Saturday, December 29, 2007

Written by Chris Staros
Drawn by Bo Hampton and Rich Tommaso
Published by Top Shelf

YEARBOOK brings together two short stories focused on Top Shelf honcho Staros’ younger years, each previously published as part of the late, lamented SMALL PRESS EXPO anthologies. The first, “The Willful Death of a Stereotype,” turns its eye towards a young geek’s attempt at achieving popularity and power through a school election. Story two, “The Worst Gig I Ever Had,” skips ahead to his high school years and the first rock band he played in. Each has its merits, though there’s no question that “Stereotype” is the shining gem of the duo.

Autobiographical comics have become such a mixed bag over the years that you tend to have your defenses built so high against them that they have little chance of succeeding. So many are about tweedy jerkoffs who want to tell you every minute detail about their lives and forget to tell you an actual story. But Staros knows exactly how to make them work. “Stereotype” has a full story to tell, and it’s one with an emotional and intellectual progression. “Gig” is a bit more of an extended humorous anecdote, but it also delivers on the punchline. I wish more cartoonists understood how important that is.

Artistically, Staros couldn’t have done better by himself. Bo Hampton is in a class by himself, and “Stereotype” looks incredible. Tommaso also turns in some terrific work, though it lacks some of the fluid spontaneity of Hampton’s work.

For four dollars American, this is a pretty sweet little treat. Pick it up and give it to someone like me who had lost his taste for autobio comix and remind them that the genre can still be done with skill and intelligence.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Edited by Mark Andrew Smith and Joe Keatinge
Published by Image Comics

Anthologies are a tricky thing. When you try and limit them to one central theme, they can feel forced and lack spontaneity. If you allow them to be broad and open, you run the risk of the entire affair feeling scattered and without purpose. Plus, there’s always the requisite gem-to-crap ratio to deal with, no matter what kind of anthology you have. Putting one together isn’t for the faint of heart.

But AMAZING JOY BUZZARDS maestro Mark Andre Smith and Image marketing guru Joe Keatinge have certainly given it their best shot with POPGUN. Ostensibly based on the concept of the pop single in music, the results are a bit trying and inconsistent for the first two-thirds of the book, but the final third of this gargantuan book (450 pages) finds a solid groove and delivers a powerful crescendo of sound and fury.

There are some gems early on the line-up. Jamie S. Rich and Joelle Jones contribute a nifty relationship tale (their specialty) that’s as solid as any of their other work in that genre, and it gives the reader an early good taste in their mouth. Chris Moreno’s “Sanz Pants” follows along shortly after to keeping the beat moving. But it isn’t until Adrian Dominguez and Matthew Weldon’s “Ellie saves the World”, an issue-length adventure, drops in that POPGUN grabs hold of you by the lapels and refuses to let go until the final chord is struck. Their tale of a teen superheroine is so fun and funky that you find yourself wanting more of Ellie’s adventures sooner rather than later.

Image has become one of the best anthology makers in the business, and this is a worthy effort to stand alongside some of the previous efforts like AFTERWORKS and 24/7. There will certainly be more POPGUN; I expect it will be fun to keep an eye on it and see where it goes.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Published by NBM

A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed THE ART OF GREG CAPULLO and gave it a resounding pan due to a number of glaringly bad decisions in design. So I was quite pleased to see this book in my mailbox- no North American publisher does better “Art” books than NBM, and I expected this would be excellent. As usual, they didn’t let me down.

This is how you do an “Art” book.

Bryan Talbot is one of the greatest living artists in our field, a man who has been mastering his craft for decades. He’s shown himself to be versatile, tackling superheroes, science fiction, fantasy, rock stars, and human interest. He can pencil, ink, paint… you name it… and he does so in brilliant fashion. And each bit of that is on display in this terrific over-sized book. You also get to see a retrospective of his whole career on display here; some of his earliest work is on these pages, along with some of his most recent. It allows the reader to see just how much talent he had to start with, and just how much he’s learned and progressed with over time.

There is also very little “white space” inside this book. Where there isn’t art (printed at all sizes) there is commentary text from Talbot explaining the origins of various works and how they came together. Sometimes he even expresses chagrin about the results, but he isn’t afraid to put them out there.

The book also comes with a lovely introduction by the great Neil Gaiman, but the real star is the life’s work of a man whose talents know no boundaries. Any serious collector of comic or pop culture art will want this excellent work on their shelves.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Written by Jason M. Burns
Drawn by Erik Valdez y Alanis
Published by Viper Comics

Sleepy Hollow, NY, is a strange little town. It’s beset by all sorts of oddities: sea monsters, ghostly Native American tribes… and maybe even a space alien who’s taking over the city council. So who can the citizenry turn to in order to keep them in-the-know about these phenomenon? How about the staff of THE SLEEPY TRUTH, the local newspaper dedicated to blowing the lid off it all? Of course, the staff isn’t quite what you’d expect: there’s Suzanne and Thomas Watson, the oddly-birthmarked 15-year old twins who run the show; their friend Grant (age 15), who has prosthetic hands; and Matthias, their portly 14-year old friend who claims to be telekinetic, but can’t prove it.

In volume one of what looks to be a potentially lengthy series, the kids must contend with two threats to their First Amendment rights: the return of the creature the twins believe ate their father, and the afore-mentioned alien and councilman, who are determined (in classic SCOOBY fashion) to put these meddling kids out of their hair for good.

SLEEPY comes across as a gentle, fun little lark, and shows a nice grasp on how to put together entertainment that can appeal to readers young and old. No question, one of the real markets for these books should be school libraries; there’s no profanity, no sexuality, just clean fun all the way around. The kids are interesting, unique characters, their dialogue rings true, and while there’s a “threat” involved, you know that whatever resolution comes will be appropriate. I wish there were more like it.

Viper has made its mark in the field mostly with sharp-edged books like DEAD @17, MIDDLEMAN, and THE EXPENDABLE ONE. But with SLEEPY and EMILY EDISON, they’re showing that the youth market is one they can succeed in.