Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Original Art Sundays (Wednesday) Nos. 210- 211: Speedy Recovery, pp. 6 - 7

Back in the saddle again!
Here are the next two pages of the "Speedy" Recovery and his All-Girl Orchestra story.



The circular layout to introduce a large cast of characters is a very old device. I don't remember where I first saw it, but I remember being impressed with it in Bizarre Sex #9, the first Omaha the Cat Dancer story.
This also sets up the puns that wreak havoc throughout this story (and any following Speedy stories, of which there are none so far).
The backgrounds vary widely here, but they are still much more sparse than they really should be.
Setting up the girls as musicians with other jobs echoes Doc Savage's Fabulous Five, each of whom has a career as a leader in their field, but drops everything to join Doc on his missions.
So it is with Speedy and his band.
Some rather obvious (to me, at least) plot setups here- Mae Aswell's inability to carry a tune in a bucket, as we used to say, will figure prominently later.
Also, the nation of Runnovia, whose name is inspired by my fondness for the writing in the classic Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons, plays a big part in this adventure, beyond the quest for the ruby slippers.
In general, I love using curved lines and wave forms as design elements, something I got away from a bit in some of my later work. But hey, it's always there, and I can always go back to it.
Next: more Speedy, as the adventure picks up speed (so to speak)!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Original Art Sundays No. 206 - 209: Speedy Recovery, pp. 2 - 5

Offering a few pages today to catch up with myself. I'm still in a bit of a holding pattern on new work, but will stop indulging my imagination and whimsies and get new work done soon.

A decent chunk of story this time, largely because I didn't want to break up the prelude, also to catch up with my self-imposed schedule a bit.


























Some thoughts on these.
Aside from the sloppy rendering of the bus in panel 4 and the slightly too sparse background on the MGM panel, the only real issue with this page is that the banner announcing the time and place is too small. The Scarecrow image on the wall is based on a sketchbook image of that character that I posted a while ago.
The next page is largely based on shot photos from the 1939 movie. Structurally, the biggest issue here is that the mapping of heavy blacks in the last panel, where Judy's handing Susan the ruby slippers, doesn't read properly at first glance. It needs to be clearer in isolating background and figure.
The following page is fairly successful, including a subtle bit of foreshadowing in panel 2. The date ellipse is, again, too small. Also, sparse backgrounds in the first and third images of the central banner panel. But I rather like the scolding heads in the last panel. For the life of me, I can't recall what specifically inspired that image.
The final page of this batch works fairly well. The use of the Scarecrow art from page one to reinforce that it's the same house is a nice touch, I think. The second panel echoing the cover shown on page one helps anchor the story. This page is also the first time in the story proper that we see our central character other than in silhouette. Originally, the last panel of this page was intended as the splash page for this book.
The big problem on this page is that I neglected to leave space for the title and credits- something I tend to forget when putting my own books together!
This book touches on a number of themes that are important to me: Oz, country life, trust issues, reluctance to accept your place in life, and music. Always music.
Next week: more Speedy. I had just intended this as a placeholder while I geared up for new work, but it's better than I recall it being, and I'm enjoying it greatly!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Original Art Sundays (Tuesday) No. 205: Speedy Recovery, page 1

Almost over illnesses, not working either job today. So an opportunity to post after some serious neglect!
Here's the first story page of the Speedy Recovery narrative.
More of a teaser page, a bit more of a descriptor than the cover, this is modeled after the old Life magazines, of course. I had been watching Fantasia and was taken with the image of Stokowski conducting in silhouette, added a couple simple design elements (while strangely neglecting a date or price on the magazine cover), and there we are.
No Photoshop in putting the original books together. I Xeroxed the pages down from 11 x 17" to 8 1/2 x 11", trimmed a bit, set them up on old-school flats, doing the pagination via a mock-up, and ran Xeroxes of the flats. I then took them to Kinko's where I had the covers printed and the run stapled and trimmed. MCAD did no have a service bureau then!
Next: well, the next page, of course!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Original Art Sundays, no. 204: Speedy Recovery, cover

Back in the saddle again, after a month of other posts!
I'm dipping into the vault again, while I finalize a Surrealist Cowgirls mini-project.
This was my second published comic, done as my senior project for completion of my BFA in comic book illustration from MCAD.
The concept is simple: a man ends up on a series of mystery-adventures, when all he really wants to do is conduct his all-girl big band.  A bit of an unintentional riff on The Trouble With Girls, an adventure/comedy book about a reluctant spy type. I'd read that book years before and forgot about it until I found my copy in my collection, after I completed this, and realized the parallel.
Here's the cover for Speedy Ricuverri and His All-Girl Orchestra no. 1:


The fine print: this was done in pastel over ink, on colored paper. Note the paper texture showing through the title banner ("in this issue..."). Letting the local color of the paper serve as part of the background is a nice touch, reminiscent of Coles Phillips fadeaways, though not used as elegantly here as Phillips managed to do. I popped in a couple nice Deco elements to reinforce the Big Band era feel. I do love the design of the title, but the "R" could be a bit more distinct.
I should have named the book "Speedy Recovery", since nobody knew that was how Ricuverri was pronounced until they read the book! Not much point in having an unexplained pun on the front cover.
Lots of inspirations for this book, but I'll talk more about those in coming weeks. For this piece, I used the aforementioned Deco elements and a layout from a Cab Calloway VHS tape. The look of Speedy, our principal character, is part Superman, part Clark Gable, and a touch of Rocky from the first movie.
I'll be posting some more pages of this in big chunks as the weeks go on- I'm not interested in spending half a year posting it, but I would like to get the whole book posted.
Next: either more Speedy or that pesky little Cowgirls thing that drags out so....

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Best Comics of 2014, No. 1 (tie) Rasputin and Second Avenue Caper

Finally finishing this up! Hope you find it worth the wait.
I couldn't decide between these two books, so I'm naming them both No. 1. And I could not imagine more different books.
Rapsutin, published by IDW, is a supernatural take on the near-mythic historical figure. Alex Grecian's writing is tense, empathetic and witty. Riffing on Rasputin's supposed supernatural abilities, the series begins with the character's execution, then flashes back to his childhood.
Example of Rissomo's work
from Rasputin #2
IDW's non-licensed titles tend to have a bit of a "house style" to their art, especially in the horror line, and this is ostensibly a horror book, at least in part. While Riley Rissomo's line work has the same sketchy energy as Damien Worm's work on The October Faction, for example, the art in Rasputin has a greater variety to its page layouts, and Ivan Plasencia's coloring has a much greater variety than the constant somber Earth tones of the former book. I get it, you guys like Ben Templesmith's work.  Gritty monochrome. I like that, but as Rapsutin clearly demonstrates, there are other approaches already!
There are many subtleties to the art in Rasputin, ranging from its clever use of anatomical illustration as a plot device to the use of white and pastel colored panel borders.
In terms of the writing, it speaks well for the book that it begins with the character's denouement (read: death by multiple assassinations), and yet pulls the reader in deeper with each issue. This despite the foregone conclusion!
The second Best of 2014 works on a  different kind of magic. Joyce Brabner's Second Avenue Caper, her first long-form solo work since the amazing Flashpoint: the La Prenca Bombing (1989), reiterates the quality of her work as a solo writer. Her work is often eclipsed in the public mind by that of her late husband, Harvey Pekar. Between savoring Flashpoint and her work in Real War Stories, I've always thought that her solo writing was unjustly neglected.
Now Second Avenue Caper is out, so to speak, and the reading public is finally giving her work its due. If I had to categorize this, I'd put it in the burgeoning category of Graphic Memoir. By melding some of her late husband Harvey Pekar's personal anecdotal style (wow, that's an awkward phrase!) with her incisive political writing, Brabner has created a riveting document of the unlikely camaraderie forged in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. What begins as two old friends sharing a cup of coffee becomes a whirlwind of guerrilla healthcare, gangsters, and international drug smuggling, all in the name of attempting to survive an undefined and ill-treated disease. The story is reminiscent of Dallas Buyer's Club, but without the cynicism that I felt dominated that film.
Zingarelli and Brabner use the silent pause to great effect!
Mark Zingarelli's art again brings American Splendor to mind, due to his connection to that project. He faces the challenge of a dialogue-heavy narrative very smoothly, using the standard devices of changing angle and distance cleanly, and controlling pacing through the use of silent panels.
As is the case in the best nonfiction narratives, the whole is larger than the sum of its parts and readers are left with the sense of surviving the harrowing early days of the AIDS epidermic alongside Joyce and her compatriots. As a caregiver working with People With AIDS, this work resonates with me. My co-workers have told me many horror stories of these early days, so Second Avenue Caper rings true.
That about does it for 2014. I'll be back to posting art this weekend!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Best Comics of 2104, No. 2: Wonder Woman: the Complete Newspaper Strip 1944 -1945

With two Wonder Woman titles on this list, my reverence for the character is quite clear. I was delighted when IDW announced this volume late last year, and it lived up to my expectations!

This collects the COMPLETE run of the strip. Bruce Canwell of the Library of American Comics informs me that there were no Sundays for this run, so this is it!
Marston's writing has many of the same elements of his comic book work- highly imaginative stories, lots of action, and implied larger themes. He even brings some of the bondage scenes that many have searched out in his work into play, no mean feat for a syndicated comic strip. While some may think standards were more relaxed in this (barely) pre-Code era, I would like to point out that readership of the funnies was huge in the 1940s and didn't carry the stigma it did in later decades. Therefore, strips had more of an adult readership. Also, attempts to censor comics have been around as long as there have been comics, so to use the Code as a barometer doesn't really cut it.
I'd also like to echo Trina Robbins' point about this whole bondage thing. Many comics of that era showed women being forced into submission, but Wonder Woman was the only one that consistently showed a woman breaking free under her own power!
We're also treated to the usual supporting cast. Steve Trevor is on board, as is the Cheetah (possibly my favorite WW villain from the Golden Age), Queen Hippolyta and the Amazons of Paradise Island, and Etta Candy and the Holliday Girls!
the "thick line elephant" in the strip
Harry G. Peter's art doesn't have as much room to stretch in the strip format as it does in the books, he does a more than serviceable job here. Bear in mind that in the 1940s, strips were printed much larger, so the art did have some room to breathe! Peter's line vary from the mostly thin and more regular lines seen in the above strips to some wildly chunky brush strokes as the strip evolved. The elephants in the final strips are key examples of this.
Some readers have complained about the price tag, basically $50, relative to the content, 175 pages. While this is a bit leaner than some of the other volumes in the Library of American Comics series, I have no serious issues with having the whole run in one durable, handsome volume (with a bookmark ribbon, no less!). IDW has been taking some real chances on this series. I haven't seen sales figures overall, but this volume is ranked 108,000 +- on Amazon's charts, compared to the Batman Silver Age Dailies (mid- 75,000 range) and the Russ Manning Tarzan dailies (same range). So it appears the series overall is doing well enough, and while lagging a tad in sales, the Wonder Woman volume is holding its own.
Let's hope so. IDW has been doing some remarkable work in this series, and I for one would love to see more!
Promo from the syndicate
Next: Best Comics of 2014, No. 1.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Best Comics of 2014, No. 3: Outcast

Next entry in the series, an unexpected book that's met with deserved success.
page from issue 1, courtesy of
Entertainment Weekly
I came to Kirkman's Walking Dead through the TV series (which I came to a couple years in when I saw one of the episodes broadcast in B & W and found it quite compelling- wish they did more of those!). I enjoy Kirkman's work on both versions of that story a great deal, even though, as previously noted, I'm not big on zombies. I also enjoyed his work on Invincible, but I didn't keep up with it.
Outcast is a bit different, but with a similar tone to Walking Dead. Perhaps that's to be expected. After all, the same creator is likely to give different works a similar voice. But even with the tension comparable to that of  Walking Dead, this book takes on a markedly different tone. It's a much more personal and quiet form of horror. While post-apocalyptic zombies demand group responses for survival, exorcism and demonic posession are much more personal, almost intimate in an odd way.
The story of Kyle Barnes, a survivor of sorts of demonic  possession, Outcast has a smaller, more intimate ensemble than the rambling Walking Dead narratives or the burgeoning high school cast of Invincible. Kyle's blessing/curse is his innate ability to detect and/or cast out demons- fortunate, since possessions seem to run in his family and town.
Springer cover for contrast
Barnes endures torment after torment. He survives his mother's abuse of him in his youth, which ties into the posession. He takes the hit (so to speak) for his wife beating their child, which makes him more of an outcast in his small town. He allies himself with a man of the cloth, Reverend Anderson (whose denomination isn't clear), who is also a posession survivor.
It's a somber book at times, with a much slower pacing than Kirkman's other efforts. The art works seamlessly with the script to complement the mood. Colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser uses tightly controlled and subdued palettes, which blend seamlessly with artist Paul Azaceta's thick lines and just sparse enough backgrounds. While it's not a perfect parallel, Azaceta's work here reminds me of Frank Springer's work on the original DC series Secret Six from the late 1960s.
The first TPB is out. While I've been picking up the floppies, I'll probably check out the TBP from the Library, just to see how the pacing works in a collected volume.
Much has been written on the Interwebs about trademark issues, the "scandal" of Outcast being optioned for a series after only one issue, and other matters of comics/media politics. To these histrionics, I say, "pfaugh." While I like a good media blitz as much as the next gal, I have little use for it in evaluating a comic on its own merits.
And seen on its own merits, Outcast is a more, dare I say it, thoughtful horror book than many of those around. While Kyle's ongoing torment does get a tad tedious at times, the book is well paced enough to remedy that particular problem.
And unlike Walking Dead, Outcast is intended as a finite series, which gives us the greatest rarity in horror comics: hope.


Next: Best of 2014, No. 2: a neglected bit of comic strip history!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Best Comics of 2014, No. 4: Tooth & Claw

Grinding away at these, despite continuing to work 45-50 hour weeks while I do class prep. I love doing these pieces, but finding the time remains a challenge.
Today's entry is another fine work by Kurt Busiek, whose Astro City made the list previously. I also loved Arrowsmith, and would be tickled to see its return. At any point! Print it, I'll buy it!
Plot development woven with
magic action!
Tooth & Claw has been described by others as "Game of Thrones with animals". While that's a bit on the nose, Busiek does use the animal mythos to tell his tale. It's a world of magic, run by sentient and slightly anthropomorphized critters. The species tend to go with their character types. As a lover of bison, I was a bit saddened to see them portrayed as aggressive and warmongering, basically dumb working class stiffs.
An early Issue 1 page, using art and
design elements to advance story
and build character.
That aside, there are several traditions that come into play here. It relates peripherally to the Omaha the Cat Dancer school of funny animal comics, in which the characters are more human than animal and species is used a shorthand for character type, as noted above. Other significant offerings in this area include Bryan Talbot's Grandville series and the Blacksad series, both of which had new books out in 2014 as well. There's also the mythology of humanity being succeeded by sentient animals- not much of a spoiler, really. As soon as the Colloquy started talking about the mythical Great Champion, it was pretty obvious it would prove to be a human, despite the red herring at the end of Issue 1. But that was a great red herring! A fox astride a saddled cricket- brilliant!
Ahem. Past precedents for sentient animals surviving humanity's demise include Clifford Simak's CITY and the classic MGM Christmas cartoons Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men, the latter being the last MGM cartoon in CinemaScope. So it's not really a new concept, but the execution is fresh and uniformly professional. If it loads properly, here's the first of the two.

I've not seen Ben Dewey's art prior to this book, and the art integrates so cleanly with the text that I can't imagine a better fit. His work has verve and just the right amount of detail, plus plenty of the ornate flourishes that fantasy fans crave.
The revised cover for issue 1
The first Tooth & Claw trademark.
Butt floss riding up the tail? Really?

It needs to be noted that an unintentional trademark infringement required a title change to The Autumn Lands: Tooth & Claw. Two things come to mind.
1. Does this mean my copy of the first printing bearing the original title will be (gasp!) collectible? Oh, big whoop. Actually, I rather hope not. I've beat my copy up so much by repeated readings that it's worthless to anyone but me now.
2. Given the nature of the original work bearing said trademark, Busiek & co. are better off not having any association with it. I've included a cover of the earlier work bearing the title to prove my point.
All that said, Tooth & Claw remains a compelling story. Like the best of Busiek's work, it's rousing adventure coupled with smart, sensitive characterization and a storyline that, though walking a well-trod path, remains innovative and engaging, well worth the reader's effort.


Next: Best of 2014, No. 3, one that was left out.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Best Comics of 2014, No. 5: The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage

When they first appeared, most of the books in the Valiant line left me cold. I did eventually come to love Archer & Armstrong, especially the Barry Smith issues, but their revisionist version of Magnus, Robot Fighter did nothing for me, and I saw the new characters as spinoffs of that, so I mostly didn't bother.
Well, looks like I might have been missing out.
The latest Valiant revival includes a magic-based title, The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage. Now, while I don't go nuts for EVERY comic about magic, there are some I cherish, like the Smoke and Mirrors miniseries of a couple years ago, good Doctor Strange stories, and the magical aspects of Gaiman's comic book work, especially the first Books of Magic mini-series. Looks like I should add Doctor Mirage to that list.
de la Torre's art from Issue 2.
The Mignola influence is clear.
By writer Jen van Meter (how is it that this book is neglected in a year when comics are taken to task for a lack of female creators?) and artist Roberto de la Torre, who also did some nice work on The Hand storyline in Daredevil a few years ago, The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage tells of widow Shan's attempts to reunite with her deceased husband, the only spirit she cannot access. 
The five-issue mini-series, now complete (and presumably awaiting collection) is mature in every sense of the word. While it does contain a smattering of grisly content, its maturity derives more from the subtlety of its storytelling and characterization. Odd to say about a book about ghosts and Nazi wizards, but The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage is quite introspective and tender, but not lacking in action and energy.
In a Comics Alliance interview, van Meter says, "From a character perspective, one of the imaginative challenges becomes, “Who is this person that keeps walking into the worst day of somebody else’s life’ over and over and over again?” As I was trying to develop the personality of the character, I was thinking a lot about other people I know who handle things like that, like ER Doctors. I know a couple people in medicine who deal with fairly traumatic sides of what they do and I’ve know some cops in my life. I was trying to kind of think about what their resilience is, what are the personality quirks that go with being able to keep that job and stay healthy. Where are the cracks for people that are having a hard time with that role? The maturity to it for me is trying to bring a thoughtful perspective to what it would be like to really be this person and not have it all be just battling monsters."
The coloring by David Baron is subdued and spot on, enhancing the story's flow elegantly.
Elegant may be the best word to describe this book, despite de la Torre's art having nuances of raw, unbridled Mignola in spots.
The best way to describe The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage is that it's a smart, magical superhero Gothic romance. Not a bad way to spend five issues! 
No word on following appearances of the character. But as always, we live in hope.
Next: Best Comics of 2014, No. 4, which bites and snarls. 
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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Best Comics of 2014, No. 6 : Serenity: Leaves on the Wind

Running behind my self-imposed schedule, as I'm prone to do, but we persevere!
Today's entry is a reprint of my review from Goodreads, with a couple points expanded and some cool images thrown in.
Cover art for issue 1, without copy
When I see a Star Trek film, even the embarrassing ones,I feel like I'm revisiting old friends (hey, your friends can embarrass you and still be your friends). Yeah, I know it's fiction, but there's a level of familiarity and comfort that welcomes me into the story.
Multiply that by 10 for this book.
If anything, Serenity: Leaves on the Wind is more meaningful in that respect. We get to catch up with the lives of characters we've grown to appreciate and care for, characters we've not seen for a while, in a well-written story that's completely consistent with both on screen and in print predecessors. Kudos to Zack Whedon for carrying on Joss's story!
The art is tight yet fluid, and integrates well with the text.
The story actually began in Dark Horse's 2012 Free Comic Book Day flipbook. The Serenity side was titled "It's Never Easy" and featured a prequel to the events in Leaves on the Wind, including showing Zoe's pregnancy. The prequel art, by the very talented Fabio Moon, is consistent with Georges Jeanty's work on the miniseries proper, though I find Moon's work a bit more quiety aggressive (if that makes sense). I've included representative pages of both in this article. You be the judge!
Moon's art on the FCBD issue

However, from the standpoint of comic binding, this series is somewhat frustrating. Some of Dark Horse's best stories in the Firefly/Serenity arena are only available in small hardcovers. This means they can't be rebound without gutting the book.
But that's a minor concern for most folks. Serenity: Leaves on the Wind is a remarkable achievement. It's touching and tender, action driven and philosophical. It's consistent with its source material while being fresh and new.
My one regret is that Inara is not in this story. We learned during the reunion special that, as many of us suspected, Inara has a fatal disease. In pre-press for this series, Whedon said that was a story that would be told another time. I hope so, as I'd like to see more, but only under the right conditions.
After completing this miniseries, I'm torn on hoping for more. I'd rather see measured doses of quality stories than a glut of mediocrity. As long as they're of this quality, I'll take as many as I can get, but the quality has to come first. If that means we have to wait a while, so be it. I waited months between the final two issues of Watchmen. I can wait for this if I have to, despite my eagerness to learn Inara's fate.
Continuity page from issue 2, spotlighting
Jayne's character
Variant cover for issue 1
Note on reading and process: I read this as floppies, not as a trade. While it may pose frustrations for some, I recommend this approach for Firefly/Serenity material. It feels more like watching new episodes, and having to wait to find out what happens is exciting!
It's worth noting that a hardcover was released in November 2014, for those of you who prefer to read it all in one fell swoop!
Next: Best of 2014, No. 5, as the Doctor is in... sort of...