I know it’s hard to believe with all the big flashy Hollywood things, but Comic-Con actually had stuff about comic books! There were a number of exciting debuts this year. Scroll through and see if something catches your eye. If so, read the blurb I’ve put together from the publisher’s write-ups, and if you’re intrigued, click the links to find out more.
Any Empire by Nate Powell
Any Empire by Nate Powell (Swallow Me Whole) recalls aimless summers of Nancy Drew and G.I. Joe, treehouses and army surplus stores… but when fantasy starts to bleed into reality, whose mission will be accomplished? [Interview]
Big Questions by Anders Nilsen
Big Questions by Anders Nilsen: A haunting postmodern fable, this beautiful and minimalist story is the culmination of ten years and over 600 pages of work that details the metaphysical quandaries of the occupants of an endless plain, existing somewhere between a dream and a Russian steppe.
Daybreak by Brian Ralph
Daybreak by Brian Ralph is an unconventional zombie story. Drawing inspiration from zombies, horror movies, television, and first-person shooter video games, Daybreak departs from zombie genre in both content and format, achieving a living-dead masterwork of literary proportions. [Interview]
The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes
The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes: Classic staples of the superhero genre – origin, costume, ray-gun. sidekick, fight scene – are reconfigured into a story that is anything but morally simplistic. With subtle comedy, deft mastery and an obvious affection for the bold Pop Art exuberance of comic book design, Daniel Clowes delivers a contemporary meditation on the darkness of the human psyche.
Freakshow by David Server, Jackson Lanzing and Joe Suitor
Freakshow by writers David Server and Jackson Lanzing, and artist Joe Suitor: When five refugee survivors develop monstrous mutations from a devastating chemical explosion that leaves their city in ruins, they band together to seek revenge against the clandestine government quarantine that has seized control in the aftermath. But are they monsters…or heroes?
Comic books continue their evolution into digital comics, where the sequential art form is available on mobile devices like the iPad and Android, game systems like the PSP, and web browsers. Expanding in distribution, getting more competitive with prices, and experimenting with interactivity – these are all good signs that digital comics might be growing from infant to toddler.
After some delays, Dark Horse Comics will launch their anticipated Dark Horse Digital program later today. The system was built in-house and uses a web-based system supplemented by apps for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. The comics will be priced starting at $1.49 $0.99 (versus competing apps that have comics starting at $1.99), and will be available in bundles as though you’re buying a full graphic novel collection. The app will be free and come loaded with the first issue of Hellboy: Seeds of Destruction by Mike Mignola and John Byrne. There will also be five free comics available: the first issues of Criminal Macabre by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, Joss Whedon‘s Fray, Mike Mignola’s Abe Sapien: The Drowning, Gerard Way‘s Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite, and Mass Effect: Redemption. The app will have hundreds of other comics for download, including issues of Conan, Joss Whedon’s Serenity, Eric Powell‘s The Goon and more. An Android app will follow.
NBM Publishing and their all-ages Papercutz imprint has teamed up with TWP Interactive to produce what they are billing as the first interactive graphic novel, Dinosaurs Across America by Phil Yeh. (It’s not the first, but it’s still cool.) Dinosaurs Across America was first published as a traditional graphic novel in print in 2007. It was named one of the best 25 graphic novels of the year by School Library Journal and has won acclaim for its ability to teach geography to children. The new interactive edition allows the reader to zoom in on individual states, learn fun facts and play with puzzles. The interactive version is now available for $9.99 as an app for iOS devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch), and for $4.99 as an e-book on Koobits.
And finally, Archie Comics continues its aggressive pursuit of digital, launching Spanish language versions of some of their digital comics Monday. The comics are available on Archie Digital, as well as their iOS app for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch provided by iVerse, and the Sony PSP. An Android app is coming soon. Further translations into French and Hindi are planned as well.
So maybe you get it by now. Librarians, teachers, and other smart people that you trust tell you that comics are a great way to develop and strengthen your child’s reading skills. They also capture their imagination and work visual recognition skills and they do tons of other good things for the brain, in addition to being fun and entertaining. But maybe you’ve also heard that there are some comics that aren’t really appropriate for everyone. So what’s safe? If you’ve got an iPhone or iPad, now there’s a simple way to get great comics for your kids and teens.
Digital comics provider comiXology officially launched their newest app, Comics4Kids, yesterday. And it’s exactly what it sounds like. Almost 175 comic books from 15 comic book publishers like Archie Comics, Image Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, Red 5 Comics, NBM Publishing, and more. I’m sure more will be added every week just like comiXology’s other apps. And hopefully Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, IDW, Boom! Studios, along with other publishers, will join in since they all have comic books that would fit right in.
One of my initial thoughts was similar to JK Parkin: will kids want to read something that’s so blatantly targeted to them? Most kids want to get the real thing, not the kiddie version, and one red flag is something with “kids” in the title. But seeing this targeted to parents as something they can feel comfortable handing to their children, the branding makes more sense. Time will tell, I guess. I certainly appreciate the effort, and I’m sure parents will too.
Happy Hooligan by Frederick Opper (click for bigger)
We’re getting closer to the beginning of the big summer blockbuster season and once again, comic book adaptations are making up a very visible percentage of the big cinematic spectacles. But before Green Lantern, Thor and Captain America, before Iron Man, Batman, Spider-Man and Superman all had their own superhero movies, there was Happy Hooligan.
Over 100 years ago, newspaper comics were still refining the language of comics but at the same time they were becoming a hugely popular form of entertainment. It was basically TV for the masses before there was television (or even radio, for that matter) in America’s living rooms. In 1899, one of newspaper’s biggest moguls, William Randolph Hearst, hired a respected illustrator of humor magazines to add to his growing roster of newspaper cartoonists at the New York Journal. Hearst quickly found that comics significantly increased readership and was a powerful communication tool, and he was a fan himself. He paid better rates to steal creators from his competition, and would fight for less successful creators he believed in. Hearst’s respected illustrator was named Frederick Burr Opper and one of his big creations was Happy Hooligan, which debuted March 11, 1900.
The comic strip was about a disheveled tramp with the worst luck. Happy would frequently try to do good, only to fall (usually literally) to some accident conveniently witnessed by a passing cop who thought Happy was causing the trouble. Most comics ended with Happy being dragged off by one or more cops to serve some excessive amount of jail time. Someone in the legal system must have taken pity on Happy because the following Sunday he would be getting into trouble all over again.
Above is an example from August 24, 1902, preserved and represented by Barnacle Press, which has a veritable treasure trove of old newspaper comics. The physical comedy is played out seemingly second-by-second in each panel. The main fun is in following each step of the small disaster as it unravels, and how each chess piece moves around the space and interacts with the others. In this instance, the chess pieces are Happy, the woman, her horse, Happy’s brother Gloomy Gus (essentially serving as our point of view), the police officer that runs onto the scene, and the tree. The tree’s broken branches and Happy’s pocket knife also serve as secondary chess pieces (he always has his sharpened edc knife with him). Even the bush in the background seems to respond to the action in each panel. And Happy’s ever-present tin can hat adds to the whole. It might look like it vanishes but it’s still on his head at the end, flattened from the action in panels 6, 7 and 8.) You can re-read the strip following just one of the chess pieces. Speech balloons helped direct attention to certain chess pieces at specific moments. The “camera” holds at one angle throughout, similar to vaudeville theater at the time (Gloomy Gus even breaks the fourth wall and talks to the readers/audience at one point). But this also enhances the effect of following the action. We’re a witness to this unbelievable accident as though we were walking by. It also makes it easier to track the action, allowing each panel to serve as a before and/or after comparison of the panels around it. It seems primitive at first (the panels are numbered to make sure readers understood the reading sequence), but it’s really quite a wonderful bit of choreography, and was probably really eye catching to readers of the time. It still holds a lot of delight. I love the horse’s faces! And there’s something really bewitching about Gloomy Gus’s spotted hankerchief, which seems to know more than it’s letting on.
The comic must have hit a chord with people fairly quickly, because within the year the silent film producer/director J. Stuart Blackton (who also created the first American animated film) began making live action short films based on Happy Hooligan. Blackton himself played Happy, complete with torn clothes and a tin-can as a hat. Six shorts were made between 1900 and 1903. Sadly, nearly all of the shorts have either been misplaced or dissolved from the passage of time. Fortunately, The Library of Congress has been able to retrieve and digitally save about 1 minute of one of the last shorts in 1903. This scene was shot on June 15, 1903, at the New York studio of the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, the production and distribution company for the shorts.
Cute bit, definitely a classic. But from the start, you can see that movies already had a challenge in adapting comics that would dog them for a century. The visual effects just can’t recreate the madcap slapstick and physical choreography of the comic strip. And this was a good 35+ years before superheroes introduced superpowers and flashy costumes into the mix. Movie-making technology has come a long way since then but it’s still a challenge to get the visuals right. Just last week, the reveal of Wonder Woman’s costume for the new TV series caused much outrage and ridicule online. We’ll see how this summer’s movies tackle it.
Meanwhile, Happy Hooligan went on to influence Charlie Chaplin’s tramp and other lovable homeless characters with bad luck. Happy had three brothers, one of which was named Gloomy Gus (seen in the comic above), a term that’s still sometimes used today to describe an excessively depressed person. Happy also had three nephews that looked nearly identical and spoke in unison, likely influences for Donald Duck’s nephews Huey, Dewy and Louie. The strip has also been cited as the comic to establish the consistent use of speech balloons as the regular comics form of depicting dialogue. Before that, comics typically had dialogue below the panel as a caption. While the comic might take work for some readers to adjust to its aging style of storytelling, it will always hold a significant place in history.
Happy Presidents Day! It’s that time of year again when the United States celebrates that we have a President in our form of government! Pretty exciting stuff!
Actually, there are some pretty crazy stories from the life and times of US Presidents past. And sometimes their deaths can make for some compelling reading too. Sure, it’s morbid but it can also be pretty fascinating. Comics writer/artist Rick Geary has taken a look at two presidential assassinations with the same precision and accessibility of all of his work. His series of graphic novels A Treasury of Victorian Murder (and the newer series A Treasury of XXth Century Murder) make for great reads, and pre-dates a lot of the current non-fiction graphic novels coming out nowadays.
The Murder of Abraham Lincoln by Rick Geary
In The Murder of Abraham Lincoln, Geary takes a look at the 1865 murder of the 16th US President and the days that followed. Some of the recently resurrected theories about John Wilkes Booth surviving and living to old age while a body double was killed in his place at Garrett Farm aren’t included but it nevertheless is packed with information glazed over in high school history class while maintaining a great narrative. Geary also uses the power of comics well, weaving in a cutaway of the Presidential Box at the Ford’s Theatre as Booth makes his fatal move, maps and a timeline of Booth’s escape route, and a map showing the route taken by the Lincoln funeral train.
Geary also took a look at the second US President to be killed in The Fatal Bullet: The Assassination of President James A. Garfield.
See NBM Publishing for a complete list of Geary’s true crime graphic novels currently in-print.