Wednesday, December 30, 2009

G-Man: Learning to Fly

Chris Giarrusso made his name drawing the Mini Marvels cartoons that appeared in various Marvel Comics. His art is fun, energetic, and reminiscent of Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes work. G-Man is his foray into creator-owned characters, ones loosely based on his own family experiences (I am guessing). Here is an interview with Giarrusso about the book where he talks a little about his influences.

G-Man is a young boy who gets superpowers from a magic cape. He gets his name from the fact that no one can pronounce his last name. His big brother is Great Man, and they have a pretty normal sibling relationship. That is, they get on each others' nerves a lot. Their relationship really gets fleshed out in the series of "Mean Brother" (drawn by G-Man) and "Idiot Brother" (drawn by Great Man) comics that appear throughout.

This book chronicles their misadventures and it is full of entertaining characters. These include a powerful wizard, superhero friends from school, and G-Man's parents and teachers. The stories are whimsical and enjoyable, such as the one where the wizard sends the boys on a quest to retrieve his magic chalice. This grand quest ends before it even begins because Sparky the Swift finds it in the kitchen sink. Apparently, the wizard is lax with his dish washing...

This volume, published by Image Comics, has been well received in general. This review from Snow Wildsmith points out the fun points about the book, even if some of them rely on mild potty humor. John Hogan states that this book would be enjoyable for both older and younger readers. It is full of in-jokes for superhero comics fans but also works well as an introduction to the genre.

Giarrusso's official website is chock full of surprises. It has a good collection of his artwork, story samples, sketches, and a few fun games to play. Fans of Asteroids and Breakout especially may be pleased.

An extended preview of this volume is available here.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow

This piece of historical fiction begins in 1929 when Emmet Wilson decides to leave his young family at 18 years of age to make money as a professional baseball player. His career choice takes him away from home for a long period of time but he makes a larger amount of money in the Negro Leagues than he would otherwise make working at his farm. In his first game as a pro, he faces Satchel Paige, one of the legendary pitchers of the league. And perhaps the greatest pitcher of all time. Emmet's debut is very memorable, but injury cuts his career short.

The rest of the story involves Emmet living a different life with his family in the fictional town Tuckwilla, Alabama over a period of years. He farms, picks cotton, and follows the exploits of Satchel Paige in news stories. Paige, while not allowed to play in the Major Leagues, makes a lot of money barnstorming. Finally, Emmet and his son attend a baseball game where Paige's All Star team faces off with the local ball club, which is all white. The Tuckwilla All Stars have some ex-baseball players on their team as well but most of them do not respect the African-American players as equals. The climax of the book involves Paige's unique manner of confronting this racial discrimination.

James Sturm and Rich Tommaso created this book, a publication of The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. Sturm has created many works of historical fiction, mostly published through Drawn & Quarterly, and he is the founder and director of the Center. Tommaso is a prolific cartoonist in his own right, and he has a great variety of works available for preview at his official website.

This book was very well researched for historical accuracy. Although it is a fictionalized account, it draws upon many facts to create the story. These facts are highlighted at the end of the book, through a series of panel examinations. Additionally there are a few other sources listed, for those interested in further reading. The story, for all this research is simultaneously spare and affecting. Sturm and Tommaso get a lot of mileage from simple images and their pacing creates great drama during the game sequences. This would be a great resource for those interested in Jim Crow laws, civil rights in the US, the Negro Leagues, the Great Depression era, or just baseball in general.

Reviews of this book are pretty positive, such as this one from Alison Morris. Some, such as Elizabeth Bird, point out that this book should not replace a true biography of Satchel Paige. Andrew Wheeler also enjoyed the book, but worries it will be relegated to the oft-neglected biography shelf in school libraries. He would also like to have seen a true biography of Paige, a man who lived an extraordinary life.

The book's official webpage has a wealth of resources, including an interview with the authors, preview pages, teacher resources, and thumbnail sketches used to plan the book.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Boys, Volume 1: The Name of the Game

First, let me get this out of the way: There is lots of lurid sex and gory violence in this volume, as well as a liberal dose of black humor, and it is definitely not for children.

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons asked, "Who watches the Watchmen?" Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson answered, "The Boys." This volume collects the first 6 issues of a comic book series about a task force the CIA has commissioned to deal with rogue superheroes.

In this world, superheroes are pretty common. The top dogs are the Seven, an analogue to the Justice League of America. They are corporately sponsored and appear to hold the moral high ground. But behind the scenes they bicker over money and popularity, and they also have seedy habits. Most of the superheroes act like celebrities and party like rock stars, abusing drugs and having exotic kinds of sex. The US government fears what happens when these superbeings forget abut their humanity and begin to abuse their power. So they contract with The Boys to keep the supers in check.

The story revolves around the leader of the group, Butcher, gathering his old mates Mother's Milk, the Frenchman, the Female of the Species (yes, the lone woman) to rejoin his mission to make the worlds safe for humans. A large part of the story also involves him trying to recruit a new member, Wee Hughie, to round out the quintet. The Boys are a motley crew. Butcher is scheming and strategic but not very details oriented. Mother's Milk is the calm center. The Frenchman is alternately loving and volatile. The Female is mysterious, quiet, and perhaps the deadliest of all. Wee Hughie is a pretty average guy, and his look is based on actor Simon Pegg (before he got famous in Shaun of the Dead). All of them can handle themselves well in a fight.

Author Garth Ennis has written a great number of comics, including the Punisher and Preacher. He is not a great fan of superheroes and many of his tales are violent and irreverent toward them. Darick Robertson provides the art for the series. He is most famous as the co-creator of Transmetropolitan, a sci-fi series following the exploits of a futuristic gonzo reporter, but has drawn a great number of superhero comics. He provides a very realistic, detailed style.

The series is currently published by Dynamite Entertainment. It was nominated for an Eisner Award for best continuing series in 2008. Reviews of this volume are largely positive, ranging from calling it a "guilty pleasure" as in this one from Adam McGovern, to calling it a "must read" at the Weekly Crisis, to a more reserved response from Andy at Grovel.

If you are interested to know more about the series, here is an interview with Robertson about it. Also, preview pages are available here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Black Hole

Part 1950s horror movie, part cautionary tale about sexually transmitted disease, with a dash of Lord of the Flies is a good way to describe this book. These diverse influences come together to create a story that is one of the most acclaimed graphic works of the past decade.

The story follows 4 teenagers, Chris, Rob, Eliza, and Keith, and how the "teen plague" affects their lives. They live in a suburb in Washington state in the 1970s at a time that this plague is being spread by sexually active teenagers. This disease, also called "The Bug," causes horrific mutations in people who contract it. For some, their skin peels off. Others find themselves with extra mouths or orifices on their body. Some grow tails or antennae. Others get strange rashes or abrasions and look like they have extreme acne all over. The disease afflicts each person differently.

Originally published as a 12-issue limited series from 1995 to 2005, the point of Black Hole seems to be the creation of a mood of fear, paranoia, and alienation. It is an old-style horror story with more than a few modern strokes. Some of the youths who contract the disease can hide their symptoms. Those who cannot ostracize themselves from town and create a sort of colony in the woods. The teenagers out there vie for survival, acting in cut-throat manners. In general the theme of not knowing who to trust pervades the book. Also very present is a fear about growing up and a strong uneasiness with desire.

Charles Burns wrote and drew the story. He is a sought-after commercial artist and is known for his well-crafted art. Telling the story in dramatic, richly detailed black and white panels, Burns creates a powerful, affecting tale. He has won multiple Harvey, Eisner and Ignatz Awards for this work. Here is a selection of detailed reviews from Vanessa Raney, Andrew Arnold, Justin Howe, and Jonathan Lasser that discuss the book further.

Fantagraphics published most of the original Black Hole comic books. The collected book version was produced by Pantheon.

For a more in-depth look at Charles Burns and his work, check out this interview done at The Daily Cross Hatch (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

Friday, December 11, 2009

Moose & Midge: "Breakup Blues"

The third volume in the Archie "New Look" series of stories, Breakup Blues shows what happens when Midge decides to go on a date with Reggie Mantle for a change of pace from her domineering boyfriend Moose. The result is a lot of teenage drama. Moose is jealous and angry, and so the couple goes "on a break." During this break, Midge has fun doing things she normally does not get a chance to do. But Moose makes her jealous when he starts dating a new girl, Judy Johnson.

The story is part of a continued effort to show Archie and the gang in more realistic situations. For example, when he and Betty try to bring the old couple back together, their scheme does not work and Midge and Moose get very angry at them. Their friendships get strained (at least for a little while). There is an attempt to break out of the sitcom feel of many Archie tales, but in the end (spoiler warning!) the status quo wins out and Midge and Moose reunite.

The tale is scripted by Melanie J. Morgan, who has worked on all the New Look stories. The story, as before, comes from a 1992 novel written by Michael Pellowski and John Goldwater. The art is by established comic veterans Tod Smith and Al Milgrom, both of whom have drawn a wide array of different comics over the past three decades.

For some preview pages from this volume, scroll down a little on this page.

The bottom of this page has preview pages from the end of the story. Check out the what looks like a theatrical hard rock band (!?!) pounding out the dance tunes at the big dance contest where the teens are dancing either disco or hip hop. It's difficult to tell which...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Lunch Lady, Volumes 1 & 2

Students may not be fascinated by what their teachers do outside of school, but some of us lead exciting lives. Maybe no one more so than Lunch Lady, the star of Jarrett Krosoczka's graphic novels for younger readers. This lunch lady has a lot of neat gadgets. She has a spatula that spins like a helicopter and lifts her in the air. She has a night vision taco. She has a secret hideout behind the refrigerator in her kitchen. And she keeps all of this secret except to her accomplice, fellow lunch lady Betty. That is, until a few nosy students notice that the Lunch Lady is doing interesting things, and they do get involved more than they should.

Hector, Dee, and Terrance are the students who get involved in Lunch Lady's adventures. They are likable characters who act like kids. They chat, hang out, bicker, and try to deal with Milmoe, the resident bully. However, in this normal school with normal students, some pretty interesting things occur.

In the first volume, the children's favorite teacher, Mr. O'Connell, is replaced by a substitute who overwhelms them with work and worksheets. The substitute acts strangely and also refuses to eat the yummy things Lunch Lady offers him. All of this turns out to be part of a plot by Mr. Edison, the science teacher, to finally win the school's Teacher of the Year award.

In the second volume, the Lunch Lady deals with the local librarians. They have hatched a scheme to achieve world domination, and the first step is destroying all video games. The librarians have turned a few books into special weapons, unleashing fantastic creatures from stories to attack people. Lunch Lady and the kids fight back with a variety of gizmos, including juice boxes that make sonic booms. In the end, Lunch Lady foils their nefarious plans and saves the school book fair.

Jarrett Krosoczka is a veteran children's book author. He brings a fun, cartoony style to the books. The pictures are mostly in black and white, although there is also yellow thrown in. That color really makes Lunch Lady's rubber gloves pop. The books have received pretty positive reviews so far, as shown here in three separate ones from Bookie Woogie, 100 Scope Notes, and Comics Worth Reading.

Random House is about to publish its third entry in the series, and Universal has picked up the books to become a film starring Amy Poehler.

Here is a trailer for the series posted on YouTube. The comics official site is here.

For more information about Krosoczka, please visit Studio JJK, his official website. Be sure to check out his Bios. They're pretty good!