Sunday, May 26, 2019

Walk

by Paul Tucker

When you grow up in a place, and stay there for any length of time, you begin to have all sorts of associations and random memories of it.

In Walk, a comic self-published by Paul Tucker, who is currently killing it on Black Mask's Nobody Is In Control, he goes for a 4.4 kilometre walk from his house in St. John's Newfoundland to the comic story and back.

Each page shows a different memory or small story set on a different street.  Along the way, we get a sense of how St. John's has changed over the years (an old hockey arena is now a grocery store, something that has happened here in Toronto too), but also how it stays grounded in its sense of place.

I love work like this, which is both accessible and incredibly personal.  Tucker's art conveys a deep love for the city.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Tet

Written by Paul Allor
Art by Paul Tucker

I'd thought about getting Tet when it was first published by IDW as a miniseries, because I'm a big fan of stories set during the Vietnam War, but held off because the creators, Pauls Allor and Tucker were unknown to me.  Recently, Tucker started working on the Black Mask series Nobody Is In Control, and I was intrigued by his Paul Azaceta/Tommy Lee Edwards-like art.

When I saw him at TCAF this year, I figured it was time to finally get my hands on this story. It is the story of an American lieutenant who fell in love with a Vietnamese woman while he was stationed in Huê City.  He was partnered with a Vietnamese detective when a friend of his was killed, but their investigation was cut short by the Tet Offensive.

From there, the story picks up in 1984, where we see that Eugene, who was injured badly, never got past what went down.  He ended up losing his girl, but when he receives word that Báo, the cop he worked with, has finally tracked down someone who knows what happened to his friend, he returns.

This is a dark and moving story, that is told very well.  Tucker's thick lines add real weight to things, as we get to know these characters, and understand how war wrecks just about everything it touches.  I recommend this book.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Sobek

by James Stokoe

It's been way too long since we've seen James Stokoe do his thing.  Sure, there was that great Aliens four-parter he did last year, but there's something that makes a creator-owned book a little more special.

Sobek is a one-off comic, with a gold foil cover, that centres on the Egyptian crocodile god.  A boat piloted by three acolytes travels to Sobek's home to let him know that denizens of Set have invaded his temple and are causing problems for his worshippers.  Sobek sets out to address the issue, in his own time and fashion.

As a Stokoe comic, the story becomes secondary to the insanely detailed artwork.  This is a beautiful comic, full of humour and lush colours.  It's a quick and fun story, and I'm glad I was able to pick it up.  Personally, I wish Orc Stain would get finished one day, but I'm also always going to be happy to get a comic like this from Stokoe.  It's worth searching for.

The Pitiful Human-Lizard: Some Heart Left

by Jason Loo

I've been a fan of Jason Loo's Pitiful Human-Lizard since I first sampled it at TCAF four years ago, buying the two issues on offer at that time.  I immediately fell in love with the way Loo portrays Toronto in his comics, and also enjoyed his everyman approach to superheroics.

Lucas has been doing his best to become a hero for our city, despite the fact that he's not really all that good at it.  Loo built a large ensemble cast for this series, including other heroes, villains, and some unique people who became a part of Lucas's life and world.  The book started as a self-published venture, and then got picked up and reprinted by Chapterhouse Comics, before that company apparently went into hiatus.

Now, at this year's TCAF, Loo debuted Some Heart Left, the final Pitiful Human-Lizard comic.  I think there were some digital comics released after Chapterhouse stopped publishing physical ones (I'm still holding out hope for a trade), but really, this is the first that I've seen Lucas and friends in a while.

This self-published comic is mostly made up of short strips of one page or so, which check in on Lucas and some of the other regulars, showing us what's up with them.  Lucas is working for "Food Dash", delivering takeout on his bicycle, and is finding that the costumed business is not as satisfying as it used to be.  His father is starting to decline, and he is not seeing a lot of his friend Kenneth, the Majestic Rat, so much.  Mother Wonder is still off in space.

In a lot of ways, this goodbye to these characters is a sad affair.  It feels like everyone is moving forward except for Lucas, who is a little sadder than normal because his optimism makes him feel a little clueless.  At the same time, this book has a number of high points, such as Lucas facing his fear of heights.

Perhaps my favourite part of this book comes in the form of a folded page tucked into the middle, which shows Lucas visiting Kim's Convenience, a local corner store that is the set of a sitcom on TV (and Netflix).  Loo captures those characters beautifully.

I'm going to miss seeing more Pitiful Human-Lizard, but look forward to seeing where Loo goes next with his career.  It's guaranteed that I'll be buying his next work.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Pope Hats #6

by Hartley Lin

Pope Hats is one of those books that I most associate with TCAF, the Toronto Comics Arts Festival, as I think I've bought every issue so far at the festival.  Much of Pope Hats's previous issues were recently collected in the graphic novel Young Frances, and the book's creator, recently did away with his pen name, Ethan Rilly, and embraced his own name, Hartley Lin.

This latest issue is a departure from previous ones.  This issue is much more autobiographical, as Lin muses on becoming a father, moving, finding his relationships with old friends changing, and generally moving into a new stage of his life.

Lin is Canada's Adrian Tomine, and his stories share a similar insight into humanity.  This issue's shorter strips don't allow the space to really dig into and explore any one topic, but the overall effect of reading this issue forms a gestalt image of where Lin is in life.

This was another solid issue in this series.

Ginseng Roots #1

by Craig Thompson

Craig Thompson, best known for his blockbuster graphic novels Blankets and Habibi, has returned with a serialized comic book called Ginseng Roots, which is about his childhood growing up in Marathon Wisconsin, the one-time centre of American ginseng production.

As a kid, Craig and his brother Phil worked through the summers alongside their mother, picking weeds and caring for ginseng plants on large farms that specialized in the delicate and lucrative root.  As we learn about how this labor shaped him, we also learn a great deal about the root itself, its needs, and some of the folklore and history that surrounds it.  We also see how the Thompson boys' love of comic books helped motivate them to work in difficult conditions (they calculate their wages in number of comics they can buy per hour).

This is a very solid piece of work, beautifully illustrated and coloured in grey tones with red highlights.  The book itself is printed on newsprint, giving it a real old-school feel, but is also beautifully drawn.

This series is expected to last for twelve issues, which is interesting to me because this first one feels so complete.  I'm not sure where Thompson intends to go with this from here, but I can see a wealth of potential, considering how unique the ginseng industry was (and probably still is), with its difficult manual labour, its great potential to create millionaire farmers, and the intricacies of interacting with a largely Asian market in 1980s middle America.

I like that this book is going to be serialized, and while that is going to make it more expensive than a one-off graphic novel would be (despite what the photo says, this issue's cover price is $5), it will make the individual issues something to be treasured.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Best Wishes

Written by Mike Richardson
Art by Paul Chadwick

I consider Paul Chadwick to be one of the best straight-up comics artists in the business, so of course I wanted to read Best Wishes, his collaboration with Dark Horse president Mike Richardson.

This is a slightly odd magical realist series about work and relationships in New York City.  An old and ornate fountain is moved from Italy to New York's Central Park, but no one is aware of the fact that it might have some magical properties to it.  Cal is a struggling graphic designer who can't seem to break into the industry.  Mary is a struggling young woman who can't shake the feeling that her boyfriend, Josh, a famous quarterback, doesn't really love her.  When Cal and Mary make wishes in the fountain at the same time, their desires get mixed up.

In no time, Mary's random napkin doodle gets chosen as the new symbol of New York City, propelling her to the recognition and job that Cal wanted for himself.  When Cal meets Josh in an elevator while on his way to a job interview with Mary, Josh is not sure how to deal with the feelings that he starts to develop for the young man.  In no time, these three characters find themselves in a weird triangle of envy and desire.

I like the way that this book portrays the difficulty of simply living in New York City, as the characters struggle to make ends meet, and even acts of generosity don't extend further than the closest Ikea.  These characters, and the people that surround them, are very well-realized, and the implausible aspects of this story don't get in the way of enjoying their travails.

Of course, this book is so capably drawn that I'm sure it inspired the kind of envy that Cal shows throughout the book.  Chadwick is a treasure - he makes emotionally complex scenes clear and easy to understand.  I'm glad that Richardson is able to make sure that stories like this get told.  This was a quiet book that didn't make much of a splash, but is really worth taking a look at.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

There is no better partnership in comics today than the one between Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.  Their collaborations are always great to read, and push the boundary of whatever genre they choose to work in, be it crime, horror, or any combination of the two.  They are probably best known for their crime book, Criminal, which they are going to be returning to on a monthly basis very soon.

First, though, they published this Criminal novella, My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies.  It's the story of Ellie, a young woman who has spent her life on the margins of society.  Highly intelligent, she's always been drawn to the subculture of street drugs, idolizing musicians and writers who used heroin to fuel their creative fires.

In this slim hardcover, Ellie has been sent to a rehab clinic, where she meets and falls for Skip, a young man who is serious about getting clean, and who is holding on to a few family secrets.  Ellie knows that she is going to be trouble for Skip, but she can't quite help herself, and soon the two of them are on the run, and trying to figure out their next steps.

At least, that's what it all seems like on the surface, but because Ed Brubaker is writing this book, there's a lot more going on than just that; I just don't want to spoil things for anyone.

As is always the case, this book is a great character study, and examination of the mind of people who live on the edges, and have to live with the harm they cause.  There is a reticence to Ellie from the first page that makes her a very interesting character, and maybe not the most trustworthy narrator.

Phillips and Brubaker work beautifully together, complimenting one another's strengths perfectly.  This book is coloured by Jacob Phillips, not their usual collaborator Bettie Breitweiser.  Phillips uses more pastel watercolours, and especially in the daylight, gives the book a more optimistic feel.

This was a great comic.  I'm excited to see what the duo has in store for us with their new Criminal run, and I'm curious if we will see Ellie again.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Terrible Elizabeth Dumn Against the Devils in Suits

by Arabson, adapted by James Robinson

One of my favourite things about Image Comics is the way in which they will seemingly randomly put out a comic with little fanfare that has the ability to completely brighten one's day.  I'm not familiar with the work of the Brazilian cartoonist Arabson (except to notice that his name is starting to pop up on the variant cover circuit), but the Paul Pope-esque cover of this oversized one-shot magazine formatted comic, The Terrible Elizabeth Dumn Against The Devils In Suits, really jumped out at me on the stands this week, and when I saw it was only $6, I had to have it.

Arabson's story begins in a smallish city in Brazil, when an old man knocks on the door, very late at night, of a person he hasn't seen in over twenty years.  We quickly learn that the younger man owes the older a debt, and that the older man is the devil.  The price, made on a promise decades before, is the man's first-born son, but he quickly makes the offer of his daughter instead, claiming that she is so wild, even the devil couldn't tame her.

Elizabeth, we then learn, is in a boarding school, where she has been a near-constant source of trouble for the beefy nuns who run the place.  Warned by her mother, Elizabeth hits the road, trying to stay away from her father's debt, and ends up travelling with a musician who once made a similar deal.  Elizabeth, being who she is though, is not so much the type to run from her problems as face them head-on.

Arabson's art is terrific in this book.  He keeps the Paul Pope influence throughout, but there are also elements of Frank Quitely and Rafael Grampá here too.  I like how his characters show emotion, and found the backgrounds often worth studying.  This is a very solid book, and I'd like to see Image publishing more foreign comics like this, in this exact, affordable, format.  Highly recommended.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Nanjing: The Burning City

by Ethan Young

I have always loved war comics.  Unlike war movies, they often allow space to understand characters, and while many of them are steeped in easy cliché, there are a lot more that try to dig into the strength of character it takes to survive military conflict.

Ethan Young's Nanjing: The Burning City, is a very effective war comic.  It focuses on two Chinese men, a Captain and one of his men, who have somehow managed to survive Japan's taking of their city, and after their command structure fled, find themselves stuck in a ruined and occupied city.

They have some difficult choices to make.  Lu wants to make for the Safety Zone, a space reserved for refugees and watched over by Germans who are working with the Japanese Army (this happened in 1937, during the 2nd Sino-Japanese War, before the madness of WWII absorbed this conflict).  The Captain does not think they should do this, and instead wants to try to make his way out of the walled city through a particular gate.

The two men have to continue to make difficult choices as they make their way through the ruins.  They hear some soldiers attack a mother and her daughter, but have to deal with the fact that they can't do a thing to help.  Likewise, they have to turn down an old man's request for help, knowing that to leave him is to kill him.

Young, with his large panels, quiet scenes, and excellent facial expressions, makes this story tense and kind of horrible.  The Captain is a typically stoic military man who is doing all he can to hold it together, although when the pair meets a young family, they have to change their plans.

I really enjoyed this book, which helps to bring this story to a larger audience in North America, where the Nanjing story is not really taught or discussed often.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Violent Love Vol. 1: Stay Dangerous

Written by Frank J. Barbiere
Art by Victor Santos

I will admit that I hadn't been very impressed with the work of Frank J. Barbiere up to this point.  It's not that I thought he was a bad writer, it's just that nothing that I'd read by him had really clicked for me, and I was pretty indifferent to seeing his name on a project.  I do like Victor Santos's art though, so when I saw that their Violent Love began with a $10 trade, I felt that it would be a good idea to get it.

The book begins with a framing sequence that has a retired US marshal watching a young girl for her mother.  The girl shows interest in one particular case of the marshal's, that of Daisy Jane and Rock Bradley, a kind of Mickey and Mallory of the early 1970s.  The girl gets the man to tell the story, and it's at this point that Barbiere started to play with my expectations.

I think I expected a pretty straightforward romance and crime story, and found it interesting when the male part of this pairing barely appears in the first half of this trade, and doesn't really show much character until the very end of it.  Daisy is the real star of this book, and we learn what has led her to a life of using crime to fund a mission of vengeance.  She is with another man when she first meets Rock, while she hunts for the guy who ruined her life.

This mission leads to a bloody conflict with La Jauria, a cartel that employs some very colourful assassins.  Santos is great at both character work and at portraying some pretty mayhem-filled violent scenes.  I never really grew to like Daisy all that much, and found the revelation that closed off the book to be a little predictable (if probably difficult to explain), but I was completely drawn in by the plot, and now want to get the rest of this series so I can see how it all ends.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Displaced Persons

Written by Derek McCulloch
Art by Anthony Peruzzo

There are just so many good graphic novels out there that it's almost impossible for them to make enough of a splash.  I don't remember ever seeing this 2014 album-sized book being solicited by Image, but did see it on a sale table a while back and figured, because of writer Derek McCulloch's Gone to Amerikay OGN, I'd give this a chance.  It's really pretty good, so I'm glad I did.

Displaced Persons is a multi-generational family drama set in San Francisco.  It tells the story of the Price/Abramowicz family, focusing on three eras, with a few forays into other times and places.

The first third of the book is more or less a straight-forward private eye story, as Garland Price is hired to look for a missing heiress, and discovers some weird goings on in the 1930s.  After that, we move into the late 1960s, as Garland's two grandsons, one a cop and the other a little shady, find themselves in conflict with one another.  Later still, in the 1990s, we check in on one of Garland's great grandchildren as she deals with an abusive relationship.

There are some constants to this story - the family has remained in the same house throughout the century, and there is a recurring theme of people disappearing.  Much of this book is about examining the way the people left behind cope with those losses.

McCulloch very lightly uses a magical realist touch in this story that helps link the various strands together, and provide it with its odder moments.  The plot fits together nicely by the end, explaining the slightly confusing opening, and the characters stand out as being distinct.

The art, by Anthony Peruzzo, is fine, but not terribly memorable.  I like the way the book is coloured monochromatically, with each era being given a different tint.  Beyond that, Peruzzo's work is a little unfinished looking, but still manages to tell the story well.

This book worked very well overall, and I'm saddened that I didn't hear more about it when it was first published.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Sally Heathcote Suffragette

Written by Mary M. Talbot
Art by Kate Charlesworth and Bryan Talbot 

I'll be the first to admit that I knew almost nothing about the struggle to gain women the vote in Great Britain.  I'm a little more familiar with the Canadian struggle, which to my knowledge, was neither so protracted, nor so bloody.

In Sally Heathcote, Suffragette, Mary M. Talbot uses a fictional character to explain and explore the various and fractious groups that fought for decades to get the vote, and the beginnings of some respect as equals, for women.  We meet the upper class women who threw themselves into the movement, as well as some of the lower class women, like Sally, who joined them and sacrificed much to gain enfranchisement.

Beyond demonstrating and publishing newsletters, the women used violence to further their cause.  I was surprised to see campaigns of window smashing and even the firebombing of the Prime Minister's unoccupied home.  As well, I was surprised to learn about how these women entered into a revolving system of imprisonment, hunger strikes, torturous force feedings, and eventual release, only to start all over again at the next possible demonstration.

Talbot's Sally has a strong narrative voice, and reports as much on the internecine rifts within the movement as on the advancement towards their goals.  Of course, it is the coming of war that led to increased opportunities for women, as men were either away or killed in such numbers that women needed to take on many of their social roles.

The art team of Kate Charlesworth and Bryan Talbot works great.  The washes of colour on high quality paper make this book really stand out, and the artists (I'm not that clear on who did what) imbue each character with a great deal of personality.  No one radiates displeasure like Mrs. Pankhurst.

This was a great book shining a light on a topic rarely seen in comics.

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.