Reviews February 2013 week three

You can easily see why the first volume won the Best First Graphic Novel prize at Angoulême as you really get the sense of Jerry Springer-like drama the various characters are embroiled in, but also the genuine emotional connections many of the characters have for each other.

 -Jonathan on Aya vol 2

 Extra new and links, as always, under New Books list!

The Initiates: A Comic Artist And A Wine Artisan Exchange Jobs h/c (£22-50, NBM Comics) by Etienne Davodeau…

“Out of the tens of thousands of winemakers, and hundreds of millions of bottles, how to distinguish oneself?
“The soil, certainly, The fermentation, yes.
“The work, necessarily. Talent too.
“The heart, a little. But okay, that’s more unpredictable. More hypothetical. Not always there.
“So I got something irrefutable. I chose the ‘beak’!
“Yes… besides, it’s faster and easier to draw than a real nose with nostrils and all.”

Friends Richard Leroy and Etienne Davodeau really do know absolutely nothing about each other’s professions. Richard is a wine-maker, a true artisan who believes that attention to every last detail is essential in creating a great wine. Etienne is an artist too, of comics, and is bemused by Richard’s complete lack of knowledge of the ninth art which, for a Frenchman, is probably slightly unusual at least. On the other hand, he knows absolutely nothing about wine-making. Thus follows a year of discovery as Etienne drip-feeds Richard what he considers the essential canon of graphic novels, both French and non-French and also goes to work in Richard’s vineyard learning just how much seriously hard physical graft is required in the production of wine.

This is a fantastic work which illuminates just how similar the approach to being successful in any artistic field is, really. Yes, you need talent and an eye for your subject, yes you need hard work to produce the goods, but you also need passion. Not just for your particular work, but for your field of endeavour as a whole. Both Richard and Etienne’s passion is apparent in vat-fulls, and some of the most telling and insightful discussions they have are when one of them makes a realisation regarding said similarities.

As Richard and Etienne delve deeper into each other’s worlds, we get to see the whole process of making wine, and graphic novels, from start to finish. From monotonous cultivation of vast numbers of vines through to the final bottling up, from the thumbnails in a sketchbook to the finished publication, and both are equally fascinating processes which would make for an interesting graphic novel in their own right. Together, like the process of producing a truly special vintage grape, or the meeting of minds between writer and artist on a project both really believe in, we get something really special here. It’s a fascinating read with some amusing cameos from various French comics luminaries. I particularly loved Lewis Trondheim’s explanation about why he always draws himself with a beak, directly in response to Richard’s question, reproduced above.

I do like Etienne’s art too and whilst it’s difficult to say precisely who it reminds me, I do see elements of Guy Desisle, Posy Simmonds, and even Raymond Briggs. It’s a rather gentile affair, which is perfectly suited to the subject. For much like graphic novels, you can’t rush making a good wine or the end result just won’t be acceptable to the palette.


Buy The Initiates: A Comic Artist And A Wine Artisan Exchange Jobs h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Aya vol 2: Love In Yop City s/c (£18-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Marguerite Abouet & Clement Oubrerie…

“Hello, great healer.”
“That your car over there? Want me to cast a spell on your husband?”
“No, I’m here about my son.”
“Ah, you want him to make it big?”
“He’s disappeared. Help me to find him.”
“Got some of his stuff?”
“Here’s his favourite comb, some underwear, a dirty shirt…”
“That’s enough.”

Available in English at long last, this tome represents books 4 to 6 of Marguerite Abouet’s slice of life look at the goings-on in the fictional Yop City, set in the late 1970s’ Ivory Coast, which was something of a golden era for the country economically and socially, before events took a turn for the worse with the late ‘90s coup, then the 2002 civil war. All the gang are back as the 19-year-old Aya, ever the wise head on young shoulders, serenely guides her friends and family through one crisis after another, usually of their own making. This time around. though, she does have some problems of her own, due to the unwelcome attentions of her University Biology professor. Try as she might to sort the situation out herself, it becomes increasingly apparent she’s going to need the help of her friends for a change.

I do love Abouet’s laid back, easy going portrayal of Yop City life, punctuated by the various shenanigans her cast are frequently getting up to and into. You can easily see why the first volume won the Best First Graphic Novel prize at Angoulême as you really get the sense of Jerry Springer-like drama the various characters are embroiled in, but also the genuine emotional connections many of the characters have for each other. I imagine local neighbourhoods back in our grandparents’ time were very much like Yop City, everyone knowing every else’s business with the sheer impossibility of keeping anything gossip-worthy secret for too long. Apparently she was inspired to write AYA by reading Marjane (PERSEPOLIS) Satrapi, because she wanted to do something to show a side of Africa that didn’t revolve around the usual media obsessions of famine and war, but the genuine day-to-day life experience for some of its citizens, and she succeeds with aplomb in that respect.

The art, from Clement Oubrérie, is equally excellent, capturing the rich flavour of African culture, with its sunny climate, vibrant colours, and cacophony of ever-present background activity.  All perfectly counterpointed when we see Innocent, the most definitely not-in-the-closest gay hairstylist with a penchant for dressing like Thriller-era Michael Jackson (red leather jacket, geri curls and all) who is of course the secret former boyfriend of very much in-the-closet Albert, trying to adapt to his new Parisian life. Expecting the streets to be paved with gold, Innocent is rather disappointed to find you can’t even hunt pigeons in the park if you haven’t got any food. His increasing misery, whilst being rather amusing to read, really does make your heart go out to him, and neatly sums up everything that is so brilliant about this work.

I imagine AYA must be one of the best kept secrets on our shelves, actually. I freely confess I only picked up the first volume (then available in three separate hardbacks) when I was short of something to read one night and was instantly hooked. I find myself rather sad I’ve finished it now. All the multitudinous characters’ story arcs are neatly wrapped up, though rather than any great dramatic conclusions, you get the impression it’s merely the neat closing of various chapters. I do rather hope, therefore, they aren’t the concluding ones, and that Abouet does intend to write some more at some point!


Buy Aya vol 2: Love In Yop City s/c and read the Page 45 review here

The Manara Library vol 4 h/c (£45-00, Dark Horse) by Milo Manara.

“If the term ‘adult’ carried with it a twinned sense of the sophisticated and the erotic, it could find no better flag-bearer than Milo Minara.”

How very true on both counts!

That’s Bart Beaty in his introduction to the first two Giuseppe Bergman epics, both reprinted here, after confronting the same unfortunate, coincidental ambiguity in the term “graphic novel”. I’ve encounter several members of the great unwashed who presumed I was talking about prose like The Marquis de Sade’s.

This, of course, is in far better taste, or is it? However fiercely independent most of Manara’s women are, they’re forever coming a cropper under men’s lustful gaze in environments ill-conducive to self-restraint, their fingers (at the very least) taking full advantage. They’re usually far from civilisation and the long arm of any law that hasn’t already been corrupted. They’re usually embarked on “an adventure”.

So it is in PERCHANCE TO DREAM: THE INDIAN ADVENTURES OF GIUSEPPE BERGMAN, when plucky and sultry Signora Fosca is summoned to the Venetian HQ of the film company she works for as head of production. An entire crew including cast has gone missing in India after sending back footage of the chivalric fantasy film they’re working on, only snippets of which will play. The rest of the fourteen-hour footage is presumed ruined, but as the signora sets out under the semi-protective gaze of van driver Giuseppe, screenwriter Steve and horny delinquent Fabio, the reels appear to restore themselves. Gradually they track down the team’s missing members, most of whom have lost the plot, going mental or native and drowning in drugs. They also come under attack, become separated and all of their clothes fall off. Frequently. For a while Giuseppe disappears altogether, Signora Fosca left to roam alone, now under silent protection of a sadhu she can’t shake. A sadhu with long, matted hair and beard who is, of course, naked and perpetually tumescent.

The art is absolutely exquisite, Manara having now risen about the earlier influences of Moebius and mentor Hugo Pratt, ditching the shaded textures in favour of silky soft lines and spot blacks. Fans of Charles Vess, P. Craig Russell and George Perez, for example, will swoon over the jungle pages as the knight in his billowing cape confronts a tiger basking on the stone steps of a ruined temple.

And, as I say, whatever Signora Fosca’s shortcomings (adultery, impatience), she is relatively unfazed by what she endures and completely determined to fulfil her instructions and against all credible odds. In fact she’s a great deal less daunted than Giuseppe himself, who in the first story, HP AND GIUSEPPE BERGMAN, is quick to bemoan his life and plight and at one pouts petulantly, declaring.

“That’s all we need: rapids! This is an ordeal, not an adventure!”

He has, however, nailed the core of Manara’s stories: these are indeed ordeals. Giuseppe is at first ecstatic. He has been selected to travel: to have an adventure entirely of his own choosing and with an unlimited budget. Here’s his only stricture:

“The adventure you experience must be truly captivating, astounding… it must allow those who are following you to completely escape their daily problems. To unwind. To become engrossed in something other than their grey reality. We have a mission…”
“But how will they be able to follow me?”

You leave that to Manara. “They” are us, the readers: the fourth wall is constantly breached here, Bergman turning to camera quite early on to ask, “So… was that the sex scene?” Only the first, Giuseppe, only the first.

Anyway, yes, he is ecstatic:

“Finally I will be the one to decide what I do and don’t do! Every morning I will wake up totally freeee!”

Except that he won’t. It is indeed an ordeal, rather than an adventure, over which Giuseppe ends up having no control whatsoever. Apart from the enigmatic HP who from time to time materialises out of thin air only to leave Giuseppe in the lurch again, the entire cast – and Giuseppe in particular – are tossed from one disaster to the next. It is totally surreal and often psychedelic, functioning in exactly the same way as dreams and, like so many of my own dreams, he is absolutely lost, this time in the depths of the Amazon where he will eventually lose his head.

It’s all so admirably confident, and if Giuseppe isn’t free Manara most certainly is, relishing and engaging wholeheartedly in the notion of “anything goes”. With time being short I was going to merely skim over the surface and leave you with my review of THE MANARA LIBRARY VOL 1, but just like Giuseppe I got sucked right and had no other option but to forge on until the book reached its conclusion.

“Sex and guerilla warfare… It doesn’t get any better!”


Buy The Manara Library vol 4 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Emerald And Other Stories (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroaki Samura.

“It’s unbelievable! Who’d be afraid of a girl with tattoos in this day and age? It’s totally normal! Just like scarification, implants and trepanation…”

I need that like I need a hole in the head.

From the Japanese creator of Blade Of The Immortal and OHIKKOSHI comes a collection of short stories which are beautifully drawn but baffling. Apart, that is, from the genius eight episodes of school-girl mentalism called ‘The Uniforms Stay On’. As hyperactive as Evan Dorkin’s MILK & CHEESE, think “Uh-oh, we’re in trouble!”’s Shampoo, only without the faux-dumbing-down, blown bubblegum and snarls. They do, however, pose delightfully above each short in various fashion shots and action sequences. Attitude!

Yes, these girls are on a crusade. Who knows what will come under their random, six-second scrutiny? Food additives that don’t exist and packaging that does. The misrepresentation of Japan as a Buddhist country. The use of ugly faces on Japanese currency as a possible plan to kickstart the economy by making bank notes so repulsive you’ll want to spend or even give them away. Boys! Creepy men! The intimacy of a hospital sponge-bath: “If we’re gonna go this far, this nurse needs to make some kind of commitment.”

They’ll shoot their mouths off about anything, and break the fourth wall while they do so.

“Don’t you think the world-music section in music stores is so sad?”
“What kinda segue is that?!”
“… I went into Tower Records for the first time in ages, but when I looked over the Eastern European shelf, there wasn’t a trace of any of the bands that I like. It was so sad. And sad for this book’s author.”
“I see. You’re channeling Samura now?”

Haha! The more you think about that, the cleverer it becomes. Now they’ve found a third member and formed a band.

Possible instruments: bass, guitar, accordion, tambourine.
“Is this gonna be a triki pop thing?”
“If I practised, the melodica would be a snap!”
“I played recorder in elementary school.”
Possible instruments: bass, guitar, accordion, tambourine, recorder, melodica.

It’s presented just like that, Samura constantly whipping you in and out of the cock-eyed conversations or letting the ladies comment on his progress. It’s all just a little Scott Pilgrim. Speaking of, there’s already a battle in the band to name it.

“It’s like they always say. “French is the language of the gods. English is the pirates’ tongue. German is the braying of a donkey…””
“Wait… what?”
“Just leave her.”
“Found the German dictionary?”
“Found a cool-sounding word. How about ‘Jugend-Herberge’…?”
“That sounds so masculine! Cooler than Zeitlich Vergelter, even!””
“What does it mean?”
“Youth Hostel.”
“Start with the meaning! The meaning, girl!”
“Okay… ‘Gewerk-Schaft’…?”
“Whoa! So coool! Cooler than Rammstein, even!”
“What’s it mean?”
“Labour Union.”
“Are you even listening to me?!”

The longer short stories include a western; the strange relationship between a daughter, her father and his housekeeper (very strange); and a story that started out in a manner which consistently convinced you was going to be about paedo sex-slavery but turned into a platonic sort of Beauty And The Beast affair completely with stately home. Then everyone dies, and the brother comes back and so do the dead. I’m so confused.

Swoonaway landscapes with lots of detail far from what is misperceived as “the manga style”. *gnashes teeth*

“Anyway, drawing rooftops sure is easy.”
“Shut up, please…


Buy Emerald And Other Stories and read the Page 45 review here

Knights Of Sidonia vol 1 (£9-99, Vertical) by Tsutomu Nihei…

Fans of the frenzied, over-drive, sci-fi-meets-zombies experience, replete with big motorcycles, even bigger guns (and a talking bear) that was BIOMEGA, fall to your knees and rejoice, because here comes another sci-fi / horror mash-up from creator Tsutomu Nihei that’s pretty much guaranteed to please you. Firstly, I have no idea why there is the titular and phonetically inaccurate reference to the 2006 Muse track Knights Of Cydonia, given the Muse reference was to the area on Mars where the so-called face of Mars was observed, but still, perhaps Nihei is a modern prog rock fan? And perhaps the translator was unaware of the reference?!

Sidonia is, though, the name of the lone seed ship carrying the future of humanity, floating through the space between galaxies since the destruction of our solar system by weird alien life forms, that bear more than a passing resemblance to the amorphous evil guys from BIOMEGA, just in space. Enter our hero Nagate, who has spent his entire childhood in the depths of the huge vessel, never seeing another living soul except for his now-deceased uncle. Forced to the upper levels whilst desperately scavenging for food, he encounters an entire civilisation he was previously completely unaware of. A civilisation fighting for its very existence against the vast alien gooey blob things. Fortunately for everyone all he had to mis-spend his youth on was a simulator of one of the Sidonia’s transformer-like fighters. Obviously having logged a fair few hours in there, it’s fair to say his giant fighty robot technique is pretty slick. Time for the real thing…

Just great fun, written at a (slightly) slower pace than BIOMEGA, which allows for some character development and intriguing side-plot building. The art is pretty much identical to BIOMEGA and there are definitely some amusing little nods to that work, including amongst other things, a talking bear. I will, obviously, be reading this as soon as it comes out!


Buy Knights Of Sidonia vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Quest For The Spark: A Bone Novel: Book Three (£8-50, Scholastic) by Tom Sniegoski & Jeff Smith.

There appear to be those unaware that there be BONE novels.

There are three to be precise, and this is the third completing the trilogy written by Tom Sniegoski (who isn’t easy to spell) with full-colour illustrations by Jeff Smith (who is a doddle).

I mention this purely as an excuse to include this in our review blog and now quote Diamond’s solicitation text purely so we’ve room for the cover. That is all.

“The Nacht is growing stronger, and it’s a race against time for Tom Elm and friends to find the final piece of the Spark before the entire Valley – and possibly the world – are plunged into eternal darkness. The Queen of the Sky is brought down in the Pawa Mountains and our intrepid band of heroes is separated. What secrets can be found deep inside the mountains’ caverns? Will the great mountain cat, Roque Ja, be ally or enemy? And will one of their very own betray them to evil?”


Buy Quest For The Spark: A Bone Novel: Book Three and read the Page 45 review here

Batman: Night Of The Owls h/c (£22-50, DC) by Scott Snyder, more & Greg Capullo, more…

“Seems you have a secret, Bruce. Don’t you?”
“Your lucky penny, Sir.”
“Heh. Are you all right?”
“Quite, Sir.”

Good old Alfred. After the bit of classic Bat-history reworking in the preceding BATMAN vol 1: COURT OF OWLS which I’m still marvelling over at Scott Snyder’s sheer audacity, it did amuse me somewhat to see a certain piece of Bat-memorabilia that always struck me as a rather precarious thing to have lying around the Bat-cave put to such violent use.

So, following on from the tumultuous events of volume one, which culminated in the Court sending not just the current Talon assassin, but re-animating every Talon there has ever been, for a surgical strike upon Gotham’s most upstanding public servants, and a few dubious ones too, it’s up to the wider Bat-family to save the day, or night, depending on your semantics. Cue money-spinning crossover!

Now, I am most assuredly not usually one for crossovers that span into a myriad different titles, usually with the law of diminishing returns becoming ever more apparent, but here I am happy to report it works spectacularly well. Each Bat-family title is a matchup between the titular character and a Talon of yesteryear, but what could be dull and uninteresting is in fact just the opposite, as each story is done as a character piece with the Talons at the centre. It works well, avoiding it all becoming a samey slug-fest, and along the way we learn much of the history of the Court as seen through their various assassins’ eyes, which is a clever way of revealing much salient information for no hard detective work. Whilst no less than eleven writers contributed to this particular volume, someone was clearly acting as editor-in-chief and keeping the whole arc tightly under control, so a little nod to them too, whoever it was.

The key parts though, obviously, are in the main Scott Snyder-written Batman title, and as before he is on top form, spinning a yarn that as well as being of the ages, will quite probably be one for it as well. As before though, whilst secrets are revealed and some mysteries solved, others deepen yet further…


Buy Batman: Night Of The Owls h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Secret Avengers vol 2 #1 (£2-99, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Luke Ross.

Are you enjoying the new HAWKEYE series? Of course you are, it’s delighting all and sundry with its back-and fourth structure, snappy cut-scenes and nimble dialogue as well as its lack of costumes and supervillains. Totally street-level with Clint getting himself into a whole bag of trouble.

You’re going to love this too. Lots of Hawkeye, still no supervillains, and the beautiful Black Widow to boot for an espionage action-thriller with cake.

“Coulson, yeah. See, S.H.I.E.L.D. asks us for a sit-down, we oblige. But I assume beyond the pleasantries, and these – what’s in these scones, by the way?”
“Coconut. Pineapple.”

The last series of Secret Avengers saw Captain America and then Hawkeye calling the shots over a big group effort. This time S.H.I.E.L.D.’s calling the shots and Clint is so far from in control and the avenging so secret that he has no idea what he’s about to get mixed up in.

Nor are you, I’m afraid, for the appeal of this entire self-contained story lies in the element of surprise which is threaded throughout, and as for the punchline… Poor Clint.


Buy Secret Avengers vol 2 #1 by… Sorry, my mind’s gone blank.

Superman For Tomorrow – Complete Edition (£18-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Jim Lee.

When BATMAN: HUSH came out, also by Lee, I was initially underwhelmed by Jeff Loeb’s straightforward superheroic plottage and structure which struck me as akin to a video game complete with level-up bosses, then relented and declared it a perfectly fine thing by two totally fine people. When Lee was joined here by Brain Azzarello whose stunning 100 BULLETS crime-conspiracy series I seldom shut up about, I was anticipating something a little more challenging. Be careful what you ask for.

This is more challenging but not, I’m afraid, in a good way. It challenges you to stay awake, then work out what on earth’s going on. When you work it out, you’re then going to be challenged to care. Plus – and I’m willing to be declared obtuse – isn’t the dialogue overly abstruse?

I’m all for implication, I’m all for carefully nuanced verbal sabres, but I swear to God, I was often left wondering what point Superman was making during each tête-à-tête with the doleful priest.  And when I worked most of them out, I just thought, “Okay, clever – but too clever. And too often to make for an enjoyable or realistic read.”

There has been a Vanishing. Oh yes! Lots of people have disappeared off the face of the planet, including Lois Lane. Superman blames himself because he was away at the time. Turns out that it’s not his only culpability. Meanwhile, he fights people and battles monsters and finds the device what did it, but can’t work out the how or the why. Then the JLA turn up to ask some pertinent questions.

You wait, I’ll end up pronouncing this a perfectly fine thing by two totally fine people as well. Just not tonight.


Buy Superman For Tomorrow – Complete Edition and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy

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.

Susceptible h/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Genevieve Castrée

Marvel Comics The Untold Story h/c (£16-99, Harper Collins) by Sean Howe

The Goon vol 12: Them That Raised Us Lament (£12-99, Dark Horse) by Eric Powell

Everybody Loves Tank Girl h/c (£14-99, Titan Books) by Alan C. Martin & Jim Mahfood

d’Errico vol 2: Helmet Girls (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Camilla d’Errico

Animal Man vol 4: Born To Be Wild (£14-99, Vertigo) by Peter Milligan, Tom Veitch & Chas Trogg, Steve Dillon, Mark Farmer

Batman / Deathblow: After The Fire h/c (Deluxe Ed’n) (£16-99, DC) by Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo, Tim Bradstreet

Superman: The Death Of Superman New Edition (£10-99, DC) by Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson, Roger Stern & Various

Avengers Vs. Thanos s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by various

Avengers vol 5 h/c (£22-50, Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis & Brandon Peterson, Mike Mayhew, Terry Dodson, others

The Punisher vol 3 s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Greg Rucka & Mirko Colak, Marco Checchetto, Mico Suayan

Wolverine And The X-Men vol 2 s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Nick Bradshaw, Chris Bachalo

Avenging Spider-Man vol 2: The Good, The Green And The Ugly s/c (£12-99, Marvel) by Kathryn Immonen, Kelly Sue DeConnick & Stuart Immonen, Terry Dodson
Improper Books artist Laura Trinder sent me a Valentine Card. My first in years!


Meanwhile Jess Fink of CHESTER 5000 XYV sent out to the world the most beautiful, all-inclusive Valentine’s Card I have ever beheld in my life.

One Response to “Reviews February 2013 week three”

  1. “THE INITIATES is One of The Best Books About Wine I’ve Ever Read, Period.” : NBM Blog says:

    […] sums it up rather succinctly; “This is a fantastic work which illuminates just how similar the approach to being successful in any artistic field is, really. Yes, you need talent and an eye for your subject, yes you need hard work to produce the goods, but you also need passion.” […]

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