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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

George R.R. Martin Drops By Before Advance Screening

George R.R. MartinAuthor George R.R. Martin is in New York City this week to promote season 4 of Game of Thrones. The festivities began Tuesday with an official premiere at Lincoln Center.

Last night, he dropped by HBO for a private publishers' advance screening where he introduced the first episode of the season, "The Swords," before heading out to Brooklyn, where 7,000 fans were gathered to watch the same episode at Barclays Center.

"Some have paid $5,000 to be there," he noted with some awe. "Think of how many books they could have bought."

Martin, who typically writes once per season, identified the second episode, "The Lion and the Rose," as his. "But you won't be seeing that tonight," he teased.

Season 4, which draws from the second half of A Storm of Swords, the third book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, begins April 6 on HBO.

People, he said, often ask him, "Did you expect all of this," he told the crowd. "No, I didn't expect it," he answered with mock indignation. "But I like it."

 

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:

--Alex

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.

--Alex

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?

--Alex

 

Game of Thrones Season 4 Trailer Released

It's a new year. And with a new year comes... a new season of Game of Thrones. The fourth season of the award-winning television show -- which will cover material from the latter half of A Storm of Swords, the third book in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series -- returns to HBO April 6. Spoiler speculators, what are you most looking forward to seeing brought to life this season? Comment below.

Here's the newly released season trailer.

Geeking Out: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror in 2014

RothmanThe Future. This is a concept that rarely fazes the sci-fi/fantasy fan -- reading adventurers who consider each everywhere and all of always in the space-time continuum their home. We were reading about rocket ships and touch screen technology before they were a gleam in scientists' microscope-ringed eyes. We've defeated mystical armies, we've befriended wizards, and we've seen legendary people perform anachronistic feats that would blow an historian's date-riddled mind.

So, yeah... in that context, what's the big deal about the next few measly months? Well, books, of course! We may have to accept that jet packs could hit shelves before we turn the last page in A Song of Ice and Fire. (No pressure, Mr. Martin. We know the time's being put to excellent use.) However, while I'm thoroughly enjoying my current reading (Red Rising by Pierce Brown and The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley), there are tons of amazing science fiction, fantasy, and horror books on the horizon. Here are six that make me wish I had a Tardis of my own.

Annihilation

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (FSG, February 2014)

An anthropologist, a biologist, a pychologist, and a surveyor walk into a mysterious place called Area X. No jokes to be made here. This short (less than 200 pages) tale begins a trilogy with potent description and edge-of-your-seat suspense. I hate to make lazy TV/film analogies, but it won't be the last time you see this book compared to "Lost" and possibly even Alien. I'll admit I've started reading this one already and I'm grateful that my wait won't be long to keep going. Subsequent volumes Authority and Acceptance publish in June and September respectively.

The Barrow

The Barrow by Mark Smylie (Pyr, March 2014)

In this debut novel, Mark Smylie gives the world he created in his "Artesia" comic books, a new life. We start with a band of dangerously endearing rogues, a magical map, and a dangerous search for a wizard's sword. My sense of adventure is at the ready. Bring on the emotional manipulation and unabashed violence. I'm ready for an epic quest!

The Detainee

The Detainee by Peter Liney (Jo Fletcher Books, March 2014)

Admittedly, I've developed a bad attitude toward dystopian stories lately. So it's quite meaningful that one of the books I'm most looking forward to this year will find me begging for "punishment satellites" to protect me on a shanty-laden island where mainland residents ship their garbage. And since a massive economic collapse, "garbage" includes the weakest members of society -- like "Big Guy" Clancy, former muscle for a crime boss.

Afterparty

Afterparty by Daryl Gregory (TOR, April 2014)

Before the first chapter even begins, there's religion, drugs, and suicide -- all presented in a crisp, engaging writing style that itself threatens to be addictive. Set in the near-future in a world in which smart drug recipes are opensourced, one church uses dependency on their sacrament, a mind-altering narcotic called "Numinous," to keep followers in line. One of the drug's creators tries to undo the damage. I'm so hooked!

My Real Children

My Real Children by Jo Walton (TOR, May 2014)

This isn't the kind of story I typical gravitate toward, but there's something subtly compelling to me about the setup here. One woman with dementia, two possible realities creating a fork in her life's path just after college. The overlap and divergence intrigue me: in one she's married to a man and they have four children; in the other she's married to a woman with three children. Which, if either, is real?

The Girl With All the Gifts

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey (Orbit, June 2014)

Ten-year-old Melanie is surrounded by mysteries, and I know just enough to know that explaining too much will result in spoilers. So, though I tread lightly, let it be known that I am chomping at the bit to truly dig into this story. Here's what I'll share: Melanie sleeps in a cell. She is under strict military protection, just like the rest of the kids in her class. Her favorite teacher seems to know something her students don't know about themselves, and she's emotionally attached to Melanie in a way that could be extremely dangerous for them both.

See Sara's All I Want for New Year's is...
See Seira's YA Books I Can't Wait to Read in 2014

What Makes a Woman Dangerous?

Dangerous Women We asked a few of the authors who contributed to the wonderful, genre-jumping short story collection Dangerous Women -- one of our Science Fiction & Fantasy Best of the Year picks -- what they think makes a woman dangerous. Here's what they had to say...


Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson
"Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell"

What makes a woman dangerous? Well, what makes a person dangerous?

To me, the best kind of danger--which is, in a way, also the worst kind--is unexpected. It's that twisted kind of dangerous that takes something familiar and safe and reveals it as something deadly. Wolves are frightening. A loyal pet going mad and killing a child is ten times more terrifying to me.

For the anthology, I wanted to find a way to express this unexpected sort of dangerous. I didn't want a lean, professional assassin or a warrior in her prime, dangerous though those may be. I wanted something closer to home, a blend of the expected and unexpected. That is where I found Silence Montane.

The first name is one I ran across while reading puritan names. It was the second piece of the puzzle, as it raised questions. Who names their daughter Silence, and what does it imply? What is it like to grow up with this name? The answers built into the concept of a stout pioneer woman who ran an inn on the frontier, drawing the seediest criminals the land had to offer. She'd then track them after they left her inn, and murder them for their bounties.

Familiar, yet unexpected. Kindly, yet deadly. The story turned out better than I could have hoped, and I'm thrilled to have had the chance--and the prompting--to write it.

 

Kress

Nancy Kress
"Second Arabesque, Very Slowly"

What makes a woman dangerous? The same thing that makes a man dangerous: wanting something too much. "Wanting something" is, of course, what drives characters in fiction, as well as in real life. Wanting to win a football game, an argument, the presidency, a certain mate. Wanting to gain money, power, glory, a buff body, a hole-in-one, the most ambitious Christmas lights in town. This is all normal (well, maybe not the Christmas lights). It becomes dangerous when people will do anything at all to obtain what they want. Then you get bloody coups, bank robbery, dangerous steroid use, assassination, and the 1919 World Series. 

It's a balancing act, satisfying the sometimes competing requirements of desire, morality, and other people's outrage. The temptations are many, the rewards great, and the strictures of varying intensity. How badly do I want this? What am I willing to do to get it? At what price? All the characters in Dangerous Women want something, or they would not be dangerous. Usually they want it pretty badly. These are stories about how they go about getting it.

 

Spector

Caroline Spector
"Lies My Mother Told Me

There are so many ways a woman can be dangerous it's difficult to narrow the field. But these four characters in the following films are dangerous because they are all ruthless in getting what they desire. They're beautiful, dangerous monsters.

 

  • Ingrid Magnussen: White Oleander
  • Cora Smith: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
  • Phyllis Dietrichson: Double Indemnity
  • Matty Walker: Body Heat

 

Lindholm

Megan Lindholm
"Neighbors"

Malala Yousafzai threatens the Taliban in a way that no amount of military might could achieve. While still a teenager, she is one dangerous woman, in the best sense of that phrase!

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" »

Best of the Year in Science Fiction & Fantasy ... plus Horror

It's been an amazing year for Science Fiction & Fantasy. We saw the conclusion of a truly epic epic fantasy series, father and son horror writers cleverly nodding to one another, a self-published ebook phenomenon turned hardcover release, and much, much more. What follows are three of my favorite genre reads of 2013.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

It's the short story that refused to stay small. Neil Gaiman weaves a gorgeous coming of age tale, filled with all the wonder and magic we've come to expect from him. But it's the autobiographical elements, the moments that came from his memory rather than his pure imagination, that give this tale its true heart. Learn more
The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

There's something to be said for subtlety. Wecker's debut isn't what we typically think of when we think of the fantasy genre. It's more of alternate history that happens to revolve around two incredibly real-feeling and memorable fantasy beings. Months later, the story continues to move me. Learn More
N0S4A2

N0S4A2 by Joe Hill

Imaginative, original, creepy as hell, and referentially genius, N0S4A2 is a new horror gem. Hill delivers true suspense, keeping us locked within the confines of his characters -- showing the story, never telling it. And what characters they are! Vic, a young girl we grow with throughout. Manx, a man so twisted he cameos as an abstract threat in Stephen King's Doctor Sleep. Personalities and special powers are all precise and powerful, even for those we barely get to know. Hill nailed this! Learn More
See all 20 books on the Sciece Fiction & Fantasy Best of the Year list

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

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