by KC Carlson
A funny thing happened as I was preparing to write this column…
I’m short on time these days, as I’m preparing for a trip away from home, and I’m attempting to get about a bazillion things done before I leave (you know the drill). So I decided to multi-task and do my pre-writing research flip though Previews while I was watching the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. At first, reading through the latest monthly solicitations while chilling out to The Roots and John Legend was working out fine.
But then Previews got to me, as it always does, and has for the last several years. After about the second hour of paging through the endless waves of zombies, vampires, big-breasted non-human looking “women”, giant robots, superheroes I no longer recognize (and all looking about as non-human as the women), guns, blood, severed limbs, implied (or explicit) sex, scantily clad robots (let’s think about this…), zombies with guns, giant robots who are vampires … all of it SCREAMING at me in badly-written, over-caffeinated and only occasionally comprehensible hype, much of it in logos or display type that are impossible to read because they’re dripping with blood! — I finally cracked.
These days, I equate looking at Previews with being trapped in one of those classic film drug freak-out scenes from Easy Rider or The Trip (or Pulp Fiction or Traffic for those too young for 60s references). With the volume turned up to 11. And on a loop that plays for 3 or 4 days.
So, in the spirit of Stewart’s “Medal of Reasonableness” and one of the underlying message of the rally — the few who are always the loudest shouldn’t get to decide — I’m devoting this month’s column to the comics, companies, and creators who constantly get lost in all the shouting, yet often produce some of the very best work in comics. (Actually, something I try to do much of the time — just making it more explicit this month.)
(And those of you who like vampires and zombies and giant robots — that’s cool, too! You should like what you like. But please don’t be mistaken that that’s everything that comics is about — because it isn’t. Should you find yourself “zombie-light” this month, why not try out one or more of these things below?)
1. Bongo Comics: If there was a comics publisher who epitomizes the concept of reasonableness, it would have to be Bongo Comics. They publish a modest, entertaining line of comics which generally come out like clockwork. Simpsons Comics is consistently the funniest comic book around, and the recent Comic Book Guy miniseries was a hoot and a half as well. And I admire them for keeping Futurama (a brilliant concept) alive while the TV show it was based on was getting knocked around by a network (Fox) who didn’t have any idea what to do with it. As a publisher, they don’t seem too interested in taking over the world or plotting to double their market share with crazy schemes every five minutes. Plus, they know zombies are supposed to be funny. And here’s the secret about why their comics are so consistently good: they treat their creative people very well. They want to pretend that they’re anarchic, so they’ll probably be upset that I find them so reasonable, and there’s something really refreshing about that. Especially in comics.
Go buy their comics. You probably could use a good laugh.
2. The Finder Library: Not only is Carla Speed McNeil one of the most interesting creators in comics, she has one of the coolest (and most memorable) names! Recently clumsily described as a “rising star”, McNeil is one of the most accomplished indy creators around, as her work has been nominated for 17 industry awards (winning five) since 1998. Her major (and most acclaimed) work is Finder, a brilliant and lyrical science fiction series, which has been constantly evolving since 1996. Faced with storytelling limitations in the 24-page Finder comic book, as well as flatlining sales for the individual issues, McNeil was an early proponent of graphic novels (published by her Lightspeed Press) before taking Finder online in 2005, where it became a webcomics success story. Now, Dark Horse is collecting the entire (to date) Finder saga in beautiful omnibus collections called The Finder Library. These accompany new Finder stories as well — the previously unpublished Finder: Voice graphic novel was listed last month.
The first Finder Library (listed this month) collects the multiple Eisner-nominated story arcs Sin-Eater, King of Cats, and Talisman in a massive 616-page collection. Acclaimed for its lush storytelling and well-defined and compelling characters, Finder is a challenging and complex science fiction series told through astoundingly beautiful art and accomplished design. It’s a perfect series for readers who love to get swept up in new concepts and intricate worlds, which McNeil explores further in her extensive notes and annotations to the series, deeply explaining the particulars of her settings.
Talisman is a favorite of series readers because of the deeply emotional way it explores the love of reading and books. A young girl in a future society that’s moved beyond print is seeking the book her family read to her in childhood, only to find that memory is more powerful than any story. King of Cats, in contrast, focuses outwards, as McNeil’s renegade trickster protagonist, the Sin-Eater of the first story, explores a modern twist on theme parks, traveling with a native group put on display for the amusement of visitors. Fans of such science fiction writers as Ursula K. Le Guin and Samuel R. Delany will especially enjoy McNeil’s work. If you’re looking for new fictional worlds to explore and ideas to intrigue you, look no further than the brilliant and critically acclaimed Finder. It is everything that great comics should be.
3. Delirium’s Party: A Little Endless Storybook: Jill Thompson has a unique skill in blending cute and creepy, as she’s amply demonstrated in her own Scary Godmother series. Several years ago, she worked with Neil Gaiman on applying that talent to his Sandman characters, the immortal Endless, resulting in the adorable little people of The Little Endless Storybook (Little Dream and Death first appeared in Sandman #40). Now she returns with another story of the cutest l’il dysfunctional family of omnipotent beings in the universe! Yay! In an effort to finally cheer up the dour Despair, Little Delirium decides to throw a party for her, inviting all the other siblings — Dream, Destruction, Death, Destiny, and Desire — because it’s simply not a party without them. But with Delirium as the party planner, this will be no ordinary affair! Providing a wonderful palette for Thompson’s amazing imagination and whimsical prose, Delirium’s Party is sure to be all the rage! A 64-page hardcover illustrated storybook (with Thompson’s incredible watercolors!) for kids of all ages. Published by DC/Vertigo.
4. Nancy Is Happy: Subtitled The Complete Dailies 1942-1945, this 432-page book is exactly that — collecting four complete years of early Nancy daily comic strips by Ernie Bushmiller. That may be all the concrete information there is of this new archival strip project, as it’s a long-discussed matter of debate as to just what Nancy is. Historically, Nancy evolved out of Bushmiller’s good-girl Fritzi Ritz flapper strip, originally created by Larry Whittington in 1922 before Bushmiller took it over three years later. Nancy is Fritzi’s eight-year-old niece, introduced in 1933. She became so popular that she took over the strip in 1938. Over the years, Nancy became a very popular strip, despite the fact that it was often unfunny (sometimes spectacularly so), and for many readers, the jokes seldom made sense. Yet it was so simple and uncluttered visually, it was often the very first strip most people looked at when scanning the comics page. In more recent times, many popular artists insist there is a special, largely undefinable, zen-like quality to the strip, as well as a non sequitur element completely unique to this comic. Leading Nancyologists include Art Spiegelman, Denis Kitchen (publisher of the awesome How Sluggo Survives, among others), Bill Griffith, and Scott McCloud, who created the brilliant Five-Card Nancy game. [ http://www.scottmccloud.com/4-inventions/nancy/index.html ]
Another Nancy fan is Daniel Clowes, who will be providing the introduction to the book. Publisher Fantagraphics promises more Nancy goodness in the future. (If you’ve been paying attention and are confused by why the above dates don’t line up exactly, this book is actually the second volume in the Nancy series. Fantagraphics has decided to lead with this, as they are still in the process of tracking down some early scarce archival material.)
5. Lewis & Clark GN: If you know your history, you know why this is such a great subject for a 144-page b&w graphic novel from my old pal Nick Bertozzi. Charged with exploring and mapping the Louisiana Purchase, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out to follow the Missouri River from Pittsburgh west to the Pacific Ocean. With personal backing from President Jefferson, well-staffed, lavishly-equipped, and led by experts (including the famous Sacajawea), the expedition was considered an success before it had even begun. Then came the problems.
Another award-winning creator, Bertozzi is no stranger to historical projects. Two of his best-known are The Salon, which explores the birth of the Cubism art movement set within a fictional murder mystery, and Houdini: The Handcuff King, written by Jason Lutes, a history of the famous escape artist. Lewis & Clark is published by First Second.
6. Archie: 50 Times an American Icon: Similar to the Hero Initiative’s previous Ultimate Spider-Man #100 Project, this new collection brings together over 50 contemporary comic artists (often in surprising combinations) to celebrate the historic Archie Wedding (1 groom, 2 brides, and all “imaginary”). Charged with drawing their version of Archie and his friends on a blank Archie #600 template, the artists have instead gone beyond the Archie wedding to depict the characters as superheroes (George Pérez, Mark McKenna, and more), rock stars (Cliff Chiang, Ben Dewey), and icons (“three on a straw” by John Romita Sr. inked by Todd McFarlane!). Plus, Joseph Michael Linsner draws Betty, and we witness the first professional work of new 17-year-old artist Rachel Ordway when she teams up with her dad Jerry. Plus, there is an actual wedding cover as Jughead marries ???! Other contributors include Sam Keith, Bill Sienkiewicz, and even the Archie wedding artist himself — Stan Goldberg! Plus, you get the history-making Archie #600 story! All proceeds go to the Hero Initiative, which assists comics creators in need.
7. Smurfs: Smurfette: My one concession to comics’ “hot babes” this month: the one and only Smurfette makes her debut in the new Papercutz Smurf graphic novel line by Peyo. Smurf fans who don’t already know her story are in for a big surprise, as Smurfette’s “origin” involves not only Papa Smurf but the evil Gargamel as well! If you only know the Smurfs from the cartoon show, you’re missing out on a very special comic series. This 64-page, full-color graphic novel is available in either hard or softcover and is appropriate for kids of all ages!
8. Walt Disney’s 70th Anniversary: Walt Disney Comics celebrate their 70th Anniversary with a big BOOM! as both Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #715 and Mickey Mouse #304 feature some great stories by their greatest comic book artists — some printed in the U.S. for the very first time! WDC&S includes work by Carl Barks (as a writer), Daan Jippes (2 stories, both new to the U.S.), Don Rosa, and Gill Turner with covers by William Van Horn and Jippes. Mickey Mouse features the classic Bill Walsh/Floyd Gottfredson “The Pirate Ghost Ship”, marking its first complete reprint since 1944. Plus, there’s the never-before-reprinted “Laundry Blues” by Gottfredson; a Goofy tale by Romano Scarpa printed in English for the first time; and covers by either Gottfredson or modern Mickey master Casty! In addition, Boom! has announced that, from this point forward, both titles will continue with classic tales by classic Disney creators from around the world. The fun starts here!
9. Scenes From an Impending Marriage: This looks so charming it shouldn’t be passed up. It started out as a simple illustrated card about his upcoming nuptials, but writer/artist Adrian Tomine (Optic Nerve) ended up with a whole book of short strips about the often absurd process of getting married. Working in a looser, more cartoony style than usual, Tomine has crafted short strips about such wedding planning items as hiring a DJ, finding a location, dance lessons, suit fittings, and managing familial demands. This 56-page collection provides a good-natured, laugh-out-loud skewering of the modern wedding process. It’s not just a comic book — it’s a prenuptial memoir, published by Drawn & Quarterly.
10. Whatever You Want: Since I’m being reasonable this month, I’ve decided that you should pick the crucial 10th item on the list. Choose whatever you want. Have fun! There’s lots of cool stuff out there — even zombie stuff! Just don’t get distracted by all the yelling, pandering, and whatnot. If you so desire, please use the comment box below to share your pick with the rest of the class! Go nuts! Just be reasonable.
And Another Thing: Kudos to DC Comics for making good on their promises and dropping many of their cover prices back down to $2.99 (although I have a couple of qualms about how they’re doing that). It’s a little unfortunate that DC neglected to announce in their solicitations that they were doing another cover stunt this month — Logo Month — as the covers look pretty generic (and confusing) without the explanation. (Is it just me that thinks when you blow up the Outsiders logo to a somewhat abstract size, the slash through the circle actually “reads” as “Don’t Buy Me”? Probably just me…) And they really gotta knock off using that pink “S” logo for Supergirl as it undercuts the dignity of both character and S-shield. Next thing you know, her whole costume will be pink…
Meanwhile, over at Marvel, they’re launching at least seven new 32-page comics at $3.99 this month. Didn’t they say that they weren’t going to do that anymore? — or did they mean January 2012? Plus, there’s at least 30 other 32-page comics still priced at $3.99, including many of their best-sellers and the entire Ultimate line. Just doing a little number crunching this month… That dollar just doesn’t stretch enough any more. Sounds like a job for Mr. Fantastic…
Didn’t Think That One All the Way Through Dept.: Is anyone else excited by the fact that you can now get toys (sorry, action figures) of Bruce Wayne dressed up as a caveman, a pirate, a cowboy, and a guy who kills women because they are “different” (aka: “Witch Hunter”)? Yeah, I didn’t think so…
KC CARLSON would also like to be reasonable and at least mention IDW’s new Infestation project, even though it features zombies. What might be way cool about it is that it may feature crossovers with some of the biggest “franchise comics” in history — G.I. Joe, Star Trek, Transformers, and Ghostbusters — which will be a pretty neat trick if they can pull it off. (Everything depends on the licensees wanting to have some fun and allow for some real crossover action. A pretty big if.) It could be freakin’ fantastic. Or it could be a big bag of steaming hype. But it’s got some good people behind it (like Abnett & Lanning and artist David Messina), so I’m hoping for the best. If Mr. Spock actually meets Drs. Venkman, Spengler, and Stantz, I will be one of the happiest campers on the planet.
Also, Disclaimer: KC Carlson blah blah blah Westfied Comics has no idea blah blah blah not responsible for crazy people.