Sunday, December 30, 2012

Best of 2012 -- ESSENTIAL BLACK PANTHER


This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin
The Essential Black Panther Volume 1
(Don McGregor, Jack Kirby, Rich Buckler, Gil Kane, Billy Graham, Keith Pollard; Marvel -- originally published 1972, 1977)

"...all I wanted to do was write stories. And I wanted to write stories that meant something to me. All I wanted to do was write my books and be left alone." This is what Don McGregor told us when Essential Black Panther Volume 1 was released, and he ain't talkin' no platitudes. McGregor writes from his heart. It's just what he does. Love him or hate him, it's hard to be indifferent to his work and if you don't have a reaction to the two storylines that make up Essential Black Panther Volume 1 then I don't want to know you, you are dead to me.
Because back there in the 70's, when these stories were originally published, Marvel was trying to find something for McGregor to do. They thought they would just throw him a bone, toss him this "Jungle book" and tell him when he failed that, hey, they gave him a shot. By trying to bury Don, though, they helped unearth his genius. And that's what the work in Essential Black Panther Volume 1 is -- genius. These pages are a Master Class in story telling, and they're not just that (which is so much) -- they're also groundbreaking on so many levels.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Best of the End of the World -- TESTAMENT

This Piece Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin's 
Testament 
(Directed by Lynne Littman - 1983)
Boy, let me tell you, growing up in Texas in the early 80s had its share of challenges. Foremost among these, though, was the fact that everyone was doing their best to convince me that a nuclear holocaust was imminent and I should be doing everything in my teenage power to prepare for this apocalypse. Nothing spells long sessions on a therapist's couch in your future than stirring up a cocktail of hormones and genocide, a push for life combined with a fear of death. And so it was.
It was the Reagan years after all.
In December of 1983, to add further fuel to my fire-engorged nightmares, Paramount Pictures released a nice little film called Testament. The film tells a lovely little tale of the trials and tribulations of the Wetherly family. The Wetherlys lived in a suburb of San Francisco, and the film is about them as they cope with the "realities" of a nuclear war. Nothing about this is fun, or pleasant, or upbeat.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Best of 2012 -- BECKY CLOONAN

This Piece Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin
Becky Cloonan
(The Mire)
Sure Becky Cloonan is best known as an artist and her art is, hands down, some of my favorite being produced in comics today. But Becky Cloonan also knows how to write. Her 2012 self-published book The Mire is as much a treat for the story it tells through Cloonan's writing, as it is a treat for the eyes through her art. It is a success in its intersection between idea and execution – and the idea in this book, the story it tells, its writing, is a tale that among other things is about storytelling itself. 
After all, here's a book that opens on the first page with the "SKRITT" of ink on paper, words being formed, a story, perhaps, being told. It demands that you pay attention to the act of writing. It draws attention to itself, to its words, through this conceit. And through this Cloonan, the writer, stands before you. She is not afraid of you trespassing through her swamp, wandering the maze of her castle, or pulling back the curtains of her canopy bed. See, she wants to tell you a story.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Best of 2012 -- THE HYPO

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin
The Hypo
(Noah Van Sciver; Fantagraphics)

Assuming the Mayan Apocalypse doesn't happen, we may just look back at 2012 as the year of Lincoln. This dude is seemingly ubiquitous now -- there's even talk about putting his face on the five dollar bill, naming some logs after him, and carving his likeness into a mountain in South Dakota. I've been seeing that freakin' weedy beard, stovepipe hat and creepy mole everywhere lately. Hell, he may even be more popular than Jesus at this point. 
There is hype and pizzazz and iconic posturing all over the place. But into this all this Lincolnizing, there came a quiet tale of a younger man, the Springfield, Illinois Lincoln, the Lincoln of 1837 to 1842, the pre-Mary Todd Lincoln, the Lincoln filled with self-doubt, the Lincoln battling debilitating depression, the Lincoln of Noah Van Sciver's The Hypo from Fantagraphics.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Best of 2012 -- PRINCE OF CATS

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin
Prince of Cats
(Ron Wimberly; Vertigo/DC)

It takes balls to take on the Bard, to recast a minor role into a major player, to transport fair Verona to Brooklyn, to take a classic story of star-crossed lovers and flip it on the B-side in order to tell a tale of heroism and honor, turning "the courageous captain of compliments " into a tragic figure of epic standing. Ron Wimberly has those balls and they are on deft display in Prince of Cats from Vertigo.
When Silva and I reviewed this book last month, we both spent a great deal of time lauding all of its many merits (from its sexiness to its humor, from its inventiveness to its lessons in fellatio) and we could find very little, if anything, wrong with the entire package.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas from Your Chicken Enemy

The Velvet Underground and Nico: A Symphony of Sound (1966) is an Andy Warhol film made at The Factory. It is 67 minutes long and was filmed in 16mm black and white. The film depicts a rehearsal of The Velvet Underground including Nico, and is essentially one long loose improvisation. Near the end of the film, the rehearsal is disrupted by the arrival of the police, supposedly in response to a noise complaint. The film was intended to be shown at live Velvet Underground shows during setup and tuning. 
Recorded at The Factory, 231 East 47th St., (loft on 4th floor), New York City, 1966. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Review: ARCHEOLOGISTS OF SHADOWS VOLUME 2

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

Archeologists of Shadows Volume 2: Once a Nightmare
(Lara Fuentes, Patricio Clarey; Septagon Studios)

Almost a year ago, I got to review Archeologists of Shadows Volume 1 for Comics Bulletin and I was very pleased with what I had found. Volume 2 takes up where Volume 1 left off, but this time Patricio Clarey's art is even more breathtaking.
Whatever inconsistencies in storytelling or character development there are in this series -- and there are some (though not many) -- they are easily forgiven because they are subsumed in the expansive world building and intricate creature creation that Clarey commands. His work features drawing on top of digital painting on top of photography on top of sculpture, all of which, when combined, gives a depth and a nuance to each page. The alien nature of Clarey's art is heavy in its presentation, but somehow there is still something familiar about every page, every landscape, every character.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Review: Bluewater's Milestones of Art Series

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin
Some comics are too big, hypeworthy or insane for one reviewer to cover. Which is why we have Real Talk, an outlet for a group of reviewers to tackle a comic together and either come to a consensus or verbally arm wrestle until there's nothing left to say.

Fresh on the stands of your more adventurous comic shops or the digital newsstand of your favorite ebook retailer comes Bluewater Production's new Milestones of Art series. These new short biographical graphic novels present the life stories of six of the nineteenth and twentieth century's finest artists, including Andy Warhol, Vincent Van Gogh, Salvador Dali, Keith Haring, Pablo Picasso and Frida Kahlo. 
Daniel Elkin, Shawn Hill and Jason Sacks, all fans of great art, decided to sample a few of these books and see if they were worth tributes to the artists that they discuss.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Review -- SUPERMARKET CASH MONEY EDITION

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin
Elkin: The Big Apple, The Windy City, The City of Brotherly Love, Motor City, Sin City, The Big Easy, Stumptown, these are all recognizable nicknames for the places people live. These monikers, as is their nature, imbue each metropolis with a personality, a quirkiness, a life unto themselves. We get an odd sense of what happens in these places by the easy sobriquets we give them, and, in a way, the cities become these places through our casual naming. But what if your city's nickname was The Supermarket? What kind of life goes on in there? In Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson's Supermarket, it's all up in the Wu-Tang. As Method Man said, "'Cash rules everything around me.''
The world of Supermarket is a world of commodities. Everything has a price including honor, self-worth, and status. Experience is commoditized, personality is weighed in the wallet, and our interactions become transactions. It's dollar, dollar bill, y'all and god help you if you aren't possessed of fat stacks.
In a world ruled by cash, though, it's the criminals who are king, and in Supermarket it's the Yakuza and the Porno Swedes who wear the crown and hold the strings. In this book, the underground economy is more powerful than the corporate entities. Although in reality, they may be one and the same as they profit and ravage at the same time.
So what do you do if you are a pubescent female 16-year-old only child of a well-to-do family in this situation? You do what teenage girls do best. You skulk and you sulk, act petulant and holier-than-thou. You condemn the society that has afforded you the comforts and the coffees, the cars and the security. Of course you do. You're a teenage girl. You're rarefied. You're entitled. You're the target market.
But what happens when it all turns upside down? What do you do when everything you took for granted and railed against is suddenly lying in a pool of blood on the expensive tile floor of your foyer. Well, you react, don't you. You break and you escape and you become who you are.
Wood has referred to this book as "a mafia book, a sci-fi joint, cyberpunk, crime, action-adventure." For me, it was as much of a wild ride as it was a tongue-in-cheek condemnation of our capitalist tendencies.
How about you, Silva?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Review -- A CONTRACT WITH GOD

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin
Meyers: The immigrant experience. The American dream. The promise of prosperity, of health and of joy. Believing we are more than stardust, more than motes in God’s eye. Will Eisner’s A Contract with God, in its simplicity, peels back the layers of what it means to be human, how we perceive each other and how we foolishly think we can negotiate our existence with the infinite. The story is more than a man who thinks he can strike a deal with God, it’s about how we as humans strive to find meaning and understanding in the randomness of life, that there must be a reason for all this and to mold order out of chaos.
Elkin: Order out of chaos, indeed, Meyers. That's the very purpose of faith, isn't it? Faith is the eternal optimism, the hope we swaddle ourselves in, tight, against the seemingly meaningless horrors and disappointments that we encounter on a daily basis. We imbue our rational nature with the sense that there must be a REASON behind the knives that buffet our eyes and tear at our soul.
But it's a fool's game. We are either never privy to the workings of the infinite, or just deluding ourselves to purpose.
Eisner's Contract with God, is, at its very essence, that story. It is a tale of the trials of faith in a brutal world, what happens when we abandon faith and try to get it back, the futility of associating how we live our lives to the rewards we garner and the defeats we suffer. A Contract with God is cynical in this regard, and, in its cynicism, tells the larger story of human endeavor.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Convenient Truths -- INSIDE DEEP THROAT


This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin
Sometimes the most universal truths can be found in the smallest slices of life. That’s what makes independent documentaries so powerful, engaging, and entertaining. Not only do they show you little worlds to which you’ve never had access, but they oftentimes also tell the larger story of what it means to be human. Armed with this intellectual conceit, a bag of Funyuns, and a couple of Miller beers, Daniel Elkin curls up in front of the TV and delves deep into the bowels of Netflix Streaming Documentaries to find out a little bit more about all of us.
Today he and his friend Jason Sacks found 2005's Inside Deep Throat directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato.
Elkin: OK, Sacks, how's this for a tagline for a movie: “It was filmed in 6 days for 25 thousand dollars. The government didn't want you to see it. It was banned in 23 states. It has grossed over 600 million dollars. And it is the most profitable film in motion picture history”? Wow. Would you believe that the film being reference here is a flick about a woman whose clitoris is found deep in the back of her throat and the only way she can achieve orgasm is by engaging in cunnilingus? Only in America.
Inside Deep Throat is an amazing documentary that covers the story of one of the best-known sex films in the world, Deep Throat. It provides everything you could want in a documentary about this subject: interviews with the stars and creators, a historical perspective, behind the scenes footage, an examination of the critical and societal reaction it caused, an exploration of myths and legends surrounding the film, and an update as to what has happened to the principle players since it was released. It's a complete package, one you can really wrap your lips around to get every ounce of information.
As much as this is a story about the film Deep Throat, it is also an examination of American culture, specifically the American culture of the 1970's, the one still reeling from Watergate and the dissolution of the hippie flower power dreams. It is a tale of a culture clash, one that still rages today, as much as it is a perlustration of what constitutes art as opposed to pornography.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Review -- The Trails and Tribulations of Miss Tilney

This review originally ran on Comics Bulletin
The Trials and Tribulations of Miss Tilney
(David Doub, Sarah Elkins, Danielle Alexis St. Pierre, Joamette Gil; Dusk)

David Doub's The Trials and Tribulations of Miss Tilney is, besides being a mouthful of alliteration, solicited as a modern day "penny dreadful." In the 19th century, a penny dreadful was a serialized salacious publication full of lurid scenes and titillating whatnots and hobnobs. So, needless to say, as a fan of things lurid and titillating, I was all on board for what this book had to offer. Unfortunately, I found little lurid and nothing titillating about Miss Tilney's trials and tribulations.
What I did find was a barely entertaining story about a plucky young reporter who, given her first big break in the business, finds herself enmeshed in a prison break, tales of black magic, and the wrong end of a big white tiger.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Review -- MIXTAPE #2

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin.
Ardden Entertainment will be releasing Mixtape #2 by Brad Abraham and Jok. Our middle-aged Wonder Boys, Jason Sacks and Daniel Elkin, cue up the album, dust off their VHS, and fire up their memories of the late 1980s and delve into this retro, music-filled, black and white, small press release.

Jason SacksSo we're both old enough to remember when it was tough to be the kid who's into the cool music. It was hard to keep up with everything, and, if you were the trendsetter, you were one of the coolest kids in school. In Mixtape #2 Lorelei Cross has that moment of cool -- for a tantalizingly brief moment.
Daniel ElkinIndeed she does. In this issue, Lorelei's less than cushy internship at WRVR 103 (The Sound of the Coast) -- a station which, when we first hear it in the book, is playing Bel Biv Devoe for god's sake -- turns into a goldmine of opportunity due to access to the best music ever recorded ever by anybody -- and you can't tell me any differently!
JasonI love how Lorelei finds a secret cave full of great music at the station, and it's like an archeologist opening King Tut's tomb in a way... she finds all kinds of treasures.
DanielAnd they are those special treasures, too, the ones that, once unearthed, make you king even if it's only for a little while, because once you got them, everyone who doesn't, they want you to give them a taste. 
Unless they don't. And if they don't, then they are just a bunch of Bel Biv Devoetees anyway and are obviously just lesser folk. As Lorelei says, "Do I want the Debbies and Tiffanys at school to be into the Replacements?"

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Convenient Truths -- STONES IN EXILE

This column originally ran on Comics Bulletin
Sometimes the most universal truths can be found in the smallest slices of life. That’s what makes independent documentaries so powerful, engaging and entertaining. Not only do they show you little worlds to which you’ve never had access, but they oftentimes also tell the larger story of what it means to be human. Armed with this intellectual conceit, a bag of Funyuns, and a couple of Miller beers, Daniel Elkin curls up in front of the TV and delves deep into the bowels of Netflix Streaming Documentaries to find out a little bit more about all of us.
Today he and his friends Jason Sacks and Keith Silva found 2010's Stones in Exile, directed by Stephen Kijak.
SacksThe Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street may be the greatest rock album of the 1970's. Hell, it may be one of the greatest rock albums ever recorded with its intensely dark, endlessly moving, incredibly powerful, fantastically wonderful songs that seem to be completely saturated in an amazing mix of drugged-out intensity, brilliant creativity, an improvisational brightness and a spectacular celebration of the history of rock and roll.
If there ever was an album that really made the legend of the Rolling Stones come to life, it's this breathtaking album. The bad boys of rock and roll took the ignominious insult of tax exile, wandered to France, holed up in the basement of a house that Keith Richards rented and created a druggy, brilliant wall of murky intensity.
Naturally anyone like me who loves this album wants to learn about it. How could we not? Exile is an album rich in mystery, in curiosity, in legend and a feeling of lost early '70s decadence. Thankfully there's a documentary called Stones in Exile that tells the story of this legendary album.
Stones in Exile does a wonderful job of telling the story of this album. The director gets all of the Stones to tell the story of the making of the album, but the most interesting stories come from the likes of Anita Pallenberg (Keith Richard's wife), producer Jimmy Miller, the hilarious saxophonist Jimmy Keys and even some of the kids who hung out while the album was made. In this fast-moving, thoroughly entertaining hour, the story of this album, filled with the "Stones against the world, fuck you attitude" that Richards really embraced.
Keith and Daniel, did you think this documentary was a worthy tribute to a brilliant album or could nothing catch the original's brilliance?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review -- ABLATIO PENIS

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

Ablatio Penis
(Will Dinski)
2D  Cloud

Minnesota based publishing house 2D Cloud is starting to corner the Midwest market on interesting comics and their latest release, Ablatio Penis, continues this march.  Written and illustrated by Isotope Award winner Will Dinski, this book uses the political arena to comment on matters of the heart and ultimately asks the question: if a politician has no penis, can he still fuck us?
Ablatio Penis is about Andre’ St. Louis, who, having secured the Republican nomination, is running for Governor. St. Louis is an affable sort who seems honest (to a fault) and is either really concerned about the plight of his constituents or is expertly superficial and devoid of any true empathy. Either way, he comes across as the ultimate political construct (a Mitt Romney without the robotic limitations). Dinski characterizes his main character as everything that could be good about politicians, yet he’s thick with the stink of why they are not.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Review -- PRINCE OF CATS

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

 "Trying to find the perfect match between pretentious and pop" - Los Campesinos!, "It Started with a Mixx"
Keith SilvaTruth and power reside in the mixtape. Ron Wimberly knows this to be true and he doesn't hide his affection. The "Forward" to Prince of Cats rests between two double-helixes of unspooled cassette tape, Wimberly says: "I'll be cutting the B-sides of Romeo and Juliet from Shakespeare's greatest hits with a hot little piece of wax called 'Gratuitous Ninja." Love it. Mixtapes have long been romanticized by rockers and likewise by Poindexters, the latter going so far as to call the mixtape "the most widely practiced American art form." I know nothing of DJ culture. Neither would I "front" and claim a familiarity with 1980's NYC youth culture, then again, I've never been to the Pyramids at Giza either, yet the learned tell me that they are there.


Wimberly was born in 1979, in Washington DC, so who's he to tell me what Brooklyn was like in 1987? I suppose he's no different than William Shakespeare. What, you think a sometimes actor, a playwright and a glover's son ever visited Verona? Verily. Not a chance coz. Yet, we have Romeo and Juliet and Prince of Cats. Fiction knows no bounds, that's why it's called it fiction and not fact. Fiction is a mix tape with words instead of music. As for comic books, well, few mediums are more mélange-y than the anything goes aesthetic of a comic book. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review - COMMANDER X ALL-STAR SPECIAL #1

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

Commander X All-Star Special #1
(Jay Piscopo)
Nemo Publishing
Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a total sucker for Jay Piscopo's comics. When I stumbled across Piscopo's Sea Ghost last August, I fell in love, love, love! Now I've got my hands on Commander X All-Star Special #1 and I am contemplating a ménage a trois. This book is a collection of three short adventure stories featuring the wonderful character Commander X and is about as sexy as comics can get.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Poets You Should Know -- SHARON OLDS

SHARON OLDS
Every once in awhile you stumble across a poem that reaches inside of you into places you didn't know your body contained. Sharon Olds has written poems that do just that. This fact serves as brown paper bag with which we should wrap our sweating 40 ounce bottle that contains our soul.
  • She is the author of numerous works including Satan Says (1980), The Dead and the Living (1984), and The Father (1993). 
  • She teaches creative writing at New York University.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Review -- I KILL GIANTS

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin


WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Aaron Meyers: Parents take a sacred vow when they have children. It's an unspoken pact: "I will keep you safe from harm, and let you grow into the adult you are meant to be so you can do the same for your children." Parents keep the evils of the world at bay the best they can, protect their home, their family and their children's innocence until the world can no longer be kept at bay. Parents kill giants, but sometimes the giants win. 
What happens then? Imagination and fear make the evils of the world unconquerable. Giants everywhere threaten to destroy everything and only the brave survive. Or do they?  The book shows us that sometimes the only way to win is to give up and accept not all battles can be won. What Joe Kelly and J. M. Ken Niimura tell us that with this story are that not all wars can be won, and by fighting them we lose more of ourselves than we can fathom.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Convenient Truths -- PAUL GOODMAN CHANGED MY LIFE

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin
Sometimes the most universal truths can be found in the smallest slices of life. That’s what makes independent documentaries so powerful, engaging, and entertaining. Not only do they show you little worlds to which you’ve never had access, but they oftentimes also tell the larger story of what it means to be human. Armed with this intellectual conceit, a bag of Funyuns, and a couple of Miller beers, Daniel Elkin curls up in front of the TV and delves deep into the bowels of Netflix Streaming Documentaries to find out a little bit more about all of us.
Today he and his friend Jason Sacks found 2011's Paul Goodman Changed My Life, directed by Jonathan Lee.
SacksPaul Goodman was a complicated man. He was a pacifist and an anarchist; he was a devoted father and partner to a woman; he was also a man who would cruise the streets looking for love. Goodman was an influential essayist, novelist and poet, as well as a media gadfly who relentlessly fought for attention in a world where there were only seven TV channels. Goodman even became a leader in the gestalt philosophy movement, perhaps as a way of exploring his own psychological complexities. Most of all, Paul Goodman was a philosopher and theorist, a man who loved nothing more than exploring and debating his ideas with people that he respected.
Goodman is an ideal choice for a documentary because his life is so complex. There is much to say about the man and so much of his life defies easy analysis. I honestly felt a curious mix while watching this movie; alternatively attracted and repelled by this man of ideas. He's intensely self-involved and arrogant, filled with, sometimes, overweening confidence in his frequently offbeat ideas. But he's also brilliant and insightful and deeply caring about the ideas that are important to him.
Goodwin was a man of the type that we just don't see in public life these days. This documentary proves that our public conversations have become constrained and smaller than they used to be that the realm of discourse has become much more circumscribed than it once was. Where are the men of broad vision in our world of 24-hour news cycles filled with loudmouth bloviators? In this Presidential year, we need more men like Goodman who can see beyond their narrow-minded agendas.
I enjoyed the straight-ahead, rather rambling feel of this documentary. It's filled with reminiscences about the man from his friends and kids, along with plenty of scenes of the man talking himself. In his forever-tousled style, Goodman seems the epitome of the rumpled and eccentric college professor type, a man more preoccupied by the world inside his mind than the way the outside world perceives him.
Elkin, what did you think somewhat conventional documentary about a very unusual man?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Review -- DOCTOR MUSCLES: JOURNAL ONE


This review originally ran on Comics Bulletin
Doctor Muscles: Journal One
(Austin Tinius, Robert Salinas, Andrew Whyte, Ilaria Bramato, Stefano Cardoselli, Antonio Brandao, Cecilia Latella)
Bogus Publishing

Every once in a while you come across a book that is so bug-fuck crazy that it fills the rest of your week with pure, unabashed, goofy, knee-twitching glee. Doctor Muscles: Journal One is one of those books. Reading Doctor Muscles is a wild ride: lurching suddenly, hurtling through ambiguity, dropping dangerously into gibberish then soaring into straightforward nutzo. It's fantastic fun and works in a cleansing way to undermine all your pretense and snootery.
What Austin Tinius and Robert Salinas have crafted in Doctor Muscles is a box filled with all of those old adventure stories you read as a kid, wrapped brightly in every single issue of Heavy Metal Magazine ever published.  The story revolves around "the smartest man in Philadelphia, Dr. Arthur E. Muscles" who, through some totally random, completely impossible "science event" is rocketed into another dimension that may not be another dimension at all, but rather Hell. Or maybe it is another dimension's Hell? Or maybe it is none of these things at all, but just another planet? Who knows? Whatever! It doesn't matter because no matter where Dr. Muscles ends up, it's all AWESOME!