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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Thursday, January 17, 2019

CRIMINAL #1 Second Printing, Due with Issue #2!

Just today, Image Comics issued a press release announcing a second printing for Criminal #1.

This is quite astounding news, not only because Brubaker and Phillips have been producing noir comics for so long, but because last week's debut issue was for the third ongoing series with the Criminal name.

Yesterday, @NOIRonMewe broke the news with the image shown above, and Sean Phillips has just confirmed that this recolored artwork is the cover for the second printing.

The press release sets a date for this second printing -- February 13th, simultaneous with the release Criminal #2.

They also state that retailers' "final order cutoff" deadline is THIS MONDAY, JANUARY 21ST, so fans and other interested readers should contact their local shop to ensure they get a copy.


Monday, January 07, 2019

CRIMINAL returns this week! Undertow Podcast on the Criminal Chronology, OK Comics Appearance, and More Sean Phillips in The Criterion Collection!

Criminal #1 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is in stores THIS WEDNESDAY, with Image Comics using the front page of their website to promote the issue, recommend earlier volumes, and treat comic-book fans to two views of Teeg Lawless, who has seen better days.

We have a few things of our own to cover in the run-up to our favorite series' long-awaited return.

Overnight, our friend Robert Watson released the latest episode of The Undertow Podcast.  Robert and I wanted to get ourselves and our listeners ready for the return of Criminal as a monthly series, so we took a look at all the previous story arcs. 

Titled "A Criminal Family Tree," Episode 28 recounts the multiple generations of the series' flawed but often sympathetic criminals -- four generations by our count -- and we tackled the stories by their rough chronological setting than by their publication date.

Looking at that publication history, we find that we can group the arcs into several distinct eras:
  • 2006-2008, ongoing titles at Icon: Criminal Volumes 1 & 2
  • 2009-2011, named mini-series at Icon: "The Sinners" & "Last of the Innocent"
  • 2015-2018, self-contained books at Image: one-shots & the Junkies novella 
We're now back to an ongoing title, Criminal Volume 3, being published by Image Comics.  Since the emphasis is on the individual, monthly issue, we're curious about how these issues will be subsequently collected.

But looking at the internal chronology, we see that story arcs fall into one of two categories:
  • Flashback period pieces, where the year in which the story is set is typically stated explicitly
  • Contemporary stories, where the year is, at best, implied
(For the latter, I have always presumed that these stories roughly correspond to the original year of publication.)

Ed Brubaker has always said that each story stands alone and can serve as its own entry point into the Criminal universe.  That's true -- with the possible exception of "The Sinners" -- and yet Robert and I believe that the best "first read" is in publication order.

(The same is true for other works, including the Star Wars movies and the Narnia books, notwithstanding publishers' strained explanations for packaging the works according to their internal chronology and thus placing the iconic first work published -- 1977's Star Wars, now marketed as a "A New Hope;" and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe -- in the middle of a larger box set that might encourage the purchase of the omnibus set.  I carefully chose which Star Wars movie I showed my kids first, and I know how I'm introducing them to The Chronicles of Narnia.)

But if you've already enjoyed all the Criminal books, reading them in the order of their internal chronology may shed some new light on the stories.

In the image above, we place Image's trade paperbacks in the order of that narrative timeline -- period pieces on the first row, contemporary pieces on the second row -- and going by the "March, 1988" date in Brubaker's ten-page preview, the new issue fits right in between the earlier flashback chapters and the contemporary chapters about Tracy, Leo, and the gang.

We CERTAINLY do not recommend this podcast episode as any kind of substitute for reading the actual comics, but we hope current fans find the episode as interesting as we did.

For this episode, I made a somewhat unusual recommendation of the massive, 1000-page-plus hardcover collection of the minicomics published with the toys for Masters of the Universe.  It's a helluva nostalgia hit for a very particular generation of kids, but it also has a Criminal connection in its contributions from Val Staples, who colored the earliest Icon issues for Brubaker and Phillips.

There's also a more indirect connection.  Thirty-odd issues of this series comprised my first comic-book reading, and it probably influenced my later enjoyment of Robert E. Howard's Conan, both the original pulp stories and the comic books, especially those written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith, published by Marvel in the 1970's.  Those barbarian stories from comics' Bronze Age had an apparent effect on a young Ed Brubaker -- about ten years my senior -- and we see that influence in the "Savage Sword" one-shot from 2015.

We can see the obvious influences below:

On the left is the cover to The Savage Sword of Conan #16, which features part one of a two-part Thomas & Windsor-Smith adaptation of a Bran Mak Morn story from Howard, "Worms of the Earth."  The entire story was reprinted, with new coloring that was quite well done, in issue #1 of the 2010 Dark Horse book called Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword.  Sean Phillips contributed to issue #4 of the same anthology series in 2012, in a monochromatic story "White Death" written by Pete Doree.

In the middle is a page from the very first mini-comic, He-Man and the Power Sword, the same artwork that dominates the collection's front cover.  Just a few years ago, the artist known as SiMo Sol created a gorgeous, detailed homage to the iconic page.

On the right is the cover to the magazine-sized variant to the Criminal Special Edition one-shot, featuring Zangar the Barbarian.  This larger edition was made to look like a replica of the fictional comic book from the 1970's, and the credits page attributes the character of Zangar to the pulp writer in Fatale, Alfred Ravenscroft -- a kind of hybrid between Robert E. Howard and his friend H.P. Lovecraft.

The similarities aren't just what's obvious -- the strong-man hero (or anti-hero), the beautiful woman, the villainous sorcerer and strange beasts.  In making this montage, I noticed that all the pages have essentially the same dimensions:  the original pulp comic from 1976, the shrunk-down and more kid-friendly minicomic from the early 80's, and the homage from the 21st century.

The new issue of Criminal isn't the only work by Sean Phillips to be released this month.  On Twitter, @gonzomike highlighted an upcoming release from The Criterion Collection, of the 1967 Oscar winner, In The Heat of the Night.  The home release is scheduled for January 9th, and it features a "New Cover by Sean Phillips," shown below.

Finally, Brits who want to ask Sean Phillips about Criminal or The Criterion Collection will soon have a chance to do so, as Leeds' OK Comics has announced an event for this Saturday, January 12th, celebrating the launch of the new series with signings by artist Sean Phillips and new colorist Jacob Phillips.

I'm sure we'll have more to cover later this month, as the comics world reacts to this high-profile first issue.

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Friday, January 04, 2019

Criminal #1 Ten-Page Preview, an Undertow Podcast, and More for the New Year!

We anticipate being much more active in the new year -- more blogging, meaning more frequent posts with more prompt news updates -- as Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips return to monthly comics with a new volume of our favorite series, Criminal.  The first issue is less than a week away, and we begin 2019 with a quick look back at the end of 2018.

• October Interviews for Junkies. Three print interviews with writer Ed Brubaker were published in a single month.  Released to coincide with the October 10th release of My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, the online articles also provide a substantial "fix" for those more obsessive fans of the writer and his work.
There's much more from these interviews than we'll summarize here -- some of which Robert and I discussed in the podcast (see below) -- but we found the biographical insights especially interesting. 

Brubaker's father was a commander in naval intelligence, and his mother and stepfather were therapists.  From age 4 to age 7, Brubaker lived at Guantanamo, where his father got his sons reading with a large box of used comics.  His parents got divorced, and from age 8 to age 12, he accompanied his mother to her Sunday-morning AA meetings.  He subsequently became a trouble-maker -- "scraping by" in his early 20's, socializing with "really bad crowds" and committing "small-time crime" -- until his life got out of hand and the young artist almost ended up in prison.

We can see the effect on Brubaker's writing, not just in the generally sympathetic approach to desperate and reckless criminals, but also in the details of stories -- from the setting for "An Accidental Death," one of his earliest works; through the protagonist of "Lawless;" to the focus of this most recent work, the Criminal novella Junkies.

• Phillips Sketchbook of Movie Stars. On November 8th, Sean Phillips announcednew item exclusive to his Big Cartel store.  My Heroes Have Always Been Movie Stars is a 32-page, US comics-size collection of some of the illustrations he has created to accompany the film essays featured in the back of Brubaker and Phillips' monthly issues. 

The artist explicitly writes that these works originally appeared "in the Criminal comics [made] with Ed Brubaker," but we wonder if some of the art was for Incognito, Fatale, or other titles.  It's a question that might only be answered with a copy of this sketchbook and a complete list of these bonus-feature essays.

The book is priced at £20, in a signed and numbered limited edition of 300 copies.  It appears that copies are still available, but there's no telling how long that will last.

• The Fade Out Single-Volume TPB Released. On November 14th, the anticipated single-volume trade paperback edition of The Fade Out was released.  This will probably serve as the definitive wide release of the 2014-2016 mini-series, as the story is better told as a single work than in three four-issue "acts." 

We examined a copy at a local shop, confirming that the book is a bare-bones release without the bonus content found in the hardcover.  The book includes the "Screen Views and News" clipping which serves as a kind of epilogue to "Maya's story and Valeria's story," but it omits the fictional promotional images featured on the back-cover art of the monthly issues. 

And, we're disappointed to report that the cover lacks an amusing detail found in a print that Phillips has made available at his online store and which is shown above, describing the book as "An Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips production."

• Image Solicitations for the Next Criminal Arc. On November 20th, Image Comics released its February solicitations, including the second issue of the new volume of Criminal -- all just in time for us to discuss as late-breaking news on the podcast.  Issue #1 is evidently a self-contained done-in-one tale, and this new story features an artist named Archie Lewis, and we recall that this fictional character was briefly mentioned in the narration of the 2008 arc "Bad Night."
Archie Lewis was the artist’s artist in his heyday, although that’s not what he’s famous for. He’s famous for being a nightmare to work with—and dangerous. So when an old assistant is forced to chaperone his one-time mentor to receive his lifetime achievement award, well... let’s just say things don’t go well.
We wondered if the story will touch on Jacob Kurtz, the main character and narrator from "Bad Night," as perhaps this "old assistant" to the evidently infamously difficult Lewis is Jacob himself.  That suspicion was confirmed on December 21st, with the release of Image's March solicitations and a very brief description of the next issue.
Jacob’s weekend taking care of his old mentor takes a turn for the worse.
That original narration made it seem that Jacob knew Archie Lewis only from a distance -- it mentioned a productivity trick as "an old Archie Lewis method, according to his biographer" -- but it may just be that he knew that reality didn't live up to the myth.  We're also curious how Jacob's aspiration to be an artist (this assistantship, for instance) collided with his criminal background, hanging out with Leo and Tracy and becoming an expert counterfeiter.

It's not clear when this story takes place chronologically, but it does appear that "The Longest Weekend" is a companion to "Bad Night."  In his recent newsletter (see below), Brubaker even referenced this new story as "Bad Weekend."

• Undertow Podcast on Junkies.  November 26th saw the release of the most recent episode of The Undertow PodcastEpisode 27 reviewing the Criminal novella My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies.  Robert and I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion, and we soon plan to release a new episode taking a broader look at the Criminal chronology.

The novella features a mixtape Ellie's mother made for her then-incarcerated father, and so I ended the episode recommending a kind of mixtape of my own:  The Best of David Gray Disc 2, from the two-disc deluxe edition. 

In the liner notes, the British singer-songwriter tells readers that he selected the tracks for this bonus disc "for no other reason than that they occupy a special place in my heart and have meant a lot to me down the years."  They serve as a kind of mixtape for his fans, I find these songs particularly compelling, and I've just made a five-song playlist from that disc, to share with our readers.

Gray's repertoire spans from traditional love songs to more abstract, ethereal music, and his lyrics capture the tragic beauty of both the mundane and the transcendent: "From Here You Can Almost See the See" contains a great example of both with its prosaic verses and its unexpected coda.  He will soon be touring in support of a new album out on March 8th, Gold in a Brass Age, and he's just followed up "The Sapling" with the release of the second song from the album, "A Tight Ship."

• Exclusive Image Deal Extended for Another Five Years. I believe we've discussed Brubaker and Phillips' five-year deal on the podcast, making the assumption that the agreement would be extended.  On December 6th, Image Comics posted a press release making it official:  the exclusive deal has been renewed for another five years, effective immediately.

Described as "previously unprecedented," the original deal was announced in January, 2014, and it allowed the pair "to do anything they want with total freedom, total control, and total ownership over their projects."  As a result, Brubaker says that the previous five years have been "the most successful time of our long career together," and publisher Eric Stephenson adds that, over that period, "Ed and Sean have done some of the best work of their careers."

This extension coincides with the return of Criminal as a new monthly series, and the article mentions a renewed emphasis on monthly storytelling, with Ed Brubaker saying that he wants the new series to be "a monthly comic that would stand apart by really embracing the format, and trying to be something surprising every issue."  Publisher Eric Stephenson chimes in, saying that the series "serves as a welcome reminder of just how potent monthly comics can be."

The press release mentions some of the praise the team's most recent work has received, from Library Journal and Vulture/NY Magazine.  This is in addition to the accolades Image Comics compiled in a December 18th release, where Junkies made the year-end best-of lists for Newsweek, Thrillist, and Multiversity Comics.

• Ten-page Criminal preview in Brubaker newsletter. Finally, Christmas came early for Criminal fans, when Ed Brubaker sent out an email newsletter on December 24th, featuring a ten-page preview of the first issue -- a substantial excerpt of the double-length issue, a few panels of which we're highlighting below.

Brubaker also looked back on the previous project, Junkies, announcing that the hardcover novella has sold better than expected: "as of this writing I think [the book] is almost sold through a printing that was meant to last a few years."

Looking ahead, Brubaker also provided an advance look at the next story, the two-part Criminal tale "The Longest Weekend," aka "Bad Weekend."  From what we gathered in the solicits mentioned above, we take it the panel features a flashback scene of young Jacob Kurtz serving as an assistant artist to a pro named Hal.

And, along with the three October interviews we listed above, Brubaker mentioned a CrimeReads interview published on December 12. 

In this most recent interview, he reveals some details about the story in Junkies (Ellie is 18 years old) and about the book's creation (a tight deadline resulted in Jacob Phillips becoming the colorist after the first few pages).  He discusses his influences and his process, his early work writing Sleeper, and the very recent decision to follow up Junkies with more stories set in the Criminal universe.

Strangely enough, the interview also includes what Brubaker said about monthly comics in the prior press release on the renewed five-year deal, with some additional elaboration
"The single issue itself has started to become an afterthought. At the big two, you have tons of ads in them, and they’re on cheap paper now. It’s like this amazing little package that gave us all decades and decades of joy as comic fans is being neglected by the market that was built on them."
And, Ed Brubaker gives us a quick synopsis of what we can expect with the new monthly Criminal series:
"The first issue is basically the ultimate Criminal story. It kind of shows you everything that the book does, all in one long and winding oversized story."
Criminal #1 is due in stores this Wednesday, January 9th.

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