There’s a really good interview over at Dork Shelf with the folks behind Fair Page Rates, who are trying to catalog data about page rates in comics. To give a brief rundown: Comics have been unfair to freelancers since they started, and page rates have remained largely stagnant since the ‘70s. Fair Page Rate, in addition to airing what’s usually closely guarded, seeks page rates that are actually enough for creators to eat more than
canned tuna ramen (OH MY GOD I JUST GOT BACK FROM THE GROCERY STORE WHY IS TUNA SO EXPENSIVE). This has come up a ton here, but it’s important enough to keep repeating: I love comics; I love the people who make them for me; and I’d really like for them to be able to live comfortably because of it. I get that it’s not an exceptionally profitable business, and I understand that some companies are changing in an effort to provide more and better services to the creators who work for them. Everyone opening a movie division is hopefully using it to facilitate the transfer of creator-owned projects they’re shepherding, so there is some creativity out there in ways people try and work around those razor margins.
The Sheriff Of Babylon #1 (Vertigo Comics)
Ever since I talked to Tom King at NYCC this year, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to his pacing. The guy is meticulous, but especially when he’s paired with a good artist, there is nobody in all of comics who uses the medium exactly like he does. And on The Sheriff of Babylon, King’s new creator owned book from Vertigo about a murder mystery in post-invasion (note: not post-INVASION. Totally different time) Baghdad, he’s got a great partner in Mitch Gerads.
There are three scenes in this first issue where someone is killed by gunfire, and there are six panels on the page, with three of them being black boxes with the word “BANG” typed on it. I only just realized that each one parallels the others in order to introduce the main characters: Chris Henry, an American investigating the murder of an Iraqi police trainee in the Green Zone of Baghdad; Nassir, presumably his Iraqi counterpart; and Sofia, a member of the Iraqi governing council. By separating out the visual of a character being shot from the sound effect, Gerads and King slow the entire sequence down and sort out how the reader is supposed to process it. They also highlight the differences in the characters: Sofia kills for a reason; Nassir kills from grief; and Henry, shown early in the book as frazzled and not really trying all that hard to train his Iraqi unit, doesn’t kill at all. The whole issue was engrossing, and Gerads’ Baghdad landscapes were stunning. This book was so good.
Seduction of the Innocent #1 (Dynamite Entertainment)
This new comic from Ande Parks and Esteve Polls isn’t bad. It’s a crime story set in 1953 San Francisco that follows a new FBI agent as he tries to track down a serial killer and his crew of cleaners who are preying on local mob bosses. Polls has a decent handle on the action that does happen, even if some of his scene transitions aren’t really transitions as much as they are jarring jumps. Parks writes a believable crime book that’s interesting enough, though the transitions are partially his responsibility. It’s fairly gruesome, and overall pretty good comics.
My problem with it is the loaded-as-hell title. I suspect they’re trying to draw parallels between the old EC crime books by naming it after the book that killed EC, but that’s…not a great idea. It sets expectations WAY out of whack from what you’d normally expect from a Dynamite book. I downloaded the review copy as soon as I saw the name, thinking “Ooh, that’s pretty ballsy.” But it’s not. There are more groundbreaking, daring episodes of Dexter. This isn’t meant to take away from the book that Parks and Polls made by any means: It’s still a solid piece of comic storytelling. It’s just not worthy of an attempt at reclaiming the name of a book that gutted the industry.
Plutona #3 (Image Comics)
Jeff Lemire and Emi Lenox’s “Ya wanna see a dead body” superhero drama gets…weird…in this week’s issue. One of Lemire’s strengths is how he skews the mundane – Underwater Welder was one of the most subtly uncomfortable books I’ve ever read. It did a magnificent job of transferring Jack (the main character)’s unease to the reader. With Lenox, they do the same thing in Plutona, nailing the weird shittiness of being middle school-aged, making it immediately relatable.
This issue, though, clears up the last issue’s cliffhanger by revealing just what Teddy and Mike were doing by Plutona’s body, and it’s gross. It’s probably not going to amount to anything, and I’m not going to spoil it, but this book really is a triumph of telling a realistic middle school story and all that entails – from how crappy it was to be that age, to how stupid and naive the kids are. It’s got a really strong Spielberg vibe to it, but despite being set in a world with superheroes, this is really quiet and extremely well made.
Harrow County volume 1 (Dark Horse Comics)
I was voting in a “Best of 2015” poll the other day, and I had to think long and hard about Cullen Bunn on the best writers list. He’s had a hell of a year: Magneto and Hellbreak are excellent, and Terrible Lizard and The Sixth Gun aren’t that far behind. And there’s a not-inconsiderable amount of hype behind Harrow County, so I was looking for an excuse to read this and talk about it. Guess what? It was great.
There’s a sequence towards the end of the first issue of the collection (which collects the first four issues of the series) where Emmy is walking through the woods that immediately took me back to being 11 and picking through the woods near where I grew up. This sequence is emblematic of the skill that Tyler Crook, the artist, and Bunn put into making Harrow County. “Atmospheric” gets used to describe a lot of things, some of which don’t deserve it, but it’s perfect for this book. It’s a horror story that’s so real and familiar that you disappear into it. All the hype was deserved.
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep (BOOM! Studios)
I’m of two minds about this, the omnibus collection of Tony Parker’s adaptation of the classic Philip K. Dick book. Actually, I’m not of two minds about the omnibus. That’s great. It collects all 24 issues of the series, along with a cover gallery and essays from people like Warren Ellis and Matt Fraction about what PKD has meant to them. It’s a brick of a book and worth reading.
I’m a little overwhelmed by how Parker decided to adapt the story, though. His art is very good, and he does a great job of drawing the weird future of DADOES while also differentiating it from what Blade Runner did. It would have been easy to default to the grimy cyberpunk that became the industry standard after Scott’s movie, but Parker resisted the temptation to coat the pages in filth and muck and made sure to add in some grandeur to the world. (Author’s note: None of this should be misconstrued as me saying that I don’t like Blade Runner. I do. It’s amazing.)
The problem I had with it is how literal and direct an adaptation it was. From what I can tell, most of the manuscript from PKD’s book made it onto the pages of the comic. There is a lot of narration. It’s not really a detriment to the story. I usually enjoy PKD’s style enough that I didn’t mind it that much, but I think that Parker’s storytelling ability is strong enough that he could have leaned less heavily on the original text and made it a little more his own. And it would have made an already good book a little bit stronger.
Grimjack Omnibus volume 1 (Comicmix)
I’ve been friends with some people who have been singing the praises of John Ostrander and Tim Truman’s Grimjack for about 15 years now. In that time, I’ve seen precisely zero issues of it. I mean, you can’t even find a copy of it on the high seas :looks around uncomfortably: ha ha, not that I’d know how to do that because it’s illegal, right guys? Ha. Hoo. Oh boy. :deletes browser history:
So after looking into what Grimjack is all about, what I really want to know is why don’t we talk about Ostrander like we do Walt Simonson or Howard Chaykin or other guys from his generation? He wrote one of the greatest superhero series of all time (Suicide Squad, which I’m going to read shortly). He made Grimjack, a cult hit with a sizable following that won’t stop talking about it. And he wrote some really good Star Wars comics for Dark Horse. The guy’s had a pretty incredible career – maybe not Simonson good, where somebody (cough, cough) writes it into his Masters thesis that his Thor run is the unequivocal best set of Thor stories of all time ,and no, I don’t need a citation for it because it’s objective fact. But he’s certainly a formative creator, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what Grimjack was all about.
Totally Awesome Hulk #1 (Marvel Comics)
I want you to execute me if I use the term “Chulk” unironically at any point in this review. I saw it as the descriptor for the be-hulked Amadeus Cho and immediately tasted milk of magnesia in the back of my throat. That word is up there with moist and damp as justifications for homicide.
Who would have guessed that Frank Cho would draw giant monsters so well? Probably everyone, but I just finished reading old New Avengers (thanks to Luke Cage in Jessica Jones, who is awesome), so I think I defaulted to expecting oversized humanoids punching each other, and not Amadeus Cho, the 8th (or 7th, depending on how this whole Reed Richards thing shakes out) smartest person in the Marvel Universe and the new Hulk, punching an incredible-looking, two-headed Gamera. Seriously, there are a handful of giant lizards in this issue, and they all look outstanding. This is some of my favorite Cho work in years. Greg Pak writes Amadeus a little older than I remember him being, but Pak’s a completely known quantity as a writer and generally great, and here’s no exception. So yeah, I’m probably going to stick around for some more Chulk GODDAMMIT.
ONE THAT GOT AWAY
Every week, there are way too many comics for me to read and keep track of. So in every column, I’m going to take a look at a book that came out in the last few weeks, but that I only just had a chance to read.
This week, it’s the iTunes terms and conditions. Seriously, it’s iTunes Terms and Conditions: The Graphic Novel, a webcomic that sounded like a gimmick when I first heard about it, but one I love now that I’ve read (a lot of) it.
Part of my joy in reading this came from the divergence of my own cynical reaction from the reality of what artist R. Sikoryak is trying to do. I figured this would be a lot of sarcastic superhero posing, while the text boxes recited the terms and conditions that none of us ever read even after the South Park episode about what they might do to us. But that’s not the case at all. Instead, he’s using the driest, most mind-numbing text to draw a love letter to comic art, posting a page at a time, and making each page an homage to an artist who inspired him. He’s got pieces in the style of just about everything you could imagine: Jeff Smith from Bone; Otomo; Kate Beaton; Agnes Garbowska from MLP; Herge; Carl Barks. The list goes on as long as there are terms to define and conditions to lay out. And all of them are excellent homages, immediately recognizable and meticulously drafted. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m really glad I read iTunes Terms and Conditions. It was a lot of fun.
You can check out iTunes Terms and Conditions: The Graphic Novel at Sikoryak’s web site.
That’s what I’m reading this week. I’m also putting together my best comics of 2015 list, so feel free to nominate any books you loved in the comments. What are you picking up?