One of our favourite titles from the recent MonkeyBrain launch was the brilliant crime noir superhero adventure Masks and Mobsters from Josh Williamson and Mike Henderson. With it’s stunning black and white artwork and it’s enthralling mix of golden age superheroes, mad scientists and 30s style gangsters it stood out as something really intresting and exciting – plus it had a fantastic twist to end the final issue. Reminding us of everything from Ed Brubaker’s Incognito to Will Eisner’s legendary Spirit we wanted to find out more about where the inspiration came from so we got in touch with both Josh and Mike to find out just what it’s like bringing Masks and Mobsters to MonkeyBrain .

According to Wikipedia, Augmented Reality (AR) is a live, direct or indirect, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics. Although AR is not new in the world of apps (we’ve seen it on everything from arcade games to star chart apps) it is definitely at the cutting of edge of what can we be done in terms of digital comics. Marvel Comics have cut their teeth in the medium earlier this year, but with Anomaly we have one of the most ambitious projects  seen in recent months. This augmented reality graphic novel from writer Skip Brittenham and Brian Haberlin is epic in every sense of the word, and  literally sees the characters come to life from the page.

If like me, you love the darkness of classic horror movies – often the cheesier the better – then you might be interested in trying the first 3 chapters of Becoming by Brooke Burgess, published by Arcana Studio. As a fan of horror books, I don’t mind if they’re a little bit silly, in a foreign language, long or short. I can happily read pulpy, sexy shorts from the likes of Guy N. Smith and James Herbert or I can immerse myself in the longer, more thought-provoking tales of HP Loveraft and Brian Lumley. And I love a good horror comic. Whether it’s modern stuff like Dark Horse (my current favourite), Chaos! Comics‘s Evil Ernie and Lady Death, Glen Danzig’s Verotik series or legendary EC Comics from the 50s, I love horror, but something just doesn’t quite work with Becoming.

When it comes to digital comics, it is easy to focus on the new and cutting edge, however, it is also a fantastic medium for rediscovering the past. The Certified Hunt Emerson app is the latest release from Panel Nine, the company who released the audio graphic novels Kickback and Dapper John and who’s publisher, Russell Willis, we have spoken to on the site previously. The Certified Hunt Emerson collection brings together a selection of this infamous British ‘comix’ artist’s work into one place and gives the audience a unique insight into each page thanks to Emerson’s own audio commentary and introductions to each piece which gives the work. Unfortunately there aren’t audio tracks for every strip and you can’t scroll between pages while the tracks play, which is a shame, but it still helps to give the respective pages a fantastic insight as you hear about their intricacies from the man himself.

As a child of the 80s I grew up on a steady diet of Saturday morning cartoons and superheros, and perhaps my all-time favourite was He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Every weekend I would love to see He-Man vanquish the evil Skeletor with the “Power of Grayskull” and it would all be wrapped up with a nice moral message at the end. So it was with some excitement that I started reading the new digital only relaunch of He-Man and the Master of the Universe from DC Comics to tie in with a new on-going series. What was even more exciting was the prospect of a first issue written by the one and only Geoff Johns!

Freddie Williams cover to DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing ComicsIn the brave new world of digital comics, it is still as important to learn the right way to draw as it was in the days of Kirby and co. One man who has taken on the role of digital comics’ Obi Wan Kenobi is Freddie E. Williams II, who not only dispenses his wisdom on his own website and his own YouTube channel but is also the author of  The DC  Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics. With such an expert in all things digital out there and willing to share his knowledge with the world, we wanted to find out the secret to drawing great digital comics and who better to ask?!

Writer Grant Morrison is a divisive figure at the best of times, garnering passionate fandom and fervent derision in equal measure. For some he is the psychedelic master of twisted fairy tales, the writer of The Invisibles, Doom Patrol and Animal Man who is so adored he warrants his own convention. For others he is a pretentious, egomaniac whose long winded, rambling writing lacks the depth and subtlety of his big name contemporaries like Mark Millar Brian Bendis or Garth Ennis.

As with all ‘celebrity writer’ books, your opinion of Happy will be shaped by your opinion on Morrison. For those in the former camp it will no doubt be viewed as another tour de force that exhibits the same anarchic sense of wit and invention that have instilled his other titles. However for those, who fall into the latter camp it is much more of a challenging read, but one that may surprise even his most ardent haters.

The latest book to be launched by digital publishers MoonShot Digital is comic strip Grunts by Jeff Martin. Jeff made his name with web comic HEAT, but for this new outing he has combined his love of comics with his history degree from the University of Alberta to create a unique view of a fictitious civil war, based loosely on WWI, from the point of view of those unfortunate enough to be involved. But don’t worry, it’s not all doom and gloom, there’s still some jokes and plenty of explosions along the way! We got in touch with Jeff to ask him where his inspiration for the title came from and just how difficult is it to come up with different ways to have people failing to smoke in the rain!

Grunts 1 cover from MoonShot Digital

This weeks we’re going to celebrate the diversity of digital comics with two titles that could not be more different, but each of which exemplify what is so great about the medium.

First up is Avengers vs X-Men #10 aka the 3rd Marvel Infinite title. Written by digital comics godfather Mark Waid and with art by Pipedream Comics favourite Reilly ‘Powerplay‘ Brown it features the kind of boombast and spectacle that comes from Marvel’s two top super teams duking it out in a summer crossover epic. Digital specific books often benefit from action rather than subtlety and AvsX #10 delivers this is spades thanks to Brown’s manga tinged artwork and his smart panel designs that he has clearly been honing in Powerplay. With a neat three tiered story that has Scarlet Witch simulating battle scenarios between the Avengers team and the Phoenix possessed Cyclops we get to see all three scenarios play out simultaneously with characters shifting in and out of shots simultaneously with some very neat transitions, giving the whole book an epic, cinematic feel. Brown still has some tricks up his sleeve for the talking head scenes though, and his use of layered pages (rather than sequential panels) along with clever use of eyes moving and heads turning within otherwise static panels give the book an animated feel, without taking away from the comic-ness of them. The balancing act of digital cleverness vs. readability is a always a tricky one but Waid and Brown and co do an excellent job here and have definitely created the best of the Infinite books so far.

At the other end of the spectrum is Thoughts from a Winter Morning by Kurt Busiek and Steve Lieber. Published by MonkeyBrain Comics, there are no superhero slugfests or sophisticated digital trickery in this book, just a man,  a dog and his memories.  This autobiographical ‘slice of life’ book is a sublime slice of Americana that sees Busiek reminisce on childhood past and look forward to the future with the story brilliantly realised by Steve Lieber’s expert linework and subtle use of colour.

In days gone by this would simply have been one of many entries in an anthology that relied on Busiek’s name value (along with several others) to get it solicited and published. (In fact that was how this story first existed in NEGATIVE BURN published in 2004). However thanks to the growth of digital and the opportunities it now gives to smaller publishers like MonkeyBrain to release personal and intimate books without worrying about solicitation and distribution, it can now get to exist as its own entity and enjoyed as such. Sure it helps that it is written by a name talent like Busiek but for every book like this that does, it helps make it possible for other MonkeyBrain titles (like the brilliant Masks And Mobsters, also released this week) to get attention. And it is that open market where quality has room to breathe which is as exciting in the world of digital comics as the large scale advances at Marvel Infinite.

Both Avengers vs. X-Men #10 and Thoughts From A Winter Morning are available on ComiXology

Although not strictly in our remit here at Pipedream Comics, we were very excited this week by arrival of a copy of the DC Comics 75th Anniversary poster book from Quirk Books. Admittedly the book has been around since last summer and so doesn’t include the post-52 universe, but it’s still a fantastic read. Written by Robert Schnakenberg it covers the complete history of DC’s comics , dating back to 1935 and the debut issue of Fun magazine – the first comic published by eventual DC founder Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. Each cover features a glorious full page poster with a breakdown of the books significance on the back including information about the story, characters, writers and artists. There’s everything in here from the first issue of Detective and Action Comics to the debuts of Batman, Superman and Green Lantern. One of the real highlights though is the pre-Comics Code books of the 1950s with obscure titles such as Mister District Attorney and Strange Adventures – a book which had a strange obsession with stories about scientifically altered gorillas!

It’s a brilliant visual history of DC‘s back catalogue serving as both an education for those who aren’t big fans or a walk down memory lane for those who are. With the breakdown of different titles on the back it’s a great way to remind fans that there is no such thing as a new idea and the notion of common images, themes and stories in comic books is not something new and is a key reason why companies have to keep re-inventing themselves.

As gorgeous as this is in print though, we always think forward to digital and we would love to see this become an app. Just imagine the full screen glossy covers on a retina iPad with the ability to zoom in to every tiny detail. Now that, really is the future of digital publishing completely embracing the past.

DC Comics: The 75th Anniversary Poster Book is published by Quirk Books and can be be purchased here from Amazon.