AdHouse – Read About Comics http://www.readaboutcomics.com Where to find out what's really good. Mon, 16 Nov 2015 17:36:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.10 Superior Showcase #3 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2008/06/25/superior-showcase-3/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2008/06/25/superior-showcase-3/#comments Wed, 25 Jun 2008 04:00:00 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=521 By Dustin Harbin, Brian Maruca, Laura Park, and Jim Rugg 32 pages, black and white Published by AdHouse Books

After the fun of AdHouse Books’s Project: Superior, an anthology where independent and alternative artists tackled superheroes, it was easy to see why publisher/editor Chris Pitzer brought about Superior Showcase, a series of comics which lets [...]]]> By Dustin Harbin, Brian Maruca, Laura Park, and Jim Rugg
32 pages, black and white
Published by AdHouse Books

After the fun of AdHouse Books’s Project: Superior, an anthology where independent and alternative artists tackled superheroes, it was easy to see why publisher/editor Chris Pitzer brought about Superior Showcase, a series of comics which lets more comic creators tackle the genre as they see fit. And while I’ve certainly enjoyed both Project: Superior and the issues of Superior Showcase, it’s the latest issue of the showcase book that really grabbed my attention, thanks to one story in particular.

Fans of Brian Maruca and Jim Rugg’s Street Angel will certainly be excited to see the character return after a long absence. It was a nice surprise to see how effortlessly they were able to slip right back into creating a Street Angel story, pitting Jesse up against mysterious deaths in a hospital that’s also chock to the gills with her traditional enemy: ninjas. It’s a mostly fun and funny story, with just the right level of creepiness showing up at the turning point; that moment in which the villain is revealed managed to give me a real start, and I appreciated how Maruca and Rugg were able to give that little jolt of surprise.

Dustin Harbin is someone that I wasn’t familiar with, but his Kid Medulla story hit all the right notes for me. It’s definitely what would happen when a little boy suddenly got “mental powers”—a combination of hero-worship, dealing with those pesky girls, and fart jokes. It’s a funny little story, if slight in places, but it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It also does a great job of taking an old super-hero chestnut, the power-blocking item wielded by a villain, and placing it into the story. Anyone who’s ever read an X-Men story involving the Juggernaut will certainly get a kick out of Harbin’s story.

What really stuck out for me, though, was Laura Park’s story “Freaks”. I’d really liked her collaboration with Julia Wertz in Papercutter #6, but this was my first exposure to a story she’d written and drawn on her own. It’s the story of two schoolchildren, Ada and Calum, who are referred to as freaks by the other kids in their school. When Calum gets in a fight after school, Ada finds herself having to not only take care of Calum like normal, but finally reveal to Calum his secret power that she’s been hiding all of these years. “Freaks” really grabbed my attention, not because of Park’s take on the idea of a superhero, but rather the skill in which she tells her story. It’s a quiet, thoughtful story that really lets you get into the heads of both Ada and Calum; they certainly don’t have an easy life, but despite the ups and downs, you end up leaving “Freaks” with a real sense of hope, that they’re going to survive everything their own personal villains throw at them. It especially helps that Park’s art is really beautiful here, able to draw kids fighting on a playground or merely walking down streets in a so-so neighborhood with equal skill. Looking at Ada wordlessly prepare tomorrow’s lunches, fix Calum’s shirt, and get ready for bed works so well because of the simple, straightforward way that she lays it out from one panel to the next. Whenever Park releases a collection of her comics (as mentioned in her biography in Superior Showcase), I am absolutely buying one.

Superior Showcase was a fun comic, and while all three stories were good, it’s hard to not lavish the most attention and praise on Park’s comic. Between it, a new Street Angel story, and Harbin’s fun little jaunt, there’s something for everyone here. Definitely check this book out if you get a chance.

]]> http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2008/06/25/superior-showcase-3/feed/ 4
Johnny Hiro #1-2 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2007/11/28/johnny-hiro-1-2/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2007/11/28/johnny-hiro-1-2/#comments Wed, 28 Nov 2007 05:00:36 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2007/11/28/johnny-hiro-1-2/ By Fred Chao 32 pages, black and white Published by AdHouse Books

Every now and then, I hear people talking about the idea of going away from single issues of comics (in favor of strictly longer-form graphic novels) and I think to myself, “Would that really be such a bad thing?” What always makes me [...]]]> By Fred Chao
32 pages, black and white
Published by AdHouse Books

Every now and then, I hear people talking about the idea of going away from single issues of comics (in favor of strictly longer-form graphic novels) and I think to myself, “Would that really be such a bad thing?” What always makes me come to my senses, though, is coming across a comic that uses the single-issue format perfectly. And so, with that in mind, another book to add to that list is Fred Chao’s Johnny Hiro, one that can best be summed up as 32-page bursts of sheer fun.

Johnny Hiro and his girlfriend Mayumi live blissfully in New York City. She has an office job, he waits tables. Life is pretty good so long as nothing is thrown into their path. Unfortunately, sometimes there’s just no escaping those obstacles, like Gozadilla (a city-destroying monster) or Jeffrey Steingarten (food editor of Vogue magazine). And so, with no other choice, Johnny Hiro must be… a hero.

With just two issues of Johnny Hiro published to date, what impressed me right off the bat was how Chao has managed to both mix things up from one issue’s story to the next, and yet still provide a cohesive feel and tone to the series. The first issue, with its Godzilla-esque monster and giant-robot-riding flashbacks, runs rampantly into the world of science-fantasy, a trippy and over-the-top romp through movie clichés and tropes. The second issue’s plot, then, may have been a bit of a surprise to readers with a story about trying to obtain a lobster so a restaurant could impress a food critic, firmly rooted in reality. What both of these issues have in common, though, is their general attitude and approach to how the story unfolds. There’s a certain lightness about them, a lack of taking things too seriously. Chao has fun as he puts Hiro through the wringer, flashing back to the past, pulling in family members, occasionally even noting the silliness in what’s going on.

Chao also has a sharp narration style, mixing in pop culture references and internal musings of the characters in a way that never feels intrusive or forced; it all flows very naturally in such a way that the book would be radically different without it. It works especially well when Chao dwells on Hiro and Mayumi’s relationship, one of the centerpieces of the series. I really like reading about their caring for each other; it’s a realistic kind of relationship, one that is neither smothering nor disregarding the other half. While we’re still learning a lot about both of them, they’re already coming across as two genuine, believable characters. As much fun as the action sequences are in the series (and Hiro’s run across the city in the second issue was a real joy to read), I think it’s their relationship that is my favorite part of the series.

Chao’s art in Johnny Hiro is an interesting mixture of simplicity and detail, one that mirrors the different sides of his writing. We’ve got faces here with little dots for eyes and a squiggle for a smile, but you turn the page and find a beautifully rendered drawing of Kannon, the Japanese goddess of mercy. Some pages are full of cityscapes with rowhouses and trash cans and bunny slippers, others dispense entirely with backgrounds in favor of graytones as to let you focus more on the action in the foreground. It was with the second issue, though, that I really started to notice Chao’s ability to draw action sequences. The panel of Hiro running out of the restaurant with a stolen lobster while the chefs leap after him is wonderful, because you can just see the energy in that single, frozen image. Likewise, Hiro jumping up towards a fire escape ladder—complete with action trails behind him and a spa-kashh sound-effect—contains a lot of movement even in its slightly goofy nature. It’s a fun, slightly whimsical art style, and that in many ways is the perfect description of Johnny Hiro.

Reading each issue of Johnny Hiro reminds me that bigger isn’t always better; while I have no doubt that Chao could certainly create an excellent graphic novel with the character, for now I think it actually works better in this format. 32 pages is just the right amount for a short story involving Hiro and Mayumi’s latest adventure; it never overstays its welcome, and concludes still feeling fresh and fun and with the reader wanting to see more. Definitely take a look at Johnny Hiro, because if you haven’t looked at it because of its format, you really are missing out on a great thing. More, please.

]]> http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2007/11/28/johnny-hiro-1-2/feed/ 4
Project: Romantic http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2007/02/14/project-romantic/ Wed, 14 Feb 2007 05:00:41 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2007/02/14/project-romantic/ Edited by Chris Pitzer 256 pages, color Published by AdHouse Books

Themed anthologies are a tricky proposition. First, you’ve got to have a theme that readers will find interesting enough to want to read. Next, it needs to inspire creators without constricting them so much as to make it unworkable. Last but not least, it [...]]]> Edited by Chris Pitzer
256 pages, color
Published by AdHouse Books

Themed anthologies are a tricky proposition. First, you’ve got to have a theme that readers will find interesting enough to want to read. Next, it needs to inspire creators without constricting them so much as to make it unworkable. Last but not least, it needs to avoid being one-note, with the same basic idea getting retreaded by every story in the collection. I think all of that is why AdHouse Books’s Project: Romantic is one of my favorite anthologies to come out in a long while; it avoids all of the pitfalls associated with themed anthologies while hitting numerous highs.

Listing the high points of Project: Romantic and its love-themed stories could theoretically take all day; the number of highs that show up in this volume’s thirty-three stories is really remarkable. The book opens (after a brief and interesting essay on the history of romance comics) with Debbie Huey’s “Jumped” which features adorably drawn ninjas fighting each other. Cute ninjas? Perhaps not what you were expecting, but it not only works, but it sets the tone for the rest of the book to come. With each new story, the imagination continues to flow. Perhaps an old-school EC Comics styled supernatural avenger helping the lovelorn? A boyfriend who transformed into a bear? A woman addicted to the eroticness of flatulence? Vampires dreaming of true love? Obsessions with baseball? The possibilities are quickly proven to be endless here, and each new iteration is a surprise.

A handful of stories manage to stand out above the rest, though, as the real gems of the collection. Aaron Renier’s “Reflectors & Rutabagas” has a beautifully realized setting for the reader to discover, with unusually tall-yet-elegant bicycles moving gracefully through a world with elaborate rooftop gardens. The backdrop of the story itself is as much a love story as the two characters who meet while dumpster-diving for compost. Renier’s mix of colors amidst his designs is a visual burst of energy that can’t help but inspire and enthrall. Kelly Alder’s “In & Out” is conversely drawn with just pencil on a tan background, but his rough pencil style really brings to life his wonderfully twisted take on dominant personalities in relationships. Rian Hughes’s “iGirl” manages with no dialogue and only three splash illustrations to bring an entire relationship to life—and looks so amazingly stylish that it will make you wish once again that Hughes did more work in comic books.

Maris Wicks’s “Adventure Love Story” is drawn simply, two iconic shapes that go through a choose-your-own-adventure love story scattered throughout pages of the book. At a glance the idea might come across as irritating, but Wicks keeps too many branches from occurring as to not let the reader get frustrated, and the eventual pay-offs with the different happy endings (provided you don’t decide to bring crocodiles into the mix—almost never a way to end up with anyone but the hungry reptile smiling) are well worth the flipping back and forth through the pages as you make decisions on what will happen next. Interestingly enough, the two other contributions that are scattered throughout the book are also some of the strongest pieces on the book. Josh Cotter’s four “Kingdom Animalia, Illustrated” with different species romance are all funny, although even then there’s a nice punch waiting at the end of the final piece that says more about relationships in a one-page gag strip than some people can do in a dozen pages. Joel Priddy’s “Sweetie ‘n Me” involving a evil megalomaniac and the love of his life are also infused with humor, but there’s a genuinely sweet nature throughout them that is actually the real high point of the stories; the relationship is the selling point, not the jokes about evil and desert island lairs.

Editor Chris Pitzer mentions in the book’s indicia that this is the third and final themed anthology in the “Project” series from AdHouse Books. As enjoyable as Project: Telstar and Project: Superior were, Pitzer and his contributors have clearly saved the best for last. It’s always best to end on a high note, but after a book as artistically successful as Project: Romantic with not a dud in the bunch, it’s a little sad to see that we won’t get a fourth “Project” book for 2007. Still, we can always hope, right? The idea of another book waiting around the corner waiting for us is almost romantic, after all, and if there’s one thing you’ll learn from this book it’s that you can always hope for the best. In the case of Project: Romantic, the best is exactly what you’re getting. Highly recommended.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

]]>
Noble Boy http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2006/08/11/noble-boy/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2006/08/11/noble-boy/#comments Fri, 11 Aug 2006 04:00:26 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2006/08/11/noble-boy/ By Scott Morse 32 pages, color Published by Red Window; distributed by AdHouse Books

I have a horrible confession to make; despite having seen a lot of and appreciating classic animation, I know very little about the people behind the scenes that created the works in the first place. That’s why Scott Morse’s Noble Boy [...]]]> By Scott Morse
32 pages, color
Published by Red Window; distributed by AdHouse Books

I have a horrible confession to make; despite having seen a lot of and appreciating classic animation, I know very little about the people behind the scenes that created the works in the first place. That’s why Scott Morse’s Noble Boy seemed like such a dream made true, with his biography of animation great Maurice Noble hopefully illuminating people like myself into his life.

Maurice Noble went through college forced to dig for half-used tubes of paint thrown away by rich students, and may have been consigned to a life of department store window dressing if Disney hadn’t brought him into the animation fold. What Noble brought into the world of animation was not only his skills, though, but someone that people would look up to as not just a talent but as a person.

It’s interesting to read Morse’s recollections of Noble; knowing that Morse worked with the animation great made me excited because I figured if anyone could bring Noble to life it would be him. And the first time I read through Noble Boy… I was actually a little disappointed. It wasn’t until I sat down and read it again that I began to figure out that the problem wasn’t what Morse created, but rather what I’d wanted Morse to create. I found myself expecting a lavish biography of Noble, and it was an unfair expectation to put on a 32-page book printed on thick boards where half the pages are paintings facing pieces of rhyming text. In many ways it’s a children’s book for adults, giving us just small glimpses into Noble and it was like to be around him.

Once I figured that out, Noble Boy took on a very different shape. What I had now wasn’t a biography but rather a collection of snapshots from Morse, with verses to make me smile as I looked at them again. At the same time, each piece is a springboard to make you want to know more. By the time I’d finished my re-reading of Noble Boy I found myself online performing research on the 1941 artist strike at Disney, or to learn more about his collaborations with Chuck Jones. Noble Boy is a primer for finding out about Noble’s life, and in that I appreciate it. More importantly, Morse peppers the book with his personal recollections of Noble, from what his house was like, to the teasing rebukes Noble would give Morse for wearing his baseball cap backwards. We start to get the glimmers of what Noble was like, and while I’d have loved to see even more, it’s a nice first look for people like me who never knew anything about Noble before now.

I’m sure Noble would’ve been honored to see the 17 paintings that Morse created in honor of him for Noble Boy. Each of these 9.5×5.5″ illustrations are full of eye-popping colors, a montage of events in Noble’s life. Some of them are specific scenes, like Noble running down the steps beckoning his “flock” of students (represented as birds throughout the book) to come along, while others are more symbolic, like the pink elephants that he illustrated from Dumbo amidst other hallmarks from the Disney era of his life. The one thing they all have in common is how Morse almost makes the reader’s eye slide across the page, pulling in all the detail piece by piece. There’s a sense of motion to these illustrations despite them all being a single image; for someone who studied animation under Noble, it’s very apt that Morse has found a way to bring single illustrations to life just as easily.

While Noble Boy may not have been what I expected at first, it’s an attractive, beautifully produced book. I love the care that was put into its physical production as well, with the thick cardboard pages that you normally find in children’s books, the careful design of the spine to keep it from cracking when you turn the pages, to the carefully rounded edges of the corners. This is the sort of book you can keep out for guests to continually wow them with the level of craft and care on display here. For fans of Morse’s art, or who just want to begin to learn about Noble’s life, this is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

]]> http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2006/08/11/noble-boy/feed/ 2
Bumperboy Loses His Marbles! http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2005/07/27/bumperboy-loses-his-marbles/ Wed, 27 Jul 2005 04:00:34 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2005/07/27/bumperboy-loses-his-marbles/ By Debbie Huey 96 pages, brown and white Self-published; distributed by AdHouse Books

This may sound strange, but I felt like I knew Bumperboy even before I read Bumperboy Loses His Marbles! Maybe it’s because for a while now I’ve had friends who’ve been telling me how cute Debbie Huey’s mini-comics are. Maybe it’s all [...]]]> By Debbie Huey
96 pages, brown and white
Self-published; distributed by AdHouse Books

This may sound strange, but I felt like I knew Bumperboy even before I read Bumperboy Loses His Marbles! Maybe it’s because for a while now I’ve had friends who’ve been telling me how cute Debbie Huey’s mini-comics are. Maybe it’s all of the great pictures from the Bumperboy website, with a little cardboard stand-up of Bumperboy posing with various people and places all over the world. Or maybe it’s just because Bumperboy looks so cute?

Bumperboy’s ready to go to the big marble tournament and he couldn’t be more excited! He’s got his Grandma’s special shooter, after all, and he and his good friend Gordy are both really good at marbles. Unfortunately, that mean bird Frederik is determined to win the marble tournament himself, and if that means making Bumperboy lose all his marbles down the Borp Hole that leads to other worlds… well, Bumperboy and Bumperpup have got some work ahead of them if they’re going to find all of the marbles in time for the big tournament!

I think what initially struck me so much with Bumperboy Loses His Marbles! is that while this is clearly a book that is aimed at all ages, Huey never talks down to her audience. There’s a lot of great humor on display here, from names of the Onomatopeople being Bam, Bap, and Pow; to having jokes like the marbles literally falling off of a rocker, or Bumperpup going off the deep end into a lake. Huey assumes that you’re smart enough to get the jokes, and for that matter, her characters and situations. The book doesn’t take time out to dump heavy levels of exposition on the reader, and it never needs to. Everything’s presented in context, and is perfectly understandable; Huey doesn’t have to explain that Frederik’s not to be trusted, for instance, or that Gordy is Bumperboy’s best friend. It’s all there, easily understandable. Most importantly, though, Bumperboy Loses His Marbles! is just plain fun. The story moves at a good clip, and for someone whose eyes would normally be glazing over at the mention of the big marbles tournament, Huey does a good job of making it fun and suspenseful.

The art in Bumperboy Loses His Marbles! is, unsurprisingly, just as good as the writing. Huey keeps it simple with appealing character designs, from Gordy’s socks to Bumperboy’s spaceman-like look. I didn’t know that an otter wearing a swim cap could be so amazingly cute, for instance, but Huey has shown me the error of my ways. The storytelling is straight-forward and to the point, something that’s critically important for an all-ages book. It’s really easy to follow the action from one panel to the next, and with such an inviting and relaxing style it’s a pleasure to do so.

Bumperboy Loses His Marbles! is a fun little book; it’s not the next great literary novel but it’s not trying to be. It’s shooting for enjoyable (no marbles pun intended) and that’s exactly what it is. I found myself smiling the whole way through the book, and I’d be surprised if it was possible to get to the end without doing so. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for whatever Huey does next.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

]]>
Process Recess: The Art of James Jean http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2005/04/15/process-recess-the-art-of-james-jean/ Fri, 15 Apr 2005 04:00:00 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2005/04/15/process-recess-the-art-of-james-jean/ By James Jean 224 pages, color & black and white Published by AdHouse Books

If you’ve been to a comic book store lately, you’ve probably seen a cover by James Jean. Jean’s covers are some of the most striking in the industry, gracing books like Fables, Green Arrow, and Batgirl. When I heard that he [...]]]> By James Jean
224 pages, color & black and white
Published by AdHouse Books

If you’ve been to a comic book store lately, you’ve probably seen a cover by James Jean. Jean’s covers are some of the most striking in the industry, gracing books like Fables, Green Arrow, and Batgirl. When I heard that he had an art book about to be released by AdHouse Books, whose design sense is always a selling point on each and every book, I instantly knew that this book would be a winner.

Process Recess opens with Jean’s paintings, something which I’ve been familiar with in terms of his style. His art’s always seemed very slick and fluid, almost sliding across the page towards the reader. What people who have only seen his covers might not realize is how inventive Jean is when letting his imagination run wild instead of simply illustrating someone else’s characters. The mundane and the fantastic often collide here, from an invisible man reaching for his hat, to a disturbing restaurant scene where something is distinctly wrong with the patrons. Each image captures your imagination instantly, making you almost desperate to know the full story behind the creation. Some of the paintings in Process Recess are complex in their creation, others are almost simplistic, but each is eye-catching in its own way.

Jean also includes some of his pencil and ink work, and for those who haven’t seen it before, it’s just as striking as his paintings. One of the early drawn sections is “K”, a series of illustrations on a single person. While almost all of the illustrations are of her asleep, it’s fascinating to see all the slight differences from one drawing to the next, the slight shifts in her posture that occur. Jean uses beautiful thin lines to create what are almost like cobweb constructions of people, buildings, and anything else that strikes his fancy. These fragile pencils and inks come together in such a way that he’s able to give a real sense of anatomy and understanding of the world around him. Once he adds in his shading, the drawings gain weight and texture as well, finishing the process to fully form a beautiful piece of art. This isn’t a painted “photo-realism” that so often comes across as stiff and lifeless; this is looking at a page and recognizing your own life within its drawings.

Process Recess‘s “Recess” portion is one of my favorite parts of the book because of its sheer inventiveness of different paintings involving children. From a gaunt figure being dragged onto a school bus to a slightly disturbing jump rope scene, it’s a school as viewed through a warped piece of glass; everything is recognizable but it’s all slightly off-kilter following a very specific set of rules that only the creator completely understands. It’s a beautiful contrast to his travel journals that follow, with their tantalizing script that made me want to break out a magnifying glass to see what notes Jean had written to themselves, matched with more of Jean’s amazing pencil and ink creations. From one medium to the next, everything is always recognizably by Jean and nothing short of brilliant.

Before reading Process Recess I always had great respect for Jean, but now that I’ve experienced this book he’s gone up even higher in my eyes. Jean’s one of the truly great artists working in comics today, and getting a glimpse into what Jean calls “condensing the spectrum of experience into technicolor”. Out of all the art books that I’ve reviewed this week, to say nothing of my rather substantial library of the format, Process Recess is my favorite by a mile. This is a book I’ll treasure for years to come.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

]]>
Skyscrapers of the Midwest #1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2005/01/18/skyscrapers-of-the-midwest-1/ Tue, 18 Jan 2005 04:00:17 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2005/01/18/skyscrapers-of-the-midwest-1/ By Joshua Cotter 56 pages, black and white Published by AdHouse Books

For better or for worse, a familiar theme in comics seems to be about the trials and tribulations of childhood. Most of the time you see the subject matter coming a mile away, resulting in good but still fairly predictable stories. Maybe it [...]]]> By Joshua Cotter
56 pages, black and white
Published by AdHouse Books

For better or for worse, a familiar theme in comics seems to be about the trials and tribulations of childhood. Most of the time you see the subject matter coming a mile away, resulting in good but still fairly predictable stories. Maybe it was the imaginative title of Skyscrapers of the Midwest, or perhaps the cute anthropomorphic cats that make up its cast, but I have to say that in many ways this is one of the few books that genuinely surprised me in quite a while.

As a pair of brothers grow up in rural America, the two have to fend off a number of enemies. It’s not the big things like evil robot warriors or monsters from outer space that they have to worry about, because they’re sure they could take care of those. No, it’s the menaces of fellow students, self-deprecation, and the unknown that are the real killers here.

When I first read Skyscrapers of the Midwest it reminded me of another book, but it took me a while to figure out the connection. The book in question was Debbie Dreschler’s Daddy’s Girl, and while the two are very dissimilar in subject matter, they had one thing in common: reading them opens you as a reader up to the possibility of soul-crushing despair. A lot of the basic ideas are ones you’ve read before, like being ostracized on the playground as a child, or a gift that is both great and bad at the same time. What hits home with this first issue of Skyscrapers of the Midwest is how well the stories are crafted. There’s a real sense of raw emotion on display here, able to evoke feelings with the greatest of ease. You can actually sense the impending disaster when the boys visit their grandmother, for instance, even though it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what has gone wrong or what the clues are. Even when things seem to be going right, there’s always that air of disaster in the background. In stories where there’s a genuine punchline waiting to be unleashed at the end instead of something bad, it’s such a relief that you can’t help but actually give off a sigh as the breath you’ve been holding is finally released. This is really powerful stuff that Joshua Cotter is ready to almost casually unleash on his readers.

The art in Skyscrapers of the Midwest is integral to the emotions that are broadcast through its pages. The characters drawn as cats could have easily backfired, but Cotter’s art style makes it all the better. The way he creates the characters on the page allows so many feelings to shine through on their faces and through their body language; when the older brother isn’t picked to play with the other boys, you can see his shoulders tense up and his torso pull together in surprise and vulnerability, then drop in disappointment as he’s abandoned by his classmates. Sometimes the art is a combination of subtle and shocking, like in the trip to the grandmother’s where at first everything just seems wrong even in the face of normality, only to have the bizarre and terrifying suddenly appear without any warning. The way that Cotter draws the grandmother’s affliction is clever, letting it look horribly wrong by our standards, yet able to stand for so many different possible things in the reader’s mind. It’s a carefully crafted end result, and one that works really well.

Everything in Skyscrapers of the Midwest works perfectly for me, even down to the fake advertisements and letters pages which seem normal at first but are in fact horribly off-kilter. It’s easy to see why the original mini-comic editions of Skyscrapers of the Midwest generated so much buzz; this is a comic that manages to be incredibly compelling even as it disturbs and unsettles. The comic evokes strong enough feelings in me that I can’t say I’m eager to read a second issue right away—there’s only so much of a downer one wants to experience in such a short time span—but I know that when it is published, I’ll be more than ready to jump on board. Cotter’s creations may be depressing, but you just can’t stop reading it. Now that’s talent.

]]>
Sequential http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2004/12/15/sequential/ Wed, 15 Dec 2004 04:00:38 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2004/12/15/sequential/ By Paul Hornschemeier 256 pages, black and white, with two-color Published by AdHouse Books

Think back to the first time you tried to do something that requires talent, something that over the years you’ve improved at greatly. Are you cringing? That’s a reaction that most of us have; when you’ve gotten good at something, it’s [...]]]> By Paul Hornschemeier
256 pages, black and white, with two-color
Published by AdHouse Books

Think back to the first time you tried to do something that requires talent, something that over the years you’ve improved at greatly. Are you cringing? That’s a reaction that most of us have; when you’ve gotten good at something, it’s tough to look back at those earlier, faltering steps. I think that’s what initially intrigued me so much about the new Sequential hardback collection. Paul Hornschemeier’s comics like Mother, Come Home and Return of the Elephant completely enchanted me, so a chance to see his earliest self-published book made me wonder: was Hornschemeier always this good?

In the earliest of Sequential‘s seven issues, it’s safe to say that Hornschemeier’s comics were pretty different from what they’d ultimately become. The book was a lot of one- and two-page jokes, letting people wait for the final punchline. Even in those earliest stories, though, Hornschemeier had begun to play with style and form. There’s a story from Sequential #2, for instance, which opens with a two-page sequence of a man having a seizure. Hornschemeier scatters panels across the page, each connected to another one in a web of lines. It jerks the reader’s eyes from one spot to the next, and helps simulate the idea of a seizure in a clever and effective way. (The story then ultimately ends, like the rest of the early stories, with a punchline.) Hornschemeier’s art at this stage was full of much thinner lines than what I’m used to now; it’s a style that attempts to be much more detailed than what Hornschemeier uses now, but at the same time it manages to somehow look simpler at the same time.

As the series progresses, though, each issue gets a little stronger and more intriguing. Sequential #4, for instance, has the bleak and somewhat disturbing “Saving Face” with its glimpse into one person’s day and the literal mask they wear; the black comedy of “Lover’s Lane” as people perform a ritual that will keep them together; and “Let’s Play Gay or Straight”, Hornschemeier’s deeply cynical look at assumptions and bigotry. None of these are meant to illicit a laugh like some of the earlier issues, and Hornschemeier’s starting to find his own unique voice in his writing.

By the seventh and final issue of Sequential, Hornschemeier had started two serials that are unfortunately never completed. “The Devil’s Lonely Day” is one that actually requires the serialized format to have it realize its full impact; it’s told in three six-page installments, but the first installment featured pages 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, and 16. The idea was that you could read each group of pages on its own and they would make sense, but if you resequenced all eighteen pages together it would work as well. It’s a fascinating experiment, and while the first two segments certainly work, it’s frustrating to never get that third and final group of pages to see just how they fit into the story as well.

The other serial, “The Suppression of William T. Andrews”, intrigues me in part because of its unfinished nature. The story of a boy who due to society’s pressures hides a part of his nature starts first with his life as a child, then as a young man. Seeing the changes that have happened between those years is interesting, and wondering what would happen next after a sudden confrontation is a little frustrating, but at the same time it lets you really think about the character’s life, someone who like in real life has dropped off of your radar and left you in the dark as to their own whereabouts.

“Ex Falso Quadlibet” is probably the closest in style and form to what Hornschemeier is producing today, telling the story of a fish-headed man who is feeling the vacancy of a loved one that’s gone away. It’s an ode to loneliness and patterns that we fall into, and a lot of the genesis of Hornschemeier’s later projects seems to come from the thoughts and ideas raised here. It’s also the closest visually to Hornschemeier’s current works, using different shades of a second colored ink to provide a gentle contrast on the page. By this point Hornschemeier’s lines have developed a rounded softness that helps disarm the reader, making them more vulnerable to the emotional weight of the story.

Sequential is a fascinating study in a creator’s progress. It’s rare to see someone’s learning process so thoroughly documented as Sequential is for Hornschemeier, and how interesting looking at that road can be. It’s a handsome book chronicling the creations of one of comics’s most interesting young creators, and if this sounds interesting to you, then you’ll be just as delighted with Sequential as I was.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

]]>
One Step After Another http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2004/11/23/one-step-after-another/ Tue, 23 Nov 2004 04:00:33 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2004/11/23/one-step-after-another/ By Fermin Solis 40 pages, black and white Published by AdHouse Books

The world of comics is getting smaller, and that’s a good thing. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have imagined that having Spanish comics translated into English would not only be happening on a regular basis, but getting to the point of it being [...]]]> By Fermin Solis
40 pages, black and white
Published by AdHouse Books

The world of comics is getting smaller, and that’s a good thing. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have imagined that having Spanish comics translated into English would not only be happening on a regular basis, but getting to the point of it being little more than a footnote in the release of a book. One Step After Another‘s hook isn’t that it was originally published in Spain, but that it’s just a genuinely good comic.

Olga is 18 years old, in search of a job and somewhere to live. She thinks she’s found both, but the adult world in store for her is hardly what she wants in life. It’s much more fun to hang out with free-spirited and generally “cool” people. If she doesn’t work on keeping her job, though, what will this mean for her future?

This is the first work of Fermin Solis’s that I’ve read, and it’s an interesting introduction to his comics. It reminds me of Michel Rabagliati’s work on books like Paul has a Summer Job. It’s a step into a mundane life, one full of drudgery and less than ideal circumstances. Solis walks a fine line with Olga; I couldn’t help but feel sorry for someone who’s clearly not ready to deal with the rest of the world in such a manner, but at the same time it’s easy to not particularly like her. She’s sulky and petulant, and some of her decisions aren’t necessarily the smartest ones she could have made. She’s by no means a perfect person, and for me part of the interest of One Step After Another was seeing if Olga would find a way to make better decisions while still staying true to herself, and it’s a struggle that Olga fights with throughout the comic.

One Step After Another features an introduction by Andi Watson, and it’s easy to see why Solis would have wanted Watson’s contribution. Solis’s art style reminds me a lot of Watson’s, with its use of grays for shading, and thick heavy blank inks to help provide shape to the comic. It’s a very attractive look, and in One Step After Another‘s slightly smaller dimensions it reproduces beautifully.

The ending of One Step After Another is a peculiar one because Solis both provides an ending and gives himself room for more stories with the characters if he so desires. I’m not entirely sure I’d want to see more of Olga unless I felt we’d see some growth in her character—for a one-shot story she’s a good protagonist, but her negative traits could be tiring if they kept showing up—but I do definitely want to see more comics by Solis translated into English. He’s got a nice art style, and that’s always welcome on my bookshelf.

Purchase Links:

]]>
Return of the Elephant http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2004/09/03/return-of-the-elephant/ Fri, 03 Sep 2004 04:00:09 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2004/11/03/return-of-the-elephant/ By Paul Hornschemeier 48 pages, two-color Published by AdHouse Books

One trait that all of my favorite comic creators share is that I never really know what to expect. I’ve just learned that’s true with Paul Hornschemeier, someone who’s quickly moved his way onto that select group. His first issue of Forlorn Funnies was an [...]]]> By Paul Hornschemeier
48 pages, two-color
Published by AdHouse Books

One trait that all of my favorite comic creators share is that I never really know what to expect. I’ve just learned that’s true with Paul Hornschemeier, someone who’s quickly moved his way onto that select group. His first issue of Forlorn Funnies was an inventive and humorous mixture of genres and styles, while Mother, Come Home was a meticulously crafted story of loss and remembrance. I thought that maybe I could expect what to get out of his new comic Return of the Elephant. I was wrong.

A man is taking the afternoon off from his mailroom job. His cousin, he’s told his boss, is coming to visit. When his visitor does arrive, though, it brings back memories from the past… as well as the question of what this visit is really about being raised to the reader.

Return of the Elephant could almost be considered a mystery, but the mystery isn’t for the characters of the book but for the reader. Hornschemeier carefully parcels out information in bits and pieces, letting you know just enough to make you want to learn more. So much of Return of the Elephant is deliberately unspoken, even down to the names of the characters. With each page you learn a little more, but at the same time Hornschemeier slowly creates a sense of terror that grows with each passing moment. What at first seems like a simple visit by a cousin is rapidly turning into something else… but what, you’re never entirely sure until it’s too late. It’s amazing how just small words and phrases like “I figured we could watch” can be so dangerous when placed in just the right moment. Even in the final panels of Return of the Elephant, Hornschemeier is able to put just the right air of mystery and terror into them, keeping the reader’s attention to the very last possible second.

Paul Hornschemeier’s art is as delicate and perfectly structured as I remembered it. Return of the Elephant is designed as a tall, narrow book, with each page consisting of two panels stacked on top of each other. In every panel are soft lines that carefully form character’s face, with rounded noses and soft hair. It’s this gentleness that helps lull the reader into a false sense of security until the menace begins to slowly build. So much of the mood of Return of the Elephant is dependent on Hornschemeier’s art. When our two characters meet each other, at first they’re standing near to each other, laughing, and putting you at ease. It’s once they reach the house that the art begins to hint that something is not quite right. Hornschemeier draws uncomfortable silences between the two of them, a kitchen table serving as a barrier between the two of them as they stare at each other from opposite ends. It’s as the tension builds that you begin to look back at earlier pages and catch hints from the very beginning that there is an air of distrust being built throughout Return of the Elephant, with innocent actions like the applying of lotion to chapped knuckles suddenly feeling sinister. Hornschemeier uses a soft tan for a second color in Return of the Elephant, shading the book to give it a pleasant, sepia-toned effect. It adds to the viewer’s mind that we’re looking into quiet suburbia, the traditional home of “it couldn’t happen here”, a beautiful final touch to this tale of suspense.

Return of the Elephant is a real victory for Hornschemeier, creating something very different from his previous works but no less effective. Reading Return of the Elephant makes me all the more excited for his upcoming collection of his old Sequential anthologies; the idea of seeing still more variety in styles and themes from Hornschemeier is an attractive one. Don’t assume, though, that Return of the Elephant is just a sidestep between major projects for Hornschemeier, though. This is a thoroughly engrossing book that people are going to talk about for some time to come. I’m coming to expect nothing but the best from Hornschemeier, and that’s exactly what he delivered.

Purchase Links:

]]>