Kurt Busiek

Comic Book Improvisation

The Defenders: From the Vault - improvised comic book making (Marvel Comics)

This is something I’d like to explore more. As you might’ve noticed, I do a lot of performing with an improv comedy group called the Magic Meathands. We do shows with no script. We just make it up as we go.

And it turns out, sometimes in creating comic books, creators also have to make it up without a script.

A little back story: Monthly comic books tend to have regular creative teams but sometimes those teams fall behind schedule and the book can’t come out every month. So comics publishers will occasionally hire other creators to produce an inventory story for just in case. It’s basically filler material, but they can be fun stories and it buys the regular creative team more time. It’s a bit of a gamble because sometimes they end up paying for a story that never gets used.

And that’s exactly what happened in 2001. Marvel Comics was publishing a superhero comic called The Defenders. It reunited the Incredible Hulk, the Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange and Namor the Sub-Mariner (right), misfits all who had originally assembled under that name in the early 1970s. This new comic book series was written by Kurt Busiek (Astro City, Avengers/JLA) and Erik Larsen (Savage Dragon, Amazing Spider-Man) and drawn by Larsen and Klaus Janson (Daredevil, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns). Their editor Tom Brevoort (now Senior Vice President of Publishing) hired writer Fabian Nicieza (X-Men, New Warriors) and artist Mark Bagley (Ultimate Spider-Man, New Warriors) to create an inventory story. The two did so, collected their checks, and went on with their lives. It turns out the story was never needed, so the finished art pages were filed away.

Flash forward to today where Marvel is going through old desk drawers and publishing whatever looks ready, and up pops this lost Defenders story. Only problem is it was never scripted, which means the pages have no words on them. And apparently no one saved a copy of Fabian’s original plot outline or script. Well, surely Fabian wouldn’t mind scripting the pages now. He would surely do it except he’s under an exclusive contract with DC Comics. So, Marvel decided to hire another writer to do the scripting.

(Re-)enter: Kurt Busiek. Since the two know each other, Kurt asked Fabian for his original files to help in scripting. Bad news: Fabian lost everything in a computer crash years ago and has no idea what the story was originally about. Kurt also checked with Mark to see if he could remember anything. No such luck.

So Kurt is left with 22 pages of characters silently running around, talking, fighting, flying, leaping, punching, surfing, magicking, swimming, and who knows what else with no idea of why.

What to do? What else? Improvise.

From Kurt’s website:

So I look over the art, and Mark Bagley did indeed do a very nice job. And he’s a good enough storyteller that I can piece together an outline of what the story must be, at least in the basics. But the bits where explanations happen, where the texture and detail go that make it more than just a simple structure?

Haven’t a clue.

So I have to come up with a story to fit the art. A new story. One that might bear some resemblance to what Fabian intended, at least at the big structural moments, but other than that, it’s wide open.

And as I keep looking through the art, I get an idea. A pretty demented idea, really, based on one cryptic panel late in the book (You’ll know it when you see it. The script for that panel is “HTNN–!”). But it’s an idea that, demented as it is, won’t go away. And actually, I’m thinking, it could be kinda fun…

I tell Fabian the idea, mostly as a joke. But he laughs, and says that it sounds like a hoot, and it might even be better than whatever his original story was.

Like with live improv theater, Kurt has to accept what has been presented to him by his “scene partner” Mark Bagley. He has to say “Yes, everything here is happening, and…”. Nothing can be ignored, dropped or explained away. Then he has to build up from there, filling out the world Mark has drawn, adding details like location, plot revelations, opinions and reactions from the characters, and more. And as he goes through the pages, he’ll find a rhythm with Mark’s artwork where his new plot will seem to set up what happens in the art and vice versa. Of course, what makes it even more tricky is that Kurt is working with a very stubborn scene partner. Mark’s art is already set in stone. It’s like a stubborn scene partner determined to get their idea and agenda on the stage regardless of what else is going on. And the only thing Kurt can do is to stay open, “listen” for the smallest clue, take everything as a gift, embrace each visual idea with gusto and see where that takes him. If Kurt stays open, all of the pieces should come together to create something brand new that would never have existed in any other situation.

I’m looking forward to seeing how it comes out. The Defenders: From the Marvel Vault #1 will be released by Marvel Comics this summer, July 13.

DEFENDERS: FROM THE MARVEL VAULT #1

Written by FABIAN NICIEZA & KURT BUSIEK
Pencils & Cover by MARK BAGLEY

A Marvel Masterpiece from deep inside the treasure vaults can now be told! The original team of Doctor Strange, The Hulk, Silver Surfer and Namor are together again for a hidden adventure! But why was this tale lost? What happens in other dimensions stays in other dimensions, so what unspeakable secrets of the The Defenders are to be revealed? Find out at last in these pages with the illustrious words of Kurt Busiek (THE DEFENDERS, MARVELS) and the incomparable artwork of artist Mark Bagley (ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN)!

32 PGS./Rated T+ …$2.99

(Via Robot 6)

Boom! Kids expands to all-ages kaboom! with Peanuts

kaboom! launches with Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown

Los Angeles comics publisher Boom! Studios has been releasing info on their re-branded Boom! Kids imprint this and last week, and the big news is the March release of the first Peanuts original graphic novel Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown as the debut title of kaboom! (formerly teased as Boom! Kids 2.0). (Click on the image to the right for a preview, which immediately sold me on the previously unthinkable idea of buying something Peanuts-related that wasn’t directly written and illustrated by the late Charles Schulz.)

Not to be confused with the Mexican comic book studio ¡Ka-Boom! Estudio or the short-lived 1990s comic book series by Jeph Loeb and Jeff Matsuda called Kaboom or the Texas comic book store KABOOM Comics or the Virginia Beach comic book store Kaboom Collectibles or the Australian comic book store Kaboom! Comics, Boom’s kaboom! will also include Snarked! by Roger Langridge, who recently wrapped up an excellent run creating The Muppet Show Comic Book, as well as a licensed comic based on the PBS Kids animated series Word Girl, and a French Star Wars parody imported as Space Warped. The line will also retain their classic Disney comics Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, Mickey Mouse and Friends, Donald Duck and Friends, and Uncle Scrooge as well as the Disney Afternoon comics DuckTales, Darkwing Duck, and Chip ‘n Dale’s Rescue Rangers. (Disney has decided to pull the comics based on Pixar movies such as The Incredibles, Cars and Toy Story in-house where Marvel Comics will publish Disney•Pixar Presents, a magazine currently slated to reprint the Boom!-produced stories.)

Boom! publisher Ross Richie spoke with Comic Book Resources about kaboom! and the Peanuts graphic novel, and I was struck by his explanation for why the re-named Boom! Kids. From that interview:

“We had theorized for a while that we need to change it up for two reasons: one, we were seeing adults apologizing at conventions for buying the kids’ comics for themselves, and we wanted to remove this barrier. Seeing women in their 20s at Emerald City Comicon say, ‘I know the Incredibles comic book is made for kids, but it looks awesome and I love the art and I’m buying it anyway’ — that ain’t right. Let’s remove the perceived barrier,” Richie explained.

“We also knew on the other end that kids that can buy with their own dollars — let’s say 8 year olds for instance — didn’t consider themselves kids, so they were not sparking to the name,” he continued. “A lot of our content is great for this age group, so let’s get rid of that barrier.

“And through the process, what we ended up seeing was that our organic desire as a publisher hewed more towards being ‘all ages’ than a strict ‘kids’ publisher. So why not reflect that? Why not show everyone that our focus is shifting and changing?

I think that realization and change is significant, and it’s smart of them to listen to this and act on it. Many of the strongest material for young readers is in fact enjoyable for a wider cross section of people. It’s why Pixar movies are so successful. It’s why many of the classic Warner Brothers/Looney Tunes cartoons are so timeless. They don’t just speak to a narrow demographic. (As an aside, DC Comics has been publishing Looney Tunes comics for years.)

It kind of ties in with part of a new interview conducted by colorist Chris Sotomayor (Captain America, Hulk) with comics writer Kurt Busiek (JLA/Avengers, Astro City) (via The Beat). In talking about what’s lacking in the comics industry, Busiek said, “What we’re doing wrong is that we’re putting so much of our energy trying to make comics that will keep the existing audience on board, by concentrating the thrills, the hype and the excitement in ways that make the work forbidding to newcomers. And at the same time, not doing enough outreach to new audiences.” He goes on to break down how to bring in new audiences:

The four-part mantra of how to reach a new target audience remains true: 1. Publish material they will like. 2. Publish it in a form they’ll be willing to pick up. 3. Distribute it to places they will see it. 4. Tell them it exists.

When we reach out to new audiences, we often do only one of the four — and sometimes none, and then complain that it’s not possible.

Fortunately Boom! is doing it differently (and there are others too). They get that speaking to the same narrow audience is death in the long term. There’s nothing wrong with being a cult hit or making a product for a very specific audience, but when the majority of a publishing line is developed with that approach, there can only be finite interest.

Those four steps should be plastered on every comics publishers walls.

Static Shock creator/All-Star Superman screenwriter Dwayne McDuffie dies

Dwayne McDuffie by Glen Murakami & Andrew Pepoy (click for full bio)

The sad and unexpected death of Dwayne McDuffie was announced yesterday by Comic Book Resources. He passed away due to complications from a surgical procedure performed Monday evening.

Yesterday was also the day of the DVD release of All-Star Superman, an animated feature adaptation of the critically acclaimed comic book series of the same name by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. McDuffie was the direct-to-DVD movie’s screenwriter. He had previously written for the animated TV series “Justice League Unlimited”, and served as both producer and writer on Cartoon Network’s successful Ben 10 animated franchise.

In the comics world, he will be remembered for co-founding Milestone Media, which led to the Milestone imprint at DC Comics in the 1990s. His Milestone creation Static was later adapted into an animated series, “Static Shock”, on which McDuffie served as story editor and writer for several episodes. DC Comics has been reprinting a number of classic Milestone comics recently, including graphic novel collections of Hardware, Icon, and of course Static Shock. Earlier in McDuffie’s career he worked for Marvel Comics, where he co-created the comedy series Damage Control and successfully revamped Deathlok (both of which should’ve been made into movies by now).

McDuffie lived and worked in Los Angeles. He was a guest speaker at CSUN’s Superheroes Seminar with Charles Hatfield last Fall (read Hatfield’s touching eulogy), and would make in-store appearances at local comic book stores to sign books and DVDs. He had appeared at the LA screening of All-Star Superman last week at The Paley Center, and was scheduled to appear at tonight’s ReggiesWorld.com launch party at Golden Apple in West Hollywood. The final hours of that Golden Apple event have been converted to a Tribute to Dwayne McDuffie starting at 8 PM tonight. Fans and professionals alike are invited to attend.

As remembrances started pouring in, two stories caught my attention on Twitter. I think they illustrate the kind of humor and intelligence at his disposal. In my mind they underscore his importance as a respected professional who fought from within for diversity and a stronger industry. (more…)

New Graphic Novels, Comic Books for You – 12/23

Never read a graphic novel before? Haven’t read a comic book in years?

Here’s some brand new stuff that came out the week of December 23 that I think is worth a look-see for someone with little to no history with comics. That means you should be able to pick any of these up cold without having read anything else. So take a look and see if something doesn’t grab your fancy. If so, follow the publisher links or Amazon.com links to buy yourself a copy. Or, head to your local friendly comic book shop.

Disclaimer: For the most part, I have not read these yet, so I can’t vouch for their quality. But, from what I’ve heard and seen, odds are good they just might appeal to you.

Action Philosophers!: More Than Complete – $24.99
By Fred Van Lente & Ryan Dunlavey
320 pages; published by Evil Twin Comics; available at Amazon.com

Imagine Plato as a wrestling superstar of ancient Greece, Nietzsche as the original ubermensch, and Bohidharma as the grand master of kung fu. These are not just great thinkers they also make great comics. Action Philosophers details the lives and thoughts of history’s A-list brain trust in hip and humorous comic book fashion. All nine issues of the award-winning, best-selling comic book series have been collected into a single volume, making this a comprehensive cartoon history of ideas from pre-Socratics to Jacques Derrida, including four new stories. You’ll never have more fun getting the real scoop on the big ideas that have made the world the mess we live in today! Tom Morris (Author of Philosophy for Dummies, If Aristotle Ran General Motors, and If Harry Potter Ran General Electric).

I’ve got an issue of this that looks at Ayn Rand and it’s excellent. Fun and informative. This same team is working on a comic about the history of comics, which astoundingly has never been done before to my knowledge, called Comic Book Comics. Here’s an 8-page preview of Action Philosophers looking at Carl Jung.

The Great Anti-War Cartoons – $24.99
By various; edited by Craig Yoe
184 pages; published by Fantagraphics Books; available at Amazon.com

For centuries, cartoonists have used their pens to fight a war against war, translating images of violent conflict into symbols of protest. Noted comics historian Craig Yoe brings the greatest of these artists together in one place, presenting the ultimate collection of anti-war cartoons ever assembled. Together, these cartoons provide a powerful testament to the old adage, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” and remind us that so often in the 20th century, it was the editorial cartoonist who could say the things his fellow newspapermen and women only dreamed of, enlightening and rallying a nation against unjust aggression.

Readers of The Great Anti-War Cartoons will find stunning artwork in a variety of media and forms (pen-and-ink, wash, watercolor, woodcut — single images and sequential comic strips) from the hands of Francisco Goya to Art Young, from Robert Minor to Ron Cobb, and from Honoré Daumier to Robert Crumb, as well as page after page of provocative images from such titans as James Montgomery Flagg, C.D. Batchelor, Edmund Sullivan, Boardman Robinson, William Gropper, Maurice Becker, George Grosz, Gerald Scarfe, Bill Mauldin, Art Spiegelman and many more. The book also includes an Introduction by 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Muhammad Yunus and a Foreword by Library of Congress curator Sara W. Duke.

This book is neither ideological nor parochial: The cartoons range across the political spectrum from staunch conservative flag-wavers to radicals and hippies, and span two centuries and the entire globe (Australia, Russia, Poland, France…). But their message remains timeless and universal.

What better way to celebrate the season of peace than this collection of anti-war editorial comics? Well, OK, maybe there are better ways, like donating to charities or volunteering with anti-war movements, but this is a good way, too. Here’s a 10-page preview in PDF. There are comics dating back to the 1800s. Pretty fascinating. I particularly like the one from 1915 by Luther Bradley and the one from 1920 by Jay “Ding” Darling.

The Original Johnson, Volume 1 – $19.99
By Trevor Von Eeden
128 pages; published by IDW Publishing; available at Amazon.com

At last – The Original Johnson, Trevor Von Eeden’s personal and heartfelt graphic novel biography of Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion of the world, international celebrity, and the most controversial American of his time. This is the artistic achievement of Trevor’s career (Batman, Black Canary, Black Lightning, Green Arrow), more than four years in the making and worth every moment.

Originally published online at ComicMix.com, this has been in the works for over 12 years. It is a passionate and unrestrained depiction of Johnson’s life and the racial tension of America at the time. You can read the first 100 or so pages at ComicMix. (Oh and by the way: IDW, update your online store.)

Marvels – $24.99
By Kurt Busiek & Alex Ross
248 pages; published by Marvel Comics; available at Amazon.com

“MARVELS is a giant leap forward in the evolution of illustrated literature.” — Stan Lee

Welcome to New York. Here, burning figures roam the streets, men in brightly colored costumes scale the glass and concrete walls, and creatures from space threaten to devour our world. This is the Marvel Universe, where the ordinary and fantastic interact daily. This is the world of Marvels.

Originally released in 1994 to much acclaim and enthusiasm, this new printing provides a great introduction to the world of superheroes and the superhero world of the Marvel Universe in particular. Looking back at it now, the painted art feels like it’s a little much (do superheroes really need to be that realistic and life like?) but with superhero movies now a pretty normal occurrence, maybe it was never that big of a leap. Either way, the story is told from the point of view of a normal guy in Marvel’s New York struggling through life as flashy dressed people with extraordinary abilities start running around the city and inevitably break things. There’s a small preview at the Amazon link above.

Footnotes in Gaza – $29.95
By Joe Sacco
432 pages; published by Metropolitan Books; available at Amazon.com

From the great cartoonist-reporter, a sweeping, original investigation of a forgotten crime in the most vexed of places.

Rafah, a town at the bottommost tip of the Gaza Strip, is a squalid place. Raw concrete buildings front trash-strewn alleys. The narrow streets are crowded with young children and unemployed men. On the border with Egypt, swaths of Rafah have been bulldozed to rubble. Rafah is today and has always been a notorious flashpoint in this bitterest of conflicts.

Buried deep in the archives is one bloody incident, in 1956, that left 111 Palestinians dead, shot by Israeli soldiers. Seemingly a footnote to a long history of killing, that day in Rafah—cold-blooded massacre or dreadful mistake—reveals the competing truths that have come to define an intractable war. In a quest to get to the heart of what happened, Joe Sacco immerses himself in daily life of Rafah and the neighboring town of Khan Younis, uncovering Gaza past and present. Spanning fifty years, moving fluidly between one war and the next, alive with the voices of fugitives and schoolchildren, widows and sheikhs, Footnotes in Gaza captures the essence of a tragedy.

As in Palestine and Safe Area Goražde, Sacco’s unique visual journalism has rendered a contested landscape in brilliant, meticulous detail. Footnotes in Gaza, his most ambitious work to date, transforms a critical conflict of our age into an intimate and immediate experience.

I’m a big admirer of Joe Sacco and his work, and here it looks like he’s going one step further in developing comics journalism, where he targets one specific story to investigate. Here’s a great preview (PDF) that pulled me right in. I need to get this.

Luke on the Loose – $4.99
By Harry Bliss
32 pages; published by Toon Books; available at Amazon.com

Luke looks on at the pigeons in Central Park, while Dad is lost in “boring Daddy talk,” and before you know it—LUKE IS ON THE LOOSE! He’s free as a bird, on a hilarious solo flight through New York City.

Harry Bliss, the renowned illustrator of many bestselling children’s books, finally goes on a solo flight on his own with a soaring story that will delight any young reader who has ever felt cooped up.

This looks very cute. Recommended for kids age 4-8, but I won’t tell anyone if you’re older and get this because it looks very charming and fun. Here is a preview of the kid running through the city with his new pigeon friends causing mayhem.

Alec: The Years Have Pants (A Life-Sized Omnibus) – $35.00
By Eddie Campbell
640 pages; published by Top Shelf Productions; available at Amazon.com

For the first time ever, the groundbreaking autobiographical comics of master cartoonist Eddie Campbell (FROM HELL) are collected in a single volume!

Brilliantly observed and profoundly expressed, the ALEC stories present a version of Eddie’s own life, filtered through the alter ego of “Alec MacGarry.” Over many years, we witness Alec’s (and Eddie’s) progression “from beer to wine” — wild nights at the pub, existential despair, the hunt for love, the quest for art, becoming a responsible breadwinner, feeling lost at his own movie premiere, and much more! Eddie’s outlandish fantasies and metafictional tricks convert life into art, while staying fully grounded in his own absurdity. At every point, the author’s uncanny eye for irony and wry self-awareness make even the smallest occasion into an opportunity for wit and wisdom. Quite simply, ALEC is a masterpiece of visual autobiography.

ALEC: THE YEARS HAVE PANTS (A LIFE-SIZE OMNIBUS) collects the previous Alec books THE KING CANUTE CROWD, GRAFFITI KITCHEN, HOW TO BE AN ARTIST, LITTLE ITALY, THE DEAD MUSE, THE DANCE OF LIFEY DEATH, AFTER THE SNOOTER, as well as a generous helping of rare and never-before-seen material, including an all-new 35-page book, THE YEARS HAVE PANTS.

I don’t know, that blurb kind of says it all. Here’s a 16-page preview.

New to Comics? New Comics for You! 7/8/09

Never read a graphic novel before? Haven’t read a comic book in years?

Here’s some brand new stuff coming out this week that I think is worth a look-see for someone with little to no history with comics. That means you should be able to pick any of these up cold without having read anything else. So take a look and see if something doesn’t grab your fancy. If so, follow the publisher links or Amazon.com links to buy yourself a copy. Or, head to your local friendly comic book shop.

Disclaimer: While it may seem like it, I do not live in the future. For the most part, I have not read these yet, so I can’t vouch for their quality. But, from what I’ve heard and seen, odds are good they just might appeal to you.

Pixu: The Mark of Evil – $17.95
By Gabriel Ba, Becky Cloonan, Vasilis Lolos & Fabio Moon
128 pages; published by Dark Horse Comics; available at Amazon.com

This gripping tale of urban horror follows the lives of five lonely tenants — strangers — whose lives become intertwined when they discover a dark mark scrawled on the walls of their building. The horror sprouts quite innocently from a small seed and finds life as something otherworldly, damaged, full of love, hate, fear, and power. As the walls come alive, everyone is slowly driven mad — defenseless against the evil in the building, stripped of free will, leaving only confusion, chaos, and eventual death.

Originally self-published as a two-volume book, this groundbreaking work receives a deluxe presentation in a hardcover edition with a sketchbook section.

* The 2008 Eisner Award-winning team for Best Anthology — Gabriel Bá (The Umbrella Academy), Becky Cloonan (American Virgin), Vasilis Lolos (The Last Call), and Fábio Moon (Sugarshock) — return with their latest collaboration, Pixu: The Mark of Evil.

“The story telling here is beautiful, creating a real sense of dread and supernatural menace. Smart, subtle and genuinely disturbing.” -Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy

A very generous 17-page preview for you. I met Becky Cloonan last year during Comic-Con for my Barbie photo-blog. She’s already incredibly talented, so there’s really no need to be that cool. I wish someone would set her straight. Anyway, this a creepy thing filled with psychological horror.

Sinfest Volume 1 – $14.95
By Tatsuya Ishida
208 pages; published by Dark Horse Comics; available at Amazon.com

AT LAST! “The webcomic to end all webcomics” has landed at Dark Horse, and we’re starting the collections at the beginning! Sinfest is one of the most-read and longest-running webcomics out there, and explores religion, advertising, sex, and politics in a way fleen.com calls “both brutally funny and devastatingly on-target.” In an era when most syndicated newspaper strips are watered down and uninspired, creator Tatsuya Ishida draws on influences ranging fromCalvin and Hobbes and Peanuts to manga and pop culture to bring us a breath of fresh air. If your comic-strip craving hasn’t been satisfied since the nineties, deliverance is finally at hand.

* The first volume of Sinfest collects the first six hundred Sinfest strips, introducing the full cast of characters and the opening installments of Ninja Theatre, beat poetry, calligraphy lessons, and the irresistible Pooch & Percival strips.

* Web traffic on Sinfest.net averages 1.7 million unique visitors per month and 300,000 page hits per day.

* “After seven years and counting, Tatsuya Ishida shows every indication of maturing into a cartoonist on the level of Bill Watterson and Walt Kelly.” -The Comics Journal, “50 Excellent Comics from 2007″

* “The best webcomic out there.” -comicsworthreading.com

* ” . . . Sinfest offers many laughs; it may be brutally funny, but it is dead honest and refreshing.” -Publisher’s Weekly

Running since January 17, 2000, the Sinfest webcomic launched and has been running daily ever since. That’s a pretty impressive run. You can go sample the entire run right there at Sinfest.net, so who cares how I describe it? Go check it out!

The Nobody – $19.99
By Jeff Lemire
144 pages; published by DC Comics’ Vertigo; available at Amazon.com

“Lemire handles the stuff of a Willa Cather novel with equal poetry . . . He renders emotion and temperment in a cartoon face with breathtaking, masterful economy.” 
— Booklist on The Essex County Trilogy

The tiny, isolated fishing village of Large Mouth never saw much excitement — until the arrival of the stranger, that is. Wrapped from head to toe in bandages and wearing weird goggles, he quietly took up residence in the sleepy town’s motel. Driven by curiosity, the townfolk quickly learn the tragic story of his past, and of the terrible accident that left him horribly disfigured. Eventually, the town embraces the stranger as one of their own — but do his bandages hide more than just scars?

Inspired by H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, THE NOBODY explores themes of identity, fear and paranoia in a small community from up-and-coming alternative comics creator and Xeric Award-winner Jeff Lemire (The Essex County Trilogy) in a special two-color story that’ll have you guessing until the very end.

I’m really wanting this. I could post a preview, but I’ll do y0u one better because you deserve it. Here’s a teaser trailer of The Nobody:

North 40 #1 – $2.99
By Aaron Williams & Fiona Staples
32 pages; published by DC Comics’ WildStorm

Somewhere in Midwestern America was a place called Conover County. When the old book was opened, and the runes therein used in haste and ignorance, a place of farms, simple folk, and small-town dreams became a den of monsters and nightmare. NORTH 40 is the story of those who survived and came to confront an even greater evil on the horizon – one that wouldn’t just consume their flesh, but their souls as well. Heroes arise with power to bring against the dark: Wyatt, an unwilling protector of his former tormentors; Amanda, an apprentice to forgotten arts; and Sheriff Morgan, whose bonds with Conover County go back farther than even he can remember. See where it started, and watch where it’s all going in NORTH 40 #1. 

Created by Aaron Williams (PS238, The Nodwick Chronicles) and Fiona Staples (SECRET HISTORY OF THE AUTHORITY: HAWKSMOOR).

I like the visuals on the cover. Here’s a 3-page preview. Crazy horror monster attacks middle America.

Wednesday Comics #1 – $3.99
By everyone
16 pages; published by DC Comics

In July, DC Comics gives a fresh twist to a grand comics tradition with WEDNESDAY COMICS, a new, weekly 12-issue series by some of the greatest names in comics today! 

WEDNESDAY COMICS is unique in modern comics history: Reinventing the classic weekly newspaper comics section, it is a 16-page weekly that unfolds to a sprawling 28″ x 20″ tabloid-sized reading experience bursting with mind-blowing color, action and excitement, with each feature on its own 14″ x 20″ page.

Spearheaded by DCU Editorial Art Director Mark Chiarello, whose past editing credits include BATMAN BLACK and WHITE, DC: THE NEW FRONTIER and SOLO, each page of WEDNESDAY COMICS spotlights the continuing adventures of DC heroes, including: 

• BATMAN, WEDNESDAY COMICS’ weekly cover feature, by the Eisner Award-winning 100 BULLETS team of writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso 
• ADAM STRANGE, by writer/artist Paul Pope (BATMAN: YEAR 100) 
• METAMORPHO, written by New York Times best-selling writer Neil Gaiman with Art by Eisner Award-winner Michael Allred (Madman) 
• THE DEMON AND CATWOMAN, written by Walter Simonson (Thor, MANHUNTER) with Art by famed DC cover artist Brian Stelfreeze 
• DEADMAN, written by Dave Bullock and Vinton Heuck, Art by Dave Bullock 
• KAMANDI, written by Dave Gibbons (WATCHMEN, GREEN LANTERN CORPS) with Art by Ryan Sook (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, ARKHAM ASYLUM: LIVING HELL) 
• SUPERMAN, written by John Arcudi (The Mask) with Art by Lee Bermejo (JOKER) 
• WONDER WOMAN, written and illustrated by Ben Caldwell (Dare Detectives) 
• GREEN LANTERN, written by Kurt Busiek (TRINITY, ASTRO CITY) with Art by Joe Quiñones (TEEN TITANS GO!) 
• TEEN TITANS, written by Eddie Berganza with Art by Sean Galloway 
• SUPERGIRL, written by Jimmy Palmiotti (JONAH HEX) with Art by Amanda Conner (POWER GIRL) 
• HAWKMAN, written and illustrated by Kyle Baker (PLASTIC MAN, Special Forces) 
• SGT. ROCK, written by Adam Kubert (SUPERMAN: LAST SON), ilustrated by legendary comics artist Joe Kubert 
• THE FLASH, written by Karl Kerschl (TEEN TITANS YEAR ONE, THE FLASH: THE FASTEST MAN ALIVE) and Brenden Fletcher, illustrated by Karl Kerschl
• METAL MEN, written by Dan DiDio with Art by Ian Churchill (SUPERGIRL) 

WEDNESDAY COMICS will arrive in stores folded twice to 7″ x 10″, with the first issue set to reach stores on July 8.

Another exciting release from DC Comics. In the early 1900′s, one comic strip would take up an entire page, instead of the compartmentalized square inches of today. Strips like Winsor McKay’s Little Nemo had an entire newspaper sheet to stretch out and experiment, still even larger than modern comic books. That expanded canvass returns here in a bit of an experimental format, which is always risky with habit-entrenched comic readers. Some huge talent has been brought in to work on these stories, all guaranteed to be completely accessible superhero adventures. Seriously, this is more like it. The only stumbling block is the price but hopefully you and others will be taken by the novelty of experiencing comics like this for the first time in decades. Heck, USA Today is excited by it, and if they like it…!

Everybody Is Stupid Except For Me and Other Astute Observations – $16.99
By Peter Bagge
112 pages; published by Fantagraphics Books; available at Amazon.com

Fans of Peter Bagge’s generation-defining, satirical fiction may not realize this, but the cartoonist doubles as an opinionated cuss, and has been contributing provocative (but still hilarious) comic-strip opinion pieces to Reason magazine for the last several years… finally collected in this volume.

Although a libertarian by inclination (hence the Reason gig), Bagge (who lives in the fuzzy-headed, liberal capital of the Northwest, Seattle) is hardly dogmatic, and many of the pieces undermine traditional party lines in favor of a rather personal, rational and informed take on hot-button issues that will force partisan Democrats and Republicans alike to rethink them. And of course, Bagge’s well-researched comic strip “essays” crackle with the same energy and wit that propelled him into the collective Gen X consciousness with his comic book series Hate.

Favorite topics include the erosion of our civil liberties (whether the post-9/11 Bush administration’s gradual erosion of the Bill of Rights, the insanity of the war on drugs, or nanny-state meddling), ongoing boondoggles of the American public (for professional sports stadiums or ineffective public transportation systems), the Iraq war (Bagge is vociferously against it), so-called art and so-called entertainment, the homeless, the mall-ification of America, politicians both in general and in particular (including the 2008 presidential race and a revelatory one-on-one with Republican not-so-hopeful Ron Paul that soured Bagge on the candidate forever), the conservative/religious war on sex and drugs, and whether citizens should be allowed to own bazookas. Each piece features the voluble Bagge himself front and center as the puzzled, indignant, or deeply conflicted everyman-on-the-street trying to make sense of this 21st Century.

And of course, every panel is delineated in Bagge’s glorious, laugh-out-loud stretchy 4-color cartoon style, making even his disquisitions on some very serious topics go down as smoothly as Buddy Bradley’s latest escapade.

“Like all good political cartoonists, Bagge can be cruel. But he’s also willing to skewer himself when he deserves it… as libertarian polemicists go, he’s a lot more fun than, say, Ayn Rand.” – The Washington Post

I don’t always agree with his position, but his exploration is always great. And hearing other opinions and positions (especially well-informed like his), is almost always worthwhile. I remember the Ron Paul incident, which even got a little bit of mainstream(-ish) press right in the middle of the Presidential debates. Here’s a 12-page preview.

New Warriors: Classic, Volume 1 – $24.99
By Fabian Nicieza & Mark Bagley
208 pages; published by Marvel Comics; available at Amazon.com

His parents dead, Dwayne Taylor — a.k.a. Night Thrasher — set out to create a new family for himself and ended up with the premier super-team of the 1990s! Marvel Boy and Firestar! Namorita and Nova! Speedball! All they want to do is change the world! Decide for yourself how well they managed it in their trials by fire against Terrax and the Juggernaut! Also featuring anti-heroes Star-Thief and Psionex! Guest-starring Thor and the Inhumans! Collecting NEW WARRIORS #1-6 and THOR #411-412.

Look, this is my website, and I’ll recommend whatever I want! OK, look I’m not immune to nostalgia. This is the first superhero comic I was seriously devoted to and it really opened up my love for comics. This isn’t the series at its peak, but here is where it all started. At 14 years old, I was thrilled by these stories, mostly because it was like a Saturday morning cartoon with the most personal and realistic characterization I had encountered up to that point. These were kids my age or a bit older with “real” problems like divorcing or abusive parents, awkward crushes, and a still-developing sense of self. And then they used their cool powers to go on fun adventures, so it wasn’t entirely consumed by teen angst. I was hooked. For years. Heck, I still am.

Asterios Polyp – $29.95
By David Mazzucchelli
344 pages; published by Pantheon Books; available at Amazon.com

The triumphant return of one of comics’ greatest talents, with an engrossing story of one man’s search for love, meaning, sanity, and perfect architectural proportions. An epic story long awaited, and well worth the wait. 

Meet Asterios Polyp: middle-aged, meagerly successful architect and teacher, aesthete and womanizer, whose life is wholly upended when his New York City apartment goes up in flames. In a tenacious daze, he leaves the city and relocates to a small town in the American heartland. But what is this “escape” really about? 

As the story unfolds, moving between the present and the past, we begin to understand this confounding yet fascinating character, and how he’s gotten to where he is. And isn’t. And we meet Hana: a sweet, smart, first-generation Japanese American artist with whom he had made a blissful life. But now she’s gone. Did Asterios do something to drive her away? What has happened to her? Is she even alive? All the questions will be answered, eventually.

In the meantime, we are enthralled by Mazzucchelli’s extraordinarily imagined world of brilliantly conceived eccentrics, sharply observed social mores, and deftly depicted asides on everything from design theory to the nature of human perception.

Asterios Polyp
is David Mazzucchelli’s masterpiece: a great American graphic novel.

This is another huge release. Maybe the biggest one here (after New Warriors Classic of course). David Mazzucchelli is a great talent whose releases are criminally few and far between. Superhero fans know him from his collaboration with Frank Miller, Batman: Year One, but that doesn’t matter next to this.

This is a great week for comics. Almost something for everyone: horror, humor, heroes. Plenty to choose from! As it should be. Enjoy!