Author - R.M. Rhodes

Infected – Book Review

Infected: William Vitka

Don’t call them zombies. The preferred term is “mobile autonomous undead.” But don’t let the pedantic terminology fool you–if you are the kind of person that enjoys a good zombie novel, you should really pick up Infected by William Vitka.

The novel is written in the first person by an unnamed narrator who happens be a journalist for a news organization in New York (which echoes Vitka’s current day-job). The plot is fairly uncomplicated: the narrator gets put on a story about a politician who did something nasty to a prostitute and ends up being patient zero for a z-word outbreak.

From there, the novel is concerned with two things: collecting the narrator’s friends and getting a CDC scientist to a medical lab in the hopes of finding a cure. Along the way, there is ample speculation as to exactly what is causing the outbreak…and a whole lot of gunfire and property damage.

Vitka wears his influences on his sleeve and takes pains to point these out early on: Philip K. Dick, Hunter S. Thompson, Sy Hersh. It’s hard to identify whether the book owes anything specific to existing zombie literature beyond the popular drinking game “what would you do if the zombie apocalypse arrived?” Vitka’s answer is colored by video games (small wonder: he used to cover them for CBS.com) and produced a very entertaining page-turner.

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Heavy Metal Magazine: Looking Back on “Phase One”

Heavy Metal: December 1978 Cover

Since I inherited my father’s collection of Heavy Metal last autumn, I’ve been working my way through the magazines, scanning 12 pages of each and posting them, one a day. While I have been enjoying the primary content, I’ve also been paying attention to the ephemera: advertising and editorials. The advertising, in particular, is a great snapshot of the time period and provides incredible insight into what various advertisers thought of the demographic of Heavy Metal (not necessarily what the demographic actually was).

I just finished reading the 32nd issue (November of 1979) and I noticed that it was the last issue put together by the original editors, Sean Kelly and Valerie Marchant. Ted White, the successful editor of Amazing Stories and Fantastic–two magazines dedicated to publishing cutting edge science fiction and fantasy stories–became the new editor, taking the magazine in a slightly different direction. This change in editorial guidance made a perfect point to stop and look back on the first two and three-quarters years of the magazine.

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Inheritance: Of Shelving, Family History & Heavy Metal

Heavy Metal in bin

After a year of looking for the right contractor, my wife and I finally got bookshelves custom-built for our library. In addition to the narcotic effect usually generated by the potential of naked storage space, I was also buzzed about having room to store my father’s collection of Heavy Metal. Just the idea of having this formative collection in my home made me deliriously happy.

The family narrative is that my father had a subscription to the magazine since issue 2 or 3. I also like to assert that exposure to this archive of magazines has provided an open-minded approach to what comics are and can be. One or both of these may be true, but the physical evidence supports the first story: he bought every single issue from April 1977 through sometime in the early 1990s. It’s hard to pin down the end of the subscription, because the point at which I started reading it regularly was at about the same time and some of those issues were in my collection, not his. My personal collection spans most of the 21st century, which leaves a sizeable gap in the late 1990s–which my cousin has offered to augment from his collection.

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SVK – Comic Review

SVK by Warren Ellis and D'Israeli

My parents were always supportive of my tendency to read just about everything, so I never really had the experience of reading comics by flashlight under the covers when I was meant to be asleep. I’m sure if I did have that memory, reading SVK would have invoked childhood associations with clandestine information.

SVK is the new Warren Ellis/D’Israeli/BERG joint: a comic that was sold only by mail order and printed with a special ultraviolet dye that you need the ultraviolet torch to read (it’s a British book by British creators–the transAtlanticism makes sense). The gimmick is that thought balloons–long thought to be out of favor among Anglo-Saxon creators–are printed in ultraviolet (UV), so you (the reader) need the torch to read them.

As there is UV ink on almost every page of the book, it is generally worthwhile to basically read the whole book via the UV torch. This works best in a dark room, so that you are actually relying on the torch for all of your light–“a flashlight under the covers.” Printed only in black and white, the only color is the UV, which works perfectly. The book is illustrated by D’Israeli, a master craftsman who cut his teeth on black and white pieces for 2000AD like Leviathan.

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Jean van Hamme: A Primer

Jean Van Hamme

R.M. Rhodes, comic creator and friend of French comics, returns to introduce the uninitiated to another classic creator…

Jean van Hamme is a best-selling writer of French comics and has been since the late 70s. His first really popular series was Thorgal, with artist Grzegorz Rosinski. This viking tale wavered between realism, an explicitly science fictional backstory and an even more explicit fantastical element that derived from traditional Scandanavian mythology. More lush than Northlanders, but just as unflinching about the viking culture. The art is beautiful, bearing some notional relation to Jean Giraud‘s work on Blueberry.

van Hamme’s second major series was XIII, a spy thriller based in part on the premise of The Bourne Identity. Val Kilmer and Steven Dorff starred in the television mini-series that was made in 2008. The artist, William Vance, is not particularly memorable either, but the story is compelling enough to capture a wide audience.

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Jean Giraud (aka Moebius): A Primer

Moebius

R.M. Rhodes, comic creator and friend of French comics, returns to introduce the uninitiated to another classic artist, whose influence you’ve experienced even if you didn’t realize it was him…

Jean Giraud (aka Gir, aka Moebius) is probably the most famous living French cartoonist. His career started in the early 60s when he started drawing the feature Blueberry with writer Jean-Michel Charlier for the French comics magazine Pilote. Giraud was immediately noticed for the quality of his linework and distinctive visual style. Blueberry went on to be a smash hit, becoming one of the most popular features in Pilote, a leading comic magazine of the period.

At the time, Pilote was edited by Rene Goscinny, whose point of view regarding the content of the magazine came into sharp conflict with Giraud and several other creators of his generation. The result of that conflict was the creation of a comic magazine with more adult sensibilities, called Metal Hurlant.

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Rodolphe Topffer: A Primer

Rodolphe Topffer

R.M. Rhodes, comic creator and friend of French comics, returns to introduce the uninitiated to another classic artist, essential to the history of the medium…

Many art and comic historians consider Rodolphe Topffer to be the father of comics as we know them. The man in question lived in Geneva for the entirety of his short life, working as a schoolteacher and professor. He died young. By 1846, he had published eight full-length stories and left behind an additional six fragments in some state of non-completion. He was only 47.

A combination of factors combined to shape Topffer’s artistic output. His father was a painter with a strong anti-French outlook, who used his art to express his viewpoints through finely wrought caricature. The younger Topffer wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps but had poor eyesight, which kept him from putting as much detail into his drawings as he would have liked–he settled on cartooning in sequence as a compromise.

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René Goscinny: A Primer

R.M. Rhodes, comic creator and friend of French comics, returns to introduce the uninitiated to a classic artist and character…

René Goscinny is one of the best-known comic book writers of the 20th century. Born in 1926, he spent time as a junior illustrator for an advertising agency. He was also an assistant in a small illustration studio in New York in the late 1940s, where he meet creators like Harvey Kurtzman and John Severin.

Harvey Kurtzman, John Severin & René Goscinny

Kurtzman, Severin & Goscinny

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Hergé and Tintin: A Primer

Herge and Tintin

R.M. Rhodes, comic creator and friend of French comics, returns to introduce the uninitiated to a classic artist and character…

Hergé was born Georges Remi; the name Hergé comes from the French pronunciation of the initials RG. In the 1920s, he produced a comic strip starring a young adult named Tintin who was ostensibly a reporter and travelled widely. Tintin was an overnight success and Hergé produced several more stories (including the controversial Tintin in the Congo) over the next several years.

The best of these books is The Blue Lotus, chronicling Tintin’s trip to China. This book was also the best-researched book to date and is markedly better than previous works. This story is also notable for the fact that it includes a depiction of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria.

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Heavy Metal Magazine: A Brief Introduction

Heavy Metal Magazine

We are pleased to welcome comic creator R.M. Rhodes to Need Coffee. He will be serving as our resident French comicsologist. Here, he starts off with perhaps the most recognizable imported product…

The other day, my co-worker asked me “What’s that?” when I mentioned Twin Peaks, so I’m certain that there are readers who don’t know the history of Heavy Metal–only the legends. Some of those who have followed up on the rumors and picked up the current incarnation of the book are perhaps wondering what all the fuss is about.

In 1977, the first issue of Heavy Metal hit newsstands (in the days before the direct market). Over the course of the next decade and a half, it presented translated editions of many contemporary BD (bandes dessinée–basically what the French call comics) in a serialized anthology format. This was standard printing practice for French comics at the time: stories were serialized in magazines first and the most popular stories were collected and resold as albums.

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