Tuesday, June 22, 2010

In Search Of... pt. XII



Jamal pushed the door open. He raised one arm to shield his eyes. Unlike the others, Karen appreciated natural light and kept her mismatched curtains tied back. The rest of the old church resided in shadow – windows covered against the light and against discovery (there was little law in this part of the city, but it didn’t pay to be careless).

Jamal’s eyes adjusted as he stepped in. “You decent?”

“Door wouldn’t be unbarred unless I was,” said Karen. Opposite Jamal, Karen leaned down, peering into the cracked piece of glass she used for a mirror.

“Big date?” Jamal leaned against the wall, crossed his arms.

“Didn’t know it mattered.” Karen didn’t turn as she spoke.

Jamal grunted and shrugged his shoulders. “Just worried. Don’t need you gettin’ pinched. Then we’d all be in trouble.”

“So nice to know you care.” Karen stood up, adjusted her bra.

“You going out with him again?”

Karen turned to look at Jamal. “He has a name,” she said.

Jamal shrugged his shoulders again, looked up at the ceiling.

“Yes,” she said. “David and I are going out. I figured it might be better than sitting around waiting for people to wake up here.”

Jamal opened his mouth, but said nothing.

He walked out of the room, mumbling to himself.

“What?” Karen called after him, but Jamal didn’t answer.

•••

“So. What are you looking for out of this?” Keenan was still enjoying the fa├žade of David Janson as he and Karen ate their meal. He had brought Karen to the basement apartment of a Mexican couple. They had turned their place into a cramped, but pleasant, “restaurante” – only three tables with soft music and candlelight. It was the nicest place Karen had been in more years than she could remember. The ambience and food made her forget her situation.

But Keenan’s inquiry brought Karen back. She looked up at him, joy slipping from her face as she spoke. “I’ve got questions. About my family. I think my brother is the only one that can help me find the answers. And I think he might be with our mother. If I could find him, I could find her. Which won’t be easy, because she didn’t want to be found. Otherwise, my father would have brought her back home years ago. That’s if she isn’t dead.”

“Well,” said Keenan. “That was more candid than you’ve been with me up to this point. But I wasn’t talking about that.”

“What else is there?” said Karen.

“That’s pretty insulting,” said Keenan. He took a sip of his wine, stared at Karen over the lip of the glass.

“Excuse me,” said Karen. “I need to use the ladies’ room.” She stood up and walked through the room and out the door to the narrow entranceway beyond. Keenan leaned forward in his chair, peered out the window to see if she was leaving. He counted to thirty, saw no shadow receding from the front door, returned to his meal.

A minute later, Karen returned and sat back down. “So,” she said. “What were you talking about?”

“What?” Keenan pulled a broad smile across his face.

“What were you getting at when you asked me what I was looking for?”

“If you don’t know, then it’s not worth having this conversation,” said Keenan.

Karen sat back in her chair, took a long look at her dinner partner. “Are you asking about us?”

“Like I said, it’s not worth discussing. I probably just read things wrong.” He refused to raise his eyes from his plate.

“David,” said Karen. “I didn’t think this was anything other than business.”

Keenan held his smile, looked into Karen’s eyes. “I thought we’d moved past business a long time ago.”

•••

Karen stepped out of the makeshift bathroom on the second floor of the church. She was toweling off her hair, thinking about the rest of her evening with David (Keenan), and didn’t notice Jamal sitting in the hall until her foot ran into his boot.

Karen stepped over Jamal. “Why aren’t you down with everyone else?” she said.

“Wasn’t feelin’ it tonight,” said Jamal.

“Funny,” said Karen.

She closed the door to her room.

Jamal stretched one leg out and nudged the door open a crack. A sliver of light slipped into the black hallway. “You have a good time?” he said.

“Yes. Really good,” said Karen.

“Glad to hear it.”

“I didn’t know you cared.”

“What are you talking about?” The sound of his voice startled him, the darkness increasing the volume. He sat back up. “Why are you such a bitch sometime?”

“I guess it comes natural.”

“That’s what I’m talking about. All passive-aggressive an’ shit. You don’t need to be that way,” said Jamal.

“Well, how should I act?”

There was silence for a moment, and Karen wondered if she might have pushed Jamal away.

Then the door slid in another inch. Jamal peered through the crack. “Can I come in?”

“Sure,” said Karen.

Jamal’s head slid through the door first, then the rest of him followed with a bit of effort.

“You could have opened the door a little more,” said Karen.

Jamal shrugged his shoulders.

“So. Why were you sitting out there?”

“I was waitin’ for you,” said Jamal.

Karen’s lips quivered, the hint of a smile formed. Then she dropped her robe.

•••

“I wasn’t expecting that,” said Jamal. He was snuggled up close to Karen’s back, his arms around her, their fingers laced as he breathed in her perfume.

“I know,” said Karen.

“I didn’t know you were pregnant,” said Jamal.

Karen didn’t say anything.

Jamal shifted his weight. “I’m sor–”

Karen didn’t let him finish his thought. “Just hold me,” she said and pulled him closer.

“Just hold me.”

Monday, June 21, 2010

Guesting on CGS

So,

I had the good fortune to be a guest on the latest Comic Geek Speak PREVIEWS episode where the guys go through Previews to see what looks interesting to order for comics being published in the coming months (2, if they're on time). It was a lot of fun and they were gracious enough to let me talk about Warrior27, which is still available for order at Discount Comic Book Service this month. I rambled on for about 8 minutes, am not really sure if I got the concept of the book across, but am thankful for the opportunity. The episode can be found in the link below

Previews @ CGS

And you should check out some other of their recent episodes, including a fantastic interview/discussion with artist/writer Jeff Lemire. Author of Essex County, The Nobody, and Sweet Tooth, he will be writing the upcoming Superboy comic for DC and he is an incredibly funny guy. Definitely worth listening to.

chris

Monday, June 14, 2010

Warrior27 available at Discount Comic Book Service

This month at DCBS, Warrior27 is offered for purchase through the site’s First Light program. Issue 2 is available at a 40% discount ($3.00) while Issue 3 and the comic pamphlet from issue 4’s multimedia extravaganza are both available for 35% off ($3.25 and $1.95, respectively).


With the purchase of each issue, we are also offering a free chapbook or mini-comic previously only available at conventions. Issue 2 will include a chapbook with “Life is Funny” (a comic story published as part of Ape Entertainment’s online UFO anthology) and “A Stone Wall Between Us” a short prose story published by Dark Recesses Press. Issue 3 comes with the mini-comic, “Suggested Retail,” from Dan and artist Travis Dandro, which folds out to become a game board (play money and game pieces included). And Issue 4 comes with the short prose story, “Fractured,” which examines a man’s descent into despair and his attempt at final redemption.


For preview images check out our comicspace galleries or go to www.warrior27.thecomicseries.com.

You can check out the books on DCBS’s site here and thanks.


chris

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Jeff Smith's Bone pt.4

Even as he was approaching the end of this fantasy epic, with characters we had come to know dying as a result of the evil of the Lord of the Locusts and the distrust and betrayal from some of those in power within the city of Atheia, Smith would still inject some humor into the narratives in order to keep that balance and not allow things to become too heavy. A couple of my favorite examples from later in the story are:





Smith also knows when to allow the images to convey the story rather than overwrite things (as was seen with the scene from issue #16 when Thorn, Gran’ma, and Fone Bone were fleeing the rat creatures in the night). The final confrontation with Mim and the dragons was incredibly powerful, and carried out with no dialogue or captions whatever.



Smith’s artistic ability really conveyed the majesty and the gravity of the situation incredibly well, and made for a fitting climax to a wonderful story.

Some final thoughts:
When Thorn was moving through the Ghost Circles, particularly that final time, it reminded me very much of Aragorn’s trek through the “Paths of the Dead” from Tolkien’s Return of the King.
It had been so long since I first read BONE that I’d forgotten a lot. Many of those who died, I did not recall. The Crown of Horns was as much a surprise on this reading as the first. And, though I ultimately knew good would win out, I did not remember how it all went, and I found it even more satisfying this time than how I remember it feeling the first time I read BONE. Smith, in creating a personal story like this, imbued his story with a tension that wouldn’t be available in a mainstream book. You don’t know who will die because anyone could die at any time. It adds a level of enjoyment that I often (note, I did not say always) find missing in the mainstream.
I loved how Smiley was trying to convince Fone Bone to come with him and Phoney when they leave at the end, and the use of the “TM” symbol after all the delicacies he uses to entice his cousin.
And when I got to that last page, it was sad to think it was over.

Go, find this book, read it, and enjoy.

-chris

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Jeff Smith's Bone pt.3

Smith sucks readers in with the cute Bone creatures and the comic aspect of the tale early, and then slowly turns the narrative toward the more epic and fantastical tale he is telling. This is not a simple funny anthropomorphic tale, but a traditional fantasy with hidden royalty and swords and evil spirits. And somehow, Smith manages to keep a good balance between the heavy, darker aspects of his story and the comic moments. He never forgets to temper the darker sections of the narrative with some levity. And, in the same way Smith utilized the comic page to relate his comic timing, he also understands how to use it to create tension and dread in his audience. A prime example from issue #16 comes when Thorn, Gran’ma, and Fone Bone are skulking through the rainy forest in the dead of night trying to evade the rat creatures:


































This is a brilliant use of the comic page to convey the emotion he wants readers to feel.

Smith can do creepy too:
































Smith also takes everything about the comic page into account when crafting his stories. Like Dave Sim, who may be the master of this, Smith utilizes his lettering to convey emotions in pages like this one:

Friday, June 11, 2010

Jeff Smith's Bone pt.2

I was also impressed, on this re-reading, how much of the broader story was laid out so early in the series.

On page 9 of issue #1 readers get their first glimpse at the Dragon.


The signature phrase, “Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures!” shows up in issue #2.


- Issue #3 introduces the map that becomes important later.
- In issue #4 we first see the Hooded One.
- And issue #6 offers the first mention of the 50ft. balloon of Phoney, which is only a throwaway line meant to elicit smiles in this context, but becomes so much more when readers reach the final act of the story.

All of these important points are laid out in the very first trade collection. Like any worthwhile storyteller, Smith sets everything up well in advance for a great payoff later.

Something else I noticed (after my wife pointed it out) was how Smith drew Thorn and Gran’ma Ben with a definite, though subtle, family resemblance. It’s little details such as this, that many people might not notice, that add so much to this book.





Look at those chins.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Jeff Smith's Bone pt.1

Another "Book of the Month Club" @ CGS that I gave some serious thought was the examination/discussion of Jeff Smith's Bone (the episode's here). It's a great, epic story that has humor, pathos, drama, and tragedy all mixed together with Smith's beautifully emotive and meticulous artwork. Brilliant book. If you haven't read it yet, you should definitely do yourself a favor - get it and read it.

I discovered BONE with issue #10. Before then, I hadn’t seen a copy of an issue on the shelf, or not noticed it. But I’d heard good things about it, and the clincher was that the first letter in the letters’ page was from George Perez. My favorite artist. No way could I put that issue back. I also picked up the first trade that day, and from there I was hooked.

One of the best things about Jeff Smith’s BONE is the comedy, which is all about timing. And Smith’s timing is impeccable, something made more challenging by the medium he’s chosen to tell his stories, comics. Not only does Smith need to conceive funny scenarios, but he needs to writer and draw it in a way that leads his audience to read it in a way that achieves the comic effect. Some of my favorite examples:

- In this first issue, everyone has been telling Fone Bone that he needs to think about getting out of the valley before the first snow comes. Once that hits, he'll be stuck. It's mentioned a few times, keeping it fresh in readers' minds. Fone Bone really doesn't think much of it, until the final page.


Then there's this page where Fone Bone calls out the Dragon:


And Fone Bone trying to show off for Thorn by telling her he should be the one to chop the wood:

More later.
- chris

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Kraven's Last Hunt

The main comic podcast I listen to - CGS (Comic Geek Speak) - does a monthly Book of the Month Club. They rotate through Marvel, DC, Geek's Choice, independent, manga, and others. The book is offered at a larger discount usually at In Stock Trades. And then they record an episode discussing the book.

The latest one was on Kraven's Last Hunt, the Spider-Man story from J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Zeck, and Bob McLeod and can be downloaded here. It's a great Spider-Man story and a favorite from childhood. Below is my contribution to the forum thread for this BOMC discussion. If you haven't tried out Kraven's Last Hunt yet, I hope this spurs you to find it and read it. If you have, I hope it adds a little bit to your enjoyment of it.

-chris

I can remember buying these issues right off the stand. I was heavy into Spider-Man at the time, and I can’t remember if I’d seen any house ads (were there house ads for this?), but the thought of a storyline carrying through the three different titles combined with Mike Zeck’s artwork made this a no-brainer. And the story . . . I was blown away. It was so different: Spidey’s defeated and buried, then he’s not even in the book for the second and third chapters, and the ultimate fate of Kraven – totally unexpected.

These issues had a special place in my collection for a long time, but I don’t know what happened to them. Lost in a purge or a move somewhere along the line, I guess. But last year I went to Amazon and found a used copy of the original hardcover for a good price, and when I re-read it, I was pleased to find that it stood up incredibly well. And now, reading it for BOMC, I’ve found even more in it that I missed during that initial re-read.

First, there’s the story from DeMatteis. This is such an emotional tale. The internal monologues of the characters work well in this respect, showcasing the feelings they normally keep bottled up, subjects not typically discussed or utilized in superhero comics – fear from our hero, the implication of depression or other mental illness on the part of Kraven and its manifestation in his feelings of despair and resignation. These are far more realized characterizations than one sees in most books from the “Big Two.”

The manner in which Kraven breaks down Spider-Man, “killing” him in the minds of the public by becoming a more vicious form of Spider-Man is intriguing and worse than if he’d actually killed him (which we all know isn’t happening). Kraven has ruined the good name of Spider-Man while believing that, by enacting these harsher punishments and defeating Vermin (a villain Spidey needed assistance to defeat), he has surpassed what this hero is in every way. It’s an interestingly warped view of the situation that is fitting. Every villain believes himself or herself to be the hero of their own story. Kraven sees a corrupted civilization and believes it needs a sterner, more brutal defender of the masses.

On the surface, this is a well-crafted adventure story, but DeMatteis adds thematic layers that elevate this story to a new level. His exploration of duality within this narrative is rather overt, though it didn’t resonate too strongly with me the first time I re-read it earlier this year. It’s a natural progression from these characters, particularly the then-new reality for Peter Parker of being a married man, and does not supersede the main spine of the story.

It makes sense that a tale dealing with heroes and their secret identities should delve into this, exploring who is the true man and who the mask. We get a Peter Parker who is afraid – afraid while in his Spider-Man costume. How does he deal with this? (Has it been dealt with much in any other Spidey comics?) He goes off the handle, reacts in ways that are uncharacteristic for Spider-Man but all too human, allowing the readers to relate to him better.

It makes Spider-Man a more interesting character, and the fact that his fear is emanating from the fact that he now has a chance at a “normal life” with his new wife gives Peter far more to lose at this point. The stakes have been raised, and we see a Peter Parker questioning why he does what he does. It feels as if he could give up the suit if pushed far enough.

And in Kraven, we have a man of honor questioning his place in this new, corrupt world. He wishes to leave this life with honor restored, and in order to do this he must defeat the Spider that has plagued him for years (is this the genesis of the Spider totem?). It’s obvious he is feeling beaten down by this world, but we can also infer that there may be something amiss with his psychological makeup from Kraven’s continuing mantra that they called his mother “insane.” Could he have inherited this malady? The final resolution of this story, for Kraven anyway, suggests that maybe there was some truth to this diagnosis. If he wished to leave this world with honor intact, would he necessarily take his own life? I’d be interested in that debate.

It’s also worth noting that the year this was originally published, DeMatteis was working his comedic magic on the revamped Justice League series.

And finally, the art. This is, in my opinion, Mike Zeck’s best artwork of his career. The way he differentiates between Kraven and Peter when they are in the costume is perfect. Just by body language and the slight differentiation in body type, we can easily tell who is who. It’s a testament to his craft that he’s able to do this.


And he also adds to the emotional resonance of the story with his facility of body language.


Zeck – no doubt in conjunction with DeMatteis – also utilize the splash page to great effect. Excellent storytelling.


There’s not much more to say regarding the art, other than the black and white costume never looked better than during these six issues, and with much of the tale taking place at night or in the sewers, Zeck took advantage of the use of negative space offered with a b/w costume.


A couple of other notes: I appreciate the fact that this ran through the regular books and wasn’t an “event” not unlike Daredevil: Born Again. I also appreciate, though I am not up to date on any recent Spidey history, that Kraven’s death seems to have had meaning.

Great story, great art.