Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Art Discussion Month 2010

Post-Art Discussion Month 2010 Edit

Okay, I'm sticking this here to sort of wrap things up. The month is over and I made it through. Some posts were better than others -- then again, so were some artists. I think this month accomplished what I wanted it to: I really made an effort to focus on the art and see things I hadn't seen before. Putting that into words was difficult and I failed far more than I succeeded. But, what little success I had was more than enough. Thanks to everyone who read and commented, including some of the artists involved. That was pretty cool. This may be a yearly thing, who knows. We'll see come March 2011.


Original Post

In the month of March, I will be discussing/analysing the work of a different artist each day from one comic or story they've drawn. 31 days, 31 artists spread out over 48 comics. I'm doing this for a few reasons. Firstly, I generally like doing projects like this where there's a set schedule and deadline. It keeps me on track and focused. Secondly, I want to get better at discussing art. I've been improving over the past two years, but not enough. Some recent reviews for CBR where the art took centre stage have made me improve, but I'd like to make a stronger effort. Thirdly, to give the blog some steady non-CBR review content, if only for a month.

My selection process for artists is pretty simple: I choose 31 artists who drew Warren Ellis comics. To make the discussion of the art the central focus, I decided to pick books written by the same person and Ellis has a very strong, distinctive style that will allow each artist's unique contributions to be easier to spot. Though, I admit, Ellis does alter his style somewhat for different artists, he has such a strong voice that it's never hidden too much. More than that, Ellis has worked with a lot of artists. You would think that finding 31 artists who have drawn books for one writer would be hard, but, with Ellis, it was very, very easy. So easy that I limited myself to just ten different collections of comics and got 31 artists (as the list below will show). I could easily do another month or two focusing on Ellis-penned comics with each day discussing a new artist. I chose the artists below because their work is collected in just ten trades, which makes it easier for me, and because the longest work in question is four issues. I wanted to keep the number of comics/size of the story small.

In my discussion of the art, I won't be using any scans or the art. I also won't be ignoring the writing entirely, but the focus will be on the penciling, inking, and colouring. The discussion of the colouring, in particular, will be interesting because colourists will show up more than once throughout the month (David Baron, for example, coloured Global Frequency #1-11 plus other comics on the list), so, hopefully, I'll be able to see how they alter their style depending on the artist they're colouring.

The schedule for the month:

March 1: Hellblazer #134-139 ("Haunted") by John Higgins and James Sinclair
March 2: Hellblazer #140 ("Locked") by Frank Terran and James Sinclair
March 3: Hellblazer #141 ("The Crib") by Tim Bradstreet and Grant Goleash
March 4: Hellblazer #142.1 ("Setting Sun") by Javier Pulido and James Sinclair
March 5: Hellblazer #142.2 ("One Last Love Song") by James Romberger and James Sinclair
March 6: Hellblazer #143 ("Telling Tales") by Marco Frusin and James Sinclair
March 7: Angel Stomp Future #1 by Juan Jose Ryp
March 8: Frank Ironwine #1 by Carla Speed McNeil
March 9: Quit City #1 by Laurenn McCubbin
March 10: Simon Spector #1 by Jacen Burrows
March 11: Global Frequency #1 ("Bombhead") by Garry Leach and David Baron
March 12: Global Frequency #2 ("Big Wheel") by Glenn Fabry, Liam Sharpe, and David Baron
March 13: Global Frequency #3 ("Invasive") by Steve Dillon and David Baron
March 14: Global Frequency #4 ("Hundred") by Roy Allan Martinez and David Baron
March 15: Global Frequency #5 ("Big Sky") by Jon J Muth and David Baron
March 16: Global Frequency #6 ("The Run") by David Lloyd and David Baron
March 17: Global Frequency #7 ("Detonation") by Simon Bisley and David Baron
March 18: Global Frequency #8 by Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, and David Baron
March 19: Global Frequency #9 by Lee Bermejo and David Baron
March 20: Global Frequency #10 ("Superviolence") by Tomm Coker and David Baron
March 21: Global Frequency #11 ("Alpeh") by Jason Pearson and David Baron
March 22: Global Frequency #12 ("Harpoon") by Gene Ha and Art Lyon
March 23: Mek #1-3 by Steve Rolston, Al Gordon, and David Baron
March 24: Reload #1-3 by Paul Gulacy, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Guy Major.
March 25: Tokyo Storm Warning #1-3 by James Raiz, Andrew Currie, Trevor Scott, Carlos D'Anda, and Wildstorm FX
March 26: Red #1-3 by Cully Hamner and David Self
March 27: Ministry of Space #1-3 by Chris Weston and Laura Martin
March 28: Planetary/The Authority: Ruling the World by Phil Jiminez, Andy Lanning, and Laura Martin
March 29: Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta by Jerry Ordway and David Baron
March 30: Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth by John Cassaday and David Baron
March 31: The Authority #1-4 ("The Circle") by Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary, and Laura Martin

A couple of notes: Hellblazer #142 has two stories in it, drawn by two different artists, so each story gets its own day. I'm only discussing the first four issues of The Authority because I want to focus on a single story and not have too large a focus. As for the order of posts... I wanted Global Frequency in the middle of the month and, then, simply grouped projects by publisher/time of publication/however I felt like it. You'll note that not every artist a big name, well-known, brilliant artist and that's purposeful... I'm not doing a month discussing my 31 favourite artists.

So, come back Monday when I kick things off. As well, this post will function as my archive post and I'll update it throughout the month with links to each post.


Art Discussion Month 2010: The Authority #1-4 by Bryan Hitch

[Concluding Art Discussion Month 2010. 31 days, 31 artists, a whole lot of discussion. The explanation behind my choice of comics and the archive can be found here.]

The Authority #1-4 ("The Circle"). Written by Warren Ellis. Pencilled by Bryan Hitch. Inked by Paul Neary. Coloured by Laura (DePuy) Martin.

I have the absolute edition of the Ellis/Hitch/Neary/Martin Authority run, but it's sitting on the shelf. For this post, I've got the actual issues out. I only own issues one through four in the singles, not the rest. My dad bought the book and I didn't usually buy something if he was, too. Why spend what little money I had as a teenager on books I could read for free already? But, I bought these four issues. I remember getting into the car after doing so and telling my mom what I'd gotten, how dad already had these comics and she asked why I'd buy them then, a fair question. It was the writing, obviously. But, it was also the art. The Authority #1-4 were the first comics I bought because I wanted to study the art, to pour over it, to look at it again and again. I carried those books in my backpack for the next few weeks, taking them out at various times and just looking at them. I really like Warren Ellis's writing on these comics, but I fucking love the art. I don't think Hitch has ever really done anything better than the work he did in these issues -- same with Laura Martin. Both have done great work since, but there's something special about these ones, maybe a desire to prove what they can do, a certain energy, I don't know what, but it elevates the work. Or, maybe, it's just me projecting onto the comics, of course. After all, they came out when I was 16 and that's some powerful shit, getting exposed to something at 16 and it clicking in the right way.

"The Circle" is basically the Authority fighting against an army of Asian supermen as they attempt to carve the symbol of Kaizen Gamorra. Terrorism for the sake of terror. Mostly, just a lot of fucking head bashing and KICKSPLODE! peppered with small, quieter moments. A wide range of things to draw.

One of the reasons why I think this is Hitch's best work is that, while obviously influenced by photos and the real world, he's also cartooning a lot. His characters bear that Hitch-ian face, especially Jack Hawksmoor. It's kind of a scrunched-up bulldog look that his characters tended to have before he went into photorealism more. There's a sense of Hitch in the art here that I find lacking in his later work. While I enjoy the later work and, in many ways, recognise that it's technically better, it lacks the energy and force of his work here. This is just fun.

Laura Martin's colouring of different times of day is what impressed me most when this first came out. At the end of the third issue, the Authority show up in Los Angeles having figured out what Gamorra is doing and knowing that Los Angeles is where the third mark will be 'cut' into the Earth. They arrive at dusk and the lighting is this reddish orangey pink. I mentioned this sort of thing in my discussion of Red and, man, you have no idea how much this blew me away at the time. I'd seen this shade of lighting before in my life, but never in comics. The sky is a mixture of pinkish red and purple. There's a double-page spread of the Gamorra supermen flying through the air and the colouring of the sky is amazing as it shifts from blue/purple in the bottom left-hand corner through red, pink, and into yellow/orange at the top right where the sun is obscured by a thin cloud cover. (Or is it haze?) Gorgeous.

When pouring over these issues, I counted up the panels in each and every issue averaged around four panels per page. Lots of splashes, lots of room. Visually, this is just an action movie. People talked about these books being 'widescreen' and that still holds up. Lots of thin, wide panels. Lots of tracking shots. Lots of fun camera angles. But, 'widescreen' doesn't just mean 'movie,' it means BLOCKBUSTER MOVIE! Funnily enough, blockbuster movie just means going back to old school superhero action. Granted, this is more violent, but it's an evil guy doing evil because he's evil and the good guys stopping him because they're good. Gamorra wants to kill people, the Authority stop him. They fight in the rain in London and over Los Angeles... lots of fun.

One great sequence is the Midnighter bringing the Carrier, their giant shiftship HQ, down to Gamorra Island to kill Kaizen Gamorra. The giant ship's bottom tip is driven into the ground and then dragged towards Gamorra Tower, carving up the city. The sequence is great. First, we get a splash of the Carrier looking giant as it hovers over the Island, breaking the forcefield. Then a page where there are three panels of it moving toward the tower, just destroying shit, in the third, Gamorra sees it coming. The final two panels of the page have Gamorra looking out at us, hands pressed against a window, reflection of the Carrier coming toward him, saying "I ONLY WANTED TO HAVE SOME FUN" and a shot of Midnighter: "I LOVE BEING ME." Next page: splash of Gamorra Tower blowing up/being destroyed by the Carrier.

The use of lighting always struck me as impressive. Hitch nails the idea of light sometimes being so bright that it seemingly breaks through solid objects, around the edges. With the sun in the direct background, a character up against it will have breaks in their figure: a circular pattern with shooting lines that get smaller the deeper in they go. I love that.

A favourite panel: Hawksmoor coming at us, out of the side of a building. His left arm is reaching out. His face is drawn in a way where there's no shadow over his right eye, but one surrounding his left, leaving a dark eyesocket area with just the glowing red eye. Creepy and great.

The Carrier and the worlds it sails through provide great, wondrous pictures. These serene, lovely pictures. Alien visions that are akin in beauty to sunsets.

Yeah, this is less 'talk about the art in a deep way' and more 'Chad gushes over the comic in random, weird ways.' By this point, that's all I really have in me. I could keep going, but if this exercise has proven anything, it's that my words will never be enough.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Art Discussion Month 2010: Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth by John Cassaday

[Continuing Art Discussion Month 2010. 31 days, 31 artists, a whole lot of discussion. The explanation behind my choice of comics and the archive can be found here.]

Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth. Written by Warren Ellis. Drawn by John Cassaday. Coloured by David Baron.

At this point, Warren Ellis had been working with John Cassaday for a while, so he obviously knew how to tailor his scripts to Cassaday's abilities. Most pages contain four or five panels, a bunch less than that, only one going up to six. While Ellis prefers five panels per page, he also writes a lot of six-panel pages, so it's interesting that it's mostly five panels per page here. Cassaday likes to have a little bit of room -- he seems to like to draw bigger pictures. Unlike Ordway, he also focuses in on characters quite a bit, showing a lot of close-ups and shoulders-up shots. We see their environment in an establishing shot and, then, sometimes, throughout a scene, but otherwise, his focus is on the characters. There's a pretty even split between characters sharing a panel and being alone.

Cassaday is something of an anomaly: an artist with good storytelling skills that also seems to focus on the individual drawing. Every panel is meticulous and detailed with his gritty, smooth style (yes, I know, those words don't go together), but they flow well from one panel to the next. He likes striking images. Batman, holding his cape out, diving down to the ground, moon behind him. Dark Knight Returns Batman choking Elijah Snow...

But, there are also pages that work very well as wholes. Elijah Snow and the other two are tracking down a murderer who runs down an alley...

Panel 1: Killer in foreground, running towards us/the left side of the panel with Elijah and the Drummer running the background.

Panel 2: A shot focusing on the killer from the ground to his shoulders. He's right right to left, just entered the panel, left foot hitting a puddle.

Panel 3: Elijah Snow looking left, three little twinkles in front of his face.

Panel 4: Same view as panel 2. The puddle freezes and the killer's left foot is trapped, he looks like he's about to trip.

Panel 5: The killer fall flat on his face right in front of us.

Simple, dead simple storytelling. Ellis writes scenes like that for Cassaday: simple shots, simple action flows. He works best with the simple, striking images. That's why the panels are limited and so are the characters per panel. Cassaday will drop out backgrounds when it suits him to draw focus to the characters.

There's something a little too simple about his art at times, though. That's one of the reasons reading through a comic he's drawn is such a breeze. His art lends itself to less words and less panels. I don't find this problematic really, but some do.

His line work is somewhat gritty, but also smooth and soft at times. It's a contrast in those two approaches, oddly. He also uses light and shadow to form figures when he can.

David Baron provides simple colours. The odd bit of red, but mostly muted colours. This is Gothan City and it's nighttime. The alley is a little brighter than you'd assume, but he also does a good job distinguishing between the different Batmen with colours. The purple gloves on the 1940s Batman is a fantastic touch.

I love the way Cassaday draws stubble, by the way. Even since Planetary #1, I've just loved the way he draws stubble. It's fantastic.

Tomorrow, Art Discussion Month 2010 ends with The Authority #1-4 and Bryan Hitch. Oh boy.

CBR Review: Shuddertown #1

I recently reviewed Shuddertown #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "I’ve been a fan of Nick Spencer’s writing for Image with books like Existence 2.0, its sequel Existence 3.0, and Forgetless all showing interesting concepts and lots of confidence in his storytelling, but Shuddertown #1 is a marked improvement. Along with artist Adam Geen, Spencer delivers a first issue that grabs you with the first panel and doesn’t let go. The writing is subtle and carries an underlying tension that’s heightened by the idiosyncratic art."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Supergod #3

I recently reviewed Supergod #3 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Supergod has been a revelation as Warren Ellis tries to examine a world where all of the superhumans operate in entirely different ways than traditionally thought of. Think of Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen, make him even more alien and, then, create a few more of him. It’s an interesting experiment, told more like an essay than a narrative, though that changes in this issue as the various superhuman elements look to be converging in a single place with, what one can assume, will be disastrous results."

You can read the rest HERE!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Art Discussion Month 2010: Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta by Jerry Ordway

[Continuing Art Discussion Month 2010. 31 days, 31 artists, a whole lot of discussion. The explanation behind my choice of comics and the archive can be found here.]

Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta. Written by Warren Ellis. Drawn by Jerry Ordway. Coloured by David Baron.

The second of our three Planetary crossover books. In this one, Planetary are basically the Four, hiding the secrets of the world and letting drips and drabs escape for profit, while Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, and Diana Prince look to take them down.

Jerry Ordway has a great classic look to his art. His figures look uniquely his. He's intricate in what he draws. Diana's hair, for example, has most of the strands drawn -- while not going overboard to the point of an attempt at realism. It's a middle ground. He uses techniques to suggest reality without actually drawing realist pictures. He'll use a lot of lines on the hair, but in patterns to create the illusion of distinct hairs without actually drawing them all.

Though he's inking himself, it looks like pencil art, his style. A judicious use of cross-hatching and lines to create shadows. A softer edge to his lines. One panel where Bruce Wayne, looking down and sad, tells Clark that he thinks Planetary had Clark's parents killed is stunning in the soft use of darkness, intercutting line patterns in the background, and a genuine look of sadness on Bruce's face. Ordway draws good faces. They're very expressive, very rarely in 'neutral,' always reacting to what's going on. It's definitely a case of being able to skim the book and look at just the art to tell what's going on. Very strong storytelling.

His action scenes are like that: expressive faces with very clear movements. Panel-to-panel progression is good. He usually maintains a little distance from characters to show their environment, using close-ups to emphasise what they're thinking/feeling. Rarely do you not see a character's whole body or, at least, the character from the waist up. That gives a sense of reality to the art and makes close-ups actually matter.

The action scenes get their own unique look. Jakita and Diana fight in tilted panels, while Bruce and Elijah are in regular ones. Clark/Ambrose is a mixture of the two. The tilted panels create a sense of movement and energy, but the purpose of both Bruce and Elijah, that practiced expertise lends itself more to a grid -- something more purposeful, more static. They fight like chess where there's energy, but more thought, while Jakita and Diana are warriors that just jump in and let loose.

David Baron's colouring looks like superhero colouring, though darker and more muddied. This is a dark world, not one for bold colours. Lots of browns, blacks, and blues. There's a depressing element to the colouring. Even with the Doors for transport, the colouring is a muted, dark shade of red... it's a dreary world because of Planetary.

Tomorrow, John Cassaday and Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth.

Five Years Blogging: A Life Well Wasted

Both David Brothers's 4thletter! and GraphiContent reached the five year mark in February and March, so he and I discussed those five years together and posted the discussion in 11 blog posts over our two blogs. Here's the archive of posts for your convenience:

Part 01
Part 02
Part 03
Part 04
Part 05
Part 06
Part 07
Part 08
Part 09
Part 10
Part 11

It was a lot of fun to talk with David like this and I hope you enjoy what we had to say.

The Splash Page Podcast Episode 10.2

And this week's podcasting concludes with episode 10.2. In this episode, Tim and I continue our unfocused discussion with a few brief moments of knowing what we're doing. I go out of my way to offend lots of people, possibly by using incorrect facts. But, we also talk stuff like The Incredibles #7, Scalped #36, and I tell Tim which When Worlds Collide column to post this week.

As well, the Dollar Bin Christopher Priest audio interview we mentioned can be gotten here: part one and part two.

You can download and listen to the Splash Page Podcast episode 10.2 HERE!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Art Discussion Month 2010: Planetary/The Authority: Ruling the World by Phil Jimenez

[Continuing Art Discussion Month 2010. 31 days, 31 artists, a whole lot of discussion. The explanation behind my choice of comics and the archive can be found here.]

Planetary/The Authority: Ruling the World. Written by Warren Ellis. Pencilled by Phil Jimenez. Inked by Andy Lanning (with thanks to Phil Jimenez). Coloured by Laura Martin.

Phil Jimenez draws thin people very well. When I think of his art, I think of thin people. In Ruling the World, he's also the first artist to draw the casts of Planetary and The Authority who wasn't either series's original artist. That's saying something. (Though, that's just me remembering this book coming out before The Authority #13. It may have come out after, but, whatever, it was obviously started before. Jimenez wins on the technicality at the very least.)

This is an interesting little team-up book wherein neither group really crosses paths. In Judgement, Rhode Island, a big octopus/squid monster is unleashed by the Planetary group by accident and the Authority clean it up. It had something to do with eggs and HP Lovecraft. Then, an insane man kills the people sorting out Doc Brass & company's supercomputer that plugs into the Bleed and unleahses an alternate version of the Authority that are lizard people and conquer realities. The Authority and Planetary stop them in a separate manner, never really working together.

Jimenez's layouts stand out, because they're not too similar to that in either of the main series involved here. He doesn't do a lot of widescreen shots ala The Authority, something that's also carried over to Planetary to an extent. That's a function of the plot here, which seems a bit more jampacked than an issue of either series. A lot is going on, so Jimenez does layouts with staggered panels, panels that overlap a little, panels overlaid on larger images. Not many pages follow a strict grid, which is unusual for a Warren Ellis comic. Even the pages that go for the grid look have figures breaking panel borders. The overlapping panels do give the book some forward momentum -- that there is so much that it just pushes you forward.

In some cases, the overlapping smaller panels give the impression of quick jokes or quick camera shots. Not something to linger on, but something that's there and you move on quickly. A woman bringing the Planetary trio coffee says something back to Elijah's remark about something or other -- what it is doesn't matter, but it's got a bit of a laugh in it, so it gets a small panel. A visual cue to its importance.

Jimenez does good facial expressions. There's a bit more smiling than I'd expect, but you don't get the same look on different characters' faces really. Smiles look different on each, for the most part. He's also good at drawing smiles that show just the top row of teeth -- something a lot of artists don't do even though it's more realistic.

He uses cross-hatching for shading, but sparsely. It doesn't overwhelm the art at all. You can think of people who overuse it, no doubt, well, Jimenez does it right. Faces will have it under their cheek bones, maybe towards the side of the neck, and that's it. Very minimal cross-hatching.

The detail in the art is stunning. Coupled with the page layouts, some pages are a little too busy, I think. A little too packed. It's almost information overload. That's a risk with this sort of style, but he's good at holding back in the right places, going minimal on backgrounds when there's too much on the page already. Not always 100% successful, but more than not.

There's one page that stands out as an oddity. It's a Planetary-centric page. They're on the Carrier, the Authority's HQ, and the layout is like this: nine panels. Five tiers. The first, third, and fifth tier contain one panel, each showing a different member of the Planetary group with a long, rectangular light blue shape behind their heads, all focused on from the shoulder up, top of the heads cut off. The second and fourth tiers all contain three panels, each the same size, each showing the regular action going on. The first panel of the page, featuring the Drummer's solo panel has him talking, but the other two character-specific panels don't. They kind of fit into the flow of the page, but it also wouldn't look wrong without them. They add short beats, but not essential ones. It's an odd page since it's the only one designed in that sort of way.

Laura Martin, colourist for The Authority and Planetary colours this issue and it looks good, but not as good as either book. The colours aren't as subtle and detailed as they are on The Authority and not as bold as they are on Planetary. Jimenez is a bit more workmanlike than Hitch or Cassaday, so that makes sense. Sorry, I shouldn't be referencing the other books since this should stand on its own, but it's hard given the nature of it. It's well-done, but, like the writing, never feels completely cohesive or at home with what's going on. Not sure where to fall between the two books.

Tomorrow, Jerry Ordway and Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta.

The Splash Page Podcast Episode 10.1

You can download and listen to the first episode of this week's podcasting fun finally since I was out of town until around 3:30 today. In this episode, Tim and I mostly bullshit about a bunch of topics. It's pretty random, actually. Tim had problems with his mic and I was in a sarcastic mood. We make fun of Alex Ross, Whilce Portacio, WWE Heroes, other podcasters, Americans, and other things. Well, I make fun of them while Tim is polite in his criticism. I know we make fun of Deadshot, though.

You can download and listen to the Splash Page Podcast episode 10.1 HERE!

Five Years Blogging: A Life Well Wasted 10

[David Brothers and I continue to talk comics and blogging. Read part nine on 4thletter.]

David Brothers: I've never really had a problem with the reading part of it, whether for fun or pleasure. I've been rereading One Piece with the advent of the new omnibuses, but not really to review them. I just read them because they're good adventure comics. Reading is by far the best part of writing about comics, I could do that basically all day long, stopping only for naps or food, and be okay. True confession: I have done this before.

The list of things I want to do, or have started and let lapse, is as long as my arm. I had the Lone Wolf & Cub thing last year, which was interesting, but draining. The stories were pretty same-y, which made having to come up with something new to talk about each week a sucker's game. I keep thinking about retooling it and restarting, but man. The drive is simply not there.

I've got a stack of books at home that need to be written about. I keep a mental tally in my head of what needs to be done. Like, right now- I want to talk about Bokurano: Ours for 4l!, do a bit on Tsutomu Nihei for Comics Alliance, write about a specific thing Eiichiro Oda does in One Piece that I love but don't have a name for yet, read GoGo Monster (and probably write about it), write about some war comics Titan Books sent me, figure out how to explain why Vagabond is incredible... I'm very much in a manga mode it seems right now. Manga and old comics.

While each post is a time investment, maybe a couple hours or so depending on what it's about, I spend way more time thinking about what's fresh in my mind. I read Tsutomu Nihei's Biomega 1 last night and that unlocked some doors in my head. I've been mulling it over all morning, but I'm gonna read Shirow Miwa's Dogs 2 at lunch, so that'll probably go away soon. I'll have to write about it tonight to make sure I don't let it slide. I'm constantly buying books, and sometimes a book slips through the cracks and I don't read it until weeks later. If I've read it, I'm more likely to write about it, so GoGo Monster and Red Snow are pretty far down the list right now. What's fresh is what gets covered, and then I double back and grab what I left behind.

Here's a craft question for you. How mean is too mean? Where do you draw the line between "mean, but accurate" and "bridge-burningly mean?" Off the top of my head, I've called DC editorial and/or management "pathetic" when discussing their various practices or storylines. It may have been a bit too far, but I meant (and believe) it. How do you know whether or not you've gone too far when critiquing a work or event? Is there some rule you keep in mind when handing out 1 and zero star reviews?

Chad Nevett: Well, that line differs depending on where I'm writing. I've had some of my harsher criticism in CBR reviews toned down by my editor, which is fine. So I'm usually a little nicer there than I would be otherwise. On my blog, my only standard is to try and not make it too personal. I've found that you can be pretty damn harsh about the work so long as you don't make things personal. That's not always possible depending on what you're discussing, but, as a general rule of thumb, it works. And, as you know, my style of criticism tends to lend itself to trashing stuff. I don't know why, that's just where my mind goes. Even with books I like, I generally want to go "This was great, except for..." and then go off on a twenty minute rant about the one panel that fucked up the entire thing.

When it comes to star ratings... I gave a book zero stars once to a little bit of controversy, because how can a comic lack any redeeming qualities? And it was the fourth issue of mini-series where I hadn't read the previous three issues. People didn't like that I was trashing the book that hard, which I found funny since anyone reading it would go "Yeah, it's not good, but..." Fuck off, assholes. If that's how you're going to begin defending the book and saying I'm too harsh, just shut the fuck up, the book is obviously not worth it. I've been reading comics since before I could actually read and I couldn't follow that book at all. I don't care if it's the fourth issue of a six-issue mini, I really don't. I have never been that lost when reading a comic. That's one of the biggest crocks of shit in comics, you know, that storyarcs make it difficult to jump on board books. It makes it difficult to read an issue and understand every detail and nuance, yes, but rarely are comics so impentrable that you can't actually follow the main thrust of the story. That was the case with the zero-star comic, so it got zero stars. When a life-long comics reader with a Master's can't follow your supposedly straight-forward narrative, you've got problems. I've only done it once because I've only encountered one comic that warranted it, that failed so completely.

I also really resented the idea that we shouldn't do random issue reviews. If we didn't do those, most comics wouldn't get reviewed as we all wait for the beginning of a new storyarc and, instead, just forget about the book. Sometimes, the readers can be real pains in the ass. And yet we love them and hope for tons of comments and feedback.

At the same time, one thing I've avoided sticking on my blog is a hit counter. I don't want to know how many people are going there. I have no idea what the size of my readership is and that's the way I like it. I find that not knowing who's reading helps me not worry about the audience as much and just do what I want. If people read it, that's a bonus. How do you approach the audience? Do you have a specific reader in mind when you write?

Part 11 is up on 4thletter!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Five Years Blogging: A Life Well Wasted 08

[David Brothers and I continue our chat about comics and blogging about comics. Read part seven on 4thletter.]

David Brothers: You know, I don't know if I want to make a living off blogging. I don't even know if it's possible -- most people I know who do this for a living are part of big-time group or corporate blogs. Once you add in the fact that I live in one of the more expensive cities in the US and it looks slimmer and slimmer. I certainly wouldn't mind a job I can do from my couch... let me stop overthinking it. Writing about comics, in addition to writing about other things I like, would be a nice job.

I get to do a bit of criticism and creative writing on occasion in my day job, which is always nice. Sometimes it is creating or expanding upon an already established story in a video game, sometimes it's a really thorough consulting gig... it's good stuff. Very fun. Not quite as loose as I can get on 4l!, but still good. I also get to tell people I'm a "consultant," and that's usually pretty awesome. I get to do a bit of my hobby for pay, so I can't really complain.

I was doing fiction before I was blogging, actually. Started with fanfiction way, way back in middle school, took a break for a while, then came back to it with improvisational fanfic and normal fiction in high school. Impro was actually a really good experience and helped to mold me into a better writer. I had regular editing sessions, I learned to cope with deadlines, I learned how missing deadlines effects serial works, and I basically went ahead and worked out a good chunk of those "first thousand bad pages" that writers talk about. Looking back, they aren't that great (to be nice about it), but I learned a lot.

At some point I realized that using my free time to service someone else's trademarks for free is something that I hate and switched over to just straight up fiction. Crime stories, noir tales, near-future crime noir tales... I have an obsession, I don't know if you can tell. I spent a few years writing every day, spread between work and school and 4l! and fiction. I still have a folder with the only ones I liked enough to keep, about fifty text files that range from finished to the barest scrap of an idea. That ended up taking a backseat once I got my current job and was briefly replaced with a short-lived attempt at doing comics of my own. That ended when I realized that comics should stay a hobby.

One of my goals this year is to get back to short fiction, and then once I'm comfortable getting back in that saddle, to try to do something longer form. I dunno- I try to plan ahead for the site, I have several goals for the year, and this is just one of them. I'm working to not let it slip by the wayside, because fiction is a muscle I don't flex often enough.

Was that even an answer?

Chad Nevett: Seems like one to me. Building on that, how do you go about writing for your blog? How do you decide which books you'll discuss or what larger scale projects you'll undertake? Hell, what projects have you undertaken over the years? (Yes, that is my not-so-subtle way of telling you to stick a links section on your sidebar with notable posts/series of posts like my blog has... because those are useful and good.) I imagine your process in picking what to write about isn't too different from mine: whatever seems interesting that I have something to say about. Though, I've mentioned this before to Tim Callahan, I will admit that some element of choosing what I'll talk about is what else has been said about the book/creator. If tons of people have discussed a book/creator, I'm more likely to shy away than when, in the cases of Joe Casey and Jim Starlin for example, there isn't a lot of critical thought out there and I can sort of 'stake my claim.' Hard to deny that ego-driven element of wanting to be the first one there, the one that everyone after has to respond to, and deal with. But, more than that, usually, if a work/creator has been discussed a lot, there isn't a lot left to say and who wants to just repeat what's been said?

But, yeah, how do you actually go about writing posts? Do you outline them? Do numerous drafts, edit as you go, just start writing and eventually stop? I'm pretty loose, so I'm usually a just start writing until I don't have anything left to say sort of writer. I like the energy of just going with some ideas as your guide but not much else. It's how I wrote essays in university (yes, even in grad school, which explains why somewhat lacklustre grades at times): leave it to the night before and go in one mad dash. I'm a deadline worker and I find my mind works best when the pressure is on. Get some pop/slushy to drink, put on some loud music, and just go. While that may not result in extremely polished work, it also leads to thoughts and ideas that don't come from taking it slow and methodically (for me, at least). I always joked in university that what I lacked in polish, I made up for in 'mad ideas' that the professor may not have seen from a student before. But, obviously, that's not how everyone likes to work and I'm one of those people who are interested in the process of other writers, so how do you do it?

Go read part nine on 4thletter!

Art Discussion Month 2010: Ministry of Space #1-3 by Chris Weston

[Continuing Art Discussion Month 2010. 31 days, 31 artists, a whole lot of discussion. The explanation behind my choice of comics and the archive can be found here.]

Ministry of Space #1-3. Written by Warren Ellis. Drawn by Chris Weston. Coloured by Laura Martin.

Not quite about the art team entirely, but I think it applies -- Warren Ellis on Chris Weston:

That's why Chris Weston, Gary Erskine and Matt Hollingsworth are the perfect artists for The Filth. They make a world you can pick up and turn in your hands. Super-real. Things are what they are. Nothing confusing about it at all.

While Erskine and Hollingsworth aren't involved with Ministry of Space, I think the comments by Ellis are true nonetheless. Chris Weston draws worlds that look real. And there's a need for reality in Ministry of Space where Ellis writes about a world where England got all of the Nazi rocket scientists first and had the space program that put a man in space first -- basically, it's about the British finding a way to extend the Empire, of remaining a superpower. It's about Sir John Dashwood's determination to make it happen and the various costs. I really like this series (and the trade is a lovely little package with fantastic paper and a great afterword by Ellis talking about his love of space and rockets and those sorts of stories).

So, this is an alternate world and Weston draws just that. Laura Martin on colours is exactly what he needs, because she can colour a page like no one else. Ever since the first Authority arc, she's been my favourite colourist -- she does reality well. There are computer graphics and the sort, but, for the most part, nothing stands out. It all blends with Weston's art for a cohesive presentation.

Weston has two main things to draw in this book: planes/rockets/space stations, and people. And he does both extremely well. Weston has a certain look to his people. A British look. I've described it in my head as a creepy look, but that's not right. Some of his people look creepy, but not all. I'm looking at three pages in the second issue. The story takes place in the two timelines: 2001 and the ongoing creation of the Ministry of Space. In 2001, Sir John is an old man and he's just been told that the Americans have discovered how he funded the Ministry of Space and his reaction is one of shock/terror. We're in on his face from the bottom of his nose to the top of his eyebrows, his glasses below his eyes, which are wide. On the next page, cut to him as a younger man after the first successful space flight. He has a similar look on his face, but there's more sadness in his eyes and his expression. Over the next two panels we pull away to see that he's lying in a bed -- and the further away we get, the less that sadness is there... you can only see it up close. By the splash on the next page, where we can see by the impressions in the sheets, he's lost his legs, he just looks like a man with a blank expression. Up close, emotion; far away, stiff upper lip. British through and through, all communicated in two pages of wonderful storytelling. Especially because his expression doesn't really change... it's just that, up close, you can see the details.

Weston's style is realistic, but not photorealistic (aside from the jets and rockets and so forth I imagine). He manages to convey a sense of reality in his people, but they all look like his people. Wonderful body language and facial expressions. His people can be a little stiff at times (though that works with elderly Sir John and his metal legs). The anger displayed at the end of the book is wonderful and leaps off of the page.

Sorry to cut it a little short, but I'm on my way out of town for the day. I'll return tomorrow with Phil Jimenez and the Authority/Planetary book.

Friday, March 26, 2010

CBR Review: Captain America #604

I recently reviewed Captain America #604 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "As the rest of the Marvel universe deals with Siege, Captain America is continuing its post-Reborn storyline that’s a pretty basic story following up on one of the plot points raised shortly after the ‘death’ of Steve Rogers: the 1950s Captain America that the Red Skull intended to use to his own gain. Here, the ‘50s Cap is working with the Watchdogs in an effort to fight against changes to the country that he loves. He remembers a different America and wants a return to that."

You can read the rest HERE!

Art Discussion Month 2010: Red #1-3 by Cully Hamner

[Continuing Art Discussion Month 2010. 31 days, 31 artists, a whole lot of discussion. The explanation behind my choice of comics and the archive can be found here.]

Red #1-3. Written by Warren Ellis. Drawn by Cully Hamner. Coloured by David Self.

Man, I love Red. I had a list that I made for fun/out of boredom of books and comics that I would adapt into a film or TV series (depending on the property) if I could and Red was on it. Obviously, other people agree given that the movie is being made. I can't wait.

The simplicity of Red is stunning. Paul Moses killed people for the government and now he's retired, living in seclusion. The new politically appointed CIA Director has been shown a video of what Moses did. He wants Moses killed for fear that it would leak that he existed. Moses has decided to kill the Director and his people, because they broke their side of the agreement and tried to kill him. It's three issues of Moses killing folks.

Cully Hamner has a cartoony style, but it's a blocky, kind of angular one rather than a rounded one. Steve Rolston had a rounded cartoony style. Hamner is more angular with straight lines. Paul Moses has a simple look: bald, big eyebrows, looks like he's made out of granite. He doesn't have scars or wrinkles: he has fucking cracks. It looks like his face is cracked. He's a man of stone that's just kind of old. Hamner does a great thing by giving him this little gap between his front teeth that makes him look kind of goofy and stupid when he smiles.

Moses shows a lot of emotion in this book despite the idea that he's be stone-faced. There are scenes where he's happy and he looks kind. It's disarming and makes you get behind him. Yes, he's killed people and that's awful, but... he likes talking to his case worker once a week and getting letters from his niece. He has a niece! And he has a gap in his teeth when he grins his dumb-looking grin. When he's talking to his case worker on the phone, he just looks like a nice old guy. It's hard almost to reconcile the different Paul Moses we see, mostly because Hamner draws them so differently. It's 100% consistent, but the look is so different. It's remarkable storytelling since he gets across two different moods and looks so effectively while drawing the same character.

One of my favourite panels is in the first issue. On the previous page, we got three panels of Moses enjoying his day. One panel where he's reading outside at a table with an umbrella, pitcher and glass of lemonade (I assume) on the table, then he's walking through an area with cut grass, newly planted trees evenly spaced, nice shrubs, then he unlocks his door to come inside. (During this, the colouring is fantastic, changing the brightness and shade of the background lighting to show the passage of time.) On the next page, he enters the room, goes to turn on the light after hanging his hat up, flicks the switch, and... we get a panel where Moses has his head at a 3/4 turn, eyes looking at us, the background entirely black. I love this panel. The blackness tells us that the light didn't turn on. His look tells us that he knows why and that, yes, he's about to kill some motherfuckers dead. Great panel.

The action in the book is presented in a straight forward, direct fashion. Each stage of fights are shown in crystal clear clarity. There's no spot in the comic where I need to stop and examine a panel to figure out what's happening. I stop and examine, sure, but that's because the art looks good. It's meticulous in its execution. Moses is also professional the entire time, but not without emotions. The slowed down action is effective. This is meant to be a brutally violent comic, but it's supposed to show that filtered through the effectiveness of Moses. We have to see each step of what he does to fully appreciate the monstrosity of who he is. He's who we cheer for and identify with, but we shouldn't. This is a story with two sides that are... well, wrong. He's the monster and they're the people benefitting from his existence while condemning him for what he did. There's a wonderful scene in the third issue where the Director is on the phone with Moses and begins to threaten to kill his niece and we watch him get angrier and uglier as he begins to do a fraction of what Moses does... and, then, Moses enters the room and the guy fucking breaks down crying when Moses said he killed the Director's family. It's funny in that absurd way and Hamner does it brilliantly. The slow build-up and the quick break down.

The colouring goes for reality and mood. The issue opens with a great sundown lighting effect of a pinkish colouring that I never see in other comics (aside from The Authority #3-4, which I'll get to on Wednesday -- and any other books I'm forgetting). It's a lighting that people will instantly recognise, but is rarely used. Throughout the comic, David Self will forego reality for mood, colouring the sky red at the end of the first issue to reflect Moses's return to killing. Or the colours in the flashbacks we see. Usually, he goes for reality, showing the subtle effects of street lights and headlights, but in a simple manner to match Hamner's art.

The final page is awesome, too. I won't spoil it.

Tomorrow, Chris Weston and Ministry of Space.

Five Years Blogging: A Life Well Wasted 06

[David Brothers and I continue discussing five years of comics blogging. Part five is over at 4thletter.]

David Brothers: Oh, it totally makes sense, and I'm definitely like that with Spider-Man. I understand where it comes from, too -- superhero books are built to hook people over the long-term. We want to see the soap opera continue, even after quitting comics or growing older. I mean, why else would I have read so much of that last New Warriors run? It had to have been my love for Thrash and Jubilee, because it certainly wasn't good otherwise.

Nostalgia moves units. Otherwise, why would we have a Jean Grey tease out of Marvel once a year? Imagine if movies did that. The plot of Godfather IV being the return of Luca Brasi or something.

So, yeah, it's weird, but it's weird in a way that I've grown up with, like making waffles in the oven or a little syrup on eggs. I think when it goes overboard, like when DC brings back Hal Jordan and Barry Allen and Ray Palmer and expects us to enjoy the deluge of boring old fuddy-duddies who represent the Good Ol' Days, it comes off stilted and dumb. I get tired of the constant kowtowing to the past. Hit me over the head with something new!

I was skeptical of Marvel's latest stab at a book called New Mutants, mainly because it featured the original cast in a book of the same name, nearly twenty years after their book had been canceled and apparently in the same roles they held back then. Instead, though, Zeb Wells is telling the stories of those kids as adults, with the title being a simple and obvious nostalgia-grab.

When done well, it works, but I vastly prefer new stories. Death to the past! At the same time, though, a classic hero showing up out of nowhere with a slick, "Did ya miss me?" before KOing the big bad guy? That's pretty good. Reading comics is kind of like giving yourself Stockholm Syndrome, I think.

I find books almost entirely by recommendation these days. I quit reading solicits a few months back, barring a quick skim for names I know or new hardcovers. People like Matthew Brady and Jog are invaluable, really. Each week they round up what's new and interesting and point out stuff I never would've thought to pick up. I'm pretty sure that Matthew's long series on Naoki Urasawa's Monster reminded me that Monster existed and that I had nine of the eighteen volumes, and from there I tripped into Pluto and Viz Signature. Really, I should send him an invoice for all the manga I bought in 2009.

One thing I used to do with music (back when liner notes were a going concern) and that I do with comics now is pay attention to what people I like enjoy reading. The essays in the back of Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips's Criminal are great for finding movies or books I need to grab, and random interviews with writers or artists work in much the same way.

I don't pay attention to the corporate hype machine much any more. Everything is "work of his career" this and "best she's done yet" that. Getting suggestions from actual people, people whose tastes I kinda know, is much more valuable. This is something else where Twitter helps out a lot. "Hey, what should I read?" gets you a bunch of responses.

I know we share a few interests, but I think Joe Casey is our main overlap in tastes. Since we had to end up here eventually, let's start with the broad strokes. How long have you been reading him and what do you like about his work?

Chad Nevett: I love the essays and ads in Criminal for that reason. That's how I got exposed to Hard Case Crime and their line of books. I've only read four or five of them, but have enjoyed all of them.

Joe Casey... to discuss Joe Casey, we have to go back to the X-story "The Age of Apocalypse," because that's when I got a subscription to Cable via the title becoming X-Man for four months. That story began when I was 11-about-to-be-12 and it was the perfect thing for a kid that age. Everything you know is now completely different! Good guys can be bad guys! Bad guys can be good guys! Some are dead, some are back alive, some are brand new! I had a behind-the-scenes special on the story that Marvel put out and spent hours just studying the new character designs and the maps they provided of their alternate world. I love alternate reality stories. It's the same, but different and you can do anything? Sign me up. They're carte blanche to screw with what you know and let your imagination go complete nuts. No continuity, just awesome times.

Well, for those who don't know, "The Age of Apocalypse" was a four-month story where Professor X was killed in the past by his insane, time-travelling son Legion who was trying to kill Magneto before he and Charles had a falling out. This resulted in the whole timeline changing and, for those four months, all of the regular X-books were replaced with their "Age of Apocalypse" counterpart. Uncanny X-Men became Astonishing X-Men, X-Men became Amazing X-Men, etc. As I said, Cable became X-Man, a younger version of the character bred by combining the DNA of Scott Summers and Jean Grey, which is somehow easier to understand than Cable's origin. Something about this character appealed to me, probably the name. How was there no character named 'X-Man' yet? Since that was coming up, I asked one of my aunts for a subscription to Cable/X-Man for Christmas and, when the X-books reverted back to their normal status quo, my subscription carried on with Cable. (What's weird, though, is that in the lead-up to "Age of Apocalypse," the subscription page listed the "AoA" titles, not the regular ones, so I literally subscribed to X-Man... and that subscription carried on with Cable despite X-Man being the sole "AoA" book to continue after the event was over. Explain THAT to me, Marvel!)

So, I had a subscription to Cable and I kept up with that as the title was... eh, mediocre. I didn't mind it much then, but now? It was Jeph Loeb and Ian Churchill. After that team left the book, it sort of floundered for a while until James Robinson and Ladronn took over with #-1 (remember those issues?) and began their opening story with #48 as Cable took on the Hellfire Club and Apocalypse's Harbinger. This was a semi-big deal at the time since Robinson had his reputation and it looked like Cable was going to turn around. And, then, issue 51 came out and it was written by some guy named Joe Casey. Who the hell is Joe Casey? I had never heard of him and I had, at least, heard of... well, basically everyone. Of course, this was Casey's first work for Marvel and in comics aside from a very forgotten thing for Calibre, I believe... So, here I was with a subscription to this book, Ladronn still doing his gorgeous art and Casey as the new writer, so I was basically forced to read this guy's work and he hooked me. He followed through on all of the promise Robinson's run and really made Cable into a fantastic read. After that, I made an effort to see what he was doing and, thankfully, he popped up in a few books that my dad was buying like Wildcats, Deathlok, Mr. Majestic and the odd one-off issue here and there, and he really blew me away.

What appealed to me about his writing at first was how he could blend the new and the old. He's very skilled at taking older concepts or characters and making them work now. In his Cable run, he made it a point to have Cable interact with the larger non-X-related Marvel universe by putting him in Hell's Kitchen and having him start a romantic subplot with a waitress at a diner. One issue that really grabbed me was one where Domino had been beaten nearly to death by this guy and Cable hunts him down to this crappy supervillain hang-out bar. Before Cable arrives, though, we get a scene of some out of costume villains just shooting the shit playing poker and that was one of those instances where I hadn't seen something like that before. Bad guys just acting like regular people and telling funny stories about their run-ins with heroes. Casey's good about bringing things down to that human level, of merging the realistic and the fantastic. There's also something fearless about his writing. Not always, but on numerous projects, he just does what he wants and thinks will work, screw the rules or what everyone else is doing, or if it will be a commercial success. He doesn't seem to turn his back on commercial successes, he just doesn't court them. Then again, it's hard to simplify his entire body of work down into a couple of paragraphs since it's rather varied (in content, tone, and quality).

I imagine you weren't on board with Casey from, basically, day one like me; when do you discover him? If I were to guess, I'd say it was Wildcats Version 3.0 since, despite its low sales, that's where people seem to have discovered that, yeah, this guy could write and was worth looking out for (when they weren't confusing him with Joe Kelly, of course -- which I never understood since the last names are different...).

Read part seven on 4thletter!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Art Discussion Month 2010: Tokyo Storm Warning #1-3 by James Raiz

[Continuing Art Discussion Month 2010. 31 days, 31 artists, a whole lot of discussion. The explanation behind my choice of comics and the archive can be found here.]

Tokyo Storm Warning #1-3. Written by Warren Ellis. Pencilled by James Raiz. Inked by Andrew Currie and Trevor Scott. Additional art on issue 3 by Carlos D'Anda. Coloured by Wildstorm FX.

This is a cute book. Basically, it's all of the superficial elements of Japanese monster/robot entertainment crammed into one larger explanation, beginning with the idea that Tokyo had an atomic bomb dropped on it in 1945 based on intel suggesting Japanese had their own atomic weapons program. Now, an America, Zoe Flynn, has been sent to Tokyo in an exchange program to fly one of their ARCangels, giant robots piloted by humans. They appeared one day in 1992 after the previous round of giant robots stopped working. They fight the monsters that appear out of thin air and always head toward the Tokyo Storm Tower, destroying whatever is in their path. Turns out, they're trying to get the power source, which is an interesting little idea that I won't spoil.

I don't mind the art or this series as much as others seem to, but I don't really like it either. Raiz can draw nice looking robots and monsters, but his people are overly detailed in all the wrong ways, looking somewhat twisted and unnatural. His giant robots and monsters fighting is tough to follow. Really, his storytelling isn't strong. That comes from his intricate art that has no sense of texture or depth. Everything is evened out and flat, so, when we have an ARCangel fighting a monster, the panels are just jumbled messes of lines and detail without any sense of what's actually happening. I can guess at what I'm supposed to be seeing, but I can't say for sure.

One big problem there is that he's drawing big, giant things, but chooses to show them in close-ups, focusing in on specific parts and that leaves us contextless, especially when you do that for four straight pages. There's no sense of the size of them.

He overdraws pages, providing so much detail that it all becomes meaningless, in a sense. You can't really focus on anything. Nothing draws your eye or attention. That's what I mean by flat: it's all equal, everything you see. Soon, your eyes just gloss over and you don't really see anything on the page. And this is a giant robot fighting a fucking three-headed lizard monster! If you're boring me and making me skim, you're just drawing it wrong, plain and simple.

Carlos D'Anda does a few pages in the third issue and that leads to an unintentionally funny moment. In that issue, three monsters appear and they're meant to be Godzilla, Rodan, and Gamera. Raiz's Godzilla and D'Anda's Godzilla are kind of similar, but it's like going from the Japanese version to the American one as far as the look goes -- the colouring even noticeably changes.

The colouring doesn't help the art. It's equally flat, not trying to emphasise what the reader should be looking at. In panel, it adds a blur effect to a monster's movement that's never repeated for movement again anywhere in the series.

Honestly, it's a cute little book that I'm kind of annoyed is attached in a flipbook with Red since that series is one of my favourites and this is just kind of there. (I wonder how they decided which of the three-issue minis to stick together, because Reload and Red seem like the obvious choices for a flipbook given the similar subject matter...)

And, tomorrow, we'll look at Cully Hamner's work on Red.

Quickie Reviews (Mar 24 2010)

A big haul this week, though I couldn't get a copy of Power Girl #10, sadly.

glamourpuss #12: Er... haven't read this one yet, but I'm guessing it's a typical issue and, therefore, good. I don't think I'd have much to say about it anyway.

Marvels Project #7: A good-looking comic, but the overall story still seems so random and thrown together. I'm curious to see how this will read as a whole. But, still, Steve Epting and Dave Stewart are fucking rocking this title hard. [***]

New Avengers #63: Ah, I love how this issue and Avengers: The Initiative #34 both show two different fight scenes after Captain America says he doesn't remember who Taskmaster is. I'm not sure why, but this issue is rated 'A'... is that all ages or adult? But, no, a good looking comic with some of the usual great character work from Bendis. Exactly what I want from a Siege tie-in issue. [****]

Scalped #36: "Shunka" part 1... a good issue. I like Davide Furno's art and that they keep going to the same people to do fill-in issues and arcs for the most part. The fourth page was a genuine shocker, because I did not see that coming. Not really buying the over-the-top 'Shunka is no mere man, he's a fucking mythic mystery' narration, but a typically good issue of Scalped. [****]

Secret Warriors #14: A good follow-up to last issue as the series continues to build and build while giving some payoffs as we go, like Madame Hydra/Contessa's true motives. The reaction of Daisy to Sebastian being kicked off the team was good. And, man, if ever a book was improved by a change in colourist, it's this one. (Captain America, too, because Tim was right.) [***1/2]

Superman/Batman #70: Wow, a good issue of this story! Some nice action, Batman taking on a wrestling-themed villain and getting all spaced out. This could turn out to be a nice, slower-burner of a story. Too bad the art is severely lacking. [***]

Thor #608: "Wait, was Heimdall freed last issue?" was what I thought when I began reading this issue. Tyr's subplot was a good one and actually had me and the character both going "Of course!" at the same time with the Ares reveal. Really, a big fight issue that ends where everything else tying into Siege #3 ended this week. Nothing too impressive, but some good moments. [**1/2]

Next week, I won't be hitting the shop since I only have two books to buy, so expect a big week the following Wednesday. Later.

Five Years Blogging: A Life Well Wasted 04

[David Brothers and I continue our discussion about five years of comics blogging. Part three is up on 4thletter.]

David Brothers: It's interesting that you say that the Splash Page's popularity is both gratifying and frustrating. I enjoy it in part because it's a team-up between two people who I enjoy reading, kind of a special event, but I can definitely see where you're coming from. It's probably a similar feeling to writing a really great bit of analysis and watching a short post where you call someone a jerk get all the attention, yeah?

I think the draw of the Fourcast! for me is just sitting around talking about comics. I don't even remember why we began it, and gmail is telling me I probably asked her in person rather than sorting it out over email. I think it was just an idea I had and decided to make work. "Hey, I wonder if I can do this? Might as well find out!" kinda thing. I listen to a few podcasts, and I'm friends with Ron Richards from iFanboy, so I figured I should take a stab at it. It's definitely a different way of talking about comics. Shop talk is informal, a "can you top this" sort of thing, writing is detailed and needs structure, but podcasting is pretty much, "Okay, Batgirl. Go!"

Text-based content is fun and lets you be very detailed and all, but doing a show is more off the cuff and raw to me. It's way more personal, in part because you're on the spot. We prep before the show, picking subjects during the week and doing a quick recap before recording on Saturday, but the prep is usually, at most, just short notes. "We're gonna talk about Batgirl, then Wednesday Comics, and then do a brief bit about Alfred." It's all freestyled, which means we get some stuff wrong occasionally, but you'd be surprised at how easy it is to do.

I laugh a lot more when doing a show. It's a chance to back down from treating comics seriously for a while and just have some fun. I realized late last year that we pretty much do a Batman-focused show once a month. I'm not very fond of the Batbooks at the moment, reading basically just Batman & Robin (when the art is good), but it's always a trip. It helps that we record in person. I've done a couple of Skype shows with the Funnybook Babylon gang and, while they were good, you end up talking over each other. Since Esther sits on my couch when we record, she has the benefit of facial cues, raised hands, or thrown books to tell me when to stop talking about how dreamy Grant Morrison is.

On the subject of sounding worse... editing is a lifesaver. If you do something like, say, talk about '80s comics for 10 minutes straight in your 2009 Year in Review show... you can delete those. I'm fairly soft-spoken, but deeper voiced, which means that a certain amount of volume adjustment is necessary, anyway.

I like that story of how you and Tim connected. It's also funny how parallel our paths have been-- I bought Tim's book at my first New York Comic-con in '07 (though I think he wasn't at the table), and I'd interacted with Geoff Klock a bit online. We had a shared love of All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder (his piece on ASBAR and the grotesque is one of my favorite posts ever) and ended up meeting by accident at NYCC 07 and spent most of what I kinda vaguely remember as being a DC Universe panel talking about Dark Knight Strikes Again.

At NYCC '08, I met the Funnybook Babylon guys for the first time after terrorizing the internet together for a couple years. NYCC '09 introduced me to Tim (briefly, at least) and led to me, Sean Witzke, and Tucker Stone standing outside in the New York cold talking about Garth Ennis and accidentally founding the Joe Casey Fanclub. Meeting all these people who I dig is fun and (so far) always cool. Have you managed to make it out to any cons?

I love being able to talk about comics online, but talking about them with intelligent people (not like-minded people) is the biggest draw for me, especially with the advent of Twitter. Has Twitter changed your approach to blogging or how you read comics?

Chad Nevett: I have been to two cons in my life. I went to Chicago in 2003 and met up with a lot of people from Millarworld. In fact, I slept on the couch of someone from the forum while in Chicago and that was a great time. It also taught me that the only thing I really like about cons is meeting people from the internet. The con itself I could do without since I hate crowds, find the panels boring PR sessions, have absolutely no ambition in meeting creators/getting autographs, and, well, can buy books any time (though some deals are wonderful). But, the meeting people was great. Though, at the time, I was 20 and our big 'drink up' meeting was in the hotel bar, which started carding after I was in, so I was good. Except that the bathrooms were outside of the bar and I would have to leave should I want to relieve myself. That meant the lone coke I ordered with my food became my only drink of the night. I'm not a big alcohol drinker, though, so that didn't bother me at all, I was just very thirsty after a while.

The other con was the Paradise Comics Toronto Comicon in 2005 with a couple of friends where I got in for free since I managed to convince them that being an editor of the UWO Gazette was good enough to warrant a press pass. I did do a couple of interviews while I was there, which was cool. I interviewed Chip Zdarsky and B. Clay Moore, both of whom were very nice and accomodating of me and my frantic note-taking. That was also one of the rare cons Warren Ellis attended, so my buddy and I got to see him do one of his famous Q&A panels which is basically Warren telling funny stories until he doesn't feel like it anymore, which, in this case, was when the con organisers told him he had to go sign things. My buddy wanted something signed and I had brought my copy of Come in Alone since it's probably my favourite piece of work Ellis has done. When we got up to the front, Ellis takes a look at my press pass and goes "I recognise that name..." (or something like that) and that was weird. I don't think it was a good thing.

I have been meaning to get to another con -- Tim keeps telling me to come to the New York one -- but money has been issue. The New York one sounds great since a lot of people I'd like to meet and annoy would probably be there. Mostly the people I annoy on Twitter like Tim, Tucker, Sean...

Talking comics on Twitter is good and bad, I find. It's great for brief little tangental discussions where you just throw quick ideas out there, but for anything actually resembling an intelligent discussion, it can be difficult because of the limitations of the site. 140 characters is rather small to have a good conversation. Don't get me wrong, I've had some, like debating Batman killing with Uzumeri, but it doesn't happen that much. Plus, because of the way it works, conversations will become splintered and fractured as other interested people jump in -- which is a cool element, but does hinder conversations, too. Like most things, it's good and bad. It's great for reactions to news items or books when you don't have much to say beyond your initial thought of 'I like' or 'I hate.'

As such, I don't think it's changed how I blog or read comics except for people mentioning books that I should check out. I think it decreases the 'need' to blog, that feeling of wanting to share with people because I'm doing so there, but, otherwise, it hasn't altered much that I'm aware of. How about you?

Read part five on 4thletter!

CBR Review: Avengers: The Initiative #34

I recently reviewed Avengers: The Initiative #34 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "One of the most interesting things about Avengers: The Initiative #34 is seeing how Jorge Molina depicts scenes already drawn by Olivier Coipel in Siege #3, including the stunning fall of Asgard. Now, obviously, matching the detailed, gorgeous art of Coipel is a tall order for any artist and Molina struggles a little bit, but does an able job, especially at keeping a coherent look to what Coipel established, an underrated quality that tends to get noticed only when an artist fails to do it."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Uncanny X-Men #522

I recently reviewed Uncanny X-Men #522 and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "In Uncanny X-Men #522, Matt Fraction has two goals: conclude the plot involving Kitty Pryde’s return to Earth, and get the book ready for the 'Second Coming' crossover beginning next month. He accomplishes both, but in a somewhat mechanical and not entirely convincing manner. However, there are some very nice character moments and the end offers a somewhat cruel surprise. Throw in an interesting back-up story and it’s a solid issue of Uncanny X-Men."

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

CBR Review: The Incredibles #7

I recently reviewed The Incredibles #7 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "In the conclusion to the Dash-centric story arc, the true nature of the threat to him and his family is revealed in the form of Mesmerella and it’s up to Dash to break her spell before his sister dies in a fall from the top of a skyscraper. It’s a strong, simple, straight forward story of heroism that’s very effective and continues to tie into the struggle of the Incredibles as they balance their ‘normal’ lives and their superhero lives."

You can read the rest HERE!

Art Discussion Month 2010: Reload #1-3 by Paul Gulacy

[Continuing Art Discussion Month 2010. 31 days, 31 artists, a whole lot of discussion. The explanation behind my choice of comics and the archive can be found here.]

Reload #1-3. Written by Warren Ellis. Pencilled by Paul Gulacy. Inked by Jimmy Palmiotti. Coloured by Guy Major.

Funny how Black Summer got all sorts of notice for killing the President when this series begins the same way. Sure, it's not Bush and it's a not a superhero doing it, but still. Another high concept book: Chris Royal is Secret Service and the President was just killed by a mystery assailant. In investigating what happened, he notices inconsistencies in what the official story will be and is kidnapped by the assassin, a woman named Kiva, and she tells him why she did it. Turns out, a while back, the mob began worming its way into politics, figuring that was a good way to run business and, now, they had complete control of the White House without anyone knowing. She was trained to be a government assassin and hates who she's been taking orders from, so she killed the President and now wants to kill his Chief of Staff along with the rest of the Presidential team. Royal goes along with it. Mob takes over government, so government assassin kills them all. Lovely.

Gulacy's art isn't really like anyone's who I've looked at so far this month. He's very good at showing movement in a dynamic, interesting manner. He doesn't use any standard page layouts, changing it up to suit his needs at the time. His faces have a unique look to them, but I'm not sure how I would describe them other than 'they look like Paul Gulacy faces.' He uses a lot of shadows. He doesn't always use panel borders, having two pictures take place within what we think of as the same panel, but still look separated.

The sequence where the President is assassinated is stunning. Over two pages:

Page 1. Divided into three tiers. Top and bottom tiers are roughly 1/3 the height of the middle tier. The middle tier has one picture that takes up the space with two narrow, long panels laid at the top left and bottom right corners. So, five panels. The first two panels are shots of the President delivering his speech, first from a head-on view from way in the back of the crowd, then from just to the President's right, maybe five feet away. Third panel is the big one with the second and fourth panels overlaid -- it shows the bullet flying through the air, coming at an angle towards us. The fourth panel shows it about three inches from the President's forehead. The fifth has it about to hit him, seemingly between the eyes. We're right behind the bullet and the President has almost a cross-eyed look as if he sees the bullet coming and is thinking "Ah fuck..."

Page 2. Three panel, same proportions of the tiers, but the first and third panels go all the way to the edge of the page. First panel, heavy blacks, a little sketchy, a behind view of the President's brains being blown out. Second panel has those brains literally hitting the American flag behind him (which is hung on its side, so the stripes go vertically) with some of the brains and blood dripping down to the third panel, covering the President's head as he lays dead, SS agents all around. Go breaking of the panel border for a kind of shocking and graphic visual.

Chris Royal is drawn in an interesting fashion. He's got this look of a bit of a fuckaround about him. In the first issue, in one panel, I just get the sense from how he looks that he'd rather be somewhere else. He looks like the sort of guy that joined the SS because he believed in something, but that's deteriorated as he's had to deal with the bullshit that goes along with the job -- and who exactly he's tasked to protect. That doesn't mean he slacks on the job, it just means he doesn't look happy with his lot in life.

His action scenes use a lot of different layouts and perspectives. In those scenes more than any others, though, he seems to stick to panel borders. He's more inclined to have panels overlap slightly or have a larger image in the background with panels overlaid than have figures break the borders -- though the second issue is very confined compared to the first and third. In some cases, he does break the borders, often to give it a chaotic effect, like having a bunch of panels with two random shots of Kiva or Royal's guns firing laid on top a little without any panel borders.

I don't know if it's in Ellis's script, but he's not afraid to use a lot of panels in his art, especially in action sequences to show the more minute moments and movements, giving them a quicker pacing as a result.

He generally uses a thin line, but that breaks up in places. I don't know if it's too thin and doesn't print well, but, sometimes, characters aren't fully drawn in spots because the line just disappears. But, usually, when he works with heavier shadows, the lines are thicker and more lush, avoiding that trap.

Guy Major's colours are pretty similar to David Baron's, but a little darker. Since a lot of the comic takes place at night, there's a general level of shadow and lack of light in the colour tones. Even in the daytime, nothing gets too bright or shiny.

Tomorrow: Tokyo Storm Warning #1-3 by James Raiz.

Five Years Blogging: A Life Well Wasted 02

[To celebrate the fifth anniversary of both GraphiContent and 4thletter, David Brothers and I started chatting on Google Docs a couple of months ago and, well, we've finally finished with 11 chunks of discussion. The first part is up on 4thletter with each of us posting a new piece each day. So, enjoy the next five days as David and I talk blogging, comics, and, hopefully, make some sense along the way.]

David Brothers: I think I asked Gav and Wilde because they were my main comics friends online at the time. In fact, I'm like 99% certain that Wilde was the one who put me onto 100 Bullets. I thought it'd be fun to have something a little more open than a message board, and I wasn't quite arrogant enough to think that I could do it on my own. I wanted the kind of comics site I wanted to read, where reviews and oddball pieces and litcrit all walked around hand in hand. If it were just me on 4l!, I wouldn't be bored to tears, but I wouldn't be half as interested (and dedicated) as I am now. It's nice to talk these things out long-form sometimes, like when me and Esther did the point/counterpoint on the "superheroes don't kill" thing a few months back. It's comic shop talk taken to a more formal level, I guess?

Before Esther joined up, we had a couple roster changes. Wilde faded away after a while, so we asked a guy we knew named Paul, code-named Hoatzin, into the circle. He was a really funny guy, did some great reviews and had some quality cartooning chops, too. He eventually faded, too, leaving just me and Gavin. We hustled along for six months or so in 2008 before I badgered Esther, who I know from living in San Francisco, into writing for 4l!. We'd get together and talk comics every once and a while, and it was always fun, in part because we don't see things the same way.

Gav and I have specific tastes, including a shared love of Power Man & Iron Fist. I thought Esther would add an interesting point-of-view to the site, got her to do a couple guest posts, and then sent her a login like "Hey, try this if you want to go all out." This would've been late August, early September '08. Now, between all three of us, we've got almost every base covered as far as interests in comics go. Gav does Marvel and funny stuff (he is genuinely my favorite comedy writer online, has been for years), Esther loves DC and isn't afraid to flex her fangirl feminist muscles, and I'm, uh, everything else.

How much thought do you put into Graphicontent as a site/endeavor? I have rules that I write under (no cursing, no unreasonable personal attacks, list the creators involved every time, provide context whenever possible, etc) in an attempt to present a certain image of "David Brothers, comics blogger." I don't know how successful it is, but I've been doing it so long now that it's second-nature. How do you approach blogging? What're your qualifications for doing it? (Do you need qualifications to blog?)

Chad Nevett: I don't know if I ever thought about that explicitly. Obviously, I don't adhere by the no swearing rule, but I've always made a conscious effort to avoid personal attacks as well. I think my approach has always been just present my thoughts as honestly and directly as possible. I've always tried for a conversational tone, because that's what I find easiest to write and read, especially when discussing subtext and other facets of the work beyond superficial readings. Of course, it's more of a spectrum than a fixed point with short reviews usually very informal and casual, while longer pieces are more formal in tone.

My approach to blogging has changed over time, especially since I got the CBR reviewing gig. I think that made my blog posting a little less formal most of the time since I had to be more formal and professional all of the time there. Blogging became an outlet, partly, for that casual approach to discussing comics where you can tell exactly what I think in as direct a way possible. Meaning, if I think it's shit, I say it's shit. I can understand others not wanting to present that image, but it's never concerned me.

I think the internet has proven you don't need to be qualified other than wanting to say something. I think my education certainly gives me a perspective that's different from many. I'd hope I'm able to look beneath the surface a bit more, see the subtext a bit easier at times, pick up on literary techniques... That was partly my goal, I guess, when Steve and I began the blog. Two English lit guys talking comics. Do bloggers need qualifications? What do you think you bring? Do you ever find yourself falling back on being a 'black blogger' (or, feeling pressure to present that image) since that's an area not necessarily filled by comics bloggers in general?

Read part three over at 4thletter!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

CBR Review: Breaking into Comics the Marvel Way #2

I recently reviewed Breaking into Comics the Marvel Way #2 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "I liked the first issue of Breaking into Comics the Marvel Way. Now the second issue contains six more eight-page stories written by mainstay Marvel writers and drawn by newly-discovered talent by C.B. Cebulski, some novice and some quite experienced in Europe or South America. The preview pages offer a good look at each artist’s work, but this collection is solid and interesting.

You can read the rest HERE!

Art Discussion Month 2010: Mek #1-3 by Steve Rolston

[Continuing Art Discussion Month 2010. 31 days, 31 artists, a whole lot of discussion. The explanation behind my choice of comics and the archive can be found here.]

Mek #1-3. Written by Warren Ellis. Pencilled by Steve Rolston. Inked by Al Gordon. Coloured by David Baron.

The first of five three-issue minis written by Ellis whose art I'll be examining. Apparently, Eric Canete was originally meant to drawn this, but that fell through somehow. Going from Canete's angular, intricate art, which I've described as looking like math (Canete draws like math being the line I like to use, because it sounds cool), to Steve Rolston's simpler, more cartoony style seems like a big jump, but I think that that's what required. Anyone working in a similar style to Canete would be seen as Canete Lite, but Rolston is such a big jump and brings such different skills to the project that he can escape Canete's shadow with ease. (Ironically, over the years, Canete's art has moved toward a more cartoony style...)

Mek is about a technological subculture, people who install 'mek' in themselves. Often sex-related or just stuff like artificial eyes or communication devices. Sarissa Leon was one of the people at the forefront of the movement and has since 'sold out' by going to Washington and being an advocate for the movement, something that some think puts her out of touch. She's returned to Sky Road to figure out how her ex-boyfriend died at the hands of 'bad mek' (weaponised mek). Pretty simple.

One of the biggest strengths Rolston brings to the project is his ability to draw human expressions. There's a softness to his characters because of his style that contrasts well with the technology of the book. People look soft and human, the technology looking unnatural and foreign in them to a degree. There's a larger contrast between the flesh and the metal/plastic with Rolston on art.

However, his technology doesn't look as cold or sterile as you'd want either. It's also softer, simpler, more attractive. There's a positive there since you get a better idea as to why people would want to adorn themselves with mek since it doesn't look too offputting. It's an odd contradiction: it looks wrong, but not so wrong that it isn't attractive.

That said, I'm still not sure that Rolston is a good fit for the story. His art has never turned me off really, but it also distances the reader from the world a little too much. He doesn't convey the grime and grit of Sky Road as effectively as you'd want. That cartoony style adds another barrier to the world depicted, which is meant to be like ours only a decade or two down the road at most. Because of that, I think you need a more realistic style that reflects the real world stronger. I don't want you to take that as 'cartoony art is worse than realistic art,' because that's not my intention. I merely think that a more realistic art style would suit the material better. One sequence where a man uses his mek to turn into a dog basically wouldn't have been more effective with a realistic art style.

I'm not sure I've seen Ellis work with an artist with such a cartoony style before, which could be what throws me or makes me back off a little. But, there are moments that seem cribbed from other Ellis comics. A police officer that Sarissa consults with, in one panel, reminds me of the way John Higgins drew Watfod in Hellblazer, smarmy look, rubbing his hand with the other... Sarissa has the strong, elegant look of an Ellis heroine, not entirely dissimilar to Jakita Wagner of Planetary. It's obvious that Rolston examined other Ellis comics to get a feel for the visual style of his books.

As I said, he's fantastic at facial expressions. He uses so few lines to get across exactly what a character is thinking. Sarissa is the main focus of the story, so Rolston spends the most time showing her and a lot of how we understand her is through his visuals. In any given scene, we know what she's feeling because of Rolston's art. She is a little guarded with her emotions, but they still come through because of small, subtle things.

The page layouts are very basic and simple, presenting the story in an easy to read, direct fashion. He's good at panel-to-panel movement and establishing the environment/setting of scenes. In that respect, I don't see many (if any) flaws. David Baron's colours are straight forward and done in solid blocks for the most part with a little bit of progressive shading. Bright colours often, even when it's dark... he definitely adapts to Rolston's cartoony art.

What makes this book stand out is Rolston's art, which is strong, but doesn't necessarily match up tonally. Ellis isn't a cartoony writer often and Mek is a bit more straight forward in its connections to reality, so Rolston is automatically at a disadvantage/place where he needs to prove himself. But, I like his art. His Sarissa is strong and connects with the reader. There's a real softness and humanity in his art that brings out the same quality in Ellis's writing -- something that's usually there, but isn't necessarily highlighted by artists. I can understand people who aren't a fan or think Rolston is a bad fit, but I definitely disagree.