson and Daniel P. Dern) at 10 AM on Saturday, and I'll be on a minicomic panel Saturday at 10 PM. I'll also hopefully be picking up some new comics to review throughout the weekend.

But for now, on to the business at hand.

Title: Uncanny Avengers #1
Date: December, 2012
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Writer: Rich Remender
Artist: John Cassaday
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: VC's Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Daniel Ketchum, Tom Brevoort, Axel Alonso

First issues of team comics tend to fall into formula, simply because there is limited space and a fairly fixed agenda that needs to be accomplished. Team members need to be introduced and recruited, and by the time that is done there is usually just about enough space to introduce the villains and jumpstart a bit of plot.

This book was further saddled with a load of continuity baggage as it worked through the aftermath of the recent Avengers vs. X-Men storyline.


Charles Xavier is dead.

Well, actually he's Marvel-dead, and since his name isn't Uncle Ben that means he's not really dead. But we're all supposed to pretend that he is so that characters like Wolverine and Havok can wax emotional. There was nothing wrong with these opening scenes; it just all felt like going through the motions.

From there Captain America and Thor show up to recruit Havok to lead Cap's new mutant/nonmutant super team. Cap is handled well. Thor plays big goofy comic relief, which in this case is actually fairly funny. About halfway through coffee, a villain starts wrecking the neighborhood, and the heroes leap into action in what was essentially a jobber squash to show off the heroes doing their thing.

We move on to Scarlet Witch and Rogue, who have a well-written and genuinely intense verbal confrontation. Wanda is a character that I really haven't ever seen featured all that much here, and her response to Rogue's righteous bluster is really good.

Sadly the whole thing gets interrupted by a group of generic villains, and a character is mauled because, well, there really hasn't been any gratuitous gore so far, and we can't have one of the female character go and steal the show, now can we?

Ends with a big villain reveal that was okay for what it was.

This has potential, a fact that I may not have actually conveyed all that well. Unfortunately, the limitations of the Marvel Universe (even the sorta-rebooted Marvel Now), and the fallback to cliches keep this from getting me interested enough to want to read any more of it.

Rating: 4/10

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Thor: God of Thunder #1

Title: Thor: God of Thunder #1
Date: January, 2013
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Writer: Jason Aaron
Penciler: Esad Ribis
Colorist: Dean White
Letterer: VC's Joe Sabino
Cover: Esad Ribis
Editor: Lauren Sankovitch, Jake Thomas, Axel Alonso

Thor is often at his best when he's interacting with the characters of Norse mythology, rather than the modern mythology of the Marvel Universe. This story proves to be a fine example of that, as Thor is kept firmly in his own continuity for the duration.

The story is really three stories, taking place in the past, the present, and in the (possible) future. The villain is Gorr the God Butcher, a murderer of gods and entire pantheons.

The opening story, set in medieval Iceland, has Thor encountering some of Gorr's handywork while visiting a Norse village. Thor has defeated the frost giants that were menacing the region, and he's getting the rock star treatment from the locals. Thor is presented here as a brash young adventurers, and when he finds the remains of a slain Native American god, his young confidence is shaken for perhaps the first time.

The second segment, set in the present, but on a distant planet is the best part of the book. One of the things we seldom get to see with Marvel's gods is them actually functioning as gods. In this segment, we get to see Thor actually answering someone's prayer. It's a really interesting scene, and it leads to Thor's second crossing of paths with Gorr.

Now, Gorr himself never appears in this issue, but that is part of what makes the storytelling effective here. The villain is given sufficient time to be built up as a very serious threat, which is necessary to make the final segment, which takes place in a possible future, credible.

That ending segment is a bit Elseworlds-ish (or at least reminiscent of a What If? story), but it was effective on the strength of the first two segments.

Good start to this new series.

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Heroes & Villains: The Comic Book Art of Alex Ross

This doesn't quite fit the technical definition of a comic book, even though it's presented in standard comic book format. It's actually the program for the Andy Warhol Museum's exhibit of the artwork of Alex Ross.

To make matters slightly more confusing, I bought this on my recent trip to western MA, at the Norman Rockwell Museum, which is currently (only through February 24, 2013, so go see it soon!) hosting the Alex Ross Exhibit.

Title: Heroes & Villains: The Comic Book Art of Alex Ross
Date: October, 2011
Publisher: The Andy Warhol Museum
Artist: Alex Ross
Editor: Jesse Kowalski

This is the program from the museum exhibit of Alex Ross' comic art. Originally displayed at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh PA, I caught the exhibit at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge MA.

This book spends a lot of time talking about comics in general, and less time than I would have liked talking about Alex Ross. It does include some pretty interesting material on Ross' influences, which include Andrew Loomis, Lynette Ross (his mother, also an illustrator), J.C. Leyendecker, and of course Norman Rockwell and Andy Warhol.

Ross' painting of Warhol flying in Superman style adorns the cover of the book, and quite a bit of his art, as well as art by the various artists who influenced him is printed inside. Unfortunately, most of it is reproduced her in very small size.

The general comic book information is aimed at readers who are new to comics, and who might be surprised to find comic art in a museum. As such, the book spends a lot of time working through concepts that comic fans have long since dealt with. Comics are serious art, they're not just kids' stuff, etc.

There was some good historical information here, but the general tone came off as simplistic at best and condescending in a few moments, even when that was the opposite of the intended effect. A piece on "superheroes through the eyes of a novice" by Alissa Osial made a couple of funny points, but largely fell flat.

The book is also organized in a very scattered way, jumping around topics and highlighting certain characters seemingly at random.

It could have used a stronger unifying narrative. I understood that many of the oddly-placed pieces were included because they were particularly influential on the work of Alex Ross, but the case could have been stated more coherently.

This is a good read for the Alex Ross completeist, and it's a nice look back on the comic industry, but aside from the connections to classic illustrators, there isn't much here for the dedicated comic fan.

Rating: 5.5/10

Friday, January 4, 2013

First Law of Mad Science #1

This is the second comic I picked up at Modern Myths in Northampton MA during my recent getaway to the Berkshires.

Title: First Law of Mad Science
Date: 2011
Publisher: Noreon
Writer: Mike Isenberg, Oliver Mertz
Artist: Daniel Lapham, Jeff McComsey
Letterer: Mike Isenberg
Cover: Jamie Nogochi

The family that discovers secrets best left unknown to mankind is the family that stays together.

This was a nice mashup of the classic family-of-genius-explorer/scientists genre (think Jonny Quest, Tom Swift, or even the Fantastic Four) with cyberpunk and Lovecraftian horror.

When famous inventor George Baker unveils his new "Cyber Eye" implants, they quickly become the hottest new technology available. But then the recipients of the implants begin to see things that shouldn't be there. And those recipients include Baker's teenaged son.

Meanwhile in Antarctica, Baker's archaeologist wife is about to embark on her own exploration of the unknown.

This had good pacing, plenty of twists and turns, and great flavor. Some of the interactions came off as a bit too familiar, but that is going to happen in a book like this that is paying homage to certain genres. While some of the cyberpunk elements and horror elements feel familiar here, the way they are mixed is new and refreshing.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Wolf Girl

Happy 2013! Let's see about possibly putting the "daily" back into "daily comic review"!

I recently returned from spending a few days in the Berkshires. On the way home, I visited Modern Myths in Northampton MA, which sells a great selection of small press comics. This is one of several I picked up there.

Title: Wolf Girl
Date: 2012
Publisher: Laurel Lynn Leake
Writer: Laurel Lynn Leake
Artist: Laurel Lynn Leake

An encounter between a girl in a tree and a wolf who might not be a wolf (although on this particular day, he certainly is). Sixteen-page minicomic, b/w art with a color cover.

I like the nonlinear storytelling style that this comic employed. The language was simple and clear, and the artwork looked good, particularly on the various poses of the wolf pup.

Fun and original.

Rating: 7.5/10