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Comics Life

Salt Lake Comic Con 2014

Back when we lived in Utah, we went to Salt Lake Comic Con every year. Our 2014 trip included two of my favorite moments with my daughter, Lark. These were originally posted on different days on Google+, but I’m pulling them into one post here (since G+ is going the way of the dodo).

April 18, 2014

I expect my Parent of the Year award any day now.

April 19, 2014

Comic Con day two (for us; day three of the con). One of the things I love about cons is the surprises — I didn’t expect we’d get to wear a snake.

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Comics Tabletop RPGs

Unearthing some of my creative output from ages 10-15

While packing for our move to Seattle in 2015, I came across some comics and RPG stuff I created in the 1980s and early 1990s. I posted about them on G+ back in 2015, but with the impending shutdown I thought I’d rescue them to share on Yore.

Comics

At age 10, I was photocopying my handmade comics and selling subscriptions to my friends.

I don’t recall Blackbelt Assault Aardvarks: The Atomic Aristocrats making it to issue two. Nor Sam the Turtle Avenger, come to think of it.

High Adventure

In retrospect, 100% of what teenage me wrote in this introduction to a never-published fantasy heartbreaker I designed with a friend (we were fixing AD&D 2e, man!) was not true.

Bushido

Bushido, the coolest superhero in the universe, from a FASERIP Marvel campaign in the early ’90s.

I’m 96% sure the silhouette on the left was traced from a Captain Britain datafile in Dragon Magazine. I used it for my whole (sausage fest of a) superteam.

Sage Lore Productions

Playtesting for long-defunct Sage Lore Productions, age 13. This was actually a pretty cool DM’s kit.

Blood for the Blood God

Sixth grade. I have a vivid memory of drawing this during a free period at school.

I really need to scan some of this stuff and turn it into PDFs at some point.

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Comics

Steve Rogers, PR disaster

Steve Rogers, PR disaster is amazing.

Context from the intro:

“Wait,” says Sam, “you had a publicist?”

“For my first five months at S.H.I.E.L.D,” says Steve. “Then she quit. Uh, decisively.”

The rubber meets the road:

The problem was his mouth.

First there was that brief period of time before the rabble-rousing got off the ground, where his main hobby seemed to be pissing off important people. Eva learned to dread the approach of elderly senators and statesmen, the way they shook Steve’s hand and leaned into his space to mutter, conspiratorially, “The country’s not like it used to be, is it?” It was like the ticking of a bomb that only Eva could hear.

“You’re right,” said Steve, the third time it happened, “nobody dies of the flu and I can’t get arrested for marrying a black person.”

I love Captain America, and this is right on the money. (I can even picture Chris Evans speaking these lines!)

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Comics

My starting point for the Flash: Mark Waid’s Born to Run storyline

I tried to get into Flash a few years ago, with its New 52 incarnation, and it didn’t grab me — but the itch remained. This week I sampled a Geoff Johns issue, then a Rebirth (paid link) issue, then a couple issues of Flashpoint[1] (paid link) — and with every one, I became both more intrigued and more confused.

But I homed in one one villain, Reverse-Flash, who sounded like something I hadn’t seen in a superhero comic before: a time-travelling mirror of the Flash, who uses his speedster power to destroy Flash’s life from the future.[2] So cool! I love time travel, superheroes, and creative exploration of the possibilities of superpowers; combine all three, and you have my interest.

Where to start?

I went down that rabbit hole, eventually reaching this excellent Comics Alliance guide to the character, eras, and best runs of the Flash, and came out with a consensus on where to start: Mark Waid‘s 100-plus issue run on the title (followed by the Geoff Johns run (paid link), and then on to Morrison and Millar (paid link), Rebirth (paid link), and New 52 (paid link)).

I deeply enjoy falling in love with a new-to-me superhero/superteam, and in recent years I’ve had a fantastic experience doing just that with hundreds of issues of Fantastic Four, (paid link) Green Lantern (paid link) — the topic of one of the most popular posts on Yore, Green Lantern trade reading order: Geoff Johns’ run and all concurrent Lantern TPBs) — Deadpool (paid link) and Swamp Thing (paid link); all signs point to the Flash being just as rewarding.

Context

I also love context, and find that having some helps me appreciate new-to-me comics and characters on their own terms. Comics Alliance had my back here, too:

The Flash, perhaps more than any other character in DC Comics’ stable, represents the strength of the legacy hero: the passing of the mantle from mentor to protege, with each successive version having their own strengths and weaknesses.

And:

Let me be clear: if you buy only from one section of this Flash comics list, make this that section. Waid’s Flash is the best Flash, period.

That bit was what really sealed the deal.

Born to Run

Last night I got a few issues into Waid’s run, and it’s amazing. It opens with an overview of the three Flashes, and then a history of the then-current flash, Wally West — and that sounds like a lot of exposition, but it’s deftly and beautifully done (and perfect for a newcomer).

Like Green Lantern: Secret Origin (paid link) or the start of John Byrne‘s run on Fantastic Four (paid link), Waid’s Book One TPB tantalizes while guiding me through enough Flash background to get my feet under me; there are references I don’t yet get, but which I’m sure a longtime fan would know well — but they’re revealed and paced perfectly. It feels like a perfect on-ramp.

Waid’s run entire run isn’t collected into TPBs yet, but the first three books (paid link) are. Book One (paid link) is where I started, and now that I’m strapped in I can’t wait to see what the rest of the ride is like!

[1] Yes, Rebirth and Flashpoint are also Geoff Johns runs; I was bouncing around looking for recent comics as possible starting points, and he’s done a lot of them!

[2] I’m confident I’ve grossly oversimplified Reverse-Flash here, but I’ve been trying to avoid spoilers before getting to see him in the comic.

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Comics

Squadron Supreme blew my mind as a kid, and it’s still amazing

When I was in 4th or 5th grade, my art teacher gave me a copy of Squadron Supreme #12. Back then I devoured every comic I could get my hands on, so this being the final issue of a limited series I knew nothing about didn’t phase me — I dove right in. What I read was completely unexpected, and totally unlike any of the other superhero comics I’d read.

The final issue (SPOILERS) is a knock-down, drag-out battle royale between former superhero teammates — all deeply flawed human beings, all relatable in their very human failings. And in that battle, some of the titular heroes get killed by people who used to be their friends, or at least their allies. And not “comic book killed,” just plain ol’ killed.

My 8- or 9-year-old mind was blown. I’d never read a superhero comic where heroes fought each other for real before, and certainly never one where the marquee characters got killed (and didn’t come back). It stuck with me, and looking back on it I can see many threads connecting things I love as an adult with that issue of Squadron Supreme and its inversion of superhero tropes.

A few years back I remember that issue, and wondered why I’d never finished the series. So I bought a TPB collecting the whole series (paid link) — and it was amazing. And then I bought a second copy, one from the first printing that — per his last wishes — incorporated Squadron Supreme creator Mark Gruenwald‘s ashes into the ink, because how could I not?

I also picked this up, a CGC-slabbed copy of issue #1[1], and added it to my wall of original art and other comics and RPG geekery. I love it, and every time I look up at it I wind up thinking about comics, and what I’m reading, and what I want to read next, and . . .

If you’ve never checked out Squadron Supreme (paid link) I highly recommend it.

[1] There are a dearth of CGC slab frames with UV protection (which I consider a must-have for wall hanging anywhere near windows), but I love the ECC Frames basic model (paid link) shown here. They’re not cheap, but I don’t frame many comics; it’s worth it.

Categories
Books Comics

The Marvel Encyclopedia is awesome

As a kid, I used to spend hours poring over any sort of “superheroes A-Z” content I could find. I had some that came in issues of comics, and the long-running Marvel-phile column in Dragon, and probably other sources I’ve forgotten about.

When I started playing TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes, I traced hero silhouettes from those articles (Captain Britain was a favorite) and used them as the basis for drawing all of my characters.

Fast forward from the late ’80s/early ’90s to now, and I’m kicking myself because it wasn’t until a few days ago that it occurred to me that of course this is still a thing, and it’s probably gotten even easier to acquire big volumes of it.

It has! Enter the Marvel Encyclopedia (paid link) which — although it’s a bit squirrely about its author credits — is at least partly written by Matt Forbeck, and which is utterly fabulous.

This book is titanic. It’s a coffee table book, hardcover, and over 400 pages. Full color, of course. (It had a dust jacket, too, which I find less than useless on books this size.) And it’s $22 shipped with Prime.

It covers more than 1,200 characters, both heroes and villains, with origins, pictures, background info, and other fun tidbits. It also covers crossover events, famous hero/villain groups, and more. It’s exactly the kind of big, splashy, high-production-values book I’d expect from DK and Marvel.

This is the kind of non-gaming RPG sourcebook that I love. Need on-the-spot inspiration for an NPC? Flip through this beast. Stuck for hero ideas for your next character? Lose yourself in over 1,200 of them. Can’t remember who Obscure Hero X is? They’re probably in here.

This book is so cool.

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Comics

Laika is meditative and heartbreaking

Nick Abadzis‘ and Hilary Sycamore‘s Laika (paid link) is meditative, thorough, and heartbreaking.

Everything I knew about Laika — the first orbital space traveler, a stray dog trained and conditioned for her one-way mission — before reading this book came from her Wikipedia entry and small exhibits about her at aerospace museums. I now know a lot more about her, and how extraordinary she was.

Laika is as good as two of my other favorite biographical comics, Box Brown‘s Andre the Giant: Life and Legend (paid link) and Derf Backderf‘s My Friend Dahmer (paid link). Both are sad reads (and the latter is challenging in other ways, too), and both enriched my knowledge of their subjects.

Where Laika takes liberties — fully disclosed at the outset — they ring true to me. Dogs have an inner life; they think and feel, love and fear; they’re sentient beings. Considering what Laika’s inner life was like, which is beautifully expressed in the comic, is one of the things about the book that resonates most with me — and has continued to resonate months after I finished it.

Reaing Laika made me glad my first dog, Charlie, died in my arms, surrounded by people who loved him, and it makes me want to go home and pet Wicket.

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Comics

Rat Queens fucking rules

I love getting reading recommendations, but my to-read shelves are such an embarrassment, particularly when it comes to comics, that I don’t always take them. But after a visit to Outsider Comics and Geek Boutique (which rocks!), I took one: Rat Queens (paid link).

I heard about RQ when it launched, but had too much on my plate to give it a look. I’m sorry I waited so long, because it’s excellent.

Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe and illustrated, at least initially, by Roc Upchurch (he was kicked off the series after being arrested for domestic abuse, but apparently he’s coming back), Rat Queens is in many ways a raunchy love letter to D&D and fantasy tropes.

(Cover by Fiona Staples.)

It’s feminist and funny and inclusive and bloody and surprising, and I love it. The back-cover blurb from the first trade sums it up nicely:

They’re a pack of booze guzzling, death dealing battle maidens-for-hire and they’re in the business of killing all the gods’ creatures for profit.

I’m Team Hannah, the foul-mouthed elven mage:

. . . but I dig all of the main characters: Violet, the hipster dwarven fighter who was shaving off her beard before it was cool; Dee, the atheist cleric who was raised in what’s basically a Cthulhu cult; and Betty, the smidgen (think halfling) drug-cooking thief. They do a lot of the things an average old-school D&D party might do — start fights, cause trouble, and murder their way across the countryside — but they also right wrongs and try to help people. It’s a good mix.

Maybe the best recommendation I can give is this one: I’ve been on a manga tear for the past few months, to the point that I found myself accidentally reading Rat Queens right-to-left several times, and Rat Queens is the first American comic out of a stellar lineup of potential candidates to break that streak.[1] It’s splendid, and I can’t wait for the second trade.

[1] It also broke my 3.5-month streak of not blogging. I figured something would — I’ve been busy doing other stuff, not avoiding blogging per se — but I didn’t expect it to be Rat Queens.

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Comics

Zentropa: A wordless, sexy, phantasmagorical graphic novel

I backed John Mahoney’s Zentropa on Kickstarter because it looked gorgeous and it seemed like he had his shit together. When I saw the samples he posted, it felt very Heavy Metal to me, and apparently they agreed: The first 10 pages of Zentropa appear in issue #382.

I was also intrigued by the concept of a wordless graphic novel. Not new, but not something I’ve seen often, either. And holy shit, that artwork.

Choose your own adventure

By design, the story of Zentropa is open to interpretation — you decide what it’s about, and what’s happening in it. (I’ll still avoid anything I think might be a spoiler here, though.) Here are three examples of John’s artwork that should give you a good idea of what Zentropa is like.

Here’s the first panel in the book:

Most of the book is black and white, but some panels and pages are two-tone or color, like this gorgeous piece:

Lastly, here’s a page that highlights how well John mixes detailed elements with negative space:

An exploration

Zentropa invites exploration — of what it might be about, what it could mean, what’s happening in each panel, and of the artwork itself. Looking at the rest of my comic collection, there’s nothing else in it quite like this book.

It’s weird. It’s sexy. It’s neat. And it’s fun to explore.

I’m not sure where best to pick up Zentropa post-Kickstarter, but this looks like one option.

Categories
Comics

Grant Morrison’s Heavy Metal

When Grant Morrison took over as editor-in-chief of Heavy Metal, beginning with issue #280, I subscribed on the spot.

(Cover by Gail Potocki, one of three variant covers for Morrison’s debut issue.)

I’m a wee bit of a Morrison fan:

. . . and I used to be a regular reader of Heavy Metal back when I was a kid, so putting the two together sounded fantastic to me.

Right off the bat

Here’s an excerpt from Morrison’s introductory piece:

Welcome, one and all, to our jelly-packed Rites of Spring issue – where mighty prehistoric behemoths batter zombie Martian tripods to the bloody pub-sawdust with tree-like, reptile erections while Stravinsky is played at mind-shattering jet-engine volume through the bladder of a screaming helpless pig and STILL those filthy rich squidillionaires in their ermine, crowns, and fancy couture just sit there texting, oblivious to the suffering of performers, audience, and critics alike!

Expectations: high.

Also, this:

In most cases I’m unfamiliar with the work of the artists assembled between these covers, but I liked the cut of their collective jib and thought they came closest to exemplifying the Heavy Metal spirit as I understand it.

Apart from multi-issue runs of particular stories, and HM regulars like, say, Richard Corben, in the past when I’ve opened up an issue of HM that was generally my experience as well: no idea who these folks are, but their work is awesome and surprising and will likely stick with me. I’ve always loved that about HM.

Is it good?

Yep, it’s good.

It’s a weird mix, as it should be.

Beachhead, written by Grant Morrison, illustrated by Benjamin Marra, and colored by Marra and Tom Forget, opens the issue strong, with over-the-top, jingoistic aliens “conquering” a far-future Earth which appears to be populated only by bacteria.

I also loved Anna Larine Kornum’s A Mind Bomb, which is genuinely creepy and wouldn’t feel at all out of place in an Unknown Armies campaign. Check out this dude, who has bloody plastic bags over his hands and the stubs of what look like angel wings on his back:

The Key, by Massimiliano Frezzatto, is lovely. This little guy lives inside a woman-shaped ship of some sort; to say more would spoil it.

There’s plenty more good stuff in there, too, and much of it is eminently gameable, from turtle-people who grow time-manipulating drugs in sacs on their backs (and are hunted for them) to a rather unusual explanation for why airplanes sometimes go missing.

I didn’t love every story, but that’s true of most media that use this kind of format. On the whole, this issue struck exactly the notes I was looking for, with trippy artwork, unusual self-contained tales, and a stew of stuff for my brain to chew on. If this is a sign of things to come under Morrison’s editorship, I say bring it the fuck on.

I haven’t tucked into issue #281 yet, but it’s waiting patiently for me.