Author: Van Jensen

Review: ‘The Education of Hopey Glass’

There’s something effortless about the comics of Jaime Hernandez. Both in storytelling and art, his Love and Rockets books glide smoothly, seamlessly along – perfect little vignettes into imagined lives.

This isn’t to say Hernandez doesn’t work hard at his craft. Take a deeper look at efforts like his latest collection, The Education of Hopey Glass (Fantagraphics, $19.99) and the attention to detail becomes eminently clear. But unless you will yourself toward that cause, it’s only too easy to slide right into the story and only come up for a breath when the last page has been flipped.

The first half of Hopey Glass is a particularly good example. More than just a glimpse into an unsettled life, Hernandez casts Hopey as a deeply shallow young woman suffering in the transition into adulthood, maturity and responsibility.

When her hedonistic impulses butt up against her new job as a teacher’s assistant, Hopey faces the pull of each world, and her anguish is palpable.

The book falters, though, when it suddenly drops that story and picks up the journey of Ray in his quest for women and success. While still a quality piece of comics, it’s much less compelling than Hopey’s story. And so the book as a whole becomes an incomplete puzzle, a collection of great but unfinished pieces.

Review: ‘Batman: The Killing Joke’ Deluxe Edition

Review: ‘Batman: The Killing Joke’ Deluxe Edition

As I picked up a copy of the new Batman: The Killing Joke 20th anniversary hardcover, I flicked open the first page and sliced my finger on its edge. The paper cut seemed fitting, a physical manifestation of the violence contained within the book.

What I always forget about this story in the few-year intervals between readings is just how short it is, at 46 pages. And so each time I’m amazed all over again at how Alan Moore and Brian Bolland teamed to pack such intensity, ferocity and (surprise, surprise) humanity into those pages.

The Killing Joke is without question one of the greatest encounters between Batman and his nemesis, and the real reason is that the story serves both as a zenith for the Joker’s depravity and for his pathos. Even if this origin story isn’t true (as Bolland writes in his afterword), Moore shows a trace of a person behind the maniacal grin. It makes a Joker that’s more real, and more terrifying.

This new edition ($17.99) is of note for the top-notch packaging as well as Bolland’s re-coloring (see the differences between new and old right here). I’m sure there are those who hate the changes simply because it’s different, but the new colors really do improve the book, giving it a subtlety and grimness not present in the original.

The only additional features are a few of Bolland’s sketches and a new short story from him about wanting to murder Batman. It’s not bad, per se, but doesn’t add to the main story and comes across like padding. I suppose it’s a necessary inclusion, though. I mean, 46 pages!

Universities Taking Up Graphic Novels

Universities Taking Up Graphic Novels

A couple of stories came out today in university newspapers revealing the continued growth of interest in comic books and graphic novels is beginning to manifest on campuses.

At Louisiana State University, officials selected Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis as the summer reading book for incoming freshmen. The Daily Reveille covers the story:

"It’s a very different choice from what we’ve done in the past," said Sarah Liggett, English professor and Student Reading Program committee chairperson. "It’s a focus on the Middle East, which is certainly very much in the news today, and it’s the first summer reading selection to be created by a woman. You see not only what she felt in the words, but you see it in the pictures."

From the responses in the article, it sounds like the choice is going over much better than at Ithaca College, where the student paper’s editorial board berated the choice of Persepolis on grounds that it wasn’t intellectual.

In other news, Emerson College is considering adding a comics/graphic novel program, according to the student paper there. For now, the college has added some new comics-related courses, which aren’t for credit but instead offer certificates for those who pass the courses. Andy Fish is the instructor.

[Fish] is currently working on a DC comic project illustrating the graphic novel "BATMAN 1939" and his own comic "The Boy Who Wished He Could Fly."

"Who knows if walking among the student body, or hanging out in the Dunkin Donuts on the corner is the next Frank Miller or Will Eisner?," Fish said. "Graphic novels have been gaining respect among the squares, and I think it is great that Emerson is offering this program, and I’m delighted to be a part of it."

Review: ‘Jenny Finn’ and ‘The Stardust Kid’

Boom! Studios has made a name for itself as a comic book version of the Spike TV network, but this week the publisher released two new collections that step away from that formula.

The first, Jenny Finn: Doom Messiah ($14.99) is a collection of the three original Jenny Finn issues and the all new fourth and concluding chapter. The book is written by Mike Mignola and is his truest channeling of Lovecraft yet. In fact, the story closely echoes one of Lovecraft’s stories (I forget the name) about a fishing town being invaded by mysterious sea creatures.

That’s not to say the story isn’t original – it’s more elaborate and bizarre, with typical Mignola flourishes, like the constant appearance of fish that mutter, "Doom."

The narrative is simple enough – an average Joe finds himself mired in otherworldly terror and tries to fight (and think) his way out of it – but the plot never falls into stereotype and every few pages brings a new surprise.

Troy Nixey served as artist on the first three issues and perfectly captures the ethereal horror of Mignola’s script (and, thankfully, doesn’t ape Mignola’s artistic style). Farel Dalrymple illustrated the fourth chapter, and while I love his work, this probably isn’t the best project for him.

That bit of criticism aside, Jenny Finn is a great piece of haunted fun. And I forgot the best part: plenty of tentacles.


The Weekly Haul: Reviews for March 27, 2008

This week has all the makings, as an underdog wins book of the week honors, Marvel tries its darndest to rev up Skrullfest ’08 and Atlanta traffic finally almost kills me. Without further ado, the reviews…

Book of the Week: Blue Beetle #25 — When this first series first started up, I loved the concept but found it too hit-or-miss to pick up on a regular basis. After reading this latest issue, I can firmly say that not only has writer John Rogers found his stride, he’s turned this book into one of DC’s best.

In the conclusion to an epic whole-world-at-stake storyline, Jaime finally comes into his own as a hero, using a whole lot of trickeration and stick-to-it-ive-ness to defeat the bad aliens. Rogers uses those evil aliens (who are in a way the scarab’s source) to effectively entrench Jaime as the definitive Blue Beetle – no small feat.

It’s a perfectly executed balancing act between superhero fun and tense action, with plenty of credit owed to Rafael Albuquerque’s art. The two hilarious intrusions by Guy Gardner and Booster Gold put this book over the top.

Runners Up:

New Avengers #39 — Of the three books that crammed the upcoming Secret Invasion down my throat, only this one had any effect. Brian Michael Bendis combines the expected handful of brilliant personal exchanges with an intense fight between a mysteriously super-powered Skrull and Echo and Wolverine. Ultimately, it’s a tense and foreboding book, although I’m still on the fence about the big event.

All-Star Superman #10 — This book is so consistently entertaining and touching that it’s like clockwork. Now, if only it was like clockwork regarding the release schedule… That aside, the story of Superman’s impending demise continues and (maybe?) concludes in this issue, which essentially serves as an elegy to his glorious life. Beyond the affecting contemplations on mortality, what Grant Morrison does especially well here is capture the sense of round-the-clock heroism of Superman’s life.


Review: ‘The Ten-Cent Plague’ by David Hajdu

Review: ‘The Ten-Cent Plague’ by David Hajdu

The journalist David Hajdu’s new book, The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America, has been billed as a retelling of the little-known inquisition against comics that nearly killed the industry in the 1950s.

It does tell that story (and quite well), but perhaps more importantly it serves as one of the best histories yet of the Golden Age of comics. Picking up literally with the creation of the comic book, The Ten-Cent Plague chronicles the medium’s rise as cartoon characters gave way to superheroes, adventurers, pirates, criminals and jungle queens.

With an unerring eye for the telling detail, Hajdu brings to life the mad men of the early comics scene, a rag tag group of artsy teens and swindler publishers who make today’s comics personalities seem tame by comparison. Big names like Will Eisner and Bob Kane earn mention, along with a great number of lesser-knowns.

Harry "A" Chesler, Jr., the comic-book packager, applied the "Jr." to his name or dispensed with it as he saw fit, and put quotation marks around the initial because he thought they were stylistically correct, and he had a point. When he was asked what the "A" stood for, he said, "Anything."

If anything, Hajdu goes a bit overboard in describing so many people in great detail. While these anecdotes are interesting and reveal an impressive layer of research, they also meander and distract from the central narrative. That being the progression of comics pushing ever harder against any perceived boundaries, just as the youths who devoured the books tested the confines of their mid-century upbringing.


German Authorities Use Comic to Combat Extremism

In the great book Freakonomics, one of my favorite stories is the one detailing how the writers of the old Superman TV show used a storyline to give a negative depiction of the Ku Klux Klan, and that alone was one of the most effective methods of turning public opinion against the Klan.

That story came to mind when I came across a couple of articles detailing efforts to combat Islamic extremism through comics.

In Egypt, Hands Across the Mideast Support Alliance has been distributing copies of an Arabic edition of a 50-year-old comic based on Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. The comic is available for download in Arabic and English from the HAMSA Web site.

"The Montgomery Story" was published in 1958 and helped inspire the American civil-rights movement in the 1960s. In 2008, it was translated and designed by young reformers in the Mideast. It features full-color panels depicting the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a campaign to end segregation on buses in the capitol of Alabama. The comic book ends with a section on “how the Montgomery Method works,” outlining essential techniques of nonviolence.

I also came across this article in the Globe and Mail on a comic book designed to combat Islamic extremism produced by officials in a north-German state. The comic, Andi, follows a youth who dates a Muslim girl, and the girl’s brother comes under the sway of an Islamist "hate preacher." (Apologies for the small cover image, below, but it was all I could track down.)

The comic is distributed to schools and is intended for an audience from 12 to 16-years-old. It’s available online in PDF form right here. I learned German in grade school, but sadly since then my knowledge of the language has wittled away to a few numbers and swear words, so I couldn’t read the two available issues.

The article says Muslim response to the project has been positive. From the article:

The comic, printed in 100,000 copies and distributed to every secondary school in Germany’s most populous state, aims to show young people the difference between peaceful mainstream Islam and the violent, intolerant version peddled by militants.

"We were always careful not to hurt feelings and anger people by painting a caricature of Islam," said Hartwig Moeller, head of the NRW Interior Ministry. "We had to make clear we weren’t aiming against Muslims, but only those people who want to misuse Islam for political aims."

Hugh Jackman and Marc Guggenheim Develop Comic

Hugh Jackman and Marc Guggenheim Develop Comic

Apparently playing Wolverine has given Hugh Jackman a taste for comic books, as the actor just announced his production company is developing a new comic series with Virgin Comics.

Nowhere Man is planned as a potential comic, movie and video game, according to an article in Variety.

Story was being kept under wraps, but Jackson’s Seed Productions partner John Palermo said it features a protagonist reminiscent of the one Will Smith played in "I Am Legend." The concept is a futuristic world where mankind has traded privacy for safety, a premise that sprouted with Seed, Virgin CEO Sharad Devarajan and chief creative officer Gotham Chopra.

"This is our first comic, and we feel the concept is transferable to other arenas, perhaps first as a videogame, and then a movie," Palermo said.

Writing duties and "co-creator" status go to Marc Guggenheim, who has written Wolverine, coincidentally enough, as well as several other comics series.

NPR on Joss Whedon, Jodi Picoult and Percy Carey

My favorite source of commute-killing entertainment, National Public Radio, just posted online three interviews with three very different comics writers.

While comics is their common thread, Joss Whedon, Jodi Picoult and Percy Carey are each coming into the industry in their own way. Whedon we all know about, and most are familiar with Picoult, who was actually the first female writer on Wonder Woman (not Gail Simone, as the New York Times wrote) after having a successful run of novels.

Carey is the most unique, having gritted his way to superstar status in the underground rap scene, only to fall into dealing drugs and constant gang fights that eventually left him crippled.

Here’s an excerpt:

For Percy Carey, who raps under the stage name MF Grimm, writing graphic novels meant not just learning to speak a new language, but also appreciating the value of the story he was telling. While Whedon and Picoult were dealing with the fantastic, Carey’s graphic novel, Sentences, is an autobiographical account of the shooting that left him paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair.

The idea that he could tell his story as a graphic novel came to him after he discovered American Splendor, a series of comics based on author Harvey Pekar’s life.

"Once I came across American Splendor, it convinced me that I wanted to take a chance and step in the medium of graphic novels. I just have a lot of respect for the form," says Carey.

R.I.P. Fletcher Hanks Jr., Son of ‘Stardust’ Creator

In last year’s collection of Fletcher Hanks comics, I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets, one of its best features was an epilogue written and illustrated by Paul Karasik that explained his effort to track down Hanks, or at least one of his relatives.

Karasik ended up at the door of Fletcher Hanks Jr., a great man in his own right who shed a lot of light on his father. Strangely enough, Hanks Jr. had never even known that his father illustrated comics, let alone had become something of an idol in the indie comics community.

According to a story posted on Karasik’s Web site, Hanks Jr. died on March 16 after a March 8 auto accident. He was 90.

Among comics fans, Hanks Jr. will always be known as the son of the evil genius of the Golden Age. But it’s important to recognize his accomplishments, many of which overshadow his father’s legacy:

Hanks, known for his action-adventure life and strong opinions, is best known for his experience "flying The Hump," both in wartime and years later in the commemoration of his fallen comrades, and his book, Saga of CNAC 53, which chronicled those events. He often said his life’s work was remembering his 23,000 friends who died in the war.

From July 1942 to August 1945, Hanks, sometimes called "Christy" by his colleagues, flew 347 trips in unarmed C-47s delivering supplies to inaccessible areas of China using a path from India over the south ridge of the Himalayas called "The Hump." Years later, in 1997, he returned to China and he and a group of Chinese soldiers found the wreckage of CNAC 53, the airplane piloted by American Jim Fox and his Chinese co-pilot and operator.