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Thoughts From The Land Of Frost:
Books You Should Be Reading By Alexander Ness
This edition of my column will be no less about comics, but rather will celebrate the best. We hope to offer to the reader a number of comics they might not be reading, and perhaps give them good reasons to start doing so. Additionally, at the column's end I will review two books for those people hoping to break into the comics industry.
THE LIST and why you should be reading these books...
RED STAR (Archangel Studios)
This book is especially interesting for its use of an alternative past. The Red Star follows the life and battles of a group of warriors who fight for the future of a society in a futuristic post Soviet world. That is, the recent history that we experienced is not the historical base from which this story is placed and thus the future is completely different. If the Soviet Union as we knew it never fell the consequences thereby would be incredible.
The writing is excellent and the 3D art is fabulous. If you enjoy thoughtful works, you would do yourself a favor in picking up this series.
RA SALVATORE'S DEMON WARS (CrossGen Comics)
Upon learning that RA Salvatore was working with CrossGen I winced. I am not someone who immediately thought one or the other was not good enough for the union. I was not a fanboy and thought this work can only be crap in a comic. I trust CrossGen to do whatever they do with enormous quality. And I was at one time a great fan of Mr. Salvatore. So why did I wince? Well, I've outgrown most of Mr Salvatore's workand I thought that I would be forced to give poor reviews of it.
But I was wrong. The writer chosen to interpret Salvatore's vision into comic form did so in reasonable and interesting ways. The art is not my favorite, but it absolutely tells the story well. And what a story. The realm created by Salvatore is enhanced by the work in this series. If you enjoy swords, fantastic beasts, and great characters pick this up now.
LUCIFER (DC Comics)
Mike Carey and Peter Gross follow the trail of the Prince of Darkness through his walks among the otherworldly. Less a doctrinaire lesson of dogma or scripture this is a thoughtful work that considers the paradigms of hell and heavens and the consequences of various issues of faith and reason. As my interview with the brilliant Mike Carey should suggest this is an important work and not really for the strange people who really dug the evil doings found in CHAOS Comics.
Additionally, whatever the beliefs you enter this book holding it will allow you to entertain issues about said beliefs in an intelligent manner. How many works allow you to do that? Not many. If your reading taste is salted with intellectual considerations this should work well for you.
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THE LEGION (DC Comics)
While it is true that I find myself an enormous fan of the current work and was a fan of the Legion 20 years ago, the time spent between now and then was largely filled with the suffering a fan goes through when people who do not share your love of the characters takes over. So I am happy to say that if you like this work now, there are many back issues and DC archives to buy.
What is similar between now and then? Rather simply put, I like the characters again, the action is entertaining and the characters are heroic again. Despite whatever the 1988-1999 creative teams had to say, the current team knows why the characters work, and does an awesome job doing it. I have some issues with changes, especially with a favorite character of mine (Princess Projectra, who was noble and smart as well as beautiful and who is now a friggin' lizard/snake...BAH!), but I give credit to the current DC creative team, as it knows its source material and knows the audience as well.
Now if only DC would put out trades of Legion Lost and Legion.
Why should this book be read? It is expensive, huge, dense and wild. It has an artist's wild images caught on paper and the post-modernist work is both energetic and disturbing to the eye. I may not completely understand this work, nor do I always enjoy it, but it haunts my memory with an artist's views and incredible images. Tom Wolfe wrote in THE PAINTED WORD that modern art is different from other art in that it requires you to understand it for you to enjoy it.
This is really an issue in the case for many people with Ashley Wood's work here. And while I do not understand it, I do find it intelligent and moving. And with regards to Mr. Wolfe, while he considers Modern Art to be bullsh*t because the idea is greater than the work, I disagree. Picasso's Guernica is evidence that a disjointed non-representational work is better at displaying emotion than the most exquisite rendering.
Vive La Wood! Vive POPBOT!
REX MUNDI (Image Comics)
This comic regards great mysteries set in an alternate historical setting. Right off the bat you know I am there. But, beyond playing into my areas of taste this is a truly thoughtful work which captures the flavor of the setting, intelligence of the characters and intrigue of the events. You might say is it The Victorian? No, but it is slightly similar, just less dense and easier to read and understand. The setting is well understood and intellectually understood by the creative team, the overall writing is good and the art borders on very good.
Pick this series up as it seems only to be moving forward at a rapid pace.
DAREDEVIL (Marvel Comics)
Brian Michael Bendis is a genius for his ability to write real, believable dialogue and compelling scenarios. He is therefore perfect for Daredevil because out of all the Marvel pantheon of heroes, he is the most able to benefit from this kind of treatment.
The work is brilliant for its art as well. Alex Maleev is an excellent artist whose moody renderings capture the dark, chaotic world of Hell's Kitchen. If you do not read this book because no one has done a good job on the book since Frank Miller, then you are truly missing out because Bendis is blazing a new trail. If any comic book character can be brought into the setting and world of crime noir, it is Daredevil, and only Steve Niles could do as good a job as Bendis in this regard.
SO YOU WANT TO GET INTO THE INDUSTRY
Here are two books that might help:
ALAN MOORE'S WRITING FOR COMICS - Avatar Press, text, BW, $5.95.
Who better to learn from than one of the greatest writers that comics has known. In five well-considered chapters, Moore sets out to explain his philosophy of writing and helpful tools and tips for the aspiring and veteran writers hoping to write for comics.
There is no question of the greatness of Moore and his importance to the industry, and from reading the concepts of how he considers and populates his works there is good reason why he is so important. Apart from the mechanics of writing, Moore intelligently explains how to write. I am not a creative talent in the industry I cover and report upon, but if I were, this book would have helped me immeasurably.
COMIC BOOK LETTERING THE COMICRAFT WAY - Comicraft, well illustrated in color, $9.95.
Should you find yourself to be an artist this book should help you in determining how to layout a page, as it teaches the reader how letters on the page guide a reader's eyes. Should you find yourself to be a writer, this book should help you because it shows how comics and words meet and are read differently than any simple text found in a book or magazine.
Should you find yourself to be a letterer, well this book is awesome. I was amazed at the level of scientific thought that goes into directing your eyes and reader voice through letters on the page. I cannot say enough good about this work so I will just stop and say if you are going into the industry or hope to, buy this book.
All comic publishers and creative talentare welcome to submit items to be reviewed. Senditems, to be considered for review, to:
Alexander Ness Land of Frost Box 142 Rockford MN 55373-0142