How I Made the World

Previews orders for this month are due tomorrow, so I wanted to call your attention to a title you might otherwise overlook. I don’t read many indy periodicals any more, but this one was really good, a satisfying single issue with a ton of options for where the series might go next.

How I Made the World cover

How I Made the World is written by Liz Plourde and drawn by Randy Michaels. It was one of the final Xeric Grant recipients. It’s the semi-autobiographical story about a college art student who finds out more about herself through working on a sculpture project.

Although many have done similar stories, about young artists experiencing self-discovery, this telling is fresh and insightful, and the linework is wonderful, dynamic and streamlined. The characters seem real and well-developed, and did I mention it’s really well-drawn? There’s humor and friendship and artistic instruction and learning how to break the rules and just a hint of supernatural aid. The places are solid and realistic, and the art studios, next to a smokestack, weirdly look remarkably like my high school overflow building.

There’s also a backup story, “Catman”, about a girl, her teasing uncle, and the tale he tells about her pet cat. While the first story feels like Strangers in Paradise or Love and Rockets, this one has the feel of an Archie comedy or an older Sugar and Spike.

The first issue of How I Made the World is a 32-page black-and-white comic priced at $2.95. You can find preview pages at the title link above, and you can order it from your local comic shop with Diamond code APR14 1257. It’s due out in June, with a second issue planned for 2015.

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KC Recommends Some Purchases This Week

People who know KC and I often say, “How lucky, you’re each comic fans, so you can share your hobby!” That’s true, but there’s so much diversity in comics these days that there isn’t necessarily a lot of overlap. For instance, I made a list of recommendations that I’d be looking for at the local comic shop this week, and this time around, so did KC (as his latest Westfield column). KC’s list points out some gorgeous super-sized reprint collections, such as the one shown here, as well as a data-gatherer favorite (which unfortunately has fallen prey to Diamond’s spotty delivery record on import items). However, our two lists have nothing in common. Oh, well, more to share, right?!

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Good Comics at the Comic Shop April 16

Here’s what I recommend appearing today at your local comic shop.

Katie Skelly’s Operation Margarine (AdHouse Books, $12.95) is a retro-flavored story of girls on the run. Margarine, troubled rich girl, and Bon-Bon, tough chick, take off through the desert together seeking freedom and escape. It’s like a feminist Russ Meyer movie. The flat, simple lines used by Skelly give the whole thing the feel of a fable. She talked with Tim O’Shea about making the book.

Fantagraphics’ first Uncle Scrooge collection, Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge: Only A Poor Old Man ($29.99) has now been reprinted and is available again. We recommend it.

I wanted to like Family Ties (NBM, $13.99) by Eric Hobbs and Noel Tuazon, the team behind The Broadcast, but I couldn’t follow the art at key points. It’s a great concept — a version of King Lear set among a crime family in Alaska, with the aging boss father facing dementia and two ambitious daughters — but the artist’s style is so scratchy that, combined with a dark grey wash, I sometimes couldn’t tell the characters apart. (It doesn’t help that there are a bunch of interchangeable tough guys without clearly explained relationships.) When he lays off the murk, there can be panels capturing significant emotion, particularly as the boss’ son comes to cope with losing his father while he’s still alive.

Rounding out the week is the much-anticipated first collection of Sex Criminals at a bargain price (Image Comics, $9.99). Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky present a story that’s a lot more than it sounds like, although even just the concept is dynamite: a girl who discovers that time freezes for everyone but her when she orgasms finds a boy with the same ability, and together, they decide to rob a bank. Nothing goes as expected, but instead of snarky/smarmy sex comedy (although there’s some of that, too), the first issue was an insightful portrait of a young woman discovering her body and trying to figure out just how different she was in a world that didn’t support either of those. Comics rarely has meaningful portraits of significant relationships — this is one. For adults only, obviously.

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Tomboy, Liz Prince’s First Graphic Novel, Due This Fall

Liz Prince, the creator behind Alone Forever and the award-winning Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed?, is releasing her first graphic novel this fall. Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir is a long-form comic story, in contrast to her previous strip collections. As you might guess, it’s also autobiographical, about struggling with gender expectations.

Prince has written in depth about the process of creating the book, and the publisher has posted preview pages. I’m greatly looking forward to seeing both how she handles the longer form and her story.

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Win Say I Love You Before You Can Buy It

A mailing mixup means a new contest! I enjoyed reading Say I Love You, a new shojo manga series about a high school romance between a loner and a popular boy, so since I wound up with an extra copy, I’d like to give someone else a chance to enjoy it as well. The book will be available to buy at the end of the month, but before then, you can enter to win a copy of book 1.

To enter the contest, please leave a comment below telling me your favorite shojo manga and why. A winner will be picked randomly from all entries on Friday, April 18.

(U.S. addresses only, please. Winners will be emailed to confirm address. If email is not answered within 24 hours or a valid email address is not provided, a replacement winner will be selected. Your email won’t be used for any other purpose.)

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Petty Theft

Out next month from Drawn & Quarterly is Petty Theft by Pascal Girard. I haven’t read his previous works they’ve translated and released here, although Reunion sounded interesting, if uncomfortable. That’s the comedy category this book falls into, that of recognition of human frailty. Here are some preview pages.

Pascal’s on his own after a long-term relationship ended. He’s running as part of his new life healthy resolutions, but when he trips over a rock and injures himself, he’s told to stop exercising for a while. Without the endorphins, he’s afraid he’ll descend into depression, so he begins hanging out at the local bookstore, where he spots a young woman stealing one of his books.

Even if I didn’t know Girard was European, I think I would have guessed. (Update: I’ve since been informed I erred. He’s French-Canadian, not European.) The art is thin-line, with six borderless panels per page, and the content is slice-of-life and urban, a comic equivalent of Woody Allen movies. Perhaps it’s a bit too self-indulgent, assuming that we’re all interested in the details of Girard’s life, but the incidents are funny if cringe-inducing. I wanted to push Pascal to make choices, or better ones. His attempts at detection, at finding out who this woman is, often boil down to chance encounters.

Certain pages work as gag strips in themselves, especially the work ones. Pascal is feeling blocked from drawing, so he goes back to work as a construction welder, which doesn’t go well. Particularly odd yet eye-catching is one of his possessions that the ex-girlfriend sends over: a giant paper-mache head of himself. Sitting in the corner of his room (he’s staying with friends, a young family who provide a contrast to his single, unfocused life), it’s a mute reminder of his self-judgment.

Although small, the panels have great emotion. They read quickly, in case you’re just interested in what uncomfortable situation Pascal will get into next (much like Seinfeld), but their detail rewards inspection. His uncertainty about what to do — in his life, with his career, about the book thief — will resonate with many. I found the ending somewhat unsatisfying, as I felt there was a lack of resolution, but perhaps that’s my expectations of fiction, where I want stronger endings than we get in life.

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Say I Love You Book 1

Say I Love You is a common type of shojo manga love story — loner high school girl is picked out and romanced by popular boy — that’s made special by art with josei touches.

Mei won me over the same way she did Yamato. She’s been neglected by those she thought friends and bullied by other girls in her class, so she becomes a loner, trusting no one. Finally, when harassed by Yamato’s friend, who’s pulling up her skirt on a staircase, she turns around and kicks Yamato in the face. It’s a gutsy move, and it confirms Yamato’s interest in her as someone different and unusual.

As with many other shojo, the art focuses on faces, the better to convey emotion. The characters, shown full figure, often without backgrounds, have the exaggerated limbs and angular body language I associate with fashion design. Mei’s eyes go beyond the usual big shiny pools; they’re dark pits of despair. Yamato, meanwhile, could be a male model. He’s pursued by random girls in the street, he’s so attractive. That contrast — someone who gets attention without working for it and someone who doesn’t want any attention because of the pain it’s brought her — makes for an intriguing relationship with plenty of dramatic potential.

Soon enough, Mei is fighting jealousy over Yamato’s easy connections with other girls, but at least she asks him about them instead of stewing to extend the volume count of the series. The supporting character of Asami is also interesting — she’s got large breasts, so the other girls call her “Melon Monster” and jealously make fun of her. (Thankfully, she isn’t drawn for fan service.) Mei stands up for her, explaining how complicated teen emotions can be.

Say I Love You Book 1 concludes with Mei and Yamato’s funny, mixed-up attempt at a first date. This is a strong introduction to a new series I’ll be following, since the romance feels authentic, and I’m rooting for the two of them. The book also includes an interview with author Kanae Hazuki, a short piece about her goals for the series, and a few translation notes. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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Stan Lee’s Mighty 7: Beginnings

Out this coming Tuesday is an odd little animated movie, Stan Lee’s Mighty 7: Beginnings. It opens with a cartoon Stan Lee (voiced by The Man himself) driving his convertible (one-handed!) down a windy mountain road at night as he tells us he’s known for the legendary superheroes he’s created.

Stan Lee's Mighty 7: Beginnings

He’s been hired by Archie Comics to create new characters for them, but he’s not having much luck. He’s in the desert to clear his mind when a spaceship carrying seven aliens, each with a superpower, crashes in front of him. Five of them are prisoners of the other two. Stan takes them all to a friend’s beach house, where he hides them from the government in return for making a comic book about them and teaching them to be a superhero team.

Stan Lee's Mighty 7: Beginnings

This leads to lots of fight scenes, and frankly, I lost track of who was battling whom and why. I think both the government (led by Mr. Cross, voiced by Jim Belushi, as head of a covert military division) and other aliens are after the group, because later, they save the world in some way. The animation is generic and the scenes familiar to anyone who likes superheroes or science fiction, but the voice cast is amazing for such a project. And Stan fans will love seeing so much of him!

  • Armie Hammer as Strong Arm, with super strength
  • Christian Slater as Lazer Lord, who shoots laser energy (my favorite, since he does a great voice job as an anti-team rogue)
  • Teri Hatcher as Silver Skylark, a winged woman
  • Mayim Bialik as Lady Lightning, with superspeed
  • Flea as Roller Man, who turns himself into a big ball (think Bouncing Boy)
  • Darren Criss as Micro, who shrinks
  • Sean Austin as Kid Kinergy, with telekinesis

Stan Lee’s Mighty 7: Beginnings only runs a little over an hour. It aired on the Hub Network earlier this year and was intended to be the first in a trilogy of animated films, although I’m not sure the others are still in production. Only three issues of the print comic were published from March to July 2012; it was canceled in favor of TV potential (an effort that has reportedly been in progress now for ten years).

Stan Lee's Mighty 7: Beginnings

My favorite part of the show is when the military captures Stan Lee and the team has to come save him. The government has some kind of mind-scanning device, and the bad guys keep getting defeated by how far back Stan’s memory goes, and how it’s full of nothing but him making up comic characters.

Stan Lee’s Mighty 7: Beginnings is available as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack (list price: $19.97) exclusively at Walmart on April 15 as well as a plain DVD ($14.93). Only the Blu-ray has these extras, though:

  • A 4-and-1/2 minute interview with Stan about the project.
  • Two minutes of “Stan’s Rants”, where he goes through the character list in terms of how they’d be as roommates. Since it’s Stan, the two women are described in terms of who they’re in love with or girlfriend to.
  • “Script to Screen” has three sequences: “Stan the Man”, “The Escape Plan”, and “The Final Showdown”. Each 1-and-1/2-minute section compares layout sketches, script, and final footage.
  • Three extended scenes lack sound effects, creating a somewhat surreal viewing experience.
  • A two-minute trailer (not the one seen below, but one that focuses on showing the character names).
  • Stan Lee trivia questions.
  • A gallery of production sketches of the characters and full-color background art.
  • Composer’s favorite music cues, which plays various bits of music from the movie.

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