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

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

5May/150

ComicsAlliance: And Then Emily’ Returned… for Free Comic Book Day: In Conversation with Lees and Laurie

A wee interview with Glasgow boys John Lees and Iain Laurie, the depraved minds behind runaway indie hit And Then Emily Was Gone.

This horror comic, set in Orkney, is a spine-chilling nightmare parsed through the twisted and surreal lens of Laurie - no wonder the critics love it!

ComicsAlliance: For those unfortunate souls who have yet to read the comic, can you tell them a little about what And Then Emily Was Gone is about?

John Lees: And Then Emily Was Gone is a horror series that begins with a former police detective called Greg Hellinger. Back in the day, he was famed for cracking some seemingly unsolvable missing persons cases, but five years ago he had what most believe to have been a mental breakdown, and ever since, he’s been tormented by horrific apparitions of monsters that follow him around wherever he goes. He’s pulled from his life of despair and squalor by a teenage girl called Fiona, who has tracked down Hellinger in hopes of him using his particular skill-set to track down her missing best friend, Emily.

The official story is that Emily ran away from home, but Fiona is convinced that a local child-snatching boogeyman by the name of Bonnie Shaw has taken her. Hellinger agrees to help Fiona, and their search takes them to the Orkney islands, and the remote community of Merksay, where strange and terrible things start to happen!

Read the full interview here.

And Then Emily Was Gone

27Apr/150

ComicsAlliance: Darick Robertson Looks Back On His Ballistic Career [Interview]

As the co-creator of two of my favourite comic series - Transmetropolitan and Ballistic - I always jump at the chance to chat to Darick Robertson.

This time we cover his entire career, from Space Beaver to The Boys and beyond!

ComicsAlliance: Ballistic, The Boys, and Transmetropolitan have similar commentary on the evils of power and corruption in the real world, is that an important aspect of your art?

Darick Robertson: Yeah, I suppose there is a running theme there. I worry a lot and I like to create from the stuff that scares or worries me as a way of purging those feelings, that anxiety.

CA: It seems like a stronger thread through The Boys than the parodying of superheroes. And then there’s the diversity present, as with much of your work — is that an issue close to your heart?

DR: I recall a moment in The Simpsons when Homer says  “Every time I learn something new it pushes old stuff out of my brain!”

When I first started going to comic cons, seeing women there, unless they were hired to dress scantily and hang out by booths, their presence as fans was an anomaly. I recall often when signing, seeing a young woman get to the front of the line with a stack of books, and I’d be happy because I thought “Right on! A female reader here who loves comics!” and I’d ask her what she liked and often they’d smile and say, “These are my boyfriend’s.. he’s in another line, I’m not really into comics…”. Most women I’d meet at signings were long-suffering supportive girlfriends and wives. I was tired then of the lopsided attitude in mainstream comics.

Two characters that I am most proud of co-creating are Spider’s filthy assistants, Channon and Yelena, because I was able to draw Channon as glamorous, but tough as nails and smarter than just her looks. I loved when she became Spider’s bodyguard. Yelena wasn’t about glamour at all, but was funny, sardonic, and a great foil as a pseudo love interest for Spider. Both characters had brains and female readers seemed to really embrace them. Actor Anna Chlumsky proclaimed on Late Night with Seth Meyers that Transmetropolitan is her favorite comic and her fantasy football team is called “The Filthy Assistants.” I was thrilled to know she’d not only read it, but loved it! And told a national audience! Not because she was in some production about it, doing PR, but that she genuinely loves it and found it on her own.

Read the full interview here!

Transmetropolitan - art by Darick Robertson

Transmetropolitan - art by Darick Robertson

17Apr/150

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!)

16Apr/150

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