Wednesday, October 26, 2011

200th Issue!



October 25, MILWAUKIE, OR—Earlier this year, Usagi Yojimbo creator Stan Sakai was named the 2011 Cultural Ambassador by the Japanese American National Museum. Shortly thereafter, the JANM opened their Year of the Rabbit exhibit—the most comprehensive collection of Sakai’s work to date.

Stan Sakai has won several Eisner Awards and has received over twenty Eisner Award nominations. Prior to Dark Horse’s long run on the series, there were thirty-eight Fantagraphics issues, sixteen Mirage issues, a summer special, and four color specials. Dark Horse’s Usagi Yojimbo #141 marks the landmark two hundredth overall issue of master storyteller Stan Sakai’s beloved series, and the rabbit ronin celebrates with a special story perfect for new readers, “200 Buddhas”! With a ruthless gang terrorizing his small town, a humble stonecutter receives a vision and sets out to carve two hundred stone figures. Just as he has finished the 199th, a long-eared stranger comes to his door seeking shelter from the rain!

“In a perfect world, everyone would read Usagi Yojimbo.”

—Greg McElhatton, Comic Book Resources

The Japanese American National Museum is the largest museum in the United States dedicated to sharing the experience of Americans of Japanese ancestry. The founding of the museum is a story of high hopes, remarkable achievements, frustration, and, ultimately, success. The JANM is located in Los Angeles, and the Year of the Rabbit exhibit closes its doors October 30, 2011 - LINK

Usagi Yojimbo #141 is on sale October 26, 2011!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Viper Comics Takes A Bite Out Of Digital!

For immediate release October 26, 2011

October 26, 2011 (Dallas, Texas) - This is the year for something old and something new at Viper Comics. Earlier this year, the Texas-based publisher enjoyed an uber-successful relaunch of classic comics Inspector Gadget and Johnny Test at this year's Comic Con. But Viper will round out 2011 at the other end of the distribution spectrum: digital.

"Digital isn't coming," says Viper President, Jessie Garza. "It's here. Not only has the economy hit the comic business but even our most hardcore fans want to read their comics with the same tools they use to work, create and communicate. Digital has so many possibilities. We just can't wait to get started."

Viper is leaping into the digital revolution in two ways. First, they will make their library of existing books-from oldies like Gadget to cult favorites like Middleman-available in digital format. This will ensure fans have ready access to their favorites at any time and a whole new fan base can discover Viper books they might have missed.

And second, Viper will begin to create a new line of comics expressly for digital distribution.

Beginning with Five Senses, a gritty crime story about a murder witness bent on solving the crime while trying to keep the mysterious killer from stealing his five senses, Viper's entire catalog of comic books will be available in digital as well as paper formats.

"Our writers and artists are stellar," says Editor-in-Chief, Dale Mettam, "and it's time to give both our established and up-and-coming creators a new medium to really strut their stuff. We think our fans are going to love what we've come up with."

Don't worry though if you're a print lover. "Over the years, Viper has built many lasting friendships with small comic stores. We still have books that will go straight to print on our slate of upcoming projects," Mettam went on. "However, the digital technology allows us to take more risks with projects and open the door for more up-and-coming talent that perhaps wouldn't get the chance otherwise."

"We're a small indie publisher," added Garza, "so anything that allows us to push the creative limits is something we're equally committed to explore."

For Mettam, this new medium hits close to home as he is the author of Viper's Halloween digital release, Nightmares in Oz, a modern-and pretty gnarly-spin on the Oz tales we all thought we knew.

Shannon Hilson, of said of Nightmares in Oz,

"Nightmares in Oz offers a fresh and frightening new twist on an old favorite. Stunning artwork and truly creepy characters help bring Osmann Grove, Kansas to life in a way horror fans and comic book lovers alike won't want to miss."

Additionally, Viper will release its reader app making downloading and launching a comic just a click away. Until then, readers will be able to get a hold of books via iVerse, Graphicly, Comixology, Kindle and the Viper website.

About Viper Comics

Viper Comics has been publishing comic books and graphic novels since July 2003. Their debut title, Dead@17, was an instant hit and was noted as a Top 10 Hot Comic in Wizard Magazine. Viper has since released a number of successful books, including Daisy Kutter, a critically acclaimed series that was nominated for a Harvey Award in 2006 and was also named a top pick for young adults by the American Library Association. Viper has published over 100 comic books and 40 graphic novels. Viper has had four graphic novels recommended by the American Library Association: The Middleman (ABC Family TV Show), Daisy Kutter, Emily Edison, and Oddly Normal.

Dune: Part 2: Welcome to Arrakis

(Cross-posted from Daily Kos)

In the first few chapters, we met Paul Atreides, his family, and some of their closest circle, as they prepared to leave their home on Caladan for the desert world Arrakis. His father, Duke Leto, is well aware that he has been manipulated into this situation and the new world he has been given is a planet-sized trap set out by his hereditary enemies the Harkonnens with the blessings and support of the Emperor. Leto hopes that by walking into the trap with his eyes open, he can use the situation to his best advantage; and he suspects that Arrakis holds secrets of which the Harkonnens are unaware.

In the midst of this, Paul must grapple with his discovery that he may be the Kwisatz Haderach, a being with time-spanning powers of perception that the Creepy Space Nuns of the Bene Gesserit have been trying to breed for untold generations.

So now, we arrive on Arrakis.

Chapter seven begins with Jessica supervising the unpacking at their new home in Arrakeen, one of the major cities on Arrakis. The crates she opens contain items of symbolic importance: a portrait of the Old Duke, Leto's father; and the mounted head of the bull that killed him. The Old Duke enjoyed bullfighting as a hobby, presumably because he enjoyed stabbing large dangerous things. Jessica hates the bull's head, and hates her dead father-in-law; but Leto insists that both must be prominently displayed in the dining hall. It's a matter of tradition.

I think the love between Jessica and Leto in this book is emphasized by the quarrels they have. Yes, we'll get emphatic statements of love from each of them; but it's scenes like this, where we see disagreement and friction between the two of them, that makes their relationship more real.

In the next chapter, Jessica tells Yueh:

"...the Duke is really two men. One of them I love very much. He's charming, witty, considerate ... tender -- everything a woman could desire. But the other man is ... cold, callous, demanding, selfish -- as hard and cruel as a winter wind. That's the man shaped by the father." Her face contorted. "If only that old man had died when my Duke was born!"

In our glimpses of Leto in these first few chapters we get to see both sides of his personality.

Jessica meets a servant woman named Shadout Mapes, a woman from a Fremen tribe; and in the interplay between the two we learn a bit more about religion in the world of Dune, most specifically, the Missionaria Protectiva.

Herbert does something here which I think is rather brilliant. He takes the age old theme of the Hero of Prophecy, make it a major theme of the story, and yet from the very beginning tells us that the Prophecy is a fake. The Bene Gesserit, as one of their many galaxy-spanning plots, has as a matter of SOP planted legends on every world regarding their Order, on the off chance that someday a Sister of the Order might find themselves stranded there and needing help. On Arrakis, this legend tells of the "Lisan al-Gaib", the Voice from the Outer World, the offspring of a Reverend Mother who will lead the people to freedom.

"Great Mother! They planted that one here! This must be a hideous place!" Jessica thinks. But in a careful verbal dance, she answers Mapes' questions, playing to the woman's expectations. I doing so, she realizes that she too is cynically manipulating Mapes' beliefs.

The next chapter is another fencing match; this one between Jessica and Yueh. The Doctor struggles to keep her from perceiving his guilt and almost confesses his planned treason. Jessica sees that he is keeping a secret from her and almost compels him to reveal it. "I should place more trust in my friends," she decides, making one of her worst mistakes in the book.

Back in the second chapter, when the Harkonnens were discussing their plans, Piter explained that there would be an assassination attempt on Paul. In the ninth chapter, the attempt occurs: a remotely-controlled drone designed to impale it's victim and burrow deep into the nervous system. Paul is able to recognize the danger and not only evade the attack, but prevent it from killing Mapes, who walks unwittingly into the situation. "You could've let it have me and made your own escape," Mapes observes. These things are important to the Fremen.

While Paul battles the Hunter-Seeker, his mother finds a special room in the palace that had been built by its previous residents, the Count and Lady Fenring. The room is a climate-controlled greenhouse, with the kind of lush plant life and humid atmosphere unknown on the rest of Arrakis. Lady Margot Fenring is, like Jessica, a member of the Bene Gesserit and has left a secret message for Jessica warning of a traitor in the Duke's entourage. Secret messages and meanings buried in meaning are a recurring theme in the book.

The scene shifts to Duke Leto, who is inwardly in turmoil over the attempt on his son's life. But he knows that it is vital to display an outward appearance of confidence for the sake of morale. He permits Paul to sit in on a strategy meeting with several of his top officers in which they discuss the Arrakis situation and what can be done about it.

In the middle of the meeting, Duncan Idaho, one of Leto's most trusted lieutenants, arrives accompanied by some Fremen. Leto has sent Idaho to the Fremen to try cultivating them as potential allies. Things start off badly. Duncan almost unsheathes a Fremen crysknife, a weapon made from the tooth of one of the giant sandworms, in front of the Duke, which violates strong Fremen taboos. No sooner does Leto defuse this situation, than the leader of the Fremen spits on the table in front of the Duke. "Remember how precious water is here, Sire," Duncan explains. "That was a token of respect." Despite the tense beginning, the encounter with the mysterious desert tribesmen ends amicably and both sides agree to let Duncan be admitted into the Fremen tribe and act as an ambassador.

But underneath the plans and stratagems, Paul senses unease in the men and desperation in his father. And he remembers the Reverend Mother's sinister warning: "...for the father, nothing."

NEXT: BIG HONKIN' WORMS!!! And, What a Swell Party This Is!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dune: Part 1: Leaving Caladan

(Cross-posted from Daily Kos)
A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct. This every sister of the Bene Gesserit knows. To begin your study of the life of Muad'Dib, then, take care that you first place him in his time... And take the most special care that you locate Muad'Dib in his place: the planet Arrakis.

-- from "Manual of Muad'Dib" by the Princess Irulan.

When David Lynch's film version of Dune was released in 1984, many of my friends in the campus science fiction club anticipated it with a mixture of hope and dread. After all, despite the boom in science fiction movies following the success of Star Wars, there hadn't been any really big, serious SF films since 2001: A Space Odyssey. "Let this be our 'War and Peace'," one friend said.

Well, the movie turned out to be disappointing; but I still like to think of the book as "Our War and Peace"; a big, sprawling work about conflict and intrigue, religion and politics and destiny, on a scale the size of Shai-hulud.

The story is set so vastly far in the future that Earth is not even a memory, in a galaxy-spanning empire with a feudal society. Duke Leto Atreides, ruler of the planet Caladan, has been given the planet Arrakis by the Emperor. Arrakis, the planet also known as Dune, is a desert world with exactly one important resource: a substance known as the spice melange. Spice is a drug with life-extending qualities; it neutralizes many popular forms of poison; it's highly-addictive and will turn your eyeballs blue. It probably also mends vinyl and freshens your breath. In high enough doses, it expands the user's consciousness and enhances precognitive abilities. Navigators on starships use melange to calculate routes through hyperspace, and the Creepy Space Nuns of the Bene Gesserit use it to enhance their own mental disciplines. It is the most valuable substance in the galaxy, and Arrakis is its only source; therefore the ruler of Arrakis is sitting on the wealth of the universe.

But Arrakis is also a trap. The planet's former rulers, the Harkonnens, are hereditary enemies of House Atreides, and the Baron Harkonnen has set up an elaborate plot to destroy Duke Leto and his house forever.

Paul Atredies is Duke Leto's son; a boy of fifteen who is just on the verge of manhood. And he has unusual dreams. Yes, this is a story about a Boy Becoming a Man as he discovers that He Is Special. But Paul is more than a Mary Sue, and although he does indulge in angst occasionally, he does not wallow in it.

As the story begins, Duke Leto is preparing to move his family and his court from Caladan to Arrakis; and it is through these preparations that we meet Paul's family and the Atreides' closest retainers. Thufir Hawat is the Duke's mentat; a man trained to be a kind of living computer; skilled at analyzing data. Gurney Halleck is a veteran fighter and something of a bard. Dr. Yueh is the court physician and one of Paul's teachers; he also has a dark secret and a tragic destiny hanging over him.

We also get a chapter introducing the Harkonnens: Baron Vladamir, corpuant and vile; his own mentat Piter, nasty and hedonistic; and his nephew Feyd, who in many ways is Paul's parallel, the way Hal and Hotspur parallel each other in the the Henry IV plays.

The moving plans on Caladan are interrupted by Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, a high-ranking woman of the Bene Gesserit. This quasi-religious order is one of the most powerful groups in the galaxy; and their chief purpose, putting it crudely, is improving the species through selective breeding. Their ultimate goal is to create a genetic super-being called the Kwisatz-Haderach, a male who can utilize the Bene Gesserit's mental disciplines to see backwards and forwards in time. Paul's mother, Jessica, thinks that he might be the one; and the Reverend Mother has arrived to test him.

These opening chapters touch on a lot of things: elements of the culture and religion of the novel's world; foreshadowing hints about Arrakis; and above all, premonitions of doom. From the very beginning, the narrative marks Duke Leto as a man destined for tragedy. Everybody knows it; his wife, his mentat, he himself knows it; but Leto sees Arrakis as an opportunity as well as a trap and intends to take the risk. Yueh also is a tragic figure, and the historical chapter heads direly remind us of his fate, even as we watch him struggle against it.

And also Paul, in his way is something of a tragic figure. His glimpses of the future show him things he cannot avoid and choices to make where every option leads to bad results. This is only hinted at in the early chapters, but Paul's grappling with this aspect of prescience is one of the main themes of the book.

NEXT WEEK: We'll discuss the next six chapters. The Atreides arrive on Arrakis and an assassination attempt is made on Paul.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Comics take down corrupt political leaders

With Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party movements being so active and all over the American media so much recently. I thought it would be interesting to share with everyone a true story of comics taking down a corrupt group of lawmakers. This group of men were stealing massive funds from the State of New York. Enter the Story of comic images taking down some very large scale thieves of public tax money.

This series of famous political comics featured William Tweed--more commonly known as Boss Tweed--famous historically for being a corrupt politician. Tweed, with his cohorts (the Tammany Ring), was responsible for the disappearance of US $200 million in the 1870s and got taken down by comics. The scandal was, of course, covered by the newspapers and many people in New York were angry, but no action was forthcoming.

A breaking point in the pursuit of Boss Tweed occurred when Thomas Nast created a series of cartoons targeting them. The scandal quickly reached a fever pitch, the public moved against the ring, and Boss Tweed and others ended up in jail.

Boss Tweed is attributed by many sources as saying, “Stop them damned pictures. I don't care so much what the papers say about me. My constituents can't read. But, damn it, they can see pictures!”Tweed later escaped from prison and was caught in Spain by a customs clerk who, according to legend, recognized him from Thomas Nast’s political cartoons. Legend also holds that Tweed had copies of the editorial cartoons in his suitcase as he went through customs:The same cartoons that helped bring him to justice.

Disgracing a group of corrupt legislators and helping to throw them in prison isn’t bad for a series of political cartoons.

More stories about Comics impacting History

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Aliens, Baseball, and Dead Children. Oh, My!

It is October 13th, which means it’s time to shout “I made this!” and pile in the car to participate in the eighth annual X-Files Halloween marathon. The time is 10:00 pm and the location is my house, located more-or-less nearby Terma, North Dakota. Candy corn and pumpkin beer will be served. No heckling, please; MST3K, you are not.

This year, being odd-numbered, is a mythology year. All installments over the course of the next eight days, to some degree or another, will detail, develop, or, in some cases, deconstruct the show’s overarching narrative. This is no mean feat, but it is also not as cohesive as one might assume.

The mythology of The X-Files, even in the day and age of serialized television (as exemplified by, say, Battlestar Galactica or Lost), is one of the most sophisticated and convoluted narratives in the annals of television history. “Convoluted,” of course, holds both positive and negative connotations, and the series hits the head squarely on both nails, sometimes even simultaneously. The constant storytelling retractions and redactions, the more-or-less likely alternative hypotheses, the slow pace of progress not only all combine to make the most strenuous narrative workout session possible – the viewer oftentimes has to earn that payoff, across six seasons and ten possible theories – but also a more believable one, as Chris Carter himself has pointed out several times both during and after the show’s production. (Ever try to sum up The X-Files’s basic story in five minutes, particularly to a neophyte and especially at the start of a marathon? It’s absolutely ridiculous.)

What tends to undermine the density of this believability is the rather haphazard, ad hoc quality that permeates the entire production. Pivots in direction and intention are sometimes subtle but also common enough to have a jarring, disruptive effect on the viewer and his sense of immersion. In one episode, the extraterrestrials’ DNA is described as being completely unlike any found on the planet; in all following installments, humans are the biological offspring of the alien colonists, with some individuals – those who still retain the progenitors' genetic trait of telepathy, just as an for-instance – being described as being "more human than human." And if you don't like the revelation late in the series that Mulder is the prophesized chosen one to lead the charge against the inevitable alien invasion, you don't have to worry – that particular plot point would never be mentioned again, not even when he has a child borne of a barren mother (who quickly gives him up for no suitable or otherwise believable reason).

All of which, of course, is not to mention the all-too-frequent problem of omission of consequence, such as the previously offered example of Scully's (first) child being killed with nary a mention throughout that season's subsequent episodes – or throughout subsequent seasons, for that matter. Hell, even Gillian Anderson had difficulty buying into the proposition that Agent Scully could possibly remain a skeptic after digging up UFOs and watching aliens shapeshift in front of her eyes. "It's the formula," Carter told her on the phone.

It is at that, but it is also, much like The Simpsons or, even, the aforementioned BSG, one that works, and works well. Once all transitions to the show’s narrative foibles have been completed, once the viewer’s suspension of disbelief has finally been allayed (it is not unlike a lay person going into the theater to see his first Broadway musical), it is a dynamic that fires on all levels, from conceptual to instinctual. The show just clicks, and does so, as mentioned before, in a way that few others have managed.

So what is the show's overall story? Come on over sometime this week, sit back, relax, and prepare for one of the most outlandish five minutes of your life.

Happy Halloween, narrative enthusiasts.

Thursday, October 13th – “Fallen Angel” (season one)

Friday, October 14th – “Red Museum” (season two)

Saturday, October 15th – “Quagmire” (season three)

Sunday, October 16th – “Demons” (season four)

Monday, October 17th – “Kitsunegari” (season five)

Tuesday, October 18th – “The Unnatural” (season six)

Wednesday, October 19th – “all things” (season seven)

Thursday, October 20th – “Empedocles” (season eight)

Friday, October 21st – “Release” (season nine)

Manifest pomposity

This year’s Palme d’Or winner was Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, featuring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn and a special appearance by the planet Jupiter.

The semi-autobiographical coming of age story features an early scene where two parents, the O’Briens (Pitt and Chastain) find out that one of their three children has died. It’s not clear what the cause of death is, however, the film contains a number of similarities with Malick’s own life, and one of his own two brothers committed suicide at a similar age.

The eldest son, Jack, played very well as a child by Hunter McCracken, is the focus of most of the narrative thereafter. We follow in particular his stormy relationship with his loving but authoritarian father and his angelic mother. Adult Jack (played by Penn) is reminiscing on his childhood while wondering around Houston, where he moans to no one in particular about isolation and corruption in the modern world, and whatever other existential angst is weighing on his soul. As with other Malick films, many of the characters spend much time relating short philosophical musings. At one point, Jack whispers:

“Lord, why? Where were you? Who are we to you?”

I found this pontificating mostly annoying in The Thin Red Line, and its use in Tree of Life is even more tiresome. Most of the notions the characters narrate are implied by the visuals and performances anyway. It is odd that a director this cinematically strong feels the need to have his characters frequently tell us what’s on their minds.

The Tree of Life is perhaps most notorious for its epic digressions, such as the early, evocative display of celestial and primordial forces. These scenes are done well in themselves (visual effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull came out of retirement to consult on the effects), and add to the overall meditative quality of the film, but they don’t gel otherwise.

The ending highlights the pretentious mélange Malick offers up. We are left with symbolic scenes on a beach with the disillusioned adult Jack reuniting with most of the people he knew, including with his family - happily embracing his father, mother and brothers. In other words, it was pretty much the sappy part of the ending for that other Jack. (The finale of Lost did have its impressive aspects, however, as outlined here.)

Some reviewers have seen in The Tree of Life an epic, transcendent work. I did not, and was occasionally taken out the moment by the film’s jarring pomposity. That said, I’d recommend cinephiles catch it on the big screen if you get the chance. An ambitious quasi-failure is still better than just about any film featuring Cameron Diaz, after all.

The Tree of Life is visually impressive, and there’s something endearingly earnest and truthful about the boyhood point-of-view depiction of the life of this 1950s Midwestern family. Mostly due, I suspect, to the amount that Malick drew on reminiscence.