good this week

wonton soup collected edition : before ORC STAIN and GODZILLA: HALF CENTURY WAR, james stokoe was chopping it up like some loco iron chef of comics. this long out of print collection serves up the full 7 course meal of wonton soup goodness.

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rocket raccoon #1 : as a long, long time fan of this little critter, i can tell you that skottie young has delivered a pitch-perfect take here. lots of fun, and a good mystery brewing.

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robocop vs terminator : a wacky pairing all the way around, with walt simonson in top form working off a frank miller script.

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the maxx maxximized volume #1 : one of the most influential books of the ’90s is back, in a hardcover edition that sees sam kieth’s seminal artwork recolored and looking better than ever.

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-chris stevens

The Locust Moon Top 40: June 2014 – Nemo Edition

This is the space where we usually spotlight 40 amazing things from the last month — adorable cat videos, cheesy songs we can’t stop listening to, and COMICS COMICS COMICS. For the month of June, we’ve decided to do something a little bit different.

If you’ve been anywhere in our general vicinity or exist within nine degrees of separation from us on Twitter, you are probably by now aware of the epic Kickstarter campaign we’ve launched for our insane, Quixotic, 16″ x 21″ hardcover Winsor McCay tribute LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM. This is one star-studded anthology — maybe the most star-studded comics anthology of all time — and there’s been a lot of press and attention on the big names who’ve come together to pay tribute to our favorite Sunday strip: the Paul Popes, John Cassadays, Michael Allreds, J.H. Williamses (and Yuko Shimizus and Bill Sienkiewiczes and Dean Haspiels and yada genius yada).

So we wanted to use this space to draw attention to 40 artists in DREAM ANOTHER DREAM whose names you may not know yet — cartoonists and illustrators whose work is stunning, beautiful, restlessly inventive, original and bold, but who haven’t yet achieved the name recognition of the people mentioned above. One of the things we love most about LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM is that it combines the biggest artists of its day with the biggest artists of tomorrow. Here, in no particular order, are forty folks you should be hearing a lot about in the next few years.

Note: click on any artist’s name to get to his or her website and see more.

40. RAUL GONZALEZ. Raw and refined. Sweeter than sugar, harder than real deal moonshine.
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39. BODIE CHEWNING is, quite simply, one of the most talented people out there. If only we could get him to draw more than six pages a year…
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38. Master of puppets JENNA TROST charms and creeps in equal measure.
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37. DAVE CHISHOLM slings a pen and a trumpet the exact same way — like he invented the thing, and he’s gonna show you what it can do.
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36. With a precise cartoonist’s eye, KATIE MOODY turns stories upside-down, inside-out and back again.
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35. BISHAKH SOM‘s mind-bending architecture, gentle characters, and inviting colors can keep us staring for hours.
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the palace of ice

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this is the book that launched my love affair with little nemo and winsor mccay. up until receiving this book as a christmas present, i had only heard of this master artist and cartooning genius. this book held pure, unbridled wonder from cover to cover, and it was impossible to read it and walk away unchanged. over the years the particular copy i have has acquired a kind of totemic power for me; although i know its contents by heart, opening it up has a mesmerizing effect, a feeling of being transported that i can’t quite describe.

hopefully someone will have that feeling when they open LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM.

maybe they’ll be able to describe it better than i.

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–chris stevens

a spoil of riches

we are neck-deep in the LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM kickstarter, yes, but we’re also getting ready for the 3rd annual LOCUST MOON PHILLY COMICS FESTIVAL on OCTOBER 25th. we’ve got a sweet fest poster done by the talented mister ron wimberly that we’ll be revealing soon, and preparations are under way to improve & expand on last year’s show. but we wanted to do something special this summer, and give folks a taste of what’s to come. it just so happened 3 of the top cartoonists working today all have great new books out, and are our pals, and we’re going to bring them together and rock the philadelphia comics scene for one glorious july night.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1466509490262234/

Coming to the store on FRIDAY, JULY 18…

PAUL POPE’s been someone i’ve admired and looked towards for almost 20 years, which is crazy because he’s not much older than me. his newly released ESCAPO, out of print for years and now in full color, is probably my favorite book of his.

DEAN HASPIEL is the guy i want to be when i grow up. a man’s man with a romantic heart and a creator through and through. FEAR MY DEAR, his new BILLY DOGMA book, is a lean crystallization of dino!’s comics.

TOM SCIOLI’s unbridled love and immersion into comics both recharges me and makes me feel like i need to be doing MORE. the fact he’s taking on my childhood obsession GI JOE, in TRANSFORMERS VS GI JOE, makes me giddy in anticipation and so, so jealous.

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this is going to be a night to remember. see you there.

–chris stevens

 

 

PRETTY DEADLY by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Emma Rios

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The English writer Walter Pater said that all art aspires to the condition of music. I’m not so sure about that, but PRETTY DEADLY certainly does. It wants to inhabit the haunted space from which country songs like “Long Black Veil” or “St. John the Gambler” emerge — the bleakly spectral west of lost highways, of fiddles at the funeral pyre, of hangmen and heartache. It sounds a high, hollow note as its lonesome melody unwinds, echoing through the canyons.

The plot is oddly structured, and so driven by revelation and backstory that to describe much of it would be to ruin part of the fun. But the narrative is driven by Fox, a grief-stricken blind man with a dark past, and Sissy, the little lost girl with whom he shares his travels. They make their living, such as it is, as roving storytellers, moving from town to town and singing the dark ballad of Death-faced Ginny, the Grim Reaper’s daughter. After a few twists and baffling machinations, they wind up with Ginny herself on their tail, and the apocalypse rumbling behind.

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The end — the crashing-down, the river of blood, the fire next time — that, more than the daughter of death, is the great ghost haunting the pages of PRETTY DEADLY, whose characters live lives on the fringes — snake oil salesmen, traveling troubadors, streetwalkers, cowards and liars. Their existences are tenous, itinerant, bound together only by weird, damaged love, by the few connections that refuse to wither and die. Ginny turns out to be just like them — an abandoned nobody who wants the world to burn. But everybody cares about something, and they wind up holding existence itself together with dirty fingernails and gunsmoke.

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How art this densely detailed, this packed with panels and ambitious storytelling choices so effortlessly evokes the open plains of the American west I’m not sure. Emma Rios has taken the style of Paul Pope — the wayward, manga-inflected storytelling and sloppily precise brushwork — and weathered it, barrel-aged it til it started to fray at the edges. Like Mike Mignola, she favors big, splashy illustrations with lots of small inset or intercut panels, turning every page of into a collage-style design piece in its own right, an experiment in the form which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. She tells Kelly Sue DeConnick’s story as a accumulation of tiny, fragmented moments cascading over one iconic image — the mess of reality spilling over the myth — rather than a progression of linear story beats. It can be awfully confusing, but it can also be riveting. For all the recognizable influences, there’s a magnetic, original voice here, as soulful and ambitious as those of her forebears.

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DeConnick’s script, too, favors off-kilter storytelling and fractured rhythms, dropping us into an already-unfolding narrative with almost no context, barreling forward and gradually filling us in with hints, flashbacks, and recollections, letting us sink or swim. Reading it as a monthly book I found it difficult to follow to the point of frustration. Having it all in one place, that weakness can be read as a strength — here is a book that demands your full attention, a book with no course charted through its pleasures and dangers. It wants to be puzzled over and figured out. Its joys are not the joys of suspense, or of plot at all — it operates on a poetic plane, in a mythic mode of storytelling.

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There is a framing sequence, for instance, in which a skeletal bunny speaks to a dead butterfly — there has been, to this point at least, no explanation of how these characters relate to the main plot, or why they are our narrators. And yet, from a poetic point of view, it seems like a fitting choice, even an obvious one: the story is being told the way it wants to be told. It sounds like the voice of a dead rabbit, and so a dead rabbit speaks it.

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The cleverness of this book’s conceit is the blending of the oldest, most worry-weathered of American genres, the western, the ancestral mythology of our still-embryonic nation, with something older, deeper and more mysterious — the ancient gods and monsters of religion and myth. For all its spells and curses, its talking crows and prophesied beasts, PRETTY DEADLY doesn’t feel “supernatural,” the way zombies and vampires do — it feels hypernatural, the way the Odyssey or the epic of Gilgamesh do. It brings the old world gods to the American west. They seem angry and vengeful, like they know they’re on their way to being forgotten.

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I find it very odd that PRETTY DEADLY is an ongoing series. If ever a comic felt end-driven, this one does. (Quite literally, with armageddon hanging in the balance.) There doesn’t seem to be anything resembling a balanced status quo that you can hang a serial structure on, no sensible way that I can see to keep the line indefinitely moving. Once this current plotline is resolved, I have no idea what this series will even be about.

Maybe DeConnick and Rios don’t know either. They’re certainly not afraid of making a big mess from a narrative standpoint. But they’re channeling something pure, mysterious, bafflingly recognizable. I am firmly in favor of this flawed book with its startlingly lyrical voice and its delicate, haunting song. It seems to emerge from some dusty, mythic back country, some weird old American ghost town at the end of an endless road. These stellar creators have the courage to follow that song. Some spirit tongue has their rapt attention, and they have mine.

-Josh O’Neill

The Hands of the Masters

If you check in here with any regularity than I’m sure you know we’ve launched our Kickstarter for LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM and that the book is done and off to the printer.

Let’s watch a few of the artists involved with the book do what they do best: draw. First up, the man of the hour himself, Winsor McCay.

Bill Sienkiewicz, with a sharpie!

Paul Pope, a few months back…

Here’s Dean Haspiel slinging some ink…

The boys from Brazil, Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon, at work…

There should be a TV channel dedicated to this. Shouldn’t there?

THE AMATEURS by Conor Stechschulte

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The gorgeous watercolor work on the beautiful textured paper of the cover is simultaneously idyllic and eerie — two women wash their clothes in a river, the fabric shimmering yellow, blue and red through the water. Two men, in pure black silhouettes, watch from the foreground shore. It’s an ominous beauty that hints at the unsettling story inside — a sense deepened by back cover blurbs printed on cleavers and hacksaws — but it doesn’t in any way prepare you for this utterly strange, funny, and quietly horrifying reading experience, an intriguing and troubling book-format debut from Conor Stechschulte.

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Jim and Winston are figures more familiar from the stage than from the funny pages. Dressed in identical black suits, hats and bolo ties, Winston is tall & thin with a long, pointed nose, Jim fleshy and round, his features barely disrupting the baby-fat pudge of his spherical head. They call to mind Laurel and Hardy. They arrive one morning, both mentioning that they felt sick and feverish the night before. They enter what they recognize as their butcher shop but it’s empty. No meat, no goods, nothing in the pantry. Slowly they begin to realize that they don’t seem to remember anything beyond their names and professions. They can’t remember how to go about doing their job, or where they are exactly, or how they got here. Then two women who seem to know them arrive — apparently these are regular customers — asking for a pork loin and a pound of ground chuck. Jim and Winston have to figure out how to deliver the product.

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With their broad physical types, squabbling, and comical incompetence, they are slapstick figures forced into confrontation with an existential vacancy — precisely like WAITING FOR GODOT’s Vladimir and Estragon. In fact the whole premise feels theatrical — the empty shop like an unfurnished set, the identical costumes on the men, who don’t seem to know anything more than what you’d read in the opening to a script: Jim, butcher, tall and thin, dressed in black. Like so much avant-garde theatre, it takes advantage of the blankness of its setting — the bare room with false walls, the flimsiness of poor stage craft — to create a heightened superreality of characters on a stage rather than people existing in the world. But this is a comics page, an immersive space where anything can be drawn. The choice to heighten its artifice is disorienting, and pulls you into the momentary nature of the story, the hovering unknown nervous responsiveness in which these characters seem to exist.

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What we’re in for, once we get down to it, is a classic dream trope: the nightmare of unpreparedness. These two are butchers, they’re expected to sell meat to these upstanding women, but they have no idea how. All they know is that failure doesn’t feel like an acceptable option.

The centerpiece of the book is brutal slapstick horrorshow of incompetence and self-harm. Desperately searching the shop, they find a pig and cow out back, and realize their only way out of this is to figure out butchery by the seat of their pants. The lengths that they will go to to accomplish their grim task is funny and frightening; they seem to have a dreamy disregard for their own unsafety.

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On one level, the physical reality is convincingly realistic — you imagine yourself into their shoes, the horrible chaos and mess that would ensure if you tried to butcher a pig with your total lack of knowledge and skill. But what’s unreal, and truly chilling, is their total disregard for their own physical bodies, which they easily sacrifice in pursuit of achieving their meaningless task, undistracted by injury, by the loss of limps or fingers. All that matters is getting this right, so the women inside won’t realize how badly everything is amiss. The most haunting — and laugh-out-loud- funny — image in the book is when Jim and Winston, horribly maimed and mangled, proudly present their customers with dripping bloody sacks of unprocessed meat, filled with teeth and bits of bone.

The final moments of the book are beautiful and baffling, and I won’t spoil them here except to say that they harken back to that tense, striking cover. For all of its visceral, in-the-moment storytelling and its unadorned micron art style, THE AMATEURS is a mysterious, unknowable book, one that refuses to make its intentions clear. But there’s something very human and queasily recognizable in their frantic scrambling, their panic in the face of the unknown, their fixation on keeping up appearances first and foremost. Their only impulse on finding themselves in this bizarre predicament is not to solve the problem or try to understand the situation — it’s to hide the evidence, to make sure that no one finds them out. That’s why, in the near-universal dream of being on stage with no script, we never simply walk out of the spotlight. No one can ever know how confused or frightened we are. The masks must stay firmly affixed, in the carefully wrought array we’ve spent a lifetime designing. The show must go on

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THE AMATEURS features a framing story that seems to come from another genre entirely, one set apart from the minimalist anxiety of avant-garde theatre — the musty, leatherbound timbre of Victorian horror. The story begins with the words “I fear that all my life I’ve been sheltered from some horrible truth, some terrible knowledge that I’ve only glimpsed the remotest edge of,” narrated as an entry from the journal of a young girl at a nearby boarding school. This jarring, fascinating shift in tone bookends the story, and it reads like something out of Edgar Allen Poe or M.R. James, a chilling, overcooked gothic creepfest. Still, its central spectactle of a decapitated, rotting human head speaking from the banks of a river is nowhere near the most frightening thing in this tale. Blood and foreboding can’t compete with with the terror of unpreparedness, of transparency, of being seen for the desperate amateur that you really are.

-Josh O’Neill

good this week

starlight #4 : mark millar, discarding the profanity and shock tactics he has fallen back on for most of the last decade, teams with a spot-on goran parlov to deliver this charming, human space fantasy. this issue sports an all too rare appearance from travis charest on the cover.

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she-hulk #5 : ron wimberly steps in on art duties here and stretches and warps things to perfection, aided by some fine coloring from rico renzi. this book is on a roll.

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lumberjanes #3 : i love the fact that this book brings new faces into the store on a regular basis. we need more books like this!

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manifest destiny #7 : amidst a slew of hit IMAGE books this qusi-historical monster romp flies under the radar somewhat. lots of fun, with gorgeous color work from owen gieni and rising star linework by matthew roberts.

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witzend : wally wood’s self-published anthology collected in its entirety in a fantastic slipcase edition.

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–chris stevens

 

The Locust Moon Top 40: May 2014

40. SECRET AVENGERS

Hawkeye, She-Hulk, Doop be damned — this may be the most fun book that Marvel is putting out. Come for the comedy, stay for the wild sci-fi ideas and propulsively energetic storytelling.

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39. Alan Moore Interview on Robert Anton Wilson

Robert Anton Wilson has had an outsized impact on comics sci-fi as one of the prime influences of two of its major writers: Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. Now, as bonus content for the COSMIC TRIGGER theatrical Kickstarter, you can hear comics favorite curmudgeon spend an hour kvelling about the importance of Wilson’s particular brand of visionary oddball sci-fi.

38. SHE-HULK

Charles Soule & Javier Pulido continue making us smile with their latest issue of She-Hulk, taking the jolly green she-giant over to San Francisco to see Daredevil — making for an obviously perfect crossover. The two super-lawyers wonder why they never went up against each other back in NYC, and so do we…

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37. THE AMATEURS

Conor Stechschulte’s graphic novel debut is a strange little incantation, a quietly funny nightmare in black & white — the sort of book that lingers in the back corners of your mind.

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36. KIRBY NEW GODS ARTIST’S EDITION

The unadulterated tiger-force, delivered straight from the tiger-source.

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