comicbookGRRRL Do not offend the chair leg of truth; it is wise and terrible.

20Jul/150

First Look: Jason’s Triumphant Return with ‘If You Steal’

Panel Mania has been renamed First Look and continues as normal twice a month - this time around it's an exclusive preview of Norwegian's finest!

Jason's upcoming If You Steal, complete with hitwoman Frida Kahlo and 50s horror comic pastiche.

The multi-award winning Jason has been consistently publishing at least one critically acclaimed hit per year since the turn of the century, with 2014 the only omission. Fans and critics are awaiting this new collection with keen anticipation, not least due to the alluring title in the original Norwegian: Frida Kahlo’s Parrot.

If You Steal collects eleven new stories, with a definite if extensive focus on pop culture pastiche. A 50s horror comic styled take on Van Morrison’s Moondance, Frida Kahlo as a hitwoman (as seen on the cover), the JFK assassination conspiracies concluded, Santo and his greatest challenge, a heist story with touches of Magritte… Jason casts his net wide, threading these disparate comics into one seamless tapestry with Nostradamus at the helm.

With his signature four panel grid, simple anthropomorphic animal characters, and ligne claire minimalism throughout, Jason’s work is often at risk of being discounted on sight. Yet the uncomplicated surface gives way to complex layers that hold far deeper meanings.

Jason is the master of haunting comics that wriggle into the reader’s brain and very often break their heart. If You Steal is a tad lighter than some of Jason’s previous works but it is still a tremendous example of the power of amplification through simplification – he forges a world so universally recognisable one cannot help but be captivated completely.

Jason’s entire oeuvre is published in English by Fantagraphics and is absolutely essential reading for any fan of comics, art, pulp fiction, or silent/near-wordless narratives. From the earliest Hey, Wait… through I Killed Adolf Hitler and Athos in America, each is an instant classic. If You Steal, complete with Chet Baker, Night of the Vampire Hunter, 50’s style big bug horror fare and all, is no exception.

Read the full preview here: Jason’s Triumphant Return with 'If You Steal'

If You Steal

1Jul/150

First Look: ‘Dressing’ for Success with Michael DeForge

Panel Mania is back with an exclusive preview from the indie king!

Panel Mania is now called First Look, and continuing with that name.

It’s rare that an award winning alternative comics creator also finds great book market success, but that is exactly what Canadian artist Michael DeForge has achieved in recent years. Since the publication of Lose #1 in 2009 with Koyama Press, the designer for Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time has gone on to win a clutch of awards at home and in the US, as well as repeatedly breaking into the New York Times best seller lists.

Ant Colony, originally serialised on DeForge’s website and published in early 2014 earned wide critical acclaim, while his on-going Lose series continues to revel in the experimental and eccentric.

Dressing then is a collection of short stories, curated from his prolific portfolio of mini comics, webcomics and both anthology and zine contributions. It is a spiritual successor to the award winning collection Very Casual in 2013, as DeForge continues to balance longer-form work alongside the short strips he revels in.

A series of structureless, but far from pointless, stories are contained within; a myriad of tangents and detours that take the reader on a most unexpectedly boundary-pushing journey. At 120 pages, Dressing holds its own on the DeForge shelf, a thick slice of feverish dreams and fantastic worlds.
There is much to be said about DeForge’s work, from the ever evolving color palettes to his ability to cross into the mainstream while retaining his singularly alternative aesthetic, but what really sets his comics apart is their ability to connect with the reader on a very visceral, instinctive level. Their commentary, often quite subtle, on the human condition – told through descriptive colors and sometimes without words – provoke and soothe in equal measure.

Frequently compared to Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Charles Burns and Marc Bell amongst many others, and with the chafing label of “critical darling” attached, DeForge continues to defy both convention and comparison with all his many layers of work.

Read the full preview here: 'Dressing' for Success with Michael DeForge

Dressing

Dressing

2Jun/150

Panel Mania: Return to Carcosa in Culbard’s ‘The King in Yellow’

It's weird fiction time at Publisher's Weekly this month with a comics adaptation of the infamous The King in Yellow by the magnificent Culbard.

Two masters of horror combine to bring forth the graphic adaptation of the infamous The King in Yellow, a classic piece of weird fiction that promises madness and delivers genuine chills.

Robert W Chambers is the author of the original collection of short stories, and it is the first of these, the tales connected by the titular play, The King in Yellow, that INJ Culbard has brought to life within these pages.

The reputation of The King in Yellow precedes it, influencing such fellow cult creators as HP Lovecraft and Raymond Chandler, and even making ripples last year by frequent reference in HBO’s True Detective. The book within the book, the play at the heart of it all, is hinted at and teased, the book as object never before as dangerous as when rendered fully upon these pages, sat in innocent hands.

Culbard is no stranger to the weird and wonderful, adapting several Lovecraftian tales from At the Mountains of Madness to The Shadow Out of Time, both to great acclaim. Two science fiction highlights of 2014 had Culbard collaborating with writers: the magnificent War of the Worlds inspired Wild’s End at Boom! Studios with Dan Abnett; and the uniquely brilliant Brass Sun at 2000 AD with Ian Edginton.

The artist’s star is rising fast indeed, with last year also seeing his first original graphic novel, Celeste, hitting the shelves to rave reviews. He remains one of the UK’s greatest comic artists with a prolific output – always guaranteeing an intelligent and instantly recognisable graphic read.

Clean lines, bold colors, and characters that wriggle right into the readers’ brain are Culbard’s trademark. Here, in the realm of The King in Yellow, those skills are put to dastardly use as what begins in intrigue ends in poisonous insanity and palpable fright.

Do you dare read it? Do you dare not?!

The shadows lengthen… in Carcosa.

Read the full preview here: Return to Carcosa in Culbard’s ‘The King in Yellow’

The King in Yellow

The King in Yellow

23May/150

Top of the Shops: May 2015

There are a lot of great new comics out this month and I'll dig back a little into April too so we're fully up to date. 

Here then are my picks of the new comics you should have a look at this month, including one graphic novel, two collections, and an art book amongst the fabulous new series.

Bucky BarnesBucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier Volume 1: The Man on the Wall
(W) Ales Kot, (A/C) Marco Rudy, Michael Walsh, Langdon Foss, (L) Clayton Cowles
Marvel
Paperback
£12.99/$16.99
26 May 2015

In a tweet: Fluid and grand, standing for change and absolution, beautiful in its communication of empathy - a brand new level for superhero comics.

Full disclosure - I've never read a Bucky Barnes comic before. In fact I've only really read old school Captain America. So this was the least likely comic for me to read, pretty much ever. Until I saw some preview pages. Featuring Marco Rudy's art. And was BLOWN AWAY. And then I realised it was by Kot, oops! So of course it was something I was going to try, but damn if it ain't one of the most fun and beautiful comics I've read this year.

Now I have come across Rudy's work before, and been really impressed, but this is a whole new level of amazing and something that makes getting the trade collections a real joy. From the full page spreads to the lavish panel design, I'm struck by how easy it is for newcomers to still follow Rudy's more experimental layouts.

Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier - Marco Rudy Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier - Marco Rudy

On the one hand, Bucky is sexy as sin here. On the other, he's dealing with an incredibly traumatic history, a life governed by war, and the realisation that his survival instincts and protective walls are no longer quite as necessary. He's operating on a galactic scale, seeing his story reflected in the cosmos but also seeing new ways of living; new ways of being.

It's fluid and it's grand, it's about change and absolution, and it's beautiful in its communication of empathy. Oh, and it also mentions polyamory as a valid relationship choice - hurrah!

20May/150

Panel Mania: Fighting Tooth and Claw in “The Autumnlands”

For my birthday week I couldn't resist featuring one of my current favourites, The Autumnlands!

This is a must-read book for all fantasy fans, and all animal fans too. Dewey is definitely an artist to keep an eye on.

The past and future collide in The Autumnlands Volume 1: Tooth and Claw, an anthropomorphic high-fantasy epic from New York Times best-selling writer Kurt Busiek and rising star artist Ben Dewey.

Opening in the floating wicker city of Keneil, “westernmost of the Seventeen Cities Above the Plain”, and home to protagonist Dunstan, a cast of wondrous animal characters threading through the fantastical setting is an incredible feast for the eyes.

Skunks, tortoises, bears, snakes, birds and more populate this world, dressed in fine period cloaks, and all of a more or less equal size. Dunstan, a young bull terrier known as Dusty to his friends, follows his father on his trade-master duties, learning more about the world he inhabits as the reader follows in his steps.

It soon becomes apparent that the magic which governs this land is fading, and that the folk living in the cities consider themselves superior to the ground-dwelling bison who provide them with food in return for meagre helpings of healing magic. As wizards conspire to summon forth a Great Champion of the past to save them from ruin, Dusty’s life changes forever.

Busiek, best known as the creator of his own multiple-award winning series Astro City, and as a prolific writer of superhero comics, has been waiting ten long years to unleash this new series upon the world, a period of gestation that is reflected in the extraordinary detailed world building that is slowly unfolding.

Class and cultural tensions underline the developing story, with Dusty’s position as a privileged but naïve youngster making him a perfect point of view character as he learns things about his own world - no need then for masses of exposition dumped upon the reader.

Dewey, an artist hailing from Portland, is less well known than his co-creator, though The Autumnlands will undoubtedly elevate him to the top rank of comic artists. His previous most notable works, the Eisner Award nominated I Was The Cat with Paul Tobin, and his 4 year long Tragedy Series webcomic recently collected (The Complete Collection of The Tragedy Series: Secret Lobster Claws and Other Misfortunes) both share a love of anthropomorphic animal characters, rendered in realistic form with cleverly cartoonish expressions where appropriate.

The artist’s background as a trained painter is most evident in the two page introduction that accompanies each chapter – a lavish painted scene complete with prose extract from a faux pulp sword and sorcery novel describing events relevant to the story and world – which brings to mind fond memories of the most exquisite illustrated adventure stories.

There are hints of other delicious influences in Dewey’s work too, from the dynamic characters and effects of the legendary Jack Kirby to the minimalist clear lines of Mike Mignola (Hellboy). It is rare to find an artist equally at home with character work and incredible bombastic magic sequences, but Dewey’s eye is faultless, designing intricate cityscapes, rugged scenic landscapes, and peppering every scene with a myriad of detailed characters.

What really sells this book though is the coloring work of the award winning Jordie Bellaire. The coloring of magic in particular is eye-popping and oscillating between realistic and fantastic palettes, she draws the very best from Dewey’s linework. The teamwork of the Comicraft letterers too draw the book further into high-fantasy territory, with lower case dialogue and borderless speech balloons providing a truly immersive experience.

With a pace to savour in this collection of the first six issues, fans will be delighted to know that The Autumnlands is planned as a long-running series.

Read the full preview here: Fighting Tooth and Claw in "The Autumnlands"

The Autumnlands

The Autumnlands

7May/150

Panel Mania: From Zero to ‘The Hero’ with David Rubin

A super exclusive preview at Publisher's Weekly from the highly anticipated English language edition of David Rubin's masterpiece!

I really enjoyed this, and I'm looking forward to seeing the concluding volume later this year. I'll confess, I was singing Disney Hercules songs in my head for most of my read, but that's a good thing :)

The Hero’s journey is where it all begins, with the mighty Heracles and his twelve labours brought into our contemporary age by the critically acclaimed artist of The Rise of Aurora West, David Rubin.

Translated into English by Dark Horse, The Hero marks the beginning of a run of success for the Spanish creator. Told in two books, The Hero was originally published in 2011-12, followed by the beautiful (and yet to be translated) Beowulf a year later. This year sees the publication of The Fall of the House of West, Paul Pope and Rubin’s follow-up to last year’s first Aurora West title.

Heracles, known better perhaps by his adapted Roman name, Hercules, is a familiar mythical figure to many, yet The Hero is something very new indeed. A celebration of pop-bright superheroes catapults Greek mythology into our society of cell phones and iPods, subverted now by magic, gods, and fantastical beasts.

The bastard son of Zeus, Heracles has his birth sabotaged by a vengeful Hera, angered at her philandering husband. The good, strong, and just Heracles is born after the spoilt, vicious, and vile Eurystheus, thus destined to forever obey the young tyrant. As Hera further manipulates the favoured child, Heracles is plunged into a sequence of deadly tasks, with seemingly no agency of his own.

While the labours in name reflect their legendary ancestors – the Nemean Lion, the Hydra, the Mares of Diomedes – Rubin extracts new truths from old tales, showing a progression within Heracles’ self, and a slow awakening of an inner strength that chafes at his bonds of fate. The presence of a certain Diana in her star-spangled shorts amongst the Amazons is a clear signal that some of the tasks are very different indeed from their old girdle-demanding ways.

Yet this is no straightforward adaptation brought into modernity, as through gloriously rambunctious colours – absent in the Aurora West spin-off from Paul Pope’s Battling Boy - Rubin pays tribute to the masters of the Silver Age of comics, from Jack Kirby to Gil Kane, and all the sense of fun, imagination and action those artists were revered for. The cohesion of famed mythology and modern life is flawless and helped by an aesthetic reminiscent of manga; the book is anchored by a universal understanding of the very superhero stories that Heracles himself inspired.

Comics today are littered with heroes but heroic tales remain somewhat of a rare occurrence in a medium where the anti-hero looms large. As Heracles realises the dangers in acting before thinking, and the real cost of his blind obedience, he is left to overcome a sense of powerlessness within a corrupt establishment. Revolution, perhaps, is in the air and Heracles’ lack of control over a destiny ruled by an untouchable class is entirely relatable.

A familiar face or two makes an appearance alongside the legendary names of old, toy heroes as the playthings of the gods. An early sequence features the instantly recognisable and heroic face of Superman juxtaposed against a senseless background murder, his figure toppled from his Justice League line-up by a carefully flicked Batman toy. Superman, once the people’s hero of the working class and disenfranchised, always with a smile and a feeling of safety has been displaced by the dark, rich, broody anti-hero of the night.

The Superman depiction appears again later, en masse, demanding a truth of Heracles. The Hero joyfully embraces the sunny days of superheroes, when the villains were bad and the heroes were good and overcame their troubles. Before our man of steel became a tortured soul, and our caped crusader a troubling metaphor.

Heracles is our original hero, a real hero and a real human being.

This is book one of two, focusing on a young Heracles and his growth towards adulthood in a burst of action and colour at a relentless pace. The 288 pages disappear beneath eager fingers and hungry eyes, and thankfully the second book is published later this year.

Read the full preview here: From Zero to 'The Hero' with David Rubin

The Hero

The Hero