Category Zero #4

Story/Letters – Adem Kiamil / Art – Ton Lima / Colors – Derek Dow

Issue #1Issue #2Issue #3

The mood has shifted in Category Zero and all pretense has been thrown out the window. Sanaxus isn’t an entity hoping to benefit people by helping with the new found affliction affecting the population. They’re quite the opposite and issue four starts with an exposition revealing the truth that sits under the surface in both a figurative and literal sense. The story’s continuity is used well as our informative opening is given by our individual that closed out issue three having clearly been subjected to something terrible. It isn’t overly drawn out and touches on some lingering questions you may have had coming out of the last issue (such as how non “powered” folks would be able to be in control of those with them). Simple, but effective explanations are given that satisfy things enough to not get caught up on anything. The presentation of this narrative sets the tone for the issue and the further developments very well. Not only has the mood shifted, but this issue sees the story driven by the visuals and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The narrative didn’t need to be overly drawn out with its explanation because the scenes depicted and body language shown do so much more in the way of getting the points across. The art work has been excellent from the get go but this issue seems to have been set up to really let it carry the weight. I think that’s a great choice here given what this issue holds. After doing the narrative work to bridge the first three issues the book lets the art do the heavy lifting in getting across the reality that this world has quickly fallen into. The scenes shown and information revealed about the treatment of the one percenters by Omega (the truth of Sanaxus) is displayed full on. Beyond that the entirety of the issue has heavy “acting” done by the facial expressions/body language of the characters and the environmental settings throughout this portion of the story. This isn’t to say that the script took the issue off by any means. There is an excellent scene where Sanaxus guards are “hosing off” a one percenter and both the art and dialogue are perfect examples of some of the problems with society that Category Zero has chosen to take head on. The scene highlights the danger of acting in fear and abusing positions of power. It brings forth class/race divide types of thinking and how people can be complicit by inaction.

Our motley crew of one percenters on the run continues their mad dash to safety as well. The city plays a dark and looming obstacle with just as many lurking dangers as potential hiding spots. Eyes and ears are everywhere. There are moments where the group feels as though they’re being hunted (which they are, in truth). There’s more going on though as the seemingly friendly help was left with an eyebrow raising panel. The last panel of the book also leaves the tension hanging as it ties in our one percenters and the truth of what they face. Issue four of Category Zero has done an excellent job of starting to turn over the story into the “meat and potatoes” of things while playing to its strengths.

HELL, Inc.

Jeff Martin’s web strip is coming to print. That’s the aim anyway as his KICKSTARTER launches on AUG 19, 2019 and will be a 30 day campaign. The KS aim is to get the 84 strips published into print and out to the masses. There will be two books, each with a 42 strip story arc. Published weekly since FEB 2018, the project already shows staying power and has been coming around to more and more eyes lately. So what exactly is Hell, Inc? It’s satire that plays on one of the most well known tropes out there. What’s more of a hell than an office job …?

The timeless reality that is hell on Earth has been used to high success many times over. Martin has added to the ranks of hilarious takes on the horrors and torture of the cubicle world. Humor that recalls the likes of Office Space is sprinkled about but the strip is entirely its own entity. We follow Doug, a hopeless everyman (demon) working for the big corp in literal Hell, Hell Incorporated. The premise itself (the office trope) is ripe with relatable instances and the humor in agony that many people go through day in and day out. While horribly human with his existence, Doug also finds that Hell itself is a multilayered storm. It has got to be exponentially more dire of an existence to be just a cog in the corporate machine when you compound that with the corporate machine being, again, literal Hell.

Keeping the humor relatable is what makes the strip overly funny. Despite being a demon Doug lives through every day human hells. Perhaps he was a corporate cog before the afterlife and is now living out his own personal hell by being condemned to run the cubicle rat race for eternity? That would just add that much more humor to the goings on over at Hell, Inc. The art delivers exaggerated depictions of the every day torture of the office life. From dreaming of doing the unthinkable to your co-workers, running and hiding from the boss, and attempting to feign importance we see Doug navigate his horrifyingly mundane afterlife with the same hopeless indifference many of us have experienced.

It isn’t that Doug doesn’t have an important job. He processes souls for Hell, Inc. Given that that is what Hell is all about one would think there would be a bit more shine to things. Not so much. There always seems to be something that keeps the experience from being what it could or adding to the misery of being just another office worker. The “adventures” have even gone so far as to give Doug an intern [a human one at that] that simply just has to be the secret 10th circle of hell.

Be sure to check out the Kickstarter LIVE NOW! Hell, Inc is a wonderfully done satire. The play on the situation makes it that much more humorous. You’ll thoroughly enjoy your time with Hell, Inc.

OGRE VOL 1

W – Bob Salley
A/C/L – Shawn Daley

The great thing about comic books is that you just never quite know what you’re going to get once you open up that cover and start flipping through the pages. Sure there are tag lines and solicits that are meant to either summarize bluntly, or sell you the on the book. Very rarely are those brief synopsis a true glimpse into the characters and worlds within. OGRE was solicited as A reclusive ogre escapes imprisonment from a tower during a castle siege and must work with humankind if he wants to survive. This new journey sets him on an adventure he’s not prepared to embark upon. Sure, we get that but what Bob Salley and Shawn Daley gave us with OGRE is so much more.

My take on summarizing OGRE is this: War sucks and everybody suffers because of it regardless of any ultimate good in its conclusion. All throughout there are microcosms that either mirror the larger scale or provide a doorway for clarification, understanding, and even enlightenment. This is what we find in OGRE.

Our opening is bleak. An entire land lay in shambles as a human war has ravaged the countryside as well as it’s inhabitants. The physical and emotional toll of war has more than set in. The ramifications have wholly set in and weigh heavy on the land and those still alive. Inherently violent [as war is violence] the characters in OGRE have found themselves in a position where they have to fight not for the cause of war, but the cause of survival. Prisoners of the war, and of lost causes, the group that the book introduces us too is given a freak chance to escape both.

Without detailing too much, the book does present the prevailing war that has presented the circumstances through which our Ogre is able to have his journey. The broader effect of the war has provided the microcosm within the prison setting that opens OGRE. The big burly “monster” we follow is sitting in a cell along side humans that are also prisoners. The Ogre though is chained to a corpse. Together the corpse and the war are used to frame the journey we take by way of cause and effect and how we react to things that can and cannot control.

We are quickly introduced to one of the worst horrors of war. The dark side that resides within all of us is represented, appropriately, by trolls that enter the picture as profiteers of the war. With no regard to either side or the destruction being wrought the trolls seek only to gain for themselves. This element adds another layer to the story of OGRE that many will find to be surprisingly deep. On the surface the book, like war, appears to be cut and dry. Two sides are at odds and fight it out. A big ugly monster is at odds with man and they fight it out. Except that is not the story at all in either case. The driving factor behind our tale is the internal conflict that rages within our Ogre as the journey to survive unfolds. While the book never explores the war itself, the trickle down from it is everywhere. The humans are effected, our Ogre is affected, and even the trolls are too. Each is dealt their own hand but the dealer is the war. This allows for fleeting, intricate relationships to be just as powerful as the longer ones that brood, fester, and ultimately decide how the events turn out.

The identifiable themes of racism, classism, love, hate, despair, and hope are all on display and woven together in a touching and poignant fabric. From doubt to hope, hate to sympathy, and ignorance to understanding OGRE unveils a timeless tale of personal struggle that takes the worst in us and turns it into the best of us. The eternal war within about we can and cannot control rides right alongside the struggle of whether or not we are capable of true change at all. OGRE uses its devices perfectly and delivers on all fronts.

Going to the Chapel #1

W- David Pepose
A- Gavin Guidry
C- Liz Kramer
L- Ariana Maher w/Colin Bell

Big thank you to David Pepose for the Q&A leading into the release of GTtC #1.

Upon reading the solicit for this book you’re going to immediately have your mind jump to a certain movie scene. It happened to me. Seeing the cover of Going to the Chapel #1 (Lisa Sterle art) only reinforced that vision. Using the juxtaposition of attitudes and approaches from the bride and groom in the hours leading up to the wedding lures the reader into a false sense of security. While many are chuckling in recollection of their own wedding day (or memories of weddings of family members/that they’ve been involved in) this book is slowly stalking us in the tall grass. Without even realizing it you get a reveal before the hook on the last page. You’ll go back and go ‘well shit’ for not noticing because you’re flowing right along with the all to real emotions of the prevailing situation.

The RomCom genre capitalizes on several feelings to create an entertaining and fulfilling experience that runs up and down the emotional spectrum. They work because there’s something that tugs at or speaks to just about everyone. Even in the sappiest there’s either humor or a dark truth that plays to the most cynical among us. That’s just the thing with these ventures, it’s all about the hope and love winning out. Sometimes though that hope and love is fighting against the conventional “feel good” outcome. Hope and love doesn’t always line up with what would be considered as correct or how people on the outside looking in think things should go. And there in lies the humor, dark truth, and sometimes a little something else. Going to the Chapel has sown the seeds for that other route.

Yes, we get a wise cracking and delightfully crude grandma. The normal and expected jitters are present along with some typical “overly sure” feelings. The tropes of the hours leading up to the fateful moment of “I do” are all given face time and used expertly to paint a picture that’s just about by the numbers. Until it isn’t. All throughout the issue there’s something that eats at you as you read through the panels. There’s an itch that slowly grows but no matter how much you scratch at it, the damn thing won’t go away. In fairness to we, the readers, the book distracts from that itch as much as it causes it. Issue one is a great debut that does its job extremely well. It piques your interest and then hooks you with the last page. That itch goes full blown but it isn’t irritating. I mean unless an Elvis impersonating gang of robbers crashing a wedding irks you … but that’s just the primer for the hook. See, “love is the ultimate hostage situation” isn’t just a tag line. It’s an absolute truth.

Enough of what I think, let’s hear from the writer himself:

-Let’s start with, the start, of this book.  The inception of the idea. You’ve stated it was from Greek Tragedy-esque level shenanigans when you were a best man?  Can you elaborate or change names/modify events to protect the innocent?

Have you ever been to a wedding that’s felt more like a hostage situation? We just made that literal in GOING TO THE CHAPEL. (Laughs) But yes, the initial spark of the idea came from my disastrous turn as best man for my oldest friend’s wedding — the bachelor party I planned was like the Hindenburg of bachelor parties, culminating in me actually missing the whole thing because I sent myself to the hospital. 

While I was recuperating on painkillers, I thought to myself, “At least this didn’t happen during the wedding…” But then I thought to myself, “But what if it did?” That made me think of a lot of worst-case scenarios — at first, I thought it would be what if the father of the bride hired some leg-breakers to persuade the groom to call it off, but then I realized… what if the bride just got cold feet? That idea of commitment and choosing who to love felt like a really dramatic arc to explore — although I’ll admit, the Elvis-themed bank robbers didn’t hurt, either!

-Coming off of Spencer & Locke 2 (which again, absolutely brilliant) and the focus on trauma, this book is quite a different tale.  Is this an intentional change of pace or just what happened to be next in the queue?

GOING TO THE CHAPEL, in a lot of ways, was written in response to SPENCER & LOCKE — I think the two books do share certain themes and sensibilities, but I think the tone and execution to get there are definitely different. The first volume of SPENCER & LOCKE, for example, was written with a really small cast in mind, so the first thing I wanted to do with my next book was to essentially write a team book full of diversity and representation — we’ve got 15 characters in the mix with this series, and confining them to a single location was an even greater challenge.

That said, I do think GOING TO THE CHAPEL has a lot in common with my previous books — we bring that same mixture of action and comedy to every page, and I also think they both tackle the general themes of having to face the heartache of your past before you can hope to move forward into the future. But most importantly, GOING TO THE CHAPEL brings that same sense of risk-taking as SPENCER & LOCKE — while my first books were about skewering one of the most sacred cows in comics, GOING TO THE CHAPEL gets to put a new spin on the romcom narrative, a genre that often has a lot of preconceived notions in the Direct Market. I’m hoping after reading our series, people will realize that everyone can enjoy romcoms — they’re just as flexible of a genre as crime, sci-fi or even superheroes.

-With some of the visuals and a little of the look in GTtC’s first issue I can’t help but get a feeling of a mash up of some cult favorite movies, and it’s great … when putting the pen down to write this, did you purposefully use some tie lines for familiarity or did the actual true accounts this comes from bare enough resemblance on their own?

Perhaps not consciously, but I think artist Gavin Guidry and I brought a lot of influences to the table with this book, from old-school Tarantino and Breaking Bad to Hell or High Water and Baby Driver. For me, I wanted to write this book without the crutch of narrative captions, and so I wanted to play around with the pacing and the storytelling in order to keep things dynamic and to keep readers on their toes. The idea of starting the book out with the song lyrics of “Chapel of Love,” for example, felt like a great way to set the tone of this series — a little bit stylish, a little bit dangerous — but using the least amount of dialogue possible.

My biggest influences on the book, though, were probably the films Dog Day Afternoon and Death at a Funeral — the idea of having a lot of people trapped in close proximity with one another has a lot of room for comedy, in my mind. I think we often wear masks of respectability when we’re with our extended families or at our jobs, but the longer you’re stuck in an uncomfortable situation, the more I think those masks tend to slip — we start getting a little more real, a little more honest, whether we like it or not. So the longer we go in GOING TO THE CHAPEL, we’re not just going to see Emily and her family start to slide deeper into dysfunction, but we’re going to see the line between the Bad Elvis Gang and their hostages start to blur.

-So, we’ve got some issues going on already.  There’s clearly LOTS of background to the bride, head of our gang of robbers, and some other mess stewing about.  How expansive is the background that these characters share and how much of it are going to get (IE – could there be a GTtC 2)?

A lot of the fun of a book like GOING TO THE CHAPEL is taking these very strong personalities and seeing how they interact with one another over the course of this increasingly complicated hostage situation. Emily, our bride with cold feet, will be driving the story, and we’ll see how her past informs the situation she and her family are in today — but we’re also going to see how her fiance Jesse fits into the situation, as does Tom, the ringleader of the Bad Elvis Gang.

But the best part of having such a big, sprawling cast is that every character gets to leave their mark on this story — a hostage situation only goes as smoothly as your actual hostages will let it, and the Anderson family is so rich, so entitled, and so clueless that they’re not going to take captivity lying down. Imagine if the Bluth family from Arrested Development were caught in a bank robbery, and you’ll get the idea of where we’re headed — but rest assured, every character gets an arc in this series, and we’ll see some very interesting connections develop.

-The solicits give us details of course, but what is the central theme you’d hope comes across in GTtC? I ask because that last page is saying to me that this story is about those crazy feelings that the fist size muscle in our chest causes us to deal with.

I’d say the biggest milestones in our lives are the ones that often require the biggest leaps of faith — so if there’s any one theme in GOING TO THE CHAPEL, it’s about the ways we grapple with those fears of change and of commitment, and how we eventually have to confront these anxieties to move forward. You’re right that love is a big, crazy feeling, but it’s also a complicated one, informed by our wants and our aspirations and our upbringings and our heartbreaks. And we’re going to get to explore a lot of that in this wedding heist from hell!

-I couldn’t help but notice that the scenes in this first issue were very tight, in close.  The characters were the focal point throughout and the actuality of where they were at any given time was nothing more than bare minimum.  A church, a bar, a room. Is this a tool in the bigger telling of the story?  

Yeah! A lot of that is based on artist Gavin Guidry’s personal style — he gives his characters so much expressiveness, so I think he really relishes getting to zoom in and show these wedding guests’ larger-than-life personalities. But at the same time, as this series progresses and we have our characters established, we’ll start to play more and more into the various elements of the chapel as a setting — in fact, I actually choreographed the whole story beat by beat, almost like a football play, so Gavin could then use that to construct a fully-rendered, three-dimensional chapel on SketchUp. This series is very much about trying to fit a ton of characters in an enclosed space, though, so Emily and her extended cast will definitely be our main focus. 

-This is going to be a four-issue series.  S&L was 4 issues in each of its two volumes.  Is there something about four issues that allows you to do things that a “traditional” six-issue limited series doesn’t?  Is the four-issue format something you prefer?  

I like to keep my stories as tight and lean as possible — both because I don’t want to keep readers and retailers on the hook any longer than necessary, but also for my own sanity and wallet! (Laughs) But in all seriousness, I think a common misconception people have is that oftentimes many comics publishers will even consider a six-issue limited series to be a big investment — so keeping it at four- and five-issue arcs is a good way not just to make sure the storytelling is economical, but also minimizing a publisher’s risk of picking up the project.

-With S&L and now GTtC are we seeing a relationship brewing with you and Action Lab or are these books the product of an existing one? 

Action Lab’s been a great home for my work, dating back to the first volume of SPENCER & LOCKE. I think there’s a lot of publishers who are very risk-averse, or who get very self-conscious about their brand and have a very narrow definition of what they’ll publish within those confines — I had a lot of publishers that told me they didn’t know how to sell a romantic comedy! But Action Lab immediately was excited about GOING TO THE CHAPEL, and unanimously wanted to go ahead with it. So I give them a lot of credit for taking risks with their publishing lineup, and trusting creators to tell their stories without micromanaging them to death. It’s a great relationship, and I’m excited to publish more books through Action Lab in the future. 

-Is Goint To The Chapel a one and done, or is there a possibility that this initial series is just the start?

While I initially wrote GOING TO THE CHAPEL as a standalone series, the themes of the book feel universal enough that I think there’s definitely some possibilities for some other stories with these characters if the demand was there. So never say never — if Father of the Bride could pull off a Part II, who’s to say we couldn’t, too?

OUT NCBD SEPTEMBER 4th!

Strayed #1

W – Carlos Giffoni
A – Juan Doe
L – Matt Krotzer

An astral projecting cat you say? Ok, let’s take a dive into Strayed and see just what in the heck is going on. Regardless of what you’re expecting I’m pretty sure you’ll be surprised at what you find. The book does deliver on something that I think everyone is expecting though. The astral projecting cat? Yeah those scenes are exactly what you’re wanting. The entirety of the issue is hard to pin down though. Not because it’s confusing or poorly done mind, but because there’s choices to be made with how this plays out and the first issue leaves a hell of a lot of that work to be done. That’s not a bad thing but I do feel readers that are wanting a bit more given to them won’t stick around for the rest of the story.

Hopefully folks will stick around because there’s plenty to unravel in Strayed. The two main plot points are about as opposing in nature as you can get. On the one hand we’ve got the dark and gloomy overlording colonizers in the form of an unrelenting militant outfit. The other hand shows the loving and deep connection between us and animals. The two are intertwined in a delicate portrayal of the dual edged sword of discovery. The militant regime is in search of new planets to colonize and harvest. They want to engulf the entirety of the resources of the universe for themselves. Peachy yeah? It’s balanced by the intimate moments and truly well crafted care that is put in the relationship between our very special cat and its owner.

The debut issue introduces not just the universal themes of love, compassion, hope, friendship, and the desire to overcome ruthless oppressors but also an exploration of violent colonialism. The twines which Strayed can play with are numerous and the direction they choose to go may just lend to a truly unique manner for addressing prevailing issues in the history of human expansion. There is a very real and logical thought process about how humankind will dry up Earth and expand outward into the stars. The guise of expansion and discovering has been used time and time again by numerous civilizations throughout human history to hide more sinister intentions. They’ve also been true intentions that fell sour to unfortunate turns of circumstance.

Using intimate moments clashed against violent outbursts has helped Strayed touch on its many themes in order to get readers revved up for the story to come. The book provides the visuals to deliver the cosmic scale of implication behind the colonizing militant outfit. The projection of Lou [our catty friend] is every bit as zany and sci-fitastic as you’d expect. Everything about the presentation of the outward and otherworldly aspects that Lou encounters in the astral projecting comes across as appropriately foreign and familiar. Discrete decision making in selecting “targets” reinforces the heavy thought put behind this story. For me, there are already seeds sown with Lou and how these projections may play out as we get deeper into the story.

The exploitation that lies within colonization cannot be avoided regardless of how “well and true” the intentions behind it may be. Not everything is good for all involved. That is the very nature of nature. Inherently it isn’t good or bad. It simply is. The intent in our [or in this case an entity] thoughts and actions is what derives the good or bad in things. Seeking and taking simply because you can overtakes the need of doing so no matter how true that need is. There is never a need to be cruel when in a position of power. There is never a need to hold individuals [or animals] against their will. There is never a need to force actions against the will of those performing them.

The fight between the good intended and those not is surely coming and the intro to this battle has me hooked for more.

Out NCBD August 21st!