Review: Chiaroscuro

(Originally posted on my Ferret Press blog, February 2011)

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Back when IDW published my Lifelike book, they also collected and published two other indie/alternative comics: Pat Lewis’ The Claws Come Out, and Troy Little’s Chiaroscuro. (You may know Troy’s work from his more recent graphic novel, Angora Napkin.) Chiaroscuro started out as a self-published small press comics series, and follows the life of Steve Patch, an unemployed slacker artist living in a mysterious apartment building, and getting embroiled in a case of mistaken identity.

I really wanted to like this graphic novel, and it’s certainly not bad, but…well, maybe frustrating is a proper description. From a story/plot perspective, not much happens over the 200+ pages of this pseudo-slice of life book. A lot of interesting and intriguing plot points are introduced, to be sure – a ghost only seen by the protagonist, the (possibly) haunted/mysterious apartment building he lives in, strange men accosting him over letters sent to a mysterious person who used to live in his apartment, etc. But the problem is, nothing ever comes of any of these elements.

Heck, in the middle of the book, an entire issue (chapter) is devoted to the protagonist playing hoops with his best friend and shooting the breeze. So again, it’s not that the writing is bad. Little has a great ear for dialogue, and the banter between Steve and his friends is very authentic and funny. But for such an apparently ambitious narrative, the pace is glacial and the non-ending extremely unsatisfying. Granted, this is listed as “Book 1″ but it’s fairly obvious the series is not going to be continued.

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On the other hand, Little’s the artwork is gorgeous. The somewhat cartoony style used to depict the characters is juxtaposed against a very realistic chiaroscuro style used to depict the backgrounds and settings. Think Dave Sim (Cerebus) or Alex Robinson (Box Office Poison). In fact, looking at the way Little hand letters everything, and the fact that Sim has had good words to say about the book, it’s no stretch to imagine he is more than a little inspired, and influenced, by Dave Sim. Little is a master of crosshatching, and does amazing things with body language, facial expressions, and gestures.

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Too bad the narrative was almost non-existent. It’s a matter of personal taste, to be sure, but for me story always comes first. Perhaps if Chiaroscuro was played as a straight slice-of-life yarn, that wouldn’t have been an issue. But with so many quirky/supernatural plot points introduced but never delivered on, it’s more than a little frustrating.

Indie Cover Spotlight: Lots O’ Christmas Covers!

Merry Christmas, loyal blog readers. In honor of today’s holiday, here’s a bevy of weird independent comic book covers that have something to do with Christmas:

Art: Dan Fraga. Published: 1996, Maximum press

Art: Dan Fraga. Published: 1996, Maximum press

Art: James O'Barr. Published: 1989, Caliber Press.

Art: James O’Barr. Published: 1989, Caliber Press.

Art: unknown. Published: 1991, Vortex.

Art: unknown. Published: 1991, Vortex.

Art: Dave Stevens. Published: 1988, Comico.

Art: Dave Stevens. Published: 1988, Comico.

Art: . Published: .

Art: Dan Day . Published: 1999, ACG.

Art: Mike Deodato Jr. Published: 1995, Image Comics.

Art: Mike Deodato Jr. Published: 1995, Image Comics.

I don’t know which cover is more disturbing, the Christmas Horror Special, or the horrible anatomy on the Glory cover where she’s giving a handjob to a snowman…

Splash Wednesday: Broderick, Trimpe, Netzer, Kane, and Kordey

To make up for last week’s lean offering, here’s a bunch of pages. Don’t say I didn’t get you guys anything for Christmas!

We’ll start with a couple of scans provided by my friend Matt Kish. Here’s Pat Broderick, from The Micronauts #19:

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Next up, a crazy-ass page by Herb Trimpe, from Shogun Warriors #13:

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Here’s a nicely surreal page by Michael Netzer (under the pen name Mike Nasser), from DC Special Series #15: Batman Spectacular:

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And finally, the way back machine takes us to my old Ferret Press blog, and this entry from October 13, 2010:

Man, it’s an all-out posting extravaganza today, isn’t it? Anyway, with PANELista Craig Bogart’s schedule busy, I’m going to take over his feature again and post a splash page for the week. So here, for your visual enjoyment, is a page from the late, great Gil Kane:

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This is from Sword of the Atom Special #1, published by DC in 1984. Script by Jan Strnad, art by Gil Kane. If you’re wondering about the caption boxes, the conceit of the issue is that we’re reading fictional author Norman Brawler’s foreword to his book “The Atom’s Farewell”.

And another classic, from October 20, 2010:

Feature founder Craig has outsourced his work to me, so here’s the splash page for this week:

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From Batman/Tarzan: Claws of the Cat-Woman #2 (of 4), published jointly by DC and dark Horse Comics, October 1999. Art by the underrated Igor Kordey, who got a bad rap because he was Marvel’s go-to guy for years when a book was behind schedule and 22 pages of art needed to be cranked out in a weekend. But when given a normal schedule, he really knocked it out of the park, as in the creator-owned book Smoke (published by IDW).

Anyway, I love the lush sense of depth in this splash, as well as the mood and atmosphere, with Tarzan’s anguished cry. Good stuff.

Persia Blues: Finalist for SPACE Prize 2014

I’m thrilled to announce that Persia Blues, my graphic novel with Brent Bowman, has been nominated for the 2014 S.P.A.C.E. Prize in the graphic novel category!

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Now coming up on it’s 16th year, S.P.A.C.E. (Small Press & Alternative Comics Expo) is the Midwest’s longest running exhibition of small press,creator owned and art comics. And Columbus’ only locally owned and operated comics show. Sponsored by Back Porch Comics.

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The winners will be picked from three voting bodies in each category: two rotating judges and the registered SPACE 2014 Exhibitors themselves. Winners will be announced at next year’s SPACE, which takes place in Columbus, Ohio on April 11 & 12, 2015.

Splash Wednesday: Bill Sienkiewicz

Sorry, running late and short on time today, so just the one “classic” post from the old Ferret Press blog (originally posted September 2010). Next week I’ll be back with a trio of pages.

“Since Craig’s schedule has been pretty busy of late, I thought I’d go ahead and post a page for this new feature that he started here on the blog. So here’s this week’s splash page, from New Mutants #19 (Sept. 1984), by Bill Sienkiewicz:

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Having shed his Neal Adams influence (as showcased in the Moon Knight comics), Bill grew into his own in the pages of New Mutants. His painted covers for the book, combined with his decidedly non-Marvel house style interiors, really made this a book that transcended its X-Men spin-off origins. This is from the second chapter of the ‘Demon Bear’ saga.”

Indie Cover Spotlight: Dragonring #13 (vol. 2)

This week, I’m revisiting a title I’ve featured several times before, the high adventure series Dragonring, from Aircel publishing:

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This issue came out in November of 1987, and featured some of the earliest artwork of Dale Keown, who would go on to a short-lived superstardom on Marvel’s The Incredible Hulk, and his own indie series, The Pitt.

Marvel artists on choreographing fight scenes

I love behind-the-scenes process glimpses, and this Onion A.V. Club article shows 3 different artists, and their process for staging a fight sequence.

My favorite is this Moon Knight page, by Declan Shalvey:

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AVC: I love that last panel of the gutter bleeding into Moon Knight’s cape, an effect that you use a few times on the series. What is the reasoning for that visual choice?

DS: Well, I made the choice to try and use white as a graphic device. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to play with that device, considering one iconic thing about Moon Knight is the white of his costume. I realized that I had a rare opportunity to do something a little different and kept it in mind.