Tuesday, May 21, 2019

American Appearances and Bad Weekend Bookplates!

It's been quite an eventful last few weeks, despite the fact that May is a planned "skip month" for Criminal

We have more to say on other subjects, hopefully later this week, but the biggest news is that the team -- writer Ed Brubaker, artist Sean Phillips, and colorist Jacob Phillips -- have just spent this past weekend in Huntington Beach, California, at the inaugural NCSFest, promoted as "America's Biggest Comic Arts Festival."

We believe this is Ed and Sean's first joint appearance in North America since Toronto in 2014, and Sean Phillips has announced a few more appearances.  He'll be signing books tonight at 6 pm (presumably local time), at Huntington Beach's Strange Cereal -- both père et fil, Sean and Jacob -- and Brubaker will join the Phillips boys tomorrow night at 5:30 pm, at Burbank's House of Secrets.

We haven't seen any news items on the team's appearance, but we'll be sure to update readers if that changes.

In the meantime, the most interesting item for those of us who couldn't attend is the work which the team did signing "thousands" of bookplates, shown above. 

It's quite a rare bookplate, signed by all three creators, and Sean Phillips relays that the bookplate editions of Bad Weekend will be available to stores that order at least 20 copies.

It should go without saying that fans should reserve a copy with their local retailer...

UPDATE, 5/22: ...and on Twitter, we got confirmation that the Final Cutoff (FOC) date for Bad Weekend is June 3rd.  We greatly appreciate the feedback from Boulder, Colorado's Time Warp Comics & Games, and we'd remind readers that time is running out to have your shop reserve your copy.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Criminal #4 Out Now: A Podcast, A Preview, and A Close Look at Coloring.

The next issue of Brubaker and Phillips' new ongoing Criminal comic is out today, and we have a few interesting links for the occasion.

It feels like we can't truly close the book on the previous issue without The Undertow Podcast, and, over the weekend, Episode 31 was released, featuring a review *Criminal* #3, the conclusion to "Bad Weekend" in its original "theatrical cut."

We also had a few recommendations.  Mine were short stories, starting with Lawrence Block's "One Thousand Dollars a Word," about a crime writer weary of being paid the scant rate of five cents a word, incidentally the same rate that Block was paid when the story first appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine in 1978.  More substantially, I also recommended Kwik Krimes (note the spelling), a 2013 anthology edited by Otto Penzler, featuring 81 crime stories, each in a bite-size length of no more than 1,000 words.  Both recommendations are currently available in Kindle format; Block's story sells for $2.99, and the Kwik Krimes anthology is on sale for the astounding price of $1.49.

Robert recommended a brand new crime comic from Titan Comics, Tyler Cross Volume 2: Angola, a self-contained sequel to another "Tyler Cross" comic, Black Rock.  Both comics are from Fabien Nury, the French writer of The Death of Stalin, a graphic novel adapted in a 2017.  Titan Comics has published the English-language translations of these comics, and the two Tyler Cross books have been released under the label of Hard Case Crime, the must-read imprint specializing in classic and new hardboiled crime fiction.

(In the podcast, I noted that HCC editor Charles Ardai contributed to Kwik Krimes, along with a couple other familiar names, such as Ken Bruen and Christa Faust -- both published by Hard Case Crime -- but I just noticed that Ardai actually contributed a second story under a familiar *cough* alias.)

Next up is info straight from the source, a new email newsletter from Ed Brubaker, sent out Monday.  It begins with an extended, six-page preview, which we exercpt above.

This preview is longer than what we saw in the newsletter from last month (still worth a look for in-process art from other pages), and we learn that this self-contained story is ominously titled "Orphans."

(EDIT: Also on Monday, Kim Morgan gave Twitter followers a look at Sean Phillips' illustration, below, for the issue's bonus essay, on "William Wellman's depression-era pre-code [film], the tough and sensitive and beautiful, 'Wild Boys of the Road'," from 1933.)

Brubaker also relays that the following story has a new title, just as the previous story's title changed from "The Longest Weekend" to "Bad Weekend."  This upcoming arc was referred to as "The Summer of '88" in the solicitations for issues #5 and #6, but it's now titled "Cruel Summer."

(That's the title of a top-ten pop song by Bananarama, released in 1983 and peaking in the U.S. in 1984, after its inclusion in The Karate Kid.  Ace of Base covered the song in 1998, and the cover also reached the top ten in the UK and the US.  But the closest tie to this long Criminal arc might be a "new jack swing" makeover by Bananarama, which charted throughout Europe.  That song was released in -- you guessed it! -- 1989.)

...now that we think about it, the newsletter didn't begin with "Orphans," it began with the artwork shown above, which we haven't seen before.  It appears to be an upcoming cover, and its monochrome coloring and black background fits with what we've seen for the first two covers to "Cruel Summer," repeated below.

We wonder if the image is of Ricky Lawless from that fateful summer of 1988, and I'm sure we'll find out soon enough; the August solicitations will likely be released in the second half of May.

Brubaker continues his newsletter with some inside info on the Bad Weekend hardcover.  The announcement seemed to come out of nowhere, and that's because the idea wasn't from the team, it was from Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson.  It sounds like the book is already complete -- finished very quickly during the production of issues #4 and #5 -- and Brubaker includes a few panels from the new content, which includes revised dialogue and narration.

Ed Brubaker is practically gushing over the upcoming hardcover, writing, "the book is gorgeous, and we're really proud of it, to the point we nearly killed ourselves getting it done in time."

He also discusses the other big project in the news, Too Old To Die Young, revealing that the Cannes screening will be of episodes 4 and 5 under the single subtitle of "North of Hollywood, West of Hell," and not as separate episode titles.

He also warns fans about the new series and has some recommended viewing in advance of the "hypnotic and surreal" Amazon series:
"Watch VALHALLA RISING, watch DRIVE, watch NEON DEMON, and ONLY GOD FORGIVES. Refn's movies are very divisive, and he's completely fine with that. They're more like insane European midnight movies from the 60s and 70s than anything you'd normally see on TV or a streaming platform, and this show is not in any way like a typical streaming show."
And, in addition to sharing a few random links -- some, very random -- Ed Brubaker strongly recommends that fans not take any chances in hunting down Criminal...
"[Criminal #4 is] out this week, and sadly, I've been getting a lot of emails from readers having trouble finding the issues. Lots of reports of first-day sellouts. So you may want to call your comic shop and make sure they hold one for you or place a standing order.
"I hate to be that 'pre-order your comics' guy, but the market is tightening its belt right now, and many retailers are ordering to sell out immediately. So if you want CRIMINAL every month, make sure your shop knows. Even comics' smartest retailers cannot read your mind."
...and he has a similar request regarding Bad Weekend, asking readers, "Please order it from your local comic shop or bookstore."

Finally, there's a great YouTube video from February that we had overlooked, and we can't recommend it enough:  Strip Panel Naked has a nine-minute video, embedded below, on the history of colorists in the collaborations of Brubaker and Phillips.

It's not comprehensive -- Dave Stewart isn't mentioned, nor is every work analyzed, including Incognito and Fatale -- but the video is surprisingly wide-ranging, from Tony Avina and Sleeper to Val Staples and early Criminal, to Elizabeth Breitweiser with The Fade Out and Kill or Be Killed, and now Jacob Phillips with Junkies and the newest incarnation of Criminal.

Strip Panel Naked takes a very different approach from The Undertow Podcast. While we tend to focus on individual works, Hassan compares and contrasts more than fifteen years of content, and while we're limited to audio discussions, he can show as well as tell, with eight example pages.

In short, the inks and the colors have slowly become less realistic and more impressionistic, but they continue to complement each other. 

(I would add that these different approaches have never been at the expense of clarity in storytelling and characterization, and the work of these talented colorists argues against any future black-and-white reprints.)

It's a helluva video, and we hope that we can get a few more eyes to this channel, which we're just beginning to explore for ourselves.

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Monday, April 22, 2019

Bullets: Catching Up on the Last Two Months

Someday I'll actually have enough of a routine in my life that I'll be able to blog consistently, without these long pauses.

(Someday, yeah, I'll get it right...)

In the meantime, here's a brief look back at the last ten weeks or so, put together while we were prepping for the next episode of The Undertow Podcast and gearing up for the next issue of Criminal.

• February 21st, Image's May solicitations were released, with nothing listed for Brubaker and Phillips.  We were surprised to see a "skip month" this soon, as the team's five-week schedule had us expecting a new issue on May 29th, and we wonder if the timing had anything to do with the  previously announced appearances at NCSFest in California, over the weekend of May 17th.

(The May solicits weren't a complete wash for us.  As big fans of the sci-fi book Planetoid, we're thrilled to see that creator Ken Garing is back with Gogor, described as a high-fantasy series for teens and announced with its own press release and, earlier, an interview with Garing.)

• March 7th, Sean Phillips announced the single-volume deluxe hardcover for Kill Or Be Killed, with a simple tweet pointing to an Amazon listing and posting the cover art, shown below, reusing the artwork from issue #5 and the second trade collection ("Volume 2").

The Amazon listing describes the book as "'Catcher in the Rye' meets 'Death Wish' in a dark take on the vigilante genre that became a cracked reflection of the world around us."

The description confirms that the single-volume hardcover "contains the entire KILL OR BE KILLED story, as well as the behind the scenes extras and artwork."   The page notes a total of 584 pages, a retail price of $59.99, and a scheduled release date of November 19th.

The 24 issues of Fatale were ultimately collected in two deluxe-edition hardcovers, and the 12 issues of The Fade Out are found in a single hardcover, so we were wondering how many deluxe editions would comprise the single story of Kill Or Be Killed, originally told in 20 monthly issues.

• Also on March 7th, the Word Ballon Podcast posted a wide-ranging two-hour conversation with Ed Brubaker. The interview is the writer's first appearance on the podcast in about six years -- the last appearance we noted was in October, 2012, and host John Siuntres mentioned Velvet, which was announced in July, 2013, the same year in which the podcast ceased being published at iFanboy.

Brubaker discusses his work both in comics and in television.  Comic fans will be interested in the history behind My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies; Sean and Jacob Phillips were supposed to be co-colorists, but an unexpected time crunch arose for printing the original graphic novel, so Jacob Phillips became the sole colorist after just a few pages.  And, Brubaker reveals upcoming plans for Criminal, which we've already begun to see in recent announcements.

He also reveals an incredible bit of personal history, which a Bleeding Cool article recounts from the podcast.  DC asked Brubaker to follow-up on Alan Moore's famous comic The Killing Joke, he directly quoted a couple pages in flashback, and he tried to have Moore credited for his writing.  Failing that, he sent Moore a check for his page-rate, Moore then called Wildstorm editor Scott Dunbier and recommended Brubaker for work, and that led quite directly to *Sleeper*.

And the rest is history.

(That follow-up story was part of the mini-series Batman:Turning Points, which I personally remember reading back in 2001. It served as a kind of prologue to Officer Down, which established what would be an interesting status quo for Gotham Central, with Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock both absent from the GCPD's Major Crimes Unit.  Ed Brubaker and Gotham Central co-creator Greg Rucka were writers for the entire span of stories -- including the Turning Points mini-series and the Officer Down crossover, and for the "big two" main titles of Batman and Detective Comics generally  -- and it was Gotham Central that first made me pay serious attention to Brubaker.)

("Turning points," indeed.)

The writer also hints at another upcoming comic-book project, "an R-rated version of a young adult book," a first-time large-scale collaboration with a favorite artist of his.

Brubaker compares writing for comics and for film -- the script for the latter remains a "living, breathing thing" that is always only "good enough" -- and he observes that all writing is calling B.S., where you have to keep moving forward, "sitting down and facing yourself."

In addition to talking about his work on Westworld and Too Old to Die Young, Brubaker mentions progress on the film adaptation for Kill Or Be Killed; he thinks the film might go into production later this year, and it's the first such project that closely hews to the source material.

• March 11th, Sean Phillips and Jacob Phillips both attended an Image Comics panel in London, at a Waterstones bookshop on Tottenham Court Road. The panel also featured Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Jock, Alison Sampson, and Lee Garbett, and a few days afterwards Tripwire Magazine posted 80 minutes of audio and a half dozen photos.

On Twitter, Jacob Phillips shared his own "family photo," shown below.

We plan to listen in to the conversation, so as to report on anything of interest to our readers, but unfortunately that remains on our to-do list.

(Hat tip to Joel Meadows, retweeted by Sean Phillips.)

• March 15th, our good friend Robert posted episode 30 of The Undertow Podcast, focusing on a brief review  of Criminal #2, the start of the two-part story centered on the comics industry, "Bad Weekend."

• March 20th, Criminal #3 was released, completing the two-part story "Bad Weekend" (or so we thought; see below). 

The story had a low-key ending -- but quite tragic despite that -- and the back matter includes letters from readers and Kim Morgan's essay on The Color of Money.  That film is quite unique, a 1986 sequel to The Hustler from 1961, and the essay features two illustrations from Sean Phillips.

• Also on March 20th, Ed Brubaker sent out a pair of email newsletters, the first of which featured process work on a single page of issue #3 -- from script to inks to colors -- and preview pages and unfinished panels for issue #4, a story set in 1993, starring Ricky Lawless, and evidently featuring old friends such as "Genuine Jen" Waters and the "coward" Leo Patterson.

We're particularly intrigued by this upcoming issue, as this would be the first "period piece" set after the consequential death of Teeg Lawless.

(Brubaker also mentioned The Undertow Podcast, and we appreciate the shout-out!)

In the second newsletter, Brubaker elaborated on a comment he had just made that had prompted quite a few questions:  in short, for two of these first four issues of the new ongoing Criminal arc, it may be a while before we see the stories republished in a trade collection.

He also says they have a Criminal book coming out in July, but he didn't reveal the details.  From what we now know, it seems that issues #1 and #4 -- the Teeg and Ricky stories -- might be the ones that won't soon be collected for those who "wait for the trades."

• March 21st, Image released its June solicitations, including the next issue of Criminal.  What Brubaker seemed to describe as a connected series of one-shot stories, the June solicits describe as "the long and winding tale of THE SUMMER OF '88... the story of the last days of Teek Lawless."

The cover to issue #5, shown below, apparently features a new character, Dan Farraday, a PI and bounty hunter on the trail of a "dangerous woman" who is evidently central to issue #6.

The usual five-week schedule was evidently extended by only a single week, as this next issue is scheduled for a June 5th release.

• April 3rd, the trailer for Too Old to Die Young dropped along with a release date, both sent out through social media, including the Twitter accounts for the television series, director Nicolas Winding Refn, and star Miles Teller.  /Film was one of the first sites to report on the trailer, citing an earlier article quoting writer and co-creator Ed Brubaker, as "the most Nicolas Winding Refn thing that ever existed, honestly."

Going by the trailer, it seems the newer /Film article describes the series well -- as "a pulpy, stylish nightmare featuring amoral weirdos inhabiting a dreamy, deadly Los Angeles landscape" -- and the article notes the release date for the Amazon Prime series, to air on June 14th.

• April 15th, Deadline released an exclusive story, announcing that Too Old to Die Young would screen at the Cannes Film Festival in mid-May, ahead of its June 14th premiere on Amazon Prime. 

This is evidently only the third episodic television series to screen at the famous festival, at the time it wasn't clear how many episodes would be featured, and the writer thought that a "special screening slot" was most likely.

In the subsequent lineup, announced on April 18th, two episodes were listed for the series:  "North of Hollywood" and "West of Hell."

• April 16th, The Hollywood Reporter broke the news of an expanded Bad Weekend hardcover, due in July.  The book is described as an "expanded and remastered" version of the "comic convention crime thriller" that appeared in Criminal #2 and #3, evidently in the same format as last year's original graphic novel, My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies.

The cover art, shown below alongside the Junkies cover, is certainly in the same vein, with a pastel color scheme and a portrait of the protagonist, complete with a dangling cigarette. 

The font is different, but -- as before -- the book's cover omits the Criminal branding.  That is  perhaps because, despite the criminal element at the center of each story, the premise (romance and addiction, comic conventions and mentors) has a wider appeal beyond the duo's usual readership.

On Twitter, Sean Phillips explains that it "took a while" to decide on the cover's color scheme, and he treated fans to a photo of several candidate covers, very reminiscent of Andy Warhol's pop art.  He relays that he preferred the third cover on the top row, but it too closely resembled the last hardcover.

• On April 18th, Image Comics released its July solicitations, including the expanded hardcover edition of Bad Weekend and the next issue of the monthly series, Criminal #6.

The solicits on the official site list a page count of 72 pages for Bad Weekend, which may imply as many as 18 new pages, enough for a short third issue.  Since the span between issues exceeds the usual five-week gap only once, and for a single week -- six weeks between the scheduled release dates for issue #4 and issue #5 -- that's not a lot of extra time to create this additional content. 

(We've noticed that Jacob Phillips' Twitter feed has included ink work, evidently of his own projects.  Perhaps he could help ink Sean's pencils.)

On the Newsarama page listing Image's July solicitations, the description for the Bad Weekend hardcover mentions a special trim size of 6.625 by 10.1875 inches, but that's practically the size of a standard U.S. comic book.  On Twitter, Sean Phillips relays that the book will be a "standard" size, "same as the Junkies book," and with the same type of paper.

The next issue of Criminal will be continue Teeg Lawless' last story, "The Summer of '88," and the story's description repeats what we learned from issue #1, that Teeg "falls in love for the first time."  That's a very intriguing development for the widower, implying that he didn't really love his wife, Tracy and Ricky's mother.

Both books are scheduled for the same day, July 10th.

• And just today, April 22nd, Image Comics issued a press release for the Bad Weekend hardcover.   The news item quotes Ed Brubaker that the story is both an "exposé of the industry" and a "love letter to the medium," and along with praise for the comic, the press release summarizes the book's contents:
Bad Weekend features an expanded and remastered version of the story recently serialized in issues #2 and 3 of Criminal, with several completely new scenes, and presented in the same gorgeous hardcover format as Brubaker and Phillip's bestselling graphic novel My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies. And like every Criminal graphic novel, Bad Weekend is a stand-alone story that works as a singular reading experience.

As before, the book is being described as released ahead of the San Diego Comic-Con, but Sean Phillips has already confirmed that the hardcover will be "available everywhere" and not exclusive to the SDCC or any other convention.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Criminal #2 Out Today: New Undertow Podcast and Podcaster Interview, Newsletters and Original Art, and a Rare Stateside Appearance!

Just in time for Valentine's Day, the next issue of the new monthly version of Criminal hits stores today, along with the second printing of the first issue, covers of which are shown below. We have a few quite noteworthy items to accompany issue #2.

Just last week, WMQ Comics published a print interview with our good friend Robert Watson, host and creator of the Undertow Podcast.  The interview is part of a running feature called Pod People, "where WMQ’s Matthew Lazorwitz talks to fellow comics podcasters about their shows and the comics they love."

Robert discusses the show's origins, and, perhaps for the first time, he articulates the unique appeal of our show's subject matter -- namely, the high-quality output of a long-term partnership between writer and artist, a real rarity in the comic-book medium. 

That output can hardly be overstated:  in a typical year, readers get some 200 to 300 pages of noir comics from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, ranging from period pieces and borderline romance comics to vigilante stories and even Lovecraftian horror.  We're in the thirteenth year of the team's nearly non-stop work on creator-owned titles, there seems to be no signs of slowing, and -- most incredibly -- each new story still thrills and amazes a readership that continues to grow.

The whole thing is worth a read, as Robert discusses the genre of crime stories, the "ideal Brubaker/Phillips playlist," and other great books he's reading.

Robert is also very kind in putting the best possible spin on my neuroses and idiosyncrasies, saying I'm "just an encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to this comics team," and I greatly appreciate the kind words!

Shortly after WMQ Comics posted their interview, Robert published the latest episode of The Undertow Podcast -- podcast episode #29, discussing the brand-new Criminal #1.  

Robert and I closed the episode with some recommended reading.
  • We mention that, in his January newsletter, Ed Brubaker recommended Die by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans and Cemetery Beach by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard.  Both books are published by Image, and the latest issues came out on the same day as Criminal #1.
  • That same day, January 9th, saw the debut of the series I eagerly recommend on the strength of a single issue:  Gunning For Hits, a "music business crime thriller" written by music producer and first-time comics writer Jeff Rougvie and drawn by Moritat. 
  • And, Robert recommends the 2011 hardcover Crime, from the "Simon and Kirby Library," collecting "fully restored" crime comics by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.  These stories evidently date from the pre-code, EC era of the 1950's, and the 320-page hardcover includes an introduction by Max Allan Collins.

Another book published by Image, Gunning For Hits appears to be produced by Rougvie's label Supermegabot, and the book is accompanied by a Spotify playlist and a Twitter feed of excerpts from the protagonist Martin Mills' fictional journal (and coordinates to a small island on the Massachusetts coast). 

As with Criminal, the second issue is out today; the cover art for the first two issues are shown above -- the first with a very Bowie-like rocker while the second is an homage to Station to Station, the 1976 Bowie album which the CD(!) enthusiast Rougvie recommended to me, since I only have 2002's Heathen in my collection.

As our most recent podcast went online, Ed Brubaker was sending out his February newsletter, which features a five-page preview for issue #2.  He also gives us a preview of a single panel of issue #3, with Ricky Lawless, all grown up.

Brubaker explains:
"Ricky is one of the main recurring characters in this new monthly version of CRIMINAL, and actually stars in issue 4, which is a standalone issue, much like #1 was. Issue 5 begins the first longer arc."
We wonder, then, is Ricky the connective tissue between these first four issues?  And since issue #1 was longer than normal and a longer arc begins after this, will these four issues comprise the next trade paperback collection?

The writer mentioned another big project -- the Amazon series Too Old to Die Young -- with recent news that I had missed, which Robert had caught during the podcast.  While at the Rotterdam Film Festival, composer Cliff Martinez spoke about the series and his work with Nicolas Winding Refn, and Brubaker linked to a few stories on his "Masterclass" conversation -- and video, concluding with a clip from the series "not for the faint of heart."

Robert pointed us to Birth.Movies.Death and a different summary of a Screen Daily interview with Martinez, revealing the series' runtime of about 16 hours.  The composer relays, "It’s ten episodes that are around 90 minutes a piece," and we wonder if this length -- equivalent to a short feature -- suggests that each episode tells a complete story within a larger, serialized framework.

(I would think an extra-long premiere and finale might skew the average, but even with bookends of 2 hours or more, the middle episodes would still be 80 minutes or so, almost twice the length of an episode of Stranger Things and toward the extreme end of True Detective episodes.)

In addition to some other crime-related recommendations, Brubaker also recommends the new hardcover collection, Conan the Barbarian: The Original Marvel Years Omnibus, Volume 1.  The newsletter includes the standard cover art by John Cassaday -- striking, and obviously Cassaday at a single glance, but hardly true to the era -- but there is also evidently a direct-market edition with a cover based on the original cover art for Conan the Barbarian #1, from 1970.

Brubaker says that this collection is particularly worthwhile for the bonus features -- a rarity in omnibus editions from Marvel -- but if the $125 retail price is a bit out of one's budget, Marvel also released ten one-dollar "True Believer" reprints in January, including that first issue to Conan the Barbarian. 

Just as Brubaker recommended the omnibus, I mentioned these inexpensive reprints in the podcast, along with a minor recommendation for Marvel's new ongoing series, Conan the Barbarian.  The colors in these reprints aren't bad at all -- "The Secret of Skull River" is left in black and white, in all its glory -- and most of these issues have dense, self-contained stories.

Finally, since Sean Phillips returned to using paper for My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies and has evidently kept up the practice for Criminal -- albeit with apparent digital pencils, in traditional blue -- the resulting artwork is being made available to collectors, through Phillips' longtime associates at Splash Page Comic Art.

On that quite eventful February 7th, Splash Page Art announced new artwork for sale -- artwork from Junkies, Criminal, and Hellblazer, more specifically Phillips' six variant covers from 2018.  On Twitter, owner Mark Hay announced that artwork from issue 2 will be on sale this week, as the issue reaches stores.

Back in the press release, Hay also encourages haste:  while recording the podcast, I noticed that the first issue's striking last page was on sale -- a single splash page, of Teeg Lawless in portraiture, smoking in his car, bloodied and scheming.  The image is somehow beautiful and ugly all at once.  Despite a price of $575, the page's listing is already missing, indicating that the work has already been sold, but not before we (thankfully) saved a local copy of the artwork, shown below.

The press release also notes Phillips' attendance at the inaugural NCSFest, hosted by the National Cartoonists Society in Huntington Beach, California, over the weekend of May 17-19.  Mark Hay will also be there, and we were right to guess that a certain writer in California would be there alongside Phillips.

The event is described as Phillips' first US appearance since 2010, and it's apparently the pair's first North American appearance together since Toronto in 2014.

It bears repeating: Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are scheduled to attend California's NCSFest in May.  This should be just a few weeks after the release of Criminal #4, due on April 24th.

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Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Upside of Social Media: Sean Phillips Cover for Thunderbolt #1 and More.

Social media is, at best, a very mixed bag indeed -- Brubaker closed his Twitter feed a while back, and I've heard the whole thing is more accurately described as "anti-social" media -- but we do strongly recommend that fans of Brubaker and Phillips' crime comics "follow" the latter either on Instagram or especially on Twitter.

Again:  follow Sean Phillips on Twitter.

We say that because, between retweets and original posts, some of the more obscure or time-sensitive bits of news end up in his feed -- and that's to say nothing of the excellent preview art, the nature photography, and the vintage soundtrack selections.  We have a few examples of news items just from this past week.
  • We saw and retweeted the announcement, but we didn't have the bandwidth to blog about a one-day sale at Phillip's Big Cartel online store; the sale took place on Sunday commemorating the artist's birthday.
  • On his currently pinned tweet, Phillips notes that his online store includes books in which he has included a signature and a sketch, specifically My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies and the recent omnibus trade paperback for The Fade Out.  Just yesterday he announced that his store now includes signature-and-sketch copies of the first trade collection for Fatale, as this volume "has gone back to print."
  • Sean's Big Cartel store isn't the only place to find signed items online, as England's OK Comics is now using their eBay store to sell books signed by Sean Phillips and Jacob Phillips; the easiest way to find all the books is to sort by "newly listed."
  • Finally, Dynamite's Peter Cannon Thunderbolt #1 reaches stores this week, and one of its multiple variant covers -- one listed as Cover A, the apparent standard cover -- is by Sean Phillips.  I believe it's his first non-Brubaker comic cover since the series of six Hellblazer variants released in the early months of 2018.

Phillips' distinctive cover art, shown at the left above, heralds the second volume of this title, the first volume being a ten-issue mini-series from 2012 and 2013.  This new issue is written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Caspar Wijingaard; described as a "dark, humorous and relentless love song" to superhero comics, the issue marks Gillen's return to the genre.

Looking at the issue's webpage on the official site, we find a virgin variant of the cover, shown above on the right.  From the image's filename, we think it might be offered as a retailer incentive, and we see that ComicList identifies this "Sean Phillips Virgin Variant" as "Cover G" with no set price -- the price is marked "AR" for "Ask Retailer."

Bleeding Cool has a 12-page preview of the comic, composited from multiple previews for an story described as being 20 pages in length. In a blurb that Phillips has retweeted, Dynamic Comics hints that Watchmen fans might be particularly interested in this comic book.

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Saturday, January 26, 2019

April Solicitations: A Ricky Lawless One-Shot for Criminal #4 and More.

Image Comics released their April solicitations this week, and we find that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips plan to keep up the monthly pace with Criminal #4.

A couple years back, Phillips discussed the team's work schedule for the official podcast for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival.  The plan entails a five-week schedule to produce about ten issues each year; as a result, quite a few months pass before readers encounter a "skip month."

So far, the solicited release dates fit this five-week schedule, which points to a May 29th release date for issue #5, a skip month for June, and a July 3rd release for issue #6.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Due April 24th, issue #4 is described as the second done-in-one, stand-alone story and a return to the Lawless family.
A breathtaking single-issue story finds Ricky Lawless caught in the grip of violence and double cross after a robbery. As always, CRIMINAL contains back page art and articles only found in the single issues.
We're curious about the time frame of this story -- it presumably occurs after Criminal #1 and obviously occurs before the "Lawless" story arc, but we wonder how this relates to a key event mentioned at the end of issue #1.

(We also wonder how we should refer to these stories going forward.  I wonder how these seemingly unrelated one- and two-issue stories will be grouped and titled for the eventual trade collection, and that question makes me wonder if they're as unrelated as the solicitations suggest.)

It was an oversight on our part, but we haven't yet mentioned Ed Brubaker's January 9th email newsletter, released the same day as Criminal #1.  It includes a two-page preview of Criminal #2...

(We get a specific date for what appears to be the main story -- July, 1997 -- and a flashback indicating that he graduated from high school in the mid-Eighties. And, it appears that one of the central characters, the infamously difficult artist and "old mentor," has been renamed from Archie Lewis to Hal Crane.)

...and we see some process work for this first issue, comparing Sean Phillips' digital inks and the final result with Jacob Phillips' colors.  Brubaker also shares some preliminary designs for the first issue's cover art, with his early idea of having two images share the cover, "connecting the various story threads."

The third and final image from the newsletter, shown below, reminds us especially of the cover layout for Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword, a 2010 anthology series which ran for ten issues and -- as we mentioned earlier -- included a story drawn by Sean Phillips in issue #4.  Between two large panels and two small bubbles, four distinct images were featured on every cover, the largest of which was generally reprinted on an interior page, "virgin" and complete.

(In the cover art for REHSS #4 above, you can see Phillips' Conan, in the bubble on the upper right.)

In both cases, the composite cover is striking, but I'm not sure it "pops" off the shelves as much as a single, bold image would.  The best covers draw your attention away from the comic book's numerous competitors.

For Criminal #1, the composite cover would have probably required a longer, more complex solicitation text, which would have made the story inside less disorienting in its first few pages.  Personally, I really enjoyed the story and I think I prefer the final cover, where the single image of Teeg Lawless -- old, bloodied, and manic -- made me wonder how the first few pages fit into the larger story.  The single-image cover also fits with what we've seen for the next few covers.

Also in the newsletter, Ed Brubaker recommended a few comic books along with a single prose collection from Black Lizard, The Big Book of the Continental Op.

We checked the April solicits for both books, and we found Die #5, from Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans.  The issue is described as the "conclusion," evidently of the first arc, "Fantasy Heartbreaker," and not the overall series.

We couldn't find Brubaker's other recommendation, Cemetery Beach by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard, and a quick search through Image's website revealed why:  the book is a seven-issue mini-series, scheduled to wrap up on March 6th.

And, looking through the solicits, we found issue #4 for another series that has our attention, debuting on January 9th alongside both Criminal #1 and the latest issues of Brubaker's two recommended reads.  We'll have more to say about Gunning for Hits very soon, in the upcoming episode of The Undertow Podcast.

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Monday, January 21, 2019

Junkies Wins 2018 Gem Award!

On the same day that Image Comics announced a second printing for Criminal #1, Diamond Comic Distributors announced the 2018 winners of their Gem Awards, and winners include Brubaker and Phillips' My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies.

(The dateline appears to be missing from the official press release, but -- at the moment -- the main page for Press & Media confirms a January 17th publication.)

Given out for more than a decade, the Diamond Gem Awards are described as "the pinnacle of sales achievement."  Nominations are made by the distribution company "based on their sales performance and quality, and their overall impact on the industry during any given year," and winners are selected by comic book retailers -- "members of" that segment of the retail industry, so evidently not all retailers domestically or internationally.
“The Diamond Gem Awards give comic shop retailers an opportunity to recognize the vendors, titles, and products that have been critical to their success over the past year,” said Diamond President & CEO Steve Geppi.
My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies won the 2018 Diamond Gem Award for "Original Graphic Novel of the Year."

Previous winners include Fables: 1,001 Nights of Snowfall (2006), League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier (2007), and Darwyn Cooke's adaptation of Richard Stark's Parker in The Hunter (2009).  Recently, this particular category has been dominated by DC's Earth One volumes, featuring Superman (2010), Batman (HC 2012, TP 2014, Vol. 2 HC 2015), and Wonder Woman (2017).

(The list of winners is duplicated for 2008 and 2009, but apparently it's the former that was garbled:  the actual 2008 winner for Original Graphic Novel appears to be DC's Joker book.)

Just as the second printing for Criminal suggests that -- after all these years -- demand for Brubaker and Phillips' crime comics continues to exceed expectations, this sales award for Junkies indicates the prominence of their work, without qualifications about creator-owned comics that (thus far) lack any film or TV adaptations.
Comichron's sales data for 2018 appears to confirm Junkies' place as the best-selling original work, in a category dominated by reprints of monthly issues.  Comic shops purchased just over 40,000 copies of The Infinity Gauntlet collection last year, as theaters were packed with the MCU blockbuster, and they purchased just over 10,000 copies of Brubaker and Phillips' crime-tinged romance comic.

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies has apparently been quite the successful book, and the industry has taken notice. 

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