Sunday, January 25, 2015

12 graphic novels for the women of Venus

12 graphic novels for the women of Venus
by rick olivares

In the 13th episode of Season 6 of “The Big Bang Theory” titled, “The Bakersfield Expedition,” Amy, Bernadette, and Penny go where no woman has gone before… a comic book shop (in Bakersfield, California).

After that eye-opening trip where they are ogled like inside the comic book specialty shop that is filled, they talk amongst themselves about… comics.

Bernadette: I didn’t know there were a lot of pictures. One page only had one word, “Brakadoom!”
Penny: Yeah, well I have street smarts.
Bernadette: So what do you guys think?
Amy: Well, there was a lot of action. The story moved along at a brisk pace. It was overall - what is the word I am looking for…?
Bernadette: Stupid.
Penny: So stupid.
Penny: I don’t know how Leonard can get caught up in this?
Bernadette: It’s crazy they can spend hours arguing about things that don’t exist.
Amy: What a waste of time!
Penny: I know. A hammer’s so heavy that no one else can pick it up.

Have you ever experienced this with your girlfriend? Or a female friend you tried to hook into that four-colored medium that consumes you?

Sure have. And it isn’t only comics… throw sports in as well. But that’s another lengthy and touchy subject as well.

Now back to the topic. You want to watch “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” but she yawns and asks why can’t we see “Rio 2” and “Haunted House 2” instead. So I guess you get the drift.

Here’s how I got my Helen of Troy to capitulate to the four-colored paneled delight.

If she has no taste for superheroes and thinks them silly then shoving her Batman and the X-Men is like howling at the wind. So I chose graphic novels that would appeal to what she likes but also made sure than I not only read and enjoyed them but actually have them in my collection. The better to passionately talk about them, my dear padawan.

For the romantic:
Cairo (Vertigo) – I have no idea if this excellent book will be adapted into film. With loads of comic books making their big screen or television debut, you can say, this could be the next big comic book film. Written by G. Willow Wilson (Ms. Marvel, X-Men) with art my M.K. Parker, Cairo is about six wholly disparate people who are drawn together by different circumstances regarding a stolen hookah. Maybe this book will not be adapted into film and that is a crying shame. But she will forgive you for fibbing because it’s an excellent read.

Stardust (Vertigo Comics) – What girl doesn’t like Neil Gaiman? Trade that paperback for the trade paperback with the Charles Vess art! That’s a powerful Love Potion #9. In the town of Wall in 19th century England, Tristran Thorn is head over heels in love with the beautiful Victoria Forester. One romantic October night, they watch a shooting star fall from the sky. Victoria tells Tristran that if he can retrieve that star and bring it back for her, she will marry him. It is this promise that sends Tristran into an unforgettable adventure that will change his life in ways he never saw coming.

Wasted – When I think of this book, it reminds me of a Greek tragedy. And perhaps, it is the greatest Filipino comic book of the modern era. Why it got even the hipsters who read only American comics into reading local fare! This will make every best of list and I kid you not. Passionately written and drawn from the heart of Gerry Alanguilan, Wasted is about a young man’s inability to get on with his life after a disastrous break-up. Violence follows.

For those with a philosophical bent:
Daytripper (Vertigo Comics) – If comics are categorized like music, then Daytripper by the twin Brazilian brothers Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba will be filed under “world music.”

Set in exotic Brazil, the story follows the life of Bras de Olivias Dominguez. The twist is every chapter starts with a different period in his life yet ends every time with his death. It’s about making choices and decisions that end with happiness or sorrow, good or bad, as well as love or loneliness. This one will stay with you forever.

Blankets (Top Shelf Productions) – Girls want to be understood. And they want to someone who will listen. I got your “see-I-understand-you” right here. “Blankets,” is written and drawn by the multi-talented Craig Thompson and is an intensely personal story that is pretty much autobiographical in nature. It will resonate with a lot of people as it tells of the time and repetitious tide of falling on love, triumph, questioning one’s existence, sorrow, loneliness, and angst.

For those who are fascinated with horror and the supernatural:
Trese (Alamat Comics) –How’s this for an even more badass version of “Grimm”? She may miss a hunk like David Giuntoli but she’ll find a strong female lead in Alexandra Trese, the supernatural protector of Manila. The creatures of Philippine myth and folklore have adapted into the modern world but that doesn’t mean that certain creatures have given up their cravings for human flesh and blood for Dean and DeLuca. Filled with memorable characters and villains, Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo’s magnum opus is spellbinding. When things go bump in the night, you do not call the Ghostbusters. Instead you call on Alexandra Trese and the Kambal.

For pet lovers:
Kinski (Monkey Brain Comics/Image Comics) – Written and drawn by Gabriel Hardman, “Kinski” is a story about dangerous if not absurd obsession. With his life in the gutter, Joe, a disgruntled salesman, finds his attention drawn to a Labrador puppy that was seemingly abandoned. Joe “rescues” the puppy fully mindful that it isn’t his property. He names the Labrador “Kinski” after German actor Klaus Kinski and sets in motion events that sent whatever is left of his life spiraling out of control.

For music lovers:
Doomboy (Magnetic Press) – It has been said that the angst and sorrow-ridden are able to write the best songs. In Doomboy, Mexican artist Tony Sandoval tells the story of, D, an ordinary, lonely teenager with an overactive imagination and a love of metal music. When his girlfriend suddenly passes away, D retreats in solitude and broadcasts his heartfelt songs to her beyond the grave under the nom de guerre, “Doomboy”. What he doesn’t realize, however, is that those broadcasts are picked up all across town and beyond. Soon the music of Doomboy becomes legendary, and his innocent private life quickly turns inside out.

Phonogram (Image Comics) – Kieron Gillen (Uber, Young Avengers) and Jamie McKelvie (Young Avengers, The Wicked and the Divine) weave magic and Britrock into a modern-day comic book version of Nick Hornby’s High-Fidelity.  Phonomancer David Kohl has to save his missing Britpop goddess, Britannia. He follows a series of leads and meets with other phonomancers, and spends time with a "normal" friend, Kid-With-Knife before he eventually locates Britannia.

For those who enjoy fantasy:
Fables (Vertigo Comics) – Chances are girls would have read Gregory Maguire’s “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West” that is a revisionist look at the villain of Oz. “Fables,” written by Bill Willingham and drawn initially by Lan Medina and eventually by Mark Buckingham is in the same vein and is perhaps the best mature readers story of the past decade. When the mysterious Adversary kills, subjugates, and drives out the characters of fables and legends of yore from their homelands, they all relocate in exile in Fabletown, a magically hidden and located in New York City. When the Fables aren’t bickering between themselves, they go to war as they plot a return to their homelands

Saga (Image Comics) – Decades ago, the best way to describe “Saga” is to say it’s a sci-fi “Romeo and Juliet.” Uh Uh. Maybe to modern girls, you can use the its initial solicitation description of a story that is “Star Wars meets Game of Thrones.” Now that’s better.

“Saga,” written by the talented Brian K. Vaughn and lushly drawn by Fiona Staples is a space opera where Marko and Alana, lovers from two warring alien races, fall in love and have a baby who they must protect from their respective families and people who want more than nothing than to end what they believe is sacrilege.

Now that you’ve established your beachhead on Venus, you want her to graduate to the superhero stuff. And this is where I sic them with their first genuine superhero-related book: Marvels.

Marvels (Marvel Comics) – It isn’t a hard-sell book with testosterone filling every page. Au contraire, the lovely painted Rockwell-esque artwork of Alex Ross and the sublime prose of Kurt Busiek will subdue the last pockets of resistance. The story puts you in the shoes and point of view of the man on the as they react to the appearance of “Marvels” or superheroes. It’s perfect as it runs the gamut of the multitude of characters and famous stories from Marvel’s line. Then, she gets interested.

Yo, Sandy! I got you a new customer.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Image Comics lets loose Penny Dora and the Wishing Box; a deliciously good children’s book of horrors.

Image Comics lets loose Penny Dora and the Wishing Box; a deliciously good children’s book of horrors.
by rick olivares

It has been said that some of the most frightening stories are those children’s tales of yore. You can throw in those ancient myths for good and horrific measure.

“Penny Dora and the Wishing Box” from Image Comics is a modern re-telling of the Greek myth of Pandora’s box wrapped in deceptively beautiful chick-lit/children’s book style art.

Michael Stock’s prose snares you just like those children’s books did all those years ago. He is sumptuously frugal yet engaging. Stock allows Sina Grace’s lovely and evocative artwork to shine through the facial expressions of the characters. Iggy the cat is a winner. I swear I will not look at a piece of ham again without thinking of Iggy.

And three issues into this title, I can say it's a wonderful read that has deep undertones that belie Grace's lovely artwork. The Greek myth of Pandora's box (or jar since it was initially mistranslated) is actually a frightening one where all sorts of ills are let loose unto the human world by a very inquisitive Pandora. Penny Dora, the book’s protagonist falls into the trap when she discovers a mysterious box left on her doorstep on Christmas Eve. Her mother orders her to dispose of the box that they think is a prank but Penny keeps it and it quickly haunts her for its asks her what she wishes. And chillingly, it even knows her name.

Penny’s best friend, Elizabeth borrows the box and misuses its to recreate her immediate world and she is warped for her troubles. Could it get any worse? We are about to find out.

Yet in three issues so far, there’s this mysterious girl in black in the background. We do not see her face although Penny takes notice of her. Obviously, she has some connection to the Wishing Box.

Like the myth that inspired “Penny Dora and the Wishing Box” this appears to be a children's comic but it is not. It writes of responsibility as well as the dangers of freedom and power. That sounds like Spider-Man territory there – you know, “with great power comes great responsibility” -- but Penny Dora reminds me more of Alice in Wonderland, Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, and Ted Naifeh’s Courtney Crumrin. And I say that puts this book in great company.

I really look forward to see where Stock and Grace take this book that has been one of the best put out in late 2014 and is one issue into this new year. Now, I can't wait to find out the identity of the girl in black.

And for mythology buffs like me, the homage to painter Frederick Stuart Church for the cover of Penny Dora and the Wishing Box #3 is priceless.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A blast from the past: A Cory Aquino campaign komik from three decades ago

In 1985, my father, who was a part of the core group of the Cory Aquino for President Movement (CAPM), commissioned a komik book for the presidential candidate that would be used as part of the campaign period. The artist/s never signed the komik out of fear of being picked up by government stooges.

I saved one copy for myself in 1985 and only unearthed it again after all these years just the other day. And it's in great condition.

It sure is cool to know my pop contributed something however small to Filipino komiks! 

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Force is with Marvel’s new Star Wars comic

The Force is with Marvel’s new Star Wars comic
by rick olivares

I am a Star Wars fan. I lined up for the film in 1977 and every succeeding film afterwards. And yes, I love the prequels (but not Jar Jar Binks).

My being a fan doesn’t really extend much to the other media. I read only a few of the Marvel Comics and only Dark Horse’s Dark Empire but I never collected them. Of the Expanded Universe novels, I only bought and read Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy and Scoundrels as well as Dave Wolverton’s The Courtship of Princess Leia.

When Disney purchased the Star Wars franchise, I was ecstatic because it finally meant a new movie or trilogy if we are really lucky. And of course, that means new comic books. The news that the new direction was not going to use anything from the Expanded Universe left virtually all the fans of the EU unhappy. I guess this is like Star Wars fans’ version of Crisis on Infinite Earths as all that literature was chucked away like it never existed.

Truthfully, even if I enjoyed the Zahn books, I was never into the EU (but I certainly appreciate it).

For me, Star Wars was always about the films and that ill-received Holiday Special that was made for television in 1978.

And that leads me to the first Star Wars comics under the Marvel Comics banner after 28 years. And this time, I reserved a copy; and when it came out, was the first from my weekly pull list that I read. And for me, it is the comic book of the week.

I feel like I just stepped out of a time warp after reading Jason Aaron and John Cassaday’s Star Wars #1.

Quick synopsis (spoiler alert): The story takes place after events from A New Hope and before The Empire Strikes Back. I guess with the new film taking place after Return of the Jedi, it was wise to take the stories in a future setting back one rooted in its past.

With the Death Star destroyed, the Empire is gathering raw materials (and my guess is it is for the second Death Star that we later saw in Return of the Jedi). But these raw materials are hard to find and they have to deal with space pirates to acquire what they need.

Pretending to be space pirates but emissaries of Jabba the Hutt, the “new” crew of the Millennium Falcon infiltrates Cymoon 1, a heavily armed Empire base, in order to further cripple the Emperor’s war machine.

Luke Skywalker still has not mastered the Force while Han Solo and Princess Leia start to discover their feelings for one another. As for Darth Vader, without the late Grand Moff Tarkin to restrain him, he shows his ruthless side when he uses the Force to lift some Stormtroopers to literally take some blaster shots meant for him.

And like the best laid plans of men, things go awry and a raw Skywalker finds himself face to face with Vader.

Writer Jason Aaron who is just coming off some recent comic book hits with Thor, God of Thunder, and Southern Bastards, shows his uncanny ability to shift from Norse mythology/superhero-themed books to crime and suspense to sci-fi. With his first issue of Star Wars, Aaron’s writing is taut yet engaging. He captures the wit and smarminess of Han Solo, the humanity of Skywalker, and the derring-do of Leia. Not to mention the annoying oddity of C-3PO.

The best line of the book?

After R2D2 fries some unsuspecting Stormtroopers.
Cymoon 1 Overseer Aggadeen: What kind of envoy are you?
Han Solo: The rebellious kind (emphasis on adjective).

I just went, “Oh, yeah!” with that.

I have always been a fan of John Cassaday (colorist Laura Martin does a bang up job as well) and he is mostly able to depict some of pop culture’s most famous characters with aplomb. I say mostly because there are some panels that look kind of funky. But it’s still great. I don’t even mind it. Sans my mentioning it, it is inconsequential and does not detract from your reading.

At 34 pages, Star Wars #1 is a winner and makes me look forward to the two other Star Wars books (Darth Vader and Princess Leia) that Marvel will put out soon.

The Force definitely is with Marvel’s new Star Wars comic.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Filbar’s of our youth

The Filbar’s of our youth
by rick olivares

If you talk to any boy who grew up in Manila in the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, chances are they read comics books and they got their weekly fix from Filbar’s. The shop, named from the first syllables of Filemon Barbasa III’s name, is arguably the first ever comic book specialty shop in the world. Filbar’s was way ahead of its time even before the concept of a comic book specialty shop gained traction in the United States. Prior to that, comics were sold at bookstores, newsstands, drugstores, and thrift shops. The specialty shop allowed customers to gave fans a hub for their fantasy fix.

However, after more than three decades of selling comic books, Barbasa sold his shop to some of his former clients who opted to retain the name for brand recall.

I caught up with “Fil” as Barbasa is nicknamed to reflect on those time and how comic books helped fulfill a dream of his as a young man coming out of Roxas City.

When Barbasa first made his way to Manila after graduating from college in Capiz, Roxas City, during the early 1970s, all he knew was he had dreams of making it big. While the big city left him in awe and sometimes troubled (he once lost PhP500 to a pickpocket in Avenida and this was huge money at that time when a bottle of soda used to cost ten centavos), he saw what the city had to offer.

Fil first made a name for himself wholesaling bangus but he knew there was more to life than selling fish so he became an sales representative for a pharmaceutical company. He approached the job with so much zeal that he soon became one of the company’s top sales agents. While walking along Ayala Avenue one time, he saw a sign atop one of the windows that this company was looking for an account executive. It was for Reader’s Digest and then Time magazine. During a sales seminar held at the house of the company president at posh DasmariƱas Village in Makati, Fil’s eyes bulged when he saw how huge the house was. “It even had its own swimming pool,” he thought. “And I had never seen a swimming pool before more so a mansion. I made a promise to myself that one day, I’d have a bigger house and a swimming pool of my own.” In that same seminar, Barbasa bared his ambition to become the company’s top sales representative much to the laughter of his colleagues who didn’t think this country bumpkin had what it takes to be a top sales agent.

Only, he did and in doing so, earned huge commissions that were even massive for the time. As fate would have it, there were two chance incidents that put him on the path to comic books – one was while on his daily trips to the bank to deposit money or commissions, two, while watching a bunch of kids buy comic books by the stack in a shop from Greenhills.

By now, Fil had left the magazine distribution company he worked for to put up his own. Intrigued by the number of comic books selling at this shop from Greenhills, he learned that the source was at Avenida and Escolta. He went to the country’s old financial center and purchased every single American comic book he could find and sold them at a profit. After a day or two, they had all sold out.

Finally, he went to Olongapo, the source of the comics that came from American servicemen who discarded their books for some money. “The problem was, many of these comics had labels pasted on the covers that said, ‘Property of…” as it was from soldiers. And since comic books were numbered and in sequential order, it was difficult to get them. And that’s what the buyers in Manila were looking for. What was the most popular comic book back then? X-Men. That’s what everyone was looking for.”

Fil remembered the bank teller who had a relative who was a stewardess who made routine trips to the United States. He commissioned the stewardess to purchase comics from America and that eventually opened a pipeline to American retailers as the distribution market opened itself to comic book specialty shops.

Filbar’s grew from his initial small store at F. Manalo Street in Cubao to a high of 25 stores all across the country. He counted a clientele from young students to even the rich and famous.

“Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago once bought 50 copies of the Death of Superman,” revealed Fil. “I also had German Moreno, Dingong Avanzado, Michael V, Dingdong Dantes, Francis Magalona, and the sons of mayors and other politicians buying.

The rise of Filbar’s in the 90s also coincided with the speculator market. “I had some customers who were buying multiple copies of certain titles and selling them for an even bigger profit,” noted Barbasa. This was the era when comics were selling by the hundreds of thousands fueled by the speculators. “My single best selling comic? The Death of Superman,” revealed Fil. “I sold 17,000 copies of that.”

He also points out to the year 1992 when then superstar Fil-American artist Whilce Portacio made his triumphant return to Philippine soil. “We had an art contest where Nick Manabat was adjudged the winner,” recalled Fil. “He was brought over to the United States to work for Homage Studios.”

Filbar’s was also innovative when it came to his sales. He introduced the loyalty card that allowed patrons, first a free comic, and later a discount, for all book purchased. He held parties for his regular patrons and gave away freebies.

He also got to experience the craziness of the industry when he attended the San Diego Comic Book Convention at the time Image Comics first broke into the industry. “I got to meet Todd McFarlane (who at that time was the hot artist on Spider-Man and Spawn) and many others. I lined up like every other fan. I was like a young boy all over again. Honestly, I got into comics as a businessman. I didn't really know anything about the books storywise. But I also came away a fan of the medium."

In the late 1990s, the industry came crashing down due to the weight of the speculator market as well as a world-wide recession, sales slowed down. To augment his sales, he brought back his magazines. Although after a while, he decided to call it a day and instead venture into real estate among other things.

Today, the comic book industry remains vital as ever more so with the film industry turning out one hit superhero-themed film after another. There are still a number of comic book shops in Manila; proof the industry is still good. The local comic industry where local creators produce their own books is growing more than ever. And Barbasa looks back fondly on the industry. “It’s good to know that comics are still doing well,” he enthused. “And to hear that even the local creators are doing well is fantastic news. If I helped people with their hobbies and their passions then that warms my heart. Being in the comic book business will always be one of the best times of my life.”