Author Archives: GCBTs

Review: Through the Habitrails: Life Before and After My Career in Cubicles

habitrails_coverAbout a month and a half ago, a fellow reviewer wrote a positive appraisal of Nicholson’s Habitrails.  After reading his review, I wanted to access our digital copy to read it for myself, but for whatever reason I procrastinated, and never got around to it. Then yesterday, while picking up my stack on new comic back day–as I do every Wednesday–I also grabbed a hard copy of this graphic novel (after seeing it on the shelf, and having my memory jarred).  I read it on the train ride home from work.  That was a good thing, because, let me tell you, it would have sucked reading this on the morning train ride to work.

This well-produced paperback edition, by Dover Publications, partially collects the original graphic novella1, with a foreword by Matt Fraction (read it), a literary and academic introduction by Stephen R. Bissette (I highly recommend you do not skip it), and an afterword by the author (yes, read  that too). habitrails 001 1Bissette, in his introduction, categorizes this work as horror. I, however, was not horrified, but rather disturbed. Nicholson’s existentialist bitter and nihilistic novella metaphorically captures some of the darker moments of my own early work life. I’d like to think that my experiences are unique, but Nicholson shatters that illusion, and shows how eerily similar our corporate mandated work experiences are.  

Bisette in his introduction makes comparisons to Kafka, but I’d sooner compare it to my paltry Camus readings (The Stranger and Myth of Sisyphus)–our hero perseveres, despite of all the shit that is heaped up on him.  In the introduction and afterword, we learn that Nicholson, in his earlier years, tried to distance himself from this confessional work; but over time he has reclaimed its habitrails 003autobiographical aspects. In the end, he appears to have come to some sort of acceptance with a life best lived, than none at all.

The early chapters detail our younger faceless no-name hero’s beginning post-college work life in graphic design, for a “progressive” corporate slave master, who employs gerbils–housed internally in clear plastic tubes (thus the habitrails) within the dark gray corporate office space–as motivational empaths.  We watch in despair as he passively gives in to dehumanizing company cubicle life, and his creative juices are sucked out via corporate authorized neck taps. In dark inked black and white stupefying pictorials, together with Chad Woody’s singular lettering, we witness our faceless doppelganger live his life, and ours.

In later chapters we see our barely functioning hero navigate the absurdity of work-life friendships and relationships, under the numbing influence of alcohol and drugs.  He tries habitrails 002 (1)to escape, and for a brief moment almost succeeds, only to be betrayed, and led to the contemplation of suicide. This is followed by disastrous financial choices, marriage, divorce, and marriage again. In the end, there is no end–only acceptance. Our hero accepts life, and makes the best of it. This does not make for a wholly satisfying happy ending. At best it is a realization, one you may or may not agree with.

Myself, today, I am not so nihilistic (and in my younger years confess to have possessed the dubious faculty of positive self-delusion). There are a few of us who are lucky enough to be able to monetize what we enjoy doing, and work at a job we love. Others, unfortunately, fall on the left side of the bell curve, and toil at a hateful thankless job, trapped by a variety of circumstances that psychologically prevents them from moving forward; but most of us, I speculate, are able to find a job in our later years, that although we don’t love, is tolerable enough with like-minded peers, who together muster the strength to work through the day. And if you’re lucky, it also provides a modest income that allows you to raise a family, and support a side job or hobby you love, to make up the difference.

This is not an uplifting read, but nonetheless I highly recommend it. As Bissette urges, I would not read it on a Monday or the day before–nor on new comic book Wednesdays for that matter, since afterwards you will be in no mood to read anything else.  Find an empty slot midweek, lock up any firearms, keep some antidepressants on hand in case of an existential spiritual crisis, and cuddle up for Nicholson’s literary graphical trip down the “black spiral” of corporate mandated life.

Story: Jeff Nicholson  Art: Jeff Nicholson  Letterer: Chad Woody
Story: 9.1  Art: 9.1  Overall: 9.1  Recommendation: Buy


1At the publisher’s request it excludes the confessional story ‘Cat Lover’, lettered by Nicholson himself and not by Chad Woody, which was deemed to interrupt the flow of the current version.

Rattler Signing with Jason McNamara at JHU

RattlerCoverIf Jason McNamara reads this, I hope he forgives me for being a bit rude earlier. I went to Jim Hanley’s Universe (JHU), got my sig, a photo op, and quickly left. Usually I try to chat it up for a few minutes; but it was one of those days. I didn’t want to miss my early train; and I still had to get back to the office, pack my stuff, and make it to Grand Central Station on time for my two hour ride back home to the ‘burbs. Thanks to McNamara for being gracious.

If it’s any consolation, The Rattler (a graphic novel that originated through a Kickstarter campaign, and is now available in print through Image Comics for a mere $14.99) was the first thing I read (even before Batman #50) out of my stack, on the train ride home. After I was done, 45 minutes of my ride was over, and I was wide awake–disturbed, but awake. No way was I going to nap after reading that.

rattlerpictMcNamara and Greg Hinkle have produced a black and white pictorial horror fest, with splashes of nightmarish blood reds to bring the violence to the fore. It’s a frightening, and agitating, vicarious literary bloody thrill of a story.  The narrative centers on Stephen Thorn, a man obsessed with finding his lost love. So much so, he destructively channels all his energy and newfound wealth to find his kidnapped fiancée. It probably doesn’t help, that as he searches in vain, he becomes a bitter cynical writer who advocates for crime victims.

The violence in this book could only have been dreamed up by someone with way too much leisure time on their hands–a violence inspired by true events. I mean, I’d kill for love too; but damn, I’m not gonna kill ’em two or three times over. Dead is dead.  I just hope that these two find success in their work, and can continue to vent their anger through their art.  Buy this book, if only to support them through their writing and drawing, and to keep them in check … or just buy it because it’s a good dark murderous read.

Review: Clandestino #2

CLANDESTINO #2 1If Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino were to get together and produce a love child, then little Niko, a.k.a. Clandestino, would be their offspring. A Latin Rebel with many causes, Amancay Nahuelpan’s Clandestino is on a mission to rescue his woman, and bring down General Kapala’s fascist regime–that is, if the Nationalist Paramilitary Police don’t kill him first. All I can say is who needs cojones, when you got a handful of grenades.

With 1970s flair, and over the top violence, Clandestino shoots his way into the General’s military prison stronghold to rescue Leena, his childhood sweetheart. With the Koyam (their faction of the rebel army) decimated, all Leena and Clandestino have left is each other, a car, and some guns. Eliminating all resistance with martial impunity, the Latin Dynamic Duo shoots its way out of prison.

Amancay’s panel work is non-stop vivid sequential action. My only complaint is that despite the twenty-eight pages, it was over way too quick. Gratuitous violence splatters across the pages, as the two now try to reach the rest of the other rebel groups. Driving across the fictional country of Tairona, they encounter a deadly threat. In the way of their desperate road trip stands General Kapala—suspiciously looking like a technologically enabled Pinochet—and his elite squad of samurai sword wielding hit men.

The dialogue is blunt and terse, overladen with invectives. Spartan in their communications with each other, the rebel couple seamlessly and violently works together to escape … maybe.

Story and Art: Amancay Nahuelpan 
Story: 8.5 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

Black Mask Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Samurai – The Isle With No Name #1

samurai-comic_1_covera_frc3a9dc3a9ric-genc3a9tI picked up Titan Comics’ ‘Samurai – Isle With No Name’ first issue this past Wednesday. I wished I had done a little investigation prior, because as I was reading it, I noticed I was missing something from this noble warrior’s tale. Later, I learned, this was a European bestseller from Soliel (a European imprint), brought stateside by Marvel, and now back in print via Titan Comics. Nonetheless, the current iteration is still approachable, and serves as a good jumping point into Takeo’s story. For now, I’ll make do without the first four volumes.

First off, the artwork is amazing. The layouts are extremely intricate, detailing lavish bucolic Japanese island settings; and the complex and multi-variegated scenes capture the vibrant colors and life of feudal Japan. Cinematic action sequences spray across the panels with whizzing, blood curdling, swordplay reminiscent of Frank Miller’s ‘Ronin.‘ If you can, pick up the alternate cover with Mack’s impressionistic watercolor rendition–it’s beautiful.

The story is good, but not original. Regardless, it is enjoyable, and compelling enough to keep my interest. It’s a mishmash of Kurosawa’s and Sergio Leone’s lone warrior themes—the subtitle ‘The Isle with No Name‘ should have been my first clue—with a distinctive European style, as it flips back and forth across three intertwined stories.

Takeo, our magical sword wielding Ronin hero, is on a quest to learn more of his brother’s secrets. Meanwhile, another Samurai makes his way to the same Island, as an enforcer for a feudal overlord, coming to collect the annual tariff. Every year the islanders must pay tribute should their champion(s) fail to best the Lord’s contracted warrior tax-collector. To make matters worst, the island natives fall prey to a yearly plague that makes its appearance in coincidence with the annual tax. Alongside the two Samurai, we are introduced to a loving old couple: a caring wizened old man whose sickly wife lies near death. How it all connects, I surmise, will be revealed in future issues.

Story: Jean-François Di Giorgio  Art: Frédéric Genêt 
Story: 7.5 Art: 10 Overall: 8.00 Recommendation: Buy

Titan Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Raygun #1

coverI love old school sci-fi. The writings of Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Asimov, and Lester del Rey kept me out of trouble during my formative years; and to this day I get a kick out of reading some of those old stories from the 50’s and 60’s that envisioned the future I live in today. For the most part, to tell the truth, they got it wrong–if anyone, Philip K. Dick, has proved the most prescient. Nonetheless, these stories captured something of the dark, but full of potential, human spirit that continues to stumble blindly across our earthly universe.

Gregory Shoen and Alonso Molina‘s Raygun is the best of both worlds. It is a sci-fi comic book story set in the present world, with classic undertones, supported by real world characters from our scientific past.

In the first issue, Tesla, in a last ditch effort to protect his most prized, and possibly destructive, invention; sends it to the future where perhaps a more enlightened human species will better understand its possibilities.  Little does he know that despite our advances, our proclivity for destruction has remained the same.

Next, enter stage left, comes Matthew, our troubled middle school aged hero, who transfers to a new school after coming to live with his estranged father. Being the new kid in school engenders the obvious bullying and fights, that in turn set in motion his accidental discovery of Tesla’s secret invention: a powerful destructive ray gun. The release of this new power is followed by the awakening of an older industrial icon.

If you want to know more, go buy it. It’s worth the $2.99 for a digital comic.

This was a solid read, and a good story, for what may be a promising series. It’s a light introduction meant for a younger audience; but if like me, you’re into sci-fi, then it will prove to be enjoyable. The art is rendered in black and white, with good anime style visuals (which I hope are eventually colored). I, for one, look forward to the second issue, and the fleshing out of the rest of the supporting cast–especially the nerdy side kick.

Story: Gregory Schoen Art: Alonso Molina Letters: Paolo Lopez
Story: 7.5 Art: 8.0 Overall Score: 8 Recommendation: Read

Alterna Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.

Batman’s Biggest Secret: Bill Finger’s Legacy as Revealed by Marc Tyler Nobleman

BillTheBoyWonderFrA few weeks ago I attended a slideshow tour of New York City’s Superhero Sites with Danny Fingeroth at the New-York Historical Society Museum. Thereafter, I vowed to continue deepening my knowledge of the comic book world, and begin exploring the factual stories underpinning the industry I admire, but obviously know very little about.

Yesterday, I attended a presentation hosted by the 92nd Street YMCA in New York City: Batman’s Biggest Secret: Fighting for Bill Finger with Marc Tyler Nobleman (author of Bill The Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman). Who do I spot sitting about four seats away from? It was Danny Fingeroth; a good omen that I am on the right path–sorry, I can be superstitious.

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If a year ago you had asked me who Bill Finger was, I’d look at you with a puzzled face. DC said Bob Kane created Batman (after all it said so right there on practically every front page of any Batman comic), and that was good enough for me. Now, as of late 2015, it was officially announced to worldwide fanfare, that Bill Finger will be given credit for co-creating Batman with Bob Kane; and the next film (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) will include the following credit: Created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger.

Marc is directly responsible for making this happen. His continued detective work, and dogged perseverance, unearthed the last living family relation (a granddaughter Bill Finger never knew), who was able to untangle the legal contractual web that prevented DC from finally give him his proper due for co-creating Batman.

Marc began his presentation with the statement that Batman’s biggest secret is not Bruce Wayne as a metaphor for the industry secret (prior to 2015) that Bob Kane alone did not create Batman. He then, in painstaking detail, outlined Bill Finger’s tragic tale with tear-inducing emotion, but also with a sprinkling of light humor to even out the historical narrative.

Bob Kane was an artist, and Bill Finger was a writer. Together the two dreamed a new type of hero in 1939–a costumed Dark Knight who terrorized criminals. However, as Batman grew to become an iconic global super hero, Bob Kane’s fame and wealth grew beyond his wildest dreams, while Bill Finger (whose real name was actually Milton Finger) languished in obscurity and poverty. Marc, together with artist Ty Templeton, wrote a graphic novel, about the true story of how Batman began, and the larger role Bill Finger played in his creation. The book, originally published in 2012, aspired to get Bill the recognition he deserved.

In the audience, sitting right next to me, was an older woman, who during the question/answer session stood up defiantly to defend her friend, Bob Kane. Marc, took it with stride, pointing out that he was not vilifying Bob Kane as a person or private individual, but merely pointing out that as a professional Bob enriched himself on the work of others, and did not assign the proper credit to Bill Finger.

Then later, as I waited in line for Marc’s autograph, I chatted it up with another gentleman in a red polo shirt (his name was Robert van Maanen, and I know this only because Marc had posted an interview with him earlier today on his blog). He told me how Bill Finger, his neighbor, was a very easy going, affable, person who bore no one ill will. He also told me that Bill had a collection of old comics, including original printings of Detective #27, and the first appearance of Captain America with the triangular shield. He even said that National Publications (the precursor company to DC) one time called upon Bill Finger to donate an original copy of Detective #27 for a charity sale, and he did so without thinking about it, despite how he was mistreated by the company.

This was a very emotional night for me, and I had to hold back the tears while listening to Marc’s grim historical account about Bill Finger, his friends, his family, and his ignoble passing away. At least his memory and legacy has been righted by those who pursued the truth behind one of the world’s most beloved character: The Batman.

Happy 102nd Birthday Bill, and may you have many more here on this earth, and wherever your souls rests today.

Also, thank you to Marc and Danny for showing me the way to deeper truths behind the history of comic books; and for you readers who want to know more, visit Marc’s pop culture archaeological blog (where he continues to dig into the history of Bill Finger and his relations), and buy his book, Bill The Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman (and while you’re at it check out his other works on Superman too) .

Review: Diary of the Black Widow

BlackWidowCoverAs children we are taught that evil has a certain look. The bad guy always wears black, witches are misshapen crones, and thieves are small wily creatures. We never look for the bad guy amongst our trusted friends and family. I’m reminded of a line from Mike Newell’s Donnie Brasco, when the mobster Lefty in a state of paranoia scolds Donnie, “When they send for you, you go in alive, you come out dead, and it’s your best friend that does it.”

I, on the other hand, have learned that Evil is a looker. She has a beauty that rivals that of Helen of Troy. His blue eyes outshine those of Narcissus, and his rock hard countenance matches that of Adonis. Her weapons are sleek and beautiful. His blades are made of silver, with golden hilts. Her guns are well-crafted oiled machines of deadly recoil. True psychopaths are not dorky, vile, or sniveling beings. At their best they are fully functioning charismatic aristocrats at the top of the ruling class, with murderous powers of impunity; at their worst they are ordinary looking killers, hiding amongst us common folk. They can be the neighbor next door, or a favorite aunt or uncle.

Bret’s psychopathic Black Widow is such a person. She is extremely beautiful, and she’s known it since birth. She realizes at a very young age that she has the “powers of persuasion” that can help her in her “life’s work.” Showing a total disregard for laws and social mores, she guiltlessly dispatchers lovers for financial gain. Her innocent tale of woe is repeated, ad nauseum, to the point of absurdity—and if you think such a thing can never happen in the real world, then read Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City for an eye opening reality check.

The Black Widow’s diary continues its murderous autobiographical account, until finally someone does notice; and therein, lies the tale. Can the Black Widow continue to murder unabated, without fear of punishment? Bret’s dark and simple inks move the dark comedic story along, with uneasy satire. If you listen hard enough, you can almost hear the Addam’s Family finger-snapping theme song, as you read through the basic black and white funny pages. You’ll chuckle nervously with amazement at her surreptitious ability to kill, and then, suddenly, you’ll just stop. You’ll know why.

Story and Art: Bret M. Herholz Lettering: John Shaver Cover Colors: Rori Shapiro
Story: 8.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 8.0 Recommendation: Buy

Alterna Press provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Voracious #1

VoraciousCoverThis is my second adventure within the “golden era of food comics.” I already almost passed on another title in this genre because of my prejudices, and didn’t want to risk another faux pas. As I stared at the cover of Voracious #1, I wondered how can this possibly work–dinosaurs and a cleaver wielding celebrity chef–but work it does. This book is a testament to what good writing, exciting visuals, and some well placed panels can accomplish. Plus, the double sized, 64 page, first issue is relatively cheap at its $4.99 cover price.

Markisan Naso‘s story begins with Nate, a highly successful New York City budding star chef, who upon losing it all, goes back home, to a dead end diner job in Black Fossil, Utah. It isn’t too long before good fortune falls upon our hero again, and he inherits a large sum of money and a home in the mountains complete with amenities, such as a dream kitchen and a time-traveling science lab.

The supporting cast also lends drama and humor to the story. We have a Bowie Knife wielding Grandma Maribel, who is more than she seems. There’s Jenna, the long distance girlfriend who always knows best; and Starlee Parker, Nate’s new partner, who also happens to be in love with him. Lastly, there is Jim, the caring family friend. Not much is said about him, but I’m sure we’ll see more of the warrior in future issues given his Army experience.

Oh, and I almost forgot the most important ingredient: dinosaurs! There are lots of dinosaurs!  You’ll have to buy it for yourself to see how Naso puts it all together, but you should at least know that there is a mouth-watering Quetzalcoatlus Saltimboca recipe on the inside back cover that I’ll be trying out for this Sunday’s dinner (but unfortunately, I’ll have to resort to the recommended chicken substitution to cook my meal).

Story: Markisan Naso  Art, Lettering, and Design: Jason Muhr
 Color Art: Andrei Tabacaru
Story: 8.5 Art: 8 Overall: 8 Recommendation: Buy

Review: Bad Moon Rising # 5

BadMoonCoverA few days ago I said I had five to one odds on the Werewolf Biker Gang. I wish I could really have made that bet with my bookie, because I’d be going to Disney Land right now.

Bad Moon Rising #5 is pure fun, with lots of action, a good storyline, and a host of indelible characters. The visuals are on point, capturing every snarl and bone-crushing maul in darkened vivid detail. Don’t believe me? Check out the two page spread below.

In this issue, the Lunar Cyclers go out on a midnight prowl, but come up against some local resistance. The townsfolk, tiring of the outfit’s thieving raids, plan to fight back. Brimming with over confidence in their gleaming automatic weaponry, they set out to meet their most assured supernatural doom. I’d feel bad for them, but it’s not like they weren’t warned to load up with silver bullets.

Meanwhile, Hanlon, our much wiser hero protagonist, and his new teammate, a grizzled, nembutal pill popping, subject matter expert on werewolf killing, band together to put an end to the werewolf biker crew.

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So what are you waiting for? Hop on your “original fifty-seven straight leg rigid” and ride out to the comic book store. If you missed the first four print issues, good luck finding them; but hey, we live in the digital world … there are other options out there. And when you pick #5 up, don’t forget about the extras found within the 451 Burn card.

Story: Scott Rosenberg Adapted: Brandon Easton Pencils: Ty Dazo
 Colors: RV Fuentes & Raymund Lee Letters & Inks: Eugenio Perez Jr.
Story: 9 Art: 9 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy

Adult Coloring Books: Art Therapy or BS?

WonderwomanColorI’m sure, that by now, most DC Comics collectors are aware of the coloring book variant covers being pushed. I too fell for the marketing trap, picking up a Wonder Woman variant that appealed to my aesthetic senses (with no intention whatsoever of coloring it). Looking over the cover, I got into a conversation with the Midtown Comics floor guy. What he told me was that adult coloring books have been around for a number of years, and that it’s suppose to be relaxing.

Not really buying it (frankly I thought it was bullshit), later that night I started Googling it. Surprisingly, I found more than expected, across some very serious articles from the likes of: The New Yorker, New York Post, The Atlantic, and NYMAG.

They all had similar themes: this is not a fad that is going to go away, and adult coloring books serve as a means to exercise our creative muscle in a zen-like therapeutic setting. In addition, the internet and social media has served to increased its popularity, with adult colorists posting their artistic colored pages on the web via Facebook, Tumbler, Twitter, and pretty much everywhere else.

Then a couple days later I saw that Marvel put out a Deadpool adult coloring book. I bought it, and that evening at home, I unboxed an old set of coloring pencils that I had bought for my daughter (which she never used), and went to town.

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Damn, if they weren’t right; as I stared at my completed colored page with satisfaction and pride. The only negative I could come up with was that I had wasted an unproductive two hours. Then again, that’s kind of the point isn’t it? To do something enjoyable, just for the fun of it.

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After my coloring experience, I can see why the marketing pros at DC and Marvel are jumping on this bandwagon, and carving out another niche market (Marvel has a slate of coloring books coming to print; and DC isn’t far behind, selling both the books and their own branded set of coloring pencils). One has to wonder at the amount of research (psychological and field tests) they put into this product.

All I have to say is that I’ve been schooled. You should expect to see more of my colored pages proliferating out there on the web soon; and perhaps this can serve to resurrect my sub-latent artistic abilities.

And let us know what you think: is this a short-lived gimmick, or a serious new hobby for comic book enthusiasts? I’d love to hear what others think about the Big Two’s concerted push into the adult coloring book world.

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