Review: Return to the Scene of the Crime with Sex Criminals #3

With its front cover opening to a quote from George Washington, Sex Criminals from Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky returns for its third issue. This cheeky sex comedy/crime caper continues its touching and humorous exploration of love and sex, bringing the reader up to speed on Suzie and John’s robbery-gone-wrong. With air-tight scripting from Fraction and engaging artwork by Zdarsky, this issue more than lives up to the expectations set by the first two issues, and opens the door to many intriguing uses of The Quiet.

The dual plots of the book continue to unfold in this issue, switching back and forth between the past and present. The main plot, told from Suzie’s perspective, continues to follow her unfolding relationship with John and their explorations of The Quiet. Here we see John’s first fumbling college sexual experiences through his eyes. Continuing to develop John and his relationship with The Quiet, he gives a summation of his romantic and sexual encounters against the backdrop of his and Suzie’s ongoing “first date” after meeting at the party. Soon he introduces her to the porn shop he frequented in his awkward youth. Their second date, beginning at the porn shop as they stop time to wreak havoc with the various toys and props, ends in a hilarious musical number (of sorts) at a pool hall in homage to Freddie Mercury. As evidence in this sequence, Fraction’s sense of humor works to the book’s advantage, and Zdarsky brings it to the page through stunning page designs.

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As we discover over the course of Suzie and John’s unconventional courtship, John works at the bank foreclosing the library where Suzie works. A bored (and somewhat disgruntled) underling, prone to using his time-stopping powers for his own amusement, he has no particular fondness for his employers. He first proposes the idea of robbing the bank to save the library where Suzie works and has been working to save. Suzie is unsure at first, content to just use their shared powers for fun, but John wants to help. Assuring her of how simple it would be to get the money, we see that he eventually wins her over.

In keeping with Fraction’s non-linear narrative structure, the subplot catches up with the crime itself at the end of the book. Realizing they’re no longer alone in The Quiet in the previous issue, John and Suzie come face-to-face with the mysterious figures at the bank. These three figures, dressed in white, confront the would-be robbers in a violent altercation that puts their plans to a halt. Seemingly trapped here with the strangers, it quickly becomes clear that Suzie and John have stumbled into something they don’t entirely understand, facing consequences they never anticipated.

Full of wit and charm, this quirky title continues to please. The development of Suzie and John’s relationship, held against their respective romantic pasts, is nice to watch unfold. Their strange attraction and bond is well-grounded in humor and heart, keeping things lighthearted and engaging to read. Zdarsky’s pencils continue to be a strong complement to Fraction’s scripts, carrying each issue to a visually satisfying conclusion in strength of composition and design. Sex Criminals #3 is enjoyable from cover to cover, maintaining this title’s impressive stride. We can only hope Fraction and Zdarsky keep it up in coming issues.

Magen Cubed

http://www.eonism.net/

Warm wishes

x-mas_2013_ball

Retro Comics: Havok and Wolverine: Meltdown #1

A stylish blend of Cold War science fiction and superhero action/adventure, the limited series Havok and Wolverine: Meltdown was published in 1988-89 under the imprint of Epic Comics. Originally a creator-owned division of Marvel Comics, the imprint was known for such titles as Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz’s Elektra: Assassin and Archie Goodwin’s The Shadowline Saga. Epic was also one the first American publishers to reprint titles from other countries, releasing translations of the Moebius graphic novels Airtight, The Incal and Blueberry, and Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira.

Written by Walter and Louise Simonson, Meltdown’s artwork is split between Jon J. Muth and Kent Williams, who each provided pencils for the respective protagonists. The first issue opens on a game of chess between series villains General Meltdown and Doctor Neutron. Their unfolding dialogue serves to narrate the planned meltdown at a Russian nuclear plant at the hands of two patsies. Displaying an amazing sense of design, this segment is comprised of a visually stunning series of technical drawings, tense silhouettes and watercolor splash pages. The cold detachment of the narration and scientific imagery is well-balanced with the frenetic energy of the faceless silhouettes of the plant workers, trying to stop the chain reaction they inadvertently set in motion.

After the meltdown, the story switches gears to a tiny Mexican town on the Gulf Coast where we find Havok and Wolverine on vacation. In their civvies, they’re keeping a low-profile far until Logan ends up in bar-brawl. A bored Alex looks on from while Logan goes to town on some of the locals, introducing them as the protagonists of this team-up book. This buddy adventure set-up carries Alex and Logan through a somewhat predictable set of mishaps as they find themselves targeted by a severe-looking paramilitary group. Ambushed at their hotel the next morning, by thugs from the bar, they steal a car to make their escape. Before peeling out, Alex pulls the car’s owner, a beautiful woman in a black dress, in with them to keep her from getting shot. In the desert, they find themselves under fire by the shadowy pursuers from the town.

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The ensuing car chase and shoot-out with their mysterious antagonists ends with Logan and Alex losing their tail by way of plasma bolt. There’s no time to ask questions, however, as their beautiful companion pulls a gun on the heroes and fires. In the next scene Logan wakes up in the hospital. There he learns that they were shot with bullets containing the bubonic plague, and that Alex died from the illness. Going to the local cemetery to visit Alex’s grave, Logan smells that something is amiss and digs up the casket. Stuffed inside is a man-sized piñata, confirming Logan’s suspicions and sending him down a violent road for vengeance and answers.

While an entertaining read, the strength of Meltdown’s storytelling lies with its painted artwork. The Simonsons offer a fairly straightforward adventure-mystery, with a decent premise and some solid banter between Alex and Logan to keep things lighthearted. Given the melodrama each of these characters tend to be embroiled, it’s nice to go back and read through some older exploits. As the story progresses, much of the dialogue and plot elements do begin to show their age, feeling very dated, so be mindful of the kitsch factor. From a visual standpoint, Muth and Williams do their best to carry the book and serve as great collaborators throughout, especially in the tense and visually compelling opening segment. Their complementary styles, with Muth taking on most of the painting, blend together quite well. However, Williams’ highly-stylized Wolverine reads as a bit silly at times, with the excessive prominence of his iconic winged hairdo.

While a very 80s story, that probably wouldn’t stand up to today’s audiences and tastes, this team-up does have a lot going for it. It’s a fun adventure romp, an international mystery with some interesting imagery and some visual highlights throughout. In an era sometimes overwhelmed by gritty violence and excessive superhero drama, it serves as an effective break from other titles. While not the strongest title in Epic’s catalogue, Meltdown still stands out as an entertaining read.

Magen Cubed

http://www.eonism.net/

Brandon Seifert: Hellraiser, Seekers of the Weird, and Beyond

First introduced to comic book readers in 2007 for his work on The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and World War Hulk: Gamma Files from Marvel Comics, writer Brandon Seifert has made a name for himself in recent years. Brought to my attention for his issues of IDW’s Doctor Who and co-writing Boom! Studios’ Hellraiser: The Dark Watch with Clive Barker, Seifert has also garnered a dedicated following for Witch Doctor. A kind of House, M.D. meets H.P. Lovecraft, this original medical/horror series from Image Comics is illustrated by Lukas Ketner and employs an interesting blend of horror, fantasy and comedy. Known for his due diligence as a researcher, his use of fascinating imagery, and his keen attention to detail, Seifert has amassed a unique body of work, receiving its rightful share of critical praise.

With the recent announcement of his upcoming title from Marvel Comics, Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird, there’s a lot of buzz surrounding this high profile book. Created in partnership with Walt Disney Imagineering, Seekers of the Weird will serve as the launch for a series of books under the Disney Kingdoms brand, exploring the characters, worlds and attractions of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. What else is coming from this Marvel-Imagineer partnership is still unknown at the moment, but the topic is certainly stirring a lot of interest from eager fans. All of that said, I recently got a chance to catch up with Seifert, to talk about his new project, horror comics, and his plans for future books.

SeifertInterview1Q. At New York Comic Con, Marvel announced the release of your upcoming five-part series, Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird. How did you get involved in this project, and can you tell us a little bit about it?

A. I got involved in Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird because Marvel editor Bill Rosemann hit me up and asked if I wanted to be involved!

Seekers of the Weird is about two teenagers named Maxwell and Melody Keep. Their parents get kidnapped by a dark supernatural force — which leads the kids to discover that their family’s involved with something call the Museum of the Weird, a repository for the world’s most dangerous magical artifacts. The kids have seven days to find one artifact in particular in the Museum… or they’ll never see their parents again! Seekers has a bit of an Indiana Jones vibe, but also a pretty strong Harry Potter influence too. The whole project is based on the actual Museum of the Weird, which was originally going to be part of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland but got shelved when Walt Disney passed away.

Q. What has been your favorite part of working on this title so far?

A. The series artist is Karl Moline. I’ve been a fan of Karl’s work since he did Fray with Joss Whedon at Dark Horse, so I was super excited to work with him. But as good as I expected Karl’s work to be — it’s turned out to be way better! His stuff is so good that I’ve been working on “leveling up” the ideas I bring to the table, because I know if I bring an amazing idea for something like a monster or weapon to Karl, he’ll make it even more amazing when he draws it!

Q. Will this title be family-friendly, as the Disney association might imply, or did you write with a more mature audience in mind? Does this title appeal to Marvel’s action-oriented readers and Disney fans alike?

A. It’s designed to be “all-ages” in the same way as something like Doctor Who, Star Wars or the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Fun for kids — but fun for adults, too!

It’s definitely going to have a broad appeal. The project started with the Disney Imagineers. They’re very involved, and very interested in making sure we live up to the history that the project is based on. But Marvel’s also making sure it’s very much got a Marvel kind of vibe to it. I don’t know what people are expecting from this series — but I think they’re going to be really blown away when it comes out!

Q. You’re known to many readers for your issues of Doctor Who and Hellraiser: The Dark Watch, as well as your own original project Witch Doctor. As a writer, is it difficult to switch gears from genre to genre, or is Seekers of the Weird in the same thematic wheelhouse as some of your other work?

A. I dunno, I sort of think the idea of “genre” lumps together a bunch of things that don’t really go together. Some genres are all about the kinds of tropes you use — science fiction needs some kind of fictional science thing in it, whereas, like, “urban fantasy” needs magic in a city setting — a kind of trope in a specific setting. Then on the other hand, you have genres like “comedy” or “horror.” And those aren’t about the setting you use or the trappings you play with as much as they are about evoking a specific emotional response from an audience. In comedy, you’re trying to make the audience laugh. In horror, you’re trying to scare them, or disturb them. So, when you have “science fiction” — stories about fictional science — and “comedy” — stories that make you laugh — and you call them both “genres”… I dunno. That doesn’t make a huge amount of sense to me.

So if you’re doing a “genre” like “science fiction,” it’s easy to mix other genres in. Most of my favorite fiction is stuff that mixes different genres. Doctor Who is science fiction, but also action, adventure, horror, mystery, comedy, drama… it varies from episode to episode. With Witch Doctor we were doing horror and medical drama… but also comedy, action, drama, urban fantasy, lots of stuff. So doing a series like Seekers of the Weird, which also has a bunch of genres mixed into it, is a pretty easy transition. I find it a lot harder to do a book like Hellraiser, which is supposed to be pretty straight-up supernatural horror with some urban fantasy/dark fantasy stuff mixed in. I can’t do a lot of comedy in that book, or even a lot of “action genre” stuff, because it’s antithetical to what the series is supposed to be about. And since I’m someone who doesn’t like sticking to one tone in a story, that’s much harder for me.

Q. As mentioned above, you’ve had success both with franchise titles as well as your own original series. Do you find yourself looking to create more original works in the future?

A. Oh, yeah! Doing franchise work definitely has a lot of benefits you don’t get when originating a new project. For one thing, franchises like Doctor Who and Hellraiser have been big, important parts of my life, so working on them is much more of a “dream come true” thing than working on something like Witch Doctor, which I originated myself. But working on franchises has pointed out to me that I’m definitely happiest and most creatively fulfilled when I’m working on projects I made up myself. And I really do my best work on projects that I came up with. So going forward with my career, original projects are going to be more and more my focus.

Q. You’re known for your distinctive way of approaching the horror genre in your work. Do you find yourself drawn to horror in particular? If so, is that an aesthetic choice, as vehicle for other narratives, or do you feel that horror comics can be elevated?

A. Honestly, I think part of what people are finding distinctive about my work in horror is that most of my influences SeiferInterview2come from outside horror. Look at Witch Doctor, #1, that’s a good example. WD #1 is an exorcism/demonic possession story. But it’s not inspired by stuff like The Exorcist, let alone other exorcism movies. It’s inspired, on the one hand, by a whole bunch of research I did into actual exorcism and possession beliefs, especially stuff in the Vatican. I read several books about Vatican exorcists, the things they believe and the training they go through to become exorcists. So that was one side of it. The other side was, it was inspired by the whole biology metaphor we use in Witch Doctor, where we cross classic monsters with really disturbing stuff from medicine and biology. So in Witch Doctor, “demonic possession” is actually infection by the parasitic larval stage of the demon life cycle. So I did a whole bunch of research into parasitic insects, especially stuff like botflies and applied that to demons.

Really, I think horror can be “elevated” by bringing in influences from outside of horror. But that’s the same thing that’s true of every genre. Star Wars elevated science fiction at the time because it pulled in all this stuff that wasn’t being used in science fiction. Action/adventure tropes, World War 2 dogfighting movies, samurai movies, metaphysics, Joseph Campbell, Kurosawa. I’d never say I’m trying to “elevate” horror, because that implies that I think horror needs to be “elevated,” like there’s something wrong with that. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the horror genre. But I do think my approach to horror interests people because I’m not looking at horror for my inspiration — I’m looking at all kinds of other stuff.

Q. Are there any other franchises/genres you’d like to tackle someday, if given the chance?

A. Oh, lots of them! I haven’t gotten to do much science fiction, and that’s always been my big love. I also want to be doing superhero comics. They’re what got me into the medium in the first place. Besides those, there’s a bunch of other genres I’d like to do. Westerns are one. And Wuxia is another — the whole Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon strain of martial arts movies from China.

As for other franchise I’d like to do… I’m a huge fan of Marvel Comics, so there’s lots more stuff I’d like to do there. I’m also a big fan of Ghostbusters, and Aliens, and Buffy. All those are things I’d love to try writing someday.

Thanks so much to Brandon for taking the time to talk. Be on the lookout for Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird coming out in January. We hope to hear from him again soon.

Magen Cubed

http://www.eonism.net/

Graphic Novel Review: Avengers: Endless Wartime

AvengersEW1Warren Ellis returns to the Marvel Universe in this first of an all-new series of graphic novels, attempting to bridge the gap between the 616 continuity of the monthly comics and the new continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Illustrated by Mike McKone, this novel is a pan-generational mash-up of storylines, a kind of unofficial sequel to the events of the MCU films, as well as an interesting introduction for readers lured by the success of the franchise on-screen. With its intriguing reimagining of these well-known characters and blending of Asgardian magic with Ellis’ characteristic dystopic super-science, Avengers: Endless Wartime is a well-scripted adventure with plenty to offer readers both new and old.

An ancient threat rises from the past, a past more recent for some than others, hiding behind the face of American militarization. What emerges is an intersection of science and magic as Thor and Captain America realize they’ve both tousled with this once before, in different forms and at different times, drawing an interesting parallel between both characters. Mounting a response, the adventure that follows is largely well-plotted, throwing out some pointed questions about the nature of industrialized, privatized warfare. The action that buoys that novel is suitably exciting, as executed by McKone, as the team encounters hordes of formidable techno-organic baddies straight from Norse mythology. While impressive, there are some moments of disconnect from page to page during these action scenes that feel a little disjointed, ultimately culminating in a climax that suffers from this same fragmentation.

The novel is carried by the familiar MCU Avengers roster of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow and AvengersEW2Hawkeye, with the inclusion of Wolverine and Captain Marvel to round out the lineup. Ellis argues an interesting case for his characterizations, which make for a newly-formed team of heroes and all the growing pains one would expect. Even for it, this novel is neither strictly comic-verse nor movie-verse, blending them in a hybrid of timelines and interpretations that sometimes feels a little muddled. Captain America is strongly defined by his temporal displacement, distant but not unkind, still struggling as a man “living in a foreign country called the Future.” Iron Man serves as his counterpoint, tempered by a more movie-friendly handling, an introspective reflection of his father’s war-mongering as he attempts to reach out to Cap and make the team work. Thor is still very much an alien, trying to reconcile his own past with his place in the human world. The appearance of Captain Marvel (in her 616 uniform) serves as a nice touch-stone for comic book continuity, while Wolverine, influenced more by his appearances in his own movie franchises, fills an antagonistic role in questioning Cap’s authority and moral platitudes.

The Avengers aren’t the friends we’re used to from the comics, instead a collection of uneasy alliances and clashing personalities with a common goal. Informed by several stories and sources, and groomed by the MCU, these characters do stand in departure from both film and comic. While this won’t bother new fans, it will probably irk seasoned readers, who are aware they’re not the target audience of the book. For all of this friction, the formula works here, exploring interesting character dynamics despite the occasional discrepancy Ellis encounters along the way. As long as you’re willing to leave your presumptions at the door and accept this as its own separate entity, it’s a successful addition to the Marvel Universe at large.

AvengersEW4McKone sells the script in a balance of appealing splash pages and energetic action sequences. His panel transitions create useful tension with some solid page design throughout, aping cinematic framing to varying degrees of success. The repetition of static character close-ups breaks up the narrative for me more than I would like, but McKone’s sense of motion and scale during fight scenes makes up for it. From a design standpoint, the back end of the book is particularly lovely, marked by a fascinating use of techno-organic forms and dense futuristic settings. He’s very successful in rendering the baddies as otherworldly and alien, with their fluid compositions and seemingly endless ranges of movement and shape. The moody color palettes of Jason Keith with Rain Beredo make the most of these scenes, establishing an ominous tone in dark pages peppered by the light of our heroes’ gunfire or energy blasts. Overall the effect is appropriately dramatic, foreboding, and occasionally creepy, capturing the weight of Ellis’ pessimistic scenario as well the internal struggles within the team itself.

While not a perfect hybrid, Avengers: Endless Wartime is a solid graphic novel that bridges the gap between comic and film in some interesting ways. Ellis’ script sheds intriguing light on characters we know and love, exploring their ideologies when faced with a world they find themselves struggling to protect.

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McKone’s illustrations carry that burden well, and create some unique and engaging imagery along the way. If you’re new to Marvel and looking for a good read to get your feet wet, it’s definitely worth picking up. If you’re a Marvel fan looking for a well-written side adventure, I suggest you put your potential biases aside and take this book for what it is.

Magen Cubed

You could check Magen’s website at: http://www.eonism.net/ 

Artist and Photographer Wendy Monahan …shoots us.

We start a series of photography posts on eCharta Blog. It is a great honor for us to start with this great photographer Wendy Monahan. 

Born into a 1960ʼs rural existence, Wendy was raised in a continuously moving matriarchal household of a riding-instructor mother and piano-teacher grandmother. As a child she raised domestic animals, caught wild ones, collected stuff and made bug houses. While living in a rural solitary existence she dreamed of being a scientist and spent days reading science fiction novels. At some point she began to worry about the passage of time and became fascinated with the process of photography. Armed with a Kodak Brownie and a Polaroid Instamatic, she documented all of the family pets, livestock, and anything or anyone else that would sit still for her. Somehow she survived teen angst and went to college, forgetting photography and choosing to study anthropology at UNLV. After completing the degree, her intention was to continue an academic education. She began to work on a Masterʼs Degree in Public History while at the same time taking a beginning photography course at the community college. She knew about halfway through a semester of medieval history, that she was on the wrong path. She had a great interest in history and art, but also needed some sort of scientific grounding. She studied commercial photography instead and has spent the last ten years as a photographer in Las Vegas. While she enjoys the work, digital capture and computer editing do not satisfy her need to make tangible things. So, she is happily back in the darkroom. She has an obsession with photographic contraptions and employs all formats of vintage camera and darkroom equipment. Her goal for 2013 is to learn to make photographic emulsions and coat her own papers.

So we took some time with Wendy to talk about her passion for photography.

Q: Hello Wendy! You didn’t become a riding-instructor as your mom or a piano- teacher as your grandmother. You got involved with photography. How did you get introduced to photography and to your first Kodak Brownie? 

A: Oh, that was so long ago now. I must have been 7 or 8 years old when I started using the Brownie and I do not know where it came from. What I remember most about the camera was the sound of the shutter going off. Something about looking into that box and the sound it made hooked me. I was a shy child and found my rural existence incredibly boring. I read a lot of different things, but sci-fi was the most prevalent genre. As a kid, I would see moments that seemed to have some kind of interest or promise of something less than mundane. I was desperate to capture that.

Dune Enigma c2012 selenium toned silver gelatin print. Mesquite Flat Dunes at Stovepipe wells, Death Valley, CA

Dune Enigma c2012 selenium toned silver gelatin print. Mesquite Flat Dunes at Stovepipe wells, Death Valley, CA

Q: Did your early photographic goals include earning a living from photography, or did it start as a way to express yourself creatively? I’m talking of course after the College years.

A: When I started taking photography classes, I just wanted to be able to understand photography, learn how to operate the camera, and print in a darkroom. It was all very mysterious to me. I was considering grad school and what my major should be and was unhappy with how things were progressing. I began to realize the potential of photography as a way to earn a living and as a way to realize my artistic nature. Everything just started to come together.

Q: When did you know you finally “made it” as a professional and when did you make your first photography sale? Do you remember it?

A: Photography is such a huge field of study. I am constantly studying new techniques. There was a point in my career that I was doing a lot of  portraiture. I was setting up my studio one day and I didn’t look at any lighting diagrams or wonder what would happen if I set the light this way or that. I just knew. When I was editing after the session my exposures and light ratios were right on, my model looked at ease, and we made some great images. I thought, ah, this is what being a professional photographer feels like. It is funny, but I do not remember my first sale as a commercial photographer, but I distinctly remember my first sale at an art show. I had just joined a local art guild and was participating in my first show. My patient and wonderful husband had spent weeks with me matting, framing, making signs and such. A young woman came by, browsed through my photos, left, and came back later to buy one. It seems silly but that small sale was very exciting to me.

Electricity Series: Hoover Dam III c2011 digital image. Hoover Dam photographed from the Mike OʼCallaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

Electricity Series: Hoover Dam III c2011 digital image. Hoover Dam photographed from the Mike OʼCallaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

Q: What do you like MOST and LEAST about running your professional photography life?

A: What I like most about being a professional photographer is connecting with a portrait client. There is something intimate about photographing someone. They show themselves to you. When you make a great portrait together it is very rewarding. What I like least about being a professional photographer is the amount of time I spend running the business and not taking photographs.

Q: I’m sure that you have at least one turning point in your career. What was it?

A:  Absolutely the decision to go back to traditional photographic methods for my art work has been the turning point in my career. It was a costly and time consuming decision.  When I first decided to do it I did not quite realize what I was getting myself into. I forgot how difficult and time consuming traditional photography is.  I have learned much more than I expected to, both from a technical standpoint and also from a personal growth standpoint. When I get a good image that I exposed, processed, and printed myself, it is so rewarding.On a side note, I also really love the smell of the emulsion on the paper.I had never really done much landscape work previous to my re-emergence in traditional methods. I started going out alone to different locations carrying all of my equipment and a tripod with me. I found myself searching for the  unusual and surreal in whatever landscape I had put myself in. I was particularly drawn to places with strange sounds. One day I was driving over some mountainous terrain between two valleys and I came across some burned out yucca trees lit by the late afternoon sun. The wind was blowing hard and there were some telephone lines strung up through the area. The sounds were  so loud and creepy. I forced myself to get out of the car and immerse myself in that environment. I ended up with images I was not completely satisfied with technically, but I will never forget that experience. It was so exhilarating. It is the search for something, that drives me to keep doing it.

Sand Enigma c2012 selenium toned silver gelatin print. Mesquite Flat Dunes at Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley, CA

Sand Enigma c2012 selenium toned silver gelatin print. Mesquite Flat Dunes at Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley, CA

Q: Best piece of advice you ever received about photography?

A: My firsts photography instructor was an artist. His advice was to be patient. Do not take photos, make photos. I did not completely comprehend his advice at the time, but it has proven to be true.

Q: Many people ask about profound features and explicit details about your job. I want to hear from you some quick advice for someone who simply wants to improve their photography skills.

A: Photograph everything at different focal lengths and use manual settings. Study your exposures and learn from them. Study exposure and exposure value. Learn to edit your work. The technical stuff may seem boring, but do it anyway.

Q: You say that you prefer the “dark room” instead of digital photography. Actually I do too. Why? Do you think there is room for the “traditional” film shooting in our days?

A: I absolutely believe there is room for “traditional” film shooting! Let’s keep doing it and keep this great tradition alive! Right now, I use digital for commercial work and only traditional photography for my fine art work. I made this rule for myself almost two years ago. I was finding digital photography uninspiring and unchallenging. The amount of digital imagery, good and bad, being made was lowering the value and expectation of digital imaging in general. It was (and is), getting more difficult to get good prints made from a lab. I do not like the look of inkjet prints for my photographs, nor do I enjoy the digital printing process. I believe there is much more value in a handmade photograph on traditional paper made by an artist. I want to remain a viable photographer and artist, and I see traditional photography as the truest way for me to do it.

Phantom Limbs c2012 selenium toned silver gelatin print. Hwy 158 near Toiyabe National Forest, Mount Charleston, NV.

Phantom Limbs c2012 selenium toned silver gelatin print. Hwy 158 near Toiyabe National Forest, Mount Charleston, NV.

Q: Many pro photographers aren’t sharing their secrets. Are you currently serving in some sort of mentor capacity to younger aspiring photographers?

A: I have done so a few times without success. My mentees have not wanted to learn the technical aspects of photography or make the financial commitment to equipment. I start them off with the classic notion of compromise between ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. I have yet to get a mentee off of program mode with a digital camera. There are a lot of variables that need to be tended to and it is easy to overlook or forget something important. Eventually it all becomes second nature, but at first it can seem overwhelming. Most recently I was approached by a young woman who wanted to learn from me, but she did not want to actually buy a camera until she knew how to use it. I tried to explain to her that photography does not work like that. Digital technology has changed photography to a much greater extent than I had anticipated, and it is not stopping. If I choose to have a mentee again, it will be to show them traditional processes and not digital imaging. I do hope for that at some future date.

Q: What’s not fun about your job? We know that even great jobs have aspects that aren’t wonderful.

A: Sometimes the schedule can be grueling and there is a lot of equipment to lug around. If a client is not organized or does not know what they want, there tends to be a lot of “hurry up and wait”.

Torso IX c2011 digital image. Image IX in the torso nude series

Torso IX c2011 digital image. Image IX in the torso nude series

Q: Could you describe your most challenging and your favorite shoots you’ve been on?

A: The most challenging project for me was photographing nudes. I was a fairly reserved person. I was very uncomfortable with nudity. I am not necessarily uncomfortable with nudity in print or film, but that is a different matter than being alone with a naked stranger or mild acquaintance. I wanted to do a  series of images that involved shape and form, with my female subjects wearing masks. I still distinctly remember my first session. My subject was a model and makeup artist whom I had worked with on a few occasions. I think it scared both of us, but we had a mutual trust. We got through that first session together; grinning and baring it. Pardon the pun. After that, each session became a little easier. I ended up working with five different women. I finished my photographic work and was unhappy with the initial results. I started working with the images and discovered that the masks completely conflicted with my initial idea. Once I changed my perspective and got rid of the conflicting elements, it started to work. I am really proud of this series, which evolved into “Torso, The Human Landscape”. It was a great learning experiment for me, both as a human, and an artist.

Q: What is your process for gaining people’s trust? How do you get to the core of what you’re going after?

A: When I photograph people, I check my ego at the door. I try to spend some time talking with them before I start to photograph them. Most people do not know what to do in front of a camera and do not feel comfortable. It is my job to gain their trust and make them feel at ease. I do not force them into uncomfortable positions. I just wait until they show me. It is really amazing to look at the evolution of a photo session with someone who is shy or reluctant to be photographed. You can see their confidence come forward. I love that.

Q: You say that you want to learn to make photographic emulsions and coat your own papers. But what’s really next for you?

A: Yes, I really do want to start making emulsions. I have given myself a deadline of December 31, 2013 to successfully coat paper and film. Part of the enjoyment of traditional photography for me is its hands on nature. It really is a great meshing of science and art. What’s next for me? I plan on expanding my creative body of work and continuing my search for unusual experiences that I can create images from.

Q: What do you think of eCharta as a design, as user interface functionality, and as an online auction/exchanging PAPER ONLY platform?

A: I really love paper and different printing processes. I make photographs, but I also collect old photographs and all kinds of vintage prints. I was really excited when I discovered eCharta. I had been wanting to connect with other paper collectors, but did not see a viable platform to do it. I like hunting for things at antique stores, but not on the internet. Large auction sites can be difficult to navigate and I do not have the time to do that. eCharta is simple to navigate and use for both the buyer and seller, and it exists for the niche market of paper lovers, collectors, and makers. Many uses for paper have become obsolete and as paper is used less and less I believe that its intrinsic value will increase. I am really thrilled to be involved with eCharta and I think it can grow into a really great place to connect and collect all things paper!

Wendy already has listed some of her beautiful photos on eCharta for sale.

We also hope that we’re going to convince her to write for our blog photography tips and tricks quite often.

Pretty Deadly: A Supernatural Western with a Twist

PrettyDeadly1If you’re looking for something different – a little more mature but still steeped in mystery and magic, a grim fairy tale of a western – then look no further than Pretty Deadly #1. The much-anticipated passion project of writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Emily Rios, a pair readers will remember from their collaboration on inaugural arc of Marvel Comics’ Captain Marvel, this title takes the well-traveled path of supernatural westerns and does something unique and engaging. Don’t look for any grizzled old cowboys, vampires or zombies populating the desert here, because you won’t find anything of the sort. This book is a peculiar mix of folklore and fable, western and mystery, centered on the legend of Deathface Ginny. While it plays within the familiar framework of these genres, it successfully lays down the foundations of the strange and alluring world where Death rides on the wind as an avenging spirit. Whatever you were expecting of this book, set that aside and simply enjoy what DeConnick and Rios have to offer.

DeConnick opens the first issue on the interchange between a rabbit and a butterfly, as the rabbit meets its death at the hands of a little girl with a handgun. Serving as our narrators, the rabbit and the butterfly unfold the story of Sissy, a young girl in a vulture cloak. She and her adult companion, a seemingly blind and well-grizzled western archetype by the name of Fox, are traveling performers of sorts. Arriving in a quiet town, they set up stage to tell gathering townsfolk the tale of Deathface Ginny, the daughter of Death. After Sissy’s uncomfortable encounter with a man by the name of Johnny Coyote, she pick-pockets him for a piece of paper that puts her and Fox in the sights of Big PrettyDeadly2Alice. On the run, Fox and Sissy have to rely on old friends as Big Alice and her men close in to collect whatever Johnny owed her, and Sissy clings to Ginny’s tale.

Just what Big Alice wants with Sissy and Fox, and how this ties into the legend of Ginny, remains unclear. The issue doesn’t give the reader much context or history to grasp onto as the story begins, but DeConnick is very clever in developing these characters through intriguing scenes and well-scripted dialogue. The dynamics between her characters are tinged with subtle intimacies, despite the gruffness of their circumstances, which make their brief appearances feel very meaningful. Using the butterfly and rabbit as narrators was a fascinating choice as they hover in the peripheral of the story, introducing the fundamental mysteries of the opening issues without giving anything away yet. They create a deeper sense of mythology, really grounding the fairy tale-like quality of the plot. Also, be sure to read all the way to the back cover. DeConnick’s personal writing, as well as a one-page short story about Johnny Coyote, at the back of the issue help to provide a deeper emotional context to the premise and tease future development.

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Rios’ artwork is a stunning complement to DeConnick’s scripting, carrying the book through engaging page design and the strength of her panel composition. The wispy, barely-there quality of her lines affects a distinct dreaminess to the settings and characters, and reinforces the supernatural spirit of their world. Her sense of scope and movement is really lovely and inviting, making the most of little details such as the wind blowing in Ginny’s hair or the feathers falling from Sissy’s cloak. She also does a phenomenal job of balancing this almost ethereal presentation with the realistic detail of the animals in the book, from the rabbit and butterfly to the vulture head of the cloak. It strikes an eerie chord and sets up a lot of attractive imagery throughout. Combined with Jordie Bellaire’s understated color palettes, this book is a visual treat.

Lovely and strange, Pretty Deadly is an intriguing title with an aura of mystery and magic. How the legend of Deathface Ginny plays into Sissy’s life is unclear, but DeConnick and Rios still have a lot up their sleeves. This is a title to watch out for.

Magen Cubed

Why You Should Be Reading Sex Criminals

Sometimes you just read a book that’s too good to put down. Sex Criminals from writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky is one of those books. Don’t let the cheeky title fool you, the warning on the back of the book that offers a new disclaimer every issue. At first glance its slick and humorous packaging may seem flippant, the flat figures on its covers teasing sex cloaked pop sensibility, but Sex Criminals is a thoughtful gem from cover to cover. It follows Suzie, a librarian who discovered during puberty that having sex stops time, and Jon, a man she meets at a party who shares her love of literature as well as her particular time-freezing sexual quirk. Then they start robbing banks. Yes, that’s the book. No, I’m not kidding.

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I could talk all day about the critical reception of this Image Comics title, issue #2 selling out and heading back for a second printing, but that doesn’t really tell you what you need to know. Because if you’re not reading this book, you should be. You’re missing out on something great. So if you aren’t planning to already, here are all the reasons why you should be picking up this book when #3 when it hits store shelves this November.

It’s about Sex. (Duh.)

Yes, as the title would suggest, it’s about sex. First and foremost, this book is a sex comedy. A tightly-scripted, well-executed sex comedy, with a great wealth of fascinating imagery. Fraction’s direct sense of humor lends a unique voice to the well-trodden genre we associate with films such as 40-Year-Old Virgin or American Pie, although it’s rarely seen in comics. After finding another person who shares her experiences and abilities, Suzie and Jon experiment with their powers, to varied and humorous results, eventually leading them to their foray into criminal endeavors. The jokes are funny and natural, even when they’re a little uncomfortable to think about, which comes from Fraction’s knack for scripting dialogue. From flashbacks to teenaged fumbling to how the characters came to understand their power, it all reads as engaging and sincere.

But don’t let the premise fool you, because what makes this book shine is its humanity. There is a realism, a

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tenderness to the sex in this book, sincere and candid without being crude or silly, even in the face of time-stopping absurdity. The decision to ground the opening issue in Suzie’s experiences, both throughout her adolescence and into adulthood, establishes a personal tone and keeps the story emotionally relevant. Sex is part of the story, but it’s handled in a real and honest way. She and Jon feel like a real couple, joke and talk like a real couple, and have sex like a real couple. Everything just feels very genuine, and touches on things I think most readers can really relate to in their own lives and relationships.

The Artwork. (Seriously.)

Of course, writing is only half the equation. Zdarsky meets Fraction’s script and raises the bar with a clever balance of humor and sobriety, and really sells the book. His sense of design and layout is great, his panels beautifully composed with inventive pages throughout. “The Quiet,” as Suzie refers to her post-coital time-traveling, is fantastically rendered as a bright, colorful veneer of soft focus and scattered light that successfully bridges intimacy with a sense of the ethereal. So much of this works so well, simply because of the strength of the artwork, carrying the script through to a highly satisfying execution.

The Book is Self-Aware. (In a Good Way.)

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Never taking itself too seriously, the narrative centers on Suzie, who often breaks the fourth wall. Through memories and metanarrative, she playfully and earnestly addresses the reader to offer her little tidbits and humorous anecdotes along the way, helping to develop her and the world she inhabits. This allows the book to move non-linearly, structured around flashbacks, progressing through the plot dependent on particular cues and references. It also allows for scenes such as that in issue #2, where Suzie is chided by the image of porn star Jazmine St. Cocaine, completely breaking from the story to make a point about the shaming of sex workers. Moments like these keep the book fresh and the reader involved, stepping outside of the constraints of traditional narrative to do and say something interesting.

It’s a Unique and Thoughtful Read. (No, Really.)

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect of this title when I picked it up. I was intrigued by the concept, and as a longtime reader of Fraction’s work I was going to read it regardless, but I’ve been highly impressed by this book so far. Sex Criminals has been able to accomplish a lot in just two short months, taking on a genre rarely seen in comics to offer touching insights into private moments most of us can relate to. It’s a comedy, a crime caper, and a really shrewd commentary on sex, relationships and the experiences of men and women. The humor is whip-smart and uncompromising, the artwork is fantastic and intimate, creating a thoughtful discourse between the characters and the reader. It’s only two issues in, but I think it’s fair to say that if this book keeps it up, things can only get better from here.

Magen Cubed

A Return to the Jungle with Mike Heimos: Fever Ridge #4

IDW takes us back to the jungle in the latest issue of Fever Ridge: A Tale of MacArthur’s Jungle War. Penned by Mike Heimos with artwork by Nick Runge, this unique historical comic focuses on the U.S. military campaigns in New Guinea and the Philippines during World War II, topics not often broached in mainstream WWII fiction. This series successfully takes on the familiar conventions of the genre and infuses them with literary sensibilities and elements of magical realism, creating a layered, evolving narrative that demands revisiting with each new issue. Heimos plays the long-game in crafting a rich and well-researched story, while Runge sees it through with dynamism and an incredible strength of page design.

Issue #4 is no different. Here we see another successful intertwining of historical context with the tension of tight, character-driven scenes, punctuated by Heimos’ well-scripted dialogue. The introduction of the character Ruud adds another intriguing layer through the lenses of native politics and colonialism, further developing both the time and space. Runge expertly unfolds these scenes through the use of beautiful splashes and engaging panel transition and composition alike, complemented by color palettes of Nolan Woodard. There’s really nothing quite like this title on the shelves right now, a compelling read with an astounding visual execution that leaves the reader absorbed issue after issue. If you haven’t picked it up yet, I highly recommend doing so.

With the release of this issue, soon to be collected in a trade of issues #1 through #4, I got a chance to catch up with Mike Heimos.FRCover1

You’re a writer of prose as well as comic books. For some that’s a difficult balance to maintain, while other writers thrive in both formats. How do you decide which format to pursue your stories in? Do you find yourself leaning one way or another?

It can be tricky because the expected answer is, “when I want to see as well as read it,” it goes to the visual format, but that could apply to virtually any story. My decision comes down to answering whether it has been done in comics before, and, can the potential art + words outperform what can be done only with wordplay?

When I was mulling and researching the concept that became Fever Ridge, the striking colors and landscapes, people, animals etc. of New Guinea cried out to be presented visually in order for it to be told properly, completely. As well, I could not find any comics or graphic novels that dealt with the New Guinea and Philippines campaigns, nor some of the other constituents of the book.

Similarly, I’m also working on some medieval stories that will be nice to see in graphic novels or comics, for as far as I can tell, the subjects are new to the genre and they could look crazy slick.

I’ve definitely become hooked on creating graphic novels/comics and look forward to doing several more projects, but am taking care to remain equally interested in writing traditional prose. Right now, I’m working on a series of short stories that are very GenX-ey. Since I’m a GenX and think our generation is fascinating, want to tell a few stories relating to us, some is even semi-autobiographical, what not.

FRPage1You’ve said in the past that Fever Ridge is meant to be read as a graphic novel. With that in mind, do you prefer the serialized format of comic books, or the immediacy and cohesion of the graphic novel? What are some of the pros and cons you’ve encountered?

Well for my creations, it depends…

Obviously if the story is open ended, it’s a serial; if the story is finite, could be better to do as a graphic novel. The real trick is to decide whether to make a finite story into a limited series or a graphic novel.

I’ve learned that unless one is absolutely sure the work conceptually is right as a monthly, and the team can hit the monthly publishing/printing deadlines (which we and plenty of others have trouble doing), it might be better to just make the book in graphic novel form. Or finish creating all the issues up-front, but that means undertaking a lot of work, expense, risk etc. and any income is deferred. Lots of people might find that too tough, but for me I think it would be much less stressful and in many ways better creatively.

The “pros” of serialization include that you can make some sales, create interest incrementally, and you can tantalize. What’s a cliffhanger without a bit of a wait?

As Fever Ridge was my first foray into comics and graphic novels, I did not know or fully appreciate the various release approaches, frankly I just assumed that it was the standard to serialize it then do trades etc. I cannot deny, if I could go back in time we would make Fever Ridge purely as a graphic novel, release when totally finished etc. Lesson learned!

For my comics reading, I kind of like serials and series if for no other reason that they get me to the comic store to pick up the latest issue from Whomever, and I have the excuse to browse for other stuff too. Now that I’ve walked in creators’ shoes, I promise my compatriots that if I like your stuff, will wait for issues patiently no matter the deadlines missed, won’t give up until I hear it is “kaput!”

Yet there’s no doubt, still like the full novel format. And also, the trend for “art books” is something I’m digging a lot.

A book World War II history buffs will love, Fever Ridge is dependent on a great deal of complex historical context. You’ve spend a lot of time building that up, devoting Issue #2 to this contextual backstory. As a writer, how do you find the right balance between plot/action with historical backstory? As a reader, how do you think that translates, given some of the magical realism in the story as well?

FRCover2Ah but let me point something out: as you will see when you read the trade Vol. 1 (issues 1 – 4), there is STORY in Issue 2 as well. It is not “just a history lesson” to paraphrase one reviewer. You will have to be a little observant (and patient… read into Vol. 2). But, story is there too!

Similarly, page 14 of Issue 3 – there is STORY there. Your understanding of the book will be less complete if you overlook reading that fictional “Cockatoo News” edition.

My take on executing a historical fiction, is to not balance between history and plot. You strive for a seamless weave of the historical backstory and world of the plot, with the plot. That is, it involves “world creation” just as much as a space opera like Star Wars or a Tolkien fantasy. Just as we, Earthlings of the 21st century, need to have Middle Earth laid out for us in sufficient detail and reference to be taken in by Bilbo’s story, so do we need e.g. the 4th century Roman cultural infrastructure to have a great story on Julian the Apostate (ref Gore Vidal’s Julian). Past eras are simply alien worlds, thus one succeeds in historical fiction not by making up places and re-ordering the laws of physics and the like, but through researching and laying out that world as thoroughly as possible.

Now when we add a magical element to the tapestry, then things get doubly interesting. But it’s just another layer in the story.

I think a lot about one of my favorite books, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, which is a story of the not distant human past in the Subcontinent, and contains the magic of “superpowers,” including telepathy. My book is just a story of some complex men of a couple of generations ago, their WWII experiences and lives afterward, and it has an element or two of the magical (the main one being a character and the question of his origins and mortality).

BY THE WAY, I wouldn’t dare say Fever Ridge is up to the level of Midnight’s Children! Just drawing an analogy to indicate what I’m aspiring to do – to present historical fiction that also has a magical element or two.

Since the Fever Ridge trade will be coming out to collect issues #1 – #4, will there be any new material to entice readers to pick up the paperback?

Yes indeed the trade will have lots of new stuff, bonus materials and such. Here’s the outline:

I asked Nick to color two of his spreads (#3 pgs. 10-11, #4 pgs. 2-3), only because the spreads were his real forte in the sequential art, they are incredibly killer and I wanted to see his own color interpretations of those. Know that I think Jordie [Bellaire] and Nolan [Woodard] have done GREAT work.

A mini-album collects some photos and mementos from my grandfather’s WWII service – you will see various shots (and some that obviously reflect into the story) with explanatory captions.

A set of annotations on certain panels from each issue, selected not-randomly and I point out some cool tidbits, e.g. a little trivia as to MacArthur’s silk robe (seen in #2). BTW there’s a little salute there to Brandon DeStefano, my letterer (who is not only doing a superb job in the book but also is a gentle educator and fine raconteur).

In a section I call “Gobbets,” I craft some analytical queries for the readers, inviting them to re-look at the indicated materiel and think about the significance. Hopefully, some folks will be intrigued enough to get in touch with me on their thoughts, interpretations etc. (my Twitter account is indicated in the Intro to the bonus features).

We made an art gallery, starting with a special pinup Nick created, inspired by a couple more of my granddad’s photos. Then, all the character/bio sketches from #2 and #4.

I give a bibliography and an index. The bibliography is a proper one, but the index is more a fun thing than traditional. Still, these two pages are not to be overlooked – as with all the bonus stuff, there are important “reveals” to glean there, too!

Finally, we show one Runge cover (#5) and a retailer incentive cover by Leila del Duca (#7), and some teaser info for #5 – #8 (Vol. 2).

FRPage2Fever Ridge is a unique and complex war story with elements of the magical and the strange. As a writer, what is your aim with Fever Ridge? What would you like your readers to take away from it in the end?

Right, it is fairly complex… and I am definitely not writing it for everyone. The fact is, as your question presumes, I definitely do want readers to TAKE AWAY some things.

Generally the work has gotten good to great reviews, and some of them actually insightful. But yes, there has been some negative commentary, “This is boring!” and such. OK but here is a basic point: this book is not a shoot ‘em up in the first place. Also, it is not a rah-rah patriotism piece.

My aspiration is to make something for a perceptive reader, who has patience and can both notice and savor details, layers, subtleties as well as explosions, wants a developing story and character evolution, is interested in historical fiction. To date, we have been laying lots of groundwork – and still showing some action! Anyone who says, as did one reviewer, “nothing happens [in Issue 1] …” is just blind. The sniper cliffhanger, that’s nothing? Another example – the swamp firefight in #3, that’s nothing happening? C’mon!

With that said, I will tease you and the readers like a prom date: there is some incredibly extreme “action” later in Vol. 2, I assure you. Example, and as our good fans will guess from reading the first issues: Issue 5 is a recon/rescue with a twist. ‘Nuff said.

I’m trying to make a book that I want, pure and simple (and there are some people like me, I think ;-), a book that one revisits after the first for a second, third reading, a couple of years later and such. It is not for someone who wants “POW!” on every page never to return to the work. I’ve nothing against them, mind you; it’s just that I’m writing this for someone else.

Anyhow, having indicated THAT I want people to take stuff away from Fever Ridge, back to your questions as to WHAT I want them to take away. Several things…

The book is made in homage to my grandfather, and the Erik character in part is thought experimentation to understand him better. Thus I want to document his perspective; and maybe connect with people of my generation, perhaps our parents and our kids, whose fathers/ grandfathers/ great-grandfathers may have had similar outlooks.

Moreover, there definitely are philosophical and political ideas, issues woven into the story, stuff that not a lot of today’s readers have considered at all and especially in the context of WWII and the ‘Greatest Generation.’ You saw some of this beginning in Issue 1, in the first conversation between Franz and Erik; it’s elsewhere too. Of course, these issues are the more gravely considered during war, when a society tells its young men to kill another’s young men, by the bushel.

There is a gap in the fiction of WWII in that the New Guinea and Philippines campaigns have gotten short shrift, and this book is to make a contribution there, too. Relatedly, another goal is to increase awareness of New Guinea, its people, flora and fauna – it is one of the last true gems of the world, such places are being sterilized and eliminated daily.

Again, I want to offer something to those that really enjoy the element of magic-realism, and who would like to stay with it in my other work. I think for example of Herbert’s Dune books, which have strong magical elements that connect all the subplots and eras. My magical elements include at least one that will connect to other of my projects.

In my research, I came across some cool “holes” in the history that gave me the opportunity to include a mystery element as well. In Vol. 2 you will be taken to Fever Ridge and see what it might mean for the Sightseers, and the world.

Finally, I suppose I just wanted to contribute to an emerging genre of historical fiction in graphic novels and comics. As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m a fan of Brian Wood’s Viking stories, Jordan Stratford’s Crimean War steam punk book (and his blog btw, WOW), and others.

Before you go, any parting thoughts? Any other news you’d like to share?

Hmm just come back to me in a few weeks, there may be some additional news as I’m cooking something up at the moment, but it’s too preliminary to discuss!

Also, get out there and support other creator-owned works!

Thanks again to Mike for taking time to talk, and we hope to hear again about this book in the future.

Magen Cubed

Halloween Reading: The Witching Hour #1

Continuing its recent efforts to revive classic anthologies, Vertigo’s The Witching Hour is a brand new collection of horror from some of the most talented names in today’s comic book industry. Originally published from 1969 to 1978, this iteration of the anthology features nine original supernatural tales of witchcraft and magic across a wide swathe of genres. From sci-fi to speculative fiction, haunting stories of child abuse to campy horror fun, this anthology covers a lot of ground with inventive storytelling and compelling artwork. These witches come from all walks of life, and have something to offer just about any reader interested in some timely Halloween reading.

Stories such as This Witch’s Work by Annie Mok and Emily Carroll and Little Witch by Ales Kot and Morgan Jeske infuse intriguing themes of gender identity and American politics into the genre. This puts an interesting new twist on the role of the witch in modern society, as it reflects on the witch as a marginalized member of society in relation to other marginalized people. Mok’s tale of childhood abuse and retribution is a particularly evocative read, centered on a transgendered witch. It is carried by Carroll’s eerie illustrations, which swing from a soft and otherworldly aesthetic to one of blood and violence with disquieting ease. Kot’s story of a young witch left behind in war-torn Afghanistan by an American soldier strikes a strange and poignant note, developing into an exploration of magic, mystery, and memory.

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Other tales, such as Lauren Beukes and Gerhard Human’s spec-fic story Birdie travel to South Africa. This unique read provides a glimpse into the nature of magic and human behavior through a protagonist who communes with seagulls. The science fiction set-up of Mars to Stay by Brett Lewis and Cliff Chiang further explores the theme of human behavior as a team of colonists on Mars slowly dwindle through a series of accidents and strange occurrences. If you’re looking for something a little more straightforward, Legs by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Ming Doyle is an engaging account of a witch luring a man to his death. It offers a lot of interesting imagery, with solid scripting from DeConnick and engrossing artwork from Doyle, and I found it to be one of my favorite stories in the anthology.

The standout story in this collection, however, was the closing tale of Rise by Mariah Huehner and Tula Lotay. Starting off with a generic set-up of the young American backpacking across Europe to find himself and have sex with the local girls, this story turns the premise on its head with a lesbian protagonist. When she finds herself lost in the woods during a rainstorm, she seeks shelter in a cave, only to find herself trapped with the ghost of a long-dead witch. Seeking revenge on the local town for her violent and premature death, the witch’s ghost possesses the weary traveler and uses her body to exact her vengeance. This seemingly simple story of magic and possession is brilliantly executed with the help Lotay’s gorgeous pencils and color palettes, affecting a lush and ethereal picture of life, afterlife, and the strange spaces in between. It’s the most stunning story in the anthology, and simply to read.

Overall, The Witching Hour is a fun and thoughtful collection of witchy fiction. These stories strike a strong balance of horror and provocative storytelling, offering a few surprises along the way. With its diverse range of authors, artists and interpretations, this anthology is sure to please. I highly recommend this one-shot, and hope to see more of them next Halloween.

Magen Cubed