A NEW DIGITAL COLLECTIVE
Artist Alley Comics is the latest (as of this column's writing) digital comics collective, started up by Craig Rousseau, Kelly Yates, and Rich Woodall. Six different comics are available now, half of which are free. The others are only 99 cents for ten-page stories. You get a variety of genres and styles, most of which are pretty appealing.
There aren't any preview pages for the book on the website, aside from an "AAC Sampler Issue" that has a couple of original stories in it, plus the entirety of "Annie Ammo" #0, one of the free comics elsewhere on the site.
So you do have to take the small leap based on the cover image to guess if you'll like the interiors for most of the books, but for less than a buck through PayPal, I won't complain. I'm willing to risk things at that price. Comics are delivered as PDFs without DRM, so you can view it anywhere. There is no web view here. On my desktop, I like ComicBookLover for reading, and then go with GoodReader on the iPad. These PDFs worked perfectly in both spots.
The first comic I downloaded was "Kyrra Alien Jungle Girl", written by Rich Woodall and drawn by Craig Rousseau. I'm not into the whole "jungle girl" genre, but this one has an alien world twist and, more importantly, is drawn by Rousseau, who I'll always keep an eye out for based on his "The Perhapanauts" work. There's not a whole lot of story in this first part, but it's an easy-to-grasp introduction to the world, featuring a female Tarzan and her friendly gorilla-like pal hopping through the trees, eating fruit, and establishing the mission of the series with some light dialogue. I liked the relationship between the two lead characters instantly. There's plenty of cliches here, but they're presented in a fun and engaging manner. As future installments come down, I hope the story goes in some new and exciting directions.
Rousseau's visuals are killer, though, the highlight of the comic. He sticks to a two by two panel grid format, which is very helpful when reading things on a screen. Sometimes, things feel a little claustrophobic and I would have appreciated the 'camera' pulling back a bit, but the overall look is stunning. With his inks, Rousseau maintains the sketchy energy of his original pencils. The final inks aren't meant to smooth everything over; they look a little scratchier in this case, and I like it a lot. Pair that with the lack of borders and the subtle color fadeouts/textures on the border, and you have a unified look that works well. Credit also goes to the colorist, Lawrence Basso, whose bold purples and greens give you something memorable and different. The special effects used are subtle and textural, never overwhelming the art. It only adds to it. It is, to put it simply, the complete package.
I'm looking forward to the second issue, though I don't know when it's coming or how I'll know when it does. I do have a user account for the site, so I'm hoping there'll be some newsletter or something that lets me know of major updates to the site. Call me lazy, but I'm awful at checking back on such things, and it would likely be frustrating to check back all the time to find nothing new more often than not. The site is new, though, and I'm sure these things will be considered and acted on as time goes by.
The second comic I downloaded was Shawn McManus' "Danny Clyde." (It's 99 cents, also.) It's a private detective short story set in the future, as seen by the flying cars and, well, that's about it. It's a twisted little story with a couple of abrupt left turns at the end. The lead-up to the twists, however, means an ending that comes a little too quickly and robs the reader of any sort of satisfaction beyond the initial shock of all. There are nice moments in the story, and I sometimes got the feeling like it's only set in the future because McManus had an idea for a cool car chase. But you know what? I'm OK with that. A good private detective story is a good private detective story. If McManus wants to spice it up with an extra genre layer, I'm find by that. Besides, flying cars are always fun. Ask George Lucas or Luc Besson.
McManus' art is nice, as always. Parts of it remind me of Michael Golden/Todd McFarlane's structure, though a clear generation off. Storytelling is strong and everything is easy to make out. The lettering is done by hand. In fact, if you zoom in on the pages closely enough, you'll see where the balloons were pasted onto the art board. In one instance on page 9, you can even see a balloon where the tail folded up on the original art board. So credit goes to the production side of Artist Alley Comics for making a PDF large enough to show all the detail.
The hand lettering is distinctive and very energetic. There's a liveliness to the lettering when characters are the most stressed that helps the comic. The rest of the lettering is uneven in spots, but I like the square letterforms for the way they remind me of Comicraft's "Hedge Backwards."
The character goes back at least as far as 2002, though I don't know what else McManus has done with him. It's possible that this story has seen print in some little-seem print anthology in the last decade or something, but I don't know that for sure.
"Kill All Monsters" is a webcomic being collected as a free comic. Written by Michael May (of Robot 6 blog fame) and strikingly drawn by Jason Copland, this is the story of a world where the monsters are being chased away from major cities by big robots. So, yes, Kaiju versus Robots! Fight! The whole thing is probably a little deeper than that, but this first 27-page installment only gets you that far. Copland's black and white art looks like something taken out of a late 80s independent comic, dependent on tones to add shadows. And by now you know what a sucker I am for good DuoTone-like comics boards.
The opening panoramic double-page splash is especially noteworthy, but the oversized fights are what sell the book. It's nothing deeper than that, so take it or leave it. They're not re-inventing the wheel here. It's all good fun. If you want to read more of the story, go read the webcomic now.
Those are the three books I've had the chance to read so far. For me, "Kyrra" is the brightest line of the line-up, with "Kill All Monsters" close behind. The rest are worth a look, which I will do later this week. You never know what will work best for you.
The trick now, as a collective, is to build some momentum up for the site. Get people talking about it, market the heck out of everything, and produce new material regularly. It's early days for the site, but I'm hoping for lots of good things here, if only in the form of more "Kyrra" stories.
BITS O' PLENTY
- What if you made portraits of superheroes using only characters on the keyboard? I give to you Superhero Typographic Classifications.
- The creators behind the terrific "Reed Gunther" series have now embedded "Reed Gunther" #7 on their website. It might not be as good as a free download, but it's still an easy way to read it for those who haven't jumped on the bandwagon yet. As far as embedded readers go, the one they're using is very good. Blow it up to full screen and read away.
- The other big free comics news of the week is Image Comics posting 20 of their recent first issues as free downloads from Comixology. That includes "Saga," "Planetoid," "Manhattan Projects," "Fatale," and "Thief of Thieves" and a lot of the other big releases you may not have sampled yet. I bet if you read all 20 first issues, you'd want to buy more of at least half of them. They're that good.
- Sandra Boynton, whom I once suggested to Marvel as a great creator to work on an anthology with, tweeted this week that "it would be cool to write comic books. Oddly, Marvel has yet to call me." I think she's being a little jokey there, particularly given the image that accompanies her tweet, but I'll be damned if I wouldn't be all over a Marvel picture book written and drawn by her. If anyone can bring Spider-Ham to the masses, it's Sandra Boynton. We need to start a campaign to get this started. I'll entertain ideas.
- I asked my daughter which TV show she wanted to watch yesterday. She said, "The super puppy show." My daughter is now hooked on "Krypto the Superdog." I can't blame her. It's a cute show. I shall now present this as Exhibit A to my fellow comic geeks that I'm doing OK as a father.
THE PURGE FINALLY BEGINS?
After three years of hemming and hawing, I made positive first steps on an effort to purge my comics collection. The plan isn't to get rid of all of it, but a massive thinning would be a big help. All of the boxes and the loose stacks of comics are taking over too many precious square feet of space at home: A walk-in closet. The corner of another walk-in closet. The closets in the back of the basement. About a quarter of the floor space of my Man Cave is covered in longboxes, copy paper boxes, and even old diaper boxes -- filled with comics. It's out of control. It's also poorly organized. (And I still have boxes at my parents' house and my sister-in-law's house. It's not good.)
I don't know what I have anymore, so the first step is to draw up an inventory. I've had a lot of "fun" in the last few days opening up boxes and rearranging things to create boxes strictly of stuff I want to get rid of. The second step is inputting all of those books' titles into a spreadsheet. The third would be, I guess, to shop the list around to see if anyone in the area is buying collections. There's far too much stuff here to ship it all. If I accomplished this in one big sale, you'd need a U-Haul to pick it all up. (And if you're interested and in the Northern NJ area, drop me a line. We'll talk.)
So far, I've filled up nine boxes and can total up over 200 books -- trade paperbacks, hardcovers, manga, and more -- in there. I've been trying to run half and half with each box. Keep half, put the other half in the To Be Carted Away pile. So far, it's been relatively easy to be honest with myself on what's "important" or "worth" keeping. I'm sure at some point in the future, I'll go through the Keepers and see if there isn't more I can move to the Get Rid Of It pile. That'll be the harder part, but I'm not there yet. Thankfully, for the moment, it's all about getting into the habit of not holding onto things I'll never re-read, I have in another form that I prefer, or that I haven't read and possibly won't ever.
Clearly, I've learned a lot from Peter Walsh and "Clean Sweep."
Right now, I'm just going through the boxes of books. I haven't made a concerted effort to look at the monthly comics yet. That's where the troubles will come. For starters, I'm not getting rid of books I had letters published in. After that, though, there are greater nostalgic and "historic" feelings to keep things. I think that process will take two or three passes to get done right. I'll need to keep whittling away at the granite until a statue presents itself. It won't happen on the first pass.
The process is partially scary, partially liberating, and partially exciting. I must be doing something right.
Updates to follow as events warrant. . .