Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review -- MASSIVE AWESOME VOLUME 1

Massive Awesome Vol. 1

(Stephen Lindsay /Rolf Lejdegard / James Boulton)
3.5 stars
I enjoy reading comics that call into question the nature of human existence or that question our inability to connect with each other on more than a superficial level. I am drawn to comics that ponder big questions or examine the minutia of daily life in order to embrace larger themes. I like my comics heavy, resonant, meaningful.
But sometimes....
Sometimes I find myself enjoying the heck out of book like Massive Awesome Volume 1.
Massive Awesome
In his introduction to this book, Stephen Lindsay writes, “Writing about a 6 foot tall talking Commando piece of Bacon and a 6 foot tall talking pickle who thinks he's a zombie is very freeing.” Truer words may never have been spoken by a sober man. One could only imagine the possibilities inherent in such freedom.
Imagine no more. When you create a world in which nobody thinks a bacon ninja or a zombie pickle or a gangster with TOASTERS FOR HANDS are out of ordinary, you can do just about anything you want in your story. I mean, just read this solicitation:

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Review -- Invincible #106

Invincible #106

(Robert Kirkman / Ryan Ottley / Cliff Rathburn / John Rauch / Rus Wooten; Image Comics/Skybound)
4 stars
Back when I still read superhero comics, Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley's Invincible was a monthly staple. It was a series that both myself and my son could read and enjoy together. Time passed as it is wont to do and as my son grew older and my taste for superhero comics soured, we both left the Invincible world, seeking our own greener pastures.
Invincible #106
So it was an interesting opportunity to get to review Invincible #106 and check in with my former self.
Hello there old-timey Elkin, your hair looks fantastic.
That's right, reading this issue kinda made me miss old-timey Elkin, much like a conservative Republican misses Andy Griffith. The source of my rose-colored nostalgia can be summed up in two alliterative words:
BATTLE BEAST!
Oh yea.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Review -- James Kochalka's SUNBURN

Sunburn

(James Kochalka)
4 stars
When I say the name James Kochalka, many of you may think of his books American Elf or SuperFuckers or even his essay on the importance of simplicity in comics, “Craft is the Enemy” – but I want to tell you about a little book he published in September of 2000 through Alternative Comics: Sunburn.
James Kochalka's Sunburn
Sunburn is a different type of Kochalka comic. Described by Alternative Comics as a “Casual philosophy-adventure that delights the eye,” this 28 page black and white rumination on the purpose of existence, examination of the mind/body duality, and dissertation on the expansiveness of static living feels meaningful, personal, and true.
In Sunburn, Kochalka fills his four panel pages with aspect to aspect and non-sequitur transitions, punctuated by highly detailed and intricate splash pages of every-day objects, to create a rhythm and flow to what otherwise would be a narrative told in expositional text boxes. Through his realistic drawing and perspective choices, Kochalka takes his thick and dark thoughts and infuses them with a light sensibility, allowing his eventual pay-off to flow naturally from its murky source.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Review -- Tim Gibson's MOTH CITY #5

Moth City #5

(Tim Gibson)
4 stars
It's been awhile since I last checked in on the goings-on in Tim Gibson's Moth City, and in the interim, all hell's broken loose.
DAMN.
What started out as political intrigue has blossomed into out-and-out horror. Gibson's got all his guns blazing in issue five, leaping over the half-way mark in this eight-issue series, and he's firing every bullet in this “guided view” digital format with deadly accuracy. Herein, as one of the main characters says, is “A city that appears to be eating itself alive, and an impatient Major with too much warship and too little time.” But that's only half of it.
Moth City
This series is covering itself with gore while strapping on big themes and asking the bigger questions. What happens to small players in games organized by the larger order? What is the difference between brutality and savagery? What are the obligations of family? What are the obligations of government? What are the consequences of self-absorbency? Who is a hero? Who is a monster? What would you do? What would YOU DO?
And Gibson's providing no easy answers as his questions get harder and more complex. Moth City is that kind of series. Its narrative drops click by click, Gibson's art continues to draw you in wholly, and you can't possibly predict how this thing is going to end.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

SCHLOCK AND AWE -- KAREN BLACK

As Part of the Inaugural SCHLOCK AND AWE column on Comics Bulletin, Paul Brian McCoy asked a few of us writers if we could whip up something about the recently departed Karen Black.

This is what I wrote:

They say the eyes are the window to the soul. She's got Bettie Davis Eyes? The Eyes of Laura Mars? Screw that. Give me the eyes of Karen Black, for within those light green, slightly askew peepers rests all of our salvation. What Karen Black saw was a way out of our troubles. What Karen Black saw was our sin's forgiveness.
In October of 1974, I had what some may call a spiritual awakening. It happened in a dark theater in Dallas, Texas. I was seven years old.
Nixon had only just resigned as President of the United States. As a country, our wounds were deep and, like so many other pre-teens of my generation, I was rudderless, unabashed, and looking to fill my brain with as much plastic jelly they could give me to shove in there. Left to my own devices, I would have sat quietly in the living room, staring at the television sucking deep from the goodness that was Land of the LostShazam!, and Hong Kong Phooey, but my parents insisted that we go to the movies.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Review -- John Byrne's TRIPLE HELIX #1

Triple Helix #1

(John Byrne / Leonard O'Grady / Robbie Robbins; IDW)
3.5 stars
Okay, time for a “nerd confession” (sorry Meyers and Shockling, I should have called this in to Comics Therapy), but I would not be reading or reviewing comics at all if it were not for John Byrne, and I'm sure I'm not alone on this one.
Triple Helix #1
When I was growing up, I liked comics well enough, but they were just distractions, fluff, tools to add to the epic stories I was already creating in my imagination. It wasn't until 1979 and, somehow, The Uncanny X-Men #125 “There's Something Awful on Muir Island”  dropped into my lap that all that changed. Suddenly comics mattered; Claremont and Byrne brought me a story with which I connected. I was engaged in what I was reading – the characters, the mythos, the pathos, the confusion, the excitement, the adventure – all of this coalesced into a desire to know more because for some reason I saw a part of myself in the story and the story-telling. It wasn't just Claremont's words at work here either, something about Byrne's art made all the difference. His character design, his panel layouts, the very humanness of the emotions he captured – damnit, I was hooked.
And thus, I became the man I am today.
Time has passed and my tastes in entertainment have changed. My appreciation for comics have evolved as well. Nowadays superhero comics don't hold the pull for me they once did, but when the opportunity came to review Byrne's new book from IDW, Triple Helix #1, the nostalgic draw overwhelmed my nascent comics snobbery and I leapt at the chance to check it out.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Convenient Truths: Super-Heroes: A Never-Ending Battle

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 2013's Super-Heroes: A Never-Ending Battle, directed by Michael Kantor
Jason Sacks: Elkin, over the last few columns, we've had the chance to watch a whole series of really good documentaries. We've viewed films that shed new light on the creative process, that illuminate our experiences as members of our society, and that help to demonstrate why we are fans of the things that we love.
Super-Heroes: A Never-Ending Battle, a three-part doc that will premiere on PBS on October 15th, offers almost nothing new for any of us who are longtime comics fans. It's a conformist recitation of conventional wisdom and standard facts, punctuated by commentary by industry luminaries and scenes from film and TV adaptations of favorite characters. For anyone who knows a lot about the history of the comic book medium, there's nothing new shown on the screen: Michael Kantor brings no new revelations, no fresh insights and no explorations that go off of the well-trod path.
Kantor shows us the birth of Superman at the hands of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, but those specifics rush past without any real insight or cleverness. We watch how Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created Captain America and hear again how soldiers in World War II loved comic books. We're told again about Fredric Wertham's anti-comic witchhunt– amusingly punctuated by comments by Phil Jimenez, a gay cartoonist, about the absurdity of Wertham's claim that Batman and Robin were gay – all the way up to the story of the Death of Superman in the 1990s and to comics' reaction to the 9/11 attacks.
We get a few moments in this doc that are interesting: the vintage films of Superman's popularity are exciting; Jimenez looks like he's about to start laughing as he contemplates Wertham's attacks; it's wonderful – albeit spooky – to see deceased creators such as Joe Simon, Joe Kubert, Jerry Robinson, Carmine Infantino and Jack Kirby, among others, talking in this film.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ray Charles on Singing True

"If somebody don't like something that I do, that's his or her prerogative. Just like it's mine." - Ray Charles Interview by Joe Smith June 3, 1987. Cassette Tape Recorded during the writing of Off the Record Hear the full interview catalog at The Library of Congress

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Interview -- Matt O'Keefe on DEADLESS: Four immortals determined to die

This is the story of four fools who forfeited their mortalities to a trickster and now must do its bidding to reclaim the right to die. So reads the solicitation for Matt O'Keefe's Deadless, a great creator-ownded comic I had the pleasure of reviewing some time ago. Deadless has been finally found a home at Alterna Comics and is scheduled for release on October 9th, so I took this opportunity to contact Matt and talk a little about the book, the process of getting it published, marketing a creator owned title, and what readers can expect from him and the series.

Daniel Elkin for Comics Bulletin: First off, congratulations on getting Deadless published. Before we get into that adventure, give us a little rundown on the concept behind Deadless and how you came up with it.
Matt O'Keefe
Matt O'Keefe: Thanks! A quick synopsis is that it’s about four immortals determined to die. They’re not all at that point by the end of Deadless #0, but they’ll get there. It starts out with a very defeatist tone, which probably came from my own life. I wrote this in college, when my mental health went way downhill. I felt stuck in my depression for a long time, and with Deadless I guess I subconsciously brought that experience to a supernatural scale.
CB: I guess you can say, then, that writing about a devil helped you purge some of your inner demons?  Could you comment at all about how the creative process helped restore some balance to your life and how the act of writing can be a healing exercise?
O'Keefe: The worst thing you can do when you’re depressed, in my experience, is laze around. Writing and especially developing Deadless kept me busy, giving me less time to mope. Plus I could remind myself that, as bad as I thought I had it, my characters have it so much worse.
CB: Yeah, you really put them through the wringer. So, I understand that creating Deadless as it appears today was a true labor of love. What was the process you had to go through to get this book together?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Combined Review: MARCH and NAT TURNER are a fascinating contrast to each other despite similar subject matter

Taylor Lilley: Well Elkin, if we’re going to do this I owe you the true genesis of this article. I picked up March: Book Onebecause of Nate Powell and shame. For someone as enamoured of comics as I, the opportunity to drink in some Powell and plug gaps in my Civil Rights Movement knowledge was too good to miss. Learning with a side of beauty, if you will. Around a week later I found myself in a small English town, in the only comic store for many miles around, eyeing a copy of Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner. If you’ve ever been to Bedford, you’ll know how crazy unlikely that seemed.
I was impressed by the contrast between the two book’s varieties of monochrome, and wondered whether their visual disparity reflected anything more than the artists’ inclinations. I wondered at the contrast between Nat Turner’s rear cover list of comics industry plaudits and March’s New York Times bestseller status. I couldn’t stop noodling, so I read both books over, and started listing contrasts.
Nat Turner came out in a collected, mass market friendly edition only a few years pre-Obama. March is launched in the first year of Obama’s second term. Where Nat Turner tells of a small, violent uprising against slavery’s greater brutality, its sparse narration “quoted” from the uprising’s leader, March is one man’s memoir of his part in a larger, peaceful movement. One is generally impassioned in tone, visually expressive almost to a fault, the other more measured, elegantly arranged around a through-line of resolve. One garnered Glyphs and Eisners, the other instant NYT bestseller status.
Before long, I reached the obvious conclusion. A largely silent comic culminating in infanticide will never beat a tale of idealism and non-violent struggle to the NYT’s #1 spot. March is easier to swallow, less painful to grapple with as lived experience than the rending of the Nat Turner story. Fine. So then my next question is, does March render Nat Turner obsolete?
March
Has history reached a remove from Turner’s rebellion that degrades its instructional value? Is John Lewis’s experience, faith-tempered but rationally directed, more useful than Nat Turner’s superhuman determinism? I don’t believe so. Nor do I believe that graphic works of the Civil Rights Movement should be bound to depict bloodshed and visceral excesses of inhumanity.
Short of a comprehensive Civil Rights Movement graphic novel reading list, where do we place these works in relation to each other for the comics reader, rather than the historian?
Elkin? Did I lose you?
Daniel Elkin: I was lost, but now I'm found. Having found my way, though, I'm not sure if we are in the same space, Lilley.
I see March and Nat Turner as a proton and an electron circling the same nucleus. While ostensibly about the same general theme of overcoming racial oppression, they are opposites in execution.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Review -- Melissa Pagluica's ABOVE THE CLOUDS CHAPTER 1

Above the Clouds Chapter 1

(Melissa Pagluica)
4 stars
It's always nice to unexpectedly stumble across something beautiful. I mean, there you are. You slug through your grind getting slathered in the detritus of missed opportunities, dreams deferred, and failed expectations, weighted down, weighted down, and then, out of nowhere, hovering in your peripheral vision, there's something that re-establishes your faith that the universe can actually be a basically positive entity because something of beauty can push through the cracks and bloom.
Something like this happened to me a couple of weekends ago at this thing called Super Sac-Con (I know, right) in Sacramento, CA. I had made the journey there to see Howard Chaykin and Bill Sienkiewicz, then I wandered into the "Small Press Zone" and accidentally found Melissa Pagluica selling her gorgeous comic Above the Clouds.
Which is truly a thing of beauty.
And, from what I can gather, is her first comic book.
Damn.
Above the Clouds
On her website, Pagluica says that Above the Clouds is "a project aimed at learning how to make a comic." From what I've seen, if this is what she considers the learning stage, I can't wait to read the books she creates after mastering the form.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Review -- THE OTHER DEAD #1

The Other Dead #1

(Joshua Ortega / Digger T. Mesch / Qing Ping Mui / Blond / Tom B. Long; IDW)
4 stars
Okay humans, imagine a world in which every other sentiment thing on the planet, from the giant grizzly on the mountain to the cute, fluffy bunny at the petting zoo, all wanted to eat your flesh. What if the threat of the zombie apocalypse came not from the hands of our fellow citizens, but from the jaws of our household pets. If “every tier of the animal kingdom, from cats, dogs, and mice to lions, tigers, and bears, are transformed into super-strong, turbo-fast, bloodthirsty zombies, how will mankind survive? When a vicious attack can come at any moment from a fluffy tabby, a sleepy hound dog, or a ten-point buck, how can you stay safe?
The Other Dead #1
This is the concept behind IDW's newest series, The Other Dead, and, if you ask me, that's one serious hook. I mean, have you been outside lately? Have you seen all the things crawling around out there? Now try to imagine all those things trying to kill you. Geez. Hard-core.
Just when I thought this whole zombie thing had been done to death (pun intended), here's a group of guys who have taken the concept to its ultimate nightmarish conclusion. Even a shotgun totin' Dick Cheny isn't safe in this world (seriously).

Monday, October 7, 2013

Review -- Elijah Brubaker's JEZEBEL

Jezebel

(Elijah Brubaker)
3.5 stars
Continuing our love affair with the great work put up by Study Group Comic Books, I submit for your enjoyment Jezebelby Elijah Brubaker. This comic is a retelling of the Biblical story of Jezebel, Ahab, and Elijah and all the hijinks inherent within – it puts the “ho ho ho” back in “holy” as it were, and I have no shame whatsoever for writing that.
Jezebel
For those of you less Biblically oriented, the story of Jezebel goes something along the lines of: Jezebel, once she married King Ahab, got him to go anti-Yahweh and go pro-Baal. This, of course, runs counter to that whole “You shall have no other gods before me” commandment.  God comes to the prophet Elijah and tells Elijah to set up some good old-style smiting and stuff and, from there, the comedy erupts.
Comedy?
Elijah Brubaker has taken this tale of heresy, drought, and slaughter and made it pretty damn funny. He recasts everyone as either insane, petty, stupid, or clueless and, by doing so, turns a horrific story into some jocular comic-making. And he may be going to hell for it.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Convenient Truths -- RUDE DUDE

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 2013's Rude Dude directed by Ian Fischer.
Jason Sacks: At SDCC this year, I was interviewing Tim Bradstreet – a super-nice and smart guy, by the way – when a friend of Tim's walked over to his booth and handed Tim a DVD. "Here's that documentary of Steve Rude. He's crazy," the friend said. The two buddies chatted for a minute and then Tim and I went back to our interview, shaking our heads and happy that we weren't complicated, difficult people to work with.
Rude Dude is the portrait of a brilliant artist who has bipolar disorder. It doesn't skimp in presenting Steve Rude's mental illness or attempt to show the artist in a manner that minimizes his strange behavior; instead, this film ended up for me being a deeply moving sketch of a deeply thrilling man, a documentary that was surprisingly honest in how it shows the effects that his sickness has had on his family and his ever-dwindling set of friends.
Rude Dude
Back when Rude and writer Mike Baron created Nexus, at the dawn of the direct sales comics movement in 1981, it seemed Rude was poised to be the metaphorical Next Big Thing. Possessed of an incredible artistic talent – partially influenced by the great Russ Manning, partially influenced by great illustrators from the early parts of the 20th century – Steve Rude's thrilling art style seemed a bolt of lightning, a revelation for any comic fan used to the grittier style that then was popular in comics.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Review -- HABIT #1

Habit #1

(Josh Simmons with Wendy Chin, Karn Piana, and The Partridge in the Pear Tree)
Habit #1 is a showcase for the talents of Josh Simmons as an artist and storyteller. Within its pages are five stories that will bend your brain with confusion, amusement, repulsion, pathos, and glee. What they all have in common, other than the hands of Simmons smacking everything about, is that all these stories will push you out of your comfort zone and make you re-examine all your preconceptions about narrative, entertainment, and comics.
Habit #1
This collection opens with Simmons writing and drawing (and inking thickly and darkly) a story titled "Seaside Home". This eleven-page tale starts off as a subtle exploration of the dysfunctions inherent in a particular family. It then quickly shifts gears, taking a dark, unexpected turn towards complete devastation and despair. As the family's relationship problems manifest themselves in the very environment they inhabit, the reader can only bear witness to the horror and stare gaping at the reality of Simmons' denouement. It's a hard opening and sets the tone for the rest of the collection that follows. "Seaside Home" is no bedtime story, that's for sure, but it prepares us by unsettling us, taking us into a place where we can no longer trust our prior knowledge of how stories are constructed and drowning whatever expectations we have of traditional narrative in a wave of the unexpected.