Free Knights, Pinocchio and Dragon

There’s usually free comics floating around the net. Here’s 3 recent, good ones.

Slave Labor Graphics are offering the first issue of their zombies in King Arthur’s court mashup series, Knights of the Living Dead. It’s by Dusty Higgins and Ron Wolfe, and the second digital issue is only 99c.

If you like Higgins’ artwork, then you can also grab the first issue of his and Van Jensen’s Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer: Of Wood and Blood right here. It’s also from Slave Labor Graphics and is being serialized digitally for now. This is the 3rd and final volume of what is a pretty good series.

Finally, the landmark 175th issue of Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon series is now free for anyone who has a Graphic.ly log in. If you don’t have one for the digital comic store, now’s your chance, considering you’ll also get this double sized tale of the much loved heroic finhead.

Zombies Calling Review

Zombies CallingI have a new habit these days. Ever since I arrived home from San Diego Comic-Con in July I have briefly stared at the pile of comics I bought there with curiosity, excitement and mild disdain at not organising them yet (especially as said pile is sitting next to my bookshelf crammed full of unread stuff from last year’s SDCC). However since I’ve been getting the train to work I now have an hour each day to get some good reading in and watch the pile slowly diminish, or at least, be rearranged.

So, each night I grab a random book and throw it in my bag for the next morning’s reading, and that’s how I came to read, and enjoy, Zombies Calling by Faith Erin Hicks and Slave Labor Graphics. Man, that was an unnecessarily long intro.

Zombies Calling is a 112 page black and white digest that was created in 2007. Hicks’ blog details her submission process that got it noticed. Her next project is Brain Camp about “a creepy summer camp and how there may be monsters in the forest, and it’s all a metaphor for how puberty is scary as hell.” Cool.

So, ZC is about Joss and her two room-mates at a Canadian university. Joss is fixated on England, and more importantly zombie moves. She knows the rules of said films, (think of the rules for horror moves as stated in Scream) and thankfully, her skills must be put to the test when zombies invade her campus, or rather students are transformed into the shuffling undead.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much and only picked it up at the Con as it was cheap, but I was pleasantly surprised. After the first few pages I thought it may just veer dangerously close to the kind of playful tale we’ve seen before in which all the characters are witty and reference pop culture to show the readers/audience how they’re just like them. Hicks is wise and creative enough to not let that happen though. By sticking to only 3 main characters and giving the zombies an unusual origin that doesn’t require lengthy exposition, she can focus on showing just enough tension, tenderness and humour that could comfortably exist in an average episode of Buffy.

Besides Joss, there’s so-called ladies’ man Robyn and Sonnet, who is more serious and goth. There’s nods to Shaun of the Dead and the non-zombieness of 28 Days Later, and lots of running, hiding and zombie hurting.

It’s the combination of action, character development and touching scenes, such as the discussions of virginity, and death, all in just over 100 pages that make this an entertaining read. It’s also great to look at. Hicks does wonders simply with the page layouts and knows how to use space, and silence to great effect. It’s just a pleasure to look at and not like all the manga-lite artwork currently flooding the shelves. She knows how to render detailed backgrounds, and make the characters emote, and even a nerd like me can appreciate the hip fashion choices.

Also included are a few pages of character sketches and preliminary cover designs. Zombies Calling is a refreshing, done-in-one read that you wouldn’t be ashamed to pass onto your curious friends.

Zombies Calling p6

Slave Labor Graphics Panel

On Saturday at the Con, I visited 2 panels. Slave Labor Graphics (or SLG) was up first, as presented by founder Dan Vado.  It was a casual and intimate affair, with Vado presenting a few short trailers for current and upcoming releases. I’ve been familiar with SLG for a while now but have only recently read some of their books, including Captain Blood (which is a 5 ish mini, but may become an ongoing if successful) and Zeke Deadwood: Zombie Lawman. Their Gargoyles comic (based on the 90s cartoon) will continue, with unproduced issues finally being released.

The book Vado talked about most was Winchester, the first issue of which will be released in October. Being an Aussie I’m unfamiliar with Sarah Winchester and her unusual legacy, but her story sounds like a great premise. The story centres on a haunted house next to a freeway, in which 2 people enter with weirdness ensuing. Vado describes it as a tale of “historical fiction, bits of horror and spooky stuff.” Vado has written it, with art provided by Drew Rausch. The pair worked together on the Haunted Mansion series. Interestingly Vado was a tour guide in his youth for the Winchester Mystery House but was fired on his first day after deviating from the traditional tour guide script. He mentioned that Sarah Winchester used to travel around the house using the pipes of the sprinkler system as monkey bars. Unsurprisingly this impressed the Con audience.

Pinocchio:Vampire SlayerPinocchio: Vampire Slayer was up next. Vado revealed that this series has been a sleeper hit, thanks to the simple, yet lovable concept. The book launches in September from creators Van Jensen and Dustin Higgins and centres on the original, darker book rather than the well-known Disney film. Vampires kill Pinocchio’s father Gepetto before he can become a real boy so he goes on a vamp killing mission of vengeance. He lies so his wooden nose grows, snaps it off and stabs the bloodsuckers in the chest. Classic. The trailer for the book has had 8000 views in 3 weeks.

Jamaica Dyer’s Weird Fishes comes out in October. Originally released as a full colour web-comic, the collected edition will be black and white but it still looks lush with its water colour effects. This is Dyer’s first book and is a coming of age tale about a girl named Dee who discovers she’s not as unusual as she thinks she is. Vado seems quite proud of this book and it does look quite touching.

Vado also mentioned the Emo Boy film, which is in the works from Vanguard Films and closed the panel out with a few short videos made from the SLG team in their office/warehouse. These included two boys riding a pallet lifer around the place and an amusing ode to their love of Macs while taking their frustrations out with PCs with a baseball bat and a handgun.

Vado closed things off by mentioning that the first Friday of every month SLG convert their San Jose warehouse to a gallery and have bands made up of SLG staff play. It seems like they’re  a fun publisher.

Zeke Deadwood: Zombie Lawman Review

Zeke DeadwoodHaving been somewhat perplexed by Slave Labor Graphics’ recent Strange Eggs Jumps The Shark anthology, I was pleasantly surprised at the entertainment value in this western/zombie/comedy mash-up. Zeke Deadwood: Zombie Lawman is created by T.A Boatwright and Ryan Rubio, and the title of this one-shot pretty much tells you what it’s all about.

It begins with an old-time radio show as an earnest narrator tells tha tale of the titular gun slinger, or as he puts it: Whenever innocent blood is spilled upon the sand of the American West, a foul wind blows in across the frontier – signaling the arrival of justice!

It opens on a nameless town filled with the kind of bandits and desperadoes seen in many 1950s TV shows (or The Three Amigos) before a brave sheriff makes his last stand. Then in rides a skeletal figure to rescue the people from the wild shooting in the streets. Zeke makes his presence known at the church and tavern, and makes a rotten impression due to his undead stench, and then seeks the leader of the bandits for a good old fashioned shoot out.

Boatwright’s pencils are simple, but the inks really make it stand out. The black and white art fits perfectly with the rough atmosphere and it’s an entertaining enough one-shot. It’s certainly not hilarious, but it’s pretty harmless too. The 3 pin ups in the remaining pages by T.J Kirsch, Havard S. Johansen (see below) and Guy Davis are simply awesome and I’d love to see a Zeke Deadwood series done by any one of them.

Zeke is basically a zombie Clint Eastwood or Gary Cooper, but with a penchant for singing and falling off his horse, though not at the same time. There’s nothing revealed about his origins, or any deep themes. Zeke Deadwood is just a streamlined approach to a novel concept. 

There’s an interesting interview with Boatwright here, with a look at some interior pages too. I hope we see more of Zeke. As we all know, zombies work in any genre, and this one has the potential to be another winner.

Zeke Deadwood p1

Zeke Deadwood p2

Johansen Zeke Pin-Up

Fat Chunk Volume 2: Zombie Review

Fat Chunk Volume 2: Zombie“What do you think we do? We grab a couple of chainsaws and start hacking up walking stiffs.”

“Nice try freak, but you’re not eating my brain!”

“Well you look great! I mean, you’ve hardly decomposed at all!”

And so on. There’s some classic moments in this great offering from Slave Labor Graphics. Fat Chunk is an anthology series dedicated to giving talented artists the spotlight they deserve. Last year’s Volume 1 was all about robots, while this new follow up is all about zombies. Yep, zombies are more popular than the US President in comics these days and this digest is over 130 pages of black and white undead entertainment.

Most of the stories are 3 or 4 pages, while a few are silent and some have no clear end to the narrative. Like any anthology, not every page is a winner, but with Zombie they’re definitely…unique. There’s a glorious splatter of styles across these pages and I found myself laughing more than I expected. There’s a lot of profanity and raunchy material, and most of the humour is of the gallows brand, but it works. Splendid examples would be the black comedy seen in The New Kid by D Z Greene and Seph77’s Scabby the Cat. They’re funny because they’re wrong.

After reading this, I also realise how adaptable zombies are. In this collection, there’s zombies on blind dates, zombies as the focus of a charitable organisation, as hosts of cooking shows (guess what’s for dinner!), and as literal “working stiffs.”

There’s a wealth of talent out there, and every contributor mentions their website in their credits. The Fat Chunk website also has heaps of previews (some exclusive and updated) and links to more of the artists’ works. A lot of the work here is somewhat similar, with the exaggerated super-deformed style of street mags and hip hop tattoos, or manga-lite stuff of Saturday morning toons being the most represented styles. Some of my faves would have to be Jesus Briosso, Perca, Bill Neff and Aurelio. I hope Volume 3 is in the works.

Props to SLG for getting Fat Chunk out there, and for giving this skilled roster of storytellers a shot at grabbing new fans. If you believe you too are a worthy artist, they’re always on the lookout for fresh meat, er, talent, so give it a go.

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