Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pug - Derek McCulloch and Greg Espinoza

Not long ago I got a an email from Derek McCulloch with a link to a number of pages from his and Greg Espinoza's graphic novel Pug, published by Image Comics. He also gave me an option of getting a review copy if I was interested. I read and enjoyed the pages, and let him know that I appreciated the offer would be interested in reading the whole thing. I knew I recognized his name, and he had mentioned that he has had entries in all 4 Issues of Popgun, which I have done cover to cover reviews of for the first 3 volumes. I went back and read how I had reviewed his work previously, and then it came to me that this was the guy who wrote the Stagger Lee graphic novel that I had liked so well. That made it even more exciting for me since I had really enjoyed that. It turns out I had nothing bad to say about any of his works that I had commented on previously.

I had commented on one of his pieces in Popgun that I thought it was evocative of Brubaker's Criminal. I had said that because I felt that even in an anthology piece we saw solid charicterization and a humanization of the characters that is part of what stands up so well in Brubaker's series, and something that he is recognized for, as an industry standard for crime writing in comics that has real depth and quality. I think that was a good call, and I think it holds up. I think that McCulloch doesn't need me comparing his work to anyone else, as it obviously is his talent, and it stands on its own.

Pug is a good story, and not an unfamiliar one. It has at its core a fairly standard concept. Variations on the theme of a boxer just outside of his prime who has something in his past that casts some doubt on him, and finds himself a bit damaged physically or mentally, and or emotionally have been done. Stories of a boxer approached by the mob to throw a fight have been done. We've seen the woman in a boxer's life unable to stand by and watch her guy let himself be destroyed punch by punch. We have seen the knee breaker with a conscience, but it is a disservice to the quality of the story to suggest that it is really just a collection of things we have seen.

The thing about Pug, is the number of levels it has working within it. Espinoza's art is great. It is clean black and white with good faces and expressions. It doesn't get in the way of a fairly simple story of a fairly simple man who has a lot of decisions to make, but doesn't say a whole lot about them to anyone. The art is used consciously to tell the two parts of the story that are being laid out simultaneously as the book progresses. Slightly different styles are used to set them apart as well as to convey a sense of remembering the past, and even the single page pictures between the many small sections add greatly to the story telling.

The book uses a great mechanic to get everything across. On the cover, before you even open the thing up you have a picture of the main character taking a punch that you have to imagine most people not even being able to get up afterward. There are two stories that are being told simultaneously in the book. One of the stories takes place prior to that punch, and the other one takes place several years after it in the 'present' of 1962. Each piece of the present, starts with a ring girl holding up a round card. Each piece of the past, leading up to a fight that the mob told our protagonist Jake to throw, in which that punch on the cover is thrown, is marked by a page of Jake in his corner, and the designation of Rest Period. Getting these two pieces of his story delivered in that fashion, absolutely make this story in my opinion. It builds everything up, and lets us see who he is and how he got there at the same time.

Jake is a quiet man. This is another thing that has been done. I tend to love 'quiet man' characters. For as big and powerful as he is, and for as many punches as he has taken, he is a good and caring man. He is a man with feelings and concerns, and a strong self consciousness about his own shortcomings, failings, and past mistakes and regrets.

Jake has a girl who is a good woman who wants only for the two of them to have the life together that is within their reach. She isn't judgmental, and she loves him. He has a son. He has a first wife that left him, but not because she didn't love him. There is a lot of character and story squeezed into this 86 or so pages of comics.

I don't want to give the story away. If you want a fuller synopsis of this, they are out there, but that is never what I want to do in my write ups.

I really enjoyed this book, as I think it takes a lot of things that are familiar (which can be a good thing in story telling. We revisit things because they resonate. common themes become a type of shorthand, and it allows you to get into them faster, and it also makes the variations stand out stronger. It gives more impact to the things that aren't the same. Characters are consistent and believable. The end isn't my favorite, and maybe comes a little heavy handed, but it isn't bad. I think for being a picture of a bloody punch, the cover is pretty and really grabbed me. The book is the size of a current comic turned sideways. I don't love that configuration as it makes the book a bit floppy for my taste, and a little hard to keep a handle on. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it was a thought I had a few times while handling the book, reading it.

This book is well worth checking out. I am a sucker for this sort of story, and Pug does it right.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

SPX 2010 aftermath - where my money went.

Here is a list of what we picked up at #SPX Small Press Expo this year. My 11 year old daughter Tyler and I have both started our reading, and will have more in depth thoughts on everything, but for right now, this is it:

Tyler's Purchases:
  • Red Moon (and Red Moon "The Rising") - David McAdoo
  • Louis: Night Salad (hardback) - Metaphrog
  • Sugary Serials - free comic - Jerzy Drozd / Mark Rudolph
  • Owly - Tiny Tales, Flying Lassons, Just a Little Blue - Andy Runton *
  • *Tyler was a bit disappointed that Andy wasn't able to make the show, but the deals were really good. For 30 bucks she got all 3 books and an Owly Plushy. a copy of the first Johnny Boo by James Kochalka was given to her for free also)She went away happy anyway.
  • The Baby-Sitters Club 4: Claudia and Mean Janine - Raina Telgemeier
  • Winters in Lavelle - Kasey Van Hise
  • Mermin (Issues 1,2,3) - Joey Weiser
  • Sudden Valley - Get a Job - Jamie Baldwin
  • In addition to this she picked up a good number of buttons, singles and sets. Button hunting was another thing she enjoyed. She also loved putting them on her bag she was carrying
  • Red Moon T-Shirt
  • SPX T-Shirt for volunteering
Rob's Haul

So that's our list. I will post something about everything when I had time to read everything. If you have a specific take or opinion on any of these, let me know. Having written this all out, I notice some really glaring omissions. There were a number of people I wanted to buy from, and just didn't get back to them, or ran out of movey before I could get to them. I will try to make that up at some point.

Monday, September 13, 2010

SPX 2010 This time with more 11 year old

This is my third year going to the Small Press Expo #spx in Bethesda, Md. It's my second year volunteering, and my first year to have one of my daughters with me. I talked about the show with her and she was well prepared for it. She knew we would be working as volunteers, and that I had some panels I wanted to sit in on. She had her gameboy, a sketch pad, and a phone(just in case we got separated). When we got there she bought a babysitter's club book from Raina Telgemeir, and another book that had caught her eye (Red Moon), at another booth. Also, she had a very strong desire to really experience the show. She had saved up a good bit of money on her own, and had some ideas as to the sort of things she wanted. She loves comics of all sorts. She's a fan of Manga as well as superheroes, she loved Smile and Scott Pilgrim almost equally, as well as Tiny Titans, Sonic the Hedgehog and Pokemon comics, Owly, etc. I love SPX, I think my daughter is pretty awesome, but I still wasn't certain how she would like the show.

I will jump forward a bit and say right now that she loved it. We were there six or seven hours on Saturday, and we went back on Sunday almost exclusively because she requested it. She met and talked to a good number of creators, and spent nearly as much as I did on comics. Her comics purchases will be detailed in another post, just as mine will. I'm hoping I will be able to get her to write down or dictate her take on the things she purchased, but we'll have to see.

From my perspective (and everyone else's I have read) It was a great show. There are so many genuinely cool people at that show, of all styles and levels. The demographic of the show from what I could see was pretty diverse in about any way you can judge diversity. The exhibitors tend to skew a certain age range for the most part, but that's to be expected I think. One thing I think you see at SPX that you don't always see at more mainstream focused cons is a pretty great concentration of female fans and creators. I can't pretend to guess the ratio, but it is something that more people should take notice of. I can't be certain, but I also swear that of the decent number of kids that were at the show, the majority I saw were girls, and I didn't see any of them looking miserable (I am certain there were some kids there that weren't loving it, but I didn't see them.)

I also feel that there were more people there with Comics that might appeal to an all ages, or especially a Young Adult audience. Comics Bakery, Make Like a Tree, Top Shelf, Red Moon, Hey Pais, Metaphrog, a2alien, and more were there with some top notch stuff, and they are just some I am pulling off the top of my head (some of those are the name of the business, and some are the comic I think.) In addition to that, there were a lot of other comics (trades and minis) that if they weren't specifically made with kids in mind were perfectly fine for kids or young adults. The cool part for me was when Tyler (that's my 11 year old daughter's name) Chatted up people at one booth while I was at another, and they had pointed out to her things she might like that would be age apropriate. There were also tons and tons of comics way over her head, or wildly inapropriate for her. Even so, with a moderate application of parenting, she already understood that, and most exhibitors made a point to let me know, or had no issue answering my questions, etc.

Tyler and I got to talk with Raina Telgemeier, which is always nice. She had just read my copy of Smile, and had previously read Raina's first three Baby Sitters Club graphic adaptations. We spent a good bit of time with Jerzy Drozd who is a pretty awesome guy. We had a discussion (all three of us on equal footing) about how cool Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends was, as he drew a great picture of Edwardo from that show for her in her sketch book. I got to meet Jaime Hernandez again, and get the third volume of Love and Rockets new stories before it was on the shelves anywhere. We both got to have a really nice time chatting with the talented creators of Beyond the Canopy(Jonathan Griffiths) and Winters in Lavelle (Kasey Van Hise) (whose tables were next to each other). I'm leaving a lot out, I'm sure, but I am sure I will cover things in other posts.

I am going to end this post now, or I will never get anything posted again, ever. Sorry for running out of steam on this.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Better Bloggers than I - talkin Small Press Expo (SPX)

I am going to the Small Press Expo (SPX) in Bethesda this weekend. My 11 year old daughter will be with me. I will definitely be there on Saturday. I work a 10am - 2pm shift as a volunteer, but plan to stick it out for as much of the show as I can, and depending on how my daughter handles it (she is a Heroes con veteran) We may go back on Sunday. I plan to attend the Jaime Hernandez spotlight session, because... well because being there and missing that opportunity is just crazy. There are a ton of people I adore that will be there, but I am going to post some links by some bloggers I highly respect:

Rob at Panel Patter has done a week of SPX themed posts. I have put the general link there, so you may have to scroll down if he subsequently posts other stuff, but he has mini comic reviews as well as recommendations of publishers and creators to watch out for.

Eden at Comicsgirl has a series of posts to make your time in the area even more enjoyable (places to visit, restaurants in the area, etc.), but I am linking to her SPX Survival Guide, which offers some great insight into getting the most of of SPX.

Shannon Smith's File Under Other is a great blog for comics outside of the mainstream. He isn't able to go this year, but his post on what he would look for at SPX is a pretty great source of info and suggestions on people and comics to look for while you (the lucky one) get to be there.

Each of these blogs is a favorite of mine. Go for the SPX info, and stay for everything else that's there. Also, for my take on past SPX purchases, etc. check out items with the label spx that are posted here. My twitter is @talkinboutcomx , and I plan to post using a hashtag (#spx), so feel free to look for me, or for my 'day of' tweets. Hope to see everyone in the world there.

EDIT - The twitter tag #spxpo is also gaining steam so I will probably use that as well

Thursday, September 2, 2010

the Thursday morning post

I picked up Birds of Prey #1 yesterday. I know that most anyone else probably picked this up long ago. I have wanted to read some Gail Simone for a while. I am sure I have read plenty of her writing, but I have recently had an urge to specifically pick up something of hers, as well as a desire to check out Birds of Prey. Issue 1 has had a couple of printings as far as I can tell, and although the Brightest Day tag is plastered at the top of this issue, I didn't let that discourage me. I thought this was a pretty great comic. I like the team, I like the action and the distinct characters. I think I will start getting this on a regular basis for a while and fill in what I have missed.

Young Allies #4 - I really love Arana and Nomad. I am a big fan of their appearances prior to this series, and had it on my pull list prior to its start. I love the 'teen team' conventions, and the fact that their first arc deals with an evil 'teen team' all based around adult villains, etc. I don't love that the 'bad guy' team is called the Bastards of Evil, that bugs me a little, but not too much. I think this title seems a lot closer to the Old Teen Titans, and the Perez era 'New' Teen Titans than most books labeled with the word Titans on them have in many years. I will keep picking it up and hope that it stays good. I see this as the sort of book that could draw some younger people in, like Teen Titans drew me in when I was a kid. Not sure if that is even possible any more, but here's hoping.

The Tick New Series #5 - Of all the times to post a new comic thoughts post, I had to do it now. I love the premise and set up. I think there is a lot of funny stuff in this book. I think it is probably better than most other comics released yesterday... (Here comes the big BUT) ...but... I don't think this issue is even close to the level of humor and awesome that the first 4 issues were. I can't fully explain that out, and maybe on re-reading a few times I won't feel that way, but it just didn't hit me the same way. I am hoping this two-parter just kicks my butt in its conclusion, and with the creative team on this, I suspect it will. I still recommend this highly, and if you aren't reading it yet, you are missing out. The setup on this is a good one, Tick and Golden Age Tick switch places, and it ends with past and future Tick associates facing off, and it features the Terror of course. All of these things are awesome, but I just don't think it packs the punch that some of the prior issues have.

Ultimate Mystery #2 - I am not really reading Ultimate books right now, but I have this strange love of the Ultimate Captain Marvel that has made me pick up the first two issues of this. I am really enjoying it, even though it is one of the most Bendis-y comics I have seen in a while. I guess if I had to pick a joke I would say that this comic contains more talking heads than the Once in a Lifetime Box Set. However, it contains some pretty good action scenes as well, and frankly... I love Bendises dialog heavy stuff. I only said what I did because that's what all the cool kids say. I love the interaction between Spider-Man and Jessica Drew, his ultimate style lady-clone. I think this is the only case of me liking anything related to Spider-Man that has the word clone in it.

So that's it really... um... yay comics!