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Dr. Strange and Dr. Doom are two iconic Marvel Comics characters. They have both been used in a variety of media from comics, to movies to games, but many don’t realize how much the characters have in common. They are both driven men, who strive to better themselves, albeit in different ways and for different reasons. Dr. Doom, despite being a man of science, is also a sorcerer like Dr. Strange and that is where  Dr. Strange & Dr. Doom: Triumph & Torment comes in.

A recurring part of Dr. Doom’s stories for a long time was his goal to free his mother from hell. Every midsummer’s eve he would fight a demon, lose and vow to fight again. In, Dr. Strange & Dr. Doom: Triumph & Torment a new approach is taken. After a test by the deities known as the Vishanti, Dr. Strange receives new affirmation of his role but also a new duty. Doom was also tested and nearly succeeded and Strange must grant him a boon, the boon being his aid in freeing Doom’s mother from hell. 

Dr. Strange & Dr. Doom: Triumph & Torment, is unlike any other Marvel comic. First released as a standalone graphic novel, when Marvel had its line of Prestige Graphic Novels, the title has recently been reprinted along with some other relevant stories to give more context ( and one not so relevant but there is a reason for its inclusion). It was written by Roger Stern and drawn by Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, and as such has a truly unique look to it. The comic shows the lengths Dr. Doom will go to, to free his mother, and gives, even more, depth to the dictator of Latveria, including insight into his sense of pride and honor. But at the same time, it helps expand the mythos of Dr. Strange, both by showing him interacting with other sorcerers of all kind and through his work with Dr. Doom. It also expands on characters like the Aged Ghengis, a recurring character, and shows a very different side of him. It also shows just how connected Dr. Doom and Dr. Strange truly are. It even gives new insight into the demon Mephisto and his role in hell.

Triumph and Torment is a strong title for the comic, but it has multiple meanings, some of which is not clear until the end. It was a highly acclaimed work, but sadly unavailable for many years, until as stated, it was recently reprinted. If you are a fan of comics, you should read this. Even if you dislike superhero comics, this is worth your time as it doesn’t really come off as a superhero comic at all. It is far more philosophical and spiritual in nature, reflecting on the nature of humanity and destiny and redemption. And if you like art, you can see Mike Mignola’s earlier pre-Hellboy work here. It is of an amazing quality and really helps the otherworldly nature of the comic and its protagonists. Do yourself a favor and give this one a read.

No GravatarI recently had the chance to talk with one of the best comic creators working in the industry right now, Thom Zahler. We discussed his comics, his influences and his advice for new creators. have a read below.

 

 

 

 

 

JB: What were some of your favourite comics growing up?

TZ: I cut my teeth on Superman and the Justice League books. Especially when I was younger, the DC stories were 1-3 part stories that ended, which was kinder when you don’t have any control over when you buy your next book. Firestorm became my favorite because that was the first #1 I ever bought. In the world before reboots and constant renumbering, getting a #1 was special. Oddly, Firestorm was a very Marvel-style character.

 

JB: Who were your favourite artists and writers? Who had the most influence on you?

TZ: As a kid, Curt Swan and Kurt Schaffenberger. Curt drew Superman and he was everywhere. Kurt drew so slick and so perfect, his stuff was just gorgeous. Go back and find his stuff. Such a strong and smooth line, and he made simple look good. He wasn’t designed for everything, but his Shazam stuff was transcendent. And Perez took it to another level for me.

 

JB: You went to the Kubert school, what was that experience like?

TZ: I always describe it as boot camp for artists. We had two classes a day, five days a week. I did 100 assignments before I went home for Thanksgiving. Just the volume of work gets you better. I learned a bunch of new methods and materials, grew so much as an artist, and forged some of my closest friendships.

 

Ultimately, I appreciate that Joe was teaching us to be Will Eisner. I can create a book, top to bottom. It gives me a flexibility to produce books that are important to me. I don’t know how much I appreciated it when I was in school, but I’m so grateful for it now.

 

 

JB: Can you describe some of the major influences on Love and Capes?

 

TZ: Darwyn Cooke, Bruce Timm and the DC Animated art style were huge for the look of the book. A cartoony style was something I fought for a long time, but when I got on the right book and I started doing it, I realized it was my wheelhouse. All that time trying to draw like Curt Swan or George Perez and apparently my art brain doesn’t work that way. But cartoony animated stuff, that’s my jam.

 

Writing wise, Berke Brethed’s Bloom County was a giant influence. It may not seem like it, but Love and Capes had a four panel beat structure. Essentially, it was Bloom County comic strip style jokes stitched together. It was also a comedic metronome for me.

 

The banter comes from my love of TV and sitcoms. Aaron Sorkin, Friends, How I Met Your Mother all loomed large in my head. When writing. It’s hard, because words take room and you have to structure them so the cadence is right there, as opposed to delivered by an actor. But I thought I did well with it.

 

JB:  You mention in your books, some of your influences, and how you put one of your pre-professional creations into the comic. At what point did it hit you that you are a professional comic creator? That moment where you felt a sense of wow at the situation. Do you ever stop feeling like a fan, or do you just appreciate being a fan in new ways?

TZ: That’s a great question! I’m not sure. I felt like a professional artist for years, being a graphic designer for an ad agency. But feeling like I was a full-fledged cartoonist, whatever that means, probably not until IDW picked up Love and Capes. Self-publishing was awesome, but when someone else is putting their money into publishing your work, that’s a different level. And it’s been iterative. IDW made the trades, then started publishing new issues, and then hired me on My Little Pony which was my first non-creator owned writing gig. Ultimate Spider-Man was my first animated TV gig. There’s always another rung on the ladder.

 

I don’t think I’ll ever feel comfortable. But I think that keeps me hungry and growing.

 

JB:  Have you ever considered going back to Love and Capes? Maybe a spinoff featuring Charlotte?

 

TZ: I think about it all the time. Love and Capes is very special to me, but that’s also why it’s so hard to return to. The birth of their child was the planned ending for the series, and I really felt like I stuck that landing. I don’t want to overstay my welcome or go out on a false note. I think stories need to end.

 

That said, if I ever have the RIGHT story, I’ll come back in a heartbeat. It’s interesting you mention Charlotte, because she might be my favorite character. She never found a boyfriend in the series because I couldn’t manage to write anyone worthy of her. I’ve toyed around with shifting the focus to Darkblade and Amazonia, different love, different capes. But I haven’t felt that inner voice telling me “This story, right now.”

 

JB: Your comic Time and Vine is one of the most intriguing ideas I have ever seen. How did you come up with that idea? How long were you working on it before you made it a comic?

 

TZ: I blame Kurt Busiek. I seem to recall him tweeting something about a wine comic and the idea just came to me. It wasn’t the next story idea I had, but it quickly took over my writer’s brain. I was on a walk one day and the structure of the story just came to me and it was so right. Once that happened, I was committed.

 

The time travel aspect locked down pretty quickly. I knew what the story required and the rules worked pretty well. I don’t think there are any cheats or paradoxes. Magic helps a lot.

 

I hope it’s a powerful story. If I do it right, it’ll be my Up. And if you’ve heard me talk about how much I love that movie, you know what that means to me.

 

 

JB: What was it like working on the My Little Pony comic? That franchise has a very dedicated fanbase, so did that make working on the project any different?

 

TZ: I try to respect the fans for sure. I’m a huge Star Trek fan, so I know about loyal fanbases. But the best Trek movie was written by Nick Meyer, who wasn’t a huge fan. I hoped to bring that outside perspective to it when I started. Now, I am a fan of the show, and I am a fan of the fans. But, if I’m doing it right, I also have the distance from the property to write interesting stories. Using Trek as an example again, I’m not sure I would have been bold enough to write Kirk feeling old, having a child, or killing Spock. But those were all great choices… bold choices… by someone who knew what a good story was and not just what they wanted to see.

 

 

JB: What advice do you have to new writers and artists trying to break into the industry?

 

TZ: Keep learning and be persistent are the big ones. And make something. There are less middle range publishers who would pay you to do sample pages like when I broke in, so you’ve got to publish on the web, or Comixology, or self-publish.

 

But that’s the big thing to me. It’s never a static game board. The rules keep changing. I came out of Kubert with the skill of hand-lettering. But computer lettering was on the horizon. Which meant that I was riding a wave. I could get hand lettering work, but I had to decide if I wanted to adapt to keep getting more work. I’ve learned how to color on the computer, how to draw on the computer and so on. I never wanted to self-publish, but it became the solution to the problem in front of me.

 

Basically, your job isn’t being a cartoonist. Your job is being employed.

 

 

JB: What are some projects you would like to work on, licensed properties or otherwise?

 

TZ: Star Trek, Star Trek, Star Trek! I love Trek so much, and co-wrote a short story for Pocket Books. I’d love to do more.

 

And I’d love to do a traditional superhero book. I think my sensibilities are just enough off-center to do something quirky while still writing a standard superhero book. Superman, Iron Man, Firestorm… I’d love to take a shot at those.

 

 

JB:  Do you have anything you would like to say to the readers of Real Otaku Gamer?

 

TZ: I’ve got a new project that just dropped from Webtoons, too! It’s called Warning Label and it’s about a girl named Danielle who’s been cursed by her ex-boyfriend that anytime she gets asked out, they get a warning label of all the things they need to watch out for. You can check it out at:

http://www.webtoons.com/en/romance/warning-label/list?title_no=1051

 

Time and Vine is in Previews now. And I’ll have a couple more My Little Pony issues coming out this summer, too!

JB: Thank you again for doing this.

 

TZ: My pleasure!

 

 

You can follow Thom on Twitter @thomzahler

 

 

Love and Capes and Long Distance are both available at Amazon.

 

By Jonathan Balofsky On 3 Feb, 2017 At 01:47 PM | Categorized As Comics You Should Read, Editorials, Featured | With 0 Comments

No GravatarThis edition of Comics You Should Read is a little different. Normally I discuss individual collections of comics, but this time I am discussing an entire series.

Usagi Yojimbo is a legendary comic series by creator Stan Sakai about Miyamoto Usagi, a ronin in Edo era Japan. But there is one thing very different about this comic. Almost all the characters are anthropomorphic animals. Usagi is a rabbit for example and there are characters like Gen, who is a rhino. But do not be fooled by this, as this is not just a comic for kids but one that can be enjoyed by everyone.

The stories contained in the comic range from funny to epic to tragic, as Stan Sakai presents a look at the life of the Samurai, albeit with some fantasy elements. The stories pull no punches with how the culture worked, with numerous examples of deliberate values dissonance between Edo era Japan and the modern west. There are amazing characters like Tomoe Ame, Lord Noriyuki and Usagi’s nemesis, the demon spearman Jei, the blade of the gods.

The series has been going on since the 80’s and has crossed over with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles more than once, but new readers do not need to be worried. All the stories have been collected by both publishers Fantagraphics and Dark Horse Comics and are available for all to read. I suggest starting from the beginning though, so you will understand just who these characters are.  Some disappear a bit into the comic, as others make their debut, but all are unique in their own way.

There have been video game adaptations of Usagi in the past, including one way back on the Commodore 64, and one recently on mobile devices. The latter is one I am actually familiar with and has mostly hack n slash elements but also an original story. I suggest checking it out if you are curious.

Usagi is a comic I will be discussing a lot more in the future but wanted to just give a brief overview of first. The stories are amazing, whether they be about Usagi stopping criminals, defeating bandits, transporting a sacred sword to a shrine, or even just making a pot. They all have that special something about them that many comics lack. Usagi is an incredible character, but by Stan Sakai’s own admission, he is an unusual samurai in how he interacts with people. But this isn’t just an idealized storytelling, and the comic makes it very clear why Usagi is who he is when it shows his mentor Katsuichi, This is a comic that has all the pieces fit together just right and even years after being read, it will stick with you.

I suggest checking it out.

By Jonathan Balofsky On 14 Sep, 2016 At 10:28 PM | Categorized As Comics/Manga, Editorials, Featured, Reviews, ROG News | With 0 Comments

No Gravatarsimpsons

The Simpsons have had a long history with comics and some have been absolutely amazing. I recently had the chance to read Simpsons Comics Colossal Compendium volume 4 and loved it. This collection has some of the best stories the series has ever had.

To highlight a few stories in particular, we have two stories of “Tales from the Springfield Bear Patrol”, a throwback to the season 7 episode “Much Apu About Nothing”. The stories are hilarious and help touch on ideas the show hasn’t used in decades. We see how inept the bear patrol is but they always manage to save the day (sort of).

Other stories include “Judge Dreadneck” a parody of Judge Dredd with Cletus in the role. This is the second best story in this collection, with loving references to not just the comic but also 80’s movies like Mad Max. This story is one of the reasons I love the comics. They have a creativity to them that the show now lacks.

The best story in this collection though, is “The Duffman Corps” a parody of Green Lantern with Duffman in the role. It is far better than it has any right to be, with the Duffman Oath, the villain Vinostro and the Guardians of The Party. This is one of the best comic parodies I have ever seen and I was laughing so loud while reading this, that I was out of breath more than once.

These are just 3 (technically 4) of the stories within and they are all amazing. This is a comic you should take the time to seek out. The TV Show may be out of steam but The Simpsons Comics are still going strong.

By Jonathan Balofsky On 13 Sep, 2016 At 05:21 AM | Categorized As Comics/Manga, Editorials, Featured, Reviews, ROG News | With 0 Comments

No Gravatarlove-and-capes

I previously wrote about Love and Capes here, and now it is time for me to continue the discussion by talking about Love and Capes volume 2: Going to The Chapel.

We start off with Mark ( the crusader) planning to propose to his girlfriend Abby on Christmas ever. He is stopped, not by a villain but by her sister Charlotte who reveals that Abby would hate that type of proposal. What follows is one of the most amusing sequences in comics, as Mark comes up with idea after idea to try and propose.

Once that is done with, the volume really kicks into high gear. Abby and Mark grow closer than ever together while planning their wedding, Charlotte goes off to school in Paris ( thanks to Darkblade) and a new hire is made at Abby’s bookstore. The good times don’t last however as Mark and the rest of the super heroes are dragged off into a cosmic gladiator battle that leaves Abby alone….in more ways than one.  Thom Zahler does a really great job of breaking down the non super heroics parts of Super Hero tropes and ideas. Namely, if a super hero and their romantic partner fly off to another country, what happens when the partner becomes stranded in said country when the hero is pulled away. I thought it was excellent to show how the situation gets solved without Mark’s help. From their we deal with an evil clone that nearly destroys the romance between Mark and Abby and makes things awkward with his ex-girlfriend Amazonia. But you cannot keep a good hero down and Mark and his friends help put things right.

The next part of the comic is the best part for me. We get to see the fallout of such an event and what other characters do for support. Abby decides that the only way she will ever understand Mark is to get super powers of her own. This is accomplished thanks to Doc Karma ( who can read anyone’s mind but Abby’s), who can help her because Abby is doing this for love. It does have a warning though, as she will keep the powers until she decides she no longer wants them.  We then see Mark and Abby begin to understand each other better while working together ( and getting in some excellent jokes at the same time), while Amazonia begins to confide in Darkblade due to needing support. Abby excels for a time but Doc Karma’s warning proves true and she decide that powers are not for her. The circumstances surrounding Abby losing her powers show Zahler’s ability to write emotional scenes that really get to you, and you will feel deeply for Abby and what she is going through.

After that it is time for the wedding, but Zahler isn’t done yet. What follows is a time travel storyline, that while confusing ( and later issues joke about how confusing it is), show the depth of Abby and Mark’s relationship, as she will do anything she can to save him from an enemy. It is even pointed out in this issue that Abby has gone from being a bystander to being a badass in her own right. She is able to save Mark and foil the villain’s plan and Doc Karma then helps her return and get to the chapel for her wedding. Sorry for the lack of details but I am trying to cut down on spoilers.

Love and Capes volume 2 is a comic with excellent humor, drama and emotion. It takes the super hero concept and without trying, deconstructs then reconstructs the entire genre. It looks at what would realistically happen, then reminds us why we love these comics in the first place.

If you have not yet checked out Love and Capes, then I recommend you do so!

 

 

By Jonathan Balofsky On 9 Mar, 2016 At 10:27 PM | Categorized As Comics/Manga, Featured, Reviews, Reviews, ROG Humor, ROG News | With 0 Comments

No GravatarArchie_vs_Predator_3

 

Archie comics have a reputation ( mostly deserved) of being a kiddie comic that plays things way too safe and comes off as cheesy. In recent years however, the company has taken steps to shed that image. From Afterlife with Archie (Archie with zombies and not for kids at all) to new horror comics with Sabrina ( again definitely not for kids), the company has done a lot to push Archie out of the niche it was stuck in. That said, would anyone have predicted a crossover with the Predator franchise? Or even more, a crossover that is aimed at older readers that unlike the crossover with the Punisher in the 90’s, doesn’t hesitate to show violence?

This comic is insane. I was amazed at what they put into the comic, from references to the movie protagonists, to lines being quoted. Seeing Reggie call himself a “Gosh Darned Sexual Tyrannosaurus” left me speechless. The violence was not hidden at all. Seeing Archie characters get their heads ripped off and blood splattered is a far cry from the cheesy comics of previous years.

The art is of high quality and almost eerie in how the Predator is drawn to resemble the Archie style. The story? Archie and the gang go to Costa Rica after winning a contest and during the heat wave a teenage predator comes to Earth to hunt. The predator is drawn to Betty and Veronica’s fighting and follows the gang back to Riverdale where things really hit the fan.

The writing is witty and clever and after you get passed how disturbing this can be, its actually a fun read. Although its called Archie vs Predator, the story focuses more on Betty and Veronica and their fight against the predator. Everyone else gets caught in the middle.

Be aware this is NOT a lighthearted story. Like Afterlife with Archie, this one is not for kids, or the faint of heart. If you are easily disturbed by dark imagery, then this comic is not for you. This is a comic where anyone can die and who makes it out at the end is rather surprising.

The hardcover collection includes mini comic crossovers between other Dark Horse comics and Archie characters, my favourite being Hellboy meets Sabrina.

archie-vs-predator-1-thermal-vision

In the end, I have to recommend this, but be warned once again, this is a very dark comic.