Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Archive for the 'Reviews – Indy/Small Press' Category

Fear, Kitty Kitty Kitty…

Posted by Don MacPherson on 23rd October 2016

VariantDie Kitty Die #1
Writers/Pencils: Fernando Ruiz & Dan Parent
Inks: Rich Koslowski & J. Bone
Colors: Glenn Whitmore
Letters: Janice Chiang
Cover artists: Parent and Ruiz (regular editions)/Darwyn Cooke, and Ruiz & Parent (variants)
Publisher: Chapter House Comics/Astro Comix
Price: $3.99 US

I’ve been hearing about this project for a year or so, and I’ve been quite curious about it. It was originally released digitally, but I prefer comics on paper. Anticipating a print release, I waited, so I was pleased to find it on my local comic shop’s shelves this week. I hope Die Kitty Die proves to be a small-press success, because its commentary on comics publishing, pop culture as product and the poor treatment of creative forces, though a familiar refrain, merits further exposure and discussion. Archie Comics talents Dan Parent and Fernando Ruiz not only offer a sendup of their usual employers and its characters, but also target the comics industry as a whole, even including pastiches/homages of little-used Harvey properties, such as Casper the Friendly Ghost and Hot Stuff. One thing is abundantly clear from this comic: its creators really had a blast putting it together. There’s an exuberance evident here, one that flows, I assume, from the catharsis of expressing and letting go of their professional frustrations. Read the rest of this entry »

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Arts and Lovecrafts

Posted by Don MacPherson on 30th September 2016

C21st Gods #1
Writer: David Tallerman
Artist/Colors/Letters/Cover artist: Anthony Summey
Editor: Bill Campbell
Publisher: Rosarium Publishing
Price: $1.99 US

I’ve never read any H.P. Lovecraft works, but I feel as though I have, as his work – notably his Cthulhu and ancient gods concepts – is referenced so often in comics and is prominent so often as a key influence on creators. Promotional material for this first issue of a three-part series bills it as a “reimagining” of Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu. As I’ve not read the original source material, I can’t comment on how faithful it is to the plot and themes, but I can comment on how it stands up as storytelling in its own right. For a release from a practically unknown small-press publisher, it’s striking in its professionalism. David Tallerman makes some choices with his script that might not be the right ones, but overall, he offers up a compelling mystery, despite some of the cop-drama cliches that are to be found here.

A police detective and his partner respond to an odd scene where they discover a cultist whose committed a grisly ritual murder and sets out to kill again when coming face to face with the cops. The bizarre and gruesome scenario prompts no end of questions in Detective Connor’s mind, and he’s determine to expose a murderous conspiracies, even over the objections of his obstructionist and paranoid commanding officer. Read the rest of this entry »

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Monsters Ink

Posted by Don MacPherson on 30th January 2016

American Monster #1
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist/Letters: Juan Doe
Cover artists: Juan Doe (regular)/Dave Johnson, Alexis Ziritt & Phil Hester
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: Aftershock Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Adding another title to my pull list these days isn’t something I’m quick to do in most cases, given rising costs (especially due to currency exchange rates these days), but the manager of my local comics retailer knows how to pull my strings. He points to a new crime title, written by Brian (100 Bullets) Azzarello and illustrated by Juan (Fantastic Four: Island of Death) Doe, and I’m sunk. As a lover of fine comics storytelling, I’m incapable of turning a blind eye to such a combination. Furthermore, this is an early release from a new publisher — Aftershock Comics — staffed by professionals with solid track records in the industry. While the first issue didn’t blow me away, I have to admit I’m quite intrigued. The harshness and intensity of the characters and circumstances of the plot come as no surprise, given they were crafted by Azzarello, and I definitely what to know more about them and what’s going on. Doe’s art took me off-guard, though, likely due to the fact I associate his style with a lighter tone and energy than the ugly world he help to bring to life here. Read the rest of this entry »

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Seems a Little Fishy to Me

Posted by Don MacPherson on 3rd January 2016

The Little Black Fish graphic novella
Writer: Samad Behrangi
Artist/Adaptation: Bizhan Khodabandeh
Publisher: Rosarium Publishing
Price: $7.95 US

I acknowledge there’s been a strong focus on DC and Marvel properties in my various posts as of late, and I’ve been meaning to bring more diversity to the subject matter here on Eye on Comics. One of the benefits of having written comics reviews for so long is that little-known, independent and unusual projects pop up in my inbox. I don’t have the time to even scratch the surface of those seemingly endless submissions, but I try to take a look at some here and there. There was something about the email promoting Little Black Fish that caught my eye — the title of the graphic novella in question, to be honest.

This comics project — an inaugural effort by writer/artist Bizhan Khodabandeh — proved to be an education for me. I’d never heard tell of the 20th century fable of the little black fish, penned by an Iranian educator decades ago. The strong message in the parable is a universal one, transcending time, culture and geography. One could argue it could be too ham-fisted and too familiar, but there was something about Khodabandeh’s presentation that kept drawing me further and further into the late Samad Behrangi’s tale. Truth be told, as I made my way through the first few pages of this book, I initially found Khodabandeh’s style to be a little crude, but as I followed the title character along his journey and quest for knowledge, the art won me over. The Little Black Fish isn’t at all like other comics storytelling being produced today, and that alone should merit it a wider audience upon its release in March. Read the rest of this entry »

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Not a Bullseye

Posted by Don MacPherson on 5th October 2014

The Charlton Arrow #1
Writers: Paul Kupperberg, Roger McKenzie, Michael Mitchell, Lou Mougin, Steven Thompson, Mort Todd & Larry Wilson
Artists: John Byrne, Sandy Carruthers, Javier Hernandez, Rick Stasi & Barbara Kaalberg, Michael Mitchell, Joe Staton & Mort Todd
Colors: Javier Hernandez, Michael Mitchell, Mort Todd & Matt Webb
Letters: Mort Todd & A. Machine Jr.
Editor: Fester Faceplant
Publisher: Comicfix
Price: $6.99 US

Charlton Comics, for the most part, has been relegated to little more than a footnote in comics history, best known as the source of a number of super-hero characters (such as Blue Beetle, Captain Atom and the Question) that DC acquired and that served as the inspiration for the characters in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen. But there was a lot more to the publisher than that handful of heroes, as this tribute comic attests. I knew Charlton published a number of romance, horror and war comics as well, some of which are honored in this thick anthology. But the more important thing to remember about Charlton as a publisher was as a base for some of the top talent in the industry, from the 1960s into the 1980s. John Byrne, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano and others got their starts there, and it was also home to such established talents as Steve Ditko and Pay Boyette for a considerable period. I got the chance to pick this book up from one of the contributors at a small local comic expo earlier this year, as I was happy to support a friend and a celebration of a noteworthy corner of comics history. Like most anthologies, though, The Charlton Arrow is a mixed bag, with some solid, entertaining comics craft and some that miss the mark. Read the rest of this entry »

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Buzz Words

Posted by Don MacPherson on 20th September 2014

With a Buzz In Our Ears We Play Endlessly mini-comic
Writer: Gibson Twist
Artist: Rori! de Rien
Publisher: Live Nude Comics (self-published)
Price: $5 US

My savvy comics retailer put this mini-comic in my hands, suggesting it’s something I’d enjoy and find interesting. I’d been vaguely aware of Gibson Twist’s self-published comics, as my local comics shop carries his work, but I hadn’t delved into it. While I found the price I was quoted to be a little on the high side for such a thin book, I decided to give it a shot all the same. I’m always open to looking at something different, and I’m pleased I did in this case. With a Buzz… is a delightfully simple comic — so much so that one could argue it’s a little on the predictable side. But Twist’s message, despite its simplicity and obvious nature, is one that adults can overlook far too easily in life. I wish the activities depicted in this mini-comic were as commonplace as they’re suggested to be here, as there’s really not nearly enough silliness, innocence and self-satisfaction in the world as there should be. Read the rest of this entry »

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Out of Africa

Posted by Don MacPherson on 23rd July 2014

Tüki #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Jeff Smith
Publisher: Cartoon Books
Price: $3.99 US

Jeff Smith is a member of select club of comics creators who have worked almost exclusive for themselves, who focus their efforts on creator-owned properties and have managed to find great success with work they’ve written and illustrated themselves. Smith, with his epic Bone, has already carved out a spot of honor for himself in the history of the medium alongside such stalwart talents as Dave Sim, Terry Moore and more. But fortunately for those of us who appreciate his craft. I also appreciate the breadth of genres and material he’s opted to explore over his career. I’m pleased (but not surprised) to report Tüki boasts the same sense of wonder and humor that made Smith’s landmark Bone such a success. Tüki stands apart from the original runs of its older siblings in that it’s being presented in full color, and it’s a wise choice. The format for this comic is also a noteworthy difference. Tüki offers just about everything Smith’s fans love about his storytelling, but it still finds ways to do it in new ways. Hopefully, its release on the same day that this year’s Comic Con International opens in San Diego will ensure it’s not overlooked by a wider audience. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by Don MacPherson on 16th July 2014

Seconds original hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Bryan Lee O’Malley
Drawing assistant: Jason Fischer
Colors: Nathan Fairbairn
Letters: Dustin Harbin
Publisher: Ballantine Books/Penguin Random House
Price: $25 US

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim books are undeniably a master work in the medium of comics, and I fully appreciated his approach in those books. That being said, they weren’t graphic novels that really clicked for me, though it was certainly no fault of O’Malley’s. The young, slacker, characters and the immersion in gamer culture were just so alien to me. I didn’t and couldn’t connect with the title character and his world. Nevertheless, I was anticipating this new O’Malley project just as much as other comics enthusiasts. Imagine my pleasure and surprise to find one of the key elements emerging in its opening pages was the protagonist’s sense of generational isolation from the younger people working in her restaurant. I immediately connected with Katie, and the message at the heart of this book is a philosophy I’ve observed for years, ever since my professional and personal lives came into focus in my 30s. Read the rest of this entry »

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Inmates Ruining the Asylum

Posted by Don MacPherson on 24th November 2013

Doing Time original graphic novel
Writer: Brad Sullivan
Artist: Amilton Santos
Colors: Tiago Fernandes & Oracle
Letters: Fred C. Stresing & Adam Wollet
Publisher: Back Row Comics

Doing Time is the sort of genre story that clearly has its origins in the title itself. The writer has taken a phrase about a prison term and imposed a new, dual meaning on it, making the “time” part refer to time travel. At its heart, it’s a simple and even fun concept, and the good news is that writer Brady Sullivan’s plot and characters never take themselves or the premise too seriously. For an independent project, the production values here are pretty solid — professional-level lettering, fairly clear though standard comic-art art style — and there’s a sense of diversity in the cast of characters. There’s just one problem: those characters are pretty much all loathsome. I get that when the central plot is about a prison break (even one through time), the protagonists aren’t all going to be palatable, but even the one non-criminal in the bunch is unlikeable. Sullivan seems to have as his foundation here the punny premise and a clear ending he had in mind, and on that foundation, he piled hate, misogyny, stupidity, sex and as much gratuitous violence as he could fit in a graphic novella (which was clearly originally crafted as a three-issue limited series). There’s potential in the storytelling here, but the writer and artist could definitely have used some guidance and input to refine their efforts. Read the rest of this entry »

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Nifty Shades of Grey

Posted by Don MacPherson on 10th March 2013

Grey Area #1 – While the City Sleeps
“Nightshift,” “Nightwalker” & “Nightlife”
Writer/Artist: Tim Bird
Publisher: Avery Hill Publishing
Price: £3

It’s always fun and interesting to delve into a well-crafted, earnest small-press comics publication. Sometimes, you find a powerful, emerging talent in the world of comics, and sometimes, you find a glimmer of promise in someone who clearly loves the medium to the point that he or she has to be involved with it. With Grey Area, I found someone, Tim Bird, who falls somewhere in the middle of that part of the comics-creation spectrum. He’s told three short stories here in the same setting, on the same night, and he offers three different perspectives, exploring three different aspects of the human condition and experience. It’s an interesting experiment that he ultimately pulls off, but some of the choices in his storytelling, while offering some clarity in the subject matter, keep the reader from completely immersing himself or herself in the atmosphere and mood of the pieces. There’s a great deal of potential here, and some of the storytelling is quite compelling. Overall, I have to say this was a pleasant surprise, especially since this themed collected of short stories ends on a stronger and more positive note. Read the rest of this entry »

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I Call Shotgun

Posted by Don MacPherson on 11th November 2012

Hobo With a Shotgun #1
Writers: Dave Howlett, André Myette, Josh Rodgers, Shawn McLeod & Jay Arnold
Artists: Mike Holmes, Andy Cotnam, André Myette, Patrick Burgomaster, Josh Rodgers, Shawn McLeod, Mike Campbell & Jay Arnold
Colors: Nathan Boone, André Myette, Patrick Burgomaster, Josh Rodgers & Shawn McLeod
Cover artist: James White
Publisher: Yer Dead Productions
Price: $2.99 US

Like the uber-violent B-movie of the same name, this comic book is regionally produced. Starring Rutger Hauer, Hobo With a Shotgun is a little known film that was shot and produced in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the material in this anthology comic inspired by the flick was also crafted by Halifax creators and those from surrounding regions. Several of the creators boast a strong connection to award-winning comic shop Strange Adventures, and this comic was made available at my local Strange Adventures store as well. Despite having not seen the movie, I decided to give this comic a glance, in part to support independent and local comics talent. Like many anthologies, Hobo With a Shotgun is a mixed bag, boasting some strong, professional material and some that pales in comparison. Given the fact I was generally unfamiliar with the source material, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed some key stories. And given the strength of those stories, I was surprised by the inclusion of far more crude and amateurish efforts as well. Read the rest of this entry »

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Leth Is More

Posted by Don MacPherson on 23rd August 2012

Ultimate Kate or Die #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Kate Leth
Publisher: Kateordiecomics.com (self-published)
Price: $5 US/CAN

When I decided I would be attending DCAF: the Dartmouth Comic Arts Festival this past weekend, I endeavored to familiarize myself with some of the cartoonists on the exhibitor list whose work I hadn’t sampled in the past, and one of Kate Leth. I’ve been aware of her for a while, as my local comics shop has had some of her mini-comics and this more polished comic-book collection of her web strips on hand for several months. I never delved into them before, but I’m pleased DCAF prompted me to do so. Leth’s work exudes a number of admirable qualities: whimsy, strong opinion, cultural awareness and openness. But what I enjoyed about it most of all was her brutal honesty, not just about the problems she’s seen around her in her life, but about her own challenges and perceived shortcomings. While the approach to the storytelling is different, Leth’s honesty is the same kind that makes Tom Beland’s True Story Swear to God such a compelling and personal series. Furthermore, Leth is definitely a name to watch for. While she’s had work published in such titles as Locke & Key and The Adventures of Luther Strode, she has worked lined up with Boom! Studios Adventure Time comics, and that will no doubt introduce her to a much wider audience. Read the rest of this entry »

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Burning Down the (White) House

Posted by Don MacPherson on 1st July 2012

The Loxleys and the War of 1812 original hardcover graphic novel
Writer: Alan Grant
Artist/Cover artist: Claude St. Aubin
Colors: Lovern Kindzierski
Letters: Todd Klein
Historical essay: Mark Zuehlke
Editor: Alexander Finbow
Publisher: Renegade Arts Entertainment
Price: $19.99 US/CAN

I’ve been meaning to sit down and write this review for a couple of weeks now, but July 1 — Canada Day, the anniversary of Confederation — seemed like a fitting time to write about a graphic novel focusing on a key period in Canadian history. What drew me to the book wasn’t so much the connection to my homeland’s past (and my need to learn more about the War of 1812), but rather than reputations of the various creators involved in its creation. Perhaps what piqued my curiosity the most was the fact that although established, mainstream Canadian creators such as Claude St. Aubin and Lovern Kindzierski participated in the book, the publisher recruited some top talent from beyond the Great White North, such as longtime Batman and Judge Dredd writer Alan Grant and Todd Klein, the most heralded letterer of the past couple of decades. Together, they’ve put together a professional package that informs and entertains, though its value definitely lies with the former aspect. Initially too saccharine for my taste, the book eventually and appropriately takes on a harsher tone in the second act. What struck me the most about the book was how dedicated it is to one perspective, casting the Americans firmly in the role of villains — so much so I expect the book’s appeal south of the 49th parallel will be quite limited. Read the rest of this entry »

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Future Imperfect

Posted by Don MacPherson on 1st April 2012

Hope For the Future #13
Writer/Artist: Simon Perrins
Publisher: Self-published
Price: $4.30 US/£2.70

When one reviews comics regularly, a lot of independent and self-published material makes it way across your desk (or desktop, as the case may be). There are a lot of unknown, tyro and amateur creators out there eager to promote their work, eager to catch the eye of other professionals or publishers — and, most importantly, eager just to have people see their work. Once in a while, a reviewer can happen upon a diamond in the rough, a gem of a book that hardly anybody knows about. Hope For the Future isn’t one of those gems… but it boasts the promise of being one. It’s not a diamond, but neither is it a lump of coal. It just needs a little more pressure, a little more polish, to become what it could be. I have no idea what Hope For the Future is about (and I’m not convinced creator Simon Perrins does either), but he strings together a number of scenes that impress. The problem is that those scenes don’t fit together or connect to one another in any meaningful way. His dialogue is sharp, the ideas compelling, whether they’re about the impossible or the everyday, and his art is occasionally powerful and fairly serviceable overall. Read the rest of this entry »

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Curious Case

Posted by Don MacPherson on 21st March 2012

Short Hand one-shot
“The Toothless Fairy”
Writer: Jason McNamara
Artist: Rahsan Ekedal
Price: $5 US

Jason McNamara loves him some comics. I’m familiar with him from his work on the entertaining Martian Confederacy graphic novels, and he’s billed as the “writer-in-residence” for lauded comic shop Isotope. McNamara passed along his latest project, Short Hand, for review, and it’s a much different project than his two Martian Confederacy books. The premise — a 12-year-old boy detective with progeria, making him look like he’s at the end of his life rather than the beginning — is a solid one. And while this appears to be a one-shot, there’s definitely life in the concept beyond this one story. In fact, McNamara’s plot leaves the door open for more. Unfortunately, Short Hand suffers from a couple of flaws: up-front spoilers that ruin the reveal to which the story builds, and artwork that seems to take what’s meant as a lighter story a bit too seriously. Nevertheless, it’s a promising effort and worth checking out if you run into McNamara during the 2012 comics-convention circuit. Read the rest of this entry »

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