Publisher’s Weekly recently put out an article regarding Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s excellent comic series Sex Criminals and the trouble that has been kicked up around Apple banning the book from being available for purchase within the Comixology app. The first issue made it through with no real issue but the second and third issues were blocked followed by the first issue being retroactively pulled. According to the article over 50 issues have been rejected by Apple this year. In the same year where digital comic sales on Comixology topped 200 million for the first time, more and more books are hitting stumbling blocks due to Apple’s terms and conditions for acceptability. As many are pointing out, this is a major reason why Android has started to take over a significant portion of the market share for portable devices. Personally I much prefer my Nexus 7 tablet over my old iPad. But this article isn’t about what electronics I prefer, it’s about the very serious debate regarding digital versus physical media.
I understand the drawbacks of owning actual issues all too well. I have forty longboxes filled with comic books that I will simply be unable to store much longer. But the drawbacks of digital collecting right now are so wide and varied that I have issues giving up my issues. First and foremost, there is the big issue that with Comixology you don’t really own your issues. Think about it. They’re somewhere on Comixology’s server. You sync them to your device but you don’t have the files backed up on a hard-drive somewhere because companies are afraid you’ll just distribute the books on torrent networks and drive them out of business. Image seems to eschew this by offering DRM free copies of their books on their website. But Comixology has created a sort of popularized monopoly on digital comics and having a single app to read ALL your favorite comics is so simple and convenient that they have become the online equivalent of Diamond Comics Distributors, for all intents and purposes. This may not be a major issue for some folks. Some people just want to read the books and forget about them afterward. But I enjoy re-reading books, it’s why I have so many boxes filled with issues and so many shelves lined with trade paperbacks. One day there may come a time when Comixology finds itself in financial trouble and you may no longer be able to access your comics. Is it a remote possibility? Yes, but it is a possibility.
Digital comics should not be this hard to make work. Image Comics direct model seems to be the best way to go about it. Download the issues at a fair price, DRM free in the format of your choosing. Marvel seems to be making a move to do something in-house with their digital comics that could be a step away from Comixology but, again, it seems to be based on a proprietary model where you do not actually own your comics. Until a system comes a long where I can safely feel as if i have ownership of my digital issues, I will not be able to switch completely. The convenience just isn’t as convenient as a regular pull list for me.
I gushed like hell over issue 1 and issue 2 of Sex Criminals. I thought they were some of the best comic book work to come out this year. The book is different and unique without being a book that insists upon its own cleverness. No, the book is unique by virtue of how honest it is. Sex Criminals is a book about two people who can stop time with their orgasms but at the same time it is a book about people. People discovering what it means to be vulnerable and learning what it means to discover each other slowly throughout the course of a relationship. There is a palpable sense of energy to our lead characters as well as a transcendent level of honesty in the storytelling. These characters feel like people and the story feels stronger for it. The moment in issue three where Jon watches as Suzie belts out “Fat Bottomed Girls” by Queen (in one of the most unintentionally funny bits of licensing snafus I’ve ever seen) is as honest a moment as I have ever seen on a page. I know I can point to the exact moment where I looked at my girl and knew that she was special and unique in a way nobody else could be and I felt that for Jon with Suzie here in issue three. Chip Zdarsky’s artwork makes the scene explode with dynamic intensity and every element of the moment is perfectly captured on panel.
Speaking of Zdarsky’s art, he can draw the hell out of a dude getting nailed in the face with a dildo.
And that boys and girls is why this book is so good. The back and forth of real human emotion and character worked mixed with the absurdity of a man getting a green rubber wiener thrown in his face. This is a book where these two people use their powers to rob a bank and yet it is that element of the story that takes a back seat to the character work. We want to know why they’re choosing to use their powers in this way. All of it feels believable and you invest yourself in their story this way. Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky have done something wonderful here. I really cannot wait until this comes out in trade so I can buy ten copies and distribute it to people who ask me what comics they should be reading.
Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting are a powerhouse team. Their work on Captain America is the best the character is likely ever going to see for the foreseeable future. You can thank Ed Brubaker personally for revitalizing the character to the point where he wasn’t a joke to the majority of the comic buying public. It is also a testament to his work that the next film will be drawing largely from his lore. The reason his Marvel work resonated so much is because Ed Brubaker knows how to play with convention and genre tropes, respectfully, while turning them on their ear and defying expectations.
Brubaker’s work with Velvet is more of what we have come to expect from him. Character work and atmosphere. Plot and mood. Much like his other creator-owned work, such as Fatale, Incognito, or Criminal, the world that we are dropped into feels fully realized and developed. Like stories have been being told about these characters for years and the blood and sweat has been spilled over them before we ever crack the page. It doesn’t come off as inaccessible, because we fill in gaps in our knowledge fairly quickly with pertinent details of the who and general back-story, but the book feels very much like the middle of a longer story with fully realized characters and that works very much to its advantage.
Velvet is a period piece, set in the 1970s with flashbacks to the sixties and all of it feels like a James Bond novel filtered through the lens of a grungy late-seventies film renaissance aesthetic. Like if Coppola directed You Only Live Twice. Steve Epting’s art is vibrant while being simultaneously moody and portrays the eras of the narrative with equal distinction and clarity.
Personally, I think this is his best work since he launched Criminal a few years ago. It is a well plotted, tightly-paced, impeccably drawn espionage genre yarn that resembles nothing else on the rack. Brubaker knows how to write a spy thriller, he did it quite well on his Captain America run, but freed from the reigns of Marvel’s editorial hands, he can truly let loose and keep us guessing from month to month. The only guess we can be confident in making is that each issue will be better than the last.
Rating : 4/5
I grew up watching westerns. Not by choice, really. My dad was obsessed with John Wayne. He named me after a John Wayne movie, for crying out loud. I never did get into The Duke myself, although The Searchers is now one of my all time favorites and I absolutely love a few others, like Rio Bravo, True Grit, and The Shootist. My real love of westerns came almost by accident. My dad being a John Wayne fan meant inevitably that I would skew against his tastes and end up a bigger fan of folks like Clint Eastwood. The spaghetti western spoke to me in ways that the usual “cowboys and indians” stuff my dad enjoyed simply couldn’t. It was the moral ambiguity, the dirt and the grime and the absurdity of those films that really got me searching out other westerns. I took in all the Leone westerns, my favorite being a tossup between Once Upon a Time In The West or The Good The Bad and The Ugly. I found the Django movies and Lee Van Cleef’s Sabata series. Latter day westerns like Unforgiven, Tombstone, and Open Range also made their way into my DVD collection.
I also happen to enjoy western comics. I have a complete run of Palmiotti and Gray’s Jonah Hex series from the pre-New 52 days in issue format. I think I was the only person in the store who had it on their pull-list at the time. I’m also still digging the hell out of All-Star Western, though that is so cross genre I’m not sure if it counts. I’ll say it does and beg you to read the trades if you haven’t already, as it’s an overlooked gem at DC. Remember Brian Azzarello’s Loveless? I Do, and I loved it enough to get it signed when I met him a few years back. I don’t know if all this has something to do with me being from Texas, but I’ll wager it is a factor. The genre simply speaks to me on a certain level, so when I heard that Kelly Sue DeConnick would be teaming with Emma Rios to write a western book for Image I got real excited real quick. Kelly Sue is one of the finest writers working right now. She’s getting a lot of respect for her work on Captain Marvel which is more than deserved as that book is just aces. DeConnick previously worked with Rios on their Osborne mini-series for Marvel, which was well written and filled with dark, emotive artwork. That team working together on a creator-owned western book was bound to pique my interest.
Issue one drops today and it is a stunning book. I’ve sung the praises of the creator-owned comic renaissance we seem to be in the middle of before when talking about Sex Criminals and Rocket Girl, this book certainly gives credence to my claims. Pretty Deadly is a book that defies genre expectations and utilizes every aspect of the graphic medium to tell a story that is intriguing, beautiful and unlike anything else on the stands. While it is most certainly a western book, elements of more whimsical and introspective genres creep into the text as well. The traveling “blind man” and the young girl evoke Eastern manga and film imagery from “Zatoichi” and “Lone Wolf and Cub.” Considering the history of Japanese and American culture borrowing from each other, with Seven Samurai becoming The Magnificent Seven and Unforgiven being turned into a samurai film called Yurusarezaru mono, this blending of genres feels organic and not at all like a forced mash-up. This also creates a very somber tone that puts it more in line with the modern cinematic western aesthetic of say, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but with the added twist of a supernatural element.
The closest model that I can reference for the tone of this book is Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. That melding of genres seems similar to what DeConnick and Rios are presenting here, although Pretty Deadly steers mostly clear of absurdity and stays more in line with a feeling of dark fantasy within a western setting. When I say there is nothing like it on the stands, I am not exaggerating. Pretty Deadly is an inventive, original title that deserves all the acclaim that it can handle. I had exceedingly high hopes for this book and they were met on every level. The narrative structure is well crafted and tells an inventive story that plays with genre tropes and conventions without getting trapped in them while the artwork is gorgeous, dark, and evocative of the exact mood this book requires. The creative team really hit the nail on the head.
All things considered, this is the definite pick of the week if not the pick of the month. Do yourself a favor and get your copy today.
Here’s the deal fellas, comic book sales are tricky. When the report from USA today comes out that says that Walking Dead 115 has sold 352,000 copies and is going back into second printings, I cock an eyebrow and wonder who is being served by this. The book came out on Wednesday and I can tell you with certainty that NOBODY is having trouble finding a copy. My shop ordered 40 copies of every cover. That’s 40×15. 600 copies of a single issue. How many of those 352,000 issues have actually sold at the retailer level? I can’t imagine that this is a scarce issue in any town in America yet. Going to a second print already is simply flooding the market.
On the other side of the spectrum, Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare’s Rocket Girl also sold out at Diamond and is getting a second print. I don’t have a problem with this, because I don’t think many stores ordered as heavily on that title. Folks might be finding the amazing word of mouth that’s spreading regarding the title online (like our review here, which Amy retweeted because she’s a goddamn sweetheart and an amazing person) or the little segment on the Pop and Schlock Podcast episode 2 where it made the “This Week In Pop Culture” segment.
I’m not going to say that the Walking Dead’s sales aren’t impressive, it is after all the best selling comic of the year now. But that is really only because it has fifteen different covers that retailers ordered in bulk. I’m sure many stores will be sitting on copies a year from now. Before issue 115 came along, the best selling comic of the year was Justice League of America # 1 which sold around 308,000 copies with their “One Variant For Every State” gimmick.
All I’m saying is, look at the smaller books that sell out at diamond. Stuff like Rocket Girl and Rat Queens, because those aren’t sitting on shelves. They’re getting reprints because they need them. I find myself confused by Walking Dead 115 going to a new printing this quickly. Sometimes I just don’t understand the comics business.
I guess we can just say with certainty that we have entered the age of the crowd-funded comic book boom. Kickstarter has really changed the way we look at creator owned books nowadays. The guage for whether the audience is there is built into the concept. If you trust the talent involved and are willing to invest in them, they will repay you with a title that you can then judge with the benefit of knowing what you were getting from the inception.
I think the process has helped the industry in many ways. I think that Kickstarter is going to be the thing that gives creators the opportunity to do everything they deserve to do in the medium. You hear horror stories of books being shot down by editors years ago and you wonder what life they might have had in today’s climate. I’m sure more than a few rejected scripts are finding their way to Kickstarter projects.
Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare’s Rocket Girl # 1 is definitely a shining example of how Kickstarter can work and work well. Amy and Brandon bring us a book that is unlike anything else on the stands at the moment, a considerable feat if you consider the amazing spread of new books we get each and every week. I have been pumping out review after review for new creator owned books and I have gone on record as saying we’re in the middle of an Image renaissance where in a few years time people will look back and stutter in amazement at how many wildly inventive titles the company released.
The story revolves around an officer in 2013’s New York Teen Police Department who goes back in time to investigate an organization who has allegedly been altering history to grow their influence in the market. The book is the sort of high-concept science fiction that is sorely lacking in today’s comic book market. What is simply amazing is how the scriptwork is vibrant and stylized in a way that matches Reeder’s dazzling art. While Montclare gives us dialog that does a great deal of worldbuilding and allows the characters to become realized to the reader in ways that are both subtle and organic, Amy Reeder does the same thing with the art; it is expressive and stylized in such a manner that it forces the book to stand out and grab the reader’s attention. Much like Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals, which I applauded a few weeks back, Rocket Girl is a perfect blend of script and art that many other comics simply wish they could attain. The elements that make this book meld into something truly special and leaves us entertained and fulfilled in the way that a monthly comic should.
If you’re looking for a new debut issue to hop onto, I strongly suggest you toss this onto your pull list. I’ve already grabbed a few extra copies to hand out to some friends because I truly do think this is an amazing book that can truly be a cross-genre hit.
I spent a good part of my time as a comic book fanatic turning Image Comics into a punchline. We all remember the nineties. Now it has the nostalgic place in our memories the way that previous decades did. You can use the nineties as a period piece now. We’re far enough removed from it to work. The way Scorsese made us look at the seventies and eighties when he made Goodfellas, I can imagine someone doing for the nineties; distilling the time period down to its elements and showing us what we were all too caught up to see. I look at the Image comics output of that era and, generally speaking, it was nonsensical man-child crap that was disposable then and outright embarrassing in hindsight. So of course as a know-it-all nerd I would joke about how Image was a garbage imprint and that they could never put out anything worth reading. I feel like the last ten years have been a veritable challenge to every notion anyone ever had of Image. Kirkman’s Walking Dead and Invincible were revolutionary. Bendis cut his teeth on Powers there. It has become the creator-owned slice of heaven that the founders of the company intended it to be. Books like Morning Glories, Saga, Lazurus, and Thief of Thieves are the sort of thing that prove creator owned comics can be done to perfection and reinvent ideas associated around a single company. The last ten years have been a controlled burn in making me eat my words about Image as a company.
Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals is going to be another one of those books from Image that makes everyone sit up and take notice. While DC comics relies on gimmick covers to sell books with characters that nobody recognizes and Marvel works harder on mining their character catalog out for TV and Film adaptations, real visual storytelling is taking comics in the direction it needs to go and the one company publishing those books right now is Image. Fraction and Zdarsky give us a book that is unlike anything else on the stands. Visually or narratively, I dare you to find something that compares. The voice of our lead character recounts the story of her oddball sexual education in comedic and dramatic flashbacks that give us a good sense of who she is as a fully realized concept before ever getting to the crux of the book’s premise. We learn that she finds herself stuck in time, a swirling mass of colors and euphoria enveloping her as she reaches sexual climax. This is obviously a frightening and unnerving experience for her, one for which there is no context or assistance readily available. Suzanne is mysterious, and a mystery herself, but she is also fully fleshed out and her quirks and tics seem like logical and organic reactions to stimulus from the character’s background. The dialog that spews forth from her may seem hyper-realistic in the style of a Diablo Cody screenplay at times, but while Juno was just some quirky teenager, Suzanne’s sensibilities and personality traits can be traced back to her childhood trauma. What we see of her is a mix of the shield she puts up to cover her pain and frustration as well as the resigned true self that she tries not to let slip. This is a well written, character-driven book. Matt Fraction has really outdone himself here.
Chip Zdarsky’s artwork makes the book sing though. His artwork is unlike anything you will see at DC or Marvel. His line-work is crisp and doesn’t fall into the overly realistic post-Hitch style that we see so much of nowadays but instead presents us with clean artwork that flows from panel to panel effortlessly. He has a mastery of body language and facial expression that this book requires to truly work. Suzanne emotes more than a little bit with her body and a look in her eyes or the sloop of her shoulders holds as much meaning as any of her dialog. This is a book about sex, after all, and how important are the little details like the positioning of a hand or the angle of someone’s face when trying to convey a sense of intimacy? Zdarsky seems to understand this and peppers the book with expressive, emotive artwork that may not be everybody’s cup of tea but serves this book better than any artist out there right now.
In all seriousness, this is a compelling book. If you like truly well written characters and intriguing stories I suggest you buy this issue. My shop ordered a metric ton of them. Because myself and the store manager believe that the market for good, outside-the-box comics is only growing and we want people to have the opportunity to read something like this at its debut. Don’t kick yourself like you do for not getting in on Walking Dead, Invincible, or Saga at the ground floor. Pick this one up and remember just how engaging comic books can be.