Reviewed by Marc Mason
Two new excellent works hitting shelves…
BETTY BLUES is actually one of Renaud Dillies’ first graphic novels, originally published over a decade ago, just now making its North American translation debut. But you’d never know it by reading it. Much like ABELARD and BUBBLES & GONDOLA, BETTY BLUES is a powerhouse piece of work, a rich, textured, emotionally wrenching journey that challenges the reader at every turn. The story, as usual, is deceptively simple: Little Rice Duck, a professional trumpet player, sees his girlfriend Betty leave him for a richer man. From such heartbreak, both he and Betty begin dark journeys down new paths. His sees him leave music behind, while hers sees her discover life as someone else’s trophy. Both have made horrific mistakes, but will they be able to fix them in time? Structured like a classic blues song… well, if you know how blues music works, you know that some things cannot be undone. I was captivated by BETTY BLUES from beginning to end, even knowing that it would likely break my heart by the time it was over, because Dillies knows how to create characters you can truly become invested in as a reader, and he never takes cheap shortcuts or the easy way out in describing their plight. I’m sold on this man’s talent, and I’ll keep reading them as long as NBM keeps bringing them across the pond to the English-speaking audience.
I’m not sure what’s left to be said about Rick Geary and his TREASURY OF 20TH CENTURY MURDER series. Time after time, Geary has delivered absolutely incredible volumes of work, telling sublime stories about the evil that men (and women) do in a way that massively entertains and yet also intelligently informs. That is the case, once again, with MADISON SQUARE TRAGEDY, which tells the sordid tale of the murder of architect Stanford White. What makes this book different than many of the others is that we know who committed the foul deed: a deranged Pittsburgh millionaire named Harry Thaw. The meat of the tale comes in the hows and the whys of the story: why did Thaw do it? How did he get away with it when dozens of people saw him shoot White? Freed of the whodunit aspect, Geary seems to revel in building character studies of the two men and their foibles, especially as they pertain to the femme fatale who was at the focal point of their conflict. Evelyn Nesbit. Honestly, maybe the most remarkable thing about all of these books is just how consistent Geary is: each one is beautiful to look at, thoroughly researched, and delivers maximum entertainment value to the reader. If you’re looking for a good stocking stuffer for someone this holiday, MADISON SQUARE TRAGEDY would be a solid choice.
Reviewed by Marc Mason
New from Image…
Zoey Aarons seems like pretty much every other eighteen-year old. She’s heading off to college, worried about what the experience will be like. She’s experiencing some confusion about her personal identity. She’s even got definitive ideas about what kind of job she would like on campus. However, she is also quite unique in that she’s a murderer who has gotten away with it, and the homicidal urges inside of her have yet to be quelled. Thus, being dropped into a new environment with people she does not know or have attachments to represents not just a challenge for her, but a threat to the safety of everyone around her. Tricky balance, that. A VOICE IN THE DARK #1, from writer/artist Larime Taylor, does an excellent job in maintaining that balance, however. Zoey is a compelling character, and we not only understand why she killed before, we also get a solid sense of why she might break and do so again. VOICE is a story about the way our personal demons prey upon our weakest moments and mold us into the adults we eventually become. Taylor is a real find, with a nice talent for creating people the reader can recognize, and his art is simple and direct, always servicing the emotional story at the book’s core. This was a really pleasant surprise, and I’m looking forward to more.
Mix a tab or two of LSD with LOST IN SPACE and you get BLACK SCIENCE #1 from writer Rick Remender and art duo Matteo Scalera and Dean White. Grant McKay, his kids, and a team of scientists have wound up on a world of sentient, human-sized frogs and fish, landing in the middle of a conflict that sees McKay have to become a fugitive on the run so he can repair the machine that sent them there. Unfortunately, things on this world do not go well, and by the time his search is over, they will only be worse. I’d try and describe more of this one, but there’s really not much point in doing so. It would spoil the incessantly weird shit that Remender throws at you in scene after scene, and plot really isn’t necessarily the point here. BLACK SCIENCE is more an exercise in seeing just how gonzo a comic can get, throwing as many crazy ideas at you as it possibly can. A comic that has been made just for the pure fun of it. That may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s fine. But there’s room for a book like this, where the reader just wants to be entertained, not intellectualized, and for that reason, it works. Shut off your brain and enjoy it.
Reviewed by Marc Mason
‘Tis the season for high-profile and award quality books, so of course the gang at First Second is in the mix…
If back in January you were going to list the most anticipated books of the year, no question, BATTLING BOY would have been near the top of that list. BATTLING BOY marks the return of superstar writer/artist Paul Pope to shelves. It’s been a number of years since Pope delivered a book-length piece of work, and as you might guess, he does not disappoint. BATTLING BOY tells the story of a young demigod sent to earth to earn his stripes after the planet’s main protector, a man named Haggard West, is killed. His powers are rather unique; he arrives with a stack of t-shirts from which he draws skills and strength. For instance, when he puts on the Tyrannosaurus shirt, he gains that creature’s power and drive. This will all come in handy as he attempts to put an end to a wave of monsters that are trashing the city and stealing away with the local children. To tell you more would spoil the goodies that exist within. What I can tell you is that BATTLING BOY is vintage Pope; the art is visually stunning, each page bursting with energy and imagination. The plot and pacing are clever and move at a blistering pace, Pope engaging the reader at every possible moment and carrying them along with his fun. And that’s ultimately what BATTLING BOY is: an artist at his creative peak having all kinds of fun doing what he does best. What else could you want?
Speaking of huge talents delivering work after a lengthy period of time, writer/artist Gene Luen Yang has been working on the 2-graphic novel set BOXERS & SAINTS since 2006 (since he delivered the astonishing AMERICAN BORN CHINESE), and it is every bit as ambitious as you might guess. It is also a remarkable piece of storytelling. BOXERS tells the tale of Little Bao, a young man who sees China in peril; foreign mercenaries and missionaries are roaming the countryside, harming locals in their way. As they do, they attempt to convert the locals to Christianity, inciting what history calls the Boxer Rebellion, which Little Bao finds himself at the forefront of. Bao grows into the role, and as he does, he learns what most do: what he is doing is far more involved than he could have ever realized. War becomes especially tricky when those you are trying to fight for are instead gaining a new religion and lining up on the other side. At the same time, in SAINTS, a young girl who was never even given a proper name by her family finally acquires one when she makes friends with the foreigners and adopts their religion, becoming Vibiana. She, too, is drawn into the conflict, leaving her confused and torn between her country and those who have proven to actually care about her. The two volumes combine to create a truly epic tale, one where seeing both sides of the story adds a level of depth and complexity that few books have the courage to attempt. Yang’s work is powerful in every possible way, and he manages to both entertain and enlighten. This will likely walk away with a ton of awards next year, and deservedly so.
Yet as great as these books are, I think the most fun I’ve had reading a graphic novel lately came as I powered through THE CUTE GIRL NETWORK. Written by Greg Means and M.K. Reed and drawn by Joe Flood, the book has a charmingly simple premise: Jane, new to town, meets a slightly goofy guy named jack and starts to fall for him. However, the local friends she has made are appalled and fire up “The Network,” a sisterhood that covers each other’s backs by telling each other about bad dates and bad boyfriends… and Jack’s history with some of the girls in the network isn’t pretty. Torn between her growing attraction to Jack and the pressure coming at her from the girls, Jane must decide what she wants and who she trusts. Humor and angst follow. So much about this book just works; Jane and Jack feel like people you know, the dialogue is rich, the art is lively and detailed, and there are a number of quiet themes and lessons that the story lays out for the reader that make the experience feel richer. Indeed, if any one idea is prevalent here, it is that there are always two sides to a story (as Gene Yang reminds as above, as well) and it is important to consider them before making decisions that can harm people. It sneaks up on you, but this book is really, really good.
There you go: three (four, really) terrific graphic novels, each one an excellent candidate for a holiday gift, especially if you are considering introducing a non-comics reader to something within the medium.
Reviewed by Marc Mason
Some nifty new stuff on the creator-owned front…
It doesn’t get much more high profile than re-uniting writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting, so I’d imagine there was some pressure there to come through in a big way. Guess what? They do. VELVET #1 is an absolutely exhilarating comic from start to finish, and immediately becomes a must-read. The setup is simple: Velvet Templeton serves as top aide to a man running a spy organization resembling MI-6. An agent is killed, a manhunt is set in motion, and Velvet? Well Velvet is a lot more than she seems to be. (Much as Moneypenny turned out to be in SKYFALL.) The script is smart and fast-paced and the art is gorgeous, dripping with atmosphere. We’re given enough information to allow the story context, yet thrust into a deeper narrative that promises to be robust and interesting. Everything you want from a first issue. Looking forward to reading more.
There are a lot of elements colliding in PRETTY DEADLY #1 from writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Emma Rios. It’s a western, a mystery, and a horror story all wrapped into one, and it weaves its web quite carefully. A (seemingly) blind man and a young girl travel from town to town, telling a story of how Death itself came to fall in love – as well as work a bit of the grift. A man on the run from a killer named Alice loses something precious. And Death’s daughter herself rides like the wind to a destination unknown. Again, it’s all pretty twisty. But in this case, I didn’t mind so many open threads. What appears on the page does a solid job of whetting the appetite, and when I was done reading, I wanted to see where it was all heading. The characters had me completely interested. Also making that easier was the art by Rios; I’ve seen some nonsense about her style being too loose or scratchy, and frankly, that’s pure crap. Rios’ style is part of the same school of work that Paul Pope produces, and you don’t hear that about him. Definitely one to keep an eye on.
No question, ALEX + ADA #1 has the most disturbingly funny premise of any comic I’ve seen this year. To wit: what if you found out your grandma was using a sex robot? And what if, for your birthday, she bought you one, too? Yet, for a concept that might induce both the heebees and the jeebees, there’s an underlying melancholy tone and charm to this book that takes the edge off of the core concept. Alex is not a dirty, creepy guy; instead, he’s a quiet, decent kid who is still nursing a broken heart from his last relationship. The people in his life care about him and recognize his personal worth. He’s okay. But his grandmother wants more for him, and the direction of his relationship with the bot is still to be determined. The story by writers Sarah Vaughn and Jonathan Luna settles you gently into the sci-fi surroundings and works to establish the character even more, and Luna’s art continues to grow with every comic he draws – this is a lovely book. So despite its strange premise, this one is worth your time.
By Vince Moore
Howdy, folks, and welcome once again to the Omnium Gatherum.
It has been a long, long time since I last wrote one of these columns. I hope y’all are doing well out there.
By the number above it looks like I have written 75 of these things. (Actually, since there was a 67-A, this would officially be the 76th column, but what’s a number between friends?)
75 columns, that’s a cause for a celebration, I reckon.
Back in the old days of the 20th Century, when comics, especially superhero comics, reached certain milestones, usually measured in 25 issue blocks, it was a time of great celebration. Nowadays, not so much.
But I’m old and old fashioned.
So on with the celebration!
What should I do to celebrate?
Those old comics would do a double or triple sized issue when they celebrated. But my columns are usually double sized anyway. So instead of my usual lengthy blather and babble, I thought I would do something cool yet simple.
I’m a big fan of Inside The Actor’s Studio. I love learning about different folks’ approach to the process of telling stories. And I have always found acting fascinating as well. I have even acted in one low budget movie along my journey.
My favorite part of ITAS is the questionnaire at the end of the formal interview. The Pivot Questionnaire. Since I am not likely to be invited to that show and I have just enough hubris to think y’all would be interested in my answers, I will tackle it here.
Imagine James Lipton asking me these questions:
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
All kinds of things. The Beatles. Pink Floyd. Zatoichi movies and samurai films in general. Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke books. John Coltrane and Duke Ellington. Traffic and airplane noise.
What turns you off?
What is your favorite curse word?
I have to go with the big favorite here: fuck. It is just so flexible. Noun, verb, adjective.
What sound or noise do you love?
Jazz or city sounds (traffic, airplanes, et cetera).
What sound or noise do you hate?
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Politician, oddly enough.
What profession would you not like to do?
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Something like this, “Oh, hi, it’s you. You must be lost. Well, Nirvana and the other Buddha Lands are down the road a piece. You can’t miss ‘em. I hope you enjoy your respite there before you go back to Samsara. Thanks for dropping in unexpectedly. By the way, I loved your work.”
If you folks want to answer these questions for yourself, you can find them here.
Wow, 75 columns over 6 years. That is the longest I’ve done anything, I think. Maybe I should do more and not stay gone for so long, huh?
Until next time, folks.
Reviewed by Marc Mason
I’m not one for hyperbole; just the opposite, really. So when I make a statement like “THE DC COMICS GUIDE TO CREATING COMICS: INSIDE THE ART OF VISUAL STORYTELLING is the best how-to book I’ve seen in the past five years,” you can trust me on it.
This is the book that should be supplied to every wannabe comics artist, and they shouldn’t be given work until they demonstrate that they understand what’s being said in these pages.
Veteran writer/editor/artist/mentor Carl Potts steps into the author’s chair here, and what he produces is a masterwork on how to tell a story through sequential art. He covers panel structure, creating a sense of place, producing movement on the page, how to get the reader to fill in information the artist doesn’t, transitions on the page, juxtaposition, how to write for narrative storytelling, and much more, creating a comprehensive course in making great comics. Why listen to Potts? Well, the man served as mentor for both Jim Lee and Mike Mignola in their early careers, and those guys have done well beyond “okay.”
The sample art that accompanies the text is extremely effective in illustrating the points Potts is trying to get across, and seeing practical examples of his concepts only enhances the learning objectives the book is trying to get across. Folks, if you’re looking for the perfect holiday gift for that young artist in your life, this is the one.
If you have someone who prefers manga instead, Camilla D’Errico and Stephen W. Martin’s POP MANGA: HOW TO DRAW THE COOLEST, CUTEST CHARACTERS, ANIMALS, MASCOTS, AND MORE would fit that bill nicely. Unlike a lot of how-to manga books, this one is actively produced by a working manga artist in D’Errico, and that makes a huge difference. Her approach has some slight differences to it, and the book also steers away from some of the sexism and fan service nonsense you’ll come across in those other books.
The text here is simple and direct, and it has a way of making the concepts seem simple enough that anyone can do what is being talked about. You want practicality in a how-to book, and this one delivers; the basics must be mastered before moving forward, and you definitely get a sense of just how important that is as you read. Terrific stuff.
If all how-to books were as good as these, my job would be much, much easier.
Reviewed by Marc Mason
Along with Paul Pope’s new effort, there is likely no more anticipated book to hit shelves this year than Joe Sacco’s THE GREAT WAR. Sacco, who has made his reputation as one of the true giants in the comics field with works like PALESTINE and SAFE AREA GORAZDE, is one of the most fearless and inventive people working today. He has never backed down from spending time in war zones, expressing unpopular opinions… his work is always a learning experience, as well as a visceral one.
Yet he has managed to top himself with THE GREAT WAR.
It isn’t that he’s made an all-time great graphic novel. Indeed, this isn’t a graphic novel. The cover describes it as “an illustrated panorama,” and that says it about as well as it can be said. This hardcover work opens up… and opens out… and out… and out. 24 feet out. THE GREAT WAR is one massive diorama depicting a singular day in World War I, July 1st 1916, which was the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Wordlessly, Sacco takes you from the day’s beginnings to the initiation of the conflict, through nighttime, to troop actions, to burying the first round of the dead.
This all occurs in astonishing, almost excruciating, detail.
Accompanying the diorama piece is a companion booklet that annotates moments seen in the art, adding facts and context to the piece that enhance understanding and deepen the work. The booklet also contains an essay from Sacco on the genesis of the project and an excerpted essay on July 1st, 1916 by writer Adan Hochschild. Both are informative pieces and enhance the reader’s understanding of the diorama itself.
I’ve spent a lot of time looking at THE GREAT WAR, and each time I do, something new catches my eye. It’s a different animal from what comics fans are used to seeing, a brave, inspired work from a talent who has now shown that he is completely unpredictable. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Also from W.W. Norton:
I described David Shrigley’s previous work as aggressive and angry, and those qualities come through clearly in his new book, HOW ARE YOU FEELING? A satirical take on self-help books and those who buy and believe in them, Shrigley uses his rough artistic style to create something that I would personally describe as an epic poem about mental illness and the inability to cope with modern living. Some of the material is inspired and enjoyable, but a lot of it is uncomfortable and you’d want to be selective about who you bought the book for. This is definitely a “your mileage may vary” kind of work; I get what he’s aiming for, but it isn’t for me.
Reviewed by Avril Brown
Ah, Antonelle, us CHEW readers just cannot get enough of you! Thankfully we are treated to a whole toe’s worth of the prettier Chu in this issue as Tony begins nibbling on his sister’s last remains.
There is a sort of time delay narration that accompanies Tony’s consumption of his twin’s digit, which comes in handy as yet another Chu sibling makes a guest appearance. This time the world renown chef Chow Chu, quite possibly Tony’s most antagonistic sibling, is in need of assistance from the sibling Chu…only he doesn’t know that Toni’s spectral self is tagging along for the ride. Chow is in some potentially steamy water as an eroscibopictaros (a photographer of food whose photos inspire tingly feelings in one’s nether regions) snagged some pictures of his culinary creations and is about to publish them in Food Luv magazine. Scandalous. With Chow’s reputation at stake the Chus team up and take down the food pornographer, scoring a win for the Chu clan.
Though there is a minutely tender moment between the estranged brothers, Tony is left more lost than ever after Toni the toe-ghost runs her course. Between yet another goodbye to the bubbliest person in CHEW and the opening sequence where we get a glimpse of the early stages of Tony and Min’s relationship (he accidentally took a bite out of his late wife’s toe before passing it along to his daughter Olive), CHEW yet again carved a chunk out of the bleeding hearts of its readers. Guillory absolutely nailed Tony’s mournful yet concentrated expression as he first tasted his sister’s flesh, trying to reach out and find her one more time. Only this creative team could make something so tender and tearful out of something so macabre and disturbing. Well played, gentlemen. Top it off with a trip behind bars to show not everything is as it seems with prisoner Savoy, and a background nugget in the form of a Happy Bunny sticker, CHEW’s ‘Family Recipes’ story arc is shaping up to be quite the epic reunion.
Reviewed by Marc Mason
Looking at a couple of new books that have caught my eye recently…
Image has been on fire with releasing terrific creator-owned books over the past year or so. I’m loving books like LAZARUS, FATALE, and SAGA, but SEX CRIMINALS #1 might be the best debut issue of them all. The concept is right out of a Nicholson Baker novel: a young woman named Suzanne discovers that when she has an orgasm, time literally stops around her. She can move around during these “breaks” but the rest of the world is frozen in place and does not perceive her. However, a chance encounter at a party sees her meet up with a guy who has the same power… a power that they decide to use for extra-legal purposes. But for all that, what makes this book stand out is the journey Fraction takes us on through Suzanne’s life. From the death of her father, to a rough adolescence marked by an emotionally absent mother, to her exploration of her sexuality, she is an absolutely fascinating, absorbing character. You get sucked in to her story and develop an immediate rooting interest in her, and the way the script is structured, it feels like her mostly quiet life is a massive epic. Zdarksy’s art tells the story perfectly, and Suzanne never feels less than believable as a child or as an adult. The solicits sort of made the book sound like a lark, but that’s far from accurate. There’s character depth here that’s unusual for modern comics. Excellent stuff.
Dynamite is doing a number of crossovers right now, some good, some… not so much. KINGS WATCH #1-2 represent the absolute best of the bunch, and likely against the longest odds that would actually be the case. Why? It’s easily the least “natural” of the crossovers. Bringing together The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, and Flash Gordon all in modern day, not the 30s, isn’t necessarily as obvious as mixing The Shadow and The Green Hornet... in the 30s. Here, writer Jeff Parker weaves an extremely smart story that finds a way to make it all make sense. The story starts with strange sightings in the sky; the sightings are accompanied by an epidemic of nightmares that plague the majority of the human race. At the center of the mystery is something called the Kings Watch, pieces of which are locatable near our heroes (Africa, Connecticut), the implication that the Watch can bring about the arrival of demons from a place called “Mongo.” That’s part of the fun, really, seeing Parker play with the mythology of each of the characters – the main villain on the ground is one of Mandrake’s foes. But he saves his best stuff for his updated Dale Arden, a hard-nosed, inquisitive, brave reporter who works the science desk for the New York Times. I’d read a book about her and her alone. Aided by the excellent, dynamic artwork from Laming, KINGS WATCH is a giddy, pulpy thrill, a book that has no reason to work, yet completely does.
In true CHEW fashion, after the last action-packed issue stuffed with jaw-dropping revelations, issue #36 slows it down a bit, while also managing to tug on reader’s heartstrings. The recently deceased Toni, Tony’s twin sister, was one of the feature characters in this flashback issue, as was yet another Chu sibling, the rarely seen younger sister Sage.
Apparently the entire Chu family tree has been drinking the Kool-Aid because Sage is also gifted with an extraordinary, and quite inconveniently bizarre, food power. While Toni can tell the future and Tony the past/present, Sage is cipropanthropatic, meaning she picks up the memories of people nearby, but only if they are consuming the same food or drink. Given Sage does not particularly want to know that the dude standing next to her drinking coffee is a hardcore furry, this power is responsible for her rather eclectic diet. However, even that precaution was not enough to protect her from accidently accessing the memories of a mob boss, who now has a hit out on Sage. Therefore it is up to Toni to help her sister, all in time to cut off her toe and stuff it in Tony’s girlfriend’s freezer.
This issue is particularly poignant, because not only do we get to see Toni kicking ass and taking names in her unique way (with the help of her boss/fiancé Paneer), but we also have to watch her put on her happy, bubbly face while she knows the whole time she’s going to die. Watching her try on her white dress and imagine how her wedding should have gone was tear-jerking enough; reading her last moments with her sister just turned the knife a little more. Thanks a lot Layman, you ASS; now I need a tissue. And thanks to Guillory for keeping it light with background nuggets such a poster saying ‘Snitches get stitches!’ as Sage runs for her life. We are also treated to a spread reassuring us devoted fans that Poyo is alive and well, and battling mutant foodstuffs. Ah, CHEW.