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Review Round-Up: Ongoing Comic Essentials

Those that follow me on Goodreads* may be aware that I am reading a LOT of comics right now. I'm working on some reviews behind the scenes, as well as for Panel Mania, and press, but I've been intrigued by the very positive reaction to my short twitter reviews of what I'm reading on a weekly basis.

Here then is the first of... a few(?) review roundups of my ongoing comic reads!

Rules: I'm only including comics that have had at least 2 issues published, and I'm only including the comics that I think are four and five star reads, ie the comics that I can't wait to read each month.

(*where I am tracking every comic I read in 2015.)

Afterlife with ArchieAfterlife With Archie
(W) Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, (A) Francesco Francavilla, (L) Jack Morelli
Archie Horror
October 2013-
#1-5 collected

In a tweet: Best zombie comic on the shelves, requires no prior Archie reading! Very fun, great characters, and nods to horror comics of old.

Aka the first Archie comic I ever read. I know, I know, it's not such a big title in the UK but I did at least know the basics of who each character was. This is a great comic to read and probably the best zombie comic on the market right now, kicking off with great gusto but keeping the character development going. As a non-Archie reader I had no trouble keeping up. The covers, courtesy of Francavilla, lovingly hark back to the horror comics of old, making them almost worth the price alone. Afterlife With Archie returns in May and I can't wait!

(Hit the jump for more!)


Panel Mania: Joie de vivre in Pénélope Bagieu’s ‘Exquisite Corpse’

In this instalment, I'm looking at French superstar Pénélope Bagieu's first English translated graphic novel from First Second.

Exquisite Corpse is a really fun read from a favourite artist of mine - with one hell of an ending.

French superstar Pénélope Bagieu’s debut English-language graphic novel about life, love, and legacy, is a perfect read for women in their 20s, 30s, and beyond, a demographic oft overlooked by comic publishers.

Bagieu is a woman of many talents: illustrator, graphic novelist, and Paris’ most popular blogger. Her website, My Life is Completely Fascinating (Ma vie est tout à fait fascinante), began as a place to share her daily illustrated diary entries of her travels and day to day life. Bagieu’s most famous comic series, Joséphine – oft described as a French Bridget Jones, followed shortly after with demand leading to a further two volumes.

Cadavre exquis came next in 2010, marking her first foray into a complete graphic novel length story, and even greater critical success. It’s no surprise that Bagieu has since been made Chevalier (Knight) in the Order of Arts and Letters in her native France, testament to her cultural impact.

Exquisite Corpse focuses on the life of Zoe, a carefree woman in a dead-end job and relationship who starts to realise her frustrations as colleagues enjoy greater ambitions. Spying a man watching her from his apartment window she blusters her way inside to use the bathroom and immediately inflames the curiosity of the world-famous author she has completely failed to recognise.

The tension between the world famous Parisian literacy scene and the directionless but hard working twenty-something who has literally never stepped foot in a bookstore is cleverly played – two realities known well to many crashed together with no elitist judgement placed upon either.

Drawn into an unexpected conspiracy, the book maintains a light and airy tone while never stooping to belittle Zoe’s comparative lack of intellectual weight – her ability to maintain her sense of self is in fact a tremendous strength. The hidden depths within the characterisation of the principle cast subtly underpins proceedings, making Exquisite Corpse both a joy to read and packing one hell of a memorable punch. The ending in fact will have many readers literally jumping for joy.

Zoe is an absolute scene-stealer, her oversized eyes giving her facial expressions precedence over everyone else. She wears her heart on her sleeve, and gives frequent side-eye to the bizarre happenings around her. Not an overly likeable character, Bagieu’s style, fun, fresh, and with great knowledge of how women’s bodies actually work, makes her completely relatable.

For great summer fiction to read out in the garden or while enjoying un café, look no further.

Read the full preview here: Joie de vivre in Pénélope Bagieu’s 'Exquisite Corpse'

Exquisite Corpse

Exquisite Corpse


Panel Mania: The Heart-Stealing Whimsy of ‘The Kurdles’

A lovely all-ages story in the latest column at Publisher's Weekly.

A gorgeous story of an abandoned teddy bear that finds her way to a new home and new friends - super suitable for all ages and I adore it!

Robert Goodin’s debut graphic novel is a charming blend of Enid Blyton whimsy and Moominvalley strangeness, as an abandoned teddy bear stumbles upon a magical new home. The Kurdles is a gorgeous all-ages comic that will steal the hearts of every reader.

Goodin is best known for his storyboard work in the animation industry, most notably for American Day, The Wild Thornberrys, and Rugrats, and his previous short underground comic, The Man Who Loved Breasts, won acclaim from adult audiences.

The Kurdles is perhaps a better reflection of his all-ages storytelling proficiency, conjuring up a vibrant cast of delightful characters, from an adorable and no-nonsense teddy bear to a unicorn and a dog-owning five-legged pentapus. When Sally the bear is tossed from a car window by a screaming child, she resolves to find her way home, adventuring her way instead to Kurdleton, a dreamy forest home that every child surely dreamed of finding one day.

Her new friends are dealing with a severe crisis – Kurdleton has sprouted hair, big eyes, and a mouth, and legs may not be far behind. Sally and the new creatures work to save their home, and Sally learns the real meaning of friendship and love.

Opening in the rain that punctuates Sally’s abandonment, Goodin uses a varying panel structure to terrific effect, reinforcing the monotony of Sally’s life as well as modifying the pace at moments of action. Children will be pleased to realise that when Sally’s life literally crashes into the ground, no damage is done, while parents will be reassured that scary moments turn into a meeting of new friends, alongside a strong message that it pays to take the time to understand those different from ourselves.

The oversized hardback emphasises the beautiful hand-painted watercolour pages throughout, calling to mind childhood picture books of old and fantastical dreams of soft toys adventuring in the magical forests of the mind. It’s a quirky and gentle tale, with laugh out moments a plenty, and an absolute joy to read – with or without children!

The Kurdles is destined to be both a favourite bedtime story, and a classic for the ages.

Read the full preview here: The Heart-Stealing Whimsy of 'The Kurdles'

The Kurdles

The Kurdles


Panel Mania: Sophie Goldstein’s Dystopian SF in ‘The Oven’

Time for the second Panel Mania of the month, this time previewing the wonderful Sophie Goldstein's first long-form work, The Oven.

Keep an eye on those insects within....

You can read Goldstein's mini-comics, which I also highly recommend, here:

In The Oven, Ignatz Award winning creator Sophie Goldstein places her characters in exactly that: a lawless community under a burning sun where people can escape the harsh population controls in a crowded world. A broody couple take centre stage in this subtle tale, science fiction on the surface and a familiar societal poison lurking beneath.

Originally serialized in black and white in the indie comics anthology Maple Key Comics, Goldstein’s six chapter story is presented here in glorious colour, orange-burnt beneath an unforgiving sky. Syd and Eric long for a baby, but with strict population controls enforced by the state, they see no choice other than to relocate to a backwater commune, off the grid and away from birth control.

The Oven is a book that unfolds slowly, gently even, as simple lines create this fable. A small encampment looks vast and empty, underlining a utopian vision that doesn’t quite line up with expectations. Syd is a beacon of optimism, but the corrupting influence of the outside world is never far from their doorstep. Perhaps even more dangerous is the insidious creep of gender conformity in an anarchic disguise - a small comment here, a sudden split there. It’s telling that the female friend Syd finds wears glasses at all times, blank eyes leaving no clue to the real soul beneath.

The colour palette, black and white, orange and grey, is both warm and foreboding, echoing within the blank skies and landscapes. Only a solitary bug type dances across the void in huge trailing swarms, bursting from the ground to escape up into the skies, leaving its influence behind.

Goldstein is perhaps best known for her long-running webcomic Darwin Carmichael is Going to Hell, co-created with Jenn Jordan, and her Ignatz Award winning mini-comic House of Women in 2014. As with the latter, science fiction and uncomfortable truths are somewhat of a speciality with Goldstein, as indeed are themes of motherhood and fertility. The gorgeous lines and meticulous character work are there to pose questions only – there are no answers here, no dictations, but a seed to be planted within the readers mind.

The Oven is Goldstein’s first long-form work and is perfectly paced; the subtleties within demand re-reading. And like her mini-comics, the ending leaves the reader aching for more.

Read the full preview here: Sophie Goldstein's Dystopian SF in 'The Oven'

The Oven


Panel Mania: Go ‘Ballistic’ with Mortimer and Robertson

For the first Panel Mania of March I selected one of my all time favourite sci-fi comics.

It started out as my choice for best comic of 2013. Now the first volume is complete and collected in a trade paperback, and set to be best comic of the millennium.

Ladies and gentlemen, do feel free to go ballistic for... Ballistic!

A genuine spark of innovation is a rare thing indeed, and something that Ballistic, by filmmaker Adam Egypt Mortimer and comics star Darick Robertson, transmits with shocking force. It’s perhaps the first comic of the millennium to leave readers physically buzzing with excitement, a future classic in the making and the Next Big Thing already flying frustratingly under the radar.

Butch is an air conditioner repairman who dreams of something more, something greater, something… more criminal. His best friend happens to be a sentient firearm; Gun is a foul-mouthed drug-addict who has entirely too much fun blowing people’s heads off. Together they climb the ladder of crime in Repo City State, a post-apocalyptic neon-nightmare world built upon reclaimed trash and constructed with DNA-based living technology – a city that is very much alive, and almost certainly worships HR Giger.

And then things start to go really wrong.

The pacing is manic as psychedelic and insanely detailed world-building collide with hyper-violent mayhem. Mortimer is refreshingly light on wordy exposition, but a handy breakdown is provided at the end revealing the mechanics and history behind each character interaction and glorious tech invention.

It’s difficult to believe that it’s Mortimer’s first foray into comics writing, or that publisher Black Mask Studios launched as recently as 2012 and currently feature one of the most exciting slate of titles for 2015.

Robertson, of course, is well known for his prolific sagas, tremendous character work and most of all, for his horrific depictions of violence. Transmetropolitan, his 60 issue cyberpunk series with Warren Ellis, remains an influential science fiction classic, while gross-out anti-superhero fare The Boys ran even longer.

The sheer lunacy of Ballistic though really does let Robertson flex his creative talents, and with a background as vibrant with life as the story itself, the result is like nothing else in the medium right now.

The comic begins with a fist halfway through someone’s face, blood flecks spraying across the page and drowning the gutter in red. It ends with the reader out of breath and desperate for more of this addictive, ballistic, madness.

Read the full preview here: Go 'Ballistic' with Mortimer and Robertson




Panel Mania: The Spectacular World Building of ‘The Swords of Glass’

The latest Panel Mania is out and boy is it a good one! Laura Zuccheri's work is jaw-droppingly beautiful and the world building that she and Corgiat have achieved here is first class.

This is a gorgeous book that I've already re-read twice, and would recommend to anyone on the strength of the art alone. It's a 200+ page sci-fi/fantasy epic with strange critters, costumes, and architecture a plenty.

A dying sun, four cosmic swords, and a young girl determined to become a warrior in the name of vengeance. In this alternate world the rich rule over the weak, killing the poor and stealing women. But with the waters rising and the weather becoming more and more extreme, even the privileged find themselves locked in ivory towers to escape the solar wrath.

The oversized deluxe edition of The Swords of Glass (Les Épées de Verre) clocks in at an impressive 212 pages from Humanoids, collecting the complete four books in the series: Yama, Ilango, Tigran, and Dolmon. A chapter for every sword, and all bound in the generously opulent French style.

Once upon a time an artist named Moebius, one of the most influential pop culture icons of the 20th century, founded a comics art group that grew to be the publisher Les Humanoïdes Associés. Publishing infamous magazine Métal Hurlant and plentiful graphic novels by French creative legends, the company also birthed Ah! Nana, an innovative female-led magazine in the late ‘70s.

After troubled times and a resurgence for the industry and publisher, that spirit of equality and diversity is very much alive today in the form of this newly translated epic from Sylviane Corgiat.

The last ten years has been a busy time for the celebrated fantasy and science fiction writer, with Elias Le Maudit (Elias the Cursed) and Lune d’Ombre (Shadow Moon) winning particular acclaim, but it is due to the ethereal and delicate work of artist Laura Zuccheri that The Swords of Glass is such an unmissable treat.

Zuccheri is no newcomer to comics in her native Italy, with multiple contributions to Giancarlo Berardi’s Julia, but collaborating with Corgiat has perhaps given her the most high profile and award-winning platform to date, and Humanoids have certainly done the work justice.

Yama, the young village girl, is our first and main protagonist. In a Conan the Barbarian type intro, the world that she knows is stolen from her in brutal style, driving her to a life of fervent training in the name of vengeance. Unlike Conan and others though, while Yama is uniquely intelligent and hot-tempered, she must also face the additional perils of being female within a barbarian land.

Luckily for Yama she just happens to have been chosen by the sword that fell near her home, and lies imbedded in rock, awaiting her command. Yet the man who took Yama in as his own, and who has trained her all these years, seems to know far more about the sword than he is prepared to tell.

Characterisation is given in broad strokes, with actions rather than words defining the nature of our cast, but flashbacks are well placed when needed to avoid large spoken expositions. The world building is slow and almost sensual, large views are broken down into more thorough and highly detailed panels, and the wildlife and variation on humanoid races is a startling and successful choice.

In a story of fantasy and science fiction, albeit with a timely environmental angle, where vast cities dominate the page with their expert architecture and a theatrical array of superb costumes with shades of Japanese culture and Moebius in influence, it is the sheer beauty of this natural world that elevate the tale into something rather special.

Dense lush forests with strange creatures, spectacularly lit giant humanoid creatures striding across the dusky horizon, endless fields of green that the pig-tiger pet lollops across, even a cute monkey-like critter ably scampering up brickwork… it is rare to find an artist so comfortable with depicting such disparate scenes as well as composing striking character and expressive work. There is something so nostalgic and yet progressive about Zuccheri’s art as she realises Corgiat’s imaginative world, the comic is a pleasure to return to countless times.

Every blade of grass is painstakingly in place, every fantastical creature consistent in each appearance, and all anatomy precisely where it should be. The story is indeed gripping as the tale unfolds and new characters are introduced, but above all, Zuccheri’s work is simply breathtaking.

Read the full preview here: The Spectacular World Building of 'The Swords of Glass'

The Swords of Glass The Swords of Glass

The Swords of Glass