Pipeline

Tue, July 21st, 2009 at 2:28pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

HOW "AWESOME" IS THIS?

I always promised I'd never go into video podcasting.

Maybe I lied?

Since I didn't add this video to the already-crowded and frequently-updated Pipeline Podcast RSS feed, I guess that video isn't a "podcast," really. It's just a standalone thing. Still, there I am mugging for the camera.

With the unboxing out of the way, let's look at the book.

FIRST LOOK: THE PvP AWESOMEOLOGY

Clocking in at 600 pages, "The PvP Awesomeology" collected the first seven years of Scott Kurtz's popular webcomic, along with a lot of the pre-cursor strips he did that led up to, and planted the seeds for, "PvP." It's an impressive amount of work to collect in one book, along similar lines to the "Complete" collections of "Far Side" and "Calvin and Hobbes." It's not quite that large, but it is oversized (nearly the same as an "Absolute" book) and it'll stop any door from closing, so long as it isn't a bank vault. I can't even guarantee that, though.

The most interesting part of the book is the historical bits at the beginning. Kurtz pulls out samples of strips he did before "PvP" that lead to the creation of his best-known work. It's fun to see how his style evolved, not just in the years of doing the same strip, but from strip to strip before that. The prior works revolved around gaming and relationships, which is what "PvP" ultimately combines so well. An early semi-autobiographical "newlywed" comic is a real treat. Kurtz's style is much different, more rounded and thicker in the ink line. Yet there are enough of his cartooning ticks in there that you wouldn't be surprised to find out he did it.

Curiously, samples from the "It's Elementary" strip (incomplete and unlettered due to lost scripts) are shown with an awful lot of dead white space on the pages, as if they needed to pad the page count by three or four pages to fill out the book at the last minute. If "PvP" can be shown four strips to a page, why are those early efforts only two strips to a page? They are important to see, as the first versions of some "PvP" regulars appear there, but the layout was an odd choice.

Those first strips also come with annotations to explain how they came about and how they fit in with the story of "PvP." It's enlightening for any fan of the strip, and crucial to explain what those strips are doing in a large book devoted to another comic strip altogether. Unfortunately, those annotations are dropped once the "PvP" strips start running. It would have been exhausting and superfluous to go back and annotate thousands of strips, so I don't blame Kurtz, though I might have liked some kind of historical note at the beginning of each chapter, maybe. There are also no dates next to the strips, but I suppose that's not a big deal. Holiday strips make it obvious when December has rolled around, for example. The book promises a thorough compilation of the webcomic on paper, and that's what it offers.

Even at the larger paper size, the strips do sometimes look a little small. Kurtz's art isn't of a style that reprinting it larger would allow a reader to discover the second coming of Milton Caniff or anything, but a somewhat larger strip with bigger lettering would prevent some eye fatigue.

Still, the final presentation is strong: There are no signs of pixilation anywhere. The lettering is legible. Sunday color comics are presented in grayscale, but that doesn't hurt the readability of the strips I sampled. There's no bleed through from one page to the next, something that might concern you when putting a book this size together. They didn't go for thinner paper to make the final product thinner or lighter. I'm glad for that, especially at the $100 price point.

In skimming through the pages, I was surprised at how many strips I remembered reading before. I've only relatively recently become a daily devotee of the strip (thanks to the RSS feed), but I guess those early comic book compilations stuck in my memory banks more than I remembered. Seeing everything packed into one book like this, it becomes easier to see running gags and familiar set-ups and, perhaps, similar gags. That's the danger of a book like this. Putting it all together might expose some things that a small portion on a daily basis wouldn't. Like I said, I only skimmed through it so far, but I can't complain about any negative recurring traits. For now, it's a great walk down memory lane and an excellent time capsule showing how one artist can evolve, both artistically and as a writer. The shift from gaming humor to a more relationship-based set-up is noticeable, even if the games never really leave the strip. I like the current combination a lot, though Kurtz isn't so tied down to it that he refrains from doing a week of panda gags, or Comic-Con travelogues, or whatnot. As much as I like the "PvP" gang, I also enjoy it when Kurtz goes off-format for a series out of left field, or for a one-off gag.

Obviously, at $100, this is not a book to be sampled. It's a commitment. It's a book for the fans of the strip. For those planning on picking it up in San Diego from Kurtz, I worry for you. Carrying this doorstopper of a book around and then flying home with it will be a challenge. On the other hand, if you don't buy it, then Kurtz has to fly home with it. So help a brother out.

Newbies would be better served sampling one of the many trade paperback compilations of the series (the sixth volume debuts in San Diego this weekend), which serve the material well. Devotees wanting this ultimate compilation in their library will not be disappointed.

Just wait -- in 2013, we should be due for "PVP Awesomeology" volume 2! (That sound you just heard was Kurtz and his brother collapsing at the thought of doing all that work again. . .)

COMING SOON: UNDERGROUND

As Warner Brothers gears up to release WHITEOUT, its Eisner-winning artist Steve Lieber returns to the adventure genre with a new thriller from Image Comics, pairing with acclaimed AGENTS OF ATLAS and EXILES writer Jeff Parker on the September shipping UNDERGROUND!

Due out from Image Comics in September is "Underground" #1, a five part mini-series from Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber. And, damn, but it's good to see Lieber's art again. Yes, I know he's done plenty of work recently, but his Speedball stuff doesn't feel right to me. His art style is more suited to "average" people and "real" people, and less so the superheroic stuff. Plus, "Underground" lets him ink and letter his own stuff. To me, half the character of Lieber's art is his lettering.

The story centers on a small town whose natural cave formation is being considered for a tourist attraction. The poor town is all for the money it will bring in, while one lone park ranger is against it. Conflict ensues, some extremists take action, and the crap's about to hit the fan.

Parker's story here is more restrained than some of his recent work you might think of him as doing. There's nothing crazy weird or over-the-top funny about this book. It's straight drama, but with some nice personal touches. Parker's script shines when two park rangers wake up together one morning and the awkwardness of the event shocks them. Those little character bits are memorable and show us that this is a comic about more than just the plot. The characters in the plot deserve some building up, as well. Just don't go expecting any rapping red monsters to show up in the book, or giant-headed flying machines.

While the final printed comic will be full-color, the preview comic ("ashcan?") I read was in glorious black and white. As it turns out, you can have the same reading experience as I did. Go to UnderGroundTheComic.com for more information; the PDF file is off on the right column.

"Underground" #1 is due out September 23rd, and is definitely an early fall release to look forward to.

If all else fails: Did I mention the naked people in the first panel? Now do you want to read it?

SAN DIEGO 2009

Yes, this is the week for Comic-Con International: San Diego. I am not going to be there, but I will be watching the news feeds with everyone else. I'm not planning any special coverage, but I would place bets on there being a Pipeline Mobile podcast or two over the weekend with my initial reactions.

If you'd like, please refer to my daily coverage of San Diego 2007 (Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), in which I provided daily updates from the con that I wasn't attending, written days in advance. I think it holds up well.

THE PIPELINE PODCAST FOR THE WEEK OF 12 JULY 2009

We had four new podcasts last week:

Monday: "Thinking about San Diego," in which I muse on the big convention happening this week. I have mixed emotions on the whole thing.

Tuesday: "Top Ten List, Collected Editions." Turns out there was enough material released to comic shops last week for two Top Ten lists. This first one is devoted to books-with-spines, with "Modern Masters: Chris Sprouse" at the top of the list. (I'm reading it now. Interesting guy.)

Also: Marvel released Todd McFarlane's "Torment" storyline from his adjectiveless "Spider-Man" run in a hardcover edition last week. Once more, I need to ask: Why won't Marvel reprint the rest of McFarlane's memorable run on that series? There's Ghost Rider, Morbius, Wolverine, Wendigo, and one of those 'Goblin guys floating out there, uncollected. I'd like to see those, too, please!

Wednesday: The more traditional 32-page format Top Ten list. Predictably, "Blackest Night" leads the list.

Friday: Gareb Shamus is back at it again, announcing a new comic book convention in direct competition with a much-anticipated one. The move is curious, but I have theories.

TwoMorrows also announced last week that they've extended their generous discount on the "Comic Book Podcast Companion " book through September 1st. To get the $16 for just $9.57, use the "podcast40off" coupon code when ordering the book on-line at TwoMorrows.com.

The winner of the free copy that I had to give out is Jim B. in Tennessee. Congrats, Jim. I'll have that book in the mail for you later this week. Thanks to everyone who entered. I'll be deleting your emails now and forgetting I ever saw where you live. It's the least I could do.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Twitter is dead to me! They suspended my account for "strange activity." I have no idea what that means. I've asked them what's going on, but the Twitter FAQ says it'll take 30 days to work out.

So you'll all have to Tweet without me. I'll hang out over on FriendFeed with the other approximately 42 people who use that service.

I'm still pushing my comics collection around. Here's some proof.

My photoblog, AugieShoots.com is still going daily, with a motley assortment of pics this week: Birds, squirrels, comic books, cable wire, cupcakes and more! You just never know what might show up next.

The Various and Sundry blog sorta came back to life, then slowed down again. Dangit!

Included here in the hopes that this gets worked out later this week: My Twitter stream (@augiedb) 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.

And there might still be a new blog on the horizon yet. . . Seriously. It's in the works. Still. This is the blog that's been "in the works" since January and still hasn't gone away.

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

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.

Really, are you still reading this? I'm cutting-and-pasting now.

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

TAGS:  pipeline, pvp awesomeology, underground, scott kurtz

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