Free Comic Book Day 2010 reviews

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I made my main FCBD stop at Floating World Comics in my neighborhood. Jason generally gets a good mix of the sponsored comics, plus a few local extras, so Floating World is usually my FCBD home base. When I arrived at the store around 12:30, the place wasn’t packed, but there was pretty good foot traffic through the store and a few of the comics, notably Oni Press’s The Sixth Gun #1, had run out.

As usual, the free comics were set up on a table in the smaller room by the window. For the first time this year, the signing area was separated from the free offerings, with Amy Mebberson, incoming artist of The Muppet Show, set up near the front counter, where she had more room to meet people and sketch (she was offering sketches of visitors’ muppet of choice).

In addition to the selection and cool signing choices, the thing that Floating World’s FCBD setup has to recommend it is that there isn’t a limit to how may titles customers can take (though they are asked to take only one of each), so I took one of everything still available.

That was my only planned FCBD event of the day, but that afternoon I went to the Hollywood Theatre to see Greenberg and, it being across the street, decided to poke my head into the Hollywood branch Things From Another World. It was already 5:00, so all the free comics were gone except for Dark Horse’s Magnus/Dr. Solar sampler (Things and Dark Horse being sister companies, that issue was in no short supply), but the store was still quite busy, with a few tables of graphic novels and merchandise marked down 60% and three tables of local creators signing.

At the tables were Erika Moen and Steve Lieber, Jamie Rich and Joëlle Jones, and Terry and Rachel Dodson, respectively. I mingled a bit and picked up the limited hardcover edition of Usagi Yojimbo vol. 11 from the sale table, a great bargain for an older hardcover in one of my favorite series (full disclosure: I was assistant editor on the series for a year, but in all fairness, have been a fan much longer).

After heading back downtown, I sat down at my local bar, The Life of Riley, and nursed some beers while reading my FCBD booty, taking a few notes on each one. Here they are, in the order I read them:

Iron Man/Thor
Marvel Comics
By Matt Fraction, John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson

First, I love the art. Romita, Jr. is pretty much the state-of-the-art superhero artist right now, with a perfect mix of powerful figures and somewhat-cartoony details that lends an appealing quality to characters and stories while retaining a certain gravity and excitement. And as the artist of Kick-Ass, his is likely one of the more familiar styles to a casual reading audience. Janson complements the art well, giving a slightly edgy finish to the linework that nicely unifies the sci-fi and mythic elements. As for the story, Fraction continues the more sci-fi than superheroic flavor he’s cultivated in Invincible Iron Man, as there is no real supervillain, just a bunch of rich guys misusing some Stark tech (that is, an invention created by Iron Man’s civilian identity, Tony Stark) to terraform the moon with potentially disastrous consequences. There’s some smart stuff in there about the motivations of people who already have everything, but the businessmen come off just a bit too caricatured. The satire is on-target, but would be funnier if it was a bit subtler. Better handled is the back-and-forth between the heroes, showing readers how alien Thor is while making it clear why he tolerates Iron Man. Marvel’s approach to FCBD in recent years has been issue-length, self-contained stories featuring high-profile characters and written by the regular writer of those stories. I really like this strategy, which shows rather than telling what is compelling about these characters, and gives a sense of what their monthly adventures are like while reading well on their own. So, while this issue isn’t perfect, it’s certainly a success at getting across what is fun about these characters as written by Fraction.

Dope Flounder
Tugboat Press, Teenage Dinosaur and Sparkplug Comic Books
By various

These three small publishers have teamed up for FCBD for the last few years, creating Portland-centric anthologies of alternative cartoonists, some very alternative. They’re always very attractive packages, 6”x9” with cardstock covers and nice, off-white paper. This year’s effort has an impressive roster, led off by Jesse Reklaw with a story about the toys of his childhood, but to my taste didn’t make it to the level of the last two years. I most enjoyed the strange stories by Tom Lechner (“Rules of Engagement”) and Sean Christensen (“The Church of Awesome Thought”), but confess to not really understanding the more abstract kind of non-comics material I’ve seen in several recent anthologies, represented here by David Wien’s “Meditations in Graphite.”

Irredeemable/Incorruptible flipbook
BOOM! Studios
By Mark Waid, Peter Kraus and Jean Diaz

Boom’s silver level title definitely has an impressive presentation, reprinting the full first issues of both of Mark Waid’s linked, deconstructionist superhero series, which is a great way to bring potential readers up to speed. First issues are the ideal introduction, but unfortunately, Irredeemable doesn’t really work as a first issue in the first place, as there is little more on the page than is suggested by the series’ high concept, that a Superman-type hero has gone mad and is attacking earth. It’s a sign of how much the superhero genre has become about deconstruction that no effort is made to introduce the characters or their various situations; it’s simply assumed that we’ll already understand it all as superhero readers. At this point, deconstructionist superhero stories are so much the mainstream of the genre that they are now the familiar comfort food that regular superhero stories used to be. Of course, the genre has also been pretty thoroughly deconstructed at this point, leaving little left to plumb but the shallowest parts, which Incorruptible attempts by including a character actually named Jailbait and casual jokes about sexual assault. Otherwise, Incorruptible features a little more in the way of plot development, likely because it is set a bit later into the story, as near as I can tell. It also has the more competent art and storytelling of the two, so I’d be more likely to pick it up of the two, though I’m not entirely sure based on these two issues what the series as a whole is supposed to offer, considering how heavily it leans on readers’ existing familiarity with genre conventions, and revealing, at least in these two issues, no particular desire to add anything to the genre.

Toy Story
BOOM! Studios
By Jesse Blaze Snider and Nathan Watson

This is BOOM!’s gold level offering and, while it doesn’t explicitly state this, I assume is also a reprint of this series’ issue #1. It’s a fun story that finds something about toys to explore that wasn’t covered in detail in either film, the arrival of a toy that Andy, the boy the main characters belong to, already has. All of the voices sound true to the films, and there are some funny moments, including in Pixar fashion, a few that will go over the heads of younger kids. The art isn’t quite as strong, falling into an awkward area where the characters don’t have the life the animated films gave them, but also don’t look stiff enough for it to be an intentional choice in depicting toys.

Archie Summer Splash
Archie Comics
By Dan Parent

If you like Archie Comics, you’ll like this. Characters are on-model as always, the universe revolves around Archie, and there’s accidental relevance in that the plot is kicked off by an oil spill. A rich character that the gang doesn’t like is forced to hang out on their beach because her private beach is closed, and Veronica, the rich character the gang does like, becomes the unlikely voice of class resentment. The story is broken up by a few game pages and some pinups of very dated fashions. It’s completely inoffensive.

War of the Supermen #0
DC Comics
By Sterling Gates, James Robinson, Eddy Barrows and J.P. Mayer

DC’s gold level book is a lead-in to a weekly miniseries that actually starts this week, which makes the timing perfect. However, reading the issue, it appears to actually be the end of a long-term story line, which made it pretty confusing. The story opens with Superman bursting in on General Zod, somehow on a restored Kypton with thousands of residents. Superman has seemingly been living there for some time and a lot of intrigue has gone on, though it’s only obliquely referred to. Where this Kypton came from or why Zod is in charge isn’t explained. Not, for that matter, is who Zod and the rest are, for those who haven’t seen the movie he appeared in decades ago. Does DC really expect to hook a lot of new readers with this prologue to a late chapter in an ongoing story? Strangely, the book does include a lot of backstory which did a good job of bringing me up to speed, but it’s placed after the issue’s main story rather than before, meaning I got all the info I needed to understand the main story, but not until I’d already been turned off by the main story itself. There was nothing wrong with it per se, but just not enough to get me interested this late in the game. FCBD really works better to my mind when it’s introducing readers to something new or, as the Marvel books do so well, introducing the milieu through a self-contained story.

DC Kids
DC Comics
By various

DC’s silver offering works far better for me, though I confess I’m already a fan of many of the Johnny DC books (where’s more Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade, huh, DC?). From what I’ve seen of many of the Johnny DC creators’ own work, I imagine the line came together essentially like this: “How would you like to do exactly what you’re doing now, but put some DC characters in it?” Which works for me. The result is that the Captain Marvel, Tiny Titans, and Batman: the Brave and the Bold stories in here are completely charming, with very appealing art and cute character interactions. The only downside is that two out of three of them are incomplete stories continuing in the their own series (I’m not sure if they are original stories that lead into those comics or previews of them). I think short, complete stories would better represent the series than partial stories.

Mouse Guard/Fraggle Rock
Archaia
Mouse Gaurd by David Petersen, Fraggle Rock by Nichol Ashworth, Sam Humphries, jake Myler and Jeremy Love

The square format on this flipbook is very appealing, reminiscent of children’s books. The illustrations on the Mouse Guard story are absolutely beautiful, packing so much charm and life into a style that feels very classical. The story does less for me, told entirely in captions and feeling more like recap than a story in its own right. Many of the characters look the same, so it’s difficult to get any sense of them when they’re introduced through narration rather than interaction. I might seek this out based on the art, but the recap-style story doesn’t give me much more than that to go on. The two Fraggle Rock stories give a pretty decent sense of what that series is about, with two very different art styles that make a great introduction to the visual style of the series. I’ve never seen the TV show, but I do feel like this comic has given me a pretty good idea of what the series is about, with its psychedelic colors and emphasis on creativity and individuality. I don’t know that it’s for me, but this serves as a good enough intro that I can easily imagine the kind of kid that it would appeal to.

YOW! A “John Stanley Library” Grab-Bag
Drawn & Quarterly
By John Stanley

It’s interesting looking at a stapled comic that’s designed like D&Q’s upscale John Stanley volumes. While those books are quite handsome, I think the style works really well here as well, calling to mind the simple, backgroundless and character-focused covers of the classic Dell Comics many of these stories are reprinted from (I assist on the Little Lulu and Tubby reprints at Dark Horse, and so have some stake in the Stanley game). The yellowed pages and faded colors of the John Stanley Library also just feel right when holding a traditional stapled comic, much like paging through one of the original comics from the 1950s or ’60s. Chatting with Steve Lieber at the Things From Another World event, the decision to preserve the yellow in the pages came up, and he mentioned how much he liked it, noting how the yellowing paper affects all the colors, unifying them. He expressed a wish that more modern colorists attempted something like this, not necessarily yellow, but the use of a common color mixed into all of the tones on a page to bring all of the colors together. As for the stories, all are clever and fun, but the discovery out of the bunch for me was “Judy Junior.” I was previously unfamiliar with the character and enjoyed her more-annoying, female Tubby. Judy Junior also stuck out at me as having a more modern, angular look than the other features, with a more casual line. All of the stories looked nice, but that was the one I most enjoyed looking at, and is the book I’ll be most likely to pick up when it comes out.

Weathercraft and Other Unusual Tales
Fantagraphics Books
By Jim Woodring

I’m really glad that Fantagraphics chose this as their FCBD selection. The last two years they’ve done Peanuts and Love and Rockets, both of which I love, but Jim Woodring in someone whose work I’ve neglected, always thinking I should get to it eventually, so I’m pleased to have this reminder. This is a very smartly assembled package, opening with a bio of Woodring, then an excerpt from his upcoming graphic novel, Weathercraft, and closing with a sampling of stories from his long-running Frank series. The stories are all silent (though one has extensive captions running in counterpoint to the action), with surreal artwork that is deceptively simple but full of texture and depth. It’s truly gorgeous, and the stories are well-selected, as I don’t feel like I really understand most of them, but in a way that implies a rhythm will become apparent from a familiarity with more of the work, and it makes me want to find more. This is definitely not a general-audience offering, but it an excellently packaged introduction to Woodring, and one that has convinced me that it’s time to stop putting off delving into his work.

The Oni Press Free-For-All
Oni Press
By Matthew Loux, Ray Fawkes and Chris Schweizer

This sampler of three of Oni’s current graphic-novel series provides a pretty good example of what the Oni brand is about these days. Each is by a single writer/artist, and ties into that creator’s ongoing series of straight-to-graphic-novel adventures. The first, “Salt Water Taffy,” shares with a handful of other Oni books a visual lexicon that comes from video games—in this case some iconography from the Mario Bros. series of games and a scene whose look derives from side-scrolling action games (the author Matthew Loux’s Oni debut was a graphic novel entitled Sidescrollers). The art is a little angular, a little too cubic for my taste, and the story hinges on recognition of shared video-game fantasy too much to draw me in, but the characters are effectively established, and I can imagine both who the audience is and that they’d enjoy it. The middle story, tying into Ray Fawkes’s “Possessions” didn’t work for me, with the premise not feeling well enough set up, and a cute/weird ratio lacking a comfortable balance, not going very far in either direction, and sticking instead to a sort of bland middle. More fun was the third story, part of Chris Schweizer’s Crogan family epic, with fluid art and the most interesting characters of the bunch. I may look out for the first book in the series on the strength of this story.

Fractured Fables
Image Comics
By various

Once I got past the derivative title of this anthology preview, I still had the problem I often have with themed anthologies: A bunch of similar stories packaged together get tired. I doubt I’ll be interested in the book this is previewing, as these stories already feel like a bit much on their own. Most have fairly attractive art (I was surprised that the exception was Doug TenNapel, who can really draw, but didn’t bring much to this story), but the stories are the usual anthology crap-shoot. Bryan Talbot and TenNapel go for easy humor in their adaptations of “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Rumplestiltskin,” while Derek McCulloch’s “Raponsel” [sic] actually delivers the goods, with a tale of reality meeting unrealistic expectations. Alexander Grecian’s “Real Princess” is a clever fairy-tale mashup, but Ted McKeever’s “Hey Diddle Diddle” is pretty but thin.

Owly and Friends!
Top Shelf Productions
Andy Runton, James Kochalka, and Christian Slade

Top Shelf’s all-ages anthology is always fun (and I don’t just say that because I was a terrible Top Shelf marketing intern), headlined this year as usual by Andy Runton’s “Owly.” Like always, it’s a delightful, silent story featuring a young owl and his friends overcoming some minor obstacle or learning to do something, in this case fly a kite when some nesting birds have made off with the ribbons. As usual, the pictogram word balloons are a pleasure to decipher, and the conclusion had me smiling. James Kochalka’s “Johnny Boo” was hilarious in a non-sensical way, and Christian Slade’s incredibly detailed “Korgi” artwork keeps getting better, making the silent Korgi completely expressive and delivering an enjoyable story even though it’s just the main character’s dream.

Library of American Comics
IDW
By Various

This is more of a catalog than a comic, but one I appreciate, as I never feel that I’m conversant enough in classic comic strips. This package presents a few pages each of some old-timey newspaper strips, cleverly designed sideways to give the dailys maximum width and the Sundays maximum height (though one of the Polly and Her Pals strips loses some dialogue in the seam). I’ve heard about the original Blondie, but never seen any, so the pages of class-conscious comedy of manners reprinted here is appreciated. I also noticed that 1950s Archie is quite a bit edgier than the 2010 model, though that’s not saying a lot. The Polly strips’ art reminds me a little of George Herriman, though the gags reprinted here don’t live up to the bouncy visuals. The Library of American Comics is expensive (I’ve so far only picked up the Bloom County volumes, as I’ve loved that strip since I was a kid), but I’ll probably seek some of these out from the library.

The Sixth Gun
Oni Press
By Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt

I missed this, unfortunately. Have to catch up on it later.

 

 

 

 

 

Doctor Solar/Magnus Robot Fighter
Dark Horse Comics
By Jim Shooter, Dennis Calero and Bill Reinhold

I have no official opinion on this. Conflict and all.

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