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Comics Feature

Weird Science

City Paper's Fifth Annual Comics Contest

First Place Winner: Dirt Farm by Ben Claassen III of Baltimore. See more.

Comics Issue 2006

Weird Science City Paper's Fifth Annual Comics Contest

Dirt Farm by Ben Claassen III First Place, 5th Annual City Paper Comics Contest

Verms by Kevin Sherry Second Place, 5th Annual City Paper Comics Contest

The World Talks Back by Laurent Hrybyk Third Place, 5th Annual City Paper Comics Contest

The Best of the Rest, Part 1 Entrants, 5th Annual City Paper Comics Contest

The Best of the Rest, Part 2 Entrants, 5th Annual City Paper Comics Contest

The Best of the Rest, Part 3 Entrants, 5th Annual City Paper Comics Contest

Virgil Stahr, Vanguard of Andromeda In Tales to Impress | By Daniel Krall

Paradise Found Bowie's Carla Speed McNeil Creates Her Own World to Explore in Finder | By Violet LeVoit

Boys Life Sometimes a Giant Robot Isn't Just a Giant Robot in the World of Japanese Comics | By Jess Harvell

2 Morro Morro Land Sci-Fi Gentrification Writ Large in an Obsessive Hand, Courtesy Brian Chippendale | By Christopher Skokna

Posted 10/11/2006

For an industry built on the backs of genres like war, horror, teen humor, crime, and, of course, superheroes, American comics are shockingly lacking in the science-fiction department. Sure, there have been plenty of sci-fi comic books over the years, but they've mostly featured O. Henry-esque surprise-ending stories with SF trappings like spaceships and time travel. The so-called British Invasion in the mid-'80s greatly helped matters, bringing over the pond work from the likes of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, writers brimming with mad ideas and intricate plots. And indie books ranging from Nexus and Grimjack to Keif Llama and Zot! have also injected bits of "hard" science fiction into comics' veins. Still, American comic books fall short in the sci-fi department.

This year's City Paper Comics Contest Issue takes a look at two American cartoonists working in the SF field--both of whom are guests at this weekend's SPX comics festival in Bethesda (see page 54 for details)--although in very, very different ways. Violet Glaze visits Bowie's Carla Speed McNeil, the mind and pen behind the long-running, self-described "aboriginal SF" series Finder. And Christopher Skokna takes A look at the work of Providence, R.I., polyhedral artist Brian Chippendale, who may be best known for his drumming in Lightning Bolt but whose fantasy/SF-tinged comics are just as innovative and mind-expanding. Frankly, the Japanese (and the French, too, while we're at it--seek Valerian) are much better at this sort of thing than Americans are; Jess Harvell spent a weekend reading sci-fi manga and now shares his findings. Finally, Daniel Krall, a local cartoonist known for cinematic crime dramas, tries his hand at science fiction with a short comic about a space ranger and his girlfriend. (Elsewhere in this issue, on page 42, Vincent Williams takes sides on Marvel Comics' mega-popular Civil War series.)

We didn't actually go back and compare numbers or anything, but from the weight of the stack, it definitely felt like we received more entries than ever for this year's fifth annual City Paper Comics Contest, though, we hate to even say it, not more quality. In fact, this year's judges--Marty Grosser, editor of Previews, Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly catalog; Mag Sabo, manager of Atomic Books; and Christopher Skokna, CP's own Comics Issue editor--needed only seconds to pick a winner: Dirt Farm, by Ben Claassen III of Baltimore, which came in second last year, gets a year's run in CP, with pay. Of Dirt Farm, Sabo says, "Yes! It's so funny, yet sometimes just plain wrong--but in a good way." In second place comes frequent entrant/first-time winner Kevin Sherry of Baltimore, whose Verms Grosser says feels a lot like "an urban Mutts." High praise, and for it Sherry gets $150. In third, winning $50, is Laurent Hrybyk of Parkville and his The World Talks Back strip: "Solid art, solid jokes, fairly original concept, solid strip," Skokna says.

If you've ever had any interest in SF--whether for speculation about the future, philosophical musings about the present, or just cool technology and creatures--there's sure to be something in this issue to grab your attention.

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