Thursday, July 28, 2011

Strange Love for the Doctor

(Or, How I learned to Stop Worrying and Watch Doctor Who)*
I am a huge fan of Doctor Who.
Maybe not that big a revelation. My nerd proclivities are fairly well known, so me announcing that I am an enthusiast for the good Doctor isn’t exactly a jaw-dropping shock to those people who are paying attention. But I have to tell you, it completely took me by surprise.
I consider myself a fairly full-rounded specimen of Nerdo Sapiens. My field of interests is broad, and tends to touch on most of the standard minutiae.  The problem is that I am also a bit of a self-loathing closet case about it. I love what I love, but I sometimes have a hard time talking about it. And I have a VERY hard time listening to other people talk about it.
I was in a large chain bookstore a year or two ago, buying the latest Dungeons & Dragons manual. I found the product I wanted, brought it to the counter, and was feeling smugly proud of myself for my shopping efficiency. Then I noticed the clerk at the register eyeing the manual. Then he looked at me. Then back at the book. Then back at me, this time with what my lovely wife refers to as “Precious Moments eyes”, and I knew two things. First, this man had suddenly smelled the familiar scent of a fellow nerd. Second, I was going to have to talk to this asshole about his dwarf wizard for the next fifteen minutes.
I don’t know WHY that bothers me. Perhaps it’s a muscle reflex from high school or something. Whenever someone starts nerding out too loudly near me, I feel a rush of panicky adrenaline, and have to suppress the urge to scream out, “Shut the fuck up! They’re going to beat us up and stuff us into a locker!”
Anyway, despite my black-belt in Geek Fu Dork, I have never had any use for Doctor Who. I am acquainted with people who ADORE him, and gleefully consume all of the associated media with a unique sort of zeal. But I’ve always sort of thought of those people as the nerd equivalent of foot fetishists. I don’t GET it, but I’m certainly not going to judge them for it.
I was familiar enough with the trappings of the genre, anyway. I could identify a Dalek (those are the killer robots who look like pepper shakers). I could pick the doctor out of a lineup of sci-fi and fantasy heroes, in a “Where’s Waldo” search for the guy with the huge scarf. I knew what the Tardis looked like, even though as someone raised on the vague fighter-jet designs of an X-Wing fighter and the sleek coolness of Doc Emmet Brown’s Delorean, I found the idea of travelling through time and space in a police box to be “quaint” at best, and “goddamned goofy” at worst. But I still refused to immerse myself fully.
Maybe I knew the wrong people. Most of the hardcore Whovians I had known in high school were, and I know how hypocritical this comes off, complete dorks. They had horrible taste in music, preferred the Call of Cthulu RPG to Dungeons & Dragons, and seemed to exemplify what I would later hear Margaret Cho refer to as “this whole creepy connection between Star Trek, leather sex, and the Renaissance Fair.” They meant well, but they were not my people.
So I took a pass on Doctor Who, and truthfully, it wasn’t like there was a dearth of other things to keep my attention. I figured I would just be one of those people who weren’t into Doctor Who. And I figured I could live with that.
Then my wife started watching Torchwood.
It was her sister who pushed her into it. Cyndi is not a sci-fi fan, really. So when she told Jenny that she had started watching Torchwood and really liked it, Jenny found her interest piqued. I knew of Torchwood in theory, in the same way that my nerd brain absorbs awareness of various pieces of geek culture ephemera by means of internet osmosis. What I had come away with was that it was a Doctor Who spin-off, starring a bisexual alien. Most of the people who seemed really jazzed up about it seemed to be primarily obsessed with the fact that it was a show where boys often kissed boys and girls often kissed girls. While I am all for people kissing whomever they choose, that premise isn’t quite enough to convince me to watch. (I can’t sit through an entire episode of The Real L Word, and I actually know one of the cast members in real life.)
But we only have the one TV, so when Jenny watches a show, I end up watching it, too – at least peripherally. And early on, I wasn’t finding that much to distract me from whatever else I was doing while it played in the background. The hero, Captain Jack Harkness, did indeed like to kiss the fellas as well as the ladies. And he seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time standing on rooftops, like a bisexual, British Batman.  I was thoroughly underwhelmed.
But then, about midway through the first season of the show (or the first “series”, as the BBC seems to prefer), I found myself watching Torchwood with my eyes glued to the screen. I COULD NOT STOP. It was a good show. It was a really good show. It was a FREAKING AWESOME show. And I was hooked.
Jenny and I blasted through the three extant seasons of Torchwood in a matter of weeks, and then started to nervously twitch, not sure where the next fix would come from, and dreading the withdrawal we would surely suffer if Captain Jack didn’t stroll across our field of vision and make out with somebody.
Suddenly, watching Doctor Who seemed like a viable option. Like sci-fi methadone. My wonderful friend Jermaine “Lord Retail” Exum**, had been yelling at me consistently since he found out I was watching Torchwood without having watched any Doctor Who. The word “heresy” was bandied about.
I consulted my most reputable nerd-brethren, and determined that the safest and smartest place for a Doctor Who virgin like myself to start would be with the 2005 relaunch of the franchise, featuring Chris Eccleston as the Doctor, and Billie Piper as his plucky assistant. After the first episode, I realized I liked Doctor Who. After three episodes I realized I liked Doctor Who a lot. By midway through the first season, I came to understand that I loved Doctor Who. By the time David Tennant had taken the reigns as the Doctor, I had abandoned myself to the inescapable knowledge that Doctor Who was my favorite TV show of all time, and it brought me nothing but joy, and I wanted to ride around in the Tardis and save the universe and maybe get to hug Rose Tyler, please.
Jenny and I are now three quarters of the way through the fourth season of the show. Netflix has one more season available for streaming, plus two movies, and then I’m not quite sure what the hell I am going to do. Probably weep openly  until I can afford to buy the sixth season on DVD. Certain parts of the viewing experience are very interesting to me. Despite having NO prior exposure to the Doctor, apparently I have enough nerdiness in my racial memory to mark out like a little bitch for the classic Doctor Who elements. When the Cybermen or the Daleks show up, I get irrationally excited. When Sarah Jane Smith makes a guest appearance, and brings along K-9, I am glad to see them again, despite the fact that I am seeing them for the first time.  I’m not sure how this works. I seem to have drunk deeply enough of the Kool-Aid to appreciate things I should have no logical reason to appreciate.
Jenny does put a slight damper on this euphoria, by the way, with her insistence on finding the Daleks adorable. They are NOT adorable, Jennifer! They are ruthless genocide machines and the scourge of the galaxy!
Anyway, you guys were right and I was wrong. Doctor Who is awesome, and I don’t know what took me so long.
I’m still not watching Dark Shadows, though. I need to draw a line somewhere.

Hugs and Kisses,

*I know this is the worst blog title ever.

** When in Greensboro, NC, be sure to visit ACME COMICS, for all of your comic needs. Tell them Travis sent you.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

You Q'd, and I A'd.


We were arguing about something completely random.

Jenny: You are so wrong!
Me: I am NOT! I am totally right.
Jenny: Wrongzors!
Me: You can’t just say “wrongzors” and win an argument.
Me: In fact, just by adding “zors”, you lose. It’s like when someone brings up Hitler.

I put the call out for questions I might be able to answer, lest I be tasked to actually come up with a blog topic out of my very own brain. My good friends at the Brian Michael Bendis board on were goodly enough to provide the following:.

Evan the Shaggy asks: What's your favorite band story from your past days of rockin'?
Monday night I went to see my friends Jerry and Andrew Morgan doing standup at Cafe Nine’s FISTFUL OF JOKES night. I got to hand out with a couple old friends, including Burke, one of the guitar players from my old band SaveFace. It reminded me how much I love hanging out with my punk rock friends, and swapping stories - Especially when those stories always involve lines like, “Oh yeah! Her dipshit boyfriend is the one I sprayed with that fire extinguisher.”
Anyway, I don’t know if it’s my FAVORITE story, but I do like this one.
SaveFace was an east coast punk band. At the same time we were playing out, there was another Saveface (no capital “f”) from Bakersfield, CA. They were a Christian rock band. Every once in a while, there would be a massive miscommunication with someone booking shows, and one of us would end up at a gig intended for the other. Which is how my band of functioning alcoholics and potheads ended up playing at a Christian teen center.  
I knew immediately what had happened when I saw all the paintings of bible scenes hung on the walls. And then I heard a cute girl quoting Leviticus and I knew we were officially screwed. But we decided to just try to power through it. We figured if we kept our heads down, played real loud, and tried to refrain from swearing, we should be in good shape. I didn’t think it would be a problem, as out songs, unlike most punk bands, didn’t have any swearing in the lyrics. (I actually sat in our van with our lyrics sheets asking questions of our drummer like, “Can I say “bastard”? I’m using it in a sentence.”)
Three songs in we ran into trouble when our lead guitar player broke two strings at the same time. One broken string we could handle. Two meant the song ground to a screeching halt, and we had to kill a minute or so while he tuned his back-up guitar.
I thought I’d try to warm up the crowd a little with my comedy stylings. “So,” I said, “any of you guys want to hear an off-color joke?”
A young man in the front row looked up at me with wide-eyed sincerity and politely said, “No thank you.”
At this moment our bass player asked me for the microphone. This took me by surprise, as it was completely unprecedented. Jeff was laconic to the point of being practically mute. He NEVER asked me for the microphone. Stunned, I handed it over. Which, as it turned out, was my fatal mistake.
“What the fuck is up with this fucking town?” he began. “I went to get something to fucking eat and there’s nothing on this whole fucking block. I ended up getting a fucking sandwich from a fucking gas station and eating it on the fucking curb. And now I’ll probably get the fucking shits. It’s fucking ridiculous.”
Then he handed the microphone back to me. I looked at him and then looked at the crowd who were staring at us with jaws agape, perhaps starting to realize that we were not the nice Christian boys from California they had expected. All I could think to say was, “Dude. You can’t say “sandwich” here.”

Slewo asks: What do you think is the biggest problem facing comics today?
Lack of readership, probably. But that’s kind of the nature of the beast. I know that it’s semi-heretical for me to say this about my beloved comics, but I’m not sure that we will ever see what we want, which is for the medium to be as popular (or at least as ubiquitous) as other forms of entertainment.
Reading in general seems to be on the downslide. A few years ago, I was sitting outside of a public library, waiting for a friend to meet me for lunch. I saw a trio of high-school aged girls walking by. They were having one of those conversations that are at a volume where you cannot help but hear it. You’re not eavesdropping, you’re just not deaf.
Girl #1: “Omigod. I was at the mall with April yesterday. And she bought a BOOK.”
Girl #2: “Ungh. Who READS?”
What do you do with that? Short of following them to their cars and clubbing them to death like baby seals.
Now add to that the difficulties in starting to read comics if you don’t already. Jenny brought up a really good point to me recently that for us, it’s completely reflexive and unconscious, but for strangers to the form, it can be difficult to follow the art, the word bubbles, and the flow of the panels. It’s like jazz, sometimes. You have to LEARN to appreciate certain aspects of the art form. And who has time for that when there’s shit like “Jersey Shore” to watch.
But I’ll still keep trying, man. I support the “April”s of the world.

Thatguyfromsyracuse  asks: How much are you looking forward to NYCC? I mean, you ARE going, right? PLEASE!
I am pants-wettingly excited to go to New York ComicCon this year. I missed last year because my eyeball issues had JUST started, and I couldn’t see a thing. But this year I will be there come hell or high water. Grayhaven Comics is fixing to have a booth at the show, and I have already volunteered to pull a couple of shifts, so I will be there hawking issues of the Gathering to all comers.
Even though I missed last year, I still had one of the nicest experiences of my life as a result of that show. Pat Loika drafted up a get-well poster featuring me as eyepatched superspy Nick Fury, and all of my buddies from the Bendisboard signed it. Including Bendis himself.

He signed it, "Ha Ha! Loser!" I love this guy.

And of course, I also got this gem in my email. A show of solidarity from my brethren.

I have some of the greatest friends in the world. I don’t say it enough.

Ryudo says:  I would also like to hear you talk more about small press, your graphic novel, and your involvement with the Gathering.
The graphic novel is coming along. The artist has most of the script now, and I am finishing up editing on the last quarter of the book. It should be around 100 pages or so. We’re working to put a pitch together, and I will probably have it in hand before NYCC. Once the pitch is done, I’ll feel comfortable talking about details. Watch this space for art previews down the road.
The Gathering is one of those things that makes me love comics. Nobody involved is trying to get rich or sell a movie script. It’s just good people making great comics. People who want more exposure to the industry and to hone their chops among their peers. Andrew has really grown this thing by leaps and bounds, and I am delighted to be a part of it. It’s certainly given me the courage to go after my creative goals in a more aggressive manner. I wouldn’t be writing a 100-page graphic novel had Andrew not given me that first shot at getting something published.
I was very fortunate to have Andrew invite me to be part of the second volume of the Gathering. And double lucky to get to work with Pat Loika on the art. I like doing short form stuff a lot. It’s a unique challenge, to make those 2 or 4 or 6 pages contain the body of your story. I tried to make something in that issue that would be fun for Pat to draw (crazy Kirby-esque space giants) and also to create something that could completely stand alone. I think some writers use short form stuff to try to pitch a larger idea, and that just kind of leaves me cold. I’ve never read a short prose story that was trying to audition to be a novel. If you have two pages, the whole story should be in those two pages.
In Fear Itself: Home Front, Howard Chaykin is doing these little one page snippets, and they’re brilliant. Just these tiny little emotional gutpunches of human cost in the middle of a larger story. Good stuff.
Now how succesful I was at making a good two-page story depends on who you talk to. a lot of people seemed to like it. Andrew said he liked it. My mother said, "Is that it?" The one professional review I saw basically called it "stupid but harmless". The nice part about being in a painfully obscure punk band in the era of the internet, though, is how it thickens your skin to bad reviews. Just by virtue of nobody calling me a "fat faggot", it was still one of the nicest batch of reviews I have ever recieved. :)
And honestly, I watched some guy go apeshit on Twitter last night and threaten to "slap the shit" out of poor Stephen Wacker over the decision to cancel Uncanny X-Men. I can handle "stupid but harmless".
I have one more bit of business coming out from the Gathering this year, in the “Big Book of Horror” issue. Then in 2012, I have stories running (hopefully) in the Sci-Fi and Western themed issues, plus possibly one more. Watch this space for that announcement  

Ryudo also asks:  What are your favorite Disney World attractions?
Tower of Terror and the Aerosmith coaster are a lot of fun. I love the dinosaur ride in Animal Kingdom. Haunted Mansion for sure. Magic Kingdom is for certain my favorite of the parks. I kind of want to be buried there.

Artimoff asks - H0w's y0ur eye d0ing?
Coming along nicely, thank you for asking. I should be getting new glasses in the next few weeks that should hopefully put my left eye vision at 20/60, which is a huge improvement over the 20/400 I was at. The right eye is “quiescent”, which I thought was a fabulous word to hear.
Thanks, guys!

I also got a couple questions on Marvel versus DC, particularly the DC relaunch (which I think I covered pretty well last week), and Marvel’s “Fear Itself” event. I’ll get to talking about Fear Itself soon (spoiler alert: I fucking love it).

Jenny is sitting next to me while I play “Mass Effect 2”, a major portion of which involves scanning planets for mineral resources and then plundering them.
Jenny: “Commander Shepard is a dick.”
Me: “No he’s not! He’s the hero of the galaxy.”
Jenny: “He’s raping all of the natural resources from all of these planets.”
Me: “I never leave them “depleted”. I always stop when the resources are just “poor”. It’s okay.”
Jenny: “You leave the planets with “poor” resources? You’re a monster.”
Me: “Look, all of these planets are uninhabited anyway!”
Jenny: “Why, what happens when they are inhabited.”
Me”… Well… usually I end up going down there with two friends and killing everything that moves. “
Jenny: “Commander Shepard is a dick.”
A little while later…
Jenny: “You should scream “I drink your milkshake” while you’re doing this.”

GrayHaven comics is running another Kickstarter campaign to continue to help fund publication of the Gathering, and other small press titles. The original goal was $1,000, which we managed to blow past like it was standing still. Now there's a whole new set of challenges. For every extra thousand we raise, Andrew will put another issue on the schedule for next year. Contributers will have first dibs on pitching to those issues. If you're an indie comics enthusiast, and would like a shot at writing a short story of your own, this is a great opportunity. even if you have no industry ambitions, get in there and throw a couple bucks at the project so we can continue to make amazing anthology comics and continue to give new artists and writers a chance to show their stuff.

That's all for now. Tune in next time when I talk about my newfound appreciation for the UK's national superhero.

Hugs and kisses, (The)Travis

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Impotent Fanboy Bitching

I’ve hesitated to say anything about the upcoming DCU Relaunch (Reboot?) for a couple reasons – One, simple lack of information. Despite the best efforts of Newsarama, Bleeding Cool, and the rest, I really feel like hard data is scarce on the ground.  Aside from creative teams and titles, much of what is out there in the ether is speculation. Even the art that we are seeing in the previews is shifting day-to-day as the recent “pants/no-pants” debacle with Wonder Woman indicates. So when I’m talking here, please understand that I don’t claim to know anything more than anyone else does. I’m reacting purely to the speculation, and my reactions are therefore suspect and subject to change as reality sinks in.
Second reason I’ve held off – Industry ambitions. As silly as it sounds, There is that element of my brain that warns that anyone with aspirations to work in comics should probably keep their opinions on the machinations of the Big Two firmly to themselves. But then again, regardless of my goals, I am a fan first and foremost. I have been for over 30 years, and I should at least be true to myself in that regard. So if anyone at DC is reading this, I do not mean to offend. I complain because I love. And if you are interested, I have "Power of Shazam" and "Challengers of the Unknown" pitches I would love to talk to you about. (Or Space Cabby. Come on! It’s like “Taxicab Confessions” in SPACE! It practically writes itself!)

I don't care what you say. This dude is AWESOME.
Third reason for my reticence – The stereotypical fanboy is one who is so consumed with complaints that he can’t actually stop and enjoy his hobby. I listen to people in stores or at cons, or I read things they have posted online, and I can’t understand why they’re still reading comics at all. There’s so bitter and joyless, it’s like the act of reading and collecting comics brings them physical pain. And yet, they keep queuing up.  It’s massively depressing. I don’t want to be THAT GUY.
Note: This isn’t isolated to comic enthusiasts. I went to a minor league hockey game a year or two ago with my buddy Ian. Attendance was sparce, but we still ended up sitting right by a trio of gentlemen who spent the entirety of the game bitching about how much they hated both teams, all the players, and most of the institution of hockey. I would like to clarify that there was nobody standing near them with a gun pressed to their temples. They seemed to be there of their own volition. It became clear from listening to them talk that they actually traveled all over the tri-state area, attending hockey games. AND THEY NEVER HAD FUN DOING IT. So much work for something that brought them so little happiness.
(Also, they stank like a garbage barge on fire. Apparently fanboy stench isn’t isolated to the comics community, either.)
So in an effort to make this as constructive as possible, let me not bombard you with a list of “complaints”, but rather a list of “concerns”.
Continuity is the big bugaboo of comics. Some fans, and a lot of creators, poo-poo the need for a cohesive continuity, believing that as long as they are telling good stories, the who-met-who-and-did-what-when shouldn’t matter. And, I will admit, too much continuity becomes troubling at a certain stage. If you’re paying attention to continuity, you have to reconcile a Batman that fought in world War Two, or a Superman who has been around since the Great Depression. 
But here is the dirty secret of super hero comic books – CONTINUITY MATTERS. People remember the stories they’ve read. Which means no matter how good your current Aresenal story is, you’ve also got to deal with a history where the character couldn’t get enough of an erection to hate-fuck his evil ex-girlfriend, so he went out and beat up some muggers with a dead cat. (Note to non-comics fans. I am NOT MAKING THIS SHIT UP).  You need to realize that the history of the characters will always affect your story in some fashion. And in a shared universe, that means dealing with the decisions of other creators.
There’s an entire argument for and against continuity to be made, by the way. But it’s a discussion for another blog. The concern I have with the DC Relaunch in terms of continuity is that they didn’t quite have it in them to do a full-stop reboot. Instead, they are doing a sort of “soft reboot” where certain things happened, but maybe not in the way we remember. This means that the recent Green Lantern storyline Blackest Night happened. But Hawkman and Firestorm couldn’t have been a part of it, because they are making their new debuts with the relaunch. It means that the Identity Crisis mini happened. But since Zatanna was never a member of the League, she couldn’t have been involved with the central plot of that mini, which was her magically wiping the memory of certain villains.
You can see where the headaches begin. DC is reportedly relying on readers to “makes sense of things for themselves”.  I am excited for the sweaty-handed slapfights that will likely ensue.
DC’s releasing 52 new titles in the month of September. FIFTY-TWO. That seems like a huge market glut to me. And also seems to jeopardize the survival of some of the more fringe titles out there. I mean, I’m very interested in checking out the new books, with the new directions. But I’m not suddenly two hundred dollars richer every month, and I doubt anyone else is, either. I think we’re going to see some very promising, very exciting books get dropped by 2012 because of slow sales, not because the quality is poor, but because it’s too much, too soon.
Not to mention that out of those 52 books, there are multiple Batman, Superman, and Justice League books. Obviously, you want to go with what sells, if you’re DC. But I still think you’re strangling other books by overloading with the heavy hitters.
This is a little picky, and I admit this, but… Did Superman NEED a costume redesign? Did Wonder Woman? Are sales really slow on these books because of the COSTUMES? Your characters are iconic. They are recognized as is worldwide. If people aren’t reading the books, the problem is probably not the uniforms.
The writing staff on the 52 new titles is very much a boys’ club. Aside from the always amazing Gail Simone (writing Batgirl and The Fury of Firestorm), there are NO WOMEN writing these books. 96% of the DCU is being written by men. And, with a few exceptions, the same handful of men. There are a million super insanely talented freelancers out there. Indie writers with unique voices and new perspectives? Where are they? If you’re trying to remake your universe, and increase your readership, why not bring in some new blood?
I can’t quite fathom the decision making process behind which titles made the reboot, and which didn’t. Books like Green Lantern Corps and Batman Inc. make the cut. But books like Gail Simone’s insanely popular Secret Six don’t?

Even with all my concerns, I’ll tell you a secret – I’m more excited about the DCU than I have been in years. There’s a lot of potential here. There are some ridiculously talented people on the staff of these books, and I think we are going to see some fantastic comics come out of this. And any continuity reboot, no matter how half-assed, means that certain characters who had been rendered “radioactive” by poor story decisions may have a chance at a second life.
Here are the five books I’m most excited for.
1. I, VAMPIRE by Josh Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino
Josh Fialkov is the man, and the perfect example of the new blood I was talking about above. I, Vampire is an old school favorite of mine, and I’m excited to see it coming back in such capable hands.
2. RESURRECTION MAN by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, and Fernando Dagnino
I trust DnA in all things. They have yet to disappoint me with a book. And Resurrection Man is such a truly awesome character. Every time he dies, he comes back to life with a new super power! How freaking cool is that?
3. ALL-STAR WESTERN by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Grey, and Meridat
Popular wisdom seems to be that westerns are dead. But the idea of Jonah Hex fighting crime in a Wild West Gotham City and the origins of the Crime Bible are too cool to pass up.
4. BATGIRL by Gail Simone
I would follow Gail into a fire. In my opinion, she’s one of the best writers DC has right now (I’d put her in the top three, probably, with Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison). And I have missed Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. As much as I loved Oracle, I’m excited to see Babs back in the costume, and I’m excited that it’s Gail writing her.
5. ANIMAL MAN by Jeff Lemire, Travel Foreman, and Dan Green
Another favorite character of mine. If they can do anything even a 10th as cool as Morrison’s old take on the character, I will be sold on this for sure.
As always, thought, opinions, love letters, and hate mail welcome. Hit me up.

Hugs and kisses,

P.S. I would like to do another Q&A blog next week. So if there are any Qs, you’d like to see me A, please send them to me. Hit me up on Facebook, via email, in the comments here, or on the Bendis Board at

Friday, July 8, 2011


I don’t have very many skills that would make me of use to a young person. I’m utterly, hopelessly, nonathletic, so I can’t be counted upon for a game of catch. I’m old enough now that my tastes in music are incredibly unhip, so the best I can do in terms of musical recommendations is to furrow my forehead, grab my walker firmly, and lecture the youth of today on how awesome Grunge used to be. I’m a reliable ride to the mall, I suppose, but that just means that once my younger relatives turns 16, they probably won’t have much use for me.
So imagine my delight when I had the following chat on Facebook with my younger cousin, Matt.
Matt: hey do you know how to play dungeons and dragons?
Me: Yes I do. Been playing for 20+ years. Why?
Matt: because the library here is holding dungeon and dragons tournaments and i was thinking of playing.
Me: Not sure how that would work. D&D is fun, though…
Matt: D&D?
Me: Dungeons & Dragons. Noob. :)
Matt: maybe when i get back or something u could teach me?
This kid has no idea how happy he just made me, I assure you.
And in an odd bit of coincidence, his step-sister, Aleina, hit me up on Facebook later in the week with a request to know “which comic books are the best?”. (It was probably something closer to “WHICH COMICS R TEH BESTZORS”, but you get the point. )
Now recommending comics is a responsibility I take VERY seriously. And I am thoroughly convinced that comics are a lot like music – Very few people like EVERYTHING, but there is absolutely something out there for EVERYONE.
Aleina is almost 19 years old. She’s an Air Force reservist, and an aspiring photographer. (I actually think she’s ridiculously talented, but if you tell her I said so, I’ll call you a liar.) She is also a voracious reader, but, to the best of my memory, she’s never expressed an interest in comics before. I spent the past few nights thinking of stuff she might dig, and put together a list of suggestions.
(NOTE: I avoided certain “classics” in this list. No Sandman, for example. Now, I LOVE me some Sandman. If you walk away from this blog thinking, “Travis does NOT enjoy Sandman,” you will be very mistaken. But my personal theory is that recommending things like Sandman and Bone doesn’t get new readers into comic book shops. It just gets them into Barnes & Noble.)
So, Aly Paige, here are nine recommendations of comics you might dig.
1. SCARLET (written by Brian M. Bendis, art by Alex Maleev)
I am a huge fan of Bendis’ comics. Dude is one of my comic book heroes, and Alex Maleev is one of my all time favorite comic book artists. Every previous collaboration they have done has been top-shelf, and Scarlet may actually be my favorite. Scarlet is a young woman who decides that the world is not the way it should be after her boyfriend is killed by a corrupt cop. She decides she has had enough, and beguns to fight back against corruption, inadvertently sparking a new American Revolution.  It’s an insanely good read, and weirdly prescient, given that it predates the uprisings in Egypt and other countries by only a few months.

2. LOCKE AND KEY (written by Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez)
I really enjoyed Joe Hill’s prose work in his books Heart Shaped Box and 20th Century Ghosts. So I was very excited when I found out he was doing a comic. And Locke & Key is one of the most brilliant comics I have read in a while. After the murder of their father, Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode Locke follow their mother to their family estate, a sprawling mansion called Keyhouse. Once there, they become entangled in a struggle against dark forces that seek control of Keyhouse, and the enchanted keys hidden inside.
This book is a brilliant combination of the fantastic and the horriffic. The art is amazingly clean and expressive, and the characters are very well-rounded and engaging. Nowhere near enough people are reading this book. It is fantastic.

3. ATOMIC ROBO (written by Brian Clevinger, art by Scott Wegener)
SO MUCH FUN! Atomic Robo is a robot built by Nikola Tesla in the 20s. Now he travels the world, investigating and combating paranormal and supernatural threats. Sort of like a Steampunk Hellboy. This is just pure fun comics. No ifs ands or buts. Just an awesome time and a great lead character.

4. CASANOVA (written by Matt Fraction, art by Gabriel Ba)
Fraction is one of my top five favorite writers working in comics currently. I have yet to read a comic he wrote that didn’t either completely entertain me, or utterly blow my mind. I will warn you that Casanova is not entry-level reading. Fraction’s writing on a whole different level here, and I actually have found myself requiring multiple read-throughs to pick up all the detail and craziness he is jamming in here. But MAN, is it worth it. Cassanova Quinn is a thief and spy, the black sheep of his family. His life turns around when he is shunted to a parallel dimension and forced to undertake missions across space and time.
It’s a wild ride. And Ba’s art is SO very cool.

5. KABUKI (by David Mack)
A breath-takingly beautiful book, and one that a LOT of people have said brought them (back) into comics. It features an assassin, named Kabuki, and the book travels through her memories, her dreams, and her thoughts. Mack is one of the most brilliant artists I have ever seen, and the emotional core of this book is his amazing imagery, brought forth in art that combines collage, photography, painting, and pencil work.
Also, on a side-note, David Mack is the nicest person I have ever met in comics. I’ve met the guy four or five times at conventions, and he is always so sweet that he makes me want to be a better human being. I have also been told that he is boy-band handsome, but I wouldn’t know anything about that.

6. X-23 (written by Marjorie Liu)
On paper, X-23 sounds kind of goofy. She is a teenaged, female, clone of Wolverine. She has been a prostitute, an assassin, and a member of the X-Men’s black ops team X-Force. There’s a lot of silly there. But Marjorie Liu is such a fantastic writer that she makes me really love and care about characters that I otherwise wouldn’t really give a crap about. This book is full of action, humor, drama, and (I have it on good authority) sexiness (many of my lady friends who love comics LOVE Gambit, who Liu has introduced into the book as X-23’s mentor, protector, and big brother figure). It’s also a nice gateway into super hero books, as it touches on the X-Men universe, but doesn’t really require any prior knowledge of it. Also, Liu writes the best Wolverine of anyone since Chris Claremont.

7. LOCAL (written by Brian Wood, art by Ryan Kelly)
I was a huge fan of Brian Wood’s DEMO, in no small part because of the comics crush I have on artist Becky Cloonan. His Local was touted as the successor to that book, but I actually think Local surpasses it in a lot of ways. It’s a 12-part series, each issue a stand-alone story set in a different town or city, and following Megan, a young woman searching for herself, and intersecting with a series of fascinating characters and events. Sometimes she is a main character, sometimes she is just in the background, but she’s the thread tying these 12 amazing tales together. Great writing, really vivid and realistic characters, and fantastic art.

8. 27 (written by Charles Soule, art by Renzo Podesta and W. Scott Forbes)
Taking off from the fact that a ton of artists and musicians (Cobain, Hendrix, Joplin) have all died at age 27, Charles Soule’s 27 follows a guitarist named Will Garland, who has lost his ability to play music, and will do anything to regain it.
Charles is a really good guy, who I have had the pleasure to meet at a few drink-ups over the years. I really dug his graphic novel Strongman, and had a ton of people talking this book up to me. Man, it did not disappoint. Probably one of the most creative premises and fascinating stories I have read in comics this year.

9. BATGIRL (written by Gail Simone)
This one won’t be out until September, as part of DC Comics’ Relaunch of their entire universe. But I am going to recommend it anyway based solely on the strength of Gail Simone’s writing. Gail is an amazing writer (and also a CRAZY PERSON) who has been kicking ass and taking names on DC’s Secret Six and Birds of Prey titles. She writes incredibly strong, interesting characters, and she is constantly taking her stories in directions nobody saw coming.
Gail is also my absolute favorite comic book person to follow on Twitter (@gailsimone), as her posts read like the diary of a lunatic. Even if I thought she was a horrible writer, I might still buy her books just because of the joy of things like #hauntedboat, #thatssowarrenellis and #kingsharkisashark. Gail rules.

I was going to make this a top ten list, but decided instead, I would rely on all of my internet friends to make recommendations for me. If there’s something Aleina should be reading, throw a recommendation into the comments here.
Hugs and Kisses,