Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Squidder

by Ben Templesmith

I've been a fan of Ben Templesmith's art since he worked with Warren Ellis on Fell (or perhaps sooner, but I can't think of what that would have been), so I was curious to see what the results of his Kickstarter campaign were.  Never one to hide from the weird in the world, Templesmith created the world of The Squidder, and it is a pretty different one at that.

The future of the Squidder is one where the Earth has been taken over by squid-creatures from another dimension.  After years of rule and some weird genetic stuff, humanity is on its last legs.  Our hero, who never gets a name past Squidder, I don't think, is an augmented human, the last survivor of a push to get rid of the invaders.  Many years later, he ekes out a quiet, secretive existence, until the usual stuff happens, and he gets dragged back into the conflict.

I like this story, but I feel like it could have used some more time or space to develop.  I didn't feel like I knew the main character until the back half of the book, and much of what is going on can feel pretty obscure.  At the same time, I appreciate that Templesmith put a great deal of philosophy into this story (it can be read as a fight between collective action and individual thought), and of course, the artwork is phenomenal.  We don't see enough from Templesmith these days...

Ramshackle

by Alison McCreesh

The myth of the North plays big in Canadian consciousness and literature, and it is this curiosity about Northernness, coupled with the fascinatingly detailed watercolour that makes up the cover, that had Ramshackle: A Yellowknife Story calling to me from a table at TCAF.

Alison McCreesh has collected her various comics strips, drawings, and ideas about her and her boyfriend's summer visit to Yellowknife a few years ago.  The pair, freshly graduated and unhurried about settling down, by a beater of a soccer mom minivan, and drive it from Quebec to the Northwest Territories (clear across the country/continent, for the less geographically-inclined), before spending most of a summer living in it in an abandoned field.

McCreesh fits nicely in the Canadian tradition of honest comic memoirists, giving us a clear portrayal of the downsides of her adventure as well as sharing the beauty of the land and the people who live there.  She alternates between grey tone illustrations and rich watercolours, and gives a strong sense of place to this book.

As much as I enjoyed reading about Alison's experiences, I found that I really gravitated towards the parts of the book that dealt with the way in which Yellowknifers have constructed their day-to-day existence in a city just below the Arctic Circle.  Details about the inability to construct sewage or water pipes on solid bedrock, and the subsequent system that has developed around 'honeybuckets' - pails used to collect washroom waste which homeowners have to take to a disposal site themselves, fascinate me.  Likewise, I was very interested to learn about the informal community called the Woodlot, a group of quasi-legal shacks that have become the nexus for a very special part of the city.

McCreesh has done some very good work in this book, which entertained me as much as it informed me.  Recommended.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

In Search of Charley Butters

by Zach Worton

I really enjoyed The Disappearance of Charley Butters a year ago, so I was looking forward to getting The Search for Charley Butters. Charley Butters was an obscure and unknown artist who went off to live alone in a shack in the woods in the 1960s and was never seen again.  Travis and his friends (I use that word loosely) discovered the cabin in the first book, and Travis became a little obsessed with Butters's journals.

This book opens a year later, and Travis is not in a good place.  He was squeezed out of the documentary about Butters that his friend Stuart made, his girl left him, and he started spending way too much time drinking and venting to strangers.  Travis gets tossed out of a theatre screening the documentary, and his boss forces him to take a short vacation to pull himself together.

Travis creates a scene on Stuart's doorstep, and then heads back to Butters's cabin, where he discovers a few other things about the artist, and finds himself a little refreshed.

This is very much a middle book.  It advances the plot without introducing much in the way of new story elements, instead focusing on Travis's general disintegration.  Travis is not a likeable character, but Worton's storytelling is compelling, and you find yourself rooting for him a little.  Most interesting is the mystery of what happened to Butters, and who is still living in those woods.

Here's hoping that the next volume will be out at next year's TCAF.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Resistance

Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by Juan Santacruz, Francis Portela, Paul Fernandez, and Christopher Shy

I remember when this series first was published at Wildstorm in the early 00s, and deciding not to buy it even though I was, by that point, a fan of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti's collaborations.  I don't remember my reasoning at the time, but have come to recognize that it was probably a mistake, as this is a very good comic.  Although, to be fair, had I just read the first issue, I might not have gone back to it.

The Resistance tells the story of a group of fighters working to free humanity from the GCC, the governmental organization that runs a future where births are strictly rationed, and where Big Brother would look like a benign minor control system.

Our point of view character is Brian, a computer genius and illegal birth, who draws the attention of the GCC when he tries to help his dying grandfather.  He ends up getting help from Surge, the leader of a resistance cell, who brings him on board.  Over the course of this trade paperback, which collects the original eight-issue series, we get to know the other members of the cell, FTP, Version Mary, and others, and watch as they strike a powerful blow against the GCC.  We also get to watch as a compassionate GCC agent is betrayed by his partner and ends up working with the very people he previously saw as enemies.

It's clear that this series was originally intended to be an on-going one.  Gray and Palmiotti lay the groundwork for a lot of future character development, especially with regards to Version Mary, who is the product of a long-lived genetics program, and is the target of a cult, but I guess sales were not there to support the book.  On the last pages, the characters even joke about how, if they were to save the world for democracy, no one would ever be around to see it.

This is a nice looking book, with good work by Juan Santacruz throughout.  I'm not sure how this Wildstorm series ended up at IDW, or if the four or five pages painted by Christopher Shy were included in the original series, since I think of Shy as being IDW's boy.  Either way, this was a solid collection, and I'm glad I picked it up.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Dreamcave

by Stanley Wany

This was largely an impulse purchase for me at TCAF this year, as I was attracted to Stanley Wany's art, and the idea of reading a story set in tribal Africa, a setting and place not depicted enough in comics.

The story centres on a young man who believes that things in the world are getting worse and worse, and that he can help fix things by going on an epic journey and asking his departed elders for their help.

The journey takes him eventually to the Dreamcave of the title, a place where the ancestors wait, as does an ancient lion.

It's hard to know what's real and what is imagined in this book, but that is its strength.  Wany doesn't provide a lot of written explanation, leaving a lot to the art and the reader to suss out.

His art, which looks like it's done in pen and ink, is often as sparse as his narration, but carries a lot of weight with it.

This book is the middle part of a trilogy, but stands alone perfectly.  Apparently the first book and this one only become connected at the end, and that book hasn't been made yet.  I hope that means I can grab the first and third books at TCAF next year, because I want to know more about this world.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Nonnonba

by Shigeru Mizuki

It's kind of strange reading Nonnonba so soon after I completed Mizuki's first Showa book, as it covers much of the same material.  That book is a mixture between personal autobiography and straight history book, examining Mizuki's childhood in a small town in Japan in the 1920s and 30s.

In Nonnonba, Mizuki focuses on his childhood, his relationship with the old woman who often worked for his family in a domestic capacity, and their shared belief in the rich spirit world of Japanese mythology and folk tradition.

Young Shige gets up to some pretty usual boyhood stuff, fighting with the kids from a different neighbourhood, visiting a 'haunted house', and drawing about his experiences.  He does terribly in school, and often exasperates his mother.

Nonnonba's familial relationship to Shige or his family is never made very clear, but it is obvious that the two care very deeply for one another.  She teaches him about the various spiritual creatures that live all around them, and as the book progresses, Shige gets to know a few of them on a personal level.

This is an interesting book.  It shows a touching example of inter-generational friendship, and helps document a way of life that is now gone.  I feel like Showa, which is supposed to be a broad examination of Japan's history, does a better job of explaining minute details about the mangaka's life, but this book is much more affecting and charming.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Mad Tea-Party

by Jonathan Dalton

This is the second graphic novel I've read by Jonathan Dalton, a Vancouver-based cartoonist.  A Mad Tea-Party is a complex example of well-planned and executed science fiction comics, and I found that there was a lot more depth to the story than I originally suspected while reading the first chapter.

This story swirls around Connie and Matilda, two 'Genies', or gene-altered humans, among the first naturally born to the first generation Genies, who were used as soldiers in a war against an alien enemy.  The Genies now live in seclusion, untrusted and disliked by the rest of Japanese society.

Connie, like her parents, has an eidetic memory and is incredibly smart.  Teenage Matilda is pretty much a normal human, and therefore feels alienated from her family.  She ends up dating Jackson, a member of the New Youth Movement, a group of fascists who believe that Earth should remove all aliens living on it (Earth had been conquered by a different alien race, but was now independent again, if slightly more diverse than it was before).

When Matilda sneaks out to meet her boyfriend, Connie tags along secretly.  We learn that Jackson was actually under orders to kidnap Matilda, and the sisters escape in his flying car.  They meet an alien (who is actually from Brooklyn) who attempts to help them, but soon becomes a prisoner of the NYM himself, along with Connie.  While their parents mobilize their old friends to find their daughter, it's actually Matilda who needs to figure out how to save the day.

Dalton's put a lot of thought into this world, which is very rich.  In addition to the NYM, there is also the Maldivians, a group determined to wipe out national distinctions on the Earth, and to unite the human race.  Into this charged political atmosphere, Dalton includes frequent flashbacks to show just what the girls' parents were up to during the war.

Dalton's art is very nice.  He is very good at facial expressions, and has a nice consistent look to his world that is highly influenced by manga and anime.  I particularly like the whimsical touches he adds to this book, like the hates that are worn by all members of the New Youth Movement, including a pilgram-style buckled hat.

Dalton is an interesting cartoonist, and it's well worth checking out his stuff.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Terror Assaulter: OMWOT (One Man War on Terror)

by Benjamin Marra

I think this might be one of the most pure comics I've ever read, at least in terms of what the artform has been for much of its existence.

Terror Assaulter: OMWOT follows our hero, the product of a secret US government organization (involving lizard men and ceremonial aprons) who have set him loose to stop terror in all of its forms.  Each of the first three chapters feature OMWOT coming across terrorists, fighting them, and then having sex with someone (not necessarily in that order).  The fourth chapter is different, but not terribly so - there's just a lot more sex, and a lot less killing.

The set up and execution is kept very simple.  All of the characters speak in simple declarative sentences, which often explain what is happening in the panel.  "You grabbed my arm!"  "My c*** is in your mouth now."  "We're hijacking the airplane!" are all good examples of Marra's dialogue.

In a lot of ways, this feels like the kind of comic a particularly horny twelve-year-old might write.  Terrorists attack because that's what terrorists do.  People have sex after an action scene because that's what action movies have taught up happens after action scenes.  Top-secret Terror Assaulters get to smoke on airplanes or in court because of course they can.

What sets this apart is Marra's art.  It's stiff and a little ugly, but he has a very complex understanding of the acrobatics of fight scenes that it is pretty amazing.  Marra only uses primary colours to shade this comic, and like every other thing that seems simple on the surface, it really shows a greater depth to the work.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Streakers

by Nick Maandag

To me, the nicest surprise of Free Comic Book Day was that two local cartoonists, Nick Maandag and Jason Kieffer stood at a busy intersection and handed out their comics to passers-by.  Kieffer's work is all stuff I had previously bought and enjoyed (especially is Rabble of Downtown Toronto and his biography comic about Zanta), but they made great gifts for some co-workers.

Maandag's Streakers I had never seen before, and thought was excellent.  It tells the story of a group of three sort of friends who make up the 'Streakers Association of Summit City', an advocacy organization for streaking enthusiasts, of which they are the only members.

The main character is a sad figure.  He has a job as a dishwasher at a busy restaurant, but over the course of the story, becomes demoted to junior dishwasher, because he's just not that good at his job.  His dream is to start streaking, but so far, he's only been interested in talking about it.

Maandag gives us a good look into this character's life, and contrasts him with the much more accomplished leader of their group, who once interrupted an important marathon with his carefully planned streak.  The third in the trio is more of a flasher than a streaker, and he gets off showing women his junk while hiding his identity.

These guys are creeps, which is especially clear after a couple of young women come to one of their meetings, but they are also sort of endearing and kind of relatable.  There is more depth to this book than you would expect from a comic about people who like to talk about streaking.

I'm thankful for the unexpected gift, and wonder how many of the other people, who are probably not comics people, that received it last Saturdy, felt about it.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred

Written by David Hine and Shaky Kane
Art by Shaky Kane

I read the first The Bulletproof Coffin miniseries, but don't remember a whole lot about it besides the fact that it was rather odd, and had terrific artwork.  I recently got my hands on the second trade, Disinterred, and have been very impressed with it.

David Hine and Shaky Kane have basically just done whatever they've felt like with this surrealistic and bizarre comic.  Individual issues may tell a story or not, and those stories may or may not link up in certain thematic ways, or feature a common story thread.

We are given stories about a paranoid police officer, an electively mute caretaker who copes with the loss of her daughter by breaking into peoples' homes, and are invited to an open mic night for storytellers who tell some very dark tales.

There is also an entire issue made up of unconnected panels that can be read in any order, and another that simulates a collection of trading cards that tell the story of The Hateful Dead.

Things in this book loop back on themselves in a number of different places, and the feeling of dread never goes away.  The editorials by 'Destroyovski' make plain the influences of literary figures like William S. Burroughs (Dr. Benway even makes an appearance) and Brion Gysin, and the comics do experiment with some of their writing techniques.

At the end of the day, this is a very good comic to put in the hands of someone who misses earlier Grant Morrison, or who likes having some very unique images just wash over them.  I'm surprised that there wasn't more discussion of this comic when it came out, but I can also see how it could have been easily overlooked.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Sailor's Story

by Sam Glanzman

I know that Sam Glanzman's memoir of his wartime service, A Sailor's Story, has just been republished in a new edition, but I came across the original Marvel version not all that long ago, and decided that I wanted to read it in its original form.

Glanzman is a known writer and artist of war comics, but I'm not sure that he did more than two books about his own life.  This graphic novel opens on the very young Sam, an orphan and alone at seventeen save for a beloved dog, signing up to go to war.  He ends up in the Navy, and spends the entire war on boats in the Pacific.

He gives us a very day-to-day view of the drudgery and boredom of military service, as he chips and paints metal, hides from a superior to avoid work, and gets bizarre beer drinking vacations on rowboats.

While Glanzman is very open about many aspects of his service, he never really develops into a fully-realized character.  We see him react to things, but only rarely get a sense of his interior life.  He takes a scholarly approach to the slang and customs of the military, but none of the characters, aside from one crewman who loses his marbles, stand out on the page.

I like the draftsman's quality of Glanzman's art, which is very focused on little details.  This is a valuable example of war comics, and I'm pleased to see that it's being put back out into circulation.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Concrete Park Vol. 2 R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Written by Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander
Art by Tony Puryear

When Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander's Concrete Park first debuted in Dark Horse Presents, I was immediately taken with their fascinating science fiction world.  On a distant planet, convicts are sent to work in subterranean mines, but a large group of freed and escaped cons have congregated in Scare City, dividing themselves into gangs that carefully protect their own borders.

We travelled into this world with Isaac, a new arrival from Earth whose transport ship crashes, with he and the man who killed his sister the only survivors.  New arrivals are a big deal on the planet (especially if they might be bringing food or other supplies with them), and we were quickly introduced to some of the major players on the planet or in the story, chief among them being Luca.

This second volume opens shortly after Isaac first meets Luca and her gang, just as they are beset upon by scavengers.  They make their way into the city, where the Potato King has made his move to seize territory from Luca.

There's a lot of chaos in this volume, which began life as a miniseries that was never concluded (I hate when publishers do that, and it makes me less likely to try out new minis) until the whole thing was collected in this second volume.  The story sprawls all over the place, as Isaac ends up in Las Cruces, where the gang leader employs some sort of magic, before finding himself in a gladiatorial arena, having to fight his sister's killer.

Along the way, we picked up subplots involving a race of natives indigenous to the planet, and a storyline involving food that grows there (apparently food is all imported, and shipments are decreasing). Then we get into the planet's gods, and things start to get really weird (while at least explaining the series's title).

There is a lot to like about this book, but I felt that as the story expanded in this volume, it really started to lose me.  I don't know if that's because Puryear and Alexander felt the need to accelerate their story due to low sales making a larger space less likely, or if this was always the plan, but it felt like a misstep to me.  Scare City is a fascinating place, and more time exploring it and getting to know some of its stranger denizens could only have made it better.

I like the way Puryear transfer LA gang culture to another planet, and weaves a variety of languages into the everyday English that's spoken on the streets.  It feels like a lot of thought and planning went into this series, and I would love to read a lot more of it; I just want to be able to follow the story in an organic way.

I don't know if there are further plans for more Concrete Park, but with the intensity of Puryear and Alexander's vision, and the figure-oriented beauty of Puryear's art, I'd be all over it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Honour Among Punks: The Complete Baker Street

Written by Guy Davis and Gary Reed
Art by Guy Davis

Between 1989 and 1991, Caliber Press published Guy Davis's series Baker Street.  At that time, I was just beginning to experiment with independent comics, and remember reading an article about this book in Comic Scene (please don't ask), but never picked up an issue or gave it a try.  Later, Davis began working on Sandman Mystery Theatre, and I became a fan of his scratchy art and portrayals of women who looked more like real women than what I found in most comics.

I recently came across Honour Among Punks, the ibooks collection of the original series, and knew it was time to read it.

Baker Street is a series about punks, mysteries, and relationships.  Davis and his co-writer Gary Reed transposed Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes into the punk underground of an alternate history Britain.  Our point of view character is Susan, an American studying medicine in London.  She answers an ad for a cleaning woman that included room and board, and meets Sharon Ford, a former police detective who now lives the punk life, and her close friend Sam, who is a ball of punk rage.

As the series progresses, the women get involved in two separate cases that test their friendships and sense of self.  Davis puts together a complicated world of rival gangs, jewel thieves, transvestites, and a serial killer targeting men in the area around the Baskervilles, a rundown theatre that is the heart of the community.

Much of the storytelling here is rough, but Davis's art shows serious growth from the more cartoonish first pages to the scratchy glory of the last storyline.

Sharon is a truly memorable character; devoted to her notions of deduction, invested in protecting her community, but completely unaware of the needs of the people around her.  This is a book worth reading, because of her.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Finder: Third World

by Carla Speed McNeil

I am a huge fan of Carla Speed McNeil's Finder, having come late to the title after Dark Horse published a couple of very handsome omnibus editions.  She's described her masterpiece as "indigenous science fiction", and that's very much on display in this graphic novel.

Third World follows her main character, Jaeger, through three loosely structured segments of story.  In the first, he's in Anvard, a gigantic domed city, working as a courier for a delivery company.  We follow him through a few of his odder jobs, including his helping an old woman find her way to her family.  The stories work well together to give us an idea of the depth of planning McNeil has put into this world.

The second story has Jaeger lost, for the first time, in an open environment town called Third World, among many other names.  In this place, he meets a few other Ascians (the nomadic people who adopted him), although they are not of his tribe.  This section addresses issues of indigenous land rights, artistic representation, and respect for burial rights.  It also gives us a dramatic look into Jaeger's role as a Sin-Eater among his people.

The final, shortest, section, has Jaeger turn up in Javecek, another domed city that is known for the sheer number of infectious diseases that inhabit it.  Here, Jaeger is exposed, and infected with a citizen's cancer, as a way of healing her.  The story ends with him being put in a difficult position by his employers.

McNeil's work is brilliant.  Her art is fantastic, and with this book being in colour (a Finder first), she is able to really expand on the depth of her world.  The copious explanatory notes at the back of the book really enhance the reading experience, as there is so much about this world that cannot be explained through the comics pages alone.

I did first read these stories in Dark Horse Presents when they were serialized, but reading them together in this format puts things in a different light.  First, I was a little surprised to see that there wasn't really a clear narrative through this whole book.  I also felt the ending was more unsettled than I would have liked, but knowing that there are new stories coming out in DHP right now helps rectify that.  The truth is that Finder is all about journeys, so in many ways, it makes sense that Jaeger's tale doesn't wrap up in easy segments.

I was going to wait for the next trade, but reading this makes me want to track down the new DHP issues (and reread the Omnibuses).

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Futurians

by Dave Cockrum

I find as I get older, my appreciation for some of the giants of the comics industry changes and becomes more welcoming.  As a kid, I did not like Dave Cockrum's work.  That said, my X-Men belonged to John Romita Jr, Marc Silvestri, and through back issues, John Byrne.  Cockrum's work did not stand up in comparison, and I was not aware of how much design work he did for the characters.  Likewise, I loved the Legion of Super-Heroes, but found Keith Giffen and Steve Lightle's work with them to be infinitely superior to Cockrum's.

Now, though, I can see how instrumental he was in making both of those franchises (not to mention the Shi'ar Imperial Guard) what they are.  I feel the same way about Jim Aparo - I didn't like his work on Batman when people like Norm Breyfogle, Todd McFarlane or Alan Davis were also working on the character, but now I can appreciate it.

In that spirit, I thought it might finally be time to read The Futurians, his graphic novel from 1983.  It begins five million years in the future, where two warring groups have destroyed the Earth.  The bad guys, who call themselves The Inheritors, wreck the sun as they us its energy to move their entire city back in time.  The remaining city figures out a way to also send some stuff to the past, and their leader's consciousness travels to the 1960s.

By the present day, by which I mean 1983, he's created a huge science company, which has gathered a group of people and turned them into superheroes, so they can stop the Inheritors.  They spend the rest of the issue doing this.

It's clear that Cockrum was working to set up a team that could sustain an ongoing series, but it fell victim to the comics industry when he published through a little known independent company.  The characters feel very much like the X-Men, and there are plenty of rivalries and conflicts between the characters that could have worked well to sustain a series for a while.

This graphic novel is pretty much exactly what you would expect from Cockrum at this stage in his career.  If you like his art, you will like this, but nothing about it will surprise you.