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Comic Book Reviews: Batman Dark Knight, Spider-Girl, True Blood

December 29th, 2010 1 comment

New Reviews of This Week’s Releases!

Happy almost New Year, everybody! This week, we review Spider-Girl #2, Batman: The Dark Knight #1, Teen Titans #90, S.H.I.E.L.D. #5, Chaos War X-Men #1, Gotham City Sirens #18, Tiny Titans #35, and True Blood #6. Make sure to post below to let us know what we should be reviewing in 2011!

Batman The Dark Knight #1

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When You Need Help, Just Call Ian Brill and Leonel Castellani

December 27th, 2010 Comments off

Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers #1Boom! Studios and crew have knocked it out of the park again. This time, Ian Brill and Leonel Castellani bring back Chip ‘N’ Dale Rescue Rangers! Although only one issue has been released, we’re eagerly looking forward to what’s in store. To that end, as part of Kids Comics Month, we interviewed Ian Brill and Leonel Castellani!

TFAW.com: How did you become involved with Chip ‘N’ Dale Rescue Rangers?

Ian Brill: Because of my work on Darkwing Duck, Boom! asked me to write another title starring characters from the Disney Afternoon. So now I get to create the current adventures of both Darkwing and the Rescue Rangers, a task I take quite seriously and am having a lot of fun with!

Leonel Castellani: Some time ago a Boom! Assistant Editor contacted me to work on a Toy Story project that I couldn’t accept due to other work commitments, but he was cool enough to keep me in mind and offer me the Rescue Rangers project some time later. I’m super glad he did because I’m having a great time working with these characters.

TFAW.com: Has series creator Tad Stones, been involved with the new comic book series, or have you pretty much run with it?

Brill: I come up with the situations and write the scripts. Tad is a friend and I have talked to him about these characters, his insights are extremely helpful.

TFAW.com: You’ve already done a great job of getting us reacquainted with Gadget, Monterey Jack, and Zipper in issue #1. Was that decision because you felt your audience already knew Chip and Dale well enough to get the series started?

Brill: Writing issue #1 I tried to give everyone a piece of the spotlight. Plus we included a Who’s Who of the cast in the beginning of the book, giving me more room to tell our story. I think we hit the perfect balance of reintroducing these characters and giving them a new story.

TFAW.com: Can you tell us a bit more about the first arc, “Worldwide Rescue”?

Brill: Something from both Gadget and Monterey Jack’s past is being misused by an arch-villain. It’s a global event that takes the team to various locales, each of them a new challenge.

TFAW.com: What’s been the most rewarding part of bringing these characters back into action?

Brill: Capturing the voices, these fantastic personalities. These are great characters that are so versatile, and I love thinking about where to take them.

Castellani: Getting the chance to work with such great characters and awesome scripts by Ian is simply amazing. I’m having a lot of fun drawing these little guys, and it’s very special to see the reaction of the fans everywhere. I’ve received many emails from fans that are super excited to see their beloved characters back in action. Some of them are especially thankful for getting the chance to introduce these characters to their kids. That’s pretty amazing.

Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers #1 First Look

TFAW.com: What’s been the most difficult part?

Brill: I work hard to make sure that every character is given their due, plus that the threat they’re up against is made clear. It’s important to me these are clearly told, entertaining stories that feature many elements that all generations an enjoy.

Castellani: Deadlines!

TFAW.com: Who’s your favorite RR to write or draw (and why?)

Brill: I like them all, but Dale and Monterey Jack can be the most all-out fun because because they are always moving forward, blustering into situations.

Castellani: To be honest, I don’t really have a favorite. I just try to concentrate on the acting and reactions of the characters to every situation, and above all things, try to tell the story as clearly as possible. But it’s super fun to draw all of them.

However, I must say there’s something in this particular storyline related to Monterey Jack, and the way he’s beginning to see the world in a different perspective, that makes him very interesting to draw.

TFAW.com: The world of RR seems much larger than ours, with virtually endless possibilities for adventures. What are you excited to show us in the coming months?

Brill: I’ve been thinking a lot about what happens when other critters in this world step up and be as ostentatious as the Rescue Rangers, whether they be heroes or villains. How do the Rescue Rangers deal with other parties who really want to carve out their own piece of the little but also giant world?

Castellani: Fun and adventure in every way possible.

TFAW.com: Leonel’s art is absolutely knock-out. The facial expressions are spot-on and the characters really feel alive. What’s it like working with such a talented artist?

Brill: Leonel is fantastic. I’m confident when I turn in a script that he will get the big adventurous parts down, as well as all the emotions the characters get express. He attends to all these aspects of the story. It’s a joy to see these stories come alive with his work, as well as the work of colorist Jake Myler and letterer Jason Arthur.

TFAW.com: What role do you see comic books like Chip ‘N’ Dale Rescue Rangers, playing in childhood literacy and fostering a love of reading?

Brill: I hope these get kids to enjoy both graphic literature as well as the entire spectrum of the written word. I know comics played a major part in my reading experience, leading me to spend a lot of time in the library discovering both comics and prose. I can only hope I pass that on to a new generation.

Castellani: I think it’s very important to encourage children to read, and comic books are an excellent (and sadly underrated) way to introduce them into the world of literature. I think all-ages comic books play an extremely important part in the formation of young readers.

TFAW.com: What other all-ages books are you reading right now?

Brill: With regret I have to admit I barely have time to read new comics. I do revisit Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge stories and Jeff Smith’s Bone, which are two brightly shining guiding lights for me.

Castellani: Actually, I’m not following any comic series right now. I did receive a few TPB’s of some awesome comics that I haven’t read before and found great. Mike Kunkel’s Hero Bear and The Kid is great, for instance. My friend Todd Dezago sent me the first Pehapanauts TPB and I enjoyed that one a lot. And of course, I’m always coming back to my old collection to re-read the classics like Asterix by Goscinni and Uderzo, Spirou by André Franquin.

TFAW.com: Do you have any other upcoming projects you’re working on?

Brill: I’m cooking up a lot of new ideas for both Rescue Rangers and Darkwing, I hope people enjoy them!

Castellani: I’m developing an all-ages adventure graphic novel to hopefully be released sometime next year. And that’s all I can say about that.

Thanks again for you time, gents. It’s been a fun interview!

It’s not too late to jump into Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers! Jump aboard and get in on all the action!

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Fond memories of the Disney Afternoon shows? Was Rescue Rangers one of your favorites? What did you think of the first issue? Let us know below.

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Comic Book Reviews: Larfleeze Christmas, Axe Cop, The Guild Vork

December 22nd, 2010 Comments off

New Reviews of This Week’s Releases!

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas! This week, our comic book reviews include some very special titles: Axe Cop Vol. 1, The Guild: Vork One-Shot, Chew #16, X-Men #6, Nemesis #4, Incognito: Bad Influences #2, What If? Dark Reign, Secret Avengers #8, Green Lantern: Larfleeze Christmas Special, Archie #616, and Thor: The Mighty Avenger The God Who Fell Into Earth graphic novel.

Green Lantern Larfleeze Christmas Special

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Artist Chris Samnee Talks About the End of Thor: The Mighty Avenger

December 20th, 2010 Comments off

Thor: The Mighty AvengerOne of my favorite new comic book series of 2010 has been Thor: The Mighty Avenger, by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee. It is extremely difficult to take a character with decades of history and continuity and “re-boot” it in a way that’s A.) accessible and appealing to new readers and B.) doesn’t inspire nerd rage in longtime comic book fans. Thor: The Mighty Avenger has been a huge success on both fronts, and although it’s not technically an “All-Ages” comic (it’s rated “A”: appropriate for age 9 and up), it’s an excellent addition to Kids Comics Month.

Depicting a more human-sized Thor who has been banished to Earth to find redemption, Thor: The Mighty Avenger has been having a blast depicting Thor’s romance with Jane Foster, his camaraderie with the Warriors Three, a hilarious battle with Captain Britain, plus robots, sea monsters, Namor, and much more. Samnee’s incredibly expressive, fun artwork has perfectly complemented Langridge’s deft writing.

Unfortunately, one area Thor: The Mighty Avenger has not been a huge success is in sales: while issue #1 debuted with about 20,000 copies sold, sales eventually dipped below 10,000, and the series ends in January with issue #8. This has prompted an online campaign to save the book, so who knows? You should probably order Thor: The Mighty Avenger Vol. 01 The God Who Fell to Earth to be on the safe side.

Without further ado, in honor of this very special book, we present an interview with artist extraordinaire Chris Samnee (name rhymes with “Omni”):

Thor The Mighty Avenger #5TFAW.com: Hi Chris, thanks for “chatting” with us today! First, I wanted to tell you how much I’ve been loving Thor: The Mighty Avenger. It has been delightful, and it’s inspired such an enthusiastic fan response. Did you have any idea how beloved the book would be?

Chris Samnee: Thanks so much. It’s my pleasure. As for feedback I really had no idea what the response to the book was going to be like. Upon reading the first outline that Roger Langridge had put together I knew it would be a new fresh take and that it looked like it was going to be a ton of fun for me to work on. I was just keeping my fingers crossed that readers would like it as much as I did.

TFAW.com: Had you been a fan of Thor previously? What kind of research did you do before you started the book?

CS: I had read plenty of Thor and Avengers comics growing up and was familiar with the character, but for some reason he never really spoke to me. After being offered the job on Thor: TMA I picked up the Marvel: Essential volumes of Thor by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and started at the very beginning. Reading those early adventures gave me a much better idea of what Thor’s character really is, without all of the baggage he seems to have amassed over the years.

TFAW.com: Thor has had so many incarnations over the years and years–and years! How did you create his look for this series?

Thor The Mighty Avenger #7 Page 1CS: Thor’s look in Thor: TMA is sort of a cross between Kirby’s classic interpretation of Thor, Coipel’s Thor, movie Thor and a healthy dose of what I think would look neat on him. The original editor of the book, Nate Cosby, had given me a few hints at what the movie’s incarnation of Thor would be and asked if I could give Thor the metal sleeves. Beyond that Roger and I fought for the blue pants. They seem to bring his look back a bit closer to the Silver Age version.

TFAW.com: Even though Thor is many eons old compared to a human, he’s relatively young in Asgardian years–and he looks it in the book. He’s a much more human-sized Thor here; sometimes he has his godly moments, and sometimes he looks like a kid playing dress up. Was that intentional?

CS: Well, I wanted this incarnation of Thor to be a bit more relatable, a bit more down to Earth. According to editor Nate Cosby, he’s closer in power level to the Superman seen in the Fleisher Studios cartoon from the ’40s. Beyond that–as he was banished to Midgard–he was stripped of Mjonlir and de-powered. A slighter build on Thor for this story works as a bit of a shorthand for that.

TFAW.com: What’s it been like, working with writer Roger Langridge?

CS: It has been an absolute pleasure. I don’t know that I’ve ever had more fun making comics. Roger and I just seem to click on the stories we want to tell. Also, as an artist himself, he is a master of pacing out story beats. Not just issue for issue but panel-by-panel on the page. Each page of Thor: TMA has an average of six to eight panels, which is considerably more than the average book on the shelf nowadays, but every single beat counts. I’d work with Roger again in a heartbeat if the opportunity ever arises.

Thor The Mighty Avenger #7 Page 2TFAW.com: The story is pretty pared down, usually focusing on a few characters at the most, but you’ve been able to draw a wide range of things–Asgard, Captain Britain, the Warriors Three, a dragon–as well as situations: everything from quiet, romantic moments to epic fights. Do you feel like you’re really flexing your artistic muscles?

CS: Oh, for sure! But it’s not just in this book. In comic books artists are called on to draw any variety of people, things or situations. Every project I take on pushes me to learn and make myself a better, more well-rounded artist.

TFAW.com: The book is ending with issue #8. Do you feel like you and Roger got to complete the story in a satisfying way?

CS: It’s as satisfying as each issue has been, I suppose. Roger does a great job of keeping each issue basically self-contained. There are still a number of plot threads left open and a considerable mystery left to be sorted out by the end of #8, but I think it ends on a pretty great note.

TFAW.com: Your style is so unique–it’s got a cartoony feel to it, but it’s so expressive and engaging. How did you develop your technique?

CS: I’m not sure . . . My style is really just a collection of my varied influences and how I see the world. I wish I had a better answer, but there was nothing deliberate about developing a style. This is just how it comes out.

TFAW.com: I’ve heard (from you!) that you once completed an astounding 11 pages of artwork in a day. How did you develop such a steady work ethic?

Thor The Mighty Avenger #7 Page 3CS: The 11 pages of pencils in a day is my record. It was for an issue of Thor after I had gotten comfortable with the characters, design, story and locations so it’s hardly an average. Generally, I produce 11 pages of pencils or inks each week. I like to think that I had a strong work ethic (inherited from my dad) before I was drawing comics professionally. Early on in my career, I realized that I wanted to pencil and ink a monthly comic, which meant I had to work harder and be faster to meet that kind of deadline.

TFAW.com: What artists did you like growing up?

CS: As a kid, I was really into Tom Mandrake (who illustrated the first comics I ever read), Jim Aparo, Tom Lyle, Norm Breyfogle. Pretty much every artist working on Batman in the mid-’80s was my hero.

TFAW.com: You mentioned recently that you started going to conventions and talking up editors when you were 12. Were you always certain that you’d grow up to draw comics?

CS: Absolutely! Ever since I was about six years old I had no doubt in my mind that “comic artist” was where I was going to end up. My string of crappy jobs from the time I was 16 can attest to the fact that I never even came up with a back-up plan outside of drawing comics.

TFAW.com: Obviously, you must have been a kid who loved comics. How do you feel about kids comics today?

CS: I think some of the best comics being put out right now are “kids” comics. I love Tiny Titans, Thor and the Warriors Four, Franklin Richards, and everything that Paul Tobin writes for the Marvel Adventures line.

Thor The Mighty Avenger #7 Page 4TFAW.com: When I was putting together my wishlist of interviews about all-ages comics, I was kind of surprised when I realized Thor: The Mighty Avenger was an all-ages comic. It just reads like a great comic to me, regardless of audience. Have you even approached this like a kids comic?

CS: Well, it’s actually rated “A,” so it’s not technically an “All-Ages” comic (“A” is the rating above “All-Ages”), but I think it has an all-ages sensibility to it, so I understand why it’s been mislabeled. My approach to Thor: TMA hasn’t been any different than my approach to anything else I’ve done. I always just try and tell the story as best I can, regardless of the perceived audience.

TFAW.com: Are you excited for the Thor movie?

CS: Oh man, you don’t even know! I can’t wait to see it!! I must’ve watched the Thor footage that was shown out at SDCC at least a dozen times. :D

TFAW.com: You’ve also had another very popular work, Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale come out. What kind of feedback have you gotten thus far?

CS: Well, there’s been an awful lot of positive feedback, which I’ve been very happy to hear. I’m sure there are some fans who prefer a more photo-realistic art style to the approach I took in drawing the characters. I tried to stay true to the actor’s likenesses, but not at the expense of not having the characters in the book “act.” I wanted the characters in Shepherd’s Tale to be their own characters, inspired by the actors in the show, but not dictated by them.

Serenity: The Shepherd's TaleTFAW.com: Were there any Serenity-related moments you were itching to draw that didn’t make it into the book?

CS: Not really. Between Shepherd’s Tale and the eight-page “Downtime” story we did for USA Today, I got to draw a lot of Serenity goodness!

TFAW.com: If you had a pick another Serenity character and draw a one-shot around him or her, who would you pick, and what kind of story would you like to tell?

CS: Hmmmm, I think probably Kaylee or Jayne. For either of them, I’d love to know their back stories.

TFAW.com: It’s still pretty early in your career: what kinds of projects are on your “to-do” list?

CS: There’s a list as long as my arm of characters I’d like to draw one day. At the top of my list is Batman or any of Batman’s supporting cast, like Commissioner Gordon and Alfred. I’d love to do a book starring Lois Lane and/or Jimmy Olsen. Apparently I have a thing for supporting characters. At the end of the day, though, as exciting as it is to draw characters that I grew up reading, I’d really like to do something creator owned. Something that I can call my own. That’s a big one for me.

TFAW.com: Could you please pair up with Jeff Parker and make the awesomest Kitty Pryde [pictured below, via Chris Samnee's official site] and Lockheed miniseries ever?

Kitty Pryde Chris SamneeCS: I don’t know about Kitty Pryde . . . but working with Parker on Agents of Atlas vs. X-Men backups last year was a blast, so I’d love to work on anything with him. Working with Parker again is definitely on my to-do list for 2011.

TFAW.com: What other projects do you have in the works?

CS: I have a number of projects I’m juggling at the moment. Unfortunately, I can’t really talk about them just yet. Hopefully I’ll be able to spill some beans soon.

TFAW.com: Thanks again, Chris!

Remember to check out Thor: The Mighty Avenger, as well as Chris Samnee’s upcoming comics! Want to stay up-to-date on future promotions and projects? Follow @TFAW and @ChrisSamnee on Twitter!

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Are you sad to see Thor: The Mighty Avenger go? Post your comments and opinions below!

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TFAW Interviews The Muppets’ Amy Mebberson

December 17th, 2010 Comments off

Muppet Sherlock HolmesIt’s time to play the music! It’s time to light the lights! It’s time to meet Amy Mebberson from The Muppet Show tonight!

Erm . . . err . . . excuse me! I get very excited talking about Boom! Studios’ Muppet Show comics, and I couldn’t have been more pleased to interview artist Amy Mebberson for Kids Comics Month! Read on to learn about her favorite characters (she helped bring back Skeeter!) and why she loves the Muppets so much.

TFAW.com: Hi Amy, thanks for “meeting” with us for the interview! So what’s your “origin story”–how did you break into comics?

Amy Mebberson: I’ve drawn comics for fun almost my entire life, but I didn’t start doing them professionally until 2006. I was lucky in that I got to segue quite smoothly into comics from my former career in animation at Walt Disney Animation Australia. Our studio was shut down in the great 2D purge, and I was fortunate to win a spot in Tokyopop’s Rising Stars of Manga contest in 2005. That resulted in being approached to do a graphic novel series with writer T Campbell. So basically as soon as Disney Sydney closed down, I sat down at my desk at home and started creating Divalicious! with Campbell, which ran to two volumes.

TFAW.com: What’s it like moving from animation to drawing comics? What particular advantages/disadvantages does that pose?

Muppet Sherlock HolmesAM: Well, certain aspects of the animation process certainly have a lot in common with sequential comic art. Storyboarding is, in my opinion, an obvious cousin to comics. I think working in animation helps with comics because when doing traditional drawn animation, you have to have a really solid grasp on how people, animals and objects are constructed and work from all angles. If an animation character is not logically well-constructed and drawn, it will not move or act convincingly.

Of course I’m referring mostly to full-movement, non-limited animation in the classic Disney/WB styles, but most mainstream comic books, especially action comics, have a style rooted still very much in a “real” world based on realistic organic construction. It’s pretty easy to tell if a comic artist really doesn’t know how human anatomy works. *laughs*

As for disadvantages, well as a former character animation artist, the learning curve can be a little steep jumping from just drawing characters to drawing full sets, props and effects as well.

The premium posed by limited page space means that many times I can’t draw detailed character acting because there just isn’t room to draw multiple nuanced panels. It’s often necessary to pare down a character’s pose to just one which best conveys multiple emotions in the few lines of dialogue they might have in that panel.

TFAW.com: What do you like best about drawing kids comics?

AM: Doing comics directly targeted at kids was never really an intentional goal of mine. I consider Disney comics to be universally appealing, not just something for kids. So I don’t really consider myself a “kids” comic artist, even though that’s what most of my titles are branded under. I draw all-ages comics that appeal to me personally and I love cartoons. I kept watching cartoons long after I left childhood–a great source of consternation to my mother, who thought there might be something wrong with me!

Muppet Sherlock HolmesTFAW.com: So, how many times have you watched The Muppet Show and various Muppet movies now? Do you have a favorite episode or movie?

AM: Well, I’ve only reacquainted myself with The Muppet Show to the extent of DVD availability, but I certainly have very fond memories of loving the Muppets as a kid. My favourite Muppet movie is definitely the first one. It’s just a movie that goes along at its own pace and the story is pretty much incidental to watching the Muppets just be themselves and be funny.

The “Rainbow Connection” sequence used to play on the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corp) between shows after school, so that song is a very powerful memory of my childhood.

As for favourite Muppet Show episode–the Spike Milligan episode, because far too few Americans have ever heard of Spike and it’s so fun watching his anarchic comedy genius. It contains a few things which sadly are a little non-PC nowadays, but I’m a staunch defender of period comedy being allowed to exist and still be appreciated without being judged by modern standards.

TFAW.com: How did you get involved with the Muppet comics and Boom! Studios?

AM: I had heard that Boom! had the Pixar/Muppet comics license from one of my old Tokyopop editors, Tim Beedle, who now works for Archaia on Fraggle Rock.

He put me in touch with then-editor Paul Morrissey and he invited me to submit art to “audition” for Disney. Disney, of course, has final say on all story pitches, scripts, artists and covers for everything they own.

Muppet Sherlock HolmesSo I submitted model sheets for Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and Nemo and got accepted for Monsters Inc. and Nemo. While I was working on MI, Paul knew I wanted a crack at the Muppets, so he invited me to do a variant cover for Muppet Show #1, intended for Midtown Comics in Manhattan. The rest was history. I continued to do variant covers for the regular Muppet Show before I was assigned to Muppet Peter Pan.

TFAW.com: Looking at your Muppet comics and sketches, there’s just such joy radiating out from the page–where does that come from?

AM: The Muppets are pure joy. That was Jim Henson’s biggest dream and legacy–to leave joy behind in the world. There’s no mean-ness or cruelty in the Muppets, even when they bicker amongst themselves. I’m grateful the Muppets hark back to a time before heavy cynicism took over a lot of popular entertainment and comedy. Being a ’70s baby and an ’80s child, I think we were arguably the last generation to grow up in a genuinely more innocent time. Plus, I’m a pretty lofty idealist myself and being happy is kind of my default state ;)

TFAW.com: Do you have a favorite character to draw? I love the way you draw Piggy.

AM: I love drawing old-school glamour girls, so Piggy just comes very naturally to me. But for favourite character, it’s definitely the frog. Kermit’s face squishing up in that myriad of expressions under Jim’s amazing talent–I love it.

TFAW.com: You’re also known for your love of the Muppet Babies‘ Skeeter–you actually were the driving factor to bring her into the Muppet “universe” proper. What is it about her that you like?

Muppet Sherlock HolmesAM: I was a rabid Muppet Babies fan back in the day, but oddly, Skeeter wasn’t my favourite character then. I just loved them all. So I always carried that little bit of perturbment as to why Skeeter never made the transition to the adult cast, even in Muppets Tonight. While working ideas for further Muppet Classics, my editor and I would often lament that there weren’t enough women in the Muppet gang to cast roles in! What I loved about Skeeter was that from the start, she was deliberately created to be the opposite of Piggy and to provide balance for the main female protagonist.

Piggy’s a diva, Janice is a flower child and Skeeter is a tomboy. Someone has to make teasing the Pig a full-time hobby!

TFAW.com: How did you determine her grown-up look?

AM: That came absolutely without thinking. Scooter and Skeeter are twins, but were also written in Muppet Babies to be opposites–Scooter the computer geek and Skeeter the athlete. So it made perfect sense that she’d wear clothes that looked like she both slept in them and did an hour of parkour in them. Scooter is Kermit’s devoted gofer and does what the boss says, so Skeeter would be the runaway who joined the circus. Her green stripey leggings are of course a nod to their beloved Nanny, who was only ever seen from the knees down.

I sketched her once and knew she looked just right. Luckily, Disney agreed with me. ;)

TFAW.com: Besides the regular Muppet Show comic, you’ve worked on a lot of the Muppet “adaptations” of other stories: Muppet Peter Pan, King Arthur, and now Sherlock Holmes. What is it like to have to draw these characters in all of these different costumes and settings?

Muppet Sherlock HolmesAM: Drawing period settings is always a blast for me, because I love history and costume design. Muppet Sherlock Holmes is a crazy mishmash of anachronistic gags, but I kept the look firmly in late Victorian London. I discovered that any Muppet is immediately funnier when you add facial hair.

TFAW.com: What kind of feedback do you get from Disney?

AM: The Muppet Team at Disney have been fantastic and I’m proud that I have never actually been asked to change anything in my art. Disney are naturally very particular about the way their characters are presented, but with the Muppets, they were more focused on the writing side rather than the art. While getting the characters right is important in any licensed comic story, it’s very important with the Muppets.

It’s testament to Jerry Juhl’s skill as chief Muppet writer for so long that they remain very hard to write. Roger Langridge and Jesse Blaze Snider were our two standout Muppet writers and I’d love to work with either of them in the future. But as far as art goes, Disney have been very generous in allowing different styles, which is why we have seen my very on-model art existing happily alongside the super-toon styles of Langridge and James Silvani (Muppet King Arthur and Darkwing Duck).

TFAW.com: There’s been a big push lately, with Boom! and with other publishers, in kids comics. Do you feel like kids are responding to these books?

The grown-up Skeeter!

The grown-up Skeeter!

AM: I’m not really qualified to comment on how well the comics have done generally, but we had fantastic response from kids and parents at the Cons we did throughout 2010. When we have comics based on hugely successful movies/franchises like Cars and Toy Story, kids’ heads are going to turn when they see the huge Lightning McQueen banner at our booth!

Monsters Inc. was very popular with little girls–well, what little girl doesn’t want to be Boo and have a big blue cuddly monster take care of her? Parents were very drawn to the Muppet Classics, probably because a familiar fairy tale retold by funny animals is always a safe, fun bet. ;) I had several parents tell me they’d read Muppet Peter Pan to their kids doing all the voices, which is just awesome.

TFAW.com: What would you say to a parent who’s on the fence about his or her child reading comics?

AM: Let the kid read comics. Go into any comic store and ask and there will always be something safe for kids to read.

I grew up reading George Herriman’s Krazy Kat and I turned out okay! Why’s everyone looking at me . . . ?

TFAW.com: If you could *poof!* pick any other comic that’s currently being published to draw, what would you choose?

Miss Piggy CBLDF Sketch Amy Mebberson

Amy's beautiful Miss Piggy sketch for the CBLDF.

AM: There are a couple of comics I would love to draw, unfortunately neither of them exist: Jem and the Holograms and She-Ra, Princess of Power. Someone do something about this!

But for the serious answer: Top of the list would be Doctor Who. Even though I have never drawn serious sci-fi, I’d love the challenge to draw it on a show I love.

I’d also jump to do any further Disney comics that may be in the pipeline in the wake of the success of Darkwing Duck. I’ve done quite a few covers for Darkwing and Rescue Rangers, and they bring my animation background back full circle!

TFAW.com: What else do you have coming up?

AM: I have a couple of projects in gestation, but unfortunately I can’t talk about any of them yet! Most vexing.

Our thanks to Amy for the interview! While you’re here, scope out our Muppet comics and graphic novels for the little readers in your life–or even yourself (we won’t tell!). You can also check out Amy’s cover art for Donald Duck & Friends and Mickey Mouse & Friends.

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Comic Book Reviews: Charmed, Next Men, Star Wars Legacy: War

December 15th, 2010 Comments off

New Reviews of This Week’s Releases!

We’re back–and better than ever! This week, we review Green Lantern #60, Darkwing Duck #7, John Byrne’s Next Men #(3)1, Avengers Academy #7, Charmed #4, Conan: Road of Kings #1, and Star Wars Legacy: War #1.

Charmed #4

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Alex Simmons Talks Kids Comic Con & Archie

December 14th, 2010 Comments off

Archie #616Alex Simmons is a busy man. Not only is he writing five titles for Archie Comics, including Archie, Archie & Friends, Betty & Veronica, Jughead, and Veronica–and launching the “New Kids off the Wall,” a big new story arc that will introduce a new gang of characters into the Archie universe–but Simmons is also the founder of Kids Comic Con, a yearly event at Bronx Community College focused on developing kids’ imaginations, which also travels to various cons throughout the year. When we spoke, he was about to embark on a week-long trip to Senegal, Africa, where he is presenting a version of his Kids Comic Con and showcasing his “Color of Comics” exhibit, which celebrates all of the different cultural influences in comics. He has since returned with pictures and video of this incredible event–see below!

This, of course, makes him a perfect interview subject for Kids Comics Month. Read on to learn about the genesis of Kids Comic Con, how he’s making Archie less “whitebread,” and what his plans are for . . . Ethel?

TFAW.com: You’ve got your fingers in a lot of different projects. You write, you organize conventions, you do voiceover work, you do a lot of different things. How do you juggle it all?

Alex Simmons: I don’t sleep. I squeeze a family in there, too! I would have to say it started in my youth. I started out with a great love of drawing and writing. I wanted to become an illustrator, but by the time I graduated high school, I was interested in performing. So I sort of combined the three and did theater and extra work in films.

I was doing Off-Off-Off Broadway shows, and when you do that you design your own flyers, and your own promotions and stuff. And I was also teaching and doing a lot of theater workshops and working with kids. And so a lot of that became part of my makeup.

I always had a love of comics. So eventually writing theater led to me writing a couple of screenplays that didn’t go anywhere, which led to writing some comic book concepts, which led to getting published here and there, which, a few years later, led to properties like Blackjack and Race Against Time, and doing some stuff for DC and Archie.

Archie #617Over the years, my interest built and my experience grew, and some things I’d do and leave and come back to, and some things I would continue to do alongside of other things.

TFAW.com: You seem to be quite an activist for kids comics. As a comics lover myself I can see why this is important, but what do you tell people who have never picked up comics and have kids?

AS: It’s funny because I guess by virtue of what I do, I’m an advocate for comics, but really I think of myself more as an advocate of the creative arts and kids’ imagination, and validating that imagination. And comics are one of the ways that stimulate the imagination. When I talk to people who are unbelievers, I talk about the average child and that formula that has existed through time: a child sees something that stimulates wonder and curiosity, they imagine possibilities, and they pretend. And in those moments of pretending and wondering, they sometimes set their goals for the future: “I want to grow up to be a doctor or adventurer,” or whatever it is.

Comics, for me, and for a lot of friends of mine, were one of the ways we went away. We escaped from the mundane, or from the tragic or the abusive. It was a safe haven and it was a place where you could believe anything was possible. All I’m trying to do now is use this as one of many tools to help young people see the possibilities. I feel very strongly that we’ve taken that away from them.

Over the past few years I have seen articles about how–even in some of the more prestigious colleges–abstract thought, problem solving, new ideas, are not as plentiful as in previous years. And that’s probably for a good series of reasons, but one of the reasons in particular is, you’ve killed it. You killed the imagination in kids early. You made them robots, you made them focus on only what they could see and touch and hear and feel, as if that is all that exists. And subsequently, kids can’t imagine, and can’t think outside the box. They can’t even think about thinking outside the box.

Archie #614 New Kids Off the WallBut comics allow us to do that. I regret there aren’t as many genres as there used to be, but I still feel there’s a lot of material–some from the mainstream, but a lot of it from independents, whether it’s somebody who’s just putting together their first project, or it’s smaller companies who are doing some nice projects, whether educational or otherwise. There are a lot more genres in the independent range than there are within the mainstream range.

TFAW.com: I was just at a convention where they were talking about how the mainstream comics industry turned away from kids in the late ’80s and the ’90s. Now, in the last few years, Archie has been getting a lot of press for doing new things with their titles, and Boom! has put out so many kids’ titles. How do you feel about this resurgence in kids comics? Is it enough?

AS: No. Not at all. Not even in the slightest sense, but it is something. I mean, for one, Archie–what they’re doing now is attracting attention, but Archie is one of the few companies that didn’t walk away from the young audience to begin with. That is something that was adamantly stated to me years ago, but I’ve also seen that over the years that I’ve been working with them. I’ve been able to go through their history, and they’ve never stopped publishing, and they’ve never abandoned their audience, and that’s something the [overall] industry did.

I really feel that except for some people, the industry hasn’t come back because they value kids; they’ve come back because of the green stream, the money. “Oh yeah, this is a hot item right now. This will sell. Let’s knock this out.” And you can tell if you look at the quality of some of the books being done in the mainstream for kids: it’s the same old. It’s the formula. I’ve actually worked with editors and run into editors who consider this grunt work, so they can get on a “real” book.

So no, it’s not enough. It’s only enough when you’re talking to people who are really behind it. They want the quality out there, and they really love the audience they’re working for. Yeah, I do adult stuff, too. But when I write a children’s book, that’s not a step down: that’s never been a step down. That’s the audience that I also respect and enjoy. I want them to have a good time, and I want to do my best work for them.

Archie & Friends #148TFAW.com: Why do you think there’s such a stigma within the industry and with creators for kids’ books?

AS: I feel that what happened in the ’70s and ’80s in particular colored a lot of what you’re seeing now. Comics used to be, and I’m talking way way back in the ’40s and ’50s, comics were a legitimate form of entertainment: not necessarily respected, but nevertheless, they were out there. The audience was mostly kids. There were some adults, but really, comics were a kids’ entertainment property, and through the ’50s and ’60s, they were still pretty much considered a kids’ entertainment property.

But then what started to happen, both good and bad, is that people who grew up loving comics and got into the industry, and who were also dealing with the ’60s and ’70s and the social revolution and all that, began to do more mature stories. Race situations began to be discussed and explored, taboos were broken, social issues with drugs and poverty–all of these things started to creep into the stories.

I thought that was cool, personally, as a young audience member at that time. I thought, naively, that this was simply going to be another reading level for comics; I never envisioned giving up one for another. But that’s what happened. And I think that aside from the social issues, multiple crossovers and multiple-chapter stories started to make them more complex.

So we ended up with a lot of adult stories, and very few things that could be considered kid oriented. The things that did exist, like Leave It to Chance, which was very high quality, done by DC and created by James Robinson and Paul Smith, those fragile few didn’t get the kind of push that the more mature storylines were getting. It just wasn’t happening. If you were doing 100 Bullets, you got a lot of attention, you got a lot of media, you were a hot ticket. If you were doing something like Leave It to Chance, you got some mention at a certain point, but then you got left in the dust. So I feel like we burned those bridges.

Archie & Friends #149For a good 10 years we ignored kids–and I say “we,” but I was not a part of that–and so for 10 years or so, kids were not looking at comics, unless they were looking at an Archie or maybe the Disney Donald Duck and things like that. But for the most part, a good percentage of kids were not. Parents weren’t buying them for them. Some kids that I know said, “I’m tired of having to buy 12 or 15 issues of a story in order to get through to the end.” So they stopped.

Well, if you’re not developing that audience base, then who do you think is buying your books? To me, it wasn’t until books that used to sell 100,000 copies dropped down to 40,000 copies that the industry got scared. It wasn’t until Marvel almost went into bankruptcy that it got scared. And right now, it’s a wonderful thing that graphic novels and comics are being considered an educational tool, and they’re being more respected because of graphic novels like Maus and so forth; that’s great. But I even see that as, “Okay, how long is that going to last?”

If we don’t honestly want to put out books for a younger audience and for an all-ages audience, then it’s only going to be what’s cool right now–and the moment that’s no longer cool, it’s going to disappear. You get a halfhearted campaign behind it, the writers and the artists aren’t respected, and before you know it, it’s gone.

TFAW.com: So I’m assuming that’s why you started organizing your Kids Comic Con, which has been running for four years now?

AS: Yes. 2007 was the first official Kids Comic Con, but I’d been trying to get the main conventions to do a section of their convention floors for kids since the late ’90s. When Wizard Magazine bought the Chicago Comic Con, Garrett Seamus let me do what I called Kids Corner. They gave me a section of the convention floor, and I was able to develop events and activities in that area for young people. You had panels, you had guest artists, you had workshops, just like I have in the Kids Comic Con. And we had artists that I knew, as well as people like Kurt Busiek. And they were happy to do something, to sit there for a half-hour or 45 minutes, and talk to kids and teens about their work, and how they liked comics when they were that age.

Teenagers who were forced to bring their younger siblings knew that, “Okay, you’re going to have a 45-minute class on how to draw comics; I’m going to go look at the mature stuff or the outrageous stuff I want to look at and not have to worry about you.” And so it worked really well at that event, and then I was never asked to do it again.

So a few years went by, until a black comic convention called ECBACC, the East Coast Black Age of Comics Con, invited me to bring the Kids Corner over to their event, which I did, and they still do it there. I don’t do it every year, but they still do it.

Betty & Veronica #250Then in 2006, I met Eugene Adams at Bronx Community College. He had found me online through a couple of projects I had done, and he’s the Director of Educational Outreach there at BCC. So we organized through BCC and some of the middle schools and high schools they had relationships with, and I did a number of workshops there. Then, at certain point he asked, “What else do you want to do?” I said I would really like to do a professional development conference, where I have a certain number of professional comic book writers and artists and editors come and speak to a large group of high school and college students about this business, as a business. It’s the art of comics; it’s also the business of comics.

So he said fine, and we set that up, and people thought, well, maybe 15 or 20 students would show up, and we had a conference room, and it was jammed–I think we had more than 200 students showed up, and something like 15 teachers. It was crazy; it was standing room only. And then he asked me again, he said, “Well that went well. What do you want to do next?” And I said I’d always wanted to do an all-ages comic convention for kids that would have certain elements in play that I felt very strongly they would benefit from. It would be a cool, fun thing, but it would also be a learning experience. And again he said, “Fine, let’s do that,” and I put it together with his support and the support of the college, and that was in 2007.

And we thought, again, “Well, I’ll bring in 10 of my professional friends, they’d be happy to do it, because we’ve had these conversations over the years, and we’ll probably get 50 to 100 people from the general community,” because Bronx Community College is sort of out of the way. But word got out via the Internet and the next thing I know, I’m getting “Thank you” emails from the West Coast and Mexico, and people saying, “I wish I could be there, but bless you for doing this,” and I thought that’s pretty cool, and I was getting a number of artists and writers and editors saying, “I’d love to be there.”

I told them, “This isn’t going to be the usual Con, where you’ll make hand-over-fist money. You’ve got to be willing to talk to the kids who come up to your table and really just want to ask questions. That’s what we’re here for. If you sell something, great, but it’s about being there to answer questions and to share with them what you do.” And they said, “No, we want to be there.” So we ended up with 45 professionals at different tables and booths and things, we did panels and demonstrations, and some people just sat there all day and gave away free sketches.

Jughead #204And we wound up with close to 800 to 1,000 people. A brand-new convention on the outskirts of the Bronx–I mean, we weren’t in the desert, but it’s not exactly on the beaten track. We even had people who drove down from Connecticut, who came up from Pennsylvania, and–to my shock–we had two librarians who flew in from Chicago. That was year one, and the amazing thing was at the end of the day, when the last patron had left, the artists and the publishers were standing around in shock. They were giddy with excitement. Many of them were saying, “That’s what I have not seen before. I’ve never seen the kids holding my book. I’ve never seen the kids standing around or sitting on the floor reading.” And they were just so jazzed and saying, “You’re going to do this again!” and I was thinking, “I didn’t mind doing it this time, but the show could be done by bigger entities with deeper pockets.”

But at the end of the day, I was like, “Yeah, we’ll do this again.” And we’ve been doing it ever since, and we’ve actually got a little road show that we put together to take to locations other than New York City, if resources permit. So last year we were invited a comic con in Buffalo, NY, and the Miami Book Fair International, and we did it again this year.

TFAW.com: And you’re planning on going to Senegal, West Africa, right?

AS: That’s right! I’ll be going, along with Eugene Adams and Ray Felix.

TFAW.com: Is that going to include the same kind of curriculum that you have here on the road, or are you creating something geared specifically toward Africa?

AS: Yes, and yes! The beauty of what we do, I do, is there is a template that we put together–a certain outline or structure–that allows us to say this is what the quality is going to be, this is the kind of material that we’re going to provide, this is the kind of instruction that we’re going to provide. But, we did need to be flexible to the environment.

In Senegal, we’re taking an exhibit I co-curated called Color of Comics. It’s an exhibit that’s meant to reflect the diversity of cultures that influence comics, whether they’re created by someone of color of not–that’s of no consequence. We look at what exists already, and rather than complain that that’s not enough, we want to support it and build on it. This exhibit has been around since it debuted in 2008 on the BCC campus, and then it’s been to Florida, where it was last year, and then we had it here in Harlem, and now it’s going to Senegal.

Jughead #205And in Senegal it will be in the city of Dakar, and we’re going to do two smaller venues in two neighboring cities. All of this is co-sponsored by the U.S. Embassy Dakar, Senegal, and Canson Paper Products. We’re pretty jazzed about it. The art exhibit will be up in Dakar in the American Cultural Center, which is an arm of the American Embassy. And then we’re going to be doing workshops in their building, because instead of being in the one school we were going to work with, which had a student body of over 700, the cultural center heard about this, and they said, “Look, we’ll bus kids in if we can open this to the city.” So we’ll be doing about seven days’ worth of workshops, and there will be a conference with African artists, cartoonists and so forth, and there will be a costume parade. All throughout the month of December.

TFAW.com: That sounds amazing.

AS: To my knowledge, nothing like this has ever been done before. It’s a small, community-based event that has grown until we have been invited to go to another country, and to mingle with their culture, and bring what we have, and really, it’s a whole new experience. And I’m really lucky and excited to be apart of it.

TFAW.com: Talking about building on the cultural diversity in comics, I’ve read Parts 1 and 2 of the “New Kids off the Wall” in Archie. I started on Archie as a kid, so I love the title, and the storyline is that Pine Point High School closes, and Riverdale High School gets an influx of new students–a lot of whom happen to be people of color, including some new teachers, but the story doesn’t make a big deal about their race. It’s more focusing on the logistics of having 50 new students and new instructors in the school. How did you approach that?

AS: Fearfully! You know, it’s funny. The idea of the project was really exciting to me, and when you look at all that, all of the things that you just stated, you think, “How will you do that in six issues?” Well, the first thing is, you don’t introduce 50 kids. You introduce the concept of 50 kids. And then you focus on a small cadre of them. And then the biggest challenge became, “Who are these kids?” And how do their personalities energize, or reflect off of, or add to the fun, or challenge the established characters?

Veronica #204At first, you could come up with, “Pine Point had its own kind of Archie, its own kind of Jughead,” but then you wind up with the same kind of characters. Who needs two of each? The bottom line is, you don’t end up thinking about the new “Archie,” because you’ve already got an Archie! So my feeling was, these kids, when they come into this school, they have to bring something that isn’t there, or you haven’t seen on a regular basis before. Something that’s going to challenge the other kids.

So I had to find out who these characters were. Some of them I created, but I was also handed a few, actually I was handed the drawing and the name. So who they were was also brand-new. I could look at them and go, “Okay, you look like you might–” but that was it.

One of the things that went through my mind was, up until this point, Moose had no challenge. There was nobody as big as Moose, there was nobody who could go up against Moose under any circumstances. He was the big dog, physically. And I thought, well, there were some jokes in that, and we certainly played enough of them, but here’s the other side of that: Moose has nobody he can bounce off of. He’s always gotta hold back. So let’s put somebody in there who Moose is like, “Finally!” And now maybe there will be occasions where they will be at odds with one another; they could be on opposite sides of a team game, or whatever, and not everybody is lovey-dovey and kum bay ya all the time, either, and so I said, here’s someone that Moose can bounce off of. Okay, great: that gives me one. And then it sort of developed from there.

Racially speaking, I just wanted to mix it up. There are some characters in the Archie universe that had already been established, but who you see maybe once or twice a year. Someone just mentioned to me recently in an interview that Sheila Wu was the only Asian character, and I said, “Not really, there’s two more: there’s Kumi and Tomoko,” but you don’t see them very much. And so I can understand why people might forget them. So I thought, we have to really think about this the way you would a TV show or a movie. There already are these characters in this universe, and periodically, you have to bring them forward. And you’ve got to give them a scene, or give them a story, or even just put them in the background, even if they have nothing to say, so we are reminded that they are there, that this universe is much more seasoned.

Also, Dilton never had anybody to challenge his genius, but the other side of that is Dilton always had to be the every genius. He had to be an expert on anything, depending on the storyline, and I thought again, that’s ridiculous. In reality, there are specialists. So the new kid that I brought in is named Simon, and his specialty, his passion, his obsession, is oceanography. So all things water-related and water-creature-related, that’s going to be Simon’s world. And Dilton’s going to be able to talk to someone and maybe learn something from him!

Veronica #205So you know, these sorts of things went back and forth, and that’s how you end up with Sheila Wu, who’s actually an amalgam of two girls I went to school with. Neither of them fit the stereotypical mold of the nice Chinese girl. Both of the were wacky people, they were great people. I adored them both, and one of them I hear from periodically, even to this day, but they were wild, they were just kooky like the rest of us, and I said well, here you go! Let’s have a Sheila Wu there. Let’s let her be wacky, and she’s also a challenge to Veronica on the fashion front. Veronica can buy any designer she wants–well, guess what? Here’s a student who can design any fashion outfit she wants and would rather do that. And so they’re going to clash on that level.

So it was always trying to think about how can I mix it up and keep it fun, but also have some people butt heads. Let’s make it less secure and less formulaic every now and then. Let’s mix it up here and see where other writers will go with it.

TFAW.com: Did Archie Comics come to you with the idea, or did you come to Archie?

AS: Archie came to me. Back in ’07, when I first met with Archie, I met with Michael Pellerito, who is now the president of the company, Michael Silberkleight, one of the original owners, Fred Mauser, who was marketing director, and Victor Gorelick, who was like the super editor. Victor’s been with Archie since–I think he’s been there 52 years. Victor is the go-to guy.

So I was in a meeting with Victor, Fred, Michael, and Michael, and we had a lengthy dialogue about the Archie universe, but also about diversity, and about why people consider Archie to be whitebread. Well, look at your lead characters, and then look at your backgrounds. You’ve had Chuck Clayton, an African-American character who, by the way, dated Nancy, who is an African-American character–they’ve been together since the 1970s. And I can’t tell you how many people don’t know that. They don’t even remember Chuck until they’re like, “Oh! Oh him!” Or didn’t even know he’d been there, because Archie didn’t use him very much.

TFAW.com: They’d use him for the sports stories. That’s what I remember.

AS: Yes, they’d use him for sports stories, or they’d use him when a story came up with an African-American theme. And that is unfortunate, and that is also the way the world works a lot. But the bottom line is, we had a big meeting, and we talked about diversity and about how to change that impression of Archie. So in that respect, we’ve been working on that–we being Archie the company, whether I’ve been involved or not–we’ve been working toward that for a long time.

And what’s happened, thank goodness, is that there’s this explosion that’s going on right now. The wedding story kicked it off. That was big. People were ignoring Archie. The comic book media in particular was ignoring Archie Comics for a long time. So even if they’d had Chuck Clayton running for president, you wouldn’t have seen it. But once the wedding story blew the cap off and light came into the house, then people started saying, “Oh, they did that? What else is going on?” And that’s when people started to notice the other things, which generated a desire to do more. And now you’ve got Kevin Keller, and you’ve got other projects going on that will hopefully continue to entertain the seasoned fans, those who have been with us and made this possible, but also will attract new fans.

Alex Simmons in Senegal, Africa

Alex Simmons shares his love of comics with kids in Senegal, Africa.

TFAW.com: Will any of these new Pine Point characters become a permanent part of the landscape?

AS: That’s the intention. It’s not only the company’s intention, as has been stated to me, but it’s most assuredly my intention and the intention of some of the writers and artists I’ve shared conversations and dialogues with–many of whom were very excited about this fresh air. Ultimately, again, you’re giving them more to work with, and that’s exciting. “Oh, I don’t have to do this same old thing that I always do with Jughead or Reggie or whatever. I’ve got these other characters who they can play off of.”

I’m also in the middle of developing something for Ethel, which is exciting for me. I’ve looked at Ethel the way a lot of kids probably looked at her when she was first on the scene, as this goofy, boy-crazed ugly duckling, to put it nicely, just running around making a fool of herself. But since the ’70s, with Women’s Lib and all that, you’ve gotta say, “Now wait a minute. This joke is real old now.” What I’ve seen Archie the company do is alter the look. The buck teeth are gone, the hairstyle is changed, and she’s become Ethel, this girl who’s there. But still, she didn’t have her own thing, and I looked at her one day and I said, “I know who she is.” And I pitched the idea to the team, and Victor has given me the go-ahead, so I’m writing a plot outline right now, and if I get the okay on that, you’ll see another side of Ethel.

TFAW.com: Can you give us any hints?

AS: Lemme put it to you this way: there is a hint in one of the New Kids books, and that has been written and drawn, and should be coming out this month.

Alex Simmons in Senegal, Africa

Simmons' Senegal trip included professional development classes for teachers and workshops for kids.

TFAW.com: You’ve also got Sarah Palin and President Obama showing up in some future issues. Why are they coming to Riverdale, and what are they going to be doing?

AS: Let’s try this: why not? One, we’ve had a lot of good response with stepping outside the box, doing some wild things, and that has been fun and it gets attention, so that’s a reality right there. Second, again, we’re trying to remain true to the established audience, and at the same time we want to be able to speak to this generation and this time in our society, which is a lot of fun.

A lot of the edgier stories that you’re reading in Life With Archie, it’s still a different world than the one we really live in. So what we’re trying to do is, we’re trying to find a way to tell different stories that titillate in ways that we haven’t done before, and that’s kind of cool, that’s all right. But we wanted to do something a little bit further. So what do you do? You bring in two opposing points in our political field, and then you have to make a decision about how political you’re going to get, and again, it’s Archie, so we can’t get too crazed.

But I’ll have to wait and see when people read it if it will work. I was able to give them the safe world of Archie, and at the same time I was able to have a good time with politics. As I said to someone else, neither of these people is pure–we don’t have Mother Teresa here or Martin Luther King. We’re talking about two politicians, so there are going to be some cracks there, things that they’re going to say within the book, that we can take one of two ways. I’ll just be curious to see how people respond to that.

TFAW.com: Am I correct in assuming that Mr. Lodge is a staunch Republican?

AS: Now that’s an interesting question. I don’t ever approach it! I think in something like Life With Archie, that might become more of a question, but in reality, if you look at politics, anyone as wealthy as Mr. Lodge is gonna be in the camp of people who will help him stay wealthy. So whether that’s a Republican or a really cool, enticing deal from the Democrats, it depends on the time on the clock. I think they would play to him more than the reverse.

TFAW.com: What do you have coming up that you’re excited about?

AS: Well, I’m excited about the upcoming story with Ethel. I’m very, very excited about it. I get excited trying to tell a good story, trying to entertain, trying to appeal to the audience–especially the young audience–to help them have a good time. I have to get jazzed about what I do, so that hopefully it translates into the work. So I’m tickled about the possible story with Ethel. I’ve also got something that would be a road trip with Archie, where he sets out on a motorcycle to go discover America. And I’m looking forward to that as well. And who knows what else? There are a couple other things simmering on the stove. It has to do a lot with what happens in the next four months with a certain rock band. We’ll leave it at that.

You can learn more about Simmons’ Kids Comic Con and his recent trip to Senegal, Africa here! Also, make sure to check out the video of Simmons’ conducting a workshop in Dakar.

Have you been paying attention to Archie lately? Check out all of our Archie comics and digests–they’re always great for kids and make excellent stocking stuffers.

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Aw Yeah! TFAW Interviews Art Baltazar and Franco!

December 10th, 2010 Comments off

Tiny Titans by Art Baltazar and FrancoKids Comics Month is really hitting its stride with this awesome (and hilarious) interview with Tiny Titans creators Art Baltazar and Franco!

If you haven’t picked up Tiny Titans yet, what are you waiting for? Not only did this fantastic comic win the 2009 Eisner Award for Best Publication for Kids, but this off-the-wall book is funny, sweet, and offers a plethora of in-jokes to fans of ’80s-era Teen Titans. This makes Tiny Titans the perfect series for today’s comic book fans to enjoy with the tiny readers in their lives.

Read on to learn about the genesis of Tiny Titans and Little Archie and discover what Art and Franco’s next collaboration, Young Justice, will be like!

TFAW.com: Thanks so much for taking the time out of your schedules for this interview. Plus, I’m a huge fan of Tiny Titans, so it was a great excuse for me to read everything again to prepare.

Art Baltazar: That’s cool.

TFAW.com: First, since I don’t know your voices really well, could you quickly say which one is which?

Art: This is me.

Tiny Titans #35Franco Aureliani: I’m the one who sounds really good looking.

Art: Yeah, and I’m the one who sounds like he needs to take a shower.

TFAW.com: Perfect! Okay, how did the concept for Tiny Titans start?

Art: Jann [Jones] from DC called me and asked who my favorite DC characters were. And I told her Teen Titans, and that’s it, pretty much! She said she had a concept that she was working on for kids books, and she had an idea for a title called Tiny Titans. So I guess I had the right answer! It was real strange how things came together just through conversation. But that’s the way it happened. She had an idea, and I said the right thing, and we kept going.

TFAW.com: How did Franco get involved?

Franco: Art called me, and he had already agreed to the project, and he sent them a whole bunch of samples of a book we had worked on previously called Patrick the Wolf Boy, and Jann showed the books to Dan Didio, and Dan looked at them and said, “Who’s this Franco guy?” And Art said, “He’s the guy who helps me on the book, and we’ve been working together for awhile, and things are funny when we do them together and stuff,” and Dan said, “All right, if he wants to work on the book too, he can do that.”

Art: Yeah! And then I called Franco up and asked him if he wanted to write a book for DC, and he said, “Yeah!” and I said, “Good, ’cause I already told them you would!”

TFAW.com: How does your collaborative process work with the writing?

Teen TitansFranco: Ummm . . .

Art: Ummm . . .

Franco: The way it always does! On the phone!

Art: Yeah, we talk on the phone, write stuff down, and when we’re done, we send each other emails, and make stories up from our notes and stuff. We talk, probably, a little bit every day. And now with Skype, it’s free! We don’t have to pay those big bills no more! Our phone bills went down a lot with Skype.

TFAW.com: You said these are your favorite characters, so you must have read a lot of the original Teen Titans books?

Art: Yeah! Both of us were big fans of the George Perez-Marv Wolfman comics. And we also read John Byrne’s Superman: Man of Steel, and all that stuff. Well, we read all comics, we’ve been reading them since we were kids, since we were 6, 7, 8 years old. So this is what we know–the comics, and we know all the characters. There’s nothing else we can do but make comics. We’re not good at anything else!

Franco: Yeah we are! We’re just really good at making comics.

Art: Yeah, Franco can dance real good, too.

Franco: Yes, I’m very tall and Caucasian, so I do a very good White Man’s Overbite.

Art: Aw yeah, Overbite!

[Insert lots of laughter here!]

TFAW.com: What’s so great about Tiny Titans is, if you have any history with the DC universe, there are all kinds of in-jokes. Just the fact that so many villains, like Trigon, are schoolteachers! That must have been a lot of fun for you guys to set up.

Art: Oh yeah! There’s no fighting in the book, just funny stuff. DC told us they wanted us to make Patrick the Wolf Boy books, but with DC characters. So that was pretty easy for us to do, since we were doing that already. We just had to change the costumes on the characters, since a lot of the Wolf Boy characters are kind of the same style, like Robin and Patrick kind of look the same, and Wonder Girl and Patrick’s little girlfriend look the same, so it’s kinda like the same style. We just went with what we knew.

TFAW.com: Were there any other challenges to adapting the Teen Titans to a kids’ book? Were there certain things you had to keep in mind?

Franco: Ahhh . . .

Art: Ahhh . . .

Tiny Titans #36Franco: Well, kind of. If you read our earlier versions, we had people beating each other up, and we had this scene where trains were being thrown around the city, and stuff like that, and then Jann came back and said, “Oh no no no! We want it so much for kids, that there’s no violence or nothing,” and we said “Ahh! We got it!”

Art: Yeah, we had actual superheroes fighting in our first issue. So there’s no fighting, there’s just jokes. Comedy.

TFAW.com: You’ve had a lot of fun bringing on past characters like Tara and playing on her relationship with Beast Boy in the original comics, and playing off that in Tiny Titans. Are there any characters you haven’t been able to play with yet that you’re going to introduce?

Art: Oh, they’ll all be in there. We just have to figure out how to get them in there. We have access to the whole universe, to everyone in DC, so if there’s anyone you want to see, write to us!

Franco: If you haven’t seen them yet, you will!

Art: Yeah, you’ll see everybody.

TFAW.com: I like that you recently had Hal Jordan on as basically his legs and feet: kind of like Muppet Babies.

Tiny Titans #37Art: Yeah, that’s the whole idea! We’re big Tom & Jerry fans, too, and Peanuts fans, and that’s the same kind of thing, from the kids’ point of view.

TFAW.com: Did either of you read a lot of kids comics when you were kids?

Art: Yeah, I think we just read comics! Back then, comics were just comics. There were no all-ages comics, because all of them were for all ages. That’s when they were writing for 12-year-olds. So we were the audience, so those are the books we read. We read X-Men and Spider-Man and Superman and Batman and all that.

Franco: We also read stuff like Archie comics and Casper. Even those comics we read. I’m a big fan of Peanuts, and I love, love, love Calvin & Hobbes. All of those things have been influences on both of us. I like this interview! It’s very mellow. I like this!

Art: We were influenced a lot by cartoons, like Tom & Jerry and Bugs Bunny, and I really liked Hanna-Barbera cartoons, and I was a big fan of Magilla Gorilla.

Franco: Bugs Bunny is my favorite actor in the whole world.

Art: Yeah, he’s awesome!

Tiny Titans Little Archie #1TFAW.com: Speaking of Archie, you’ve got Tiny Titans meeting the Little Archie gang. Who approached who about that? Was that your idea and you went to Archie Comics?

Art: No, I got a phone call when we were on issue #3 or #4 of Tiny Titans–I got a call from DC saying they wanted me to do an Archie design so they could pitch to Archie Comics! So DC actually did that. It was kind of cool. I guess they had meetings with guys over there, and about a year and a half later, they said “Okay, let’s do it!” It was just one of those things that took time. I always knew it was on the backburner, but I never knew if it was going to happen. We learned that working in comic books, you get real good at keeping secrets. You know so many things you can’t tell anybody!

Franco: You know, it’s so secretive, I don’t even know what Art looks like. I’ve never even seen him.

TFAW.com: For each of you, what was your favorite part of doing the Tiny Titans/Little Archie meetup?

Franco: Umm . . .

Art: Umm . . .

Tiny Titans Little Archie #2Franco: The whole part of it was so much fun!

Art: Yeah, the whole thing was just awesome!

TFAW.com: Do you guys plan on doing another arc after this three-issue series?

Franco: I hope so.

Art: Maybe. Yeah! We don’t know. I wish it was up to us! We should publish it on our own, but we would probably last one issue.

Franco: And then we’d get sued or something.

Art: But we hope so! We leave it open ended–they don’t burn bridges. They say, “Bye, see you later!” You never know what will happen. The future is out there.

TFAW.com: You guys will also be working on a comic-book adaptation of Young Justice, a new cartoon on Cartoon Network, right?

Franco: We are? Oh yeah, yeah, that’s right.

Art: Yeah, we’re doing that now!

TFAW.com: And that’s kind of like Teen Titans in that it focuses on the younger heroes in the DC Universe?

Tiny Titans Little Archie #3Franco: It’s kind of like it, but nothing like that at all.

Art: Yeah, yeah! It’s true. It’s the same characters, but it’s its own universe. You’re going to like it, because we got into it not knowing what to expect, and now we’re excited, because we’re seeing stuff that we didn’t know would happen. We’re learning as we go, and we’re seeing secret stuff too, which is awesome. It brings out the geek in us.

TFAW.com: The series premiered November 26. I’m assuming you’ve seen some episodes already!

Art: Yeah, we saw a few things. Mostly what people saw at San Diego Comic-Con.

Franco: Well, but we saw a bunch of other stuff. They sent us some files and things. It’s pretty cool.

Art: Yeah, you should watch it!

TFAW.com: I will!

Art: You should put it on your DVR. You should even record reruns, just so we can get the ratings up there! I tell everyone they should support every comic book movie, even if it’s not a good one. You should see it multiple times, because if you stop seeing them, they’re gonna stop making movies from comics, and we want them to keep making them.

TFAW.com: I would love to see a Tiny Titans movie or animation.

Young Justice #1 Art Baltzar FrancoArt: Yeah, that’d be awesome! I should just start making them myself and then wait.

Franco: We should make up our own episodes and put them on YouTube.

Art: Yeah! We’ll just change the characters to make them look like Wolf Boy. We’ll have a Mr. Rrigun.

TFAW.com: What do you guys think about the state of kids comics today? It seems like there’s a resurgence, after a couple of decades of focusing on older readers.

Franco: We like to think we were the reason for all that. No, I think it’s just because it’s good comics.

Art: I think back when comics were real real crazy popular, when we were buying Casper and Richie Rich and all that, it was just a go-with-the-flow kind of effort. And now, because you have to be strategic and business-wise, I think the comics industry, as kids go, there’s a conscious effort to make them and promote them. Before, you could make any comic and it would sell a million copies. Or thousands and thousands of copies.

But now you actually have to do it in a way that you’re promoting it, so that people know they exist. Before, everybody knew what Archie was, and Richie Rich, and Sad Sack, but now you feel like the comics industry is focusing on kids comics, and that’s intentional. You want people to know what you’re doing now. That’s what I’m seeing anyway.

Tiny Titans Vol. 04: The First Rule Of Pet Club TPBNow everybody’s talking about all-ages comics because it’s very important. Comics have been getting older, for older readers, and people like us, who read Teen Titans and Avengers, we’re in our 40s now. So if we don’t give comics to new kids, the comics industry will last maybe 25, 35 more years, until we die! Then that’s it. Everything will be gone. So that’s why we need that effort.

Franco: I think as far as comics for kids, they haven’t always been labeled as such, but they never went away. I remember growing up, when I was reading Calvin & Hobbes and all this other stuff as well. And a good comic wasn’t a kids comic and it wasn’t an adult comic–it was just good, it was funny. That’s why it worked. And I think now that’s there’s this conscious effort to market it [kids comics], and we’ve never had that before. That’s why it seems like there’s a resurgence in kids comics. But I don’t think they ever went away.

Art: I like to call this the awesome age of comics. You’ve got Modern Age, Bronze Age, Classic Age, whatever–this is the Awesome Age. Because everything you read from us is awesome.

TFAW.com: Well I certainly agree with that! Okay, I’ve got one more question: Where did the “Aw Yeah!” come from?

Franco: That’s Art! That’s just something he does.

Tiny Titans Sidekickin It TPBArt: That’s the way I talk!

Franco: Even before we were doing Tiny Titans, I’d go, “Hey Art! Do you want to go get some burgers?” “Aw yeah, man!”

Art: Aw yeah, man! Let’s go!

Franco: So that was it.

Art: It’s funny, we were at a lunch meeting, and Tiny Titans hadn’t even come out yet, and they [DC Comics] said, “Do they have a catchphrase, like a battle cry?” And I looked at Franco and I just said, “Aw yeah, Titans!” And that’s it! It stuck!

Our thanks again to Art and Franco for the funniest phone interview I’ve ever conducted. While you’re here, make sure to pick up some Tiny Titans and Tiny Titans and Little Archie comics. Plus, you can pre-order Young Justice #1 and save 35% in December!

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Are you a Tiny Titans fan? Which DC character would you like to see appear next? Post your choice below!

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Comic Book Reviews: Let Me In, Fables #100, Starborn & more!

December 8th, 2010 Comments off

New Reviews of This Week’s Releases!

We’ve got some pretty good comics this week, folks. And with Elisabeth MIA, it fell on me to go it alone! This week, TFAW reviews Let Me In: Crossroads #1 (of 4), What If? Wolverine, Dark Tower Gunslinger: Little Sisters of Eluria #1, Fables #100, and Starborn #1.

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Are you psyched for these issues? What would you like us to review next week? Post your comments below!

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Second Annual Fund-raising Drive Against Human Trafficking

December 7th, 2010 Comments off
Comic Creators Alliance calls on creators to help end human trafficking.
Contact Information: Lora Innes/ comiccreatorsalliance@gmail.com

Comic Creators Alliance announced today the launch of their second annual fund-raising drive to raise funds to fight against Human Trafficking. Last year’s drive raised a staggering ten thousand dollars and had over eighty seven artists working together on a special image just for the event.

This year they hope to top not only proceeds, but the number of artists working on the project. In the spirit of upping the odds, this year’s drive will include a print version of the piece available for purchase as well as the digital download. Artists have until the end of the year to contact the creator of this project, Lora Innes, at comiccreatorsalliance@gmail.com to contribute artwork.

The donation drive starts on National Human Trafficking Awareness Day which is January 11, 2011 and ends January 24, 2011. The official website for the drive is http://comicalliance.weebly.com/.

Comic artists currently participating are Adam Withers & Comfort Love (The Uniques), Crystal Yates (EarthSong), Lora Innes (The Dreamer), Billy Tucci (Shi), Scott Sava (Dreamland Chronicles) and Alan Evans (Rival Angels). As artists join the cause you can follow participants by visiting http://comicalliance.weebly.com/the-people.html. 100% of donations are being split between Love 146 and Grace Haven House. To learn more about what you can do to end human trafficking visit http://comicalliance.weebly.com/links.html.

Innes organized the endeavor after being particularly moved at a seminar on the issue. Innes states “There are currently 27 million enslaved people worldwide- more than double the number of enslaved Africans during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. UNICEF estimates that 1.2 million children every year are sold into slavery, most of it sexual. The US Department of Justice estimates 16,000 victims of human trafficking are brought into the United States every year. With this many people being affected I just couldn’t sit there and not do something.”

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