Eric Drooker

Comic-Con Wrap-Up: Banjo Playing and Speedo Wearing

My Comic-Con 2011 Haul

My Comic-Con 2011 Haul (click to see what I got)

Those two things didn’t happen at the same time but they were two of the most memorable moments of Comic-Con for me this year.

As the comic fates would have it, I was only able to attend one day of Comic-Con this year. Dreading the annual 3-hour drive down to San Diego, I decided instead to ride Amtrak’s Surfliner train down to San Diego from LA’s Union Station to spend the day, and then head back that same night. It ended up being a great way to get around the inevitably terrible traffic and parking headaches. I got to relax, enjoy the spectacular view of the California coast, check out Comic-Con’s app (much improved over last year) to mark panels I might want to see, waste time on Facebook without feeling guilty, take a nap or two, and on the way back I got to read some of the awesome graphic novels I bought. It was dreamy. I will almost surely be doing this from now on (until Comic-Con finally moves up to LA to make it more convenient for me).

Because I only had one day, I wasn’t able to do everything (impossible even if you’re every minute of the day). There were a few people I couldn’t connect with (sorry, Kristian and Brandon!), some publisher tables I never got to (sorry, Boom!, Archaia and IDW!), and some panels I missed (ThunderCats nooo…). Another day probably would’ve done it for what I wanted to do. But I bought a (very heavy!) ton of graphic novels, got to hang out with Scott Shaw! and share a laugh with Sergio Aragonés, and got to experience two things that really stood out as unique and made me absolutely happy that the world of comics exists.

© Eric Drooker, http://drooker.com

© Eric Drooker

The first was artist Eric Drooker‘s panel. Here’s how Comic-Con’s program described it:

Visual artist and Comic-Con special guest Eric Drooker will project hundreds of his magical images and explore how his early years as a street artist in New York City inspired his award-winning graphic novels Flood! and Blood Song. He’ll discuss the process of designing the animation for the recent hit film Howl, starring James Franco, and how he adapted it for the new book, Howl: A Graphic Novel. Best known for his numerous cover paintings for The New Yorker, Drooker will tell hilarious-but-true stories of how he wound up getting published.

A pretty straightforward description. Drooker is a fantastic artist and storyteller, so hearing him talk about his process and history sounded great. It turned out to be so much more than that. He did talk quite a bit about his work and his background, but Eric Drooker also happens to be a talented musician. Over the projected slideshow of his artwork, which has a haunted quality evocative of woodcuts from the 1910s and ’20s, Drooker played his banjo or harmonica and occasionally sang. Like his art, the music he created seemed to harken back a century. There was something incredibly powerful, moving and intimate about seeing and hearing two different forms of art that he had created and was creating live right before us. It seemed like such a personal expression. Here he was expressing himself to us on multiple levels, visually and sonically, and with such immediacy. I guess the easy description is that he created a soundtrack for his own art, but it felt deeper yet more transcendent than simple accompaniment. It was beautiful.

Ajax Wood as Cannibal F***face from Johnny Ryan's Prison Pit 3

Ajax Wood as Cannibal F***face of Johnny Ryan's Prison Pit 3

The second event was a tad sillier but a great example of how comics can take back some of the main spotlight from Hollywood at Comic-Con. I was standing near the Fantagraphics booth when this growling voice bellowed out over the conversations and white noise of the convention floor. In stalked a large hairy man covered in fake blood and wearing nothing but a speedo. He immediately started yelling at people around him, threatening them, cursing at them, mocking them. Now this is Comic-Con, so while there was some confusion, it didn’t take long to figure it out. The bloody man started pacing like a caged tiger behind Johnny Ryan, who was quietly signing copies of his new graphic novel Prison Pit 3. Johnny Ryan is a hilarious cartoonist but he is most definitely not for children. Crass and abrasive, his punchlines are more like blunt objects of comedy that shock and delight at their willful disregard for… everything. He released the third in his Prison Pit series of graphic novels at this year’s Comic-Con. It’s basically a trilogy of absolute violence and gore done on such a deliriously excessive level far beyond the parodying done on The Itchy & Scratchy Show from Matt Groening’s The Simpsons. As a promotional stunt, Johnny Ryan and his publisher Fantagraphics had performance artist Ajax Wood (aka Ardent Vein) done up to look like the main character in Prison Pit, Cannibal F***face. Everything Wood yelled was dialogue from Prison Pit 3. Some of the other exhibitors were mildly annoyed at the disruption, but I think it was a great promotional bit. Now maybe this example scared off more people than it drew in, but it certainly fit into the spirit of Johnny Ryan’s work, which itself isn’t exactly mainstream (although he regularly contributes to Vice Magazine). So it’s actually a pretty accurate marketing stunt. If that kind of spectacle is something that amuses you or draws you in, you’ll probably like Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit 3. Personally, I would’ve given him a few assistants (maybe with fliers) and had him skulk around the convention floor a little bit before sticking him behind the Fantagraphics booth. But it was great. It got people’s attention. Usually at Comic-Con, all of the really flashy stuff is from Hollywood. Publishers and artists would do well to remember that comics are worth some creative pomp and circumstance too. Comics should be the main spectacle of Comic-Con.

The common thread between these two events is that the artists found a way to add performance art to their work. The two had different goals and purposes (one was a panel, one was a book signing) but people in comics are creative enough to come up with more ways to add a level of performance to their art for public appearances like conventions. When they meld so perfectly with the artist and their work, like these two did, it adds a new level of experience and awareness for fans. And it brings back some of that unorthodox spirit that comics have had in the past that make them so memorable.

New Graphic Novels, Comic Books for You – 11/11

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 November 11 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.

Pope Hats #1 – $4.00
By Ethan Rilly
32 pages; published by AdHouse Books

Pope Hats follows the trials of a young woman named Frances Scarland, whose social circle mainly consists of an alcoholic actress and an inept ghost named Saarsgard. The comic is an engaging slice-of-life story about young people navigating their own daily shortcomings.

Pope Hats was the winner of a 2008 Xeric Foundation Grant. An earlier mini-comic version of the story was shortlisted for the 2008 Doug Wright Awards in the category of Best Emerging Talent.

Here’s a preview, sadly only 1 page. Looks pretty enjoyable, though. I wish I had an inept ghost in my life.

Blood Song: A Silent Ballad – $19.95
By Eric Drooker
312 pages; published by Dark Horse Comics; available at Amazon.com

American Book Award winner Eric Drooker brings his second graphic novel — the visually bold and politically charged Blood Song: A Silent Ballad — to Dark Horse in a brand-new second edition!

Consisting mainly of full-page images, spreads, and diptychs, Blood Song is a wordless, full-color tribute to the resilience of the human spirit and the need for that spirit to make itself heard. A young girl travels from her war-torn island to a busy metropolis, from lush jungles to cold concrete and steel, and finds something that eludes most denizens of bustling, noisy, wasteful cities: love.

* This second edition of Blood Song includes a new cover and completely rescanned and remastered interiors.

* If you are unfamiliar with the work of Eric Drooker, go to drooker.com.

We featured the first edition of this book in our documentary Dig Comics, so we’re very excited to see it back in print. This is beautiful work. Here’s a 3-page preview.

Luna Park – $24.99
By Kevin Baker & Danijel Zezelj
160 pages; published by DC Comics’ Vertigo Books; available at Amazon.com

‘The most satisfying story I’ve read – in any medium – in years. Perhaps the greatest work of one of America’s greatest writers.’ – Darin Strauss (Chang and Eng)

‘Frightening, beautiful and compelling to the very last panel.’ – Denise Mina (HELLBLAZER, Slip of the Knife)

New York Times bestselling author Kevin Baker (Dreamland) writes his first original graphic novel, with internationally acclaimed artist Danijel Zezelj.

Alik Strelnikov lives in the shadow of Coney Island, a world of silenced rides and rusting amusement parks that mock his dreams of becoming a hero. Ten years ago, he traded a brutal existence in the Russian army for the promise of America only to become an enforcer in the Brooklyn mob. Now, he chases his ghosts with all he has left: booze, heroin and his lover, Marina, part-time prostitute and full-time fortune teller.

The only way the two of them can escape their miserable fates hinges on a desperate plan that will put them between warring mobs and span a century, from contemporary Coney Island to the Russia of the Second Chechen War to spellbinding 1910s New York.

Mixing historical novel, immigrant fiction and crime thriller, LUNA PARK marks Kevin Baker’s return to Coney Island, the setting of his critically beloved Dreamland and features breathtaking art by Danijel Zezelj (LOVELESS) with to-die-for colors by Dave Stewart (DC: THE NEW FRONTIER).

This has been getting a lot of press, mostly because of Kevin Baker’s prominence in the book world. Crossing over from writing novels to writing graphic novels isn’t always smooth. It’s a different language requiring a different skill set. But the reviews have been pretty favorable. This looks like a good one. Here’s a great big 12-page preview (although the reader is a bit cumbersome).

A Kidnapped Santa Claus – $14.99
By L. Frank Baum & Alex Robinson
72 pages; published by It Books; available at Amazon.com

Santa Claus lives in the Laughing Valley. On one side of the Valley is the mighty Forest of Burzee, home of the fairies. At the other side stands a terrible mountain that contains the caves of the daemons: Selfishness, Envy, Hatred, and Repentance. The daemons, thinking they have great cause to dislike old Santa, enact a treacherous plan on Christmas Eve. Then, with Santa curiously absent, only Santa’s magical friends can save Christmas!

This comic adaptation retells the classic Christmas tale of adventure and danger by L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz.

Something for the whole family during the holiday season. The story was originally published in 1904 and appears here in comic form courtesy of the talented cartoonist Alex Robinson. Here’s a healthy preview.

The Ghoul #1 – $3.99
By Steve Niles & Bernie Wrightson
32 pages; published by IDW Publishing

When Los Angeles Detective Lieutenant Lloyd Klimpt finds himself in the middle of a Hollywood mystery that falls way outside the norm, he knows he’s going to need a different kind of help than he’s used to. He finds it in the bizarre form of The Ghoul, a monstrous investigator with a reputation for solving the world’s weirdest crimes.

Written and created by Steve Niles (30 Days of Night), with art by industry legend Bernie Wrightson. Also included is an illustrated prose story by Niles.

Bernie Wrightson is so good. A little post-Halloween detective tale for you. Check out this preview.

Beast – $15.99
By Marian Churchland
152 pages; published by Image Comics; available at Amazon.com

The first full-length solo work of MARIAN CHURCHLAND, artist of ELEPHANTMEN # 18-20, and Conan: Trophy.

Colette, a young sculptor looking for work, finds a job with a mysterious client who wants her to carve his portrait out of marble. The client turns out to be a shadowy creature, and the block of marble, she discovers, has a long history that threatens to engulf her entirely.

There’s a nice elegance to this art, but don’t mistake that for being timid, as the heavy blacks for the shadowy creature show. I’m intrigued. There’s a preview at the publisher link above.

The Year of Loving Dangerously – $18.95
By Ted Rall & Pablo G. Callejo
128 pages; published by NBM Publishing; available at Amazon.com

It’s the 80’s and Ted is in college in New York City and slipping. His pranks, lack of focus, and restlessness get him kicked out of school.

Unable to find a job, rejected by his parents, he’s on the verge of suicide. Instead he finds comfort in the arms of many women he meets casually and puts up a front for. It may sound like an ideal grift but the toll is much higher than one may imagine.

Between acidly funny and disturbingly real, Rall pours out his guts on a hard turning point in his life.

Political cartoonist Ted Rall turns to autobiography, and makes the interesting choice of having someone else handle the art. If you don’t know Ted Rall from Tony Randall, I wouldn’t worry about it. The description above tells you all you need to know. Here’s a preview.

Nylon Road: A Graphic Memoir of Coming of Age in Iran – $16.99
By Parsua Bashi
128 pages; published by St. Martin’s Press; available at Amazon.com

In the tradition of graphic memoirs such as Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, comes the story of a young Iranian woman’s struggles with growing up under Shiite Law, her journey into adulthood, and the daughter whom she had to leave behind when she left Iran. NYLON ROAD is a window into the soul of a culture that we are still struggling to understand.  Beautifully told, poignant, this is a powerful work about the necessity of freedom.

Persepolis is pretty lofty company but it’s a worthy topic to address. The entire first chapter can be seen here as a PDF.