Girls With Slingshots: A Remembrance

Danielle Corsetto

Danielle Corsetto

So today, one of my favorite webcomics–and one of the most prominent webcomics of the last decade–ended. At 2008 strips, the decade-and-plus-old Girls With Slingshots by Danielle Corsetto ended this morning. If you’ve never heard of it, I’d highly recommend it. It’s a smart, knowing and incisive comic about a group of adults and the trials of life. The title characters (who, to disabuse you of any notions, never use slingshots) are Hazel, a bitter, booze-loving writer and her best friend, the fun and compassionate Jamie. I should warn, though, if you’re averse to this kind of thing, the strip deals with sex and sexuality quite frankly, honestly and openly. If you’re not turned off by that, you can start reading here.

I discovered GWS (to use the common acronym) my sophomore year of college which was great in some ways (a stable circle of friends, employment, my discovery of Adventure Time) and really hard in others (a very tough foreign language class, jerk bosses). Because of all the stress of that year, I was seeking out and consuming webcomics like peanuts. At my peak, I was keeping up with something like 45 comics (55-60 if you count all the newspaper comics I was reading online).

I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that GWS kinda broadened my horizons. When you’re raised in a Christian bubble and surrounded by conservatism, you tend to not know a lot about how the average person works, lives and loves. GWS taught me about that and a whole lot more. For that, I’m grateful.

The things I admired the most about the strip were its broad and endearing cast of characters (such as McPedro, the talking, mustachioed cactus), its commitment to diversity and inclusion, its slight but fun satire of the writing world, Corsetto’s gorgeous, ever-improving artwork and her respect for the comics medium while also taking it to new territory,

In a 2011 interview with The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg (although then she was at ThinkProgress), Corsetto mentioned that she drew inspiration from syndicated strips like Zits or Luann or Foxtrot. That influence was always telling: most of the strips were the standard 4 panels and, aside from the subject matter, a lot of the pacing would have been perfect in a newspaper format.

The photo at the top of this article is Corsetto herself from when I met her at San Diego Comic-Con last summer. I know I never blogged about it or posted my pictures, and that’s my fault. But I figured I should share that photo and tell you the story of how I met Ms. Corsetto,

This was on Sunday, the last day of Comic-Con and I was running around Artists’ Alley, trying to meet and/or buy stuff from all my favorite webcomics people who were there (I bought a Dark of the Moon-era Decepticon toy just so David Willis could sign it). Corsetto, at the time, was in the middle of a nationwide tour she did last summer to celebrate GWS’ 10th anniversary. She had mentioned online that she’d be in San Diego that weekend, and I was lucky enough to catch her in the brief window of time she was at the booth for Topataco (which puts out her books and that of several other creators).

I didn’t have any money to buy anything from her, but we talked briefly, mostly about how awesome the current run of guest strips by Molly “Jakface” Němeček was (they were indeed awesome and you can read Molly’s awesome webcomic Woo Hoo! here). I remember her being really nice, although obviously frazzled. Given how crazy Comic-Con is in general and how busy she herself was, the fact that she was so approachable was really heartwarming.

It’s not as if Corsetto’s going away anytime soon, thankfully. Next month, Graybles Schmables, her third entry in the line of Adventure Time Original Graphic Novels put out by BOOM! and drawn by Bridget Underwood comes out. And on Monday, GWS will be rerun from the beginning with brand-new coloring (by Corsetto’s talented colorist, Laeloo) and commentary. In addition, Corsetto has also teased some new projects. I’ll keep following her on Twitter and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

A Humble Bundle That You Need In Your Life (Really)

Transformers comic

If you’ve followed this blog or have known me in real life for any significant amount of time, you know that I love me some Transformers. That baffles people, mostly because the Michael Bay films are all they know. Even if the last one was comparatively decent, that’s still a shame for this multi-layered, multi-faceted science fiction franchise (which obviously exists to sell toys, but it does so because it gets us to care about the characters).

The biggest slap in the face to what Michael Bay has done to the franchise is the comics IDW Publishing has been putting out since 2006. Taking place in a new iteration of the Generation One continuity (that’s the original ’80s cartoon, comics and toyline), the line was initially a succession of connected miniseries and one-shots written by the Major Domo of Transformers writers, Simon Furman. In 2008, the maxi-series All Hail Megatron which had the Decepticon leader formally conquer Earth was released and kicked off events that led to an ongoing written by Mike Costa that, after three years, ended with the most daring storytelling anybody had done for Transformers yet.

The Great War between the Autobots and Decepticons–y’know, the thing THE ENTIRE FRANCHISE is based on–actually ended. Cybertron was restored to life after eons of barrenness and loads of NAILs (Non-Aligned Indigenous Lifeforms, those who left the Great War) arrive back home. From there, the franchise split in two directions in 2012, with IDW’s Transformers editor John Barber writing and Andrew Griffith drawing Robots In Disguise, about the efforts to unite the new Cybertron, and fan-favorites James Roberts and Alex Milne writing and drawing More Than Meets The Eye, where a bunch of characters, led by Rodimus (aka the guy who became the new Prime in the 1986 movie), leave in search of the legendary Knights of Cybertron to help restore the planet and…well, pretty much everything but that happens.

It’s those two series that are the focus of Humble Bundle’s new Book Bundle, which started last week and concludes on Wednesday. Like all Humble Bundles, the focus is towards charity–here, it’s the Hasbro Children’s Fund–but the staggering greatness of the deal offered here is incredible.

For as little as you want–yes, even a penny–you get 37 issues of More Than Meets the Eye–that’s every single issue ever published but the current one. That’s an astonishing deal. If you pay more, you can also get nearly every issue of Robots In Disguise (which has been renamed to avoid confusion with this) as well as the “Dark Cybertron” crossover, which bridges the gap between the first and second “seasons” of both comics (but really isn’t required reading). But if you can’t pay that much, just get MTMTE.

Roberts, Milne and colorists Josh Burcham and Joana Lafuente are the most underrated storytellers in comics today. Yes, even if they’re working on a licensed book put out by a Top 5 comic book publisher, they’re still written off. It’s a branding thing, obviously. Because the public perception of Transformers has come to be “shiny shit blowin’ up REAL good” for four films now, other media gets written off as similarly stupid.

More Than Meets The Eye is the complete opposite of that. Milne’s gorgeous pencils are distinctive and emotive; you clearly know and feel for these characters. Burcham and now Lafuente compliment that with astonishing colors. And Roberts–himself a long-admired figure in the fandom–leads the way with absolutely incredible scripts that either redefine old characters or define characters who never got much or any backstory in the first place.

The series is full of wit, humor, Big Ideas, dysfunctional personalities, epic space-faring adventure and small-scale introspection. In short, it’s everything you can get in great science fiction. The fact that this has a lot of firsts like, say, the franchise’s first canonically gay married couple (really), only is more points in its favor.

This is an incredible comic that is only going to get better. If you don’t believe me, read Lindsay Ellis’ take on it. Then get your butt over to Humble Bundle, donate and download. Even if you don’t like Transformers–hell, especially if you don’t–read this. You’ll be so glad you did.

Grant Morrison Week #2: JLA

NOTE: This was meant to be posted yesterday, but I’ve been really sick and exhausted, so I had to postpone it. Also, this was meant to be about another one of Morrison’s DC works–which I’m still planning to review–but I didn’t get it done in time. So instead, this.

Source: Wikipedia

One of the things I talked about on Wednesday was about how Morrison’s writing is full of incredibly big ideas, some of which pay off, others don’t. Morrison’s 41-issue tenure on JLA, the Justice League comic that ran from 1997-2006 (with Morrison kicking the book off), is full of ideas that do. Even better, they manage to feel completely true to the spirit of all these iconic characters while incorporating their history and their (then-current) status quo.

I haven’t finished the full run yet–at present, I’m halfway through the famous “Rock of Ages” story–but I like a lot of what I’ve read so far and Morrison’s go-for-broke plotting, along with the dynamic artwork of Howard Porter and Oscar Jimenez, are the reason why.

Basically, the setup behind this version of the Justice League–something stated explicitly in the first story arc–is that the League–which here has Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner), The Flash (Wally West), and Aquaman, with Green Arrow (Connor Hawke) and Aztek joining later on–only meets up in response to bombastic, large-scale threats.

Accordingly, every issue is full of gigantic, crazy stuff. For example, the first arc has the League facing off against the Hyperclan, a group of proactive superheroes from space who win over the public with their grand gestures but (of course) turn out to have sinister motives. A two-part story, which introduces the one-time DC Universe mainstay of Zauriel, involves Superman, who at the time had electric powers (it’s complicated), wrestling an evil angel named Asmodel who looked like a giant bull.

I repeat: Electric Superman wrestled a bull angel. How do you not want to check that out?

Basically, it’s everything I love about old-school comics–the crazy ideas, the weird stuff just tossed at the reader without any rationalizing other than “because”–combined with that punk rock energy Morrison always has, a reverence for and understanding of these characters and a lot more literary pizazz.

Of course, a comic book writer is only as good as his artist, and Porter (with Jiminez subbing in at some points), delivers the goods in droves. His characters and backgrounds are big. It’s been said that the DC heroes are gods, and Porter underlies that assumption with art that is energetic, bombastic and pleasing. He’s great fun.

If you liked the two Justice League cartoons–my friend at Critical Hit! wrote a great post about them which reminds me I really should get back into those at some point–and you want to know where the go-for-broke stuff came from, this entire run has been collected in trade and is really easy to find. Check it out.

Grant Morrison Week #1: TALKING WITH GODS (Review)

Source: grantmorrison.com

When I was in high school and The Dark Knight came out, like millions of other people, I got excited about Batman. Unlike most people, I actually tried to get into current Batman comics. However, while Warner Bros. had a certified monster hit on their hands, getting millions upon millions of people excited about a guy named Bruce Wayne who dressed up as a bat and punched criminals in the face for the first time or the first time in a long time, DC Comics, their subsidiary that had originated the character had done perhaps the worst possible thing they could do for this moment:

They killed Batman.

Ok, to be fair, he was actually zapped back in time by the Omega Beams of the omnipotent despot Darkseid, but we found that out later. Now, Batman was definitively dead, with former Robin Dick Grayson forced into taking up the mantle instead.

These circumstances were due, I was told, to writer Grant Morrison, who had killed Batman off in the pages of the big “crossover event” of the year, Final Crisis, while simultaneously driving Bats crazy through the psychological torture of the evil Black Glove organization in the concurrent “Batman R.I.P.” storyline in the pages of the eponymous comic. I read both those storylines and came away very, very confused.

Final Crisis was bursting with an insane amount of ideas–the most prominent of which involve the superhero/New God Orion dying and Darkseid finally obtaining the “Anti-Life Equation” by unlocking the components in people’s minds through the Internet and gaining complete control over every sentient being in the universe–but it’s a fevered mess that resolves in a really trippy, goofy way. (I should stress that I haven’t read the story in years, but it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth).

“Batman R.I.P.” felt similarly muddled and rushed; I felt like I had wandered in late to something. It turns out I had. Beginning with the introduction of Bruce’s biological son, Damien, in the Batman and Son” storyline, Morrison–across multiple titles and with the help of various artists including Frank Quitely, Cameron Stewart, Andy Kubert and Chris Burnham, among others–embarked on a gigantic story putting Batman through hell and back. One of the big things Morrison stressed was that every Batman story ever written–going all the way back to 1939–had actually happened to the character.

Again, that’s a hell of an idea. The kind of big, showy thing that Morrison–who crossed over into American comics in the 1980s as part of the vaunted “British Invasion,” alongside Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore–has spent his entire career doing. But excised from the whole, “R.I.P.” confused the heck out of me, although I have gone on to read some more of his Batman run and enjoyed it immensely (particularly his amazing Batman & Robin run). Whether I just got bad advice or DC’s marketing department didn’t clarify well enough, I was left cold on Morrison.

But then when I turned 18, I received both volumes of his amazing, transcendent, lovely All-Star Superman for my birthday and fell in love with his reverent-but-not-too-reverent approach to comics history and his optimistic, awe-struck view of the Big Blue Boy Scout. The following year, I asked for his memoir/superhero comics history Supergods. Again, I was swept away by his captivating, bombastic prose and rock-and-roll personality (although his more out-there views I was a little less than sold on). His Action Comics run in DC’s New 52 reboot was something I also enjoyed, and I’m looking forward to his long-awaited The Multiversity series when it comes out in trade.

I tell you that rambling to tell you this: if you’re in a similar place where I was with Morrison, you owe it to yourself to check out the Respect Films/ Sequart documentary Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods, released in 2011 and available on Hulu.

Constructed chronologically through several interviews with Morrison himself–shot in several locations, as indicated by the sudden changes in background and outfits he undergoes–as well as his friends and fellow industry pros, Gods is a brisk eighty-five minutes. No particular area of Morrison’s life and career feel shafted. Director Patrick Meaney shoots his subject in straightforward ways, and isn’t afraid to make the images on screen abstract–whether it be a shot of Morrison walking or a strange panel from one of his comics–when Grant’s voiceover goes into the obtuse range.

Meaney and DP Jordan Rennert–who, I must add, are delightful gentlemen in person–construct and compose their talking head shots with maximum clarity. While Morrison is the foremost voice on display here, he’s not the dominant one. Having so much outside perspective allows the viewer some distance from the more hard-to-take anecdotes Morrison offers, such as his claim that a visit from fourth-dimensional beings where he was shown the true nature of the universe inspired his Vertigo series The Invisibles. Conversely, in Supergods, readers had to take Morrison’s claims at face value.

The one fault I have with this movie is something I suspect the filmmakers had no control over. When Morrison’s wife, Kristi, enters the narrative, she’s praised by all who talk about her as an overwhelmingly positive influence on Grant’s life and work (she also acts as his manager). It’s bizarre, then, that she’s never seen outside of photographs and not even interviewed. Maybe she declined to be on camera, which I can understand, but her importance to Morrison that the film stresses is undercut by her absence.

Regardless, this is a well-done independent film and a good documentary that will make you sympathetic to someone who’s a rather polarizing figure in comics culture. It is very much worth your time.

NOTE: As the header says, this is the start of Grant Morrison Week. We’ll be back Friday with a look at one of Morrison’s most famous works.

A Late Link and an Update on Post-SDCC Recovery

So there was no blog post last Friday because I was at Comic-Con and well…it was Comic-Con, man! It was exhilarating, awesome, life-changing and exhausting all at once. I had a LOT of fun, and I’ll be posting photos here soon, as soon as I get them onto Facebook and run some on Another Castle first. I did for the first day, and you can find them right here.

But I forgot to put up before I left something incredibly cool. As I said on here, I was invited to Comic-Con to discuss the work of Carl Barks, the creator of Scrooge McDuck.

Well, two weeks ago, I got in touch with Mike Phillips, the editor-in-chief of the Sequart Organization, a fine company devoted to expressing the idea that comics are art. Which is, of course, true. As part of that idea, Sequart recently ran a “Comics Artists Week,” a week of articles devoted to praising artists specifically, as too many comics critics praise writing first and foremost while leaving art at the margins (something I wholly agree with).

What I did is take my 20-page paper and simplify the language for a general audience, as well as limit my points to only speaking about art. It’s not plagirizing if it’s from yourself!

Enjoy!

LAST STAND OF THE WRECKERS (Review)

(thumbnail) (TFWiki)

So this past weekend was Botcon, the annual Transformers convention. Given that the new film, Age Of Extinction, hits today, there was naturally a lot more excitement than usual. Judging from the reports I’ve read, that excitement was due and well-deserved (barring the occasional ugly snafu).

I couldn’t attend–not that I ever have been able to–and while some friends of mine held their own “Notcon” to make up for it, I stayed home and weathered the death of a close family member.

In between the various businesses of grief, I found comfort and escape in rereading the opening arc of the always-excellent More Than Meets The Eye, one of the two current ongoing Transformers comics, and reading the prequel to this current era of Transformers comics, the 2010 miniseries Last Stand Of The Wreckers.

Essentially, this is an action movie in comics form. Taking place after the All Hail Megatron event, which saw the Decepticons become rulers of Earth after destroying San Francisco, the story opens with Autobot Springer recruiting four new members–war hero Rotorstorm, Optimus Prime wannabe Pyro, gun nut Guzzle and genius weapons inventor Ironfist–to join the Wreckers, basically the Autobots’ answer to Seal Team 6 and Blackwater.

Their mission? Take back the Autobot prison planet Garrus-9, which has been ruled for 3 years by the sadistic Decepticon renegade Overlord. The Wreckers, plus human stowaway Verity Carlo ( a holdover from previous Transformers comics by IDW), land on the planet. But what they find is worse than they could’ve ever imagined…

The wonderful thing about this series–and there are many–is that it mashes up familiar characters (Springer and fellow Wreckers Kup and Perceptor date back to the ’80s) with the ultra-obscure (all the new guys are European exclusive toys who had never been used in fiction before). Writers James Roberts, currently writing More Than Meets The Eye, and Nick Roche (who also draws with Guido Guidi) bring these disparate types together and make them all fully fleshed out, interesting characters.
For example, Ironfist is a die-hard Wreckers fanboy who writes famous stories about the team under a pseudonym. That’s pretty neat.

I should also add this story is full of carnage. Bots die left and right and far from being meaningless, Roberts and Roche make us all care. That’s not easy to do.

Key to it all is Roche’s and Guidi’s art. The two mesh together beautifully and, with the amazing coloring of Josh Burcham, create vibrant, poppy artwork that could easily be the basis for an animated film.

I’d highly recommend this storyto anyone with even a minor interest in Transformers. No prior knowledge is required. I’d especially recommend getting the deluxe hardcover. It has all the covers, character profiles, a wonderful short story written by Roberts and supplemental sequel comics (full disclosure: my friend lettered two of them).
Even if you removed the giant robots, this is a solid military scifi story
If Roberts and Roche were to work on an original work, it’d be as great as what we see here. Check it out.

Grandcon–Days 2 and 3

Hey folks,

Sorry this had to be combined but that’s what happens when you get sick on the weekend of a convention. I feel like garbage and unfortunately, I was too selfishly tired to write. My apologies.

Regardless, here’s what Saturday was: me and the roommate got up at 8:30 because we were scheduled to play a session of the newish RPG 13th Age (a game created by the guys behind 3rd and 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons). Turns out we were a half hour late–it started at 9–but we still made it and had a really fun time. This game is GREAT; very easy character creation, easily the most fluid, easy to understand combat system I’ve ever played; as our gamemaster put it, “it’s first edition D&D with modern math.”

After that got over at 1, we looked around the dealer’s room which was mostly taken up by this enormous seller of back issues and discounted trades and graphic novels. From there, I bought vol. 7 of Ultimate Spider-Man, the Vertigo book Pride of Baghdad, the complete Omega the Unknown: Classic; from another dealer, I bought the first volume of Mouse Guard.

Then I attended a wonderful panel on self-publishing that had authors Tim Kenyon and Mick McArt, who were quite lovely as they spoke on the dirty details of aligning with a vanity press, starting your own press and the ins and outs of publishing generally. Inspiring stuff.

Then, after all that, went back to my apartment, had dinner, then attended a screening of Raising Arizona that my college’s Film Arts Committee put on, where a fun time was had by all. By the time I got back, however, I was too bushwhacked to do anything other than watch half an episode of Fringe, then go to bed.

After sleeping for 12 hours today, I got up, watched Fringe, did laundry, then headed back to the con where I spent most of today at the Dealer’s Room, where I made out like a BANDIT…and lost all of my available cash. Pics will be added later, but today I found, in no particular order:

  • Endtime, Tim Kenyon’s self-published graphic novel
  • John Byrne’s The Man of Steel miniseries (for $5)
  • A collection of issues 26-29 of the legendary EC Comics title The Vault of Horror
  • Volume 2 of Spider-Man: Brand New Day
  • A complete run of a 12-issue 1985 miniseries by Marvel called The Eternals
  • 7/8ths of the DC ’80s miniseries Millenium, and a Batman tie-in issue to go along with that
  • The FIRST ISSUE of Marvel’s long-running Star Wars comic from the ’70s and ’80s (for 50 cents!)
  • An issue of Mickey Mouse
  • Some ’90s one-shot called The Legacy of Superman
  • A random back issue of Detective Comics
  • And finally an irresponsiblely HUGE  run of Bronze Age (’70s) Superman issues

Also today, I had the pleasure of meeting legendary Dragonlance co-creator Tracy Hickman (who signed a copy of his new Batman novel for me and talked with me about writing!) as well as talked to the editors and founders of a website that I’ll have more to say about soon.

Quite a weekend, eh? If that’s what the first year of GrandCon yields, I expect to be back again and again in the years to come.

Also, judging from this post, the Little Red Reviewer was there and I missed my chance to try and arrange a meetup! D’oh!!!