Around the Store in 31 Days: Day Nineteen

Enough of the creator shelves for a while, how about we move on to "Art instruction and comics careers"

Here's one where I AM going to go with the "obvious" pick. There are some terrific books on "how to draw" or even "how to approach a comics page" -- Burne Hogarth's DYNAMIC... (ANATOMY, WRINKLES & DRAPERY, FIGURE DRAWING, etc etc) series, Will Eisner's COMICS & SEQUENTIAL ART or GRAPHIC STORYTELLING, and so on, but there's one book that I think that each and every comics reader in the world, whether or not they have the SLIGHTEST interest in ever drawing a single comic ever, really should have on their bookshelf:


McCloud's book is just as great for the casual comics reader as it is for any creator, laying out a tremendous amount of practical theory about comics layout, storytelling, nomenclature, style, and so on.

I don't know if I agree with each and every theory that McCloud posits (and, really, I'm not even sure that Scott agrees with it all any longer), but there's enough "Oh fuck, I never thought of it THAT way" in there that will probably blow your mind.

What's great about UNDERSTANDING COMICS is that it IS comics, and it is eminently readable AS a comic as well.

Regardless of this feature, I'd place UNDERSTANDING COMICS as one of the MUST HAVE books in your collection! Go go buy it now!


Around the Store in 31 Days: Day Eighteen

And today's "Creator shelf" is Grant Morrison.

(I don't know if this image link thing will work -- first time I've tried it, but I'm linking from our own site, so I'm guessing it will?)

(That was a Thanksgiving window display we did several years ago. The art is by Christopher Hsiang)

But, actually, like most of the previous "creator shelf" entries, I won't go with the obvious choice of DOOM PATROL (or ANIMAL MAN or THE INVISIBLES)(though if FLEX MENTALLO was in print, that would probably be the one...) for multi-volume series or THE FILTH or WE3 for single-volume picks, though each and every one of those is really excellent comics work!

No, trying to stay on the "obscure" side, I'll side with THE MYSTERY PLAY, his graphic novel with Jon J. Muth.

A lot of complaints get levied against Morrison for being "obscure", and, really, I get that too sometimes. Many is a time I read one of his books and I don't QUITE get what's going on, or what he's trying to say or whatever -- but I find THE MYSTERY PLAY (ironically) to be quite straight-forward and readable by nearly anyone.

It all starts with when an actor playing God in a small town play is murdered, and the detective investigating has a set of secrets of his own...

Saying anything more probably spoils the whole thing, but I found it eminently readable and clear, even though it has several different levels it is working on.

The art by Muth is absolutely lovely (though what of his isn't?), and keeps the book absolutely grounded.

Want a GN you can pick up, read in an hour, and walk away thinking about for days? Here ya' go, pal, THE MYSTERY PLAY.


Around the Store in 31 Days: Day Seventeen

Continuing the creator racks, we're on Frank Miller.

Again, there's some stupidly obvious choices here: SIN CITY, BATMAN: YEAR ONE, DAREDEVIL (though much of it is OOP), DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, but I'm going to go with a slightly less obvious one here:


Created with Geof Darrow in 1992, HARDBOILED is a masterpiece of over-the-top detail and carnage. Really the star here is Darrow, with more detail-per-square-inch than any five other comics combined. There are pages here you can stare at for five minutes each, pulling out details.

There's a level of outrageous here that I'd never seen before in a comic before this -- where crazy background details do more for world-building than anything previous. And there's a crazy level of kinetic cartoon violence going on.

I wouldn't say the story is particularly DEEP, but any comic that works out as ROBOCOP-meets-WHERE'S-WALDO is AOK in my book!


Around the Store in 31 Days: Day Sixteen

Continuing on the "creator racks", we'll move on to Warren Ellis.

This one is kinda hard, actually, because it would be really easy to default to TRANSMETROPOLITAN. Which is great and awesome, no doubt, but it seems too easy.

One of Warren's greatest strengths as a comics storyteller is his love of telling a complete story in a single unit. You can see this on display in FELL or GLOBAL FREQUENCY (both which also could easily make the cut), which are collections of single-issue stories bound up as part of a larger narrative, but I think that for this pick, I'm going to edge myself over to PLANETARY v1: ALL OVER THE WORLD AND OTHER STORIES (which is, actually, a pointlessly long subtitle, isn't it?), which is as much about stories and storytellers as anything else.

It opens with a war between the Pulp Heroes and the Super Heroes, moves to Gojira and Monster island, ghost detectives in Hong Kong, and has the best rethinking of the Fantastic Four and Hulk that modern comics have done. All wondrously self-contained, yet each moving the overall story a bit forward.

You can sum the book up with this line from issue #1: "It's a strange world; let's keep it that way"


There's also lovely lovely art by John Cassaday.

If there's one single complaint I could make it's that there's STILL one more issue to go (and we're getting on 2 years now... my computer says the originally solicited shipdate of the last issue was freakin' 2006) -- Although the story proper is done, and the last one is just an "epilogue" -- which means the final collection of the series can't come out until that happens. Hope they get that done soon!

Anyway, great great stuff, and well worth being in your collection.


Around the Store in 31 Days: Day Fifteen

The next few days we'll focus on the "creator" racks, since those are easy to bat out (and I need easy since our bathroom is being remodeled, so I'm living at my parent's house and have maybe 20 minutes of not-between-customer's-computer-time each day)

We've already done the Moore and Wagner shelves, so let's move on to another one of my favorite writers: Garth Ennis.

This one is super-double easy, actually. If I had to pick one SINGLE Garth book to hand you, there's really only one choice: PREACHER.

You've got a disillusioned Preacher from Texas, his hit-woman ex girlfriend, and an alcoholic Irish vampire who go on a quest to find God, and to make him answer for the state of the world. Pure fuckin' gold.

And that's just the START of it.

Here's the thing: PREACHER is vile, profane, offensive, sacrilegious, foul-mouthed, and perverted. Yet is is also one of the most moral stories you're every going to read. It's about love, and about faith, and about friendship, and about standing up for one's own. It is an amazing masterpiece, made all the more poignant for it's potty-mouthed flipping off.

The series (nine books) wobbles a bit around v6 or 7 (but don't they all?), but it has a great end worthy of its start, and if you want to have a proper comics collection, this here is a book that belongs in it, pardner.


Around the Store in 31 Days: Day Fourteen

I still feel pretty cruddy, but not so cruddy that I can't write a little.

So, let me babble about my history of comics collecting.

Like many people, I'm started and stopped collecting comics more than once. From childhood to, dunno, 12 or 13, something like that, I kept myself a comics collection; then I discovered girls and decided comics were just for kiddies, and got rid of them all.

I started collecting again a year or two later (about 15, I guess), trying to rebuy all of the comics that I had gotten rid of. Smart, eh? I also, at that stage, since I now had some kind of an allowance, started buying stuff that long pre-dated me (we'll get to that in a minute)

Somewhere around 19 I decided I needed cash (probably for weed, is my guess), so I sold a bunch of my back issues, then somewhere around 20 I bought a bunch of them back YET AGAIN (what can I say, I was stupid)

Finally, when I was 21 I opened the store, which means I took pretty much ALL of my back issues and used them as my starting stock.

What this means is there are some comics that I bought 2 or 3 times, at various points in my life, sheesh!

Where this is leading is that I have learned to completely and totally adore the super cheap huge-ass black and white collections of classic comics like the Marvel Essentials, or the DC Showcase volumes.

One of my favorite runs of all is the original LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES. At one point, I had something approaching 95% of them (just missing the first half-dozen appearances in ADVENTURE, I guess), so today's recommendation is SHOWCASE PRESENTS: LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES v1 -- I would have totally saved HUNDREDS of dollars in buying those issues again and again (and that in 80s dollars!)

What I love about the Legion is the wide-eyed optimistic vision of the future that it presents -- it is all uptopia, baby, with teenagers from dozens of worlds, with dozens of mad and fantastic powers, all coming together to protect their shiny, fin-covered future.

And there's something over 30 different stories in this book, for like $17 -- what a damn deal!

I love this stuff, and you should too!


Around the Store in 31 Days: Day Thirteen

So, since it is the (spooky!) 13th day of this little experiment, let's go with something off the Horror rack?

I think I mentioned before that we also have a Licensed rack, and an awful lot stuff in "Horror" could fit there as well -- EVIL DEAD, Clive Barker comics, HALLOWEEN, and so on.

Ditto with today's pick -- RICHARD MATHESON'S I AM LEGEND. After all, it was originally a prose book (and, eventually, several different films as well).

IAL was originally published back in the day by Eclipse, and it was one of the first books that IDW "rescued" from Eclipse's backlist. It is adapted by Steve Niles, back in the days in which he was primarily known as an "adapter" than as someone doing original comics -- Niles also did most of the Eclipse Clive Barker comics, for example -- and while I can't say that I've read the original prose novel by Matheson, on a pure guess there's not a TON chopped out from the text. That is to say that there's a lot of words here, and there's a fair amount of caption-describing-the-art going on.

But, to a degree, that's a good thing, I think, in prose adaptations, because it seems to me that the value of the original work IS the original work itself.

The art is by Elman Brown, whom 15 minutes of internet searching isn't turning up a lot for -- he did work in other Eclipse/Niles horror comics (like FLY IN MY EYE), and, apparantly, he drew a few issues of PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL back in 1994, but the most recent credit I can find for him is an issue of TALES OF THE TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES in '96 -- so it's apparently been 11 years since he's drawn a comic.

That's a shame because I find his art very appealing -- there's a big Wrightson thing going on there, but he also has a really clear grasp on comics storytelling and mood, and is really terrific at capturing emotion.

All in all, I think this is a great comic, and certainly works better than any of the movie attempts (that I've seen, at least -- haven't seen the Will Smith version yet)

I'm going to go with a bonus here, because this isn't actually my favorite thing in my horror section, but the thing that IS my fave isn't a comic at all -- it is Max Brook's WORLD WAR Z: AN ORAL HISTORY OF THE ZOMBIE WAR, which is straight-up prose. This is one of the best "post-apocalypse" stories I've ever read (even if, y'know, humanity survives that one in the end; which I don't think is really a spoiler, since the title pretty much gives it away).

What I adore about this book is that it is incredibly thoughtful about the global nature of apocalypse -- it is as first-person recollections of "what happened" -- as well as insanely detailed-oriented about scope and ramification and incident. Every 2-3 pages the action shifts to another situation, WHOLLY different than the one before it, and each and every one makes you think (and go "Damn! never thought of THAT!")

You want a prose book that would make an amazing comic book adaptation? Here ya' go, kids.

That's today's pick(s) -- see you tomorrow!


Around the Store in 31 Days: Day Twelve

OK, so I've clearly lost the daily pattern we had at the start -- my apologies, it's been a rough and busy week. I SHOULD be able to do daily through Wednesday this week, but then I have to disappear again (ComicsPRO's annual in Vegas)

Matt Wagner is one of my favorite creators in the whole wide world. (Come by the store some day and I'll tell you the story of why I'm in comics, and why Matt is really the one to blame) You can tell if you look at the store, because I've got more than 20 pieces of original Matt Wagner art (most commissions) hanging around the store -- including an on-going series of JSA portraits (in fact, I even have two that I still haven't even gotten framed yet)

In most circumstances this would probably lead to a discussion of MAGE: THE HERO DISCOVERED, except that, well, it is OP from Image at the moment, and who knows when it is coming back into print? If it does, grab it.

But, since it is OP, let me relate another story here...

(This is where I would have put the jump, if it wasn't for the small fact that more than half of you HATE the jump. We're trying to figure out what to do in the long run, but I heard ya', at least)

This was early in the store's life -- probably about '93 or '94. A gentleman came into the store, and he was pretty obviously on his last legs with AIDS. He was weak and emaciated, had palsy and could barely walk. He had a few sores on his face as well.

He asks me if I have any comics about suicide.


Now, I'm seriously torn here. The guy's sick, and my assumption is that the reason he's asking is because he's contemplating killing himself. This is the first time (and the only time since) that I felt like I had to make a moral decision about selling someone a comic book, y'know?

In the end, I walked over to the rack and pulled off a copy of GRENDEL: THE DEVIL INSIDE, the story of the Brian Li Sung version of Grendel by Matt and Bernie Mireault.

This story aside, the is a great comic, told in fragment, by a fragmented mind teetering on the brink of extinction. Wagner hasn't, I don't think, really gotten his due as a writer, and the experimental efforts he had through the 90s. Sure, some of them failed pretty massively, but overall he's changed the way I approach a peiece of comics writing by his playing with technique and format. And Mireault's art is astonishing here, bubbling with madness and grief.

I never saw the sick man again, so I don't know if DEVIL INSIDE helped him or hurt him. I dearly hope it is the former.


Around the Store in 31 Days: Day Eleven

Yeah, looks like "daily" is starting to peter out, what with having to retour schools and stuff thanks to the incredibly screwed up results of the SFUSD system for placing elementary schools...

Since I did a DC superhero comic last time, let's go with "Equal Time" and do a Marvel one this go round.

Find out what it is after the jump!

So, the real problem with a Marvel GN is that they don't exactly have their shit together in terms of keeping things in print, or at least in a format that I especially want to recommend -- I'm a little so-so on something like the MILLER BY DAREDEVIL COMPANION HC, when I'd rather tell you to buy DAREDEVIL BORN AGAIN or ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN. But you can't GET them separately, foo.

I thought for a moment about recommending ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, but that strikes me as far too obvious (even though, actually, super-terrific), but find something semi-obscure that is ALSO available is proving really fuckin' hard.

But, after thinking about it a while I found a good one -- and, oddly, one that I personally believe is only still in print because of Trade Dress.

See, when Marvel started their post-marvelcution TP program, they began with the premise that the characters were far more important than the contents or the creators, and they designed their spines accordingly.

My recommendation for today is the badly titled WOLVERINE LEGENDS v 2: HAVOK AND WOLVERINE: MELTDOWN written by Walt and Louise Simonson with art by John J. Muth and Kent Williams.

Nowhere on the cover does it say any of that, and all the spine says is "Wolverine Legends v2", which is sorta problematic if you want to sell the thing.

(v1 of the series is the Sam Kieth WOLVERINE/HULK, which is decent, but v3 is a Frank Tieri story, v4 is that awful Bruce Jones X-isle story, so it's not like "Wolverine Legends" as a brand name is a big mark of quality, in and of itself!)

This entry, however, is really swell stuff, from that late post-Dark Knight 80s period when Epic was alive, and Marvel was actually willing to experiment in form and function, and they were willing to put out fully painted abstract looking books.

This is just a big pile of spiffiness from page 1 to book's end, and is one of the best looking things that Marvel ever released.

Go. Find yourself a copy. You will not be disappointed.



Around the Store in 31 Days: Day Ten

OK, how about a superhero comic, since I've gone nine days without one...

This one is from our DC rack, and represents one of the best re-imaginings of a classic character that I think has ever been done.

The late 80s were a weird period for DC comics, still reeling from the impact of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. As I understand it, one of the various plans was that the entire "universe" was to be "rebooted", and started from scratch. This pretty much didn't happen in a satisfying fashion, with some books starting over, while others didn't. MAN OF STEEL revamped Superman, but Batman kept on being the "same old" BATMAN (barring, of course, BATMAN: YEAR ONE), and the less said about what was done with characters like Hawkman, the probably the better.

And then it was Wonder Woman's turn.

George Perez was the artist on Wonder Woman, and his first seven issues are collected as WONDER WOMAN: GODS AND MORTALS.

This is a nice retelling of the Wonder Woman origin, with a modern spin, as well as tying it deeply to Olympian myths.

What I like about Perez's WW is that she's a wide-eyed innocent, trained to fight, and savagely at that, but always looking for another way to solve the problem; that's really rare in super-hero comics. And there's a joy in seeing the world through her naive eyes -- one of my favorite sequences is the "Bullets & Bracelets" number, where a gun is fired at her for the first time, and its these four wonderful panels of her expression, all, "O! M! F! G!!!!"

Perez also gives WW a pretty strong supporting cast, stronger than she'd had in decades, and gave her real and tangible reasons to be around and to be what she is; ah, if only all revamps were as thoughtful as this one!

Great great stuff, and it is both exciting AND fun.



Around the Store in 31 Days: Day Nine

Comics, of course, aren't just an American thing (or just a Japanese thing, for that matter) -- there's tons and tons of really amazing work coming out of Europe.

Virtually none of it makes it to America, however, at least not at a price that most Americans are willing to pay. And probably 2/3rds of what DOES arrive in the states in Erotica.

This is a dire shame, really, because there's so much good material out there that could find an audience if only someone would publish it here.

DC tried and failed with the Humanoids deal (I think it was mostly overproduction of fairly mediocre material, at the same time they overproduced the CMX manga stuff), and Marvel is about to try a deal with Soliel (which I have a really hard time believing is going to work, as it SO far away from their "core values")

When I first opened the store, there was a reasonable amount of stuff that had been translated, but in today's climate most of the interesting material has fallen out of print, or isn't stocked by distribution (be it Diamond OR the "book" distribs like B&T)

I mean, it drives me fuckin' bonkers that there's exactly NO Moebius comics in print in the US at this point -- I had heard that the problems there were something about the rights to the work and who owned what and who represented what to whom and all that, and I don't know the real details, just that I could be selling a shitload of Mssr. Giraud's work, and I'm not because it isn't in print.

Anyway, here's a look at another Euro artist whose book IS for sale on my shelves, and I think is terrific, after the jump...

Lorenzo Mattotti's DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE is a astonishing piece of comics work.

Mattotti's art is like a fever dream, full of swirling, maddened colors and tone, which absolutely fits a story like DR/MR.

(You can find Mattotti's website right here, while Lambiek's page on him has some excellent and clear examples of his comics work)

Oh, since i was searching for links, here's one from Two sample pages from the book itself, yay.

I first saw Mattotti's work in FIRES, and was blown away by the style and verve that it displayed -- being expressionistic, but still firmly rooted on a comics page. He also uses his color palate in remarkable ways for comics.

It doesn't look like Diamond or B&T have it in stock, but NBM says they have copies in stock, so I think it is still in print.

Plus, I hadn't remembered until I started searching that this actually won an Eisner in '04 for best Foreign work.

DR/MR is an oft told tale, but this is a really revelatory presentation of it, and one that absolutely belongs on your bookshelf.



Around the Store in 31 Days: Day Eight

Did I mention that I'm making this up as I go along? I don't have a list books that I'm covering or anything, I'm just wandering in the store each day and coming up with whatever suits my fancy that day.

I'm also trying to (in the end) cover each of the racks in the store -- some racks have 2-5 genres/authors on them (like the Miller/Moore/Morrison/Creating Comics) rack -- if I just do one book in each category as I have them at the store, then I'd be at like 28 books from just that.

Some of them are easier than others. For example, today I think I'm eyeing the "licensed comics" rack, and that's a pretty hard one in a lot of ways -- most licensed comics actually, um, kinda stink.

Generally speaking they don't put "A List talent" on licensed books, though every once in a while they do. On today's installment, they did. Find out what it is, after the jump!

(And just for the record, what I call "licensed" is anything that isn't NATIVELY comics -- something that started as a TV show or novel or movie or that kind of thing)

(We don't put all licensed comics in the licensed section, though -- for example something like HELLRAISER is in the "horror" section, while BUFFY would be on the "Joss Whedon" rack, and so on and so forth)

Anyway, A-list talents, etc....

Pretty much the last people you'd expect to see doing a STAR TREK comic were Chris Claremont and Adam Hughes (!), yet in the early 90s that's exactly what happened on STAR TREK: DEBT OF HONOR.

Set right after ST IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (thus: the best post-TOS period), DEBT OF HONOR is, at the least, the god-damn prettiest STAR TREK comic you've ever seen in your life. That Hughes kid shure can draw!

The book suffers a little bit from Claremont-itis, but there isn't any Psychic Rape at least, so that's a plus. On the other hand, there IS a sizable lift from ALIEN, but at least this is a milieu in which that works reasonably well.

Ugh, I'm crazy today, store's been insanely busy (I started writing this at 10:45 am, and it is now just after 6), and we got our School Assignments for Ben's kindergarten (didn't get even one of the seven schools we wanted, sigh), so, screw it, I'm going to leave it right there. There WON'T be one of these tomorrow (I *need* a day away from thinking about comics this week), but I'm going to try and get two up on Monday...

Sorry this one was so shitty and half-written. I still like the comic...



Around the Store in 31 Days: Day Seven

Look, I made it a whole week!

I like comics that make me laugh. I also like comics that are smart and teach me something new.

Even better when they do both!

More after that ol' jump!

EPICURUS THE SAGE is a clever little book. Set in Ancient Greece, in concerns philosophy, philosophers, and the Greek Gods.

Socrates is a jerk, Plato is a boob, and Epicurus tries to find a reasonable position based upon moderation. Throw in a young Alexander the Great, and quests from Hades and Hera and such like and you've got a pretty rich comic stew.

EPICURUS, by William Messner-Loebs and Sam Kieth was orignally published by Piranha Press, DC's attempt at an "eclectic" imprint in the early 90s. Looking back at it now, they really did produce a great deal of interesting material: GREGORY, BEAUTIFUL STORIES FOR UGLY CHILDREN, I think that both WHY I HATE SATURN and STUCK RUBBER BABY were also Piranha books. Really, a great imprint, and a shame it never went much further.

You're going to have your own opinion of which of Piranha's books were the best (I know many will vote for SATURN or GREGORY), but my heart is with EPICURUS THE SAGE -- its sorta really only in comics that you're going to find a satirical comedy based on Greek Philosophy, and Messner-Loebs turned in some home-runs of scripts that are both whimsical, educational and absolutely hysterical.

It also has some of my favorite bits of Kieth art, where he's doing super-zany big foot cartooning that's also insanely feathered and cross-hatched like a Wrightson drawing.

When Messner-Loebs ran into financial troubles, Wildstorm reissued the previous EPICURUS material (2 OGNs, plus a short story from the FAST FORWARD anthology) in a complete collection, with an all-new story as well. As much as I love charities like the HERO INITIATIVE, I also think its great when publisher's step up and actually bring those suffering creator's work back into print so everyone can enjoy it.

Anyway, this is terrific top-notch stuff, and if you never thought Greek philosophy could be funny stuff, you're in for an amazing treat here.



Around the Store in 31 Days: Day Six

So yesterday I did a "kid's" comic, let's go 180 degrees the other way today, and talk about something that's fully for adults.

With like screwing, and everything.

More after the jump, but if you're a prude, you should probably stop reading here.

Erotic comics are a difficult thing, a lot of the time, because you have to rate them both on how well they tell their story (when, that is, they HAVE one), as well as how "hot" it is. That latter is SUPER subjective.

I think most erotic comics really (no pun intended) suck. Especially these days. There were a couple of years were stuff of pretty decent quality was coming out, that was human-driven (instead of purely fuck-driven), where the art was luscious, etc.

But these days, it seems like erotic comics are largely of the "Rebecca" school, or of the hardcore Japanese erotic (epitomized by A-G SUPER EROTIC ANTHOLOGY) where all women are stupid sluts who once you warm them up they'll happily be humiliated in any number of subhuman and degrading ways, because all they REALLY are is a cunt (and mouth and ass...)

While (I suppose) there can be a few moments of hot fucking within that framework, that doesn't do a whole lot for me. I've even seen increasing elements of this in artists whom I think are incredibly amazing craftsmen, like, say, Milo Manara.

There's very little erotic comics in my personal collection, in fact, I only have two things in there. One of them is Coleen Coover's SMALL FAVORS, the sweet and funny lesbian sex comic, and the other is my actual subject today: Bill Willingham's IRONWOOD.

I've been a Willingham fan for a long time -- heck, I bought my copy of VILLAINS AND VIGILANTES (to tie it back to the gamer-geek post from a few days ago) because of his art. V&V had a module ("Death Duel with the Destroyers") that leads into Willingham's ELEMENTALS series, and ELEMENTALS pretty much led into IRONWOOD... Yes, role-playing games lead directly to pornography.

What I love about IRONWOOD is that is has (*gasp*) an actual STORY, which, sure, is heavy on the fantasy tropes, (and kinda ends awkwardly) but actually moves forward and does stuff.

Plus there's fucking. Always a bonus.

It's funny, it's pretty hot, it has a plot, and my memory of it is that it also has a diversity of sizes and shapes and things going into other things.

And can I tell you, the boy can draw. I wish he'd draw more these days.

So, yeah, that's my pick today: IRONWOOD, the only Sword-and-Sorcery Porno Comedy.



Around the Store in 31 Days: Day Five

If you're old enough, you might remember when DC comics had a slogan int he UPC box of their Direct Market-shipping comics that said something "DC Comics: They're not just for kids anymore!"

And, in general, the comic book industry has really followed that lead -- comics AREN'T for kids any longer (except for a very small number of titles)

To me this is kind of a shame. When I bring home the new week's books, and plop on the sofa to start reading them, I often have to chase Ben (now four-years old) away when I'm reading something even as supposedly as innocuous as SPIDER-MAN or SUPERMAN, because there's just so much violence and in them.

Unnecessary violence and blood, for that matter.

Some of my favorite fiction is "for kids" -- I can watch WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (Gene Wilder version) weekly, if I had to. I love reading Ben books like CHARLOTTE'S WEB or JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH or our current project of going through the Baum OZ books (man, there's some archaic language in those though -- I find myself "rewriting" them as I read them) -- and I'd say that the best kid's work really needs to have things that appeal to EVERYONE in them.

So today's pick is a GN aimed at kids, but also working very well for adults, too!

More after the jump...

There's a couple of easy and obvious choices for "Kid's" comics. It's hard to go wrong with a BONE or a Carl Bark's UNCLE SCROOGE comic, or even the first incarnations of the "DC Animated" comics (BATMAN ADVENTURES, SUPERMAN ADVENTURES), but I'm going to go with something a smidge more "obscure".

James Robinson & Paul Smith's LEAVE IT TO CHANCE.

The "high concept" of this series can be summed up as "NANCY DREW meets HARRY POTTER", (Well, though Robinson't intro to v1 calls it "NANCY DREW meets KOLCHAK THE NIGHT STALKER", but then, HARRY POTTER started in '98, and the introduction is dated '97) and its just tons of fun.

There's action, suspense, adventure, magic, and even a cute pet dragon, and its both absolutely wonderful for kids AND adults, just like it should be.

LEAVE IT TO CHANCE is one of those books that just doesn't turn very often (in fact, it might be the slowest sellers in our kid's section), but I'll continue to carry it until the day I die because I just like it so much. It is usually my number one suggestion to parent's looking blankly at the kid's section, but they almost always opt for something THEY've previously heard of.

Format might be working against sales, as well -- CHANCE is available in three oversized "European" laminated hardcovers, which makes it look more expensive than it actually is (and compared to a number of "real world" kids books, it's down right cheap)

Either way, the stories are a delight, never talking down to its audience, always crisp and fun, while Paul Smith's artwork is just drop-dead gorgeous.

Comics: They aren't just for adults. Read some LEAVE TO CHANCE and find out!



Around the Store in 31 Days: Day Four

I was going to write about a completely different book this morning, but then I saw the news that DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS co-creator Gary Gygax died on Tuesday morning.

The intersection between comics and games is often a pretty deep one -- our forms of geekness are different, but there's a lot of overlap between the two camps.

Back when I opened Comix Experience in 1989, it was de rigueur for comic book stores to carry gaming material. I opened my stores 4 doors down from San Francisco's best (and, today, only) game store, Gamescape, so that I wouldn't have to touch the things.

It's not that I'm not a gamer (I am -- dude, I was playing D&D when it was those three little booklets in the box), but I had a theory that it was better to do one thing really really well, then two things sorta half-assed.

But there are comics that are ABOUT gaming, and one of them is one of my favorite comics of all.

More after the jump!

KNIGHTS OF THE DINNER TABLE is an odd bird. It's typically (especially in the early days) just 6-8 static clip-art-style shots with lots and lots and lots of dialog.

Its also hysterical.

Some of it is kind of "insider baseball"-funny... a lot of the jokes might get lost on you if you don't game yourself, but I think that, for the most part, the gags are pretty universal if you have even the slightest awareness of gamings tropes.

There's a Rules Lawyer, a ground-down-by-real-life-so-he-needs-to-kill-imaginary-stuff-to-stay-sane hack-and-slasher, a hardcore roleplayer, and a dumb guy who goes along with his friends, plus their long-suffering DM, just playing games for 24 pages a month.

Some of the humor is just the absurdity of people so trapped in their world-view that they don't know how else to deal with things ("OK, coming over the hill, you see a gazebo." "A Gazebo?! What's that?" "I waste it with my crossbow!" "Fireballs coming on line, BA!" "um, guys...?"), and some of it is about mechanics of games, or tropes that gamers all take for granted, but it is pretty uniformly hilarious.

A quick look at the book might make you turn away from the crude "clip art", but the style will quickly grow on you, and sticking with it will give you one of the most consistently funny and whimsical "funny books" on the shelves today.

There are, as of this writing, something like 24 trade paperbacks reprinting the first eighty-something issues. Sadly, most of them seem to be either out-of-print, or at least unavailable from Diamond (and "real" book distributors, like Baker & Taylor simply don't stock them), but the series is currently on it's 136th issue, an astonishing and remarkable achievement by any standard.

I especially recommend the "Bundle of Trouble"s (that's what they call their TPs) around the v4 to 8 range -- they've found their voice by then, and worked out some of the kinks, and the "extra" stories in the backs of the BoT (typically, one reprints 4 issues, with another 30 or so pages of new material) like the "Bagwars" saga are amazing pieces of timing and humor.

Currently the series is a hybrid comics/game magazine -- there's 30-something pages of comics, and another equal amount of RP supplementary material. I almost always stop reading once the comics are done, but I still always feel like I've gotten my money's worth out of each issue.

I guess what I like the best about KoDT is that it is TOTALLY out of the mainstream of comics culture -- it's almost like the "Dev team" (KoDT is created by a team of writers, all switching back and forth each issue) fell backwards into the whole comic thing -- it's totally off the radar of most comics people, and yet its longer running and much much funnier than almost anything else running today.

There's not enough "funny" in the funny books these days, so I'd urge you to try and track down some KNIGHTS OF THE DINNER TABLE today.

Me, I've got to get back to prepping for this week's comics... and rolling a d20 salute to Gary Gygax...



Around the Store in 31 Days: Day Three

I'm not the biggest fan of most Japanese manga; largely this is down to the common tropes that comprise the majority of what's been brought over -- the big round eyes and so on.

But there's a handful of pieces of manga work that I think are utterly terrific.

My number one favorite series is after the jump!

I love me some DEATH NOTE.

Part of it is that it is largely unlike any other manga that I've ever read, the other part is is it unlike any Western comics that I have ever read, either.

First of all: there's very little action of any kind. There's plenty of suspense, and plenty of twists and turns, but almost none of it is resolved with "action" -- you're not going to find a lot of car chases or shoot outs or fighting or any of the things that most comics tend to revolve around.

Second: there's a whole lot of interior dialog. I haven't counted or anything, but there are certainly entire chapters which are exclusively, or almost exclusively, told in thought balloons; and, at a guess, nearly half of the comic is just people thinking stuff.

Because DEATH NOTE is about mind games... it is about trying to out-think your opposite number, like a delicate dance on a chessboard, trying to stay three and five moves ahead. There are rules. Lots and lots and lots of rules, and new ones get added each chapter, but never in a way that invalidates the previous ones. Instead they build and spread and grow with the story.

DEATH NOTE is an incredibly tight, thoughtful and suspenseful piece of comics work, and is very much like a bag of potato chips: once you start, you don't want to stop, you want to keep eating and eating and eating, seeing what new twist and turn is coming up next.

Western comics have larger eschewed the notion of thought balloons over the last decade or so (here is an excellent essay by Steven Grant from a few weeks ago [Edit: heh, no that one was from 2005, THIS ONE is from a few weeks ago that I was thinking of. Read both!] on the subject) There's been some small movement to retake the tool, lately, probably most notably Bendis' somewhat strange usage in MIGHTY AVENGERS, so to see a work not only use them extensively, but to utterly rely on them to move the narrative forward is an utter treat.

Above all else DEATH NOTE is smart and clever, and Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata really do an amazing job of keeping both the characters as well as the audience on it's toes. What's nice is that, even though the book is really about murder and death, there's really very little violence and gore to it. While the books are rated 16+, almost every bit of that is for thoughtcrime (as it were)

There's bits of it which are better and worse than others: the first three volumes are pure comics wonderfulness, it lags out a bit in 4 and 5 (that's the section with the evil corporation, right? I didn't like those parts), and roars back in six, but, even at its worst, the mind games on display are intelligent and utterly clever.

Just because I've wanted to say something about it for weeks, and haven't found a space, let me briefly mention the anime of the same that's airing on Cartoon Network. Do you remember those old Marvel cartoons from the late 60s which were like straight swipes out of Kirby Komics, but they'd animate one arm, or a mouth talking. The DEATH NOTE anime is very much like that -- it's only slightly animated, but it is always moving because they've got the camera moving around the drawing (and it is much better scored) The anime does a reasonably good job of adaptation, but if you've only seen the cartoon, and not read the books, the comparison might be LEAGUE OF EXTRA-ORDINARY GENTLEMEN versus, um, LXG (or as the ads called it: ELL! ECHS! GEE!) -- they're just not the same thing at all.

Anyway, even if you "don't like manga", this might be a series for you -- it is smarter in plot and scope than virtually anything else on the stands.



Around the Store in 31 Days: Day 2

Our second book is one that I hadn't read in nearly 20 years before opening it back up yesterday. The book is extremely well known, but, at a guess, the vast majority of Comix Experience regulars have never read it. It is one of the oldest continually-in-print comics on the American market, too.

More after the jump!

art speigelman's MAUS is a very important book. I mean I know, "duh" and all, but it really is the best known comic in the "real world", having won the Pulitzer; but it's also entirely important as a piece of work, both as a piece of reportage and history, as well as a completely honest piece of autobiography.

Some people complain about the anthropomorphics, but I think the distance they create from the subject is a good and necessary one, because the book is as least as much of a story of Vladek Speigelman of the "now" (although he passes in the middle of the book) as it is of the atrocities of "then".

I had totally forgotten, in the 20 years since I last read MAUS, how much of the book is set in "now" -- it's a comic about the Holocaust, after all, and that's what it is "best known for"; but on this read, it was all the "current" auto-bio that struck me more.

art spiegelman is brutally honest in his relationship with his father and how he perceives him, and what his faults are -- modern Vladek is not portrayed as a wonderful human being in the slightest. He's racist, grasping, penny-pinching, inflexible.

And yet he's a hero. Everyone who survived the concentration camps is, but Vladek is portrayed as nearly super-human in his cleverness, thrift, trust of his fellows, and inventiveness -- he does things and survives situations which are mind-boggling to me, and is portrayed doing it nearly with panache.

Its the dichotomy of those two portrayals, and speigelman's honesty in his conflict about them that makes this one of the most powerful comics of the twentieth century. Had it "just" been about the Holocaust it would still be an important book, because it's important that we never forget the types of atrocity that man can rain on his fellow man, but it's the acknowledgment that even a heroic survivor like Vladek is just as human (good and ill) as the rest of us that's the real heart of the book.

MAUS is an essential book for any store to stock, and for any comics reader to read.



Around the Store in 31 Days: Day One

I have a plan.

With the idea of having as much fresh content on the Savage Critic site as possible, I'm going to ATTEMPT to do a post-a-day for the month of March. These may not appear strictly every 24 hours, but I'm going to try.

I've decided the theme is going to be "31 classic graphic novels", trying to show the range and breadth of comics material that's available to a 21st century comics shop.

Please join me after the jump!

I opened Comix Experience in April of 1989.

There really weren't a lot of graphic novels available back then -- I think there were under twenty items that were in print and perpetually available at that point.

I still have a copy of my first order form that I placed right before opening the store, and on that order form DC offered for the very first time Alan Moore's SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING.

So, let's make that our first book.

It's tempting to say that SWAMP THING revolutionized comics -- certainly, it was the blueprint for Vertigo, and it showed you could do literate comics aimed at adults THAT WOULD SELL -- but what sort of amazes me is that twenty-four years later, the work really still holds up. There is plenty of "good stuff" from even ten years ago that I'll read and think "oh god, I liked this?!?" Not so with SWAMP THING -- this is still the shit.

Moore took a pretty incredibly two-dimensional character ("He's a monster that thinks he's a man!") and not only made it well-rounded and exciting, but built a new and innovative mythology that would last for another 150 issues (as well as 20 and 29 issues, respectively of follow up series), and would go on to influence many books and characters in the DC Universe "proper" (I'd say John Ostrander ran with the concepts the most, both in FIRESTORM and SUICIDE SQUAD), as well as creating a spin-off star in John Constantine whose HELLBLAZER just hit issue #241 this very week.

SWAMP THING showed that commercial comics could be "writerly", where omniscient-narrator captions could build mood and tone, and that they didn't just have to reiterate what was going on with the art (Like, say, the EC comics of the 1950s), but that they could counterpoint and embellish upon what you were seeing. SWAMP THING was also one of the first comics to strongly think in terms of pages, rather than panels, where words and phrases at the bottom of one page would lead you effortlessly into a completely different scene on the next page. That's a very common trick in today's narratives, but in 1984 it was a rare and wondrous thing.

I'm talking a lot about the writing here, but the art is equally wonderful -- Stephen Bissette, John Totleben (and, later Rick Veitch, Stan Woch, Alfredo Alcala, Tom Yeates, Shawn McManus, and others) brought mood and style, creeping horror, and transcendent joy to the page. Whether the subject was insane vegetable gods, demons that fed off and manifested as fear, or simple domestic bliss in the swamps, Moore's collaborators consistently brought their A-Game to the work. Vertigo went on to be known, by and large, as a "writer's imprint", but in these early days the art is at least as important to the bottom line, and it holds up wonderfully against Moore's expressive prose.

Also worthy of note is the lettering by John Costanza and Todd Klein where it is often clear who is talking JUST from the shapes of the speech bubbles. I know this sort of sounds silly in 2008, but it was really transformative in 1984, where very little of that was being done.

I should also single out colorist Tatjana Wood who did WONDERS with the limited color palette they had to work with back then. In particular, issue #56's "My Blue Heaven" (reprinted in SWAMP THING v5: Earth to Earth) which does astonishing things with extraordinarily limited tones.

SWAMP THING, I don't think, gets the respect today that it deserves in terms of the numbers of things it changed and impacted about modern mainstream comics; certainly for Comix Experience it sells just a tiny fraction of better known Moore works like WATCHMEN, V FOR VENDETTA, or LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN. Everyone has a hard-on for MIRACLEMAN, but that has an awkward start, and a really rough middle section, while SWAMP THING is nearly home-run after home-run -- even the weakest points of the narrative (the monster-of-the-month nature of "American Gothic", a chunk or two of the Swamp-Thing-In-Space section) show a verve and daring and love of turning things on their head with bold experiments that is missing from most comics today.

Next year is the 25th anniversary of Moore's SWAMP THING, and I really hope that DC does something special to capitalize upon it, and refocus people's eyes on just how good these comics really are. At the least, I'm hoping that an Absolute Edition is possible for these pre-digital comics.

There are six volumes of Moore's SWAMP THING available, comprising his entire epic, as well as three volumes (so far) of Rick Veitch's solo run on the book. Each and every one of them is worth your hard earned money.