Sunday, April 15, 2012

Graphic novels reviewed in The Miami Herald

Dreams, Teens, Swords and Serial Killers

By Richard Pachter

His Dreams of Skyland. Anne Opotowsky and Aya Morton. Gestalt. 312 pages. $31.95.
It opens with a scene of furtive, hurried sex, as the protagonist prepares for his first day of work at the post office, a very prestigious position, apparently. But this astounding tale, by veteran screenwriter and journalist Opotowsky, belies its prosaic beginning. With its well- drawn characters, naturalistic storytelling and cultural explorations, it’s a stunner. Set in China’s fabled Walled City of Kowloon, the breathtaking illustrations by Morton are more like fine art than toonage, and this large and very lovely book would not be out of place on any tasteful coffee table. The rollicking narrative unfolds fairly leisurely and the characters interact in very human ways. As the first part of a planned trilogy from these American creators (and Australian publisher), one can only hope that the stratospherically high quality can be maintained in subsequent chapters.

Jinx. J. Torres, Terry Austin and Rick Burchett. Archie Books. 112 pages. $16.99 (hardcover) $9.99 (paperback).
Archie Comics continues to upgrade its line by introducing new characters and shaking the rust off their old ones. They’ve also upgraded their creative staff, adding new and old writers and artists. Jinx is an old character, originally appearing in Lil Archie books in the 40s. Here, grown into a teen, just starting high school, the team of J. Torres, Rick Burchett and Terry Austin launch her into the 21st century. It’s hardly edgy but there are plenty of typical teen dreams, angst and cattiness, all fairly sterile and safe, told in the Archie-esque manner.

Flex Mentallo:  Man of Muscle Mystery. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. DC/Vertigo. 128 pages. $22.99.
Grant Morrison’s original 4-part 1994 miniseries — a spin-off of the Doom Patol comic — allegedly withheld from republication due to a legal tiff with supposed parody subject muscleman Charles Atlas, has finally been complied in a single volume. Morrison has always been fascinated with the ongoing bleed between fiction and reality, as evidenced in his other works, most notably The Invisibles and Final Crisis. But Flex is one of the most autobiographical manifestations of this trope. Whole chunks of Morrison’s childhood and upbringing are depicted within. The story, such as it is, relies heavily on the brilliant art of frequent collaborator Frank Quitely, who breathes visceral emotion, life and humanity into the discursive and somewhat convoluted imaginings and recollections.

Silent Partner. Jonathan Kellerman, Ande Parks and Michael Gaydos. Villard. 128 pages. $23.
The overriding challenge in adapting a prose novel to the screen is conveying anything interior; thought, dialog, time and emotion. As a kinetic and visual medium, if you can’t show it and have to say it, it’s going to be a boring movie (My Dinner With Andre notwithstanding). Not so with graphic novels, which can freeze time and space and use words to express the things film cannot. Parks and Gaydos do a masterful job here with Kellerman’s original prose. Conflicted relationships, repressed characters and ambivalent morality are all on hand, along with the patently bittersweet California noir vibe. The story, featuring Kellerman perennial Alex Delaware, replete with the required murder, sex, wealth and psychology, unfolds quite nicely, leaving one longing for further Kellerman adaptations by the pair.

 My Friend Dahmer. Derf Backderf. Abrams ComicArts. 224 pages. $24.95 (hard cover) $17.95 (paperback).
Sounds like the makings of a very sick joke but cartoonist Backderf was actually well acquainted with notorious serial killer, necrophiliac and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer during high school in the 70s. Well aware that his entire book foreshadows the discovery of a series of horrid and unspeakable acts, Backderf uses the knowledge with studied restraint and avoids cheap shots and undue sensationalism. He’s an interesting artist but a better writer, frankly, and his list of sources at the end of the book reinforces the book’s authenticity in recounting the banality of evil, up close and highly personal.

A Game of Thrones: George R.R. Martin, Daniel Abraham and Tommy Patterson. Bantam. 240 pages. $25.
This serviceable adaptation of the first part of Martin’s epic series might provide a keepsake for fans of the HBO series, though it would probably not satisfy readers of just the original text. It differs from the source material (as does TV series) when it needs to accommodate the format of the page and its attendant limitations. Since it’s not the same as the original or HBO version, one wonders who would best be served by this sword and sorcery soufflé. Not being overly familiar with either iteration, I found this graphic treatment entertaining though mostly unmemorable.

Inner Sanctum: Tales of Horror, Mystery and Suspense. Ernie Colòn. NBM. 128 pages. $16.99.
Billed as an adaptation of the classic radio show (with no other story credits), veteran editor and artist Colòn conducts a virtual art clinic here, showing his deep mastery of composition, design, figure drawing, expression, use of blacks and more in this collection of hoary guilty pleasures and cheap thrills. Throughout, his art is in service to the storytelling, creating clear narratives with tension and emotion. It’s nothing more (or less) than solid entertainment.
Originally published in The Miami Herald

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

This looks pretty amazing

Here's the press release:
Some are mild mannered geeks, others mad geniuses or street-smart city dwellers driven to action. These are the men and women behind the masks and tights of America's most beloved superheroes. But these aren't the stories of the heroes' hidden alter egos or secret identities...these are the stories of their creators! Leaping Tall Buildings: The Origins of American Comics gives you the truth about the history of the American comic book—straight from the revolutionary artists and writers behind them.

From the founders of the popular comics website Graphic NYC—writer Christopher Irving and photographer Seth Kushner—comes the firsthand accounts of the comic book's story, from its birth in the late 1930s to its current renaissance on movie screens and digital readers everywhere. Kushner's evocative photography captures the subjects that Irving profiles in a hard-hitting narrative style derived from personal interviews with the legends of the art, all of which is accompanied by examples of their work in the form of original art, sketches, and final panels and covers. The creators profiled include Captain America creator Joe Simon, Marvel guru Stan Lee, Mad magazine's fold-out artist Al Jaffee, visionary illustrator Neal Adams (Batman), underground paragon Art Spiegelman (Maus), X-Men writer Chris Claremont, artist/writer/director Frank Miller (Sin City300), comic analyst Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics), American Splendor's Harvey Pekar, painter Alex Ross (Kingdom Come), multitalented artist and designer Chris Ware (Acme Novelty Library), artist Jill Thompson (Sandman), and more.

Leaping Tall Buildings, like comics themselves, uses both words and images to tell the true story of the comic's birth and evolution in America. It is a comprehensive look at the medium unlike any other ever compiled covering high and low art, mass market work and niche innovations. It is the story of an art form and an insider's look at the creative process of the artists who bring our heroes to life.

For a preview of the book please visit:

Christopher Irving is a pop culture historian with a concentration in the American comic book. A veteran of comics history and journalism magazines like Comics Buyers Guide and multiple Eisner Award-winning Comic Book Artist (where he served as Associate Editor), Irving combines new journalism with comics history to create personality essays on comic book creators. Leaping Tall Buildings is Irving's fifth book on comic books. Irving currently edits digital comics magazine The Drawn

Seth Kushner's portrait photography has appeared in The New York Times MagazineTimeNewsweekL'Uomo VogueThe New Yorker and others. He was chosen by Photo District News magazine as one of their 30 under 30 in 1999 and is a two-time winner of their Photo Annual Competition. Seth's first book, The Brooklynites, (with Anthony LaSala) was published by powerHouse Books in 2007. Currently, Seth is working on CulturePOP Photocomix, and profiling real-life characters on and Seth resides in his hometown of Brooklyn, New York with his wife, son and way too many cameras and comics.

Eric Skillman is a Brooklyn-based graphic designer, art director, and writer best known for his work with The Criterion Collection and his design blog Cozy Lummox.