Comics

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Roll Local with Memphis Made Comic, Stoned Ninja

Posted By on Wed, Nov 21, 2018 at 11:43 AM

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Gabriel DeRanzo and Greg Cravens seem like unlikely partners. Cravens is a veteran illustrator, cartoonist, and comic strip creator. DeRanzo has a sterling reputation as a bartender, but when he and Cravens met at 901 Comics in a networking session for artists interested in contributing to Bad Dog comics first Memphis-made anthology of graphic fiction, he had no idea what he was doing. What did the inexperienced DeRanzo possess that nobody else had? A completed script. According to Cravens, who's been around the block a time or two, that made all the difference.

“Other people may have had ideas,” Cravens says, explaining why he gravitated toward DeRanzo. “But he had a completed 5-page script.” According to all involved, it wasn’t a very good 5-page script, but it was a spark — a beginning. There were plots to be hammered out and characters to develop. There was also an ethos to explore: The weed should be freed — and it would be too if not for those meddling, “Pharmaceutical companies, the alcohol industry, and organized crime," and money spent on “politicians to keep it illegal.”

Enter the Stoned Ninja. 

The meet-up where DeRanzo and Cravens first teamed up is part of the origin story for 901’s house brand, Bad Dog Comics, which published its second anthology earlier this month. Bad Dog will soon publish the second installment of DeRanzo and Cravens’ Stoned Ninja, which is currently receiving its finishing touches. Meanwhile, the creators continue to produce t-shirts and other fun, useful merchandise that, if things go according to plan, may ultimately position Stoned Ninja for wider distribution than most indie comics ever see. What has Stoned Ninja got that other indie comics don't? Its own brand of ninja-approved, 100 percent hemp rolling papers, that's what. 
Samples from 901 Comics Anthology Vol. 2
  • Samples from 901 Comics Anthology Vol. 2

“When I was a kid, comics were in every grocery store and quickie mart in the country, and they aren’t anymore,” Cravens says explaining the potential for head shops to expand comic distribution. “The market has narrowed down to where you have to go hard target search for a comic shop to go get comics,” he says. “What we’ve got is something we can sell in another store to another targeted audience. So, that’s the pitch when we approach larger publishers. There are potentially 25,000 more shops you can put your comic into, if you’ll just pay attention.”

“Given the content of the comic I figured there was no reason to go less than 100% pure hemp,” DeRanzo says of Stoned Ninja rolling papers. “So it’s as good a quality paper as anything out there and we’re offering fun packaging. On the inside flap there’s a comic and we’re going to change that flap every time we put in a new order. So Stoned Ninja will be like Bazooka Joe Bubble gum.”
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Stoned Ninja was originally inspired by the classic Kung Fu comedy Drunken Master, and developed as a means to explore pot culture beyond the usual burnout stereotypes.

“So I asked myself, if there can be a Drunken Master, why can’t there be a Stoned Ninja?” DeRanzo says.


Don’t anticipate kung fu Cheech and Chong, or Jackie Chan-inspired antics, even. Stoned Ninja is packed with fun stuff. Pizza boxes (featuring DeRanzo’s face) make cameos. The hero, Japanese American college student Kazunori Takagi, appears and disappears in clouds of dank smelling smoke. But, for being the story of a young man granted ninja superpowers by toking on a special strain of marijuana, the narrative content is fairly straight-faced.

For 10-years DeRanzo daydreamed about Stoned Ninja while he tended bar. “I had this insane amount of story content for movie ideas,” he says says. Comics weren’t in the plan so when Shannon Merritt from 901 said he wanted to start making comics DeRanzu said, “That’s great, I will buy your comics!”

“No,” Merritt answered. “I want you to help me make these comics.”

One problem: DeRanzo couldn’t draw. Okay, two problems: He had no experience writing either. But the characters were there. And after a decade of thinking about it, the stories were there too. So DeRanzo leaned on Cravens’ experience in graphic storytelling, and Cravens trusted DeRanzo’s vision. Inker Josh Lindsey has since joined the team.

“I drew the knives all wrong,” Cravens says, admitting a learning curve of his own. DeRanzo gave his illustrator some sharp examples as a gift. “I nearly cut my toe off twice,” Cravens says of his sample cutlery experience. But now his knives are proper.
Samples from Stoned Ninja
  • Samples from Stoned Ninja


"Right now we're trying to build the first six issue story arc at a pace that lets us be normal people. Once it's done we plan to release it on a monthly schedule. Ideally going mass distribution," DeRanzo says.

For the completely appropriate price of $4.20, comics are available locally at 901 Comics, Whatever stores, The Wild Hare smoke shop, Tobacco Zone, and Memphis Made Brewery. Stoned Ninja starter packs, which include a comic book, a t-shirt, and a pack of Stoned Ninja rolling papers are available online at stonedninjacomics.com.
DeRanzo, Cravens, Lindsey
  • DeRanzo, Cravens, Lindsey

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Thursday, May 3, 2018

Memphis comic book creators launch Rise of the Golden Dragon

Posted By on Thu, May 3, 2018 at 4:52 PM

I was biking around South Main a few Sundays back when I spied some nifty-looking Afrofuturist art at Art Village Gallery. So I popped in to discover that wasn't the only thing going on. Artists/comic creators John Cooley and Erwin Prasetya were also giving away copies of a new, locally produced comic book titled Rise of the Golden Dragon.
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Who says you can't judge a book by its cover? This issue is cool.

The spreads are generous, thoughtfully broken down and nicely drawn. 
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The action's great. 
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And the details are nice.
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The story, which has a light tone and never takes itself too seriously, is focused around a pair of warrior "dragons" who are rooting out ancient supernatural evil wherever they find it. Think Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, and tracksuit Iron Fist meets John Constantine in an Enter the Dragon remake.

The lightly worn pop-culture references don't stop there. Issue 1/12 was action-packed and full of gags, but still managed to lay the foundations of a sprawling story and establish a compelling set of personalities. And c'mon— Ninja exorcists? That's got all kinds of potential.

The self-published Rise of the Golden Dragon is slated to come out once a month. Find out more about that and other titles at Fanboycomics.com


Friday, April 27, 2018

Dammit Gannett: Fabulous Prizes Edition

Posted By on Fri, Apr 27, 2018 at 9:27 AM

Picking on the Commercial Appeal used to be its own reward, back in the day when they were the big corporate Goliath and we were the little dude with a slingshot. As the paper has continued to decline, it's become a weekly, though not entirely joyless, chore. Still, it's good to feel appreciated. So thanks, Jim Palmer, for this cartoon inspired by Fly on the Wall's regular "Dammit Gannett" feature.
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Jim's a first generation Memphis Flyer vet who contributed illustrations for columns by Lydel Sims. He's the creator of Memphis' own Li'l E and your Pesky Fly's very favorite cartoon about the journalist's life. 
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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Go to Helvis

Posted By on Wed, Oct 25, 2017 at 5:38 PM

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If you're planning to check out Mike McCarthy's Destroy Memphis documentary, about the failed effort to save Libertyland, or at least Elvis' favorite rollercoaster, the Zippin Pippin, you might also want to grab a copy of McCarthy's recently complied comic book HELVIS No. 1 (Millenia Comeback Special).

This erratically-published story of a pop-eyed zombie Elvis walks a weird line between personal and regional mythology, and a kind of underground journalism, chronicling the death and decay of a Memphis at the heart of American pop culture. 
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McCarthy created HELVIS in 1988 when he was still living with his parents, seventeen miles outside of Tupelo. The first (unfinished) version of the comic wasn't published for 24-years though the ghoulish, trash-rock horror story served as an inspiration for McCarthy's first film, Damselvis, Daughter of HELVIS, and its influence can be felt on in other films like Teenage Tupelo, The Sore Losers, and Superstarlet A.D.


The new, "complete" Helvis, currently available at 901 Comics, reflects McCarthy's interests from  Sexploitation films, Mad magazine,  and rock-and-roll to historic preservation. One sequence finds Helvis disoriented, mad, and riding the Zippin Pippin in Green Bay, WS. Although it reflects a less than happy ending for Memphis, the comic's a sweet Halloween treat for your favorite trickster, and the perfect companion piece for Destroy Memphis.

Worth it for the centerfold . 
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Saturday, June 10, 2017

When Penguin & Mr. Freeze Came to Memphis: RIP Adam West

Posted By on Sat, Jun 10, 2017 at 12:14 PM

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Adam West had one heckuva ride in this Batmobile we call life. He was  88-years-old when he went out with a BANG, POW, and ZAP. West, most famous for his role as the Caped Crusader in the 1966 Batman TV series, enjoyed a second career as a voice actor, returning to Gotham City as The Gray Ghost in what's possibly the greatest episode of Batman: the Animated Series ever. He also voiced Mayor Grange in The Batman, and reprised his role as the Dark Knight in 2016's Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders.

And then there was that time he came to Memphis to thwart a plot by Penguin and Mr. Freeze and wound up face to face with Jerry Lawler in a Superman costume. The encounter is so Memphis it has to be seen to be believed, so here it is.


And here's a photo of Lawler in his own personal Batmobile.  
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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

George Perez: Cool Things About Memphis Comic Expo Part II

Posted By on Wed, Oct 19, 2016 at 5:14 PM

George Perez, Wonder Woman
  • George Perez, Wonder Woman
Man, when it comes to George Perez, where do you start? Avengers? New Teen Titans? JLA? Crisis on Infinite Earths? Wonder Woman? The Infinity Gauntlet? His entirely reasonable reasons for wanting to put the New 52 Superman in his rearview mirror?

(I suppose I could start with he's coming to the Memphis Comic Expo, but that's a little too easy)

As an artist and writer working in the majors, few individuals have done more to refine and redefine the two big superhero universes. He's been doing it for 40-years too, so, even when you think about his greatest hits, there's a lot to choose from. But for me, I think this is a story best told from the beginning. Or, the very near beginning when Perez became a regular artist working on Marvel's Deadly Hands of Kung Fu

I don't know how to rank all the various sub-elements in the SuperOmniVerse. Obviously heroes are on top of the food chain. Then comes magic and monsters, maybe. Then a mix of mainstays that fall in and out of fashion — martial arts, western, war, romance etc. None of it's pure anymore, it's all mixed up. But there have been periods when Marvel Kung Fu was more or less its own thing and some of the coolest pulp around. Hopefully Netflix Iron Fist — an often tertiary hero also getting some play in Marvel animated properties aimed at younger audiences — will show some love for a super comics tradition, diluted in the bigger universe of powers. This a long way of saying, I loved this stuff as a kid, and was a particular fan of a character called White Tiger. He's the first Puerto Rican superhero, with all sorts of crisis and conflict, and his story was forged in a white hot crucible of magic and martial arts. Perez co-created the Tiger with Bill Mantlo.

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The female White Tiger — the best part about the cloying Ultimate Spider-Man animated series (if it has a best part) — is the original Tiger's daughter. But now I'm way off track and far away from the point I originally wanted to make, which is this: The man can draw figures in action like few others. And, to the degree the comics reflected Kung Fu cinema, you can see its influence throughout Perez's work. Particularly in quick, intimate, funny moments in the midst of all out brawls. 
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I don't even know if I could recognize Perez if he wasn't wearing one of his trademark wife-made Hawaiian-style shirts covered in pictures of superheroes or robots or — it's always something. It's so evident that before anything else, he's a big, big geek (in the best way), and a big, big fan. And while I was just praising his smaller moments, he may be best known for arranging a lot of characters in a single frame. If you want the Avengers going toe to toe with the Squadron Supreme: Perez. If you want to write a series that includes every major and minor character in the DC Universe: Perez. 

It's probably worth mentioning his co-invention of the New Teen Titans with marvelous Marv Wolfman. If only because the series was able to do for DC what the X-Men were doing for Marvel. And because it's awesome. 

You can't blame a master for those who came after him. I can hardly bear the animated Teen Titans Go series that just won't go away. But I could probably watch Perez draw Cyborg all day.

All that and I haven't even gotten around to the writing. If you know you know. If you don't, he's well worth your Google search. 

Fun interview with Perez here. And just in case you can watch him draw Cyborg all day too, here you go... 


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Love & Rockets: Cool Things at Memphis Comic Expo Part I

Posted By on Tue, Oct 18, 2016 at 3:05 PM

Love. Rockets. Etc.
  • Love. Rockets. Etc.

Ladies and gentlemen, you are now leaving Riverdale... 

You won't be seeing Betty or Veronica or Archie or Moose on any of the clean cut  white bread youngsters once so associated with comic books for readers more interested in ordinary (and not so ordinary) life than superheroes, high adventure, and daring do.

We're on our way to Southern California, and uncharted points beyond America's Southern border. 
Life in Riverdale
  • Life in Riverdale

It's hard to say that the seminal 80's/90's-era alt comic Love & Rockets is unprecedented. As suggested above, in some regards, it's not as big a leap from Archie comics as one might think — although it is a big one. And over time, as characters have come, gone, grown, and diminished, a more direct line might be drawn to one of America's longest running newspaper strips — Gasoline Alley. But with it's punk rock ethos,  a multiethnic, variously sexual, heavily Latino cast of characters, and an odd, sometimes unsettling mix of real life and science fiction, it's also fair to say that Love & Rockets is one of the most groundbreaking  and influential serialized comics in the history of the medium. 

It's only tangentially related, but probably worth mentioning, that the title was also lifted by former members of the pioneering goth band Bauhaus. Sure, they only had one hot 100 hit, but moving out of the punk/goth milieu, Love & Rockets pretty much set at least one of the goal posts for what would become "alt" or "college rock." That's a simplification, of course, but this is a quick hit blog post and I'm okay with that. 


One of the most interesting things about Love & Rockets is how it toys with reader bias and challenges ideas about race and gender. Characters drawn nearly in the style of hyper-sexualized superheroes (but in normal clothes) may elicit eye rolls — until you spend time with the characters' stories, and come to grips with the meaning of these exaggerations. It's complicated, nuanced storytelling that takes place in a fictional America (and not America) where the rules of reality are just a little off — and so right on. Great art, great characters, great storytelling. And the story of the comic is very nearly as compelling as the stories the comic tells. 

And guess what? Both brothers behind this fantastic Eisner-winning title will be at the Memphis Cook Convention Center this weekend for the Memphis Comic Expo: Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez.
Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez
  • Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez
"They have been producing their Love & Rockets comics since 1982 and they were way ahead of the curve," says Expo founder Don Juengling, in an emailed conversation abut the up and coming event. "Gilbert's stories featured a huge cast of characters set in the fictional village of Palomar. Jaime's tended to be set in Los Angeles. The stories featured a diversity of characters previously unseen in comics. These are stories that feature a large Latino cast and they even had gay characters. And often blend magical realism into their dramas. And remember this is an independent comic that started in the early 80's and has managed to survive to this day."

Not only has it stuck around (following some breaks here and there). Love & Rockets, which has mostly been published in the form of graphic novels and collections in recent years, is returning to its original comic book format this week. That's a cool thing if there ever was one. 

For a fantastic interview with both brothers, click here. 
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