Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fangbone! 2: The Egg of Misery

The adventures of Fangbone the third grade barbarian continue, as he is still in our dimension guarding an artifact that prevents the evil wizard Drool from gaining ultimate power in his world. This time around he has to deal with an evil ghost, shopping at the grocery store, dung trolls, and performing with class 3G in an Extinction Pageant, where they are expected to come up with a skit about the dodo. Also, Drool's minions have managed to send an egg to Fangbone. He thinks the egg is from his allies and that it contains a powerful dragon that will help him defend himself. Little does he know that the egg is designed to bring him nothing but misery.

This second volume continues the adventures of class 3G, although it spends less time fleshing out the classmates, relying on the reader to recall the characters from the first book. There is also the requisite gross-out humor, this time in the form of Fangbone's foul feet, which are an offensive in more ways than one. Additionally, the themes of teasing and bullying come up, with Fangbone being the aggressor (at least in regard to describing Drool's childhood). Even the kids of 3G get into the act when they gain the upper hand on one of their former tormentors. I guess I should expect a young barbarian and his friends to be rough around the edges, and their characterization makes them more human and less stock characters.

Michael Rex continues to please with his comical and expressive art style. His facial expressions and action sequences especially stand out as strengths in his work. I very much enjoyed the energy and pacing of this book. He has written a number of other humorous titles for children, among them the parody Goodnight Goon.

Reviews of this book I have seen online have been positive. Wired Magazine's GeekMom Nicole Wakelin wrote about both books that they contained "a heavy dose of gross kid’s humor, the kind that makes adults roll their eyes and smile, and makes kids break out in hysterics." She also added that this series "was as fun for the kids to read as it was for me." Win Wiacek praised the book as "wry, sly, irreverent and, crucially, spoofing contemporary sources and situations." snow at the Unshelved Book Club appreciated Rex's "off-beat sense of humor." Tanya at books4yourkids also has a detailed, enthusiastic review of the first two books that is full of spoilers.

The Egg of Misery was published by Putnam Juvenile. Here is a preview from Amazon.

For those interested in Fangbone's further adventures, Book 3 of this series has just been published.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hail, Hail

"The King" created so many comics and characters in the world of graphic fiction it is simply mind-boggling.

Do yourself a favor, if you don't know much about Jack Kirby, read this great interview with Gary Groth at The Comics Journal, look at this series of images at The Comics Reporter,  or peruse Sean Kleefeld's list of all the comics characters he had a hand in creating.

Kirby would have been 95 today.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Graphic Canon 1: From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons

The first book of a proposed trilogy, this volume speaks well of what is to come with a strong initial offering. The works contained and excerpted here range from epic poems to plays, poetic fragments to novels, folktales to religious tomes, short stories to essays. They are illustrated by a who's who of comics creators both new and old, including Robert Crumb, Rick Geary, Gareth Hinds, Roberta Gregory, Valerie Schrag, Fred Van Lente, Ryan Dunlavey, Peter Kuper, and Will Eisner. 75% of the book's contents were also commissioned for this volume, so most of it is unavailable elsewhere. Excerpts from prior publications include great bits from longer adaptations such as Hind's Beowulf, Chwast's The Canterbury Tales and Divine Comedy, and Van Lente and Dunlavey's Action Philosophers series.

Although I cannot say all of the entries are tremendous, I can say that the majority are winning. Of the new adaptations, some of my favorites are:
A word of warning, which is probably not needed for most people familiar with any of these classics: this book contains depictions of nudity, sex, flatulence, violence, suffering, swearing, and philosophy. I would not suggest this book for small children without informed parental approval, though I think the vast majority of the book could easily be shared with most older students.

The Graphic Canon's editor, Russ Kick, is known more as a provocateur than a comics aficionado. He is a writer and editor of multiple books published by The Disinformation Society, including 50 Things You're Not Supposed to Know. He also created and maintained (until 2009) the website The Memory Hole, an archive of politically inconvenient government documents and photographs. He and his site gained notoriety when he published photographs of hundreds of coffins containing US military casualties of the Iraq War. Kick speaks extensively about his work and choices for this imposing graphic anthology in this interview with Joe Nolan.

Most of the reviews I have read about this book have remarked on its impressive range of styles and works. Francisca Goldsmith gave the book a starred review in the School Library Journal, calling this anthology "all diamond, no rough" and "a required purchase for any library." Mallory Gevaert wrote that it "is a whirlwind tour both through the classics and the numerous artistic styles and interpretations available to the modern comic-book writer. Sure, it’s educational; moreover, it’s fun." Wayne Alan Brenner summed up his rave review of the book, "The diversity and excellence of this volume, which goes to the 1700s, is just about overwhelming. And by the time we've recovered from the awe, around October, the next volume will be out."

A wealth of information about the book, including preview images, its stories, reviews, and authors, can be found at the series' blog.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Five Fists of Science

A sort of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in a historical vein, The Five Fists of Science is basically a steampunk adventure where Nikola Tesla, Mark Twain, and Bertha von Suttner combine forces to bring about world peace by sharing giant robots with every nation. Their adversaries, including Thomas Edison, J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and Guglielmo Marconi rise up against them, building an ominous structure called the Innsmouth Tower (a reference to the works of HP Lovecraft, a writer of fantastic and horrific fiction), a cauldron of black magic that threatens humanity and freedom. Tesla and his allies combat this menace using their wits and piloting giant metal robot warriors. Seeing Mark Twain fight Thomas Edison using a giant rock-em sock-em robot is a pretty fantastic and unexpected delight.

This rollicking volume is the creation of Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders. Fraction is a longtime writer most known for his work on the Marvel Comics characters Iron Man, Thor, and Iron Fist as well as his creator-owned sci-fi/superspy series Casanova. Sanders is a commercial artist and occasional comic book artist who has mostly worked on X-Men spin-offs and S.W.O.R.D. for Marvel Comics. Fraction talks more about the creation of FFoS in this interview.

The reviews for The Five Fists of Science has been pretty positive. Jog called it "fun, very fast, very light, and probably worth seeking out for those who dig the idea of turn-of-the-century historical personalities thrust into a comedic action/sci-fi plot, with a cup of Lovecraft poured on top, drizzled with anime kitsch." Mitro of the Alternative History Weekly Update wrote about the book's accuracy, "While the personalities of the villains may have been tweaked, Twain's humor and Tesla's quirks were effectively captured and Bertha worked well as the cliche hot steampunk girl." Jamie S. Rich wrote that it "isn't a perfect graphic novel," but it is still a "good ol' pulpy adventure with familiar faces living out the roles we always imagined they could." Comics Should Be Good's Brian Cronin found some faults with the book as well, including that "the final confrontation seemed a bit rushed...but that doesn’t detract from most of the comic, which was action-packed, fun and funny."

This graphic novel was published by Image Comics. A black and white preview is available here from Fraction. The actual book is in color.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Atomic Robo, Volume 1

To say that Atomic Robo is fun almost seems like a foregone conclusion. This collection follows the adventures of a robot made by Nikola Tesla. He fights Nazi scientists, goes to Mars, battles a flying Egyptian pyramid, and exterminates a bunch of gigantic ants. He also interacts with a number of historical figures such as Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking. As a member of Tesladyne Industries, Robo is charged with leading a team of Action Scientists as they deal with threats supernatural and paranormal.

In many ways, Atomic Robo seems like a science version of Hellboy, but he is more of a comical character. He cracks wise as he contends against various threats, and his sense of humor enlivens his adventures very much, I felt. The art style negotiates a fine line between cartoon and realism that is simultaneously very attractive and expressive. I laughed out loud quite a few times as I flipped through these pages. The action and adventure aspects of the stories also create a sense of suspense and drama. I read through this volume very quickly, and I was left wanting to keep following his escapades over further volumes (as of right now, they are in the midst of publishing volume 7).

Atomic Robo is the work of Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener. Clevinger is the author of a number of works, including the webcomic 8-Bit Theater and the self-published novel Nuklear Age. Wegener, who draws the comic, tweets about his life here and blogs about his work here. Both creators are interviewed about their work on the series, including their inspirations, by the folks at Comics of Doom here.

The comic books in this volume were originally published as a limited series, which was nominated for an Eisner Award. Reviews I have read about this series online have been very positive. Erica McGillivray wrote that it was "pure fun and enjoyment." Andy Hunsaker called this volume "a breezy good time." Bill Reed gushed about Atomic Robo, calling it "perfect entry-level comics (not to worry, sports fans, it’s also perfect comics for those of you who have been around for a while). It’s suitable for all ages, too, so your best friend, your wife, and your kid can enjoy it. It’s got a cracking sense of humor and a high level of excitement." Jim Haley echoed the sentiment with his praise of the book, "This is probably one of the easiest comic books to get into; it requires absolutely no knowledge of any comic book heroes, just an ability to enjoy pictures with words. Do yourself a favor and give it a try."

The series and collection were originally published by Red 5. A preview of the first 5 pages is available here.

I read this volume on my Kindle Fire using the Comixology app. It was cheap, a snap to navigate, and a fun reading experience. I was hesitant to try a tablet to read comics, but I very much enjoyed it.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Salon

The Salon is a murder mystery set in 1907 Paris where someone is killing artists. Art patrons Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo think they may be next, so they enlist the assistance of several of their closest friends, including historical figures Alice B. Toklas, Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, Erik Satie, and Guillaume Apollinaire to figure out the killer's identity and put a stop to these gruesome murders. The path to solving these crimes leads the reader through the city and its landmarks, a tour of art history, and assorted absinthe-tinged escapades.

Nick Bertozzi created this graphic novel. He has a number of other credits and is known for the graphic novels Houdini: The Handcuff King, Lewis & Clark, and Stuffed! He is also a contributor to ACT-I-VATE, drawing the webcomic Persimmon Cup. Bertozzi speaks in depth about his work on The Salon in this interview with Tom Spurgeon

I felt that Bertozzi did an excellent job weaving an interesting tale, conveying information about the period and characters, and also using color and form to his advantage in this book. The art has painterly aspects, and the colors portray not only mood but also transport the reader into different spaces and worlds where the action takes place. Balancing accuracy and fantasy is a difficult endeavor, and Bertozzi pulls it off with elan here.

Reviews I have read of this book have been positive about its form, flow, and content. Rebecca Porte praised the book with its combination of "energetic line with touches of cartoon flair and high modernist whimsy." Brian Heater called the book "a fun tale, culminating in an atmospheric climax." The Comics Journal's Dirk Deppey concluded that "Bertozzi's ability to make all the elements blend together is such seamless fashion is remarkable." A comprehensive list of reviews can be found here from the author.

Unfortunately, much of the publicity about this book came from a court case that arose when comics store owner Gordon Lee unwittingly distributed a comic book that contained an excerpt of this book featuring a naked Pablo Picasso to children during a trick-or-treat event in Rome, Georgia. He was defended by the Comic Book Legal Defense Club, "a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the First Amendment rights of the comics art form and its community of retailers, creators, publishers, librarians, and readers." In the end, after years of litigation, all charges against Lee were dismissed. This controversy overshadows an inventive, daring, and cerebral graphic novel.

A brief preview and more are available here from the author. He also provides a preview video here. The Salon was published by St. Martin's Press.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Incredible Change-Bots


The Incredible Change-Bots books are an intriguing mixture of parody, homage, satire, and action-adventure stories. Author Jeffrey Brown obviously has a lot of experience with Transformers in various media, and his love for them shows. What he adds is a sense of the ridiculous that comes with following the adventures of anthropomorphic, shape-changing robots. His stories have parodied, senseless violence tossed in, but what makes them charming are the clever robot names, the wonderful sound effects he includes, and the snappy verbal banter that occurs between characters. Brown's tongue is earnestly in cheek throughout these adventures.

In book 1, we meet the cast and their social system. As the two party government of Awesomebots and Fantasticons devolves into bickering, combat, and the destruction of their home world of Electronocybercircuitron, the robots decide to board a rocket and find a new place to live. Along the way they accidentally land on Earth and decide to try to live under the radar. Of course, their boorish and egotistical interactions do not allow that to happen for long. Soon humans become aware of these robots and the US military becomes interested in the destructive potential of these warriors. A huge battle ends the story, and one robot is left behind for dead as the rest of his compatriots leave Earth to find an uninhabited world they can call their own.

In book 2, we find Shootertron, the megalomaniac leader of the Fantasticons, was not killed after all. Stranded on Earth and unaware of who he is, he is taken in by a kindly couple of farmers who befriend him and try to raise him as a good person. Much of this part of the story is told via an ironic and hilarious set of journal entries handwritten by the robot in a spiral bound notebook. Somehow, he comes to the attention of a scheming general who kidnaps Shootertron to either recruit the robot or dissect him to figure out how he works. Also, somehow all the other change-bots end up back on Earth, and of course another series of battles and bickering ensue.

These books' creator Jeffrey Brown is best known for his autobiographical, independent comics work. His works, such as Funny Misshapen BodyClumsy, and Every Girl is the End of the World for Me are very open, confessional kinds of tales that focus on his past relationships, his upbringing, and his life. Other of his works, including Bighead and Sulk, are more action-oriented, fictional stories that are not quite superhero stories. I have always found his art style charming, deceivingly simplistic, and emotionally charged. He speaks more about his work on the Change-Bots books in this interview at Topless Robot.

Reviews I have read about these books have been largely positive, appreciating the parody/homage quality, with some preferring these books to Michael Bay's Transformers movies. yo go re wrote about the first one, "The writing is what really makes this book, though, whether it's the subtle G1 nods or the broad comedy." Michael May praised the second book, "not only are the jokes even better, but the story’s more touching too." Aaron Block summed up his review of both books, "Jeffrey Brown proves that you can create something new with those memories, and that sometimes it’s okay to find that box of old toys in the attic and, piece by piece, remember how they work."

Previews, reviews, and more about books 1 and 2 are available from the books' publisher, Top Shelf.
There is also an animated video trailer for book 1 on YouTube. Check it out!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Great interview with Derf Backderf

I think that My Friend Dahmer may just be the best GN I've read this year, and I just wanted to point out this well-done and detailed interview with its author, Derf Backderf, about his life, career, and that book.

Go check it out!