Author Archives: sarahrasher

Illustrator Laura Guzzo talks Shakespeare, Princeless, and Dream Jobs

Laura Guzzo

Thursday evening at Chicago Comic-Con, I got to meet freelance illustrator Laura Guzzo, who has drawn covers for Action Lab Comics’ Princeless and full-page illustrations for Red Stylo Media’s anthology Shakespeare Shaken. She spoke enthusiastically about both past projects and ideas for future illustrations, all while rocking awesome pink boots. We started out talking about why she always makes time to travel to Chicago.

Laura Guzzo: It’s delicious. I always make friends here for some reason. Like, more so than any other town I’ve been in.

Graphic Policy: I hit record at exactly the right second, because I caught that. So, you work on Princeless.

LG: Yes, I got to contribute to that. And that one is my fangirl dream come true, because I was a fan of theirs before I got to do a piece for them.

GP: So how did you get to do a piece for them?

LG: It was absolutely being in the right place at the right time. I had been going around at a convention with my portfolio, and I usually have one day that’s my professional day, when I do that. And I took a break from visiting publishers to run over to the Princeless booth and be like, “I just read the PDF of the first issue, I’m in love with this, how do I get the rest of them?” And … as I was flipping through their stuff I was like, “Oh, yeah, by the way, I’m holding my portfolio, take a look! You want to see it?” And the person who was running the booth let me know that they were actually currently holding an open call for pin-ups, so I was like, “Oh, yes, I definitely want to be in on that.” And so I showed them my portfolio while I was there, and they were already looking, so I think that I reached out once I got home to remind them, and then I ended up working with Jeremy Whitley for that. And all of the people at Action Labs are so nice.

GP: Are you likely to do more work for that or is that kind of a one-shot deal?

LG: I would love to, but I think it was just a one-shot. I’m pretty sure.

GP: The other thing I have written down, which is the thing that’s most exciting for me as a total Shakespeare nerd, is Shakespeare Shaken.

LG: Yes!

lgHoratioGP: And I was wondering if you could tell me – so I know it’s an anthology, right? So tell me a little about which section you worked on and about that experience.

LG: So Shakespeare Shaken, for people who don’t know, it is an anthology of reimaginings of Shakespeare’s works. So everybody took a piece and took it in an entirely new direction. Some of them are genre shifts, and some of them are what-if stories. And most of the book is traditional narrative comic layout, but every once in a while there’s a full-page illustration that’s at the end. So I did several pieces for that, because my all-time dream job is cover artist, for comics or novels, I don’t care. I just love that kind of illustration, and so I did several pieces for them, I think four in total, including the one that went on the cover, and they were all twists on my favorite stories. So there’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream that’s a trashy romance novel cover, like with Fabio and his hair blowing in the wind, but it’s Bottom. And I did the last scene of Hamlet as a film noir sort of thing. I’d been playing a lot of L.A. Noire at the time and I was super into that aesthetic.

GP: I had actually had a thing in college with doing a film noir Hamlet that never happened. So that’s awesome.

LG: So when you’re reading Hamlet – I read it, I’d seen it in the theaters. But I hadn’t ever really understood it until recently when I got to see a version of Hamlet that was set in the 1920s and ’30s that was done by a theater located in Philadelphia, I think it was the Lantern. And it opened my eyes in a way that I’d never understood it on that level before. I don’t know what it was that was different about the way the actors were intoning it, but it really, it made a huge difference in my understanding.

GP: So what are you working on now?

LG: Well, right now, I’ve got a bunch of life shifts happening, so I’ve had to slow my roll and to take a bit of a break. I’ve been still taking on individual commissions, but I don’t have any big projects because I’m trying to get my feet under me.

GP: If there was any character or any series that you could do cover art for, what would it be?

LG: Oh, man, that’s such a huge question! My immediate answer is, I am so into the Dresden Files right now. I love that series! And the covers that they have now suit it very well, but if I could do Dresden art, it would be amazing.

GP: Yeah, I always want people to give me the knee-jerk answer, because those are always the most left-field and passionate.

LG: One of these days, I have this image in my head, I don’t know if you’ve ever read the books?

GP: Yes, not all of them, but I’ve read some.

LG: So Lea, his fairy godmother, I want to do a classic portrait of her with her hounds surrounding her. Oh my God, I think that would be so awesome! I can’t wait. Eventually that will be reality. I will make that happen.

GP: From your lips to God’s ears. You know, we’re putting it on the internet.

LG: So now I must do it.

GP: One last question that I’m asking everyone. Pirates, aliens, ninjas, or cowboys?

LG: I feel like this isn’t objectively the best answer, but my answer is absolutely pirates. I can’t help myself. You terrible plundering bastards, there’s just something terribly awesome about the aesthetic of the high seas. And I find it really fascinating that as awful and brutal as the life of a pirate was, people became pirates because it was preferable to being in the Navy. That was somehow worse than being pirates. Can you imagine how terrible the conditions of the British Navy must have been, for that to be liberating and progressive?

Dispatches From Chicago Comic-Con: Night One

bostwick rooker

Photo via Becky Smith

I’m not a big con-goer, but I probably would have bought a day pass to this year’s Wizard World Chicago Comic-Con even if I weren’t covering it for Graphic Policy. Basically, they had me at “Evil Dead reunion,” and then they put together a Firefly panel featuring Nathan Fillion, Summer Glau, and Adam Baldwin (who, despite my distaste for his politics, I can’t bring myself to hate).

But I’m just as excited about the variety of comics artists and writers – many of them part of a growing, under-appreciated Chicago indie comics scene – who will be at the con, and my dispatches will be mostly about them. I’m hoping that at least some of them will see my stylish Press wristband and chat with me about their creations.

There might also be some pictures of cosplayers.

But the focus Wednesday night, at a “Kick Off the Con” event at a bar/arcade deep in the suburbs, was on Barry Bostwick and Michael Rooker, who did Q&As with fans and press. (There was also a Pac-Man tournament, which I did not attend.) Here are some highlights from the two actors’ interviews, plus some great pictures courtesy of Becky Smith.

bostwick mike cropped MQ

Photo via Becky Smith

Graphic Policy readers are most likely to remember Barry Bostwick from Rocky Horror Picture Show, although he spent more time talking about his role on Spin City. He’s also had a long career in arch, self-referential sci-fi and horror B-movies, which he clearly loves. I wish I had realized before last night that he has starred in both FDR: American Badass and Helen Keller Vs. Nightwolves. Both sound like book reports I would have written in fifth grade, only with more kitschy violence. But he said he was most excited about his role in anthology horror movie Tales of Halloween. “I play the Devil, and I couldn’t be happier,” he said. When asked where he’d found inspiration for the role, Bostwick quipped, “You remember your first marriage.”

Michael Rooker showed up in a Call of Duty hat and began his Q&A by musing about the abundance of “beautiful white people” in Dublin. After confirming that he will return for Guardians of the Galaxy 2, he talked quite a bit about his transition from stage to screen, and about the many fans of The Walking Dead who have no idea about his long career and varied roles. He rejected a lot of the ideas about craft that were posed to him, saying he sees each role as its own entity and refusing to compare Guardians or Walking Dead to anything else he’d seen or performed in.

rooker peace crop mq

Photo via Becky Smith

Rooker stayed crotchety when a guy asked him to sign an economics textbook, saying it was possibly the weirdest thing he’d signed, and when a non-gamer tried to ask questions about the Call of Duty series. But it all seemed to come more out of protectiveness toward the roles he loves. For example, he said, “Kevin Smith didn’t even approach me for Mallrats 2, he just knew I’d do it.” Like Bostwick, Rooker seems to relish being a cult figure and resist any attempt to associate him with a particular role.

I left last night planning my Barry Bostwick and Michael Rooker movie marathons but also looking forward to focusing more on graphic media for the rest of the con.

Thanks to Wizard World for providing me with press access to Chicago Comic-Con!

Review: Star Trek #48

StarTrek48-coverMy first thought when I saw the cover of Star Trek #48 was, “Hooray, we get a Sulu story!” For once, the face on the cover wasn’t a cruel misdirect – the helmsman is the hero of the latest two-issue arc in IDW‘s ongoing Trek series. It’s delightful to see Sulu in the spotlight, and an even greater pleasure to see another fun, well-drawn, Trekkie-pleasing installment of the Starship Enterprise‘s adventures.

The story feels more Next Generation than classic Trek. Captain Kirk is letting Sulu command a mission – an anthropological research trip to a planet with a Stone Age civilization, where they’ll be testing a holographic duck blind that Scotty has just invented. When the away team happens upon a sacred monument that looks like Stonehenge designed by H. R. Giger, we know we’re in for a parable about religion. Star Trek‘s courage and thoughtfulness in questioning faith seem as pioneering now as in the ’60s.

Mike Johnson‘s writing is solid as usual. He keeps the characters’ voices distinct, and his Scotty’s manic energy is especially charming. He does an especially good job in this issue of giving the images room to breathe. For two pages, the only dialogue is incomprehensible alien speech, and Tony Shasteen infuses the creatures’ very alien faces with tremendous emotion, intelligence, and purpose.

Shasteen, who returns to Star Trek ongoing after a few months’ break, is clearly comfortable with the crew’s personalities and expressions. One of the issue’s best panels looks over Sulu’s left shoulder from behind as Sulu stares off toward impending disaster (of course, everything will go wrong on his first command mission), and somehow, terrific emotional nuance emanates from the back of Sulu’s head. The towering landscape of the alien Stonehenge is breathtaking, too.

A lot of little things about this issue could be better. It overuses Sulu’s “helmsman’s log,” and these pages of exposition slow the story down. There’s an odd flatness to Shasteen’s space-scapes that makes those panels not only underwhelming but hard to decipher. And it’s disappointing to see an all-human, mostly-white away team – comic books, unlike TV shows, aren’t constrained by casting limitations or a makeup budget.

Despite these quibbles, Star Trek #48 continues the ongoing series’ trend of entertaining, well-composed stories that capture the essence of Trek. There are a few cute nods to the continuity of the greater Trek universe but even if you’re not a big Trek fan, this arc is an excellent starting point. It’s not just a strong tie-in, but an engaging sci-fi adventure.

Story: Mike Johnson Art: Tony Shasteen
Story: 8.5 Art: 9 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy

IDW Publishing provided Graphic Policy a FREE copy for review.

Review: Star Trek/Green Lantern: The Spectrum War #1

Green Lantern Star Trek 2“The Crossover Event of 2015!” is the tagline on the many variant covers of IDW‘s Star Trek and Green Lantern miniseries. Unfortunately, that’s the overstatement of 2015.

The lukewarm first issue contains hardly any Green Lantern at all, so fans of that universe will find little to excite them. Instead, it takes place almost entirely on the Starship Enterprise, but it leaves behind the wit and depth of character that make IDW’s ongoing Star Trek series such a pleasure these days. Mike Johnson also writes the ongoing series, and he gets in a few fun moments of banter between Kirk and Spock. But he has so much plot to cover that his dialogue lacks its usual spark. Bringing the Green Lantern rings into the Star Trek universe shouldn’t take too many narrative somersaults, but somehow, this gets bogged down in setup.

Angel Hernandez‘s art is another weak link here. The current penciler for the ongoing series, Rachael Stott, and her predecessor, Tony Shasteen, have set a high standard for Star Trek comics art- both have a talent for capturing not only the facial features of the actors, but the nuances of their performances. In comparison, Hernandez’s characters look expressionless and stiff, like he’s trying so hard to get Chris Pine’s nose right that he overlooks the mischief in Kirk’s eyes. Space-scapes and even wide shots of the Enterprise‘s sickbay look oddly flat and distorted, deadening the drama of explosions and alien planets. Hernandez’s minimalist settings and angular character designs make sense in his work for DC, but his style doesn’t translate here.

The crossover’s premise is cool enough that I really wish it worked. A fan-favorite villain from the pre-reboot Star Trek movies makes a welcome appearance, but he feels wasted so far. If you’re looking for your Star Trek fix, stick to the excellent ongoing series. If you’re here for Green Lantern, you’ll see so little of him here that you’ll feel ripped off. It’s too bad, because with a lighter touch and less ambitious mythology, this could have been a fun crossover.

Story: Mike Johnson Art: Angel Hernandez
Story: 6.0 Art: 5.0 Overall: 5.5 Recommendation: Pass

IDW Publishing provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.

Review: The Spire #1

Spire_001_A_MainThe heroine of The Spire is a shape-shifting lesbian with an eyepatch. If this alone is enough to make you want to buy the first issue of BOOM! Studios‘ new limited series, then by all means, stop reading this review and follow your instincts.

In case you’re not convinced yet – and really, you should be, because she also has spiky platinum hair and a cloak that flutters behind her even when there’s no breeze – I’ll put it another way. The Spire is one of the freshest recent takes on urban fantasy I’ve seen in any medium, delightfully weird but grounded in the language and problems of the real world. It’s like a Discworld novel played straight, with a cast of grotesque creatures going about mundane lives and sight gags that range from darkly funny to just unsettling.

Simon Spurrier‘s narrative shifts among several connected threads, at a pace that in less capable hands might become confusing. But artist Jeff Stokely adjusts the visual style and coloring just enough to orient the reader in each new scene and point of view. He often uses the cinematic trick of a large establishing shot followed by a close-up of the individuals within it, a shorthand with the added benefit of giving more and more information about the geography and architecture of The Spire‘s fantasy realm.

It’s clear that Stokely takes the most delight in bringing monsters to life, especially in order to reveal the humanity within them, and his expressive faces and bodies complement Spurrier’s sharp, believable writing. Aside from a few necessary nods to worldbuilding and a tiresome running gag with a character who speaks in verse, Spurrier’s dialogue sounds modern and unforced, owing more to crime drama than to fantasy tropes.

That’s a smart choice, because at its heart, The Spire is a murder mystery. Spurrier takes his time leading us through The Spire‘s world before we arrive at the dead body, but when we get there, it feels like a natural progression, not a genre break. Shå (the one with the eyepatch) gets enough character development that, by the time she’s saddled with the task of solving the crime, we know her as a person, not just as a plot device. I’m not sure how Spurrier and Stokely cram so much into thirty pages, but I’m impressed, and eager to see how the big reveals in the final few panels will fit into the larger picture.

Story: Simon Spurrier Art: Jeff Stokely
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy

BOOM! Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Wayward #9

Wayward09_CoverAThe first few issues of Image Comics‘ creator-owned ongoing series Wayward made it one of my favorite comics that nobody else seemed to be reading, but lately, I’ve been wishing it would live up to the promise it showed at the start. The initial Buffy-meets-anime premise was what hooked me: an Irish teenager named Rori Lane moves to Japan to live with her Japanese mother, and in the midst of adjusting to her new life, discovers that she is a Magical Girl in a Tokyo swarming with yokai, monsters from Japanese folklore. In issue six, however, the series shifted focus to a new protagonist, Emi Ohara, and the narrative has been more fragmented and less tightly written since then. The latest issue continues to suffer from the “second-album curse” of an ongoing series trying to expand its mythology after an extraordinary first story arc.

Wayward #9 tries to cover too much ground, and as a result, it’s a frustrating midpoint in a story whose forward progression is way too slow for a monthly ongoing series. The first six pages seem to come from some other comic entirely, with a tiny “Then” caption in the upper left corner of the first page the only indication that this is a flashback. But how far back, and how does it connect to the storylines in present-day Tokyo? Writer Jim Zub‘s stilted dialogue clarifies little, and the twist at the end of this flashback section is more perplexing than intriguing.

Things pick up when the story returns to the present day, especially because Steve Cummings‘s manga-influenced art style lends itself much better to the emotional faces of modern teenagers than to wide-angle images of medieval Japanese villages. The team of superpowered teens still have one-note personalities – again, awkward dialogue is often the problem – and a critique of young women’s place in Japanese society comes across as both heavy-handed and simplistic, especially since it comes from a white male writer and artist.

Fortunately, the second half of Wayward #9 promises more excitement to come. It introduces a creepy new villain whose origin and alliances call the hero team’s plans into question. Then, Rori Lane returns to help several plotlines converge (no hints about those first six pages, though) and to use her powers toward a major change that might be necessary but might just be cruel. The final two pages, each dominated by a single image and nearly text-free, show that Cummings is more skilled at conveying narrative than Zub. They’re packed with meaning and provide a great pay-off for an episode in Wayward #8 that seemed like a side quest. Despite the slow start, this installment left me hopeful for a delightfully weird climax to this chapter of Wayward. But if you’re not already following the series, now is not the best time to jump in: you’ll be confused, not only about the story itself, but about why readers like me are sticking with it.

Story: Jim Zub Art: Steve Cummings
Story: 5.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 6.5 Recommendation: Pass

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

Review: Star Trek #46

ST-movieII46-cover-MOCKONLYThe recipe for a good Star Trek episode isn’t hard to write. A mysterious problem afflicts the Enterprise, with an unknown enemy lurking behind it. Captain Kirk responds with seat-of-the-pants bravery, Spock with logic and scientific ingenuity, Dr. McCoy with compassion and fiery emotion. With these powers combined, the crew comes upon an unexpected solution and perhaps some TV-friendly, but still thought-provoking, moral philosophy. The warp nacelles light up, and the Enterprise swooshes off toward its next interstellar adventure.

IDW‘s ongoing Star Trek series understands these ingredients well and recognizes that anyone reading Star Trek comics is looking for new variations on familiar patterns. The latest installment, #46, is the first of a two-part arc that unfortunately seems to spoil its big reveal in the title, “The Tholian Web.” Any Trekkie committed enough to seek out the comics will remember an Original Series episode with nearly the same title and wait to see the Enterprise ensnared in a trap set by a race of cranky non-humanoid aliens.

Writer Mike Johnson, to his credit, maintains suspense despite this built-in spoiler. Spock quickly identifies the technobabble science behind the Enterprise‘s woes, but understanding the problem brings no solution. The situation worsens, affecting the crew’s mental states until they are in as much danger from one another as from the external threat. As Star Trek plots go, it’s standard in every way, but smart pacing and the sense of genuine peril keep the story satisfying.

In a similar vein, Rachael Stott‘s art breaks no new ground, instead providing excellent comfort food for fans of the beloved franchise. Jagged panels and unconventional perspective angles give the sense of motion and turmoil when necessary, but for the most part, Stott zeroes in on the characters and their reactions. She’s skilled not only at making her characters look like the actors – they’re based on the cast of the J.J. Abrams reboot, not on the 1960s originals – but at evoking the actors’ mannerisms and facial expressions. She also has an odd, endearing gift for conveying emotion through hands. The diversity that she brings to minor characters would have made Gene Roddenberry proud: aliens both familiar and original populate the Enterprise crew, as well as human redshirts in a variety of skin tones, genders, and body types. In many ways, Stott’s art is truer to the Star Trek vision than the show and films often were, and for these comics, that’s more appropriate and satisfying than an innovative stylistic statement.

If you’re a Star Trek fan but don’t bother with the IDW comics, you’re missing out: they’re what you love about the franchise, only with more consistent characterization and less cringe-worthy dialogue. If Trek has never been your jam, but you like an old-fashioned space adventure, you’ll be a little lost but still might have fun with the well-paced disaster  plot and strong characterization. As the start of a short, action-driven arc with little reliance on the franchise’s broader mythology, Star Trek #46 is a newbie-friendly entry point to the ongoing series, and the final image of an entangled Enterprise will leave you hungry for a conclusion.

Story: Mike Johnson Art: Rachael Stott
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: BUY if you’re a Trekkie, READ if not

IDW Publishing provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Lantern City #2

LanternCity_002_A_MainI love a good dystopia. Heck, I’ll settle for a mediocre dystopia, as long as it hits the right beats: an Orwellian government, a brave hero rising up against the status quo, a crack in the system that makes the revolution possible. This makes me the ideal audience for Lantern City, an engaging but derivative ongoing series from BOOM! Studios imprint Archaia whose second issue comes out this week.

In the author’s letter at the back of Lantern City #2 – part of a planned transmedia project with a TV show in development – series creator Trevor Crafts writes about the fun and importance of worldbuilding. It’s clear that he and co-creators Matthew Daley and Bruce Boxleitner have delighted in the details, but they’ve assembled those details from spare parts. So far, it’s telling one of the most familiar dystopian tales: a member of the downtrodden lower caste steals a uniform from a downed police-soldier and seizes the opportunity to bring the Man down from the inside.

The premise might be familiar, but it’s not tired; Lantern City transports our fears of a self-reinforcing police surveillance state to what looks like the decaying remains of a once-beautiful fantasy world. At times, the art borrows knowingly from genre classics, with lovely results. The cityscapes evoke the crammed, neon-lit urban settings of 1980s films like Blade Runner and Brazil, which gives the scenery a cool retro-futurist feel. But while those ’80s cities seemed packed to bursting, Lantern City‘s city sprawls into forever. When Carlos Magno pulls the camera back to show us the larger world, it’s breathtaking.

Other visual decisions aren’t as effective. Sander, the series’ hero, spends most of the second issue in a police uniform that looks like a Storm Trooper suit painted red. In addition to pushing the Star Wars button way too hard – the government that the jack-booted troops serve is called the Empire – it robs us of the ability to read the protagonist’s emotions. Instead, the issue relies on thought-bubble narration to guide us through Sander’s experiences as he uses a stolen suit to attempt to pass for an officer and infiltrate the Empire.

The series so far has left Sander as too much of a blank slate for this to be effective. Part of the problem is that recent film and novel dystopias have filled out their heroes’ quirks and motivations so efficiently and with such nuance that they’ve raised the bar. Lantern City‘s creators might not realize how steeped its audience is in the likes of The Hunger Games and Divergent. Flawed as they might be in other ways, YA novels have revitalized dystopian fiction with a heavy dose of feminism and teen angst. Lantern City‘s Sander, a brooding white dude with a mane of raven hair more expressive than his face, seems shallow and old-fashioned in comparison.

Despite all of this, Lantern City #2 is worth a read, especially if you’re a fan of dystopian adventures. It’s not breaking any new ground – and at times seems unaware of how derivative it is – but it’s fun, and worth getting in on early, before too much backstory piles up.

Writer: Matthew Daley Artist: Carlos Magno
Story: 6.5 Art 7.5 Overall 7.0 Recommendation: Read

BOOM! Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.

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