Tuesday, December 31, 2013

DAN SPIEGLE: A LIFE IN COMIC ART by Coates

DAN SPIEGLE: A LIFE IN COMIC ART is a recent book by John Coates about the now 93-year-old artist whose career stretches back to a long stint on the Hopalong Cassidy comic strip from 1949-1955, followed by a long stretch as one of the main adventure artists for Western Publishing until the 1980s, working on many film adaptations, Tarzan stories and his co-creation SPACE FAMILY ROBINSON. I'm mostly familiar with his work from the 1980s, where he drew long runs on BLACKHAWK and CROSSFIRE (both with Mark Evanier) and the "Nemesis" backup feature in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD (with Cary Burkett). While he hasn't been as active in mainstream comics since the early 1990s, he has stayed busy with several projects (a lot of which I didn't know about until I read this book), as well as doing commissions for fans (his art agent's site is here).

The bulk of the text of this book is a recent long interview of Spiegle by Coates (plus a reprint of an earlier short 1972 interview by Dan Gheno), which provides a timeline for the illustrations.  There are some great recent drawings in the beginning where he provides the layout for the chicken farm his family owned in 1930 and the pharmacy his father opened in 1934. Those show a great flair for realism and establishing an accurate sense of place that served him well in the type of comics he'd draw. There's nothing too deep in the interview, a few amusing anecdotes but mostly just Spiegle doing a professional job, sometimes on scripts he wasn't that enthusiastic about.

It was good to see a lot of examples of his pre-1980s work, which I'm only slightly familiar with. It would be great to see some sort of reprint of some of the best of those (as far as I know the only real reprint has been some over-priced books of SPACE FAMILY ROBINSON stories, which I hope Spiegle is getting something for, although he didn't even know they existed until Coates mentioned them). I'll definitely need to get a few more samples of that stuff. It was also interesting to see bits of his more recent work, including a TERRRY AND THE PIRATES strip and a western story published in a 2011 book that I didn't know about.

In addition to the interview, the book also has a few short essays by Spiegle, his wife Marie and their children, which gives a nice peek as the part of his life off the page, pieces by Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones about how they went from fans of his work, without knowing his name, to friends and colleagues.

There's also a good selection of his recent work on commissions for fans, featuring samples from all the big highlights of his career. I especially like a few of the Blackhawk pieces.

Overall a very enjoyable book, although unfortunately far too short to really give more than an overview of a career as vast as Spiegle's. I know it's given me a few books I have to dig up.

Friday, December 27, 2013

RAGEMOOR by Strnad & Corben

RAGEMOOR collects a four issue 2012 series by Richard Corben and Jan Strnad. It's Loveraftian horror, and sometimes I'm kind of tired of comics going to the Lovecraft well too often, but few do it as effectively as Corben. There wasn't that much new in the writing, but it was an effective vehicle for some creepy Corben images. I'm not quite sold on the grey toning on the artwork, which seems to be an attempt to replicate on a computer what Corben used to do with an airbrush. I think I'd have preferred pure black and white.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

SAGA v1 & v2 by Staples & Vaughan

SAGA VOLUME ONE and SAGA VOLUME TWO collectively reprint the first dozen issues of the currently on-gong series by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan.  I read the first issue when it came out and thought it was okay and figured I might check it out later, but was a bit surprised at how enthusiastic fans of the book seemed to be. Vaughan's usual trend always seemed to be that his books didn't live up to the promise of his first issues. Anyway, these two books are a nice and pleasant quick read. Staples artwork is definitely the highlight, with a lot of imaginative and distinctive designs and crystal clear storytelling. For the most part Vaughan holds up his bit, with a few stumbles (I especially don't like his tendency to do the big cliffhanger ending, often with a much less satisfying resolution, which probably works better reading the book serialized with a month between cliffhanger and resolution). The biggest problem is that his writing seems vast and expansive on the surface, but so far seems to be a mile wide but about an inch deep. It's quite possible that he's thought through a lot of his concepts and will reveal those things in time, but a dozen issues in and there's not much evidence of that, and given his history (including my regrettable and I'll admit somewhat inexplicable decision to watch every episode of UNDER THE DOME this past summer) I'm not sure I have faith in that. At this point the Staples art still makes it worth reading, and if I can get future volumes from the library or buy them for $5 digitally (both of which I ended up doing for these two) than I'll stick around.

Friday, December 13, 2013

MIND MGMT v1 - THE MANAGER by Kindt

MIND MGMT v1 - THE MANAGER collects the first 7 issues (1-6 & 0) of the currently on-going series by Matt Kindt. I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I'd read the first issue back when it came out, and wasn't really that taken with it. I liked the artwork, and the whole package was very well designed and stylish, but I don't think I got enough of the story. Fortunately the "#0" issue (made up of three short stories) was available free digitally, so I tried that and it made the series look much deeper and more interesting than I thought, so I figured I'd try it again with a bigger chunk. It still starts off a bit slow, but slightly more satisfying knowing the bits of backstory presented in the short stories, but by the third chapter it really picks up, once all the concepts are in place, and it's suddenly a fast moving and intriguing adventure.

The basic story here is that a writer named Meru is investigating a flight from several years ago where all the passengers and crew lost their memories. The trail leads her to similar occurrences, and eventually into a massive secret world of paranormal activity and conspiracies that she may have been involved in all along. I look forward to reading the future issues and seeing if any of this resolves in a satisfactory way (and sprawling stories of conspiracies and secret organizations do have a history of not paying off, which having LOST co-creator Damon Lindelof writing the introduction kind of underscores). I'll also have to try some of Kindt's other comics.

It's also one of the best designed books I've seen in a while, which is very nice compared to the cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all school that applies to most modern comic book collections. You get the feeling that every aspect here was carefully considered, and it doesn't look like any other book.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

THE ROCKETEER: HOLLYWOOD HORROR by Langridge & Bone

THE ROCKETEER: HOLLYWOOD HORROR is a collection of a recent 4-issue series by Roger Langridge and J. Bone, continuing the adventures of the Dave Stevens created character. I thought Langridge did a decent enough job on the story, adding a few more pop culture references to the mix that Stevens started, but I'm really not sold on Bone's cartoony art style for the series. I don't expect or even want an artist on the series to slavishly copy Stevens' art style, but I think I'd prefer someone to at least be on the same side of McCloud's pyramid. Overall pretty unsatisfying, but to be fair I'm not sure I'm the market for non-Stevens Rocketeer stories. I did think the Walter Simonson covers were terrific, though.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

CONAN - QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST by Wood/Cloonan/Herren

CONAN - QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST. [VOLUME 13] collects some of the recent comic book adventures of the Robert E. Howard barbarian, these ones by writer Brian Wood, with Becky Cloonan drawing the first half and James Harren drawing the rest. I'm a dabbler in the whole Conan thing, getting the urge to read something every few years, and this one looked interesting. Generally I like my Conan in the "John Buscema inked by Ernie Chan" school, so this artwork definitely took some getting used to. Cloonan was just growing on me by the time her story was over.  Still not sure it works completely, but I'd like to see her style on a more traditional Conan story (one not set mostly on boats, that is). Harren had more typical Conan stuff to illustrate, and did fine with it. I didn't care for Wood's writing as much. As I understand it, the first half is a pretty direct adaptation of the first part of the Howard story of the title, while the second half is an original story filling in the period before the end of the story, which will be adapted later (and which I'm pretty sure I've read in the Buscema/Chan version in a previous dabble into Conan, in Marvel's CONAN #100). That first half is okay, but unclear at points. The original half, that didn't really read like any Conan I'm familiar with. There's some weird and infeasible robbery and escape plan, and then some generally implausible plot twists. Not very satisfying at all. Hopefully my next foray into Conan (which will probably be the long-delayed, still unscheduled GROO/CONAN crossover) is more enjoyable.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

SPUMCO COMIC BOOK by Various

SPUMCO COMIC BOOK collects some stories created for a 1990s anthology from animator John Kricfalusi and his studio. Kricfalusi is best known for the cartoon REN & STIMPY. I don't think I've ever sat through a complete one of those cartoons, so obviously I'm not the target market (so obviously this is a library one). For the most part I thought the stories were over-long for their simplistic plots, had too many gags that would have worked better animated (and even there would have been pretty cliché at this point) and just weirdly gross, but not in a good way. I think I might have genuinely laughed twice while reading the book, which is a pretty low success rate.  If you love REN & STIMPY or think characters like George Liquor and Jimmy The Idiot Boy are inherently funny than it'll probably work for you.

Monday, December 09, 2013

AUGUSTA WIND by DeMatteis & Gogtzilas

THE ADVENTURES OF AUGUSTA WIND collects a 5-issue series by J. M. DeMatteis and Vassilis Gogtzilas, the first storyline in what's planned to be a longer story about the title character. Dematteis has had a few go-rounds with the all-ages fantasy genre before, including ABADAZAD and IMAGINALIS, and if you liked those (and I did) you'll probably like this (which I also did). It's hard to describe quickly, so maybe it'll get a longer post later. Gogtzilas is a pretty interesting artist. I guess the quick shorthand way to describe his work in American comics terms would be Sam Kieth as inked by Bill Sienkiewicz, but there's a whole lot more going on. Not the easiest book to read, both the art and story require you to slow down and pay attention, but there's a lot there to reward you if you do.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

MARCH - BOOK ONE by Lewis, Aydin & Powell

MARCH - BOOK ONE is the first part of a three-part autobiography of John Lewis, written with Andrew Aydin and drawn by Nate Powell. Lewis is a long-time member of the US congress, but long before that he was a leader in the civil rights movement. In this first book he lays the foundation for his future life with stories about growing up in Alabama and how he became aware of the wider world, the changes that were coming and the role he could play in them. This first book only brings his story up to 1960 and the desegregation of lunch counters in Nashville, with the iconic "march" of the title still years away and just shown briefly in the prologue. A great story so far, and effectively told, it seems to be doing well that I hope the later volumes follow quickly. Until then, I guess I could read Lewis' older, more traditional memoirs. And Nate Powell's other books look pretty interesting.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

SUPERMAN VOLUME 1 - WHAT PRICE TOMORROW? by Perez&Co.

SUPERMAN VOLUME 1 - WHAT PRICE TOMORROW? collects the first six issues of the current SUPERMAN series, part of the publisher's "New 52" branded reboot of 2011.  This was the only one of the launch books I was really interested in, since it was written by George Perez who I'll always have a soft spot for. Mostly for his art, of course, which isn't seen much in here (just the covers and some breakdowns), but also some of his writing. It starts off pretty good, one of the more readable of the "New 52" things I've tried (my library's gotten a lot of them, most didn't leave much of an impression, a lot of them I stopped halfway through). Nothing spectacular, but solid single issue stories which build up a menace and also try to establish some of the new backstory. It all falls apart a bit in the second half, but you can't really blame that on Perez.  I didn't really follow all the behind-the-scenes stuff, but I gather he didn't feel he was getting to tell his story the way he wanted, and left the series after these issues to just draw. There's also some mild chaos with the art, with first-issue artist Jesus Merino only drawing three chapters, the other three drawn by Nicola Scott. Both are okay, I actually preferred Scott's work. She seems to come closest to making the ill-advised current version of the costume for Siegel and Shuster's creation work. I'll have to keep an eye out for her work on something else interesting in the future.

Friday, December 06, 2013

GODDAMN THIS WAR by Tardi

GODDAMN THIS WAR (PUTAIN DE GUERRE) is the latest translation of Jacques Tardi's work into English, this time a six chapter chronicle of World War I, one for each year from 1914 to 1919, from the perspective of a French foot soldier. It starts off a bit slow, but picks up quickly as all of the insanity and stupidity of war being to wear on the already cynical narrator. That's also seen in the art, which starts off with a lot of bright colours with the shiny new uniforms and green fields, but quickly shifts to more muted tones, with occasional use of brighter colours. Definitely worth reading, especially the last chapter, which breaks format and mostly just tells single panel stories about people caught in the war. A few bits of the script seemed off, like the comparison of backed up ambulances to "cabs in a New York traffic jam", which I'm not sure is a metaphor a French soldier in 1918 would make, but I might be wrong, and those are minor issues. Probably my favourite of the Tardi books I've read.  This edition also includes a long year-by-year chronology of the war by Jean-Pierre Verney, heavily illustrated with photographs, which I haven't read, but a quick glance at the photos is an interesting look at the research material Tardi would have had for his story, and I'm sure supply some welcome material for those interested in the background of the battles shown from the foot soldier's point of view in the comics.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

ETHEL & ERNEST by Briggs

ETHEL & ERNEST: A TRUE STORY is a 1998 book by Raymond Briggs, telling the story of the life his parents shared from their meeting in 1928 to their deaths in 1971, most of that time spent in the same house they bought shortly after their marriage. This was a great book, one of the best I've read in years, I'm sorry it somehow took me fifteen years to get around to reading it. I've read some of Briggs' children's books before (and in fact found this one while looking to get a copy of one of Christmas books as a gift), but not his handful of adult books. I'll be sure to remedy that soon. He does a great job weaving the history of England in the mid-20th Century with the lives of his parents, with a lot of interesting observations about the social and technological changes they faced, bits that are amusing when you know where history will lead, lots of unexpected callbacks, some of them very subtle. The story is told in a lot of short anecdotes, sometimes only a few panels long, but each building on the last to make a complex portrait that'll break your heart as it leads to the inevitable end. And the art is just gorgeous, evoking the period perfectly.

Been a while...

Hm, lots of virtual dust.  It's been a while.  Maybe I'll see if I still have any desire to post here, or should scrap the whole thing. Well, I guess I'll leave it up because there might be a handful of links out there to some posts, and it would be rude to leave them hanging...

Here are a few of the things I've read in the past month or so, mostly sitting in a pile waiting for me to either stick on a bookshelf or return to the library, that I might write about soon (a few of the posts are already written, actually, but I figure I post so infrequently I might as well spread them out). If anyone is still reading, feel free to let me know if there's anything below you'd like me to weigh in on with a quick ten minute review:

JOE KUBERT PRESENTS
SUPERMAN VOLUME 1 - WHAT PRICE TOMORROW?
NORTH 40
SUPERIOR
SAGA VOLUME 1 and SAGA VOLUME 2
EC creator-based anthologies (Kurtzman, Williamson, Wood)
ETHEL & ERNEST: A TRUE STORY
ALIENS - INHUMAN CONDITION
AMERICAN VAMPIRE VOLUME 1
MIND MGMT - THE MANAGER
THE ADVENTURES OF AUGUSTA WIND
BRODY'S GHOST VOLUME 4
SO LONG, SILVER SCREEN
THE BEST OF MILLIGAN & MCCARTHY
CASTLE WAITING VOLUME 2
GOOD DOG
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR
THE FIRST X-MEN
DAN SPIEGLE - A LIFE IN COMICS
AVENGERS : SEASON ONE
CONAN - QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST [VOLUME 13]
RAGEMOOR
FREAKS' AMOUR
STAR TREK/LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES
HOW TO FAKE A MOON LANDING
GODDAMN THIS WAR
PREACHER VOLUME 1
NEMESIS
JULIO'S DAY
MARCH - BOOK ONE
HAWKEYE - MY LIFE AS A WEAPON
SPUMCO COMIC BOOK
A MATTER OF LIFE
WE ARE ON OUR OWN : A MEMOIR
THE ROCKETEER: HOLLYWOOD HORROR
SAINTS
DAY OF JUDGMENT
MARBLE SEASON
THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERHERO GIRL
A.D.D. ADOLESCENT DEMO DIVISION
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