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.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Not My Bag

by Sina Grace

I'd wanted to read Not My Bag for a while, because I've enjoyed Sina Grace's cartooning, and like the idea of him using memoir to shine a light on life in lower-high-end retail.

Needing to pay off some car repairs, Grace took a job at a prominent department store, becoming their 'Eileen Fisher specialist', and selling a line usually associated with older and larger women.  At first, Grace dives into the job with enthusiasm, but as he starts to see how the place works, and how the people above him manipulate their workers, he goes from enjoying his job to having attacks of paranoia and anxiety.

Grace fills this book with the types of insights you would expect from an intelligent and observant person in his position.  He talks about his sharkish co-workers, who are desperate for commissions, as well as his disdain for his own Persian-American community (interestingly, the only time that ethnicity enters the book).

Throughout the book, Grace also shows his own mental state during this time.  We see how the ghosts of former failed or unrealized relationships make it difficult to get closer to 'The Lawyer', his current love interest.  He drops hints about how his comics career is growing at this time as well, although not quickly enough to outpace his growing love of purchasing higher-end fashion items for himself.

Grace is a smart cartoonist.  I especially like the way he refrains from showing the face of Frankie, his manager.  She is always shown as wearing different masks, most notably a Guy Fawkes/V For Vendetta one when she is at her angriest.

This book made me appreciate how comparatively simple my own forays into retail were, although I think anyone who's worked in the industry at any level would recognize the way the system treats the people at the bottom of the totem pole.