Author Archives: benchoward

Advance Review: Bingo Love

IMG_3389.jpg

If you read my reviews regularly, you might notice that I have a certain preference for the type of comics I read. Usually, my choices are dark stories involving serious themes ranging from trauma to war. Because of these preferences, I mostly read horror, dark fantasy, or crime dramas. Despite this preference, I have explored other genres, such as slice-of-life with Slang Pictorial. There is one genre that I have rarely explored, romance. The only one I’ve read so far is Stejpan Sejic’s wonderful lesbian BDSM romcom Sunstone. I think the lack of recognition for romance’s legitimacy are bad misconceptions, mostly societal. Literary elites tend to look down on romance as frivolous and poorly written. But why? Any genre can be either good or bad based on the story’s quality. Romance is a chance to explore love and bonding in ways other genres can’t when it’s simply a subplot to the larger narrative. Also, what’s wrong with reading something that makes you happy? Why not escape into a fictional story about two people finding true love, adoring each other, and having a fantastic adventure of joy?

Which brings us to today’s review of Bingo Love by Tee Franklin, Jen St. Onge, Joy Sann, Cardinal Rae, and Gisele Lagace. I didn’t know what to expect since this was my first black queer romance, but I’m happy to say it turned out to be a beautiful, albeit short, reading experience.

Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray are a queer couple that first met when they were teenagers during the 1960s. They fell in love but were separated by bigoted family members, then forced into unhappy marriages with men. Over 50 years later, they reunite at a bingo tournament, the same kind of tournament they first met in. They realize this is fate bringing them back together, but first they must come out to their families and deal with the fallout. Only true love can guide them to eternal happiness.

If you love the description of the story, buckle up! You’re going to love it even more after I’m done talking about it.

IMG_3390.jpg

The cover by Gisele Lagace is not as flashy as other comic covers I have seen, but it succeeds in a task way more important, which is advertising the contents of the story. We have three images of the couple, Mari and Hazel, together in different stages of their lives: teens, old age, and advanced old age. We see them together, embracing, looking at each other like they’re the whole world. Bingo balls fall all around, the title of the book in the upper left-hand corner. We know by looking at this cover that this is a romantic story spanning different stages of two women’s lives. We know somehow bingo is going to play into this. Most importantly, the positive feelings the cover inspires attracts the reader to the title. It’s perfect.

The first thing to grab my attention was the interior art. Jenn St. Onge’s character designs are diverse with unique hairstyles, body types, and facial structures. Readers might notice a good number of characters with similarities, but that’s largely because of the fact the majority are family members. Actually, it’s refreshing to have an artist know that family members are going to look similar to each other, particularly how children are a combination of their parents with features from both even if they resemble one parent more than the other. I love that people in Bingo Love have wrinkles, stretch marks, folds of fat and muscle, sagging breasts from age and breastfeeding, and other such tiny details. It adds a level of, if not realism, relatability to a style that’s otherwise cartoony.

Joy San’s coloring is fleshes out the art. She not only gives characters their unique skin tones, she renders the entire comic with an unnatural brightness. This is not a negative criticism but a compliment because this type of coloring heightens the emotions of the book to surreal, dream-like qualities. It’s like escaping into a fantasy realm of intense love. This is no more apparent than in splash pages. Many of them are used during the most intense moments of romance, such as here:

IMG_3391.jpg

The coloring and character expressions are both fantastic and relatable, capturing the intense joy one feels when in these moments. It truly feels like a fairy tale come true. This includes scenes of family spending time with each other, grandparents hugging their grandchildren, siblings socializing with each other and their in-laws. My favorite is this splash page of a dinner table:

If I weren’t a vegetarian, I would’ve immediately cooked up this exact meal after looking at the image.

All this said, I found that the most romantic moments were quieter scenes, gradual multi-panel sequences showing the build up to an embrace or kiss. The reason is that the quietness allows emotion to linger, to slowly, like a wave, grow with each splash. This is much more intense than the payoff. It operates on the polar opposite, yet same line, that marks great horror.

The mastermind behind the story is Tee Franklin who delivers a story that is both relatable and unique. She starts off by establishing the two main characters so well. Hazel Johnson is plus-sized and shy, but also very passionate about the people she cares about. Mari McCray is more extroverted, a Californian tomboy that loves new experiences and very upfront about her feelings. We see their relationship in three parts: Youth, Old Age, and Advanced Old Age. The most recognizable is Youth. It starts off with the recognizable trope of Meet Cute, in which a future couple meets for the first time. The setting is a bingo tournament both girls accompany their grandmothers to, hence how bingo plays such a significant role in the story. Next time the girls meet, it’s in school, and after what can be considered an unofficial first date, they become friends throughout middle and high school.

Watching Hazel and Mari’s teen romance uses many tropes and story beats from romance that I have taken for granted over the years. There is the aforementioned meet cute moment, the first date, walking each other home from school, the first kiss, etc. I hadn’t realized how enjoyable these tropes are, the good feelings that they give you. If we must justify them on a more intellectual level, they dramatize the core of positive human bonding: meeting people, talking to them publicly or privately, and understanding them through a combination of small talk and personal anecdote. The result is an organic relationship that develops through mutual adoration. The mark of true love is being able to listen to your partner with the same attention about a new favorite album as you would a serious revelation of personal issues.

IMG_3392.jpg

Old Age does the reunion trope seen sometimes when a couple has been distant for a number of years. It’s fresh here because it is Hazel and Mari as senior citizens and not 20-30 somethings like most of the time. Along with reconnecting, they also deal with the fact they are both married women with families. Intense emotions and buried tensions surface as Hazel and Mari navigate to their eventual happy ending. Then there is Advanced Old Age in which the couple must face the reality of mortality (No spoilers). It was a truly engaging reading experience. Advanced Old Age comes after the conflict of Old Age is resolved. Hazel, Mari, and their families have adjusted to their new lives. This is the “honeymoon”, the moment the couple gets to be together and go on fantastic journeys. They get to live out their dreams once the shackles are broken. Their love is powerful even at the end. Oh, and of course, bingo is how they reunite. Bingo doesn’t serve much else than a setting for the two distinct romantic catalysts (love at first sight and reunion), but it works. Also, it legitimizes an activity often looked down upon, much like romance stories.

What made reading Bingo Love also enriching is that it is told from fresh perspectives, specifically black and queer. I can’t remember the last time since I read August Wilson where black people were allowed to interact with each other as actual humans, in churches and at home, sitting around and talking. They are allowed the same complexity and emotional range often reserved for slice-of-life stories populated solely by white people. And Bingo Love is slice-of-life as much as it is romance. It’s not just the love of romantic couples but that of families with all the baggage it comes with.

Without giving away too much, Hazel’s family find out about her relationship with Mari. They take it hard, especially Hazel’s husband James. He yells at her, they fight, and years of tension gets worse. I give Tee Franklin credit in that no one comes off as truly a bad guy. Everyone has their reasons for the way they’re reacting to the situation. Although some of it is confusing, such as with James. He gets portrayed as a loving husband and provider, but Hazel is uninterested in sex except for the times they have a child. Later it is revealed that James only ever had sex with Hazel when he wanted children. That means James was the one in the wrong all this time, but at the beginning the refusal of sex seemed more like Hazel not wanting to it because she didn’t love him, not that she was made to only when he wanted children. We do learn that James had a secret that fueled his need to find validation in having children. I won’t give away what it is, but it’s not that hard to figure out. There is a separate story online that tells his side of the story. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m eager to.

As I analyzed this conflict, I slowly realized the real culprit: a two-headed hydra of homophobia and patriarchy. The earliest hint is an occurrence that seems to happen often, a homophobe that is a hypocrite. They will go on about how much homosexuality is a sin while having their own misconduct that’s worse. It’s just a small part though. The larger societal context is not only how homophobia keeps Hazel and Mari from being happy together, but how it forces them into restrictive woman roles. They must be married to men, they must have children, must sacrifice their happiness for that of their families. Hazel becomes a housewife, even though she dreams of being a fashion designer. Mari becomes a lawyer, but many of the burdens typically dump on women remain. There is a sublime tie between queerphobia and misogyny, one that I do not believe I am knowledgeable enough to go into detail. The fact Bingo Love is able to tackle this issue while still remaining a positive story is a great feat.

I almost forgot, but there are scenes of Hazel participating in serious mental self care, something not often represented except going to support groups or therapy. There is a therapy scene, but it is very meaningful in affirming Hazel’s love for Mari. After that, there is a scene where Hazel helps one of her grandchildren braid their hair, and it brings her so much joy she is able to relax again after a fit of anxiety. It is referred to as self care, demonstrating how it comes in many forms.

My only gripe with the story is that it is so short. I wasn’t expecting Anna Karenina. This is young adult fiction after all. Brevity is key. But I do wish there were multiple volumes of the story. There were so many angles I wanted to see expanded upon. And while I have praised the characterizations of Hazel, Mari, and James, every other character is extremely minor. I wished there as much to Hazel’s children explored as much as her. We do not even get to know the names of Mari’s children or meet her husband. I wish there was more to her side of the story. Take note I bring this criticism up because of how I wanted more after reading. I could have read this title for the next 20 years and never been bored once!

The only other criticisms I have are 1) sometimes the coloring wasn’t done all the way, leaving empty spaces of white. 2) The otherwise effective narration and inner monologue captions by Cardinal Rae were confusing to tell apart at times. Although the former is all capitalized, the caption boxes are both colored yellow. It’s easy to mistake the two.

Bingo Love is a treasure of diversity, love, and joy. It brings fresh, underrepresented faces to romance and comics as a whole. Despite how short it is, one will find themselves lost in the lives of the characters, in the nuances of their personalities and journeys. With the poppy, dreamy art, the fantasy is complete. I urge everyone to pick up a copy of Bingo Love. Support these creators so they can make more comics, whatever it is they do next. Support black voices, queer voices, and love. Most of all, enjoy yourselves. This story will make you happy. We can all use happiness and love in our lives. Whatever helps people get through the day, make someone realize their worth as a person. No matter your ethnicity, gender, sexuality, physical presence/ability, mental health, etc., we all deserve love. Bingo Love affirms that right.

Bingo Love is out on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2018 via Image Comics.

Story: Tee Franklin Art: Jenn St. Onge Colors: Joy San
Letters: Cardinal Rae 
Cover: Gisele Lagace
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

(Note: My copy is a pre-order version from before the book’s deal with Image Comics).

Panels to Chords: Getting Long Lost in Music with Matthew Erman

It feels like music and comics are tying together more and more with numerous comics being influenced by music and creators releasing playlists to go along with their latest issues. That’s where “Panel to Chords” comes in bringing comics and music together for discussion.

On this episode is special guest Matthew Erman, the writer of Long Lost which is published by Scout Comics. Follow Matthew on Twitter @MatthewErman

Matthew’s Spotify playlist for Long Lost:

Ben and Madi’s playlist:

Panel to Chords: Music in Comics with Atla Hrafney

It feels like music and comics are tying together more and more with numerous comics being influenced by music and creators releasing playlists to go along with their latest issues. That’s where “Panel to Chords” comes in bringing comics and music together for discussion.

In this episode Alta Hrafney joins Ben and Maddi to chat.

Atla Hrafney is a professional comic editor and writer who can be followed on Twitter @AtlaTheWriter.

Follow Maddi @madisonrbutler
Follow Ben @ScaryCleve

Review: Coyotes #2-#3

After an action-packed debut issue, Coyotes #2-#3 had a lot to live up to. It is a dramatic book with intriguing themes of feminism and patriarchy told at a visceral, breakneck pace. Would the series improve? Stumble? The answer is mostly improvement with one significant stumble.

As a reminder, Coyotes is an action-horror-thriller-urban fantasy series written by Sean Lewis, drawn, colored, and lettered by Caitlin Yarksy, and published by Image Comics. It tells the story of Analia, a teenage girl orphaned by a ravenous pack of coyotes that target almost exclusively women and girls. She and her best friend Valeria are taken in by the Victorias, a group of warrior women that defend the City of Lost Girls from the murderous beasts. They train the two girls to become the assassins Red and Eyepatch. The leader of the Victorias, Duchess, has taken particular interest in Red (Analia). She wants to make her the new champion, although Red isn’t so sure she wants to. On their trail is Detective Frank Coffey, a newbie cop from another town trying to understand just what the hell is going on? In issues #2-#3 Red teams up with Coffey to discover the secret behind the murder of her sister, which lead into a deeper discovery of the war between the Victorias and the Coyotes. High tensions are about to peak, and Red’ strange, violent journey will only become more so.

Coyotes-Trouble

Caitlin Yarsky’s art continues to shine with its wavy, Gothic Nouveau style. Characters are extremely animated with hair and limbs in constant motion. They have noticeable muscles, fat, sag, and wrinkles. These are real bodies in motion. The costume designs, particularly the Victorias, look just as vibrant. The natural vibrancy of Yarksy’s art adds to the Coyotes as well. When they attack, the pack comes in like a wave, single file. It adds surrealism to bombastic action scenes. A large chunk of what makes these scenes work are the panel layouts: intricate yet easily guiding the eye along, giving space for action and movement to breathe instead of feeling cluttered. An improvement over issue #1 is setting. Environments have a lot more personality than they previously did, feeling like unique places instead of the most basic cultural hints of Latin American culture. The best example is the house of one of the older Victorias, Abuela. She lives in a cabin on top of a spiral mountain. The height denotes power and mystery; but the conditions of her living quarters denotes, not humility, but Abuela’s desire for isolation. She is a powerful woman that also happens to be an anti-social crone. There is something inspiring in this contrarianism.

Sean Lewis continues to deliver an action-packed story while putting more layers on the cake. Three new Victorias are introduced, the old woman Abuela and two others yet to be named. They are as strong, foul-mouthed, deadly, and complex as their younger counterparts. When Red meets Abuela, she learns a secret about her dead sister Maria. It better clarifies the mystery behind Duchess. Her relationship with Red still has an element of unevenness to it, and Duchess is not fully beyond suspicion in terms of her real plans for the young assassin, but it does complicate it. No one among the Victorias is a perfect person, which is a good thing. This comic is about complicated, broken women fighting a common enemy. They do not get along and have their own personal goals, but they will unite when push comes to shove. It is gratifying group drama, particularly in a media landscape where women teams are usually not given moral grayness.

Another intriguing story element Sean Lewis expands upon is the origin of the war between Victorias and Coyotes. Not to give away too many spoilers, but it starts after an apocalyptic event. Two powerful entities go up against each other: Seff, a gigantic member of the canine family; His opponent is a fresh take on one of the entities representing Mother Nature. Some of the origin elements are a bit absurd, which says something for a story about women and girls fighting talking coyotes. It’s not a deal breaker though, and in fact adds to the mythic tone of the series. It also builds on the story’s feminist theme, suggesting how the fight between women’s freedom and agency against patriarchy has been a long, almost mythical battle.

Coyotes-Abuela

However, the origin does have one huge blunder. Again, no spoilers, but it involves an evil corporation. This is an unsatisfying twist. First, evil corporations are such a lazy trope. Usually, there is not even a good reason for them being evil, or at least nothing about corporate culture is fully explored to show just how evil it is. Nope. Just call a group a corporation and Bam! they are considered evil. In fact, the two prominent figures of the corporation are so cartoonishly evil they might as well be twirling mustaches. In Coyotes’ defense, the series does have an over-the-top, Tarantinoesque tone to it, particularly the dialogue. Everyone sounds like a badass. Coyotes does set itself up for this tone early on in the story, and considering some of the absurdist things Caitlin Yarksy draws (Abuela at one point uses a scifish rocket launcher) perhaps makes the over-the-top corporate villainy fitting.

The real blunder of the evil corporation twist is that it makes the Coyotes too much of a concrete threat. What’s most horrifying is not what you know, but what you don’t know. If we have knowledge about why something terrible happened or why someone is terrible, then we can formulate a reason. A reason provides comfort for even when you don’t stop the horrible event or people. To have no reason, to never truly understand why evil exists, is much more terrifying. Being vague as to why men are suddenly wearing pelts to turn into coyotes to prey on women would have been fine. Much like a fable, the comic’s narrative worked on a visceral level where the reader doesn’t comprehend everything, but knows somewhere in their gut that it speaks truth. Ironically, the reason could’ve been summarized by a line Seff tells the corporation: “It is simply who you are. You will always kill what you can get away with.” If coyotes represent patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and male privilege, men choosing to become them symbolizes how these concepts are so ingrained in their heads they think it’s normal. There doesn’t need to be a reason beyond that. Evil corporations are just too grounded and scientific an explanation to match the mythic subject matter of Lycanthropy. In my opinion, horror is most effective when–in true Lovecraft fashion–science and reason fail when faced with great, incomprehensible monstrosity.

Coyotes-Victims

To the corporation’s credit, it does add its own thematic significance to Coyotes’ feminist narrative. Tying corporate greed to patriarchy suggests how it is a manufactured idea, one to maintain a power structure of men over women, even to the point that women must suffer. Men suffer too, of course, something the book does explore. It will be interesting to see how later issues may break the evil corporation angle out of its generic shackles.

One last observation is the character of Detective Frank Coffey. In my interview with the creators, Sean Lewis explained how he wanted a Frank Miller type character that would be useless. In this regard, he has definitely succeeded. Frank Coffey is your typical no-nonsense cop with a chip on his shoulder. He smokes a lot and talks like a good ol’ macho man. However, he is always fumbling in his encounters with the Victorias and the Coyotes. If he’s not getting his butt whooped, he is being outperformed by them, especially Red. However, to Coffey’s credit, his narrative has a satisfying angle of becoming a better ally. That doesn’t mean he unlearns his toxic masculinity, at least not yet. But Coffey seems to be naturally inclined toward helping people. Even though he doesn’t fully understand the Victorias, he has enough common sense to realize that they are the only ones capable of facing the Coyotes head on. Like so many characters, Coffey defies expectations. He is as complicated as anyone else.

Coyotes-Coffey

Coyotes #2-#3 are fantastic follow-ups to the debut issue. It contains the same action-packed, engaging plot coupled with dark and vibrant art, while adding layers: some great, others mixed. Personally, what keeps me reading the series is how much I feel invested in the characters. They are some of the most complicated, multi-layered I’ve read since Lewis’ previous book, The Few. It’s them more than any other aspect of the plot that explores the larger themes of feminism and patriarchy. Through a human perspective, they show how hard, frustrating, and yet necessary these discussions are to dismantle harmful power structures. Plus, teen girls with katanas get to slay werewolves. That’s a good enough reason to stick around.

Story: Sean Lewis Art: Caitlin Yarsky Published: Image Comics
Story: 8.0 Art: 10 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with FREE copies for review

Coyotes Interview: A Chat With Sean Lewis and Caitlin Yarsky

Recently, I wrote a review for the newest Image series Coyotes, a violent tale of girls and women getting revenge on the ravenous beasts that terrorize them. The miniseries is brought to us by Sean Lewis and Caitlin Yarsky, two amazing creators working in perfect sync with each other. They took time from their busy schedules to talk to me about the series, the inspiration for it, themes, art, and a wee bit of nerding over other comics which I’m always down for.

Ben Howard: Let’s start at the beginning. Well, not the beginning beginning because that would take too long. Let’s talk about the beginning of Coyotes. How did this idea develop and when did you guys meet up to execute it?

Caitlin Yarsky: Well, Sean came to me with the idea and script already pretty fleshed out. I had submitted a couple sample pages of my personal comic to a company’s Facebook page, and that’s how Sean found my work. He sent me an email asking if I’d like to collaborate, and I jumped at it because the story was amazing and I was able to imagine the world and characters right away.

Sean Lewis: I had written the first issue sometime around the run of Saints. It was before I had written The Few. Most of the time if an idea starts in my head as an image I 69c63825861183.5634be1816125know it is a comic book, if it starts as dialogue I usually turn it into a play. I just had an image of Red, this teen girl with a Katana blade. I had done some research for a play commission about women going missing in different parts of the world and the way the information was formulating itself in my head was very metaphorical. The big one was looking at Mexico and “Coyotes” who smuggle people across borders (and who often times can be menacing and predatory). I started to think what if the Coyotes in this book were coyotes. Werewolves. But with a Southwestern spin. I did research on werewolves after that and realized that men had been tried in the past for being werewolves and hunting women and other victims. They often claimed to be werewolves. Typically, a pelt is what transformed them. Once all that info got in my head I was off and running. I wrote the first issue and then needed an artist who could bring a story book quality to the book. Who would be able to really deconstruct some of the form of a comic book and could offer a feminine perspective, counterpoint and eye to the proceedings. I spend a lot of time going through Behance and Facebook and Twitter looking for undiscovered artists or artists interested in comics but from other fields. Caitlin was from video game design but I found some sequential art samples on a Facebook page and then wrote the entirely awkward “I found your art online and this is for real” email. This all happened about two years ago. We immediately started talking design and world and building the book from there. It’s actually been very cool and organic and we both have seen each others’ abilities grow so much since we first started the day dream part of this book.

BH: Nice! It’s interesting to me how both of you came from non-comics fields. Sean, you’re originally a playwright. And, Caitlin, you came from illustration and game design. What is it about comics that attracts you both?

CY: I think illustration inherently works so well with storytelling and can bleed into a lot of other fields, like animation, film, game design, comics, etc. I’ve made comics on my own since I was a kid but never did anything with them, and never knew it could a viable career path. But once it clicked a few years ago that it was possible, I focused all my energy into that field. I’ve always loved imagining what characters and worlds from my favorite books would look like, and often imagine “shots” or “panels” when reading a fantasy or sci-fi book. It’s just a really thrilling challenge to try and create a visual world for a story that resonates with me.

SL: I’ve always just loved comics. I mean, I never knew how you actually got a job writing them. I remember writing the obligatory letter to Marvel in my early twenties while living on my uncle’s couch. You know, the one that says “I’ve been a life long fan, I’d love to write/how do I write comics?” Needless to say I still haven’t heard back. I wouldn’t have been ready at that point, anyway. I think comics are really important. I really love them as a form and I am really curious how the form can be pushed and what new things can happen. I mean, they’re still this tactile entertainment. You hold it in your hands (unless it’s digital, I know, I know) and there is this fascinating magic that happens as you turn each page. It really still does hold that sense of joy that flip books did when I was a kid. And you can literally create myth and metaphor. In theater you can really create reflections– all you have is dialogue to create a context and a world– so the default is realism. Because we live in realism we can accept it in the theater more easily. Comic books, man, you can go anywhere. You can make a story that is truly larger than life in the hopes that the story will help you understand the world a little more. You can say, “I feel so isolated and alone. I want to talk about depression but in a universal way. So… what if a boy lived on the moon?” And suddenly people understand you and others better. The metaphor brings us in. I mean, for me, all my writing comes from me trying to understand what I believe in. What I feel?  I have a lot of surface opinions–if you ask me a social or political question I’ll give you an answer from my gut. But there are times where I sit back and I say “what do I actually believe or think about this?” Stories let me discover that. And I think we need myth now. Because there is a lot of noise. So much noise. So much anger and rage. So many people digging in their heels and yelling, refusing to interact, listen, progress. But we all like myth. We all like zombies and werewolves and space stations and human beings trying to survive and trying to be better. I feel really lucky to be doing comics. It’s really connected me with the kid who devoured Preacher and Sandman in 8th grade. It’s reminded me how much I needed those books. I think I need these books again.

BH: What about Image– especially you Sean since this is your third project with them– made them the ideal publisher of the book?

SL: Well, Image is the only place I’ve worked at this point. They’ve just always shown such faith in what I was doing. I think Eric Stephenson and his staff really love comics in general but they also really believe in taking risks, in trying to push the form forward and seeing what a comic and a creator can do. I’m obsessed with slow burn novels, old horror movies, surreal foreign films… I mean Coyotes itself has influences as wide ranging as Kurosawa and Tarantino to the Brothers Grimm and Susan Sontag. Image is the kind of place you can say all of that and then add: “there are werewolves!” And they get excited. I think that trust also works well for me because I’m really focused on the arc of a book– the full journey and not the month by month sales. They get that and support that. The freedom they offer is just unbelievable.

BH: Let’s get into the actual story. I remember in reading previous interviews you did Sean is that a lot of what inspired Coyotes are women that have disappeared, either never being found or later found and meeting devastating fates. It feels like this story is coming from a place of anger, of a need for cathartic relief and rebellious hope. I know that you said the coyotes are inspired by human traffickers, but for me while reading they represented violence against women as a whole, particularly patriarchal violence. But that’s just me. What do you think you and Caitlin are saying with Coyotes and contextualizing it through both story and art?

SL: I think that’s incredibly astute. The intellectual start was research I had done for a play and stories my wife had told me. But the emotional drive of the book has been angry. And I don’t know why. I mean, recently Weinstein and other current news make it seem obvious, but Caitlin and I started this book two years ago. I think I’ve felt anger around me in general. Anger about gender. Anger about guns. Anger about race. About poverty. About beliefs. The Few started from an intellectual look at that anger but it became about belief. This twisted in a different way. Once I had the primal image of the Coyotes-1_preview.jpgcoyotes/werewolves, I think that did something. It made me think of the minor ways that boys are taught to be aggressive– How many movies tell boys if a girl says no to a date they should keep trying until the girl realizes how special he is? It’s a lesson in self value but can go awry and become all about getting what you want, not giving up. I fell in love with Red while writing it because she’s like a new day. Post-post-everything in a world where political correctness and the illusion of safety are eroded. How does she make her world? The wolves are angry at a world they lost, the women at one they’ve had to endure. Something new has to come out of it and sadly rarely does anyone get what they want.

CY: I definitely tried to convey Sean’s idea that these coyotes represent violence against women, often drawing the coyotes as a sort of wave when they come into the story. It is meant to feel like a flood of unstoppable aggression coming from all sides, an inescapable force of nature. I also tried to push the characters’ feelings of helplessness, shame and anger after the attacks, which I think is something that will resonate with readers.

BH: That part about them coming in waves is a great artistic quality I didn’t even think about. It also reminds me how much I love the narrative style of Coyotes. Visually, it reminds me of a fairy tale but mixed with horror and hardcore action films like Kill Bill. It’s interesting how much these real world issues are being filtered through genre. They’re disturbing, yes, but somehow makes it easier to swallow. Do you think that fantasy and fiction was the best way to face these issues head on? Perhaps something with a much more satisfying outcome than realism could provide?

SL: Oh, absolutely. And all of the things you mentioned are direct influences on the comic. As a writer, genre for me is kind of like a dress. The theme, the philosophy, the politics, the relationships: those are the body of the story. They are the arms, the legs, the beating heart. In the end, they will be what grabs you, what makes the story run, what lets the audience care. Genre is what I dress it in. The Few was about belief, how and why human beings believe in what they do but that was dressed in sci-fi. Coyotes is about how we define and degrade human beings- how we demand value in the face of that- dressed in horror. Genre, it kind of gives the audience a loophole. I mean, we see it. It’s hard to talk about anything of actual social importance anymore. We are angry. We are divided. Saying this is a meditation on politics of any sort gives no entry way to the reader, right now. They say: “I know what I believe and fuck you.” Genre, diffuses it. “I love horror but I hate politics, so maybe I’ll try it.” And then when you read it (hopefully) you get interested in the people. Politics are just people. We forget that. We’ve let politicians and mouth pieces and networks turn it into some larger than life abstraction, a catch all– politics as a villainous other.  The Latin of ‘politics’ basically means “as relating to the citizens.” Or, as  I like to think it, “how does this effect the people?” I love people even though they scare me. And most political issues confuse me. They are very complicated. Each book for me is an exploration of what I believe. And hopefully for the readers too. And even for myself, I need it dressed up.  I need a werewolf to let me engage with it in an honest way, right now.

CY: It’s a little ironic, but wrapping up real world issues in fantastic settings helps people see those issues more clearly and objectively. We carry around so much baggage and bias when faced with social and political rhetoric that looking through another lens can cause you to empathize and think differently. That’s one of my favorite things about sci-fi and fantasy.

BH: It’s a good thing that you talk about how people are politics. I certainly see this in the cast. Red, Eyepatch, Duchess, all these women are uniquely designed and detailed, each with their own unique voice and style. And I find it funny how women like Duchess and the Victorians dress so proper yet curse like sailors. What was the creative process for you and Caitlin in bringing these women to life?

SL: Hahaha. It was pretty great. Caitlin and I are close in age and we have a lot of the same touchstones: Sandman and Tank Girl are two of the biggest ones. Is it weird to say we just wanted to go “a little bananas”? I had this idea that the women in the train station dressed in Victorian garb. That was in the initial document. Most of my first drafts are very gut. I usually have no idea what’s going on, but it’s all images and characters and chaos that I’m excited by. And then as I get into plotting the rest of the arc/story, I use those initial reactions to dictate what threads I need to follow. Caitlin is amazing. I mean, at this point people have seen her art, but as a collaborator too, I knew from her work that if I gave her space with these gut ideas I had that she would turn them into something really amazing. The Duchess was the first Victoria I saw. I had wanted a parasol, that’s all I remember. And when I saw her in this full garb I was in love. There was something weirdly punk rock in my mind about this stark violent world and a group of warrior women dressed so proper, so covered, so formal. I always loved that juxtaposition. Collaboration wise, we talk a lot. We’ve been working on the book for awhile now. Lots of emails, lots of Skype, lots of messenger. But we really are on the same page and trust each other. We show each other the early work in our discipline and we listen to each other. I think that’s been my experience on creator-owned books. It’s like raising a child. You both are invested and so you have to both be on the same page, trust and get excited by what the other is doing.

CY: I think Sean’s description of the Victorias actually informed the design aesthetic ofVictorians.jpg the rest of the world, which seems backwards but worked well for us. It freed us to design everything in a surreal and anachronistic way, not totally tied to reality. We went back and forth discussing comics, films and books that inspire us until we landed on this steampunk/vintage feel for the characters that became ubiquitous throughout the world.

BH: Red is our protagonist yet also the most elusive person. She sometimes seems to be plotting her own course, other times just a shell to act out the Victorians commands. Why did you decide to choose a child as a protagonist and how would you define her?

SL: I think her being a child is part of her contradictions. I wanted someone who is at the beginning of their individual thought. As the book unfolds, characters will be revealed as different arms of feminist and capitalistic thought. And they will all want to influence Red. The Victoria’s are one militant wave of thought. They’ve been hunted enough and want retribution now. They will force change. They will not be victims. We will meet characters in conflict with this and then we will have Red. Red is discovering– in a fucked up and violent world that has taken so much from her– who she really is. I think that’s what I want from comics though it might make me an outlier. I don’t believe in fully formed heroes. I want to see people become the best version of themselves. I want to see that struggle because I live that struggle.

Red

BH: I definitely agree with you on preferring half-formed characters that evolve, Sean. Protagonists that already have everything just seem boring to me. And the greatest impediment on Red, on all the girls and women in this story, are the coyotes. Fairy tales and horror stories (both similar types of stories if you really think about it) often feature beastly antagonists, often male-coded, which can offer great commentary on gender such as you’re doing right now. My personal theory is that they’re a commentary on toxic masculinity. What is your thought on the type of commentary the coyotes represent?

SL: I think toxic masculinity for sure. Predatory behavior. I had a weird moment a few months ago. I was in a hotel and I was flipping through channels looking for something mindless and fun and I saw Wedding Crashers was on TBS. And I was like well this should do it…and it kind of hit me just how toxic that movie is. Guys go to weddings and prey on the emotions of women there, they lie to them and then have sex. One of them eventually feels bad about it. It made me think about other films I grew up with. I love 80s movies. Like old school B-movies but also lots of John Hughes. And so many of those movies are about guys who have crushes on girls who aren’t interested in them. And the people around them keep saying: “Don’t worry about her saying no. Don’t stop at that. Try again. Win her.” And we root for that. We have been taught that. It’s complicated because it’s a cultural thing– and if it’s cultural it means everyone is either to blame or there is something innate in us and how we live that demands it. I’d hope it was more choice than nature. But I also think there is a lot of inward looking. There was a time in my life where I loved Wedding Crashers and howled and laughed mindlessly at its premise. Now I don’t at all. So what does that mean? These men in Coyotes putting on the pelts– is it solely that they want power or is there something deep within them it brings out that they know is there? To me, that is the real horror in the book.

CY: Toxic masculinity is a spot-on description. The coyotes evoke a sense of dread that makes the characters afraid to go out at night, to go anywhere alone. They are that ever present threat of violence women face around the world. And the Victorias are a visceral reaction to this threat; they offer a simple solution to a complex problem (the one that exists in the real world I mean), and hopefully that brings some catharsis to readers.

Coyotes

BH: Let’s talk about the setting. In your previous books, Sean, you captured the American landscape through two separate but equally relevant lenses. With Saints, it was religion. With The Few, it felt like modern political tensions. But here we have a setting that’s south of the border. Aside from the ties to coyotes, what else about the setting did you feel fit the story?

SL: I was really interested in places where we allow bad things to happen. Where we know that violence, murder, and chaos happens but we willingly turn a blind eye. It could be Central and South America or any third world country on the planet. I did a theater project in Rwanda. And I was amazed at all the international businesses there. My friend, who was Rwandan, said “they came after the genocide. They can do whatever they want here and they can do it cheap.” That idea stayed with me. We accept some places are dangerous. We accept that people disappear in some places. I obviously wanted to explore gender and I wanted it to be in a desert. An empty canvas. A place that can be bought and sold. A place abandoned by law and decency. A place where we are left to our own devices to become as good or as bad as we are.

BH: I haven’t even mentioned Detective Coffey yet, and he was the character that took me most by surprise. At first, I thought he would be just another obstacle for Red, another patriarchal unit of control. However, the backstory you guys wrote about him after the main story revealed more about him. How do you see him fitting into this narrative about women fighting monstrous men?

SL: I wanted a Frank Miller character who would be utterly useless in this world. I grew up reading hard-nosed detectives who were uber-masculine and took control of a room, broke some rules and everything would be solved by them. I liked a character like that, who we would assume we knew what to expect from, who is then thrown out of joint by the world he finds himself in. I think he is my dad and my uncles and sometimes even me in our current landscape. He is an idea of manliness in a world that rejects their need for him. I thought that would be interesting. What do you do when everything you grew up with– all the reinforcement, all the lessons, all the things that have told you how you are supposed to behave– suddenly disappears from underneath you. It’s a necessity but it’s jarring.

Coffee.jpg

BH: Excellent. I can’t wait to see how this series unfolds. Let’s wrap things up with two final questions. What do you hope for in the future for the series?

SL: I hope we can do it for some extended period. Indie comics are hard. Books about the world are hard. A book about women hunting male werewolves with samurai swords is also hard. The people who found Saints are amazing. The people who found The Few are amazing. I feel really beholden to them. And to this form. I think comic books can really do some amazing things. They can let us deal with real world issues in metaphor– so we might actually deal with things we feel uncomfortable with. Clearly, I am proud of Coyotes. Caitlin’s work is amazing. We have a lot planned but like all indie books you cross your fingers that you’ll get the chance to play them out.

CY: Working with Sean has been incredible– his writing fires up my imagination so easily. I feel kind of spoiled by working with him because our process is so collaborative and open, and I have a lot more control over the direction of the art than I ever have in the past. The fans have also been really amazing and seem excited about what we’re doing, which makes me more excited to keep going. I hope we get the chance to take this story as far as possible.

BH: Final question, what comics do you two recommend, both for pleasure reading and for aspiring creators to learn from?

SL: Oh, man. It’s such a well spring right now. I’m in love with Black Hammer by Jeff Lemire. I am also digging Kyle Starks’ work (Kill Them All). Rosenberg’s 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank. For aspiring creators, I’ve learned a lot looking at how Brian Vaughan lays out Saga. Just his page counts and the general rhythm of each issue. Y: The Last Man has really nice structure to it as well. Lemire I think is as good as anyone if not better at showing just how far a comic can go. He breaks a lot of so called rules in paneling and layout (I do too) but his books really are imaginative in new ways. He has found a way to really bring existentialism and loneliness into comic books in a way I love. Hence, I like the straight up humor employed by Starks as a counter balance. Also, read some damn books and some plays. Comics kind of marry every writing genre into one. So don’t read just comics. Check out Junot Diaz for character. David Mitchell for world building. August Wilson, Caryl Churchill, and Tony Kushner for dialogue.

CY: Most of my recommendations are established staples in the genre, but they definitely had the most influence for me and taught me a lot. The Sandman got me into comics when I was in college. His (Neil Gaiman’s) storytelling was so different than anything I’d seen before, and he builds worlds like nobody else. Hewlett’s Tank Girl is amazing, he knows exactly how and when to break rules and go more stylized with his characters. Mignola’s Hellboy is brilliant, and his use of negative space to create a mood is unparalleled. He lays out the art not panel-by-panel, but designs with the whole page in mind. And like Sean, I’m a fan of Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’ Saga, as well as Paper Girls and Y: the Last Man.

Coyotes is available at Image Comics.

Follow Sean Lewis on Twitter.

Follow Caitlin Yarsky on Twitter and check out her blog.

Review: Coyotes #1

I’ve been following Sean Lewis’ work since his debut at Image with Saints, co-created by the exceptional artist Benjamin Mackey. I also recently reviewed every single issue of The Few Lewis co-created with Hayden Sherman. I love Lewis’s knack for choosing the perfect artist to fit the content of the story and writing so viscerally as to challenge the reader to make sense of it. Caitlin Yarsky I’ve only recently learned of but already love her art given its gothic nouveau style: loose, picturesque and curved lines with a dark color palette.

In summary, Coyotes is the story of a girl named Analisa. She lost her family to a roaming group of coyotes that target mostly women and girls. She and her friend Valeria a.k.a Eyepatch, are taken in by Duchess and the Victorians, a powerful group of women. They run the City of Lost Girls, a sanctuary for women lost, abused, forgotten, and cast aside by the world. Analisa has vowed revenge upon the coyotes, and so Duchess trains her to become the assassin Red.

Coyotes starts off with a straightforward opening. A police officer, Detective Frank Coffey, enters a crime scene, a cabin out in the middle of a desert. It’s full of corpses, mostly women and children, but also a few coyotes. Analisa is the lone survivor, standing in the middle of the carnage covered in blood. This opening, and the entirety of the comic, is masterfully executed. Yarsky’s loose shapes move from one panel to the next so effortlessly it feels like an animated sequence. Most of the panel layouts are boxed, rarely breaking into paneless collages except a few times. However, each page always visually strikes you and stays in your mind even if you can’t recall parts of the story. It’s the type of visceral reaction that happens so rarely in comics, but when it does you just know the feeling, like for a moment you were absorbed into the pages and felt inside the world instead of looking at a mere sequence of static images.

Coyotes01-03

Before this, Detective Coffey drives by a field fenced by towering red crosses. Red is a reoccurring color in this series, from the blood to the red lettering that appears (infrequently) in Analisa’s dialogue. Like most of the story, it’s not yet clear what the significance of the color red is–aside from being Analisa’s codename–but will probably play a larger thematic element later in the series.

After the introduction, the next page opens to a flashback. These sequences are where the story starts to get tricky. Right after the first flashback of Analisa with Duchess, explaining to her the need to forget the past or be killed by it, another flashback opens with Analisa with her mother and older sister Maria. Double flashbacks are tricky to pull off. They can cause confusion with the chronological order of events, making it frustrating for the reader to progress. Fortunately, a second read clarifies things and the reader gets, if not a whole, in general how Analisa went from a poor small town girl to an assassin for a hidden city. It’s not like you’ll need to go back multiple times armed with an encyclopedia of subliminal messages.

When the story does start coming together, it’s quickly evident Coyotes is a feminist tale. Much more than just ravenous animals, the coyotes are metaphorical representations of patriarchal violence. The women they target most often are free-spirited and non-conformist. The women prefer going out at night to work or have fun rather than staying at home as domestic servants. It’s only hinted at, but the coyotes’ nightly attacks are so frequent, they’ve become urban legends, scaring women into staying home. It’s this reason the City of Lost Girls is at war with the coyotes. It’s a war over women’s autonomy which they’ll fight to the death to preserve.

Much of how the story is written resembles a fairy tale. Analisa is a young, naive girl facing off against beastly antagonists that have gain urban legend statues in regular society. Duchess and the Victorians are like Analisa’s fairy godmothers, wiser, older women that instruct her on how to defeat the coyotes. Caitlin Yarsky aesthetically adds to this fairy tale structure with fitting visuals, particularly how her dark color palette creates a gothic undertone to the picturesque magical realism and invokes a sense of danger underneath.

The edgier, more violent tone adds an action element to the story, a somewhat grindhouse feel with buckets of blood and swearing. It’s a fusion that at times can seem contrarian, especially when Duchess and the Victorians, women that dress properly and convey a sense of hierarchy, curse like sailors and host parties involving lots of drinking and dancing nude. At first, I found it confusing but the harder I thought about it, the more it made sense with the idea of these women being complex people.

Autonomy for the Victorians is not just being able to go out at night. It’s about being your own person, to not fit neatly into one type of woman but a multitude that cannot be pin downed. In other stories, having beautiful or finely dressed characters spit out curse words would seem like pointless shock humor, but here it actually drives home the point that women should be allowed to act like actual human beings, which often involves behavior that is contrarian, inconsistent, and most of all difficult to understand. It’s not an element in fiction appreciated because readers tend to want more consistency in order to have a structure that leads to a satisfying conclusion, but it is something that can add an element of relatability and authenticity to characters that would otherwise be genre tropes.

This complexity isn’t always a positive though. There are hints in the comic, culminating in a splash page more frightening than even the coyotes, alerting the reader that the Victorians’ plan for Analisa isn’t for her benefit. All the empowerment she’s receiving might be just to shape her into a better pawn. This seems to undercut the feminist narrative, but I had to defend it on several counts. One is that being complex people, the Victorians are as capable of evil as they are good. They are united in a fight to end patriarchal violence but willing to manipulate someone to do it. It’s unclear if that decision is based on true malice, blind desperation, or whatever. Perhaps it’ll be explained in subsequent issues.

Coyotes01-06

Another reason I have to defend it is how much it adds to Analisa’s character. There isn’t much yet to her aside from being a traumatized victim turned into an almost robotic killing machine. She currently acts according to what older people tell her. It’s an uneven power relationship, and I have to again give Yarsky credit to how she visually represents this. Duchess dressing fanciful while Analisa dresses either plainly or in her uniform hits at, in the worst sense, a master/servant dynamic. This is also true of how Duchess always seems to be towering over and talking down to Analisa. However, Analisa isn’t that naive. She is started to get a sense of not being in complete control over her destiny. Analisa wants to be more, for herself and her good friend Eyepatch (Eyepatch has yet to grow as a character too).

I think Analisa struggling to grow as a character and currently a blank slate for others to filter their agenda through is another underappreciated element in fiction. It’s something that far too many children go through because they’re condescended to by adults. They’re feelings and opinions are not taken seriously. This can even happen in circles that are meant to empower the marginalized. It doesn’t have to be a cynical situation though. Kids are much smarter than given credit, and it’s satisfying story arc for a child to evolve as their own person even without adult support or approval. I can seen Analisa growing as a person in the future. Her relationships, complicated or positive, are going to fully form how she turns out in the end.

As much praise for all the story elements I’ve given to Coyotes, it’s not without reservations. The biggest one is how too vague and esoteric the writing can often be. I expected this much from a story written by Sean Lewis. Like I said earlier, he writes in a visceral way that forces the reader to critically think about the story presented to them. Unfortunately, Coyotes seems to go by too quickly. After reading the first time, I felt dazed and confused. This was very different from reading The Few in which I had an easier time processing the first read through. In that series defense, each issue was double-sized, beyond the typical 20-24 page count. At some point, telling a story on a visceral level can too far, and the cerebral part in which a reader processes the meaning can be muddled. I understand there are works of art where this work, but maybe not so much for a monthly comic series.

Finally, I have to nitpick the setting. Unlike Saints and The Few where Sean Lewis made environments just as much a standout personality as characters, the setting of Coyotes has one as much as a postcard. I feel like a lack of familiarity with it might explain why. Perhaps Lewis and Yarsky have taken trips and been to Mexican or South American locales, but they seem to go more with generic cultural signifiers. It could also be a lack of interesting design. I remember how Yarsky draws characters more than settings save for two.

With all that said, the emotional core of Coyotes remains intake. I highly recommend the book based on the visceral impact the story has. It’s not just the terrifying sequences of the coyotes’ rampages, or the bloody fights between them and Analisa. It’s the anger, not a pitiful anger, but an anger that clearly wants justice and revenge for the wrongs committed against women. It’s not anger all the time, there’s also hope and joy. Particularly two scenes of women celebrating, one in the diner where Analisa’s sister works, the other one of the Victorians’ aforementioned parties. While the story might be lacking at times, the emotions it wants you to feel will stick.

I highly recommend Coyotes. It’s story is a little too vague at times, but has strong visuals, interesting themes, and an emotional impact that will stick. If nothing else, it’s got a little girl killing monsters which never gets old.

Story: Sean Lewis Art: Caitlin Yarsky
Story: 8.5 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Kid Lobotomy #1

Kid Lobotomy #1 is the launch title to IDW Publishing’s new Black Crown imprint spearheaded by ex-Vertigo editor Shelly Bond. It is even written by Vertigo alumni Peter Milligan. The book certainly reads like many of the imprint’s flagship titles: familiar genre tropes subverted, an emphasis on dramatic build up over instant gratification, grimy atmosphere, and references to non-comic book arts. Kid Lobotomy is attempting to be an audacious debut. The result is a mixed bag.

The art of Kid Lobotomy is by indie superstar Tess Fowler and industry veteran Lee Loughridge. Fowler gives the book a DIY, punk aesthetic. Characters and environments look rough and grimy. Fowler also shows to be more than capable of drawing horror scenes, mostly larger-than-life insects and humans transforming into ghastly ghouls. Lettering by Aditya Bidikar highlights the intensity of these scenes with striking lettering. Lee Loughridge adds gritty, yet almost neon colors to the art. A common criticism of the early Vertigo books were their constant use of a grainy coloring scheme that made scenes limited in their palettes. However, given the weird, perturbing story Kid Lobotomy is telling, it fits here like a glove. Fowler and Loughridge combined is like a low-budget, artsy grindhouse film, particularly for fans of Subconscious Cruelty (2000) and We Are The Flesh (2016).

KidLobotmyimage1

Fowler uniquely designs each character that still share a particular fashion. They have piercings, detailed tattoos, unconventional clothing, and dyed hair with outlandish designs. These are recognizable in various youth groups, particularly those with an emphasis on art, music, and rebellion. It’s a welcoming modern look to a medium where many artists seem unaware of how much fashion has changed. It also works perfectly for Peter Milligan’s writing. He often focuses stories about characters from unique subcultures, referencing their literature, music, film, and other arts. However, in Kid Lobotomy, Milligan sticks to older subculture icons such as Franz Kafka and Derek Jarman. While they’re certainly influences on many modern artists, the lack of references to any of said artists is confusing. What about Screaming Females? The Safdie Brothers? Certainly Milligan can mix what is going on now with what came before. Otherwise, having characters that look modern but only reference 20th-century arts is disingenuous.

The story itself is, also quite typical of Vertigo, a genre mash-up. In every advertisement of Kid Lobotomy thus far, it is described as a combination of Shakespeare’s King Lear and Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Like King Lear, the title character is a young man being forced to take over his father’s kingdom except it’s a hotel called the Suites. The elements from Kafka involve giant bugs, mental illness, and metaphors of isolation. There also seems to be a Dexter element going on in which Kid Lobotomy literally performs “new lobotomy” on people to eat the unwanted part of their brains to control his schizophrenic illusions.

The genre mashing, while amusing, doesn’t seem to have a real purpose. A bunch of ideas are introduced, but none of them paint a whole canvas of exactly what Kid Lobotomy is about. Is it a tale of mental illness? Crime? Family drama? Preacher, The Unwritten, and The Sandman are all titles that similarly mash genre together but have a pretty clear picture of what their major themes are. At the moment, Kid Lobotomy does not. It struggles to do a proper introduction of the various story elements and expanding them enough to have a clear, precise goal of what it wants to say. This is the opposite of Peter Milligan’s past work, such as Greek Street where the combination of Greek tragedy and crime drama clearly told a story about how history repeats itself.

The struggle might stem from the unnecessarily convoluted story structure Milligan employs. Kid Lobotomy #1 starts off with a dream sequence, then to where the story is presently, then a flashback, then the series of event that lead to the present, and a few more scenes afterward. That doesn’t sound hard to follow, but Milligan’s narration is all over the place, uneven in how much exposition to drop or keep vague. It reflects a bad habit from Vertigo of stories trying too hard to be clever and becoming confusing for the reader. It’s not bad to challenge a reader to understand the meaning of a story, but they should still have an intuition of what it’s about and learn more by critically thinking. Confusion should not be a tool as such to induce this type of reading because it can prevent an intuitive spark.

What saves Kid Lobotomy’s narrative are the characters. On the surface, the core three characters seem stockish: Big Daddy, the shrewd, “family comes first” father figure; Rosebud, the femme fatale; and Kid Lobotomy, the rebellious young son that wants to be a unique individual. There are unique quirks to each of them. Despite his appearance, Big Daddy doesn’t seem all that bad. He’s more shrewd than cruel, insisting that having responsibility over the hotel will help Kid with his mental illness. In fact, Big Daddy clearly cares about his son to the point he spent a lot of money to save him. His flaw is in not realizing how much Rosebud feels neglected, not to mention ignoring the fact she is by far more qualified to run the hotel.

KidLobotomyimage2

Rosebud is quite manipulative, her mission being to drive Kid even crazier so she can take over the hotel. It’s hard to really hate her given how much she has been loyal and helpful to her father. Kid suddenly getting the hotel despite all Rosebud’s hard work is a major blow to her. She at least has a clear motivation beyond evil for the sake of it. Kid Lobotomy isn’t a selfish, annoying manchild as often is the case. Yes, he did drop out of med school to pursue a doomed career in music, but he doesn’t seem to hate his family. Also, he is oddly well read and his obsession with Kafka helps him contextualize his mental illness in order to deal with it. There is also incestual tension between him and Rosebud, often leading to sex acts such as a handjob. From the looks of it, Rosebud is dominating Kid, something he sometimes resists and other times embraces. This will no doubt be the most problematic element of the story, and hopefully Milligan will have good enough sense to at least keep it appropriately complicated. There are several other side characters, but the only two that stand out are a shape-shifting maid and two little girl ghosts. It’s hard to pin point them as characters given they’re either background or just reacting in ways that push forward Kid’s journey.

Two final nitpicks are that Milligan should write a little less dialogue and narration. Fowler and Loughridge’s art is strong enough to visually communicate information to the reader. The cover by Frank Quitely, which good for what it is, is too clean and realistic for the interiors’ gritty punk style. Also, while it is impressive the title logo has a 3D look, it is rather distracting and feels dated, something from a 90s action flick. On the Tess Fowler cover, it is completely out of place for her style.

Kid Lobotomy #1 is a mixed bag of a debut issue. It is visually strong while containing a potentially engaging narrative bogged down by flaws of pacing and development. There is still room for improvement next issue as ideas and characters are expanded upon. At the very least, Kid Lobotomy #1 shows that Black Crown publishing aims for comics that critically engage the reader.

Story: Peter Milligan Art: Tess Fowler, Lee Loughridge, Aditya Bidikar
Story: 7.0 Art: 10 Overall: 8.0

IDW Publishing provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Panels To Chords #1: Queer N’ Roll with Kim & Kim

Welcome to the second episode of Panels To Chords. We’ll be talking about our song choices for the summer 2016 hit from Black Mask Studios. Joining Ben and Madi are Elana Brooklyn and Logan Dalton, fellow comic critics at Graphic Policy and elsewhere.

KIM & KIM

Writer: Magdalene Visaggio, Artist: Eva Cabrera, Colorist: Claudia Aguirre, Letterer: Zakk Saam, Editor: Katy Rex, Covers: Tess Fowler w/ Kiki Jenkins, Devaki Neogi.

“Kim & Kim are twentysomething besties out to make a name for themselves in the wild world of interdimensional cowboy law enforcement. In a massive “screw you” to their parents and the authorities, they decide to hijack some high stakes bounty — and end up in way over their heads. Kim & Kim is a day-glo action adventure that’s bursting with energy and enthusiasm. It puts queer women and trans women front and center, with a story that embraces the absurd alongside realistic pathos.

“Blending the punk exuberance of TANK GIRL with the buddy adventure wackiness of SUPERBAD (if Michael Cera was a trans woman and Jonah Hill a queergirl partner in crime), Kim & Kim focuses on the power and meaning of female friendships as engines of validation. A bright, happy, punk rock sci fi adventure that is queer as shit.”

–From Black Mask Studios’ website

 

 

Megacon 2017: A Trip of Errors Part 4

Goodbye For Now, But Not Before Some Goodies

After the LGBT panel, I had just enough time to make it to the Publishing Comics In The Digital Age panel hosted by Benny Powell and David Campiti of Red Giant Entertainment. Before going into digital comics, Benny Powell told the audience his story of breaking into comics. The old way was that you had to go to a convention like Megacon, of which there were very few. If you were an artist, you needed a portfolio of your work, and it needed actual sequential pieces. Pin ups wouldn’t (and still don’t) cut it. Powell met legendary comics professional Archie Goodwin in a Dallas convenion looked through Powell’s portfolio and asked about one story he did, what script was it? Originally, you would base your sequentials on a currently published script provided by the publisher. Powell decided to take the oddball approach of using an original story.

Goodwin, in the best backhanded comment ever, told him, “you ever thought of becoming a writer instead?”

“Well, have do you become a writer?” asked Powell.

“Oh, it is infinitely harder. Typically, you get an internship which is unpaid, go to New York which is very expensive, do it through college, so you’re taking out loans to work for others. That takes you on the path to becoming an assistant editor. You work there for many years and try to submit some stories. You might make it to editor and hire writers to be assistant editors because that’s how they get the gigs.”

“Oh. Wow, how do you get started.”

“No, kid. I’m offering you an internship at DC.”

Even knowing what he would go through, Powell signed up for the internship and was set on leaving for DC during the Summer semester. Unfortunately, he developed a medical condition. Turns out Powell was allergic to the state of Oklahoma. He called up Goodwin saying he needed to go the Spring semester instead, only DC didn’t have one.

“You like Marvel, kid?” asked Goodwin.

“Um, yeah,” said Powell.

“Give me five minutes.”

Being a big name at both DC and Marvel, Goodwin was able to call up Marvel and they had a top internship available during the Spring semester. Powell took it and was surprisingly able to write stories while interning to become an editor. David Campiti’s story was similar except that the professional he met was Julius Schwartz and ended up writing for Superman. The point of their anecdotes was to illustrate to us the audience that we are infinitely luckier. Thanks to the Internet, comics publishing has expanded beyond publishing houses like DC, Marvel, etc. Anyone can make a comic as long as they have the dedication and talent.

Powell and Campiti started giving advice, the first to figure out what kind of creator you are. Writer? Artist? Both? Campiti said that don’t worry if you’re a traditional artist. You can make traditional art than scan it to put online. There is also 3D art, photography comics, digital painting, etc. At the same time, you have to determine if you want to do comics on your own or collaborate. Even if you’re not the best, you will improve by doing. And with digital, there’s nothing you can’t do.

Powell went into greater detail with collaboration. There are two types: 1) Work-for-hire where you own the property 100% while the hired person does the work you want them to do by paying them money out of your pocket. 2) A collaboration where you share ownership with someone else, whatever the percentage ends up being should be fair. Never do a pseudo work-for-hire where it’s like “if we make money, I’ll pay you.” If you have a pet project you don’t want to give up, put it aside and try a new project first. Make a second comi you don’t mind sharing as much. Never have just one thing. If you’re a writer, you should be bubbling with ideas.

Campiti added that, online, your stories can be about anything. There’s no big publisher editor deciding your story is not trendy enough for the market. Campiti read a wonderful webcomic about a teenage girl that got braces and her life went to hell in a handbasket because of it.

Gee, that sounds familiar.

Now, the question was where do you find someone to collaborate with? There are many websites for these things, but the two Powell suggested are Deviantart and Digital Webbing. Deviantart is well known as a site for artists of all mediums to post their work for free. I know that collaborations can happen this way because Tom King, in a previous article, told a panel about how he found Barnaby Bagenda, his artist on The Omega Men, via the site. Digital Webbing is an old school forum-based talent agency for comic creators. One time Powell posted a work-for-hire position, and he got back 56 replies from artists. He went with a team from China and produced over 25 issues of a series.

Campiti advised the writers in the room, including me, to be ready to work with artists that learn on the job. That means bracing yourself for mistakes they cannot fix. Your finished project might not be the best out there, another good reason to put those pet projects in the drawer for later. Besides, you will be making mistakes as writer. That’s okay though because you will learn, lessons on what to do and what not will be drilled into your head. The goal is making the comic.

On the subject of script writing, Campiti said there is no set format. On his website, Glass House Graphics, there is a section with 9 samples of plot and script format, plus action sequences. All of them are diverse, but the point is to communicate clearly with the artist. Do not show off on panel description, particularly details about a scene that will not be visible. No “the night is dark with the air of death and blood.” Just “the night is dark” will do fine.

Powell went on to talking about host sites for your webcomic. You can do your own, programs like Squarespace are available. But for beginners it is easier to go to a publisher house. There is Comics Genesis, Comics Spider, etc. Google “free webcomic publishing.” You can eventually move into your website once you get a hang of it. While publishing, pick a steady, consistent frequency to upload that works for you. Once, twice a week is good. Don’t go overboard or too slow. Working ahead of schedule also helps.

You should wait until you have at least 20-30 pages ready to go for exercise before sending it out in the world. That way you have enough content to publish. Then go to forums and start showing it off. You will find an audience. While doing that, Powell talked about using ad networks to help further expand your outreach. He suggested Project Wonderful which is an ad network program that only charges a few cents a day. You can even collect ad revenue, just keep in mind it won’t be much.

Another important part of webcomics is networking. Advertisement, posting on forums, social media are all important. Powell also suggested that inviting artists to do guest comics is a great networking tool and vice versa. Yes, it will probably be for free or work-for-hire, but it can draw a new audience.

Finally, the most important of all this: Money!

Powell said having an audience is great, it’s what drives in the money. There is monetizing through ads, but that only goes so far. Print collections of your webcomic can bring a ton of revenue. Kickstarter is a great way to fund such a project and you can pre-sale online. There are also publishers like Red Giant where webcomic creators come to them for printed versions. Don’t do it though until you have an established amount of content and an audience that will be willing to buy. You can also go to places like Comixology and Top Folio for digital revenue. Powell concluded by suggesting everyone check out Red Giant’s new imprint, Absolute Comics Group which is a way of finding and giving back to new creators with money.

The Q&A segment began afterwards. The first question was what webcomic host sites would Powell and Campiti recommend? They suggested Keemspot because they’re helpful bringing in a new audience. They send announcements to their registered readers recommending new webcomics to read. On the question of if it’s a good idea to use multiple sites to host your webcomic, they said to stick to one so it will be easier for an audience to find you. Also, you don’t have to wait a certain amount of days to wait to start putting up ads. Start on day one. As far as the idea print comics are declining, Powell said it’s more likely collected volumes will become more popular than single issues. We’re already seeing that right now. Campiti pointed out it will also depend on changing in distribution. The monopoly of Diamond Distribution on the direct market needs to end because it reduces the medium to a niche market. It used to be you could get comics in a lot of different places, but now it’s mostly comic shops you have to go to. Also, price needs to be reduced because $4 for floppies is too much.

I learned a lot from this panel. It’ll be good information to use when I venture into making my own comics online. Afterwards, I collected more autographs (I learned nothing) and checked out more small press comics. I also took pictures of cosplayers, two of my favorite being Mary Poppins Youndu

and myself with Death.

I didn’t get to Red Giants booth, but I’ll be sure to check them out online. I left the con an hour or so later and had dinner with my friends. We all had a busy, exhausting day, but were bummed the con would be over tomorrow.

Sunday, May 28th, last day of Megacon. There isn’t much to tell about this day. It was dedicated mostly to collecting last minute goodies and saying farewell to friends. I stopped by the booth for Famous Faces & Funnies, my favorite comic book store from Melbourne, Florida. The owner, Rick Shea, is a good friend of mine. We caught up and I purchased a few graphic novels. I found out from him that John McCrea was at the con. He is the artist of titles like Hitman and Section 8 with my favorite writer Garth Ennis. I quickly snatched the first trade to Hitman and got McCrea to sign it. We didn’t get to talk much, but he was a pleasant man. Afterwards, I headed up to the entrance of the con and waited for my friends. Jeff and Sean showed up a few minutes later. Matt was late, but only because he picked up a Blu Ray copy of Godzilla: Resurgence.

We checked out of the hotel, packed up, and travelled back to Jacksonville–with a segue to Boston Market. Megacon 2017 was an interesting trip despite all the mistakes I made. If anything, it’s just part of learning to be a better writer and comic journalist. I want to thank Matt Oldham, Sean Mckenzie, and Jeff Gwinnup for coming with me. I want to thank rising comic stars like Sorah Suhng and Tee Franklin for their friendliness and insight. Thanks to all the comic professionals for autographs and fun panels. Thank you to Megacon and the Orange County Convention for giving me a press pass and setting up this wonderful event. I don’t know if I’ll go back as a reporter next year, but this will continue to be the most excited time of the year for me.

Megacon: A Trip Of Errors Part 3

Too Much Of A Good Thing Can Be Bad

In reference to the subtitle above, I had two incidents where this was true. The first started in the morning with a hangover I hadn’t experienced since New Year’s of 2015, which is a bad thing considering that I was so drunk I threw up in a nice car and passed out in the bathroom with my pants down. This did not occur in the hotel room I shared with Sean, Matt, and Jeff. I was snugly in bed, but with a throbbing headache I might as well have slept on concrete.

With a headache, spinning vision, and nausea, I made my way slowly to the fridge, eating cherry tomatoes and drinking water in hopes it would curb the dryness of my mouth. Later, this would backfire as I regurgitated my snackings in the toilet. Forcing myself out of the John Wick suit, I replaced it with my John Constantine cosplay. I got “into character” and skipped showering. Hey, at least I brushed my teeth. Today was Saturday, the busiest day for any convention, and my plan was to get more signatures from comic pros, particularly Jason Aaron and Dan Slott. After that, I would stop by a panel about breaking into comics digitally.

Outside, the heavy trench coat added to my woes as I sweated like crazy due to the Florida heat. Combine this with my headache and sensitive eyes, I feared the trek to the Orange County Convention Center would be hell (Hey, that would also be in character). As though a God send, a taxi stopped by and picked up the gang. Well, me and Matt anyway. Sean and Jeff were smart enough to go on ahead without us. It was a complimentary ride from Megacon, and the driver was a very nice gentlemen, so the ride turned out pleasant.

At the con, I rushed onto the floor. Starting around 11:00 AM, Jason Aaron would be showing up for autographs. Aaron is best known right now as the writer of Thor, but I’m a bigger fan of his creator-owned works such as Scalped, Southern Bastards, and The Goddamned about crime and the effects of traumatic experiences on people. I brought a trade of The Other Side, his miniseries with Cameron Stewart about two men from opposite sides of the Vietnam war slowly driven insane by the chaos around them. I waited in line eagerly, but bad things were taking place inside me. I could feel bile rising to my throat. I was getting ready to puke, and the urge got stronger as I approached closer and closer to Aaron. The feeling reached its peak at the front of the line. The Megacon staff guy asked me if I was okay? I told him no, that I felt like I was going to be sick and if I could quickly step out of line real quick? He told me yes, but I would have to go to the back afterwards. I was mad. What the heck, dude? I wait all this time and you don’t have the courtesy to at least let me back in my spot? I was determined not lose it. I took several deep threats and stayed put.

I managed to make it to Jason Aaron without puking. I was hoping to chat him up a little, tell him how much his work means to me and how great The Other Side is with his interpretation of the Vietnam War as a Lovecraftian entity that drove the people experiencing it mad. Unfortunately, I was pretty pale and shaking. I think Aaron could tell and was weirded out, so he kept things brief. I managed to get my signature and not puke on my hero, but at the same time I felt embarrassed for getting into such a crummy state. The first error of the day, and the lesson I learned was not going crazy with alcohol.

After Aaron’s signature I headed over to my friend Sorah’s booth. She was working on commissions but had time to talk. I told her about the hangover of which she felt bad even though I promised it was my fault for not keeping track of the drinks. After we finished talking, I got in line for my next autograph with an eager, mischievous grin. The next comic pro was Dan Slott.

Aside from Graphic Policy, I also happen to write for a website called the Outhouse. If you’re new to comics journalism, the Outhouse are muckrakers that hunt down awful things happening in the industry and bring them to light, much to the bane of professionals and publishers alike. One of our sworn enemies is Dan Slott, current writer of Spider Man and Silver Surfer. He has received criticism for being abrasive on social media, going so far as name searching himself and arguing with strangers. At one point, Slott got tired of seeing our criticisms and decided to block everyone associated with the Outhouse, including me. This was no great loss to me. I’ve read his work and have a mixed opinion of it. His Spider Man writing is boring, Silver Surfer is okay but borrows heavily from Doctor Who, and the only work of his I’ve enjoyed is Renew Your Vows, a miniseries about Peter Parker being a loving father and husband. You know, what fans want to see him as instead of a Tony Stark clone. However, when I learned he was going to be at Megacon, I could not pass up the opportunity. As far as I knew, he had no idea who I was and blocked me randomly. So, I brought my copy of Silver Surfer sign for him to sign.

As it turns out, Dan Slott was a nice man in person. He greeted me with a smile and signed my copy of Silver Surfer. I mentioned how it read like Doctor Who, and instead of being mad admitted how much he borrowed from the franchise. In fact, he mentioned how producers of the Doctor Who television series were fans of the comic. We exchanged a handshake, took a photograph, and parted ways on a friendly note. I was pleasantly surprised by this exchange. Perhaps the impersonal nature of the Internet causes people to be nastier than they would in person. I showed the gang my signature and we got a laugh out of it, but they were also glad Slott turned out to be cool.

IMG_2481-1

Suddenly, I got a call from a friend of mine, Stephanie, who was attending the con. She told me that in 10 minutes there was going to be a panel on LGBT themes in comics. There was a similar panel the day before but I forgot to go. I decided this was something I wanted to attend and rushed over to the panel, just barely making it on time.

Leading the panel was Marc Andreyko, a comic book writer with quite the number of titles in his portfolio including Manhunter and Wonder Woman ‘77. He is also an openly gay man and the project organizer behind Love is Love, an anthology benefiting the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, America’s deadliest mass shooting in history that specifically targeted the LGBT community. Joining him were fellow LGBT comic creators, artist Cat Staggs ( artist of Crosswind, Womanthology), her wife, writer Amanda Deibert (Wonder Woman ‘77, John Carpenter’s Tales For A Halloween Night) accompanied with their baby daughter Vivian (so cute), artist/writer Phil Jimenez (Superwoman, Fairest), artist/writer Tana Ford (Silk, Duck), writer Tee Franklin (Nailbiter #27, Bingo Love), colorist Jose Villarubia (Sweet Tooth, American Chavez) and artist/writer Dee Fish (Finding Dee, The Wellkeeper).

After introductions were made, Marc Andreyko started the panel with mentions of the anthology’s success and how 7 foreign countries have asked for translated editions. Andreyko especially loved how there was next to no editing for each of the short stories. Yes, there were spell checks and typical tweaks like that, but no creative interference. The stories came directly from the creator’s hearts. Even so, Andreyko praised the editors on the book, two of whom volunteered for the book despite having 13-15 monthly titles on their plate. Without them, or the readers, the book would not exist.

The questions asked were kept short and simple, allowing the panelists to give some truly great answers. One young man talked about how he has to constantly argue with his LCS (local comic shop) to have more titles with women and queer characters in them. He asked if those types of characters are reasons certain segments of the market won’t buy them? Even though they hoped that isn’t the case, all the panelists agreed that those type of consumers shouldn’t matter. Andreyko stated that honesty matters the most, doesn’t matter if a character is gay or straight, black, Jewish, etc. If a story rings true to human experience, people will enjoy it. That’s why he doesn’t start with a social identity with a character. He figures out the type of person they are who so happens to be these other things. It’s also important to have diverse experiences for marginalized characters or they just become a cliche. He gave an example of a gay character from a show called Happy Endings who is socially awkward, overweight, and has trouble getting dates. He has friends that complain the character isn’t a role model, and Andreyko agrees but he relates to him so much. I believe his point is to write characters that are real and not negative stereotypes or didactic caricatures.

Tee Franklin jumped in on this conversation by discussing the creation of her graphic novel, Bingo Love about two grandmas that fall in love. A lot of questions asked of her on the creation of the book was “why?” With that kind of reaction, she knew it wouldn’t be published at Dark Horse or Image, so instead Tee took the idea online and was able to find an audience for the concept and get the book successfully funded via Kickstarter. “If someone doesn’t want the story, they don’t have to read it. I’m not making it for them, I’m making it for the people that want to read it. I’ve had people come up to my booth and cry because they say that their grandmothers are gay, or one girl said ‘I want to get your book but I can’t because I’m hiding from my mom who I am, and I’m afraid she’ll find it.’ You’ve got to know the people whom you’re writing this book for, and if someone doesn’t like it screw them, it doesn’t matter.”

Phil Jimenez brought up how human experience isn’t universal, so he tries to write about very specific experiences. Although you do find from those specific experiences some universal patterns: looking for love, for confidence, for family, somewhere to belong, etc. Sometimes it takes exploring a specific experience outside of what we regularly see in media for universality. He tries to fill his stories with as many different people from diverse backgrounds as he can and is lucky enough to have worked with creative executives who are looking for that kind of work.

Dee Fish brought up when she came out as trans in a Webcomic of her’s that is oriented to a younger audience, Dandy & Company. She did a scene where she came out to the main character, Dandy, and was afraid of what would the reactions were going to be. “It went amazing! I had more people reading the comic and became more deeply invested and tried more of my work because they learned more about me. And if there was anyone really angry at me about it, I never got a letter or anything about it.”

The subject of queer erotica came up and someone asked if it should be considered just as essential as other media or if it’s holding the community back. Andreyko stated yet again good work is good work, including smut. Also, just because a storyteller is mostly known for smut doesn’t mean they can’t branch out to other types of stories. He brought up the mangaka Gengoroh Tagame who is mostly known for explicit gay erotica but recently came out with an all ages book called My Brother’s Husband, about a single father who’s brother has died and his Canadian husband comes to live with him and his daughter in Japan.

Tana Ford admitted that she has mixed feelings on this subject. Can people who don’t want diversity point to gay erotica and keep queer people in a ghetto because “Oh, they’re disgusting.” On this point, Phil Jimenez says that queer comic creators should decide how much they want their work sexualized. Keep in mind, the term queer does not mean gay sex. He uses it as a broad umbrella term for people that are outside of cis and heteronormativity. He theorizes queer people internalize this fear of their sex lives because culturally there has been pushback of openly expressing them. “The interesting part about the title Love is Love for me is it’s not just about who we love but who we’re attracted to. Who we want to build lives with romantically but also want to be with sexually.”

Amanda Deibert chimed in this is why she’s pro gay smut. If straight people get to enjoy it, queer people damn well have a right to it. Not everyone enjoys smut, gay or straight, but they don’t have to read it and the queer community shouldn’t have to be responsible for the uncomfortable feelings of non-queer people over their sex lives. Besides, if they have those type of feelings then they’re already against LGBT rights. Jose Villarubia brought up how he learned that a good number of his female art students are into gay boy-on-boy romances. So, even then straight people can be into gay erotica as well. It all boils down to having good work no matter what it is.

The Q&A got serious when a young trans woman asked if all the different labels for various queer identities muddled things? The reason she asked is that she had a bad experience going to her LGBT council center. After coming out, she got 30 death threats, had a huge drop of friends, and, worst part, was turned away by a clerk at the center for not being gay or trans enough. Andreyko told her to found out who turned her away because what the clerk did was unacceptable and should be fired. He confessed to not having the same struggles too many LGBT have had on coming out because he had incredibly accepting family and friends. The thing to do is look for like-minded people offline and online. They are out there and you will find acceptance.

The final questions of the day came from my friend Stephanie who asked what tropes the panelists would like to see disappear from comics. This prompted Tee Franklin to laugh out loud. “Oh, we ain’t got time for all of them, sweetie.” What Tee wanted to see less of was the tendency to portray black people in constantly negative light such as crackheads and criminals. Tana Ford wanted the trope of killing of queer characters to stop. Let them live, please. Marc Andreyko wanted the gay stereotype of a witty gay man with no relationship but highly apt at fashion go away. For Phil Jimenez, the idea all queerness is through a white cis male’s perspective. POC queer characters shouldn’t exist as just the significant other of the white queer protagonist. Let there be POC couples. Amanda Deibert was happy that at least the trope of the lesbian going back to the man has seemed to disappear completely.

After the panel, many of the audience members went over to the young trans woman to comfort her and show their support. Andreyko went over to make sure she was all right. It was a great panel that reaffirmed my belief that diversity in comics is important. The one thing I regretted was not having focused more on Love is Love during my time here. In fact, Megacon had a big showcase of it, including an art display and party that night. I didn’t go because it would have cost too much money, but I still felt guilty I didn’t find more opportunities to write about it. I think this was because of my focus on autographs. Error #2: Focusing too much on autographs can lead to missed opportunities. Make sure to find other opportunities.

 

 

 

 

« Older Entries Recent Entries »