Friday, December 30, 2016

The Realist

by Asaf Hanuka

I've been a fan of both Asaf Hanuka and his twin brother Tomer for a while now, but had never read any of his strips done for the Calcalist, an Israeli newspaper.  For a number of years, beginning in 2010, Hanuka provided the paper with a weekly strip, consisting either (typically) of a nine-panel grid or a single splash page (although other formats were used).

The content of these strips, collected in The Realist in English for the first time, is very autobiographical.  Hanuka covers fatherhood, his rather turbulent relationship with his wife, their trips as a couple or a family, and what life is like in Tel Aviv for someone in the creative class.

Of course this book can get pretty political in places, but Hanuka rarely strays from looking at how things affect him.  When politics or conflict creep in, it's because I imagine it touches everything in the country, and is inescapable.  Hanuka is careful to avoid expressing clear opinions on the major issues that Israel faces - its occupation of Palestinian territory, its apartheid policies, or the rise of fundamentalism within Israeli society.  Instead, we see how he goes about his days, and what effect all of these things have on him and his family.

Hanuka's art is beautiful.  He employs a variety of styles here, depending on what kind of short story he's trying to tell, or what point he wants to make, but every page is gorgeous.  It's hard to imagine these pages in a newspaper.

This is an impressive book.

Monday, November 28, 2016

City of Clowns

Written by Daniel Alarcón
Art by Sheila Alvarado

I picked up the graphic novel adaptation of Daniel Alarcón's short story, City of Clowns.

It is the story of a young man in Lima, Peru, named Oscar, but called Chino.  His father has recently died, which has made it impossible for Chino to hide from the fact that his father had another family.

Chino's mother has become close with her husband's mistress, and has even gone to live there, while Chino feels himself somewhat lost, and prone to wandering the streets of Lima.  He is supposed to be on an assignment, reporting on the ubiquitous clowns that fill the streets, but is largely unable to concentrate.  He ends up posing as a clown himself for a while, while also sharing with the reader his memories of his father and his childhood.

Chino, whose family had come to Lima from a poor mining town, had been given the opportunity to receive a quality education thanks to the kindness of his mother's employer, yet he never quite felt a part of his peer group.  Having to help his father renovate and maintain his peers' homes did not make it any easier (although his inevitable involvement in the robbery of their homes did help salve his wounded ego).

This is a hard story to describe without the benefit of Sheila Alvarado's expressive art.  She lays things out beautifully, and uses the images to enhance the story in a way that is uncommon in literary adaptations.

I'm a big fan of South American writers like Roberto Bolaño, and see some clear parallels between some of his writing, this graphic novel, and the brilliant Daytripper, one of my top five favourite comics, by Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon.  Perhaps it's just because Chino ends up writing his father's obituary, but I thought of that book numerous times while reading this.

I highly recommend this comic.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Think Tank Vol. 1

Written by Matt Hawkins
Art by Rahsan Ekedal

I tend to stay away from Top Cow comics because of some bad experiences in the past, but had heard some good things about Think Tank and thought I should check it out.  This first volume of the series is pretty delightful.

David Loren is a scientist working for the US military.  He was recruited as a child prodigy, alongside his closest friend, and has basically spent his adolescence and early adulthood in a hidden lab, where he has worked to develop some serious next generation weapons.  As he's gotten older, David has begun to feel the guilt of his complicity in mass death, and as such, has begun to rebel a little against the system.

After sneaking out to party, he meets a woman, and then decides that it's time to retire from this job forever.  The problem is that the military doesn't let people with his type of knowledge leave, nor are they too happy to learn that he shared some secrets with this young woman.  David has to use all of his skills to escape, and that leads to a pretty exciting sequence of events.

The tagline on the cover of this book says that reading it will "make you smarter", and while I don't know about that, I can say that Matt Hawkins displays a great deal of intelligence and thoughtful planning in writing this.  David is both a likeable and scorn-worthy character, and it's a little hard to decide to what degree the reader should be on his side.  Rahsan Ekedal is a very skilled artist.  I loved his Echoes with Joshua Hale Fialkov, and am pleased to enjoy this stuff here.

I do have the second volume of this book in my to-read pile, and am looking forward to it, but at the same time, I feel like this volume closes things off perfectly, and that Hawkins could have easily finished the story here and it would all be fine.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Kinski

by Gabriel Hardman

I've been a fan of Gabriel Hardman's work for some time now (I think he first came to my attention when he was drawing Hulk for Greg Pak), and have especially been enjoying his work with his wife Corinna Bechko on Invisible Republic, not to mention their excellent Planet of the Apes and Star Wars: Legacy work.

Kinski is a recent solo outing for Hardman, and it is a hard book to get a read on.  Joe is a guy in town on business when he finds a lost dog, names him Kinski after the actor in a favourite movie of his, and decides to keep him.  When he finds out that Kinski already has a family (and another name), that doesn't stop him from kidnapping the dog, and embarking on a journey that is a very unfunny comedy of errors, costing him his job, friendships, and really, sense of reality.

What's strange about this book, and is the thing that kept bothering me about it, is that Hardman never really explains Joe's motivations.  His friend and co-worker suggests that he has some kind of unresolved childhood issues towards a family pet, but Hardman never makes that clear.  This makes the book a little more unsettling, but also much more effective in its role as a portrait of insanity.

Hardman's art is always nice, but feels a little cleaner and simpler in this book, as if he were using it as a way of escaping the more intricate and planned work of Invisible Republic.  Hardman shows us a part of the US where giant RV tent cities are unremarkable, and where relationships are as precarious as the employment.  I guess it makes sense that Joe wants to have some kind of connection to something loyal, even if it doesn't make sense to anyone else that he would risk his well-being for someone else's perfectly content pet.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Blacksad: A Silent Hell

Written by Juan Díaz Canales
Art by Juanjo Guarnido

I read and loved the first Dark Horse Blacksad graphic novel quite a while ago, and for some reason I've really taken my time in getting around to the second one, A Silent Hell (although the third is already in my to-read pile, so that will come a lot quicker).

Blacksad is a private investigator in a world of anthropomorphic animal people.  In this issue, he's come to 1950s New Orleans with his reporter friend Weekly, and has been hired by a dying jazz label impresario to track down a missing junkie piano player, who the old man loves as a son (and more than his own son).  Very quickly, as this is a fast-moving story, writer Juan Díaz Canales has us immersed in the underbelly of the jazz scene, as the old man's son tries to stop Blacksad, and some very questionable things start happening.

This book is absolutely gorgeous.  Artist Juanjo Guarnido employs a watercolour technique that leads to some truly stunning pages.  He also takes many, many pages to explain his process and show us a variety of sketches and colour treatments he executed to get the book to look this good.  This section would be a real boon to artists just starting out, or ones who are established and want to learn to use watercolours for comics.

I really enjoyed this book, which I devoured in one setting.  It gives us an interesting look at New Orleans and its black and creole cultures, and is a master class in pacing and using flashbacks to structure a story.  The two short stories added on the end are excellent as well.

I know that there are more Blacksad albums in Europe than there have been published in English, and I'm hoping that more of them will be made available to us.

Friday, August 26, 2016

ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times

by Andrew MacLean

I enjoyed Andrew MacLean's Head Lopper, so I decided to pick up his earlier graphic novel, ApocalyptiGirl, when I saw him exhibiting at TCAF this year.

This is a fairly typical post-Apocalypse kind of story.  Aria is on her own, aside from the cat that she found who now travels with her everywhere, searching the ruins of a major city for something.  Her day usually consists of singing the arias that she is named after, and trying to get Gus, a large robot of some sort, working again, while also chasing any signals she happens to pick up.

She's not completely alone in the city though - there are two warring groups, the Blue Stripes and the Gray Beards, who she mostly avoids.

This not being a very long book, it's not long before there's a lot of mayhem going on, as a Stripe finds her makeshift home in the subways, and she has to fight for her survival, just as she finds the thing she's spent years looking for.

MacLean has a refreshingly minimalist approach to his artwork.  The drawings are lush and colourful, and while they are detailed, they are also very stylized.  It was his artistic approach that attracted me to Head Lopper, and it works well here too.  This was a decent read.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Fifth Beatle

Written by Vivek J. Tiwary
Art by Andrew Robinson and Kyle Baker

I've never been a big Beatles fan, largely because to me, it's the music of commercials and montages in comedy movies.  That said, I'm always interested in serious graphic novels that examine periods of history, and so I thought it would be good to check The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story out.

Brian Epstein was the Beatles' manager, 'discovering' them in a small bar in Liverpool, and using his industry connections (he managed a large music store) to get them started on the road to superstardom.  This book is his story, mostly focusing on how he balanced his ambition, his hidden homosexuality, and his abuse of prescription medication.

Vivek Tiwary, the writer of this book, is incredibly knowledgeable about the Beatles, and does a great job of keeping Epstein squarely in the middle of this story, resisting the urge to make it be about the members of the band, who largely remain interchangeable and lost in the background, aside from Paul McCartney, who seems to have had a stronger connection with Epstein than the rest did.

Andrew Robinson is one of those artists who I always feel deserve a lot more renown than they get.  He excels at this kind of character-driven story, while also evoking the era beautifully.  The Kyle Baker segment is a cartoonish look at the band's adventures in the Philippines while on tour, and I felt that it kind of disrupted the flow of the whole story.

As a whole, this is a very sensitive and understanding look at the life of a man whose work is remembered much more than his name, and who had to live secretly and unhappily in order to achieve his goals.  It's sad, but also triumphant.

Hip Hop Family Tree 1975-1983 Gift Box

by Ed Piskor

It's surprising that I hadn't read any of Ed Piskor's incredible series before now, considering that I'm almost as much a hip hop head as I am a comics head.  The Gift Box Set contains volumes one and two of Piskor's oversized Hip Hop Family Tree series, as well as a 90s-style ashcan comic about Rob Liefeld.  Despite a pair of excellent FCBD issues that I enjoyed, I waited until now, which with the release of The Get Down on Netflix, is the perfect time to read this comic.

Piskor's set out to tell the entire story of hip hop music and culture in these books, sharing it in short one or two page strips that combine to tell the much larger story.  The first volume begins in 1975 with the earliest forms of hip hop, and this box takes it through to 1983, and the emergence of Run-DMC as a new powerhouse.

Piskor's research and attention to detail is incredible, as is his ability to keep things interesting and coherent, even though the story jumps all over the place without chapter breaks, blending it all together.  This becomes even more complicated when hip hop breaks out of New York and starts to appear in other parts of the country, such as the early LA scene.  I can see how, as the book moves into the late 80s and 90s, this is going to become more and more complex, since each major city developed its own regional variations.

Anyway, this is a great read, and an example of true virtuosic work on Piskor's part.  The design of the book is incredible, and every aspect of it has been clearly thought out and planned meticulously.  I like the way that the pages look like yellowed pages from that era, but when Piskor shows a scene from later, the colouring and design reflects that era (bright and clear for the late 80s, for example).

I also like the fact that, as I read this book, the Internet makes it possible to pull up artifacts from that time, like Blondie's horrendous 'Rapture' video, and to watch Charlie Ahearn's classic film Wild Style on Netflix, since I was really young during the period that Piskor is portraying.  It feels like early hip hop has become popular again (see The Get Down to see what I mean), and I wonder if Piskor has had something to do with that.

Reading all of this, I am left with one burning question though, and that's my desire to know just what it is that Piskor has against Russell Simmons.  He's really not kind to the man...

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Absence

by Martin Stiff

I grabbed the hardcover of The Absence, which was originally a six-issue self-published series that ran from 2008 to 2013, on a whim.  The art didn't particularly appeal to me, but there was something that grabbed me when I flipped through it.

The story is set in a small English village on the channel coast, starting in 1946, when a storm starts ripping apart a cliffside church, and the local priest has to decide which is better, continued existence in the village, or being dashed to the rocks below.  His choice gives us the sense that maybe thingsaren't so great in this town.

The story really begins as Marwood Clay, the only local boy to survive the war, returns home.  No one is very pleased to see Marwood - there was some sort of scandal before he left, and the town basically considers him a murderer, although we have to read almost the entire book before we can find out why.

Somehow, during the war, Marwood had his lips and the skin around them ripped off his face, leaving him a ghastly sight, which probably doesn't make it any easier to relate to for both the villagers and the reader.  We learn that there is someone else new in town as well, a Dr. Temple, who has brought a small army of workmen with him to construct a bizarre house to very exacting specifications.

As this is the type of English village that doesn't react well to change, no one is particularly happy about anything for the first chunk of this book, and the questions start to pile up.  What did Marwood do that makes everyone hate him so much?  Why does only one girl, Helen, seem to feel differently about him?  What is Dr. Temple's true purpose in building this strange home, and why is so exact about its measurements?  Who is the old man who keeps trying to get in contact with him?  What did Temple do during the war?  Why does he seem to be able to predict random events with such accuracy?  Why do people in the village keep disappearing, including the young boy who tries to befriend Marwood?

Stiff packs a lot into this story, and while parts of it feel very improbable, it is a deeply satisfying read.  I enjoyed the look at life in an English village, but found myself becoming more and more intrigued by the work that Temple was doing (although I never understood it).  His art is kind of rough and sketchy, but it tells the story well, and helps to preserve an idea about a way of life that is pretty much gone.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Tiger Lung

by Simon Roy

I'd read the first story in this hardcover when it was serialized in Dark Horse Presents, but didn't realize that there were two more Tiger Lung stories in the book.

Simon Roy is a very interesting creator, whose work I've been following ever since I bought a copy of Jan's Atomic Heart from him (or maybe it was Ed Brisson) at TCAF in 2009.  He stood out as a strong emerging artist, and confirmed that as he went on to work on Prophet with Brandon Graham, and has just completed an excellent story, Habitat in Island, the amazing anthology that Graham edits.

Tiger Lung is set in the Paleolithic era, and centres on a shaman who works to set his father's spirit to rest, to rescue a girl from hyenas, and to rescue another woman from a malevolent spirit.

Roy's put a lot of thought into what people and their tools would have looked like, but more than that, he's worked to recreate the thought patterns and beliefs of these primitive, yet still complicated, people.

This is a very nicely put together volume.  The map at the end of the book suggests that there might be more Tiger Lung stories to come (six more, according to the legend), and I hope that's something we see soon.  Actually, I'm equally okay with Roy going on to create yet another world on the scale of Habitat too; whatever this guy does, I'm going to follow him to it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Squidder

by Ben Templesmith

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

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

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

Ramshackle

by Alison McCreesh

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

In Search of Charley Butters

by Zach Worton

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Resistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 27, 2016

Dreamcave

by Stanley Wany

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 30, 2016

Nonnonba

by Shigeru Mizuki

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Mad Tea-Party

by Jonathan Dalton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 23, 2016

Terror Assaulter: OMWOT (One Man War on Terror)

by Benjamin Marra

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Streakers

by Nick Maandag

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred

Written by David Hine and Shaky Kane
Art by Shaky Kane

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Sailor's Story

by Sam Glanzman

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

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

Written by Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander
Art by Tony Puryear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Honour Among Punks: The Complete Baker Street

Written by Guy Davis and Gary Reed
Art by Guy Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 28, 2016

Finder: Third World

by Carla Speed McNeil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Futurians

by Dave Cockrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Dry Spell

by Ken Krekeler

I really enjoyed Ken Krekeler's series Westward, so was more than happy to find his earlier graphic novel, Dry Spell, in a pile of trade paperbacks.

Dry Spell opens with Tom, an apparently quiet guy who has a boring job, a girlfriend he mostly gets along with, and trouble sleeping.  As the book progresses, one of Tom's co-workers figures out that he used to have a costumed identity, as does he, and tries to convince him to come out of retirement.

We learn that when Tom was operating as part of the super-community (which centres around Apollo, a Superman analogue), he had to make use of psychedelics to motivate himself.  His co-worker spikes his drink, and soon enough, Tom is sleeping with a woman from his former life, and contemplating returning to that world.  He's also finally able to paint, something he's been trying to do for ages.

Krekeler's story is about people being true to themselves, even when that means embracing aspects of their personality that they don't particularly like.  He includes a great deal of character development in a short space, and has a couple of twists in the book that I didn't see coming.

Krekeler is a talented artist, and as a writer, has a very strong ear for dialogue.  I think he comes at superhero stories from an interesting perspective, and look forward to seeing some of his future work.  This book was recently re-released, and is worth tracking down.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Black Widow: The Coldest War

Written by Gerry Conway
Art by George Freeman, Ernie Colon, Mark Farmer, Mike Harris, Val Mayerick, Joe Rubenstein

Once again, I find myself wondering about the decision process that went into approving these Marvel graphic novels.  The Black Widow: The Coldest War was published in 1990, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, but tells a story from three years prior.

Natasha is contacted by a pair of KGB agents, who convince her that her former husband, the first Red Guardian, is still alive.  The promise to reunite them so long as Natasha does a job for them, and steals a microchip that runs SHIELD's Life Model Decoys.

This book shows us a very capable Natasha, who is working her own angle the entire time she is dealing with the Russians.  The story is steeped in Avengers history, and has a good Daredevil cameo, but in the short space that Conway has, never really becomes all that gripping.

George Freeman's art is very nice, although with so many inkers on this book, it often looks very different from one chapter to the next.  I feel like Klaus Janson would have been perfect for this book, as the art often reminds me of his work.

Nemo: The Roses of Berlin

Written by Alan Moore
Art by Kevin O'Neil

Nemo: The Roses of Berlin is the second of the Nemo graphic novels, building on the world Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neil created in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  Compared to the previous book, Nemo: Heart of Ice, I enjoyed this one more, but still had some problems with it.

Janni Nemo and her consort, Jack, discover that their teenage daughter Hira has been captured by the Germans (it's roughly World War II), and they head to Berlin to rescue her.  Like with Heart of Ice, we got tossed very quickly into the story, without taking any time to care about the characters at all.

Berlin has become a dystopian nightmare out of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, and we quickly learn that Maria, the robot from the movie, is as much in charge of things as Herr Hynkel (Charlie Chaplin's stand-in for Hitler).

There is a brothel, a rescue, sleeping soldiers, and a fight with the woman from the last volume.  It's all handled well, but it also feels like Moore and O'Neil are going through the motions, as if the clever references to literature and film are sufficient replacements for compelling story.

I liked it, and as always, enjoyed puzzling out some of the references (while knowing that way more of them went over my head), but never felt invested in the story at all.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace

Written by Jason Hall
Art by Matt Kindt

I enjoyed the first Pistolwhip book, and was a little surprised to see that Matt Kindt was not credited with any of the writing on the second one, The Yellow Menace, despite the fact that the story feels very much like a Matt Kindt story.

Like the first book, this one is steeped in radio dramas, but also incorporates film, comic books, and pulp novels.  Our private detective, Pistolwhip, becomes embroiled in a weird plot involving a "Yellow Menace", basically a serial killer going around murdering people in manners influenced by baser popular culture.

At the same time that this is going on, a travelling lecturer, Roderick Loom, is warning of the dangers of this type of entertainment, especially on children.  He is clearly based on Frederick Wertham, the guy who wrote Seduction of the Innocent and became ultimately responsible for the introduction of the Comics Code Authority.

Opposing the Yellow Menace is Jack Peril, a character popular in the pulps, movie serials, radio dramas, and comics, who seems to be real.  He first appears after an explosion at the radio station where his adventures are broadcast.

Pistolwhip is usually a pretty clueless character, and Hall builds on that with this volume.  The story can be hard to follow in places, but is ultimately entertaining.  Kindt works on some cool transitions between scenes.  I particularly like the way he moves the camera into a character's ear, and then shifts to something else.  In one place, suggesting that a character is not mentally stable, we see a loose screw inside that character's ear, which then becomes part of a moving vehicle, establishing the next scene.

Reading this, you can see the growing talent in Kindt (this came out in 2002), and it's cool to compare to his more polished work of today. These stories have recently been collected as The Complete Pistolwhip, and that is probably the best way to interact with them, although I do like the oversized format of this book.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Dreamwalker

Written by Bill Mumy and Miguel Ferrer
Art by Gray Morrow

I really don't know who at Marvel would have greenlit a project like this, which could not exist today, but any opportunity to get a full book of Gray Morrow artwork is not something to turn down, when discovered in a group of low-priced graphic novels.

The Dreamwalker tells the story of Joshua McGann, an American secret agent who went rogue after the death of his girlfriend.  He continued to work his own missions, but this put him in the crosshairs of the Chairman of the organization he worked for.  They attempt to kill him, but it goes awry.  After this, he blackmails the Chairman into leaving him alone.

Reconnecting with his family, McGann finds his father very ill.  His stepmother, a prominent DA, is working to take down a mobster, when a hitman executes her in her own home.  The shock kills his father.

Later, McGann discovers that his father was once the masked adventurer known as the Dreamwalker.  He adopts this guise to ensure that the mobster faces justice, but quickly learns that there are even more complications in the case.  He continues to seek justice, putting his spy training to good use.

The book ends with a very strange connection between the mobster and McGann's family, which is pretty hard to believe, and leaves the door open to followup stories, which I don't believe ever happened.

The book is very straightforward in its approach and deliver, doing nothing new with a character like this (even though McGann's background could have been mined in more interesting ways).  There's really nothing to set this character apart from many 40s masked adventurers like the Crimson Avenger or Phantom Reporter, making me wonder why the writers didn't just use a character like that for this story.

Morrow's work is excellent, if a bit stiff in places.  This feels like a real throw-back of a comic today, but I doubt that it would have felt less so in 1989 when it was published.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Ka-Zar: Guns of the Savage Land

Written by Chuck Dixon and Tim Truman
Art by Gary Kwapisz and Ricardo Villagran

I've recently come into a small pile of Marvel OGNs from the late 80s and early 90s that I got for a very low price.  I can't resist something like this, but I was a little disappointed to learn that Tim Truman was a co-writer on this and not the artist.

I was pleased to see that the real star of Ka-zar: Guns of the Savage Land is Wyatt Wingfoot, the Fantastic Four supporting character who never really got enough space to call his own.  He's summoned to Nevada when a First Nations person turns up in a remote stretch of desert, showing signs of having had not prior interaction with the modern world.

After talking with the man, Wingfoot believes that he has come from an ancient underground land that may or may not be the source of the Hopi people, and may or may not be connected to the Savage Land.  He heads to England to recruit the Plunders - Ka-Zar and Shanna - to his cause.

We learn that Ka-Zar's gone a little nuts after being exiled from the Savage Land by its united people.  Shanna hopes that this job for Wyatt might help him, so they join up.  They eventually arrive in this place, finding the pre-Hopi people they were looking for, but also finding evidence that they have been in contact with the modern world, in the form of Pluto Fuel, an energy company that Ka-Zar actually owns.

It's not really clear if they are under the ground (there is light in the sky, but no sign of a sun, nor discussion of how the place is illuminated) or in a distant corner of the Savage Land that the Plunders hadn't traveled to.  There are dinosaurs, but absolutely no one finds that weird at all.

In no time, Ka-Zar gets the natives mobilized against the oil people, and the ex-French mercenary who runs their paramilitary.  Wingfoot does not like the way that Ka-Zar acts like a colonial power unto himself, and Shanna doesn't like the way Ka-Zar bosses her around.  I hope that this type of thing wasn't considered very progressive in 1990, because it feels a little forced and pandering today.

I also don't know where this OGN fits with the character's continuity.  At the end of the book, he's staying put in this land, and I don't remember much about the only other time Ka-Zar got any real play in the 90s, which was in Mark Waid's run with him, which I remember as being actually good.

While I didn't love the writing in this book, the art is very nice.  Gary Kwapisz is a talented artist who does not get enough recognition (I was recently reminded of his talent while rereading the Hawkworld ongoing series a little while ago).  Ricardo Villagran painted this book, and that makes it quite lovely, if a little bright.

This was an interesting artifact of a time when Marvel put out OGNs regularly, and gave them to C-list characters for no apparent reason.

The Interman

by Jeff Parker

Jeff Parker has had an impressive comics career, with his run on the Thunderbolts being a highpoint for me, and I suspect that The Interman is one of his first published comics.  Until I picked it up, I didn't know that Parker drew as well as wrote.

The Interman is Van Meach, a young man who was created as part of the Interman project, a Cold War era attempt at creating a super soldier.  Funding for the project came from five Western nations, but Van was the only successful product of the experiment.

The project was sabotaged at an early stage, and Van was raised secretly by his adopted parents.  As he grew, he demonstrated an ability to adapt to his situation or circumstances, in a manner similar to Darwin of the X-Men.  Now an adult, Van is trying to live off the grid, working jobs that make good use of his abilities, but avoiding attention at the same time.  When the book opens, he is trying to retrieve a satellite from the bottom of the ocean.

This job has a higher profile than he is used to, and now 'messengers', assassins from the various countries involved in his birth, are coming after him.  He has no choice but to try to research his past and figure out what is going on.

Parker blends superhuman activity with espionage very well, giving this a Jason Bourne feel to it, while keeping Van a likeable and believable person.  There are places where the writing is not as clear as it could be, but the charm of this book wins out.  Parker's art is nice; his lines are a little thick, but it works well here.

I'd like to see more from Parker.  His talents have been wasted at DC lately, and I think I'd be happier to see him return to independent comics, especially since his series Underground was brilliant.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Prince of Cats

by Ron Wimberly

I'll admit that I haven't read or really even thought about Romeo and Juliet since I was in Grade 10, so I'm sure that much of the innovation and coolness of this book was lost on me.  Even still, The Prince of Cats, Ron Wimberly's adaptation of Shakespeare's famous play, set in Brooklyn and featuring rival sword-wielding gangs, is pretty amazing.

The titular prince is Tybalt, of the Capulets, who spends his days and nights roaming his neighbourhood, trying to raise his status in the Duel List, a ranking of neighbourhood sword fighters.  He's interested in Juliet, but is also happy to spend time with Rosalyn.

Wimberly's characters spill blood on the dance floor, and chase each other through and atop moving subway trains.  His kinetic art propels the story along, often evoking Kyle Baker and Dark Knight-era Frank Miller.

Wimberly does some very cool things with language here, blending Shakespearian English with hiphop slang in a way that ends up sounding natural and not as affected as you might expect.

This entire project feels very organic and cool.  I've heard that Wimberly, who also drew rapper MF Grimm's biographical book Sentences, is currently working on adapting Saul Williams's brilliant MartyrLoserKing album into a graphic novel with him.  I cannot wait to see how that project turns out.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

How Loathsome

Written by Tristan Crane and Ted Naifeh
Art by Ted Naifeh

The comics shop that I've been buying from for close to twenty years is having to move by the end of 2016, since a developer has bought up two city blocks, and it looks like they are either going to be taking down the beautiful Victorian-era street that it operates out of, or the rent is going to be ridiculous.  Because of this, they've been blowing out backstock like mad, and I found this handsome hardcover in their discount annex for only a dollar.  Knowing nothing about it beyond the fact that it looks nice, I picked it up.

How Loathsome is a very good comic.  It was published in 2004 (presumably it was a four-issue miniseries first), and is set in San Francisco's seedy underbelly.  The main character is Catherine Gore, a writer, who runs with a group of genderfluid drug users.

Each of the four chapters tell a complete story featuring Catherine and some of her circle, as they fall for someone new, party, use, and talk about it.  Nothing major ever happens, but when the book ended, I was wishing there were more stories about these characters.

On two occasions, we read stories of Catherine's.  One features a monk who enters a suicide pact with his young lover, but then doesn't follow through after the boy kills himself.  The other is a ghost story.  They stand out a little, and disrupt the story, but give more insight into Catherine's character.

There is a definite early Vertigo feeling to this book, and Ted Naifeh's art matches that aesthetic well too.  I'm pleased I picked this up, and would recommend it to people who enjoy Ross (now Sophie) Campbell's Wet Moon.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Petrograd

Written by Philip Gelatt
Art by Tyler Crook

When Petrograd came out back in 2011, I knew that I wanted to read it, but for whatever reason, it's taken me this long to get a copy and dive into it.  What a shame that I didn't read it sooner, as this is a truly spectacular historic graphic novel.

This book tells the story of the assassination of the Russian mad monk Rasputin.  I don't know a whole lot about Russia just before its revolution, and so can't speak to the extent of truth in Philip Gelatt's story.  We meet a British spy, Cleary, who is tasked with helping his friend, a Prince, in his goal to kill the man who has the most influence on the Tsarina.  England sees Rasputin as pushing for peace with Germany (this is set in 1916), and so wants him out of the way.

Cleary's old friend, Felix, is a true hedonist, and is at first easily manipulated into thinking the plot is his own idea, but as things progress, he makes the plan overly complicated and shares too much information with people who can't be trusted.  When it comes time to put the plan in action, it's a disaster almost from the beginning.

There's a lot more going on in this book than just the assassination plot, however.  We get a good look at everyday life in the final days of the Tsar's rule, and get to know a few of the Bolsheviks who are pushing for systemic change.  We also get a good look at the extent to which the royal family is out of touch with daily reality, as the cold winter and famine take their toll on the peasant class.

Cleary is an interesting character.  He has no desire to kill Rasputin, but is also terrified of being returned to the front lines of the Great War.  He has entered into a relationship with a revolutionary, but is also comfortable drinking away the night at a gypsy encampment with his old friend, who is wearing a dress.  I like the way Gelatt builds up Cleary's character.

It is interesting to wonder if England really was so instrumental in Rasputin's death, as that raises a whole bunch of questions about their complicity in the entire Russian Revolution.  I don't know anything about that.

Tyler Crook's work here is fantastic.  I believe this is his first major published work, and it shows a lot of the skill that he took to books like BPRD since then.  His facial expressions are clear, and he makes great use of the monochromatic orange he has chosen for the story.

This book has made me interested in learning a little more about Rasputin's death.  The figure, as he is portrayed here, has no resemblance to the Starets we got to know in Alex Grecian and Riley Rossmo's recent Rasputin series (which was excellent in its own rights).  This is the kind of well-researched historical fiction that I've always really enjoyed.  I hope we get to read more from Gelatt soon...

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Fashion Beast

Story by Alan Moore and Malcolm McLaren
Adaptation by Antony Johnston
Art by Facundo Percio

So apparently back in the day, impresario Malcolm McLaren convinced Alan Moore to write a movie script for a story idea he had.  The film was never made, and the script languished for a while, before being acquired by Avatar Press, who then got Antony Johnston and Facundo Percio to adapt it for comics.  In some ways, the idea of two icons like McLaren and Moore working together is as interesting as their final product, but this story also stands on its own without worrying about its providence.

Fashion Beast is set a little ways into the future (as seen from the vantage point of the 80s), after England has been plunged into a nuclear winter, while it still fights some sort of war against an unnamed enemy.  London is slowly emptying of young men of fighting age, as well as undesirables.  The economy has tanked, and things are looking pretty grim.

This is not the case, though, for the fashion empire of Celestine, a reclusive designer whose gigantic salon remains brightly lit.  Doll Seguin is an androgynous young woman who works in the coat check of a local nightclub, until an unruly patron causes her to lose her job.  She ends up auditioning as a model (really, as a mannequin) for Celestine, who hires her against the wishes of the two simian Madames who actually run his operation while he sits in the dark and sketches clothing.

Not long after being hired, Doll discovers that the person who caused her to lose her job, Johnny, works at the salon.  Their rivalry pushes the two of them to do greater work.  When Johnny criticizes Celestine's designs, it is Doll that takes that criticism to the great man, and they are incorporated into his collection, which further enrages Johnny.  Things continue like this for a while until the tragic secrets behind Celestine's self-imposed exile from the world come to light, and Doll has to decide whether or not she will remain complicit in the deception at the heart of her new job.

I'm not sure how this would have worked as a film, unless it had been directed by Peter Greenaway, with a big, ostentatious score by Michael Nyman.  It definitely feels like a story whose time has passed, but that doesn't make it ineffective.  Johnston, as always, does a fine job of adapting Moore's screenplay, pacing the comic nicely to make it work across ten issues.  Percio is pretty Avatar-esque in his art, but that's not exactly a bad thing.

At the end of the day, this is really just a footnote in Alan Moore's career, and an odd piece of trivia in McLaren's, but it's good that it managed to make its way into the world.