Friday, June 03, 2016

Bullets: Solicitations, Previews, a New Newsletter, and Much More!

There have been some noteworthy news items over the last couple weeks, and we begin our MASSIVE summary with quite a bit about the next series from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, Kill or Be Killed!



KOBK #1 in August Solicitations.  On May 17th, Image Comics released its August solicitations:  Comic Book Resources has the full list, and on his blog Sean Phillips reposted all his projects -- including a Criminal trade, which we'll mention again below. 

Along with the debut of Jonathan Hickman's The Black Monday Murders, Kill Or Be Killed #1 is listed as a "Gem of the Month."
KILL OR BE KILLED #1 - GEM OF THE MONTH
STORY: ED BRUBAKER
ART: SEAN PHILLIPS & ELIZABETH BREITWEISER
COVER: SEAN PHILLIPS
AUGUST 3 / 40 PAGES / FC / M / $3.99
The bestselling team of ED BRUBAKER and SEAN PHILLIPS (THE FADE OUT, CRIMINAL, FATALE) launch their new monthly series: KILL OR BE KILLED, the twisted story of a young man who is forced to kill bad people, and how he struggles to keep his secret as it slowly ruins his life and the lives of his friends and loved ones. Both a thriller and a deconstruction of vigilantism, KILL OR BE KILLED is unlike anything BRUBAKER & PHILLIPS have ever done.

Via Twitter, Brubaker relays that he believes the $3.99 cover price will just be for oversized issues, and we can't wait for this series' 40-page debut.


KOBK "Trailer" in Image+ #2.  Last Wednesday saw the release of issue #2 of Image+, a monthly magazine highlighting upcoming projects from the creator-centric publishing company.  Free with each $3.99 issue of Previews -- or sold separately for $1.99 -- the magazine is interesting in its own right, with interviews, previews, and an original story from The Walking Dead, serialized across the first 12 issues in four-page installments.


The first issue featured Snotgirl from Bryan Lee O'Malley, and this month, the cover features Kill Or Be Killed.  Inside we find a two-page interview with the creators -- Brubaker, Phillips, and colorist Bettie Breitweiser -- and what appears to be the "trailer" for the series.  At six pages, it's the longest such preview for one of their works, and rather than a montage of scenes we see a single, violent vignette that still doesn't reveal anything about why and how our protagonist is forced to kill but permitted to choose his victims.


More KOBK Info and Previews in the Brand New Brubaker Newsletter.  Image's print magazine isn't the only new source of info, as Ed Brubaker has recently announced the launch of an email newsletter, to be sent out about once or twice a month.  Named "Notes from the Basement" after Brubaker's company Basement Gang Inc., a letter from Brubaker's desk will be sent out about once or twice a month.  Fans can subscribe here; the first newsletter came out Thursday afternoon, and those who missed it can find the archived copy online.

The newsletter includes a quick recommendation (mentioned further down) and a brief comment on superhero books -- prompted by the latest Captain America controversy and the blowback that Brubaker received despite his having wrapped up his Marvel work in 2012 -- but the book focuses on Kill Or Be Killed.

Fans will be particularly interested in learning that the six-page "trailer" is really the opening scene from the book, with a tweak to page #6, suggested by Phillips.  The newsletter includes the same sixth page as it will appear in the book plus another two pages -- all with the additional art uncolored, and with the story's premise still very much a mystery.

(In a quick addendum, Ed Brubaker mentions that this additional artwork should NOT be reprinted without his permission.)

Explaining that the "trailer" is really the opening scene, Brubaker's newsletter sheds light on something Phillips said in the Image+ interview:
"All the creator-owned books Ed and I have done together have employed a three-tier grid.  Originally this was because we'd just come off of Sleeper and I wanted to try something totally different to the wild layouts that book had, and also to make it as easy as possible for our readers, some of whom might be new to comics to follow the story.  Comics can be hard to read for new readers and we always hoped our crime comics might attract crime fiction lovers new to comics.
"Now though, the three-tier grid has become one of the things that go into making our books look distinct, so I'm in no hurry to drop it.  With KILL OR BE KILLED, I've kept the grid but changed other things.  Now all the pages have full bleed with thinner, white gutters.  I thought this might help the pages feel more claustrophobic and chaotic, but still be easy to read.  I'm much more interested in telling the story than showing off how well I can draw an elbow, so as usual, the captions and speech balloons all start in the top left of the panel and never get in the way of the action.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
You can easily see what he means with the images below, spanning Brubaker and Phillips' career.  Left to right, we have Sleeper #1 page 1 (2003), The Fade Out #1 page 3 (2014), and Kill Or Be Killed #1, pg 3 (2016) -- and you should be able to open the full-size version of the image.



Sleeper's layout tended to have panels all over the place -- though with text generally laid out logically for Western readers, going from the top left to the bottom right -- all on top of a single splash-page image that anchored the scene.

The Fade Out carried on the layout that dominated all but the rarest of pages in Criminal, Incognito, and Fatale: a three-row grid that is usually bordered by white.

Compared side-by-side, Kill Or Be Killed is obviously structured on the same three-row framework, but the artwork escapes the frame, even intruding into other panels, as in the bottom right.  My initial impression was just what Phillips intended: the scene feels "claustrophobic and chaotic."

This variation on the team's familiar styles is another reason I can hardly wait for this new book -- and fans should definitely subscribe to Brubaker's free newsletter.


• Criminal One-Shots Collected, Solicited for September.  The other major solicitation that came out in May was for the seventh trade paperback collection for Criminal, collecting the two incredible one-shots that have been released over the last two years.


CRIMINAL, VOL. 7: WRONG TIME, WRONG PLACE TP
STORY: ED BRUBAKER
ART / COVER: SEAN PHILLIPS
SEPTEMBER 7 / 112 PAGES / FC / M / $14.99
ADVANCE SOLICIT
BRUBAKER and PHILLIPS return to their multiple award-winning series for two interlinked tales of the Lawless family in the 1970s. Teeg Lawless is trapped behind bars with a price on his head, doing anything he can to survive, while Tracy Lawless celebrates his twelfth birthday riding shotgun on a mission of death.
Collects CRIMINAL: SPECIAL EDITION and CRIMINAL: 10th ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL
The two one-shots commemorated two very special events -- the series' republication through Image and its tenth anniversary -- and there isn't an obvious third milestone for another one-shot.  This solicitation seems to confirm that the two issues comprise a single work:  there probably won't be a third issue to round out a trilogy.

(Personally, I thought there was an obvious premise for a third one-shot, featuring another Lawless and a pastiche of another comics genre from the late 1970s:  Tracy's younger brother Ricky could have been reading a sci-fi story from a book resembling Heavy Metal or 2000 AD, the latter of which introduced Judge Dredd in 1977.  We still haven't seen much of Ricky, except in flashback in the "Lawless" arc.)

As one can see from the collage we created for the six Image reprints, the covers tend to alternate between a bluish tint and a reddish tint, so we wonder if this purple cover will remain the final version:  it wouldn't be the first time the cover art changed, and, at any rate, the cover probably needs a comma in its title.

I'm somewhat surprised by the listed price for this collection, since the standard version for each of the two "floppy" issues was only $4.99, but those extra-sized issues might have been sold at a bargain price relative to the amount of content.

Comparing apples to apples -- specifically, the solicited page count for each volume -- we find that this upcoming volume is almost as long as any other volume, and each had been solicited with the same cover price of $14.99.

  1. 144 pages for Coward
  2. 144 pages for Lawless
  3. 128 pages for The Dead and the Dying
  4. 128 pages for Bad Night
  5. 144 pages for The Sinners
  6. 120 pages for The Last of the Innocent
  7. 112 pages for Wrong Time, Wrong Place

Evidently, the two recent one-shots together comprise just eight fewer pages than the 4-issue arc "The Last of the Innocent" and just 16 fewer pages than either "Bad Night" or the three intersecting one-shots in "The Dead and the Dying."

Those one-shots are practically novellas.


Older Collections Re-offered in August Solicits.  In Sean Phillips' summary post on the August solicitations, we see that Image Comics is making a lot more available again.  Specifically, they're bringing back all the creator-owned Brubaker/Phillips projects that have been published or republished by Image -- at least, in one format or another.

  • Scene of the Crime HC, with Michael Lark
  • Criminal Vol. 1-6 TP
  • Fatale Vol. 1-5 TP
  • The Fade Out Vol. 1-3 TP

We're still waiting for the eventual republication of Incognito, which was originally produced by Marvel's Icon imprint and has since gone out of print.  At one point, the reprints were planned for 2015, but we're still waiting for them to be formally solicited.


More Reviews of the Deadly Hands Special. The story will soon be collected along with its "Savage Sword" predecessor, but we're still catching a few online articles about the Criminal 10th Anniversary Special, and they're worth passing along.

First up is an essay from our friend Alan David Doane, this blog's founder and longtime contributor.  His interest in comics has since waned, but he happened upon a copy of the "Deadly Hands" issue, and last month he posted a review at Trouble With Comics.  He praises the book as "a well-deserved victory lap for one of the best creative collaborations in comics," and he gives readers a bit of the inside story behind the series' debut in 2006, relaying that he helped Brubaker and Phillips "create a faux-pirate preview of Criminal that we uploaded to then-popular sites where comic books were available for illicit download (now it can be told!)."

What may be even more interesting than that bit of the history of Criminal is the historical context of the "Deadly Hands" issue, and for that we turn to an essay at HiLobrow on the book's "Lost & Found Worlds," including the kung-fu comics of the 1970's and the cluttered bookstores where they could be found.  Adam McGovern describes some of the books that the one-shots emulate, and he includes a couple interesting images.

Reviewing the book, McGovern compares the comic-within-a-comic to Watchmen's "Tales of the Black Freighter," and he writes about how Criminal comments on the "counterpoint between the squalid escapism of the ’70s and the real-life decline beyond it."

Both essays are worth a look.


Gotham Central in a Massive Omnibus. We almost missed this entirely, but on May 4th, DC Comics republished all 40 issues in a single hardcover omnibus, ten years after the series concluded.


Five trade paperbacks were originally released collecting 33 of the series' 40 issues.  Between 2008 and 2011, the entire series was collected in four hardcovers which were themselves reissued in paperback.

Going by Amazon's listings for the books, these four comprehensive hardcovers -- Books One through Four -- actually have more pages than the omnibus, a total of 976 pages compared to 957 pages.  There was never any indication that the omnibus contained bonus content that would make it worth double- (or triple-) dipping, but a fellow Twitter user confirmed for us that the book didn't have many extras, just some head sketches and a couple of small character sketches.

(Thanks a million, Fee McBee!)

Also on Twitter, Ed Brubaker relays that DC Comics did not consult him on the collection, as indicated by the his "strange bio," and this follows their usual M.O., as Brubaker doesn't recall ever being consulted on DC collections, presumably including the Sleeper omnibus published through the WildStorm imprint.

Running from 2002 to 2006, the award-winning book was created by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, and Scene of the Crime collaborator Michael Lark.  Other artists on the book included Stefano Gaudiano, Kano, and -- as an occasional cover artist -- Sean Phillips.

The series focused on Gotham City's Major Crimes Unit as it struggled to deal with the city's psychopaths and supervillians, resenting having to work in the shadow of the city's masked vigilantes.  Because Commissioner Gordon and Detective Bullock were then off the force, the reader could not be assured that even main characters would survive, and "Soft Targets" was a particularly suspenseful story -- and one of the all-time great Joker stories, anticipating Nolan's The Dark Knight by about five years.

The Gotham Central omnibus is DEFINITELY worth checking out if you're not already familiar with the book.


The Indiscretions of Gerald Ford. The latest issue of Velvet was released a couple weeks ago, and we were surprised to see the book attributing some quite scandalous behavior to then-Vice President Gerald Ford. 

While I have distrust and even contempt for politicians in general, I'm ambivalent about works of fiction that impugn the character of real-life individuals:  they are our fellow human beings, after all, and I have a similarly negative reaction to the insinuation, in Alan Moore's Watchmen, that Nixon killed JFK (if only in an alternate timeline) as I did to Trump's recent insinuations regarding Ted Cruz's father.  Beyond the extremely serious accusation of murder, such myth-making detracts from the known facts that point quite persuasively to Kennedy's being shot by a pro-Castro Communist.

But knowing how well researched The Fade Out was, and curious about what informed this particular wrinkle in Velvet, I did some very brief research to find a 2013 article from the (UK) Daily Mail, reporting allegations that "Kennedy and Ford both had affairs with the same East German female 'spy.'"

Citing a Politico story, the article summarizes the allegations of Robert Gene Baker, formerly a close aide to LBJ who was then arrested for theft and tax evasion in 1967.  Baker claims that Ellen Rometsch, the wife of a West German army officer, had affairs with President Kennedy and then-Congressman Ford; FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover supposedly had recordings of Ford's affair and used them as leverage to get inside information about the Warren Commission, on which Ford served.  Rometsch had been sent to America by Communists in East Berlin, and then-Attorney General Bobby Kennedy eventually had her deported.

Sometimes truth -- or at least alleged truth -- is stranger than fiction.


Maniac Cop, Written by Ed Brubaker, To Begin Filming.  Almost exactly two years ago, we reported that Brubaker is writing the screenplay for Maniac Cop, a 1988 cult thriller about an urban serial killer posing as a police officer.  The film's director was supposed to be announced at Cannes that year, but the news was delayed to last fall, with /Film reporting that the director will be John Hyams.  The director of two Universal Soldier films, Hyams calls Brubaker's script "phenomenal."

Thanks to Brubaker's Twitter feed, we see that a bit more information has come out in May.

In a news digest published on May 3rd, Screen Daily reports that the film's new script is co-written by Brubaker and Hyams, and the fill is "due to shoot in August."  On May 16th, Variety subsequently reported that the film is the first project for a multi-year first look deal with producer Nicolas Winding Refn's company Space Rocket.  The more interesting news is that the film "will shoot in Los Angeles this summer," and it's described as "the first in a trilogy."

We'll pass along more news as we find it.


New Online Store for Sean Phillips.  Also on Twitter, Sean Phillips recently announced that he's opened a Big Cartel store to replace his now-closed store on Amazon.

The store can be found here, at bigcartel.com, listing prices in British currency. While its current inventory features books that many fans may already have, Phillips assures readers that more books will be added soon.


Shane Black and The Nice Guys. Briefly returning to his newsletter, we find that Ed Brubaker strongly recommends the new Shane Black film, The Nice Guys.  He "f---ing loved it" as a movie with more laughs and more heart than Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.


Fans of Shane Black's films might be interested in the "somewhat brief history" of his buddy movies, published at Devin Faraci's Birth.Movies.Death.

And fans of Hard Case Crime should know that the excellent imprint has published the film's novelization, written by publisher Charles Ardai and with a cover that we're reposting above.

I read the book almost as soon as it came out, and I caught the movie over Memorial Day weekend, and I too recommend both quite highly:  people should catch one or the other, preferably both.
Fans of Brubaker and Phillips might find a couple of hooks in the comedy's premise:  The Fade Out focused on corruption in Hollywood while the Criminal one-shots were set in the seedy Seventies, and this buddy comedy and detective story combines the settings of both.


The Fix is In and VERY Funny.  Finally, on Twitter, Brubaker strongly recommends Nick Spencer's new crime comic, "The Fix," and we can tell you the book's definitely worth a look.

In April, I had caught CBR's three-page preview for issue #1, for which Bleeding Cool subsequently posted an uncensored and extended version, but I didn't remember to pick up the book.  I've since caught up on the first two issues, and I loved it.

The description for the first issue sums up the book -- a crime comic with a wicked sense of humor -- and compares it to our favorite comic.
From the creators of The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, comes a story of the crooked cops, scheming mobsters, and corrupt politicians that run things—and the sex toy that can bring them all down. Oh, and the hero is a drug-sniffing beagle named Pretzels. Bad people do bad things to each other in this frenetic, outrageous, sometimes off-putting new caper! If you liked classic crime comics like CRIMINAL and 100 Bullets we apologize in advance for letting you down!
In the series' announcement, artist Steve Lieber describes the book as "a truly funny story about truly awful people" -- it's intended to be "an endlessly surprising tale full of shining moments of self-centered garbage humanity."

With Chew about to start its last arc and complete its thoroughly entertaining 60-issue run, we've needed another darkly comic crime book, and The Fix fits the bill, with hilarious scenes that I have to share with my wife, whether or not she wants to hear it.



Image Comics recently announced that the first two issues continue to go back to print, and the third printing for the debut issue features a photo of a real dog on its cover, shown above.

The third printing of The Fix #1, the second printing of The Fix #2, and the first printing of The Fix #3 are all scheduled to arrive in stores this Wednesday, June 8th, providing the perfect opportunity to catch up.

The book is already on our pull list, and it might help readers get through the next two months as we wait to Kill Or Be Killed.

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Monday, May 16, 2016

Improving Upon Perfection: Darwyn Cooke, 1962-2016.

We were -- I was -- truly heartbroken to read about Darwyn Cooke's illness and passing this weekend.  On Friday morning, a message from Darwyn's wife Marsha was posted at Almost Darwyn Cooke's Blog, announcing that the comic writer and artist was fighting an aggressive form of cancer and receiving "palliative care," a term that often implies that the patient is only being made comfortable.  Early Saturday morning, a few sites reported his passing, and midday the semi-official blog announced that he lost his battle with cancer early that morning, "surrounded by friends and family at his home in Florida."


Darwyn Cooke was a singular talent, making his often deceptively simple line-work look effortless in the service of stories, written by himself and by others, that often become definitive takes on well-known characters.  His work was beloved by fans and other comic creators alike, but he seemed to inspire fewer followers than an Alan Moore or a Jim Lee, and that may be because his work cut against the grain of his post-modern contemporaries:  where most writers deconstructed the classics, he challenged the iconoclasts by distilling the same characters to their essence, and where many artists drew work that was often garish, his artwork struck the reader as immediately beautiful but never simplistic or clichéd.

Fans of Brubaker and Phillips -- and of crime comics in general -- should be quite familiar with Cooke's work, as it's been mentioned more than once on this blog.  His collaboration with Ed Brubaker on Catwoman redefined the character for today, one of his many striking pieces of cover art was a rare "ghost variant" for Fatale #15, and we believe his four comic adaptations of Richard Stark's Parker stand alongside Criminal as the best crime comics ever produced and excellent gateways between crime fiction and the medium of comics.

There have been numerous tributes to the man posted in the last 72 hours or so, including official press releases from his publishers at DC and IDW, and we would be remiss not to mention a few that Brubaker highlighted in his Twitter feed.
  • At PaperFilms -- the site for the collaborative projects of Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, and others -- Patrick Wedge posted a moving four-page story that Cooke contributed to the short-lived Creator Owned Heroes title.
  • Comics Reported reposted a 2009 interview with Cooke and Brubaker in anticipation of the first Parker adaptation -- which we mentioned here way back when -- along with more than 100 examples of Cooke's brilliance.
  • Collaborator with both Cooke and Brubaker, Cameron Stewart posted a brief but very personal tribute via Twitter.
And Ed Brubaker's own tweets have been quite moving as well, with anecdotes told across several posts.  He writes, "We hadn't been close in years, but his loss hurts more than I expected it would. Our moment in time together changed my life." 

He elaborates, "One of the best things I ever did was convince Darwyn Cooke to revamp Catwoman with me. For about a year we were making magic together."

In mentioning just one project, Brubaker crystalizes what made Darwyn Cooke so great, whether he was tackling The Spirit or Jonah Hex, Catwoman or Parker, the Watchmen prequels or the Silver Age of the DC pantheon.
Now I'm going to read his Parker books again and appreciate what an amazing job he did, taking something perfect and making it even better.
Brubaker has finally retired his Twitter icon image of Jim Rockford for the first real look at Parker from The Hunter.

--

I met Darwyn Cooke at Dragon*Con in Atlanta, where he was wearing a Winnie the Pooh costume, of all things.  One fan wanted a picture with him and asked him to lower his arms to show "Pooh" on the shirt, as if it wasn't obvious what he was wearing.  He signed my copy of The Hunter and drew me a sketch of Parker, shown above, a kind of complement to my sketch of Tracy Lawless from Sean Phillips.

He seemed like a very cool dude, even if it sounds like he wasn't always the easiest guy to work with.

And he died way too young.

--

The announcement mentions that donations can be made to the Canadian Cancer Society (where there is a goal to raise $4,295 in his name) and to the Hero Initiative which helps comic creators in need.

Brubaker recommends buying work from Cooke, "one of the best cartoonists ever" -- and he suggests, the more expensive, the better.  Original artwork is still available from his art dealer, and we notice that DC's Future Quest #1 is in stores this week, with a five-page preview already online: Cooke was responsible for the new character designs for the super-group of heroes from the Hanna-Barbara archives.

At the 2015 WonderCon, as covered in a report by Comic Book Resources, Cooke mentioned plans to return to Parker in 2016, to do as many more volumes as he could and end on Butcher's Moon, the series' masterpiece.  As we mentioned at the time, a mini-series called Revengeance was announced in January, 2015; Cooke's first fully creator-owned work was to be released that June, but the book was never solicited or evidently published.

Work will apparently be left unfinished, but what has already been published will be treasured by readers for years to come.

He will be greatly missed.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

ANNOUNCING THE UNDERTOW PODCAST!

We're thrilled to announce the debut of The Undertow Podcast, an unofficial, fan-created program focusing on creator-owned comics and especially the works of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.


Video producer Robert Watson created and produces the show, and he invited me to co-host: working on the show has been a blast, we think listeners will really dig what we're doing, and we hope you join the conversation.

Our first episode focuses on the Criminal 10th Anniversary Special with a brief look at Velvet #14, aND the show includes a news digest, recommendations, and more.

The Undertow Podcast is available on iTunes and at Podbean, and we can be reached by email and Twitter.  

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Bullets: New Velvet, Phono+Graphic in Toronto, and More.

Velvet #14 in Stores Today!  Ed Brubaker's other creator-owned series -- the Cold War espionage thriller with art from Steve Epting -- is hopefully getting back on schedule just as the third story arc builds to its climax.  Part Four of "The Man Who Stole the World" is in stores today, and late yesterday Image Comics posted a three-page preview, which people might find easier to read at Comic Book Resources, where the preview was reposted.



More Coverage for Criminal -- and The Fade Out.  Over the last couple weeks, we've seen a good bit of press surrounding the publication of the Criminal 10th Anniversary Special, often through retweets by Brubaker and Phillips.
  • Geeks World Wide published a brief ten-question interview with Ed Brubaker.
  • The Outhousers posted a good-sized review of the issue, describing it as a tragic and heart-wrenching tale from long-established "masters of crime noir comics."
  • At the (UK) Guardian, the one-shot is included in this month's brief list of the "very best in hand-drawn entertainment."  Graeme Virtue writes that the issue shows "a grim revenge quest along lonesome desert highways with pages from Fang’s authentically 70s adventures, a riot of street slang, generous flares and thought bubbles bursting with heroic angst."
We actually didn't find the GWW piece to be the most informative interview we've read, but it reminds us to tell readers that they should buy the standard version of the "Deadly Hands" one-shot, even along with the magazine variant.

Why?  The standard version has an exclusive essay by Brubaker looking back on the series' origins, with information about its pitch that we haven't seen anywhere else.  It's a great, almost personal note to the fans who have supported his work over the years.

And, it's not recent and not closely tied to Criminal, but we just saw that, back in November, the British genre magazine Tripwire published a list of Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin's all-time favorite comics, and alongside Watchmen and Hellblazer and Judge Dredd, we find The Fade Out

We previously mentioned that Rankin wrote the introduction to the first trade collection for "The Sinners." Here, he writes, "I could have gone for Criminal or Fatale," but he went with the period piece even before it wrapped up, praising it for being "a hell of a ride."

Sean Phillips' Album Art Exhibition at TCAF Next Month!  Coinciding with last year's Lakes International Art Festival, Sean Phillips curated an art exhibition in Kendal, England:  Phono+Graphic, showcasing album covers created by comic artists.  As the exhibition concluded, we noted Phillips' hint that it might be touring other venues, and at his blog he recently announced its scheduled appearance in Toronto.



Coinciding with the Toronto Comics Art Festival, the Phono+Graphic exhibition will be at the Nuvango Gallery May 12-25, with a reception on the night of May 14th.  As we reported earlier this month, Sean Phillips is attending TCAF, which runs May 14-15 and is generally free to the public -- and we believe this is the first time the exhibition is making an appearance on this side of the Atlantic.

Michelle McNamara, R.I.P.  Last Friday, April 22nd, news broke of the death of Michelle McNamara, true-crime writer, wife, and mother of a young daughter.

(Her husband Patton Oswalt may be familiar to readers beyond his stand-up comedy:  he wrote the essay for Blast of Silence in 2007's Criminal #4, and he wrote the intro to the first trade collection of "The Last of the Innocent.")

Ed Brubaker has been re-tweeting links to a few articles online, by and about McNamara:  there are very personal memorial essays by Los Angeles Magazine's editor Mary Melton and true-crime journalist and producer Bill Jensen, and there's the writer's first feature for Los Angeles magazine, about a California serial killer from forty years back, still at-large.

We only learned about the writer with the news of her passing, but our thoughts and prayers go out to her family.

Houston Bookstore, Flooded and Needing Sales.  Finally, Ed Brubaker has forwarded a story from the Houston Chronicle, about a local bookstore that has suffered damage from the recent, devastating flooding in the area.  Murder By The Book is an independent store specializing in mystery, crime, and fantasy, and its owner is hoping an influx of online sales could help mitigate the losses from missed sales and cancelled events.

Owner McKenna Jordan is asking supporters to buy a book or gift card, and gift cards are discounted through the end of the month.  Purchases can be made at the store's website, MurderBooks.com.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Bullets: CRIMINAL Tomorrow, Eisner Nods for THE FADE OUT, and Work Begins on KILL OR BE KILLED!

We begin with four of our favorite words in the English language: new Criminal this week!

Criminal Tenth Anniversary Special, In Stores Tomorrow!  Our favorite series by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips returns with an over-sized one-shot, we see that Image Comics just posted a five-page preview of the issue, and Brubaker tells readers that the 56-page comic is a "full novella."

(UPDATE: The same preview at Comic Book Resources might be easier to read.)

Things had been pretty quiet since "The Last of the Innocent" wrapped in 2011, but that changed last year with the "Savage Sword" one-shot commemorating the series' returning to print under the Image banner.  This new one-shot is a kind of companion piece, once again focusing on the Lawless family's criminal exploits during the 1970's.  As before, there's a comic within the comic, and the issue's magazine-sized variant once again emulates that fictitious work of literature, in what Brubaker recently described as a "meta-variant."

Last year, the "Savage Sword of Criminal" featured Zangar the Valandrian.

This year, the "Deadly Hands of Criminal" features the astounding new character find of 2016, Fang the Kung-fu Werewolf!


Although we mentioned the Final Order Cutoff date for the book, we failed to emphasize why that date was particularly important:  late last month, Bleeding Cool reported a bookkeeping issue with Diamond distributors, one which resulted in the entire advance order being lost and the book subsequently having significantly more advance reorders than expected.  On Twitter, Brubaker predicts that the issue might quickly become hard to find especially since a one-shot is a hard sell.

More than that, retailers tend to be less likely to shelve the over-sized magazine variant, and this variant will almost certainly be too cost-intensive for more than a single printing.

In short, get it while you can!

The book was delayed one week from its solicited April 13th release, but that might be fortuitous:  we're not one to fixate on stoner culture, but it's a happy accident that this book and its kung-fu werewolf are reaching stores on 4/20.

...and it's not the only book that seems just perfect for the unofficial holiday for stoners.  Three of my all-time favorite books are all coming out tomorrow, and they're all appropriately trippy.
  • Brubaker and Phillips have the Criminal 10th Anniversary Special, with the 70's kung-fu comic.
  • Layman and Guillory are concluding their trilogy of Chew one-shots featuring their cyborg luchador rooster (and secret agent), Demon Chicken Poyo!  Image Comics has a four-page preview up online. (So does CBR, possibly easier to read.)
  • And Tom Scioli with John Barber are releasing the penultimate chapter of the brilliant and bonkers Transformers vs GI Joe, which has been more fun than any licensed comic has any right to be. IDW has provided a five-page preview to Comics Alliance.

Go by your local retailer and grab a copy of each.  Sit back, take 'er easy, and enjoy -- and you can thank us later.

Eisner Nominations for The Fade Out, Brubaker, and Breitweiser!  It's breaking news, trumped only by a new Brubaker/Phillips comic, but the 2016 Eisner nominations were announced today, and once again we find nods for the pair's most recent collaboration along with some of the creative talents behind the series.
  • Best Limited Series: The Fade Out, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Image)
  • Best Writer: Ed Brubaker, The Fade Out, Velvet, Criminal Special Edition (Image)
  • Best Coloring: Elizabeth Breitwiser, The Fade Out, Criminal Magazine, Outcast, Velvet (Image)
The awards will be announced on Friday night, July 22nd, at Comic-Con International in San Diego -- and in the meantime, Image Comics just announced a digital sale for their Eisner nominees.  You can get all three trades of The Fade Out for less than $15 -- or all twelve issues for less than $12 -- and Velvet is similarly on sale with $4.99 collections and $0.99 single issues.

We extend hearty congratulations to Ed, Sean, Bettie, and everyone who was nominated.

A Second Volume of Image Firsts.  Along with the release of last year's Criminal one-shot, we noted the publication of the first Image Firsts Compendium. The trade paperback included NINE first issues, including The Fade Out #1, all for the low price of $5.99, and we can confirm that the Image Firsts Compendium Volume Two was released just last week.


It's a great introduction to just a few of the off-beat creator-owned titles that Image is producing.

Kill or Be Killed, Now In Progress.  Finally, we have an update on Brubaker and Phillips' newest project, the ongoing series announced two weeks ago at the Image Expo.  I would say that we have more information, but I suspect that the creators are holding a lot back:  after the initial announcement, Brubaker tweeted that the book is "one of those simple concepts that's actually a bit hard to describe without spoiling all the twists of the first issue."

Or as he intimated prior to the Image Expo, it's "That thing when you're doing press for your upcoming book and realize anything you say will spoil the first issue, so you go vague."

So, there's no new info, just an update.

Sean Phillips has posted a few things on Twitter, including what appears to be the cover art for the first issue, very similar to the promo image, but in a portrait layout.

Phillips has made himself a sketch book for the project, he's already working on layouts, and he began shooting reference photos last week.


I think we can safely say that the cover won't have the only firearm in the book.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2016

KILL OR BE KILLED: Announced Today, Coming This Summer!

As we reported earlier, Ed Brubaker has been planning big news at this year's Image Expo in Seattle, and the announcement was made earlier this afternoonKill Or Be Killed, his next project with Sean Phillips and Bettie Breitweiser, coming this summer.


In a press release on its official site, Image Comics has summarized all the new projects and provided promo images, including the one shown above.
KILL OR BE KILLED by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser 
Bestselling writer Ed Brubaker (THE FADE OUT, FATALE), artist Sean Phillips (THE FADE OUT, FATALE), and colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser (THE FADE OUT, FATALE, OUTCAST BY KIRKMAN & AZACETA) reunite for KILL OR BE KILLED, the ultimate pulp crime comic.
KILL OR BE KILLED is the story of a troubled young man who is compelled to kill bad people, and how he struggles to keep his secret, as it slowly begins to ruin his life and the lives of his friends and loved ones.
Both a thriller and a deconstruction of vigilantism, KILL OR BE KILLED is unlike anything Brubaker and Phillips have done together in their long partnership.
KILL OR BE KILLED is set to launch in Summer 2016.
Comics news sites covered the event, providing other details.
  • Comic Book Resources posted an lengthy, initial article with updates in real time, and they followed up with a brief post focusing on Kill Or Be Killed; in both, they reported that the book is an ongoing series affording a return to serialized, monthly comics.
  • Bleeding Cool notes that the book is evidently about the ripple effects of the actions taken by the protagonist, a vigilante who kills bad guys.
  • Comics Alliance provides the longest list of the title's influences, saying that the book is described as "Breaking Bad meets Death Wish," and it's also influenced by the Spider-Man comics of the Seventies and Ed Brubaker's own anger at the troubled present day.
  • In just the last few minutes, we've noticed a brief, bulleted report from The Outhousers, calling the title "a deconstruction of vigilantism" which debuts in August with the goal of "50 issues at least."
The Punisher has also been mentioned as an influence, and Ed Brubaker apparently describes the book as "almost a soap opera about murder."

[UPDATE, 4/7:  Ed Brubaker responded by Twitter to offer a minor correction, that "the Punisher, nor any other vigilante hero type was not an influence. If anything, the opposite."  We gather that's where the "deconstruction of vigilantism" comes in.]

And, courtesy the recent output of Image Comics' Twitter feed, we see that USA Today has the "exclusive" scoop on the series.  The story confirms that the title is an ongoing monthly, and the main character is evidently a good guy coerced to do terrible things, an introverted NYU grad student in his late twenties who is "forced to don a mask and kill one bad person every month," though a victim of his own choosing.

I'd say more from the USA Today story, but I'll invoke the cliché to encourage everyone to "read the whole thing."

The only other thing I'll add for now is our noting something new to the credits listed in that promo image, absent from the announcement and indeed the front covers for The Fade Out: alongside Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is Elizabeth Breitweiser.

The CBR piece notes Brubaker's praise for the colorist: '"I think she's one of the two or three best colorists in comics. She jumped on to help us with 'Fatale,' and almost immediately meshed with Sean. We basically said, 'Be our colorist forever.' She's pretty much a full-time member of our team now."

We're glad to see her officially join the team and get more credit for the often astounding work that she does.

As always, we'll post more information as we find it -- and as we look forward to Kill Or Be Killed.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Bullets: The Calm Before the Storm.

We've finally wrapped up our extended look at The Fade Out, and none too soon:  April promises to be an exciting month for fans Brubaker and Phillips. 

Ed Brubaker will apparently announce their next project tomorrow at the 2016 Image Expo in Seattle.

...on a related note, Brubaker has just tweeted that copies of the magazine variant for last year's Criminal Special Edition will be available at the Image booth at the Emerald City Comic Con, this weekend in Seattle.


Later this month, the next one-shot will be released, the Criminal 10th Anniversary Special, which has its own magazine-sized variant featuring Fang the Kung-Fu Werewolf!

The creators have been releasing a few glimpses of the artwork for this done-in-one story, including the image shown above, a work-in-progress panel of Teeg and Tracy Lawless on the road and possibly on the run.

And, hilariously, Ed Brubaker has shown fans a detail from the one-shot, of a cover to the "Deadly Hands" comic from the 1970's.


We have a few items that we'd like to cover as briefly as we can, as we clear the decks for this busy month.


• A Comprehensive Retrospective. Early last week, David Harper at SKCHD posted an extensive essay called "This Noir Life," looking back at Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' long and successful partnership through DC Comics, Marvel's Icon imprint, and now Image Comics. 

Harper talks with Brubaker about the origins of what Harper praises as "the finest and most consistent creative partnership in modern comics," and the wide-ranging discussion is worth reading by everyone.  Newer fans can learn about what books they need to hunt down, long-time fans can recommend the essay to friends to expose them to Brubaker and Phillips, and there are insights that even I didn't know.

For instance, I learned that Sean Phillips designed Holden Carver even though the character was first drawn by Colin Wilson for Point Blank, the WildStorm comic that led directly to Sleeper.  Proud as he is of the series, Brubaker's not sure that he'll return to the world of Incognito, and he still hasn't met the newest addition to their team, the fantastic colorist Bettie Breitweiser.

I was heartened to see Ed Brubaker acknowledge the fact that, while many of us dig every project they do, we have a special place in our heart for their purest crime comic: "I'm sure a lot of them would be happy to see us put Criminal out every month."

But looking ahead, "Brubaker said their next project 'has an even more complex narrative than The Fade Out did,' before adding, 'but it’s very different.'"

We're looking forward to it.


• Brubaker Interviews, Recently Collected.  Courtesy of Sean Phillips' Twitter feed, we see that the University Press of Mississippi has recently expanded its Conversations with Comic Artists Series to include a book on Ed Brubaker.  The series features an impressive list of artists -- including Walt Disney, Chuck Jones, Will Eisner, Charles M. Schulz, Carl Barks, Alan Moore, and Art Spiegelman -- and it says something that the series now includes Brubaker.

Published in early March and edited by Judson University professor Terrence Wandtke, the 172-page hardcover on Brubaker features "often little-known and hard-to-find interviews, worthwhile conversations in their own right as well as objects of study for both scholars and researchers."

Going by the back cover preview, the cover art was from a portrait of Ed Brubaker by Sean Phillips, which first appeared on the cover of the Comics Journal #263, published in October/November 2004.




• Under the Radar: Sonic Noir by Ed Brubaker. We mentioned everything else that's on the horizon, but we had completely missed a new series from Brubaker, a licensed property for another publisher with art from unlikely collaborator: Sonic the Hedgehog: Noir, from Archie Comics, by Brubaker and Bill Sienkiewicz.

The first issue was evidently released on the first day of this month -- a Friday, oddly enough -- and on the same day Comicosity published just about the only (spoiler-filled) review I could find online, but it is more than enough to pique my interest.
"You will not look at the world in the same way after reading Sonic The Hedgehog: Noir #1. There are life changing experiences in comics, and this is one of them. Brubaker and Sienkiewicz have crafted something that is equally beautiful and horrifying and while I am scared to read the next issue, I can tell you right now, I won’t be able to avoid it. You thought you’d seen noir with The Fade Out or Criminal…they are nothing compared to this epic story."
I'm not sure my local shop ordered any copies of Sonic Noir #1, but I'll be sure to ask them about it.


• Velvet in Recent Solicitations.  In the middle of March, Image Comics released its most recent solicitations, for the month of June.   Our guess is that the books announced at the Image Expo, including the latest Brubaker-Phillips collaboration, will be released no earlier than July.

In the interim, we can expect a few releases of Brubaker's other title Velvet, the creator-owned spy comic with art by Steve Epting.  ComicList's most recent extended forecast has issue #14 out on April 27th, issue #15 out on May 25th, and the third trade paperback advance solicited for July 20th.

Velvet Volume 3, "The Man Who Stole the World," collects issues #11-15 for the discounted price of $14.99.


• Sean Phillips' Art for Arrow Films.  Regular readers will already know that Sean Phillips has created striking artwork for several movies, including six home video releases for the Criterion Collection -- most recently for two films on colonialism by Bruce Beresford -- and the poster for We Gotta Get Out of This Place, a crime thriller that debuted at the 2013 Toronto International Film.

In our post on the Beresford artwork, we linked to Sean's announcement on his blog. There he included preliminary and final artwork for the first of apparently three projects for the British distributor Arrow Films -- artwork for a DVD and Blu-ray release of an old spaghetti western.

Sean has now worked on at least four Arrow projects: we're linking to his blog posts below, where each post features work by the artist.


Phillips also submitted cover artwork for Takashi Miike’s Audition; it was rejected for different artwork, but he hopes it will be used in some other way, and meanwhile he's given fans a look at his submission.



• Sean Phillips' Convention Appearances.  We saw the Sean Phillips was present at the London Super Comic Con in late February, with a few prints from The Fade Out and Fatale, shown below -- and we also saw that Ed Brubaker was at LA's WonderCon just a few weekends back.



Since the LSCC, several more scheduled appearances have already been announced for Phillips, for later this year.
Only the first few guests have been announced for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal, England, October 14th-16th, but we wouldn't be surprised if Sean returns to the festival: he's made appearances there for the last three years, and last year he curated an exhibit of album covers created by comic artists.

• Recommended Reading and Viewing. Finally, we have a short list of online articles and videos that our readers might find worthwhile.

Sean Phillips retweeted a link to an blog post about the disturbing trend of unpaid work in media, with Phillips noting that the phenomenon "applies to illustrators and designers too."  The UK editor-in-chief for the Huffington Post had made the absurd and self-serving argument that paid content is inauthentic, and the essay's writer strongly suggests that artists should never provide others with content at no charge -- at least, not unless it's for charity or they can afford to.

(A commenter to the blog entry pointed to a short video clip of the irascible, often entertaining, and here quite astute writer Harlan Ellison -- NSFW.)

The author of numerous essays in the back of the Brubaker and Phillips' comics, including The Fade Out, Devin Faraci is also editor-in-chief of his own website Birth.Movies.Death.  He's recently written two very interesting pieces, one on the death of Superman as a truly heroic character, and one on the death of Jesus of Nazareth, prompted by the non-believer's visit to the popular holy sites in Jerusalem -- both articles are somewhat frustrating but well worth reading.

Faraci's best article I've seen is probably his defense of George Lucas as an auteur.  His opinion echoes my own in light of the recent Star Wars sequel by J.J. Abrams, that the vision behind the prequel trilogy -- deeply flawed films, apparently based on undercooked scripts -- is still more interesting than the mimicry driving that near pastiche of a sequel.

Fans of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Cimmerian -- and Zangar the Valandrian, the warrior from last year's "Savage Sword of Criminal" -- might be very interested in the article published two weeks ago in Science magazine, about a "colossal" pre-historic Bronze Age battle, the remains of which were recently discovered.  The battle took place along the Tollense River in northern Germany, near the Baltic Sea, and an archaeologist at the dig reports, "They weren't farmer-soldiers who went out every few years to brawl. These are professional fighters."  He doesn't say so, but they seemed much like the fictional Conan.

At the end of last year, on the twentieth anniversary of the film's release, Rolling Stone published an extensive essay on Heat -- my all-time favorite crime movie -- where writer Jennifer Wood presents a first-person recollection by now 73-year-old director Michael Mann.  Among other aspects of the film, he discusses my favorite scene -- the confrontation in the coffee shop where, at the movie's halfway point, Pacino's cop and De Niro's master thief reveal more about themselves to their adversaries than to their partners or lovers.  Mann talks about how the scene was discussed but not rigorously rehearsed, about the characters' motivation for talking with a known enemy, and about the key insight that is learned in that scene which pays off in the climax.

On the subject of thoughtful and extremely well-made heist movies, Ed Brubaker recently highlighted a piece by The A.V. Club on how, through very clever movie-making techniques, director Christopher Nolan hid in plain sight the secret of his 2006 film, The Prestige.

(Both pieces, on Heat and The Prestige, heavily involve SPOILERS, as one might imagine.)

Finally, Brubaker retweeted a short but profound quote from author Salman Rushdie, posted by Jon Winokur.
"What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist."

As cited by Wikiquote, the statement was quoted in a 2004 BBC article, on a subject that remains distressingly current.

I'm sure that these two of my favorite writers would agree on much regarding politics -- perhaps more regarding culture, including Frank Sinatra and the "Great American Songbook" to which both have alluded -- but I find that, here at least, Ed Brubaker shares common ground with the profound (and profoundly funny) Mark Steyn.

On a recent Australian tour, Steyn gave a speech in Melbourne, defending the crucial right to free expression.  On his website, he points out that a slightly edited video of the February 19th talk has been posted online.  At the 19-minute mark, Steyn points out the importance of the seemingly trivial joke.
"A joke is a small thing but a large, profound loss."
We have lost some of the liberty to tell jokes that might cause the wrong people to be offended.  That kind of suppression of speech is what was found in the Soviet Bloc, and it should not be found in the supposedly free West.

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