Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Nib Magazine Issue 4: Scams

I just read the fourth issue of The Nib print magazine, and it is a top notch collection of political cartoons, tales, and reports by excellent writers and cartoonists. I am a huge fan of The Nib, as a magazine and as a website that updates fairly regularly (practically daily). As of July, the entire enterprise is independent and reliant on the support of its readers, and I am glad to take this time to highlight what I feel is an excellent source of comics goodness.

This particular issue focuses on Scams, and it covers multiple topics, including the classic Nigerian Prince email swindle, ways that refugees are robbed by supposed help agencies, various Ponzi schemes, seemingly criminal real estate practices, good-old-fashioned counterfeiting, and electronic fraud. The stories are current, topical, and fascinating. Also, many also feature a good dose of humor. I love nonfiction comics, and this book is full of them.

Stand-out stories in this book include:

Emi Gennis's account of John Romulus Brinkley, "The Goat Gland Doctor" who was an infamous huckster with a huge radio signal.
"My Heart Burns" by Yazan al-Saadi and Tracy Chahwan, about smugglers and how they fleece Syrian refugees who are most vulnerable and desperate.
Josh Carter and Liz Enright's "Secret Agent Man," about one father's search for a big online score and its aftermath on his family's lives.
These stories are profoundly moving as well as eye-opening. These are the best kinds of comics: educational, informative, funny, and emotional. There is something here for everyone.

The Nib's website, where original work is regularly published, is here. Memberships to The Nib are available here. Rates start at $2/month, and the print copy costs $4/month. It's well worth it!

They are also currently running a summer fundraiser, if you are just inclined to make a donation, I say it's for a great bunch of folks.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Tonta

Long-time readers of this blog should know that Jaime Hernandez is a living legend and one of my favorite comics creators. He has won multiple Harvey and Eisner Awards for the long-running Love and Rockets series he co-created with his brothers, and I loved seeing his work in various anthologies over the years. Last year he also ventured into the arena of children's comics with The Dragon Slayer.

This book, Tonta, gathers together material published a few years ago in Love and Rockets: New Stories. For the most part, these stories focus on the titular Tonta (her nickname, Spanish for stupid or dummy), a teenager who tries to fit in the best she can. Her family is sort of a mess, with a network of older half-sisters and a half-brother who occasionally nose into her business. Also, her mother seems to be a black widow sort, leaving a trail of exes who have been suspiciously murdered. That last bit entails a prolonged legal drama that is woven throughout the book.
As you can see, Tonta also does typical sorts of teenager things, like sneaking booze, hanging out with people she shouldn't, hiding out in the woods with her clique, and cozying up to members of her favorite band. She is not always successful with her intentions, or come off the coolest, but she is a dynamic and expressive character. That is what I perhaps appreciated most about this book. You do not necessarily need to know a lot of background to catch on to the multitude of things that go on. Each character is defined and memorable. Each episode is powerful and economically communicated, and it is very easy to get swept up in the narrative flow. This book is yet another testament to Jaime Hernandez's incredible artistic and storytelling chops.

The reviews I have read about this book have been very positive. Publishers Weekly concluded, "This rambunctious ride may be more minor in the Hernandez catalog, but it’s still a master class in cartooning." Hillary Brown commented in a similar vein, "It seems like the abiding conception of Jaime Hernandez’s Tonta is that it’s a minor work of his, a sort of tossed-off compilation of stories focusing on a character who’s more an Io than a Jupiter, a character actor rather than a leading lady. But the fact is that reading it, for me, produced the same rush of blood to the brain and almost dizzying happiness as his “major” Maggie and Hopey stories."

Tonta was published by Fantagraphics, and they offer a preview and more here. This book features some profanity and nudity, so it is suggested for readers mature enough to handle those things.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Tyler Cross Volume 2: Angola

I reviewed the first collection about Tyler Cross here, but do not worry if you missed it because Angola stands on its own. Here the veteran criminal/smuggler gets set up during a supposedly simple job and sent to the worst prison in America. Surrounded by swamps, kept by sadistic, corrupt guards, and pursued by the several members of a crime family, Cross is beset by hardships. His daily struggle to survive is further complicated by the price on his head and the lascivious warden's wife. So, of course, he starts to plot an escape plan.

Tyler Cross is a character in the vein of Richard Starks' Parker, a tough, violent, and crafty criminal who is not going to undergo any transformation over the course of the story. He's in a spot; he's going to get out of it, and it's not going to be pretty. Still, I feel the plotting and artwork are both well executed, and I very much enjoyed the book. If you are seeking a suspenseful, action-noir story, this one has a lot recommending it.

This book is another collaboration between writer Fabien Nury and artist Brüno. Nury has written a number of historical comic books and graphic novels, including The Death of Stalin. Brüno has drawn several comics series, including Commando Colonial, many which seem to be historical pieces as well. The duo have also collaborated on a prior comic, Atar Gull, a tale about slavery.

The reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Publishers Weekly concluded, "As intricately woven as the first installment, this brutal, cool series remains recommended reading for crime thriller enthusiasts." Benjamin Welton called it "a classic crime caper told in the hardboiled style." Andy Shaw wrote, "The story isn’t as dynamic as the first, trapped as it is in a prison, but it’s just as intense and dark."

Tyler Cross: Angola was published by Titan Books/Hard Case Crime, and they offer more about it here. There is a sizable preview available here.

A third Tyler Cross series just wrapped up here.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Girl Town

An Eisner Award-nominated book, Girl Town is a collection of five stories that highlight different aspects of women's lives through fantasy and science fiction tropes. Two of these tales, "Radishes" and "Diana's Electric Tongue," won Ignatz Awards in the past.

The stories in this collection are:
  • The titular tale is about a couple of cliques of women I'd describe as frenemies. 
  • "Radishes" is about two friends playing hooky at a unique outdoor market.
  • "Diana's Electric Tongue" is the longest narrative in the book by far, and it is about a woman with a robot boyfriend and a troubled past relationship.
  • "The Big Burning House" is a visually ambitious, interesting mix of fandom, podcasting, and social media.
  • "Please Sleep Over" is about a divorcée and her girlfriend house-sitting where she grew up.

The visual styles of each story differ, and what unites them is the way that the people in them grapple with and try to mask their emotions. I loved how this book portrayed characters trying to stay strong and put forth a happy/positive face in times of adversity or trauma. Each story hinges on a moment or moments when that mask slips and the pain and emotion shine through. I loved these little moments and was moved by them, which speaks to the craft and skill in both plotting an impactful tale while also perfectly complementing the plot with drawings that carried lots of emotional weight. This is a book full of pain and beauty, each story one to savor.

Carolyn Nowak is the celebrated author of this book, and she has also published another adult comic titled No Better Words. If you check out her Patreon page you can see more about her work and future projects. She speaks more about her work on this book in this interview.

All of the reviews* I have read about this book have been positive. Publishers Weekly opined that "the full collection represents the emergence of a promising new comics talent." Kirkus Reviews concluded, "Nowak creates raw female characters and, by spotlighting them, demands that they be seen." Rob Clough wrote, "Nowak makes her work seem lighthearted and even breezy on the surface, but the reality is that her work is emotionally and intellectually dense." Alex Hoffman wrote that "these comics are weird, a little off kilter, different than expected."

Girl Town was published by Top Shelf, and they offer a preview and more here.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

*There is also the infamous The Comics Journal review, though I consider it the same way that Charles Hatfield does in his comment (scroll down). It's a lame, sexist, dismissive review that holds Nowak to an unreasonable standard.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Red Panda & Moon Bear

Red Panda & Moon Bear is a delightful book. It features a unique Latinx sister/brother superhero team. Both wear hoodies, Red Panda's giving her the strength of ten red pandas. Moon Bear possesses a magic crystal that he wields in a special gauntlet. Together, they defend their neighborhood from various menaces and solve mysteries. They face evil dogs, a ghost in a library, ice cream monsters, a nightmare, shape-shifting monsters from another galaxy, disappearing buildings, and scary trees.

Their adventures are fun and inventive, and I appreciate how they get through various situations not only by using their wits and sometimes their fists, but also by being empathetic and talking things through. They show that kindness and understanding can be effective for dealing with others and finding solutions to various dilemmas.
This book is fantastical in the best kind of way, with cool sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero elements woven throughout 11 chapters. And I love RP and MB's sense of adventure and cleverness. I think that perhaps the highest praise I have for the book is that I read it with my three-year-old, and he did not want to put it down. He not only insisted I keep reading each chapter, he even took it with him in his wagon when we went for a walk around our neighborhood. This book is enchanting!

When I asked him what he liked about it, he told me, "There's a mystery." "It's a little bit scary." And "I like Red Panda and Moon Bear (the characters)." So, there's something for everyone!

This book's creator Jarod Roselló is an artist, researcher, and educator who teaches creative writing at the University of South Florida. Although this book is his first for younger readers, he has published the graphic novel The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) Be Found as well as a bunch of shorter pieces. He has another graphic novel called Those Bears in the works for publication. He speaks about his work in this interview.

I was not able to locate many reviews of this book, but the ones I found were very positive. Cassie at Teachers Who Read called it "a perfect addition to the graphic novels in my classroom." It currently has a 4.71 (out of 5) star rating at Goodreads.

Red Panda & Moon Bear was published by Top Shelf Productions, and they offer a preview and much more here.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story

Peter Bagge is one of my all-time favorite comics makers. A multiple award winner with decades of credits, he created the seminal alternative comics series Neat Stuff and Hate and served as editor of the holdover underground comics anthology Weirdo. He has also created a number of graphic novels, including Fire!!, Woman Rebel, Apocalypse Nerd, Other Lives, and Reset. More recently, he has been a contributor to publications like Reason magazine (see his collections Founding Fathers Funnies and Everybody is Stupid Except for Me) and Vice Magazine (the Musical Urban Legends column).

Like Fire!! and Woman Rebel, Credo is a biography of a woman associated with a libertarian point of view. Rose Wilder Lane was the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, of Little House on the Prairie fame, and a respected author in her own right. In fact, this book suggests that she had at least a small hand in her mother's literary success, at least as an editor and polisher, and perhaps even more so as the author of several books (the exact nature of her role is suggested but unclear in this book). She was also a very vocal woman, partly fired up by her bipolar mental state, who associated with a good number of the political and literary figures of the day, including Ayn Rand.
Like the other books in this series, Bagge portrays various highlights from her life, and it is clear for the substantive footnotes that follow the main text that he has done extensive research into his subject. He also inserts his own political leanings as well as a good dose of humor. I did not know much about Rose Wilder Lane before I read this book, and I felt that it was an effective and informative introduction to her life and works.  He speaks about his work on this book in this interview with Etelka Lehoczky.

The reviews I have read about this book have tended to be positive. Publishers Weekly called it a "loopy, frantic, and personality-packed tribute." Ryan C. pondered if Bagge is "creatively stalled out" and wrote, "my hope is that he’ll give the biography format a rest for awhile and tell us where he’s coming from and why rather than using historical figures as mouthpieces and/or human shields for his worldview." Rob Clough praised the book for intermingling comedy and historical research.

Credo was published by Drawn & Quarterly, and they offer a preview and much more info here. There is also a sizable preview available from Reason.

On a final note, I was glad to serve on a couple of panels with Bagge at the Denver Pop Culture Con this year, where he signed my copy of this book. He's an informed and funny speaker and a good guy, too!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Congratulations, 2019 Eisner Award Winners!

The 2019 Eisner Award winners were announced at San Diego Comic-Con this past week, and I thought I'd highlight the winners who have been featured on this blog. You can find the complete list of winners here, and there are lots of excellent comics to check out. Congratulations to all!

Best Continuing Series
Giant Days, by John Allison, Max Sarin and Julia Madrigal (BOOM! Box)

Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 8)
Johnny Boo and the Ice Cream Computer, by James Kochalka (Top Shelf/IDW) - from the Johnny Boo series

Best Publication for Kids (ages 9–12)
The Divided Earth, by Faith Erin Hicks (First Second) - Book 3 of the Nameless City trilogy

Best Publication for Teens (ages 13–17)
The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang (First Second)

Best Humor Publication
Giant Days, by John Allison, Max Sarin and Julia Madrigal (BOOM! Box)

Best Reality-Based Work
Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman, by Box Brown (First Second)

Best Graphic Album—New
My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Image)

Best Graphic Album—Reprint
The Vision hardcover, by Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Michael Walsh (Marvel)

Best U.S. Edition of International Material
Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World, by Pénélope Bagieu (First Second)

Best Writer/Artist

Jen Wang, The Prince and the Dressmaker (First Second)

Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (interior art)

Dustin Nguyen, Descender (Image)

Best Coloring

Matt Wilson, Black Cloud, Paper Girls, The Wicked + The Divine (Image); The Mighty Thor, Runaways (Marvel)

The Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award
Lorena Alvarez (Nightlights, Hictoea: A Nightlights Story)