Reed Gunther: The Bear-Riding Cowboy

Get ready for some rootin’ tootin’ fun with Reed Gunther: The Bear Riding Cowboy, a “wild” west tale about a goofy bear-riding cowboy Reed Gunther who usually means well but manages to make things worse. Lucky for him he is helped by his stalwart bear companion, Sterling, and by Starla, a no-nonsense fearless rancher. In this first installment Reed, Sterling, and Starla must prevent the onslaught of a whistle-stop tour of monsters from California all the way to New York City. To compound their trouble, a malicious circus owner tries to stop Reed so he can collect the monsters for his freak show.

The story is fun and energetic, propelling readers from one thrilling episode to the next. The art is expressive, giving everyone personality and sparkle. Though in some ways this is like watching old 50’s cowboy shows, you’ll not get bored. If this first volume appeals, don’t miss lassoing Reed Gunther: Monsters and Mustaches: Vol. 2.

Comic Artists Forum with Cartoonist Joe Foo

Sunday, June 2 | 1:00-3:00 PM | Downtown Library | 4th Floor Meeting Room

Cartoonist and teaching illustrator Joe Foo will discuss the creative process of building characters out of abstract forms and never setting limits on your creations. Joe is the creator of Desmond's Comic. Check out his book Desmond's big book: a collection of Desmond Comics Number One. Joe also is working on a series of books and videos that will teach kids the joy of drawing.

Join the Forum to get fresh ideas for your next comics and network with other cartoonists. Drawing supplies will be provided, so drop in.

Berlin: The Seven Dwarves

A World War II Lancaster bomber flies low across the English countryside as a girl watches from the road. One of the bomber’s twin tails is shot apart. One wing tip and flap are gone. Oil trails from its outer port engine. What is going on? And just like that you are sucked into the graphic novel Berlin: The Seven Dwarves.

The book follows the lives of the crew of the Arvo Lancaster bomber Snow White as they partake in dangerous night bombing raids against Nazi Germany. Author/illustrator Marvano aka Mark Van Oppen spins a nice yarn full of tense action, friendship and love in a historical setting. His graphics, especially of the flying equipment/action and the setting, are excellent.

Though Marvano’s (the author’s pen name) depictions of the night bombing action are excellent, some of his choices are interesting, especially his choice to show the dual engined push pull German Dornier Do 335 night fighter in one engagement. Admittedly it is a very cool plane, being menacing and high-tech looking, but it did not make its first maiden flight until after the action described in the book had occurred and per some records it may not have ever seen combat, period.

Beyond that though, this is an excellent read. Until now my reading of the British part of the strategic bombing campaign and their dangerous night missions had been limited to general histories and to the gripping young adult novel B is for Buster, about a young Canadian boy who works on a ground crew for a Handley Page Halifax bomber squadron, so this book, for sure from a mental imagery stand point, fills in some gaps.

If curious about the American part of the strategic bombing campaign, you can find quite a bit of specific literature out there about the 8th Air Force and its daylight bombing efforts against Germany flying the venerable Boeing B-17 and Consolidated B-24 (many of which were built right here in Ypsilanti). The library has both the informative and well written A Wing and A Prayer as well as the excellent teen novel, The Last Mission.

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me: a graphic memoir

Take an emotional roller coaster ride with Ellen Forney, author and illustrator of Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me: a graphic memoir. Meet Ellen in a manic period of life learning of her diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Follow her as she first attempts to deal with her mania without meds, and then with meds. For five years Ellen valiantly struggles as she works with her psychiatrist to achieve a balance without sacrificing her creative self. Woven in with Ellen's story you'll find information about the different levels of bipolar disorder, the creative people who have suffered from the disorder, and the array of medications patients may take in order to strike an emotional balance.

The drawings are cartoony in style but so expressive of Ellen during both the manic and depressive times of her life. In one part of the story the only thing you see on each page is a tiny Ellen lying on her side wrapped in a blanket. The pages with this image go on and on relentlessly. You want it to end because you hate the hopeless feeling those images portray, just a tiny fraction of what Ellen is enduring. Marbles is a remarkable book that won’t be easy to read or to put down.

Comics Are Great! 70 – Skype Author Visits with Stephen McCranie

Whether you’re self-publishing or working with a publisher, a cold hard reality we cartoonists face is getting the word out about your book. This time I’m joined by author Stephen McCranie for a discussion on how he used a special promotion on his site offering free Skype visits to schools to inspire kids and help spread awareness of his graphic novels.

Links mentioned in this episode (thanks to Eric Klooster for collecting them!):

Post-Nuclear-War Graphic Novels

In popular fiction, the atom bomb destroys not only physical matter, but also society and even reality as we know it. Nuclear destruction is the modern day equivalent of the biblical flood that wipes out the world and its entrenched order. Unfortunately (according to the imaginations of most writers) this tends to lead to an even more brutal world instead of giving our children a clean slate and a fresh start. I guess we’ll never learn. Here are a few of my favorite post-nuclear-war graphic novels.

Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind – This ecological parable from the artists of Studio Ghibli follows a teenage girl caught up in a war for the dwindling resources of the planet.

V for Vendetta – A masked crusader fights for freedom against the corrupt government in the post-nuclear totalitarian state of England.

Barefoot Gen – After the bomb destroys Hiroshima, Gen, his mother, and his little brother must find a way to survive and carry on with their lives.

The Dark Tower – The Gunslinger rides to meet his destiny among the sorceries and plots of his war-torn world.

Akira – Neo-Tokyo sits on the ruins of the old city, which was destroyed by a mysterious blast years earlier. Now history is beginning to repeat itself.

Saga, Volume One

Should the hype about Saga. Volume One convince you to read it? You bet! This tale of two soldiers from opposite sides involved in an endless galactic war who fall in love and attempt to initiate change through their newborn daughter will draw you in from the dramatic opening to the surprising end. Apparently writer Brian K. Vaughan has not previously used narration but effectively does so here in using the newborn Hazel to tell the story. Actually, it’s a grown up Hazel looking back who tells the story of how from the first breath of life there are those who try to wipe her and her parents off the galactic map.

I enjoyed Vaughan’s pacing and engaging characters. Fiona Staple’s stunning artwork creates amazing worlds and characters, balancing the poignant quiet moments with the battles for survival. Request this book and be ready when Saga, Volume Two arrives July 9!

Experience life in the trenches of World War I with Charley's War

On a “Military History – What are you Reading Now” booklist, I came across the Charley’s War series, set in World War I. Having just completed the excellent historical non-fiction WWII graphic novel, Two Generals, I thought I would check out how "the war to end all wars" was covered in graphic novel fashion.

Wow, I was not disappointed. Charley’s War 2 June 1916 – 1 August 1916 is the first in a series of volumes following the life of Charley Bourne, who enlists in the British Army at the age of 16. In this volume you see Charley go from enlistment to the frontlines just in time for preparations for the Battle of the Somme. By the time the attack is launched, you’ll know just enough about his trench mates to be anxious of their fate as they ‘go over the top’.

This series is actually a compilation of a 3 to 4 page strip that ran in the British comic book "Battle Action" from 1979-85. Writer Pat Mills moves the action along at a brisk but smooth pace. Though a few of the characters may seem a bit stock/stereotypical, every one of them is compelling and pulls you in to learn their story. Joe Colquhoun’s artwork – fantastic. As long as you are not turned off by black and white, there is much to like here. The details in the panels and the way they are laid out works great.

The period history seems well researched, and the book includes not only a section where the writer gives current day commentary and he does address a few things that in hindsight may not have been too accurate or likely to have occurred, but also includes a brief independent essay on the Battle of the Somme itself.

You may not agree with the author’s preface, but I think you will agree the graphic novel itself is one grim and gripping yarn.

Comic Artists Forum with Cartoonist and Children’s Book Illustrator Dani Jones

Sunday, January 6 | 1:00-3:00 PM | Downtown Library | 4th Floor Meeting Room

Via Skype, cartoonist Dani Jones will tell us about the joys, challenges, and tricks of juggling work as both a comics creator and as a children's book illustrator.

Dani has created and published her own comics stories, My Sister, the Freak, an ongoing webcomic, and Frosty the Gourdman, a Halloween short story comic. She recently wrote and illustrated the picture book, Monsters vs. Kittens for Stan Lee's Kids Universe and has illustrated other picture books including The Best Mariachi in the World, and Elfis, A Christmas Tale.

Join the Forum to get fresh ideas for your next comics or graphic novel creation. Drawing supplies are provided, so drop in to draw, learn, and network with other cartoonists.

Comics Are Great! 69 – Talking Drama with Raina Telgemeier

We close out the 2012 broadcast schedule with a special event! I’m joined by guest co-host Cassie, who helps me interview Raina Telgemeier about her latest graphic novel Drama. Together we talk about how Drama is a “spiritual sequel” to Smile, how an author might use their own experiences to inform their stories, and whose work most inspired Raina.

Toward the end of the episode we’re visited by Erin Helmrich of the Ann Arbor District Library for another round of great book recommendations!

Links mentioned in this episode (thanks to Eric Klooster for collecting them!):

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