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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)" »

Best Books of 2013: Comics & Graphic Novels

Marble Season Marble Season by Gilbert Hernandez

In June, Gilbert Hernandez's Marble Season topped our Best of the Year So Far list for Comics & Graphic Novels. Since then, it's been a strong season for comics, but after revisiting Hernandez's touching, nostalgic tale of kids in Southern California when assembling our Best Books of 2013 picks, I was reminded that nothing else has delighted me as much this year. Beneath the innocence of Hernandez's cast of eccentric troublemakers is the conflicting desire to grow up without understanding what that means; as a reader we approach Marble Season with the opposite perspective: we long for our childhood but appreciate it with the wisdom of adulthood.

Very Casual Very Casual by Michael DeForge

Collecting the bizarre works of Michael DeForge's mini-comics, Very Casual marks the arrival of a fresh, bizarre talent. Even in his early twenties, DeForge has already won numerous awards (including the 2013 Ignatz Award for Outstanding Anthology of Collection for Very Casual). DeForge's aesthetic sensibility is hinged on the compellingly weird. Kids get high on squid ink; absurdist deer mate; and a rock band is made out of weird blobs. Revealed within Very Casual's psychedelic stories and grotesque geographies is something sublime.

Solo Solo: The Deluxe Edition

The collected works of DC's Solo lets many of the most well-known comics writers/illustrators, including Darwyn Cooke, Paul Pope, and Michael Allred, go hog-wild with the DC universe. It's a showcase of familiar heroes getting strange makeovers — an eclectic mix of talent and imagination not to be missed.

The Property The Property by Rutu Modan

Israeli-born artist Rutu Modan's first work, Exit Wounds, was an Eisner Award-winning trek through Tel Aviv. The Property, her second full-length comic, takes us to Warsaw, where a young woman named Regina accompanies her grandmother on a trip to secure property owned by her parents during the Holocaust. Modan's work is extremely subtle. But despite her penchant for earth tones and nuanced expressions, The Property feels so alive with compassion and humor and humanity.

Authors @ Amazon: Allie Brosh, "Hyperbole and a Half"

HyperboleMonths before it was even published, Allie Brosh's debut collection of comics and essays, based on and named for her wildly popular blog, became an Amazon bestseller. Since its publication earlier this month, Hyperbole and a Half has hovered among Amazon's top-selling books, was named one of our Best Books of the Month, and has attracted widespread praise. 

I asked Brosh if she had a theory--or maybe a superpower--to explain readers' devotion to her autobiographical MS Paint figures and their struggles with the game of life. "Probably how much I think about my own thinking," she said. "I spend a lot of time analyzing my own thoughts." 

In particular, her blog posts about depression have resonated with fans, as has her brutal honesty, her quirky humor, her crazy dogs, and her frequent f-bombs. Andrew Sullivan has called her blog "inspired" and Cory Doctorow calls Brosh "an Internet-era treasure, an unexpected wonder of the 21st century." As our reviewer, Mari Malcolm, put it, "Neurosis has rarely been so relatable and entertaining."

Authors @ Amazon: Allie Brosh from Amazon Books on Vimeo.

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.

--Alex

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.

--Alex

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.

--Alex

Two Sides, Two Stories: An Interview with Gene Luen Yang

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Boxers & Saints is thrilling, funny, sad, but most of all, deeply ambivalent. The two-volume comic, written by Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese), confronts the Boxer Rebellion, a two-year uprising in 1899 in which violent nationalists sought to combat the presence of Christianity in China. Yang's work deals with the story from both sides, represented by the protagonist in each book. In Boxers, Little Bao unlocks the power of Chinese gods and uses those abilities to lead a rebellion against all Westerners in China; Saints finds a young girl named Vibiana having a conflict about her Christian faith. Both stories, which are cleverly linked, work in tandem to draw a powerful portrait of one of China's most controversial historical events. The National Book Foundation agrees, recently including Boxers & Saints on the National Book Award's longlist for Young People's Literature.


First, congrats on making the National Book Award's longlist. What inspired you to write a comic about the Boxer Rebellion?

Thank you! I first became interested in the Boxer Rebellion in the year 2000, when Pope John Paul canonized 120 saints of China. 87 were ethnically Chinese, 33 were foreign missionaries to China. I grew up in a Chinese American Catholic community, and naturally my home church was really excited about the Vatican's announcement. This was the first time the Roman Catholic Church — this deeply Western church — had recognized Chinese citizens in this way. There were all sorts of celebrations and special masses. I looked into the lives of the newly canonized and discovered that many of them were martyred during the Boxer Rebellion, a war that occurred on Chinese soil in the year 1900. The more I read about the war, the more fascinated I became. The Boxer Rebellion embodies this struggle between Eastern and Western culture that I've struggled with at different points in my life.

How much research went into the book? Since the Boxer Rebellion is one of China's most controversial historical events, did you find conflicting accounts of what happened?

For about a year, a year and a half, I went to my local university library once a week. I spent several hours there each visit, reading as much as I could about the Boxer Rebellion and turn-of-the-century China. I also got the opportunity to visit a Jesuit archive in the French city of Vanves. There, they had letters and photos that once belonged to French missionaries and soldiers serving in China. It was pretty amazing.

I think history's view of the Boxers has shifted over the decades. During the Boxer Rebellion, the most conservative members of the Chinese government saw them as defenders of traditional Chinese culture. Immediately after they were defeated, the Boxers were seen as these superstitious, backwards rubes. Then after the Chinese Communists came to power, Mao recast them as patriotic freedom fighters. Nowadays, most scholars seem ambivalent about the Boxer Rebellion.

Continue reading "Two Sides, Two Stories: An Interview with Gene Luen Yang" »

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.

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Friday: LGBT in Comics" »

Weekend Flashback: J.D. Salinger, Seamus Heaney, Stephen King, Helen Fielding, Dr. Martin Luther King, Marisha Pessl, and more

Because the week can get hectic... Here's what you might have missed recently on Omni.

SalingerSara Nelson spoke with biographer Shane Salerno about chasing the mysterious J.D. Salinger.

"I read what had been written about Salinger and I was troubled by how little was written by people who directly knew Salinger. So the same stories were repeated over and over again. It wasn't like the [Salinger] family said "Here's the closet, and good luck with your book." It was like a detective story: I spent years researching and calling people and one thing led to another." Read More

 

 

HeanyNeal Thompson remembered Irish Poet Seamus Heaney

"Heaney was the author of over 20 volumes of poetry and criticism, and edited several anthologies. Widely regarded as the most important Irish poet since fellow Nobel-laureate W.B. Yeats, the Nobel Prize committee cited Heaney's 'works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.'" Read More

 

 

PesslRobin A. Rothman explored Character Comebacks as Stephen King, Helen Fielding, John Grisham and Roddy Doyle prepare to publish new books.

"In the next few months, four authors will reunite us with four vastly different fictional characters ... old friends we haven’t seen for years. You might remember them as a kid coming to terms with his supernatural powers, a single gal infatuated with the idea of love, a controversy-courting lawyer trying to do the right thing, and a working class music fanatic grasping at success." Read More

 

 

MLKSeira Wilson presented a guest essay from Kadir Nelson about illustrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

"The 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s I HAVE A DREAM speech is a powerful occasion for me--every time I listen to the speech, it stops me in my tracks. I can remember the first time I heard it. I was in the 5th grade and my class assignment was to memorize and deliver the speech." Read More

 

 

PesslNeal Thompson got to know author Marisha Pessl and her debut's followup Night Film a little better. 

"Pessl spent a lot of time building the detailed world of Cordova, his family, his films, his oeuvre, and his legacy. And she wanted the details of that world feel real. So she watched and studied the works of Kubrick, Roman Polanski, and other psychological thriller directors, as well as horror film director Dario Argento." Read More

 

 

 

MLKSeira Wilson presented an author to author interview between Leonard S. Marcus and Brian Selznick discussing Randolph Caldecott, namesake of the Caldecott medal.

"I first began to understand what an innovator Caldecott was when I read Maurice Sendak’s essay collection, Caldecott & Co.:Notes on Books & Pictures, in which he talks about how much he learned from him about bringing drawings to life on the page." Read More

 

 

 

SalingerRobin A. Rothman got geeky with David Ewalt, author of Of Dice and Men -- the history of Dungeons & Dragons.

"I wrote this book for a mainstream audience. It always bothered me that D&D has a somewhat dodgy reputation, and that so many people have heard of it, but have no idea what the game is actually like. So I set out to explain D&D to the outsiders -- I want them to see what they’re missing, and to understand why those of us who play the game are so devoted to it." Read More

 

 

GNFAlex Carr recapped "What I Read Over Summer Vacation" for Graphic Novel Friday.

"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..." Read More

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.

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Friday: What I Read Over Summer Vacation" »

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