Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Spacegirl and the Scarlet Sparrow

Decorah, with sudden burst of sun ©Michael Chevy Castranova 2016

 The day after attending a wedding last weekend in Decorah, in northeast Iowa — a town known internationally for the drama of its internet-cam eagles — I happened upon Dragonfly, a small bookstore downtown. On display inside were the three volumes of the “Zita the Spacegirl” graphic novel series.
These adventures, written and drawn by Ben Hatke from 2010 to 2014, mix a little Star Wars, some Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, more than a dash of Alice in Wonderland and sizable doses of charm and whimsy. Lots of running, lucky narrow escapes and myriad weird-looking creatures and robots.
The protagonist is a feisty young girl who looks a lot like a 21st-century version of Ed Vedier’s “Little Annie Rooney” newspaper strip and acts with the verve of plucky young adventuress throughout time.
It’s a fun story of Zita as she grows into her hero status over the course the tale. But the drawing itself is what I really lured me — deceptively simple, the characters move easily, and their emotions quick to decipher.
And there’s a great pun when hearts attack a planet, in book two, “Legends of Zita theSpacegirl.”
You should take a look.
Which brings us to another plucky adventurer, though in her early 20s I’d be reluctant to call her still a girl. Tyler appears to have seen off the Chancellor — again — but now she has to fulfill her part of the bargain she made with Dargelos.
That will entail heading directly into Rongeur-occupied Europe, in 1927. It’s an altered history — again — and one in which her enemy knows her well and likely has the table set — ahem — for her coming.
Check out the adventure of “Slipped” at
Come on, it’ll be fun.
© Michael Chevy Castranova 2016

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Heroes and villains

Mendacity Wilson and Pip the dog — Images and text © Michael Chevy Castranova 2016
I’m just finishing IDW’s “The Adventures of Dieter Lumpen,” on its Euro Comics imprint, written by Jorge Zentner and illustrated by Rubén Pellejero. The stories — collected from 1985 to 1994 — are unpredictable, sometimes-wistful tales of a protagonist who isn’t always the good guy.
But the art is breath-taking. Sweeping vistas and intimate detail, on a mood-shifting palette. I wasn’t surprised when I read that Pellejero now draws the revived CortoMaltese series (though a little perplexed that I hadn’t known the series had been revived).
Which is interesting in that Corto, as created by the great Hugo Pratt, was always noble — a defender of the defenseless and who fought on the side of lost causes. I’m not sure how I feel about his being resurrected as one of Pratt’s other characters told us Maltese was “lost” during the Spanish Civil War.
Meanwhile, in “Slipped,” the Scarlet Sparrow now has to fulfill her agreement with Dargelos. He arranged to save her — or so he says — and now she needs to do her bit.
Take a look at chapter 386.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Shadows and inspirations

© Michael Chevy Castranova 2016

-->I’m now at the part in “Everybody Behaves Badly,” Lesley M.M. Blume’s book about the writing of “The Sunday Also Rises,” in which she details how much Hemingway altered his fictional characters from their real counterparts. In some cases, not very much at all, and not very politely.
I’m clearly going to have to read the novel again. (That would make it the seventh or eighth time — I’ve lost count over the years.)
But I’ve long been fascinated about using real people as models for fictional characters. Writers and cartoonists often adapt the looks and sometimes aspects of the personalities of movie and sports celebrities — alive or dead — and of friends and enemies.
And sometimes they borrow both the looks and the personalities. Are these people ever flattered by the attention?
Hemingway revealed very little to his friends about how he’d taken their looks and lives and remarks and reshaped them into his version of events. Probably because they wouldn’t have liked the unkind way he portrayed them.
They had to read the book for themselves.
Have I done that in “Slipped”? Well, in the eight-plus years I’ve definitely modeled some characters real people.
For one, Dargelos is meant to look like — in a very cartoony way, of course — Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni. He died in 1996, and I’m sure he was in no way demonic. But I figured if the devil — or something like the devil — desired to tempt and trick a young woman, he’d want to look like Mastroianni — charming, smooth and handsome in “8 ½” and “La Dolce Vita,” among other movies.
You can pick up the trail of the Scarlet Sparrow — right now joined by her sister, Mendacity, and, as always, Pip — in chapter 383. Take a look.
© Michael Chevy Castranova 2016

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Behaving badly in Paris

Pip image © Michael Chevy Castranova 2016

It occurs to me, as I’m reading Lesley M.M. Blume’s new book, “Everybody Behaves Badly,” about how Ernest Hemingway came to write “The Sun Also Rises” — which I’ve read at least a half-dozen times — that in the mid-1920s Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, JohnDos Passos and others would have been in Paris. That is, around pretty much the same time when the Scarlet Sparrow lives there.
So my thought is, as Tyler, Pip and friends, as about to return to Paris, maybe they’ll drop in at la Closerie des Lilas or le Dingo and spend some time with these famous expats.
She will, after all, need all the allies she can get. Remember, as this storyline moves forward from chapter 381 onward, this will be her second time through Paris in 1926. The first time saw the already-in-place occupation of western Europe by les Rongeurs. But now, after Tyler altered history — in hopes of stopping the giant rats — she’s actually made things worse. This time, the rats are in even more control, and have even larger rats with them — all due to Tyler injecting two of them with the genetic serum and giving them the idea to perfect the formula.
So, yeah, she is going to need help. Take a look right here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The adventures of the Silver Sparrow?

© Michael Chevy Castranova 2016
 A few days ago I read on the internet — so it must be true, right? — that “production” has begun on Netflix’s “The Defenders,” to be followed immediately by season 2 of “Jessica Jones.”
I’m not completely certain what “in production” means, but it sounds positive. Filming already? Writing scripts? Thinking about writing scripts?
I’ve seen no indication as to when either show might be available for viewing, but clearly not soon enough. Which in a perfect, fair and just world would be tomorrow.
Jessica Jones,” by episode 3 or 4, became one of my top five TV shows of all time.
In the meantime, we have the non-super-powered female hero of “Slipped,” Tyler Wilson, sometimes aka the Scarlet Sparrow. Her not-always-well-meaning sister Mendacity has returned.
I am toying with the notion of following Mendacity — the Silver Sparrow? — in her own adventures when she returns to Paris to fight off the invading legions of giant Rongeurs at least for a little while. (Remember: Rongeur are really big rats to begin with. And now some have been injected with a formula that makes them even bigger.)
But Tyler tends to get upset when she’s left out of the storyline for too long. And she and Pip have their own escapdes.
So we’ll see. As they used to say on Doctor Who, back when it was worth watching: Time will tell. It always does.
Follow this link to catch up on “Slipped.” It’ll be fun.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Who is that other woman?

Image and text © Michael Chevy Castranova
So a recap, then, at chapter 379 of “Slipped”:
Tyler Wilson — whose father was the infamous cat burglar, the Scarlet Sparrow, and who has been following in his footsteps (or paw prints, if you prefer) — and her dog, Pip, have been captured by the Rongeur officer, the Chancellor, whom Tyler believed to be dead but, clearly, is not. Instead, the serum that made him grow — and, she thought, to have made him mad — has made him even larger. And madder.
In fact, the Chancellor used that same serum to create an army of giant rats, and they’ve been dispatched to lead an invasion of western Europe.
Meanwhile, during a lightening-quick out-of-body experience, Tyler was contacted by Dargelos, another long-standing enemy, who struck a deal — he will send her help to escape if she, in turn, does something to be named later to aid him in his ongoing mission to bring chaos into the world. (And who better to do that than our hero?)
And now, arriving to their rescue at the brink of time, is Tyler’s younger sister, Mendacity Wilson. They don’t get along.
Moreover, Mendacity’s anger management issues are even less under control than Tyler’s.
Is Mendacity the “rescue” Dargelos promised? Or did she circle back to help Tyler on her own? Is this another trick orchestrated by the devil?
One thing, though — Mendacity has with her the Time Sword.
So the situation, if nothing else, is about to spin wildly out of control. As it generally does with one Wilson sibling. Imagine two, plus a weapon neither understands … and the Chancellor covets above all else.
Follow the action here!

Friday, June 10, 2016

The devil’s due

Text and image © Michael Chevy Castranova 2016

This past Saturday, I came by a back issue of “The Wake” part one, a collection of issues 1 through 5, from 2014. I’d run across some issues when the title was current, but I didn’t want to start mid-run.
Published by Vertigo, the time-shifting storyline by Scott Snyder tells of world in which — somehow — a race of underwater … oh, wait, maybe I shouldn’t give away the plot.
Let me start over: The story of a group of scientists, spies and mythologists moves at great pace, and the cinematic art by Sean Murphy is thrilling. I loved the flow of the action, and the characters’ expressions seemed true to their  personalities and the emotions they were experiencing. The pages are packed with action as well as angst and remorse.
It is true when I buy a comic book or graphic novel, the decision is based on the art far more than the story. (So if I don’t like the cover, I’m generally not going to like what’s inside, right?) In the case of “The Wake,” the clever story was a bonus.
Meanwhile, in the world of “Slipped,” the Scarlet Sparrow appears to have a made a deal with the devil himself — even if she’s not completely certain of its terms.
But anything seems better than the alternative: Tyler Wilson and her dog, Philip Pirrip, are about to become a quick snack for the augmented (i.e., giant) rat, the Chancellor.
Dargelos promised to send help. But he didn’t say who or what that help would entail. Nor what Tyler would need to do to pay off that debt.
So take a look at chapter 378 of “Slipped” to see what becomes of our hero’s deal with the devil …

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Just in time for dinner

Text and image © Michael Chevy Castranova 2016

 So if you’ve read chapter375 of “Slipped,” you might be wondering what’s happening in that last panel.
The first three panels tell how the Chancellor has succeeded in sending his giant and remarkably mad rat soldiers off to terrorize western Europe — from Paris to Tzanicor, he vows — while holding the Scarlet Sparrow in his grip, and now having captured Pip the dog, too.
And his next move is to make a meal of them both.
But then — this is an adventure series, after all — something unexpected happens: Tyler appears to have a sudden out-of-body experience. (Yes, they did consider such phenomenon a very real possibility in 1926.)
What actually is going on will be explained in next week’s chapter, when a surprise villain returns … with an extremely dangerous offer.
More dangerous than Tyler getting her head bitten off? Take look next week.
S’il vous plait.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Peter Arno, meet Pip the dog

Image & text © Michael Chevy Castranova 2016

Hey, just out is the new biography of legendary New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno by current New Yorker cartoonist Michael Maslin.
A copy just arrived on my doorstep. The cover is rather dire, but I’m hopeful Arno’s story is well told.
Inside are some samples of the man’s great, elegant work. One of my favorites is of a couple in bed, the man clearly snoring and the woman yelling angrily, “Wake up, you mutt! We’re getting married today.” Ha!
Meanwhile, in chapter 374 of “Slipped,” the Scarlet Sparrow’s dilemma is even more dire. Though Pip the dog prevents Delacroix from reentering the fray, Cartier Tour appears to be long gone, and Tyler’s sister, Mendacity, is who knows where, fighting her own battles.
And Tyler? The Chancellor now reveals that his half-mad, giant soldier rats intend to devour as much of the population of Europe as they can.
And he tightens, tightens, tightens his grip on Tyler herself.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Love and Rats

Image & text © Michael Chevy Castranova 2016
A couple weeks ago, I interviewed Fantagraphics Books co-founder Gary Groth.
He talked about convincing the Hernandez Brothers into letting him publish “Love and Rockets” — they agreed pretty easily, apparently — whatever happened to the Comics Journal — it still comes out, in book form every other year — and why he’s excited about an upcoming release, “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters,” by Emile Ferris.
You can read that interview I wrote for the books section of last Sunday’s The Gazette here.
Meanwhile, in this week’s “Slipped,” Cartier Tour has legged it, and the Chancellor, now growth to an immense size, reveals to the Scarlet Sparrow his master plan — he believes his scientists have perfected their genetic formula and he’s used it on other Rongeur. He’s created a battalion of giant, angry rats.
And they’re howling for a taste of Tyler.
Please take a look at chapter 373 of “Slipped,” the adventure comic strip.

Monday, March 28, 2016

And here’s why

© Michael Chevy Castranova 2016

 When I started “Slipped” in 2008, I was still living in southwest Michigan, land of snow due to its proximity to Lake Michigan. I created the strip simply because I wanted to — using as inspiration the newspaper comic strips I enjoyed reading: the adventures strips of the 1930s and ’40s such as “Terry and the Pirates,” “Scorchy Smith,” “Wash Tubbs” and “Little Orphan Annie.” Ongoing tales in which one adventure dovetailed into the next that focused on a few main characters, and with other foes and allies coming and going and then reappearing possibly years later.
And I did it online because it was free.
I’ve moved a few times since then, but I’ve managed to keep the strip alive. I’m not claiming “Slipped” is great art — nowhere near the skill of Caniff or Sickles or Crane —  but for me it’s still fun.
At first I plotted out the stories some chapters in advance. But I learned the Scarlet Sparrow has her own ideas of what should happen next. So I don’t try to get too far ahead in the narrative. (To be accurate, Tyler Wilson is the daughter of the original Scarlet Sparrow, but she has taken his mask and gloves, so she, too, gets to carry that name, I guess.)
She’s also not terribly fond of other female characters hogging the spotlight for any excessive amount of time — that might be why Cartier Tour appears to exiting the main action. We’ll see if she stays gone for long. We — Tyler and me — might have need of her again.
So thank you for reading.
And please, take a look at the latest chapter. The Scarlet Sparrow is about to return to center stage …

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

An update

Image & text © Michael Chevy Castranova 2016
OK, so here’s what has been going on thus far:
Cartier Tour (shown above) has had a business disagreement with her employer, Delacroix, who is some kind of demon and who also is, in some way, related to Dargelois, the Scarlet Sparrow’s mortal enemy (and who’s not been seen for some time — status and whereabouts unknown).
Delacroix has indicated Cartier is not human. It’s still to be explained what he meant by that.
Pip, who’s been looking for Tyler Wilson (the Scarlet Sparrow), has decided to take sides and has attacked Delacroix.
That’s given Cartier, moving with catlike grace (that’s a hint), the opportunity to take the wildebeest by surprise. We’ll see if she then repays Pip’s aid.
Meanwhile, the Scarlet Sparrow is held captive by the Chancellor, who has somehow learned to control the genetic serum developed by the Unicorns (not real unicorns, they just wear decorative spikes on their headwear). He has grown even larger than when we last saw him, but hasn’t been driven mad — the usual outcome of the serum in such a large dose. (It makes the male Unicorns less than smart, shall we say.)
The Chancellor has taken Tyler to bear witness to the current state of his continued experiments.
All that in coming chapters of “Slipped.” Please take a look ….

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Joined in progress

Cartier Tour image © Michael Chevy Castranova 2016

 Have we talked about Rutu Modan’s “The Property”?
I picked up a copy at the Wexner Center in Columbus, between CXC events last October, and I admit I bought it entirely for its look.
The inside cover, in fact, is what sold me — a two-page spread of pinks, soft blues, grays and greens, an imaginary Sweden in summer.
And as I paged through the novel, I was taken with Modan’s spare but not sparing drawings of expressive people who don’t tell us, or each other, what they’re really thinking as they make their way around Warsaw. You have to track their faces and body language.
But the art is matched by a deeply embracing story: The protagonist, Mica, believes she is in Poland to help her grandmother reclaim property taken from their family during World War II. But her grandmother, prickly even in the best of circumstances, has other goals, which she never explains to Mica.
 In the end, the novel is about living with decisions, with a glimmer of hope salted in. Take a look.
Meanwhile, in chapter 370 of “Slipped,” Tyler Wilson — aka the Scarlet Sparrow — is in the literal clutches of the returned Chancellor, who last time we saw him had grown to gigantic size and was nearly mad, due to an injection of growth serum. But now he’s in control of his faculties and even larger. And he’s threatening to eat Tyler, with extreme malice.
Cartier Tour, on the other hand, is having her own confrontation with Delacroix, the quasi-demon, whom she claims owes her … something.
And then there’s Pip, who has shown up and appears about ready to take a hand — or, paw — in the action.
You can see what’s what by following this link.
And by the way, this month marks eight full years since I launched “Slipped” — two states and two or so jobs ago for me. So thank you for reading, even if you’ve joined the adventures of the Scarlet Sparrow and her friends in progress.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Unfolding mystery, with carrots

© Michael Chevy Castranova 2016

 The sloths working at the DMV scene is not the only funny sequence in “Zootopia.” It’s an anthropomorphic version of the old Bob and Ray radio routine, but this certainly still is pretty great.
In fact, many scenes in the Disney cartoon are from other sources, from “The Godfather” to “Chinatown” to Elmer Fudd. Yet this stands on its own as a well-realized, charming movie — and this from someone who has very limited interest in animation.
Of course, “Zootopia” at its heart is an adventure story: A small, cute rabbit and a sly and possibly untrustworthy fox need to solve a mystery in the big city. Go see it. Go now.
Meanwhile, over in chapter 369 of “Slipped,” more of the mystery of why the Scarlet Sparrow was lured to Finland has been revealed. But we still don’t know what the Chancellor has been up to in his remote part of the world. Nor what part Cartier Tour and Delacroix have played — and what’s ahead for them.
Then you can go see “Zootopia.”

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The jaws of danger

© Michael Chevy Castranova 2016

I came across a collection of WillGould’s newspaper stripRed Barry,” about a deep-undercover cop, in the mid-1930s. It was created as King Features Syndicate’s response to “Dick Tracy,” and it’s just as violent and not very enlightened in terms of cultural relations.
But, boy, could Gould draw movement. No one is still, and every character appears ready to spring into action — even when they’re just standing there, threatening each other.
Oh, and there’s that snappy, breathless dialog: “He has great courage and I know he will not fail us!!” “We meet again, but I warn you, this time I will show you no mercy for your infernal meddling!!”
And this exchange:
“You’ve killed him!!”
“I did … and much too quickly!!”
Note the double exclamation marks!! Every time!!
In this week’s installment of “Slipped,” the Scarlet Sparrow is caught up in her own dire situation — one that couldn’t get more dangerous.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Real-life adventures

© Michael Chevy Castranova 2016

I’ve determined Bill Griffith’s graphic memoir that came out late last year, “Invisible Ink,” very well could be the ideal gateway gift book for people who’ve not read graphic novels before.
I picked up a copy at CXC in Columbus last autumn, where Griffith was one of the speakers. As with everything he does, this book is even smarter than it first seems. It’s revealing family history with a lot of talk about the business of cartooning and quite a bit of nostalgia.
Meanwhile, in chapter 366 of “Slipped,” the Scarlet Sparrow knew it was a trap … and walked right in anyway. And more surprises are around the corner.
Take a look.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Polly, Dora, Flash and their pals

© Michael Chevy Castranova

So have you looked IDW’s recently released “King of the Comics: 100 Years of King Features”? At 300+ pages, it’s packed with newspaper comic strips the syndicate started by William Randolph Hearst in 1915 published over years. Older strips you’ve heard of, strips maybe you used to read and plenty I confess to never having seen before.
There’s the graceful “Dumb Dora” (by Chic Young before “Blondie”), silly “Happy Hooligan,” the Yellow Kid — from whence the name yellow journalism was derived — and “Boob McNutt” through “Bringing Up Father,” “Barney Google (before the strip devolved into “Snuffy Smith”), “Polly and Her Pals,” “Flash Gordon” and “Jungle Jim” to “Rip Kirby,” “Steve Canyon” (never as fun, I always thought, as “Terry and the Pirates”) and “Mutts.”
Famous, wonderful strips and many, many imitators of those famous strips.
The book also has plenty of photos of the cartoonists, sidebars on movies, animated cartoons and comic books inspired by these strips, and essays on various genres.
I admit my favorites are the adventure strips. The excellent cartoon style but serious tone of “Red Barry,” “Buz Sawyer” and “Little Annie Rooney” are all delightful — even if each hoped to cash in on more popular strips at the time (“Dick Tracy,” “Terry and the Pirates” and “Little Orphan Annie” respectively).
And speaking of adventure strips, chapter 365 of “Slipped” takes us right back into the thick of the action with our hero, the Scarlet Sparrow, dashing head long into danger — with no weapons, no plan and no backup. You know, her usual method of operation.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Cat burglars

Image and text © Michael Chevy Castranova

The idea of cat burglars as heroes is not new, in movies or comics. There was a silent French movie serial in 1915 called “Les Vampires” in which a gang of thieves — a woman, in particular — dressed in black, scurried across roof tops and, well, stole things. Parts of it are pretty fun. (You can find it on DVD and YouTube.)
Over years we’ve had Cary Grant as John Robie, aka the Cat, in Hitchcock’s 1955 thriller “ToCatch a Thief” up to Paul Rudd as “Ant-Man” just last summer.
Catwoman has been longtime Batman foe/friend in comic books, movies and most recently in “Gotham,” as played by Camren Bicondova — though she’s more of a Cat-teenager in this latest TV iteration.
Tyler Wilson’s own cat burglary is a bit less clear. It’s stated often in “Slipped” that she has stolen, and she’s taken on the name of the Scarlet Sparrow, the infamous cat burglar of Paris, from her missing father. Or rather, that name been thrust upon her.
But she wears the scarlet mask and gloves, and her agility and stamina come from her ballet training. That’s how she’s able to scoot up and over the walls you see in chapters 362 and 364.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Thinking around corners

Image © Michael Chevy Castranova 2016

I’ve always preferred heroes who weren’t simply courageous — that is, they acted even if they were afraid of the possible outcome — but also were clever.
What I’ve tried to do with the Scarlet Sparrow is make her willing to make dangerous choices but also smart enough to consider what’s around the next corner. That’s what chapter 363 of “Slipped” is about: Tyler suspects the reason they’ve been given for sneaking into a guarded complex — and you’re right, we the readers weren’t privy to the reason — is false.
She and Cartier Tour, her unwilling ally in this adventure, and Pip the dog now have to find out what’s really what.
And we also have to keep in mind that even though she’s often courageous, tough and smart, she more often than not acts rashly — with less than ideal outcomes.
As one enemy once said, she creates chaos wherever she goes.

And speaking of heroes, it was excellent to see, even belatedly, that “Jessica Jones” on Netflix was nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award, for star Krysten Ritter. It is one of the best things I’ve watched on television — streaming or broadcast — in a very long time, and Ritter’s performance is astonishing. You really should watch it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Cartoon acrobats

Image © Michael Chevy Castranova 2016
The thing in comic book heroes these days — on TV and movies, and in the books — is everyone seems to be a gymnast and everyone is a master of some form of martial arts.
Even the much-praised Daredevil on Netflix, though he starts in a boxer’s stance, still flips about and kicks opponents in the head as often as using his fists.
That’s one of the refreshing things about the near-perfect TV version of Jessica Jones — she can jump, but there’s no acrobatic cart-wheeling in space. No Vulcan karate chops; she just slugs the bad guys. Or drops a refrigerator on him.
When the Scarlet Sparrow lost the Time Sword a few years ago in “Slipped,” I needed to figure out a way for her to defend herself. Guns definitely were out. And it had to be some means that would make sense for the 1920s.
So I figured the athleticism of dancers — I’m thinking of ballerinas I’ve known — would be different and a nice touch. That would explain her keen sense of balance and being able to achieve great jumps (both key traits of a cat burglar), as well as excellent stamina.
You can see an example of that in chapter 362, panel three.
As for Cartier Tour, in panel two, her unique skill set will be explained soon. Well, soon-ish.