When I discovered that Gail Simone was writing a series for Vertigo, I was annoyed with myself for not knowing about it sooner. I mean, seriously Smalerie? Gail Simone. Original horror series. Get on it, girl.
So I did.
Then I wrote a review.
After Chloe Pierce loses her fiance to suicide, she embarks on a mission find out what could have driven him to take his own life. When all signs point towards self-help guru Astrid Mueller, Chloe will stop at nothing to find the truth behind Astrid and her mysterious organization.
When writing a mystery/horror story, the author has the difficult task of providing enough intrigue to keep the reader interested without making them frustrated. Clues need to be left behind like breadcrumbs or shiny pebbles leading you out of the dark forest. Clean Room handles this so well that I simply could not stop reading the first trade. At one point I was forced to put the book down, and it almost felt like the story followed me, hiding in a dark part of my mind and forcing me to think about it when I should have been concentrating on dinner conversation or watching an action flick with my family. I think reading this one as the issues came out might have driven me crazy.
From the description alone, I’m sure that most of you have figured out this book is for mature audiences. There are some VERY disturbing things that both happen and are referenced in this book. And while there were a few times when I felt that certain language and nudity might have been used more for the shock value rather than because it added to the story or said something about a character’s true nature, this story intends to strip characters down to their emotional cores and that is rarely pretty. But regardless of how ugly it gets, it still remains an engrossing read.
Mueller’s organization is an extremely secretive and organized one, providing more access and information as you go up the ranks. While this structure is common among many organizations, there is a lot here that reminds me of Scientology. It’s still early in the story for me to say if Mueller and her followers are dealing with their reality in the best way, but this book makes you really wonder what’s happening behind closed doors. This is true both in the story and in the outside world. What’s being kept from us? What do we have the right to know? And how high do the stakes need to be for you to give someone complete power over you? It makes you question authority and feel uneasy. And it’s very possible these questions might never really be answered in the story, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth asking.
Jon Davis-Hunt’s artwork is slick and detailed. His art and Quinton Winter’s colors match the writing well and create a really creepy and stark environment. This is especially true when we get the contrast between the Clean Room itself and the outside world. I will admit that there were a few times I felt that the characters seemed too stiff, but it still kinda works once you start to understand what’s really happening in the story. Without giving any spoilers, I think it’s safe enough to say that what you see on the surface is not always a reliable tool for truly understanding the world of this book.
As for the monster factor, I found them to be suitably creepy. You know when you run across something that’s just spooky or gross enough that you need to share it with someone? To either validate your feelings or just to make someone else shudder? Well, let’s just say there were a few times I found myself showing a page to whoever was unfortunate enough to be in the room with me.
It’s great to see Gail Simone writing, well, pretty much anything.
The story builds, feels satisfying enough to keep you reading, and I defy you not to run out and get Vol. 2 immediately.
Way back in October, I attended MICE – the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo. Started in 2010 to provide area artists with a place to exhibit their work away from the noise and expense of larger conventions, MICE has gotten bigger each year, attracting independent comics folks from all over the country. That’s a lucky thing for those of us excited to find new stories and art.
March is Women’s History Month in the US – a time that various government institutions “commemorate and encourage the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.” Here at the Ladies we encourage you to study, observe and celebrate women’s contributions every day – particularly their contributions to comics and pop culture. One of the things I like about doing your periodic webcomics round ups is that not only is it a chance to share the sheer talent of so many lady artists and writers (of whom there are still fewer than I would prefer getting work in mainstream comics publishing), but it’s also an opportunity to embrace a much wider scope of what storytelling in comics can be. Even though your average shop is offering far more than just superhero tales these days (and there’s nothing wrong with superhero tales), it still feels like the web has some weirder, wilder offerings. Here are three I’m digging right now.
Monsterkind by Taylor C.
Updates: T, Fr
Monsterkind is one of the first comics about social work I’ve ever seen. (Feel free to tell me if there are more in the comments!) It’s the story of Wallace Foster, a young social worker who’s recently been relocated to District C – a place where the inhabitants are mostly monsters. Wallace is human, and some of the residents of District C clearly don’t trust him and his intentions. Somehow he’s got to figure out a way to win over his clients – and figure out some of the deeper mysteries surrounding him, District C, and his new neighbors. What I really like about Monsterkind is that, even though it deals with some pretty deep and potentially sensitive topics – racism, segregation, and identity – it does so in a lighthearted and upbeat way that counterbalances the darkness of its subject matter while still taking it very seriously. It’s also got some pretty great and innovative character designs for the monster residents of District C – some look human but have powers and abilities that seem supernatural, while others sport everything from tentacles to detachable eyes. The underlying mysteries unfold slowly, but steadily, and promise a worthwhile payoff. Content-wise, this is appropriate for all-ages, but many of the interactions will go over the heads of young kids – I think early teens up would be the most interested.
Bonus: Another comic! Taylor C.’s significant other, one Zack Morrison, also does a weird comic I love called Paranatural. Maybe one day I’ll give it a whole review, because it’s awesome, but as Zack’s not a lady, it didn’t fit here. It’s fine as a bonus, right?
Not Drunk Enough by Tessa Stone
Updates: T, Th
Logan Ibarra is a young repairman with a pretty normal life – until he’s called out to do a nighttime service call at the local laboratory. When he gets there, it quickly becomes clear that the problem here is a lot worse than a faulty AC system. Reality itself has become warped, along with most of the lab’s employees. Now Logan’s got to figure out how to escaped before he’s transformed, eaten, or his flask runs dry.
I’ve been a fan of Tessa Stone’s work since her one of her earliest efforts, the dearly departed Hanna is Not a Boy’s Name. That was a comedy about a paranormal investigator, full of whimsy, jokes, and sweet-hearted humor. Not Drunk Enough has a sense of humor, but it’s a much more macabre one – the jokes of terrified people who know they’re unlikely to survive the night. The art, in turn is dark and jagged, befitting the paranoia permeating the doomed lab. Like Monsterkind, there are deeper mysteries to be solved that Stone teases out slowly, and real human heartbreak driving the choices the characters make. The creature designs are killer, literally and figuratively – this is a great read for older teens, but a bit too mature for the younger crowd.
Bonus: Stone also collaborates with Ananth Hirsh of Johnny Wander and Sarah Stone (yes, related) of Monster Boys and Robots on Is This What You Wanted, a comic that is just starting about romance and illness and demons. So if you dig her character design here, check that out too.
Ava’s Demon by Michelle Czajkowski
Plot: Ava Ire is a total outcast at school – all of the other kids and even the teachers think she’s totally crazy. Of course, since she’s often talking to herself and prone to emotional outbursts, it’s hard to blame them. What they don’t know is that Ava is plagued by a very real demon – Wrathia Bellarmina, the ghost of a former warrior queen who wants to bond with Ava in order to get revenge on the person responsible for her demise. That person happens to be the ruler of the entire universe, Titan; part corporate overlord, part god. When a series of strange events cause Ava to flee her home, a deal is struck – but will either Ava or Wrathia really get what they want?
Ava’s Demon combines fantasy and sci-fi elements into a powerful combination unlike anything I’ve quite seen before. The world-building is thorough but unforced – you learn about what’s going on as the characters do. The art is complete gorgeous, with fully saturated color and light effects that give everything a dreamy quality. Czajkowski takes advantage of her storytelling medium completely as well – each weekly installment consists of several pages that the reader flips through, introducing an almost animated quality to the story. At the close of each chapter is an actually animated sequence, complete with music. It’s frankly unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, and I can’t wait to see where the story is headed. This is another one I’d pitch more towards teens – there’s nothing too crazy but some of the violence might be a little much for a sensitive younger reader.
Bonus: If you follow the Ava’s Demon Tumblr, Czajkowski shares the beautiful fanart folks do for the comic.
Are there any other comics by ladies I should check out? Let me know in the comments!
Talking about feminism can be a complex issue. Over the years, there have been different definitions and movements, but put most simply it can be distilled down to the belief in equality between men and women and the rights that go along with it. It’s not a new concept, and it serves as a backbone for the very blog you are reading right now. So when an author is harassed off Twitter for writing a character who wears an “Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda” t-shirt on the cover, I made it a point to not only read Chelsea Cain’s Mockingbird comic, but to also review it for you guys.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time focusing on the Twitter incident, except to take pleasure in the amount of support Cain received from the comics community. It brought a lot of attention to a book that in many ways had been under the radar. As a result, it shot to number one on Amazon and I got to discover one of the most unusual books I have read in a long time.
In my last update, I outlined the many reasons I think you should be watching the CW’s iZombie series. Since he knows how much I like the show, for Christmas Mr. Menace decided to give me the iZombie omnibus – all 28 issues of Chris Roberson and Mike Allred’s series packed into one (admittedly pretty hefty) volume. He’d read the entire series as it came out, and was curious to hear my take on it as a fan of the show. So after the holidays, I dove on in.
We usually highlight comics characters you might want to know more about when a new movie or TV series puts a little known character in the spotlight. Disney is currently ramping up promotion for a new DuckTales series due out next year, making this the perfect time to get to know the richest duck in the world.
I want to start off by apologizing that for the first time, I was unable to find appropriate comics for the recent Thanksgiving holiday. Not a lot of series out there have specific Thanksgiving issues, nor are there a lot about turkeys or something. If I have scandalized you by missing a really obvious book or story-line, let me know in the comments. Perhaps I can redeem myself next year.
Happily, Thanksgiving isn’t the only thing November has going on. And on the last day of the month, I am sliding into home with a post appropriate for Dinovember – comics that feature Dinosaurs. Here are just a few of my favorites.
All right, by now, you hopefully had a chance to watch the Netflix series Luke Cage and at least have some idea who Misty is. If you haven’t and you want to remain 100% spoiler-free, maybe go set up some binge watching time and come back to this later. Otherwise, read on and consider this a bit of a character primer on the comics version of Misty, which will hopefully give you some more background and get you even more interested in this kick-ass lady.
LadiesCon 2016 may be over, but we’re still thinking about what made it such a great time. One of the things that I was really excited about was the opportunity to speak directly to so many creators and artists about their original works. One of the creators I was most excited about was Mildred Louis, who writes and draws a comic called Agents of the Realm. I hadn’t heard of her work before the con, but when she contacted us about having a table, I looked at her work and knew I’d be paying her a visit. I had the supreme good fortune (thanks to a huge assist from Smalerie) of snagging the last copy of her book, which collects the first volume of an ambitious work which, luckily for me, continues online.
The premise is a twist on the classic magical girl genre of manga (see Crystal Cadets for a more standard version): five young women discover that they are the protectors of our world, which is being threatened by strange beasts entering our realm from a sister dimension. In the classic magical girl style, Norah, Adele, Kendall, Paige, and Jordan have special brooches that transform them into uniform-wearing warriors, each with her own weapon, powers, and attendant element. Through the magic of the brooches, they find each other and begin to learn about their powers, the other realm, and why and how they were chosen to protect the world.
The twist comes in from the fact that in standard magical girl stories, there is an emphasis on girl – the protagonists are typically tweens or young teenagers, and part of the transformation is that they become an adult version of themselves. They’re all Mary Marvel, if her posse were other girls instead of two boys and talking tiger. The Agents are all adults already – young adults, to be fair, but in college and of legal age. This immediately has different implications about how they make the choice to accept their roles and for how Louis is able to explore the relationships between the characters and the problems that they face. When you’re watching or reading Sailor Moon, you know that while Sailor Moon is presented as an adult, Usagi Tsukino is really still a kid, and her concerns when she isn’t saving the planet are appropriately childish. The Agents, on the other hand, are young adults, and they have concerns that an adult can relate to, in addition to fighting off giant spirit birds.
Another thing that makes the series great is the level of representation of both people of color and of LBGTQ folks. Most of the characters, including 4 of the 5 Agents, are not white. They also have a wide range of body types – and they keep them after they transform. They do not become “idealized” versions of themselves. This is a powerful message delivered with subtlety – that they are already good enough, already powerful just as they are. They are also beautiful, and feminine, without needing to all fit into the white, western ideal shape.
The orientations of the various characters are handled with that same grace – we’re shown characters who have loving relationships of all types, completely integrated into the story. It doesn’t feel like anything that’s being called attention to, a lesson we’re meant to learn – these are just people, and people have many different approaches to sex and love and romance.
Norah, Adele, Kendall, Paige, and Jordan feel like real people – they have strengths, but also flaws – and not just “oh, she’s such a klutz.” It’s apparent even in the first issue that Norah struggles with social anxiety. Paige is driven and ambitious to the point of being rude at times. Kendall is a peacemaker. It’s refreshing to see the trope of the “chosen ones” applied to characters who feel like more than a cardboard cutout.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the art. As you can see from the pictures here, it’s gorgeous and dynamic. There’s a clear progression as Louis’ style evolves – I think that she continually improves her panel layout and visual storytelling – but the technical excellence is on display from the beginning.
Do you read Agents of the Realm? Tell me what you think in the comments!
Recommended age: Teen to adult. The content is far from racy, but the website does have a trigger warning that suggests that not all of it might be suitable for younger readers.
You might like it if: You like realistic ladies kicking fantastical butt.
Bonus features: If you’re local, Mildred Louis will be at MICE! So if you missed getting a physical book at LadiesCon, you might have another shot.
The Ladies are still hard at work making sure that our very first LadiesCon is an amazing experience for everyone. But we still wanted to take a little time out to tell you, our devoted readers, how you can prepare for the event and be ready to get the most out of LadiesCon.
Get Your Tickets!
This is the most important step in your pre-LadiesCon preparation. Although general admission to the con is FREE, we are still using tickets to keep track of our attendees and ensure that we don’t let in more people than the building can handle at once. There are not many general admission tickets left, so if you plan to attend, reserve yours now.
We also have two special events that require additional paid tickets. Lunch with the Ladies takes place before the convention and gives attendees the opportunity to get into the con early, chat with the Ladies and our convention guests, and enjoy a tasty catered lunch from Daddy’s Bonetown Burgers. Making Masterpieces: The LadiesCon After Party is a post-con art event where attendees can get a lesson in comics coloring, decorate cookies, draw, craft, or just chat and sample light snacks. Tickets for both events are limited, so be sure to purchase yours now.
Check Out the Panels
The panels at LadiesCon will all be held at Comicazi, a short five minute walk from our main convention space. We have ladies talking about gaming, cosplay, fan fiction, and more. Planning your day is an important part of preparation for any con and that includes deciding which panels to attend. Look over the panels we have to offer and see what note rests you. You can then plan to visit the convention floor beforehand, after the panel, or both.
Investigate the Area
If you’re a Comicazi regular, you probably know what there is to see and do in Davis Square. But if you haven’t visited often or ever, then now is an excellent time to learn what the Square has to offer. Of course you’ll want to check out the convention floor and the panels, but since we’re a small convention, you’ll likely have time to check out the surrounding area. You could just wander around the day of and stop in anyplace that looks interesting. But if you’d prefer to plan your day more, you can do some research online to investigate local shops, places to eat, or simply spots where you can sit and people watch for a bit. We’ll also be offering a program with a map of local restaurants, shops, and even a few PokeStops.
Stuff to Bring
- Cash – While the miracles of modern phone peripherals mean that more convention vendors can accept credit or debit cards, not all of them do. Get your cash at your local bank ahead of time or stop by one of the ATMs in Davis Square. How much you want to spend is up to you, but having it on hand means you don’t have to worry about whether the vendor can take your cards or not.
- Books for signing – Our guests will have their work available for sale, but if you already have something they’ve worked on, you can bring single issue comics or collected editions for our guests to sign. Consider bagging and boarding issues to keep them safe. You can bring a bag to carry your items to be signed or purchase a LadiesCon tote bag from us at the front desk. We ask that you respect any policies our guests may have on what they’ll sign, how many items, and anything else related to their time and work.
- Convention Sketchbook – Artists bring their own supplies to cons, so if you’re looking to get a commission piece, you only need to worry about how to pay for it. But if you’ve got a convention sketchbook or are looking to start one, you’ll want to bring it with you. If you’re starting a new convention sketchbook – and with art from any or all of our special guests, you’ll be off to an amazing start, purchase a wire bound sketchbook with pages that can stand up to inks and watercolors. For more info on starting your own convention sketchbook, check out my post on the subject. Again, we ask that you respect our guests’ policies regarding what they’ll draw, what they’ll draw on, pricing, and anything else related to creating artwork.
We strongly recommend that you take public transportation. The Davis Red Line stop is mere steps away from Comicazi and the convention itself. It also spares you from having to plan you day around feeding parking meters, if you can even find an open spot.
If you are going to drive here, allow yourself plenty of time to find a space. We don’t want anyone missing an exciting panel while searching for parking. Most spaces around Davis can take cards, but having quarters on hand just in case is a good idea. You’ll also want to budget a little walking time, just in case the space you find is farther away than you expected.
Above all, prepare for fun!
Our hope is that LadiesCon will be a wonderful day for all our guests, vendors, and attendees. If anything interferes with your enjoyment of LadiesCon, if you have a question, or if you just want to tell someone what a great time you’re having, feel free to speak to one of us or one of our volunteers in the LadiesCon staff shirts. We’re looking forward to seeing a lot of old friends, meeting some new ones, and putting on a great show for all of you!