Other Publishers – 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 Hilda and the Bird Parade http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/08/09/hilda-and-the-bird-parade/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/08/09/hilda-and-the-bird-parade/#comments Fri, 09 Aug 2013 13:00:06 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2524 By Luke Pearson40 pages, colorPublished by Nobrow Press

In the past couple of years, you might have noticed a small British publisher named Nobrow Press starting to make an impression on the comics market. Their books are impeccably designed and printed with extremely high quality, making owning them not only pleasurable for their contents but [...]]]> By Luke Pearson
40 pages, color
Published by Nobrow Press

In the past couple of years, you might have noticed a small British publisher named Nobrow Press starting to make an impression on the comics market. Their books are impeccably designed and printed with extremely high quality, making owning them not only pleasurable for their contents but also their presentation. And while I’ve sampled several different books of theirs and made mental notes to try more, it’s Luke Pearson’s books starring Hilda that have grabbed me the most. Hilda and the Bird Parade is the third and latest one in this series, and in many ways it’s not only the most relatable but also the most charming.

Pearson quickly brings new readers up to date in the first few pages of Hilda and the Bird Parade. You don’t need to have read the first two to grasp the basics; the adventurous Hilda and her mother used to live in the countryside, but they’ve just moved into the city of Trolberg. What starts as an attempt from Hilda to get to know the local children and make some friends rapidly turns into a new fantastical adventure involving a talking raven, getting lost, and the ever looming and mysterious Bird Parade. Pearson’s writing here is almost immediately immersive, and the fact that Hilda herself is new to Trolberg makes it all the easier to get pulled into the story as a reader. She’s equally in the dark as the rest of us, and we get to piece things together alongside her.

After portraying Hilda as a free spirit who gets to rome around in the expansive outdoors in both Hildafolk (which gets a new hardcover edition named Hilda and the Troll later this year) and Hilda and the Midnight Giant, it’s an interesting step forward to have Pearson tell a story where Hilda’s mother is suddenly much more protective and worried about her daughter’s adventures. It’s a great progression from the first two books, and it’s also a clever inversion from the setup we normally see in children’s adventure stories. Instead of the shift from city to country being where the great unknown exists, for Hilda and her bother it’s the complete opposite.

As fun as the earlier books were, it’s Hilda and the Bird Parade which I think will strike a chord with its readers above the others. While I suspect few will have actually encountered a talking bird in need of help, many will know all about moving to a new locale and finding it hard to make friends and fit in. Pearson does an excellent job of showing how Hilda is out of sync with her schoolmates; the way that Hilda focuses on the "wrong" pieces of entertainment, or how she misses the point of their games until it’s too late. Pearson makes the other kids a little too rotten here and there—surely at least one or two of them aren’t quite this bad—but at the same time, we are seeing the events through Hilda’s eyes (and there’s a lot to be said for peer pressure). Regardless, the disorientation and bewilderment that Hilda goes through is just as gripping as Hilda trying to help the hurt raven, and these two halves of the story work beautifully together.

It’s hard to talk about Hilda and the Bird Parade without touching on the art, of course, as it brings just as much charm to the book as Pearson’s equally excellent writing. Hilda herself is adorable, with her little stick legs, big head, and beret perched perfectly on her blue hair. Her charm just oozes off the page, and you can see the eager expression on her face whenever it’s a new place to explore or a new sight to be seen. It’s the surroundings of Trolberg that really grab you in Hilda and the Bird Parade, though. He’s able to bring so much of it to life; the twisty streets, the strange statues, the sea of rooftops. When Hilda gets to a high vantage point to see all of Trolberg spread out below her, her exclamation of surprise is easy to understand. Pearson makes it just as breathtaking for the reader as for Hilda, and it gives us a much better idea of just how large this metropolis really is.

The creatures of Hilda and the Bird Parade are just as much fun to look at. Pearson brings them all to life in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The explosion of birds from the tree is fun to stare at and just look at all the different types and colors of birds, for example, and the dreaded salt-lion is able to shift from innocent kitten to terrifying adult in the blink of an eye. When we finally see the infamous Bird Parade, I love that it’s more about the crush of people than the floats and spectacle of the parade itself; Pearson does a great job of letting us see it as the short Hilda would, surrounded by adults everywhere. And of course, with Hilda and the Bird Parade printed in an oversized hardcover album edition, it gives Pearson even more room to let his art spread out for readers to drink in.

Hilda and the Bird Parade makes Pearson three-for-three in his success with the Hilda books. Hilda and the Bird Parade is charming and touching, and is truly meant for all ages. This is the kind of book that you can’t read just once; once you’ve started, it’s hard to put down. If you’ve never read any of Pearson’s comics, any of the Hilda books is worth a sample. Just be warned: once you’ve read one, you’ll want the other two, too. Fortunately, that’s a good thing. Highly recommended.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Beach Girls http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/08/07/beach-girls/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/08/07/beach-girls/#comments Wed, 07 Aug 2013 13:00:06 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2522 By Box Brown and James Kochalka44 pages, black and whitePublished by Retrofit Comics and Big Planet Comics

Beach Girls is the first comic I’ve picked up from Box Brown’s Retrofit Comics, a small boutique line of individual comic books by a wide variety of alternative comic creators. I’ll admit that I felt a little drawn [...]]]> By Box Brown and James Kochalka
44 pages, black and white
Published by Retrofit Comics and Big Planet Comics

Beach Girls is the first comic I’ve picked up from Box Brown’s Retrofit Comics, a small boutique line of individual comic books by a wide variety of alternative comic creators. I’ll admit that I felt a little drawn to the comic almost immediately off the bat thanks to its larger dimensions; running at 7 7/8"x10 1/2", this magazine-sized comic immediately brought to mind the indy comics of the ’80s and ’90s that I’d bought in great numbers. And now that I’ve read Beach Girls? I feel like that initial impression was not misplaced.

Brown’s story for Beach Girls is easy to follow; Pheobe and her two friends are at the beach on vacation, with Pheobe feeling out of place and inadequate next to her friends. At the same time, local surfer Hank is railing on the summer’s influx of "beach girls" even as he appears to be struggling to find his own place in the world. Needless to say, the two meet and things progress from that collision of worlds. What’s nice about Brown’s writing for Beach Girls is the overall feel and progression of the comic; it would be easy for this to turn into the ultimate romance cliche, but it’s much to Brown’s credit that the characters steer it into a different direction. This is much less about "will they get together?" but more along the lines of, "What will Pheobe learn from her experience at the beach?"

I don’t want this to sound like it’s some sort of after-school special, because it’s not. Instead Brown gives us a story where the emotional course mimics the overall pull of the ocean, dragging the characters in and out in a surface where they can fight it, let it drag them away, or learn to navigate its currents. That’s where Brown’s story for Beach Girls shines, because while the plotting itself is a little short when you look at it, it’s the mood and emotion that will stick with you for a while afterwards. Little moments pop up to subvert your immediate expectations here and there (when Pheobe asks Hank if they’re bound for something romantic, the response and reaction that follows is wonderful), and the end result is a joy.

Brown’s art here is great, too; he has a medium-weight, confident ink line that is smooth and sparse. Brown doesn’t waste any ink here and the end result is a simple, almost iconic look that both gives you enough detail to tell everyone apart and to set a mood, and leaves enough detail out so that you can also project your own additions (or people you know in real life) onto the finished page. Brown’s art hits all of the big moments well, and there’s something about the way that he puts the pages together that brings to mind the comics that Jeff Mason used to publish under his Alternative Comics banner. I love when he occasionally shifts the reader’s view, too; the over-the-stage shot of the musical performance, for example, does more to set the mood and the feel for the venue than a typical sea of heads ever could have. Add in the larger dimensions to the comic, and you end up with an attractive end result. My one complaint is that Beach Girls could have used an editor to eyeball the comic before publication. Punctuation is occasionally missing, and there are a couple of misspelled words here and there. (Because it’s only ever mentioned once, I still can’t decide if Pheobe’s name is a misspelling of Phoebe or not.)

James Kochalka contributes a 10-page back-up story to Beach Girls, titled "Dweeb." It’s one of his more aimless stories, mostly a conversation between two little fantasy creatures observing a passed out woman who eventually starts to wake up. If there’s anyone who does aimless well, though, it’s Kochalka. It’s silly and funny, and I feel like Kochalka doesn’t overstay his welcome. (An entire comic of "Dweeb" might have been a bit much.) Perhaps more importantly, it’s a good match for the rest of Beach Girls, with both of them drawing from a similar artistic viewpoint in how they approach the page. There’s no huge visual clash when you finish the main story and hit the back-up, and I feel like that’s exactly how this sort of arrangement should work.

Now that I’ve read Beach Girls, I’ll definitely have to keep my eyes open for more Retrofit Comics publications down the line. This was a fun charmer of a comic, and I appreciated the larger dimensions, paper stock, and overall format too. There would definitely be something slightly lost reading this as an electronic comic; the physical object here is part of the attraction. All in all, a fun little publication.

(Disclaimer: Years ago I regularly worked one day a month at Big Planet Comics.)

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Retrofit Comics

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Big Plans: The Collected Mini-Comics and More http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/08/02/big-plans/ Fri, 02 Aug 2013 13:00:02 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2516 By Aron Nels Steinke360 pages, black and whitePublished by Bridge City Comics

I’ve read and enjoyed Aron Nels Steinke’s books in the past, but I was especially excited to read Big Plans: The Collected Mini-Comics and More. His graphic novel Neptune is an all-ages book, and The Super Crazy Cat Dance is for very young [...]]]> By Aron Nels Steinke
360 pages, black and white
Published by Bridge City Comics

I’ve read and enjoyed Aron Nels Steinke’s books in the past, but I was especially excited to read Big Plans: The Collected Mini-Comics and More. His graphic novel Neptune is an all-ages book, and The Super Crazy Cat Dance is for very young readers. So in reading Big Plans, it would be a jump to lots of comics that weren’t necessarily created with the younger audience in mind. What I found was a collection of memories, reflections, and struggles in getting through life. And ultimately, this is a collection where I think having all of these stories together gives you a stronger overall experience.

The majority of the stories in Big Plans are, despite the word "big" in the title, small in scope. That’s part of the appeal of the book; it’s not these huge crashing events, but lots of little glimpses and snippets of Steinke’s life. One story can be about a memory of playing Nintendo while a sibling is about to be taken to the hospital; another one is about strange noises in a house that can’t be easily explained. As you get more of these pieces laid side-by-side, you begin to get a good feel for the personal that Steinke presents through his comics.

A lot of Big Plans is self-deprecating on Steinke’s part. Some of it is regretful, as he looks back on his behavior and regrets decisions that he’s made. Other times it’s funny, like celebrating the first time he receives a piece of hate mail about his comics. And when there are times when his decisions might seem out there to a reader, I appreciate that it’s presented frankly and without any additional justification. A prime example of this is, "The Terrorist," when Steinke and his girlfriend grow increasingly convinced that two people on their cross-country flight are terrorists. As their panic grows, they finally make a choice that I suspect will surprise many readers. But even when things don’t go exactly as expected, there’s that strong conviction that ultimately holds the entire piece together. This is from Steinke’s point-of-view, and as a result, it doesn’t deviate from how he sees the sequence of events. It’s a strong piece of storytelling, and I think that’s Steinke’s real strength in Big Plans; big or small, the stories he tells are related in a way that pulls you in and holds your attention.

Part of the charm of Big Plans also comes from Steinke’s art. It’s a deceptive style, one that looks simple at first but has far more detail than you might catch at a glance. With dots for eyes and a thin line for a mouth, it’s great how much expression Steinke can get out of his characters. As you start to draw in the art, you’ll find so much attention paid to everything on the page; individual grains on the wooden floorboards, dots all over a jacket to create a sense of texture and pattern, hundreds of individual leaves on a bush. I also like how Steinke isn’t afraid to not fill up the entire page with panels, to help control the pacing from one moment to the next. Some pages are entirely full, others will have just one or two, giving emphasis to those moments and deliberately slowing you down in that part of the story. It’s a smart technique that you don’t see used very often in comics.

Big Plans: The Collected Mini-Comics and More is a charming compilation of comics from a creator who I feel just keeps getting stronger with time. By the time you get to "The Intruder" (which was originally in Big Plans #5), it’s hard to not see the amount of growth in his creations. The lines are stronger and more confident in his art, and his storytelling skills have formed an inviting rhythm in his pages. With mini-comics often hard to find, it’s nice to have an attractive and well-packaged collection like this available.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Avery Fatbottom: Renaissance Fair Detective #1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/07/26/avery-fatbottom-1/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/07/26/avery-fatbottom-1/#comments Fri, 26 Jul 2013 13:00:23 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2507 By Jen Vaughn24 pages, black and whitePublished by Monkeybrain Comics

I will freely admit that while you can’t judge a book by its cover, sometimes a book’s title is more than enough to get me to buy a copy. That was the case with Jen Vaughn’s new comic Avery Fatbottom: Renaissance Fair Detective #1. And [...]]]> By Jen Vaughn
24 pages, black and white
Published by Monkeybrain Comics

I will freely admit that while you can’t judge a book by its cover, sometimes a book’s title is more than enough to get me to buy a copy. That was the case with Jen Vaughn’s new comic Avery Fatbottom: Renaissance Fair Detective #1. And while the end result might not be exactly in line with what you’d imagine with a title like that, there’s more than enough to amuse in this whirlwind tour of life at a Renaissance fair.

Avery Fatbottom: Renaissance Fair Detective #1 follows our titular hero as she prepares for the first day of running the local Renaissance fair. With her friend Gwen by her side, and also being on a third date with high school teacher Benn, Avery serves as our guide to the ins and outs of the different attractions and traditions at this particular fair. In many ways the comic is a walk through this sort of event; there’s not that much plot, but I’m not convinced that there needs to be just yet. Vaughn is giving us, at least for now, a character-driven story. The hook isn’t "what happened to Loxley the elephant?" but rather seeing Avery interact with Benn and Gwen.

With that in mind, it’s a relief to say that the characterization in Avery Fatbottom #1 is pretty strong. Even before Avery and Gwen cry out, "Friends forever!" on the second page, it’s already obvious what good friends they are with one another, and that’s thanks to just six panels. Vaughn is able to quickly create those sort of bonds through the dialogue and the art working together; their pre-fair "checklist" is not only cute, but it comes across as a comfortable ritual that they’ve clearly gone through dozens (if not hundreds) of times in the past. It’s that sort of warm teasing that brings the affection to the forefront; by the time Benn shows up for his date with Avery, the fact that Gwen is tagging along feels natural because we’ve seen the two interact so closely.

There’s still some little plot bits to lure us into later installments, too. Loxley’s sudden collapse hasn’t been explained, after all, and the hints about why Avery now runs the fair on her own promise an emotional explanation down the line. Perhaps more importantly, though, I want to see more of Avery and Benn with one another. Even with the teasing and slightly ribald final panel (if you’ve been paying attention), there’s still a lot that Vaughn can do with the two together, and it should be fun.

Vaughn’s art is nice, telling the story in a six-panel grid and using ink washes over the pencils to help provide texture and depth to the art. Vaughn’s at her best when it comes to the looks on her characters’ faces, though. Avery’s look of concentration as she prepares to throw the axe is almost prayerful, for example, and I love the look of attraction that Benn has on his when he kisses her hand. I wouldn’t mind seeing some more backgrounds here and there in future issues—this is a setting where there’s so much to see, after all—but on the whole it’s an good, pleasing style.

I love that companies like Monkeybrain have provided a platform for comics like Avery Fatbottom: Renaissance Fair Detective #1. It’s perhaps not the most commercial of ideas, but with it being provided through a digital platform, Vaughn and Monkeybrain can skip past a costly print run and provide it at a low price that makes it easier to both distribute and sample. And you know what? For a buck, it’s well worth your time. I bet you’ll be coming back for the second issue; I know I will. It’s fun.

Purchase Links: ComiXology

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Darkroom: A Memoir in Black & White http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/07/15/darkroom/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/07/15/darkroom/#comments Mon, 15 Jul 2013 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2495 By Lila Quintero Weaver264 pages, black and whitePublished by University of Alabama Press

I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little surprised when I heard that the University of Alabama Press published a graphic novel. It’s not the usual suspect for this sort of thing, but within a handful of pages of [...]]]> By Lila Quintero Weaver
264 pages, black and white
Published by University of Alabama Press

I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little surprised when I heard that the University of Alabama Press published a graphic novel. It’s not the usual suspect for this sort of thing, but within a handful of pages of Lila Quintero Weaver’s Darkroom: A Memoir of Black & White, it was easy to see why they’d stepped up to the plate. Latina in 1960s Alabama where everything was viewed as either black or white, Weaver’s memoir offers a perspective from someone unclaimed by either side in a racial struggle.

Darkroom quickly establishes the early life of Weaver and her family; having moved at the age of five from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Marion, Alabama where her father taught at two local colleges. Those early chapters of Darkroom might surprise those not from that part of the country; with the Latino population for the country as a whole on the rise, the idea of the Quintero family being the only representatives of that group can feel a bit odd. It puts Weaver and the rest of her family in a unique position, though, because they don’t quite fit in with either of the two halves of Marion. Weaver does a good job in expressing her younger self Lila’s befuddlement growing up; allowed to attend the segregated white schools, she doesn’t quite fit in while also not being exiled to the establishments set up for African-Americans. "I saw that each side afforded the other a distinct interpretation of respect," she notes, the outsider watching the situation unfold around her. And as Lila learns the rules of what she can and can’t do, it in many ways comes across with a strong tinge of sadness; Lila is losing her some small pieces of her innocence. At the same time, though, she and the rest of her family are still never quite accepted by the white population, and Weaver conveys without stating outright that it helps with her ever becoming fully complacent; she knows that they don’t quite fit in, and as a result it becomes much easier to question the white rule.

It almost goes without saying that the marches in places like Marion and Selma are important parts of Darkroom, events that ultimately shook the nation and were directly responsible for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Weaver gives her memories of them, ones that helped in part because her father (an amateur photographer) had gone to see the march in Marion for himself. Weaver’s depiction of what happened there is well crafted, with the panels growing darker as the lights are turned off and the panels starting to shift and tilt in a chaotic fashion when violence breaks out. Weaver’s normal detail grows hazier as the confusion grows that evening, and it’s a great example of how story and art each tell their own part of the story in a comic.

At the same time, though, it’s a testament to Darkroom that the marches themselves are only one small chapter in the greater whole of the book, and that Weaver keeps the story moving at a strong pace before and after. I found myself caring deeply about her and her family, and I appreciated that she didn’t feel the need to make herself the center of every incident. Relating how she wasn’t always the one to come to the rescue of the newly integrated students helps keep the story grounded and realistic, and when Lila herself is reminded that she still isn’t part of either side in the conflict it’s a bit of a jolt. Weaver has a strong storytelling voice, one that keeps the reader locked in and holding their attention.

Weaver’s art is beautiful, a series of delicately shaded pencil drawings that show a strong understanding of how to render portraits. As Lila grows, Weaver’s depictions of herself adjust accordingly; the button eyes and nose grow more nuanced, the expressions less cheerful and naive. Crowd scenes are especially impressive, with dozens of faces that each look distinct and different. While it’s easy to compare Darkroom to similarly themed books like Howard Cruse’s Stuck Rubber Baby, the main connection between the two for me is how well Weaver, like Cruse, is able to make every person she draws a unique individual.

Darkroom: A Memoir in Black & White is a strong debut for Weaver, and a book well worth your time. It’s to Weaver’s credit that when the book came to a close, my first thought was that I wanted to continue to read about the Quintero family and what happened next in their lives. The subject material might be hard to take at times, but the delivery is warm and welcoming. She’s able to mix the perilous with the humorous (the excerpts from the Know Alabama textbook are simultaneously jaw-dropping and hysterical as you see just what students were taught in that time period), and the end result is fantastic. If Weaver creates another graphic novel, I know I’ll be quick to buy it. Well done.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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M http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/07/05/m/ Fri, 05 Jul 2013 13:00:43 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2470 By Jon J MuthBased on the screenplay by Thea Von Harbou and Fritz Lang192 pages, colorPublished by Abrams Books

I remember when the first issue of Jon J Muth’s adaptation of Fritz Lang’s film M was originally published as a joint venture by Arcane Comics and Eclipse Comics, back in 1990. I was instantly taken [...]]]> By Jon J Muth
Based on the screenplay by Thea Von Harbou and Fritz Lang
192 pages, color
Published by Abrams Books

I remember when the first issue of Jon J Muth’s adaptation of Fritz Lang’s film M was originally published as a joint venture by Arcane Comics and Eclipse Comics, back in 1990. I was instantly taken by the strange style of painted art—something that is much more common now, but wasn’t at the time—and was intrigued by the idea that it had adapted a film that I’d heard of but never seen. And then, inexplicably, I never bought any of the four-issue adaptation. Fast forward to the present, and the original had long gone out of print, but was rescued a few years ago in a new hardback collection. Picking it up, I found myself wondering if those glimpses that I’d long held in my head could compare to the reality of what I was about to finally buy and read.

M, if you’ve never seen it, is the story of a hunt for a murderer of children. As the police continue to circle, gathering evidence and trying to find the killer, the city is turned upside down in the hunt for the predator. And so, in an attempt to bring the city back to normal, the criminal underground decides to conduct their own manhunt. They will find and try the killer, and get the police off of their backs. It’s a strange story, and it translates generally intact into Muth’s adaptation of the book.

What’s different is that this isn’t a comic where Muth tried to capture the likenesses of the original actors. Rather (as he explains in the afterword of the collection), he staged the entire film himself in his hometown of Cleveland, where he took a series of photographs using stand-ins for characters and shot the entire book. Then, he took those photographs and used them to create drawings that he then painted over, resulting in the reality-based look of M. While other painted comics existed at the time—both by Muth and other creators—the books generally veered towards the more fantastic. This was something quite different.

Now? It’s interesting to look at it with almost a quarter century having passed. It’s still a visually interesting book, but the initial "this is different" luster is gone, letting you examine it a bit more clinically. Knowing it’s based off of a series of photographs, I have to give Muth credit that this rarely looks stiff or staged, which so often goes hand-in-hand. In some ways it almost feels like a series of excerpted film stills that have been blown up and arranged on the page, with an extremely strong sense of place within the story. Some of the transitions are a little rough, though, and while no one comes across stiff it’s hard to keep from noticing that when there’s an action sequence (which is rare), it can be a little hard to follow; it feels like there are missing transition panels that would’ve had the comic flow a bit more smoothly.

There are a handful of paintings which are especially striking, though. When Beckert is looking in the store window and sees the reflection of the girl within it, it’s the panel right beforehand as he takes pause that is perfect. The green apple held up to his mouth, that sudden look of surprise and sense of an overpowering urge is just starting to flash across his face, and it’s the sort of moment that reminds you that Muth has been a master of his craft for quite some time. Likewise, Beckert’s pleading that he can’t stop himself when he’s on trial makes him so distraught and pitiful that you almost forget that this is a murderer of children; the end result is an uneasy, unsettling moment when you look at the pages.

Muth painted M in a very washed out, low-color style. There are some colors throughout the book (the balloons stand out in particular), but there are a lot of pale yellows and blacks dragged across the page. It’s an odd decision; at first it puts you in mind of a black and white film, but when the colors do show up it shattered that illusion. Instead it makes the world of M feel extremely dreary and lifeless. While that’s certainly the state of the city once the children start dying, it’s the sort of look that at times ends up feeling distracting rather than freeing. I’m also extremely unimpressed with the lettering; why it wasn’t redone for this new edition of M is a bit of a mystery. (Surely even if all they had to go on were scans of the original comics, computer technology is good enough to lay in new lettering over the old.) It’s a harsh type face, one that feels not only clinical but also out of synch with the rest of the comic. For a book that is drawn (deliberately) to evoke an old-fashioned life, the lettering is a huge mistake in its modern look and feel.

M is a book that I’m glad I finally read, if only to satisfy my curiosity. Is it an amazing adaptation of the film? Honestly, no. It’s really a showcase for Muth’s art, and that’s the reason to buy M if you’re a fan. I do think that the original 4-issue edition of M actually had one thing going for it that this collection doesn’t, though; by doling it out in bite-sized chunks, it keeps you from getting a sense that the art is a little too washed out because of the sheer volume of it all. Definitely read M one chapter at a time, and you’ll better appreciate Muth’s skills as a painter. But if you’ve never seen M before? Honestly, rent the DVD first. Then come back to this collection; you should get the story from the original film, and approach this as its own special art object. Because that art, as I’ve said before, sure is beautiful.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Passion of Gengoroh Tagame http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/07/01/passion-of-gengoroh-tagame/ Mon, 01 Jul 2013 13:00:46 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2471 By Gengoroh Tagame256 pages, black and whitePublished by PictureBox

There’s no mistaking what you’re going to get with The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame. Subtitled "The Master of Gay Erotic Manga" and with "Adult Content for Mature Readers" emblazoned on the side, as soon as you open the book you’re greeted with skillful drawings of naked [...]]]> By Gengoroh Tagame
256 pages, black and white
Published by PictureBox

There’s no mistaking what you’re going to get with The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame. Subtitled "The Master of Gay Erotic Manga" and with "Adult Content for Mature Readers" emblazoned on the side, as soon as you open the book you’re greeted with skillful drawings of naked men. After having encountered so many volumes of the yaoi manga genre in years past—in which the gay male characters more often than not barely do more than kiss—I couldn’t help but wonder what a book like this would look like. What I found was a volume that actually had a lot more to offer than just drawings of men having sex.

The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame contains seven stories, and while there are some themes that run throughout the book, each stands on its own. Characters are generally muscular and manly—the often androgynous and fey bodies of yaoi manga left far behind—and in many of Tagame’s stories there’s some sort of either bondage or coercion involved. And while there is most definitely sex in each of the pieces in The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame, how it fits into the story varies greatly; for some it’s the centerpiece, for others it’s merely a vehicle for something else.

Two stories in particular stood out for me, "Hairy Oracle" and "Country Doctor," as being especially noteworthy. "Hairy Oracle" introduces us to a police detective and the guy that he’s occasionally sleeping with; the hook being that whenever the police detective is being penetrated, he gets glimpses of the future. In "Hairy Oracle" the sex is almost incidental; instead we’re getting a story where it’s as much about the flip in power and someone shifting from feeling under-appreciated to the center of attention. In "Hairy Oracle" you could swap out anal sex for some other form of power exchange and the basic premise of the story is still there. What’s nice, though, is that there’s a light-hearted playfulness to "Hairy Oracle" (something that isn’t present in a lot of Tagame’s other stories) and as it moves through its 18 pages it doesn’t waste a moment. It moves at a brisk pace and has a very pleasant attitude, ending on a fun note that resolves the earlier quarrel between our two unnamed characters in an effective manner.

With "Country Doctor," on the other hand, there’s no removing the sex. Here we get Doctor Kayama having moved from Tokyo to a small country town as its new resident physician. What starts as an affair with local farmer Masa turns into a situation much greater as his position within the town has him acting as much a sex toy as a doctor. The sex shows up often in "County Doctor," and it’s absolutely an integral part of the story. And while Kayama occasionally is put into situations where he’s a bit uncomfortable (mostly by the surprise of it all), what’s refreshing is how much Kayama ultimately throws himself into the act. This isn’t someone who’s being forced or tricked into having sex; he’s not just a willing participant, he’s enthusiastic. There’s a certain level of joy in this story that makes it attractive, and once you add in the actual plot of the story being fun in its own right, you end up with what I felt was the best story in the book.

Some of the other stories in The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame head into a distinctly darker place, though. Several of the stories involve heavy bondage, imprisonment, and torture. "Arena," is probably the one that will prove to be the most problematic to readers who have a problem with that; a story involving a series of fighting championships where the winner rapes the loser isn’t going to appeal to most, and that’s even before the drugs and transformations begin. Tagame’s delving into these depths are unlike almost anything else I’ve seen translated from Japanese to English, and while those elements weren’t my cup of tea, it was interesting to see just how far Tagame was able to go in a marketplace that normally frowns on anything even close to this.

Consistent from start to finish is Tagame’s art, which is drawn with crisp, clean lines. He clearly loves drawing the male body, and he does so in an extremely masculine manner. There’s probably more body hair in this volume than I’ve seen in all other manga volumes combined, and characters usually have well defined pecs and abs. Perhaps most important are two emotions that you see often in Tagame’s work; cockiness and happiness. A lot of Tagame’s characters have a certain swagger in the way they’re drawn; the alpha characters in the sexual encounters have a confidence that just exudes off the page in their facial expressions and the way they carry themselves. For a book that concerns itself greatly with the exchange of power in sexual encounters, this is critical. Showing up a little less often is the expression of someone enjoying themselves, but just as potent. Between Dr. Kayama in "County Doctor" and the university student Charles at the end of "Class Act," it’s their faces in a mixture of pleasure and relaxation that says more than any narration box could. It’s a great antidote to the more violent portions of the book, and helps provide a little something for everyone.

Needless to say, if you have a problem with the idea of reading gay porn, The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame is most definitely not for you. (I’m also surprised you made it this far.) Even if viewed in just a clinical manner, though, this was surprisingly interesting to read. It’s a side of manga that we don’t normally get in English, and Tagame’s art is excellent. And for those who do enjoy gay porn? Well, I don’t think there are many people who would enjoy every single story here (if only by the wide range of stories, with different levels of violence versus happiness), but there will almost certainly be a few right up your alleyway. This book feels like it was a gamble for publisher PictureBox, but I’m glad they did so. All in all, a fascinating book.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Demeter http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/06/24/demeter/ Mon, 24 Jun 2013 13:00:51 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2475 By Becky Cloonan31 pages, black and whitePublished by ComiXology

If you asked me what I buy every year at the Small Press Expo above all else, the answer would be easy: mini-comics. Because they don’t go through the distribution channels the way that bigger publishers’ books do, finding them can be difficult at best more [...]]]> By Becky Cloonan
31 pages, black and white
Published by ComiXology

If you asked me what I buy every year at the Small Press Expo above all else, the answer would be easy: mini-comics. Because they don’t go through the distribution channels the way that bigger publishers’ books do, finding them can be difficult at best more often than not. That’s one of the things for which I’m especially thankful for when it comes to digital comics; the idea that finally there’s an easy way to get hold of comics that otherwise might be out of reach, between distance and limited print runs. Take, for instance, Becky Cloonan’s Demeter. This dark and spooky comic is one that I almost certainly never would have seen otherwise. But now? I can’t get enough of it.

In Demeter, we’re never told exactly when and where the comic is set. It’s almost certainly sometime in the past (with a reference to Poseidon hearing someone’s plea), in an isolated sea community. But with Demeter, the specifics don’t really matter. What does matter is that it’s the story of Anna and Colin, and their love for one another. When the boat Colin was on seven months ago was destroyed by a storm, he was the only survivor, but his memories were lost in the waves. Now, as Anna struggles to have their lives return to normal, there’s something waiting and watching just out of reach, a dark bargain waiting to be fulfilled.

To say that a lot of the writing in Demeter is mood-based is an understatement. It’s a dark story that just drips with emotion and ambience, and as Anna’s fears slowly grow, that rubs off on the reader. It’s much to Cloonan’s credit that it’s not solely the art that conveys this, but the writing as well. Anna’s narration reminds me a lot of gothic novels like Wuthering Heights, where the voice telling the story is in many ways what grabs your attention almost more than the plot itself can do. It certainly helps, of course, that Demeter is excellently paced; Cloonan gives us a slow reveal, and if you had to map out the tension in this story it would be like a tilted sine wave; it rises and falls, but each time it falls it doesn’t quite return to the low point of before. By the time the climax occurs, there’s no turning back for the reader. Or, indeed, for Anna and Colin. This is really Anna’s story—Colin is in many ways the pawn, part of the secret that Anna is holding in her heart—and I like how Cloonan is able to have Anna withhold information to us because Anna is in many ways blocking it out herself. If she stops and truly recognizes the deal she made, she’ll have to accept the consequences, and that’s the crux of the story.

It’s no surprise that Cloonan’s art looks amazing as ever. There are the parts that you’ll take for granted when it comes to Cloonan; strong grasp of anatomy, easy-to-follow page layouts, beautiful sweeping backgrounds. All of that is delivered in Demeter and it’s easy to just drink those features in and call it a day. But there’s all of the smaller touches that are just as intriguing here. When the two are together and Anna thinks, "I wonder if he feels it too," at the bottom of the page, the image of the waves in Colin’s eyes is haunting and hard to ignore. Then you turn the page and as the waves surround the duo for the top half of the page, it’s the perfect transition and timing. With the waves becoming outside instead of inside in-between pages, that sudden jump-cut grabs you as a reader. It’s fast and bold, and it works perfectly. With the ocean being such a critical part of Demeter, a lot of attention is paid to it, and in many ways it’s the third main character of the comic. Every time the ocean (calm or crashing) appears, it seizes the scene and makes the comic all about it. And really, that’s how it should be.

Demeter is a strong and gripping comic, and while it’s also available for order in a hardcopy format from Cloonan’s website, I’m thrilled that it’s able to get a wider release through the digital medium. How much did I love Demeter? I’m ready to buy her other two one-shots from earlier that are also now available via ComiXology (The Mire and Wolves). This is far too good to wait for the (hopefully) inevitable collection. Highly recommended.

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Transposes http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/06/19/transposes/ Wed, 19 Jun 2013 13:00:57 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2459 By Dylan Edwards128 pages, black and whitePublished by Northwest Press

Dylan Edwards’ Transposes is, on the surface, a book that you might think you’ve seen before. The story of seven different female-to-male transmen, you probably think that it treads the same ground that so many other books on the subject have tackled. But as soon [...]]]> By Dylan Edwards
128 pages, black and white
Published by Northwest Press

Dylan Edwards’ Transposes is, on the surface, a book that you might think you’ve seen before. The story of seven different female-to-male transmen, you probably think that it treads the same ground that so many other books on the subject have tackled. But as soon as you read Edwards’ introduction, where he deftly takes all of the well-meaning questions that are normally asked and explains that this isn’t about any of them, you’ll realize that Transposes is in fact something much better. In taking away the biological questions and just focusing on these men’s lives, Transposes separates the people from science, and that’s why it’s a winner.

Transposes is broken up into six stories, and each of these chapters tackles a different aspect of what it’s like to be a transman. Edwards places Cal’s story first, and I can’t help but think that it was a deliberate gesture to put the most sexual piece as the opener for Transposes. Edwards gets that particular subject out of the way right off the bat, as Cal meets up with an internet admirer and discovers that he’s left behind an important piece of equipment if they’re to hook up. Edwards never takes this into graphic territory—the closest the book ever gets is a brief musing on what size strap-on would be best—but at the same time it quickly stakes out some important ground rules for the book. First, that these transmen are still able to be sexual beings (attractive, being attracted, and having sex too), and second, that relationships with transmen isn’t an exclusive club that only other transmen can enter into. It’s a short little vignette, but I think it was absolutely the right one with which to kick off the book.

From there, Transposes hits all sorts of different stories. Some are about explaining how they realized they were men and explaining it from the present day, some let us move with them through the experience, and some are just about living the life in the moment with no need to explain how we got there. Of the remaining five stories, the two that stick out the most to me are Avery’s and Aaron & James’s. Avery’s is interesting in part because of its different current-day relationship for its protagonist, showing us a non-typical setup and how well it works for him. I love its matter-of-fact nature as Avery describes his life, where he lives, who he dates, and how he deals with people on the phone who mistake him for a woman. ("I don’t want to be make being called female an insult," is a perfect summation of Avery’s attitude, and one that makes you stop and think.) It’s a story that stands out from the others, both in the continual comfort in its own skin and also its strong self-confidence.

Aaron & James’s story is the only one focusing on two people, and it’s here that Edwards’s art shifts from just pleasurable to look at to downright clever. Having the two timelines running alongside the two men’s streams of panels is a fun storytelling technique, and having the timelines merge, pull apart, and then rejoin later is a great summation of how their lives intertwine. Seeing their relationship grow and come together is good, but it’s the visual nature of how Edwards pulls this off that helps remind you that this is as much a visual medium as it is one with the written word involved.

Speaking of Edwards’ art, it’s good. He draws his characters with great skill; no one comes across as a carbon copy of one another, and I love how Edwards gives many of them a certain raw sexuality. So often transpeople are depicted as almost androgynous, so reading comics where the transmen are given (as their lives demand or don’t) the opportunity to be hot and masculine is a refreshing change. Edwards also pays attention to fashions, too; the looks of what everyone’s wearing and how they style themselves in Adam’s story, for example, instantly plunge the story into a very specific time period. A lot of care goes into making everything match; foregrounds, backgrounds, supporting cast, and protagonists. I don’t feel like any shortcuts were taken here, and you end up with a quite handsome looking comic.

Transposes is the sort of comic that I wish we had more of. It’s eye opening for many, but it doesn’t need to be educational in order to be entertaining. That’s where Transposes succeeds the most; by telling just little vignettes for some people and life stories for others, Edwards zooms in effortlessly on what part of their lives will make interesting stories. And in doing so? We’re the winners. Transposes is a charmer of a comic, and I’m looking forward to seeing more comics from Edwards soon.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Polterguys Vol. 1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/10/05/polterguys-vol-1/ Fri, 05 Oct 2012 13:00:31 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2416 Written by Laurianne Uy and Nathan GoArt by Laurianne Uy192 pages, black and whitePublished by Mumo Press

Laurianne Uy and Nathan Go’s Polterguys Volume 1 was one of those books that randomly showed up in my mailbox one day. I’m always a sucker for a book that won a Xeric Grant, and with the foundation [...]]]> Written by Laurianne Uy and Nathan Go
Art by Laurianne Uy
192 pages, black and white
Published by Mumo Press

Laurianne Uy and Nathan Go’s Polterguys Volume 1 was one of those books that randomly showed up in my mailbox one day. I’m always a sucker for a book that won a Xeric Grant, and with the foundation having handed out its final publishing grants, getting hold of one of those books was a pleasant surprise. What I found was a book that clearly gets its main inspiration from certain manga tropes, but also adds enough of its own twist to keep it from being too predictable.

When Polterguys opens, Uy and Go introduce us to Bree, a nerdy college freshman who’s looking forward to starting over now that she’s away from the high school that ignored her. When a roommate that drives her crazy pushes Bree into finding off-campus housing, she ends up in a house haunted by five young men, and before long Bree’s trying to solve the mystery of their deaths that not even they can remember.

At its core, Polterguys is similar to the popular "harem" genre of manga, where usually it’s a single man in a situation where he’s living with a large group of women. (Negima! is an example of one such series that gained a strong following in North America.) In this case, though, it’s a reverse harem where Bree’s the sole woman with a cluster of boys around her. And while that sounds like a small change, adding in the lack (for now) of any sort of amorous relationship between Bree and the five ghosts and I must admit that I found myself intrigued by this inversion of a trope that normally has me running screaming from a series.

The story itself is a little familiar in spots but all in all it’s not bad. Bree seems remarkably sheltered and naive in spots, but she’s thankfully not stupid. When she gets herself into a bad situation or two along the way, it’s much to Uy and Go’s credit that Bree quickly regroups and tries to figure out the smart thing to do next. She gets a little wound up at times, but in the end it’s her drive to figure things out and ultimately adjust to the things thrown at her that makes Polterguys work. The ending feels a little rushed, but it felt in part like of Uy and Go’s desire to have a major plot point wrapped up at the end of the book. That’s a smart thing, since it gives the reader enough of a sense of gratification (without wrapping up all of the ghosts’ stories) that they’ll be interested in reading more rather than everything being dragged out. So while that part of the ending does indeed tumble into place a little too easily, with future volumes Uy and Go should have more room (with all of the set-up now out of the way) to tackle the remaining ghosts’ stories. And while the moment on the final pages is telegraphed fairly early on for readers paying attention, it’s staged in such a manner that I felt that Uy and Go handled the situation well and once again kept it from being dragged out.

Uy’s art is nice; it’s heavily influenced by the sort of style that you see a lot in manga these days. Very expressive faces and actions, and at times an over-reaction to try and drive a point home. It’s staged well enough, and I think that Uy’s biggest strength is a good sense of pacing. I feel that she understand the basic beats and timing of comics well, so that the progression builds well not only for each chapter but also each individual page. It’s not just a collection of panels that happen to be grouped together here, and I like the end result. It’s not often that you see a young artist get that right off the bat, and it bodes well for Polterguys as a whole.

All in all, Polterguys Vol. 1 is a pleasant read. It’s a bit of pop entertainment; you’ll read it, you’ll like it, you’ll probably want to see the next volume whenever that happens. (There’s even a low-priced Kindle edition for those who are intrigued but need to save shelf space.) Uy and Go have taken one of the normally sketchy sub-genres of manga and twisted it around into something that drops all of the slightly unsettling pieces and keeps all of the good ones, and for that alone I’d have been impressed. The fact that it’s a nice read works even more to its favor. Polterguys is light fun, but it’s fun none the less.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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