Ryan’s comics are one of the rare examples of a book that makes me want to dig through my old comics to reread everything else the artist has done. Because I like his books, sure, but also because he’s one of the few people working who keeps most of his comics in a self-contained universe; everything with “S.F.” on the cover or in the title is all part of the same story. Granted, he says that these are entirely new characters so you don’t need to go back to anything, but even if that’s completely true I still want to go back and see how everything that’s come before runs together if I read them all at once. So, once again, I’m accepting offers for unpaid interns who want to organize over a dozen long comic boxes full of mini comics. And a few assorted boxes. Possibly random bags here and there that somehow have comics in them too. Did I mention unpaid? <ahem> Hey, how about this comic? This is the story of a lonely lizard man who’s roaming the galaxy by himself. He eventually realizes that he’ll need fuel and runs through his options on how to get it; the short version is that all of his options come with varying levels of risk. So he lucks out and stumbles across an asteroid field with the ore he needs to refuel, but alas! It has been claimed with “dibs” from some human settlers. The lizard man isn’t clear on the exact definition of “dibs,” which leads to him breaking off a piece of ore for himself, which naturally leads to some irate humans coming after him with their space lasers. The rest of the comic is a lengthy space battle, occasionally broken up with talking as one side tries desperately to talk the other side down. And just in case I somehow haven’t mentioned it in previous reviews of his work, Ryan’s use of colors is unmatched by damned near anybody that I know of. That cover alone should give you some idea, but everything in here is gorgeous and it makes me hope that he goes back and colors some of the earlier work when the inevitable gigantic S.F. omnibus comes out. Hey, a guy can dream, right? $15
SF v PN
Just to clear it up right off the back, the title really means “scientist fighters vs. profiteering nasties.” Which is what you guessed, I’m sure. Anyway, this continues Ryan’s masterful run in this universe, and I am greatly looking forward to the day when all of these fantastic smaller stories are bundled together into a big old book. These little snippets are thoroughly entertaining, don’t get me wrong, but it’s so clear that he has a much bigger vision in mind that it’s hard not to come away wanting more. This issue is basically one big old space fight, between the parties mentioned above. The pirates seem to have the firepower, but the scientists have, well, science on their side, and a secret weapon that they may or may not decide to use. So yes, obviously they’re going to use it. What’s the good of having a secret weapon if you don’t use it? If you’re completely new to the series you can safely enjoy this issue, completely unconnected from the rest of the series. If you’ve been following along, then you get a few more tantalizing hints of some of the characters you’ve been seeing in past issues. Check it out and enjoy!
If only Ryan didn’t have to worry about making a living, I’d say that this story has the potential to become one of the next great comic epics. As it is I don’t see how he’ll have the time to do this story justice, but please, prove me wrong! I say that because Ryan puts together supplemental issues for the regular issues, expanding this universe of his every step of the way, and reading this issue showed me about a half dozen different ways he could take this story. There’s a handy and concise recap on the inside cover (every other comics artist ever who puts out a continuing story, take note), then the bulk of the main story deals with two members of the SF squad (actually SFSFSF, but maybe that was too clunky for a title) trying to free an admiral who they hope will become an ally. A game is played to determine his fate, something goes horribly wrong, and the planet ends up devastated, as you may have guessed from that cover. And oh, the devastation! Ryan shows a world both crumbling and being eaten away, and he does it beautifully. He even saves time in the end to show off the SF headquarters and for some character development, although I maybe shouldn’t tell you what kind, as that would give away more of the content of the main story. The only complaint I have is a technical one, as pages 8 and 29 are completely blank (unless that is some artistic master plan that I’m not catching onto). Ah well, something to fix for the collected edition, right? If you’re not following this series and you’re at all interested in anime/giant galactic skirmishes, I’ll just come right out and say it: get it together. Maybe ignorance could excuse you before this, but you’re reading these words, right? Buy the issues and put them in a vault, as this man will become famous for his comics if there is any justice in the world. Which there usually isn’t, but hey, we can always hope. $7 (for a damned hefty comic)
SF Supplementary File #2C
It occurred to me today that I have only been giving you half of the covers of these books even though the comics are the perfect size for me to scan two pages at once, so this is what the scanner for the final issue of this series should look like. Can you even call it a series? I guess you could more accurately call it an adaptation of the Queen Esmeraldas story from Matsumoto Leiji in 1979 that somehow became known as a supplementary file for an ongoing series from Ryan that doesn’t seem to have a lot to do with that series, but that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. In this issue Esmeraldas follows Boundless Ocean Boy (also known as Boy Zero) down to the planet where she left him at the end of the last issue, but eventually discovers that the entire world is basically one gigantic drop of water that’s surrounding a metallic core. This core has sentience and doesn’t react kindly to being invaded, but Esmeraldas has more than a few tricks up her sleeve and she’s determined to get Boy Zero back. So if you were also worrying about the lack of action in the last issue, it’s all made up for here. The ending was fantastic, including the last line that I desperately want to quote here but won’t because of spoilers. It had the perfect pitch of vaguely nonsensical yet still vastly important verbiage that’s in so many manga comics and was exactly the right way to end things. I also thoroughly enjoyed the way that Ryan alternated colors from page to page, as I’d swear that it added to the feeling that these people were deep in the vastness of space. Probably reading too much into pages of different colors, but that was the impression I got. From here I’m hoping that Ryan keeps this series going, and by that I mean the “SF” series. There are also vast libraries of old manga comics that are crying out for an American adaptation, and an American who’s fluent in Japanese like Ryan would be perfect to adapt them. What I’m basically saying is that the man should keep making comics in whatever form he’d like. Please and thank you. I was listing these individually as $4 each buy Ryan has the set listed at $16 on his website, so I was obviously a little off.
SF Supplementary File #2B
I mentioned in the review for the first issue of this series that one of the joys of manga comics was the fact that the action was allowed room to breathe, that the readers never felt all that rushed on their journey through the story. Well, the obvious negative to that is the fact that not a whole lot happens in this issue. Which, in case you need reminding or for some reason aren’t reading this series, is the second of three issues, which Ryan did manage to finish on a monthly publishing schedule. Granted, the ability to maintain a monthly publishing schedule for three issues shouldn’t be considered a huge accomplishment, but in the small press world of today it’s pretty rare. Anyway, this issue deals with the two main characters of Esmereldas and Boundless Ocean Boy. They’re both traveling on her ship and she discovers his I.D. card, which is a wonderful excuse to tell the readers all about him. He declares that he can’t travel with her and wants to make it on his own, she points out that his I.D. card makes that problematic and she eventually finds a suitable planet and drops him off. Well, she thought it was a suitable planet anyway, but that turns out not to be the case, and we have the set-up for the final issue of the series. I skimmed over some of the details of the series here (read my review of the first issue if you’re curious or would like this review to make sense), but I have every confidence that this issue is going to fit in just fine in the long run. In the reviewing scheme of things this is a lousy issue to get if you just want to try this guy out, but it’s pretty much always been a bad idea to buy just the second issue of a three issue limited series. The only real problem with this one was a minor printing error that repeated a few pages. It’s hard enough to overcome a lifetime of habit and read this back to front and right to left instead of the other way around, so something like that printing error can be especially jarring. Oh well, I’m sure it’ll be corrected in the collected edition, because that is happening, right? $4
Supplementary File #2A
American readers take note: this comic is meant to be read manga-style, meaning back to front and right to left instead of the other way around. Granted, the fact that the cover is on the back of the book (as they are usually arranged) should be a pretty big clue, but I just wanted to make that perfectly clear. Another big clue is the fact that this is a redrawn version of a Matsumoto Lieji comic called Queen Emeraldas from 1979. So really, you no longer have any excuses if you read this thing backwards. Anyway, this is the first of three parts of the adaptation, with Ryan releasing one part each month for three months (an impressive achievement in today’s small press comics world). This one starts off with our hero running into somebody who apparently just landed called “Boundless Ocean Boy.” They’re also searching for Deathskull, who apparently got away after being wounded. They chat for a bit and then leave the planet, but after they go our hero blows the entire place up. And this is one of the things I’ve always loved about manga: the willingness to let the stories breathe. We’re treated to several pages of the planet starting to blow up, first with smaller explosions and finally with an explosion big enough to turn it into rubble. With most American comics you’d see the planet explode, either in one panel or one page, before moving on to the rest of the action. In this comic you’re given plenty of time to absorb the fact that you’re watching a frickin’ planet explode and maybe you should take a moment to appreciate that fact. It’s an intriguing set-up for a three part comic, with my only complaint being the lost word bubble on the third page. Maybe it was supposed to fly off the page? Either way it doesn’t do much damage to the rest of the book. Oh, and this book will also make perfect sense to you even if you’ve never read any of Ryan’s other comics, so don’t worry about getting bogged down in the continuity. $4
SF Supplementary File #1
Just to make it clear, it helps tremendously if you read SF #1 before reading this supplementary comic. That seems like common sense, but I’m just throwing it out there. That being said, it’s not 100% required reading. This comic tells the tale of Gorum, the rough outdoorsman of the SF group. But where does he come from? How did he get so rough and outdoorsy? How did he attract the attention of the SF group in the first place? All of these questions are answered here in what ends up being a surprisingly satisfying comic. Surprising because you never know what to expect from these “supplementary” type comics, as sometimes they’re just cranked out for a convention and they don’t stand up very well a few months after the fact. This ends up being another piece of the puzzle that Ryan is building with the whole SF storyline. I’ll just say this again because it bears repeating: keep up the series. Seriously, don’t tease the readers by putting out one regular issue and a supplemental comic and then moving on to different things. Well, unless Ryan gets hired by one of the big publishers that will be willing to pay him serious bucks, in which case go for it. But I will fly to Japan just to punch this guy if it ends up being two years from now with no new issues. Note: punch will be easily avoided due to jet lag and the fact that I haven’t thrown a punch in 20+ years. That and I almost certainly won’t go through with it. But still: threat of punch! It’s all his fault for getting me hooked on this story so early in the series. I’m just setting myself up for disappointment. $2
What I wouldn’t give to have all the money in the world so I could finance comics like this. Seriously, as comics reading fans, we get cheated big time when all these artists have to have actual careers instead of being able to roll in dough from the brilliant works they produce. While I’m shooting for the moon I’d also like a time machine so that I could convince Frank Woodring not to give up on “Frank” for so many years because there was no money in it. And a pony! OK, irrelevant aside over. This one starts off with a couple of pages that satirize the old “Wolfenstein” game (kids, ask your parents). Suddenly this story vanishes and we’re on a street with a young alien trying to get home to his family. His house blows up, then someone tries to assassinate him in the hospital but the SF steps in. Actually, the title should probably be SFSFSF (Space Fleet Scientific Foundation Special Forces), but that’s noticeably more clunky. Anyway, our hero stops the assassination attempt and tries to get back to his team, but he gets ambushed along the way, leading to my favorite bit of science: “Every scientist knows that bodies explode with a ‘fssshhh’ and a ‘poof,’ not a ‘boom.'” The team finally gets assembled, and what a team it is! That’s an impressive cast of characters right there and I have high hopes for them getting more page time in future issues. There’s also a few character cards in the back, so at least you can learn about four members of this crew. From there a plan is made, motivations are explained a little bit, and the first part of the plan is hatched before the end of the issue. It’s hurting me not to tell you how that goes down, but it’s worth reading it for yourself. I will caution you about reading this in public places, as you’re certain to laugh out loud unless you have no sense of humor at all. So I clearly loved it, and Ryan even sent along a supplement for this issue a few weeks after I got this, which I am now dying to dig into. Oh, and the point at the start of this review? If Ryan was a rich man he could just focus on putting issues of this out. I’ve seen way too many #1’s that never make it to a #2 or #3, and I’ll be downright cranky if that happens with this series.
Two Eyes of the Beautiful #2
Huzzah for a second issue!Â I got the first one a while ago (please don’t ask me to remember exact dates when I received comics) and loved it, and this issue only solidifies that love. Right away you should be able to tell by that cover if you’ll be interested.Â You have an angry dog, a melting face, a chainsaw and a pair of scared eyes.Â Draws you right in.Â I should also mention that this is based on a manga called “Blood’s Baptism” by Umczu Kazuo that is apparently unavailable in English, so kudos to Ryan for putting out his own take on this.Â Things start off with an excellent two page recap of the previous issue, something more people should do, but regular readers already know my thoughts on that subject.Â From there we see the mother reminiscing about her beautiful past, then catching a stray dog and dragging him to the attic (past her hiding and terrified daughter Sarah).Â Sarah thinks this may be a dream, but the blood dripping from the ceiling convinces her.Â She somehow manages to fall asleep and wakes up to it all being cleaned up, but her mom still has the marks on her arms from where the dog lashed out. Sarah decides that it’s time to get serious, so she goes through an elaborate process to get ready for the day.Â Yes, I used one of them for the sample, as it’s so quintessentially manga that I couldn’t help using one of the few non-creepy or violent pages. So Sarah works up the courage to check out the attic after her mom goes out and finds… I’m giving too much away again, aren’t I?Â Dammit.Â The last issue of this series was creepy as could be, this one actually ups the ante and ads “disgusting” to the mix. The few printing problems I noticed the last time around are gone now and the art is fantastic, just absolutely perfect for the story.Â There’s one more issue in this series coming, so you should really get the first couple now so you’ll be ready.Â Assuming you like this sort of thing, I guess, but who doesn’t like tense and creepy manga?Â $5ish
Un Petit Carnet de Voyage II: Hiroshima, Miyagima & Saijo
Generally speaking, I’m a big fan of travel diary comics.Â The artist goes to some place that I’ve (almost always) never been to, and I’m all for the occasional vicarious trip to a strange land.Â The thing is that often, when you’re sketching out what you’re seeing and putting your thoughts down in a travel diary, things can turn out sloppy as hell, and it’s best to clean it up a bit before putting a comic out.Â Ryan’s art isn’t the problem here at all; the sketchy, casual feel is perfect for this sort of thing.Â The trouble comes up when I can’t read whatever the hell it is he’s trying to say.Â His handwriting (and I can feel my glass house crumbling around me as I type this) is awful.Â It has a tendency to clump, making it appear that he’s throwing a cursive word or two in among the printing, which just makes the whole thing tougher to interpret, which is tough enough when you’re reading about a foreign place and most of your mooring are already gone.Â So, to make a long point just a little bit shorter: proceed with caution.Â I’ve gone at such length because it’s a damned shame.Â I’ve long wondered just what Hiroshima is like these days, what with us utterly destroying it 64 years ago and all.Â Here’s what I took from this comic: the impressive state of the trains, how polite everybody is with their fractured Japanese, the variety of foods, the awkward karaoke, the majesty of the trees, the architecture, the many wandering cats, how even the bums are nicer than here, the Atom Bomb Dome, and the horrific dog monsters.Â Clearly I still got a lot out of this comic, it’s that trying to read it may make you a little crazy.Â Check out his Two Eyes of the Beautiful first, then make your way back to this one.Â Or just check bits of this out on his website and see for yourself…Â $5
Two Eyes of the Beautiful
One more reason to love working on this website: a couple of days ago I reviewed a fairly bad anime-style comic and said that, generally speaking, I wasn’t a big fan of that sort of thing.Â Anime in comics, that is.Â Of course, manga can often be a completely different thing, as this issue is tremendous.Â Well, except for a few printing problems, or actually just the one that makes some of the pages darker than they need to be.Â There’s only one place where the lettering becomes illegible, and then only briefly, so it’s not that big of a deal.Â Just figured I’d start things off with a complaint.Â This is the story of a young movie star who has a horrible flesh-eating disease.Â Her only concern is saving her beauty, and she’s very clear that she’ll do anything to accomplish this.Â An extremely shady doctor tells her to leave public life entirely, move to a remote location with her young daughter and await further instructions.Â The world, naturally, notices her disappearance but eventually concludes that they must be dead.Â Her daughter has been having trouble adjusting (as it’s hard to make friends when your mother is terrified of being recognized) but does make friends with a young girl from the local orphanage.Â Finally, there’s a phone call from the doctor: they need a healthy, beautiful young girl that they can use for any purpose they wish.Â Once again I’m in danger of telling the whole story here, and that ain’t right.Â The rest of the issue deals with a mad struggle and authority figures and their reaction to fame, or I’m reading too much into it.Â One thing: there is a second issue coming, correct?Â Â Because if this is just a one-shot I have a serious problem with the way this thing ended.Â Assuming this is part of a larger series, I can’t recommend it enough.Â It’s creepy in a big way, and there’s still the big overriding mystery of how exactly they plan on making the movie star beautiful again.Â If this is the only issue… well, that’s just mean.Â No price, and the man sent it from Japan, so I have no idea of the exchange rate.Â Isn’t $3 a good guess?Â I think so.Â It’s probably correct, give or take a dollar.