Top 10 graphic novels of 2011

December 18, 2011 | Graphic novels

By Craig Thompson
Pantheon, 672 pages

It was a long wait from 2004’s breakthrough hit Blankets until Habibi arrived this fall and cartoonist Craig Thompson’s sweeping love story was well worth the wait. Filled with lavish art and set against the backdrop of poverty and slavery in a fictional Arabian land, Habibi is quite simply a masterpiece.

The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists
By Seth
Drawn & Quarterly, 136 pages

One of Canada’s most renowned cartoonists paints a lovingly detailed portrait of a world where he and his brethren are revered as the highest of artists. At times sweet and heartfelt, other times melancholy and moody, but always engrossing and thoroughly enjoyable.

Paying For It
Paying For It: A Comic-strip Memoir About Being a John
By Chester Brown
Drawn and Quarterly, 272 pages

The idea of trading cash for sex is still a shocking subject in any medium and leave it to Toronto cartooning icon Chester Brown to take the notion to the next level in graphic form. Brown’s astonishingly frank account of using the services of prostitutes in Toronto is a thoroughly engrossing look at a world most people would otherwise never know existed.

Morning Glories v1
Morning Glories Deluxe Collection Vol. 1
By Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma
Image Comics, 352 pages

High school life if rough on most kids, but at Morning Glory Academy it can be murder. This red-hot new monthly comic series (the first year of which is now collected in one handy volume) is filled with intrigue and action as six new students at an exclusive prep school try to figure out why they’ve been brought together, what makes them so special and why so many students at their school don’t live to see graduation day.

DC Comics: The New 52
By Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, many more
DC Comics, 1,216 pages

The publisher of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and countless other famous superhero comics, relaunches its entire universe with 52 new first issues in the hands-down comic book event of the year. This mammoth volume leaves no doubt that this is the start of something special.

reMIND Vol. 1
By Jason Brubaker
Coffee Table Comics, 150 pages

This off-beat and wonderfully original tale sees a young woman named Sonja reunited with her cat, Victuals, weeks after he went missing. Funny thing is, not only is he back, but now he can talk. And what an unbelievable story he has to tell.

Anya’s Ghost
Vera Brosgol
First Second, 224 pages

The debut effort by this American graduate of Oakville’s Sheridan College is an extremely impressive one that sees a young girl make a very unusual friend, a ghost named Emily, who leads her down a delightfully dark path. While this spirit seems friendly, she has a secret that’ll send chills up your spine.

Joe the Barbarian
Joe The Barbarian: The Deluxe Edition
By Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy
Vertigo, 224 pages

Mind-bending writer Grant Morrison is at his very best in this reality-twisting epic. Joe Manson is a regular 13-year-old kid with a vivid imagination who has trouble with school bullies and has diabetes. Joe is also a brave warrior who may be saviour to a mysterious kingdom and their only hope to defeat the monstrous King Death. Is Joe losing his mind? Is he in insulin shock? Could he really be both people?

Vietnamerica: A Family’s Journey
By GB Tran
Villard, 288 pages

GB Tran travels to Vietnam for the funeral of two grandparents and explores the lives of his family through the tumultuous 20th century for their country through the unique prism of being the only member of his clan to be born in America.

Scarlet Book 1
Scarlet: Book 1
Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev
Marvel Comics, 184 pages

One young woman takes an uncompromising stand against corruption and injustice, and fires the first shot (or shots) in a new American revolution in perhaps the most poignant book of 2011: the year of the protest.

(This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)

Tintin’s toughest adventure yet

December 15, 2011 | News

Tintin unicorn
He’s the star of a book series that has sold more than 230 million copies and his globe-hopping adventures, translated into 80 languages, have made him one of the most recognizable comic characters in the world.

Yet somehow Tintin has always managed to elude a widespread audience in English-speaking North America. Until now.

Thanks to some Hollywood heavyweights, Tintin, who first appeared back in 1929 and has gone on to be featured in 24 wildly popular books by Belgian cartoonist Hergé, may finally be on the verge of a breakthrough on this side of the Atlantic.

The Adventures of Tintin, which opens wide in Canada and the U.S. on Dec. 21, is directed by Steven Spielberg, produced by Peter Jackson and stars (at least in a motion-capture way) Daniel Craig, with Jamie Bell playing the title adventurer.

The film has already grossed more than $233 million in international release and some Tintin fans believe it will lure even more readers to this bestselling book series.

In Canada alone, “We have brought in 100,000-plus copies just to meet current demands,” says Jennifer Lynch of Tintin distributor Publishers Group Canada in an email, adding that “the spike in sales since the beginning of 2011 has been huge.” She credits the film buzz for the boost in sales.

“It’s a very exciting film and I think it will bring Tintin to even more people,” says Michael Farr, widely acknowledged as one of the world’s foremost “Tintinologists” and author of four books on the character and its creator, whose given name is Georges Remi.

The fantastical life of the intrepid young reporter with the upturned hair, the knickerbockers and his little white dog named Snowy hooked Farr at a young age.

“It was the first book I read, as a 4-year-old,” he admits. “I remember sitting down and reading it after dinner with my mother and loving it from the first page onwards.”

The lure of the character, Farr says, comes in no small part from how broad his adventures are.

“Hergé, himself, would have liked to have been a reporter, but since he couldn’t be, he created a character, Tintin, who was going to be a great foreign correspondent that he was going to send out into the world to discover what was happening,” Farr says. “Over 50 years we had 23 adventures completed (and one unfinished) and they are, in effect, a mirror of what was happening in the world in the 20th century — with Tintin always in the thick of things.”

There are plenty of reasons why so many people enjoy these books, not the least of which is the art, inspiring the look of the digitally rendered film.

“It’s a beautiful set of stories in the context of their day, and many are timeless,” says Leslie McGrath, head of the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books at the Toronto Public Library. “Those are clear, bright drawings that instrantly engage you in each story and tell it clearly.”

The elegant look of the books also lured in 41-year-old Edouard Biot, an Ottawa resident who emigrated from Belgium 20 years ago.

“Tintin is definitely a classic,” he says. “As a book and game publisher, I keep saying to my illustrators and graphic designers to keep ‘la ligne claire’; in English ‘clear lines.’ I’m still trying to keep our designs as simple and clear as the ones Hergé did a long time ago.”

Biot says he loves the idea that the film will create a new audience for the books in North America.

“I wish this movie brings Americans and English Canadians to reading those comic books,” he says. “That would be a great moment in the history of comic books.”

Having already seen the film, which he describes as “riveting and packed with adventure,” Farr says it is sure to capture plenty of new fans.

“It’s a very exciting film and I think it will bring Tintin to even more people, so those who are not familiar with Tintin will now discover him, go out and buy the books and that’s where they’ll find the enduring pleasure which certainly I’ve had,” he says.

The feature film adaptation of Tintin is a long time coming, with plenty of parties over the years vying for the chance to bring his adventures to life.

“We tried desperately at the time to get the feature rights, but of course Spielberg bought them back (in the ’80s),” says Patrick Loubert, co-founder of Nelvana Limited, the iconic Canadian animation company that produced the highly successful cartoon versions of Tintin’s adventures.

“We spent a lot of time trying to make it look exactly like the comic book,” Loubert says. “We were really happy with it. We really liked the books. To get an opportunity to do it was a real treat.”

The animation mogul agrees that The Adventures of Tintin has all the ingredients to be a blockbuster.

“The stories are very interesting, the characters are unusual, it’s action-adventure with comedy and it should work even if you didn’t know the property at all — even if you didn’t know it was a famous French (language) classic.”

The French connection is a strong one, Loubert says, noting the animated version sold like hotcakes “en Francais.”

“Every country that had French as a second language, or even a third language, seemed to know the property,” he says.

Those language ties extend to Canada, Farr notes.

“Because of the French-Canadian connection, Canadians were always more familiar with Tintin than those south of the parallel,” he says. “Now, with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s film, I think this gap will finally be closed.”

Farr says one of the best reasons for hope of a landmark Tintin picture comes from the series’ creator.

“When I was writing Hergé’s biography, I discovered a note among his papers which was dated January 1983,” Farr explains. “In it, he said, ‘If there’s one person who can bring Tintin successfully to the screen, it’s this young American director.’

“Now he didn’t name Spielberg, but we know it’s Spielberg because in his diary he (wrote he) was due to meet him at the end of March. Spielberg wanted to discuss the possibility of film rights with him already back then. Unfortunately, Hergé died at the beginning of March, so that meeting never happened.

“So, in a sense, one can say that this film has the official seal of approval from Hergé himself.”

(This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)

You Are a Cat!

December 8, 2011 | Graphic novels

You Are a Cat

The “Choose Your Own Adventure” books of the 1980s get a funny and decidedly more adult-oriented spin in You Are a Cat! (Conundrum Press, 200 pages, $17). Read and decide how to spend your day as Holden Catfield, an ordinary neighbourhood cat with a lot of options. Will you head over to your girlfriend’s house for a snuggle? Take on that nasty tomcat that’s been marking up your territory? Head off in search of fish to munch?
Part homage and part satire by Montreal writer/illustrator/poet Sherwin Tija, You Are a Cat! serves up quite the fancy feast of activities for a kitty to chew on: want to become a peeping tom,stop a suicide or, oh, what the heck, kill a man? It’s all in this bizarre, yet highly addictive and enjoyable effort.
(This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)

Marzi, A Memoir

December 8, 2011 | Graphic novels


Marzi Sowa is a complicated little girl living in even more complicated times.
Growing up in the 80s in the People’s Republic of Poland, she doesn’t have very many toys to play with or many different clothes to wear. She spends far too much of her life in long food lines with her parents, ration card in hand, hoping she may get sugar for her tea this month. Or maybe, if they’re lucky, toilet paper.
Even as a young child, Marzi is bright enough to know big things are happening in her homeland. People are growing more and more frustrated with the communist government and, for the first time, growing more and more vocal with their displeasure. Her father, Josef, is participating in strikes, something previously unheard of in their country at the time. Poland is changing and growing into something new; as is Marzi.
Marzi, A Memoir (Vertigo, 248 pages, $19.99) by Marzena Sowa and her partner Sylvain Savoia is made up of a series of elegant vignettes that beautifully blend many familiar childhood moments with scenes of a maturing nation. Sowa perfectly captures the emotion of this pivotal time in world history through the eyes of a child in story that is deeply affecting.
(This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)

Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus Vol. 1

December 8, 2011 | Trades

Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus V1

Trying to fill the shoes of comic book legends like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby would be a daunting task for any writer/artist team.
But for just one man to take on the Fantastic Four? The legendary duo’s first Marvel Comics book? The series they spent the longest on? And to do arguably as good (or dare it be said better) job? You might say that’s impossible. Until you read Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus Vol. 1 (Marvel Comics, 1,096 pages, $140).
Byrne, a former Calgary resident and a member of the Canadian Comic Book Creator Hall of Fame, spend a year as the artist on Marvel’s flagship book beginning in 1979 and drew good reviews from fans.
However, it was when he took on both the writing and illustrating duties, beginning with the July 1981 issue, that he really began something special. What followed was a six-year run filled with epic adventures, intense and moving stories with dynamic art that pushed the series’ heroes — Mr. Fantastic, the Human Torch, the Thing and the newly renamed Invisible Woman (nee Girl, a defining moment in Marvel and feminist comics history) — to new heights.
Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus Vol. 1 is a whopper of a book that collects about half of Byrne’s work on the series, along with some nice bonus art pages all on crisp, clean high-quality paper in favour of the original newsprint (creating an experience not unlike listening to a CD after years of hearing the same tune on scratchy, old vinyl).
(This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)

The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists

December 8, 2011 | Graphic novels


You can picture all of our nation’s greats saddled up to the bar: Jimmie Frise, Doug Wright, Arch Dale.

What a wonderful place Seth has imagined in The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists (Drawn & Quarterly, 136 pages, $24.95).

Painting a poignant picture of a country that worships cartoonists as the highest of artists, the GNBCC is clearly, though unfortunately, a work of fantasy. It is, however, the kind of place any fan of the medium will embrace and easily, and happily, get lost in.

Seamlessly interweaving tales of real-life Canadian cartooning icons likes Frise (Birdseye Center), Wright (Nipper) and others with his own fully realized and compelling artists and creations, Seth delivers a touching love letter to his beloved medium and those who have blazed the trail for modern-day cartoonists.
(This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)

Daniel Clowes interview

November 11, 2011 | Interviews

the death ray

Daniel Clowes is finally ready to take a proper shot with The Death-Ray.

The Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and cartoonist first presented this highly acclaimed story — about a teenager named Andy, who derives superpowers from smoking and who gains control of a high-tech pistol that can erase its targets from existence — in the final issue of his cult-classic comic book series Eightball back in 2004.

But even then, Clowes knew this story deserved more.

“I really should have had the courage right then to end Eightball and just do The Death-Ray as a book initially, but I just couldn’t let it go. I was still having separation anxiety from not doing a comic book,” said the 50-year-old creator.

“But the minute it came out, I thought, ‘This made no sense at all to do this as a magazine that’s unavailable to really 99 per cent of the public.’ Those can only be sold in comic stores — no book store would sell a magazine with a different title from the actual work. So I planned, kind of from that minute on, to do it in book form, so that the rest of the world could actually read it.”

Clowes, best known for two other Eightball stories, Ghost World and Art School Confidential — both of which were made into Hollywood films (the former earned him an Oscar nod for Best Adapted Screenplay), got his wish last month as The Death-Ray was finally given the deluxe hardcover treatment by Montreal publisher Drawn & Quarterly.

This edgy yet colourful story has also attracted the eyes of filmmakers and Clowes says he’s hard at work on a draft of the screenplay.

“The movie is very different from the comic; it’s kind of an inversion of the comic in that it focuses more on the older Andy and the younger Andy is kind of enveloped into the middle,” he said. “We’ve just completed a new draft of the film, and we have a director we’re talking to and it’s in that development process.”

Despite the sometimes arduous task of adapting his comic book tale for film, Clowes says the work is paying off.

“I would say, of the scripts I’ve written, this is the one I’m happiest with. It’s the one I’ve worked hardest on and it’s really very unique to the comic. It’s got a lot of different things from the comic that I really wanted to get in the comic and couldn’t,” he said. “So, this is one I feel like it would be, if it was made the way I envision it, could be a really strong film. But, you know, once it’s out of your hands you never know what’s going to happen.”

Clowes said he’s also busy converting his first original graphic novel, 2010’s Wilson, for the big screen.

“I am working on a screenplay for a Wilson movie, for Alexander Payne (Academy Award-winning screenwriter/director of Sideways and the upcoming George Clooney film, The Descendants), and I’m working on a long graphic novel that I’m not ready to talk about, because I’m not sure it’s going to be what I think it’s going to be yet,” he said.

Also on the horizon is The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist, a monograph due out in spring that will celebrate the cartoonist’s acclaimed work.

“It’s got a lot of things people have never seen,” Clowes said. “I let this guy, Alvin Buenaventura, who’s the editor of the book, I just let him go through my files and archives that I’ve never even looked through myself. I just saved everything and put it all in my closet, and so he started digging through stuff and found stuff that I had no memory whatsoever of doing. It’s got artwork from every phase of my career, and then it’s got all the main pieces that I’ve done over the years and essays and things.”

Having a career retrospective done on you at age 50 is a very unusual feeling, Clowes admits.

“I feel weird about it, because it’s not my book; it’s a book about me, so, I mean, I shouldn’t be promoting it because it feels arrogant to talk about a book about me rather than something I’ve actually done myself,” he said.

“I think it came out as good as I can imagine; I’m the worst judge, obviously. It’s one of those things I kind of wish it just wouldn’t even exist, because it’s embarrassing to see all that stuff. But as far as those things go, I think he did an amazing job.”
(This article was first published in the Toronto Star)

Art Spiegelman interview

November 10, 2011 | Interviews


Twenty-five years of answering the same questions over and over again could drive a person to madness.
Or, in the case of Art Spiegelman, inspire greatness.
In the quarter century since Spiegelman’s groundbreaking — and Pulitzer Prize-winning — graphic novel, Maus, debuted, he’s faced a deluge of queries from hundreds, if not thousands, of journalists, academics, students and fans. Everyone wants to know what inspired him to portray Jews as mice, Nazis as cats and recount, as a comic book, his father’s extraordinary tale of surviving the Holocaust.
So to mark Maus’ silver anniversary, Spiegelman put all his answers — and an incredible wealth of art and other material, including a jam-packed DVD-ROM — into MetaMaus, a new book that offers an inside look at the book that first bridged comic books and literature.
“I figured I’d just turn around and try to stare my beast down,” Spiegelman told the Star in a telephone interview from his New York City studio, as he admitted the four years he spent working on MetaMaus have helped hone his answers to well-rehearsed perfection.
‘If you get asked the same things over and over and over again about any given book, ultimately your name, rank and serial number remain the same from interview to interview and bit by bit you kind of learn to get it all down to that little smooth nugget of an answer.
“What’s interesting here is, working with (associate editor) Hillary (Chute) for such a long period of time, we’re able to really have the time to find the nooks and crannies and then re-reduce the book down to something manageable that wouldn’t be five times longer than Maus.”
The challenge, Spiegelman said, was to avoid simply having a big birthday party for Maus in book form.
“(MetaMaus is) a book that, as I worked on it, became more and more like a real book. I understand that it grew up as something that can really become deadly: an anniversary book, a book about a book — it starts feeling kind of tertiary,” he said. “And yet, by the time I was immersed in it, I had to get over the same kinds of woundings that led to the original Maus and had to relive a lot of stuff that I’d kind of managed to re-suppress and by the time it came together I felt protective of it. So it wasn’t just: ‘scurry out into the world, my little MetaMaus.'”
The new book delves deeply into the 63-year-old cartoonist’s creative process in what he hopes won’t take away from the enjoyment of the original story.
“There’s one place (in the book) where I talk about admiring the notion of a magic act that tells you how something is done and leaves the magic intact,” Spiegelman said.
“That was the goal, although it did involve allowing me to give everything I could as I kind of look at Maus again so there ultimately does become a work of ‘what does it mean to be alive, process one’s life and traumas — and even pleasures — and try to find a form.’ Well beyond the specifics of Maus, it becomes ‘what is process, what does it mean to actually take the raw stuff of one’s life and make something out of it.'”
While Maus quickly evolved to the point where it is often grouped with the likes of The Diary of Anne Frank as a seminal book about the Holocaust and is often used as a teaching text, its creator says he never intended for it to be classroom material — or to be read by children.
“I never made the book to teach anybody anything, I made Maus to engage readers in a narrative,” Spiegelman said.
“There is a kind of afterlife for Maus that I’m grateful for, but it took me a while to get used to it. I used to be horrified when I heard that it was being taught in schools — even as young as in middle schools. It took me a while to come around and understand that a) comics are a very democratic medium; b) there are stupid adults and smart kids so it’s not for me to decide who ought to read it.”
Maus may be easy for sophisticated modern fans of graphic novels to read and enjoy, but Spiegelman said the process of getting it published was no small feat.
“It’s all kind of amazing how much moves along in a mere quarter of a century,” he said. “At the time that Maus was done, there was just no context for this. There wasn’t a world that was clamouring for anything like this — quite the contrary, say those rejection slips that find their way into a spread of MetaMaus. Despite the fact that the phrase graphic novel was invented, it didn’t exist as a category.
“Now, when I talk to the younger folks, they can barely remember a time when there was anything pejorative about being a comic artist. If I went into a bar to pick up a girl back in my twenties, I wouldn’t say I was a comic book artist, I’d say I was a plumber — it would have more sex appeal. Now these younger (cartoonists) are like rock stars.”
The work of these ‘rock stars’, a majority of whom claim Spiegelman as an inspiration, continues to impress him.
“They’re all mind blowing and they’re now appreciated as mind blowing,” he said.
Though none have ever earned a Pulitzer, like Spiegelman did in 1992, a special award presented to him after the completion of the second, and final, volume of Maus.
“It’s surprising to me that I won it,” he said, before quipping: “I always thought that a special Pulitzer is like winning the Special Olympics.”
One of the most succinct and best polished answers in MetaMaus follows the question of why has this incredible story never been turned into a Hollywood film.
“As I said in the book, I keep (a copy) in a glass bookcase that has the words ‘in case of economic emergency, break glass,'” Spiegelman said with a chuckle. “I’ve been blessed so far that I haven’t had to do something that I feel is a betrayal of the work.”
But perhaps the most important aspect of the new book for its creator is giving his late father, Vladek, another chance to have his story told.
“I imagine that, on some level, in my dream life, he’d be glad to have his Maus mask off and speak for himself in the transcript in the back (of the book) and in the DVD that accompanies it,” Spiegelman said. “And if he’s not, I am.”
(This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)

Seth interview (2011)

October 21, 2011 | Interviews


Collecting a $10,000 prize cheque is always sweet.

Being publicly acknowledged for having “substantially contributed to the state of literature and books in Canada” may be even sweeter — especially considering the winner of the 2011 Harbourfront Festival Prize is the first cartoonist to ever claim the honour.

Seth, whose award-winning and critically acclaimed work includes the classic graphic novels, It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken and George Sprott, said the prize, which he’ll be awarded on the closing night of the International Festival of Authors, offers a measure of validation to his chosen medium.

“It’s a pretty clear sign that graphic novels or comic books have actually reached a point where they can be judged on their content rather than on their media,” the 49-year-old told the Toronto Star from New York City.

He’ll be back in Toronto for his onstage appearance on opening night of the IFOA Friday, in conversation with fellow cartoonist Daniel Clowes on the opening night of the IFOA.

“I think it’s another stepping stone in seeing the graphic novel accepted as just another form of writing.”

The shift in perception that culminated in being awarded the Harbourfront Festival Prize certainly didn’t happen overnight, Seth noted.

“(Art Spiegelman’s) Maus came along in the late 80s and it was a book that got a lot of attention, a great book, won the Pulitzer Prize, etc., etc., but really anyone who decided ‘Alright, I’m going to read graphic novels,’ there probably wasn’t a lot of work they could turn to,” he said.

“Back in the 80s, you had to sell your work in the comic shops and it was palpable, the disinterest that people had for the kind of work we were doing.”

But alongside cartooning stalwarts like Clowes, Chester Brown, Joe Matt, Charles Burns, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, Chris Ware, Craig Thompson and countless others, Seth continued to chip away at the preconceptions of graphic storytelling.

“I think the real change is that over a 20-year period, there’s been kind of a slow building of a beachhead of cartoonists that are working toward the same goal, which is to use the comic book medium just as a form of writing like any other kind of literature — to break away from the usual genre concerns of fantasy and the typical subject matter that comic books have always had,” he said.

“As each year passes, another cartoonist comes along who produces a significant work and we’ve finally reached a point where there’s probably a whole bookshelf or two of actually good graphic novels that an adult reader could (enjoy).”

The subject of camaraderie in cartooning hits close to home for Seth, whose new graphic novel, The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, revolves around a club for the likes of him — though he admits it’s not the kind of association he’d like to be part of.

“The truth is, you get together a whole bunch of cartoonists and it’s kind of like having a perpetual comic book convention — which is not something I want be part of,” said the former Toronto resident and OCAD grad, who now resides in Guelph, Ont.

Like Seth’s previous homage to comics and collecting, Wimbledon Green, his latest book began as a sketchbook exercise.

“You start on page one with a quickly thought up idea and then just start going and I think that’s the kind of stuff that comes right out of the information that floats around the front of your brain,” he said.

“For me, probably the first topics I would turn to for anything would be collectors or comic books. The history of cartooning, other cartoonists — it’s like right there on the edge of my consciousness.”

Next up, Seth said, is finishing his long-running story Clyde Fans, along with his ongoing design work on The Complete Peanuts and on a second volume of The Collected Doug Wright, highlighting the life and work of the Canadian cartooning icon.

Seth also extended his design repertoire to include creating logos for Guelph’s roller derby club, the Royal City Rollergirls, crafting distinctive looks for squads like Our Ladies of Pain, Violet Uprising and the Killer Queens.

“Basically I got involved because my wife joined the team,” he said. “She thought it would be fun to try out and they needed a crest.

“At first, it was just something I was doing to make my wife happy, but after I went to a few games, I really liked it so I’m quite pleased to be involved.”
(This article was first published in the Toronto Star)

DC: The New 52 is here

October 9, 2011 | News


It’s the end of an era for DC Comics.

Or, more importantly, it’s a new beginning.

After more than 70 years of bringing the world the adventures of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and dozens of other well-known characters, the historic company has hit the reset button.

It has re-launched its entire line of comics with an event dubbed “the New 52” (after the number of rebooted titles they’ve released) in a massive effort to de-clutter complicated continuity and make its books more accessible to new readers.

On the forefront of this initiative are three local comic creators — Francis Manapul, Jeff Lemire and Ken Lashley — all of whom agreed it was probably high time for a fresh take on the DC universe.

“I’ve always thought that DC kind of needed to do something like this because their history was so complicated,” said Lemire, who is writing Animal Man and Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. amid “the New 52”.

“I always felt like doing something like this would be a great way to get new people into comics and into (DC) comics and so I was really happy when they announced this initiative and pretty excited about it.”

Manapul, pictured above, who is now co-writing and illustrating the fast-paced DC standard, The Flash, said the decision caught him off guard.

“I was absolutely shocked because DC is usually perceived as the slow-and-steady company,” he said. “It was such a bold move for DC to be making that I thought ‘you really can’t help but be excited.’”

Lashley, co-artist of issue No. 1 of the military-themed Blackhawks and cover artist for that series along with new titles Bat-Wing and Suicide Squad, admitted he initially had mixed emotions about the re-launch.

“Part of me is saying ‘wow, this is great you want to start fresh’ and (another part) says ‘what’s going by the wayside is part of history,’” he said.

Getting involved with “the New 52” came as a bit of a surprise, Lashley said. “I was asked by (DC editor) Mike Marts to do a book, sort of a cool military book, not even figuring it was part of this new re-launch,” he said.

When he quickly learned working on the book was going to require a commitment he couldn’t manage alongside his day job at Toronto’s TransGaming Inc., he opted to contribute to the re-launch exclusively as a cover artist.

Best-known for his dynamic illustration work on books like Witchblade and Legion of Super-Heroes, Manapul adds writing to his repertoire as part of “the New 52” — something he didn’t take on lightly.

“It’s the perfect storm of potentially choking,” he said with a laugh. “(Co-writer Brian Buccellato and I) getting our first big shot at writing this book, this re-launch, everyone’s expecting big sales, everyone’s expecting the book to, at the very least, look good — it was very daunting.

“It really boils down to me thinking about it when I was 14-, 15-years-old, reading The Flash comic and thinking ‘one day I would love to write and draw this thing.’

“Once I started thinking about that, it really took everything else away.”

The decision to take on both Animal Man and Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. stemmed from their diversity, Lemire said.

“I think the books are different, which is something I was looking for,” he said. “Animal Man is a very furious, very dark, emotional story, while Frankenstein is a really big, fun action-adventure, kind of over-the-top sort of thing.”

Animal Man has already been singled out by many critics as a highlight of the re-launched DC lineup and Lemire said part of its success no doubt stems from how personal the book has gotten for him.

“Of all the stuff I’ve written for DC so far, (Animal Man’s Buddy Baker) seems to be the character I can relate to the most,” he said. “Like me, he’s a father and a husband and so it’s very easy to put myself in his shoes and take that family aspect and build out from that.”

The opportunity to get on the ground floor of this updated DC universe was very appealing, Manapul said, because of its historic potential.

“The more you think about this initiative and the books that are spawning out of it, potentially what you’re seeing right now — how the Flash is portrayed, how Superman is portrayed — this could be how these characters are perceived for the next century,” he noted.

And as for long-time readers who aren’t too impressed with losing those 70-plus years of history and investment they’ve made in DC’s characters, Lemire says it’s time to accept change.

“This is not just something they’re trying out,” he said. “This is going to stick, for better or for worse.

“There are a lot of detractors out there, but the fact of the matter is: the books are selling really, really well and it seems to be a success on pretty much every level, so I can’t see it going back to the old way. I think it’s here to stay.”

Lashley, on the other hand, thinks there’s always potential for a new “New 52” down the road.

“Let’s be real: this is comic books, right? There’s always a reset button somewhere,” he said. “That’s the fluid nature of comics.”
(This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)