memory lane

i’ve got a couple of boxes of books from my personal collection here at the shop, and i went through them for the first time in ages today.  these books still hold such wonder for me. stuff like…

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on the surface it’s just about the goofiest book ever, but i must have read this 500 times. there’s the great paul smith cover and a script from j.m. dematteis that felt so real and relatable to my 8 or 9 year old self.

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when i was a kid i felt like the x-men was my own private soap opera, and issues like this one were a big reason why.

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these issues of gi joe that really built the snake-eyes/storm shadow relationship were so filled with mystery and excitement. to this day two of the coolest costume designs in comics.

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batman & Ethe outsiders was probably my favorite super hero book outside of x-men when i was a little kid. frank miller, doing mike barr a favor i’m guessing, set the tone here with a great cover, and inside we get a classic old school confrontation between the team and a group of government-led goons called, yes, the force of july. glorious stuff.

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i could probably write a 1000 words on how much i loved, and still love, the two gumby books arthur adams did in the 80’s. here arthur employs a slightly less ornate style than usual for him at the time, and the result is a delightfully pure cartoony look. even the little odds & ends arthur drew here–a bio pic of him as a scarecrow, a pin-up of gumby & pokey riding a dinosaur–are fantastic. these should be reprinted in a proper edition, not the sad shit show of a book like the digest version that came out a few years back.

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practically forgotten today, atari force was a better book than it had any right to be. 30 years later it holds up as a fine read, particularly the first dozen or so issues penciled by the great jose luis garcia lopez. this issue, filled with all kinds of interesting critters, was a favorite.

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my love of this little guy is well known amongst my pals. true story: my mom’s dad was an alcoholic ww2 vet who i saw in alternatingly sweet and scary visits. one of the last times i saw him before his suicide i stole $5 off his dresser drawer top. i bought this comic with it.

–chris stevens

SWAMP THING by Vaughan and Petersen

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Brian K. Vaughan has, in the last 15 years, become something of a comic-world King Midas. Already wreathed in laurels from his work on Y THE LAST MAN, EX MACHINA, PRIDE OF BAGHDAD and Marvel’s RUNAWAYS, he’s spent the last couple of years perfecting his golden touch on the gloriously intimate epic SAGA, which has basically won every award there is including the Nobel Peace Price and the Oscar for sound design, and the webcomic THE PRIVATE EYE, with its visionary hey-just-pay-me-whatever business model and sizzling, compulsively readable story. (When you can make a lot of money by simply giving things away, you are in a rare and enviable position.) These are shaping up to be his two finest works with his two greatest collaborators, Fiona Staples and Marcos Martin respectively. Vaughan has already reached the top of the comic-maker mountain, but his ascent continues.

And thus we have a newly-collected edition of Vertigo’s little-remembered 2000 SWAMP THING series, a book that largely flopped upon release. I’m not sure why — it’s a pretty terrific comic in its own right. It’s a little ironic, though, that it’s been branded in large text on the cover, spine, and back as SWAMP THING BY BRIAN K. VAUGHAN, when it’s in fact a document of a gifted young writer who’s just starting to find his way, collaborating with a stellar but mostly unknown cartoonist at the very top of his game.

Roger Petersen has lineage on his side. He’s the grandson of the legendary EC cartoonist George Evans, and the echo of Evans’ clean, expressive precision can be found in Petersen’s effortless line-work. Anyone drawing a Swamp Thing title is going to be working in the long shadow of Wrightson, Totleben and Bissette — Petersen deals with this by running in the opposite direction, away from the obsessive, overgrown undergrowth of detail that characterized the stories of Alec Holland, towards a sleeker, more gestural style given full voice by the sharply minimal inks of Joe Rubenstein and the subtly bold colors of Alex Sinclair.

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Which is a fitting choice, because the stories in this collection are about a younger, angrier, more human Swamp Thing. Tefe Holland is Alec’s daughter, a young woman adrift & searching, commanding & self-confident yet unsure of her own nature or agenda. She has no real allegiance to man or plant, though she inevitably ends up serving (and killing) both. She’s faked her own death, through plot contrivances too convoluted to mention here. (Vaughan spends the first two issues trying and not-quite succeeding to write his way out from under 30 years of continuity, and it’s here more than anywhere else that you see the talented writer struggling to master a generic language — it may be no accident that Vaughan’s major triumphs are all books starring how own original characters.) These stories are somewhat old-fashioned — stand-alone adventures, heavily compressed, each with a traditional structure, a moral dilemma for Tefe, and a satisfying resolution. The serial aspects build slowly, without straining for effect, to answer the central question posed by the series: who is Tefe Holland? Is she an impulsively angry young woman who makes mistakes and selfishly hurts people? Or is she a violent force of nature, barely held in check by a scrim of humanity? She is animated by rage and by conscience, but which one is at her core?

There are real guts in his depiction of Tefe. Where a lesser writer may have pitched a character’s conflict along the same lines — vengeance vs. conscience — very few would have the courage to make her an amoral murderer as well as a hero. That courage, in fact, may speak to the poor reception of the series — we’re being asked to identify with this character who is clearly something other than human, who has few qualms about executing people for the crime of chopping down trees. But she also has a deep, instinctive compassion and empathy that is just as compulsive as her fury. She is a metaphor for nature: that which nourishes is also that which kills. It makes for a bafflingly complex protagonist, if not for a likable one. That courage, that resistance to reader-identification (along with the deeply confusing slog of an info-dump in act one), may be partly to blame for the book’s poor initial reception, but I found it fascinating. Like he did with EX MACHINA’s Mayor Hundred, he uses a serial structure to gradually try to tease some truth out of a character who’s always in motion, who seems to deflect our gaze.

Whereas this series is a forgotten footnote in the apotheosis of Vaughan, it was Roger Petersen’s biggest appearance on comics’ main stage. As good as Vaughan’s storytelling already is here, there is awkwardness and over-explanation and some dialogue that is too-clever by half. These missteps are easily papered over by Petersen’s highly developed cartooning voice, which is strong and funny and rhythmic, simple yet rich, with the fully realized environments that are necessary in a continent-crossing road-trip story like this. Most importantly, it reads with a rare and effortless music that provides a perfect platform for Vaughan’s text-heavy, morally knotty story.

Petersen is a colleague, a collaborator and a hometown boy. He mixes up a hell of a Manhattan at Fishtown’s Atlantis pub and does illustration work for a wide variety of clients. His art, which needed no improvement, has gotten much better in the last decade and a half. We are extraordinarily proud to feature his beautifully yearning strip in our upcoming book LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM.

I hope this SWAMP THING edition does gangbuster sales — there are still eleven uncollected issues, and I’d really like to read them.

* Wondering why I go on and on about Rog Petersen’s cartooning and there’s none of it to be seen? It’s because my scanner is broken, and there doesn’t appear to be any artwork from this book online, except the two panels shown above, and this random panel of a guy without a shirt (which I’m not even 100% sure is Roger).

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Instead, I’ll show you what I’ve got: the gorgeous first panel from his LITTLE NEMO strip.

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Flip and the Imp on the moon. As good as his grandad.

– Josh O’Neill

The Locust Moon Top 40: September/October 2013

40. DOGS OF WAR

Nathan Fox and Sheila Keenan’s heart-wrenching, half-century-spanning tale of soldiers and soldiers’ best friends is old-fashioned in its storytelling and forward-looking in its gorgeously sleek illustration.
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39. Will Laren

It is… unsettling how funny we find these inexplicable and off-kilter comic strips.
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38. Z2 Comics

We can’t wait to see Paul Pope’s ESCAPO and Dean Haspiel’s BILLY DOGMA collection from Josh Frankel’s ambitious new imprint.
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37. TURMOIL IN THE TOYBOX

7 and 1/2 minutes of the gospel truth. The toys, comics, cartoons, and games of the ’80s turned our entire generation into satanists. Watch this as you perform your daily sacrifice.

36. INHUMANS

One of the finest stories Marvel Comics has ever told is back in print. Jae Lee and Paul Jenkins explored the artful outskirts of what is possible in a superhero comic.
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35. TEOTFW

Chuck Forsman’s dark, opaquely frightening story of two broken young people on the run plays like a Gus Van Sant version of BADLANDS. It gets under your skin.
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Continue reading

good this week

mo and jo fighting together forever : toon books brings jay lynch and dean haspiel together for this kid-fueled romp that is another fine addition to the growing library of quality material for younger kids.

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batman ’66 #2 : ty templeton is the perfect cartoonist to carry on the wacky shenanigans in this inspired revival of the classic 60’s tv show. mike allred tops it all off like a cherry on a sunday.

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indestructible hulk #12 : the hulk is punching dinosaurs and shaking up mining towns in this time-traveling episode. check out the gorgeous cover by mukesh singh.

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daredevil #30 : silver surfer!

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nova #7 : spider-man pops in to one of the best superhero books for kids on the market.

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–chris stevens

good this week

wolverine & the x-men #33 : jason aaron and nick bradshaw keep bringing the fun. this issue sports my favorite cover nick’s done yet.

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gamma one-shot : this book is rad. i want more comics like this.

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king the special edition : ho che anderson’s masterful biography of the great martin luther king collected in an affordable hardcover. good stuff, fantagraphics.

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copra compendium volume #2 : collecting issues 4-6 of michel fiffe’s badass exercise in indy superheroics.

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hawkeye annual #1 : the hawkeye crew keeps getting it right, with perfect-fit javier pulido joining matt fraction on this one.

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batman/superman #2 : jae lee is worth the price of admission alone. the man is on fire.

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it will all hurt : wonder. loss. ache. old worlds and new worlds. farel dalrymple gives it all to us the way only he can.

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–chris stevens

good this week

batman ’66 #1 : jonathan case nails the cornball aesthetic of the beloved/derided ’60s tv show with a flurry of clean lines, fake zip-a-tone, and wacky 3-d coloring.

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glory volume 2 : joe keatinge & ross campbell’s rob liefeld reinvention winds down right as it hits its peak, with keatinge’s characters having grown on you and campbell and colorist owen gieni becoming one of the best art teams in comics.

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kill all monsters volume 1 : what else do you need to know but this…

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the strange world of your dreams : a 1950s series produced by simon & kirby. i can’t help but wonder if the tagline ‘we will buy your dreams’ came to haunt kirby as he got older. this is a gorgeous book with top-notch production values and an opening essay on winsor mccay.

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good this week

the true lives of the fabulous killjoys #2 : the first issue killed it. looking forward to getting deeper into this world.

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hawkeye volume #2 : the second collection of this rock solid series has the much-talked about ‘pizza dog’ issue, which came out two short weeks ago, included. that’s gotta be some kind of record.

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the comedian hardcover : the BEFORE WATCHMEN books have taken a lot of heat, rightfully so i believe, but this book is a fine look into the life of the character i think is the most interesting new character of the last 25 years.

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the invincible haggard west #101 : this little chunk of paul pope’s upcoming BATTLING BOY is pure comics gold. pope kills every aspect of making a good comic, and i cannot wait to read the whole shebang.

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the best of ec comics artist edition : a true treasure trove of amazing, inspiring comic book art.

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–chris stevens

good this week

prophet volume #2 & prophet #36 : a double dose of the out of this world series reinvention from brandon graham & company. this second collection has some of the finest art farel dalrymple has done to date.

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mouse guard: legends of the guard #1 : david petersen’s newest anthology series spinning off of the charming all-ages MOUSE GUARD starts off strong, with petersen providing a framing sequence around some wonderful watercolor pages from stan sakai, a bang-up job by philadelphia’s own alex eckman-lawn, and a superbly delightful turn by ben caldwell.

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good this week

herobear and the kid special #1 : mike kunkel’s charming tale of a toy stuffed bear come to life as a cape-wearing hero who gets into mischief & adventure with his little boy best friend displays the ample cartooning chops at kunkel’s disposal; the easy wisp of a line that creates movement and voices characterization; the comedic timing and childlike imagination, where the every day becomes a playground for herobear & the kid.

fun stuff!

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east of west #3 : issue #1 was the best 1st issue in a long time. issue #2 was a little bit all over the place. this issue should let us know where we’re at with jonathan hickman & nick dragotta’s enticing new series.

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the hollows hardcover : the best looking sam kieth book in a long time. beautiful, sweeping vistas, strong settings that evoke an eastern feel, quirky, cute critters…welcome back, sam.

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the end : devastating. sad. realistic. you could call anders nilsen’s new book dealing with the death of his girlfriend any of these things, and you’d be right. but it’s also a graceful meditation on loss, and living, and a fine testament to the enduring spirit of love and partnership that’s at the center of the common human experience.

this cover kills me…

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lone wolf & cub new edition #1 : over 700 pages of this comic book masterpiece for 20 bucks? the folks at dark horse are bringing this samurai masterpiece to the masses in a big way. highly recommended.

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solo-the deluxe edition : one of the best mainstream projects of the 2000’s is finally collected in a hearty, handsome hardcover collection. DC COMICS editor mark chiarello gathered up some of the best artists in comics and gave them 48 pages to play with. darwyn cooke, tim sale, teddy kristiansen, scott hampton, sergio aragones, mike allred, richard corben, and paul pope are among the creators here, and they all take full advantage of the creative free rein, whether it’s with stories set in or outside of the DC universe. paul pope’s issue is worth the price alone, with one knockout story after another, from greek myth in ‘the problem with knossos’ to childhood magic in ‘life sized monster ghost’ to pure nyc pope in ‘on this corner’ to the james jean colored, eisner award-winning robin & joker story, ‘teenage sidekick’. darwyn cooke’s issue weaves in and out and somehow sews up a perfect single issue out of several short stories. neil gaiman writes a DEADMAN story for teddy kristiansen. mike allred runs around the dc universe like only mike allred could. and there are treasures to be found in each artist’s outing. one of the finest collections in a long, long while.

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–chris stevens