Tag Archive | arts

Sacre Bleu: A Comedy D’Art

In July 1890, Vincent Van Gough went into a cornfield and shot himself. Or did he? Why would an artist at the height of his creative powers attempt to take his own life… and then walk a mile to a doctor’s house for help? Who was the crooked little “color man” Vincent had claimed was stalking him across France? And why had the painter recently become deathly afraid of a certain shade of blue?

A magnificent “Comedy d’Art” from the author of Lamb, Fool, and Bite Me, Moore’s Sacré Bleu is part mystery, part history (sort of), part love story, and wholly hilarious as it follows a young baker-painter as he joins the dapper Henri Toulouse-Lautrec on a quest to unravel the mystery behind the supposed “suicide” of Vincent van Gogh.

Click to read what I thought.

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Ka-Pow 101: Avengers Assemble

Finally, here comes another lesson in Ka-Pow 101. Syncing up with today’s release, we’ll take a look at the Avengers. To be specific, we’ll look at some of the characters who haven’t featured in their own movies.

Black Widow played by Scarlett Johansson

Black Widow is Natasha Romanoff, an agent of SHIELD. We got to see her in action in Iron Man 2 as the SHIELD spy keeping an eye on Tony Stark. But where did she come from? Natalia Romanova (wait, what? yeah… Americanized names! Go!) was trained from her youth to be a master assassin in the Soviet “Red Room” program which trained young girls. She was granted bio- and psycho-tech enhancements (whatever that means), and planted with memories of an alternate youth. She eventually defected from Russia, and became a member of SHIELD.

Hawkeye played by Jeremy Renner

Hawkeye is Clint Barton, yet another agent of SHIELD. We briefly glimpsed him in Thor watching over Thor’s assault on the compound studying his hammer. Trained in the circus to be a master marksman, Barton was not originally recognized as a hero. During his first outing as Hawkeye, he is accused of theft and goes on the run from the Avengers. Wait a minute. It looks like things have changed for the movie. The question is, “When do we get to find out more?”

Maria Hill played by Cobie Smulders

Maria Hill is Maria Hill… oh, never mind. You get it. SHIELD agent. Anyway, she is the most recent addition to the Marvel Universe of these three. Hill appeared in comics in 2005 as a replacement to Nick Fury who had gone rogue. As the Executive Director, she was in control of SHIELD during the reformation of the Avengers following the massive prison break of super-villain prison, the Raft. In the comics, she initially worked against the Avengers, but it appears she’s going to be backing them whole-heartedly in the film.

What other changes are made in the film? We’ll find out this weekend in The Avengers as well as future films.

Ka-Pow 101: Intro to Comic Books (for Adults) Pt. 2

Last time, we went through some of the basics of comic books and their vocabulary. This time around I’m going to give you a few rules (…more like guidelines) to introducing a full-grown non-comic reader to the world of the funny book. I will also look at some personal suggestions for an introductory reading list.

So what kind of rules should you follow for introducing someone to comic books? And what kind of hints should you heed if you are going into this solo?

Respect the Reader

Just because you have convinced someone to read comic books, it does not mean they want to read about superheroes. Just like all forms of art there different forms, styles, and genres. One person may enjoy serialized horror books (Walking Dead) while another may enjoy fantastical anthology books (Flight). Even if they do want to get into superhero stuff, keep in mind the next rule.

Start Small

Now this may sound counter-intuitive to the wording, but start small means start with the bigger format: trades. Generally, trades are easier to read and digest. You can get a full story in a single trade as opposed to getting a portion in a monthly issue and having to wait. I always find watching a show on Netflix or saved up on my DVR is a lot easier than waiting week to week. (I know! I know! Another comparison to TV, but it’s so easy!) Also, trades are generally older stories which have a known quality.

Another thing to keep in mind about starting small. Use trades which are self-contained and not part of a series. (Sorry Sandman and Lucifer.) Anthology trades work too. Don’t necessarily expect the last read, but don’t anticipate continued reading. It might not happen.

Try Other Media

In introducing someone else to comics, don’t instantly jump in and say, “Here’s a comic book! READ IT!” There have been amazing strides in adapting graphic novels and comic books to both television and film. Walking Dead has been a cultural phenomenon that has lit up so many televisions on Sunday nights. Young Justice, while not identical to the source material, has been a thrill to watch. There also some really fantastic feature films to check out. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World does an amazing job of capturing the spirit and themes of the comic book. Marvel Studios has had amazing success with their properties (Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor) all leading up to the highly anticipated Avengers. DC Comics’ direct-to-DVD animation endeavors, like Justice League: The New Frontier, have adapted some of the most cherished storylines in DC’s long history without dragging in all of the continuity.

After taking the time to watch an adaptation, take a look at the source material. It’s an interesting comparison as you can see character moments that hit the cutting room floor, or find new scenes that never made it from page to screen.

Now let’s make the transition to ongoing series.

Start in the Present

If you want to get started on an ongoing series, the best way is to start with the current story arc. Make sure not to jump in mid-arc because you will get lost. If you enjoy what is happening and want to understand more of the back story, you can track down the relevant material. There is an exception to the rule: on-goings written by the creator (generally creator-owned books). Books like Fables, Walking Dead (Last time I use this as an example, I swear!), and Locke & Key are working toward an eventual end. It’s not always clear if such is the case, but a good sign of the series direction is the consistency of the creative team.

Utilize Reference

Wikipedia and sites like Comic Vine are your friend. The comic book articles on Wikipedia are surprisingly (or not, considering nerds run the interwebs) well-organized. Comic Vine runs its own dedicated wiki on characters, books, teams, and arcs. If you have the money to spend, DC and Marvel both have encyclopedias which catalog many of their characters with details such aliases, origins, history, and team affiliations.

Now that you have the guidelines/rules on getting someone or yourself started in reading comic books, what book do I suggest? Well let’s see.

Novice Level – You’re brand new and have never touched a comic book

300 by Frank Miller – This one is a great example of utilizing all the rules I just explained. It’s self-contained and collected in a trade. It is also available in another format: the 2007 adaptation by Zack Snyder. It is also a breath-taking story of honor and heroism.

Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughn and Nico Henrichon – This is a beautiful but tragic tale based on a true story of lions roaming the streets of Baghdad. This graphic novel stands on its own, and good for someone who isn’t necessarily interested in superheroes or war.

Joe the Barbarian by Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy – Released as an 8 issue miniseries in 2010, this story of friendship and imagination is a thrill ride. It actually gets better with multiple read-throughs, and I hope someday it gets made into a movie (…by me! … If only). It has since been collected into a single trade with some excellent extra content.

Wanted  by Mark Millar and JG Jones – Edging into the world of superheroes, this mini-series from 2005 tells a story of wish-fulfillment and responsibility with which Mark Millar excels ( see also Kick-Ass). This would be an interesting experiment for the alternate format rule due to the vast difference from source to adaptation.

Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale – This one pushes the limits of all the rules. It is a self-contained story, but it features characters from a long and storied history. Loeb does a fine job of making sure the reader does not get lost. This is also an exception to the rule of starting in the present.  With characters as engraved in the collective unconscious as Batman, many of Loeb and Sales books can also be included  in this list.

Advanced – Longer-form books to get into once you’re committed

Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore/Charlie Adlard – I know I said I wouldn’t use this again, but it’s so obvious. Get someone hooked on the amazing show from AMC, and then let them read the comic book. The great thing about the two is the separate path the show has taken from the comic. I would suggest starting in the beginning, especially if using the show as a jumping on point, but starting with current issues would be fine. Just remember the potential for spoilers.

Sandman by Neil Gaiman and various artists – A rich and intense epic, this long-form series will keep you on your toes. Curve balls will catch you off guard. The over-arcing story is also broken up by some very interesting vignettes.

Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez – A dark, yet fun series with a mystery/horror feel. It is a fairly new series, which will be easy to get caught up on.

That’s gonna be the end of Ka-Pow 101, for now. These suggestions are all based on books I am reading or have read. There are many more possibilities and amazing suggestions I could have added, but I’d love to hear from you!. Let me know other techniques you might have used to introduce new readers to comic books. Ask me anything you think I missed or forgot to mention. Let others know about comics you think they should start with. Leave a comment below.

Ka-Pow 101: Intro to Comic Books (for Adults) Pt. 1

I was recently talking to my girlfriend about comic books and realized that I’ve never seen a rule book to introducing comic books to an adult. I have a history with comic books. I got a box full at a young age and have been hooked ever since. Many of the stories that I’ve heard from other comic book fans start the same way: a relative bestows upon them the first treasured comics at a young age. I am not claiming this is the only way it happens, but in my own experience, it is the most common. But what about those who never experienced that magic moment in youth? How do they stumble into the dense and wonderful world of Kryptonians and super-soldiers? Here are a few helpful hints.

Let’s start with the vocabulary of comic books.

Comic books are generally published as single issues on a schedule (generally monthly) and generally known as “floppies” or pamphlets. Think of these as episodes of a TV series. You get one and wait for the next to continue the story. These are the most common formats for comic books. You’ll find them in your local comic shop, news stands, and some bookstores. In major bookstores, such as Barnes & Noble, these will be stocked in the magazine section.

After some time, a group of issues are collected into a single book called a trade paperback (sometimes shortened to simply “trade”). Maintaining the TV comparison, this would be a season collected into a box set. When you stumble into the wasteland of a book store, these are categorized in a section labeled “Graphic Novels” (More on that later).

Now this is where it can get a little confusing. There are also other ways issues can be collected. Certain series can gain credibility and fame over time. If a publisher recognizes this, they may release special editions in various formats including paperback and hardcover. Some terms included in these special editions: Omnibus, Showcase, Absolute, and Premiere.

Let me go back for a second. There was a term I used not too long ago: Graphic Novel. This is a very vague term in the world of comic books. Graphic novels are defined by the dictionary as: a fictional story that is presented in comic-strip format and published as a book. It can be agreed that books like The Watchmen and Maus are graphic novels. However, there’s a certain qualifier lacking in the definition. As it is, all collected comics are considered graphic novels. But, this is where my own opinion comes in. I think graphic novels are a form of comic books, but not all comic books can be graphic novels. I think there should be a certain story structure to graphic novels that does not allow for the loose-threads of serialized comics. A book like The Watchmen is self-contained and does not require outside reading to understand the basic story. On the other hand, a book like The Death of Superman requires an understanding of many aspects outside the individual story including the Matrix Supergirl’s relationship to the fully-follicled Lex Luthor. But here’s the twist, a graphic novel can be serialized. I define The Sandman series as a graphic novel series because it is a fairly finite and self-contained. Again, I reiterate: this is my opinion. If in doubt, call it a graphic novel. I won’t hate you… much.

All right, that’s out of the way. Let’s continue with a look at story structure in comics. In the early days of comics, single issues would tell a full story. As two-part stories grew into sagas, a practice called decompression allowed for the prevalence of story arcs. Story arcs followed the story structure (beginning, middle, end) over multiple issues. The common practice is to run a story arc over six issues to ease the transition to trade.

Crossovers are common stories in comics. These refer to stories in which a character from one title appears in a book of another title (i.e. Superman appearing in a Batman book). This is not to be confused with a Team book, which groups multiple heroes together (i.e. Avengers). Crossovers can occur in single issues, or they can occur in multiple issues. They can also take place between two titles.

As crossovers became more popular and the stakes raised with multiple heroes, events became a staple in comics. Event comics mainly are either mini-series or crossover. These stories raise the stakes to global and even universal levels. They commonly feature multiple characters from various titles uniting against a common foe. In the case of Civil War and Avenger vs X-Men, they can also feature multiple heroes battling it out due to differing opinions of a certain catalyst.

With the evolution of events, tie-ins became necessary to explore characters and moments that can only be glimpsed in an event series. These tie-ins can be a mini-series created specifically for the event, or they can take place in titles featuring a specific character involved in the event.

And finally, let’s talk a little about titles, characters, and publishers. This is gonna be a little more free form, because it’s just clarifying a few confusing areas. First up, titles are very simply the title of the comic book. In super-hero comics, the common practice is to name the title after the protagonist. However, certain titles began as anthologies, which told various stories throughout the series. One major example of this would be Journey Into Mystery which began as a horror/mystery anthology series, but would later introduce and feature Thor and more recently, Loki.

I’m going to revisit the TV comparisons now as I talk about publishers. Each publisher is like a channel with different programming. There are two major publishers (commonly referred to as the Big Two) which dominate the market: DC Comics and Marvel Comics. Each contains its own stable of characters created throughout the years. DC’s stable of characters contains iconic heroes such as Superman and Batman, while Marvel consists of some of the more “modern” characters like Spider-man and Iron Man. They have titles (think shows) which they produce on a monthly schedule. There are other channels to watch besides NBC and CBS, so we also have other publishers. A few examples in no particular order:

  • Image Comics – Walking Dead, Spawn
  • Dynamite Entertainment – Robocop, Green Hornet
  • IDW Publishing – GI Joe, 30 Days of Night
  • Dark Horse – Hellboy, The Umbrella Academy
  • Oni Press – Scott Pilgrim, Queen & Country

Now, I know what a lot of you are thinking: how does a vocabulary lesson get somebody started reading comics? It doesn’t. It’s a foot in the door. And this is only part one. In part two, I’m going to talk about how to introduce someone into the world of comic books and suggestions for books to start reading.

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