Wednesday, December 2, 2009

UFOS land @ Newsarama




Hey all,

The online anthology - U.F.O. Encounters with the Unknown - from Ape Entertainment, which will feature my first professional writing credit, got a little love from the folks at Newsarama. They did a feature interview with Troy Dye, the editor of the project, and Elton Pruitt, who wrote the first story "Anything For You."

The article can be found here. The above image is the "cover" for the anthology by Jason Copland and Osmarco Valladao. My story with Jason and Osmarco should begin serialization around January 13. I'll drop a link in when it hits. Looking forward to it and thanks for checking us out.

chris

Friday, October 16, 2009

ELEPHANT WORDS, week 4

Here's the short piece I created for the 4th week of Elephant Words, the flash fiction website created by Nick Papaconstantinou where six creators conceive a new piece of short fiction each week based on a new image. The catch is that, on a rotating schedule, the writers need to have a new piece of fiction up every day of the week, so someone has only 24 hours to write their story while others have six days. It's pretty fun and a great challenge. You should definitely check it out. And before the story, here's the image from which it was inspired:

Keep out of Lake

The Lost
by Chris Beckett


Six children had gone missing in less than two weeks, all of them lost near Big Lake outside of Rumford. A sign warned against going in the lake, birthing its fair share of urban legends through the years, but it had apparently done no good.

The disappearances prompted the Bangor Daily to send a photog to Rumford, but the myths surrounding the lake relegated the assignment to one farther down the pecking order. That was where Darren Fletcher came in. He understood his laughable “role” at the paper, but was determined to make the most of this opportunity. After scouting the area in the daylight, Darren had returned near midnight thinking he could find it again easily.

“Aw, shit.” Mud oozed over his left foot, sucking his Teva into the soft earth. At least the moisture assured him he was close. Darren released his foot with a loud squoosh and took halting steps forward.

A scream from behind made him stop suddenly. He peered into the darkness for the source of the sound, but the clouds kept what little illumination available at bay.

“Eeehh.” A spider’s web stretched across his face. He clutched at his face, wiping harshly down each cheek. It took a couple of swipes before the tingle of gossamer threads retreated.

Once he’d finished clawing through his hair, a faint sound came to his ears. Isolated notes made it difficult to place, but it felt familiar somehow. Darren turned slowly to the left, following the faint notes. Zeroing in on the music, Darren caught a glimmer of light through the silhouetted trees.

Checking that his camera was still on his hip, Darren moved forward with more resolve. Walking quickly, he slashed wildly at the branches surrounding him. The lilting tones were clearer now, but he could still not place them. Pushing through the underbrush, Darren refocused on the light ahead. His heart raced.

“uh–” A sharp hiss of breath as a line of thorns raked across his calf. He thought they might have drawn blood but had no time to check.

Approaching the odd luminescence, Darren was now able to make out the local geography. The music was louder but still inscrutable.

“Shit.” Something buzzed Darren’s ear. A bat, maybe an owl, didn’t matter, he was sure his heart seized for a second. Leaves rustled up high as it alighted on a branch. Darren wiped his brow and took a deep breath. He held it for a moment, then let it out slowly. Release the balloon.

Darren moved more deliberately now – curious, anxious, his stomach clenching as he felt an urge to relieve himself. Pushing that down, he reached for a branch crossing his face and nudged it aside.

•••


“SURPRISE!!”

The light was blinding. He blinked furiously, willing his pupils to adjust. Finally, he looked up. His jaw dropped.

The lake was solid, but not frozen. Tiny waves rippled against the embankment. A group of children sat at picnic tables on the middle of the water. They were eating ice cream and playing “go fish.” Darren recognized four of the kids that had gone missing. The other two were turned away from him, but Darren knew they were numbers five and six.

They paid Darren no mind and were not those who greeted him. Behind the children, next to a brightly painted ice cream truck (the memorable jingle now audible) stood a group of animated teddy bears. They were apparently expecting Darren, beaming at him, as if anticipating some great feat of magic or dexterity.

Waving merrily, they motioned for Darren to join them.

He was at a loss. He looked down at his camera. Returned his gaze to the scene before him. Considered the most feasible reaction to such a situation. Disregarded that option. And then took one tentative step out onto the lake.

It held.

A smile came to his face as he took another step onto the water. Then a third and a fourth. Picking up his pace, Darren reached down with one hand and pulled out all the spare change he was carrying.


THE END

Friday, October 9, 2009

FYC replay: Larry Young's Black Diamond

For Your Consideration: The Black Diamond from Larry Young (writer) and Jon Proctor (artist)
By Chris Beckett

FRONT PAGE:
Astronauts in Trouble put Larry Young on the map, and made readers rethink our history in space. With his most recent addition to the AiT/Planet Lar line, ably assisted by artist Jon Proctor, Young puts his stamp on the near future and has fun doing it. Come in and check it out. It’ll be worth your time.

The 411:
The Black Diamond: On Ramp
Written by Larry Young
Art by Jon Proctor
32 pp. Color $2.95

The Black Diamond #1 (of 6)
Written by Larry Young
Art by Jon Proctor
32 pp. Color $2.95
AiT/Planet Lar

What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):

In 1999, Larry Young first came to prominence in the comics community with the publication of Astronauts in Trouble: Live from the Moon, which he created with artists Charlie Adlard and Matt Smith. Young initially shopped the idea for AiT, as it has come to be known, to a number of comic publishers but they all passed. So, confident in the strength of the work and wishing to get it out to the masses, Young published it himself. Naming his publishing house AiT/Planet Lar (you can figure that one out), Young eventually published two more chapters in the astronauts’ lives: Space 1959 and One Shot, One Beer. With the success of these books, Young decided to start publishing books by other creators like Brian Wood, Matt Fraction, Joe Casey, Becky Cloonan, Warren Ellis, Kieron Dwyer, and Fabio Moon with titles that include The Couriers, Giant Robot Warriors, Badlands, and Come in Alone.

One thing is certain, one can always count on an entertaining and quality read when picking up an AiT book, and this most recent addition – the first color book from the publisher – is no exception. The Black Diamond is set in the near future where, in his 2016 inaugural address, President Fulton promised to make the nation’s highways safe for everyone. His solution is The Black Diamond, an elevated superhighway set above the rest of the population; it is a place where there are no laws – one can pass on the right, drive 150 miles per hour, or travel singly in the car pool lane. Built in response to the rampant lawlessness on every street corner, the Diamond becomes a haven for those with a wild streak.

And it works, as the Diamond spawns its own subculture where mechanics are looked upon in the same manner sports stars are on the surface, where waitresses take the place of supermodels, and where shantytowns crop up in the breakdown lanes. High above the surface, away from prying eyes, those running wild on the Black Diamond experience life on the edge, never thinking about tomorrow, only living in the moment. It’s a brave new world, and if one has a muscle car, then life is very good.

It is within this near-future that Young tells his story. Doctor Don McLaughlin, a dentist living beneath the 8-lane highway, is a typical guy. He makes no trouble, obeys the laws, goes grocery shopping, and loves his wife. Life is simple. At least, life is simple until his brother-in-law R.J., a police officer, shows up with bad news – Don’s wife has been kidnapped.

In recent weeks, activity on the Black Diamond has gotten out of control, and the Army is taking it back, cleaning the elevated Autobahn with extreme prejudice and Don’s wife Kate has been taken in response to this new edict. Despite their simple life, his wife is a relatively famous woman. Kate’s father was the engineer who designed the Black Diamond, and somebody hopes that if they have her, the clean-up of the highway will cease. But nobody in authority is paying attention.

R.J. wants Don to go to Baltimore and find Kate. Don protests, but his brother-in-law will have none of it. He’s brought Don a 1973 V-8 Mercury Cougar that will get him across the country in record time as long as he goes up top. When he arrives in Baltimore, R.J. hopes to have discovered where Kate is, at which point they will figure out how to get her back. It’s not the best plan, but it’s the only one they have. Don hesitates for a second but slides into the Cougar, a plush ride complete with power windows and air conditioning – a ride that will get Don from ‘Frisco to Baltimore in style. But will he be too late?

This first issue of Larry Young’s and Jon Proctor’s The Black Diamond, along with the preview book On Ramp, released in 2005, are great reads. Young has completely thought his idea through, seeding the preview book with multiple story possibilities in setting up this brave new world that’s full of fast cars and faster death. The dialogue is crisp and entertaining, and he opens each book up with large panels and double-page spreads that shoot the story along at a break neck pace. Young smartly matches up the storytelling with the story in order to immerse his audience in the hectic, nail-biting, life or death world of The Black Diamond.

Young also knows how to slow things down, giving readers a glimpse into this world through the conversations, quiet and otherwise, between the characters. Whether the conversation between Don’s two assistants or the one he has with a young patient, they all flesh out this slightly off-center world while thrusting the narrative forward from first gear through to fifth.

Young’s partner in crime, Jon Proctor, utilizes an art style that is reminiscent of Tony Harris. Proctor evokes that photo-realistic look overlaid with the subtle fluidity of line that is a staple of Harris’s work. Though not as polished as the Ex Machina penciler, Proctor is still a fine artist whose style meshes well with the story set forth by Young. His storytelling is clear and he moves from wide shots to close-ups with ease, making sure never to cause these transitions to be jarring for readers. Proctor also does the coloring and adds a lot to the story with his palette. Scenes on the Diamond are drenched in a hot red, while those on the surface have a soft green or yellow tinge to them. It’s another great use of the comic page that enhances the dichotomy between life on the ground and life above.

This initial issue of The Black Diamond is a great opening chapter, setting up the story nicely while still managing to be entertaining in its own right. Young and Proctor work well together, producing a taut, fast-paced comic that is also fun to read – something missing in many comics today – and left me wanting more once I reached the end. I am anxious to see where Young and Proctor are taking readers and look forward to the possibility of more stories on the Black Diamond in the future.

For those of you who would like to know a little bit more about Larry Young, here are a few quick questions with the comic creator ... For Your Consideration.

Chris Beckett: Why comics? What is it about the medium that attracted you, not only as a creator but also as a publisher?

Larry Young: Why comics? Because I love the form. There're not too many artistic forms of expression that combine disciplines to make the whole greater than the parts while simultaneously sporting a pretty low barrier-to-entry. Words by themselves can tell a captivating, interesting, constructive entertainment... and pictures by themselves have a powerful mojo that was old before we came down out of the trees. Combine the two and you get a powerful narrative engine. Sure, at some level, film is a combination of words and pictures, but you need a piece of equipment, at the least. You need a camera, and film, and at least a grounding in the technology to get usable pictures and clearly spoken words from actors to drive your tale.

But all you need to have to create a comic is a piece of paper and a Sharpie. The only difference between a few pieces of typing paper folded in half with drawings and word balloons and the hardcover version of Watchmen is just a matter of scale.

So that answers "why comics?" as a creator... as a publisher, I suppose it's because of what happened to us when I was shopping around the first Astronauts in Trouble: I put together a five-page graphics-heavy teaser in order to get across the tone of the story I wanted to tell. I think it's not bad, really, considering there's only one piece of actual art in all of the five pages...

Many of the folks I sent the proposal to were very encouraging, including Jim Valentino, Bob Schreck, and Phil Amara. Many, though, basically said, "Look around; I don't know if you've noticed, but the comic book industry is in the crapper. Established veterans can't get gigs; why do you think we would publish your little astronaut confection?"

Mike Carlin of DC, bless his decrepit heart, finally came out and said, "You know, you'd be better off putting out this project yourself, than trying to get one of the big publishers to do it. The fact is, there's just nothing to put between your first and last names."

"What d'you mean, Mike?” I asked.

"You're an unproven talent in the marketplace," he said. "We'd have better luck selling your next project, when we can say "Larry Astronauts in Trouble Young" in the advance solicitations. Go the Kevin Smith route; the Robert Rodriguez route, and do it yourself."

So, I did. Creator by enthusiasm; publisher by necessity. Seems to have worked out so far.


CB: As you are the publisher at AiT/Planet Lar, how difficult is it for you to separate those responsibilities from your job as creator when you publish a book of yours?

LY: Well, it's two different sides of my brain, and two different parts of my personality, so it's not too hard to separate them. Writing comics is sort of schizophrenic, anyway, keeping characters and their traits and all in your head as you tell their stories, so it's not that big a deal for Larry the Writer and Larry the Publisher to coexist and work together, while there's a late 50s male anchorman, his early 30s female segment producer and their late 20s male cameraman still having adventures on the moon in my head. Not to mention the zombie dinosaur, the last vampire, the time-travel crew, and the invisible girl, or the various other cats all waiting in the wings for me to stop picking out paper stock and writing press releases and sending review copies to Nisha Gopalan and sit down and get their adventures on to the page. So, yeah. "Publisher" and "Writer" are just another two columns of responsibility on the Great Excel Spreadsheet of My Life.

CB: Following up on that, do you have somebody that reads over your stories, as an editor, or do you edit yourself? And, if the latter, how do you manage, again, to separate the two disciplines and read your own work critically?

LY: My very good friend, the writer Adam Beechen, always seems to be able to make time to take a pass at my scribblings and give me insightful notes that I almost always address, and AiT publisher Mimi Rosenheim is a valuable resource for making sure I pass the "This Doesn't Make Sense; Fix It" test. As she's not really a comics fan, sometimes I'll write a bit of dialogue or make a story-telling assumption that would pass muster to a comics fan but doesn't play in the real world for your regular fiction readers. And I have a tendency towards the flip comment to get out of a scene or to give my favorite character in the piece all the best lines, and she makes suggestions that smooth over that sort of thing.

CB: In your opinion, what is it that Jon Proctor brings to this series?

LY: Jon is a frankly amazing artist. His story-telling is clear while maintaining a core visual flair and a sense of style and rhythm that's just electric. After working on this project for so long, to say that I can sit down and just read the thing and it sings to me like I'm reading it for the first time, every time, is a testament to Jon's strengths.

And he's a bad-ass colorist.

CB: The Black Diamond seems rife with story possibilities. Do you have any other stories in mind revolving around the elevated highway?

LY: Actually, I have two other narratives in mind that might see the light of day sometime, but I'd guess Jon's going to be really busy with Big Four work after this comes out, so it may be a while. I do have to say that the end of Doctor McLaughlin's story doesn't do anything to alleviate some of the bigger political issues raised in the miniseries, so there's a follow-up story that writes itself, right there. And it is fun for me and Jon seeing stories like Dennis Culver's "Jet Swanson, A.S.E. (Automotive Service Excellence)" and Ken Lowery, and Benjamin and Marlena Hall's "That Old Time Religion" as back-ups in the Tales of the Black Diamond. It's neat seeing folks have fun in our sandbox.

CB: What other projects do you have in the works – whether as creator or publisher – and when can fans expect to see them?

LY: I unexpectedly had an idea while putting together baby furniture that lends itself to an ongoing story, but who knows if that'll ever see the light of day? It seems a little ambitious, even for me, what with the new human coming any day now, to try and tackle an ongoing monthly. I'm actually presently struggling with learning superior swaddling techniques and trying to understand what it is about Cheerios that infants find so appealing.

My guest appearance on LEGION OF DUDES


Jim Dietz, one member of the Legion of Dudes podcast, graciously asked me if I would like to be a part of their discussion of Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume I, and I was more than happy to join them.

This past Monday, I joined Jim, Russell Latham, and Adam Umak on Skype for the talk and it went live Thursday. I don't know how much I added - not being a "talker" and such - but I had a good time. If asked back, I will definitely try to sound more upbeat and excited than my tone exuded in this episode.

You can check the episode out here, and if you haven't read this book yet, do so now. A superteam created from Victorian era literary characters. Fantastic. With beautiful illustrations from Kevin O'Neill and the typical greatness that is Alan Moore.

chris

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

more proof we were @ SPX

Not a full-on review, but over on the right of Sean Collins's picture of his SPX haul, those would be issues 2 and 3 of our little mag, Warrior27. Sean was very cool to talk to - a fellow COLD HEAT fan - and the "new action" panel he moderated with Frank Santoro, Ben Marra, Kaz Strzepak, and one other creator whose name escapes me right now, was very fun and really gave me (another) new perspective on making comics. All of these guys are hardcore indy artists, self-publishing their b/w comics, but they're all doing it for the love and excitement they found from comics in their youth. They pack a whole bunch of story and fun and violence and craziness into their books, and it reminded me that you don't have to be "artsy" in order to create independent comics, which is what we have been doing with Warrio27. But now, I want to try my hand at producing my own mini, but instead of riffing on fight comics I want to do the crazy, demented, mad scientist.

Dr. X here I come.

chris

SPX 2009 report @ Legion of Dudes - extended edition

So,

While down in Bethesda, Adam Umak, from the Legion of Dudes podcast was walking around the hall interviewing a variety of publishers and creators. Being a regular listener and "post"er on their forums, he was kind enough to come by the table and talk with me and with Matt Constantine, who also contributed to this year's issue.

You can check the podcast here. Matt starts in around 24:18 and I get to be near the end @ 1:08:55. it was very cool to meet Adam in person, and I have to give props to the guy. He's a smooth interviewer who manages to go with the flow of the conversation. And for the convention reports he's done on the HHW/LOD extended edition, the man has the best interstitial musical interludes. Check it out.

chris

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

SPX 2009

The Small Press Expo was last weekend and Dan and I hit the road for Bethesda. A few months ago, if you had asked us, we weren’t planning on having anything new for the show. But a lot can happen in a few months. Once we started talking about doing a new issue of WARRIOR27, it turned out we would have the craziest and biggest issue yet for SPX 2009.



As usual, we wanted to have a variety of stuff for the anthology. Little did we know. Our friend Matt Constantine, who put us up for the weekend at his place in Fairfax and with whom we had worked before (he has a short prose piece in our second issue from 2006, which was our first year at the Expo) also contributed to this issue.


In the end, we went with a multimedia extravaganza of different pieces for this issue. Dan wrote three short stories illustrated by three very different artists and put them into a standard size comic. I contributed a short prose story, “Fractured,” which was in a smaller chapbook. Dan and Travis Dandro (who created the freaky and sometimes disturbing comic Mr. Gnu) created a mini-comic that folds open telling a story from “the mall” and which has, on the back once it’s completely open, a game board wherein one must make it through the mall with money left. The mini-comic went into a small baggie, while a die, money, and two Homies (playing pieces) went into another baggie, which when stapled to the first rested nicely over our issue wrap. We also had a CD-ROM of a color comic done by Matt and Paul Petzrick and a b/w preview of a webcomic, also written by Matt with art from S.A. McClung. It was a load of stuff in various formats, all for $6 (or $5 on Sunday). It’s a pretty fun bundle, and the Homies pulled people in.

Overall, the show this year was better than last year. There were a lot of people saying this, and I think it’s a matter of everyone having had a year to adjust their budgets/spending/whatever. It was amazing to hear EVERYONE saying that last year was a rough one and that 2009 was so much better. I would have liked to have known that last year, having left MD disappointed and thinking it was just us. Too often, we find ourselves living in a bubble, believing that what we’re fearing or feeling is unique to us, when, in reality, our experiences aren’t all that unique at all. But I digress (can’t get too preachy here).


From the opening bell on Saturday morning, the show was packed. People were everywhere and you could tell it was going to be a good show. We had our second best sales, breaking three figures, which was nice. It also felt good to sell at least one copy of everything on the table, including copies of issues 1-4 of WARRIOR27, a copy of the Arcana horror anthology, DARK HORRORS 2, in which Dan had a story published, and a few other things.


Like most though, we’re not here to make money. Maybe a little to recoup our initial expenses. But for the most part, the big draw of SPX is getting to catch up with friends like Justin Fox, Mike LaRiccia, and G.B. Tran, having an opportunity to talk directly with publishers and editors like Chris Staros at Top Shelf or James Lucas Jones of Oni, and getting to make new friends like Adam Umak, Julian Lytle, and Frank Santoro. It’s a very cool atmosphere and it can really invigorate you.

I had a great conversation with Frank Santoro (check out his COLD HEAT series, done with Ben Jones and published by Picturebox) about art and comics and how the whole page works, or can work, in a comic if you’re willing to see things in some way other than just a panel to panel progression. I told him about this mini-comic idea I’ve had burning in the back of my mind for three years now and he’s got me convinced to just go ahead and draw it, which has been the big stumbling block for me. Like he said, Wally Wood and all those masters had swipe files for reference because they needed to be fast and accurate. They would find whatever image they needed, get the perspective and proportion from the picture, and draw it in their own way in order to keep drawing. Utilizing something like that in order to manage the perspective and such of the images, while creating my own style (if I can hope for such a thing with this project) should help me get over this hump. I plan on having COMPARE & CONTRAST at the Expo next year.


Some of the highlights of the show for me:

- Catching up with friends, as mentioned above.

-Getting to meet Mr. Phil & Charlito from the Izzer.

-Talking with Adam Umak from the Legion of Dudes.

-Having an opportunity to share a preview of the short story Ape will publish as part of their UFO anthology with Chris Staros, Chris Pitzer, and others.

-Getting a chance to see my old buddy from college, who was not around last year. Hey, John.

-Meeting online friends for the first time in the flesh, like Sam Costello from the Panel & Pixel Boards, who is the brain behind the Split Lip horror anthology. Check it out.

-Finally picking up TO THE HEART OF THE STORM and THE NAME OF THE GAME by Will Eisner for $5 a piece at the CBLDF table. Can't wait to read these.

-And having Gahan Wilson check out our books and wish us luck.








SPX is over for 2009, and I’m already thinking ahead to next year and what I might have. Not only do I want to have that mini-comic, but I’ve got another idea rolling around that I might try to get done. And, I need to follow up with publishers, reviewers, and others to keep my name out there and see where this little trip will take me.

chris

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Preview cover image

So,

I'll be taking a b/w preview of the short story I wrote for Ape's forthcoming UFO anthology. The art was from Jason Copland, with colors by Osmarco Valladao and letters by Josh Aitken (I lettered the b/w preview pages but am including a sample of a colored/lettered page for editors and publishers to check out). Here's the cover I created for the preview chapbook. Hope you enjoy.

chris

Monday, September 14, 2009

Where We're At: SPX 2009

Maybe not the best resolution, but you can follow the yellow brick road to our table at this year's SPX - across from Oni to our front and across from Fantagraphics to our left. Can't wait.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

COMING SOON

It's been too long since the last post. Hoping to remedy that going forward, but we'll see. Below is page one of the upcoming short story I'll have published in Ape's forthcoming UFO anthology, which will see publication initially online at ApeCMX. Story by me, Pencil & Inks by Jason Copland, colors by Osmarco Valladao, and lettering by Josh Aitken. Hope this whets your appetites a bit. Click the image for a larger version.

Enjoy!



Sunday, July 5, 2009

ELEPHANT WORDS, week 3

Elephant Words, the flash fiction site created by Nick Papaconstantinou, is a cool concept. Six writers given between a day and six days on a rotating schedule to create a short piece of writing based on a new image each week (usually prose, but it can be poetry, comics, a script, an excerpt, or any other piece of writing inspired by the image). For the first number of months, I contributed my own pieces in the public forums and eventually got the chance to be a part of the site with a six-week stint there. This is the third piece - based on the image below - I contributed to the public forums in the second official week of the site's existence. I like how the words loop around so that the opening line closes the piece, but like most of these quick "sketches" it is something I'd like to return to and expand a little for possible publication somewhere down the line. I hope you enjoy.

Thanks,
chris




















The Call of the Sea
by Chris Beckett


The call of the sea was urgent in his ears.

Of course, growing up on Ledge Island had afforded Jared Ames little in the way of job options. Not counting the schoolteacher or the post master, lobstering was the only vocation available to those living a dozen miles off the Maine coast. But that didn’t matter to Jared. As long as he could remember, he’d wanted to be a lobsterman.

Jared was a loner, always had been. When he was starting out, he took on a sternman, but that lasted little more than two weeks after which time Jared made it perfectly clear the man was no longer needed. People made Jared nervous, though maybe that wasn’t the correct word. Whatever it was, he didn’t care to socialize with others. It was the sea’s companionship he craved. Its quiet murmur and endless depths stirred something deep within him, and the mysteries held beneath the cold water excited his imagination like nothing else could. He had the sea in his veins, and Jared would never be rid of that.

Early on, it was obvious that Jared was just a natural lobsterman. He was always the first one out, without exception, and at night his boat was the last one in with hauls that were always overflowing. Jared was the only one on the island who would routinely slip in to dock with three lockers full of the dark crustaceans.

This success left many of the older fishermen scratching their heads. The boy, as they were wont to call Jared, had done little in the way of apprenticing, only serving as a sternman for one summer before getting his own boat and license at eighteen. There were more than a few whispers that he might be hauling in from others’ traps as well as his own, but nothing could ever be proven, and eventually those whispers faded away.

And so it was, after ten years of calloused hands and long days, that Jared Ames had gained the respect, if not the love, of the tiny community on Ledge Island. It was something that might have made the young man smile, if he’d been aware of it.

•••

“Billy!”

Billy Fernald looked around, but the only person that caught his notice was Jared gliding his boat into the dock. He stared at him for a second more and then went back to work.

“Billy!”

Fernald looked up again, and this time Jared was waving to him. Bill stood up and dropped the lobster back into the tank. Tugging his ball cap off his head, Bill scratched at his thinning hair and waited for Jared to dock.

The two of them had been in the same class together, though that was true of every kid on the island. One room, K-8, with a new teacher every couple years. But Billy and Jared were the same age and grew up together. Even as children, it was obvious Jared preferred to be left alone. Billy tried to include his friend, but Jared wasn’t interested, and eventually Billy just gave up.

Once they reached eighth grade and “graduated,” the division between the two of them widened precipitously as Billy, at that point insisting on being called Bill, went to the mainland to attend high school. He boarded with a family that summered on “the Ledge” and received his diploma from Mattanawcook Academy, placing somewhere in the middle third of the class. After graduation, Bill considered doing something else with his life and took some classes at a local community college, but like most island boys he found his way back to Ledge Island in order to be a lobsterman. By the time Bill came back and got on the waiting list for sternmen, Jared was already working his way up the food chain. This engendered some resentment at first, which was exacerbated by the typically cool reception from Jared. But seven years later that was water under the bridge. Still, it didn’t dull the surprise any when the hermit came in to dock calling his name.

“Billy!” The excitement was evident on Jared’s face as he tied off his boat.

Fernald strolled over to Jared and stopped short when the grown man jumped from his boat onto the moist planks.

“How was your catch?” asked Bill.

“Good,” Jared said breathlessly.

“I finally found it,” he said as Bill looked at him curiously.

“What?”

“What I been lookin’ for,” said Jared. His eyes were wide and gleamed in the afternoon sunlight. Bill couldn’t remember ever seeing him like this . . . animated, excited. It was disconcerting and he took a small step back, hopeful Jared didn’t have something that was catching.

“It’s out there they’re out there it was amazing.” Jared ignored his breathing reflex as he tried to tell Bill what he’d found.

“You need to come with me tomorrow I can take you there you’ll love it –”

“Jeezis, will you stop a second.” Bill Fernald held his hands up, trying to snap Jared out of his rambling trance.

“What are you talking about?”

“Shhh. Don’t raise your voice Bill. I don’t want everyone to hear.” Jared looked around, eyes bugging out of his head, and decided it was safe. Sidling up to Bill he leaned toward the other man’s ear and whispered softly, “Mermaids.”

Bill retreated two paces, a broad smile crossing his face.

“Fuck off,” he said, beginning to laugh.

“No. I’m serious. I saw them. They’re out there.

“They’ve been waiting for me; they said so.” Jared’s eyes glazed as he spoke about his mermaids. Bill tried to stifle his laughter out of courtesy, but in his mind he knew his friend – which was the best, if not exactly correct, description that came to mind – had finally lost it. Too many days alone on the sea had cracked Jared Ames’s psyche. And it was at this point he decided to try and re-enter society.

Ironic.

“Okay. You sure they weren’t seals or a whale?”

Jared cut him off. “You’re not listening. They spoke to me. They want me to join them.

“They gave me this.” From a front pocket of his coveralls, Jared pulled out a delicate necklace with a large crystal hanging from it. He held it up, light refracting through it, painting deep beams of color over the front of Bill’s t-shirt.

“That’s nice,” was all Bill could think to say.

“It’s from them.” Jared bent at the waist, a pleading look on his face. “They told me the light would shine through it more purely because it came from the sea. Look. Can’t you see how much deeper the colors are than those things Mrs. Boucher picks up in Camden?

“Look.” He stuck the crystal under Bill’s chin, insistent that his friend see what Jared saw. Bill took the necklace from Jared and turned it over in his hand, peering at it for effect. Holding it up to the light, he shut one eye and examined the crystal as he’d seen jewelers do on the mainland.

“Yeah.” Bill dragged the word out slowly. “I can see what you mean. It is a darker color.

“I’m sorry,” Bill said as he handed it back to Jared.

“So, you’ll come out with me tomorrow?”

Bill didn’t like the frantic look in Jared’s eyes. “I can’t. I need to fish if I’m gonna pay the mortgage.”

Jared’s face dropped as he returned the necklace to his pocket.

“But if I see you out there, I’ll come over and see what we can see,” added Bill as way of an apology. “Okay?”

“Yeah.” Jared waved his hand absently as he turned back to his boat.

“All right then. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.

“Take care, Jared.” Bill watched him walk over to the boat and then turned back toward his own where there was still a lot of work to be done before supper.

•••

A few weeks later, Bill was walking toward the western end of the island. He and Maggie were fighting again and he needed some fresh air. The full moon hung low in the sky, its brilliance illuminating the rutted dirt pack before him. He had no destination in mind, but as he rounded a bend in the road, turning into the long shadows of the pine trees, Bill saw where his feet were leading him.

Up ahead on the right, settled back nicely beneath a patch of maple trees, sat Jared’s house. It was a small one-story shack that didn’t look like much from the outside. Approaching the driveway, Bill spied a single light shining dully behind one of the windows. He paused for a second deciding if he should go in. Ever since the conversation they’d had on the dock, Bill had been considering talking to Jared. This feeling had become more urgent since Jared had started returning from a day’s fishing with less than a flatlander’s catch. And Jared was no flatlander.
Wiping his palms on the sides of his jeans, Bill walked up the narrow path and knocked on the front door. There was no response from within, but a few seconds later Jared was standing there, the door half open, a faint stream of light shooting into the darkness.

“Jared.”

“Bill.

“What brings you out tonight? Maggie pissed again?” Jared said this latter statement matter-of-factly.

Bill pulled off his worn ball cap and scratched the top of his head. “Can I come in?”

“Sure.” Jared pulled the door wider and stepped back as Bill walked inside.

“Have a seat.” Jared motioned to a tattered old recliner that had patches of duct tape on the seat and back. Bill accepted the invitation and discovered it was surprisingly comfortable for such an obvious relic.

“So. What can I do for you?” asked Jared.

“Well. I don’t know.” Bill looked down at his feet as he searched for what he wanted to say. He’d gone over this conversation a dozen times in his head already but none of it was available now.

Finally he asked, “What’s wrong with you?”

“I don’t know. What is wrong with me Bill?”

“You haven’t brought home a good catch in over a month. You’re talking to people when you see them at the post office or in the street. And you keep babbling on about these mermaids to anyone that’ll listen.

“Don’t you see how they look at you when you tell them? They think you’re a freak, and I have to agree.”

“But they are real, Bill.

“Do you know the beauty hiding under the sea out there? It’s amazing, and I want to see it. I want to see it all. And they can show me.”

“Will you shut up about this shit? God, I get shit at home and now I get shit here.” Bill stood up quickly from his seat, pacing in front of the recliner.

“I came here to see if there was some way I could help. I wanted to talk some sense to you,” continued Bill.

Jared looked up from where he’d sat down on his brown plaid couch and was touched by the worry in his friend’s eyes. But there was nothing to be done about it.

“Bill. I’m sorry you think I’m tetched, but I can’t help what I’ve seen.” The calm way he said it was unnerving. Bill wanted to grab the man he’d known as a boy and shake him. Maybe if he shouted loud enough, reality would sink in. Something had to work. But nothing would. So Bill shoved his hands deep into his pockets and made to leave.

“Where are you going?” asked Jared.

“I only wanted to get out of the house. I don’t want to fight with you too. If you’re seeing fairies, I’ll leave you to it.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” said Jared.

“Yeah, me too,” said Bill as he reached for the door and let himself out.

•••

The following month went along in a similar fashion to the previous. Jared continued to be the first one out in the morning, last one in at night, but still no worthwhile hauls to speak of. Bill worried about it for that first week after their late-night discussion but soon gave up. He couldn’t divide his anxiety between his own problems and his friend’s, especially when his friend wasn’t willing to listen to reason.

And then came a day when Bill was sailing back into harbor and Jared’s boat was already moored, as if waiting for Bill to arrive home. He eyed the small fishing boat as he cut the motor to his own and let it glide the rest of the way in. Tying it off, he made his way up the dock, walking past the spot where Jared’s boat bobbed on the water.

He only paused for a moment and continued up the slight incline to the post office. The ancient bell above the door jangled as he entered the tiny room. Walking over to the window, Bill leaned down and called in to Harry.

“Hey, old man. Got anything for me today?”

“If you’re lookin’ to get a beat down, yeah I got somethin’ for ya,” chuckled the postmaster as he came around the corner carrying Bill’s mail in his large hand.

“Thanks,” said Bill with a sly smile.

“Don’t thank me. It’s my job. If I could burn all your junk and get away with it, I would.

“How’s the fishin’ out there?” asked Harry as Bill scanned his envelopes.

“Good,” said Bill absently.

“Well, you must be doing better than some cuz all I get from them is bitchin’.”

“Yeah,” said Bill almost in a whisper.

“I gotta go. Take care.” Bill reached for the door and almost tripped as he quickly made his way back outside.

Turning the corner of the building, he put all but one of the envelopes into his back pocket and then stared at the single manila one he’d retained. There was no return address on it and no postmark. It was clasped at the top but didn’t appear to have been fully sealed. Pulling at the flap, Bill tore it open and turned the envelope upside down, allowing the contents to drop into his empty palm.

It was the crystal. The one that Jared had shown him that evening on the dock. Bill’s chest tightened as he rolled it in his hand. Lifting it up to the light, he was again amazed at how dazzling were the colors that refracted through its chiseled surface. He drew the crystal closer, mesmerized by the deep hues playing across his vision. The background noise around him faded, drawing slowly down.

And the call of the sea was urgent in his ears.

THE END

Thursday, July 2, 2009

FYC replay: Craig Tailleffer

Another look back at my Pulse column - For Your Consideration - a look at indy cartoonist Craig Tailleffer, whose WAHOO MORRIS combines fantasy, magic, and rock 'n roll. Also, his work on Robert Tinnell's very personal story - THE CHELATION KID - about his family's trials in working to bring up an autistic baby is an amazingly heartfelt and moving story that is what this medium is all about. You should check out what they've done so far in the links below.
Thanks,
chris


FRONT PAGE:
Recently nominated for a prestigious Harvey award for his work with Robert Tinnell on The Chelation Kid, Craig Taillefer is storming back into comics with a vengeance. Click on in and learn more about The Chelation Kid and Taillefer’s own Wahoo Morris, and hear what he has to say about working in a medium he loves.

For Your Consideration: Craig A. Taillefer’s Wahoo Morris plus The Chelation Kid from Taillefer and Robert Tinnell By Chris Beckett

The 411:
Wahoo Morris vol. 1
Story & Art by Craig A. Taillefer
96pp. b/w
$9.99
Too Hip Gotta Go Graphics
http://www.wahoomorris.com/

The Chelation Kid
Written by Robert Tinnell
Drawn by Craig A. Taillefer
serialized webcomic
http://www.thechelationkid.com/

What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):

Wahoo Morris is an indy rock band comprised of three longtime friends – Chas on bass, Sebastien on lead guitar, and Arnie on drums. Each of the three musicians has played in a number of small bands, with and without one another, to varied degrees of success. But finally, with Wahoo Morris, their music careers seem to be looking up. Some of this positive outlook comes from the lead singer of the group, Alicia, a newcomer to the area music scene. The band has not only seen their club crowds slowly grow, but they are also getting more airtime on local radio stations. More importantly, there is also a chemistry in the group that seemed to be just out of reach in much of their previous bands.

Despite the positive outlook for the band and its members, nothing comes easy. A growing, unstated attraction between Sebastien and Alicia does not seem the most prudent course to follow, but does make for some humorous situations. The uneasiness felt by these two is compounded when Sebastien, affectionately called Bash by his friends, walks Alicia home after a gig. Invited inside, he is getting comfortable and about to kiss Alicia when she abruptly shoves him away and tells him to “Get out!” Confused – and now without his guitar, which he left in Alicia’s apartment – Sebastien heads home where his dreams that night, as well as those of Alicia, reveal all of their hopes and insecurities that have risen up as a result of the evening’s abrupt finish.

Alicia’s unease stems from her affinity with the occult. It is very real, and she practices its teachings thanks to a large library that Bash discovers while in her apartment. Alicia’s fear is that Sebastien's feelings for her may only be a byproduct of these extracurricular activities. Luckily, this single incident does not derail the band as they accept an invitation to be interviewed on a local radio station and continue to make plans for upcoming shows. But, if the sexual tension does not work to dissolve the band, the evil spirit lurking in Alicia’s mirror just might.

I was aware of Wahoo Morris in its earlier incarnation, having enjoyed a short preview in BLIP (The Book of Little Independent Publishers) a 64-page sampler of independent press comics, but I had never seen any copies of the actual book until this past year’s SPX where Craig Taillefer was exhibiting. Taillefer takes a chance with Wahoo Morris in that it is a “talking heads” book with guns, spandex, and supervillains all noticeably absent. Much of the book revolves around the every day discussions and interactions with which we are all quite familiar. This may not appease the typical comic book fan, but Taillefer has smartly created a book that can appeal to all types of readers, and a book that I find vastly more interesting.

Taillefer is an accomplished artist whose work reminds me at times of Bryan Hitch. His clean linework and capable storytelling are as good as any artist working for the “Big Two,” and Taillefer’s characters look like real people rather than pictures of models trying to act natural. These are the people walking down your streets, passing outside your windows; they are you and me, and this is not only a much needed breath of fresh air, but it also allows Taillefer’s audience to more easily connect with the characters since they are so recognizable. Taillefer is also able to compose a crowded panel without making it feel claustrophobic. Much of the action in the book takes place within clubs and bars, and Taillefer handles these situations with aplomb, giving readers the feeling of being at a teeming club without losing the focus of the panel or sacrificing storytelling. This is certainly no small feat and Taillefer seems just as at ease drawing these crowd scenes as he does when conveying the quiet moments between two people.

Taillefer’s writing is top-notch as well. All of the scenes in Wahoo Morris feel very real. Nothing is forced and the narrative flows effortlessly from one page to the next. The dialogue is smartly written, Taillefer’s ear for how people talk in different situations is spot on, and any reader could comfortably assimilate themselves into the conversations these close friends have. Taillefer also letters the book and utilizes this oft-overlooked aspect of comics in a way not seen since Dave Sim’s work in Cerebus. Whether accentuating the letters with a heavier brush stroke to suggest exaggeration in a character’s voice or scratching white lines through the larger letters when trying to talk in a loud club, Taillefer’s lettering adds life and a distinct voice to this book.

Wahoo Morris volume one collects the first four issues of the comic. Subsequent pages are being serialized online at Taillefer’s website. If you are looking for a good read with great artwork then Wahoo Morris is definitely for you. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

The Chelation Kid is the story of Robert Tinnell, his family, and in particular his young son Jack. Like any other child, Jack is playful and energetic, but upon turning two all of that changes. No longer engaged with the world around him, Jack stops speaking, stops pretending, and stops interacting with peers. He is diagnosed with autism and the Tinnells realize nothing will ever be the same.

In researching this disease, the Tinnells discover that the most likely cause of their son’s affliction is thimerasol, a mercury derivative used in vaccines. Angered and feeling betrayed, the Tinnells embark upon a costly journey of bio-medical intervention in an attempt to rescue their son. From the use of cod liver oil, resulting in Jack’s seeming first step back, on to chelation, a method of removing heavy metals – including mercury – from the body, the Tinnells try anything that seems plausible. Progress is slow and there are always setbacks, but by educating themselves and refusing to give in to the great despair hanging over them, the Tinnells are able to move forward with their lives.

The Chelation Kid is a heartfelt webcomic created as a daily comic strip. This format, an extremely rigid one rife with expectations from readers, is a difficult one to do well and Tinnell and Taillefer pull it off with aplomb. Working within the three to five panel framework these two artists manage to imbue each chapter – of which there are 125 currently available – with tension and humor, moving the narrative forward while educating readers and even sparking each chapter with a laugh or two.

Through it all, Tinnell never seems to lose his sense of humor, a monumental task for such a serious and personal enterprise. He achieves a precarious balance between the anxiety of everyday life and a sly wit that some might find offensive. But if we lose our ability to laugh, all that’s left are tears.

Along with the humor, it is Tinnell’s brutal honesty that allows The Chelation Kid to rise above the mundane. In one of the most heart-wrenching episodes, Tinnell confesses to a moment of weakness when his wife asks him to watch Jack for a minute. All Robert wants is to watch the game, to have a brief semblance of normalcy. A minute later Jack is gone. These episodes are harrowing, and probably affect me all the more because I am a parent who not only understands the wish to have a little time to myself, but also the horror of losing your child in plain sight. It’s frightening and it makes you sick to your stomach, and Tinnell and Taillefer get those feelings across almost too well.

Currently on hiatus, The Chelation Kid gets my highest recommendation. It is an extremely important comic that will hopefully find a wider audience with its recent Harvey nomination for Best Online Comics Work. So, do yourself a favor and check it out at www.thechelationkid.com.

An Interview with Craig Taillefer:

Chris Beckett: Wahoo Morris is obviously not a typical comic story, which is definitely part of its appeal for me. But what made you decide to tell this tale in comics form? And, in a more general sense, why comics in the first place?

Craig Taillefer: I'm not really sure I know how to answer that one, other than to say that comics is the only story telling medium I know how to use. I've been drawing comics and 'writing' my own stories since I was 11 or 12, so it's a natural medium for me to work in. Why comic in the first place? I don't know. I've been 'reading' them since I was 4 (couldn't actually read when I got my first one) and I've been drawing with the intention of being a professional artist since around age 7 or 8, so it was natural when I realized people got paid to draw comics that that was what I wanted to do for a living. It's been a little off again on again, but for the most part I have realized that pre-teen ambition.


CB: Because of the emphasis on the imagery in the comics medium I would assume you are often looked upon as an artist first. What instruction have you had in art, and what would you say is the most important thing that newer artists trying to break into comics should focus on in order to better their chances of success?

CT: I tend to think of myself as an artist first as I can't really imagine writing scripts for someone else to draw, while I draw from others scripts from time to time. I don't really have much formal training. I got an early start working professionally in a studio, so I think I learned a fair amount by example and by experience. All my animation training has been on the job as well.
I don't think there really is 'one' thing that newer artists need to focus on to succeed. The 'indie' press is filled with such a diverse set of styles and techniques, whereas what is popular in 'mainstream' comics changes so regularly that pushing one thing on the new crop will backfire. If someone had told me 5 or 6 years ago that doing photo-referenced realistic artwork was the way to go to get superhero work, I would have laughed at them. I used to tell kids with 'Image style' portfolios who would ask for advice that I couldn't give them any, because while my advice would be good towards bettering themselves as an artist, it would be counter to what they have to do to get work at the big two. Looks like I was wrong! Oops. So, my usual advice, which is to learn to draw from life, take life drawing classes, and learn to draw properly before breaking the rules, isn't so bad advice for comics after all.

CB: Being the writer and the artist for the same project is a unique position within the greater context of comics as a medium. What is your approach to the creation of Wahoo Morris, does the writing of the story come first or do you begin with images and work from there?

CT: I see it all visually in my head when creating it, so images and words come pretty much simultaneously. I've been known to write it out visually as well as to do full scripts. Full scripts seem to be the norm these days, but I 'see' everything very visually so what is in my head and what comes out on paper are usually fairly close. After that it is a fairly traditional process. I do everything but the odd touch up and special effect on paper. I pencil on Strathmore series 500 Bristol, letter directly on the pages, then ink with a Windsor Newton Series 7 #4, various dip quill pens, and Higgin's Black Magic india ink. It all gets scanned into the computer, compiled for output and sent to the printer on disc.

CB: The Chelation Kid, with Robert Tinnell, is a very different story – and a very different format - from Wahoo Morris. How different is your approach to The Chelation Kid than Wahoo, and is it very challenging for you or – as Neil Gaiman has said of the difference between prose, comics, and movies – just a matter of flexing different creative muscles?

CT: The Chelation Kid, which can be read at www.thechelationkid.com, is a little different in that I am interpreting a script rather than writing a script I already see in my head. The one adjustment I had to make was that I eventually stopped doing thumbnails as the format of a daily strip is much more rigid. I don't have to play the usual game of mental tetris trying to fit together the different sized shots I want onto the page. In a daily you only have one tier so the only variation is how many panels and how wide are they. So with CK I just do little doodles in the margins of the script and then go directly to penciling. It was a joy to work on and I am thrilled that our work has been recognized with the honour of a Harvey Awards nomination.


CB: Can you tell us a little more about other projects you are working on, or extensions of these two works, and where readers can find them?

CT: Well, in the last year, in addition to Wahoo Morris and the Chelation Kid, I illustrated two issues of a series for Moonstone Books, Cleopatra, written by CJ Henderson. I'm not sure when it will be out, but it will probably be early 2008. For the immediate future though, my focus is on completing Wahoo Morris Book Two (out later this year) and Wahoo Morris Book Three (out later in '08). I have another creator owned project in the planning stages, an extension of a one shot story I did a number of years ago, but it won't be on the drawing board until Wahoo Morris book Three is done.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

ARTWORK! page 4 of an upcoming pitch

Here's page 4 of an upcoming superheroine pitch I am working up with an amazing artist, Branko Jovanovic. I have no idea why I haven't seen his work before, but I'm happy he agreed to work with me.

It won't necessarily be evident what is going on in the lower three panels - the middle one should have a "light" effect that would be done by a colorist to signify the hero's changeover from her her identity (created by a hologram) to her civilian identity, that of the Asian-American woman in that final panel.

Enjoy!
chris

Monday, June 15, 2009

Panel evolution

Jason's got a post up on the evolution of a panel from roughs to pencils to inks to spotting blacks. He used a panel from our UFO story to show the process. It's pretty cool to see how it all comes together from his initial imagery to the final piece. Very nice work. Next it will be sent off for coloring and lettering. Things are coming together.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Lost FYC: Two books by JASON

This was a particular treat for me as Eric Reynolds at Fantagraphics was kind enough to set me up with Jason's email address so that I could do a short interview with him for this piece. Jason's work, if you're unaware, is phenomenal. His spare linework and utilization of anthopomorphic animals as the main characters for his stories adds an intimacy and emotional integrity that can often be missing the "book of the month." You should definitely check his stuff out, it is amazing.


For Your Consideration: 2 Books by Jason from Fantagraphics
By Chris Beckett

FRONT PAGE: Norwegian cartoonist Jason, whose works have been published in America by Fantagraphics, is one of the most exciting cartoonists working today. Not afraid to mix genres and utilize fantastic elements to convey his tales, he evinces a humanity – utilizing animals as main characters – that is sorely lacking in many of the comics being published today. Two of his more recent offerings, and two of his best, are The Last Musketeer and I Killed Adolf Hitler. Click on in to find out about some of the best comics you haven’t read and see what Jason has to say about comics and the creative process


The 411:
The Last Musketeer
Written & Drawn by Jason
48 pages, full-color
$12.95

I Killed Adolf Hitler
Written & Drawn by Jason
48 pages, full-color
$12.95
Fantagraphics Books

What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):

THE LAST MUSKETEER:

In present-day Montpellier, France, Athos, one of the fabled Musketeers, laments the fact that time has passed him by as he falls asleep on a city bench. With night deepening, Athos is startled awake by explosions in the city. Curious, he investigates to find many of the buildings charred husks. The next morning he reads of the invasion from Mars that brought this destruction and runs to see his fellow Musketeer, Aramis, to entreat his help.

But Aramis, the only other survivor of their close-knit group, has long since given up his life of adventure. Wishing only to live quietly with his wife, he sees no need to get involved. Athos is crestfallen and asks whether his friend has forgotten their motto as he leaves in pursuit of the Martians. Coming across two of the invaders, Athos disarms and kills one with his sword, making the other his prisoner, and forces the alien to fly him to Mars where Athos can take the battle to the enemy.

Arriving on the red planet, Athos is soon captured and imprisoned. But, like any good Musketeer, he manages to escape, enlisting some unexpected allies in the process. Fleeing the castle, Athos eventually makes his way back to confront the king and his advisor – someone from the Musketeer’s past. The final battle between these two, four-hundred years after their initial confrontation, brings closure to a chapter in the Musketeers’ tale and elicits a heartfelt response from Aramis, whose thoughts hadn’t strayed as far from the Musketeers’ dictate as Athos had assumed.

Jason’s use of animals within his works makes one think of the mice and cats in Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer-prize winning book, MAUS. Like Spiegelman, Jason’s utilization of anthropomorphism does not detract from the stories he wishes to tell. These are not funny animal tales but serious stories meant to be enjoyed on not only a literary level, but an emotional level as well. Despite the relative simplicity of the drawings, Jason imbues these characters with a deep humanity, and it is the lack of expressionistic detail juxtaposed with the weight of circumstance that lends this humanity to The Last Musketeer. His economy of line also affords readers the chance to inhabit these characters more readily than if they had been overly delineated, giving Jason’s audience the chance to experience his tales in a more personal manner.

It is also interesting to note that Jason does not work from a script or, many times, even from an outline, but chooses to make it up as he goes along. Despite this improvisational approach, Jason weaves a thematic thread of responsibility and honor throughout The Last Musketeer’s forty-eight pages, punctuated by a final page that brings everything full circle in a way that could have felt forced in the hands of a lesser cartoonist but unfolds naturally under the deft storytelling of Jason, providing a satisfying emotional denouement. I heartily recommend The Last Musketeer for any fan of fantastic adventure yarns as well as anyone who enjoys a refreshing character study with a very real emotional tug at one’s heartstrings. Check this book out.

I KILLED ADOLF HITLER:

In a Germany where murder-for-hire is legal, one man stands above the rest. His office is overwhelmed with requests to have spouses, friends, co-workers, and neighbors executed. Citizens pay top dollar to have those that would offend them (whether adulterous wives, loud neighbors, or co-workers that received an undeserved promotion) snuffed out. From this, he is able to build a good life for himself. But killing is a serious business, and it can make it difficult on one’s relationship, as readers discover in the onset of this book.

But once the killer-for-hire is single again, he finds little meaning in life until he becomes the target of a would-be assassin. Disposing of his assailant, the next day brings an odd proposition. A scientist wants him to kill Adolf Hitler. The scientist has a time machine that has been charging for fifty years. It will be able to go back and return once on this charge, and then it will need to charge for another half century. The killer takes on this task, with its promise of financial stability, and follows the scientist to his lab. There, the killer enters the sphere that will transport him back to the mid-twentieth century.

Once there, he enters the Fuhrer’s quarters quite easily. But before he can pull the trigger, a Nazi guard surprises the assassin, overpowering the man from the future and leaving him unconscious. Curious, Hitler walks through to where this stranger entered and discovers the time machine. Stepping in, he is transported fifty years into the future where a startled scientist greets him. But before the Fuhrer can do anything, he is shot by the assassin, who waited fifty years to atone for his mistake. But that’s not even the halfway point of this book, and to tell any more would give away some of the best twists and turns I’ve encountered as a reader in any graphic novel of recent memory.

It is terribly difficult to write a convincing time travel tale and make it not only exciting but also give one’s readers a reason to suspend their disbelief. One of the worst instances I can remember experiencing came with Terminator 2, where an original model Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) was sent back eleven years after events in the first film in order to save John Connor from the newer T-1000. The second question on my mind after sitting down in the theater – after asking myself why I’d paid good money for this – was why didn’t they just send the T-1000 back to the Terminator’s initial attempt on Sarah Connor? One of the better treatments came in season three of Babylon 5 in the two-part story “War Without End,” when viewers discovered what had actually happened to the previous Babylon station, Babylon 4. With these two episodes, J. Michael Straczynski was able to seamlessly tie in the season one episode “Babylon Squared,” in which Babylon 4 also returned for a brief time.

Thankfully, Jason creates a time travel story more like Straczynski’s than Cameron’s. As with any story of this nature, he provides a caveat with the time machine (it must charge for fifty years before it can be used) that puts a limitation on this technology. Without that, there is no dramatic tension. Ultimately, the whole story hinges upon this fifty-year necessity, which not only provides for a very tender love story, but is also essential to the narrative twists and turns that Jason utilizes to keep readers thinking. It’s a masterful story that can be read on more than one level, which is always appealing. I Killed Adolf Hitler is unique and tender and will challenge any preconceptions one might have about the book.

An Interview with Jason:

Chris Beckett: Why comics? What was it that attracted you to this storytelling medium?

Jason: Its cheapness, I guess. I started doing comics when I was around 13 years old, and at that age I didn't have a camera, I didn't have a typewriter, but I had paper and a pencil.

Beckett: What was it that inspired you to create your stories with animal characters, and how did you develop your art style?

Jason: I don't think an art style is something you develop. It just happens, based more on your weaknesses as an artist than on your strengths. Originally I drew in a realistic style, but I was never happy with the result. The characters looked stiff. And it took me a long time to draw. So I tried out some other styles, and the animal characters fit, it felt right.

Beckett: Being the writer and the artist, what is the creative process like for you?

Jason: I don't write a full script or sketch out the whole story. It's all improvised. If I have an idea for the beginning of a story I can start drawing and make up the rest as I go along. If the story is mostly visual I work directly on the original. If there is a lot of text I might write it down first and do very simple stick figure thumbnails. I usually work on about 10 pages at the same time, penciling a bit here, inking a bit there.

Beckett: What was the genesis for The Last Musketeer, and what did setting the tale in the future accomplish for you as a storyteller?

Jason: The Last Musketeer started by watching old film serials from the 30s and the 40s, like Undersea Kingdom and Rocketmen on the moon. I wanted to do a story like that, to write dialogue with lines like "Stop the earthman!", "He's getting away, you fools!" in it. I don't remember how the musketeer ended up in there. The similarities in the stories, maybe. I read The Three Musketeers later, to get an idea on how he should talk.
It's not really set in the future. It takes place today, in Montpellier, where I live, and then moving on to Mars, but with a very retro science fiction feeling, I guess. So, of course, flying to Mars seems like it takes an hour, the Martians speak English and the air is breathable.

Beckett: Time travel tales are difficult to do without them coming across as foolish or having the time travel aspect feel like an easy “fix-it” solution within the tale. That said, but I Killed Adolf Hitler utilized time travel particularly well. How much preparation went into the book before you started it?

Jason: Absolutely none. I didn't do any research at all about wormholes and stuff like that. It doesn't try to be realistic; it's more about the idea of time travel, taken from old science fiction stories. You sort of try to embrace the absurdity of it. The part about the machine taking 50 years to charge was mostly for an important story point towards the end.

Beckett: What other projects are you working on that you would like to tell readers about?

Jason: I'm working on a collection of short stories. There will be Low Moon, which is currently running in New York Times Magazine and four other stories.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Lost FYC: Casanova

Though on hiatus, Casanova is one of the best series that has been published in recent memory. Exciting storytelling from Matt Fraction, gorgeous art by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, with deeper levels to the tale for those willing to dig through the jam-packed narrative. And, I would suggest, if you want the "entire package" you should seek out the original issues with Matt Fraction's essays in the back discussing the story, the art, and anything else tangentially connected to Casanova. Great stuff, and very heartfelt. Check it out if you get the chance, and pick it up when it eventually continues at Image.


For Your Consideration: Casanova By Chris Beckett

FRONT PAGE:
Following in the footsteps of its sister publication, Warren Ellis’s and Ben Templesmith’s Fell, Matt Fraction and Brazilian twins Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon have created one of the best books of this new century, Casanova. A mash of everything that’s great about comics and anything that interests its authors, this is a book that revels in being a comic and should be on every fan’s shelf. Click on in and check this out!


The 411:
Casanova
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon
Lettered by Sean Konot
Album 1: Casanova: Luxuria
144 pp. 2-color $12.99
Individual issues 24pp. 2-color orig. $1.99
Image comics

What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):

In the 1980s, in a fanzine interview, Alan Moore discussed what was good about comics – that one could walk into a comic shop with pocket change and leave with “a real slab of culture.” Of course, prices have risen considerably during the intervening years, but Warren Ellis, one of Moore’s heirs apparent, took this thought and ran with it. The result is Fell, his slimline comic from Image with collaborator Ben Templesmith. With a smaller page count (24pp. vs. 32pp.), it offers readers sixteen pages of story with eight pages of back matter – notes, sketches, story inspirations, letters, etc. – for only $1.99. Each issue is self-contained as Ellis and Templesmith create a densely-packed story with beginning, middle, and end that can be enjoyed on its own. But read together, an over-arching story unfolds.

It was an experiment that had no assurances of success – a thinner book at a lower price point in a medium that can often seem chained to its past to the detriment of its future – and it sold. Well. So, with the success of Fell, one would expect a line of copycats waiting in the wings to be thrust upon the comic-buying public. But the only one, thus far, to have picked up the gauntlet and run with the idea is Casanova, born from the fevered brain of Matt Fraction and beautifully rendered by Brazilian twins Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon.

Casanova Quinn is an agent of E.M.P.I.R.E. – Extra-Military Police, Intelligence, Rescue, and Espionage – the secret organization run by his father, Cornelius Quinn. But Quinn’s arch nemesis, Newman Xeno, leader of W.A.S.T.E. - ????? – has the Casanova Quinn from the book’s primary timeline, 919, killed while he abducts the Casanova of timeline 909 to replace him. Xeno wants nothing short of the total elimination of E.M.P.I.R.E. and by replacing its star agent (Cass 919) with one of moral ambiguity (Cass 909), he hopes to infiltrate the super-spy organization and eat away at it from the inside. During the space/time abduction, Xeno also has Cass’s sister, Zephyr, from another timeline killed, so that her father will believe her dead, as the 919 model continues secretly working to bring down her father in this timeline (she’s the bad sibling and Xeno’s girlfriend). Yeah, it’s #*%!ed up convoluted, but damn, it’s fun.

As Casanova is assigned missions by his father, Xeno gives the double-agent counter-missions, working not only to subvert the machinations of E.M.P.I.R.E. but also to prove the boy’s loyalty. In the course of the first seven issues (collected in the album, Casanova: Luxuria) Casanova Quinn discovers Cold Heart Island – an island cut off from humanity that, despite the arcane fa├žade put forth when encroached upon by the “civilized” world, is actually advanced well beyond anything currently theorized – kidnaps David X an escape artist about to finish his twelve years of meditation and awaken as the supersammasambuddha and then replaces him with a robot double, and infiltrates the pop divas, Teen Age Music International (T.A.M.I.) as a fetish photographer in order to uncover a map hidden on their nude bodies that will lead E.M.P.I.R.E. to the final liquid assets of another rival, Sabine Seychelle. And this is only the tip of the iceberg for Casanova Quinn.

Through all the events in Luxuria, the new Casanova Quinn finds himself growing closer to the Casanova that once inhabited timeline 909. Discovering his mother, now unable to relate to the world and hidden away in Big Sur, he rescues her from this reality, asking the inhabitants of Cold Heart Island to watch over her. Cass also manages to end his sister Zephyr’s rampage with diplomacy rather than his fists. And ultimately, Casanova Quinn finds his redemption, double-crossing Newman Xeno in the end while painting a bull’s eye on his back in the process.

With the second album, Gula, it is a couple years later and readers find that Casanova Quinn has gone missing. The mantra for this album: “When is Casanova Quinn?” With Cass off the board, Fraction brings Zephyr Quinn front and center with her newly-christened relationship with Kubark Benday – son of Israel Benday, founder of M.O.T.T., and another enemy of E.M.P.I.R.E. – providing the impetus for the series. Meanwhile, a strange six-armed beauty from the future tries to help Cass’s allies fix the time anomalies that are bending the world around them.

Where the initial album revolved around the violence and brutality that lives around (and within) us all, this second album uses love and lust as the weapons of choice, with a requisite amount of bloodshed. It can be debated which is worse, but when this latest storyline careens to a halt, those taking the brunt of the punishment experience it in their souls. The twists and turns in this album are more riveting and affecting in that they involve characters that the audience has come to know and understand. Fraction blindsides readers with his plot-twists, and yet it all flows naturally from the mayhem he created in the first volume and has continued through this second narrative. (And I use mayhem in the most positive light here. Controlled chaos might be a better description. But I digress.) As involving and mesmeric as the initial album, Casanova: Gula is a great read deserving permanent status on any fan’s shelf.

Matt Fraction is more than ably assisted by the virtuoso duo of Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon. In the first volume of the series, Ba expertly brings forth the entire Quinn family and the over-the-top world in which they and their nemeses live. His flowing linework and accomplished layouts add so much to the story of Casanova Quinn that it’s hard to conceive of this series working without his contribution. That is, until his twin brother joined with the second volume, as Ba drew The Umbrella Academy with writer/singer Gerard Way for Dark Horse Comics. Fabio Moon manages to bring his own take on the Quinns and the super-spy, multiquintessence worldview that permeates this whirlwind comic while keeping everything grounded within the reality that his brother produced in Luxuria. Ba and Moon are two of the most exciting artists to hit the comic scene in a number of years. Their characters erupt with energy and move gracefully across the page while their fully-realized backgrounds serve to give the story context and allow them to accentuate scenes by dropping those backgrounds off the panel in a way that less accomplished artists might not even consider. I enjoy going through the books and soaking up the art after I’ve read these issues, because it is just that good.

Casanova is a mash of everything that makes comics great – super-spies, parallel timelines, larger-than-life villains, kung fu, giant robots, sexy chicks, and catchy acronyms. And this book does something that many comics shy away from – it revels in being a comic book. This is evident not just in the nod to classic comics such as Steranko’s SHIELD series, but also in its use of former executive director and now Image publisher Eric Stephenson to provide pithy interjections from time to time and catch reader’s up with plot points that might have been forgotten from one issue to the next. This point is brought home when the final battle between Cass and his sister begins in issue seven and three captions boxes are crossed out, giving way to the ideal observation, “I love comic books!” A fitting mantra for such a book.

This book is also a dumping ground for Matt Fractions’ brain. Whatever information/entertainment he’s absorbed through the years seems to have made it into the book – or will eventually. The essays in the back of each issue, not available in the collected albums, delve deeper into the motivations and inspirations for a particular issue and for someone who likes to keep his emotional stuff wound tight, Fraction has certainly laid it all on the line with this book. And that’s why Casanova has been successful and why his audience is able to relate to it so well. I empathize with wanting to keep things bottled up and applaud Fraction for being so candid. Could I do that? I don’t know. But for fans of Casanova, they could not ask for more. This is one of the best books to come along in this new century, and anyone that loves comics needs to get these books now.












An Interview with Matt Fraction:

Chris Beckett: Why comics? What was it that attracted you to this storytelling medium?

Fraction: The mixture of words and images. I always wanted to tell stories, and I always wanted to draw. When I was a kid I'd make my own comics and call them movies. I know, I don't know. I was weird. Anyway. Words and pictures and a desire to tell stories. And it's cheaper and less dependent on others than filmmaking, so there's that. I've spent an awful lot of time behind the camera making movies or animated shorts or whatever and I love it but, at the same time, I can't do that in my kitchen with my wife and kid, y'know?

Anyway. Words and pictures. I am addicted to words and pictures and the magical, wonderful, inexplicable thing that happens in the space between them.

Beckett: From reading the back matter of the individual issues of Casanova, it seems as if you were making it all up as you went along. And yet, there is a continuing narrative with multiple subplots wending its way through this first album. Did you have an over-arching story mapped out, and how did you kept it all straight?

Fraction: I wasn't making it up at all. I knew the big landmarks and, with one exception, they remained as in place in the published series as they did in my initial notes. I absolutely have an over-arching story mapped out. There's lots of room to improvise between those landmarks, and I think I can pull it off only because those landmarks are so fixed.

The one major beat I changed-- and without blowing the ending to Luxuria, I won't say it-- became a kind of moral imperative that I change, and I think it's more or less pretty seamless. Would that I could go back in time there would be a few microscopic changes I'd make to accommodate it some but I think I'm the only person in the world that notices.

You know how Stanislavsky said, about acting, that you do a shitload of research, and preparation, and study and analysis and homework and then you throw 90% of it away and just wing it? It's that. All the crap I ramble about at the end of the issues? None of it matters. None of it. I might as well talk about what I had for lunch, you know? It's all just homework.

Beckett: With Casanova, you walk a fine line between the action/adventure and the humor. How do you maintain that balance – does it require a lot of hard editing and revising – and did you have any worries that it might not be well-received?

Fraction: Instinct. I suspect I'm wrong more than right. Eh, the only way I'll get better is to just keep writing, so I dunno. My life is funny. My friends are funny. I spend a lot of time laughing. I don't understand people that somehow think a sense of humor is in opposition to... I dunno, "serious storytelling" or whatever. On the very worst days of my life, I've still laughed. That's life, you know? Highs, lows, ups, downs. I laugh a lot. My friends laugh a lot. Especially when one of us is hanging from the gallows. Which tends to be often.

I don't worry about how anything I write is received-- of course I hope it's well-received but you can't worry about that stuff. Shit, I dunno, maybe you can but I absolutely can not. If I worried about it I'd go totally crazy and turn into one of those douchebag writers on the internet that argues with readers anytime any one of them doesn't care for their work in any capacity and loses entire days to egosurfing themselves on Google for the slightest mention of their name trying to somehow bully a subjective opinion into submission.

I'm happy and amazed and delighted that anybody gives me their time and attention; I hope they don't resent it and they still have my gratitude even if and inevitably when they do.

Beckett: The slimline format. Warren Ellis has written about Fell scripts running longer than some scripts for his traditional 22-page books. How do you break down an individual issue’s script and do you similarly find it more work than a typical comic script as Ellis does?

Fraction: Oh, Casanova is the hardest thing I've ever written. Every issue, every time, no doubt. All that homework doesn't make it move any faster. It's no different than any other script, in terms of how it's written, but it requires like 10,000 times more thought, somehow. The process isn't necessarily any different, it's just more... ornate. I start with the broad story beats written out in paragraphs, then break that out into what happens on each page, and then refine the pages and write it out. Man, it sounds so simple when I write it like that. That's like a brain surgeon saying first you cut the skull cap, then you work on the brain, then you stitch it back up.

Well, I'm pretty proud with it at the end of the day, so it's worth it. But yeah, Christ! It's a lot of work.


Beckett: What other projects are you working on that you would like to tell readers about?

Fraction: I write lots of comics for Marvel, and I love them and I'm very proud of them but it's Marvel and they have a robust ad presence and marketing presence and shelf presence in the direct market, so you'll have no problems finding out about that stuff on your own if it so interests you. I'd much rather talk about projects I have nothing to do with but love. Rick Remender's comics, namely Fear Agent, is fantastic. Jason Aaron's Scalped is maybe the best new book of the last year. Jon Hickman makes comics from Jupiter, I don't even know how to talk about his stuff but it's absolutely otherworldly and insane. My friends Harold Sipe and Hector Casanova have a book called Screamland coming out in a couple months and I wish my first comic was that good.

Yes! Yes. These are books I want to tell readers about. Read them! They are wonderful.