Salvatore Pane

Tag: Mark Kleman

Comics Roundup X: I’m Still Doing This

Ok. So I haven’t done one of these in awhile. The reason is because bi-weekly was just too much. I don’t discover that many new comics, and most of my roundups were becoming “Hey. Read The Walking Dead, Sweet Tooth and Amazing Spider-Man” over and over again. Moving forward, I’m only going to do one of these if I have five new books to mention, or if one I’ve previously hyped is launching some mega storyline or something that’s especially new reader friendly. Get it? Got it? Good.

1. Morning Glories #1 written by Nick Spencer with art from Joe Eisma

Morning Glories is about two things near and dear to my heart: cardigans and ties.  Actually, it’s a cross between LOST and Richard Yates’ A Good School (or any prep novel really). I don’t want to dive into too much of the premise because the discovery is half of the fun, but Morning Glories centers on a group of high school students with the same birthday who are brought to a mysterious prep school. The first issue floored me. Jump on this train before you have to trade wait.

2. Taskmaster #1 written by Fred van Lente with art from Jefte Palo

I fell in love with Taskmaster as a character during Christos Gage’s awesome run on the sadly canceled Avengers: Initiative. When I heard Fred van Lente–whose Amazing Spider-Man and Marvel Zombies stories must be read to be believed–would be picking up this character post-Siege, I was instantly intrigued. But this first issue is better than I could have imagined. So many strange gangs! Look at that Revolutionary War-era militia! If you want an off-the-wall superhero story filled with levity and a dash of insanity, pick up Taskmaster. This one’s a miniseries too, so if you’re not down with the never-ending stories of most superheroes, there are no worries about that here.

3. 5 Days to Die #1 written by Andy Schmidt with art from Chee

Mark Kleman and I interviewed Andy Schmidt about 5 Days to Die a few weeks back. Go read that, then pick up Schmidt and Chee’s noir-soaked romp. It comes out weekly, and the final issue comes out next week. That gives you just enough time to catch up before the big finale. Don’t wait on the trade for this one. Support single issues, and we’ll see publishers take more chances on stories like this one.

4. Fables vol. 1 written by Bill Willingham with art from Lan Medina

Sometimes I get into things really late. I started watching Twin Peaks in 2010. I began my descent into Battlestar Galactica last fall. Fables is another of those examples. It’s pretty much a holy text in comics but I never read it, never even knew the concept. I’ve been sick the last few weeks and picked up the first trade on a lark. Everything that’s been said about it is true. This one’s a knockout. If, like me, you don’t know Fables, it’s about a cast of fairy tale characters who are exiled from their homelands because of an unseen Adversary (think Diaspora) and relocated to a small apartment complex in New York City. They self-govern while trying to conceal their magical natures from human, who they call the Mundane. If you like Harry Potter, jump onboard the Fables bandwagon.

5. Archie #616 written by Alex Simmons with art from Dan Parent, Jack Morelli and Digikore Studios

If you don’t read this, you hate America. Ball’s in your court, playa.

Advertisements

A Lot of Action and a Lot of Emotional Consequences: An Interview with Andy Schmidt

Mark Kleman–my Black List co-writer–and I recently had the opportunity to interview Andy Schmidt of IDW. A prominent face in the comics industry, Schmidt edits the G.I Joe and Transformers lines at IDW, runs online courses focused on comic creation, and writes the occasional mini-series. We specifically wanted to talk to him about 5 Days to Die, his new five-part series with the artist Chee that launched earlier this week. Read the interview, then buy the book at your local comic store.

Salvatore Pane: Your new comic launching this month is 5 Days to Die, a five-part mini-series with art by Chee and covers from Gabriele dell’Otto, David Finch, Michael Avon Oeming, Pablo Raimondi and Ben Templesmith. Give us the pitch. What’s the story about?

Andy Schmidt: It’s about a police officer named Ray, who is in a car accident that nearly kills his wife and daughter and critically injures him. The doctors give him five days before he dies. He’s hurt and he believes that the big crime boss in the city has put a hit out on his family. So, he’s faced with a decision: Stay and be with his family in the hospital, trying to repair their strained relationship, or go find and stop the people trying to kill them. It’s a tough, emotional decision for Ray, and it leads to a lot of action and a lot of emotional consequences.

SP: What’s your reasoning for releasing 5 Days to Die weekly over the course of five straight weeks? Why not go the traditional monthly publication route? On the flip side, why not collect all the material at once and release everything as a graphic novel?

AS: There are five Wednesdays (comic book day) in September so it all comes out this month. As for why the accelerated schedule, it just fits with the story. Each issue takes place over one of Ray’s final five days, so the increased schedule just was my idea to help add to the urgency of it all.

I didn’t want to do it as a graphic novel by itself. I like traditional comics and I thought releasing an issue as a day and making people wait the week adds to the fun of it.

SP: Tell us what it’s like to work with Chee. What specifically drew you to his work for this project?

AS: I’ve worked with Chee before and he’s an amazing storyteller. I like working with him, we had similar ideas about the kind of stories we like to tell and what’s most important for an artist to do, so we just click really nicely. And his style is a perfect fit for the crime, thriller, noir type genre.

SP: Hard-boiled crime stories are seeing a resurgence in mainstream comics through the work of Darwyn Cooke, Ed Brubaker, Howard Chaykin and a few others. Why do you think that is? Do you think it has anything to do with a turning away from the more lighthearted crime offerings of Hollywood like Cop Out and The Other Guys?

AS:  I don’t think it’s related much to Hollywood at all, at least not what Hollywood is doing now. I think a lot of us grew up enjoying crime stories. I love them. And I love film noir. So, for me, my main influences in terms of genre come from the stuff I grew up reading and watching, not what’s being produced now. And ultimately, there’s just a lot you can do with the hard-boiled stories that is a lot of fun to write and draw.

Mark Kleman: 5 Days to Die is a creator-owned project. Unlike Cobra Commander and Wolverine, the characters are yours and you have ultimate control over them. Does this make writing more or less difficult? What do you want readers to see in the characters of 5 Days to Die?

AS: It’s a bit of both. It’s easier to write in the sense that you’re creating them, so they don’t sound wrong to anyone because there is no pre-conceived notion of who they are or how they talk. That’s not the case for, say, Spider-Man. So that’s easier, but what’s harder is that they are mine and I have to create them. I can also rely on the back story of pre-existing characters to draw from, I don’t have to build the world as much, but all of that stuff is up to Chee and myself to build from scratch here. So it’s tougher and easier at the same time.

I’m hoping that people will see a bit of themselves in the characters of 5 Days to Die. Ray and Matt, the two main cops are both pretty complex and relatable. Ray’s sister-in-law has a pretty big roll and I think she evokes a point of view that much of the audience will share. But there’s real, genuine emotion underneath these characters, and I think that’s what carries the book (if anything does) from just being a fun concept to becoming a good story.

SP: Let’s move on and discuss your editorial work at IDW. You oversee the newly-revitalized GI Joe and Transformers franchises among others. G.I Joe in particular has seen a lot of reimaginings over the years, but the IDW-verse seems to be really sticking. What’s your vision for the line overall? How do you pay homage to the great Larry Hama stories of old without falling into the trap of the continual remake?

AS: G.I Joe is a very malleable franchise. It fits comfortably into a lot of different genres and lends itself to a wide variety of kinds of stories. Part of that is due to the varied history of the years. I try to make sure that comics feel grounded. So even when some big scifi element pops up, it still has a level of reality to it, that it works. And in other stories, we keep those elements out altogether. Ultimately, I just try to make sure the creators are telling good, honest stories that they’re passionate about.

SP: I think a lot of people were shocked by the brutality in the G.I Joe: Cobra series. It’s definitely one of our favorites from the line. Can you talk about the genesis of the series and what it’s been like to take a former gag of a character, Chuckles, and turn him into something really formidable and interesting?

AS: The use and development of Chuckles is due almost entirely to Mike Costa. He picked Chuckles, he developed the character for the series along with Chris Gage. The series itself came out of a phone call I was on with Michael, my Hasbro contact and Chris Ryall, the editor-in-chief here at IDW. On the phone, we knew we had two weeks to create the 16-page #0 issue. We didn’t think we’d have time to do one story with one creative team, so on the fly, I pitched a three-book launch with Origins and Cobra being the two books we I just made up on the spot. Michael liked the ideas. Chris and I hung up the phone and asked what I had on the two new books already. I guess I bluffed pretty well.

We figured out those two books in about two days and had 5-page scripts a day or two after that and all the art was done for the #0 issue a week after that. All that to say, we got darn lucky.

MK: You and Chee worked together on a comic adaptation of the motion picture classic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Was it intimidating to bring the most honored story of Star Trek cannon to comics? How do you consider fans when approaching famous source material like Star Trek, G.I Joe, and Transformers as a writer or editor?

AS: Fans are a huge consideration. Not just because I like fans and am a fan of most of this stuff myself, but also because, that real core audience is the foundation of fandom. If they are really excited about something, they can get other people talking and something can really build.

Ideally, we’re building stories that appeal to long-time fans and potential new fans at the same time. That’s the goal, and it’s a tough one to hit sometimes.

SP: The famous saying about breaking into comics is that it’s like Fort Knox: every time someone gets inside, the authorities fix it so no one can ever use that route again. What’s the best way of getting your foot in the door these days? Self-publishing? Web comics? Going to conventions and making connections?

AS: That’s a bit over-stated. Breaking into comics is no harder (and I’m paraphrasing Brian Bendis here) then breaking into being a doctor. It often takes years and it takes training and practice but it can definitely be done. My other business is called Comics Experience where I teach online courses about comics writing and art and lettering along with other professionals. They’ve been a huge success and in large part because of all the strategies that we talk about on how to break in.

But honestly, all the strategies in the world don’t matter if you don’t have something professional to show once you get there. And that’s the major focus of Comics Experience, we help you figure out your art and your writing and give you the tips and strategies that are repeatable so you can create professional-level work every time out of the gate.

Self-publishing is probably the most popular way to get noticed in the industry right now. But it’s not as simple as just publishing something, you’ve then got to market it and sell it at conventions and get it into people’s hands so it gets noticed.

SP: Similarly, once someone has that first published work–be it via the smaller presses, self-publication, or the internet–what is the best method on contacting the bigger publishers like IDW, Image or Dark Horse? What is IDW specifically looking for in new talent?

AS: Send them the book! Put a cover letter in, talk to them at conventions. We’re all just people here. I suppose IDW looks for the same things all the other publishers are looking for, the right person, to fit the right project, at the right time. A great writer for Superman may not be great on Transformers, for example. But it could happen. You’ve got to fit the right talent together on the right project.

So, if you’re a writer, always be writing, and always be coming up with new stories that fulfill those basic story requirements and then add something on top. You’ve always got to be better than the guy next to you in line. And as an artist, always be doing your art, growing, and trying new things. A lot of people forget to experiment and challenge themselves. Again, this is something we do a lot of at Comics Experience. We’ve got an ongoing Creators Workshop with monthly challenges and critiques by professionals and all kinds of cool stuff to help people continue to improve and succeed.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Mark Kleman Reviews Green Lantern #55

Mark Kleman is, among many other things, my co-writer on The Black List which will see publication later this year from Arcana Comics. When he asked me to write up a little something about the recently released Origin of Dex-Starr (a cat of whom I’m a huge admirer), I couldn’t refuse. Below is Mark’s review of Green Lantern #55 where the story appears. Listen to this dude, Mark. He knows what he’s talking about. Oh, and I would like to point out that I think Firestorm is awesome.

From Mark:

“I’m going to be honest–I am not the biggest fan of Brightest Day.  The storyline does not live up to the clear direction and mega action of its predecessor, Blackest NightDay’s main book has been concentrating on resurrected ancillary characters like Firestorm and Hawkman—who only deserve a supporting role in a Justice League comic at best and probably should have remained absent from comics all together.

See, even Superman agrees. Firestorm is lame.

That said, the Brightest Day events occurring in the pages of Green Lantern are outstanding.  It has everything a true fanboy wants: heavy ring-slinger action, intrigue, and Lobo.  That’s right, you’re favorite “bastich” bounty hunter from the 1990s is back and he has run afoul of Atrocitus, leader of the Red Lantern Corps.  A massive battle ensues on the streets of New York City between Lobo and an alliance of Hal Jordan, Sinestro, and Atrocitus.  Using meat hooks on chains, flaming space-motorcycles, and giant yellow skeleton hands, Geoff Johns did a great job making this issue an action packed adventure—definitely worth picking up.

However, the best part about this issue is the inclusion of a 6-page short at the end of the comic that regales us with Dex-Starr’s origin.  For those of you who don’t know, Dex-Starr is the Red Lantern Cat and fan sensation that first appeared in Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns.  Seen here:

AWESOME

Given his blue fur, many assumed that he was an alien cat from a distant planet of ruthless felines.  But to my supreme enjoyment, it was revealed that Dex-Starr was once Dexter, a normal house cat from Brooklyn.  Until tragedy shaped him into an unstoppable engine of hatred and revenge, Dexter was a silly cat who loved playing with yarn and eating dried bits of processed meat.  Despite the fact there are literally hundreds of Super-Villains on Earth, this little cat was chosen as the being that had the most rage in its heart out of all living things that existed in Earth’s sector of the galaxy.  I don’t care who you are, that’s awesome. I found this brief story to be quite charming and funny.  Now I can only hope that one day my cat is chosen by the Red Lantern Corps.”

The Most Raged Filled Being in the Universe

Bi-Weekly Friday Comics Roundup V: In Which Spider-Man and Wolverine Go Back In Time to Fight the Asteroid that Killed the Dinosaurs

A lot of big name comics have come out in the last few weeks including the end of Siege (the conclusion to Marvel’s seven years in the making event run dating back to House of M) and Brightest Day (DC’s fourth attempt at a (practically) weekly series). I loved Brightest Day #0 and 1 but found myself more drawn to the kookier books which most likely speaks to my tastes as a comic book reader. So, without any further adieu, let’s talk some comics.

1. The Nightly News written and drawn by Jonathan Hickman

I bought The Nightly News completely on a whim for ten bucks. I was at the Free Comic Book Day Event in Scranton where Comics on the Green, the best comic store in NEPA, had a sale on graphic novels. I love Hickman’s work on SHIELD and Secret Warriors, so I figured I’d take a look at some of his indie credits. The Nightly News is the first book I’ve seen from Hickman that he actually drew, and holy crap was I blown away. His complete disregard for the traditional grid layout and reliance on graphic design makes Nightly News something that needs to be seen to be believed. The book just exudes cool, and it’s really smart too. It even includes a reading list in the back with entries from Noam Chomsky and Dan Kennedy. Definitely worth a pick-up, especially if you think comics ends and begins with Clark Kent.

2. Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine #1 written by Jason Aaron with art from Adam Kubert

This is the type of book that makes me keep reading superhero comics, a book so goofy, so downright ridiculous that it can only exist in comic book form and still be played straight without irony. The very first page of Astonishing opens on Peter Parker and Wolverine who have been trapped in the prehistoric ages for months. Wolverine commands an army of missing links; Spidey studies bugs in solitude. Then the asteroid that wipes out the dinosaurs shows up in the sky. What are Spider-Man and Wolverine going to do about it? I have no idea, but I guarantee I’ll be sticking with this limited series.

3. The Walking Dead #71 written by Robert Kirkman with art from Charlie Adlard

For those of you unaware, The Walking Dead is the most consistently great indie book on the stands. No matter what the state of superhero comics, I can always depend on any given month’s issue of Walking Dead to deliver. #71 is no different. Rick and his gang of post-apocalyptic survivors have stumbled onto an unspoiled gated development outside of DC run by a bunch of upper-class yuppies pretending the zombie infestation isn’t really happening. As always, the true creepiness in the book comes from the human characters. Issue 71 doesn’t even feature a single zombie. Instead, we witness the growth of Carl, Rick’s young son pictured in the cover, and how he is completely unable to relate to children after everything he’s been through (seeing firsthand his mother and newborn sister getting blown away by a shotgun, strangling a young child to death, almost being raped, etc. etc.). This is one of the darkest comics I’ve ever read, and any fan of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road absolutely must check it out from the very beginning.

4. The Return of Bruce Wayne #1 written by Grant Morrison with art from Chris Sprouse

This is the first time I’ve ever mentioned a comic before reading it, but the build-up to this series has been so good that I couldn’t resist. Two years ago, the DC mega-crossover Final Crisis ended with Bruce Wayne deposited in prehistoric times to live with cavemen and dinosaurs (hmm… this is turning into a running theme). Since then, we’ve been treated to amazing stories where Dick Grayson, the original Robin, has had to fill in as Batman. But now, we’re finally going to see what brings Bats back to the DC Universe proper. And since it’s Grant Morrison doing writing chores, I would safely assume that this book is going to be all kinds of crazy. A definite pick-up to be sure.

5. Unpublished artist Jaime Castro

This is the final character sketch I’ll post from collaborator Jaime Castro, but hot damn, this is my favorite piece of concept art I’ve ever received from an artist I’m working with.  Jaime knocked this drawing of Dr. Boston out of the park, and Mark Kleman (my co-writer) and I, cannot wait to get the full comic back from Montgomery X. Chesterfield, Gentleman of the 22nd Century. More details to come.

Bi-Weekly Friday Comics Roundup IV: Archie Meets the Punisher

I’ve decided to change this feature around a bit, as I’ve realized I don’t have the vocabulary necessary to talk about visual art in new and compelling ways every two weeks.  But I can talk about words, and I can talk about writers, so instead of “Bi-Weekly Friday Art Roundup”, I now christen this segment “Bi-Weekly Friday Comics Roundup”. Let us begin!

1. Umbrella Academy vol. 1 Apocalypse Suite written by Gerard Way with art from Gabriel Ba

I talked about this while discussing reading material on the way to AWP, but it’s so outstanding that it has to be mentioned again. A month or so back I did a top ten list of comics best suited for the literary inclined. This should be on there. Dense, madcap, and framed in the straight-on wide angle style of Wes Anderson, Way and Ba give us a twisted mashup of The Royal Tenenbaums and the X-Men. The best recommendation I can give for this book is that one of my friends–a woman who is certainly not a regular comic reader by any means–devoured this collection in its entirety on the plane.  An absolute must buy.

2. Punisher #16 written by Rick Remender with art from Tony Moore

The Punisher hasn’t been a character I’ve cared about since I was a kid. Sure, a younger, more vulnerable Sal enjoyed Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe and Archie Meets the Punisher, but I’ve found that I just don’t connect with his grim and gritty tales in the way I did when I listened to Slipknot and Korn. This changed with Remender and Moore’s latest arc on the title, “Frankencastle”, in which the Punisher is brutally murdered and resurrected as a Frankenstein-esque monster that has to defend an underground city of sentient beasts. Ok. Go back and reread that last sentence. How are you not reading this?

3. X-Force #26 written by Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost with art from Mike Choi

Like the Punisher, I haven’t really enjoyed X-Men since Chris Claremont and Jim Lee relaunched the title. I was about 8 years old. But the latest X-Crossover, “Second Coming”, has returned the title back to form. The macro-story involves the return of a mutant savior from the future with Rob Liefeld creation Cable. But on the micro-level, “Second Coming” is a popcorn action story about faith, humanity, and whether or not the ends justify the means. If you’re curious about the current state of the X-Men, start with the “Second Coming” one-shot. If not, try Joss Whedon’s Astonishing.

4. Artist Shintaro Kago

Scott McCloud (have you guys read Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics? If not, run out to the local comic shop and purchase them both immediately) recently blogged about an awesome manga artist who hasn’t been published much in America. His name is Shintaro Kago, and while some of his art is NSFW, it’s very clear that the way he totally breaks the conventions of the comic page makes him an absolute master. I haven’t seen much from this guy, but this page alone makes me want to track down those anthologies McCloud mentioned.

Bi-Weekly Friday Art Roundup III: Galactus, Hamlet, Tony Stark

Bi-Weekly Friday Art Roundup is a feature I’m using to promote some unsung talents in the comic world. Each installment will look at five different books with artists working at varying levels of the industry, be it the indies, unpublished work, or even superhero fare for the Big Two. And of course, there’s always my covert goal of hyping my own comic book projects. So with the introduction out of the way, let’s get started.

1. Unpublished Artist Jaime Castro

With the script for The Black List graphic novel completed, co-writer Mark Kleman and I had to find a new artist to collaborate with while Lamair Nash finished his pages. For those of you who don’t know, graphic novel publishing is much different than literary fiction and more in line with creative nonfiction. We pitched to Arcana with a 22 page sample. They accepted. Now they want 110 pages. That’s going to take Lamair a long time.

In the meantime, we discovered Jaime Castro on the Millarworld forums (seriously, that place is a treasure trove of talented artists looking for writers).  We checked out his DeviantArt profile, and this is the page that made me fall in love. Besides the fact that Jaime’s art involves a superhero team fighting Nazis (awesome, right?), he also draws a dinosaur capable of reading. Look at him! Isn’t that just the perfect dinosaur? And he gets so excited about what he’s reading that he has to show it to his friend. What’s going on in his dino-brain? I definitely want to know. And when Mark and I saw this we knew Jamie would be perfect for our upcoming short, Montgomery X. Chesterfield, Gentleman of the 22nd Century.

2. Kill Shakespeare #1 written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col with art from Andy Belanger

I don’t know Andy Belanger, but I’ll definitely remember the name after Kill Shakespeare #1. For those unaware of the concept, Kill Shakespeare is mash-up set halfway through the events of Hamlet when the titular character is returning home to confront his uncle. He meets the Three Witches from Macbeth and teams up with Richard III. If that isn’t enough to pique your interest, check out the art by Belanger. It invokes the king and queen time period without devolving into Holy Grail camp, which is a serious concern in a property as insane as this one.  Like my list from a month or so back, this is a good one to get non-comic readers interested in the medium.

3. SHIELD #1 written by Jonathan Hickman with art from Dustin Weaver

Click on the above image to view it in full resolution; it’s the only way to do it justice. Again, I’ve never heard of Dustin Weaver, but where has he been all my life? Jonathan Hickman is one of my favorite Marvel writers. He takes this universe seriously, and that’s painfully obvious from this debut issue in which Leonardo da Vinci stands revealed as a member of SHIELD, the peace keeping force in the Marvel U.  Weaver is asked to draw a ridiculous amount of meta-insanity, and he does so with considerable skill. Just look at the above example of Galileo battling Galactus the World Eater in 1582 Rome! How can you not buy this book!?

4. The Black List written by Salvatore Pane and Mark Kleman with art from Lamair Nash

This is the super top-secret, NEVER BEFORE REVEALED, unfinished first page of The Black List graphic novel! It’s not a deleted pitch page or cover, like the other stuff I’ve uploaded. This is the real deal, just waiting to be inked, lettered and collected into the final volume. We just received this from Lamair Nash a few days ago, and it’s really hard to describe the amazing experience of dreaming up a scene in your head and then having a talented artist render it on the page. Also, holy crap, has Nash improved or what? I always thought the man had chops, but this is outstanding. I cannot wait to see the finished project.

5. Iron Man: Noir #1 written by Scott Snyder with art from Manuel Garcia

Longtime readers know that I am a Scott Snyder disciple. I blogged about American Vampire before it was the indie darling it’s become, and I am a big fan of his excellent prose short story collection, Voodoo Heart.  That being said, I love his take on Iron Man in a noir setting. Marvel’s Noir line reimagines their major characters as gritty 1930’s analogues more at home in The Maltese Falcon than Batman and Robin. Most of these titles have been hit or miss, but Snyder’s take has earned rave reviews so far. And Manuel Garcia is turning in career defining work here, people. I couldn’t find a decent picture of his noir-inspired take on Tony Stark’s Iron Man armor, but it really has to be seen to be believed. If you’re excited about the upcoming film, pick this up as an alternative universe primer on the one-and-only Tony Stark.

Bi-Weekly Friday Art Roundup II: Electric Boogaloo

Hi all. It’s time for another Bi-Weekly Friday Art Roundup. I would have liked to do a full post on the big comic news of the week–Marvel announcing an app for digital distribution on the iPad–but with AWP looming, I’m going to have to skip that for now and focus on smaller updates. For those of you who missed Roundup I, the purpose of these articles is to showcase artists I believe deserve recognition (and also to backdoor promote my upcoming graphic novel, The Black List). So why not just get started?

1. Sweet Tooth #7 by Jeff Lemire

Last month I did a top ten list of graphic novels for the literary inclined. Sweet Tooth would have made it, but at the time, it didn’t exist in paperback format, only in monthly issues. That is no longer the case. Without a doubt, Sweet Tooth is one of my favorite ongoing series. I won’t do the book any justice  describing what it’s about, so I’ll just say the work of writer/artist Jeff Lemire has to be seen to be believed. He eschews the realistic for a bizarre style that perfectly matches his apocalyptic dystopia. The most impressive aspect of his work is his facial features, something that gets glossed over by even the most successful of comic artists, especially those who photo reference. Lemire is not one of those artists. He positions his characters in straight-on, Wes Anderson style shots and lets their expressions tell the story. Anyone interested in the comics medium absolutely needs to study the work of Lemire, and there’s no better jumping on point than Sweet Tooth.

2. Blackest Night #8 Written by Geoff Johns with art from Ivan Reis

Blackest Night is an eight-issue miniseries that shows just how fun and insane superhero comics can really be. The conclusion to a multi-year story set in the Green Lantern section of the DC universe, BN succeeds on the merits of its hyper-talented artist, Ivan Reis. Check out this article by the good folks at iFanboy raving over the man’s ridiculous art skills. The average comic reader may not understand how difficult these events comics are to put out, but these are the toughest types of books to draw in the industry. Reis has to draw a cast of hundreds and literally squeezes dozens upon dozens of characters into single panels. Even if you know nothing about Green Lantern or Blackest Night, pick up this issue at a low, low price of four dollars for a master’s class in panel composition and character placement. Reis does not disappoint.

3. Unpublished Artist Tommy Smith

Tommy Smith is another artist I found on Mark Millar’s forums, and it’s very clear from a four-page sample of his work he posted that this man has chops. Being able to convey motion is a skill that sounds easier than it is to master, but right here in this one silent page, Smith gets across movement even while segmenting the flow of time. We don’t get every moment of this woman waking up, but it’s clear what’s happening thanks to the interesting angles and quirky subject choices. He doesn’t put the woman front and center in each panel. Sometimes she’s off to the side like in panel one, while others use a hyper close-up. Smith is currently looking for collaborators so if you’re a comic writer looking for someone who has storytelling down, consider shooting him an e-mail.

4. The Black List written by Salvatore Pane and Mark Kleman with art from Lamair Nash

This is one of the first finished pages Mark and I got back from Lamair, and we were absolutely floored. We posted a bunch of ads on various art websites looking for an artist and received many, many submissions. Lamair Nash was clearly the most talented, but we didn’t realize the extent of his skills until this page came in. Lamair takes a very simple, relateable moment–a twenty-something at a McJob caught goofing off by his boss–and turns it into something downright otherworldly. The closeup on protagonist Harry’s eye. The imposing figure of the boss. You can’t teach this stuff, folks. Lamair’s ability to make even the most mundane scenes bristle with energy and tension is one of the major reasons we so badly wanted to work with him on this project. And if this is what he does with a simple office scene, I can’t wait to show off what he can do with Richard Nixon firing rockets at stone mason mercenaries in secret underground laboratories.

5. Amazing Spider-Man #626 written by Fred Van Lente with art from Michael Gaydos

Three years ago I wrote articles for a great comic book website called Broken Frontier. Around the same time, a controversial of Amazing Spider-Man came out that rebooted the previous twenty years of continuity, namely the amount of time I’d followed the character. I flipped my shit. But since then, the thrice-monthly Amazing Spider-Man has been absolutely superb. The book employs a rotating cast of creators, including the brilliant writer Fred Van Lente whose MODOK’s 11 is an absolute must-read, that continues to put the screws to the life of lovable Peter Parker. Issue 626 is no different. Michael Gaydos is one of the best artists in the industry, and like Jeff Lemire, he is a master at facial expressions. Look at this exchange between Pete and his roommate Michelle Gonzalez. Is this the art you expect from a mainstream superhero book starring one of the most recognizable characters on Earth? No. It’s breathtaking. It’s a reminder of everything comics can accomplish. If you think Spider-Man begins and ends with Tobey Maguire and Sam Raimi, you owe it to yourself to run, RUN, to the nearest comic store and jump on board the new and improved Amazing.

Bi-Weekly Friday Art Roundup

I’m going to momentarily pull myself away from the glory that is March Madness to introduce a new feature I’m working on (in my best Dicky V. impersonation: It’s going to the best, baby!). Bi-Weekly Friday Art Roundup is an opportunity to showcase some of my favorite artists working in the comic industry, as well as hyping The Black List with some unused art and promotional covers. And who better to kick off the inaugural feature than Rafael Albuquerque?

Vertigo released American Vampire #1 this past Wednesday with art by Rafael Albuquerque and scripts from prose writers Scott Snyder and Stephen King. This book’s getting a ton of buzz and for good reason. Although Dark Tower and The Stand have both been adapted into comics by Marvel, this is the first time King’s actually handled scripting chores himself on a comic book. And Scott Snyder’s no slouch either, having written a very well-received short story collection, Voodoo Heart, and an issue of The Torch for Marvel. But Albuquerque’s pencils come close to stealing the show. With settings including the Old West and 1920’s Hollywood, Albuquerque really has a chance to shine here. He’s a master of body language, facial expressions and wonderfully lived-in settings. This is a book to watch.

Mitch Geralds is an artist I hadn’t heard of, but I discovered his work over on Mark Millar’s forums. He’s self-publishing his book Johnny Recon, and from the looks of the art, it’s definitely something I’d be interested in checking out. Geralds seems to be relatively undiscovered so if there’s any comic writers out there looking for a collaborator, consider getting in touch with him.

What kind of promoter would I be if I didn’t take this opportunity to once again show off the artwork of Lamair Nash, one of my collaborators on The Black List forthcoming from Arcana Comics? This guy is a superstar in the making, and I know that both Mark (my co-writer) and I feel incredibly lucky that we found him before he broke into the industry. This is a unused cover from The Black List featuring an early design of Richard Nixon, one of our main characters and heroes. The final Tricky Dick design is slightly different, however (Our Nixon is slightly younger and more buff) so we won’t be able to go use this beautiful cover.

I apologize in advance for how srunched together the art appears, but Night Owls by the Timony Twins is a must read. Published by DC’s webcomic imprint Zuda, the art of Night Owls is remarkable due to its old timey feel and classic/wacky character designs. The juxtaposition of Ernest Baxter and Roscoe the Gargoyle is hilarious and gets a chuckle pretty much on every page. I also love how the art team chose to stick with the traditional grid layout of panels. It really makes the webcomic feel like something transported out of an earlier decade regardless of bizarre subject matter.

Also: it’s free!

If you’re not reading Irredeemable, you ain’t shit. This book is one of the best indies out there and reaffirms why Mark Waid is one of the most talented comic scribes in the biz. The artist, Peter Krause, is also doing phenomenal work, but the cover above was actually done by Paul Azaceta and Dan Panosian. I haven’t heard of either of them, but I’ll definitely be looking for their work in the future after this eye-catching, yet sparse, cover for the final issue of Irredeemable‘s first year.

The Difficulty of Multiple Mediums: Literary Fiction and the Graphic Novel

It’s been snowing here in Pittsburgh for nearly two weeks now. Being unable to drive anywhere should’ve been a golden opportunity to get writing done, but I wasn’t very productive until this past Thursday. Everybody goes through periods where they feel their work is crap, but I think this time I’ve pinpointed the problem: I was writing in two mediums at the same time.

As I posted a few weeks ago, Arcana Studios recently purchased a graphic novel for publication that I’ve been working on with Mark Kleman and Lamair Nash. Let’s talk about that for a minute. I’ve never written a comic before. I’ve never even written a screenplay–other than a disaster I composed for a college class five years ago. I got the comic gig after writing a twenty-two page sample with Mark. We found Lamair on the internet. He drew it and we sent it to a bunch of companies and Arcana was the one we went with. Now they want 110 pages.

Writing the comic isn’t hard; it’s quite pleasurable in fact and scratches a very different itch than literary fiction. I’m on page 60 currently and plan to have a first draft done within the next two weeks as Mark and I are attempting to bang out the whole script in 45 days. The problem is with my literary fiction. For awhile, I was trying to write the comic book in the morning and work on short stories right after. That didn’t work. I found that scripting comics diluted my prose. So I wrote three aborted short stories before I decided to take a break from writing the comic. Then a short story flowed pretty effortlessly. With that out of the way, I’m back to the graphic novel until it’s completed.

What I’m curious about is whether other authors have such a difficult time transitioning between two mediums. Literary writers have worked on screenplays since the days of Fitzgerald and Faulkner. But comic books? Not so much. Two years ago, Jonathan Lethem did a year-long run on Omega the Unknown for Marvel.

Newsarama has an excellent interview with him where he addresses this topic somewhat:

NRAMA: What’s the experience been like, going from prose to comics?

JL: A learning experience. Reading comics as long as I have was a huge head start, but it wasn’t everything. I needed to feel my way into the form. You quickly realize that in a sense it’s not a written form. The words are important, but the more important part of my work is giving Farel Dalrymple these assignments to draw.

I think the dominant part of the comic book experience is the visual. One reason why I’ve been slow has been that I really have to do this job of storyboarding and visualization in my head, in order to make to my storytelling work in the medium’s terms.

NRAMA: What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of working in this medium?

JL: Well, I don’t think I think of it in terms of disadvantages. It’s completely satisfying on its level. I could never do only this kind of work, because I’m so engaged with language, and as I say I’ve come to feel that language is fundamentally in the back seat in comic book. Or, anyway, in the kind that I like and seem to be trying to write.

I would be a frustrated writer if I had to satisfy my entire ambition through this narrow aperture of comic book panels. In the most basic sense, as containers for words, panels just don’t hold very many of them! So on the one hand I’m excited about doing this kind of work, and on the other, it confirms my sense that I’m fundamentally a prose writer, a novelist and short-story writer.

It’s interesting that Lethem had difficult moving to the visual medium–so did I; as freeing as it was to write, “(SFX) KaBoom!” it was also terrifying when I had to rely on someone else’s visuals to convey emotion–but this doesn’t address the issue of whether Lethem found it difficult to work on both literary fiction and comics at the same time. Omega was a year-long project. Did he work on it concurrently while writing his new novel? Did he bang out all twelve Omega scripts as quickly as he could before returning to prose? I’m not really sure, but if any of you have any answers I’d be glad to hear them. This is my first stab at multi-genre productivity as you no doubt can tell.

The Black List

It’s official. The lawyers have spoken. The contracts are signed. The Black List, an original, 110-page graphic novel written by myself and Mark Kleman with art by Lamair Nash, has been purchased by Arcana Studios. Expect it to be released in late 2010 or 2011. More news to come as we get closer to the release date.