A Gateway to Fantasy for Young Readers: Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi

Monday, June 1st, 2015 | Posted by Nick Ozment

amulet coverWith the height of the “Harry Potter phenomenon” nearly a decade past, we now have a new generation of seven- and eight-year-olds who were born after the final book in that series came out. A perennial question comes up: What will be the next “gateway” work that ushers young readers into a lifelong love of fantasy and speculative fiction?

Well, some may rightly ask, why can’t it be Harry Potter? Or A Wrinkle in Time, or The Dark is Rising sequence, or The Chronicles of Prydain, or The Chronicles of Narnia, or The Hobbit, or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, or…?

Many do still find their first taste of enchantment in books that are decades or even a century old, but there is no denying that — at least in the publishing and bookselling world — there has to be a “latest model.” Librarians still push those beloved older books faithfully, but their sales pitch is a lot stronger when it comes as a follow-up to a young reader who, having just read something that is currently “all the rage,” asks, “What else out there is like this?”

I’m here today to suggest that if you want a contemporary work that will introduce 3rd to 7th graders to the pleasures of epic fantasy, steampunk, people with animal heads, and wise-cracking robots, you could do a lot worse than hand them the graphic novel Amulet Book One: The Stonekeeper (2008) by Kazu Kibuishi. But be prepared: odds are good that they will immediately be demanding books 2 through 6. And then they will be waiting with bated breath for book 7 and cursing that there is now a two-year interval between volumes (welcome, Young Reader, to the Pains of Following a Series that is Ongoing. To better understand what you are in for, see any conversations referencing George R.R. Martin or Patrick Rothfuss).

But I’m also here to recommend them to anyone who likes this sort of stuff, regardless your age. I mentioned “3rd to 7th graders” in the last paragraph because those are the perimeters the publisher, Scholastic, says they are written toward. As someone who does not fit that demographic, I can vouch for them being worthwhile reads even if you are middle-aged.

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Editing Indie Comics and Editing Marvel Comics: The Different Worlds of Heather Antos

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Star_Wars_Princess_Leia_Vol_1_3_TextlessI’ve had a chance to e-chat with Marvel Comics editorial staff Xander Jarowey and Jake Thomas, as well as the indie comic creators from Mirror Comics. Now, I’m e-sitting down with Heather Antos, a newly-minted Assistant Editor at Marvel who also spent a year editing indie comics.

Heather got noticed by Marvel with her biggest indie credit, a comic anthology called Unlawful Good: An Anthology of Crime, which mixed together the innovations of creator-owned, anthology format, and Kickstarter crowd-funding. Crowd-funding takes a lot of work; check out its completed Kickstarter page and youtube promo video.

Kickstarter in prose as well as in comics is still relatively new as a business model, so New York Comic Con invited her to speak on a panel, which led to her hiring as assistant editor on Night of the Living Deadpool, Star Wars, Darth Vader, Deadpool and others.


So, some of your indie editor work still hasn’t come out yet. Are you able to talk about any of those works? Can you talk about Unlawful Good and how that was different for the industry?

Sure! My time in the industry as an editor is actually quite short. It was a little over a year ago that I began freelance editing. In fact, the whole point of UNLAWFUL GOOD was a bit of an experiment with myself to see even if comic editing was something I was capable of (I was a recent college grad trying to find ‘my place in the world’).

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Nine Positive Traits of the Jem Trailer

Friday, May 15th, 2015 | Posted by mariebilodeau

Modern adaptation that manages to keep the poofy hair = adaptation done right.

Modern adaptation that manages to keep the poofy hair = adaptation done right.

Jem and the Holograms, that quintessential 80s animated rock band, is back!

First, it returned in a monthly IDW comic book, written by Kelly Thompson and illustrated by Sophie Campbell, which is totally awesome. Then, this week, a trailer was released for the forthcoming live action movie. To say it wasn’t well received by fans is a bit like saying that the sun exploding would be bad for the Earth.

BUT, as self-help gurus would say: Try and capture the positive in your day-to-day. And slay goats. (I’m pretty sure they say that.) And so, in my continuous pursuit to see the positive in things that are easy to hate, I looked at the trailer three times (!) to pull out some positive traits.

1 – Ambition Is Tough (And Unattractive!)

Ambition is a crap shoot. You might succeed, you might not. It’s good that the trailer clearly showcases that Jerrica had absolutely no ambition and had to be convinced to pursue stardom. The lesson here is simple: Don’t pursue stuff. Be pursued! It’s a real life fairy tale! Plus, as often showcased, ambition is unattractive in girls. Who the hell wants to be unattractive???

Be pursued. Be attractive. Live the life.

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Knights of the Dinner Table #219 Now on Sale

Friday, May 15th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Knights of the Dinner Table 219-small DC Showcase 12 Challengers of the Unknown-small

The latest issue of Knights of the Dinner Table boasts another great Kirby tribute by the fabulous Fraim brothers. The cover is an homage to DC Showcase #12, featuring the Challengers of the Unknown, drawn by the great Jack Kirby and originally published in 1957. (Kirby later claimed he reused elements from this series at Marvel Comics, when he collaborated with Stan Lee to create The Fantastic Four four years later.) Click on the images for bigger versions.

I remember buying the very first issue of KoDT, at a comic convention here in Chicago. I had no idea then that it would become one of the longest-running independent comics in history.

Knights of the Dinner Table Magazine is written and drawn by my friend Jolly R. Blackburn, with editorial assistance by his talented wife Barbara. Readers of the print version of Black Gate may remember the KoDT spin-off The Java Joint, which appeared in the back of every issue (and was eventually collected in a single volume in 2012).

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New Treasures: Hexed: The Sisters of Witchdown by Michael Alan Nelson

Thursday, May 14th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Hexed Michael Alan Nelson-smallI’m not familiar with the the BOOM! comic Hexed, but perhaps I should be. It’s apparently a spin-off from the horror comic Fall of Cthulhu, but you don’t need to be familiar with her appearances there to enjoy her adventures in her own comic. I’m not sure how many issues were published, but enough to be collected into at least two graphic novels, the first published in March 2010, illustrated by Pretty Deadly Artist Emma Rios, and the second by newcomer Dan Mora, to be released this July.

Lucifer the thief, the star of Hexed, seems like a pretty interesting character, and The Sisters of Witchdown marks her first appearance in a prose novel. It’s being marketed as a YA title, but I’m intrigued enough to check it out.

Luci Jenifer Inacio das Neves, Lucifer for short, isn’t your typical teenaged girl. She’s a thief who survives by stealing bad things from bad people in the magical and mystical underworld hidden beneath our own. So when a policeman’s daughter, Gina, is kidnapped by a force he can’t explain, Lucifer is the only one who has a chance at getting his daughter back.

With the unsolicited help of Gina’s friends, including Gina’s boyfriend David, Lucifer’s investigation leads to the unfortunate truth of the kidnapping. Gina was taken to an otherworldly dimension by a creature of unspeakable evil: one of the Seven Sisters of Witchdown. Against all odds, Lucifer must use every magical tool hidden in her trick bag to steal her way into the Shade and bring Gina back before the Sister sacrifices her for her own dark ends. But the closer Lucifer gets to Gina, the closer she gets to David. And David to her. Lucifer must risk her life by confronting demons, witches, and the cruel demigoddess controlling her destiny — all to save the one girl who stands in the way of Lucifer finally finding love.

Michael Alan Nelson’s comic writing includes 28 Days Later, Supergirl, Valen the Outcast, Dominion, Cthulhu Tales, Dead Run, and many others.

Hexed: The Sisters of Witchdown was published by Pyr on May 5, 2015. It is 279 pages, priced at $14.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital version. The cover is by Larry Rostant.


You Gotta Know When to Fold ‘Em

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015 | Posted by Elizabeth Cady

ODY-C 4-smallIn my review of issue #4 of Ody-C  I said that it might be my last. I read Issue #5 hoping to be proven wrong.

I wasn’t.

Artistically, Ody-C is still strong, and a lot of people out there are going to love it. I’m just not one of them. What I love about Homer and the direction Fraction and Ward are taking the work are two very different things. And that’s ok. That’s how re-creations work. But as someone who has far less time to read than things she wants to read, this is going to have to drop off the list for now to make room for something else.

And that in turn made me wonder: what is it that makes you, as a reader, stop reading? When I was younger I always finished books, even when I didn’t like them. I wanted to really dissect what I didn’t like about them. I’m also just too curious to go without finding out how a story ends.

As I’ve gotten older, though, the reasons I drop a book or series have multiplied. There are those that I simply don’t like, like Ody-C. There are those that I’ve just gotten tired of, like a TV series that shall remain unnamed but is in its tenth season and probably ought to go. Even the actors look tired of their parts, my favorite side characters are gone, and the sense of peril has completely drained away.

(OK I lied. It’s Supernatural. Bobby’s gone, Ellen and Jo are gone in a way I’m still angry about, and there are only so many times your main characters can die before it stops meaning anything. Also, I think they have run out of new monsters.)

And maybe it’s age leading to crankiness, but there are storylines and characters I’m getting tired of. I’m really, terribly bored with ‘very tough on the outside and won’t accept any help but deeply emotionally vulnerable on the inside with a load of childhood traumas’. Of all available genders. This makes reading entire genres difficult.

But again, these are my objections. What are yours? What makes you drop something: a show, a comic, a book? And what could bring you back to it?


Want to Break Into Comics?

Saturday, May 9th, 2015 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

onibk_292  If you want to break into the big comic publishers, a bit of internet research, or visiting a local comic-con will reveal the accepted wisdom pretty quickly:

  • If you’re an artist, show your portfolio to editors at a con, or establish an online portfolio and email the editors. There’s lots of advice in different places about breaking in as an artist, and lots of places to learn (the comicsexperience.com podcast seems to me to be a great place to start).
  • If you’re a writer, pair up with an artist, make a comic, sell to the smaller comic presses to show your abilities and then approach bigger publishers, who, of course, offer a bit more money.

There isn’t really an advertised direct route in for writers either way. The submission guidelines at DC are pretty clear that they’re only looking for artists.

Marvel does let on that they’re looking for writers and artists, but mostly through the process laid out above.

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Through the Woods and Other Stories by Emily Carroll

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Through the WoodsAnd now for some utterly uncontroversial awards news: on April 22, the nominees for the 2015 Eisner Awards were announced. You can find the complete list here, representing some very impressive work. I’ve written in the past about Astro City, Sandman: Overture, and Saga; I want to take a moment now to write a bit about one of the other nominees. Emily Carroll’s up for two Eisners, ‘Best Graphic Album — Reprint’ for her anthology Through The Woods, and ‘Best Short Story’ for her online piece “When the Darkness Presses.” They’re both excellent.

I first stumbled across Carroll’s comics shortly before the Eisner nominations were made public. I found a copy of Through The Woods at my local library, after which I read through the short stories on Carroll’s web site. I thought both the print and online works were brilliant comics. Mostly horror or dark fantasy with a strong mythic edge, they experiment with form in order to get at the heart of their narratives. Panel designs and lettering and storytelling are all unobtrusively intelligent and quietly inventive, finding new ways to bring out the emotional textures of the tales.

Carroll changes her style and approach with each story, but maintains a distinctive voice. She moves easily from web to print, working with the possibilities of page design in both mediums in a way that feels not just accomplished but effortless. Reading through her work you’re struck by the range of approaches but also by the sense of an overall unity — the unity that emerges from a major artist exploring the themes that hold meaning for her.

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Spot the Avengers: Age of Ultron Spoiler on the Cover of the 1967 Paperback The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Avengers Battle the Earth Wrecker-small The Avengers Battle the Earth Wrecker-back-small

I took my kids to see Avengers: Battle of Ultron on Friday, and we heartily enjoyed it. It’s a remarkable funny and ridiculously fast-paced two hours and 20 minutes of superpowered mayhem, and it’s obvious that writer/director Joss Whedon and his cohorts have a genuine love for the source material, as it’s packed with asides and sly references for those who remember the Marvel comic by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Yesterday I was doing what I do every Saturday — sorting piles of old paperbacks — when I stumbled on the 1967 Bantam paperback The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker by Otto Binder. It came from a collection of 52 vintage paperbacks I bought on eBay for fifteen bucks last year (which also included The Unknown, Nine Horrors and a Dream by Joseph Payne Brennan, and Robert Bloch’s Nightmares.) Earth-Wrecker is one of only two Bantam Marvel tie-ins I’m aware of; the other is Captain America: The Great Gold Steal, by Ted White (1968).

The fascinating thing about The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker, though, is that, despite being released nearly 50 years ago, it has a mild spoiler for the Avengers: Age of Ultron right on the cover. If you want to avoid spoilers, just scroll on to the next article. Otherwise, read on.

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Watch Stan Lee Give Tips on How to Give a Great Cameo Performance, in the Stan Lee Cameo School

Friday, May 1st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

I was watching movies on YouTube last night when an Audi ad popped up featuring Stan Lee. [I'd like to take a minute to point out that sentence would have been completely nonsensical 15 years ago. Ah, what a world we live in.]

It turned it to be well worth watching. Directed by Kevin Smith, “The Stan Lee Cameo School” is a hilarious two-minute short featuring featuring Lou Ferrigno, Tara Reid, Michael Rooker, Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith. I won’t ruin any more for you — check it out.

Audi has a long tradition of appealing to science fiction fans — check out their Star Trek ads. (And Volkswagen reunited William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy for an ad late last year.) All this talk of Audis does make me miss mine, however… tragically, it was destroyed in a head-on collision in 2011.


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