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

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

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

2Apr/150

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

18Mar/150

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: http://www.redinkradio.com/p/comics.html

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

6Mar/150

Top of the Shops: February/March 2015

I've been using Goodreads to track my comics reading and I've been surprised to see just how much I really get through each month, and the range of genres that I love the most.

I'm still catching up on some series from last year as well, but here are my top picks for February and March - and hopefully these recommendations will be helpful to others too! (I'm still loving Lady Killer and Feathers from January...)

As a trial, I've put my ratings (from Goodreads) next to each comic.

Top of the Shops: February/March 2015