2016: Year of the (Black) Beetle?

Francesco Francavilla takes to Twitter to tease the return of ‘The Black Beetle,’ his well-regarded pulp comic from Dark Horse.

Our long, national nightmare may soon be over, as creator Francesco Francavilla teased on Twitter the return of The Black Beetle. Francavilla posted an image of the pulp hero with the hashtags #TheYearOfTheBeetle and #BlackBeetleReturns.

The Black Beetle originally appeared on Francavilla’s website back in 2009, then Dark Horse brought him to comic shops in 2013. Their first miniseries, Black Beetle: No Way Out, received many accolades (including an Eisner nomination for best miniseries) and appeared on several “best of the year” lists. But a second miniseries, “Necrologue,” was scheduled but never made it out of the gate. But it looks like that might be changing this year:

No word yet on when the excellent series will return, but we’ll keep our eyes peeled for it.

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Lemire’s ‘Roughneck’ skates into stores in 2017

Lemire returns to small-town Canada for a new graphic novel from Simon & Schuster.

The prolific Jeff Lemire, who has left his stamp on monthly comics from DC, Marvel, Image and Valiant in recent years, returns to his graphic novel roots in October with Roughneck.

Update: According to Lemire’s blog, Roughnecks will now arrive in April 2017.

Originally announced in 2013, the graphic novel is written and drawn by Lemire. Like his Essex County series, this one is also set in small town Canada. Here’s how Simon & Schuster described the project back in 2013:

“Derek is a former hockey tough guy whose quick rise to the NHL was cut short when a brutal on-ice incident left him banned from professional hockey for life. Now, four years later, Derek has returned to Black River, his hometown in Northern Ontario, not far from the Moose Cree First Nation, where his mother grew up. Derek’s slide into alcoholism and depression is interrupted when his long-lost sister, Annie, returns home trailing a violent ex-boyfriend. Together, the two escape to the woods, where they struggle to reconnect with the traditions of their Cree ancestors in order to escape their past and gain redemption.”

This is definitely something to add to the “Comics I’m looking forward to” list for 2016.

RN PROMO

The Grumpy Color | Tom and Carla retire 2015, Part 1

Smash Pages contributors Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman continue their end-of-year tradition, looking back at the year in Big Two superhero comics and looking forward to 2016.

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World’s Smashiest

[Smash Pages contributors Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman continue their end-of-year tradition, looking back at the year in Big Two superhero comics and looking forward to 2016.]

Carla Hoffman: Time to get off the couch, put down the Ben and Jerry’s and stop listening to Moonlight Sonata on repeat, it’s the end of the year! Marvel and DC have cast their nets wide through event books, new titles, TV shows and movies to reel in new readers, viewers and mass market appeal and somebody’s has to sort through it all, sir! For somebody, read: us.

Continue reading “The Grumpy Color | Tom and Carla retire 2015, Part 1”

Valiant teases 2016 slate: Bloodshot Island, new Archer & Armstrong, more

Get a glimpse of what the future holds for Ninjak, Divinity and more.

With 2015 winding down, Valiant Entertainment has released several teasers for upcoming storylines and returning titles from the publisher. Of note: Jeff Lemire, Mico Suayan and David Baron journey to “Bloodshot Island,” while Matt Kindt and Diego Bernard plan a siege for Ninjak. And oh yeah, Archer and Armstrong return! I’m really looking forward to seeing what Rafer Roberts does on the title.

Check out all the teasers below …

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‘The Rattler’ strikes again at Image Comics

Jason McNamara and Greg Hinkle’s crowdfunded graphic novel finds a new home.

Following a successful Kickstarter in 2014, Jason McNamara and Greg Hinkle’s The Rattler has slithered over to Image Comics for a “mass market” release.

Inspired by true events from McNamara’s own life, the horror graphic novel is about a guy whose fiancée vanished without a trace and, 10 years later, he starts hearing her voice.

“The story was inspired by true events that happened to me on a road trip years ago,” McNamara told me last year. “I’ve written an afterword to the graphic novel that gets more into it, but basically a female friend and I were on a road trip and had a breakdown in a rural area of California. A seemingly helpful motorist stopped and offered to tow our car. Instead, he took off with my friend and left me behind. Luckily, in the true events she was able to get away, and we were able to get help. But I always wondered: What if she didn’t get away? What if I had to live with that? That was the inspiration for The Rattler.”

The Image Comics release will have a new cover and one new page, and is due out in March. If successful, McNamara hinted to the project’s Kickstarter backers that a sequel could follow. Check out the cover for the new release below:

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Chris Schweizer’s Paper Nativity Informational Notes: Part 6

Over the next month, Chris Schweizer will be offering thoughts on the Nativity set model (a large papercraft crèche) mentioned a week or so ago that you can find and download here:

https://gumroad.com/l/ThkR

Rather than run it everyday Chris has given us permission to run it every few days.

Advent Calendar Day 21: The Innkeepers

innnYou’ve probably seen a Christmas pageant or cartoon or book or something where Joseph, leading Mary atop a donkey, knocks on the door of the inn (Bethlehem’s population was small enough that just one inn is probable) and is told by the innkeeper (sometimes sternly, sometimes regretfully) that there’s no room.

The Gospel of Luke states that there was “no room in the inn,” and from this line we’ve extrapolated an innkeeper to convey that bit of exposition.

I don’t know when the innkeeper first appeared, but I’d expect it was in the middle ages, once crèche scenes led to dramatizations. Sometimes the innkeeper is depicted as a married pair, with the wife a hard-hearted harpy impatient at yet another traveler, or even a cutthroat capitalist granting the limited rooms at a premium beyond the financial means of the Holy Family, with the husband secretly offering them room in the stable out of pity over the notion of a pregnant woman without a roof. There’s a definite message in this, the old “if you let your wife have the power in your marriage then you’ll be dragged along in decisions to which you have a moral objection and become complicit” warning, which is why I suspect we don’t see a gender reversal of this interpretation; there isn’t really a cautionary narrative tradition associated with the husband taking the reins with business decisions.
It’s not unusual for characters to spring up to fill in the missing pieces in stories about important moments in religious stories (as we’ve seen with previous entries), but what’s unusual about the innkeeper(s) is that, despite being textually absent from the gospels, they’re yoked with mainstream theological interpretation, which is surprising to me.

The standard reflection on them is this: the innkeepers, who are either awash in the prosperity of their business or so frazzled by the bustle as to be indifferent DO permit the Holy Family lodging (this operates on an assumption, likely born of that first narrative inclusion, that the innkeeper has proprietorship of the stable), but in the little space that is left, not that which would inconvenience them. This is used as a metaphor for religious folks who profess sincerity of faith but who only give their time/attention to God when all other earthly matters have been attended. God, in this metaphor, is relegated to the stable of the person’s life.

dguyThere’s a current school of thought that the “inn” isn’t an inn at all, but a mistranslation of guest room, suggesting that it was Joseph’s relatives that turned them away, itself an interpretation rife with meaning (Joseph’s relatives, judging Mary to be an unwed mother, refused her entry, can be easily read as a refutation of those whom would deem to judge others based on their own assumptions of legality or morality). I think this is unlikely, though, as there’s no context in the verse to suggest anything other than that which is stated: there was no room. The relative idea puts a lot of emphasis on “for them”, and in doing so likely misses the point.

If the guest room translation is valid, it probably refers to one that functioned much as an inn would have: a community guest room in lieu of an inn, in which case the innkeepers remain its administrators even if their title is no longer the same.

I don’t like any of these interpretations, partially because I like to think the best of people, and partially because of personal experience. When Liz and I were first married, we managed a hotel in Mississippi, on the river across from Louisiana. When Katrina hit, we were, thankfully, spared all but the most minor cosmetic damage, but (as many of you will remember) our neighbors across the river weren’t so lucky. With more people needing a place to stay than there were places for them, we ended up housing much more than our commercial capacity, with guests bringing families and extended families, packing into every corner of the building

Liz did her best to accommodate as many as we could, and I like to think that the innkeepers in the story (which I’ve depicted as a married pair, absent those aforementioned associations with which the wife is sometimes saddled) made no less of an effort, and that the stable was a creative way to extend their hospitality well beyond their means.

Advent Calendar Day 22: The Tempter

putxThe Eastern Orthodox Church has its own nativity traditions, and one of them is depicting an old shepherd dressed in animal skins. Byzantine art pretty much always shows sad-sack Joseph sitting despondent and pouty off in a corner (just google search “Byzantine Nativity Art” and take in dozens of Josephs who make Keanu Reeves look positively jubilant by contrast). Nature, and with it any semblance of Joseph’s paternal/husbandly authority, has been vanquished by a sexless conception, and Joseph, his world upended, doesn’t take it well.

Though there are shepherds, including old hide-wearing ones, in early nativity icons, one in particular becomes a narrative figure by the early 1300s: The Tempter, who stands next to Joseph, stoking Joseph’s doubt about Mary’s virginity. This is either a man doing the devil’s work (though some early versions treat him instead as a man doing the Lord’s work, reminding Joseph of ancient words of Isaiah that Christians would take as prophecy regarding a virgin birth) or the devil himself in disguise.

By the mid-1300s, you see James, Joseph’s son, interceding, attempting to ward this tempter (this is also, I believe, the first usage of James in Nativity art) to save his father from doubt, or maybe to just give the really, really sad guy a little space.

Advent Calendar Day 23: Roman Soldier

There are plenty of traditional nativity characters whose inclusion is meant to foreshadow something in either Jesus’s adult life, including having a burial shroud as his swaddling and an encounter with the thieves with whom he’ll later be crucified. To my knowledge, though, there isn’t a traditional Roman soldier character (though they do often turn up in more sprawling nativity sets with other Bethlehem denizens and are a staple of church walk-through-Bethlehem setups).

The soldier here isn’t, like you see in the walk-throughs, a fancy Roman in the lorica segmentata armor of popular imagination. He’s a rural reserve, stuck in Bethlehem, a deputy constable in a podunk hamlet. So his armor is the minimum a provincial soldier might be issued while still being identifiable as a Roman soldier.

Advent Calendar Day 24: La Befana

lfLa Befana is the Italian gift-giver, just like we get Santa Claus, the Spanish get the Three Kings, and the Austrians get Baby Jesus (he doesn’t come down the chimney; I checked). Her original story is heartbreakingly sad, and its traditional alternative is kind of lackluster, so I’m offering a variation that marries the two.

The Three Kings, on their way to see baby Jesus, ask for shelter for the night at a rural house. In it, La Befana (whose name derives from a mispronunciation of “Epiphany” and who probably has OCD) is busy cleaning, as she always does. Learning that they’re taking gifts to a baby, she volunteers to go, too; her kids are grown and she’s itching to get rid of their old toys. Following the kings, she gives Jesus the toys, delighting him, and in thanks he bestows upon her immortality and a magic hamper perpetually full of toys so that she can bring other children as much joy as she did him. She also uses her broom to tidy up the manger for Mary. You could eat off that floor.

La Befana now rides her broom from house to house, leaving toys for youngsters and flying up the chimney.

Advent Calendar Day 25: Baby Jesus
Merry Christmas, friends!
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Tom Palmer in Splendid Black and White

What good is running a website if you cannot feature majestic Tom Palmer uncolored art?

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Avengers #287 cover. Marvel Comics, 1987. Pencils by John Buscema. Inks by Tom Palmer

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Comic Book Artist #13 cover. TwoMorrows Publishing, 2001. Pencils by Gene Colan. Inks by Tom Palmer.

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Captain Britain #28 page 5. Marvel UK, 1977. Pencils by John Buscema. Inks by Tom Palmer.

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 Star Wars #76 cover. Marvel Comics, 1983. Pencils and inks by Tom Palmer.

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Star Wars #86, page 3. Marvel Comics, 1983. Pencils by Bob McLeod. Finishes by Tom Palmer.

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Punisher #2, page 8. Marvel Comics, 2004. Pencils by Lewis LaRosa. Inks by Tom Palmer.
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X-Men: The Hidden Years #1, pages 2-3. Marvel Comics, 1999. Pencils by John Byrne. Inks by Tom Palmer.

 

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Avengers poster. Marvel Comics, 1989. Pencils by Paul Ryan. Inks and painting by Tom Palmer.
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Star Wars #62, page 22. Marvel Comics, 1982. Layouts by Walt Simonson. Finishes on duo-shade board by Tom Palmer.

 

Help Don Perlin

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Chris Schweizer’s Paper Nativity Informational Notes: Part 5

Over the next month, Chris Schweizer will be offering thoughts on the Nativity set model (a large papercraft crèche) mentioned last week that you can find and download here:

https://gumroad.com/l/ThkR

Rather than run it everyday Chris has given us permission to run it every few days.

Advent Calendar Day 16: Jeanette, Isabella

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“Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella” is a lovely five hundred year-old French carol in which we see two villagers hurrying to pay their respects to the newborn Christ child.
Aside from shepherds and magi, the canonical gospels (and, really, the majority of the apocryphal ones, too) are absent visitors and homage-givers. Yet in some cultures, especially France, there is a tradition of villagers and laborers spreading the news of the holy birth and flocking to participate.I haven’t had any luck finding the root of this, but it goes back at least as far as the late middle ages, and I suspect that it developed by the late 13th century. Beginning in 1315, Europe suffered a series of crises –the Great Famine, the Black Death, the Little Ice Age, populist revolts, and dynastic wars – that slashed the population by at least half.Before this, though, Europe’s population had drastically increased, health and mortality had seen marked improvement, and a long period of warmth and increased growing seasons coupled with better farming technology and a lack of external raids meant that enough food could be produced to support and encourage this growth. By 1300, Europe was more full of people than it had ever held, and this, I believe, would have put a strain on Nativity organizers.There would not have been many religious ceremonies in which peasants and laypeople could have been officially involved, but a living Nativity would have been such an avenue. If you have a handful of folks eager to participate, then you have your kings, shepherds, and possibly angels. If the greater part of a large high medieval population boom congregation wishes to involve themselves, you have to get creative.It’s also important to note that the Feast of Fools (ostensibly started as a liturgical observance meant to remind clergy of scripturally prescribed humility, but more likely it was an internally hilarious moose-lodge type of endcap to the Christmas season by the subdeacons from whose feast it likely evolved) had cemented itself in France as a public festival in which the lower stations were permitted unprecedented social rights during the feast day. Just as they would with Christmas in the mid-19th century and Halloween in the 21st, the ruling and upper classes took umbrage with these short designated periods of social revolution, and began to try to implement rules curtailing those rights, and over the 13th century you see increased resistance to the Feast of Fools from the Church. Though the feast isn’t officially outlawed until 1431, there’s definitely a movement to see its raucous side diminished if not extinguished, and I believe that the villagers-in-Nativities movement is an attempt on the part of religious and community leaders to shift their population’s energies from the Feast of Fools to Christmas (either that, or the communities themselves shifting their energies from one celebration to the other in order to retain as much of their practices as they were able). There are two points that I think support this assumption:1. Many of the social switcheroos (mayor is beggar/beggar is mayor) that form the heart of the Feast of Fools become standard European and, later, American Christmas traditions (though we don’t have them anymore, with their last remaining vestige a carol about demanding figgie pudding under threat of perpetual occupation).2. The tradition associated with the villagers evokes the Feast of Fools itself. There is a makeshift parade (the carols associated with the villagers nearly always focus on the journey to the manger) to the home of the highest in the region. Only in the nativity, the social subversion of the Feast is itself subverted, and the peasants are willfully going to the highest (who is, by virtue of his humble birth, also the lowest) not to demand food and presents but to instead offer them.That the villagers don’t bother to try and Bible it up so far as dress or naming conventions go gives further credence to the likelihood that the one tradition evolved from the other. The villagers of the French tradition are French villagers, provincials, not ancient Hebrews. Even today, French nativity crèches boast santons, which are depictions of near-modern provincial characters. And Jeanette and Isabella, with their decidedly medieval European names, bolster that tradition.I didn’t want the anachronism of putting turn-of-the-14th-century French girls in this nativity set, so I took their names and matched them to the regions from which those names later sprung – France and Italy, or, at the time of the first Christmas, Gaul and Rome (and dressed them accordingly). Daughters of citizens of Rome in Jerusalem, Jeanette and Isabella are in Bethlehem to get some country air, accompanying their dads who are occupied administering the census. They’re best friends and I reckon that this is one chapter in a childhood filled with many.
Advent Calendar Day 17: Amahl

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When I was a kid, my dad ran an opera company, and every Christmas (at least most of the ones that I remember) he put on a one-act Christmas opera by Gian Carlo Menotti: Amahl and the Night Visitors.

I know this opera backwards and forwards, having watched it who knows how many times, sat in on many of the rehearsals leading to those performances, and even being in it, one season as Amahl (I think it was only once, but it may have been twice) and another, later, as a camel driver.

Amahl is the story of a crippled boy whose livelihood (goats and shepherding) has been slowly whittled away by economic hardship until his only avenue is begging, which he intends to undertake the next day (though he is an unrepentant liar, so he’s probably just going to lounge on a rock or something).

The Three Kings stop at his house on their way to Bethlehem and seek lodgings. The impudent Amahl pesters them with a series of comic interactions, and the poor mother, with no other means by which to support her sickly child, makes to steal a little of the treasure being taken to some baby who won’t even appreciate it. She’s caught, and the kings forgive her in Christ’s name. Amahl, moved by this show of mercy, decides to give Jesus a present, too: the only thing he has: his crutch. When he reaches out to pass it to the kings, he stumbles, and catches himself on his previously lame leg. Miraculously healed, he dances around and leaves with the kings for Bethlehem.

Oh! And there’s one of those villager parades mentioned in the last essay.

The opera was the first ever commissioned for television, and, airing on Christmas Eve in 1951, had the largest audience ever for a televised opera. It was a yearly tradition on NBC until 1966, when disagreements between the network and composer led him to take the broadcast rights away.

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Advent Calendar Day 18: The Cherry Tree

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The cherry tree has come to be associated with Christmas through the Cherry Tree carol, a six hundred year-old ballad set during Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. In it, Mary, passing under a cherry tree, gets a pregnancy craving for one, and asks Joseph to reach up and grab her one. Joseph, either doubting her tale of divine conception or not yet having been told of it (both versions exist), tells her that if she wants a cherry so bad then she ought to have the baby daddy get one for her. At this the cherry tree bends down to allow Mary to pluck a cherry from its branch. Joseph either then repents of his momentary doubt and spitefulness, or an angel appears and tells Joseph of Mary’s miraculous, dadless pregnancy.

This story stems from yet another apocryphal infancy gospel, but doesn’t have a Christmas or pre-Christmas setting. It’s set later, during the flight to Egypt. Mary’s craving isn’t a natal whim, but a nutritional necessity, and Joseph is upset over his inability to provide the family with food or drink in the desert, their supplies of both exhausted. The tree, not cherry but date, is called upon by little Jesus to bend down and give them fruit. Also its roots break the surface and provide plenty of water.

This is one of the many lil’ Jesus miracles.

The drawing here is, like in the carol, a cherry tree intended for a Christmas setting. I like the idea that the tree, its sentience activated, wished to continue it is worship, and followed them, providing food and shade and standing really still when anyone else was looking.

Advent Calendar Day 19: Little Drummer Boy
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The message of the carol “The Little Drummer Boy” is a good one: let each person make gifts of his or her means or talent, however meager.
Its single accolade upheld, I can now dwell on how much I dislike this song. For me, it’s likely a mix of irritation as a listener (it’s SO boring and repetitive and dirgey) and frustration as a singer (as a bass, any choir I was in that performed it saw those of us on the low register relegated to the endless and identical onomatopoeia). In either instance, my time would have been better served doing literally anything else on the planet. Come on, choir, get a drummer. Heck, even beat-box if you really, really need vocal percussion. That pa-rum-pum-pum-pum needn’t double the song’s length.I’m not alone in my contempt for this song. I’ve many a friendship whose bond has strengthened in our mutual dislike. David Bowie’s “Peace on Earth” was written for his duet with Bing Crosby because he famously refused to sing such obnoxious drivel. So why is this song so terrible?Well, it’s NOT terrible when it’s used for its intended purpose: children’s amateur choral performances. It’s a deliberately simple and repetitive song crafted specifically by its composer, the great and prolific music educator Katherine K. Davis, for youngsters whose musical and cognitive abilities don’t yet permit greater strain. And, so far as an elementary-age choir piece goes, it’s fine. But it shouldn’t be sung by adults without drastic alteration to the arrangement (which the song rarely, if ever, sees). It’s the Christmas equivalent of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.”So despite how much I dislike the song, it’s not the song itself that I dislike, but the purpose to which it’s been turned.A similar song, but far more interesting in its complexity, is “Patapan”, a 300 year-old French carol which also has vocal instrumentation AND the central character of a little drummer boy (his name is Willie).

Listen here: https://youtu.be/s5Tk1n0VbeQ

SO! You’ve been tricked. The little drummer boy in the Nativity set is actually Willie of “Patapan” fame. Bwahahaha! I guess he could still be the kid from the other song, too. Santa has eight gazillion songs about him, drummer Willie can certainly have two.

Advent Calendar Day 20: The Caganer

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The caganer is a staple of Catalonian Nativity scenes, which, traditionally, have a lot of specific characters, including a weaver spinning thread and a woman washing clothes. The caganer, however, isn’t undertaking a professional task like the others; he’s hidden off to the side, pooping.

The figure, which likely began appearing in Nativity scenes in the late 1600s, seems to me a commentary on the pastoral motif that had become very popular during the baroque period. City folks, artists, and the nobility were enamored with the idea of a simple country life, but their romantic depictions rarely reflected its struggling, dirty reality. The caganer could easily be seen as a representation of the “real” within the idealized, tethering the first Christmas to reality in a way that the contrived and emotionally manipulative Nativity arrangements were failing to do.

There is a wonderful modern narrative that not only sweetens (Christmasises?) the idea of the caganer but which ties him to another poop-centric Catalonian Christmas tradition, the Tio’ de Nadal, a smiling log that poops candy on Christmas morning. As there is no earthly way to improve upon this juxtaposition of these two regionally and thematically linked characters, I’ll simply link to it. It’s a short, brilliant read:

http://comicsalliance.com/benito-cereno-and-anthony-clark-bring-you-a-true-christmas-story/