Tuesday, April 01, 2008

While you were out…

I know, gone waaay too long. What was originally supposed to be a short break to catch my breath late last year turned into a five month sabbatical from this blog. But trust me when I say that I wasn’t just lying around and doing nothing. I’ve actually been quite busy, working on a number of projects, both large and small, a few of which I can finally talk about now.

But first, I’d like to let everyone interested know that I will be attending the New York Comic Con – http://www.newyorkcomiccon.com/ – later this month, the 17th through the 20th of April, at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, New York. As usual, I’ll be wandering around the floor of the Javitts, but you can buy copies of my books from my good friend and book designer of choice, Paul Michael Kane, at the PMK’s Imagination booth throughout the show. I’ll be periodically checking in with Paul and company, so if you need to contact me during the show, just leave a message and business card with him and I’ll do my best to meet you there.

I’m really excited about attending this con, as it’s been both a fun and worthwhile show to attend since it was first established two years ago. Aside from the fact that New York is one of my favorite cities to visit and explore, it also gives me a chance to meet and greet a ton of the industry’s best and brightest, and my numerous friends and allies in the biz, meet with my editors, make new contacts, etc.

However, I am a bit sad to note that this is the only show I plan to attend in 2008. As will become evident a little farther down in this entry, I’m going to be very, very busy writing and working on projects this year, and something had to give. And, since I don’t plan on abandoning any of the great projects I’ve got lined up, staying in the office was the obvious solution. Hopefully next year will allow for more conventions.

Second, for those who might have missed it, Nexus # 100, which contains my “A Short History of Nexus” article detailing the long and winding publishing road that the nigh-legendary sci-fi comic series has followed over the past few decades, came out at the end of February, 2008, after some extended delays. Aside from being happy to see that issue hit the stands after such an [unexpected and] extended absence after it resumed publishing under the Rude Dude imprint, it was also a landmark that both Mike Barron and Steve “Dude” Rude can be justly proud of reaching. And to say that I’m still beaming and aglow from being asked to be part of that celebration would be more than a small understatement.

If you’ve not gotten a copy of this fine book yet, please consider checking with your local comic shop or head on over to the publisher’s website – http://www.rudedudeproductions.com/ – and grab yourself a copy of this massive special edition. It’s one for the ages, fer sure.

And one of the most fun, and personally important, projects I’ve been involved with came out late last year. Dondi volume 1 was released by Classic Comics Press in November, and featured not only my interview with one of that waif’s co-creators, “Irwin Hasen: The Making of An American Icon,” but also an introduction by none other than Jules Feiffer! If you’ve never had the chance to enjoy this truly great comic strip, head on over to http://www.classiccomicspress.com/ and grab a copy now.

Seriously, this is one of the finest family friendly comic strips ever produced, and I’m incredibly honored to have been able to be part of this project by talking on the record with Irwin. However you consider it, he’s truly one of the giants of the field.

[And for those who might be wondering, sure, you can consider that a small pun. But it’s also the Lord’s own truth, regardless of Irwin’s physical stature.]

Also, I’ve decided to offer a few signed sets of the Talking with Graphic Novelists interview books published late last year by Rosen Publishing. These are beautiful hardcover editions volumes which feature my extended, in depth conversations with Neil Gaiman, Mike Oeming, George Perez and Alan Moore. Save for the Moore book, which reprints the basically sold-out Alan Moore Spells It Out, these are the first appearance of these interviews in book format.

If you’re interested in picking up a set of these, head over to http://www.pmkane.com/moore for the details. They cost $ 100.00 per set, which might seem high until you consider that each volume will set you back $ 30.00, so this represents a savings of $20.00 off list price. [And just in case you were wondering, no, I won’t be offering single volumes for sale separately. Sorry about that.]

And don’t forget, you can still get a signed set of the two books featuring my interviews with Alan Moore in soft cover at http://www.pmkane.com/moore/moore.htm.

On the “still to come” front, I completed and submitted another short article, “The Essential Sequential Steampunk,” for inclusion in the Steampunk anthology of [duh!] Steampunk science fiction tales by a who’s who of the field. I’m particularly excited about being part of this project because, unlike a majority of my recent journalistic and other work, this article’s part of a prose anthology and intended for sale in a market I’ve had no previous exposure to, namely, the book store market. I’m still a bit flabbergasted that I was asked to contribute to this collection by the collection’s editors, Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, and am quite indebted to them for that kindness.

Steampunk will be published by Tachyon – http://www.tachyonpress.com/ – sometime in the next few months. You can learn more about the collection by visiting http://www.tachyonpublications.com/book/Steampunk.html?Session_ID=new&Reference_Page=/booksComingsoon.html. I’ll surely announce that release when the time comes.

I’d hoped I could also talk about a rather big and important project that I’ve been asked to write, but recent developments make that difficult at this time. Yes, it’s something I’ve been dying to do for several years now. Yes, it has been officially announced by the publisher, although most news sites seem to have completely overlooked it. And, finally, and yes, it will still happen. I just can’t talk about it right now, but rest assured that, as soon as everything’s finalized and set in stone, I will talk about here.

And last of all for today, I’d like to announce that I’m officially going into the publishing end of the business. The company’s called Bill Baker Presents Press, LLC, or BBP Press for short, and was created primarily to publish the series of interview books begun with the Alan Moore Spells It Out and Alan Moore’s Exit Interviews volumes. But that doesn’t rule out the possibility that I’ll begin issuing graphic novels or collections of comics, etc. in the future.

Diamond has already examined and approved the first book, and it will be in their Previews catalogue later this summer. Look for an official announcement on that front here and elsewhere soon. And while the imprint has no official website yet, there will be one set up and running soon. Look for those details here in the future, as well.

Anyone interested in talking with me about the new publishing venture, any of the other projects I’ve mentioned above, or even about possible future projects, just drop me an email. I’ll be more than happy to hear from you, and talk about anything I’ve got going.

And that’s it, for now. There are a lot of other things that are still developing, but nothing solid enough to talk about at this juncture. But check back here in the near future for updates. I’ll be back here again in a week or so, serving up another pile of news and announcements. Except for the occasional short delay [which might occur while I’m traveling to and from the NYC Con later this month], I expect to be doing a lot more frequent updates here from here on out.

But, in the meantime, I’d say it’s long past due for the latest installment of…

What’s Bill Been Reading? [for the period of 3-1-08 to3-31-08]

Flight Explorer volume 1
Matthew Armstrong, Steve Hamaker, Kazu Kibuishi, Jake Parker, Kean Soo, and others; edited by Kazu Kibuishi
Villiard Books

This all ages spin-off from the incredibly popular Flight anthologies offers readers ten slices of full color comics genius. Whether you’re new to the worlds of these storytellers, or solid fans of Fish N Chips, Copper, Jellaby, or the other characters presented here, you’ll find a wealth of great comics entertainment between the covers of this book. Perfect for those looking to discover the joys of the medium of any age, and highly recommended to those who would like to sharpen their own skills, this is a volume which will reward your first, or twenty-first, reading.

Sam and Max: Surfin’ the Highway
Steve Purcell
Telltale Games

For the past twenty years, Purcell’s off-kilter heroes--a naked, decidedly deranged rabbit and hound dog draped in a trench coat and hat--have ravaged reader’s funny bones while ransacking the odder corners of our collective cultural memories. And we’re all the better, and our culture’s all the richer, for it.

This collection contains all of the comics, shorts, strips, pin ups and a Brand! New! Tale! And it’s overflowing with enough humor, gooey goodness and sheer lunacy that you’ll find yourself not only going back for seconds and thirds, but also quoting some of your favorite bits to bemused and befuddled friends, colleagues and total strangers.

But don’t let the hilarity distract you from the plain truth presented in black and white and even glorious color before you: Steve Purcell is a master craftsman, who makes silliness and even surrealism look simple and easy to pull off. And if you can dry the tears of joy from your eyes long enough, you’ll also see that there’s ample visual evidence that he’s one of the most under rated draftsmen putting pen and ink to page these days, as well as an accomplished cartoonist of the highest caliber.

If there’s one book on this entire list you buy, make it this one. Sam and Max: Surfin’the Highway is a masterpiece of the medium. It should be on every reader’s shelf, and studied long and hard by everyone who wants to make their own comics, regardless of the genre they wish to work in. And that ain’t no joke or overstatement, folks.

It’s the simple truth.

The Virgin Project: Real People Share Real Stories
K.D. Boze and Stasia Kato
Girlie Press

It’s quite likely you’ve not heard of this collection of true-to-life tales of “losin’ it” yet. But you will, sooner or later. That’s because, while this self-published volume hasn’t been offered by many comic shops, or even appeared in Diamond’s Previews catalogue, this anthology with a twist will surely begin to be noticed on a wide scale soon.

The concept behind its simple: Real people share their personal stories of how they lost their virginity. Sounds like it’d make a great “stroke” book, right? Well, perhaps. But, as with so much else we find in what’s been called “The Human Comedy,” appearances and first impressions can be deceiving.

The truth of the matter is that sex, like life itself, is much more complex, strange, terrifying and wonderful. And so are the stories in this book.

Rendered in a sure-handed, cartoony style by Boze and Kato, these confessions come to life in a totally natural way on the page. Sure, there’s a fair share of over the top escapades related here—from sex in your parent’s car with a twist, to a different view of familial love. But there are also tales that will break warm or tear at your heart, as well as a few which might make you see sex—and perhaps even life—in a new light. And there’s at least one story which will freeze your blood with its implications, offering as it does the depth of a parent’s love and the lengths they might go to in an effort to make things right for their child.

Like the subject matter itself, this is a book which shouldn’t be approached with our eyes [much less your mind] closed, or with preconceptions. And like that transformational moment, it has the power to change you in ways small and large, if you allow it.

The Virgin Project is something worth reading, especially if you’re interested in exploring what real sex is, and can be.

Shooting War
Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman
Grand Central

Shooting War is one part scathing media satire, one part sci-fi socio-political thriller, and a wholly engrossing read. Set in a near future where the War on Terror has lead to an increasingly unstable and chaotic situation in Iraq, and economic and social malaise on American shores, a young amateur journalist named Jimmy Burns is practicing his own brand of anti-establishment guerilla live online reporting when the war hits home with a vengeance. In seconds, Burns is catapulted onto the center ring of the media circus and becomes world famous for his coverage of a suicide bombers attack on a Starbucks. In short order he finds himself hired by one of the very corporate interests he was denouncing, and dropped into the modern heart of darkness that is post 9-11 Baghdad. What follows is by turns thrilling, heartbreaking, and hilarious, as Burns tries to get the real story, but finds himself increasingly the very target of that truth through circumstance and the machinations of forces beyond his control. Throughout, Lappe’s script and gift for dialogue creates a believable, if sometimes over cynical and studied, sense of otherworldly realism akin to Apocalypse Now, while Goldman’s art helps ground the proceedings as it simultaneously drives the characters and reader through the increasingly surreal situations and encounters.

Well paced, overflowing with smart yet believable dialogue and shot through with a humor as black as the center of a neutron star, Shooting War is a warning of what might come to pass if we as a nation continue on our current path, politically, socially and, perhaps most importantly, personally.

Billy Clikk: Rogmasher Rampage
Mark Crilley
Delacorte Press

What do you do after writing and providing spot illustrations for a series of successful Young Adult books featuring your own character? Well, in Crilley’s case, he created an entirely new series featuring the adventures of a ‘Tween who has recently begun training in the family business of monster hunting. This, the second book in the Billy Clikk tales, features the titular character’s first semi-solo mission, one which takes him and a female counterpart to China to investigate a series of unusual Rogmasher incursions into human territory. Filled with Crilley’s typical spot-on characterizations, humor and silly-sounding-but-dangerous creatures, Rogmasher Rampage will likely appeal to fans of his previous work [both the graphic and prose novel-versions of Akiko] as well as his newer Miki Falls manga.

Showcase Presents: The War that Time Forgot
Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, with Joe Kubert, Gene Colan, Russ Heath and others
DC Comics

In case it’s not obvious by now, I’m a huge fan of Silver Age comics in general, and particularly of the various modern collections which represent them in various formats. I am especially fond of the still relatively new big, thick black and white Showcase Presents “phone book” format that DC has adopted in recent years. Yeah, I really love [and will miss terribly] their full color, high end hard cover Archives books, but I’m also quite happy to see their more affordable cousins gracing the racks of comic shops and book stores across the country. This allows hard-core Silver Age junkies like me easy access to series that, while we might consider buying them in more upscale versions, will snap up these cheaper representations of that same material in an instant.

And this one’s a great case. Yeah, I enjoyed these tales as a kid, but I’m not a die-hard fan who has to have these fine, but extremely strange [and, yeah, often formulaic] tales in full color, much less represented between hard covers. But offer me over 500 pages of beautifully reproduced GI Joes versus dinosaurs for under twenty bucks, and I’m on it in an instant. Really fun stuff, and basically intended for all ages, these tales require the reader to suspend his belief in extremis, but it’s really worth it for the sheer fun and B-movie style thrills offered. And, for those students of the medium who might be looking to study masters of the art at work and so improve their own visual storytelling, well, there’s plenty of fodder herein.

G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker

This seems to be part of a new effort from Vertigo to release a series of original graphic novels in black and white, an initiative that includes Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece’s very fine Incognegro. Cairo, like Incognegro, straddles several genres, and seems to be complete unto itself. Unlike its stable mate, Cairo, embraces not just another culture, but also the supernatural.

Wilson’s tale, which mixes an insider’s street view of daily life in the titular city with the complexities of Arab-Israeli interactions, politics and a seemingly haphazard struggle to secure the services of a powerful Jinn whose current home is a hookah, provides an entertaining ride. Perker proves to be a solid pen and ink artist, and capable of capturing some of the more subtle emotions of the characters through both their body language and faces. The result is a quick read, and a nice diversion, but one which offers but a few glimpses of the richer possibilities inherent to the material and subject.

Marvel Masterworks volume 91: Tales to Astonish [volume 2 regular edition]
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Dick Ayers, Don Heck, Carl Burgos, Bob Powell, et. al.
Marvel Comics

Another collection of Silver Age material, this time from the House of Ideas, in their high end full color Masterworks series of hard covers. These tales, gathered from issues 53 through 69 of Tales to Astonish, represent the final phase of the early career of Henry “Hank” Pym, scientist turned superhero. Whether he was operating as Ant-Man or his larger counterpart, Giant-Man, Pym was one of those characters who never really seemed to find his footing or ideal arena, which perhaps helps to explain why the character struggles so often with his own sense of worth, and to prove himself worthy of the title “Hero.” As a theme, it’s obvious fodder for much of the early Marvel tales which featured so many misfits, heroic and otherwise. But here it’s almost endemic, and that deep-seated lack of self-worth eventually became part and parcel, or even the calling card, of this bedeviled character in later years.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s a real sense of audacity, and of adventure, of striving to do the best with one’s life at the root of all these tales. And although this character has never really grown out of his second [or perhaps even third] tier status in many ways, and was saddled with some of the more strange villains in the Marvel universe, this volume offers some real old-fashioned entertainment to those seeking such rarities today.

Marvel Masterworks volume 90: The X-Men and The Uncanny X-Men [volume 6 regular edition]
Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Dave Cockrum, Terry Austin, et. al.
Marvel Comics

One of my early reintroductions to comics came while I was pursuing my Masters Degree at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, during the early 80s. A few of the guys I met in class and used to hang out with kept talking about the then “brand new” series called The X-Men. Of course, having encountered those worthies in my own youth, and having been a hard-core fan of Marvel’s Merry Mutants, I asked them to tell me more. Well, in a move that might sound truly strange in these days of slabbing comics, they did me one better: They simply brought over a stack of their well-read, but loving treated, issues so I could discover this new delight for myself.

Among those books were almost all of the issues leading up to, as well as the very same stories reprinted in this hard cover collection. I’ve got to say, while I wasn’t hooked, I was duly impressed with what I saw the medium becoming. And, although I didn’t really begin to actively pursue renewing my steady comics habit, this experience certainly set the hook.

Some of my favorite issues from this important, and now seminal, era of the X-Men are in this volume, which gathers #s 141 to 150 together in one glorious collection. Perhaps the crown jewel in this particular batch is the “Days of Future Past” two-parter, which has become the jumping off point for so many stories for so many creative teams of the X-books since that it’s almost a cliché today. However, the original still proves to be both an engrossing and powerful, if sometimes stiff, read. And that’s not to pay short shrift to the other tales represented in these pages by any stretch.

For sheer entertainment, you really can’t go wrong with this or the earlier volumes of the series. And if you want to know the how and why superhero comics have become what they are today, and what lead to the fusion of the soap opera and super powered team concepts in the minds of so many aficionados, editors and culture vultures, this series will provide you with some of the best examples of the refinement of that approach.

Two-Handed Engine: The Selected Stories of Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore
Centipede Press

This nearly-900 page collection represents some of the most endearing, enduring and—dare I say it?—Fun Science Fiction tales written by the husband-wife team who all but dominated the short story market during the 40s and 50s. Woefully forgotten and long out of print, here you’ll find some of the most important tales from two masterful storytellers whose influence, albeit often subliminal and unrecognized, can still be felt today.

Whether it’s the heart breaking triumph of “No Woman Born,” the sheer lunacy of “The Proud Robot,” or the terrifying sense of alienation and loss powering the tales “Absalom” or “Mimsy Were the Borogoves,” these are stories which, save for certain word choices, could have been written last week. Or even next.

Apparently only available via the Science Fiction Book Club at present, this is a collection that deserves to be on the shelf of anyone with even a passing interest in science fiction, and should be read and reread by those looking to master both the genre and their own craft as authors.

The Anubis Tapestry volume 1: Between Twilights
Bruce Zick
Actionopolis and Komikwerks, LLC

This is the first in a projected series of Young Adult prose books written, and featuring spot illustrations, by Bruce Zick featuring teen Chance Henry. Chance is the son of an Egyptologist and museum curator who is the victim of an unfortunate body theft perpetrated by Sehti, a mummy driven mad and bad by the intervening centuries between his internment and his release into the modern world. Having lost his father to this creature now inhabiting his father’s flesh, Chance is given an opportunity to save his father’s Ka [soul essence] from an eternity in the Underworld through the intervention of another mummy, one who teaches the boy the arcane magic of ancient Egypt.

Zick is a fine writer, able to tell an engaging tale that provides enough character and environmental details without slowing the action. And, as fans of his comics work as well as the spot illustrations he’s provided for this book will attest, he’s a truly gifted artist with an original, appealing sense of design and style. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, this is the only volume of the series which was ever released before the publisher, Actionopolis, disappeared. Hopefully Zick will one day get the opportunity to tell the rest of this tale, either in prose or a graphic novel. It’d make a great addition to the burgeoning YA comics scene.

[What follows is a fairly complete listing of what I’ve read since my last entry, posted in early November 2007. I’ll be going back and writing short reviews of many, if not all, of these books in the future, and include them at the end of that post’s reading list.]

What’s Bill Been Reading? [for the period of 1-1-08 to2-29-08]


Tales from the Crypt #1: Ghouls Gone Wild!
Rob Vollmar, Neil Kleid, Don McGregor, Sho Murase, Rick Parker, and others

The Guin Saga Manga volumes 2 and 3: The Seven Magi
Kaoru Kurimoto and Kazuaki Yanagisawa
Vertical, Inc.

Essex County volume 1: Tales From the Farm
Jeff Lemire
Top Shelf

Michael Moorcock’s Elric: The Making of a Sorcerer
Michael Moorcock, Walt Simonson, Steve Oliff, et. al.
DC Comics

DC Comics Rarities Archives volume 1
Various creators
DC Comics

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152
David Petersen
Archaia Studios Press

Marvel Masterworks volume 87: Rawhide Kid [or volume 2 regular edition]
Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Jack Davis, et. al.
Marvel Comics

This volume collects Rawhide Kid #s 26 to 35 in their entirety. And while there aren’t as many Kirby-drawn tales herein as one might want, it does have some of his best Western work committed to paper from this period of his career.

Marvel Masterworks volume 85: The Amazing Spider-Man [or volume 9 regular edition]
Stan Lee, John Romita, et. al.
Marvel Comics

This volume reprints issues 78 through 87 of Amazing Spider-Man, simply some of the best superhero tales of that period…and possibly any other era.

Popgun volume one
Featuring various creators, edited by Mark Andrew Smith and Joe Keatinge
Image Comics

The Museum Vaults: Excerpts from the Journal of an Expert
Marc-Antoine Mathieu

Schulz’s Youth
Charles M. Schulz
About Comics

Appleseed: Hypernotes
Shirow Masamune
Dark Horse Manga

The Wind in the Willows
Kenneth Grahame, Michel Plessix

Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece

Scalped volume 2: Casino Boogie
Jason Aaron, R.M. Guera, et. al.

Marvel Masterworks Golden Age volume 89: Daring Mystery Comics [or volume 1 regular edition]
Joe Simon, Maurice, Gutwirth, Larry Antonette, Jack Binder, and various
Marvel Comics

Reprinting Daring Marvel Mystery Comics numbers 1 through 4 in all their stunted glory

The Golden Age Doctor Fate Archives volume 1
Gardner Fox, Howard Sherman, Stan Aschmeier, Jon Chester Kozlak, et. al.
DC Comics

This big, thick volume reprints all of the solo stories featuring the two versions of Doctor Fate from the Golden Age mainstay, More Fun Comics #s 55 through 98.

Maakies with the Wrinkled Knees
Tony Millionaire
Fantagraphics Books

Absolute Batman: Hush
Jeph Loeb, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Alex Sinclair, et. al.
DC Comics

Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross
Chip Kidd with Geoff Spear
Pantheon Books

What’s Bill Been Reading? [for the period of 11-6-07 through 12-31-07]


The Lost Colony
Book 1: The Snodgrass Conspiracy
By Grady Klein
First Second

House of Clay
Naomi Nowak

Tom Strong Book Five
Mark Schultz, Pascal Ferry, Steve Aylett, Shawn McManus, Brian K. Vaughan, Peter Snejbjerg, Ed Brubaker, Duncan Fegredo, et. Al.
America’s Best Comics

Iron West
Doug TenNapel
http://www.imagecomics.com/ and http://www.tennapel.com/

The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck Companion
Don Rosa
Gemstone Publishing

The Adventures of Luther Arkwright
Bryan Talbot
Dark Horse Comics

Scarlet Traces
Ian Edginton and D’Israeli
Dark Horse Comics

Scarlet Traces: The Great Game
Ian Edginton and D’Israeli
Dark Horse Comics

Will Eisner’s The Spirit Book One
Darwyn Cooke with J. Bone and Dave Stewart
DC Comics

Night Work
Steve Hamilton
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Minotaur

The Five Fists of Science
Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders
Image Comics

The Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect
Peter David, George Perez, et. al.
Marvel Comics

The Spirit Archives volume 18
Will Eisner et. al.
DC Comics

covering 1/49 to 6/49

Godland: Celestial Edition One
Joe Casey, Tom Scioli, et. al.
Image Comics

Little Lulu volume 16: A Handy Kid
John Stanley and Irving Tripp
Dark Horse Comics

Amazing Fantasy Omnibus
Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, et. al.
Marvel Comics

Collects Amazing Adventures/Amazing Adult Fantasy/Amazing Fantasy #s 1 through 15, including the first appearance of some long-forgotten character called Spider-Man.

Heroes volume one
By various
DC Comics

Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus volume three
Jack Kirby, Mike Royer, et. al.
DC Comics

Marvel Masterworks volume 84: The Avengers [or volume 7, regular edition]
Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Gene Colan, Barry Windsor-Smith, et. al.
Marvel Comics

collecting issue #s 59 through 68

Marvel Masterworks volume 83: Strange Tales featuring Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. [or volume 1, regular edition]
Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Jim Steranko and others
Marvel Comics

collects Strange Tales #s 135 to 153

EC Archives: The Vault of Horror volume one
Al Feldstein, William Gaines, Johnny Craig, Wally Wood, Graham Ingels, Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Kamen, Jack Davis, et. al.
Gemstone Publishing

collecting the first six issues of this seminal magazine

The Comics of Fletcher Hanks: I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets!
By Fletcher Hanks, et. al., edited by Paul Karasik
Fantagrahics Books


Alan Moore: Wild Worlds
Alan Moore with Jim Bailie, Travis Charest, Scott Clark, Al Rio, et. al.
WildStorm Productions

Collects the Spawn/ WildC.A.T.S.: Devil’s Day, Deathblow by Blow, and VooDoo: Dancing in the Dark mini-series with the Majestic: The Big Chill story from WildStorm Spotlight # 1 and the short tale, “Reincarnation,” from WildC.A.T.S. # 50

Alan moore’s Complete WildC.A.T.S.
Alan Moore, Travis Charest, et. al.
WildStorm Productions

collects WildC.A.T.S. #s 21 through 34, and a short tale from issue # 50 of that same series.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier
Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, et. al.
America’s Best Comics

Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil
Jeff Smith with Steve Hamaker
DC Comics

Marvel Masterworks volume 85: Atlas Era Strange Tales [or volume 1 of regular edition]
Joe Maneely, John Romita, Gene Colan, Joe Sinnott, Bill Everett, Russ Heath, Dick Ayers, Bernie Krigstein, et. al.
Marvel Comics

collecting the first ten issues of the “Atomic Age” Strange Tales series

the Spirit Archives volume 19
Will Eisner, et. al.
DC Comics

representing the run from 7/49 through 12/49 of Eisner’s seminal strip

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. volumes 1 & 2
Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen, et. al.
Marvel Comics

The entire twelve issue run of Ellis and Immonen’s truly sick and twisted series collected as two slim but beautifully designed hardcovers as part of Marvel’s “Premiere Edition” series of books.

Ultimate Fantastic Four volume 4
Mike Carey with Mark Brooks, Pasqual Ferry, Stuart Immonen, Frazier Irving and Leinil Yu, et. al.
Marvel Comics

Collects issues 33-41 and the second annual of the Ultimate Fantastic Four, along with the Ultimate Fantastic Four/X-Men and Ultimate X-Men/Fantastic Four miniseries.

Cry Yourself to Sleep
Jeremy Tinder
Top Shelf Productions

Tinder’s debut

Black Ghost Apple Factory
Jeremy Tinder
Top Shelf Productions

The Bakers: Babies and Kittens
Kyle Baker
Image Comics

The Guin Saga Manga volume 1: The Seven Magi
Kaoru Kurimoto and Kazuaki Yanagishawa
Vertical, Inc.

Impact Parameter and Other Quantum Realities
Geoffrey A. Landis
Golden Gryphon
[no website?]

Little Lulu volume 17: The Valentine
John Stanley and Irving Tripp
Dark Horse Comics

The Art of Bryan Talbot
Bryan Talbot

Skull Kill Krew
Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and Steve Yeowell, et. al.
Marvel Comics

collects the five issue Skull Kill Krew miniseries

Rocketo: Journey to the Hidden Sea
Frank Espinosa with Marie Taylor
Image Comics

The second volume concludes the first epic adventure featuring the Rocketo Garrison and his companions.

Earthboy Jacobus
Doug TenNapel
Image Comics

Batman: Detective
Paul Dini with Royal McGraw, Don Kramer, J.H. Williams, Joe Benitez, Marcos Marz and others
DC Comics

Doug TenNapel
Image Comics
http://www.image.com/ and http://www.tennapel.com/

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

History in the Making

Well, it's official. If you check out this month's edition of Diamond Comic Distributor's Previews catalogue, you'll find the solicitation for the 100th issue of Steve Rude and Mike Baron's Nexus on page 310. This is the very issue which contains, to quote the solicitation copy, "a brand new 12-page feature, 'The History of Nexus by Bill Baker." And, yep, that's me. According the full page ad on the preceding page, this article presents, "How it All Began! Early, Previously Unseen Nexus Art! The Crew From All 3 Nexus Publishers Tell All!" And what's really cool about all that hyperbole is the simple fact that it's completely true.

It's both exciting and, well, a touch weird for me to be part of an event like this, if truth be told. Not that I'm ungrateful for this opportunity to contribute, even in a small way, to the living legend that is Nexus. I just never saw this coming, nor did I ever expected anything like it to happen. I suppose this slightly discombobulated feeling could also be attributed to the fact that, as I've explained in the Comic Book Novice radio interview earlier this year, and believe I touched upon during the Supernot podcast a couple months back, I have only recently come to the conclusion that I needed to begin the process of "Branding myself" and my work as a full time professional journalist, writer and author of books. Still, after spending ten years as a generally invisible presence--something akin to an invisible prompter prodding established and rising star creators to share their impressions, thoughts and processes with the readers of the various websites and magazines I've worked for in the past--it's a bit of an odd feeling to see "my name in lights" as it were.

Anyway, regarding Nexus # 100, please order early and often. This is a series that deserves to be read far and wide by a large readership, whether or not I have something to do with it. The stories of both Baron and Rude are always worth checking out, be they working together or separately.

And, finally, for those of you who want to check out that interview I did for Supernot [supernotpodcast.podshow.com]. It's episode # 27, which was posted on 9-20-07, and you can download it via http://www.podshow.com/shows/?mode=current&show_id=6681&set=1&page=1

And that's it for the moment. Which means that's it time for yet another mammoth installment of...

What's Bill been reading for the past month+? [for the period of 9-13 to 10-14-07]

Little Lulu: The Explorers [volume 15]
by John Stanley and Irving Tripp
Dark Horse Books

The more I read of this truly classic all ages material, the more I understand of the reasons why this series continues to regarded with such high regard by so many creators. The work of John Stanley and Irving Tripp is seamless, sturdy and wholly accessible, with very little signs of the wear and tear of time which cripples so many other strips and comics of even more recent vintage. And while many of the tales contained in this edition echo those from earlier volumes, there's still an incredible freshness to them. This is a series which is well worth reading for the lessons it offers in constructing stories that work effortlessly, and worth rereading for sheer joy of it. Highly recommended, as are all the previous volumes in this reprint series, to all and sundry. Oh, and these would make great holiday gifts, providing not only hours of reading enjoyment, but also fine coloring book material.

The Homecoming
by Ray Bradbury, with illustrations by Dave McKean
Collins Design

This beautifully designed small hardcover presents Ray Bradbury's classic short tale of a normal boy's struggles to fit into his fantastic and oddly gifted family with a series of simply brilliant illustrations by Dave McKean. Quite simply, this is a magical, moving and utterly brilliant presentation and well worth tracking down if only to experience anew, with the sepia-soaked and occasionally bloodshot fresh eyes provided by McKean's art. Another perfect gift for the guy, gal or ghoul who has [or think they have] everything by these two luminaries.

Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere
by Mike Carey and Glenn Fabry

This adaptation of Gaiman's breakout urban fantasy prose novel is well crafted, and worth reading in its own right. Carey has obviously approached this project with the right balance of appreciation for the source material and a comic writer's craft, making what might otherwise have become an overly verbose retelling into a story which is familiar, yet offers surprises of its own. And I mean that in the best way possible. And to say that it's a real joy to see Fabry doing extended interiors, applying his often overlooked or even forgotten sublime skills to telling a story sequentially is a huge understatement. All in all, a truly enjoyable and well done comic book version of the Gaiman novel, worth checking out for its entertainment as well as the lessons concerning the art of adapting something from one medium to another that it can teach those interested in such work.

Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus volume 2
Jack Kirby with Vinnie Colletta and Mike Royer
DC Comics

This collection contains the stories where Kirby really kicked his "Fourth World" concepts into high gear, and contain some of the single most striking concepts and images from his later, if not entire, career. Containing various issues of Jimmy Olsen, Forever People, Mister Miracle and New Gods, this volume, along with those that preceded and follow it, are absolutely essential reading for those who wish to fully understand not just why comics have the shape and form they do today, but also what unexplored possibilities the medium still offers to its practitioners. For fans of the King and great comics, it rarely gets better than this. For those of us who want to see the medium truly blossom, this is one of the books which sets the standards by which all other work is to be judged. Either way, if you're not reading this and the other collections of this seminal work, you're simply missing out. Period.

Two-Fisted Tales volume 2
by Harvey Kurtzman with Wally Wood, John Severin, Jack Davis, Will Elder and Dave Berg
Gemstone Publishing

I'd never had a chance to read these tales before now, stories which I've heard referred to as being "Legendary" and "Classics of the medium" over the course of literally decades. And I'm more than pleased to state that they more than live up to all that hype. But I'd like to add that these aren't just classics of the comics medium; in point of fact, these are modern classics of war literature, told with a rare grace and compassion that is too often lacking in the literary, much less actual, world.

Whatever your political orientation, your feelings about the "necessity" of war or peace, or even if you just don't care about all that "nonsense," these are tales which will capture your imagination, as well as your heart and soul. While all of the EC reprints in this series have proven to be worthy additions to anyone's shelf, this volume and its predecessor are particularly important and noteworthy, and are absolutely essential to the comic scholar and creator's library. Ignore these, and you risk hobbling your understanding of the medium and your full grasp of the craft of making comics.

The Intruders
by Michael Marshall
William Morrow

A mother and her son are brutally murdered in their home, and the basement laboratory of the missing father is destroyed. A young girl, spending time with her mother at their family's cottage on the ocean disappears without a trace. And the wife of Jack Whalen, an ex-cop turned writer, goes missing...and then inexplicably turns up, safe and without any solid explanation, back at home. Three seemingly unconnected events which suddenly begin to merge together to form a pattern once Whalen begins to suspect that there's something...wrong about his wife's behavior. And who, exactly, is the well dressed man in black whose appearances ties them all together? The more Whalen learns about the facts which connect these strange occurrences, the more fantastic the truth seems. All these diverse threads come together in a double climax which could mean the end of not just his marriage, but of his life itself.

To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of thrillers of any stripe. However, I found The Intruders to be riveting reading, both well written and well worth the time invested. Anyone who likes a good mystery, with solid logic and procedurals, and just a touch of supernatural based in some solid reasoning, will enjoy this finely crafted book.

Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles: The Nixie's Song Book 1 of 3
by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
http://www.simonsays.com/ and http://www.spiderwick.com/

The creators behind the Spiderwick Chronicles return to the strange yet strangely-familiar world they created a few years back, and which is the basis for a forthcoming film and a wide variety of movie tie-in products. This time out, they're focusing on a different territory and cast of characters, with an unlikely pair of step brother and step sister discovering the odd assortment of creatures surrounding their newly-minted mixed family's Florida home.

Yeah, the two brothers who costarred in the previous Spiderwick books do make an appearance, as do both the author and illustrator, in this new volume, but the real treat here is in seeing how and what previously-unseen magical inhabitants are revealed to the new main characters. Their interactions, and the budding familial care and worry they exhibit for each other, are often as interesting as the various creatures and oddball humans they encounter along the way.

And, while this new aspect of the Spiderwick world might not be quite as fresh as the first series, DiTerlizzi and Black's efforts are, if anything, more accomplished here--quite a feat, considering how well they acquitted themselves art- and story-wise, respectively, the first time. Not for everyone, and perhaps not even for all readers of the inaugural Spiderwick Chronicles, this is still a great deal of fun and solid entertainment for all fans of modern tales featuring fairies and other fantastic creatures.

And that's more than enough for now. I'll be back soon, with more reviews and maybe even some thoughtful ideas on comics. Until then, take care, have some fun, and go read something good and fun!

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Quick One [while he's awake]

Lots going on here, including a back spasm that laid me up for a few days and tightened up some deadlines even more, which goes a ways toward explaining why I haven't been updating for the past two weeks or so. But I have finished the work on the brand new, and rather revealing, interview with Irwin Hasen for the Dondi collection that Classic Comics Press will be releasing in the next month or so. Everyone concerned, from Irwin to the publisher, seem quite happy with the results. Truth be told, so am I, but then, I'm far from unbiased about this particular piece.

In large part, that's because it's been a really enjoyable experience, particularly getting a chance to talk with Irwin for at extended period of time. We haven't talked as much as I would have liked over the past few years; and it's beenr about 8 years since we last talked on the record, so it was long overdue.

[And, for those of you who know him and were wondering how Irwin is doing after the stroke he experienced earlier this year, he's doing incredibly well. Which means he has only the energy of a thirty-year-old these days, as opposed to the indefatigable amount of a young twenty-something.]

However, there's a number of other projects--including one that's a truly huge, daunting and ultimately thrilling super-secret gig which you'll surely become aware of when the time's right--that I'm continuing to work on. Add in the fact that I've got a number of sets of "Baker's Dozen" questions to prep for a variety of folks, and you've got one busy freelance writer on this end. So, today's installment concerning my work and metal ramblings is going to be rather short.

In fact, it's now finished, almost as soon as it's begun.

Which means that it's time for ...

What's Bill been reading for the past month+ [for the period of 7-16 to 9-12-07] part C

Templar, Arizona: The Great Outdoors
by Spike
Iron Circus Comics

This is the first collection of the online strip created by a young woman whose work is increasingly popular--and deservedly so. Spike's line work is fluid, even relaxed, and her storytelling flows effortlessly from panel to panel, and page to page. Yet there's real grit and strength of purpose underlying every pen stroke, along with information about the characters, their relationships and their environs which is sometimes only apparent on subsequent rereadings. And, despite the fact that about all that's accomplished in this volume is to introduce the main and supporting characters, and briefly explore the world they inhabit, each of those rereadings proved to be as enjoyable as the first. Much of this pleasure can be attributed to Spike's command of language, both physical and verbal, and a breezy delivery which masks her complete control of the plot, and of the medium itself.

This is quite possibly the best single new work that I've encountered this year, and this has been an outstanding year for debuts. [See the review for Korgi, below, for another one in the running for that particular distinction, and you'll get an idea of just how good Spike's work really is.] Templar, AZ marks the debut of a creator possessing real promise not just for the future, but the present as well. If you haven't checked out Spike's work, whether on the printed page or online at http://www.templaraz.com/, you're missing out on some very, very fine comics. As such, Spike and her work get my highest recommendation to anyone interested in reading or making good comics.

Korgi book 1
Christian Slade
Top Shelf Productions

Here's another example of an opening volume which presents a seemingly simple tale, but which reveals rich and varied delights on each repeated reading. Essentially the adventures of a young waif, Ivy, and her companion, a pooch named Sprout, and what they encounter after they leave the safe confines of their village, this is an all ages silent tale which touches the heart while also engaging the reader's sense of wonder in an almost visceral manner.

Yeah, you could almost grind up Slade's drawings and use them as a sugar substitute, but the beautiful line work, fully realized enviroment and spot-on acting that this ex-Disney animator turned freelance illustrator has put on the page has a life of its own that can't be denied. This is fantasy world building of a type that's rarely seen in "kids books" these days--appropriately fun and full of heart, balanced by a sense of danger and the darker aspects of the world portrayed. In more ways than one, Slade's Korgi is tapping into the very same traits that make the great Looney Tunes cartoons such perennial favorites with viewers of all ages.

Korgi receives my highest recommendations for those looking to read something different, and should be studied by both artists and writers concerned with making good comics of any stripe. And it'd make for a great gift for just about any child, or for the childlike adult in your life.

Showcase Presents: The House of Mystery volume 2
various writers and artists
DC Comics

I love the Showcase Presents series of black and white reprints. While I don't necessarily grab a copy of all of them, preferring to have my JLA and certain other titles in their more upscale and full color Archives versions, so far there hasn't been a title in this line that I wouldn't heartily recommend to those interested in reliving or rediscovering what made DC's Silver Age comics so popular and noteworthy. And that doesn't look to change anytime soon, as the reader will encounter any number of great tales in this second 500+ page book featuring work by Jack Kirby, Michael Kaluta, Alex Toth, Bernie Wrightson and a host other creators of note. Sure, a few of these might be a little creaky or, to today's media-saturated reader, obvious. Still, the work herein is top notch, with some truly twisted and chilling stories alongside other yarns which might be, at worst, highly enjoyable or even outright fun. And, surely, fun and enjoyment are both qualities which we all could use more of in our lives these days.

True, this isn't for everyone. There are no capes or superheroes here, for one thing. But if you're interested in learning how to craft a serviceable or even well-told tale, visually and verbally, you could do far worse than study this book or its predecessor. And if you're looking for hours of darkly humorous or horrifying reading, you'll find that Showcase Presents: The House of Mystery volume 2 delivers that in [or perhaps I should say, with] spades.

And that's it for today. Look for more reviews, including my thoughts on two recently released thriller prose novels, Night Work by Steve Hamilton and The Intruders by Michael Marshall, in the next entry.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Celebration Day, part 2

Well, today presents me with yet another big reason for celebration. I've just learned that Alan Moore on His Work and Career, the fourth volume of my interview books which launch the new "Talking with Graphic Novelists" line of books from Rosen Publishing, is hitting the shelves of comic shops across the country. [And, for those of you who might have missed this caveat previously, please be aware that this book reprints the Alan Moore Spells It Out edition from Airwave Publishing which was released early in 2006, and sold out within 7 months.]

Again, to say that I'm excited about this release would be a real understatement. Not only does this mark the return to the comics market of my first book, but it also clearly marks the point of entry of my work into the mainstream market represented by online booksellers of various stripes, including the all-important Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites, but also and more importantly libraries and other "institutional markets" across these United States. Even cooler, this and other volumes have already begun to turn up in the online catalogues of various libraries here. So, these books are actually making into the spaces that I and Rosen hoped they would...and will, eventually and ideally, into the hands of readers who might otherwise have missed them for any number of reasons.

As those of you that have followed my career for the past decade or so have probably gleaned from the general tenor of my work, this idea is not just important, but central to what I've been trying to accomplish over the years. Quite simply, I've been trying to not just have good and interesting conversations with various creators of comics, but to also delve into the reasons why they create the kind of work that they do, why they approach that work in the manner that they do, and what influences have had a direct or glancing impact upon that process over the course of their careers. Yeah, in a very real way, I'm just a fanboy at heart, but this idea of exploring the general phenomenon known as the creative process by investigating various individual's experience of, and approach to their art is central to just about everything I do as a journalist, and as a writer.

Another, secondary concern of my work has been capturing their experience of the business side of the work. As much as we'd all like to act or believe that the mundane daily aspects of plying one's trade in this industry we all love and, sometimes, hate are inconsequential or easily dismissed, the fact of the matter is that, in many cases, those factors have a direct and large impact upon what creators are allowed to do with their craft. As such, to ignore this side of the modern creators' careers will only result in investigations that are subtly flawed at best, if you're incredibly lucky.

Anyway, it's another good day to be me, marking the release of my sixth book--even if it is, essentially, a reprint. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, after all. For those of you who need it, here's the Diamond reorder number and other basic info on this book:

JUL073786 Alan Moore on His Work and Career HC $ 30.50

But that's not the only reason for the general glow of satisfaction hereabouts. I can now also talk about one of the projects I've been working quite hard at for the past few months, since it's now been officially announced by the publisher. Specifically, that I've been asked by none other than Steve "Dude" Rude to write up a brief history of Nexus for that book's 100th issue. In fact, I've already interviewed a fair number of folks who helped shepherd this seminal Sci-Fi series from conception to completion month after month [including both Dud and Mike Baron, as well as Milton Griepp, Alex Wald, and Anina Bennett], finished writing it and turned in the piece. Steve seems quite happy with the results, and already begun work on the layout, etc for inclusion in that historic issue, which will be hitting the stands in January of '08. And you can bet that you'll be hearing more about this project in the near future, from both Rude Dude and myself.

And there's more going on, some of which I'll be able to talk about soon, I hope. A couple of them are similar to the Nexus gig, but targeted at the mainstream market rather than solely the comic shops. Also, as I believe I've hinted in an earlier entry, one of these is a pretty high profile gig. No, even bigger than that...really big. And incredibly cool, to boot. It's really hard not to blather on about it right now, but I can't. I'll just leave that subject by noting that you will be hearing about it, and not just here. Honest.

Finally, as if all the above wasn't exciting enough, I've actually been the subject of two interviews in the past month or so. The first was for the Comic Book Novice radio show hosted by Mark Torres, Peter Palmiotti and friends. That took place during the same period that the San Diego show was going on, but you can check it out for yourself thanks to the wonder of downloading via Mark's webpage http://testsite.pixeltao.com/download.html. It's the July 28th, 2007 edition of the show. The direct link to download that installment of Comic Book Novice is http://testsite.pixeltao.com/audio/thecomicbooknoviceJul26.zip. I had a great time talking about my career, my approach to doing my work and, of course, comics generally.

I also talked with the good folks behind the Supernaut podcasts, Rob Schneider and Mike [sorry, I don't have his last name handy]. Again, a great time talking about the Rosen series and my other books, my career and what I've been reading, as well as all the other burning topics you all want to know. Unfortunately, I haven't received the links from Rob yet, but as soon as I have that info I'll be sure to post it here.

And that should do it for now, I think. Except for this week's installment of...

What's Bill been reading for the past month+? [for the period of 7-16 to 9-12-07] part B

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hollows
by JK Rowling
Scholastic Books

I know that by now everyone who wanted to read this book, or a review of it, probably has done so. And those who aren't interested, or are adamant about resisting this modern publishing miracle, will continue to avoid the entire series and any critique of same with a passion. I'd just like to note that I have generally enjoyed this and the other installments of Harry's seven years of trials, tribulations, terrors and, ultimately, triumph. Rowling has proven to be a pretty good writer on the whole, and one who actually learned and advanced her craft in discernable steps over the course of creating these books. As always, there's plenty of action, stifled dreams and yearnings finally allowed to blossom, and more than one surprise and turns of events which can prove heartbreaking. Even if you hate these books or what they represent, ya gotta admit that, in this day and age of highly addictive games, webprogramming and other high tech indulgences, the ability to get anybody to willing read a series of seven rather expansive books is something magical in and of itself.

In the end, while it's quite obvious that this and the other Potter books are not for everyone, they are essential reading for anyone with an interest in writing books that kids and teens will not just read, but devour again and again.

Devil Dinosaur
by Jack Kirby with Mike Royer and Petra Goldberg
Marvel Comics

This omnibus edition collects the entirety of Kirby's beautifully odd late 70s series detailing the prehistoric adventures of that original comic book odd couple, Devil Dinosaur and his companion, Moon-Boy. Again, this is one of the King's more maligned books, often seen as crude and silly. And, yeah, at times it's silly, and perhaps even seemingly crude. However, if you approach it without any preconceptions other than a sincere longing for some wildly entertaining, weirdly compelling comics, I suspect that you'll be pleasantly surprised by this collection. Sure, the plots might have some big holes in them if you think about the proceedings too much, just as some of the characters' motivations and utterances can be troubling if you're looking for realistic scripting. Too which I can only say, "Get over yerself!"

Aside from the fact that most comics from that same era now are quite dated at this point, there's a lot to be said for this attempt to do something a bit different from the typical superheroic tale. This is Kirby completely unfettered by any but his own conventions, at play in the field of the four color lord we all worship. And the results are pure, unadulterated comics goodness for all ages. Just think of it as that TV show that inexplicably bombed, despite being completely, madly entertaining. Not essential reading for most, but for anyone who is interested in what Kirby wanted to try to do with the comics medium--or who is just looking for some purely fun reading--this is worth checking out.

Marvel Masterworks: Captain Marvel volume 2
by Arnold Drake, Gary Friedrich and Roy Thomas, with Don Heck, Dick Ayers, Gil Kane and others
Marvel Comics

This second hardcover collection reprints Captain Marvel #s 10 through 21, and represents a major turning point in the story of Marvel's star-crossed spaceman. After lapsing into cleverly disguised superheroics for a number of issues, the titular hero is reconfigured and completely reborn, this time literally grafted onto one of the House of Idea's enduring sidekick characters, Rick Jones. And while some of the concerns of the book do seem a tad dated, there's still some real fire and invention happening here. Again, certainly not everyone's cup o' poison, so to speak, but something of real interest to those who lived these issues back in the day, and anyone who is interested in seeing how one pair of Protean creators named Thomas and Kane could work real magic when re-imagining the very nature and purpose of a character.

Marvel Masterworks: The Mighty Thor volume 6
by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, with Vinnie Colletta
Marvel Comics

If you haven't started checking out these tales, perhaps the single greatest group of tales that the titanic twosome of Lee and Kirby every penned, you're missing out on some of the most important and entertaining comics published in the past century. Period. And, yeah, that even includes their seminal, highly entertaining run and even historic run on Fantastic Four. These stories present some of the best spectacles Kirby ever rendered, fully supported and brought to life by what might be some of Stan's best scripting, bar none. And what's even more staggering is the simple fact that the tales contained in this volume are, in reality, only ramping up the title for one of the most brilliant series of stories these two guys ever did ["The search for Galactus" arc]. Sounds like I'm overstating things? Well, I'm not.

If you've ever worried what all the excitement surrounding this character and his cohorts was about, this [or even the preceding volume] is the start of it all. Essential reading for anyone hoping to fully understand the work of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, and required reading for anyone hoping to create mind-bending scenarios and scenery, or to capture the pure kinetic energy of a battle of truly epic scope. If you're not reading this particular series in reprints, you're missing out on some great fun, my friends.

Marvel Masterworks: The Sub-Mariner volume 2
by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, with Bill Everett, Gene Colan and others
Marvel Comics

I've got to admit, while I loved Gene Colan's work, for some reason I never got into Prince Namor while growing up. Sure, I'd check out the occasional issue of Tales to Astonish or his eponymous series now and then, lured in by Colan's brilliant designs and layouts, but I never really got into the character. Nowadays, I have an even greater appreciation for what Colan, and Namor's original creator, Bill Everett, accomplished with this character and his story. It's good, fun reading, and the art work is often breathtaking. Worth checking out if you're into the character, or great Gene Colan and modern Everett art. And the scripts, while not necessarily sublime, are worth the time invested, too.

And I think that's enough for now. Next time, the finally installment of these long overdue reviews of this period will be joined with those of books read more recently. Until then, take care, try to get outside to enjoy this glorious fall season we're currently inhabiting, and make sure to have some fun!

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Celebration Day, part one

Well, that day that I've worked so long over the past year finally arrived, and it's been a good one, all in all.

Today, three of the four interview books I created for the launch of Rosen Publishing's new line hit the shelves of comic shops across the U.S. And, unless I'm completely out of the loop, or there's some kind of delay in the shipping process, they should be available at shops in the U.K. later this same week.

To say that I'm both excited and pleased with this long awaited event would be a real understatement. And while some might interpret the experience as somewhat tainted by the fact that one of the books isn't coming out with the rest, I think of it as something which allows me to enjoy this process not once, but twice. A bit like having a limited premiere, followed by general release, in a sense. Double the pleasure, and, ideally, double the fun.

As far as details are concerned, the three books which hit today, along with their Diamond reorder numbers, are:

Neil Gaiman on His Work and Career HC $22.95 [Diamond reorder # JUL073789]

Mike Oeming on His Work and Career HC $22.95 [Diamond reorder # JUL073788]

George Pérez on His Work and Career HC $22.95 [Diamond reorder # JUL073787]

As noted above, the fourth book in the series, Alan Moore on His Work and Career, will be joining these volumes very soon. Seems that there was small production problem with the cover, if memory serves, which meant that it arrived at various distributors after the others. However, I've seen, held and even paged through copies of all four books, and am mightily pleased with the production and printing values of each and every volume.

And it's my sincere hope and belief that, if you pick up any of these books, you'll find more than a few things to enjoy about them. I'm already looking forward to hearing what folks within the comics community have to say about them, and am truly curious to hear what people outside of this small world [and especially librarians and teachers who might encounter them] think of the results.

And that's about all I've got to say today, other than to note that I expect to be posting regularly again from this point on for some time. In fact, I'm hoping to make up a bit for the "lost time" or missed weekly postings with multiple posts in some weeks. So, with that in mind, I'll leave you today with a first installment of what will be a multi-part version of...

What's Bill been reading for the past month+? [for the period of 7-16 to 9-10-07] part A

Jack Kirby's Silver Star
Jack Kirby with Mike Royer and D. Bruce Berry
Image Comics

I was out of comics completely when the issues of this, one of the few creator owned series bearing Kirby's name, first appeared, chasing my own dreams amidst the ivory towers of academia. I managed to find a few of these issues over the years since that particular dream turned nightmarishly sour, but never did complete the set and so have a chance to experience the King's earthbound Cosmic tale in the manner he meant. So it was with some real excitement that I read this beautifully reproduced and remastered edition. Now, while this might not be for everyone, I enjoyed it thoroughly, warts and all. No, it isn't the best material Jack produced, but it really hasn't deserved some of the dismissive criticism that I've heard thrown at it over the years, either. In fact, in more ways than I'd care to note, it really does read like an early attempt to capture the widescreen action-adventure "Movie on Paper" feeling that so many modern creators have, over the past few years, mined in their own works. Sure, there's some stiff dialogue--well, OK, quite a bit--and a few fairly large plot holes which could easily have been patched or completely avoided; still, it's one of the more enjoyable, and possibly the single most crazed, of Kirby's later works. In the end, I can only say that I really did love spending some time in this world, and will surely return to it again in the future for the sheer joy and madness of it all. And, for someone who, like myself, really enjoys seeing how creators adapt and change their work over the course of its creation to fit within differing molds, comparing the original film treatment [which is how Kirby originally envisioned presenting this tale] with the final graphic novel is not just interesting--it borders on the revelatory. A must for anyone truly interested in Kirby and his work, and of some real interest and use to those looking to learn about adapting their work for various mediums.

Ultimate Galactus Trilogy
Warren Ellis and Mark Millar, with Trevor Hairsine, Steve Epting, Steve McNiven, Tom Rainey, John Romita Jr. and Brandon Peterson
Marvel Entertainment

This big, thick compilation presents Warren Ellis' remarkable reworking of one of the classic tropes from the House of Ideas--the appearance of a literally world-shattering force which seems impossible to resist, much less stop--via a combination of his wild reworking of pulpish sci-fi and widescreen sensibilities. Throughout, he's ably supported by whatever artist is insane enough to accept the challenge of depicting the impossible, the improbable and the outright insane demands Ellis always places upon his collaborators. And the results are, for the most part, wonderful and wonder-filled, with more ideas shed per page than just about any other writer in the mainstream medium at present, save the likes of Grant Morrison and Mark Millar. Even better, Warren's not lost his wicked and supremely sick, telling sense of humor, nor, despite what surface appearances might seem, his belief in the future of mankind.

Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys really strong superhero tales, and those who want to see how one of the best writers today makes old concepts and characters do things they were never meant to do. In fact, it's worth it just for the reimagined Silver Surfer, and his attempt to bite the Ultimate Captain Marvel's head off.

And that's all for now. Expect more soon.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Where in the World is BB?

For those folks who might be curious, no, I won't be attending this week's rendition of the increasingly popular Comic Con International--San Diego show. There are a number of reasons for my continued absence from that venue, the main one being that I have work to do here at the BFD Studios. It's the second year I've given it a miss, and, truth be told, I'm only a little bit saddened by this. And much of that regret has to do with the fact that San Diego typically provides the sole opportunity to see and speak with any number of people whose company I've always enjoyed. Beyond that...

Well, I don't really miss a lot of things associated with that particular con. Especially the overwhelming crowds of fans, which often made my work simply impossible to do during the show. Which meant that most of my evenings, which had been devoted to hanging out with friends old and new, had increasingly become devoted to still more work. And the simple fact is that there's some real wisdom in that old saw, "All work and no play makes [fill in the blank] a dull man." Or dullard, depending on your viewpoint.

Anyway, I won't be at San Diego this year. Maybe next year...if there's time and real reason for it.

However, I will be attending the Wizard World-Chicago early next month. It's much easier to deal with, logistically, and yet still allows me to do the things I need and want to do at shows: talk with my fellow professionals, do a bit of business, and hang out with any number of friends and good acquaintances. As is typical, I won't have a table, nor will any of the publishers I currently work with, so look for me wandering the floor if you'd like to talk, or just would like to say hello. That's why I'll be there, and I'm always interested in meeting new people and hearing what they have to say about any number of topics.

Beyond that, not a lot to talk about of substance this week, except for a few reviews of books I've actually had the time to read over the past seven days or so. Been working quite a bit on that unnamed project, which I hope to be able to reveal in the near future-maybe even next week. But that also means that my schedule's not allowed as much time for reading as I might wish. Still there's some very good items in this week's edition of...

What's Bill been reading lately? [covering the period 7-16-07 to 7-23-07]

Doug Tennapel's Black Cherry
by Doug Tennapel
Image Comics

Eddie Paretti's a down-on-his-luck Mafioso takes on a job he shouldn't just to get out of debt--his assignment from a rival gang is to double cross his own boss by stealing a body the Don's got, quite literally, on ice. However, when Eddie succeeds in lifting "the package," he quickly discovers that all is not as it seems when the stiff proves to be alive...and very, very alien. Things then go from weird to utterly strange, as a Priest who shares a past with Eddie and a woman who might or might not have known our antihero in a former life step in to save both the otherworldly being and our entire world. And that's when Tennapel kicks everything into overdrive, by throwing liberal doses of the supernatural, theology and more earthly concerns into the mix.

You could call it The Godfather meets Repo Man, I suppose, but there's really no way to define or explain this book without ruining it for you. But rest assured that this tale somehow manages to discover the sacred in the profane, to alternate between scenes of sheer horror and sublime revelation, all the while ratcheting up the tension only to relieve it just a little with moments of real humor to produce a reading experience unlike anything else out there at the moment.

Still, given the amount of often extremely harsh language, along with the unavoidable religious message this tale delivers, this graphic novel certainly isn't for everyone. However, for those with an open mind, and those readers just looking for a helluva adventure, Black Cherry has my highest recommendation.

Batman: Harley and Ivy
Paul Dini and Judd Winick with Joe Chiodo, Bruce Timm and Ronnie Del Carmen
DC Comics

This collection gathers together a series of group of animated style tales featuring the Joker's ex-sidekick and love interest, the delightfully daffy and incredibly deadly Harley Quinn, and the original dark eco warrior, Pamela Isley, AKA Poison Ivy. And it's a real corker of a collection, with some truly fine work by everyone involved. But don't let the seemingly simple storylines and art fool you; yeah, these are tales that work for readers of almost all ages, but there's a good deal of smarts displayed in the writing, some real vigor in the visuals...and more than a little heat generated in the sometimes barely repressed sexuality which underscores the proceedings. These might be cartoony women, but they are, without a doubt, women who are in charge and quite at ease with every aspect of themselves, including the physical. A really fun, often engrossing read starring a couple of dames of criminal repute, I'd recommend this to most readers, especially those looking to spend some time living just a little dangerously.

EC Archives: Tales from the Crypt volume 2
by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines with Jack Davis, Graham Ingles, Joe Orlando, Wally Wood, et. al.
Gemstone Publishing

This second volume of the justly-revered Tales from the Crypt reprints issues # 6 through 10, and features some more of that nasty goodness that made these comics so popular when they first appeared, and which has fueled interest in the entire EC line. And little wonder, when you consider some of the luminaries who contributed to these and other books published under the Entertaining Comics imprint. There's nary a clunker herein, and more than a few tales that were instant classics. This volume features the same loving, even slavish devotion to high end values in both production and printing, with newly recolored reproductions that capture the look and feel of the originals in a lavish oversized hardcover.

However, I have noticed one specific problem with this particular volume regarding the lettering: there's obviously a few missing words and even substitutions of incorrect words for the originals scattered throughout the text, something that I haven't seen [or perhaps noticed] in the earlier EC Archives collections. Hopefully, this is but an aberration, and not a sign of things to come. Granted, it's not enough to totally ruin this book, being more of an annoyance, but this could easily avoided with a little more careful proofing. Still, this volume comes with the same high recommendations as the earlier releases in this historically important series of long overdue reprints.

And that's it for the moment. Now go have some fun. And if you're heading out to San Diego, travel well, be safe, and enjoy!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sitting at the Big Table

I don't know what your holidays with family were like when you were younger, but while I was growing up there was an unwritten rule, strictly enforced, that all the children were expected to sit together at their own table, segregated from the adults. The reason for this was really quite simple, as even the kindest "person of a certain age" would explain to those rebellious youths who thought of themselves as being "a big boy/girl now"...

They wanted to be able to eat in peace and relative quiet, apart from the inevitable [and ultimately childish] squabbles which would break out during those meals.

Whether these arguments were based upon real or perceived slights, territorial imperatives or other, now-long-forgotten reasons, the adults simply didn't want any part of it. They wanted to be able to relax and enjoy their feast, at least symbolically separated from all the whining and jealousies and other conflicts of their offspring. And, if truth be told, as I've aged and sat at various familial, work and other tables celebrating whatever holiday or occasion we're all supposed to be celebrating, I've understood the wisdom of that hard and fast rule more and more.

So, what does that particular trip down memory lane have to do with comics? Well, in a real sense, my recent move towards having my work published by more mainstream publishers like Rosen is, in its own way, an outgrowth of that tradition. Not to denigrate the market which has, for the past ten years, provided me with so much enjoyment, real and lasting friendships and good acquaintances--not to mention my current profession and various jobs--but it became clear to me a little over three years ago that it was time to establish myself in the "real world" bookstore, online bookseller and library/academic markets, and that it was time to work towards making that my primary source of work and income.

Quite simply, I realized that it was time to stop fighting with others over a "piece of the pie" of the woefully small comic book market, and time to move towards establishing my place within the larger, better supported mainstream market. Or, to lapse back into the opening analogy, it was time to sit at the big folks' table and have a meal first--availing myself of the meat-and-potatoes with all the trimmings, and then enjoy my slice of the comic market.

Again, I mean this in no way as an insult to comics aficionados, and certainly not those good people who have in the past and present day supported me and my work. Nor am I abandoning either the market or those same people for a quick buck. However, you can only live so long on a restricted diet, particularly one which is so often lacking in enough nutrition to sustain any long term growth...much less a life. In more than one sense, it became glaringly obvious to me that it was time to step up, to enter that larger, more complex and challenging world in the hope of not just making a go of it, but with the real possibility of creating some kind of sustainable niche for myself in that world.

So, what's the comic market's place in this new scheme of things? Well, only a willfully ignorant person would suggest that I've left it entirely. If you look at the body of my work, both past and present, it becomes quite clear that I continue to ply my trade in that sphere, and to do my best to serve both the audience and the medium itself through my professional efforts. It's just that, rather than restrict myself to trying to become the biggest fish in that particular pond, I've decided to become more of an amphibian, capable of moving and thriving in those and other environments.

In other words, it's evolve or die, my friends. And the same rules and forces that apply to individuals also can be seen operating within and upon entire societies and their various organs--including, of course, the comic market.

Again, this isn't a sign of fear, weakness or defeat. Rather, it's the outcome of what I hope will be a very smart and natural evolution/revolution that's taking place within my own life...and within the comics world itself.

Increasingly, in both art and life, it's time to evolve or die. The choice is to create a new world for ourselves and this wonderful medium or...well, perhaps not die, but instead refuse to learn, to change, to grow, to remain the same; to remain satisfied with what we had, have always had, and refuse any new possibilities. Which, in my opinion, is a state that's fate that's far worse than death. I'd rather be a dead fossil than a living one, I suppose.

So it's time to sit at the Big Table, and enjoy that moveable feast and the good conversation which arises from that experience. All of which will make that slice of pie taste all sweeter, I think.

Well, that's more than enough pontificatin' on my part, I'm sure. Just one more bit of bizness to deal with today...

If you haven't had the chance yet, don't forget to check out the four books featuring my interviews with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Mike Oeming and George Pérez. You'll find them all on page 334 of the current [July 2007] issue of the Previews catalogue.

And that's it, for now. Which means it's time for...

What's Bill been reading lately? [covering the period 7-2-07 to 7-15-07]

Batman: Ego and Other Tails
Darwyn Cooke with Paul Grist, Bill Wray, Tim Sale and others
DC Comics

This surprisingly slim book collects much of Cooke's major work for DC which features the Dark Knight Detective and his extended "family" of characters, including the Batman: Ego one shot and the Catwoman: Selina's Big Score, along with various shorter tales, covers and a pinup from Batman: Gotham Nights and Solo series. Taken together with Cooke's The Absolute New Frontier, which I've reviewed with no small praise a while back, the reader will be presented with a very good idea of the truly fine and even outstanding arc of his comic career. That Cooke is one of a small number of artists gifted with the rare ability to instill a few lines with life on the page is obvious; less apparent is that he began as a creator possessed of a Protean talent for spinning an exceptional yarn which he's honed to an incredible degree--or perhaps I should say eminently credible, given how he's able to breath full-blooded life into characters with but a few lines of dialogue.

If you want to see how to make very, very good comics that are both entertaining and thoughtful, revealing yet playful, this is a perfect place to start. And for readers, this is The Good Stuff--even if, as Cooke notes in his introduction, his earlier work does have a few structural flaws. Highly recommended to all and sundry.

Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus volume 1
Jack Kirby, with Vince Colletta, et.al.
DC Comics

This big, thick volume reprints the opening installments in Jack Kirby's single greatest solo work, including issues # 133 through 139 of Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, and with the first three issues of The Forever People, New Gods, and Mister Miracle in one volume, on glare-free paper in hardcover, for the first time. And it's an honor that is long overdue.

These books have been savaged by critics and fans alike as "lesser Kirby," often simply because they apparently didn't sell enough to justify their continued publication. Careful reading of these tales, each one overflowing with more original and startling ideas per page than many other creators introduce over the course of their entire careers, puts the lie to that specious assertion. Quite simply, in more ways than I can name in this space, these comics, along with those scheduled to follow in the next three volumes of this series, represent Kirby's masterwork. Unfinished it may be, but it's impossible to deny the sheer strength and unadulterated genius captured upon these pages.

My only real complaint with this book is the choice to use incredibly tiny type for Grant Morrison's extremely fine introduction [which is almost worth the price of admission alone--it really is that good and lucid] and Mark Evanier's Afterword. And even with that caveat, I am compelled to give this the very highest recommendation to all readers.

This is the stuff of legends, folks, and it holds up better than 95% of the work which preceded it, was concurrently published in the same period, as well as that which has followed it. If you have any inclination to learn how to make comics of real weight and worth, to create stories which still have the ability to inspire awe while they entertain the reader, you must not only own this book--you should study it like it's a holy text. As for the rest of you, if you love the good in comics, you should own and read this unfinished epic. Jack Kirby's Fourth World saga really is that essential to a full understanding and enjoyment of the medium, and its history. Period.

The Plain Janes
Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg

This isn't just the first book in the highly-anticipated Minx line from DC Comics by way of Vertigo editrix Shelley Bonds, but it's also the first graphic novel from the award-winning YA author Castellucci, and the "major league" debut of Jim "Street Angel" Rugg. And what a fine read it is. Yeah, this and the rest of the line seems to be mainly aimed at capturing the attention and money of what I've referred to as "the manga girls" crowd--that burgeoning group of young ladies who devour whole entire runs of shojo and other genres published in translation by Viz, TokyoPop and other importers of Japanese comic goodness--but it's also an entirely enjoyable and very engaging story even if you happen to be, like myself, male and far beyond your teens. Castellucci's created believable characters who interact in realistic manners within their well-wrought environs, and the character and plot arcs are compelling. Rugg's open, freely flowing line work and command of visual story telling not only serve the script's needs, he adds subtle touches and nuances in a perfectly balanced manner.

The Plain Janes is a real joy to read, and a tale which likely will reward rereading with further insight into both the characters and themes being explored. A real breath of fresh, invigorating air that's got its own, distinctive flavor. Even better, it's a book with heart, and a message of real hope that avoids unwarranted sentimentality, shallow thinking and easy answers in a world increasingly demanding that we all must get along by all being the same...and never, ever asking even the most obvious of questions. Highest recommendations for just about all but the youngest of readers, and something that most aspiring creators should study for lessons in how to tell good stories featuring real people, be they in costumes, or a high school clique.

Satsuma Gishiden: The Legend of the Satsuma Samurai volume 2
Hiroshi Hirata
Dark Horse

This second volume of Hirata's stirring and evocative retelling of historical events builds upon the strengths of the first as it expands its canvas to encompass shogunate politics, strategies and the dynamics of inter- and intra-clan relations, revealing much about the Japanese character and human nature. By turns complex socio-political drama and ribald, gossipy tragicomedy, Satsuma Gishiden provides some real entertainment value along with real wisdom about those aspects of shared humanity can contribute to our mutual greater good...and those which will not only undermine, but eventual doom even our greatest of efforts and dreams. All that, and some truly stunning art--a mix of realism tinged with just the right amount of cartoony exaggeration--sets this series apart, and marks it as one of the better samurai tales on the English market today. Highly recommended for those looking for something heroically different, and particularly for those wondering how they might restore some vibrancy, or even inject a sense of full blooded life to seemingly "dead" history in their own work.

Postcards: True Stories that Never Happened
edited by Jason Rodriguez; written by Harvey Pekar, Phillip Hester, Stuart Moore, A. David Lewis, Tom Beland, Robert Tinnell, and others, with art by Michael Gaydos, the Fraim Brothers, Danielle Corsetto, Rob G, et. al.
Villard Books

Inspired by a group of old postcards whose messages and artwork captured editor Rodriguez's eye, the various new short stories found in this collection are as wide ranging in approach, theme and nature as its varied contributors. And, like most anthologies, some tales succeed more than others; however, the tally in either column will vary from individual to individual, entirely dependent on their personal mindset and taste. Personally, I found almost every one of these tales to be at worst very good and interesting, with more than half providing some kind of real entertainment value and food for thought long after the covers were closed. There were a number of standout stories, including the incredibly moving first two tales ["Blue" written by Chris Stevens and illustrated by Gia-Bao Tran, and "Time" by Tom Beland] which sets everything up nicely.

Ironically, the one tale I found rather disappointing is the piece contributed by perhaps the highest-profile creators included in the book: Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner's "The History of a Marriage," told via their own correspondences over the years, seemed more than a little sketchy and even slight. However, this impression might be more due to the fact that the tale, and the snapshot-like presentations of the incidents depicted, requires some real in-depth knowledge of their lives to have any real impact or meaning on the reader, rather than any deficiency on the creators' part. Still, it's a decent tale, and any misgivings about one piece shouldn't prevent anyone from picking up this very fine collection.

And that's all for the moment folks. I'll be back here next week, if not earlier, with some more thoughts on comics, work and other topics of interest. In the meantime, why not grab a good book and go outside, sit in a tree or on a park bench, and enjoy this beautiful summer? I think I will, even if for only half an hour.