Monday, June 30, 2014

Sex Criminals, Volume 1: One Weird Trick

Sex Criminals is an ongoing series, and this volume collects the first five installments. The main character Suzie learns that "one weird trick" pretty early on in this book, and it is a doozy. Whenever she has an orgasm, time stops. Literally. For everyone and everything but her.
As one could imagine, this amazing discovery enchants then bewilders her, and she spends many years trying to find some answers about her condition. She is pretty much resigned that she will never know any more than she does when she meets a cute guy named Jon, sleeps with him, and then realizes that he is still very much conscious afterward. Having found kindred spirits, they shack up many more times and then hatch a plan to save the library where Suzie works by robbing banks during "Quiet" time. But what they don't know is that there are others like them who are onto their scheme, and those others don't want this couple of lovers possibly revealing their existence to the regular world.

Funnily enough, for a book based on a lascivious premise, there is not much in the way of nudity. The artwork is clean, colorful, and playful, but never gratuitous. Certainly, there is innuendo and a lot of frank talk about sex, but mostly there is playful banter and lots of ribald jokes. Although I can see lots of folks getting up in arms about the potential for excess with this series, what I have seen is more a humorous openness about sexuality and not anything pornographic. What is more, the characters are fleshed out and interesting. Suzie and Jon are smart, witty, and very into each other, and they have their moments of perspicuity when they question each others' motives and their relationship.

This verbal and visual romp was devised by writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky. Fraction is an Eisner Award winner famous for his creation Casanova as well as long runs on Marvel Comics such as Iron Man, The Immortal Iron Fist, and Hawkeye. Zdarsky is a comics artist and somewhat of a prankster, staging a fake campaign for mayor of Toronto and also messing with Applebee's restaurants via social media. Both creators speak about their work on this series in this interview at The Nerdist and also in this one with Comics Alliance.

Sex Criminals has been very well received. It has been a New York Times best seller, praised by Rolling Stone and Time magazines, and it was nominated for three Eisner Awards, including Best New Series, Best Continuing Series, and Best Writer. The first issue was so in demand it went into a sixth printing. Reviews I have read tend to be very positive about this compilation. The Comics Journal's Greg Hunter wrote, "When Sex Criminals is at its best, the comic examines sex from a position and in a manner that no other contemporary genre comic can claim." Ryan E.C. Hamm stated that "your enjoyment of Sex Criminals will completely depend on your ability to tolerate humor that relishes its juvenile bawdiness," but added that there are also "moments of surprising tenderness that cut through the raunch."
balance sexual satire and sci-fi crime capering with a story that’s as personal and engaging as a confessional memoir. - See more at:
balance sexual satire and sci-fi crime capering with a story that’s as personal and engaging as a confessional memoir. - See more at:
Best New Series
Best Continuing Series
Best Writer: Matt Fraction - See more at:

A preview and more information is available here from Image Comics.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot

I love me some noir and I have long been enthralled with the works of Jacques Tardi, a massively influential French comics artist known for his strong lines and emphasis on realism, so Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot seemed right up my alley. I was not disappointed. This book is an adaptation of a Jean-Patrick Marchette novel, and it contains many of the familiar tropes of the genre. The story follows Martin Terrier, an assassin on one last job before he retires. He has a shady boss, a long lost love, a troubled past, a mentor who recruited and looks after him, and of course the job goes south. He ends up on the lam across Europe, amid a growing body count, desperate for help, with little resources, and up against the long arm of the law and a band of criminals out for his blood.

Honestly, the story was perfectly fine and appropriately suspenseful, with a couple of streaks of black humor, and the ending is both poignant and delightfully bleak (I wonder if that will translate into the proposed film adaptation), but the shining star here is Tardi's art. It is raw and breathtaking. He draws the hell out of everything: cars, cityscapes, airplanes, people, action sequences, the works. Don't just take my word for it, check out these images:
Scans from Comic Book Daily (Thank you!)
Even when the book got occasionally wordy, I think the images really propelled me through the narrative.
A nominee for the 2012 Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of International Material, this book has received much praise. The Comic Journal's Hayley Campbell extolled the virtues of the art and the stark, sleek plot, stating that the book "has a natural rawness – things happen as they happen and no almighty narrator drip feeds you morality lessons." Andy Shaw called it "dark, brutal and utterly compelling" and went on to declare that "classic thriller fans should lap this up." Tom Spurgeon wrote, "Tardi's artwork is beautiful here, although you probably already knew that. No one in comics does the frowning face better than Tardi, and Like A Sniper proves to be an absolute showcase of down-turned mouths and the unhappy people bearing them."
Best U.S. Edition of International Material

A preview and much more are available here from the book's publisher Fantagraphics.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey

Ernest Shackleton was a British explorer who made multiple forays to Antarctica during what was called The Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. Many of the journeys he was a part of were historically significant, and the one chronicled in this book, the Imperial Trans-Antarctica Expedition, is considered the final journey in that Heroic Age. It is a harrowing tale of survival, with men facing adversity and life-threatening conditions in the pursuit of traversing the southern continent. This book presents various episodes in the trek, some technical and others very personal. It is an excellent balance of human drama and historical documentary.
History + fart joke = Awesome
The artwork is expressive, informative, and extremely expert in terms of its storytelling. Sometimes the characters blend together, but just marvel at how much gets packed into this two-page spread that opens the book, summing up what has transpired before these events:

The full array of tools available to sequential artists and graphic novel readers are on display here.

Author/artist Nick Bertozzi is an accomplished graphic novelist who has created a number of excellent nonfiction works, including Houdini: The Handcuff King, Jerusalem, and Lewis & Clark. He also created the historical fantasy romp, The Salon, and recently published a collection of his webcomic, Persimmon Cup. He speaks more about his many works in this interview.

Reviews I have read have been very positive. Publishers Weekly summed up a starred review, "A must-read for history buffs and fans of cinema-quality visual storytelling alike." In another starred review, Kirkus Reviews called it "A top-shelf rendition of one of the greatest survival stories to come out of the Age of Exploration." Kendal Stegmann wrote, "Even though the illustrations are fairly simple and in black and white, they are able to tell a very interesting and intense story." Barbara Basbanes Richter added, "Bertozzi’s black and white illustrations overflow with visual detail while creating a solid and engaging story."

A preview and much more are available here from the publisher First Second.

Thank you, Gina, for the review copy!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Beats: A Graphic History

The Beats covers a lot of ground in terms of a historical movement and its constituents. The Beat Generation monicker is applied to a group of writers whose works appeared post-World War Two and were a precursor to the hippie counterculture of the 1960s. Most of this book covers a triumvirate of Beat writers, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs. It is unflinching in its portrayals of their drug use, sexual activities, and various other activities, though it only documents profane activities and does not depict them. It also chronicles their major works, career achievements, and the arcs of their lifetimes. It is at once highly informative
as well as entertaining enough, full of interesting tidbits and good stories.
After attending to the "big three" Beats, the rest of the book contains many shorter pieces about less well known poets and writers, like Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Kenneth Rexroth. I found these succinct pieces more desirable and informative.They certainly cast a larger view of the movement and these authors that went beyond the hard-drinking, hard-living, and largely misogynistic portraits of Kerouac, Burroughs, and, to a lesser extent, Ginsberg.

Although I am a big fan of much of Harvey Pekar's comics work, overall this set of stories is a little stiff, perhaps too journalistic, and overly celebratory for me. Additionally, I am a big fan of Ed Piskor's work, but this effort is more a story with graphics than it is a graphic narrative. I think he has grown exponentially as a comics creator, and his more recent efforts on Wizzywig and Hip Hop Family Tree are more fleshed out, vibrant, and exciting. More to my liking among the Beat poets stories were some of the shorter stories in the back of the book, especially the ones about Gary Snyder drawn by Peter Kuper and Diane di Prima illustrated by Mary Fleener. I was also enthralled by Trina Robbins and Anne Timmons' tale of painter Joy DeFeo creating The Rose, and the final piece in the book by Jeffrey Lewis on poet/anarchist/pacifist Tuli Kupferberg and his band The Fugs, which excellently portrays the transition from Beats to hippies.

Perhaps the best part of this book was a piece written by Joyce Brabner and drawn by Summer McClinton about beatnik women. This visual essay provides a strong counterpoint to the rest of the book, acknowledging and transcending the sexism and cruder parts of the beatnik movement. It is a smartly written and well flowing look at a largely overlooked set of writers and thinkers who deserve more credit for their accomplishments.

The reviews I have read have taken this history to task for various matters. The New York Times' John Leland called the book "plainly celebratory" and added that it glosses over some history and is somewhat self-promoting. Pádraig Ó Méalóid, a fan of Pekar's earlier work, did not enjoy this book, stating "that the writing and art often seemed terribly static and undynamic." Gerald Nicosia felt that the beginning of the book was a "disaster" and fraught with errors, but that the latter parts focusing on beatnik women and more minor poets saved it. He summed up that it was "notable for the completeness of its portrait of that magical era - an achievement that, whether in comics or literary biographies, is as impressive as it is rare."

The Beats: A Graphic History was published by Hill and Wang.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Checking in at 50 breath-taking pages, Violenzia was the first digital-only release from Fantagraphics, a storied publisher of alternative comics. The narrative is full of great pulp genre elements, including human sacrifices, a creepy cult with its tendrils in local police and politics, hill-billy meth dealers, and an action heroine whose methods are swift and deadly.
She is a woman of few words.

There is not so much a plot as there are extended action sequences where the titular heroine dispenses justice from the barrels of her guns. Still, it is an exhilarating and fun read. The artwork is classic Richard Sala style, with plenty of cheesecake, monsters, wretched villains, shocking moments, and excellent, clear storytelling. He is a well established comics creator with decades of works that meld mystery, horror, and action to his credit. He speaks more about his work on this book in this interview.

Reviews I have read about this comic have been mostly positive. The anonymous reviewer at HTMLGIANT wrote that this book smacks of white, male privilege but that it also "evokes the joy of action comics with lush colors and retro pencilings." Rich Barrett called it "a light read and a nice low cost entry into discovering Sala's work." Jason Sacks wrote, "I had so much fun reading this book and Violenzia's bloody adventures that I can't wait to see what comes next."

This book was published by Fantagraphics, and you can view a preview and purchase it at Comixology.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Happy Thor's Day!

Fun fact: Thursday is named for Thor, the Norse god of thunder. Today, to commemorate this fact, I am going to tell y'all about three books I read recently about this free-wheeling, somewhat dim, and mighty warrior.

This first book is a retelling of traditional legends about the thunder god. Here he has a big red beard and not the flowing blonde locks and clean shaven look made popular in comic books and movies.
Today's preview theme: two folks riding in goat drawn chariots.
This book retells the tale of Thor and Loki visiting giants and being challenged by Utgard-Loki and his hall of illusions. Faced with a number of challenges, the two Asgardians and the two human children they have in tow acquit themselves well, but are no much for the giant's chicanery. In the end, brains are much more effective than brawn. I like that there are some modern flourishes in the story, such as the young girl calling the giants on their sexism, which make the whole narrative more light and enjoyable. I also appreciate the relationship between the god-like siblings, where Loki comes off less an antagonist and more like a know-it-all younger brother and Thor less heroic and more a bullish mook.

Collaborators Jeff Limke and Ron Randall made this book. Limke is a frequent writer of mythological tales for young readers. Randall has drawn comics for decades and has worked for all the big companies. He is best known for his work on fantasy and sci-fi books, such as his original series Trekker and licensed Star Wars adventures. He recently also had a Kickstartr project for an art book successfully funded.

Reviews I have read of this book are positive though not spectacular. Bekka felt the story was a bit "flat," the artwork "vivid and colorful," and summed up that "for the Norse lovers, this is a must-have comic to add to your own library." Rob McMonigal called it "a pretty well-done comic" for younger readers. He also added, "I'd easily recommend this to anyone with children who want to learn about the legends and myths surrounding the days of the week."

Thor and Loki: In the Land of Giants was published by Lerner Publishing Group under their Graphic Universe imprint.

I reviewed the first volume of Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee's Thor: The Mighty Avenger series here. This second volume continues the action-packed tales of adventure that also contain some excellent character work, and I particularly like the take on Jane Foster, who is warm, feisty, and intelligent. In  these stories, Thor is still banished on earth to learn humility, but he is also somewhat confused about this circumstance because of the machinations of his trickster half-brother Loki. I very much liked the range of adventures, which show him fighting Prince Namor, The Submariner, who is an excellent foil/mirror for Thor, battling the dragon Fin Fang Foom, contending with robots, and meeting Iron Man for the first time.
Thor sure does love riding his goat drawn chariot.
This book contains excellent storytelling and some great, straight-forward superhero stories. I found the artwork crisp and attractive, and the stories are appropriate for all ages, accessible to fans and non-fans alike. The contents of this book are flat-out fun and well told. Plus, as an added bonus, there are two additional tales to round out the book, by original Mighty Thor creators Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and Larry Leiber, which give readers a glimpse into the early output of Marvel Comics.

Originally slated to be 12 issues, this series was cut short to 8 issues and never resolved, even though it was very well received and reviewed. Conor Kilpatrick called it "fun in a way that most superhero comic books aren’t anymore" and added that it "features the wonderfully lush and detailed pages that Samnee is now famous for." Mario Lebel wrote, "If you like accessible, well written and superbly drawn superhero comics with as much brains and heart as there is brawn and creative costumes, do yourself a favour, pick up a copy of Thor: The Mighty Avenger and savour the brief glimpse into a grand story that could have been."

Marvel Comics originally published this book in digest size, but it is now available bundled as a complete collection containing the entire series.

If the first two books were all ages and aimed toward younger readers, this one is clearly aimed at a more mature audience. The story is dark and foreboding, full of horrific elements and lots of intrigue. The story is clearly couched in not only Norse myth but all mythological pantheons. There is a powerful entity that is hunting down and butchering gods of all sorts across dimensions, universes, and traditions. Thor first encounters it when he is a younger godling and is badly hurt in the battle. Centuries later, he finds clues that the adversary is back and he also finds himself in a very unfamiliar situation, feeling fear as he hunts for the killer.
No chariot, and I don't want to ruin what is hanging, but I will tell you it's not goats.
The story here is by Jason Aaron and the art by Esad Ribic. Aaron is an accomplished writer known for his series Scalped and Eisner Award-nominated The Other Side as well as his work on series like Ghost Rider and Wolverine. Ribic has also done much work for Marvel including the series Silver Surfer: Requiem and Submariner: The Depths. Both talk about their plans for this book and beyond in this interview/preview.

All of the reviews I have read about this volume have been very positive. Charles Payseur wrote that "the story comes across as focused and kinetic, full of memorable visuals and dialogue." The reviewer at Packrat Comics summed up, "This is a Thor book for anyone.  It balances the fantasy with science fiction and horror, and focuses on Thor as a character rather than being overly enthralled with the pantheon and mythology attached to him." Matt Lippman wrote, "While the dark and grim tone might not appeal to some people, it’s so skillfully done and so powerful that I find it tough to imagine it doing nothing for you if you’ve got the slightest interest in the character."

Thor: The God Butcher Volume 1 was published by Marvel.

So there you have it, three different books about the popular Norse god for a variety of readers. Happy Thursday!