Oni – 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 Stumptown Vol. 2 #1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/09/17/stumptown-vol-2-1/ Mon, 17 Sep 2012 13:00:01 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2398 Written by Greg RuckaArt by Matthew Southworth32 pages, colorPublished by Oni Press

Almost three years ago, Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth’s first Stumptown mini-series debuted. Starring Dex Parios, it followed a private investigator in Portland, Oregon who was often down on her luck and even more often got in over her head. With the mini-series [...]]]> Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Matthew Southworth
32 pages, color
Published by Oni Press

Almost three years ago, Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth’s first Stumptown mini-series debuted. Starring Dex Parios, it followed a private investigator in Portland, Oregon who was often down on her luck and even more often got in over her head. With the mini-series having numerous delays, though, Rucka and Southworth promised that they’d wait until they could guarantee the next one would be on time before it began to appear. Well, it looks like that time is now, and with Stumptown Volume 2 #1 we’re getting "The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case." But with all the intervening time, is it too late for Stumptown to try and make a comeback?

I’ll admit that I was amused right off the bat when I realized what "The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case" was really about (a guitar stolen from a rock star), but fortunately there’s a lot more to Stumptown Vol. 2 #1 than just a play on words. Rucka does a good job of quickly re-establishing the series; in a matter of pages we’ve met Dex, we’re given an example of where she’s willing to take honor over a paycheck, and most importantly we get to see her interact with her new client Miriam Bracca. When Dex is interviewing Miriam and asks for the value of the guitar, that’s when we get to see how Dex’s mind works. As she deftly sidesteps the cost that the guitar originally went for in the pawnshop and shifts to both the emotional worth and also the fact that it was owned by Miriam, we see that Dex gets the criminal mind. Likewise, when she defuses a potentially deadly confrontation using nothing more than a stopwatch, it’s a reminder that Dex is smart. Obviously a private investigator that stays in business needs some brains, but Dex is more than just book-smart; she’s quick on her feet and once again shows that she knows how to engage the criminal mind. In short, she’s the kind of protagonist that you want in a story.

One thing that I appreciated about Stumptown Vol. 2 #1 is that Rucka doesn’t assume that we’ve read any of his earlier stories with these characters. Dex is of course from Stumptown Vol. 1 (now out in a nifty hardcover edition), but I didn’t know until later that Miriam appeared in one of Rucka’s prose novels (A Fistful of Rain). You don’t need to have read either of these books/comics, though. With the several year gap between Stumptown Vol. 1 and Stumptown Vol. 2, Rucka’s approached this as a new entry point for readers. That may sound like an obvious thing to do, but any long-time comic reader will know all about an issue #1 that is anything but new-reader friendly. The story moves at a nice clip, too; the tension builds up at just the right moments and by the end we’ve hit a strong end-of-chapter that should make people want to come back for issue #2.

The art in Stumptown Vol. 2 #1 is a little different than what we had in the first series, both for the better and the worse. Southworth is now teamed with colorist Rico Renzi, whose work here is spectacular. There’s a lot to love about the coloring in this issue; from the black-light poster influenced palette on the first page (perfect for a rock concert montage), to the gorgeous watercolor-smeared black clouds in the sky over Dex’s office. Every page feels like it’s been carefully thought out and attacked in a cohesive manner, and I think most comic creators would be counting their lucky stars to get something so well-composed. I’m a little less crazy, though, about the changes in Southworth’s art style. His art is much looser and not quite as strongly formed as it was in Stumptown Vol. 1, and while that style can work, it’s not quite coming together for me here. It feels a little too simple without also falling into the iconic category; it’s almost going for a Guy Davis sort of look, but Davis’s style came together over a number of years and was on stronger footing. Add in that this is a story set in the real world, and the rough, slightly-coming-apart art style doesn’t feel like the right match for Rucka’s script. The art in Stumptown Vol. 2 #1 is going to take a while to grow on me, but I’m willing to give it some more time. The page layouts are still strong, though, and I appreciated that the landmarks and neighborhoods of Portland felt alive and real to me as I read the comic.

Art quibbles aside, I’m still glad to see Stumptown having returned. It’s got a strong first issue script, and hopefully this means the series of mini-series is going to be back a little more often down the line. I’d forgotten how much fun the first story was until now, but getting Dex back is reason to celebrate. The book might not have come together 100% for me, but there’s definitely more than enough that makes me pleased and wanting to find out what happens next. I’ll be back.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Crogan’s Loyalty http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/06/15/crogans-loyalty/ Fri, 15 Jun 2012 13:00:27 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2316 By Chris Schweizer184 pages, black and whitePublished by Oni Press

It’s nice to be dependable, and that’s a word I’d used to describe Chris Schweizer’s Crogan’s Adventures series of graphic novels. Debuting in 2008 with the pirate romp of Crogan’s Vengeance and continuing in 2010 with the Foreign Legion desert adventure of Crogan’s March, I’ve [...]]]> By Chris Schweizer
184 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press

It’s nice to be dependable, and that’s a word I’d used to describe Chris Schweizer’s Crogan’s Adventures series of graphic novels. Debuting in 2008 with the pirate romp of Crogan’s Vengeance and continuing in 2010 with the Foreign Legion desert adventure of Crogan’s March, I’ve liked the idea of every two years getting a new volume. That trend’s continued with this year’s American Revolution story of Crogan’s Loyalty. And when I said that Schweizer was dependable, I wasn’t just talking about his publishing schedule; I know by now that each new story in the Crogan family tree is going to be a good, solid graphic novel.

Each of the Crogan graphic novels opens with a framing scene set in the present day, as Dr. Crogan and his wife deal with their energetic sons, Eric and Cory. Inevitably a story is told by Dr. Crogan about one of their ancestors, and from there we dip into the past. This time we get a story about two Crogans, Charles and William Crogan who fought on opposing sides of the Revolutionary War. And as we learn about the bonds of brotherhood and country, it rapidly becomes a story where it’s clear that it’s not ever easy to put one of the two ahead of the other.

In the hands of another creator, I think this basic thrust for Crogan’s Loyalty could come across as extremely cheesy. Fortunately, that’s not the case with Schweizer. With Crogan’s Loyalty, Schweizer side-steps that potential pitfall by giving us a strong look into both of the Crogan brothers’ heads and their loyalties, both to country and one another. In the opening framing sequence, Dr. Crogan quickly establishes that there isn’t a simple "one is good, one is bad" divide between the two, but rather a case where two people each fought for what they felt was right. It’s an important distinction to be made right at the start, because it sets Crogan’s Loyalty off on the right foot with the reader. Schweizer never makes Charles or William’s side of the war automatically the better one, something that succeeds in part because none of this is set during any major battles or events. It’s a small-scale story, where the relationship between the two brothers as well as with William’s love for local farmer Bess are what’s at stake.

Early in the book, we get a good look at the two brothers interacting in a friendly manner. It’s one of my favorite parts of Crogan’s Loyalty, as they finish each other’s sentences, trade stories about favorite memories, and generally laugh and have a good time. The sequence comes across extremely natural and not forced; you genuinely get the feeling that these two characters know and love one another, even as they continue to hold ideological differences. That’s something that certainly exists in families today, and I suspect a lot of readers will be able to see people they know reflected in the faces of Charles and William Crogan. When the balance of power begins to shift back and forth between the two—and that shift is important because it lets us see how each would act when they have they upper hand—we’re still able to remember that friendly rapport between the two and keep that in mind even as things begin to go south. I have a suspicion that most people will ultimately have a favorite Crogan between the two brothers by the end of Crogan’s Loyalty, but I appreciate that Schweizer never forces that decision on us through a narrative proclamation; at no point are we point-blank told whom we should cheer for.

It also doesn’t hurt that Crogan’s Loyalty is beautifully drawn from start to the finish. Unlike the earlier volumes, set on sailing ships or in either the desert or underground, here Schweizer’s story is deep in the wilderness, and that means a series of lush locations for him to draw. As a result we get tons of trees, rocks, streams, and even a climactic scene at a small waterfall. And sure, it’s a tiny bit of a cliche to have a fight over a waterfall, but it looks so great that it’s hard to complain (and it fits with the overall story).

More importantly, the art of Crogan’s Loyalty is about more than just the backgrounds. I like how Schweizer draws his characters; wide-eyed and open-faced, it’s a good thing that none of them are professional poker players because what we see is what we get. It’s an attractive look, and it lends itself to a lot of smooth motion across the page; everything from raising a rifle to hurling an axe comes across like we’re seeing it actually animated instead of as a static image. Schweizer also does a good job of blocking his panels and pages to draw the eye to just the right moments; when the brothers are suddenly, attacked, for instance, the Indian is cast in shadow so that he’s almost a force moving towards them. You see the Indian, then you see the brothers and the "Look out!" word balloon that he’s hurtling towards. There’s no way for the Indian to blend into the background here, grabbing your attention instantly.

Crogan’s Loyalty is another strong addition to the Crogan’s Adventures books. I love that each one stands on its own—you can absolutely read them in any order—and that Schweizer has once again given his book just the right pacing. After the deliberately abrupt ending of the main story for Crogan’s March (which was great but also cruel), long time readers will probably be a little happier with how Schweizer ends Crogan’s Loyalty; it ends at just the right moment, with a bit of epilogue told in the present day. Even better, I think the framing structure for present day sequence is at its best in this book; it’s got a lot more emotional heft than the previous two, and once again, Schweizer concludes that story at just the right moment. Crogan’s Loyalty is another winner from Schweizer. My only complaint is that when each book ends, it makes me want to read the next one right away. Crogan’s Loyalty is a charmer, through and through.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Secret History of D.B. Cooper #1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/03/16/secret-history-of-db-cooper-1/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/03/16/secret-history-of-db-cooper-1/#comments Fri, 16 Mar 2012 13:00:40 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2215 By Brian Churilla32 pages, colorPublished by Oni Press

The legend of D.B. Cooper is rather impressive, when you think about it. A man hijacks a plane, gets $200,000 in ransom money along with multiple parachutes, has the plane take back off, then jumps out with the money and is never seen again. Almost none of [...]]]> By Brian Churilla
32 pages, color
Published by Oni Press

The legend of D.B. Cooper is rather impressive, when you think about it. A man hijacks a plane, gets $200,000 in ransom money along with multiple parachutes, has the plane take back off, then jumps out with the money and is never seen again. Almost none of the money (all of the serial numbers recorded before being handed over) is ever discovered. Even the name "D.B. Cooper" is an error; all that was known was that he bought the ticket under the name "Dan Cooper." In other words, D.B. Cooper is the perfect person to write a comic book about. And so far, I’m impressed with Brian Churilla’s utterly bizarre and out there take on the man, because it’s not quite what you’d expect.

D.B. Cooper, as it turns out, is a CIA agent who travels on the psychic plane, conversing with a one-eared teddy bear named Lee and wielding a katana, able to assassinate people through this surreal world that are tucked away safely in the Kremlin. It’s a strange recasting of a mysterious public figure into something about as far off from reality as one can imagine, but it’s to Churilla’s credit that I think it works. It helps that Churilla keeps the reader off-balance for the first half of the issue, shifting back and forth between the psychic world and the real one, talking about cigarettes that never run out, goulash, and missing daughters. By the time you realize that the two worlds are connected, you’re deep into the first issue and your attention is presumably firmly grabbed.

Churilla delivers a lot of exposition about both Cooper and his role at the CIA, but at the same time leaves a lot of it to be discovered in future issues. We know about his missing daughter, but not why she’s gone or if the glimpse we see was really her. We know how Cooper enters the psychic world and for whom, but not how this will connect with the skyjacking that occurs just a week later. It’s a careful laying of breadcrumbs for the reader, with the idea being that the further we follow the trail, the closer we’ll be to that jackpot. In these early stages, I feel like we aren’t being led astray.

Churilla’s art for The Secret History of D.B. Cooper is fun; it’s a rounded, slightly puffy style that reminds me of a strange mixture of Mike Avon Oeming and Kelley Jones. His drawings of Cooper look simultaneously tough and soft; he’s visually approachable (especially once the sunglasses come off), but when he’s down to business, look out. What sold me on Churilla’s drawings, though, was how he draws the psychic world. From the Kremlin looking like a massive alien corpse, to hills made out of grimacing faces, it’s a surreal and entrancing world. Churilla regularly switches between the two by having one bleed into the next, and it’s an attractive and effective way to establish the link between the two places. The action sequences are strong, too; they’re easy to follow, and while there’s a little bit of gore, it’s drawn in a pleasantly cartoonish manner that will more likely have you chuckling than grimacing.

The Secret History of D.B. Cooper #1 is a good debut for the series; it establishes enough of the strangeness to hook you, but leads you on with more than enough held in reserve that you can’t feel like you already know all of the tricks and turns in store. I don’t remember seeing comics by Churilla before now, but I’ll definitely remember his name. If nothing else, I know I’ll be reading The Secret History of D.B. Cooper #2 in April. Check it out.

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Spontaneous #1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/05/25/spontaneous-1/ Wed, 25 May 2011 13:00:08 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1788 Written by Joe HarrisArt by Brett Weldele24 pages, colorPublished by Oni Press

In May 2010 for Free Comic Book Day, Oni Press released the first issue of their new series The Sixth Gun, letting people get a good look at an ongoing series with a no-risk guarantee that they didn’t pay too much for it. [...]]]> Written by Joe Harris
Art by Brett Weldele
24 pages, color
Published by Oni Press

In May 2010 for Free Comic Book Day, Oni Press released the first issue of their new series The Sixth Gun, letting people get a good look at an ongoing series with a no-risk guarantee that they didn’t pay too much for it. (Second printings, released later, were normally priced.) It makes sense, then, to follow suit this year with Joe Harris and Brett Weldele’s new series Spontaneous. And while it doesn’t have quite the same bang to it that The Sixth Gun‘s opening issue did, it’s still strong enough to hopefully lure prospective new readers on board.

The initial thrust of the series, with a wannabe reporter and a guy who tracks spontaneous combustion victims teaming up to figure out the mystery behind the sudden deaths, is a strange but interesting concept. In theory it doesn’t have to stay limited to spontaneous combustion (despite the title), but all sorts of mysteries and secrets. While Melvin is at least initially locked down just a narrow path (and more on him in a moment), it’s the character of Emily Durshmiller that widens the playing field. His aggressive "investigative reporter at large" character is a bit of a mixed message; I appreciate that in many ways she’s driving the plot as well as providing a route for exposition from the experienced Melvin to the readership. And meek, quiet characters are more often than not rather boring. But there’s something about her brash personality that also grates a bit. I think it’s when teamed up with the slightly over the top nature of her reporter shtick (using the diner as an "office," the old-fashioned camera complete with accordion lens and flashbulbs, the business cards) that it just becomes a little too much. She’s not just in your face, she’s occasionally clubbing you on the side of the head with a bat, and that’s when you want her to dial it down a tad.

As for Melvin, he’s a bit of a mixture as well. One minute he’s passive and observing, the next minute he’s berating a potential assistant. It’s his observation skills that ultimately make him likable, though. His comments on what he believes goes through a "burner’s" head when they burst into flames are having Harris show us that Melvin is a smart guy, and one who’s been doing this long enough to be able to genuinely piece together a pattern. He’s not quite a strong enough foil for Emily yet—more often than not she’s walking all over him—but hopefully the cliffhanger will help temper that relationship in future issues.

I am enjoying Brett Weldele’s art, which brings a perpetual look of over-exposed film to the page. That’s a good thing; those little bursts of white and orange bring to mind the effect that Weldele uses for when someone spontaneously combusts. The limited color palette makes you feel like at any moment the characters in the comic—or the comic book itself—could burst into flames. Weldele’s characters themselves have a look not quite like anything else in comics, with their square little noses, or the way that the lines that make up their face almost seem to just contain a void that somehow solidifies into a person. His backgrounds are usually a little sparse, but he makes up for that by his coloring techniques that effortlessly distract the casual reader from even noticing.

Spontaneous #1 is overall a good debut. I think this is Harris’s strongest script to date, and his teaming with Weldele feels like a good call. When the ongoing series debuts shortly, I’m interested enough to want to see what happens with #2. All in all, another Free Comic Book Day success story for Oni Press and company.

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Salt Water Taffy Vol. 4: Caldera’s Revenge! Part 1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/04/13/salt-water-taffy-calderas-revenge-pt1/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/04/13/salt-water-taffy-calderas-revenge-pt1/#comments Wed, 13 Apr 2011 13:00:29 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1751 Written by Matthew LouxArt by Matthew Loux and Brian Stone96 pages, black and whitePublished by Oni Press

It’s nice to see a series you love come back after a hiatus, and to that list we can now add Matthew Loux’s Salt Water Taffy. The first three volumes were a great bundle of all different sorts [...]]]> Written by Matthew Loux
Art by Matthew Loux and Brian Stone
96 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press

It’s nice to see a series you love come back after a hiatus, and to that list we can now add Matthew Loux’s Salt Water Taffy. The first three volumes were a great bundle of all different sorts of fun, mixing the typical "summer adventure" genre with big crazy ideas. And after a little over a year and half, it’s even better to be able report that the new book is just as much fun as you remembered.

Salt Water Taffy: Caldera’s Revenge Part 1 is the first multi-volume story in Salt Water Taffy, and as a result Loux takes a slightly different storytelling approach than with his previous volumes in the series. While the earlier stories always had an attractive amount of showcasing all of the strangeness in Chowder Bay, that’s even more on display here. Loux has the extra room to open with the different sailors in the area talking about their encounters with weirdness (my favorite is Douglas Fjord’s story of tracking down the legendary Wandering Pine of Chowder Bay, which is indeed an ambulatory pine tree). It’s a great way to ease into the oddball tone of Salt Water Taffy, and remind you that this is a town where anything and everything can happen.

Even with an extended scene involving a picnic at the Putnam household (home to our heroes Jack and Benny) doesn’t detract, as Loux brings in both new characters as well as some of the stranger past ones (both hero and villain) in search of hot dogs and chicken salad. But inevitably, the plot kicks into gear as it always does, almost by accident as Jack and Benny discover a stranded giant squid in Chowder Bay, and things just keep rolling from there. Like the adventures for teenagers novels that Salt Water Taffy feels inspired by, there’s a relaxed attitude about the comic; strange things happen and the characters just roll with it. It’s part of the appeal that Loux infuses into his story, because rather than spend time freaking out the characters just calmly take the next logical step. Talking giant squid? Offer it some hot dogs, of course. And with each new moment of strangeness, Loux ups the ante for the next encounter.

Speaking of upped ante, Loux does just that with his art for Caldera’s Revenge. I’ve liked his art in the past, with the thick, angular, sharp-edged ink lines that form the characters. There’s something about the way he draws them that makes me feel like they’ve almost been cut like a paper doll and grafted to the page, save for the fact that they feel like they move in an animated and energetic fashion. And for the existing characters, we still get that same look, although with time Loux’s gotten even better. But when it comes to the sea scenes, well, that’s where Loux pulls a new trick out of his sleeve. I love how the whale Caldera looks like a woodcut, erupting out of an old edition of Moby Dick. His characters are always so crisp and clean that it’s almost surprising to see one with such fine and textured detail appear in the world of Salt Water Taffy. It’s a look that also is matched in the mysterious 19th century sailing ship that pursues Caldera, and its ragged sails and worn wood planks seem to have followed Caldera right out of that other book. It’s a smart looking addition to the world of Salt Water Taffy, and it was a great way to use a visual to surprise the reader.

With the extra space due to the story spanning two volumes, Loux also has room for a back-up story starring Dan the Wolf (the villain from Salt Water Taffy: A Climb Up Mount Barnabas). It’s a fun piece, running concurrently with the main story, as Dan tries to scheme his way into the Putnam family picnic (and perhaps eat someone, if not at the very least all of those delicious hot dogs). In some ways it will remind you of the old Warner Brothers cartoons starring Wile E. Coyote, as his hapless attempts seem to just land him in progressively more trouble. (Lest the reader feel too bad for Dan, though, Loux helpfully reminds us that the reason why he’s not invited to the picnic is because he’ll try to eat someone.) It’s drawn by Brian Stone, whose art sports the same clean look as Loux’s, although with rounder edges to his figures. I love how Stone draws Dan’s hangdog expression, and it’s a good addition to the book.

Salt Water Taffy: Caldera’s Revenge Part 1 is a great return to the series by Loux, and a fun comic in general. It’s great to see Salt Water Taffy return; this is one of the few all-ages titles that genuinely is enjoyable for all ages to read. Be warned, though, if you’re a new reader. By the time you’re done, you’ll want to read all the other Salt Water Taffy books to date. This comic is a blast and a half, and so long as Loux creates more Salt Water Taffy comics, I’ll keep reading them.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Ivy http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/02/16/ivy/ Wed, 16 Feb 2011 13:00:34 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1683 By Sarah Oleksyk224 pages, black and whitePublished by Oni Press

I’ve become a convert to Sarah Oleksyk. Her story in Papercutter #4 was a stand-out in an already-strong comic, and likewise her contribution to I Saw You… was one of the stories worth seeking out. So with all that in mind, her first graphic novel [...]]]> By Sarah Oleksyk
224 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press

I’ve become a convert to Sarah Oleksyk. Her story in Papercutter #4 was a stand-out in an already-strong comic, and likewise her contribution to I Saw You… was one of the stories worth seeking out. So with all that in mind, her first graphic novel Ivy was a must-read. I’d seen some early chapters in mini-comic form, but it had been long enough that in many ways this was a new experience. And by the time I was done, I couldn’t help but feel that Oleksyk had made a book that should have turned me off, but instead kept pulling me in.

The main character of Ivy is, at her heart, not the most likeable of people. She’s got a scowl on her face more often than not. Aside from her two core friends, she doesn’t really interact with people. She’s prone to erupt into shouting jags about people that she’s decided are clearly out to get her. And at least one of her teachers has clearly had enough with Ivy, to boot. In short? She’s the kind of person who feels the world is out to get her, and carries a massive chip on her shoulder about it.

But despite all of these flaws, there’s something about Ivy which made me want to keep reading her story. Sure, she’s less than perfect (and then some) but in those rare moments when her guard is down, Oleksyk lets us see the other side of the character; a talented artist, a thoughtful person, someone who is ready to fall in love. She’s so angry and guarded that it’s hard to imagine it ever happening; after all, this is someone who can barely even understand or appreciate when people are on her side and trying to help out. But of course, it’s a field trip to an art college fair that turns her life upside down once she meets Josh. And what we get then is, well, one of the best depictions of young love that I’ve read in a while, from the first flash of interest to the moment that reality truly sets in.

"I imagined all the best parts of you," Ivy says towards the conclusion of the book, "wish I could do that for myself." It’s one of the strongest moments in the book, perhaps because it’s even more apt now than it was in the unspecified earlier time period of Ivy. (Pay phones are still everywhere, and there’s no sign of cell phones or the internet, so at a guess it’s sometime in the 1980s.) So often people read a profile of someone else and instantly create an entire relationship between them. ("We both love Farscape and ice hockey, it was clearly meant to be and we’ll be together forever!") But of course, such a thing happened even before the internet made those pitfalls that much easier to step into. Even as Ivy burns her bridges one-by-one in favor of her new crush Josh, you can see the disaster looming on the horizon, perhaps because you’ve been in that position yourself. It’s frustrating to read, even as you find yourself cheering for the Ivy that sometimes is self-aware enough to apologize to her friends when she’s just burned them, rather than act oblivious.

As for the rest of the story, well, I appreciate that Oleksyk ties up some parts of Ivy neatly but (just like real life) leaves some other threads hanging. There’s enough present in Oleksyk’s script that you can see those remaining pieces eventually getting dealt with in Ivy’s life, though, something that the earlier queen of avoidance would have never done. She’s more aware of both herself and her surroundings when the book comes to a close, and it ultimately makes reading about her low points worth it.

The art in Ivy is a strong selling point for the book; from the moment you first see Ivy’s scowl on her face in art class, you get a strong feeling for her character and what’s going through her head. A lot of careful detail is put into just about everything, from the huge range of emotions that run over everyone’s faces, to Ivy’s occasional daydreams where she imagines a better life for herself. Something as simple as Brad’s cringe of pain and embarrassment as Ivy starts yelling at her teacher is fantastic, as you can see his conflict on wanting Ivy to succeed and to just stop in that single moment. Oleksyk’s art in general is a beautiful style, one that isn’t afraid to play with some of the smaller details without drawing attention to themselves. I love the fish-eye lens that Ivy’s dream of hopping a train is shown through, for instance, or how the spiral cord on her headphones curls and pulls up and out of the panel to the edge of the page, plugging into an unseen stereo.

When Ivy came to a conclusion, I felt like I’d just finished a long run as I exhaled a breath I didn’t know I was holding. As up and down as the story goes (for Ivy), the book itself is remarkably consistent in drawing you in and making you care about a character that in real life you might avoid. Watching Ivy grow up is, in the end, a pleasurable experience and one that is worth the journey. After reading Oleksyk’s Papercutter story I’d already put her on the "must read" category, but Ivy has cemented her position there. This is a book that was well worth the wait.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Sixth Gun #6 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/11/22/sixth-gun-6/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/11/22/sixth-gun-6/#comments Mon, 22 Nov 2010 07:00:53 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1604 Written by Cullen BunnArt by Brian Hurtt40 pages, colorPublished by Oni Press

One of my absolute favorite new series this year is, easily, The Sixth Gun. Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt have, over the course of its first six issues, done exactly what I want in a new series: introduced the characters, provided a memorable [...]]]> Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt
40 pages, color
Published by Oni Press

One of my absolute favorite new series this year is, easily, The Sixth Gun. Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt have, over the course of its first six issues, done exactly what I want in a new series: introduced the characters, provided a memorable setting, and thrown a lot of surprises at us. With The Sixth Gun #6, we’ve hit the conclusion of the first story, and if anything I love it more than ever. Part of the fun is its snappy concept, with six cursed revolvers each having a different power for whomever is unlucky enough to be its wielder. Enter poor Becky, whose father owned the deadly Sixth Gun, which gives its owners glimpses of the future, and which is being hunted down by the dangerous General Hume (despite being dead).

The Sixth Gun has a little bit of everything for the reader. We’ve got mystical creations, a dreaded seal threatening to be breached, some nasty surprises, and a whole lot of action. Even if you’ve correctly guessed that The Sixth Gun #6 won’t culminate in the end of the world (but just think about the wait for issue #7 would be like), there’s more than enough to keep you guessing from start to finish, and gruesome and inventive use for one of the cursed guns that everyone’s trying to get their hands on. Becky and Drake continue to be strong leads for the comic, and having Brian Hurtt’s always-stunning art tackling the visuals is an added bonus. With each new issue of The Sixth Gun, I fall a little more in love with the series. If you’re a fan of adventure, horror, westerns, or just good comics in general, trust me: you must buy this comic.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Crogan’s March http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/04/16/crogans-march/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/04/16/crogans-march/#comments Fri, 16 Apr 2010 08:00:38 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1303 By Chris Schweizer216 pages, black and whitePublished by Oni Press

One of my favorite graphic novels of 2008 was Chris Schweizer’s Crogan’s Vengeance, the first in a proposed series of stories about various ancestors of the Crogan family tree over the years. Schweizer’s story of pirates and high-seas adventure hit all the right notes for [...]]]> By Chris Schweizer
216 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press

One of my favorite graphic novels of 2008 was Chris Schweizer’s Crogan’s Vengeance, the first in a proposed series of stories about various ancestors of the Crogan family tree over the years. Schweizer’s story of pirates and high-seas adventure hit all the right notes for me, and since then I’ve been looking forward to seeing if he could capture that lightning in the bottle a second time with Crogan’s March. What I found was a book that takes everything I liked about the earlier volume, and then improves on it. Now that’s something you don’t see every day.

Crogan’s March takes place in 1912, letting us meet Peter Crogan, member of the French Foreign Legion stationed in North Africa. At first it seems like a standard story with this kind of setting; Crogan has just a short time left on his five-year tour of duty, the troop is full of all sorts of characters, they’re generally disliked by the locals. And honestly, if that was all that Crogan’s March brought to the table, I’m sure that I would have enjoyed the end result if perhaps forgotten about it a few months later. The thing is, though, Crogan’s March early on begins to take a different route than I was expecting. The book opens with a member of the troop going missing in action after a horrific two-day sandstorm, and things never really improve from that point on for Crogan and company. This isn’t a story where everyone stops and realizes how great each other is and starts giving out big hugs; instead, this is a grim setting with some admittedly entertaining characters who are going to be lucky to make it out alive.

The end result is a curious mix of fun and deadly serious. We can get a bit of story where the soldiers sell their undergarments to make money to buy booze (only to realize the next morning that it might not have been the wisest of decisions thanks to scratchy pants), and then switch over to a raid that has the cheerful local boy kidnapped and hauled away to presumably a life of hardship and slavery. It’s a deliberate storytelling device on the part of Schweizer, letting us see how the members of the legion try to combat the nature of where they are, as well as giving the darker and more dramatic moments of the story additional heft. Even then, though, the book takes a huge turn at the halfway point, and I was startled enough at that point to momentarily put the book down and deliberately take myself out of the reading process to fully digest what had just happened.

Schweizer’s art helps carry the punch of this story; just like the script, on some page it’s cartoonish and funny, while others show off Schweizer’s skills in a more violent, tougher manner. Like Crogan’s Vengeance, I found the big fight scenes easy to follow, or at least when that was supposed to be the case. There are some moments in Crogan’s March where chaos breaks out and it’s drawn to be deliberately confusing, mirroring what Crogan and company are going through. It’s that use of perspective that keeps cropping up throughout the book; we "see" what’s happening through a focus on Crogan, so moments in a cave are handled by the use of sound effects moving across black panels, and shadows shift and move across the pages excellently. The one thing that did take me by surprise was his depiction of the North African cityscapes, which are beautiful; it felt like a big leap forward for Schweizer, and it makes me that much more eager to see the next book.

Crogan’s March, with its grimmer and more complex plot, stood out for me as something stronger than its predecessor. While I’d have been satisfied with all the Crogan books being primarily light-hearted and fun, knowing that Schweizer can stretch his legs to hit all different sorts of moods and styles makes me that much more interested in what is still to come. Published in an inexpensive but beautifully designed hardcover, Crogan’s March is an irresistible book. After Crogan’s Vengeance, I was looking forward to Crogan’s March. Now that I’ve read Crogan’s March, I’m dying to see 2011’s Crogan’s Loyalty. This is a series that I’m going to be enjoying for a very, very long time.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Spell Checkers Vol. 1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/04/02/spell-checkers-vol-1/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/04/02/spell-checkers-vol-1/#comments Fri, 02 Apr 2010 08:00:23 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1282 Written by Jamie S. RichArt by Nicolas Hitori de and Joëlle Jones144 pages, black and whitePublished by Oni Press

How bitchy do you like your bitchy-high-school-girls stories? That, at the end of the day, is going to determine how much you like the new Spell Checkers series of graphic novels from Oni Press. Because trust [...]]]> Written by Jamie S. Rich
Art by Nicolas Hitori de and Joëlle Jones
144 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press

How bitchy do you like your bitchy-high-school-girls stories? That, at the end of the day, is going to determine how much you like the new Spell Checkers series of graphic novels from Oni Press. Because trust me, Jamie S. Rich, Nicolas Hitore de, and Joëlle Jones have created a supremely bitchy trio of witches here, and while I suspect that will be a turn-off to some readers, other ones are going to laughing their heads off and cheering the ladies on for much, much more.

The early pages of Spell Checkers Volume 1 set up the status quo fairly quickly; Kimmie, Cynthia, and Jesse are three high school students who rule their school in terms of popularity, three queen bees buzzing their way down the halls. Except, in this case, we have three queen bees who use a stolen spell book to rise to the top of the ranks. It’s a nice twist on the typical "high school is hell" sort of story, doubly so because Spell Checkers is from the viewpoint of the oppressors and not the outsiders struggling to fit in.

At the heart of Spell Checkers, and what will ultimately determine if you like the book or not, is an extremely unapologetic trio of protagonists. They aren’t misunderstood, or "good people trying to break out" like you might see elsewhere. They’re backstabbing, manipulative, slightly lazy, untrustworthy people. They can barely stand to be around each other at times, each of the trio keeping a wary eye on the other two members. And that, really, is why I found that I enjoyed Spell Checkers Vol. 1 so much. Rich’s script is unrelenting as the three suddenly find their magic starting to fail and with it their grip on the school. As they turn on one another and their true colors come out, I didn’t find myself thinking, "I hope they find who is really doing all of these bad things." Instead, my reaction (and presumably the intended one from Rich) was, "Yay, fight!"

The girls are, at this point, largely interchangeable, but I didn’t mind that. We’re still learning how they saunter around the school and rule it, and in many ways they’re almost supposed to be identical save for superficial physical differences. They all scheme and plot, and even have the slightly condescending wave of their papers as they turn them in at the end of class. Down the line I suspect we’ll start seeing more differences between them, but for now they’re still being painted in broad strokes. As long as someone’s tossing out a particularly nasty line towards the other two, or we get to see more of just how each of them treat people not even within the little coven, it’s all good. There’s a lot of good humor here too that isn’t just snappish dialogue, from the group having to deal with a demon in the big finale of the book, to a nicely sadistic elementary school spelling bee that had me snickering. Spell Checkers lets Rich go hog-wild and have fun, and I whole-heartedly approve.

The book is primarily drawn by Hitori de, with Jones providing the art for flashbacks. While I’ve seen a lot of Jones’s art in the past and loved it, this was my first exposure to Hitori de. His style is a lot like westernized manga, with their flip hair and large heads. He’s got the energy level that manga artists who use this style are often associated with, too; when the girls leap across the room or try and claw each other’s eyes out, you can feel the motion building and then exploding across the page. I also like the ever-changing fashions that he brings to the characters, from paperboy caps and distressed jeans, to skirts (of varying lengths) and sweaters. The girls always look like they have real wardrobes, and it’s that attention to detail that helps make Spell Checkers seem more real, magical spells aside. Hitori de’s figures are a times a little too skinny and lanky, with body types either being ultra-skinny or slightly schlubby, but since the book is through the eyes of our skinny witches it’s something that could be a deliberate choice.

Jones tackling the flashback pages is a technique we saw back in Hopeless Savages, and it works well here too. Jones’s art is a little more solid and substantial; unlike Hitori de’s usage of zip-a-tone styled shading, it’s all pure black and white for Jones, and her deep blacks provide an instant visual difference for the reader to pick up on. This is the first time I remember Jones drawing younger characters, though, and her depictions of children for some reason make me pre-disposed to laugh at any incoming punch line. There’s something both sweet and devious about their faces that makes me want to see more of them, even though they’d probably just steal my wallet in the blink of an eye.

Spell Checkers is a gleefully mean-spirited book, and I love it for that. Some readers might find it to be too much, and I can see where the book could end up being a turn-off in that regard. For people who like dark comedy and bitchy dialogue, though, they’re hitting the jackpot. If your favorite parts of the movie Mean Girls were watching the queen bees rule the school and then rip on one another, look no further. Here’s hoping the next volume of the series comes out before too long, because Spell Checkers is a lot of fun.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Return of King Doug http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/03/19/return-of-king-doug/ Fri, 19 Mar 2010 08:00:06 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1267 Written by Greg Erb and Jason Oremland Art by Wook-Jin Clark184 pages, black and whitePublished by Oni Press

When I heard about the basic premise of The Return of King Doug, I had to laugh. As far as concepts go, it’s a good one: young boy discovers a magic kingdom, is told he’s the king [...]]]> Written by Greg Erb and Jason Oremland
Art by Wook-Jin Clark
184 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press

When I heard about the basic premise of The Return of King Doug, I had to laugh. As far as concepts go, it’s a good one: young boy discovers a magic kingdom, is told he’s the king and savior, and responds by running screaming in the opposite direction. It’s a knowing nod towards series like The Chronicles of Narnia where instead of jumping full hog into the story as dictated to the child, we instead get a realistic, honest reaction. The only thing hovering in the back of my head as I heard about this, though, was that everyone would surely see exactly how the end of this story would play out. Fortunately, I think it’s also clear that writers Greg Erb and Jason Oremland understood that potential pitfall, too.

What we end up with is a joking, tongue-in-cheek series of gags, one-liners, and pratfalls as the adult Doug and his son Oscar enter Valdonia and are yanked back into the unfinished epic that Doug had abandoned. This is a comedy, through-and-through, not an epic adventure. It’s a decision that both does and doesn’t work for the book, depending in which spot of the book you’ve arrived at. When The Return of King Doug works, it’s worth quite a few snickers. The elf village deciding to eat the returning Doug, setting the dogs on the Doug after he flees, and then realizing that they should just eat the dogs instead made me chuckle because of how Erb and Oremland play the scene out. It’s got a good sense of comic timing and pacing, with each line building towards the next until you hit the final punch line. That’s where I think Erb and Oremland work best, creating longer jokes that gather steam over the course of panels or pages.

What I wasn’t as crazy about were the swift one-liners that pepper the book, going for the instant joke and then moving onwards. Some of them just don’t work that well—actually proving to be a little distracting rather than funny—and there’s a strange sort of desperation with the less-funny jokes. It’s like someone frantically trying to tell joke after joke just to see which one will finally generate a laugh, throwing everything out there possible. When Erb and Oremland pull out a particularly unfunny poop joke towards the end of the book, I actually found myself shaking my head a bit.

I also found myself slightly unconvinced about the progression of Doug’s character as the book unfolds. There’s a little too much flip-flopping of Doug starting to man up to his promises and responsibilities; every time it looks like he’s starting to understand what he did wrong and that he needs to help fix it, the next section of the book seems to have Doug reverting to his old ways. I know that The Return of King Doug isn’t supposed to be the deepest of books, but it felt like Erb and Oremland were trying to have their cake and eat it too.

Wook-Jin Clark’s art in The Return of King Doug is at its best when showing off reactions to the events unfolding. Surprise, fear, amusement, these are all things that Clark easily hits with a loose, young looking art style. It’s a take that works well for the joke-filled script and I can see why Clark teamed up with Erb and Oremland for the book. I’m not as crazy at how Clark draws the fantastic; save for a large monstrous report card just about all of the larger than life creatures and moments come off more like blobby people. There’s a strange sort of sameness to a lot of the art here, and I wish that Clark had stretched himself a little more in making the world of The Return of King Doug looking a little more fantastical. The fantasy element might not be the main thrust of the book, but for those who did enter the book looking for it, a stronger take on those ideas might be better at keeping them amused too.

The Return of King Doug is a solid first effort, and it’s the kind of story that you can see a company like DreamWorks jumping all over to turn into an animated film. While the humor didn’t always work for me, there were more than enough moments that I did laugh that I do consider the book a success. It’s fluffy and light-hearted, but it’s fun and at the end of the day, that feels like a win. I’m also happy with the production values on the book; Oni’s slick, inexpensive hardcovers look fantastic and this one is no exception. If I was a teenager, I suspect I’d have already read The Return of King Doug several dozen times by now. Definitely worth a look.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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