Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Swag of note: Diddy Kong Racing

This week's "SoN" comes courtesy of Nintendo, who are promoting the soon-to-be released DS title "Diddy Kong Racing." And what says large apes racing about in go-carts better than an oversize plastic cup?!

Unfortunately the photo doesn't really give a sense of the size of this cup. Trust me when I say it's abnormally big. I'm talking larger than movie theater large. You also can't see from the photo but it says "Gorilla Gulp" on the side.

But that's not all I got. Inside the cup was a bag of potato chips!

And some gum!

And best of all, lots of yellow crinkled strips of paper!

I am such a lucky man.

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VG review: "Phoenix Wright: Justice for All"

Capcom, for the Nintendo DS
rated T for Teen (blood, mild vio­lence, suggestive themes), $29.99.

Japan’s answer to “Matlock” has returned once again to protect the innocent and help send the guilty to jail.

This time, idealistic, spiky-haired lawyer Phoenix Wright is assigned a number of seemingly hopeless cases: an egotistical magician accused of killing the circus ringmaster; a TV star accused of offing his rival; and, most disconcertingly, your young assistant, who’s accused of murdering a doctor during a seance. Can Wright get these folks out of jail and find the true culprit? Well, that all depends on you.

As with 2005’s “Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney,” your job is to investigate the crime scenes and interview suspects, all the while collecting evidence. Then, during the trial, you must use said evidence to point out inconsistencies in the witnesses’ testimony, thereby obtaining a “not guilty” verdict.

As you may have guessed, “Justice” is a pretty linear game, with few divergent paths to explore. As with the previous title, you’ll find you have to talk to person X before you can explore crime scene Y and so on. In this manner the game resembles many of the story-driven adventure games of yore (“Myst,” “The Last Express”).

Also like its predecessor, the game takes little advantage of the DS’s touch-screen capabilities. The only real new feature of note is the “psyche-lock,” where you have to confront suspects with evidence in order to get them to confess their dirty little secrets.

But if the game’s narrative is stuck on a one-way street, it’s anything but dull. What ultimately makes “Justice” swing is its involving puzzles, twisty plots and goofy sense of humor. There’s little actual resemblance to either American or Japanese courts of law, but that’s part of the fun.
“Justice for All” feels more like a second helping that an actual, bona fide sequel, but that’s not a bad thing.

I hope that the next time around the developers incorporate more interactivity into the game. For now though, I’m content with the simple pleasures Wright provides. Hearing him shout “objection” never gets old.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007


Monday, January 29, 2007

Graphic Lit: Four experimental works

Sometimes you just want to veg out on mindless entertainment. Something fun but shallow; well-crafted, but not particularly meaningful.

And sometimes you crave something more. Something with more depth and ambition. Something a bit more challenging.

It’s with the latter in mind that I present the following run-down of some of the more experimental comics I’ve come across recently.

What, you thought I’d be focusing on the mindless entertainment stuff? Sorry, but no. Maybe next week.

by Brian Chippendale
PictureBox, 144 pages, $35.

Standing tall at 11 by 17 inches, “Ninja” towers over just every book on my shelf, comics or not. And between its enormous day-glo covers you’ll find a frenzied, feverish fantasy story unlike any other.

The book starts with a series of goofy stories Chippendale drew as a child about a heroic ninja. Things take an abrupt shift, however, as the adult Chippendale extends the plot to include a seemingly endless array of characters in an expansive, menacing city.

The overall effect of the book is dreamlike. Conspiracy plots are hinted at but never brought to light. Seemingly important characters are introduced and then disappear. And then halfway through, the book turns into an impassioned rant against gentrification as the city is “bleached” for incoming, upscale residents.

The art is decidedly atmospheric and crowded; even claustrophobic at times as Chippendale infuses every panel with a variety of textures and lines. The panels move snakelike across the page, from left to right and then right to left, to suggest continuous movement.

Those expecting a conventional narrative will have trouble here — the book requires your full attention and certain passages may even need to be reread a few times — but the sheer force of energy found in Chippendale’s art will propel you through its pages. “Ninja” is an amazing achievement.

“The Mother’s Mouth”
by Dash Shaw
Alternative Comics, 128 pages, $12.95.

Shaw’s narrative is a little more focused — a young, overweight woman goes back home to tend to her dying mother and develops a relationship with a gangly, aspiring musician (who, in turn, reminds her of a long-lost childhood friend). But it’s how the author chooses to tell his story that makes the book interesting.

Shaw constantly shifts the focus in the book, trying on a variety of different art styles and approaches, frequently changing the point of view or including photos or diagrams to suggest the characters’ inner states or mournful pasts, for example.

“Mother’s Mouth” is not without its flaws — some sequences seem more awkward than perhaps intended — but I admire Shaw’s adventurous spirit and look forward to seeing what he’ll try next.

“Let Us Be Perfectly Clear”
by Paul Hornschemeier
136 pages, $19.95.

Hornschemeir’s art suggests a friendly, colorful, cartoon world, and the artist works as hard as possible to subvert that notion, offering some grim material designed for either humorous or dramatic purposes.

Indeed, the book is literally split in half, with one section focusing on his more serious stories and the other his gag strips (you have to literally turn the book upside down in order move from one half to the other).

Hornschemeier’s art goes down easy, which makes the more formalistic tricks on display here a lot easier to swallow. And when those tricks work, which is most of the time, it’s hard not to be impressed.

by John Hankiewicz
Sparkplug Books, 104 pages, $17.

Hankiewicz’s comics are as cold and willfully forbidding as you can get. The “stories” in “Asthma” frequently focus on everyday objects — chairs, benches, notebooks — with people milling about in various states of distress or anxiety. One sequence simply shows a series of abstract images, while the text tells of a man arguing with his roofer. Rather than tell a story, he seems more interested in capturing a moment, no matter how minute.

Plot really isn’t the point in “Asthma.” The goal is not to explore a narrative but instead to evoke a particular emotion, specifically solitude, loneliness and nostalgia. It’s comics as poetry instead of prose, which may be enough to turn off most folks right away. But Hankiewicz’s work is unique and idiosyncratic enough to deserve attention.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Game Bytes are back and there's gonna be trouble

“Final Fantasy III”
Square-Enix, for the Nintendo DS

rated E10+ for ages 10 and up (fantasy violence, mild blood, suggestive themes), $39.99.

This is the one Final Fantasy game that, up until now, never made it to U.S. shores, for reasons that have been shrouded in the mists of time.

In re-imagining the game for the DS, Square-Enix has kept the basic plot and gameplay, but revamped the music and graphics.

The story is about as rudimentary as you can get. Four heroes must join forces to search the world for magical crystals that will save the world from certain destruction. There’s some minor effort to give the characters personalities, but overall they’re pretty interchangeable.

What makes the game notable is the job-switching ability, which lets your characters try on a variety of roles, from white mage to ninja and beyond. But the fighting itself is basic. It’s a compelling enough game that “Final Fantasy” fans and rpg lovers will enjoy it. Others might find it too bare bones and rote to be worth the time.

“Power Stone Collection”
Capcom, for the PlayStation Portable

rated T for Teen (violence), $29.99.

Back in the days of the late, lamented Dreamcast console, “Power Stone 2” was one of my favorite games, a fun, frenzied beat ’em up in the vein of “Super Smash Bros.”

Now Capcom has put the two classic titles on disc, as well as added features, such as new weapons and network play.

The good news is that the series still is as hyperactively thrilling as ever.

The bad news? Load times are frustratingly lengthy, the controls are a bit wobbly and its appeal is limited if you don’t have any other PSP-owning friends to play with. But hey, it’s Power Stone. I’m willing to take what I can get.

“Superman Returns”
Electronic Arts, for the Xbox 360, Xbox and PlayStation
rated T for Teen (violence), $59.99 (360 version), $39.99 (others).

Despite his iconic stature, Superman has always been a tough hero to whip up interest in. He’s just too powerful, too perfect to drum up much appeal.

He doesn’t fare well in “Superman Returns” either, though that’s mainly to do with a faulty camera, unresponsive controls, lackluster missions and a too-close resemblance to the far better “Spider-Man 2.” Who needs kryptonite when there are games like this to weaken the Man of Steel’s reputation?

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

VG review: "Star Trek Legacy"

Bethesda Softworks, for the Xbox 360 and PC

rated E10+ for ages 10 and up (fantasy violence, mild language), $59.99 and $39.99.

Sure, the outer space battles in “Star Trek” (pick your series) could be impressive, but I always thought the strength of the series was its sci-fi concepts, idealistic themes and strong characters.

Maybe that’s just me though, since “Star Trek Legacy,” a new game for the Xbox 360 and PC, focuses on nothing but outer-space battles.

At first glance, the premise is indeed enticing. You get to play as every captain from the Star Trek shows, from Kirk to that guy on “Enterprise,” in a plot that runs through the franchise’s history. You also get to pilot and control a variety of ships, including the Klingon Bird of Prey.

The game is divided into a series of missions, all loosely involving a mysterious Vulcan woman who seems to have ties to the Borg.

As one of five captains (all the original actors provide voice work for the game), you control not just one but four ships. While each mission varies in its goals, ultimately you can expect to get involved in some heavy dogfights with Romulan, Klingon and other enemy spaceships.

These space clashes can be fun, though they also can be a bit repetitive, as too often it’s simply a matter of locking onto an enemy ship and firing until they explode.

Also, the controls, at least for the 360 version, aren’t always crystal clear. I was never quite able to remember how I was supposed to, say, scan an object or direct my troops. In the middle of a frenzied battle, that can be a bit of a problem.

The missions themselves are rather long, and there’s no opportunity to save your game in the middle of it. That means if you die three quarters of the way through, you have to go all the way back to the beginning, even if it took you an hour to get to that point.

Tie in a few graphical bugs (my ships would frequently run into the line of fire, with no harm done) and “Legacy” ends up a lackluster title.

Serious Trekkers will no doubt leap at the opportunity to play as Captain Kirk (not to mention Picard, Janeway, etc.), but even they might end up wondering where the sense of grandeur went.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Fantagraphics Spring/Summer preview

As with Drawn and Quarterly, Fantagraphics also puts out a preview catalog showcasing their upcoming books. I thought it might be worthwile to see what the have planned for the coming year.

No pictures cause I'm feeling lazy.


Mome Vol 7 & 8. Obviously these both aren't coming out the same month. I just put them together to make things easier for myself. These next two editions feature work by Trondheim, Eleanor Davis, T. Edward Bak and the usual gang of idiots. $14.95 each.

Chance in Hell by Gilbert Hernandez. This is another stand-along graphic novel from Hernandez, this time following the adventures of a homeless orphan girl who has problems relating to the good life that falls in her lap when she grows up. It's Hernandez, so I see no reason why it shouldn't be stellar. $16.95.

Modern Swarte: Joost Comics by Joost Swarte. Egad, how long have I been waiting for a decent collection of Joost Swarte comics? Probably since I first saw his work in Raw way back in the 80s. Nice to finally have it all here in English now. $29.95.

Just When You Thought Things Couldn't Get Worse: The Cartoons and Comic Strips of Edward Sorel. Few comics fans seem to pay attention to or even make note of most editorial cartoonists, regardless of talent. Perhaps it's just the format in which they publish; newspapers just fall under the radar these days. So it's nice that Fantagraphics sees fit to pay tribute to geniuses like Sorel. $18.95.

Arf Forum, edited by Craig Yoe. I've really been digging Craig Yoe's Arf books. This one features Smokey Stover, Henry Heath, Stan Lee and a Captain Marvel story. $19.95.

The Comic Strip Art of Lyonel Feininger, edited by Bill Blackbeard. This is a reprint of the 10-year-old Kitchen Sink book, collecting all of Feininger's comic strip work (which, though gorgeous, is slimmer than you might guess). If you didn't pick this book up the first time around, you have no excuses for not doing so now. $16.95.


The Complete Peanuts 1963-64 by Charles M. Schulz. More Peanuts goodness. No idea who's doing the introduction this time around though. $28.95.

Buddy Does Jersey by Peter Bagge. As with Buddy Does Seattle, this $14.95 volume collects all of the later "Hate" stories where Buddy goes back home to the Garden State. It's all in black and white though, so if that sort of de-colorization bothers you, you may want to hunt down the original trades instead. 14.95.

I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets: The Comics of Fletcher Hanks, edited by Paul Karasik. Oh man. Dan Nadel's "Out of Time" had me jonesin' for more sublime Hanks weirdness. What drove this guy to create such crude tales of utter madness? $19.95.

Our Gang Vol. 2 by Walt Kelly. I admire Fanta for publishing this series, but I have to wonder if anyone's collecting these volumes. Shouldn't they have focused on republishing "Pogo" first? $12.95.

A Taste of Venison by Gary Baseman. This is another in the ongoing line of "Blab Storybooks." Those are pretty hit and miss with me, but I do enjoy Baseman's art, so perhaps I'll check it out. $14.95.

"Kafka" by Robert Crumb and David Zane Moirowitz. More rereleases of long-out-of-print books from other publishers. This was originally "Introduction Kalfka" for those who don't know. If you haven't seen this material before, now's your chance. Crumb and Kalfka make a great combination. $12.95.


Palestine The Special Edition by Joe Sacco. A "Criterion" edition of Sacco's seminal work, featuring photos, notes, sketches and other supplimental material. If I didn't already own two different versions of this work (not including the original pamphlets, which I also own) I'd definitely buy this. $29.95.

The Fun Never Stops by Drew Friedman. This promises to be a"comphrehensive collection" of the caricaturist's work, including a lot of his recent magazine work. No idea if this duplicates the work collected in past Fantagraphics collections. $16.95.

Percy Gloom by Cathy Malkasian. Malkasian is the director of "The Wild thornberrys Movie" among other things. This debut graphic novel focuses on a nebbish man who tests objects for their "danger potential." $18.95.

Things Just Get Away From You by Walt Holcombe. At long last, Holcolmbe's "Poot" series is collected in one handsome book. and "King of Persia too! Joy! Rapture! Now only if he'd we could see some new work by him. . . $24.95.


The Girl From Hoppers and Human Diastrophism by Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. The third and fourth editions of the ongoing "Love and Rockets" rebranding" into a more manga-friendly publishing format. $14.95 each.

House by Josh Simmons. the creator of "Happy" tells the horror story of two girls who explore an abandoned house. It sounds cliched, but I've Simmons' work is usually anything but. $12.95.

Explainers: 10 Years of Jules Feiffer's Revolutionary Weekly Strip by Jules Feiffer. Continuing their attempt to publish everyloving thing Feiffer has ever done (not that I'm complaining) this elongated book is the first of four upcoming volumes collecting Feiffer's strips for the Village Voice. This one collects 500 strips. At only $19.95, it's a bargain.

The Glamour Girls of Bill Ward by Alex Chun. This is a paperback edition of the 2003 hardcover book. $24.95.


Krazy & Ignatz: The Kat Who Walked in Beauty by George Herriman. If there's one "must-buy" item in this list, it's this book. "Beauty" collects a number of "rare and unique" Krazy Kat dallies from the 1910s and 1920s. Also included are some of the very first stand-alone Krazy strips and illustrations from the Krazy kat ballet. $29.95.

Where's Dennis? The Magazine Cartoon Art of Hank Ketcham by Alex Chun and Jacob Covey. A side project of sorts to the ongoing Dennis the Menace reprints, this book, as the title suggests, collects the various gag cartoons and illustrative work Ketcham did before starting Dennis. $19.95.

I Killed Adolf Hitler by Jason. Jason returns yet again this time taking on the sci-fi genre. This time a hired assassin goes back in time to kill Hitler, and fails spectacularly. $12.95.

Rocky Vol. 2: Strictly Business by Martin Kellerman. Man, am I enjoying these Rocky strips. I hope more people catch on to this series too. $12.95.

Ackroyd: A Mystery of Identity by Jules Feiffer. This isn't a book of cartoons, but an actual, godhonest novel. Originally published in 1977, this is a parody of sorts of the detective genre. $12.95.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Graphic Lit: An interview with Darwyn Cooke

Some comic characters, like Superman, are ever adaptable, able to take on an endless variety of writers and artists with little harm to their core concept.

Others, however, will be forever associated with their original creator.

Take “The Spirit” for example. Created in 1940 by the late comics legend Will Eisner, the blue-masked crimefighter is the artist’s best-known work and the one that in a large part helped to shape his reputation. You can’t think of one without conjuring up the other.

That hasn’t stopped DC from trying to revive the character though. Written and drawn by Darwyn Cooke, who recently won accolades for his iconic superhero tale “The New Frontier,” “The Spirit” is an attempt to introduce the crimefighter to a new audience.

Why would Cooke attempt to take on a character so closely associated with one of the most beloved and respected cartoonists in comicdom? I called him at his home in Nova Scotia, Canada, to find out.

Q: What made you decide to take on a project like this?

A: I don’t know. [laughter] A suicidal streak? Masochistic tendency? I’m not sure.

Honestly, [Eisner’s] always been one of my favorite creators and it’s always been one of my favorite strips. It was gonna get done with or without me.

Q: How did the project come about?

A: This is something that Will had been talking about to DC for years and years. You can go back 20 years ago — he and Denny O’Neil were gonna do a Batman crossover. There’ve been many attempts to get this together.

I think in the last year of his life he and Denis Kitchen had been negotiating with DC and when he went in for his surgery. I believe he wanted to have all of his affairs in order because he realized there was a risk. And so all these deals were finalized before he went in. And, you know, the worst possible thing happened.

Q: How did you come on to the project?

A: My editor at the time Mark Chirello phoned me about it. After “New Frontier,” which I had just completed for DC, I was lucky enough that they thought I’d kind of guy who had the sensibility to tackle it.

Q: How has the reception been on the series so far?

A: You know, it’s the kind of thing where I’m going to get a mixed response no matter what I do. Fortunately, the real key here was to try to attract new people to the character. Those people coming to it fresh seem to be incredibly positive about it. Most of the negative stuff I hear, it’s from people who have a very fixed idea of what this strip should be and whether it should be done at all.

Q: It seems like you’re walking a real fine line. On the on hand if you go too far afield people are going to be upset because it’s not The Spirit they remember. But if you go too much on the other side you’re going to be accused of doing an homage.

A: Precisely.

Q: How do you stay on that line?

A: I think the trick with it is placing it in the here and now. It took me awhile to accept the project, and it wasn’t until I realized ... because I knew there was nothing I could do to top what Will had done. It’s just ridiculous to even consider it. But I saw some room to play if we brought it into today’s world.

There was definitely precedent for that. The few times that Will did revisit the character after it’s initial run, he would always place it in the era in which he had done it. In the ¤’60s he did some work for Harvey Comics with the Spirit, and I believe he did a political story for one of the magazines in New York and those stories took place in the present day as opposed to back in the early ’50s or late ’40s.

Taking my cue from that I thought, “If I move it up to today at least I’ve got new subject matter. New stories and new types of people that I can bring into the strip.”

Q: What elements of Eisner’s original work are a must for you to incorporate into
the new series and what new elements are you bringing to it to make it your own?

A: The number one element of his work that I want to make sure comes across is the humanity. The humanity that the strip characterized. His whole approach to people and his ability to make us care about them. I think if I’m bringing anything to it it’s just a slightly fresh
sensibility, one that’s maybe more informed by cinema than theater.

I think the other thing I’m bringing to it is I’m staying with the stand-alone story idea, but at
22 pages I have a little more room to look at the quieter moments or the beats between the action with the characters. Maybe present a more fully-rounded story.

Q: There’ve been a number of artists that have tried to tackle comics known for a particular artist, I’m thinking of Plastic Man in particular. Is there anything you specifically tried to avoid to keep it from seeing, like I said earlier, like a simple homage?

A: It’s funny, I learned a lot of my visual storytelling tricks from Eisner. But I’ve sort of consciously avoided dipping into that bag on the strip. I didn’t want to make it look like I’m deliberately aping his approach. ... That’s a hard question. [laughs]

Q: I’m just curious as to how conscious that was and what you were thinking of to not going to make it seem like “Darwyn Cooke by way of Will Eisner.”

A: I’ve had to restrain myself basically. Once I construct the plot, I’ll look at a scene and go, “Oh wow, I know exactly what I can do with that,” but it’s because I know Will did it before. I’m sort of trying to strenuously avoid that.

The other thing, and this is probably the only place I’d find criticism unfair, most of the guys who are looking at the strip first issue are saying it’s not as good as the old stuff and it’s like
you know there were about 600 of those stories and nobody remembers any of the first four or five years of them.

I couldn’t in issue one do a “Gerhardt Schnobble” or a “Ten Minutes.” because we have to get comfortable with our cast first and set the lay of the land. I think we’ll see more experimental storytelling in the second half of the first year on, once everyone’s a little more comfortable with the character.

Q: Speaking of characters, let’s talk about Ebony for a minute. Obviously he’s a pretty integral character to the original series but updating him would prove to be
tricky. How important was it to you that he be included in the series and can you talk about the ways you went about changing him?

A: It was incredibly important to me that he was a part of it but it was certainly one of the most difficult things to decide how he was going to be a part of it. I found the few times I have dealt with issues like racism, I found from a storytelling point of view I like to address it head on. I knew that Ebony was going to be an issue. So off the bat I knew I wasn’t going to make him fall for what I call the “Poochie syndrome.” The obvious thing to do would have been to make him like Dave Chappelle, give him a certain dress and a certain patois.

Avoiding that right off the bat I realized I wanted to have him save the day in the first book and come out of nowhere. But again, the issue of racism and the world the Spirit inhabits was such
an issue for the readers, I thought it would be a great idea to have Ginger Coffee be a key part of the entire first issue because we deal with all those issues before Ebony even gets on stage. When we do see Ebony, automatically the black woman in the scene throws it right out there at us. So we’re not jumping around it, it’s thrown right out there on the table. And we have our two guys defuse it in a very clever and offhand way. To me, that clears the decks and now we move forward.

Q: Are there any other traditional Spirit characters you plan on using?

A: Absolutely. We’re going to see practically all of the characters that made a mark in the original series. In issue three, that’s when we get into what happened with Denny, his origin. So we see Dr. Cobra in there. Issue four we’ve got Silk Satin and the Octopus. Issue five, Carrion.

I’ve gotta say, with some of these characters, we couldn’t just take them out of whole cloth as they were and insert them into what we’re doing. And Carrion’s one of the characters we’ve
adjusted to a certain degree. We’ve tweaked out the type of crime he’s into a little bit. I think it’s very fitting and I think it’s going to be well received.

Q: What was the necessity of changing him?

A: Well, there’s the knickerbocker pants, the stovepipe top hat and the great coat. Those elements, as iconic as they are, they really ....

Q: date him?

A: Yeah, and you know it’s funny because I don’t mind Denny being dated with the hat and the suit and everything and we will address that continually. But that’s what he is. I’ve sort of decided that he’s an anachronism that exists in a very modern world. So Carrion officially has to be contemporized in order for it all to work together.

Q: Now each issue is going to be self-contained more or less?

A: That’s right.

Q: That’s very different from how a lot of superhero
comics are being done nowadays.

A: You’re absolutely right. I think the first thing to keep in mind is “The Spirit” isn’t necessarily a superhero comic. He has a mask, but that’s it. It’s really a human drama with a crime emphasis. But it’s got the room for humor. He did musicals! He did stories that took the form of a children’s book. I think it’s a far more open-ended proposition for one.

And secondly, my entire career in this business I’ve been trying to clear out a corner for myself. And to a great degree, that’s meant when everybody’s turning right, turn left. So hyperrealistic
art is the order of the day and I keep my work simple and clean and cartoon based. So that the people who do want that, they flock to it. I think that the same exists for the type of story.

I think a lot people miss single-issue stories, the ability to sit down and read a comic and walk away from it feeling something and it being a closed matter.

I also think, from a professional point of view, the writers have really taken to the format of writing longer stories because you don’t have to think as much. You only have to come up with one plot and you drag it out over six issues for a trade. It’s a far easier way to make
a buck. And I’m not afraid to say that.

I think a lot of the power of the strip was that it was so concise. And these days, keeping it to 22 pages and tying it all up neatly, is concise, in comparative terms.

Q: Is it tricky to have to do that, to keep it to such a short length?

A: It’s funny. I find it tricky the other way.

Q: To write something longer?

A: Bleed the story out over six issues. With the Spirit, once I decided it would be a modern-day thing, I found the ideas just flew out of me. I have a ton of them lined up here and I don’t see any shortage.

Q: You actually touched on something I was going to ask you about, which is you are unique in that your art style is about 180 degrees different from what I see in most mainstream superhero comics these days. Can you talk a little about how you consciously developed your style?

A: It had a lot less to do with what I like and intangible things I couldn’t quite escape to be honest. I’m old enough that — when Neal Adams was big? That’s when I was a kid. And Neal Adams to me was a god. And Jim Lee, Steve McNiven, Brian Hitch, all these guys, they’re students of Neal Adams. He’s the guy who started all of it. And I honestly believed that was the
only good way to do a comic book.

And then I started to discover the work of Alex Toth and Will Eisner. And while I didn’t find it as appealing to look at, I kept coming back to it. The only thing I can compare it to is you know how when you hear a song and right away you love it, but then a week later you’re sick of it? But then there’s those songs that take a little while to grow on you but that song stays with you for a long time.

As much as I liked the detailed drawing, I couldn’t escape the fact that the simpler work communicated so much clearer. When you got past the technical drawing technique, which of the two approaches gives you the most emotional depth and the most of an emotional connection to the reader?

Q: What are some of your biggest influences apart from Eisner?

A: Most of the E.C. artists, in particular Harvey Kurtzman and Johnny Craig. Probably the two biggest influences in all this mainstream I do are Alex Toth and Jack Kirby. Contemporaries?
Guys like Bruce Timm.

Q: Did you actually know Eisner at all? Did you get to meet him?

A: I met him once and it was kind of a funny story. It was at San Diego a couple of years before he passed away. That place is a zoo, I don’t know if you’ve ever been at that show but it is so crowded the only way to navigate the floor is to put your head down and go.

So I’m plowing through this crowd of people and I bang right into this guy and as I look up I see it’s this old man and I knocked him over. [laughs] And I’m helping him up and I’m asking if he’s O.K. and I realize it’s Will Eisner. I almost died.

At the time I was working at Warner Brothers on the Batman and Superman animated shows. So he looked at my name tag and it said “storyboard artist.” He said “Where do you work?
What do you do?” I said “I work on the Batman and Superman shows.” He said “you’re a story man.”

We had a great conversation. I walked him back to his booth and we chatted about story and what we were doing with the show. We had a really nice conversation that day. It could have been horrible but it worked out OK.

Q: How is the “Absolute New Frontier” collection doing?

A: We don’t have a lot of concrete sales figures yet but all indicators are it’s done alarmingly well. Better than anybody thought it would do. It made so many of the best of lists and the gift guide lists. Entertainment Weekly had it highlighted in their Christmas guide. So I think that’s driven a lot of the interest and from what I hear, the sales as well.

Q: Are you surprised by the critical reception it’s gotten?

A: Yeah. I really am. What I find most interesting is the companies, the majors’ inability to see the degree to which work like this has a market. I think a lot of people don’t know what they’re missing till they get it.

Q: Well, we could probably spend the next hour talking about that.

A: Well yeah, I mean, gosh, I work for a company who, god love them, but honestly when I look at most of the moves they’re making in their main line, it’s like they have a textbook about how to destroy your brand character. “How to destroy 60 years worth of in two to three years for a sales hit.” I question in that long term.

Q: It’s been said before, but it just seems to me with the mainstream superheros,
the big two just seem to be focusing in on one audience that keeps getting older and older and demanding certain types of stories and it’s a smaller and smaller audience.

A: They have no way out of this box. The commitment it would take for them to reclaim mainstream ground, it’s insurmountable. We’ve basically got a cottage industry here now
where the people who create the product are creating it for themselves or their friends. It’s created in a way so it’s inscrutable to anybody else. And it doesn’t reflect any social trends. There’s nothing of interest to bring a consumer in.

Q: Even when there is a halfway attempt it requires so much preknowledge. I’m thinking of “Civil War” which — I hadn’t read a Marvel comic in ages before I picked that up and I was utterly baffled by who certain characters were or what they were doing. Why does Spider-Man have a different outfit? It confused me.

A: It’s so entrenched in thinking, a lot of people who picked up New Frontier in its original run saw the second issue and said “Who is Ace Morgan? I don’t know who this guy is. How am I supposed to enjoy this book?” And it’s like, “Wait a minute. So you’re telling me when you pay for a movie and sit down, the minute a character you don’t recognize comes onscreen you get up and walk out?” Is the movie supposed to freeze and give you this guy’s back story? He’s a character that’s been introduced! Read the book! So even when you don’t need that information, there’s a knee-jerk assumption. It’s a very difficult thing sometimes to think about [laughs].

Q: The superhero books are obviously aimed at the 25 and up crowd and meantime, manga has pretty much taken over the kids.

A: This is the most interesting thing. The bookstores every month publish a list of the top 100 graphic novels or top 150 selling books. You’ll see manga trades in there all the time. “Naruto” places high on that list every month.

Q: Yeah, it’s pretty much the “Naruto” list.

A: Exactly. Now try to imagine an industry where for 20 years your market shrinks every year and right down the street you can see all this growth, all this activity, all these sales. And you just completely ignore it and continue to allow your own market to contract as you stick to the thing that’s contracting it. It’s almost impossible to imagine any vital business taking this

Q: Yeah, and you don’t have to ape manga’s surface elements to get ...

A: ... I don’t think it’s the surface elements at all.

Q: No, no.

A: It’s the subject matter and the fact that it deals with issues that these people are interested in.

Q: That kids can relate to. The wish fulfillment level that a lot of the superhero books just don’t do anymore.

A: Precisely. it’s a funny thing because I find there are people in the industry who are aware of this and there are people who don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. Oh well.

Q: What are you working on these days besides the Spirit?

A: Well, Warners is producing a animated version of “New Frontier.”

Q: Wow.

A: Yeah. That’s what I said. I’ve been working pretty closely on the production. Most of the guys involved in it are old cronies of mine from when I worked on the animated shows. Bruce Timm’s executive producing it.

It’s been fun. These types of things, the schedule and the budget are a real problem, but I think it’s going to be pretty good actually.

But that’s been sucking a lot of my time. Just between that and the monthly book, cause we’re well into the Spirit now, we’re into the sixth issue so that’s another thing, this shipping late nonsense. I don’t ever want to fall victim to that. I try to stay well ahead and I do have to say no to a lot of things to try to stay on track.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Swag of note: Lost Planet and Phoenix Wright

I thought it might be fun to start taking an occasional look at some of the goofy stuff I get in the mail from various publishers, video game and otherwise.

Well, it'll be fun for me at any rate.

A recent package from Capcom came with two little oddities. First up is this promotional item:

This little mech suit on skis is taken from Capcom's new game, "Lost Planet." I haven't had a chance to check the game out yet (I hope to start tomorrow), so I can't tell you much about the figure. Just that it's a "vital suit" and it came included with the game if you preordered it (I think you can still get it if you purchase it from

I must admit he does look kind of keen. I wonder if they plan on releasing a full line of figures from the game?

More significant to me though was this little tie in item to the new lawyer-cum-mystery Phoenix Wright game: "Justice for All":

Yes, that is indeed a finger-shaped pointer for the DS, complete with wrist-strap and little spongy Japanese exclamation (I'm guessing it says "Objection" though it could also say "Hold It" I suppose).

I'm pretty psyched about this little doo-dad. Now I can point at my wife and kids and yell "Objection!" all day long. Finding a new way to annoy your family is always a cause for celebration!

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

VG review: "Caslevania" and "Metal Gear Solid"

Konami, for the DS

rated T for Teen (blood and gore, mild lan­guage, suggestive themes, vio­lence), $34.99.

Konami, for the PlayStation Port­able

rated M for Mature (ani­mated blood, suggestive themes, violence), $39.99.

Franchises are the bread and butter of the video game industry, so the arrival of two new handheld titles from Konami, featuring its most popular characters, is no real surprise.

“Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin” is yet another 2-D, side-scrolling adventure title that fans of the series have come to expect, with just enough tweaks to keep redundancy from setting in.

As with past games in the series, there’s a big, spooky vampire castle to roam through, filled with gruesome creatures that you dispatch by swinging your whip or sword or whatever other weapon you come across.

This time, however, you have not one but two characters to control: the whip-wielding Jonathan Morris and the conjurer Charlotte Aulin. You can flip between characters on the fly or have the computer operate one as in unison when the enemies become too much for one avatar to deal with.

The game also is enlivened by the variety of inventive levels. No longer confined to the castle, you can enter some of the paintings that hang on the castle walls. Defeating the monsters in there apparently drains the evil castle owner of his power (yeah, it didn’t make sense to me, either).

“Portrait of Ruin” offers a near-perfect blend of reliable game mechanics and innovative additions, resulting in a fun bout of monster hunting.

The same, unfortunately cannot be said about “Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops” which attempts to bring the traditional “Metal Gear” experience to the PSP but only partially achieves its goal.

The story picks up after the events of “Metal Gear Solid III,” with a now-retired Snake being accused of treason. To clear his name, he must infiltrate and thwart a renegade group of Russian soldiers who could bring about a nuclear war.

To add to the usual sneak-and-shoot fun, “Portable Ops” includes the ability to capture and recruit the soldiers you knock out. You can then add them to your “sneaking” party, or have them perform medical help, technical aid, or spy on various outposts to collect information and ammunition.

Collecting and assigning soldiers to various tasks is fun and adds a new layer of strategy to the game. The problems lie with the controls, which aren’t intuitive (a common problem with “Metal Gear” games) and even sloppy at times. Combat especially feels awkward.

Even worse is the unhelpful camera. Too often my cover would be blown because some soldier I couldn’t see and who didn’t show up on my radar spotted me from afar. Rather than try to deal with the annoying soldier, as I would in past “Metal Gear” games, I would just abandon the mission and start over. Do that enough times and a certain annoyance tends to creep in.

“Portable Ops” offers enough sneaky skill and military-themed puffery to please the devout, but more skeptical gamers should just sit on their hands until the official console sequel comes out later this year.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Graphic Lit: "newuniversal" and "Nextwave"

Way back in 1986, Marvel Comics tried a little experiment.

In honor of the company’s 25th anniversary, then-editor Jim Shooter launched a series of books collectively known as “The New Universe.” This imprint would feature superhero stories, but in a more realistic setting — no mythological beings or magic powers — and the heroes’ actions would have realistic consequences.

Of course, the whole thing tanked miserably. It didn’t help that the books were by and large poorly written and drawn, and lacking in any real focus. Most of the comics were canceled after only a few issues, and the whole line limped along until it was discontinued in 1989, marking it as one of Marvel’s biggest failures.

Of course, memories are short and comics are riding high in the public sphere now, so why not revamp the whole thing for a new audience? That’s the thinking behind “newuniversal,” an ongoing, monthly series from Marvel.

This time, the talent behind the books is a little more accomplished, as acclaimed writer Warren Ellis and artist Salvador Larroca attempt to overhaul the imprint for a modern audience.

The basic premise stays the same: In an alternate world much like our own, a strange phenomenon known as the “White Event” gives a handful of people across the globe super powers, though Ellis changes characters’ motivations, identities and even genders around enough that the whole thing feels fresh.

And if that plot sounds a little like the new hit TV show “Heroes,” well, remember that it predates that show by a good 20 years.

Only two issues of “newuniversal” have come out so far, so it’s early to tell how good the series ultimately will be. It’s off to a good start, however, with some nice pacing and setup by Ellis and Larroca. My only gripe lies with Larroca’s need to model various characters after famous actors. (Why does the archaeologist look like Gene Hackman?)

Though it occasionally dabbles in cliche, “newuniversal” is strong enough for me to recommend it to those looking for a good monthly sci-fi series to chew on.


One of Ellis’ other ongoing series for Marvel will be winding down soon: “Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.”

That’s a real shame, as in many ways it’s a lot more goofy and fun than I suspect “newuniversal” will ever be.

“Nextwave” follows the adventures of five third-banana superheroes who discover the anti-terrorist agency they’ve been working for is actually funded by terrorists and decide to go after them. Explosions ensue.

The series is loud, over the top and gloriously ridiculous. A capes-and-cowls comic pared down to its barest elements but with the volume turned up to 11.

Ellis’ writing crackles with smart-aleck dialogue and bizarre scenarios. He’s ably complemented by artist Stuart Immonen, whose clean, angular drawings show a real pop sensibility and add to the overall sense of absurdity.

There will be more “Nextwave” comics in the future, but the series as it currently stands will end after the 12th issue. Thankfully, back issues are relatively easy to find, and the recent, “Nextwave Vol. 1: This is What They Want,” ($14.99) collects the first six issues in one handy volume.

As the comic’s tagline says, “If you like anything, you’ll love Nextwave!”

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006

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Friday, January 12, 2007

The Best Video Games of 2006

You didn't think I'd spend all that time blathering on about comics and not list my favorite games of the year did you?

Don't expect this to be a four-part series though. Unlike the world of comics, I didn't wasn't able to cull that many great games into a top 10 list. It wasn't that there weren't enough good games, mind you. There just weren't that many stellar ones.

You'll note a few big-name titles omitted from this list. That's mainly due to a lack of time on my part than anything else. I still haven't gotten around to playing "Gears of War" yet and I really didn't spend enough time with "Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess" to feel comfortable adding it to a "best of" list. Horrible, I know, but such is my limited schedule.

You'll also note the list reflects my own interest in the quirky and offbeat. Not to mention my love for handhelds. Perhaps it's just that developers are more willing to take chances on a smaller scale game than a title for a big, expensive console. Whatever the reason, the DS and the PSP (finally) had a good deal of my favorite titles this year.

Anyway, here's a quick rundown of the best games that I did in fact play this year:

10. Dragon Quest Rocket Slime
-- If this had been just a simple platform game, it would have been just cute. The tank battles, however, drew it into the realm of inspired.
9. Viva Pinata -- Take a bit of Pokemon, sprinkle in some Animal Crossing. Add a dash of the Sims and voila, you have one of the most addictive games I've played in a long while.
8. Exit -- Finally, 2006 saw the release of some decent software for the PSP, including this little stylized puzzle game.
7. Elite Beat Agents -- Any game where you have to keep in time to a bunch of guys in nappy suits dancing to "You're the Inspiration" is alright by me.
6. New Super Mario Bros. -- Yes, it is in many ways a retread of past Mario games. So what? It's still the best platformer that came out this year.
5. Bully -- Sorry Jack Thompson. Far from inciting violence, "Bully" is one of the smartest, funniest and honest games about school life I've ever seen. It's also the best use of the aging "GTA" methodology so far.
4. Guitar Hero II -- If the first game is going to make every top 10 list the year it comes out, then it stands to reason the sequel, which is an considerable improvement, should be included here.
3. Loco Roco -- Delighfully simple design and gameplay translate into I'd say more great things about this game, but I can't get my daughter to let me have a turn.
2. The Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion -- This game offers so much diversity that you could actually become paralyzed with all the options available. There's not many games that really make you feel like you've actually entered into another world.
1. Okami -- Except perhaps this one. No other game that came out this year entranced me as much as Okami did. By taking the basic Zelda formula and adding the paint component, Clover Studios made something familiar and yet utterly uniqe at the same time. Okami is a storybook set to life, and I can't wait to pick it up and start reading it again.

Now, however, I'm going to go watch the Eagles lose.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Neither fish nor fowl: The Sopranos on A&E

Rather than do my usual video game review last week, I was asked to take a look at the newly-"safe for regular TV" version of "The Sopranos, which debuted yesterday on A&E. Here's my assorted thoughts, plus a little sidebar breaking down the edits for you. All because I care.

Remember back in the days before cable TV and VCRs, when if you wanted to see an R-rated movie on TV it would be heavily edited to the point that you wondered why they bothered broadcasting it in the first place?

Well, maybe you don’t, but that’s what came to my mind while watching the edited episodes of the first season of “The Sopranos,” which will be coming to A&E on Wednesday

As with HBO’s other critically acclaimed show — “Sex and the City” that airs on TBS — the show has been edited in order to tone down the level of foul language, nudity and violence that has been the hallmark of “The Sopranos” since it debuted.

The show will not, however, be edited for time, and A&E swears that it has done its utmost to protect the integrity of David Chase’s creation, using alternative footage and pre-recorded dialogue to comply with broadcasting standards.

While the syndication of “The Sopranos” means folks like my father-in-law will finally be able to watch the show, part of me wonders, in this age of DVD players, just how well this move will bode, especially with the fervent Sopranos fan base.

The biggest flaw is not the toned down adult content, but the fact that the show is no longer presented in letterbox format.

One of the things I always enjoyed about “The Sopranos” — apart from the great writing, acting and directing — was the attempt to give the show a cinematic flavor, clearly marking it as different from your standard TV fare. Seeing the show cropped to fit the basic “square” format is disconcerting at best and ruinous at worst.

The other glaring problem with A&E’s version is the dubbed-over swearing. First, it seems oddly arbitrary, if not hypocritical, that certain words that you thought would be verboten in this day and age seem to be fine while others are not. But that’s the FCC’s problem and not A&E’s.

No, the problem with the swearing, or the lack of it, is that it’s so obviously dubbed over. Hearing Tony say “freaking” instead of, well, you know what, sounds so obviously wrong that you’re pulled out of the story fast.

Surprisingly, the toned-down nudity and violence is actually less of a problem. Yes, certain scenes are robbed somewhat of their horror or humor, but overall the differences are minimal. Apparently, images of people getting shot in the head is of less concern with the powers that be than saying certain 12-letter words.

It remains to be seen how light the editing will be with the upcoming episodes. The violence and sex in the first season is almost benign compared to what comes in the following years. How will A&E handle the depravity that is coming down the pike?

That prickly question is almost enough to make me want to keep watching the A&E episodes. Almost.


How does the edited version of “The Sopranos” compare with the original? Here’s a quick breakdown. Spoilers abound, so if you haven’t seen the show yet, tread lightly.

HBO: Tony and Carmela have an argument about him seeing a psychiatrist. He lets loose with a string of expletives and Carmela tells him to “get his own [you-know-what] Prozac.”
A&E: Swear words are changed to more benign terms like “freaking,” “hell” and “really.”
Final tally: It’s pretty obvious the dialogue has been dubbed. It’s also pretty distracting.

HBO: Upon learning of the death of mob boss Jackie Aprile, a topless dancer at the Bada Bing Club vows to “always remember where she was this day.”
A&E: Same line, but this time the dancer is wearing a swimsuit-styled outfit that covers her breasts.
Final tally: Clothes or no clothes, it’s still a good joke, but the nudity makes it funnier.

HBO: Christopher and Paulie chase a rival mobster through the woods and gun him down when he trips in a stream. Lots of blood.
A&E: Pretty much identical, though there is some slight re-editing so that you don’t see quite as much blood spilled.
Final tally: It’s a tie, as the difference is pretty negligible.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

My 2007 video game sneak preview

Sure, 2006 was a big year for video games, what with the new console debuts and all.

But 2007 is the year that really matters.

It's the next 365 days that will start to tell us which console will come out on top and which will be dubbed vaporware

In the meantime, there will be plenty of games to play. Here's a look at some of the more notable titles to arrive in the coming months. Keep in mind that release dates are never set in stone and can change with alarming frequency.


"World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade," for PC. The most popular online video game ever gets an upgrade on Jan. 16. Fans will see the arrival of two new races, a new continent to explore and much more.

"Wario Ware: Smooth Mooves," for Wii.
The fast-paced, zany "Wario Ware" series seems tailor-made for Nintendo's new Wii console.

"Lost Planet," for Xbox 360.
This third-person shooter promises to make good use of the 360's online capabilities.

"Forza Motorsport 2," for Xbox 360.
One of the best racing games for the Xbox gets another lap around the track in this sequel.


"Crackdown" for Xbox 360. What will be the most controversial game of '07? Perhaps this title, in which you play a futuristic cop who keeps the peace "by any means necessary."

"Virtua Fighter 5," for PlayStation 3. Get all kicky-punchy in this latest sequel to the popular martial arts franchise.

"MotorStorm" for PlayStation 3. Race a variety of rugged all-terrain vehicles across a number of treacherous terrains.


"God of War II" for PlayStation 2.
The aging PS2 gets its swan song with this sequel to one of the most popular and critically acclaimed games of 2005.

"Lair," for PlayStation 3. Ride atop fire-breathing dragons in acrobatic aerial combat in this action game, designed to make full use of the PS3's motion-sensitive controller.

"Def Jam Icon" for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Big-name rappers such as The Game, Ludacris and T.I. go mano-a-mano in this hip-hop flavored fighting game.

"Mercenaries 2: World in Flames" for PlayStation 3. Blow up stuff in a variety of countries in this sequel to the popular open-ended, military-themed LucasArts franchise.


"Assassin's Creed," for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Set during the Third Crusade, you play -- you guessed it -- an assassin set on ending the conflict. This is shaping up to be one of the must-have titles of the year.

"Mass Effect," for Xbox 360. From the people who brought you "Jade Empire" comes this sci-fi flavored role-playing game.

"Too Human: Part 1," for Xbox 360. As the "cybernetic god Baldur," you are entrusted with the task of defending humanity from a bunch of nasty war machines. As the title suggests, this will be the first part of a trilogy.

"Super Mario Galaxy," for Wii. Definitely one of the most anticipated titles of '07, "Galaxy" has the little plumber exploring a variety of no-doubt cutely themed planets.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007


Monday, January 08, 2007

Graphic Lit: The undergrounds return

The 1960s, as everyone knows, was a seminal time, though you may not be aware of just how seminal it was in the magic land of comic books.

Just as Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles redefined people’s ideas about pop music, so, too, did artists such as Robert Crumb and titles such as “Zap Comix” redefine the notion of what was permissible in a 32-page funny book.

The “underground comix” movement, as it has been since dubbed, brought sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll to the comic pamphlet. Suddenly, artists started giving their id free rein and produced some confrontational, psychedelic and occasionally brilliant work. You can draw a straight line from those early, trippy books to the ambitious graphic novels we see on the shelves today.

While the ’60s and the underground movement may be long gone, the artists haven’t rested on their laurels. Many are still active and producing work equal to or better than their earlier material. Here’s a look at four recent books that celebrate the work of these baby boomers:

by Kim Deitch

Fantagraphics, 176 pages, $18.95.

Kim Deitch has always been one of the most interesting and unique artists of the underground generation, and “Shadowland” cements that reputation.

The book is a collection of interrelated stories Deitch did during the late 1980s and early ’90s, and focuses on the Ledicker family, owners of a traveling carnival, and their adventures through the early half of the 20th century.

Space aliens, rampaging elephants, lost pygmy tribes, diving pigs, conspiracy theories and silent film stars all blend in Deitch’s tales, as a variety of oddball characters weave in and out of the plot and each other’s lives.

It’s a mindbending, intense journey at times, but one well worth taking, as “Shadowland” is one of Deitch’s best works and one of the finest books of the past year.

“The Art of S. Clay Wilson”
Ten Speed Press, 154 pages, $35.

Of all the underground cartoonists, Wilson was always the most out-there, the one willing to go to places that others would wisely fear to tread. His panels are always full of huge crowds of people — usually pirates or biker gangs — committing intense orgies of sex and/or violence.

This slim collection of art unfortunately doesn’t include very many of Wilson’s comics. It’s mostly focused on his paintings, drawings and sketches, many of them recent. While it’s a nice supplemental book for fans who already own the artist’s more significant work (i.e. the comics), I can’t recommend it as an introductory volume. Those with the strength of stomach and heart to seek out his work should look elsewhere.

“The New Adventures of Jesus” by Frank Stack

144 pages, $19.95.

Stack’s “Jesus” comics actually predate Crumb’s “Zap” by a good few years, though the latter is more widely known. This book collects all of the “Jesus” stories, which Stack continued up to and including today.

The book begins as an insolent take on the New Testament, but Stack quickly uses the Messiah as a counterpoint to the madness of modern life. A holy Voltaire of sorts, Jesus goes up against Hollywood, academia, the legal system and even the Reagan administration.

Stack’s satire gets sharper and more savage as the years progress, showing up most folks’ selfishness and narcissism. By the book’s end, when Jesus asks his Dad if he can get a head start on the Last Judgment, you think that’s not such a bad idea.

“You Call This Art? A Greg Irons Retrospective”
by Patrick Rosenkran
Fantagraphics, 296 pages, $29.95.

Despite his artistic prowess, Greg Irons never achieved the recognition of many of his peers, most likely because of his death in 1984.

Hopefully, Rosenkranz’s book will raise the artist’s stature somewhat, as it includes a good deal of Irons’ stories, drawings, commercial work and a well-written account of the artist’s life. Irons’ work could be violent and gory, but also exquisitely detailed and rendered with a true craftsman’s care. He’s not someone who deserves to fade into obscurity.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Bests Comics of 2006, part four

OK, I am so not doing this again next year.

BEST FOREIGN (i.e. translated books that aren't manga) BOOKS of 2006

1. “Get A Life” by Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian.
How much do I love Dupuy and Berbarian? So much that I originally bought the M. Jean volumes in French and then a big-ass French/English dictionary, because my French sucks. I'm really glad these stories are available in English now though, if so I don't have to keep looking up what "avoir" means.

2. “Kampung Boy” by Lat.
Lat's one of those cartoonists you read about constantly. I seem to come across at least one big article a year extolling his virtues and lamenting his lack of presence in the U.S. Well, lament no more.

3. “Vampire Loves” by Joann Sfar.
The whole goth/emo schtick gets parodied and honored in Sfar's lovely tale of a wistful vampire and his lackluster love life. Of course, this being Sfar, it's about a lot more than that, like the fickle nature of early romances, the quest for true love and more.

4. “Everything is Complicated,” “Nothing is Simple,” “Mixed Messages” and “Sunny Spells” by Jean-Jacques Sempe.
I know there's a wide gap between general comics fans and those who follow gag cartoonists, but I was still surprised that this big release of Sempe's work didn't get more play. The man is just a phenomenal artist, full of grace and wit. These four books just confirm that status. Go out and track them down.

5. “Klezmer: Tales of the Wild East” by Joann Sfar.
Notice how there's a lot of Sfar on this list? There's a reason for that.

6. “Rocky Vol. 1: The Big Payback” by Martin Kellerman.
Again, another book that really didn't seem to garner a lot of attention from alt-comics readers (or, at least, bloggers). I thought Kellerman's anthropomorphic slacker was a riot, firmly in the tradition of satirists like Pete Bagge.

7. “Chicken with Plums” by Marjane Satrapi.
Satrapi tells the (fictionalized) tale of her uncle's death and comes up with her most involving story since Persepolis.

8. “Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda” by J.P. Stassen.
Haunting, brutal, powerful. A really great book that stays with you long after you put it down.

9. “Dungeon, Twilight: The Dragon Cemetery” and “Dungeon, Twilight: Armageddon” by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim.
There's that Sfar again. The Dungeon series is some of the most thrilling, fun comics I've read in awhile, much more so than most of what passes for "high adventure" from the big two publishers these days. If NBM does nothing but publish this series, they'll have justified their existence for me.

10. “A.I.L.E.E.N.” by Lewis Trondheim.
And there's Trondheim again. A silent, pitch-black comedy that uses an alien society to look at how we treat each other, and the value of good intentions, and doesn't come up with some very warm or fuzzy observations. Not for the kiddies, despite it's cutesy cover, but adults will howl with laughter when not too busy cringing.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Best Comics of 2006, part three

Oy. Remind me why I decided to do this again?

Anyway, here's

This particular list, has a lot of horror titles on it. That because that's mainly the type of manga I read this year. So my apologies to all the shonen and shojo and yaoi fans out there.

OK, on with the list:

1. “Ode to Kirihito” by Osamu Tezuka.
Well duh. How can you not put an expansive epic like this in the number one spot? Especially when it's by Tezuka and contains some of the best panel sequences you've ever laid eyes on? I mean, like, really.

2. “Abandon the Old in Tokyo” by Yoshihiro Tatsumi.
These handsomely designed books are a forceful reminder of the diversity that exists in manga. I know D&Q only plans on publishing a few more volumes of these, but I do hope that more Tatsumi is planned somewhere down the line.

3. “The Drifting Classroom” by Kazuo Umezu.
OK, now I get why Umezu is such a big deal in Japan. Over the top in all the right ways, utterly fearless and designed to make you feel as uneasy as possible, "Classroom" is unlike any manga I've ever read.

4. “Monster” by Naoki Urasawa.
Yes, Urasawa's "Fugitive"-style thriller is given to melodrama and sentimentality at times. But it's also a compelling page turner that is chock full of memorable characters and some great cartooning.

5. “Dragon Head” Minetaro Mochizuki.
Almost lost this one when Tokyopop declared it an online exlusive. Thankfully, the rethought the matter and now we can all enjoy the apocolypse from the comfort of our local comic shop.

6. “Museum of Terror” by Junji Ito.
Ito's work is scary, no doubt. But it's also suffused with a real absurdity; a black sense of humor which captivates me and puts this series up on the list.

7. “Golgo 13” by Takao Saito.
Ideally I'd like oto see more of the ridiculous Gogol stories and less of the "Gogol interacts with major historical events," but I'll take what superassassin sleuthing stories I can get.

8. “Life” by Suenobu Keiko.
Self-mutilation, teen-age suicide and general angst are the subjects of Keiko's shojo series, but it never comes off as maudlin or weepy, mainly due to her excellent use of visual metaphor.

9. “Dokebi Bride” by Marley.
This series really went under the radar for a lot of people and that's a shame. This touching tale of a young woman who must follow in her grandmother's footsteps and learn to be a shaman was one of the more thoughtful, smarter comics I read this year.

10. “Crying Freeman” by Kazuo Koike and Ryoichi Ikegami.
I think Jog said something along the lines of this being the "best book about naked people knifing each other." That about sums it up for me.

Tomorrow: The End.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Best Comics of 2006, part two

Continuing my never-ending (well not really, it just seems that way) countdown of favorite books of the past year, here's my list of the ...


1. “Curses” by Kevin Huizenga.
Even though I had read every single story in here before, there's no question that Huizenga's work remains, for me, illuminating and rewarding. Heck, "Jeepers Jacobs" along is better than 90 percent of the original material published this year. "Curses" is the perfect introduction for those who haven't sampled the artist's work before and I really hope it garners him a new legion of fans.

2. “Popeye: I Yam What I Yam” by E.C. Segar.
Just a phenomenal job of packaging and overall design here. And the strips are pretty great too. I already own most of the original Nemo books and I'm still planning on snatching up the rest of this series. It's that good.

3. “Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip Book One.”
How sad that I never had the chance in my childhood to be exposed to this thoroughly delightful, warm, melancholy and funny comic strip. How wonderful that thanks to Drawn and Quarterly I now have the opportunity to show it to my children.

4. “The Squirrel Mother and Other Stories” by Megan Kelso.
Kelso's produces work of sublime power and grace. Her stories are quiet yet subtly hint at deep emotional turmoil. This collection of short stories proves she's not a "promising new artist" but someone new cartoonists can look up to.

5. “Art Out of Time” edited by Dan Nadel.
Like some ink-stained archaelogist, Nadel uncovers a veritable treasure chest of wonderful comics you never new existed. Just about every single inclusion here are strong enough to deserve their own book (and in the case of the Terrible Thompson and upcoming Fletcher Hanks book, have). Let's hope a sequel of some sort is in the works.

6. “Castle Waiting” by Linda Medley.
I hadn't realized how much I missed Medley's fantasy series until I actually sat down with this collected volume. It's really nice to see her doing comics again.

7. “Walt & Skeezix Book 2” by Frank King.
Warm and yet haunting. Filled with life and yet tinged with melancholy. Deeply funny yet deeply aware of the toll the passage of time takes. King's "Gasoline Alley" was quite possibly the most human and humane comic strip of the 20th century.

8. “Shadowlands” by Kim Deitch.
I have a review of this coming up next week (a short review, but a review nonetheless). Let's just call "Shadowlands" a stunning tour-de-force tour through early 20th-century America, filled with Deitch's usual penchants for high melodrama and interest in how the art can transform and at the same time trap our lives. More of what you'd expect from a truly great cartoonist.

9. “An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons and True Stories,” edited by Ivan Brunetti.
As I said in my initial review of this anthology, if someone were to come up to me and ask what all the goldurn fuss was about these here comical books, this is the book I would hand them.

10. “The Complete Dick Tracy: Volume 1” by Chester Gould.
And with this, just about all of my most favorite comic strips ever sees print. Now if someone would just put together a "Toonerville Trolley" collection.

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