Thursday, December 31, 2009


2009 was a particularly strong year for comics, especially Original Graphic Novels, so in no particular order here are some of my favorite comics of the past year:

This is the very best work of a VERY good cartoonist. I was fortunate enough to read an earlier draft of this stunning graphic novel by my good friend Matt Kindt. I loved it then, and I love it now even more. Matt may be too close to see it himself, but I can see all the love he has for his wife and daughter poured into these pages.

What else can you say about this book that hasn't already been said. Mazzucchelli's career has been amazing, co-creating some of the best "mainstream" comics of the last 25 years with Daredevil Born Again and Batman Year One. And his Rubber Blankets was a huge influence on me when I first started cartooning. He is a master of the medium, and AP his masterwork.

Speaking of the best work of a great cartoonist...I love Clyde Fans, I love It's A Good Life...and I Love Wimbelton Green. Having said that, GEORGE SPROTT trumps them all. Seth is clearly one of our finest living cartoonists, and he is firing on all cylinders with this gorgeous oversized account of the melancholy moments that make up a man's life. It also drips with small town southern Ontario nostalgia, something I can't resist.
THE HUNTER: Darwyn Cooke:
Darwyn Cooke is really, really good isn't he? This book is so hard to put down. The art is gorgeous, the cartooning impeccable. I can't wait for more Parker.

This is a strange, haunting and beguiling book. I can't explain it, nor do I want to. It just needs to be read and experienced. Lilli Carre is a wonderful cartoonist with her own, truly unique voice.

When I read this it reminded me a lot of some of the themes and moods I was trying to capture in Tales From The Farm, and I loved it. NIIMURA's expressive scratchy art is brilliant and I was genuinely moved by Kelly's script which knew when to be big and loud, and when to be quiet and restrained.

SCALPED: Jason Aaron and RM Guera:
The best monthly comic being produced right now. Scalped is in a league all of its own, and it just keeps getting better and better. Jason Aaron solidifies himself as the best writer to emerge from the "big two" in a long, long time.

A lot of my hoity-toity comic book friends were slagging this book off as over-hyped. Well, I don't care how hyped it was, I still really enjoyed it. I thought the art had a really great loose inky feel and it used comics in some really interesting ways

I've been a devoted fan of Sean Phillips since his stunning run on Hellblazer with Paul Jenkins. But he's never as good as he is when he's drawing a Brubaker script. They are one of those rare writer/artists teams that blend into a third, brilliant cartoonist when together. Ingognito is an addictive pulp mash-up. A bit lighter than the also excellent CRIMINAL, and a hell of a lot of fun.

My favorite web comic. Portlander Emi Lennox's two-tone comic memoirs are whimsical, clever and very engaging. She's one of the brightest young cartoonists I've come across in a long, long time and if Emitown is any indication of things to come, she'll be making a lot of new fans very soon.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Montreal Gazette Selects Essex County!

Ian Gillis of the Montreal Gazette recently chose ESSEX COUNTY as part of his spotlight on Candian Graphic Novels.

The Complete Essex County,
by Jeff Lemire (Top Shelf Productions, 512 pages, $31.95). In this family saga set in an imagined version of the author’s native southwestern Ontario, Lemire taps into some of the deepest wellsprings of Canadian mythology: hardscrabble farm life, long winters, stoicism, solitude and, as well as anyone has ever depicted, the central role of hockey. The result is a book that achieves an epic sweep even though it’s relatively light on text.

Lemire’s fluid, expressionistic black-and-white style – he’s especially effective with faces and how they echo across generations – speaks volumes by itself. As a storyteller, he’s bold enough to walk the thin line between melancholy and sentimentality, never quite succumbing to the latter. Essex County packs an enormous emotional punch.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sweet Tooth #4 Review

Gus might be the answer to the world's problems.

by Bryan Joel

Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth is a monthly revelation, but it's not the fresh take on a post-apocalyptic world where the true genius of this book lies. Rather, it's in Lemire's brilliant character work and the seamless integration of it into his artwork. Sweet Tooth is far and away my favorite monthly comic, and issue #4 perfectly demonstrates why.

This issue finds Jepperd and Gus stumbling into a prostitution operation. It's the first time that the duo have really run into non-hunters in the outside world, and it's a chilling indication of how twisted the world has become. Sweet Tooth has more than a few childrens' storybook qualities to it normally, and the prostitutes are another example of this. On the surface they seem like one-dimensional figures intended to serve a specific purpose, but by the end of their story they've grown into something else and serve a new agenda. The simplicity of their one-issue story arc is genius.

But the real meat of the issue for me is the same as it has been in the previous three: the effect Gus and Jepperd are having on one another. Jepperd is positioned as the grizzled, jaded soldier figure and Gus as the timid, innocent neophyte, and every passing issue, each character drags the other further into their respective state of mind. This issue, it's Gus's naive, simple notion of right and wrong that alters Jepperd just enough that he's willing to help the prostitutes. Likewise, it's Jepperd's brutal handling of their pimps that brings Gus out of his sheltered mindset to appreciate the reality of their situation. Ultimately it seems to be leading towards the characters meeting somewhere in the moral middle, but the journey there is the true joy of Sweet Tooth.

Neither of these character movements would have come off quite as brilliantly if it weren't for Lemire's artistic cues. Whether it's Gus's (literal) doe-eye peeking around the corner to witness Jepperd's extreme violence, or Jepperd's clenched fist at the realization that Gus's black and white stance on morality is probably more admirable than his loner tendencies, Sweet Tooth #4 represents the zenith in art/script fusion. Even when the action dies down as the issue ends, Lemire treats readers to some stunning visuals, even when it's simply some rain falling, or the dysfunctional duo riding horseback. Lemire's artwork tells the story just as much as the words do, and this issue of Sweet Tooth is a true visual experience to be had.

This title continues to prove what the comics medium is capable of outside of spandex and muscles, and issue #4 is probably my favorite installment yet. Lemire is creating a fantastic world full of mystery, grit, and deceit, and a team of characters with real synergy and charisma.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Issue #4 of my monthly Vertigo comic SWEET TOOTH was released this week. This issue is the penultimate chapter in the first story-arc "Out of The Deep Woods". The issue also introduces a few new characters who will end up playing a big part in the overall story. I thought I'd select a scene from the issue and outline my creative process, from script to final art...

1. Script: I have the entire saga of Sweet Tooth outlined in one master document that I wrote when I pitched the book to Vertigo. This master outline, or "series bible", contains all of the major story points, character arcs and the overall plot. As well as more detailed notes on key scenes and even ideas for important dialogue here and there. At this point Sweet Tooth is projected to be 5 or 6 story arcs long (aprox. 30-40 issues), with a lot of room for the story and characters to expand and grow as I go along if need be.

From this master outline, I then break each story arc down into roughly 6 issues each. Then of course break each issue into 22-page outlines. From these I write my full script for each issue before I start drawing. These scripts are probably a bit sparser than an average comic writer's, because I don't have to spend time explaining the visuals for another artist to render, that's already in my head as I write. So, it's mostly to block out all the dialogue and make sure everything I want to do fits into the alloted 22 pages. I use a program called Movie Magic Screenwriter to do my scripts. It already has a couple of comic book templates built in, and lets me focus on the writing and not mess around with any formatting issues. Here is a four page (pages 2-5) excerpt from the 4th issue (click to enlarge):

2. Breakdowns: From these scripts I then thumbnail out a very rough page layout. These are really rudimentary doodles, probably so much so that only I could decipher them. But they just let me work out the panel structures and layout as well as the visual flow of the page. I take my script and reinterpret it, pacing out the beats of a scene or a conversation over panels. I often end up with a finished page that is very different from the script, as I tend to "write" best when drawing. The script is only a jumping off point :

3. Pencils: I then start on my pencilled artwork using these thumbnails as my skeleton. I used to pencil VERY loosely while working on Essex County and The Nobody. But, for whatever reason, my pencils have become increasingly tighter and more finished with each issue of Sweet Tooth. I do a rough, loose pencil draft with a blue pencil first, just getting all the basic composition and anatomy down, then go over this with a fine mechanical pencil, working out details and any drawing problems. I then take these pencils and trace them onto my bristol art board using a light box. The result of which can be seen below:

(Recently, I finished the artwork on Issue 9 of Sweet Tooth, and my pencils had gotten so tight that all the work and spontanaeity was gone by the time I went to inks. So, I've decided to go back to looser pencilling from now on, just go at the page with ink and have fun, take more risks. For me that's the real joy of cartooning.)

4. Inks: I then start inking these pages. I use Speedball India Ink and a steel point Hunt #2 pen tip for most of my linework, then go in with an Escoda 1212 Sable Hair Brush (usually a #1 size) and do my blacks and add accents to the linework where needed.

Escoda Kolinsky-Tajmyr Sable Brushes

Once I have my pencils set, and I know there are no major drawing problems left to figure out, I start inking. And I like to ink VERY fast, and very loose. Let that energy translate onto the page. If I make a mistake (and I often do) I just keep going and go back later to fix it with white out, or I just redraw it.

5. Colors: From there the pages go to Jose Villarubia and he works his magic. I don't have to give Jose many color notes. He's a real pro and an accomplished artist in his own right, and I just let him do his thing, which is always beautiful.