Saturday at the East Coast Comicon

For the last few months I was trying to decide if I should attend the East Coast Comicon that was going to be held on April 11th and 12th in the Meadowlands Exposition Center.  It sounded like it would be a cool show with a lot of great guests.  Unfortunately my finances were shaky, so I reluctantly came to the conclusion that I should skip it.

Then a few weeks ago 13th Dimension, who were organizing the show, announced a contest for free tickets plus Planet of the Apes action figures.  I entered the contest and then promptly forgot about it, since I was busy stressing about work and personal stuff.  That is until April 2nd when Dan Greenfield from 13th Dimension e-mailed me to let me know that I was one of the winners.  Okay, so I guess that meant I was going to the show after all!

East Coast Comicon banner by Cliff Galbraith

Michele and I went to the convention on Saturday.  Due to that aforementioned “personal stuff” both of us were exhausted and got a late start.  And once we got to the Port Authority the bus to the Meadowlands was running a half hour behind schedule.  So we didn’t get to the show until 3:30 PM, which gave us two and a half hours to try to take in as much as possible.

One of the first people we saw was cartoonist Rick Parker.  He is a really cool guy with an insane sense of humor.  I’ve met him at a few shows in the past, and we’re also friends on Facebook.  The last time I actually saw him in person was May 2011, when he was generous enough to give me a ride from the train station to the Hawthorne High School Comic Con.  I’m happy that I got to see him again after all this time.

Rick Parker East Coast Comicon

Rudy Nebres was another guest.  As I’ve mentioned before, I am a big fan of his work.  He was at the show with his family.  He and his wife are always friendly.  This time I also met his son Mel, who I’m friends with on Facebook.  It’s always nice when you get to actually meet FB friends in person.

One of the guests I was really looking forward to meeting was Arthur Adams.  I’ve been a fan of his work for years but I’d never met him before.  Adams’ work is amazing.  He puts an absolutely insane amount of detail into his art.  Michele wasn’t familiar with Adams, but once she some of his work she was instantly impressed.

I brought along a few comics for Adams to sign, along with The Official Godzilla Compendium, for which he contributed a number of illustrations.  Adams is a lifelong fan of Godzilla.  He also really enjoys drawing gorillas.  Given those two passions, I mentioned to him that it was too bad Toho Studios does not like to have their Godzilla character appear in crossovers, because he would be the perfect guy to illustrate a graphic novel version of King Kong vs. Godzilla.  Adams actually responded that in the mid-1990s when he was involved with the Godzilla comic published by Dark Horse he pitched a “Superman vs. Godzilla” crossover.  DC Comics was all for it, but Toho had zero interest, and so it went nowhere.  Too bad, that could have been amazing.

Arthur Adams East Coast Comicon

Another creator I was happy to see at the convention was Ann Nocenti.  I’ve reviewed some of her work on this blog before.  Nocenti is one of the most distinctive writers in the comic book biz.  She brought with her unique sensibilities and an unconventional outlook when she began writing for Marvel Comics in the 1980s, which led to a number of memorable stories.  I look back very fondly on her run writing Daredevil in the late 1980s.

I’ve actually met Nocenti before, a couple of years ago when she was doing a signing at Jim Hanley’s Universe.  But that was pretty crowded, and I didn’t have much of a chance to talk to her.  At the East Coast Comicon there was much more of an opportunity to share my thoughts about her work and ask her some questions.  Nocenti was definitely very generous with her time.

Ann Nocenti East Coast Comicon

Also among the guests who Michele and I got to meet  were underground cartoonist John Holstrom, current Heathcliff comic strip creator Peter Gallagher, the amazingly funny Fred Hembeck, longtime Marvel writer & artist Bob Budiansky, and Ren & Stimpy co-creator Bob Camp.  There were a bunch of other guests there, as well, but we just didn’t have enough time to catch everyone.

I was glad that at towards the end of the show I did have a few moments to stop by Eric Talbot‘s table.  Talbot has a long association with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book.  I was a huge fan of the series back in high school, and I fondly remember his work on it.  Most of my collection is packed away in storage but I was able to bring along a few issues of the more recent Tales of the TMNT anthology series that he contributed to and have those autographed.  I wish I could have afforded to get a sketch from Talbot because he was drawing some amazing pieces at the show.

Eric Talbot East Coast Comicon

Fortunately I was able to obtain one sketch at the convention.  Rudy Nebres drew a beautiful pencil head sketch of Vampirella for me.  I’ve really enjoyed his work on the character in the past so I was happy to be able to get this.

Actually It’s been a while since I’ve been to a convention and gotten more than one or two pieces of artwork, anyway.  I guess nowadays, with my finances being more limited, I’m concentrating on quality over quantity.

Vampirella Rudy Nebres

There were a lot of cosplayers at the convention.  Some of the costumes were fantastic.  Since we were rushing around Michele unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity to take too many pictures.  As we were on our way out, though, she was able to take a great photo of this “Spider-Family.”  From left to right that’s Venom, Scarlet Spider, Spider-Woman aka Spider-Gwen and the original Spider-Man.

Spider-Man cosplayers East Coast Comicon

Oh, yes, one last thing… Michele is a huge fan of Planet of the Apes.  Last year she rented all the movies from the original series and we watched them over a five day stretch.

In addition to winning two tickets to the convention, I also won two Planet of the Apes action figures.  One was Charlton Heston himself, Colonel Taylor, who wishes those damn dirty apes would keep their paws to themselves.  The other was a gorilla soldier who looks ready to hunt down some of those pesky humans.  Sadly neither figure came with a half-buried Statue of Liberty, but despite that deficiency they are still very cool.  Of course I gave them to Michele, who I knew would appreciate them.

Planet of the Apes action figures East Coast Comicon

Despite only getting to the convention for less than half a day, and being on a really tight budget, Michele and I both had  a lot of fun.  Hopefully we will be able to make it again next year.

A big “thank you” to 13th Dimension publisher Cliff Galbraith for organizing the East Coast Comicon.  By the way, that’s his artwork on the cool banner up top of Darth Vader cosplaying as Doctor Doom.

(All photos are courtesy of Michele Witchipoo and her wonderful smartphone.)

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Comic book reviews: Maura by Erik J. Kraus and Rudy Nebres

“Revenge is barren of itself: it is the dreadful food it feeds on; its delight is murder, and its end is despair.” – Friedrich Schiller

With Halloween around the corner, I am going to take a look at one of my favorite horror comic books to be come out within the last few years. The erotic horror graphic novel Maura was initially published as a two issue miniseries in 2009 by Berserker Comics.  It was written by Eric J. Kraus, with penciled artwork by veteran artist Rudy Nebres.  Glenn Fabry and Steven R. Cobb provided painted covers over Nebres’ pencils.

Maura 1 cover signed

Maura is the tale of Maura Sterling, a 21 year old woman from Delaware who is incredibly beautiful & sexy, yet also quite sweet & naïve. Maura is still a virgin, having saved herself for “the one.”  Her upbringing was an unpleasant one.  She comes from a wealthy family, but her father was thoroughly rotten, an abusive alcoholic who conducted numerous affairs behind his wife’s back.  Maura’s brother Bobby became addicted to drugs and eventually committed suicide.  Maura herself retreated into books, music and art.  So when she at last struck out on her own Maura was intelligent and well educated yet also very emotionally vulnerable, eagerly searching for the love she never found at home.

Working as a temp at a computer company, Maura meets Derek Morgan. He is a charming, handsome man, and he immediately sets his sights on his young, attractive co-worker.  At first Derek appears to be all that Maura has ever wanted; he is soulful, cultured and romantic, wooing her with his guitar and poetry.  One day Derek takes her to Phillip’s Park and leads her through the forest to a secluded area, a forgotten bench by a pond.  “This is where I came as a child to think,” Derek tells Maura.  “When the world around me seemed so unbearable. Away from my abusive father. This was the only place I could find solace. And now I have found that special person to share it with.”  Having said all the right words, Derek seduces Maura, and the two of them make love on the park bench.

Maura 1 pg 4

Maura is subsequently in heaven, believing she has found her soul mate. Tragically, she does not realize that she has been played by Derek.  He is, in fact, a manipulative asshole, a bullshit artist with a girlfriend of five years.  He has been carrying on multiple affairs during that whole time, seducing numerous women, bringing them to that same bench in Phillip’s Park, wooing them with that same sob story, using and then discarding them.  He is, in other words, very much like Maura’s father.

Unaware of any of this, Maura begins sending love letters to Derek. He, of course, having gotten what he wanted, is already moving on to his next target, Kathy, another lovely co-worker.  Maura’s last letter to Derek is a message asking him to meet her at the park bench.  She waits there, a ring in her possession, intending to ask Derek to marry her, not knowing that he has tossed her letter into the trash unread.  And so she waits.  And waits.  And waits.

Weeks pass by, and Derek decides to bring his latest conquest to the bench in Phillip’s Park, intending to woo Kathy with his sad tale of a lonely childhood. But before he can, he spots a figure on the bench.  It is Maura, still waiting, but now changed.  She is not quite dead, but neither is she really alive.  Enraged at the sight of Derek with another woman, Maura grasps his hand and slips on the wedding band, then kills him with a maggot-laden kiss.  Turning to Kathy, the still-enraged Maura hollers “Scream all you want, bitch! No one will hear you here! After all… he wanted to share this special spot… with you!”  Maura strangles the other woman, and standing over her victims she declares “Now it’s yours… forever!!!

Maura 1 pg 11

The undead Maura’s lust for revenge is unquenched. She embarks upon a killing spree, luring away boyfriends and husbands from their significant others with her sexuality, and then brutally murdering them for their infidelities.  On each of their hands she places a wedding band, forged out of silver coins stolen from her father.  Reflecting on what she has become, Maura admits that she misses her mother.  But she then states to herself “I was foolish to trust you or anyone else for that matter. Death is my friend now and it is mine to share with those most deserving.”

While Maura is busy with her lethal mission, she is being sought by another. Martin is a private investigator who is looking into the killings.  Hired by Maura’s parents to find their missing daughter, Martin soon deduces that she is the culprit behind these slayings.

Martin is a despondent figure. Middle aged, addicted to cigarettes, he looks back on his life and perceives myriad missed opportunities, squandered potential.  He is in mourning over the recent death of his nephew serving abroad in Iraq, and reflecting on his own seemingly dismal future.  In his own way, Martin is as much a lost soul as his supernatural quarry.

Undeterred by this pursuit, Maura continues on her dark course. Consumed by grief and hurt and jealousy and rage, Maura is embittered at the world, and she wishes to lash out.  But her anger, her inability to allow herself to once again trust others, eventually becomes her undoing.  The story comes to a close on a tragic note, one that left me genuinely saddened.

Maura 2 pg 17

Erik J. Kraus writes a tangibly atmospheric story. His scripting is florid and poetic, rich with mood and emotion.  Kraus delves into the minds of his characters, lays bare their souls.  There is a genuinely melancholy, reflective tone to his work.

The name Maura is, of course, a variation on Mara. In European folklore a Mara was a vampiric spirit that visited men in their sleep.  It would assume the form of seductive woman in order to drain the life out of its victim.  Similarly, in Buddhism, the Mara was a demon that sought to tempt the Buddha with a vision of its three beautiful daughters, lustful figures of the flesh to lead the sage away from his pure, spiritual path.

Kraus has obviously taken inspiration from these legends and given them a modern, feminist slant.  He has crafted a protagonist who is driven by the betrayals and misogyny of men to exact revenge, a woman who is ultimately, tragically consumed by her hatred.

Maura 2 pg 4

What initially drew me to Maura was the artwork by Rudy Nebres. I have been a huge fan of his since I first discovered his work through the Vampirella stories he illustrated for Harris Comics in the mid-1990s.  I soon learned that the Filipino-born Nebres had in the early 1980s previously worked on the original Vampirella magazine from Warren Publishing, along with their other horror & sci-fi books.  Among his other credits, he worked at Marvel in the 1970s and on the Archie / Red Circle superhero titles in the 1980s.  I have a great fondness for the rich, illustrative work of the Filipino artists, and Nebres is definitely one of my favorites.

Nebres artwork on Maura is absolutely stunning. The lavish attention to detail is amazing, and the layouts dramatic.  His depictions of Maura Sinclair are wonderful.  He renders her adeptly in all of her different aspects.  Through Nebres’ pencil, Maura is a beautiful & sensual figure of seduction, an innocent & wounded soul, and a horrific half-decayed monstrosity hungering for vengeance.  In the final scenes, Rudy captured the raw, tragic emotion of Maura perfectly.  He is such an amazing artist.

Viewing Nebres’ amazing art on Maura, I find myself wondering why the hell he isn’t getting more assignments nowadays. Dynamite Entertainment, the current publishers of Vampirella, ought to be knocking on his door with a sack full of money in hand asking him to work for them.  But I’ve ceased spending too much time trying to figure out how the minds of editors and publishers work.  At least Kraus was wise enough to have Nebres draw this book, with wonderful results.  He did great work on Maura, and when I met him again at the New York Comic Fest in June I made certain to bring along the issues to get autographed.

Maura 2 cover signed

The cover artwork on these two issues is very good. Glenn Fabry is, of course, a highly-regarded artist who has done stunning work for the 2000 AD anthology series and painted amazing covers at DC / Vertigo.  He does nice work over Nebres’ pencils for the first issue cover image.  On the other hand, off the top of my head I cannot recall any other work by Steven R. Cobb.  Nevertheless, his cover painting for issue #2 over Nebres’ pencils is fantastic, both beautiful and grimly horrifying.

Kraus has been working on getting Maura reprinted as a single volume with extra material. While that has unfortunately yet to materialize, the entire 56 page story is available digitally through Comixology.  I certainly recommend purchasing it.  It makes for a great read during the Halloween season.

New York Comic Fest 2014 Convention Report

As I mentioned in my previous post, Michele and I went to the New York Comic Fest last Saturday, which was held at the Westchester County Center in White Plains.  It’s interesting that there was a three-way duel of sorts between comic cons in the NY metro area that weekend.  In addition to the Comic Fest, there was also a mini-version of the NY Comic Con at the Javits Center, as well as a decent-sized show out on Long Island.

Michele and I hadn’t been out of the City since last year, so we chose to go to the White Plains show.  I actually grew up in different parts of Westchester, and it was nice to be back for a day.  Michele and I took the Metro North train up.  The County Center was about a 15 minute walk from the train station.  It was a nice day, sunny but not too hot, the perfect weather to walk around.

Fred and Lynn Hembeck New York Comic Fest

The first guest whose table I went up to at the show was Fred Hembeck.  I’ve been a fan of Hembeck’s work for many years.  I’ve corresponded with him by e-mail and Facebook, and I got a cool re-interpretation of the cover to Captain America #291 done by him a few years ago.  But except for one time years back when I ran into him for about 30 seconds walking around a comic show in Upstate New York, I’ve never really met him.  It was great talking with Fred and his wife Lynn, who are both nice people.  Fred autographed my Spectacular Spider-Ham trade paperback, and he drew a cool piece in my Beautiful Dreamer sketchbook.

While I was at Fred’s table, Michele was nearby chatting with underground artist John Holmstrom.  The founding editor of Punk Magazine in 1975, Holmstrom’s has also worked on The Village Voice, Heavy Metal, High Times and a number of album covers.  Michele is a big fan of Holmstrom’s art, so she was thrilled to meet him.  He was nice enough to do a sketch for her.  Michele surprised me by buying me a vintage issue of Punk Magazine as a present.  It was issue #17, which featured the Singing Pimple comic strip.

Rudy Nebres New York Comic Fest

Also at the show was Filipino-born artist Rudy Nebres.  I am a huge fan of his amazingly detailed, superbly rendered art, especially his work on Vampirella over the years.  I brought along several books to get signed, including the two issue horror miniseries Maura that was published by Berserker Comics in 2009.  Nebres’ pencils for it were exquisite, some of the best work of his entire career.  I was really happy to get those autographed.  I wish I’d had the funds to get one of his amazing sketches.  Fortunately I’ve obtained a couple of pieces by him in the past.

I was thrilled to see Steve Mannion and Una McGurk again at the convention.  The two of them recently tied the knot.  It was nice to be able to congratulate them in person.  I finally picked up a copy of Steve’s Fearless Dawn: Jurassic Jungle Boogie Nights special, which I missed finding in the stores when it came out last December.  I just wished I’d remembered to bring him a bag of Pirate’s Booty Popcorn as a present!

Steve Mannion and Una McGurk New York Comic Fest

Another creator at the show who I’d never met before was Paul Kupperberg.  Michele has really been enjoying the Life With Archie series that Kupperberg has been writing for the last three years.  That’s the great magazine-sized publication from Archie Comics that has the two possible futures where Archie marries Veronica and Betty, and we see what happens to the inhabitants of Riverdale as a result of each of those choices.  I’ve also read Life With Archie from time to time, and it is really well written.  Michele had Kupperberg autograph some of those for her.   He also signed my copy of the first issue of The Charlton Arrow, as well as Action Comics #598, the first appearance of Checkmate, the covert ops organization he co-created at DC Comics in the late 1980s.

Paul Kupperberg New York Comic Fest

I also had the opportunity to meet Peter Gillis, who wrote some great stories in the late 1970s and throughout the 80s.  I’m a fan of his work and so, once again, it was cool to get a few things autographed.  I also saw Don McGregor and, as I mentioned before, bought a copy of the Sable 30th Anniversary Edition from him.  Other creators at the show were Josh Neufeld, David Gallaher, Steve Ellis, Bill Sienkiewicz, Basil Gogos and Joe Martino.  I got to see Bronze Age legend Herb Trimpe once again.  It’s odd, in that I’ve met him at a number of conventions in the past, but I didn’t have a single issue of Incredible Hulk signed by him, even though that’s the character he is most identified with.  So this time I remembered to bring my copy of Marvel Masterworks Incredible Hulk Volume 5, which Trimpe autographed for me.

Longtime Batman writer and editor Denny O’Neil was at Comic Fest.  For most of the day he was on different panel discussion.  I did manage to catch him after the “Batman at 75: Then and Now” panel, when he was signing at his table for a little while.  There was a looooong line, and the person waiting in front of me looked and acted almost exactly like Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.  Yeah, just the sort who gives comic book fans a bad name!  But I finally got to the front of the line and had a couple of Batman trade paperbacks signed by O’Neil.  I really wanted to ask him some questions, but I didn’t want to hold up the line.  At least I got a photo with him.

Ben and Denny O'Neil New York Comic Fest

All in all, New York Comic Fest was a nice convention.  Michele and I both had fun there.  It was very casual and laid-back, with some great guests and panel discussions.  It did appear that attendance was a bit low, probably due to those other competing two shows in the tri-state area.  I hope that the organizers had a successful convention, because I would certainly like to see New York Comic Fest return in 2015.

My only original art acquisition that day was the cool Beautiful Dreamer sketch by Fred Hembeck.  Well, I was on a budget, and also shooting for quality over quantity.  I was certainly happy to have obtained it and, as I said, to have finally met Fred.

Beautiful Dreamer Fred Hembeck

Mid-afternoon Michele and I left the County Center.  We took a walk down Central Avenue, and went to visit my grandparents, who live in White Plains.  Again, the weather was pleasant, so even though it was a bit of a long walk, it was good to get some fresh air.  I’m happy that I was able to see my grandparents, since they’re up there in years nowadays.

And then it was back to the train station to catch the train home.  We didn’t want to stay too late in White Plains.  After all, we had to get home to feed the cats.  Nettie and Squeaky can be quite demanding when it comes to food, you know.  Never keep a cat waiting if you can avoid it!

All photos courtesy of Michele Witchipoo.  Thanks, hon.