Review of Zoe: Out of Time

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Zoe: Out of Time, part one of four of the series, is worth a read for three reasons 1. great art 2. cool female protagonist 3. it’s self-published. Zoe is a story about Zoe, a teenage girl from the future obsessed with 90’s rock star, Trent Darrow. Her scientist dad invents a time traveling machine, and soon Zoe finds herself on a journey that may uncover the truth of Darrow’s untimely death.

A time travel comic, especially one that incorporates flashbacks as well, seems to be setting itself up to be confusing. Zoe isn’t though, thanks to the artist, who uses color to delineate time period–blue for the future (the “now” of the story), sepia for memory flashbacks, and green/brown tones for the ’90s. Santacruz drew the comic in your  typical superhero realistic style, but it’s a lot stronger than most mainstream work out there. Really, a lot stronger. The coloring is striking (props to Kramek for that) and the use of light and shadow, besides just looking awesome, suggest the emotions and personalities of the characters.

Zoe

…and speaking of emotions, there are no voice over captions in the entire comic! Alleluia! Zoe’s feelings and thoughts are expressed through the art and dialog. I think of voice over captions in the same way I think of voice overs in a movie. Very, very few movies do voice overs well (Forrest Gump is the only one that comes to mind), so most use a vocal narrator to compensate for poor writing (Have you ever watched The Lucky One? Yeah, it’s that crappy Nicholas Sparks movie with Zac Effron. It’ll make you want to throw up.).  Lagos and Michalski didn’t take the easy road. They wrote a comic with a clear protagonist driving the action without annoying caption boxes talking us through the scenes.

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And I should probably mention that Zoe is great from a feminist perspective, too. Zoe isn’t oversexualized and her actions propel the plot forward. While her teenage obsession with 90’s rock legend Trend Darrow is a bit stereotypical, Lagos and Michalski redeem themselves with Zoe’s explosive personality and awesome moped (also, awesome haircut).

Zoe: Out of Time is proof that great comics don’t always come with a big-name publisher’s label stamped on their cover. Zoe is self-published by the creators, and is a testament to the rise (and success) of self-publishing, particularly in the comic book industry.

When I got to the final page, I literally said aloud, “Shoot, that’s the end?!”

To pick up a copy for yourself, travel through hyperspace to Amazon.com or visit Zoe’s Facebook page.

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Review of The Order of Dagonet Issue #1

Faery Apocalypse + British Creative Types = A weird concoction of Crayola-color-bright art and witty dialog (or, in other words, Order of Dagonet, a new comic book series written by Jeremy Whitely and drawn by Jason Strutz).

I think my equation pretty much sums it up, but—if I must elaborate—Order of Dagonet is a series depicting the heroic adventures of a group of artistic (writers, actors, intellectuals) Brits who must save our friends across the pond from mythological creatures who have taken over Parliament (and kidnapped the queen).

The art is like—bam!—nothing you’d ever see Marvel or DC coming out with. It’s “artistic” (am I allowed to say that?) in its use of unusual panels and conté-crayon-like texture. The colors are bold. The lines are loose. The panels are more often than not NOT rectangular. I’m not surprised to see Action Lab publishing yet another risk-taking comic book with unusual art, but it’s always a pleasure.

The best part of the writing? Jeremy’s rendering of the varying British accents. I’m a major proponent of writing a character’s accent into the dialog, as doing so continually reinforces the character’s personality. Since being British is such a significant focus of the story, it’s vital the characters’ voices pop.

My overall opinion? This comic is worth the $4.99 price tag, and I have the feeling that for many this comic will appeal beyond the first issue. In fact a preview of Issue 2 is up here!

Review of Me Likes You Very Much

I like Lauren Barnett’s Me Likes You Very Much, a collection of the artist’s daily webcomics spanning from 2008-2012, very much. I’ll openly admit I was initially wary of Barnett’s plethora of talking fruits and birds. The art is sketchy and goofy and the novel is a motley collection of seemingly unrelated strips depicting inanimate objects conversing with each other. But Me Likes You Very Much grows on you very quickly. It grows on you to the point where you’re suddenly laughing out loud and handing the book to your friends saying, “This is exactly how I feel about recycling. Exactly how I feel.”

It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to realize that Me Likes You Very Much is a thoughtful commentary on friendship and relationships thinly veiled by sketchily drawn birds with potty mouths.

The birds speak what we as people—as friends and significant others—are actually thinking about one another. The characters speak candidly  (“I’m so sick of looking at your face every day” or “You are so boring. I am bored to death. Literally, I am probably minutes away from death because of you”) in a way we all sometimes wish we had the guts for. One of my favorite strips depicts a white bird commenting on a blue bird’s breakfast choice. “Bagels are really fattening,” he says, and the blue bird replies, “Well I thought you were a stupid asshole and I guess I was right.” Because we’ve probably all been in a situation like this and couldn’t react as honestly or as rudely as the blue bird (even though we wanted to), it’s nice to live vicariously through the comic strip. When you read Me Likes You Very Much, you can indulge in the rudeness and truth of the characters without actually messing up your own karma.

Scattered through the collection are full-page sketches of animals who speak in large bubble letters. These pages act as monologues, as the characters admit something brutally deep about themselves. I connected particularly with the image of a goldfish, frowning and thinking, “nobody loves me even though I’m effing gorgeous.” What may be so appealing about this sketch is the irony that a silly drawing of a blue goldfish could relate to a very real human concern: that we aren’t loved and that maybe we never will be even if we are the most gorgeous person in the world.

I’ve certainly seen prettier art, and I’ve certainly seen better technical use of sequential elements. But the art does what it needs to do. It complements the tone of the writing. While the art is no masterpiece, it’s greatest asset is that it doesn’t get in the way of the writing, something that happens far too often in comic books.

If Barnett can convince me in a matter of minutes that talking birds and veggies can reveal something about the human condition, there isn’t any doubt it my mind that $14 is a small price to pay for this graphic novel.

Interview with Comic Writer Rachel Deering

I’m a superhero comic kinda gal, but this is my second interview with a horror writer this month, and I’ve gotta say, this is stuff is great. Rachel Deering‘s writing is top notch, and the art that accompanies it is totally strong (perhaps even as strong as the  female protagonist of Anathema, which, by the way,–and I just figured this one out– isn’t simply a cool, creepy sounding name, but actually means something relevant. Look it up). Quite frankly, I’m honored to have had the opportunity to interview such a successful female comic writer:

Convince us, in one sentence, that your comics are awesome.

Following the age old advice of “write what you know”, I make comics about lesbians, werewolves, tortured souls, and fucked up dreams.

What is your favorite comic or graphic novel?
The Warren Publishing books are my favorites. Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella, etc.
What (or who) inspired you to begin creating comics? Why did you begin writing and creating comics?
I started making my own comics after repeatedly reading and re-reading the small stack of horror books given to me by my uncle. When I could recite those stories from front to back, I knew it was time for some new terror tales, and the only way I would get those is by creating them myself. There were definite drawbacks to living, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere.
If your comics had a soundtrack, what songs/artists would it include?
Sopor Aeternus & The Ensemble of Shadows, Devil Doll, Miasma and the Carousel of Headless Horses, and Hammer horror movie soundtracks.
You did some editing for the Womantholgy book. How does wearing the editor’s hat influence your writing?
Having an editorial background, I tend to consider all aspects of creation when I’m scripting. I can see the panels in my mind, how they should be laid out, where the lettering will go, how the words and images will flow together and lead the eye down the page. I’m extremely mindful of each element and how it will work within the overall composition.
We don’t often see strong female leads in comics, especially not lesbians, like the main character in your horror comic, Anathema. When you decided to write a comic with a lesbian lead, did you have any concerns about how it might be perceived or pegged by readers, reviewers, etc?
Not any more than I’m concerned about how people will perceive me. I’m a lesbian, myself, so I was just writing what I know. I don’t tend to think about my sexuality much. I’m sure other people do, and some of them may even work themselves up into a frenzy about it, but I couldn’t care less. If you let yourself get upset over something so simple and irrelevant to your every day life, you should probably just stop reading comics altogether.
What path led you to becoming a professional comic writer?
The intense and undying need to tell stories. I honestly have so many ideas rattling around in my brain at any given moment, I can’t think about much else. Day jobs were terrible because of how much I would daydream about these fantastic characters and settings in my mind. Eventually, I had to give up the steady paychecks and chase my dreams. Luckily, my wife has a really good job, so we have enough money to pay the bills and keep health insurance.
What was most intimidating about breaking into comics, and what tips would you give others who are hoping to break in as well?
For me, it was that nagging uncertainty that comes with most creative brains. Constantly doubting myself and my abilities. Worrying about whether or not my stories were good enough for other people to read. I was constantly telling myself to give up the charade and go running back to the day jobs. That whole thing has subsided a bit, but not completely. For others who might be in that particular mindspace, I’d say just keep working and turning out stories. Not every story is going to be a hit, and maybe the majority of them will be crap, but you’ll eventually turn out that one idea that really works for you.
Like many comic creators today, you used Kickstarter to fund Anathema. Can you take us through the process—from idea to publication—for making Anathema a reality?
It’s a dreadfully long story, but here are the basics: I was taking a shower and the idea came to me. I told some artist friends of mine, and they all said it would be an impossible sell. I didn’t listen to them. I self financed three pages of art and took those to kickstarter. I raised enough money for issue 1 and released that to the world. The story was well received, so I went back to kickstarter to finance the remaining issues in the series. Now, here I am, waiting (im)patiently for issue 2 to be finished.
How do you think the experience of comic creating and publishing differs for men and women (if it does at all)?
I’ve never tried publishing as a man, so I don’t think I could provide any sort of clear comparison. I would HOPE that the experience is not at all dissimilar from one gender to the next. I know I don’t think about what’s between my legs or under my shirt when I’m writing. I’m just telling the stories that need to be told.
What is your next project?
I currently have seven projects in various stages of production. There will, of course, be further issues of Anathema. I’m also working on my all ages book The Other Side, a whole host of anthology stories, a capes and tights one-shot, and a dark fantasy/adventure/humor series. Like I said before, lots and lots of ideas rattling around between my ears.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Don’t listen to the hype. Don’t believe anything anyone tells you. Every single person makes their own way in life and uses experiences and lessons in a different way. If you’re trying to live your life by the mistakes and successes of another person, you’re almost certain to fail. Or come out the other side a copy-cat, which is probably worse than failure. Be yourself and tell the stories only you can tell.

Review and Rating of The End Is Totally Nigh

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: what’s better than a kick-ass comic book with a strong female lead? How ‘bout a kick-ass comic book with a strong female lead written by a woman and featuring demons, pistols, and bottles of liquor? Let me introduce you to The End Is Totally Nigh, a comic book written by Kara Barrett, who I interviewed several weeks back. This comic is a black and white cocktail of horror, western, and manga. Let me elaborate:

The story begins with witty narration and a full-on splash page depicting a horde of demons emerging from some netherworld to overtake our real world. We are first introduced to our main character, Jane, as she muses about the fate of the world while taking a swig out of what looks like a bottle of whisky. At this point, I’m interested because what I see is some cool western elements (the style of the town, the whisky, the duel-equse pose between Jane and an unnamed antagonist) combined with manga-inspired artwork (dewy eyes, lines galore, and, of course, the lack of color).

And then the horror element arrives. We are taken back in time to one of Jane’s first missions as a demon expert. The setting is a middle school in the “boonies.” And the demon has possessed a little girl.  Here, we are introduced to what might be the beginnings of a team: a cigarette-smoking priest, a guy who calls himself Cowboy, and their snappy leader Grace. Teams are always fun (if you didn’t see the Avengers movie, what are you doing reading this blog?), so I’m hopeful for this team’s evolution in issues to come.

Overall, the art is cool. I like it. It’s also smart. See Page two, panel two for some awesome composition. Plus, the creators aren’t afraid to experiment with unique angles.  The writing is witty and interesting. I already have a feel for Jane’s character, and I’ve only known her for 25 pages. Although I was a bit confused at some points, the cliffhanger ending has me wanting more.

 The End Is Totally Nigh will be available soon. In the meantime, check out the Facebook page and a free web version of Issue #1.

UPDATE: The End Is Totally Nigh has been picked up by Alterna Comics for their digital line up. Issues will be up on comixology later this summer. 

 % Panels Devoted to Women

Probably close to 95%, especially since the demon has possessed a little girl who gets more than a few full-panels to herself.

Women in Action

 ★★★Women often participate in plot-moving action.

Jane’s the main protagonist after all.

Women as Leaders

★★★Women often lead the other characters.

The team’s leader is a woman, and Jane does some leading herself.

Women as Sex Objects

★★★Women are depicted as sexy (or their sex is not emphasized at all), but their allure does not define their purpose as a prominent, plot-moving character in the comic.

Jane’s cute, no doubt, but it’s clear that her actions speak stronger than her appearance. She’s compared to a girl scout by one of the other characters, but her unique demon fighting abilities prove she’s a lot more than she appears.

Men Deviating from Male Stereotypes

★ ★ Men sometimes deviate from the male stereotypes of a logical mind, rationality, lack of expression and empathy.

One of the guys calls himself Cowboy. The priest is kind of a hard ass. I don’t see any guys acting apart from society’s expectations, at least not yet.

Review & Rating of Jack Hammer, Issue #1

Book One: Political Science, Part One

By Barrows and Ionic

Publisher: Action Lab Comics

Jack Hammer is a crime noir style comic book with a unique superhero twist, reminding me a little bit of both Watchmen and X-Men as well as the new series Fatale. The crime noir style comes out most evidently in the storyline, which centers around a self-employed detective, Jack Hammer, who—and here is were things get unique—has a superhuman activities license. The dramatic silhouettes, the clothing style of the characters, and even the dialog nod to crime noir. And while I’m a fan of crime noir, even as it is attempted today in comics like Fatale, I’m not completely sure if Jack Hammer makes it work. The first issue does little to define itself as a unique noir comic, one that borrows the elements of traditional crime noir and shapes them into a unique story. The concept of people with superpowers kicking butt in this noir world, however, does intrigue me, and I’m hoping that Jack Hammer’s world continues to develop in a unique way with issues following

The art is perhaps more compelling than the storyline.  Reds are a prominent color throughout, while sepia-toned flashbacks make for a dynamic read. I’m most compelled by the “sketchiness” of the lines, something I haven’t seen before in a superhero comic. The artwork infuses into the story a tone and attitude (fast-paced, urban, rough) that is trying desperately to match a storyline that still hasn’t come into its own.

Ultimately, I have high hopes for the future of Jack Hammer, as the story—hopefully—begins to define itself as a unique twist on the noir style.  If you are a crime noir fan who also enjoys the superhero genre, it’s worth a read no doubt. You can pre-order a copy here:

% Panels Devoted to Women

23%

Women in Action

★ ★ Women occasionally participate in plot-moving action.

We’ve got a couple of apparently important women in the story, but it remains to be seen if they truly are big players.

Women as Leaders

★ ★ Women depicted occasionally as leaders.

Women as Sex Objects

★★★Women are depicted as sexy (or their sex is not emphasized at all), but their allure does not define their purpose as a prominent, plot-moving character in the comic.

I’m happy to give Jack Hammer three stars for this point. There are only a couple of important female characters thus far, and while they are certainly attractive, their sex isn’t overemphasized.

Men Deviating from Male Stereotypes

★ Men never express their emotions; they engage is mostly physical action. They are depicted as logical and apathetic. 

It’s a crime noir comic that mostly sticks to the stereotypical rough and gruff detective character.

Review of Superman on the Couch


By Amanda Trainor, Contributing Writer

“Look! Up in the sky! It’s…YOU!”

–Danny Fingeroth

When I decided to study the comic book “culture” for a government class term paper, I took the ever-controversial Ruth Benedict approach: I researched and studied a topic that was completely foreign to me. My extent of comic book reading went so far as the love-triangle among Betty, Veronica, and Archie (I know, pathetic). I decided to begin my journey with a few easy reads, one of them being Superman on the Couch: What Superheroes Really Tell Us about Ourselves and Our Society by Danny Fingeroth. I wanted to know why we need superheroes in the first place and how much they reflect our own ideas of good vs. evil; this book definitely surpassed my expectations.

So what stands out about Superman on the Couch?

  • The author, Danny Fingeroth has over two decades of experience working with Marvel Comics and his book even includes a forward by Stan Lee.  If that’s not credibility, I don’t know what is!
  • I had never thought about it, but as a society we need and yearn for superheroes and their achievements.
  • Fingeroth covers a wide range of topics such as the dual-identity we all posses, family structure, females in comic books (including a section about Gloria Steinem!), and why we need super villains.
  • It’s always a breath of fresh air to learn about society and the human psyche in a non-academic context, so why not by way of comic books?
  • Whether you are new to the comic book world as I am, or you have been enjoying them for years, this is a worthwhile read.

Most importantly, Superman on the Couch forces us to question why we idolize certain figures.  Do you look up to someone because they have so much more potential than the common individual? Or maybe you believe that while you and your favorite superhero may have the same potential, they do a much better job of reaching it? It could also be, (and this will really make you think) we subconsciously choose heroes based on the theory that a hero embodies what we believe is best in ourselves” (Fingeroth). Classic American superheroes such as Superman and Captain America clearly embody the values our society holds in high esteem: do your heroes do the same for you?

Amanda is an international relations and Spanish major who is interested in the non-profit field, specifically in sexual education and awareness.  She enjoys analyzing the role comic-books play in Japan and the United States.