Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Book Review: The Shark King

  Our library recently (yesterday, really!) got a load of new graphic novels. Amidst the Phineas & Ferb and Sports Illustrated Kids and Voltron books that came in, there was The Shark King. A good story that wasn't what I had expected filled with art that had a retro feel to it, in part because of the style the artist and writer, R. Kikuo Johnson used to render the figures and backgrounds in, and partly because the color palette is reminiscent of a 1950s storybook. I always like it when someone takes a classic look to a comics story. I'm a huge fan of golden and silver age comics because of the art.
  Looking at the cover, I figured it would be some sort of fantasy story or a re-worked piece of mythology. Either way, I expected the book to be a quest of some sort because of the word balloon assigned to the boy, "I will find you!" What is inside the book is the story of a woman named Kalei, who likes to gather and eat the opihi that cling to the rocks along the shore. Suddenly a wave rises toward her with a massive shark inside it. To her surprise, she is saved by a handsome islander who warns her of the mysterious Shark King and soon they fall in love and are married. The night the baby is due, dad decides he has to go make a safe place in the world for his son and he leaves. That's when Kalei discovers her husband is the Shark King! The story shifts to her raising the young sharkling boy as a single mother. The kid, Nanaue, is raised away from other people and for good reason! His appetite is HUGE, he seems to have a hyperactive form of ADD that also makes him want to run with as little clothing as possible! Most disconcerting of all is a crooked line on his back that turns into a mouth and tries to eat anyone who gets too close! Like his father, Nanue is a shape shifter and more at home in the water than on land. His appetite leads him to find easy meals at the expense of the island's fishermen, until he is discovered.

Kalei learns the truth about her husband!

Nanue running in all his glory!
 The strengths in Johnson's book, aside from the art, is the ability to bring personality to Nanue and Kalei. The fact the story isn't very long and should appeal to a broad audience is a plus, too. If mythology is your thing, or stories of far off places and times is your thing, you will find plenty to enjoy in this latest offering from Toon Books.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Been away for awhile, but I was busy- honest!

Wow! It has been over a month since I have posted anything. Not like there haven't been things to post about, I've just been busy!
 Cartooning Club at the Union West Library has exploded the last few months! Where we were averaging about 13 kids every month we have been hitting almost 30 kids the last three months! I don't know why, but it is a joy to see so many kids looking for ways to improve their skills and share their creativity with others.
 Speaking of the Cartooning Club, the next meeting is THIS Thursday, December 20 at 5:30 and comic book and commercial artist extraordinaire Al Bigley will be there! Al recently went through his vast library, weeding out books he had multiples of, or already owned the original monthly editions for. Al suggested that the books be put into the library collection or be given away to kids. Working at this library, I know the books that would make it to the shelf may not enjoy a long life as circulating library books. The ones that wouldn't go into the collection would be put in the book sale or thrown out by someone who doesn't "get" comics. So a grand giveaway for Christmas tot he Cartooning Club was the result! But it won't just be Al's books, but a few comics from my own collection along with other fun items!

 Tomorrow, I start a series of reviews on several Toon Books!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

30 Characters 30 Days Challenge

Due to a variety of things from time/ location constraints to technical issues with the computer &/or scanner (depends on which day it was!) I have not been posting to the 30 Characters in 30 Days Challenge. And once I fgure out how I am supposed to make an entry on their Wordpress site, I'll put them all up there. For now, here is an early smattering of some of the characters I have created thus far.
Based off ancient Mesopotamian designs, this is the emperor from centuries ago. His crown has some mysterious power and will give the empire a ruler again- if it can ever be found.

The empire's ruling council- the three heads that  have run the empire for centuries. L-R- Head of war, Head of affairs of state, Head of judgement.

Grid, the living football!

Adding a golem to Snake Luster's Monster Pirate Crew

No idea what it is- but definitely part of the monster pirates!

Modeled after the Hindu Monkey King, this member of the monster pirates is named Hanu.

He's called a shadow demon, but he really is a  subterranean  creature  who gives off a "dark light."

Trash Can Man is a new adversary for my comedic hero, Capt. Punishment!

Teaming up with Trash Can Man to give Capt. Punishment more headaches!

Veil is part of the monster crew. She is a seer, and what lies behind the veil she wears is beautiful to some, sheer terror to others.

Inspired by the Easter Island Statues, this rock giant is part of the crew. He's the runt of his tribe, standing just 8 feet tall!

Mystic Dalmatian Yeti. Need I say more?

Thunder here is a young Tauran- what we would call a minotaur. Except he doesn't eat people.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

There's a lot of comics news lately!

Hot off the heels of the big news of Disney's $4 billion purchase of LucasFilms, several other interesting comics related stories have surfaced this week.
 First, from my friend and comics artist extraordinaire, Al Bigley, was this really cool link to a display of Silver Age comics at the Atkins Library at UNC Charlotte. The comics were a gift from a donor and are part of the library's archives collection. The collection is primarily Marvel and DC titles, and are not ones people get to see in their original form very much. If you find yourself in the University area of Charlotte, take the time to head over and see these gems of comics history for yourself. If you can't make it out that way, the library has the display online so you can peruse the covers, some of the pages, and learn a little about some of the characters in the context of the era they are set in. Click here for the online tour! Enjoy!
Super Scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson
 Next, was news that the location of Superman's homeworld, Krypton, has been given a real set of coordinates in outer space! Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson was asked by DC comics to come up with a plausible location for where Krypton would have been if it had been real. Tyson, who is brilliant yet very adept at explaining complex scientific ideas so boneheads like me get it, placed it near a red dwarf star in the Corvus constellation. That would make Kal-El's journey to Earth a distance of about 27.1 light years! You can read more about Tyson's "discovery" at the New York Post. Tyson's choice of location makes some other interesting connections to Superman lore.

 The families of Jerry Seigel and Joe Schuster lost their court battle for the rights to Superman recently, and have now filed an appeal to a higher court. The families have made agreements in the past with Warner/DC but have also argued that the compensation they have received over the years has been greatly undervalued compared to the revenue the Man of Steel has brought DC over the years.This story came to me from Bloomberg via New Kadia Comics.

Are court battles going to wear down the Man of Tomorrow?

The buck stops here!

 Last is news I got off of that Disney may have it's eyes on buying up Hasbro. Hasbro manufactures toys for LucasFilm properties Star Wars and Indiana Jones, along with Transformers and Hasbro's own "home-grown" line, GI Joe. Hisstank picked up the story from MTV Geek. Read it for yourself  HERE. And now you know....and knowing is half the battle!

Friday, October 19, 2012


 What a turnout for our Cartooning Club last night! Normally, about 12 kids show up to talk comics, cartoons, draw stuff and watch some animation. Last month, there were 16 kids and last night, a whopping 24 kids! The big group made it a fun atmosphere as we jumped in drawing a cool creature for the Halloween season- the mummy! I then talked about Disney's "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (part two of the "Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad") and the real-life background of Washington Irving's classic. And then, we watched the classic cartoon with lots of laughs and chilling moments! Things were "wrapped up" (get it?) with the kids collaborating on a Halloween banner which now hangs in the children's area of the library!
An uncredited pic of a ghostly mummy and some friends!

An uncredited pic of a mummy with a boney sidekick!

Haley adds background, movement & depth to her mummy!

Uncredited picture of a very well proportioned mummy for a cartoon look!

Uncredited pic of a...zombie? Maybe if she were a mummy her foot wouldn't be broken!

Kaden shows fine line work/detail in this mummy drawing!
 The next Cartooning Club will meet Thursday, November 15 at 5:30! See you there!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Shakespeare in Comics

  I recently received a copy of The Tempest from Campfire Publishing, and a few pages I stopped. The dialogue I was reading was not Bill the Bard's own words. I was greatly disappointed and was going to do either a negative review of the book, or no review at all. I admit that reading Shakespeare's plays can at times be difficult. The language is different from today, and "William-I-am-NOT-Bacon-Shakespeare" did not include notes on how the actors should respond or how they should say things in the script. It was all implied in the words the characters would say and hear- easier 400 years ago when people were more familiar with that type of speech. That is what makes having Shakespeare presented in a visual format (like a play) exciting, because know the viewer hears the words with the emotion behind them. The viewer sees the gestures and postures that help convey the mood. It's easier to be sad, or to get a punchline. Thus, the reason for my disappointment. I wanted to see the illustrations bring Shakespeare's words to clarity, not read another version where someone has "modernized" the conversations. But this graphic novel was not intended for people who actually studied Shakespeare, or who enjoy watching the plays. This book is to spark an interest in reading in those who normally would not pick up a tome on Shakespeare for something to do for fun.
It's not quite Shakespeare's words, but it's close! Real close.
  Giving the book a second look, there is no problem witht he art. It has the signature style that is Campfire's, with the lines and colors coming from Amit Tayal and Manikandan. It is very good, technically solid artwork, but there is nothing there that has a Jack Kirby or Jim Lee "wow!" factor to it. Max Popov has reworked the dialogue, but he has made an effort to stay true to Shakespeare's words. I've seen versions of other plays like Romeo & Juliet where the dialogue has been modernized/dumbed-down to the point of, "Yo! Julie! Where you at?" "What Romeo? You know where I live!"
  This comes on the tails of several manga versions of Shakespeare's works being done, some trying to play the settings and costumes to the Victorian era, others going wild into characters that look like Dragonball Z fighters, or anthropomorphic creatures. I know why so many publishers have jumped on the Shakespearean bandwagon, and the there are a few reasons: 1) it's public domain (like most of the classics), so anyone can make these stories; 2) there is no need to stick to or even research source material- stage productions, movies, and graphic novels have put Shakespeare stories  into biker gangs, outer space, high school gyms and every place in between; 3) any changes to dialogue and story can be justified by the publisher as intending to bring classic literature to a new audience, creating a selling point to schools and parents who are afraid their kids won't read the classics without a lot of reworking and window dressing. The major problem I could see is trying to get your book to be the one everyone will buy. You are competing with several other companies who are selling their version of the story, too.

Stan Lee puts Romeo & Juliet into Mecha Sci-Fi!
 The lesson here is to look through these books yourself before buying them. Go to a comic shop, book store or library and see what these adaptations have to offer. Are you looking for satire, or a simplified version, or a serious take on these works- and does that book accomplish what you wanted?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Book Review: Zeus and the Rise of the Olympians

There are a few certainties when it comes to Greek myths. There will be violence. There will be monsters. There will be a hero who must overcome all odds. There will be a quest for the hero, introducing him and the audience to new places, new creatures, and new challenges. And somewhere the gods are involved.
Zeus and the Rise of the Olympians is one of the latest mythology offerings from Campfire Publishing (they just released Sundarkaand: Triumph of Hanuman this week!), and adds tot heir impressive library of Greek Myth books.
 The story is the origin of the Olympians, the pantheon of gods who rule from Mt. Olympus, and at the heart of their rise to power is the leader of the group, Zeus. Zeus and his fellow godlings are the children of Chronos, leader of the Titans. Chronos is the child of Ouranos, and Ouranos comes from... well, you get the picture.
 Ouranos is not a good ruler. He is a destructive god, neglecting the infant earth and instead spending his days reveling in his destructive power. Gaea, who wants to put life on the earth, knows it will not happen unless Ouranos is removed from power. She advises her son, Chronus, to take the throne from his father, and Chronus does. Yet, while life does begin to spread across the earth, Chronus proves to be as inept at ruling as his father. Chronus is consumed with keeping his power, and he is haunted by a curse put on him by his father that a son of Chronus would rise up one day and take the throne from him. Believing he can outwit his father's prophetic words, Chronus  devises a brilliant plan to swallow his infant children when they are born. Being immortal, this keeps the baby gods in suspended animation. Chronus' wife Rhea cannot bear the actions of Chronus, and together with Gaea, they devise a plan to save her next child by giving Chronus a rock wrapped like a baby, and then hiding the real infant for years. This is Zeus, and he grows and trains for the day he must confront his father and free his brothers and sisters. From here, the story takes readers through the underworld before Hades, and we see Zeus recruit an army of creatures that were cast away by Ouranos and Chronos for the crime of not being pretty enough. Zeus and his creature army must now confront Chronos and his Titans for control of the world.
 Writer Ryan Foley has crafted a story that goes deeper into the Olympian myths than I was previously aware of. The story builds slowly and moves to a faster pace until the climax of the story. I kept waiting for Zeus to do or say something stupid to generate some justified ill-will from his fellow Olympians, but Foley treats Zeus as ever the hero to the end of the book, which I found refreshing and different. There are a lot of characters to go through in the story, so there is not an opportunity to see any character development. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because to take the additional time to see the characters change and grow would have derailed the the core of the story- how Zues and the Olympians rose to power.
 Jayakrishnan KP provides the art for the story, which is rendered in a fantastic comic book style, with dark, earthy coloring to set a mood of prevailing doom and gloom, until the end of the story where the color palette changes considerably. Jayakrishnan seems to have researched his backgrounds and architecture of ancient Greece, but he also gets to run free with terrific fantasy designs creating gleaming armor,  darkened palaces, and monsters worthy of nightmares.
 Zeus and the Rise of the Olympians is a great way to introduce older elementary readers to the Greek myths, filling them with the facts of the stories along with two-fisted action.

If you are looking for more great comics based on the Greek myths, Campfire has several:

Also, First Second (:01) has a series that focuses on each of the major gods by George O'Conner.

History of Indian Trail, NC

Almost two years ago, I was approached about doing a series of pictures on the history of Indian Trail, NC. One of the history committee members, Roger Fish, had seen my art for an old map of the county I had made for the library's genealogy display. He liked the kid-friendly, cartoon art that still kept the pictures in their proper eras. Roger would write up short pieces on important events, eras, people and activities in the area and then I would build. Once the pictures were approved the idea was to make a series of plaques for a "history walk" in a new town park that also featured a wonderful bronze bust of what a Native American would have looked like to the earliest settlers.
 Economic conditions have pushed the project to the back, but the committee has not given up on the project. Roger later approached me about coloring the pictures so they could be used for maybe calendars, a small booklet, or cards- all of which the committee could then sell to get the money for the plaques for the park's history walk. With the constant advances being made electronically, several cities have created app with audio/ video tours of their cities. These allow the user to go on a tour at their leisure and to learn facts and history about important places and people while also getting additional views their vantage point may not afford, pictures of "then and now", or illustrations that help tell the stories tied to the place. So I am in the process of coloring the pictures, when I'm not doing art for the church, or working on my own graphic novel project, or tending to my full time or part time job duties, or trying to figure out how to make Return of Mini-Con V happen.

 In the mean time, you can look at some of the b&w and colored art from the project. Enjoy!