Interview: Talking Comics with Scott McCloud

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on July 31, 2015.


Scott McCloud, the creator of Understanding ComicsZot!, and his newest comic The Sculptor, is revered in comics for good reason. Not only is he, perhaps, the most widely taught person in American comics, but he has only continued to learn about and hone his craft for the past three decades: teaching, drawing, and lecturing. His kind manner, enthusiasm, and good humor make him not only one of the greatest comics scholars of today, but one of the most approachable as well. Comics Bulletin critic Chase Magnett sat down with McCloud at San Diego Comic-Con this summer to discuss the The Sculptor, teaching comics, criticism, and where the medium is going.

Chase Magnett for Comics Bulletin: Let’s start with The Sculptor.  Six months after publication and it experienced a very positive reception, both critically and commercially. Looking back, do you think you accomplished what you wanted to do when you began the project?

McCloud: I think I can look at it now in a more balanced view and see some things in the story that I might want to fiddle with. But overall, I am really happy with some of the basic things I have heard over and over. Just ten minutes ago, I heard something that I have heard dozens and dozens of times: people are reading it in one sitting.

Maybe that just means that I didn’t use a lot of words per panel. The thing flies by. People have read it in just a few hours. But it is still good news for an author to hear that people didn’t feel like they needed to just put it down, go off, and do something else. I have heard from people who were inconvenienced by it though, who stayed up later than they wanted or missed a meeting or train stop or something. That’s always good news because it means that the story grabbed them and wouldn’t let them go, and that was one of the very deliberate goals that I set for myself.

If you had asked me before the book even came out what I wanted, I just wanted a story that grabbed people enough that they fell into it, tumbled into the story, and then suddenly they blink and they’ve read the whole thing. That does seem to be the case. Probably the most common comment I get is that people just couldn’t stop reading. For someone like who me who has done a lot of experimental comics where I want them to stop every three minutes and consider the formal tricks I am using, it is really gratifying to do something that was the polar opposite of that.

Magnett: It is definitely not like [The New Adventures of Abraham] Lincoln at all.

McCloud: Oh, God. You remember that one! The great comedian Jack Benny in the mid-twentieth century had done a film called The Horn Blows at Midnight. It was a complete flop, but he got comedy material out of it for the rest of his life. Lincoln is obviously my Horn Blows at Midnight.

Magnett: But I do think looking at Sculptor, there are a lot of formal elements to be mined. You can look back to Understanding Comics and see a lot of what you teach being applied here. It is very much walking that walk.

McCloud:  It is just being applied under the surface.

Magnett: It focuses on those very basic concepts; You are saying this is the core of the comics language as I would like to apply it. I think it makes for a nice companion in terms of just understanding craft.

McCloud: I hope so. Storytelling is the big bang. That’s the reason why comics came into existence. It just was a vehicle for telling stories in an economical way at a time when things hadn’t hit the silver screen as they shortly would. I think it useful to look sometimes at comics as a form in an opaque way: analyzing the form, thinking about the form, bringing people’s attention to the form. And sometimes it is good to reconnect with our heritage, which is to just use comics as a pure storytelling vehicle.

I am interested in so many different functions and aspects of comics; it’s appropriate I would at times want to do the one and at times I would want to do the other. This was my bid to be the invisible storyteller, to basically disappear as a storyteller, to have the hand of the artist not visible anywhere in the creation of the work.

It is funny because it makes all of those technical achievements invisible. It hides them, but it is just as much of a technical achievement to stop drawing attention to your technical achievements. It is just as interesting of a formal challenge to create something that seems to have no formal technique at all. That’s one of the reasons why the artwork in this story is a little bit generic. It is not very style heavy or opaque. When I draw a car or a face or a dog or a fire hydrant, you just see those things in an almost platonic way. I am practically the graphic novel equivalent of Ernie Bushmiller here. I am just drawing the thing itself without a lot of stylistic covering to it.

The thing has a slightly generic feeling to it that way, but that is because I wanted there to be absolutely nothing between the reader and the thing. If I were to do more work along these lines, I think you might start to see something a more like my personal style begin to return. But right now this is just the core, the skeleton of my storytelling arsenal.

Magnett: Are you looking to keep building upon that skeleton, to add some muscles and skin, or are you looking to return to nonfiction right now?

McCloud: In the short term I am returning to nonfiction. The next book is about visual communication. It is another full-length comics essay like my other books, but this time comics won’t be in the title, and it won’t be about comics specifically. It is just going to be about the nature of visual learning and visual communication across disciplines.

Magnett: Is it being told in the same manner as Reinventing [Comics], Making [Comics], and Understanding[Comics]?

McCloud:  It will probably still have the presence of a narrator and be very much a presentation on paper of the topic, but this time it is not going to be about comics alone.

Magnett: I find it interesting you refer to your three nonfiction works as essays.

McCloud: They are in a sense.

Magnett: They are most commonly utilized as textbooks today. I think if you look at almost any comics class at the undergraduate level, that’s the first thing on a syllabus.

McCloud: It is pretty ubiquitous, enough that I am sure some students are getting pissed off at me that they had to buy the book multiple times. I have heard from people who bought it, brought it back to the bookstore for half credit, and then had to buy it again, and then had to buy it again.

Magnett: That’s their fault for bringing it back.

McCloud:  I know. If only they had known they should have kept it.

Magnett: How do you feel about it being utilized as a textbook? Because I don’t think that was your design when you first published in ’92 or ’93.

McCloud:  ’93 is when it first came out and then ’94 with its New York publisher, HarperCollins. I don’t think too many artists mind if thousands of people are forced to read their book. It’s pretty sweet. I am happy to report most students are not sorry they read it. I don’t think it is particularly boring at least. I certainly never intended it to be the only text in that space, and there are other people who have written in interesting ways about comics.

Sadly not too many of them have written in comics form; most are just prose books. That is understandable, unless they happen to be working cartoonists themselves. It was meant as a conversation starter though. I think at the beginning people just sort of patted me on the book and I got a free pass for a while, but those days are over. There are plenty of people willing to challenge some of the ideas in Understanding Comics, especially. I think that is a very healthy thing.

Magnett: Typically textbooks evolve as they age. I was used to buying version thirteen of a text about thirteen years after the original was published as an economics major. Knowing how it’s utilized as a textbook, that this is the go-to when people start to try to understand the form, have you had the urge to revisit and revise the text?

McCloud: I try not to do anything twice. There are aspects of the book that I could come back to and pick apart a little. I think some of the word/picture combination stuff I talk about there is somewhat sloppy. I think that my definition has a couple of big loopholes in it when you arrive at digital. For instance, if you are going to have one big panel on the screen, and then you click to go to the next panel, and then you click to go to the next panel, that’s missing the juxtaposition, which I said was definitive. So by my definition, it wouldn’t be comics. But then what the hell else is it? If it is not comics, what is the thing?

Magnett: Could you expand to say it is temporal juxtaposition?

McCloud: That would be true of movies too. You have one frame of a movie after another or a slideshow. So these things have fuzzy edges, no question about it. I think I would write more and more about less and less the further I went down that rabbit hole. Anyone can make those points for us. They don’t need me to do it. It would be a pretty sad world if it was just me arguing with myself throughout eternity.

I like to move on and spend my time doing very different things. As soon as the ink was dry in Understanding Comics, I was pulled into digital and I became obsessed with the possibilities for comics in a digital environment, which was never even mentioned in all of Understanding Comics. But as soon as that book was out, I had talked about that stuff and it was time to talk about something else. I have continued to jump around and jump around and jump around. I have a way of abandoning whatever territory I was just in.

Magnett: I think Making Comics especially makes for a good companion piece to the original. It is an expansion in some ways.

McCloud: Those two books are about as similar as any two things I’ve done. They are very different books in terms of their focus. I think they are still very much about what’s in the panel itself. They go together in a way that they don’t necessarily go together with my troubled middle child, Reinventing Comics.

Magnett: You are obviously not interested in revisiting and doing a second edition of Understanding Comics.Are you ever uncomfortable with your status that was thrust upon you since 1993? You are viewed at a collegiate level and within the comics community as being one of the definitive source on comics and what comics are.

McCloud: That carries its own corrective. The more you are seen as an authority, the more people are ready to tackle you and point out what they think are flaws. So it is very difficult to reach that level without somebody doing you the favor of knocking you down a peg. I just think that is healthy and how it should be.

Magnett: Did you experience any of that with The Sculptor?

McCloud: Oh, sure. The Sculptor has had a generally positive reaction across the board, but a small group didn’t like it, and a portion of that group really, really hated it. It was very divisive. The closer you get to the art comics core, I think it is definitely a pretty uncool book. I understand that, too. I can see on some level where they are coming from. It is weird because if one person hates a book and one person loves a book, it is tempting to figure that one of them is right. But the fact is that this is effect it had: it had one effect on this reader and another effect on that reader. As the author, I just have to look at that and try to treat it as a learning experience, try to understand how it produced both of those effects because that is interesting.

Magnett: So you seek out criticism of your work?

McCloud: The way I have always handled it since the beginning was, I think either you read all of your reviews or none of them. You can’t pick and choose, right? I just chose the former; I figure I am going to read them all and try to learn from them. I am still trying to learn from that stuff.

Magnett: I think that’s a healthy attitude.

McCloud: I think they both are healthy attitudes. The only unhealthy attitude is to read the good stuff and then figure all the people who don’t like you are just jealous or something.

Magnett: To rage at the people on Twitter who didn’t like what you wrote.

McCloud: Exactly. That’s the unhealthy one.

Magnett: Moving into your work on visual narrative and looking at telling stories visually, what big changes or adjustments do you see yourself making? You mentioned there was an evolution between Understandingand Making Comics. What do you think the jump forward is for this one?

McCloud: I don’t know if I could even use the term jump forward because all I do is jump around. I see comics as this massive territory. I am just trying to figure out which patch of land have we actually planted in and which patch is lying there fertile, waiting for somebody to plant something in it. In many respects, the majority of that territory is still virgin ground. That means I have my work cut out for me.

What can comics do? I think comics still has vast potential for teaching, for nonfiction. Comics has vast potential for experiments in the digital realm. Comics has vast potential as a literary form and as a storytelling medium. Comics even has vast potential as pop art. I think that popular comics could be more effective and fun to read. It could be longer with fewer words, something that becomes a little easier in digital. I think right now a lot of printed comics, magazine comics, a lot of mainstream comics, are not that mainstream friendly simply because they are twenty pages for three or four dollars.

Magnett: Four dollars for a lot of them.

McCloud: Four dollars for twenty pages?

Magnett: Five dollars for some.

McCloud: Come on, five bucks for fifteen minutes of reading? That’s not going to work.

The price per minute thing is something we have to address, but also just the philosophy of storytelling. The idea of cramming as many words as possible into the panel to slow down the reader is not a recipe for a great reading experience. One of the reasons why people read my graphic novel so fast is because I tried to create a flow of images that went by at a pretty good clip, but that gave you a simulation of life. Sometimes that means you’ve got to allow for some silent panels or some panels with just a few words in them in order to get that naturalistic rhythm of people in conversation.

Magnett: Do you think some of that also comes down to learning to read comics? This time last year I was having a discussion about Declan Shalvey’s work on Moon Knight and someone told me, “I read it in five minutes because there were no words in it. I was baffled because I spent a good thirty minutes with most of those issues parsing Shalvey’s work. Are people not necessarily learning how to read comics in school, so it becomes how you read prose is how you read comics?

McCloud: How do you read images at all? This goes beyond comics to visual literacy. This is one of the things I will be writing about in the next book. It’s this notion of coming to understand images as text. The idea that you are getting a tremendous amount of information from even the silent panels, say In the Night Kitchen for example. There are a few people, like the writer Junko Yokota who writes about picture books, who are beginning to analyze that territory and show us how much is going on just in the images. When people teach comics appreciation classes, I encourage them to begin with a silent comic, something like Shaun Tan’s The Arrival for example, and get people looking at how much is being conveyed just by the pictures. Then when they arrive at a words and pictures comics, like most of them are, they realize that both the pictures and the words are conveying information and don’t rely on the crutch of analyzing the story as if it was just coming from the text.

Magnett: As both a reader and somebody who also looks for new frontier in comics, where are you looking right now for those kinds of comics? Where is your focus and interest?

McCloud: I think we have a long way to go on the literary front. I am a piker when it comes to that; I am really just starting to write. I am a beginning writer for all intents and purposes because I have done very little fiction before I went into non-fiction, so I am just coming back to it.

There are a lot of other people who are doing really fascinating, challenging work in that realm, but I think we have a long way to go. I am looking to things on that frontier, and then there is so much to be done just in terms of formal innovation. One book I am looking forward to reading in English is Brecht Even’s Panther, which I saw in its European incarnations when we were touring there. That looks like a real tour de force. It is hard to name individual artists because there are just so many and they are so different.

Magnett: I feel a constant desire to assemble reading lists, but this obviously isn’t the format to do that.

McCloud: One of the problems with comics is it is so diverse. When asked for a list of the progressive, interesting works that are pushing the boundaries, it is hard to think of one and then another and another at the same time because you have to go to one territory in your mind to think of the one, and then you have to completely change modes. This is something that I was able to do in Best American Comics. Of course that is only talking about this one territory of North American comics. But at least I was able to show the breadth, everything from Michael DeForge to Raina Telgemeir to Fiona Staples.

Magnett: It really runs the gamut, from DeForge, who not a lot of people know but more people should, to Staples work on Saga, which is one of the biggest books in the market.

McCloud: Exactly. All of these are pushing the form in vastly different directions. Saga in some ways is trying to create a new mainstream, something that doesn’t really look like what we think of as “mainstream comics.” But it is nevertheless what mainstream comics should be, being this vastly entertaining story with a lot of momentum, inventiveness, and imagination; it’s the sort of thing that people are binge watching now on TV. At the same time, there are other people who are trying to push the envelope formally, who are doing work that is maybe more obscure or more challenging to read, but is just as revolutionary in its own way.

Magnett: I think Michel Fiffe’s success with COPRA is a good example of a small book that started on Etsy gaining attention for its unique approach and style, and becoming a successful part of the conversation.

McCloud: Right, which brings up another interesting thing about right now, about 2015, and that is the routes to success are many. Everybody is inventing their own definition of success, finding new ways to reach audiences. A lot of the success stories are one offs if you look at them. There really isn’t another Penny Arcade, but there are other people who are succeeding in vastly different ways. Zach Weinersmith on Patreon is a good example, or Raina Telgemeir in the children’s market, or Allie Brosh through Hyperbole and a Half as a blog, but then as sort of a pop culture phenomenon. All of these are very, very different artists succeeding in very different ways. We are creating our own success.

Magnett: Are you optimistic about the reinvention and evolution of the comics market? As much as we are proud of what we have right now, it is a very small market within the realm of U.S. pop culture. Are you optimistic about how it is growing?

McCloud: It is still small, but it is definitely growing. It is reaching into sectors that we never thought it would. What is interesting is these different self-invented successes often reach into very different territories. In other words, the reach of Penny Arcade as a Venn diagram intersecting with Allie Brosh might have a fat intersection set, but not with some of the other examples I was giving. They are sending off these crazy pseudopods of new readerships, but those pseudopods are going in many, many different directions. There is an outward expansion. It comes back to that idea of forward or outward. You asked me quite reasonably, “How do you think comics can move forward?” This is a question we all often ask ourselves. I think it might be helpful to replace the word forward with outward because that’s where comics really succeeds is where we move outwards to new territories in every possible directions. To be a healthy art form is to be many different things to many different people.

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Fastball Feedback: Comic Book Reviews for July 29

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on July 29, 2015.

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Artists can do literally anything they want–within comics. The medium enables the realization of the wildest sci-fi, fantasy, and super concepts out there. Want to draw an absurd alien space heist done? Done. Want to draw lightsaber duels on Tatooine? Easy. Want to draw a man slowly shrinking into nothing? Got it. Comics represent possibility without limits, so this week we’re looking at titles that display this sort of weird science, and whether the ideas are as good in execution as in theory.

Manhattan Projects: The Sun Beyond the Stars #2

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Nick Pitarra

Colors by Michael Garland

After relaunching The Manhattan Projects, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra have the freedom to make anything they want. The series has transformed from a historical, science-fiction farce into a jailhouse comedy and now, in the second issue, a heist. Yuri Gagarin and Laika have been reunited, and now aim to steal a McGuffin along with a motley crew of aliens.

Pitarra has always been the star of this series, infusing backgrounds with plenty of visual gags and inventing striking new creations in each issue. The separation of this story from earth and any recognizable form of history allows him to bring even more power to each page. An alien bar is stuffed with oddities that will encourage the eye to stay awhile and wander. His designs for both the slave and master classes of the Sionnu. Their architecture, dress, and coloring by Michael Garland all add new layers. So much of the story is contained in design and visual elements. To only read speech balloons would be to miss more than half of the narrative. Rys, the spiky blue ball, is capable of providing a surprising level of characterization and intent despite only shouting “Blarg!”

Hickman’s scripting for both issues of The Sun Beyond the Stars show an incredible level of control. They function as chapters in a larger story and singular arcs. The heist that occurs here manages to introduce the premise, team, and play out the complete event in a standard-sized issue without ever feeling rushed. Dialogue is never unnecessarily expository (given the medium), and the result is a comic that really rewards readers for having picked it up as a single installment instead of waiting for a collection.

The Manhattan Projects: The Sun Beyond the Stars #2 shows that this is a book worth waiting for. From the broad strokes of an intergalactic heist down to the smallest details in Pitarra’s backgrounds, this issue is a delight to read and re-read. Moving beyond the Cold War setting has allowed it to embrace the most bizarre elements of the series. The result is something that feels both fresh and familiar, but always like damn good comics.

Grade: A-

Star Wars #7

Written by Jason Aaron

Art by Simone Bianchi

Colors by Justin Ponsor

Star Wars #7 takes a break from the ongoing battle in-between Episodes IV and V,  to visit Obi-Wan Kenobi’s time on Tatooine before Luke Skywalker was itching to visit the Tosche Station. The issue is framed as an entry from Old Ben’s journal, recovered by Luke earlier in the series. It’s essentially a quickly crafted one-shot issue that reads well by itself while also fitting into the larger series.

Simone Bianchi takes over art duties from John Cassaday, and makes this issue unique by bringing his own style to bear. That style is an excellent fit for this saddening period on a barren desert planet. Inks course through Bianchi’s figures, dressing them in darkness and a visual pathos. When Kenobi sits inside his hut, you sit beside him and feel the darkness weighing down his soul. But those same inks also give momentum to action sequences in a way that we haven’t seen in Star Wars yet. They streak across panels with a rough quality that is only enhanced by Justin Ponsor’s dark night-time colors. Those same colors come to life during the day with lush oranges and reds decorating the planet’s dueling suns.

While Bianchi’s artwork provides Star Wars #7 with a vibrant atmosphere, Jason Aaron’s narrative is not as consistent. Kenobi’s internal struggle, narrated by his journal, is very effective, and illuminates an unrevealed journey that seems perfectly obvious in retrospect. The transition from dashing Jedi general to hermit is a difficult one, and Kenobi’s isolation makes for a strong focus. That same context makes Luke Skywalker’s inclusion read falsely, however. The presentation  contradicts Luke’s characterization as a sheltered farm boy, inexperienced and yearning for adventure, and fails to add anything of value to Kenobi’s own story. And since Star Wars #7 relies on an understanding of the source material, it becomes a very real flaw.

Despite the unnecessary fan service towards Luke Skywalker, Star Wars #7 is still a strong entry in the series. Bianchi’s art turns the into a unique comics experience, rather than a recreation of a trip to the movies. He evokes a strong, isolating mood that pairs beautifully with the most significant elements of Aaron’s story for what will hopefully be only the first of many chapters in Obi-Wan Kenobi’s journal.

Grade: B-

Richard Matheson’s The Shrinking Man #1

Written by Ted Adams

Art by Mark Torres

Colors by Tomi Varga

Ted Adams and Mark Torres are adapting one of Richard Matheson’s best known prose works The Shrinking Man. The story features Scott, a family man in the 1950s, who after being exposed to a strange mist finds he is shrinking 1/7 of an inch each day. Matheson’s story is a fascinating examination of masculinity’s changing role in American life, but the adaptation leaves something to be desired.

Torres presents Scott in two distinct timelines, one where he is struggling with the slow presence of shrinking in front of his wife and daughter and another where is only 5/7” fighting to survive in a dank basement. Actions and scenes are typically translated as plainly as possibly. Scott’s battle with a black widow fails to raise any sense of excitement. While Torres does use bubbles to point to the difference in scale in this locale, the stiff acting of his figures leaves something to be desired. Scott’s size-based emasculation and struggles as both a provider and sexual being are even more interesting, but the changing difference between him and his family is sometimes difficult to discern in consistently spaced, mid-range panels. The narrative is clear, but far too simple for the subject matter.

That lack of experimentation or adjustment is also seen in Adams scripting. He is devoted to the source material, a clear fan of Matheson’s work. This results in shifts between scenes and dialogue that read as if they are written for prose rather than comics. Scenes are stiff and lack any range of motion in the present. Characters state exactly what they are feeling and why. Even in the future, when Scott is constantly in mortal danger, he is sure to explain his goals, emotions, and plans despite having no one around to listen.

Matheson’s story is still a classic piece of horror prose, but Adams and Torres’ adaptation fails to make a case for its own existence. The advantages of the comics form, to show off scale and play with visual metaphors, are barely utilized. Instead The Shrinking Mandoes its best to translate prose into comics as plainly as possible. While this may make it more accessible to younger readers, it hardly makes for great comics.

Grade: C

What did you think of this week’s comics? Sound off in the comments below.

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ComicBook Countdown for the Week of July 27

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on July 27, 2015.

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There’s nary a week when great comics, movies, or television shows aren’t all vying for our attention. It can be hard to keep up with it all, but that’s why we’re here. Each Monday at ComicBook.Com, we take a look at the five most exciting things coming to the world of fandom to keep you in the know.

5. Wild West Batman | Play Arts

Maybe it was just being raised on Clint Eastwood and John Wayne movies in the Midwest, but I really believe that there is nothing cowboys can’t make better. That includes Batman. Play Arts is releasing a Wild West Batman this week designed by the folks at Square Enix. They’ve combined cowboy aesthetics with the rich, beauty of games like their Final Fantasy series to create a gun-slinging Dark Knight that any fan of Westerns and comics would be glad to host on their shelves. While we normally deplore Batman with a side-arm, we’re making an exception this piece of eye-candy. The beautifully detailed figure is only $120 too, so you wouldn’t even blow your entire bounty fee on it.

4. The Canon, “Double Indemnity” | Wolfpop

Every Monday morning of mine begins with the newest episode of The Canon, a Wolfpop podcast featuring film critics Amy Nicholson and Devin Faraci. They are two of the sharpest people writing about movies today, and each week they discuss whether a new movie is worthy to be included in the elusive notion of “the canon” before allowing listeners to vote. This podcast not only presents some of the best (and funniest) movies talk available, but also guides listeners to a wide range of top-notch cinema. The Canon returns this week after a brief hiatus to look at a true film noir classic, Double Indemnity. Be sure to check it out.

3. Daredevil #17 | Marvel Comics

This is almost it. Daredevil #17 is the penultimate issue of Chris Samnee, Mark Waid, and other creator’s very long run onDaredevil (Waid having now written the character longer than anyone else in Marvel history). Together, Waid and his cabal of artists have redefined the Man Without Fear like so many other luminaries before them. Their swashbuckling interpretation and complex examination of identity and depression is already a classic superhero run. But it’s almost over. Savor this issue, as it features the return of Daredevil’s two greatest antagonists. There’s only one chapter left before all we have to look forward to are well-deserved, comprehensive hardcovers.

2. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation | Paramount Pictures

The Mission Impossible franchise is anything but consistent. It gains a new director with each installment, all of whom bring their own unique touch to the series. Unsurprisingly, the series’ quality is all over the place, ranging from over-the-top fun (Brad Bird onMission Impossible – Ghost Protocol) to just plain dumb (John Woo on Mission: Impossible II). Christopher McQuarrie enters the foray by writing, producing and directing Rogue Nation. But we’re hopeful for this latest spin.  McQuarrie’s script credits on Edge of Tomorrow and The Usual Suspects inspire confidence (we’ll ignore Jack the Giant Killer). And the series’ only constant, Tom Cruise, is still a perfect action star. With McQuarrie at the helm and Cruise on board, this should hopefully produce big, smart blockbuster fun.

1. Lobster Johnson: A Chain Forged in Life #1 | Dark Horse Comics

This is an easy one to pitch. Pulp hero Lobster Johnson has to save Santa Claus from robbers. See? How could you not want to read that?

Like everything produced in the Mignola-verse, this comic has some top notch talent attached. Mike Mignola and John Arcudi are on words, Troy Nixey and Kevin Nowlan are on art, and Dave Stewart is on colors. Between the five of them, you could recycle enough Eisners to run the show for a few years. But really, what more do you need to do besides Lobster Johnson has to save Santa Claus? We couldn’t ask for a better Christmas in July.

What new comics, shows, and other releases are you looking forward to this week? Share in the comments below.

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Strange Fruit is a Reminder That 28 Days is Not Enough

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on July 27, 2015.

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The first thing that struck me upon finishing Joel Christian Gill’s Strange Fruit was just how much I do not know. As someone who prides himself on being both well read and a minor history buff, I’m always astonished at just how much I recognize about the topics I care about. Reading through Strange Fruit made my lack of knowledge on the historical Black experience in America exceedingly clear though.

Strange Fruit Vol. 1  is a collection of true narratives each focusing on Black Americans over the course of more than two centuries. It is a tremendous comics anthology underlined by its subtitle “Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History”. Much of the strength in this collection comes from the lack of recognizability for each story. While each story is groundbreaking in its own right, filled with notes of courage, determination, and various other strains of the human spirit, they cannot be found in standardized textbooks. They are significant chapters in history that have almost fell to the wayside, only to be picked up by Gill.

In addition to the expansive scope of characters and an adherence to historical fact, Gill also brings a surprising all ages sensibility to these tales. This is a little surprising considering the title of the volume, Strange Fruit, which is a metaphor for victims of race-based lynchings in the south. Yet the broader approach works well for readers of all potential ages. Rather than eschewing the darkness found in many of these stories, Gill embraces it, but also highlights the joys and victories so the alternatives are never overwhelming.

Gill’s cartooning helps to blur the various lines that might separate historical fact, oppressive darkness, and approachable storytelling. Like other classic cartoons with a political bent, Pogo and Bloom County for example,Strange Fruit tackles its subject by applying a universal style to scenes requiring levity and pathos. This less detailed style also fits Gill’s storytelling emphasis, as he distills complex narratives into only 10 or 20 pages. The most significant portions of each story are selected and conveyed through a balance of words and images, excluding any potential redundancies. As a result, Strange Fruit becomes a surprisingly quick and enjoyable read, one that is allowed to gain weight as it rests in the reader’s conscious.

While there are various disparities in time and palce that separate the stories of Strange Fruit, Gill’s vision transforms them into a coherent, singular vision, one which celebrates American history and the unsung black lives which populate it. These stories always begin with a hopeful start. An air of innocence surrounds babies flying through their mother’s womb across three panels or being dropped off by a stork. Even a broader narrative about a Maine colony starts with optimistic tones and visuals. Gill is invested in the innocence of beginnings, one that pervades both people in places.

Darkness is discovered in images every bit as clear. Jim Crow is presented as literal crows with sharp feathers and needle-point beaks. This figure is used to represent the faceless crowds of hate that confront various people throughout the anthology. They are an ugly collective that only grow more frightening in pitch black color as they accumulate.

Gill’s style of storytelling weaves his narratives together just as well as his visual style. Even when a historical personality disappears without clear resolution, Gill manages to construct his stories with a beginning, middle, and end, even when they don’t always conclude in “happily ever after”. He utilizes structural elements familiar to fairy tales and jokes with a repetition of elements in 3’s and 4’s. This structure helps to not only make for an accessible experience, but a memorable one. When you leave behind cyclist Marshall “Major” Taylor or chessmaster Theophilus Thompson, their stories linger with you and can be easily recalled to share with others.

And so it is through Gill’s storytelling that Strange Fruit finds vitality. His clear understanding of history and ability to pick out what is most important both to the record and readers, makes these selections matter. The wide variety of choices made in assembling Strange Fruit paint a mural of black American history that feels alive. Together they create a diverse portrait of so many forgotten people and places that built the America we know today. It is Gill’s perspective that provides so many other forgotten points of view new life.

Upon finishing Strange Fruit Vol. 1, I don’t feel overwhelmed, but inadequate. Seeing all of these blind spots in American history spun together into a singular anthology of such memorable tales and power makes me wonder why they are only now being summoned. Strange Fruit is a testament to the contributions and incredible journeys to be discovered in American history and reinforces Gill’s own words about the study of black history that “28 days are not enough.”

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Review: Mr. Holmes Makes Unique Takes On The Sherlock Holmes Mythos Seem Elementary

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on July 25, 2015.

Mr Homes - Movie Review

The past decade has seen a new love for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s defining creation, the venerable detective Sherlock Holmes. Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films and Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s Sherlock series (as well as CBS’sSherlock) have modernized the character through changes in tone and era, respectively. These updates have left many classic elements behind though. Mr. Holmes, director Bill Condon’s newest film, addresses the oldest parts of Doyle’s character, transforming their age into the thematic core of a new story. The result is a soft-spoken, clever, and surprisingly heart-filled film that ought to please fans of the great detective, both young and old.

Mr. Holmes, adapted from Mitch Cullin’s novel A Slight Trick of the Mind by Jeffrey Hatcher, follows a 93 year-old Sherlock Holmes living in seclusion with a housekeeper and her young son. Holmes is unable to walk without a cane and is slowly losing his memory; he spends his days attempting to recount his final investigation while tending to bee hives. The film moves between his current place to the recent past, when he traveled to post-WWII Japan seeking a cure for dementia, and the distant memories of his final investigation.

This parsing of time and memory results in a film that resembles its titular character. Like the hands of an elderly relative, it is soft to the touch and gentle in its actions. Yet there is a vigor and life beneath the surface that speaks to a keen mind and untold experiences. For all of its melancholy and methodical pacing, Mr. Holmes is filled with a passion that has not yet burned out. In this mood, both Holmes and his journey work together in order to create an enthralling story.

While the character at the heart of Mr. Holmes is unmistakable. There is a complex investigation, playful banter with a less clever sidekick, and lots of wordplay.The film’s conceit is something not found in Doyle’s stories, however. It focuses on both the difficulties of aging and the hard-earned wisdom that can only come through this process. While Holmes is still a figure of robust knowledge, his decline is clearly evidenced and its progress is painful. It is merely one more challenge that must be faced, and the quiet bravery shown is as empowering as anything found in superhero films this summer. Holmes discoveries relate as much to empathy and human connection, as they do to cold hard facts, but never in a maudlin manner.

That balance of adding humanity while retaining the character’s core is wonderfully struck by Sir Ian McKellen, a man whose legacy may already stand as tall as the character he portrays here. After watching McKellen on screen for two hours, it is impossible to imagine any other actor portraying the aged Holmes as well (especially now that his friend and renaissance man Sir Christopher Lee has passed). He is reserved, astute, and quietly funny. Character and change is revealed in very small flourishes, perfect for a character so disconnected from those around him. McKellen is Holmes, there is no doubt about that.

What may come as a greater surprise is how well Milo Parker as Roger Munro plays off of McKellen, Mr. Holmesbeing only his second film. Their friendship is clearly developed and it is a joy to see Roger, a bright young lad, flourish under Holmes’ odd mentorship. He is almost as well realized as Holmes with a rich inner life that plays out in a similarly subtle manner.

Mrs. Munro, played by Laura Linney, is denied a similar amount of screentime only interacting through confrontations with Holmes or Roger. Condon does an excellent job of still making her an understandable character. Munro often serves as an obstacle for Roger and Holmes’ exploits, but she is never out to be a villain. Instead, it is often easier to sympathize with Mrs. Munro than the child and man-child who seek to undermine her wishes. Linney does a beautiful job of balancing Munro’s exhaustion and weariness with the love for her son that drives every action.

Those current relationships are carefully woven into the mystery that haunts Holmes from his past. It is a penny dreadful riff that plays upon Watson’s best instincts with exciting characters, odd novelties, and perplexing motives right up until the moment when it is not. The subversion of a classic Holmes’ mystery makes it no less exciting though. All of the clues are there for both Holmes and viewers to discover the solution. This time though it lends a great deal of thematic significance to both Holmes’ personal journey and his relationship with the Munros in the modern day.

Not all of the story elements are as neatly woven together though. Holmes visit to Japan provides an interesting dynamic between himself and his beneficiary Umezaki, but the broader strokes fail to connect. It is only two years after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan is still in the midst of recovering from WWII. Holmes is confronted by various states of death and misery, most significantly at Hiroshima where he sees burned survivors and the ash-laden area where the bomb was dropped. These moments are made to feel significant, but add little value to Holmes’ personal arc or the film’s themes. It strives for too grand of a picture in a very personal story.

Rather than providing the full majesty of the country Holmes is visiting, all of these scenes feel claustrophobic. They are contained largely to interior shots with limited details, quickly assembled on a soundstage. When Holmes and Umezaki visit Hiroshima the use of computer generated elements (including the Atomic Bomb Dome) are haphazardly juxtaposed against real elements resulting in the film’s only notable cinematographic failing.

When the camera is placed in England, specifically along her Southern Coast, it oscillates between being serene and uniquely beautiful. From the lush green hills that surround Holmes’ cottage to the rocky, seaside cliffs Condon and cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler allows the camera to take its time soaking in the scenery. This perspective provides additional value to Mr. Holmes’ methodical nature, as well as reinforcing its mood and pace.

Mr. Holmes is unlike any new story about this iconic character found in the past 10 or 20 years. Condon avoids the pitfalls of modernization by embracing the character with all of his flaws and age, and then plumbing those elements for a new take. The result is both a striking new Holmes mystery and a reverie on aging and the importance of connection. It is a quiet, alluring film with a great deal of passion rest beneath that serene-looking exterior.

Grade: B

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Review: Fables #150 Bids a Fond Farewell With an Emotional Finale

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on July 24, 2015.

Fables 150

Endings are difficult no matter what kind of story you’re telling. The longer a story goes, the more praise it wins, or the larger its audience grows only makes the creation of a great ending more difficult. So ending a series like Fableswith 150 issues, 3 spin-offs, 14 Eisner Awards, and an audience estimated to be even larger than its sales show, isn’t just hard, it’s a truly monumental task. Fables #150 is a monumental issue though, weighing in at 130 pages and published in a prestige TPB format. It brings closure to this enormous tale, and manages to give readers what they really need after more than a decade of stories.

It doesn’t hurt that “Happily Ever After”, the lead-in to this volume was a low point for Fables (rivaled only by “The Great Fables Crossover”). It drug on over 9 issues pushing the series toward this round number, and killing a lot of characters unnecessarily along the way. That set up placed expectations far lower than necessary and saved all of the best action for the final issue, titled “Farewell”. With gratuitous exposition and place setting complete, Fables #150picks up the pace and focuses on the heart of the series: its characters.

“Farewell” is divided into two halves of approximately equal length. The first section is the final issue, a continuous narrative sub-divided into chapters, that connects clearly to the preceding 149 issues. The back half is composed of more than a dozen epilogues, all titled “The Last _____ Story”, just like the one-shots found in the back of each issue of “Happily Ever After”. It is an extended epilogue, providing the necessary room to wrap up a universe filled with literally hundreds of characters.

There is a lot to resolve in the first half of Fables #150, much of which has been set up in the wake of Fables #75 when the war with the Homelands concluded. Bill Willingham takes most of the remaining plot threads and brings them to a concise and satisfactory ending place. There are some exceptions to this, specifically Geppetto whose 75 issue ongoing sub-plot is barely addressed. But Geppetto has never been an intrinsic part of this story after his initial defeat. The most important characters still lacking a resolution (i.e. Bibgy Wolf, Snow White, and Rose Red) all receive plenty of attention. This focus on three characters raises a mirror to the series very first story “Legends in Exile”, where these same three played the central roles.

The way the final confrontation between these three characters plays out is a bold choice. It is simultaneously massive and small, tense and reassuring. More than anything it is exactly what readers need, although it may not be what they want. A louder, longer battle may have provided more spectacle, but Mark Buckingham manages to cram plenty of that into a couple of dense, detailed spreads. The scope of this confrontation is more than sufficient, but it’s the emotional complexity and relationships that make it impactful. Here, Buckingham is also the star of the show. When it comes down to the final moments, he portrays faces and bodies with subtlety instead of melodrama. Readers are brought into the conversation and conflict, making it feel personal. That balance of the big and the small is what makes all of the best moments in Fables #150 work so well.

This doesn’t exclude opportunities to say goodbye to other significant Fables. King Cole, Flycatcher, and one supposedly dead (very carefully obscured) Fable all get very nice farewells along the way. Their final moments in the series avoid the maudlin and focus instead on who these characters are. Many completed complex character arcs long ago, and what they do serves as an epitaph of who they became, a final thought to remind us why we love these men and women.

At least one concluding moment fails to live up to this promise though. There’s some big noise made about midway through that results in more deaths that can only be read as gratuitous. They fail to reveal anything about the characters involved or factor into the final battle. This one scene brings back the worst elements of “Happily Ever After”. It tries to create stakes through deaths that do not reinforce what’s important to the story. They simply occur and then the page is turned. Buckingham’s work is the only redeeming factor to this sequence, making the action every bit as exciting and tense as the series best battles in stories like “March of the Wooden Soldiers” and “War & Pieces”. It’s a bit of grand spectacle laid atop, not integrated into, a functioning story.

The epilogues following the final battle compose a very necessary outro. They prevent a feeling of anti-climax and allow Willingham to write as many goodbyes as necessary without cramming them into the central plot. Fables is an enormous world with lots of characters, and these 1-6 page stories allow readers to take one final traipse through it all.

The “Last Stories” present a wide range of tones and suitable artistic talents along with them. They vary from the comedic to the dramatic to the expository (although most could be described as fun), each with a unique combination of pencilers, inkers, and colorists. Mike Allred, Joelle Jones, and Neal Adams each deliver unique takes on specific characters delivering a loving goodbye from truly tremendous talents.

It’s the very last “Last Story” that does it, though. This may technically be an epilogue, but it is  Fables’ true farewell, complete with the final “The End”. Resist any temptation to skip past other stories to reach this point because once you read it, it’s clear that Fables is over. Buckingham delivers the final panel in the form of a double barrel gatefold, filled with details and enhanced by snippets of choice dialogue from Willingham. It is beautiful, packed with detail, and lovingly rendered. This enormous panel is exactly what you need to see presented how you need to see it. Buckingham shows off the enormity of the story, and delivers both on the promise of the scope and emotional depth in Fables. The final line on the page is likely to induce tears too. I certainly wept.

And that’s happily every after. “Farewell” stands as a testament to the mighty legacy of Fables. It is every bit as large as the series that preceded it, and packs all of the feeling and skill that led Fables to so much success. It is not always a perfect goodbye, but such a thing may not even be possible for so great an undertaking. “Farewell” is perfect where it counts though. The final battle, the final panel, and the final line are all exactly what is needed. They are reminders of why Fables is so beloved, and are bound to linger fondly on the minds of its readers. In its final moments, Fables #150 summons the ethos of “Happily Ever After” as well as all of the fairy tales that inspired its creation.

Grade: B

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Entering the World of Fables

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on July 23, 2015.

Fables 150

If you’ve never read DC’s Fables, it can seem like an overwhelming endeavor. The series ended this week with a 130-page final issue, leaving behind one of the most impressive series in comics. The core Fables titles ran 150 issues translated into 14 languages and told over 13 years with 3 spin-offs (composed of 50, 33, and 12 issues each), 1 video game, and 1 board game, all of which has garnered the series a grand total of 14 Eisner Awards. But don’t be intimidated. Reading Fables is absolutely worth it, and Comixology is having an enormous sale right now to help new readers jump in.

I started to read Fables fairly early in its run, catching up on volume 4 and eagerly consuming new issues every month after for almost a full decade. It’s a series that has always held a proud place in my library and which I have loaned to countless friends and family members. I’m on the fourth or fifth copy of the very first volume due to it being continually lost or damaged. While I can’t lend anyone reading ComicBook.Com the most recent version to join my collection, I have become something of an expert in recommending Fables.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, Fables follows the lives of “Fables” characters recognizable from folk tales and mythology who have been forced to flee their homelands by a mysterious adversary. They are the last remnants of many diverse worlds living in a small community in New York City called Fabletown. Throughout the series, hundreds of characters come and go, playing into stories of both epic and minute scales, with almost limitless potential. It is told by an endlessly talented brigade of creators including writer Bill Willingham, artists Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha, and 7-time Eisner award-winning cover artist James Jean.

It’s a series I have shared with my mom, sister, girlfriend, as well as countless friends, co-workers, and classmates. A lot of comics are presented as being a series for everyone, but Fables is the exceedingly rare example of one where that is almost true. Like the pantheon of fairy tales it encompasses, Fables captures so many wonderful aspects of storytelling. It is capable of inducing belly laughter and great streams of tears, providing a warmth to your heart and a sharp spike of ice to your spine. At its absolute best, it can do all of these things in a single issue.

If you’re still hesitating to check out Fables at this point, I’m not sure what more I can say. However, if you want to take advantage of the Comixology sale, I have two recommendations based on how far you can stretch your wallet.

You can purchase the first 4 volumes (issues 1-27) for only $19.96. It is over these first 4 volumes that you can see the diversity and scale of Fables grow and cohere. The story arcs include murder mysteries, heists, and war tales. Volume 4 solidifies the central mythos of the series with the very first modern encounter between Fabletown and the Adversary.

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, I would highly recommend buying the first 11 volumes (issues 1-75) for $54.89. The first half of the series tells the story originally conceived of by writer Bill Willingham, concluding with the war between Fabletown and the Adversary. The series still had a long ways to travel, but this half composes a story that feels both significant and complete. I repurchased all 11 of these volumes when the sale began to relive the first great epic of Fables.

For those of you that are entering the world of Fables for the very first time, I envy you. It’s a special place that has been with me for a very long time. I’ll leave you to start once upon a time in Fables #1; you’ll reach happily ever after far too soon.

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Fastball Feedback: Comic Book Reviews for July 22

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on July 22, 2015.

Fastball Feedback

Death is such a common part of American comics that they (they being the mysterious comics illuminati) have added a pre-approved line, much like the TSA. But that doesn’t mean death has lost its meaning. Rather, it’s just being explored in a lot of different and inventive ways. It’s so common, that the line between it and life often actually becomes blurred, resulting in characters and situations that reflect a bit of both. This week, Fastball Feedback looks at three comics who try their hand at death, and decides whether they transcend the clichés or belong in the quarter bin.

Frankenstein Underground #5

Written by Mike Mignola

Art by Ben Stenbeck

Colors by Dave Stewart

It wasn’t clear what place Frankenstein would hold within the Mignola-verse when Frankenstein Underground began, but at the end we can only hope he won’t stay buried for long. The series is woven from epic adventure, grandiose world building, and monstrous designs, and can now sit proudly besides the likes of Baltimore, Sledgehammer, and Lobster Johnson. Frankenstein Underground #5 comes to a close that both rests comfortably on its own and works within the larger context of the Mignola-verse.

There’s a temptation to compare Frankenstein to the many other great heroes among Mignola’s expansive line of comics, but he is a unique entity. Drawing from Mary Shelley’s fiction, Mignola and his collaborators have posed him as an epic hero who spans centuries coming into contact with tales even greater than his own. It’s an excellent way to frame Frankenstein Underground, allowing Frankenstein to function as a character, but not the center of these events. Instead, the conclusion exposes both something about this monster and his world that can be appreciated with or without additional context.

Perhaps the greatest joy of Frankenstein Underground comes in seeing Ben Stenbeck flex creative muscles not typically used inBaltimore. Both Frankenstein and the monsters he fights in #5 are all muscles, size, and physical endurance. They launch one another across rooms and tumble ancient artifacts with ease. Stenbeck’s sense of motion is clear and crisply communicated. Each punch and tumble draws the eye across the page. Dave Stewart’s consistent use of creeping darkness since Frankenstein’s descent in #1 also pays off with a beautiful effect at the series conclusion.

Frankenstein Underground, unsurprisingly, is another fine addition to the Mignola-verse. It walks the seemingly impossible line between character-focused introspection and bombastic monster fights that all of these series do so well. It’s visual storytelling and imagination are unlimited. Frankenstein holds a special place at Dark Horse comics and, while Frankenstein Underground gives him a proper conclusion, we can all still hope to see more someday.

Grade: B+

Book of Death: Fall of Bloodshot #1

Written by Jeff Lemire

Art by Doug Braithwaite

Colors by Brian Reber

The titular “Book of Death”, the centerpiece of Valiant’s newest event, contains the fates of every character in a potential, dystopian future. The Fall of Bloodshot #1 is the first of four one-shots detailing just how bad things get for some of the biggest characters in the universe. Bloodshot Reborn writer Jeff Lemire teams with Doug Braithwaite and Brian Reber to tell Bloodshot’s story. While it shows off some great ideas Lemire has for the character, but falls short as an actual narrative.

The comic really isn’t a story at all. It reads like a plot synopsis, a visual pitch for Lemire to continue writing Bloodshot in perpetuity. The issue opens on Bloodshot after he has regained his nanites and follows him through a series of increasingly bizarre adventures until he reaches his prophesied demise. Each of these adventures, filled with dinosaurs, robots, and pirates, looks like a great deal of fun, but you’re only shown enough to get a taste. Narrative captions state what Bloodshot’s story is about and why readers should care. While these reveal Lemire’s understanding of Bloodshot, they are the very essence of telling, not showing. The entire issue is summary that never bothers to let readers really invest in what’s happening on the page.

Braithwaite, who is also helping to draw The Book of Death, presents each of these concepts very well. He captures the fun of Pirate-shot, the serenity surrounding Eskimo-shot, and the wild odyssey discovered by Space-shot. His skilled hopscotch’ing between disparate tones makes for a story that is a lot more fun to look at than it is to read. There is some strain in his pencils as unnecessary lines become clutter on characters not in the foreground of panels. Compositions are always dynamic, but lingering on the visuals reveals line work that could have used more definition.

Fall of Bloodshot #1 is a bold pitch for future Bloodshot series, but it’s something that should have only been shown to Valiant editors. A great deal of effort is put into thinking of interesting new spins on the assassin, but there’s not nearly enough space to show any of them. This is a well drawn bird’s eye view of a potentially great comics.

Grade: C-

Marvel Zombies #2

Written by Simon Spurrier

Art by Kev Walker

Colors by GURU-eFX

Just like its undead cast, the dead horse called Marvel Zombies keeps standing back up to be beaten down again. After 5 mini-series, multiple one-shots, and tie-ins, they’re back in Battleworld. That new setting has lent Simon Spurrier and Kev Walker an opportunity to return a little bit of life to the concept though. Following Elsa Bloodstone (clearly modeled after her appearance inNextwave) across this zombie-riddled landscape is more fun than it has any right to be here.

Spurrier riffing on Nextwave is a lot of fun. Marvel Zombies #2 isn’t as good as that source material, but literally no comic is. Elsa’s behavior is brash, bold, and cold to the point of absurdity. That over-the-top approach to characterization works in this setting and with these characters. It allows jokes about explodo and improperly touching a zombie to really function. That silliness also makes attempts at adding pathos with a child fall flat. It’s a tonal shift that never really connects, and Spurrier lacks the ability to make this mysterious kid connect. The little bald boy feels like a prop of plot rather than a person throughout the entire issue.

The bombed-out wasteland inhabited by the zombies doesn’t provide much visual flair. It’s a standard post-apocalyptic set of backgrounds that could be swapped out for Terminators or any other destructive force du jour. Walker’s depiction of the zombies though is much more fun. M.O.D.O.K. is always fun to see depicted in new ways, and Walker makes the enormous head simultaneously playful and gross. He also brings out Bloodstone’s bravado in well planned poses, although her age shifts occasionally between scenes.

Marvel Zombies isn’t a series that I expect to inspire inordinate amounts of enthusiasm or distinct memories. It’s a mini-series that grasps what it is, and plays to those strengths portraying a weird, funny romp in an increasingly absurd premise. There’s a lot of silliness to be found in Spurrier and Walker’s conception, and that is the absolute best thing they can do here.

Grade: C+

What did you think of this week’s comics? Sound off in the comments below.

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ComicBook Countdown for the Week of July 20

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on July 20, 2015.

There’s nary a week when great comics, movies, or television shows aren’t all vying for our attention. It can be hard to keep up with it all, but that’s why we’re here. Each Monday at ComicBook.Com, we take a look at the five most exciting things coming to the world of fandom to keep you in the know.

5. Pixels | Happy Madison

It has been a long time since Adam Sandler produced a good comedy, and when I say long, I’m talking decades. But he’s still the guy who gave us adolescent classics like Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison. Those movies still fuse gross-out humor with a surprising amount of heart. That’s probably the reason so many of us keep seeing his films, even after crimes against humanity like Grown Ups 2. There’s an adamant spark of hope that some day he’ll return to greatness. Is it likely? Probably not. But Pixels also stars Peter Dinklage, and that’s something.

4. The Goon: Chinatown Artist’s Edition | IDW Publishing

IDW’s line of Artist’s Edition have been winning Eisner Awards year-after-year for a really good reason: They are mind-bogglingly beautiful presentation of true comics classics. For fans of comics art, there is no better way to explore the craft of the medium’s masters. Eric Powell is still relatively young, especially compared to guys like Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko, but his work on The Goon is certainly due for a full-sized 11×17 collection. The Goon is the work of a true auteur presenting a combination of noir and horror unlike anything else. This is a can’t-miss collection.

3. C.O.W.L. #11 | Image Comics

It appears that C.O.W.L. was just too beautiful to live long. This fusion of Chicago politics, Cold War tension, and superhero drama by Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, and Rod Reis is perhaps the single most overlooked new Image series of the past year. It was tightly plotted, beautifully illustrated, and enthralling as all get out. And now it’s ending. Higgins, Siegel, and Reis all certainly have long comics careers ahead of them, but it’s sad to see this section end so soon. Fare thee well C.O.W.L., fare thee well.

2. Rick & Morty, “A Rickle in Time” | Adult Swim

Wubba-lubba-dub-dub! Rick & Morty is back for its second season and I could not be more excited. Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon’s brainchild combines all of its creators bizarre humor, insightful commentary, and eclectic tastes into the best animated show on television. Just like Harmon’s previous creation, Community, it is able to be almost all things at once utilizing character-driven drama, big laughs, and serious themes into one of the most entertaining half hours on television. Whether or not you avoided watching the two leaked episodes, then this Sunday is going to be a lot of fun.

1. Fables #150 | Vertigo Comics

I still don’t believe it. Fables is really ending after more than 13 years, making it the second longest running Vertigo series ever. I found Fables just when I was getting into comics and after so long it feels like an old friend. But the end is really arriving this Wednesday in an issue so big that it is being offered as the complete, final volume of the series. It’s a bittersweet finale since the series has wandered from its strengths in the past couple of years, but the highs were so high that it has been impossible to leave it behind. Whatever Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham have planned for these final pages, hopefully it can give all of Fables devoted readers the ending they need.

What new comics, shows, and other releases are you looking forward to this week? Share in the comments below.

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Change in Speak: Comics Apologies and Learning to Listen

This article was originally published at Loser City on July 16, 2015.

I’ve said a lot of stupid things.

A lot.

Even in the brief time I’ve been writing about comics, I’ve tweeted or spoken plenty of regrettable things. Sometimes it has been something embarrassing, but relatively small and easily fixed, like misacreditiation. Othertimes it has been something much more challenging, an opinion based on a lack of perspective and thought. Where a brief, sincere apology might fix the former, it’s not enough for the latter.

These situations aren’t times to hide my face or issue a statement and disappear; they’re opportunities for me to listen. When I say something dumb about race, gender, personality, or anything else, it’s typically because I’m not thinking. The solution isn’t for me to continue talking, but to stop. If I hurt someone, it’s more important that I understand what is going on in their head than that they understand what is going on in mine.

Listening, asking questions, and acting with empathy are the foundation of a good apology. Not only do they make the apology sincere, but they help me learn what I did to necessitate an apology and grow beyond those behaviors. Looking back I’m grateful for many of the mistakes I’ve made because they’ve made me a better listener, better question asker, and more empathetic person in every aspect of life, not just when I screw up.

It’s the reason I was able to engage in one of the best conversations I experienced at San Diego Comic Con last weekend. I was speaking with a few friends when the subject turned to hip hop, a subject I know almost nothing about. Rather than try to interject about the few Kanye songs I like or change the subject, I spent the next hour listening. Their wit and enthusiasm about music was inspiring. It was just a delight to listen to them discuss this subject they knew so much about, making me want to learn more so I could better understand and engage.

And that leads us to the reason why I’m talking about apologies: Tom Brevoort said something stupid today (and it involves hip hop).

Brevoort was asked on his Tumblr about Marvel’s upcoming Hip Hop variant covers and the continuing lack of black representation amongst the creators who work there. His response can be charitably described as lacking.

Dumb Ass Response

If you’re not sure what the problem is, that’s not something I’m fully prepared to discuss. As a middle-class, white guy, it’s hard for me to understand the effects of cultural appropriation. Luckily, David Brothers has this covered. He wrote a fantastic piece about why the question Brevoort was asked is important and deserves to be fairly addressed. You can check out Brothers’ essay here.

To Brevoort’s credit, he recognized that his initial response was lacking and followed up with a brief apology and explanation of what he meant to say.

Lame Ass Apology

Except what Brevoort said really isn’t an apology. He apologizes for being flippant in his tone, but not for the content of his response. His response never adequately addresses the issues raised by the question, opting to explain why it’s a non-issue instead. There’s a lot of slick doublespeak going on, but no real substance.

Brevoort acknowledges that Marvel ought to continue to do better, and then pats himself on the back for having said so in the past. He even points out that there are future announcements to be made that COULD represent greater diversity than the almost 50 new titles already announced. He’s asking to be given credit without having earned it. The only thing Brevoort gets right here is that Marvel can do better when it comes to their hiring practices.

From there the issue gets confused in order to make it stop being an issue. Brevoort claims this isn’t an “either-or situation.” It’s not, but that also wasn’t likely the intent of the original question. Asking “how can you print hip hop covers when you don’t employ black creators?” is silly. Of course Marvel can print homages to famous hip hop albums no matter who they employ. The issue is far more complex than that though, as Brothers’ explains in his own essay. Framing the question in this manner just makes it easy to dodge the difficult issues at its core.

Brevoort isn’t listening or dialoguing in his apology; he’s announcing. That doesn’t just give the “wrong impression” like his initial response, it confirms that impression was absolutely correct.

A question like the one Brevoort responded to shouldn’t be reduced to a curt response or poorly phrased apology. It’s an invitation for a very necessary conversation. If he’s sincere when he says Marvel can do better, then this is an opportunity to start a dialogue about how to make that happen.

People aren’t asking questions about this because they don’t care. People aren’t getting upset about this because they don’t care. People aren’t writing essays about this because they don’t care. The truth is that we care a lot. That’s why these questions are being asked.

Representation is a big problem in comics, especially at big publishers like Marvel and DC Comics. It isn’t an impossible problem, but change is coming at a glacial pace. Brevoort has incredible resources at his disposal to help though. Everyone asking, talking, and writing about this issue represents a helping hand that Brevoort can rely upon. This includes creators who have worked for Marvel; Ales Kot turned down work involving people of color in order to suggest other writers. He received the response “we would love that, but we don’t know many people who would fit that.” This fits the same tone-deaf narrative where when a publisher is offered help, they feign ignorance.

Tom Brevoort may have said something stupid, but the real disappointment lies in what has come after. When we say something stupid, our primary responsibility isn’t to apologize, but to listen. If we can learn from our mistakes, then we can improve both ourselves and the world around us. That’s how we will help comics move forward.

We need to start listening instead of just apologizing.

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