Wednesday is New Comics Day
Every Wednesday, I highlight the five most exciting comic releases of the week. The list may include comic books, graphic novels, digital comics and webcomics. I'll even highlight some Kickstarter comics projects on occasion. There's more variety and availability in comics than there has ever been, and I hope to point out just some of the cool stuff that's out there. If there's a release you're excited about, let's talk about it in the comments.
1. Le Long Voyage
This past week was exciting for fans of webcomics that push the form in new and innovative ways. We saw two major postings that had the internet abuzz with praise. The first came from Gilles Roussel, the artist known as Boulet, one of France's first and most prominent web cartoonists who has been publishing comics at www.bouletcorp.com for nearly 10 years.
Last week, Boulet posted a new comic in which the hero of the story (himself, presumably) crawls down the toilet and descends, seemingly forever, towards the center of the earth. The comic is done with 8-bit pixel art, reminiscent of classic video games. This is a departure from Boulet's usual hand drawn style of cartooning but is wholly appropriate for telling this particular story. It's a fantastic voyage, similar to Alice's trip down the rabbit hole, but these days we associate such quests more with video games than anything else.
What's great about this comic is—as the name suggests—it is long. Tall, actually. It is made up of multiple images, stacked seamlessly on top of each other so that it can be read in one very long, continuous scroll. Scott McCloud, author of the seminal book on comics theory Understanding Comics, coined the phrase "Infinite Canvas" (actually he did it in his 2000 follow up Reinventing Comics) to denote the untapped ability of webcomics to push past the constraints of the typical comic book page. This is a good example of what he was talking about. In many ways, the entire web is now adapting to the infinite canvas idea, especially by embracing the vertical scroll. With wider bandwidth and faster devices to browse with, websites are free to fill their pages with infinite amounts of content and now webcomics are following suit.
It's been often debated that webcomics should be more horizontally oriented and keep their content sitting above the indiscriminate and mostly imaginary "fold" of the web page. It was believed that scrolling interrupted the reading process and took the reader out of the story. Recently, we've seen a lot of webcomic sites like What Things Do and Study Group Comics display the pages of each comic stacked together on one screen. Especially when read on a tablet or smartphone, vertically scrolling through a comic feels natural and more akin to flipping through a book than clicking though web pages.
Boulet's Le Long Voyage is worth experiencing again and again on different screen sizes to appreciate how well it reads in different formats. If you don't speak French read it again in its translated version and get all the verbal jokes you missed when you were just watching the pictures scroll by.
By Randall Munroe
This week's second notable webcomic actually began its story back on March 25, when Randall Munroe posted the first panel in a new comic called Time on his popular and long running webcomic, xkcd.com. Thirty minutes after that, the panel refreshed into a slightly different panel. Thirty minutes later it changed again, and so on and so on until last week, four months later, the story came to its conclusion at 3,099 panels, taking the concept of serialized storytelling to a brand new level.
As new panels appeared, xkcd loyalists followed closely, creating Wikis and forums devoted to hypothesizing on the true nature of the story. Some sharp eyed readers even examined one scene with a night time sky full of stars to determine that, based on the positioning of the stars and the absence of one particular star, this story was taking place 11,000 years in the future. Some have even devised methods of watching the panels strung together in both click through and self-playing formats.
Time starts out unassumingly sweet and simple as we watch two tiny stick figures build sand castles, making them taller and more elaborate as they go. This goes on for a good 400 panels or so until a slight feeling of dread seeps into the scene and one of the characters remarks, "I don't understand what the sea is doing." The two figures eventually embark on a quest to learn what is out there beyond the sea, which is the only thing that they have ever known. What they find is strange, beautiful and apocalyptic—and just beyond their ability to fully understand.
Xkcd comics are deceptively simple looking, consisting mostly of stick figures and silhouetted landscapes, but conceptually and in terms of character gestures, movement and even world-building, they are some of the most complex and thought out comics out there. Time is one of the finest examples of this.
Wired and Slate recently published articles discussing what Time is really all about. There are a number of ways to view the whole thing, but I enjoyed this piece from GeekWagon. Click through each panel or watch a YouTube video of it.
3. Trillium #1
By Jeff Lemire; with colors by Jose Villarrubia
Jeff Lemire is a prolific writer and artist. While currently one of the star creative forces behind a number of DC Comic's superhero titles like Green Arrow and Animal Man, he also finds time for his own personal projects, like last year's Underwater Welder. Lemire works in a fast and loose style that probably allows him to get his ideas down on paper fairly quickly. It also makes his books instantly recognizable as his own.
This week, Lemire returns to DC's Vertigo line (where he previously published his recently completed series Sweet Tooth) with a new 8-issue mini-series called Trillium. It is a tragic sci-fi love story about an English explorer searching for the Lost Temple of the Incas in 1921 and falls in love with a botanist researching a newfound species on the edge of space in the year 3797. Their unlikely love is doomed to bring about the end of the universe.
Lemire paints the entire story himself in watercolor on paper but he is joined by colorist Jose Villarrubia who colors the 1920s section to give that part a slightly different look from the 3797 section. With the story taking place in two different time periods, the first issue is set up as two separate but interlocking stories and formatted as a "flip book" with two covers. One story reads one way; flip the book around and read the other story the other way. Not sure how this might work on digital devices.
4. Moth City
By Tim Gibson
Flying Whities/Comixology Submit
For the past couple of weeks, it seems like I've talked a lot about these new "Guided View" digital comics that are popping up all over the Comixology Comics app. It's a new format that a number of comics companies are experimenting with and it allows for a little more of an active experience on the comics page with panels and word balloons building on the screen as the story progresses. Another example of this is a creator-owned book available through Comixology's Submit program called Moth City. But, enough about the format, let's focus instead on the fact that is is a quality book with a strong premise and an unusual setting that doesn't need the technological gimmick to make it interesting.
Set on an island off the coast of China, Moth City is a thriller involving a mysterious WMD developed by an American tycoon (who dresses like a cowboy) and the murder of a scientist that sets off a series of events that may bring this island into a war between Chinese Nationalists and the Communist army. Writer and artist Tim Gibson has set up an intriguing adventure here with an exotic locale, exciting chases, some family drama and a few surprising plot twists. In fact the most recent issue ended with a very unexpected twist that turned the story a little on its head. Gibson comes from the film industry, having done concept illustration work for big Hollywood blockbusters like Tin Tin and Avatar, and he has a great sense of pacing as well as design (as you can see by the cover).
Moth City #4 is available on Comixology this week and the previous three issues are available there too. Read more about it here on MothCity.com where you can also read the book as a free webcomic as well.
5. Robocop: Last Stand #1
Based on a screenplay by Frank Miller; written by Steven Grant; art by Korkut Öztekin; cover by Declan Shalvey
This week's entry in the seemingly ever-growing world of licensed Hollywood and toy properties adapted as comics is the first Robocop comic, published by new license-holder Boom! Studios. This 8 issue mini-series takes an unused screenplay for Robocop 3 that was written by comics legend Frank Miller and gives it to Steven Grant, a veteran comics writer who recently wrote the comic turned Hollywood action flick 2 Guns. Grant is a good choice to work with Miller material. Having written many a Punisher comic, he's no stranger to tough-as-nails heroes dishing out blood-splattered justice.
In the real world, cyborg police officer Alex Murphy is probably not the answer to the recently bankrupt city of Detroit's numerous problems, but in this near future vision of Detroit from the Robocop universe, he is their last hope. The police department has been disbanded and the the Omni-Consumer Products (OCP) mega-corporation is set to transform what's left of old Detroit into its utopian vision of the future, Delta City, forcing many of its under-privileged citizens out of their homes.
Grant is joined by Korkut Öztekin, a Turkish artist who I believe is turning in his first major comics work here. His style seems to balance the right level of disturbing violence and broad, satirical humor that the material needs. Also, check out that striking cover by Declan Shalvey who has been designing some of the most dramatic covers for a variety of comics over this past year.
Why limit myself to just listing five comics each week? There's so much else out there.
J. Michael Straczynski returns to his patented brutally realistic take on the superhero genre with this new 12 issue mini-series about a goofy kid sidekick whose life hits the skids when his partner and mentor is murdered. Tom Mandrake, who has drawn many a superhero comic in his career, adds some Bronze Age levity to the misery. Here's a preview.
The Bunker #1
Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari just launched this new Digital First series on Comixology about a group of friends who find an abandoned bunker in the woods. Available now on Comixology.
A Bag of Marbles
A graphic novel adaptation Joseph Joffo's autobiography about his experience fleeing from the Nazis as a young boy. Contains beautiful painted artwork by French cartoonist Vincent Bailley. More info here.
Thor by Walt Simonson Vol 1
This is an affordable softcover edition containing part of the recent omnibus collection of Simonson's classic run on Marvel's Thor during the 1980's. It has been recolored to appeal to modern eyeballs.
Satellite Sam #2
I missed talking about issue 1 when it came out last month, but Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin's crime drama set behind the scenes in a 1950's live sci-fi TV show is off to a great start. You can see a preview here.
Questionable Content turned 10
Some of the great long-running webcomics are hitting the decade mark now. Jeph Jacques' popular Questionable Content strip just did it last week. Here's Jacques' understated acknowledgement of the milestone.