Page 45 Reviews October 2010 week three

Picture This h/c (£22-50, Drawn & Quarterly) by Lynda Barry.

A second book of love, handcraft and creativity from one of the most individualistic voices in comics designed to encourage and inspire your own. Like WHAT IT IS, it cannot fail to succeed, for it’s in Lynda’s nature to nurture.

Were you encouraged when young, or did you have the imaginative stuffing knocked out of you? Sometimes it seems to me that the greatest lesson we can learn from our parents is to pay close attention then remember to behave in exactly the opposite fashion; this early exchange between Lynda and her mother over a magazine cover she’s embellished pretty much says it all:

“You ruined this!”
“It was in the garbage, so I thought..”
“You thought! You call this thinking?”
“But you threw it away…”
When I put something in the garbage I want it to stay there! Do not ruin the garbage!”

Linda’s learned that lesson well and put it into pitch-perfect practice here lest you too stop drawing at thirteen or, should you have already done so, to rekindle your love of art and the joy of the written word. That some of the compositions are painted on top of dictionary pages, legally binding documents or ruled school exercise books might (might) even be a direct thumbing of the nose to her Ma. So often we’re told that so much is verboten, but for Lynda Barry anything and everything goes and there’s something wonderfully direct and liberating about her treating such a plush hardcover as if it were her personal ‘zine or scrapbook.

Lynda’s invented a brand-new character to join her Staring Cephalopod: the Near-Sighted Monkey complete with horn-rimmed glasses, a housework headscarf, and a lit ciggie dangling from her mouth. There’s an early portrait of her with a Caribbean tinge to it, playing poker in front of a book case: “The Near Sighted Monkey won’t fold!” Good advice for life; invaluable advice for the artist in all of us. In fact PICTURE THIS is packed with the most elaborate, organic collages of image, autobiography and exhortation whose swirling frames often form hidden messages, and there are questions far more fundamental to the creative process than most of us are used to in our everyday lives. “What’s Inside Your Artbox?” is, I’d contend, a much wider question than a physical accounting would necessarily answer – though Lynda does ask you to love your brush and care for it.

She asks us questions like what’s the difference between writing and drawing the alphabet, what makes a picture creepy, and what makes adults scared to draw? She breaks down the unnatural barriers between the adult and the so-called child’s domain. Why is colouring for retards? Why are picture books only for children? Why is writing or drawing a waste of time? Answer: none of them are. I think as readers and/or creators of comics in the U.S. and U.K., you can empathise with the rejection of that sort of censorious ignorance which will have told you several times that comics are just for kids. My own father asked me aged nineteen, “Why are you still reading those things?” and again, when I was attempting to hone my writing skills, “When are you going to get a proper job?” If he were alive I’d show him Page 45; he was, after all, he was a businessman. Truth be told, he’d just have come back with those same two questions again.

But picture this instead: a life liberated from the confines of what is supposedly allowed. You are allowed, for example, to be stressed or upset, and to work your way through that with painting in Pointillism or, you know, drawing a bloody chicken. Here’s Lynda in gloriously mischievous mode with barely a punctuation mark in sight:

“Sometimes we feel we cannot draw a chicken so here is a chicken to use on those days, to copy, trace, cut out and paste. The dear chicken is on the job! (Dear Van Dyke, At first I thought the chicken was crappy looking but then I had my heart broken and making that crappy chicken was the only thing that made me feel better.) Take some dark moody paper and draw a chicken outline. Ball up little pieces of cotton or lint or tissue paper it will get better things will get better put down a line of glue on the chicken and put wads of sadness onto the chicken, then more glue then more wads of sadness it is okay to watch TV while you are doing this, it will get better.”

Too much maturity seems to me overrated – it smacks of old age and conservatism. It smacks of windows closed, and no risks taken; no adventure in sight. It smacks of having stopped, and although I’m only a quarter of my way through this book so far, I won’t be told that I can’t publish my enthusiasm this early during my reading process, my thinking progress because, as Lynda so rightly proclaims of the spiritually healthy,

“Always, we are en route.”


 Fluorescent Black (£18-99, Heavy Metal) by M.F. Wilson & Nathan Fox.

“Nina, your doctor says if I give you to Ugen, they will hurt you, kill you, right? We never gave you a fair chance. So now, you got one way out. You pick up that gun, you kill me, you go free. You want to survive, you do what you have to do. My Mom told me that, long time ago.”
“I know. I remember. She also said: what you do in life makes you what you are.”
“Yeah, we all go our problems, neh?”

Welcome to future of South East Asia where gene-tech has divided humans into two different races, and where being diagnosed as having the genetic condition Dystonia gets you and your family summarily ejected from the Utopia that is Singapore to the wretched Malaysian Peninsula where the copulation and defecation in the streets makes Hogarth’s Gin Lane look like a stroll down The Champs Élysées. It’s riddled with whores you’d pay big bucks not to touch, even with a love glove on. And if there are locks on the doors then they sure don’t work as narrator Max, his sister Blue and his mother discover their very first night when the human predators prowl. Innocence is lost with a pull of the trigger, their mother soon lost as well. She begs them to sell her body parts, so they do what they must to survive.

Originally serialised in HEAVY METAL magazine, this massive, album-sized, twisted-metal, limb-tearing car-crash of human suffering and oppression – of tyranny, duplicity and gene-splicing – is an impressively controlled riot of colour and carnage perpetrated by an artist with much love for Paul Pope. Whether it’s the derelict refuge in the heart of a forest-turned-swamp strangled by the mutant hybrid of poison ivy and marijuana, the neurally synchronised, purple, peyote-like trip Max and Nina share on its roof or the full-page portrait of their naked bodies hungrily clasped in sexual intercourse, the pages here are evidence of a ferocious passion shared by these two creators, backed up by some an array of tribute pages by the likes of Becky Cloonan, Guy Davis and Tim Bradstreet.

Nina has never been outside. Reared in Ugen’s Singapore nursery, she has none of the scars Max’s body bears for she has had no life. She’s too innocent to be fearful. Already immune to all known viral and bacterial agents, Nina is injected with Ultagen, the new gene-suite designed to streamline the brain’s processes, but the integration proves far more successful than Dr. Aja Rupinder could have imagined or necessarily wanted for Nina immediately finds herself both receiving and transmitting cognitive information too powerful for most others to handle, and before they can induce another event the nursery is raided by Max and his fellow outcasts who have been paid good money to abduct the test subject in the full knowledge that they were set up to die. From then on it’s war – a massive, sprawling war – as Ugen and their industrial saboteurs fight to retrieve Nina from a Max who’s far from enamoured of either. His sister is kidnapped, his friends are picked off and his enemies have upgrades of their own.

It’s a grisly and rancid evocation of human beings regarded as so much detritus: unwanted waste products of a society obsessed with self-preservation, self-perfection and “sick with self-importance” and I don’t doubt it greatly appeal to readers of Brian Wood’s DMZ or Warren Ellis. It’s hefty, it’s harsh, and I love the fluorescent, spot-varnish purple on the matt-black cover.

“The Biopolis was their only refuge from our homemade pests. With our gene-taps we spliced insects and vermin to plague them. Mutant aphids to kill their gardens. Plants with psychotropic pollen. Tiny moths that would chew holes in their designer clothes.
“We were waging a war on their environment. So they hid inside their bubbles. They used ethercides and zappers to keep out our creations. They went to great lengths to rid their perfect ecosystem of any threats. Threats like us.”


Blab World vol 1 h/c (£18-99, Last Gasp) by various.

New incarnation of the BLAB! anthology which, as I suspected, is now predominantly an art book catering to the Juxtapose crowd under the heading of ‘Artpocalypse’. Mark Ryden’s in it, Spain Rodriguez, Femke Hiemstra and Ron English too.

On the short strip side, Sergio Ruzzier and Greg Clarke are on the same page both stylistically and thematically with a couple of bleak little tales, one about an artist who, after a life alone, ends up in a grave, the other about an art collector who, after a life deserted, ends up pickled in a Damien Hirst exhibition. By contrast the lyrical ‘Lament On The Death Of Willie’ by Julia Moore and Steven Guarnaccia is a much brighter affair on account of Willie’s demise, Willie having tormented his sister, cat and purple monkey. Also, Mark Landman’s instantly recognisable Foetal Elvis is back complete with beautifully coloured, background Texture Anarchy which is a lot softer on the eye than the term implies. “‘Foetal Elvis’ usually lampoons subjects like the art and/or comics world, politics, the Elvis ‘mythos’, sibling rivalries and substance abuse. The story I’m currently working on, ‘Foetal Elvis’s Art Empire’, examines the L.A. lowbrow art scene,” wrote Mark. As for Mark Todd, his tale of ‘The Dreaded Mothman Of West Virginia, at a full four pages long, seems positively epic. Seemingly drawn, painted, felt-tipped and chalked onto the back of sixteen age-stained beer mats, it tells of the spectral Mothman’s reign of terror over the minds of an otherwise bored population of irate country folk (read: axes, pitchforks and projected indignation) and the atrocities attributed to him like the infamous goat shortage of 1967.

There are also some essays. ‘Ballpoint Bravura: Drawings by CJ Pyle’, for example, examines the striking art of C.J. Pyle rendered on the inside of found LP sleeves in coloured pencil and ballpoint pen, and is probably the only decent use of a biro in the history of Fine Art. They’re gorgeous mutant portraits, so densely yet delicately textured so as to appear to be made out of wool. It’s referred to as his “woven-knot” style whose end result makes the subjects look like human hybrids (crossed with dogs, bears, baboons etc.) all suffering from hypertrichosis like the Lion-Faced Man.

Sandman vol 1: Preludes And Nocturnes (New Ed’n) (£14-99, Vertigo) by Neil Gaiman & Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III.

Now with added ABSOLUTE EDITION colours with a complete change in trade dress. Volumes two and three also out.

Morpheus is the Lord of Dreams, his family are The Endless. Each of them is older than you can comprehend, though some are older than others. They are as gods to mortals – though they can surely die – and they can change as we change, for they are reflections of our everyday existence.

Destiny, cowled and quiet, holds in his hands the book of all that is, all that was, and all that will ever be. Dream, his skin as white as the moon, his clothes the colour of midnight, is remote and cold and unforgiving, meticulous in his duties, obsessive when in love. By contrast, Death, his older sister, is kind and compassionate and far better company than you’d image, though one day you’ll discover that for yourself. Desire is fickle but irresistible: he/she will appear as the most beautiful woman or man you have ever seen, whereas its twin Despair is terrible to behold and terrible to endure. Delirium doesn’t know what she is for most of the time, but in her rare, lucid moments she remembers many things, most tragically, perhaps, that she used to be Delight. They are a family, like the Greek gods, and like most families they fall out. One member of the Endless is missing. Who that is, I will not tell you, nor why he went away. All I will impart is that one member of The Endless is playing a very dangerous game, as another is going to find out…

Over the course of ten books Gaiman introduces us to The Endless, and their roles in Morpheus’ story. This will draw him to Hell and back via ancient Africa, the East and Greece, Elizabethan England, the dreams of cats, an American serial killer convention and a city preserved in a bottle. You’ll meet Norse and Egyptian deities, demons and angels, Lucifer, Shakespeare, Barbie and Ken, Orpheus, the Faerie, and a host of contemporary individuals as they come into contact with Dream and his siblings. For The Endless have always played a role in our lives – often benign, sometimes less so – and they’re not above making mistakes.

Overwhelmingly this is a story about stories, about decisions and consequences, responsibility, growth and the power of dreams. It opens in Britain in 1916 where an obsessive occultist, Roderick Burgess, is planning to live forever. To do that he must capture Death herself. He fails. He captures someone else instead, which has ramifications all over the world, until his son makes a fateful error in 1988…


Scary Godmother h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Jill Thompson.

Finally the full-colour prose-and-illustration hardcovers reappear under an infinitely more attractive, bright green cover, and in a far more affordable format: all four here for the price of two! Hopefully they’ll do the same for the black and white comics too, though (at the time of typing) we do still have a single copy of GHOUL’S OUT FOR SUMMER. The character designs from Jill are fun, pretty and witty: two aristocratic vampires plus be-spectacled son, a boyish Werewolf, a big, multi-bug-eyed hairy purple monster, a walking, talking skeleton and Scary Godmother (or Jill Thompson herself!) all welcome young Hanna to their bonkers Halloween world. The storybooks are geared more exclusively towards younger children, whereas the comicbook material has left adults and older children chuckling throughout. Expect Chas Addams-like reversals of expectation, mysteries and misunderstandings. In THE MYSTERY DATE, for example, Scary Godmother has a secret admirer; once word gets out amongst the neighbouring ghouls, everyone competes for her affection.


Solomon Kane vol 2: Death’s Black Riders (£11-99, Dark Horse) by Scott Allie & Mario Guevara.

More horrors for our hooked-nose puritan whom you would swear blind was drawn by Guy Davis, particularly during All The Damned Souls At Sea chapter. It’s the second in Dark Horse’s recent resurrection rather than the original material, but I enjoyed the first one enormously. Don’t have time for another right now: trying to launch a website! Stewart Lee just bought a copy at Page 45 before his performance at the Corner House the other Monday, though. If he ever interviews Alan Moore again, make sure you’re there: sterling performances of both their parts.

Hellboy: Masks And Monsters (£13-50, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, James Robinson, Scott Benefiel, Jansen Rodriguez.

First time these two crossovers have been collected into a HELLBOY book as Batman and Hellboy are joined by James Robinson’s Starman go up against (no, you’ll never guess) Nazis! Then it’s time for the HELLBOY line to try to draw attention to the Ghost who starred in one of several superhero comics Dark Horse thought would be good to launch some seventeen years ago, possibly misled by the likes of publishers Valiant. It wasn’t a good idea, it was entirely our of character, Valiant were about to implode anyway, and no one cared about either. That’s no reflection on the stories here, of course, and the book is dedicated to writer/editor Archie Goodwin. Nice one.


Ultimate Comics Avengers vol 2: Crime And Punishment h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Mark Millar & Leinil Francis Yu.

“So what did this thing do to piss everyone off?”
“The greatest crime of all, Mister Cash. It murdered some rich people.”

Fast and furious (i.e. lots of pictures, increasingly fewer words) as the writer of AMERICAN JESUS begins to bring the supernatural to the fore of the Ultimate Universe in the form of not one but two chain-wielding, flaming-skulled Ghost Riders, both as strong as Thor, who have sold their souls to the devil in order to take each other out. The question is why? Nick Fury bolsters his crew with two new heavy hitters unaccustomed to following orders, but he may find it counterproductive. For a start there’s the original Hulk – i.e. not Bruce Banner – and Millar writes the Punisher like the lean, mean killing machine he is. This has got to be the longest speech in the book:

“My name is Frank Castle and for the past two months I’ve been offing twice as much scum as usual. These stiffs were part of an Eastern European people-trafficking outfit and I’ve been working my way through their family-chain like an Ebola virus. In the last week alone, I’ve made more than fifteen kills and drawn the attention of a Mister Joseph Petrenko a.k.a. Russia’s Red Hammer. He runs more of that country than Prime Minister Putin and word is he doesn’t believe his American captains are all being taken down by some lone vigilante.
“He figures New York’s mob bosses are trying to muscle him out of town and so he’s requested a sit-down. “Nobody wants a bloodbath,” he told his chief lieutenants.
“Obviously, we haven’t met.”

More than ever Millar emphasises that his chief protagonists are not heroes. They’re a black ops assassination squad with vested corporate interests in the United States Of America Inc. under the command of a customarily crooked White House. They’re not above using blackmail as well as lethal force, plus the people they’re protecting here are worse than the creature that’s after them. Excellent Hawkeye moment right at the end – the seeds of dissent? – and I’ve always loved a good crossword:

“Christ in pain, brutal character assassination. Nine letters. Hmmm…”

UK softcover already out @ £12-99!

Thunderbolts: Cage h/c (£14.99, Marvel) by Jeff Parker & Kev Walker

One of the many assignations Steve Rogers has been doling out to Luke in particular, this seems the most peculiar: take on the most consistent repeat-offenders from the supervillain world and try to reform them by turning them into a team to do damage. Also, include the muck-monster Man-Thing as your travel agent. Man-Thing is famous for two things: he can teleport (sort of), but more importantly “Whoever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch!”. He’s like the Swamp Thing only with empathic pyromania. It does go tits-up, yes.


Bryan Hitch’s Ultimate Comics Studio h/c (£14-99, Impact) by Bryan Hitch.

History and ‘How To…’ guide, all beautifully illustrated by comics’ finest neo-classical photorealist as evidenced by ULTIMATES SEASONS ONE and TWO plus Mark Millar’s similarly epic two FANTASTIC FOUR books. Hitch was also responsible for designing much of the new, improved Doctor Who by Russell T. Davies. He has words of informed wisdom for you:

“I don’t consider myself to be an artist, or even a comic artist. First and foremost I consider myself to be a storyteller. It always has to be about a story. Comics are nothing more (or less) than a visual storytelling medium; if you want to draw pretty pictures then be an illustrator, painter, designer or something else that doesn’t require you to tell a story. Comics need this from beginning to end. I’m not trying to be brutal with you but if some part of every decision or choice you make in your comicbook drawing isn’t made because it aids the storytelling, then you need to make another one that does.”

Time after time Bryan backs this up after a quick tour round his workspace, writing about panel composition, visualising scripts and making early rough doodles, adapting the pace of any given script, how to create different rhythms, his love of impact, drawing your eye, creating roughs so that you address any composition problems at the earliest possible stage, camera angles, focus, vanishing points and perspective, character placement taking into account where the word balloons will go, graphic blacks and the best way of creating night-time cityscapes, environments (see, told you they were ever so slightly important) and plausibility or – I love big words, me – “verisimilitude”, before getting down to the nitty gritty of tool options and the business end of things.

I can’t impress on you strongly enough how detailed this all is, adroitly illustrated by the comics pages he chooses to reproduce both in pencil, ink and fully finished colour as required by what he’s discussing. I’ve long been in love with neo-classicism but as Millar says, if the story ain’t there it means nothing to me, hence my love of David Finch’s AVENGERS: DISASSEMBLED yet my contempt for ULTIMATES 3. Bryan Hitch, however, is far and away my favourite superhero artist, though, and you need ULTIMATES SEASONS ONE and TWO.

Icons: The DC And Wildstorm Art Of Jim Lee h/c (£37-99, Titan) by Jim Lee.

Whoa! Seriously big book bulging with biceps and – his gaudy WILDCATS atrocities aside – a gorgeous range of pencils, inks and full-colour pages, some of which are even rendered in watercolour. You don’t see much of that from Jim. At the pencil stage he resembles John Byrne when at his height around the time he left UNCANNY X-MEN (if you stumble across Byrne’s pencils they look radically different from Terry Austin’s finished inks) and once you’ve seen Jim’s here I’m pretty damn confident that you’ll be buying DC’s pencil version of BATMAN: HUSH which I previewed last month. There’s even that EX MACHINA page he did: the laugh-out-loud punchline to the sequence in which EX MACHINA’s regular creators, Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris, audition for the job of turning the life of Major Hundred into a comic (I deliberately skipped giving that game away in the relevant review and now urge you to forget you ever read his and start reading EX MACHINA immediately). Of course, now that DC has scrapped Wildstorm that title will seem odd in a few years time…

Cardcaptor Sakura Omnibus vol 1 (£14-99, Dark Horse) by CLAMP –

Ten years ago Mark succinctly wrote:

More schoolgirl heroism as a plague of otherworldly beings descends and it comes down to one girl to capture the spirits. From the same team that bought us CLOVER, this is perfectly suitable for all ages.


Superior #1 (£2-25, Millarworld/Icon/Marvel) by Mark Millar & Leinil Yu.

I like the fact that Mark Millar isn’t greedy. He knows he’ll sell a lot of copies, so doesn’t feel the need to charge $3-99. DC have just dropped their $3-99 to $2-99 (as of January, I think) and since both companies are sheep in wolves’ clothing, I’m pretty confident Marvel may do the same.

It’s another book in which the protagonists refer to superheroes as fictional comicbook characters for that’s what they are. Simon Pooni and best pal Chris have just been to see Tad Scott star in the fight Superior film:

“What do you think?”
“Meh. The effects are okay, but Superior’s been around since my papa was a kid. I’m kinda bored with these old superheroes. No wonder this guy can’t get any other work… I’m not saying his powers aren’t cool. He’s just too much of a Boy Scout for people these days. They need to make him more bad-ass like Bond or Jason Bourne.”
“Seriously? I always liked the fact that Superior doesn’t kill people. Being a nice guy is what makes him different to Wolverine and all that stuff.”
“No, that’s what makes him lame. Look at his costume, dude. He looks like freakin’ Santa Claus. I told you we should have sneaked into the Statham movie.”
“Oh shit.”
“Hey, faggots. You have a nice time making out in the back row?”
“Just ignore him, Chris.”
“I hear the basketball team’s really missing you these days, Pooni. Still, the way you guys play, they might as well have a cripple up front.”
“Drop dead, Sharpie. Stop being such a dick.”
“Ooh, look who’s getting all brave. Your boyfriend can’t protect you anymore, fuck-wad. Not unless he’s got some ground-to-air missile thing going on in that wheelchair.”
“Haha! That would be awesome. Imagine he could press a button and like, fire fucking machine guns.”
“You’re an asshole, Sharpie, and you’ve always been an asshole. If I wasn’t in this chair, I’d kick your ass all over the mall.”
“Yeah, well. I got news for you, Simon… you kinda are in that chair.”

Yeah, Simon kinda is in that chair. Multiple Sclerosis snuck on him with particular aggression; he’s even lost the sight of one eye and on bad days he can barely talk. There are days of remission, weeks even, but nothing permanent and yeah, Millar knows his stuff. My one worry was that this, Millar’s riff on Superman/Shazam, ran the risk of insulting the plight of those who can’t say “Kimota!” and transform into perfect superhuman specimens but have indeed lost the use of one side of their body, or their peripheral vision rendering them unable to scan more than one word at a time. Comics with their narrow speech balloons are actually perfect for that, as they are for dyslexia. Anyway, it’s too early to tell for sure but I don’t think Millar’s going to fall into that trap because this ain’t as straightforward as he first made out. I think I’ll leave you to discover what happens for yourself, but a talking monkey at the bottom of your bed isn’t exactly conducive to an easy night’s sleep.

Lovely art from Travis Charest – sorry, Leinil Yu – on both the boys, the Mom, the monkey and whatever the hell it is Simon has found himself transformed into.

Kick-Ass 2 #1 (£2-25, Millarworld/Icon/Marvel) by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr..

As ever the best bits for me involve nerd-chatter in school and the constant reminders that these bold but delusional idiots in costumes do not have powers. This isn’t a superhero series: there are no superpowers, just a lot of crushed testicles and beatings. The young lad dressing up in green and gold has made a new friend and here they are strolling through a crowd on ‘patrol’:

“What did you say your name was again?”
“Doctor Gravity. During the day I’m a physics professor over at Columbia, but I built the gravity pole in my spare time for when I’m fighting crime.”
“What does it do?”
“Just hit the button and you can make something twenty times its actual weight. Flip the reverse and you can float.”
“Are you nuts? It’s a baseball bat wrapped in tinfoil, man. How you anyone build a gravity pole?”

Kick-Ass has inspired others to don freakish, home-made fancy dress, and I love Romita’s handling of the thick material and bulky costumes adapted from high street clothes stores. Additionally Tom Palmer grounds it further from fantasy with a wash of grey before the colours are added – you can see the process in the back.

Inevitably after the solo and team-up with Mindy (now grounded in spite of the arsenal found under her bedroom floorboards), emulation of superhero comics turns into the equivalent of a team title. I do hope DC aren’t in the mood to sue.

You can’t buy the series direct on our website right now [be patient, for I can confirm phase two has begun… – Asst. Ed.] though you can phone, email or – shockingly – walk through our door, so I’ll link instead to the first book.


Carnage #1 of 5 (£2-99, Marvel) by Zeb Wells & Clayton Crain.

Clayton Crain’s art, particularly but not exclusively on the symbiotes, resembles life after the skin’s been removed: all muscle and sinew rubbed in oil. It’d be awful for romance but perfect for carnage and Carnage is what you’ll get eventually. Before that it’s something else that’s in swinging pursuit of an armoured vehicle: something with six arms and eyes in a Spider-Man costume that attracts the attention of Iron Man and Spidey. Tom mentioned something about this harking back to MAXIMUM CARNAGE (forgive his knowledge, he was young); I couldn’t make head nor tail of it.

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