Sunday, May 08, 2005

Free Comic Book Day: The Comics

I got ten comics, all of which I tried to make something I wouldn't pick up on any given Wednesday. In brief, here's what I thought of them.

Gemstone: Uncle Scrooge in "Only A Poor Old Man"
The old Barks Duck stories were my first taste of comics, so when I heard that Gemstone was making this story their FCBD offering, I was excited. It's regarded as one of Barks' best pieces, and I'd never read it before. It's a perfect Scrooge primer, setting up the basics of the character and the formula for his adventures. The Beagles, Donald, the nephews, the bin, all of it's here. Older now, I can appreciate some of the nuances of the story (which packs in a lot of events and information, compared with some comics these days), which just makes the experience all the richer. Barks truly was one of the greats, and I can't recommend this comic enough.

Top Shelf: Owly in "Splashin' Around"
Owly was a big hit at SDCC last year, and it'd not hard to see why. This story is just the charmingest thing ever. Few kids' comics can pull of sweet without lapsing into diabetic, but this is one of the happy exceptions to that rule. Owly (and his little buddy Wormy) instantly struck a chord with me, reminding me of childhood favorites like Arthur the Aardvark, the Berenstein Bears, and Richard Scarey. The story itself is simple but wonderful, and contains a good message for kids about effort and competition. I was especially impressed by how easily Andy Runton conveyed the story without words (even the characters' speech balloons use pictograms); those of you who remember 2001's "'Nuff Said" month at Marvel will understand that it's not as easy as it sounds. Owly is a great comic, and I not only recommend it, I think no home with a small child should be without it.

Image Comics: Flight Sampler
If the two stories here are indicative of the overall quality of the "Flight" anthology, I can understand why many feel it was snubbed in this year's Eisner nominations. Two very different stories, both centered around the theme of flight, both surprised me with the simplicity and heart of their themes. Kazu Kibuishi's "Copper - Maiden Voyage," managed to blend humor, action, and the bonds of friendship into a seamless, fast-paced story. I haven't gotten into characters this quickly for quite a while, and it's a testimony to Kibuishi's talent.
Robot and the Sparrow" by Jake Parker is an odd but very touching modern folk tale with powerful visuals. Nine pages feels remarkably full, and still not enough. "Flight" is a very good comic.

Comics Festival
This is the first of several "grab bag" titles, this one based around the theme of Canadian creators. The stories vary in subject and quality, but I was at least entertained by all of them. Highlights for me included Darwyn Cooke's "The Day Big Star Retired" (Joe Rice, you'd get a kick out of this one), the strangely compelling "The Apokalipstix" by Ray Fawkes and Cameron Stewart, and "Hump Day in Hogtown" by Cooke, Brian McLachlan, and Michael Cho. Didn't much care for "Cold Play" by Ben Shannon. Recommended for older audiences, not because of inappropriate material as much as the fact that there's not much here that'll immediately grab a kid.

Bongo Comics Gimme Gimme Giveaway
I'm a sucker for Simpsons stuff, so this was right up my alley. My personal favorite was the lead story, "Homer's America," as it literally had me laughing every panel. Was less enthused about the Futurama story; the root idea, that salt and pepper are rare and coveted commodities in the future, was neat, but didn't really go anywhere. The humor felt too forced as well. The third story, "Taming Your Wild Child," is a harmless enough bit about Bart getting the better of Homer yet again. The six-page Plasmo the Mystic story was a fun parody of the old Dr. Strange stuff, but grated a little towards the end and wasn't as much fun as the usual Radioactive Man material. Still, it's a good comic for Simpsons fans or little kids whose parents want to convert them.

The FantaGraphics Funny Book
Another grab bag comic, this one didn't have as good a good/bad ratio as the Comics Festival. I enjoyed Ivan Brunetti's opener, and the Hernandez Bros. stuff (especially "30,000 Hours To Kill"), but some of the other material left me flat. Some of it seemed to delight in either making no sense or taking cheap potshots at mainstream work. "House of Shame," "The Insulterator," and "Appreciatin' with Removable Nose and Carl" were the most egregious offenders. Also problematic was the lack of credits on many pieces and a mostly unhelpful bios section at the end. Is it suddenly bourgeois to include a simple table of contents? I did have my suspicion that Dan Clowes is a douchebag confirmed, though. Recommended for hipsters and the tolerant, not recommended for those who strongly dislike having the author shove his disdain for the audience in their face.

Alternative Comics Presents
Last of the grab bags, and somewhere in between the last two. None of the stories overtly pissed me off, and there were only a couple that struck me as being bizarre for bizarreness' sake. Gabrielle Bell's "The Hole," Robert Ullman's "Lunch Hour Comix," and the excerpt from Damon Hurd and Tatiana Gill's "A Strange Day" pleased me the most. If you had to choose between this and the Fantagraphics book, I hope you picked this.

Jetpack Press: Johnny Raygun
This is a neat little comic mixing pulp sci-fi, superheroes, and spy material into a unique and interesting book. It does a good job of quickly setting up the universe for new readers, and I found myself enjoying it. The story's character-driven but has a lot of fun plot elements, especially the various powers of the Nuclear Kids. Omnipotent Man is a great caricature of what most comics fans would be like if they actually got superpowers. Of the backups, I liked the four-page karaoke gag better than the baffling "Mob Libs." Overall, recommended, and a good example of how comics can be all-ages and intelligent at the same time.

Beckett Comics: Ronin Hood of the 47 Samurai
Like last year's "The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty," this is a neat mix of old folk tale and genre fiction (in this case, the samurai story). The taste I get here has some interesting bits, and isn't afraid to change the story to fit the milieu. Unfortunately, it feels too brief, even at the standard 22 pages. I got the feeling I wasn't at the beginning or end of the story, but rather the middle, and that made it hard to fully enter the world. I think it was largely thin characterization. Recommended mostly because it's free.

Kandora Publishing: Barbarossa and the Lost Corsairs #1
I'm not sure if this is an FCBD offering or just something Cosmic Comics was trying to get off the racks. The hook (pirates in an interdimensional fantasy adventure) definitely reeled me in, but I found elements of the execution lacking. The hero and heroine are stereotypes I've seen before, and we get little information on the background characters (except for Lucisu, whom we are told many times can perform "magic" that's really applied 15th-century science). The art in the key scene of the interdimensional transit is muddled, which doesn't help the comic's case. The art overall is in a style I'd call "Crossgen Lite," which looks to be a good descriptor for Kandora as a whole. The tagline is "Story Driven Genre Comics," which explains the shallow characterization at least. For 32 pages, it's an awfully short read, and definitely a hard sell at the $3.50 regular price. I give them applause for effort, but I don't recommend the book as anything other than an entry-level comic or for those who really like pirates.

That's my Free Comic Book Day. See you next year.

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