Archive for the ‘Creator Spotlight’ Category
The passing of Harvey Pekar requires acknowledgment, not just because we’re a comics blog and this is news from our geeky world, but because Pekar was a legitimately important writer who deserves the recognition and appreciation of all of us, whether you’re a nerd or not. With comics’ longevity in our culture comes the sad fact that there are precious few true innovators of the medium left with us. We lost another titan today, as Harvey Pekar passed away of causes yet-undetermined. He was 70 years old.
His creation, American Splendor, was a pioneering effort in independent comics, an autobiographical book depicting the real-life “drama” of the human condition told by an anonymous file clerk in Cleveland, Ohio, far away from Gotham and the center of the comic book universe. His book was populated by Pekar’s own friends, his co-workers, and anybody he interacted with in the day to day, and the stories told within its pages all came from incidents in his own life. The book was illustrated by dozens of artists since its first issue in 1976 (including, famously, Pekar’s legendary buddy R. Crumb) and over the course of its run became recognized as one of the best and most influential creator-owned properties ever.
Harvey’s writing in American Splendor was favorably compared to greats like Anton Chekhov in its narrative focus on the ephemeral emotionalism of moments between moments rather than any definitive set of linear events as they might relate to a traditional style of storytelling. But unlike Chekhov, who wrote initially for money on the side before formally committing himself to the craft of writing, Pekar was never any kind of literary genius. Rather, he was akin to those other DIY-ers that dotted the artistic landscape of latter half of the 20th century, driven by something innate and maybe a little profound, to stay up all night to write down the things that he wanted other people to see in his world, even if it meant being extra-tired during his double shift at the VA the next day.
Following the underground success of American Splendor, Pekar would be “discovered” any number of times in the ensuing years by any number of outsiders who found novelty in glimpsing the mundane existence of this glum little weirdo from the distant Mid-West. In his willingness to indulge potential readers, he even became a bit of a side-show attraction at times, as when he appeared eight times on Late Night with David Letterman, culminating with an acrimonious airing of grievance that once again relegated him to national obscurity, save for those few viewers who might have actually gone on to pick up a copy of his most recent issue.
But Harvey’s insistence that he never be “co-opted” was equal parts a commitment to his art and to himself, knowing that he could not make his comic if he ever believed himself to be another phony. Even as neurotic, cantankerous and put-upon as the man could be, he was also never nearly as self-serious as his public persona might have lead one to believe. How could he be? American Splendor was downright severe in its sincerity, and showed not one iota of inauthenticity in the four decades that it was published. His body of works are paradoxically the least self-aware metatextual texts ever created. It simply couldn’t have worked otherwise.
Harvey Pekar was a Great in the world of comics, if never more than a regular guy in the real one. And he will be missed.
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High Five loves to talk about writers almost as much as we love to talk about superheroes. Today, I’m taking a break to discuss a talent that falls outside of our typical modus operandi while remaining under the larger umbrella of Comics. Americans can be notorious for our ignorance of world events at any given moment. Disinterested in world news, we are often disinterested in world culture as well. We like British writers because they speak English, and we like French comics because they make us feel cultured. But, if pressed to name a Spanish comic most of us would say “Ferdinand the Bull.”
The 1970s were a fantastic era for popular art, film, and music. Rap, electronica, heavy metal, and punk rock were born; lightweight color cameras were invented enabling an explosion of beautiful motion pictures; and Spain saw the rise of artist Miguel Calatayud as he illustrated Los Doce Trabajos de Hercules and Peter Petrake. With boldness and a simplicity that belies its craftsmanship, Calatayud evoked raw emotion from his vibrant landscapes.
What I find most fascinating about Catalayud is the blatant influence of Pablo Picasso. This should hardly surprise us as both men were Spanish. Yet, for as famous as Mr. Picasso is, we rarely consider the influence of his art upon thes in a world of High Art, detached from the simple musings of pop and comics. In thick lines and bold colors Miguel Calatayud shows us this is not always true. contemporary popular culture of his time. Picasso’s art live
Sadly, all or most of Catalayud’s work is out of print. If you want to own his work it may be possible to find something used on eBay, or if you’re really lucky it might turn up in a used book store. If you get that lucky I’ll envy you forever. The rest of us must be content with what is available in the fabulous world of the internet. You can find more information at grainedit.com and bibliotecathule.blogspot.com.
Heyo everybody! Jonny here. It’s no secret that here at High Five! we love us some BOOM! Studios. Recently I was given the opportunity to interview artist/writer Peter Krause whose work includes pencils for Irredeemable, The Power of Shazam!, and sundry 90s Star Trek comics. Published below is my Q&A session with Mr. Krause, conducted via emails and interwebs:
High Five! Comics: Thanks again for the interview. We always have fun interacting with industry people and getting human faces/personalities for the books we enjoy reading every month. When did you start reading comics?
Peter Krause: Somewhere around 9-10 years old. We had a drugstore around the corner from where I grew up in south Minneapolis, and comics were stocked on a spinner rack there. That’s what I spent my allowance money on–comics. I always bought Superman or World’s Finest. My brother bought Legion of Superheroes and Teen Titans. Later, I discovered Marvel comics. Spider-Man and Daredevil became my new favorites.
HF!C: Some people grow up knowing exactly what they want to do, and most of us stumble in to a job that works for us. Where on this spectrum did comic illustration fall for you? Was it something you dreamed of doing as a kid, or something you fell into?
PK: Oh yeah, I dreamed of it. In grade school, I became good friends with two other guys who also drew all the time. We’d hang out at each others’ houses after school, draw and trade comics. But drawing comics for a living remained a dream. My parents always encouraged my drawing, but somehow I didn’t ever think I’d make a living with my art. I graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA in studio arts and also a degree in journalism. My first freelance job after school was a writing gig. It wasn’t until Lisa and I got married that I reconnected with my love of drawing comics. After several years of working with smaller companies–including a self-publishing stint–I got my first freelance assignment with DC.
HF!C: You’ve been in the business long enough to have been influenced by some of the Silver and Bronze Age artists. What can you tell us about your influences (inside, and outside of comics), and what artists have been most important to you?
PK: The most obvious influence is Curt Swan. I was a Superman fan–first and foremost. Curt drew the Superman I grew up with. When I was showing samples at conventions, Curt Swan’s name was brought up in comparison. Not that I was as good as Curt, mind you. But the influence was there. Curt was a Minnesota guy, like me, so maybe there was something in the water! Other favorites from my childhood were Jack Kirby, John Romita Sr., Gene Colan, Gil Kane, Nick Cardy, Carmine Infantino, John Buscema. And of course, Steranko. Steranko just completely blew our minds! We’d never seen anything like his stuff before!
HF!C: Do you have an artistic philosophy?
PK: Always make your present assignment a bit better than the last. And don’t be afraid to fail–failure leads to learning.
HF!C: When I read your 90s work I notice a stark (and pleasing) contrast from the exaggerated, often abrasive imagery that was so popular at that time. Did you feel any pressure then to mimic that style?
PK: Ultimately, I think you draw the way you have to draw. Not that you can’t learn from others, but I was attracted more to the solid, Alex Raymond approach to storytelling. I remember Frank Miller saying that chasing trends is a fool’s errand. That can apply to your art as well.
HF!C: Were there any offers between “Power of Shazam” and “Irredeemable” that you turned down?
PK: I did turn down some things, but it wasn’t like comic editors were beating down my doors. I’m not sure that “Power of Shazam!” was seen as a success at DC–Jerry Ordway has commented on that in his Modern Masters book. I did get a few smaller assignments from DC–I’m sure that was Mike Carlin’s doing. But I was getting some interest from local ad agencies and production houses to do storyboards and marker comps, so I turned my attention to that line of work.
HF!C: “Irredeemable” is a year old now. How has the critical and commercial success of the work impacted you or your career?
PK: I can easily say that the last 15-16 months have been the busiest of my drawing career. I still do some storyboard work–the pay is just too good. When you put a monthly book on top of that, it makes for many hours at the drawing table. The Eisner nominations–“Best New Series” and “Best Continuing Series”–were a bit of a shock. What impact that has on my career is too early to say. But Mark Waid has been very supportive, and my editor Matt Gagnon has worked around the rest of my drawing assignments. And since I’m giving out kudos, Andrew Dalhouse’s colors have been great.
HF!C: “Irredeemable” has given you a unique opportunity to create characters from scratch. How much of yourself is in these characters?
PK: When we started working on “Irredeemable”, Mark gave me a rough outline of the characters we needed to design. I actually followed up with some more written details on each of the characters as I saw them. I’d hate to say that there are aspects of my personality in each of them–that’s what our imaginations are for. But we have striven to make the characters human with real flaws–some of which have had fatal consequences. And some of the characters I identify with more closely than others.
HF!C: Do you have a favorite character, and is it because you love or hate that character?
PK: Qubit and Kaidan are my favorites. Qubit because he’s a bit obsessive and kind of a straight-line thinker–I’m a bit too much like that myself. Qubit is the closest character we have to Reed Richards–but perhaps without the moral certitude Reed has. Reed Richards has always been one of my favorite comics characters. Kaidan appeals to me because she likes being part of a team, and also is a bit unsure of her worth. She’s at heart an optimist, and maybe a bit naive. All those things make it easy to root for her. And as you will see in one of the upcoming issues, she discovers another aspect of her powers. I think Mark has big plans for her.
HF!C: In issue #9 of “Irredeemable” we saw a good deal of role reversal. Tony seemed fragile and human, whereas The Paradigm became much darker and almost sinister. Has your perception of the characters changed as this project moved forward, or have you and Mr. Waid maintained a consistent vision?
PK: I think the Paradigm/Plutonian conflict has not been inconsistent, but it has brought out hidden aspects of the heroes’ personalities. I think the Paradigm is wrestling with the “ends and means” dilemma, and that’s pushing them to a place where they are a bit unsure. But that’s a place where we can tell a lot of cool stories.
HF!C: Before we go, is there anything you’d like to plug, promote, or otherwise talk about?
PK: I’m on a bit of hiatus, as my next issue of “Irredeemable” will be #16. The incredible Diego Barreto will be drawing issues #13-15. I’d just like to thank everyone for supporting the book. If you haven’t read it, please give “Irredeemable” a try!
Congrats to Peter Krause, Mark Waid, and the rest of the creative team/staff at BOOM! Studios for their much deserved Eisner nomination. Irredeemable #13 is in stores now (sadly lacking Krause’s art, yet pleasantly featuring fine pencils by Diego Barreto). Many thanks to Peter Krause for taking time out of his schedule to mingle with us internet nerds.
This week marked the end of another legendary comic book opus, Planetary, so it really seems like now would be the time to spotlight one of my all time favorite comic writers, Warren Ellis. While most writers embrace the theme of futurist technology, Ellis seems to take it, add many elements of transhumanism (essentially, using technology to enhance the limits of normal humans’ abilities), and rub it in your face. I’m pretty sure he spends all the time he could be spending at comic conventions staring at his toaster going, “Why the fuck can’t I do that?”
First, let’s start with his work on a hero everybody knows. Before Ellis got his hands on Tony Stark in Iron Man Vol. 4’s “Extremis” storyline, the Iron Man suit was cumbersome and took a good while to put on (or, in the case of Ellis’ own Ultimate Galactus Trilogy, took a team of dozens). And then Mr. Ellis decided, “That’s dumb! Gimme!” He had Tony Stark inject himself with a weird techno-virus that pretty much grafted the suit’s undershealth to his own bones and made it all thought controlled. Ever since then, instead of having to go over to the garage and put it on piece by piece (like a stupid human), Tony just has to think about putting it on and the Extremis Suit parts just fly onto him in, as Matt Fraction put it, “the blink of an eye.”
Another example of Ellis’ love of transhumanism is found in Wildstorm’s Desolation Jones. First off, this book is gorgeously illustrated by J.H. Williams III, on indefinite hiatus since the end of it’s first story arc, and grossly underrated. It tells the tale of Michael “Desolation” Jones, an alcoholic ex-MI6 agent who was proven a bit, well, unstable. The British government did a series of experiments on him (including not allowing him to sleep for a full year) and released him into Los Angeles. Although few details are given in the book about the experiments, he is branded a possible biological hazard and gains the superhuman ability to focus on things we normal folk couldn’t (such as watching a bullet whizzing past or hearing the displacement of air around a swinging crowbar). I seriously hope that once Williams is done with “Detective Comics,” he and Ellis could expand on this idea.
Honestly, there isn’t enough I could ever say about my love for Vertigo’s Transmetropolitan (or its antihero protagonist, Spider Jerusalem, but that is beside the point). The City is a world where technology has progressed so much that it it has more or less perverted everyday life, allowing corruption to run rampant. Residents can take pills that immunize them from any and all cancers, alter their human DNA with alien genes to become “transients,” or just go all out and download their personality into “foglet” nano-machine clouds. Basically, the world of Transmetropolitan is a transhumanist’s paradise and, although critical of it at times, Warren Ellis’ scientific wet dream.
There is a ton of Ellis’ work I’ve yet to read (so, so many limited series) but there are definitely a lot of titles on my to-read list. One of these days I’m going to pick up Ignition City, Red, the Authority, and Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., all of which are on my well-worn Comics Most Wanted list. While I round those titles up, I eagerly await the next futuristic Warren Ellis project.
“… another testament to Waid’s skill as a writer; nothing is wasted.”
-Greg Rucka, February 2009
I love comics. I find the stories, characters, legends, mythology, drama, and the inexhaustible “OH S**T!!!” moments to be thoroughly compelling and most importantly: entertaining. That I feel this way is hardly surprising; I am writing for this blog. Also obvious are the talents of our beloved authors who create these fine works of literature. Any connoisseur has their favorite author. Bendis, Moore, Morrison, Ennis- all of these come to mind. Some of us love a solid story about capes (Bendis or Johns), some of us love to see the boundaries of the medium stretched (Moore), and some of us just love to have our minds blown by convoluted stories of higher reality (Morrison- and before you give me crap for saying he’s convoluted: yes he is, I love his work, but he did write Seaguy).
While I’m sure most of you are thinking of someone I should have put on that list, I doubt many of you are surprised at my choices. But, let’s be honest folks: these guys are more than slightly one dimensional. Before you rush to post angry comments, stop and think about it. I’m not talking about the characters they write for, or the scope of the events they depict so passionately. What I mean is this: when you read Moore you know that paranoia, dystopia, and god-hood are probably involved. Reading Morrison? I guarantee that you’ll read about a higher reality, that it will make a lot of sense until the last third of the story when you’ll have to re-read 15 pages to figure out what the hell happened. Johns or Bendis? Classic capes all the way. Are the stories good? No question. But, I’m sure you know the basic premise, scope, and range of the issues you’ll be reading before you open the book.
Again, wait before the angry comments asking, “What about….” I’m not interested in exceptions and I’m most definitely not questioning the talent of these authors. My point stands: artists of any medium are usually good at one thing and they stick to it. But that isn’t why I’m writing this post. What I really want to talk about is an author capable of working in more than one style. I want to talk about Mark Waid. My intense respect for this man may be less than mainstream, but let’s take a minute to look at the remarkable range of technique Waid uses with confidence and ease.
First let us tackle the obvious: Kingdom Come. Any modern comic library without this work is incomplete. No question about this. If you like superhero comics and you don’t own a copy of Kingdom Come then I question why you’re reading a comics blog. If you ever questioned why DC places so much importance on Superman you’ll find your answer here. Plus a whole hell of a lot more. Many characters are beautifully re-imagined, the intense story is delivered with surgical precision, and you’ll come to realize that Mark Waid understands superheros better than you ever will.
Keeping with precision story craft and impeccable understanding of character we see another great Superman tale: Superman Birthright. Birthright was important as more than just a modern imagining of the Man of Steel. Here we see not only a graceful depiction of the Godfather of superheroes (I mean Superman folks) but also a powerful consideration of Lex Luthor. I think this is the only TPB my wife and I both read in one sitting on the same night. I read Birthright, then made her read it after me, and it dominated our conversation the rest of the evening.
While many love Waid for his vision of the future- many take issue with his bold usage of Silver Age style. Not characters. No, I mean style. In works like JLA: Year One and Flash & Green Lantern: The Brave and the Bold Waid actually makes us feel like we’re reading something written in the 1960s, and more importantly we LIKE that he’s doing that. In these works you get more than dystopia or horror. You get something lacking in most modern comics: fun. How many authors would dare to have Martian Manhunter explode his head in an attempt to elicit laughter from a fledgling JLA? And how many would do that two years after writing something like Kingdom Come? I guarantee that many of you read Brave and the Bold and thought: lame. And if you feel that way I guarantee that you’re under 35. I’d further argue that if you’re over 35 you take my side on this one. Mark isn’t just campy or juvenile. He’s taking the same deep understanding he has for Gold and Silver Age characters and he’s applying it to Gold and Silver Age storytelling. Love it or hate it you have to admit that takes skill.
Next we consider something outside of the classic cape stories. A work Gregory Rucka has described as “…inspired, remarkable for it’s depth and ambition” we look at Potter’s Field. This is a classic whodunnit. Released on the Boom! imprint you’d never guess this was written by a man with unparalleled understanding of characters from DC and Marvel. Potter’s Field is remarkable not only for it’s intrigue and mystery but also for it’s gritty and fallible characters. There is no humor, there is no justice. Only mystery, compulsion, and atonement. If you didn’t read the spine you’d never peg this as Waid. (incidentally this book was given to us by the author in exchange for a Green Lantern ring which makes it even more awesome.)
While my favorite Waid stories are his creator owned works like Potter’s Field and Irredeemable– arguably his most epic, ambitious, subtle, and nuanced work to date- it is his crystalline understanding of characters and genre coupled with masterful pacing of story that makes this man a winner. Whether you enjoy Waid as much as I do is irrelevant. What is undeniable is his rare ability to write so well without using the same hat trick over and over. Somehow the dichotomy of being great at one thing vs mediocre at many things doesn’t seem to apply to Waid. I, for one, love him for that. Plus he writes a deliciously cantankerous Twitter feed. My colleagues like to recommend a drink at the close of a post. Waid, you get a strong ale held aloft with sincerest respect. Feel the Power of Rock & Roll.
I finished issue # 6 of Mark Waid’s Irredeemable this week. This is not a review of that issue. This a review of the entire series so far. You need to start reading this book right now.
Waid opens this series with pure terror. We’ve got a basic Superman-esque character – strength, flight, invincibility, laser eyes, super hearing, etc – named the Plutonian and he’s gone totally fucking crazy. Not crazy like Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys. No, Plutonian’s killing everyone he ever cared about and their families (including babies, gasp!). And by everyone I don’t mean his aunties and cousins, I mean all the super-powered good guys and bad guys alike. He’s pretty much unstoppable. I was terrified.
The Plutonian’s senseless, endless massacre continued through several issues, blinding me with shock and awe. But by issue #4 the effect began wearing off and I started to wonder when some actual character development might occur. I found myself thinking, “Yeah, I get it. Homeboy’s powerful and fucking evil. C’mon Waid, when do we get to know what’s up?” As I mused this question Comic Con 2009 rolled around and I managed to meet Mark Waid. [As an aside this brilliant author is ridiculously underrated and I was able to harass him with fandom and nerdery at length. Awesome for me, but seriously people – this guy wrote Kingdom Come, show some love!] So here I am at Comic Con standing in front of the Boom! booth talking to Mark Waid and I ask how many issues Irredeemable will be. To my surprise I was told this is an ongoing series meant to establish a full universe. Hmm. Seriously Waid? You’re staking the Boom!U on this?
Then issue #5 arrives. Conveniently it’s only 99c. (brilliant marketing, Boom!) Aside from a brief introduction where “Tony” the Plutonian talks about super evil shit we don’t see much of our bad guy. This issue is almost entirely devoted to Plutonian’s former team-mates, which is great, because so far they’ve been important, but mysterious. By the end of the issue I was interested in more than the gore and horror of #1-4.
Enter issue #6. Now we’re really getting in to some deep shit for all characters involved. These people had been there from the beginning, but this was the first time I was forced to really think about them. Feeling out of the loop, I decided to re-read #1-5 to remember what they’d been doing so far. Lo and behold! You brilliant mad-man, Mark fucking Waid! All of this time I had been so distracted by the flashy, shocking rage of the Plutonian that I’d missed just how much had been going on. Given what you learn in issues #5 and #6 you realize just how nuanced and interesting Tony’s former team-mates were from the beginning of the series. Bread crumbs of character development had been carefully laid out in the trail that’s lead us to this point in the story. I cannot wait to see every issue of Irredeemable and all of the spin-off series we’re bound to have for the rest of these characters.
Basically, Mark Waid is proving once again that he’s absolutely brilliant and deserving of the accolades typically reserved (and deservedly so) for minds like Morrison, Rucka, Ennis, and Bendis. Maybe people dislike Waid because he comes off formulaic. But what gets neglected is that this is a guy who takes a formula that by all rights should be the most tired thing in all of comics and somehow makes it fresh and exciting to read. Reading Waid is like rediscovering comics again. Irredeemable is no exception and shows Waid at his finest. Seriously people, the first trade is only $9.99. Go read this comic.
When it comes to Marvel books, I am crazy picky. I mean, it’s not like Marvel is bad or anything; hell, the first comics I ever bought with my own money were beat-up copies of the first four issues of both Excalibur and West Coast Avengers. It’s more like I grew out of the action-driven books of Marvel in the nineties and grew into the character-driven books of modern DC. Occasionally, however, I’ll stumble across a Marvel story that I absolutely adore. I found the two volumes of Wolverine: Enemy of the State by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. in a 50% off bin and it quickly became one of my all time favorite story arcs from ANY publishing house.
The basic premise of Enemy of the State is kinda complicated. Wolverine goes back to Japan (for the first time since he had to kill his old flame, Mariko) to play the Denzel Washington role and help an old buddy get his kid back. Turns out that it was all a trap set by the Hand, the Dawn of the White Light (led by some fucker named the Gorgon, but not the one from the Inhumans) and HYDRA to get him to where they were, kill him, resurrect him, and turn him into their own personal zombie contract killer. Wolverine ends up squaring off against Elektra, Nick Fury (and the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D.), the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and the X-Men, even going so far as (big ol’ fuckin’ spoiler, everybody) killing Northstar (but it’s Marvel, so nobody [Jean Grey excluded] stays dead longer than, like, a volume at the most).
But the best thing about this run didn’t happen until the last issue. The Wolverine vs. the Marvel universe plot only lasted 11 issues and Millar had one left over. So what does he do? Inadvertent collaboration with Will Eisner, engage!
Featuring Wolverine in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, Wolverine #32 was beautiful and strangely depressing. According to an essay by Mark Millar, he wanted to tell this story SO BADLY, but couldn’t figure out how. Wolverine’s familiar voice seemed out of place in a story like this (calling anybody at Auschwitz “bub” might be a smidge insensitive) and Millar didn’t know what to do. Then, while he was a banquet, in comes some old dude to sit next to him. They strike up a conversation about Millar’s problem. The man’s solution to Wolverine’s churlish lingo?
“Then don’t make him talk.”
Turns out, the clever old man was Will Eisner. If you want the whole story, it’s in the trade. Go get it.
Anyways, the silence worked beautifully. Wolverine keeps using his quick-healing ability to torment the head of the camp, who is bent on killing him. Every time they attempt to execute Logan he comes back and just grins at them, never saying a word. Eventually, Head Nazi ends up accidentally killing himself while trying to personally execute Wolverine in a fit of rage. And Wolverine just keeps grinning. Every time he pops back up is one of those important comic book “oh shit” moments that we all love. Shot in the face? Doesn’t matter. Set ablaze? Whatevs. He’s back and he’s smiling and he’s silent and he’s creepy as fuck (to both the Nazis and, for some reason, me). Extremely haunting, highly recommended, read this issue with a glass of Fancy Scotch on the rocks.
Of course, the issue is dedicated to Will Eisner. As far as I know, with its release in 2005, the last issue of Wolverine: Enemy of the State was Will Eisner’s final actual creative contribution to a comic book. It was a hell of an issue and a hell of a way for Mr. Eisner to add a flourish to his final bows. Even though this technically is NOT an Eisner book, this is the story that makes me want to go back and read Eisner’s body of work I added Fagin the Jew and A Contract With God to the top of my tattered “to buy” list, and I can’t wait to track them down and read them.