Friday Feature: Francesco Francavilla

There’s something really, truly, incomparably wonderful about being full of leftover Thanksgiving turkey and drifting off to sleep on a couch with a comic book in your lap, while the rest of the world gets into fights over electronics at Wal-Marts around the world.

That pleasure was all mine today with a book that I picked up on a whim because, you guessed it, the cover looked really, really cool.

That book was Black Beetle: No Way Out.

I don’t want to focus too much on this, but the production quality of this particular hardback is just way ahead of the curve. The cover price is $20, but it has the feel of a $35 “special edition” book. I think Dark Horse is taking a page out of Archaia’s manual – If your product looks professional and well put together, people will pick it up. Once it’s in their hand, you’re halfway to the sale, even relatively unheard-of creators will get a second or third look when these high-quality books are on the shelf.

Anyway – moving on. Black Beetle is a pulp-mystery-superhero adventure-drama with that old radio-play style that you seem to either love or hate. I happen to fall in the “love” category, so these pulpy adventure stories in almost every iteration I encounter them.

But the true selling point of Black Beetle is the highly stylized, somewhat retro, never disappointing art of Francesco Francavilla. A couple of seconds on his website will show you better than I can the true love that Francavilla has for the pulp genre.

Francavilla is the writer as well as the artist on this title, which is always a treat, and his love for pulp mysteries shines through clearly in the writing as well.

Even beyond the Black Beetle book, Francavilla’s art is always a pleasure to encounter. He frequently creates lobby cards and movie posters for some of his favorite other works. Notably, he created a poster image for tons of episodes of “Breaking Bad.”

He contributed art to the impeccable Batman: Black Mirror, which otherwise featured art from Jock and the writing of Scott Snyder (and it’s about Dick Grayson while he was Batman, and if you’ve previously only Bruce Wayne Batman, you should really check out Dick Grayson Batman).

Do yourself a favor if you’re a fan of comics or pulp adventure stories, and check out Francesco Francavilla’s work wherever you can get it.

Except Archie.

Ok, fine, Archie too.

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Friday Feature: Erika Moen

Long before I started spending my babysitting money on graphic novels, I became acquainted with sequential art through the wonderfully egalitarian medium of the webcomic.   As a teenager cultivating my taste for bizarre humor, I loved webcomics like Cat and Girl, Scary Go Round, Dinosaur Comics,  and  Wigu.

In college my comic book money ran out again, and I found myself in search of a webcomic that could fill the void in my life.  I was lucky enough to discover a webcomic jewel, Bucko, by Jeff Parker and Erika Moen.  It’s the tale of a hapless Portlander who finds himself solving a crime with the help of Etsy crafters, a Suicide Girl, and a gang of Juggalos.  If you’re not sold on that description, our tastes obviously diverge considerably.  

When I finished Bucko, I needed more, so I went back to Erika Moen’s first webcomic, DAR: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary.  DAR is the opposite of Bucko; a sincere picture of a young woman’s journey through life.  Funny, heartfelt, and honest, it stands up with the work of Ariel Schrag and Alison Bechdel in the tradition of queer women’s autobiographical comics.  Since Moen wrote and drew DAR over the course of several years, the reader gets to see her artistic style evolve and mature, mirroring Moen’s own personal growth.

Moen’s current project is as unique and innovative as her work has been in the past: Oh Joy Sex Toy (nsfw) is a sex-positive, feminist webcomic that discusses sex toys, queer-friendly porn, pole dancing, safe sex, birth control, and a whole array of  interesting sexuality-based topics. Moen’s illustrated characters are diverse in body type, gender, race, and sexuality, so unlike mainstream sex ed and erotica, Oh Joy Sex Toy truly reflects the rich diversity of  human sexual experience.  It’s fun and educational for adults of all genders, and fills the important role of providing easy-to-understand, shame-free information about sexual health.  

Between Bucko, DAR, and Oh Joy Sex Toy, you’re bound to find a comic by Erika Moen that you love – and they’re all available free of charge through her website, www.erikamoen.com.  It’s great to know that when I can’t afford to keep up with all 15 X-Men titles, there’s still a whole world of comic joy out there for me to discover, being created by people with delightfully unique perspectives.