Drawn & Quarterly's 25th Anniversary and a Weird Airboy revival

Greg Hinkle/Image Comics
Greg Hinkle/Image Comics / Greg Hinkle/Image Comics

Every week I write about the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, bookstores, digital, and the web. Feel free to comment below if there's a comic you've read recently that you want to talk about or an upcoming comic that you'd like me to consider highlighting.

1. Drawn & Quarterly: Twenty-five Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics, and Graphic Novels

By Various
Drawn & Quarterly

In 1990, Chris Oliveros started his own comics company because he wanted to make it easier to buy the type of comics he loved to read. The independent comics scene of the late 1980s was dominated by transgressive, iconoclastic books like Raw and Weirdo, but there weren’t a lot of literary, narrative-driven comics being sold. 25 years later, Oliveros is retiring as the head of Drawn & Quarterly, one of the most important graphic novel publishers in the history of comics, responsible for bringing to the world such literary achievements as Chester Brown’s Louis Riel, Adrian Tomine’s Summer Blonde, Seth’s Palookaville, Guy Delisle’s Pyongyang, and Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant.

A fifty dollar, 800+ page hardcover about the history of a Canadian comics publisher is not going to be an impulse buy for most readers, but anyone with a rooting interest in both the art and business of comics will want to read this book cover to cover. It may be the best, most readable and informative examination of late 20th and early 21st century independent comics ever culled together.

There are lots of comics made especially for this book—and many of them are about D&Q itself—by indie superstars like Chester Brown, Kate Beaton, Joe Matt, Jillian Tamaki, and Michael Deforge. Plus, there are some star-studded essays like Chris Ware on Gasoline Alley’s Frank King (whose nearly century old work Ware and D&Q were instrumental in repackaging for new audiences), Jonathen Lethem on Chester Brown, Margaret Atwood on Kate Beaton, and Lemony Snicket on Seth.

Most interesting is the history it tells of the people behind the scenes . As Oliveros steps down to pursue his own artistic interests, he hands the company over to Peggy Burns who, with husband and creative director Tom Devlin, plays a prominent role in the story told in this book. Through their fine taste in comics, design, and literature, Oliveros, Burns, and Devlin have helped give graphic novels the mainstream acceptance they have today.

Here’s some more from the publisher about the book.

2. Airboy #1

By James Robinson and Greg Hinkle
Image Comics

Most comic book fans probably have no more than a passing knowledge of Airboy, the teenage aviator hero created in 1942. They may know about his airplane with the birdlike wings or his cleavage-baring villainess-turned-girlfriend Valkyrie, but that’s probably it. In a new series from Image Comics, writer James Robinson and artist Greg Hinkle attempt to revive this public domain hero for a modern audience, and their meta struggle to figure out what to do with him is the actual story here.

This is the most jaw-dropping comic of the year. It comes out of nowhere from a veteran writer whose most recent job was writing The Fantastic Four and from an artist who is an unknown even though he draws like he’s been doing this for years. Robinson and Hinkle tell a fictional story about themselves trying to come up with an idea of how to make Airboy relevant again. They hole themselves up in a motel room, binge on drugs and sex, and lament their inability to connect creatively with this character. While it goes way over the top to signal that none of this is real, there may be elements of truth here, particularly in Robinson’s fearless and self-deprecating portrayal of himself and his own career. This is planned to be an ongoing series so it is sure to only get more wild as it goes from here.

Here’s a preview (about the only part of this book that may be safe for work).

3. Midnighter #1

By Steve Orlando, Aco, Hugo Petrus and Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
DC Comics

Midnighter first appeared in 1998 in Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s Stormwatch and later was a member of The Authority, the same creative team's high-octane, “big-budget” comic that became the blueprint for how superhero comics are told today. The team was roughly an edgy analog for DC’s Justice League, with Midnighter as the Batman to teammate Apollo's Superman. Ellis’ subtle hints of Apollo and Midnighter's homosexuality exploded into a full-blown controversy when his successor Mark Millar had them kiss. While they were surely intended at first to be a nod to the old joke about Batman and Superman being gay, the matter-of-fact nature of their sexuality was a refreshing and groundbreaking representation of LGBT characters in comics. The fact that Midnighter is also a complete badass has cemented his popularity for 17 years now.

This week, Midnighter breaks an important barrier by becoming the first gay male superhero to star in his own ongoing series from one of the “Big Two” publishers. It’s true that Midnighter once had an ongoing solo series under the old Wildstorm imprint, but people give more credence to a series that is part of DC’s main continuity.

The new book is written by Steve Orlando, an up-and-coming writer who found inspiration from the character himself when reading those Authority comics in his teenage years. With a fellow newcomer, the artist known as Aco, Orlando brings a Midnighter book that is full of ultra-violence and hi-tech weaponry, but also online dating and a deeper look behind the mask than we’re used to getting with this mysterious character. Preview here.

4. Vacancy

By Jen Lee
Nobrow Press

Jen Lee’s Thunderpaw is one of the most original webcomics to hit the scene in the past few years. Its use of animated gifs to enhance the storytelling and atmosphere is unparalleled thanks to her experience working in the animation industry. She really doesn’t need any of those bells and whistles, though, as her first print comic, Vacancy, shows us. Lee’s iconic character design and use of eye-catching color is just as good on paper as it is on screen.

Like Thunderpaw, Vacancy is set in a semi-post-apocalyptic world where anthropomorphic dogs are left to their own devices. Simon, a German Shepherd who resembles a timid teenage boy, is trying to build up the nerve to finally leave his owner’s backyard. The answer to his needs and the key to the outside world comes in the form of a deer named Reynard and a raccoon named Cliff who decide to show him the ropes out in the wild.

Nobrow is known for its beautifully designed graphic novels, but Vacancy is part of a return to a smaller, less expensive (but still meticulously designed and printed) format. Their “17x23" line is intended to give young cartoonists a place to stretch their creative muscles before jumping into that big graphic novel.

You can order a copy here.

5. Bravo for Adventure

By Alex Toth
IDW Publishing

Known best as the creator of Hanna-Barbera series Space Ghost and Birdman, Alex Toth also had an extensive and varied career in comics that ranged from superhero stories to westerns to war comics—a lot of it outside the usual comics venues. His little-seen “magnum opus” called Bravo for Adventure was first set to be published in France in 1975 before the publisher went out of business. Toth managed to bring it to Warren Publishing to be serialized as a backup strip in their time-travel adventure magazine The Rook and later by a Canadian publisher called Dragon Lady Press. For a time he began working on a full-color version of the comic for a Texas publisher until they went out of business and Toth abandoned the work in frustration.

Now, for the first time ever, all the disparate pieces of Bravo for Adventure are being collected in book format thanks to IDW Publishing. Not only will the whole story be in one place but it will also include sketches, notes, and the abandoned color work that had never been previously seen. IDW has come to specialize in comic archival projects and fans of the legends of the industry will want to get their hands on this.

Here’s some more info from IDW about the book.