Palmiotti & Gray Get Book Smart With Kickstart

Pulled from:  Posted by Richard Boom on Oct 10, 2011

From the talented team behind Jonah Hex and the creator of Painkiller Jane comes a new female driven, action adventure. Book Smart is due in stores October 19th.

Kickstart Comics, the new publishing venture from Kickstart Productions, teamed up again with comic gurus Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray (Jonah Hex, Power Girl, The
Resistance) on a new graphic novel entitled BOOK SMART. With Pencils & inks & cover by Juan Santacruz (Incredible Hulk, X-Men and The Resistance 2). Their previous
title together, The Twilight Experiment, was recently re-released in store.

BOOK SMART is part BOURNE IDENTITY meets ROMANCING THE STONE. The book focuses on a young woman wakes up in a hospital in Nepal with amnesia. As she
struggles to find answers on her identity, she finds criminals on her tail and that she has an uncanny skill set that suggest she may be an international spy.

Kickstart Comics launched last fall. The books are an eclectic range of great storytelling from top comic book creators and established Hollywood writers such as Mark Sable (Hazed, Unthinkable), Adam Freeman & Marc Bernardin (Monster Attack Network, Genius), Joshua Williamson (Dear Dracula), Jeff Amano (Fade From Grace, Cobbler’s
Monster) and B. Clay Moore (Hawaiian Dick) and such artistic talents as Jim Fern (Fables), Lee Moder (Wonder Woman, X Factor) and rising star Julian Totino Tedesco


SciFi Pulse Review: BOOK SMART

Pulled from:

October 2011

1. Kickstart’s Book Smart, which is described as “Bourne Identity meets Romancing The Stone. The book focuses on a young woman wakes up in a hospital in Nepal with amnesia. As she struggles to find answers on her identity, she finds criminals on her tail and that she has an uncanny skill set that suggest she may be an international spy.” It has been created by always-excellent writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, with pencils, inks and cover by Juan Santacruz.

Like all of Kickstart’s previous offerings, this book is full of fun, adventure and surprises. It’s a one-shot, so you can’t be sure just what’s going to happen next, and I enjoy that so much in an era of endless storylines. Be sure to pick up this great comic, and if you haven’t read other Kickstart releases, be sure to buy and read them as a present to yourself!


BOOK SMART Review from Comic Vine

Pulled from:

What happens when a woman loses her memories but is being hunted by killers? Thankfully she possesses the skills to survive as she tries to figure out who she was.

The Good

I love long running comic series. There is something about the longevity of a character and being able to go back and read old stories. There is also something to be said about new and self contained stories. It's not often a comic book has the opportunity to offer a beginning and an end to the story. With Book Smart from Kickstart comics, that's what we get.

The idea of a character getting amnesia but having access to ass-kicking skills might sound a little familiar but it's that mystery and suspense that adds to the story. We have no idea what the character's story or motivation was at the beginning. As she tries to figure out who she is and avoid the attempts on her life by the mysterious bad guys, we sort of become part of the mystery. We're right there with her, not knowing what the next page will hold.

The Bad

A woman gets amnesia but can kick everyone's ass. Lucky for her, she gets set up with an American teacher in Nepal that is able to hold his own when they're attacked by armed thugs. He also happens to be a good pickpocket and what do you think the chances are of the two developing an attraction towards each other?

You have to have a good villain to move the story along. The one we have here has several opportunities to show us just how evil he can be. There were times when his dialogue came across as a little cheesy. And throughout the story when we don't know what the big mystery is, it's hard to understand what his motivation is, besides a possible hunger for wealth or power.

The Verdict

The great thing about the Kickstart books is you get a complete story for a reasonable price. Long running comics are great but having a story with a beginning and an end is a nice change of pace. The story dealing with an amnesiac woman waking up in Nepal with killers after her and uncanny abilities to defend herself almost gives the impression you know where the story is going to end. I'll admit I was a little concerned while reading but I should have known better and put my trust in the fact that the book was written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. Without spoiling anything, there are twists that won't see coming. It's a fun read. The twist is a nice one and the book can be read by anyone without having to worry about years of continuity.



After writing 52 reviews last month, I thought I was out of the game for a while.  But then, our good friends at Kickstart Comics sent over a copy of this week’s new release, Book Smart.  Written by the team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray (All-Star Western, and about a hundred other series) with art by Juan Santacruz (Kickstart’s Endangered), Book Smart is an absolute blast.  Mystery, adventure, and a surprising amount of comedy all come together in this story of an amnesiac woman and the large number of people who want her dead.

Book Smart’s protagonist may or may not be named Samantha Rayne, and she’s a great addition to Kickstart’s line of strong female lead characters.  She wakes up in Kathmandu with amnesia after being injured in an expedition.  Samantha doesn’t get much time to reflect on her situation, because henchmen start trying to rough her up almost immediately.  And that’s when she finds out that even if she doesn’t know her name, she’s got fighting skills that point to some sort of training and a possible dark past.

This is one of my favorites of the Kickstart line, which if you’ll recall, is made up of books that I like a whole lot.   The story is relentlessly clever and well-conceived.  Throughout the action, Palmiotti and Gray never lose sight of the fact that the main character doesn’t know who she is.  She doesn’t completely give herself over to the fun of finding out that she kicks all sorts of ass, which I appreciated.  They really have a strong take on the amnesia concept (which is a hard thing to make work), where they don’t lose sight of the information that Samantha doesn’t have.  She can’t let herself be attracted to Sean, the teacher who ends up dragged along on the adventure.  After all, she doesn’t know if she’s actually married or engaged.  And in a nice inversion of the usual formula, Sean is the one who’s immediately lovestruck and Samantha is the badass.  (Which is not to say that Sean doesn’t have his moments – after all, he’s a guy who helps move the plot along with the line “I picked the guy’s pocket while we were on fire”.  You can’t tell me that isn’t awesome.) 

The character work is really good here, always a strong suit for the team of Palmiotti and Gray.  Amnesia is usually a shortcut to avoid defining characters and circumvent sketchy motivations, but this is the best use of the plot device I’ve seen in a long time.  Samantha’s attempts to deal with her lack of identity while insane things happen all around her lifts Book Smart beyond just being a fun action thriller.

I have to say, Book Smart made me actually laugh out loud twice.  Once with the reveal of Samantha’s true identity, which was truly surprising but also made perfect sense with everything that had been established.  The second time came near the end when the intelligence agencies of two different countries get into a gunfight over who gets to kill the heroes.  As character-focused as the story is, the action scenes are deeply satisfying.

The action scenes are suitably over-the-top, yet grounded in the real world.  The fight scenes are executed so well – there’s a momentum to the fight scenes where every action is clear and choreographed.  Scenes of regular people fighting often fail in comics, because it’s a visual language that lends itself more to guys getting punched through buildings or blasted to atoms.  Juan Santacruz does a fantastic job with the storytelling and just drawing regular people.  His previous Kickstart book, Endangered, was an insane sci-fi epic with crazy aliens and technology and it looked gorgeous.  And somehow his style translates to normal human people with normal clothing.  It’s great work, and if you look at both of Santacruz’ Kickstart books, you’ll be amazed at his versatility. 

And to get slightly off-topic here, I’ve been reviewing a lot of comics lately – all 52 first issues in the DC Relaunch.  One thing that really had me down by the end of that stretch was the treatment of women.  (Not in all of the titles, by any means.  But the ones that were bad were so bad.)  I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but Kickstart, from Day One, has really been excellent at portraying female characters.  Strong, capable, but distinct – they’re not just pulling from a “Female Character” spreadsheet, and while attractive, they’re not hyper-sexualized.  Here, Samantha is drawn as an attractive woman, but she also dresses like an adult with good judgment – she’s not going to Nepal in something skintight and low-cut.  Her neckline remains distinctly neck-adjacent throughout the book.  It’s just really heartening to see something like Book Smart right now.  And heck, it really makes me happy that I can recommend any book in Kickstart’s line without having to be a little embarrassed by boob shots or weird sexual politics.  Books like Witch, Book of Lilah, Headache, Bad Guys and many others have well-written and tastefully portrayed female leads, which is exactly what the industry needs right now. 

Book Smart is available today – it’s a great read and really helped turn around some of my misgivings about the state of comics today.  Thanks again to the folks at Kickstart!


Comics Reporter Interview: Mark Sable

October 9, 2011



I was pitched an interview with the writer Mark Sable by one of his publishers. I usually don't respond to those kinds of pitches, but I knew I had heard the name before, and went to look him up.

A picture started to form. Mark Sable is one of those constantly-employed writers that splits his time between his own projects, comics series and stand-alones for various smaller publishers and start-ups, and occasional but not always reliable work at the big two companies, mainly but not limited to one-shots and fill-ins. I think that's a fascinating place for a writer to be in their career: getting a lot of work but maybe not the exact kind of work that might come eventually come to you, with hundreds of comics readers that are wannabe writers wanting to take your place, all without the kind of high-profile gig that stamps you in the mind of the majority of the medium's fans. I read from two ongoing/forthcoming projects from Sable in specific preparation for this talk: Graveyard Of Empires from Image, and Decoy from Kickstart. I found compelling much of what Mark Sable had to say about his work and orienting himself towards writing in general, and I thank him for the time in doing the piece and taking a peek at the transcript before publication. -- Tom Spurgeon



TOM SPURGEON: I take it from what I've read you're a lifelong comics reader or at least a long-time comics reader?

SABLE: Yeah, lifelong. I think like everyone else there's a short break in high school. I'd like to say it was to chase girls [laughs] but I think it was the fear of being a social outcast building up stronger than in other years. The story I tell sometimes is that I was bar mitzvahed and literally the theme of my bar mitzvah was Marvel Comics.

SPURGEON: Decoy is one of the comics you sent me. There are thriller elements to it, which makes me think that pacing is important. How much information are you providing the artist in terms of pacing issues: say, the number of panels per page, or the panel shapes and sizes. Do you provide more information now than you used to as far as storytelling rhythms go?

SABLE: Yes and no. The one thing I've always done, and I'll always continue to do it unless mandated otherwise, is indicate the number of panels. That's not to say an artist can't say to me, "I want an extra panel" or "I don't need as many panels." But if I don't do that, I'll over- or underestimate what I can fit on a page.

The other thing I'm very careful about is with double-page spreads; I try not to have panels that run horizontally across two pages. It's very hard to pull off, and if I don't tell an artist, sometimes they'll do it. I don't think it's even the artist's fault. There's a sequence in Graveyard Of Empires that Paul and I sat down and worked out, it was meant to work that way.

I'm not that specific with the shape of the panels. That's something for the artist to decide. I'm not at the point where I feel comfortable having a strong opinion on the matter. I give panel size, and I try to indicate the pacing to some degree: "Okay, this panel should be larger." Also, someone like Andy McDonald, although it's the first time I've worked with him, I've known him a long time personally. I've followed his work. I feel like there's a level of trust with him where it's always like, "Okay here's the script. If you find a better way to do it..." That's a situation where there's enough creative participation and collaboration that we can go back and forth on a particular thing. Should this be a splash? Should it not?

SPURGEON: It seems to me you're at the point in your career where you don't have those recurring mainstream gigs that define the rest of your schedule. How do you manage a career where a writer is where you are? What projects you take on and what do you take a pass on? How much attention to you pay to projects in terms of getting you from one place to another career-wise, or do you just take things as they interest you and work as much as possible?

SABLE: There's a little bit of both there. Ideally, I'd like to have stability of the sort that as a freelancer I don't completely have -- at least in terms of my writing. I teach writing as well, primarily screenwriting and TV writing, and that's really rewarding in and of itself. Having a source of income outside of comics is helpful just to live, but it also lets me have a little bit of say. There are some things I can say no to. Not everyone can, and it's easy on the outside to wonder how a creator could say yes to a project that seems so obviously wrong for them.

I don't want to complain. I've been extremely fortunate. But comics don't pay a lot. How many comics creators get healthcare? I'd certainly love more regular gigs from the Big Two, but that being said I want them to be the right gigs. Not that I'm not hungry, but I think I felt desperate in the beginning and a little dazzled. They approached me to do Teen Titans stuff right after Grounded, and I was so flattered that I didn't wonder if that was the right fit for me.

Another issue about doing work for the Big Two is that no matter what it's going to be read by more people than read my creator-owned stuff. I don't know what the percentage is, but I think I've done much more creator-owned work than Big Two work. But those work-for-hire books that I've done can stand out a lot more in casual readers' minds. When I was doing Teen Titans and Supergirl, just little arcs, the Cyborg story, I felt like I was getting maybe typecast a bit as the teen guy. I have no problems writing books like that. I wouldn't have written Grounded if I felt I had nothing to say in that genre. But I don't want to get limited to it.

When I look at people's careers I admire the most, they're people who are able to do some version of both. Brian K. Vaughan is someone I have a lot of respect for. There's an example of someone who's been extremely choosy about his work. It's hard to think of anything he's done that's not exceptional in some way. I know that when he started out he was doing some Marvel and DC stuff that are back-issue bin kind of stuff. He was fortunate enough to do work that would eclipse that. But who knows if he'd be able to be as choosy if he were not getting all that work from Hollywood?

There are a number of different scenarios I could see myself being happy doing. I could be very happy just doing comics, even after all those years of wanting to do film. I'm not above compromising. If Marvel or DC wanted to sign me to an exclusive, I'd be very happy to do that. They let you carve out exceptions for creator-owned work, so that would be fine. If I could do creator-owned and work on a television show -- it doesn't have to be Lost -- that would also be fine. Or to have something like Kirkman's career, where he really is making a living off of independent stuff. But the list of those people? It's like Kirkman and...

SPURGEON: Something like this Decoy book. How does that fit in to your desire to do a certain kind of work? What's the appeal of the project in that sense?

SABLE: There's a couple of things. I like espionage. I'd love to do a straight espionage book. It's something I've been trying to pitch, and it's been really hard. Quite frankly, outside of Queen and Country, which was a black and white for a small publisher, it's a genre that doesn't seem to have a lot of attraction at least as far as editors and publishers are concerned. So just the espionage aspect of it interests me, although the idea drifted pretty far from the hard kind of espionage I'd like to be doing. [Spurgeon laughs]

I'm trying to think of where the idea came from, it's always hard to pinpoint, and I'm sure the Life Model Decoy stuff from Marvel was somewhere in the mix there. I think Casanova was somewhat of an influence just in my getting excited -- it's my favorite book on the stands right now, period -- about espionage being something you could have fun with without veering off into Austin Powers territory. The thing that was maybe the clincher for me was I was reading a book called Wired For War. This is one of those things that if I lack that visual arts background that most creators have, I'd like to think my interests are one of the things I bring to the table. I mostly read non-fiction and things that are outside what most people would consider reading for fun.

This book Wired For War is about the roboticization -- if that's a word -- of warfare. Just thinking about drones, how that's changed warfare. Just in the war in Iraq, the amount of drones just blew up. Even under Obama. You think of all the moral and ethical implications of what that means. That book opened my mind to that, as well as to what's technologically possible in robotics now and what's expected to be in the near future.

Other than the decoys in that book -- that's a pretty big "other than," it's like "other than the zombies -- but other than the decoys all the robotic stuff in there is pretty realistic. Some scenes have been cut, but there's a walker that one of the characters has, walkers like out of Robocop, but basically there's a real one out there that's been built. Some of the powers that Decoy has, like the synthetic aperture radar that allows him to see through things, they're real. That book exposed me to a host of things.

I'm going to blank on the name... it was a movie I saw [Transcendent Man]. It's based on a book by Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near, and its idea is that technology is increasing. Technological growth is increasing exponentially. Kurzweil believes that between nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and genetics, we're all going to be cyborgs. To an extent we already are, with our smart phones. He thinks within our lifetime we'll see self-aware AI.

There's two sides to this vision. There's the Rise Of The Machines/Terminator scenario. They became self-aware and they don't need us. But there's also this optimistic idea that these beings will allow us to become god-like and immortal. Kurzweil is in the optimist camp, and I'd never really been exposed to that side of things He's a technologist/futurist. He's also an inventor. He invented a reader -- I don't know if he invented the scanner, but you scan it over a page and it reads out loud to the blind. He has a ton of patents. He lost his father, which I did last year. He wants to come to terms with his own mortality, or not come to terms with it. He's on this quest of getting artificial intelligence and robotic, accelerate it.

How does all this relate to Decoy? The story of Decoy is this guy wakes up and he realizes he's a robot -- not just any robot, but a Life Model Decoy for a spy. Instead of the spy using the decoy out in the field, so the bad guy thinks he's killed the spy when he really killed the decoy, the spy uses the decoy at home to be the perfect father and perfect husband and the spy goes out and enjoys shooting people. [laughter] He's into gambling and womanizing and all those things. So there are character things that appeal to me there.

Relating this back to robotics, when this decoy is forced to take on the role of the spy, the two organizations that are the threats in the book reflect both sides of this philosophy. There's a neo-Luddite group that fears the Rise of the Machines scenario and wants to send mankind back into the Dark Ages. There's another one that believes AI is a good thing but they happen to be a criminal syndicate. They believe there's a virtual heaven for everybody; they just want to control the gates. Getting to play with those ideas is something that interests me. As you can tell, I can ramble on about it. [Spurgeon laughs]

Ultimately to me the hook into it as a writer when it became something more than conceptual was the idea of what would you if you found out your entire family, all your family relationships were something that was programmed into you. They feel real but they're not, and maybe you can let them go. What do you do? Somebody asked me at one point if I had a robot, what would I do. It would be somewhat similar to what Zekiel Dax, the spy in the book, does. I don't think I'd use it so I could go out whoring.

SPURGEON: So what is your best work, Mark? What should we buy?

SABLE: [laughs] Fearless is being reintroduced in trade, and I hope people pick it up. But t's hard to think of anything I'm more proud of than Graveyard, Graveyard of Empires from Image. I'm genuinely proud of it. I'm finishing up the last issue with Paul. I think it's his best as well. I don't feel like I'm being disingenuous with that.

I think Decoy is very strong as well. The tone is lighter. Story structure is something I've always worked on very hard. In terms of character arcs, I don't think I've nailed it any better than in Decoy. And Andy MacDonald's art is great. I really feel those books are the best things I've done so far. Lest I sound too in love with my writing, nothing I write meets my expectations for my work. Every time something new comes out I'm overjoyed at the art and I cringe at the writing. I hate going back and re-reading things, and I don't unless I have to. But yeah, Decoy and Graveyard, in all sincerity I stand by those as the best two things I've written so far.


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