Reviews June 2011 week three

 

There’s one particular sequence involving a violin string and a music score which is a visual triumph: a fusion then cascade so clever it is breathtaking.

 - Stephen on Fish + Chocolate

 

Congress Of The Animals h/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Jim Woodring.

I was going to read the latest Jim Woodring in the garden this fine Sunday morning until the weather rebelled and the seven a.m. sunshine turned into yet another grey and drizzly day. So I went back to bed instead. Bed is a fine place to read Jim’s work, especially if you doze off and let the imagery percolate through your brain. I once dreamed in Jim Woodring: huge, hollow, cylindrical clouds made out of black lattice: wrought iron rotating in the sky.

Woodring’s fables are overwhelmingly voyages of discovery either for the incurably curious Frank or – in the case of WEATHERCRAFT – Manhog. Manhog usually discovers that the world is cruel, but then Manhog’s not the best example of kindly altruism himself. Frank usually discovers he shouldn’t have meddled yet never learns his lesson. On consideration you hope he never will.

Here, however, he is propelled into his latest dream journey through Whim (bright blue and crescent-headed) taking exception to a fellow creature sticking his tongue out at him from a barrage balloon drifting up above. You don’t goad Whim. Whim retaliates with a rock that punctures the balloon whose contents are jettisoned in the vain hope of remaining aloft, and that’s how Frank finds a full croquet set landing on his lawn. What happens next is so devastating it makes your worst nightmares about subsidence at home sound like a laughter track. There follows as ever a series of cause-and-effects, initially driven by the bad influence of the beast from the balloon, which results in the one ending I never expected to see. It feels, in fact, like a fond farewell.

But just as Woodring’s wordless walkabouts are voyages of discovery for his anthropomorphic protagonists, so they should be for each of us. Wonders wait around every corner, so I’ll leave you to wonder what wonders they’ll be.

What I can promise you is the same, exquisite level of craftsmanship you’ll have become accustomed to. It wasn’t simply based on Mark’s adoration of this master’s oeuvre that we made WEATHERCRAFT Comicbook Of the Month.

The gondola sequence may be my favourite because I love it when Woodring draws water. There his trademark wavy lines with their subtle gradations are employed to maximum effect with rippled reflections gently broken by the wake. There’s a beautiful blue jungle underneath the dust jacket, while the dust jacket itself features a spot-varnish cameo framed in shiny bronze on a cover the colour of a speckled green egg shell.

You can tell I’m in love, can’t you?

LINK

SLH

Fish + Chocolate (Signed) (£9-99) by Kate Brown.

A sublime confluence of words and pictures with the palette of Paul Duffield and Josh Middleton; if you love the art on FREAKANGELS or SKY BETWEEN BRANCHES you will adore these three stories, each of which is in its way is about parenthood.

The first two feature single mothers: the first with two boys, the second with a young girl perfectly content to play round their countryside cottage and its gently sloping Garden of new Earthly Delights. There she finds a cherry tree laden with fruit. She picks one. Her mother composes on the piano upstairs.

The boys miss their father whom they haven’t seen in months, and the oldest wants a television in his room. Their mother argues with her editor but meets up with a friend. It’s a perfectly lovely day and they have much to discuss. There’s an odd-looking man with barely any eyebrows sitting on his lawn by the path. He whistles through a split blade of grass. The boys are curious.

The tunes may not come easily especially when distracted and the man is a little unnerving, but everything on the surface seems pretty much serene. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find skeletons buried and sudden trauma in store, as the tranquility of sleepy suburbia and that bucolic beauty are shredded by shrieks of wholly unexpected violence. I’m not even going to touch on the third tale (although sneakily I have) but the cover’s stark warning of “explicit content” is far from alarmist.

Oh, but this artist can write! Nothing here is predictable or simplistic, and it’s a joy to discover a brand new voice unlike any I’ve encountered before, yet the art will sell itself to you all on its own. There’s one particular sequence involving a violin string and a music score which is a visual triumph: a fusion then cascade so clever it is breathtaking. Moreover we have another contender for best rain ever in comics as the sky bursts open, the water cascades and the downpour drowns the cherry tree in a curtain of spray.

Oh yes, and our copies are signed.

SLH

Celluloid h/c (£25-99, Fantagraphics) by Dave McKean.

There’s a surprising paucity of genuine erotica in contemporary British and American comics. Europe’s positively engorged with it.

There’s LOST GIRLS by husband-and-wife team Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie, as reviewed on our site by the delectable Ryz Glover in exactly the spirit the book was intended and, of course, Uncle Alan wrote the joyful and often hilarious 25,000 YEARS OF EROTIC FREEDOM. Fantagraphics have an entire imprint called Eros, but there’s nothing there that really appeals to me, and – I’ve just realised – there’s certainly a history of it because we stock both volumes of the EROTIC COMICS hardcovers!

In a surprise move, then, along comes the creator of NARCOLEPSY, PICTURES THAT TICK, CAGES, all those SANDMAN covers and so much more (stick “McKean” in our search engine), with a spectacularly lush, surreal and expressionistic affair which engages the mind as well as refreshing the parts which other beers fail to reach.

“A woman arrives at an apartment, but her partner can’t get away from work. She is disappointed and settles in for a night alone, but finds a film projector with a reel of film loaded. The film is scratched and blurry, but she can make out a couple making love. When the film burns out, a door is revealed which leads to a misty town square… and a series of fantastical sexual encounters.”

Here’s McKean himself:

“There are so many comics about violence. I’m not entertained or amused by violence, and I’d rather not have it in my life. Sex, on the other hand, is something the vast majority of us enjoy, yet it rarely seems to be the subject of comics.”

The opening sequence set in the apartment is delicately drawn in pen and ink with very light, sandy washes, but as soon as our Alice steps through the door or slips down the proverbial rabbit hole, all manner of media are employed in a writhing frenzy of groin and loin with a heavy emphasis on oral pleasuring. It’s at its best when closest to Picasso, and it does come close indeed. What I didn’t like at all were the relatively untreated photo sequences. They felt a little tawdry to me, and dated. But for all I know they’ll be others’ favourites.

Gorgeous cover, beautiful production values!

LINK

SLH

Isle Of 100,000 Graves (£10-99, Fantagraphics) by Fabien Vehlmann & Jason.

“I need me some sailors to find a treasure.”
“Get lost.”
“It’s the treasure of the isle of 100,000 graves.”
“The legendary treasure… The isle of 100,000 graves. Many have sought it but none has ever returned.”
“I found a map that shows where the island is. I’ll guide you if take me with you.”
“Have you got this map on you?”
“No. I ate it.”
“How long ago?”
“Couple of days.”
“Oh well. How do I know you aren’t making this up?”
“Here’s a scrap of the map I kept as proof.”
“Alright then, we’ll go with the ugly little girl.”
“My name’s Gwenny.”
“Ha, ha. You’re plucky. I like that. Three cheers for Gwenny, me hearties!”

Of course the pirate Captain has absolutely no intention of sharing the treasure with Gwenny, he’s every intention of feeding her to the sharks once she’s led them to the fabled isle. However, Gwenny is already at least five steps ahead of him, and everyone else for that matter. She’s not even looking for treasure, instead she’s actually on the trail of her father, who left home looking for the mythical treasure himself several years previously after finding a mysterious bottle with a map to the isle inside, and has never been seen since. Gwenny always believed her father was still alive, and one day finds a similar bottle. Believing it’s a message from her father that he’s alive and well, and in need of rescuing, she decides it’s up to her to lead the attempt.

Except… except… the isle isn’t quite what it seems, and the message she received most definitely didn’t come from her father, for the isle is a sinister, sinful place, perhaps not too surprising given its name, hiding a dark and unexpected secret of its own… in addition to the 100,000 graves that is… and it’s most definitely not treasure. Will Gwenny be able to outwit the pirates to get passage to the isle, and outfox the evil opponents she encounters there?

This is an absolutely hilarious adventure romp from Vehlmann and Jason, which minded me of (and really made me want to re-read) Tintin and also Lewis Trondheim’s BOURBON ISLAND and previous Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month WALKER BEAN. Fans of Vehlmann’s previous bonkers collaboration 7 PSYCHOPATHS with Sean Phillips will already know he can write a good ‘off-the-wall and cartwheeling down the cliff behind’ tale and Jason’s hangdog art style perfectly complements the deadpan humour he’s penned here. A child running rings round all and sundry is a tale that’s oft been told, but rarely with the panache and wit displayed you’ll find within these pages.

LINK

JR

Baltimore The Plague Ships h/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden & Ben Stenbeck.

“Is someone there?”
“You’ve made a terrible mistake…”

Regular Page 45 review readers will know I am an unabashed Mignola fan, and love my HELLBOY and BPRD. What is fantastic about Mignola, though, is rather than just continue endlessly with the same characters which does inevitably get old irrespective of the quality of the writing, he’s also producing wonderful new works like this one and also spin-offs using less exposed characters like LOBSTER JOHNSON and WITCHFINDER which, albeit stemming from the same twisted occult mythos, provide a way of telling yet more complex, classic stories in a genre he really is the modern master of.

BALTIMORE PLAGUE SHIPS gives us the pustulent story of Lord Henry Baltimore, a man with more stiff upper lip than the troutiest, poutiest cosmetic surgery victim could ever wish for, and a never-say-die attitude to match. And it’s precisely that sort of British bulldog resilience that’s landed him in the living nightmare he now finds himself. Knocked unconscious on the field of battle in WW1 during a suicidal midnight over-the-top charge, ordered by the idiotic top brass safely tucked away behind the lines at HQ, he’s appalled to come round and find gigantic bat-like creatures with glowing red eyes literally draining the blood from his dead and dying comrades strewn around him.

When one particularly loathsome specimen notices the waking Lord Henry and decides to make him the next tasty treat, he manages to fend the creature off with a bayonet in a last-ditch, desperate act, gouging the creature’s eye out in the process. Even so, were it not for the fast approaching sunrise, he’d still have been easy pickings for the enraged creatures who seem unnerved by the rapidly increasing light levels and flee the battlefield.

Subsequently coming to in the middle of the night in a field hospital, minus an amputated leg, he’s approached by a cloak-clad fiend missing an eye who chillingly informs Lord Henry that whilst he and his vampiric brethren had previously been content to merely hide in the shadows, feeding on those who were dead and dying, that thanks to Lord Henry’s intervention, they are as of now at war with humanity.

And the visiting vampire who goes by the name of Haigus doesn’t just mean in the wider sense either; it’s a confrontation that’s soon taken to Lord Henry’s home front as his wife and all his family are massacred and turned into undead themselves after a rather unwelcome social call. Although, Haigus might well just have made a fatal mistake, errr… if that’s possible for the undead… as Lord Henry is not the sort of man you’d want to cross, particularly if you’re a vampire and he’s got a cross or two handy himself. From that point on, as far as Lord Henry’s concerned, he’s already living in hell and now has absolutely nothing to lose. He’s living solely for revenge, and he’s prepared to follow Haigus wherever it takes him as the vampire begins to beat a retreat to the Old World in an increasingly desperate attempt to shake off his pursuer.

Superb horror writing from Mignola and Christopher Golden, with appropriately atmospheric art from Ben Stenbeck, who appears to have followed the unwritten rule of illustrating a Mignola story, which is to evoke Mignola’s own art style. I do honestly wonder whether it is something that Mignola insists upon actually, but if he does, fair enough, because it really works and ensures these works feel like an addition to a literary canon. I’m already relishing the next instalment of BALTIMORE like a vampire plotting a trip to the blood bank.

JR

Sweet Tooth vol 3: Animal Armies (£10-99, Vertigo) by Jeff Lemire.

Strikingly coloured by ace Alan Moore photographer Jose Villarrubia, this is one almighty climax and conflagration as Jeppherd gathers an army of mixed allegiance and dubious loyalty to rescue the captive children.

And they are children first and foremost: human/animal hybrids, their eyes wide and tearful, their ears tagged like cattle. All of them were born after the pandemic that wiped out American civilisation except for young Gus, and he doesn’t even have a belly button. What will the captors’ scientist discover buried in the grave alongside Gus’s father? Not his mother, that’s for sure. How will the scientist react? It’s quite the revelation, and I do mean that in a Biblical sense.

From the creator of ESSEX COUNTY and THE NOBODY, this book is a joy to read, which is odd given how horrific, how cruel the contents are. I luxuriate in its free-flowing, expressionistic art and have enormous respect to its editors for letting Lemire do it his unusual way. The fate of Jeppherd’s son is staggeringly brutal, while Gus himself has begun to have new dreams of an older man with antlers: a hunter with a bow and full quiver striding out of the rocky plains with just two words:

“Not yet.”

LINK

SLH

Generation Hope vol 1: The Future’s A Four Letter Word s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Kieron Gillen & Salva Espin, Jamie McKelvie.

Translated from Japanese (I’ve been practising), someone is making an exhibition of himself:

“Mr. Kenji! Ah. I’m extraordinarily sorry I’ve disturbed you… I’m equally sorry if I’m stepping in your latest masterwork. ‘Black Noxious Goo’ certainly is a new direction. Everyone is going to be thrilled. What is it, actually? No, don’t tell me. I don’t need to know what taboo the enfant terrible of the Tokyo art scene is violating. But I do need to know when it’ll be ready. ‘The Future Is A Four-Letter Word’ has been booked for months. You promised new work. Major work…”
“Almost done. Almost ready. Almost finished. Everything finished everything finished. Becoming art. Art ideas. Ideas not real. Becoming art. Ideas aren’t real. Therefore: are you real? Is anything real?”
“Kenji… Are you all right?”
“I am becoming art. Want… a preview?”

Ugh. Someone just got a private viewing, and they didn’t even get a glass of wine first.

The first mutant born since HOUSE OF M, Hope, has returned from the future and her presence in our present appears to have catalysed five further manifestations. Each has been violently unstable until Hope’s laying-on-of-hands and now the first four have joined her to track down the fifth in Tokyo, Japan, where Cyclops and Wolverine are about to see life hall-of-mirror art in a truly fucked up fashion. Because so far they’ve been lucky: so far these new mutants – these new Lights as Hope calls them – have just been physically unstable. This Light she might want to switch off then rip out its fuse box altogether.

It was an unusually fine first issue for a mutant superhero series, each of the Lights on their way to Tokyo giving thought to their predicament. Although Teon is more instinct than thought, for unlike Hank McCoy he really has been reduced to a beast (“When no one’s watching, he rubs himself against the furniture in a way I’m sure is improper.”) and when it comes to combat it’s all fight, flight or mate. Yes, there’s plenty of combat on offer because what they encounter on landing comes in the form of a great many tentacles, a self-made cyborg of muscle and metal then a massive purple-black dome of explosion.

Has someone been reading AKIRA? I fully expected to see Logan on a turbo-charged scarlet motorcycle.

The art is a far cry from the neoclassical photorealism of Hitch, Finch or Lee. It’s closer to Cloonan or Kelly on a superficial level. But Espin does the horror particularly well and when you finally see Kenji in his full mutated glory… you’ll think AKIRA again! On the other hand when you see McKelvie’s final chapter with its tilted heads, enquiring minds and oh so subtle expressions, you will rue the day he was passed over to draw the series from scratch. We’d have sold five times the number of copies with Jamie on board.

So yes, the final issue back on Utopia is by far my favourite. As you’ll already know now that he’s taken over UNCANNY X-MEN, Gillen writes a mean Magneto and is able to articulate arguments with eloquence and precision. Here’s Hope’s fresh perspective on mutant/human relationships as she gives Professor X a drumming – in Magneto’s presence – for calling the old academy a “School For Gifted Youngsters”:

“The problem isn’t humans. The problem’s prejudice. That hurts everyone.
“I mean, I’ve known aliens, robots, post-humans, walking, talking insecty things… cyborgs.
“Thinking we’re the “gifted” ones… we need to be able to get past that. We’re all just people, they’re all just people. And people who don’t see that… they’re part of the problem. The “gifted and the ungifted” is just “us and them”. That’s what’s wrong.”

She has real fire in her eyes, that one.

LINK

SLH

New Reviews For Older Books

Milk And Cheese (£8-99, Amaze Ink/SLG) by Evan Dorkin.

Love them with money or they’ll hate you with hammers. These dairy products gone bad are educating America – one moron at a time!

This isn’t a review, it’s a misappropriation of Dorkin’s own comedy. If you love Jamie Smart (BEAR, UBU BUBU) then you need this book published long before we even opened: scathing satire, mass destruction, and if you’re an old-skool comic shop then you are in for a kicking. Dozens of short strips which are effortlessly insane with comedy. We’re talking ART D’ECCO on amphetamines, SUGAR BUZZ on a sugar buzz.

We used to have the gorgeous vinyl figure set in stock which included implements of devastation. On the back was the first new Milk & Cheese strips in yoinks although you could probably guess what happened (see “implements of devastation”).

You should also follow the man on Twitter. Two of my favourites:

“Oh, comic book industry. You’ve gained so much experience, when will you level up?”

“Wizard ceasing publication is the End of an Error.”

Amen.

LINK

SLH

Old Reviews New To The Website

Bear vol 2: Demons (£10-99, Amaze Ink) by Jamie Smart.

“Giggle like a kidney!! A second bounty of carnage, profanity and friendship hugs (lie), as our furry tyke romps through a world filled with TV, idiots, and a certain homicidal cat.”

The best pieces are always the most off-the-wall, like the court scenes here I couldn’t possibly describe, requiring (as all the best comics should) that you see the art that complements, contradicts or otherwise puts a spin on the dialogue. But at his best I maintain that Smart is Evan Dorkin’s successor (MILK & CHEESE introduction by Evan Dorkin: “Christ! I don’t know whether to hug it or kill it!” “This is America. We can do both.”), might even give some of the Bryan Lee O’Malley crowd a laugh, and at his worst still manages to satisfy the appetite of our till. How else can I describe it? FLUFFY for very sick people. Go and take a look when you’re next in the shop.

LINK

SLH

Bourbon Island (£10-99, First Second) by Apollo, Lewis Trondheim…

“I have to tell you Mr. Despentes, I’m not going to follow you into the mountains to hunt birds. I’m going away Mr. Despenstes, because I’m going to join the pirates who are my true brothers.”
“Don’t be silly Raphael, there are no more pirates. And in any event, there is no way you’d be able to drink enough rum to follow one of their conversations.”

What a delightful treasure trove of a book, much like the one Raphael the ornithologist’s assistant dreams of finding to the dismissive amusement of Mr. Despentes, who also has his own dreams of finding the now presumed extinct dodo and making himself a timeless legend in naturalist circles. Set on Bourbon Island, a tropical paradise already lost to corrupt officials as the end of the age of piracy gives way to rampant colonialism. The last of the pirate captains have all been executed or laid down their arms except for the notorious Captain Buzzard who rumour has it has been recently captured and is being held on the island. Will his legendary treasure be lost forever? Will his former crew give up their newfound legitimate status as colonists to rescue him? Or will the villainous colonial officials manage to get their hands on the loot?

Everything about this book is beautiful. Apollo and Trondheim’s writing evokes memories of bygone times where people could still make a name for themselves as adventurers, and everything is just so wonderfully observed and articulated. From the patient paternal relationship between Mr. Despentes and the headstrong Raphael to the dastardly scheming and plotting of the greedy Governor.

Trondheim’s artwork is just amazing here, I’ve seldom seen inking of this deliberately untidy type convey such incredible three-dimensional depth to some of the panels. I found myself really studying the artwork to understand exactly how he was doing it. My conclusion? He’s just very, very good. And even the paper of the book itself is a masterstroke with its yellowed parchment-esque look and deliberately rough-cut edging immediately putting you in mind of treasure maps before you’ve even started reading. Brilliant stuff and it’s made me want to check out Trondheim’s other works.

LINK

JR

Also Arrived:

Some books to be reviewed next week. Softcover versions of books previously out in hardcover may be already up in the shopping area. Please use our search engine.

The Game (£4-99) by Anders Nilsen
The Monolinguist (£5-99) by Anders Nilsen
Anya’s Ghost (£12-99, FirstSecond) by Vera Brosgol
Level Up (£11-99, FirstSecond) by Gene Luen Yang & Thien Pham
Page By Paige (£7-50, Amulet) by Laura Lee Gulledge
Bad Company (£19-99, 2000AD) by Peter Milligan & Brett Ewins, Jim McCarthy, Steve Dillon
5 Is The Perfect Number (£12-99, Jonathan Cape) by Igort
New York: The Big City (£13-50, Norton) by Will Eisner
Walking Dead vol 14: No Way Out (£10-99, Image) by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn
Star Wars: Invasion vol 2: Rescues (£16-99, Dark Horse) by Tom Taylor & Colin Wilson
Star Wars: The Old Republic vol 2: Threat Of Peace (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Rob Chesney & Alex Sanchez
Arkham Asylum: Madness s/c (£10-99, DC) by Sam Kieth
Uncanny X-Men: Quarantine (£12-99, Marvel) by Matt Fraction, Kieron Gillen & Greg Land
Hulk: Gray s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jeff Loeb & Tim Sale
Secret Warriors vol 5: Night h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Jonathan Hickmann & Mirko Colak, Alessandro Vitti, David Marquez
Deadpool vol 7: Space Oddity h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Daniel Way & Carlo Barberi, Sheldon Vella, Bong Dazo
Uncanny X-Force vol 2: Deathlok Nation h/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Rick Remender & Esad Ribic, Rafael Alburquerque
Spawn Origins vol 11 (£10-99, Image) by Todd McFarlane & Greg Capullo
Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro vol 1 (£8-50, Yen) by Satoko Kiyuduki
Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro vol 2 (£8-50, Yen) by Satoko Kiyuduki
Geijutsuka Art Design Class vol 3 (£8-50, Yen) by Satoko Kiyuduki
Spice & Wolf vol 4 (£7-99, Yen) by Isuna Hasekura & Keito Koume
Maoh: Juvenile Remix vol 5 (£6-99, Viz) by Kotaro Isaka & Megumi Osuga
Bride’s Story vol 1 h/c (£12-99, Yen) by Kaoru Mori

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World 6 Inch Scale Figure – Purple Shirted Scott (£12-99)
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World 6 Inch Scale Figure – Green Shirted Scott (£12-99)

The Hieronymus Bosch reference in MILK + CHOCOLATE was far from idle, I promise.

 - Stephen

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