But it’s quietly conversational and drawn with great dignity, Anders climbing back up the rocks and out of the frame, leaving the waters to lap on the shore.
– Stephen on the re-issue of Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow
Sharaz-De: Tales From The Arabian Nights h/c (£24-99, Archaia) by Sergio Toppi…
This publication, in English at long last, was scheduled long before the passing of the great man in September 2012 – it just took a little too long to appear. It’s a crying shame how little of Toppi’s work, like so many Italian and continental creators, has been translated into English over the years. We get crumbs, when in fact there is a veritable feast of material available in their respective native languages. An Italian friend – well, my bank manager actually – is forever showing works to me by Italian creators I was hitherto unaware of. It’s just a shame my Italian is still insufficient to appreciate them.
You don’t however need to speaka da lingo as Captain Alberto Bertorelli might say to appreciate the beautiful art and Toppi, therefore, along with many others like say, Barron Storey, falls into the category of creator who whilst perhaps not being hugely well known to the wider comics audience, is certainly known and appreciated by those within the industry. Simone Bianchi is someone who cited Toppi as inspiration, for example, and just comparing ASTONISHING X-MEN: GHOST BOX S/C and this work I instantly see that. The long striated set of flowing lines to create texture was a trademark touch of Toppi and I remember whilst reading GHOST BOX that it reminded me of something but I couldn’t think what. Ashley Wood too apparently was inspired by him and he clearly influenced a whole host of early era 2000AD artists too, I reckon, thinking back. In other’s words, an artist’s artist.
This work is an evocative, passionate and vibrant rendering of the tale of the legendary storyteller of A Thousand And One Nights, Sharaz-De (one of a thousand and one spellings), who voluntarily put herself in jeopardy but eventually won the heart of King Shahryar and ended up being made Queen. The initial chapter is given over to the story of King Shahryar, his brother and their unfaithful wives, and precisely how Sharaz-De ended up in the position of having to spin a different nightly yarn so that the said King wouldn’t chop off her head. The subsequent chapters feature eleven of the tales beautifully illustrated in Toppi’s unique fashion. Given it’s such a visual sell I have therefore popped some interior art up so you can have a look. Shame Archaia didn’t get this out a couple of months earlier as I reckon we would have shifted a fair few copies as Christmas presents.
Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow h/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Anders Nilsen (with Cheryl Weaver).
“Did you know Amy’s waters broke at the ceremony? While I was down by the water scattering your ashes, her waters broke. She gave birth later that night. Spooky, huh? Did you have a hand in that? It doesn’t seem like your style, but that last week in the hospital you were developing a goofy sense of humour. So maybe it was you, or maybe someone did it on your behalf. He’s a cute kid, Asher. I just met him a couple of weeks ago, when your parents were in town, at Lula.
“So that’s me, down below, to scatter your ashes. I slipped on the rocks once, and almost went into the water.
“Paul kept telling me not to be disappointed, that these things never happen exactly how you expect. The wind will shift, the ashes will blow in your face. But it didn’t. It went perfectly. Your ashes scattered perfectly, dissolving into a creamy white cloud in the water, drifting down among the rocks.”
From the creator of BIG QUESTIONS, one of my three favourite books of 2011, DOGS & WATER (an early Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month), and those two self-published beauties THE MONOLINGUIST PAPER UPDATE and THE GAME which Anders sent us himself, this originally came out in 2006. That was, unfortunately, just a little too soon after we lost our own Mark for any of us to feel comfortable reviewing it with more than a couple of industry quotations.
It’s a calm and contemplative collection of thoughts, comics, photographs, postcards and drawings beautifully compiled by Anders in memory of his fiancée, Cheryl Weaver, who died in 2005 from cancer. Gentle, unsensationalist and far from maudlin or self-obsessed, it begins, characteristically, with a comical letter sent by Anders to his little sister Ella about a camping trip he’d taken with Cheryl which, in every conceivable way, went disastrously wrong. It’s a catalogue of cumulative, comedy cock-ups: alarm dislodged, car keys lost, a Biblical density of flies at the campsite, a battery-buggered torch, ravenous racoons crunching crisps in the tent and finally the tent abandoned for the freezing-cold shore. There’s no painful irony of hindsight, just an endearing account of time spent together, laughing in the face of adversity.
The couple are back on the road between parents for Christmas 2003 and, would you believe it? Disaster – nearly a serious one. So that’s Christmas Day and Boxing Day spent in the middle of nowhere, then, but in the photos they’re still smiling. And so it continues in comicbook form when they’re due to fly out to France: portfolio lost but reclaimed at the last minute through an impressive feat of gymnastics, only to be confounded by the dreaded e-ticket. I’ve always dreaded it. I dread it even more now.
Anders notes in the afterword that his travels were always accident-prone before, during and after his time with Cheryl. I can believe it. I just wish I’d remembered that before he came up from London to sign with us: I’d have insisted he drive up the night before!
Anyway, the holiday in Paris and Angoulême during the festival is told in bright, blue-skied photographs with odd snippets of commentary. They manage to hit the coastal town of Arcachon when it’s completely closed down for the season, but still.
And so we come to the sketched-in diary entries of 2005, visiting Cheryl in hospital, hoping it will turn out for the best. There’s much there many will find all-too familiar – about coping and questions, feeling helpless and wondering what more one can do – but for my part I’ve rarely read it articulated so well. The fragility Anders feels is mirrored in the portraits of Cheryl, lying in bed, utterly drained.
It doesn’t turn out for the best, of course, and so we finish up where we began by the side of lake where they were going to be married. It’s a terrible procession, observed from behind, Nilsen carrying his beloved in an urn in his arms. But it’s quietly conversational and drawn with great dignity, Anders climbing back up the rocks and out of the frame, leaving the waters to lap on the shore.
“This story is, obviously, very personal, but ultimately I think it isn’t exclusive. It feels incredibly particular to me, still, but it’s just love and loss. And everyone, for better or worse, can relate to that,” wrote Anders. That’s so very true. In a new author’s note from 2012 Nilsen explains why the book’s gravitational pull on his life led him to leave the book out of print for so long. But I’m glad that it’s back now to strike chords with a new audience.
It concludes with a couple of postcards Anders sent Cheryl, heavily embellished on each side. “The pigeons in Washington look exactly like the ones in Chicago. Only maybe a little more governmental.”
“We must save Medicare,” says the pigeon.
Cursed Pirate Girl h/c (£18-99, Archaia) by Jeremy A. Bastien.
“What business does one so small have afloat those dark waves?”
“What was that? You may think me a spring shower, sir. But I’ve a hurricane in this heart that’d sink the Royal Fleet. So if your old bones would be so kind there’s a pirate here that needs to be squeezed through yer pretty door.”
What a refreshing, exuberant and intoxicating read! Jeremy A. Bastian, as if giddy on grog, liberates himself from all constraints – be they the laws of physics or so many comicbook formulae – to deliver a fantastical romp both above and below the Caribbean high seas which is so rich in detail that you’ll be scanning its nooks and crannies for hours. The lines are ridiculously fine yet as smooth as silk, as shrimp-strewn seaweed swirls to frame the pages or the Pirate Girl is lowered down the starboard hull of a galleon in a cage fashioned in the form of an enormous, ornate teapot. It’s not just ornate, this is bursting with inspiration and imagination, the pages populated by James Gillray grotesques, Sir John Tenniel hybrid creatures; and yes, while I’m think about it, there is more than a little of Lewis Carroll’s fantastical mischief here combined with the anarchy of Tony Millionaire (Maakies etc.), whilst the cluttered galleys and captain’s quarters o’erbrimming with jewel-encrusted treasures are delineated with fine lines as classy as Bernie Wrightson’s FRANKENSTEIN.
Charles Vess, Mike Mignola, David Petersen and Gerard Way line up to praise the book’s originality as the Cursed Pirate Girl and parrot Pepper Dice take a deep breath and dive onto and into a fish, respectively, to journey underwater past fish made from whicker and squabbling swordfish siblings to rise in search of the girl’s missing father, one of five Captains sailing under the Jolly Roger flag in the Omerta Seas. Each ship they board presents a different challenge with new friends or foes, but the Cursed Pirate girl has boundless energy, a quick wit and at least one keen eye, while by the end of this first foray ‘x’ will mark the spot of the other.
This being Archaia, they have gone that extra mile for this new edition’s production with an extended gallery including guest artists galore like David Peterson, Katie Cook, Stephano Gaudiano and Mike Mignola, complete with in-character commentary. Most striking of all, the paper edges are all ruffled – crisply crinkled as if pressed from older pulp slurry – and who could fail to fall in love with attention to detail like that?
Before The Incal – Classic Collection h/c (£33-99, Humanoids) by Alexandro Jodorowsky & Zoran Janjetov…
Cybo-cops stand watch over the smooth teflo-concrete shell of Terra #2014… where lies the City-Shaft… unfathomable depths, whose only illumination is cast by the neon of the lower-level pleasure zone they call the Red Ring, and by the giant hypertube screens that constantly transmit messages day and night from the Prez and his endless clones…
A posh tourist craft of upper-level aristos sinks into the Red Ring’s torrid night…
“I want to party till my halo drops!”
“I just installed a new kitbox and it’s already dripping wet!”
“I’m dying to find someone who’s got the virus!
“Stay together! The area’s crawling with psycho anarchists!”
If you aren’t familiar with THE INCAL, then the rest of this review isn’t necessarily going to make a great deal of sense to you. Quite simply, if you haven’t read that work, you really should as it is a true classic, and just for emphasis I will reprise a Mark Millar quote I used whilst reviewing it, that THE INCAL is “quite simply one of the most perfect comics ever conceived and probably the most beautiful piece of graphic literature ever drawn.”
This material, billed as prequel material, telling the life history of the central Incal character John Difool right up to the moment THE INCAL begins, was written in 6 volumes like the original work. I’m sure that is no coincidence, I’m just not aware of the particular significance, numerical or otherwise, though knowing Jodorowsky and his mystical obsessions, I’m sure there probably is one. Jodorowsky started writing this material in 1988, so pretty much immediately after completing THE INCAL, and the sixth volume came out in 1995. It hasn’t before now been compiled into one sumptuous hardback edition, so firstly, a big hurrah to Humanoids for doing that and getting it back into print.
You’ll note immediately that this time around Jodorowsky didn’t collaborate with his Incal co-creator Moebius, instead working with Zoran Janjetov, with whom he created THE TECHNOPRIEST spin-off series, and who also part-illustrated what was effectively the fifth, and most recent, METABARONS spin-off. Why, I have no idea. Maybe Moebius just fancied doing something different. Similarly, he also worked with someone different (Ladrönn) on the FINAL INCAL material, which will shortly be released in English for the very first time.
The art however is still amazing, and Janjetov has clearly chosen to not stray far from Moebius’ original take on the crazy world of the City-Shaft and its equally insane inhabitants. That relatively seamless continuity is important, I feel, given the deliberately less coherent and frenetic style of story-telling employed by Jodorowsky. THE INCAL is undoubtedly a story of the struggle for spiritual enlightenment, wrapped within several layers of comedy capers, sci-fi farce and space opera, whereas whilst this material does contain some trademark Jodorowsky higher state of consciousness concept moments, it is just far more of an amusing romp.
I do remember being slightly disappointed the last time I read this prequel material, thinking that it wasn’t as good as THE INCAL itself, and I would think that was probably the case for most people, but actually, reading it with the fore-knowledge of what precisely it is, and also isn’t, this time around, I found I absolutely loved it. It’s a fun-filled riotous romp, part Clouseau, part Benny Hill, part Monty Python, which perfectly sets up the masterpiece that follows it.
Adventure Time vol 1 (£10-99, kaboom!) by Ryan North & Shelli Paroline, Braden Lamb…
Every generation has its own animation classics. Whether it’s Tom and Jerry, Scooby Doo, The Simpsons, Ren and Stimpy (really), South Park to probably most recent in Family Guy, only true classics stand the test of time. Whether Adventure Time will join those lauded ranks remains to be seen, but I have my suspicions it just might. It is utterly, utterly pointless to even begin to try and explain the goings on in the Land Of Ooo after the Great Mushroom War as Finn, the last surviving human, and his trusty companion Jake, the talking (and stretchy) dog, roam around in search of adventure, joined by a vast cast of oddball characters like the Bubblegum Princess, The Ice King and Marceline the Vampire Queen.
There doesn’t seem to be a single problem that can’t be solved, nor a single bad guy that can’t be vanquished by repeated punches to the face. Now how is that for a valuable life lesson for today’s kids? For an animation to really succeed though, in addition to being genuinely humorous, it has to have real heart which Adventure Time has in abundance. In particular the Ice King’s various attempts to find true love by kidnapping various Princesses and whisking them off to the dungeon of his ice palace show even the coldest most frosty bad guy in Ooo has a warm, slushy heart. Actually his heart is called Ricardo (voiced by George Takei), but that’s an episode entirely of its own! I think probably the only people who don’t enjoy Adventure Time are those who’ve never watched it. For those people, here is a little youtube montage someone has put together which may just lure you in or convince you cartoons have sunk to an all-time low if you’re anything like my wife! The comic then is simply more of the same!
Avengers vol 4 h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Walter Simonson.
Ties into AVENGERS VS X-MEN, concentrating on the suicide mission embarked on by Thor, the Beast etc, attempting to head off The Phoenix in space. Unbeknownst to the team, one of them has been given a covert sub-mission that has not been sanctioned by Captain America.
I can’t claim that Simonson is on anything like the epic form he was thirty years ago on THOR, but still, neither am I. Knowing it’s a suicide mission made for one particularly fine and fond farewell.
This is the penultimate volume in Bendis’ epic, decade-long run before a most unexpected Avengers Emergency Signal dares its core members to hope.
Amazing Spider-Man #700 (£5-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Humberto Ramos, various.
Well, until the next one. Give them a year.
And it’s so set up for that, the way this issue ends. They can’t kill Peter Parker long-term: there’s far too much invested in the license as it stands. And if you think I’m being overly cynical then I present to you the last five years’ worth of Marvel fuckwittery: titles mutating only to be resurrected complete with missing issue numbers and oh fuck am I bored of that. We’re not even talking about the revolving, ho-hum, diddums door which is corporate death: we’re talking about THE INCREDIBLE HULK becoming THE INCREDIBLE HERCULES, a new HULK #1 spinning out, then the whole thing reverting to… Okay, I just bored myself.
This bored me too. I don’t mind being shocked and surprised. I love that! I don’t even mind being outraged (I am a past master of outrage myself – I just peered out of my bedroom window and inadvertently flashed Loughborough Road my knickers). But I mind being bored, and Marvel just bored me fucking rigid again, not with the story but with their insistence on temporarily ending a title to sell twice as many copies of this and then THE SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN it spawns.
Read Amazing Spider-Man #700 while suspended upside down from a lamp post. You won’t lose much more than your lunch.
Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy
All of these will be up online but not all of them linked to just yet: pop the titles in our search engine instead! Reviews already online if they’re new formats of previous books. Otherwise the most interesting will come under the microscope next week, while the rest will remain with their Diamond previews acting in lieu of reviews.
Fatale vol 2: The Devil’s Business (£10-99, Image) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Northlanders vol 7: The Icelandic Trilogy (£12-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Paul Azaceta, Declan Shalvey, Danijel Zezeli
Saga Of The Swamp Thing vol 3 s/c (£14-99, Vertigo) by Alan Moore & Stephen Bissette, John Totleben, Stan Woch, Rick Veitch, Alfredo Alcala, Ron Randall
Dark Tower vol 10: The Gunslinger – The Man In Black h/c (£18-99, Marvel) by Robin Furth, Peter David & Alex Maleev, Richard Isanove
The Stand: No Man’s Land s/c (£14-99, Marvel) by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Mike Perkins, Laura Martin
Star Wars: Dawn Of The Jedi vol 1: Force Storm (£14-99, Dark Horse) by John Ostrander & Jan Duursema
Paradise Kiss vol 2 (£14-99, Vertical) by Ai Yazawa
The Book Of Human Insects s/c (£12-99, Vertical) by Osamu Tezuka
Ninth Life Love (£9-99, June) by Lalako Kojima
I’ve Seen It All vol 2 (£9-99, June) by Shoko Takaku
Love Makes Everything Right (£9-99, June) by Sanae Rokuya
… And a blast from the twenty-year-old past, photographically capturing our very own Mark Simpson, Dave Sim, Gerhard and the fourth member of Bros. I was sulking in the second one, yes: I’d just fallen down some stairs and broken my hair.