Sean Maher's Quality Control

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Promotions Week, day three: Solicitations Day!

(EDIT: When I was done writing this, it occurred to me it synchs up pretty well with another piece I wrote, about how people best sold me their comics at the APE convention. That article is here, and the firestorm discussion at the IsoLounge that sprang out of it is here.)

Talking about internet previews yesterday lead me to thinking about Diamond's Previews magazine, which leads pretty obviously to talking about Solicitations today. I'm going to define this as the title, book information, cover art, and the one- or two-paragraph blurb that gets included in the Previews magazine, and I'm gonna mention several of them because, hell, they're short!

I like to think that I'm a pretty aggressive comics activist, at least with the dollars I spend - I try to find new titles and support fresh, untested books as often as I can. There's a monthly thread that's been going on at MillarWorld for the last few months that I started just to talk about indie solicits (here's the one for November, and the main Solicitations thread for reference). Every month I comb through the HUGE text file that gets released online and sometimes I read through the physical catalogue itself, always with my eyes peeled.

But here's the thing. I might get interested in a book through the catalogue, but it doesn't make a lick of difference unless my retailer orders the book. I've got hundreds of books to choose from every month, and I will probably forget about yours in the two months between reading the solicit and the day your book should be on the racks. So an effective solicitation is going to do one of two things: it'll be so mind-blowingly exciting that I'll e-mail all the ordering details to my retailer and ask them to pre-order, or it will appeal to the retailer directly. Frankly, the second option seems smarter to me. Any retailer worth their salt (read: the sort of retailer who will even consider taking a chance on your new comic) considers it part of their job to comb through the Previews catalogue every month. Me, I do it for fun - these folks have their livelihoods invested in being a good comics shop. So they should have their customers in mind, and if you've been able to chat with your retailer enough that he or she has an idea of what you like, they might be able to find it for you. (Isotope's James Sime did a great column about how he reads the magazine here.)

So, my point is that good solicitations will target retaillers first - think about what retaillers need to hear to become interested in a book, as opposed to what readers need to hear - because for all my "fight the good fight" bluster, if it's not on the racks come Wednesday, I might just forget about it.

That said, I do want to talk about what makes solicits effective for me. Amidst all this fucking mess (Christ, that thing is like a fucking phone book), what kind of stuff really knocks me out and grabs my attention? How can you make me remember you?

I'm gonna cut out some of the obvious stuff - if you've got someone on the creative team that I already know I like, if you're doing WFH and working on a property I'm already interested in, etc. - because that really has nothing to do with the solicit itself, with the craft of making those two paragraphs and - at best - that tiny little cover art into a powerful sales tool.

First off, get to the point and do it quickly (hopefully your title has done this already, but titling books is an entire discussion on its own). Don't open with a question, don't talk about the book's philosophy, don't use your characters' names unless they're relevant and interesting. When AiT/Planet Lar's solicit for 5 Fists of Science tells me "Mark Twain decides to save the world," for example, it raises the eyebrows, while if another solicit told me that "Johan Meyer, secretly the superhero Blast Off, decides to save the world" that would be dead boring and a waste of words.

Second, appeal to something I might be worked up about. The folks at Antarctic Press did a good job with this one, opening their solicit for Science Fair #4 with the words, "Yet another fully realized story in every issue!" Right there, my eyes stopped scanning down the page and focused on the rest of the solicit, because I like my comics to do something with every issue. This is of particular concern for independently published comics - I've got no idea when the next issue will be coming out. The track record is not good. If I buy #1, will the series just disappear after that? I don't know. One way to reassure me that I'm not wasting my money by taking a chance on your book is to give every issue the legs to stand on its own. If you're putting out an OGN, you don't have to worry about this, but if you're selling me serial comics, for the love of God, study the form!

Third, try to avoid genre references and the cliches they conjure in my imagination, unless they serve a specific, fast-actin' purpose. If your solicit mentions vampires or zombies, I'm probably done reading it. If your solicit mentions cowboys or the word "Western", you might get my attention for a moment (simply because I'm a little more interested in western genre material than in zombies and vampires, which have glutted the market over the last few years), but I'll be scrutinizing the rest of the solicit with a very doubtful eye - I've read a whole lot of really shitty western comics, y'know? If you're addressing a cliche with the intent of putting a spin on it or somehow making it unique, be careful about how you phrase it. For example, Aeon's solicit for 7 Days To Fame #2 opens with "Reality Television has finally gone too far with a new hit television show--" and right there I want to stop reading. Aeon has the benefit of coming close to the beginning of the catalogue, alphabetically arranged as it is, so I still had enough resolve to keep reading. It continued, "--where people go on live television to commit suicide. Soon, people are competing to see who can kill themselves in the most unique and exciting ways." Okay, now I'm interested! I'm still not shitting my pants, because I'm worried about reading a bunch of rehashed "Reality TV is stupid" jokes, but I do know I want to see people killing themselves in crazy ways. That sounds fun.

Fourth, and this one sorta comes at the "design" stage, I suppose, have a great cover. Yeah, that's pretty obvious, and again, cover design is a whole 'nother topic. But two things need to be there for a cover to work on me in the solicits. It needs a simple, clean layout that won't get muddy or obtuse when the image is shrunk down to the size at which I will probably see it, and it needs to be drawn by the same person or people who are drawing the interiors. Unless you've got Frank Quitely or Michael Kaluta to do your covers, just do 'em yourself for Christ's sake, because nine times out of ten, when I've picked up a book because I liked the cover and it turned out someone else did the interiors? The cover has looked way fuckin' better. It never seems to go the other way around. So if your solicit says "Cover by" instead of "Cover and interiors by", I'm gonna look at that cover and think to myself, "Okay, what would art half as good as this look like?" You're shooting yourself in the foot, at least where I'm concerned.

And finally - oh, Jesus, this one almost hurts to type, it's so obvious, but I noticed it all up and down the November Previews - DON'T INCLUDE MISSPELLINGS OR POORLY CONSTRUCTED SENTENCES IN YOUR SOLICIT TEXT. If you can't write 80 succinct, intelligent words together, I'm pretty damn sure you can't write a comic worth a shit. You don't need to get flowery and Shakespearean, you don't need to use big words - if you think that's what intelligence is, you're already way off the mark - you just need to handle yourself well. A lot of the stuff I see, I wonder if the guy who wrote it even showed it to anyone else. Really, this is important stuff, and I know 80 words can often be much harder to write than 8,000, but with that kind of focus there is really no excuse for sloppiness.

Well, those are my thoughts about solicitations today. What do y'all think?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Promotions Week, day two: The Adventures of Bio Boy

So, yesterday I looked at advance reviews, and wrote one of my own based on an advance preview Jay Faerber sent me through the internet.

Seems like it makes sense, today, to talk about Internet Previews that we all get to see.

Folks handle online previews a number of different ways; sometimes they just put up a cover to an issue, sometimes it's concept art or character sketches, sometimes it's final art pages (with and without lettering) and, occasionally, an entire issue of a comic will be made available online.

The effectiveness of this marketing tool depends largely, I think, on context. If I haven't heard of your book, your publisher, or any of your creative team, it might be hard to convince me to read a full issue of your comic on my computer. Reading comics on the computer can be a pain in the ass; scrolling down the pages just doesn't feel right. Sometimes I have to squint to read the lettering. And sometimes, if I read the whole issue online, the desire to actually buy it can diminish even if I liked it.

So, three pieces of advice to folks using online previews as a marketing tool:

1. Tailor the size of your preview to the awareness of your book that already exists. If you've got one or two really well known creators, you're not going to need a lot more than a cover and maybe one or two pages or sketches to really get me interested. Likewise, if you're brand new and there's no pre-existing reason for me to care about your book, make it concise - show me your chops, use your most exciting pages, but make the point as quickly as possible and then get out of the way - I've got an Ed Brubaker interview or something to read. If, however, you're right on the cusp, a new creative team building some decent buzz and someone sends me your way with a curious (or skeptical) look on my face, it might make sense to show off a little more, hit me with several pages in a row to show how you tell your stories.

2. Be careful of making too much available. It makes sense, for example, for Elk's Run #1 to be available in its entirety, because it's long since sold out at Diamond and it makes up just a third of the Bumper edition coming from Speakeasy. You wouldn't want to do that with a book that's still available for me to buy, because once I've read it, I'm largely finished with it - I don't re-read very many comics, unless they're really top notch. Also be aware of whether you want to appeal to folks with a dial-up connection (like mine). I know we're backwoods cavemen, but we still have money to spend, so take it easy on the file sizes, if you can do that without sacrificing too much quality.

3. Pay a lot of attention to the quality of the files you post. I know you've busted your ass on the pages themselves, but if the images on my computer are too big for me to download or too small to read the lettering, I'm gonna get frustrated and click that little "X" at the top right corner. I've seen a lot of publishers do this wrong, and it's really lame.

I was going to use Fear Agent as a specific example, seeing all the coverage it got on CBR last week, but I realized that would be a cheat - I knew I was picking this book up months ago. Tony Moore interiors with Lee Loughridge colors, written by Rick Remender on a crusade to make sci-fi comics badass again? Christ, there's no passing that up.

So I found a book that fits the criteria I listed above pretty damn well. It's called The Adventures of Bio-Boy, and it's coming out in September from Speakeasy.

The context here, then, is that Speakeasy has been grabbing my attention from the sidelines lately, picking up a couple books I was already reading (Elk's Run and Helios) and launching a really promising new title just two weeks ago (Rocketo). So I'm getting kinda interested in what these folks have lined up, but I don't know much about their direction just yet.

And then I find this preview up on Newsarama; it's got the cover to the first issue and ten lettered pages of artwork - it also mentions that the series is drawn by the guy who did NYC Mech, and I remember liking the artwork when I flipped through those comics. The link to the page mentions Speakeasy, which grabs my attention, and then the size of the preview fits pretty well with what time I'm ready to spend.

So I read through the ten pages. They're sized pretty well, easy for my sorry 56K modem to download, and they're pretty easy to read. The lettering's just a tad small, but it's not nearly enough to really annoy me, and the pages have some jump and dance to them, so I'm mostly just enjoying the layouts and inking anyway.

So, I finish reading all ten pages and I know this about the book:

* It's got some kind of gameshow, Running Man-style premise where contestants get points for predicting the awful shit that will come Our Hero's way.

* Our Hero is a young boy, maybe 12 or 14 years old, and he's got a robot arm that separates from his body and sabotages his efforts to survive the perils thrown his way (which include a giant squid and a bunch of hip hop demon checks called Latihfans)

* There are some funny lettering/translation gags with one of the alien contestants.

* I really like Our Hero so far; he seems confident and well-humored, and a little cocky. I'm put in mind of the characterization of Mark in the early issues of Invincible (that's two unrelated mentions in two days!).

* As I mentioned above, I like the layouts and the inking style. The pages have a cock-eyed angle and a frenetic pace that suits the story so far. It might get to be a bit much if the series is nothing but these kinds of scenes, but I've got a feeling there's a back-story we'll get to - it just wouldn't have made good Internet Preview material. (Smart choice, I think, to drop us right in the middle of the action.)

* I think it's worth $2.95 to find out if this series is any good, because it looks like it might be.

Right there, then, is an effective use of internet previews. Maybe my standards are different from yours - hell, they almost certainly are - but there they are, for what it's worth.

P.S. - Y'all probably already all check Newsarama and Comic Book Resources and Comicon PULSE for preview material, but have you noticed how many previews Blair Marnell has been snatching up for All The Rage every week? Just this past Sunday, he had a bunch of pages of Image's upcoming The Long, Hot Summer and Marvel's Colossus: Bloodline.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Promotions Week, day one: Noble Causes

One of the things that's had me pretty damn interested in the comics industry for the last year or two has been marketing. I'm not really very marketing-minded, personally - just doesn't squeak very naturally through these old gears. But it's been fun to watch what patterns develop, what techniques get re-used a lot, and what works.

So each day this week, I'll be looking at one of the ways that comics get promoted, and talkin' about what I think. I'll try and narrow my focus to one title or one promotional line, but I invite y'all to take the discussion wherever it may go.

Today, then, I'm thinking about Advance Reviews.

Publishers and creators will often send copies of their comics to online reviewers prior to the actual release date of those comics, and the reviews are meant to spread the word so folks will already have that title in mind when the books come out.

Personally, I really dig these when I come across 'em, but they have to come from a reviewer I trust, or from readers I know I share tastes with. I've seen them sometimes on The Fourth Rail (in fact, there's one up now for Smoke and Guns, which comes out on Wednesday), and that's always enough to grab my attention. I see them sometimes on MillarWorld as well, and if it's a book I've been curious about or I recognize the poster, I'll always take a look and give some more thought to checking out the book in question.

I've done a few of these reviews, myself - got started as a blogger by looking at Elk's Run #1, and looked at AiT/Planet Lar's Smoke and Guns a few weeks ago - and I've got another one for you today.

Jay Faerber's generously hooked me up with a full PDF of Nobles Causes #13, and his timing couldn't be better. See:

1. Just last week, I picked up Noble Causes: Blood and Water, the latest trade collection of the series, and the strongest installment yet. So I was already starting to wonder if the book doesn't warrant my support in serial format--

2. Then Jay hit me with a double-whammy, as issue #13 switches up the format of the book with 28 pages of story now (making the $3.50 price tag much easier for me to digest)--

3. And it really kicks ass, launching a new arc with several powerful character introductions (think Jumping On Point, folks) and packing a huge storytelling punch into every page. The cliffhangers (yes, they're multiple) are also great, and I'm thinking that reading this book in monthly installments might even be more fun than the trades.

Noble Causes, for those completely unfamiliar with the title, is a super-hero book featuring the Noble Family as its heroes. Writer Jay Faerber has approached this from the angle that being super-heroes would make huge celebrities out of the family, and this has brought in several fun thematic threads; some family members are PR-obsessed, some are cracking under the pressure, some must try to keep themselves hidden (or are pressured to hide by the family)...

The premise is pretty rich, but as the series has gone on, Faerber's relied on it less and less, allowed the series to really breathe and expand; the cast is now fairly large, but the characters are all sharply defined by the scripting (and visually distinct thanks to some clever character designs) and the book does a great balancing act with all its different elements, effectively acting as a "done in one" superhero universe all in one book. Those who enjoy complex webs of character relationships, and fun superhero action, but are weary of picking up every X-title on the market... this book is custom built for you.

So, issue #13 and its character introductions; it seems to me that we're meeting the Noble family's arch enemies - the Blackthorne family. We're given a number of scenes that follow each member of the family and build their characters with impressive economy and effectiveness (Faerber's ability to manage the juggling act I mentioned above is on fine display here). The family has a solid reason for their hatred of the Nobles, one that the reader can sympathize with - really, while the issue doesn't back down from the fact that these are dangerous, corrupt people, they're none of them really ugly, either.

Really, the cruelest behavior in the issue comes from Doc Noble, the head of the Noble family, acting in the interest of his loved ones. The issue - and I'm guessing, the rest of this arc - focuses partially on what men will do to protect their families, and it pushes us to evaluate where the line is drawn. There aren't many black-and-white, "this is right and that is wrong" moments, and when they come they stand in dramatic contrast and mesh with the more messy moral issues the story wrestles with. It makes the book a dense read, as the reader is forced to parse out several moral arguments, some of which are strident and sure and some of which are murkier territory.

At the same time, there are some fun action scenes that lend some levity and more simple entertainment to the read. Folks who've been enjoying the wealth of subplots in recent issues of Invincible will find a lot to enjoy here. The book has a less innocent feel, but it doesn't really hit the overwrought Grim and Gritty sandtrap either. It's a tricky, slippery book like that, and I'm loving how it keeps me on my toes.

Tomorrow I'll look at another promotional tool and see if I can't create an example (or at least a specific response) of my own again. See you then!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Teenagers From Mars: A declaration of comics war

I'm not sure just how long Rick Spears and Rob G have been working together - I know they're still doing it, since Dead West came out just a couple weeks ago, and Filler not long before that. My impression is that they got started with Teenagers From Mars, and that would make some sense, as the book has all the markings of new talent arriving on the scene with a fist in the air and a manifesto screaming from their lungs.

It's very much a first book, with all the naiveté and fire and guts and charm that implies. I enjoyed reading it quite a bit, and in one sitting - the fucker moves at lightning speed.

The story's a simple one - the fiery young comics-lovin' kids are Just Trying To Live and the evil, stodgy authority figures are Keeping 'Em Down - but the commaraderie and vitality of said kids is convincing and heartfelt enough to keep it feeling new. It's summed up pretty well by the dialogue quoted on the back cover:

"So, you get in fights a lot?"
"You always get your ass kicked?"
"Aren't you ever afraid?"

Honestly, I wanted to be condescending to these characters. I wanted to respond to the mayor on a rampaging campaign against comics by rolling my eyes. I wanted to shrug at the punk kids' anger, and think to myself, "Whatever, they're just punk kids." I've spent enough time on both sides of the spectrum to believe that nobody's got a convincing argument.

But I didn't need to respond to the book that way, and while Spears and G don't go out of their way to avoid portraying how silly the conflict can be, the point isn't about authority - the heart of the book isn't there. It's about sticking by your friends and never flinching. Take a lickin' and keep on tickin', as the feller says.

The earnestness makes this hard not to respond to. Several times throughout the story, one Comics Warrior launches to the defence of a brother in arms and it's sweeping and exciting and heartening every time. The nightmarish mob scene at the pinnacle of the Evil Grownups' war on comics is sickening and foul.

So this is an anomaly. My cold, black heart thought itself dead to manifestos of this type; I was ready to start dismissing Those Damn Kids as foolish and careless and dumb. What makes this book work - for me - is that it doesn't argue with me that they are all those things; instead, it argues that that's far from all that matters.

It's got a fine take on what does matter, and much to my surprise, Teenagers From Mars got me all worked up.

Enjoy the weekend, everyone - Theme Week returns on Monday!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Elk's Run: What a town without pity can do

Loyal readers will remember my hugely enthusiastic advance review of Elk's Run #1 from all the way back in March, but we stand on the edge of a glorious new day for the series and it's just possible that some of you folks are new and might be missing out on the series.

Well, issue #3 came out last Wednesday, marking the last issue of the series that will be totally self-published before the move to Speakeasy in October. Given that Speakeasy will be publishing a "Bumper edition" collecting the first three issues before moving on to print issue #4, I thought today would be a good day to take a look at issue #3 and see how the series has progressed since its promising debut.

To briefly recap: the series follows a family living in Elk's Ridge, an isolated mining town in the south. The mine has long since collapsed, and the townspeople have stayed on, building their own insular community and developing into what we learn is essentially a militia with a war on its collective mind.

Each issue so far has concentrated on the perspective of one of the family members; issue one focused on the teenaged son, issue two the Vietnam veteran father, and issue three looks closely at the mother.

Until now, the series has been on a slightly slow boil, building a sense of perspective and a connection to the characters - teaching us why they approach the plot developments the way they do. The son is very much a product of his age and upbringing, good hearted and afraid; the father wrestles with his guilt over losing brother soldiers in 'Nam and his need to protect his family - one of my favorite lines of issue two was his belief that "Revenge, when it's done properly, doesn't feel good. It feels like you're getting your guts wrenched out." We learned that this is a conflicted man who will not acknowledge his conflicts, because to buckle in such a way will endanger his family. He's a terrifyingly violent man, and certainly doesn't seem to be the hero of the piece, but we can understand where he's coming from.

Josh Fialkov's script this issue not only amps up the action of the story, with a vital plot point ramping up the urgency and bringing things towards a boil, but also introduces the first real mystery of the story - the mother.

She's a powerful force in Elk's Ridge, dominating the women around her and even showing a surprising measure of control over the father, and we see bits and pieces of her perspective, but much of her presence is created strictly in the artwork; she doesn't get a lot of expository dialogue or history - we simply see her dealing with the impending crisis and responding to the members of her family. Wry facial expressions and terse, protected responses to those around her.

So it's "show" and not "tell" with this one, and it's a striking twist on the storytelling. It's been observed elsewhere that this is largely a horror story, meant to terrify us with the implaccable force of mob violence and the darkness that can enter the hearts of devoted family men. While this is a sharp observation, I think this issue adds another ingredient to the pot and it's a good fit - Elk's Run has, from the first issue, been about approaching things from multiple angles, so using sotrytelling tools from different genres makes sense, and suits the story itself rather than simply engaging in the excercise of genre mashups.

The art remains sharp and smartly suited to the story, as well. Artist Noel Tuazon and colorist Scott A. Keating create a moody, slightly sketchy tone on every page, and the roughness of it creates both a subtle level of intimacy (as if the story were being told to you as a fellow member of the community) and an unnerving tenative quality, a tenseness that feels thick and menacing. We've already seen that the payoff to this tension is effective and frightening, per the mob actions in the first two issues, but this issue (again pursuing a show-don't-tell style) restrains the violence to off-panel, building towards what is sure to be a series of terrible events to come in the tale.

This remains one of my favorite indie books on today's market, and I encourage anyone who's missed out so far to catch up with the "Bumper Edition" being released by Speakeasy in October. It will collect the first three issues, along with bonus material and an introduction by Steve Niles, for a bargain price of $7.99. On top of that, Darwyn Cooke has proferred a special cover for the collection, which is just gorgeous:

The Diamond order code for October's Bumper edition is AUG053101 and for issue 4 (coming in November) it's SEP053086. You can also read the entire first issue for free at Newsarama, if you're the frugal type.

Give this one a shot. It's well worth your time and your coin.

And remember - pre-ordering from your retailer is good for everybody. It helps your retailer figure out his or her orders with less guesswork, ensuring that he or she will have a better stocked store. It gives the publishers better information on which to base their print runs, which is absolutely critical for small press. And it's the only way to guarantee that you'll be able to nab a copy of what you want. So, engage in a little comics activism - make the industry a better place for us all and pre-order books you know you want to check out.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Revisionary: Lovely visions of an ugly future

One of a number of cool first issues I've been trying out lately (Jesus, is there something in the water?), Revisionary #1 launches the series written by Paul D. Storrie and drawn by Eric J, and published by Moonstone.

The tagline at the Moonstone website is "Having visions of the future is no guarantee that you'll live to see it." The book is about a guy who stumbles onto psychic fakery as a way of making some extra cash and ends up wildly successful at it; he's a douchebag slacker who takes advantage of people's need for answerss (a la John Edward) and ends up finding trouble as a result. There's a supernatural creepiness that gets introduced, but it's not too dominant an element; it balances well against the noirish crime angle the series is playing with as our anti-hero eventually finds himself in Las Vegas surrounded by people he knows he can't trust. It's a well-paced story with some clever characterization and an intriguing cliffhanger - I'll definitely be back for the second issue.

The big draw, however, was not the script but the artwork. I know Eric J's stuff from his time on Rex Mundi and his shory story with Todd Livingston in Western Tales of Terror #2. I loved his work on those books, and he delivers with matching quality here. It's also nice to see his stuff in glossy black and white; lends a new angle to the style, and one that complements the content of the book perfectly.

I wasn't able to find much in the way of preview material on the Moonstone website, so I ended up tracking down Eric J's site, and it's worth taking a look if you're at all interested. He's got a lot of preview material up for Revisionary (scroll about halfway down the main page, he's got several pages from the first two issues), lots of other gorgeous artwork, and an interesting entry up at the top right now; he's considering the whole notion of artists "selling out," and describes a recent epiphany:


To which I can only respond, amen.

And, yeah, Revisionary - it's pretty good. I'm looking forward to more.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Rob Osborne: The hardest working man in show business

Normally don't post twice in a day, but I just stopped by Fanboy Rampage and found that Rob Osborne's doing free, original, full-color sketches for folks who pre-order Sunset City from Khepri.

The details are here.


Rocketo: An impressive launch

Yeah, lame pun. I was too weak to resist it. I wonder if they titled the book with that in mind?

Anyway, it's gotta be a short one today because I have double-work. But I'd be hugely remiss if I didn't draw your attention to an awesome new book released just last week called Rocketo #1.

Creator Frank Espinosa (together with co-writer Marie Taylor) has a hell of a neat new series on his hands. Rocketo seems to be an adventure series, but there's a lot more brewing in the pot. There's a complex web of stories within stories being woven in just this first issue; a family life is developed effectively, establishing unique relationships between the child and each of his parents before being seriously shaken up at the issue's end; we learn some hugely important bits of the history of Rocketo's world (which is basically a crazy futuristic Earth but without any of the predictable sci-fi elements), including a giant devil worm attack; and we get it all in a wide-screen style format (stapled along what appears to be the top of the cover) with artwork that actually takes advantage of the space.

The writing is solid and points to a number of really fascinating possible directions for the series without being predictable. The artwork is a swashbuckling blast that puts me in mind of some of Darwyn Cooke's stuff; futuristic and old-school at the same time. There are bits where the storytelling isn't quite as clear as I'd like and I can't tell what's in a particular panel, but it's not enough to really sully my read. The book's too sprawling and exciting and big.

Between this launch, and bringing Elk's Run and Helios into their fold, and my as-yet unsated interest in reading The Hunger, I'm really starting to raise my eyebrow at this Speakeasy Comics. They've got a previews section for a bunch of their comics (including Rocketo, though I'm a little unclear on the issue #0 vs. issue #1 thing - has this book already been launched?), and they're putting out a lot of books I'm really interested in. Where did they come from? What's the deal? It warrants some investigation on my part.

Rocketo #1 will suit any reader just fine as a first issue, I think, and I highly recommend you try to track one down. If you have any trouble, you can ask your retailer to re-order the book using Diamond Previews code JUN053157.

And I'm off.

P.S. - Randy Lander took a look at issue #0 last week at The Fourth Rail, for any who're interested. Just scroll down about five books. Or read those reviews; they're all for first issues of new titles, making it a pretty damn valuable page (third in a series, no less).

Monday, August 22, 2005

Small Gods: Big Pimpin'

Y'all may have seen me pimping Small Gods for a while now - it launched really strong last year and has only improved since, becoming one of my bar-none favorite monthly comics in just a handful of issues.

The concept of the book is that hightened mental powers have been discovered and scientifically proven, and that they exist on one level or another in about 1 in 100 people. This means that there are millions of peoples' stories to be told, and the book has moved to new characters with every arc so far.

Issue #10 launches the third arc, which keeps that trend going, and moves the focus from cop dramas and crime noir to military action and espionage. After their excellent work on the Small Gods Special last month, a great jumping-on point for new readers, writer Jason Rand and artist Juan Ferreyra continue the effort with an arc-opening issue that should be accessible to all readers.

The issue introduces Christina Fierro, an intensely powerful military assassin, and Michael Hanley, her handler. She hates him fiercely, and seems to be under the miltary's employ against her will. He keeps her drugged and otherwise constrained to protect himself from her powers, though he seems to have hightened skills of some kind as well. This issue, we see Hanley push Fierro into action, and her method of infiltration and assassination is chilling and scary; there's an internal monologue device Rand uses that I don't think completely works, but it does establish her disturbed mindset quite well.

The pacing here is fantastic, and the issue closes with a classic moment and a brilliant splash page from Ferreyra that really caps off an issue full of art that shows him continuing to grow and develop his style; there's an element of photorealism that sometimes makes me think of John Cassaday, but he's pushing his inking to be more impressionistic and shadowy, and his action scenes are getting more impressive with every issue. What drew me to the series initially was Rand's sense of dialogue, but lately Ferreyra's been a really big draw as well.

The jump from character to character as the series changes story arcs may throw off some readers, but I think it's really effective; what kept Peter Milligan's run on The Human Target so interesting wasn't the main character's personality disorder but the sweep across the world of characters Milligan wanted to explore through the perspective of the book itself, and Small Gods plays the same trick - just without the conceit of a voyeuristic central character. It's all about how the world would respond to a fundamental change in its own premise, and folks who enjoy that element of Y: The Last Man or The Walking Dead, but who are looking for a little more blood an' guts and more of an action movie approach to pacing, will find a lot to enjoy here. Intelligent, exciting comics.

Also, can I tell ya how much I love Trader Joe's? Everybody you meet seems to love it, but I've got a specific reason today: Chicken Enchiladas with Roasted Garlic. Best frozen food I've ever eaten in my life; it totally saved the day this weekend when I ran out of fridge food. It even microwaves well - doesn't get soggy or gross or anything. My hat's off to whoever came up with this one.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Great Crapper Comics, Day Five: Winners!

Okay, the truth is that these are all great books and deserve some time and attention, and it doesn't matter worth the lick of a donkey's dick which ones I give the made-up awards to.

I mean, come on. All of these entertained the shit out of me.

Now let's have a look at the winners! We had 43 incredible nominees in four stellar categories of judgment; who had the highest overall performance?!

I'd have to go with a Top Five format.

It takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'. Once you've read the whole thing, Preacher can be picked up at any point in the series and enjoyed for any period of time. It's got a perfect 10 out of 10 score for attitude, obviously, and while the format isn't anything special, I take no points off for being normal - besides which, as I mentioned before, each trade has a sort of "theme" to it, so you can tailor your read to your mood. And as for longevity, nothing's got it beat, not in my library. One of the best series ever, and really top-notch toilet reading.

Hard Boiled
Frank Miller stops pretending he wants to write anything except stuff that's really cool. Geof Darrow combines violence porn with porn porn to magnificently detailed effect. It's printed oversized without being too unwieldy to hold while you're havin' a squat. And the story doesn't make sense (or matter) anyway so you can pick any random point and start reading. Fuckin' brilliant.

The Goon
Dude, if you're not reading this, you suck. Plus, Goon will beat you. Eric Powell is a genius and the Eisner's aren't gonna go to anybody else until the rest of these guys put in the same kind of muscle and know-how.

Arsenic Lullaby
Found more of this on the way in November's Previews text file. After reading my first ever review here at Quality Control, you know how excited that means I am. Plenty of irreverent attitude, one-to-three page strips that make modular reading a snap, excellent re-readability and a vibe that makes you feel perfectly comfortable just leaving the thing on top of the toilet when you leave make this a great standby.

Calvin And Hobbes
A co-worked asked me yesterday over beers at The Bitter End, "Have you ever read Calvin And Hobbes?" I looked at him like he was insane. Have I ever taken a breath of air? Have I ever eaten a sandwich? Jesus Christ, of course I've read Calvin And Hobbes! Again, perfect scores in every category: Calvin's got more attitude in his hair than most people I've ever met put together. The strips are immensely re-readable, due in some part to the wealth of material available. The Complete edition coming out in October will probably be too big and fancy to read on the can, but the other collections are perfect and you can find 'em dirt-fuckin'-cheap with just a cursory internet search.

But like I said, this is all great stuff, and another testament to the versatility and lasting value of the comics medium. There is no other medium that fits with the intimate act of bowel-moving so well. I love comics and I love to poop, and that they fit together like puzzle pieces is one of the great joys in my life.

No, that's not gross. You should really be more mature.

There's a lot I need to fit in to next week's posts. All kinds of great stuff going on, fantastic new books coming out and cool stuff on the horizon, great food I've been eating this week and a general surplus of good fortune and relief on my end. I hope life's been treating you all as well, and I'll see you on Monday. Cheers.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Great Crapper Comics, Day Four: Longevity

We're winding up to the last day of the shittiest blogging week ever, and category four is ready to drop.

I've talked a lot about comfort. It's good to have nice, regular #2's, and a big part of that is reliability. I rely on my diet and my super-heroic bowels to keep me on a steady course, and I expect no less from my comics. That means some comics may be called on to help save the day many times, reliving the cycle over and over through many re-reads. Today's category is Longevity.

A lot of the books I've already nominated are gonna give strong performances in this category, so I'll try to hit mostly new notes.

It's also worth pointing out that a lot of great comics aren't gonna make it in today's category, or even give a lot of competition at all in this contest. I know it was good, but I just don't have any desire to read Jimmy Corrigan again, y'know? And as much as I love Queen And Country, it's just not a toilet book - I have to concentrate too much.

That said, on to today's nominees.

Beating me to the punch this week (as ever) was Jason Rodriguez, who mentioned the greatest crossover of all time, The Infinity Gauntlet. This came out when I was a wee little lad and I loved it then and I love it now. Jason pointed out the fourth issue in particular, when all the Marvel super-heroes take on Thanos at once and he completely knocks the shit out of all of 'em. Oh, it's a thing of glory. I was a big Silver Surfer fan in the years leading up to this, so it was a big personal payoff to see his greatest enemy the center of so much wicked over-crossing ass-kicking. This book's been released a bunch of times and has some crap covers and some good ones, but the insides are all super cool.

I mentioned it briefly on Attitude day, but Preacher is a long-standing go-to guy for my (at least once) daily plotz. I know the story front and back by now, but it still tickles me pink to read this book. And every trade has a distinctly different "mood" as it moves from arc to arc, so I can custom-choose which volume suits the day.

I also love Ennis' run on Hellblazer. Always cheeky, sarcastic, and stark. Plus, lots more gorgeous Steve Dillon artwork.

Another perennial classic is Frank Miller's Sin City. I've only got the first trade (now redubbed The Hard Goodbye), though I've read them all. They don't generally hold up terribly well unless you can get lost in the artwork, which isn't hard. This one holds up the best for me, though I'd really like to read That Yellow Bastard again. Marv's inner monologue throughout that book was a lot of fun, and I honestly think it's still fun. I also gotta mention Batman: Year One as one of those books I can read again and again, especially for the superlative characterization of James Gordon. That story made me want to hunt down all the Gordon stories I could find (and I nabbed quite a few, including Gordon of Gotham and Gordon's Law) but nobody's ever matched this great take. I wouldn't bring that fancy pants new hardcover edition to the john with me, but that humble ten-dollar paperback edition suits me perfectly. Best Batman story ever, that one. (Yeah, like I'm really going out on a limb there.)

I also find Jeff Smith's Bone to hold up really well under the test of time. Problem is, I bought the One Volume edition and can't really make it work as a turd accompaniment. Stupid, Stupid Rat Tails is a decent substitute, but this is one of those cases where spending a little more money on the earlier printed formats might've made me read the book more (see the huge Barnes & Noble collection of the first three Ultimate Spider-Man hardcovers for Exhibit B). Still, it's great stuff that you can still get in an outhouse-appropriate format, so it'd be a crime to leave it off the list.

Something of a newbie, I think The Walking Dead is gonna do just fine when it comes to multiple readings. Kirkman's doing the best zombie story I've ever seen here, and I actually liked the first trade a lot better on the second and third reads. This is one of the few books I get in both serial and trade format (under the silly pretense that Molly only likes to read the trades and I'm getting them "for her"), and I've been satisfied every time so far. One of my favorite books being published today, this. (I also think the consistency of their trade design is pretty neat.)

Y'know, this one is a bit of a surprise to me, but I just realized that I spent a full week before leaving my old job reading Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics on the company toilet. It was, I think, my third full read of the book (though I've referenced individual chapters here and there many more times), and not only did I still really enjoy its brilliant marriage of intelligence and enthusiasm, but it made for super-smooth bowel movements as well. I'd have guessed something like that would be too heady for crapper reading, but it came out just fine. Maybe it was McCloud's great decision to present the book in comics form - I certainly didn't have the same experience with Will Eisner's constantly self-congratulatory Comics and Sequential Art - but whatever it was, this is a surprisingly big contender for the throne. (And a book you should be embarassed about not having read, if that is sadly the case. Really. You have to do this now.)

I've still got plenty of New Comics Day gold to read (Small Gods, Lucifer, Ultimate Fantastic Four and the new Elk's Run all in the same week? Holy crap, what a great week!), so I'll leave you folks to your devices for today, but I'll be back tomorrow to judge the living and the dead and set forth a new Hall of Fame. Until then, avoid too much cheese if you're old and abuse the hell out of cheese if you're young.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Great Crapper Comics, Day Three: Format

Okay, it's time to get a little shallow.

Because as much as I love my Absolute Planetary, gorgeous oversized Cassaday art and all, I think I'd hurt myself if I tried to bring it to the bathroom.

Today's crappy category is Format.

Yeah, there's nothing really wrong with grabbing the usual 7" x 10" trade and sitting down with it until your legs go numb. But some books really lend themselves to the experience simply by virtue of the physical form they take, and I wanna look at a couple of 'em today. Come on, it's not the silliest thing I've done - it's not like looking in the toilet before I flush to "see how I did."

Not that I do that.

(Of course I do that, dummy.)


Jeffrey Brown's Miniature Sulk is a book I really dug a couple months ago, as any of you Bookshelf Comics readers know. It's a tiny wee thing, but it makes for some big belly laughs here and there, and it fits nicely wherever you want to toss it down when you're done. Fits nicely in the categories of Duration and Attitude as well, and remember - it'll all come down to high performance in multiple categories when we're choosing the winners.

I'm also really digging some of the digest format books that the American publishers have been swiping from manga. They're a perfect size to hold with one hand, allowing for uninterrupted reading if you need to take a sip from your poolside beer. Yes, I drink a beer sometimes while I'm reading comics and taking a dump. Yes, that's completely vulgar and disgusting. Yes, it's as much fun as it sounds and you should try it right away.

Anyway, some of the best digests I've been reading lately are the first "season" of Brian K. Vaughan's Runaways, as well as Mark Millar's run on Superman Adventures and some fantastic Dan Slott work on Batman Adventures. Slott in particular is so good, I think he might get his own theme week, maybe when his new Thing series debuts in November.

Of course, comics don't have to be small to be enjoyable to hold while I'm in the most vulnerable of states. They just can't be unweildy. A great example of "the best of both worlds" is Hard Boiled by Frank Miller and Geof Darrow. It's nice and oversized so you can pick up all the wicked details in Darrow's artwork, but it's still a slim volume that doesn't weigh too much. I bring my Love and Rockets Palomar hardcover into the can, somebody's gonna get hurt, y'know?

AiT/Planet Lar keeps bringing the contenders with some uniquely shaped books that work perfectly. I've noticed James Sime keeps a copy of the ever-glorious 1000 Steps To World Domination in the Isotope staff bathroom, and I salute his choice. Other good ones include True Story Swear To God: 100 Stories, which collects a bunch of Tom Beland's daily-style comic strips (very funny stuff), and Last of the Independents (mentioned yesterday), both of which open in a "widescreen" format, allowing for a lot of space if the ol' ballroom's feeling crowded and I need some flexibility in how I actually hold the comic.

A number of folks have mentioned the Essential collections that Marvel's been putting out. The benefits here are many. First, they're printed on crappy paper and they're dirt cheap so you won't feel to bad about exposing them to toxic environments. Second, they're all stuff that was written decades ago when comics writers new how to write a story in just a few pages. Third, they're all stuff that was written decades ago so they're completely ridiculous and silly, which fits nicely with yesterday's Attitude category. My personal favorite is Essential Super-Villain Team-Up (Dr. Doom in every issue!), but I've seen a whole lot of people giving love to the Essential Luke Cage: Power Man collection. That cheap crappy paper can come in handy, too, if you find yourself with an infinite crapper crisis.

And of course, I can't forget that there are a bunch of serial comics that make great reading on the can while maintaining that slightly disposable feel that removes the guilt from the experience. These can be mini-comics or mainstream 7" x 10" floppies. One of the best mini-comics I've read in a while was The Last Sane Cowboy by Daniel Merlinn Goodbrey. Trippy, interesting stuff, perfectly paced for slamming one out and just good enough to win the Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics, too. And in serial comics, I don't think I've gotta do much more selling of The Goon, a perfect book for this competition, focusing as it does on self-contained stories with lots of guts and attitude and making a great addition to my floor decor.

Well, it's new comics day, so I'm gonna head out now and see who my next partner in crime might be. Get some good ones, everybody.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Great Crapper Comics, Day Two: Attitude

Okay, so we've taken a good hard look at comics you can read in "easily digestible chunks," as my man Zilla put it yesterday.

But here's the thing. Not every comic that I can read on the can can compel comfortable crapping. I need a comic with content that is condusive to the act, y'know? Something relaxing, something with a brisk pace, maybe something a little funny. I don't want a comic to make me wrinkle my brow so hard that I get constipated, you understand. Intelligent is nice, but pretentious or overly dense material is just gonna ruin my shit.

Good crapper comics have to have an appropriate Attitude.

Almost every AiT/Planet Lar book I've ever read made great toilet reading. Look at the characteristics of most of their stuff; action-packed, funny, clever without being snotty. It's basically all summed up on this page of their website; most recently I've read Smoke and Guns and Last of the Independents, and both books made excellent company in that most solitary of places. Johnny Dynamite, all three Couriers books... the list goes on.

Garth Ennis is a master of toilet humor, and where better to enjoy it than on the toilet? Arsefaces adventures throughout Preacher were custom-built to the task. I could say the same of the balls-to-the-wall antics in Fury, The Pro, and pretty much every collaboration with the brilliant Carlos Ezquerra, like Just A Pilgrim, Bloody Mary (soon to be released in trade by DC) and Adventures in the Rifle Brigade. All jam-packed with grossout humor and gutsy attitude.

A lot of folks on MillarWorld have suggested Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan, and I can't argue (especially considering the prominent role of the Bowel Disrupter in that book), but I'd say his run on The Authority is even more apropo. (Am I using that word right?) Again, totally insane comics with lots of humor and action and plenty of spunk.

And who could forget The Ultimates? I'd lay money on Mark Millar having come up with a lot of the Ultimate Captain America character notes while on the "bog" himself, the Scottish bastard. Pure entertainment with just the right notes to make me feel like I'm king on the porcelain throne. I still think the first trade collects the best of the series, when it still really had something to prove.

A lot of Peter Milligan's stuff from 2000 A.D. is great, too. I was a little disappointed by Bad Company, having spent the better part of two solid weeks reading it every morning at the beginning of The Three S's and finding it funny but a little empty, but Johnny Nemo delivers in spades. I have to warn you, though - if you have the option, pick up the one with the blue cover (with yellow stripes, published by Deadline), not the red cover (published by Cyberosia and much more readily available). I've been told the red cover has dumbass printing errors and is missing one of the best stories.

In straight-ahead humor, I can't forget Arsenic Lullaby (my first review here at Quality Control) or the works of Evan Dorkin. Milk and Cheese and Dork both suit my bowels just fine.

Wow. I'm naming nearly every comic on my shelves, feels like. Could it be that I'm addicted to comics on the crapper? Jesus. I was about to write "I hope not," but then I realized: how bad would that really be?

Tomorrow marks the third category of judgement. For now, I really need to grab one of these comics and drop some friends off at the pool.
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