Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New look for Sequential!

Publisher Max Douglas has updated the look of Sequential. The newsblog of Canadian comic book news and cilture bow has an updated, more magazine-y look, in keeping with our status as an annual print journal and more varied webcontent (look for more interviews and reviews in the near future). Check out the new wordpress-o-rific site.

McSweeney's 33: San Francisco Panorama

Pretty excited: just picked up the latest issue of McSweeney's: The San Francisco Panorama newspaper issue, featuring a giant full-colour comics section with strips by Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, Seth, Adrian Tomine, and more! To make the week complete, also picked up The Believer's annual film issue. Whew!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Playing on the Girls' Team: Notes on Jaime Hernandez and Female Super Teams in the Comics

"A Hundred Pretty Girls..."

by BK Munn

Love and Rockets 2 was one of my favourite comics of 2009, mostly because of Jaime Hernandez' "Ti-Girls Adventures Number 34," a fun metatextual superhero comic featuring three separate teams of female superheroes and set in the world of Hernandez' Locas stories (part 1 came out in 2008). Jaime's story had me wondering, why hadn't more U.S. superhero comics featured teams of women?

Hernandez has always liked the superhero women. Much of his early fan art seemed to focus on the femmes of the DC and Marvel universes. As well, his own stories are just packed with a surfeit of lady leagues, including Las Widows street gang, ladies' wrestling tag-teams, and all-girl punk bands. He introduced his own superhero women (Cheetah Torpeda, Comrade 7, et al) in the pages of the 1980s iteration of L&R, but hadn't really tied them into the team concept until recently. The superhero epic of "Ti-Girls" reveals a complex world of well-imagined female teammates, more subtly realized (and fun) than anything in the genre. But before the working-class black and latina amazons of Jaime's T-Girls, Zolars, and Fenomenons came on the scene, there was precious little in the world of comic books to rival them.

The first superhero team, the Justice Society of America, was an old-boys' club with one token female member, Wonder Woman, who held the rank of secretary. Of course, WW was not only a member of the all-woman society of Amazons who inhabited Paradise Island (the first superheroine "team"?) but was also given her powers by the chief female gods of the Greek pantheon (another all-star group of women). WW adventures featured quite a few girl couples and mini-groups, not to mention regular appearances of the Holliday Girls, an army of women chosen from Etta Candy's sorority, described as "a hundred pretty girls brave enough to capture dangerous men."

After the JSA, most superhero teams followed the same pattern of several men and one or maybe two women members. Thus we have the Marvel Family and Lieutenant Marvels, and later the JLA. The first incarnation of the Legion of Super-Heroes had a two-to-one ratio of men to women (3-to-1 when Superboy joined) but quickly expanded to include a whole cohort of women members, achieving near-parity several times (especially when you factored in Triplicate Girl) but the same could not be said for efforts like The Doom Patrol, Blackhawks, and especially The Inferior Five, which all featured a sole female member each. In 1960s Marvel Comics, the Fantastic Four, Avengers, and original X-Men all featured just one woman per team. Although the Avengers gradually added more women, it wasn't until the 1970s, with the advent of the Chris Claremont-penned new X-Men, that groups with a larger female membership began to dominate.

Brief Highlights in the History of All-Female Super-Teams

For some reason, in these comics written by men, powerful groups of women are often pictured as villains.

"The Revolt of the Girl Legionnaires" (Adventure Comics #326, 1964): The girls are brainwashed by Queen Azura from the planet Femnaz (paging Dave Sim!) into seducing the male Legionnaires and luring them into various traps but the day is saved when some of the boys save Femnaz from an exploding moon and the evil Queen has a change of heart. The genius of Jerry Siegel and the pencils of John Forte created this bizarre, adorable psychodrama.

"The Mutiny of the Super-Heroines" (Adventure Comics #368, 1968): In this recycled story, the female members of the Legion of Super-Heroes get a power boost and take over the Legion, kicking the boys out. By the time of this story, the girls already outnumber the guys 9-7 (check out the roll-call), but are still depicted as generally weaker than the boys and totally docile and obsessed with homemaking until a feminist harridan from another planet (this time Ambassador Thora from Taltor) boosts their powers. (Little known fact: Mort Weisinger was a huge fan of the films of Russ Meyer, especially Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!)

"Lenore Goldberg and Her Girl Commandos" Motor City Comics #2 (1969): Crumb's satire of the nascent women's lib movement is actually quite an awesome political document besides being a wonderful piece of underground art. Lenore and her gang kick some righteous bourgeois ass and shake up notions of class and gender to boot. The fact that the whole story is essentially a Crumb sex fantasy just makes it all the better.

It Ain't Me Babe (1970): Trina Robbins edited this anthology of women underground cartoonists and kicked things off with a cover featuring a team-up of Golden Age divas, including WW, Sheena, and Elsie the Cow. Similar amalgamations were to clutter her art for years and eventually lead to a gig writing Wonder Woman for DC!

The Liberators (Avengers #83, 1970): Writer Roy Thomas rehashes the old Legion plot mentioned above in a John Buscema-drawn story that features a new character called Valkyrie who convinces the female member of The Avengers that the sexism in the Marvel Universe means they should form their own team. This new amalgamation of Medusa, The Scarlet Witch, The Wasp, and The Black Widow goes on to defeat both The Masters of Evil and the male Avengers before Valkyrie is revealed to be Thor villain The Enchantress, craftily using her fellow women to help her steal some super-scientific doohickey. The Liberators subsequently return to their roles as Avengers while hinting at "male chauvinist pig" behaviour that might cause them to reunite.

The Female Furies (Mr. Miracle #6, 1972):
Of course Jack Kirby has to be on this list somewhere. Lashina, Stompa, Bernadeth, Mad Harriet, and Big Barda were a team of immortal bad-asses from New Genesis trained by Grannie Goodness. When Big Barda, Kirby's zaftig Wonder Woman, falls for Mr. Miracle, her teammates pursue her to Earth and get their butts kicked. The gang has made occasional appearances since, in Karl Kesel's Guardians of Metropolis from Superman's 90s mullet era, and in Grant Morrison's 7 Soldiers and Final Crisis, but only Kirby brought his best game to the concept. A little known fact about this comic is that a copy was found in Henry Kissinger's briefcase when he visited China prior to Nixon in the early 70s. The event nearly caused an international incident and was later immortalized in "The R. Crumb $uck$$e$$ Story" in The People's Comics. (Bonus: Female Furies covers.)

The Grapplers (Marvel Two-in-One #54-56, 1979): Perfect 1970s cheese created by writers Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio along with artist John Byrne, the Grapplers were a team of women wrestlers given super-powers by an evil oil company so they could fuck-up Project Pegasus, a U.S. government alternative energy research facility where the Fantastic Four's Thing was hanging out as some sort of glorified security guard. Titania, Letha, Poundcakes, and Screaming Mimi were the big-thighed working girls who were joined by Thundra, the Amazon from another dimension who had been an off-and-on member of the FF cast for years and kind of had a crush on old Blue-Eyed Benjy. As with the Female Furies, Thundra rebelled from the group and they were eventually defeated by Black Giant-Man and Quasar, but lived to fight another day. I think I had an unhealthy obsession with this comic as a kid. Like, boner unhealthy.

Immola and the Luna Legion (1992): Joan Hilty created this group of lesbian superheroes for her contribution to the anthology comic Oh... and they later had an entire issue of the mag all to themselves (#8). I haven't seen this comic in the flesh but Hilty is an editor for DC and produces her own syndicated comic strip, Bitter Girl.

Femforce (Femforce #1, 1985): The team of superheroines created by Bill Black for his Americomics line of sexploitation, t&a, and public domain comics reprints. The team was made up of Blue Bulleteer (based on Phantom Lady), Miss Victory, and She-Cat (based on Harvey's Black Cat), Rio Rita (based on Fiction House's Senorita Rio) and a mix of other characters, some from 1940s comics appropriated by Black, other created whole cloth in the 1980s. Nancy Reagan was reputedly a fan, was published on several letters pages, and even went so far as to invite the Americomics team to be her guests at the Los Angeles Olympics. Although I know of no all-female group from the 1940s, Americomics large-breasted retcon fantasy does its best to fill the void, with everything from dvds, web-serials, and, incredibly, over 100 issues of Femforce comics.

Birds of Prey (1996 to present, off and on):
Writer Chuck Dixon dreamed up the idea of a team-up of long-time DC superheroines Black Canary and Oracle (formerly Batgirl) set in a gritty noir-ish Batman-style continuity. Writer Gail Simone later added The Huntress as a core character of the continuing series. It was a tv series and later Gilbert Hernandez even wrote some issues (no joke)! Maybe because Gilbert is also a big fan of girl groups and created those weird leaping ladies from the Roy stories. Now that DC is competing with Warners/DC one on one, look for more superteams featuring lesbian mermaids and S&M princesses.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mystery Hoard: Dried-Up Superheroes

Received a small Mystery Hoard of 1970s-80s comic books yesterday. The person who brought them into the shop is an acquaintance of mine who works in the waste management industry and the books are a little crispy, as if they were once moist or among moist garbage and then dried-out under a lamp or something, but they don't have any smell besides that nostalgic old paper aroma.

Captain Marvel #58 (1978) An issue of one of those second-string superhero comics from 70s Marvel, illustrated by Pat Broderick. This is the kind of cartoonist I used to be dismissive of, but now see he has an interestingly dynamic approach to panel design and figures. Awkward-seeming but vigorous, if you know what I mean. Inventive. Lush inks, by Bob McLeod, that nicely highlight the tight, well-muscled buttocks of the protagonists --when Mar-Vel fights Drax the Destroyer it looks like two oily seals frolicking in the ocean. The book also has some nice colour effects which I've just checked and discovered are by "F. Mouly" --who I assume is RAW magazine founder and Toon Books editor Francoise Mouly so that explains that. The story by Doug Moench is a boring slugfest redeemed by a few panels of typical "70s Marvel-style" soul-searching involving Capt Marvel wandering around Denver, Colorado in a leather jacket.

Invaders #32 (1978) Classic Jack Kirby cover featuring Hitler and Thor wraps up an adventure of Roy Thomas' retro superteam, with art from the team of Alan Kupperberg and Frank Springer. Great sketchy, anxious-looking cartooning with figures composed of angles and planar surfaces. Characters squat and twist to fit into the panels. Lots of leiber gotts, etc. Bonus: a surprise appearance by Josef Stalin. The Invaders have to protect the mass-murderer from Russia from their future ally, the God of Thunder. A weird pop political artifact.

Thor #281 (1979) Totally forgettable story of Thor fighting the Space Phantom in limbo, trying to find his hammer, and then getting stuck in one of those time/space nexus thingies. Post-Buscema art by Keith Pollard and Pablo Marcos. Lame dialogue sample: "The fool has fallen into the trap as planned --baited with my lies about his hammer. His immortal body will serve as a timeless cork --plugging the hole from real-time into limbo..." I think this might be the philosophy behind the upcoming Kenneth Branagh Thor movie.

Fantastic Four #210 (1979) I actually read these FFs when they came out! They haven't aged well. 210 is a by-the-numbers space-opera actioner by Wolfman/Byrne/Sinnott --"The Search for Galactus!" featuring B.E.M.s, a M.I.L.F., and H.E.R.B.I.E.

Fantastic Four #220 (1980) One of the early "all-Byrne" issues, 220 has a dramatic red and black (and pink and yellow and white) cover. Very undramatic storytelling from Byrne does little to enhance a plot about a mysterious alien invasion and crystalline structures, interspersed with slice-of-life vignettes of the first family of superheroes shopping, etc, in the nostalgic Lee-Kirby vein. Questionable highlight: the team flies to the North Pole with a cameo from Byrne creation Guardian, the Canadian superhero.

Fantastic Four #224 (1980) The FF go back to the North Pole and encounter more crystals housing a lost city of vikings, in a horrible story by Doug Moench illustrated in a boring pedestrian post-Adams style by a young Bill Sienkiewicz.

Marvel Two-in-One King-Size Annual #3 (1978) An epic issue of the Thing team-up title guest-starring "The Man Called Nova" in another bland story (plot and dialogue by Marv Wolfman) about an alien invasion. Lots of repetition in this Hoard. The art is by the majestic Sal Buscema, one of my favourite oddball 70s artists. His weirdness is kind of damped down here, unfortunately due to the uninspiring material and deadline, I'm sure. Some nice green aliens and women with pointy breasts (not as banana-shaped and pointy as Infantino breasts, though). Sal cranked-out 33 pages of layouts for this annual which were then inked without love by Dave Hunt and Frank Giacoia. I thought I would like this the most, but it's kind of a disappointing waste.

Friday, March 12, 2010

2010 Doug Wright Award Nominees

So, the list of nominees for the Wright Awards was released today. I was on the nominating committee again this year which was alot of fun and a great privilege. The newest member of the committee was Sean Rogers who writes about comics for The Walrus magazine and provided the Wrights with a necessary kick in the ass in terms of his wide-ranging comics and cultural interests, youthful exuberance, and superfine taste. These skills came in handy for the long discussions we had about the potential nominees, what books to include in what category, and what exactly qualifies as comics. The result is a very diverse list of awesome books and cartoonists, some of whom were unknown to me before the deliberations began. I'm also pretty excited about the new location for the awards this year, the brand-spanking new Bram and Bluma Appel Salon, located on the top floor of the Toronto Reference Library where TCAF is being held.

I think Max at Sequential was the first to kick out the press release but you can check out the whole awards site here.

6th annual awards to be handed out as part of Toronto Comics Arts Festival

March 12, 2010 Toronto- Running the gamut from the acclaimed to the unconventional, the 15 finalists for this year's Doug Wright Awards were announced today in Toronto.

Hand-picked by an esteemed panel of comics experts, the 2010 finalists represent the finest, most thought-provoking work produced by Canada's vibrant comics community.

The shortlist contains works that explore diverse subjects, from the legendary life of Kasper Hauser and the fictional life (and death) of a fading TV host, and spans a range of formats, from wordless lino-cuts graphic novels to "manga" inspired by Western Canadian Haida mythology.

The Doug Wright Awards finalists for Best Book are:

* Back + Forth by Marta Chudolinska (The Porcupine's Quill)
* George Sprott: (1894-1975) by Seth (Drawn and Quarterly)
* Hot Potatoe by Marc Bell (Drawn and Quarterly)
* Kaspar by Diane Obomsawin (Drawn and Quarterly)
* Red: A Haida Manga by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas (Douglas and McIntyre)

The Doug Wright Awards finalists for Best Emerging Talent are:

* Adam Bourret I'm Crazy
* Michael DeForge Lose #1 (Koyama Press), Cold Heat Special #7 (Picturebox)
* Pascal Girard Nicolas (Drawn and Quarterly)
* John Martz It's Snowing Outside. We Should Go For a Walk.
* Sully The Hipless Boy (Conundrum Press)

The finalists for the 2010 Pigskin Peters Award (for unconventional, "nominally-narrative" comics) are:

* Bébête Simon Bossé (L'Oie de Cravan)
* Dirty Dishes by Amy Lockhart (Drawn and Quarterly)
* Hot Potatoes by Marc Bell (Drawn and Quarterly)
* Never Learn Anything From History by Kate Beaton
* The Collected Doug Wright Volume One by Doug Wright (Drawn and Quarterly)

Founded in 2004 (in a dimly lit Toronto bar) to celebrate the finest in English-language comics and graphic novels, The Doug Wright Awards have since evolved into one of North America's foremost comics awards and one of its most anticipated events.

Wright Awards finalists defy easy categorization, and include past and present masters of the form and off-the-beaten-path newcomers alike, all vying for one of the most unique and coveted trophies in comics.

This year's nominees were chosen by a five-member panel who chose from works released in the 2009 calendar year. The panel included: comics historian and author Jeet Heer; filmmaker Jerry Ciccoritti; cartoonist Chester Brown; Walrus comics blogger Sean Rogers, and writer and publisher Bryan Munn.

The winners are chosen by a jury that includes cartoonists, writers, actors, directors, musicians and, on occasion, politicians.

A featured event of the Toronto Comics Arts Festival (TCAF), the 2010 Doug Wright Awards ceremony will take place on Sat. May 8, at 7 pm at the Toronto Reference Library's new Bram & Bluma Appel Salon.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Anniversary Comics

Tom Spurgeon celebrated the 200th edition of his "Five For Friday" feature with a list of anniversary comics and events today. My own list is represented but there are lots of other books to look at there. And lots of chances to wonder "Why are anniversary editions of comics so crappy?" Too much pressure coupled with the inability of most kids comics creators of decades past to cobble together longer narratives on a monthly schedule. Still, I have nostalgic fond feelings for many of the 70s-80s comics on the list. Avengers #200 (Ms Marvel has a baby after being raped by a cloud who turned out to be her own son, or something, in a notorious story by Jim Shooter/Bob Layton/David Michelinie and art by George Perez that I absolutely loved as a kid in 1980) is just one "classic" anniversary comic of woe. I like the "War in Heaven/Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink"-style bloated epics like Thor #300 and Swamp Thing #50. Superman Family #200 is an awful comic that I nontheless treasure. But the best of the bunch from the lists at Comics Reporter is the awesome "big butt" cover from Hate #30. Because you can't spell classic without "class" and "ass".

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Monday, March 01, 2010

2009 Canadian Graphic Novels and Comics: The Long List 1.0

Just putting together my reference list of English-language Canadian comics published in 2009 in preparation for the upcoming Doug Wright Awards nomination meetings. The actual awards are scheduled for Saturday May 8 during TCAF at the Toronto Reference Library.

The list so far, based on the books I've read and/or spotted in the wild:

Angora Napkin, Troy Little (IDW)
Back and Forth, Marta Chudolinska (Porcupine's Quill)
Beast, Marian Churchland (Image)
Bebete by Simon Bosse
Binky the Space Cat, Ashley Spires (Kids Can Press)|
Claire and the Water Wish, Janice Poon (Kids Can Press)
The Delicious Bug, Janet Perlman (Kids Can)
Dirty Dishes, Amy Lockhart (D+Q)
George Sprott, Seth (D+Q)
The Hipless Boy, Sully (Conundrum)
Hot Potatoe, Marc Bell (D+Q)
I'm Crazy, Adam Bourret (self)
Jan's Atomic Heart, Simon Roy (New Reliable Press)
Jellaby: Monster in the City (Hyperion)
Kaspar, Diane Obomsawin (D+Q)
Lose, Michael Deforge (Koyama Press)
Mirror Mind by Tory Woollcott (self-published/Maybe Mumkin)
Nightschool: The Weirn Books, Volume 1, Svetlana Chmakova (Yen)
The Nobody, Jeff Lemire (DC/Vertigo)
Papercut Heart, Ian Sullivan Cant (Conundrum)
Parker: The Hunter, Darwyn Cooke (IDW)
Poof! by Line Gamache (Conundrum)
Pope Hats 1, Ethan Rilley (Adhouse)
Quarter-Life Crisis: Only the Good Die Yung, Evan Munday (self)
Red: A Haida Manga, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas (Douglas and McIntyre)
Rex Libris, Vol 2, James Turner (SLG)
The Road to God Knows, Von Allan (self)
Scaredy Squirrel At Night, Melanie Watt (Kids Can Press)
Scott Pilgrim vs The Universe (Scott Pilgrim Vol 5), Bryan Lee O'Malley (Oni)
Sword Of My Mouth #1, Jim Munroe and Shannon Gerard, (IDW)
Spot 12: The Story of a Birth by Jenny Jaeckel (self/mini)
Taddle Creek Summer 2009 (anthology)
True Loves Vol. 2: Trouble in Paradise anthology, ed Jason Turner (New Reliable Press)
Tyranny, Lesley Fairfield (Tundra Books)
The Undertaking, Michael J.Hind (Conundrum Press)
A Very Kraftwerk Summer, Christopher Hutsul (Koyama Press)
Warlod of Io & Other Stories (One-Shot), James Turner (SLG)

For those rare serialized "floppy" comics by established creators, like Dave Sim's Glamourpuss which I'm quite enjoying, I'm "waiting for the book." I'd appreciate any suggestions for additions. The Wright Awards are mainly a book award, so suggestions for consideration should generally be in book form. We also consider comic books and mini-comics, especially for the Best Emerging Talent and Pigskin Peters prizes.