Author Archive

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The Seven Most Important Panels at SDCC 2014

July 23rd, 2014 Posted by david brothers

THURSDAY, 2:00, Room 23ABC: I IS FOR INFINITY, featuring Nick Dragotta, Rick Remender, Richard Starkings, Jason Latour, Stuart Moore, Ryan Burton, and a few special guests I can’t name yet! This is about the infinite genres comics can do.

THURSDAY, 7:00, Room 23ABC: Hip-Hop & Comics: Cultures Combining, featuring Murs, Mix Master Mike, Kenny Keil, and a few others. It’s about…it’s bout it bout it.

FRIDAY, 11:00, Room 23ABC: I IS FOR INCEPTION, featuring Fiona Staples, Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky, Kelly Sue DeConnick, John Layman, Steve Seagle, and a couple of special guests who do dope work. This one’s about collaboration, and there’s a cover reveal in here. Whose? SHOW UP.

SATURDAY, 1:00, Room 7AB: SAGA, featuring Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples. I’m not moderating this one, but I’ll probably be present or on A/V duty.

SATURDAY, 4:30, Room 6DE: I IS FOR IDEAS, featuring Scott Snyder, Josh Williamson, Kyle Higgins, Joe Kelly, Brian K Vaughan, and a few special guests. There’s a cool announcement at this one, so come through.

SATURDAY, 7:00, Room 23ABC: Best and Worst Manga of 2014, featuring Deb Aoki, Brigid Alverson, and Chris Butcher. I love this panel—I respect these folks so much. This is the one where I tell you your favorite manga sucks and my favorite manga rules.

SUNDAY, 2:00, Room 7AB: I IS FOR INNOVATION, featuring Amy Reeder, Chris Burnham, Tula Lotay, and some Expo guests who are particularly ferocious storytellers are on deck. This one’s about being an artist in comics, storytelling, and making some good comics.

When I’m not at these, I’ll be at booth 2729, putting out fires and busting heads.

For the Image panels—I brought some random #1s with me. Ask a question, get a free comic, probably of my choosing. I’ve got some Shaky Kanes in here, so stay woke. It’s a random selection of books, but you might get lucky. I’ll have digital codes for a free comic on imagecomics.com falling out my pockets, too. I’ll be the dressed up black dude. Come say hey.

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Beyond Outrage

July 14th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Kanye West is a passionate dude.

The passion is what makes his art work. People connected to him because they can feel that passion. It’s visible through his work, whether it’s a banging beat or some deft observation about life. He has a habit of doing scheduled interludes at his concerts, where he talks about whatever’s on his mind. It’s the most direct way to view his passion, I think, because it feels relatively unfiltered—it isn’t, we know that, but it feels more raw than a song—and it’s not hidden behind layers of cleverness.

He’s talked about his struggle to gain traction in the fashion industry, despite his success with Nike. He’s talked about what he wants to be to society, who he respects, what he hates, and what he loves. It’s wide-ranging, but that makes sense, because West is self-admittedly a guy who is interested in a lot of things, from Margiela to Akira.

These interludes are almost always called “rants” by music journalists. Despite being planned, despite being a regular feature, they are “rants” because…Kanye West is a passionate dude, and sometimes he gets emotional when talking about things. You can see it when he goes in on Sway on Shade45 or when he got at George W Bush over Katrina.

By calling these interludes “rants,” the media is painting West with a very specific brush. The word rant implies that the thoughts are off-the-cuff, overly emotional, and therefore invalid. It’s “Look what this kooky guy said now!” instead of engaging with any of his points.

It happens to all of us, of course. We all have triggers that make us get weepy or excited in conversation, I know I have a lot of dumb ones, but that doesn’t make them invalid or malformed. It just means you care, right? And that your level of care exceeds your calm nature for a moment. The opinions you’re expressing aren’t invalid because you stumble over your words or have to pause to collect yourself.

Passion isn’t perfect. I think that’s pretty obvious. West isn’t 100% right about everything, but he has been 100% right about specific things. The presence of passion doesn’t mean that you have to believe everything someone says. It’s just a factor that will, or should, help you judge what they’re saying and where they’re coming from. By recognizing West’s passion, I can tell that he genuinely cares about the stuff he’s talking about, and that helps me evaluate how I feel about what he said and where he’s coming from.

But he’s not ranting. He’s speaking his mind.


Comics has an outrage problem.

I don’t mean people getting up in arms over things, either. That’s an issue unto itself, and like anything else, it could be better than it currently is in several different ways, but that’s not today’s conversation.

What I’m talking about is how we—the comics community—describe, talk about, and address the concerns of people who are upset about one thing or another. The way we talk about outrage fatigue, outrage-of-the-week, faux outrage, outrage-o-matic, misplaced outrage, another outrage, this outrage, that outrage, and why it’s gross and short-sighted. How we use “tumblr” as a pejorative but ignore the poison in our own forums and followers.

The way we use the word outrage suggests that the outrage in question is fake and irrational, on account of being poorly thought-out and overly emotional. It happens every time someone brings up a point to do with equality, sexism, racism, or justice. It’s the same tactic the music media uses to devalue Kanye’s rants. They’re invalid, an inconvenience, annoying, or fake because you can see the emotions driving it, and emotional reactions aren’t valid.

We use the presence of passion to first diminish and then dismiss arguments. The offended must play by the rules of the unoffended, or even worse, the offenders, in order to be heard. You have to tamp down that pain if you want to get help or fix it. You can see it when people say things like “Thank you for being civil” when arguing something heated with someone they disagree with. Civility is great, sure, but we’re forcing people who feel like they’re under attack to meet us on our own terms. In reality, passion shouldn’t be dismissed. Passion has a purpose.

The way we treat passionate reactions is unbalanced, too. We eat up gleeful reviews or tweets like they’re pudding and retweet them by the dozen. There are sites out there that have used the word “masterpiece” over ten thousand times. We promote fawning interviews and king-making, but never once question passionate praise the way we do passionate criticism.

Comics as a community tends to react to every new outrage with disbelief and scorn, lumping them in with “the crazy ones” or “tumblr” instead of looking at what they’re actually saying and figuring out what it means. Every once and a while we’ll band together like “Yeah! That IS bad!” when something is particularly egregious and “safe” to comment on, but a month later? We’re back to blindly propping up garbage men and ignoring people’s pain. The arc of the argument is the same, whether we’re talking sexual harassment or creators’ rights.

No matter how you feel about whichever issue is at hand, whether you agree or disagree or loathe both sides, you should think real hard before responding to anything. Think about what the person is saying and where they’re coming from. Think about why they’re saying it. Think about your position in society, our culture, or our dumb little hobby and think about the position of the person you’re about to put on blast. Think about what you’re about to bring to the conversation. Think about how your words will be received, even if—especially if—the originator didn’t.

That’s a bitter pill to swallow, the idea that you should take your lumps and do the work you think somebody else didn’t do. But life sucks, y’all, and if I have to choose between someone who doesn’t like somebody else’s tone or someone who doesn’t really know how to argue but has fascinating points about our culture, I’m going for the latter, even when I’m the one under the gun. One of those people has a lot to lose. The other is inconvenienced.

That power differential is important to keep in mind. Despite the petitions, despite the so-called outrage, fans have very little real control over the comics industry. As professionals, as journalists or creators or promoters or whoever we are, our voice generally has a much, much broader reach than the offended. The weight of our reactions when criticized often goes much, much farther. We have less to lose by virtue of being in a position of power by default, and that makes it exceedingly important to check yourself and your reactions.


A lot of people don’t feel welcome in the greater comics community. We created and create this environment with our words and actions. If it’s not people hassling you over taste or creeping on you at cons or making “funny” jokes about things you care about, it’s seeing how people respond to outrage. When you see a community consistently dis and dismiss people expressing their pain, you’re less likely to share your own pain when the time comes, because odds are good you’re gonna feel a lot worse when the usual suspects get ahold of your words and the blowback starts coming in.

The way we talk about outrage-in-the-abstract has a way of building further outrage in addition to diminishing other types. Where some people will shy away out of self-preservation, others will go even harder because they know you won’t listen. They know their words will be skimmed and stripped of context before being ignored and insulted. To have a point you care deeply about and then to be told that point is irrelevant and invalid—that warrants anger, doesn’t it?

I have friends who simply don’t talk about things or hold back because they know their words will fall on deaf ears or worse. My friends have been screwed with on a level that’s incredibly frustrating and continually disappointing. In watching how they’re treated and talking to them about it, in watching what happens to the men and women who would rather send out tough guy threats and harassment, I’ve learned that a lot of things don’t get said because the offended doesn’t have any real power but their words, and others with more power will eagerly leverage their power to crush the dissent in the name of “keeping the peace.”

But we talk and we share and we know who is receptive to our stories, who will pretend like they are to gain brownie points or satisfy their ego, and who’ll smile and nod and move along at their earliest convenience because they just don’t care. We pay attention to the reaction to the outrage because the odds are good we’ll be in those shoes one day, should we decide our stories are worth the cost of the telling.

We’re in a complex place right now, in terms of our culture and people who speak on it. Suddenly a lot of people who were limited by the hateful whims of our culture in the past—non-whites, women, trans persons, gay people, and more—are able to sign up for a platform to express their views and speak their truth in a way that the mainstream has largely never seen before and often doesn’t know how to react to.

As a result, we’re realizing the way we enable -isms and hate by simply going about our daily lives the way we always have. We’re seeing the anger and sadness and passion that has been tamped down and ignored for years bubble up, and the conversations are often fraught with tension thanks to both sides and every participant coming from different places and contexts. There are more moving parts in these conversations than in two Space Shuttles.

Case in point: I realized I had to put subtle disclaimers in this piece just so someone wouldn’t get at me on some “Well, I don’t think all outrage is valid like you do, and here’s why you’re dumb for thinking that.” I know for a fact that’ll happen if I don’t try to beat it, even though other adults are clearly capable of understanding that talking about a thing isn’t necessarily complete unquestioning support of that thing.

That’s what I mean about the reaction to outrage being enlightening. I know the countermoves, the derailing moves, and I have to spin my wheels trying to head off the “Why don’t you get mad about real things?” or “You’re just angry all the time” or “Oh great, more faux outrage” goons on an essay that is fundamentally about how everyone should think more, jeer less, and process things a little bit longer before they react.

It sucks right now. I get that, and I empathize, whether you’re talking about the hate for the social justice conversation or the deluge of complaints that you can’t control and wish would stop. But it’s not gonna get better by going out of your way to talk about outrage and the outraged as if they were basic children, full of fury and lacking in thought. It’s not gonna get better when we have more editorials decrying “outrage” in general than we do editorials actively discussing and dissecting the outrage itself.

It’s not gonna get better if we choose ego instead of empathy every single time we’re up at bat. It’s not gonna get better if we aren’t willing to at least appear to listen. It’s not gonna get better if we paint every passionate criticism as “outrage” and stick our tongues out at it. It won’t get better if we pre-reject what people have to say.

If we paint every outrage with scare quotes and pithy jokes about the internet churning up outrage for no good reason, regardless of the outrage in question, we’re blocking progress. We’re telling some people not to share their thoughts, and we’re telling others that we don’t deserve their respect and honesty. Both are embarrassing, frankly, and abhorrent.

We need to be more kind, and this brand of kindness takes conscious effort.

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Genius: Renegades, Never Slaves

July 11th, 2014 Posted by david brothers



Way back in the bad old days of 2008, I read a comic called Genius. It was part of Top Cow’s Pilot Season program, an initiative meant to bring new blood into the industry and to the company, and it was created by Marc Bernardin, Adam Freeman, and Afua Richardson. Now, it’s 2014, I work at Image Comics, and Genius is on the way back this August as a weekly miniseries.

The concept of Genius struck me first. There have been several incredible military leaders throughout the years, and the latest is Destiny Ajaye, a young woman from South Central. Rather than becoming a kingpin or joining the military, she takes another route: armed insurrection. She unites the gangs and goes to war against the LAPD.

I’m an ’80s baby whose life was changed by Spike Lee’s Malcolm X and has spent a lot of time writing about the intersection of black culture and comics. The concept alone spoke to me, it reminded me of conversations and boasts that felt familiar and real. Bernardin and Freeman’s dialogue was on point and natural, authentically “black” without tipping over into parody or offensiveness. Richardson’s art was the bomb, inventive and kinetic and off-beat in all the right ways.

Genius hit me in my heart. There aren’t a lot of comics coming out of mainstream houses aimed at people like me, much less specifically me, but this one? It’s a comic that’s tailor-made for me, it feels like. The concept, the art, the focus on a majority-black and brown cast…there is something about Genius that other mainstream comics are lacking. It’s something different, something outside of the usual Direct Market experience.

It’s a familiar story, a Hero versus the enemy with an army at her back, but the twist is in the character work and the artwork. The characters feel familiar and honest, and Richardson’s artwork ranges from staging natural moments in a surreal manner to perfectly-emotive conversations. The creative team clicks for me.

A side effect of my job at Image is that I got issues 1-4 early as part of the production process. It’s work, but I read them while I was on vacation instead of waiting until I got back. I read them because I believe in Genius and Bernardin and Richardson and Freeman and I’m excited for this comic.

Final Order Cut-off for the comic is Monday. It’s shipping weekly in August, with two issues hitting on the last Wednesday of the month. If you shop at comic shops, tell them you want it. The Diamond Code for #1 is JUN140478, if you need it. Pre-ordering helps comics a lot, and for a book like this that’s sitting left-of-center with what’s prevalent, you’re going to need a little extra legwork to get what you need. You don’t have to pre-order it, it’ll presumably be available in a digital edition, but if you’re the pre-ordering type and you trust my taste, please call your shop and hook it up. I’m a fan, and I hope you will be, too.

I wrote about Afua Richardson for Black History Month 2011 and about Genius for ComicsAlliance in 2010.

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Fort of Apocalypse: violence comix

July 2nd, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Fort of Apocalypse - Kazu Inabe - 03

Fort of Apocalypse, written by Yuu Kuraishi and drawn by Kazu Inabe, isn’t that great. It’s serialized on Crunchyroll, and the hook is that it’s a horror manga with a zombie twist, mostly set in and around a Japanese juvenile detention center. It stars a group of boys who have to fight to survive in the school before being forced to fight for their lives as the world goes to hell. The problem is that it jettisons the most interesting aspects of that concept in favor of…bland twists, basically. It opens with a Nietzsche quote about gazing into the abyss, a painfully obvious move, and most characters are either borderline psychopathic, deranged, or totally cool with people doing deranged things on a regular basis. “You must be new here,” Fort of Apocalypse says. “Let’s start from the beginning.”

It’s endlessly derivative—or, being generous and disingenuous, “reminiscent”—of other, better, more popular works. Deadman Wonderland and The Walking Dead are the two most obvious touchstones for me, but there’s a bit of Highschool of the Dead and Lord of the Flies peeking in around the edges, too. Fort of Apocalypse lacks the ultra-fetishized hyper-sexuality of HotD, which has a weirdo carnival appeal/anti-appeal of its own, and instead goes for broke in another direction.

Fort of Apocalypse - Kazu Inabe - 04

The art’s weird. It’s similar to a less stylish and stylized Dogs: Bullets & Carnage. It’s usually passable—not great, but good enough for a good panel here and there, and some good monster monster design and composition overall. Paired with the tone of the writing, Fort of Apocalypse feels seedy-but-familiar, a feel-bad comic that doesn’t actually make you feel bad at all but makes a big production out of going through the motions.

It’s not great, but it is lurid. One short scene:

Fort of Apocalypse - Kazu Inabe - 06

Fort of Apocalypse - Kazu Inabe - 07

Immediately before this moment in time, a different man in an irrelevant location sits up on his autopsy table, his back arched and general body language definitively inhuman. It’s an old trick—show the thing, then cut away to build tension or emphasize the spread of a sickness. The apocalypse is not coming. It is here.

These characters are blanks, almost. Generic Husband and Generic Wife, unnamed and un-missed. They’re there to die, and while that isn’t remarkable (even the shot of the room to suggest unseen horrible violence is old and busted this time around), the next spread was:

Fort of Apocalypse - Kazu Inabe - 08

I was expecting a bunch of cuts away from the action to show the apocalypse rising, but I wasn’t being mean enough. A spread of the husband eating his probably-dismembered wife is bad enough, but what killed and grabbed me was the way the scene ends with a close-up of a family photo drawn by their kid, complete with an “I love you daddy!” inscription.

It’s one of those hilariously manipulative moves people pull sometimes, stacking up sad concepts like cordwood without putting in any work to make you believe in those concepts enough to feel bad about it. In better hands, this scene would be the ultimate betrayal. But Kuraishi and Inabe lean edgy, not poignant. I was struck by the meanness of that choice, the way it puts the idea in your head and then immediately moves on to the next one after your imagination fills in what happens next.

While the comic isn’t great, it’s got a mean edge that I enjoy. It’s sorta like the first season of The Following, the Kevin Bacon/James Purefoy serial killer cult thriller on FOX. That show is frequently trashy and incredibly poorly written. But it has a habit of going there that makes for good tv. Spearguns in diners, stabbings on subways, Edgar Allen Poe fetishists, and a conclave of serial killing English majors. A little “Can you believe this?” goes a long way. (Not that long, actually—season two doubled down on sad boring stubble dudes and I raced for the door before it was half-over.) It got me through a dozen volumes of Gantz, maybe even more. This isn’t Gantz on account of being nowhere near misanthropic and evil as that series, but it gets by.

Fort of Apocalypse is lurid, but doesn’t feel cruel, even when a zombie grabs a teen’s upper and lower jaws and yanks them in opposite directions. Mitsuhisa Kuji’s Wolfsmund is real. She wants you to feel it, and it feels cruel. Fort of Apocalypse isn’t that. They want to show you outrageous things so you can go “yo, gross!” and then turn the page for more, and it turns out the best way to do that is to fill your comic with damaged and broken people who adjust to the end of the world by losing their minds.

Fort of Apocalypse - Kazu Inabe - 05

I’m not sure how long I’ll last with Fort of Apocalypse, but it seems like once a volume, something outrageous enough to keep me interested happens. It goes there.

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Sample Sunday: Silly, wasn’t I?

June 29th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Murs put out this song “Silly Girl,” featuring Joe Scudda, on his Murray’s Revenge album with 9th Wonder. It’s about relationships, specifically stupid dudes chasing silly girls. It’s funny, I think, especially when Murs goes “Wait, that’s not the point.” Murs is good at walking this line of dead-serious earnestness and goofy self-consciousness, and even the hook of this song is on that level. Breakup songs are always interesting to me, because they’re a long-form insult, almost. They can be funny or rugged, relatable or fake, or even about murder. Norah Jones’s “Miriam” is a stand-out break-up song. This one’s good.

C-Rayz Walz’s “86″ is a song I’ve liked for ages. He’s one of the few musicians I’ve seen live, on Aesop Rock’s Bazooka Tooth tour, and he tore it down. “86″ is from his Ravipops album, which is just straight spitting for 17 tracks. “The Lineup” is the posse cut, and it’s got Wordsworth, J-Treds, Thirstin Howl, Vast Aire, Breeze Brewin, and MF Doom, if you’re wondering where this sits in rap history. “86″ is dope, it’s another “rap is dope, it’s forever in my heart” joints, like Tupac’s “Old School.” It’s also about how rap is soft now, like “your rap was critical, or the crowd got rid of you.” This one sounds smoother than a lot of those throwback tracks, though. It’s less standoffish and more cool. You could vibe to this. It sounds like summertime music.

I found myself listening to old Madlib Medicine Show records the other day and tripped over this one from Madlib Medicine Show # 1: Before The Verdict. It’s “I Must Love You (OJ Simpson Remix)” and that’s Guilty Simpson on the feature. The Medicine Show albums are Madlib chopping up and reinterpreting older songs, forcing vocals and beats and melodies into new shapes. I’m into it, it’s pretty definitively My Thing, and this one’s off the first one, Before the Verdict. It’s got Guilty kicking break-up raps, and Madlib flipping the beat makes it sound like a perfect—lyrically, thematically—guest spot for “Silly Girl.” I like the contrast between the original J Dilla beat and the Madlib one. The Dilla beat is church-y, hymnal with a rap twist.

All three songs have Valerie Simpson’s “Silly, Wasn’t I” at their foundation. It’s about getting cheated on and leaving your man, which actually makes it a pretty great counterpoint to the Murs and Madlib/Guilty joints. “86″ moves away from the original meaning of “Silly, Wasn’t I,” instead just using a hot melody to make a hot track, but I always dig when songs with a sample actually play off the original.

Hearing “Silly, Wasn’t I” spin up makes me immediately flash to C-Rayz chanting “eighty-six, eighty-six.” I’ve probably heard that version more than any of the others, ’cause I got heavy into Ravipops when that came out.

I like the laugh on Simpson’s version the best. I like how it’s this rueful thing, a pointedly fake laugh to show that she’s so over him and can’t really believe she was ever into him. It’s remorseful, pinning blame to his chest and hers. It’s good writing, is what it is. She’s so personable that you’re totally on her side in the song, while Murs, Joe Scudda, and Guilty Simpson could kinda go either way, even when you laugh at their jokes.

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Q Hayashida’s Dorohedoro: violence comix

June 25th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

q hayashida - dorohedoro - chapter break

This chapter break from Q Hayashida’s Dorohedoro (print, digital, but buy it on iBooks or Android if you want it mobile) sums up a lot of what I like about her style. She works in this kinda gritty, grimy occult comics style, and while the surface-level stuff is great—the skulls, the snakes, the black smoke—what really makes it go is how grounded it is. It’s a comic about wizards and demons that wear street clothes, Nike Dunks, and custom masks.

Block out this guy’s arms and skulls; focus on his body and head. The stuff I’m noticing are the way the belt fits around his waist, the rumpled clothes, and his jacket flaring out. The hood over the eyes is a look I’ve chased several times over the course of my life. The HR Giger-esque rib-piece is pretty out there, but by and large, this guy is wearing clothes you’d see people rocking in the street. It’s a “cool” look. The snakes and skulls add to it, giving it that occult feeling.

q hayashida - dorohedoro - spread 01

Here’s a spread from Dorohedoro, volume 12. Hayashida’s great at making regular buildings look like they’re on the wrong side of the tracks in Hell. It’s very different from Mike Mignola’s more ornate and classic approach, where Hell is Movie Prague, full of long long hallways, classic buildings, and traditional environments. Hell-as-University. Hayashida’s Hell has food trucks and everything’s a slum covered in a thick coating of grime, like smog after it settles.

I like the implied menace in the bottom tier, too. The fisheye effect heightens the X vs Y aspect of things, but Hayashida’s style is great at maintaing a consistent level of background menace, too. It makes it look like the crew on the left got caught in the act by the crew on the right, which is literally true. But the hallway they’re in is great. There’s dust clouds, filthy walls, an alarm box or something on the far left, and you just know that if this were animated, the bare bulb on the right would flicker so that the hallway was more dim than lit. The smudges make me think of water damage, like the building is as run-down as it gets without being marked for destruction.

The fisheye effect makes me feel like this is a moment to breathe in just before the curtain comes down and the violence starts. Luckily, this comes a few pages later:

q hayashida - dorohedoro - ha ha ha ha

T-shirts, jeans, polos, and intense action. The violence is obvious and extreme, with the claw end of a hammer and pure brute force getting the job done. I like the storytelling when the swordsman gets grabbed a whole lot. It got me thinking about which panels we’re seeing are specific POV panels and which are meant to be our standard third-person view. The man with the sword gets grabbed, and the following panel is his view: we see a blurry, blacked-out vision of a face. Then, in the next panel, we’re tracking his reaction. His instinct is to draw his sword, but Noi, the masked arm-puller, is ahead of him. And the potential energy in that panel, when he realizes he’s stuck and you realize he’s stuck and what’s coming next is going to be bad—yes. This is Q Hayashida.

On the facing page, that laugh is everything. Dorohedoro is a great comic because Hayashida blends great jokes with explicit violence and grim mood-building. There are sentient gyoza creatures, rotted husks of men, and capricious demons in the same world. Some of the demons even like gyoza. Noi’s laugh manages to combine all of that. It’s dark humor, and the blood spray is extreme, but it’s also a perfect demonstration of how much and what kind of trouble these guys are in.

Covered in the blood of their friend, whose arm she just successfully yanked off, and taking time for a hearty, gleeful laugh: Noi gives pause.

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Ajin: Demi-Human: violence comix

June 20th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

I like fight comics, violence-as-genre comics. I like comics where one of the most significant thrills come from the fights. There’s something about a well-done fight scene that turns a solid book into a good one. My true love as far as comics action scenes go is largely choreography. Does A flow into B into C into something incredibly painful-looking but well-drawn? If you give me a fight scene where I can follow every block and punch and shot to its logical conclusion, I’m in heaven. It extends to non-fight scenes, too. Takehiko Inoue’s Slam Dunk is great at depicting basketball in such a way that it feels like real basketball. There’s an implication of motion in well-done action scenes that I really enjoy.

Isolated instances of punches and kicks don’t really move the needle. It’s sort of the default mode of the comics I grew up on, where the action is generally secondary to the plot, so you can’t blow eighteen pages on a fight between two warriors. Loving action is probably part of why I’m drawn to manga. The storytelling standards are different, and if you want to do a six hundred page fight scene, you can. (Takehiko Inoue did in Vagabond.) But at the same time, a little spectacle goes a long way. If the isolated instances are striking or exciting in their own way, that’s about as good as the highly choreographed stuff. Mostly, I just want to be impressed.

I’ve been reading Tsuina Miura and Gamon Sakurai’s Ajin: Demi-Human as it comes out, a manga by currently being serialized on Crunchyroll and seeing print later this year from all-star manga publisher Vertical, Inc.

Here’s a summary of the series:

Seventeen years ago, an utterly immortal human was discovered on an African battlefield. Since then, more of these new and unknown life forms began to appear among mankind. These undying beings start to be known as “demi-humans.” One day, just before summer break, a Japanese boy leaving his high school is involved in a traffic accident that kills him on the spot. Then, he comes back to life. A huge bounty is placed on his capture. Now the boy’s attempt to evade all of mankind begins.

It’s just interesting enough to keep my attention, and sort of pleasingly grim, too. It’s like a turned down action comic, a little slow but plenty mean. Demi-humans can instantly come back fully healed from any wound if they die. This makes them great for human experimentation, but it also has led toward a pretty good “assault on base” scene. Here’s a couple pages from a recent chapter that really got me good:

sakurai - demi-human 01

sakurai - demi-human 02

The men are shooting tranquilizer dots at the man with the rifle in order to capture him. He’s a demi-human, which means he’s functionally immortal, and his gun has real bullets.

I like Sakurai’s style. It’s pleasingly realistic in terms of approach, and even the monsters (not pictured) have a nice weight to them. The characters aren’t very stylized, and there aren’t a lot of wild camera angles unless you count close-ups. It’s cool, it makes Demi-Human interesting to look at.

The little dodge in page one, panel three—that’s a cool thing to put into a comic book gun fight, and the casing being ejected right behind it is something that I really keyed on when I read this the first time. You know how something can seem significant? You notice it and it feels bigger than it seems? This felt like that, and I thought about it until I realized that he must have dodged so fast that he returned fire before the dart probably even got to him. You can almost see the motion, and I like how the panel leads your eye up (the whiffing dart), down (the gunfire), left (the casing), and right (the dodge) basically simultaneously.

Page two, panel 1: his nonchalant face, the detail on his gun and vest, the belt, the motion, and the act itself…what a great idea for a panel. I mean, it’s horrible or whatever, it’s nasty, but it’s something I haven’t seen before and surprising—not shocking—enough to raise an eyebrow and half a smile. The anonymous close-up after is great, like a visual gasp, and then panel three is another new thing. This is Hawkeye in Ultimates 2 cool, Frank Miller discovering ninjas cool. All those speedlines on just one side, too, weighing the panel down.

The next bit implies suicide, and in so doing ups the ante considerably:


sakurai - demi-human 03

sakurai - demi-human 04

Sakurai’s use of reaction shots are well-placed, I realizing. The timing on them in general is great. The way the “huh” comes after the shot but before we see the ooze is crucial for setting the pace for how quickly all this is happening. The man is launched into the air (somehow) and we see them noticing something we can’t see before the ooze reveal. We know something’s about to go down, just not what. Here’s what:

sakurai - demi-human 05

If I saw this in a movie, I would freak out on the spot.

It’s just two panels, but the sense of motion and implied movement are so good. He’s falling more down than back, so his legs kick up in panel two. The lines on the floor tell you how far backward he fell. I’d already been impressed enough to want to write about this before this page, but this was like manna from heaven.

I like watching martial arts-oriented action movies, especially non-American ones, more than just about anything else because the choreography really impresses me. I get to see people do incredibly difficult things at a high level and higher speeds, and watching them set up a punch for a kick for a toss through a window is totally my bag. Great choreo has kept me watching movies that you’d be better off fast-forwarding through, and great choreo combined with a great story is my bread and butter. It’s something I cannot do, but am consistently impressed by and jealous of. It’s not the violence so much as the configuration of the violence, the beauty of bodies in motion. A bunch of my favorite films are borderline bloodless, even.

It’s different in comics, because motion is this whole other animal. It’s implied, because sequential art is composed of single images instead of twenty-four frames a second. I like being able to track action from panel to panel, the perfect moments in time chosen to heighten the impact. I don’t think Sakurai excels at that kind of thing, his approach to continuity isn’t that great, but I do think he has an amazing talent for drawing cool things well. And this scene was a very cool thing. This is the most inventive and immediately impressive by far, but bits like this are littered throughout Ajin: Demi-Human.

It’s a good action comic. The story’s taken some surprising turns after a pretty basic opener, and the action is getting better the more I read. It feels like Black Lagoon without the sleaze, but with a heavy faux-Tarantino accent and magical sci-fi elements. I like that even though it feels so familiar, I can still be surprised by what’s going to happen. It’s like a skillful rendition of an old standard in tone—not super impressive, but still enough to make you feel good. As long as they keep coming with the action, I’m hooked.

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Growing up with Metal Gear Solid

June 18th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

I remember being a kid and tripping over ads for the Ultra Games Metal Gear, the one with Snake’s whole inventory on a white background? I never played the game as a kid, not to my memory, but I saw that ad on dozens of comics, which means I saw it thousands of times as a kid. It caught my imagination. In Mario you had a fire flower, a tanooki suit, and a cape. But this guy had all types of weapons and gear, like a video game Rambo.

Nowadays, when I want to play a game, I just play it. I download it or trek to Best Buy or buy it on Amazon. It’s nearly instant gratification at this point, limited only by my bandwidth at home. But as a kid? I couldn’t talk my mom into buying anything, especially not if it was about something violent. Star Fox was one thing, but Mortal Kombat? Nah, son. Too realistic.

So I spent a lot of time thinking about video games. I pored over game magazines when I could get them. I still remember having an EGM with a big blow-out on a Samurai Shodown and some info on how to make Mai Shiranui’s boobs bounce in King of Fighters. I read it ’til it came apart, and then I kept reading it because it was the only way I’d experience KoF until years later when I got a Dreamcast.

Metal Gear came out a little early for me to be able to read about it, so the ad had to be enough. I don’t know what I thought the game was like. All I knew was that I wanted to play it because it sounded amazing.

I didn’t play a Metal Gear until Metal Gear Solid on PlayStation. I decimated my SNES collection to get a chance to buy a PlayStation for cheaper from Funcoland or Toys-r-Us or somewhere, and I survived on Madden, Suikoden II, whatever Working Designs put out, Colony Wars, a bunch of demo discs, and Final Fantasy VII for ages.

But MGS tho. I don’t remember what made me go for it, but I assume I saw news of it in the mags and then found a demo somewhere and then wheedled my way into the full disc.

It’s hard to under-sell how I felt experiencing the thing that begins to happen around 7:15 into this clip:

It looks like garbage now, all low-resolution textures and chunky polygons, but there’s a difference between watching it and playing it. In this moment, you were Snake, and that moment when your controller starts vibrating…it captured me. It got me. I loved FF7 but they didn’t ever talk and the game looked like a cartoon. MGS was next-level, ultra-realistic and grim but still incredibly fun and well-designed. Video games weren’t even really using force feedback yet, it was still new. But MGS gave me extensive, high-quality voice acting and scripted sequences, in addition to using the controller itself as a storytelling device, among other features. It was mind-blowing. MGS was the future. Static-y “Horryoukid” vocal clips were dead and gone. It raised the bar.

I’d experienced nothing like it at the time, and MGS is my favorite franchise to this day. I bought a PS3 of my own for MGS4, and beating that game gave me a feeling that hadn’t been beaten since the first time I beat Ninja Gaiden Black. It felt like an accomplishment, instead of something I did at 1 in the morning on a work night.

I can’t claim twenty-seven years of fandom. I was busy being a toddler in 1987. But MGS has been with me since 1998. I started playing it before I really knew what a pacifist or fascist really was, and as I’ve grown, I’ve found a wide variety of things to appreciate. Kojima has his hooks in me, and even though I’m mostly not into most games nowadays, I’m finding that I’m always up for Metal Gear. Nobody does it better.

Here’s what Metal Gear Solid looks like now:

La-li-lu-le-lo, forever and ever. Amen.

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Happy birthday, Tupac Shakur (1971-1996)

June 16th, 2014 Posted by david brothers


“June one-six seven-one, the day/mama pushed me out her womb, told me, ‘Nigga, get paid.’”

“Krazy” is track eight on Tupac’s The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. It’s a little over five minutes long, was produced by Darryl “Big D” Harper, and it’s a pretty good example of what Tupac was best at: being honest. I don’t mean honest in the strictest sense of the word. Tupac’s honesty was rarely “this actually happened to me.” But he excelled at “this actually happens” honesty, that kind of realism where he’s reflecting real life and using himself or a story he tells as the message. He excelled at telling his story, your story, and my story.

Tupac explains himself immediately: “Last year was a hard one, but life goes on.” And it’s true. No matter how bad things get, no matter how heavy that weight, life is going to go on whether you want it to or not. You can keep up or fall behind. “Krazy” is an admission of vulnerability, a song that says that Tupac doesn’t have it all together, but he’s doing better than he was, and he’s gonna do better than he did.

Coping is hard. Waking up, putting on a smile, and going to work when you’d rather sink into your bed and sleep another day away is hard. Working up the nerve to do stuff you know you enjoy doing is an absurd situation, but a real one.

For Pac, coping meant looking toward the future, toward better days to come, and making sure he recognizes the blessings of today. It meant smoking weed and hoping that it gets you high so you can escape from the stress. Even when it’s dark, make it a point to emphasize the light. For Bad Azz, who holds down the third verse, it’s chasing money so he can chase the things he wants, even though that comes with pleasure and pain. “Having money’s not everything, but not having it is,” right?

I’ve been listening to a lot of coping music lately. Pharoahe Monch’s PTSD tackles despair head-on and balances it with dreams, discussing what it’s like to adjust to your new status quo after experiencing something awful or draining, and the idea of suicide as a potential energy. Kid Cudi’s made a career out of openly discussing depression and finding your own way. I think my favorite example is on “Just What I Am,” when he says “I had to ball for therapy, my shrink don’t think that helps at all, whatever/This man ain’t wearing these leather pants.” I like Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon for similar reasons.

The Cudi and Monch albums are two of my favorite releases this year for the same reason I like Tupac’s “Krazy” so much. There’s something deeply attractive about breaking the facade of perfection and revealing the human being underneath. It’s still a performance, all of these men are playing a role, but they artfully manage to not just express fears, but express them in such a way that you can deeply relate to what they’re talking about. It feels real, and because of that real-ness, we can steal a bit of strength from it for ourselves. If he made it, we can, too.

Tupac would’ve been 43 today. Happy birthday, Pac. I’m glad you shared your life with us.

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Cord Jefferson on writing about being black while black

June 10th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

On Medium, Cord Jefferson said this:

Or maybe it wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say. Maybe it was the realization that writing anything would be to listlessly participate in the carousel ride: an inciting incident, 1,000 angry thinkpieces, 1,000 tweeted links, and back to where we started, until next time. Perhaps it was a feeling that writing anything would finally be too redundant to bear, a pursuit of too many sad and obvious words to heap onto so many other nearly identical words written down before, by me, by thousands of others.

and this:

What new column shall the writer write when an unarmed black person is killed for doing nothing but frightening an armed white person? The same thing he wrote when Trayvon Martin was killed? And that’s to say nothing of when Oscar Grant was killed. Or when Ramarley Graham was killed. Or when Timothy Stansbury Jr. was killed. Or when Amadou Diallo was killed. Or when Jordan Davis was killed. Or when Ousmane Zongo was killed. Or when Jonathan Ferrell was killed. Or when Renisha McBride was killed.

I’ve written about being harassed and abused, fearing for the lives of my cousins, lamenting the options of people in my immediate circle, eulogies for men I’ve never met, and my own fear and frustration with being black in America. I did it through the lens of comics for a while, before eventually gaining the confidence to do it without a pop culture connection.

I did it because I loved it, I did it because I felt led to, I did it because I ended up with a voice people paid attention to and not doing it would’ve felt irresponsible. I did it because I believed it helped. I’ve backed off in a major way over the past year or so, trying to listen instead of talking about everything that crosses my desk, but I still do the thinking and conversating that leads to thinkpieces. It’s still on my mind, I’m still processing the data. I just don’t share it.

Jefferson’s point about finding something new to write when another brown face is killed is a critical hit. Past a certain point, it feels like justifying your existence, like making your case for being treated like an actual human being by others. It feels like explaining blue to a dog. The dog has other things to worry about and you’re going to just feel ugly afterward.

I can’t not pay attention to race and culture. In a very real sense, it’s self-defense, or a way to process the weight that settles on my shoulders over the course of my daily life. But it’s also draining. It’s been one hundred and fifty years since “Ain’t I A Woman?” and we’re still trying to prove our humanity through words. Something ain’t working.

Jefferson’s piece is well worth reading.

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