Thursday, May 21, 2015

Russian Olive to Red King

by Kathryn Immonen and Stuart Immonen

Of all the books I bought at TCAF this year, I think that this is the one that I will treasure the most, mostly because Kathryn and Stuart Immonen really take their time when signing a book.  Kathryn copied a number of words out of a Chekov novel to run perpendicular to the book's title on the title page, beneath which Stuart drew a lovely sketch of Olive, one of the book's protagonists.  It took a little while, but made this a unique purchase.

Russian Olive to Red King is a lovely, lovely book.  It's about a couple, Olive and Red, who live in a large city.  Red is an art writer, while Olive is a researcher.  We are given very few details of their life together, beyond meeting their dog, and learning that Red is not the most communicative of people outside of their relationship.

Olive leaves town for a while, to do some field work, but when flying into (I assume) Northern Ontario, the two-engine plane she is in goes down, and the pilot is killed.  While she is all alone in a wintry environment, Red is left all alone in their apartment, and the rest of the book charts the emotional journeys they take separately, but together.

This is a very poetic book (it was reminding me of The English Patient long before the scene with the cave), and Stuart reveals the story slowly through large, open panels showing landscape and sunset.  Towards the end of the book, the story switches into a section of prose, or prose poetry, more accurately, with sequences of abstracted drawings below them.  The connection between image and words, and how this whole section relates to the rest of the book, is not revealed until the very end.

I feel like I might have appreciated a little more clear resolution at the end, but by saying that, I also think I'm just being a little simple-minded.  This is a powerful and beautiful book.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Pitiful Human-Lizard #1

by Jason Loo

I love my hometown, Toronto, which is a serious comics town.  I am often surprised by the high calibre of local talent in the comics industry, from big-name Big Two stars to quality independent writers, artists, and cartoonists.  For a city that is well-represented behind the scenes in comics, it's not often a a comic showcases the city itself.

Sure, Alpha Flight comes to mind, but even when John Byrne was drawing it, Toronto was never a character.  It was in Scott Pilgrim, though, but now, Toronto has its own superhero, the Human-Lizard (apparently he's a little pitiful).  At TCAF, creator Jason Loo compared this hero to the city's sports teams - lots of good intentions, not very impressive results.

Anyway, this is a very solid debut for this series.  We get to know our hero, who is a Kick-Ass style superhero wannabe with access to his father's excellent glue and gimmicks from his own hero days.  Lucas Barrett has a boring office job, and generally sucks at jiu-jitsu, but really wants to be a hero.  After signing up for a drug company experiment, he gains the ability to recover from any injury, and realizes that perhaps his time to be a hero has come around.

Loo makes Lucas a likeable character, and does a terrific job of incorporating the city into his story.  You don't have to be from Toronto to enjoy this book, but there are lots of Easter Eggs and nods to Torontonians that make reading this even more fun.

My biggest TCAF regret of this year (I always have some) was in not buying the other three issues of this series that are available.  I'm going to have to go look for them, because I want more.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Pocket Full of Coffee and There's No Bath in This Bathroom

by Joe Decie

I didn't know Joe Decie's work before this year's TCAF, but he was kind enough to give copies of his newest book, There's No Bath in This Bathroom away for free.  Flipping through it, I liked what I saw, and felt compelled (and perhaps a little obligated) to pick up the other book he had on offer, Pocket Full of Coffee.

Both of these books are slice-of-life books, where Decie takes the everyday and turns it into a book.  There may be some greater profundity hidden within the story, but it seems like he's really just keeping a bit of a journal, and elevating the mundane into art.

Pocket covers a very ordinary Wednesday for Decie.  He worries about marks on his arm, gets his young son ready for the day, hangs out with him for a bit, has dinner with his wife, and paints for a bit before going to bed.

No Bath is a story about last year's TCAF, and hanging out with comics folks after the show.  Decie and his friends end up at a fictional pizza shop with a dirty bathroom.  That's about it.

These books reminded me a lot of Nicholson Baker's writing, with the focus on minutiae becoming the point of the story.  I like stuff like that, so it works very well for me.

Decie's art is very nice.  It looks like he uses watercolours to shade his black-and-white art, and sticks to a pretty realistic style.

Both of these books are very straight-foward, but deceptively so.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Potter's Pet

by Braden D. Lamb and Shelli Paroline

I liked Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline's work on the excellent Boom series The Midas Flesh, so when I saw that Lamb had this mini-comic on offer at TCAF, I thought it would make a good purchase.

Set in a typical storybook souk, The Potter's Pet is about what happens when you set out to please everybody.  The titular potter is having a bad month, not selling any of his wares.  One day he discovers some plans on a piece of parchment, and builds himself a little robot that dances to amuse him.

Another merchant sees it, and asks if he can build her one that will sort scrolls for her.  Reluctant, the potter agrees to build this for her (he has to smash his own robot to do it) once she offers a price he can't refuse.  When he goes to take the finished product to her, another merchant waylays him and offers more money if he instead constructs a device that will fetch juice.  And then we're off, as each person in succession expects a device that does more, but also pays better.

There is a storybook simplicity to this comic, which is aided by the clean art from Lamb and Paroline.  I can see why the pair's comfort with historically impossible art made them obvious choices for The Midas Flesh, which is about the science fiction implications of the legend of King Midas, and which features a dinosaur in a space suit.

This was a fun little read.

Junior Citizens

Written by Ian Herring and Daniel MacIntyre
Art by Ian Herring

One thing I love about TCAF is the way in which it brings exposure to artists and cartoonists I might not hear about, and I'm always willing to take a chance on lower-priced items that look interesting.  One book that jumped out at me is Junior Citizens, by Ian Herring and Daniel MacIntyre.

Apparently this is a digital comic that can be read on its tumblr page.  This twenty-page comic is the extent of what is available there right now, but I'll be sure to check back for more later, as I enjoyed this comic.

In the world that Herring and MacIntyre have created, it seems that there is a clear caste system in place, with 'junior' citizens having to complete their annual work quota in able to qualify for the benefits of society.  We follow one such junior citizen, sent on her first work assignment, to an agricultural platform which is experiencing an equipment malfunction.

We quickly learn, through a helpful and loquacious robot, that the platform should have been decommissioned, but is being kept in operation by its single chief custodian.  The woman's attempts to fix things do not go well.

This is a simple enough story, but it has a certain retro charm to it.  Herring's art is blocky, but with a deco style to it, and his use of colour and texture is phenomenal.  As a first issue, this sets up the situation nicely, and has me interested enough to come back for more.  It's worth checking out.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Pope Hats #4

by Ethan Rilly

One of the most thrilling releases at TCAF this year is the new issue of Pope Hats, Ethan Rilly's exceptional series.  I think I've bought every issue of this series at TCAF over the years, and it's a book I relate closely to the phenomenal event.

This issue, which is magazine-sized, does not return to its regular main characters, Frances and Vickie, but instead shares a number of short stories, many only a page or two in length.

At the centre of the book is a long story, 'The Nest', about a pair of aging parents who have to deal with the fact that their daughter has returned home from university unexpectedly, and suffering from a mental illness.  The parents do their best to adapt their lives around having to look after their child - the father takes an early retirement - and they never let their optimism wane.  This is a touching story, and Rilly handles it very well, with sensitivity and humour.

The rest of this book is equally perceptive and enjoyable.  An aging drummer feels ambivalent about having his band reunite for an Asian tour, and then can't complete the tour anyway.  In a science fiction series, a forager continually alienates everyone around him, for no good reason.  The people in Rilly's stories make decisions that are bad for them - they move into basement apartments with difficult people while abandoning their youthful ideals, they play poker on their phone way too late into the night, they destroy their own artwork, and they use time travel irresponsibly.

Pope Hats is a terrific series; I only wish that Rilly worked a little quicker at producing it.

Optic Nerve #14

by Adrian Tomine

It's always exciting when Adrian Tomine releases a new issue of his very occasional anthology series Optic Nerve, but it's even more exciting when that issue is available at TCAF before it's released in comics shops.  This issue is made up of two stories, 'Killing and Dying', and 'Intruders'.

'Killing and Dying' is a story about fatherhood, comedy, and loss.  Jessica is an odd fourteen year old with a stutter who has developed an interest in stand-up comedy.  Her mother encourages her to take a course at the Learning Annex (for $500), while her father's disapproval is palpable.  Her first performance goes well, but her father figures out that her teacher has written all of her material for her.  Later, Jessica decides to try out her own material at an open-mic night that her father sneaks into, and what follows is one of the most awkward scenes I've read in comics.

An undercurrent that is never discussed in this story, but is made clear through Tomine's art, is the mother's illness.  I love the way this story becomes more about what is not being discussed, and how that affects everyone.  Tomine uses a twenty-four panel grid for most of this story, which gives it a tight and claustrophobic feeling, much as the father must feel, trapped in his own head.

The second story, 'Intruders', is about an aging guy who has found himself alone and unhappy in life.  When a chance encounter with a young woman who once apartment-sat for him leads to him having the keys to the apartment he once shared with his ex, he begins a disturbing habit of breaking into his former home on a daily basis.

The guy's actions seem more or less reasonable at first, even though they are deeply transgressive, but as is the way of such things, events escalate.  This story is told with a larger nine-panel grid, and is drawn with thicker lines.

Tomine's work is always impressive.  He creates complete realities in very short amounts of space, and his stories stick with you long after you've finished reading them.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Wayward Volume 1: String Theory

Written by Jim Zub
Art by Steve Cummings

When Wayward, the new series from writer Jim Zub(kavich), whose Skullkickers is a riot of a book, first debuted, I wasn't sure if I was interested in it or not.  I like Zub's writing on the other title, but that is a more comedic comic, and is something I never thought I'd want to read (it's a really special comic).  This looked more serious, but I wasn't sure if it was going to grab me.  Luckily, Image keeps the price low on first volumes of new series when they are published in trade, and since I was standing in front of Zub at a convention, I felt like I had no reason not to buy this.

This series is centred on Rori Lane, a mixed heritage Japanese-Irish teenage girl, who has moved to Tokyo to live with her mother, who she has not seen in a year.  Almost immediately upon landing in Japan, Rori starts to notice reddish lines that connect her to her destinations, that no one else can notice.

On her first night, she is attacked by a trio of kappa, folkloric turtle-creatures that appear much more dangerous than how they are usually depicted.  A strange girl, Ayane, appears to help her out.  As the story progresses, Rori meets two other kids who have abilities, and stumbles across a plot by some other characters from Japanese folklore, who have evil deeds in mind.  It seems that Rori is a weaver, and this has something to do with her mother.

The easiest comparison to make here is to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  We have the inherited abilities, the idiosyncratic group of peers, and a winking acknowledgement of the story's debt to its genre forebears.

This is an engaging read, with nice art, and a strong sense of place.  I think, had I read these issues individually with a month between them, I would not have made it to issue five.  In the trade, there's a better sense of the larger story, but I'm not sure that there is still enough here to really keep me interested for the long haul.  I would think that this book would appeal to teens, but the level of profanity would keep it from be shelved in a lot of libraries where it would be most welcome.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Sculptor

by Scott McCloud

I knew going in that The Sculptor, the new graphic novel by Scott McCloud, was going to be an impressive piece of work, but I was still surprised by the depth of emotion that McCloud imbued his story with.

David Smith is a young artist who has always dreamed of being a successful, famous sculptor.  An early brush with art world fame fell apart because of the prickly nature of David's personality, and since then, his life has been very difficult.  He can't get proper gallery representation, is about to lose his apartment, and is down to his last friend in New York.  His family is all dead, and he has set himself a rigid set of rules to live by (no handouts or charity, ever, for example).

On his birthday, while quietly getting drunk by himself in a touristy diner, David is surprised to run into his great uncle Harry, who has been dead for many years.  As it turns out, Harry is Death, in a rare human guise.  He asks David what he'd be willing to trade for artistic success, and David quickly offers up his life.  They enter into a Faustian bargain where David is given unparalleled artistic ability for two hundred days, at which point he is going to die.  He readily agrees to this, because he is at a point where he values his artistic legacy more than his existence.

Of course, almost immediately, things begin to change for David.  He has the ability to mold rock or steel with his bare hands, allowing him complete freedom in creating shapes and figures.  That same day, though, he becomes the unwitting centre of a street theatre piece, and meets a girl who is going to change his life.

As the book progresses, a few things take place.  First, we begin to suspect that David's artistic problems are more from a lack of having something to say with his art compared to ability; once he create anything he can imagine, he relies on creating representational pieces from his memory that only have meaning for him.  When he holds a show in his apartment, it is likened to a Polynesian gift shop.  Later, he is barred from returning to his apartment after his works crash through the floor, and homeless and in despair, he is taken in by the girl from the performance piece, Meg, who likes to make projects of helping people.

David pretty quickly falls for Meg, although it takes a lot longer for her to begin to reciprocate those feelings for him.  As the book progresses, David becomes more and more aware of his deadline looming, as he searches for artistic and emotional fulfillment.

McCloud plays with a of stuff in this hefty graphic novel.  The magical realism that allows the plot to take place doesn't feel very forced, although at the end I felt things became a little too comic-book.  The base elements of this story - deals with the devil, finding love just before dying, the frustration of the creator who is unable to create - are not new, but McCloud mixes them very nicely.

His characters feel very real.  David has always been a difficult person, especially after losing his parents and sister at a young age, and having to rely on himself in a very hostile world.  His blind adherence to rules he's set out for himself, and his penchant for speaking plainly to people in positions of influence have put him where he is, and he does not have the tools to get himself out of his situation on his own.  Meg is equally complex - endlessly generous, she suffers from depression and refuses to take medication for it.

McCloud literally wrote the book on graphic storytelling, so it's no surprise that this book is beautifully laid out and illustrated.  He makes interesting use of panel borders, keeping a traditional page structure for most of the book, but bleeding to the edges of the page during scenes of great emotion or stress.

In all, this is a very powerful piece of work.  McCloud really twists the knife towards the end, and while I don't love everything about the conclusion (which, again, gets a little too super-powers/comic bookish), I did feel a genuine ache for these characters upon closing the book.  Read this.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Rachel Rising Vol. 2: Malus

by Terry Moore

With this second volume of his latest series, about a young woman who doesn't seem able to stay dead (despite giving it a couple of very good goes, unintentionally, in the first volume), Moore gives a much clearer picture of what is going on in the town of Manson.

It seems that the town once had a witch problem, and now Lilith, the first woman (remember her from Sandman?) is working to exact her revenge on the town for something that happened three hundred years before.  Malus, a demon, has been working with her, but also working towards his own ends.

As for Rachel, the undead hero of this book?  I don't want to spoil what her deal is.

As is always the case with Moore's work, character development is front and centre, and he's done a great job with characters like Rachel, her friend Jet (who now also can't die), and Rachel's Uncle Johnny, who is laid up in the hospital.  Also, as is often the case, Moore's male characters are a little less nuanced, but I like the way people like Earl, the assistant mortician who is in love with Jet, and Dr. Siemen, the kindly doctor who keeps the body of his long-dead wife in his kitchen, round out the cast of this book.

Moore's art and draftsmanship are always very nice, and it's interesting to see him take what is, on the surface, a story about pretty ordinary-looking people, and twist it around to the point where demons are believable on the page.

My only complaint is with how quickly each of these trades read.  I probably should have waited until the series was finished, and collected into a nice chunky omnibus...

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross, Kurt Huggins, Al Davison, Russ Braun, Shawn McManus, Dean Ormston, and Gary Erskine

I've had a complicated relationship with The Unwritten, the long-running Vertigo series by Mike Carey and Peter Gross.  The first arc or so didn't do much for me, but I stuck with the title out of faith in the creators, and it soon became one of my favourite Vertigo titles.  Somewhere, along the way though, I lost interest in the comic, as it became a little too lost under its own weight.  A disastrous cross-over with Fables (that wasn't actually a cross-over, since it only happened in the one series) followed by a relaunch with a price increase was enough to get me to stop reading the book.

Somewhere in there, this graphic novel was published, but I guess I didn't even notice.  This is an interesting book, clarifying one aspect of the series, and diving into another aspect which has been largely ignored.

This book is split between two stories.  Wilson Taylor, author of the Tommy Taylor books, and father to Tom Taylor, writes in his journal about the first couple of years, when he managed to have his first novel published on the same day as his son's birth.  We learn about how he managed to manipulate his mother into leaving Tom's life, and how he arranged to keep his real son tied in the public consciousness with his fictional son.

The majority of this book tells that story that is in that first Tommy Taylor novel.  We learn about his parents' death, and how he ended up being raised in the kitchen of a school for wizards.  We learn that he doesn't have the 'Spark', the precursor to a magical education, and we meet his close friends.  Eventually, the Conclave, a group of powerful wizards, decide to raise the ship that his parents died on, as they tried to transport wild magic to the school.  Bringing the vessel also brings with it Count Ambrosio, an immortal vampire.  It goes without saying that it's up to Tommy and his friends to save the day.

The dual nature of this story is interesting, but I'm not sure that a reader new to these characters would have much of a clue as to what's going on in the Wilson Taylor sections.  Although there are passing nods to Leviathan, the whale-spirit that lives off fiction in the regular series, no mention is made of the Cabal, or why Wilson is immersing young Tom in a sensory deprivation tank.  Long-time readers are rewarded with this fleshed-out timeline, but I think the Wilson sections of this book would feel inconsequential to anyone else.

The Tommy story is enjoyable, in a YA kind of way.  It does help to understand the bigger picture of this whole series to know Tommy's story, and see how it parallels and differs from the Harry Potter stories that it was clearly roughly based upon.

I found the approach to art in this book pretty interesting.  Peter Gross provided layouts for the whole book, and gave it a consistent look, but the various finishers added their own voices to the mix.  The only pages I found I could identify were Dean Ormston's, as his work is always pretty individual.  This approach worked well to distinguish the Wilson pages from the Tommy ones, and to set apart different sections of Tommy's story.

I'm glad I read this book, and it does have me interested in picking up the last half-dozen or so issues of the second volume of Unwritten.  Carey and Gross do great work together; I just wish this series hadn't gotten so bogged down that it lost me.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Spectral Engine

by Ray Fawkes

Ray Fawkes can be a challenging writer and artist.  His One Soul is a difficult but rewarding read, while his new Image series, Intersect, lost me after two issues.  I wasn't sure what to expect with The Spectral Engine, but I think it is easily my favourite work from him to date.

This book strings together a number of ghost stories from across Canada with the linking theme of the Spectral Engine, a ghost train that endless criss-crosses the country, picking up lost souls.  Fawkes moves roughly from east to west in this book, but often doubles-back, both geographically and chronologically.

We work through a number of vignettes, encompassing a couple of disasters at sea (including during the War of 1812), stories of people becoming lost in the winter woods, a nun who falls through ice while trying to stop a murder, and a disastrous attempt at peace between two warring tribes.  We also get a Wendigo story, which is always welcome.

I think my favourite vignette involves a despairing young woman during the short span of time that Toronto's subway system tried to run three separate lines across two sets of train tracks, an experiment which ultimately led to the closing of the lower Bay Station.

Fawkes's art is often very minimalist, and that works very well here, as we are given only the smallest amount of information that we need in order to understand the stories.  I love the sense of both familiarity and strangeness that Fawkes evokes throughout this work, giving a different sense of the history of my country.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Smoke/Ashes

Written by Alex De Campi
Art by Igor Kordey, Milton, Felipe Sobreiro, Carla Speed McNeil, Richard Pace, Dan McDaid, Mack Chatter, Colleen Doran, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alice Duke, Alem Curin, Jesse Hamm, James Smith, and RM Guéra

In 2013, Dark Horse published Smoke and Ashes in one volume, a nicely designed and chunky hunk of comics that has given me a lot of pleasure this week.  The two stories, both written by Alex De Campi, were separated by about seven years in their publication, with the second being the sequel to the first.

I decided it would be best to discuss each story separately, and to take a bit of a break between reading the two stories.

Smoke


I'd meant to pick this story up a number of times over the years, but I never saw more than the first issue, and didn't want to get swept up in a story I wouldn't be able to finish.  I'm glad I waited, as this was a very satisfying reading experience.

The story is set in a slightly into the future London (which, coincidentally, is more or less now, but would have been the future when De Campi wrote the story).  England is just about completely broke, and the IMF is poised to put their own measures in place to fix things.  A man named Lauderdale, who has the ear of the buffoonish Prime Minister, has a plan to fix things, and to profit for himself in the process.

His plot involves the kidnapping of the President of OPEC by an unwitting group of militant overweight people who want to use him as a bargaining chip in their quest for free plastic surgery in Argentina.  While the President is out of pocket, the plan is for OPEC to place England under a fuel embargo, which the government will be able to use to make a fortune on the futures market.

There are a couple of people who might be able to stop Lauderdale's plan, so he has them assassinated by a pair of freelancers who work for the government.  What he doesn't know is that one of his two targets is a close friend to Rupert Cain, the albino assassin he sent after the other target.  When Cain figures out what's happened, he makes it his business to avenge his friend.  Along the way, a journalist, Katie Shah, ends up working with him, at great personal expense.

The story is complicated, and I haven't mentioned the inclusion of a reporter who is covering the whole thing, the shadowy cabal that has been running England since the Second World War, nor the complicated relationship between Cain and his friend's daughter.  De Campi really packs a lot into the hundred and sixty pages that make up this story.

Things never feel complicated though, and Igor Kordey does a great job of helping keep things straight.  I've been a big fan of Kordey's work for a long time now (if all you've ever seen of his stuff is his New X-Men, you need to look at the rest of his body of work), so I really liked seeing what he did here.  Some of the action sequences, like the one where a group of killers try to take Cain out at a train station from the opposite platform, are incredibly impressive.

Ashes


Ashes is a very different beast than Smoke.  There was some sort of controversy about it involving Kickstarter and a falling out with the first artist De Campi worked with, but I don't remember what that was all about, and don't really see it as relevant to discussing the book.

It opens a few years after the events of Smoke.  London is not in great shape, but Katie Shah is even worse off.  After her involvement in the previous story, she's been effectively blacklisted in the field of journalism, and she's taken to drinking and sleeping with awful men.

In America, the body of No Face, the cyborg assassin from Smoke, is inadvertently given access to the Internet, and he transfers his consciousness just about everywhere.  All No Face wants is to get back at Rupert Cain, and when Katie calls him on a cellphone, Cain is back on the grid.

In surveillance-mad London, there is really nowhere to hide, so Cain and Shah go on the run, leaning on an old military connection of Cain's for help.  As the story progresses, we learn that Cain had a connection to No Face from one of his first missions.  We also learn, once again, that the people in charge of the world are pretty terrible.

This story felt less focused than Smoke, as De Campi develops characters in minor roles, like the pregnant widow of the first soldier killed by No Face.  She also builds up some interesting ideas, such as stem cell-grown pork farms that don't have any animals, which are tangential to the story at best.

This story was drawn by a very large number of talented artists.  It was cool to see an up-and-comer like Dan McDaid working alongside artists like RM Guera, Colleen Doran, Bill Sienkiewicz, and the fantastic Carla Speed McNeil (who has a series with De Campi coming at Image).  The transitions between artists could be jarring at times, but overall, this is a lovely book.

De Campi has not written a lot, but hers is a name that I'm seeing more and more often, from her upcoming Image work to her Grindhouse series at Dark Horse.  She's definitely a very talented writer, and I'm glad I've finally gotten around to reading her seminal work.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Rachel Rising Vol. 1: The Shadow of Death

by Terry Moore

I have to give Terry Moore credit for a few things after reading the first volume of his most recent series, Rachel Rising.  When I think of Moore, I think of Strangers In Paradise, his very entertaining romantic comedy series.  His Echo was a cool science fiction series that kept me entertained throughout.  Nothing he's done to this point in his career prepared me for how creepy he can be, as evidenced by this collection of the first six issues of his still ongoing series.

When this book opens, young Rachel Beck has been buried in a shallow grave in a dried up creek.  She wakens, and violently digs her way out.  She has no memory of how she got there, other than a flashback of a masked man strangling her with rope, and she has the marks on her neck, and the haemorrhaging in her eyes to prove it.  She makes her way home, and goes to sleep.

As this story unfolds, we see people start to react to Rachel differently.  Her Aunt Johnny, the town mortician believes she is a ghost at first, and even her best friend doesn't know how to react to her.  After going to see the friend, Jet, perform at a local bar, Rachel gets knocked off a roof, and dies (again).  A little while later, she wakes up, terrifying her aunt and friend.  It soon becomes apparent that Rachel is, indeed, dead, and that some very strange things are going on in the town of Manson (nice choice of name).

While Rachel is going about her business, we also get to meet a young girl named Zoe, who was visited in her home by a blonde woman we see standing over Rachel's grave, and speaking to the man who pushes his fiancee off the bar roof, hitting Rachel in the process.  Zoe murders her sister, sets her house on fire, and steals the family car to bury her sister in the creek, where she meets the murderous fiancee, doing the same thing.

Later, Zoe meets up with Rachel and her friends, and we learn that only Rachel and Zoe can see the blonde woman.  There are a lot of little clues being left for us - the smoke that comes out of dead bodies when they move again, the references to Manson's history of involvement with witches, and the friendly local doctor who has kept his dead wife's body propped up in the living room for thirty years.  It's too early in the story for Moore to connect any dots, but he's doing a great job of laying the groundwork for an epic.

I love Moore's art.  His draftsmanship in this black and white book is as good as it's ever been, and his character work is becoming more and more refined.  The fiancee could be a stand in for Freddie from SiP, but there's something much more realistic about the guy, even as he's portrayed as a bit of a boorish caricature.

I regret having not dived into this series before now.  It's pretty compelling stuff.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Sin Titulo

by Cameron Stewart

When I think of Cameron Stewart, I think of books like Seaguy, Catwoman, and now Batgirl.  He's someone I equate with more cartoony, fun comics.  He's not someone that I would immediately think of as the person to create so surreal and compelling a book as Sin Titulo, his webseries that Dark Horse published in a single, beautiful, volume.

Alex Mackay is an underachieving fact checker for a magazine company who falls down a particularly strange rabbit hole.  He makes a visit to his grandfather's rest home, only to discover that his grandfather had passed a month before.  When picking up his effects, he finds a photo of the old guy with a beautiful young woman he's never seen before.  When he asks about the woman's identity, the staff behaves strangely, and make off with the picture.  While waiting for answers, he stumbles across the sadistic and abusive behaviour of one of the orderlies.

From here, things just keep getting stranger for Alex.  He follows the orderly when he gets off work, and that leads him to an odd building, where he bluffs his way past the front desk to find himself in a room with a desk and a video phone, and the woman from the photo looking back at him.  As things continue to get weirder, Alex becomes more obsessed with things, losing his job and his girl over his behaviour (not to mention his car).

Throughout the book, Alex experiences dreams about a tree on a beach, sometimes with a person sitting under it (hence the cover).  It's difficult to explain this part without giving away some pretty big stuff, but the book really becomes interesting once Alex meets a painter who has been having the same dream, and painting the same image over and over again.

Stewart captures perfectly the Kafkaesque quality of this story, as Alex never quite questions his sanity, despite the fact that everyone around him is treating him like a crazy person (and he's wanted for killing two police officers).  The internal logic of this story keeps things moving quite well, and Stewart really takes the time to flesh out Alex's character, showing us scenes from his childhood and from an office party that help to colour who he really is, even though they aren't completely necessary to the story.

The story is told in pages of eight panels, which fit quite tightly on these sideways pages.  That helps add to the claustrophobic feeling of the story, until a key page towards the end when Stewart uses the whole page to stunning effect.  The book ends with a fight scene that could only be done in comics, the logistics of which must have been very difficult to plan.

In all, this is a very satisfying read.  It's given me reason to look at Stewart's other work from a different perspective, and I hope to see him doing something so psychological again soon.