Thursday, February 24, 2011

FYC replay: Superior Showcase from AdHouse


For Your Consideration: Superior Showcase #2 from AdHouse Books
By Chris Beckett
The 411:
Superior Showcase #2
Written & Drawn by Maris Wicks,
Farel Dalrymple & Joey Weiser
Cover by James Jean
32 pages, black & white

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

Superheroes are a tough nut to crack. On the one hand, they work best within the comics medium thanks in large part to the fact that the special effects budget of a comic consists of imagination, talent, pencil, paper, and ink. On the other hand, due to the ancillary economic benefits for licensing, the status quo of the majority of superheroes needs to remain constant, negating any real opportunity for growth within a given series. It is difficult to create something genuinely new within the realm of superheroes, but thankfully, Chris Pitzer, head honcho of AdHouse books, has found a solution with Superior Showcase.

Spinning out of AdHouse’s Project: Superior anthology, which saw independent cartoonists such as Paul Pope, Scott Morse, Dean Haspiel, and Brian Wood taking on the superhero genre, Superior Showcase is a standard 32-page comic showcasing other independent cartoonists’ take on superheroes. In this year’s issue, #2, Pitzer has gathered Maris Wicks, Farel Dalrymple, and Joey Weiser to play a new tune on an old stand-by, and the result is an incredibly fun book.

First up, Maris Wicks demonstrates the heroism of antibodies, neutrophils, and T-cells when they quickly come to the aid of a girl who scraped her knee while playing outside. A fun tale that imaginatively explores the battle between good (the antibodies) and evil (bacteria and other organisms foreign to the human body) that goes on every day within our bodies. She injects the story with action and drama as the bacteria attack, while also relating – in a very believable manner – the difficult task endured by the mother while trying to clean her daughter’s cut. Wicks’s simple art style meshes well with her amusing take on one of life’s universal experiences, making for an enjoyable read to which anyone can relate.

Second in line is Farel Dalrymple’s The Awesomest Super Guy, Hollis in: “Shadowsmen.” Dalrymple is well-known for his Pop Gun War graphic novel as well as short pieces in the Meathaus anthologies, and with “Shadowsmen,” he does not disappoint. A brooding tale that does not take itself too seriously, Hollis is an analogue of the famed caped crusader, Batman. Instilling fear into his enemies with a mask and a shadowy existence, Hollis comes to the aid of those in need. But, unlike Bruce Wayne, Hollis is a bit on the plump side. Despite being out of shape, his agility and speed are unmatched by the Shadowsmen and Hollis is able to save their latest victim with little difficulty.

Dalrymple’s style reminds me a bit of Joe Kubert’s, especially the manner in which he shades his figures to give them depth and form. The ease with which Hollis dispatches the villains and the victim’s subsequent skepticism regarding his savior all play to the heroic ideal set forth by the titular character, while Dalrymple’s evocation of the Batman myth also adds another layer to an already entertaining story.

Finally, in Joey Weiser’s The Unremarkable Tree Frog, readers are entertained by “everyday” superheroes working their corporate jobs. Tree Frog works in the mail room of a local “Business Co.” and whiles away his time daydreaming about Thievery Girl and how he might approach her for a date. On this particular day, he also discovers a fellow superhero in the art department named Jack Hammer. Always looking for like-minded individuals with whom he might discuss his affinity for superheroing, Tree Frog approaches him. But instead of the kindred spirit he’d anticipated, Tree Frog finds that Jack Hammer is an anti-hero. Disappointed, Tree Frog heads home at the end of another work day and runs into Thievery Girl, a scenario he has gone over in his mind a dozen times. But the question is, will he be suave, or will he be stupefied?

This tale by Weiser drops superheroes into the mundane world of the everyman, and his clean crisp art, which has a slight animation feel to it, really works to sell this story. The audience can relate to the common ups and downs Tree Frog experiences in his day job, and the hopes and fears of this “mail room hero” are ones everyone has experienced.

Superior Showcase #2 is an incredibly entertaining – and fun – comic book. For the same price of any mainstream book, one can get three inventive and enjoyable tales that look at superheroes from a new, and much appreciated, angle. AdHouse is doing some great stuff, and if you’ve never tried anything from this publisher before, I would recommend seeking out this book for a sample of the quality and diversity others have come to expect from them.

An Interview with CHRIS PITZER:

CHRIS BECKETT: Why comics? What was it that attracted you to this storytelling medium?

The pretty pictures. Well, when I was a kid. That and the superhero fantasy. Again, when I was a kid. Nowadays, it’s more of the excitement of finding something new that I enjoy. If I publish it, hopefully that excitement will be shared with others.

BECKETT: How did the idea for Superior Showcase come together?

It was originally our Free Comic Book Day Comic oh so many years ago. To have some fun, we numbered that issue #0. After Project: Superior was done and in the can, and in stores, Nick Bertozzi told me that he had finally finished his Superior story. Well, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with Nick, so I came up with the idea of turning Superior into a floppy and just publishing them whenever the time was right. Which seems about once a year. We’ve got the third issue almost locked and loaded, and I’m pretty excited about the details of that one.

BECKETT: For these short pieces in Superior Showcase, do you solicit material from creators or do they come to you with proposals in hand?

Both. It all depends on whether or not what people submit works, and if it makes sense in a big picture sort of way. The second issue is rather interesting, because it seems that people either dig it or they don’t.

BECKETT: When aspiring creators approach you at conventions, what do you look for in their proposals?

Well, conventions aren’t really the place to give me a proposal. I mean, sure, I can take it, but I don’t have the time, or the mind-energy to actually look at it and give it a thoughtful critique or decision right then and there. I talked about this a bit on my SDCC countdown blog series, and basically, before a convention is over, I’ll sit down and divide the proposals into two piles... The ones I’ll take back and give some thought to and the ones that get left behind. I’m honest in that regard at a show, though. I’ll tell people if they only have a handful of proposals, they might be best served by taking it elsewhere (unless I’m floored by what I see.)

BECKETT: What do these aspiring creators forget or overlook when approaching you that could help them if they’d only remembered or considered it beforehand?

Know me (AdHouse) and know you. Sure, I’m going to branch out and do an oddball publishing thing here and there, but really, each publisher has their own vibe/vision.

BECKETT: What other projects are coming from AdHouse that you would like to tell readers about?

Let’s see.... The Ride Home by Joey Weiser just came out a bit ago. It’s a pretty cool all-ages romp of an adventure story about a gnome who gets kicked out of his van and has to survive in the biggish city. Skyscrapers of the Midwest #4 by Josh Cotter will be out in a few months. It’s the last issue of this series. Pretty neat in that if you look at all the covers, each one is a season. And, it’s pretty nice in that Josh has brought back a few characters from the previous issues, so it feels like one big story arc. And, Johnny Hiro #2 by Fred Chao should be hitting shelves soon. It’s at the printer as we type.

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