Posts by Author: Mathew D. Rhys
 

The Quarterbin Follies #3: Cortland

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The year was 2006, and Ideal Comics had just made the leap into the wild world of webcomics. We chose Comicgenesis as our host. I actually have no idea why, but for one thing or another, there we were. In hopes to connect with other creators, I started perusing about the other titles and their message boards hosted on the site. It was around then I first heard of the Cornstalkers. The Cornstalkers were a group of webcomickers, mostly from Middle America, who hosted their own message boards at www.cornstalker.com. That site had been started by Matt Johnson, the creator behind a little webcomic named ‘Cortland’. 

Now, when I first ran across ‘Cortland‘, I read a few pages and then decided to give it a pass. For no particular reason, it just failed to grab me.  Maybe it was the Mac in-jokes or the fact I had recently left the corporate world for the world of private-non-profits—I really can’t say. Robert Frost once said some stuff about a fork in the road—brother, I think I took the wrong fork.

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The Quarterbin Follies #2: Supervillainous

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Those that know me well can well attest that I am not a fan of change. I find the things I like and tend to stick there. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. In my more pretentious moments, I claim to live by the old Breton proverb: ‘The old ways are good ways.’ But if I were to be more honest, I suppose my impulse would sound more like, “You carnsarned kids get off of my lawn, dagnabit!” That’s right, my inner-man is a crotchety old prospector.

Now, it’s not that I am against trying new things. It’s just that I tend to have already decided what I expect from whatever it is I take the time to check out. I knew what would have made a good Spider-Man flick. I knew what I wanted out of Star Wars: Rebels. I knew how I wanted The White Stripes’ Icky Thump to sound (though that was a pleasant surprise, surpassing expectation by a good margin).

superv1I came to Supervillainous with no expectations. It was a day about six weeks ago, and I was reading a different comic on spiderforest.com, when I spotted an advert that caught my eye. It was the name, the blatant implied melodrama. I didn’t know if it was a drama or a comedy or an action story. I was intrigued, and so I followed the link to find one of the funniest comics I have read in a long time.

The story centers around the middle-aged super-villain, The Crimson Claw. The Claw is many things from his mobile hover-base—master-mind, thief, arch nemesis, employer—but none of these roles is more important that his role as ‘father’. While it is not unheard of for a comic series to focus on villains (including our own Forces of Good and Evil), I cannot think of an instance where central in the villain’s motives is providing for family. Claw is a villain, no doubt, but he is a father first. Visiting PTA meetings and scheduling vacations times, the Claw finds time to be actually involved in his kids’ life.

The author and artist, Zappit, also does a great job of anchoring the story in between real-world concerns like labor management and the PTA, with the over-the-top comic book antics one expects from a superhero book. And these elements are capped off by some of the sharpest punchlines I have ever read. I cannot recommend this webcomic enough.

I had the good fortune to sit down across computer screens and spend some time talking with webcomic-er Zappit about Supervillainous:

R: Zappit, thanks for taking the time for us today. I suppose I should start by asking: ‘Zappit’ is a screen name. How should I address you?

Z: I try to go by Zappit as much as possible; it’s my “artist” name. It’s not some pretentious thing. I’d just rather go by a pen name.

R: I get that. In a lot of ways, a pen name can be more ‘real’ than a real name! Let’s start off by asking how you got into comics?

Z: I was always a fan of the medium. I was that little kid doodling Spider-Man into my notebooks and even started making my own little stories in the margins.

R: Can you tell me a little about how you came up with ‘Supervillainous’? What was your journey?

Z: It actually came out of another capes comic I never ended up pursuing. That project focused heavily on humor, the theme of family, and was designed to never take itself too seriously. I ended up taking the central villain in that story and turning it into Supervillainous. I wound up powering out the first fifteen strips just in time for Spiderforest’s annual application season, and I actually got in with the bare minimum requirements for an archive. I don’t think they do that very often.

R: I have looked a little at your previous web comics. ‘Supervillainous’ seems like quite a departure. Was there a particular reason for that?

Z: I wanted a fun project, basically. I’ve worked on my other webcomic, Pixel, off and on for over a decade, and while I absolutely love those characters and will inevitably end up working with them again, I just wanted to do something that opened up a few more creative doors. 

R: As a cartoonist, who or what would you consider to be your major influences?

Z: Everything. Kirby. Zeck. Jim Mahfood was HUGE. His bold linework is what inspired Pixel’s look, and I’ve kinda kept it going as I developed my own style.

R: You do all the art right on an Ipad, which is pretty impressive. Why did you make that decision, and how does the experience compare to more traditional methods?

Z: Basically, I caved and bought an iPad. I wanted to see what I could do with it, and after I discovered Artstudio and Strip Designer, I figured I’d give it a go. My first attempt was a disaster, and after taking a bit more time to work out the production kinks, I started work on my first (solo) color comic. 

R: Crimson Claw, your ‘hero’–he is a pretty complex guy. How did you develop him? What were your inspirations?

Z: We always see the hero’s family, and how they affect the crime fighting career, but almost never the villain’s side of that aspect of life. Why not see it? Wouldn’t they slow down a bit after the kids come along? That’s what we see with the Crimson Claw.

R: What is his end game?

Z: Believe it or not, the current storyline is going to lay out his major criminal goals. 

R: We will just have to wait that out then! For being an evil overlord, he seems to be a pretty good dad with pretty good kids. How did his kids get so nice? That is, he doesn’t seem to be raising villains.

Z: Does every parent want their kids to follow in his/her footsteps? He’s trying to make a good life for his kids as a single father. He just doesn’t follow any traditional paths to accomplish that.

R: On page, there is a bit of talk dedicated to superheroes, but aside from Captain Ultimo, they seem to be in short supply. Have you got more waiting in the wings?superv3

Z: They’re out there, but like I said, the Claw isn’t quite so active, so there’s less confrontation with the hero community. His current heist has him and his crew donning the costumes of other villains so they stay under the radar. We’ve also seen he has a dang good lawyer, to boot.

R: Can you talk a little about Meat, who seems like a mash-up of Vinnie Jones and Mr. Wolf from ‘Pulp Fiction’. And what is up with that name?

Z: He’s the hired muscle, the “meat”. It’s short, to the point, and gets the job done, much like the man himself. I wanted the main underling to be scarier than the big guy himself, and even though Meat doesn’t have any powers, there aren’t many who mess with the guy, knowing his reputation for brutality.

R: I, for one, am excited to meet the former Mrs. Claw. Is that on the horizon?

Z: She’s out there, and that story will touch on the theme of family when it happens.

R: The Parent/Teacher Conference story was a hoot, but it was a little surprising that Claw would trust his kids to Public school.

Z: You think anybody’s going to bully a supervillain’s kid?

R: I also wondered about the difficulty in getting a permit for the mobile Hover-base, and how that factors into school districting.

Z: What permit? You’ve got a military grade hover-base, you go where you want.

R: In the comments, you mention that Gul’jagen (the otherworldly warlord) is a call back to a previous work. Can you tell us about that?

Z: It was a webcomic I did with a friend back in college. It lasted a year, and Gul’Jagen was was the central villain there. He really hasn’t changed. He’s always been the arrogant conqueror with a massive case of culture shock.

R: Of all your projects, which do you think is the most important, if not the most fun?

Z: Gotta be this one. Pixel’s the most personal, but with Supervillainous, I can create something that’s just fun for me and my audience.

R: Well, again, on behalf of Ideal Comics, thanks a ton! 

Z: Good talkin’ to you, Rhys! 

You can check out the Crimson Claw and all of the rest of the characters of Supervillainous now at http://supervillainous.spiderforest.com!

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Quarterbin Follies #1: Electric Girl

galart11A young, attractive person, possessed of powers beyond those of mortal men, rises above both adversity and the daily struggles of life, sacrificing him or herself for the greater good. You’ve heard that story before, right? What about this one: a normal girl with a normal family, and a pretty normal life, tries to figure out how to deal with one not-so-normal talent and a constant companion that is anything BUT normal? Well, that will not sound so strange to anyone who has read Electric Girl.

You’ve never heard of Electric Girl? Neither had I. I totally stumbled on it this last August, and if you will allow me a moment, I think the finding is a story worth hearing. See, we at Ideal Comics made the decision this summer to expand the scope of what we did with our website. We didn’t really change what WE creators would do. We just decided to let in all-of-everybody on our side-conversations and geek-outs. Doesn’t that sound fun? Well, sure it does, but as time for the launch crept closer and closer, I suddenly realized something: I haven’t been following new comics for years. It’s a long story.

So, the prospect of a weekly blog sat before me – a chance for me to express my tastes and thoughts, what has informed our own stories. But a weekly column, see, that was heavy. I am not a person of few words, but I do have many weights and concerns and commitments, and the idea of not having something to say on schedule, well, it terrified me a bit.

I needed MATERIAL. I needed fuel for the nerd-fires. And so, like any good nerd, I hit the local library – specifically the Gering Library on the south side of the river. And there, wedged between unordered X-men and Spider-Man TPB’s was a single aquamarine volume with a simple cover of bold, deliberate lines which formed a figure – not some over-sexualized Amazon or grim and brooding outsider, but a happy and pleasant young woman holding lightning in her hand.

Electric Girl was a comic series by Michael Brennan that followed the life and misadventures of Virginia, a girl born with the unique and unenviable ability to generate static-electric shocks from her body. In what seems a blatant if brilliant thumbing-of-the-nose to genre politics, there are no costumes and no code-names. This is not to say that the ideas of heroism and villainy fail to rise within the story, for often ‘Ginny’ is made to use her unique ability to “save the day.”

Written in a nonlinear style, Brennan spends time telling stories of Virginia as a child and as a young woman, although most of the tales center on her life as a 19-year old college student. Ginny herself shines like a very real star—wavering and sparkling, but bright. She struggles with the inconvenience of a static-electric life, while trying to maintain her tenuous grasp on her own happiness. Having lived her whole life with this power, lacking more control in the past than in the present, Ginny is well known as ‘The Electric Girl,’ a name spoken with derision as often as not. Nevertheless, she refuses to allow folk to dismiss her as a freak. In kindness to her friends and persistence in her day-to-day, she shows true heroic spirit.

The other aspect of the book that defines it, and really sets it apart, is the character Oogleeoog. Oogleeoog is a gremlin who has been with Ginny her entire life, serving as adviser, mentor, antagonist, and invisible friend. Brennan, with a notable ease, implies an entire gremlin society running in an unseen parallel to the human world, a society whose aims and goals are founded on the “virtues” of mischief and screwing with the humans. Oogleeoog is unique amongst other gremlins in that while he is one of the most accomplished gremlins, he holds a tenderness for Virginia and her friends and family, balancing a veiled affection with what can best be called orneriness. It is a mix that makes for wry comic gold.

All these elements make for a mulligan stew that is equal parts bizarre and comfortable. Ginny meets love struck zombies and rampaging robots, faces off against conniving cousins and bad hair days (which has some weight for the Electric Girl). And she does this all while trying to finish school and deal with her pet dog and her parents. The stories ride the line between the mundane and the absurd, sometimes leaping clean over in delightful ways. And all of this is accented by Brennan’s bold line work and stylized, almost sketchy details.

Beyond all of this is what I think might be a sublime undercurrent. Brennan tells stories from throughout Virginia’s childhood, so we see her as a young child on bad days and as a teenager on worse days. But in all this, Ginny is revealed as a remarkable young lady. She is neither vain nor self-flagellating. She is not seeking redemption or revenge. She is not some militant. She is rather like so many young women, dedicated to being and doing something worthwhile. In that, she is sometimes the hero, true. But her motive is not glory, but rather a not-heavy-handed devotion to doing the right thing. She is a normal girl in extraordinary circumstances, who uses her upbringing and support as an anchor in the storm—just like we all do.

Electric Girl has been collected into a set of three mass market trade paperbacks, published by AiT/Planetlar. More information is available at http://electricgirl.com/.

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On Ducks and Batman

HowIGotInI am old enough to remember reading Superman in the newspaper. I’m old enough to have seen the Super Friends on television. I grew up with re-runs of Lou Ferrigno’s Incredible Hulk and Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman. And yet, I owe my passion for comics to a man who drew ducks.

It was the middle 1980’s, and I was a lower middle-class white kid in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We didn’t have cable TV, and we didn’t have a VCR; however, every afternoon after school, I had Ducktales. Somewhere in the place where UHF met VHF, and before or after Heathcliff and Inspector Gadget, I had the chance to tune into the adventures of Scrooge McDuck and his great-nephews. It was the perfect stuff for a preteen—action, adventure, magic, mythology–all wrapped up into tasty half-hour segments with decent voice acting.

Flash-forward a couple of years, and me and my family had left the Big City and the South behind, moving into the semi-rural high plains of Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska. Here we had three channels, and none of them showed Ducktales. I was distraught. So, imagine my elation when, walking through the local supermarket, I spied, amongst all the other magazines, a comic book of Uncle Scrooge Adventures. It was the same ducks that I had grown to love in the same crazy hijinks. Now what 10-year-old me didn’t understand was that these weren’t new things designed to cash in on some new, fancy TV show, but rather, they were actually reprints of old Carl Barks comics from way-back-when—long before I was born. Carl Barks was the guy that CREATED Scrooge McDuck, and Flintheart Glomgold, and the Junior Woodchucks, and all things that made Ducktales amazing – and almost 50 years before by I’d ever heard of them. Well, that is what got me to the ‘Rack’, and it was not long before my childhood memories of superheroes sparked curiosity within me.

The first superhero comic I bought was Now Comics’ Green Hornet, volume 1 issue 13. The action, the gadgets, and the sense of history and legacy hooked me, and I’ll bet I read it 12 times that first week. It was a couple of weeks later that I picked up issue 3 of Dave Gibbons World’s Finest prestige format miniseries, and it blew me away. Heck, I even liked Jimmy Olsen in that one! Now, I was 11 or 12, and money was hard to come by, so it wasn’t until the next February (about 2 months later) that I bought my first monthly Batman comic, #459, with a story by Alan Grant highlighted by the emotive shadows of Norm Breyfogle. The story took place on the anniversary of Bruce Wayne’s parents’ death, as Zorro once again played in Gotham. In the closer, Commissioner Gordon had a heart attack on the last page, and it was like a gateway drug. I had to know what happened next. Then, while waiting for the next issue, I saw there was a new robin. My mind was blown, and I was in comics for the long haul.

You see, for me, comics are not about the villains, or the plots, or saving the world. Comics are about the people that do these things. The people that sacrifice–the people that overcome. They are hero’s tales, and it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, if you’re mighty or weak, if you’re in shape or a little soft about the middle, these very human characters act as inspiration and as water-marks of the dreams we humans shoot for. To see Batman struggle with the memories of his own trauma from loss, to see Commissioner Gordon strive to grasp his second chance, or to see Tim Drake try to become something more than a nerd – that’s why I tuned in then, and that’s why I tune in now.

I have written a little about writing before. My writing starts with a desire to give to everyone out there the thrill and the passion I felt sitting on the floor of the grocery store, or by the spinner-rack in the bookstore in my little town in Western Nebraska – that connection to ideas beyond our place, and maybe even beyond time. Ideas that really meant something to me. I hope they mean something to you as well.

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Hey Kids! Comics!

heykidsHello, Internet! And welcome! I figure there are two kinds of folk reading this entry — f­olk who know us and love us, and folk who don’t know us from Adam, and hold us in the commiserate amount of apathy. That being the case, I reckoned it only appropriate to lead off with two introductions. It may or may not work, but there you have it. So, you might be asking, ‘What is Ideal Comics?’ And ‘Why should I care?’ If I can be allowed to address these questions with more gravitas later, I implore you allow the “Cliffs Notes” here. They might even serve as an informative prequel!

IC (as we lovingly call it around the IC offices) is a small press comic book company based out of Scottsbluff, in the picturesque High Plains of Western Nebraska. As a small company, we have a small, unpaid staff who, to a man, long for the day their work will no longer be unpaid. We are normal guys doing normal jobs, following a not so normal dream of making comic books that we would like to read—comics that can live up to the hype of our motto: ‘Everything Great About Comics!’ It may sound like hyperbole, but our staff holds to a dream. And to address that dream, and our story, I will start with my own, called:

‘Hey, Kids! Comics!’ Continue reading

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