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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