Saturday, 29 May 2010

Comic Shop Interview: Philippe & Philippe (Arkham, Paris)

Philippe & Philippe, comic purveyors extraordinaire

Sure, Paris might be world-renowned for its beautiful museums, awe-inspiring architecture and history, but (call us crazy) one of our favourite things to do whilst in the city of lights is visiting comic shops. With a whole host of stores offering a vast array of bandes dessinées, it's a real paradise for lovers of Francophone comics. Standing apart from the crowd in the city's 5th arrondissment is Arkham, which offers something which many would not necessarily expect: English-language comics, and plenty of them.

Helmed by the fearless team of  Philippe and Philippe (listed in alphabetical order), Arkham has one of the most impressive selection of North American comics found this side of the Atlantic. Putting even UK comic stores to shame with shelves that include titles from all levels of the publishing industry, everything from The Incredible Hulk to Jimbo is there and on offer to patrons.

Undeterred by the terrifying connotations of its name, we invited Paris' own dynamic duo to talk a little bit about the store as well as their outlook on the industry and their recent forays into internet television and Youtube. 

Arkham’s a pretty interesting store, in that it is something of an inversion of expectations: an American-style comic shop in the middle of Paris. Is this an integral part of Arkham’s identity?

The aim has always been, above all, to mix mainstream superhero and more independent and alternative comics, as well as comic heritage and reprints. That being said, there isn't really any strategy. The bookshop is, so to say, in our image; we like the different styles within the American comic scene. Our very specialised business structure is the only hope against the "culture supermarkets"! We never forget that we are a bookshop foremost, though; the superheroes and action figures only represent a small part of our activity. We like a challenge!

A selection of the diverse books on offer at the store

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Review: The Best of Solipsistic Pop 2

Whilst we make no secret of our love of anthologies at ATF, sometimes it’s difficult to find enough space in a review to focus on all the deserving individual contributions we enjoyed. To illustrate this point, the original edit of our Solipsistic Pop 2 article ended up running to around 2,500 words in length. Throwing caution to the wind, we thought “to hell with it!” and decided that we’d supplement the original article by giving a detailed run-down of our five favourite comics from the book. Fast earning a reputation of becoming the flagship anthology of alternative comics in the UK, read on for yet more reasons to go pick up a copy.

The Tears of Tommy CooperAdam Cadwell

Sideburns galore in this wonderfully-composed comic

Monday, 24 May 2010

Review: Solipsistic Pop 2 (Solipsistic Pop Books, 2010)

Cover by Luke Pearson

Late last year, the first volume of Solipsistic Pop arrived in a blaze of fervorous glory. Bookended by manifesto-like declarations of intent, it was a long-overdue call-to-arms for British comics talent to mobilise. With Eagle-award winning creator Tom Humberstone at its helm (creator of Art School Scum and How to Date a Girl in 10 Days), the anthology’s intention was to “provide a support structure and outlet for UK alternative comics artists”, something that has been very sorely needed in the country’s barren domestic comics industry for years now. Full of enthusiasm, talent and several unwieldy stuck-on inserts, it was anything but ordinary, and all the more fun for it.

Now, six months later, the anthology returns to deliver another noble and very necessary kick in the face to readers and publishers alike. Streamlined in terms of format (gone are the essays and attached micro comics of its forbearer) and coming bound in one of the most magnificent covers in recent memory, the anthology (which comes with a pull-out supplement entitled Solipsistic Pop: The Funnies), is host to all manner of weird and wonderful strips. If sabotaged confectionery, garden gnomes and Sylvia Plath levitating dogs with the power of her mind sound like your cup of tea, this is definitely the book for you. And let’s face it; how could anyone ever be against the latter?

"Middle of the Storm" by Julia Scheele

Friday, 21 May 2010

Interview: Kathryn and Stuart Immonen, creators of "Moving Pictures"

Stuart & Kathryn Immonen, the Brangelina of the comic world

In some sort of bizarre inverse world where Us Weekly covered the world of comic books, there's no doubt in our mind that writer/artist team Kathryn and Stuart Immonen would be classed as a "power couple". Working for Marvel and DC on characters such as Spiderman, Superman and X-Men, they are household names in the mainstream comics market. Somewhat of a departure from their work for the big two, their new book, Moving Pictures (our review here), will be released next month by Top Shelf. Originally serialised on their website, the comic sees a museum curator engaged in a resistance plot to protect works of art in Nazi-occupied France.

Not quite as inaccessible as Brangelina, we invited the Immonens to talk to us about their book, which our review described as a "thought-provoking piece that asks questions about the value of objects and the commodification of people in wartime". Read on  for an illuminating interview that includes information on their inspirations behind the comic, their working processes as well as their next big personal project, Russian Olive to Red King.

What led to your interest in the subject of art in Nazi-occupied France?

Kathryn Immonen: Years ago, I was reading Janet Flanner’s Letters from Paris. It’s a collection of the journalistic letters she wrote as the Paris correspondent for The New Yorker during the war years. And at one point she mentioned that the cleaning of the Louvre as a by-product of the shifting of the art out of the city.  It was just so strange and funny. But I really started thinking about those guys with the rags and the cans of Pledge and the buckets of ammonia water... small domestic  activities that were a side-effect of big global acts of violence and, in a lot of ways, imagination. So, I guess, I’m not really interested at all in the big subject of the art theft (and it’s huge) but in a really small moment. There are so many personal memoirs from the time that paint such an interstitial picture. MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf is another favourite in the same vein.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Review: Everything Dies 1 & 2, Box Brown (self-published, 2009-2010)

To quote the advertising material of Box Brown’s series Everything Dies, the comic “answers every question you have about religion and features God’s penis." Whilst the former claim is very much tongue-in-cheek, I can confirm that the latter is absolutely true, and, let me tell you, God is suitably hungDeistic dongs aside, Brown (the Philadelphia-based creator behind Bellen! and Xeric-funded Love is a Peculiar Type of Thing) has created a captivating new series that reflects on a selection of the world's major (and minor) spiritual traditions of life and death. In collecting and re-presenting this religious material, the comic offers a pensive, funny and sometimes even poignant look into the stories and metaphors our species has created to assess its own fragile existence.

Issue 1: "Heart of Stonework"

Monday, 10 May 2010

Interview: Jarrett Williams, creator of "Super Pro K.O.!"

Jarrett Williams, no doubt challenging his readers to a test of strength

Last week, we squeezed ourselves into our sequined tights, laced up our boots and prepared to face Jarrett Williams, creator of the upcoming pro-wrestling themed graphic novel Super Pro K.O.!, in an all-action high-flying interview match-up for the ages. Secretly fans of the squared circle, we jumped at the chance to ask him about the influences behind the comic. Countering our questions with expertly-timed answers that featured everything from Stone Cold Steve Austin to Nintendo and even the great expanses of universe itself, it's a fun and enlightening read about one of the most action-packed indie comics of the year so far.

Caveat Emptor: there's a teeny-tiny amount of wrestling-lingo, so we've included notes for those of you who might not be so interested in big oily men grappling each other. Fools, the lot of you.

With the comic featuring a fair bit of insider wrestling lingo, it’s very obvious that you’re a genuine fan. What made you decide to create the characters and over-the-top world of Super Pro K.O.!?

It's pretty crazy actually. I've been into pro wrestling from young. My cousin was really into it and that pretty much rubbed off on me. He was seven years older than me so he was cool by default. At the same time comics, cartoons, and video games super inspired me. They all seemed connected to me as a child.

Around two years ago, I was looking to draw something different. I had been drawing my web-comic Lunar Boy for years and self published a bunch of mini-comics and graphic novels. I needed to draw something brand new. I remember feeling like I definitely was pigeonholing myself.  Not that it’s a bad thing to really stick it out with one story for the long haul, but I felt like I wanted to be the type of artist that could tell all sorts of tall tales. Super Pro K.O.! was sparked from a place of wanting to push myself out of my comfort zone. I needed to draw something new. I wanted a fresh beginning, kinda'.

I always think you should pull inspiration from things around you. I started really thinking about why I loved pro wrestling and thought that there was something there that would really fit with the type of stories I loved to draw. The rules of pro wrestling can be as simple or as technical as you want them to be. But the confinement of the ring and the nature of that business sort of helped me lay some solid ground rules for that universe.

Jarrett was kind enough to draw exclusive SPKO art for ATF. What a gent!

Friday, 7 May 2010

Interview: Joe Daly, creator of "Dungeon Quest"

Joe Daly, the writer/ artist behind the sublimely demented Scrublands and The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book met with us to talk about his new book with Fantagraphics, Dungeon Quest: Book One.  Read on to hear Mr. Daly's thoughts on the influences behind the Angoulême Jury Prize winning book, how video games informed its creation, his recurring cast of characters, and why he considers it to be "a mixture between Lord of the Rings and Easy Rider". Extensive and informative, the interview also touches upon the South African comics scene, why he avoids the politicalisation of race in his work, and, finally, the relaxing properties of clay sculpting.

Dungeon Quest is about to see its North American release via Fantagraphics, who previously published Scrublands and The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book. How did you get involved with the company in the first place?

After completing the first 10 pages of the first Red Monkey story in about 2001, I submitted it to Fantagraphics books. They initially showed interest in publishing the work, but after a year of me waiting for a conclusive answer they decided to pass on the project. I then approached a South African publisher, Double Storey books (a newly started general book publisher), who said they’d be interested in publishing the complete story (as a 32 pg. book), IF I could first publicize the work somehow, to gauge the market for such a book in South Africa (which traditionally doesn’t have a market for comic books). I posted some of the work on the internet, and eventually I was approached by the editors of SL (Student Life) magazine who were interested in trying out a comic page at the back of their magazine. Thus first Red Monkey story was serialized in SL magazine, published in South Africa. After the serialization was concluded it was published by SL and Double Storey books as a hardback book in 2003, in South Africa only. I think the book did as well as could be expected in the South African book market (i.e. a very mediocre sales performance). At this point I was already working on the material that would become Scrublands, which I showed to Double Story books. It didn’t take long for them to pass on the project, and in a way I can’t blame them because it’s a very weird book, very avant-garde, and the South African book market is not big enough to support cult/fringe material like Scrublands. Ultimately, Scrublands is my favorite book of mine (so far) and it went on to the shortlist for the Eisner award in 2007 (it didn’t win an award). It is published in the USA and in France but it is still very much a fringe comic book (even by fringe comic book standards).

As far as I can recall, it was about a year later (after the South African publication) when Fantagraphics communicated with me again and expressed interest in publishing the Red Monkey (for some reason the project had come to the attention of Gary Groth, who now saw potential in it). They agreed they would publish the project IF I could expand it from a 32 page story into a more substantial ‘graphic novel’. I then planned The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book, and offered Scrublands to Fantagraphics at the same time. They were happy to publish Scrublands, and that book was published in 2006. The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book was published three years later in 2009. 

Dungeon Quest Book One: something we can all identify with, I'm sure

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Interview: Jordan Shiveley, editor of "HIVE"

Grass-roots movement (boom boom): HIVE editor Jordan Shiveley 

One of the most passionate people you'll find in the world of small press comics, Jordan Shiveley helms Grimalkin Press, the small publishing outfit responsible for the HIVE series of anthologies. Very much the "little engine that could" of comics publishing, Grimalkin continues to grow bigger and brighter, with HIVE  featuring such indie comics talent as Jeffrey Brown, Noah Van Sciver, and up-and-coming Jess Smart Smiley (who, a little birdie tells me, has gone on to secure a deal with a major indie comics publisher). With the 4th edition of its flagship publication on the way, we invited Jordan to take part in an interview with us. 

For those not in the know, please describe the HIVE anthology as you see it.

HIVE started out as an anthology built out of the work from members of a local drawing group I started in Springfield, MO. I loved making it so much that I realized that this was what I wanted to do forever and immediately opened it up to anyone, anywhere, and it has gone from there. I see HIVE as being more interested in the intent and merit of comics than their marketability, which of course makes us not everyone’s cup of tea.

I choose artists from as wide a range of topics and styles as possible. I don’t want it to be a book of just perfect immaculate illustrations;  I’m amazed by artists who work like that, and we do have people in HIVE who are crazy awesome ink technicians, but I want it to have a much wider base representation. You don’t have to be the next Woodring or Thompson to get into HIVE. I see it as a vehicle to get all those great comics that are sitting in sketchbooks or seldom-frequented blogs into wider circulation.

An extract from "Please",  part of the upcoming HIVE #4

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Review: Moving Pictures, Kathryn & Stuart Immonen (Top Shelf, 2010)

Writer: Kathryn Immonen
Artist: Stuart Immonen
Format: 14.6cm x 21cm, softcover, black and white, 144 pages
Price: $14.95 (US)
Release: June 2010

The Second World War has long been a fertile subject matter for fiction. Arguably unparalleled in political, economic or emotional scope, the conflict’s subsequent reverberations on the global socio-politico-economic landscape are still felt today. Offering almost unlimited fodder for writers to draw from, a consequence is that literature and entertainment media can, at times, feel oversaturated by the era. It’s a good thing then, that Kathryn and Stuart Immonen’s WW2-set Moving Pictures is absolutely outstanding.

Part of what makes this book so appealing is precisely its avoidance of the overarching war itself. The writer-artist/ wife-husband duo create an emotionally interconnected microcosm of characters that exist against the backdrop of the conflict, rather than simply because of it.  More about the complex relationships between the characters than the war around them, the book’s tone (unlike its clear and striking art) is anything but black and white.