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!

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Interview with Comic Artist Chad Cicconi

Chad Cicconi is one of those comic artists whose work you can easily identify, like a sharply dressed French man in a police line up of beggars. What I’m trying to get as is he’s got a cool, distinct (and dare I say, somewhat cartoony?) style that sets his work apart from the “typical” superhero stuff. His probably most well known comic work has been with Fracture, a superhero comic with a twist. I’ve been lucky enough to interview Chad, and so now you, too, can learn a thing or two about living the life of a successful comic book artist:

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

If you like action-packed, thought provoking, funny, and brilliantly-drawn comics, you will love FRACTURE from Action Lab.

What is your favorite comic or graphic novel?
Other than my own work, of course, my all time favorite graphic novel is the original Marvel She-Hulk graphic novel from the late 1970’s featuring the best John Byrne art I’ve ever seen.
What (or who) inspired you to begin creating comics? Why did you begin writing and creating comics?
I’ve been a doodler my whole life, as well as a comic reader.  I’ve always wanted to try my hand at creating comics, but only got the courage to do so in the last six or seven years.  I only wish I’d done it much earlier.  In terms of my art inspirations, I’ve been strongly influenced by artists such as Art Adams, John Byrne, Kevin Maguire, Adam Hughes, and more recently, Stuart Immonen. 
If your comics had a soundtrack, what songs/artists would it include?
I’m going obscure 80’s on you here —
Swing out Sister – Break Out, Twilight World
Other artists — Chieftans, Basia, Howard Jones, James Taylor, Save Ferris, Aquabats
Tell me about  “Fracture.”
One man’s descent into madness as he slowly discovers he has multiple personalities — one of which is a supervillain, intent on destroying the city’s greatest hero, and the other of which is… wait for it … the city’s greatest hero.  The story follows the main character’s attempts to save himself without losing his grip on reality.
What path led you to becoming a professional comic artist? What was your experience with comics before taking this position?
As someone who loves to draw, and who has been a comic book reader for as long as I can remember, drawing comics was pretty much inevitable for me.  That I’m able to do so at a level where someone other than me wants to read them is just icing on the cake.  I’ve been working on drawing comics “professionally” since about 2006.  Before becoming the artist for FRACTURE, I drew a book called Mercury & the Murd for another independent comic publisher called PKD media, and prior to that, I drew a comic called “Baby Boomers” for Markosia, a comic company in the UK.  “Baby Boomers” was my first published work.
What was most intimidating about breaking into comics, and what tips would you give others who are hoping to break in as well?
As with many things, the first step is the most scary and intimidating.  Putting your own work out for someone else to see, rate, review and potentially criticize is a frightening thing, but it’s essential to do in order to become a comic artist.  So the best advice I can give anyone else is to draw as much as you can, learn as much as you can, and get your work out there, either in print or on the web.
What advice would you give other aspiring comic artists and writers in regards to getting their stuff published?
Just get your work out there.  The barriers to “publishing” are lower than they have ever been.  A writer or artist can create comics and publish them in small print runs or via the webcomic form, with little money or assistance from others.  And this is a good way to get your work in front of others who might want to work with you on other projects or to publish your stuff to a wider audience.  Don’t wait for someone else to “discover” you.  Get out there and do it yourself.
How do you think the experience of comic creating and publishing differs for men and women (if it does at all)?
As a male comic creator, I can obviously only speak from my experience.  I’ve been lucky enough to work with a number of talented female creators, both in my own projects, and as part of Action Lab Entertainment.  I know (or at least I hope) the opportunities for female creators are out there, and increasing, but I’m not naive enough to think that there’s an equal playing field yet.
What is your next project?
I’m hard at work on FRACTURE volume II, which is currently scheduled for a release sometime in 2013.  This will be a 4-issue story arc, and will take our main character even deeper into his own psyche.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Only that it’s been great fun so far working with Shawn Gabborin (the writer of FRACTURE) and all of my colleagues at Action Lab.  In addition to FRACTURE, I’ve also been involved to a minor extent in helping to put out the other titles that have been released in the last year or so by Action Lab.

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 and Rating of Princeless

Princeless appeals to all my feminist sensibilities. And while I’ve thus far made an attempt to keep these sensibilities out of my reviews (and into the ratings), I’m breaking my rule (But really, I named my blog Ms.Comix. Perhaps quiet feminism wasn’t ever in the plans). So here’s the compromise. Let me first present you with an analytical review of Princeless. Then, allow me to unleash the feminist. Deal?

Princeless conveys its main plot quite explicitly in its name alone. A young woman, a princess named Adrienne, is locked away in a tall tower. But she’s unlike the princesses of your typical fairytale. Adrienne decides she doesn’t want to wait around for a prince, so she befriends the dragon guarding her tower and saves herself. Now, she’s on a quest to save all her sisters.

The plot is unique (I’ve certainly never read anything like it before), but the concept of a fairytale parody (think Enchanted) is borderline cliché.  However, this cliché is forgiven pretty quickly, as the art compels. The lively yet cool color pallet sets a tone in accordance with the pithy, light writing style. The large panels, sometimes full page in size, create a more casual reading experience.

What I enjoy most about Princeless is the characterization. Adrienne is the kick-butt type, and it works. She’s loud, opinionated, and clever. And she’s surrounded by an equally dynamic cast—a prince who seems to have a thing for frogs, a brother who enjoys the beauty of words, and a girlfriend who is half dwarf and can wield an impossibly massive hammer. In short, the characters of Princeless are not cardboard cutouts or anything close to it.

Expect a pleasant ride when you pick up issue one (and don’t expect you’ll be content to stop there!). Princeless is enjoyable, casual, and simple enough for children yet profound enough to touch upon issues most comics simply ignore.

And that’s where the feminist comes in.

Here’s my thought process when it comes to fiction: A writer has the power to shape an alternate reality. She has the ability to create a better world, to not take the real world’s social conventions as a given. A writer has the power to undo stereotypes. Yet, very few writers of fiction recognize this power.

I have read far too many fantasies that accept society’s stereotypes as given.  If you have the chance to create a whole new world, why are your female characters old hags, bitchy villains, innocent young lovers, or caring mothers?  (If you need an example, read the Eragon series. Why are the village women always so…domesticated?) Why not seize upon this opportunity to cast women in nuanced roles that more accurately portray their potential, roles that denounce the stereotypes of a patriarchal society?

Princeless, happily, does seize this opportunity. Princeless (perhaps even to the point of potentially harming its plot and characterization) constantly questions women’s role in this fantasy world.

“I don’t need a hero or a prince or anyone else!” states Adrienne.  And when presented with the so-called armor (e.g. chainmail bikinis) of a woman warrior, the princess declares what women in the real world (and especially women who read comics!) so often believe, “Just because I have a woman’s body doesn’t mean I have to show it to everyone! Especially if I’m on a quest. Why can’t I just be a hero?”

I want my little sister to read this comic. I want my future daughter to read this comic. I want you to go out and read this comic and then go out and read this comic to the little girl or boy in your life.

Let’s start undoing stereotypes!

Princeless is currently available through Diamond (in stores everywhere!).  Additionally, it is available digitally on graphic.ly at http://graphicly.com/search?q=princeless.

% Panels Devoted to Women

Okay, I’m not counting. Too many. (Don’t you love when that happens?). Let’s say…98%.

Women in Action

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

Um, yeah, like constantly.

Women as Leaders

★★★Women often lead the other characters.

Ditto. 

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.

Adrienne’s a pretty girl. That’s all there is to it. She’s not oversexualized at all. (Expect, of course, when she has to wear a Wonder-Woman-esque outfit and is catcalled by some of the king’s men. But that was to make a point.)

Men Deviating from Male Stereotypes

★★★Men deviate dramatically from the male stereotype. They express their emotions, use creativity, and think of others.

Adrienne’s brother for example. Can’t swing a sword to save his life, but he knows a good book when he sees one.