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Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Pull List: Mind MGMT

Posted by on Thu, Feb 6, 2014 at 1:56 PM

Mind MGMT #18

by Matt Kindt
Dark Horse Comics

Imagine if every paranoid fantasy of remote surveillance, dangerous psyops and government mind-control was real—it doesn’t feel like much of a stretch from our current vantage, does it?—and embodied in a CIA-like organization, all wrapped in a deft literary puzzle-box.

You have just imagined Mind MGMT. In the latest issue of comics auteur Matt Kindt’s brain-bending postmodern thriller, a young girl named Ella discovers that she can intuit and influence the feelings of animals. She's soon recruited into the secret espionage organization after which the book is named.

The issue climaxes when Ella meets the ongoing series’ protagonist, a true-crime writer named Meru whose research into a mass-amnesia incident on a commercial airplane plunges her down a rabbit hole of psychic spies, manipulated memories and sleeper agents. As she begins trying to report on this shadow cell, she finds an ally—or is he?—in Henry Lyme, a rogue Mind MGMT agent who is trying to dismantle the organization, and who seems to have a connection to Meru’s foggy past. It's quickly made apparent to the reader that Meru has somehow done all of this before, and is drawing nearer to the true heart of the conspiracy with every pass.

This summary gives short shrift to the immense complexity of the story’s moving parts, but I can’t give too much away because figuring it all out is a big part of the fun. Kindt always stays one step ahead of the reader, expertly parceling out satisfying resolutions to mysteries while simultaneously sowing new ones to keep us on the hook. The writer and artist’s inventive, suspenseful plotting is a major source of Mind MGMT’s brilliance, but it’s only part of what the book has to offer.

Kindt ingeniously blurs medium and message, with supplementary stories framing the ongoing narrative and extra text—which might seem to be excerpted from Mind MGMT dossiers or from a book that is referenced in the main story—running down the gutters between panels, creating a palimpsest of perspectives and contexts. The result is a book that seems to be reading itself, its narrative frames layered and unstable. The reader becomes actively complicit in Meru’s attempt to work out the plot, experiencing instead of simply hearing about her disorientation. The implication is that we are not just readers of a comic book, but field agents in Mind MGMT’s fantastic but realistic world. 

The book is also simply a beautiful artifact to hold in your hands and pore over, with grainy paper stock that smells of the library, and secret codes and allusions to exhume crammed into every nook and cranny. (There are already websites entirely devoted to figuring them out.) The rough, assured elegance of Kindt’s calligraphic brush strokes and hazy ink washes eloquently convey both dynamic action and subtle emotion, and he writes with a dreamlike exactitude that perfectly suits the baroque clockwork of the plot.

The story in this issue is self-contained and makes for a great jumping-on point, but if you want to start at the beginning—and you should, as the story Kindt began in May of 2012 is still unfolding 18 issues later—the first six-issue arc is available in a handsome hardcover collection. (It's introduced by Damon Lindelof, whose show Lost was filled with Kindt-caliber intrigues but ruined them with sub-Kindt resolutions.) You’ll read through it once with rapt bafflement, until everything snaps into place with a The Usual Suspects-like click in issue six, sending you back to the start to re-read and comprehend through the lens of a climactic revelation that changes everything. It’s a thrilling enactment of the same process of discovery the book deals with, a tense cat-and-mouse game with the elusive nature of truth in a world of turbo-charged deception.

The first six-issue collection opens with a gripping sequence whose visual pacing is a master class for aspiring comic book storytellers. “Ever have a dream that was like a story…?” Meru asks in voiceover captions. “And at the end of the dream there’s a twist ending? How can your mind do that to you? You’re creating the dream.” Kindt shows us exactly how over the course of this incredibly cunning and original series. It’s the perfect monthly book to augment (or start) your pull list, the term for the subscription service most comic shops provide, from which this column takes its name. If you wonder why adults read comics, Mind MGMT is your answer, and #18 is on the stands right now.

Where to buy Mind MGMT:

Raleigh: Foundation’s Edge / Capitol Comics II

Durham: Ultimate Comics

Chapel Hill: Chapel Hill Comics

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    Introducing “The Pull List,” the INDY’s weekly blog about the best new comic books for adults

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

From Iron Man to Funky Winkerbean, a guide to upcoming comic book events in the Triangle

Posted by on Thu, May 2, 2013 at 2:35 PM

This Friday Iron Man 3, which was partially filmed in Cary and throughout North Carolina, will blast into theaters after already taking in $200 million internationally. While it's the biggest comic-book-related event in the Triangle, it's not the only one, as a series of local and national creators are headed through the area during the next few months. These events help emphasize the variety and diversity of the medium.

  • Image via FCBD site
Saturday sees the annual Free Comic Book Day event, where comic book retailers provide sample books created by publishers designed to hook new readers of all ages. Though the samples include a Superman comic from DC co-written by Richard Donner, director of the Christopher Reeve Man of Steel films, and the start to a new Marvel Comics event scripted by South Carolina writer Jonathan Hickman, there's a large and occasionally bizarre variety among the many offerings.

Scholars of classic illustration would do well to check out Fantagraphics' sample from their reprints of the classic comic strip Prince Valiant, while fans of the AMC mega-hit The Walking Dead should check out the free issue of the comic book that inspired it.

Local creators are also represented at Free Comic Book Day. While there's plenty of books for kids featuring Adventure Time, the Smurfs, the Simpsons, Spongebob Squarepants and even translations of Swedish Pippi Longstocking comics, we recommend checking out the Princeless/Molly Danger book from Action Lab Entertainment, featuring a pair of well-developed, strong-willed female heroes that are equally appealing to young boys and girls — and their parents.

  • Image via Jeremy Whitley
Princeless, the tale of a princess who decides not to wait around in a tower for a prince to rescue her, has earned multiple award nominations for its writer, local creator Jeremy Whitley, including the Eisner, comics' top prize. He'll be at the Free Comic Book Day event at Chapel Hill's Ultimate Comics along with Pittsboro-area creator Tommy Lee Edwards, who in addition to his comics work has helped design such feature films as The Book of Eli with Denzel Washington and the scuttled live-action remake of the popular Japanese anime/comic Akira.

Ultimate Comics celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, along with the fourth anniversary of the Durham-based NC Comicon, which attracted such record numbers to the Durham Convention Center last fall that they've doubled the space for this November's show. In celebration, they're doing a series of events with Marvel Comics creators over the next few months.

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    A series of local and national creators are headed through the area during the next few months.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

"The world's best artist" Mitch O'Connell brings modern kitsch to Raleigh

Posted by on Fri, Apr 26, 2013 at 1:47 PM

  • Image provided by Mitch O'Connell

Mitch O'Connell's colorful, crazed pop-art illustrations have appeared everywhere from the cover of Newsweek (four times) to a recent full-page story in The Wall Street Journal, but you'll have to forgive him for hoping for a good-sized turnout at his appearance at Nice Price Books in Raleigh on April 27.

"I’ll be in North Carolina meeting my fiancé’s father," says O'Connell, on the phone from his home in Chicago. "My only goal is that hopefully a respectable line is in place to impress him.

"So I impose this responsibility on the people of Raleigh—hopefully it’s a burden they’re willing to shoulder."

O'Connell's on tour to promote Mitch O'Connell: The World's Best Artist, a new hardcover collection from Last Gasp Publishing that offers an extensive retrospective of his pop culture-infused career in art, providing colorful, chaotic pics that draw from decades of American iconography.

  • Image provided by Mitch O'Connell

"I’m lucky that my grandparents and my parents saved a lot of my stuff, so there were still books available from childhood and adolescence," O'Connell says. "It let us give the book an actual narrative, and hopefully a humorous one."

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    "If there's a way to work a naked woman and big eyes and hot dogs and anything else into a drawing, I'll find a way to put it in there."

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Questions for Brian Regan, a hard-working, good-guy comic

Posted by on Sat, Sep 22, 2012 at 1:25 PM

@ Durham Performing Arts Center
7 p.m.

Even if you’ve never heard of Brian Regan, the minute you see him perform, you immediately fall in love with the guy.

A 30-year veteran of the stand-up scene, the Miami-born, Vegas-based comic is well-known for his clean but still utterly uproarious stand-up. His humor has definitely given him not just fans but famous fans, like Jerry Seinfeld (who drove him around during an episode of his Web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee) and Marc Maron (who had him as a guest on his WTF with Marc Maron podcast).

The Indy asked 54-year-old Regan, who’ll be performing at Durham Performing Arts Center on Saturday, a few questions about what it’s like being one of the funniest, most reliable working comics out there.

INDY: How long have you been doing stand-up?
REGAN: Oh, wow—about 31. [laughs] That sounds like forever. But I started in 1981, down in Ft. Lauderdale, at a comedy club.

How does it feel knowing that you make guys like Jerry Seinfeld and Marc Maron laugh?
Well, you get to write a lot of checks, man. I gotta write checks out to Jerry Seinfeld and Marc Maron and all these people for these kind words. [laughs] No, it means a lot to me, you know. Making audiences laugh is certainly a big thing for me, but knowing that other comedians like what I do—at least some of them—that means the world to me, you know. It’s a high compliment when people who do what you do like what you do. So, it’s a great feeling.

One of the things that’s great about your comedy is how you’re very physical, contorting your face and body in various, cartoonish ways. Sometimes, you get a sense of balletic gracefulness in your stand-up.
Well, first of all, I appreciate the compliment. I guess the reason why my comedy is physical is because, basically, they’re little vignettes, you know. A lot of my jokes, if you will, they’re like these little, tiny plays, with me and another character or me and an inanimate object. So, it’s me and the eye doctor or it’s me and a flight attendant or it’s me and an ironing board or it’s me and a microwave oven. And the only way for the joke to work is for me to act it out. So, there’s where the physicality comes in. I’m just trying to live the joke out as truthfully as possible when I’m onstage. And, if I don’t, it doesn’t pop nearly as well.

You’ve often talked about how amateurish you were back in the day, relying on props and what not. Today, you’re a comic that appeals to all ages. How would you explain getting audiences on your side as a comedian these days?
Well, for me, I try not to figure out what my audience would like or what they’re looking for, because it’s too hard for me to know what everybody in the world is thinking, you know. So, I just try to figure what I wanna say and what I wanna do and, you know, I like to do clean comedy and observational comedy and everyday kinda stuff, just because it’s what interests me. It’s what makes me laugh. And, you know, the fact that audiences seem to like it as well certainly is a big thing for me. It’s like, wow, now I can make a nice career with this. But, to me, it’s sort of, um, I’m lucky, in that what I like to do anyway is what people seem to respond to. So, I’m just fortunate.

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    Q: How does it feel knowing that you make guys like Jerry Seinfeld and Marc Maron laugh? A: "Well, you get to write a lot of checks..."

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Friday, March 9, 2012

How John Carter is the grandfather of modern fantasy

Posted by on Fri, Mar 9, 2012 at 4:16 PM

It is a testament to how poorly Disney has handled the John Carter property that the non-geek public still knows very little about the movie, much less that the character is celebrating its centennial this year. Indeed, audiences might be excused if they think the new Disney movie is ripping off Star Wars, Total Recall, Avatar—hell, even Dances with Wolves—when it is Edgar Rice Burroughs' creation that curls throughout their DNA.

The swashbuckling pulp hero first appeared in print in 1912, several years before Burroughs' other invention —Tarzan of the Apes—who, thanks to cheaply produced movie serials and TV shows over the decades, is still a household name. While Hollywood has struggled to bring John Carter's adventures to the screen since 1936, it probably didn't help they were set on Mars, with a main character who could leap over tall buildings in a single bound, who fought side-by-side with 15-foot-tall four-armed green men as fleets of giant airships sailed over mile-high cities—or that everyone strode about the strange Martian landscape utterly naked except for their weapons.

It was this fantastic vista that helped fire up the young imaginations of science-fiction authors such as Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke. Carl Sagan specifically mentioned Barsoom—Burrough's name for Mars—as one of his prime inspirations for eventually pursuing astronomy as a career. Other words from Barsoom's imaginary language will seem familiar to modern ears: Jed (king) and banth are only one letter removed from George Lucas' Jedi and bantha, and he cribbed "Sith" in its entirety.

No coincidence: The tales, originally cliff-hanging short stories in early pulp magazines, had been collected into 11 novels in the 1950s and 1960s when Lucas was growing up. (Princess Leia had nothing on Burroughs' heroine Dejah Thoris, the original pistol-packing princess, and the many fantasy artist depictions of Dejah, clad only in elaborate jewelry, is the direct inspiration for the Leia's infamous metal bikini in Return of the Jedi.)

Propelled along by iconic covers from a young Frank Frazetta, the paperbacks sold millions over the next few decades as part of the exploding genre of "Sword & Sorcery" that included the repackaged collections of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

When Gary Gygax created Dungeons & Dragons with Dave Arneson in the early '70s, he lifted so many elements from the Barsoom books for his game that the Burroughs estate successfully sued the fledgling publisher. While Gygax agreed to remove all of the trademarked material, such as character and creature names, the swashbuckling, princess-rescuing, high-adventure conceits remained. D&D has been played by millions over the past 40 years, and is widely cited as the strata on which modern video games are built.

Marvel Comics published a popular comic book adaptation in the late '70s that introduced another generation to the world Burroughs imagined. Thrice since then have comic book publishers tackled Barsoom, including, most recently, a small imprint that is currently showing John Carter and Dejah Thoris as Edgar Rice Burroughs intended—naked—and is involved in yet another lawsuit with the ERB estate.

In an odd twist that has become an object lesson in copyright, Burroughs' family controls a few trademarks related to the property, but not the early novels themselves, which are now in the public domain. While a conundrum for the courts, it is a boon for readers: you can currently read the first volume, "Princess of Mars," on the Library of Congress site for free.

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Chapel Hill Comics owner draws cover for comic based on cult Adventure Time cartoon

Posted by on Thu, Feb 9, 2012 at 5:10 PM

On Saturday, Feb. 18, fans will head to Chapel Hill Comics to pay $15 for a comic book with a locally drawn cover depicting a princess made of bubblegum and a vampire rocker who drinks the color red instead of blood, and was traumatized by her father eating her fries as a child. And I will be among them.

From the Adventure Time episode "It Came From the Nightosphere": Marceline the Vampire Queen sings of the traumatic childhood incident where her father ate her fries.

The comic book, Adventure Time, is based on an Emmy-nominated animated series on Cartoon Network (Mondays, 7:30 p.m.) that, since its premiere in April 2010, has become a strange sensation among children and adults alike. Kids enjoy the bright colors and wacky characters such as Lumpy Space Princess and Lady Rainicorn.

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    Any attempt to describe the cartoon to neophytes carries the risk of making one sound, quite honestly, demented. But I won't let that stop me.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

An older and mellower Tom Green: a conversation with the creator of Freddy Got Fingered

Posted by on Thu, Mar 17, 2011 at 6:20 PM

  • Courtesy of Marleah Leslie & Associates
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Tom Green rose to superstardom through such gross-out humor as putting a sculpture of his parents having sex on their front lawn and the novelty hit “The Bum Bum Song.” There was also the debatable cult classic Freddy Got Fingered. (A highbrow appreciation is here.)

But these days, the one-time MTV sensation who famously broadcast his testicular cancer surgery on the air has embraced a perspective he calls “conservative.”

“I just talk about things that make me laugh, and that the mainstream doesn’t necessarily talk about,” says Green in a call from Los Angeles. He plays Goodnight’s Comedy Club March 18 and 19.

“You don’t necessarily hear people talk about how Facebook isn’t good and we need to get off it. I like to take on the status quo a little bit. If you see my show, you’ll see it’s very R-rated, I’m swearing and going on about things in a very graphic way, but in some ways it’s very conservative.”

Age has apparently mellowed Green … somewhat.

“I’m starting to feel like an adult, and looking back at life as I turn 40, this changing world,” Green says of his stand-up set.

“I talk about gadgets, and pornography, and I think it surprises a lot of people because I approach it from kind of conservative point of view.”

Though he’s long been a visible figure in the world of comedy, Green’s only been doing stand-up comedy full time in the last year and a half.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Punchbuggy Tour: Teen homosexuality, herpes and other topics fit for comics

Posted by on Fri, Oct 2, 2009 at 5:10 PM


PERKINS LIBRARY, DUKE UNIVERSITY—Those who maintain that comic books are merely for children would have encountered powerful arguments to the contrary at Duke's Perkins Library on Tuesday, where a trio of young creators discussed comics covering such topics as teen homosexuality, living with herpes and hooking up with a way-too-young waitress on a business trip.

The library played home to the Punchbuggy Tour, a two-week junket promoting the work of M.K. Reed, Liz Baillie and Ken Dahl.

Each cartoonist read from their work, which amounted to narrating panels projected onto a screen via computer. Reed's deadpan Cross Country chronicles two guys touring a series of big box stores for work; her illustrations capture the washed-out landscapes of these characters and painfully real observational dialogue (the first chapter is available as a PDF and the complete work can be ordered here).

Baillie read from two of her works. My Brain Hurts is a teenager-queer-punks-in-New York City saga, while Freewheel is the tale of an orphan on a quest to find her brother; though vastly different, both works show an assured visual tone that represents everything from graffiti-riddled streets to a forest refuge for drifters, and an ear for realistic dialogue. Both works can be ordered from her Web site.

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