Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre

Written by Amanda Conner and Darwyn Cooke
Art by Amanda Conner

Before I begin to discuss this comic, I feel it's important to first acknowledge some of the controversy that has surrounded the Before Watchmen project.  I did not support the notion of DC Comics making prequels to the Watchmen series, not so much because I view that book as a 'holy text' of modern comics, as I feel that DC did and continues to knowingly cheat original creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons out of their rightful ownership of the property.  To that end, I felt that making a bunch of prequel comics, against the express wishes of the original creators, to be shady business.  That is why I did not buy these comics when they came out, and have no intention of buying any of the trades that are currently being released.

That said, I love me some comics, and there are some very impressive writers and artists involved in the Before Watchmen project (and some I don't care for).  So, how to satisfy my curiosity about, say a four-issue mini-series written and drawn by Amanda Conner, while still sticking to my morals, such as they are?  I could take the book out from the library, but instead, I found a complete set of this comic in a used bookstore, and figured that my purchasing it does not count as a monetary vote in favour of the project.

Anyway, regardless of whether you think this is a comics universe that needs revisiting (and I think it isn't) or not, this is one hell of a good comic.  Conner's art is fantastic, and with Cooke's help, she writes a very good story.  The young Laurel Jane, who will grow up to be the second Silk Spectre, is chafing under her mother's parenting skills.  She's in her last year of high school, and wants nothing more than to make friends, land a boyfriend, and enjoy herself.  Instead, her mother has her studying constantly, and training to be a fighter.  In one scene, her mother dresses up as an intruder and tries to attack her in her own home.

Laurie runs away to San Francisco with the boy she likes, and they find themselves in the middle of the growing hippie and drug culture of the 60s.  They also manage to find themselves some trouble, as the Chairman (i.e., Frank Sinatra) is not happy with the anti-consumerism that has become so popular among young people, and with the help of a guy called Gurustein, begins pumping a particular brand of LSD into the market which leaves its users full of the urge to shop and consume.

Laurie deals with heartbreak, beautiful kung fu henchwomen, and the irritating thought that her mother might have manage to prepare her for the world.  Laurie and her boyfriend's character arcs are handled very well, and Conner excels at depicting the hallucinogenic time period.

One thing that surprised me about this series was the extent to which Conner took it into the 'mature readers' world.  I questioned the likelihood that a female high school student in 1966 would make a joke that revolved around male ejaculate being on a girl's face, and was also a little surprised by the amount of nudity in the book, simply because I'd expected DC to try to be able to market this to as wide an audience as possible.  Given the crassness of this book's genesis, I would have thought that marketing would have had a stronger say in the actual content of the book.

In the end, this is a very solid comic.  I didn't bother reading the Crimson Corsair back-up pages, as that strip appeared in a number of different titles, but I was otherwise impressed with this book.  Too bad I wouldn't buy a sequel...

Monsieur Pain

by Roberto Bolaño

I am a huge fan of Roberto Bolaño's writing, but am at the point where I've read all but a few of his novels.  That means I'm picking up some of his earliest written pieces, and of course they don't hold up against his greatest work, like 2666.  At the same time, it's enjoyable to see where Bolaño began as a writer, and to try to recognize his genesis.

Monsieur Pain is an odd little book.  It's basically about a mesmerist who lives in Paris just before the beginning of the Second World War.  M. Pain sometimes helps with the medical treatment of patients (it's never made clear how), and the widow of a former patient of his (who he is in love with) wants him to help a friend of her's.  The friend is the wife of the Peruvian poet César Vallejo, who is himself in hospital with what appears to be a terminal case of the hiccups (this and a fever are the only symptoms he is showing of some unknown malady).  Pain wants to help, but he is being pursued by a pair of young Spanish men, who wish to bribe him into staying away from the case.

Things get a lot less structured from there, as Pain gives in to his own paranoia, and begins wandering the city at night.  Bolaño introduces us to a few strange characters, such as the brothers who like to construct model disasters in the bottom of fish tanks, and a few odd situations, such as the night Pain spends sleeping in a bathtub in a deserted warehouse.  This book touches on the Spanish Civil War, Mme. Curie's daughter's suitor, and features a hospital designed in such a way that the corridors seem endless.

Bolaño's ideas are strange, but sadly, the book never quite comes to life until the reader arrives at the epilogue, which fills in what happened to a variety of characters after the book ends.  This is not one of Bolaño's best, but it was a diverting read nonetheless.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Like A Sniper Lining Up His Shot

by Jacques Tardi, from a story by Jean-Patrick Manchette

Jacques Tardi's comic adaptation of a novel by French crime writer Jean-Patrick Manchette is very capably done, but it's a strange little story.  In a lot of ways, Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot reminds me a great deal of Matz and Jacamon's The Killer.  Both books involve a hitman looking to retire from the business and settle down with a nice woman, and in both cases, the killer is forced back into the life he's trying to leave behind.

In this book, Martin Terrier hopes to walk away from ten years spent as a soldier of fortune and a gun for hire, and to reconnect with the girl he left back home, from whom he'd exacted a promise to wait for him.  Terrier's a strange character.  He doesn't show any remorse for his victims, or for the people in his life who get drawn into his mess, when the family of a victim come after him.  Yet, when he sees something that shocks him late in the book, he loses his voice and the ability to speak for some time.  That rang false for me, and kind of impacted my enjoyment of the book.

The strength of this novel is Tardi's wonderful artwork.  His figures are great, but I most enjoyed his portrayal of France in the 70s, especially the cars.  So far as crime comics go, this is a pretty solid one, and I got into it pretty quickly.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The 'Nam Vol. 2

Written by Doug Murray
Art by Wayne Vansant, Michael Golden, John Severin, Geoff Isherwood, John Beatty, and Bob Camp

It's worth wondering how my reading and educational history might have changed had my twelve and thirteen year old self been wise enough to realize what a cool and special series Marvel's The 'Nam was when it was first being published.  Were a series like this being launched today, I would support it whole-heartedly and with great enthusiasm.

Still, kids are dumb, especially given that some of these comics were drawn by Michael Golden, whose Micronauts issues were among the ones I treasured the most.

Anyway, The 'Nam was structured to try to show how the Vietnam War worked in real time.  A month of history passed between each monthly issue, and efforts were made to align the events that the soldiers of the 23rd Infantry Division experienced in the comic with what happened in the actual war.  It's an interesting structure, causing characters to move in and out of the book as they are injured or they become 'short'.  At times it doesn't work - when an unpopular and possibly psychotic lieutenant meets an unexpected fate on the base, it's two months before that event is dealt with by the brass.  One would assume the reaction would have happened quicker.

This comic is not blind in its portrayal of the more questionable aspects of the war.  When our point of view character gets back home, he is surprised to see how the war is being portrayed and understood in the media and even by his own parents.  There's not a lot of time for politics however, as Murray prefers to focus on the tight relationships formed among the men.  Many issues lack strong narrative structure on their own, and instead work as vignettes in a war that lasted a long time.

The art in this book, which collects ten issues of the series, is superb.  Golden drew this with a much looser style than he was known for at the time, and Wayne Vansant, who drew the lion's share of issues, echoed his style quite well while maintaining his own approach.  John Severin drew an issue, which is alone enough of a reason to buy this book.

Reading this, I'm kind of surprised that we haven't seen a more modern attempt to do this same sort of comic, but set in Afghanistan or Iraq.  Enough time has passed that these stories are becoming more common on television and in movies, but with the exception of DC's short lived war comic corner of the New 52, we aren't seeing enough exploration of these conflicts...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mind MGMT #13

by Matt Kindt

Matt Kindt's monthly series Mind MGMT has been a terrific, genre-defying read, and with this issue, he begins his third story arc.  This is a perfect place for new readers who have been curious about Mind MGMT to jump on board, or to sample the title, as the inside front cover contains a summary of sorts, which also helps establish the spirit of this comic.

We know that Henry Lyme has put together a group of ex-Mind MGMT agents, psychic spies and the like, to help counter the group being put together by the sinister Eraser.  Meru, who has been our point-of-view character from the beginning is currently out of the picture, as both sides in the conflict scramble to find new recruits.

This issue doesn't really touch on any of that though.  Instead, we are taken to a very nice little suburbia, where couples in nice homes have parties and gossip about one another.  The men in the community have been finding some of their things going missing lately, a treasured grandfather's watch, and a priceless movie prop.  Accusations, and accusations of paranoia, threaten to overwhelm the small community, but it seems that the real culprit has to do with Mind MGMT's Matryoshka program, which has embedded one of the suburbanites into the picture, for ends that don't seem all that clear.

This is a nicely constructed single issue, which also fits into the larger story Kindt is working on.  It seems we may never know all of the MGMT's secrets, but I really like the pace at which we are learning many of them.

Kindt's art is not for everyone, but I can't imagine a story like this being told by a slicker or more polished artist.  Plus, look at how wonderful that cover is.  If you aren't reading this, please check it out.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Templar, Arizona Vol. 4: Trouble Every Day

by Spike

While I still enjoyed reading it, I found this volume collecting the sublime webcomic Templar, Arizona, to be a little frustrating.  The firmly established main characters, Ben and Reagan, are barely present, and the two characters that got the most space in the book, EJ and Elliott Bigelow, were ones I could barely remember from earlier volumes.

At the same time, Spike's strange world of Templar is a pretty fascinating one.  She is using her characters to reveal more and more of the world, as the Jakeskin go after Elliott, causing him and EJ to go on the run, and we get a better sense of what has been going on with Pippi, who is a bit of a mess.  Moze is having a good time with Tuesday, but she is still more concerned with what other people are broadcasting about her.  We also learn the meaning of 'Churchyard' in Templar, and it's not what Ben thought it was.

This time around, Spike gave us some more information about other parts of the world in this alternate timeline.  Most interesting is the explanation of what happened to Australia after the Japanese ran a more successful Pacific campaign during the Second World War.  Her notion of an indigenous insurgent army only helped strengthen the comparison in my mind between this book and Carla Speed McNeil's Finder.

I found this to be a quicker read than some of the other volumes of Templar, but haven't checked the varying page counts.  While I did find this volume to be a little frustrating, I would gladly pick up a fifth volume, if such a thing were printed.  As it stands, I may have to start reading this on the web, which is not my preferred method of reading comics.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Voices From the Storm

The People of New Orleans on Hurricane Katrina and its Aftermath

Edited by Lola Vollen and Chris Ying

The Voice of Witness series is a collection of books that share oral history on topics of social justice and human rights, published by McSweeney's.  Voices from the Storm is the second book in their series, and it tells the stories of a number of people from the New Orleans area who lived through Hurricane Katrina and the days of chaos and loss that followed it.

This book is fascinating.  The interviewers have found a wide cross-section of New Orleans people, from the poor black residents of the Ninth Ward, which was completely flooded, to a Vietnamese priest.  Thirteen people were interviewed at length, although some, such as Kermit Ruffins, the popular musician, were not given a lot of space on the page.  Their stories were structured chronologically, so that it's possible to follow the events of the storm as they happened, and see how the affected different people at different times.

Staying true to the structure of oral history, we read pretty much exactly what people said.  This gives us, in addition to an appreciation of the horror of the events, an authentic experience of dialect and diction which adds much local flavour to the stories.  The people interviewed here went through a lot, although by point of fact of their being around to tell their stories, they can be considered lucky to have survived.  Some of the things that they saw or had to go through are hard to imagine happening in a major American city, and this book makes a great companion to Spike Lee's terrific documentary When the Levees Broke.

One of the people interviewed here is Abdulrahman Zeitoun, who later became the subject of Dave Eggers's book Zeitoun.  I liked hearing about what happened to him from his own voice, as it added weight to his story, especially when I knew what was going to happen to him when he got picked up by the police.

This is a very well-put together history book, with a number of helpful appendices.  Some of the 'official record' of the storm is included here, and it is just as damming towards the government as the words of the grandmother who had to spend days walking around in deep water trying to find a way out of the city.  Very powerful stuff.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Grandville Mon Amour

by Bryan Talbot

The second of Bryan Talbot's Grandville graphic novels is perhaps more enjoyable than the first, since the world of Detective-Inspector LeBrock is established, and Talbot has a little more time and space to craft his story and characters.

Grandville Mon Amour is set in a world where Napoleon had taken over all of Europe.  England has recently won its independence from France after a long and bloody insurgency campaign, and the country is now poised to appoint its Prime Minister for the last number of years as President for life, a choice that many find odd.  These graphic novels fit in the steampunk genre, and LeBrock's world is full of steam-powered machines and odd technology.  Also, everyone is a talking animal, and while each species appears to only mate with their own kind, there doesn't appear to be much in the way of outright speciesism (racism?).

As this book opens, Mad Dog Mastock, a notorious serial killer and former resistance fighter makes his escape while on the way to the guillotine.  Our hero, DI LeBrock, is wallowing in guilt from the events of the first graphic novel, but when he hears that Mastock is loose, he demands that he be put on the case, as he is the one that brought the dog down in the first place.  His insistence gets him suspended, but in no time he is off to Grandville (Paris), with his partner Rodders, to track down Mastock on his own.  Mastock has been killing prostitutes there, but LeBrock begins to discover a pattern and method behind the killings that go beyond his usual depravities.

The story follows through a few twists and turns (a couple of them were kind of predictable, admittedly), and the story is much larger than a simple case of an escaped serial killer.  LeBrock, still stinging from the loss of his Sarah, ends up falling for another lovely female badger (how many of them could there be?), and Talbot keeps a romantic undercurrent flowing through the book.

As interesting as the story is, Talbot's art is the big draw here.  He's always been a remarkably detailed artist, but the pages of this book are lovely.  His animal characters and their environment are very believable, and the steampunk touches he's added are often fascinating.  This is a very accomplished book, and I recommend it.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Infinite Kung Fu

by Kagan McLeod

I've never been a huge fan of the Shaw Brothers style of kung fu movies (although I did become somewhat obsessed with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon when it came out), but I loved Kagan McLeod's Infinite Kung Fu, a nice chunky graphic novel love letter to that genre.

This book is set in the martial world, where the dead have started reanimating recently deceased bodies as thinking zombies.  Much of the martial world is ruled by an Emperor who is himself dead.  He has five armies, each controlled by a former student of one of the eight Immortals (there are others).  These students turned on their masters and learned Poison Kung Fu.

Now the Emperor is trying to put together his mystical armour so that he can come back to life and destroy the world for all time.  The Immortals have left the world and have vowed not to interfere in worldly affairs, except through the actions of their agents, and so they send a young deserter from the Emperor's army, Lei Kung, on a mission to learn powerful kung fu and save the day.

McLeod fully embraces the tropes of Chinese kung fu movies, but adds just the right amount of 70s blaxploitation to the mix, in the character of Moog Joogular, an afro-sporting fighter with the ability to remove and regrow his limbs.  Moog lives in a village that looks like Harlem, while the rest of the book is set in a more traditional Chinese countryside.  It's an odd addition to the book, but it's exactly the kind of thing that makes me like it.

McLeod's story is long and rambling, in an epic way (the book is about 450 pages) that circles back upon itself.  I enjoyed the flow of this story, and liked how complicated things got towards the end, as different factions competed for similar goals.

McLeod's art is very fluid, and his fight scenes are choreographed beautifully.  He captures the variety of time periods he's looking to capture (i.e., a 70s depiction of ancient China) very well, and propels the story perfectly.  McLeod's approach to this story is highly creative and never dull.  Recommended.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

There is a Country: New Fiction From the New Nation of South Sudan

Edited by Nyuol Lueth Tong

The idea of a new nation, as touted on the cover of this very slim anthology of fiction (and one poem), suggests a newness of place, and the heady days of nation-building that resonate with North American audiences, who themselves don't feel all that far removed from the frontier-ism that shaped their homes.  The truth of the matter is that South Sudan is a very old place, albeit only recently recognized as a place of its own.

The people of South Sudan, having survived war with the country they used to be a part of, are now a diasporic people.  Reading the author bios at the back of this anthology show a collection of writers (sadly all male) who have been educated in England and Europe, and who have or have not returned to their homelands.  A surprisingly large percentage of them are doctors.

The stories here are scattered, capturing different moments in the South Sudanese experience, from migrant camps in Port Sudan to refugee camps presumably in the country itself.  The characters have suffered loss and displacement, although these are not always the themes of the stories.  Instead, we read about a blossoming love in a camp, or about the slow poisoning of an old endearment when decimated families have to resort to relying on the charity of old acquaintances.

The only story that directly portrays the way between North and South does it from the perspective of a soldier from the other side, which I found to be very interesting, especially given its sympathy for the character.

These are all very well-written stories, coming from a place not really known for its literary traditions.  A bulk of good fiction is essential in building the character of a nation, and while it faces many challenges now and in its future, the canon of South Sudan is in capable hands.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Sheltered #1

Written by Ed Brisson
Art by Johnnie Christmas

I've been a fan of Ed Brisson's writing since I first bought an issue of his Murder Book at TCAF a few years ago.  He has subsequently written the Image mini-series Comeback, which was interesting, but nowhere near the quality of the first issue of his new series, Sheltered.

This mini-series is set in Safe Haven, a collection of trailers and underground bunkers set in some remote location in the United States.  It's populated by a group of 'preparationists', militia-types who are laying in supplies for the end of the government or the world.  The adults in this small community busy themselves digging bunkers and buying canned goods, and we learn that not everyone in the group agrees with how they are going about things, but Brisson creates the impression that their sense of common purpose overcomes any procedural differences they might feel.

The kids are another problem though.  It's quickly apparent that not all of the teenagers that live in the area see things the same way as their parents, and as is normal with teenagers, they go about rebelling in their own way.  A pair of boys borrow a HAM radio because their own is broken, but are pointedly shown not using it.  A pair of girls like to sneak out into the woods to 'hike', but they take a flask with them.

During what looks like a normal day, the sound of a gunshot in the woods brings everyone running.  It seems that some men are trying to attack the compound - just what the adults have been expecting and training for.  Things are not exactly what they seem though, and I don't want to spoil the book.  Suffice to say, it's a very good read, and I'm looking forward to the next issue.

Johnnie Christmas's art looks quite nice in colour (I've only ever seen black and white work from him in Murder Book).  This book reminds me a little of Joshua Hale Fialkov and Noel Tuazon's excellent Elk's Run, but the twists are quite different.  I recommend checking this out.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Revolver Vol. 1

by Salgood Sam (with John O'Brien and A. J. Duric)

Salgood Sam is one of those comics creators that I feel we should see a lot more from.  He first caught my eye on the excellent Sea of Red vampire series, and his graphic novel with Jim Munro, Therefore, Repent! is a favourite of mine.

Revolver is an anthology of shorter comics by Sam, which are very introspective and powerful.  At the heart of the book is "The Rise and Fall of it All pt. 1", a story about a man who was downsized during the recent economic turmoil, and unable to pull things back together in his life.  This is a very poetic story, matched beautifully with Sam's expansive page layouts.

'Pin City' is an interesting bit about a very special city in the sky, and the way in which a man has to go about making a life for himself within it.

Some of the other stories are comics based on dreams, or the usual sort of short ephemera of sketchbooks.  Sam is a very interesting artist, and one worth keeping an eye on.

Monday, July 8, 2013


by Gerry Alanguilan

I've wanted to read Elmer for a while now, although I have to say that I wasn't expecting to love the book quite as much as I did.  This is one fantastic graphic novel, mixing allegory, social commentary, and humour with a gripping, emotional read and fantastic art.  I cannot believe that this book is not discussed ore as an example of the type of story that can only be told effectively through comics.

In Gerry Alanguilan's fictional world, something happened in 1979 that caused all the chickens in the world to spontaneously evolve to human levels of cognition, speech, and ability.  After a few very difficult months during which violence was the most common human response to this change, chickens were declared 'human beings', entitled to the same basic rights and freedoms as everyone else.  It's a crazy idea, but it does allow for a pretty interesting story.

Elmer is centred on Jake Gallo, an angry young chicken who has been having trouble finding himself decent work.  He returns to his family's home when he learns that his father, Elmer, has had a stroke, and after his father's death, spends most of the book exploring his father's journal from the time of his 'awakening'.  The first generation of self-aware chickens suffered a great deal, but Elmer was not one to let his problems stop him.  His close friendship with Farmer Ben, the man who saved him many times over, and his ability to write eloquently for a local newspaper gave his life purpose.

Learning about the challenges his parents faced has a profound affect on Jake, and Alanguilan shows that beautifully.  It's rare to see characters so well developed in such a small amount of space, and to see how profoundly the events of a book can change them.  Alanguilan has really thought out how this change would affect society, from the impact on the poultry industry to the way in which people would react to mixed marriages.

Alanguilan is best known for inking comics artists like Whilce Portacio and Leinil Francis Yu, but he shows here a draftsmanship and attention to detail that eclipses these superstars.  His chickens are incredibly human in their facial expressions, while still being very chicken-like - it's not an easy trick to pull off.

One thing I really liked about this book was how clear it was that the comic was not set in North America (Alanguilan is from the Philippines), while remaining universal in its storytelling.  I cannot recommend this book enough - it's an incredible read, and would be perfect for anyone who enjoys Chew (I'd love to see Elmer sit down for a chat with Poyo one day).  Actually, I think this should be required reading for any true comics fan.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Lovely Horrible Stuff

by Eddie Campbell

There's a point in the first half of this rather odd graphic memoir where Eddie Campbell laments the fact that, where he and his wife used to discuss sex over their meals, now they talk about money.  When one is young, money is largely celebrated in its absence, but as one gets older, it raises in its importance.

That's kind of the point of The Lovely Horrible Stuff, which is split into two very different sections.  The first is a personal memoir, with Campbell examining his relationship with his money.  He discusses the amount of time and energy independent artists have to expend to get paid for their labour, and then goes on to talk about how, flush with his share of the spoils from From Hell, he lent money to his father-in-law, who then proceeded to tie the money up in a number of improbably lawsuits against the retirement village to which he'd moved.

Campbell's point here seems to be that money is complicated, and best left to others to manage, but that where money is concerned, no one can be complicated.  Campbell's long-time travel agent had constructed her own little Ponzi scheme, resulting in the Campbell's losing their plane tickets.

In the second part of the book, the Campbells travel to the island of Yap, a small part of Micronesia.  Historically, the people of Yap had placed their wealth in Rai, large stone disks that were carved from limestone on a neighbouring island.  Yapese society developed around the value of these disks, which were rarely moved.  Campbell gives an overview of the economics of the island, and how it was used to prove various points by Western economists over the years, but really, this is a travel memoir that has little more than tangential connections to the first half of the book.  I also found it to be the more enjoyable half.

Campbell's always been an interesting and singular cartoonist.  For most of this book, he mixes photographs with his own drawings, which is a little jarring at times.  This is an interesting read.

A Case of Exploding Mangoes

by Mohammed Hanif

The figure of the dictator is a fascinating one to explore in fiction.  These people manage to hold together a country (to varying degrees of success) simply based on the power of their personalities and their desire for power.  In A Case of Exploding Mangoes, Mohammed Hanif explores the last days of General Zia ul-Haq, who controlled Pakistan until his death in 1988.

Hanif portrays Zia as deeply religious, and prone to great acts of self-deception.  His Zia places the entire country on Red Alert because of a Koran verse he randomly reads one morning.  He also deludes himself into believing that the people of his country love him, and is continually shocked when evidence to the contrary surfaces.  In short, he's a petty, boorish man who enjoys wielding his power, but has convinced himself that everything he does is for the general good.

His story is contrasted with that of Ali Shigri, a young officer whose father, a colonel, once worked closely with Zia's circle, and whose apparent suicide was likely anything but.  Ali commands a drill squad that is expected to perform for the General, and he is entertaining notions of using the opportunity to kill the man.  Before he can put his plan into motion, he is detained because his roommate and best friend has gone missing.

The two stories carry on parallel to one another for most of the book.  Ali suffers imprisonment in a medieval dungeon, while Zia remains confined to the Army House, where he is at the mercy of his over-protective guard and his unhappy wife.  The reader becomes privy to the plots against Zia, most notably by his Intelligence head General Akhter.

This is historical fiction - Zia was killed in a plane crash in 1988, alongside many of the people portrayed in this book.  Hanif has done a wonderful job of blurring fact and fiction, and writing a novel that is satirical while sticking to established facts.  This is a very well-written book, which brings to mind many of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's books that also portray brutal leaders in the waning days.  I enjoyed reading it.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Supermag #1

by Jim Rugg, with Brian Maruca and Robin Bougie

Supermag is not an easy project to define, but then, none of Jim Rugg's comics work fits into easy classification.  His books Street Angel and Afrodisiac are both brilliant explorations of genre, but he plays so much with the medium that they are neither parodies of the superhero genre, nor straight examples of it.

With Supermag, Rugg has created something like a comics magazine, filled with short strips that show off the versatility of his skill.  Many of the strips are just one or two pages long, and don't really end.  In many cases, I was just settling into a longer story when I realized that Rugg had already moved on to something else.  He's very good at creating character in a limited amount of space, so I often found that to be disappointing - especially with his more 'slice of life' pieces - imagine reading one page of an Adrian Tomine story, and you can understand what I'm talking about.

Rugg also plays around with some of the classic comics genres, like war comics, but subverts or twists them, such as in his story about the US Army's top golfer, who is used to fight off an air attack.  We get an army ape attacking a meeting of Osama bin Laden, Kim Jong-Il, and Hugo Chavez.  We also get an appearance of the Bald Eagle, a character from Street Angel.

Rugg is a terrific artist with a strong eye for design.  I'd like to see him settle into a longer piece of work again, as I feel he can create some very powerful long work, but it was nice to go through this book to see how truly talented he is.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Harvey Pekar's Cleveland

Written by Harvey Pekar
Art by Joseph Remnant

I didn't start reading Harvey Pekar's comics until just before he died a few years ago, and has slowly been dipping my toes into his brand of crotchety autobiography.  Harvey Pekar's Cleveland is kind of an odd book - it's as much a history of the city that he's so closely associated with as it is his own memoir of the city and how it shaped him.

The book meanders quite a bit - it opens with a history of the fortunes of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, before giving us a condensed story of how the city grew (and then began to shrink).  In between, Pekar shares some of his own memories of growing up, and living in the city through its roughest moments.

Like many an industrial city in the US, Cleveland has seen better days.  It has lost its manufacturing base, and has seen its population shrink (Pekar is especially interested in charting the exodus of white people; I often forget how obsessed Americans are with their racial divide).  Still, Pekar has remained, working as a career civil servant, and writing for comics and music magazines.

This book doesn't really make the reader want to visit Cleveland (although I'd love to hang out at John Zubal's bookstore, which Pekar devotes a fair amount of space to), but it does humanize the place.  Much of the material in this book is familiar - it seems that Pekar spent a lot of time revisiting the same themes and events in his life - but it kept my interest.