Monday, June 9, 2014

Rain of the supermen

There have been many supermen besides Superman. The bookstores are full of them. Be they homage like Alan Moore's Supreme, Astro City's Samaritan or just a doppelganger stand-in, used to tell less mainstream or more creative Superman tales.

There was supposed to be a review in here somewhere, wasn't there?

In a niche publishing industry, dominated by one genre, already drowning in the derivative and self-referencial, a book like Edison Rex by Chris Roberson and Dennis Culver is great surprise. They take a new path, not too far from the extremely well beaten one, more like going the wrong way against traffic. Bringing some new life and some considerable charm to the familiar Superman homage by giving us Luthor's perspective

Told with a loving wonder and nostalgia, without the heavy weight of comic book continuity, Edison Rex is an light and fun, unburdened tribute, a perfect blend of writing and art, and a wonderfully conceived supporting cast. 

Edison Rex Volume 1: Into the White, and Edison Rex Volume 2: Heir Apparent both by Chris Roberson and Dennis Culver. Published by IDW and Monkeybrain Comics as far as I know. The TPB editions are full of lots of fun extras, secret character files, a parody of the old Hostess comic ads, faux covers, pin-ups, and lots of great art and concept sketches and more!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Legendary "Mad" man


Al Feldstein Legendary EC Comics, writer/artist, and Mad Magazine editor died yesterday at 88...

I had only discovered EC later in my comics reading life. Like discovering jazz or classical music as you get older, when people begin looking for something more than the juvenile mainstream they've seemingly outgrown.

For the last decades or so, I've been on the lookout for those cheap EC reprints. Some were comics size, some almost treasury size, others were bound together under new covers. I spent many a happy Saturday over the years cleaning out more than a few bargain bins, until the local comic shop owner at the time noticed, and put them up on a better display and marked up the price.

Now that I'm a little older I tried collecting the various hard cover editions. I got a few of the Gemstone editions, very very nice but expensive. But, I liked best the series by Fantagraphics, each featuring a particular artist/writer. I have the books featuring Al Williams, and Johnny Craig. A little while back, I picked up the volume featuring Al Feldstein, ("Child of Tomorrow and other stories by Al Feldstein"). I had set it aside until just recently, when I ran across an illustration by Al Feldstein, in a trade collection of classic western stories done by contemporary artists, (Western Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 20). It was just a single page illustration but it reminded me to pick up the EC collection. Happily this past week I had just finished reading it, so Mr. Feldstein's work is still quite fresh in my mind.

These editions are my favorites not only because they focus on one artist/writer, but because they are reprinted in B&W. Some people don't get it or prefer to replicate the original reading experience, but I think you can better appreciate the art without the color. The line work, the compositions are clear and crisp, without being muted by the color inks over the blacks or in some editions you see the bleed through from the page art on the other side, as the pages have been improperly scanned. And I've really enjoyed reading this volume, studying every page, Al Feldstein's art and writing were what comics should aspire to.

Al Feldstein, was a wonderfully talented story teller.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Flash Gordon returns! Again!

This past week, Dynamite introduced another Flash Gordon series. The last one was not perfect but still highly enjoyable and loosely based on the '80's Sam Jones version combining much of the known Flash universe comic strip elements with the fun,  stylized movie version. Complete with Klytus!

Spinning of from the recent "King's Watch" Mini series, which reintroduced Flash and his companions as well as Mandrake and the Phantom. This new Flash comic, by Jeff Parker and Evan Shaner is more traditional, in part homage while still fresh and striking out on it's own. Much like Shaner's art, classic without being dated. The comic is great fun, with the great wonder of the old comicstrips and thensome, invoking a grand adventurous style not often seen in comics anymore. This is in no small part to the clean crisp, classic style of "Doc" Shaner's art, absolutely beautiful honest-to-goodness old fashioned adventure cartooning, reminiscent of Alex Toth, Paul Smith, or more recently Francesco Francavilla.

Flash Gordon one of the best new comics I've seen in a long while. If you liked Francesco Francavilla's Black Beetle (Dark Horse), you will find this just as fun but in a sci-fi way!

Seriously, I mean it and buy everything this man draws...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Look! Up on the shelf...

Have you ever really liked a band, comedian or an artist or anyone creative for that matter, followed their work for a while and then had some hipster store clerk let you know they think the new stuff is crap and that they like their early work better?

Because everyone knows all artsier-than thou retail store clerks are psychic, they can look at you and your purchases and know for a fact you couldn't possibly have any taste. Success ruins anything and anyone with a job buying current works of anything or anyone good must just now be jumping on the band wagon.

Well, hold on to your Barrista apron...

Sure Superman is everywhere. Always has been. These days he's got gritty new costumes, and he's fighting planets and rapey new versions of older villains. He's starring in TV shows, cartoons, big budget movies with big budget stars and snazzy computer  effects. But I like his early work much better.

Sure the earlier work it was rough around the edges, crude in it's execution, still inventing itself, possibly even unrecognizable in some ways to modern comics readers. But this is a Superman who takes on real issues, the important issues of his time, and while the stories and characters are simplistic, way smaller in scale than the mass genocides and mega-crossover epics of today, they are seemingly loftier and more important. More real. The villains and perils were part of peoples real lives. Our lives. Bullies, corporate fat-cats, union busters, corrupt businessmen and politicians.  The  hero in these tales, is saving us.

What could be more relevant today, as we face frustrating unemployment, and underemployment, during the greatest income disparity we've ever known. Bankers and Wallstreeters admitting to corruption, yet paying no real price as the real victims lose their homes, their retirement savings. Corrupt politicians infringing on peoples rights. Senseless mass violence. So many of the hardships we suffer today harken back to the days when we could see a still rough around the edges super man standing up for the little guy.

DC Comics has been re-printing of the earliest Golden Age Superman adventures in a series of books called Superman Chronicles. You can still find them online, or in your local comics shop or local booksellers. I highly recommend you do. I've read the first five volumes already, and they are great fun.

Some other time we'll talk about the old time radio show or the early animated shorts. Or George Reeves...

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Orange is the new black & white

About a week ago I'm watching one of the weekend shows on MSNBC.

Something is off. And it isn't the lack of bars on the windows and doors. It isn't the fact that neither of the respected journalists is wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. It isn't even the fact that I'm watching MSNBC on a weekend, without having to quickly change channels to hunt for something that at least passes for news on the weekend. They are apparently toying with broadcasting shows that don't have prisoners crying and unloading their emotional traumas through a small hole in their prison cell door.

I'm watching a great news show, and next is Alex Witt about interview Rachel Maddow @maddow on the Weekends with Alex Witt, on .

But that's still not what's bugging me. Something is off. I'm not seeing something.

So I paused the thing.

Then I see it, the "Zot!" logo.

There it is on the spine of one of the books on a shelf behind Alex Witt in the office where they are conducting the informal weekend style interview. (MSNBC is apparently toying with shows that don't have pundits crying and unloading their emotional issues neatly spaced around a oddly shaped plexiglass table).

Zot! is a comic book created back in the eighties, by Scott McCloud, published by Eclipse Comics. A lighthearted alternative to the grim and gritty, more violent comics of the time. More recently collected into the omnibus edition seen above on the MSNBC shelves. We here at the Weekly League News are all too lazy to do anything to confirm it's either Rachel Maddow's or Alex Witt's office. Maybe we'll tweet a question to one or more of the intrepid journalists, when we get a chance.

Either way we here at the Weekly League News are just happy to see such a great classic collection, in such a context. On the shelf of an intelligent, attractive, accomplished and successful female journalist. Either Witt or Maddow either will do. We are all to often subjected to media outlets quick to reinforce the clich├ęd portrayals of comic book readers, as sad, asthmatic nerds with little to no upper body strength. Thank you Big Bang Theory.

Anyway, go buy a copy of Scott McCloud's ZOT! The Complete Black and White Collection and bring it with you to Rachel Maddow's next book signing! And check out MSNBC's new weekend programming, featuring Alex Witt, Steve Kornacki, Melissa Harris-Perry, Karen Finney all morning and afternoon. But don't stress if you liked all the prison docs, they are on in the evenings still.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Indy Hunter Interview: Dan Fraga

First Indy Hunter interview of 2014! Bringing in the New Year with the Fraga Boom! We speak with Image Comics legend Dan Fraga and his return to sequentials with the new story, “The Grave”!

2014 Brings in the New Year and with it the return of Image comics/Extreme Studios Prodigal Son! Of course I'm talking about legend/veteran Dan Fraga!  (Who'd you think I was talking about?)wink
Dan thanks for speaking with us. 
DF: My pleasure
So this is your return to sequential storytelling with The Grave. To catch people up to speed what was your last work in comics? How long has it been?
DF:The last thing that I worked on was a Superman story which never saw print. Sadly the artwork was lost over at DC. As far as the last thing I worked on in comics that was in print, that was Black Panther #50 which came out in August of 2002. It's been 13 and 1/2 years.
Since leaving comics what have you been up to?
DF: Since leaving comics, I've worked in the entertainment business as a storyboard artist, visual effects supervisor, set designer, 2nd unit director, director and as a supervising director. I storyboarded a handful of movies and a lot of music videos and commercials. I started directing with the animated portions of an MTV show called The Hard Times of RJ Berger. Afterwards I directed two seasons of The Ricky Gervais Show for HBO, some pilots for Disney and Adult Swim, and I'm currently working at Mattel, Supervising animation for Monster High, Everafter High and Polly Pocket.
What was it that influenced you to return to this medium? Any particular event or was it a slow burn?
DF: I've always been a fan of storytelling. Visual storytelling specifically. I work in animation which is a very rewarding field for lovers of storytelling and art. I've had a few stories that I've wanted to tell for almost a decade now. With the amount of work I've been doing for clients, I found that there just wasn't any time to do other things. (Especially after becoming a father). What I found myself doing a lot was thinking about these stories. In the car. Laying in bed. Pretty much anytime I wasn't working I would be thinking about these stories. It was driving me crazy. What had stopped me in the past was I *thought* that I didn't have the time. I thought I would have to write the whole thing out, then lay it out, then draw it, then ink it, then color it…the works. It's a full time gig. But then I read a book called "The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles" by Steven Pressfield. In it he talks about a few novelists who wrote their greatest works, a page a day. Some writers, like Kafka, only had 30 minutes a day to write. That's when I realized that I could tell my stories if I thought of them as smaller manageable pieces. I could tell these stories, one panel at a time, one each day. The book wasn't the only inspiration. Inspiration hit with a multi pronged attack. At the same time I was reading (listening to an audiobook) the Pressfield book, I found some great work by Kenneth Rocafort where he was doing a daily sketch. The two sparks hit and that's what made me know that I *could* in fact do it.

Was there any specific reason to leave the medium at the time?
DF: I left comics because I wanted to work in movies. My ultimate goal is to direct feature animation along the likes of Frozen, Wreck-it-Ralph, Kung Fu Panda, etc… Comics was a great training ground, and I felt that storyboarding was the next step.
Let’s talk about The Grave! What’s the story about and how can people check it out?
DF: The Grave is about the lessons in life that we're supposed to learn, it's about transformation within ourselves, and ultimately human nature. The story revolves around a grave that a group of kids find on a neighborhood camping trip. Inside the grave they find a fully clothed skeleton and a cigar box with seven items in it. Through exploration of these seven items, we learn about the who the body in the grave belonged to, and the amazing life they had. The plot of The Grave takes place in 1933-1987. It's going to be a fun ride.
People can find it in several ways:
Twitter: fragaboom
instagram: couchdoodles

How would you say the artwork differs from say your work at Extreme or back in the Image days?
DF: Completely. I had no idea what I was doing back then. No slight on that work, but it was a lifetime ago, and I hadn't lived enough life to have my own idea of who I was and what I wanted to put out there as an artist. It was pure regurgitated pop. I would go on to say that the stuff I'm doing now comes from deep within my soul and is a reflection who I am and what I think about as opposed to reactions to whatever is "hot" at the time, like I did in my Image days.

I’ve been watching your experimentation with different mediums and on different surfaces. There’s truly a pure art essence there, how would you say your approach has developed?
DF: The approach evolved out of necessity. I bought the same book that Kenneth Rocafort was using for his sketches because I wanted to have all of what I was drawing to be in one volume. (Plus it had the day's date on it). When the book arrived, I was taken back at how small it was. I was also taken back the first time I drew in it because the ink was going straight through the paper. It bled through to three other side. So instead of throwing in the towel, I decided to experiment with the paper. I had to find out what the paper would or wouldn't take, medium-wise. Through a series of a few weeks, I dialed in on what worked best. There was still a problem. The book doesn't lay flat. I was finding that drawing in it, even for a short time, was making my hand cramp up. I realized that it wasn't conducive to what I wanted to do. I didn't want to limit what I could or couldn't draw because of dimensions of the book. What I ended up finding was trading card blanks. These blanks could take a beating, they lay flat, and they could be kept in a single box. Bingo! I found my paper, my pens, brushes, and paint.

Was there a development period that can now be seen or an influence on your current artwork? How about with The Grave specifically?
DF: I just doodle a lot, without a pencil. I just will go in with a brush, or pen and go. It's more truthful. With The Grave, I went back to my roots and cracked the old cartooning books my grandfather gave me. Most of them are from the 20's and 30's and I found that that sort of cartooning lent itself to the subject matter of the Grave. Specific artists that I'd have to mention in my research are Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, George Herriman, and Winsor McCay. Those guys are the truth.

 I was digging some of the pieces you were working on with the moleskin and watercolors. As an artist myself I’ve always been intimidated by watercolor, can you talk to us a bit about the process you use?
DF: I've been lucky. I've never had any difficulty with watercolor. It's a mindset. I see in my head what I want the thing to look like, and I reverse engineer it with watercolor's behaviors in mind. Water color likes to work light to dark. It behaves different weather it's wet or dry. You can change a tone's value by adding more or less water to your color mix. If I want a straight cartoon look, I just go straight in. If I want it to have a mood, I'll do an underpainting in monochrome of that particular mood's vibe. (All blue first, or all yellow…whatever) then I paint the "true" colors afterwards.
What tools are you using nowadays compared to your go to set of tools back in your comic book days?
DF: I've found that I still use most of the same tools, with the addition that I mix my own inks and I have better brushes. Oh, and also have found that I love to ink with brushes and brushpens. Really, it's whatever the scene or subject requires which dictates the tool (paper permitting;)).
Lastly Dan Fraga is there anything else you have that you’d like to talk about? Anything coming out?
DF: The last thing I want to talk about is other artists. Especially the ones who call themselves "aspiring": Don't beat yourself up. It's all experiments. Nothing is a failure, only a lesson for the next one. And to "aspiring" artists. If you make art, you're an artist. You only aspire if you aren't doing it. Go out and do it. One drawing at a time.
 I want to say thank you for talking with us about your work and The Grave and welcome back Fraga Boom!
DF: Thank you.

J.M. Hunter/Indy Hunter is a writer/artist/painter who's just published the 400 plus page anthology featuring over 60 contributors, BAM TOO! (The Big Ass Mini-Comic) available now at BAM TOO!

And feel free to continue the discussion over at the League boards!