WRITER’S NOTE: Columns #62-66) will be going daily as we cover some diverse comics worthy of your attention by genre… so if you missed them, here’s the links:
Before we get into some diverse horror comics worthy of your attention, here’s a reminder for those of you attending c2e2 later this month:
• The bulk of my time will be spent at my own Artists’ Alley Table (Table E3, to be exact) with my frequent artistic collaborator and Shadowline superstar in-the-making Seth Damoose, but we’ll also be making a few appearances at the ComicsPipeline booth throughout the weekend as well along with Ben Templesmith and some other friends.
• Friday, March 18th from 3:30-4:30 in Room 475a I’ll be hosting a “WRITE OR WRONG: LIVE!” Panel, wherein I will largely answer questions from the audience… so please plan on attending, as I don’t want to spend an hour talking to myself. I do that at home enough the way it is.
• Saturday, March 19th from 5:30-6:30 in Room 475b I’m one of the guest presenters for the Bleeding Cool Fan Awards. In fact, I think I’ll be presenting two awards… so be sure to swing by and join the fun. Thankfully as it stands now I’m not nominated for any of them…
• Sunday, March 20th from 1:00-2:00 in Room 475b I’ll and sitting-in as a guest for the “Horror in Comics” panel talking about, as the title suggests, horror in comics.
In other words, if you’re attending c2e2 there’s NO reason you for you to not swing by and introduce yourself at some point, ya’ hear?
(I’ll also post additional details and plans on my Facebook page as we get closer to the show… so feel free to keep an eye on that space, too. If you send a “Friend Request,” though, at least include a note to let me know you’re a reader of the column or something. Thanks!)
That aside… let’s shed a light on some of the great horror comics currently being published, shall we?
[NOTE TO CREATORS WHOSE BOOKS ARE DISCUSSED BELOW: I certainly have no problem with any of you using pull-quotes from this column to promote your books if you so choose… but please credit them to Dirk Manning at Newsarama.com or, at least, “Write or Wrong” at Newsarama.com, mmm’k? That’s not too much to ask, is it? Thanks!]
A few SPECIFIC GENRE COMICS that consistently excite and entertain me are…
SCALPED by Jason Aaron and R.M. Guéra with friends (DC Comics/Vertigo)
For months and months and months several friends of mine kept singing the praises of SCALPED, but whenever I pressed them for details concerning why I should sink by money into exploring the book I always got the same response, which was usually along the lines of:
“You just need to read it to experience its glory for yourself.”
Well, one particular week when I made my routine pilgrimage to the local comic shop only to find there was nothing new for me to pick-up I decided to finally bite the bullet (so to speak) and pick-up the first SCALPED TPB collection…
And I haven’t turned back since.
Simply put, SCALPED is a gritty, whiskey-soaked, Native American noir masterpiece without peer in the current comics landscape.
In the pages of SCALPED Jason Aaron and R.M. Guéra (with friends) chronicle the exploits of Dashiell Bad Horse, a runaway-turned-soldier-turned-undercover-FBI-agent who has returned to his former reservation (not-so-affectionately known as “The Rez”) in order to help bring down the criminal kingpin activities of aspiring casino owner Chief Lincoln Red Crow.
Not to put too fine a point on the blade of the tomahawk, but, again, SCALPED is a brutally nihilistic and uncompromising noir comic series the likes of which I can find no worthy comparison in the medium since 100 BULLETS… and SCALPED does for life on Native American reservations what 100 BULLETS did for American Crime stories.
Within the pages of SCALPED Aaron and company masterfully tell a story containing more twists and turns than an epileptic rattlesnake that continually leads its cast of tragically flawed (at best) characters further and further into their own personal and private Hells.
In other words, this is most certainly not “comfort-reading.”
However, it’s an engaging, tantalizing and unrepentantly noir tale of how sometimes in the card game of life you’re dealt one bad hand after another, leaving you the sole option of limiting your already devastating losses once you’re too committed to walk-away from the table without losing everything.
Filled with enigmatic, vile and more-often-than-not genuinely deplorable characters, anyone who loves film noir, Westerns and/or stories of flawed characters trying to claw their way through the dirt towards the ever fading promise of light at the end of the tunnel should take the time to explore this powerful, uncompromising and ultimately awe-inspiring story.
SCALPED fills the hole left in my reading repertoire by 100 BULLETS quite nicely and, like the former, is a modern noir masterpiece that will more-likely than not be hailed as a classic by generations of readers to come.
JONAH HEX by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti with friends (DC Comics)
Yes, yes… JONAH HEX is indeed a corporately-owned character… but in this one (and only) particular case, and for the sake of discussion concerning diversity in comics, it just doesn’t matter.
Why? Because Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, playing to the strengths and skills of some of the most talented sequential artists working in comics today, have taken the character of Jonah Hex and irrevocably made him their own despite the fact that the character is corporately-owned by Warner Brothers (as was evidenced by the terrible Jonah Hex film Hollywood recently puked-out and tried to serve us.)
Crappy film adaptations aside, I’m hard-pressed to name a corporately-owned comic I currently enjoy from any major publisher more than JONAH HEX.
One of the real “glories” of this comic is that, despite not owning the character, (and without “reinventing” or “retconning” him at all, Gray and Palmiotti (with their artistic cohorts) have cast a shadow over this character I cannot imagine anyone escaping, well, ever.
(Marvel fans who read PUNISHER: MAX by Garth Ennis will know exactly what I’m talking about here…)
For those of you who’ve yet to explore the title, here’s the set-up: With barely a few exceptions, each issue is a one-shot, done-in-one story, usually by a different artist… and the lists of artists who’ve worked on this title to date read like a who’s-who tally of the best artists in comics today.
Seriously… check out this list (woefully incomplete) list to date: Luke Ross, Tony DeZuniga, Phil Noto, David Michael Beck, Paul Gulacy, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Jordi Bernet(!!!),Val Semeik, Darwyn Cooke, J.H. Williams III, Billy Tucci and Eduardo Risso among others.
Take a minute to read that list of contributing artists over again and then tell me a good reason why you’re not reading this book when you’re still buying so many other books that don’t genuinely excite you every month.
If your answer is along the lines of “Because it’s a western and I don’t like western comics”, well, I’ll (shamefully, mind you) admit that’s the same reason I stayed away from this book for as long as I did.
Quite simply, I never fancied myself a fan of “western comics” either… but I am a fan of good comics, and I’ve yet to ever read an issue of JONAH HEX that has done anything less than eagerly leave me wanting more.
Because the series consists primarily of one-shot stories you don’t even have to read the nine (to date) TPB collections in order, and I’m half tempted to argue that it may be more fun jumping in somewhere around the middle (such as with “Luck Runs Out” or “Bullets Don’t Lie” and then start bouncing around from there.
Or, if you’re still nervous, go out and pick-up a back issue or two featuring one of the artists from the list above that you like… and then one illustrated by Jordi Bernet for good measure. If you can read any three stand-alone of issues of JONAH HEX and not be hooked, well… I don’t know what to say, honestly, as each issue is masterfully written to play to the strengths of the artists drawing that particular issue.
(Why yes, this is indeed the same approach I took – and advertized/advocated more people should start doing – when I started my own quasi-anthology series NIGHTMARE WORLD ! Thanks for noticing!)
For my money JONAH HEX is one of the most consistently well-written, engaging and beautifully illustrated comics on the shelves today, making it a must-read for anyone who enjoys the unique pleasures reading a great comic can bring.
Point blank, folks… I cannot recommend JONAH HEX highly enough!
THE DREAMLAND CHRONICLES by Scott Christian Sava (IDW/Self-Published)
THE DREAMLAND CHRONICLES started as a webcomic (and still runs as one with updates five days a week right HERE, and then started going to print via IDW.
After three TPB collections, though, both sides went their separate ways, with the fourth volume returning to its self-published roots by Sava, and it’s (for the time being, at least) available exclusively via his above-linked website.
If you’ve never read THE DREAMLAND CHRONICLES, don’t let the seemingly simple premise (one concerning a young man who discovers that the world he dreamed of was indeed a real place he could only travel to by dreaming) fool you into thinking this is a title worth passing on.
With stunning computer-generated art and pleasant characters, THE DREAMLAND CHRONICLES remains one of those books that I love introducing to young children every holiday season if for no other reason than it gives me the opportunity to read it all over again myself.
As with NIGHTMARE WORLD (which, admittedly, is the diametric opposite of THE DREAMLAND CHRONICLES) and a host of other top-end online comics, this is another series that you can read for free online and then support in print via paid downloads… so if you’re on the fence go ahead and give it a whirl online for free… especially if you’re a fantasy buff.
Heck, if you’re a fantasy buff there’s no reason you shouldn’t be reading this beautiful and charming adventure comic for your own pleasure and with the young people in your life.
AXE COP by Malachai Nicolle and Ethan Nicolle (Dark Horse)
By now the premise of this manically funny and unabashedly over-the-top comic are mythic: A 29-year-old comic artist started illustrated the stories of “Axe Cop” as they were told to him by his 5-year-old brother, the former started posting the stories on the web, and superstardom soon followed.
To explain the hilarity of AXE COP would take a column in and of itself (at least), but suffice to say that any comic featuring characters like the aforementioned Axe Cop (who chops off bad guys’ heads with his axe… when he’s not doing a “Secret Attack” of some sort, of course) as well as Flute Cop (who becomes Dinosaur Soldier when he gets dinosaur blood on him… only to later become Avocado Soldier when he eats an Avocado, only to then become Uni-Avocado Soldier when he steals the Unicorn horn from Uni-Baby, only to then… well, you get the point), Sockarang, Baby Man, Wexter (Axe Cop’s pet flying T-rex who has machineguns for arms), Vampire Man Baby Kid, Dr. Stinky Head, the Best Fairy Ever (that’s her name, not a description), King of All Time and more is well worth your money for the sheer “WTF” hilarity factor alone.
If you’re still on the fence about whether or not this comic is worth of your cash, again, I’d recommend swinging by the The Axe Cop Website. Honestly, I find the “Ask Axe Cop” strips just as funny as the “main” strip itself, and the first TPB collection from Dark Horse includes a bulk of the material from the site all with some great commentary bits.
Along with the recent TPB, the first issue of the brand-new AXE COP: “Bad Guy Earth” mini-series (also from Dark Horse) should still be on the shelves.
This title is lightning in a bottle, folks, and one of the funniest comics I’ve read in years. If you’re looking for a comic that you can re-read (and re-laugh-along-with) time and time again, look no further than AXE COP.
MOUSE GUARD by David Petersen (Archaia)
This masterfully illustrated comic tells the continuing adventures of a band of elite soldier mice who guard the rest of their people from those who would otherwise do them harm.
More so than most current comics on the shelves, MOUSE GUARD is hauntingly beautiful, with Petersen’s detailed artwork conveying a feeling of being dropped right into the world of these amazing woodland creatures without using even the slightest anthropomorphic shortcuts (aside from the swords and capes, of course).
Along with the first few HC collections, the recent MOUSE GUARD: LEGENDS OF THE GUARD collection is an anthology-style book featuring genuinely breathtaking artwork by Jeremy Bastain (of CURSED PIRATE GIRL… more about that title in a moment), Ted Naifeh, Terry Moore, Gene Ha, Guy Davis, Jason Alexander and more.
Again, as is the case with THE DREAMLAND CHRONICLES, don’t let this deceptively simple premise fool you from experiencing one of the most charming and unique comics of the last decade.
In fact, if more comics were as strikingly beautiful in art and original in premise as MOUSE GUARD the potential of this medium would remain beyond reproach by even the staunchest of critics.
MOUSE GUARD is a masterful, charming and genuinely delightful book for readers of any age.
CURSED PIRATE GIRL by Jeremy Bastain (Olympian)
By now most of you have probably heard the story of how this title, after asking for $2,500 dollars via a Kickstarter campaign to cover costs of printing a TPB collection of the first three issues, raised over $36,000 in response… and if not, well, that should tell you how special this book is right there.
CURSED PIRATE GIRL tells the story of a young orphan girl who sets out to sea with some magical friends in order to discover her lost father, who she believes to be a pirate.
Succinctly described as this generation’s Alice in Wonderland, I’m hard-pressed to find a description more fitting of this comic despite my continued best-efforts to do so.
Bastain’s maddeningly intricate art on this book is matched only by the surreal portrayal of the characters who inhabit its pages… and when you have guys like Mike Mignola, Grant Morrison and one of the creators of The Venture Brothers all collectively singing a book’s praises, again, what else is there to know?
Surreal without being distracting and child-like in its wonder without being insulting to adults who like some genuine substance in their literature, CURSED PIRATE GIRL manages to walk the line (and not the plank) in regards to being a book that can genuinely be enjoyed by children and adults alike.
In fact, reading CURSED PIRATE GIRL doesn’t only makes me feel like a kid again as a read it… but it actually makes me a bit jealous that this isn’t the case, hence denying me the opportunity to grow-up alongside the mischievous and daring main character.
Even though the first CURSED PIRATE GIRL only recently hit the shelves, and even though I’ll still be spending at least another several months routinely studying the uber-uber-uber-detailed art contained within (which was all printed in an environmentally-friendly fashion to boot), I already find myself yearning to return to the magical adventures of the high-seas with one of my favorite new characters of the last decade.
If you’re only willing to read one independent comic this year, you’d do no wrong in making it CURSED PIRATE GIRL.
FRACTURED FABLES by Various (Image Comics/Silverline)
Invite over 50 critically acclaimed graphic novelists and invite them to “twist” their favorite fairy tales and nursery rhymes and what do you get?
The masterful and highly entertaining FRACTURED FABLES.
Including work by Peter David, Terry Moore, Ted McKeever, Bill Morrison, Jill Thompson, Jim Valentino, Bryan Talbot, Ben Templesmith and dozens more, this hardcover collection deserves a place on the bookshelf of anyone who loves anthologies.
I could go on and on about several of my favorite stories in this volume, but this is a title that those of you who love and appreciate anthologies will most likely immediately seek-out (if you haven’t done so already) while those of you who aren’t a fan of anthologies, sadly, will never know what an amazing book you’re missing out on.
OK… that’s it for today, folks!
Tomorrow (really!) we’ll dive into some “slice of life” comics worthy of your attention… followed, in conclusion, with some specific creators whose bodies of work shouldn’t be ignored.
Stay tuned and, again, if you like what you’re reading here, hit the “Like” button down below and then share this link with all your friends!
Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of NIGHTMARE WORLD a web-to-print comic now being loudly and proudly published by Image Comics/Shadowline and FARSEEKER, a fantasy series with artist Len O’Grady being hosted by those fine folks at ACT-I-VATE. He is also a longtime contributing columnist for Newsarama and a staunch advocate for comic creators everywhere. He lives on the Internet and can usually be found lurking around Facebook and Twitter on a fairly regular basis… when he’s not busy writing, of course.
Want to read Write or Wrong from the beginning? Here ya’ go!