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Nexus Graphica
by Rick Klaw

Websites
Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Armadillocon
Ellen Datlow
Gardner Dozois
Shannon Wheeler
Omnibus: Modern Perversity and Blackbird Comics
Lewis Shiner
Omni
Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction
Years Best Science Fiction
Watchmen
Sandman
American Flagg
Grimjack
Zot!
Neil Gaiman
Frank Cho
Scott Kurtz
Fourth World
New York Times review of the Fourth World cycle
Fletcher Hanks
A dimly lit cloud of a shadow of doubt
The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite
Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko
The Complete Green Lama Featuring the Art of Mac Raboy Vol. 1
The Number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8
Nexus Graphica ("Architects of the Real")
Zot! 1987-1991: The Complete Black and White Collection
Scott McCloud
Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!
Mike Kunkel
My Chemical Romance
Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol
Recent Books of Interest

Zot! 1987-1991: The Complete Black and White Collection by Scott McCloud (Harper) Zot! 1987-1991: The Complete Black and White Collection
Before Understanding Comics, writer/artist Scott McCloud created the adventures of Zachary T. Paleozogr (aka Zot), a teenager from an alternate Utopian Earth in the "far-flung future of 1965." Zot discovers a portal to our consensus 1980s reality and explores our not-so-perfect existence. He befriends the teen Jenny Weaver and their adventures in both universes serve as the centerpiece for these delightful stories. Initially, the tales primarily revolve around Zot, who is a super-hero in his native land, and the colorful villains he encounters. About two-thirds of the way through this massive 575 page collection, the story focus changes dramatically as Zot gets trapped on our Earth and the stories begin to center around Zot and Jenny's friends. Basically, the series evolves into a high school drama with an exiled super-hero. The Earth Stories, the last sequence title, transforms an entertaining exploration of super hero and science fiction tropes into a superior dramatic comic book. Throughout, McCloud offers explanations and digressions into the individual stories through a series of commentaries and end notes. Perhaps most profoundly, this book grants an insight into the artistic evolution of one of comicdom's greatest ambassadors and educators.

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! #1 by Mike Kunkel (DC) Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!
Following the events in Jeff Smith's Shazam: Monster Society of Evil, Mike Kunkel, creator of the cult sensation Hero Bear and The Kid, writes and draws an all original kids-oriented Captain Marvel on-going series. Kunkel successfully manages to capture the charm and goofiness of Marvel's creator C.C. Beck's original work while infusing the iconic figure with his own unique renditions and incorporating elements from Smith's best-selling re-imagining of the classic character. The overtly cartoon Kunkel stylizations on the new comic actually work better with Smith's vision than Smith's own artwork. This first issue hit all the right buttons while offering a unique and fresh vision to the legendary character.

The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way (writer) and Gabriel Ba (artist) Dark Horse The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite
Gerard Way, the lead singer of My Chemical Romance, and Gabriel Ba created a surreal world of super powers, musical villains, and intelligent chimpanzees. Forty-seven children were spontaneously born to previously unpregnant women. Sir Reginald Hargreeve (a.k.a. The Monocle), a Nobel Prize-winning scientist and inventor, adopts seven of the children "to save the world." The children, collectively identified as the Umbrella Academy, encounter a myriad of bizarre villainy in the guise of the zombie-robot Gustave Eiffel, the chronal-irregularity fixing entities known as The Terminauts, and the musically-empowered White Violin. Not since Grant Morrison's (who wrote the introduction to this collection) kinetic Doom Patrol of the 90s has a series successfully mixed an equal quality of insanity and social commentary with a group of uniquely odd characters. Each gorgeously crafted page contains artistic and intellectual delights galore.

Evolution of Con

My first Armadillocon panel scared the bejeezus out of me. I sat in front of a group of 20 or so science fiction fans with Ellen Datlow, Gardner Dozois, and another well-known editor1 discussing editorial and publishing matters. At the time, my only professional credits were editing Shannon Wheeler's first cartoon collection Children With Glue and the comic book anthology Omnibus: Modern Perversity.2 It was Austinite Lewis Shiner's appearance in the latter that got me invited to Armadillocon.

Using the lush Carlos Kastro art, Shiner adapted his disturbing love story "Scales" as the anthology's lead story. Widely ignored by both the comic and book industries, I received one professional comment, typed on the back of a postcard sporting an aerial view of New York City.

December 23, 1992

Dear Richard Klaw,

I enjoyed the OMNIBUS: MODERN PERVERSITY, particularly the rendition of "Scales."

I'm very much looking for to the second OMNIBUS.

Sincerely,

Ellen Datlow3

Omnibus: Modern Perversity
My first ever piece of fan mail came from a now-fellow panelist and the highly respected fiction editor for Omni. The other presenters offered similar pedigrees. Gardner Dozois, a larger than life character, edited the preeminent sf-only magazine of the 80s and 90s, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction, and the acclaimed annual Year's Best Science Fiction. The anonymous speaker and final member of this editorial quartet, the fiction editor for a major non-genre magazine with a history of publishing prominent sf, moderated the panel.

Usually discussions of this sort begin with introductions of the speakers. The moderator glowingly introduced Datlow and Dozois, ignoring me. Datlow mercifully jumped in and asked me to introduce myself. Throughout the panel, the moderator failed to acknowledge me not wanting nor asking my opinions or viewpoint. Thankfully, Datlow constantly interrupted the conversation, asking for my input.

In 1993 and at the majority of Armadillocons through the rest of the decade, artist Doug Potter and I were typically the only acknowledged comic book guests.4 Every year my argument that works like Watchmen, Sandman, American Flagg, Grimjack, Zot! (see sidebar), and countless others offered superior entertainment to the vast majority of currently published sf fell mostly on deaf years. The nadir of Armadillocon comic book ignorance occurred in 1999. Reportedly, the con chair was not aware of special guest Neil Gaiman's status as perhaps the most famous and acclaimed sequential writer of the decade.

In a dramatic change of course, two artists primarily known for their comic book work, Frank Cho and Scott Kurtz served as the 2002 Artist Guests. Suddenly, I found myself with some company in the woods. Comic book contributors flooded the convention as the previous detractors embraced this newly discovered medium.

And the change wasn't just with Armadillocon. Within a few years, graphic novel coverage was commonplace in newspapers and on prominent websites. Most major publishers now sport graphic novel lines. The New York Times even reviewed a reprint of Jack Kirby's famed Fourth World cycle. As I write this, The Dark Knight sits as the fourth highest grossing film of all time, well on its way to number one.

At Armadillocon, discussions centering around graphic novels became the norm and on last year's "The What You Should Have Read" panel, nary an eye was batted when I named Fantagraphics collection of Fletcher Hanks' bizarre strips I Shall Destroy All Civilized Planets! as my favorite book of the year. That's not to say that everyone agreed with my assessment. Blogger Elze over at A dimly lit cloud of a shadow of doubt admitted a degree of confusion over my choice and decided that the "panel is going to be less helpful to me than I hoped."5

I must have said something right or at least entertaining. As one of the two panelists returning from last year's similar discussion, I'll offer my suggestions once again (What You Should Have Read, Saturday 8/16 2PM) for the current Armadillocon (8/15-8/17 Austin, TX). In the face of potentially disappointed attendees (sorry, Elze), graphic novels and related books such as the The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite (see sidebar), Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, The Complete Green Lama Featuring the Art of Mac Raboy Vol. 1, and The Number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8 all make my recommended list.

An actual comic book panel appeared on my schedule this year. Inspired at least in part by a previous Nexus Graphica ("Architects of the Real"), the panel Metafiction in Comics (Saturday 8/16 9PM) typifies the new thinking in Armadillocon programming, graphic novels as a serious medium. The presenters, comprised solely of graphic novel creators and critics, presents the opportunity for a serious discussion about an interesting aspect of the now-trendy field.

Even with the inclusion of graphic novel guests and panels, Armadillocon remains true to its core mission as one of the finest and longest running regional literary conventions. With no costumes and no gaming, the con, now in its thirtieth year, continues to explore the intelligent and insightful, if varied, worlds of speculative fiction.

1 Who shall remain nameless for reasons that will become obvious. This was 15 years ago and her reactions may have changed since.

2 Both with Blackbird Comics.

3 Datlow first published "Scales" in her anthology Alien Sex (1990).

4 Ironically, my literary/comics crossover anthology Weird Business found a publisher in the bar of the 1994 Armadillocon.

5 "What I Should Have Read This Year: an ArmadilloCon 2007 panel" A dimly lit shadow of doubt, August 14, 2007 Accessed August 14, 2008

Copyright © 2008 Rick Klaw

Rick Klaw produced four years of the popular monthly SF Site column "Geeks With Books", and supplied countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including, The Austin Chronicle, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures RevolutionSF, King Kong Is Back!, Conversations With Texas Writers, Farscape Forever, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe, and Steampunk. MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews, and other things Klaw, Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century.

He currently blogs at The Geek Curmudgeon and Dark Forces.


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