Entries in Comics (16)


Looking forward to Comic-Con 2010

Loathe as I am to use this phrase and invoke the numerous nerd body-odor stereotypes and jokes that can and will certainly be made, I think there's something in the air around this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego. It's true that the convention is offering more than ever (possibly too much) to genre fans and consumers in the forms of panel discussions/presentations, creator/celebrity interactions, product announcements, shopping, community events and more, but what’s exciting me are the developments in the digital content business that’s grown out of all this great stuff, and getting a chance to reunite with or finally meet and hang out with many of my colleagues in this area.

As you may know, I essentially went off the grid last September after about three years of full-time work at the mighty Comic Book Resources. Keeping the site and its content in tight, Eisner-winning shape was a great job but it was intense and I needed to do some other things like create this website, write more about music, get back into DJ’ing, play around with photography, go to more geek culture events, and write the occasional bit of hipster relationship advice

Curiously, it was during that time I rediscovered my enthusiasm for comic books and pop culture, an enthusiasm I’d been too busy to notice waning. I’ve read more comics and graphic novels in 2010 than I think I did in the preceding three years combined, resulting in some freebie evangelism here on my site, like my comprehensive guide to Grendel and eulogy for Phonogram, not to mention my semi-regular graphic novel, music and DVD recommendations.

Concurrently and consequently, I’ve been able to familiarize myself with the increasingly great number of awesome websites and commentators that have emerged as the stars of comic book and geek culture rise. There are a lot of cool people doing really entertaining work that’s different from and beyond the more or less straight news line I was on before, and it’s inspired me to get involved again. I’ve been very quietly inching my foot back in the door of the comics/film/television/music digital content business (I’ve written a press release for CBR about something that is genuinely cool, you will see it tomorrow) and applying my experience in the digital music business to some comic book-related ventures as well as some other things I -- God help me, I can’t believe I’m going to say this -- can’t talk about yet.

I feel like there are some exciting opportunities waiting for me at this year’s Comic-Con. Opportunities for new work? Sure. But what I’m looking for this year are those opportunities for that once elusive mutant, the terrifying work-fun hybrid.


A Grendel primer

Created in the 1980s by Matt Wagner, Grendel is more of a primal force of nature than a specific, individual character. Beginning with the brilliant and seductive yet ruthless and sociopathic killer Hunter Rose and concluding with the invincible cyborg Grendel-Prime, Wagner explores the nature of violence itself in an ambitious, sophisticated and bloody narrative that spans centuries into the future.

The very long and non-linear publishing history of the Grendel saga has made it daunting for new readers to discover the grim world of Wagner’s creation, which is a shame because it is incredibly compelling and genuinely beautiful. My hope is that this post will help curious parties find their ways into the world of Grendel and avail themselves of the great graphic literature that Dark Horse has seen fit to reprint lovingly in a number of recent volumes.

Many Grendel readers will have their own versions of this roadmap, but this is the one that makes the most sense to me, and the one that puts the best of Wagner’s work up front.


Click to buy on Amazon.com1. Grendel: Devil by the Deed

The beginning, the end, and the one Grendel book all readers must own. Hunter Rose is an unmatched genius, best-selling novelist, olympic-level athlete, charismatic socialite, and, secretly, the legendary masked crime lord Grendel. An easy description would be: imagine if Batman was a villain. Like Bruce Wayne, Rose is so rich that he could set fire to his ill-gotten gains, it doesn't matter. All that does matter is Grendel's relentless quest to utterly dominate every single person in New York. Grendel knows all. He sees all. He cannot be stopped.

Devil by the Deed tells the story of Hunter Rose in 48 of the most beautiful pages I've ever seen. Wagner's story is classic  -- all subsequently published Hunter Rose stories take place between the events of this most critical volume -- but the gorgeous art deco illustrations are reasons enough to read this book. I can't say it enough, Devil by the Deed is beautiful. 


Click to buy on Amazon.com2. Grendel: Black, White, & Red

While actually produced about 20 years after Devil by the Deed, the Black, White, & Red volume comes next chronologically. Hunter Rose is the most essential component of the Grendel mythos and, in my view, the most engaging character. More so than with any of the subsequent Grendel vessels, Wagner gets so deeply into Rose's head that the villain almost becomes real. If you're like me, you will wait until the middle of the night to read Hunter Rose stories and fully immerse yourself in his dark and horrible world of aggression and blood. But should you choose to go on to the legacy characters and their incredible tales, the more you understand about Rose, the greater the sense of dread will you feel in the later stories.

Black, White, & Red features many short stories of Hunter Rose and his bloody empire, each one illustrated by a different luminarie of the comic book medium. Such artists include: John Paul Leon (Earth X), Tim Sale (Batman: The Long Halloween), Duncan Fegredo (Hellboy), D'Israeli (Lazarus Churchyard), Ho Che Anderson (Young Hoods in Love), C. Scott Morse (Soulwind), Bernie Mireault (Dr. Robot), Paul Chadwick (Concrete), Tim Bradstreet (Maximum Black), David Mack (Kabuki), Guy Davis (Sandman Mystery Theatre), the Pander Brothers (Secret Broadcast), Stan Shaw (Sunglasses After Dark), Jay Geldhof (The Lost), Teddy Kristiansen (House of Secrets), Jason Pearson (Body Bags), Woodrow Phoenix (Sugar Buzz), Troy Nixey (Trout), Chris Sprouse (Supreme), and Dean Motter (Mister X). 

Click to buy on Amazon.com3. Grendel: Red, White, & Black

Black, White, & Red was released to much acclaim and earned a number of Will Eisner Awards, the comics industry's equivalent of the Oscars. Red, White, & Black continues that award-winning format and features new Hunter Rose stories illustrated by Zander Cannon, Andy Kuhn, Ashley Wood, Tom Fowler, Mike Huddleston, Cliff Chiang, John K. Snyder, and more, including Wagner himself. 

Both Black, White, & Red and Red, White, & Black are currently out-of-print, but they can still be found inexpensively on Amazon.com and on the shelves in many comics stores. 


Click to buy on Amazon.com4. Grendel: Behold the Devil

Hunter Rose continued to rack up Eisner nominations in Behold the Devil, the first Grendel story in ten years entirely drawn by Wagner.  A complete epic in one volume, Behold the Devil follows the original Grendel through a period of his life so traumatic that he ripped the associated pages from his journal -- which, within the world of the Grendel mythos, is how anyone knows anything about Hunter Rose and his true, terrifying nature. In the story, which is set early in Rose's criminal career, Grendel's identity comes under close examination by a driven detective and an intuitive reporter, forcing the Devil to take drastic measures that go against everything he thought he was. 

The latest project in the Grendel saga, I finished reading Behold the Devil in one sitting only last night, and it was this most excellent book that inspired me to compile this information.


Click to buy on Amazon.com5. Grendel: Devil Child

Chronologically the first story to take place after Rose's demise and the only one on this list not written by Matt Wagner, Devil Child is a painfully close look at the destruction of little Stacy Palumbo, Hunter Rose's adopted daughter, in the aftermath of Grendel's sensational unmasking. Not for the faint of heart, Devil Child is perhaps the most grounded and realistic story in the Grendel pantheon, exploring the consequences of mixing violence and trauma with love and devotion. The book is expertly written by longtime Grendel editor Diana Schutz and illustrated by superstar Batman artist Tim Sale with Teddy Kristiansen, and it is gorgeous.

Devil Child is out-of-print but still available cheaply on Amazon.com and in many comics stores.


Click to buy on Amazon.com6. Grendel: Devil's Legacy

In the mythos of Grendel, Devil by the Deed is the name of a book by Christine Spar, daughter of Stacy Palumbo, that tells the story of Hunter Rose as gleaned through his journals as well as police reports, press clippings and the author's own personal knowledge of events. Devil's Legacy is the story of Christine Spar and her succumbing to the spirit of Grendel. The solicitation copy on Dark Horse's website describes this story much better than I could: 

The author of the definitive account of Grendel's life, Spar is living the life of a minor celebrity, but that's all about to change. The very subject which propelled her to success is about to drag her into a dark pit of despair and anger. Soon Spar's life of metropolitan leisure will be eclipsed by that which sleeps within her, the bitter blade of Grendel and the desire for brutal balance: an eye for an eye, a death for a death. Along the way, she will find tragic love, take many lives, suffer a badly battered body, and take on the old foe of her adoptive grandfather, Hunter Rose. 

I must confess I am not a fan of the illustrations in Devil's Legacy. The Pander Bros. artwork is certainly skillful and absolutely unique, but it just doesn't appeal to my sensibilities, especially with my being such a fan of Wagner's art deco stylings. 

Devil's Legacy is out-of-print but still available cheaply on Amazon.com and in many comics stores.


Click to buy on Amazon.com7. Grendel: The Devil Inside

Vexingly, I have not read this one! And it's in print! Here is the description from Dark Horse: 

The spirit of Grendel seethes in the mind of everyone it encounters. A touch of death, of fear, of anger infects all, gripping at the soul, and wreaking havoc on the lives of those in its path. In this now-classic chapter of the Grendel saga, we return to Brian Li Sung, a once-successful Broadway stage manager who became Grendel after losing the love of his life--the granddaughter of the original Grendel, Hunter Rose. Now down and out, living in the slums of Brooklyn, Li Sung struggles as an off-off-off-Broadway stage manager by day; by night, he stews in the hatred and violence that is Grendel, and becomes a cold-blooded killer. When old friends can't help him, and the city can no longer cope with this scourge of destruction, it's up to one desperate cop to stop the murderous rampage, or die trying. 

Sounds pretty good!


Click here to buy on Amazon.com8. Grendel: Devil Tales

Written and drawn by Matt Wagner, the tales contained in this volume are Hunter Rose stories told in the future by the last policeman to have any personal knowledge of the Grendel cases. The art and storytelling in Devil Tales is very experimental and not just in the visual sense; Wagner also redefines what the Grendel series can be. Up until this point, the spirit or essence of Grendel -- which is to say, the primal forces of violence and aggression themselves -- have manifested in one person in a mask and then moved on to another. In Devil Tales, we see that force infect multiple people at once, setting the stage for years of stories to come.  

Devil Tales is currently out-of-print. Used copies are not hard to find but they can be somewhat expensive, around 20 dollars or more. As I said, I consider all the Hunter Rose material to be essential, especially that drawn by Wagner himself, so I think it's worth buying. 


Click to buy on Amazon.com9. Grendel: God and the Devil

This is where my expertise ends, I'm afraid. I have purchased God and the Devil, which has been described as Wagner's magnum opus, and intend to read it soon. I'm reliably informed that from here on out, the Grendel mythos goes off the proverbial chain, so I'm looking forward to reading it -- especially because all this material is currently in print and easily available.

From Dark Horse:

In the centuries since the mask of Grendel was last seen, humanity's survived a third World War, the fall of Western Civilization, and the rise of an all-powerful church state. But when the depraved Pope Innocent XLII begins construction of a new church tower hiding a powerful and deadly secret, two men will rise against the church's corruption. One is Orion Assante, a man determined to expose the Pope for who he really is. The other is a mysterious figure wearing the all-too-familiar face of Grendel!

Grendel: God and the Devil masterfully interweaves sanity with madness, churches with corporations, and good with evil in one of the most stunning and prophetic stories of modern comics.


Click to buy on Amazon.com10. Grendel: Devil's Reign

From Dark Horse:

The year is 2530, and the corrupt Church, Vatican Ouest, has fallen, spreading upheaval across North America, along with an infestation of vampires. In this new world, Ex-COP leader Pellon Cross is still at large, devil-possessed Eppy Thatcher is missing, and Orion Assante is on an ambitious quest to restore order to the continent and gain legitimate power. But will Orion attain his goals before threats from overseas change the rules in this game for power?

Grendel: Devil's Reign is a groundbreaking synthesis of politics, war, religion, and the devil created by two of the top talents in comics!


Click to buy on Amazon.com11. Grendel: War Child

From Dark Horse:

Matt Wagner's Eisner Award-winning tale of the post-holocaust Grendel-ruled planet in ruins remains vital and entertaining. The Grendel-Khan, Orion Assante, is dead, leaving his only son as heir, a political pawn for the Khan's widow. The passing of the Khan, the military ruler of the earth, left the world warrior society in fragments, the once-controlled planet shattered into rival clans and apocalyptic zombies. But the Khan left a paladin behind to protect his only son from political ping-pong, a half-man, half-machine weapon of ultimate destruction: Grendel-Prime! Upon kidnapping the rightful heir from his mother's "protection," Prime begins a high-speed chase, ending the lives of many and ultimately deciding the fate of the tattered world. As it did when first printed, Grendel: War Child features dynamic pencils by Patrick McEown and dynamic colors by Bernie Mireault.


Click to buy on Amazon.com12. Grendel: Past Prime (Illustrated novel)

From Dark Horse:

Matt Wagner's award-winning comics series takes on new life as an illustrated prose novel, written by acclaimed wordsmith Greg Rucka, renowned for his popular crime novels featuring detective Atticus Kodiak (Keeper, Finder, Smoker). The ranks of Grendel warriors have now disintegrated into leaderless anarchy, but a savior exists, and one lone Grendel seeks the key to restoring the empire--and she won't take no for an answer. Writer Greg Rucka (Whiteout) tells this compelling story of Susan Veraghen's search for Grendel-Prime. With 50 striking pen-and-ink illustrations and a stunning cover painting by Grendel creator Matt Wagner, Grendel: Past Prime is fast-paced, hard-edged adventure laced with thematic depth and visual firepower.


Click to buy on Amazon.com13. Grendel: Devil Quest

From Dark Horse:

In seven chapters, all written and lusciously painted by Wagner, the deadly cyborg Grendel-Prime pursues the past with singular purpose, even while the decadent and decaying world he has forsaken hunts him for reasons of its own. With each chapter a twisted relation to the children's rhyme, "Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, doctor, lawyer, Indian chief," this tightly crafted work is an essential piece of the Grendel canon, and a tie-in to Wagner's popular Batman/Grendel series.



Click to buy on Amazon.comBatman/Grendel

This volume collects the two Batman/Grendel crossover series written and drawn by Matt Wagner. They are both canonical as far as Grendel is concerned, and they are both fucking awesome. The first one, where Batman meets Hunter Rose, is possibly one of the best Batman stories produced by anybody, for reasons both obvious and subtle. The second story finds the cyborg Grendel-Prime time traveling to Gotham City to retrieve the skull of Hunter Rose, no matter the cost. 



Click to buy on Amazon.comGrendel Cycle

This is the book you buy if you can't find any of the previous stories. Unfortunately, Grendel Cycle is also out of print!

Grendel Cycle is basically a sourcebook for the mythos of Grendel, summarizing the major movements of the epic alongside new artwork by the series' key collaborators. The book is extremely helpful and worth seeking out, especially for the eight-page Grendel primer by Wagner, which is one of my all-time favorite bits of comic book storytelling. 



Click to buy on Amazon.comGrendel Archives

Before Wagner tightened the focus on the Grendel concept in Devil by the Deed, he created some little black-and-white Grendel comics in the form of now-defunct publisher Comico's Primer #2 and Grendel #1-3. These stories are the first appearances of Hunter Rose as well as Wagner's first published work. Not necessarily canonical, the material reprinted in Grendel Archives is quite good despite its relative unsophistication, and serious Grendel fans will enjoy watching the creator and character take their first steps together.


Au revoir, Phonogram...

While I haven't yet read the final issue of Phonogram: The Singles Club (on sale now!), that it's meant to be the final issue of the entire Phonogram series has compelled me to talk a little about my experience with the book.

I honestly can't remember how I became friends with creators Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, but I knew going in that Phonogram was going to be a special book for me because we all came from a similar place, spiritually speaking. The first series, Rue Britannia, was inspired by British music and, in particular, the psychic fallout of a certain kind of British music. If you know me, you know I am very into that sort of stuff, both the music itself and the idea of music's influence on or reflection of our lives. 

In my former capacity as an editor and writer for CBR, I tried to present Phonogram to the mainstream comics audience as directly but as comprehensibly as possible. I have to say, it wasn't easy and I'll tell you why: 

Writing the first massive article (there was a second), I kept thinking back to a long conversation I had with Gillen. He was in town on a video game junket (back when he did that sort of thing) and was housed at a ridiculous Sunset Strip hotel. We drank cocktails by the pool and talked about Phonogram while gorgeous, bikini-clad tattoo girls passed by every few seconds. It seemed strange to have such an uncommonly substantive conversation about such an uncommonly substantive black-and-white indie comic book against the backdrop of cliché Hollywood meaninglessness. But then again, we were surrounded by the sort of beautiful people so expertly drawn by McKelvie. 

We talked that day about the codified language of the book and how it would mean something important to some people and mean absolutely nothing to others. While I'm sure Gillen was referring to the musical and cultural references that became Phonogram's calling card, I think the kind of uncomfortable tonal juxtaposition we were experiencing around us is something that's in music, and so it is also in Phonogram. Practically every scene in the whole series has one thing happening while something else is happening, whether in terms of narrative or dialogue or art or the music references or whatever. It's the layering, that's the real codified language of the book -- that it's really like music, maybe even more than it is like a comic book, and that's something rather hard to explain to a lot of readers. 

Indeed, Phonogram had a tough go of it in the Direct Market. But I don't know how much better it would have done financially even it were properly ordered. Phonogram is a difficult book. It demands your full attention and it demands that you bring more to it than you may have at your immediate disposal. What for most comic books is subtext, Phonogram makes text. All the emotions, all the themes, those are right out in front.

But as I told Kieron there by the pool -- and this was really easy for me to say since I got paid whether or not Jamie and Kieron ever did -- I think it's worth alienating even the majority of readers if it means profoundly affecting the minority. Yes, that codified language will probably mean nothing to a lot of people,  but for other people, as Matt Fraction's passionate eulogy for Phonogram demonstrates, that codified language will mean everything

Like the music of The Smiths and New Order and Jarvis Cocker, Phonogram's tunes are pretty, shiny and catchy in the form of McKelvie's lovely artwork, but the lyrics are often sad, dark or confusing -- but sometimes very funny as well. That's how I think of Phonogram, as a musical project. Rue Britannia is the debut album. It's raw, it's brash, it's possibly too ambitious for its own good, but what it lacks in polish it makes up for in authenticity and attitude. It was a new taste, something you could actually relate to, and it left you hungry for more. The Singles Club is the expensively produced follow-up. It's bigger, more colorful, more sophisticated, and features more guest musicians (or DJs, as the case may be) and more layering of new influences. It sees the band focus more tightly on the direction they want to pursue.

The third album? Gillen & McKelvie say it will never be, but I am not so sure. Phonogram is in Kieron's blood. Whatever else he does in his increasingly impressive career, Phonogram will always be there because Phonogram is how he thinks. Trust me, I've read some scripts, that book is his brain on paper. Unless Kieron gets a new brain or just stops listening to music altogether, I don't see how he could not write more Phonogram. And Jamie will continue to be awesome and become even more awesome, so awesome that he'll one day be rich enough to eat shit for a year and draw another series of Phonogram. I am a betting man but I suck at it so I'm not going to put money on this, but I will be surprised if we don't see more Phonogram one day. Reunion tours are inevitable.

As for me, what I've taken most from Phonogram, besides some great characters and artwork, is a kind of spiritual vocabulary; a new way to talk about the music I love: phonomancing. When I remember Dorm Parent Andrew Leeson coming in to make sure I was studying and instead talking to me about David Bowie every week for year, affecting the way I'd think about music and art forever, that was phonomancing. When I see a girl dancing at the Ruby club in Hollywood, going into some kind of frenzy in the climactic chorus of her favorite song, I know it's phonomancing. When I find myself driving around the country for alone for months with nothing but an iPod and all the music and lyrics synchronize with every piece of existence I encounter and guide me where to go next, I can call that phonomancing. 

I'm also very pleased to have been a sort of "friend of the band" during this whole process; to have myself photographed and drawn into the book; to have read some of the scripts; to have seen the color tests; to have been asked what I think about a trade paperback cover; and to have put Seth Bingo on the front page of CBR, pointing right at the readers, if only for a couple of hours.

Finally, I just want to say it's incredibly admirable and inspiring that Kieron and Jamie launched their comics careers with something so personal, done their way. Well done, guys. 


Krypto by Francis Manapul.

Ink wash sketch of Superboy’s best friend Krypto, done for me by ADVENTURE COMICS artist Francis Manapul. Some people think Krypto is stupid. Those people are stupid!

Francis’ work is some of my favorite in recent comics art, so I hope you’ll check out Francis’ site and read his new book, THE FLASH, coming sometime in 2010, I think.


So Long, CBR...

It’s not without some sadness that I tell you this is my last day at Comic Book Resources. After three years, it’s time for me to discover what’s next. I’d never before been employed by one company for three years straight, so I’m very grateful to CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland for making it possible for me to make a living in the comic book business, and for being a good friend and boss.

In the last three years, I’ve been privileged to represent CBR at trade shows and press events around the U.S., author more than three hundred articles and interviews with some of the coolest talents in comics and film, and contribute to thousands of other CBR features. CBR’s grown to become the leading comics website of its kind, and in 2009 won its first Eisner Award for Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism. I am proud to have had a hand in those achievements.

I’m also pleased to have committed a few acts of journalism at my time with CBR, like breaking the Minx cancellation story and my subsequent interviews with most of the imprint’s creative roster. But more than that, I’m happy to have helped bring wider attention to Jonathan Hickman, whose The Nightly News is arguably the best graphic novel of the decade; and to have given a platform to Timothy Callahan, whose insights into comic books enrich my already huge appreciation for the medium and its classic characters. Interviewing Tori Amos and walking around the bank set from The Dark Knight were also pretty cool.

Web content is a tough job and demands more of us than most readers will ever realize, so my hat’s off to anybody in this area of the business who endeavors to do good work. My particular gig at CBR was to operate even further behind-the-scenes than most, so I am very grateful to the creators, journalists and marketing staffers who’ve taken the time to say kind things about my work, including: Scott Allie, Axel Alonso, Chris Arrant, Jeremy Atkins, Nick Barrucci, Anne Chun, Jacq Cohen, Dennis Culver, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, Kieron Gillen, David Hahn, Jonathan Hickman, Rantz Hoseley, Sam Humphries, Geoff Johns, Joe Keatinge, Ralph Macchio, Heidi MacDonald, Jim McCann, Jamie McKelvie, Mark Millar, Chip Mosher, JK Parkin, Jim Valentino, and Brian Wood. I’d also like to say a special thank you to Marvel’s Arune Singh, who had this job before me, yet always made it feel like he was just down the hall anyway.

Thanks again to Jonah Weiland for everything he’s done for me, and also to my fellow CBR contributors for their hard work and friendship. I wish you guys and CBR the very best in the future.