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Graphic Novel Friday: Sci-Fi Summer

There are still a few days of summer to enjoy, and everyone is talking about science fiction and the blockbuster that ruled them all: Guardians of the Galaxy. Heck, we covered the comics, too! If you’ve seen the film and want to read the next big things in the genre, then turn your star-gazer below to our top three picks of new graphic novels that explore space, time, and beyond:

Trillium by Jeff Lemire (Vertigo): Writer/artist Lemire goes off the deep end, and readers who follow him will be richly rewarded by the journey’s end in this 2014 Eisner Award Nominee for Best Limited Series. Protagonists Nika (from the year 3797) and William (from 1921) find themselves at a cross-time crossroads, their destinies impossibly intertwined. Lemire plays with the book packaging and panel structures to literally shape the two narratives, and he invents his own alien language (a key is provided in the collection). It’s heady, daring, and satisfying.

The Bunker Vol. 1 by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari (Oni Press): Originally released via comiXology, this title gained a strong following thanks to its topsy-turvy plot: five friends hike into a forest to bury a time capsule, only to find one already there when they start digging—and it’s big. The bunker they unearth holds envelopes with letters written by their future selves, detailing an impending apocalypse. Initially, the letters seem to encourage extinction prevention, but the present-day friends quickly realize that ulterior motives may color the messages. Can they trust their future selves—and if the letters are true, can they trust each other?

Letter 44 Vol. 1: Escape Velocity by Charles Soule and Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque (Oni Press): Two disparate stories, one set on Earth and one in space, rely heavily on paranoia and action. On Earth, President Blades takes office only to discover that the previous regime kept many disturbing things hidden from the American public—chief among them a mysterious, alien space cannon and the American crew sent up to intercept it. As Blades encounters increasing subterfuge and danger the deeper he looks to the stars, the crew engages not only alien technology but the terrifying truth behind it. Plus, one of the crew members is pregnant, and nobody will name the father’s identity. The tension mounts with each chapter, and the tiny moments of payoff only serve to keep the pages turning.

My oxygen tank is just about dry, Omni readers.  What summer comics have you searching the stars for more?

--Alex

Weird Science

What if everyone on earth aimed a laser pointer at the moon at the same time? What if you could drain all the water from the oceans? What if all the lightning strikes in the world hit the same place at once? What if there was a book that considered weird, sometimes ridiculous questions, and it was so compelling that you found yourself skimming its pages to find out what would happen if you threw a baseball at light speed?  With What If, Randall Munroe has written such a book. In the same style of his extraordinarily popular xkcd webcomic, Munroe applies reason and research to hypothetical conundrums ranging from the philosophical to the scientific (often absurd, but never pseudo) that probably seemed awesome and inscrutable in your elementary school days--but were never sufficiently answered. 

Enjoy this exclusive thought-experiment from the author (and it's not even included in the book). What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions will be available in hardcover and Kindle on September 2, 2014.

 

Q: If you built a very smooth ramp from the highest point on Earth (Mt. Everest) to the lowest (Dead Sea), then stood at the top on a rolling office chair, would you roll down? How fast would you go?

So you got bored in a meeting and decided to take your chair for a ride.

What If by Randall Munroe



Bring oxygen tanks. And food.

A ramp connecting Mount Everest to the shore of the Dead Sea would have a very gentle slope of only 1/10th of a degree. If you were standing on it, it would seem flat.

The slope would be so gentle that the chair would need precision bearings or a pneumatic air cushion to reduce friction enough to roll—and even then, air drag would limit you to a terminal velocity of about running speed.

What If by Randall Munroe



You'd also need the ramp to be enclosed. The top of Mount Everest pokes up into the jet stream, a river of hurricane-force wind wrapped around the planet. Unfortunately for you, that wind is going in the wrong direction. Without something to shield you from it, it would blow you back up the ramp.

Ok, let's go!

What If by Randall Munroe



You depart the peak of Everest, trundling slowly west, and the ground falls away beneath you. You glide out over the peaks and valleys of the Himalayas without coming close to touching another mountain.

After two days, you leave the mountains behind and slide across the Punjab region of India and Pakistan.

What If by Randall Munroe



You then cross southern Afghanistan and pass into Iran, where you finally sink low enough to breathe without oxygen tanks.

In central Iran, you hit the ground for the first time since you started rolling. Your track intersects a mountainside near the peak of Shahan Kuh. You pass through a convenient tunnel and emerge on the other side.

What If by Randall Munroe



You cross from Iran into Iraq, sinking lower and lower. Because the air is several times denser here than at your starting point, your terminal velocity has dropped from running speed to jogging speed.

A little over two weeks after you started rolling, your ramp sinks low enough to touch the desert. In western Iraq, you fall beneath ground level and enter another tunnel. You cross from Iraq into Jordan over 600 meters below the border.

What If by Randall Munroe



You roll through the darkness for four days, passing completely under Jordan, and finally emerge into the light on the shores of the Dead Sea.

After twenty days, you and your faithful chair have reached the end of your journey from Earth's highest land to its lowest. You take a swim; in the dense saline water, you float much higher than normal. Be careful not to get any in your eyes.

What If by Randall Munroe



And now you should probably get back to that meeting. They'll get mad if you don't return the chair.

What If by Randall Munroe




What If by Randall Munroe

Graphic Novel Friday: Gilbert Hernandez's Big Year

At the end of July, hard-working and prolific artist and writer Gilbert Hernandez won the Eisner Award for Best Short Story (“Untitled” in Love and Rockets: New Stories #6), to which he stated, “The biggest surprise was the story they chose; a wacked-out fantasy that I didn’t think anyone would take seriously. All in all, it’s a great honor.” From long-running familial dramas, all-ages adventures, grindhouse terrors, erotica, and the…wacked-out, every new or collected work from the now Eisner Award-winning artist is reason enough to investigate and celebrate. For longtime fans and soon-to-be devotees, 2014 presents plenty of opportunity to explore Gilbert’s latest and newly collected stories.

July: Fantagraphics expands their Love and Rockets library again with Luba and Her Family, a collection of later-period L&R works from Gilbert. 

September: A fall two-fer month—first is Bumperhead, an original graphic novel from publisher Drawn & Quarterly that’s billed as a tangentially related story to last year’s Marble Season. It’s a beautiful, oversized black and white hardcover. Then all eyes will be on Love and Rockets: New Stories #7 (Fantagraphics),  where Gilbert follows up his Eisner Award-winning story with new shorts alongside brother Jaime (who also won an Eisner this year: Best Writer/Artist for Love and Rockets #6).

October: Gilbert never shies from the explicit, and readers should be prepared for plenty of passion in Loverboys from Dark Horse Comics, an original graphic novel that promises a “torrid romance” between a young man and a woman who used to be his seventh grade teacher. 

December: OK, we’re still holding our breath for the delayed-but-gotta-be-worth-it Love and Rockets Reader: From Hoppers to Palomar by Marc Sobel. It promises a comprehensive, academic, and in-depth look at what makes Love and Rockets so rewarding.

Just in case you missed it: In May, Dark Horse Comics published Fatima: The Blood Spinners by Gilbert, which is a bizarre, gore-drenched zombie tale that truly sets itself apart from any other zombie comic. 

What a year--congratulations, Gilbert Hernandez!

--Alex

Amazon Music Book Club: Gym Class Heroes’ Travie McCoy on Self-Help Books & Graphic Novels

Thanks to our friends at the Amazon Music Notes blog for this "Book Club" Q&A with Travie McCoy, frontman for Gym Class Heroes, discussing self-help books and graphic novels. Amazon Music Book Club explores the literary influences on today's musicians.

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Reading has a formative effect on a person, inspiring how they see the world and understand their place within it. This seems even more pronounced for artists, who take pieces of everything they experience with them into their own creations. With that in mind, we want to know how reading and literature influence your favorite musicians and the songs they’ve written.

Travie McCoy, frontman New York City’s rap/pop/rock outfit Gym Class Heroes, has always loved books and has been interested in stories and how they can be told from an early age. Although literary references only occasionally pop up in his songs, McCoy--who’s currently working on his second solo album--is deeply influenced by what he reads. We spoke with Travie about his history with reading, how much self-help books can actually help and his love for graphic novels.

What sorts of books were your entry point into reading as a kid?

I loved Roald Dahl books and anything by Shel Silverstein. Where The Sidewalk Ends and stuff like that. I also loved Where The Wild Things Are. But I think Shel Silverstein was my favorite. He actually came to my school and spoke when I was younger and it blew my mind. It was really awesome. Those types of books were my sh*t. And then we’d have book fairs and the Choose Your Own Adventure books came out, which I loved. I loved graphic novels, too. Hellboy, which I am still a fan of.

What’s your most memorable reading experience from your childhood?

There is a book called The Contender by Robert Lipsyte. That was the first book I read without anyone telling me to or having to write a paper on it. I just picked it up and read it. It was a really cool book. It was about this kid who got out of the ghetto and became a boxer. It was really intense. I finished it and I was like, “Whoa, I read a book!” I didn’t have to and there was no consequence if I didn’t, so it was awesome.

Do you still feel that sense of wonder when you finish a book now?

Kind of! It feels good to have the last few pages left and knowing you’re about to finish it. The last five or six pages is always completely good stuff so I get the trembles when I get there. It makes me happy. That’s the best feeling.

Is there a certain type of book you’re drawn to now?

I love self-help books. When you’re younger you think you know everything and then there are these people who are older and have been through everything you’ve been through and have written books about it. I started buying them. I’ve always drawn to the self-help section of any bookstore.

Do you find that they really do help you?

Yeah. There was a book a friend of mine gave me that started my self-help journey. It’s a book called Meditation In Action. It’s a book about how to deal with stress while you’re actually in the situations. You think about meditation as being in a peaceful place, but this is more dealing with the workplace or other people on a daily basis. It was a cool book. I read it three or four times.

What are you currently reading?

A friend of mine gave me The War of Art. Going into writing the record I’m writing now I hit a wall and he was like “Yo, if this book doesn’t help you I don’t know what will.” It’s the best book I’ve read in a long time. It’s been super helpful as far as when I do get writers block. I have tricks now to get out of those times or getting my mind off knowing that I do have writers block.

As a fan of graphic novels, could you suggest a good place for readers new to the genre?

Frank Miller. He did the Sin City series. They’re really easy to read and the illustrations are amazing. I thought the books would be ruined in the movie and the movie just made me more excited to read more Frank Miller. The story is really bold. There’s not a lot of words but the ones that are there are really powerful. If anybody wanted to jump off into graphic novels those would be the starting point.

Does the books you read directly influence your songwriting?

Yeah, of course. Anything I find valuable and knowledgeable sticks with me, and I think that knowledge is passed on, whether it’s in conversation or song. I think the last time I put something I read directly in a song was on Gym Class Heroes’ album The Quilt. There was a song called “Drnk Txt Rmeo.” I took some lines from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and twisted them. I don’t know if anyone has actually caught on to that yet. It was pretty fun.

Is there a certain book you would recommend to fans of your music?

There isn’s a certain book, but anything by Shel Silverstein, if fans of my music want to understand where my writing is coming from. They were funny, a lot of them had rhymes to them, the stories were great. My music is telling stories a lot of times and adding some humor and rhymes. Shel Silverstein and Roald Dahl helped a lot with that.

Graphic Novel Friday: This Weekend's Other Space Opera

While I forge my way to the Canadian wilderness for vacation this summer, I will be unable to see The Guardians of the Galaxy film, Marvel’s latest comic book blockbuster. With me, however, is another space epic: Twelve Gems by Lane Milburn.

When the cover art was first revealed, I imagined it had been lifted from the backdrop of pinball machine located in a dingy cantina somewhere in the distant cosmos. A three-headed, horned monstrosity floating above space lava and encircled in glowing lights? Yes, I found my summer read. A copy recently arrived in the mail, and I diligently put it away so that I could save it for my trip. Only now my flight is delayed, I’m stuck in Denver and missing a day of vacation, and Twelve Gems is my only hope—and it’s delivering.

Part Heavy Metal, part Infinity Gauntlet, part progressive metal band's vinyl LP artwork, Twelve Gems offers a space opera send-up that reads like a serious good time. Writer and artist Milburn begins with an eccentric scientist, Dr. Z, who enlists three heroes (Furz, the heavy; Venus, the beautiful warrior; and Dogstar, the talking animal) to find the legendary twelve gems—what they do once collected, no one knows. All that matters is that Dr. Z wants them and he’ s willing to share in the reward, whatever it may be.

Across the stars, the three heroes (who aren’t so heroic) encounter robots, monstrous aliens, and more monstrous aliens, all of whom want the twelve gems for themselves. Dogstar develops a crush as Venus’ outfits only get tighter, and Furz keeps upgrading his murder weapons. It’s absurd how much fun this is, with double-page chapter breaks that would not be out of place on the side of a black van driven by two dudes wearing bandanas. Milburn’s throwback style, the heavy-lined and dense pages are only matched in goofiness by his dialogue: “You who wander this kaleidoscopic cosmos, who possess the mirror-trick of consciousness…speak!” 12Gems_panelAnd the crew can’t seem to catch a break even when they stop at a local space-bar--wherever they go they encounter thieves and assailants. “What?! We don’t get a moment to relax,” Venus bemoans as she readies her battle pose. “This galaxy sucks!” Furz agrees as they both hop into the melee. 

This is exactly what summer blockbusters should be, only Milburn’s is a singular vision. He exploits clichés by embracing them, and he busily captures hyperspace hilarity, while the black and white pages never feel overwhelmed by the dark backdrops or Milburn’s detailed designs. This compact paperback comes with Fantagraphics’ usual high quality paper stock and attention to detail, and I’m so glad it’s here with me—my vacation may have stalled but Twelve Gems gave it a warp core boost regardless.

See also The Comics Journal’s extensive interview with Milburn.

--Alex

Graphic Novel Friday: Happy Birthday, Batman!

Batman_75Happy Bat-Birthday! The Caped Crusader turns 75 this year, and to commemorate, DC Comics will release two 400-page hardcover collections chronicling the adventures and darkness surrounding the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker. Batman: A Celebration of 75 Years and The Joker: A Celebration of 75 Years release next week, featuring 75 years of stories by Bob Kane, Carmine Infantino, Neal Adams, Frank Miller, Denny O’Neil, Greg Rucka, J.H. Williams III, Scott Snyder, Paul Dini, and many more.

Until those tomes hit the shelves, we put our cowls together and identified our five favorite Batman stories-–not a “Best of,” please note! Want to tell us your favorites, Omni readers? To the Bat-comments!

5. Batman: Son of the Demon by Mike W. Barr and Jerry Bingham: Batman falls for Talia al Ghul, the beautiful and dangerous daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, one of Batman’s greatest villains. Their romance leads to a strange alliance between an often shirtless Batman and Ra’s—and its decades-old consequences lead directly into Grant Morrison’s Batman & Son storyline, proving that great stories are never forgotten. [Note that this particular story is contained in a new collection with two other related stories.]

4. Batman: Gotham by Gaslight by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola: Mike Mignola! Victorian-era Batman! Mike Mignola! Jack the Ripper! Need we exclaim further? This self-contained story is revered among fans for its artwork and clever, creepy storyline.

3. Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale:  Batman must face his entire rogues gallery in a murder mystery that spans 12 months. Loeb and Sale’s portrayal of Batman is both classic and contemporary: smart, determined, and muscle-bound. "I made a promise to my parents..."

2. Batman: Nine Lives by Dean Motter and Michael Lark: Say what? This Elseworlds tale (like Gaslight) may be new to readers, but it’s an atypical look at Gotham, where familiar heroes and villains are turned on their heads andBatman_bm reinterpreted in inventive ways. It also involves a murder mystery, and it's a doozy.  [Note: this collection is out of print and available via our third party marketplace.]

1. Batman: The Black Mirror by Scott Snyder, Jock, and Francesco Francavilla: Perhaps the greatest Batman arc in the past decade, The Black Mirror houses two very different stories—both of which trouble Dick Grayson. Yes, our #1 pick is a Batman story without Bruce Wayne! Grayson assumes the mantle and takes the Batman character in a different direction, one worth reading multiple times for how often Snyder gets it “right.” This collection is sure to influence Batman writers for decades to come.

Disclaimer: We excluded any Frank Miller stories from this list, given their importance and length of the shadow they cast over any Bat-list.

--Alex

Graphic Novel Weekend: Interview with Max Brooks

This weekend variant edition of Graphic Novel Friday arrives with an exclusive interview.  Hope everyone had a great July 4th holiday!

Author Max Brooks continues to re-think and refine the zombie phenomenon.  From World War Zthe blockbuster novel that led to the blockbuster film, and the follow-up/send-up The Zombie Survival Guide his name is cemented in the zombie canon. This month, he launches a new graphic novel with Avatar Press that takes another wild look at zombies (and vampires!) in The Extinction Parade. Mr. Brooks nicely took time to answer a few questions over email:

Q: You have two new collections out this spring, The Harlem Hellfighters and The Extinction Parade. What’s your comics origin story—what first inspired you in the medium?

Max Brooks: I can’t remember how old I was, but it was a time before the Berlin Wall fell. We used to spend our summers on a little strip of sand off New York called "Fire Island." I fished and swam and rode my bike everywhere, but one thing I didn’t do was read. Being dyslexic, reading was a real chore. And then I found ROM: Spaceknight at the general store and I recognized it from an action figure I had. It was the first king sized annual. I hadn’t intended to read the whole thing, but before I knew it, I was on the last page. That was the first time in my life I’d ever voluntarily read something, ANYTHING cover to cover, and I still own that exact issue.

Q: The Extinction Parade began as a short prose story. What led to its translation into comics? What aspects did you have to re-think when converting it for Avatar Press?

Max Brooks: Converting from prose to comics is no easy task. For one thing, you can’t ignore any information. In prose, I don’t have to describe anything that’s not integral to the story. Out of sight, out of mind. A comic book is visual. The reader sees everything. I have to pay attention to clothes, hair, architecture, every detail I want to be accurate. Because The Extinction Parade takes place in Malaysia, where I’ve never been, I have to use 3D satellite images to show the artist where our characters are and what we, the readers, would see in the background.

Q: The Extinction Parade is filled with storytelling, from character-to-character moments to detailed narration boxes. What is your method of scripting comics? Are you more hands-on or hands-off in terms of page layouts and character designs?

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Weekend: Interview with Max Brooks" »

Graphic Novel Friday: New Reads from Old Boxes

The best part of moving is unpacking all the new books you had to regrettably box up before you could read them. I spent several weeks unboxing (see also: avoiding), organizing, and then reading a few spectacular comics that published as I changed homes. Here are three that I packed at the top of my stacks:

 

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (First Second):  Be still my nostalgic heart. This dreamily crafted tale is one to treasure for all seasons. Rose and Windy meet every summer at their respective families’ vacation homes, but in this snapshot the summer threatens to wilt under a long shade. Rose’s parents show signs of strain; Windy’s usual playful nature now grates; and the local teens have graduated from young adult to very adult. Along with perfect dialogue and strong character designs, the narrative is complemented by multiple ready-to-frame double-page spreads. Reading This One Summer is just as rewarding as looking at it. Watch for this on Best of the Year lists.

 

 

 

 

I Kill Giants: Fifth Anniversary Edition by Joe Kelley and JN Ken Niimura (Image Comics):  I was unprepared for my emotional response when I reached the end of this incredible story. Joe Kelley introduces Barbara, a young girl who lives in a fantasy world where she is a giant slayer who wields a mythical hammer. Of course, this fantasy belies a troubled real world from which she seeks escape; one where something dark lurks upstairs in her home. Once the truth is revealed (and after an admittedly clunky first chapter), beware the tugging of heartstrings.

 

 

 

Afterlife with Archie Book One by Roberto Aguirre-Sagasa and Francesco Francavilla (Archie Comics):  This is no joke, folks! I initially expected a goofy Archie + zombies comic—one to read, chuckle, and then forget. What this does, however, is retool the Archie universe into a nail-biting, horror tale for adults. Much of this is thanks to Francavilla’s Halloween-tinged colors and artwork that discards any previous “house style” regarding character designs. The gang’s all here, but they’ve never looked this good, contemporary, or bloody and bloody scared. See also our Top Ten Reasons to Read Afterlife with Archie feature over at Kindle Daily.

 

 

What’s on your to-read comics list, Omni readers?

--Alex

 

Graphic Novel Friday: Miracleman Returns

Holy hiatus, Batman! The Graphic Novel Friday feature has been MIA for a several weeks, and I apologize. I recently moved, and my comics were all packed away in (too many) boxes, but one new collection stayed with me throughout the process: Miracleman Book 1: A Dream of Flying.

In the early 1980s, well before the gritty deconstruction of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns or Alan Moore’s Watchmen, the latter creator took to lesser-known 1950s United Kingdom hero, Marvelman, and did what he does best: utterly dismantle everything fans knew and rebuild the hero from a grim foundation. After decades of legal issues resulting in the name change to “Miracleman”—and even Alan Moore’s own dismissal of the project (he is now only credited as “The Original Writer”), Marvel Comics brings the out-of-print-run, with later contributions by Neil Gaiman, back to the bookshelves everywhere—and in celebratory fashion.

In Moore’s revamp, alter ego Micky Moran (ha!) has forgotten his superhero identity and slumps in middle age, in a lackluster marriage and job. His dreams haunt and hint at a greater calling, but everything is tinged with darkness, until a moment of panic forces Micky to utter the magic word that eluded him for so long: "Kimota!" And with that exclamation, Alan Moore changed comics forever.

This first volume includes a pre-Moore issue that leads directly into the deconstruction, and the overall story features all the sinister narration, disturbed villains, and pull-the-rug-out-from-under-the-hero origins that would later make Moore such a force in the superhero industry. It’s a revelation to read this story for the first time, to see the comics wizardry take form in an origin story of its own. It’s complemented by artwork from Garry Leach, whose classic lines give characters a subtle lurch. Midway through, an early Alan Davis joins the project, and his artwork, while hemming closely to Leach’s, is still his own—smooth and meticulous. The supplemental section is hefty, with a “Warpsmiths” story that will eventually tie into the larger storyline, and plenty of alternate covers—new and old, sketches, and more.

Welcome back, Miracleman. (Book 2: The Red King Syndrome releases this October!)

--Alex

P.S. GNF will now return to its regular bi-weekly schedule. Kimota!

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.  

--Alex

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