Editorials

Channel Zero: Won't someone not think of the children? by David Anderson

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Channel Zero, as you may or may not be aware, is an old (circa 1997) comic series from Brian Wood. HOWEVER, Dark Horse has just released a new collection of the work. And to make it even better, there's a prequel story in the collection illustrated by Becky Cloonan. So that's sexy. The re-release of the book seems really appropriate now that people are going around banning gay marriage. Big ups to the voters in North Carolina; some of you are who Warren Ellis is talking about in the intro to this new compendium (and a great intro it is. Don't skip over it just to get to the comic). Little Tommy, the kid who cries about being persecuted because of all the sex and violence on TV and thinks the answer to his woes is to deny others their rights. Come to think of it, that mentality explains a lot about this country.

Insert Rock n' Roll analogy, the Christian Temperance movement, Plato calling theater brain rotting tripe and all other recorded instances of fun-police trying to ruin everything in the name of their own sense of morality.

See, Channel Zero is like a semi-prequel to his next great work, DMZ. It's all about what would happen if Jerry Falwell got his way, and the Big Bad Government replaced the Constitution with the Bible. TV and radio can't broadcast a single vowel without the approval of a zero-tolerance censor who Does It For The Kids. Defying the laws of God are punishable by a gunshot to the head, and those laws include "no littering". Voicing your opposition could result in either imprisonment or your message getting twisted to boost TV ratings in an effort to appear "unbiased". Kinda like that Sinclair Lewis quote about flags and crosses and all that.

The series focuses on and around the events of the life of "Jennie 2.5", who hijacks internet landlines and wireless signals to broadcast her anti-government messages. Not only is she chased by the police, but she finds her message being co-opted as a way to coddle a complacent populace into thinking that free debate still exists. It's all about the same kind of thing Woods talks about in his subsequent work: How does mass communication affect us? What does it affect in the classic American Doomsday scenarios: fascist dictatorship and civil war?

The writing is mostly cynical narration by Jennie. She swears about as much as I do and you can just hear the disillusionment in her voice as she talks about her past and her changing values. Some issues focus on side characters, who have their own monologues to help give us an idea of Woods' universe. News briefs break up these narrations so we can find out how the Other Side thinks, but for the most part dialogue happens in kind of a voiceover fashion, where even direct conversation is spoken without displaying the speaker talking in real time.

This came out closer to 2000, so it's really weird seeing how things were back then. I mean, the futurists in this work predict people emailing each other at hundreds of kilobytes a second. Man. What blazing fast speeds, huh? Woods has some pretty harsh words for Rudy Giuliani too, since this was before 9/11 pretty much canonized the guy. For some reason it really irked me that Jennie thinks Mao Zedong is the reason China has so much power these days when really it's because of Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms in the 80's. Whatever. Off topic.

The art is excellent, of course. It's that dirty black and white style that brings out the best and worst of New York, with characters defined by their stark fashion choices. Those fashion choices all evoke a different feel of the city's culture that depends on where you are. A barcode tattoo, a respirator on a bald, scowling head, lip piercings, Chinese logograms. Just when you think New York's culture can't come up with a new flavor, it does. Each one of them is a middle finger saluting Smalltown, America and the conservative Christian mentality that makes it illegal to look like they do in their universe.

Of course, as time goes on and people get used to the state of things, you slowly start to see those fashion trends take on a homogeneous tone. God is it ever depressing.

Pictures of scenery and objects look like photo negatives and silhouettes, which gives it the feel of an underground art scene, but with the black and white, it's also emblematic of the fascist climate that overtakes NYC. In a way I think this series is a celebration of the city's diversity, moreso than just using it as a backdrop. It's impressive that even in black and white the artist can still convey a ton of detail and still get the feel of the city, even in a way that's different from DMZ.

If there's one thing Brian Wood is good at, it's writing interesting stories with dead serious political commentary. It may be kind of overbearing with the whole "College Art Student figures out how rigged the system is and how we're all sheep and fights fascism with nothing but pastels" but if you're into that then you'll like this. I might be biased in favor of it because I liked DMZ so much. Rest assured, if you gave this and Wood's subsequent work to your Republican uncle at Christmas, you'd get to listen to him demand more laws banning this kind of work all the way to New Years'.

TL;DR: If you like Brian Woods' work, punk rock, and anti-authoritarian revenge fantasies you'll like this. Or if you're just looking for a swank new collection of the  work with bonus material from Becky Cloonan.

Channel Zero is written and illustrated by Brian Wood with the prequel story, Jennie One, illustrated by Becky Cloonan. This brand new collection is published by Dark Horse. You can ask for it at your local comic book shop or, support Spandexless by purchasing through our Amazon web store

Spandexless received a preview copy of Channel Zero through NetGalley.

How Webcomics Made Me the Nerd I am Today by Beth Scorzato

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It’s May 2008. I am a junior in college and, while I’ve flirted with the idea of being “a comic book reader,” really, I just play along with whatever my guy friends are saying and they believe me, much like my time in high school English (you can get away with a lot by agreeing or disagreeing vehemently in just the right places). On a whim, and to keep up this image I’ve built for myself of someone who knows what’s up in the comic book world, I agree to go to New York Comic Con, just for Saturday “because that’s when all the good stuff happens anyway” (or so I’d heard).

Flash forward to three years later and here I am, one of the editors of a blog about comics, having honest discourse about the medium and making it my life's goal to work as a graphic novel editor. What changed in between? One word: webcomics.

At that NYCC, I picked up the first omnibus of Girl Genius. Up until now my knowledge of comics had been that my mother didn’t like them, Tom Welling was hot, and my best friend’s profile picture was supposedly of Green Lantern but to me looked more like a radioactive penguin (actually it still does). I certainly had never heard of steampunk and it had never occurred to me that a comic could be anything other than a superhero story that came out once a month (though even the once a month wasn’t always the case according to my boyfriend). My mind was blown. I discovered a whole new world of art and storytelling (and awesome costumes with corsets) through finding that one title. I now read a slew of webcomics weekly and they gave me the confidence to think that maybe I could be an actual comic book reader, and not just of superhero titles. Some of my favorite stories (which you’ll hear a lot about here) are completely unrelated to spandex of any kind. Unless things that take place in the 80s count…

So thank you, webcomics. You have made me the nerd I am today.

Who are we? by Spandexless

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Harvey Pekar, writer of the comic series “American Splendor”, defined comic books as “Words and Pictures”, going on to say, “You can do anything with words and pictures”. “American Splendor” was an avant-garde peek into Pekar’s own bizarrely usual life, drawn by well known artists like R. Crumb and Alan Moore. The stories were peeks into the life of an ordinary man, with normal ups and downs, living a life that made him appear both comfortable and burdened.

But Harvey Pekar was special. You see, at night, when the streets ran rampant with crime, when the citizens of earth needed a champion, when justice needed a face, Harvey Pekar was...

… A usual, ordinary guy. No cape. No powers. No spandex.

The comic book medium has been plagued with an unhealthy correlation to superheroes for quite some time now. Not to dismiss an entire genre, but any close correlation between a given medium and a given genre is damaging the potential that said medium has to tell a story. Comic books - or “Graphic Novels”, or “Sequential Art” - are considered children’s playthings, colorful books made to bedazzle young eyes with stories of the triumph of Good over Evil. Some superhero stories are deep, moving, and legitimately powerful. But not all comics are superhero comics. And that’s why we are here.

The storytelling medium of the comic book deserves much more than it has received credit for. Like a book or movie, the comic book format is inherently without genre.  It would be wrong to assume anything about a person because they are watch movies, or read books.  And yet, comic books - the simple combination of words and pictures - are told that they can’t play at the adult table.

We'd like to change that.

We are a review site that looks to give coverage and critical review to Comic Books, Graphic Novels, and Sequential Art outside the superhero genre. We don’t hate superheroes - we love them. We read them, and some of us follow them very, very closely. But - strong as they may be - they should not be burdened with carrying the weight of the entire medium. We are attempting to shine a light on comics that don’t fall into the usual format, titles that slip from the mainstream. We are also going to keep a close eye on the comic book industry, as well as artists and writers that interest us. We’ll bring you weekly reviews of comics we actually read, as well as legacy stories from years past. We'll get you interviews with creators that might not be favored by bigger sites. We'll give you news about the books you love, and previews of the books you are about to. We want to talk to the community, to get people interested in stories outside of the mainstream.

We love words and pictures.

We are Spandexless.