Friday, July 13, 2018

The Private Eye

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Marcos Martin

When Brian Vaughan and Marcos Martin started serializing The Private Eye on their website, panelsyndicate.com, I started to read it there, and loved it, but my deep aversion to reading books online left me downloading chapters but never actually getting around to reading them.  Luckily, the series was eventually printed as this lovely landscaped hardcover, and I finally got the time to sit and pore over Martin's art the way I prefer to - on paper.

The Private Eye is a pretty cool science fiction detective story.  At some point in the future, the cloud will burst, and everyone's secrets, photos, and search histories will come pouring out, ruining a whole lot of lives.  A while after that, all of American society will become obsessed with privacy, to the point where people adopt 'nyms' and walk around wearing masks all the time.  There will no longer be an Internet, and most interestingly, policing and journalism will meld, with the 4th Estate investigating and prosecuting crime as well as reporting it.

The series is centred around P.I., a paparazzo (independent private investigator) who, when a former client is killed, ends up getting swept up in a conspiracy involving teevee.

The mechanics of the plot are fine, but not that important in a lot of ways.  Vaughan's idea of the future is bizarre but always believable, and his characterizations are spot on, as always.  P.I. is an interesting character, with great t-shirts, and his Internet loving, tattoo sleeved grandfather is a wonderful addition.

Martin is the big hero here though, as he gets to design some incredible looks for people, and is given plenty of opportunity to do some wide-screen action sequences.

This is a very good series, and if you aren't looking for the book, I strongly suggest you hunt down the comics online.

Friday, July 6, 2018

The Pervert

Written by Michelle Perez
Art by Remy Boydell

I was a big fan of Island, the comics anthology edited by Brandon Graham and Emma Rios that Image put out a few years ago.  Each issue was guaranteed to have something interesting in it, but one strip that really stood out to me was one about a transgendered sex worker by Michelle Perez and Remy Boydell.

I was pretty happy to see that strips were being collected and added to the rest of this character's story, as The Pervert.
To that end, this book does a lot to normalize, in a wider publics' minds, trans people and sex work.  The main character has friends, sexual partners, and clients, and sometimes those people can be all three things.  She also has to deal with awkwardness at her work when she decides to come out and begin living as a female, and with a level of harassment on the street that is hard to understand.

The story jumps around some, and that works as a way to slowly build up the character and help us better understand her situation.  Boydell's work is simple and straightforward, but often more affecting because of that.  This is a good book.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Grave Diggers Union Vol. 1

Written by Wes Craig
Art by Toby Cypress

I love Wes Craig's artwork, especially on Deadly Class, but when I saw that this new series was being published by Image with him writing, and the consistently interesting Toby Cypress drawing, I was intrigued, but also decided to tradewait the book, as I've been trying to cut down on my pullfile list.  Last week, Craig was at TCAF, so I was happy to buy the book directly from him, and get it signed.

The Gravediggers Union is kind of a poor man's BPRD.  In this world, the men (because they are pretty much always men) who dig graves in cemeteries are also the people who guard the living from zombies, vampires, and other forms of undead malfeasance.  The thing is, lately, things have been getting a lot worse than anyone can remember, with attacks happening with greater frequency and intensity, and with deadly ghost storms showing up all over the place.

This has something to do with an ancient cult called the Black Temple, some elder gods, and a storyline that digs back to mankind's earliest days.  Things don't look good, but the Union itself is more concerned with following protocol, which frustrates Cole, a veteran grave digger who has a family connection to what's going on - his estranged daughter is possibly the prophet that the Black Temple has been waiting for.

I enjoyed the story, and the way that Craig built up some of the characters in the GDU, and established the animosity between Cole and his superior in the union.  I particularly enjoyed Morphea, the witch who Cole turns to for help, despite the fact that it is forbidden for the Union to communicate with witches.

Cypress's art is always a bit of an acquired taste, but I've always liked it.  The colourist, Niko Guardia uses digital washes to denote movement or atmosphere, and that's something that annoys me.  Like the paint splatters in Wytches or the weird lines all over Supreme: Blue Rose, I find it detracts from the story more than it adds, but maybe that's just me being old and traditionalist.  It does seem to be catching on lately, so I'm going to have to deal with it.

This was a good book, and I look forward to checking out the second volume some time.  That's the problem with trade-waiting - it's going to be forever before I get back into this series...

Brass Sun Vol. 1: The Wheel of Worlds

Written by Ian Edginton
Art by INJ Culbard

I became a fan of INJ Culbard's work when he drew The New Deadwardians, one of the last good Vertigo series, and I've always been aware of Ian Edginton's writing, enjoying things like his Hinterkind series, also at Vertigo.  When Titan started publishing Brass Sun as a miniseries, it looked interesting, and then I came across this beautiful oversized hardcover at a good price, and was happy to grab it.

Brass Sun: The Wheel of Worlds is a very interesting piece of work.  It's set in a clockwork universe designed and set in motion by a very powerful being, populated with humans.  The various planets circle the titular brass sun, which has been slowly losing power, threatening all life.

The problem is that a great war broke out between the various planets generations ago, and since it ended, they've been left to develop in isolation, denying even the existence of life in other places.  There is a way to fix the sun, using a "key" that has been divided among the different spheres, but the knowledge of it is more or less lost.

On one planet, Hind Leg, a young girl named Wren is given the knowledge that her grandfather has been compiling in secret, and when he is arrested and killed, she has to set out to try to save everyone.  Along the way, she meets one of the priests who live and toil in the spars between the planets, and he assists her.  Together, they begin to travel to the different strange worlds, gaining allies and enemies as they go.

INJ Culbard's minimalist art works well here, as he creates strange and interesting cultures, all sharing the clockwork, steampunk aesthetic that the universe was designed with.  There's obviously a lot that doesn't make sense here, because the mechanics behind this world are impossible, but it's still a very enjoyable read.  The different worlds that Wren passes through feel like they could sustain a number of different stories, and the character work is impressive.

I'm always a sucker for an overly developed fictional world, and Edginton has done a wonderful job of building this universe.  I was a little disappointed to realize that this is just the beginning of a longer story, but I do see that Volume 2 is supposed to be published this month, although I can't find any actual proof of that having happened yet.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Get Naked

Written by Steven T. Seagle
Art by Mads Ellegård Skovbakke, Fred Tornager, Thorbjørn Petersen, Sim Mau, Rebekka Davidsen Hestbæk, Emei Olivia Burell, Andrada-Aurora Hansen, Erlend Jhortland Sandøy, Ingvild Marie Methi, Thomas Vium, Christoffer Hammer, Aske Schmidt Rose, Silja Lin, Angelica Inigo Jørgensen, Tina Burholt, Hope Hjort, Bob Lundgreen Kristiansen, Cecilie "Q" Maintz Thorsen, Patricia Amalie Eckerle

As I've mentioned recently, I've long been a fan of Steven T. Seagle's comics work.  Also, confession time, I love a nice soak in heated water, and don't often care if there are other people around while I do it.  Therefore, Get Naked, Seagle's new book of "graphic essays" about coming to terms and experimenting with social nudity appealed to me.

Seagle has described this book as being in the style of Spalding Grey or David Sedaris's autobiographical essays, and while that's a fair comparison, what makes this book incredibly interesting is the way in which his massive list of mainly Nordic collaborators have chosen to interpret and present his words visually.

Every essay in this book is set in a different city, and concerns a time when Seagle ended up getting naked in front of other people (mostly physically, but occasionally emotionally).  We see him have touristic mishaps in a small Czech town, find his way into a mixed-gender nude swimming complex in Berlin, enjoy a nude celebrity encounter in a Korean spa in LA, and stress out about having to get naked with some comics fans in the showers after a soccer game in Spain.

Many of these stories are pretty funny, especially as they deal with a very common form of neuroses that just about everyone can relate to at some level.  It's interesting that Seagle is determined to become more comfortable in his own skin, despite some awkward experiences.  For a while, I was confused as to why he keeps returning to his fear of nakedness, but then it's revealed that he has to take up swimming for health purposes, and things become a little more clear.

In the final analysis, this book can also be seen as an exploration of one of the ways in which America is so different from the rest of the world, in terms of its discomfort with nudity.  In the countries that Seagle visits (Japan, Korea, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Australia, Estonia, Czech Republic, and others), no one is too hung up on their appearance, nor are they as terrified of having someone catch a peek at them as Americans (and, often, Canadians) seem to be.  Seagle, who travels extensively for his animation work, and to appear at conventions, never seems to miss an opportunity to experience local customs, and that's pretty cool.

This book feels liberating in a number of ways, and features some terrific artwork by such a large number of collaborators.  Some of the chapters are very detailed artistically, while others are loose and very cartoony.  At times, the writing and art styles didn't exactly match, but in most cases they were very complimentary to one another.  Each chapter opens with a "travel poster" by Emei Olivia Burrell, and these were gorgeous.  I could easily see them framed and hanging in spas all over the world.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Genius

Written by Steven T. Seagle
Art by Teddy Kristiansen

Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen are a favourite comics pairing of mine, almost on the same level as Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, if not as prolific.  They've worked on some incredible comics together, such as House of Secrets, It's a Bird..., and The Red Diary, but I somehow never learned about Genius, this slim graphic novel that came out in 2013.

Genius is the story of Ted, a theoretical physicist who has gone years without an idea worthy of publication, a prerequisite for him continuing in his job.  At the same time that Ted worries about his employment, things are starting to get out of control at home.  His wife is getting sick, and needs to be able to access his health care.  His teenage son is becoming ever more interested in girls, and his daughter feels more and more out of place.

Ted's father in law, who suffers from dementia, has been holding onto a secret of Albert Einstein's ever since he worked as a guard for the great man after the Second World War.  Ted becomes obsessed with the notion that this knowledge could put his life back on track, but is unsure how he can extract it from the bitter and confused old man.

Seagle and Kristiansen tell a quiet and muted story in this book, aided by Kristiansen's muted colour palette, and his minimalist art.  These characters come alive, and much of the story stuck with me after reading it.  Middle age is portrayed as a reckoning, a coming to terms with the extent of personal limitations, and the story feels very timely in an era where even middle class employment feels as precarious as everyone's health.  It's not a cheerful book, but it is kind of affirming.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Eternal

Written by Ryan K Lindsay and Eric Zawadzki
Art by Eric Zawadzki

Black Mask has become one of the most exciting and interesting publishing house over the last couple of years, and one that is very hard to pin down.  I somehow didn't know that Eternal was coming out, and so its appearance on the shelf at the comic store this week was a nice surprise.

Eternal is a Northern European story in the tradition of Northlanders, Black Road, or Viking.  A small settlement is populated only by women and children after the men left and never returned.  As such, they've become the target of brigands and an evil sorcerer named Bjarte.

Luckily, they are protected by Vif, a shieldmaiden and leader who has honed the women into an effective and aggressive fighting force.  They take the fight to Bjarte, although the consequences of that are not what they were looking for.

The writer of the original story, Ryan K. Lindsay, had envisioned this as a smaller story, but the artist, Eric Zawadzki, of the exceptional Black Mask book The Dregs, expanded the story, adding longer scenes and many rich visual elements, really making the story his own.

And it is because of Zawadzki that you would want to buy this affordable OGN.  He excels at grizzled and dirty characters, and portrays the landscape beautifully.  Dee Cunniffe's colours add so much to this book.

I really liked this comic, and look forward to reading it again and poring over Zawadzki's art.  I would love to see him collaborate with Brian Wood on another book like this again soon.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Americatown

Written by Bradford Winters and Larry Cohen
Art by Daniel Irizarri

It's crazy to think that this terrific graphic novel started being published in the summer of 2015, considering how well it seems to be responding to the events of 2017.

Americatown, written by a couple of TV writers, is about undocumented immigrants from America eking out a life for themselves in Buenos Aires, having to deal with ruthless smugglers, heartless Immigration officers, and an orange-skinned mayor who is staking his reelection campaign on showing "tough love" to people who are in the country illegally.

The story is set in the near future (Bruce Springsteen is a very old man) and, as inequality and climate change have worked hand in hand to erode living standards in the US, many people find they have no choice but to risk their lives to arrive in Argentina, where the lucky ones subsist by working multiple jobs and living in shared apartments.

Owen Carpenter is a new arrival, but he's had some help getting there.  His son has started working for Tonto, an American Native who runs a successful smuggling ring.  While Owen and the people he travelled with are waiting in a safehouse, La Migra raids them, and Owen and his son, Derek, are able to escape, running over an officer in the process.

Derek gets nabbed, and ends up in prison, while Owen tries to figure out how things work in Buenos Aires's Americatown.  He finds jobs and friends who are willing to help him, and puts a plan into action to try to reunite his family.

This book is a very compelling read.  The inversion of having privileged Americans selling hot dogs on the street and complaining that they can't celebrate the Fourth of July openly is a novel one.  It draws attention to the plight of migrants, but also raises some much needed warnings about where the world is headed.

Winters and Cohen put together a tight story, although I thought that the ending was a little needlessly ambiguous (maybe I'm just tired though).  Irizarri's art is very nice, and I especially like the little ways in which he introduces extrapolated versions of modern technology.

Apparently the serialized version of this series got cut short, with half the run only appearing online, but this handsome hardcover is probably the best way to read the story anyway.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Solstice

Written by Steven T. Seagle
Art by Moritat

Solstice first entered the world as a three-issue miniseries in 1995 that was never finished because its publisher went bankrupt.  It was completed and published as a trade paperback in 2006, but was then reworked a little, and published again as a hardcover in 2016.

I've been a fan of Steven T. Seagle for quite a while, but had never noticed or heard of it until I came across it for the first time.  Moritat is a great artist, although the original 2/3 of this book date from when he used to go by his actual name, Justin Norman.

The book is told, in an ever-shifting narrative, by Hugh Waterhouse, who has been dragged into the jungles of Chile to search for the legendary fountain of youth.  Russ Waterhouse is a truly terrible person - he's a rich bully who has dragged a number of people into his lifelong obsession, which has become more pressing since he has developed terminal (yet symptom-free) cancer.

The story jumps all over the place, as Hugh describes his childhood, and two earlier expeditions to Arctic Canada and to Siberia, both of which came with great risk to his body and mind.  The Chilean expedition is no different, as Russ barrels through, and the group attracts the attention of some (kind of stereotypically rendered) indigenous groups.

Moritat's art is pretty nice throughout.  His art reminds me a little of Tim Sale's here, which made me think a few times of his book with Seagle, The Amazon.  The real draw is just how well Seagle builds up the two Waterhouse mens' characters, adding layers as he goes to make the ending a little more poignant.

I'm glad I picked this up - I really enjoyed it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Killer Vol. 4: Unfair Competition

Written by Matz
Art by Luc Jacamon

I remember being very impressed with the first Killer mini-series, when Archaia first started published translated versions of the French series.  It had a tight plot and I loved Jacamon's art.  I was also intrigued by the title character, who floated through the world as an expert assassin, and who doesn't think much of people, or connect to them.

I followed The Killer through his next two miniseries, but when Archaia was bought by Boom!, either they never published this fourth volume as a mini, or I somehow missed it.

It was good to return to these characters, but the storyline in this volume is pretty unfocused and a little unbelievable.  The Killer's drug connected friend decides to diversify, what with the drug cartels becoming too murderous, and decides to start an oil exploration company in Cuban territory that really irks the United States.

The business stuff, even when the wheels are greased with drug money, seems just too easy and quick in the context of the story, and there is a definite lack of suspense or danger to this story.  There are places where things wake up, but in the final analysis, this series became a case of diminishing returns.

Jacamon's art remains a real high point, but this volume incorporates a lot more photography than the previous one.  There is one more volume in this series, which was published last winter, but I'm not sure that I'm all that interested in reading it.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

RAID.ONE

edited by Rob Coughler and Ramón Pérez

RAID, the Royal Academy of Illustration and Design, is a Toronto comics studio, and home to Francis Manapul, Ramón Pérez, Gibson Quarter, Ian Herring, Irma Kniivilia, Nimit Malavia, Taran Chadha, Anthony Falcone, Scott Hepburn, Gabe Sapienza, Marcus To, Eric Vedder, Joe Vriens, Tri Vuong, and Tonci Zonjic.

The studio got its start fifteen years ago, when it consisted of Cameron Stewart, Kagan McLeod, Ben Shannon, and Chip Zdarsky, and when, if we believe Chip's introduction, its acronym stood for Racists Against Impaired Driving.  They all left over the years, making way for the talented list above, who have now put together this very handsome and well-designed anthology, which debuted at Fan Expo this year.

RAID has been bubbling away in the Toronto scene for some time, with many of its members being regular attendees at local comics shows.  They released an anthology comic for Free Comic Book Day this last year, but it is with this book that their diversity, versatility, and collective talent really shines through.

As with any anthology of this size, there is something for everyone, and some stuff that doesn't resonate with every reader.  I was pleased to see another chapter in Ian Herring and Daniel McIntyre's Junior Citizens, a series I've liked since I picked up an issue at TCAF a few years back.  Marcus To's story, Peaceful, shows artistic depth not usually seen in his Marvel and DC work.  Likewise for Francis Manapul's story, which has his usual close eye for layout and design, but more heart than I find in his DC writing.

Pérez closes out the book in fine style, with a mostly silent story about a clown that reminds me of his wonderful work adapting Jim Henson's A Tale of Sand.

The best story in this book though, is Tonci Zonjic's 'Not Dead', which has a pair of scavengers working their way through a debris field in space.  Zonjic told a similar story in the FCBD book, as he explores themes of isolation in the future.  This story stuck with me more than the others.

In all, this is a gorgeous book filled with top and emerging talent.  I would love to see more collaboration between these creators, and more showcases for their work like this.  I highly recommend picking this book up, even if you don't live in the Toronto area (here's the link again).

Monday, August 14, 2017

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

Written by Neil Gaiman
Adapted by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

How to Talk to Girls at Parties began its existence as a short story by Neil Gaiman, but last became a graphic novel adapted by the brilliant Brazilian twins, Bá and Moon.

The story is about Enn, a fifteen year old who finds that it's very difficult to talk to girls, a problem not shared by his best friend, Vic, who is very good at this.  Vic drags Enn to a party he doesn't really want to go to, and they are both blown away by the beauty of the girls there, especially the one they think is the hostess.

As Vic spends time with her, Enn wanders the house, and has a few increasingly strange conversations with some of the girls who are not busy dancing.  It doesn't take long for the reader (although it takes a lot longer for Enn) to figure out that there is something very odd about these girls, perhaps even something otherworldly.

Bá and Moon are stunning artists.  I didn't really buy Enn or Vic as fifteen year olds, but aside from that, I love how they construct these scenes and build character through facial expressions and body language.

This is a good quick read, although I have to say I'm happiest when the twins are writing the stories they draw.  I think it's time for them to give us a long-form story like their Daytripper, which remains one of my all-time favourite comics.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Journal of the Main Street Secret Lodge Vol. 2

by Steven Gilbert

I read the first Journal of the Main Street Secret Lodge about three years ago, and enjoyed it, so was happy to pick up Steven Gilbert's return to this title when I saw it at TCAF this year.  Like the first book, it depicts the town of Newmarket Ontario at the end of the nineteenth century, and involves a group of American robbers looking to take advantage of the small town.

They have heard that there is no real police presence in the town, and a lot of money, but they are not aware of the fact that the retired Captain Woodrow looks after things.  Once they arrive, and burn down the town's main hotel, the Captain goes after them, Rambo style.

Gilbert is a gifted artist, who takes a languorous amount of time getting to his actual story.  Along the way, we get a highly repetitive newspaper column on the methods employed by pickpockets, we see some kid take a voyage on a boat along the Mississippi, and learn about how the land that became Newmarket was taken by force from some Haudenosaunee.  None of these things are essential to the story, but I guess they provide atmosphere, as do the pages and pages of establishing shots that show up throughout the book.

Now, I like those establishing shots a lot, as I feel that Gilbert is at his strongest when depicting such scenes.

This is a good book, but a very unfocused one.  I would still return to the Main Street Secret Lodge (whatever that might actually be) for a third volume some day.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Dark Night: A True Batman Story

Written by Paul Dini
Art by Eduardo Risso

A number of years ago, Paul Dini, who at the time was a writer on the Batman animated series (where he created Harley Quinn), was attacked one night, mugged, and beaten viciously.  Dark Night: A True Batman Story tells the story of what happened that night, and how Dini came back from the depression and self-loathing that event plunged him into.

The book starts with a quick biography, showing us how Dini always related to fictional, cartoon, and comic book characters, with Batman and his rogues gallery playing a very special role in his life.  As a boy, the shy and reserved Dini liked to imagine his favourite characters interacting with him, and this continued into adulthood.

When the beating happened, Dini was not in the happiest of places.  His career was going great, and he was very happy with the outer trappings of his life, but he was lonely.  The girl he thought he was dating let him know that she didn't see him as more than a friend, and he was constantly living in denial of how unhappy he was (even though, we learn later, he had engaged in a strange episode of self-harm not that long before).

After he was beaten, Dini's face was a mess.  He required surgery to repair his skull, and as he recovered, he spiralled into depression and drinking, skipping work, and frequently arguing with the fictional characters in his mind.

This is a stunningly honest book, told from the perspective of years of reflection and a better mental state.  Dini lays himself bare,  and along the way, questions the value of the superhero genre as role models.

Eduardo Risso is surprisingly reserved in his illustrations, reining in his usual penchant for experimentation in layout and perspective.  I've never seen him portray a story this way, and it works exceptionally well with the type of story he is telling.  His work here is gorgeous.

This is a good book to give someone who might be recovering from a similar situation, or who suffers a more general anxiety.  Dini makes it clear that people can recover from any number of bad events in their life, but that it takes a positive support network and a little clarity about a person's situation and feelings.  It's a very good, very unique book.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Charley's War Vol. 1: 2 June 1916 - 1 August 1916

Written by Pat Mills
Art by Joe Colquhoun

I have been wanting to dive into Charley's War, which ran in four-page instalments in British weeklies starting in 1979, for a while now.  I've always been interested in the First World War, and had always heard good things about this comic.  I've had a number of the hardcovers for a while now, but didn't have the first one, and wanted to wait and read them in order.

Charley Bourne is a sixteen year old boy who lies about his age to be able to go off and fight in the Great War, arriving at the Western Front in June 1916.  He's not the brightest of lads, which he knows, but he makes up for it in heart and courage.

He is stationed near the Somme, and his unit becomes involved in that great slaughter.  Pat Mills researched this title meticulously, and has Charley exposed to many of the depravities of war, including chemical gas attacks.  He does not spare any time in making the war feel patriotic or justified - it's a terrible thing, and while Charley knows it, he does his best to make it through with the help of his friend Ginger and various other soldiers we get to know through the course of the book.

Mills uses Charley's letters home, and his family's letters to him, to help provide a lot of the exposition, which is a very effective way to get to know the characters better.  He also shows the effects that the war has on the morale and mental well being of the soldiers.  As well, we see the last cavalry charge, probably of all time, and recognize how slow the people in charge of the war were to adapt to new technology and circumstances.

Joe Colquhoun's art in this book is frequently stunning, while remaining rather cramped.  He conveys a lot of information on each page, and gives a realistic portrayal of life in the trenches.

This is a very good book, although owing to the episodic nature of the original strip, it leaves the reader hanging, which is a problem as I don't own the next volume yet.  It's time to start hunting that down...