Thursday, 28 June 2012

So I Read Sweet Tooth

A 250 word (or less) review of Sweet Tooth trade collections 1-4
By Jeff Lemire, Vertigo Comics

When I first picked up Sweet Tooth, one of the staff at my comic shop described Jeff Lemire’s comics (particularly Essex County) as the comics equivalent of Tragically Hip songs: things are literary, expressive, and direly bleak in a Canadian prairies kind-of-way. Sweet Tooth to a certain extent fits this description. The story takes place years after the majority of humanity was wiped out by a mysterious plague and follows Gus, an animal-human hybrid (an apparent byproduct of the plague) leaving his home for the first time, and Jeppard, a violent man with questionable motivations, as they attempt to navigate through the dangers of their world. The mystery of the animal-hybrid children and the plague and… well, other things, are also integral to the plot, and the deliberate and relentless unfolding of answers is a huge part of what makes Sweet Tooth so engrossing. The interplay between characters is the other impetus to the book as,  cataclysmic plague and pseudo-science-mythology aside, Sweet Tooth is mostly about family and human connectedness even in the face of fantastic tragedy. Jeff Lemire writes a thrilling and visceral script filled with unexpected twists and downright merciless plot developments. His artwork; a kind of minimalist, sketchy, expressionism often suffused with soft watercolours; punches home the surrealism and bleakness of this plague ravaged world. I kind of feel Sweet Tooth represents a bridge between the more genre and literary based comics traditions: Jeff Lemire is a unique talent worth checking out.

Word Count: 245

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

So I Read Friends With Boys

A 250 word (or less) review of Friends With Boys the Graphic Novel
By Faith Erin Hicks, First Second Books

Friends With Boys, by Faith Erin Hicks, is a great example of really well executed all ages fiction. The book follows Maggie McKay, a homeschooled teenager as she switches to a public high school. Along the way she has to deal with being surrounded by new people, making new friends within an alien social system, negotiating her relationships with her many brothers, and reconciling herself to her mother’s absence. Also: she is haunted. Friends With Boys deals with the idea of loneliness and isolation amongst other people: key characters are cut off from family, friends, or peers and the book hinges on the restitution (or not) of these broken relationships. As such, I’d say Friends With Boys is instantly relatable to anyone who has experienced shyness when confronted with a new social group/situation. Hicks writing, while suitably dramatic at key moments, is humourus and pleasant throughout. Her artwork, which has a manga-esque quality to it, is expressive and inviting as well. I get the impression that Hicks, when creating Friends With Boys, was trying to make the kind of book she wished existed when she was a younger reader. In the protagonist Maggie McKay, I feel Hicks succeeded in creating the kind of relatable female teen protagonists that is typically lacking in comics and fiction. If I had a daughter I would encourage her to read this. Of course, if I had a son I would encourage him to read it too: it’s a great comic for anyone.

Word count: 248

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Spatchcock Women

Or why sexist portrayals of women are a disservice to everyone, even heterosexual males

"Art" by Guillem March
What the hell is this about?

No seriously, who is this for?

Who thinks this is sexy?

For that matter, who finds the absurdly sexualized ladies (say, emotionally-dead Starfire, juggalette Harley Quinn, etc…) in comics so arousing? Why do creators insist on jamming as many tits and asses on panel as they can in superhero adventure comics? Do they presume that heterosexual males just aren’t interested in consuming media unless its chock full of the sexiest of ladies?

Well, I’m a heterosexual dude, and I gotta say, I’d like comics to portray women as people instead of sex objects.

Why after the cut:

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

So I Read The Death-Ray

A 250 word (or less) review of The Death-Ray Graphic Novel
By Daniel Clowes, Drawn and Quarterly

The Death-Ray interiors, Daniel Clowes

The Death-Ray, by Daniel Clowes, is the first super-literary-indy comic I’ve ever read. Going into it I had some preconceptions and about this genre: I expected The Death-Ray to be very well written, artistically distinct, and at least a little bit depressing. So bear that in mind. The story of The Death-Ray follows Andy, a high-school aged orphan living with his elderly grandfather who discovers that he gains superpowers from cigarettes and that he has inherited a Death Ray pistol that erases objects from existence. Under the guidance of his friend Louie, Andy takes up costumed vigilantism and misadventures ensue. To a certain extent the Death-Ray takes familiar comic book tropes, most borrowed directly from the story of Spider-Man, and grounds them in reality to deconstruct the ideal of superhero comics. Clowes expertly goes about showing how empty the escapist fantasy of superheroes is by detailing the continuing unpopularity of the protagonist, the pathetic vigilantism of his hero, and a gradual slide into sociopathic behavior governed by a misplaced sense of power and responsibility. The artwork, which is objectively pretty great, breaks the story into separate retro comic strips, subtley tweaking the narration approaches, pencil styles, and colour palettes between sections. This provides a nostalgic visual feel to the book, which enhances the dissonance between the expectations of the superhero genre and the modern, realistic events portrayed within. So, overall I found The Death-Ray very well written, artistically distinct, and a little bit depressing. If you’re inclined, check it out.

Word count: 250

Monday, 11 June 2012

Atoll Comics: Round 1.

Or Changes to My Top-Ten Comics

Due to poverty and an urge to buy better comics, I have decided to be super-selective about which superhero comics I read. Harnessing the Awesome Power of Maths, I have determined that I can afford to read 10 ongoing titles. So I get to read 10, and only 10, titles published by either Marvel or DC as well as one trade paperback a week of my choosing.

A complication of this is that I am forced to drop an on-going title if I want to try reading a new on-going title, an act of very tough love. Being financially responsible is the worst.

I will be adding Captain Marvel to my ten comic list and dropping Thunderbolts/Dark Avengers.

Why after the cut:

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Boycott Wonder

Or My Thoughts On Creators Rights and Boycotts

DC comics, owned by Times Warner, and Marvel comics, owned by Disney, are soulless corporations with dubious track records. DC comics is notorious for screwing over their comic book creators from Siegel and Shuster of Superman fame to, more recently, Alan Moore of Watchmen renown. Marvel has a similar track record of being unethical in its dealings with creators, notably the with their treatment of Jack Kirby, a comics legend who co-created the majority of their properties.1 Let me be clear, this kind of behaviour is deplorable and is a big part of why I try to spend the majority of my comics budget on creator owned-er-ish books. That said, large corporations are phsychopathic hive-mind organisms designed only for profit2 so this kind of behaviour is to be kind of expected, not okay, but expected.

So in response to the fact DC and Marvel are unapologetically kind of horrible, people have decided that the best response is to boycott all association with these companies. Writers Chris Roberson and Roger Langridge have very publicly broken all professional ties with DC and Marvel comics. Similarly, I have encountered a number of people online who have decided to boycott these publishers as well the consumer side.3 To a certain extent, I think these are laudable decisions: making principled judgments and being conscientious of your spending habits are pretty impressive things. It’s especially ambitious for the Roberson and Langridge, as their principled choices may have long term consequences for their careers.
Also, and I can’t state it enough, it’s very much not okay what Marvel and DC have done, and vocal advocacy for creator rights is important to ensuring a future of great comics.

But here’s the thing, I’m not convinced boycotting Marvel and DC is the best solution. And here’s why:

Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Un-Watched-Men

Or What I Think of Before Watchmen

(There will be a few expletives in this one)

Seeing as how this is the week Before Watchmen launches, I kind of want to write some thoughts on ethics and creator rights and boycotts… but first I guess I have to write what I think of the misguided prequels to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s seminal classic Watchmen.

I think Before Watchmen is a transparent money grab and, as an overall concept, completely artistically bankrupt and completely unethical.

Suffice it to say, I will not be reading them.

Watchmen, is to comics what Moby Dick is to novels: it is this looming, challenging, masterwork that I think every comics fan has to at least try to read and come to terms with. I think it is a completed work, and I really enjoy it as it is. As such, I have no interest in reading other stories using Watchmen characters since they are at best unnecessary, and at worst will detract from the original work. Fiction, like food, is discretionary; you can (and should) choose not to eat shit.

Before Watchmen is also morally bankrupt. Alan Moore got, for a lack of a better phrase, fucked over by DC comics. He signed the contracts for Watchmen and V for Vendetta with the understanding that he and his co-creators, David Lloyd and Dave Gibbons, would eventually gain complete control of their work. This didn’t happen, which is immensely shitty. Exponentially more shitty is the fact that DC comics decided to make Before Watchmen against the expressed wishes of Alan Moore.

Not reading Before Watchmen is a moral decision as well as one based on taste.

Now, as terrible as the idea of Before Watchmen is, DC managed to somehow convince a number of very talented creators to make these books (I’d wager by OFFERING ALL THE MONEYS).  I don’t really blame the creators for taking the work, per se…  although I wish they were making books I was actually interested in reading.

So, yeah, Before Watchmen is deplorable and unwelcome. I won’t be reading them, and I don’t think anyone else should either.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

So I Finally Read Scott Pilgrim

A 250 word (or less) review of the complete Scott Pilgrim series (Books 1-6)
By Bryan Lee O’Malley, Oni Press

Scott Pilgrim, written and drawn by Bryan Lee O’Malley is a pretty fun book. It’s kind of like a romantic comedy where aimless 20-something Scott Pilgrim attempts to date his dream girl1 Ramona Flowers by wooing her… and then defeating her 7 evil exes in fights to the death. Along the way Scott Pilgrim has to deal with real life problems like being unemployed, his own ex-girlfriends, and his mediocre band while living in a manga/videogame inspired world with ninja, robots, and EXP points. A central theme of the book is about accepting and getting over past romantic entanglements, and how forgetting or failing to deal with past feelings and events gets in the way of establishing new romantic connections. This gives some gravitas to an otherwise light story.  The real appeal of Scott Pilgrim for me is largely in the execution which is just plain charming. O’Malley’s writing is supremely readable, balancing melodrama and humour expertly. His art; this manga-infused, video game influenced, cartoony style; pops off the page with this energetic vitality and has a sort of cuteness to it that really endears Scott Pilgrim’s characters and lighter moments. If you are looking for a book that is unlike super hero comics (or anything else) that’s super charming and fun to read, I’d highly recommend Scott Pilgrim.  Also, it’s written by a Canadian and set in Canada so +500 EXP… although the setting is Toronto so -50 HP.

Word count: 240

1: This pun is only funny if you’ve read the book.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

So I Read The Unwritten

Art by Yuko Shimizu
A 250 word (or less) review of Trade Paperback collections 1-5 of The Unwritten
By Mike Carey and Peter Gross, Vertigo Comics

The Unwritten, created by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, is a work of fiction that manages to provide both a compelling story and a meaningful meditation about a broader cultural concept. The protagonist of The Unwritten is Tom Taylor, a man who, as a boy, provided the namesake and inspiration for a series of young adult novels about a child wizard (who bears a remarkable similarity to Harry Potter).  The story follows Tom as he learns he may in fact be the novel’s title character made flesh and centers on a conflict against a secretive cabal that has clandestinely manipulated society for centuries by controlling literature. This engrossing mystery/suspense plot is used as a vehicle to explore how literature affects society by informing the worldview of the collective cultural unconsciousness and how we construct stories to define ourselves.  Suffice it to say Mike Carey’s writing is very smart. Peter Gross’ pencils are pretty great as well, providing a clean and expressive style that is a perfect match for the script. The issue covers by Yuko Shimizu are pretty amazing: easily some of the best covers in comics and are well worth a look. The Unwritten is also a feat of compressed storytelling as there is a truly remarkable amount of content per page (at one point that the creative teams makes a choose-you-own-adventure style comic that simultaneously tells multiple storylines). There is also a subplot about a rabbit who says horrendously vulgar things while trapped in a children’s’ storybook. 

Word count: 249