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Fanboy alert! Popbot, free comics

Somewhere there's a dirty rock-star cat named Kitty who has an imposing robot bodyguard called Popbot. They go on chaotic misadventures involving transgendered assassins (tranassassins), the "deepcore" rapper Mo Prostate, Andy Warhol as a revolutionary on the planet CHE, and, according to Kitty, "the finest pharmaceuticals a rock star's money can buy."

All of this thanks to the twisted mind of Ashley Wood, an Australian illustrator revered in comic-geek circles for his melding of traditional painting techniques and digital manipulation. We discovered Popbot through volume one of Wood's Popbot Reader ($5.99, IDW Publishing), released in March. And we've been pleasantly perplexed since.

Wood has a thing for depicting the exaggerated (and mostly naked) female form, which might convince potential female fans that Popbot is purely straight-boy territory. But with their frenetic stories, their attention to visual detail, and their glossy cover stock, Popbot issues have the feel of painstakingly beautiful artifacts. They may not always make much obvious sense, but they're so downright gorgeous they don't have to.

There isn't much to actually read in the Reader. It's mainly a showcase for other adored illustrators (Hellboy's Mike Mignola, Sam Keith of The Maxx, etc) to offer their take on Kitty and Popbot in glorious two-page spreads.The scant dialogue (written in the Reader's sole story by Adam Warren) has Popbot's lines coming right out of the Hulk school: "Popbot save Kitty! Scary... hot tranny assassins die!"

Despite his poor verbal skills, Popbot cuts a mean figure. So mean, in fact, that he was recently made into a 15-inch-tall polystone statue (pictured) designed by Wood and created by Sideshow Collectibles. Popbot addicts quickly snagged every Popbot available at the 2004 San Diego Comic Convention, despite its $150 retail price.

But collector culture isn't all about shelling out big money for plastic and paper. Four years ago, Diamond Comic Distributors launched Free Comic Book Day as a means of introducing former fans or anyone generally averse to comics' dork appeal to the latest the form has to offer. Even the big houses like DC and Marvel are employing subversive and talented writers (Brian Bendis, Mark Millar, Peter Milligan) to great success. And FCBD might just prove to all the un-true believers out there that some of the most compelling and daring contemporary literature is being sold at the local comic shop.

The next FCBD is Saturday, May 7, and it's happening in several indie retail outlets around town. Be sure to ask for your free Batman Heroclix figure, another below-radar geek phenomenon we'll explore in a future installment of Fizz. Visit the handy store locator and free comic guide at

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--- Chad Oliveiri

Backyard enigmas

Beneath the urban logjam of neon signs and billboards lie the still waters of a different breed of sign. One that is quieter and often overlooked, maybe outdated, possibly forgotten; it's a less intrusive message that might even require a double take.

Monroe Avenue is rife with head-scratchers. Just between Meigs and Woodlawn is an unassuming hand-painted sign with red lettering that reads, "Be Careful What You Wish For." If this is an ad for something, the product is not clear. The sign is discreet; you might walk past it for a lifetime and not even register its existence.

In Highland Park, there is a bench with a plaque inscribed: "Please rest here awhile, enjoy the scene and recall the memory of Linda Hawkes Halunon." This may be difficult if you have no living memory of Linda Hawkes Halunon. I feel compelled to invent one for her. I see her as a progressive, frowsy-headed woman with a brain full of ideas and a house full of children. Perhaps she was an inventor.

--- Michael Neault