Steve's pick for the first day of August is--
Spider-man Loves Mary Jane by Sean McKeever and Takeshi Miyazawa.
Sean McKeever knows his teen angst, as he first came to critical acclaim with his indie series The Waiting Place, about teens in a small
And bring it to life he did. McKeever plays fast and loose with continuity of course, but who cares? This isn't really a book about Spider-man anyway. It's a book about high school romance, heartbreak, hanging with your best friends, your first job, going to the school dance... and it captures all of the emotions of the high school experience without being cliche or trying too hard to be hip. In other words, it out-Ultimates Ultimate Spiderman, if you can believe that.
Of course McKeever has it easy when he's partnered with a tremendous talent like Takeshi Miyazawa. Don't let the name fool you; he's Canadian. But don't let the country of his birth fool you; he does better manga-style art than anyone around. Tak breathes such life into these characters that it's hard to imagine them drawn by anyone else (a fact illustrated by the recent two-part flashback story, which didn't have the same energy as Tak's work). Unfortunately Tak has decided to leave the book next year, I think around issue 15, and he will be sorely missed.
Yes, I'm quite far outside of the target audience for this book, being neither a teenager nor a girl. But I think adults could easily relate to the situations Mary Jane and her friends Harry, Flash, Liz and even Pete go through, because we've all been there. And despite the protagonist of the book being female, the things Mary Jane deals with are so universal that anyone, male or female, can relate.
There are currently two digests available, collecting the four issues of the first series Mary Jane and the four issue miniseries Mary Jane: Homecoming which completed the first story arc.
they're brilliant too, but you honestly don't need to have read them to enjoy the current ongoing series. You can pick up Spider-man Loves Mary Jane #1 and run with the book from there. And if you have any joy in your heart, you will surely love what you read.
Steve's pick for the second day of August is--
The Clouds Above by
Jordan Crane is one of the most diverse creators working in American comics. His new series from Fantagraphics, Uptight, is an anthology series not unlike Eightball or Optic Nerve, in which Crane is including short stories and the serialized version of his new graphic novel Keeping Two.
Meanwhile he was nominated for an Eisner award this year for best publication for a younger audience with his newest book The Clouds Above. And while he lost out in that award to Owly, I can guarantee you that this will not be Jordan Crane's only nomination, for his career is on the cusp of explosion.
The Clouds Above's Eisner nomination was one that was incredibly deserved, for I could see the book easily becoming a children's book masterpiece, taking its place on the shelf besides such works as Where the Wild Things Are. In fact, The Clouds Above seems to owe much inspiration to Sendak's work, as the plot similarly features a young boy who escapes his ordinary world into a fantasy land filled with creatures beyond his imagination.
Essentially a picture book rather than a comic, the book still captures the whimsy of childhood yet has a lot that adults could love. The fantasy art is beautiful and even though the story is a bit thin and random, it fits the surreal nature of the tale. the pure wonder in this tale is dreamlike, and the art is truly breathtaking. These scans I'm posting just don't do it justice.
One quick flip through this book in your local Borders or Barnes and Noble will win you over. This book is perfect for those with children or those who still like to let their own inner children out every once in a while.
Steve's pick for the third day of August--
Jonah Hex by Gray/Palmiotti
Steve's pick for the third day of August--
Jonah Hex by Gray/Palmiotti
I've long been a fan of Gray and Palmiotti's work. I loved 21 Down. I enjoyed Monolith a great deal. I even like The Twilight Experiment. So when word got out that they had been handed the reins to Jonah Hex, I knew I was going to be hooked from the first issue.
Arguably the most famous comic book western character, Jonah Hex is your typical antihero. He's rough around the edges. He's certainly not the prettiest guy you'll ever meet. But he does have a very clear moral code that he lives by, and that makes him admirable despite his flaws.
But perhaps the main reason I love this book is because it does everything that comics aren't doing but should be in order to be accessible to wider audiences (widely recognized and well-liked genre, single issue stories that make it easy for people to follow the book). In short, I love it because it is so different from everything else DC is publishing now, yet it is still a mainstream DC book. It's not Vertigo or Wildstorm; it's DC. And I feel it shows DC's commitment to telling good stories no matter if they involve guys in tights or not.
like its main character, this book itself has its flaws. The art, while great, can sometimes seem a bit grotesque to my eye and the stories aren't exactly going to be winning any prizes for originality anytime soon. but for the most part the art is passable and the stories work, giving the book a certain charm that makes you love it, not in spite of but because of its flaws.
Day four of August found me at the convention in
I met Ricketts at my first convention when I bought his book Nowheresville from him and then promptly left it at his table. Luckily when I realized my mistake and went back, the book was still there; otherwise, my comic collecting career ever since would be very different.
I've run into Mark at every
Boy oh boy was I wrong. Night Trippers is easily the best work of Mark Ricketts' career. It's about vampires in '60s
And the art?
I told Mark on Saturday (after getting back to my hotel room Friday evening, intending to read the first page or two and devouring the book in one sitting) that it was the best thing he'd ever done by far, and that he should grab hold of Micah with both hands and not let go. And Mark told me a secret called The Dead Girl's Promise is in the works already.
And I am pumped!
here's a 22-page preview from Newsarama:
Check it out and I guarantee you'll enjoy it. It really surprised me how much I liked it.
Day five of August was the Saturday of Chicago Con where I bought I Am Going to Be Small by Jeffrey Brown.
Jeffrey Brown is mostly known for his autobio relationship books: Clumsy, Unlikely, Any Easy Intimacy, and Every Girl is the End of the World for Me.
The mirror he turns on himself is disturbingly accurate, as he tells of his heartbreaks with a shocking amount of brutally honest, emotions-on-sleeves candor.
It's a tone that fits right in line with the music of Death Cab for Cutie, so it's no surprise that he recently directed the video for "Your Heart is an Empty Room" for Directions.
He has definitely earned the label of "emo" with his work and it could even get to the point of grating on your nerves a bit...
if he didn't have such a sense of humor too.
This book, Be a Man, is a satire of Clumsy, demonstrating what could have happened in that book had he not been such a wimp. and it's hilarious.
And his new book, I Am Going to Be Small, is a collection full of this same self-effacing humor as well as very brief, Far Side-esque gags... like the panels entitled "50 Million Elvis Fans Scientifically Proven Wrong" or "Skeptic Tank".
Two very different tones, and he does them both so well. His books are dirt cheap too, so you really have no excuse not to read them.
The last day of the convention, day 6 of August, found me buying two books from DCBS that I'd been looking forward to checking out for a while: Paul Chadwick's Concrete volumes 3 and 4, Fragile Creature and Killer Smile.
I just recently got into Concrete when I picked up volume one, Depths, after Christmas. The day after I finished it, I went out and bought volume two, Heights, because I had fallen in love, and it was only a lack of funds that kept me from reading further.
Concrete has a reputation for being one of the great indie stories, something fun yet literate that existed outside of the DC/Marvel mainstream. And it deserves that reputation as one of the greats, helping shape comics into what they are today by paving the way by proving in the 80s that excellent stories could be told outside of the big two.
I don't know that much about Concrete at this point, only having read two of the seven available trades. I know the basics: guy gets abducted by aliens, has brain transplanted into body of concrete. It's deceptively simplistic, since it leads to the kind of deep philosophical debates that Stan the Man wished he could put in the mouth of The Thing.
Similarly Chadwick's art is deceptive in its style, with his line work seeming to be thinner than it really is. It too has a lot of depth that might be easily overlooked at a casual glance.
And I can't wait to read more.
For the seventh day of August, I present to you Matt Kindt's most recent book from Top Shelf, 2 Sisters.
Now maybe I'm a bit biased because Matt's a friend of mine, but I love this book. It's just fantastic good fun that also has a lot of heart. In this book he weaves together several different stories. the majority of the story deals with a woman in
Now one thing about this book is that there aren't a ton of words. Many scenes are silent, so it's very easy to skim over them and thus miss a lot of the subtleties of Kindt's storytelling and character development. He truly lets his art tell the story, and it doesn't hurt that his art just happens to be gorgeous. As in his previous work Pistolwhip, Kindt really captures the feel of the era very well and infuses his art with a style that invokes a mood of noir-ish realism.
If you can find a copy of this book, you should pick it up, actually hold it in your hands. Once you've done so, I think you'll see the main draw of this book is that it is weighty, both literally and figuratively. It's 300-something pages of Nazi-smashing spy adventures with a dash of swashbuckling pirates thrown in... all for only $20! At that price, how can you go wrong?
The 8th day of August was a day that found me voting in my state's primary Senatorial election, and it reminded me of a day back in 2004 when I headed to the polls, full of hope. Hope that Bush would soon be out of office, yes, but also hope that I might be able to take advantage of a special offer Brian K. Vaughan was making to promote his new book Ex Machina.
Now unfortunately due to computer problems, I wasn't able to send my photo to him in time to get the promo CD. But despite my disappointment at that setback, I never held it against the book itself (just as i've never held my disappointment with Bush's reelection against the voting process itself) because the book itself is excellent. Great BKV plots, wonderful Tony Harris art. Fantastic characters and a healthy mix of political intrigue and sci-fi action.
I did call it "sci-fi" and not superhero deliberately, because I think the book is about as superhero as Concrete. Yes, he has abilities beyond those of most people, special "powers" given to him by aliens, but the book's not about that. It's about his character as he tries to make a difference WITHOUT using these gifts. He runs for office as mayor of
And it's the perfect gateway comic. It's got just enough action and just enough real-life drama that you can give the first trade to your friends and they won't be overwhelmed. Even people who have been turned off by BKV's writing on his other books (Runaways and Y the Last Man, both books that I also enjoy greatly) still acknowledge his craftsmanship here. And just as in Starman, Tony Harris's art is flawless, giving the book a look of realism that makes the premise of the story work brilliantly.
Now is the perfect time to jump onto this book. There are three trades available with the fourth one (pictured above) due at the end of the year. And election season is upon us, so what better way to celebrate than by escaping into fiction?
Day 9 of August brings me to one of my favorite characters in all of comics, one I loved so much that I chose to dress as him one Halloween:
Wesley Dodds, the Golden Age Sandman, and the book that led to my love of this character was Sandman Mystery Theater by Steven T. Seagle, Matt Wagner, and Guy Davis.
A brand new take on this long established character, this Vertigo series placed the traditional hero in a pulp setting. Detective and vigilante Wesley Dodds donned his gas mask and solved grisly murders on the gritty streets of
And did I mention it was also a romance? Wesley Dodds shared the spotlight of his book with his love interest Dian Belmont. She was not the typical comic book hero girlfriend, as they were by all intents and purposes total partners. frequently she served as the narrator of the book as well. Not only that, but their relationship was perhaps one of the most realistic ever portrayed in comics.
And then of course there's the art of Guy Davis. Somewhat of an acquired taste,
Four trades are available: The Tarantula, the Face and the Brute, The Vamp, and The Scorpion. These four trades collect the first twenty issues but seventy issues and an annual exist, just waiting in quarter bins for you to come along and give them a home.
Day 10 of August. Almost a third of the way through, so in way of celebration I won't just do a book I love. I'll do a publisher, for, you see, I am a whore for Oni Press.
oh the OGNs and minis they produce are just out of this world. I've read and loved: The Awakening, Capote in
In that list you've got all kinds of genres: horror, crime, western, historical drama, romance, hell even Shakespeare. there's something there for everyone!
and that was just the GNs. they also do ongoings in various formats, individual issues and digest sized. Grab one of these titles and you're sure to find something that agrees with you: Blue Monday, Borrowed Time, Courtney Crumrin, Hopeless Savages, Local, Love as a Foreign Language,
And that's just what I've read! There's plenty of stuff they do that I haven't had a chance to check out yet. And I can't wait to!
Pick a title I mentioned, ask me about it, and I'll tell you why it's good!
For example: Julius is a modern adaptation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, paraphrasing the dialogue and placing it in a gangster setting. Good stuff and written by Antony Johnston.
Spooked, I always get confused with Closer and Awakening, which are all horror books released around the same time (and both Closer and Spooked are also by Antony Johnston, so it only adds to the confusion). But Spooked is about a female artist who sees ghosts.
Cheat is by Christine Norrie and it's about a woman who decides to have an affair with her best friend's husband. Great great great.
And Last Exit Before Toll is probably my favorite on your list, Julian. It's about a guy who sets out on a long drive for a business trip and how his car breaks down in a small town. Very interesting characters there.
Finally, there might be some who notice a few gaps in my list of Oni books above. Be prepared to see those gaps filled in tonight and tomorrow.
Day 11 brings us a writer/artist whose works at Oni were left off the list above because he has been known for publishing with many different companies, including longer works from Slave Labor and anthology work for Dark Horse, Image and DC. All of his works are invariably excellent, and he is the wondrously talented Andi Watson.
I've read a number of Watson's solo works such as Dumped, Slow News Day, Breakfast After Noon, and Little Star, and I've enjoyed them all immensely. They all focus on relationships in a variety of stages (how can a couple's engagement survive when they both find themselves unemployed? will two young people obsessed with collecting old things end up falling for each other? can a guy manage to find time between being a father and an artist to still be a loving husband?) and despite the differences in plots, the mood of each book evokes the same feelings as they each to capture the emotional highs and lows of love perfectly.
Even when he strays out of the genre of realism, as he did with his twelve-issue superhero series Love Fights, Watson maintains this mood, albeit a bit more bizarrely. What other author could write a believable love triangle between a girl, a guy, and his jealous, super-intelligent pet cat? Where else could you witness a guy get jealous that the girl he likes is spending a bit too much time... with a super-hero?
Watson does brilliant work when collaborating as well, as evident in his recent mini series
And of course the art itself speaks volumes in spite of its seeming simplicity. The characters are so infused with emotional outpouring that readers can't help but get drawn in and feel what they feel.
So read some Andi Watson if you get the chance. I'd recommend starting with Dumped, simply because it's the shortest and cheapest of his works I've mentioned. That way you can get a feel for if his stuff is going to be something you'd like without dropping too much cash. But be prepared to have to shell out more money, because I'm pretty sure you'll like what you read and will want to try more.
Day 12 of August brings us to an artist that I've decried on this forum many times in the past. It's widely known that I'm not exactly a big fan of Scott Pilgrim; although it's kind of entertaining, I don't really see the mass appeal of it that everyone else does. In part it's because it's a bit too goofy and full of pop cultures references for my taste, but another reason I'm not a big fan of it is I've seen Bryan Lee O'Malley do much more serious work that resonated much more strongly with me. His first full-length solo work was Lost at Sea, and for my money it kicks Scott Pilgrim's ass.
Lost at Sea is the story of a girl who falls in love over the Internet and travels hundreds of miles to meet a complete stranger. It's about making friends that last a lifetime by pure chance. It's about road trips and inside jokes and being in playgrounds after midnight. In short, it's about being young.
It's a universal story that anyone can relate to; if you've ever been young and felt awkward, you'll commiserate with
And if my love of this book was in any doubt, on my gallery site you can see me, proudly displaying a page of art from this book I purchased just a few months ago. It's on the right; on the left is a page from Matt Kindt's Pistolwhip (remember him? he did 2 Sisters?)
Tomorrow, one last Oni book and then we're on to a few other entries like this one, books I love by people whose work I've professed to hate.
Day 13 of August brings us to one of my favorite ongoings at present, a series known as Queen and Country. It's a book which is highly accessible to people who have never read comics before and to those who want to try something outside the hero genre, to which Joanna can attest. she asked me years ago what comics she should be checking out and Q&C was one of the first things I pointed her towards.
British spy Tara Chace serves as the best example of writer Greg Rucka’s talent as a weaver of stories that center upon interesting and realistic people. Her emotional and psychological state after being in such tense situations affects the relationships she has with her co-workers, and it changes the way she sees herself as well. The events of the book shape the development of her character in an incredibly realistic fashion, and she has become one of the most interesting and well-rounded female characters that comics have to offer in the short time Queen and Country has been running.
Operation Broken Ground collects the first four issues of the book and serves as a perfect place to start, putting new readers in on the ground floor of this gripping spy drama. The book begins with Tara’s assassination of gunrunning Russian general, and there is no shortage of action and adventure as
Meanwhile back home, Tara’s superiors must deal with the political ramifications of
Read that first trade and you'll be hooked, and luckily there's several more trades of the ongoing to keep you on your fix: Morningstar, Crystal Ball, Blackwall, Stormfront, Dandelion and Saddlebags, as well as three collections of the Declassified minis (kind of like Times Past stories) and two novels.
Five page preview of the first trade can be found here: http://www.onipress.com/graphicnovels/page1.php?id=33
Day 14 of August.
Warren Ellis isn't half bad when he shuts the fuck up and just writes comics.
When he's all full of bravado and getting off on how clever he thinks he is, he makes my blood boil. But sometimes, when he really just lets all that "master storyteller" ego bullshit fade away and just gets down to telling some kickass stories in comics, he can realy tear shit up.
Some of Transmet is like that, especially early on. His Authority. Planetary, of course.
But I find he's at his BEST when he tells stories he really cares about, that mean something to him personally. And two such stories are Scars and Orbiter.
Scars is a fantastic crime thriller, but what makes it really gutwrenching is how real the crimes feel. Ellis uses a fair amount of horror here, but it's the kind of horror we see each day in the headlines. The horror of the case, a gruesome child killing, gets into the head of the main character, a straight-laced cop for whom the crime hits a bit close to home. As the story progresses he gets more and more obsessed with the case, driven to more and more desperate acts. It's a very detailed character studay just as much as it is a plot-driven potboiler, and it's one of Ellis's best works.
Just as amazing is Orbiter, the sci-fi GN Ellis wrote and Colleen Doran illustrated. On the surface it's about a space shuttle that disappears from NASA's tracking devices, completely scuttling the space program, only to return to Earth many years later, covered in a weird skin and with dust from Mars in its wheels. But under the surface it's about Ellis and Doran's love of space travel, and that awe and wonder shine through in every panel of this book.
Ellis is capable of doing great work, like his current run Fell, and when he really swings for the fences, he can knock it out of the park. It's just too bad that sometimes he doesn't really seem to try as hard as we'd like (*coughcoughnextwavecough*).
Tomorrow, another writer I hate on a book I love. Can YOU guess who it is?
There's plenty about Grant Morrison and his work I don't like, as I've expounded upon time and again in this forum and others. I do think his fans sometimes apply more meaning to his work than he himself does, that occasionally he is weird for weird's sake. I'm not a fan of his JLA run or his X-men run or Marvel Boy or The Filth.
But I'm not the typical Morrison hater. For one, I've read a
Aside from that, there's plenty of his early work that I admire. Sebastian O's not bad, nor is Kid Eternity. It's been a while since I've read Mystery Play but I recall liking it, and St. Swithin's Day is great stuff. Of course his run on Animal Man is near-perfect, a masterpiece, and Arkham Asylum is a pretty definitive look into Batman's psyche if you ask me. Gothic is another fantastic Bat-story from LODK, and his two issues on Hellblazer are really REALLY creepy stuff.
Heck, despite being sure I'd hate it, I'm even reading and enjoying the heck out of All-Star Superman, so it's not just his early stuff that wows me. And I do think that I'd like some of Seven Soldiers... if only it weren't being collected with a bunch of stuff I don't care about, I'd have a chance to see for sure.
In the end, how could I hate a guy who wrote what is perhaps my favorite single issue comic story of all time, "The Soul of a New Machine"?
Grant Morrison's run on Doom Patrol contains within it everything that some might hate about Morrison's work. It's surreal and strange and many times the plot resolutions are the textbook definition of deus ex machina. But that's what makes the book work so well really; with a team like the Doom Patrol, such weirdness makes sense. And that weirdness finds a perfect paragon in issue 34 of the series, containing the story "soul of a new machine."
In the issue prior to this story Cliff Steele, aka Robotman, damaged his robot body in a fight, so here it is under repair. And while it is under repair, Cliff himself, or rather the only human part of him left--his brain, has been placed in stasis in a jar. While completely disembodied he begins to hallucinate, having trouble perceiving the difference between reality and fantasy.
Meanwhile, rather than repairing his robot body The Chief decides he needs chocolate and leaves the body unattended. Shortly after his departure, the body stands up, having gained self-control somehow, and begins engaging Cliff's brain in a conversation about whether the body or the mind is truly in control of a person. All the while the robot body is trying to kill Cliff, for it doesn't want to lose its sentience if Cliff is placed back within it.
And finally, completely parallel to this story, the old Doom Patrol nemesis The Brain is being brought to DP headquarters by his henchman Monsieur Mallah, a gorilla whose intelligence The Brain has enhanced to a human level. The Brain, himself also being just a disembodied brain in a jar, is tired of not being able to feel and has come to DP HQ to hijack the robot body.
And quite literally shenanigans ensue. Knock knock jokes, two brains in jars going "head to head" in a fight, and a kiss between a monkey and a robot. Funny stuff. Goofy. Weird.
But it's really fucking clever too, exploring some deep and heady topics with robots and gorillas. I teach a writing course in which the students write about literature, and I always bring "Soul of a New Machine" in as a critical thinking exercise. I put my kids into groups and have them address some of the philosophical questions that derive from the story such as: "How do we define reality? if we are completely disconnected from our senses, how do we know what's real and what isn't?" or "How do we define humanity? is a brain in a jar still a person? is a gorilla with human intelligence a person?" or of course the infamous quote that begins and ends the story: Does the mind rule the body, or the body rule the mind? I don’t know.
What controls us? Are we creatures of impulse, or creatures of intelligence? The Chief, a brilliant scientist, sets aside his work to satisfy a craving for chocolate. The Brain is tormented by thoughts of naked chess. These are questions of course that there are no easy answers to, which is what makes it such a perfect exercise for college freshmen to think about.
Now unfortunately not all of Doom Patrol is quite this brilliant, but a