Saturday, May 25, 2013

Islamic superheroes.

Islamic inspired comic superheroes fight for positive values

by Naif Al-Mutawa

Filed under: Entertainment | 
Aug 24 2010

Superman, Spiderman… Jabbar

Kuwaiti author’s superheroes could help change the way the world sees Islam
  • By Samia Badih, Staff Reporter
  • August 24, 2010
  • “The aha moment happened in a cab ride in London exactly seven years ago,” Al Mutawa told Gulf News
  • Image Credit: Supplied
Dubai: Seven years ago, Naif Al Mutawa wasn’t really looking for a new business opportunity. He simply wanted to make a difference.
A writer, a clinical psychologist, an entrepreneur and a family man, Al Mutawa is the creator of THE 99, the comic book superheroes born of an Islamic archetype. The name comes from the 99 attributes of Allah in Islam.
Today, THE 99 has received international attention. American President Barack Obama described THE 99 as “the most innovative response” for capturing the imaginations of so many young people through the message of tolerance, during his speech at the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship this year. Forbes magazine has also described THE 99 as “one of the top 20 trends sweeping the globe.”
In October, 2010, the Justice League of America, the fictional team of superheroes published by DC Comics, will be teaming up with THE 99.
Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman will be joining forces with the characters from THE 99 like Jabbar, Jami, Batina and their colleagues.
“The aha moment happened in a cab ride in London exactly seven years ago,” Al Mutawa told Gulf News during a phone interview. His sister was pushing him to go back to writing. Al Mutawa had written books for children in the mid 90s, but the thought of going back to writing for children wasn’t on his mind at the time.
The idea was triggered by a fatwa that came out at the time against Pokemon (a kids TV show) where some Arab countries said it was allegedly unislamic, he said.
“My next thought was ‘My God, what has happened to Islam and who are these people making random decisions for my children?’”
As a father of five sons, Al Mutawa was worried about who his kids were going to use as role models.
“I wasn’t happy with how Islam was being seen by others and I didn’t like how Islam was seeing itself.”
That’s when the idea hit and within a few months Al Mutawa raised $7 million (Dh25.7 million) from investors from around the world, including his home country Kuwait, to create THE 99.
He decided this project has to be a world-class project or it wasn’t worth his time or his investors’ money.
Since Al Mutawa’s circles look like triangles as he described it, the team of illustrators behind THE 99 is made up of former and current Marvel and DC Comics writers and artists. It’s a team that has also worked on comic books such as Spiderman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman.
“I knew conceptually what I wanted. I knew the characters had to be from 99 different countries, very diverse and not religious.”
Jami the Assembler, Noora the Light, Widad the Loving are three of the superheroes of THE 99. They work together to fight stereotypes, extremism and intolerance.
When asked why he decided to follow through with this, Al Mutawa said that there’s a lot of messaging involved in what he has done and is doing today.
“Anyone can do this,” he said. “Here’s a guy who came up with an idea, raised money and created almost a thousand jobs and was able to create global impact right out of the neck of the desert.”
Al Mutawa also did this because he, as a moderate Muslim, wanted to take on the extremist. THE 99 is his way of fighting back.
If you link enough positive messaging to the same thing that the bad guys are linking negative messaging then they become bad people with bad agendas, he said.
But it didn’t all come easy to Naif Al Mutawa. While the funding came from people who knew him and believed in his ability to pull it off, the time investment put into this project has been tremendous. It has also taken away a lot of time with family.
Lifestyle balance
“It’s tough,” he said. “But I try to balance it out. One in 10 business plans get funded and one in 20 make it, but that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t try.”
Al Mutawa said that entrepreneurship is very much needed in the Arab world even if one idea creates only three jobs or ten jobs.
Published in eight different languages, THE 99 has bigger plans for the future.
Teshkeel Media, which Al Mutawa is the founder and CEO of, will be partnering up with Endemol Group to produce an animated television series for THE 99. Endemol is the company that produced Big Brother, Deal or No Deal, Star Academy and other popular television shows.
“Animation was always in the cards, but I didn’t want to invest money in creating animation that only my children were going to watch,” he said. “I wanted distribution as well.”
Three seasons will be turned into an animated series for global audiences. “We finished the first one and we’re in the middle of season two.”
Although details about when the series will air haven’t been announced yet, the series will be in different countries including the United States and Turkey.
Hollywood talks
Teshkeel Media is also amid talks for a major Hollywood film production of THE 99.
“Ultimately what we believe we have is the next Spiderman and Batman.”
If so many kids from various religions and backgrounds can self-identify with the series, then Al Mutawa would have achieved his objective.
“What we share in common as human beings is a lot more than what we don’t,” he said. “That’s the same as the lesson from Spiderman, Superman and Batman.”

Islam-inspired comic superheroes fight for peace

By Naif Al-Mutawa, Special to CNN
Fifteen years ago I walked out of a mosque in silent protest of the imam’s sermon. Outside, the heat of the desert sun could hardly match the fire of the rhetoric being spewed forth inside.
The imam was railing against the foreign enemies of Islam and the sinners within. With every genocidal rant came an “amen” from the congregation. Some regrettably came from the heart. Others came from those on autopilot putting in their “time” at the mosque to fulfill their quota of good deeds. Still others were a tradeoff: penance for their sins, an economy of convenience that was born long before Islam and long sold as the path to heaven of other faiths.
It was not the first time I had heard terrible notions of fear and hate peddled in the name of my religion. But that day was different. That day I felt complicit. I had reached a point of intellectual critical mass where my love for my religion overwhelmed my sitting in silence any longer. As I stood up, I stared at the imam to make sure he knew that at least one person would no longer accept the recipe of his revenge.
Islam and Christianity were born in the same neighborhood under similar conditions 600 years apart.
Christianity came about at a time when harsh rulers subjugated their people, making already difficult lives nearly impossible. The people responded to the message of Jesus as they did 600 years later to the message of Mohammad. Both Christianity and Islam offered simple messages to the poor: Live by the rules and your rewards will come later.
Islam came of age at a time of open warfare between what was loosely called Arabia and the occupying Roman Byzantine Empires. It was a religion for the willing believer, further steeled by the Christian Crusades of the 11th and 12th centuries and the Medieval, Papal and Spanish Inquisitions.
Many imams today are still preaching in the rhetoric of the seventh century without regard to contemporary reality. But unlike Jesus and Mohammad, they preach not of future rewards for living a just life as Allah promised. Instead, they offer their rewards to those who devote themselves to the genocide of those who they have anointed our enemies. They prefer not to leave Judgment Day to Allah, instead they substitute themselves as a sort of lower trial court.
We are now in the Muslim month of Ramadan, a time of dawn to dusk fasting intended to teach Muslims about patience, humility, and spirituality. During Ramadan, more than a billion Muslims will congregate at their mosques.
It is finally time that all of us became more accountable for that which our children will be hearing; tiny differences setting us apart rather than celebrating those positive things that bind all good people together. If we allow small-minded men to spout fear and hate in the name of our religion, we will enable them to brainwash another generation as they did our own. And soon, the next generation will fall into a pit of dissonance. To sit by silently makes us all complicit.
As the father of five sons, I worry about who they’re going to be using as role models.
I worry because all around me, even within my extended family, I see religion being manipulated. As a psychologist, I worry for the world in general, but worry about the perception of how people see themselves in my part of the world. Now, I’m a clinical psychologist. I’m licensed in New York state. I trained at Bellevue Hospital’s survivors of political torture program. And I heard one too many stories of people growing up to idolize their leadership, only to end up being tortured by their heroes. And torture’s a terrible enough thing as it is, but when it’s done by your hero, that just breaks you in so many ways.
I left Bellevue, went to business school and started the comic book series “THE 99.” THE 99 references the 99 attributes of Allah in the Koran, things like generosity and mercy and foresight and wisdom.
Fifteen hundred years after the birth of Christ, men representing the Catholic Church poured hot lead down the throats of Muslims and Jews to get them to accept Jesus as their Savior. Fourteen hundred years after Gabriel conveyed God’s message to Muhammad through the Qur’an, a tiny minority of self-aggrandizing Muslims are using the lead of bullets to kill untold numbers in an unspeakable insult to name of Islam.
Today, through THE 99, this proud Muslim is using the lead of his pencil to take a stand. For all our sakes, I hope the pencil really is mightier than the sword.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Campfire Graphic Novels.

Campfire Graphic Novels to Conduct Talking in Panels: The Art of Story Telling Workshop: Call for Entries

You must be reading a lot of graphic novels, but do you know the techniques and style, which if developed can make you a graphic novel creator? You need not look anywhere else to learn it because ‘Talking in Panels: The Art of Story Telling’ Workshop by Campfire Graphic Novels will show you the way!
As all the comic lovers are gearing up for Comic Con Bangalore which is taking off on the 1st of next month, Campfire Graphic Novels is making its mark at this comic con season with the launch of their graphic novel Julius Caesar and is calling for entries for its new workshop on creating graphic novels in association with Oxford Book Store!
This eight session workshop, all sessions being of an hour each, will be conducted by artist Lalit Kumar Sharma and editor Aadithyan Mohan. Lalit is an artist with 10 years of experience in the field of comic books and graphic novels and has around 40 books to his credit. For Campfire, he has worked on Muhammad Ali: King of the Ring and The Prisoner of Zenda, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to name a few.
Recently entering the comic industry as an editor, Aadithyan Mohan has just finished working on his debut project which was the graphic novel adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Prior to comics, he has been a part of several theatre groups and a theatre workshop and has directed a few plays, also done freelance voice over work in different contexts.
Lalit and Aadithyan, in this workshop, will make the participants aware about the proper approach towards creating good sequential art and stories; teaching them to groom and polish their story ideas, and allow the participants to present them in their chosen visual forms, combined with text.
Speaking to’s Zeenia Boatwala about this workshop, Munendra Patanker, Marketing Manager, Campfire Graphic Novels, shares, “We bring our expertise in this field, and Oxford book store give us the space and means by which we can extend this expertise to anybody who wishes to participate in the workshop. A lot of people know how to draw perfect anatomical representations, and amazingly realistic renditions of the world around them and have amazing ideas in their minds that can be made into well told stories. But a truly good work in the field of comics and graphic novels comes out of these two elements working together. In this workshop we will discuss ideas and how an artist or a writer can best present those ideas interestingly.”
An interesting range of topics will be delivered in the workshop which circles around the process of drawing a comic book page, the process of writing for a comic book pag, Layout and composition, Story-boarding, Character design, Backgrounds, Drawing style and mood, Figure drawing and body language, Choreography of a situation, Drawing and words as tools for storytelling and the topics would be discussed in relation to storytelling and be presented in the sequential form.
Elaborating in depth about the topics, Munendra shares further by saying, “The process of drawing a comic book page will describe how the separate elements of a page come together. How panels interact and how they add to the storytelling. The process of writing for a comic book page will introduce how the script is broken down, and how it can be edited to achieve maximum impact. We will explain the processes creators’ use, from writing a story on a blank page to converting that to the final illustration of a comic book or graphic novel page. Different elements and concepts will be discussed, concentrating on how to make a simple situation interesting, creating settings that draw the reader in, and make compelling characters that move and act on the page for maximum effect. These ideas will be explained in such a manner that participants can seamlessly use these concepts in their own creations.”
The workshop fee is around INR 2500-3000 and for knowing more about the registrations; you may get in touch with Ms. Pia Sodhi calling her on +918882338116 or email at

Sunday, May 5, 2013


Digital Comic Startup Graphic India Wants to Develop New Superheroes

Digital comic book startup company Graphic India has gone through another round of fundraising and obtained enough capital to launch a new initiative. The company plans on rolling out a new generation of superheroes that appeal to the 700 million youths living in India. New apps are being developed for iOS, Android, and Windows 8 to facilitate the content delivery.
According to Graphic India, its core digital product will be its mobile apps, to be available via the freemium model. Those who download the apps will receive free content every week, with an option to upgrade and access the company’s entire library of hundreds of comics and videos.  The content will be available for a flat monthly subscription.
Graphic India has partnered with the king of comics, Stan Lee, in co-developing a superhero from India named Chakra The Invincible. Chakra tells the story of young Indian teenager, Raju Rai, a technology genius living in Mumbai. Determined to use science to unlock the secrets of human potential, Raju develops a technological suit that activates the mystical Chakras of the body, unleashing new found abilities and powers. This has already been successful for the company and currently they are exploring film options in Hollywood.
The big draw about Graphic India is the fact that it is developing superheroes indicative to the cultural norms. Really, GI is all about marketing its apps and heroes to be homegrown and appeal to youth all over the country. With 850 million smartphones and tablets currently being used, the future looks bright.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Super Commando Dhruva

Horror and a colorful

COMICS PANELNew comics releases include alternate-history fantasy-horror and a colorful foodie memoir

Every two weeks, Comics Panel covers recent notable releases along the entire comics spectrum, from superhero/mainstream comics to graphic novels/art comics.
According to cartoonist Tom Gauld, there are some characters guaranteed to improve any story: one-armed pianist; schoolgirl detective; young Hitler; drunk time-traveler; talking crab; angry philosopher; pirates; and beautiful amnesiac. That’s a funny list. What’s funnier, though, is the way Gauld draws each of these: as tiny icons, with dots for heads, thin lines for legs and arms, narrow triangular torsos, and just a few distinguishing characteristics. The drunk time-traveler is wearing a space helmet and has “booze bubbles” around him; the beautiful amnesiac has her hand at her chin, as though trying to remember; and so on. Describing Gauld’s little figures can’t possibly do them justice. He has a way of taking the rudiments of geometry and making characters that are hilariously recognizable.
You’re All Just Jealous Of My Jetpack (D&Q) collects some of the comic strips that Gauld has drawn for The Guardian’s book review section, which means that most of them have a literary bent, riffing on famous authors and genre conventions. Gauld imagines a Brontë sisters videogame, with Charlotte racing across the moor toward an angry, cane-wielding man; and he draws some of the characters left out of Kenneth Grahame’sThe Wind In The Willows, such as Prawny, Madame Aubergine, and Viscount Stout. He re-conceives Charles Dickens as Batman (complete with Dickensmobile) and cites “Mary’s Undersea Adventure” and “Space Jesus” as some of the apocryphal Bible stories. The jokes inYou’re All Just Jealous Of My Jetpack are quick one-pagers, dispatched in just a few panels, but they’re rooted in a love of the human side of books: the real people who write them and the fictional constructs who occupy them. That Gauld is able to get so much of that across with so little is like the most disarming, confounding magic trick. [NM]
Gauld’s gag cartoons are in the tradition of Gary Larson, B. Kliban, and scores ofNew Yorker contributors whose sense of humor and distinctive drawing styles defined their work more than any recurring characters. These kinds of cartoonists have become even more prevalent in the Internet era, since they can deliver the kind of day-brightening jokes that are easily passed along, relying on attitude and ideas, not backstory. Stand-up comedian Demetri Martin isn’t a web cartoonist by trade, but his gag-cartoon collection Point Your Face At This(Grand Central/Hachette) is very much in the post-Kliban absurdist/observational humor vein, with jokes about a time-traveler’s tombstone (born 2012, died 1927) and how every bag becomes a barf bag after it’s been vomited into. Point Your Face At This is nearly 300 pages long, and Martin would’ve done well to follow Kliban’s example and cull that to the best 100. Some of the cartoons here offer thudding self-criticism or social comment—a dog named “Reality” shitting out “reality TV” would be an egregious example of the latter—and some just read like notes for bits of Martin’s stage act. But the best jokes in Point Your Face At This wouldn’t work any other way but on the page, because they depend on the ways readers process visual information. Martin makes comparisons between similar-looking objects—such as a coat-button and a “disappointing pepperoni pizza”—and guides the eye through illustrations where the punchline is mostly in the presentation. With more discipline (or if he didn’t already have a well-paying job), Martin could become one of the sharpest gag cartoonists of this era. [NM]
Unlike Gauld and Martin, Lisa Hanawalt mixes her one-off gags with multi-page humor stories, more in the mode of Michael Kupperman in terms of taking an approach that mixes illustrated text pieces, short strips, sketches, and sprawling sagas. Kupperman provides an approving pull-quote to the back of Hanawalt’s My Dirty Dumb Eyes (D&Q), joined by Patton Oswalt, Julie Klausner, and Kristen Schaal. Hanawalt’s comic style is all her own, though, mixing surrealism, raw sex, cute critters, pop culture, and her own first-person reportage and movie reviews. In short form, Hanawalt ponders how the creatures in Avatar poop (out of their mouths, she presumes), and shows what happens when a lover finds a woman’s “d-spot.” (She turns into a dinosaur.) In longer form, she has an animal-headed couple discussing the self-doubt of artists, and imagines celebrity chefs engaging in liquid-nitrogen fights. The subject matter in My Dirty Dumb Eyes ranges from the bizarre to the commonplace, and Hanawalt’s art can be both jaw-droppingly beautiful and purposefully hideous. She’s the opposite of Gauld and Martin in some ways, expressive where they’re minimalist. But what matters most is that she’s very, very funny, making what in other hands would be shock-comedy come off more like a friend describing a crazy dream. [NM]
Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta are responsible for two of the best stories to come out of Marvel Comics in recent history (Fantastic Four #588FF#23), and they bring their unique chemistry to creator-owned comics with East Of West #1 (Image). Taking place in an alternate reality where the Civil War was extended because of the involvement of the newly formed Endless Indian Nation, and then concluded when a comet hit the United States, this new ongoing combines elements of spaghetti Western with apocalyptic fantasy-horror as it follows the biblical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse across a desolate future America. Clocking in at 36 pages for $3.50, it’s another impressive oversized debut from Image, a stylish journey through a world that’s alien but still recognizable. 
Jonathan Hickman’s first comics work debuted in 2006, and it’s astounding how prolific he’s become since The Nightly News. He’s currently ushering Marvel’s Avengers into the future with both of his Marvel Now! titles, and The Manhattan Projects hasn’t lost any steam as it moves into its second year. The sheer amount of content he’s putting out on a monthly basis is impressive, and hopefully he’ll be able to juggle all four titles and a summer event at Marvel without a dip in quality. Hickman has proven that he’s a capable genre-jumper, and he shows a strong understanding of Westerns with this first issue, beginning with the idea that the world is still a sprawling frontier full of possibilities. With artist Dragotta and colorist Frank Martin, Hickman has created an immersive alternate America with plenty of secrets still to explore. 
A lot of Hickman’s work has to do with the natural course of an event getting thrown off by a change in the process, and in East Of West, that event is the apocalypse. Death arrived before the rest of his Horsemen brethren, and has been wandering the plains with his American Indian companions The Wolf and The Crow. He’s hunting down people whom he previously faced in a showdown that’s briefly flashed back to but not explained, a mission that takes him from a bar on the Burning Plain to the office of the president, whom he kills at the end of the issue to get a head start on the apocalypse. Hickman provides extensive exposition on the history of this new continent but leaves an air of mystery around the characters, resulting in a story that’s dense with information but doesn’t feel overly stuffed. 
Dragotta’s art combines elements of Eastern and Western comics for visuals that are expansive and intricately detailed, yet still very expressive and dynamic. The design of this book’s world is reminiscent of Joss Whedon’s Firefly, incorporating sci-fi elements into a culture that’s still largely dominated by a late-19th-century aesthetic, creating a look that’s simultaneously retro and futuristic. Martin is one of the most talented colorists working in comics, layering shades to give the linework added dimension while constantly experimenting with unconventional color combinations. His work elevates Dragotta’s art, making the book’s visuals as enticing as the script. [OS]
With his multi-Eisner Award-winning success reviving Daredevil at Marvel and recent work with Indestructible Hulk and The Rocketeer: Cargo Of Doom, Mark Waid has become the go-to writer for helping readers remember why these characters have endured over the years. Last month at WonderCon, IDW announced that Waid would be writing The Rocketeer/Spirit: Pulp Friction this July with art from the legendary Paul Smith, but before that miniseries hits stands, Waid is turning his eye to another pulp superhero icon with Green Hornet #1 (Dynamite). Waid has a talent for incorporating exposition in his scripts without cutting into the story’s momentum, and by the end of the first five pages, readers are caught up on the basics of the hero, his civilian identity, and his mission. 
By beginning the issue talking about how easy technology has made communication in the present, Waid shows how important the newspaper was for getting information to the general public in the past. The editor of a newspaper controlled what shape that knowledge took, putting Britt Reid in an exceptionally powerful position when he’s not pretending to be Chicago’s most notorious criminal: the Green Hornet. Using his costumed identity to get incriminating information that he then prints in the news, the Green Hornet is pulling one big sting on the entire underworld, and Waid’s story makes sure that the stakes are high for a hero who’s in this deep. 
Artist Daniel Indro does notable work capturing the pre-WWII time period, and he stages action sequences that display why Green Hornet and his partner Kato have been able to build so much street cred. Indro’s figures can be a bit stiff at times, but he has a vision for the book that captures the down-to-earth elements of Waid’s script without letting go of the superhero spectacle. Like Waid’s other recent works, Green Hornet #1 is a great jumping-on point for both new readers and longtime fans of the character, revitalizing the character by going back to what makes him so intriguing in the first place. [OS]
Considering Valiant’s first book was released in May of last year, it’s impressive how much the upstart publisher has grown to become legitimate competition for Marvel and DC. Currently publishing five ongoing titles (with a sixth on the way in the revamped Quantum & Woody), Valiant has done strong work laying the foundation for a shared universe while introducing readers to updated versions of ’90s characters like X-O Manowar, Archer & Armstrong, and Shadowman. Grabbing creators that have established themselves in the worlds of both creator-owned and superhero comics, Valiant has established a focused core group of titles in a broad range of genres, ranging from satirical buddy comedy to fantasy sci-fi and espionage action. But with less than a year of stories in the can, it may seem a bit early for the publisher to have its first crossover. Luckily, Harbinger Wars #1 (Valiant) is executed with the same level of care as the rest of Valiant’s line.
A four-issue miniseries tying into Harbinger and BloodshotHarbinger Wars escalates the conflict between Toyo Harada’s Harbinger Foundation and Peter Stanchek’s Renegades when a new crop of psiots are freed from Project Rising Spirit by Bloodshot, a PRS weapon gone rogue. If none of that makes any sense, it will after reading the issue, as writers Joshua Dysart and Duane Swierczynski make sure readers know who all the major players are by the end of the first chapter. They’re joined by artists Clayton Henry, Clayton Crain, and Mico Suayan, and the story justifies the use of three different artists by having each tackle a different section. Henry is the main artist, providing clean, energetic linework that’s a solid jumping-off point for Crain’s sleek digital art and Suayan’s moody, hyper-detailed visuals. From the art to the writing, Harbinger Wars is a smooth package that ultimately benefits from the youth of the Valiant universe; these books are still in their formative years, and there’s a sense that anything can happen and no one is safe—something that’s lost at Marvel and DC, where certain characters will always return to a certain status quo, usually right around the time a superhero movie hits theaters. [OS]
Vertigo’s recent anthologies reviving classic DC titles have only gotten better with each new release, and Time Warp #1 (Vertigo) continues the trend as it brings prestigious writers Damon Lindelof and Gail Simone to Vertigo for the very first time. The overarching theme is time travel and manipulation, and Lindelof starts the book with a story starring DC Comics’ Rip Hunter: Time Master as he prepares for his death by dinosaur consumption. Teaming with artist Jeff Lemire, Lindelof’s installment is a quaint little meditation on mortality, with the crudeness of Lemire’s linework bringing a youthful energy to the page. “Quaint” is a good word to describe Simone’s story, too, which takes place in a candy shop that sells sweets that allow people to relive their fondest memories. The relationship between time and memory is a major theme, and there are as many stories about trying to reconnect with the past mentally as there are about traveling there physically. 
Killing Hitler is another major motif: There are stories about people dealing with the fallout of Hitler getting killed early, one from the point of view of his sister who suffers after the loss of her child brother, and the other following two men who are charged with fixing the time stream after each new assassination. Simon Spurrier and Michael Dowling deliver the highlight of the anthology with the story of two scientists who have extremely unorthodox means of insulting each other, a hilarious and heartbreaking look at how two men cope with a shared loss. Peter Milligan and M.K. Perker’s “She’s Not There” has the distinction of being the last story edited by former Vertigo executive editor Karen Berger, coincidentally involving a woman leaving a man who won’t give her the freedom she wants. Berger’s departure was a major blow for Vertigo, but Time Warp, along with the upcoming debut of a new Astro City ongoing under the mature-readers imprint, shows that Vertigo is beginning to move forward, however slowly. [OS]
Part autobiography, part essay, part cookbook, Lucy Knisley’s thoroughly winning whatsit Relish: My Life In The Kitchen (First Second) tells the story of her colorful upbringing by New York foodies. Knisley’s cartooning style is simplified but specific, with just enough detail to bring to life the urban apartments, upstate farming communities, and international destinations that she moved between throughout her girlhood—not to mention the many ingredients, utensils, and plated meals that Knisley renders with care. There’s a real sense of joy to Relish, as Knisley fondly recalls some of the best and worst meals of her life, and ruminates on why it’s as important to appreciate a McDonald’s french fry as it is to savor braised foie gras. But while Relish is light, it’s no throwaway. 
Knisley uses food memories as a way of exploring her own temperament, her relationship with her parents, and her coming-of-age. Some of these vignettes might’ve been better handled in third person rather in Knisley’s cheery autobio take. (For example, the story of how her best male friend discovered porn in Mexico on the same trip where Knisley got her first period would’ve been more poignant if the author weren’t directly explaining its meaning.) But it’s hard to quibble much withRelish, given Knisley’s openness and insight into how people use food to satisfy needs that they often don’t fully understand. As she contemplates whether cravings are biological or learned, and considers whether her love of junk food was a way of rebelling against her parents’ snobbier tastes, Knisley gives each morsel meaning. [NM] 
Don’t know who the big purple guy was in The Avengers’ post-credits sequence? Marvel figured as much, so it’s getting readers up to speed on Thanos by presenting his full origin for the first time in Thanos Rising #1 (Marvel), flashing back to his early days as a geeky kid on Titan who’s reluctant to embrace his destiny as an agent of death and destruction. The sheepish, wide-eyed young boy shown here is a far cry from the aggressive hulk he’ll become as an adult, and writer Jason Aaron begins to walk Thanos down that path as he gets his first taste of death. The narrative of an ignored, misunderstood child who grows up to be evil is a fairly tired one, most recently popping up in the pages of Before Watchmen and Aaron’s own Wolverine And The X-Men. What sets this story apart is the sense of dread, that creeping feeling that Thanos’ true nature just needs the right catalyst for it to come rushing to the surface. Simone Bianchi’s artwork has a heavy European influence that generates breathtaking sci-fi locations, but Simone Peruzzi’s coloring can get a little too dark and muddy on the page. The artwork is perfect for a digital screen, though, and the illumination allows the details of the colored linework to shine through. This may not be the Thanos that longtime readers are accustomed to, but Aaron and Bianchi are making an effort turn him into a sympathetic villain.Thanos Rising doesn’t succeed on every level, but it lays a strong foundation for the character that will be chipped away as the miniseries continues… [OS]
The latest edition of the satirical quarterly The Devastator does its part to keep print alive through old-fashioned gimmickry. The Devastator #7—the “spies” issue—comes with a decoder, so readers can check out the secret messages scrawled in the margins. That’s in keeping with the spirit of The Devastator, which is playful by nature, mixing text pieces, comics, ad parodies, charts and graphs, and fun little surprises. The big draw of issue #7 is a few sample pages ofBrent Spiner’s Tok-Warz, which Spiner describes as, “What if Star Trek took place on Earth, and what if they didn’t go anywhere?” But as always, The Devastator crew also taps some top cartooning talent, including Michael Kupperman (who provides the cover illustration), JoJo Ramos (who draws Marly Halpern-Graser’s breakdown of how sexy movie spies differ from the cubicle-dwelling drudgery of real espionage), and Elan’ Trinidad (who collaborates with Lee Keeler on a deconstruction of an ’80s Burger King Kids’ Club placemat). The parodies of spy movies and TV series aren’t as cutting as they could be, but on the whole this is another clever issue of a humor magazine that values good design as highly as good gags… [NM] 
Speaking of cloak-and-dagger, Modesty Blaise: The Girl In The Iron Mask (Titan) represents the 23rd collection of Peter O’Donnell’s globe-hopping British spy comic strip, collecting three full arcs drawn by Enrique Badía Romero in the early ’90s. These stories find the mysterious, super-capable adventurer Modesty exploring ancient temples in the Indian subcontinent, defying the mafia in Australia, and living out an Alexandre Dumas novel in the Swiss Alps. By this point in the run of Modesty Blaise—a strip that debuted in 1963—the plots had become more formulaic, but Romero’s art is both detailed and stylish, especially in the title story, which keeps cutting between external views of Modesty wearing an iron mask and cutaways to how she’s struggling inside of it. She’s in a tight spot, and she stayed there for weeks when these strips were originally published. With this book, readers have the advantage of being able to zip straight through, to see how Modesty survives to make it to her next crisis… [NM]
Gifted with the Crystal Fist, a superpowered brass knuckle of alien origin, Trevor K. Trevinski is having the time of his life playing videogames all day and timing the pizza-delivery guy so he can get free food if the man is late. Monkeybrain is light on superhero comics for a reason, and Knuckleheads #1 (Monkeybrain) offers a different take on the costumed crusader, one that’s a bit more lethargic. The lovechild of Fred Chao’s Johnny Hiro and a Judd Apatow bromantic comedy,Knuckleheads tells the story of Trev and his frustrated roommate Lance, who wants Trev to either get off his ass or give him the Crystal Fist and let him be an awesome superhero. Brian Winkeler’s script is largely a conversation between Trev, Lance, and the pizza guy, but the writer’s skill with witty banter keeps the pacing tight and constantly moving forward. It helps that he’s partnered with artist Robert Wilson IV, who draws expressive characters that nail the script’s comedic beats. And like all Monkeybrain books, the panels are laid out so that they can be read easily via guided view on a tablet or cell-phone screen. The publisher may not offer many superhero titles, but that helps fun and clever hero books likeKnuckleheads stick out in Monkeybrain’s diverse lineup of digital comics. [OS]

Jonathan Winters.

Groundbreaking improv comic Jonathan Winters dies

By JOHN ROGERS Associated Press on Apr 12, 2013, at 1:28 PM  
This May 1997 file photo shows comedian Jonathan Winters posing at a hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. DAMIAN DOVARGANES/AP File Photo

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LOS ANGELES — Jonathan Winters, the cherub-faced comedian whose breakneck improvisations and misfit characters inspired the likes of Robin Williams and Jim Carrey, has died. He was 87.

The Ohio native died Thursday evening at his Montecito, Calif., home of natural causes, said Joe Petro III, a longtime friend. He was surrounded by family and friends.

“He was just a great friend and I was very lucky to be able to work with him for all the years I did,” said Petro, an artist and printmaker who collaborated with Winters for decades on numerous art projects. “We’ve lost a giant and we’re really going to miss him.”

Winters was a pioneer of improvisational standup comedy, with an exceptional gift for mimicry, a grab bag of eccentric personalities and a bottomless reservoir of creative energy. Facial contortions, sound effects, tall tales — all could be used in a matter of seconds to get a laugh.

“Beyond funny, He invented a new category of comedic genius,” comedian Albert Brooks tweeted Friday.

On Jack Paar’s television show in 1964, Winters was handed a foot-long stick and he swiftly became a fisherman, violinist, lion tamer, canoeist, U.N. diplomat, bullfighter, flutist, delusional psychiatric patient, British headmaster and Bing Crosby’s golf club.

“As a kid, I always wanted to be lots of things,” Winters told U.S. News & World Report in 1988. “I was a Walter Mitty type. I wanted to be in the French Foreign Legion, a detective, a doctor, a test pilot with a scarf, a fisherman who hauled in a tremendous marlin after a 12-hour fight.”

The humor most often was based in reality — his characters Maude Frickert and Elwood P. Suggins, for example, were based on people Winters knew growing up in Ohio.

A devotee of Groucho Marx and Laurel and Hardy, Winters and his free-for-all brand of humor inspired Johnny Carson, Billy Crystal, Tracey Ullman and Lily Tomlin, among many others. But Williams and Carrey are his best-known followers.

Carson in particular lifted Winters’ Maude Frickert character almost intact for the long-running Aunt Blabby character he portrayed on “The Tonight Show.”

It was Williams, meanwhile, who helped introduce Winters to millions of new fans in 1981 as the son of Williams’ goofball alien and his earthling wife in the final season of ABC’s “Mork and Mindy.”

The two often strayed from the script.

“The best stuff was before the cameras were on, when he was open and free to create,” Williams once said. “Jonathan would just blow the doors off.”

Winters’ only Emmy was for best-supporting actor for playing Randy Quaid’s father in the sitcom “Davis Rules” (1991). He was nominated again in 2003 as outstanding guest actor in a comedy series for an appearance on “Life With Bonnie.”

He also won two Grammys: One for his work on “The Little Prince” album in 1975 and nother for his “Crank Calls” comedy album in 1996. He also won the Kennedy Center’s second Mark Twain Prize for Humor in 1999, a year after Richard Pryor.

Winters was sought out in later years for his changeling voice, and he contributed to numerous cartoons and animated films. Fittingly, he played three characters in the “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle” movie in 2000.

The Internet Movie Database website credits him as the voice of Papa in the forthcoming “The Smurfs 2” film. He continued to work almost to the end of his life, and to influence new generations of comics.

“No him, no me. No MOST of us, comedy-wise,” tweeted comic Patton Oswalt.

Winters had made television history in 1956, when RCA broadcast the first public demonstration of color videotape on “The Jonathan Winters Show.”

The comedian quickly realized the possibilities, author David Hajdu wrote in The New York Times in 2006. He soon used video technology “to appear as two characters, bantering back and forth, seemingly in the studio at the same time. You could say he invented the video stunt.”

Winters was born Nov. 11, 1925, in Dayton, Ohio. Growing up during the Depression as an only child whose parents divorced when he was 7, Winters spent a lot of time entertaining himself.

Winters, who himself battled alcoholism in his younger years, described his father as an alcoholic. But he found a comedic mentor in his mother, radio personality Alice Bahman.

“She was very fast. Whatever humor I’ve inherited I’d have to give credit to her,” Winters told the Cincinnati Enquirer in 2000.

Winters joined the Marines at 17 and served two years in the South Pacific. He returned to study at the Dayton Art Institute, helping him develop keen observational skills. At one point, he won a talent contest (and the first prize of a watch) by doing impressions of movie stars.

After stints as a radio disc jockey and TV host in Ohio from 1950-53, he left for New York, where he found early work doing impressions of John Wayne, Cary Grant, Marx and James Cagney, among others. One night after a show, an older man sweeping up told him he wasn’t breaking any new ground by mimicking the rich or famous.

“He said, ‘What’s the matter with those characters in Ohio? I’ll bet there are some far-out dudes that you grew up with back in Ohio,’” Winters told the Orange County Register in 1997.

Two days later, he cooked up one of his most famous characters: the hard-drinking, dirty old woman Maude Frickert, modeled in part on his own mother and an aunt.

Appearances on Paar’s show and others followed and Winters soon had a following. And before long, he was struggling with depression and drinking.

“I became a robot,” Winters told TV critics in 2000. “I almost lost my sense of humor ... I had a breakdown and I turned myself in (to a mental hospital). It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

Winters was hospitalized for eight months in the early 1960s. It’s a topic he rarely addressed and never dwelled on.

“If you make a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year and you’re talking to the blue-collar guy who’s a farmer 200 miles south of Topeka, he’s looking up and saying, ‘That bastard makes (all that money) and he’s crying about being a manic depressive?’” Winters said.

When he got out, there was a role as a slow-witted character waiting in the 1963 ensemble film “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”

“I finally opened up and realized I was in charge,” Winters told PBS interviewers for 2000’s “Jonathan Winters: On the Loose.” “Improvisation is about taking chances, and I was ready to take chances.”

Roles in other movies followed, as did TV shows, including his own.

While show business kept Winters busy, the former art school student was also a painter and writer.

“I find painting a much slower process than comedy, where you can go a mile a minute verbally and hope to God that some of the people out there understand you,” he told U.S. News and World Report in 1988. “I don’t paint every day. I’m not that motivated. I don’t do anything the same every day. Discipline is tough for a guy who is a rebel.”

Among his books is a collection of short stories called “Winters’ Tales” (1987).

“I’ve done for the most part pretty much what I intended — I ended up doing comedy, writing and painting,” he told U.S. News. “I’ve had a ball. And as I get older, I just become an older kid.”

Winters’ wife, Eileen, died in 2009. He is survived by two children, Lucinda Winters and Jay Winters.