Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Comics Review: Chew

Art by Rob Guillory
Let me begin this review by saying, "Terence Hoskins, you were right.  I should have been reading Chew way before now.  You are a genius among men and your comic advice is not to be ignored."
Flipping through Previews a few months ago, I stumbled upon a cover of a comics I knew I must own, Chew: Secret Agent Poyo.  There was a wonderous rooster with metal parts.  Perhaps some of you are unaware of my love of giant metal chickens which started with this blog post. (This one shot just came out and reading it made me furiously happy.) How was I *NOT* reading a comic featuring a homicidal cybernetic rooster?!? This was a situation that needed to be remedied and fast!

Thankfully, Seth works at an excellent comic shop and loves to make me happy by bringing me glorious comics and Chew: Volume One was in my hands before I could fret too much over missing out on Secret Agent Poyo for so many months.  (Can I side-note for a moment on how much I love trades? Don't get me wrong, I love my single issues, but as far as being able to read through 4-6 issues with no ads in a sitting, trades are sheer comics pleasure.)

On its face, the premise of Chew isn't one I would typically select for myself.  It's rather gory when you contemplate special agents of the FDA that solve crimes (i.e. icky murders with yucky dead bodies) by biting the evidence.  That's right, they bite into those aforementioned dead bodies, chew them to pick up what looks like psychic visions or memories from that rotting flesh.  Grossed out yet? Here's the thing that makes Chew work for me: rather than super realistic way too detailed close of art of horror/crime books, these books have a lovely cartoon style to them.  Biting into some dead guy's arm looks funny rather than vomit inducing.

Chew also brings an interesting state of affairs in that after a particularly bad bout of bird flu, chicken consumption is now illegal in the U.S.  This explains why as mentioned above the FDA is now investigating things like murder.  There's a booming and dangerous trade in outlawed chicken.  You might be thinking, "Outlawed chicken?!? How interesting can that be?" Well, like anything enjoyed widely by the public, demand causes a black market to spring up.  Chicken is the new heroin and the dealers take their business very seriously.  There's also an undercurrent of a government conspiracy leading to the ban of chicken.

Chew assembles a fun and interesting cast of characters from Tony Chu, our lead character and Special Agent of the FDA due to his cibopathic abilities to his partner, John Colby, who becomes cybernetic after being critically injured during a stakeout to Special Agent Mason Savoy, another cibopath gifted with a fabulous mustache as well as Tony's brother, Chef Chow, who rebels against the chicken ban and his love interest, Amelia Mintz, a food critic.

All around, this is a fun read despite of the perhaps disturbing nature of the story.  I have now read the five volumes of trades that have been released to date and am eagerly awaiting the release of the sixth!  Chew is written and lettered by John Layman and drawn and colored by Rob Guillory.     

Bonus Review: Chew: Secret Agent Poyo is one of my favorite one-shots ever. "Poyo is just really, really bad ass." Writer, John Layman, took the words right out of my mouth.  This one shot focuses on Poyo's journey from fighting chicken to special agent.  It's wondrous and you should go by it now. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Kickstarter Plea: Go back the Heroes Doc (please!!!)

I have a somewhat selfish plea for all of you: go back the Heroes Doc on kickstarter.  As of the writing of this post, the project is not fully funded and it deserves to be.  Am I coming from a bit of a biased stance in encouraging you to spend your money on supporting this documentary? Perhaps, but that doesn't make it any less worthy of your hard earned dollars. 

Some of you might be wondering why this would be a biased plea and I am happy to disclose my connections to the documentary.  Many of you know that Seth works for Heroes Aren't Hard to Find and I've been volunteering at HeroesCon since 2008 working myself up from volunteer to convention staff.  The wonderful guys behind the documentary have not only filmed interviews with both Seth and me, but our wedding reception in the Heroes store as well.  Of course, I am hoping to see those interviews and a joyous occasion in our lives captured in this documentary, even if only at a glimpse.  

However, I would be remiss not to tell you about all the hard work and long hours this crew has put in capturing, well, all the hard work and long hours the staff and family at Heroes puts into the running of both the store and the con.  Jere and Randy, two of the guys I know the best, actually managed to beat Seth and me to Heroes events (and we're generally the earliest ones there).  There have been lots of early mornings and late nights involved just in the filming of the Heroes Doc.  I can only imagine the time that will be put into editing all the great footage they've captured in what is sure to be a wonderful end product.  

You might be wondering what these guys have been recording since August 2011.  The answer would be a lot.  Not only did they cover special events like the Pop Swap, the annual December sale, the Mini-Con and Free Comic Book Day, but they captured the true behind the scenes work that gets comics from Diamond to your reserve bag every Wednesday.  There's a lot of work to make sure those copies of Wolverine and the X-Men, Wonder Woman, and the Walking Dead end up in the right bags as well as the shelves each week.  I've only assisted in the pull and re-order sorts and I got my fair share of paper cuts and chipped nails making sure comics get in their correct places.

Of course, the documentary captures all the work behind HeroesCon from all the prep the staff does to the actual convention itself.  There were somewhere between five to seven cameras capturing all the action of the 30th Anniversary of the show.  They were recording confessionals with attendees, guests and staff throughout the weekend.  I really want to see those cosplayer interviews I caught glimpses of from the Info Booth!!

Most importantly, the Heroes Doc captures the best part of Heroes Aren't Hard to Find: the family element.  I'm not talking about the biological connection between Shelton and his two kids, Shelley and Winslow, who both work at the store, but rather the feeling of a family you choose amongst the staff as well as the creators and fans that flock to HeroesCon each year.  HeroesCon is like a family reunion with all the relatives you like the most (ok, maybe with a drunk uncle or two thrown in, but hey, we can always use more humor in our lives).  I felt that connection more than ever last year, following the unexpected loss of my mother a week before the con.  No matter which direction I turned, someone was waiting with a hug, a kind word, something to eat or just a familiar smile.  Like any wonderful family, Heroes takes care of its own.

With that, I ask you sweetly, to make your way over to kickstarter and help the hard working guys behind the Heroes Doc fund this project that is so very close to our hearts here on the Exile blog.    

Monday, July 9, 2012

Further On Up the Road

Seth moderates the BPRD Panel at HeroesCon (l-r: Seth, Mike Mignola, Jason Latour, Paul Azaceta, James Harren)
I should start by publicly acknowledging my wife for picking up the bulk of Exile writing for the past few months.  As many of you know, I stepped away for a bit to help wrangle the behemoth that was HeroesCon's 30th Anniversary.  Since many of the con's highlights from her wrap up post were ones I shared, I won't talk too much about my own experiences from the con.  It's always humbling to help people further their comics experience, and always an amazing thing to talk, often about normal, day-to-day things with creators whose work I respect so much.  Conversations with experienced creators are always something that help build my confidence in my own work.  It's like studying at the feet of more learned people.  After recovering from this year's con, I'm excited to be back working on my own ideas again.

So what does that exactly entail?  One thing I've learned from my past experiences in music is not to show all my cards too early.  I feel comfortable in saying that at this point, I do have some other creative projects that I'm actively working on.  'Active' is the key word here because, often, past projects rarely got beyond the thinking or planning stage.  Learning about the craft of comics writing has been a challenging and rewarding experience.  Understanding that there are fundamental differences between comics writing and songwriting or journalism is an obvious but necessary lesson.  It's still probably premature to talk specifics about exactly what stories I'm working on, but those will come to light when it's time to talk about them.  

In the meantime, I'm going to continue to figure out ways of how to use things like poetry in a visual form.  It's also important that I continue to minimize the amount of unnecessary dialogue and verbal description.  This is, after all a visual medium, and far too many writers forget that.  Things like that seem silly and obvious, but look around the comic shelves and you'll see plenty of examples of excessive writing.  I'm learning that the best thing a writer can do when contributing to a comics story is to present an open enough idea that will be enjoyable for an artist to illustrate, then offer up ideas for different options of how to approach it.  This is, I suppose, a supplementary effort.  I don't ever want an artist to feel like I'm dictating every motion and pose on a page.  At best, it's some kind of collaborative result where writer and artist both feel like they're contributing to something bigger than the individual parts.
     There are a few different comic stories being worked on at the moment, I can at least say that.  I'm also still happily writing for the Heroes Blog, though some of my specific roles there will be changing a little bit in months to come.  It's all for the better, and all out of an effort to maintain enthusiasm for this medium I love so much.  My writing for Exile should be picking back up again, too.  I've started several little articles on music and comics, and hope to post once every week or so over the summer.  As for music, that boat may have finally sailed...or maybe it's more apropos to suggest I've lowered the anchor.  Both a lingering injury to my left hand and a recurring bout with tendonitis in my right wrist have limited any kind of productive work on the music front.  I'm slowly coming to terms with this, though I don't think I'll ever completely get music out of my system.  Maybe I'll get back around to it at some point.  Until then, there are other stories to tell. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Heather's HeroesCon 2012 Wrap Up Report

Wow, another HeroesCon in the books and what a giant entry in the books the 30th Anniversary Show is.  I decided the easiest way to break down everything was a mirror of My Top 10 Things to Do with my list of favorite things from this year's show.  

1. Matthew, the Make-A-Wish Child:  HeroesCon was honored this year with the presence of a very special guest.  His name is Matthew and while he's not a name most of us would recognize, this little boy was the highlight of the weekend.  Matthew is 5 years old and has a terminal illness.  His wish was to meet Spider-Man.  I hope Matthew had as much fun meeting Spider-Man as we all had meeting him. 

Matthew and his family aren't the only families out there that need a wish granted.  Be sure to check out the Make-A-Wish Foundation page for all the sweet stories and ways you can help kids like Matthew make their wishes come true.

2. Friday Night's Drink and Draw:  With the second year behind us, I think we can now label this an annual event.  Thanks to everyone's art contributions, we exceeded the amount of money we raised last year for Team Cul de Sac.  Seth and I came away with some great art, including coasters by Evan Dorkin, Roger Langridge, Amy Mebberson, and James Silvani as well as a sketch portrait of Richard Thompson by first time attendee, Nick Galifianakis. 

3. Saturday Night's Art Auction: Speaking of great art, man, was the Art Auction full of it this year.  Seth and I opted to go paddle-less this year and just enjoy the auction without our competitive natures (ok, mostly my competitive nature) running away with us.  This also meant I had one had free for a beverage and the other for my camera.  The camera came in handy when Stan Lee surprised us with a visit.  After a greeting to the enthusiastic audience, Stan signed a beautiful piece by Phil Noto, then stepped back to enjoy the bidding process.     

4.  My Panels: Andy Mansell assigned me to two wonderful panels this year.  Last year would have been my first time moderating a panel, but I was too overwhelmed to take part.  I think that worked out for the best as my first panel was comprised of some of the nicest people in comics: Roger Landridge, Amy Mebberson, James Silvani, and Ramon Perez.  Not only were they so very easy to moderate, but each of them signed and sketched a Muppet on the panel sign that was outside my panel room.  I cannot thank Andy enough for the opportunity to moderate as well as making sure I got that sign.  My second panel with Skottie Young was also great.  Skottie is a joy to talk to and the audience had a lot of excellent questions for him. 

5.  Little John's Jack Daniels Chocolate Chip Cookies: Back around Christmas, Little John tweeted about making Jack Daniels Chocolate Chip Cookies.  I was so intrigued, that I wanted the recipe.  Unfortunately, this is a secret family recipe so I was not able to make these cookies myself.  However, while I was working at the Small Press Check-In on Thursday, John presented me with a dozen of these cookies for my very own.  Not only did these cookies make a wonderful snack for everyone working in Registration, but they also made a wonderful breakfast on Friday morning.  I hope these cookies become a HeroesCon tradition. 

6.  Small Press Check-In: Boy, does HeroesCon have a great group of creators setting up in Small Press each year.  I enjoyed meeting so many of them as they checked in on Thursday.  Everyone was nice and excited about participating and I was excited to hear how many of them were setting up for the first time this year.  It's great to see everything that bring with them from zombie kitchen wares to adorable stuffed characters to mini-comics and prints. 
7.  HeroesCon Volunteers: Did you know that Heroes Aren't Hard to Find has less than a dozen staff members? They all do a very impressive job, not only day-to-day, but also harnessing a con that exploded to over 25,000 attendees this year.  They couldn't do this without the tireless efforts of the volunteers that come from all walks of life to help out.  From line capping to greeting attendees to wrangling creators for their panels, no job is too big or too small for these ever capable volunteers to tackle.  Y'all are amazing!

8.  Awesome t-shirts: We had some great shirts this year, so great that we sold out of more sizes this year than we have since I started working at the Info Booth in 2008.  Both Jaime Hernandez and Rob Ullman gave us some great ladies to wear on the Con shirt featuring Love and Rocket's Maggie and Hope and the Indie Island shirt featuring a cute red head surrounded by super indie comics (including Love and Rockets!).  We also featured a uber-comfy Heroes Aren't Hard to Find tee and a Fun Run tee with art by Eric Cante (which did sell out completely). 

9.  Indie Island: Oh, Indie Island, what little free time I did have on the con floor was spent with you.  Oh, how I love your mini-comics, beautiful prints, and friendly and talented creators.  My favorite pick up of the con has to be the Retro Circus tote bag from Stephanie Buscema.  I started using it the Friday I bought it and it now makes my trips to the post office so much more fun.  If you missed this most useful and cute item, never fear!, it's available for purchase here

10.  Appreciation of the Earlier Generations of Creators: I love when our comic elders appear at the con and get the reception they deserve.  While I missed Irwin Hasen to the point of tears this year, it was nice to see the fans turn out for Walt and Louise Simonson, Nick Cardy and oh yes, Stan Lee.  I hope we'll all continue to appreciate these great creators.   

Bonus Pick: Pinky's tacos at the "Dead Dog" Party.  Pinky's set up a taco bar this year and it was so very delicious.  I partook of both the fish and tofu and loaded those suckers up with cheese and veggies.  I could have eaten a dozen of those and passed out happy.  (Well, I probably would have passed out from sheer exhaustion at that point anyway.) 

What to see more? Be sure to check out my flickr HeroesCon Collection for Days Zero-Three of HeroesCon as well as the evening events.