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Sunday, 10 May 2015

Meanwhile: Pick Any Path. 3,865 Story Possibilities

Just a short post for you today.  I recently came across a Choose Your Own Adventure comic book, named Meanwhile: Pick Any Path:

Art and writing: Jason Shiga
Publisher: Amulet Books
ISBN: 0810984237
Price: £9.99

The book uses a series of lines and tabs to guide you through the adventure, starting with a choice of vanilla or chocolate ice cream that will lead you through to a variety of different scenarios, some surreal, some not.  Amazon lists it as part of the top 10 graphic novels for teens, but this I disagree with. It's more suitable for an 8 year old.

It's beautifully presented with lovely glossy paper, is available in hardback, and feels like a nice present.  Shiga has a website where you can read his webcomics (mature readers only).

I have real difficulty with these sorts of books, I prefer a structured narrative and being led through the story, hence the lack of a real review.  Instead I skimmed through it and can see that it is imaginative and ideal for kids who do like these things.  It has received praise from people I respect, so I am happy to recommend it.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

A guide to Marvel's significant events

We've posted a guide to DC's continuity changing events so I think a guide to Marvel's big events is well overdue.

Marvel's big events aren't about cleaning up storylines or changing continuity, but more about the spectacle, the event itself.  They have a major impact in the Marvel Universe, but they don't necessarily change history (unless the event is specifically about time travel, or changes in reality).

We won't list every single event Marvel has done, but we'll go through the ones that have had the most impact on the current universe.  We'll also include things that aren't necessarily events but are quite important in Marvel's history.  We'll put a logo next to each book denoting the main character or team that the event or storyline deals with.

The titles of each event will link through to the book's Amazon listing (where possible).  You could also buy them digitally from Marvel Unlimited, where you can buy individual issues or a year's subscription and get access to their entire digital archive.  Or you can buy the books from a comic shop - we have a list of recommended shops here.

If you are confused by any of the jargon in this post please have a look at our glossary.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Comics about Immigrants

A comics site called Women Write About Comics (WWAC) has recently written about five comics on the theme of immigration.

It's quite a political post as it's written with the UK General Election (7th May) in mind, but don't be put off  by that as the suggestions given are really rather good.  One of them is Anya's Ghost that we reviewed here, another is the current Ms Marvel series, published by Marvel Comics, which is excellent.  There are also webcomics listed.

I highly recommend you check out the WWAC site as well as the above linked article.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Tiny Titans: Welcome to the Treehouse

Writer: Art Baltazar and Franco
Art: Art Baltazar
Publisher: DC Comics

What's it about?
The Tiny Titans series is written for kids aged, at a guess, 5 to 10 years.  The Titans of the title are the Teen Titans, but aged about 7 or 8, attending primary (elementary) school.  They don't solve crime or fight monsters - they go to classes, get the bus to school, hang out together at lunch and tease each other.  It might sound mundane, but if you are 7 that's what your life is.  These stories have superheroes doing the same thing.  The teachers are villains from the DCU but there's no nastiness here.  It's light hearted and it's adorable.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Superman Family Adventures volume 1

Writer: Art Baltazar and Franco
Artist: Art Baltazar
Publisher: DC Comics

What's it about?
This is a kids comic centred around the Superman family.  We have ol' Supes himself, Supergirl, Superboy, Lois Lane, Krypto the superdog, Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, Streaky the supercat, Ma and Pa Kent, and all the villains.  Each story is between 1 and 12 pages and a whole variety of events are covered: Lex Luthor tries to take over metropolis with a robot army; Bizarro (the anti Superman) visits for ice cream; the superpets get a new member; Chief Perry White wants his coffee; Lois nearly works out Clark's secret.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Zero Hour: Crisis in Time

Story and art: Dan Jurgens
Finished art: Jerry Ordway
Letterer: Gaspar
Colorist: Gregory Wright
Publisher: DC Comics

What's it about?
Zero Hour is a 5 issue mini series published by DC comics in 1994, which was billed as a sequel to their 1986 Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi series.  You can read more about the crisis stories here.

In Zero Hour, time is ending. Entropy is creeping back from the end of history to the present day and if the heroes don't do something soon the universe as we know it will be destroyed.

Alternate versions of our familiar heroes pop up - many Batmen, lots  of Hawkmen (see the page on the right) and a walking Batgirl (this story takes place after Barbara Gordon is shot by the Joker and paralysed).  Our heroes realise something is terribly wrong and gather together to form a plan.

A being called Extant seems to be responsible. Working with other mysterious figures he does his best to stop the superheroes, who of course respond with force - yet in the end it's simple human bonds and shared history which could save the day.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Princeless volume 3: Interview with the artists

Today's post is a little different from our regular reviews. 2 years ago i reviewed volume 1 of Princeless (here http://paipicks.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/princeless-save-yourself.html) and in January volume 3 will be released. To honour this, and to do more promotion for a series I absolutely adore, I got an interview with the two artists for volume 3. I took the opportunity to ask them about the technical side of making comic art, with the idea that it would help new readers understand the creation process more, and also because I love hearing about that stuff.

We also talk comic recommendations, how they got the job and visual puns.

To recap, Princeless is about Princess Adrienne who is locked in a tower by her well meaning but not very good parents and told to wait until a Prince comes to rescue her. Stuff this, she thinks. She rescues herself, befriends the dragon and decides to go rescue her sisters who are also stuck in towers. Adrienne also befriends a female blacksmith who is quite exuberant about anything, battles demons protecting her sisters and in volume 3, rescues Raven, the Pirate Princess, who is also stuck in a tower. Raven is also known as the Black Arrow. Obviously, I like her a lot (I like archers).

Read on!
What parts of the art do each of you do?
Ted: It's a completely collaborative work, honestly. We have pretty complementary strengths, so it works out pretty cleanly, at least most of the time. In theory, I do the layouts, Rosy pencils, I ink, Rosy colours and I letter, but it doesn't always quite work out that neatly.

Rosy: Ted pretty much summed it up really. It's a lot of juggling about, there's a lot of suggestions to each other about things that could be improved or need fixing. We keep each other on our toes.

Ted: We are doing all the art for volume 3; it's all been handed in and approved, so all that's left is to solicit and get it into stores!

Rosy: We really hope the fans enjoy it. There will be 4 issues and I think issue 1 comes out January 28.

So, after a few years I've just got the joke in the action lab logo..... Can you describe to me, or link me to, your favourite visual pun? Or draw me one....

Ted: I can't find a link to it now, proving my Google-fu is weak, but I always loved that Alex Ross line-up of the Justice League, with the whole “picture with flash”/”picture without flash” that saw the latter both dimmer, and missing Barry Allen.
Rosy: I'm quite fond of this one.

How did you get the Princeless gig?
Ted: We got the gig mostly by luck, honestly; I was following Jeremy's tumblr, when I saw him say that the third volume was going to be delayed as the scheduled artist was having difficulties. Since we both wanted to get into comics, I suggested we ought to get in touch and offer our services!

Rosy: We sent an email saying how much we'd love to be a part of Princeless and asked if we could get some sample scripts to show off what we could do. Jeremy liked our stuff and our approach and we got the job!

How much guidance did you get from Jeremy for panel lay out, new character's design, mood of the comic etc?Ted: The great thing, and the challenge, of Jeremy's scripts is that they're very open to interpretation. It means that as far as the layouts go, it’s an open playground, which is as terrifying as it is freeing! The mood of the work was fairly evident from the scripts; it comes organically through the characters and their exploits.

Rosy: As for the character design stuff, for the main characters we're given a name, a race and a brief physical description which is again very open to interpretation really. For the less significant characters we can go wherever we want, unless there’s anything specific that Jeremy had in mind and even then it’s usually only suggestion. Jeremy is very trusting of us for that kind of stuff.

How long did it take you to do this issue of Princeless? How many redrafts did you go through?

Ted: The first issue took…a little longer than we would have liked. It was our first professional issue, our first time collaborating together, and our longest comic to date. There was a steep learning curve!

Rosy: A very steep learning curve, yes! I'd never done anything on this scale before and it took a little while to get into the swing of things. It’s quite a test of stamina!

Can you explain the job of the inker to someone who doesn't know anything about comics?
Ted: I've never inked anyone else outside of my collaboration with Rosy, so I can't speak for the job as far as others go. For us, it's about clarifying, really: as the penciller, Rosy creates all the expressions, body language, and all the other details that breathe life into the comic and the characters. It’s my job as the inker to create a purer, condensed version of her lines so that they're neat and consistent, without taking away the spark that she gives them.

Rosy: Ted also corrects any mistakes I make, most frequently he makes hands look like hands rather than some kind of weird root vegetable.

I really appreciate the art of lettering but I don't know much about the technicalities of it. Can you explain how you decide on a font and placement of the letters, and how you make the lettering work? Do you draw the panel first then fit the lettering on or do you work out where the speech bubbles go and then draw the panel around it?Ted: Lettering is a grossly underappreciated art in comics. I didn’t even realise how underappreciated it was until I started lettering this book and realised how many critical choices letterers make. For the fonts I use, they are mostly made by the excellent Comicraft font foundry - there simply aren’t any better out there.

The lucky thing about this book is that I do the layouts as well as the letters: it allows me to take into account how much speech is needed in the panels before I design each page, which means I can shape the panel sizing as well as the layout to make sure that our art balances with Jeremy’s dialogue, neither treading on the other’s toes. That said, I'm still pretty new to this, so it’s definitely a case of learning as I go!

Is comic-ing your day job? If not, how do you fit the comicing in with the day job?
Ted: It is! This volume has been our first outing into the world of full-time comics work. It's always scary leaving the regular world of work behind, but I'm pretty sure we'll have more fun this way.

Rosy: We're really lucky to be in a position where we were able to take this job on. I feel very privileged to have this opportunity.

Any advice for Brits wanting to break into comics? Do you feel like you've broken into comics?
Ted: I'll probably feel more like I've broken in once our first collected volume is out in print. Once we have our first book in our hands, it’ll all feel more real!
As for advice: chance favours the prepared mind. If an opportunity does arise, you need to not only see it but be ready. That said, take those chances! Fail upward!

Rosy: The chance to work on Princeless came completely out of the blue so I'd advise anyone wanting to get into comics to always keep an eye out for opportunities and don't be afraid to make a grab for them when they turn up.

What comics would you recommend to new readers and to long term readers?
Editor's note: Links are to the Comixology or Amazon storefronts but don't forget you can get the issues in your local comic shop too!Ted: Lucky you asked! There are a lot of great books out there right now. Superhero-wise, I'd recommend Marvel’s Captain Marvel (editor's note - I reviewed the first volume of Captain Marvel here), Ms Marvel and Thor; from DC, the revamped Batgirl and Gotham Academy are both flawless. All of the above are pretty all-ages friendly, fun, and wicked-smart; perhaps most importantly, they're all new enough to be new reader-friendly.

I’ve tried to pick ones that worked for new or longer readers - they all are new enough that there's not a lot of catching up on the specific stories currently being told, while (in the case of the superhero books, at least) still having plenty of characters and references that longer readers will appreciate.

Independent book-wise, I was bowled over by the first issue of ODY-C, loved Gail Simone’s Red Sonja, and am waiting very impatiently for Kelly Sue DeConnick’s new Image book (Bitch Planet).
ODY-C might be more suitable to long term readers simply because of the way the pages are constructed - they're as much design pieces as comics pages in a lot of ways, so I can certainly see that being intimidating for people who are new to the medium in general. Content-wise, however, it's a new book, so accessible to all. Bitch Planet and Red Sonja are both suitable for new readers, though may be less suitable for younger ones.  I'm not reading much that's mired much in continuity generally; while I can easily get it, I generally find that stuff that's accessible to new readers is more entertaining.

While I'm not reading anything really non-accessible continuity-wise right now, older series are a gold mine for that kind of stuff. Final Crisis is definitely fantastic (editor's note - for non comicers I explain Final Crisis here). That said, DC's Multiversity is definitely steeped in continuity - not just in terms of DC, but in terms of Morrison's work there: it stands as the final piece of a story he started back when he first took the reins on Batman, and including Final Crisis, his run on Action Comics, and more.

As to the other part of your question, looking for comics recommendations for books that are less accessible to new readers in terms of being new to the medium, well, that's harder. Jason Shiga's Meanwhile is a great example - it's a fantastic comics version of a make-your-own adventure with an alarming number of stories to be told. David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp is similarly challenging in its storytelling, but is possibly the most intelligent book I've ever read. Semiotically speaking, Asterios Polyp is active on every level, with each line and colour imbued with meaning that may not be obvious on immediate inspection.

Rosy: For someone who wants to work in comics I’m actually really, REALLY bad at reading them. To be honest I'm not even really that big a reader. Unlike Ted I don’t like to get individual issues because I'd end up losing one of them and then wouldn't be able to follow the story, so I prefer to get the trade paperbacks. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to pick up any in a while so I'm really behind

on the books I do enjoy. My favourites being Image’s Chew and Invincible and Daniel Way’s runon Deadpool. Actually pretty much any run on Deadpool…I wouldn’t recommend you read those with your kids, though.
I guess I'd recommend anything Stuart Immonen has worked on, because even if you don't completely get everything that's going on you'll still have spectacular visuals to look at.  (Editor's note - I review two Stuart Immonen books here).

Oh, and absolutely everyone should read Princeless, obviously.

Question to Rosy: May I ask how you find drawing comics/storytelling when you don't read that much of them?Rosy: The truth is that Ted is the one who sorts out where everything is going on the page, blocking out not just the panels but the general positions of the characters and how everything flows together. My job is to flesh out his ideas. It's sort like he's the director to my actors.

My background is that I learned to draw through watching cartoons. I initially wanted to be an animator; I found out I lacked the patience and stamina for animation during my first year at university. I did, however, really enjoy doing storyboarding and animatics and thought comics could be an avenue to go down. I ended up transferring to another course at another university specifically for graphic novels, which was where Ted and I met.

Now, to find out more about Princeless and these guys' work, follow these links:
Rosy's tumblr: Unassumingpumpkin.tumblr.com
Rosy's twitter: https://twitter.com/RosyTintedSpecs
Ted's tumblr: Tenbandits.tumblr.com
Ted's twitter: https://twitter.com/ten_bandits
Action Lab website: http://www.actionlabcomics.com/
Release date for Princeless vol 3 issue 1: January 28th 2015
View all Princeless available issues here (and go buy them!):

Thanks to Rosy and Ted for their time!

This interview also appears on my Pai blog - www.paiwings.blogspot.com - which normally contains ramblings on comics, bits about music, some crafty stuff and other meanderings about my life.