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Saturday, Aug 1, 2009
They lived on opposite sides of the planet, at roughly the same time, and never met. In their lifetimes (one is now dead) each became an acknowledged and influential master in his chosen form of storytelling, and even though their media, social contexts and biographies were worlds apart, the early work of each artist bears striking similarities: they shared a melancholy, darkly humorous, and peculiarly bleak vision of character, story, and life.

They lived on opposite sides of the planet, at roughly the same time, and never met. In their lifetimes (one is now dead) each became an acknowledged and influential master in his chosen form of storytelling, and even though their media, social contexts and biographies were worlds apart, the early work of each artist bears striking similarities: they shared a melancholy, darkly humorous, and peculiarly bleak vision of character, story, and life.


After a lifetime in manga—from being a precocious, published artist before he was 15, to becoming known as the “godfather” of an entire style of storytelling—Yohihiro Tatsumi finally gained a significant profile in the West with the publication of four books over the past few years.


Starting in 2005, Canada’s Drawn and Quarterly published three collections of Tatsumi’s short stories, representing work from 1969 to 1972, and a massive memoir that covers his life and work in manga up to 1960.


Represent a fraction of his output, the four books shed light on a fascinating genre of manga, and reveal an avenue of storytelling with connections to the greatest modern short fiction.


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Wednesday, Jul 29, 2009
Above: Fabio Moon, Zane Austin Grant, Brea Grant, and Vasilis Lolos congregate at San Deigo Comic-con 2009.

When 125,000 people converged last weekend for the 40th San Diego Comic-Con to meet those who shared an interest comics and comics related media, I expected chaos.  I was warned about how crowded this year would be, and that traffic would be backed up for hours on I-5 South.  Another friend warned me about a man who would be dressed as the Hulk and randomly tackle attendees, but not be reprimanded because he was just being his character.  On top of these random assaults, there would be so many people that we could hardly move.  It was nothing like that.


After a quick two hour drive, Brea Grant and I went to the IDW Publishing booth to do a signing for our forthcoming series.  Everyone there was extraordinarily nice, especially given that most were working all day at the convention, starting at 5:00am.  Since our 1920’s zombie comic doesn’t come out until early next year, we made limited edition CDs, with lo-fi songs we wrote that retell the stories of seven horror movies from the narrative perspective of characters in the films, to sign and trade.  People were really friendly and traded everything from dances to push-ups to a drawing of Brea fighting zombies with a speech bubble that said, “Zane I know you are my brother, but when the zombies attack, I will trip you.” 


As we looked around for old friends and comics stars, continuing our trading and shopping spree, the rest of the weekend became dizzying.  I traded Jason Shawn Alexander (Abe Sapien, Empty Zone) for a shirt with a zombie eating a dog and picked up a signed copy of Dark Horse Comics re-invention of the Creepy series.  He took the time to say we were weird for making such a CD.  Becky Cloonan (Demo, American Virgin) traded us some beautiful limited prints and books.  Jimmy Aquino (Comic News Insider) traded a copy of Fat Chunk Vol. 2, an edited collection of zombie comic short stories, a few of which he penned.  Derek Kirk Kim (Same Difference and Other Stories) traded us a copy of Lowbright, and the list goes on and on.


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Monday, Jul 27, 2009
Heroes are heroes for a reason, Brubaker reminds us

James Buchanan Barnes, Captain America’s former kid sidekick ‘Bucky’, glowers at the tribute erected to fallen Captain America Steve Rogers. From this view Barnes remains unseen, but his reflection expresses both his intensity and his distress. The only ‘actual’ object appearing in this panel, Cap’s empty costume and shield fully convey the sense of loss experienced with the demise of a legend.


Barnes will shortly, after reading a letter from Steve Rogers requesting he do so, take up the mantle of Captain America. For the moment however, the icon remains out of reach. Ironically an awareness of the shield and costume as fake, do nothing to alleviate the burden of memory. However close Bucky may once have been, the icon of Captain America has now become interminable.


The construction of the panel, the hero of the story remaining off-panel, while separated from an iconic role by a panel of glass offers the briefest of essays on the superhero. In a common-sense understanding, it is the icon, and not the hero that endures. Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting however provide a careful criticism of this notion, the same one that underpins generational superheroes like Lee Falks’ the Phantom or the modern Flash lineage. While the icon, Cap’s costume and shield, at first glance seem substantial and enduring beyond Steve Rogers, it is ultimately the absence of both Rogers and Barnes (whose emotion animates this panel) that has the greatest effect.


Heroes are heroes for a reason, Brubaker seems to be saying. Without them the icons they drape themselves in, are just empty suits.


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Sunday, Jul 26, 2009

When I was younger and just getting back to comics I had no real appreciation for Golden and Silver Age characters. I was a Batman fanatic and I had very little time, or money, for series like the JSA or Starman. I started reading the Justice League because my hero was part of the team but my forays into the DCU and its iconic history ended there. I erroneously believed that the JLA represented the full manifestation of the superhero genre (gimme a break, I was young!), and that old characters like Jay Garrick and Alan Scott were prototypes whose appeal had been replaced by cooler and more modern incarnations. It was through the help of more enlightened friends and gifted comic creators that I was able to learn the error of my ways and appreciate the legacies of the heroes that had come before and their continued relevance today.


One of the various books that accomplished my change in heart and perspective was James Robinson’s Starman, which at the insistence of my friend John I finally agreed to read. This series elegantly captures the beauty and the history of the superhero mythos in a way that is almost painful. Superheroes cannot thrive in a microcosm and this series brought new levels of enjoyment and awe as it broke open insular storylines and brought them into a larger more realized universe. While the series has many excellent examples of this feat, I think the best, and my favorite, is still Starman’s first team-up…


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Friday, Jul 24, 2009
When the drama of the moment ends in Ultimate Secret, the human adventure begins.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, the sky is ours’. It is hard to imagine a more dramatic way to end the scene. Writer Warren Ellis immediately taps our collective hopes of launching at an escape velocity and slipping free of the bond of Earth’s gravity. This scene from Ultimate Secret ends on a moment of high drama, reminding readers that planetary escape velocity is just the beginning. The sky, is literally the limit.


Imagining a more dramatic ending becomes even harder after three pages of dialogue. It is possibly the challenge that accomplished artists most regularly dread. How would you move the story forward visually during narrative phases of nothing but conversation? Artist Steve McNiven responds admirably to the challenge.


Instead of a simplistic shot/reverse-shot mode of storytelling, he deploys a highly animated array of visual techniques. Close-ups morph into worms-eye views, promoting a sense of intimacy. Back-of-the-head shots of protagonist Philip Lawson framing others at the conference table place the audience in the proverbial hot-seat, creating a sense that they themselves are making the presentation. Birds-eye views provide an abstract and visual distance from the imposing scientific detail at just the right moments.


Equal to the visualization, Ellis’ dialogue provides a unique drama of its own. Hard science concepts like zero point energy and breakthrough propulsion systems are driven home in clear and concise language. As lead character Lawson explains these concepts, the drama of scientific endeavor exploration unfolds.


But everything leads back to the spaceship Asis. And the beginning of the human adventure in outer space. As Lawson guides both the supporting characters and audience through the science, the dream of deep space travel is stirred once more.


Our calculations show that the Asis could will develop a speed of some twenty percent of the speed of light. This puts the Moon just hours away. Mars, days away. It puts a return trip to the nearest star within a human lifetime.


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