The Best iPad Comic App: Chunky Comic Reader

I had an app on my iPad that worked just fine for reading comics, but after a recent upgrade that promised cool new features but broke a number of previous ones, I found myself looking for a new option. My requirements were simple, I thought:

Chunky Comic Reader app icon

  • The ability to view CBR and PDF files in one app (since I get both kinds as review copies)
  • The ability to import from Dropbox directly in the app (since that’s my preferred transfer method)
  • The ability to read left-to-right or right-to-left (with manga)
  • It would be nice if it were free, since that let me try out functionality without commitment

It wasn’t so easy to find all those in one app, though. After reading a bunch of sites and trying out a few, I did find a great app that gave me everything I was looking for, plus more new features that I didn’t expect (like faster downloads and automatic title sorting). That was the Chunky Comic Reader. Silly name and icon aside, it’s got great performance and does exactly what I wanted. There are more details at the app website.

Turns out that I was lucky, since Chunky wasn’t free until a couple of months ago, when version 2.0 was released (and let’s here it for an app that’s still got active development and support ongoing). Now, if you want to contribute to the developer, there’s a pro upgrade (reviewed here).

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Good Comics at the Comic Shop July 16

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

The book of the week, in terms of overall anticipation, is Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Seconds (Ballantine Books, $25). It’s a terrific read and an affecting meditation on what it would mean to be able to reverse the mistakes you think you’ve made in your life. It’s tough to followup on the career-defining Scott Pilgrim series, but O’Malley here does a wonderful job.

A surprising discovery for me was Princess Ugg, an entertaining and light-hearted take on what it really means to be a princess. Ted Naifeh, by contrasting a barbarian and a pampered young lady, makes issue #2 (Oni Press, $3.99) quite funny.

Getting a lot more press lately is Archie Comics’ Life With Archie #36 ($4.99), which has five variant covers hit stores. In this much-promoted issue, Archie is killed taking a bullet for Kevin Keller (identified as “gay friend” in most of the news stories that have picked up on the death promotion).

I don’t think that story will stand the test of time — although it will make for an interesting future time capsule about the debates that bothered us during this decade — which makes it very different from the latest installment of Fantagraphics’ Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse reprints ($34.99). Volume 5 is titled Outwits the Phantom Blot, and it promises to be a spooky mystery. For comics originally published in the late 1930s, there’s exciting action and great cartooning here. It’s surprising to see so much adventure with a mouse, but it all somehow works. The publisher has a preview available.

From the past to the future… if you’re interested in the question of how humans might interact with creepily lifelike robots, check out Alex + Ada Volume 1 (Image Comics, $12.99). The art, by Jonathan Luna, can seem stiff and lifeless, but that’s oddly well-suited to this kind of story, and I found myself caring about the characters, written by Sarah Vaughn.

Whedon fans will want to take note that Spike: Into the Light (Dark Horse, $14.99) is an original graphic novel focused on everyone’s favorite vampire-with-a-soul written by the actor who played him, James Marsters. It’s drawn by Derlis Santacruz, inked by Andy Owens, and it’s an enjoyable stand-alone story that gives Spike some good moments. It’s set near the beginning of Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 7.

Spike is bumming around, being bummed, when he rescues a young woman being menaced by a couple of toughs. He winds up trying to do the right thing, rescuing some innocents, fighting some monsters, and looking for a new pair of boots. The likenesses are well-done, as is the dialogue, which makes Spike roughly charming.

Let’s end on an even higher note. Image Comics is putting out some of the most exciting comics out there, and their newest must-read series is The Wicked + The Divine ($3.50) by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. If you missed the first issue, which came out last month, there’s a second printing available this week to go along with the new issue #2.

The Wicked + The Divine postulates gods as pop stars, and it’s drawn in typically gorgeous fashion by McKelvie. Gillen portrays the absolute devotion of a dedicated fan in tangible fashion before sending us into the question of how our world would deal with these beings, plus a murder mystery added on top just to make it even more interesting. In issue #2, someone says, to a new god, “You will be loved. You will be hated. You will be brilliant. Within two years, you will be dead.” That sums it all up, except then, reading Gillen’s editorial note in issue #1 tells us that it’s his meditation on creating art, which puts it all into new light. It’s an astounding series, about youth and power and sex and fame and yearning, and I can’t wait to see more. Really good stuff.

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Tim Seeley and Will Pfeifer Appearing in Madison, WI, This Saturday

This Saturday, July 19, from 1-3 PM, Westfield Comics (Eastside location) is hosting a signing with Will Pfeifer (H.E.R.O., Catwoman, and my favorite, Finals) and Tim Seeley (Batman Eternal, Hack/Slash) to mark their new title releases, Teen Titans #1 and Grayson #1, respectively.

Cover image from Grayson #1 by Andrew Robinson

Cover image from Grayson #1 by Andrew Robinson

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I’d Like to See More of Radiance, From the Invaders

I’ve decided to catch up on my Marvel reading. I have a 120-comic backlog, since I haven’t read any since March, which was before the launch of the new series people are recommending (such as Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk). (Before you ask, I just got busy with other things.)

All-New Invaders #7 cover by Mukesh Singh

All-New Invaders #7 cover by Mukesh Singh

Imagine how pleasantly surprised I was to discover, in my first batch (proceeding alphabetically), a cool new character I hope to see more of. Radiance first appeared in All-New Invaders #6, out last month, with a followup in last week’s All-New Invaders #7. That’s her on the cover. (Ignore the grimacing heads, which correspond to nothing in the issue. Also ignore the “Original Sin” tie-in banner, since it’s just a gimmick to provide a reason for her flashbacks.)

The setup is this: Jim Hammond is the original Human Torch, from the 1940s. After having his quiet small-town life interrupted by a giant monster, he became a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. He’s already the kind of character I have sympathy for, an everyday guy who’s drawn into doing the right thing. It wouldn’t be his first choice, but he feels an obligation to help because he can, and his motivation — to live happily, once he can retire — is an approachable and sympathetic one. All this was in prior issues, which mostly turned into a big bash-em-up, so I’m not talking more about that.

Back to Radiance, or as she is known in Japan, Supreme Radiant Friend (following the Grant Morrison-style “I don’t know if this is fond appropriation or borderline racist allusion” Asian naming structure). This is comics, so she has a martial-arts-style sash, a color scheme and icon vaguely reminiscent of her country’s flag, and weird patches of exposed skin, as shown here inside the issue.

Radiance panel by Mark Laming

This is all written by James Robinson and illustrated by Mark Laming, whose drawings of her, as seen above, are more typically superheroic than that kawaii cover. Her powers are light-based, and although she’s compared at one point to Dazzler, it’s clear that Radiance, Ryoko Sabuki, isn’t a mutant, and in power, she’s closer to Monica Rambeau, with energy blasts. It’s very visual, and not the typical “let the girl stand back and think at them” kind of ability.

Ryoko is also the granddaughter of Golden Girl, who (we’re told here) hung out with the Kid Commandos during World War II. I don’t know enough Marvel history to know if that’s a retcon or not, but I like the generational connection. That sparks (heh) this story, as the Original Sin Ryoko discovers has to do with the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan and the original Invaders’ possible connection. There are plenty of flashbacks as we learn what happened then and now with the teams. Plus, we get to see Spitfire, whom I’ve always liked. There’s something about a titled lady becoming a superhero for the good of the country that’s very British.

More significantly, although it’s hampered by being part of a superhero comic that requires big images and lots of action, there’s an interesting attempt to tackle the question of how to look at some actions during World War II. The US did some horrible things during that time, and retrospective analysis requires an understanding of good motives potentially leading to disaster, as plays out on a smaller scale here.

It looks like next issue, All-New Invaders #8, is back to all the boys fighting monsters, so I doubt I’ll follow this series, but I wanted to go public about wanting to see Radiance again.

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*Seconds: A Graphic Novel — Recommended

Not everyone can create a popular six-graphic-novel series that’s the basis for a major motion picture and still being reprinted ten years later. So it’s not surprising that the next book by Bryan Lee O’Malley, creator of Scott Pilgrim, has been heavily anticipated.

That can be a heavy burden to bear, but I’m pleased to say that Seconds: A Graphic Novel is a terrific read, shaking off the sophomore curse. It’s the story of Katie, a young chef who works at one of the best-regarded, popular restaurants in town. But she’s an employee, not an owner, so she’s working to open her own place. Unfortunately, that’s become a bigger project than she thought, with her choice of an older location causing more problems than expected. Then her ex-boyfriend Max visits, raking up unsettled emotions.

Katie is feeling her age, about to enter her thirties, the decade where you realize that you can’t always just start over, the time when you recognize that decisions have consequences, and some choices can’t be reversed. In other words, Katie is growing up, but she’s hating it. Then Katie dreams, one night, about a white-haired primitive sprite, a spirit that tells her she has an option “if things go wrong”. She finds a box that contains a mushroom, a notebook, and an instruction card. Eating the mushroom causes a cosmic reset, where she can erase her mistakes.

One you have the strength to make major changes in your life, then change for its own sake can become addictive, and Katie falls into the trap. But the story is about how she needs to recognize the need for community, for getting along with others and playing within the established rules to build harmony. In other words, it’s not just about her.

O’Malley has refined his art style. The video-game-inspired cute characters and big eyes are still present, but they’re shown more confidently. The pages are dense, with multiple panels focusing the eye on key elements. The panels where we see more than one character at once are rarer and thus more potent. I was impressed at how much story we get here and yet how much more I wanted. Some of Katie’s choices are lightly, briefly told, since we can piece together the details ourselves. The technique involves the reader more in sympathizing with her, making us part of her story.

So many normal virtues are turned on their head. Katie’s first change is for someone else, a compassionate gesture to fix their pain that she caused. (Although one might see that as using someone else as the experimental guinea pig.) Katie’s talented, which lets her act up without others calling her on it. Katie’s determined and independent, which has allowed her to achieve things, but her lack of willingness to follow the rules, her insistence that she’s special, will undermine her. We’re supposed to applaud that kind of “I can do it! On my own!” confidence, but here, it’s a tragic flaw, evoking older heroic tales and the lesson of avoiding hubris.

Seconds means many things, most involving second chances:

  • It’s Katie’s second try at a restaurant.
  • It’s a reminder that good food makes us want more.
  • It’s an indicator of how quickly life-changing decisions can be made, in merely seconds.

One of the subtly interesting elements to me was how difficult Katie found it to accept the ongoing process of setting up her new place. She was impatient and uncomfortable with the compromises. She has a perfect vision and that the world doesn’t want to give it to her exactly as she imagined is making her sullen. That’s another part of growing up, of realizing that things are not going to be exactly how you imagined them, and how to accept the best you can make it.

Then there’s the classic warning to be careful what you wish for. When Katie gets what she thinks she wants, she doesn’t realize what the choices have cost her. Simply wishing for a better relationship means you skip putting in the work to make it so. A different choice might not be better, but some stubborn people have to see that to realize it.

Seconds left me thinking a lot, about how I became the person I am now and what I might have done differently. It’s inspirational and exciting and an impressive accomplishment. This interview with O’Malley shows some sample art. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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Selfies Are Not Shallow for Superheroes

Next month, DC will be doing another variant cover theme for many of its superhero titles. This time it’s selfies, self-taken photos that artists seem to be playing for some welcome humor, as shown in this Newsarama gallery.

The selfie theme also features in the cover to Batgirl #35. That issue features a new creative team and a new, younger, hipper look to the long-running character, now a grad student. Personally, I was thrilled that Batgirl looked so modern and practical, although it may be a shame to lose some of her years of experience (if that’s the case). (Cover by Cameron Stewart.)

Batgirl #35 cover by Cameron Stewart

However, some people apparently really hated the idea. (You know superhero fans, always welcoming change.) I didn’t realize how extreme some of the reactions were until I read Ursula Murray Husted’s terrific comic on the subject.

Superhero selfie by Ursula Murray Husted

Husted makes the point that looking down on a girl who wants to take a selfie plays into our sexist assumptions about appearance, with some key observations from her work as a college teacher with kids just this age. It’s a great comic.

In case you’re not familiar with her other work, Husted has also published three graphic novels on amazingly diverse subjects: The Lions of Valletta, Looking Up, and Making Rain.

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Get Digital Valiant #1s for Free This Month

I wish I liked Valiant comics more than I do. They’re a great company to work with, from what I’ve seen, and they seem to be trying hard to do a good, professional job. I’m just not interested in another superhero comic universe at this point, particularly one that exists to keep pre-existing brands and properties going, especially when they keep doing crossovers. It’s a bunch of guy heroes written and illustrated by guys, and there’s so much of that already that I’m (emphasis on the I) not looking for any more. (That might change in September, though, with the upcoming The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage miniseries, which will be written by Jen Van Meter.)

The Valiant #1 cover by Paolo Rivera

The Valiant #1 cover by Paolo Rivera

Anyway, I do like free samples, which help to dispel (or validate) these kinds of preconceptions. For the month of July, Valiant has made nine #1 issues free to download from ComiXology. There’s no bundle; you have to download them individually, but here are the links:

If you want a starting point, I wrote about Rai #1 previously.

This is all to promote the upcoming The Valiant, a four-issue Prestige Format miniseries coming in December (so a while yet) by Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt, and Paolo Rivera that features a bunch of these heroes.

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How to Sell Minicomics to Retailers

Many minicomic creators handle their own sales, usually on the web or in person at appearances. But if you want to take another step and get your minicomics into comic stores, Big Planet Comics (a retail chain in the Washington DC area) has posted a substantial amount of information on how to do it professionally. It’s a great primer on a lot of business tips you should be aware of.

I bought these minicomics years ago at Heroes Con

I bought these minicomics years ago at Heroes Con

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