Few creators exemplify the promise and disappointment of the early decades of comic books as fully as Wally Wood. One of the great talents who flowered at EC in the early 1950s, he spent the rest of his career following that company’s implosion working across the industry as a cartoonist and occasional publisher, and outside it in advertising and illustration. One of the most gifted draftsmen from a golden age of gifted draftsmen, Wood’s tragedy is rarely having found subject matter that matched the ambition of his style. The sad circumstances of the final years of his life also point to the unchanging nature of the industry’s lack of support for older creators.
The Life And Legend Of Wallace Wood (Fantagraphics) offers a rounded portrait of a conflicted creator. Rather than a conventional coffee-table retelling of the artist’s life and career, editors Bhob Stewart and J. Michael Catron have by structuring the book as a series of essays by eminent comics scholars and talents wisely chosen to spotlight a number of different kinds of tributes to the artist. Howard Chaykin shows up for the introduction, telling the story of how Wood was integral to his own entry into the industry. There are interviews about Wood with fellow EC veterans Al Williamson and John Severin. There’s a never published short interview of Wood by Mark Evanier from 1970 and a brief anecdote from Larry Hama.
It’s difficult to imagine a more respectful package. Some of Wood’s great contributions to cartooning come in the form of his maxims regarding efficiency and storytelling economy—rules he often broke with his lushly illustrated panels, soaked in meticulous detail. “Never draw anything you can’t copy,” read an embroidered sampler above his drawing table, “never copy anything you can’t trace, never trace anything you can’t cut and paste in.” As cynical as the advice may seem, it’s familiar to any working cartoonist who has to measure their income in direct proportion to how many pages they can complete in a timely fashion. In practice Wood was as indulgent and fussy illustrator an as can be imagined. He couldn’t help himself.
Despite the occasionally bitter and sordid texture of his later work, including a handful of desultory porn comics, the quality of the work never wavered. Although it’s arguable that he never bettered his work for EC, the level of craftsmanship stayed consistent. He was simply incapable of drawing badly. Even his earliest work, such as the few samples of his juvenilia reprinted here, shows a hint of his skill in utero. Wood’s mannered, ostentatiously effortless craft has been out of fashion for a while. It’s a dense style created out of the exigencies of compact eight-page sci-fi and suspense stories. It was the kind of effortlessness that reflected a lifetime’s dedicated to cultivating an enviable degree of skill. It was also, unfortunately, a skill that was ill served by the industry to which he dedicated his life. [Tim O’Neil]
After the huge success of Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl graphic novel last year, it was only a matter of time before a publisher went after that book’s reader base with a new roller derby comic. Never one to turn away from a trend, Boom! Studios reached out to roller derby connoisseur Pamela Ribon to have her develop a derby comic for its Boom! Box imprint, and Slam! was born. Slam! #1 (Boom! Box) teams Ribon with artist Veronica Fish and colorist Brittany Peer to tell the story of two women, Jennifer and Maisie, who form a fast, tight friendship as they enter the derby world together. While the book skews toward an older age group than Roller Girl, fans of that book will find much to enjoy in this new series.
A novelist and screenwriter (recent credits include story writing for Moana and the upcoming Wreck-It Ralph 2) with significant experience in the roller derby world both on and off the track, Ribon has an intense personal connection to the sport that heavily informs the script. She emphasizes the emotional aspects of the roller derby experience in the first issue: the thrill of seeing your first bout, the joy of making new friends, the doubt that hits before skating in front of a crowd for the first time. It would be nice to get more information about the technical elements of the sport so that the reader is learning about derby with the main characters, but there will be time to delve into the specifics of the sport later. This first issue isn’t about the rules but about the feelings, and the creative team draws a sharp contrast between the attitudes of the characters before and after they strap on skates.
2016 has been a breakout year for artist Veronica Fish, who has done exceptional work on a wide range of projects. Archie gave her the opportunity to sharpen her characterizations and comic timing; a Howard The Duck issue pushed her into more dramatic sci-fi territory; she strengthened her superhero action skills on Silk and Spider-Woman; and with Slam! she gets to design an original cast of characters and explore more personal, naturalistic storytelling. The quality of her art is all the more impressive given the speed with which it’s created, and having so much on her plate this year has forced Fish to refine her linework so that she can do more with less. She’s clearly spent significant time on the design elements of this book’s characters and environments—the state of Maisie’s apartment makes her pre-derby situation clear before anyone ever mentions her recent break-up—but her clean, unfussy lines make all that detail look effortless.
With its vibrant, expressive palettes and soft, creamy highlights, Brittany Peer’s coloring is very reminiscent of the work of Tamra Bonvillain, which makes sense given Peer works as Bonvillain’s assistant. Bonvillain is one of comics’ most exciting colorists right now, and Peer has learned all the right lessons from their professional relationship. The colors in this book are loud but not abrasive, and Peer makes strong palette choices that reflect the emotions of the script while energizing the linework. The vitality of this first issue is the main attraction, and everything from the script to the art to Kelsey Dieterich’s bold design channels the excitement of being thrown into the roller derby world. [Oliver Sava]
The Jodoverse—filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s interconnected sci-fi meta-series—is an odd beast. Built of two main series, each with their own spin-offs, tie-ins, prequels, and sequels, the meta-series unfolds with the most incredible highs separated by some of the most interminable of lows. Weapons Of The Metabaron (Humanoids) succinctly and grandly evinces this point.
Previously released in a mammoth hardcover that has since fallen out of print, Humanoids brings this beleaguered and oft-forgotten installment in the Metabaron’s saga back to life. Mostly infamous for its small page count and protracted release, Weapons Of The Metabaron follows No-Name, the “present” Metabaron, on his quest for powerful weapons, and like many of the Jodoverse stories, it’s unclear where it fits chronologically in relation to others. Opening and closing with a framing narrative drawn by Zoran Janjetov, No-Name arrives at the Omphal, “the asteroid that beats like a heart at the center of [the Metabaron’s] universe.” There he meets the Intra-Sleepers, “the semi-immortals who build the dreams of all living creatures.” In order to restore the Metabaron’s lost memories, they mind-meld with him and the bulk of the comic appears as a dream.
Travis Charest illustrates these sequences, juxtaposing his painterly and lithe aesthetic with Janjetov’s stilted, cartoonish style. As Joe McCulloch notes in his review of the series’ initial release, for most American readers, Charest is the big draw here, and his clean lines, carefully drawn textures, and painted pages touch on and incorporate all the different aesthetics seen thus far in the Jodoverse. Charest retains a bit of stylization, though, and his images never quite reach a photorealistic level. Instead, his textures are overly smooth or overly coarse, beaming back rays of light in this liminal state that’s not quite dry and not quite wet, not quite silky and not quite rough. Charest’s lines are thin and precise; his static images feel effortless, but this control gives the sequence a stilted, stiff feeling. Most readily apparent in the scenes from other Metabarons books that Charest redraws here, Charest’s acting lacks the mania and the melodrama of some of those other books. And yet, at the level of the individual image, his acting is compelling—nuanced, subtle, and striking. More than anything, this is the greatest difference between Charest’s figures and Janjetov’s. Like his work in Before The Incal, Janjetov largely seeks to emulate Moebius, though his attempts always come up short. His lines lack the necessary detail, and his colors are too bland, glossy, and crude. So there is a striking difference in the look and the feel of his sequences, but more than that, they feel bereft of any dramatic weight. Charest employs a wide emotional range, whereas Janjetov operates at one monotonous tenor: rage. His Metabaron is always agitated, his eyebrows always pronounced, his face always twisted into a scowl.
It should be noted that Weapons Of The Metabaron features some of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s flimsiest writing in the meta-series. Its ultimately inconsequential climax is marred by some of the Chilean writer’s most weak-willed attempts at intellectual depth, and its truncated pace and overly complicated plot make it difficult to even track the thin story. But amazingly, the greatest frustration is still found in those disappointing substitution of Janjetov for Charest. [Shea Hennum]
The rise of the internet and its resultant lowering the barriers to entry is one of the best things to happen to the comics industry. Independently published comics released online allows creators to experiment with the medium, as it greatly reduces extraneous needs that come with traditional publishing—all online publishers need is someone who can write and someone who can draw in order to produce content. Vengeful Ghost is one of many small, truly independent groups just starting out in the industry, now putting content up for free online. Writer Parker Hicks is at the center of the company, but he’s surrounded himself with a group of talent that’s pleasantly surprising in both depth and breadth. There are some familiar names, like Olivia Stephens (whose webcomic Alone was reviewed earlier this year) and Kendra Wells, a regular contributor at The Nib. There are also new names—both in editorial and art positions—working with Hicks on one of several stories.
Vengeful Ghost has an interesting business model: each book is published for free on its website, but is also for sale digitally and as a physical copy. It’s a great way to drum up interest and gauge what’s working on the fly, while still providing revenue. As November 2016, two comics are posted in complete form and for sale: Thursday Night and The Coriolis Effect. Both are shorter than an average comic at 15 pages each, but they manage to do a lot in those pages. Even more importantly, they’re great examples of how to write short comics with a satisfying conclusion that’s open-ended enough to pick up in a new issue later. Both are published in black and white.
Thursday Night, written by Hicks and illustrated by Stephens, is in line with Alone; fans of Stephens’ webcomic will enjoy it, and vice versa. The story focuses on a married interracial couple; the wife is a doctor who is concerned that her distant veteran husband is lying to her. It’s a beautiful and deeply intimate comic, cathartic and soft without losing impact or honesty—clearly a particular skill of Stephens.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, The Coriolis Effect is a story of childhood and peer pressure in the not too distant future, when humans are living at least partially on space stations. Hicks is at the helm again, and Wells is a perfect fit for the story. Stephens’ skill with intimate moments creates a sense of emotion through ambiance, but Wells excels with expressions and physical humor. Giving her a script that focuses on the ways girls harass each other into social compliance is brilliant, showcasing both Wells and Hicks in the best light.
Vengeful Ghost recently started publishing it third comic, Pay To Win, with art by MC Wolfman. It’s well worth keeping an eye on what this publisher puts out. [Caitlin Rosberg]