Bellweather Rhapsody

I got Bellweather Rhapsody from my local library, and I read it through in one sitting because I couldn’t put it down. The publisher describes the book as “full of knowing nods to pop culture classics from The Shining to Agatha Christie to Glee.” True enough.

The Bellweather Hotel is a decaying old Catskills resort, the location of a high school music festival that promises great things for the few who stand out there. Alice and Rabbit, twins, are attending this year, accompanied by their teacher, Natalie Wilson. But everyone and everything has a secret.

Alice is unsure about herself, although she’s confident in her talent. Maybe too confident. Her brother Rabbit has been keeping a significant revelation from her for the first time in his life. Their chaperone is new in town, fleeing her previous job after a disturbing nighttime accident.

While at the hotel, they meet Hastings, the long-time concierge; the scarred Scottish orchestra conductor Brodie; Viola Fabian, the beautiful but vicious head of the program; and Minnie, who as a child 15 years ago attended a wedding at the hotel. There, she saw a bride kill her new husband before hanging herself in room 712, an event that has forever shaped her life. Things get really weird during a snowstorm that traps everyone in place, when Alice’s roommate Jill (who’s also Viola’s daughter) disappears from that same room.

Reveals pile upon each other as the mystery progresses, perhaps with too many neat tie-ups, although I thought author Kate Racculia gave them all sufficient grounding. She certainly creates memorable, three-dimensional characters I wanted to spend time with. At the end, she thanks Ellen Raskin, and the comparison is apt — this is much like one of her books, but for adults. The themes of memory and music as emotional transport and the darkness in human loneliness are resonant.

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Read a Cat Comic for World Cat Day

Twitter says it’s World Cat Day, so what better time to remind you to read A Stray in the Woods, Alison Wilgus’ spooky webcomic. Originally, the story was user-driven, but now that it’s completed, you can find out what’s going on in one sitting. And her cats are so fluid and design-y and lovely to view!

A Stray in the Woods

The problem with not having to wait, though, is that you might lose the dreamy, mystical feel to the story, so pace yourself. You can read it all online or buy the PDF or get a ComiXology copy.

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Interview With Matthew Bogart, Author of The Chairs’ Hiatus

I was really impressed when I stumbled across Matthew Bogart’s The Chairs’ Hiatus a couple of weeks ago, so I asked him a few questions about the project and his history.

Matthew Bogart

You can find out more about his work at his website, which includes full comics to read, and his Kickstarter is already backed with 12 days to go. Just a few more dollars means a new story with the characters, though, so go pledge.

How long have you been making comics? Why and how did you start?

I’ve been making and publishing comics since I was in middle school. Those early comics were 11×17 photocopied sheets folded in half and stapled that my friends and I sold at our local comic store.

I recently wrote the shop owner who let my friends and I sell our comics in his store and told him that, while a Kickstarter doing well is amazing, there’s nothing that compares to having your comics sold in a real live comic shop when you’re in middle school!

I know that some people don’t consider that kind of thing “real” comics, but I do. I’m not sure I’d consider what we made “good” comics but who’s to say?

You seem to be very forward-looking in terms of your use of online tools, with free copies readable on the web, selling PDF downloads, use of ComiXology Submit, a Patreon, and now your first Kickstarter. How successful have the various outlets been for you?

Thanks! I don’t write about it a lot, but I’m really into technology. I feel a pull towards technology similar to when I first discovered comics. I read more tech sites than comics sites. It’s something I really enjoy experimenting with. The trick is to try and balance what is interesting for the creator to play with and what is actually helpful to the reader.

The Chairs' Hiatus page by Matthew Bogart

By far the most rewarding experience I’ve had publishing on the web has been my Patreon. I share weekly video updates, post early versions of my pages, and offer behind-the-scenes posts about how I make my comics. The folks at Patreon, who really seem to have their hearts in the right place, are building something very special for both fans and creators. It’s a wonderful platform.

Am I right in thinking that your Kickstarter is your first time in print?

I could see how you would think that. This is certainly the first time I’ve attempted to have a large print run done of a nicely printed book. I’ve been printing my own work since I was a kid, however. I like to do things that experiment with print as well. I’ve published flipbooks and gate-fold comics. I made a set of cards to be viewed in a turn-of-the-century stereoscope. I’ve even printed a small batch of The Chairs’ Hiatus before, using a print-on-demand publisher. They were black-and-white paperbacks made to take to a few conventions.

What inspired the story of The Chairs’ Hiatus? Why that subject and characters?

That’s a tough one to answer. I’d had an idea for a story about a musician that died and asked a friend of his to complete his final album for him. Around the same time I’d had a friendship dissolve in what seemed like a very permanent way. I can see elements of both of those things in the finished story. I also wanted to tell a story that all took place in one crazy night. I’d read Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and thought it was an interesting restriction to put on a story. I’m not sure if it’s totally clear, but in the last panel of The Chairs’ Hiatus the sun is just starting to come up.

Both The Chairs’ Hiatus and Oh, It’s the End of the World deal with major life changes told through substantial use of flashbacks. What determines your use of that structure?

It’s almost always used to make an emotional beat or scene land in the present. For example, in Oh, It’s the End of the World, there’s a flashback about how what a crazy romantic whirlwind the previous summer was for this character named Erin. It establishes how badly she regretted not expressing her feelings for this boy and how, now that he’s back for summer break again, she’s decided to come out and tell him how she feels. This is all to make the moment later in the story, where the reader finds out that he’s actually started hiding from her, more uncomfortable.

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Next DCU Animated Movies Announced: Aquaman, More Batman and Justice League

Some short notes on the next planned DC original animated movies, after next week’s Batman: Assault on Arkham, tying into the video games.

Aquaman in Throne of Atlantis

Next up is Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, described as “the Aquaman origin story”, out in early 2015. That’s the same title used for a comic book storyline facing off against the Ocean Master that ran in Justice League #15–17 and Aquaman #14–16. Aquaman will be voiced by Matt Lanter with Sam Witwer playing Ocean Master.

“Sometime in the first half of 2015″ will bring Batman vs. Robin, “which will feature the first-ever animated appearance of The Court of Owls.”

Finally, Bruce Timm returns to the DCU with Justice League: Gods and Monsters. He is producing the film and developed the story and many of the character designs.

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Batman: Assault on Arkham on Digital Now, DVD Next Week

The newest original DCU animated movie, Batman: Assault on Arkham, will be available on home video next week, although you can get it digitally now. I’ve already linked to the trailer, and to promote the release, Warner Bros. has released two clips.

The first shows Batman being Batman in a relatively standard fight scene.

The second is more exciting, since it shows Amanda Waller, voiced by CCH Pounder, demonstrating why she has the nickname “The Wall” as she briefs Task Force X.

Amanda Waller in Batman: Assault on ArkhamCCH Pounder

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Marvel Comics: 75 Years of Cover Art

Review by KC Carlson

Out next week (at least in comic shops — the real world may have to wait a week or two) is a massive four-pound, 10.25″ x 13.5″, 320-page slipcased hardcover collection of — well, the title neatly explains itself, as well as the contents: Marvel Comics: 75 Years of Cover Art.

Of course, it’s a tie-in to Marvel’s 75th Anniversary this year, and nearly 1,000 fans voted for the cover that adorns the back cover of the book, The Infinity Gauntlet #1 (1991) by George Pérez. The front cover is (‘natch) Timely/Marvel’s first cover, Marvel Comics #1 (1939) by Frank R. Paul (signed as F. Paul) and featuring the Human Torch battling the Sub-Mariner for the first time in countless battles. Paul, virtually unknown to today’s comics fans, was better known as an artist for the pulp magazines of the era, andhe may have been specially selected by Timely publisher Martin Goodman to direct attention from pulp fans to the then-new comic book format.

The slipcase covers made me smile, as they really reflect how much Marvel has changed over the decades. The front of the slipcase (as you can see here) features the now-iconic Incredible Hulk #181 cover from 1974 that introduced Ol’ Greenskin battling (the) Wolverine in Logan’s first-ever cover appearance, as produced by Herb Trimpe with John Romita. The back cover displays the variant cover by Adi Granov from Avengers #3 from 2013, featuring Hulk and Wolverine teaming up (with Captain America) to battle some alien beast. How times (and team-ups) have changed!

Avengers #3 variant cover by Adi Granov

Avengers #3 variant cover by Adi Granov

Inside the book are hundreds of covers from the last 75 years, printed in full color at various sizes, and organized by the “Ages” commonly accepted by most comics fans (i.e. Golden, Silver, Bronze, Modern). The Golden Age section is quite sparse but representative of the era with covers by Alex Schomburg, Jack Kirby, Al Avision, Joe Maneely, and including a handful of non-superhero covers by Carl Burgos and Mike Sekowsky.

As you can imagine, the Silver age is dominated by superhero covers by Jack Kirby (who gets a spotlight feature, as does Steve Ditko). Pretty much every iconic cover of the era is presented here, including some by John Buscema, but the two artists given the best presentation are Jim Steranko and Neal Adams. Their work easily illustrates how those two artists pushed for higher standards (especially in terms of production and printing) and are recognized for revolutionizing comic art at the end of the 1960s.

John Buscema, brother Sal Buscema, John Romita (Sr.), and John Byrne get spotlights in the Bronze Age section for iconic Avengers, Spider-Man, and X-Men covers, but artists like Dave Cockrum, George Pérez, Jim Starlin, Bob Layton, Walter Simonson, Frank Miller, Gil Kane, Barry Windsor-Smith, and Arthur Adams are also well-represented. A special treat is how the cover of Nova #12 from 1977 is shown through the various stages of production — from rough sketch to final colored cover. Later, John Romita, Jr.’s 2008 cover for Black Panther #1 gets the same progression treatment.

The Modern Age has only one “Featured Artist” (Romita, Jr.), but this is the largest section, taking up half the book and covering almost thirty years from 1986 to the present. This section also represents the “revolving door” aspect of how many modern-day artists move from publisher to publisher (and more likely, character to character), as well as the need for so many variant covers to help fuel white-hot interest and collectability. Pretty much any modern artist (past or present) you can think of is in this section, including many of the artists who fled Marvel to form Image. Now one of them is co-running DC Comics! (He’s in here, too.)

Hawkeye #1 by David Aja

Hawkeye #1 by David Aja

It’s quite the transition to see the covers in the Modern Age go from the “nuts and bolts” covers of George Pérez, to the “something different every time” of Chris Bachalo, to the highly “designy” Hawkeye covers of David Aja. Integrated art and design has been the best thing to ever happen to comics covers over the past several decades, and that’s hugely on display here.

Each and every cover is presented with an informative paragraph about the cover, or the artist, or the story behind the cover. Or maybe all three! They’re a great addition to all the wonderful comic cover art. These are all written by UK writer (and former Marvel UK editor) Alan Cowsill, who has also written the section overviews. The forward is by artist Adi Granov.

Two of Marvel’s iconic covers are included as “suitable-for-framing” prints — Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962), the first appearance of Spider-Man, cover oddly by Jack Kirby, and Iron Man #1 (2005) by Adi Granov. They are safely stored in a pocket on the inside front cover.

One nitpick: An artist index would have been nice. But since the book is set up by era first, and then character/title within each era, Marvel obviously wants the focus to primarily be on their characters, while also acknowledging the artists. All of Marvel’s iconic* covers are here. Many of your favorite covers are here. Most of your favorite comic book artists are here. What are you waiting for? Hours of paging through wonderful (and memorable) comic book art is awaiting you.

* Remember, “iconic” is subjective. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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Win a Copy of My Love Story!!

I really liked My Love Story!!, and since I have an extra copy, I’d like to share it with you! Because I think that’s what Takeo would do.

To enter to win this contest for a copy of My Love Story!! Book 1, please leave a comment below telling me your favorite young romance. A winner will be picked randomly from all entries on Monday, August 11.

(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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Kingsman: The Secret Service the Latest Mark Millar Comic to Become a Movie

Kingsman: The Secret Service might be the first Mark Millar-written comic to become a movie that I bother seeing. Kick-Ass looked too violent (and frankly, stupid), while Wanted seemed generic. But Kingsman has Colin Firth in some fine suits, as shown in this trailer.

Kingsman movie poster

Unfortunately, the hero, a kid (Taron Egerton) taken under superspy Firth’s wing, is the generic lower-class white guy with unexpected (and unexplained) skills and natural abilities that Millar loves so much. The comic, a six-issue miniseries that ran in 2012, had the benefit of being illustrated by the immortal Dave Gibbons (Watchmen), which raised up the sometimes derivative material. One could probably guess that it was intended from the beginning to be adapted into film, since Matthew Vaughn, director of Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class, was credited as co-plotter. A tie-in hardcover collection will be out next month, in case you’d like to read ahead, while a paperback edition came out earlier this year.

I suspect the class commentary and the portraits of expectations placed on various types, a very British theme, will be toned down if not missing entirely in the film. I hope the plot, about a young tech billionaire kidnapping celebrities, remains, but it would probably too complicated to handle the likenesses. The James Bond joke that was enabled that way was my favorite part of the comic, though.

Since the trailer was released, Kingsman has been moved back from October 2014 to February 13, 2015. The reason given was “more time to market [the movie] as well as to finish special effects.” Millar shouldn’t worry, though, as he’s got four more comic projects in various stages of movie production.

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