Friday, May 28, 2010

FCBD: What About The Books? Part Eight

ARCHIE SUMMER SPLASH FCBD EDITION #1  (Archie)                                                     scripts and pencils by Dan Parent

        For decades the Archie books  (ARCHIE, BETTY & VERONICA, JUGHEAD, etc.) have been a great source of light reading and fun entertainment. These whimsical stories featuring universal characters in teen/high school adventures could also usually  be counted on to be non-threatening and free of controversial material.  At least that’s the way this reviewer evaluates them.  Although I’m not a regular reader - - anytime I’ve checked into these titles they haven’t seemed to change (sometimes with a minimal alteration to reflect current clothing/hair styles or references to current events).   Mind you, I’m not counting the recent event with Archie getting married - - which puts a whole new spin on some future stories to come.

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         With that in mind, I was a little bit shocked as well as pleased after reading ARCHIE SUMMER SPLASH.  In my opinion, writer/artist Dan Parent takes some liberties with the characters and puts a little stamp of his own on them.

          “Whose BEACH Is It, Anyway?”  tackles the social separation/class differences between suburban teens with wealthy parents who utilize a private beach versus the city-dwelling middle class teens who share the public beaches with everyone else.  It’s Pembrooke versus Riverdale as a snooty but attractive redhead gets her dander up when a family member invites some of the  “townies” to share their private beach.  The tables get turned when an oil spill (whoa, Dan Parent must have a crystal ball!) evacuates the private beach.  So the snobbish group led by the redhead just migrates to the public beach, much to the dismay of the Archie group, especially Veronica.

      The other conflict involves The  Archies musical group practicing for a summer battle of the bands and finding some less talented but marketing-savvy and annoying competition.  What surprised me was the way that Archie, Reggie and Jughead came up with a solution to the problem, which basically involved deception.  Wow, I never thought I’d see Archie conduct himself this way.   It’s not what anyone would consider “bad behavior”.  I guess I just viewed Archie as having higher principles.

      The art is very friendly and doesn’t stray far from the Archie “look” or “style” that you see in these books.    Well, with the recent marriage proposal and impending wedding I’ll have to reconsider my opinion of the Archie books.  As if to confirm that the Archie books aren’t entirely predictable there’s an ad inside the FCBD edition for the 4th trade paperback edition of  the “Archie New Look Series” which features all the familiar characters drawn in a more mature and less cartoonish style.  This cover of this volume features Veronica in “My Father’s Betrayal” (oh oh). 

COVER APPEAL = 3 POINTS.  Features Archie front and center surrounded by his friends engaged in fun summer activities.  Sure to draw the intended audience (pre-teens for sure, and probably some high school students as well).  STORY = 3 POINTS.  I actually liked this a lot, and felt that it had more depth than the standard Archie fare.  ART =  2 POINTS.  Parent seems to make the most of what he can, and does a nice job of using the facial expressions and gestures to help indicate the mood of the characters.  YOUTH APPEAL = 3 POINTS.  Archie represents a good chance at bringing in young students as readers.  NEW READER APPEAL = 3 POINTS. You don’t have to know anything about Archie’s background to enjoy this and can figure out most of it.  No detailed explanations required, which makes it refreshing. PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS = 3 POINTS  Archie does a good job of promoting their books, even including an ad for the SONIC title.  And they include their web address, which I feel is essential for all comics to include  - - - as well as including the logo for the Comic Shop Locater web and phone service.  EXTRA BONUS: = 1.5 POINTS.  I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to explore the world of Archie. The FCBD title is a great jumping on point.  And I would certainly suggest this to middle school students, etc.  But I don’t feel that many in my age group would appreciate it, unless their share my interest in the comics industry getting more new and younger readers.

TOTAL POINTS GRADING = 18.5 . . . HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

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SPECIAL NOTE:  Writer/artist DAN PARENT will be a guest at CAPTAIN BLUE HEN COMICS (Newark, Delaware) on SATURDAY, JUNE 26th at 10 a.m.  I hope to be able to meet him.  Will you be going?  You can find more information about him at www.danparent.com.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Crime Story of the Week


From Bill Harris at Dubious Quality, what he calls the "the greatest lead in the history of journalism":
The Brevard County doctor who was arrested for groping a woman while dressed as Captain America with a burrito in his pants will not go to jail.
 The full story is here.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

FCBD: What About The Books? Part Seven





Just a reminder: You may want to go back to Part One for an explanation of my grading system for Free Comic Book Day titles.

KIZOIC PRESENTS: PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR FCBD 2010 / KIZOIC PRESENTS: SHREK FCBD 2010 (flipbook format, Ape Entertainment)www.apecomics.com

Aside from Disney's stable of copyrighted characters, some of the more recognizable cartoon characters among today's kids audience are those created through Dreamworks Studios and Nickelodeon Cartoon TV Network. So to put both the Penguins of Madagascar and Shrek together in a flip book is a sure draw for young audiences. I saw many copies of this FCBD title in the hands of younger children while attending the FCBD activities at Captain Blue Hen comics in Newark, DE on May 1st. COVER APPEARL = 3 POINTS.

The Peguins are featured in two separate stories, and Shrek gets the same two-story treatment on the flip side of this book. I have to confess that I have never watched a Penguins of Madagascar television cartoon and knew very little about them before reading this issue. I'm assuming it's true to form (because the Shrek material certainly was spot-on!). The stories and art are entertaining enough but I find it hard to like these penguins. They appear to have a mean streak as well as a darker sense of humor. But maybe that's exactly what today's generation is looking for.

Story and art improve dramatically on the Shrek side of this FCBD title. When I read a comics adaptation of familiar movie characters and as I read I can "hear" the dialogue as if the actor was speaking it, then I realize that the writers have done an exceptional job of staying true to continuity. This just recently happened when I read the TOY STORY FCBD issue and it happened here again with SHREK. That familiarity with the format is sure to make it appealing to the very youngest readers (who may actually end up having this book read to them). In the first very short story, a funny situation occurs when both Shrek and Donkey go picking some strange berries and come down with the same malady. In the second story, Shrek's parents visit and worry that Shrek's children aren't acting enough like true ogres and try to influence his parenting. STORY = 2.5 POINTS. ART = 2.5 POINTS. YOUTH APEAL = 3 POINTS. NEW READER APPEAL = 3 PONTS. PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS = 3 POINTS. EXTRA BONUS POINTS = 2 POINTS.


TOTAL POINTS GRADING = 19 POINTS . . . HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Those pesky penguins cost Shrek a perfect score!


OWLY AND FRIENDS FREE COMIC BOOK DAY (Top Shelf Productions) www.topshelfcomix.com

This book is especially great for the youngest of comics readers.
Writer-artist Andy Runton has won many awards for his series of OWLY graphic novels featuring a little owl and his forest adventures. The black-and-white drawings are very friendly in nature and appealing to younger audiences and the format is user-friendly for any age. All OWLY adventures are told without captions or dialogue. The eight-page complete story here illustrates why these tales are so warm and inviting. Owly gets a mail delivery with a kite-flying kit that has to be assembled. A conflict arises with some birds over some components of the kite, but Owly uses negotiation and compromise to keep everyone happy when the kite finally takes flight.

The JOHNNY BOO story from writer-artist James Kochalka featuring a day when nothing at all happens for Johhny and his pet mini-ghost Squiggle is funny and has that type of childlike irreverance that makes it very amusing for this age group.

The last story in this FCBD title has the most detailed and premium art of all. KORGI as told by Ann & Christian Slade centers around a young girl, Ivy, and her adventures with friendly animal companions in an enchanted woodlands. Also told without captions or dialogue, the panels guide the reader through an amusing tale of Ivy's dog Sprout and a dream caused by over-eating. The tale ends in an appropriate fashion and also reveals how Sprout has learned from the incident and won't act like a glutton in the future. Very well done. The expressions on the dog's face throughout this story convey a variety of emotions.

COVER APPEAL = 3 POINTS. STORY = 3 POINTS. ART = 3 POINTS. YOUTH APPEAL = 3 POINTS. NEW READER APPEAL = 3 POINTS. PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS = 3 POINTS. There is a lot of information in this book guiding new readers to further young childrens books from Top Shelf with information on how to get them also provided. EXTRA BONUS POINTS = 2 POINTS. I would not hesitate to recommend this to any young reader (toddler through elementary school).

TOTAL GRADING = 20 POINTS . . . . Just absolutely PERFECT for its intended audience.

FCBD: What About The Books? Part Six


DEL REY SHOWCASE, FREE COMIC BOOK DAY, MAY 2010
Featuring previews of: Pride And Prejudice And Zombies: The Graphic Novel; The Talisman: The Road Of Trials; Odd Is On Our Side; The Last Airbender Prequel: Zuko's Story



The concept of blending in a zombie or monster theme into a re-telling of classic literature seemed like a novel concept to me - - and since my son also shared my interest I picked up trade paperbacks of both PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES and SENSE AND SENSIBILITY AND SEA MONSTERS many months ago. Neither one of us has found the time to read these books yet, so a graphic novel adaptation of P & P & Z is more than welcome - - - especially since the 10-page preview here is so much fun!
Writer Tony Lee takes the original collaberation between legend Jane Austen and current author Seth Grahame-Smith and adapts it for graphic novels. The black and white illustrations by Cliff Richards enhance the story perfectly, and bring to mind memories of some of those classic horror tales from the days of CREEPY and EERIE magazines.
The main focus of Victorian master Bennett is not to find suitors for his five daughters, but to protect them from zombies (here referred to as "unmentionables"). So, instead of impressing the eligible bachelors at a formal ball with their eloquence and grace these daughters demonstrate their father's training by taking down a mob of zombie party-crashers.

I've been collecting the individual full-color issues of THE TALISMAN: THE ROAD OF TRAILS which adapts the first chapters of "The Talisman" horror/dark fantasy novel by Stephen King and Peter Straub. Del Rey takes the first story arc and collects it in a graphic novel available this May.
The story is adapated by Robin Furth, who has done some exceptional work with Peter David on the DARK TOWER adapatations at Marvel. The art (and inks and colors) by Tony Shasteen, Neil Ruffino, and JD Mettler is more than up to the task. If you enjoy the works of King and Straub you will want to see for yourself just how well this is accomplished. If you enjoy horror/dark fantasy and haven't previously read THE TALISMAN, then this series will probably persuade you to make a side trip to the bookstore.

ODD IS ON OUR SIDE is an adaptation of sorts as well. It involves a character created by author Dean Koontz. Young adult Odd Thomas has the ability to see lingering traces of the dead, and finds himself following the path of a deceased Halloween trick-or-treater, who still wanders around in his bedsheet ghost costume and rings doorbells. For ODD IS ON OUR SIDE, Del Rey has reduced the page size and runs two pages of art/story in a horizontal layout per single page of this preview copy. This is co-written with Koontz by Fred Van Lente and illustrated by Queenie Chan. The black-and-white preview notes that this will be available in fall 2010 but fails to inform if that will be a mini-series or graphic novel.

Del Rey uses the same two-pages-per page sideways format for the last preview, a prequel to the upcoming THE LAST AIRBENDER movie this summer from local director M. Night Shyamalan.
The black and white art by Nina Matsumoto has some traces of manga influence but is done American-style. The story by Dave Roman and Alison Wilgus involves Price Zuko being banished and cast out from the Fire Nation. From what I can gather from the short preview (just 6 pages combined) it could be interesting. I'd need to see more. This will go on sale this May, but again the preview fails to mention in what format that will be.

COVER APPEAL; 2.5 POINTS Nice zombie in lace. STORY: 2.5 POINTS. ART: 2.5 POINTS. YOUTH APPEAL: 1.5 POINTS. The zombie theme may draw their attention, but this doesn't seem suited for younger readers. NEW READER APPEAL: 2 POINTS. PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS: 2 POINTS. Needs to link to a web site somewhere in spite of the good amount of ads for Del Rey books. EXTRA BONUS: 2 POINTS. I would definitely recommend readers check out the FCBD preview first in order to determine if they want to follow any of the series.

TOTAL GRADING = 15 POINTS . . . HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Just enough points to get into this category.

Friday, May 21, 2010

FCBD: What About The Books? Part Five


WAR OF THE SUPERMEN FCBD #0 (DC):
"War Of The Supermen Prologue" written by James Robinson & Sterling Gates; art by Eddy Barrows
"Filling In The Blanks" written by Sterling Gates; with various artists

For my money, Batman has always been a more interesting character than Superman. Batman has no super-powers but relies on his intelligence and wits, physical conditioning and skills; while Superman is just the opposite = all-powerful and seemingly indestructible with just a few weaknesses (kryptonite first among them). Because of that, I've had a hard time getting excited about the Superman character. I've read a fair share of Superman issues here and there and rarely are they memorable, one remembered exception being "The Death Of Superman" story lines.


So if you're like me and don't feel the urge to read any Superman titles, here's one to make a good effort at changing your mind = the four issue War Of The Supermen min-series that begins this month. It's also a decent jumping-on point if you've never explored any Superman works before (I know it sounds impossible, but I bet there are some new-comers out there who may be reading this).
Superman (Ka-El) is up against huge odds this time and though he is depicted throughout with a grim look of determination on his face and acts tough-minded you can sense the desperation within (thanks to the skill of the writers and artist). New Krypton exists on the other side of the sun, with an enormous population that all possess the same super-abilities and powers of Ka-El. Under the leadership of the scheming General Zod, they've just declared war on Earth.
The story moves quickly with lots of suspense. At the same time, it fills in the back-story as it moves along, allowing a new reader to follow without confusion. The art by Eddy Barrows is outstanding and rivals the fantastic work currently being done by Ivan Reis (also for DC).
The back-up story featuring Lois Lane fills in even more of the back-story, and makes a further connection between Lois Lane and her family that looks to be a very interesting sub-plot. And, a former associate turns up to help her.

COVER APPEAL = 3 POINTS. A perfect combination of resolve and concern on Superman's face and features. STORY = 3 POINTS. Very engaging. A great place to start. ART = 3 POINTS. Gorgeous and perfect for the tone of this story. YOUTH APPEAL = 2.5 POINTS Superman is a recognizable icon to all age groups. NEW READER APPEAL = 3 POINTS. Things are explained simply and clearly. PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS = 2 POINTS Lots of ads for DC books, including this mini-series, but no links or text directing new readers to those great DC web pages. EXTRA BONUS = 2 POINTS. Finally, a Superman book I have no qualms about recommending.

TOTAL GRADING = 18.5 . . . HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. It makes the short list.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

FCBD: What About The Books? Part Four

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY: DOCTOR SOLAR, MAN OF THE ATOM/MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER  (Dark Horse Comics)  Jim Shooter, scripts /  Dennis Calero, Doctor Solar art /  Bill Reinhold, Magnus, Robot Fighter art

          When I was a very young comics reader the Big Three for me were the super-hero titles from Marvel, DC and Gold Key.  Gold Key had some original heroes and my favorite was MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER,  followed closely by MIGHTY SAMPSON.  While I enjoyed the few Doctor Solar books I read, it wasn’t a title that I went looking for.

         In the 1980’s then editor in chief Jim Shooter left Marvel and shortly after started up Valiant Comics, buying up the rights to some Gold Key properties and reviving them.  I suddenly took an interest in DOCTOR SOLAR, MAN OF THE ATOM due to improved storylines and some very dynamic artwork from Barry Windsor Smith.  The re-boot of MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER was equally worthwhile.   The Gold Key heroes were back but they didn’t stay very long this time either.     

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          Now, over 25 years later DOCTOR SOLAR and MAGNUS are back again, published by Dark Horse Comics with Jim Shooter once again at the helm to steer these books as well as other upcoming Gold Key revivals. I really want to like these books, so I’m hoping the first issues will be more promising than this FCBD issue.  In a word, this is just average  fare.  The cover is my favorite thing about it.   (Which is different from the image at left - -  my cover has a lighter blue in the areas where you can see glowing green here- - - and it helps to enhance the surrounding details better.)

          I believe the DOCTOR SOLAR story may have been written just for this FCBD release, as it’s different from the advance pages featured in the latest PREVIEWS.  (And I’m assuming the MAGNUS tale was penned just for this edition as well.)   “Fallout” takes place two days after the research facility nuclear accident that transformed Doctor Phillip Solar and killed his colleague.  He’s watching the television news and wondering what to do with himself when he learns of a hostage situation and decides to intervene in the symbolic outfit he created for himself.  Yes, those glasses resemble the ones worn by Cyclops of the X-Men - - but I’m pretty sure that the first Gold Key SOLAR preceded THE UNCANNY X-MEN, so SOLAR gets the credit for originality.  It’s not a bad story. It just seems stale and formulaic.  I expected better from Shooter.  The storyline from the advance pages in PREVIEWS is even worse, with a very bad cliché-riddled super-villain and cheesy interaction/dialogue.   The art isn’t that spectacular either.  I’m still going to pick up Issue #1 for nostalgia’s sake and will give it a chance.  Maybe Shooter’s plans for these titles just need some time to fully develop.

         The art is better on the MAGNUS second feature and so is the story.  This seems truer to the source material and has the look and scripted feel of those early MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER stories.  It’s a pretty faithful revival from what I see here- - yet it fails to thrill me.  Maybe what I once appreciated back in the Gold Key days just won’t hold up here in the 21st century.  I especially can’t tolerate the wooden dialogue between the robots.  And MAGNUS is portrayed as a bit of  a meathead when it comes to getting along with females.  Again, I’ll pick up the first issue and give it a chance but I fear I’m going to be disappointed.

COVER APPEAL = 3 POINTS. This is the best part of the book.  STORY = 1 POINT. Seems like a flashback to the worst of the 1980’s for story.  ART = 1.5 POINTS. Half-decent. Better than the story.  YOUTH APPEAL = 1 POINT. The cover will get the attention of some.  NEW READER APPEAL = 1.5 POINTS.  Those who are familiar with these older characters will be curious.  PROMOTION CONSDERATIONS = 2.5 POINTS.  Good interior ads and back order information. EXTRA BONUS = 0 POINTS.  I’m just not prepared to suggest this to DOC SOLAR and MAGNUS fans - - I think they will be disappointed.

TOTAL GRADING = 10.5 POINTS  . . .   SOMEWHAT LACKING - - there’s just not enough here to recommend this book.

 THE ONI PRESS FREE-FOR-ALL (Oni Press, FCBD 2010) featuring short tales from SALT WATER TAFFY, POSSESSIONS, and THE CROGAN ADVENTURES 

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          One of the benefits of reviewing books that I enjoy most is discovering something new and worthwhile and then getting to share it on bcrefugees.blogspot.com  I obtain extra delight when the discovery involves new works that I would heartily recommend to younger readers.          

         Which brings us to this black & white FCBD title from Oni Press featuring three great-for-most-ages short stories featuring some of their characters aimed at the younger reader (seems suitable for 7-8 years old and up, especially appealing to middle school students).

         SALT WATER TAFFY: THE SEASIDE ADVENTURES OF JACK AND BENNY offers “The Tale of Captain Hollister And Old Salty”.  Maybe it’s just the seafaring nature of this yarn that reminds me of Popeye.  It also has the same friendly blend of humor.  Jack and Benny are two young brothers who seem to enjoy spending their summer days hanging around the wharf listening to a grizzled old sea captain tell them tall tales.  What makes this story even more pleasing is that Jack and Benny are very imaginative and like to insert themselves into the story in the place of the famous Captain Hollister.   Writer and Illustrator Matthew Loux has a warm, friendly style in both script and art. 

POSSESSIONS is a series centering around the curious activities of the residents of the Llewellyn-Vane Home For Captured Spirits and Ghostly Curiosities.  In “Midnight Snack” offered here, The Gurgazon (who looks like a wild little girl in a nightgown) breaks through the barrier that is intended to hold the “exhibits” from leaving their designated areas. She leads a band of equally strange exhibits through a tour of the weird rooms of the Home in search of snack food.  It’s very funny and creative, and reminds me of a juvenile-aimed version of the Adams Family. Writer and illustrator is Ray Fawkes.

THE CROGAN ADVENTURES by writer/illustrator Chris Schweizer follows various members of a single family (the Crogans) through the ages on a historical tour.  In “Running Late”  wannabe swashbuckler David Crogan encounters fair ladies,  swarthy fishermen, and his feared father in a setting reminding me of the pirate isles of the Caribbean.  It’s a very amusing story that features plenty of fish, drawn in a Mad-magazine humor style. 

COVER APPEAL = 1.5 POINTS.  The art seems too small to grab the attention of the desired younger reader.  STORY = 3 POINTS.  I liked all three tales and was very much entertained. ART = 3 POINTS.  All three stories feature different art styles, but all are engaging and appealing. YOUTH APPEAL = 2.5  I would recommend all 3 of these as suitable younger reader titles. This would be 3 points if that cover just had a little more eye candy to get their attention. NEW READER APPEAL = 2.5  Same explanation.  PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS = 3 POINTS. All three featured stories have corresponding ads with plenty of back catalog and order details. All the other ads feature other suitable young reader books from ONI.  EXTRA BONUS = 2 POINTS. Yes, I would suggest this book to one and all.

TOTAL GRADING = 17.5 POINTS  . . .  HGHLY RECOMMENDED.  A great example of good books for younger readers.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

FCBD: What About The Books? Part Three






(For an explanation of my FCBD book rating system, see my article from Sunday, May 09, 2010 titled "FCBD: What about the books? Part One".)

RADICAL FCBD 2010 (Radical Comics)
previews of DRIVER FOR THE DEAD, TIME BOMB, AFTER DARK, and THE RISING


If you are unfamiliar with the works of Radical Comics this is a great place to start for a good overview of their current offerings - - - and you can't beat the price - - - FREE! - - no risk to you other than the time spent. In their short history RADICAL has earned its reputation (with me at least) for high quality works with gorgeous (usually painted) art and production values. Rather than publish ongoing monthly series, RADICAL concentrates on limited series in various genres: fantasy, science-fiction, horror, crime, western, etc. The FCBD issue covers one horror tale and three science fiction stories. Each of the four limited series previewed in RADICAL FCBD 2010 is worthwhile - - and I'll be following two of them for sure (DRIVER FOR THE DEAD + TIME BOMB), and at least trying out the first full issues of the other two (AFTER DARK + THE RISING).

Lead-off position is held down by an engaging 13-page preview of DRIVER FOR THE DEAD written by John Heffernan (Snakes On A Plane) with remarkable illustrations by Leonardo Manco (various Vertigo and Marvel works).

I have long admired Manco's work and am absolutely astounded and amazed by his work here, which surpasses anything I have seen before and raises expectations to even greater heights. The art even ventures beyond the trademark Radical style of painted imagery and into what I'm describing as photo-realism. The backgrounds look like actual photos, yet they don't appear to be trickery in the form of tracing or rotoscoping but something new entirely. There is an opening panel of a sunrise over a lavish home development in Shreveport, Louisiana that is just perfect. And the full page image of healer Moses Freeman approaching the front entrance of a high-columned mansion enshrouded by overhanging tree branches and moss is a real beauty. There is a lot of scenery to admire here, including some very sharp detail on the featured automobiles (and hearse!) in the story. Colors and inks are perfect as well, with varyings shades of gray, brown, red and gold to add to the gloom.

In the first issue preview, DRIVER FOR THE DEAD offers not one but two equally compelling characters, and devotes the majority (10 pages) of this short preview to Moses Freeman who is not the major player here. Freeman is a hoodoo/black magic exterminator of sorts, and is called by a newly arrived family to their home to help their apparently possessed and comotose young son recover. Moses Freeman's name may seem familiar to you, and that is probably because of a same-sounding association with actor Morgan Freeman (and the facial close-ups by Manco definitely were influenced by Morgan's features). The suspense builds as Freeman sets up shop inside the Connors home and prepares to engage in a mystical duel with whatever is immobilizing young Billy.

It's a nice relief from the tension of the opening pages to cut to the humorous captioned narration of the main character, Alabaster Graves, in the final two pages.
But his situation is just as dangerous considering his occupation is to drive a hearse and take on assignments that other drivers won't. While transporting the presumed dead body of a newly converted vampire, Graves sums up his situation nicely: "The mom called the cops. The cops called the coroner, and the coroner called me. Unfortunately, it being New Orleans, everyone took their time. . . . . Now I gotta cut his head off, cross his legs, bury him upside down, and get the hell out of there before sunset = which is in exactly four minutes. . . . And the nearest cemetery is fine minutes away." Oh, I'm sure I'm going to like DRIVER FOR THE DEAD.

Writer Heffernan gets your attention early and moves this story along at a rapid pace. I also appreciate the use of the seemingly appropriate and cryptic names (Moses Freeman, Alabaster Graves) including the title of the story = "Go Down Moses." The story summary on the credits page reveals the link between Freeman and Graves, which will make up the major conflict/resolution of this series. I don't want to spoil your fun by telling you about it now. Highly recommended.

The second 10-page preview is of TIME BOMB written by Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray with illustrations by Paul Gulacy. That is a combination that is hard to resist. Palmiotti & Gray have done such good work with JONAH HEX at DC, which will make it interesting to see what that can do with this time-travel tale. And Paul Gulacy will never disappoint and always gets my attention. He's one of my favorite artists.

Judging from the preview, TIME BOMB looks to be a mix of science fiction, WWII action, modern spy intrigue, and time travel. During an archeological dig in Berlin a hidden city is discovered beneath the modern streets - - a hidden refuge for the Nazi party and location of a doomsday weapon, which has now been triggered by the recent activity. We are introduced to several agents of the "New World Order" (NWO), one of whom will remind you of James Bond with his manners. And before the preview ends, you'll see another alleged "agent" (but maybe not NWO) in Bond-like action.

The opening pages summary informs that an elite team will be sent back in time to the day before the bomb triggered to try to correct the activities that caused it to begin the countdown. A glitch occurs, and they transport back to the actual days of Hitler's reign in Germany.

The concept of AFTER DARK was developed by director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and actor Wesley Snipes, and then scripted by Peter Milligan with illustrations by Jeff Nentrup (concept artist for several films). The story takes place in the future on a different planet following a major disaster. Prior to that, Solar City was beset by various gangs of rebels and anarchists trying to avoid the highly militant and vigilant government. Two interesting characters are revealed but not enough details provided to get a clear idea of their motivations or what role they will play in the story to come.

For a twelve-page preview there is not a lot of content. However, the situations are intriguing and I'm going to be a little more patient when I know Peter Milligan is involved in the scripting. He's always quirky and off-beat but delivers some interesting works every time. And the art is worth the price of admission and a great example of the colorful painted style I see in Radical books.

The final preview, THE RISING, also features a creative team new to the comics medium. It's scriped by writer E. Max Frye (Band of Brothers) and drawn by artist J.P. Targete (an illustrator at Pixar Studios). This apparently takes place on a future Earth which has been conquered by an alien race. With the human population greatly reduced, the survivors seem complacent to accept the rule of their new oppressors with the exception of a group of freedom fighters. It's hard to tell how complex or developed the story will be from this preview, which concentrates on depicting a skirmish. However, the art is very dynamic, with the best use of colors and inks of all the titles in this preview. It's definitely worth a look at Issue #1 when it comes out.

COVER APPEAL = 2 POINTS. Maybe a little too dark, but if you want to grab the horror fan it's extremely effective. STORY = 3 POINTS. A lot to like here. ART = 3 POINTS. Ditto. YOUTH APPEAL = 0. Not suggested for young readers. NEW READER APPEAL = 3. Four lengthy previews. Great art. 45 pages!! If you can only get a few FCBD titles this would surely be one of them. PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS = 3 POINTS. Gives a nice overview by example of what Radical Comics are all about. Plus a detailed text piece about the company on the inside cover and back cover teaser ad with web address, phone applications, and an toll free number! BONUS POINTS = 2. If I could only personally recommend a few FCBD books, this would be one of them.

GRAND TOTAL = 16 POINTS. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. This represents the industry proudly!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

FCBD: What About The Books? Part Two



For an explanation of my FCBD rating system, see the article "FCBD: What about the books? Part One" from Sunday, May 09.


FAME LADY GAGA / THE PUPPY SISTER FCBD flipbook (Bluewater)

FCBD titles with multiple and different stories are a real challenge for my ratings system, but I've handled it already (see last posting). If there is at least one worthwhile story in the bunch then my ratings will reflect that good story more rather than the bad apples so that readers won't overlook the title and decide not to taste it.

The latest in a series of biography books from Bluewater Productions, FAME begins this month with the LADY GAGA issue. The FCBD edition contains an eight-page preview of LADY GAGA as well as a five-page preview of the TAYLOR SWIFT bio scheduled for July release.

I haven't read all of Bluewater's biography titles (FEMALE FORCE, POLITICAL POWER, etc.) but the ones that I have were all different. These books are far from predictable. Sometimes the biography is told by a narrator and includes some fiction as bookends or throughout the factual information. Sometimes it's a fairly straight biography. This FCBD edition gives you a look at both versions.

The LADY GAGA story includes quite a bit of fiction. We discover some details about Lady Gaga at the same time the main character does, as he becomes interested in her and starts to explore her music and art.

The unidentified main character is a middle-aged slob spending most of his time slouched in a beat-up recliner in front of the television, watching MTV and complaining about the music while his equally sloppy wife tries to coax him into doing some household chores. His now-oversized Kurt Vonnegut custom t-shirt doesn't cover his belly anymore and his Bowie ball cap no doubt covers up his baldness. He's a bit of a music snob and a classic rock elitist. A video comes on featuring Lady Gaga and he becomes enchanted with her, running out to his local music store to pick up the latest cd and later researching everything about her via You Tube.

He's an unsympathetic character and a very unusual choice for this biography/story. Writer Dan Rafter is taking some liberties and chances here, risking the ire of the primary audience for this book (Lady Gaga teenage fans). I respect and admire that. He's certainly got my attention after 8 pages; and I want to know how he finishes this up. Rafter also seems very knowledgeable about modern music, as he references and name-drops bands, legendary music writers, and different genres. I think I'm going to have to check out another music biography if I see Rafter's name in the credits. Impressive. Artist Kristoffer Smith has an appealing style that reminds me of the better work of Humberto Ramos (but without the exaggerated fore-arms).

The TAYLOR SWIFT second feature is much shorter and very straight-forward. It seems tedious by comparison to the Lady Gaga piece. Caption boxes relate different facts and aspects of Swift's career as the pictures back up the text. I already knew that she was a very young, down-home, family values type of performer. What I didn't know and learned from this story is that she is also a very young humanitarian, giving some of her profits to various charitable agencies. That is admirable in a young person. Glad to hear that she has become a role model for many teenagers.

The flipside of the Bluewater FCBD book is an seven-page preview of THE PUPPY SISTER, an original graphic novel (for spring 2010 release) scripted by noted author S.E. Hinton with help from Don Smith. S. (Susan) E. (Eloise) Hinton has won numerous best books for young adults awards and is the author of "The Outsiders" and "Rumblefish" (both made into very powerful films).

On the surface THE PUPPY SISTER seems like a very simple tale for younger readers. But there are hints of a deeper story under the surface layer. Main character and middle school/teenager (not sure which) Nick gets a puppy instead of the brother or sister he was wishing for.(Could be a dramatic back-story behind that, I suspect).

What's interesting is that the captions are narrated by the puppy Aleasha, who is also reacting to the new owners just as they are trying to bond with her. During a highway rest stop, Aleasha breaks away from her leash to chase down a rabbit. The art by Yasir Fajardo is crisp and uncluttered, very open and friendly with vivid colors throughout.

COVER APPEAL = 3 POINTS. Lady Gaga ought to attract teenage readers. And anytime you have a flip book you have two chances in the display case, so that counts extra. Plus, the PUPPY SISTER has a very child-friendly cover. STORY = 2.25 POINTS. I'd go 3 if I was only rating the Lady Gaga story, but I'm rating this overall. ART = 2.25 POINTS. Good art throughout. Three different artists. Three different styles. YOUTH APPEAL = 3 POINTS. Grabs 'em young, and grabs 'em younger. NEW READER APPEAL = 1.5 POINTS. I don't think more seasoned readers are going to be attracted to this title.
PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS = 1 POINT. Just a website address on the credits page is all. On the upside = I respect that this FCBD edition is all story and free of ads. On the downside = an opportunity to list some other books available and indicate how diverse Bluewater's offerings are was missed. EXTRA BONUS = 1 POINT. I like 2 out of three stories here, with a hearty recommendation for the Lady Gaga (which I did not expect to enjoy!)

TOTAL SCORE = 14 POINTS. . . MEETS EXPECTATIONS. Above average and worth your time.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Iron Man 2

I saw "Iron Man 2" over the weekend. I'll save the detailed review for later when more people have seen it, but I thought it was a really smart movie with lots of well thought out little details and I liked it as much as the first film. The acting, of course, was first-rate and there were some fun references that will probably pay off in "Captain America", "Thor" and "Avengers". Make sure you stay for the scene after the credits.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

FCBD: What about the books? Part One

          In my last posting I wrote about Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) as an opportunity for comic shop owners to promote their business as well as grab the attention of new and younger readers.  By the same token, FCBD is an opportunity for comics publishers to draw attention to their products and create interest, hoping to obtain new readers as well.

          In this and several other postings, I’m going to look at the FCBD titles and see how well they accomplish that goal, as well as review the story and art.  Since I’m feeling a bit authoritarian this weekend, I’m going to establish a ratings system for FCBD titles and get judgmental all over them.  Here’s an explanation of my system:

COVER APPEAL:  0 – 3 points.  If the FCBD titles were displayed in a glass case and the reader could only chose a few,  which ones would they be?   In the case of unfamiliar material, that choice would largely be made on the appeal of the art or cover design/content.

STORY:  0 – 3 points. How good of  a job does the writer do?  Is the story entertaining?  Is the story engaging? 

ART: 0 – 3 points.  How good of a job does the artist do?  Is the art entertaining?  Is the art engaging?  Does it enhance the script and add to the story-telling power of the comic?

YOUTH APPEAL:  0 – 3 points. Recognizing that the best opportunity to bring new readers and fans into the world of comics is to hook the younger readers - - then any FCBD title accomplishing that gets more points.

NEW READER APPEAL: 0 – 3 points.  Does the title take into consideration that a new reader would be unfamiliar with characters and continuity and address that by either explanation or simplification?

PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS:  0 – 3 points. Does the title help promote the publisher’s line-up and provide information to help guide new readers to learn more about it?

EXTRA BONUS POINTS = WOULD I PERSONALLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK?          0 – 2 points.  All the other above ratings are determined by imagining that I am a new and curious comic reader trying to determine on Free Comic Book Day whether to  allocate some of my leisure funds/time to comics.  That forces me to think outside the box that I normally inhabit. This extra bonus points rating allows me to be myself - - a long term mature (?) comics reader somewhat jaded by the amount of material I’ve read over the last 45+ years. How well did I like it?  (Hey, since this is my rating system, I’m allowed to be thoroughly subjective here.)

PERFECT  = 20 POINTS.  So good you should pay for it!

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED =   15 - 19 POINTS.  A perfect example of representing the industry proudly!

MEETS EXPECTATIONS =  12 – 14 POINTS.   Above average and worth your time. Comes close but misses the bulls-eye. 

SOMEWHAT LACKING =  7 – 11 POINTS.  There’s just not enough here to recommend this book.

POOR EXAMPLE = 0-6 POINTS.  This does not represent the industry well at all.  So bad you should pay someone to read it or take it off your hands. 

          Okay!  Let’s begin the judging . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

FEARLESS DAWN / ASYLUM PRESS SAMPLER #1:

           An 8-page preview of the first FEARLESS DAWN mini-series leads off this sampler, which features six additional titles from Asylum Press.  I doubt that the cover would attract the very young reader. What I don’t doubt is that this cover may arouse middle school to teen age readers, particularly males since it features  Asylum_Press_Large

the main character in her costume which leaves a lot of skin exposed.  COVER APPEAL = 1.5 POINTS. Long time readers may be attracted to the cover design and font used, which recalls old 1950’s EC Comics.  Writer-illustrator  Steve Mannion brings a ‘50’s art style and action-laced script high on entertainment value.  His work is very appealing and looks to have a Wally Wood / Harvey Kurtzman influence.  ART = 3 POINTS.   The story is fun and entertaining in the same way that Eric Powell’s GOON stories make you smile.  Eight pages isn’t much to work with as far as explaining anything so don’t expect much. STORY = 1.5 POINTS.  The back-up features suffer from the same lack of space to stretch out.   WARLASH ORIGINS only gets four pages, which is enough to reveal that the villainess is far more interesting than the main character.  The art is intriguing but cluttered. BLACK POWDER is a very “bloody” frontier adventure written and illustrated by Dwayne Harris with perhaps some computer generation assistance. It has that look.  Pirates attack a barge on the Ohio River, circa 1811.  FARMHOUSE is a preview of an upcoming graphic novel with psychological themes. At a mental hospital an adjacent barn is converted into the “Farmhouse” , an art studio for the patients.  EEEK! is a collection of  horror tales planned as a trade paperback for Halloween 2010.  The 6 page preview features the opening two pages of three separate stories, enough to get a feel that this will be a collection in the Creepy/Eerie mold but not enough to tell if the writing will be of the same quality.  WARLASH: ZOMBIE MUTANT GENESIS  (an upcoming graphic novel)  gives a second look at the Warlash character.  After 4 quick pages I find the zombies to be more interesting. UNDEAD EVIL in it’s 4- page overview promises voodoo terror.  The black and white art by Nenad Gucunja is very stylish and creepy and most effective on these pages without any word balloons or captions to tell the story - - but a little confusing to make sense of.   YOUTH APPEAL  = 0 POINTS. This just doesn’t seem suitable for younger audiences.  NEW READER APPEAL = 1.5 POINTS. The FEARLESS DAWN series has the most appeal, followed by EEEK! and UNDEAD EVIL.  PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS = 3 POINTS.  The best thing this sampler does is give a very complete overview of Asylum Press offerings, and features plenty of web links to get more information.  BONUS POINTS = 1 POINT.  I can really only suggest 1 of 6 stories here.  Fans of THE GOON should check out FEARLESS DAWN.  

TOTAL POINTS = 11.5  . . . Wouldn’t you know it?   The very first book I try my rating system on and it lands funny, falling right in between a rating of MEETS EXPECTATIONS and SOMEWHAT LACKING.  Here’s hoping I fare better with the next selection.

TOY STORY FREE COMIC BOOK DAY EDITION (BOOM Kids!):

(Writer = Jesse Blaze Snider + Art = Nathan Watson)

How refreshing to follow the last review with this one  - - describing  a book that gets everything right!  I have been very impressed so far with everything I’ve seen from BOOM Kids!  They put a lot of effort into these books and it shows.   Comics are the perfect medium for movie adaptations as they combine the written word with visuals.  The only thing missing is the audio.  Yet, the interpretation of these new classic characters is so “spot – on”  that I can hear the voice of Tom Hanks as Woody the Cowboy saying the lines in the word balloons as I read them.  This is exactly the way those characters speak.   The only fault with this book is that it’s a teaser - - yet I forgive them for that.  This FCBD edition reprints Part One of “The Return Of Buzz Lightyear” (now available in trade paperback).  I can just see some  excited children begging mom and dad to buy them the rest of this story.  Mission accomplished.   COVER APPEAL = 3.  These are two highly recognized characters running towards the reader with the familiar Toy Story logo behind them. Yes, that should get the attention of the desired audience.

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The story begins with Andy receiving an unexpected present from his grandmother.  The conflict arises when the gift is revealed to be an updated copy of the Buzz Lightyear toy.  Andy’s mom offers to help him return the gift in exchange for something else.  But the new Buzz toy decides he’s not leaving and the original Buzz has to go back in his place.   The conversations and squabbles among the various toys in Andy’s collection are funny and will remind you of similar situations in the Toy Story movies.  Just as the movies were able to entertain adults as well this comic will amuse the parent reading to their children.   There are little inside jokes that will hold their interest.  My favorite line happens  during the fight between the two Buzz Lightyears when an eye-poke occurs and Woody shouts out “Hey, let’s keep it clean!  There are pre-school toys in the room!”   STORY = 3.  ART = 3. The art is perfect for younger crowds.  Lots of action but backgrounds are simplified to keep it clear to younger readers just what is occurring. Yet, artist Watson puts more detail here than I am used to seeing in kids comics - - depth and dimensionality, shades and shadows, glare/light reflection on helmets, etc.  YOUTH APPEAL = 3.  This one nails it. NEW READER APPEAL = 3.   PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS = 3.  There are plenty of ads for various BOOM Kids! books including list prices, editions available and even the Diamond order codes.  BONUS POINTS = 2.  I’ve already read this three times and the enjoyment factor remains high.

TOTAL POINTS = 20.  . . . PERFECT!

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IRON MAN / NOVA  (Marvel):

Writer Paul Tobin.  Artist Craig Rousseau.

          There is no “Marvel Adventures” logo on the cover to help inform that this is directed at a younger audience than the standard Marvel superhero books.  But there is a line under the Marvel logo proclaiming “Great For All Ages”.  However, I don’t think an adult reader encountering Iron Man for the very first time here (what’s the chances of that, anyway?) would be impressed enough by this story to want to seek out more.  It’s simplistic and juvenile and hopefully it finds the intended audience I assume it’s directed at.  (Elementary to high school age). The cover depiction of Nova certainly looks much younger than the college student that he is.  And, he speaks and behaves more like a middle-schooler in the story.  While the story is good enough to read twice, it’s more of the ho-hum variety than something memorable.  (Although when I’m reading for review purposes I never read a title just once -  in case I miss some important details the first time around. I also want to be fair to each book I write about - - once and done just doesn’t give me as much to work with.)   In this story, the Red Ghost escapes from his stasis cell and attempts to free his super-apes from the confinement zoo for super-powered animals. Iron Man and Nova both get the emergency call to help (placed by whom?)  The real hero of the story is Igor the baboon who makes all the right decisions while Iron Man and Nova continue to be thwarted.  

         COVER APPEAL = 3.  A wise choice to feature Iron Man on the cover in the week preceding the opening of IRON MAN 2 in movie theaters. STORY = 1.5. Rather pedestrian.  It does introduce the characters to new readers but reveals just a little about them – and perhaps leaves the wrong impressions.  ART = 2.  Also better than what I normally see in books aimed at younger audiences with more detail than I expected. However, the amount of dialogue and sound effects in this story bring with it more panels and more cluttered panels. If this is trying to grab the attention of readers younger than 3rd grade, it may miss the mark and lose their attention because of that clutter.  There is a short and amusing back-up feature based on the Super Hero Squad cartoon show featuring Hulk that should hit the mark much better. YOUTH APPEAL = 1.5.  I hope it works out. NEW READER APPEAL = 1.5.  Just not sure somebody would come back for more of this. I remember being in third grade and able to follow the more complex stories and detailed content of standard Marvel books - - I think current young readers can follow it just as well.  PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS = 3.  There are ads for various young reader Marvel titles including info on how to find a comic shop nearby.  BONUS POINTS = 0.  I just don’t think this is appropriate for very young readers and probably not satisfying enough for the next level of youth audience.

TOTAL POINTS = 12.5 . . . MEETS EXPECTATIONS.  Just enough. Wish it was more.

 

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2010 IRON MAN / THOR  (Marvel)

Writer Matt Fraction.  Artist John Romita Jr. 

          John Romita Jr.  has a distinctive blocky art style that I’ve come to appreciate and he gets the epic / heroic nature of these characters and draws them accordingly.  It’s nice to see how he handles Thor.  (Like to see more.)  Writer Fraction really understands the makeup of both of these characters and portrays them very well.  Even a new reader can sense that in Fraction’s writing, and  pick up on the importance of these two characters to the Marvel universe without having to read a lot of exposition or explanation.   I loved this story and was also pleasantly surprised at the outcome and the way that Iron Man / Thor generously came up with a satisfactory alternative solution for the protagonists. (When I thought they weren’t necessarily entitled to one.)   The opening pages where Thor seems helpless to prevent some major catastrophes are very powerful, conveying the sense of futility  through some majestic art and very few captions.    Iron Man and Thor investigate and find the source of the problems to be some man-manufactured activity occurring on the moon.  The conversational exchanges between Iron Man and Thor are delightful and priceless.  I won’t spoil them for you by repeating any here.

COVER APPEAL = 3.  STORY = 3.  ART = 2.5 Looks just a tad sloppy and hurried in places, but still way above average.  YOUTH APPEAL = 1.5 .  As great as this story is, I think it may not be interesting enough for younger folks.  NEW READER APPEAL = 3.  If I was seeing these characters for the first time here, I would definitely be looking for more.  PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS = 2.  Ads for Marvel titles here but no web links provided or even a comic-shop locator mention.  PERSONAL RECOMMENDATION = 2.  One of the better one-shot stories you may read this year.

TOTAL POINTS = 17. . . .  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

THE SIXTH GUN #1 FCBD Edition  (Oni Press):

Written by Collen Bunn.  Illustrated & Lettered by Brian Hurtt.

          This has the potential to be a rip-roaring supernatural western equal to the best of Lansdale and Truman’s classic Jonah Hex mini-series.  If if stays true to the form shown here in Issue #1, then this is a series not to be missed.  I suggest you order Issue #2 right now  (scheduled for July 2010 release) and then get a copy of this FCBD Issue #1  - - because the story begins right here. This is not just a FCBD preview.  That’s right.  Oni Press has decided to make Issue 1 free.  (Although I’m speculating that this is going to get some buzz, and that will necessitate a second printing of Issue #1).

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          Like many of the Oni Press more-recent titles, this is produced in full color and reminds me of both the multi-panel style of Will Eisner as well as employing some of his story-telling techniques in the art.  While I’m not claiming that artist Brian Hurtt is the equal of Eisner, I do feel that his work is very interesting and worthy of study.

          Writer Cullen Bunn introduces several characters in Issue #1 as well as different plot threads and begins the set-up of this sure to be epic tale.  In the aftermath of “the War” (Civil?) the Sixth Gun disappeared.  Now, the widow of the last person to possess the gun (General Oliander Bedford Hume) hires the Pinkerton Agency to locate some mystical objects that may provide a map/route to the location of her husband’s remains as well as the Sixth Gun.  The majority of the characters introduced so far have suspicious motives or are just plain creepy.  It’s hard to find someone to root for, with the exception of  Becky (Montcrief?) who loses her father and then has the misfortune of touching a mystical gun that has now bonded to her, making her a pawn of the evil Mrs. Hume.

COVER APPEAL = 2.  It’s a nice montage sure to attract fans of weird westerns. However, the spooky background images of a massive hanging tree are going to keep many youthful readers away ( . . . for which I’m grateful.  I wouldn’t think this book is aimed at them.)   STORY = 3.  Nicely done.  I am hooked and want to read more.  ART = 3.   See my comments above. YOUTH APPEAL = 1. This seems to be a mature audience title. Fans of Vertigo books, take note.  NEW READER APPEAL = 2. Yes, the curious will take note. PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS = 3.  Oni’s web address is all over the ads, as are links to the writer and artist. There’s even a text testimonial page from the editor-in-chief praising FCBD and noting some additional titles.  (Oni is one of the few smaller press publishers to put out more than one FCBD book.  More on that to come . . .)  PERSONAL RECOMMENDATION = 2. Get on board now.  I think this book will get some deserved attention.

TOTAL POINTS = 16 . . . HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

ATOMIC ROBO / NEOZOIC / BOX 13 FCBD 2010

published by Red Comics Ltd., Calgary –Alberta –CANADA

         Many times have I noted the appealing eye-catching covers to the  ATOMIC ROBO monthly books while perusing the new comics at Captain Blue Hen.  But I remain curious, never having picked it up.   Those covers left me with the impression that this title was about a person trapped inside a metal suit with supernatural adventures versus monsters ala HELLBOY, etc.  After reading the 10-page short story here I have a better idea but I’m still a little uncertain what the monthly book is all about.  I’ll just go along with what the ad for the trade paperbacks calls it  - - - “graphic novel pulp adventure greatness.”  

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       I think he’s an actual robot, at least from the waist up. He’s wearing the same khaki pants and combat boots as his fellow task force members, so who knows?  No origin or explanation is provided.  It’s a straight adventure story with more than enough humor, perhaps a fun book that doesn’t take itself too seriously.  The task force hits the Amazon jungle in search of prehistoric Terror Birds and narrowly escapes them.  End of story.  I’m just not sure I’m going to follow up with this title.  It was fun.  The art was second-tier quality but still interesting.  Too many other choices out there, I’m afraid.

      NEOZOIC also features prehistoric themes. It occurs on a world inhabited by dinosaurs where humans and a green-skinned race compete for survival.    Both art and story are more interesting and more serious compared to ATOMIC ROBO.  The first trade paperback is available now.

      BOX 13 is a preview of a new graphic novel being released this month.  It’s a bit tedious and not very interesting until the final two pages when the surprise occurs.  A writer of spy fiction now exploring non-fiction concerning CIA animal experiments  gets a present at the conclusion of his press lecture, and his world turns upside down.  Per the ad copy, BOX 13  is produced by the same creators of  HIGH MOON, which was serialized on DC’s Zuda web site for writer/artist try-outs.   Strangely, the preview here provides no writer/artist credits whatsoever so I can’t share those names with you. The same ad also alludes to BOX 13 being an “iPhone sensation.”  Guess it may be serialized there.

COVER APPEAL = 2.  STORY = 1.5.  ART = 1.5.  YOUTH APPEAL = 1.5.  NEW READER APPEAL = 1.5.  PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS = 3.  PERSONAL RECOMMENDATION =  1.

TOTAL POINTS = 12 . . . MEETS EXPECTATIONS. 

Sunday, May 2, 2010

ASSESSING THE VALUE OF FREE COMIC BOOK DAY

Opinions and evaluation from a long-term fan, based on the belief that the future of this original American art form is dependent on a steady influx of new and younger readers . . . . . .

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          If you share that belief and agree with me, then you probably view Free Comic Book Day  as an opportunity to grab the attention of those prospective readers and attempt to make some converts to the cause.   And, as you may suspect, the degree of success attained is most often in direct proportion to the amount of effort and creativity each individual comics shop owner and staff apply to this special day.   Free Comic Book Day is but a template or outline, and those who seize that opportunity and plan and create a special event that builds off that platform have a chance to realize new goals.   We can only hope that the majority of comics shop owners understand the power behind Free Comic Book Day and act accordingly.          

          I’ve been visiting my local comics source on the first Saturday of May ever since Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) began, the same weekend that the first SPIDER-MAN movie debuted.   For many of those years my visit has been rather short, maybe a bit longer than normal but with nothing out of the ordinary happening.   Last year I changed my comics source and the FCBD visit was a little longer and also intriguing,  as there were events to prompt my staying longer.   This year I made a day of it and found inspiration and hope.

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          The very first FCBD on the first Saturday of May 2002 had an “amazing” web to help ensnare some “ flies” =  it occurred on the day following the premiere of the SPIDER-MAN movie.  I remember the staff of BC Sports & Collectibles in Downingtown, PA (then my weekly source for comics)  putting displays in  the entrance of the store to feature SPIDER-MAN merchandise as well as draw attention to FCBD’s offerings.  They also obtained permission from the Regal Cinemas in the same shopping center to put some posters in the theater lobby drawing attention to FCBD and their nearby store.  Some BC employees also handed out FCBD flyers inviting SPIDER-MAN movie-goers to visit the comics section at BC right after the movie ended.   I remember hearing afterwards that the BC staff were appreciative of the increased store traffic and new business they picked up that day - - not record-breaking numbers but still well above averages.

          In the following years there wasn’t always a comics movie premiere tie-in to help promote the event.  Movies based on comics generally debuted in May but you couldn’t count on Hollywood to have that occur on the first Saturday each and every May (something that the FCBD organizers agreed was important to preserve the continuity of the event).   BC enjoyed some increased business when FCBD occurred near the openings of the X-MEN and BATMAN movies, but nothing near that first year’s results.  So FCBD at BC then became just another business day, the only exception being it provided the opportunity to give out some free books to new visitors as well as reward the steady customers.  (To be fair to BC,  selling sports collectibles, clothing and trading cards was their main business - - - and comics was just a secondary enterprise at this one location due to a staffer’s considerable knowledge and interest.)

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          After BC closed their doors in 2009, I found myself at CAPTAIN BLUE HEN COMICS (just one month new to me then, but now my regular comics source) in Newark, Delaware on FCBD.   I recall seeing more people inside a comics store than I can remember at any one time (even more than that 1980’s  day the first issue of WEB OF SPIDER-MAN came out when I lived  in New Jersey). There were activities for children, costumed character appearances, and artists presenting workshops and seminars.  I stayed longer, took in some of the events, and obtained a renewed appreciation for FCBD.

         On Saturday, May 1, 2010 I returned to CAPTAIN BLUE HEN COMICS  (CBH) on FCBD and stayed to watch and participate in as many presentations, workshops, activities, and artist meetings as possible.  It was a great day!   I wish you could have been there to see this.  Most impressive - - and a great day for promoting the benefits of comics to new readers.

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          Too many times I have visited comics stores in various cities and failed to see even one young adult during my time there.  What I found especially encouraging on this day was seeing young children with their parents as well as teen-agers, both attending in large numbers.  And they were buying comics!   Parents were helping their children make choices and getting advice and recommendations from the staff.  There is hope!

         CBH has a special wide section near the front entrance dedicated to books for younger readers.  When I arrived at 11 a.m. on FCBD this was well stocked and merchandised.   When I checked it again at 4 p.m. it was getting rather sparse with empty slots on the shelves.  CBH was doing a good business with comics designed for “kids” (loosely applied) all day long.

     Current owners Joe and Danielle Murray bought CBH from the original owner in September 2001 and have participated in FCBD since the first one in 2002, which drew 500 customers.   They have watched attendance grow from 500 to 800 to 1,000 and seem to have reached a current plateau between 1,300 to 1,500.  Joe Murray estimated Saturday’s attendance at 1,400 individuals.   He did not have a sales total for the day, as they were still waiting to add the proceeds from their $1 book sidewalk sales outside the front entrance.  But he knew that approximately 300 transactions were processed, a very respectable number considering that one transaction might represent a family of four.

        Joe judged FCBD 2010 to be a “really good business day!  This definitely pays for itself.” (For the record, the day before Thanksgiving is usually their biggest day for sales totals. )  “It’s certainly the most kids we see on a single day, and that’s a great result. “   Joe says he sees more families bringing their children into the store for the first time and picking up books. He recognizes the value of new business, and says that FCBD offers the best potential to obtain this, along with the work CBH does to promote comics at local schools and libraries.

          Joe estimates that between 20-40% of attendees stay for hours.  Some of course will obtain their free books and leave.  However, about 70% stay and do something else and approximately 50% will pick up at least 1 other book to purchase - -and this is usually people with kids.

         CBH uses television advertising on the New Castle, Delaware Comcast cable stations and used the weeks surrounding FCBD to promote the event.  Joe also does presentations on comics as literature to various schools in the area.  He had just finished doing a presentation at West Park Elementary School the week prior, and mentioned some of those young schoolchildren coming to FCBD with their parents and asking about “Mister Joe”.    

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     To facilitate the large crowds and create a reasonable flow of traffic  through the store, CBH has customers line up outside the building and enter through the back door (which leads conveniently to the FCBD free comic counter where staff members help with the selections).   By 12 noon I observed that this line trailed along the exterior back wall of the store, around the corner and down the alleyway towards the front entrance.  By 1 p.m. this line had snaked across the alleyway and was running in the reverse direction down the other side of the storefronts, making a giant “U”. 

      To keep those crowds from getting restless, costumed characters parade along the lines, offering photo opportunities and entertaining.   The Chick-Fil-A Cow, Spider-Man, Darth Vader, Bobba Fett and two Storm Troopers all made appearances as well as a dragon dance troupe from the local martial arts studio.  There were face-painting and make-a-mask activities at the nearby Newark Arts Council as well as afternoon how-to-draw workshops conducted by some of the the guest artists.   The Mayor of Newark, DE also made an appearance to support FCBD and CBH.

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          Eight guest artists were stationed at various places around the store to meet and greet with attendees and draw free sketches per request.  I heard a large number of children asking for Iron Man, Spider-Man, Bat-Man, Scooby-Do0 and other cartoon characters. Artists included Neil Vokes, Scott Neely, Rich Faber, Jamar Nicholas, Ben Harvey, Buz Hasson, Ken Haeser and John   Gallagher.  I had an opportunity to chat with many of them and plan to post some artist profiles on this blog in the upcoming days.

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          Over at the free comics counter, CBH ran out of several titles in spite of their planning and best order estimates.  They still had copies of the FCBD IRON MAN titles left, but that was because they “bumped up” the order for them.  However, they did not anticipate the popularity of OWLY (which didn’t run out in the years prior to 2010) as well as THE STUFF OF LEGEND (perhaps due to the appearance of Th3rd World Studios at CBH’s FCBD 2009).    They also ran out of copies of MOUSE GUARD /FRAGGLE ROCK before day’s end, as well as SONIC THE HEDGEHOG and BONGO COMICS (Simpsons). They doubled up their order of ATOMIC ROBO from 2009 and still ran out of copies. And all their copies of GREEN HORNET were gone after the first hour.

                                                                                                                  Individuals wFCBD May 1 2010 068ere able to obtain as many as 3 free comic books by showing a library card and /or donating a canned food item.  CBH collects these and gives to the Newark Food Bank.  During FCBD 2009, they donated 32 cubic feet of canned goods as a result of the promotion.

          

          FCBD at CBH was a day for smiles.  The folks at CBH certainly know what to do to maximize the benefits of this opportunity.  Sorry I missed you.  Wish you could have been there with me to see it as well.