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About Alex Carr

In third grade, Alex Carr’s homeroom teacher wrote “See me, please” in red ink on his fiction writing assignment and held him after class to discuss his story involving an evil ice cream flavor with its own appetite—for flesh! On that day, Alex joined the not-so-secret society of readers, writers, and artists who are unafraid of what their third grade teachers think. (No offense intended, Mrs. Thornton. )

Posts by Alex

Graphic Novel Friday: Comic Magic with the Rat Queens

I’m an easy mark for a great cover. So when I saw Fiona Staples’ jaw-droppingly action-packed, expressive, and funny cover to Rat Queens Vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery, I had to give it a chance. The good news: writer Kurtis J. Wiebe and interior artist Roc Upchurch (great name alert!) craft one heck of a cast of fantasy characters. The better news: there’s more story on the way. The bad news: ha, there is no bad news!

The Rat Queens are a close-knit band of “battle-maidens” who take the odd assassin job or two...or three—heck, they’ll kill anybody if the price is right. But they have dangerous competition from similar assassin guilds like elves, dark mages, giants, and—you get the picture. The fantasy tropes are all here, but Wiebe spins them into a funny frenzy that never stoops to parody. The characters are full of motivation and personality instead of being stock cardboard spoofs.

Betty the elf, for example, isn’t a snooty, aloof elitist, rather she’s the type of friend who packs “candy and drugs for dinner” when she and her fellow Rat Queens go on a hunt. Dee, the beautiful cleric, is part of a “blood drinking, squid-worshipping sect of Nrygoth,” but she’s lost the faith. Add a Rockabilly mage and a battle-ready, hipster dwarf and these queens are fierce, sassy, and…sassy—it’s worth repeating that they are all very sassy.

Upchurch’s artwork does not disappoint, either, as he catches these characters in quiet, expressive, and sword-swinging moments. When the Queens quip, Upchurch captures their smirks, wrinkled lips, and sneers; his jagged edges highlight Wiebe’s sarcastic script, and the fight scenes? Crisp and easy to follow, which immensely helps when the pages are so fun to flip to get to the next laugh or blood spillage.

Rat Queens is one to watch and read, and it’s the sleeper pick in April’s Best of the Month selections for Comics and Graphic Novels. Don't let them catch you napping.  


Graphic Novel Friday: Hellboy Turns 20!

This month, Hellboy turns 20 years old. Dang! Mike Mignola’s red, big-armed, trench coat-sporting, smoking, one-eyed, sometimes-horned savior/destroyer achieved what few indie comic creations have: household name status. With two feature films (directed by luminary Guillermo del Toro), 14 (or so) volumes of comics and six oversized “library editions,” two animated films, video games, and countless pieces of merchandise, Hellboy grimaced his way into the social consciousness.

To commemorate this milestone, longtime publisher Dark Horse Comics partnered with Mignola to publish Hellboy: The First 20 Years, a deluxe hardcover with over 120 images—some iconic, some esoteric—of the man who wields the Right Hand of Doom. After 20 years, Hellboy’s design remains unique: an antithesis of the superhero with slumped shoulders (although they began quite broad), tiny wrists, a wrinkled coat, and those mismatched arms.

The new retrospective features covers from B.P.R.D., Witchfinder, Lobster Johnson, The Goon, Abe Sapian, the titular book, and more—along with convention prints, line art, unfinished work, watercolors, and the first drawing of Hellboy from 1991.

HBYEmeraldCityCon_clr HBYWONDERCON07_clr

He’s come a long way, baby, but not even this book could contain it all. Dark Horse nicely shared two exclusive images that were not collected in The First 20 Years—the first [above, at left] is a print from Seattle’s Emerald City Comicon, featuring Hellboy standing in front of the Fremont Troll, a local landmark, and the second [at right] is a print from Wondercon 2007. Click both for larger versions. 

Happy Birthday, Hellboy! Fans, be on the look-out for Hellboy events in your city this Saturday, March 22, dubbed “Hellboy Day.”  Celebrate all weekend long with more from Mike Mignola—see our Omni interviews with the candid creator here:


Graphic Novel Friday: Hidden Gems with Cliff Chiang

Once I saw that artist Cliff Chiang was the latest subject of TwoMorrows Publishing’s Modern Masters series, it did not take me long to geek out. Now on its 29th installment, Modern Masters is a line of oversized books (usually topping 100 pages) that spotlights iconic artists working in the field of comics. In an original long-form interview, they chronicle an artist’s career, technique and process, influences, rare art, and lesser known works. The Cliff Chiang volume does not disappoint—especially in the latter, and it led me down a fun rabbit-hole.

Comic fans will be familiar with Chiang’s work thanks to his breakout effort on Wonder Woman with writer Brian Azzarello. The duo continue to produce one of the best superhero comics on the stands, the go-to book in DC’s New 52 initiative, and a character-defining run for the sometimes maligned Wonder Woman. Chiang’s bold, deceptively simple lines frame the Amazonian with strength and nobility, and the book is never short on action panels. What his Modern Masters story revealed for me, however—besides his refreshing loyalty to DC—was his first-ever collaboration with Brian Azzarello on the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it series Doctor 13.

Dr13Originally serialized in Tales of the Unexpected in 2006 and 2007 and later collected in Doctor 13: Architecture and Mortality, the story follows the titular protagonist and a very kitschy band of weirdos as they battle even stranger threats. Fans of D-list heroes will appreciate seeing Infectious Lass, Anthro, Andrew Bennett (from I, Vampire), Haunted Tank, and others battle Nazi gorillas and break the fourth wall to confront DC writers like Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid. Unfortunately, the trade paperback is out of print, but I scored a copy from Amazon’s third party marketplace and read it in tandem with Modern Masters.

Hidden gems like Doctor 13 make comic collecting so rewarding. Finding an unsung first collaboration between two marquee creators recalls rifling through a longbox at a convention. I love that Modern Masters led me there—and it’s not the first time! Comic readers are encouraged to seek out this great series (recommended: the Art Adams and Chris Sprouse issues) to learn more about artists they admire and do a little longbox digging of their own.


Graphic Novel Friday: Guardians of the Galaxy

This week, Marvel revealed the trailer for their 2014 summer blockbuster effort, Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s a gamble for Marvel, a studio that previously relied on names like Iron Man, Captain America, and the Avengers to carry their comic-to-film adaptations, while Guardians features C-list heroes with names like Drax, Star-Lord, and Rocket Raccoon. Audiences may be unfamiliar (think the Avengers in space, only with more attitude), but the trailer is high on humor and action, and soon-to-be fans can climb aboard with a rich history of source material—a sampling of which follows below.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1: Cosmic Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis, Steve McNiven and Sara Pichelli: Relentless hitmaker Brian Michael Bendis delivers the Guardians to fans both new and old, bringing everyone up to speed on origins and what lies beyond the stars for this disgruntled group. It’s an accessible read, primed for its big screen debut, and features sharp, detailed artwork by McNiven and Pichelli. Vol. 2 is also available (and a better arc, I think!). [Demand is so high that our retail site is temporarily out of stock--but more is on the way!]



Guardians of the Galaxy by Abnett & Lanning: The Complete Collection Volume 1 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier, and more: The Guardians may be riding high now, but it was this book that brought them back into the spotlight a few years ago. While the ideas behind the team have always been humorous (a talking raccoon with a machine gun?), Abnett and Lanning introduced a sense of fun to the space opera.

[Releasing this August.]




Rocket Raccoon & Groot: The Complete Collection by various: Mark my words: the breakout stars of the new film will be the least human—Rocket Raccoon, the talking space raccoon, and his buddy Groot, a talking tree/action hero whose vocabulary is limited to “I am Groot.” This collection features stories involving the two pals with a wide range of artists and writers, including Mike Mignola(!), Keith Giffen, Jack Kirby, the aforementioned Abnett and Lanning, and more. It’s absurd stuff and therefore essential.





Guardians of the Galaxy by Jim Valentino Volume 1 by Jim Valentino, Al Milgrom, Ron Lim, and more: In the 1990s, this revival by Jim Valentino was my first exposure to the weird team, which features a very different roster than the above collections. These Guardians exist in Marvel’s far future, the 31st century! Occasionally, the heroes would cross paths with future versions of other Marvel characters, like Ghost Rider, or go on missions to find Captain America’s long-lost shield—or turn their space opera into a space soap opera with often overwrought romance.





Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow's Avengers - Volume 2 by Roger Stern, Len Wein, Jim Shooter, David Micheline, Sal Buscema, George Perez, David Wenzel, John Byrne: I may catch some heat for doing this, but I am purposefully including Volume 2 instead of Volume 1 from this classic Guardians run, which, like the Valentino book above, is a very different sort of Guardians of the Galaxy than the film or newer titles. But it’s worth a look, because the contributors can’t be beat, the stories are more engaging (than Vol. 1), and it’s here that the present-day Avengers cross paths with the 31st century heroes, making for a lively battle then team-up.



Graphic Novel Friday: Guilty Pleasures No More!

I’ve harbored a secret since May of 2013. It’s nothing to be ashamed of—more like a guilty pleasure—but I didn’t advertise it to my comics reading friends. I’m ready to come clean: I read both Avengers Arena and Young Avengers (and I’m in my mid-30s).

Avengers Arena is The Hunger Games meets Avengers sidekicks (note the Battle Royale homage cover pictured at right), an infectious, jump-in-and-read soap opera where the stakes are life or death—and sometimes both. The premise is thin, and yet this comic is more readable, funny, clever, and addictive than most marquee books.

Writer Dennis Hopeless (don’t let the ominous name dissuade you) smartly assigns visible life meters to each character, and they deplete with each act of aggression. It’s a great way for readers to keep powers and character fights in check amidst the explosions, shape-changers, and killer tidal waves. Hopeless doles out the love triangles, and artist Kev Walker supplies jagged, frenetic lines to everyone and everything—giving it all page-turning momentum. All three volumes are now available and tell one heck of a complete and satisfying story.

No less addictive but much headier, the restart to Young Avengers introduces a young Loki to the team along with Ms. America (I didn’t know her, either). The former addition proves to be writer Kieron Gillen’s winning formula, as Loki’s mischievous, know-it-all attitude gives the book its funny backbone. Rejoining the team are series stalwarts Hawkeye (Kate Bishop, who’s also co-starring in Matt Fraction’s sublime Hawkeye), Wiccan and his boyfriend Hulkling, and Marvel Boy. The longtime romance between Wiccan and Hulking has always been the lynchpin of the team, and here it is tested thanks to Loki’s boss-level scheming.

The villain of the first two arcs (a monster mom!) could have quickly run aground, but Gillen keeps the narrative upright by dropping meta-sized plot bombs onto the team, resulting in a book that is full of young adults but reads like a crossover drama. Jamie McKelvie’s art is a pleasure, all clean lines, distinctive character designs, and believable expressions.

My secret’s out, and it seems silly to have kept it so. These are great books that deserve wider recognition. Join me on the rooftop. I’ll be the one shouting.


Graphic Novel Friday: Must-Reads in 2014

We consulted Doctor Strange’s Eye of Agamotto to find key upcoming releases in 2014, and the next few months are stuffed with infinity gems. Here are but a few we uncovered.


The grand and grizzled Gandalf of comics, Alan Moore, has a banner year ahead, beginning with Miracleman Vol. 1: A Dream of Flying, the sought-after but legally hushed series that will finally be available thanks to Marvel’s legal prowess. Billed only as “The Original Writer” in this new edition (per his wishes), Alan Moore kicks off the superhero deconstruction era of comics by writing a single exclamation: “Kimota!” Plus, it features artwork by Alan Davis, Garry Leach, Steve Dillon, and Paul Neary. (May, Marvel) 




The market needs more horror comics, and horror comics need more witchcraft. Enter Coffin Hill Vol. 1: Forest of the Night by Caitlin Kittredge Inaki Miranda to remedy both in a spooky brew. Eve Coffin (that name!) returns home after 10 years to find her supernatural forest murder mystery remains unsolved. Blood, incantations, snakes, and snarky witches galore. (May, Vertigo) 




Very few comics become in-house favorites like the King of the Flies series: Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 were both in our Best of the Year picks for 2010 and 2011, respectively. Now, the late Kim Thompson-translated project will finally conclude with King of The Flies Vol. 3: Happy Daze.  The description promises more hallucinatory creepiness and nihilism—and Ringo, the disturbed bowling greaser—but not much else is known. Fitting, since this series has so far been about the coiling questions it raises—do yourself a dark favor and start the series now. (September, Fantagraphics)



Confession: I’ve never read Elfquest and know very little about it, except that it appears to involve cute, doll-like elves with leather vests, big hair, swords, and animal friends. It’s also beloved by a devoted readership that swears it’s about much more than my limited understanding. Gauntlet thrown! The Complete Elfquest Vol. 1 by Wendy and Rick Pini arrives this summer to set me straight. (August, Dark Horse)



 Afterlife with Archie should not be this good, but I swear on my Romero DVDs that it is—in every bloody way. Most of this is due to Francesco Francavilla’s never-dull, atypical take on the Riverdale crew—here they all are as young adults, not cartoons. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s script is both an homage to classic horror (Stephen King’s Pet Sematary is freely referenced) but also a did-they-really-just-do-that? mature take on the franchise. Awash in autumnal hues, the grisly panels and gallows humor will reanimate any interest in Betty, Veronica, Archie, and company. (May, Archie Comics)

For five more picks in 2014, see also our Kindle Daily post! What are you most looking forward to in this new year, Omni readers?



Graphic Novel Friday: Interview at the Federal Bureau of Physics

Publisher Vertigo Comics opened an extraordinary wormhole in 2013 with FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics by writer Simon Oliver and artist Robbi Rodriguez (originally titled Collider). In this world that is otherwise like our own, the laws of physics have begun to deteriorate. As the world struggles to cope and continue with this new, ever-shifting reality, the Federal Bureau of Physics forms to contain and solve for the bizarre. Agent Adam Hardy is one such member of the FBP and, like his father before him, he begins to suspect there is something even stranger afoot in a world that has lost its bearings.

While the first collected volume will release in February, single digital issues are available now. Vertigo and DC Comics provided the following exclusive interview with both creators:

Q: For the uninitiated, how would you describe FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics in one sentence? Okay…we'll give you two. Two sentences!

Simon Oliver: Physics may be broken but it’s no longer front-page news. Luckily the Federal Bureau of Physics is here, their motto: “To prevent and protect mankind from the impossible…”

Robbi Rodriguez: I was asked at the beginning of the project of what I envisioned for the book and I said I saw it as if Kurt Vonnegut, Bruce Springsteen and Wally Wood created a comic. Blue collar sci-fi.

Q: Was there any particular moment or inspiration behind the book’s premise? How long has this idea been with the two of you?

Simon Oliver: I’d been talking to my editor Mark Doyle for a while about doing a new monthly, and I’d been bouncing ideas at him but nothing was sticking. The thing about an ongoing monthly is you need something “big”, some big idea that will keep you supplied with stories to plop your characters down into…anyway it was around tornado season, I was in my car listening to a report about how some tornado had flattened a town in the Midwest and it struck me, “what if the tornadoes weren’t caused by weather? What if it was actually physics? What if physics didn’t work so well anymore? What it the laws of physics were broken?"

I remember calling Mark up and pitching him that version and we knew we had “it”; we had that big idea to run with, so it was just a case of shaping up the rules of the world, and putting the characters together. One big detail, which seems small, but it’s something I think sets the book apart from similar stories, is that it’s out in the open, there’s no big conspiracy to keep it quiet, it’s very much a part of our lives.

Mark had Robbi on a list of artists he wanted to work with, and I think he really nailed it choosing him, and that’s something that goes for the entire art team. Rico nails the colors and Nathan’s covers are second to none. I’ve been lucky.

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Friday: Interview at the Federal Bureau of Physics" »

Graphic Novel Friday: Holiday Buying Guide

Yikes, was everyone else aware that the holiday buying season is almost over? The good news: there are plenty of good-looking comics to give as gifts. The bad news: there isn’t a lot of time! Here are a few noteworthy, stand-out books that would make perfect presents for the comics reader in your life.

For the music buff: The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story by Vivek J. Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson, and Kyle Baker: The cultural fascination with the Fab Four will never wane so long as new stories continue to be unearthed and told. Here, The Beatles’ manager and visionary, Brian Epstein, receives his due in this dreamy, eccentric graphic novel. There are three editions of this book, depending on how “fab” you want to get: standard hardcover edition (and digital edition), a collector’s edition (with bonus materials), and a limited edition (only 1,500 copies) with a slipcase, bonus materials, and a signed tip-in sheet by writer Tiwary.

For the goofball: Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh. This famously bizarre and manic webcomic is finally available as a collection (with new stories!) and it does not disappoint. Amazon editor Mari Malcolm had this to say in her glowing review: “Neurosis has rarely been so relatable and entertaining.” Brosh captures her childhood and adult awkwardness in deceptively simple illustrations, allowing for a universal appeal and accessibility. Parp!

For the lit major: This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz was already a critical hit when it first published in September 2012, but this new slipcased edition includes illustrations by beloved indie artist Jaime Hernandez (Love and Rockets). There are full-page illustrations for each story, and Hernandez's deep, economical lines perfectly suit Diaz's layered tales [Hope I find this one under the tree!]. Speaking of layered stories, if your special someone does not yet have a copy of The Sandman on his or her shelf, now is the time to remedy such a void with The Sandman Omnibus Vol. 1 by Neil Gaiman. Presented in a sturdy, richly detailed hardcover (with over 1,000 pages), this is the gift edition to make any Grinch’s heart swell.

For the history buff: The Boxer Rebellion is told from two perspectives in Boxers & Saints (Boxed Set) by Gene Luen Yang. Appearing on many Best of the Year lists (including ours), Yang’s ambitious examination of the human condition as told through one of the most controversial moments in Chinese history is not as daunting a read as it sounds. Rather, this is a treasure, both in narrative and packaging.

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Friday: Holiday Buying Guide" »

Graphic Novel Friday: Interview with Mike Mignola (Part Two)

In Part One of our interview with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, we discussed the recent original graphic novel, The Midnight Circus, and his narrative influences. In Part Two of our spirited conversation, we explore the forthcoming Hellboy in Hell storyline, the changing status quo of his universe—where Mike gently corrects my understanding about a particular character—and our favorite new vampire film. 

Alex Carr: While young Hellboy begins his adventures in The Midnight Circus, his career, as we know it, ends in Hellboy in Hell. What awaits him in Hell?

Mike Mignola: A lot of family stuff; I’ll say some old “friends” with quotations marks around it; a lot—a lot of stuff [laughs]. The first volume of Hellboy in Hell is really settling him into Hell. We get a tour of that world—not the complete world, but Hellboy gets shown around a bit. We get to see a little bit of how my version of Hell works. And most important, we see that by Hellboy appearing in Hell, major changes have happened with the guys who have been running Hell. Hellboy gets in there and throws a pretty big rock in that pond.

There are some major changes that happen, and really, after that first volume I want to focus on doing smaller stories for a while and go back to my spin on fairy and folk tales. My long-term goal with Hell—we’ll see the Greek underworld, we’ll see the sort-of Asian underworld of Hell so I can do Asian-related fairy tales and folklore and use the creatures from those mythologies.

AC: There’s an apocalyptic theme running through your entire universe at the moment. We’ve got Hellboy in Hell, and in B.P.R.D. there’s a multi-year arc called Hell on Earth. Why so grim?

MM: You know, things do look pretty grim, but I think there are more laughs in Hellboy in Hell than there are in B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth. I think Hell is getting nicer and Earth is getting worse [laughs]. Once we figured out what we were doing, the whole point of the Hellboy/B.P.R.D. stuff has always been evolution. The kind of evolution we’re seeing on Earth is nasty evolution—part of this kind of evolution is that you have to wipe out what was there before you can replace it.

In B.P.R.D., a lot of the old ways of doing things are being replaced, and people are going to struggle against things like, you know, giant monsters coming down to re-pave the planet. Human beings are going to try to stop that. Can they do it? I don’t know. Everything is changing, and there’s a lot of destruction that goes along with it.

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Friday: Interview with Mike Mignola (Part Two)" »

Graphic Novel Friday: Interview with Mike Mignola (Part One)

Before we finish the leftovers from Thanksgiving and head into December, let’s revisit one of the Best of the Month picks for November in Comics and Graphic Novels: Hellboy: The Midnight Circus by Mike Mignola and Duncan Fegredo. Demons and dark prophecies await young Hellboy as he sneaks away to find the circus, making for a classic Hellboy tale, but the way in which Mignola weaves familiar narratives into the compact story elevates it to must-read canon. In part one of our interview with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, we discuss his narrative influences in The Midnight Cirucs, the art process, and why he dislikes the circus.

Alex Carr: The Midnight Circus stars a young Hellboy, whom we recently saw in B.P.R.D.: 1948. Was it a conscious decision to release these two stories so closely together—and why the sudden focus on Hellboy at an early age?

Mike Mignola: You know, I think that was one of those happy accidents. Since we started using young Hellboy in the B.P.R.D. stories, 1946 and 1947, it just made sense to continue in 1948, but I wasn’t thinking about that at all when I started The Midnight Circus. When I started thinking about The Midnight Circus, I was looking for something to do with [artist] Duncan Fegredo that was different than what we’d done before [in The Wild Hunt and The Storm and the Fury]. Since Duncan killed off Hellboy, I thought, “Well, let’s go to the other end of the spectrum.”

It’s set in the 1940s, so I was thinking Ray Bradbury—what does a young kid in the 1940s do? He sneaks off and goes to the circus. Obviously, I was thinking about Something Wicked This Way Comes, that coming-of-age type of thing, where you’re not a little kid anymore, but you’re not quite an adult. And of course Hellboy grows up to be a guy who’s always smoking a cigarette, so I thought about making that a moment. Is this somehow his rite of passage, you know, stealing a cigarette? So, Hellboy sneaks off and has a smoke.

And I’m a big fan of Pinocchio, the original book, and I’d always seen these funny parallels between that character and Hellboy—with the whole real-boy thing. It was an excuse to do the circus, and once I got into the circus, I didn’t really know what the hell to do because I don’t really care about the circus. But I thought it would be a chance to do my spin on Pinocchio.

AC: Well, you’ve pretty much touched upon every question I had for you about the book [laughs]. You dedicate The Midnight Circus to Ray Bradbury: “Who confirmed my worst fears about the circus.” When did you first encounter his classic, Something Wicked This Way Comes?

MM: Probably college. It remains my favorite Bradbury novel. I love that thing.

AC: I have to believe there is some sort of story behind your “worst fears about the circus.”

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Friday: Interview with Mike Mignola (Part One)" »

Happy Halloween Comics!

Happy Halloween! This special collector’s edition of Graphic Novel Friday arrives on a Thursday—just in time for the greatest holiday of them all. With no familial baggage or end of year expectations, Halloween’s all party. In keeping with that sentiment, our Top 10 Halloween comics of the fall are less about the fright and more about the groovy monster mashed-ness of the evening. Raise a dark chocolate and let’s get spooky.Witchinghour_1_

10. Marvel Zombies: The Complete Collection, Vol. 1 by Robert Kirkman, Mark Millar, Sean Philips, and more.

9. The Walking Dead, Vol. 19: March to War by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard. 

8. The Witching Hour #1 by Various.COFFIN_Cv1__

7. Creepy Presents: Steve Ditko by Steve Ditko and Archie Goodwin.

6. Creepy Archives Vol. 17 by Various.

5. Revival: Deluxe Collection, Vol. 1 by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton

4. Hellboy: The Midnight Circus by Mike Mignola, Duncan Fegredo.

3. Coffin Hill #1 by Caitlin Kittredge and Inaki Miranda. 

2. The Halloween Legion: The Great Goblin Invasion by Martin Powell, Thomas Boatwright, and Diana Leto.

1. Colder by Paul Tobin and Juan Ferreyra. 

By now it’s almost sunset, Omni readers. Take a peek outside the window. Do the pumpkins look mischievous tonight? Are their grins a little grim? Maybe save a piece of candy in case the doorway darkens once more.


Graphic Novel Friday: Sabertooth Swordsman!

Normally, I try to feature a book close to its publication date, but in the case of Dark Horse’s Sabertooth Swordsman by Damon Gentry and Aaron Conley (out in late November) I need to talk to someone, anyone about it—-anywhere.

I’ll start with the subtitle: “And the Mayhem of the Malevolent Mastodon Mathematician.” Love. It. And it’s this spirit of self-aware humor that progresses throughout the compact hardcover, where a young farmer loses his wife to a roving band of marauders and swears revenge. It’s at this point where the farmer meets a benevolent cloud, and this cloud grants him the power and body of—yes, a Sabertooth Swordsman. From there the adventure begins, with plenty of slicing, dicing, gore, and cleaved appendages.

Over at Comics Alliance, Chris Sims likens it to “some half-remembered NES game that you would’ve gotten at a video store in 1988 because it kind of looked like a Mario game.” Exactly, only with a heavy dose of hallucinogens because the Sabertooth Swordsman traverses the surreal and mystical as often as he cuts a gushingly bloody swath. At the end of significant “boss battles,” the swordsman is awarded various upgrades (“Juice box,” chicken leg,” “laser eyes,” etc.), and yet he is constantly dismissed by locals and villains.

Damon Gentry’s script is full of quick puns (“Tiny kitten, feel my math!”), but he leaves plenty of room for Aaron Conley’s art to shred and shine. No stone is left un-pencilled in Conley’s meticulously detailed, hyper-frenetic artwork. It’s fantastic to behold and daunting to process. Due to the black, white, and  Swordsman03grey rendering, depth is occasionally lost, so images can blend within panels. This does not, however, take away from the gorgeous visuals. The reader simply has to spend a little more time with them, as there are finer points in the corners of everything. The art is so layered that it recalls Brandon Graham, so it’s no surprise that the fellow indie artist provides a pinup and blurb (“Sabertooth Swordsman is fantastic comics. It’s the kind of work I hope to find when I go into a comic shop.”), along with Mike Allred (whose pinup is great!), Johnny Ryan, John Arcudi, and more.

My enthusiasm got the best of me—I cannot wait to talk about Sabertooth Swordsman. It's one for wishlists and the comics fan in your life who loves the weird and beautiful. I recommend being an early adopter here, ahead of the (scimitar's) curve. This one’s all animal.


Graphic Novel Friday: Very Big Fall Comics

With comic collections, size does matter—especially thanks to recent advances in archival packaging, resulting in exceptionally bound, carefully curated, and lovingly restored books that stand head-and-shoulders above past collections in both actual size and merit. What follows below are but a few that release in time for fall and cause our bookshelves to sway:
  • RASL by Jeff Smith: Smith’s follow-up to his wildly successful and beloved Bone series has been presented in a number of formats, but this spectacular hardcover, in color for the first time thanks to Steve Hamaker (who also colored Bone), is the definitive way to read it. Just shy of 500 pages, RASL follows a reality-hopping art thief who also happens to be a disciple of Nikola Tesla’s unified field theory.
  • Love and Rockets: The Covers by Los Bros Hernandez: For all of Fantagraphics’ lovely collections of Love and Rockets stories over the past 30 years, the iconic, weird, and eye-popping covers have rarely been highlighted. That changes in this 200-page, tall-as-an-Amazon hardcover (with a clear overlay as dust jacket), which features every L&R cover from the first volume of stories, sometimes in original pencils, inks, and/or without the trade dress. It’s a rare opportunity to see such high quality, independent work in one sharp location.

  • Co-Mix: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics, and Scraps by Art Spiegelman: This oversized cultural artifact chronicles the career, both famous and obscure, of Art Speigelman. Work for RAW, Playboy, and The New Yorker are highlighted, as are the artist’s book designs sketches and fascinating esoterica. It’s a hodge-podge, albeit fastidiously organized—and a companion to Spiegelman’s Paris retrospective at the library of the Centre Pompidou.
  • The Art of Archie: The Covers by Victor Gorelick and Craig Yoe: Building from the foundation of The Art of Betty & Veronica, this latest deluxe package follows the same format: full-page spreads of original artwork scans along with spotlights on artists such as Dan DeCarlo, Harry Lucey, and Bob Montana. The chronology of stylistic shifts in character portrayals and subject matter makes for an engrossing coffee table flip-through, as the older, intricate covers hold rich detail and surprisingly risqué gags.


Graphic Novel Friday: LGBT in Comics

Since 1997 (although their efforts date back to the late 1980s), the Lambda Literary Foundation “nurtures, celebrates, and preserves LGBT literature through programs that honor excellence, promote visibility and encourage development of emerging writers.” Their scope expanded last week with the following good news for comics fans:

"For the first time ever, the Lambda Literary Awards will honor LGBT Graphic Novels in their own category in keeping with the explosion of titles, and talent, that have enriched LGBT literature for years. The new LGBT Graphic Novels category is defined as “any work –fiction or nonfiction– that uses a combination of words and sequential art to convey a narrative and is published in book form (as distinguished from periodical comic books). Open to any genre or topic this category includes graphic novels, graphic memoirs and comic anthologies.”

While we wait for the award winners to be announced in spring of 2014, here is a list of our favorite graphic novels that have LGBT themes and/or characters. It’s by no means comprehensive, and we’re hoping Omni readers will add their favorites to the comments!

  • Love and Rockets by Los Bros Hernandez (Fantagraphics): Ongoing for over 30 years, the rich world created by an artistic band of brothers is still ahead of its time, involving LGBT characters and issues without pandering or overt “special messages.” These are life stories, told as life unfolds—with humor, heartbreak, and perseverance.  (See also the recent and very cool Covers collection and our reading guide to the series.)
  • Dykes to Watch Out for by Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): Here is another long-running literary comics staple, this time focusing on a predominantly lesbian cast that ages and grows as the stories publish.
  • Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III (DC Comics): DC certainly made headlines when it announced the first openly lesbian character in the Bat-family, but Rucka and Williams transformed her into more than a costumed hero; she’s imbued with true character, full of pride, mistakes, and—yes—heroics.
  • Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse (Vertigo): Set in the early 1960s and in the American South, protagonist Toland Polk maneuvers his sexuality in a tumultuous time period, set against civil rights, racism, activism, and coming-out culture.
  • Wandering Son by Shimura Takako and Matt Thorn (Fantagraphics): This beautiful literary manga follows the lives of two fifth graders, Shuichi Nitori Yoshino Takatsuki, as they both question their gender identities in the wide-eyed and often cruel period of adolescence.

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Graphic Novel Friday: What I Read Over Summer Vacation

Regular Graphic Novel Friday readers might be aware of my annual summer trip into the Canadian wilderness, where I unplug at a family cabin and read as many comics as I can. This year the weather was especially uncooperative, which made for fine morning, noon, and night reading. Upon my return, a nutritional detox was necessary but I read an especially healthy batch of books, including:

  • Saga, Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: Like everyone, I wondered if Vaughan and Staples could possibly top their Vol. 1 efforts (which we selected as one of our Top 10 Best of the Year picks in 2012), and like just about everyone, I was so happy to see the indie duo succeed. There is more charm, fantasy, action, science fiction, romance, and grotesquely nude giants in this volume than any comic on the planet. It’s the best ongoing comic that I read, and I gobbled it up before anything else this summer.

  • Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life by Ulli Lust and Kim Thompson: Being one of the late Thompson’s final translation efforts makes this a must-read—plus, that title. Graphic memoirist Ulli Lust recounts her 1984 journey across Italy, which is nowhere as idyllic as it sounds. Lust is a broke, defiant punk at the time, and the aggressive sexuality she endures is shocking. She travels without passport, money, or GPS, and it’s an adventure that makes me glad I have all three.

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The Last of Us with Neil Druckmann (Part Two)

Spoiler Alert! The Last of Us is a new, bestselling video game for the PS3 that has players talking about its secrets, reveals, and fascinating storytelling. In this interview, we do not delve too deeply into specifics, but general plot and characters are discussed. The Last of Us is best enjoyed with as little information as possiblefair warning!

In Part One of our interview with the game's Creative Director and writer, Neil Druckmann, we discussed character storytelling within video games, and in this final installment we discuss Dark Horse's The Art of The Last of Us and forthcoming graphic novel prequel, Neil's influences, and what lies ahead in The Last of Us universe. We covered storytelling, characters, and backstories, but what about locations? In particular, I loved the Bill’s Town “stage,” but players do not stay there, or in any location, for long. It’s one thing to design a game with a sense of urgency, but these levels all have such depth—more than any one player can explore upon first visit. How do you balance design and storytelling?

Neil Druckmann: It’s really difficult. You have to know that you are going to create more content than any one player will ever see—but also knowing that there will be nooks and crannies that one player will find that his or her friends do not. There might be a garden that you discover, which kicks off a conversation about “garden gnomes” with Ellie, and you think, “I never would have heard this if I hadn’t stumbled upon this location. And I understand [Ellie] more as a result of that.” It’s a constant struggle, because the more stuff like that you create, the more of a burden you are putting on the team to build. It’s a balance, where you ask yourself, “Is it okay if 30 percent of players find this, if 40 percent of players find it? What if it’s five percent—when is it too little?”

You try to save the really meaty storytelling for the main path, and the further you explore beyond the main path, the more secondary and tertiary the storytelling. But if you do find those layers, I believe you gain a deeper appreciation for the characters and world that we’ve created.

Omni: Right. There are notes between unseen characters that can be collected and read, along with other subplot threads that can only be accessed by exploring. In the bookstore stage, I noticed faux film posters and advertisements. Who created these posters and who wrote the notes that characters can discover?

Neil Druckmann: It’s a team effort. The notes were written mostly by our editor, Ryan James, and me. The movies posters were [a result of] background artists coming up with stuff. The only one I did was “Dawn of the Wolf,” and then a bunch of things, like the store names and stuff, is between the art director and the background guys. I’ll just filter it out if it’s a little too satirical or if it takes you out of the experience.

Omni: One sequence that felt very new to gaming was the upside-down moment that occurs early in the game. When it comes to designing and planning these sequences, are they a subversion of familiar gaming mechanics or do they stem from some place wholly different from that?

Continue reading "The Last of Us with Neil Druckmann (Part Two)" »

Graphic Novel Friday: The Last of Us with Neil Druckmann (Part One)

Spoiler Alert! The Last of Us is a new, bestselling video game for the PS3 that has players talking about its secrets, reveals, and fascinating storytelling. In this interview, we do not delve too deeply into specifics, but general plot and characters are discussed. The Last of Us is best enjoyed with as little information as possiblefair warning!

I hope regular Graphic Novel Friday readers won't mind a break from routine. I heard enough buzz about The Last of Us game that I picked it up on release day—sleep did not soon follow. This terrifying game stars hard-edged Joel as he reluctantly leads young Ellie out of a post-apocalyptic nightmare.

Dark Horse Comics (publisher of the new The Art of The Last of Us and a forthcoming graphic novel prequel) coincidentally approached me with the opportunity to speak with the game's Creative Director and writer, Neil Druckmann. We discussed character storytelling, origins, game mechanics, the art book tie-in, the graphic novel, and more.  Part One of our interview follows below: In The Last of Us, beyond the gameplay, the visuals, the scares, what fans keep coming back to is “the storytelling.” What sets this game’s story so apart from its contemporaries?

Neil Druckmann: If I had to put a finger on it, the focus on it all along has been [that] we are not telling a post-apocalyptic story; we’re not telling a survival story—although the story is those things—we’re telling a story about a relationship between two characters who, over the course of the game, come to love each other as if they were father and daughter. In making this game, every decision along the way has been with that in mind.

The writing, the music, the environment, the mechanics we’ve implemented—where you are learning to rely on one another, has been in service of that relationship. That clear focus has allowed us to do some pretty subtle stuff in the storytelling but also some engaging, immersive stuff from a gameplay standpoint that has really allowed gamers to take part in forming that bond, that relationship, in a way that you couldn’t experience in a movie, or a novel, or a graphic novel. They’re engaged with these characters on a level that they’ve never experienced before. They are there every step of the way as they form that bond between Joel and Ellie.

Omni: Is beginning from a pair of characters rather than a set-piece or overarching story an anomaly in gaming? Is this unique to your brand of storytelling?

Neil Druckmann: I think it’s unique to Naughty Dog [Studios, the game's publisher]. The way we think of story is that “character is story and story is character.” For me, a lot of video games aren’t as interesting when they become more about the world or the lore, and to me, it becomes very exposition-heavy. I might be engaged with the game because of its gameplay or aesthetics, but for the most part I find video games are lacking in character storytelling.

I’m sure you’ve noticed, we don’t have to use as much dialogue, because so much of the storytelling can be told through expression or a gesture. Coming back to mechanics, as Joel comes to rely on Ellie more, the player does as well—so when you are separated [in the game], you begin to miss this person, because you’ve begun to rely on them.

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Before Watchmen: Interview with Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo, and J.G. Jones

Before the prequels to Watchmen, the must-read, heralded graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, were even published, critics, fans, and the original creators all had their say. Soon, however, top-tier talent signed on to revisit the dark world of superhero deconstruction, and DC recently published all of the works across four graphic novels. To coincide with the release, DC offered us an extensive interview with three of the creators behind Before Watchmen: Rorschach and Before Watchmen: Comedian (now collected in one volume)--writer Brian Azzarello and artists J.G. Jones and Lee Bermejo. The frank conversation follows below.

There's no getting around the controversy surrounding the Before Watchmen project. Upon being approached to work on it, what was your first reaction?

Brian Azzarello: My first reaction was "You've got to be kidding," which was then countered with "We're serious." And I understood I was hearing this because they wanted me involved.

J.G. Jones: Dan [DiDio, co-publisher of DC Entertainment] pulled me aside at the Baltimore Comic Con and told me he was planning something audacious, and wanted to know if I would be interested. He said a lot of people may hate the idea, but I was intrigued by the opportunity to work with these iconic characters. Dan gave me my choice of characters (except for Dr. Manhattan, which had already been claimed by Adam Hughes). Naturally, I chose Comedian, based on the outline of what Brian planned to do with the story. I think I got the best character of the lot. Following up on a iconic piece of art like Watchmen can be very daunting.

Lee, J.G., were either of you intimidated at all by the prospect of working on these classic characters?

Lee Bermejo: Honestly, every project is equally daunting for their own reasons. I can't control the public's expectations or desires. I just have to do what I do and hope that it resonates with somebody.

J.G.: I wouldn't say any of us were intimidated. We all love the original Watchmen and, obviously, wanted to treat the material with the respect it deserves. So I would say that I was excited and energized to work on the Comedian book.

What do you think is the most compelling part about the Rorschach and Comedian characters?

Brian: I think the most compelling thing about Rorschach is his unwavering will—even when he's wrong about something. He's fascinating; a character that is made of so many shades of grey that sees the world in black and white. There's no room for Rorschach in Rorschach's worldview.

Lee: Rorschach is pure vigilante fetish. In certain circumstances, he is everything we wish we could be but also what repels us about that lifestyle. A fascinating dichotomy.

J.G.: [Comedian] is such a complex character. He can seem like a really jaded, hard-assed, indifferent character, yet, in the Watchmen graphic novel, he is the impetus for the whole story. If he had not reacted to Ozymandias' plot in such a human way, he would not have been killed, and Rorschach would never have investigated his death, unraveling the whole ball of yarn. He is more complex character than the simple cartoon good or evil, and we wanted to explore how he became so jaded and willing to do the horrible things he does, while still maintaining a hidden core of humanity. A Vietnam tale seemed the right way to look at his hardening and the building of his facade.

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Graphic Novel Friday: Nobrow 8

Nobrow-cover8When I clicked though our editors’ Best of July selections, I was humbled by one pick in Comics and Graphic Novels: Nobrow 8. What was this book with a number in its title, nestled between big releases like the latest Saga volume and Big Two-published, mainstream superhero books? I began investigating.

Nobrow 8, subtitled "Hysteria" for the issue’s theme, has a minimal detail page on Two editors, Alex Spiro and Sam Arthur, are listed and the description cryptically reads:

The world seems to be taking a turn for the worse . . . so we let sixteen of the world's leading comic creators and more than thirty of the very best illustrators take the theme for a whirl, hoping they would shed some light.

The publisher is Nobrow Press (naturally), and a web search led me to their website and the UK-based publisher’s mission statement:

Given that the company started both in the midst of the financial crisis (Nov 2008) and in the supposed ‘dying days of print’, our books had to be somehow different. It wouldn’t be enough to champion new artists and content alone, the books themselves had to stand out, to ‘deserve to be printed’.

Love it, and then a copy arrived in the mail. Readers, this is a gem. It is magazine-sized, four-colored, and as manic as its subtitle states. The first half (60+ pages) is filled with stories by comics creators, and then the book and reader take a turn. By flipping the book, the second half (another 60+ pages plus another cover) opens with mostly text-free double-page spreads by various illustrators; again, the layouts are impressive and range from the abstract to hellfire-fueled. Both halves challenge and subvert storytelling, with tales involving monsters, aliens, robots, the banal, and the spiraling. It’s worth noting that the themes are adult, as are several of the images (in fact, I’ve substituted the more “mainstream” of its two covers for this feature). I haven’t come close to absorbing either half of Nobrow 8, but I’m impressed enough to seek out the previous seven installments. 

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Amazon Publishing Announces: Jet City Comics!

Today, Amazon Publishing announced the launch of a new comics and graphic novel imprint, Jet City Comics! We’re launching with a series of comics set in The Foreworld Saga, an alternate history created by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear and Mark Teppo, and more, and it's full of sword-fighting, quests, and plenty of world-building. The first issue, Symposium #1 by Christian Cameron and Dmitry Bondarenko, releases today and requires no prior knowledge of the Foreworld universe. It’s new-reader friendly, and sets the stage for the larger works in the series, like The Mongoliad.

Beginning in October, we will release three projects from legendary novelist George R.R. Martin: an original comic, called Meathouse Man, and two graphic novel prequels to his A Song of Ice and Fire series (the basis for the gamma-powered Game of Thrones television series). Also coming in October is our visual trip down the silo with the comics adaptation of Wool, the bestselling science fiction sensation by Hugh Howey. We will release issues of Wool on a monthly basis via our Serials program, and then collect it in physical and digital omnibuses later in 2014.

To celebrate today’s news, we asked Hugh Howey and Neal Stephenson to share their favorite comics (see highlights below):

For those of you familiar with Wool, Hugh’s favorites should come as no surprise—running the gamut of big action and literary elements (see his comments below):

  • The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller: This was the book I carried with me everywhere as a kid. I practically ruined my copies. I bet I've owned a dozen editions of this masterpiece over the years.
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons: I know it's cliche to love this book, but I can spend hours flipping through issue #5, checking out the symmetry of the panels.
  • Fables by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham and Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, and Jose Marzan, Jr.: These two series blew me away for their writing and storytelling--Fables, because it was so inventive, and Y for creating an audacious world that I completely believed in. Two of the best series ever.
  • The Infinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin, George Perez, and Ron Lim: Another short series that I read over and over as a kid. I've never rooted so hard for a villain. It was this series of comics that made so many of us fall in love with Thanos, which is a relationship as messy as his is with Death.

JetCityComics_blkAs for Neal Stephenson, well, his favorites are easy: “Anything with Mister Miracle in it.” Mister Miracle, of course, being the New God created by Jack Kirby in 1971 (see his first appearance in Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus Vol. 1), and later joined the “Bwah-ha-ha!” heroes in Justice League International. Note: Grant Morrison recently enlisted Mister Miracle in his Seven Soldiers of Victory epic.

Neal also noted that he is a fan of “rock star” French artist Aleksi Briclot, who has about as diverse of a resume as I’ve seen: He is one of the main artists on Magic: The Gathering; he illustrated several Spawn comics; and he recently co-founded DONTNOD Entertainment, a video game development studio behind the recent Remember Me game (see also The Art of Remember Me hardcover, where Briclot pens an introduction).

This is only our origin tale, comics fans, and the adventure will continue in 2013 and beyond. Hop aboard as we prepare for takeoff today, and please let us know how we are doing here.


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