Tag Archives: Dave Sim

Listmania part 2: Favorite individual issues

Daredevil #181 “Last Hand” April 1982: Frank Miller was just hitting his stride and the character of Elektra was becoming hugely popular.  I remember picking this one up at the local newsstand and thinking it was just going to be cover hype.  I was already a jaded fan at that point.  By the time I was done reading this I had a new interest in comics.

Justice League of America #0 “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow” September 2006: This was more like favorite single page.  Each of the short scenes in this story are interesting, but the single page that references Batman’s reaction after Superman was killed by Doomsday redefined the character for me and put a lump in my throat.  You don’t often think of Batman as human and this changed that for me.

The stunning wraparound cover to Mage #14

Mage #14 “…Or Not to be” August 1986:  This was the issue after the series lost the character that was the emotional center of the book and set out the direction for the lead Kevin Matchstick.  Drawing the parallels to King Arthur seemed odd on the first page, but by the last page I could not imagine a time when I couldn’t see them.

Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children #21 “Dances with Cows” February 1991:  There was never a point I didn’t love this forgotten series from Piranha Press (a DC precursor to Vertigo), but this issue was funny and sad and odd all at once.  I really wish they would collect this anthology series in bookshelf volumes.  There is a large amount of creator owned and fringe material that is all but lost to readers now unless they search out the original back-issues.  This series was uneven at times, but so different from what was out there then, and still very readable now, that it could not help but find a new audience today.

Miracleman #22 “Carnival” August 1991:  It is very hard to pick a single issue from this amazing series, and picking a Gaiman issue over a Moore one might be considered a bad choice, but this issue had an emotional core that would resonate with anyone, even people who had not read the preceding 21 issues.  It touched on much of what had come before without ever relying on it and made this a stand-alone issue that really packed an emotional punch.  Now all we need is for these to be reprinted.

Avengers Annual #10 “By Friends — Betrayed!” 1981:  An uninspired Al Milgrom cover (nothing against Al, the cover just didn’t work for the book) covered up the first appearance of Rouge, and began a run of X-Men stories that would see the book rise in sales to be Marvel’s biggest book for many years to come.  The fact that it was in an Avengers book, and that the X-Men are only in a few pages of it messed with my head a bit, but this really is more of an X-book than an Avengers one.  Art by the amazing Michael Golden with inks by Armando Gil gave this book a look that no other book at the time had.  This is collected (finally) in Marvel Masterworks X-Men vol 7 and the Claremont omnibus.  It had been reprinted before, but never in an edition where it really worked, and certainly not as nicely as it is here.

Lord Julius and a “like-a-look”. Cerebus #137

Cerebus #137 (& 138–sort of) “Epilogue” August 1990:  This was a single story that Sim used an issue and a half for, but the first part is the best.  It has never been collected in the phone books since it was a fun filler issue that really does not fit in either the book before it (Jaka’s Story) or the one that followed it (Melmoth), but gives a silly look at Lord Julius and his “like-a-looks”, explaining a lot about the character in a funny way.  It is available ONLY as the original issue(s) or in Cerebus #0 which collected the other in-between issues that are not included in any of the phone books.

Toad Men!?!?

Sensational She-Hulk #2 “Attack of the Terrible Toad Men” June 1989:  The first issue seemed like a fluke or a one-off, but when they did this one I was left in awe of how funny this book really was.  Byrne left the book after issue 8 over a flap with editorial and the book never quite recovered, until his return in issue #31 that is!  Then he left at issue 50 and the decline started all over.  Dan Slott did some fun stuff with Shulkie later, but this series is still the best there has been.

Alpha Flight #12 “… And One Shall Surely Die” July 1984:  I freely admit I was one of the zombies that jumped on this Byrne book when it arrived, and I loved it for the first years’ worth of stories.  Byrne himself has said he never really saw the point of having an AF book, but it didn’t show for most of his time on the book.  This issue was a surprise in every way.  Yes, they advertised that a major character was going to die for weeks in advance, but how often had we heard that before only to see some turd third stringer die?  Yes, death in comics has since become a revolving door plot hammer.  Never in a million years did I think Byrne would GUT the heart out of the team and kill someone as important as that!  Naive of me?  Maybe, but I had not become so jaded at that point and just didn’t see it coming.  This book gave me chills, and still does when I read it.

Uncanny X-Men #186 “Lifedeath” October 1984:  The single most beautifully drawn mainstream issue of the 1980s.  Barry Windsor Smith as inked by Terry Austin was too much for many at the time. It was a challenging story that made me expect more (too much) from my comics after that.

Superman #712 (had to sneak this one in) “Lost Boy: A Tale of Krypto the Superdog” August 2011:  I was never a huge fan of big blue and have only occasionally read his adventures.  What I AM is a dog person.  This was an inventory story used to fill time while the Grounded arc needed to get caught up.  This issue was better than ANY of those.  I defy any dog person out there to not be an emotional wreck after reading this book.

This was a REALLY hard list. To just come up with ten (OK, eleven) was really tough, and if asked in a month I would think that there would be changes.

Feel free to start throwing chair and arguing, but I would really rather see some other people’s lists.

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A little listmania! part 1: favorite stories

Blogger wwayne got me thinking about my favorites;  Favorite story arcs and favorite single issues.  Putting the definitions as simply as possible ( since us geeks love to argue about the definitions ) we get….

Story arc:  a  story occurring within an ongoing series.  OK, that is not going to work for me, dammit!  Since I am a trade waiter and have been for 2 decades, some of this will have to be at least a little in the self-contained series vein.  But I will try to justify and explain as I go.

Single issue:  Just like it says on the tin, a single issue of an ongoing series.

So, in no particular order except the order if find them on the shelf….

Concrete:  Strange Armor.  (1997)  This is where the definition gave me trouble as Concrete creator Paul Chadwick didn’t really DO an ongoing Concrete series, just connected limited series, the definition became an issue.  Also in the age of trades and collections the actual issues of a particular arc are harder to recall.  This one I did read as the single issues when they came out in late 97 and early 98.  A 5-issue limited in the continuing story of Ron Lithgow, this was the story that finally gave the full and definitive origin of the character, and fleshed out the back story greatly.  The “series” of concrete stories that Chadwick has done are an amazing character study with its roots in the sci-fi and super hero stories he grew up with and have more heart than any other book(s) I have read since.  All but the most recent DHP series have been collected as trades and are still powerful today.

Cerebus #139 to 150 (Melmoth). (1990) The was the story that followed Jaka’s Story and is one of the shorter Cerebus arcs.  A beautifully written and drawn book, it explores the final days of Oscar Wilde as seen in this fictionalized universe.  Taken directly from contemporary accounts of friends of the dying writer, this is a powerful and sad story.  It is available in “phone book” number 6 of the Cerebus run.

Action Comics  #866 to 870. (2008) Geoff Johns and Gary Frank update and redefine the Brainiac character.  One of the most successful updates DC has ever done.  Gary frank’s art is at its very best here.  Available as the Superman Brainiac trade.

Justice League of America#1 to 7  (2006)  Brad Meltzer is a polarizing figure in comics thanks in large part to the love it or hate it Identity Crisis series.  (loved it)  This arc started up the new volume of JL with artist Ed Benes, and is a story that actually made me interested in JL.  What got me into the story in the first place was my affection for Red Tornado, and this story focuses on him and his existence heavily and is a great team book to boot.  Available as The Tornado’s Path trade collection.

Planetary #7 to 12 (2000)  After setting up the world of Elijah Snow and his team in the first arc, Warren Ellis and John Cassaday outdid themselves on this arc (available as Planetary:  The Fourth Man collection).  The jumped into the homages of the comics with both feet here.  They did versions of Transmepolitan, Hellblazer, Doc Savage and touched on the origins of the big three at DC and still managed to keep the main story moving forward without the meanderings that affected some of the later issues.

My Jill Thompson sketch in my Absolute edition

Sandman #41 to 49 (1992)  This was the arc that really made the series sing for me.  After the A Game of You arc cooled me on the series (It took me years to learn to appreciate it) this series just sang with life.  Gaiman was really flying here and this is the run that made me love Jill Thompson’s art.  This is available in the Brief Lives collection or in Absolute Sandman vol 3.

Fantastic Four #242 to 244 (1982)  I still go back and read these every few months.  In fact the whole #240 to 250 part of John Byrne’s run is just crazy fun to read!  This was the first Galactus story I read that I actually liked.  Available in several reprint volumes from FF Visionaries vol 2 to the big-ass omnibus collection of the Byrne run.

Uncanny X-Men #165 to 168 (1982)  Paul Smith’s first issues on this title were the wrap up to Chris Claremont’s Brood story.  ( I include 168 here as the epilogue to that story–because I CAN!) To this day, his art in these issues is amazing to look at.  Collected in too many versions to count.

Mage #1 to 15 (1984)  Technically this was a limited series, but to my mind, when you know that you are just going to do a series of limited series, it is just a series with breaks.  In the case of Mage the break between the first and second series was a little more than just a break.  The same is true with the ongoing wait for the third series.  This story by Matt Wagner was lightning in a bottle.

Avengers #198 to 200 (1980)  This was David Michelinie and George Perez’s last regular issues on the title(in a run anyway) and they rent out with a great story that was a follow-up to the Claremont/Golden story in Avengers Annual #10.  This run is not yet collected.  Hopefully the Marvel Masterworks will continue long enough to get to these.

Well, I stuck to 10.  I omitted runs where there was a single good issue that MADE that run, and I avoided genuine limited series.  Maybe that will be another list.  Next up…

Favorite single issues…

 

 

 

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Bat crap crazy or just misunderstood?

Not long ago I mentioned that if a particular creator didn’t go bat crap crazy like Frank Miller, he should always be given the benefit of the doubt creatively.  That got me thinking about the various level of crazy in comics.  There is everything from the normal Human frailties like depression, so common in creative types to rabid nutbaggyness that only a special few endure.  Or are these people just misunderstood and disliked?

Al Capp as a younger, more likeable guy.

The classic comics equivalent to Miller’s increasingly extreme views was Al Capp.  Best known for the strip Lil’ Abner, Capp’s talent was matched only by his increasingly conservative and even hateful politics as he grew older.  He was universally loved as a cartoonist and nearly as disliked as a human being.  Deliberate clashes with people he viewed as liberal or too far left, sexual scandals (including criminal charges in Wisconsin), run ins with talk show hosts and even a confrontation with John Lennon and Yoko Ono captured on film from the “bed in for peace” ensured that anyone that knew more than just his professional work would find him hard to like.  In today’s media saturated environment it is unlikely he would have maintained his general popularity.  I am regularly reminded of him every time I drive in Arkansas.  In the largely nonexistent town of Marble Falls, stands the crumbling remains of Dogpatch USA, a failed theme park of his popular characters home.  Was he crazy?  I can’t really say, but he was clearly someone who was extreme and anti-social in many ways.  Extreme viewpoints are often branded as crazy to discount them, but Capp seemed to relish his status as a mean old man for much of his life.  Today his work is forgotten by all but serious admirers of comics and cartooning, which is unfortunate because he was a very talented man, just not a very nice one either.

On a sadder end of the spectrum was Wally Wood.  One of the finest illustrators in the medium, Wood suffered health issues that contributed to depression and alcoholism.  While never diagnosed with much of anything officially, many who knew him considered him a deeply troubled man.  Wood killed himself in 1981 after kidney failure and a stroke had left him severely limited.  One of the most admired names in comics and illustration, there are few in the industry that cannot claim some kind of influence by Wood on their work.

A stunning piece by Wood

General public perception weighs heavily in most creators life stories.  I doubt Frank Miller is anything more than poorly understood.  Like Capp before him, Miller’s opinions are not always popular, but they don’t make him crazy.  It is when the work is affected that fans look more harshly on the creator.  Holy Terror was just awful.  In every way it was just Miller venting fear and frustration.  This is nothing new in comics today since 9-11, but many creators have managed to do it so much better that Miller has begun to creep people out.

In a current context there is Rob Liefeld.  His recent tweets as he ran out the doors of DC in a huff are certainly adding fuel to the fire that there is something very off with Rob.  While you can debate the level of talent, I think anyone would have assumed he would always find work in comics based solely on his name, but the fervor with which he has burned bridges lately make many doubt his motives.  As of this writing he has tweeted that he is retired from comics.  For now sure, but he will be back, I’m sure.  The reasons for the departure are what have left many scratching their heads.

While there are many that question the sanity of Dave Sim, I have to say I am not one of them.  I question his give a damn.  I really don’t think he cares that much about what the world thinks of him and his lifestyle choices.  The religious stance he has taken in the last few years and his perceived misogynistic opinions have made him something of an outcast.  I think he prefers the solitude.  Based on his writings and interviews he has given, I think he would be fine having only the bare minimum contact with the rest of the world as long as he can still create comics and commune with his God.  Nothing wrong with that, if that is what fills your life and makes you content.  He is one that I met years ago at a signing.  His “rock star” attitude was not a nice thing.  I imagine he is a nicer and better person the way he is now.

Thanks to his interest in the “expanding earth” theory, Neal Adams is often branded as crazy, which bugs me.  Since when are contrary opinions and beliefs crazy?  At what point will we start considering anyone that believes in invisible sky Gods (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) crazy?  Having spoken to Mr. Adams at shows, he is in my opinion, no more or less crazy than any creative person I have met.  500 years ago, people who believed the Earth to be round were crazy.  While I don’t share Mr. Adams’ opinion on the formation of the Earth, and doubt that science will prove him correct, I don’t think calling someone crazy for believing in a theory is any better than calling them crazy for believing in a God.  His work in support of creators’ rights has earned him some enemies in the field, but I doubt anyone serious can fault him as a creator or a good person.

Then there is Steve Ditko.  Is wanting to be left alone and not in the public eye crazy?  Again as with Adams, I think the political and social views he once spoke of have condemned him to a degree.  Since he has not been a public figure and avoided interviews for the last 40+ years, Ditko has added to the mystery surrounding himself and added fuel to the fires of speculation.

A Chaykin B&W piece

I have even heard people call Howard Chaykin crazy.  I have begun to believe that just not following the mainstream is what gets many of these creators the looney label.  I have never met Chaykin, but I would love to get that chance.  There are few creators in the industry today as vibrant and creative, and I bet he is just a hoot to talk to.

It is amazing what one overblown story can do to a creator’s reputation as a person.  Mike Grell has never really been able to escape the gun on the table incident from his days doing books at First comics.  The story has been so over reported and so miss-represented that many seem afraid of him at cons.  This is the view that seemed to be in the line I was standing in at a con a couple of years ago, waiting for him to sign a book.  While it was only a small group, can it really be just an isolated opinion?  Having spoken to him, he is just a guy.  He likes or liked guns.  That is really all anyone should take from the story.  He was a very nice fellow and not all that scary.  Quite a small guy compared to what I had expected too.

There is also someone who has developed quite an odd reputation since his death.  William Moulton Marston, creator of Wonder Woman, had an interesting outlook and an even more interesting home life.  He lived with his wife AND his mistress and the children by each.  Crazy?  Well, who knows, but it is interesting to me how he is spoken of almost entirely in the context of his marriage now, rather than his professional work.

I’m sure there are some I am missing.  If you think of any, speak up!  It might be fun to start a little debate here.

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Digital High Society review

Cerebus High Society (digital audio/video)

Aardvark-Vanaheim

2012

60+ pages each .99 cents

This was a long time coming.  The build up for the digital versions of Cerebus has been a hot topic for some time now, and I have finally absorbed enough to decide.  This is, for those not in the know, issues 26 through 50 of Dave Sim’s massive 300 issue series that ran for 26 years ending in 2004.  While there was more than a little attention on the creator of the book in the later years, the series itself continued to become a forum to watch a master of the medium at work, and that is the important thing here.  When the controversy over Sim himself finally fades into the background, the work will remain.

The series digital presentation starts with the second book, and the first complete graphic novel High Society.  The first 25 issues having been a somewhat looser more episodic style largely parodying the comics that were Sim’s main influence early on.  With this collection of digital stories the series launched into a clever, witty and very detailed look at both the comics industry and at the political process of elections.  Sim was quoted many years ago in The Masters of Comic Book Art documentary describing Cerebus in this book as a cross between Richard Nixon and Chauncey Gardner.  I’m not sure how accurate that is in hindsight, but the story is a rich and relevant today as it was decades ago.

The digital presentation is everything a fan of the story would hope.  The regular digital comic is fine; with sharp clean scans of the black and white art.  There are a few panels where the lettering in white on a black background is a little hard to read, but from a visual standpoint, that is my ONLY gripe.  The real discussion point here is the audio portion and extras.  This entire collection, of which there are currently 3 issues available for download here, is recorded with Sim doing all the characters voices and narration himself, with music and sound effects.  While not 100% successful, the presentation works well.  I can’t say Sim is a great performer, but he makes it work.  These are his creations and this mostly works well.  You know that this is how it sounds in his head.  These characters are now as close to what Dave envisioned as possible, and that is a neat feeling.  There is an odd novelty to the whole thing that may wear off, but this is cool.  The music is far from perfect as it sometimes is a bit much, but it quickly becomes a more seamless and enjoyable part of the book.  The guided viewing experience is dynamic and extremely effective.  You move with the characters at times and the feeling of being taken through the story rather than reading like normal can be a bit trippy, but very fun.

The extras are exhaustive and amazing.  It is clear that the DVD extras concept is what they are going for here and there is most everything you could have ever hoped to see, turning a 20 page comic into a 60+ page digital DL for .99 cents.  Every page, letter, note, sketchbook or notebook page even business correspondence is included.  Some of it is just an odd curiosity, but most of it is really interesting, and out of print since the original issues or never seen at all.  Having completely forgotten the experience of reading the individual issues years ago (I now have all the phone books and sold my originals ages ago) this was all an unexpected treat.

For the new reader to Cerebus, this is the perfect intro and offers up everything you would need to enter the story.  As a long time reader the new digital presentation is something even more special.  There is so much more here in the per issue package than in any other modern comic DL , that I would be hard pressed to believe that the big boys will even try to step up, putting this in a class by itself.

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Fish Schticks—Aquaman vol 1 The Trench review

Aquaman vol 1 The Trench (Hardcover)

DC Comics 2012

144 pages $22

I will be the first to admit that I have never been an Aquaman fan.  The bulk of my experience with the character comes from Super Friends, and I have had little desire to get more acquainted.  Even with that caveat, I have to say that thinking of the character ever having humor in his book was not something that came to mind easily.  Any time I have checked in on him by flipping through one of the 6 previous volumes of his adventures, dour is the only word I would have chosen to describe what I saw.  The only story I have read completely that used him at all was Brightest Day, and even there, he was not a happy camper.  So when I heard that the first few issues of the New 52 version of the character’s eponymous book had a fair bit of humor, I was intrigued.  I did notget these when they came out, but went back and grabbed the first 2 issues.  I liked them enough to get the HC (collecting the first 6 issues) and I can say that this is a pretty fun, and funny book.

Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis and Joe Prado have put out quite a book and it stands out as one of the best of the New 52.  Johns affection for the character comes through in his writing.  While there is action the real treat here is the tongue in cheek humor.  He gently pokes fun at the clichés that everyone thought were part and parcel of the King of Atlantis.  From the moment he sits down in a seafood restaurant and orders the fish-n-chips you know this will not be a book to play it safe with the character.  The constant references to his girlfriend and partner Mera as Aquawoman are giggle inducing at times, and make her interesting, where before she was nothing but a plot hammer.  This book does have the same problem as most of the other New 52 collections in that it reads like the first arc and a half rather than something complete.  From a story point, the first arc by itself in most of these books would have been a letdown.  Adding the first part of the next arc (as an intro, interlude or teaser), feels as much like bonus material as the “same bat-time, same bat-channel” tease intended to get the reader to come back for the next book.  It is not a great tactic in my mind, but it seems to be working for DC.  The real test will be how well volume 2 of all these do.

Reis and Prado team up here to make a VERY nice looking book.  The production value in the line and color is particularly stunning.  There are the hero shots of the 2 main characters that are simply dazzling to look at.  The color, leaping off the page at times, creates a powerful fantasy feel that cannot be understated.  My only complaint here is there is sometimes too much going on.  You cannot always make out what each panel contains.  Part of this is art style and part is storytelling experience.  It takes the master storytellers in this medium years, even decades to become masters.  Only then is the storytelling sense developed enough to create truly great panel to panel storytelling.  Eisner, Miller, Byrne, Sim, Wagner ,Kurtzman, Adams, Kirby and Ditko are examples of the greats.  Nothing against the art team on this book, but they are not there yet.  They are also victims of the current attitude in comics that more is better.  Jim Lee and the Image style popularized this and it has been a huge influence on comics for two decades.  Cramming a panel with piles of needless and sometimes distracting detail to make the book look more complex or intense is just how you sell books these days.  Don’t get me wrong, this can make for some very pretty comics.  This style is very well suited to digital where you are best only viewing a panel at a time, but as a page at a time read in print, it does not work as well.  It can be too much for the eye to sort through easily.  This changes the flow of the book and can really lessen the dramatic impact.  The masters at controlling pace (Neal Adams and Dave Sim are good examples) can force you to speed up or slow down according to the demands of the story.  There is only one pace here and in most other modern comics, and the art is not always going to mesh with those same story demands.

All else being equal (and the above is a relatively minor quibble that separates the good books from the great ones), this is a fun and interesting read.  Aquaman, not so much rebooted as re-energized.  Aquaman is easily in the top 5 of the New 52 and well worth a look.

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A Moment of Cerebus Question

The site A Moment of Cerebus is asking for questions for the celebration in a few weeks of High Society being released digitally.  The have asked that questions be posted on other sites and they will then be answered during the celebration.  Here is my question as submitted…

As I understand it, your religious conversion has created some difficulties in your professional life with the people around you not understanding, and your desire to be somewhat more isolated.  My question is a two-fer:  First, how has your relationship with Gerhard changed?  (I understand he is no longer a partner in A/V and Cerebus, but I imagine that was more of a business decision, correct?) Second, has your new outlook and the reactions to it in the industry actually improved any of your relationships with other creators or friends?  Are they now assessing you differently and perhaps more objectively as a person?

If there is anyone else that would like a question asked, I’m sure we can submit more.  Let me know here…

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Artsy Fartsy stuff

I found myself a bit bored.  Nothing I really feel like reviewing as there is not much new out of interest.  Coming soon-ish, I will have reviews of older books I have either recently found or re read.  But for the moment, something pretty.

I was looking through some older, more obscure books and found some great art I thought might be fun to post.

Before Fables and Jack of Fables was a great series by Bill Willingham called The Elementals.  Published by Comico this was a cutting edge book for its day.  Humor, adventure and drama in one of the most unusual books on the stands. This is a “swimsuit issue” drawing of the character Morningstar published in Amazing Heroes.

Morningstar

Then there is Gilbert Hernandez.  If you don’t know him, shame on you.  Feel guilty?  Good.  Now go buy Love and Rockets.  This is Errata Stigmata, on of the cast from that book.  This is another swimsuit shot.

Errata Stigmata by Gilbert Hernandez

In the 80’s there was a real renaissance of established artist taking advantage of the higher quality printing available.  Frank Miller did Ronin and Mike Grell had Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters.  Before that though, he had a creator owned property called Jon Sable, Freelance published by First Comics.  This is Myke Blackmon from that series.  Bonus points to anyone that remembers the short-lived TV series based on that title!

Myke Blackmon by Mike Grell

This next bit is one of the original sketches in my small collection.  In fact, it was one of the first I collected.  I was at a signing in Madison Wi. and had the opportunity to meet Dave Sim of Cerebus fame, and James Owen, creator of Starchild.  As with most books from the great black and white era of comics, this was a book plagued by delays and printing problems.  It limped along for a few years and very few issues, but while it lasted, Owen managed to put a lot of fine storytelling and art as well as a good deal of clever parody.

And wrapping up for now, a couple of images from a book I think no one but I read.  If you are reading this, then the title of the book will seem familiar.  When I was picking a name for this blog, I wanted a reference that was obscure enough to not be all that obvious and still have multiple meanings, not just a comic book one.

Published by Neotek Iconography in the early 90’s, this was the brainchild of C. Brent Ferguson.  It combined the early cyberpunk stylings and attitude with a heaping helping of critique on modern religion, pop culture penetration and fear of the growing technology all waiting to burst free in the decade that saw the birth of the internet as a populist device.  It was only intended as a three-issue series and was ultimately very successful in meeting its goals.  Sometimes a bit amateur, as many books were then, this book is well worth searching out.  It shows what we were afraid of (albeit metaphorically) and where the comic medium was soon to venture, both good and bad.

Terminal Drift #1

Self congratulatory add from the back of the first issue.

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