Monday, December 31, 2012

diary of a guttersnipe 12/31/2012: *cough* boner *cough*

by Shawn Starr

Got sick, here's some links and bad jokes.

Links, Links, + More Links

Quentin Tarantino being interviewed by Charlie Rose about "Django Unchained"

Another Tarantino interview.

Michael DeForge's 'First Year Healthy' is yet another masterpiece in a series of masterpieces, This time via Tumblr and not some mini you will never find.

Chris Ware and Stan Lee have the same birthday, something about Jack Kirby and Stan Lee being a thief...(applause) (ruckus laughter) (someone shoots themselves) (police show up) (i am arrested for being too funny) (the end)

I'd never call Josh Flanagan of iFanboy fame a "Can't". That's just juvenile.

I liked this Dan Harmon keynote talk.

I think three comics came out this week....i didn't read any of them so i have no clue.

That Spider-Man story sounds dumb. I also don't care. CAUSE NO ONE EVER DIES HURRR DURRR (except my grandmother, she's dead, i was there when they buried her...).

Zack Soto interview.

Cream sauce and juniper berries.

Aidan Koch art sale. Also a nice Journal interview by Sean T. Collins.

That Frank Ocean album was pretty solid.

Wes Anderson talking about meeting Pauline Kael for a private screening of "Rushmore".

Nate Bulmer was interviewed on Inkstuds (its not up yet, but when it is, you should listen to it). Bulmer is a very funny fella.

It's nice that they made that movie about that white family (based on a spanish family) surviving the tsunami that killed all those asian people. Wealthy white people suffering tends to get drowned out in those situations. (DROWNED!) (GET IT) (sorry)

New The Chemical Box podcast for those who care.

"Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap" is now on Netflix Instant.

The Comics Reporter Holiday Interviews are going up! I've read the Rob Clough and Marc Sobel ones, they were good.

Oh, the guy who directed "Les Miserables" also made "The King's Speech". That guy sure is white.

God, aren't we all so pretty.

Rob Liefeld interview podcast.

This Nate Bulmer webcomic was particularly funny.

Stayed up to 5am playing Halo and getting drunk. Thirteen year old Shawn would be very excited about the life he will lead.

This 'Cowboy Henk' strip kind of explains everything about 1980's Britain.

That 'Uncanny Avengers' art sure doesn't look rushed.

[ Crime Overlords.]

Josh Flanagan may be, kinda, sorta, a can't...

Monday, December 24, 2012

diary of a guttersnipe 12/24/2012: .........

by Shawn Starr

Just here to wish you....

Friday, December 21, 2012

episode 021: collapse

alec and joey return from the brink of disaster to chat about change #1 by ales kot and morgan jeske, marvel now!, avengers #1 by jonathan hickman and jerome opena, captain america #1 by rick remender and john romita jr., cable and x-force #1 by dennis hopeless and salvador larrocca, amazing spider-man #698 by dan slott and richard elson, everything together: collected stories by sammy harkham, box brown and retrofit comics, copra #1 by michel fiffe, the 'man of steel' trailer, and much more.

music by failure


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

review: digestate: a food & eating themed anthology

by Alec Berry 

In terms of the the pitch, point and purpose of this publication, the title really says it all.

Digestate was funded through the ever-popular platform of Kickstarter. Cartoonist J.T. Yost acts as editor and organizer of this piece, and it includes the contributions of Box Brown, James Kochalka, Noah Van Sciver, Renee French, Josh Bayer, Victor Kerlow, Jeffrey Brown, Alex Robinson and many, many more I will not list. There's 288 pages in the volume, and the price tag reads $20.

I was offered a review copy, so here we go.

As an anthology, Digestate is about as average as it gets. It strays from "horrendous," but aside from a few standout inclusions, neither does it pass on into the grounds of "must-own."

I like the theme. If there's anything Anthony Bourdain has taught me, it's that there's more to food than pure sustenance. Food is identity, culture, custom, business, erotica, leisure, politics and probably more, so there's certainly plenty to be written about food, let alone room for there to be, dare I say it, a "food genre" in comics, and I'm all about covering open ground. That said, this anthology seems a little restrained, presenting the herbivore/carnivore debate, gag strips and self-esteem driven "foodtropectives" at a consistent and almost predictable pace. At a shorter page count, this may not be an issue, but when reading 288 straight pages there's a repetition. Maybe this is expected of a themed anthology, but I couldn't help but be feel lectured to too often or the audience of an anecdote better left unsaid.

I don't mean to say Yost directed his talent and did any sort of restraining, but rather that the talent itself built the cage. The interview portion below says Digestate's original purpose was to host a discourse on veganism and omnivorism, but Yost mentions that as the project took shape, that original thought was dropped and a general food theme replaced it. The room to run free and wild was there, but somewhere along the line the artists involved feared venturing out, or they all just covered similar ground and the amount of contributors simply emphasized the fact.

That's my main complaint. I understand an excitement to include a body of cartoonists, but Digestate could have benefited from a shorter roster rather than aiming for a size award. Yost was certainly interested in representing an array of perspectives and voices, which is great, but it seems not every voice in this instance needed raised. Not to say those specific cartoonists are bland or boring, just that maybe they didn't serve this project all the best. I mean, this is a big book (55 contributors). A tighter edit could have shaped this into a neat little item and wiped away the excess, but as it stands Digestate feels gluttonous. There's an overflow of content here. As a cartoonist sampler, maybe that's a good thing (although, as typed, the focuses of the pieces sort of overlap), but as an object of art or defined work, this book watered itself down by throwing such a party. 

But, there are a few highlights.

Yost's own piece marks the center of the book, and I might go as far as to call it the overall winner. Titled "Slaughterhouse Stories," it details the account of a slaughterhouse worker in a journalistic style. Yost proportions the story to rely on the man's own words. He eliminates the grid and uses full page drawings while overlaying the source's narration against the art. From this, the reader's eye follows text more than it does imagery because there's not a grid to direct, but for a story centered on recollection it makes sense to place such emphasis on the speech. The power of the story comes from it being an experienced occurrence, and without a focus on Yost's source's words you'd lose some of that.

While some may consider it a bit of a lecture, I give credit to Yost for acting as journalist here and allowing this man to tell his tale. Centering the piece on the source absorbs some of the lecture element and transforms it into more of a narrative by tying all sentiments to a central human figure. Also, the amount of detail Yost takes from his source heightens the sense of disgust, where other "slaughterhouse stories" sort of just get by on "yeah, they kill animals inhumanely." Yost puts you there, and while detailing the suffering dealt to animals he's also sure to spotlight the risk to humankind, making the point harder to ignore.

Nate Doyle's "Fug It" provides a nice laugh while poking fun at veganism. I found it charming and down-to-Earth.

Jeff Zwirek does some great cartooning with his jungle man strip. Two panels per page, clean imagery, a wonderful, smooth line all along with a nice little punch line - just solid craft.

Noah Van Sciver went with an extended poop joke, and I respect that.

Alex Robinson's "Peanut Butter Kid" was relatable. He brings up quite a few sentiments of picky eating that I've lived with previously in life.

Other than that, the rest is sort of a wash - forgettable, at best. I've been a fan and supporter of Yost's for a few years now, but I can't type this review and pretend Digestate was all the fun I could ever want. It wasn't. It's average, like a majority of the anthologies out there today. You can buy it here if you want, but personally I'm glad this was a free review copy. Harsh, maybe, but true.

But, hey, let's give J.T. Yost a chance to speak (I've done enough) ...

And now, a brief interview with the book's editor J.T. Yost. This was originally published on in June 2012.

Alec Berry: You mentioned in another interview that this idea originated from other cartoonists you knew being vegan and wanting to illustrate the two extremes of eating – vegan to the total carnivore. Does the project still fit that original idea or has it morphed into something else?

J.T. Yost: Yes, I started with the idea of Digestate being a flip-book. One side would be comics by vegan artists, and the other would be comics by carnivores (I think ‘omnivore’ is technically correct, but ‘carnivore’ sounds better). Once I’d made a list of artists I hoped would contribute, I realized that the requirements would have to be loosened in order to include everyone. There are about a dozen vegans contributing, but we are far outnumbered by the carnivores (as in real life, I suppose).

The anthology is now open to the artists’ interpretation of the theme “food & eating”. I’m hoping for a huge variety of viewpoints to be expressed.

AB: What can food say about a person’s identity? Does the phrase “you are what you eat” really fit?

J.T.: There seems to be a huge range in how people relate to food. I am personally very interested in food politics, but I’ve come to realize that I’m probably in the minority. To demonstrate that diverse range you could take someone like myself who has the luxury of choosing specific dietary restrictions (veganism) and a starving person who just wants sustenance – ANY sustenance – to survive. I’m pretty certain the latter has more pressing matters than drawing a comic for this anthology, but I think the other contributing artists may have vastly different comics than what I’m submitting. I’m hoping for a wide range in subject and tone.

AB: You’ve been a contributor to anthologies before. What’s it like now being the editor?

J.T.: I love it. I love anthologies in general, especially well edited ones like Papercutter. Ideally, they have some well-loved artists balanced with relative unknowns. That way, the reader is drawn in by the bigger names but discovers some new talent. Editing an anthology with this many contributors (over 50!) is a lot of work, but I get reinvigorated each time someone sends me their finished comic.

AB: Have you been very involved with each strip or is this more a case of letting the artists go off and return with what they want? Or is there a middle ground?

J.T.: Other than picking the artists and supplying the theme, I’ve had very little input into the comics being contributed.  As an artist, I prefer a lot of freedom, so I only make suggestions if asked. The only exception is the cover image. I came up with a general idea that I thought was suited to Cha’s (the artist) temperament, but I’m pretty much letting her run with it.

AB: What’s a good rule of thumb for an anthology comic in your opinion?

J.T.: There are no rules, that’s what’s great about them. An artist who has cultivated a certain style or tone of work can try something new if they’d like.

AB: What’s your take on the whole idea of “cartoonists should use anthologies to learn”?

J.T.: Who can say? There have certainly been cartoonists who deliver incredible fully-formed graphic novels right out of the gate with no previous mini-comics or anthology work under their belts. Personally, I’m fairly embarrassed of my earlier anthology contributions, but they taught me valuable lessons. Anthologies can be a great learning tool, but sometimes the anthology reader can suffer while that artist learns!

AB: Other than Digestate, anything else in the works?

J.T.: Appropriately enough, I’m working on a ten page comic for the upcoming Hic & Hoc anthology of Unsolved Mysteries and a piece for an anthology about cringe-worthy experiences edited by Peter S. Conrad. I have notes for Losers Weepers #4 (LW is an ongoing narrative based on and including actual found letters, notes and other detritus), but haven’t had the time to sit down and write/draw it. I’m a full time dad to my daughter Lulu/freelance illustrator/pet portraitist/small press comic publisher/etc., so there’s not a whole lot of free time!

AB: What will people take away from Digestate?

J.T.: Ideally, I’d love for the readers to learn something or expand their viewpoints about food. Hopefully be entertained. If not, Digestate‘s pages can be easily removed to be used as napkins.

Monday, December 17, 2012

diary of a guttersnipe 12/17/2012: did you see the words? (a.k.a. how many times can i make a kirby reference)

by Shawn Starr

This week we have a bunch of reviews and some more linkblogging (because i know the comics internet can always use more of that)...


Avengers #1 (Marvel)
by Jonathan Hickman, Jerome Opeña, Dean White

This is the first book of the Marvel Now! relaunch (money grab) that i genuinely liked ('FF' passed by on the mammoth shoulders of Mike Allred, 'Captain America' existed in a place of competence, and 'Thor: God Of Thunder' took an issue to really click). As Chad Nevett pointed out (and i think he's the only one too, because besides him NO ONE read 'The Ultimates'), Hickman retreads or overlaps much of this issue's ideas with his short run on 'The Ultimates' just with less teeth. But hey that was the Ultimate Universe and that's only good enough to rip off whole segments from for your movie-films, THIS IS THE 616! and the fuckers gotta sell toys (also did anybody else notice how Opeña drew most of the cast to vaguely resemble their film counterparts? CORPORATE SYNERGY!).

This issue is pretty standard fair for Hickman as it deals heavily with the idea of futurism. In this issue Iron Man and Cap create a team of unique individuals to work as their replacements (or to work alongside them) for when the next big disaster happens. Luckily that disaster is happening right NOW!. The Future! IS. NOW.

Anyways team intercepts some new bad guys (are they new? I have no clue) on Mars who work for some galactic being (NOT GALACTUS!) (...maybe Galactus?) (...) who is going to fuck earth's shit up. Themes of evolution, science, and the interaction of the two are touched upon. Then everyone gets fucked up and they mail Cap back to AMERICA to tell everyone about how hardcore their underground punk band is.

Opeña is better than everyone else at Marvel as always (ok. Ribic and Allred are equals).

I guess cylindrical circles are the new Kirby Dots.

Hawkeye #5 (Marvel)
by Matt Fraction, Javier Pulido, Matt Hollingsworth

Worth it for the panel they swiped from Kirby alone (also the pretty art and solid script are pluses....up until the last page which is a giant cop out. Fuck you, Hawkeye murdered that dude, and i don't care what you say. HawkEYESTABBER!).

2001: A Space Odyssey #1 (Marvel)
by Jack Kirby, Mike Royer, George Roussous

The fine folks at Marvel decided to purchase the rights to adapt Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke's Sci-Fi masterpiece "2001: A Space Odyssey" into a comic series. What an odd idea.

Odder yet is that they gave that project to Jack Kirby. JACK "PUNCHING NAZI'S IN THE FACE" KIRBY. A master of subtlety if i ever knew one.

Kirby, similar to his adaptation of "Planet of the Apes" (which DC decided not to licence, and instead just have Kirby "adapt" it liberally under the name 'Kamandi') runs wild with the concept. Unlike many writers and artists who faithfully adapt their source material, creating a self-aware derivative work which never lives up to the source material (hey guys i took this story you like and made it into a book!), Kirby simply takes the basic premise (a monolith which jump starts evolution) and creates his own universe around it. Taking Kubrick's near three hour long (mostly) silent masterpiece and turning it into a violent, jarring, unsubtle Kirby-esque nightmare of action and noise.

Jack Kirby's Silver Star (Image)
by Jack Kirby, Mike Royer, D. Bruce Berry


Blacklung (Fantagraphics)
by Chris Wright

Started out slow, got strong in the middle, ended up reaching for so much more than i expected. Not sure if it accomplished all of it though, but it's undeniably a beautifully rendered, written, and produced book.


Oily Comics opened up their subscription service again. Them's some good comics.

Jog on new Ditko comics is a must.

The images in this review / discussion of 'Sad Sex' are interesting...seems like a book that i need to look at.

Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez interview.

...the fuck.

Frank Santoro being named to the Eisner award committee is going to be very important (as everyone else has said). I wonder if his involvement is a move by the awards to not have another one of those "Not even nominating Jaime Hernandez for a single award" issues they suffered from last year (Seriously no love for 'The Love Bunglers'?). Or the slightly the less offensive splitting of the "Best Original Graphic Novel" between 'Wilson' and The (oh so) Dapper Men. Eisners, y'all mother fuckers be acting crazy these last few years! So anyways i guess we can all rest assured that Chris Ware will atl east get a nod, and possibly win, and a couple of those micro publishers alongside the stalwarts Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly might sneak through to the cracks. That or they'll fuck up again...

I saw "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" and it is my new favorite Wes Anderson film.


I picked up Basil Wolverton's 'Spacehawk' after Tim Callahan's review, and i have to agree with his assessment of it as a under-reported proto-art comic classic. Its got all the idea's of Bronze Age Kirby and an art style that's difficult to look at without recalling Jim Woodring and Robert Crumb. Also the production value on this book is beyond words. Fantagraphics continues to put out the best books for you dollar of any company in the field.

Wukuan Cardini's Orion sketch is pretty killer. He also has a new issue of 'Vortex' out.

The Comic Books Are Burning in Hell's episode on 'Dal Tokyo' was a great listen. 'Dal Tokyo' is a difficult work to grasp or even explain to someone who hasn't had direct contact with it, and they did a good job. Also oddly enough it's one of their funniest episodes.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

review: change #1 | kot / jeske / leong / brisson

by Alec Berry

Even though I sort of  slammed Wild Children, I do respect Ales Kot quite a bit. He's genuine, and  his comics, while sometimes a little heavy handed, work against stagnation and make an effort to be a little more. It's arguable he wears his influences on his sleeve, but it seems he wants you to know where he's coming from rather than try to hide it. There's a certain philosophy at work that encourages the spread of art and ideas, and it would go against such philosophy to obscure the inspirations behind the writer.

Even in terms of criticism, Kot isn't afraid to engage. I've negativity reviewed his work before, but Kot, unlike a number of creators, knew how to handle it and was happy to discuss with his reader. He wants to hear different perspectives and improve. That's certainly a nice quality in a world where Rags Morales does this.

Whether the comics are perfect or not - whether they're the work of a prodigy - I don't know if it matters because the effort, attitude and showmanship put in by Kot is something comics as an industry needs more of. He's trying, and interestingly so, while being pretty humble and open to his audience. That's refreshing, and refreshing is certainly something Kot wants to be.

That said, this is a review and not a personal recommendation, so I should write about his new comic book. 

Change #1 has been the topic of discussion, lately. There a more interviews with Kot and Jeske than I can count. I was lucky enough to be sent a preview copy a few weeks ago, but oddly enough I still just read it yesterday like the rest of you. My one chance to be cool and tweet some "Oh, hey, you should totally buy Change when it comes out. I just read it. Pretty cool" tweet was blown, but I'm not sure I was ever destined to be one of the cool kids, anyway. That said, I did enjoy this comic book.  From form to attitude, it's a project I'd describe as hyper. But first, I want to speak of Morgan Jeske.

I'm primarily familiar with Jeske from Twitter, but recently I've been investigating his work as a comics artist, both through interviews and his work at Studygroup with a comic titled Disappearing Town. His styles' been compared to the likes of Paul Pope and Moebius, and I find the comparisons apt. Though, aside from style, I've particularity been taken away by Jeske's illustration of character and emotion and how he never seems to overlook these small, subtle details while in the face of large science fiction backgrounds or havoc-like think pieces. Jeske places characters first, and he assures to craft them rather than treat them like paper dolls and apply them to settings - a major difference from much of the visual treatment done in mainstream comics. It's a strength of this artist, and hopefully readers will not overlook it for the more flashy details that are style.

The style, though, is very nice and "ugly" as Duncan of the Mindless Ones has been describing it. Jeske clearly resembles artists like Pope, but he's making it work for him without riffing too hard on a particular influence. Where Pope uses line to really enforce texture, Jeske allows for a little more space in the drawings. It seems to be a trait he's picked up from Brandon Graham, but it gives his settings and figures a bit of an unspoken underside and contrasts against some of the tight line art of Pope. Disappearing Town shows this very well, especially with the grey tones used, highlighting the line art, transfixing the light and popping the contrasting blacks. 

Change shows us a bit of a tighter Jeske, though with still some of the familiar traits. Against the very liquid page design of Disappearing Town, Change asks the artist to compartmentalize for story purposes, so we're looking at busier pages, but Jeske never overloads the senses. They function, although in a few of the sequences where Jeske fragments the actions scenes - most notably on page 18 - the reading speed increases and Jeske manages to break past function. Visually, these are the most enthralling moments in the issue, but overall there's nothing uninteresting about his layouts. Viewing the work as a PDF probably holds some of it back, but there's a clear focus on fragmenting and splicing imagery to help achieve Kot's vision of a hyper mash-up narrative. In some sense, there's a balance brought with Jeske, almost taming the wild fury of Kot's script.

I find him well-thought by the sight of these pages. This is a considerate artist who's serving the story, but from some of that service I do find Jeske a tad bit constrained. This is more a result of reading Disappearing Town than the actual work in Change, possibly, but because of the demands of the story, I find Jeske a little trapped into ensuring the delivery of Kot's idea versus actually putting much of himself into the work.

At the end of the day, this is an Ales Kot comic book.

Unlike Wild Children, Change offers a plot with characters and a mix of scenes. This isn't a lecture but instead an adventure story, marking a shift of gears for the young author. But while a tad more traditional, it's not exactly bland. I've used the word "hyper" to describe this comic, and I stick to it. Kot's mashing a number of things into one experience, offering a bit of post-modernism for your reading enjoyment. In fact, aside from being based in Los Angeles, Change really reminds me of Karen Tei Yamashita's novel The Tropic of Orange, which too utilizes a number of narrators, fantastical elements and an apocalyptic undertone to execute a tone of speed and inevitable chaos. Both books also approach L.A. with the same sense of beauty and grime. Not to say Kot has hijacked another work; I just find it interesting how two works centered on L.A. could be so similar, but maybe that suggests just how right Kot is in his observations.

A clear understanding of what Change is hasn't been nailed down, but the first issue gives enough information to engage a reader as well as suggest a tone and attitude. Attitude is really what sells this comic book. It's brash and maybe a bit too confident, but its cocksureness presents a kind of charm that you don't exactly want to ignore. It's exciting, in a sense, and I like that Kot really isn't afraid to push his voice and sometimes overpower the narrative. Granted, the narrative needs to be serviced, but the voice, even though it may flaw the story, connects the reader to a human element and makes the read a little more personable even when the script is so violently quick and somewhat overwhelming. Kot's voice almost becomes a hand to lead you through the journey.

I'm not sure how Change will end up, but I know I'll at least be engaged and entertained on some level. That's more than can be said for a number of mainstream comic books, and I think Kot would at least be happy with that.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

direct message 006: cable & x-force #1

From the vaults of Marvel NOW! comes another X-Men comic book.

provided by shawn starr
Because fuck you.

Chad Nevett: I don’t know when I gained my affinity for Cable, but it seems like a lifelong habit at this point. Every new series starring the character, I drop in and see what’s what. This time, I’m forcing young Alec Berry to join me. Young Alec is so young that I believe Cable already existed when he was born. Is that right? For you, Cable is almost like any other mainstream superhero character: He’s always been there for as long as you can remember. That’s both a statement about your age and his endurance. Who would have thought that slapping some giant shoulder pads, a metal arm and guns the size of battleship on a senior citizen would work so well?


Cable & X-Force #1 is certainly a comic book. It’s not terribly good. I’m not even sure what the premise is. I know Cable and his group do something wrong, because Captain America and Havok disapprove. I’m not entirely sure what, because the writer decided that, instead of sticking with the interesting bits at the beginning, he would instead spend most of the comic boring me with backstory that didn’t tell me anything. Add to that the art team of Larroca and D’Armata and, well, here we are.


Alec Berry: Alright. I know reviews and criticism like to rely on hyperbole, but as I write this I’m being 100% honest.

Cable & X-force #1 is the worst comic book I’ve read in at least the past 6 months, maybe more. And that’s up against the Fraction/Bagley Fantastic Four, Liefeld’s Hawk & Dove (although, that was fun) and a random issue of Johns/Lee Justice League. And those books provided some sort of fan-ish incentive for my reading pleasure. With this, there’s not even a creator or character I hold some sort of superficial regard for. No, instead, Cable & X-force gives me Dennis Hopeless, a writer capable of more yet simultaneously I hold no connection to, the artist who more than likely broke Matt Fraction’s spirit and Frank D’Armata, who …  do I have to write it?

And, yes, Cable: A character who might as well have been created in 1963, for all I care. You love him, and that’s cool - I love Moon Knight - but there’s nothing there for me. He’s Liefeld, and I respect that, but that’s as far as my respect goes.

The script certainly offers little, but the visuals say it all. These are some incredibly boring layouts. Almost every page utilizes the same horizontally driven machine - panels stacked on panels stacked on panels. There’s a certain interest in cinematic widescreen scope with this approach, but really all it achieves are slow moving pages. The reader literally just moves down the chain. The uniformity of the whole thing neutralizes any potential energy. There’s not an ounce of reason for this choice of design. It benefits the story in no way, and it lacks any heart or reason to be. Larocca literally just picked a grid and filled in the blanks. Cash job, I get it, but for fuck sake, at least show some effort. Fail beautifully, if anything. You make comic books because you enjoy it, correct?  Then show me. Show me you want to be here. There are so many artists who would love a gig like this, but instead you turn in half-assed squares and act like that’s good enough. D’Armata can’t even be blamed for this.

I’m not asking for Building Stories, but for a comic book about a cyborg and a black-ops mutant team, it might be a good idea to spice up the visual direction and actually make this story appear exciting in some regard. At least draw some vertical panels. Liefeld, despite his own faults, sold the energy of both Cable and X-force. That’s all I want, quite honestly. If he’s so bad as everyone says, it shouldn’t take any effort to out-do what he did.

As the artist, you’re a member of the writing team - more so than Hopeless. Write. Direct. Take charge and fucking boil a reader’s brain with something hard and awesome. Don’t just paste figures over bland backgrounds and hope you get by on the comic’s “realistic” appearance. Cartoon, motherfucker. Give me spunk, mistakes, flash and heart. Direct those characters. Consider why they’re there. Think about how the page should and has to move. This bullshit you submitted looks like it went through an assembly line.  Stiff, stale, stagnant … that’s all this is. You’re an artist. Be, you know, creative and loosen up.

Corporate comics deserve the critical thrashing when this is the type of shit representing. It’s hollow and cynical. As you pointed out, Chad, I have no idea what the premise of this series is. Cable wants to be with his daughter, but she wants to be a regular person, yet she’s pissed when her dad isn’t around? Cable’s leading X-force and has upset Captain America? Domino breaks into a facility for easy money, serving as a cheap plot mechanic so that Hope and Cable can be drawn in the same panel? A giant boat attacks a beach on the final page?


As blogger Matt Derman said, the book “hardly cares if anyone comes back for the next installment.” So, as a reader, why should you?

A story isn’t dying to be told. Instead, this is all service for the few fans (sorry, Chad) who must know where Cable ended up after the latest crossover event. That’s what this is. It’s a series of bullet points detailing the whereabouts of a fictional character. Money, paper, time and countless other resources were spent just so people on the Internet know Cable lives in a field somewhere, now.

I don’t even want to write about it anymore, so, Chad, I am finished. I’m sure as a reviewer I failed to be fair, balanced and considerate or even make a point, and I’m sure the number of examples I cited are limited, but it’s clear to anyone who read the comic that Cable & X-Force #1 was garbage. That’s the only necessary evidence. My perspective matters not.   

CN: Fuck fair and balanced. You paid your money, so those that took it can shut the fuck up. Which, by the way, is the trump card in all situations like this. Unless said person is giving it away for free, then there is no right of response. They got paid -- fuck ‘em. Once you’ve given that money over, any response is legitimate (well, within reason; no violence or anything like that, obviously).

It wasn’t the worst comic I’ve read in the past six months, but I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said otherwise. And I’m one of those people who check in on Cable for whatever fucked up reason. From that perspective, this isn’t fan service. I was not served by this comic in any way. Yeah, it features Cable -- just as it features other characters that other people have irrational interests in. I don’t think any of us could say that we were served by them being in this comic. Unless you’re pleased simply by your favourite character being in a comic no matter how terrible or worthless an experience it actually is. If so, well, glad you got your money’s worth. I sure as shit didn’t. Alec certainly did not.

I hope this comic gets cancelled. Soon. I cannot fathom who thought that this was a good first issue. We are both too reasonably intelligent people -- educated, well read, thoughtful when we aren’t jumping to absurd conclusions in an attempt to be hip/funny/cool -- and we both walked away wondering why this comic exists. Okay, not really. We know the reason why Marvel published it in that all comics are published for the same reason. But, looking beyond money/IP concerns, why was this specific comic published? Why this script, this art, etc.? No fucking clue.

All I know is that that’s three bucks I’m never seeing again and I have wasted both of our time. I don’t think I’m allowed to suggest topics anymore, am I?

Not Cable comics, at least.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

direct message 005: fatale

by Alec Berry and Chad Nevett

Week 2. The final week?

( we totally missed the deadline )

Alec Berry: We’ve made it clear in the past that we’re fans of this creative team, and I’m happy to say that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips aren’t OK with growing comfortable. Fatale is quite ambitious. Ambitious for its interest in melding genres, but more so for its approach to assembling the story and the range of its fictional landscape. Plus, according to Brubaker, this project just keeps growing and growing, pushing from 12 issues to 15 and now to whenever he feels it’s done.

There’s no doubt Fatale does tread some familiar ground, but the series doesn’t feel like an exercise in recycling. Instead, Fatale pushes the interests of the creators and expands the territory those interests can walk upon. The whole thing’s about a femme fatale, but so far we’ve seen that one thing interact with horror, Lovecraft, 70s Hollywood and a time hopping narrative (with surely more to come). Plus, Brubaker and Phillips have shed light on the fatale’s POV which opens up a whole other angle in terms of a noir staple.

Most importantly, it’s all a juggling act on their part. They have to keep all of these objects in the air and synchronize them for our reading pleasure, and so far, though with a few slight slips, they’ve done a pretty nice job of making all of this work. At moments, it may seem fair to ask, “what is going on?”, but with each subsequent issue I’ve found my questions answered, and at this point there’s a confidence in this series. Brubaker and Phillips want to build Fatale this way, and the reading experience is a much more involving one for it.

For some reason, I expect you’re about to disagree with me, so I’ll hand it off to you, Chad.

Chad Nevett: Did I talk about Fatale with you and Joey? I honestly can’t remember, because I wound up talking to Tim and Joey the following night after some online RPGing fell through and I might have talked about it with them.

I like Fatale. I think. I’m at the point where I’m putting aside issues to read in larger chunks, because I find myself drifting when I drop in for single issues. Part of the problem, I think, is the ambition of the series and the unfamiliar ground for this team. Not as much Phillips as Brubaker. Phillips has drawn stuff like this going back to Hellblazer, but Brubaker still seems like he’s trying to find a way to pull it all together. The noir stuff works, just not when it’s run aside the rest. There’s such a large mythology looming in the background that he doesn’t want to simply throw in our faces that he’s forced to tease it out and... it’s not entirely successful. It feels half-formed at times, walking that line between the familiar and unfamiliar in a fashion where you can see the line and where he’s comfortable as a writer. It almost makes me wonder if he would have been better served just diving straight into horror and leaving noir behind, because the comparison isn’t always flattering; he would always face the comparison, but to have it in the same comic?

I don’t know why entirely, but every time I read about Brubaker expanding the book, it seems wrong to me. I know that paid off in Captain America, especially when Steve Rogers died. However, one of Brubaker’s biggest strengths has always been structure and being able to tell a story well within the structure he’s set out. Criminal stories were very specific in their size and that was a tremendous asset and appeal of the book. He could make stories sing and hit the right beats at the right time when he had the structure nailed down. So far, Fatale has meandered a bit more and hasn’t landed as strongly at the end of issues always. There hasn’t been the same “I need to read the next issue!” hook when I finish an issue.

It’s interesting that, instead of making this a book where he and Phillips would revisit the world and characters in separate minis, it’s just being expanded into a default ongoing series with no end in sight. Like the mash-up of noir and genre, that’s a little unfamiliar territory for the two given their collaborative history, and that’s both exciting and not. I genuinely love seeing people push themselves and try new things. The downside is that the work isn’t always as good. The next series where they try this will go better, no doubt. But, Fatale? Victim of experimentation, perhaps? (Too early to tell, obviously.)

AB: When you mention Brubaker walking the line between noir and horror, leaving you a little uncertain, well, that’s the point. I’ll agree with you in that Brubaker hasn’t necessarily picked an area of interest, but in terms of that being detrimental, I just don’t see it. The horror comes across sharper because of Brubaker walking that line. You’re left to believe this is just another Brubaker/Phillips collaboration, but at certain moments something horrific happens and you question what this series is. They ground so much of this story into a setting you may find predictable or familiar, yet when a monster shows up or a sacrifice occurs it only feels more eerie because it’s surrounded by so much of what’s familiar. They create a sense of invasion with that approach, suggesting these supernatural elements are alive and at any moment could fuck with what appears to be a recognizable existence - which is Lovecraft-y.

Plus, and I’m pretty sure Brubaker has mentioned this somewhere in the backmatter of this series, noir and horror just seem to mesh. Josephine is the one character who embodies elements of both subjects, and her dilemma shows what can be horrific about the noir style. She’s a femme fatale, and as we’ve seen she lives a life in which she’s afraid to act because of how her actions tend to affect others. With this, Brubaker and Phillips have also built in a sense of sexual repression/motivation - which tends to be a big theme in horror films and noir. Fatale hosts a lot of sex scenes, and that’s not a coincidence - that’s the common ground Brubaker and Phillips are working from, attaching horror and noir.

But there are other ways in which Fatale has shown noir to be horrific or horror to be sort of like noir. The cynicism of noir isn’t exactly hopeful. The subplot of the corrupt cops in the first arc shows us that. The melodrama and spectacle of horror sort of fits the dramatic tone of noir. Look at any big reveal moment in which a supernatural element is shown in this series and compare it to moments when the reveal is a drawn gun or human-versus-human conflict. They all have that same sense of shock value.

You’re right that this crew usually works within a set structure, but as we’ve discussed with Sleeper, it isn’t unknown for them to wander a bit. Will there be mistakes? I’m sure, but I’m OK with it because I tend to enjoy works with flaws as long as the overall project pushes. We both agree that Fatale pushes, and on my end I feel it’s been very interesting. Especially in terms of the character development. Because of the space, Brubaker and Phillips have given us some time to spend with Josephine and just sort of watch her, and it never feels to grow old. She’s a character who’s cursed with immortality, so it’s important to feel some of that time she’s forced to exist within. In the second arc, the scenes of her in her big, lonesome house just supply a sense of dread and imprisonment. Phillips draws her always near or in a window, framing her twice through both the panel and the window. He’s trapping her, and that’s a great, visually traditional way to speak of her situation.

the line went silent for a few days …

CN: Well, I just finished reading the second arc, which just finished up this week. There’s something off with this comic. Off as in... I don’t particularly like it. I love Phillips’s art, of course. I love the way he draws Jo; it’s somehow more expressive and deeper and softer than women he’s drawn before, which lends to the idea of her as this irresistible femme fatale that fucks up men forever. The writing, though, just leaves me so cold. The horror isn’t horrific, the noir is barely there... It seems more like bad melodrama much of the time. There are moments that work, mostly the stuff in the ‘present,’ but so much of it feels like it’s reaching for something that it can’t quite grasp.

Let’s see if I can write an explanation that I don’t know yet...

Tucker Stone partly hit the nail on the head recently when discussing the finale of the second arc. He said, basically, that, up until that point, Jo’s agony over her situation was boring. We saw a man influenced/trapped by her and not liking it, while we saw her not liking it either. Worse, the situation is one that isn’t inherently interesting. A woman who gets men to fall for her and do dumb things turned up to superhuman levels? That actually takes the edge off in a way. It’s less compelling when there’s something supernatural at play. She’s not complicit (except when she is) and that lack of intent much of the time creates a very passive story.

The horror/supernatural stuff feels like a crutch here that allows things to happen because they happen. There isn’t much bite, or even actual exploration into the cult in the second arc. There’s almost a “You know what this is...” assumption made. And we do. So, why should we care if nothing is really being said?

That sums it up for me: aside from the ‘present’ sequences, nothing is being said. At least nothing that I haven’t seen Brubaker say before -- and better.

AB: Jo doesn’t have to be complicit for it to be interesting. Actually, it's more interesting that she’s not and that the supernatural element of the story forces her hand and seems to be out of her or anyone’s control. That’s horrific - the fact that she feels bad, yet she must continue to do what she does because of a primal need/cosmic force. If she just agreed with it and fed into it, she’d just be any other villain or femme fatale.

You may be right in Brubaker using supernatural excuses as a crutch to move the plot and establish its conflicts, but at the same time isn’t that the same of any genre? And even here, the characters, or at least the villains of the story, seem to be in possession of those supernatural powers, sourcing their own motivations to insight the action/conflict. The cult has a motivation. They want Jo. Why? We’re not sure, but we’re not supposed to be sure because this thing’s a mystery too, and that provides some of the suspense. Why are they after her? Keep reading.

As for saying something new, I’ll give you that. Sleeper said all of this better, but at the same time the message or grand thought doesn’t seem to be the reason for this series. Above, I made the case for Fatale being an exercise for Brubaker and Phillips to further indulge their interests and entertain those interests in different ways. Through execution, that is so. We’re seeing this team sew this plot together in an ambitious fashion along with entertaining numerous characters and powerful forces that still remain in the dark. Yes, at the end of the day, the grand message isn’t exactly brand new, but we’re still seeing these creators construct a story a little differently, and I find it worthy of reading.  

As for your complaint of the horror not hitting, I really don’t know what to say except that it does for me. Difference in what we find horrific, I guess.  

I’m glad you brought up Phillips, though. We needed to cover him. This is arguably some of his stronger work, and I find that his usual use of the grid and smaller panels has really taken on some new life here. There’s something about that tightness to his layouts and page design that works toward the claustrophobia the Josephine character experiences. You’re spot on about how Phillips portrays Jo as visually soft and delicate, but outside of his line the pages sort of work to choke and suppress her. Visually, you get a sense of her almost fighting against the page as she tries to break free of the circumstance.

Dave Stewart’s also grown on me. I still miss Val Staples as a piece of this team, but Stewart is slowly becoming the look. Although, it does feel a tad less special. Stewart colors so many books, and it’s certainly possible to take it all for granted.

So Fatale clearly isn’t  a favorite of yours. Is this the worst Brubaker/Phillips project? What could have made Fatale better for you, to put it neatly?

CN: I’m with you on Val Staples. Something clicked there with Sean Phillips -- like Bryan Hitch/Paul Neary/Laura DePuy on The Authority. I really liked the colouring (and inking) on Hitch’s other work, but it was missing some intangible -- perhaps simply the one in my head. Same thing here. But, that’s me...

Fatale is not necessarily the worst Brubaker/Phillips project, but it’s definitely the one where I find myself pulled in two directions the most. As you point out, Phillips is continuing to grow and improve as an artist, doing some of his best work here. While Brubaker is leaving me cold on almost every level. That gap between writing and art has never been so wide and that’s disappointing. I think, on the whole, Incognito underwhelmed me more. I guess my problem is taking noir tropes and splicing them with other genres. They already do straight-up noir crime comics so well that it feels like watering those stories down with genre conveniences. Or cutting the comics with something bad.

There’s also the limitation of how much you’re willing to let any artist re-explore the same ideas again and again. I have it seems almost infinite patience for Warren Ellis exploring similar ideas in new ways, but not Ed Brubaker? That’s certainly a possibility. Not really fair, though...

AB: Yeah, I’m perfectly fine with watching this team as well as Brubaker himself re-explore a certain number of thoughts. To me, it’s no different than what plenty of other writers do. Brubaker has his interests, and he expands on them through familiar stories. It’s what writers do. Some just work better than others.

If I were to provide a ranking, I’d put Fatale somewhere in the middle of the list, maybe near a spot in the upper half. It’s not the all-out strongest in terms of impact, but its playfulness and sense of chance make it fun to read and watch develop. It’s definitely better than Incognito, but it doesn’t really challenge the likes of Sleeper or Criminal: Lawless either. More like a Criminal: Bad Night, than anything. Though, all subject to change if coming issues really pull this thing over the top.

We’ve claimed Fatale as being some of Sean Phillips’ stronger work, but why? For me, I see his sensibilities and style of storytelling very effective with this type of tale. We’ve both discussed his attention to the main character, but the time-hopping also allows Phillips to draw, at least so far, two eras he excels at: the 1940s/classic film noir era and 70s Hollywood, a time period that goes along well with Phillips’ work drawing Criterion covers. The settings are to his advantage, but we’re also getting his take on horror and more specifically the supernatural. I’m sure those areas were covered in his Hellblazer issues, but here it’s at work again, and it’s unsettling how similar it is to his take on crime comics. It seems unintentional and more a case of an overpowering visual style, but no matter the case Phillips’ style forces him to blend the noir and horror further. His pacing is no different here, and he approaches horror reveals very much like he approaches moments of reveal in a crime story. In fact, Fatale may just show us how horrific Phillips has been drawing crime all along, showing us a true terror we can actually experience.

All and all, this book just involves all of the right elements for Phillips. He’s drawing plenty of interesting stuff - from setting to objects to characters - along with constructing everything effectively. And that line and those inks are just at work. Very rich and at times round.  

CN: I see two potential reasons for why I think this is Phillips’s best work (well, there’s a third, too): it’s his most recent work and I’m of the mind that he keeps getting better. Or, there’s the lack of connection with the writing, making the art seems better because it needs to compensate more than usual. The third reason could be that it is better for many of the reasons you gave. I don’t believe Phillips has ever done a character as well as Jo. She is singular within this world visually and that impresses me quite a bit. She’s different from the others, but not so different that it looks like a completely radical style that clashes. I rather like that.

and with that, old man Nevett exhaled, and the room went quiet …