Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
I bought a bunch of big comics in Seattle last weekend, but I also got several single issues, so I thought I’d review them all in one post. You know you love reviews of obscure, self-published comics! Yes you do!
You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t list the prices to some of these. I can’t remember what I paid for some of them, because I paid cash and received no receipts. Also, with the obvious exception of Hell Yeah #1, which you can find at a comic book store, I would encourage you to contact the creators directly if you’re interested in any of these comics. They would be more than happy to sell them to you!
Day for Night by Matthew Southworth (writer/artist). 13 pgs, BW.
Southworth is working on this apparently piecemeal, because the disclaimer in the front informs us that it is part of a larger crime story and this pamphlet isn’t even the beginning of the story. He’s doing these little pamphlets to give us an idea of what the story is like. It’s a crime comic set in Pittsburgh in 1931 (Southworth has lived in Pittsburgh, but I don’t know if it’s his home town), and in this section, we meet two main protagonists, a widower and a small kid. The man enters a back alley booze joint, takes two bottles, and implies that it’s all for “protection.” The boy spots him and follows him, but when he prepares to bash him over the head with a rock, the man turns the tables on him. It leads to a conclusion that will presumably have significant implications in the greater story. Southworth ends the book with a short prose section about Pittsburgh and his experiences there. At least I think it’s supposed to be about him. Maybe he’s just writing in first person.
The comic is quite gripping, because while we can figure out that the boy is going to get caught, Southworth does a good job slowly building the tension, even though the actual story is pretty short. The twist isn’t too shocking, but it’s handled nicely. Art-wise, the book is really good. The pages are crammed with panels, but it never feels busy – Southworth lays out the pages very well so that everything moves briskly even though there’s a lot of visual information on each page. The middle of the book features a very nice double-page spread that shows the boy following the man, and we get a nice sense of them moving through the city. In the confrontation, Southworth shrinks the panels so he can get even more onto the pages while still heightening the tension, and he pulls away from the action at a very good spot. Southworth’s rough pencils suit crime comics very well, and he gets the look of the 1930s down nicely. Of course, the book is in glorious black and white, so we get to see all the nuances Southworth puts into the linework. He shades the book well, with faces in half-shadow that indicate the moral gray area they inhabit, and there’s a wonderful panel at the end showing someone’s white hands that is beautifully ironic. In not too many pages, Southworth does a lot of cool things with the art.
I don’t know how long it will take Southworth to finish this sucker, but if you’re at all interested in crime comics, this is a nice little taste of good things to come. You like good things, don’t you?
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Unlike his last one-shot starring his titular heroine, which was a few different stories that seemed much more an excuse to show off his artwork, Steve Mannion’s latest series with Fearless Dawn has an actual story. Now, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, Fearless Dawn is pretty much an excuse to draw scantily-clad women in the best 1950s Wally Wood tradition, but it’s certainly a better comic when Mannion gives us a shred of a story, too. In this issue, Dawn is looking through her telescope when she sees … Nazis on the moon. Yes, those dastardly moon Nazis, led by her old nemesis, Helga von Krause. Her chief at the top-secret organization for which she works tells her that the Nazis aren’t actually a threat as they’re running out of money, a fact which is later confirmed. That doesn’t stop Dawn from dreaming about the evil Nazis, which convinces her to try to steal an experimental spaceship that will get her up to the moon. She’s stopped, of course (Dawn really isn’t the most effective superhero on the block), but the chief was right – Helga has already abandoned the base. When she crash lands, she’s met by an evil scientist who’s been breeding dinosaurs. Like you do. So, yeah, Dawn never actually goes into space, and by the end of the book, no one is actually in space. Dare we wonder what the next issue will be called?
It’s all ridiculous, of course, but that’s part of the fun of the Fearless Dawn comics. Mannion gets to draw women wearing tiny, tight clothing, Nazis, and monsters. It’s completely illogical, but it’s also wildly fun. It’s also funny how in one part of the book, Dawn curses like a longshoreman, but in another part of the book, Mannion uses grawlix when she does so. That’s just par for the course in this comic!
The reason to get a Fearless Dawn comic is for the artwork, and Mannion really knocks this out of the park. I mentioned to him that his art is pretty good in color but it’s amazing in black and white, and that’s the case with this book. The colors on the comics tend to smooth out the rough edges of his artwork, while in black and white, it actually looks a bit more silly and innocent – even though Dawn and any other female who appears in the book tends to be scantily-clad, it’s still more charming than offensive, and the black and white helps bring that out. Color tends to obscure some of his details, too, and I doubt if things like Helga’s moon base or the giant dinosaur at the end would look as good in color. He said he’s leaning toward keeping the book uncolored, and I hope he does.
Mannion is trying to raise funds to continue the series, and I imagine he would happily take your money in exchange for his fun periodical. Fearless Dawn is as cheesecakey as anything Marvel and DC put out, but it won’t make you feel skeevy when you read it! It’s too much fun for that!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Hell Yeah #1 (“Book One: Last Day on Earths Chapter One: The World They Made”) by Joe Keatinge (writer), Andre Szymanowicz (artist), Jason Lewis (colorist), and Douglas E. Sherwood (letterer). $2.99, 32 pgs, FC, Image.
I told Joe Keatinge that I hadn’t bought the first issue of Hell Yeah for a few reasons. First of all, Keatinge himself is still a bit of an unknown quantity to me, and I’m not buying a comic based solely on his name. I bought Glory mostly for Ross Campbell’s art, after all, even though the writing on the first two issue has been pretty good. Second, the premise – that the kid of a superhero is being a snot – doesn’t automatically appeal to me. Third, I can’t buy everything! Sheesh. I figured if I read enough good things about Hell Yeah, I could always pick up the trade. I do like Szymanowicz’s artwork, though, and I’m glad his profile is getting a bit higher, so it was a tough choice. But I decided to plunk down the three bucks for the book after I flipped through it, so I guess Keatinge did something right!
I still don’t think I’ll get the single issues, although there’s nothing really wrong with this. There’s obviously more to the premise than what I wrote up there – 20 years ago, during Operation Desert Storm, several superheroes simply appeared and changed the world, making it a lot better (at least, from what we see in this issue). Their first act was to rescue a soldier named Daniel Day, who was captured by the enemy. Now, Day’s son, Benjamin, has superpowers (some people are now getting them at puberty), and we also find out that his parents are keeping secrets from him (naturally). In fact, we don’t actually see his mother in this issue, so who knows what’s up with that. The book ends on a cliffhanger that implies multiple dimensions, so we’ll see how that ties into the whole “surprise appearance of superheroes” that occurs in the book. Keatinge does a good job both establishing Ben as a character – he’s a dick, but he’s also a young college student, so his being a dick isn’t that surprising – and working in some exposition, as Ben tells some of the information we need to know to a new-ish friend of his. Keatinge uses flashbacks and television reports well, too.
Szymanowicz does a good job with the artwork. He’s not dazzling, but he gets the job done, and he makes Ben’s world very compelling and believable as a place where superheroes have changed things. He gets a lot of the details right, which makes this world much more interesting, and his character designs are very cool. The only problem he has is with the fight in the beginning of the issue – it seems like action is the hardest thing for artists to nail down, and both the punches thrown in the fight look somewhat strange. But Szymanowicz is getting better on every project, and it’s nice to see. Lewis does a nice job with the colors, too, especially in the flashback, where he colors everything gray except the blood, which makes it stand out wonderfully.
I’m still not sure about getting Hell Yeah. It feels a bit familiar, and I know you can say that about pretty much every comic on the planet, but some other things that feel familiar usually have something that at least make them stand out. It’s a decent comic, to be sure, and I hope it does well. I have a feeling it will read better in trades, because Keatinge obviously has a big story to tell (this is, in case you missed it, chapter one of book one), so we’ll see. If it sounds like your thing, the second issue came out this week, so you can get them both and see what’s what!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Miners Mutiny #1 (“Prospecting”) by Emily Stackhouse (writer/artist) and Nicholas Shahan (writer). $3.00, 33 pgs, BrW.
Stackhouse and Shahan have a three-issue story planned out for this one, and in the first issue, we get quite a lot of information that presumably will play out over the course of the series. Basically, there are miners. And they mutiny! It’s so simple!
A guy named Bill ends up in a California mining town run by a tycoon named Jackson Flynn, who gives him a job. Bill used to be involved with one of the local prostitutes, Rose, and it’s possible he ended up in Dusty Pines just because of her. Meanwhile, he sees that the miners are treated like shit, which doesn’t make him happy. The main plot of the book concerns a man named Alejandro, whose wife Flynn raped. Alejandro attacked Flynn, so of course he is now in jail, awaiting a hanging. Bill decides to rescue him, which he does in the most improbable way possible. I suppose the rescue could work, but it’s a bit crazy.
Shahan and Stackhouse get a lot into these 33 pages – there are lots of characters, lots of things going on, and lots of tensions underneath the surface. There are obvious bad guys, but the good guys are a typical lot of roughnecks and drunks, and Bill is a natural leader. It’s fairly obvious where the story is going, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be interesting to get there.
Stackhouse’s art is a bit stiff, which is too bad, because there are some “action” scenes that don’t work too well – there are explosions in the book, and those pages aren’t as dramatic as they could be. She has some problems with perspective, as well – there are several “three-dimensional” scenes that look too flat, such as when we see the main floor of the saloon from the second-story balcony. Stackhouse does a nice job with the look of the characters and the town, however – first of all, the book is sepia-toned, which is a good choice, and we get a lot of nice details in the clothing and accoutrements of the characters. She doesn’t do a lot of exteriors of the town, but it looks like a 19th-century mining town, and the mine itself is dark and oppressive. The art is very detailed – no room is wasted, and as there’s a lot of writing as well, Stackhouse manages to lay the pages out nicely to accommodate everything. Stackhouse is obviously talented, but she also has room to improve.
I don’t know when the next two issues are coming out, but I’ll have to keep my eye out for it. I don’t love Miners Mutiny, but it’s pretty interesting. We need more comics about crappy mining conditions in the 19th century!!!!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Brisson has obviously put out three of these suckers so far (you can get them at the Murder Book site linked to above), but each one is completely self-contained, so no worries there. As he points out on the inside front cover, a “murder book” is a case file of a homicide, but these stories are simply crime comics which feature murder. As both of them have twists, I wonder if the others in other issues do to.
These are ridiculously bleak comics, I’m just warning you right now. I enjoyed them both, but they make Brubaker and Phillips’s Criminal look like a Strawberry Shortcake cartoon. In the first one, two thugs visit a man who owes their boss money. The man, it turns out, has a kid, and one of the thugs doesn’t care and threatens the man with his son’s death, while the second thug does care, because he himself is a father. Things get very ugly very quickly, and we get a nice ironic ending that is, nevertheless, bleak as hell. Copland is an underrated artist who ought to get more work, and he gives us a beautifully seedy apartment and beautifully seedy people, which makes the way things play out a bit more realistic and therefore a bit more distressing. In the second story, a man in a park comes across a woman’s body, but before he can find a phone (he left his at home), some other people find him and think he killed the young lady. They don’t take kindly to that, and things, once again, get ugly until we get to another ironic ending. Like I said, bleak. I’ve never seen Christmas’s art before, but it’s quite good – slightly more cartoony than Copland’s, but very effective. He’s slightly more adventurous with his “camera angles” than Copland is, which makes the story a bit more vertiginous.
Both stories are clever and horrible and depressing, but Brisson puts them together very nicely and gives us quite a bit of characterization for such short tales. I may have to track down the first two Murder Book issues and see what’s what in them! Of course, I might have to be listening to something cheery like the James Last Orchestra while I do it, but that’s the price I’ll pay!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Angry by Greg Hinkle (writer/artist) and Parasomnia by Greg Hinkle (artist and writer, “Terrible Old Man”), Storm (writer, “Playing House”), Jason McNamara (writer, “Baby Talk”), Matt Silady (writer, “Ghost Story”), and Josh Richardson (letterer). 16 pgs (Angry) and 40 pgs (Parasomnia), BW.
Angry is a short comic about an unnamed protagonist who gets angry a lot. It’s basically a bunch of 1- or 2-page jokes about things that make the dude angry (Donald Trump, hacky-sackers), and your enjoyment of it depends largely on how funny you think it is. It’s not bad, although like the dude’s girlfriend, I do worry that he’s going to have some kind of heart attack. Some of the jokes/situations are wildly over the top (the girl at the restaurant who keeps changing her order, the asshole at the coffee shop) but some are really funny (the scene at the movie, the guy at the dog park, the New Year’s Eve scene). The art is a good reason to check the book out, as well. I’ll get more into it with Parasomnia, but Hinkle has a nice, cartoony style that is richly detailed, and he does faces really well, which is important in a book about emotions. The page about celebrities is funny because of the caricature style he uses, and he does a really nice job incorporating lettering into the pages. It’s a slight comic, sure, but it’s a nice-looking one.
Parasomnia is better mainly because it tells a creepy story and features good art. The issue begins with a sequence in which some olde-timey bad dudes (they’re driving a 1930s car) try to break into a weird old house occupied by a bearded old man. Yeah, that doesn’t go very well. It appears that this is all part of a dream that a young woman is having, because her dream self seems to find some familiar bodies on a beach, but I’m not sure (it’s inspired by an H.P. Lovecraft story, so I’m not sure if Hinkle wants it to be part of the dream or not). If the first sequence isn’t part of her dream (I’m going to say it is), we quickly get into the meat of the issue – this woman keeps having bizarre and horrible dreams, and her husband keeps comforting her when she wakes up. She has dreams about the old man (if we accept that it is a dream), she dreams about her parents divorcing, she dreams about a woman (it doesn’t look like her, but I guess it is) whose scumbag boyfriend coerces her to have an abortion, and she dreams about taking a taxi across a bridge. Each of the dreams starts off mundane and becomes more and more horrific as it goes along. Storm’s story is both terrifying and tragic, McNamara’s is extremely twisted, and Silady’s is spooky and portentous, leading to the final reveal. It’s a nice read. Hinkle’s art is very good. In the first story, he gives us a weird, twisted landscape surrounding the old man’s house. In the second story, he shows us a girl’s point of view of divorce, and he skews his perspective slightly to attempt to give us a world through a child’s eyes. In the third story, he takes the protagonist into the sewer, where Hinkle shows off his pure horror skills, as what the guy meets down there is extremely creepy. The fourth story isn’t quite as detailed in the line work, but Hinkle does a very nice job with the design work. Almost the entire story is double-page spreads, and Hinkle places smaller panels that show the interactions between the woman and the taxi driver as billboards looming over the cab as it navigates through the streets. It’s a very clever idea that allows Hinkle to give us a sense of scope but also keeps the dialogue from remaining in disembodied word balloons. The fact that he uses the panel borders to cut off the character’s faces quite often adds to the disconcerting and dreamlike feel of the story. The entire book is drawn well, but the way Hinkle designs “Ghost Story” is a highlight of the issue.
If you’re thinking about buying on of these, I’d go with Parasomnia, although there’s nothing wrong with getting both of them!
Rating (Angry): ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Rating (Parasomnia): ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel (from Parasomnia):
Jason McNamara has been working on Short Hand for a while, trying to find a publisher. I have no idea how that’s going, but I wish him the best, because McNamara is a very interesting writer with a lot of cool ideas who manages to publish some very neat books, including this one. You don’t need to wait until he’s working for DC to read his comics, you know!
Short Hand is a story of a detective, and given what’s written on the cover (“The world’s oldest detective is twelve”), I don’t think I’ll be giving too much away by revealing that Oscar Lindstat suffers from progeria, which makes him age 8 times faster than normal. He looks like an old man, but he is, in fact, only 12 years old. He also has a brilliant analytical mind, he likes to pretend he’s lived a full, happy life (it’s better than facing what he’s missing), but he got in some trouble with the cops and has to wear an ankle bracelet to keep him in the house. Of course, he gets out and solves a case he’s interested in, but if the comic continues, presumably the anklet will be a running issue. In the beginning, the cop who’s assigned to monitor him introduces to a new cop, who’s going to take over the case. This is how the reader discovers that Oscar is not, in fact, an old man – Aaron Woods, the new guy, does some digging. Meanwhile, Oscar gets out of his house and solves a crime. McNamara actually works to drop clues somewhat subtly – he can’t be too obscure, because the book isn’t long enough, but he still does a nice job with it – and the case itself is interesting because it’s not just a standard murder mystery. McNamara also manages to add some pathos to Oscar’s situation, as his tough exterior cracks only a little, but enough to show how sad he really is. There’s also a back-up story the name of which I won’t reveal because it will give away the joke, but it’s a twisted little story.
Rahsan Ekedal continues to get better and better even though he’s not a well-known name yet. His work on Echoes last year was tremendous, and it’s very good in this, too. He’s very good at giving every character a lot of personality – everyone looks real, with all the rough edges that real people have – and he lays a page out very nicely. He also shades the book very well – the book is in gray scales, and Ekedal manages to imply sunlight and other light sources very well just by the way he shades the characters. It’s interesting – about halfway through the book his lines get thicker and slightly more cartoony, almost Immonen-esque. I don’t know if he did the first half a while ago and this is an evolution or if he was just experimenting, but while the art is still good, it’s not as distinctive as the first half. It’s actually rather interesting to see an artist shift styles in the middle of a book, because you can watch the style develop. Both parts are good, though, if a bit different.
Short Hand is a cool comic book, and McNamara promises more stories to come. Let’s hope someone picks this sucker up!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
So that’s it for single issues that I got in Seattle. Over the next month or so I’ll try to review all the bigger stuff I got, but I’m not promising anything! This is one of the best reasons to go to a convention – there are a lot of cool comics out there, and they’re often hard to find. At conventions, you have a lot of access to them! Remember, though – the creators will be happy to sell you any of these over yonder Internet, so don’t be shy about asking them!
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