Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Feeling Lucid? I am!

“What if Harry Potter grew up and became a secret government agent?”

That was the pitch I got last year from creator Michael McMillian when Lucid was first coming out, and I’ve been sold ever since. Yes, I would like to see such a story please, and this book delivers wonderfully.

First, let me get my issues with it out of the way. The hardback trade is 10% smaller than the original 6.5” x 10” (approximately) of a typical comic book page, and it’s unfortunate. It’s probably my age and my need to finally cave in and get bifocals, but I found myself squinting at everything. 10% doesn’t sound like much, but for a book of this type which focuses heavily on the artwork and its detail, it’s a noticeable reduction.

But, typical of the top quality of everything Archaia puts out, the book is gorgeous. The well-designed dust jacket is a mix of subtly-embossed gloss and matte inks. I can’t stop touching it. The interior is just as lovely, and the binding will last forever.

I’m sure everybody is going to disagree with me on this, but the artwork style by Anna Wieszczyk is not my favorite. It’s personal preference, I know, but the gangly “Cowboy Bebop” anime style is not my thing. However, the skillful use of painterly color and sequential storytelling do work beautifully. The lush pages look good enough to eat. Expressions and gestures are subtle and the occult mood of the overall work are convincing and draw the reader in.

The story, scripted by True Blood’s Michael McMillian, is a fascinating arc between the four issues contained in this volume, with more to come in this limited series. Readers are thrust into the middle of this world that is both familiar and foreign, where magic is one of the most important weapons in the hidden chess game between nations.

The main character, Matthew Dee, is a direct descendant of 16th century mystic and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I, John Dee (look this guy up on Wikipedia), which enables him to wield magic and be the “Protector of the Realm” for the United States. I won’t reveal why, but I absolutely love how Ariah turns out to be a key part of it all, including the reason that Dee is “lucid” and able to tap into his gift in the first place.

Details and back-story are revealed as the tale unfolds, which is mostly successful, but I couldn’t help but think that I’d somehow come into the middle of the movie. More about the origins of how this all came to be would have been helpful for this first volume. At the back of the trade is a sigil guide, all four beautiful covers as they appeared, and a sketchbook which does explain some details.

The world of Lucid is rich and intricate, and I look forward to learning more about how it all works. Maybe we can convince McMillian to make the series open ended?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Image Comic Expo: A lot to love in this little show

I managed to wrest a day away from the clutches of my writing schedule and my boring mundane stuff to get myself over to the Image Comic Expo, held at the Oakland Convention Center this past weekend, February 24 - 26. I'm extremely glad I did, as this show netted a lot of great people, new contacts, and what must be 25 pounds of comics to review. More about that at the end.

Billed as "A 3-day celebration of creator-owned comics," it was primarily put on by Image, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and most of the signings and panels were focused on their titles, and a lot of that was focused on Walking Dead, which didn't interest me personally as I'm suffering from complete horror fatigue in my choices of entertainment. However, some of the other panels featured topics such as "Womanthology" which discussed not only women in the field of comics, but diversity in general, and "Pro Tips with Todd McFarlane" which offered insights into his creative process.

For me, the real highlight was not the TV stars or the signings, but the people and the tone of this show in comparison to others. Comic-Con San Diego is no longer a place for fans and industry professionals to gather and talk about what they love, it's an epic 50-ring circus where you have to shout to be heard and you risk being crushed in the wall of humanity trying to occupy a finite space. The Alternative Press Expo (APE) show in San Francisco is interesting, but it goes beyond traditional comic books and encompasses art projects, cartoon art, and what used to be called "underground" comics, still done as folded and stapled printouts. Which I respect, but it's not what I'm after.

I was surprised by the high level of participant quality at this show, considering its relatively small size. Image was there, of course, but so was Archaia, IDW, Top Cow, Comicraft and a number of excellent vendors. Artist's Alley was impressively skilled and the level of creativity in the new projects I saw was encouraging. Sure, the usual "show artist" was there, cranking out fan art sketches for the money, as well as the occasional "are they at the right show?" type of vendor, but the Image Comic Expo hit all the right notes for me, the right middle ground which is the current vibrant heart of the comic book industry.

It's about the people who are in this because they love it, not to be part of some mega-corporation who lost touch with what real people want ages ago. Archaia and Top Cow and Image get it. The people who run them understand that not everybody is the same, not everybody wants spandex... but some people do, and that's fine too. These companies at this show understand that talent can be found when you stop to listen and look at what's around you. They're not writing just to the 18-30 year old male demographic as discussed in the previous article. They write for everybody.

This show is inclusive. That makes all the difference in the world.

While there, I met up with old friends, made some new ones, and walked up to booths and said "Talk to me about your best titles." This is because the show is on a human scale, and you can actually talk to people instead of trying to shout at each other for 30 seconds before giving up and rushing off to another panel, signing or party. I never got the vibe of "buy something or get out of the way" as I have at other shows. As a result, I have never walked away with so many fantastic books as I did at this show.

Upcoming reviews will include (in no particular order): Lucid, A Tale of Sand, Elephantmen Volume 4, Invincible Ultimate Collection 1, Locke & Key, The Power Within, Witchblade Rebirth, Silver, Hello My Name Is Asshole, Vescell, Flying Sparks, The Last of the Greats, The Mark of Aeacus, Marineman, and The Pound.

I hope Image does this show every year, because I will be there. I can see it being perhaps twice as large, but no more than that or it'll lose the reason to go and become just another comic book convention. Well done, Image. As my father used to say, "And a good time was had by all."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Why the comics industry is continuing to crash

Comic book sales are down. Way, way down. And it's a total head-scratching mystery as to why this is happening.

Except to people like myself, a 45-year-old woman who grew up with a house full of comic books. I used to buy them. My grandfather used to buy them for me. Notice I said "used to."

Check out Little Red Boobinghood here that popped out of my email inbox this morning.


In comic books, in 2012, female characters are still just boobs with legs, or worse. DC's Starfire, an innocent and gentle alien superhero I remember from the 1980s, has been turned into an overt slut, soliciting men for sex. It's sickening.

I thought we were past this, everybody.

Nearly everything is now written for what the industry perceives as their core demographic, men 18 -30, and they wonder why comics have slumped drastically from their peak. Guys, it's because they're full of graphic violence and overt sex, so you've lost the younger readers and a lot of the women. My son is 15 and I don't want him reading some of that stuff. Gone are the days when it was safe to let your kid buy comic books off the rack at the store.

You've turned what used to be a fun diversion into an NC-17 bloodbath with porn stars.

Okay, industry leaders. C'mere. Closer. No, my eyes are up here. Okay, are you listening? Really listening? Okay, here's why your industry is failing.

There are other people in the world besides penises, aged 18 - 30. Kids, women, seniors... a lot of people  like to read about superheroes doing exciting things. Think back to the silver age of comics. Think back to the beginnings of Spider-Man and Wonder Woman and X-Men and Superman and all the other classic characters who continue to excite readers world-wide. There's a reason why they're still around. That reason is not men age 18 - 30.

Your readers include that demographic, they are not solely that demographic. By writing only to them, you exclude everyone else. I don't want to see people being literally ripped in half with their intestines flying everywhere, and I don't want my son reading that either. He doesn't need to see Batman and Catwoman screwing on a rooftop.

This is why comic books are dying. You are killing them.

How do you fix it? Hire new writers, preferably a lot more women. Stop excluding everyone but who you perceive as the core demographic. It's become a self-fulfilling prophecy: If you write only for men 18 - 30, your entire market shrinks to become that. If you're more inclusive, your market share will increase to meet it. You'll get the kids and the women again, such as myself and my son, who are eager potential buyers, if only the comics spoke our language. Right now, most of them don't.

Is this true of all comics? Of course not. Look at the Eisner-winning Mouse Guard from Archaia. Look at the top-selling B.P.R.D. from Dark Horse that's getting rave reviews, including right here on UFN. You don't need guts and sex in order to have a well-made successful comic book.

Is anything going to change, or were you just staring at my chest?

All we're asking is for our superheroes to act more heroic, like they did before. All we want is decent entertainment for the masses. All I'm saying is that if you continue to limit your audience, your audience will continue to shrink. It's not that hard to figure out once you talk to people in the real world about what they want out of a comic book. It's not about competition with new media or whatever straw man you want to throw out there, it's about creating something people want to buy.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Axe Cop: The funniest comic ever made

I was reading through the latest Dark Horse upcoming release email when something odd caught my eye.

"Axe Cop returns with a collection of new, exciting, and unpredictable stories! Written by the endlessly inventive six-year-old Malachai Nicolle and drawn by his Eisner Award–nominated thirty-year-old brother Ethan Nicolle, Axe Cop joins his comrades Uni-baby, Bat Warthog Man, and Dinosaur Soldier to fight bad guys and restore justice for kids--and grownups--everywhere!"

Is this for real, I wondered to myself? How good could it be? Curious, I downloaded the preview, and laughed myself sick. Having a son myself, I'm somewhat familiar with how a six-year-old boy's brain works, and this is the fantastically creative result: A world full of crazy heroes and villains, where all girls are on the Dumb list (except the best fairy ever), and the obvious solution to getting Bat Warthog Man's friends back is to buy a chemist and dinosaurs. Well, duh.

"All right, we just need some dinosaurs, and we'll be set."

"But why dinosaurs?"

"Because I don't know what's on Invisible Bad Guy King Planet 2, but whatever it is, I'm sure it can't beat dinosaurs."

The art compliments the content perfectly. It never takes itself too seriously, but it's not too goofy and cartoonish either. It's almost, but not quite, a noir style, which adds the needed weight to make this a perfect balance of story and art for all ages. My own son, who is fifteen now, found it hilarious too. I'm going to be buying these for sure, and probably getting some as gifts. Good clean head-chopping fun with monster trucks and robots. And, of course, dinosaurs in space.

"Well, Axe Cop, I've got my own missions to get back to. I have to fight a king who rides a dirt bike."