Never read a Dash Shaw book until New School and I will say his drunken, dizzying experimental style is something I’m not used to, but I am fond of. Fantagraphics sent this over to me a couple of weeks ago and I finally got a chance to finish it tonight. With no prior knowledge of what this 340 paged book was about, I got a very slight idea from the back cover by reading the sole sentence: “Two brothers on a mysterious island.”
Right off the bat, the first 20 or so pages strike with bold, Sharpie-like drawings, and fully-utilize the largeness of the yearbook-sized book it’s bound in. We’re introduced to our key players: two brothers named Luke and Danny. Danny, the youngest, idolizes Luke and goes as far as to wanting to be him at times. After some childhood history and an introduction to the two characters’ sibling and homelife, Luke is sent to a mysterious island, amply named “X,” to teach islanders how to speak English.
“X,” is also home to a crazy elaborate theme-park called ClockWorld, which seems to be a mix of Disney’s EPCOT and national historical exhibits. The theme-park is home to historical reenactments and events, such as JFK’s assassination, while the island of “X,” acts as a utopia in which the islanders, known directly as “Xians,” inhabit. After the brothers’ mom and dad become concerned of Luke’s well being, Danny is sent to “X,” to see just what his brother has been up to.
Drawings span over two-pages for some spreads, and occasional colors and bold lines go awry over the sizeable sheets. The more and more we see the mysteries of “X,” unravel, the more we see colors splattered and shaded over panels, and the more we see Danny slide down a path of angst and confusion over the islanders and his brother’s new attitude. It’s almost as if Shaw color-coded each panel around Danny’s own mind, using certain colors to signal his character’s curiosity or wonder.
And the more and more the story unfolds, the more it becomes apparent why Dash Shaw used his specific art style to tell this tale. It fits. The crazy mayhem the two brothers eventually get into, as well as the oddities surrounding the island, become more hectic and exciting as the story goes. The coolest feeling of New School came from the final pages of the story’s climax, in which I felt I was literally running right along with each character, as Dash Shaw drew full-sized pages for your eyes to feast upon immediately and flip through at the pace of his characters fleeing for freedom.
Danny’s dialect for the story was interesting, to say the least. Everything is exclaimed, almost like Danny is reciting a verse at times. Think an adolescent Thor on a quest to bring his brother back to Asgard. It adds humor, but it obviously helps with unlying the themes of New School.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of New School are the mysterious Xians themselves. They speak another language, and Danny and Luke understand their mannerisms by observing them or by learning from Otis, the island’s owner and creator of ClockWorld. They are primitive 1950′s Americans, with women dropping jobs as soon as they birth children to stay at home and care for them, and men working on construction of ClockWorld to support their wonderful families. One of the islanders actually randomly asks Danny if he owns a gun back in America, then becomes totally appalled by his answer and dismisses him as a violent American.
Overall, New School is an superb read that blends surreal and innovative storytelling with translucent colors and bold lines. This hardcover binds together a terrific showcase of expressive colors and lines with an emotional comic-of-age story. Dash Shaw succeeds in telling a fine tale in a fantastic, woozy, and drunken way.
Doug De Rocher chooses to use a cut paper collage technique, which is a unique style choice for a comic book. De Rocher cuts up different colored pieces of paper to see fit, a technique he picked up in art school and grew to love. Does it work? In short, yes. Am I opposed to it? Not at all, as it seems to be a niche technique De Rocher is comfortable with, and in Monarch Monkey, his collection of four short stories using said technique, it shows effort and further evidence how comfortable De Rocher is getting with each story he does.
The collection starts with a brief nearly wordless 24-paged story titled “Monarch Monkey.” An alpha monkey crashed from space in a strange rock-like vessel and learns from a fellow man on how to stay superior in his monkey race. The monkey and the man become friends and the monkey learns kung-fu from mimicking the man’s practices. “Monkey see, monkey do.” The ending of the story is bittersweet, which I won’t spoil, but I will say it left me with a pondering state of mind.
“Monarch Monkey,” is also De Rocher‘s first story. It was initially a six-paged tale that was created in two weeks and expanded later on, so I’ll cut some slack since both the story and art were both handled by Doug De Rocher and the sole purpose of the tale is to really showcase this unique art style of cut-paper collaging. I’m very fond of the man’s appearance in the short, and though I enjoyed seeing the bright colors and bolded jagged edges of each monkey, the computer-generated text bubbles and old school action bubbles on each page didn’t necessarily fit the style. It’s a big throw-off to the reader.
“The Boston Slave Riot and the Trial of Anthony Burns,” was a story written by Dan Mazur with art by De Rocher. It’s six pages in length and has a brief history lesson on the states slave riot and trial involving Anthony Burns. It’s entirely black and white, using different shades of grey and brown to illustrate and brief dialogue and word bubbles to comprehend the story. The bubbles here seem to fit better than previous, especially with the font and bubbles being black and white. The bolded dark lines and rugged paper material used on the clothing of the people featured was extremely impressive to seem and added a new element of realism. You can see De Rocher‘s style more evolved here with the story being handled by someone else and all focus being on art at this point.
“School in the Sea,” is an excerpt from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland, and I thought this was was greatest in the bunch. The way the bubbles were constructed with dripping outlines and cursive-styled writing from the talks of the flying griffin and mock turtle were executed perfectly. Alice looks grimace in facial structures and details at times, but it adds to the conversation held in this excerpt, as well as style. Lots of dark, bold lines were used to add details of character figures and outlines. This is where De Rocher needs to be. The art here is well done and comfort was definitely grasped.
“The Greatest Time of All Time,” written by Hyun Supul is a small story of the Mayans and what we can learn from studying their civilization. By now, Doug De Rocher has clearly constructed his own elegance and spent plentiful time adding details to everything that appears in each panel. Pyramids have shading and textures while the Mayans are wearing layers of heavily-detailed clothing and headpieces. Vibrant colors are used as an accent for exoticness within the tale, which I found to be very effective.
Overall, De Rocher‘s Monarch Monkey is simply a display of a distinctive art style in which can be used to convey a graphic novel. The collages look great the further along De Rocher goes, and that shows growth in style. Would love to see a full-length graphic novel or comic from De Rocher using his technique.
As a promotion for Yeti Press‘ 2 year “Yetaversary,” the publisher decided to have a digital sale every week before August to push some of their titles. This week, from July 22nd to July 28th, you can grab Kevin Budnik‘s Our Ever Improving Living Room for only a single dollar.
$1. That’s. It.
This week’s book is the first month of Kevin Budnik’s Our Ever Improving Living Room. Kevin did a daily diary comic strip every single day for an entire year. Here’s your chance to sample a bit of Kevin’s insight, humor, and comic draftsmanship for only a dollar!
This sale runs from July 22nd to July 28th, so get it while you can! Don’t forget to give your email address with your order. We will send the pdf file your way in 24 hours or less.
I received an unexpected comic book in the mail the other day that was neatly wrapped inside of a bright blue envelope with my name on it. The envelope wore the words, “The Outliers,” atop it, with Erik T. Johnson‘s name on the return address. I honestly have no idea how Johnson sent this comic over to me, but I’m surely thankful he has. Because without a doubt, reading The Outliers was the most fantastic comic book experience I’ve had all year.
Maybe it’s the presentation of it all that made holding the book in the first place such a dazzling feeling. From the blue envelope, to it’s smooth dur-o-tone butcher paper dust jacket, this baby looks great. Johnson really spent the time and effort making the comic appeal to the average eye, using unique cool colors for the cover and detailed heavy inking inside of its two-color newspaper pages.
The Outliers‘ first issue tells the tale of a mute 11-year old boy who has a friendship with a secret, massive woodland creature. Not much of any character is explained in this issue, but by the very last page, the reader is left with a thirst for more. The motives of each character are left unanswered as well, though each character introduced is presented so strongly, the unknown in the story are definitely begging to be told.
And I’m begging Johnson for more. This title was unbelievably exciting, full of adventure, mystery, and a strong attention to detail that Erik Johnson should be delighted of. I’ve never been so enthralled by an independent release before. The art is terrific, the ink and shading looks fantastic, and the story’s pacing is so wonderfully done — I highly recommend this comic book to anyone looking for something fresh to read.
Hey gang. I’m pretty excited to present to you an interview Estevan and I worked on about Jess Smart Smiley, whose first book, Upside Down: A Vampire Tale, released early this month of October. Also, consider this article an entry for the Halloween month. Estevan had fun creating a comic to accompany the interview I did with Jess, so we both hope you enjoy reading this piece as a whole. Big thanks to Jess Smart Smiley for doing this with us!
DW: Let’s kick this off with an easy and annoying one. What is Upside Down: A Vampire Tale all about?
JSS: It’s about 144 pages. Get it? (Insert rim shot here) Okay, seriously — Upside Down: A Vampire Tale is about a friendly boy vampire named Harold. Harold isn’t the neck-biting kind of vampire, but a chocolate-chomping, syrup-sipping, candy cane-crunching vampire. In fact, he loves candy so much that he ends up losing his teeth and running away in shame. He meets up with Vermillion, the last witch on earth, and she just happens to hate vampires. There are also bats and a mad scientist that keep the book rushing toward the exciting ending!
DW: Your style of illustrating is colorful, simple, and extremely charming, so it naturally fits with the style of the children’s comic you’re readying to publish on Top Shelf Comix this October. Were there any kind of tweaks you had to make in your style or illustrating for readying up for this project, or did you always have a children’s story planned in your head to publish all along?
JSS: Thank you! I’m always looking for new and better ways to draw things and add to my visual vocabulary. When I decided to work on Upside Down I had a three-color palette in mind that I wanted to try out. I asked myself, “What if the entire book was colored in black, white, and halloween green?” It made me look at my drawings a little differently, knowing that placing one green object next to another green object wouldn’t be as striking as placing green next to black, or black next to white would be. Each panel and page was like a little puzzle, figuring out the best way to place colors. It helped me see that comics are as much about design as they are about the drawings.
I also kept the drawings simple and playful because they seemed to fit the overall tone of the story, which is dark, but really playful. If I had drawn everything photo-realistically, it just wouldn’t have the same impact. Imagine Scott Pilgrim drawn in the style of Watchmen, or Batman drawn like Spongebob Squarepants. Bob are valid forms of drawing – but it just wouldn’t be appropriate.
DW: What is the best part about using comic books as your outlet, especially with children in mind?
JSS: Comics are a great way to tell stories, while still leaving room for the imagination to fill in what happens between panels and pages. I love the immediacy of comics – how readily a message can be communicated in a panel, and still leave plenty of room for subplots and foreshadowing.
DW: What was your personal planning process for Upside Down: A Vampire Tale? Did you have the story planned out already or did you work another way around tackling it?
My one goal for the year I made Upside Down: A Vampire Tale was to finish the book completely, as best I could, and to send it out to my dream publisher, Top Shelf Productions. I had never made a comic longer than 20 or 30 pages before, so I knew that I had to break down the book into manageable pieces in order to finish it.
In a nutshell: it all started with a drawing of a vampire in my sketchbook. I wasn’t looking to make a book or do anything with vampires – I just thought it would be funny to draw one that lost his teeth. I started coming up with more ideas and picking the ones I liked best, and connecting them in ways that built a rough story arc. I wrote out all the main action for the book, and used that as a reference for writing and drawing the rough draft for Upside Down: A Vampire Tale. Once I had worked out the action, dialog, story and composition of each panel on each page, I moved on to the final. It was one of the most daunting tasks I’ve ever taken on, but after the drawing the first page in ink with a brush, I got into the flow and drew, drew, drew. I scheduled a few hours each day to draw the book, and I drew every single day, until I had finished drawing the last page. I scanned everything into the computer and spent some time coloring everything in black, white and halloween green, and then looked over the book several times before sending it to Top Shelf, to make sure everything looked right.
DW: It’s noted that this is book one in the series for Upside Down. Do you already have all the future books planned out, or are you still unsure of when to end it all?
JSS: Ah! You noticed that this is book one. Ten points for the Drawn Words crew! Yes – when I was talking with Top Shelf about Upside Down: A Vampire Tale, they asked if I had more stories within the Upside World that I wanted to make. I’m not sure how much I can share about the book, so let’s just say that Upside Down: A Vampire Tale is just the beginning for Harold and his friends. (Suspenseful music!)
DW: The Tattoo Club is such an incredibly cool idea, and I’m very glad people are still keeping the spirit of temporary tattoos alive. I love the idea of different artists contributing to creating new temp tats. How did the idea first come about?
JSS: Right on! I really like Tattoo Club, too. Earlier in the year I was making some temporary tattoos for my Comics Grab Bag (collection of short comics), and illustrator Julia Green made the comment that she had always wanted to make her own temporary tattoos. I thought it was a shame that such a thing didn’t exist, and I immediately started thinking about other incredible illustrators who would undoubtedly make phenomenal drawings that could be used as temporary tattoos. Julia and I launched the project on Kickstarter, in the hopes of getting the needed funds to make it happen, but we didn’t reach our funding goal. I think a lot of people really dig the novelty of the idea, as well as how collectible the tattoos could be. We’ll see if we’re able to revive the project in the months to come.
DW: I’ve seen some talk about you seeing UFOs/aliens via your Twitter and other interviews. What’s with all the sightings?
JSS: At the risk of sounding like a complete weirdo: aliens are real. I’ve had a series of interesting experiences with them and I can verify that they are real, they are green, and they fully intend to take over our planet. Even in my own encounters I had never seen a UFO — until recently, and it was the strangest thing. I was in a parking lot, talking with my friend, and this object came out of the night sky and into the light of a street lamp. It must have been 30 or forty feet above us and it looked like a paragliding chute, but without any lights and without a passenger. It moved just slowly enough that we could see what it looked like, and then it slipped back into the night, straight on course to its unknown destination. Bizarre.
DW: Is there anything for fans to look forward to in the future of Jess Smart Smiley?
JSS: Not really. I’m ready to pursue a career in electrical engineering. Just kidding — I’m working on my first children’s book right now (to be published next year), and am developing a brand-new comics series that I’m just aching to share.
You can check out my blog to get some behind-the-panels looks at the making of Upside Down: A Vampire Tale, as well as my thoughts on other creative processes. There’s also a facebook group for Upside Down, where I’ll be posting downloads and goodies for fans of the book. Thanks!
Ed Piskor’s graphic novel debut is perhaps one of the most fascinating stories I’ve ever had a chance to read. Oddly enough, its subject matter is something I’d never before imagined to be so intriguing: phone phreaking, computer hacking, and running from the authorities being one of the two. The story explains a simple, precise, yet still slightly fictionalized account of a character named Kevin “Boingthump” Phenicle, and explains the trouble and cult status he gains from being one of the earliest and notable phone phreakers/hackers in the nation.
Piskor uses his underground comix charm, initially brought to life in his earlier works with Harvey Pekar in American Splendor and Macedonia, to flawlessly illustrate the life and hardships of Kevin Phenicle. This is Piskor’s first full-fledged writing effort, yet it does not stumble a smidgen as he manages to engulf the reader in a vivid story that captures the very essence of curiosity a hacker feels. From the very first chapter of Wizzywig, you will be surely hooked.
Ed Piskor created Kevin Phenicle to be a combination of several major hackers in real-life, such as Kevin Mitnick, Kevin Poulsen, Emmanuel Goldstein, Joybubbles, and a dozen of other iconic figures in the subculture. Phenicle is used as sort of a representation of the early hacking community. Through “Boingthump,” we can feel how most of those individuals perceive their work, as well as learning their social mannerisms and hacking traits.
In Wizzywig, we follow Phenicle at his early stages disassembling several devices to discover out how they tick, and eventually finding loops and hacks that make him curious to find out more. He starts to phone phreak, whistling to make long distance calls into payphones. Then we see him evolve into a computer hacker, creating a virus and hacking into databases through the very earliest stages of the Internet. We even see him rigging telephone contests hosted by radio stations. Eventually, we understand why Phenicle does the things he does, rooting for this anti-hero but also fully comprehending the criminal mischief the character creates.
One thing Piskor did very well with Wizzywig was not glorifying the act of hacking and phreaking that Phenicle did. As much as you may find yourself rooting for the main character, you know from the very start that Kevin is seen as a criminal, and his jail time is apparent in early pages of the graphic novel. To help progress this idea even further, Piskor tied in fictional, yet still slightly true, news reports and other events in between chapters and panels to explain how Phenicle was seen to the public eye, what friends and family thought of the situations Kevin was in, and most important, how Boingthump himself felt about his own doings.
The sole constant that remains throughout the entirety of Wizzywig is the feeling of curiosity. Kevin Phenicle is a charming person with an extreme case of curiosity, which fuels his passion for hacking and uncovering more. The reader will definitely experience this emotion while reading Wizzywig, speeding through pages until the end to see how Phenicle handles jail, hacking, and running from the law. This is a very unique graphic novel that should absolutely be read by any person who thirsts for freshness in modern comics.
Written by Kevin Cortez
Illustrated by Estevan Sanchez
We recently reviewed Lauren Barnett’s debut full length comic book and best-of collection, “Me Likes You Very Much.” If you’ve read our review on the book you already know how much we enjoyed it. If you haven’t, take four minutes of your time to read over our short review of Barnett’s title.
We’re giving a lucky couple of our readers a signed copy of the comic book for absolutely free, given they do the following:
Just do one of the above actions and you’re in. Already “like” us? Reteweet us. Comment our post. Do whatever — more entries means more chances of Estevan and I seeing your entries and choosing you. Or not. We’re really just choosing a random two people from any of these three ways of entering and mailing the signed off books to them.
We have two copies of the book signed by Barnett herself that we’d love to give away for lucky folks to enjoy. This giveaway is simple, but please make sure you have a way of us contacting you. If you comment on this post, don’t use a fake email like firstname.lastname@example.org (unless that’s your actual address) unless you want us picking someone else. Other users will be contacted via Facebook and/or Twitter.
Good luck. The giveaway starts immediately and the date we choose winners will be exactly two weeks from now: June 9 at midnight.
Existing as an artist or writer on the Internet can sometimes be very irritating. Anyone can become a blogger nowadays, thanks to BlogSpot and WordPress, even if they have absolutely no content with actual substance to contribute to the web. Likewise, this is said the same for artists and hand-drawn comics. Tumblr makes throwing content and original photography/artwork around much easier, and somewhere between the reblogging and “liking,” credit is loss and art is somewhat devalued, as it becomes merely a pretty image to gawk over for a split second of an attention span. This can be especially true with web-comics.
I’m not very fond of web-comics, but I have read plenty to make me laugh. Great web-comics tend to get lost in the slew of clones and cookie-cutter copy art presented, while some creators have issues being consistent with humor and content that can ultimately lose the attention they deserve at times. For the most part though, I’ve seen too many comics on the Internet that aren’t amusing at all and plain out suck total ass.
Thankfully, Lauren Barnett’s web-comics don’t suck total ass and are actually pretty damn funny. Her collection of hand-drawn comics are presented on her blog and her archives date back all the way to 2007. Fortunately, Hic & Hoc Publications released a huge chunk of those comics in a collection titled Me Likes You Very Much, featuring multiple comics by Lauren from 2008 through 2012.
What kind of comics am I talking here? Cute ones. Lauren Barnett draws various fruits and animals throughout her 1-4 panel comics, each with its own little face and an adorable stance. She also throws in a couple of curse words in some panels to turn the cuteness factor up a bit. That doesn’t distract from the actual content though, as Lauren pokes fun in each comic at everyday situations and clumsiness in short, tiny conversations. She also flawlessly showcases these daily awkward affairs in a very simple way, conveying sometimes hard to explain happenings in an effortless fashion.
Through each page’s few panels and talk bubbles, Barnett exploits conversations that most experience every day through witty comments and snappy remarks. These comics include certain “I wish I would’ve said that,” moments and real life frustrations. Hell, as adorable as the comics may seem, Barnett still comes across as a realist, lacing complicated thoughts and emotion behind adorable animals and characters.
It does seem odd and a bit out of place as an idea, but combining cute animals and fruits with real life stories of sarcasm and crudeness really just flow natural with Barnett. Because of this, Me Likes You Very Much is an exceptionally charming collection of comics (or web-comics, whatever you may see them as in book form) presented in a pretty unique way that needs all the praise it can get. This comic will go under the radar for sure, but this comic collection is something you surely do not want to miss. Her 187-page book contains enough laughter to motivate readers to share with friends and re-read over and over again, while the blog will definitely become a new addiction for new fans to hold over until a new effort arises.
Writing by Kevin Cortez
Illustrations by Estevan Sanchez