Sunday, May 02, 2010

My Free Comic Book Day, and reviews of what I got

This past Saturday was the very first Free Comic Book Day I spent in a city other than Columbus, Ohio, so it was the first Free Comic Book Day I didn't observe at my former local comic shop, The Laughing Ogre (which I'd highly recommend to any Columbusites looking for a good comic shop!).

My new "local" comics shop is a bit of a drive from my current base of operations, and since there are only a single comic currently waiting for me in my pull file, I didn't think it was worth a visit just to celebrate my hobby's national holiday this year.

I was thinking I'd probably just sit this one out, but late Saturday morning decided that FCBD might provide a good excuse to visit a new shop, for exploration's sake.

According to the FCBD locator at, the nearest participating shop to me was Comics and Friends in the Great Lakes Mall in Mentor, Ohio. So I decided to take a little field trip.

Mentor is a town of about 50,000 somewhere around 15 to 30 minutes east of Cleveland, and is the one-time home of 20th president of James Garfield, as well as home to the urban-legendary monsters known as the Melonheads (which I've discussed in some detail in this 2008 posts about some Ohio monsters).

I haven't been to The Great Lakes Mall since, I don't know, high school, and I don't recall there having been a comics shop there the last time I was. Comic shops in malls are probably fairly common, but seemed a little...weird to me, and put me in mind of Mallrats. As in the movie, there was a lot of activity around the shop.

Some sort of police show thing was going on, so the center of the mall was filled with police vehicles, and right in front of the comics shop there was a display of various police uniforms and riot gear. Maybe they were recruiting...? Also in front of the shop was a person in some sort of cow furry suit with a young woman passing out fliers. I think they were from that chicken place that has cows encourage people to eat the flesh of chickens instead of the flesh of cows.

Comics and Friends had a comics pro doing a signing this FCBD. Simpsons comics writer Chris Yambar of Youngstown, Ohio (about an hour and twenty minutes south of Mentor) was seated behind a table with plenty of his wares near the entrance (I'm unfamiliar with Yambar's Simpsons writing, but he's a frequent visitor to Columbus' Mid-Ohio Con, and I have a couple of trades he's written, one a licensed comic based on the TV show I Dream of Jeanie, the other a funnybook about El Mucho Grande, a gigantic, rather round lucha libre).

Also near the entrance were two tables, each full of stacks of specially produced Free Comic Book Day free comics. One table was for all-ages stuff, the other for the less kid-friendly stuff. I didn't see every single FCBD offering available—I heard one mother searching in vain for "the Toy Story" comic, and I didn't see the Oni offering, but they sure seemed to have everything else. The signs standing atop the two tables which mentioned the age appropriateness said that visitors could choose any two comics.

A young woman behind the counter was dressed as Harley Quinn, and there was a 50% off sale on trade paperbacks and collections for club members, which I assume are customers with pull-lists there.

That seemed to be the extent of the FCBD celebration there. Like I said, it was my first time at the shop, but it seemed like a pretty nice one. They had a ton of trades, and it seemed like it was more graphic novel oriented than comic book-comic book oriented. A crowded back wall had all of the new single issue comics stuffed on it, and there were some back-issue long boxes, but most of the store was devoted to shelves of trades, as well as some toys and comics-related books and magazines and the like.

I'm no expert on comics retail or anything, but they seemed to have a pretty good set-up in terms of displaying things. I noticed a lot of kid-friendly, all-ages stuff as soon as I walked in and in the most accessible and visible areas, the superhero stuff all shelved along the wall, and some grown-up, pin-up art books behind the counter. There were also some spinner racks in the back with Dell and Gold Key comics in plastic with backing boards, selling above cover price (I saw an Uncle Scrooge comic for about a $11 or so).

If I lived closer to Mentor, and/or had occasion to visit there a couple times a month or so, I'm sure I'd be happy to visit the shop and make it my regular stop, despite not really liking the idea of having to go through a shopping mall to get to it.

Anyway, here are reviews of everything I got there on Free Comic Book Day, including the books that weren't free...

Free Comic Book Day 2010 (Iron Man/Thor #1)

I was kind of torn between the two Iron Man team-up comics Marvel was publishing this year. The Iron Man/Nova book featured a script by EDILW favorite Paul Tobin, and a plot involving The Red Ghost and his Super-Apes, but I ultimately went with this one because a) it featured John Romita Jr. art, and I was curious to see him draw these two characters given that he’ll soon be drawing them monthly as the regular artist of one of Marvel’s 17 new Avengers books and b) I wanted to see how Marvel would be presenting these two characters to a potential new audience excited by the Iron Man movie, as comic book Iron Man has had very, very little in cartoon with movie Iron Man for the bulk of the last four years or so (The main thing Iron Man the movie and The Invincible Iron Man have in common is that they’re both pretty good).

This book is presented in a smaller format than the standard modern comic book; it’s nine-inches high and six-inches wide, rather than the standard ten-inches-by-six-and-a-half-inches.

It sure looks dinky sitting there before you, but once cracked open, it reads just fine; I didn’t notice the lack of an inch here and a half-inch there at all, and realized I could easily get used to reading comics of this size. I suppose it’s too late now, but if Marvel had to start trying to increase their profits by a ridiculous amount in the past few years, saving money by reducing the trim instead of rocketing the price up 33% would have been a less pain-less way to go.

The script is by Invincible Iron Man writer Matt Fraction, which is of course a pretty great choice, considering Invincible Iron Man is certainly the place to point readers who dug the first movie (and, I imagine, the second one). It’s a pretty straightforward, all-ages-friendly, no-continuity-knowledge-needed done-in-one, emphasizing Tony Stark as a cocky, charming genius always seeking to make amends for his time spent developing weapons and Thor’s otherworldliness.

The Earth’s weather system is going a little nutty, and not listening to storm god Thor’s commands. Meanwhile, a bunch of rich folks are terraforming Earth’s moon for condos, using a weather weapon Stark once developed, and the two Avengers team-up to set things right. This includes a whole bunch of robot fighting.

Romita’s art is just as good as I expected, maybe even better. I’ve never really gotten used to the “New Look” Thor, but Romita really sells it, and I love the way his Thor exudes power through his posture, expression and casually flexed muscles.
Romita’s one of the only Marvel artists currently working regularly for the publisher whose work provides a clear, straight-line link back to the work of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and, yes, John Romita Sr.; JRJR’s art is Marvel Comics art at its purest, looking both current and classic at the same time.

And damn, he draws some nice Thor-smashing-shit-with-a-hammer panels: House ads: A teaser as for the X-Men vs. vampires thing that Marvel stole from Mark Millar’s dreams while he was sleeping, featuring a blood-splattered X over a yellow background and the cryptic “We are the X-Men, July 2010, Marvel”; an ad for The Art of Iron Man 2 book; an ad for Brian Michael Bendis, JRJR and Klaus Janson’s Avengers series, which launches this month; an ad for a ten-foot-long, $35 poster featuring The New Ultimates by Frank Cho, which seems a silly ad for this audience (if you were going to advertise a ten-foot-long, $35 poster to a “lay” audience, shouldn’t it be one featuring characters the readers are more likely to be familiar with?); an ad for “Brand New Day” collections of Amazing Spider-Man; an ad for Astonishing X-Men: The Motion Comic on iTunes; an ad for Invinicible Iron Man #25, which, like JRJR’s upcoming Avengers, is a natural place for people who dig this to look for more like it; an ad for the first collection of JMS and Olivier Coipel’s run on Thor, and a full-page ad saying “Iron Man and Thor Appear In…Invincible Iron Man #25 On Sale Now!…Thor #610 On Sale 5/26!”

Yow! Drawn & Quarterly Presents A John Stanley Library Grab-Bag for Free Comic Book Day 2010

Yes, that’s the title of D&Q’s offering, according to the fine print. There were a lot of fairly exciting comics out this FCBD, and, honestly, I would have been at least curious to at least scan just about all of them, but this is the one I just plain had to have.

Which is perhaps silly of me, since I imagine many of these stories will be available in the eventual John Stanley Library collections and I’ll read them all eventually anyway, but I really wanted to take the opportunity to read all of these strips in an actual comic book-comic book format for once, rather than in a handsome collection. Just to experience them in their native habitat, I suppose.

Seth’s cover promises a sort of crossover of characters from various Stanley comics—Melvin Monster, Tubby, Judy Jr. and Nancy—all drawn in Seth’s stripped-down, super-simplified, off-model style. I also like the mystery of the cover. Not only am I unsure why Nancy’s so thin and has eyeballs around her pupils, I have no idea what’s going on in this cover. Are they all running and crying? Screaming? Singing?

The contents, printed in full-color on pulpy paper, are as follows: A Nancy strip in which our heroine visits Oona Goosepimple’s crazy house and encounters some of her relatives, a Tubby story in which Tubby wakes up one morning to discover he has grown a real moustache in his sleep, a Judy Junior story in which she terrorizes poor Jimmy Fuzzi (I don’t like Judy Junior strip at all; like Witch Hazel stories in Little Lulu, for some reason I just can’t stand them despite loving everything around them), a second Nancy story in which she flees from tough guy Spike, a Melvin Monster story in which Melvin is followed home by a Thing, and a Choo-Choo Charlie story involving Choo-Choo Charlie and his, um, Choo Choo…?

With the possible exception of the Judy Junior story (and, it’s worth noting, that’s more of a personal taste thing than a These Are Bad Comics kind of thing), they are all a lot of fun, and it’s a nice sampler platter of Stanley’s range. It’s really something to see that last page of the Melvin Monster story next to the first page of the Choo-Choo Charlie one, for example, and realize the same talent is behind two comics with such extremely different visual styles, character designs and types of gags.

This was my first exposure to Choo-Choo Charlie, whom a quick Internet search tells me was actually a mascot for Good and Plenty candies (which I’ve never been able to cotton too; I like the way they look, but I hate the taste of ‘em), and the designs in the comic look very little like those from other Stanley books (although I suppose he didn’t design either the Nancy characters or the Little Lulu one’s himself, huh?). The narrative is also quite random and silly compared to the slow-building, usually grounded in the real world gags found in Stanley’s most popular comics.

But at the end of the day—well, the end of the 45 seconds or so I spent glancing between the tables trying to decide which free comic books to grab—what ultimately sold me on Yow! was the Tubby story.

It might take me some deep thinking and some serious writing to determine and then properly communicate why I love Tubby so much, but, since I met him in a volume of Dark Horse’s Little Lulu reprints, he’s become one of my favorite comic book characters, and this story is just fantastic, featuring scenes of the entire world freaking out because a little boy has grown a mustache, upsetting the balance of nature,and a scene where Tubby’s mom tells him she just doesn’t love him.(By the way, you can download the entire seven-page Tubby story from Yow! here)

I’m sure it doesn’t really make economic sense for D&Q to do so, or they would already be doing it, but, for whatever it’s worth, I would love to be able to read a John Stanley kids comics anthology comic book like this on a regular basis. Preferably monthly, but quarterly would work as well.

Also, more regularly appearing comics along these lines might mean more letters pages like this:

House ads: A full-page ad for the upcoming fifth volume of Tove Jansson’s Moomin (and the publisher’s Moomin line in general), featuring a blurb from Neil Gaiman; a half-page ad for Who Will Comfort Toffle?, the next Tove Jansson storybook set in the world of the Moomins, this oen featuring a quote from Jeff Smith; a half-page ad for Doug Wright’s Nipper 1963-1964, with a blurb from Lynn Johnston; and, finally, a full-page, back cover ad for the John Stanley Library collections, including an upcoming collection I think I may have heard about, rejoiced over, and then forgot about, because when I saw this ad I turned a cartwheel:You know how I said I loved Tubby earlier? He’s my favorite part of the Little Lulu comics. So this? This is kind of like…you know how when you’re a little kid, you love sugar at the exclusion of all else? So a bowl of Lucky Charms with nothing but marshmallows sound delicious rather than disgusting to you? Well, that’s what an all-Tubby collection sounds like to me.

I’m curious about this books existence, as I would assume Dark Horse had the rights to Tubby comics as well as Little Lulu ones, but I guess not.

Anyway, there’s another reason to look forward to summer…


Now, I always end up spending a lot more money than I mean to when I go to the comic shop on Free Comic Book Day, even though it’s usually the second time I’ve been there that week.

I guess I feel guilty for going to a shop and getting something for nothing, especially since I’m already a regular, die-hard comics consumer, rather than the sort of “civilian” or casual reader the day is designed to hook on comics. That is, surely there are people the FCBD organizers, comics publishers and retailers would rather have picking up these The First One’s Free, Kid bait books, and I feel like everyone I get is sort of a waste.

So I usually end up impulse buying a graphic novel or two while I’m in the shop.

This year was no exception. I picked up a couple of things from Yambar’s table, and a cheap graphic novel on my To Buy, Someday list. In an effort to make this already interminably long blog post ridiculously long, I'll review those too...

Lucha Pop! (Airwave Comics)

I would have passed on this 64-page, “prestige format” comic were Yambar selling it at its $8.95 original price, but he’d knocked it down to $5, so it seemed a safe gamble: How bad could a book of stories about Mexican wrestlers be?

Inside are four stories, each written by Yambar, penciled by George Broderick Jr. and inked by Ken Wheaton.

The first features “Major Smackdown, Lord of the Ring” (Who doesn’t have a terribly Mexican sounding name) and his understudy Understudy in “Quest For The Blue Tiger Diamond.” The pair board a plane taking the titular magical diamond to evil figurehead type Fire Dragon’s hideout in the Himalayas, and attempt to stop the bad guy from doing something bad with it. Broderick and Wheaton work in a Bruce Timm-inspired, “animated” style, and the tone of the script is remarkably…straight, given the zaniness of the material.

This art style re-appears in a later story, featuring “Sainto, God’s Own Wrestler” in a two-page origin story and a sci-fi/lucha libre/private eye mash-up entitled “…Then She Walked In,” which has a much lighter tone to the script.

There are also two comedy stories featuring El Mucho Grande, drawn in a much looser, more cartoony style. The first of these features EMG attempting to rescue his pal, a mute Chupacabra, from the clutches of its evil monster-making creator. The second of these teams El Mucho Grande with a couple of other Yambar creations, in which a recurring villain traps El Mucho Grande and company in some old Harvey comics. To avoid copyright infringement, Casper, Lil’ Hot Stuff and the others appear with black bars over their eyes, although Broderick otherwise draws them all spot-on.

Rounding out the volume is a long-ish prose piece entitled “The Secret, Sordid History of Santo USA,” detailing Yambar’s frustrated, ultimately fruitless efforts to get a Santo licensed comic book going, starting with his first introduction to Mexican wrestling and continuing through his efforts to find other real-life luchadores to work with after the Santo thing fell apart. It’s pretty interesting reading, actually, and it also explains the weird tone of the Major Smackdown and El Sainto stories—they are apparently repurposed from the first issue of a completed but never published El Santo comic.

It was a pretty fun read, although if you wanted to start with a Yambar-written Mexican wrestler comic, I’d suggest an all-El Mucho Grande one.

The Muppet Show Comic Book: The Treasure of Peg-Leg Wilson (Boom Kids)

This trade collects the second of cartoonist Roger Langridge’s Muppet miniseries for Boom, the last before they launched an ongoing by the creator.

Give the sub-title and the cover, I expected this to be a very different sort of book than the original miniseries, which essentially recreated The Muppet Show TV show as a comic book (which is, of course, no mean feat, given the difference between puppetry and television and comics). But, remarkably, Langridge was able to maintain the TV-show-as-a-comic-book format, while simultaneously telling a series of plots that carry from issue to issue.

The result is book much like the original miniseries, only instead of one-per-issue storylines broken up by the on-stage sketches, this volume contains bigger, more ambitious storylines between the bits.

Dr. Honeydew and Beaker have been performing a “civilizing” experiment on Animal, which has successfully transformed him into a polite, soft-spoken, well-dressed and intelligent member of society, but with one sad side effect—he’s lost his ability to drum like a wild Animal (This plot is particularly affecting, given the parallels it suggests between Animal’s situation and the challenge that faces a lot of creative folks with mental or behavioral problems when they first consider pharmaceutical treatment). Kermit the Frog has hired the only celebrity impersonator devoted to him, Kismet the Toad, who, despite looking exactly like Kermit, is different from him in almost every other way. And, in the storyline that gave the series its subtitle, Scooter finds a pirate treasure map suggesting there’s treasure buried somewhere in the Muppet Theatre, and Rizzo and his rats begin tearing the place apart to find it.

The treasure storyline is something to behold. Langridge starts it out as a running background gag, with rats in miner’s caps with shovels and pick axes busy behind or off-to-the side of much of the action in the foreground of the panels, and yet he builds it up into something genuinely dramatic and emotionally satisfying.

Boom’s Muppet mini-series casting the characters in adaptations (Muppet Robin Hood, Muppet King Arthur, etc) can be pretty hit or miss, but these Langridge comics are simply great comics. I really can’t recommend this highly enough.

Popeye Picnic #1 (Premium Pop Comics)

I should really devote more attention to this then a short entry in a multi-comic post like this, given the usual nature of the book. Yambar and his regular co-creators George J. Broderick Jr. and Ken Wheaton created this 30-page, black-and-white comic book in 2009 to mark Popeye’s 80th birthday, and the 30th anniversary of Chester, Illinois’ annual Popeye Picnic celebration.

Chester is the birthplace of E.C. Segar, and thus the birthplace of Popeye.

There are two connected stories within. In the first, Popeye and his supporting cast—Bluto, Olive Oyl, Swee’pea, Wimpy and the Sea Hag—are enjoying a picnic when a can of spinach lands on Popeye’s head and knocks him out. When he loses consciousness, he travels back in time to meet his maker, Segar, who shows him around Chester and introduces him to the real-life residents who inspired Wimpy, Olive and Popeye himself.
In the second half of the book, these half-dozen characters head to modern day Chester for the Popeye Picnic celebration, and there they’re met by Castor Oyl. Alice the Goon, Eugene the Jeep and The Whiffle Hen all cameo.

It’s an interesting book. The history lesson and tour of town have an unfortunate, perhaps unavoidable “edutainment” vibe about them, although there are some funny gags sprinkled throughout (I particularly liked Popeye’s real-life inspiration punching Popeye so hard that he send him into the future or reverse knocks him out, depending on how you want to read his unconscious journey to meet Segar).

Probably the biggest treat is seeing Broderick’s take on the characters. They all look bigger, rounder, smoother, cleaner and more three-dimensional than Segar’s, and its fun to see them interacting with “real” people (who are also cartoony drawings, but done in a different style) and the modern world.

The production values, sadly, leave a lot to be desired. The lettering is pretty poor, and ill-serves the dialogue, which perfectly captures the peculiar voices of each of the characters. Maybe making it look more Segar-like would have been too difficult, but it certainly didn’t have to look so computerized. The balloon tails also make it difficult to tell who’s talking in certain panels. The writing and art are highly professional, but the lettering looks pretty amateurish. So too does the pixelated pin-up art by Hy Eisman, and the ads from local businesses, which are laid out so as to resemble those you’d find in a high school year book, church bulletin or restaurant place mat.

Even still, it’s a one-of-kind comic book experience, and one I imagine anyone terribly interested in comic strip history would enjoy at least taking a look at.


There was a second comic shop listed on the FCBD locator near Comics and Friends which I attempted to also visit that afternoon, but I was unable to locate it, and I ended up just driving around wasting gas in Lake County for a while. My plans for exploring the area's comic shops was only half-successful then.

I did find a fantastic library though, featuring the biggest and most up-to-date manga selection I've ever seen in a single public library location. They had an awful lot of American comics too, mostly of the book publishers YA offerings and classic superhero comics reprints, but there manga section was to die for.

This is what I hauled home from there, as modeled by my new roommate Yogi, The World's Most Active Labrador Retriever:
Expect a lot of manga reviews in the near future, and maybe some posts about Bigfoot drawings.


Shriner said...

Yeah, I was wondering about that Tubby solicitation considering Dark Horse solicited something this month:

Kid Kyoto said...

Hurrah for libraries! I tried to get in on Free Comic Book Day madness but the shop closed at 6! Who closes on a 6 on a Saturday? I guess I'm still too much of New Yorker where there's a comic shop every 10 blocks and they're usually open till 10 or midnight.

Anthony Strand said...

Nice to see you review that second Muppet Show TPB. That was such a terrific book. Maybe the highlight of the series so far, and that's really saying something.

Randal said...

...and now I'm buying Love and Capes.

Anonymous said...

By Dr. Honeydew and Bunsen" do you really mean "Dr Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker"?

Caleb said...

By Dr. Honeydew and Bunsen" do you really mean "Dr Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker"?

Thanks; fixed it.