Pipeline

Tue, February 17th, 2009 at 2:28pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

GREEN MANOR: VICTORIAN ENGLAND MURDER MYSTERIES

"Green Manor" is a series of short murder/mystery stories with big hooks to grab onto, and clever plots to keep you turning the page. While it's mostly talking heads, it's still remarkable storytelling with plenty of interest to anyone with a taste for Victorian England, closed door mysteries, and clever people battling with their wits. Think of it as a cross between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" mysteries and Isaac Asimov's "Black Widowers" short stories

The first volume from Cinebook, "Assassins and Gentlemen," runs 56 pages for $13.95. Sadly, the page size is smaller than the original, but there's almost no fighting that anymore, is there? Smaller pages are better than no pages, right? (I'll write more about this in the weeks ahead, including why I think now, more than ever, it's a backwards idea.)

"Green Manor" has bookend scenes (written by Fabien Vehlmann) introducing the butler from the titular manse, who is currently (as of 1899, at least) locked up in a sanitarium and believing himself to be the house, itself. That leads to tales from the mansion's past, where well-to-do members of British society tell tales of murder, baffle each other with logic puzzles, and argue over mysteries. Can you have a murder without either murderer or victim? Can murder be art? Can a second look at an old painting show a hidden scandalous side to a beloved family?

The smart thing here is that each story is only six or seven pages long. The characters are different in each story, though there are some overlapping cameos. The stories get off to quick starts, grab your attention, and drag you gracefully through the narrative. Keeping the stories short means you don't wind up with the needless twists and complications that longer form mysteries rely on to keep the tension high. These stories get straight to the point and keep you there.

The art is gorgeous. Dennis Bodart's work is cartoony, but well detailed. Characters have attractive designs and inhabit three-dimensional space inside houses and rooms that are believable. It's basic Storytelling 101 that he uses to bring the reader through the story. It isn't flashy; it doesn't show itself off. But if you pay careful attention to the way he moves "the camera" in and out of a scene, the way characters cross the page, or the way he positions things to indicate foreground, middle ground, and background, you'll appreciate the art all the more.

Coloring is very muted, mostly brown and dull green. It's the kind of thing Vertigo gets flack for occasionally, but that really works here. It's not muddy; it's atmospheric. The solid white paper the book is printed on holds the color well. When the tones change to yellows and oranges, they really brighten the page up.

The book might be nearly $14, but the art and the storytelling density make for a better value than what that number looks like on the page. Plus, you can find it with a pretty steep discount at on-line dealers.

You can read more about Dennis Bodart in this interview with the artist, which is lavishly illustrated. Take a look at the pencils for "Green Manor" and fall in love. It's from this interview that I learned the series only ran three volumes in France. Drat! It appears that Cinebook collected the second and third volume into their Part Two, "The Inconvenience of Being Dead." It was published back in September, so it's just a matter of time before I lay my hands on it. I can't wait.

If that's not enough for you, Bodart also has a LinkedIn page. Go ahead and hire him for something. He's an amazing character designer.

PREVIEWS: THE BACK HALF OF APRIL 2009

While all the attention lately has been focused on the smallest of publishers being squeezed out of "Previews" by Diamond's most recent sales minimums, let's not forget the established publishers who occupy the back half and are putting out some exciting work. There's a book's worth of material in examining the publishing plans of the successful small startups of the last decade, where so many "big name" startups couldn't make it.

We can start a little further back with Dave Sim and Aardvark-Vanaheim. "Cerebus" might have concluded, but its legacy lives on. "Following Cerebus" doesn't appear to be an active concern at the moment, but there's a lot of material in the series' first 300 issues yet to be mined. Sim is doing it himself, with "Cerebus Archive" #1. This new series promises to dive deep into the Sim archives to present commentary and never-before-seen background material on the issues. This first one gives us a glimpse at Sim's pre-Cerebus interests, just to get us started.

The solicitation copy promises that six issues are completed already, so we'll see how this one works out. I love this kind of Behind The Scenes stuff for comics, so count me in. It'll be $3.00 for a 24 page black and white comic.

Archie Comics make me laugh. The "new look" books continue, with "Betty and Veronica Double Digest" being the lucky recipient of the latest one, drawn by Rick Burchett and Terry Austin. That's a solid art team, but I have trouble with "new look" equating to "Anything Other Than Dan De Carlo, Thanks." It sounds like they're backing away from the "more realistic" description, at least.

Avatar Press is one of those smaller companies I talked about at the beginning of this section. They've come a long way in recent years, publishing new work by the likes of Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, and Alan Moore. Their backlist is pretty impressive now, if you look at it and look past the variant cover nonsense they use to keep the boat afloat. Warren Ellis' newest series, "Ignition City," debuts in April. Please note that this one is actually written by Ellis, not based on a story of his of characters from a mini-series he once did, or any other qualifier like that. It's drawn by Gianluca Pagliarani, whose preview art looks spiffy.

Boom! Studios gets more impressive each month. Not only is Mark Waid headlining "Irredeemable" #1 in April (with art from Peter Krause), but one of my lost favorites, "Mr. Stuffins," is returning. They're having the first issue entirely redrawn, with the promise of two future issues to follow. If you missed it the first time out, this is a book about a spy teddy bear. Loads of fun. If nothing else, process junkies can go to town comparing how two different artists work up the same script to different results.

If that isn't enough, you're also getting your fill of Muppets comics, Pixar properties ("The Incredibles" by Mark Waid is the prime example of perfect casting), and a nice hardcover reprint of the criminally-overlooked Waid mini, "Potter's Field."

Cinebook is a company I mentioned last week in my con report (as well as being the publisher of "Green Manor," reviewed above), but I just wanted to mention how good it is to see them soliciting for four new books in April. They're all $11.95

Devil's Due has had its ups and downs in recent years, but their new association with Humanoids is a fascinating one. I'll have more to say about American importation of French comics and where I think this publication program has its faults in an upcoming Pipeline. For now, suffice it to say that you're getting new John Cassaday art in "I Am Legion" and more beautiful Guy Davis work in "The Zombies That Ate the World," which I'm lucky enough to own a copy of the first volume in the original French. The art is fantastic at that larger size, though I don't know how it holds up in the smaller format that Devil's Due is publishing it in.

Dynamite Entertainment has a small, but growing, line of solid books, like "Zorro" and "The Lone Ranger" and whatever war story Garth Ennis wants to tell this month. It's not all prime material (no, we do not need more "Army of Darkness" tie-ins, thanks), but there's enough meat on these bones to warrant a salivating second look. You can get the third "Lone Ranger" hardcover collection for $20 out of this catalog. And keep an eye out for Ennis' latest war romp, "Battlefields: Tankies."

IDW Publishing's ascent in the last four or five years is much grist for the mill about comics publishing and how to succeed in it. They're mostly a licensing farm, but they put a lot of work into thos properties, and supplement it with more original material and archival reprints of classic comic strips, now including "Dick Tracy," "Little Orphan Annie," and the forthcoming "Bloom County."

Plus, look at what they have in April -- "The Resistance" trade paperback! This was an early collaboration between Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey over at WildStorm. It had a serious following that never reached a critical enough mass to justify its existence. It's great to see that the rights got back to the creators so that a collection of the series could see the light of day.

Can a "21 Down" trade paperback be far behind?

Oni Press has had a meteoric rise since its inception in the late 1990s. It's one of those "overnight" success stories that's come through hard work and a steady pace. Have you seen their booth at a comic book convention in the last couple of years? The enormity and diversity of their library is a thing of beauty, and something that should be greatly admired and imitated by other publishers.

Oni has two exciting trades in April. The first is "My Inner Bimbo," a collection of the mini-series from Sam Kieth that -- well, it's Sam Kieth. So you know it's going to be a little weird. It's 150 pages for $15, black and white.

The second exciting release is something I was asking for not terribly long ago. In the earlier years of Oni Press, Judd Winick wrote and drew a book about a foul-mouthed genius boy that was far too often compared to "South Park" and "Pinky and the Brain." There are surface similarities there, but that's it. "The Big Book of Barry Ween, Boy Genius" will now collect all of that early material -- 376 pages in all -- under one cover. For only $20, you can't get more bang for your buck this month. I only hope this means we might see more new material from Winick for this title sooner rather than later.

Simon and Schuster -- hardly an upstart book publisher, but still relatively new to the graphic novel game -- will be giving us Eric Wight's latest creation, "Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom." It's a hybrid prose/graphic novel, but I mention it here based on the strength of Wight's "My Dead Girlfriend" over at TokyoPop. The final book will be $12.99 for 80 pages.

Speaking of which, isn't it a little sad to see TokyoPop's "Previews" listings condensed down to four pages? It wasn't all that long ago that those books stretched out for a lot more pages. Times change.

Finally, TwoMorrows' "Modern Masters" series has its 22nd volume in April focusing on the artwork of Mark Buckingham. I love that series of books, even for artists' whose work I don't necessarily follow too closely.

So, to tie it all together: TwoMorrows. Oni. Dynamite. IDW. Devil's Due. Cinebook. Boom! Avatar. They are all relatively young companies that started small and built up. They're all, on the surface of it, at least, terribly successful. And they all put out something worth reading. I'd go so far as to say that they're putting out the most interesting books in many months. What do you think?

Next week: More reviews. Seriously, I've been doing a lot of reading, including some very interesting and overlooked books.

AugieShoots.com is still showing leftover pics from my trip to New York Comic Con last week. Most of them are of the trip to and from the con and not actually from inside the con hall, itself, but I think there's some nice stuff in there, anyway.

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 2009.

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, green manor, cinebooks, preview

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