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Tue, January 13th, 2009 at 2:28pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

CHICKEN-WHO?

Certain questions inevitably come up in comics. After San Diego each year, everyone compares notes to see who the next "Herobear and the Kid" will be, so fondly remembered is Mike Kunkel's out of left field series debut at the con. And there's a constant churn of questions for what series will be the next "Sandman" or other big name completed comic project.

One of the bigger questions recently is, "Who is the next 'Bone'?" Jeff Smith's decade-in-the-making success story has grown beyond comics, to the "outside world." It's an all-ages friendly epic with memorable characters, beautifully-drawn action, and an approachable format.

Though it's too soon to make the call, I have a new contender for the throne of "The Next 'Bone'." It's "Chickenhare," an overlooked gem by Chris Grine, published by Dark Horse. Two original graphic novels are out now, "The House of Klaus" and "Fire in the Hole." Each tells a complete story with plenty of hanging questions to propel you to the next installment. The two books feature a cast of entertaining characters with well-developed back stories and motivations. And, perhaps most absurdly, the lead character is half chicken (the lower half) and half hare.

"Chickenhare" is an anthropomorphic fantasy/adventure series. We meet the title character in the first book right after he's been captured alongside his friend, Ted the turtle. They're being delivered to the evil Mr. Klaus, who likes to stuff rare animals and hang them from his mantel. Along the way, they befriend a dead talking goat with monocle and top hat, a talking monkey, and a female druid-looking character with horns. There's sharp verbal repartee, chase scenes, fights, and battles of wits. I mean, what else do you need?

I don't know what Grine's background is, but his storytelling and artistry is strong. His use of solid black areas, a smooth brush stroke, and strong panel-to-panel storytelling is what reminds me most of "Bone." The first book is much looser than the second, where Grine has obviously tightened up his character designs and presents a much more confident and solid vision of the world.

Grine often ping-pongs between plots in the books, and does so effectively. You can feel it, instinctually, when a scene is ending and the story is going to jump to the other guy's drama. Grines is careful to end such scenes at the bottom of pages, and doesn't even need a transition caption box to tell you what's obvious on the page: that you've switched to the B Plot from the A Plot.

There is some spinning of wheels in the second volume, as an escape from hell (almost literally) has multiple endings where the rug keeps getting pulled out from under you. Once that's all over, it happens again in the "outside world." You'll see what I mean if you pick up the book. It's a minor nit-pick in an otherwise very strong book.

The lettering also takes some getting used to. It's a bit large for a book that's digest-sized. I imagine it's an attempt to make the book more legible to the younger crowd, though I'm not entirely sure how accessible the book would be. Would a parent really want their child to read a book wherein a character carries the limp rotting body of their friend around, chatting all the way? Is a chase through Hell going to offend some? Is the story of a main who stuffs and mounts talking animals too scary? I don't know. I'm not quite there with my daughter yet, but I'm not entirely sure at what age that material would be appropriate for her, or at least not scare her to death. On the other hand, little kids watch characters falling to their deaths at the end of every Disney movie, and lots of flames from hellfire licking up again them. And I played with my toy gun from a "C.H.I.P.s" play set without any negative repercussions.

I don't know.

Perhaps that's why we have the bad news we have at the end of this review. Dark Horse passed on publishing a third volume of the series. Is that because of low sales? Is it because the property failed to bring in the tall Hollywood dollar? (And, let's face it, these characters are easy to imagine as 3-D CGI constructs.) I don't know. It's a shame, and I feel badly that I didn't read these books much sooner. Maybe some additional word of mouth would have helped.

I hope Grine chooses a self-publishing model, or seeks an Image publishing deal. I'd love to see more books, and there is a history of properties bouncing back and forth between those two publishers. Maybe it can happen. I hope so. I named "Chickenhare" Volume 3 one of my most anticipated titles for 2009. (You'll see those picks in the near future, I promise.) I hope I didn't go too far out on a limb with that one.

In the meantime, the first two black and white books are available today for your enjoyment. The first is ten bucks for 160 pages. The second runs 200 pages for just a dollar more. They're well designed, easy to read, and fun little rides. They deserve more readers and more volumes. Take a chance on one of these books today!

2009 RESOLUTIONS

Hey, we're only two weeks into the new year. I might be the last person to post his resolutions, but at least I made them.

Track my comics better.

I mean this in two ways. First, I used to keep an inventory of every comic book that came in, and in which long box it eventually wound up. For the last year or two, I've fallen off the bandwagon, and I'm starting to pay the price. I can't keep track of what I do and don't have with any reliability anymore.

Secondly, I want to remember what I read and what I liked at year's end. I think it might be fun to come up with a "Favorite Ten" list in December, or even in July. Right now, I can't remember half the stuff I read last month, let alone in the last 12. That's a major obstacle in comparing releases through the year, and compiling them at the end. I need to consider this.

Organize my comics more often.

Like so many, I let them stack up and spread out before I finally put my foot down and organize them into neat stacks or long boxes. Wouldn't be simpler just to keep them in order as they came in the house?

Concentrate on collected editions and comics from my past.

This is an extension on previous discussions of rereading comics from the past, I know. But it's also a vow to drop even more books for the trade. I made great strides towards that last year. I'd like to continue even stronger this year. With all the great books in the publishing schedule already for the next six months to a year, there's plenty of material to keep me busy.

And, of course, I want to keep going back to my long boxes and pulling out older favorites and not-so-favorites to see how they hold up.

Get rid of storage.

This is the biggest one, and not the easiest. But the truth is, I've been paying monthly for the last number of years to keep a whole lot of long boxes in an oversized closet. I don't access them that often. There are boxes I haven't pulled a comic from in five years now. They're taking up space and costing me money. Time to let more of them go.

The tricky part -- and something we've been hashing out on Twitter in recent days -- is how to get rid of them. I like the idea of donating them, but every charity has its restrictions, and I fear running afoul of them. Not every comic is family friendly, particularly the "grim and gritty" superhero comics of the last decade.

I have boxes of trades that might make for good library donations. Sadly, I get the feeling too many people in town already use the local libraries as their recycling centers for books. There are times of the year when they just refuse to accept new books all together.

I'd like to get some small dollar figure back on them. I know I won't recoup costs, but some small amounts would be welcome. Problem is, single issue comics don't scale very well, short of putting them up on eBay in major runs. I just don't want to deal with the hassle of shipping them, and dealing with the inevitable whiner who'll demand his money back because that fifty issue run of "Star Trek" comics arrived with a ding on one comic, because I didn't pack them with enough air bladders. Or peanuts. Or newspaper. Or whatever people use in shipping today. To ship comics safely is to spend a lot of money on shipping.

Maybe I can take the money I'd save on storage and put it towards buying one of these to make organizing the rest a little easier.

I'm sure none of these are exactly new resolutions. Short of "lose 20 pounds," they're probably amongst the most popular choices for comic book geeks. There's likely a reason for that: We're all too lazy to actually do these things, as much as we might want to. But all bad habits are made to be broken, one at a time. Let's see what I can break this year.

ASTERIX: THE FUTURE

I'm a very latecomer to the "Asterix" legacy, but I'm loving every page of it. I'm sadly down to only a small number of books to buy and read. I think I'm delaying that so I can always have something to look forward to. Irrational, yes, but it works for me.

This week, Rich Johnston is reporting that "Asterix" co-creator/artist Albert Uderzo is planning on letting others work on the series after his death. And, news to me but to nobody in Europe: the fiftieth anniversary is to be celebrated this fall with a new album. It will be filled with short stories from Uderzo. It's inspiring that a man in his eighties is still capable of drawing such beautiful art.

Still, "Asterix" without Goscinny or Uderzo? Many would argue that the series lost much of its luster after Goscinny's death. While I'm not as harsh on the series as many die-hard fans, there's definitely a spark missing from the last dozen volumes that Goscinny might have provided. They're still better comics than 90% of the books out there, but there's something missing. The plots are a bit weaker. The gags are a bit more obvious. The subtleties are gone.

But it's still "Asterix" and we're all allowed to love it.

Should it carry on after Uderzo? I think it's inevitable that it would. Will it reclaim the old glory? Of course not. Whoever takes the reigns of the series after Uderzo will have one of the scariest jobs in the world. Those books are idolized; I wouldn't want to replace the guy who had drawn it solo for the last fifty-plus years. Talk about performance anxiety!

"Asterix" will, in the end, be a different thing. Hopefully, the new team won't be completely beholden to continuity. I'd hate to see direct sequels and rehashes of Goscinny's plots in an attempt to recreate past success. They wouldn't get away with it if they tried. On the other hand, Don Rosa has pulled that kind of material off beautifully in his "Uncle Scrooge" comics. Even so, he's proven himself a capable storyteller in countless shorter gag stories that stretched Duck comics.

Is there a Don Rosa for the "Asterix" world? As much as I doubt it, I'm open to it.

That all said, I nominate Stuart Immonen to draw the next album. If I'm sticking with North American creators to round out a creative team, then I'd go with Peter David to write.

Unrelated, but while I'm thinking of Don Rosa: That promised "The Don Rosa Library" hardcover that was supposed to be out for Christmas 2008 never materialized, did it? I don't see it on Amazon anymore, either. Uh oh.

PIPELINE PODCAST FOR 07 JANUARY 2009

The Pipeline Podcast shipped on time last week! Yes, it's a miracle. It's also 15 minutes long and a five megabyte download.

Here are the books from the week's Top Ten:

  • 10. Secret Invasion TP
  • 9. Jonah Hex #39
  • 8. Buffy The Vampire Slayer #21 (Season 8)
  • 7. Complete Little Orphan Annie HC Vol 2
  • 6. Punisher #1
  • 5. Walking Dead #57
  • 4. DC Universe Illustrated By Neal Adams HC Vol 1
  • 3. Groo Hell On Earth TP
  • 2. The Warren Ellis books from Avatar
  • 1. Rasl TP Vol 1 Drift, $13.00

The format on "RASL" is a real winner. I haven't seen it yet, but I love the idea of an oversized (European album size) collection of modern comics.

To be complete, I should point to the previous podcast, for new comics that shipped on 02 January. (12 minutes long, just over 4 megs to download.) That podcast was very late, but here's the top ten from it, though I think half the books didn't actually ship until the following week:

  • 10. Fantastic Four Worlds Greatest Premiere HC
  • 9. Thor Visionaries Walt Simonson TP Vol 1 (New Printing)
  • 8. Wintermen Winter Special #1, $3.99
  • 7. Batman Cacophony #2
  • 6. Captain America #45
  • 5. Essential Punisher TP Vol 3
  • 4. Universal War One Premiere HC Vol 1
  • 3. Marvels Eye Of The Camera #2
  • 2. You'll All Be Sorry MMPB
  • 1. Incognito #1

Brubaker and Philips were a lock for #1. And Gail Simone's much-beloved CBR column had to rank highly, as well.

Now that "Wintermen" is finished, can we expect a new issue of "Hepcats" soon?

Next week: Yes, next week will happen. I'll be here. Won't you?

AugieShoots.com is still photoblogging every day! I've made it thirteen straight days of daily updates now. I'm well on my way to 365! (Your math may vary.)

Don't forget to check out my Google Reader Shared Items this week. It's the best of my daily feed reading, now with commentary!

The Various and Sundry blog carries on, though still a little slowly in the new year. That said, there's lot of Macworld and Twitter talk up there right now.

My Twitter stream is like my public e-mail box. I check it daily, looking for responses and new conversational threads. Heck, you're more likely to hear back from me if you ask me something on Twitter than my own e-mail box.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 800 columns -- more than eleven years' worth -- are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.

TAGS:  pipeline, chickenhare, asterix, uderzo

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