Sunday, January 31, 2010

Event Hosting 101

January has come to an end. This is the last day and the Comic Book Appreciation Month has reached its end, although not in the glorious parade I have hoped for, but it doesn’t surprise me one bit. For you see, things with me follow a strict succession that dictates that I must fail at an endeavor to learn what needs to be done in order to succeed.

In case anybody mistakes me for a chosen one, I will definitely require a test run before actually saving anything. With that being said, I am glad that this month did not crash in burn in the middle [champagne for the delayed failure anyone?], but trickled down to a halt due to nature: having a cold that saps my energy and being burned up from January in general.

Through these thirty one days I have learned a few valuable lessons, which I hope make sense and will aid you, when you decide to start your own event month. Welcome to Event Hosting Class 101. I am your tutor Harry Markov with the prestigious PhD in CMM [otherwise known as Chronic Mistake Making] and these are my lessons, compiled in one easy to follow list.

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1. Clear Concept

I am afraid that the vague ‘I want to host a month about comic books’ is not going to cut it in the long run, even if in Daydreamland this sounds plausible. While having a clear subject is a part of this, the event must also have a clear sense of identity and individuality. The more you know what you want to have in your event month, the better as it helps you set a realistic time table and work everything to smooth perfection. Perhaps, you want a more content oriented event with interviews and guest posts. Example in this category is Smugglivius, hosted by the excellent Book Smugglers. Or maybe you would feel better to showcase different titles with a small blurb like review. Example here is the whole year theme over at Suvudu: 365 Days of Manga. Knowing what you want will help you with stage two.

2. Early Planning

You have your concept [at least you think you do]. You are in the honeymoon period with the idea and your confidence threatens to coax you into buying a color spandex suit with the code name EPIC WIN on. I did that, so I advise against. Spandex does not look good immediately after the holiday season and all the food commas. What you should do is start planning and do this for about two, perhaps three months before actually starting with the event. Again, this is strictly individual. If you will need interviews and content, make a list with all the names that seem reputable in the topic or will have something interesting to say. Month and half would be a great start with working your way down from early entries to last entries. When you plan on having more reviews, then I say calculate how many you want per week, which titles will fit best and start minimum three months prior in order to evenly spread the work, unlike me. I did exactly the opposite, I left the huge bulk to the last moment possible and it is why I finish prematurely and in a bad shape.

3. Backup Plan

There is not much here, but one trick that will give you flexibility, when you feel like that you are in that claustrophobic tight spot between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Do not tell your audience how the event will unravel. Mention the basics, but no details, because details are promises that this event will continue in such and such way with such and such content. The public humiliation after not meeting these self-set rules stings. So be mysterious in order to both attract readers with anticipation and never let it slip, when you made a blooper.

4. Contributors

Dealing with people is a scary variable, the wild card that can make or break the event. When considering an event, it is crucial to have a strong cast. You should pick contributors that you actually know and have had contact with. This is actually an EPIC WIN with me, because all the people, who contributed were punctual, eloquent and fun to have around. It is essential to have peers or fellows that share the same passion and do the same as you do, especially the bloggers, because we as a community do not excel with competition as driving force. But it is also good to have celebrities on board, but working with them is tricky.

The key factor here is time, because celebrities are not celebrities because they sit on their asses all day [unless we talk about reality TV stars, then that would be affirmative]. They should be recruited earliest and given most time to answer interview questions, have follow-up sessions or write a guest post. This means a month the very least, because you never know, when a spike of activity will hit or a cold will leave the celeb contributor unable to send in the material on time.

5. Market Strategy

In order for an event to be a success [admit it, you want it to be successful, you want to have those web hits, even if your rational mind lies to you that you are better than that] one must be on the same wavelength with the audience. I did the stupid assumption that book bloggers will be thrilled with my awesome month dedicated to comics and I also did not take into account that my regular audience would not be into it either. I did not pay attention that each theme has the perfect audience and in order to lure that audience in, one must know, where it hangs out and infiltrate. Contact with prime sites that promote the theme for your event and ask to be represented there with a small banner or get them to be participants in the event themselves in order to warm them up to the idea to give you publicity.

When marketing, it is also shoot in the dark and hope that readers will pop from unexpected places such as Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, but also specialized forums, sites like 42Blips and Top Blogs. If you have a large Twitter following, then you will do a great job, if you persuade people to re-tweet the links you give about the event. You need to know where exactly to hit and then hit it hard and hit it fast and continuously.

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And with this point I conclude with the basics of Event Hosting 101. If there are experienced hosts out there that do not agree, explain to me where I err and if there are more questions and suggestions, I will be more than happy to do a follow up.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Review І Madame Mirage

My reading habits are dictated by random selections. If it has covers and falls into my hands, I will read it. I realize this confession might ruin whatever rep I have as a reader, but it is part of the book-a-holism. However, sometimes I’m pinched with interest the second my eyes pick up a title and I am grabbed hook, line and sinker. Madame Mirage is from that category. I fell for the title immediately, the covers whacked me on the head and the content brought me an hour of solid entertainment. What more can I ask for?

Madame Mirage is an eclectic crush with its own genre flavor. The world Paul Dini conjures carries that pulp fiction spirit, many found irresistible, while at the same time it is undeniably futuristic. The characters are technologically and genetically empowered and resemble super heroes minus the spandex and plus the fashion sense. And the story, you might ask? The story is one femme fatale on a solo mission to bring down a crime organization, gone legit into the assassination business. There is revenge, subterfuge and a high number of people dying.

I ascribe comic books to two distinct categories. The first are the comics with an adventurous story, which take your mind on a joy ride through escapist landscapes and work as chocolate for the brain. The second also possess entertainment value, but their purpose is to act as drugs for the heart, carrying an emotional pinch, caress or punch. When done well, both categories are worth the read and Madame Mirage falls in the first category.

Dini is a natural at weaving and maintaining mysteries and there’s no greater mystery than Madame Mirage. Even in this world, where science can augment human performance, Mirage has talents that perplex and confuse. She can coil into smoke, change her shape, duplicate herself, and fade out to nothing. All these talents she uses to kill bad guys. There’s speculation as to what her true identity is and whether she truly exists, something that I wondered as well and without success, until the big revelation. Dini puts in red herrings along the way like any self respecting mystery writer [in this case] would, but the actual answer comes to a surprise and I am positive that you wouldn’t have guess it either, reading this.

While the brain is left with this succulent puzzle to solve, the pleasure centre is left with an action packed plot to follow. Dini has created a wide range of adversaries for Madame Mirage to fight against and each brings out an interesting shade to the world. The reader will meet a hillbilly teleporter, a goth girl with sentient hair, a beach babe with hormone powers, a muscle freak with a vocabulary of made-up sophisticated words and the list goes on.

Dini might have these awesome ideas, but they wouldn’t have reached half their potential, if the wasn’t up to the challenge. Thankfully, Kenneth Rocafort saved the day with a vision, which left me salivating. I am all for exaggerated anatomy and Rocaford delivers. You can tell by the voluptuous Jessica Rabbit-esque figure he endowed Madame Mirage with. It is a very generous gift to the male audience, which usually dominate the readership of comics, so it comes to no surprise and I’ve yet to hear someone complain. Beyond the obvious, the lines are sharp and yet fluid, creating a sense of motion, which is a good quality to have. I can also say that to me it feels as if the panels can jump out from the page and infiltrate the real world, but I am no art expert and I may be wrong on all accounts. What remains is that my itch for a good comic has been scratched in the best possible way.

Review І "I Kill Giants"


I’m perplexed as to how to give flesh and shape to what I felt after finishing I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura, but it certainly was something else entirely. I can’t imagine that there are the right words to fully relay what lies between those seven issues. On one hand I kept repeating ‘awesome’, for my lust for entertainment had been sated, and on the other this mini-series went past the barrier that marked me as a reader/consumer and punched me in the gut.

I Kill Giants is about Giant-slayer Barbara, a fifth-grader with a loud mouth and attitude that gets her in trouble more often than not, making her already unpleasant life more unenviable. Kelly hits the proverbial bull’s eye with a grenadier from 10 feet. An overstatement? Perhaps, but the story works without a glitch on levels plot and meaning. Kelly tells a story about a girl with problems in adolescence, which chooses fantasy over reality to cope with her problems. She sees signs in the clouds, talks with pixies and dwarves and she knows everything about giants, especially how to kill them. Barbara is a geek at heart with a burning passion for D&D and a social outcast, which is a result of her own behavior to a point.

You’ve seen this premise before: a young kid escapes from pain to a world, where he/she has control over the situation, which rarely [never] is the situation in reality. However, this is the very first time it worked. No, more than worked. It went over my senses like a speeding train. Reading these 210 pages combined, I felt the pain, the frustration, the fear and it was as if I had a cold stone drop inside my stomach. My childhood was no cool-aid commercial, family dynamics were never present and boy, was I the geeky one in school. The details certainly are not identical, but the fact remains that there is kinship between me and Barbara. And isn’t that the most important checkbox a work of fiction to fill?

Kelly attributes human relationships complexity, depth and power, which I seldom find in either novels or comic books. There are no cardboard characters here. There is nothing to make your eyes roll or snort or make you think ‘yeah, right’. What you find here is organic, concentrated suspension of disbelief. And trust me, for a minute, I couldn’t tell what was real from what was Barbara’s imagination and fantasy.

Uncharacteristically for me, I will conclude this review now, because the more I go into this the more I will spoil your own exploration. I believe that the joy from reading stems from the state of being overwhelmed by a work of fiction and with I Kill Giants, this is a must-have.

Interview І Becky Cloonan

Foreword: I am a huge fan, when it comes to Becky Cloonan’s art, although I am not an active admirer as I should be. It was a dream come true to have the opportunity to take a peek behind the creative process of such a well established artist in her field [rather industrious too]. The interview would have been a bit longer, if January wasn’t as unforgiving as it is. I am determent to get it in synch with the event month and possibly have a follow up, when Becky is not under an avalanche of to-do lists.

The Guest: Becky grew up in New England where she failed science and had a metal screw surgically implanted in her lower jaw. Currently, she is a member of Studio XOXO, where she spends her weekdays drinking coffee and drawing comics by the Gowanus Canal.

Her interests include treasure hunting, trebuchets, werewolves and the Count of Monte Cristo.

Works: Burry Your Treasure, Pixo, Minis, 5, Nebuli, I See the Devil Inside my Sleep, Demo, American Virgin

Linkage: Official Website [HERE], Twitter [FEED], Ink and Thunder [BLOG], K.G.B [HERE]

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1. Becky, thank you for accepting my invitation for this interview. I am honored to have you participate in my Comic Book Appreciation Month. So, what hooked you on comic books in the first place?

Becky: I’ve always loved comic books, ever since I can remember. I’m drawn to storytelling in general- I love movies, music, books, etc. I majored in animation at school, but comics really call to me on a few levels, one for my love of drawing, and another because it’s accessible- you don’t need a huge crew to make a comic book, all you need is a pen and a pad. I also love the people involved in the comic industry, I find that almost everybody really loves what they do- because it’s so challenging you have to love it or you go crazy. It really is the perfect medium for me.

2. Because comic books as art format need to have a story that justifies the art to what degree does a comic book artist have to be a writer to his own work in order to practice without the need to collaborate with a writer to provide the story element?

Becky: It really depends on the person. There are many amazing storytellers out there who feel more comfortable working with a writer. Some people just work better with others. I guess it must help to understand how to write, but also vise versa- writers who start out as artists might think about their comics more visually, but there are plenty of great writers out there who can only draw stick figures.

3. How do you do what you? To me the skill to translate a story into a chained sequence of images is a mystery and there has to be some kind of technique behind that.

Becky: There’s a lot that goes into making a comic, besides just knowing how to draw. You have to be a good writer, designer, letterer, actor, director, you have to know how to pace your scenes and what angles to choose, you have to balance a page and know how to move the reader across the panels without being jarring. There’s a lot to it, and of course I didn’t get it right away- I’m still learning, I constantly strive to improve my work. The only way to do that is to practice, and keep making comics. Every page I do I try to make better than the last, and I try to look at my work objectively after I finish each story and think what I can do differently next time to make my work better. I can’t say that it’s easy, but I love it.

4. Every art form has its distinguished and unique terminology. Movies have flash backs and slow motion. Novels work with arcs and POV transitions. Can you mention a few terms that are entirely restricted to comic book art?

Becky:
I came from a background in animation and storyboarding, so I tend to think of my comics in that respect. Because of the similarities comics share with storyboards, there are a lot of techniques that cross over between film and comics, and writing too; but one element that a comic has that no other medium does is the page turn. I think it’s often overlooked or forgot about, but when somebody uses it well it can be very dynamic and effective.

Comics have a lot of handicaps too; film has sound which is effective and provoking, and novels have density: typically, one page of writing will hold much more information that a page of comics. But even with these challenges, comics have their own strength of combining prose and artwork that you won’t get from any other medium; the creator can control the pace at which the audience reads the comic by adjusting size and density of the panels, and can dictate how your eye will flow through each page with layout and design. Comic books are a powerful medium, and I think people are becoming more receptive to this.

5. In the Eisner award winning anthology “5” you have provided a short story, which has been illustrated by another artist. My questions here would be how comfortable you are in the role of just a writer and whether you would ever work on a series, where your sole role is that of a writer?

Becky: Actually, for “5” we each wrote and drew our own stories. It wasn’t until I worked on “Buffy: Tales of the Slayers” with Vasilis Lolos that I knew what it was like to write for another artist. I actually approached this story in a similar way as any other, I wrote an outline and then I broke it down and drew loose thumbnails. After that it was just a matter of dictating the actions in the thumbnails to a script. I tried working straight to script, but apparently my brain doesn’t think in words; I have to sketch it out first. I had a great experience on this, and I plan on doing more writing in the future.

6. You are also the creator of several online web comics. I myself have followed and still do when the chance presents itself to follow some. But how are the web comics accepted by the comic readers in comparison to series published by companies such as DC or Marvel?

Becky:
I think there is a grey area, where a lot of people who read mainstream comics will also read web comics and vise versa. But I’ll be honest; I’m completely in the dark when it comes to online comics! I’m learning as I go here. I met some web comic creators at a convention last summer, and they had never heard of Vertigo- so I gathered that there is a huge community there that doesn’t read many printed comics at all. I’ve only waded out ankle-deep so far, and it seems nice, although I don’t think I could ever leave print to do a full-time web comic.

I have two online comics- one is called the Comic Attack; it used to be a weekly strip about dramatizations of my life, but lately I haven’t had much chance to work on it so I just update whenever. My other is called K.G.B., which I do with my home girl Hwan Cho- it’s a weekly comic about a Korean hip hop/dance crew. It’s difficult because we try to make each page read well independently of one another, but at the same time they have to read fluidly as one continuous story. It’s really challenging, but fun. I’m learning a lot.

7. You have also listed that you have self-published a few comics on your own. I am curious as to how self-publishing works in this industry and how it is accepted by readers. As far as fiction goes novels that have been self-published aren’t viewed as something positive and are blamed to undermine the quality filters set by the publishing industry such as agents, editors and publishing houses. Is there something like this going on with you guys in the comic book world?

Becky: With comics, and the readership and fandom there comes this collectable mentality- people who are really into comics usually see value in something that has a limited print run, or is independent with experimental or high production quality. I think we can more readily compare it more to the film or music industry, where a self-published comic is like a band that releases its own 7”, or how an independent film might be crude and unpolished, but has the potential to be taken seriously nonetheless.

You have to remember that there aren’t that many big publishers, so job opportunities are limited. Most small publishers won’t be able to pay a creator enough to make a living off as well, so in many cases it’s beneficial to self-publish. I think most creators are drawn to not only the challenge, but the opportunity to create a book in its entirety. It’s very rewarding.

Elektra in Art

Elektra is perhaps one of the least clad assassins in the Marvel universe and as an 80s child [her very first appearance is in 1981] I am not entirely surprised. I think that she cemented her place in the fans' hearts with that memorable red number and not because she is that great of a character like say Psylocke [who is as minimally clad], but has more of a head spinning background. I may be wrong [please Daredevil and Elektra readers, prove me wrong], but the movie Elektra was just shuddering... However, Marvel did up her coolness levels with a few notches, giving Elektra a set of lethal weapon skills and a few years experience with the Hand. Searching the web, I even found out that Elektra has a few psychic abilities, which make me interested in her more than I ever was.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Interview: Holly Black & Ted Naifeh

Foreword: I couldn’t let the Comic Book Appreciation Month pass without few interviews, which would have come a bit earlier, if January didn’t work against me on all instances, but what can one do. You would have to deal with a concentrated spread of interviews. Since the comic book format spreads from the series to the strips to the web comics and finally the closest cousin to the novel, namely the graphic novel. I wanted to have a dual interview with both writer and artist of a graphic novel and voila, the result is here.

--The Guests---

Holly Black: Holly Black is the bestselling author of contemporary fantasy novels for teens and children.

Her first book, Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale, was published in 2002 by Simon & Schuster. Tithe was called "dark, edgy, beautifully written and compulsively readable" by Booklist, received starred reviews from Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, and was included in the American Library Association's Best Books for Young Adults. Holly has since written two other books in the same universe, Valiant (2005), and the sequel to Tithe, Ironside (2007), which spent five weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Valiant was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award for Young Readers and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature.

Ted Naifeh: Ted Naifeh swooped onto the comics and goth culture scene as the co-creator of Gloomcookie with Serena Valentino in 1998. Ted illustrated the first volume of the gothic romance hit before departing to pursue his own projects.

Ted lives in San Francisco, which influenced his aesthetic from a young age with its magnificently spooky Victorian houses, romantic foggy nights and significant population of Night Things and other fantastic beings.

His works include Courtney Crumrin, Polly and the Pirates, Death Jr, How Loathsome and a trilogy of graphic novels written by bestselling fantasy author Holly Black and published by Scholastic. The first volume of The Good Neighbors is in stores now.

--The Subject--

The Good Neighbors Series, Book 1: Kin

Rue Silver's mother has disappeared . . . and her father has been arrested, suspected of killing her. But it's not as straightforward as that. Because Rue is a faerie, like her mother was. And her father didn't kill her mother -- instead, he broke a promise to Rue's faerie king grandfather, which caused Rue's mother to be flung back to the faerie world. Now Rue must go to save her -- and must also defeat a dark faerie that threatens our very mortal world.

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1. What is the origin story behind the Good Neighbors trilogy? Holly, how did you decide to undertake a graphic novel project and Ted, how did you fall into the position as the designated writer?

Holly: I have loved comics for a long time. When I started working on the project that would become Good Neighbors, I was interested in exploring two sides of the story of Bridget Cleary. About a hundred years ago, she was murdered by her husband, Michael, in front of her family because they thought she was a faerie changeling. I was intrigued both by the horror and betrayal involved in a family murdering a member under the guise of helping her and by the possibility of the family being correct. Good Neighbors does not attempt to re-tell the story of Bridget Cleary. Rather, I want to have my cake and eat it too in terms of exploring what fascinated me. So that's how I started telling the story of Rue Silver, a girl who must discover why her mother suddenly went missing and whether or not her father had something to do with it.

Ted: My girlfriend was a big fan of Cassandra Clare's online work. Cassie knew my work on Gloomcookie, and in the course of their correspondence, she discovered my tween series, Courtney Crumrin. When Holly went looking for available artists for the Good Neighbors, I seemed like an obvious choice. So in the end, we all have Cassie's Draco series to thank.

2. Holly, what is the difference between writing a regular novel and a graphic novel as far as the art element is considered? Ted, what is the difference between supplying art for a comic book series [something continuous] and a graphic novel [a closed system]?

Holly: Writing a graphic novel does require considering the art as fully half of what makes the story work. The first thing is that you have to be brief - too many words literally reduce the space for art. At the same time, clarity is very important and a kind of precision. Much of the information of a graphic novel is conveyed by the art - nearly all of the mood and much of the emotional life of the characters - so I need to leave the space for that to happen.

I also had to learn to be aware of whether I was working on the left page or the right page if I wanted to set up spreads. And to be aware that the bottom right panel had to be a page-turner - something mysterious enough for the reader to flip the page and keep on reading.

Ted: There's really no difference from page to page, but I must say, it's quite a bit harder to think in terms of a 120 page volume rather tan 22 pages. If someone tells me I have to complete 22 pages in a month, no problem. If they then say I have to do 120 pages in six months, whew, that seems hard. Eight months is more like it.

Also, because this was a graphic novel series, it felt like more of a novel than a comic, so I was less inclined to render the characters as cartoons. They get wardrobe changes more often, and have less outrageous distinguishing design elements, such as Dick Tracy's nose or Courtney Crumrin's lack of one.

3. When everything was ready to go and you had a green light to start this trilogy, how did you approach the project? Did you slice the story into arcs and give them number of pages and was there an official number of panels on each page?

Holly: I broke out each of the books into scenes. I had ideas of what needed to happen overall, and to individual characters. I wrote each scene in a separate file, breaking out the panels as I went. I tried to stick to no more than five panels per page, fewer when I could. Then I played with the order of the scenes themselves.

I broke out the pages and scenes so that I could know how long the book was. Otherwise, I was sure I would be lost regarding the length. Any re-breaks that Ted or our editor wanted, I was happy for.

Ted: When I write my own scripts, I use a screenplay format and break the story into pages and panels as I sketch it out. But it's much easier, when working with a writer, to break it down to pages and panels, so that I'm sure both I and the letterer understand what dialog goes with what moment. You can mess up a comic badly by getting that wrong.

Every once it a while,though, I need to break a single panel description into 2 or even 3 panels, or I realize a couple of panels will work better as one. Say you have two character talking, and what you really need to get the emotion across is to see them touching or otherwise physically interacting with one another, rather than two juxtaposed panels of two talking heads. Obviously, the most important thing is that we all agree with those decisions. Right now, the third volume roughs are going through the lengthy process of review with Holly and the editor, so we all stay on the same page.

4. What’s the tricky part about such a collaborative project? What does the artist have to look out when working with the writer and what does the writer need to do to work with the artist?

Holly: The thing I found trickiest was finding ways that the images and text together convey the information needed to tell the story clearly, but don't repeat information that would make reading the book feel static or tedious.

Ted: Basically, as the artist, I become the director of the book. I decide the camera angles, the art style, and the acting. But one good thing about comics work is that it's the norm to defer to the writer's intent more than in movies. The writer frequently describes a character's expression in the script. I could ignore it in favor of my own ideas, but that would make me a bad collaborator. And anyway, it's my job to tell the story in the script, not to make one up on my own. Surprisingly, that kind of vanity is fairly rare among comics artists. It's more often that we just don't understand what the writer is getting at than that we want to do something else. But I like to think that I usually capture the emotional life of the characters as it was intended by the writers.

5. I few graphic novels as the perfect unity and balance between art and story, which have to complement each other and change to show off each other better. Did the story morph in tone as the initial art was supplied and did the art change accordingly to fit the story?

Holly: From my perspective, the story was changed in two distinct ways by the art. One was that when I first started talking with Ted about where the story was going, I told him the story and he said that the faeries had to win so that the town was covered in vines and faeries and he could draw them! So I changed the plot to make that happen, which made me re-think the ending in ways that I think made the whole project much better.

[Ted: No kidding! The end is really, really cool! But Holly shouldn't give it away.]

Holly: Secondarily, when the character art came in, I found that seeing the characters changed the way I thought about them. They became more themselves, if that makes any sense.

Ted: I definitely adapted my art style to capture the feel of the story as I saw it. I wanted to evoke a mixture of grimness and whimsy, a sort of gritty swirliness. But once that tone was set, that was where it stayed. Had I read all three volumes before starting, I might have designed things a bit differently, but not that much.

6. What are your future projects? When the trilogy concludes do you plan to work together again on something similar?

Holly:
I have a new series of novels about con-men, curse magic and mobsters, called The Curse Workers. The first book, White Cat, comes out in May of this year.

Ted: We have no definite plans to work together again, but I would be open to it. In the meantime, I'm excited to start a project of my own called Princess Ugg, which is a story about a barbarian princess who comes to a fairytale style kingdom to go to princess finishing school.

Batgirl in Art

I wanted to have this feature dedicated to Oracle as I know her from Birds of Prey, the awesome Barbara Gordon with a taste for subterfuge, strategy and traps. However, Barbara has had quite a run with fans as the amazing Batgirl [one of the many]. She is known as the redhead one [or at least how I can distinguish her from the rest, terrible with names I am afraid]. Anyway, Babs has quite a back story. She is the daughter of commissioner Gordon, a well known figure from the Batman comics, and her involvement with Batman can be attributed to pure random chance and Halloween. Now, isn't that fun?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Magneto in Art

I cannot pass this month without mentioning one of the ringleaders in the Marvel universe and it was either Magneto or Professor Xavier [and I, for reasons unknown, resent the latter]. Magneto has made his first appearence way back in 1963 and has had a few names, which confuse me to no end. He has been Eric Lensherr/Magnus or Max Eisenhardt in the god knows how many realities that parallel the mainstream one. The character has a dumb code name. When I hear magneto I imagine fridge magnets and that red helmet number does do him any favors, but the dude has direct control over Earth's magnetic field and shit you up with his pinkie in ways Wolverine needs weeks to get remotely close. Magneto also got his genes pimped by an Alpha mutant and he got the anti-ageing treatment that rich women over 40 wet themselves for, maintaining that villainous chiselled body, despite the fact that his youth was spent in Auschwitz.

Trailer І The Mice Templar Vol.2



I found this gem on The Madhatter's Bookshelf & Review and shameless stolen it in order to fit in my Comic Book Appreciation Month.

I am not much into animals, but there are some titles that pull me in right away and this one fulfils that criteria. Since I have not much else to say on this matter, read what the Mad Hatter has said about volume one on his blog: HERE

Monday, January 25, 2010

Fables: Issue #28 - #49 [Oct 04 - Jul 06]

Foreword: I am a bit on the sick side. Nothing major, mind you, but the cold leaves me tired most of the time and after long study sessions with a class I am not very good at, my ability to deliver content is restricted greatly. Reviews will come, at a slower pace and a bit in a cluster near the very end, but such are the hazards, when takes a plunge in an event such as this. Now let’s move to the final review of the remaining Fables issues I have.

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Right after the invasion of the homelands Fables takes on a more epic spin, which is an alien experience for me, because I have read mostly superhero-ish long running series. Politics, war and espionage on a global level are not the main focus in these series. I felt both intrigued and worried that it might sour the satisfaction from reading Fables [I am not a great admirer of the political intrigue], but Bill Willingham handled himself appropriately and continued to supply surprise after surprise.

Plot-wise Fabletown community undergoes several shocks to the system, when the regiment is changed. Prince Charming becomes Fabletown’s mayor, winning convincingly thanks to that magic charm of his. Snow White takes a maternity leave to raise her six non-human kids on the Farm, while Bigby resigns himself and leaves Fabletown. Their substitutes are Beauty and Beast, who have trouble learning the ropes. The new government in general is shaky with few highs and lots of lows. This is best demonstrated with the angry protesters in front of the apartment building, acting as Fabletown’s headquarters. There’s a general state of distress in the community. Allegiance is questioned, peculiar murders occur, shocking revelations come to light and unexpected relatives pop into town.

We got a saga in the making with all the works. Willingham is quite good at tying secondary arcs with the main bulk of the story, dispelling the illusion that coincidences exist, when there is war on the horizon. The best about these secondary arcs is that they act as character studies, giving a more thorough look into characters, which aren’t the leads and at the same time tease readers with bits about the world, the situation in the homelands. The best example here is Boy Blue’s rogue trip into the Homelands with the Witching Cloak and the Vorporal Sword that can kill in one swing.

Boy Blue is a nursery rhyme character and rather obscure, which is why I didn’t expect him to be so fleshed out. Even with his innocent expression, the boy is a virtuoso with the sword. His strategic command over the Witching Cloak is impressive and he bargains with the enemy with a cunning wit. The metamorphosis from good-natured secretary to war hero / undercover spy is spectacular. Apart from Boy Blue, there are other interesting discoveries as far as characters go. For instance I’m a fan of Frau Totenkinder, who was a kick-ass witch back when dealing with Hansel and Gretel, but her wicked ways make a solid base for a torturer with no qualms about the methods she uses to guard her territory.

After the Boy Blue arc the nature of the Adversary becomes clear. The reader is introduced to who the dark Emperor is [awesomeness’ sake I remain quiet about his identity], but with that valuable piece of information provided, the overall POV of the story can shift. Along with the good guys, we get to see what happens behind the empire’s curtain, its origin and at the same time this small peek-through-the-key-key-hole poses the question, whether the empire can be so evil… The devil is in the details, as people and say. And even if I have my moral compass straight, the grey shades in both the Empire’s and Fabletown’s depictions add an extra punch to the whole rollercoaster ride.

I can only assume what can happen next [I wish I had the following issues], but my guess is it will be one notch higher in terms of action, drama, danger, strategic genius and espionage. Up the ante, as they say. The seeds are there. The Arabian fables are in the process of evacuation from their homelands, while Mowgli is sent to track Bigby and return him to Prince Charming in exchange for Snow White to return from the Farm with her children. In the mean time, the empire has planted spies in New York City… The ingredients for war are on the table and I’m positive that Willingham has something incredibly jalapeño flavored in the making.

Verdict: In one word, Fables embodies the Latin word excelsior [meaning superior and ever upward]. I admit that I would have preferred a different set of lines altogether that would’ve increased my reader-y satisfaction, but I don’t fully dismiss that Medina and Buckingham as artists, for their work adds something retro/vintage. The arrangement of the panels, shaping them like cathedral windows and the tiniest tiny ornamentations on the pages create a special mood that recreates the magic from the well illustrated and children’s fairy tale books.

Social Stigma & Comic Books [by Graeme Flory]

Even in a city the size of London I’m pretty easy to pick out in the crowd. I’m not talking about my astonishing good looks either (although they are a natural obstacle to getting from A to B with the minimum of fuss and bother). Look for the guy reading a comic book on the train. See him? He’s reading either ‘Conan the Cimmerian’, ‘The Goon’ or ‘The Walking Dead’ and he’s me. London transport is one of the best places to really get stuck into escapist literature, being so bad that the urge to ‘escape’ is stronger than anywhere else! You don’t see a lot of comic books being read though. In fact, I may be the only person who is comfortable taking a comic out and reading it on the train...

I’d never really given this a lot of thought until Harry happened to drop the subject of the social ramifications of being a comic book reader into an email conversation that we were having. In Harry’s words, “Does that instantly make you a geek or whether social status upon what is read is pretty much a myth?” As it inevitably turned out, I was too busy reading comic books (‘Nemesis the Warlock’ rules!) to give the matter the level of consideration that it deserved...

I’m not just picking words out of thin air and throwing them onto the page though! Here’s what I think...

If you’re anything like me then the odds are that you were well and truly a geek before you even saw a comic book for the first time. My interest in comics sprang from books and films that I enjoyed and wanted to find out more about. Getting into comics was a natural progression really; if you wanted to find out more about ‘Batman’ after having seen the films then where else was there to go? (Bear in mind that this was years before I was able to spend hours finding this information online) From there it was a small step to ‘X-Men’, ‘Ghost’ (shame that one came to an end), ‘Zombie World’ and the stuff I’m reading today.

In that respect, being a comic book reader doesn’t make you a geek. Not at all. How can it if you’re one already?

Despite that, there is a stigma though isn’t there? It doesn’t matter about the story, if it’s told in pictures then people assume a level of immaturity that just isn’t there. They don’t just assume this about the book either; the person reading it is fair game. Again, this is in my experience (I’ve had this attitude off some people) but I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d had a similar one...

Comics are one of those things that are very much a part of people’s childhoods and it’s an association that casts a dark shadow over what they see on the bookshelves today. If you’re no longer a child, would you want to carry on doing things that you see as childish (although there’s a definition that’s open for debate...)? I personally would answer a big ol’ resounding “Yes!” but that’s just me :o) Hollywood also has much to answer for as far as this goes with it’s depictions of an ‘average comic book reader’ that can barely dress himself appropriately let alone interact with the adult world. Put these things together (along with the ever constant ‘book snobbery’ where people put down other’s favourites and raise up their own) and you’ve got a situation where reading comic books makes you a geek in the eye of the beholder. Not in a good way either.

So where does this leave us comic book reading types? Damned if you do or damned if you don’t? As far as I’m concerned it pretty much leaves me right where I was at the beginning, happily reading comic books on the train home from work. If anyone fancies peering over my shoulder and having a read too then I’m cool with that; I always read cool stuff and it would be great if anyone else fancied coming along for the ride.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog then I’m probably preaching to the converted in any case. I’ll wager that you don’t really care what some random stranger thinks of your reading choice. That’s the way it should be; I’ve always thought that it was more important to just read than worry about what it is that you’re reading. As far as I’m concerned, a well-written comic is as valid a piece of literature as a well-written book.

Keep an eye open for me on the train tomorrow, I’ll be the one reading ‘Nemesis: Book 2’ and not really giving a stuff what anyone else thinks… ;o)

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Graeme Flory: I can say a lot of things about Graeme and I have already said them a great while, but one thing you can expect for certain is that he is one fin Brit with extensive reading habits and a well refined taste for the written word. Also he is my evil twin. Check his blog out at Graeme's Fantasy Book Review.

Thor in Art

I am a freak when it comes to mythology. I have this warm, fuzzy and geeky blanket that covers me from head to toe, when anything goes to the topic of myths. I am god-awful at remembering names, events, so I am not as knowledgeable as I would like to be, but at least I have the passion to compensate for. This along with my undying love for super heroes cements my adoration and hints that I may have a shrine dedicated to the Norse God turned super hero/savior Thor. There is nothing better than having a millenia old god re-imagined and revived into modern culture and Marvel certainly went crazy generous with their goody bag. If you would take a look at his page in the Marvel wikia, you will see a humongous list with super powers and attributes that Thor has and that's only genetically. His hammer is one gene splicing function away from being a deity itself and we usually get Thor to swing it... What can I say more?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Zatanna in Art

Zatanna is another DC heroine I can't keep out of my mind. I haven't seen her in story arcs during my brief encounters with DC series, but I do know that I like her. She has been created in 1964 and is rumored to be one of the most powerful members in the Justice Leagues with magic abilities without a set limit. Her spells have a wide range from elemental, to healing, to psychic and beyond. I don't like how she casts her spells, because saying commands in backwards doesn't suspend my disbelief and does not add credibility. However, we have a woman with fishnets, a top hat and a wand, wielding unlimited power and a cheeky grin. What is there not to like?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Fables: Issues #11 - #27 [May 03 - Sep 04]

Fables seemed a bit too good to be true, but at the same time I understood what the excitement was about. The cover art is breathtaking and practically seduces you into thumbing it over and then there is the actual quality and consistency behind the production. Bill Willingham is still the creative motor behind this steaming machine. Even the art factor’s remained fairly stable and predictable. Mark Buckingham provides the lines for the main story arcs, while the filler issues are being illustrated by artists such as Troy Akins, Craig Hamilton, Linda Medley and Bryan Talbot.

I picked a certain pattern [the series inner rhythm, so to say], which suits me perfectly. Fables is a journey and every journey has its rest stops, where both story and reader can take a few short breaths, before setting off again. There is a main on-scene storyline and at the same time Vertigo provides readers with one shot issues in between arcs to examine further something about the Fabletown that has not been mentioned before or does not take a central role in the events, but contributes to building the atmosphere.

I have to say that this is a smart solution to a problem that is quite natural for a series with an enormous cast. Namely, giving characters and the world page time to flesh out enough to suspend disbelief and hook the readers to continue reading. Sure enough, the central string of story lines will provide enough about renowned figures from pop culture such as Beauty, the Beast, Blue Beard, Sleeping Beauty and all the Disney’s favorites. However, the reader would like some depth to the world, which can’t be summed up with fairy tale all-stars. This is where these filler issues come in, adding shades to the reading experience, layering the concept in our imagination and further captivating us beyond being able to not read. Such fillers include the final battle between the Fables and the Adversary, while the last boat of refugees crossed over to the mundane world, Smalltown’s origins, Cinderella’s double life and the Civil War adventures of Jack of Tales.

On-screen, tension rises high. Fabletown is still recuperating from the events of the revolution that bordered on a Civil War, but that doesn’t deter the universe from delivering blows after blows that may prove to be fatal. A Mundy [the regular non-fable] reporter reveals that he will expose Fabletown to the world. The reaction is lightning fast and resembles a brilliant heist movie. Goldilocks gets her chance to kill both Bigby and Snow. Blue Beard shows his true, treacherous nature and prince Charming plans to dabble in Fabbletown politics. There is death and unplanned pregnancies. The Adversary plans maneuvers against the fables in our world with a small scale invasion with Baba Yaga posing as Little Red Riding Hood and an army, consisting of wooden soldiers, carved by none other than Geppetto. There is a massive stand between the invading forces and all the Fables [from the city and the Farm] with fires, guns and spells flying around. Baba Yaga has her personal duel versus Frau Totenkinder [translates from German into Dead Children] aka the witch from Hensel and Gretel.

Fables is Disney X-rated meets 24 meets Alias meets Burn Notice meets Buffy… I can go on and on. The series has been written for adult readers, ’cause there’s carnage, death, sex and explicit language in high detail. Those that wish to remain their childhood memories as intact as possible at least as far as fairy tales go, I advise against picking up this series. However, for the other group of people that want their fables hard core this is a brilliant reading choice. Our own culture has become a thick catalogue with destruction, mayhem and all the risky, edgy deeds we wish we could do as a matter of stress release. From a psychological standpoint, our society’s structure and model leave us at the end of the day with stress, frustration and anger that we can’t find an outlet for. So, it’s up to entertainment with action in high volumes to bring up our adrenaline levels and get rid of our stress. This is what I call the good aggression in the same fashion that we have good and bad cholesterol.

Fables is in the good aggression category. Cussing, blood and violence have a solid share in its makeup, but beneath them there is brilliant plotting that demands the reader to connect the dots and solve mysteries behind who did what, when and why. There is a great deal of mental exercise involved with the aggression as an attractive side dish to the menu. Also, I think that Fables will prompt readers un-fond of reading in general to pick up folk tale books and see where the writer is coming from with some of the lesser known to them characters.

Verdict: Solid gold. I couldn’t have picked a better series.

Silk Spectre in Art

I admit that I learned the Silk Spectre existed after watching the very first Watchmen trailer and her costume did me in completely [and that scene, where she busts from the flaming roof]... I did the necessary research and reviewed the Watchmen comics and I still felt a mighty pull to the Silk Spectre, especially now that I have read Birds of Prey and have seen the connection between her and the Black Canary [which is the character upon which the Silk Spectre is based]. There are two Spectres, one is the mother and the second [the one in the pictures] her daughter, which more or less overlaps with the Canary as a superheroine. Both also rely on hand to hand combat and not on special powers even though the second Canary has that sonic scream thing. I would also be lying if I say that the costume does nothing to increase my interest... Just stating the obvious.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Movies + Comics = Steady Flirtation [A Chat]

I will be pretty dumb, if I host this month about comic books and neglect the fact that comics and the movie industry have been on an on and off flirtation ever since the former gained popularity and the latter discovered it was an attention whore. To acknowledge the connection between the two mediums I have asked The Book Smugglers [authorities on awesomeness] to have a short and not-serious/un-serious/anti-serious fun chat about comic book movies. We wanted to have fun and we did.
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1. If you see the cinema programs for the past decade, you will see that comic book movies have been booming, banging and exciting fans all over the world. I’m also talking particularly talking about the super hero variety. Unless you have been living in a cave, I am sure you have seen quite a few of these movies. Which one is your all time top pick and why?

Ana: I think I will have to go with Batman Begins and Dark Knight (I can pick two right? No? why not?). I love loads of Superheroes movies. Superman Returns is awesome, the old Superman, the old Batman movies. The first two Spider Man movies, the recent Watchmen, I even have a soft spot for Daredevil (shuddup). But Batman Begin and Dark Knight are just…awesome. They re-imagine, re-invent Batman and Gotham the way it should be: darker, grimmer. I thought the first Batman movie with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson was so good I watched it a gazillion times at the movies. How ludicrous. I was deluded. Poor teenager me. Let’s face it, Christian Bale is made of win.

Thea: Wow, ALL TIME pick? That’s a toughie. My gut instinct is to agree with Ana and go with Christopher Nolan’s take on the Caped Crusader, because, let’s face it, they are THE golden standard for comic book movies these days. The Dark Knight is probably my current favorite – dark, tense, terrifying, and wicked cool. Batman has his dignity back, all right, and no one can argue with Heath Ledger’s Joker (or Aaron Eckhart’s awesome Harvey Dent). Other favorites have to include: Dick Tracy, The Rocketeer (that’s right, it’s on there), Hellboy I&II (Hellboy, how I love thee so!), the original Batman films (all save the dreaded Batman & Robin), the old Superman films, Spidey 1&2, Iron Man, X-2, Akira, A History of Violence, The Incredible Hulk (YES, I love Bruce, wanna make something of it? I’ll Hulk-smash your ass!), Sin City, Road to Perdition, Persepolis, even the new Watchmen. The list goes on.

2. I agree that there have been EPIC WINS as far as comic book movies go like Iron Man and Dark Knight, but there have been as many FAILS in this category. Which one do you think is the worst movie made about a comic book series and why?

Ana : Dude. (insert picture of the Phantom). Need we say more?

Also we BOTH agree that although X-Men was a pretty good movie, Anna Paquin as Rogue is an atrocity. Character assassination.Casting fail.

Thea: Ok, in all seriousness…I actually LIKED The Phantom when I was younger. Yeah, he looks like a grape condom, but Billy Zane is so much fun in this role! And there are crystal skulls or something, right? It’s like a cross between Temple of Doom, Green Lantern, and a greedy Lex Luthor-type. And Kristy Swanson is in it (aka original Buffy)! And Catherine Zeta Jones! And JAMES REMAR!

I agree with the Anna Paquin hate though. She just really was not my Rogue.

But as for WORST comic to film adaptation ever, I’m gonna have to go with Batman and Robin. You know, I actually hated Uma Thurman after that film? I boycotted movies with her in it because of her gawdawful Poison Ivy. Other notable losers: Howard the Duck, Spidey 3 (sorry, hated it), Catwoman, Tank Girl, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Spirit (gags), The Fantastic Four films…there are a lot of epic fails out there.


3. I bet that every once in a while you read comic book series or graphic novels and I know that you have favorites among them. Which comic book series or graphic novel for that matter deserves to be made into a movie and why?

Ana: Harry, I would die a happy person if The Sandman was made into a movie. I know there have been talks. I’ve heard there were several scripts in the works. I know this is a herculean effort but if it works it will be SPLENDID. The Sandman is quite simply the best Graphic Novel ever for the story, the scope, the theme, the characters, the everything.

Thea: Gaiman’s Sandman is truly epic stuff, but I don’t know how it would fare as a movie. You know what I want to see as a movie?

WONDER WOMAN.

Come on people. We need a strong, beautiful, non-slutty superheroine. And who better than DC’s flagship warrior princess? I really wish the movie would get made already, all this back and forth is just so frustrating!

The other ones I’m super stoked for are the TV adaptations of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead (and as it’s going to be on AMC, with freaking Frank Darabont – of Shawshank, Green Mile and Mist fame – at the helm, I’m salivating) and Bill Willingham’s Fables. Both are series’ I read on a regular basis, and near and dear to my heart. I cannot wait.


4. The future is bright for comic book movie with titles such as Iron Man 2, Thor, The Green Lantern and so many others in production, but which one do you think will be the most awesome one and why will it kick blockbuster butt?

Ana: Can I say Thundercats? OMG I am dying for the Thundercats movie!!! Does Cartoon count? No? ok. Then, I am really looking forward to seeing Kick-ass, although there are no real super-heroes and I never really read the comics, but the trailers are really working for me right now.

Thea: Oooh, yeah! Kick-ass looks amazing! But I’m also excited for Iron Man 2, in the immediate future.

5. Here is something more theoretical for you guys. Should movies based on comic books follow the material closely [prime example is Watchmen, which followed the comic page by page] or should the scriptwriters be allowed creative freedom [examples are X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Catwoman] and why?

Ana: I wouldn’t say things are as clear cut as that. Watchmen did not follow the comic so closely (ok it did for the most part, but the ending, gaaaaaaaaah, the ending, nearly did me in). I am usually torn about these things. I think creative freedom is awesome but the original material needs to be taken into consideration as much as possible. I think that is the best way to go. Balance.

Thea: I’m inclined to agree with Ana. I’m not a “purist” by any stretch of the imagination – I do think that there are some things you can do in a comic book medium that simply can’t be translated effectively on screen. Watchmen is a good example of some of that. SOME poetic license is absolutely necessary.

BUT. There’s a huge difference between tweaking a backstory and modernizing a franchise (see Batman Begins), and completely going balls-wild and creating an entirely different character (see Halle Berry’s ridiculous Catwoman). There’s a line, and it needs to be respected. As Ana says, balance.


6. Part of why I love comic book movies are the spandex clad young actors doing violent things on screen and exuding primal sex appeal. With that in mind, who for you is the hottest on screen hero/heroine or villain/villainess?

Ana: do you even have to ask? Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine!!!

Thea: Hottest hero dude has to be Christopher Reeve’s Superman or Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. Hottest Heroine goes to Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman. As for the more villainous characters, it’s a tossup between Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman and Rebecca Romijn’s Mystique. Oh, and even though the movie sucks, there’s something about Julian McMahon’s Doctor Doom that just does it for me.

7. Imagine you can control reality and wish to witness a super human fight to the semi-death. Which two masked individuals would you love to see pitted against each other?

Ana: Can I fight Thea to semi-death for the right to read our ARC of Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr when it comes out???

Thea: LOL. Seeing as it is getting mailed to me first, it’s not really a contest dude. Ok, fight to the death…I’d like to see a good old fashioned, non-superpowered fistfight brawl. Something like the Punisher throwing down with Rorschach. They can fight for who’s the badder vigilante bragging rights.

Rorschach in Art

I loved Rorschach in Watchmen, the comic book, and I loved him even more in the movie, because he was cast just right and even had the voice I had imagined. There is nothing like a dangerous person in a trench coat and no face. It would seem that this character is an analog to a different DC character aka the Question, who also has this mask over his face, but minus the Rorschach blotches. There is no rush than the rush knowing that one of the good guys is as ruthless [perhaps even more] than the criminals they are standing up against. For that I crown Rorschach as the only character without super powers to make it on my list of WIN.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fables: Issues #1 - #10 [July 02 - April 03]

Mindless wander through the review blogs brought to me piece of information that there is a comic book series that starred all the fairy tale characters and more. My awareness that Fables existed built like a puzzle, until I read a guest review on the Book Smugglers site [actually a Guest Dare] and I got a detailed picture what I could expect from Fables, so I decided to hunt down whatever I could find as issues. The result is that I have around 50 issues [40 or so short from being up-to-date with the original run], which isn’t at all satisfactory, but I’m still young and a virile reader and will manage to secure the rest of these issues.

‘Fables’ has a simple enough premise to ensure it has a long, healthy run before a conclusion comes in sight. Maybe the series will even live as long as Batman with 600 issues and more, hopefully. The world, from where the fables originate, has fallen under occupation. With no alternative but to run, the fables hide in our mundane world to avoid death and enslavement. The human looking fables are located in the Woodland Apartment building in NYC, while the talking animals and all not so easily passed off as humans fables are located in an estate as far away from prying eyes, simply referred to as the Farm. The series is situation based and acts as the record of the fables’ lives in our world.

The ten issues I have read so far cover two large story arcs, which convinced me that the idea is a gold mine and it’s clear why Fables have persisted in the market. Bill Willingham’s name is one I’ll make sure to remember, because his writing is spectacular. One can tell that he is a natural born story teller with a vivid and unlimited imagination. The appeal behind having all the beloved fairy tale and classic novel characters re-imagined in our world in order to adapt to our world and then seen through the prism of immortality, is instantly magnetic. All adults, who have grown with the happily-ever-afters, know that real life is quite on the opposite, so to introduce the characters that set some standards on how perfect life could be/should be with not-so-pleasant grey realism is a double win, because then readers are hooked on nostalgia as well as the opportunity to see how well will these princes/princesses fair, when there’s no sure happy end predestined. At least this has been my reaction towards the series’ premise. The issues I have read confirm this theory for me.

What I loved was the reinvention iconic characters have received. Snow White is the woman behind the fable community. From a Disney innocent princess she’s become a frosty business woman, always in a suit. She’s divorced. Prince Charming is a money hungry Bohemian. The Big Bad Wolf is called Bigby and is the community’s sheriff, while Blue Boy is a secretary to Snow and Goldilocks is a revolutionary. I can continue with this list, but there is not a point to spoil your fun from discovering these yourselves and will move on to the first two arcs.

The series kicks off with a bang as the community is shook with the sudden and violent death of Rose Red [Snow’s estranged sister / part child extraordinaire]. Genre-wise this arc is pure detective crime mystery and is treated as such with issues titled like “Whodunit”. Bigby is on the case and while on the surface he seems to be messing around more than he is helping the end result is impressive. The reader is taken on a carousel ride with suspect interviews with Jack of Tales, the Blue Beard and even Snow White herself, while at the same time there is no corpse, no direct evidence and clues strewn all over, which later on assembled gives tribute to the best tales in this genre. I especially enjoyed the Big Bad Wolf as a detective/sheriff with timeless trademarks like the trench coat, cigarette habit, unshaved face and wise cracking mouth. It felt like reading through stills from an old 80s detective sitcom like Colombo. This impression is also left by the artist Lan Medina, who has a very classic technique, which is ingenious to the retro comics from a few decades back [80s, again?], though I wish I could pinpoint it exactly.

The case ends with a shocking revelation that the murder has been a hoax, conceived by Rose Red herself and her boyfriend Jack of Tales in order to get out of debt. With this blast-off I never needed any more coaxing into digging further in my stash. The second arc adds speed and momentum to series by introducing the Farm and the beginnings of a Civil War between the human Fables and the non-human fables. The politics have been handled by the three pigs, which aren’t little anymore, while the muscle behind the operation is Goldilocks and the three bears. Snow White has picked the wrong time to bond with her sister at the Farm and soon is prime target for assassination. Snow survives, but not without suffering a head shot first and making it only because she’s a beloved icon and the humans’ belief in her did the magic trick.

What I enjoyed here is the attention to detail and resourcefulness, with which Willingham has handled the arc. His characters are full rounded and compelling, even the antagonists. From their fairy tale roots to their modern incarnations everything is flawless from backstory in this world, to speech, manners and even clothing. Everything fits and modifications to the original essence of these beloved figures have been allowed in reasonable moderation. I love risk takers and Willingham doesn’t play it safe, willing to turn fable against fable and go as far as issuing executions to those that started the Civil War in the first place. Reading this arc was accompanied with a lot of ‘wows’ and ‘is this really happening?’. Mark Buckingham takes the position as artist and I barely noticed the transition, since his technique emulates Medina’s to a degree that the careless eye might notice the change after a few issues in.

Verdict: I am in the bouncing stages of pure, unadulterated joy. I give this series an ‘A’ with a whole lot of pluses. Can you believe that this is just the beginning? Vertigo, you amaze me as an imprint.

Those Left Behind / Better Days [Reviewed by Mark Chitty]

There aren't many genre fans that won't have heard of Firefly, the excellent sci-fi series by Joss Whedon that was cancelled after a mere 14 episodes - a travesty. A lot of people are in agreement that Firefly is one of the greatest shows ever to grace our screens, and as such you can pretty much apply the phrase: you can't kill a good thing. After the cancellation of the show we were blessed with a big screen outing from the crew of the Serenity in a film by the same name, and after that we've been given two mini-series in the form of comics.

I've recently read the comics - Those Left Behind and Better Days - and I can honestly say that stories of Serenity and her crew is extremely well suited to this format and gives fans of the show that little bit more of what they love. What exactly is that? Well, more stories of the crew of Serenity for one. Both of these are set at some point between the end of the Firefly tv series and the Serenity movie, and all characters are aboard for some action in a couple of stories that feel very much like an episode of Firefly in a different format.

Those Left Behind is the first of the two comics and is a tale typical of Mal Reynolds and his crew. With information on a great stash of money left over from the wars given to the crew of Serenity they decide to head off and see if they can get their hands on it. However, as usual they find themselves double crossed and in a situation that requires more than subtlety to get out of.

Better Days is the second of the comic stories and allows the crew an the position of finding an unexpectedly large amount of money during a heist. They get to relax and we see some interesting visions of what each of the crew envisage they'll be doing with the cash they have. But with an Alliance special ops leader on the trail of a Dust Devil, a terrorist left over from the war, Mal once again finds himself in a seemingly hopeless situation that requires the crew to get him out of.

Above all, these two comics are a continuation of the characters we know and love. It doesn't matter that it's in a different format, in fact the opposite - it's great. While Joss Whedon has had some input into this I feel safe in the knowledge that something I love so much isn't being thrown to the dogs for just anyone to have a go.

While the story aspect fills me with joy, the artwork makes my heart flutter. Seriously, it's drop-dead-gorgeous. While you could probably read the comic in 15 minutes or so it's well worth taking the extra time to savour the scenes depicted within the pages and see just how alive they can be. These guys have done a great job of bring the characters on screen to life on the page, and the one-page character pieces in Those Left Behind are the highlight of this.

I'm not a huge comic reader, but when I read something I have love for anyway in this format I can't believe I don't read more. I'm going to have to remedy that...

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Mark Chitty: My most honorable guest today is a an esteemed colleague in the reviewing circles with refined taste for the Sci-Fi modern publishing can provide. Make sure you drop by his blog: Walker of Worlds and see what it's all about.
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