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Advance Book Review: Fred Van Lente’s The Con Artist is a Nerd Noir Page Turner

In his second novel, Fred Van Lente, who is known for his comic books like Action Philosophers, Marvel’s The Incredible Hercules, and Valiant’s Archer and Armstrong  spices up the murder mystery genre by setting it at San Diego Comic Con where super fans, Hollywood types, and yes, even some comic book creators rub shoulders in a four celebration dedicated to things that they make Funko Pops of. His protagonist is Mike, a comic book artist known for his work on popular Atlas Comics (A stand-in for Marvel) character Mister Mystery and his indie pro wrestling book Gut Check, which has given him a decent level of fame. Mike is divorced and either lives out of his car or at the hotels at the various comic convention he attends and is only at SDCC to give Ben K, his long time mentor, a lifetime achievement award and to make sure his Artist’s Alley table isn’t given away in the future.

Unfortunately, Ben passes away as soon as Mike gets to San Diego. And, then, Van Lente kicks the actual murder mystery plot into high gear when Atlas editor, Mike’s arch nemesis, and his ex-wife’s boyfriend Danny Lieber turns up dead the night they got into a bar fight and was thrown out of the hotel bar. Mike’s weekend of drinking, drawing commissions, and self-loathing is transformed into police interrogations, basically becoming a private eye, and even more insane things as the novel continues.

The Con Artist is marketed as an illustrated novel, but Tom Fowler‘s illustrations aren’t just fanservice for the comic book crowd and actually connect to the events of the story. Something that might have seemed like a throwaway bit of surrealism, like “Eastboro Baptist Church” protesters juxtaposed with obsessive anime otakus trying to break a Guinness world record, ends up helping Mike piece together bits of the mystery. Early, in the book, Mike talks about how he likes making art, even sketches for fans because it has a “purging” effect for him, and several times, he mentions how much the act of creation means to him even though he hasn’t drawn a comic in a long time. And Mike’s ability to use comic books and what Scott McCloud calls “closure” (The concept is Ben K’s in the books.) to help put together pieces of this labyrinthine mystery, involving both the creative and corporate side of the comic book industry as well as Mike’s friends and foes.

The early scenes at parties or on the convention floor might seem like wheel turning or a chance for Van Lente to get out some great one-liners about the comics industry, geek culture, or conventions, but they establish the relationship that Mike has with a decent sized cast of characters from his BFF Dirtbag, who was Ben K’s assistant and now is volunteering at a The Walking Dead meets Orange is the New Block TV show attraction and his table buddy and successor on Mister Mystery Katie Poole to his number one fangirl Violet and my personal favorite character, Sebastian Mod, who is a pitch perfect combo parody of Mark Millar and Grant Morrison with Alan Moore’s religious beliefs thrown in for good measure.

The Con Artist definitely gets dark and violent from the get go, but Fred Van Lente balance things out with a wicked sense of humor and simultaneously satirizing and celebrating comic books and geek culture. For example, it might be weird that copyright friendly named Kevin Durant’s super rich cousin wants a commission of obscure Plastic Man villain Disco Mummy shaking her butt, but Mike and Katie have a good time watching the old Plastic Man Filmation shorts and see the elegance and humor in her design. (And, of course, weird commission guy is connected to the bigger mystery in some strange way.) When it comes to introducing characters and settings and transitioning between them, Van Lente doesn’t just merely describe them and move on. He does a comedic riff on them that gets you laughing, immersed in the story, and able to vividly picture the scene. Van Lente’s observational humor is also fresh and sharp if occasionally inside baseball for people who have never been to a con or aren’t familiar with the comics industry. For example, I love his running joke about people at comic book conventions picking up conversations like the last con never happened or just narrating their surroundings.

With a timely July release, Fred Van Lente’s The Con Artist is the perfect balm for readers, who have a love/hate relationship with geek culture just like its protagonist Mike. However, it’s also filled with some truly inspirational passages about storytelling, worldbuilding, and how awesome the comic book medium is, and these thoughts (and one great keynote speech) really make Mike an endearing character in spite of all his issues. It also happens to be a damn good mystery and a bit of a noir with jokes and funny descriptions to boot and hits the proverbial afterburners at the end.

Overall Rating: 8.8

Quirk Books provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Jason Porath Talks Tough Mothers and Rejected Princesses

With the blogosphere on fire and the news media following the trends set, the past year has shown that strong women, are prominent in the world and they are everywhere and has always been. This truth has only become more relevant with #MeToo Movement, and the recent array of books which showcase the talents of many female creatives, only shows their staying power. As this movement grows, its allies include those who seek to spotlight the unknown, underrepresented, the under told heroes of our past. One such author who aims to bring this to the forefront is Jason Porath. He started the Rejected Princesses blog a few years back to highlight forgotten female heroes. Since then, he has put out a collection named after the blog and recently released another volume, this one dedicated to matriarchs who possesses ferocity and grace, entitled Tough Mothers: Amazing Stories of History’s Mightiest Matriarchs. I recently got a chance to interview this “truth-teller “and found a humble author.

Graphic Policy: What was your inspiration for your Rejected Princesses blog?

Jason Porath: My mom. She’s an utterly brilliant, tenacious badass –  but she felt like an aberration growing up. She was born in Kentucky in the 40s, and was constantly told boys didn’t like smart women. She never had a connection to this endless line of brilliant, bold women, and felt like something was wrong with her because she was different. I can’t go back in time and give this book to her then, but I can give it to kids who maybe feel the same as she did.

GP: How was the research? Anything you were more than surprised to find out about?

JP: It was difficult – I think there’s 200-some-odd citations at the back of the second book, and more than 300 in the first one?  Very time consuming.

One of the things that really surprised me when writing about (Armenian Genocide survivor) Pailadzo Captanian was how few first-hand accounts of the Genocide were written in the immediate aftermath of it. She had written one of the only ones, and it was never translated to English. I ended up finding a copy of it, photographing every page, using software to turn those pictures into (very rough) text, and then getting two dozen bilingual readers to each take a chunk of the book and translate it. They’re finishing the last parts up now. I plan on donating the translation to Armenian groups. The copyright on it is a bit baffling but hopefully they can find a way to use it.

GP: Has your research lead you to travel to different countries just to find out more? If so, any personal stories you can share?

JP: Not yet – the life of a writer is not a lucrative one! I am heading to the UK later this year for a convention, though, and I hope to visit a couple sites while there – castles defended by rad women, that sort of thing.  There’s a statue of Boudica in particular that I’d love to see in person.

GP: I read in your blog, you have over 2,000 different women you have yet to illustrate, how do you choose who goes into the next book?

JP: I keep a massive spreadsheet that tracks a lot of different things about each potential entry – era, maturity rating, geographic location, religion, and other representations like LGBT and  disabilities. I then have a column that shows the totals. I aim for maximum diversity, without having stories that are too much an echo of one another.  I’m not always successful, but I do try really hard.

GP: Which one of these heroines—within either of your books: Rejected Princesses or Tough Mothers— do you think would make a great movie (just like along the lines of Wonder Woman or Black Panther etc.)

JP: I think most of them would be great movies! In terms of ones that audiences would go wild for, it’s hard to top Julie d’Aubigny, the bisexual sword-slinging opera singer from 17th century France. WW2 spy Noor Inayat Khan deserves a movie  more than almost anyone I’ve ever written about, but given how her story ends, it wouldn’t be the feel-good hit of the summer.

GP: On your website, you offer prizes to readers if they catch an error in any of your entries. Can you tell me about the first prize you gave and why?

JP: The first official prize I gave out was for a correction on (hideously evil Merovingian queen) Fredegund, where a reader asked about how she could have sought sanctuary in Notre Dame before Notre Dame was built (answer: there was a church there prior to Notre Dame) . It wasn’t the first corrections I’d made though! The first twelve entries I put on the site were sourced purely from Wikipedia and riddled with errors. I made a huge batch of corrections after that. I’ve come a long way since then as regards research.

GP: What can you tell me about the women of Tough Mothers?

JP: I think our society tends to picture mothers as kind of just support systems for families, lacking in other pursuits or interests. The women I write about were far more than that – doctors, musicians, politicians, even pirates. I really try to show all the good, bad, and ugly of their personalities, and bring them to life as actual people, instead of just “person X’s mom.”

GP: Since we just celebrated Mother’s Day, what is one intangible you can credit your mother for giving to you?

JP: Man, what didn’t my mom give me? I’d credit her with giving me her temperament, her curiosity, her perfectionism, and her unstoppable work ethic.

GP: The importance of your two books underscore your belief in equality of women, so would you consider yourself a feminist?

JP: I’d be happy to say so, but I believe that’s a title you earn, not a hat you decide to start wearing. There’s  nothing fishier than a self-described male feminist. If others would like to describe me as a feminist, nothing would make me happier.

GP: With the rising of the #MeToo movement, do you think your work has become even more important?

JP: I’d hesitate to use the word “important,” but maybe “resonant.” There are a great many women reckoning with some very heavy struggles – to the extent that I can give inspiration in the form of heralding historical women who also struggled but came out victorious, I’m happy to.

GP: What do you want readers to take away from your books?

JP: That not only can women do anything, they already have. That we’ve been systematically cut off from a shared history that should be everyone’s birthright. That those who don’t fit the mold aren’t alone, and never have been.

GP: What are you working on next?

JP: I continue posting new entries online all the time! I am looking into collaborating with librarians and academia, making more of my research publicly available, and collecting my comics into school-usable formats. I’m also percolating various fiction concepts and seeing where they go. After four-plus years of nonstop historical research, it’s a much-appreciated break!

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild—Creating a Champion Art Book this November

Dark Horse has announced The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild—Creating a Champion art book. Creating a Champion is the latest addition to Dark Horse and Nintendo’s bestselling publishing line and is preceded by The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule HistoriaThe Legend of Zelda: Art & ArtifactsThe Legend of Zelda EncyclopediaThe Art of Splatoon, and The Art of Fire Emblem: Awakening.

This oversized hardcover is the ultimate companion to the award-winning video game The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and includes material from both of its DLC packs. This book features nearly 50 pages of sketches and official illustrations from Takumi Wada, 296 pages of design artwork and commentary about the making of the game from the creators, a 55-page historical section that divulges the history of Hyrule as it is known in-game, and interviews with key members of the development team— Hidemaro Fujibayashi, Satoru Takizawa, Takumi Wada, and Eiji Aonuma. Witness the making of a champion! The breathtaking cover is by Takumi Wada.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild—Creating a Champion goes on sale November 20, 2018. This 424-page tome retails for $39.99.

Review: Tough Mothers: Amazing Stories of History’s Mightiest Matriarchs

Mothers are the first gatekeepers to the world that most of us know. They are the ones who we hold close to us when we are first born and who we miss most soon after they leave this earth. We usually celebrate them on their birthday and today, Mother’s Day, but the truth is , what they do is really superhuman. The fact that most women who work, are also mothers and wives, and excel in all three areas, without blinking.

In Jason Porath’s sequel to his acclaimed Rejected Princesses, the appropriately named Tough Mothers: Amazing Stories of History’s Mightiest Matriarchs, he introduces readers to real life heroes that some may have heard but most should know. In “the Mother Who Bought Back her Country”, we meet Labotsibeni Gwamile La Mdluli, a shrewd regent whose negotiation skills lead her winning her country, Swaziland from England through measured indifference. In “The Mother of Modern Mastectomy”, we meet Vera Peters, a doctor who previously shown that Hodgkin’s lymphoma is treatable but then through the misogynistic “boys club” that occupied medicine then, that there was a more humane surgical procedure to treat women. In “The Mom Who Went to Washington”, we meet Bella Abzug, a woman who pushed through legislation in the US Congress, for the fair treatment of women in education and banks, bills for child care and LGBT rights, and was one of the frontrunners in ending the war in Vietnam and asking for President Nixon’s impeachment, a firebrand whose legacy runs deep in Washington D.C.

As infamous the name of Hannibal is, there was once a ruler named Anamirenas, as some would know as “The Mother Who Invaded Rome”, the fierce one eyed queen of Kush, who did not cower despite Rome’s defeat of Egypt, but instead rose to the occasion, and whose tactics proved too much for Augustus as it lead him to reach out for permanent peace. In “The Mother Who Made Her Own Fortune”. We meet Madame CJ Walker, a child of ex-slaves, who rose from poverty to become one of America’s first millionaires. In “The Mom Who Became Shogun,” we meet Masako Hojo, a woman who did not take any of her husband’s cheating antic slightly, and when her son proved to be an equally incompetent ruler, she became shogunate, quickly bringing order to a messy government. In the last heroine I will highlight, titled “The Mothers who Toppled a Dictatorship” we meet the Mirabel Sisters, as the advances of a deranged ruler in the Dominican Republic, became a living nightmare for one family, but their story helped turned a nation against the tyranny.

Overall, an essential book in everyone’s personal library, as it shows that women have been more than equals to men, they are superior in many ways. The stories by Paroth are each brilliant, well written and sprinkled with modern colloquialisms . The art by Paroth is gorgeous, as each panel captures these women in action, in the most gorgeous colors and vivid light. Altogether, a great book that will have the reader looking up these heroes, as all these women should be celebrated.

Story: Jason Porath Art: Jason Porath
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Preview: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Rangers & Zords Poster Book SC

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Rangers & Zords Poster Book SC

Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Writer: N/A
Artist: Goñi Montes
Cover Artist: Goñi Montes
Price: $19.99

The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Poster Book: Rangers & Zords collects 20 pieces Goñi Montes’ cover artwork from the hit comic book series in a stunning format perfect for framing.

DC Entertainments Gets a New Line of Novels Courtesy of Titan Books

Titan Books has announced a brand new collaboration project with Warner Bros. Consumer Products on behalf of DC Entertainment, to produce a high-end range of inspired novels and novelizations featuring some of DC’s most popular concepts and characters: Harley Quinn, The Joker, Batman, and The Court of Owls.

The releases kick off on September 25, 2018 with Batman: The Killing Joke by Christa Faust and Gary Phillips, the novelization of the famous Alan Moore and Brian Bolland graphic novel which explores the nature of Batman’s conflict with his most infamous nemesis: The Joker. Originally published in 1988 The Killing Joke continues to be one of the most talked about graphic novels released by an American-publisher, and now to mark the anniversary of its 30th year. The official novelization will explore ,expand, and adapt this classic story once again, bringing new insight for both fans of the original comic and those discovering this story for the first time.

Batman: The Killing Joke will be followed by Batman: The Court of Owls by Greg Cox on November 13th 2018. The original novel pits Gotham City’s greatest detective against a secret society of the wealthy elite that has controlled the city for centuries through influence, money and murder. Originally created by Scott Snyder, the Court of Owls are an intriguing and deadly organization who employ the force of assassins known as Talons. When a series of murders in the modern day pits them against the Dark Knight, he seeks to end their reign of terror before it claims even more victims.

Finally, Titan Books and DC will be publishing the first original novel to feature one of the franchise’s mosnotable fan favorites. Harley Quinn: Mad Love by Hugo award-winning author Pat Cadigan will release on February 12th 2019 and offers an expansion of the Harley Quinn storyline. The book is fully outlined by Paul Dini exclusively for the novel, who first created the character alongside Bruce Timm for 1992’s Batman: The Animated Series. It’s inspired by the 1994 Eisner Award-winning comic Mad Love by Dini and Timm, this brand new novel will reveal new secrets of the iconic Harley Quinn as she even now seeks to kill Batman.

The DC Novels will all publish in beautiful hardback editions featuring cover designs by Titan Books’ Natasha Mackenzie. The books are being created with a focus on being a perfect jumping on point for those looking to discover this world as well as long time fans.

Book Review: Head On

HeadOnCoverTo some left with nothing, winning becomes everything

If HBO needs a near future season for True Detective, the world of Lock In is it, and Head On is the sci-fi buddy cop book you didn’t know you needed.

In this follow up to his hit book Lock In, John Scalzi takes us deeper into this near future world where 1% of the Earth’s population are unable to move and are “locked in” to their bodies. People afflicted with this disease, Haden’s Syndrome, use robot hosts to interact with the world outside their bodies.

Told in the first person, our main character FBI Agent Chris Shane, a person with HS, and his lead partner veteran agent Leslie Vann investigate a tragic incident in the popular game of Hilketa, a sport that is a mashup of football and gladiator matches born out of HS. From there the two agents travel down the rabbit hole of deception and murder surrounding the future of this sport.

As an exercise in world building, Scalzi delivers a masterclass creating a world that isn’t just about folks who need to use robot avatars. He has created the science behind the disease, the tech to overcome it, fleshed out the laws and economics for people with HS. He has developed the social etiquette of the afflicted and of course created the game Hilketa that this book centers on.

Head On is a fast paced thriller that sucks you in and Scalzi’s signature dialog keeps you engaged. If I’m ever murdered, I want Agents Shane and Vann on the case.

Head On will be released in hardcover and digital on April 17th 2018 by Tor Books.


Tor Books provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.


The Beauty of Horror Gets Monster-Sized with Giant Coloring Prints Set

Just when you thought it was safe to pack your colors away, creator Alan Robert returns with The Beauty of HorrorUltimate Nightmare, Deluxe Coloring Set. Get your claws around twelve oversized illustrations that you can color and frame from the bestselling horror series. Each 12” x 12” MONSTER-sized print allows for an even more fun coloring experience with its large spaces and one-sided, deluxe coloring format. This GOREgeous print collection includes fan favorites from The Beauty of Horror Volume OneVolume Two: Ghouliana’s CreepatoriumVolume Three: Haunted Playgrounds, and features three, brand-new Alan Robert exclusives!

The Beauty of Horror: Ultimate Nightmare, Deluxe Coloring Set by Alan Robert will be available in both comic shops and bookstores September 2018 from IDW Publishing.

Binoculars Release Party and Art Exhibit with Tetsunori Tawaraya May 3rd

Tetsunori Tawaraya’s Binoculars is a collection of creatures from another dimension, which display the jewel-like rendering of Tawaraya’s stipple technique.

The visions, and color mixture vary widely from his previous book Telescope, also published by Colour Code. Tawaraya has been lucky enough to watch an enigmatic outland through his mind’s binoculars. Let’s set off on an expedition and observe them all for vivid side effects.

Floating World is the last stop on Tetsunori’s west coast tour, with an art exhibit to celebrate the release of this awesome new book.

WHO: Tetsunori Tawaraya
WHAT: BINOCULARS release party and art exhibit
WHEN: Thursday, May 3, 6-9pm
WHERE: Floating World Comics, 400 NW Couch St. Portland, OR 97209

VIZ Media Reveals Details of Shinsuke Nakamura’s King of Strong Style: 1980-2014

VIZ Media has revealed the cover design for — King of Strong Style: 1980-2014 – the forthcoming autobiography of one of Japan’s greatest professional wrestlers, Shinsuke Nakamura.

Originally published in two paperback volumes in Japan, (1980-2004, 2004-2015), the autobiography of one of Japan’s greatest professional wrestlers, Shinsuke Nakamura, will be released as a single-volume hardcover print edition as well as a digital edition by VIZ Media in the summer of 2018. Both hard copy and digital releases will feature select color and b&w photographs.

Born in Kyoto, February 24, 1980, Shinsuke Nakamura began amateur wrestling in high school before attending university at Aoyama Gakuin University. After a brilliant career there, he joined New Japan Pro-Wrestling in March 2002 and made his professional debut at Nippon Budokan in a match against Tadao Yasuda on August 29, 2002. On December 9, 2003, a mere sixteen months into his professional career, he crushed Hiroshi Tenzan and was crowned the youngest IWGP Heavyweight Champion in history. Even as he pursued greatness in the professional wrestling ring, Nakamura participated in MMA, facing Daniel Gracie of the legendary jiu-jitsu family, and superheavyweight kickboxing champion Alexey Ignashov. Now he thrills fans in the United States and beyond on a weekly basis as one of the top wrestlers in the world.

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