February 22, 2018


A View From The Cheap Seats:
Grab Bag

By Rich Watson

Okay, kids, I'm gonna be hitting on a bunch of topics this week, so try and keep up...

It's always a thrill to get to see the maturation of a comic, from fledgling mini-comic all the way to trade paperback collection - especially when the artist responsible is someone I know and admire. Last year it was Pam Bliss with Dog & Pony Show. This past spring it was Rachel Hartman with Amy Unbounded. And now I'm proud to add another name to that list: Layla Lawlor with Raven's Children. This month will see the release of Layla's first TPB of her fascinating fantasy series (subtitled Shadow of the Snow Fox). I had the opportunity to not only witness the growth of this book firsthand, but to even offer advice along the way. It began as an oversized (8 ½" x 11") mini-comic, all in black and white; then it was ashcan-sized (5 ½" x 8 ½") for a brief time with color covers, before getting the TPB treatment. It even went through a few logo changes.

The story, however, was always the primary selling point. Raven's Children is difficult to describe succinctly. I remember a bunch of us discussed that with Layla at SPACE earlier this year. My best attempt was "a fantasy series about a hunter-gatherer society engaged in tribal warfare that also involves demigods and other supernatural beings," but that was considered too long. The book has elements of Finder, Sandman, Jean Auel, Ursula K. LeGuin, and J.R.R. Tolkien, yet is also none of these. Rather than trying to define it, however, one is much better off reading it, and seeing the tapestry of the complex and intricate world Layla has created unfold, with solid manga-influenced (not manga-cloned) art. This is one book where you get your money's worth and then some. The website is www.ravenschildren.com.


The long-running Vertigo series Transmetropolitan ended with its 60th issue [SPOILER ALERT!], and I have to admit - I did not see this particular ending coming. I should have known Warren Ellis wouldn't have really killed Spider Jerusalem, despite the evidence to the contrary. Will Spider be back, in some form or another? Or was he telling the truth when he said he didn't miss the journalistic life? I think in the end it doesn't really matter. I was never as hardcore excited about T-met as I was/am about other Vertigo books, like 100 Bullets, House of Secrets, or Preacher, but I did like it. The further into the series it went, the more it started resembling real life, which, I suspect, was Ellis' idea all along. Sure, Spider was a bastard, but he could be capable of genuine compassion and great sincerity, and he wasn't afraid to show that side to him, either, when the situation called for it.

I was never that crazy about Darick Robertson's art, though. A big part of it was the way he did faces - he'd give everyone these scrunched faces with wide cheeks and hideous Cheshire-cat grins. He wasn't as bad about it as Frank Quitely, but I never liked the way they looked. However, he was excellent at rendering the sci-fi elements of the book - the City architecture, all of Spider's gadgets, etc. He did a superlative job of making the City a real and distinctive place. TransMet was a solid, potently written series that has earned its place along Sandman and Preacher as one of Vertigo's all-time best books. It'll be missed.


DC announced recently that they were finally doing away with letters pages. They had already killed them in the Vertigo books a few years ago, and now apparently they'll be gone in the other imprints as well. I think letters pages are great for those without Internet access, although I suppose these days getting access is as easy as going to an Internet cafe or even your local library. They can be a lot of fun (the House of Secrets letters page would get pretty silly) and occasionally provocative (the mini-series Enigma had a letters page and there was quite a range of comments in it).

I can't say I'm that sad to see them go. Vertigo has its "On the Ledge" page which always has creators talking about their work, and recently they've added a general info page called "SubCulture" though it doesn't always appear every month. Maybe they'll offer something similar in the DCU books. Don't know. There ought to be a way to keep letters pages, but I find I'm not as attached to them anymore.


I recently went to see the anime film Spirited Away. As you may know by now, it's directed by Hayao Miyazaki, the guy who directed the phenomenal Princess Mononoke, and apparently it was a humongous hit in Japan. I can see why. It's slightly more all-ages-friendly than Mononoke. Plus it has more cutesy-type characters (it's definitely got a Disney-esque vibe to it, I thought). Overall, it's good. It's one big adventure story, traditional little girl heroine and all. Don't expect it to be "about" something the way Mononoke was (which I must admit, I liked better). Now let's see if Disney is actually able to promote this movie properly. I saw it in an art house theater (there were a number of kids present) but here in NYC it's playing at a few multiplexes too. I don't recall Mononoke playing at too many multiplexes here.


This item was passed along to me by our own Brian Jacks: For those of you in the New York metropolitan area, later this month the CUNY Graduate Center will begin a lecture series called "Superheroes in the Sixties: Comics and Counterculture" by comic art historian Arlen Schumer. Its purpose, according to the press release, is to present "the comic book superhero tradition, its personification of American ideals and values, and how these attitudes and portrayals changed over the course of the turbulent 1960's." The series will include art from noted comics luminaries Carmine Infantino, Curt Swan, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Jim Steranko and Neal Adams, and will be presented in a large projection format, to not only enhance the viewing experience but to "graphically communicate the panel-to-panel, page-turning nature of comic book art itself." The lecture series begins October 29 and continues for four consecutive Tuesdays, beginning at 6:30 PM, at the CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, in Manhattan. For more information, call (212) 817-8215 or e-mail continuinged@gc.cuny.edu.


One more leftover item from SPX: I met a man there named Pete Stathis who, although he didn't have a table, was toting around preview copies of the first three issues of a forthcoming fantasy/horror series called The Fallen (the original title was The Fall; he's since changed it) that he was gracious enough to let me sample. Looks pretty good. It's about this young woman who, following the death of her mother, begins a slow descent into madness brought on by her visions of falling into different times and places. But they may be more than simply visions. The art communicates very well, particularly with body language and facial expressions (reminds me more than a little of Bill Knapp of Faith: A Fable and The Furies). Phoebe, the main character, is sharply defined. Haunted by the memory of her mother's deterioration, she finds little comfort in the company of what few friends she has and what many vices she indulges in. This could be one to watch for in '03. The first issue comes out in February.


The October 2-8 Village Voice is their annual "Best of NYC" issue, and I thought it would be worth mentioning here that they gave props to the MOCCA Art Festival as "Best Small Press Comics Nexus (Anywhere!)." I found it somewhat amusing to also see Carla Speed McNeil and Rachel Hartman described as "up-and-coming cartoonists" when they've both been around for years. The paper also gave shout-outs to the New York City Comic Book Museum, Oubapo America (Tom Hart, Matt Madden and Jason Little's comics collective), and the comic shop Forbidden Planet. Tomorrow the world!


Recent purchases: I finally got Ty Templeton's graphic novel Bigg Time (DC/Vertigo). It was okay - not as hilariously funny as I thought it would be, though, partly because the main character is very difficult to root for. Gorgeous art, though... Fight For Tomorrow (DC/Vertigo), the new Brian Wood mini, is off to a decent start. Didn't even recognize Denys Cowan as the artist! He and Kent Williams make for a good team… Jay Faerber has a new artist for Noble Causes: Family Secrets (Image), Ian Richardson, and I like what I've seen so far. His work is very clear and clean without being too detailed. Didn't care for the art on the backup story, though. Too much weird-looking musculature… My friends tell me that Little White Mouse (Blue Line Pro) is a good book, so I sampled an issue recently, and whaddya know - they were right. Strong characterization coupled with sharp looking art, especially on the backgrounds. Worth a look.


Finally, I have a query: lately I've been getting e-mails asking for what would appear to be my old out-of-print mini-comic Ronnie & David, but upon further inquiry, it would seem that I'm getting confused for someone else who has a book with either the same or a similar name. Does anyone know who this might be? He (I'm fairly certain it's a he) operates out of the Seattle area, and was at this year's San Diego Con. I'd be interested in seeing this book, out of curiosity if nothing else, so if this sounds at all familiar, drop me an e-mail and let me know.

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A graduate of New York's School of Visual Arts, Rich Watson has been a self-published cartoonist since 1993, and whose output includes the superhero drama CELEBRITY and the romantic fable RAT: A LOVE STORY. He currently resides in New York and gets his comics weekly from Jim Hanley's Universe and Midtown Comics. Talk to him and comment on his column by visiting his message board.

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