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Category: Comics & Books


Review by C.J. Bunce

Today a new young heroine arrives in the pages of a graphic novel called Scoop.  In Volume 1 with the first story arc titled “Breaking News,” we meet Sophie Cooper, a 14-year-old Cuban-American high school student in Miami.  It’s not the red hair and freckles that make her an outsider, it’s her dad.  He’s under investigation by a local bank for money laundering–under house arrest he’s trapped in his own home with an ankle monitor, while Sophie’s mother serves as a lawyer in the mayor’s office.  Sophie is ostracized by her peers at school and decides to take an internship with a local TV station in the hopes that she can learn something to help prove her dad is not what everyone says he is.  Sophie can’t help but make friends along the way, including a has-been TV anchor at the least popular station in town, who proves to be more valuable than she could have imagined.  While investigating a lead they encounter a strange otherworldly force that wrecks his car, and an undersea creature who helps her escape a pursuer who thinks she is getting too close to the truth.

“Scoop” becomes Sophie Cooper’s clever handle, her nickname (the first letter of her first name and first four letters of her last name), assigned to her by the news station.  Scoop has the framework to become the next Liv Moore from iZombie or Veronica Mars.  Sophie gravitates more toward the Veronica Mars angle–your basic teen crime detective–since this first volume primarily introduces the main characters, but writer Richard Hamilton and artist Joseph Cooper plant the seeds for a supernatural, X-Files-inspired future for the teen sleuth.

The imagery features a dose of Burn Notice style from the investigation plot, Miami setting, and locals that pop up in the series’ first 96 pages.  Also like iZombie, this is a story and characters not springing from a major comic book universe, so anyone can climb onboard from page one.  Sophie Cooper is exactly the kind of character you might see show up in a year or two on the CW Network, engaging and bright, with her precocious younger brother as an assistant she can tap into the latest technology to hone her investigative skills.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A new print edition of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel The Secret Garden is coming to bookstores next month, and its artistry and design could stand as the definitive version–a storybook that could be a new favorite for the next generation of readers.  Originally published in serial form for both adults and children in 1910, Burnett’s classic book of children forced to grow up in difficult times and the value of friendship to their growth was initially not so well-received.  Burnett would be better known for her novels Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Little Princess even years past her death, but over time The Secret Garden flourished to become a beloved favorite, frequently ranked high on British and American reading lists, including those of School Library Journal, the U.S. National Education Association, and the BBC.  The novel made its way into the public domain, and has been the subject of countless print editions, as well as plays, musicals, television features, and theatrical films.  Actors Dean Stockwell, Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Glynis Johns, and Honor Blackman have all found roles in various adaptations of the book.  And soon another big-screen adaptation is coming your way from StudioCanal starring Colin Firth and Julie Walters.

Design studio MinaLima has partnered with Harper Design to release a truly beautiful version of The Secret Garden incorporating three-dimensional elements and hundreds of pieces of colorful line art and decorations.  A garden’s worth of vibrant flowers hug the footer numbers at the bottom of each page, colorful end papers adorn each new chapter, the off-white pages have an antiqued appearance, each chapter finds an old-fashioned stylized introductory letter, and pop-up images emphasize story elements.  It even includes a traditional paper doll, and cleverly folded paper gardens.  The 384-page hardcover features a gilded, textured cover, and tucked throughout the book are symbols and images found in Burnett’s sumptuous text.  The fifth in a series of children’s classics illustrated by MinaLima, including Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, The Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid and Other Fairy Tales, The Secret Garden is the pinnacle of these accurately self-described “lavishly illustrated” editions, finding a story that doesn’t require illustrations, but is enhanced so well by MinaLima’s application of them.  At two points in the story, letters are received via post by key characters, and instead of merely printing them in text as found in the original novel, the illustrators include two actual letters, designed as replicas, neatly folded just as you would have found real letters in the late 19th century, ready for readers to pull out and read as they move through the story.  That tactile experience will move readers young and old.

The style of artwork is suited to the story, combining British and Indian influences the young lead character Mary Lennox would have been familiar with, plus ink color choices and wallpapers similarly found in her era.  In this tale, Mary, an initially angry, “quite contrary” daughter of a British couple living in India that dies of cholera, finds herself nearly abandoned at a widowed uncle’s giant mansion back in England.  There she discovers the widower’s abandoned garden, and her relationships with three young people, an older girl and two boys, allow her to grow and move beyond her past.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fans of the original Star Wars trilogy and the new film Solo: A Star Wars Story should take note of the fourth installment of Abrams Books’ Star Wars artbook series.  The Art of Solo: A Star Wars Story by Phil Szostak not only looks behind the scenes of the production of the second of the modern anthology movies and fourth of the modern sequels, it reveals the finest and the most evocative Star Wars-styled concept art created since The Empire Strikes Back.  Taking a different path from the episodic sequels, the creators that imagined the look for Solo took their inspiration directly from the work of Ralph McQuarrie (original trilogy production illustrator and concept artist), Joe Johnston (original trilogy ILM art director), Harry Lange (original trilogy art director and set decorator), and Colin Cantwell (the first Star Wars spacecraft designer), concept artists behind the original Star Wars movie.  Including artwork both used for the final creation of sets, effects, and costumes, as well as imagery that didn’t make it to the final cut, The Art of Solo provides visuals fans back to the 1970s have only dreamed about.

Solo is also the first movie of the post-Disney period of Star Wars to draw back to the actual input from George Lucas for more than merely sketches and early descriptions of his earliest ideas from 1973.  Lucas was involved from the beginning, planning a Han Solo movie since before the Lucasfilm sale, and so this sequel has inspiration and concept direction from the creator of the franchise himself.  Lucasfilm/ILM lead concept designer James Clyne, production designer Neil Lamont, costume designers Glyn Dillon and David Crossman, Neal Scanlan‘s creature department, and Rob Bredow and Pat Tubach‘s visual effects team were aware of the unique challenge facing this film–creating something faithful to the original trilogy and beloved characters while also taking the look and feel of the space fantasy into new territory.  The result is a film full of different worlds that still feels “Star Wars-y,” as the designers call it.  For this film, that meant a Western homage mirroring the American journey of settlers from the East Coast to the West Coast, and also importing story elements found in Akira Kurosawa’s Westerns, among many other classic films.

Many of the portraits and landscape paintings are poster-worthy.  Earthbound physical locations were tracked down to define new worlds Corellia, Mimban, Vandor, Kessel, and Savareen, along with CGI renderings, all to look like they belong in the Star Wars galaxy.  As Star Wars was created in the 1970s–taking place ten years prior to the original Star Wars–the artists looked for styles and ideas from the 1960s via movies, bands, computers and technology, and other cultural influences for costumes and set decorations.  So before Emilia Clarke was cast as Qi’ra, images of the character needed to establish her locations and costumes included drawings that look very much like Grace Kelly.  Incorporating images of younger versions of both Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams were obvious choices for creating their first looks, like the duo at the gambling table where Lando would lose the Falcon to Solo.  But soon Alden Ehrenreich’s image became the face of Han Solo.  All along, Chewbacca was Chewbacca, only the crew aimed to convey a different view of the Wookiee, where having all his hairs styled in place was no longer important–this was the young, wind-blown companion from the past, the one quicker to tear someone’s arms off.

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Heroes is the subject and title of a new gallery show featuring artwork of nationally-recognized artist Ande Parks.  Parks, a professional comic book inker and artist, as well as a comic book writer and novelist, created ink drawings and watercolor works for the exhibit, which showcases some of his own personal heroes, both real and imaginary.  Celebrated for three decades as an inker of superheroes for all the major comic book publishers–he was nominated for the prestigious Harvey Award for his work–Parks has established his own grand, heroic style.  An artist reception for the show is tonight at 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Lumberyard Arts Center in Baldwin City, Kansas.

Expect to see from the imaginary side works featuring Green Arrow (Parks created a groundbreaking run of the famous longbow hunter series with actor/director/writer Kevin Smith and artist Phil Hester beginning with the story Quiver), Uncle Slam (an “out-of-touch patriotic superhero” who, along with sidekick Fire Dog, were both created by Parks in the pages of Action Planet Comics), and Batgirl (Parks and Hester worked with writer Devin Grayson on bat-family tales in the Nightwing series).  Works from Parks’ real life heroes will include icons like Truman Capote (Parks wrote the graphic novel Capote in Kansas, chronicling Capote’s days in Kansas writing In Cold Blood).

We’re speculating the show may (or may not) include characters Parks is also known for, like El Diablo (Parks worked on the origin of the character in The Haunted Horseman with Hester and writer Jai Nitz), Ant-Man (Parks and Hester created a zany series featuring the irredeemable superhero a decade ago with The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman), and Kato, Lone Ranger and Zorro (Parks has written comic book series featuring all these classic characters), and maybe even J. Edgar Hoover?  (Parks wrote the historical graphic novel Union Station with artist Eduardo Barreto, featuring a massacre in Kansas City that influenced the FBI director).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In all the flurry of late spring and early summer movie releases, don’t forget to see that X-Men movie sequel that drifted into theaters with less fanfare than the original two years ago.  That’s Deadpool 2, still in theaters nationwide in its fourth week, but probably phasing out soon.  So get to the theater before it’s gone.  More Ryan Reynolds sass and wisecracking, less of the supporting cast from the original, but more new characters fans of Marvel Comics and Marvel Comics-at-the-movies will want to see more of, Deadpool 2 has one big surprise you won’t glean from the trailers:  It’s a classic X-Men comic book story.

Take away the R-Rated humor and the jokes and you’ll find the backbone is a plot bringing the entirety of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise full circle.  The themes of that very first story from the first film in 2000, the movie called X-Men, return.  In X-Men we met young teenager Rogue (Anna Paquin), struggling with her abilities and the burden they place on her.  Despite the superhero vs. superhero storyline, the real villain was Senator Kelly, trying to pass a federal Mutant Registration Act (similar in plot development as the legislation that divides the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War).  Here we meet an out-of-control and mistreated mutant from New Zealand called Firefist (Julian Dennison), and the villain is another Senator Kelly-type trying to do-away with the mutants, played by familiar British actor Eddie Marsan.  Coming back to this theme 18 years later is a smart move–even in a flurry of humor we’re reminded that the stories were sourced in an effort to address teen readers trying to fit into the world.

New characters Cable (Josh Brolin) and Domino (Zazie Beetz) are perfect transformations from comic to screen.  Cable is an expertly realized cyborg, not just a fill-in character but a fully developed new player in Marvel Studios’ arsenal.  Domino is a reminder that members of Marvel’s B-team line-up can steal the show (like Evan Peters’ Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past) when written well.  Any kid or kid at heart will appreciate a battle scene between Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Juggernaut (Ryan Reynolds) complete with its own humorous operatic accompaniment.  Time travel plays a key element in the story and Brolin’s cyborg is every bit as compelling as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s from the Terminator series, and the writers and director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, John Wick) tap into that with dropped references every chance they get.

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The ultimate shark sighting?  A make-ready skit when Jason Momoa finally gets to host Saturday Night Live?

We have seen some great team-ups that also served as great mash-ups.  One of the best came last year when DC Comics took a side trip with Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes characters, especially in the Batman/Elmer Fudd crime-noir, one-shot story “Pway for Me,” by Tom King, Lee Weeks, and Lovern Kindzierski.  It was our pick for last year’s best team-up/mash-up.  This year DC Comics is back, but this time they paired off again with characters from Hanna-Barbera.  Last year for DC Meets Hanna-Barbera, Volume 1, that meant pairing Jonny Quest and Adam Strange, Space Ghost and Green Lantern, Flintstones and Booster Gold, and Suicide Squad and Banana Splits.  In comic book stores and coming soon in a compilation edition, DC Meets Hanna-Barbera, Volume 2 features even more great team-up/mash-ups:  Who wins when you pair The Flash and Speed Buggy?  How serious can cartoon characters get when you’ve teamed Black Lightning and Hong Kong Phooey?  Or “Super Sons” Robin and Superboy taking on Dynomutt?  But the winner is clear… How could you possibly lose with a team-up of Aquaman and Jabberjaw?

With the right amount of seriousness (mainly from Aquaman) and the right amount of nostalgic humor (mainly from fun-loving land shark Jabberjaw), Dan Abnett strikes throwback gold with a story full of seaside quips and Jaws references, pulling ideas even from the classic favorite Superfriends show.  The result is one of the best Aquaman stories we’ve read.  And Abnett completely tapped into the pulse of the classic Jabberjaw cartoon, tying in his band of friends The Neptunes.  Artists Paul Pelletier, Andrew Hennessy, and Rain Beredo created a unique, incredible look, something out of Syfy’s Haven town and Luc Besson’s future world in Valerian and Laureline.  THIS is the ongoing series that needs to continue, although, understandably the pairing is a big stretch even for comic books and animated series, bridging time and space to get these two worlds together.  But it works.  From the setting, a seaside tourist town called Amnesty Bay (playing on the Jaws town of Amity), to the return of the world’s best drumming shark, to the sound of fingers on a chalkboard, to those Rodney Dangerfield meets Curly Howard catch-phrases, to the final entanglement with shark hunters, this one has it all.

DC has already featured Hanna-Barbera together in ongoing comic book series from the favorite characters of 1970s Saturday morning cartoons in the series Future Quest, Scooby Apocalypse, The Flintstones, Wacky Raceland, Dastardly and Muttley, The Ruff and Reddy Show, The Jetsons, and Exit, Stage Left!: the Snagglepuss Chronicles.  A great writer should be able to find unlimited potential for Jabberjaw and his friends.  Check out these preview pages from the publisher for the story “A Bigger Beat”–

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Emmy nominee and Golden Globe winner in 2017 and a Golden Globe nominee again this year for best actress in a television series, all for The Crown, Claire Foy is quickly becoming an actor to keep an eye out for.  Her career continues on an upward trajectory this Fall when she stars in two big screen movie releases.  Both of these films saw their first trailers arrive this weekend.  One is a historical biopic and the other a crime story, both adaptations of bestselling books.

Coming first is director Damien Chazelle’s First Man from Universal Pictures, a film about astronaut Neil Armstrong starring Ryan Gosling (Blade Runner 2049, The Nice Guys), with Foy co-starring as Armstrong’s wife Janet, based on a book by James R. Hansen.  The film also stars Corey Stoll (Ant-Man) as Buzz Aldrin, Lukas Haas (Witness, The Revenant) as Mike Collins, Jason Clarke (Terminator Genisys, Winchester) as Ed White, Ethan Embry (That Thing You Do!, Batman Beyond) as Pete Conrad, Kyle Chandler (Super 8, Argo) as Deke Slayton, and Ciaran Hinds (The Sum of All Fears, Munich, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2) in an undisclosed role.

Next will be director Fede Alvarez’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web from Sony Pictures.  This is a sequel to the film adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Foy takes on the role of Millennium series star Lisbeth Salander, formerly played in the Swedish film by Noomi Rapace and later the American production by Rooney Mara.  This is the first story in the dark and violent series not written by Larsson–David Lagercrantz was tapped to pen the novel this film is based upon.  The film co-stars Sylvia Hoeks (Blade Runner 2049).

Here is Claire Foy in new trailers for First Man and The Girl in the Spider’s Web:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Originally published last year in the UK as A Galaxy of Her Own: Amazing Stories of Women in Space, writer Libby Jackson, flight controller and flight director for the European Space Agency, brings her biographies for grade schoolers to U.S. readers re-titled as Galaxy Girls: 50 Amazing Stories of Women in Space.  An introduction to the space programs of the past and present for girls and boys, Galaxy Girls goes beyond being an assemblage of one-page stories of astronauts, looking back to women of many backgrounds and careers who heavily influenced the progress of space exploration, including many outside the field of aeronautics.  Most of the women in the book were not astronauts or “in space” as the title suggests, but it’s fair to say Earth’s space programs would not have been as successful–or continued to survive this long–without them.

Most fascinating is the scope of the book.  Readers will encounter standouts from expected fields including scientists and pilots, but also lawyers, doctors, textile workers and seamstresses, and women in the early roles as “computers” themselves.  The career path that women selected for the book took the most was that of engineer, but Jackson also includes others, like actress Nichelle Nichols, who, in addition to inspiring young women who would become astronauts from her role on Star Trek, assisted NASA in broadening their recruitment efforts in the 1970s and onward.  Wives of astronauts of years past are also spotlighted as influential and key to space exploration, and even the first woman tourist in space is included.

Readers will meet several women famous for their landmark firsts: Jeannette Piccard–first woman in the stratosphere, Jacqueline Cochran–first woman to break the sound barrier, Valentina Tereshkova–first woman in space, Eileen Collins–first woman shuttle pilot and commander, Svetlana Savitskaya–first woman spacewalker, and Peggy Whitson–first woman space station commander (who has gone on to create new records surpassing even male astronaut records in the past year since the book was written).  And they’ll learn about women who died in pursuit of space science: Christa McAuliffe, Judy Resnik, Kalpana Chawla, and Laurel Clark.  Some of the featured women worked behind the scenes to create the earliest space programs, and others featured are today’s pioneers in aeronautics and engineering, planning Earth’s space programs for tomorrow.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When you hear the name Winnie-the-Pooh, what comes to mind?  Phrases like “Oh, bother,” or “Let’s Begin by taking a smallish nap or two”?  For many it’s the images of Pooh and his friends, images that have been around now for ninety years.  Never out of print, the original four books by author A.A. Milne make up a finite set of the stories of the original animal friends of Christopher Robin from the Hundred Acre Wood.  Milne is also who we first think of when we think of these stories, yet as much of Pooh is owed to the drawings and coordination with artist E.H. Shepard, who continued to draw images for new editions and authorized derivative works of Pooh and Friends for 50 years after Milne wrote his last Pooh story.  Shepard is the subject of a new book, The Art of Winnie the Pooh: How E.H. Shepard Illustrated an Icon, written by James Campbell.

The Art of Winnie-the-Pooh is a bit of a family story.  Campbell, author of a previous account of Shepard’s days in World War I called Shepard’s War, is married to Shepard’s great-granddaughter and manages the Shepard artistic and literary estate.  Minette Shepard, the artist’s granddaughter, provides a foreword to the book.  As a child in the 1940s, she was the caretaker of Growler–the original Teddy bear that inspired the look of Pooh we know today.  Fans of the four Winnie-the-Pooh books: When We Were Very Young, Winnie-the-Pooh, Now We Are Six, and The House at Pooh Corner, have long known the story of Milne’s son Christopher Robin Milne and his toys as the inspiration for the stories.  Yet the wider story reveals a working relationship between two creators in a manner not common for the era, and an artist who used his own son, Graham, as much as Milne’s son for his imagery.  Known nearly as well for his famous illustrations of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, Shepard’s story is a chronicle of a long lifetime of artistry, duty, ups and downs, and a legacy for generations of children and adults alike.

The Winnie-the-Pooh books are one of the earliest examples of a writer and artist working together on a book.  When first published in 1924, publishers typically brought in artists to add images throughout a book after the text had been completed.  That changed with Milne and Shepard, particularly so after the immediate success of the first book.  As Campbell sees it, “Shepard and Milne had torn up the rulebook and made the public look at literature, and particularly children’s literature, in a different way.  Rather than reading to children the books inspired authors to write for children, and in the period up to the Second World War, this opportunity for adults and children to sit and enjoy books together grew rapidly.”  Collaboration became key to the appeal of these books, both the writing and the pictures, and although the publishing industry to this day continues to default regularly to keeping a wall between authors and illustrators, the ready combination of the two can be seen throughout the various niches of children’s picture books, comic books, and graphic novels.

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