Cutting Out The Middleman – When I’m The Middleman

    ““Our readership is way up,” said Foglio. “At a conservative guesstimate by a factor of ten. Our sales have quadrupled, and not just from our online store. Sales through Diamond have gone way up, and I hear from store owners all the time saying that we’re one of their bigger independent sellers. We no longer have to spend the time and effort to lay out individual issues, and with the time we save, we actually produce more ‘Girl Genus’ material per year. Not producing the periodical comics saves us money – at least $20,000.00 a year.”
    – Phil Foglio in an interview at Comic Book Resources about his series Girl Genius

Girl Genius Vol 5 CoverI saw this linked a few days ago, and have been thinking about it since then. I’m not really a fan of Girl Genius, and admire Foglio’s work in general but haven’t been moved to really… purchase… any of it, so I sort of let this go. The figure that Foglio asserts have stuck with me though.

See, I work at The Beguiling in Toronto, Canada. We’ve long been touted as one of the best shops for supporting ‘independent’ publications like Foglio’s work, and a quick check shows we have Girl Genius trade paperbacks and issues on the racks, a bunch of What’s New With Phil and Dixie, and even a more-or-less complete run of the XXXenophile collections too. Oh, and Buck Godot. So I have mixed feelings about some of the larger implications of the situations in Foglio’s interview, about going to collection-only or giving away entire books for free. Books that I am at least attempting to sell. My retailer instinct, sort of like my Lizard brain, flares up and wants to shout and stomp and threaten… but luckily I can subdue that most of the time.

Phil Foglio is saving $20,000 per year, not printing comic books.

Holy shit. Even if that number is inflated a little, that’s still a lot of money’s worth of time and physical dollars not disappearing into the void, essentially. Because, and let’s face it, we’re not hooking new readers of fuck-all with issue #8 of Girl Genius. It’s all established readership by that point. The financial factor alone is a pretty solid financial incentive for Foglio to keep working and providing salable content, which is what I as a retailer really actually want, rather than what I think I want, which is issues cluttering up my racks and formats competing with one another.

Speaking of which, just in a dollar-for-dollar sort of a way, if I sell exactly as many trades as issues, and as long as the trades are more-or-less the same price as the issues would have been, we’re not losing any money. Maybe we’re only dragging the reclusive Girl Genius customer out of their bedrooms once every 7 or 8 months now instead of 4 times a year, which is unfortunate, but it’s my job as a retailer to give’em a reason to come back for something else (although it wouldn’t hurt if Foglio would send more of his fans out in search of other comic books either…).

But here’s the thing:

Foglio: “Sales through Diamond have gone way up, and I hear from store owners all the time saying that we’re one of their bigger independent sellers.

He’s… right. Not about being one of our ‘bigger independent sellers’ or anything, not at our store. But about sales being up? Yupperz! In fact, our trade initial orders are up to around 10 copies from 2, and so far we’ve reordered both of the new trades (since the series moved online) to the tune of around 10 copies each. In fact, just yesterday, a dude I’d never seen before came in, asked for the Girl Genius trades, paid his $51 for volumes 4 and 5, and then walked out. Not that I don’t value the conversations I have with my customers, but if our sales were all 3 minutes per $51, I’d most certainly be earning myself a raise. So, yeah, 20 copies of Girl Genius trades a year is not a couple hundred copies of Acme Novelty Library or anything, but it more than earns it’s spot on our shelves.

So, congrats to Phil Foglio on developing a new serialization format that is beneficial to both him as an artist and to us as the middlemen who provide his art to the public.

– Christopher
P.S.: My friend Carla Speed McNeil underwent a similar shift last year, moving her series Finder online and releasing trade paperback collections. To be completely honest, I have no idea at all how that did for us. I’ll look into it. In the meantime though, check out Carla’s Finder series at

Review: Casanova #3

Casanova 3 CoverCasanova #3
By Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba
$1.99, 16 pages, Two Colours
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Christopher Butcher

  Casanova Quinn—a bon vivant in two different timestreams—is kidnapped from his home in Timeline 909 and forcibly brought here, to Timeline 919, to serve at the behest of superterrorist Newman Xeno, leaders and CFO of gloom-and-doom corporation W.A.S.T.E., to betray his own father, Cornelius Quinn, the strongly-jawed and ruggedly-moustachioed leader of E.M.P.I.R.E., known to you and me as the good guys.
  Where Cass comes from, he’s the bad egg and his twin sister Zephyr was the apple of E.M.P.I.R.E.’s eye—but in the 919 she rolls suspiciously more sinister, usually draped on Xeno’s arm, and is just aching to put the screws to daddy. And wouldn’t you know it, here it’s Cass that’s the big hero, so in he slips to E.M.P.I.R.E. to act as his own evil twin. 
  Tasked by E.M.P.I.R.E. to infiltrate exotic Agua Pesada and retrieve a deep-cover agent named Winston Heath who had gone several degrees south of crazy, and counter-tasked by W.A.S.T.E. to kill Heath, Cass was trapped between a rock and a dead place. Killing Heath in self-defence and destroying his compound, Cass then shot his sister and left her bleeding on a rooftop while Agua Pesada went shithouse. 
  And as he made his great escape, Cass asked Zeph the one question she’s dreaded having to answer: 
  Where’s Mom?
     – Matt Fraction, Inside front cover of Casanova #3.

It’s been three issues and I haven’t actually talked about the covers to the series. I’ve been including them with the reviews (or as Gabriel Ba described them, analyses,) but the covers themselves are so completely different than the interiors and yet complimentary too. Not to mention ballsy as fuck starting next issue. But yeah, the sickly-green that tones the interior art is kept as far away as possible from the sixties acid-orange, lush grape, and black and white that stain the covers. The cover illustrations eschew black linework entirely, opting instead for bold graphic shapes and characters composed entirely of colour. It’s a gorgeous effect, the comics look like nothing else on the stands. Each of the first three covers also includes the tiniest little bits of red accent, which totally pop and provide a delicate counter-balance to big bold areas of colour. I’m curious how much of the covers are designed by series artist Gabriel Ba, and how much of the design comes from author Matt Fraction, an accomplished designer in his own right who has a few things to say about cover composition. Matt, if you ever feel like doing a whole bunch of unpaid work, I’d love to see some writing about comic cover design (and Casanova’s design in particular).

cass-3-int2.jpgMeanwhile, story structure happens! In this issue Fraction plays with threes; the story comprised of three inter-related 5 page vignettes with a one page epilogue. The three stories are Right Now, 7 Days Ago and 97 Days Ago, and each story arc/time period also corresponds to a different ‘side’ of Casanova in this new timeline: His Own, E.M.P.I.R.E.‘s, and W.A.S.T.E.‘s.. The story cycles through the three storylines, a page from each until the issue is over (plus the one-page epilogue). The stories are chronologically distinct, each following it’s own order of operation and taking place at a different part in the overall timeline. However, just for shits-and-giggles, I went back and re-read the story not as it’s presented, a page from each thread at a time, but the whole thread from start to finish. It helped open up my thinking on this issue. Anyone can tell three five-page stories and then just shuffle ’em up, but then it’s just crap. This issue works like a 15 scene short film, each page a whole that works within the larger whole of the issue (sort of like how each issue is distinct but works within the larger context of the 7-issue series). What’s really phenomenal is that each page/scene is cognizant not only of the scene that follows it from the other storyline, but of the next scene in the story arc as well! For example, Page 1 ends on special agents Kennedy and Johnson telling Cass it’s time to go and get the show on the road, a pretty effective way to jump-start the issue. The next sequential page has Casanova in front of E.M.P.I.R.E., seven days ago, being returned to active service, which fucks with your head a little by implying that K&J brought Cass to the E.M.P.I.R.E. tribunal, even with that big SEVEN DAYS AGO at the tip of the page. The next page in the story arc though, features Cass, Kennedy, and Johnson out on the road in their convertible the story flowing along marvellously and not suffering a whit for the two pages of different storylines between them. Good stuff.

The other strong bit about the issue brought about by the story structure? The one so obvious it’s right under your nose: Telling a successful story where each scene is exactly one page long. In his previous writing about comics writing, Fraction has talked about the rhythm of a story, of the page. Here the rhythm is very consistent and aided by the scene-per-page rule, resulting in a sort of a meditative lull inspired by the quiet, reflective nature of the Right Now and 7 Days Ago sections, and then gloriously interrupted by the sharp intense shocks of the 97 Days Ago pages (Revelations! Torture! Sex! Violence! More revelations!). Sort of a bum-bum-BAM-bum-bum-BAM sort of a thing. Neat stuff, and I’m kind of surprised that Fraction didn’t dig into that more in the back-matter, as I think this issue probably makes for the clearest and easiest-to-follow learning-aide for “story beats” of any comic I’ve come across.

So, yeah, on one level coming up with a structure and then trying to force a story into it is wankery; the exact opposite of art and entirely artifice. But on the other, sometimes it works too, and as long as the story manages to cover it’s ass and remain internally consistent (it does) and thematically consistent (it does) then why not, you know? The results are great; don’t listen to McKee because it turns out there’s more than one way to tell a successful story after all.

But… speaking of the back-matter, it lets loose a wonderful little secret that never was: this three-focussed issue was originally intended to have three unannounced variant endings! I love shit like that, it’s even better than having 13 variant covers on Gen 13 #1. Apparently printing variant interiors is more expensive than one might expect, and so (sadly) the idea was scrapped. The rest of the back-up material included this issue shows the reader how Matt Fraction turns a fun day in San Francisco into an issue of Casanova; a neat trick.

I want to state for the record that I do enjoy the storytelling, but I find that my mind craves order and I’m having a hard time intuiting why the creative team is making certain storytelling decisions. The big issue for me is that Casanova’s visual storytelling is based on a 4-tier page: 4 “rows” of panels each. To explain via famous example, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen is based on a 3-tiered page, and more specifically a 9-panel grid of 3 panels on each tier. Reading an issue of Casanova, it seems that the 4-tiered approach seemingly disappears at random, sometimes having 2 of the tiers compressed into one creating a differently balanced page, or sometimes featuring three equally weighted tiers. It took me three issues to really notice that the storytelling structure in that regard wasn’t consistent, so it’s probably not even a problem so much as a ‘quirk’, but part of my brain is craving a more consistent application of this structure so that when it is broken it’s really notable and affecting. I dunno. Maybe Ba’s style just resists a rigid grid (though he used it to amazing effect last issue in the fight-scene between Casanova and Winston Heath), maybe it’s just not what the series creators want. But it is noticeable…


As to where this issue fits on the whole? If issue one was puberty, the lead character being forced into a strange new status quo, and issue 2 was a young man testing his boundaries, then issue 3 is all about the punishment; reproach. But the punishment is all for his own good and no one goes home mad at the end of the day (heh). And pretty soon, our boy’s going to start being interested in girls…

– Christopher Butcher

Shipping February 14th, 2007

Hi there folks. These are the comics that are scheduled to ship to The Beguiling Books & Art in Toronto, Canada this week. These books may not show up at all retailers at the same time, but if you see a title here it’s probably at least asking your local retailer about…Here are my top 5 picks for the week, with the rest of the list behind the cut!

DEC060180 BATMAN #663 2.99
Hey, Grant Morrison’s back! And he brought the painterly stylings of John Van Fleet with him! It’s sort of like a wierdo homae to ARKHAM ASYLUM or something. Ooo, I hope I just ‘called’ that before anyone’s had a chance to read it. Grant Morrison does Arkham Asylum revisited in one issue? No? The reason I say that is because it’s Batman versus the Joker and… you know what? If I were describing this to someone it would sound just like any other Batman comic book from the last 40 years. But actually reading it? It’s pretty great. If superhero comics were consistently this good I’d just stop ragging on them altogether. But then I was an Arkham Asylum fan.

Casanova #7 cover, no logo/titleOCT061867 CASANOVA #7 (MR) 1.99
It’s Casanova week, so how could Casanova #7 not be one of my picks? It couldn’t, that’s how! Oh, and it’s officially Casanova Week now because a freelance job kicked my ass on Sunday and there’s no way I can write two reviews a day between now and Wednesday. Anyway: VERY LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS. You really oughtta be reading this, you know. The issues are still available in better comic stores everywhere…

NOV061852 GODLAND #16 (NOTE PRICE) 0.60
Note Price indeed! The fine folks in charge of Godland and Image Comics have decided that they’re gonna drag you on board this critically acclaimed over-the-top Kirby tribute, and I figured I’d do my part to help. So I ordered like a hundred copies of this, and I’m going to give one away to any of our pull-file customers who’ve picked up their comics in the last two weeks. Sort of a thank you folks, here have some more. We’re also totally stocked up on the first two trade paperbacks. Now ask yourself, are you doing your part to support G0DLAND?

I’m just maintaining my indy cred by mentioning this, I can’t really get into Krazy Kat. But lots and lots of you like this a lot, so I figured I’d mention it here.

For the purposes of our list, this counts as one item. NEXTWAVE ENDS THIS ISSUE! Easily Marvel’s best comic, and a bright spot in Marvel’s publishing schedule for the last year or so. Good stupid fun with the kick and ‘splode. The first trade paperback is worth your fifteen bucks.

Alright, check out what ELSE is coming out this week…

Continue reading “Shipping February 14th, 2007”

Review: Casanova #2

casanova2-500.jpgCasanova #2
By Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba
$1.99, 16+ pages, Two Colours

Reviewed by Christopher Butcher

   We met Casanova Quinn in the act of stealing the Seychelle Ruby, which turned out to be Ruby Seychelle—a beautiful robot concubine to criminal data mogul Sabine Seychelle. From there, Cass’ night goes very badly.
   Something’s happened to E.M.P.I.R.E.’s star agent and Casanova’s twin sister Zephyr—namely, she died. Cass and his father fight at her funeral. Afterwards Cass has a cracked jaw and a mysterious doohickey in his pocket. The mysterious doohickey… OF DESTINY!
   We won’t blow it for you, but by the time the smoke cleared, Cass had been abducted into another timeline by Newman Xeno, his father’s arch-rival and the ruler of W.A.S.T.E., an ambiguously-named Pynchon reference that exists to make Cornelius Quinn’s life miserable. Here in Timeline 919, it was Casanova that was E.M.P.I.R.E.’s star agent, and Zephyr that was into all the sketchy shit—and nothing is sketchier or shittier than Newman Xeno, who is totally her boyfriend.
   And now, with both the Quinn kids in his pocket, Newman Xeno has sent Casanova to integrate himself back into the awaiting arms of E.M.P.I.R.E.… 
   From the inside front cover of Casanova #2, by Matt Fraction.

Casanova #2 is a second first-issue of sorts… With #2 the series adopts its standard format of 16 pages, its fully 5 pages of notes and back-up material, and introduces the character’s new status quo: totally fucked. That’s the problem with being a triple-agent, there are rarely easy assignments.

The theme for this issue? Loosely “fathers and sons,” but more accurately “creators and creations.” Speaking of the wall of sound technique that author Matt Fraction described last issue, this issue positively resonates with the familial interactions, layered on top of and often bumping into one another. E.M.P.I.R.E. (which is a pain in the ass to type, by the way) inserted double-agent Winston Heath into a hot zone, created a whole new personality and life for him. E.M.P.I.R.E.’s director is sending his son in to retrieve the agent. The bad guys want him killed. And the double agent? Why, he’s been writing a comic book version of his life and just wrote his own death scene at the hands of… well, you can figure it out. This issue really digs into its themes by setting Cass as a sort of ultimate teenager; rebellious, horny, buzzing with energy and testing his boundaries. Casanova either attempts or succeeds to rebel against literally every father/creator-figure in this book, this issue, to various (and shocking!) effects. The end of the issue features three great “Fuck you, Dad!” moments that really hammer the point home. He better watch out or he’s gonna get grounded…

Cassanova Doesn't Like Comic BooksSpeaking of hot zones, the area is very hot indeed; the setting for the issue is a tropical city that’s powered by massive amounts of sex energy flowing through the air. A non-stop orgy fueled by Mother Earth’s own orgone, and facilitated by an army of buxom sex robots. Sex in comics is always… interesting. If it’s fun and enjoyable sex, it’s labeled porn. If it’s dirty, ugly, awkward sex, then it’s probably a Dan Clowes comic (no offence to Mr. Clowes of course; his sweaty, uncomfortable sex scenes are always wonderful to read). There’s very little sexy middle ground in comics, characters polarized firmly to virgin or whore. I can appreciate the way that superhero writers like Gail Simone get behind and defend the characters they write as sexy without being… well, slutty I guess, but when the dude actually drawing your book is simultaneously showing your character’s tits AND ass, that kind of flies right out the window. And Lost Girls by Moore and Gebbie as a work exists to celebrate sexual diversity, but it all feels strangely clinical and un-scintillating to me. Luckily, Matt Fraction addresses that issue head on. Sure, all of the female characters in the first two issues have been either sex objects (sometimes literally, as in the case of the many sex robots…), or his creepy sister, but this issue? Two naked dudes fight for four pages while the sex robots are liberated and rebel against their depraved master! Hott! Seriously, cocks-a-flappin’, muscles tensed, men flying through the air all the while debating the central theme of the issue—creator versus creation—and the whole thing ends in a great big violent metaphorical cum-shot! It’s a first in my comics reading.

Gabriel Ba is ideally suited to this book, by the way. His work has a sort of organic angularity that lets characters go from fashion-illustration lovely to comically (or terrifyingly) grotesque in a panel’s time, and still look consistent and “on model” throughout. He knows when to use shadows, when to reduce or add detail, and how to design pretty-much anything, apparently. It’s kind of amazing, actually, how thoroughly realised the world of Casanova is (and he does it all on a book that averages 7 panels a page!). I bring this up because in the back-matter of this issue, we see little snippets, panels and illustrations, from the comic that double-agent Heath had been creating. After 16 pages of Ba’s carefully chosen lines and details, the feathery pencil realism of the super-spy-comic-within-a-super-spy-comic is jarring as hell. It’s a bit like Phil Jimenez taking over for Mike Mignola half way through an issue of Hellboy. While the other art isn’t “bad” and might even be more palettable to a wider spectrum of the comic book buying audience (“superhero fans”), instead we get a style that gives the book a unique visual description, a look unlike anything on the stands. While I may reference author Matt Fraction more frequently in these reviews, I want to state for the record that Ba’s art is absolutely essential to the success of this book, and I can’t actually think of another artist who could tackle this.

Speaking of the back-matter of the book; this issue sees Matt Fraction provide five full pages of notes and background on the issue. Part of the appeal of the format, part of it’s manifesto if you will, is to create a solid read. Something that feels like it was a good chunk of story with a beginning, middle, and end, and worth much more than the $2 you paid for it. It’s a bit like, say, an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. One of the good ones from the middle there. It’s only 40 minutes long, yeah, but instead of the 20 minutes of commercials you’re normally stuck with, at the end Joss Whedon comes on screen and talks to you about the episode and, you know, how things are going. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?

This issue’s back-matter also seriously digs into the process of writing a comic book, specifically Fraction’s and specifically this issue. Honestly, if you’re an aspiring comics creator you’ll probably get more out of this than looking at someone’s scripts or reading a hundred Newsarama interviews. THIS ISSUE: FRACTION ACTUALLY TELLS YOU WHERE HE GETS HIS IDEAS FROM. The unanswerable question answered in 5 pages. It’s kind of shocking.

Er, I guess we’re at the end now. I enjoyed this issue quite a bit, but then I’ve enjoyed them all so as a series of “reviews” this probably doesn’t work at all, actually. I’ve just given it away: It’s all good, go buy it! Sorry. Still, 4.5 Days of Casanova continues soon.

– Christopher

They Have Comics On The Internet Now

There’s been a lot of webcomics news lately. I don’t mean the group of creepy Wikipedia editors with an axe to grind against webcomics, but the launches and discoveries of comics on the internet.

Rosana Fung's Tomatoes and Other Stories CoverOne of the nice things about working at The Beguiling is the mini-comics rack. People come in and drop off new comics all the time, and it’s a treat discovering these short little gems. One of my favourites from last year was Torontonian Rosana Fung’s Tomatoes and Other Stories, a collection of short, surprisingly accomplished little stories by a creator I’d never heard of. It turns out Rosana has put that entire issue online at Flicker, for your viewing pleasure. Check it out:

Last year, I kind of used my friend Adi Tantimedh to abuse the New York Comic Con’s security guards. Last week, Adi’s new comic La Muse launched at Big Head Press, and I didn’t mention it… So, I’m batting 0 for 2 here. I did happen to read the first 19 pages of the comic though, and it’s actually pretty great. Adi’s telling a story about two apparently average women who do something special… It’s the kind of humanistic, realistic superhero story that everyone’s complaining doesn’t exist anymore, but here it is on the internet! It’s a big sexy at points too, which if interesting (note: not skanky, but sexy). While the art is a bit… contemporary superhero… for my tastes, it still conveys the action well-enough though, and artist Hugo Petrus doesn’t shy away from drawing the hard stuff and gives the preceedings a real sense of place. All in all, a fantastically solid debut, totally worth checking out. (As an aside, Adi’s JLA: AGE OF WONDER is a really great little two-issue prestige format Elseworlds that’s worth tracking down. It’s a total shame that it’s not in print.)

My friend Kevin Church and his partner Benjamin Birdie launched a webcomic of their own a few weeks back. It’s called THE RACK and it’s about working at a comic store, and so far it bears no reflection on working at my comic store. Which is lovely, actually, because Heroclix are just Pokemon cards for 40 year olds and I’m glad we don’t stock them. Updated twice per week at

And while I’m on the subject of Webcomics set inside comic stores, I should probably point you to No Pink Ponies. Which is down right now, but which is actually pretty good when it’s up. It doesn’t manage to completely sidestep comic shop / fanboy cliches, but it does have fun with them and the Batman/Superman yaoi page in particular was lots of fun. Also, this is my reminder to myself to add it to the sidebar.

I thought I had two or three more to mention, but… nope. Maybe I’ll remember later and do a follow-up.

– Christopher

4.5 Days of Casanova – An Aside

Cassanova Doesn't Like Comic BooksIf you don’t want the issues spoiled for you, you probably shouldn’t read the bolded parts at the beginning of the reviews. You’re safe on the first one, but… yeah. I had kept the reviews more-or-less spoiler free but I forgot that I was including the recap bits as a reminder/stylistic device. And I just realised that ‘recaps’ are spoilers for the previous issue. Whoops! I’ll try and mention it in each review also.

On that note, second review in a little while.

– Chris

Review: Casanova #1

cass01.jpgCASANOVA #1
By Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba
$1.99, 28 pages, Two-Colours

Reviewed by Christopher Butcher

His father Cornelius is the Director Supreme of E.M.P.I.R.E., an international task-force established in the name of maintaining peace, law, and order across the face of the Earth. His twin sister Zephyr is E.M.P.I.R.E.’s star agent, currently tasked to investigate a disturbance in the very fabric of the space-time continuum. The entire planet is under the Quinn family’s jurisdiction. So what does Casanova Quinn choose to do for a living? Read on…

So begins Casanova #1, and not in the text of the piece, but in a small bit of preamble tucked into the credits page on the inside front cover; your first clue that the material that surrounds the story will end up being just as important as the story itself.

Casanova #1 is an object, an objet d’art if you will. It’s growing increasingly rare that the monthly comic pamphlet is meant to be read or purchased for any other reason than fanboy necessity: the need to know what happens to your beloved character next. That raises the question of why a non-superhero-oriented title, hell, a non-Marvel or DC title would bother being launched on a monthly basis at all? To side-step that issue entirely, I’ll say that when the book’s objectness, its ‘single-issueness’ is as considered and successful as this the “whys” are less important. In an industry where the importance of the non-superhero pamphlet had to be forcefully, aggressively reclaimed by oversized, dust-jacketed, thick-papered waves of comics (see: Ignatz), the idea of launching a new ongoing series of pamphlets needs an ideology: a manifesto. Casanova as a series is designed to be read an issue at a time, enjoyed an issue at a time, and then perhaps considered as a whole after the fact. Comprised of 16 pages of story with a limited colour palette (one sickly shade of green and black and white), 5 pages of back-up material, and some lovely art and a straight-ahead story recap, the format itself is modeled after the perfect pop single: Short, sharp, and impossible to get out of your head. The success and authorial intent of the format of this book are why this is a review of the first issue rather than the first trade paperback; the format works. On his message board author Matt Fraction stated that “…any of the single issues of CASANOVA so far could theoretically function as whole-arc endeavors scattered across three, four, five, six 22-page chapters (at least that *I’d* read, which really is the only barometer I have). And I’d be okay doing that, were that the format we were in.” But it isn’t, and isn’t that a nice change of pace?

(As an aside, between the “Fell format” that Ellis & Templesmith’s Fell and Fraction and Ba’s Casanova publish in, the Ignatz books, Grant Morrison’s fantastic and flawed Seven Soldiers ‘modular storytelling’, and even DC’s 52, 2006 was a very good year for the reinvention of the floppy comic.)

In my reading of the series it’s the format—the presentation of the material—that defined it. While the first issue side-steps the 16-page imposition with a 28 page introductory story, the ideology remains intact: a great story, done-in-one, that gives you a helluva lotta bang for your buck. The first issue is the exact opposite of “all set-up,” the de-facto description of pretty much any new series launch. It also eschews the stylized in-media-res that substitutes for innovation in… pretty much any other new series launch (aside: I guess it’s technically in-media-res, but really it just feels like it begins at the beginning…). Instead? The comic treats you like you’re a grown-up. Admittedly, it treats you like the kind of grown-up who grew up on all the things that author Matt Fraction likes (super-spies, comic books, pop music, middle-brow sci-fi) but still, it’s refreshing for a comic to assume that when an obvious spy character is on a mission and things are going wrong that we don’t need detailed captions explaining the whys and wherefores. It asks the reader to have a little faith that everything will be explained in time, and by the end of the first issue it is: bravo. In fact, Fraction and artist Gabriel Ba go so far as to undertake a meta-narrative manoeuver on page two, having the characters pulled outside of the narrative to directly address the reader with information that is both inessential and colourful. It’s exactly the kind of information that might normally be clumsily inserted to dialogue or captions, that adds to the mood and tone of the piece. The meta-narrative effect is successful precisely because the book deals with things like parallel dimensions and alternate-earth versions of characters and events; Fraction is clearly banging the crap out of reader expectations on a giant anvil, and it’s disorienting as hell for both the characters and the reader, but it (again) assumes you’ll read all the way to the end of the book before making up your mind. A rare feat. Today I read an issue of Ultimate Spider-Man that was so unconfident in its emotional climax that it spelled it out on the cover, just in case you missed it.

…I don’t need to slam other comics to praise this one, but like I said this series has a strong “manifesto” vibe to it and I tend to fall in for those hook, line, and sinker. This is a dense comic book, the ideas flying fast and furious and even seemingly discarded. I commented recently that it took me three attempts to really feel like I “got” the first issue of this book because I didn’t commit enough of my attention to reading it. A lot of that is because there are just so many ideas being communicated to the reader. Offhand comments like “…designed by X.S.M.” or “the legendary Fakebook of the cosmos!” are tossed out at a rapid pace, with nary an appearance again in the issue. As I’ve said though, it does pay off down the line. We will find out who X.S.M. is in an issue or two, and that discovery and the story that accompanies it add layers of depth and understanding to the events of this first issue. It’s… rewarding.

Gabriel Ba’s visuals afford the same ingenuity: flying motorcycles, bug-shaped psyches, even the pattern on the bedsheets are all visual signifiers of a deeper and more considered world than usual. Ba brings a level of visual sophistication, class, and detail to the series that demands you pay attention to every carefully chosen little object or fashion tic. The reduced colour-palette and noir stylings of the art just seem to draw a deeper focus than the wash of most computer-coloured mainstream books… ah, but there I go making those nasty comparisons again. Suffice it to say, Ba’s work echoes Eduardo Risso and Mike Mignola in a loose and cartoony way that fans of either artist will appreciate, and that serves the story beautifully.

I’d be lying if I said that at the end of the first issue I wasn’t still a bit confused or unsure of where the series was going. It’s a bit like the first time you try sushi: your mouth likes it but your stomach needs a little while to make up its mind. I enjoyed great big parts of the series (if for nothing else on the first read, then for it’s audacity) but on later reads, particularly when the series is read on the whole, a larger picture is unveiled. A meta-plot for your meta-narrative. The seemingly slapdash nature of the concepts and throw-away lines in this issue are anything but; it’s all in there for a reason—even the stuff that doesn’t make sense and the stuff that contradicts the other stuff. Apparently you just can’t fuck with the space-time continuum and expect everything to come up roses, and this issue is akin to a snowball set rolling down a very large hill—it’s picking up new stuff all the way down, but the structure is still solidly constructed from everything that’s come before.

For those of you without the benefit of $13.93 to buy the whole series, those who might only be able to afford a risky single-issue purchase and are now concerned about the integrity of this single-issue, fear not: there’s an afterword! It deals mainly with the idea behind the series, about the format and the germs of ideas in Phil Spector singles and “Danger: Diabolik” and whatnot, but reading the afterword (or ‘backmatter’ as the ‘Fell Format’ creator Warren Ellis describes it), one gets the sense that this is not simply shit being thrown against the wall to see what sticks; there’s a plan and there’s six more issues coming and we hope you had a good time but tune in next month so I can blow your socks off again. The backmatter rounds out the offering, makes it a whole.

I have no doubt in my mind that this is all just too much for some people, but believe you me I was well and truly pacified when I closed Casanova #1. I was thoroughly on board, and if having a blog and valuing my opinion highly has taught me anything, it’s that you’ll be on board too.

– Christopher Butcher

The Week of Blogging Commences Now.

Dark Tower By Peter DavidHello everybody.

I’m sorry I had to take last week off, it wasn’t any better for me than you. Not getting the shit in my head out onto the internet is one of my #1 reasons for grumpiness, and so this has been a ‘grumpy’ week. To make up for it, I’ll be blogging straight through the New York Comic Con from this point. Reviews! Comments on how stupid comic books are! Passionately imploring you to buy good comics! It’s all coming down the pipe. Plus? Conmageddon ][ in 3 weeks. Sure, Tom said it’s just a con, but it’s sort of like “When is a door not a door? When it’s ajar.” New York, baby.

Meanwhile, the Peter David/Stephen King to-do came out this week. As Jog mentioned, as a comic it was a wonderfully successful outting. A little too wordy, a little too computer-coloury, but easily the nicest-looking “event” comic in 5 years. I’m not one to get up and cheer for Marvel, but on every front they seem to have done this one correctly. I’m even going to buy a copy for my Dad, a big King/Dark Tower fan, as I think he’ll appreciate it… his comic reading has slowly atrophied since I left home, and as an admitted comics crusader it’s my duty to force these things into the hands of anyone who might read them. I just wish there was a Danielle Steele-esque manga for my mom… Or maybe the #1 Ladies Detective Agency.

Speaking of which, even though I wasn’t necessarily ‘blogging’ I was reading, and David Welsh hit on a universal truth this week. Courtesy of David Welsh, it’s every manga author’s note in one paragraph:

    “They’re working really hard, and they’re sorry they’re behind on their fan mail. This volume isn’t as good as they’d have liked, but they’re trying, and reader support keeps them going. They wish they had a kitty. That sort of thing.”

After 14 volumes of Fushigi Yugi, I found that uproariously funny. Maybe you had to be there…

So tonight? Well, after I post next week’s shipping list anyway, is my long-delayed review of CASANOVA #1. Author Matt Fraction sent me a preview copy months before the issue came out, and I really wanted to review it, and then I guess I just fell apart. But I think I communicated that I liked it? Heh. Anyway. The finally issue of Casanova ships on Wednesday, and so between now and then get ready for reviews of every issue. They’re even pretty non-spoilery, as these things go. It’s not Casanova Week so much as Casanova 4.5 days! Doesn’t have the same ring to it, but that’s reviewing for you. For what it’s worth, I’m in whole-hearted support of Johanna’s take on the subject from earlier this week.

So, yeah, I’m pretty excited about the next little while, there’s a lot going on and a lot to talk about. Maybe I’ll get to preview a few pages out of the stuff I’m working on…

Thanks for continuing to read.

– Christopher!