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Michael Avolio's sci-fi war story romance webcomic
FLESH MACHINE
Michael Avolio

The digital comics app Stela has just been made available for Android phones after being Apple-only since inception, and I was excited to hear this primarily because I knew I wanted to read Ronald Wimberly's Stela series GratNin. Wimberly has been playing with his concept for GratNin for some years now — in it he combines 1980s(?) street gangs with martial arts disciplines and samurai swords ("GratNin" is short for "Gratuitous Ninja"). I've only just started reading GratNin on Stela, but it's full of energy and Wimberly's reliably high quality draftsmanship and visual storytelling.

In his graphic novel Prince of Cats, recently re-released by Image Comics in a gorgeous over-sized hardcover, Wimberly mixes elements from his GratNin concept with William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet to thrilling effect. Prince of Cats focused more on his version of the Tybalt character than Shakespeare's star-cross'd lovers, but it's still an ensemble piece, and Wimberly deftly switches central characters each chapter (or "act") and jumps around in time while doing so. The pieces fit together at odd angles, and the non-linear storytelling technique makes for an entertaining read. And Wimberly clicks well with Shakespeare's banter — Wimberly's "thy cuts are more rare than well done" back-and-forth in the barber shop is more than worthy of Shakespeare's Mercutio/Romeo/Benvolio wordplay.

Wimberly is also a skilled draftsman and visual storyteller, using his lively line work and vibrant, nuanced color to breathe life into the characters he's taken as his own (and actually, not only does he flesh out several characters more than Shakespeare chooses to, at least two of the characters in Wimberly's cast are only referenced in Shakespeare's play and never seen — the Capulet Petruchio and Romeo's pre-Juliet crush Rosaline). Lots of personality in his hand. And then there's the action sequences! Violence is common in comics, but it's rarely staged so effectively in comics — a perfect blend of movement, excitement, and clarity. The whole book is a feast for the senses and would be worth picking up even if you didn't understand English. (I recently bought some French and Korean comics for the amazing visuals, though I failed high school French and know even less Korean.)

I got to meet Wimberly at the Small Press Expo in September, where he candidly moderated an interview panel that included a favorite cartoonist of mine, Eleanor Davis. I got to show him the beginning pages of my comic, too, which wound up being very gratifying. Wimberly's a top-level cartoonist, and he speaks and writes very articulately about the craft, which is something I always admire and enjoy — I can learn from just looking at high quality work, but there's a lot to learn from artists who can explain what they're doing and how. I hope to see or hear more about his specific process, and I'm eager to read more of GratNin on Stela and whatever else he does next. Snap up Prince of Cats if any of this sounds at all interesting to you — it's a fascinating and refreshing comic, and I'm afraid I'm not doing it justice with my praise.

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Don't Let the Kids Win is Julia Jacklin's impressive debut album. She has a beautiful, ethereal voice that reminds me of Sarah Harmer, Kim Taylor, and Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star (especially with Jacklin's lovely use of reverb), but her sound doesn't come across as derivative. She blends indie pop with a hint of Americana, featuring achingly beautiful vocals, acoustic guitars so intimate you feel like you're in the same room with them, and echoing Telecaster electric guitars (or what sounds like a Telecaster to these non-musician ears of mine).

The album is perfect music for keeping you and maybe one or two others company on a quiet night stretching into the wee hours, or supporting you as background for a low-key party, or cranking up while driving these dark winter nights (especially the cavern-filling "Hay Plain" for the latter). Mixes well with the aforementioned artists or some late '50s Miles Davis. I'm already excited to hear her second record.

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My debut graphic novel Flesh Machine continues serialization at my website, michaelavolio.com, every Tuesday — I'll post this week's new pages sometime after I get home from work tonight. You can read the whole story so far online on my site, and so can any friends you care to tell.

You can also support my comics work with a monthly pledge on Patreon, which is like an ongoing Kickstarter — a way to keep my Comics Bakery providing you with delicious comics pastries or whatever you want to eat with this bakery metaphor. (I'd initially written "Comics Factory", but factories have such a soul-crushing quality to them, or at least the one I worked at did — and while some people make comics as if they were in a factory, I myself do not.) My Patreon patrons get exclusive content, like updates on what'll be my second longform comic after Flesh Machine, as well as behind-the-scenes sketches and the like. 

Thanks for reading! Till next week...

Michael Avolio


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"The art in Flesh Machine is deceptively simple, with a hint of Mike Mignola influence, but this comic is one cool science fiction story for older readers. Once you start reading Flesh Machine, it is easy to get warped right into this mysterious and provocative universe."
- Farel Dalrymple
(Pop Gun War, NY Times bestseller The Wrenchies)

Copyright © 2016 Michael Avolio, All rights reserved.


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