Thursday, August 27, 2015

Young Terrorists #1

Written by Matt Pizzolo
Art by Amancay Nahuelpan

Black Mask Comics have been getting a lot of attention in the last year, as they've seen a number of their new series become very desirable, and enjoy sustained attention on the after-market.  I feel like I've been sleeping on their stuff for too long, having missed a few titles that I would have been interested in, had I been paying more attention to their solicitations in Previews.

I don't know how Young Terrorists slipped past me, as it looked very much like the type of book I'd be interested in reading.  I guess a lot of people felt the same way, because the store where I shop was sold out of a decent number of orders in a couple of hours.  Luckily, I was travelling this week, and found a copy.

I think the thing I like most about the amount of attention that Black Mask is getting is the way in which it pushed this series (which is, I think, an on-going) and this issue (which will be released in second print soon) into the hands of a lot of people who would otherwise not buy something with this kind of material.  I do hope that most of these people decide to read it though, and not just keep it as an investment, as this is a very good comic.

This first issue is 80 pages long, which is always welcome, and it takes it time to introduce the main characters.  We meet Serah, the daughter of an extremely wealthy businessman, who controls one of three groups that more or less control the world, or at least its finances.  He is killed in a suicide bombing at the beginning of the book, and his daughter is framed as a terrorist.  She ends up escaping the CIA black site where she's been interrogated, and has been the star of an illegal fight scene.

She continues that work, broadcasting her fights on the Internet, and gathering an interesting group of misfits around her.  The comic is split between Serah's story and that of Cesar, a young man who is on the run after an act of resistance against industrial farming goes wrong.  Cesar is brutally abused throughout this book, beaten and left naked in a truckstop parking lot, before he is found by Baby, one of Serah's people.

As much as writer Matt Pizzolo takes this issue to set up his world, he also leaves a lot to be explained later.  We know that there is some intrigue surrounding Serah's brother, and we see that she has effectively taken over a section of Detroit that had been abandoned, and is now providing the residents with food and electricity.

Artist Amancay Nahuelpan is new to me, and I'm impressed by what I see.  He has a way with the characters that sometimes reminds me of Tony Harris, and which works well with a book that is so tied into the motives of the people that populate it.

This book is rough and unapologetic, and very open about its political and economic beliefs.  I see antecedents in Jonathan Hickman's phenomenal The Nightly News, and wonder if this is perhaps the book that Gail Simone set out to write when she started The Movement at DC.  It makes sense that Black Mask is publishing this book, since they launched their business with Occupy Comics.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Boxers

by Gene Luen Yang

I've been a fan of Gene Luen Yang's work since I read American Born Chinese a few years ago.  He has a simplistic approach that gives way to intelligent storytelling with great depth.  Boxers is one half of a two-book set (with Saints, which is on my to-read pile) that examines the Boxer Rebellion in China at the turn of the 20th Century.

Boxers focuses on Little Bao, an illiterate youth growing up in a small village in a remote province of China.  His area is isolated, and while the people are poor, they are able to eke out a decent living.  One day, during a spring festival, they are visited by a boorish lout who rightly gets his ass handed to him by Bao's father.  It turns out that this man is a Christian convert, and like good Christians everywhere, returns to exact revenge, bringing a white man with him.  This man smashes the statue of a much-loved god, and steals food from the village that he believes is rightful restitution.

As time goes on, we see how the influence of the missionaries and European governments are damaging traditional Chinese social structures.  When Bao's father goes to complain to a local government leader about how the village is being treated, he is set upon by foreign soldiers and beaten so badly he never recovers his faculties.

Into this tense setting comes Red Lantern Chu, a brother of the Big Sword Society.  He begins to help the locals to resist the foreigners and the secondary devils (what they call the converts).  He does not allow Bao to participate in his kung fu training, but then begins to teach the youth in secret.

Eventually, Red Lantern is killed, and Bao continues training under a different master.  Here the story veers towards magical realism, as Bao begins to channel a Chinese god when he fights, rescuing his older brothers from certain death.  From here, Bao begins to gather supporters for his fight against the foreigners, leading an ever-growing army towards Peking.

Along the way, Bao meets Mei-Wen, who herself begins to lead a group of female warriors.  We follow Bao and his people through the end of the Boxer Rebellion.

This is a very interesting book.  I don't know very much about this time period, and so don't know where Yang has diverted from established fact (somewhere before all the Gods show up, I imagine).  I do get the feeling that this book has been meticulously researched and is more accurate, in it's unique way, than it isn't.  I know that Saints tells a similar story, but from the perspective of a 'secondary devil', and I'm curious to know that interpretation, especially since my own inclinations lean towards seeing things through Bao's eyes, in a post-colonial perspective.

Yang builds his story very nicely.  He invests a lot of time in developing Bao, who is bullied by his older brothers and then ends up leading them.  He makes Bao's relationship with Mei-Wen believable, as are the internal conflicts Bao needs to resolve to be a strong leader.

There is a sense of misogyny in this work that doesn't sit well with me, as male characters discuss how contact with females can dilute their concentration and power.  There is an attempt to balance this through Mei-Wen, but it's often not enough.  At the same time, this is a work of historical fiction, and I imagine that Yang is being accurate in his portrayal of how women were treated.

Yang's artwork is straight-forward, but very effective in portraying emotion and thought.  He uses a slightly drab colour palette throughout most scenes, but when the gods enter the story, things become brighter and a little garish.

This book is a remarkable piece of work, and I look forward to reading its companion.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Jim Fern, Craig Hamilton, Ray Snyder, and Mark Farmer

As Fables came closer and closer to its conclusion, I began to get interested in the series again (although, interested does not always mean invested in or entertained by), and picked up Werewolves of the Heartland, the standalone OGN that spotlights Bigby Wolf that came out in 2012.

Bigby is out searching for a new possible location for Fabletown (this is in the era when Mister Dark had taken their home from them), and stumbles across Story City.  The name intrigues him, but he is even more interested to learn that the entire town is populated by werewolves that view him as their god (although that doesn't put them above wanting to kill him).  Even more surprising is the appearance of an old war companion of Bigby's, and an ex-Nazi villainess.

There is a lengthy flashback to Bigby's WWII days, and his mission in Castle Frankenstein, which actually takes me back to the earliest issues of Fables that I read, around about the mid-thirties.

As the story progresses, Bigby comes to realize that there is a lot going wrong in Story City.  A cabal has been plotting to overthrow their leaders (who happen to also be their parents, for most of them) and see Bigby's arrival as a good chance to do that.  This leads to a big battle, and lots of killing, as none of these werewolves have any clue just how powerful Bigby really is.

This book really eschewed the 'Fables' aspect of Fables, not taking any cues from folklore.  It also read as more mature than the parent Fables series has for years, although that is mostly due to copious amounts of non-sexual nudity (and a bit of sexual nudity, as a young woman tries to seduce Bigby).

The art in this book is nice, but the combination of Craig Hamilton and Jim Fern is an odd one.  They are both fine artists, but they have very different styles (even though Fern handled layouts for the whole book).  Hamilton's pencils, especially when he is the one inking them, are very detailed and realistic, while Fern tends towards the slightly more abstract.  I found the switch from one to the other to be jarring at times.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Disappearance of Charley Butters

by Zach Worton

Zach Worton's The Klondike was an excellent collection of stories and vignettes about the famous gold rush that impressed me a great deal.  When I saw that he had a new book out at TCAF this year, I couldn't resist grabbing it, although at the time, I did not know that it was the beginning of a series of graphic novels, and not a self-contained story.

The Disappearance of Charley Butters starts with a death metal trio heading into some remote woods with a camera man to film a video.  We quickly see that the band doesn't really get along with one another, mostly because the band's leader, Mike, and his contrary nature.

While filming, the band stumbles across a long-abandoned cabin, filled with hundreds of paintings all showing the same image, and a collection of diaries.  All of this belongs to Charley Butters, an artist who ran away from the world to this cabin back in the late 50s, and was apparently never heard from again.

As the book progresses, Travis, the main character, can't stop thinking about Butters.  He returns to the cabin to pick up the journals, and begins obsessing over the artist, who was clearly mentally ill (he claimed to hear voices).

Travis ends up quitting the band over Mike's behaviour, and he and Stuart, the filmmaker, decide to collaborate on a documentary about Butters's life and disappearance.

This book was really gathering steam when it ended kind of abruptly, with notification that 'The Search For Charley Butters' will be coming along soon.  This was a disappointment, as I was enjoying the story, especially the way that Butters's influence was changing Travis, who cuts his hair and begins to behave more like an adult.

Worton does a great job of developing these characters in a short amount of space, and he provides just enough information to make Butters's story intriguing.  His art is nice and clear, and he's guaranteed himself a sale whenever the next book comes out.  I hope it doesn't take too long...

Monday, August 3, 2015

Okko: The Cycle of Water

by Hub

I'd read the second and third Okko miniseries when they were published by Archaia in the 00's, but never saw the first volume, The Cycle Of Water until recently, and was happy to get the chance to read it.

Okko is a French comic set in an imagined Medieval Japan, where magic, spirits, demons, and combat puppet suits are common.  Okko the character is a ronin and demon-hunter for hire.  He travels with a large, demon-masked man and a drunken monk.  At the beginning of this series, they are hired by the younger brother of a geisha who has been abducted by strange people, in exchange for his service.

Their journey to rescue the young woman is fraught with danger, and when they find the floating fortress to which she has been taken, they discover some very disturbing things.

Hub's art is fantastically detailed and impressive.  The smaller scale of the North American comics page does not fully do it justice, as it feels a little cramped and hard to read at times.  Still, this is a very good read, and now I need to try to track down the fourth volume, The Cycle of Fire.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Black Hand Comics

by Wes Craig

I've been a big fan of Wes Craig's work on Rick Remender's excellent series Deadly Class, and first saw the potential in his art when he drew a few issues of the good Guardians of the Galaxy run, but had never read anything he had completed on his own before walking past his table at TCAF this year.  I thought it wasn't much of a risk to take a chance with Black Hand Comics, his collection of three stories that were originally released online.  The book is a wide, narrow hardcover, and each story shows off a very different approach by Craig.

The first, The Gravedigger's Union is a fun story about the real work of cemetery maintenance crews, which is mostly done after dark, when the dead get up.  It's told in black and white.

The second story, Circus Day, is a bit of a coming of age story about a boy who visits a travelling circus with his sister, after being forbidden to do so by his father.  The kid wants to see the freakshow, despite not having enough money to enter.  When his sister goes off with one of the acrobats, he gets up to some mischief.  Visually, this story is closest to Craig's work on Deadly Class, although he uses more painterly effects, and has some fun with sound effects.

The final story, The Seed, is the creepiest, and best shows off just how good Craig can be.  The story is slight; it's about a man who is fleeing from some people who took him in and helped him, but who seem to be a part of a cult.  There's a darker aspect to this, but I don't want to spoil it.  Here, Craig tells the story in a mix of flashback and present, and it's easy to envision these pages being spread in a straight line around a gallery wall.

This is a very impressive book, although it is frustratingly finished too soon.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Memetic #1-3

Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Eryk Donovan

James Tynion IV is probably best known for his Batman work, supporting Scott Snyder since the New 52 relaunch in a number of ways, but he is also building a name and following for himself with his excellent body of work being published by Boom!  His The Woods is one of my favourite ongoing comics, and I've been enjoying UFOlogy lately.

This is why I decided to give Memetic a shot.  It's a three-issue mini-series, but each issue is oversized, and therefore Tynion has a lot of space to play with his themes.

In this story, a picture has gone viral on the Internet.  It's an image of a happy little sloth, with a background of concentric circles.  It looks exactly like the type of thing that people put funny sayings on.  What makes this particular image different, though, is the way it makes people feel.  It induces a sense of elation, and creates in people a form of mania that encourages them to pass it on to others, and to spend hours looking at it.

Our point-of-view character for most of the series is Aaron, a young college student with a number of issues.  To begin with, Aaron is completely colourblind, and wears a hearing aid (which becomes instrumental to the plot later on).  When he looks at the picture, he feels nothing, and is having a hard time understanding why people are so obsessed with it.  He'd rather worry about the fact that his boyfriend is not returning his calls.

Anyway, it doesn't take long before we realize that there is a lot more going on with this picture, and that it is rewriting the human brain somehow.  Another person who has figured this out is a retired officer in the Army, who used to specialize in information-based attacks.  He suffers from macular degeneration, and is therefore also unable to see the image properly.  He attempts to rally some of his old contacts, but is hard-pressed to find anyone in charge who hasn't seen the image.

And then things start to change.  The people who have looked at the picture begin to change into 'screamers', and things get very weird.

Tynion does a very good job of setting up this plot, and extrapolates nicely from our current obsession with social media.  He lifts some ideas from zombie and Apocalyptic stories, and then gives us a big finish that will leave the reader looking for more information.

Eryk Donovan is not an artist I'm familiar with, but he's very talented.  His work reminds me a little of Sean Murphy (it's the noses, which I've always thought of as Chris Bachalo noses), but is a freer artist in a lot of ways.

This series is thought-provoking and very effective.  I recommend it, and anything else that Tynion is doing at Boom!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Lunarbaboon Vol. 1

I picked up the first volume of Lunarbaboon as a bit of an impulse buy at TCAF this year.  It's a collection of webcomics that focus on the joys and tribulations of fatherhood.

The father has a young son, Moishe, and, one presumes, a very patient wife.  Many of the strips, which never run more than two pages, fall into the standard structure for this type of thing, showcasing the funny things that kids say, or describing humorous observations that occur to the cartoonist.  These are often pretty amusing.

Even better, though, are the strips that really make use of the freedom comics allow.  The cartoonist often shows great imagination in layout or in portraying the world through either the child's, or the very creative dad's, eyes.

There is a poignancy to this book, and it is often very sweet, while also often very truthful, and occasionally, even harsh.  Not knowing if the payoff for each strip is going to be a punch to the gut or a laugh is a big part of the fun of reading this book.

Once again, proof that just about anything you buy at TCAF is going to be good...

Monday, July 6, 2015

Wild Blue Yonder #1-6

Written by Mike Raicht, Zach Howard, and Austin Harrison
Art by Zach Howard

I'd heard some good things about Wild Blue Yonder, a science fiction series from IDW, and jumped at the chance to pick up a full set recently.

This is a very good sci-fi adventure comic for fans of Mad Max.  In the future, most of the Earth is uninhabitable, due to radiation and other environmental factors, and the luckiest people are the ones who live in the sky, on flying fortresses.  Cola and her people live on the Dawn, which apparently is able to keep flying without fuel (this is never explained), which makes them a target for pirates and others who want to break themselves of dependency on fossil fuels (which are squeezed out of the Earth by a frequently mis-treated servant class).

Because of the violence inherent in this world, mixed with the lack of resources, especially ammunition, the fortresses have developed an interesting method of defence.  Pilots like Cola fly their planes, and transport 'bullets', jetpack-wearing warriors who often go into battle with axes.

When the series opens, Cola is looking to recruit a new bullet after her previous one died on a mission.  She finds Tug, the son of a miner, and we see the Dawn and its systems through his eyes.  We quickly learn that things are not good between Cola and her mother, who runs the place, and that Cola's independence and flying skills are a problem between them.  Worst of all, they both blame Cola for the previous bullet's death.

As the series progresses, we learn that the Judge, the commander of a large fleet, has his hopes set on taking the Dawn, and he has a variety of plans in place to make that happen.

This series is gorgeous.  Zach Howard's art reminds me a lot of Sean Murphy's (in fact, comparisons to The Wake wouldn't be inaccurate), and his air battles are pretty incredible.  Nelson Daniel's colours work very well; you can almost feel the heat off the various fires that fill the last two issues.

There's a fair amount of sticking to genre tropes in this story, but at the same time, in just six issues the writers had me caring about the characters and their world, and the art really made this book stand out.  Recommended.

Monday, June 15, 2015

West Coast Blues

by Jacques Tardi, adapting a novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette

I am always up for a Jacques Tardi graphic novel, and got a lot of enjoyment out of reading West Coast Blues, the translation of his book adapting the novel Le Petit Bleu de la Côte Ouest, which was originally released in 1976.

The story is about George Gerfaut, a salesman who one night, while driving around Paris aimlessly and a little drunkenly, sees two cars speed past him, as if they are chasing one another.  He follows, and soon finds one of the cars wrapped around a tree.  The driver is injured, so Gerfaut takes him to the hospital, and then leaves him there.

Later, when Gerfaut and his family go to the coast for a holiday, two men try to kill Gerfaut in the water.  He manages to escape them, but his nerves are shot, and he begins to believe that someone is looking to kill him because he helped that injured driver.

It's not paranoia, though, when you're right.  Gerfaut leaves his family and returns to Paris, trying to decide what to do.  The two men, Carlo and Bastien are hired killers, employed by Emerich.  They begin following Gerfaut, who becomes more and more desperate to escape them, even going so far as to get a gun for protection.

An encounter between the men at a gas station on a lonely stretch of road leads to some killing, and Gerfaut's being completely lost in the wilderness.  He decides to abandon his former life and begin living as a hermit, but it's not all that long before he's back in Paris seeking his own personal freedom from Emerich's attention.

This is a well-written noir story, and Tardi does a great job of pacing it, and showing difficult things in beautiful settings.  I like the way Tardi (or Manchette) constantly let us know what music the protagonist is listening to, providing a bit of a soundtrack to the book throughout.

The pacing of this story is very different from what one would find in an American thriller, but that's a big part of what makes it work, since it's harder to predict.  In all, another very solid (and well-designed) Tardi comic from Fantagraphics.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Russian Olive to Red King

by Kathryn Immonen and Stuart Immonen

Of all the books I bought at TCAF this year, I think that this is the one that I will treasure the most, mostly because Kathryn and Stuart Immonen really take their time when signing a book.  Kathryn copied a number of words out of a Chekov novel to run perpendicular to the book's title on the title page, beneath which Stuart drew a lovely sketch of Olive, one of the book's protagonists.  It took a little while, but made this a unique purchase.

Russian Olive to Red King is a lovely, lovely book.  It's about a couple, Olive and Red, who live in a large city.  Red is an art writer, while Olive is a researcher.  We are given very few details of their life together, beyond meeting their dog, and learning that Red is not the most communicative of people outside of their relationship.

Olive leaves town for a while, to do some field work, but when flying into (I assume) Northern Ontario, the two-engine plane she is in goes down, and the pilot is killed.  While she is all alone in a wintry environment, Red is left all alone in their apartment, and the rest of the book charts the emotional journeys they take separately, but together.

This is a very poetic book (it was reminding me of The English Patient long before the scene with the cave), and Stuart reveals the story slowly through large, open panels showing landscape and sunset.  Towards the end of the book, the story switches into a section of prose, or prose poetry, more accurately, with sequences of abstracted drawings below them.  The connection between image and words, and how this whole section relates to the rest of the book, is not revealed until the very end.

I feel like I might have appreciated a little more clear resolution at the end, but by saying that, I also think I'm just being a little simple-minded.  This is a powerful and beautiful book.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Pitiful Human-Lizard #1

by Jason Loo

I love my hometown, Toronto, which is a serious comics town.  I am often surprised by the high calibre of local talent in the comics industry, from big-name Big Two stars to quality independent writers, artists, and cartoonists.  For a city that is well-represented behind the scenes in comics, it's not often a a comic showcases the city itself.

Sure, Alpha Flight comes to mind, but even when John Byrne was drawing it, Toronto was never a character.  It was in Scott Pilgrim, though, but now, Toronto has its own superhero, the Human-Lizard (apparently he's a little pitiful).  At TCAF, creator Jason Loo compared this hero to the city's sports teams - lots of good intentions, not very impressive results.

Anyway, this is a very solid debut for this series.  We get to know our hero, who is a Kick-Ass style superhero wannabe with access to his father's excellent glue and gimmicks from his own hero days.  Lucas Barrett has a boring office job, and generally sucks at jiu-jitsu, but really wants to be a hero.  After signing up for a drug company experiment, he gains the ability to recover from any injury, and realizes that perhaps his time to be a hero has come around.

Loo makes Lucas a likeable character, and does a terrific job of incorporating the city into his story.  You don't have to be from Toronto to enjoy this book, but there are lots of Easter Eggs and nods to Torontonians that make reading this even more fun.

My biggest TCAF regret of this year (I always have some) was in not buying the other three issues of this series that are available.  I'm going to have to go look for them, because I want more.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Pocket Full of Coffee and There's No Bath in This Bathroom

by Joe Decie

I didn't know Joe Decie's work before this year's TCAF, but he was kind enough to give copies of his newest book, There's No Bath in This Bathroom away for free.  Flipping through it, I liked what I saw, and felt compelled (and perhaps a little obligated) to pick up the other book he had on offer, Pocket Full of Coffee.

Both of these books are slice-of-life books, where Decie takes the everyday and turns it into a book.  There may be some greater profundity hidden within the story, but it seems like he's really just keeping a bit of a journal, and elevating the mundane into art.

Pocket covers a very ordinary Wednesday for Decie.  He worries about marks on his arm, gets his young son ready for the day, hangs out with him for a bit, has dinner with his wife, and paints for a bit before going to bed.

No Bath is a story about last year's TCAF, and hanging out with comics folks after the show.  Decie and his friends end up at a fictional pizza shop with a dirty bathroom.  That's about it.

These books reminded me a lot of Nicholson Baker's writing, with the focus on minutiae becoming the point of the story.  I like stuff like that, so it works very well for me.

Decie's art is very nice.  It looks like he uses watercolours to shade his black-and-white art, and sticks to a pretty realistic style.

Both of these books are very straight-foward, but deceptively so.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Potter's Pet

by Braden D. Lamb and Shelli Paroline

I liked Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline's work on the excellent Boom series The Midas Flesh, so when I saw that Lamb had this mini-comic on offer at TCAF, I thought it would make a good purchase.

Set in a typical storybook souk, The Potter's Pet is about what happens when you set out to please everybody.  The titular potter is having a bad month, not selling any of his wares.  One day he discovers some plans on a piece of parchment, and builds himself a little robot that dances to amuse him.

Another merchant sees it, and asks if he can build her one that will sort scrolls for her.  Reluctant, the potter agrees to build this for her (he has to smash his own robot to do it) once she offers a price he can't refuse.  When he goes to take the finished product to her, another merchant waylays him and offers more money if he instead constructs a device that will fetch juice.  And then we're off, as each person in succession expects a device that does more, but also pays better.

There is a storybook simplicity to this comic, which is aided by the clean art from Lamb and Paroline.  I can see why the pair's comfort with historically impossible art made them obvious choices for The Midas Flesh, which is about the science fiction implications of the legend of King Midas, and which features a dinosaur in a space suit.

This was a fun little read.

Junior Citizens

Written by Ian Herring and Daniel MacIntyre
Art by Ian Herring

One thing I love about TCAF is the way in which it brings exposure to artists and cartoonists I might not hear about, and I'm always willing to take a chance on lower-priced items that look interesting.  One book that jumped out at me is Junior Citizens, by Ian Herring and Daniel MacIntyre.

Apparently this is a digital comic that can be read on its tumblr page.  This twenty-page comic is the extent of what is available there right now, but I'll be sure to check back for more later, as I enjoyed this comic.

In the world that Herring and MacIntyre have created, it seems that there is a clear caste system in place, with 'junior' citizens having to complete their annual work quota in able to qualify for the benefits of society.  We follow one such junior citizen, sent on her first work assignment, to an agricultural platform which is experiencing an equipment malfunction.

We quickly learn, through a helpful and loquacious robot, that the platform should have been decommissioned, but is being kept in operation by its single chief custodian.  The woman's attempts to fix things do not go well.

This is a simple enough story, but it has a certain retro charm to it.  Herring's art is blocky, but with a deco style to it, and his use of colour and texture is phenomenal.  As a first issue, this sets up the situation nicely, and has me interested enough to come back for more.  It's worth checking out.