Thursday, July 21, 2011

"This Dust Makes That Mud," a review of Rodd Racer

Toby Cypress has amassed a nice set of original work in recent years with acclaimed contributions to books like The Tourist, Popgun, Marvel’s Strange Tales II, and this year’s Blue Estate. It was with the recent book Rodd Racer that I finally fully realized why he’s such a respected creator. As one who processes and writes about new comics every week for this blog, I’m always looking for a new book to capture my attention and remind me why I still love comics. On a first read, Rodd Racer succeeds for me because it pays homage to racing strips of the fifties and sixties, with characters like Frank Frazetta’s Johnny Comet serving as one antecedent. In the same way that Cypress respects the visual traditions of the racing strip, his narrative work doesn’t branch too far away from those original narrative structures. The resulting effect is one of instant gratification, whereby readers can enjoy Cypress’ visual craft while remaining unencumbered by an overwrought story.

Sometimes a creator working within a specific sub-genre might be tempted to elaborate on certain elements of a story, thus taking away from some qualities that made those stories work in the first place. Cypress’ story in Rodd Racer serves the purpose of this particular type of comic. The framework suggests a clear, simple backstory of a murdered mentor and a vengeful pupil, a strong female support role, and the inevitable symbolic and literal victory over the immoral. While there aren’t many unexpected plot twists, the natural progression and rhythm of the racing setting act as a wonderful palette for Cypress to explore elements of inky motion.

While Cypress clearly does a great job of achieving motion with his illustration skills, he also adds meter to the book’s momentum with his use of chapter headings. Aside from being the book’s only inclusions of color, the musical and lyrical quotes are intentionally placed to add to the feeling of movement. Aritists like The Misfits, Miles Davis, Beastie Boys, Television, and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers are all mentioned or quoted. The range from punk, to hip hop, jazz to rock signifies Cypress’ intelligent use of certain songs, genres, and musical forms to accompany the moods and tempos suggested by certain parts of the book. Visual rhythms harmonize with musical time signatures, creating a natural, built-in soundtrack for the book. At the same time, while operating seamlessly within the realm of comics, Cypress also shows us he has an awareness of the properties of film and storyboarding.

Cypress’ greatest achievement with Rodd Racer is that both he and his readers are knowingly cognizant of the multiple ways a comics artist might convey the action of movement. In a way, the necessary sequential mannerisms of the comics form make it ideal for racing narratives. Cypress allows himself to stretch out and play with the spatial relationships of vehicles at high speed, and the passage of time from panel to panel, page to page.

At the same time, Cypress turns the genre slightly on its ear by making the protagonist’s success dependent on the female lead character, thus subverting the damsel in distress or the strictly eye candy roles female characters were relegated to in the heyday of the racing strips. And while the book takes place in an unspecified time, the suggested dark, neon future portrayed reminds us that some stories might be cyclical, but don’t necessarily lose their entertainment value. Rodd Racer is a clear presentation of an artist who, before our eyes, deftly melds the work of his craft with the innate joy of comics. Check it out if you haven’t yet, and enjoy a solid stand alone volume from a talented creator.

author's note: This review also appears on the blog of Heroes Aren't Hard to Find (

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Loose Ends and the Collectivity of Creativity

(Maybe it's the release of the final Harry Potter movie this week, but Seth's title of this post is channeling the Potter books for me.  And now I'm imagining all three of these guys as heroes of the Wizarding World.-Heather)
When I was but a wee comic-reading lad it never dawned on me that comic creators struggled with their art.  Sure, I knew of writers, pencilers, inkers, colorists, letterers, editors and such, and I definitely knew that comics didn't magically assemble themselves.  I just happened to be distracted by the dream-like quality that comics always held for me, and assumed that those actively making them must surely operate with their heads at least partially in the clouds.  And yet even in youth while I loved the thought of working for Marvel or DC, I was more interested in getting my own crazy (unintelligible) ideas published.  As I matured, it became readily apparent that thinking about comics as a career choice just wasn't meant to be for me.  Not only could I not draw to save my life, but my writing took on more poetic and scholarly qualities, which don't exactly transfer over to comic writing.  Five years ago though, I get into the retail side of comics courtesy of Heroes Aren't Hard to Find, and in my time there I've gained a much greater appreciation for the endless work that goes into making comics.  I've also become friends with several talented people who work professionally in the field.  This week I'm happy that three of those friends finally bring their long-labored comic to the shelves. 

Readers of this blog will know we've talked about the book Loose Ends before.  Heather and I haven't hidden the fact that we think it's a great book, and that we value the art and friendship of its creators, writer/letterer Jason Latour, penciler/inker Chris Brunner, and colorist Rico Renzi.  With the release date for the book looming, Heather and I talked about different ways of promoting the book.  It recently came to me that if I was going to write anything about the book, it would be something where I could talk about how, from the outside looking in, I've seen all three of these guys work tirelessly to make this project the best that they could.

One of the things about being friends with all three of these guys is that I've been around one, two, or all three of them at various points when the book was being worked on.  It might have just been coffee, or lunch, or random conversation, but I was fortunate to see serious-minded artists in a continual state of refining their work.  As someone who has used everything from being tired to feeling 'unproductive' as an excuse for procrastinating or being creatively unproductive, seeing these three hash out parts of Loose Ends served as a frequent encouragement for me to reevaluate my own work ethic when it came to the creative life.  What's even crazier to me is that I've only been friends with these guys for a few years, and the book was already in production for several before that.  The fact that they've not only persevered with the project, but delivered something that is already deservedly receiving glowing critical praise speaks volumes.  What speaks even louder to me is the fact that all three artists have continued to juggle multiple projects and deadlines, all while continuing to keep Loose Ends as one of their top creative priorities.  Cheers to Latour, Brunner, and Renzi for delivering a solid first issue.  Keep the good comics coming!

Loose Ends is also an interesting proposition from the creative angle because of the friendship of the three.  Creators don't always have the option of selecting with whom they work. With the dissolution of the bullpen ideology and the advent of the internet and newer forms of communication, some never even meet their full creative teams.  With Loose Ends, the guys not only live in the same city (and apartment for two of them), they're friends outside of the project.  When asked about this, Jason answered "I've been fortunate that even a good number of the books I've done for hire have involved my friends. But there is always the arbiter of the "job" in those cases. You're both beholden to the person signing your checks to some degree and that makes the lines much clearer. On a creator owned book with a friend you're in interesting territory because outside of the work itself maintaining the friendship becomes a goal. That can be trying but it doesn't have to be a burden. It can be rewarding. Hopefully in the process of working together you can both grow and learn a lot and hopefully come out of it that much better for it. But in terms of the work, it does help the short hand. Knowing someone in real life  can often times make it easier to understand a person's point of view. That can be a big key to collaboration." Chris put it this way, "It's about as different as a family BBQ and a corporate team building exercise."  Having watched the three work together, the family BBQ analogy is rather apt in describing their relationship.

We both wish all three well with the release of Loose Ends.  We asked Jason what he hoped for both professionally and personally from the release today, "I just hope people enjoy it. If you tell one story well you significantly increase your chances to tell more. And really the largest motive I have is that I want to be in the position to tell stories that excite me. That's what I want to do with my life, professionally and personally."

Both Heather and I, as well as all the guys, hope you'll make it out to Heroes Aren't Hard to Find today from noon-2pm or 5pm-8pm to pick up this awesome book (It's over-sized!), a print, and get both signed by all three of these talented people.  If you don't live in town, then hurry out to your LCS and pick up Loose Ends!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Upcoming Event: Loose Ends #1 Release Party at Heroes Aren't Hard To Find.

This Wednesday, July 13, 2011, Heroes Aren't Hard To Find in Charlotte, NC is hosting not one, but two Release Parties for Loose Ends #1 by some of my favorite people in comics: Chris Brunner, Jason Latour, and Rico Renzi.  On Wednesday from noon to 2pm and again from 5pm to 8pm, all three will be on hand for signing copies of the first issue of their Southern Crime Romance mini-series.  If that's not enough to entice you, there will be a Limited Edition Silk Screen Print with purchase of this issue (while supplies last). 

I'm super excited to see the first issue on the stands and to have a copy of my very own to read. 

In fact, we've decided to declare this "Loose Ends Week" here on Exile on Plain Street.  On Wednesday, we'll have an artist spotlight on all three and on Friday, a review of Issue #1. 

Get yourself to Heroes Aren't Hard To Find on Wednesday and share in the excitement!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Comics Review: Remake by Lamar Abrams

I like fun, happy comics and I was immediately drawn to the cover of Lamar Abrams' Remake.  It features a spiky haired blonde robot floating amongst white clouds in a blue sky with a look of contentment on his face. Inside that happy cover are comics following the adventures of that spiky haired robot, Max Guy. 

I normally don't include other write-ups within my reviews, but I absolutely adore the description of Remake on the Adhouse site:  

         Remake is 144 pages of silly action and crazy nonsense. Right now the story focuses on Max Guy, a robot  boy who can't seem to stay out of trouble. He's got this gun called the >MAX BLASTER< that turns things into stuff. Max Guy likes: 1) blue skies, 2) video games and 3) bread pudding. Max Guy hates: 1) mean people, 2) getting beat up, and 3) crap. Tune in to see what the nextgen of comikers is creating!

There's just something so right about a comic book synopsis that reads like the about section of a Playboy centerfold's likes and hates.  Don't those girls always hate mean people or mean dogs?  Max Guy isn't built like a centerfold, but he's a lot more fun in my abet girlish opinion.  When Max isn't battling evil robots and aliens, he's eating Marshmallow Kitties ("real...real life...marshmallow kitties?").  While it looks like an innocent kid's cereal, Marshmallow Kitties, which meow in your spoon, have the dangerous side effect of turning into an angry cat that eats your friends. 

My favorite character, outside of Max Guy, is Cy-Baby, an adorable teddy bear-like robot that uses his holographic powers to trick pretty girls into being his mother and taking care of his for various amounts of time.  I think he's cuter as his robot self than his baby self.

Remake captures one of the best qualities about comics: joy.  Comics should make you smile and laugh.  I appreciate the light hearted  nature of Abrams' art and storytelling.  Max Guy is a robot I would want to hang out with to see what trouble he's going to get himself into next. 

I can't wait to pick up Remake Special from Lamar and Adhouse at SPX in September!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Comics Review: Pinocchio the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of my favorite properties.  I've followed it from the movie to the television series to the comic.  I even read some of the BVS fiction (not fanfic have you, but the actually published books). I wasn't sure about how I felt about trading a feisty, sharp witted blonde for a wooden puppet who gets his stakes from his growing nose, but after meeting Van Jensen at Fanaticon in Asheville, NC, I added Pinocchio the Vampire Slayer to my buy pile at HeroesCon.

While Pinocchio is a different kind of cute than Buffy, he has a similar wit slinging one liners at vamps as he prepares to stake them.  Written by Van Jensen and drawn by Dusty Higgins, the comic picks up where the story we're familiar with from childhood ends.  Instead of the happy ending of Pinocchio becoming a real boy, his surrogate father, Geppetto has been murdered by vampires and no one in the village believes Pinocchio's warnings about the creatures of the night in spite of his nose not growing.

For their readers not familiar with the story of Pinocchio (and those who need their memories refreshed), Jensen and Higgins include a three page breakdown of the childhood story.  It may not be exactly how you remember it, but I wish the Disney movie had more of that flavor than I remember.  (Pinocchio is kind of an ass.)  This short intro is one of my favorite parts of the book.  It has more of a cartoon style than the rest of the art and a comic strip lay-out that is the perfect setting for the humor within each tiny panel.  

Pinocchio is an entertaining read that's quite the twist on an old story.  It blends childhood memories with the supernatural in a way that makes perfect sense.  The story is well-written and matches nicely to the art style of the book.

I'm looking forward to picking up Pinocchio: The Great Puppet Theater (Volume 2) at the next convention I see Jensen or Higgins (it looks like that might be SPX).  The best thing about reading a book later in its lifetime is new volumes already being out when you finish!