Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Tamba, Child Soldier

by RM Rhodes

One of the appeals of the French comics industry is the sheer variety of genres that are available on offer. English-speaking comics publishers like NBM have been translating comics originally printed in French for decades for exactly this reason. For its part, the English-speaking audience has responded well what the French call Reportage - comics based on real events that straddle the line between non and fiction. Books like Tamba, Child Soldier by Marion Achard and Yann Degruel.

The creators deliberately chose to not identify a single nation in this book because the practice of using children as soldiers is so widespread that people could identify it pretty much everywhere. To that end, the story's visuals rely on the cultural similarities across the continent, presenting an anonymized landscape filled with generic people for the main characters to wander through. This is a good thing.

The story that the main characters tell is horrific - the book's title lets you know exactly what you're going to get. The art does a great job servicing a harrowing story, which starts with the main character telling his story to a tribunal of some kind. It's easy to tell the flashbacks from the interrogation because the flashbacks use a full color palate, while the interrogation panels have a muted, monochrome color.

Given the weight of the subject matter, having such clear, non-challenging art that communicates scene transitions so subtlety really allows the experience of the main characters take center stage and just exist. The life of a child soldier is heavy enough that it needs no extraneous embellishment, which might have been a temptation in more commercial-minded hands. Fortunately, the French language comics industry is robust enough that not everything has to meet a hypothetical set of arbitrary requirements merely to be considered by the marketplace.

Both the writer and artist are white, which is interesting because they managed to produce a book with almost no white characters. In fact, the only white people in the entire story are silent, unnamed Non-Government Organization (NGO) workers, who are referenced as the bellwether for how dangerous things really are. They show up on half a page near the end of the book, barely have faces and, if you blink, you might miss them.

Marion Achard was a circus performer and wrote several novels before writing this graphic novel. Yann Degruel, the artist, is well known for his children's books, which makes him an interesting choice to illustrate a book about child soldiers.

If you have a deep and abiding interest in the issue of child soldiers, this is absolutely the book for you. There are a trio of short essays in the back of the book about the topic, with URLs for sites that will give you more information. If you are even marginally interested in the issue, this book will absolutely convince you it should be addressed.

Tamba, Child Soldier by Marion Achard and Yann Degruel will be published by NBM in December 2019.


ComicsDC received a free review copy of this book from NBM.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Gypsy Omnibus review

by RM Rhodes

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Heavy Metal ran six stories by Thierry Smolderen and Enrico Marini. The first of these, titled The Gypsy Star, was an immediate hit and was followed by the rest of the series over almost the course of a decade.

The art was the obvious draw of the story. Realistic, with an obvious manga influence, Marini could provide a cartoon flip to his line when it was necessary. The color scheme usually balanced a very orange red and a cool blue. The sequential storytelling was often clever and made for a compulsively readable feature.

The main character is called The Gypsy in the first series and Tsaigoi thereafter. He drives his eighteen wheel truck across a futuristic highway that spans the world. Sometimes he’s with his sister, sometimes he’s with other family members, and sometimes he’s alone. It’s a Mad Max setup with an unfortunate ethnic label and none of the pesky fuel shortage limitations.

Tsaigoi is an enthusiastic participant in capitalism. All of the stories are about him driving his truck through a problem area and getting caught up in local events, to his dismay. In every case, the stakes of the story are commercial in nature. And when it is called for, Tsaigoi will strap on his guns and take the fight to the people standing in the way of him getting his product to his customers.

Easily the best of these stories is a yarn about a caper in Germany during the final World Cup game between Germany and France. Germany loses badly due to a penalty shot 45 seconds into the game. Much comedy is made from this state of affairs and, in the end, Tsaigoi’s commercial instincts prove to be very very solid.

Tsaigoi is also a lover. I’m happy to report that every one of his sexual encounters (roughly one per story) is consensual. There is one problematic scene with a parapalegic woman, and one of the main characters is introduced by showing him running away from a giant man who wants to rape him. The way the character is drawn, he could be anywhere from a boy to his early teens. For the most part, though, it’s wholesome entertainment.

It is not difficult to find out what issues of Heavy Metal these originally appeared in, nor is it difficult to purchase them. The new Omnibus Edition of the six stories is, however, a much nicer product than the random handful of issues. It’s a hardback edition with a very nice slipcase. The extras are nice as well – a map of the world, showing the route of the highway, along with several pages of production art and sketches. It's the first thing I've seen from Insight Comics and its a handsome debut. The European edition must have recently been published.

The only real flaw in the production of the Omnibus is the title of the introduction. Dan Panosian remembers Gypsy from the pages of Heavy Metal and references a catchphrase saying that the main character utters when he is surprised or frustrated – “Dracu!” Except in the new translation for this edition, Dracu has been printed as Dracs.

Printed together like this, it is easy to see how well Marini’s art matured over the course of the series. The early stories have a sketchier aspect to the line weights, but the later stories are much more confident. The color got better as well – it’s almost as if the technology improved during the same period as the original publication.

Gypsy is a pretty solid action adventure comic. The creators did their best in the later stories to lean into the skid on the problematic name, but they were stuck with it. If you can get past that, you should be able to relax into the ultraviolence and over the top slapstick of it all. And if you can do that, there is a good chance you'll be very entertained indeed.


Why is this here? It's a long story. Mike Rhode first introduced himself to me when I first started vending at SPX. Over the years, we've talk to each other at Comic conventions around the DC area and never quite get around to sitting down for lunch. 

When I moved to Arlington two years ago, I didn't realize that Mike lived within a mile of my building. Nor did I realize that he lived next door to my girlfriend's friend from college. We also discovered, by accident that we work two buildings away from each other, because we work in adjacent organizations. The world is a very small place, sometimes. 

It really feels that way when I run into Mike at the local farmer's market. Naturally, that's when I pitch him article ideas. I'm reading the entire run of Heavy Metal in public (in blog format) because I happen to own the entire run of Heavy Metal. This means that I'm engaged in an ongoing study of the magazine. In addition, I have a diverse and idiosyncratic reading list that tends towards the weird corners of comics history. Sometimes one circumstance or another results in long articles that I don't really have anyplace to put. Mike has been gracious enough to let me publish them here.

In summary: this is an article about comics from someone in the DC area. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Book Review: DC: Anatomy of a Metahuman

by Mike Rhode

DC Comics collects a lot of the comic books they've published, but they also have quite a few publications aimed at an adult audience looking for a gift or willing to spend larger amounts on material that interests them. The fact that these books even exist can be amazing especially for someone who grew up in the 1970s when there was one (or less!) collection of comics published per year (The Dark Knight Returns in 1986 started the modern trend of collecting a story arc in a book or "waiting for the trade"). Over the next week or so, I'll look at three of these I've been provided with recently.

DC: Anatomy of a Metahuman by S.D. Perry and Matthew K. Manning and illustrated by Ming Doyle (San Raphael, CA: Insight Editions, 2018; $50, ISBN 978-1-60887-501-6) comes out this week and is an in-depth look at twelve mostly major DC characters through the longstanding conceit of Batman researching the strengths and weaknesses of other heroes and villains (which on reflection also dates back to 1986's The Dark Knight Returns). The press release reads:

Concerned about the threat that so-called "metahumans" may pose to the world, Batman has begun compiling a detailed dossier on their incredible physiology and abilities. From villains like Killer Croc, Bane, and Brainiac to Batman's own comrades, including Superman and Cyborg, the file brings together the Dark Knight's fascinating personal theories on the unique anatomical composition of these formidable individuals. 

This stunning and unique book delves into the incredible abilities of DC Comics characters like never before. Using beautifully illustrated anatomical cross sections depicting twelve different DC characters, the book, told from Batman's unique perspective, will explore how these metahumans' physical makeup differs significantly from that of the average person. From detailed theories on how Superman's eyes shoot heat rays to an in-depth exploration of how Aquaman is able to breathe underwater, the book delves into the deepest secrets of these classic characters. Also featuring chapters on the anatomy and abilities of Doomsday, Aquaman, Swamp Thing, Darkseid, Martian Manhunter, and more, this one-of-a-kind book will change the way you look at metahumans forever. 

The authors Perry (a sf/fantasy novelization writer) and Manning (a comic book historian) do a good job at summarizing the powers and features of the characters in the book (Superman, Cheetah, Aquaman, Cyborg, Martian Manhunter, Swamp Thing, Darkseid, Bane, Doomsday, Killer Croc, Bizarro and Killer Frost), but run quickly into the major problem of the fact that these powers are impossible by our understanding of physics, chemistry and other sciences, so how can they be explained? On page 9, the second page of his dossier, Batman writes, "Much of my research has been focused on the composition of Superman's bones and muscles. What combination of organic structures could possible generate his immense strength? I have many theories but all are at odds with conventional scientific thinking." This difficulty with the human scientist Batman trying to understand impossible phenomena continues throughout the book. How can a woman become a were-cheetah?

Of course, the suspension of disbelief is a major requirement in enjoying superhero comic books (and television and movies, fans of which the characters of this book seem to have been selected for). Once one decides to accept the internal logic of the book, the writing is concise and seems to reflect the current DC Universe of the comics (they've had so many reboots recently that I can't tell). Ming Doyle's semi-scientific illustration is a good match and very well done. Her illustration of Superman as Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian man has an underlying layer of amusement since on the same page Batman specifically notes that Superman is not and never will be human.

If I had come across this book when I was sixteen, I would have been thrilled, and I think it will appeal to more introspective fans of the various versions of the DC Universe, especially the movie fans. I imagine this might be a gift book for most people, and the high-quality of the printing makes the price very reasonable.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Book Review: Out Of The Woods: A Journey Through Depression and Anxiety

Williams' experiments with alternative medicine
reviewed by Mike Rhode

I recently got an email from a publicist noting that they had sent me a book eleven months ago and I hadn't reviewed it yet. Whoops! When you buy as many books as I do, this happens all too frequently, but in this case it was also a big mistake. Out Of The Woods: A Journey Through Depression and Anxiety by Brent Williams and illustrator Korkut Oztekin (Educational Resources, 2017; ISBN 978-0473-39006-8; $28) is an excellent book and a worthy addition to the burgeoning field of graphic medicine.

'Graphic Medicine' refers to comics about illness or medicine, and are more and more often being done by cartoonists who suffer from the illness. The three main strands of the works are cancer, mental illness, or traditional educationally works (that aren't usually done by patients). This past weekend's Small Press Expo (SPX) had a panel devoted to the topic of bipolar disorder (details below)* which also highlights another aspect of the field - the comics are usually done by a single cartoonist with some experience of the disease.

Out Of The Woods is not. New Zealand's Brent Williams is a human-rights lawyer and filmmaker, who "in his late forties he found he could no longer do this work. It was like he had hit an insurmountable wall. That wall was depression and anxiety. Denial, shame, and a misguided belief he had to fight these illnesses on his own made Brent's situation worse."  His co-author, Turkey's Korkut Öztekin "has worked as editor and chief writer for The Turkish Graphic Design Magazine and freelanced as a comic book artist, cover artist and illustrator for several literary works.Korkut is known for his work on Deli Gücük, a Turkish comic series of ghost stories from rural Ottoman Anatolia. He worked on Clive Barker's Hellraiser: The Dark Watch series as support artist to Tom Garcia, and recently was the lead artist in Frank Miller's RoboCop: Last Stand series." The two men with very different backgrounds, experiences and lives build a surprisingly strong work.
Williams is diagnoses by a family practitioner.

Collaborative works of autobiographical graphic medicine are very rare. Our Cancer Year by Brabner, Pekar and Stack is one of the few that comes to mind, perhaps because it is also successful. Öztekin and Williams work well together and Out of the Woods is a generally seamless telling of Williams leaving his family, quitting his work, and hitting bottom, suffering anxiety attacks and being unable to get out of bed, while half-heartedly trying a variety of self-help meditation and alternative medicine cures, while generally refusing antidepressants and therapy. A major part of this must be due to Öztekin's art, which is clear, understated, but also poetic at times.

The book's oddest note comes from what I can only call Williams' 'spirit guide'. A middle-aged white man appears throughout the story, in William's thoughts, and offers support and good advice to keep him on a path towards wellness and health. I'm unsure who this person represents, unless it's supposed to be his better self; however, it doesn't look like him. Notwithstanding that, the spirit guide serves as a useful foil showing the reader how Williams' self-destructive impulses can be tamed and how his physical and mental state can be improved.

Williams' 'spirit guide' explains depressions effect on brain cells.
Williams eventually meets a therapist who helps him realize that his father was a controlling, insensitive (but rich) self-made man who treated his wife and children badly, and that Williams needs to move past thinking of him as a role model and loving father to get well again. The art and writing remain extremely clear, the causes and treatment of depression are examined, the various ways it affects one are effectively shown - in short, this book is an excellent resource for anyone interested in, suffering from, or trying to understand loved ones who have depression. It's one of the best works of graphic medicine that I've read.
Physical activity is always recommended to help with depression.

*Writing About Bipolar

As mental health is becoming a subject that's more openly discussed than ever, comics narratives are emerging about personal experiences with mental illness. Moderator Rob Clough will discuss with Lawrence Lindell (Couldn't Afford Therapy, So I Made This), Ellen Forney (Rock Steady), and Keiler Roberts (Chlorine Gardens) their  struggles with Bipolar Disorder, the choices they make they make in writing about it, and how this process affects how they think about it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

You, too, can write reviews!

by Melissa Riggio

You close the book (or click "exit" on the eReader). Satisfied with the story, you briefly think over the characters, the plot, and maybe one or two things you would have changed, but overall, it was a great read. You've got a bit of time left today before you tackle your responsibilities - perhaps time to start another book?

Or you could consider pausing to write a review. 

Reviews are a huge industry within the publishing world. From a one-line Goodreads review to a full-page review in the New York Times, a good review can boost a book up in sales - or plummet it down to obscurity. There are entire blogs dedicated to book reviews, down to specific genres (YA, urban paranormal romance, steampunk, LGBTQ - endlessly niche for every taste). Comic books (graphic novels, individual issues, tradebacks) also are items you can review.

Where does the average reader without a blog or following fit into this? They fit in quite easily, actually. There are plenty of platforms to leave a review, the most popular ones being Amazon and Goodreads. The reviews can be short - from one sentence to several paragraphs, to a whole page. 

So why should you write a review, even if you don't have the clout of a New York Times or NPR reviewer? 

It's useful for publishing companies and authors to see the reviews and use them for publicity, or, in turn, learn from them - if enough reviews say the same thing, it could affect the publishing of the book, for better or worse. 

Some tips for writing reviews

·  avoid negatively reviewing a book due to a shipping problem, or error with the online ordering service. 
·  avoid reviewing poorly based on a dislike of the theme itself - if you dislike horror, and read a horror book, giving it 1 star because you dislike horror is a discredit to the book for simply existing within its genre. (You may find this odd, but if you read through enough Goodreads reviews, you'll find people rating books very lowly because they "just don't like romance novels", and yet read an entire one and proceeded to review it poorly for being a romance novel.) 
·  if you're having trouble finding the words, just mention a particular passage, panel, or quote that struck you. For comic books, the artist and writer can sometimes be different, so commenting on them individually is something you can also do. 
·  "I couldn't put the book down" or "I read it so quickly because I had to know what happened" are valid reviews - it's not about the length of the review as much as the sentiment and thought behind it. 

Still a little nervous about writing reviews? You can mark certain reviews on books you've read as "helpful" or not on Amazon, which can push certain reviews to the top that you feel really help a reader decide if they should read the book or not.

If you've purchased books from Amazon lately, you can go through your back orders and leave reviews on those pages. It's been debated how much leaving a review can alter the ranking of a book, and if the review being a verified purchase matters or not (as in, purchased from Amazon under your account, thus proving you did have the item) but all of the other reasons to review still apply. 

If you're on Instagram, Twitter, or Tumblr, you can take a picture of the book and tag the author or publishing company - reader pictures are great inspiration and motivation for authors. Seeing their book "in the wild" is something almost every author aims for. Some people "live review" books as they are reading them, quote lines, and post critiques as they go along, which is another way to have a reviewing experience with a book. 

So glance through your bookshelf (or Kindle library), see the books that inspired you or made you think, and take a minute publish a review! The authors and publishers will thank you. 

Melissa Riggio is a a local comics professional who works for Rosarium Publishing in the DC area. She is an avid Goodreads/Amazon reviewer and library fanatic who will be occasionally posting on here about topics related to comics, publishing, and reviews.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Review: Adrian Tomine's Killing and Dying

by Mike Rhode

If I had to come up with a quick descriptive word for Adrien Tomine's work (and I just did), I think I'd pick "astringent." Tomine's a master of a cool thin line with a flat color palette, and his stories are often about people you'd prefer to avoid IRL. Tomine will be in town at Politics and Prose talking with Linda Holmes about Killing and Dying, his 2015 collection of his Optic Nerve comic book now available in paperback.

I'm reviewing the book now, even thought I bought it at 2015 at the Small Press Expo, because Drawn & Quarterly sent me a comp copy, and I don't want them to think it was unappreciated. Also, because in spite of my description above, I like his work. There are six stories in the book, all obviously by Tomine, but all different from each other as well.

Tomine is one of the group of formerly alternative 1980's cartoonists such as Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware who've hit the big time, and whose work is now instantly recognizable, as they're doing regular covers for the New Yorker and publishing graphic novel collections on a regular basis. This is a far cry from when they all were part of the small press scene being published in 'floppies' by Fantagaphics Books. Amazingly, those who've stayed in the field have largely remained true to the aesthetic they developed in their early works.

Tomine's first story, "...Horticusculpture" is purposely constrained to appear to be a weekly comic strip telling the story of a man growing old while attempting to convince the world that his new plant/sculpture hybrid is art. Six "strips" in black & white mimic a daily, while the full page Sunday is in color. Someone more academically-minded could theorize about the appeal of old-fashioned comic strips for alternative comic book cartoonists; among others, Daniel Clowes did a whole book using this motif, as did Bob Sikoryak who cast his net of influences a bit wider in his book on Apple. In the end, Tomine's story is about a man who's largely a failure personally and professionally, but is redeemed in the very last panel by his family's love.

"Amber Sweet" is a story of a modern-day mistaken identity in that a college student is a doppleganger for a porn actress. This coincidence ruins her life until the two of them finally meet. "Go Owls" is a cautionary tale which of a woman letting a man assume control over her life under the guise of protecting her. "Translated, from the Japanese" could easily have appeared in the New Yorker. No people are shown in the story, just scenes from traveling on plane, but again it's another story about human loneliness and failure in relationships.

Local cartoonist Dana Maier told me yesterday that "Killing and Dying" is her favorite story in the book, but I had to dash off before we discussed it. We may have that conversation here, if I can convince her to. A part of another dysfunctional family, a teenage girl wants to try standup comedy, and her mother agrees while her father thinks it's a mistake. Tomine has put several twists in the story, so that's all I'll reveal. Finally, "Intruders" is from the point of view of a failed veteran who breaks into the apartment he used to live in during the day, attempting to recapture his happier past, while providing no trace of himself in the present.

Tomine's cool, cerebral stories won't be to everyone's taste, but they're definitely worth sampling and this is a good collection to start with. He's grown to be an assured artist and writer, and will continue to be part of the graphic novel 'canon' for years to come.

Adrian Tomine - Killing and Dying — in conversation with Linda Holmes — at Politics and Prose at The Wharf

Saturday, February 10, 2018 - 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Now available in paperback, this collection of six graphic stories shows the impressive range of Tomine’s narratives and his expressive use of line, color, and half-tones. Especially adept at capturing the nuances of character and emotion, Tomine, author/artist of Shortcomings and Scenes from an Impending Marriage, is one of the most literary of graphic storytellers. Many of the pieces here chart the turbulent arcs of relationships in which the partners are angry, disoriented, or both. In one variation on these themes, the title story focuses on a fourteen-year-old aspiring stand-up comic. As her mother praises her and her father criticizes her, the three work to deny the greater tragedy that is about to befall the family. Tomine will be in conversation with Linda Holmes, writer and editor for  NPR’s entertainment and pop-culture blog, Monkey See.

This event is free to attend with no reservation required. Seating is available on a first come, first served basis.
Click here for more information.
Politics and Prose at The Wharf   70 District Square SW   Washington   DC    20024

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Book Review: Awaiting the Collapse by Paul Kirchner

by Mike Rhode

Awaiting the Collapse: Selected Works 1974-2014 by Paul Kirchner is one of the best archival reprint projects of 2017. Unfortunately, due to it's content, both sexual and drug-related, it will not find the large American audience that Kirchner deserves.

Let's look first at the publisher's description of the book. 

After the bus and the bus 2, this third collaboration between French publishing house Tanibis and comic book artist Paul Kirchner is a collection of the artist’s works, most of them initially published in counter-culture magazines in the 1970s and the 1980s and some dating from his return to comics in the 2010s. 

Roughly a third of the stories star Dope Rider, the pot-smoking skeleton whose psychedelic adventures take him through colorful vistas equally reminiscent of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western films and of the surrealistic paintings of René Magritte and Salvador Dalí. These stories were originally drawn for the marijuana-themed magazine High Times but were also for Kirchner an excuse to create his very own brand of visual poetry.

An other third of the book is a miscellaneous collection of comics whose stories range from the loony (the sextraterrestrial invasion of Earth in “They Came from Uranus”) to the satirical (“Critical mass of cool”) and the outright subversive (if you ever wondered what games toys play at night, read “Dolls at Midnight”).

This book also features a broad selection of the covers Kirchner made for the pornographic tabloid Screw in the 1970s.

Awaiting the Collapse finally contains a previously unpublished essay by Paul Kirchner about his career and his influences, which helps put in perspective the works published in this book.

The description which is admirably clear about the nature of Kirchner's work explains why you won't see this on anyone's best of the year list besides mine. The first reprints Dope Rider stories from the 1970s which focus on a walking skeleton attempting to acquire the best marijuana (and initially heroin). The stories are wildly surrealistic and make little sense, although Kirchner apparently did not participate in the drug culture. He also did sexualized covers for the notorious Screw newspaper, but again says in the excellent afterword that he also wasn't interested in the hedonistic adult industry world. "I too might seem an unlikely fit for Screw, having no interest in hard-core pornography... Although I drew cartoons involving leather fetishism and bondage, to me those were just subject matter, offering visual possibilities. They struck me as more humorous than erotic. So how did a sober, strait-laced fellow like me find himself drawing Screw covers and Dope Rider? I have a naughty streak that demands express, and I indulge it in my art." (p. 140)

Also Kirchner, like most of his mentors, followed the money. Kirchner says he grew up admiring Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, two of the more surreal mainstream comics artists, and then as part of a group of young Turks in New York City in the early 1970s hung around Neal Adams's Continuity Associates and worked for Wally Wood. Wood's influences are clear in the work reprinted here (apparently selected by Kirchner, and occasionally reconstructed). Kirchner also sought Steranko's advice, and one can easily see some pages influenced by that most theatrical of comic book artists. (See the panel of the Dope Rider drawing a gun on page 22 for example). The reprint quality of the artwork is stunning also, with much of it being reconstructed by his editor or recolored by Kirchner.

While I greatly admire Kirchner's craft, the best part of the book is the autobiographical essay at the end. Kirchner recounts his working career, including working in an early comic book store, ghosting Little Orphan Annie, drawing the graphic novel Murder by Remote Control for the Dutch mystery writer Janwillem van de Wetering, working for the New York Times, and collecting and firing guns with Wally Wood and the African-American cartoonist Wayne Howard. Kirchner admits to being a slow artist, and eventually had to go to work in advertising to support his family, but recently he's returned to comics although he's now in his 60s. The book includes some of his newer material as does the bus 2, and although Kirchner says his skills were rusty, his recent work compares well to his earlier art. He's doing a new comic strip, and closes his essay on a high note, writing, "When you do commercial work, as I  did for 30 years, it pays well but means nothing.  ... Instead of anxiously waiting for the next assignment, I am how happily working on the next idea. To do creative work is good for the soul. As long as you have an enthusiasm, you have happiness." (p. 151)

While this book obviously isn't for everyone, serious comics readers, especially those interested in the underground, should acquire and read it

AWAITING THE COLLAPSE: Selected works 1974-2014
by Paul Kirchner
Tanibis Editions
ISBN: 9782848410449
Format : 9,4 x 12,2"
152 pages in full color

Tanabis kindly provided me with a review copy of the physical book.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Book Review: Comic Shop: The Retail Mavericks Who Gave Us a New Geek Culture

reviewed by Mike Rhode

Comic Shop: The Retail Mavericks Who Gave Us a New Geek Culture

by Dan Gearino, Ohio University Press' Swallow Press, 2017. $26.95
Despite the title, Comic Shop focuses at least as much, if not more, on the growth of the Direct Market distribution network that gave rise to independent comic shops and sustains them today. Gearino is a journalist and has written an accessible popular history that relies largely on interviews, much like Slugfest, which we recently reviewed and which works well as a complement to this book.
Gearino focuses on his local comic shop, Laughing Ogre, perhaps slightly too much at times, but it's understandable that he chose a long-lasting, respected store as one of the pillars of his book. He returns to the store's history time and again, while recounting a chronological history of the transfer from comic books as a mass media product sold everywhere on newsstands to one that requires a visit to a specialty shop.

From the 1920s through the 1970s, comic books were sold in newsstands, mom and pop shops and anywhere a distributor could place a rack. Personally, for me, the 7-11 was the main site. The books were dumped on the store which was expected to rack them, and return them for credit when they didn't sell. The comics had a profit for the store in the pennies, so little attention was paid to them. At many times, the books weren't delivered or racked, but a refund was requested anyway, leading to fraudulent losses for the publishers, or misleading sales figures.

In 1973, Phil Seuling, an early creator of Comic Cons, made a deal with DC Comics to buy books for them at a larger discount but on an nonreturnable basis, and get them shipped directly from the printer. Seuling's new company was Sea Gate Distributors. It was soon joined by many competitors who split the United States up between them. As in most businesses, the early wide-open days with multiple distributors and thousands of comic book shops saw financial peaks and troughs as well as widespread consolidations and bankruptcies. Gearino also weaves through the rise of independent comic books such as Elfquest, Bone, Cerebus and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and talks about the importance of a retailer hand-selling these types of comics. Today, one distributor remains standing - Baltimore's Diamond Comics, and we're currently seeing a lot of independent books, small publishers and tactics such as variant covers that usually precede a bust in the market.

Gearino did a good job in doing interviews for his research on the book, but is lighter on using archival and printed sources. His focus on Laughing Ogre's small chain occasionally slows the book down, but I think proved to be a good choice to center the story. An odd choice was made to add in profiles of various stores at the end of the book - not quite an appendix, but not quite part of the book either. I think those could have perhaps been integrated in more seamlessly, although when he invites guest commentary in the main text, it is set off at the end of the chapter and is rather jarring. On a local note, Joel Pollack of Big Planet Comics has a two-page profile in the stores section.

This won't be the definitive study of the rise of the Direct Market and specialty comic book stores, but it's a good early step and a fine choice for the casually-interested reader. I enjoyed it and would recommend it.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Review: Wonder Woman: Warbringer

By Claire Rhode
reprinted with permission from Her Campus at Chatham

Like a lot of Bardugo’s work, Wonder Woman: Warbringer was set in a rich fantasy world with incredibly strong female characters—both physically and emotionally. The story begins on Themyscira with Diana trying to prove herself to her fellow Amazons. The plot begins right in the first chapter when Diana rescues Alia Keralis, the sole survivor of a shipwreck. Despite the action at the beginning, the book has a slow start.

I’ve always found Bardugo’s work heavy and hard to get into, and the same was true of this book. Despite the non-stop action, great characters, and witty banter, the entire book felt like I was slogging through just to know how the plot was resolved.

Diana and Alia were what really redeemed the plot for me. Diana is wide-eyed and curious as she is in the movie, but she’s also hesitant to really trust this new world. She has her mission and she plans to achieve it, then spends her time trying to get back to Alia.

Alia, on the other hand, is the daughter of two scientists who died in a car crash. Now her overprotective older brother is her guardian, and she’s constantly trying to get away from his control over her. She’s also dealing with racial tensions throughout the novel and tries to explain the history of racism and systemic disenfranchisement to Diana while they’re fighting for their lives.

There are also a lot of great supporting characters who end up on their journey with them. There’s Nim, Alia’s best friend, and a fashion icon. Theo, who is a washed up maybe-genius and harboring a bit of a crush on Alia, and Jason, Alia’s older brother, tag along for the ride as well.

Wonder Woman: Warbringer is a good book and would be great for fans of the movie or of Bardugo’s other works. It’s an excellent addition to the Wonder Woman canon in its own right and perfect to pair with the movie.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Books Received - July 2017

Newly published books continue to appear in my mailbox. I'll try to get notices of them up more regularly. 

I find myself enjoying much of Scholastic's line for young people. Sunny Side Up was one of my favorite recent semi-autobiographical books. A sequel comes out this fall, and is more episodic, but we do meet the older brother whose 1970s-era problems with drugs have led him to being enrolled in military school. Recommended.


The Holms are also expanding their Babymouse series beyond the juvenile graphic novel books into middle school and mixed chapter book style. Not read.

 It’s a new kind of book for Babymouse! Fans of Dork Diaries, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and James Patterson’s Middle School books, this is going to be epic. . . .

For Babymouse, middle school is like a monster movie. You can never be sure who’s a friend and who’s an enemy, and the halls are filled with mean-girl zombies. Instead of brains, the zombies hunger for stuff—the perfect wedge sandals or the right shade of sparkly lip gloss—and they expect everyone to be just like them.

But Babymouse doesn’t want to fit in—she wants to stand out! So she joins the film club to write and direct a sweeping cinematic epic. Will making the film of her dreams turn into a nightmare?

Thanks to Babymouse, middle school gets schooled in this hilarious new series from bestselling authors Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm.

 Christopher Eliopoulos has been using his big-head style on historical biographies with Brad Meltzer, but he also does a lot of other cartooning. His original graphic novel about receiving superpowers via a magic ring and then getting caught in a video game eventually becomes a story about the importance of family. This book is probably best for pre-teen boys, but I enjoyed it. Recommended.

Cosmic Commandos Hardcover – July 4, 2017

 In this graphic novel adventure for readers of Hilo and Roller Girl, a pair of twin brothers accidentally bring their favorite video game to life—and now they have to find a way to work together to defeat it.

Jeremy and Justin are twins, but they couldn’t be any more different from each other. Jeremy is a risk taker who likes to get his hands dirty; Justin prefers to read, focus, and get all his facts straight before jumping in. But they do have one important thing in common: They both love video games. When Jeremy wins a cereal-box charm that brings his favorite video game to life, villains and all, he finds that he’s in way over his head. Justin knows everything there is to know about the rules of the game—he read the handbook, of course—and Jeremy isn’t afraid to try new things. Can these two mismatched brothers work together to beat the video game that has become their life? 

Lee J. Ames died in 2011, but his Draw 50 series has been continued. Two new books with art by Erin Harvey were sent to us. Not read.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

December's books received

As I've done this fall, I'm noting the books that I've received for review, but haven't had time to read yet. Publisher's descriptions are in italics.

The book I'm most looking forward to reading is Singapore's Sonny Liew's fake biography of a cartoonist. This has already been published overseas, and caused a contretemps within the Singaporean government over its funding.
The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye 

 Meet Charlie Chan Hock Chye.

Now in his early 70s, Chan has been making comics in his native Singapore since 1954, when he was a boy of 16. As he looks back on his career over five decades, we see his stories unfold before us in a dazzling array of art styles and forms, their development mirroring the evolution in the political and social landscape of his homeland and of the comic book medium itself.

With The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye Sonny Liew has drawn together a myriad of genres to create a thoroughly ingenious and engaging work, where the line between truth and construct may sometimes be blurred, but where the story told is always enthralling, bringing us on a uniquely moving, funny, and thought-provoking journey through the life of an artist and the history of a nation.

Titan continues reprinting European comics last seen a couple of decades ago.There's a lot of zaftig nudity in this first one. None of these are particularly to my taste, but Titan is doing an excellent job with their production values and pricing.


by Serge Le Tendre (Author), Régis Loisel (Author)
by Jamie Smart 
Scholastic, $8.

A team of scientists has sent a monkey into space! And good thing, too, because he's a mean, selfish, noisy, bullying little fur-bag. But... all does not go well with the flight, and Monkey's spaceship barely clears the first hilltop before crash-landing in a peaceful forest. Monkey decides this is a new world and claims it for his own. And his first decree is that all other animals should be banished! What follows is a series of hilarious, off-the-wall interactions between Monkey and the other forest animals.

Reprints from a British comic book, this is definitely for the elementary school student.

 DC's version of the venerable Li'l Archie books claim to be for ages 8-12, but I think as a comics - chapterbook mashup, it'll hit for younger kids. The draft I got has very rough pencils, but Nguyen's art looks like a good fit. If you skip over the illogic of the story and characters completely that is. 

Study Hall of Justice (DC Comics: Secret Hero Society #1)
by Derek Fridolfs (Author), Dustin Nguyen (Illustrator)
Scholastic, $13

 The team behind DC Comics LIL' GOTHAM takes readers to the halls of Ducard Academy in Gotham City, where a young Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman start their very own Junior Detective Agency!

Young Bruce Wayne is the new kid at Ducard Academy, a prep school for gifted middle school students. Bruce finds out pretty quickly that he doesn't fit in: the faculty seems to not just encourage villainous behavior from its students, but reward it. He makes friends with two other outsiders, farm boy Clark Kent and the regal Diana Prince. The three band together to form a detective squad to find out why all of these extraordinary kids have been brought together at Ducard Academy, and to see just what the faculty is plotting.

An all-new series from the Eisner-nominated team behind Batman Lil' Gotham (Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs), Secret Hero Society uses comics, journal entries, and doodles to reimagine Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman as three students in the same school. They'll try their best to solve their case, but just because you're faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, or an Amazonian princess, it doesn't mean you get to stay up past eleven.