Monday, March 19, 2012

WGTB reviews Stormchasers #4

It’s a truism to say both new technology and social media is changing the comics industry. The average fan now has access to much more news and product than ever before, and because of this it's quite normal to come across comics and creators that only five years ago might never have been noticed. One such example of this phenomenon happened recently when my Twitter account (@markjstewart) suggested I follow Unstoppable Comics (@Unstoppablecomics) a small publisher based in New York City. 
Cover of Stormchasers #4 (March 2012) by Unstoppable Comics. Story by Jay Rosairo, Art by Beni Olea, Alex River on the inks and Michael Summers as colourist.
After 'following' and searching their website, I discovered an energetic and audacious new publisher that's working to compete against the Big Two at their own game: superhero comics. As I’m always looking for new comics to read and enjoy, I contacted publisher and writer Jay Rosario to see what Unstoppable is all about. Rosario was helpful and suggested the latest edition of their flagship book, Stormchasers #4.

Unstoppable's angle, while not entirely original, is a good one. The Stormchasers are a collection of international heroes doing battle against villains who also hail from around the world, and they bring an international perspective to their stories and conflicts. As I said, not entirely original -- we've seen this from mainline books such as X-Men and Justice League -- but in an industry where the two major American companies have such a dominant presence, it was great to see smaller publishers take a global perspective and give international markets a shot too. Whether this works for Unstoppable Comics remains to be seen, but as I Canadian living in the UK, I like the attitude and can see a time when Stormchasers is on the shelves beside Batman or Captain Britain in my London shop.  
Jets and super-powers from Unstoppable's Stormchasers #4 (March 2012)
Stormchasers #4 itself is an enjoyable book. The artwork has a Big Two feel to it, while at the same time remains fresh and indie enough to be a welcome break from Marvel or DC. Of course, in these matters a balance needed to be struck -- if they want to play in the sandbox with Disney and Warner Brothers, Unstoppable needs to walk the line between consumers wanting something expected and wanting something new. I think they did this, and I can see books from this publisher being picked up by regular readers of DC, Marvel, IDW et al. The heroes and villains were memorable and edgy and there's enough of a 'coolness' factor to hold the reader's attention with a comic they might not be familiar with.   
The cool Japanese-born character on display in Stormchasers #4 (March 2012) by Unstoppable Comics.
Which brings me to my constructive criticism. At times the book needed more narrative guidance with regard to the storytelling. Past issues are available for download on the iPad, so this is something that could be remedied with a couple clicks, but as I suspect a large number of new readers will buy this book from a ‘brick and mortar’ store, it is important that new readers who don’t have background knowledge about the book be given as much as possible. This includes recap pages or more liberal use of captions or thought balloons which I didn't see here. As an example, I would point to the recent Superman #6 (George Perez) which used captions to assist a very complex story. I understand they can muddle a page, but ultimately comics is about good storytelling and that's where the emphasis should be.
The Rogues Gallery from Stormchasers #4 (March 2012)
That said, if you’re looking for some cool superhero comics from a new independent publisher, I encourage you to visit the Unstoppable Comics website and give their books a look.* They're available online, but also increasingly available in stores across the East Coast of the United States. The art is mainline enough hold a superhero yarn, yet indie enough to appeal to someone who wants a break from the normal.  

Stormchasers #4 is available online and in select American comic shops now. Price: $2.99 (US)

*If you would like to suggest a comic from a new or independent publisher than please leave a comment below. I am always looking for new titles to read and review.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Remembering Ralph McQuarrie

On March 3rd, Star Wars conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie passed away at age 82. 

Born in Gary, Indiana on 13 June 1929, McQuarrie would move to California in the 1960s where he would find work as a technical artist for Boeing. Soon, after transitioning into Hollywood work, he met a young filmmaker named George Lucas who asked him to take the ideas of his nascent space opera and put them onto canvass. From there, this art became the costumes, props and stop motion models of the original Star Wars trilogy, one of the most captivating and successful film series of all time. 

McQuarrie conceptual art for The Empire Strikes Back
In many respects, I owe a great deal to the partnership of McQuarrie and Lucas. In the early 1990s, I had given up on the superhero genre. It may have been because of the gimmickry and market saturation of that era, but not wanting to give up on comics entirely (and prompted by Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire novel) I turned to Dark Horse's Dark Empire comic series. From there I couldn't get a enough of Star Wars and after re-watching the films and reading the comics and novels, my imagination was once again captured by the majesty and grandiosity of that far away galaxy.

Then, in 1995, I was diagnosed with cancer and my entire world was turned upside down. Because the chemotherapy was so potent I was unable to read books -- which meant television and comics were all I could do to entertain myself when not sleeping or getting chemo. Because of this, the Star Wars galaxy became the escapist fare I needed while undergoing treatments and this entertainment was in large part due to the creative genius of Ralph McQuarrie. Thank you, Ralph. 
Cover of the book Splinter of the Mind's Eye by Alan Dean Foster. This story was originally intended to be the low budget Star Wars sequel if the first movie was unsuccessful.  
If you'd like to see some of this man's fantastic art, I've linked to two websites below. I'm also sure there are plenty of comic book artists who owe a debt of gratitude to Ralph McQuarrie too, so if you'd like to share a story please leave a comment in the comments section. If not, enjoy the artwork from the Star Wars and McQuarrie personal websites and I hope to speak with you again soon.