Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Top 100 Comic Blogs to Follow in 2013

No, I'm not on the list, but a few of my favorites are, including the Collected Comics Library (coming in at #56) where you can find the complete list. Topping the list, to no one's surprise, is Comic Book Resources, which contains an insane amount of information. I mainly access it for their comic book reviews, but you can spend hours days here without realizing it. (Proceed at your own risk!) 

The list (compiled by Coupon Audit) doesn't really spell out what criteria was used in picking or ranking blogs/sites, although the number of Twitter followers and Facebook fans is included on each site. Some have neither, so maybe the rankings are determined by a combination of Twitter, Facebook and hits. Either way, there's some great stuff to be explored on the list, many of which were previously unknown to me. 

Things have been pretty busy here at Graphic Novel Universe (mostly due to school), but I hope to post a couple of reviews soon. Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Graphic Novels On the Cheap

Most people who know me know that Daedalus Books in Columbia, Maryland, is one of my favorite bookstores. It can also be a dangerous place, especially since they have lately acquired a fair selection of graphic novels and comic art books. 

Daedalus normally stocks remaindered books in all categories (as well as DVDs and music CDs) at huge discounts, but you can also find a few newer releases (although at lower discounts). Often you'll find the slightly obscure mixed right in with the mass-produced. 

Speaking only of graphic novels and related books, the selection at Daedalus isn't huge, but it is improving. The last two times I've visited, I've seen several publications by Fantagraphics Books, which is cause for celebration. I picked up Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives Vol. 1 for $9.99 (normally $40) a few weeks ago. They also had Fire and Water: Bill Everett, The Sub-Mariner, and the Birth of Marvel Comics, but I already owned a copy. (Both are still available on the Daedalus website. Just click on the links above.) Daedalus also stocked Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko for eight bucks. You can imagine how long those copies lasted....

I also found a couple of other Fantagraphics titles last week: Action! Mystery! Thrills! Comic Book Covers of the Golden Age 1933-1945 and Setting the Standard: Comics by Alex Toth 1952-1954. The problem with finding these or any other graphic novel/comic book-related volumes on the Daedalus website is that there's no Graphic Novel category. Most of the time, these books appear (if they appear at all) on the site under "Arts - Visual." 

To make things even more frustrating, not everything in stock at Daedalus is on their website. I recently found a copy of the noir murder mystery graphic novel Britten and Brülightly by Hannah Berry on the shelves for $3.98. I'd never heard of it, but for four bucks, I'll take a chance. But this was not on their website. 

Neither was X-9: Secret Agent Corrigan Volume One: 1967-1969 by Al Williamson & Archie Goodwin, probably because all of the dust jackets were torn or ripped. But asking $15 for a $50 book? I'm in.

I've also seen isolated volumes of titles like Dick Tracy, Prince Valiant and many others. You never know what you'll find. So, if you're in the Columbia, MD area, you should stop in. If not, check out the website from time to time. Just understand that you're only seeing a fraction of what's actually there.   

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Art of Joe Kubert (2011) - Bill Schelly

The Art of Joe Kubert (2011) - Bill Schelly
Hardcover, 232 pages, Fantagraphics Books
ISBN 9781606994870
Retail price $39.99
Amazon $30.39

Anyone who is recognized as a professional in his field at the age of 12 is someone I’m going to pay attention to. That’s what happened to comic book artist Joe Kubert, way back in 1938. For all practical purposes, Kubert’s work begins at the dawn of comic book creation, leading right up to the present. Kubert, who passed away last year after an astonishing 74-year career in comics, has left an incredible mark on the comics landscape, some of which he helped create. 

Schelly takes us through some fascinating periods in the life of Kubert: his early days as a professional when he was still learning his craft, how Kubert navigated the pre-code comics era (when he was still a kid himself), the creation of Sgt. Rock, Tor and others, his groundbreaking work on Tarzan, the later graphic novels, and Kubert’s school of art. 

The work also includes a 50+ page sampling of complete stories featuring Kubert artwork from the pre-code era, many of which are reproduced in color for the first time since their comic book appearances. 

Although Kubert drew a few superhero books (most notably Hawkman), his most memorable characters did not wear costumes, per se. Sgt. Rock, Tor, Tarzan, and Enemy Ace gave comic book audiences characters with something at stake besides supervillains, be it war, survival or both. Kubert’s style always carried shades of darkness, not so much darkness in shading (although that was often the case), but rather in character and tone. Kubert understood that the sunny, fun-filled superhero art that characterized DC Comics during the 50s and 60s was not part of who he was. His characters had depth and they often failed. Something about those characters resonated with readers, showing them in subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) ways, man’s capacity for evil. Yet they also showed a strong sense of survival, duty and just plain doing the right thing.  

Kubert’s story is compelling, but the generous artwork in the book makes this volume a must-have for Kubert fans and anyone interested in comics history. Highly recommended.  5/5

Full disclosure: Joe Kubert is my “Adopt a Comic Book Character/Artist” choice for 2013, so plan on seeing more Joe Kubert here on Graphic Novel Universe in the coming months. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

On the Horizon

Lots of items of interest have come my way recently. The one I'm most excited about is this from the Collected Comics Library's recent installment of their 6 Collected Editions Worthy of Your Attention feature, the American Comic Book Chronicles, 1960-64 by John Wells. I've only perused it so far, but if you're into comic book history at all, you should pick this one up. Gorgeous artwork on every page; I'm confident the text does not disappoint, either. 

Continuing my exploration of collected comic strips (courtesy of interlibrary loan), we have Rip Kirby, the First Modern Detective: The Complete Strips 1946-1947

Next, I discovered Matt Kindt's Super Spy on-the-cheap at a used bookstore today. I absolutely love Kindt's current Mind Mgmt series (previously discussed here), so I'm sure 2007's Super Spy will not disappoint. 

The other day at the library, I noticed someone had donated this mass market paperback of The Empire Strikes Back, which I figured was a movie novelization. Not so. This is a graphic novel of the Marvel Comics treatment of the film adapted by Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson, based on the screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan in, guess when? 1980! This should be fun.

I also decided to pick up a copy of Brian Wood's new Star Wars #1. I've never, I mean never read a Star Wars comic before, so this will be quite an adventure for me. This is actually a second printing of the first issue, which I actually like even more, since the cover carries no title or artist information. Hey, who needs it? It's Star Wars, instantly recognizable! Did the Beatles need title and artist information for the cover of Abbey Road? I rest my case. 

So, let me know what collected editions (or single comics) are on your radar. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fatale, Book Two: The Devil's Business (2013) - Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips

Fatale, Book Two: The Devil’s Business (2013) 
Ed Brubaker (writer)
Sean Phillips (artist)
ISBN 9781607066187
Trade Paperback, 136 pages
$14.99 retail
$8.85 Amazon

Brubaker and Phillips have been working together for quite awhile on such titles as Criminal and Incognito, to name just a couple. Both titles make effective use of noir elements with multilayered storytelling and shadowy art. While Criminal contains straight-up crime noir, Incognito combines noir with science fiction. Now with Fatale, Brubaker and Phillips have thrown noir and Lovecraftian horror into a blender and produced something that works when it probably shouldn’t. The noir/horror mixture has, after all, been done successfully by very few writers. (William Hjortsberg’s Falling Angel and several fine novels by Tom Piccirilli come to mind.) Brubaker and Phillips know how to strike a balance that respects the audiences of both genres.

In Book One: Death Chases Me (collecting Fatale #1-5), we’re introduced Nicholas Lash, a man attempting to track down his deceased godfather’s hidden manuscript, a hard-boiled crime novel from the 1950s. At the godfather’s funeral, Nicholas meets Josephine, a beautiful young woman who couldn’t possibly have known his godfather over fifty years ago. Josephine rescues Nicholas from a gang of murderous occultists  and the deadly game begins. Soon Nicholas realizes that Josephine can make any man alive do her bidding; a true femme fatale (hence the series’ title). 

While Book One finishes a complete story arc, it is essential reading if you’re going to pick up Book Two: The Devil’s Business (collecting Fatale #6-10), a story set in 1970s Los Angeles, focusing more on Josephine, a would-be actor named Miles and a Manson-like cult called the Method Church. 

Plot elements from Book One linger, weaving in and out of Book Two, but here we learn more about Josephine and her power to lure men to their doom. Does she have control over her own power? Or is she a pawn in another being’s game? 

Since there’s more story to work with in Book Two, this second volume seems more urgent, more tightly plotted, and more interesting than the first. L.A. in the 70s provides just the right anything-goes atmosphere blending nicely with a shadowy sense of despair and bleak inevitability. If Book One contains more noir than horror, Book Two balances the scales more, with the horror element making a stronger presence. 

Brubaker and Phillips are masters of weaving characters in and out of their books. It’s not unusual to meet a seemingly minor character in an early story from their Criminal series who shows up later to be a major player in another story. Fatale looks like it will continue that practice, but possibly with more sinister and cosmic consequences for its characters. Fatale is dark, violent, sexual, and very good storytelling. It’s rare for a comic book (or any format, for that matter) to serve up a combination of two genres with such respect for and homage to them. Book One is good, but Book Two is even more satisfying.  4/5 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

He Tasks Me!

Or rather, they - meaning Fantagraphics Books - task me. I received an email from them this morning announcing several upcoming titles, several of which intrigue me....

The Grammar of Rock: Art and Artlessness in 20th Century Pop Lyrics by Alexander Theroux looks like an entertaining (and quite possibly scathing) look at pop music lyrics from Cole Porter to the Clash and beyond. From the pdfs and screen shots, this hardcover appears to be text only, which is - at least to me - preferable to a graphic novel rendering of the subject. I'm hoping the library will get a copy of this one so I can look it over before spending any $$$.

Although I lived in Texas for over four years, I know next to nothing about Texas history. Learning history from graphic novels is probably frowned upon in academic circles, but hey, ya gotta start somewhere, right? Jack Jackson's American History: Los Tejanos & Lost Cause certainly looks like a great place to start. Check out Jackson's incredible black and white art on the pdf pages.

I've never been able to lay my hands on Hal Foster's Prince Valiant Vol. 1 (which will be reprinted in May), but I've thumbed through other volumes at bookstores. Vol. 6 will be out from Fantagraphics soon. If you've never seen Foster's work on Prince Valiant, just take a look at the pdfs in the link. Absolutely gorgeous stuff. Again, this looks like one I'll need to pick up on interlibrary loan. 

Darn those Fantagraphics guys.... 

So..... Who's tasking you these days? (Hopefully not Khan...) 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Mighty Thor Omnibus Vol. 2 Announced

Well, I don't know if "announced" is exactly the most appropriate term, since I was surfing through my "Andy's Recommendations" on Amazon yesterday when I discovered this: Marvel plans to release The Mighty Thor Omnibus Vol. 2 on August 27, 2013. This volume of 768 (projected) pages is slated to include:

Journey Into Mystery (1952) #121-125
Thor (1966) #126-152
Thor Annual (1966) #2
Not Brand Echh (1967) #3

The retail price: $99.99 with Amazon taking pre-orders for $76.84. (No doubt you'll be able to get it from In Stock Trades, Cheap Graphic Novels, and other like venues.) 

This volume should be a lot of fun. I've greatly enjoyed the first volume of the Essential Thor and am looking forward to the second Essential Thor volume (which has been sitting on my shelf for several weeks), much of which will be included in this omnibus edition, but in color and on much better paper than the Essential editions. 

My question is which cover will Marvel choose for this omnibus edition? (And, of course, which cover will the variant cover "vary" from?) I've chosen a few of my favorite choices, any of which I'd be delighted to adorn the front of this new omnibus edition. Your thoughts?