A Random Assortment of Cautionary Tales

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https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/701251

 

Dear readers,

Just for fun, I recently put together some of my recent comics as an “ebook” on my old Smashwords account. I don’t often use that website, but if nothing else it is a useful vehicle for sharing free PDFs.

Feel free to read and download. This complication of one-page stories is hereby titled A Random Assortment of Cautionary Tales.

I also have hard copies in Shenzhen to happily share if you bump into me in person 😀

Tell your friends!

 

Moreover, if you happen to be a friend of mine on Goodreads.com and you want to be very very kind… Well, the funny thing about Smashwords is that even such a small ebook gets a listing on Goodreads. And I can always use reviews. So, wanna read and then quickly rate a few stars with your honest opinion…?

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34213809-a-random-assortment-of-cautionary-tales

 

 

Synopsis

A Random Assortment of Cautionary Tales is just that — a random collection of one-page comic stories by Ray Hecht about the little things in life that haunt us so. No lessons to be learned really, just cautionary in the sense of the warning that everyday can bring new adventure in frustration, ennui, and meh.

Featuring: Umbrella Thief, Why Does This Always Happen to Me?, The Train, Sketch, a Run, Yet Another Semi-True Story, and the 4-part series Unnecessary Cries For Help

 

 

 

Shenzhen Storytelling video – a talk on unlucky comics

Here’s a video of me participating in the Shenzhen Stories event, in which local storytellers tell touching stories of personal experiences. I was invited, and yes I was a bit nervous. The theme was unluckiness (being Friday the 13th and all), and my only idea was to talk about the everyday minor frustrations of my silly little indie comics instead of the usual trauma.

The event was excellent, with heartfelt performers expressing their personal stories. It wasn’t easy for me to keep up with that. Also, now that there’s a video I am again reminded of my annoying voice.

To my surprise, the projector didn’t work and yet it went over well! They seemed to like my comics stylings. Please listen in on the talk and the laughs, and judge for yourself:

Fun times~

Reading at the Shenzhen Writers Afternoon

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Last week on a Sunday afternoon I participated in an event in which writers based in Shenzhen can read their works aloud. It was part of the Shenzhen Book Exchange, which is an interesting sort of amateur library that English-language readers put together to promote reading and finding books while abroad. I’ve borrowed a lot of books from there, and donated a few myself.

 

Reading in #Shenzhen

A post shared by Ray (@raelianautopsy) on

 

While at it, I decided to print some of my one-page comics and share them as little books. That went over pretty well. (They don’t work very read aloud but great to give away.) Now six pages long. The working title of this slowly-growing anthology is “A Random Assortment of Cautionary Tales.”

I can #comics .

A post shared by Ray (@raelianautopsy) on

 

I am somewhat afraid that I’m not very good at reading. The audience seemed attentive, but maybe I read too fast. Ah well, I’m not quite an actor but I hope the words are interesting.

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Reading from my new story THIS MODERN LOVE:

 

As much as the point was to share my works, it was also much fun to organize the event in that I found new writers in Shenzhen to work with as well as help to edit for translations. While I’ve read at the book exchange before, and I had a ‘Shenzhen Writers Night’ earlier in the year, this was the first time putting those two in particular together and I think it was a good forum for the city’s literary scene. I’m lucky to have come across these great authors, both established Chinese and (such as me) aspiring American. Here they are with links to their works below:

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Xie Hong
 is the Chinese author of 14 books, and he also writes in English. He studied in New Zealand in the English department of the Waikato Institute of Technology. Xie has won the Shenzhen Youth Literature Award as well as the Guangdong New Writer Award and New York Award. He will share some of his experiences in writing, and read poems or excerpts of short stories. He read from his poem collection The Story of Time, and the short story Casino.

http://lithub.com/on-xie-hong-master-of-chinese-unreality/

http://blog.sina.cn/dpool/blog/xiehong

 

Greta Bilek is a self-published travel writer and author of the book China Tea Leaves. Writing about travel in China, she finds inspiration in ancient poems, historic travelogues, stories told by Chinese friends and more. This is her second time presenting at the Book Exchange, sharing reflection from the road and experiences of taking on layers of cultural traditions as an expat.

http://www.chinatealeaves.com/

 

Tiga Tan is the scriptwriter and novelist. She has written more than 300 episodes of TV series for Shenzhen’s children’s channel and the animated series Fuwa for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She is author of “G.O.D.I.S.E.T” a science fiction novel. She read from her short fairy tale “So Long, Aga.”

 

Nicole A. Schmidt is a published author, poet, educator and editor. She shared poetry, creative non-fiction and art she has created while in China. She is the author of Inside a Young Soul, and runs NAS Writes as an editing platform.

https://about.me/nicoleaschmidt

https://www.amazon.com/Inside-Young-Soul-Nicole-Schmidt/dp/1507800452

 

 

I hope you will take the time to look up these writers and learn more about their brilliant works! I’m honored to have had the chance to share the creative side of Shenzhen.

I’m looking forward to the next event already…

 

South Africa Part I

Being an expat living in a major Chinese city of millions – with thousands of Westerners within the English-speaking foreigner scene – you never know who you will meet and what part of the world they may introduce you to… particularly when it comes to romance!

As I’ve written about extensively, it just never seemed to work out with me and Chinese girls. I haven’t followed up on those old blogs in a while, but know this of my present situation: I have not been lonely over the past year.

In the summer of ’14, I happened to fall for an artsy South African girl. Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say there were some interesting stories along the way. I’m not going to share all those personal stories at this time. Suffice to say it’s been serious, intense, and loving.

I am however happy to share the fact that last holiday (Moon Festival coinciding with National Day) she took me on a tour of her home country. An entire new continent I’ve never been to, a whole other land. I am still in awe of all I had seen.

I must admit, it was a challenge at times. Sad though it may be, at this late stage in my life this was actually the first time I had ever met a girlfriend’s parents! Wow. Really? Well, that’s me.

I was rather nervous. There was, in actuality, the issue of class. White South Africans tend to live in the suburbs, in gated communities, walled off by electric fences. I grew up a step below, and over the past half-decade gotten comfortable living in the lesser developed end of a developed city in developing country.

South Africa in actuality may be one of the most unequal countries in the world, but I’m not saying that my girlfriend’s family are that rich. Just normal middle class. Yet even that is tricky for me to be comfortable with. I liken myself to a starving artist-writer in China mind you, not some trader-businessman.

Really, it wasn’t that bad.

All that said, the country is full of beauty like no other… I can see what people love so much about Africa.

My lovely did an incredible job of planning this trip. (How could I plan? I followed her. And it worked out very well that I did.) Everyday, off to a new place. New sights to see. New wonders to behold.

Off we went.

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Day One

We flew in from Hong Kong. Transferred at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, to the view from the aircraft of exquisite waterfalls and Mt. Kilimanjaro. My first time entering the Southern Hemisphere. Wish I could have explored Ethiopia more. Next time.

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Though we were tired, I was determined to start exploring right after landing. Being picked up from the Johannesberg airport was almost a disappointment; I’d wanted to learn about trains right off the bat. But it was tiring after the second flight being over ten hours.

The driver took us to the guest house in Melville, the hip part of town. On the drive over I stared out the window and took pictures. The highway only showed what looked like middle-American suburbs. In fact, much of what I would see of the middle-class homes and shopping malls pretty much reminded me of American suburbs.

Melville was awesome. Full of vegetarian restaurants (we ate Mexican food the first night, yum!), used bookstores (I spent way too much money), and most importantly of all a comic book shop. Outer Limits: I got an old Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud I’d been wanting to reread and share for ages.

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They didn’t have the latest One Piece manga volume, but later I did find it at a shop in Pretoria.

And Gaiman’s Sandman: Overture still hadn’t come out yet, always late.

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Day Two

By the second day my ears no longer popped and jetlag not too bad, we hung out some more in Melville and bought vintage clothes at this cool place made out of trucker containers called 27 Blocks. After some errands at the bank, I got a Sim card for my phone. Another highlight was simply going to a grocery store. Again, due to the western context, it was nice to simply be in a supermarket.

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We checked out and took a tuk-tuk driver to downtown Pretoria, at the City Bowl area near the Gautrain station. There, although heavy with all the luggage, we went to yet another bookstore (found a used Warren Ellis graphic novel) to meet up with Eleni –  blogger of Greek Meets Taiwan – who lives in the area. It was tricky to find the time, but small world that it is one might as well take advantage, and had coffee with her boyfriend and talked about education.

A lot of interesting talks showing me how it really is in South Africa…

Running a bit late, we took the Gautrain to Pretoria. This was the moment. My girlfriend’s dad, first time ever in my life to meet him. Although I did talk to him on Skype the week before. It was cool, no big deal at all. Nice man.

The dad and his wife – I would meet the mother later (now that I think about, perhaps divorced parents is one of the things that brings us together) – drove us out for dinner. We stopped by at a hoity-toity golf club where I did not feel comfortable at all. But it was interesting to see their scene. I was treated to an endless array of delicious meals, put on weight, and I’m very grateful he invited me into his home and was so kind.

The house in the suburbs was as suburban as ever. Except as said in South Africa they have electric fences. Stayed in our own guest bedrooms, watched cable TV, and caught up with my online life.

 

Day Three

Already my third day in this land, and then sadly it started to get boring.

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Button Masher T.O.

Hi there, gamers!

Although my nerdy tendencies are primarily focused on the medium of comicsI do have more sides to myself as shared in this old post: Casual Gamer

With this in mind, I hope it is appropriate to interview Mr. Corey van den Hoogenband of the website Button Masher T.O.

 

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http://buttonmasherto.com


Let’s begin. Firstly, how would you describe the Button Masher T.O. blog?

 

Button Masher T.O. is a joint project among a handful of writers, podcasters, and video creators, covering and sharing the nerdy junk they love in Toronto and beyond. We’ve
been around for just over half a year and are proud to say we’ve had over 30,000 visitors, collaborated with several other talented bloggers and sites, and had articles upvoted to the top of various gaming subreddits on more than one occasion.

 

 

What is the backstory to the creation of Button Masher T.O. and what led you to write for it?

 

So Nic and myself, along with Damion, were the three original founders of the site, and the whole thing with Nic is that our entire ten-year friendship has essentially been one long conversation about video games. We met in the schoolyard talking about fake cheat codes we imagined for Soul Calibur II, and solidified our friendship through countless rounds of Smash Bros Melee. Seriously – COUNTLESS.Nic and I had been wanting to do something like Button Masher for years, and around December I felt really compelled to share a lot of gaming opinions. I write for another Toronto based arts blog that respects video games as an art form, but I knew that they weren’t really the place for games discussion – that’s just not what they cover. So rather than sulk at the fact my current site won’t publish my gaming stories, I opted to unite with Nic, along with Damion, to create a new site that would host all our gaming outbursts. Enter Button Masher T.O.

 

What is your personal process by which you get an idea for a post, and how do you go about writing it?

More likely than not, the process begins with me jumping out of bed late at night to grab my phone and make a memo about what it is I want to write about. I can say with confidence though that in my experience the key to writing a successful article is writing about what you care about and why you care about it. There’s going to be a million other sites covering the exact same news stories whether that’s gaming, politics, what have you – and readers can get that same news anywhere. What’s going to bring people towards your article is how you perceive that news. Your opinion is your greatest ally – and if it differs from everyone else, even better!

If you wanted an example, early in July a trailer dropped for the “A Matter of Family” Batgirl DLC for Batman: Arkham Knight. I noticed that in the trailer Harley Quinn, a character I think is great, is sporting her original outfit from the ’90s Batman cartoon. Instead of writing an article saying “Check out this new trailer!” like everyone else did, I wrote something along the lines of “Harley Quinn Goes Old School in New Batgirl DLC.” Even a month later, that article brings in at least 30 visitors a day.

 

Are there any writers who particularly inspire you?

I think I’m influenced most greatly by Greg Miller and the rest of the guys at Kinda Funny. I’ve been reading Miller’s stuff since he first showed up at IGN in the late 2000s, and his style of writing worked in such a way that it didn’t feel like text on screen, it felt like your nerdy friend telling you why you would or wouldn’t like game x. I hope my writing comes across the same way to readers – that there’s a guy on the other end who’s excited to tell them about whatever the article is about.

 

Now that the Button Masher podcast is up on iTunes, can you share some interesting things about making a podcast?

Without a doubt the hardest part of a podcast is starting each episode. Once the ball is rolling you feel fine going for 30, 40, 50 minutes, but I know whether it’s me on Podcast Engage or Nic hosting CineMasher, we always do four or five intro attempts before we get it right. “Heeeeello internet and welcome to the… no no no that was way too lame.” Picture that but in ten plus variations each episode.

 

I see you cover a lot of cool nerdy pop culture, focusing on video games but not exclusively so. From Muppets to Bojack Horseman, what are some of your favorite non-gaming franchises and stories?

Well the whole idea of not exclusively covering games is an extension of our longing to just share and celebrate the stuff that we would talk about anyways if Nic, Damion, the others, and myself were sitting around at a bar. When it comes to non-gaming I’d say some of my personal favourite franchises would have to be Batman: The Animated Series, Breaking Bad, the A Song of Ice and Fire books, and most recently this exceptional comic book series, Saga.

 

What were your favorite games growing up?

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was the first game I got addicted to. I was too young to beat the game’s first temple so I’d just run around exploring Termina as Link until my three day cycle ran out, then I’d start again and repeat. You wouldn’t believe how excited I was when I found an old Nintendo Power Magazine with a walkthrough of Majora’s Mask’s dungeons and realized there was more to Zelda than just cutting down bushes. My life was changed…I’ve yet to figure out if that was for better or worse.

 

What are your favorite games currently?

Right now I’m obsessed with Batman: Arkham Knight. I caved and bought the 40 dollar season pass, so hopefully it’ll supply me with the Batman fix I desperately crave all the way up until the new year. I’m a weak, weak man.

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Epic Fail Comic Con

One of the things I’ve missed out on by living in China is the glory of comic conventions. I went to the San Diego con — biggest in America, a number of times. I used to go to small ones in Cincinnati. Buy discount bundles of comics, get some signed by artists and writers. In San Diego, of course, many big-time celebrities to gawk at. Pretty much the funnest thing there is to do.

I did go to an animation festival in Shenzhen a few years back, and it was fun. Students making CGI films, Japanese manga translated into Chinese. But no Western comics.

With the popularity of the Marvel films all over the world, Wizard World — and I’d gone to a Wizard World in Chicago back in the day — decided to host their first convention in China at the nearby city of Guangzhou. Imagine my pleasure at hearing this!

Then imagine my extreme disappointment when I went last month and it was an abyssmal failure. 😦

Now, I didn’t expect much. Wizard World Guangzhou was beaten by the Shanghai comic con, and the reviews weren’t great. Just a bit of cosplay, toys to buy, and very little actual comics to purchase but apparently at least a few. As Marta Lives in China had written about: https://martalivesinchina.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/shanghai-comic-con/

What a long story the failure of the Guangzhou con. Where to even start?

Only a few days before schedule I’d suddenly heard that they changed venues. Guangzhou, host city of the large scale international Canton Fair, should know how to do big events. China has trade conventions all the time; I’ve been to many. Yet the new venue was suspiciously small. Apparently they built a big tent or something.

We arrived Saturday in the afternoon, and heard from friends that they’d been waiting in line in the scorching heat for several hours. Two Americans in China has more details here: http://www.twoamericansinchina.com/2015/05/the-big-con-nightmare-guangzhou-comic-con.html

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Nothing but long lines. Hours and hours of this. We decided to go eat nearby, in no hurry to join the lines and wait, and gather some intel.

Finally, after hours of walking in circles just wondering if the line was even moving, the story had been pieced together. Turned out the the original venue had backed out. There were rumors they wanted to overcharge the westerners at the last minute, and/or they double-booked. Probably another stupid boring trade show about cell phone parts or something. Gosh forbid they do an exhibition with some culture.

Fanstang, the incompetent Chinese-based organization working with Wizard World (and Wizard bears responsibility too), only had time for this very small alternative location. Seemed all the vendors were cancelled. Couldn’t even buy a dang T-shirt. I never did get to see the inside, but a few others had and said it was extremely disappointing.

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The only discernible point of this thing was to look at a few celebrities.

I felt silly taking pics with the crowd, but what else was there to do?

This guy is Stefon from Vampire Diaries, so I’m told. Paul Wesley.

20150530_143243The bald guy walking away is, believe it or not, is Dominic Purcell the older brother from Prison Break.

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And this girl on the right walking away is Skye from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which I don’t watch. Actress Chloe Bennet.

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And that is unfortunately all I got.

The biggest name was Lee Pace, Thranduil from the Hobbit and Ronan from Guardians of the Galaxy. Whatever.

 

I took these pictures when the celebrities were leaving. It was scheduled until 6:00, I figured the last hour or so could be enjoyed there, but at 4:00 the stars got fed up and left. It was over.

The remaining crowds were not happy. It was very difficult to get a straight answer about refunds. Finally, an American in charge told me the rest of the story. The police wouldn’t let the people in, as there were something like 7000 tickets sold but the venue could only hold several hundred people. Yes, that big a discrepancy. Only “VIP” tickets would be let in the next day, which cost 500 yuan, and absolutely not worth it. They were still figuring out details on regular-priced ticket refunds and sending signed autographs or something.

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In the end, what a clusterfuck. An epic China fail if ever there was one.

What bothers me the most is how much it embarrasses China. Talk about losing face. All these celebrities, who have much social capital, are left with a terrible impression of doing business in China. These people are not impressed with Guanghzou. If this worked it could have been a lot of fun for fans and opened up Western pop culture to this grand country. Instead, it reinforced the worst examples of how China is not quite yet ready to be a modern country. I’m very sorry about that, but what other conclusion can be drawn? It’s true.

The lesson is to tread carefully in China, and don’t have high expectations.

 

That said, with my low expectations we still had some fun in China.

Next post: an overview of the Redtory arts district in GZ

COMICS FAN

Goodreads: Comics

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Beginnings:

Comics One

Growing Up With Comics

 

Eras:

Marvel 80s

Marvel 90s

Marvel 2000s

 

DC 80s

DC 90s

DC 2000s

 

Currently Reading

 

Favorites:

X-Men

Superman

Batman

Transformers

 

Indie:

Independents

Vertigo

 

World:

Manga

Manga – Shonen Jump

European and British

 

Authors:

Alan Moore

Neil Gaiman

Grant Morrison

Geoff Johns

Gail Simone

Jim Starlin

Warren Ellis

What I’m currently reading – Comics: Epilogue

My epic summary of all my favorite comics has now concluded.

I shall now epilogue this blog series with a simple post about what I am currently reading.

 

In the end, I hate to say it, it’s still kinda about Marvel vs. DC.

Consider that both mainstream superhero comics are simultaneously promoting very similar continuity-rebooting crossovers about alternate universe locales being stolen away and various versions of characters fighting each other: Secret Wars and Convergence.

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I got a free preview for Secret Wars. Now all the universes are dying, and the Ultimate and 818 will combine! Or something. I do like Jonathan Hickman and followed his Avengers run, which all led up to this. Guess I’ll do the graphic novel eventually…

 

Convergence is interesting, in that it’s less of a big deal but it includes callbacks to DC eras I once enjoyed and now miss. Specifically the pre-52 DC of the 90s and 2000s! I do love that Wally West is the Flash and has a family, and Clark Kent is married to Lois Lane (by Dan Jurgens no less). What can I say? I’m sappy that way sometimes.

Also, I’ll definitely be reading New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and Nightwing/Oracle by Gail Simone.

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Speaking of DC and parallel Earths, Grant Morrison on Multiversity. I finally completed the story with the final issues and they are very, very good. Not Morrison’s best, but what could ever be that brilliant? Fun cosmic action as only he can do it, of course with many metafictional elements. One of the best things is that it’s self-contained without requiring endless crossovers to tell the story of Ultra and multiple Supermen against the archetypal hordes of cynicism. Perhaps there will be a sequel but I hope it doesn’t take too many years to come out.

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Speaking of brilliant, the highly literary League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neil. I want to round out the Nemo trilogy with River of Ghosts. It’s already been out but I haven’t gotten the chance to purchase it yet. Damn you Hong Kong comic shops last week! After tthis hat, perhaps no Moore comics for another decade. So story of Captain Nemo’s daughter in Nazi South America better be good.

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Speaking of acclaimed British authors, Neil Gaiman. Sandman Overture, the late update to the 90s classic, has been coming out very slowly. The incredible art by J.H. Williams is worth it, but I may be regretting already buying the individual issues and not waiting for the inevitable reprint. Dreams, dreams, dreams.

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And speaking of Vertigo: Fables. The long-running series about fairy tale people hiding out in modern New York — the greatest currently published by DC/Vertigo — is ending after all these years. The trade paperback editions actually sell more than the magazine issues, so the final issue 150 will apparently also be a full graphic novel volume 22. That’s an amazing idea. But will take until late July to be completed by artist Mark Buckingham.

Whatever will happen to Snow White and rivalrous sibling Rose Red and the Camelot metaphor? I’m dying to know. Writer Bill Willingham hasn’t been apprehensive about killing off a lot of major characters; anything could happen.

So good, I even got my girlfriend to become a Fables fan.

Meanwhile, I’m catching up on spinoffs like Fairest.

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Can’t leave out my favorite Shonen Jump manga One Piece! By the hilarious Eiichiro Oda, Volume 74 has been released for over a month, how can I be so late?! Super stretchy pirate Luffy in the tournament and fighting against warlord Doflamingo must be one of the great all-time manga climaxes. Dressrosa, what a country. I heard a certain guy from Luffy’s past isn’t dead after all. I. Need. To. Read. Now.

All you people reading the scans are way ahead and even the anime is past that, yet I still insist on supporting the official Viz translation.

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And that’s it. Those are the comics I currently read.

(At least the ones I buy. No comment on pirated online and such.)

Thanks for following along with my blog, all you comics fans out there! It was fun sharing, and even if you aren’t a fan I hope I introduced you to some possibilities of new reading materials. Read and read alike, it’s good for you 🙂

European and British comics

In one of my last comics-themed posts, I would like to round it out with my forays into European comics.

Let’s not forget there is a whole planet Earth of this medium. There’s Japan, obviously!

 

Interestingly, Scott McCloud in the brilliant essay Understanding Comics studied the basic underlying structure to Western and Eastern sequential art forms. McCloud concluded that American and European storytelling is fundamentally the same even if the subject matter varies; while Japanese comics from romance to space opera use an altogether different mindset of “directing” techniques.

 

Anyway: America tends to get the most attention with all the expensive superhero movies these days. But for decades the problem in the West was that comics were assumed to be for children and not given serious thought by social critics.

Meanwhile in Europe, graphic novels have had a strong tradition of recognition by adults and kids for decades. It’s that avant-garde sentiment, y’know.

Firstly, Great Britain. Those originators of the English language tend to be better at writing in general. Ever noticed that? All the great writers are British, from Shakespeare to Vertigo and Image. They called it the British Invasion, the comics version not the rock version, ’twas the 80s not 60s. (Like rock music, America invented it and the British improved it.) As I’ve written about extensively.

What I haven’t mentioned in those extensive writings is the sci-fi anthology series 2000 A.D. Almost everyone, from Moore to Morrison, got their start there. I’ve read the occasional B&W shorts in reprint form.

Furthermore, if I am getting into 2000 A.D. then I must get into Judge Dredd.

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Yes, the Stallone movie was awful. Sorry about that. However the 2012 film was quite good.

What you may not know is that the comic is legendary. Going all the way back to 1977, the fascistic judge has had a prolific career. Written by John Wagner, the saga of Mega-City One is one of the most hardcore dystopias ever portrayed in fiction. I came across the graphic novel Tour of Duty, and was impressed enough to go back and read a whole lot. That good. Robot Wars, Cursed Earth, Judge Death, The Apocalypse War, Day of Judgment. Lots of mutants and genocide and critiquing the American dream and so forth, ain’t no harsher more biting stories than those. Dredd is the quintessential outsider’s take on Americana, and what a take those Brits can scribe.

 

Then there’s the continent. The French-speaking world in particular.

Belgium is famed for Tin Tin by Hergé. Even living in China, I found some English-translations of the classic albums. European comics tend to come in a certain oversized slim album-sized editions.

It’s fun and all, as Tin Tin and Snowy traverse the world. But wasn’t my favorite. Stories like The Blue Lotus are a bit racist, admittedly. Won’t even get into the African stuff.

I’d recommend The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure because of the very fine 2011 Spielberg animated film.

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My favorite French comic ever would definitely be Asterix.

Luckily, I happened upon the Shenzhen Children’s Library which contains a great collection of the albums. Free to borrow! I must have read about twenty. Written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo, the complete series is totally funny and hold up well today.

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Many of the best hail from the 1960s and 70s. Asterix and Cleopatra, Asterix at the Olympic Games, Asterix and the Roman Agent, The Mansion of the Gods, The Great Crossing. Gotta love that Obelisk, and I wish I could get ahold of some potion…

 

I even found some second-hand Smurfs comics in Shenzhen. Also from Belgium, by Peyo. Not bad, and very nostalgically indicative of the 1980s Hanna-Barbera cartoon from my childhood. Read a couple of them in English, and the library even has plenty translated in Chinese so as I can brush up on my 中文.

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“La la la la la la. la la la la laaaa!”

 

Hey, didn’t I say European comics were for grownups?

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Time for Warren Ellis, comics writer

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636-ray?shelf=warren-ellis

 

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That’s just a blurry pic I took at Comic Con ’07 or ’08. He is SO funny in person.

 

Warren Ellis is a damn interesting writer.

He’s British, smart, and touches on occulty themes, and yet he was not part of the original 90s “British Invasion” of comics writers such as Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison.

His work is violent, intelligent, sometimes dark, with a wicked sense of humor.

In my youth I read some of his Marvel work, like Thor and British X-spinoff Excalibur. I had mixed feelings, because it was that kind of “grim and gritty” style of postmodern comics. Ellis, similar to another (Irish) writer Garth Ennis, clearly hates the superhero genre. He has no use for it, other than a method of making a living sellilng comic scripts. In a perfect world these authors could do other genres without having to slum it among the capes. So they write heroes, all the while cynical and despising what heroism stands for. Still, makes for interesting stories at times.

Warren Ellis is a much sought-after writer for both DC and Marvel, but he rarely does mainstream work anymore. And that’s good.

I became a real fan of the Wildstorm era. Wildstorm, if you recall, was Jim Lee’s company within Image Comics, after all the big name stars left Marvel in the early 90s. Those early comics more than often shit, but Lee ended up with more staying power than, say, Rob Liefeld.

One of those Wildstorm books happened to be Stormwatch, which wasn’t anything great. Seemed another overblown X-Men rippoff about a government team or something. Warren Ellis came upon the title with little fanfair, and it soon gained critical acclaim. No one saw that coming.

I missed it the first time around, but around the mid-2000s I was ruffing it in Los Angeles and enjoyed going to a downtown library. They had an extensive graphic novel collection. I had little money and lots of free time. So I decided to catch up and see what I’d been missing.

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Stormwatch was cool, but eventually all the characters were killed off and something new came along: Authority. That’s what it was truly all about.

Authorty, illustrated by Bryan Hitch (of Ultimates fame) was one of the first “widescreen” comics. Every issue was epic. It starred Apollo and Midnighter — a gay version of Superman and Batman, and Jenny Sparks the spirit of the Twentieth Century. Unapologetic in its epicness, they fought gods and aliens and were always high-level high-concept.

 

Moreover, Warren Ellis’s greatest legacy would be Transmetropolitan. Those graphic novels I ever so cherished, as they kept me going during my starving artist years…

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Published by Vertigo, and that’s more like it. Actually was originally published by DC’s “Helix” imprint, but that went under and only Transmetro remained to become one of Vertigo’s most successful.

The story of gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem in that Hunter S. Thompson vein, but in an unidentified bizarre sci-fi future. There were crazies with alien DNA, a Nixonian character affectionately referred to as “the Beast”, and an even worse President called the “Smiler.”

Each issue punched you in the face and laughed loudly while doing that. Anarchy and journalistic integrity and weird post-science concepts. At 60 issues, by far a record for Ellis. Well done, sir.

 

In the 2000s Ellis continued with some Marvel projects in the midst of the more mature Quesada era. These weren’t quite rated R books from Image or Vertigo, but better than anything else out.

Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E. was a cult hit, full of B-list characters like Machine Man and Boom Boom fighting against the Beyond corporation’s ‘Unusual Weapons of Mass Destruction.’ H.A.T.E. being a hilariously biting satire of S.H.I.E.L.D. The whole comic was full of pithy one-liners, nothing else like it from Marvel. First arc was about the dragon Fin Fang Foom and had many comments about purple underpants and lack of genitals. Only lasted 12 issues, which is unfortunately typical for Ellis.

Delicious art by Stuart Immonen.

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Meanwhile at Marvel, Mr. Ellis wrote the Iron Man: Extremis storyline. You may recognize the nanotechnological elements in the film Iron Man 3, based off the comic.

 

Outside of the superhero world, we have Fell. This award-winning comic simpler in scope, starring detective Richard Fell in a very dark crime drama.

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There were other little books here and there I read, miniseries from Image and Wildstorm post-bought out by DC.

Global Frequency, pretty cool. Typical Ellis, an elite team of agents fighting the secret forces of incomprehensible technology and great mysteries (un)revealed at the end.

Ministry of Space, an alternate reality take on what if proper British gentlemen won the space race.

Red, more spies. The bad movie was based off that, sorry.

Supergod, apocalyptic religious-transhumanist themes published by Avatar Press. I’d recommend a lot of his latter years work from Avatar.

Yet even Warren Ellis sometimes misses the mark. Personally, I had to give up on the webcomic FreakAngels

 

The ultimate Warren Ellis opus would absolutely have to be Planetary: Continue reading

Jim Starlin – Marvel Comics 1970s and Thanos of the Power Cosmic

Previous: Marvel 2000s

Allow me to take a moment to express my fondness for the works of Jim Starlin.

Since Guardians of the Galaxy – and yes the Avengers – has become mainstream, everybody knows Drax the Destroyer and Gamora and the Infinity Gems/Stones.

Most of all, now everyone knows Thanos.

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But for it goes way back. When I was a precocious teen in the 90s, I couldn’t help but fall for the Infinity Gauntlet crossover. It was so epic, so cool. Thanos the all-powerful against a horde of superheroes and space beings. Followed by the exponentially-less cool Infinity War and Infinity Crusade, it was the epitome of overblown early 90s comicbook crossovers. What better to be introduced to the grand Marvel Universe?

The real story of Jim Starlin goes back much further that that. The cosmic escapades I am describing explore one of the great long-form stories of our time, with about forty years of history.

In the 1970s Marvel Comics was on top, having surpassed DC in the previous decade’s Silver Age quality. The medium was full of wonder, although it did get ridiculous as much as it got experimental. The Defenders, Howard the Duck, Jack Kirby’s Captain America. Comics hadn’t exactly grown up by then, no Claremont X-Men yet, but there was much fun to be had in the disco era.

 

Jim Starlin first got his break in 1972. He wrote and drew three issues of Iron Man, in which the metallic hero fought the Blood Brother aliens. And suddenly it was revealed they were working for the master villain of all time: Thanos.

The cosmic saga had begun.

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It was in the pages of Captain Marvel that the saga truly unfolded. Starting with issue 25, the eponymous Marvel character finally found his own voice. The Kree alien (actually named “Mar-Vell”) was joined by the cosmic being Eon to become a protector of the universe, and was faced off against Thanos powered by a cosmic cube. The universe was just barely saved in the end.

I came across the trade paperback collection in my youth and I’m glad I did. The Infinity crossovers of the 90s made more sense with the backstory. That was the beauty of being into superheroes, to go back and endlessly collect and learn the whole story… Baroquean really…

There was also Tbe Death of Captain Marvel, the first official graphic novel of Marvel. A sort of proto-crossover, it was simply about the Captain getting cancer and retiring from the world of the living. In typical fashion, Starlin explored themes of the afterlife and the psychedelic depiction thereof.

That was back when characters stayed dead.

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Starlin is known just as well for Adam Warlock, a random character created by Kirby, who later became a sort of Christ-like figure. The artificial humanoid died and resurrected himself a number of times, just as often to fight against Thanos as he did ally with the mad Titan. An unlikely antihero.

The original build up of the Infinity Gems in comics was harder for me to find. I tracked down some rare reprints, an unsuccessful miniseries from the mid-90s. Weird stuff. Another villain was the Magus, who was Adam Warlock from the future and had started his own evil religion. Warlock had to erase the timeline to win. I think we can all relate to these kinds of psychological adventures.

Warlock original cover

 

It was a grand cosmic mythology, on par with Kirby’s Fourth World. The universe was a place of alien empires, tyrants with omnipotent power, and strange abstract beings overseeing the functions of all reality.

By the way, speaking of Kirby, Jim Starlin explained in interviews that Thanos wasn’t based on Darkseid — DC’s megavillain of similar stature — but rather  more based on Metron originally. What with the floating chair.

 

Starlin is mainly well-known for the space operas, but he also had a diverse career. Even wrote Batman in the 1980s during the Death in the Family arc with poor dead Robin II. Cosmic Odyssey for DC as well, and his own creation Dreadstar. In later years, Rann-Thanagar War comes to mind.

 

But Starlin’s greatness is really showcased with the cosmic stuff.

In 1989 he wrote Silver Surfer (no longer illustrating) in a prelude to the Infinity Gauntlet. The anthropomorphic nature of Death had brought Thanos back from the grave, to harness his power and bring an evil balance the universe.

Much has been written of the ‘Infinity Wars’, the return of Adam Warlock and his multiple personas. It was Marvel of the 90s okay, and it was great. The followup series Infinity Watch wasn’t that great but it did further expand the mythos, as Warlock led his own ragtag team. Pip the Troll and Moondragon may not be top-tier franchises, but Drax and Gamora certainly grew in popularity in that series. And look that them today, full-fledged movie stars!

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Marvel Comics – the 2000s

Previous: DC Comics 2000s – Gail Simone

Goodreads Shelf: Marvel

 

Back in my twenties, the prime of my life. Although I said I swore off Marvel, it didn’t take long for me to get back into the so-called ‘House of Ideas.’

It was Joe Quesada in the 2000s who headed the new era of mature storytelling for a certain biggest American comic company. He did away with the archaic comics code authority stamp, that self-censorship system imposed during in the 1950s ‘juvenile delinquency’ scare, Quesada was right to disregard, and mainline Amero comics became more like PG-13 films or prime-time television dramas. DC followed suit eventually as well, took them long enough.

I particularly had to take notice when Grant Morrison was invited to write New X-Men. That changed everything. By the by, Morrison’s first for the company (at this time, never mind the 90s Skrull Kill Krew), was Marvel Boy. Totally awesome, with high concept ideas such as a humanless corporation villain and interstellar immigration policies. And a Fantastic Four miniseries illustrated by Jae Lee.

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So, while I was already there I decided give some other X-Men a go. Chris Claremont went to X-Treme X-Men, after his return didn’t work out. I gave it a chance. Chuck Austin in Uncanny was, unfortunately, considered among the worst runs ever.

 

Geoff Johns on Avengers, as said.

 

Then, Mark Waid got to write Fantastic Four! A lot of fun, and joined by the late Mike Weiringo of Flash fame. The first family of the Marvel Universe were seen as ‘imaginauts,’ as they explored time and space and other universes. Doctor Doom got a bit of an occultic retcon, and it was well done indeed. I love when Fantastic Four is done right.

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Earth X came out in 1999, but I read the graphic novel a year or so later. Created by Alex Ross initially (written by Jim Kreuger) following DC’s Kingdom Come, the dystopian premise was a future in which everyone has super powers except for Captain America.

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Jim Kreuger followed it up with Universe X and Paradise X, and I read all with great anticipation. Kreuger told a sort of final chapter to the Marvel Comics saga, revealing every secret character by character, giving a bittersweet farewell to everyone from Spider-Man to Galactus…

 

(Do prepare to see a lot of pics with Captain America standing there inspiringly, in this blog)

 

Meanwhile, the next big thing was to be the Ultimate Universe. Starting with Ultimate Spider-Man — written by Bendis whom I rarely cared for — it was a separate reality that was supposed to reboot everything for the sake of newer readers. Unburdened by decades of continuity, the Ultimate universe started anew with fresh modern takes on the various franchises.

Marvel Millar wrote Ultimate X-Men, and it was not good at all. Millar is an interesting writer; he’s pretty much a hack and yet a very entertaining hack. These days he’s only concerned with making comics to serve as movie pitches, such as Kick-Ass and Secret Service.

There was one masterpiece that stood out. Ultimates, by Millar and brilliant artist Bryan Hitch. That is, specifically the 13-issue Ultimates and sequal 13-issue Ultimates 2.

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There wouldn’t even be the Avengers film phenomenon if not for Ultimates.

Millar was very successful at turning the Avengers into an incredibly awesome action movie franchise. Of the ‘widescreen’ style, written snarkily like the wittiest rated R cult classic, there was Captain America as WWII badass, homicidal Hulk, and biggest impact of all was Tony Stark/Iron Man as self-obsessed genius asshole. Thor as a new age guru was an interesting take. The super team and S.H.E.I.L.D. were all presented bit fascistic if you analyze too much, yet what a ride.

Very quotable. Cap: “SURRENDER??!! You think this letter on my head stands for France?” And when the villains overtake Manhattan: “The Great Satan has been liberated.”

With the climax of the first volume fighting aliens, familiar? I must admit I am definitely invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I fully give the Ultimates their do!

 

Other Mark Millar impacts included the crossover Civil War. Which will be getting a movie.

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I didn’t read most crossovers of that decade. Secret Invasion by Bendis, no way. Fear Itself, yawn. Civil War was on of those cynical ‘realistic superhero’ tales in which Captain America goes to war with Iron Man over government registration of superhumans. The trade reprint seemed worth a read at the bookstore but not buying.

Spider-Man famously gave up his secret identity at the time, siding with Iron Man and revealing himself on camera as Peter Parker. Obviously, there was a retcon soon after and that never happened; back to the ol’ status quo for Spidey.

Afterwards, Cap was assassinated and resurrected Bucky/Winter Soldier replaced him for a while. I read some of Ed Brubaker’s run, it was critically acclaimed and so on, but kind of boring with all the predictable resurrections.

 

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