Showing posts with label International Ink. Show all posts
Showing posts with label International Ink. Show all posts

Monday, March 02, 2015

International Ink: Smallbug Comics, the Avengers and Bone book reviews

It's been months since I've had the time to post any reviews, but some new material has arrived in the mail recently and it's prodded me to start again. I'll try to work my way backwards too, even if it's only a brief mention of the book and my thoughts on it. - Mike Rhode*

Charles Brubaker's minicomics, Smallbug Comics #2 (December 2014) and #5 (March 2015) remind me of the heyday of Harvey Comics. His characters Koko the Witch and her younger brother Jodo would easily fit into Casper the Ghost's world. In #2 Jodo accidentally acquires the Wizard King's crown and proceeds to enjoy all the attention he gets -- until the crown is reported stolen. In #5, Koko and Jodo take an 'enchanted' yet still horrible train ride for a break on their annual day off. Both stories rely heavily on physical humor and sight gags. Brubaker's storytelling is competent -- you can tell what's happening, and the words and text work together (this isn't always true of comics, even from full-time professionals).

Ask a Cat consists of 1-page cartoons from an advice column answered by a cat. They didn't do much for me, but a colleague at lunch laughed out loud at "What should I make for dinner?" and "Meow, meow, meow, meow. Meow?" The appeal of this zine probably depends on your interest in cats on the internet.

I think these minis would be good for teens, especially those interested in DIY comics. Brubaker's websites are and Brubaker also writes on the history of animation at Cartoon Research.

Jeff Smith's Bone: Out from Boneville Tribute Edition (Scholastic Graphix, $15) is a very pretty version of the beginning of the almost classic graphic novel. An insensitive or suspicious reviewer may believe that this edition is an answer to the age-old question of "how to sell yet another version of the book to people who already have it?" I personally have the original comic books, Smith's b&w reprints, Smith's one-volume b&w reprint, and the Scholastic editions with Steve Hamaker's excellent coloring. This 'tribute edition' is for Scholastic's 10th anniversary of publishing the story; the comic books themselves began in the early 1990s. And what's the tribute one may wonder? In addition to a "brand-new illustrated poem by Jeff Smith!" one also gets "minicomics and artwork inspired by Bone, created by 16 bestselling, award-winning artists." The poem features the Rat Creatures and much of the artwork is from Scholastic's stable of cartoonists turned children's book authors. For the record, the sixteen are Kate Beaton, Jeffrey Brown, James Burks, Frank Cammuso, Nathan Fox, Jimmy Gownley, Kazu Kibuishi, Mike Maihack, Scott Morse, Jake Parker, Dav Pilkey, Greg Ruth, Dan Santat, Raina Telgemeier, Doug TenNapel and Craig Thompson. Snark about multiple editions aside, Bone is one of the great comics for youngsters, and this version is a good introduction to the series.

Marvel: The Avengers Vault (Thunder Bay Press, $35) is by noted comic book writer Peter David (who, according to the Grand Comics Database, never actually wrote the Avengers). As a wee lad, my favorite superhero team was the Avengers. I'd been given a copy of Avengers #8, introducing Kang the Conqueror, by a cousin, and I spent the next 25 years buying their comics. I can't really relate to the Avengers-centric Marvel Universe of today, but the movies are well-done and probably a good part of the reason this book exists. And honestly, the kid reading Avengers #8 would have loved this book. The 'Vault' part of the title is "ten collectible pullouts: a Thor poster, concept art for Iron Man, Captain America's Sentinels of Liberty membership card, original art by Jack Kirby, and more - perfect for the superfan's bedroom wall." The text of the book is quick summaries of the histories of the Avengers and its most famous members Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk. David does a good job of summarizing almost 50 years of comic book backstory for each chapter, including the major supporting characters, and highlighting Marvel's post-Civil War history. Chapter 6 is a brief look at animated television adaptations, and then there's an appendix of Avengers members which splits into teams such as The Illuminati, the New Avengers, and the Mighty Avengers. It's too much for this aging fan's brain, but a tween who likes comics or the movies should love this book.

*'International Ink' is what Jonathan Fischer, my first editor at the City Paper, titled the column whenever I did book reviews.

Monday, August 05, 2013

International Ink: Tommysaurus Rex

Doug Tennapels' newly-expanded and colored graphic novel Tommysaurus Rex (Scholastic) is, as you might expect from the title, an odd animal. First published in 2004, this story of a boy and his dinosaur is aimed at children, but is really all-ages.

Ely's dog Tommy (and best friend of course) is killed by page 10 setting a rather dour tone for a book's beginning. His parents dispatch Ely to his grandfather's farm for the summer in hopes that he'll get over the death. When he arrives, his grandfather has a toy Tyrannosaurus Rex as well as a lot of farm chores for him. At the end of his first day, Ely is confronted by Randy, a local bully, who chases him into a cave and smears 'dog poop' on him. That night his grandfather hears about it, and while the two are talking about the morality of trying to make someone at poop, Grandpa's leg cramps. "It's just my trick ankle. It fires up everytime something good is about to happen. That or it's gout."

Guess which it is? That night, Ely hears a roaring through his open window and follows the sound back to the cave. Tennapel's tale takes a hard turn towards fantasy by having a small tyrannosaur hatching in the cave. It imprints on Ely, and the next morning Grandpa becomes the first person to ever say, "A dinosaur is eating my cow." Damage around town soon follows, but Grandpa and Ely convince the mayor that they can train the dinosaur and it will become a tourist attraction. As he trains it, Ely eventually comes to believe the dinosaur is Tommy reincarnated. The story meanders along through the dinosaur's training, a guest appearance by animator Ray Harryhausen, a kitty rescue, and further trouble with Randy until it reaches an unlikely, but emotional climax.

(an uncorrected proof was provided by the publisher for this review)

Monday, July 01, 2013

International Ink extra: Gettysburg: The Graphic History

The Battle of Gettysburg, a turning point in the Civil War, took place 150 years ago today. Gettysburg: The Graphic History by Wayne Vansant (Zenith Press, 2013, $20) is a graphic history of the story of the battle. Robert E. Lee of the Confederate Army had led his troops north to Pennsylvania, hoping to both shock the North and reprovision his armies with food and clothing captured from Union states. The Union, or Federal troops, under the newly appointed Major General George Meade, intercepted them near the small town of Gettysburg in southern Pennsylvania. Although Lee did not want to fight a pitched engagement, his cavalry scouts under JEB Stuart had wandered south towards Washington and didn't warn him away from the Union (or Federal) troops. Once some of his troops were committed, Lee decided to fight, hoping to punch a whole in the Union line of defenders. For three days, the two sides fought with thousands of men until the Union broke a last chance charge by General George Pickett. On July 4th, the Confederates retreated, and Meade didn't follow them in spite of President Lincoln's urgings.

The story is so big and complex that it doesn't fit well into 96 pages. Vansant does a competent job of explaining the preparations before the battle, the three days of the battle and the aftermath, including the full text of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address which dedicated the Union cemetery. He's obviously used reference photographs, and his artwork makes the famous people recognizable, if a bit stiff. He approaches the story chronologically, and one can get an idea of how the battle unfolded, but the book remains rather dry. Given his young adult audience, Vansant draws a minimum of bloodshed. When he writes, "Down below, General Hood's left arm was shattered by a shell burst," he draws Hood and his horse blinded and pushed to one side by the explosion and only colors them with a golden wash. I do not think most readers would actually want any more graphic detail than that, but Vansant's decision does sap some of the essence out of the story. His need to jump from one small segment of the battle to the next, unavoidable as it may be, has the same effect.

The story appears to be factually correct, although some items such as drawing Confederate General Lewis Armistead advancing with his hat speared on his sword aren't explained. Perhaps he thought sharpshooters would aim for his hat? A final round of proof-reading would have avoided mistakes such as "Choked with emotion because he did not want to make this attack, Longstreet nearly nodded." (p. 81) Presumably 'merely' is meant, not 'nearly' since a near nod is not much of a military command.

In conclusion, this book is most likely to appeal to a boy who already has an interest in the Civil War or military history, and is a perfectly reasonable starting place for someone looking at the vast amount of Gettysburg literature.

Still coming next - Tommysaurus Rex.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

International Ink extra: The She-Hulk Diaries

Along with Rogue Touch, The She-Hulk Diaries by Marta Acosta (Hyperion, $15) is Marvel Comics' latest experiment in reaching a new audience. The books are superhero romance novels. As a superhero fan, I'm perhaps 1/2 of the audience they're aiming at; I'm certainly not a woman who reads romance novels. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this novel.

I'm not currently keeping up with Marvel's ever-expanding Avengers line, so I'm not sure how the book fits into continuity. In Acosta's story, Jennifer Walters and her alter-ego She-Hulk (annoyingly aka Shulky) have a Jekyll and Hyde relationship with one personality displacing the other rather than the comic book's original version of She-Hulk as a more confident, less uptight and fun-loving version of Jennifer. John Byrne even had She-Hulk practicing law (which is referenced in this novel, but not in a believable fashion). Like Byrne, Acosta has a light humorous hand with the character, and refreshingly doesn't take superheroism too seriously.

As with Hyde, She-Hulk is a released Id and has been tossed out of Avengers Mansion for being too destructive and disruptive. Jennifer, narrating the story via her diary, is living in a borrowed apartment and looking for a new life - a new job, a new apartment and a new boyfriend. Her secret identity as She-Hulk is making all of these objectives difficult.

In coincidences that could only happen in a comic book, or a romance novel, Jennifer gets a job at a law firm that is suing over failing artificial organ transplants, and her former lover Ellis Tesla is the son of the firm;s owner, engaged to its hot-shot lead attorney AND being sued by the firm in the organ case. Tesla is a former musician whose most famous song "Flesh-Eating Bacteria Girl" is about Jennifer, although she continually denies it. Acosta keeps a lot of balls in the air as Jennifer works all of these things out, as well as random attacks by a minor league supervillains, while trying to keep a lid on She-Hulk.

The story is full of lines such as "In order to get Ellis out of my head, which is already crowded by Shulky sprawling all over the place, I decided to participate in something outside my comfort zone" (which is a Game of Thrones party at a bar). After a few minutes of reading, one gets used to them and begins looking forward to the next escapade. This novel won't be for everyone, but if you're a fan of strong female superhero characters, give it a try.

Next up: Tommysaurus Rex by Doug Tennapel

Saturday, June 22, 2013

International Ink extra: Zits: Chillax

For several years, I've written International Ink, an infrequent column on the City Paper's website, with reviews of comics-related books. I plan on continuing it, but I've fallen way behind on reading the books I'm being sent or have bought, so I'll be posting single book reviews here over the summer. When I get caught-up, I'll try to get back to the multi-book columns in the CP.

First up is Zits: Chillax (Harper, $9.99) by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman. It's an illustrated novel, a form that's made a popular comeback in the comics world with the success of Wimpy Kid. The genre is old though - I've got a copy of Skippy by Percy Crosby from 1929 sitting next to my computer as I type this. Borgman's illustrations are integral to the story, as the text quits and let the picture carry the story at times.

I had no idea that a Zits young adult novel was coming out, and was rather surprised to get a copy. For any fan of the strip, it's definitely worth  reading. Since the press release says the comic is in 1,700 papers, that's probably a  respectable number of people. The novel features all the main characters and reads much like a comic strip continuity. Strip star Jeremy and his best friend Hector have tickets to a Gingivitis concert. The band "has a reputationf or some pretty insane stage behavior. Sure, there has been the occasional wardrobe slippage, virgin sacrifice, and live animal ingestion, but it's not like these guys use that to get attention. They are first and foremost musicians." In between ignoring homework about Richard Nixon and Watergate, the two boys need to figure out how to get permission to go to the concert. When they find out that their garage band's guitar-player Tim sold them his tickets because his mother has cancer (a revelation done solely as a splash page illustration), they decide to go to concert and  buy something memorable there for Tim (with a bit of prodding from Jeremy's girlfriend Sara).

The novel slips into slapstick when they get to the concert, but even with the cancer subtext it's a light fun read. Borgman's cartoons definitely add to the story, and while Scott's language is probably not that of a real teen, he has a way with a phrase. If you or your children enjoy a drawing with an accompanying sentence such as "There's something beautiful about causing somebody to spew a mouthful of soda just by saying something hilarious (unless, you know, you're in the row in front of that person)"  give this novel a try. A second  book, Shredded, is previewed at the end. I'll be looking for it.

Next up - another comics-related novel: She-Hulk Diaries, a romance story.