A brief weekly rundown of recommendations of new releases I’m intrigued by, excited for and will be grabbing off the shelves to curl up with every new comics day before delving into them later in the week!
Have you hugged your local comic store owner today?
Silver Surfer Black 1- Marvel Comics
The last, big run on the sentinel of the spaceways was an absolute delight. From the start Slott and the Allred’s acknowledged it’s debt to Doctor Who,citing it as an influence for the series and very quickly it became apparent that it was the guy with the silver surfboard who was giving us the weirdest, most spectacular and quirky sci-fi adventures, rather then the chap with the blue box. It really cemented them as maybe my favourite recent team to work on the character, that is until this week and the release of Silver Surfer black with the talents of super star writer and artist team of Donny Cates and Tradd Moore.
Cates has been quietly writing his way around the entire encyclopedia of the best Marvel characters as well as penning some new creations with Cosmic Ghost Rider and demonstrates a firm grasp on seemingly all of them to this point,leaving me eager to see what his has in mind as the “silver surfer fights for his soul” and returning the character to his more introspective roots after Slott took him on adventures flights of fancy. Moore is the perfect artist to play around with the already weird and wonderful cosmic corners of Marvel, and anyone who enjoyed his work on Ghost Rider and the deeply idiosyncratic and kinetic look he gave to Robbie’s world should check out this series.
If both the comics and movie versions proved anything, there can never be enough Spider-men,but with Miles Morales now also residing in the Marvel Universe proper, is Spider-byte one webhead too far? Nah!
Even with so many about the writers have excelled in giving them their own distinct personality and tone of stories around them from Silk to Superior to Gwen and while a younger version of Spidey was last seen kicking around an alternate universe with his Uncle Ben during Spider-Geddon,Marvel have been unusually tight lipped about the secret identity of this ensy weensy Spider leaving fans of the web-head theorising and speculating on another Spider character in the Marvel Universe. Tom Taylor and Juann Cabal have been giving us a much more down to Earth Spider-Man returning to his roots as a local hero which should be perfect to explore his relationship to a new member of the Spider family rather then a splashy punch ’em team up. Although, that would be nice too if they can swing it!
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 45- Marvel Comics
Ratatoskr is back! As the War of the realms rages across marvel entire line, the squirrel girl team have found themselves with an easy slam dunk, returning to arguably one of the runs best villains and the most organic feeling tie in to the Asgard themed event with the Norse chaos squirrel teaming up with Doreen against the Asgardian hordes.
While I tend to lean towards newer comics or ones still early in their runs in Wednesday Adventures,I’m keenly aware that this weeks 45th issue puts us only five issues away from the end of this hilarious and downright touching series. Squirrel girl has established her appeal as more than just an obscure fan favourite now turning up alongside Ms Marvel in the recent Marvel series and has carved out a unique niche among the rest of the heroes as throughout North’s tenure she has sought to get out of situations through dialogue and compassion. While it’s obviously to stop every story ending with Doreen just punching out the bad guy, it really helped to make her adventures stand out among her more well known peers. Here’s to the last five issues to come!
A brief weekly rundown of recommendations of new releases I’m intrigued by, excited for and will be grabbing off the shelves to curl up with every new comics day before delving into them later in the week!
Have you hugged your local comic store owner today?
Little Bird 2- Image Comics
It’s starting to sink in that the next issue of Saga could be anywhere up to two years away, and while you put on a brave face and bunker down, Little Bird is here to help soften the blow a little with gorgeous storytelling and cinematic visuals.
Taking place in a dystopian future, Little Bird follows a young resistance fighter struggling against the forces of the Oppressive American Empire. Even in it’s first issue this book felt like it had a creative team perfect in step with other. It’s writer Darcy Van Poelgeest was, unsurprisingly a movie director before his jump to comics and alongside artwork from Ian Bertram, this comic has the feel of a lush, visually striking movie playing out on the printed page. Like Saga before it, Little Bird doesn’t appear at all interested in fitting into any neat and tidy categories just yet, combining sci-fi and mysticism in a unique, textured and often blood soaked world that is tearing itself apart.
NextGen3- Marvel Comics
An exceedingly guilty pleasure that I’ve been rationalising every Wednesday for a week, The Age of X-Men has been solidly entertaining and fun. While it doesn’t quite hit the dramatic heights of War of the Realms is breaking into as we speak, NextGen in particular makes up for this with intriguing character development, making the best of it’s drama filled high school setting with Glob,who beyond the riot at Xavier;s has shied away from conflict being unceremoniously dropped right onto the front lines of the action and finds himself at odds with his own kind.
Old Woman Laura first showed us a refreshing change of scene, settling for a seeming Utopia and Age of X-Man carries on the idea of a broken,mutant anti-utopia which gives a welcome break from the noisy apocalyptic trappings to be had in stories like Age of Apocalypse and proves far more creepy and insidious. Even in this seemingly perfect Utopia that X-Man has created for his mutant kindred, they can’t help but be drawn back into conflict and relationship, resisting the gentle control and gravitating back to their core beliefs. The reptilian Student Anole being close to his unspoken “third strike” as he keep’s getting mindwipped but falling back into the same cycle of rebellion and revolution as he seeks out the underground over and over again, searching for a larger truth to this world.
The Magnificent Ms Marvel 2- Marvel Comics
As if any proof of her popularity and impact on the Marvel Universe over the last few years, the young New Jersey hero has even succeed in making the company add a new adjective into the rotation of their titles. Kamala Khan isn’t infamous, spectacular or sensational, she’s Magnificent as the returns in this new series helmed by Exiles scribe and Eisner Award-winning writer Saladin Ahmed with art from relative newcomer Minkyu Jung who has been building up quite the reputation and fans over at DC with the Batgirl and Nightwing titles.
Out of all her incredible superpowers, longevity is perhaps her strongest and as with Spider-Gwen is forging ahead with a new creative team. Ahmed’s work on the sadly short lived Exiles run demonstrated he knew his way around both exciting action, characterisation and deeply touching character moments all evident once again in last months first issue. Still a must read title!
This is a song with the same four chords I use most of the time When I’ve got something on my mind And I don’t want to squander the moment Trying to come up with a better way To say what I want to say
Max Dlabick (pronounced duh-lay-bick as his website helpfully points out! )is the self described “queer, trans” artists behind the frenetic slice of life web comic loonacy that is Andre and Karl. Centred around the eponymous pair, a musician and artist respectively along with their friends including budding actress and Andre’s partner Kim, musician Jack and the unemployed fancy rat Clinton among others,Following their day today exploits in life, work, love and the pairs constantly un-named and re-named band.
Max’s creation is a webcomic that has a rough and ready, DIY zine aesthetic that perfectly compliments it’s subject matter,giving more a strong sense of capturing a time and place,more concerned with locking a sense of place, person or feeling onto the pager rather than technical accuracy, which his gorgeous illustration work is the lush polar opposite of! Immediacy is key here and they have a fevered, frantic “this literally just happened!” feel to them that gives them a sense of urgency.
Early strips are super sketchy and a little more in your face and snarky, but quite early in it feels like Max discovered a strong and confident voice with the later strips gradually starting to show off the introspection and self questioning lives of the characters that has become the strongest part of a comic with queer identity baked right into it’s core. As they grown and develop the comic hits it’s stride with Max seemingly more comfortable talking about the subjects he want’s to address or explore, such sexuality or gender identity. The latter shown through our lead feline Andre finding it difficult to understand himself often with the exasperated sigh of “gender stuff”.
These strips are self deprecating funny and unafraid to poke some light mocking in the direction of his characters and just how complicated it can be not just navigating the world today, but yourself. Raw, rough and very funny Karl and Andre is a perfect snapshot of a group of friends each trying to find themselves, and connecting with those around them.
Events such as Thought Bubble are by far perfect occasion to discover new art,comics and creators in person and break out of the twitter and online gallery bubble, so once again this year I was again scouting around the numerous marquees for interesting and new books and comics, admittedly with maybe an eye extra open for something anthropomorphic! This year was another spectacular convention and it didn’t disappoint in terms of discovering talent that was new, to me at least. One that stood out and fit the bill very neatly thank you, was a book entitled Nihilistic Bunnies and it’s creator Aiden G Moore who in a flash of cross marketing/cosplay genius was dressed head to toe in a sparkly, queer rabbit getup.
As I said, it’s new to my eyes at least with Aiden actually releasing the book sometime last year and I’m surprised I’d not heard of it before. He presents a beautifully produced gallery of cutely sketched rabbits all being suitably adorable, each one oddly juxtaposed with some dark and well, Nihilistic phrases that tickled that skewered, pitch black part of my brain. They all illicit a wry, sadistic chuckle from the downbeat world view they espouse, with the most optimistic being “but carrots still taste good” in reply to another bunny declaring “life is meaningless”.
Moore has also used anthropomorphic characters in his comics work with the completely wordless Occult Trash Raccoons, a short comic in which Raccoons turn to the dark arts and proficiency in arcane magical rituals in order to get their paws on trash that in a dozen or so pages crosses from cutesy animal shenanigans to full on occult nightmare fuel. Aiden also returns to rabbits, representing himself as a bunny again in two slice of life comics, Ode to Customer Service, which collects his account and others of working in the treacherous and often thankless world of retail, detailing the funny, saddening and rude customers that come along with the territory. Bunny Book, an autobiographical work previously published in Boston Comics Roundtable ‘Being True this year and also exhibited at the ‘Inside Job’ exhibition at the Tate Modern delves into gender presentation and recounts his experiences of expressing himself as a feminine trans male. Working across a slew of other mediums as well as comics I’d recommend their work for anyone with a penchant for anything spooky, cute or occult!
If you had to think of comics that are political Green Lantern, with it’s Intergalactic Space cops who diligently patrol a whole sector of space as their “beat” with the aid of magic rings, might not be one that instantly springs to mind as somewhere to discuss the issues of the day. Yet Denny O’Neil did exactly that with his famous run in the 1970’s which paired DC’s two green themed heroes, Lantern and Arrow. A politically charged road trip across America in which the usually confident and head strong lantern has to face harsh realities of his countries social climate.
This week however writer Mark Russel returning to a 70’s setting and the books socially conscious leanings, teams up the Green and the Blue this time around, when veteran Solider and rookie Lantern John Stewart is drawn into a partnership with down on his luck canine comedian, Huckleberry hound. “So you have the young idealistic Lantern meeting up with a world-weary cartoon dog against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and Watergate. Seems like they might have something to talk about” Russell says, explaining what at first seems like a strange and unlikely pairing “Setting the crossover in the early 1970’s just seemed to make a lot of sense, because John Stewart is still at the beginning of his career, just learning how to be a Lantern, whereas Huckleberry is at the end of his. His cartoon cancelled and making a living on the “has-been circuit”, appearing on TV shows like the Hollywood Squares and hand-selling his comedy albums at stand-up gigs”
Maybe this crossover shouldn’t have been such a surprise from the writer of the criminally overlooked Prez; itself an updated spin on the original Joe Simon creation, Prez Rickard which while silly, fun and wildly inventive for it’s short run, never really took advantage of the Presidential angle beyond the teen president’s strong stance on gun control, settling for legless vampires and other comic oddities. Russel’s recent reinvention put the politics back into a book that was already a perfect fit for it, taking a sardonic look at 2000’s politics and how that works in the world of instant celebrity culture and quick fire social media. “It’s something I sort of got into by accident. DC offered me the chance to write The Flintstones based on the work I did on Prez” he says of his Teen President Beth Ross, whose time in office beat her male counterpart by two issues and led the writer onto his subsequent work with the Hannah Barbera stable of Saturday morning cartoon icons “What I’ve come to like about the Hanna Barbera characters is that they didn’t come in with a lot of backstory or continuity to worry about. Surprisingly, the Snagglepuss cartoons never included any flashbacks to his failed career in theatre or his broken relationship with his parents or anything like that. So I got to make all that stuff up”
It’s the looseness and simplicity behind this Saturday morning cartoon creations that has given Russell breathing to reinterpret and recontextulaize them, has writing some of the most striking and socially hard hitting comics of the last few years,both adding complex backstories to these beloved cartoon staples whilst staying true to the core of their characters. Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles framed the pink mountain lion as a less comedic, and much more melancholic soul leading a double life as a successful and confident,Tennesee Williams type playwright forced to skulk and sneak his way into New York’s village against the backdrop of McCarthy witch hunts and the much less known about “Lavander Scare”, which sough out homosexuals casting them as subversives and communist sympathisers. It was the first time such a strong and overtly queer characterisation and story had been given to a character who had previously only been broadly gay coded, sweeping aside the snickering comments of the past and giving him a quiet, noble dignity “Snagglepuss’ gayness is not only central to his identity, but to his struggle against the institutions that are trying to destroy him. The entire story of Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles is built on two pillars. That he had a background in theater before he went into cartoons and that he was a gay man living in 1950s America” explains Russell on Snagglepuss’ portrayal as gay in this years Exit Stage Left and if he worried about any fallout from the decision “I don’t really worry about how people will react to modernizing or changing well-established characters. I just try to make characters who have depth and meaning for me and trust that other people will feel the same way about the character that I do”
“I think stories resonate, not because we care about the time period in which they’re set, but because they’re populated by characters that are dealing with timeless human realities” Exit Stage Left encapsulates Russell’s outlook on storytelling perfectly. Shockingly for a comic set in the 50’s, with an underused character, is that it strongly and deeply resonates with the experiences of a queer audience in 2018. In a year that felt like it had been thrown head first into full reverse it expertly focused in and captured this feeling from the viewpoint of the LGBT community with pathos and heartbreaking tenderness “Whatever genre I’m writing, I basically ask myself the same questions. I want to know what it would mean to be that character and how to survive in a world that is trying to kill them” By adding things before or after their cartoon careers, in this world Snagglepuss and Quickdraw essentially serving as “actor”s on their respective cartoon shows, it has allowed Russell to add these in depth back stories and inner lives without casting aside the animations that made them so popular in the first place. For a story that ends on a hopeful but downbeat note, it makes the cartoons almost an act of defiance with the events of Exit Stage left in mind as the effeminate gay mountain lion perseveres and carries on with his life. It might be as a comedic and inoffensive version of his true self,but it’s close to it as he can get and Heavens to Murgatroyd does he live it. “I‘m much more interested in the conflict between a character and the world in which they live” Russell comments “The way they are expected to fall in line behind institutions that don’t care about them. About the ways they deal with their limitations and the apathy of the Universe by finding meaning in their work and in each other”
“Sometimes I’m accused of making a cult of my own sorrow” admits Huckleberry Hound, fellow Playwright and longtime friend of Snagglepuss in a moment of self depreciation. Huckleberry Hounds journey mirrors and then veers of wildly from our pink protagonist in one of the more heart wrenching moments in a book that already pulls no punches. Unable to weather the storm Huckleberry takes his own life, leading to Snagglepuss working with his son Huckleberry Jr who becomes the beloved star of screen and attains a sense of happiness his father never knew. For a while at least. Russell’s stories might be slightly unmoored from the history of the cartoons we watched as children but we are children no longer and the gentle continuity between his multitude Hannah Barabera books has allowed for some fascinating new aspects to characters, based on their shared history in an adult world “There are references both to the father he never knew and the cartoon career that was just beginning at the end of Snagglepuss. This fact informed the character and influenced the story” tells Russell on Huckleberry, seen protesting side by side with the Green Lantern on the cover to this weeks special “Not only in terms of Huckleberry’s willingness to speak out, but also in terms of Huckleberry having to deal with the destruction of his career in show business, much the same way Snagglepuss had to. As it is sometimes said, and as John Stewart points out in this issue, history never really repeats itself, but it sure does rhyme a lot”
“I felt like there were a lot of parallels between that time and our own. Most notably, about people’s capacity to lie to themselves to keep fighting a war they know is unwinnable. To keep believing in a president they know is corrupt. About the futility of trying to control people through fear and brutality” Russell explains on the setting of the Green Lantern Huckleberry Hound special, the 1970’s and more specifically the Vietnam war. Huckleberry is down and out on his luck while the freshly recruited Green Lantern John Stewart returns home not to a heroes welcome but to distrust and hatred as he himself learns the difference between having power, and using power. In scenes that could equally have been ripped out of the headlines of either the 1975 or 2018, we see fearful residents calling the police to ‘deal with’ groups of black people. Making his prediction of history rhyming even further is Stewart retelling the story of his brother surviving two tours of a warzone, only to be felled by racist troops after less then 24 hours back in Detroit in the same week that holocaust survivor Rose Mallinger was shot dead with 10 others in her own synagouge. “The hard part, the part I regularly struggle with, is not in describing these realities so much as offering hope that we can overcome them” Russell offers on his tackling of such important and sensitive issues in his comic work “In the end, the best solutions I’ve been able to come up with are to self-medicate, not necessarily with drugs, but with beliefs and relationships that allow you to take meaning from your life and to not wait for institutions to change to start building the world you want to see in microcosm”
Thank you to Mark Russell for agreeing to and finding the time to conduct this interview. The Green Lantern Huckleberry Hound was released Wednesday 31st October and Exit Stage Left the Snagglepuss Chronicles is available in trade paperback. You can follow him on twitter here.
“Nothing’s sad till it’s over. Then everything is.”
Longevity in comics is dead. Dormant at least. No one’s going to be pulling epic runs of hundreds of issues in long sprawling arcs anytime soon, with a few exceptions of course. Which writers and artists could afford to in the current industry? Is the audience and indeed, their bank accounts still up for such ambitious long burning stories? Either way, certain characters lend themselves to shorter, more contained runs. Short, bright bursts that ignite our imaginations and then end, left for some other writer to pick up in the future, or not. Struck by the sadness I usually feel when a series that has buried itself into my brain comes to an end, Eternity Girl’s penultimate issue brings us one step closer towards it’s conclusion. Even with several ‘iterations’ last issue and her fabricated backstory (then again, aren’t they all?) it feels like I want more of Caroline’s story. A character who only four issues or so, is as fully fleshed out and realised as any of he DC counterparts. So, a single issue after this one. Maybe some other writer might release her from comic book limbo years from now? This time though, these thoughts and the sadness were replaced and chased away with a wry smile, suddenly struck by the glaringly obvious. Remembering what writer Magdalene Visaggio has been saying and preparing us for this entire run through Caroline’s plight and Flying in the face of decades of comics publishing and serialised storytelling.
All good things come to an end. All good stories, should end.
The seeds of Eternity Girl were sown in the Milk Wars crossover which saw the weirdness reach critical levels as we were treated to a few pages of selected Eternity Girl stories detailing her fabricated history, stretching across the years and reflecting each age of comics in a hyper accelerated Flex Mentallo fashion. Reaching it’s conclusion, Eternity Girl,who bares a passing resemblance to Element girl, famously given her most poignant and final story by Mr Gaiman and shares the same afflictions (ie not dying) navigates the empty white spaces between the panels before literally squeezing herself into the world. Ta-dah!
After last month Eternity Girl’s fifth issue restricts itself to a mere two realities with Caroline facing off against both Crash and Rick, once again throwing question the nature of what she is experiencing. Is she really following Madam Atom on a journey to end all existence or going dangerously mad? Does it really matter at this point. Throughout it’s run has been pulling some extremely complex and meta storytelling, but with heart. Yet again we are made fully aware of her endless and eternally repeating “Iterations” and the none to subtle nod to her torturers, the readers and writers. Hearkening back to Animal man and indeed this issue and the series has the best aspects of a Grant Morrison story but with a more relateable gnostic superhero at it’s core, driving it’s clever structure.
Leiw’s artwork continues to be the perfect fit for this story. Selected panels highlight the kitsch retro four colour printing method of years gone by which clashes deliciously with the sombre tones of Visaggio’s storytelling. It’s a part of a comics history Eternity girl was never really a part of, but now is through some deft continuity wizardry in order add to her suffering and this issue they serve as windows to both realities, showing them literally overlapping and bleeding into each other. It gives the impression of two ages of comics crashing into each other and visually represents Eternity Girls mental state at this time, still weighing up the prospect of ending her own pain at the expense of reality itself. After last issue, Leiw’s art is more restrained and straightforward but still manages to stun and explode of the page such as the page with DJ Crash reaching out to Caroline which one again uses a circular, fractal motif that has come up in this series in both the art and story structure.
Visaggio Delves further into Caroline’s character this issue, graduating from the low level grey feelings at the depths of depression and isolation she was suffering in early issues into full blown anger when those around her turn against her. Visaggio herself is an openly trans writer, a subject she candidly and honestly talks about on her twitter. For those following Visaggio, it’s an interesting lens to view Eternity Girl through and adds a lot more depth and poignancy into an already thought provoking and visually striking book. I hope it’s a title that queer fans will latch on to, it’s a razor sharp smart example of what queer storytelling can be without making it the absolute and obvious driving force behind a story. While it would be really easy to fall into intentional fallacy territory, the strength of Caroline’s story is Visaggio taking it above and beyond such a straightforward and surface level reading with the sheer amount of ideas feeding back and looping on one another in a given issue She makes it a much broader and ultimately richer story and at any given time as a comic for anyone who has ever suffered depression, any level of body dysphoria, a lack of agency and control in their own life or simply some meta comic book shenanigans
Issue five is another stunning instalment in a vibrant and invigorating new series from a relatively new voice in the industry, Eternity Girl has felt like a mission statement or a summation of what the Young Animals imprint is all about. Mind bending comics about comics with wit, heart and empathy to spare. When it ends next month Visaggio is going to ultimately leave us conflicted and acting against our own nature as comics readers, wanting more but hoping that there never, ever will be.
A brief weekly rundown of recommendations of new releases I’m intrigued by, excited for and will be grabbing off the shelves to curl up with every new comics day before delving into them later in the week! Have you hugged your comics store owner today?
Exiles 1- Marvel Comics
I hope the image book below make up for choosing this in the face of my complaints about Marvels up and coming re-blandening exercise as an event, “Fresh Start”. Barely any of the titles stand out to me. I hadn’t intended to pick any up. I know, What can I say? It’s the X-Men. Everyone has their pull list weak spots and wouldn’t you know it, X-Men is mine. Look, a book about misunderstood misfits will always,always have a space on my shelf and there is none more misfit then the Exiles. Plucked from all manner of mismatching alternate realities to fix the multiverse it was a comic with a delightfully silly mixture of beloved series’ Quantum leap and Sliders. With its comic hitting all the highs that made them such great shows. Larger overarching plots but essentially smaller mini arcs of bizarrely cool and far fetched “What if” scenarios every issue, ensuring it was anything but boring. I’m hardly surprised that while looking for a preview I found that new writer Saladin Ahmed (Black Bolt) has said pretty much the same thing in interviews.
All this without even mentioning a new secret star merely two issues away! Peggy Carter: Captain America! All the loud cries of “it’s only an alternative reality version!” that always come up, or the dismissal owing for her apparently unforgivable ties to a video game, don’t care. I’ll take my Carter action wherever and whenever I can get it thank you very much. The other, much more excited half of the Internets enthusiastic reaction upon the reveal makes me feel that this could be an interesting take that will end up informing the character in general going forward.
Dry County 2- Image Comics
When he’s not busy with she wolves and aquatic spy stories, Tommaso has been carving out his own little niche of criminally good neon-noir crime comics with the lies of Dark Corridor. This time around billed as “the everyman crime series”, Dry County finds Lou Rossi in the backdrop of a neon soaked nineties Miami trying to track down a woman he met one night in a laundromat.
Like a lot of Tommasi’s books, this ones taking a while to get up to full speed, and it helps that his past projects has proven he is very much worth sticking to with in this regard.
Over three years ago, and twice as many old fashioned’s, I found myself so completely moved and drawn in by Kristyna Baczynski’s comic “Vessel” that I somehow ended up writing close to a thousand words about it. Diving deep and gently dissecting it.
A little excessive maybe for a comic comprising eight pages? Well, you can imagine the strange mix of excitement and trepidation I was feeling this week as the Leeds based creator announced her first full length graphic novel to be released by Avery Hill Publishing this September to nicely coincide with her home cities celebration of comics, Thought Bubble. You can expect a full review here around about this time 2019. Maybe.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, for years really. Alongside my other freelance commitments and part-time jobs, making a longer comic book could never quite fit into that scenario” said Baczynski of her previous work on her shorter self published comics, including the poignant and touching “Hand Me Down”, nominated for best Graphic Short in the 2016 Eisners. Having quit her lecturing job to go into comics and illustrations full time, Retrograde Orbit will mark her first foray into full length graphic novels and the first to be picked up by a major publisher. “Avery Hill had always been interested in and supportive of my work so we decided to finally get the ball rolling together” Baczynski commented on the subject of her new home with the publisher, who also announced new books from B.Mure and Tillie Walden to be released this autumn, “Avery Hill wanted the ball to be science fiction, so that was a nudge that started things off”.
While another of her stories, the quietly sweet and hauntingly introspective “A Measure of Space” featured sci-fi elements with it’s cosmic disaster, Retrograde Orbit already feels like it’s fully embracing the genre, set on a mining planet at the edge of the solar system and the experiences of Flint as she grapples with her own notions of home and the possibilities of leaving it. Her unique composition and panel layout is something I talked about endlessly before and Retrograde Orbits structure clearly sets out to firmly launch her latest works sci-fi premise beyond just the, admittedly gorgeous, looking futuristic set dressings “The mechanics of the story are based on the cycle of planets in a solar system, so that took some time to get right. I’m also trying to avoid sci-fi exposition. As much as I love Geordie LaForge and his technobabble, I wanted the science fiction world to be an immersive setting, a narrative metaphor, instead of something that needs explaining all the time”
Coming out in September it should come as no shock that Retrograde Orbit’s launch will coincide with this years Thought Bubble which as well as being a genuinely welcoming and uplifting showcase of comics talent, has also snagged a fair few exclusive releases for their comics celebrations in past years. “Thought Bubble 2018 will be my tenth show. That’s wild. So, we decided to pitch the release date for then” shared Baczynski when asked about the seemingly cosmic connection of convention and release dates “I absolutely love Thought Bubble; it’s my hometown show, they have always been supporters of my work and raise the profile of my home city. Not to mention all my comics friends visiting for a weekend every year. It’s the best. I’m so excited to share the book with them in September.”
A big thank you goes out to Kristyna for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk to me. You can find more of her work here and learn more about Retrograde Orbit over at Avery Hill.
Growing up on a diet of sci-fi and fantasy, transformation stories were the ones I loved and could always rely on the writers of most shows to fall back on one of it’s most loved tropes. For me they were always the most frustrating though, as characters spent their time trying either freaking or trying to change back, usually both. Frustratingly they almost never explored a person staying that way, gaining a new perspective on the world. It’s something I’d find renewed interest in when encountering the Furry Fandom and finally found quite literally in the works of Lobst, a furry comics artist who uses their anthropomorphic characters and an individual take on magical realism to express their unique experiences as a trans person.
As with the bulk of their work two of my favourites, both adult comics, prominently feature transgender characters and story lines. A Slightly Different Role follows the exploits of two huskies, Connor and Alex, the latter of which with the aid of a suitably gothic book of curses, magically endows the other with a vagina. The second, more science-fiction orientated That Curious Sensation takes the subject in an entirely different, rarely explored direction. Distracted from work by unwanted erections red panda Clover strikes upon the idea of nullification, quickly achieving his goal with an easily obtainable injection. In both instances the initial transformation is dealt with quickly and often humorously, instead shifting the focus onto how characters react and adapt to the changes, rather than the change itself as a way to explore other parts of a trans individuals experiences and struggles beyond the post surgery aspects that a lot of mainstream representations fixate upon.
Lobst tells stories and presents her trans and gender fluid characters in an interesting and entertaining manner without the fetishization often present in a lot furry comics staring trans characters. Their artwork explores them in entirely different ways ,and using the fantasy elements as a springboard to ask more intimate and rarely asked questions about individuals in the trans community through anthropomorphic characters. Despite the ears, tails and fur, her extended cast appear on the page fully rounded and human. Ultimately what sets Lobst’s work apart is the warmth and tenderness it exudes in both the ways their characters interact and the playful way they write about a complicated and multifaceted subject, tackled both playfully and honestly.
Has art always been a part of you life or something picked up later? How did your art change after coming into contact with the furry fandom?
I’ve always drawn artwork, although it took quite a while for me to start developing original ideas that spread out into stories. I was a furry-in-denial for a very long time, since the “mainstream” of it — at the time, comics like Sabrina Online and Jack — either seemed too cloying or edgy for my tastes. It took a long time for me to realise that like any other fandom, furries comprise a wide spectrum of interests, so there was a gradual shift from anthro-animal comics like Cigarro & Cerveja/Living In Greytown to Gene Catlow/Kit & Kay Boodle to Associated Student Bodies, Circles, and the webcomics by my friend Moult, after which I spent yet another very-long-time producing furry media “ironically” in groan worthy “extreme” ways. And I think it was only around 2007 or so (yes, seriously) when I started actually looking at furry art, that I learned how to successfully draw furry snouts; until that point a besnouted face was seriously just a box in front of the standard comic-artist human face shield.
Ever since learning about, and subsequently becoming hooked on Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth I quickly and almost slavishly devoured everything he’d put out, reading back from his indie roots in Lost Dogs to his more recent work with the more established stable of super hero types for the big two. Indeed some of my favourite stories of his feature the “long underwear” lot, making me deeply invested in characters I had no previous interest in such as Old Man Logan, or following up already acclaimed runs of both Hawkeye and Moon Knight to pull and stretch them, twisting their own recently established styles and motifs around and back in on themselves to surprising effect. Between this and his Image work like Plutonia and Descender there really hasn’t been a shortage of stories to enjoy from the prolific writer. Still, there’s something truly magical when Lemire swaps powers for the powerless, spandex for flannel with his more personal projects. Taking over both art and writing duties, this years Royal City is the book I’ve really been waiting for.
Struggling to write his make or break third novel Patrick Pike is unexpectedly and reluctantly drawn back to the squat, broken down city of his youth after his father suffers a stroke that leaves him in a coma. The once thriving city and the families relationships have both seen better days as Patrick quickly become entwined once again in the lives of his mother and his two elder siblings. Noticeably more grounded than a lot of his other recent work, a quick description of Royal City makes it’s initial premise sound very simple, which at first, it is. However, the real draw here is how intricately and complex and raw he writes each member of the Pike family.
In lesser hands it’s easy to see how they could be reduced to simplistic one note characters. The Bitter arguing couple, the burnout, the beleaguered father and passive aggressive mother, Royal City takes it’s time to explore these characters where other books would skim the surface. Lemire digs deeper here and mines the darkest and most destructive elements of the family, yet still manages to round them out and humanise them into a deeply flawed yet relateable cast. Slowly peeling back the years of familial resentment in it’s first five issues, it presents everyone as a lot more complex then they at first seem, showing the choices and circumstances that shaped each of them, including the devastating event at the centre of the book that haunts the family. Lemire even uses the familiarity some might be feeling with both the set up and his work to great effect here, the subtle supernatural element at work throughout is used to show each character failing to deal with the loss that it leaves the reader wondering if there really is “something different about this place” or simply the effects of psychological trauma on the family. For those waiting for a high concept twist, Lemire teasingly dangles one in front of the reader early on and instead turns a reference to his one of his previous works into a poignant and succinct summation of the relationship between Christopher and his wife Greta.
Expecting artwork more akin to Sweet Tooth, I found myself reading it back at the same time and was instantly struck by how even more stripped back and stylistic the artwork of Royal City is. This book is probably the most “Lemire” of his work and we see him as an artist stripping everything back to it’s simplistic forms and telling a deep and moving story in the most economical way possible. There’s a deserted abandoned feel to the eponymous city and the gaunt, troubled faces of it’s inhabitants. His lines are loose and expressionistic, complimented with a muted pallet and washed out watercolours. Sparsely beautiful and haunting in it’s own unrefined way.
While I loved reading Royal City monthly and enjoyed the wait between issues and the time to re-read and speculate about it’s developments, Lemire is telling a very slow burn human story and some issues don’t have a ‘story shaped’ conclusion or cliffhanger in the typical way comics readers might be looking for. Despite all the back material, essays, playlists and the like, it might make for a more satisfying experience collected as a trade for the majority of readers. Royal City succeeds in giving readers something wholly fresh and compelling out of instantly recognisable characters and settings by pausing to look at their motivations. Lemire’s choice of a slower pace to allow them to time and space to play out in detail over the course of it’s first arc, becoming more complex and nuanced every issue. The paired down artwork and minimalist approach to dialogue makes the book initially feel a lot simpler then it turns out to be, quietly obscuring all the hard work being performed on every page and every panel right in plain view. Five issues in and Royal City is a title that Conveys perfectly the feeling of lost time and potential through both the Pike family and the ailing city, that permeates through it’s engrossing first story arc.
Royal City Next of Kin is released September 27, 2017