WRITE OR WRONG #66: Creators of Diverse Comics
Write or Wrong: Define Yourself
WRITER’S NOTE: Columns #62-66) will be going almost-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 this weekend:
• 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 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… I’ve spent the last four columns talking about specific diverse, non-corporately-owned-superhero books worth exploring if you’re looking for some new titles that could/will excite you.
This last installment of this nature (for quite a while, anyway) is going to be slightly different, as I’m going to focus on a handful of specific CREATORS who create diverse bodies of work across multiple genres… and I’m going to get to them after I slide in quick discussions of two books that I, sadly, overlooked over the first four columns but also deserve some special attention.
(And mind you – these are two books that I specifically forgot to include. No one else had any input in these last few columns but me… for better or for worse.)
[NOTE TO CREATORS 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!]
Two comics that I really should have mentioned earlier given how much I love them but somehow, amazingly, overlooked are…
BLACKSAD by Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido (Dark Horse)
Let me just get this out of the way first: BLACKSAD is not a book about talking animals. Rather, BLACKSAD is a book where animals are used to represent the characters in this adult, hard-boiled noir detective series with art so beautiful there are no current American comics I can compare it to in good conscious.
This European-format hardcover from Dark Horse (which, for the first time, reprints the first three “album editions” of the comic in English from French) is one of the books I usually leave sitting in my living room when I have friends coming to visit… and its rarely a book that is put-down anytime soon once its picked-up.
Once the initial stereotype that plagues most “talking-animal” books is overcome (which will most likely happen in the first few pages of the first story, in which Blacksad (a large black cat detective) finds his former lover/aspiring movie starlet murdered…
And of course he’s told he can’t be on the case, and of course he doesn’t care and vows to find out who did it and why (shortly before getting revenge, of course).
Yeah… it’s your typical noir story, but it’s done exceptionally well both by using animals to take the place of (very complex and realistic) characters, masterfully efficient writing and art that is at times literally breathtaking art.
The other two stories in this volume feature equally 1950-based noir-ish themes (featuring missing children wrapped-up in a (pure) white (fur) supremacy uprising and fear of atomic weapon technology dispersal, respectively) and, again, the twists and turns of the plot combined with the stunning art make this a “Must-Have” book for fans of noir detective tails… err.. tales.
Despite some incredibly tough competition (see: 100 BULLETS and SCALPED for starters) BLACKSAD is, for my money, the best noir comics series of all time… talking animals or not.
AGE OF BRONZE by Eric Shanower (Image)
AGE OF BRONZE, meticulously written, researched and illustrated by Eric Shanower, seeks to retell the complete legend of the Trojan War.
Published since 1998, 31 issues and two “Specials” (or three TPB collections, if you prefer to read your comics that way) of this eventual seven TPB collection have been released.
The amount of work Shanower puts into each issue can be seen even with a cursory glance at the book, and due to his very detailed art and special attention to character design it’s easy to identify (and identify with) the ever-increasing cast of characters such as Achilles, Agamemnon, Paris, Odysseus and – or course -- Helen of Troy.
For thousands of years the legend of Troy has been one of the most powerful stories in the world… and with no disrespect meant to Homer and The Illiad, in AGE OF BRONZE the story is finally getting the proper respect and adaptation for the masses it deserves.
The word “epic” is too-often overused in today’s comic industry… but if/when Shanower finishes AGE OF BRONZE that’s exactly what this title will be.
As he works towards this finish line, though, by the Gods, this is an amazing book to read and re-read again and again.
A few CREATORS WHOSE DIVERSE COMIC OFFERINGS consistently excite and entertain me are…
Is there an American comic creator whose body of work is more diverse than that of Brian Wood?
First off there’s CHANNEL ZERO (published by Image, then AiT/Planet Lar) and SUPERMARKET (IDW) two different types of dystopian future tales that lay the groundwork for his magus opus to date: DMZ (DC Comics/Vertigo).
For those who’ve yet to check it out, DMZ tells the story (and more evolution/revolution/devolution) of a photojournalist trapped in the demilitarized zone of New York during the Second American Civil War.
Despite this “well” being one here returns to often, though, he’s more than a one-trick pony.
LOCAL (Oni Press) is a haunting slice-of-life coming of age story about a young woman who is constantly moving to different cities across the US in an effort to escape from – and therein discover – herself.
THE TOURIST (Image) is also a fairly reality-based series, this time about a mysterious man who comes to town and brings trouble in his wake.
Jumping genres yet again, there’s his seminal Viking series NORTHLANDERS (DC Comics/Vertigo), which is historical fiction at its finest…
Superheroes? Oh, he does those too… and better than most as displayed in DEMO (AiT/Planet Lar, then DC Comics/Vertigo), wherein each chapter focuses on a real-world Average Joe (or Jane) who is trying to get through life with – or in spite of – having a hidden superpower.
Beautifully illustrated by Becky Cloonan – who uses a different art style in each issue – everybody who reads this TPB is likely to have a different favorite… but that’s the joy of reading quasi-anthologies of this nature. For example, while Issue/Chapter Seven, the super-sniper story “One Shot, Don’t Miss” was nominated for an Eisner Award for Best Single Issue, I take no shame in saying that the story of the doomed lovers in Issue/Chapter Eight: “Mixtape” remains the only comic to date that still makes me weep like a baby every-single-time I read it. Every story in this series is exceptionally powerful, and I already have my copy of DEMO Volume 2 (which is slated to be released at the end of this month) pre-ordered.
Heaven forbid, if Brian Wood were to stop writing comics tomorrow he’d already have a writing resume more diverse than most of his contemporaries (to say nothing of the occasional art/design chores he still does on a semi-regular basis)… and given that he’s showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon we should all be looking only for his star – and catalogue of refreshingly diverse and powerful comics – to rise.
If you’re looking for a talented creator who doesn’t usually dabble in corporately-owned superhero books, look no farther than Brian Wood.
Someday the collective readership of comics everywhere is going to look back to this man as the true champion of diversity he is… and I for one cannot wait to see it happen.
Last year when we were hanging out at the Image Comics/Shadowline table together at C2E2 I kept playfully referring to Nick Spencer as “Hollywood.” Part of it was due to the fact that his debut book for Shadowline EXISTENCE 2.0 (the story of a man who dies only to be scientifically reincarnated into the body of his killer) had just been optioned for a feature film… but part of it was because it was obvious by reading his work (and hearing about what he had coming down the pipeline) that this was a guy that – whether he meant to or not – wrote comics with such great high-concepts that you just knew Hollywood execs would be licking their lips to get their hands on them.
Now, one year later, Spencer has several more hit creator-owned comics on his hands via Shadowline with MORNING GLORIES (in which a number of possibly exceptional teens are whisked away to a mysterious death-trap riddled boarding school only to find that, upon arriving, everyone they ever knew has completely forgotten about them… for starters) and INFINITE VACATION (wherein a slacker becomes addicted to the commonplace technology that lets him visit hundreds upon hundreds of alternate-reality versions of himself… only to discover they’re all suddenly and mysteriously dying) and has just signed an exclusive contract with Marvel Comics to boot – but one that will allow him to carry-on with his creator-owned work.
While Spencer is no doubt going to rock the socks of thousands of Marvel readers, as he does so I strongly encourage you to also support his (and treat yourself to) his stellar creator-owned work. Along with the above-mentioned comics the crime-noir SHUDDERTOWN and the wacky, social-commentary-via-epic-party stylings of FORGETLESS, both of which are also available through Shadowline in the collected format.
In order to retain already fleeting grip on what’s left of my sanity, I routinely tell myself that in a parallel world not too far from this one Rich Koslowski is – as he should be – recognized as one of the premier comic artists/creators of our generation.
Why THREE FINGERS (Top Shelf) – the chilling “Behind the Music” parody/homage about the dark lengths cartoon characters went to in order to achieve the same stardom as a certain three-fingered rodent star – isn’t a coffee-table book proudly displayed (and often re-read) my comic and cartoon enthusiasts everywhere boggles my mind.
Why THE KING (Top Shelf) – his compelling, funny and ultimately thought-provoking OGN about a masked man claiming to be the real (and never dead) Elvis isn’t more often discussed as a great gateway comic for the non-spandex crowd is beyond my comprehension.
Why B.B. WOLF AND THE THREE LPs (You guessed it… Top Shelf) – the dark retelling of the classic children’s tale that serves as a social and political commentary on the plight of Southern black citizens in the early 1900’s (co-created with writer JD Arnold) isn’t heralded as one of the most socially away comics of the last decade – to say nothing of the fact that you can even order an accompanying music CD with it – makes both me and the Baby Jeebus cry big, alligator-sized tears of despair.
I’ll admit it… I personally have yet to dive into reading his seminal series THE 3 Geeks (aka: GEEKSVILLE (3 Finger Prints) because I have no reason to believe it’s not as equally moving and as beautifully illustrated as everything else I’ve read by him to date, and that fact that I will have to revel in my job of the book all alone is still too much to handle… although THE 3 GEEKS is on the short-list of books I’m looking to pick-up during the coming convention season.
Until then, I’ll continue to blame Mephisto as the sole reason why Rich Koslowski isn’t the superstar he deserves to be – at least not to the masses – and at least not yet.
If you have young children in your life – especially a pre-teen girls – and have yet to buy them their own copies of Jill Thompson’s SCARY GODMOTHER (Dark Horse recently released a nice hardcover collection compiling all four of the long out-of-print SCARY GODMOTHER books – plus extras!) and/or the first three MAGIC TRIXIE (Harper Collins) books to date… you’re failing in your role to turn today’s youth onto one of the freshest, hippest and kid-friendly artists of our generation.
Once you get the little ones out of the way, you then need to do yourself a favor and turn your attention to BEASTS OF BURDEN (Dark Horse).
Co-created with writer Evan Dorkin (who, despite being arguably being most-known for the ultra-violent and ultra-angry MILK AND CHEESE characters, actually has quite the nice smattering of diverse funny-books on his resume), BEASTS OF BURDEN started as a series of short-stories in each of the four
THE DARK HORSE BOOK OF… (HAUNTINGS/WITCHCRAFT/THE DEAD/MONSTERS anthologies respectively (all of which are borderline essential reading for any horror fans out there), the series follows the adventures of a group of paranormal-troubleshooting house dogs (and one cat) from Burden Hill as they fight monsters, demons and other occult threats.
While the hardcover contains all four of the aforementioned short stories as well all of the issues of the mini-series, it does not contain the recent BEASTS OF BURDEN/HELLBOY crossover/one-shot… but you know what? I’m OK with that. After all, if there’s one thing Dark Horse has proven it’s that they print superior TPB and HC collections, and I rest easy knowing that sooner or later the one-shot will be collected in at least one collection that already has an open spot waiting on my shelf thanks in no small part to the wonderful work of Thompson.
A consummate professional’s professional online and at cons, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an artist whose work matches the beautiful watercolor-like feel Thompson brings to her work.
The word on the street is that more BEASTS OF BURDEN work is in Thompson’s future… and anyone who is looking for comic-art as fine-art would do well to make a checklist of anything Thompson has illustrated – especially her creator-owned work – and start shopping.
Jill Thompson is the perfect gateway drug to comics for the inner-child in all of us.
By God… I’ve done it! Five columns in a week! Yay me!
By the time you’re reading this column I’ll most likely be terrorizing the floors of C2E2 by day and the streets of Chicago by night, which will of course mean that I’ll probably need at least a week or so after that to recover and get caught-up on real-world stuff… meaning you shouldn’t expect the next ”Write or Wrong” column until at about the end of this month… if not even a little bit past that.
However, in the meantime I encourage you all to read and re-read these last five installments of the column and check out some of the comics I’ve reviewed here that sound the most interesting to you.
Then, perhaps most importantly, once you do, TELL YOUR FRIENDS ABOUT THEM.
After all, while it’s fun to speculate about the big events of the “Big Two” companies… let’s not forget that there are lots of smaller and/or creator-owned comics out there that are (at least) just as worthy of such discussion and word-of-mouth press.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I’d like to personally give my most sincere thanks to creator Eric Powell and THE FRONT FOR DIVERSITY IN COMICS as well as fellow horror-scribe (and all around good dude) STEVE NILES for helping light the fire under my butt that lead to these last five columns. Thanks, guys! Together maybe we all really can make a difference, eh?
NEXT TIME: From here on out I’ll be getting back to the more “nuts and bolts” aspects of creating comics that I teased before this five-part interlude… so stay tuned and stay in touch, ya’ hear? Thanks again, everyone!
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!