PopMatters Comic Book Feature

Ryan Paul

PopMatters Comic Book Feature by Ryan Paul - At the very least, it'll get you in the door, which was the purpose of the whole thing to begin with.

Free Comic Book Day

Publisher: Avatar Press
Writer: Various Artists
Item Type: Comic

The 2nd Free Comic Book Day has come and gone, and while opinions on its effectiveness and purpose vary, one thing is for sure: free stuff is good. So rather than present an argument as to the success of Free Comic Book Day, I'll present some brief opinions regarding a few of the many available free comics.

Frank Miller's Robocop
Story: Frank Miller
Sequential Adaptation: Steven Grant
Art: Juan Jose Ryp, Nimbus Studios
Publisher: Avatar Press

Avatar Press has recently made a name for itself as a creator's best friend. They are one of the few publisher's that puts the creator's name first on most of their comics, and their willingness to publish rare, controversial, and often explicit material with little to no editorial interference of writers like Alan Moore and Warren Ellis has meant a loyal and growing readership. Frank Miller's Robocop is another of these lost works by a fan-favorite creator that will probably find itself a nice little audience thanks to Avatar's upcoming nine issue mini-series, coming this July.

The story, according to the essay by Steven Grant, is this: Miller, famous for his work on Daredevil, Dark Knight Returns, and Batman: Year One, penned the original screenplay for Robocop 2. And, as most things go in Hollywood, the version that made it to the big screen was more of a product of test-marketing and group-think than a work of art by one man. Deciding that the legacy left by the mediocre Robocop 2 and the embarrassingly bad Robocop 3 wasn't good enough, Avatar asked Steven Grant to pull a Gus Van Zandt, that is, a "shot-for-shot" adaptation of Miller's screenplay (perhaps "panel-for-shot" would be more appropriate).

There's only a few pages of art and story presented in this comic (the rest of which is devoted to a preview up upcoming Stargate SG-1 and Species comic adaptations), but one can make a few early predictions. The comic looks to capture the tone of the first Robocop film, a movie that was not only dark, edgy, and hyper-violent, but had a biting satirical sense of humor as well. Frank Miller mixes blood and grim humor like nobody else, and his take on the dystopian world of Detroit and Delta City should play like a sci-fi version of his dark noir Sin City series. The art is full-color grotesque, extremely detailed and realistic but with a touch of exaggeration that brings the violent and comical story to life. While the series probably won't have enough of a appeal to draw a wide audience, Miller fans, and fans of Avatar's work in general, should have their appetites wetted by this preview.

Slave Labor Stories
Writer/Artist: Various Artists
Publisher: Slave Labor Graphics

Indie Publisher Slave Labor Graphics comes out roaring with a free comic sampling many of their most popular creators and comics, plus previews of new ones to come. Out of all the titles given away on Free Comic Book Day, this sampler is probably the most likely to appeal to a wide Gen-X and Gen-Y audience. The comics in this book are high on humor, style, and inventiveness, and low on super-heroes or other traditional comic clichés. For someone who tires of spandex and hero fare, this is the other side of comics. The subversive, acidic wit displayed here, which features intellectual dairy products beating on unsuspecting comic readers, cats working voodoo magic on stuffed bears, and angels tricking people into believing they've died and gone to hell in order to cure them of hiccups, is perfect for anyone with a delightfully demented sense of humor.

It starts with a two page "Milk and Cheese" strip by Eisner Award-winner Evan Dorkin, and also features work by cult favorites Jhonen Vasquez (Squee and Johnny the Homicidal Maniac) and Roman Dirge (Lenore). The artwork in these twelve samples ranges from the faux-painted, impressionist feel of Vasquez's "The Ghost with Black Fingers" to Dorkin's hyper-active "Milk and Cheese" to the deceptively kiddie art of Jamie Smart's "Bear" and Ian Carney and Woodrow Phoenix's "Pandora's Lunchbox". With a wide variety of fun, hip comics, and at a price that's hard to beat, Slave Labor Graphics provides the perfect gift for those friends who think they are too cool for comics.

Courtney Crumin and the Night Things
Writer/Artist: Ted Naifeh
Publisher: Oni Press

One prominent stereotype about comics is that they are for guys. For the most part, this is true. Walk into any comic store, and the males will outnumber the females at least four-to-one. In recent years, the comics industry has attempted to broaden their appeal across the gender divide. Manga, the popular Japanese comic style, has been one important tool in bringing more female readers to comics. Ted Naifeh's Courtney Crumin series is another strong shot across gender boundaries that should appeal to young female readers everywhere.

Oni Press, the popular indie publisher of such eclectic, creative material as Hopeless Savages, Channel Zero, and Pounded, gives us the story of Courtney Crumin, a young girl with an odd family history. She's a young girl, recently relocated to the wealthy suburbs with her parents to say with her rich Uncle Aloysius. As she soon finds out, Aloysius' has some connections to the darker, mysterious elements of the universe, and Courtney is swept up in adventures involving goblins, changelings, and witchcraft.

Courtney is a smart, independent girl with a touch of attitude. She's fearless in the face of ghouls of all sorts, and eager to get herself into new adventures. She's precisely the kind of tough yet sweet girl that young teenagers will probably find appealing. The artwork adroitly melds the details of the "real" world with the stylized, gothic look of the shadow world. While the subject matter is a bit on the dark side, the book is accessible for children of all ages, especially those with a taste for black clothes and an aversion to sunlight.

These are only three of the many, many free comics that were available at the latest Free Comic Book Day, and represent only a small sampling of the variety of subject matter available. Some extra copies may still be available, so it might be worth it to those who are interested to stop by your local comic shop and ask. At the very least, it'll get you in the door, which was the purpose of the whole thing to begin with.

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