What the Duck?! Avian Adventurers in Comics

Let me come out and say it: I can’t resist a comic with a good duck in it. It’s a bit niche, but I think everyone has something like that in comics (and believe me, it’s not always so wholesome as ducks!) Over the last year I have been exposed to some really great comic creators who’s work centered around ducks. It’s probably a coincidence, but it’s definitely quality.

Sometime back in 2016, through the mighty library system, I was able to obtain a copy of Steve Gerber’s Howard the Duck the Complete Collection Volume One. I knew who Howard the Duck was, of course. I liked Howard the Duck. When he was in the post credit scene of the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, I lost it. But I had never read any of Gerber’s run. Gerber was the man who created Howard (along with Man-Thing and Omega the Unknown, and he is pretty underrated in my book!) and his work with the Duck was just insane. I remember opening the book and within the first few pages, Howard found this really tall tower. His thought was basically “that looks like a good place to commit suicide.” He was going to climb the tower and jump off. I wasn’t ready for that! It was unlike anything I’d read from that time period, and unlike pretty much anything I’ve read from any period.

howard

Gerber made Howard stand out because, at the end of the day, it was an existential book. It was philosophical, examining the human condition. But it was packaged in the form of what they would call a “funny animal book.” I thought that was just great juxtaposition. Here we see a duck, so we automatically think this will be something for the kids, then he’s dealing with alienation (being trapped in our world), getting locked in a psyche ward (in the 70s!) and running for president (“Get Down, America!) Gerber had a sense of humor and imagination unlike anyone else, and it helped to secure Howard as one of my favorite reads in a long time. Thus began my love for the duck in comics.

I should also mention that the other day, a friend of mine was in a comic shop and sent me a picture of a book called Destroyer Duck and asked if I wanted it. Because, you know, ducks. I thought it sounded familiar, and I said yes. I did some research and found out that it was actually written by Gerber, as a sort of parody. He was looking to make extra money while in a lawsuit against Marvel over the ownership of Howard. When I got those comics, I opened it up only to see that the art was done by none other than Jack Kirby!

destroyer

I just got the books, so I haven’t read them yet. But you can expect a full report when I do!

After reading some Howard, I went further back in time. Once again thanks to the library, I was able to find some old Scrooge McDuck. We (I work at the library) had one of the Fantagraphic Library editions on our shelf and I thought, “Well, I always hear such good things, why not?” See, since I started doing the con circuit, I kept hearing a name: Carl Barks. I didn’t really know anything about him, other than he worked on the duck books. I’m sure I’ve brought some shame to myself admitting that I didn’t read Barks’ work as a kid, but better late than never, right? Right?!

Anyway, I was a little cautious. I’d heard of Barks’ merits, but these books were really old, so I was worried they would feel dated. When I opened the book, I discovered my fears were unfounded. Unlike most old comics, Barks’ work with the ducks stands the test of time. And it all comes down to the quality of the work. The art is beautiful, he was a master of the comic craft (I study every panel to see what I can learn), and the jokes still hold up. It gets me to laugh. And as much has humor has changed since those stories were written (midway through the last century), that’s impressive. And I believe Fantagraphic recolored them, so they don’t look aged. It’s remarkable because not only could Carl Barks tell any story using the ducks, but he made them fun. His stories, both long and short, gave the reader joy. They wanted to keep reading, be it Donald or Scrooge.

ducks

Barks started his work with Donald Duck. He was smart in his portrayal of Donald because he’s a normal guy, like all of us. He gets these schemes to make money, and they almost always backfire. He represents the common man, er, duck. When we read Donald, we can all see the struggles we go through (albeit exaggerated). The other nice thing about his Donald stories is that there are A LOT. So you’ll have a good amount of reading.

I’ll be honest though, it was old Scrooge McDuck that made me fall in love with Barks. I don’t know if it was memories of Duck Tales, or his money pit, or his top hat, but Scrooge has totally won my heart. And I once heard him described as “one of the greatest characters in literature.”  He’s the opposite of Donald: he succeeds in whatever he’s trying, he’s rich, and he is NOT like most readers. In fact, these days they would say he’s the one percent. But luckily for everyone, he’s on our side. Although he started out as a greedy, selfish old coot, he changed over time to be a lovable rich adventurer. Like Indiana Jones with more money than anyone in the world. Fun fact: a scene from a Barks comic actually inspired the boulder chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

scroogeboulder

I think you’ll find that factoid in the introduction to the collection called Seven Cities of Gold if you need proof! Scrooge just had it all. And it helps that he was in the hands of someone like Carl Barks. He truly loved what he was doing, and you could tell. He wrote so many stories, and each with such quality. And all this, too, considering the fact that for much of his career, no one knew who he was because they didn’t credit creators back then. Fans simply called him “the Good Duck Artist.” Good on you, Carl. I should also mention here that Don Rosa has an incredible body of duck work, having taken over for Barks. But I can’t really talk about him because I’m not familiar with his stuff…yet!

I could probably write an entire academic paper on Carl Barks. I’m sure it’s been done given his importance. I mean, he was called the Hans Christian Anderson of comics by Will Eisner. That’s a big deal.  But I think I’ve made my point: ducks in comics have had an oddly large effect on me. So, if you’re looking for something to read, take a quack at some of these books I mentioned, won’t you?

Marysville Mini Con 2017

Mini Con was again a success! Thanks to everyone who came, and thanks to the library for the space. But most of all, thanks to the artists, vendors, performers and speakers. Below you’ll find some photos of the day.

 

addie     Addie J. King 

 

youngest fan   My niece, and youngest fan, Penelope has the merch game on lock.

 

chris

A sneak peak at another Short Stacks story…

capn

Another fabulous piece of art. I guess I am inspirational. Thanks Vanessa!

ed

An anonymous fan. Who are you?!

 

jeff

Jeff Wilson puts the legend in Ohio Legends 

cat

Cat Tervo came on by for the con!

dave

My old college pal and fellow comics enthusiast David. Fate keeps bringing us together.

sean

Thanks so much to Sean Smith, who came to do a panel on black speculative fiction! Look for his book next year.

cleanshoes

Leah “Clean Shoes” McCoy is a supporter of Hot Cakes Comics!

twins

Veteran Mini Con boothers Unhinged Twins returned!

toys

The toy market was fully represented this year. Once again Married Math Games and Comics joined us, along with first timer Dorkside Sayins.

fisherfolk

Aaron is a great artist, and him and his wife are my BFFS. Check out his stuff.

superfortnerbros

The Fortner bros held down the booth once again!

dasch

Dasch returned. He was so strong he could pick me up!

drew

My pal Drew gave some good talks about wrestling. Bullet Club for life!

liz

Once again Liz came out to support me. But this time I surprised her with a story featuring herself!

vanessa

Vanessa and the gang came back.

rayne

Support from another bearded librarian.

patti

Jeff’s wife, Patti, reading Bluffton. Good choice!

sisters

Jennifer Ku and Jae Ellis, sisters artists!

Hot Cakes Comics at Wizard World Columbus

This past weekend was Wizard World Columbus. It is, I think, the biggest convention in Ohio. Wizard might some other shows around the state, but let’s not get weighed down with specifics. I’ve been going to this comic con since I was 16 or 17, I think, back when it was still just Mid Ohio Comic Con, before Wizard hosted it. So, this year was no different, I had to go. Except, instead of dressing up, as I usually do, I just went as normal old me. BUT since I wore my Hot Cakes shirt, I set out to see who all was there as my own brand of comics. I didn’t really meet very many people, but I did get some cool pictures. So, I’ll take you on a guided tour.

ajstyles

Let me get this one out of the way right now. I’m a huge wrestling nerd. And that guy beside me is AJ Styles, one of, if not THE, best wrestler today. So when I found out he’d be coming to Columbus, I knew I had to get the photo op. Though this is not comic related, I’m a little bit (lot a bit) too excited not to share this. If you’re a wrestling fan, you’ll get it. If not, just look at his hair. I didn’t touch it, but I bet it’s really soft. Photo ops aren’t a long meet and greet, but still, here I am with a legend!

donatello

So, there I am, minding my own business when guess who I see? Donatello! As you can tell, that’s a pretty legit suit. The mouth even moved. I have always been a fan of the Ninja Turtles, and when this guy popped out, I basically turned into a kid again. The 90s movie style suit amplified the effect. What followed next was pretty bizarre. Leonardo, and a guy dressed as the Hulk, joined Donnie, and they began to dance the Cupid Shuffle. I have video of this, but it didn’t turn out too well. Plus, you really had to see it in person.

delorean

Like any proper nerd, I love Back to the Future. Here we have the DeLorean, because if you’re going to time travel, you might as well do it in style. Now, this is not the first time that I have seen a DeLorean in person. In fact, a few years ago, I sat in one at this very comic con. Of course, I can’t find that picture. It’s lost somewhere to the ethos. And I didn’t feel like paying $20 to do it again, because, well, that above photo op was a good chunk of my spending money. But nevertheless, I saw this beauty again.

jeffsmith

This year there were a lot of surprises for me. Once again, I find myself walking, minding my own business and then BAM! Jeff Smith is on stage. Jeff Smith is the creator of Bone, which, for my money, is one of the greatest comics ever made. Now, I shouldn’t be too surprised by this, Jeff Smith does live in Ohio. But I hadn’t really looked at the guest list this year. Plus, when you make comics and you see Jeff Smith, I think you’re always destined to freak out a little. I’m not sure what he was talking about. I was star struck, and only able to get this picture. But I mean, look how close I was to Jeff Smith!

jpark

I didn’t take many pictures of costumes this year. But I couldn’t pass this one up. A Jurassic Park cosplay. Are you kidding me?! I saw them walking around and chickened out on asking them for a picture. When I saw them again, I knew it was fate, as life finds a way. I’m a big fan of Jurassic Park, and the best costumes are the ones that people will maybe not everyone gets, but when some does, they get PUMPED. As you can see I was clenching my fists. This was a genuine reaction, because I was way, way excited for this. I didn’t even know til later that the dinosaur had got into the picture. Nice touch, Dr. Grant.

tomcook

Here’s another guy I had no idea was at the convention. You might not know Tom Cook by name (I didn’t before a friend of mine told me about his meeting him). He’s in the animation industry. I had known him, through my friend, for his work on He-Man. I had to take a couple separate looks at his booth to see how much stuff he had worked on. And then, when I finally got up the nerve to really talk to this guy, I noticed that he worked on King of the Hill. Now, like most nerds, I have an appreciation for He-Man. But I will tell you honestly that King of the Hill had a huge impact on me. So it was really cool to meet someone who worked on the show.

cooksplastic

I decided to buy one of Tom Cook’s prints. I’m a believer in signs, fate, and what else have you. His print book was opened to this particular drawing. The night before I was reading about Jack Cole (the creator of Plastic Man). Plus, this was THE last one. So all of those things added up to me having to buy this piece. Tom was nice enough to personalize this for me. I never watched the Plastic Man cartoon (that I can remember) but Plas is a highly underrated character. And if you disagree, you’re also going against people like Grant Morrison. I wouldn’t do that.

darrylbanks

This last image was really cool for me. Just as I was about to leave the convention, I noticed that Darryl Banks was there. Darryl Banks is (like Jeff Bone) a comic creator from Ohio. So I shouldn’t be too surprised to see him, really. And, honestly, I had met him years ago as an awkward teenager. But now I also made comics, and I had an appreciation for the history of comics I didn’t have years ago. Darryl Banks worked for DC, and created the Green Lantern Kyle Rayner. He had these prints for sale and to me, this cover is iconic in the world of the Lantern, so I had to buy it. He signed it for me too, which was nice. It was a very cool moment for me to be face to face with someone who worked for DC, and who’s character is still around.

Comic Cons are always a good time. You don’t know exactly what you’ll see there. And, this one has really got me ready for my next convention. Which is actually MY convention. I’ll be throwing my second comic con this weekend, so I’ll be putting up a special blog with pictures. See you then.

Comic Book Collaboration

Collaboration is one of the biggest thing that drew me into working with comics. When I first started down this path, I thought to myself, “It will be nice not to work alone all the time.” See, when I was in college, working on writing short stories, and one day a full novel, I learned it was a solitary path. But when I began to write stories for comics, I loved the idea of working with other people. I know it’s not for everyone, but I’m a guy who likes to bounce his ideas off of people. That’s how I figure out what’s a good idea or a bad one.

Collaboration is the very essence of the comic book. Sure, I write and draw my own stuff, but most of the books out there have different writers and artist. To me, this creates an interesting kind of dance. The writer puts his ideas down on paper in the form of words, and the artists translates them into pictures. It’s a unique way of making art. And, as they say, two heads are better than one. It’s always fascinating to see how an artist will interpret my words. How will they see a character, or an action, or a setting, that I’ve described. It makes things, in my eyes, more dynamic. And not to mention the numerous times that an artist has taken my idea and improved upon it. That’s another nice thing. That other person may see things in a scene that you never would have, and it adds to the story as a whole.

I’m really just writing this whole entry to say that, yes, collaboration is a good thing. I know, when you’re in school, you hate group work. That’s because there’s always one person who doesn’t do anything. Then there’s one person who is too controlling. And the whole time, do you really have any interest in the project? I know I sure didn’t. But I’m passionate about comics, and that makes working with other people not only easier, but also fun. And that’s because they too are passionate about the medium. The idea of collaboration is scary to some people, I get that. You don’t want to put yourself out there to someone else. That person could potentially reject your idea, and no one likes that. But sometimes, your ideas need to be rejected. Or at least improved upon. And one of the nice things working in comics is that you can always ask that person for feedback, and they will give it to you. Because once you recruit them, it’s their project too, and they want it to succeed. You are a team.

Ateam

Ha ha ha, get it?

Now, this is not to say that, 100 percent of the time collaboration will be great. I won’t lie to you, sometimes working with other people just doesn’t pan out. There have been times that people don’t finish what they start. Actually, that’s happened to me quite a bit. But you move on from that. Sometimes there will be people who are difficult to work with. Sometimes they will share your enthusiasm, only to disappear and leave the work unfinished. This happens increasingly often in a world where we can work with people over the Internet.

Sometimes these people will be your friends, and you want to work with your friends, right? But making comics isn’t for everyone, and that’s OK. Sometimes they will think they can do it, but once they get started, it turns into more than they thought it would. This is something that, I believe, is very common when you get started. You’re so eager to jump into the deep end, you don’t realize that not everyone is that way. No one is really at fault in these situations, you just have to realize that there are people out there who are more inclined for this sort of work than others. The point is, if you have bead experiences, don’t let them sour your future opportunities. There will be other people to work with, and they will turn out great.

After a couple of fizzled attempts to work with those close to me, I was able to hire someone from a convention, and their turn around time was great. Not only that, they really brought the story to life. I can’t imagine anyone but this guy drawing this story now. And we actually became real life friends because of it. That’s another benefit of working with other people; not only do you gain friends, but you build up a reserve of artists to work with in the future. Sometimes I’ll write a story and think, “I know who would be perfect to draw this!” And that comes from the collaborations of the past.

stepbros

However, I think there is a bigger benefit to all of this. And I hid it hear at the end so you had to keep reading.  Here’s what collaboration taught me: kill that ego. Once I was giving a girl scout troupe a crash course in making comics, and I think the most important thing I told them was that they would have ideas, and so would their partners. But you can’t think that your ideas are always better. You’ve got to listen to that other person. And, since a comic requires so many steps, no job is more important than the other. They may have different difficulties, but everyone has to respect each job done in order to produce the best comic possible.

With collaboration comes the checking of the ego. If you never listen to anyone else, and constantly bash everyone over the head with how great your plans are, no one will work with you. And really, this is an important life skill to have. No matter if you work in an office, or in comics, you can’t let your ego get in the way of success. I don’t know that I was very much of an egomaniac before I started working in comics, but I do know that working with other people really helped to highlight this point for me. Sometimes your ideas will be the best, sometimes they won’t. All you have to do is take the time to listen, really think about it, and sometimes, admit that someone else sees something better than you.

It’s not always easy to work with someone else when it comes to your vision. But take it from me, it’s almost always worth the effort in the end.

Time to Succeed

Recently, I turned 25. In the weeks that followed, I’ve had some pretty long reflection sessions and a few changes in attitude. I guess once you get smack into the middle of your 20s, things start to look different. Well, this prompted a longer than usual Facebook post from myself about time. That is, my time, and how I spend it. See, I’ve always been pretty self conscious about the prospect of telling people I can’t do something because I’m working on comics. I can’t say why, exactly, but it never seemed like the other person would take that as a serious reason. Sure, it’s what I love, and it is the path I chose to walk, but it’s just comics, right?

Well, I had a hard look at that and decided, hey, that’s not right. Now, it’s not really like the people close to me have personally showed me this attitude. In fact, they’ve been great. But I’ve always been paranoid that, to them, this was just a hobby. I guess that could be the insecurity of the artist. But I think when you’re chasing a goal, you have that feeling. At least in the beginning. When you realize how much time you’ll have to put into catching that dream, you know that you’ll have to cut into that free time. Especially if you have a job, like most people when they start to run down that dream (taken from sir Thomas Petty).

I guess I always thought that if I bailed on my friends and family for comics, they wouldn’t understand. But as I’ve said, they are supportive people. As it turns out, my Facebook post got a lot of positive feedback. Lots of people telling me they understood, and people who are also artists and musicians telling me they used to be in the same boat, and that one must push on. It’s nice to hear other people are going through the same thing as you. It’s great to know you’re not alone. And not to mention, if those people worked through it, so can I. And so can you, if you feel that way.

tumblr_olpvk4qloE1qgwefso2_540

I definitely forgot you could use gifs on WordPress until just right now. This is great.

Anyway, if you are feeling a little guilty about making time for your goals, don’t worry. Most people will support you. And if they don’t, you don’t need that! I know it’s easier said than done, but little by little I’m starting to let go of the fear I had about alienating people by simply pursuing my goal. I know that sometimes people don’t think that art is an actual use of time. More of a recreational thing. While this is wrong, you don’t even really have to explain this to people. If they don’t get it, they probably won’t get it. That’s how it goes. The thing is, in order to become good at anything, you have to do that thing a lot. If it’s drawing, or singing, or playing football. You have to work at it.

And you should not feel bad about it. Well, that’s what I learned this last week, anyway. I guess that sometimes I assume people might not know how much work goes into a comic (even one that looks like mine!) but more often than not, people will understand if you say you’re busy. And most of the time, it was only my inner doubt that made a problem out of things. Like many, many other times, I was my own worst enemy.

In the end, you will need all the time you can. Look at comics, specifically. There’s pretty much always something for me to do. If I’m not writing, I’m drawing, or inking, or coloring, or lettering, or plugging the hell out of everything. There’s always an item on the list. Now, maybe I don’t always use my time wisely every single day, but I’m starting to ween myself off the excuse that what I do isn’t good enough to tell other people I’m busy. Now that I think about it, I guess it could be a bit of a cultural thing. It might seem that this work isn’t really “work” to some people. But damn is that wrong. I have literally shed blood, sweat, and tears for this thing. Well, I don’t know about tears, but I’ve come close. Listen, it all comes down to something very simple:

tumblr_ogmvhyCV1r1ssbgowo1_400

Warned you about the gif thing.

Futurama hasn’t led me astray yet, so you should listen to Hermes. Although, you can ignore that “Even if it’s not a good idea!” line, I don’t want you to start thinking about that and get discouraged. The point that both Hermes and I are trying to make is that you have to do what you love. That thing that burns inside you with a passion is what it’s all about. And in order to do that, you will have to give it a lot (read: most) of your time. But it’ll pay off in the end. Not only do you spend time doing what means most to you, but you’ll get better at it, and then maybe you’ll even get good. And once you’re good at the thing you love, who knows what you’ll be capable of.

As usual, I find myself rambling a bit. Just take it from me that you shouldn’t feel bad about spending your time chasing goals, and you don’t have to apologize for it. And I really want to thank everyone who responded to that Facebook post. It really gave me the boost I needed. This issue had been bothering me for a while now, and to know that, well, it’s not really an issue, that gave me a boost as a person and as a creator. Thanks.

Now, go do what you love!

More Than Capes Pt. II

Last blog post saw me talking about comics that went beyond the genre of super hero. The whole time I was writing that, I found myself wanting to delve into each series that popped into my head, and it almost got me off topic frequently. So, I decided that this time I would specifically take a look at several non-super hero comics that I think are just the tops. This is in no way a definitive list, they are not ranked in any order either. So, this is not the be all end all, it’s just what’s swimming around my head right now. That being said, I will forget some great series, or overlook others. Don’t take it personally.

Transmetropolitan 

Transmetro

Transmetropolitan is one of the great sci-fi comics. Set in the future, it follows the, what they call “gonzo journalist”, Spider Jerusalem. As a reporter, he aims to challenge corruption and the abuse of power that he sees in the American government. I will say this, Spider is pretty much a bastard. But in true anti-hero form, his despicable nature is what fans want to see. Plus, he really shows us who the bad guys are. A friend of mine loaned me all ten volumes of this once, and I read it in less than a month. I just wanted to keep going and going. It’s a blend of humor and social-political satire that is hard to find done so correctly. Warren Ellis is capable though, and this is probably my favorite thing he’s written (that I’ve read) to date. If you enjoy sci-fi stories that use the future to critique our present, this is the story for you. If you like stories that will make you laugh out loud, this story is for you. If you like good stories, this story is for you.  This is a story that has a definite end, too, so you won’t have to read it for years!

Preacher

Preacher

Where do I start with Preacher? You might have seen the show, but from what I’ve seen, the book is way better. That’s nothing against the series, it’s just the way it goes. Preacher is a very dark, hilarious, twisted book. It will make you laugh, it’ll give you some feels, and it will make you do some double takes. That’s what I love in a story. And like Transmetropolitan, this was published by Vertigo. Oh, how I love old school Vertigo Comics. The basic premise is a man imbued with the word of God travels around with a vampire and his ex-girlfriend fighting a New World Order and all sorts of crazy foes. That does not do it justice, but there is so much that goes on with Preacher that it’s hard to sum up. Just know that it’s worth the read. This was another my friend (same one) lent me, and I read it in quick fashion. What got me was the dark humor and incredible situations that Garth Ennis created, along with Steve Dillon’s (RIP) art work. It was not as polished as so many books I read, and I remember thinking that people looked ugly. And I liked that, it was different. Anyway, if you are watching the show, I recommend that you read the book, because there are some things that are too great about the book that they just can’t put on TV.

Y the Last Man

Y

This was one of the first books I read that really showed me just what comics can do. It was packed with so much emotion, humor, and creativity, it felt like one of the most realized comics I’ve ever read, and that still stands. Y is a story about the only survivor of a plague that kills all the men on Earth. Yorick, the aforementioned last man, has to go through many trials (60 issues worth!) as he tries to get back together with his one true love. The whole story is packed with amazing adventure and great characters, best of all Agent 355, Yorick’s protector. It’s full of twists, turns, and the occasional gut punch. This will probably be my favorite Brian K. Vaughn story he ever does. People love Saga (which is great, but I haven’t read enough of it to compare), but Y will always hold a special place in my heart for showing me a depth and humanity in comics that so many others fail to capture. As you might have guessed, this is another Vertigo title. I promise there are other companies on the list, but these are some heavy hitters for me. The worst part is they’ve been talking about a movie for years, but it’s never happened. Where is it?!

Chew

chew

OK, so this one isn’t Vertigo, it’s Image. Chew is a fantastic story about a man named Tony Chu who gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats. That means if he eats a cheeseburger, he sees how the cow died. If he eats a fruit, he can tell what pesticides were used on it. He works for the FDA (super powerful after chicken was banned due to a bird flu). That is the gist of the beginning. He later starts hunting someone who can absorb other unique food related abilities. There are a TON in this series. That’s part of what seals Chew as one of my favorites of all time. It’s so creative. I never would have thought of Tony Chu’s ability, let alone the others (like people who can make weapons out of chocolate, or Chu’s sister, who can see the future by eating). And it’s just so funny. It’s got moments from all over the spectrum; there’s drama, emotion, and action, but I go all in for the humor of Chew. This is achieved, I think, by the team of John Layman (writer) and Rob Guillory (artist) the words and pictures they put together work in unison better than most other comics I’ve read. Ever. The other big joy of reading Chew is looking closely at Guillory’s backgrounds. He puts all sorts of Easter eggs in there. The series just wrapped up last year, and I still have to finish the final volume. But I love Chew so much that I’m rereading the entire thing just to get there.

Hellboy

hellboy

You probably know this one. Hellboy’s been around for over twenty years now. Isn’t that crazy? But there’s a reason why. It’s good. Damn good. Mike Mignola will truly be remembered as one of the leading visionaries of comics when it’s all said and done, and Hellboy will be why. If you haven’t read Hellboy, well, it’s tough to explain, his backstory is pretty much mythology now. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him become American folklore at some point. Which is very fitting, considering how Hellboy blends into the work of so many other mythologies and folk tales. That is one of the really impressive things about this character. Mignola really digs into folklore from all around the world. I mean, there are legends that he uses that I never would have heard of other wise. Using them as the backdrop of his Hellboy series is what propels Hellboy into being a mythological figure himself. Not to mention that Mignola cranks out additional titles like B.P.R.D., Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien, and Witchfinder, which are all part of the Hellboy universe. It’s definitely one of the biggest non superhero universes in comics, and it’s led by one man! His characters, even though many of them are not human, feel just like us. And he knows how to use Hellboy masterfully. When things feel heavy, he cracks a joke. He may be a demon, but he just wants to be a regular guy, and it helps the story succeed. I could go on forever about Hellboy, but I’ll just say go read it!

American Splendor

americansplendor

If you follow me at all, you probably already know that I love American Splendor. It is, without a doubt, one of the greatest and most important comic books ever written. It made the autobiographical comic a thing, and showed the wonder of everyday life. I really appreciate that, because when you’re a writer, you look at the mundane in a grand way. So when I picked up American Splendor for the first time, I was blown away. Here was a guy who could make you care about anything. The way that Harvey Pekar looked at his life made everyone care. It stood shoulder to shoulder with the grand adventures of super hero comics solely on just how damn good it was. And it didn’t hurt that so many great artists worked on the title, either. Getting different art with each story was part of the fun. The changing styles that matched the tone made it a true spectacle to behold. And of course, for me personally,  Harvey Pekar was from Ohio, so how could I not feel pride? American Splendor may not be for everyone, but I do think everybody should try it. If nothing, it’ll show you just what Harvey always said. Ordinary life can be pretty complex stuff.

Wow, this is a long blog, and I’ve only done five title. I’ll stop now, but sometime in the future I’ll list some more comics. But until then, go give these a read. They’ll surly hold you over for a while!

More Than Capes

Let me start by saying that I have nothing against super hero comics. In fact, I still enjoy quite a few. I’m only writing this entry to highlight to readers that there are other genres to choose from. As Scott McCloud once said, people often confuse the genre for the medium. That is, they think that all of comics  (the medium) is the super hero story (genre). And while there are a lot of great super hero stories out there right now (Unbeatable Squirrel Girl being my favorite), I’d like to show people that there’s a wide variety of story telling being offered. In fact, it’s more than ever these days. I think, though, that with the success of the comic book movies, there is more emphasis on these books. But I’d like to get people to see what else is out there.

I guess maybe it’s a bit personal. Like I said, I enjoy super heroes, but personally, it’s not the kind of story I want to tell. At least at this point. Anyone who has read my comics, either on this website, or in the physical form, knows I have a wide variety of stories to tell. Granted, as we speak, I’m working on finishing up a super hero story, but that’s more of a comedy than a tale of tights. I’ve really used comedy to highlight the bizarre. To tell stories that I think will entertain and leave people with a message (sometimes. Other times I just draw pocket bees). I don’t think I could do that with a super hero story. Now, some people can (Alan Moore!) but not me. So I rely on other genres.

I think the biggest thing that these genres give me is an ending. Super heroes have been around for a long time. They continue to be published, and there’s really no ending for many of them. And even the ones that die come back. Now, for me personally, one of the best things about fiction, for me, is an ending. Writers can craft something that ties everything together. I wish life worked that way, which is maybe part of the reason I got into writing. Now, with many books outside the super hero genre, these stories have a beginning, middle, and end. They are epics that stretch for just the right amount of time, then come to an end. Take Y the Last Man for example. 60 issues was the sweet spot for that story. That sounds like a lot, maybe, but it was always going to come to an end. It didn’t just run until it got cancelled. It told a great story. In fact Y was one of the first stories that really showed me what comics can do. I read the whole thing and saw the power of the medium, controlled not by the genre, but by a story to be told. In fact, you should go read Y right now.

Y-the-Last-Man-feat

OK, done? You read it all? Wasn’t it so good? These types of stories also often offer us much more real stakes. Part of the super hero genre is the impermanence of death. That’s just part of the territory. But personally, it often leaves me asking “what are the consequences, really?” That could just be me. I’ve read a lot of super hero books, so it might have partially numbed me to anything really happening. But when someone dies, they don’t stay dead (for the most part). And, as I’ve said, most characters have been around so long, I wonder what they could possibly do next. It all kind of becomes a game. But take a story like Y the Last Man or Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire. When something bad happens, the results will be permanently felt. When a character dies, they stay dead, often in truly heartbreaking fashion. There are often fantastical elements to these stories (Sweet Tooth is a deer boy), but they somehow feel more real. I think these other genres invest us in their characters a little easier because they are not super heroes, and neither are we. So it’s easier to see ourselves in Sweet Tooth, even though he’s part deer, because faced with danger, he’s scared. Super heroes, not so much. But that is part of their appeal, and I understand that.

But sometimes these stories aren’t fantastical. Sometimes they are really our stories. One of my favorite comics ever is American Splendor which is an autobiographical account of Harvey Pekar’s (RIP) life. You might say “I don’t want to read about someone’s life. I come to comics for adventure!” and yes, comics are good for that. But read Pekar’s work, and I bet you’ll change your tune. It might not seem like the medium lends itself to these down to earth stories, but it does. Very much so. Harvey had a way of looking at everyday life and turning it into a narrative. Even the most normal things turn out to be examinations of the human condition. That’s something that everyone can understand, if you are in fact human, and not a lizard person. Sure, you get this from time to time in the super hero books. But I think it’s a whole lot more genuine when it comes from a normal guy who spent his whole life in Cleveland. When Superman gets a flat tier, that’s easy stuff. When Harvey gets a flat tire, he’s got to deal with it like the rest of us. There are a lot of emotions to be found in auto bio comics. And, I don’t know about you, but I like hearing people’s stories. I think that is because I’m a writer. I think that real life is the basis for the best stories, or at least the issues we face in real life. And when you hear someone’s story, it’s so fascinating. Let’s face it, we tend to think that most other humans are just empty shells, but then they tell you about this or that, and they’re actually real live people, with backstories, hopes, and dreams. Sorry, that’s a bit of a tangent, I suppose. But American Splendor does that to me. Not only that, but it inspired my own auto bio comics, Bearded Comic Book Enthusiast (issue 2 coming soon!). Shameless plug aside, thanks, Harv.

americansplendorpekarname

He always asked the important questions. Anyway, listen, I think I’ve gushed enough. Just know that these type of stories are what influence me the most, and are worth a read. In fact, here are some suggestions: Chew (One of my favorites of all time), Transmetropolitan, Preacher, Lumberjanes, Hellboy, Judge Dredd, From Hell, and really I can keep going and going, but maybe I’ll publish that as a separate list so I can go into more detail.

Listen, like I said, the super hero genre is a good read. I’m only trying to encourage people to delve into other areas. Comedy, horror, auto bio, sci-fi, fantasy, realistic fiction. Though super hero stories have many of these elements, they are really only one genre. I only hope to get people to take a bigger look at what talented creators have to offer. Independent books might not be your thing, but I think if you try the right one, you’ll open a new door, to a world full of stories you never would have experienced before. And in the end, that’s what comics are all about.