Muscles and Fights Volume 2

It started with an honest fanboy at a mid-sized comic convention sharing his unwavering love for comics: "I like muscles...and fights". Next thing you know, indy misfits Amado Rodriguez and Bud Burgy put together a 184-page anthology featuring comic book artists creating, you guessed it, short stories showcasing muscles and fights (appropriately the book's title). Volume one was well received and left folks hungry for even more, you guessed it again, muscles and fights. So Bud and Amado recently put together another serving of kick-ass, Muscles and Fights 2: Musclier & Fightier.

Indie creators on the encore fight card include: Jon Sloan, Daniel J. Olson, Danno Klonoski, Ryan Dow, Leith St. John, Matthew Kriske, RanDiggity, Zander Cannon, Kevin Cannon, Kevin McCarthy, Tim Sievert, Steven St. Walley, Scott Tauser, Bob Lipski, Todd Coss, Alberto Rios, Marcus Muller, Michael Roanhaus, and Earl Luckes Jr.

I had the opportunity of participating in the Muscles and Fights sequel and put together a little ditty called "The Rage of Andy Warhol”. Ain't It Cool recently reviewed the book and was very kind in describing my 14-page installment...

"The book ends on a highly positive note from Bernie Gonzalez. His “The Rage of Andy Warhol” is one of those spoofs that will immediately appeal to both art aficionados and comic book fans by smelting the Incredible Hulk with Andy Warhol to birth the artsy mayhem of Warhulk! Fun stuff of dynamic proportions. Although the story starts off slow, its one of those gems that you don’t want to see end."

You can read the entire Ain't It Cool review here. And for more info on Muscles and Fights volumes one and two, head over to the official bloody and steroid-infused website.




Copic brush pen and Photoshop.




Over the last few years, my comic-buying habits have steered away from capes, mutants, and gravity-defying busts. Luckily for me, there are a few publishers that have made a name for themselves by servicing the indie/alternative comics crowd. Among that small group of publishers, DC Comics imprint Vertigo has made some particularly loud noise with acclaimed non-superhero titles such as Sandman, Preacher, 100 Bullets, A History of Violence, V for Vendetta, Transmetropolitan, and Fables. I’ve enjoyed some of their books (Losers, DMZ, Mnevore) while others seem interesting enough but just aren’t my cup of tea (Y: The Last Man, The Other Side, We3). But overall, if it’s under the Vertigo banner, I’m willing to give it a shot. So when I saw a new, original Vertigo graphic novel called Cairo featuring a seasoned journalist/writer and an award-winning illustrator, I was on board.

Cairo starts with a street savvy thief named Ashraf who gets his hands on an extra special hookah that just so happens to be the home to a genuine genie. In an effort to make a quick buck, Ashraf ends up selling the hookah to a kid named Shaheed. Turns out the kid is the “chosen one” so the genie helps Shaheed on his burgeoning path with destiny.

Of course, there’s a ruthless mob boss/magician who wants the hookah back. Said mob boss/magician kidnaps Ashraf’s journalist brother along with an innocent American tourist as a little added motivation for the thief to recover the hookah. So Ashraf teams up with an Israeli soldier named Tova and the drama kicks into high gear.

Cairo’s pacing is very cinematic and runs similar to action/adventure movies like The Mummy, Sahara, or National Treasure. Problem is: Cairo isn’t like any of those movies. It’s closer to a direct for cable, TBS/TNT/Sci Fi Channel movie. Think The Librarian: Return to King Solomon's Mines, Mansquito, or Return of the Living Dead 5: Rave from the Grave; movies where the story falls short fall short and the lack of a legitimate production budget shows on the screen.

The story is written by G. Willow Wilson; a journalist who has written for the New York Magazine. Maybe it’s just me but I expected more. Not because of her rather respectable resume but because Cairo reads like a comic book rather than being a good story in comic book form. Good stories transcend their medium and Vertigo has a catalog full of great examples. However, Cairo’s plot plods along with moments of forced characterization and unimaginative dialogue. Additionally, the use of mythology tries to be inventive but it comes off as superfluous. It doesn’t help that Perker’s artwork is rather uninspired. The linework reminds me of Greg Capullo or Mark Pacella when they worked on X-Force in the early 90’s. Way too superhero-y for a self-described “magical-realism thriller”.

I won’t harp much more about Cairo since it’s obvious by now that I didn’t like the book. Let me point out one more thing. Coming in at 160-pages, $24.99 is rather expensive for black-and-white/grayscaled artwork. Even if it is a hardcover and the creative team has a few “real” publication credits in the parentheses behind their names, Cairo is a hard sell at that price. I can pick up Scott Chantler’s Northwest Passage: The Annotated Collection (hardcover, b&w, 272-pages) for $20. Or I can pick up Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon’s Pride of Baghdad for $20 (hardcover, full color, 136-pages). Both better deals. Both way better books.

Last word: Cairo has received enough respectable pub that my not-so-glowing review won’t make a dent on the book’s standing. And based on a promotional push at your local chain bookstore, sales of Cairo should give Vertigo another market success to add to their already stacked catalog of titles. As for me, I’ll mirror Boston’s opinion of current Yankee/former Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon: Cairo is dead to me. I’m more interested in what writer G. Willow Wilson does for her comic encore. She’s qualified and talented enough to bring a unique perspective to another story in our beloved medium. When it comes to the artwork, I can’t say I’ll seek out M.K. Perker’s work in the future. But then again, Cairo may be the product of a blues musician being asked to play black metal. All you have to do is look at her online gallery of work to know she’s a fine artist. That being said, if I see her name on a future solicitation, I’ll seek out a few preview pages to see what she’s up to.

If you’re at your local Barnes and Noble or Borders, give Cairo a skim and see what you think. As for me, I’m gonna go reread the first arc of The Invisibles or the latest issue of Jason Aaron’s Scalped and remind myself how good Vertigo can be.



Town Boy

A few weeks ago, I was reading an article in Wired magazine all about the advent of manga and its impact on the American culture. I can’t remember all the figures off the top of my head but the shear number of folks reading manga in Japan is astounding; so much so that it’s almost incomprehensible when you try to compare it with the popularity of Western comics. That got me thinking about the creators behind all those books we’ve never heard of.

Stateside comic names such as Will Eisner, Frank Miller, Stan Sakai, Mike Mignola, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, and Alex Ross are all familiar to the pullbox set. Even if you don’t buy their titles, you’ve seen their work or heard their names in passing. But when it comes to the comics scene outside of the states, at least on my end, it starts getting a little hazy. Don’t get me wrong, I can throw out Clamp, Nihei Tsutomu, Moebius, and Sergio Aragones if pressed. But aside from that small group of creators, I’m drawing a serious blank.

Inspired by fellow Indie Pulp contributor Matthew Brady who recently attended a signing for Israeli graphic novelist Ruth Modan’s book, Exit Wounds, I decided to rectify my sad, sad situation by checking out a graphic novel from an international comic’s creator I’ve never heard of.

Lat, or Mohammed Nor Khalid, is the Malaysian creator behind Kampung Boy and Town Boy. Aside from the notoriety he’s gained in his home country, Lat’s work is well-regarded throughout Southeast Asia and Europe. His first book, Kampung Boy, was published in 1979 and was recently reprinted and released in America through First Second Books last August. Although I wasn’t able to get my hands on a copy of Kampung Boy, I was able to read the recently released Town Boy, also published by First Second Books.

After moving out of a village and into the first low-cost housing complex in Malaysia, 10-year-old Mat and his family begin to settle into their new metropolitan world. Mat attends school in the city of Ipoh; an urban center filled with crowds, swarms of bicyclists, frantic buses, and corner markets. Although he takes a relatively low key approach at his new school, Mat can’t hide his love for music and participates in a small school show. Mat survives the affair without drawing too much attention to himself but his singing is enough to catch the ear of fellow classmate Frankie. Frankie’s father owns a coffee shop and a pretty sweet record collection that includes Elvis, Bobby Darin, the Platters, and a new up and coming group from England calling themselves the Beatles. In one of the neatest moments in the book, the two kids take a moment after school to thoroughly enjoy Bill Haley & His Comets’ cover of "Rock Around the Clock"...

Unfortunately, when Mat returns to his family and implores his parents to get their own jukebox, his appeal falls on deaf ears.

The story features slices of daily adolescent life that translate beyond countries, languages, or time periods. It may be an autobiographical account of the author’s life in 1960’s Malaysia, but the moments could easily be episodes from The Wonder Years. Getting caught for cheating in school. Mustering the courage to talk to that really pretty girl in your math class…

And talking about the future…

Artwise, Lat’s linework reminds me of Cartoon Network’s Ed, Edd and Eddy. Town Boy’s black-and-white pages are filled with the same nervous, thin brush stroke sketchiness seen in the cartoon combined with the “comix” quality visible and made popular in Robert Crumb’s work. The widescreen layout allows for single illustrations to take over an entire two pages or the more traditional single-page, panel breakdown. As for the characters, Lat’s rendition of Mat, Frankie, and assorted classmates has a Peanuts quality that’s both simple and exaggerated. Even as the characters age from 10-year-olds to young adults, the basic visual qualities Lat assigns to the kids remains the same and makes them easily distinguishable.

Although they’ve only been around for a little over a year, First Second Books has made a nice name for themselves with the release of American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, The Black Diamond Detective Agency by Eddie Campbell, Laika by Nick Abadzis, and Robot Dreams by Sara Varon among other quality titles. Now that I’m aware of Lat’s work and his reputation in the international comics community, adding Kampung Boy and Town Boy to their catalog gives First Second even more credibility in my eyes. As a publisher, they've made a great decision in reprinting both titles for the American market. While Lat’s books are being positioned for the Barnes and Noble faithful rather than the cape-loving fanboy, I hope daring and open-minded pullboxers are willing to give Town Boy a try.



Lobster Johnson

Copic brush pen and Photoshop magic.




Here's one of the better results of my new, fancy schmancy Copic brush pen...

Color in Photoshop with a few nicks from the geniuses that are Darwyn Cooke and Sam Hiti.



The Artists Within

Just a few years ago, I was bouncing around from dorm room to undersized apartment, toiling away at my college education. During those years, as I also developed my creative aptitude, my “studio” consisted of living room rugs, strategically positioned milk crates, and hand-me-down computer desks. Today, as I type this little ditty up, I sit comfortably in my official, honest to goodness office/studio. I even have a sweet ass office chair to boot (thanks mom!).

I can’t stress enough how the luxury of having a separate room devoted to one’s craft can not be undervalued. An office/studio is a very personal space filled with inspiration, references, resource library, tools of the trade, music, and just about anything that gets the creative juices flowing. My little piece of the house happens to be inhabited by Hellboy posters, Samurai Jack statutes, a book shelf crammed with DVDs, and partially organized to do piles. It’s my little piece of heaven, separate from my family and the rest of my “regular” life. So when I saw that Dark Horse was publishing a 216-page book devoted to artists and their own pieces of heaven, I was excited to check it out.

The Artists Within: Portraits of Cartoonists, Comic Book Artists, Animators, and Others is a coffee table-sized book featuring black and white photographs of ninety-nine industry names such as Jack Kirby, Sergio Aragones, Will Eisner, Jack Davis, John Romita Sr., Alex Toth, Craig Thompson, Bruce Timm, Robert Crumb, Kyle Baker, Frank Miller, Joe Barbera, and Petter Bagge. The pictures were taken over the course of fifteen years by photographer Greg Preston and feature the artists posing in their respective studios. Aside from the quality photos, the inclusion of comic book artists, comic strip, artists, editorial cartoon artists, caricatures artists, and animators makes for a diverse group of illustrators.

My biggest complaint about Artists Within is that we get the artist but the within is absent. The black and white photography is all well and good; I’m particularly glad that they avoided color whether the artist is a deceased icon, old school trailblazer, or new school hero. But aside from a nice picture and a few sentences worth of text about the artist and what they’ve done, we’re left with nothing else that digs into the artist’s life. If the artists were willing to open their homes and their studios to Preston’s camera, I presume it wouldn’t be that much more work to ask a few process questions.

What tools do you use?
Do you keep a regimented schedule with regards to your art?
How do you balance your family life and your artistic life?

Questions like that. I’ll admit that being a writer/artist, my curiosity into such things may be higher than the average fanboy. But considering that most comic shop goers may not even know who Jack Davis is, taking some time to dig into his process and his studio, aside from a solitary photo, would've appease the audience Artist Within was meant for.

Don't get me wrong; it's evident that Artists Within was produced with a love, passion, and understanding of the artist. I just wish they could’ve taken the next, natural step to make this book a must-have instead of a must-browse.



Proof #1

I’ve always had an affinity for all things monsters, mysterious, and supernatural. The Universal movie monsters, ghosts, Bigfoot, Kolchak, etc. And as I’ve gotten older, my appetite for the weird continues to grow. Now I’m looking into the Dresden Files, Hellboy, and just about anything by Loren Coleman. So when I discovered that Image Comics was going to publish a new series titled Proof that dealt with cryptozoology, I made sure to throw it on the pull list.

For those in the audience unfamiliar with the term, according to the good folks at Dictionary.com, cryptozoology is “the study of evidence tending to substantiate the existence of, or the search for, creatures whose reported existence is unproved, as the Abominable Snowman or the Loch Ness monster.”

Proof #1 introduces us to FBI Agent Ginger Brown. During a hold-up at a jewelry store, Agent Brown does her best to settle down the situation when all of a sudden, she quite literally comes face to face with someone, or something, quite unnatural. Next thing she knows, Brown is sitting in front of her supervisor and being told she has just been transferred to Washington. State, not DC. Upon her arrival at her new post, Brown is met by her new boos, Agent Leander Wight, and brought into The Lodge.

What’s the Lodge you ask? Think the B.P.R.D. headquarters from the Hellboy movie but much more…country. Just when things couldn’t get more bizarre, Agent Brown is introduced to her new partner: John “Proof” Prufrock.

Thing is, John “Proof” Prufrock just so happens to be Bigfoot.

Writer Alex Grecian does a nice job of setting up the series and works in some chronological scene shifts to give the first issue’s ending some television pilot-styled closure. You can’t expect too much characterization in twenty-four pages but Grecian is able to set up all of the main characters nicely and leave enough blanks to fill in future issues. As for the pretty pictures, artist Rile Rossmo handles the lines and the inks, providing a sketchy visual atmosphere. There are times in the first issue where I would’ve preferred less-sketchy representations of the main characters, if only to get a better sense of their reactions. But Rossmo’s style does nothing to hinder the storytelling and, if anything, gives the book a slightly skewed and exaggerated look which seems appropriate considering the subject matter.

At the end of the issue, Grecian leaves the reader with a few pages of extra material, including an origin behind the idea for the series and a few recommendations/references from the world of cryptozoology. More importantly, Grecian makes a case for our support of Proof by asserting that he and Rossmo have already completed five-issues of the new series and laid out five years worth of storylines, all before evening signing on with Image Comics. At a time when comics timeliness suffers due to creative lethargy and artistic divas, it’s good to hear that the team behind Proof care enough about their own book to give it the TLC it needs to gain some momentum.

Overall, I’m anxious to see where the series goes. If monsters and cryptids are in the mix, I’ve got all the Proof I need.

Link: Image Comics 5-page preview of Proof #1

Link: Newsarama interview with Proof writer Alex Grecian and artist Riley Rossmo including concept sketches and preview pages