Reviews April 2011 week one

 

R.I.P. Best Of 1985-2004 h/c (£21-99, Fantagraphics) by Thomas Ott.

“How far can too far go?”

 - Lux Interior, The Cramps

From the creator of THE NUMBER, more silent screams of worrying black-and-white misfortune.

You can tell by the cover that it bodes pretty badly for all those involved, from have-a-go-heroes, souped up for the occasion Charles Atlas-stylee, to those covering their murderous tracks, now newly addicted to cleanliness. Indeed both virtue and godliness play their part here, though neither is rewarded. These very short stories are like ten-second episodes of Roald Dahl’s Tales Of The Unexpected and really challenge you to think, but they’re so concise and precise that it makes that a joy rather than a chore.

Take ‘A Wrinkled Tragedy’ in which a well-to-do woman employs the services of a plastic surgeon to remove those tell-tale signs of age from her face. No, don’t worry, it’s a perfect success so she instantly attracts the attention of a handsome young beau… only to discover that they’ve been thinking along the same laughter lines, and what lies beneath is neither young nor remotely beautiful.

‘Goodbye!’ cruel world is like one of those dreams I’ve had where you think you’ve woken up, but only done so in your dreams. The dreams in this case are of attempting to commit suicide, yet failing each and every time. The man jolts up in bed, alarmed at his mortality, and immediately stumbles upon a glass, snapping his neck. Thank goodness that too was but a dream! Unfortunately outside forces are far more likely to precipitate our sudden departure from this capricious mortal coil than our own inclinations or accidents. It’s a funny one, that!

‘Alice In Wonderland’ makes you really wonder what the hell Lewis Carroll was on when he recommended nibbling bits of an unknown pill seductively labelled “Eat me!” (did I just get a bit Daily Mail on your asses?), whilst ‘La Fiancée Du Lapin’ is an even darker Carroll reprise which moves in those self-fulfilling circles Ott is so enamoured with.

The medium employed – unless I am stupid, half-blind and an artistic dunderhead (yes, very funny) – is scratchboard: that blank-slate of black upon which you work in reverse, scratching out shivers of white with a needle, sharp compass or random sterilised murder weapon. It works enormously well for stories so penumbral, yet on occasions the panels break out as blindingly as the light which fills them.

I have to confess that however enamoured I am of The Cramps – and I have been ever since my late teens – I didn’t pull that opening quote out of my head. Rather, it was from the afterword by Martin Eric Ain about a Zurich gig both he and Ott attended. Big love to all three (although Lux, R.I.P.) in the spirit of which I leave you with another apposite Cramps quote:

“People ain’t no good.
 People ain’t no good.
 They never do what you think they should,
 So people ain’t no good.”

They are, they really really are, but not here.

LINK

SLH

Tenken (£12-99, One Peace Books) by Yumiko Shirai.

Stilted. Horribly, horribly stilted.

And I really wanted to love this: there’s a double-page spread in the loosest of ink washes that mirrors the recent Japanese tsunami horror to perfection. I’ve factored in the fact that the original contents of the word balloons were written vertically and I have blinded myself to the consequent type-setting which is ugly. Still, it remains stilted.

A young woman joins a construction site.

“It’s a tough job, isn’t it? But you know, if you dressed nicely and put on some makeup…yes! You could be Princess Kushinada!”

Two panels later:

“They say that the Princess Kushinada for the mountain district has gone missing.”

Shit, I wonder where she is.

LINK

SLH 

Cartooning: Philosophy And Practice (£9-99, Yale Uni Press) by Ivan Brunetti

“Cartooning is built upon the Five Cs: calligraphy, composition, clarity, consistency, and communication, each reinforcing the other.”

“What is most crucial is the desire, the need, to express oneself. The tools, or means, can be improvised from whatever is at one’s disposal.”

Ivan Brunetti like you’ve never read him before – well, unless you picked up a copy of COMIC ART #9, but this is a “revised and expanded edition”. Packed with insight, analysis and the most imaginative of exercises I’d never have considered, his own examples or solutions gave me moments of pure, sit-up satori. I’m but a comics critic, not a practitioner, so imagine its application to those learning to refine their own craft.

Like Lynda Barry’s two books, WHAT IT IS and PICTURE THIS, the emphasis lies on galvanising the eye to see and the mind to think, reconsider and experiment. For example, it’s not about the art of perspective, it’s about how perspective within a panel can affect how the eye reacts to it. It’s more about composition and practising that composition so that students come to “understand some basic aesthetic principals” rather than pick up “a few tips and tricks that encourage cleverness but not insight”.

There are also lessons in juxtaposition taught not just through experimentation but accident, and those really made me smile, as did condensing the essence of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye into a single cartoon. The exercise based on James Kochalka’s daily SKETCHBOOK DIARIES seemed enormous fun, but don’t be under the illusion that as a student this is something you can dip into and opt out of at will. Brunetti is at pains to point out that each session is built on principles learned in previous chapters and as well as the more playful exercises the stricter assignments must be adhered to or the benefit of the book will be lost.

Before kicking off Ivan talks about computers, correction (some forms of white-out are less suited than others for material you want to archive in perpetuity) and terminology: good on him for actively ditching two of my personal shudder-words, “alternative” and “independent”, to which I have always added the term “small press” whose use in my general vicinity normally elicits a swift kick to the crotch. (Once more: to call yourself “small press” only leads to your work being dismissed by the majority as irrelevant and less than lucrative when we’re actually making a considerable fortune from the likes of Lizz Lunney and Marc Ellerby.) His criticism of the political cartoon was unexpected but made a certain degree of sense (I do mean single-panel cartoon, though I suspect Brunetti includes strips at which point he loses my vote) so again it did at least make me think.

Importantly, he also talks about reproduction and reduction, and what that does to your own original art because that’s not what your punters will see. Given that they will encounter your work on a printed page, it’s crucial to consider that process and learn from it accordingly.

LINK

SLH

Dodgem Logic #8 (£3-50, Knockabout) by Alan Moore, Michael Moorcock, Melinda Gebbie, Kevin O’Neil, more.

“Great News For Readers Inside!”

Ah, how right Alan is. Whenever you read those words on the front of your favourite comic it spelled doom! Or, as Moore writes in the editorial:

“What this meant was that the publisher was an alcoholic bankrupt reduced to sleeping in his car, and that your favourite periodical (let’s say it was boy’s picture weekly SPURT) was being merged with something you wouldn’t read if they paid you to (perhaps the inferior publication for toddlers, DRIBBLE) and would henceforth be known as DRIBBLE & SPURT. It’d feature all the shittest characters from both comics, and after about six weeks someone would take this mutant hybrid that shouldn’t live out behind the cowshed and put it out of its misery with a shovel.”

Can you see where Alan is going with this? Yes, sadly this is the last issue of DODGEM LOGIC, at least for a while. Funded out of Alan’s own pocket, it has yet to break even; which is a shame because with each successive issue both the production values and the content have soared with Moore presiding over them in mock dictatorial mode, effortlessly entertaining us at his own expense. Moore’s quarterly “glog” this time sees him reminiscing about the arrival of issue #7 – all six thousand copies stacked on pallets outside on the pavement – during one of this winter’s many snowstorms. Unfortunately for our much-loved meta-man he miscalculated, and happened to be there at the time:

“I couldn’t just stand by and let [my friends] do all the work, or at least not out in the street with people passing by where it might look bad, so I moved a pack of two of the magazines inside and then pretended that I’d had a stroke so I could go for a sit-down.”

As for his massive new novel, Jerusalem, it’s finally nearing completion.

“I’ve since written another couple of chapters, so only seven more to go and then you can all tell me it’s not as good as D.R. & QUINCH.”

Calluz gives us a harrowing account of her run-in with Northampton Borough Council when they called the bailiffs in on her for missing two months of council tax payments, heaping extra charges on her even though she met the deadline they set her; Norman Adams rails at the injustice of sweeping service cuts at the same time that the government cancels Vodafone’s bill for £6 billion in unpaid taxes; and wonderfully there are comic pages too: a beautiful silent piece from Kevin LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN O’Neill, a witty repurposing by Steve Aylett of a fey old comic starring a boy so squeaky clean he thinks he’s made out of wax, and a one-page mockery by Lee Healey & Barney Farmer on readers of a certain xenophobic tabloid called ‘Mal De Mail’.

Anyway: A4, over 70 pages long, great value for money. All issues kept permanently in stock.

SLH

Caligula #1 (£2-99, Avatar) by David Lapham & German Nobile.

Oookaaay, no sample copy on the shelves for this one! They’re all firmly bagged and tightly sealed: please bring to the counter if you want a gander within and your voice has actually broken.

How can one possibly match the depravity of sex-strewn zombie comic CROSSED? You get SILVERFISH’s David Lapham to write the fully authorised biography of Emperor Caligula, and you just ask him to tell it like it was.

No, that’s not what it is. No messing about with the lunatic’s formative years, it’s straight to gang-rape and pillage as teenaged Junius returns from selling his olive oil at market to find his homestead confiscated, his family mutilated and his mother… Look, did we really need to see that? Junius sets out in search of revenge, which is a pretty tall order if your target is the Emperor of Rome, so it’s time for some rest and reconnaissance. Following some guardsmen as they come off duty leads Junius to discovering them cumming off-duty down at the local bathhouse, but at least that gives Junius something to play with. By the time this opening episode closes his olive oil is no longer extra-virgin. Some of you are going to find this almost as hard to swallow as Junius does, whilst the slightly blurry painted art will also divide opinion.

What I can certainly say is that a) there has been no compromise on Avatar’s part on the explicit nature of the contents (okay, we didn’t see Junius’ four-year-old nephew raped either before or after he’d been decapitated, which is no small mercy) and 2) the cliffhanger was totally unexpected so I have absolutely no idea what to expect from issue two except sales.

Please don’t imagine that if you bring this to the counter that we’ll suspect you’re sick in the head. We’ll know it to be true. Thank God I can buy the beast after-hours while none of you are looking.

‘Caligula Syndrome’ is easily the best song Marc Almond’s sung since the days of The Willing Sinners. Switch on your speakers and crank it up loud:

LINK

Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank s/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon.

“I can’t believe you’re actually doing this..!”
“You’re a monster and I’m killing you. It’s not complicated.”

The Punisher’s reason for living is to eliminate people he doesn’t like. Not for Frank, the moral vagaries of two wrongs and a right. He’s not here to soliloquise, he’s here to blow people’s heads off, and time wasted weighing the scales of justice is time that could be far more effectively spent with an Uzi, a six-pack of hand-grenades and a mortuary full of Mafiosi. For the creators of PREACHER, it’s one long opportunity for some seriously black comedy as Frank slaughters his way to the top, both disarming and dismembering an increasingly grotesque Ma Gnucci. Anything and everything is a weapon to Frank: imagine what he can do in a zoo.

And as with PREACHER, it’s friendship and loyalty which form the heart of the book, coming this time courtesy of the unsuspecting naïfs he’s shacked up with: Spacker Dave, the over-excitable man of many piercings whom I’ve since described as a human curtain rail; Mr. Bumpo the balloon-shaped pizza addict constantly stuck in his own doorway; and shy young Joan who brings Frank freshly baked cookies as tokens of her timid affection. It’s basically the comicbook equivalent of an Arnie film but with a little less overacting and fewer plot holes.

LINK

SLH

Superman: The Black Ring vol 1 h/c (£14-99, DC) by Paul Cornell & Pete Woods.

“Lex Luthor! Kneel before GRODD! You have walked into my ambush! And I have brought my biggest Combat Spoon — to eat your tasty brains!”

Grodd, it should be pointed out, is a giant gorilla.

He slurps down cerebella like oysters from a shell in order to absorb their knowledge. But he’s about to bite off more than he can chew, just as Luthor is about to bite the proverbial dust and so meets his taker: Death of The Endless. Or does he? Well yes, he does meet Death but not under normal circumstances.

In or around Blackest Night, Lex Luthor came in possession of an Orange Lantern Ring and it gave him the power he’s always secretly craved: the power of a superman. Now that power is gone but the Ring’s left its mark of avarice and what he craves now is more: the power of the Black Ring energy which reanimates the dead and seemed to have dissipated as the Black Rings disintegrated. But surely it must have gone somewhere and left tracks in its wake?

The search takes Luthor from Antarctica and Uganda, and with him come assistants who are necessarily obsequious if they don’t want a hole in the head. Also: Deathstroke and Lois Lane. Sorry…? Yes, as the book kicks off Lex Luthor is shacked up with Lois. Or is he?

Cornell likes to hide things and mess around with chronology so that you only discover later what he set up long ago. Sometimes it’s eminently satisfying like the Grodd campaign, but it can also disorientate or even alienate so I’d urge you to perseve through the first chapter where little is what it seems except that Luthor’s desires – his needs – are getting the better of him.

I’m really not sure about the telepathic alien caterpillar and I wince at “quaint” speech patterns like that prick Yoda’s or the “Urgent Decision: emergency extraction! Exclamation: now!” shit here but, as I say, do bear with it because it’s no simple A to B to C fist-fight but something quite cleverly constructed, and only round one. The art’s not bad, though setting each chapter up with a David Finch cover doesn’t do poor Woods any favours because, Hitch and Cassady aside, it’s pretty difficult to match Finch in the superhero stakes.

Oh yes, sorry. Do beware: Superman doesn’t actually appear! It’s a Lex Luthor comic.

LINK

SLH

Batman & Robin vol 1: Batman Reborn s/c (£10-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely, Phillip Tan.

“And so begins in earnest your first week as Batman.”
“Yeah. I wish I could shake the feeling I’m wearing a shroud.”
“That’s better. There’s always pain when the ugliness is burned away. But pain is the beginning of perfection. You’ve been a bad man, Niko, but that’s all over now. Pyg will make you perfect. And then your daughter.”

“It’s an aerosol narcotic! It’s spread like a flu! Addiction you can catch!”

“So… whose neck do I break first?”

What a gloriously coloured cover, like a tangy, double-layered lemon and orange mousse!

Two blistering new chapters in Morrison’s Batman run see the all-new duo with a different dynamic follow a domino trail from Toad to Professor Pyg, the surgeon with a buzzsaw and drill, ringmaster of The Circus Of Strange. This affords Quitely all the opportunity he needs to indulge in grotesqueries from conjoined kung fu triplets, to a very fat, hairy man in a pink, white-frilled tutu. Also, chap with his head on fire.

It also allows Morrison to revel in his love of language, in this case circus slang. The base of operations is in fact, that same funfair of horrors that Commissioner Gordon knows all too well from BATMAN: KILLING JOKE (a book reprised several times later on in this volume), and indeed it’s Dick Grayson’s roots in the circus that provides the key to overcoming his early self-doubts about his new role as Batman, for try as he might he cannot be the same Batman that his mentor Bruce ever was. Here’s Alfred doing a Yorick with Batman’s mask:

“Try to think of your Batman not as a memorial — you and I know he’d hate that — but as a performance. Think of Batman as a great role, like Hamlet, or Willie Loman… or even James Bond. And play it to your strengths. Master Damian will undoubtedly be racing towards trouble as we speak. Curtain’s up. And the spotlight is on you now.”

Damian is indeed a handful as the new Robin, but then he is only ten and was raised by assassins and master criminals. To him Dick seems like that unwanted step-father, usurping the role of his real parent, Bruce. He’s a mechanical genius as well as an effective athlete, though: you wait ’til you see the new flying Batmobile! It’s introduced on the first double-splash page pursuing Toad and co. in a Wind In The Willows-style high-speed car chase through an underground tunnel. Quitely delivers several of these key spectacles: Batman and Robin crashing through their first skylight together, or sky-diving through the Batsignal cast on a cloud! Philip Tan’s no slouch either, taking the even darker second half here into brutal territories as Jason Todd (Robin mark II) returns as the Red Hood with a Scarlet he picked up in part one, determined to make the punishment fit the crime, and whose escalation of vigilante justice attracts the attention of even worse crime.

I’ll just add that there are so many fine touches here, including Damian being the first to treat Alfred like the beck-and-call butler he’s hired to be (“That will be all, Pennyworth.”). Plus there are some illustrated notes from Grant himself in the back wherein he reveals that Professor Pyg’s name is indeed a tip of the hat to Pygmalion, but via Momus’ ‘Pygmalism’ track. We love Momus!

LINK

SLH

Recently Added Merchandise:

Recently added to the website, that is, not stock. Some of these are ancient and nowhere near the shop floor which is almost strictly comics and graphic novels. In most cases we have but one copy so it’s first come, first and last served.

Dan Clowes’ Pogeybait Doll (£29-99)

In his underoos. Ut.

LINK

SLH

Jeff Smith’s ‘Warrior Thorn’ statue from BONE (£125-00)

This has got to be a total rarity now! Hand-painted and 1 of only 1,500.

I think we also have an inflatable Phoney Bone somewhere which is something like 4 foot tall. Email us at page45@page45.com and I’ll look! If I can find it, I’ll sell it to you for 30 quid, or include it with this purchase for free.

LINK

SLH

Giant-Man & The Wasp Mini-Bust (£45-00).

Notice how zoned-out Hank ‘Who Even Am I Today?’ Pym is here. He’s certainly not interested in the winsome one, perched prettily ‘pon his shoulder.

Fact: at this stage in his career, Hank Pym popped pills to change size. As Ant-Man he sniffed gas. To become Goliath, he injected. …And that’s going to end well?!

No, as Yellow Jacket, Hank ‘Size Issues’ Pym hallucinated that he’d killed Goliath then ran off with the Wasp to marry his own girlfriend. He then turned to a certain brand of lager and the Wasp paid the black-eyed price.

Confession: at play with my friends aged 5 I too popped pills pretending to be Giant-Man. Thankfully they were Tic-Tacs which came in mint and orange at the time, so I could either grow or shrink at will. No, really I could…

SLH

Wolverine Weapon X Bust (£89-99).

Truly a life-lesson in sniffing your own armpits.

SLH

Ghost Rider Mini-Bust (£39-99)

This is what you look like immediately after your 60th series has been cancelled.

SLH

Frank, Pupshaw & Pushpaw Doll Set (£45-00)…

Frank, Pupshaw and Pushpaw are the three main characters from Jim Woodring’s classic fantasy comic FRANK, loved by fans all over the world. Now their soft-vinyl & PVC figures are available for the first time, as a three-in-one boxed set. Arms, hands, legs, feet, and neck move for Frank, and tails move for both Pupshaw and Pushpaw. Beautifully sculpted in Japan, the figures stand well-balanced next to each other. Frank is about 6 1-/2″ tall, Pushpaw is about 4″ tall, and Pupshaw is about 2 3/4″ tall. Comes in a special original art box designed by Jim Woodring. Limited edition of 1,000.

[We’ve already sold five – ed.]

JR

Actually that last one sounds suspiciously like the producer’s own hype but it’s not inaccurate and in any case Jonathan is now on paternity leave following the birth of Isabella Sophia D’Arcy Rigby to Jonathan and Joanna on April 1st, 3.48am. Mother and child are doing very well indeed, cheers. The father is somewhat shell-shocked!

Congratulations, guys!

Also Arrived:

Except they haven’t! Our delivery ended up somewhere in Perthshire. They’ll all be in tomorrow morning and straight on the shelves, so please check back in tomorrow night and I should have added them.

Here we go, then (I’ll reprint next week):

vol 15: Rose Red (£13-50, Vertigo) by Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Inaki Miranda, Andrew Pepoy, Dan Green, Chrissie Zullo, Dave Johnson, Kate McElroy, J.H. Williams III, Joao Ruas, Adam Hughes
Legend Of The Scarlet Blades h/c (£22-50, Humanoids) by Saverio Tenuta
Farscape Uncharted Tales: D’Argo’s Quest s/c (£9-99, Boom!) by Keith R. A. Decandido & Caleb Cleveland
Star Wars Omnibus: At War With Empire vol 1 (£19-99, Dark Horse) by various
Marvel Zombies vol 5 s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Fred Van Lente & Kano, Michael W. Kaluta, Felix Ruiz, Fernando Blanco, Frank Brunner
Avengers: Avengers Prime h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alan Davis
Chaos War s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente & Khoi Pham, Reilly Brown,
Deadpool Corps vol 1: Pool-Pocalypse Now s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Victor Gischler & Rob Liefeld, Marat Mychaels
Spider-Man: One Moment In Time s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Joe Quesada, David Michelinie & Joe Quesada, Paolo Riveria, Danny Mini, Richard Isanove, Paul Ryan
Bunny Drop vol 3 (£9-99, Yen) by Yumi Unita
Outlaw Prince s/c (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Rob Hughes & Thomas Yeates, Michael William Kaluta
Red: Better R.E.D. Than Dead s/c (£10-99, DC) by various
Reunion s/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Pascal Girard
Robert Jordan’s New Spring s/c (£18-99, Tor) by Robert Jordan, Chuck Dixon & Mike Miller, Harvey Tolibao, Joseph Cooper
From Hell h/c (£32-00, Knockabout) by Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell
Fantastic Four vol 3 s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickman & Neil Edwards
K-ON! vol 2 (£8-99, Yen Press) by Kakifly
Kindling (£24-99, Chronicle Books) by James Jean
Samurai Harem vol 7 (£9-99, Tokyopop) by Yu Minamoto
Incredible Hulk vol 3: World War Hulks s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Greg Pak, Scott Reed, Bill Mantlo & Paul Pelletier, Miguel Munera, Mike Mignola, Gerry Talaoc
Green Lantern: Secret Origin (New Edition) s/c (£10-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis

And remember, you can order by email or phone individual comics like:

Fear Itself #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction & Stuart Immonen
Uncanny X-Men #534.1 (£2-25, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Carlos Pacheco

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