So, a million years ago, Paul Pope drew an illustration of his THB protagonist, HR Watson, jumping for joy and exclaiming “Yay for Comics!” It is a reminder that the medium is filled with excitement. Yet, it can be difficult to enjoy comics with the sexist and violent tirades of certain fans, the thin margins under which the industry operates and the continuing racial and gender inequality in the creative sector of the business, but there are still things to love about it. Things that make me jump for joy, just like HR Watson.
This month sees me returned from both Long Beach Comic Con and Alternative Press Expo, where I found brand new comics! I also got caught up on Fables in its trade paperback form, so let’s get going.
Under the Cottonwood Tree: El Susto de la Curandera: Sold as a preview at LBCC of a 164-page graphic novel written by Paul Meyer and Carlos Meyer with art by Margaret Hardy and Jasey Crowl, Under the Cottonwood Tree begins the tale of two brothers who find magic in the forest somewhere in New Mexico around 1949. Carlos, the younger brother, stole a cookie from the local Curandera and transforms into a donkey. Oh yeah, it’s that earthy sort of magical realism that seems to make sense for US/Mexico border towns post-WWII. I don’t know why that setting feels so right — perhaps a last gasp of the fantastical before the dull reality of the gravitational universe took hold — but the team on this title use it to its fullest with a good sense of the period and a surprisingly diverse color palette. Most importantly, the preview makes me want to read the whole thing as we’re only given a few tantalizing clues to the Curandera’s real intent. We also meet a talking owl with snooty glasses, and that will always get me invested. The book is expected to be released sometime in 2015, but the best way to get updates is via the book’s Facebook page.
Gotham Academy #1: DC Comics, long absent from this column, deserves recognition for this title, a new concept from Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher with art by Karl Kerschl and colors by Geyser and Dave McCaig. Set at Gotham’s distinguished private academy, we’re introduced to Olive Silverlock, a troubled girl who just survived a troubled summer. She’s avoiding friends and trying to disappear. She’s also doing everything in her power to tolerate the presence of her boyfriend’s little sister, a first year student assigned to her. And on this rainy first day of term, they get into a mystery, have a close encounter with Bruce Wayne and we learn that either the Academy is haunted or there’s someone skulking around spying on the children. Oh, yeah, and for some reason, Olive really, really hates the Batman. With striking art (and colors so notable, the people behind them richly deserve their cover credits) and new characters in the familiar Gotham setting, I say gives this a try. It’s fresh and intriguing. Also: we should encourage the company to make more books that branch out into different molds and directions.
Monument #1: A find from APE, Mark Haven Britt writes, draws and gives color to this curious tale of a young man in a Boston suburb dealing with his brother, drunk grandfather (who might be something else) and an irksome morning in which someone has crashed a car into the Dunkin Donuts where he works. Oh, and he’s saving up money to marry someone he met during a church trip to Ireland despite the fact no one in his family believes she exists. There’s also a town full of secrets and someone threatening to reveal them all. Sure, it’s a little Twin Peaks or Strangehaven in its set-up, but it’s characters — starting with main character Declan — are quite individual and interesting even as they reflect a certain small town banality. As an artist, Britt has a great indie sensibility and designs some great page layouts. I look forward to subsequent issues. The first is available at his site, go pick it up.
Frankie Comics #1&2: Also found at APE, Frankie is a set of minicomics from Rachel Dukes illustrating her relationship with an adopted stray cat. I’m sure you’ve seen the “Life with/out Cat” comic appear on your Tumblr dash from time to time. Each strip is a delight and Duke’s work is quite charming. Through a seemingly simplicity, the strips reveal a strong command of comics grammar and skill with the page. Frankie Comics represents the sort of material comics excel at when not caught up in the superhero dramas or Crisis level events. Though the medium can go anywhere in the universe, they can also slow time and reveal the curious and wonderful in ordinary things. Not that a cat is ordinary, but you see my point. Hopefully. Anyway, I strongly recommend picking these up.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #1: Continuing the interesting mash-up of Archie comics and horror tropes, Afterlife with Archie writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa recasts the teenage witch as the star of her own Hammer horror flick, complete with moody interiors by Robert Hack. Set in the mid-60s, Sabrina deals with a lot of the usual high school dramas, but with a decidedly more lethal edge to the magic that surrounds her. Her Aunts are outwardly controlling and appear to have encased Sabrina’s father inside a tree; her cousin from England encourages her to use her magic to control mortals and there’s some sort of swamp hag coming for her. While the first issue is nothing but set-up, it was vital and interesting for me. It also strikes the right tone for a book about witches. Even if you’ve never read an Archie comic in your life (like me), the premise is inviting and worth reading through at least the first story arc.
Fables Vol. 20: Camelot: A return to form after a few books worth of wilderness. While the title has remained one of my favorites it has … lost some steam since the heady days of the war against the Adversary. There have been great one-offs and small stories, but the momentum seemed to disappear — especially during that couple of years when DC/Vertigo seemed interested in turning it into a franchise with two extra on-going titles, miniseries, an adventure game and at least one serious attempt to make it a TV show (which probably led to Disney/ABC developing Once Upon a Time). Momentum, at long last, is back. Shifting focus once again to Rose Red, Camelot sees Snow White’s ne’er-do-well sister attempt to do well as a modern day Arthur. So far, we’ve only seen her assemble a new Order of the Round Table and discover that invoking the imagery of Camelot means invoking the tale. Lancelot even returns from the muck and shame to join her Quest. While I don’t want to spoil to much, I want to point out the interesting place Snow seems to find herself in this storyline. There’s a serious Evil Queen vibe coming off of her and since Morgana herself suggests to the Lady of the Lake that the players will change, but the parts are the same … could Snow end up the bad guy? That’s the sort of thing that keeps me coming back to Fables, even when it can be a chore. Writer Bill Willingham and his collaborators find truly interesting riffs and ideas within these characters that both play on the popular notions of these fairy tales and the growth these particular versions of them have experienced over the course of the long-running series. There are two-books left to be published and I’ll be glad to see the endgame, but I’ll also be sad to see it end.
Well, that will wrap it up for this month. Next time, we’ll finally see a Paul Pope book, take a look at DC’s newly-refreshed Batgirl and enjoy a final visit with Fatale. I’m glad I doubled up on conventions in the last six weeks as I found a lot more reasons you shout Yay for Comics!