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


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




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


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


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


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