Let's Go To The Mall...

When I think about malls, three things come immediately to mind and the first of them is shitty retail and restaurant jobs that neither pay nor tip enough from the zombie movie extras that come wandering through like ambulatory bits of over and under dressed furniture. Did that sound bitter? Maybe a little. But if you’ve ever worked at or in or around a mall you know what I’m talking about. The people who stand in the same half hour line with you at Starbucks only to get to the barista and have no idea what to order let alone why they came and stood in the line in the first place? The obstinate lady hassling the cashier at Old Navy over why her purchases aren’t free because her husband is in the Navy? Okay, yeah. I’m bitter. Let’s get to the second thing, and then we’ll spend the rest of our time talking about the third, shall we? Yes. Let’s shall. The second is Robin Scherbatsky (How I Met Your Mother) in her teenage pop star alter ego, Robin Sparkles, and now, goddammit, I have that freaking hook stuck in my head and oh my, my, suffice it to say: I. Hate. Malls. I do. Or at least, I did until quite recently when I was blessed with the opportunity to read Mall, written by Michael Moreci (Wasted Space/The Plot) and Gary Dauberman (Annabelle), drawn and colored by Zak Hartong (Albatross) and Addison Duke (Charlie’s Angels vs. Bionic Woman) respectively, and lavishly lettered by Jim Campbell (Hoax Hunters), which, while it didn’t change my mind about malls in general, did give me the best time I’ve had at a mall since before I hit legal employment age.

Perhaps I’ve said this before, it feels like something I say a lot, but I am a sucker for post apocalyptic fiction. Hell, I’m a fan of post apocalyptic facts, though categorically, those don’t yet exist. Ever since I read Stephen King’s The Stand in my early twenties, I have developed a deep sense of longing for the echoic silence of a world unplugged at last. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was my feel good book of 2007. Other favorites include Swan Song by Robert McCammon (a worthy inclusion, though nowhere near as good as The Stand, if perhaps a few pages longer) and, from Comicdom, Robert Kirkman’s excellent, and now extinct The Walking Dead (Image). Most recently, Vault Comics, the party responsible for Mall, had scratched my apocalypse itch with another great series, Resonant (DB Andry, Ale Aragon & Jason Wordie), and they’ve continued to scratch, finding places I didn’t even know were itching. Then along came The Mall to hit that almost unreachable place between my literary shoulder blades. It was like I was reaching and reaching and someone just put a chopstick in my hand and then…Well, bliss, obviously. Let’s talk about it:

Mall takes place in…Umm, a mall? Duh? That part kind of goes without saying. Instead of getting smacked in the eyes and ears with an endless barrage of storewide sales signs and massage kiosks, we get a modern quasi-retelling of Hamlet. We open like a new season of Game Of Thrones (HBO) with a sort of recap, a just-the-highlights version of how and why the world we’re about to see went from new car to fubar in six panels. However, it’s not until we turn over Zak Hartong’s beautifully desolate splash of an urban shopping mall, cowering beneath a churning sky of apocalyptic dust clouds that we start to home in on the individuals who will thread our emotions through one end of this story and out the other. (And brace yourself: If you have children, some of these vignettes will really pull at your emotional short and curlies)

The opening pursuit works beautifully as a storytelling device to give us a rapid, breathless look at the world we’re about to cohabit with these characters. A young woman with an as yet indeterminate bundle in her arms runs from a nightmarish combo of a Lost Boys version of Star Fox and Bob’s Big Boy. It’s something to pay attention to as these colorful gunmen relieve the woman of her bundle, in this case, a squalling infant, as it portends to the political undercurrents of what we come upon next.

Andre emerges right away as the quintessence of antihero. Born into wealth and the relative power it provides, our first glimpse of him waking up sprawled against the bed in what appears to be a cheap motel room—it isn’t, can’t be, but it looks like one—with the bloodied, terror faced corpse of the Mall’s titular leader, Delmon Gold. Without doing a play by play of the entire book, suffice it to say that while as readers we are pretty much instantly satisfied of Andre’s innocence, if not entirely convinced of who the real killer is, this issue becomes something of a master class in breakneck, breathless pacing and action pursuit sequences. I found myself really enjoying Andre as a character with the three dimensionality given him by Moreci and Dauberman, who clearly know what the hell they are doing. Andre is Han Solo and Lando Calrissian, tossed in the cocktail shaker with a couple extra fingers of privilege and bravado, then shaken (not stirred) to be-caped perfection. His contrast and purpose in this case is a wonderfully made combination of Nellie Oleson and Sarah Connor, Delmon Gold’s daughter, Tess. Exposition is handled well and delicately (wellicately?) through Tarantino-esque bursts of tense dialogue. Moreci and Dauberman appear to be working over time to make sure that readers get a clear sense of their world while not mansplaining everything into the dust with blind condescension. 

Now, this is something else I know I say a lot, but as a comic book creator myself, I like to make sure that everything that appears on the page does so to reinforce the story being told. That goes for the art without saying, but colors and balloon shapes can also be used to tell the story if their relationship to the line art is handled correctly. Throughout the book, a theme emerges, that of bright, dominant oranges and reds contrasted against a sickly, poisonous (but ultimately, alluring) mint green. The colors in this case uphold the notion that this is a volatile, even explosive society that is in a constant state of denial of its underlying disease, that which affects all major civilizations that do not practice concerted introspection to ensure that policy never becomes more important than populace. In that, Addison Duke has invoked many a colored wonder upon these pages, and his tones harmonize wonderfully with Hartong’s energetic and textured line art. All of the shots are handled marvelously; nothing jars, or otherwise ejects the reader out of the world of the story at any point. The action scenes in particular should be a major draw to this book. All of that narrative grittiness slides as smooth as whipped butter on a teflon pancake. 

I’ll end this with something else I’ve been saying a lot lately, and that is that Vault Comics is really delivering the goods these days. In an industry that seems confused over what its next big move should be, whether so and so should go with so and Sony, or dizzy itself out in the Disneyness, it is refreshing if not entirely inspiring to see a company that still puts story forth as its opening move in every game. Mall joins Resonant and the forthcoming The Plot as a title I will be monitoring with intense interest, and of course, making a regular part of my pull down at the LCS. Tending to let my words imply a numeric score, I don’t always end with such, but in this case, as I’ve run my mouth a little more than I had initially planned, I’ll drop a Cliffs Notes version here and say that Mall gets a solid 10/10 as a delicious first course in what promises to be an epic meal. Now if only I could get that goddamn Robin Sparkles song out of my head…


Let’s go to the MAAAAALLLLL!!!

Uncle J

Heart Of Steal: A Review of Fraser Campbell and Katie Fleming's new sci-fi/crime/action

Perhaps the only thing I enjoy more than people giving me free stuff is people ascribing worth to my thoughts and opinions. And sometimes—just sometimes—I get the pleasure of enjoying both sensations simultaneously. Call it a fringe benefit of being a “pro” in the comics industry that in making comics, you develop some degree of authority on how well others have made their comics. Very recently, I had the honor and pleasure to take receipt of a publicity package for Fraser Campbell and Katie Fleming’s “Heart Of Steal,” ostensibly an amalgam of action, comedy, science fiction and a soupçon of heartache and drama. While it has taken me longer than usual to get around to reading it—I come by the superlative “Most Overbooked Man In Comics” honestly—I like to keep my word on these things.

Mr. Campbell had asked in the offing that I “be gentle” in my writeup of this, his most recent outing. For my own part, gentility really goes without saying. Typically, I try to follow the age old maxim that if one doesn’t have something nice to say, they had best just say nothing at all. Obviously, that ship has already sailed. But unless a piece is provocatively bad or offensive, or a negligent product from a company that has and should know how to produce better, I generally just don’t review those works. Nor do I name them. Sorry. 

I’m a big Beatles fan. Odd thing to insert here, right? I bring it up because I’m also a fan of homonyms, so right away, the title caught me pleasantly off guard. “Heart Of Steal,” which sounds the same as “heart of steel,” but that shift in spelling gives us a subtle nod as to what we can expect from this story. The cover image itself reminded me sharply of Ro Stein’s work on Christopher Sebela’s darkly hilarious “Crowded,” which just resumed in its second volume about a month ago. It’s a style that sort of straddles the gap between cartoon and realism but is still western enough not to be mistaken for manga, or a collected newspaper strip. The image itself depicts a young woman repairing some sort of futuristic wrist gauntlet with a brace of comparatively archaic hand tools. The skyline behind her depicts a city that could be the future, but is tinged enough with urban wear and tear so as to be temporally ambiguous. 

Now, insomuch as I’m a fan of The Beatles and homonyms, I am not a fan of expository dialog. It is often heavy handed, condescending and is rarely if ever done well. Much of contemporary science fiction, and in particular comic books where there is little enough room to hook a reader as it is, is rife with the stuff. That said, Campbell has done a good job here of stating a bare minimum and letting the story tell itself. We begin with one of those Past v. Present kind of moments where we see our troupe of protagonists as a group of youngsters (Michael, Oscar and Toni), doing as youngsters do and talking about the things they want to do,  jobs they want to have once they reach adulthood. Oscar wants to be a cop, and Toni wants to be kind of awkwardly evasive and let the transition into the future reveal that her career ambitions are a bit less noble than Oscar’s. Michael, at this point, is a wild card, however he does turn up in due course, dressed to the nines and sporting an entourage of bespoke muscle. He works for a man called Ray who, we find out, has a mech heart to replace the real one that Toni has just stolen. Not figuratively. Girl’s got herself a jet powered medical ice chest backpack. Would we were all so fortunate. Oscar further informs us that mech hearts are not the in thing at the moment, that Ray will probably want to kill whomever took his more fashionable organic model. Remember what I said about expository dialog a little ways back? Well, this is what it looks like when it’s done right. It’s information given only on a need to know basis, and Campbell does not trip over his own lips trying to over explain the world he’s already busy trying to sell us. Meanwhile, Michael’s and Oscar’s antagonistic friendship—which Campbell has clued us into that very early on—becomes one of dubious alliance as they pool their efforts to take down Toni. I would not be surprised to see more of their personal insecurities presenting themselves as more pointed jabs in future outings for this series. Meanwhile, Toni, their mutual quarry, is absconding with a human heart in a refrigerated medical backpack. Oscar wants her because, well, that shit’s illegal, innit? And Michael wants her because Ray wants his heart back, and the impression we get of Ray is that he’s probably not the kind of guy accustomed to asking twice. In all, the foot, car and motorcycle chases abound in this one, and it succeeded in its most base directive of creating desire for more on my part. Now, let’s talk about the art.

Before I begin in on this, I would like to issue the following disclaimer that I am, myself, a professional comic book artist and, in addition thereto, also teach Figure Drawing for Animation at Cal State Fullerton. I don’t say those as bragging points, only to point out that my opinion of comic art can sometimes reflect an unconscious bias toward the way I would have done things under the same circumstances and, as a teacher, I am a stickler for gesture, form and anatomy. I had said at the beginning that the cover art reminded me of Ro Stein’s work on “Crowded,” and I stand by that comparison. Katie Fleming has very obviously put a lot of time and effort into her art, and there are areas of strength that truly shine. However, there are some areas where a change in camera angle or clearer staging would have led to less confusing action. I’m specifically referencing the catalyst for the major chase scene at the end where Toni drops down on Michael from above. Her sudden appearance doesn’t convey a clear sense of direction in terms of where she is dropping in from. Additionally, there are a number of panels that would have benefitted greatly from having the background, or some sort of atmospheric perspective drawn in. Dropping the background from a panel is by no means a capitol offense, and can have a profound effect on the impact of a scene when its absence is used to highlight a key action happening with one or more characters. Coming from an art background myself, as I have said, I can certainly attest to being all too painfully aware of my areas of strength and areas of weakness. Backgrounds are bloody hard sometimes, and tedious pretty much at all times. They are at their best when they become a character in the story, which is not an easy thing to do. While Fleming’s delivery on this last is inconsistent, there are some panels throughout that I found absolutely stunning. In particular, page 9 panel 5, which gives us a birds eye view of the chase sequence: Superb. Also page 18 panel 4 show’s Fleming’s talent for conveying a huge amount of action information with a bare minimum of line work. It almost looks like a rough thumbnail or early layout drawing but it just…WORKS. And it does so magnificently. This is an artist I will be keeping an eye on, as what I’ve seen here shows great promise of things to come. 

Last but not least, there is the lettering category to address. Any time I see Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou (Hass OE, as he is known on his indescribably awesome YouTube channel, “Strip Panel Naked”) I know I’m in good hands. Hass is a very busy man, it seems, doing up letters not only for “Heart Of Steal” but also the wonderfully dark “Killer Groove” from Aftershock in addition to a robust list of other clients, maintaining his now Eisner winning publication “Panel X Panel” and recording/editing new episodes of the aforementioned “Strip Panel Naked.” For all that, his SFX lettering in the chase scenes leaves very little VROOM for criticism. Hass knows how to make the SFX serve the action and the story and pulls off the written pacing and verbo-visual elements with aplomb. I would argue the best thing that can be said for any letterer of comics is that they’re at their best when the letters go almost entirely unnoticed. Good lettering should feel like you’re hearing the words more than reading them. There should be no struggle to identify one letter over another, and the surrounding balloons (if any) should leave enough space for everything to fit comfortably without seeming either claustrophobic or isolated. In that regard, Mr. Otsmane-Elhaou delivers yet again.

Like I said in the beginning, if I don’t like something, I simply won’t write a review of it. Typically I won’t say anything at all except, perhaps, to mention the book in polite company or warn a friend or collaborator from wasting their money on said book. While “Heart Of Steal” feels unmistakably indie in its execution, I believe that that is entirely the point. In summary, I would give this book a solid 8 out of 10, based out of the above statements and observations. “Heart Of Steal” is set to run a proposed four issue length, which I look forward to seeing more of as they become available. If you see this one pop up in your Twitter feed, I wouldn’t hesitate to throw support its direction. I’ve known Mr. Campbell long enough to identify him as a kindred spirit, one who has a deep and abiding love of all things comics. I think he’s got a good team on his side and I can only see this book getting better from here, and this was by no means a bad start. “Heart Of Steal” is seeing its way to release through the Cabal Comics imprint, and I’ll certainly be on the lookout for more as they become available.



The Plot thickens... (My review of Michael Moreci & Joshua Hixson's forthcoming horror book from Vault)

There is a common mistake made among emerging filmmakers which has been prevalent since the days that Sam Raimi was begging money from friends and family to shoot the first installment of his Evil Dead trilogy, and that is that horror films make an easy first resort. While there is some truth to that—horror films don’t always require huge budgets or expensive set pieces—there is a subtle but altogether critical qualifier missing from the equation, and I would amend my first statement to say that good horror films make an easy first resort. They do not, and neither do horror comics, when it comes right down to it. True, with the right artist in combination with a competent writer, promising results have more certainty to them than a bunch of kids with a ten gallon drum of fake blood and an iPhone, but competency in itself is no guarantee of quality. Nor indeed is a great artist a guarantee of thrilling visuals if the script itself has more holes than the teenage stab victims it describes. The Plot, written by Michael Moreci (Wasted Space, Mall), drawn by Joshua Hixson (Shanghai Red), colored by Jordan Boyd (Deadly Class) and ultimately published by Vault Comics, not only challenges my most cynical assertions about the nature of horror entertainment, it eclipses them entirely.


From page one to page done, The Plot boils and thickens around some classically gothic story elements. I mean, it’s all there: Spooky manor house? Check. Girl with daddy issues? Check. Daddy with daddy issues? Double check. Throw in a hapless and hopelessly inadequate caretaker, a nosy cop and some genuinely terrifying situational horror and you’ve got a recipe for a yarn that would challenge the dark side of the Sisters Bronte on even their dreariest afternoon. Moreci’s script comes alive in some expertly cross cut scenes, wherein a description of the past becomes the narration for a rather dubious, and unexplained present. The dispensation of information comes slow and smooth like a barber sharpening a straight razor in the midst of a violent daydream. It’s comic making at its finest, and everything harmonizes perfectly from the letters on down. Joshua Hixson’s Mazzuchelli-esque chops are in fine form, casting echoes of his bravura performance in last year’s historical revenge drama, Shanghai Red (Image). The colors explore a fairly broad range of psychological territory, from sickly poisonous greens to that muted shade of haunted mansion violet that signals the certainty of death, and probably lots of it if this issue is any indicator of what the entire series promises to unfold in its eight issue run. 

The setup is a fairly simple one: Aging executive head of a pharmaceutical company shares a remembrance of his mentally ill father at a gala event celebrating his fortieth birthday and the unveiling of a new drug for—you probably guessed it—mental illness. There’s a moment where we all sort of choke with this man as we know, anyone describing a father and a past like the one he just laid out is bound to have a few dead birthday clowns under his front porch (figuratively speaking, of course). At the same time, we’re introduced to another character, and in the context of the verbal narrative overlaying the visual, we are invited to make a comparison that will later feel a bit unwelcome once the story has kicked off its shoes and relaxed into its paces. Barring any further spoilers, there’s a bit of a segue into the lives of a much more believable version of the Baudelaire Orphans (Series Of Unfortunate Events, if you’re not familiar) less the dental nightmare baby, but easily as precocious and latently f*cked up. Cast off into the care of their professionally reckless uncle, the children form a bit of a focal point for the rising action of this first chapter. True enough, the story appears to wrap itself like grave lichen around the uncle figure, but the pathos and humor—a good horror story should have both—tend to gravitate around the children. And, oh…The children. Call this an aside, but the last page of this first issue is a masterpiece of layouts and pacing. Hixson and Boyd have pooled their considerable talents here to make a single, silent page of Hitchcockian proportions. Seriously, if I had the scratch, I’d track down and buy the original art to hang where my TV will once have hung. It’s that gorgeous. 


Subtracting my expectations from the sum total of my excitement before, during and after reading The Plot, I’m inclined to give this first outing a perfect score, meaning that this one far exceeded my already wildly high expectations. Whatever expectations I had over what the story was actually about were quickly subverted in favor of something much more complex and emotionally satisfying than just a creepy piece that is all atmosphere and no real substance. As stated from the outset, The Plot does not suffer from the naivety of a student horror film. Moreover, it’s more than just thinly veiled splatter punk allegory for the political turmoil of our times. As the comic itself asserts in its opening pages, in order to receive, you must first give. So please: Do give this one a try. You won’t be disappointed. 

Comics as High Art & Fine Literature: A Look At Geist's "The Tourist"

To those in the know, this isn’t news, but I recently completed (horribly, and by the skin of my teeth) my masters thesis document. Tentatively titled Halftones, Stripes & Guttersnipes: The Coincidence of Comics As High Art & Fine Literature, the 35 page document asserts that sometimes, not always, but sometimes comics can fit simultaneously in both categories. While I may one day publish that document here, or in another more appropriate location, today is not that day.

However, I would like to call your attention to the work of a gentleman who goes by the moniker of Geist in his social media escapades. Recently, Geist (real name Mark Ryan of the United Kingdom) launched a crowdfunding campaign for the first two issues of his series, The Tourist. Intrigued by the description and a predisposition to Mark’s unique and amazing art, I got in on it. Time passed, rather quickly as time does, and at last, my prize arrived. I don’t know precisely what I was expecting as I peeled open the protective plastic bag, but what I got blew those expectations out of the water and into deepest hyperspace.

What I think I like best about The Tourist is that it makes the reader a character in the story, and that story is unique to each reader. Peppered with coded text, the book reads like a vacationer’s scrapbook. However, this vacationer, or tourist, has just returned from visiting strange and foreign worlds. Geist’s line work and design aesthetics pop off the page like a language all their own. I found myself ignoring the coded text bits and just absorbing myself in the often mystifying imagery. And the narrative is what you bring to it. Your feelings on travel, vacations and recording memories are put to the test against this high contrast black and white smorgasbord of swirling ephemera.

A sampling from issue 1 of Geist’s  The Tourist

A sampling from issue 1 of Geist’s The Tourist

Further enhancing the illusion of travel, or having traveled, my backing of this project also rewarded me with some colorful little extras. Included with issues 1 and 2 (which were both beautifully printed on excellent stock) were four bookmarks, or postcards, themselves replicas of the publisher mastheads from the first four issues of this groundbreaking series. As well, Geist was kind enough to include travel stickers. One looked rather like a passport stamp. (Full disclosure: I very nearly applied one of these stamps to my newly minted passport, but, given that I will be traveling internationally in the near future, I would prefer not to give the Swiss and Italian governments the idea that I might have contracted some extraterrestrial bug, or virus.)

In all, I was inordinately pleased with what I got, and considering the cost of printing and international shipping rates, it was quite a value (cost me around $11 US). One can read through these books very quickly, or one can take their time and get absorbed in the images, sort of like a hot tub for the eyes. I would highly recommend them to anyone who is interested in seeing what the comics medium can accomplish. In this amazingly powerful series, Geist has recognized where his strengths lie as an artist and has pushed those strengths, and the comics medium to their very limits. Think of it as a 30 page Rorschach test, but infinitely more exciting and interesting.

To bring us up to this current date though, I would be remiss not to mention that Geist has very recently begun his campaign to release issues 3 and 4. As continuation of the brilliant books I just received, I would be equally remiss not to invest in these myself, and offer up the opportunity for you, Dear Reader, to do the same. If I have enticed you to do so, you can find and invest in Geist’s holy task here.

Geist describes his work as “a different kind of comic,” which indeed it is. In my personal and intermittently but not presently humble opinion, he is doing much more than that. In much the same way that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons deconstructed the notion of the modern superhero in their now legendary Watchmen, Geist’s deconstruction of the medium is precisely what each reader makes of it. Purchasing this book you are not buying a comic book. No. Rather, you are purchasing a pry bar that will rip open the seams of your perception and interweave your own story into the crafted imagery. As the late great Hunter S. Thompson once said: "“Buy the ticket, take the ride.”

Further information on the above mentioned thesis as well as issues 3 & 4 of The Tourist will be available here at a later date. In the meantime, please visit Geist’s Kickstarter page and get a better sense of what this extraordinary series is really about. I was not paid a cent to say any of this. Truly, this is groundbreaking stuff.

SOLD OUT

Well, it happened: I finally sold out…

OF HUSH RONIN #1!

That is correct, the first printing has completely sold out from the publisher on down. Fortunately, we are in talks for a second printing, which will feature a variant cover. Additionally, I am going through the rigamarole of making this first issue available digitally through Comixology. I will, of course, announce those details as they become available.

In short though, I want to thank everyone for making Hush Ronin the success it has been. The critical response I’ve been receiving from and for the book has been overwhelming, as has been the request for autographs (it still feels odd, even fake to sign something with my name and artwork on it, I don’t know).

In other news, Hush Ronin #2 is in full swing, as far as production. My writing partner, Mitch Kopitch, is hard at work turning my vague story ideas into actionable panel descriptions that I am then conveying to the paneled page. And because I cannot help myself, here is a sneak preview page from that issue:

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I like to think I’ve improved a bit in the couple months that have passed since completing that first issue. Issue 2 promises to be packed with lots of samurai action, and a deeper dive into the mythos that drives this story. Ultimately, this first arc is propelling our hapless Ronin toward his blind date with fate, and the loss of his most dangerous weapon; his mouth. There’s still a lot more that has to happen along the way though, and I hope, if you’ve enjoyed what you’ve seen so far, that you’ll let me tear your ticket and take you on a ride you won’t soon forget.

Lastly, I’m updating the Hush Ronin section of this page with some fresh pieces, mostly some cover and pinup art I’m developing for a potential anthology of Hush Ronin short stories, including the Ronin’s run ins with kappa, werewolves and even Namazu, the giant earthquaking catfish at the center of the earth. This is going to be a good time, folks, so climb aboard and let Uncle J take you somewhere special!

Yours Sincerely,

J

Gratification & Gratitude

I got my comp copies of Hush Ronin, this week, and almost right away, I found myself humbled by the demand from friends and acquaintances wanting to support my work. I looked at my meager stack of comics and realized, rather proudly, that it would be not be enough. To be completely transparent, I handed over the lion’s share of what I had to SoCal Games & Comics in Temecula, California. Rachel, the proprietor there, had been kind enough to offer sometime back and now, finding that I had an actual physical book to represent my efforts, made good on her promise by letting me display my book alongside all of the other fantastic New Comic Book Day offerings this morning.

I came by about an hour into the business day and took this picture:

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At that time, Rachel informed me, three copies had sold to two different customers. One of my cohorts from my day job was responsible for purchasing two of those copies. The other though, I was told, was one of SCGC’s regulars, and on top of spending their hard earned dollars on my book, had asked how they could get my content more regularly. The impact of this inquiry didn’t fully hit me until after I had made my own NCBD purchases and gotten into my car, bound for my secondary day job at Cal State Fullerton. But as I began thinking about it, what it would take to make Hush Ronin a monthly book, I thought of all the hard work, the writing and re-writing, the drawing and re-drawing (the finished comic is easily the fourth distinct version of these events and characters I have perpetrated in the past two and a half years) and I felt a simultaneous mixture of gratitude and despair.

Very recently, I made the decision to take on a Lead Writer to assist in putting the largely sprawling epic of the mouthless Ronin into script form, if only so that I can spend more time drawing. That writer is none other than my dear friend (okay, and brother-in-law), Mitchell Kopitch. Mitchell and I have collaborated extensively in the past, most frequently on YouTube videos like Zombie Slayer and various others.

Mitchell is very anxious to get started, and brings a LOT to the table. This past summer, he graduated from the University of Washington with his Masters Degree in Creative Writing. I’m extremely pleased to have him on board. Plus, as you saw, he’s no slouch when it comes to killing shitty, carbon copy NPC zombies.

Issue 2 of the Hush Ronin Saga is slated for July of this year, per Ashcan Comics Pub. If there is any chance it can be sooner than that, those of you reading me here or following me on Twitter will likely be the first to know. If you’re not already following me on Twitter, my handle, as of this writing, is @starshipronin76. You can also follow Mitchell at @MKopitch. We both look forward to bringing you LOTS more Ronin stories, both canonical and apocryphal. Thanks to everyone who has turned out to purchase Hush Ronin #1, either in person or online. There are still a few copies left in the Ashcan Comics Pub storefront. We are currently examining the possibility of a second printing, which may entail a new, variant cover to distinguish it from the first printing. Keep checking back, and stay awesome. Always.

Yours Sequentially,

J. Paul Schiek

Fullerton, California

February 6th, 2019

It's Here...

I had just arrived on campus at Cal State Fullerton today, getting ready for another day of working on comics and teaching young whippersnappers how to draw the nude, human figure (for animation purposes) when I received a text from my publisher, Ashcan Comics Pub, averring how hard Wednesdays seem to be. I responded in the commiserative affirmative; Wednesdays can be hard. Even when there are loads of new comics appearing that day, they can be tough.

And then he sent me this photo:

My first glimpse of Hush Ronin #1 in print.

My first glimpse of Hush Ronin #1 in print.

I think perhaps you have to have made a comic to know what this feels like. I knew already what it felt like to muscle through 12 hours of touch ups and lettering. I knew what it was to format, format again and get the finished pages sent off for print. And I knew what it was to wait, with a solid idea in mind of what it was I was waiting for. But with all of the knowns, none of it—not ANY of it—prepared me for how excited, how gratified I was to see my work in print. Even as just a photo of the work.

Hush Ronin represents a herculean effort not just on my part, but on the part of Nate Lindley, publisher over at Ashcan Comics Pub, on my wife, who listened to me rant about this story from the initial germ of the idea to the sprawling, self sustaining mythology it is rapidly becoming.

I am immensely proud this day. A dream, really, THE Dream, has come true. This is what it feels like to be a published comic book creator.

I like it.

I want more.

J. Paul Schiek

1/30/2019

Shorts

I love short stories. I love reading them, I love writing them. In fact, my New Year’s resolution for 2008 was to write a short story every single day that year. And yea though it nearly ended in divorce just a scant year after getting married at all, I would argue it was worth it. It changed and improved me as a writer, and it also expanded my definition of what a story can be.

Lately, I’ve been working on a lot of shorts. So much so I’ve even added a shorts section to my site here where I’ll be posting art and other info about the short projects I’ve taken on, and often information about my collaborators and their other works. Most notably right now, I’m working on a short with the wonderful C. Brennan Knight, author of The Lamplighter Saga, entitled: The Trenchstalker. That’s about all I’m at liberty to say about it at this stage, but I am very excited about this one. It’s a solidly written tale with a highly concentrated dose of mystery, action and intrigue. Yet another—and the Kickstarter for this was just announced today—is my involvement in John Horsley’s The Eynes Anthology, which is horror at a level I’ve not yet had the opportunity to work on. John has pooled an immense collection of spectacular talent (well, and myself, also) and set them to the task of creating a terrifying saga in broad, blazing strokes. It was a bit difficult to see the scope of the thing from the small vantage point of my less than ten pages of involvement, but as it has coalesced, my excitement and enthusiasm for this book is reaching a crescendo. I’ve still plenty of work to do on my little plot of story, but I think this is going to be one of the more exciting anthologies of 2019. In any category, but horror most particular.

In other news, I sent the finished pages for Hush Ronin #1 off to the publisher for print a week ago, today. Ideally, they’ll be circulating by or around the second week of February, 2019. Issue 2 is currently slated for July 2019, following a quarterly sort of schedule. I know that’s a long time to wait for the second part of a story, so there will be at least one Hush Ronin short published here to my site, if nowhere else, in the interim. Additionally, I will have an illustration in the planned Famous Movie Monsters anthology that Ashcan is publishing in March 2019. For that one, I’ve paired with Cody Fernandez of Jack Irons: Steel Cowboy fame. The anthology is, ostensibly, a collection of flash fiction with accompanying feature illustrations from various independent comics writers and artists in the Twitter community.

That’s about enough out of me though. I might actually spill something important if I keep going. And I’ve got a class to catch.

2019...

So far, this year is off to a fantastic start. For those of you not currently monitoring my Twitter and Instagram feeds, Hush Ronin is officially going to print next month (February 2019) through Ashcan Comics Pub. This new publishing entity is run by a gentleman named Nate Lindley, a talented artist and comicbook creator himself, who saw the opportunity to create a new and innovative way for new voices to be heard, and for those on the hearing end to align themselves with fresh new content every month (and the cool stickers that come included make it even harder to say no).

I’ve been out from my dayjob for the past 3-4 weeks attending to my wife after her recent surgery and hospital stay. She is doing well, but the pain still seems to kick her ass here and there, and when you throw a strong willed two year old into the mix, well…

But speaking of kicking ass, in addition to still tying down the final inks and tones on Tut, my collaboration with Stewart Bros Studios, and Harakiri Heaven with Michael Derrick (he and I collaborated in the past on I Played With Fire, available to read in full right here on my site), I’ve also entered collaboration with another creator for a longer, voodoo related book, and two short pieces. More details to follow soon, once all of the contracts are signed and I know specifically how much I can say without fear of goons in suits coming to the house and snapping all my pencils (not to mention my beautiful, beautiful fingers) in half.

In short, 2019 is going to be an exciting year. And if you’re not particularly fond of what I do, it’s going to be an obnoxious one because I plan on putting it out there, like, a lot. And by it I mean comics, and by a lot, I mean, like A LOT.

So, in summation, Hush Ronin will be available in print next month. Click here or on the link in the above text to find out how to get not only a copy of my book, but of all the other fantastic stuff coming out through the new Ashcan Comics Pub imprint. And would you look at that? I just linked it again. At this point, it would be harder NOT to click on one of them, even by accident, but do it on purpose anyway. And if you like samurai stuff, the first issue of the above mentioned Harakiri Heaven should be launching sometime in April. In keeping to the letter of the contract with the writer on HH, I haven’t put any of that work on the site as yet, but I do post the occasional piece on Twitter (see the link on this site and gimme a follow; I almost always follow back). In summary though, it is the story of a dishonored samurai, forced to commit seppuku and subsequently, to battle monsters in a very colorful Japanese afterlife to regain all the points he lost for Gryffindor. It’s a good time. A violent time, but a good one, nonetheless, and I’m very proud of the work I’ve been doing on that series. There will also be some news coming soon about the two shorter pieces and where you’ll be able to find them.

As always, thanks for stopping by, thanks for reading, and I look forward to sharing and interacting more with you in the very near future!

Yours Incongruously,

J. Paul Schiek

Support

I just finished listening to an interview with Glynnes Pruett, owner and proprietor of Comicbook Hideout, in Fullerton, CA, really just a five or so minute drive from where I now sit in the lab at Cal State Fullerton, typing up this post on one of the thirty or so Mac Pro towers inhabiting this space. It’s been a good day. Nice, windy Autumn weather, I don’t have to make an appearance of any kind at my “day job,” and on my way in, I even stopped by another local comic shop I admire, Ryan’s Comics, in Murrieta, CA (really, less than a mile from my house) and snagged the last copy of Murder Falcon.

It all sort of got me thinking about the nature of how we acquire comics these days, and the support necessary from us to keep printed comics as the available resource they currently are. Now, I don’t and won’t pretend to know a lot. I don’t have facts, figures, or numbers at my fingertips, but turning off the sophisticated navigational equipment for a second, I would like to venture out into that territory where thought and feeling collide to form something most of us would probably describe as instinct.

I love comic books. To a fault, even. You wouldn’t have to talk to my wife very long to determine that my proclivity for purchasing 5-8 titles a week is, or has been a major bone of contention in our relationship. It isn’t as physically harmful as say, smoking or alcoholism, but it is close to as expensive, and the stacks of comics building up in our bedroom, in our guest bedroom is not doing much to help my case. And I buy comics to read them, but at the same time, I do it as a way of supporting artists and creators I admire, albeit in this very small way. What it comes down to is support, and what that looks like. For those who have enough spare cash to keep lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills (I recently had to switch to using twenties, like a peasant) perhaps this won’t make as much sense. For the rest of us, especially those who have dabbled in comic creation enough to have rubbed elbows with some of our heroes on social media, it may mean looking at the artist and writer credits in the corners of the cover rather than the title space. If I see a book with the name “Sebela” on it, I f*cking buy that comic book. Ditto David Aja, Joshua Hixson, Cullen Bunn and a number of others. Murder Falcon was what I would describe as premeditated impulse. Someone I respect gave it a solid review on Twitter, and so a part of my brain decided I needed it. I missed it this past Wednesday, but fortunately, there was still a copy left for me at Ryan’s.

But here’s the problem:

As many books as there are out there, there are also a number of different comic shops, each with their own regulars and social dynamics. I would argue that even so, there is a sort of common denominator at play that is similar to visiting a Walmart or an In & Out Burger out of town, where both places tend to look and feel the same everywhere you go; comic book stores, by and large, all have a similar feel by dint of carrying a unified product base. Ryan’s Comics has been receiving my unreserved support since around 2009, when I first started shopping there and was blown away by Ryan’s forward thinking programs and position within the community, not to mention an ethic of customer service I associate more closely with bigger corporations like Apple or Nordstroms. More recently, however, I’ve hit a measure of conflict in that I have received similar service and camaraderie from SoCal Games & Comics, a fairly recent addition to the smallish lineup of comic shops in the Inland Empire. SCGC is remarkably close to my “day job,” so much so that I’ve been known to pop in there on my fifteen minute break, particularly on New Comic Book Day, and still make it back with a minute or two to spare. Rachel, the manager there, takes an active interest in every customer who comes through that door, something that Glynnes Pruett mentions doing in her interview on Gutter Talk. That goes a long way with a guy like me. Having a comic shop take note of and act proactively on my interests isn’t something I’m entirely used to in my LCS experience, but all the same, I’m learning fast. The problem lies in where to spend my money, whether to distribute equally amongst the two (right now, my budget leans more heavily toward SCGC, as their selection of variant covers at cover price is quite extensive), plus I have a regular pull that did not require my leaving a credit card number of roughly six books a month, and I don’t believe in not buying from the pull. It is tough though, and adding even further to that was this uncontrollable urge to take a slight detour on my drive to school this afternoon to go give Glynnes and Comicbook Hideout some of my hard earned money purely because I liked and appreciated what she had to say and want to support it in any way I can, even if it only means dropping $4 on a comic I haven’t purchased yet.

I didn’t end up visiting today as I did have things to do, not the least of which was dropping off a gallery wrapped canvas print of a piece I did for a combined Frankenstein/Authors of Cal State Fullerton art show coming up on Halloween. The piece looks great, and I’ll likely be adding it to the Covers session on this site, likely right after I finish writing this entry. I also need to get a start on my Inktober piece for today. For anyone who hasn’t been following along on Twitter or Instagram, I have embarked upon a series of spot illustrations of major figures and events from Norse Mythology. The whole thing actually culminated in a “Like” from none other than Neil Gaiman himself the other night. That little blip nearly caused me to purge all the data entries in my brain related to potty training and bodily waste retention. They’ve been a lot of fun to make, and small as it was, that little bit of effort from one I have admired for so long was validation at a very intense level for me.

Okay. If I had a point, I think it was this: Comic book stores need your support. Supporting one, exclusively, means perhaps robbing others of support, and so I encourage, tentatively, that those of us who care to see printed words and pictures make it into the next decade for our own children to pick up and read, exercise a level of impulsive loyalty. I wouldn’t suggest this in one’s romantic relationships, but every comic purchased from one shop means it’s not being purchased from another. Okay, that’s about enough out of me.

J. Paul Schiek

PS: I am going to endeavor to make this blog at least—at LEAST—a weekly affair from now on. There are things I want to say that don’t fit on Twitter or Instagram, and these days, I wouldn’t touch Facebook with a ten foot wiener.

Shanghai Red (Review)

I was only too thrilled to get my hands on a copy of this this past Wednesday when New Comic Book Day rolled around. My neighborhood comic shop, Ryan's Comics  was down to a mere handful of copies, if that was not indeed how many they had received in the first place. I had already spent a little more than my usual allowance this month picking up the first four issues of The Man of Steel (DC), Magic OrderThe Last Siege, and The Weatherman (all Image), but this was a special circumstance.

Anyone who has anything to do with comic books on Twitter, either as a reader or a creator, has seen at least one post alluding to this new book over the past month, and most of the talk (all of it, really) has been high anticipation. Even before the book had been officially released, gushing reviews had begun to seep through the cracks, leaving those of us who were not in the know already in an even more intense state of optimistic trepidation. It was worth the wait.

Few authors are capable of the sort of slow burn exposition that Christopher Sebela pulls off here with aplomb. I found myself rereading certain panels, spending whole minutes on four and five panel pages to make sure I understood everything aright, that I was grasping the setting and the time period accurately. Was that a revolver that character just pulled? That was a British euphemism, was it not? Are they in the far east? Where in the hell are they?

The answers, I found, were surprising. I had little idea of what the story was about short of that it took place in the indeterminate past on an old boat. And that much was accurate. But what I had not counted on were the myriad twists and turns presented by both the story and accompanying art. Sebela's writing is very crisp, making this sort of a steam noir tale, if I may coin a new term. The writing is perfectly complemented by Joshua Hixson's drawings, which are simultaneously intricately nuanced and raw as a split lip. There is something to be said for using the environment as a character, which this story does constantly and consistently, but even more, the colors themselves become a character as well. The limited red/green palette Hixson uses is both economic and evocative. Combined with that raw, edgy style of his, it comes off as reminiscent of some of the best panels from the EC titles of the 1950s, like Tales From The Crypt and Vault of Horror. No two buts about it, this book is the very thing the Comics Code Authority was designed to fight against: It is pithy, violent, and absolutely wonderful.

I'm not much in the way of spoilers which is why I have not spoken much of the plot, or story that holds this book together like a weathered guy rope. Suffice to say that this issue kicks off the best (and most brutal) revenge tale I've seen since Tarantino's Kill Bill films. The only thing that kept me from scratching holes in my arms, Jonesing for issue #2 was a prompt re-reading of issue #1. If you haven't picked this one up yet, might I go so far as to highly suggest that you do so. This one's a keeper for sure.

Thanks for stopping by!

J. Schiek

PS: Thanks to my friends and business partners, Bo & Harrison  Stewart, who were kind enough to get me a copy of #1 signed by both Christopher Sebela and Joshua Hixson at Heroes Con this past weekend. Mssr Hixson had just posted a picture of his table to Twitter and I managed to text these two fine gentlemen literally just as they had walked away from said table. Truly fate was at play that day. So, I guess what I'm saying is that I have two copies, so if you're having trouble tracking one down, hit me up and I'll see if we can't work something out. 

#makingcomics

Go grab a comic book.

Go ahead, go.

I'll wait right here. 

Perfect. What did you grab? I'm holding a copy of The Man of Steel #4 that I picked up yesterday, along with the long anticipated Shanghai Red by Christopher Sebela and Josh Hixson. While I'll soon be writing a review (of sorts) of the former, I'd like to focus on the aesthetics of the latter, if only because of what it is: A comic book.

Taking a look at this site, at my Twitter feed, even my Instagram, one gets the impression that I like #makingcomics. I do. I love it, actually. But I wanted to take a moment to focus on the impetus of that love. Take that comic book out of its protective bag and backboard, if you haven't already. If you grabbed your CGC 7.5 copy of The Incredible Hulk #181, I'll understand if you leave it in its sealed container. Go grab a different book, one that doesn't have its own life insurance policy and come back.

Okay, hold that puppy up to your face and take a good whiff. That's it. Pretend its cocaine and that you're Rick James and its 1984, and, and---Just sniff it, alright? I promise, I'm going somewhere with this.

So, if you grabbed an older comic, what you're probably smelling is the fading aroma of ink on newsprint. That vaguely newspapery smell, however, is likely playing second fiddle to a dustier, antique kind of smell, that of the acids yellowing away at the newsprint, shifting and fading the colors subtly as the comic almost imperceptibly decomposes. Lovely, innit? Now, if you happened to grab a newer one like I did, that fresh ink on paper smell is going to smell a bit like wet paint. 

Now feel the weight of the book in your hands. Feel the tightness in the stable binding, how cool and smooth the covers feel between your fingers. Open it up and riffle the pages. Are they loose and free flowing? Or has time, or a little bit of errant raspberry jam made them stick together?

This is why I love making comic books: Because they are comic books. Every week, every month, whatever, a new collection of amazing (or, not so amazing, lets face it, not all of them are designed to knock your socks off) art, itself unifying a written story, told in whole or in part, then saddle stapled is made available for you to purchase, protect and collect. If its any good--and The Man of Steel actually is pretty good even for a Superman yarn--it might even invite you back for a re-reading. Maybe the story was just that good, or maybe the artist rendered that character or that environment in such a way you felt for a second that you knew them, or that place, that perhaps you were them and you were there. Comics accomplish at once what prose narrative and film try to capture separately in their own unique ways. Comics have all the visual appeal of a blockbuster film--more, even, given theres no need for a special effects budget--and all of the cerebral gravity of an epic novel. And yet, they have something uniquely their own. Comics can play with time in a way that a novel could never show us, and that a film would piss us off if it tried. Comics pack flat, and in single issue form, do not make huge demands of our time. They give, and they give again. And sometimes they even become valuable, are sold on eBay for money that is turned around and used to purchase still more comic books.

My love letter to the comic book at large is still far from done, though I prefer to compose it as a comic. I compose it with every panel I draw, every dialog bubble I fill, every PSD file I airdrop to my computer for finished flatting and lettering. I love comic books, friend, and I'm assuming if you're here and you've read this far, that probably you do, too. 

Now, one last thing. Before you put that comic away, turn it to page one and read it. Because that's the intended fate of every comic as prescribed by its creator.

 

The Site Is Live!

Well, after years of subconscious conjecture, I've finally gone and created a site to host and connect people to my artwork. There have been a lot of exciting developments this past month, not least of which has been my signing contracts with Stewart Bros Studios, Inc, to provide the artwork for their historical graphic novel, tentatively titled, Tut. Additionally, I have been collaborating with another writer, Michael Derrick, on a couple of projects, one of which I can talk about and one which...Well, I can't right now. But soon!

June 2018 has been all about follow through. In May, I had been working on a new direction for the story and art of my own solo project, Hush Roninand sent the resultant pitch pack off to Image Comics for consideration. The general rule of thumb there is that if one has not heard back in a month, to consider the proposal rejected. Well, it had been three weeks and no response, so I rephrased the pitch for another run at AlternaComics just over a week ago. We'll see what happens. In the meantime, some of the pitch is available to view/read here on the site, and there is a strong possibility I will make the first issue available online, either through Tapas or as a direct download. Following the adventures of Jack Irons: Steel Cowboy (more its adventures in the online marketplace than the actual narrative of the piece) has given me both hope and notion to crowdsource Hush Ronin when its hour draws nigh.

Anyway, there's still a little bit of tweaking to do before I can set this thing live. If you're not already, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@hushronin) and Instagram (@schiekapedia). It is a bit easier for me to be more prolific there than here. Thank you very much for stopping by, please check out the site, and stay tuned! There is lots, lots, lots more coming!

Yours Indubitably,

J. Schiek